Speaking With Your Demons
13: Revelation Fallout
In the end, people are persuaded not by
what we say, but by what they understand.
John C. Maxwell
“Well, Mr. Walker,” the Commissioner said, spreading his arms to include everyone in the room, “you’ve certainly convinced me that we can finally change our pervasive anger-management issues. You’ve also won over the most skeptical of opponents by convincing these cops, for whom traditional talk therapy has never helped. But we’re all interested in something a little more concrete. Say maybe a real-life demonstration?”
“I was hoping I could treat Officer Waters, but his berserkers seem to be long gone. I hoped they’d return by now, but they haven’t.”
“Should we open the doors, or head outside where they can find us?” Taylor asked, worried he’d somehow hurt Bryan’s chances of improving.
“No, they don’t work that way. They have no problem passing through simple obstructions like windows, though walls are still a bit much for them. Instead, I suspect I scared them off by coming on too strong. My dragon, Slavsin, stopped them in their tracks, but when I sent them in pursuit of my renegade berserker, I spooked them all. Hopefully they’ll return given another few hours, but Bryan, when they do, don’t allow them to push you around. If they try the same shit as before, simply repeat my name. If you find yourself getting enraged over something, ready to battle friends and family, remember that you aren’t the one losing your temper. Instead it’s these alien creatures. They’ll get the message. If they don’t, call me and I’ll have another little talk with them. But in either case, let me know when they return, as I’m worried what trouble they may be up to. It’s not typical for them to abandon their human hosts so readily.”
“Well, if not Officer Waters, then who would you like to demonstrate on?” Taylor pressed.
“I’ve been keeping an eye on your other officers, so I’d pick Officer Tillman in the back. And if Maxine Viegleman could step up and observe, I’d appreciate it,” Phil continued, giving no explanation for why he chose to include either.
“Is there any reason you selected Tillman?” Taylor asked, intrigued in Phil’s evaluation process.
“There are a couple of reasons. The most obvious is that they’re troubling him at the moment, but the other is, I like the specimens they represent. He’s got both the larger, more aggressive type, and the younger trainees, who are more adaptive of change.”
“That’s hardly something I can use to select who to keep an eye on, is it?” Taylor asked, as the two officers made their way forward.
“I’m sorry, but diagnosis is difficult without being able to see just what you’re dealing with. As you’ve seen, it’s tricky differentiating between devils and berserkers.”
“You can call me Max,” Maxine said by way of introduction. “That’s how my fellow servicemen referred to me when I was in the service.”
“And you can refer to me as Bob,” Robert said, as he sat next to Phil.
“Pull up a chair,” Phil offered Max. “I want you close enough to hear this exchange.” She did, without asking why he was interested in her in particular.
Once everyone was settled, he began. “Pardon me, Bob, but I’m going to be addressing your devils for a few minutes.”
“No, by all means,” he answered with a lopsided grin. “I’m eager to learn who they are for once.”
“All right, there’s no reason for me to yell,” Phil said, speaking to invisible beings flittering around his head. “It’s clear you’ve been listening. You know what’s at stake. You need to change your act. We’re no longer putting up with this type of destructive behavior.”
“Why care?” one ventured, giving him an obscene gesture which lacked the necessary emphasis to carry much conviction. “Only one, we many!”
“Simple,” Phil answered. “It’s not just me saying this, it’s your creators, who selected me to convey this message to your people. But it’s also those I’m training to deal with you,” he said, indicating Meg and Abe, sitting across the table. “They’re just as capable of whipping your little butts as I.”
They regarded the spry little twelve-year-old and the grizzled veteran and decided it wasn’t worth risking a confrontation. “Tell more.”
“You need to relearn how to act. Your old methods will no longer work, as everyone is on to you. What’s more, they’re killing your people. You are too old to raise healthy children by the time you return. Your leaders are all old men too set in their ways to adapt to new thinking, and you’ve all lost your drive to better yourselves. You need this as much as Bob does.”
“Maybe,” he offered.
“You have to both pull and push. Offer the carrot, or in this case the donut, as well as the stick—which so far hasn’t worked on its own. If your only tool is punishment, all you’re left with is a snarling dog unwilling to consent. However, if you use the same techniques to remind him what not to do, but reward his good behavior, he’ll be more inclined to accept your suggestions. Then, you’re not just lashing a helpless mutt, you’re offering Bob a choice. One way makes him more functional, while the other ultimately leads to disaster. Instead of continually shoving him towards the brink—where he doesn’t want to go—you’re drawing him away from it, where he’ll eagerly follow.”
“Make sense,” the lead devil said, as each of them nodded, adjusting to the idea.
“Now, to show good faith, I need two volunteers.” Phil turned, considering Max as he continued. “I prefer the current alpha leader, so he’s forced to adapt and not rely on the same old techniques, and one of the younger recruits, since they’re more willing to accept new ideas.”
The devils considered the request, discussing it amongst themselves before two stepped forward. “Me Snap, chief devil,” their spokesman proclaimed. “This Claw, newest.”
“Don’t tell me.” Phil indicated Abe and Meg. “Tell your new teachers.”
They glanced at Phil. “They fearsome?”
“They most certainly are. I’ve seen Meg tear your kind apart with her words alone, but we’re learning to work with more than threats.”
Moments later, Meg and Abe responded. “Pleased to meet you Claw,” Meg said.
“Welcome aboard, Snap. I appreciate the assistance of such a seasoned warrior,” Abe graciously added.
“Now how about the rest of you introduce yourselves to Bob,” Phil suggested, glaring at the other devils. Bob nodded, repeating each name in turn. When they finished, Phil told him who the new alpha was, whom he should specifically address.
With that resolved, Phil turned to Max. “Mizo, Tristan, if you’d be so kind as to help the newbies settle in, I’ve got another to convince.”
“Who? Me?” she asked.
“I was wondering why you singled her out,” Taylor said.
Instead of answering, Phil continued. “Are you in or are you out? You’ve watched my whole spiel, so you know what’s at stake. You also know what you have to gain by joining us. Your volunteering means a lot to me, because I’ve had some significant issues trying to reach out to your people. I came on much too strong after they betrayed me, and that worked against me, so I won’t threaten you. Because the individuals outside were intimidated by our dragons, I’ve kept them back under strict orders not to act on their own. So what do you say?”
The participants glanced at each other, though several appeared to have grasped what was occurring as Max’s berserkers huddled, trying to reach a consensus.
“Two of us volunteer, though I, the group leader, refuse to step aside to serve under you, as the rest are still unsure whether to trust or not. Also, our volunteers prefer maintaining the right to return if no longer feel safe.”
“It’s not quite what I was hoping for, but if you’re honest about working with me, I have no objections. Just bear in mind, though, that if you attack or betray me, all bets are off and I will defend myself, however I need to. Still, you stand to change your people’s future with this single action.”
“We’ll see,” another of the berserkers said.
“I am Lutin, as the second in command, I will work with you, while Vasput, our newest recruit, will serve with the battle-scarred warrior.”
“I’m pleased to have you both, Lutin, but I’m assigning Vasput to our small but capable Meg. Since she’s the one directing these treatments, he’ll play a more prominent and important role.”
They consulted once more, as the cops leaned in, nervous how the one-sided negotiations might conclude. Finally Vasput stepped forward on his own. “Is acceptable.”
“Introduce yourself, in that case. I’m glad to have you both on our team. We hope, with your help, that we can reach out to more of your kind and involve them in this movement, which will not only benefit your people, but ultimately save them as well.”
A moment later, Meg grinned. “Honored to meet you, Vasput, and I appreciate the new nickname, ‘Valkyrie’. I’ll try to live up to it.”
Phil walked out of Police Headquarters having finished his meeting with the commissioner, where he lifted his arm, sending Slavsin aloft. Schog and Sazzil weren’t far behind. Once in the air, Slavsin began issuing instructions and the three spread out, trying to cover as much territory as possible with the little remaining daylight available.
“Unlike the other species, they really prefer flying over hovering around us,” Phil reflected.
“We should encourage them to do it more often,” Abe suggested. “Maybe they’d be less likely to resent us if they had more freedom to roam on their own.”
“Are you sure sending dragons after Desttr is a good idea?” Meg asked. “It didn’t work well the last time.”
“I instructed them that they are merely to observe and report, but I consider Desttr to be an exception. He tried to kill me and is likely plotting another attack even as we speak, as such, he’s a legitimate target.”
“Is that okay with you, Vasput?” Meg asked. When he answered, she nodded her acceptance. “It’s fine with me, too,” she concluded.
Phil sat on a public bench and pulled out his phone. “You two can go ahead, I have to take care of a few details still.”
“Not on my watch!” Abe sat beside him, followed by Meg. “Any time I leave you alone, something happens.”
The call was answered on the second ring.
“Seattle Times, Leslie Sharpton speaking.”
“Leslie, this is Phil. Do you have a few moments?”
She chuckled. “For you, any time. You always manage to surprise, and you provide surprisingly good copy, even when you don’t actually admit anything.”
“There’s likely to be another reported incident. If there isn’t, I’d rather you avoid the issue entirely, but if it blows up like I expect, I prefer you have a detailed, rational explanation other than what Alexander Tobias spins it as.”
“What exactly happened?”
“Oh, not much. I was on my way downtown when I passed the police headquarters. A cop pulled his gun on me, I screamed some foreign phrases, every other officer ran out, drawing their weapons. My friends Abe and Meg threw themselves in front of the cops and then the Commissioner came out, yelled at everyone, and then we all went in for some tea and crumpets.”
Leslie chuckled again. “Yeah, I can see how that might be misinterpreted. Some people seem to prefer reporting the truth.”
“Do you want my side of the exchange or not?”
“Of course I do. I’m going to record this. You tend to be fairly lengthy. Go on.”
“What was observed was exactly as it appeared, but it doesn’t reflect any new abilities on my part, or the return of any lost skills. Instead, when confronted, I immediately noticed the officer seemed ... antsy.”
“You sure you want to go with ‘antsy’?”
“Perturbed, edgy. You’re the reporter, pick whichever phrase works best. Anyway, having encountered this type of response before, I recognized the cause. When he drew his pistol, I wanted to shock him, so I called to the creatures triggering his actions.”
“Pardon me, but which ‘creatures’ are these this time.”
“It’s a little difficult to explain, as it tends to stretch reader credibility.”
“Try me, I’ll let you know how unbelievable it in on a scale of one to ten, but you’re already at thirteen, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much.”
“They’re Viking Berserkers, about two inches tall. They’re similar to the red devils in that they trigger oversized anger responses, but they’re tied to PTSD rather than rage issues themselves—hence the parallels to historic warriors.”
“I’m gonna give that a score of seventeen.”
“I told you it was hard to swallow.”
“I’ll live. Continue.”
“Anyway, since these creatures tend to ignore humans, I needed a way to distract them, so I called to them in their own language. Only ... I don’t speak berserker, the only species I ever interviewed were dragons, so I screamed at them in dragon tongue. However, it worked. As soon as I yelled, Bryan dropped his gun, forgetting why he was so upset. After which the Commissioner intervened.”
“Why were you meeting with Commissioner Malcolm?”
“I never said I was,” Phil countered.
“No, you didn’t. But I’ve learned with you, little happens by happenstance. So why did he invite you to meet?”
“He spoke with Philadelphia’s Commissioner Beckley about my work with them getting a handle on police violence. Beckley arranged the meeting so I could offer him some advice—strictly off-the-cuff, of course.”
“Of course. And just how does the officer who threatened you fit into this ... narrative?”
“Ah, you may want to phrase this delicately, but he arrived late for the meeting, and fully armed when ordered to leave his weapon behind. The berserkers recognized me and prodded him to shoot.”
“So it was solely your own quick thinking that saved the day?”
“Hey, are you gonna tease me or record my version of events?”
“So, was the officer reprimanded?”
“No, I talked Commissioner Malcolm out of it. He wasn’t responsible for his actions, and after I was able to treat him, he’s no longer susceptible to those types of ... troubles. I suspect I scared off the berserkers, though if they return, I instructed him to call me so we can get a handle on their behavior before things spin out of control again. I have faith we’ll successfully resolve his issues before long.”
“So despite remaining unable to see, hear or observe these creatures, you still retain the ability to cure people of their mental illnesses?”
“Hey, I didn’t cure anyone. I simply learned to recognize certain triggers, and also know how to speak to these creatures to get them to respond more ... reasonably.”
“Reasonably? Of course you did.”
“Anyway, we should know by six whether you’ll need to run with this tomorrow morning or not.”
“I’m glad you called me this early, as we’ll need to delay printing tomorrow’s paper until then. That’ll involve my boss paying overtime, so he’ll expect something in exchange. So even if he doesn’t run with it—which neither of us expects—I have to print something. While I plan to fully represent your views, in the interest of impartiality I’ll also report on what others’ likely interpretations are.”
“I didn’t doubt it. I just want to set the record straight before things escalate.”
“Not to mention calling Mr. Tobias to task for his own reporting.”
“See, we understand each other. It was fun talking to you. Now, I gotta run. If I stay out too late, the vampires and werewolves might descend.”
She chuckled again. “I’m never sure how much of your wild tales to believe, and how much you just like pulling the wool over people’s eyes.”
“Hey, I’m a magician, we never reveal our secrets.”
While Phil wasn’t expecting the evening news broadcast to be helpful, the result was thoroughly discouraging:
“Today, in breaking news, there are more revelations about Phil Walker, the man who claims mental illnesses are caused by mythological creatures from other planets.
Earlier, we reported on a disturbingly graphic image. If you have children in the room, you may wish to escort them out, as the picture—though blurred—is likely to trigger unpleasant ... questions.
The image, which we assume he’s responsible for creating and which we’re displaying on a split screen, shows a realistic representation of one of the creatures he claims to combat. What’s most striking about this image is the intricate level of detail. Normally, you only get this degree of detail with professional designers working with Photoshop, but we’re assured the photo has not been doctored in any way. Since no one besides Mr. Walker has ever seen these creatures, he can be the only one responsible for this sculpture, yet the fine features argue it was created from life, rather than sculpted by hand. However, we don’t understand how it was constructed.
This is an image of his devils, presumably the ones associated with addictions. They supposedly use their miniature pitchforks to work their way into victims’ brains to plant suggestions. While the likelihood of this being factual is widely debated, this photo lends the arguments a certain degree of credibility.
However, after we aired the photo this morning, more news about Mr. Walker came to light. He was involved in an altercation with police outside of Seattle’s Police Department Headquarters at 610 Fifth Avenue. Several officers drew their weapons, and as the following video shows, one was fully prepared to shoot him. Seeking shelter behind an innocent child, he shouts in a strange language—supposedly to the creatures only he can see. We’ve had a trained linguist interpret the speech, but they cannot identify it as any known tongue. If nothing else, Mr. Walker researches his details and persists with his act regardless of the risks to him personally—which some attribute to his suffering from some form of dementia—but which may also argue for its validity. After the scene deescalated, he was taken into custody for questioning.
Clearly, the man is either a grand prankster, a dangerously disturbed individual, or he’s aware of things the rest of us can only now experience through this solitary image.”
They played the indistinct clip of Phil standing before Officer Waters, with Meg and Abe between them waving their arms. You could clearly hear him shouting with a clear lisping sound, and Waters responding.
“As you can see, Mr. Walker’s calls confused the officer, which was either a lucky break or a brilliant ploy. We plan to report more tomorrow evening after Police Commissioner Malcolm responds to our inquiries.”
“Not quite your proudest hour,” Abe said, bringing Phil a shot glass full of whiskey, which he kept high up in his closet. Phil accepted it and swallowed it in a single gulp, making a face.
“No, it clearly isn’t. He argues the sculpture is proof I’m authentic on one hand, and that I’m a delusional fraud on the other. I’m not sure what I offered the newspaper will help or hurt the situation. It’s as likely to convince people I’m deranged as it is to paint Mr. Malcolm’s claims as false.”
“Still, you had to say something. This wasn’t a case you could sit out.”
“No, but it will stir every side of the debate, just when I was hoping to tamp down those critical of my efforts.”
“Hopefully the newspaper article tomorrow will help,” Meg suggested.
“Maybe, but somehow, I see this entire thing spinning rapidly out of hand,” Phil griped.
“Did you see the Seattle Times this morning?” Tracy asked as they entered the Psychological Services and Training facility just off Guthrie Hall. “They really slammed Tobias’ on-air reporting.”
“Yeah, Ms. Sharpton did an excellent job. As she said, she presented the conflicting views on the subject, but I can live with that. I’d rather people think I’m not actively healing people. As long as they don’t think I’m challenging them, they aren’t as interested as shutting me down.”
“You realize they’ll come after you when you’re finally exposed, don’t you?” Tracy asked.
“It’s inevitable, but I’d prefer getting as much accomplished while I’m still able to. Once my abilities are revealed, everything becomes more difficult.”
“I wouldn’t count on them remaining easy for long,” Emily, a junior psychology professor said, stepping forward. “I’ve been tracking the paper’s ‘letters to the editors’ page. A bunch of people are coming to your defense, claiming how much you’ve helped them. Seeing these are all Seattle Times’ readers, I doubt they’re referring to your work in Philadelphia.”
“Let’s hold off on the start of treatment and allow the patients to relax. Someone get them some coffee and something to eat while I take a look and decide how to respond.”
“The Police Commissioner has also set up a public news conference for this morning. It could either hurt or help your cause.” Emily handed Phil her smartphone with the page already loaded.
“Well, it was good while it lasted, but nothing lasts forever. Let’s just hope these revelations don’t spoil the study’s results.”
Phil started scrolling through the entries, frowning over select entries, grinning over a few of the more humorous ones. Emily pointed out one in particular.
“Alexander Tobias shouldn’t be questioning Mr. Walker’s work,” she read aloud for everyone in the room. “My son, who could barely function only a short time ago, is now fully recovered, has a job and is back in school attending classes after having dropped out years ago. He knows what he’s talking about, and has the results to prove it. Let’s see the skeptics cure an entire city’s population of mental illnesses.”
“That’s not going to help your case,” Abe said.
“No? Then how about this one,” Phil replied. “Mr. Tobias is completely out of line. I was there during the incident at the Police Headquarters, and Mr. Walker hardly provoked the police. In fact, he saved the officer’s career after he almost shot a little girl and a disabled man, promising the Commissioner he no longer posed a danger and offered to ensure he wouldn’t be a problem in the future.
“I was hoping to keep the Commissioner out of this, letting the entire meeting slide under the radar. Now, he’ll either have to confirm we met, or deny my involvement. Once politics enters the equation, it gets complicated fast.”
“That entry sounds like it was from one of the cops in your meeting,” Abe said, frowning.
“No, here’s one that’s even worse,” Emily said, reading it. “Mr. Walker is a complete fraud! While he claims there’s nothing wrong with my son, he nevertheless continues to hoodwink my boy into believing he suffers from some disease he clearly doesn’t have. He then had the nerve to call me, promising he would ‘cure him’ just to spite me. I refuse to pay another cent for my son’s education if all he learns is to wallow in self-pity and listens to charlatans looking to make a quick buck.”
“Yep, that’s pretty bad,” Abe said. “I told you not to call the man.”
“It’s an empty threat, as he’s a deadbeat dad anyway. The boy’s mother is paying his entire college tuition and isn’t threatening to disown her son if he seeks help.”
“Still, it’s poison in the press,” Abe countered, “especially if no one knows the story behind the headlines. How much you want to bet he’s on the air by tomorrow?”
“When is the Commissioner supposed to speak to the press?” Phil asked Emily.
“In about ten minutes.”
“Forget about buying today’s patients a snack, apologize and take them out to eat. I need to hear whether this is going to burn me and the university. This might get ugly fast.”
“It sounds like it’s already ugly,” Meg said. “Take it from me, after seeing Mizo’s image, I know ugly!”
Without any handy televisions in the Training facility, the staff plugged Abe’s phone into a wall-mounted display. Much of the psychology department clustered around, less those teaching classes. Since they all realized the entire university’s future rested on the outcome of their study, which depended on how Phil handled the unfolding crisis, everyone was riveted.
“Good evening,” Commissioner Malcolm began, reading from a prepared text. “I’m here to address concerns over my meeting with Mr. Walker from the Philadelphia Walker Institute.
“Since he’s currently residing in Seattle, I reached out to him about how we could best deal with instances of overly aggressive cops, which is a problem across the country. He was not stopped outside our headquarters because he did anything wrong—the officer never once informed him he was under arrest and had absolutely no reason to suspect him of anything. Instead, he did it for his own personal reasons.
“As the Seattle Times recounted, I immediately called him to task, and Mr. Walker in fact defended him, offering to invest the time to ensure he wouldn’t have any further episodes in the future. However, he didn’t do this with any magical incantations; instead he employed techniques recently developed by the Walker Institute which I’m not authorized to comment on as they’re still in development.
“The results were incredibly positive, and the department’s morale has significantly improved. Not only do our cops now believe we’ll stand up for them if they encounter problems, but our other officers feel more secure that we’re addressing issues within the ranks. Best of all, this was all achieved without any unnecessary expenditures by the department—though I’ll request the Seattle City Council authorize further sessions to eliminate future problems in the department.”
The Commissioner glanced up, no longer reading his script, now speaking directly to the camera.
“Once again, I wish to point out that Mr. Walker never once attacked any otherworldly creatures. Instead, he applied techniques he devised based on his earlier adventures. These approaches were only developed after considerable analysis of Mr. Walker’s prior encounters and have only recently come to light.”
After that, the Commissioner ended the news conference without taking any questions, instead letting his press secretary address them for him. Rather than listen to the inane post-event discussions, Nancy turned off the display and turned to Phil.
“So where does that leave us? Is there anything we should plan in addition to that?”
“I’m surprised to say, the Commissioner handled this ideally. He never once revealed anything he shouldn’t have. He stuck to his prepared remarks without going off message, and he never said anything which would implicate me in any way. I was anticipating the worst, but I’m impressed with his professionalism. I think we’re in the clear.”
“So we can put this puppy to rest?” she pressed, looking for a definitive answer for Nathan Kelly.