The Demons Within
Copyright© 2017 by Vincent Berg
Find a place inside where there’s joy,
and the joy will burn out the pain.
“Okay, Dad. Here it is.” Toni handed her father her tablet with the list of webpages already loaded.
He took it with a sense of dread. The listing of references seemed impossibly long.
“Some of those are commentary, press releases or notes,” she explained.
He scanned the list, searching for videos. He’d dreaded finding a couple, instead there were quite a few. Clicking on one—the filenames didn’t specify the physical locations—he immediately recognized himself in Grand Central Park standing before Peter. They were photographed at an angle, so Phil could see them both, but his face was largely obscured. He peered at his back as the short video unfolded.
“You can’t make out the name,” she said, guessing his intent.
“On any of them?”
“That was the first thing I checked. The pictures were taken with smartphones. They’ve got excellent photography, though they’re not equipped with telephoto lenses. They blur when taken from a distance, which all these were.”
“Well, that’s a relief.”
“Still, your face is pretty clear in several of them, enough for me to recognize you. I’m surprised my friends didn’t make the connection.”
“Give me a second, I’m not there yet. I’m still examining the videos.” He panned through each long enough to determine the site. None were taken in town. “Did you check the locations on these?”
“Why? I thought you said there were only two incidents?”
“There was another one, yesterday. It ended badly.”
She leaned back, crossing her arms. “Care to define ‘badly’?”
“If I see it here, I’ll tell you. Otherwise, it never happened.”
“Dad, I thought you were working through this.”
“I am,” he protested, searching through the descriptions of snapshots and blog entries.
“Where did the incident yesterday occur? I may be able to help isolate the files.”
“It was here. It occurred while I was visiting the doctor.”
She cocked her head, intrigued. “No. All the references I saw were either in Philly or Port Charles. There were several mentions of possible sightings, most featuring snapshots of people they think might be you, but none in any of the suburbs. People seem to be looking exclusively in the city.”
“If everyone is busy guessing who the hell I am, you’d think they’d search a little harder,” he groused, though pleased by the information.
“I suspect you’re in the clear, for the moment at least. Did anyone see you?”
“Quite a few. I didn’t notice any cellphones, but I didn’t the other day, either. I was also a bit distracted at the time.” Putting the tablet aside, he took his phone out, entering a number from a business card, but not explaining what he was doing.
“Emma? This is Phil Walker, from yesterday.”
“Yeah, I remember you,” she giggled. “Like I could forget it. What’s up?”
“Did you notice anyone recording my untimely detention? I’ve just discovered a treasure trove of information about me online, and I’m worried about people linking the police reports to my home address.”
Toni, hearing his admission, gasped, glaring at her father, but he ignored it, too focused on his request to process it yet.
“Yeah, after we talked, your comments about getting into trouble intrigued me, so I searched for references and found the same links. You’re right, they are fairly extensive. You seem to have quite the fan base. While you were being held, I met with everyone and stressed the need to keep your information private so you wouldn’t be embarrassed. I’m sure there were a few who slipped by before I reached them, but I didn’t see any. I think you’re safe—although I’m sure the police have your address and could easily release it to the press.”
“I’m not as worried about the cops. They’re at least nominally restricted by privacy laws. I’m more concerned with newspaper accounts about the incident based on public records. If those appear today, people might link it back to me.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” she said. “The police reports wouldn’t be likely to mention your act or contain any relevant information about what you were doing. So unless they charged you with dancing in public, I think you’re safe.”
“Thanks, I appreciate the reassurance. By the way, how’s your brother?”
“He’s still functionally normal, so your treatment, whatever it is, at least lasts for a full day. What’s more, knowing how the disease operates, I’m guessing it’ll be weeks or months before it worsens again.”
“Unless I exhausted the already limited chemicals he requires to function. In that case, he’d relapse faster than normal.”
“It hasn’t happened yet,” she countered. “You should see him. He’s alert, aware, attentive and interested in things around him. He hasn’t been this good in years, as the medications only confuse the issue without removing the underlying causes.”
“Yeah, we’ll see how he’s functioning in a couple weeks.”
“I trust it’ll be better than before you arrived. In either case, I’ll keep you informed.”
When she signed off, Toni was waiting for him, eager to quiz him about the strange conversation.
“Okay, apparently there’s a lot more going on than you’re admitting. What’s this about the police and her brother? What is it you’re up to, and why are you being so evasive?”
“I saw some people needing cheering up,” he responded with a dismissive wave, not eager to discuss it. “They looked down in the dumps, so given the response my actions the other day had, I decided to cheer them up.”
“Which reactions? When you attacked the man?”
“I didn’t attack anyone, but after that I changed tactics, relaxing people. To make up for the one misunderstanding, I’ve taken up performing silly dances. It’s goofy, but people appreciate it. They enjoy it, it keeps me relaxed, and it alleviates the stresses of the earlier incident. Everyone wins.”
“That’s not how you related it the other day.”
“No, because I didn’t want to get into all the details. Anyway, Emma talked to me later and said her brother’s mental illness seemed better after I entertained him. I’m sure it’s temporary, a mere distraction, but she was quite appreciative.”
“Just how appreciative?” she asked, arching her eyebrow.
“Not how you’re thinking. She’s younger than half my age.”
“Yet you traded phone numbers. You call her out of the blue and she doesn’t question the interruption.”
“She wants me to entertain her brother, so she’s being especially nice to me.”
“That’s not what she was saying. She thinks you cured him of some prolonged condition. Again, what are you up to? Right now, it looks like you’ve been lying to me for some time.”
“We’re casual friends and she assumes I’m doing more than I actually am, just like that first group responded. I never attacked the man, but because I waved my cane around, they jumped to conclusions. The cops did the same thing. I was performing a little jig and everyone was entertained, yet the police assumed the worst. They eventually released me due to a lack of evidence. No one complained, so it’s a non-issue.”
Toni glanced at him skeptically, but let the issue slide. However, Phil reminded himself, once again, that he was skating on thin ice. Not only were those near him suspicious, but he still had no evidence his visions were real. His daughter was worried about him, and so was he. The fact a desperate woman was hoping for a miracle cure didn’t change things.
Phil picked up the phone on the third ring, hoping for the neurologist but afraid it might be a reporter. “Hello, Phil Walker.”
“Phil, it’s me, Emma. Have you recovered from yesterday’s trauma?”
“Not quite, but why do you assume it was traumatic?”
“You sounded like you were in a panic. You were so relieved no one released anything, it was clear you’re obsessing over it.”
“I’ll admit, I’m still paranoid, but I’m not as bad as I was.”
“I’m glad, but I’ve got a favor. Since it’s Saturday and I’m assuming we both have the day off, I was hoping we could get together. I’d like to observe you in action to see what you do. If that’s not good for you, then I’d like you to take another look at Ethan. As I said, he’s still doing well, but you didn’t have much time with him. I’m hopeful, if you spent longer, you might achieve more and I could pick up a couple pointers.”
“I don’t know,” he said, glancing over his shoulder to see whether Toni or Jane might overhear the conversation. “Given that everyone is trying to identify me, I’m lying low at the moment; praying the public’s fascination will pass in time.”
“In that case, come by the house and you can see Ethan without anyone observing.”
“That’s not a bad offer, though I’m nervous about building his expectations.”
“He’s not expecting anything. I’ve repeated what you said, that you were merely trying to cheer him up. He’s not associating you with why he’s feeling better. The pressure is off; just see whether he seems healthier to you.”
“All right, I guess I can do that much. However, instead of meeting at your house, maybe we should meet at an isolated public park so I have space to wave my cane.”
“You’re still maintaining your sleight of hand?”
Phil chuckled. “No, the cane is necessary. Not only because my leg is unpredictable, but because it’s an indispensable part of the process.”
“Another reason why it’ll help if I see what you’re doing. If I understand it better, I can help you evaluate its effectiveness.”
“I’ve got to quit talking to you,” he teased. “You keep bringing up valid points I can’t argue with.”
“That’s the idea. As long as we’re meeting out in the open, how about if I bring a couple of Ethan’s friends for an evaluation? You can determine whether you can do them any good or not. If you think it’s worth it, they’ll make spare test subjects for you to try new techniques with.”
“All right, you’ve got a decent point again, though we’ll need an isolated, enclosed area unobservable to anyone else. Is your backyard hidden by a fence by any chance?”
“Nope, what’s more, I’ve got nosy neighbors. You’ll do better out in the open where no one knows any of us.”
She gave him the location of a nearby park she thought would work, and they agreed to meet.
“I’m heading out for a beer,” he told Jane.
“Just don’t be out too late. It’s also past time you get a few chores accomplished. You haven’t been pulling your weight lately.”
“Yeah, I’ve been a little distracted. I’ll get to them this evening,” he promised, unsure whether he could fulfill the promise or not.
“Yeah, this’ll work,” Phil said, surveying the small tree-enclosed alcove in the park near Emma’s house.
“It’s busy whenever school lets out, when these little hideaways are employed by kids starting fires or making out,” she said, indicating the discarded condoms. “This time of day, it’s mostly empty.”
“I still don’t understand what we’re here for,” Alice Peters, a friend of Ethan’s, complained.
“Me neither,” Jacob Jones said, scratching his head. “I don’t have a clue who this guy is, or why it’s so important we meet out here in the woods.”
Alice was older than the other two, wearing black-framed glasses and a heavier windbreaker. Jacob, a black man only a few years older than Ethan, wore short locks and had a thin mustache.
“Shh, you’re not supposed to ask questions,” Peter chided, glancing at Phil.
“Phil met Ethan the other day,” Emma said. “They shared a quick laugh until the police carted him off, so they wanted to get together to ensure they were all right.”
“Then why are we here?” Alice asked. “And why here? Why not back at our usual hangout?”
“Phil asked about you and I thought you might enjoy meeting him,” Emma said.
“So who the hell is he?” Jacob demanded.
“I’m nobody,” Phil said. “I’m a plumber. I spend most of my time with my hands in someone’s toilet. I saw Ethan and thought he needed cheering up.”
“He didn’t do anything,” Ethan corrected, making Phil wonder how much he’d been coached beforehand. “Yet I felt better after his little dance.”
“Dance?” Alice asked, doubtfully.
“It’s what he does,” Ethan said, cutting her off, but offering no more insight.
“Why not give them a demonstration?” Emma suggested.
“I’m not sure that’ll give them any more clue why I’m here,” Phil argued, but stepped forward anyway.
Stepping closer, Emma huddled near him. “What do you see? How much better is he now than before?” Curious, the others edged closer, expecting to observe something unusual.
“He’s much better, and hasn’t worsened at all. In fact, he’s exactly forty percent improved. I’ll try to correct the remaining sixty percent, though that’ll invalidate our time estimates.”
“I’d prefer seeing how long he remains healthy, rather than how long he remains partially disturbed,” Emma said.
“Stand back. Now that I’m not as constrained, I can afford to spread out a little more, not being so circumspect.”
She did, though the others fidgeted, waiting for something to happen.
“Stand still, I’m going to be swinging this cane around. If you shift unexpectedly, you might get clobbered.”
“Go ahead, I know what to expect,” Ethan said.
Lifting his cane, his eyes wandered around Peter’s head aimlessly until he snatched his cane up, hitting something hard. He started to twirl in the other direction, but his leg gave out. As he fell, he stretched his hands out to cushion his fall, losing his cane which tumbled to the ground.
Collapsing, the other demons realized he’d taken their companion out and attacked. They dove at his head, striking at him with their pitchforks.
“FRIG!” he yelled, trying to bat them away, rolling on his back so he could better defend himself.
“What’s wrong?” Emma asked as everyone edged closer. “Can I do anything?”