The Demons Within
13: Netting a Sample

Copyright© 2017 by Vincent Berg

Setting goals is the first step

in turning the invisible into the visible.

Tony Robbins

“Are you ready for another go?” Emma asked, greeting Phil as he pulled into a parking spot.

“Or rather, can you survive another one?” Ethan teased.

“Yeah, though this time will be a little different,” Phil said, exiting his car. “Instead of the typical crowd scene, I told Melissa I was done with waiting room demonstrations. I insisted I’d only handle five of her worst cases. That way, the chances of complications are reduced, as are the number of observers. If I take out one creature each, her patients will do better, though they won’t be completely cured.”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s fascinating; but I brought you a present.” Emma opened a shopping bag, handing him something from it.

“Is this what I think it is?” Phil examined it, turning it over while being careful not to unravel it.

“It sure is. I’m hoping you’ll be able to wrangle several if they start attacking again. Once they catch on to what you’re doing, you can surprise them and hopefully escape unscathed. I’d love to use it myself, but obviously, I can’t phase-shift objects.”

“How the hell am I supposed to use it?” Phil asked, balancing it in his hand to evaluate its weight.

“How else, you throw it. Just like your cane, you’ll need to keep it in your hand. If you don’t, it won’t do a thing. If you do, it should retain its phase shift for a few moments. Once it works, grab it again and you’ll maintain its power over them.”

“I’m having trouble picturing it working. I suspect I’ll require a few days to practice with it.”

“Nonsense. You’re not throwing it far. It’s not like you’re trying to strike a small target.”

“We’ll see,” he said, sticking it in the bag he previously used to carry his dagger cane. “Come on, chances are everyone’s waiting for us. Unfortunately, I’ve become quite the star attraction at these events.”

“How’d your appointment go?”

“About as well as expected. They kept me in the scanner for well over an hour taking pictures. However, despite the expedited effort, they said it would take time to process and even longer to interpret.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing, but you were worried. It makes sense ensuring there’s nothing occurring you’re unaware of.”

“Speaking of unpleasantries,” Ethan interjected, “how’s living at home again?”

“It’s not too bad. They both give me a lot of room to brood whenever I need to. It’s obvious Jane is dying to learn more, but she’s nervous about prodding too much. However, she’s more ... attentive than she’s been in years. I think she has a newfound respect for me. Hell, she hasn’t listened to me talk about work for years. At least now, she respects the good I’m doing for the community despite what anyone says. She’s always thought my business was disgusting, regardless of what it’s done for us.

“Toni appreciates spending time with me. She makes a great sounding board. She keeps asking penetrating questions about how these creatures function. It’s also nice unloading some of the dark thoughts I keep bottled up. It’s working, for now, at least.”

Wanting to change the topic, he turned to someone he hadn’t seen for some time. “It’s wonderful seeing you again, Jacob. It’s been a while since you joined us.”

“I wanted to, but I was reconnecting with family. Ethan mentioned you didn’t want too many people tagging along, so we made ourselves scarce. Yet I’m interested in observing your technique. I’ve heard you’re getting better at it, even as your opponents are grow increasingly more difficult.”

“Well, again, you’ll need to keep back. We’re drawing too much attention as is, but you’re welcome to observe.”

“That’s my plan. It’ll be fun watching the show, rather than worrying about how to save yo’ sorry ass.” He chuckled as they neared the Danbury clinic entrance.

Approaching the check-in window as the others held back, the receptionist was ready for him.

“Melissa is waiting for you. As per your earlier arrangement, she’ll bring out several people into the courtyard to the left of the building. You can use the exit over there,” she said, pointing to an emergency exit in the far corner.

“Thank ya’, Ma’am. I appreciate it,” he said, before heading out, indicating for the others to follow.

Outside they found Melissa, the psychiatrist Phil worked with. “While I’m disappointed you downsized your treatments, I understand. However, it gives me an excellent opportunity to watch your process up close. The last time, I was too concerned about your injuring someone to pay much attention.”

“Frankly, there isn’t much to witness. Like any magic act, it’s best not looking behind the curtain.”

“Well, our participants today are Frank, with—”

“Agoraphobia, yeah, I got that.” Phil went down the line, pointing to each of her patients. “Bi-polar disorder, kleptomania, chronic depression, whatever you’re calling cutting and I’m unsure what the last is. I’ve wondered what her condition is.”

“Oh, Marla suffers from a variety of conditions. She’s an author, quite successful.”

“Yeah, they favor the type.”

“If you say so, though you were never clear on who ‘they’ are.”

Without saying any more, Phil wandered over, listening to the fairies circling the artist’s head.

“ ... zombie romances, kissing decaying lips, makeup tips for zombies...”

“Hear anything interesting?” Emma prompted.

“Yeah, I was never sure whether to combat the fairies or not. Melissa says these people suffer from a variety of mental issues, but they mostly suggest creative ideas. Unless they threaten someone, I’m inclined to leave them alone.” He turned to the young woman studying him with an odd expression.

“What new concepts are you considering for your next piece?”

“Pardon me?”

“You’re working on story ideas. I’m curious what your latest themes are?”

“Isn’t that kind of ... personal? After all, I hate giving away plot spoilers before I develop them.”

“Lady, I don’t have the slightest clue who you are, but I’m trying to confirm what I hear your inspiration saying.”

She cocked her head, but decided to entertain him. “I’m working on a zombie alternative screenplay and—”

“and you’re playing with ideas of zombie romances, makeup and sex between the living and the undead?”

“Yeah, how did you—?”

“Trust me, keep listening to their advice. If you decide to give up on writing, or your issues overwhelm your creativity, call me. I’ll take away both. It’s your choice.”

“Whoa! Harsh advice,” Melissa said, surprising Phil, who hadn’t been aware she was eavesdropping. “My clients often tell me they won’t surrender their suffering at the expense of their art.”

He started to turn away when Marla reached out, grasping his arm.

“Wait. While writing is vital to my life, I’ve been unable to write for some time. If my creativity is tied to my illness, then if you could ... say, trim it a bit, only taking off enough to make me productive again would be perfect.”

Phil considered her, evaluating her suggestion.

“Yeah, that makes sense. I think I can determine which affect your creativity and which cause you problems. It’ll be tricky only removing the negative individuals without alerting the helpful ones. Let me see what I can do.”

He turned to the assembled patients. “Let’s get started. I’m trying something new. Focus on your issues and delve into your deepest thoughts. Accept your demons, invite them in.”

When they all glanced at him like he was crazy, Melissa championed his idea.

“It’s a new form of immersion therapy,” she said. “By focusing on your problems, you bring them to the fore so they can be addressed. By delving into the most painful issues, you’re better able to address them when they surface again.”

They didn’t look convinced, but at her continued prompting, they began to follow his advice.

“It’s working,” Phil whispered. “With everyone giving them an opening, their tormentors are concentrating on them. They’re not paying attention to us. Spread out, let’s see how far we can take this.”

He started weaving in and out of the various patients at a slow walk. Whenever he saw an opportunity to strike, his cane lashed out, capturing one by surprise. When the person they tormented felt better, its companions redouble their efforts, missing the fact one of their own had vanished.

Seeing a chance, he smashed a dragon over the head, killing it instantly. Catching an unguarded troll, he slammed it. Any time one glanced up, curious what was up, Melissa urged the person to concentrate on their pain or Emma would blow her whistle. Distracted and encouraged to counter their host’s improving moods, they redoubled their efforts.

Phil tried to take out one creature for each patient before revisiting any. When the opportunity presented itself, he’d take out two at once, but those opportunities were rare. After he’d taken out two of each, he motioned Ethan and Emma towards one severely depressed patient.

“Now is when I get creative.” Phil led the man away from the others, encouraging him to continue. “Imagine your life at its worst. What your life would be like if everything was as bad as you can picture it.”

Encouraged by how much better he felt, he too redoubled his efforts, hoping for an even bigger payoff. He viewed Phil’s actions and odd dance steps as a test, distracting him from wrestling with his inner demons.

Tossing his cane to the side, Phil pulled out Emma’s gift, which he’d been holding for some time in anticipation of this moment. Reaching into his pocket with his left hand, he extracted his switchblade, thrusting and stabbing a single dragon in the side.

As expected, it shrieked, causing its companions, and several of the other creatures further back, to glance up. Instead of moving on, Phil held his blood covered blade up for them to observe. “That’s right, bitches. It was me. Come on, come and get me!” he said, urging them forward with his knife.

The man looked startled, as his depression lifted as the dragons rose as one. When they launched at him as a group, Phil was ready. Whipping his right hand around, he released a coiled net, capturing the lot of them. “Gotcha, suckers!” he yelled.

The stunned creatures hesitated before they attempted to rise. Unable to, they dropped, trying to escape under the net. When they did, it fell with them. Each time they rose, they ended up losing elevation. Phil tossed his knife into the ground, clutching the netting with both hands.

As he did, Emma knelt, grabbing the ends of the net, pulling it down as hard as she could.

Melissa stood transfixed. The net hung in the air, outlining several strange shapes. She observed wings beating with great effort, as the unseen creatures were constrained.

Realizing she needed to control the contact with the other patients, she motioned them back into the clinic. “I’ll explain everything later,” she promised.

Able to witness their foes for once, Emma pulled the net tighter, restricting their movements. Unable to do little but thrash, the net danced in place, inches off the ground in an undulating display.

“What they hell are those?” the man asked.

“They’re your demons, or rather, your dragons,” Phil explained, as Ethan and Jacob stepped on the net, ensuring they couldn’t escape. Since his hands were free, Jacob took out his phone, filming the seething mass of angry invisible creatures.

Retrieving his switchblade, Phil leaned over them, grasping the edge of the net with one hand, yanking it away whenever one tried to bite. “Hey, you! Why do you torment us?”

The demon he addressed hissed, trying to snap at him. Unable to, he continued questioning it.

“What good does it do? What do you get out of it?”

Realizing they were trapped, their anger boiling over and frustrated at their inability to strike, one responded.

“We feed on their desperation,” it hissed. “Their helplessness makes us stronger.”

“So you’re like emotional vampires?”

“We’ll get you,” it vowed. “When you least ‘spect it, we’ll make ‘yo life hell!”

Phil poked it with his knife, slicing its scaly flesh as its blood ran out. Their screams intensified, their anger and frustration growing.

“You may kill us, but you never save everyone. We’ll win, no matter what you do!”

“If you feed on our suffering, why drive us to kill ourselves?”

“Because the objective is your death!” one howled, launching at him. It didn’t get far. When he threatened to cut another, it provided more detail. “Our status rises with your demise. We return heroes, fed enough for a lifetime, respected by all.”

Melissa, having returned, leaned over his shoulder. “Are they answering?”

“For once, yeah. Up until now, I’ve listened to what they scream at your patients. This is the first time we’ve ever spoken.” He turned back to the more talkative of the dragons. “What happens when you vanish? Do you return to your home? Do you die, or do you recover?” When the creature hesitated, snapping at him, he stabbed its neighbor, who shrieked.

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