Speaking With Your Demons
02: Wrestling with Demons
Copyright© 2017 by Vincent Berg
Do I not destroy my enemies
when I make them my friends?
Abe jumped as Phil approached, trying to hide the person he was with. For a larger, older man, Phil moved quietly.
Phil noticed the young woman behind Abe, but glanced around anyway. “So, did you find any likely candidates? I don’t see anyone nearby.”
“I ... I did,” Abe said, biting his lip. He hesitated a moment and then stepped aside, revealing the young girl. “This is my niece, Meg Whiting.”
The girl did a little curtsy, smiling brightly but nervously. “Pleased to meet you.”
Phil groaned, slapping his forehead. “What did I tell you? I need someone who won’t attract much attention for a dangerous job! Someone who can assist me battling unseen...” He caught himself before revealing any more before the young girl, “ ... challenges. I can’t afford to be doing favors at this point. Maybe later, but there are several things we need to establish before we can continue.”
“No, no,” Abe argued. “I gave this serious consideration. Despite her age, she’s ideal. You want to remain invisible, and I help you by making people turn away. Well, Meg does the opposite, she draws everyone’s attention. They see her bright smile and hardly notice anything else. They may glance at you if you’re near her, assuming you’re her father, but they’ll focus on her instead of you. If she isn’t beside you, they won’t notice you at all.”
Phil stroked his chin. “That’s an intriguing premise, but how can she help me in my ... struggles?”
“She’s a bright girl. If you want someone to defend you, stand up to the police, or look good on camera, she’s your girl. As for the danger, you’re the only target. She can blow your dog whistle without any trouble, and despite her size, she can still wave your UV penlight by reaching up a bit.”
“I can,” she promised, biting her lip.
“I guess a first step might be explaining exactly why they both work in these cases.”
“I know the whistle hurts their ears, without any humans being able to hear it and noticing, just as the light confuses them, while no one else can see it,” Meg argued, countering Phil’s objection.
Phil considered her, reevaluating her potential. Meg was a little slip of a thing, barely a hundred pounds, with dark wavy hair, fair skin, and a smile you couldn’t darken with a marker. She also looked natural in Pioneer Park with the homeless, drug addicts, tourists and business people. Her hair was medium length, curling in uneven waves down her face, and she wore a pinkish children’s trench coat and a red flower hair barrette. Even though she was nervous about Phil’s decision, she continued to beam. What’s more, everyone passing smiled at her when they passed, not paying any attention to Abe’s scars or Phil at all. He had to admit, she’d be the perfect disguise.
She stood in stark contrast to her Uncle Abe. He had a grizzled appearance, a heavy beard and a ruddy complexion, ignoring his scars. He looked like he could carry a half dozen of his niece without slowing, at least three under each arm.
“Is this because you want me to help her with her depression?”
“Her what? She’s not depressed. She smiles all the time.”
“Trust me,” Phil said, regarding her, “she’s depressed. Aren’t you?”
She hesitated before reluctantly nodding.
“Her smiling is a defense mechanism. Whose feelings are you protecting, sweetheart?”
She glanced at Abe and swallowed. “My mom. She doesn’t need my mood bringing her down.”
“Her mother, my sister Betty, is in rough shape. She’s addicted to drugs and is unable to hold even the simplest of jobs. I typically keep Meg near me to keep her out of trouble.”
“I knew there was something you weren’t telling me.”
“It doesn’t change the fact she’s ideal for the position. She knows the shelters, people here recognize her, and we’ve been to most of the parks. She’s known and trusted wherever you want to go. What’s more, she can win over the most skeptical individual if you need to go anywhere else.”
“Except, it’s illegal endangering a child. Not only might we get into trouble, but she’d draw cops worried about her.”
“No, I’m her uncle. There’s no problem with her accompanying me. Her mother knows when she’s with me and expects me to watch out for her. The local police know us both and won’t hassle us.”
“Other cops won’t,” Phil countered. He knelt, studying the young woman. “Tell me about your mother.”
She again glanced at her uncle before saying anything. He nodded his head.
“She tries. She really does, but she’s had a tough time and turned to drugs. She can’t help herself.”
Phil looked at Abe. “In order for this to work, and I’m not agreeing to it, we’ll need her mother to sign an affidavit allowing me to escort her around the city.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem, as long as I vouch for you.”
“I can treat her mother, to save you the angst over this, but when I do, it’s entirely possible she’ll want to resume her life, keeping Meg under her control.”
Abe shrugged. “She’s your best option and this helps all four of us. It’s a chance we’ll have to take.”
Phil stood. “All right, let’s see what Mom has to say. I’m still not convinced this is wise.”
They found Meg’s mother, Betty Whiting, trying to score a hit closer to Cherry Street. It didn’t look like she’d had much success. She was brooding, staring at nothing, her eyes unfocused and bloodshot.
Meg glanced up at Abe before releasing his hand and running towards her mother. “Mom!”
Betty’s head snapped up, swiveling, taking a moment to lock onto her daughter. She opened one arm for her, but instead Meg grabbed her hand, tugging at it, pulling her forward.
“There’s someone I want you to meet. He can help.”
Betty looked beyond Meg, seeing Phil and Abe. She didn’t stand, but crossed her arms, leaning back. She said something to her daughter, which neither man could hear. Meg took a step back.
“Good morning, Betty,” Phil said when they approached, nodding to her.
“What do ya’ want?”
“Ma, this is Phil. He can help us; let us get a home again.”
Betty waved her daughter off with the back of her hand, not taking her eyes off Phil.
“Hello, Betty,” Abe said. “Meg is correct. Phil’s here to help.”
“No one gives us nothin’ ‘less they want somefin’.”
“You’re right about that. I do want something. I’m interested in hiring your daughter to do some busy work for me. Don’t worry, it’s nothing questionable, and I’ll pay her a decent salary. In exchange for you allowing her to work for me, I’ll help the two of you get your lives back on track.”
At the mention of money, her head tilted further back and she seemed to awaken. “How much?”
“I’ll pay her one fifty a day. Aren’t you interested in what I can offer?”
She watched him intently, swatting away something by her face. “What you offerin’?”
“I can eliminate the monkey on your back, end your addiction forever.”
“I bin through therapy b’fore. It ain’t do nothin’.”
“I’m not talking about a clinic. It’ll only take a couple minutes.”
She cocked her head, glancing at Abe. “Is he legit?”
“He can do what he promises.” He spread his arms. “I’m clean. No tics, no longer jumpy, calm and clear thinking, with no need for medication. He’s employing me, too. I’ll be there to watch Meg the entire time. You have nothing to lose.”
She studied him. “Wha’ch gonna do?”
Betty was as thin as her daughter. Though bundled for the weather, her cheeks were shrunken and there were bags under her eyes. She had long straight hair, unlike her daughter’s curls, though the same color as Meg’s. Her eyes were a mottled brown, her hair uncombed and her full lips chapped without the cover of makeup.
Phil glanced around at the passing traffic. “Let’s move somewhere slightly more private. There’s a lot of ... distractions here.” Without saying anything more, he led them further into Pioneer Park, under the cover of the trees which cast mottled shadows in spots. Meg and Abe waited for Betty, who was still reluctant to budge, but she finally followed.
Phil stopped by the low stone wall, the main source of seating in the area, since the few benches were usually taken. When Betty sat, crossing her arms, Phil stepped closer, lifting his cane. “This won’t take long, only you can’t move.”
She pushed herself back, drawing her legs up.
“Don’t worry, I won’t touch you. You’re perfectly safe.”
She didn’t say anything, which Phil assumed was a passive acceptance. He stood still for a moment, not doing anything as Abe wandered over by Betty’s side. Suddenly, Phil lashed out with his cane. It stopped about seven inches from her face. Betty flinched, raising her hands.
When Phil lowered his cane, she stood, hands still raised.
“I ain’t interested in no intervention!” she declared.
“Don’t you feel better?”
“I feel like I need another hit.” She backed away, having to sidestep her daughter. “Keep your distance.”
“Is it okay if Meg works for him?” Abe asked, hoping to achieve a partial win.
She turned, still backing away, heading back where she was before. “As long as she’s safe, you can do whatever you want, but I’ll count so’s I knows you ain’t cheatin’ her.”
“That’s fine, for now,” Phil called after her, “but consider how you feel. You’ll likely wait longer before your next fix, as it’s not calling as urgently. You can beat this, but only with my help.”
“Don’t come near me,” she warned, storming off.
“That didn’t go well,” Meg observed, watching her mother depart without her.
“It’s a step in the right direction. Not everyone wants to get better. Hopefully, though, she’ll notice the slight improvement and want more after she considers it. We spooked her.”
Abe glanced around. “People be watchin’ us. If you’re not careful, someone may recognize you.”
Instead of turning to verify Abe’s claim, he went in the other direction, heading for Yesler Way, turning his collar up again. “We’re done here.”
“Is you really gonna pay me?” Meg asked, trotting after him. “I never had a payin’ job before.”
When she settled in beside him, he answered. “I sure will, honey.” He dropped his voice. “I’ll pay you five hundred a day. You need to keep the extra safe, where your mother won’t find it and no one else can steal it. If you want me to hold it for you, I will, or I can set up a bank account where you can deposit it, so it’s ready when you need it. Just don’t let your mom know.”
“Don’t worry. I know better than that, though she’ll just get high with the money you give her. She’ll never get straight with so much cash.”
“There’s only so much we can do, but at least she’s allowing us to continue.”
“You’re giving up on the signed authorization?” Abe asked.
“For the moment. Once she starts receiving the money, she’ll consent to signing for more,” Phil assured him.
“You got that right,” Meg said. “She’d do anything to stay high.”
“Don’t worry, she’ll come along ... eventually,” Phil promised, although he wasn’t entirely convinced.
“All right,” Phil said, studying the small park near the statue of Chief Seattle, the city’s namesake. “Normally, I’d treat your depression here and now, Meg, but I have a different plan for the moment. Please bear with me. I want to try a new approach.”
Phil surveyed the street, hoping to find the right person, already knowing they weren’t in the park itself. “Before, I got into trouble by acting first, only figuring out what I was doing after the fact, which drew an inordinate amount of attention. I paid the ultimate price for that—the loss of my ability to help. Now that I’ve regained those abilities, rather than advertise it to the world, I’m hoping to take my time and learn a better approach. In order to achieve that, I’m looking to speak to a couple fairies.”
Meg glanced at her uncle. “Did he really say that?”
“Alas, he did.”
“We don’t call them that anymore,” she corrected him. “We’re supposed to call them ‘gay’.”
Phil chuckled. “No, I’m not talking about those fairies. I’m referring to the literal fairies.”
“You’re unlikely to find them here,” Abe advised. “We should try Occidental Park, which is only another block to the south. It has a variety of shops along with a collection of food trucks, so it draws a lot of people.”
“Lead on,” Phil urged, indicating the way with his cane.
Abe took Meg’s hand and crossed Yesler Way, leading them down a narrow alleyway. At the end of the block was a wooded park, sheltered by a vine covered wall of shops on one side, and a row of food trucks on the other. In the middle there were a variety of artworks, including totems and a fire truck, along with plenty of people sitting around or passing by.
“Ah, here we are,” Phil announced. As Meg and Abe glanced at each other, Phil headed towards a young woman, sitting on a park bench, casually doodling in a journal.
“Excuse me, miss. Do you mind if I take a moment of your time?”
She looked up, distracted, but smiled anyway. “No, I guess not. What do you need?”
As she and Phil spoke, Meg looked over her shoulder, noticing her doodles were actually character sketches of the various people in the park, capturing their emotions, actions and expressions. She was impressed. The woman knew what she was doing.
“This will seem odd, but I need to speak to your muses.”
Instead of answering, Phil leaned forward, poking the air in front of her, startling both her and the invisible fairy passing by her face.
“Pardon me,” Phil said by way of introduction.
The fairy, surprised, spun around, not noticing anyone immediately until he poked her again.
“Yeah, it’s me,” he said. “The name is Phil, and I want to speak to you.”
“Uh, what the hell is he doing?” the young artist asked.
“The heck if I know,” Meg answered.
“Just watch, I think we’ll all learn something interesting,” Abe suggested.
The fairy, stunned at being addressed by a human, stared at him wide-eyed and open mouthed. Luckily, she didn’t shout a warning as others had done in the past. However, the effect was similar, as the other fairies circling the woman’s head paused, watching the strange interaction unfold.
“All right, now that I have your attention, I need some answers.”
“How ... how can you see us? How can you reach out and touch us?”
“Ah, as usual, you fairies manage to see the things the rest of us never pick up on our own. That’s why I’m seeking you out. You’re the only species who remained true to your calling, helping humans while the others have lost their way. The demons, devils and dragons seek to destroy us instead of aiding us like you continue to do. I need to understand the difference.”
The tiny fairy shook her head, trying to reorient her thinking. While he waited, Phil shifted to the side, still maintaining eye contact with the fairy, and knelt, though the woman noticed he wasn’t addressing nor looking at her, instead staring into blank space.
“You want us,” the tiny fairy made a vague motion, indicating her companions, “to tell you what we do?”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know precisely what you do. However, I’ve been granted a ... special dispensation by your creators. I was tasked with correcting an imbalance: addressing the behavior of the more wayward creatures. So far, I’ve sought to destroy those trying to hurt us. Only, that hasn’t worked out well. At the very least, I want to differentiate between the good,” he said, indicating her, “and the more destructive of your kind,” he continued, pointing to another nearby fairy. “I need to know what the dynamic is. Rather than killing every demon I encounter, I have to learn how to relate to them, so I can convince them to return to their true calling.”
The fairy, at a loss for words, turned to its companions for help. They each shrugged, though they gravitated around Phil’s head, ignoring their host, peering into his eyes and seemingly deep into his soul.
“When you say... ‘creators’...”
“I mean exactly what I said. The alien race that created you and the other species who afflict us humans. They too, lost their way, and lost communication with you for hundreds of years. They’re only now regaining their skills, but to limit the damage—part of their making amends—they chose me to intercede on their behalf—stopping the destruction their downfall triggered.”
The tiny fairy again glanced at the others before turning back. “You’re ... him!”
“The name is Phil,” he said, giving her a little wave.
“This is so ... odd,” the artist said, observing Phil obsessed with talking to himself. She was young, blond with green eyes and long streaked hair.
“Pay attention, you’ll learn something,” Abe said.
“Rumors are circulating about you. Our newest member, Lastitul, told us about what little they’ve heard about you back on our home world. You ... really exist?”
“I do, just as you fairies, demons, dragons and other creatures exist. Believe me, I was as stunned as you are.”
The little thing shook her head again, trying to regain her train of thought. “And you want to know what?”
“What are the different roles each of you play, and how may I reach out and convince the other species about correcting their behaviors. Slaughtering everyone wholesale has immediate benefits, but comes at a steep cost and doesn’t change anyone’s behavior. I need a new approach.”
The fairies congregated and whispered amongst themselves. Phil could follow much of the discussion, but not enough to make sense of what was being said, so he addressed the woman staring at him. “Pardon me,” he said, pointing at one, “they’re discussing strategies. I’m hoping to get some answers soon.”
The fairy he first spoke to—and poked—addressed him again, assuming the role of spokesfairy. “We don’t associate with the other species, although we sometimes interact with them.” She indicated another female fairy. “We have our own specialists, instead of working with the other creatures. Tristan, whose name means ‘faith’ in our native tongue, deals with our human’s regrets—what you’d call her depression. It results in the human becoming less productive, but it’s a necessary task in keeping her grounded and able to relate her talents to others, so they can learn from her, and our, insights.”
“So I was led to believe, but I’m hoping for something more specific. Why is it you fairies kept your mission front and center, while the others abandoned theirs?”
She shrugged, cute on a fairy, as the motion cast off bits of fairy dust, which sparkled in the dappled sunlight of the surrounding trees. “Again, we don’t communicate with them, but ... we have a long and storied tradition, and pride ourselves on aiding humans to see their better selves. By reminding them of their flaws, they’re able to appreciate how to reach out to others, and can express our ideas to thousands. In the end, their reward is our success. We not only assist our assigned human, but through that human, many others.”
Phil stopped to consider that for a moment, during which time everyone: man, woman, child and fairies awaited his response. “All right, in that case, what is your prize? When do you return home, and what provides the greater glory when you do? I’m assuming you return at your host’s death, like the other creatures, so what do you consider the accomplishment of your mission?”
She shrugged again, not used to conversing with humans. “We take the advances of our human as our honors, but we return once we’re no longer needed. That is, once they progress beyond our meager abilities to help or become too old to make a difference in others’ lives.”
“Fine, I can understand that, but what’s the precise mechanism? Do you simply decide to leave on your own, or how is the decision made? In short, how can I convince the more destructive species to ‘do the right thing’?”
“When it’s our time, we fade away from this realm and return to our home world. When we do, we celebrate, wishing our companions farewell and conveying our hopes for those we left behind so many years ago. They’re considered heroes, regaling the fairies back home with all that our human achieved over their lifetime, and how many lives we changed by our actions.”
“Ah, so there is an alternative I can offer the others. I just need to understand what it is, and how to convince them.” Phil perked up, snapping his fingers, surprising everyone. “I have it, but ... I need another favor. It’s a big one, and may delay your return, but it’s for the greater good, as you’ll help millions of humans escape the ravages of the other species and prevent me from slaughtering thousands of them, too.”
She glanced at her other fairies before turning back. “What is it you ask?”
“I need one of you to serve as my spokesperson with the other species. You’ll have to abandon your human,” Phil indicated the artist, whom he hadn’t yet learned the name of, “but you’ll advise me, and help convince others. I’m assuming having one of you speaking to them won’t be quite as ... disconcerting ... as my poking you was.”
They turned, congregating and whispering together, though a few of their voices rose in excited exclamations. Though it all Phil patiently waited.
“We’ve discussed your proposal and selected Tristan. Since she concentrates on the negative aspects of our human’s life, she’ll be the one best able to assist you in communicating with the ... others.”
“Welcome, Tristan,” Phil said, his smile growing. He reached out to shake her hand, but quickly realized the futility of the action. Instead, he patted his shoulder, offering her a place to rest her weary wings.
Tristan glanced at her friends, before flying to the offered spot, settling into the recess between Phil’s neck and shoulder. As she did, the fairy Phil originally spoke with began to fade. Phil blinked, unsure whether his vision was failing, but the other fairies grew excited, shouting out to her.
“This is it!” Tristan whispered in Phil’s ear. “This was obviously the correct choice. Limrick is being sent home for her role in helping you.”
Phil waited as the fairies congratulated Limrick and passed on their messages for her to carry back home. When she finally vanished, he addressed those remaining. “She goes with great honor. This will change the role between the different species. If so, she’ll forever be recalled as a pivotal figure for millennia.”
As they cheered, Phil spoke to those waiting, standing again. “Well, that was ... interesting. First, the bad news...” Tristan again spoke in his ear, “Taylor. It seems you’ve lost two of your five muses.”
“Five ... fairy muses?” she asked, skeptically.
“Well, only three now. Limrick went on to her fairy homeworld, to great acclaim, for helping thousands through your work and mine. Meanwhile, Tristan,” Phil pointed to his shoulder, where she still sat, “is joining me to help rescue the other species.”
“I understand your skepticism. It’s a normal response, but if you stop to consider your feelings, I’m sure you’ll notice a difference. For now, your muses are quiet, as they’re still celebrating. The one who’s coming with me was responsible for your consistent depression, so for that reason alone you should be more productive. Also, given how Limrick left, I’m assuming you’ll receive a replacement before long.” He paused and nodded his head. “I’m told that’s correct. If you lost your voice, they wouldn’t return, but if they achieve their objective, they’ll be replaced by someone newer so they can learn from the others.”
“That’s so romantic,” Meg crooned, holding her hands together as if praying, her eyes gleaming.
“This is so weird,” Taylor said, glancing around at each of them.
“Is it? Okay then, how’s this? Your head is already buzzing with ideas for new artwork featuring myself, reaching out to bring peace between fairies, dragons, demons and devils.”
“I thought that was only because of the conversation?”
Phil shook his head. “They’re currently suggesting the name for the piece, The Ascension of Limrick.”
Taylor’s eyes widened and her mouth gaped. “You’re listening to my thoughts?”
Phil smiled as Meg and Abe chuckled. “No, I’m talking to your muses. I’ve given them a new topic to regale you with ideas for. I suggest you get busy, striking while the iron is hot. They’re very excited!”
“I ... I have so many questions.”
“Save them,” Phil said, waving his hand. “Instead, listen to your muses. They know all the details. Your story concepts will be both fantastical and historically accurate.”
She dropped her eyes, hurriedly fleshing out ideas before they dissipated. “Man, I need to get busy!” She glanced up again, addressing Phil. “Is there some way I can contact you in the future?”
“No. It’s better if you don’t know who I am, other than my name. I’ve had enough trouble with public acclaim, and your work will be better in the abstract. Don’t try to apply reason to your muse’s suggestions. They know your work better than you. That’s why they’re there.”
She continued scribbling and sketching. “So ... many ... ideas...” Phil motioned for the others to follow as he walked away, heading back north again. Taylor didn’t seem to notice.
“So where does that leave us?” Abe asked.
“Well, first of all, we need introductions. Tristan, this is Abe and this is Meg. Like you, they are new recruits. Because I’ve become so renowned, it’s difficult for me to move around freely. Besides assisting me, they help prevent people from focusing on me.”
“Excuse me,” Abe said, “but I was under the impression the other ... creatures aren’t well spoken. Yet it sounded like you had quite an in-depth conversation.”
Tristan leaned in, whispering into Phil’s ear, and he nodded silently before speaking. “It has to do with the different cultures. Since the fairies retain an interest in helping us, they study our language. As the other species resent us for their own lack of advancement, they have little desire to learn our ways besides shouting obscenities at us.”
“So where are we heading now?” Meg asked. “Aside from sitting to talk to the fairies, you haven’t stopped walking yet.”
“I’m going back to where we were before, because I want to confront the devils associated with addictions. I need to understand how to convince them to change their ways.”
“That ain’t likely to be easy,” she replied. “They rarely listen to anyone when they’re dying for a fix.”
“Should we be doing this in one place?” Abe asked. “People will notice us walking back and forth, especially if you continue bashing things with your cane.”