Speaking With Your Demons
06: Help the Fairies, Err ... Hire the Intern
Obstacles are those frightful things you see
when you take your eyes off your goal.
Go as far as you can see;
when you get there, you’ll be able to see farther.
J. P. Morgan
“You should see your face when Phil has his ‘conversations’. It’s priceless.” Meg imitated her mother, opening her eyes wide with her fingers. “Your eyes grow big and you don’t know what’s going on.”
“She’s not the only one,” Abe added. “You have to admit, it’s hard to follow one side of a multi-part conversation when you only hear one person.”
“Are the other ... creatures always with you?” Betty asked, resting her hand on her chin. “I mean, do they ever give you a break to go to the bathroom?”
“No, it’s like it is with yours. They’re tied to you for the duration. I suppose it’s possible they could go anywhere they wanted, but they don’t seem inclined to. Mizo says there’s not much to see. They prefer their homes, as would most of us in their circumstances.”
“So now that we’ve had a devil and a dragon return, how long until we reap the benefits?” Abe pressed. “I know it’ll be a while, but how soon until we start getting creatures who know our techniques?”
“Alas, their returning is only the first step. Like I encountered when the medical establishment came down on me for not touting the company line, it’s one person fighting hundreds of generations of entrenched tradition. About the only thing they have going for them is that I’ve been sending body parts back for some time. As such, they’re aware something is up, they just don’t know what. With luck, a few will and over time as more come back repeating the same message, attitudes will change, but it’ll take time.”
Abe frowned. “So we’re talking generations, rather than years?”
“How long did it take for American sensibilities to adapt after blacks were freed, or for gays and lesbians to be accepted as anything other than deviants? It’s difficult to rush history, as we’re all carried along in its wake.” Phil’s head turned and he nodded. “Tristan says they’ve maintained their history since their creators first disappeared, seven hundred and thirty-six years ago.”
“Wow! Do fairies really keep those kinds of records?”
“She says it’s how they maintain their knowledge, and why they didn’t lose their way in the intervening years. They always remembered their old ways, and the results speak for themselves.”
“How exactly did these creators disappear?” Abe asked.
“Slowly. There was talk of dissatisfaction: demands for more accountability and more practical uses of their time and energy. Then contact began to dwindle until they were never heard from again. Despite their speaking to me before my court-ordered surgery, they haven’t reached out to the various species they created. Though to be fair, when they first contacted me, they were just learning how to do it. They were in a rush to brief me before it was too late. Their English was worse than Mizo’s.” Phil chuckled. “Yes, you’re doing better, but soon we’ll have you talking like a sailor! You just need to learn a few more ways to drop the F-bomb.”
“What’s an ‘F-bomb’?” Meg asked, draining the last of her milkshake.
“Never mind,” Betty said. “He shouldn’t be saying such things, anyway.”
“Really, Mom? This isn’t the time to protect me! That would have been when I was trying to find us both food to eat. I learned a lot of things I shouldn’t have—many of them from you!”
Betty reached out and held her daughter’s hand. “Well, with luck I’ll continue doing better and I can make amends.” She glanced at Phil. “She still has some childhood left, doesn’t she?”
“Don’t count on it,” Meg said. “He’s sending me to college.”
“Care to explain?” Betty asked, cocking her head.
“It’s not how it sounds, but it’s definitely more than anyone her age would be asked to do. I want her to teach some psychiatrists how to communicate with these creatures. That’s partly to see if she can, but also to demonstrate that it’s not impossible, even if you can’t see who you’re speaking with. I’ll be there to observe, but I want to take a hands-off approach—at least as much as I can. Once it starts, her world will change once again. Everyone will treat her as a child genius, relying on her to teach them things they don’t know. Then when they release the results and publish the videos of her teaching, she’ll be world famous and a media darling. Hopefully, between those two events she can still enjoy a little of her childhood.”
“That sounds like a lot of responsibility,” Betty hedged.
“Don’t worry,” Meg assured her. “I can handle it, and after what Phil did for all three of us, we can’t turn our backs on him. If this helps others, how can we refuse?”
“She’s got you there,” Abe said. “Though I’m curious, you mentioned that these creatures soak up enough energy to survive the rest of their lives when they go back home. How the heck does that work? Do they store our despair, and if so, what happens when they use these newer techniques?”
Phil had to ask Tristan, but soon had an explanation. “They don’t feed on our emotions. The energy absorption is what allows them to exist while in a nebulous phase-change status. When they return, they resume their physical form and can eat again, so they don’t need it anymore. Though...” he paused as she related additional details. “She says what happens when they return is they ... sexually mature. Until then, they can’t have children. Thus they’re concerned about returning in time. The other races have been having substantial health problems as a result. Since it takes time before mentally ill patients commit suicide, the children conceived by elderly parents suffer developmental delays. Anyone who returns at a younger age is treated like a rock star, everyone wants to ... pair up. Even the older ones are prime marriage material.”
“Again, I’m not sure this is appropriate for a twelve-year-old girl,” Betty warned.
“Oh, Please,” Meg said, waving her concerns away. “I’ve seen worse while we were living in the street, and I’ve always had one eye open watching for wandering hands or someone wanting to kidnap me.”
Betty blushed, glancing down, so Phil continued to save her from having to respond.
“It brings up an interesting point. The fairies never had that issue, meaning if we persuade them to follow our instructions, it’ll solve most of their crises. It should also make it easier to convince the rest, as it will raise their status when they return.”
Phil turned his head in the other direction, listening for another few minutes.
“It seems there’s more at stake than that. Mizo and Slavsin both say their home worlds are in a financial crisis. They originally monkeyed with the creators’ transport mechanism, because they wanted more of their people to succeed and return sooner. By lowering the standards for when they’re sent, they had a massive baby boom. However, as the population aged, and the parents become older and older, the whole model fell apart.”
“I thought they all lived on one world,” Meg said, interrupting his explanation and raising an issue the others hadn’t wanted to broach.
Phil hesitated a moment, taking a moment to gather the necessary information.
“No, they each have their own unique worlds, as otherwise they’d be continually warring over territory and superiority. However, they’re nothing like our planets. They circle a drawf star, meaning each planet is incredibly small, with low gravity making flight easier for them. It’s a completely different environment than ours.”
They all nodded, imagining these strange planets, as Phil got back on track. “As I was saying, there aren’t as many left at home to keep their home fires burning. They continue adjusting the machinery’s settings lower—resulting in more severely mentally ill humans—while they grow ever more desperate. Frankly, it’s a mess.”
“I can imagine so,” Abe reflected. “Though again, it provides us with increased ammunition to win them over. If they sent fewer creatures over, they’ll have more at home to keep their economies running. Those who return will be younger, meaning they’ll have both a healthier populous and larger productive populations to maintain their growth.”
“Except, don’t forget, the leaders are those who supposedly succeeded here,” Phil countered. “So they’ll continue to tout the party line and won’t be inclined to change their ways. It’s still an uphill climb.”
“It seems there are no easy answers,” Betty observed. “It kinda makes me want to climb back in my bottle.” She clutched her stomach, groaning. “I was only teasing, Nekko and Trebble. I’ve avoided my responsibilities for too long. I’m not about to retreat now that I’m finally sober. Well...” she hesitated, moaning again, “almost. I’m not quite fully recovered, yet.”
“You go, Nekko and Trebble,” Meg insisted. “Don’t let Mom slide!”
“You may want to work on your patter over the next few days,” Abe suggested. “This sounds like a lot to convey to a skeptical audience. Your main problem isn’t winning them over, it’s doing it quickly—which you’ve resolved through a combination of threats, promises, treaties and respect. Trying to rely on reason alone won’t be as productive. After all, you don’t want to put them to sleep listing complex interdependencies. Too much talk and they’re more likely to balk.”
“Another excellent point,” Phil conceded. “I’ll see whether I can perfect my approach.”
“Speaking of which, isn’t your daughter arriving tomorrow? You’ll have time to consider your techniques while ferrying her around.”
“Which brings up an important issue. She’ll want to meet you, but I don’t want anyone revealing what I’m up to. As far as she’s concerned, I’m a doddering old fool who has seen his glory days pass him by. She’s eager to keep me busy, getting me involved with the Walker Institute, again. Whatever you do, don’t spill the beans. The longer I remain under the radar, the more I can accomplish and further refine our techniques before everyone demands answers.”
The others glanced at each other. “We’ll try,” Meg said, “but that’s all we ever talk about. It’ll be tough without something different to discuss.”
“Don’t worry,” Tristan whispered in Phil’s ear. “We won’t say a word to her, or anyone else.” She giggled, casting fairy dust all around.
“We say nozzing,” Slavsin promised in a less humorous tone. “You likesy screw up yourselves.”
“You’ve got a point. I’ve had trouble keeping things from her in the past. She knows me too well, which is why I can’t play poker with her anymore.”
Phil sat on the sparsely populated Link train and took out his phone. He had significant time before Toni’s flight landed and these conversations would take time. He’d left early, ensuring the Link wasn’t crowded, which also gave him more time once he arrived. He checked his watch, deciding there was a decent chance a few of the clinics might open early—if not, he’d leave a message. Chances are, when they saw who the call was from, they’d return it quickly.
“Community Psychiatric Clinic.”
“Yes, this is Phil Walker of the Philadelphia Walker Institute. I was hoping to speak to whoever is in charge of the psychiatric staff.”
“I’ll leave them a note. Can I have your ... wait, you’re not that Phil Walker, are you?”
He chuckled. “Alas, I am.”
“Hold on, I’m sure Dr. Johnson is eager to speak with you, let me page him.”
As Phil waited, he lined up his next several calls.
“Mr. Walker, it’s a delight to hear from you. I’ve heard such tremendous stories about what you’ve accomplished. This is Fredrick Johnson, the clinic’s director. What can I do for you?”
“I’m currently involved with the University of Washington in a combination project. We’re trying to determine how effective some new techniques we’ve developed are, so we need some study volunteers.”
This time it was Fredrick who chuckled. “What? There isn’t anyone with mental illnesses left in Philadelphia? No, don’t bother answering. I’m already intrigued. Please, tell me more.”
“I’m not in Philly at the moment. I’m here in Seattle and we wanted an independent evaluation of the treatments’ effectiveness. After the last time, I figured we’re better off documenting my efforts.
“We’re looking for a variety of conditions, hopefully those you’ve had the least success with, as we’re looking to document significant rather than incremental changes. I can’t reveal the techniques we’re testing, but there will be three separate groups. One will receive the new treatments, another I’ll dance for, like I did previously. The final group will be treated aggressively using a variety of traditional methods.”
“It sounds fascinating, though I don’t need to tell you, virtually everyone here will volunteer just because you asked. The chance of meeting you is an unnecessary but appreciated benefit.”
“So we can count on your participation? We’ll need twenty subjects for each group, though I’ll personally evaluate who we treat, so we’ll require more volunteers than we’ll select.”
“Definitely. Don’t be surprised if the entire clinic shows up, our staff as well as patients. Everyone here thinks the world of you.”
“Seriously? I find it hard to believe there aren’t skeptics who question my previous claims.”
“Trust me; we deal with mental illnesses every day. We’re well aware of the tremendous costs involved and our limited abilities to help. If you can allow us to become more productive, we’re all in.”
“Good, I’m hoping everyone else will be as easy to convince.”
“Trust me, you’ll be surprised. You’re the rock star of psychiatry. What’s more, our clients think you can better relate to what they experience than our university-trained doctors.”
“Well, that part is probably true. I questioned my sanity for much of the time, while witnessing the causes and effects. I can sympathize and recognize the symptoms for what they are.”
“Well, I know you’re busy and I’ve got a clinic of my own to run, though I’m looking forward to working with you in the coming weeks.”
‘Well,’ Phil thought after they hung up, ‘one down and another thirty-some to go.’
Toni entered the baggage claim area, breaking into a smile when she saw her father.
“Dad!” she exclaimed, rushing forward and throwing her arms around him.
He enveloped her, lifting her and spinning her around—something she enjoyed, despite her age. “It’s great to see you, too. You are right; it’s been much too long.”
“Come on,” she said, releasing him and taking his hand, leading him towards the exit. “You’ve got to show me Seattle.”
“Don’t we have to claim your luggage?”
“Nope. I’ve been traveling so much lately, lecturing at symposiums requiring several changes of clothes, I’m sick of packing for every eventuality.” She displayed the leather backpack strapped to her back. “I’ve got everything I need. I’m dressed for everything from shopping to crawling through the woods. I’m planning to follow you wherever you might go.”
“Well, you are only here for two days. If you require anything else, we can always pick it up and ship it back if necessary.”
She paused at the main terminal. “Did you drive, take a cab or use mass transit?”
“We’re taking the Link Light Rail, so we can catch up on details until we reach the city, and you can take in the scenery. The views are spectacular.” He directed her to the left, guiding her forward.
“Good! I’m eager to hear what you’re working on. It’s so reassuring you’re fitting in and relaxing enough to get past your surgery setback and explore new areas to focus on. The fact they concern your creatures means we’ll be able to work together in the future—like we should have all along. I’m looking forward to it.”
“Well, I’m unsure whether there’s much sense exploring the concepts yet. They’re only rough ideas. Until I have more to work with, there’s not much to go on.”
“That’s fine, I’m not expecting much, but I’m eager to hear your ideas—founded or—.”
“Come on, I think the Link is near,” he interrupted, rushing her forward. “If we don’t catch it now, we’ll have to wait.”
“I don’t mind,” she protested. “It’ll give us more time to talk.”
“Nonsense, the ride is long enough as it is. We’ll have plenty of time to catch up on the train.”
He was right, the Link pulled up as he entered his prepaid fare for them both. They joined the waiting crowd, then once onboard, he led her down several cars until finding a more isolated car where it’d be easier to talk—delaying any extended conversation for a few more minutes.
“All right, what are these new insights of yours?” Toni demanded, shortly after their Link pulled away from the station.
Phil knew she’d ask, but hadn’t come up with any alternative explanations or further distractions. He’d hoped to keep her busy visiting Seattle’s many tourist locations, but the Link was a killer, with little to do besides talk.
“Tell her,” Tristan whispered.
“How’s your mother? Is she getting over our split up?”
“She’s fine, but then I already told you that. She’s no different than she was earlier in the week.”
“What about everyone who was thinking of joining you? Are they also planning to visit?”
She studied him, but answered anyway.
“We discussed it. They wanted to join me, but I told them we wanted time to ourselves and you were concerned with them all coming at once. Emma and Ethan are particularly interested and they think Jacob might come as well.”
“Well, Ethan and Emma work since they’re brother and sister. But if the others come one or two at a time, I can spend more time with them and they won’t argue over what each wants to do.”
She studied him again. “Why do I get the feeling you’re dancing around the truth again? You kept Mom and me in the dark for a long time, afraid we couldn’t stand the answer. You ended up hurting everyone in the process, including yourself. Let’s not repeat known mistakes. Instead, how about we start fresh by being upfront about whatever is bothering us?”
“Tell her,” Tristan urged.
“No, don’t!” Mizo argued. “Words comp’icate!”
“Yous say we nees new ideas,” Slavsin said, taking time to consider his thoughts. “While help, hones’y might no help. Depression hurt, but help relate. Addressing things prevent from consider con’quences. Better consider later, help more than truth.”
Phil paused, parsing that feedback. “That ... sounds fair,” he responded, afraid to volunteer anything further.
“So, at the risk of incurring additional distractions, what are your current thoughts on the nature of the creatures you once fought? Do you have any useful insights which might help us address mental-health issues in the future? After all, who’s better to bounce ideas off than me, who wrestles with these details on a daily basis based on what you’ve taught us?”
“Well...” Phil hedged, trying to decide how much to reveal. “It gets into the nature of the beast, if you will. When they—”
“Hold on, who is this ‘they’ you’re referring to? The demons, dragons, devils or seamstresses?”
“Sorry, I’m discussing the people who created them.”
“Ah, yeah, we covered this in our earlier discussion about what they conveyed to you during your supposed dream, just before your surgery.”
“Exactly, I’ve been playing around with the concepts they covered, trying to figure out more by what they didn’t say, than what they specifically outlined.”
“That sounds good, as it’s what I asked you before. So what conclusions have you come to?”
“Well, I started at the beginning, focusing on what I could assume. They contacted me—presumably because they were afraid of humans gaining access to knowledge we’re ill-equipped to handle. However, the dream itself was oddly technical. They had problems with the language, even as they detailed they weren’t speaking English. Instead, they triggered regions of my memory to convey concepts, which my brain translated into words.”
Toni waved her hand, pausing his recitation. “Okay, this is fairly specific.” Turning, she dug into her backpack, extracting a notepad and pencil. “I want to ensure we don’t miss any details. Let’s continue, and if nothing else, I can review it later and see if anything new occurs to me.”
“That’s a sensible approach,” Phil said, relieved she provided a way to avoid outlining what he was working on. He knew he’d have to come up with a plausible explanation, though. He could only recount the same details for so long before she figured out he was merely stalling. “I started with how they communicated.”