Speaking With Your Demons
03: Proving the Unprovable

Copyright© 2017 by Vincent Berg

Happiness is having a large, loving, caring,

close-knit family in another city.

George Burns

“So you’ll be okay for the next hour or two?”

“Yeah, we’ll be fine,” Abe assured him. “Meg wants to scrub herself clean, which should take a while. After that, she’s excited about going grocery shopping with the money you gave her.”

Phil chuckled. “She’s some kid. I thought she’d want to squirrel some away, but you’d assume she’d want ice cream and cake too.”

“No, she’s interested in some decent food for her school lunches, and plans to stock the hotel room so she’ll have something whenever she needs it. She’s also interested in something for her gym teacher, who lets her use the showers before classes start.”

“She’s way too mature for such a young girl, but that’s what makes her ideal for her new role. Alright, I’ll see you for dinner at the hotel’s dining room. I’ll be indisposed until then.”

Hanging up the hotel phone, Phil launched his laptop’s Skype program. His call was answered almost immediately.

“Hello, Dad. It’s wonderful seeing you again. I see you’ve dyed your hair. It looks good, though I like the old you better. Hold on a moment while I connect everyone.”

Separate windows showing images of Emma and Ethan, Melinda and Jane opened up beneath the main window. Aside from Toni and Jane, his daughter and wife, Melinda was a psychiatrist who supported him early, while Emma and Ethan helped guide him as he figured out how to combat the various creatures. Each was now involved with the Walker Institute in Philadelphia, promoting his work without him.

“Hey, old man, you’re looking ... less ancient,” Ethan teased. “How’s the cold and drizzly Northwest treating you?”

“I’m fitting in well. I’m even making new friends and going out to eat occasionally. I’m still recognized, but if I stay away from the obvious locations, it’s not too bad.”

“That’s terrific,” Toni interrupted, recognizing her father wasn’t comfortable talking about himself, “but before this goes too far afield, we wanted to focus more on these creatures who’re triggering the mental disorders. We’re hoping that if we can understand how they operate, we may develop some better strategies for combating them, ourselves.”

“I can’t give you anything specific, but I’ve got a decent idea of how they came to be. Mind you, most of this is conjecture, but it’s based on what I’ve gathered and assumed from other clues. It’s also rather involved.

“The creatures were created by an advanced alien civilization, who found space travel too limiting. Since it takes almost a full lifetime to reach the closest star, it wasn’t practical. Once there, trade or support wasn’t feasible, as it requires the same time to send back only a small sample of goods, with hundreds of years passing by the time they return.

“Instead, they discovered a way to transport travelers almost instantly in a different phase state. This had the additional advantage of allowing them to observe distant worlds without harming the environment or disturbing the natives. Thus they could pick which planets were worth investigating. When they found one with primitive cultures, each investigator would remain long enough to do an in-depth study, ranging from five to forty of our years. They’d live off the resources of the native inhabitants, rather than scrounging for sustenance, and couldn’t be detected by those they were studying. It seemed the perfect system for observing foreign worlds.

“However, in time they saw myriad ways to help these primitive cultures. After a long struggle, they created an array of bio-engineered subspecies who could become sufficiently solid for them to pass on information without being detected. They whispered to the primitives who couldn’t technically hear them, but who accepted the ideas as their own. They’d suggest alternative solutions to problems, and let the native inhabitants develop them however they saw fit.

“Over time, they extended these creatures abilities, with each subspecies focusing on different segments of the culture, targeting separate emotions. Some specialized in guilt to modify negative behavior, some on depression to force them to relate to those less fortunate, and some on emotional weaknesses so the people would seek help sooner.

“What’s more, they targeted creative artists, since they were best able to spread their ideas to others. That’s how each culture developed similar concepts concerning how these ‘magical creatures’ appeared. Storytellers told tall tales of them showing mere humans the errors of their ways, while others invented new ways of solving common problems.

“After thousands of years, at least here on Earth, this advanced race fell on hard times. Instead of focusing on other cultures, they focused on themselves and lost what drove them to succeed in the first place—the very things they tried to foster in other cultures.

“As they stumbled into their own dark ages, losing much of the technical knowledge required to reach other worlds, the subspecies they designed lost their way, too. Since these creatures were developed primarily as messengers, they didn’t have the resources or motivations to succeed or adapt on their own. No one led them the way they taught others.

“As such, they grew resentful, and instead of helping those they were assigned to guide, they sought to destroy them. Thus, the once helpful messages focused on self-destructive advice, and targeted everyone, not just those who could communicate their ideas.

“In the end, that’s why the original aliens selected me. It seems there is something in my genetic makeup which allows me to handle the phase change these creatures use. This allows me to see, hear, as well as touch and fight them.”

“Wow! This is fascinating stuff,” Toni said, huddled over her notebook, jotting down notes. “But how did you come upon this much history? From what Emma recalls, you only spoke to a few of the creatures you fought. Somehow, I doubt they’d tell you not only why they were created, but also why they failed—specifically if they didn’t understand it themselves.”

“Did you ever communicate with the creator race?” Melissa asked. “Is that how you learned so much?”

“Alas, no, I didn’t,” Phil lied. “Instead, just before I lost my abilities, I had a dream where they described what was happening. At the time, I didn’t take it seriously, assuming it was my mind’s way of processing what happened, but over time—”

“You realized you were being guided,” Emma surmised, finishing his thought. “The same way they led everyone else, by making you think their ideas were your own.”

“I must say,” Melissa observed, “it’s an ingenious method of motivating people, using their egos to motivate new behaviors!”

“This is fascinating, but it’s hard to figure out where to go from here,” Toni said. “Did they give you any clues how any of this works, or how we might limit their abilities?”

“I’ve had a few ideas which I’m trying to work through, but I didn’t want to distract you from the important tasks you’re doing.”

“Wouldn’t it be better to discuss it? Maybe we could provide some insights into how to approach the problems?”

“Nah, my ideas are too unfocused, the concepts too preliminary. I’ll need to flesh them out before presenting them; otherwise you’ll be as confused as I am. Besides, they give me something to concentrate on rather than my own issues. I prefer wrestling with these details in solitude, instead of drifting restlessly while avoiding everyone.”

“That’s classic behavior for my father,” Toni advised the others. “He never likes to tell anyone what he’s planning until it’s fleshed out and fully scheduled.”

“Tell me about it,” Jane said, grinning. “Every year, I’d swear he’d forgotten everyone’s birthday and our anniversary, and he never wanted to be reminded. Yet, at the last minute he’d spring a big surprise, well thought out, paid for in advance and requiring us to run out the door at a moment’s notice.”

“Well, this is intriguing, though I’m not sure how much it’ll help with treatments,” Melissa said. “We’ll need to take this offline and discuss it amongst ourselves, but it’s more informative than helpful.”

“What about the different species? Do they have any noticeable weaknesses or limitations?”

“Many utilize tools, like pencils and pitchforks. They appear largely symbolic, but there’s no telling how they’re constructed. It’s possible that if we could incapacitate those items, it may limit them. They use them to strengthen each individual’s susceptibility.”

“We could try creating electric shocks or electrified netting they’d have to pass through,” Toni suggested. “Unfortunately, there’s no way to measure its success.”

“It’s at least something for us to work with,” Melissa responded. “Though I suspect the simpler ideas, like Phil’s focusing on their worst fears, seem more productive.”

“All right,” Toni declared, “it sounds like Dad has his own plans to consider, so let’s take this offline and see what leads we might generate from them.”

“Oh, one last thing: do you have any contacts with psychology schools in Seattle? I’d like to observe various people in a controlled environment while trying different techniques.”

“I do, in fact,” Toni replied, using her phone to find the number and message it to her father. “The University of Washington contacted us, asking for information. I’ll send you the links for the Psychology department head, Nancy Ellison.”

“Ah, I should of thought of the University first. It’s perfect.”

The university?” Toni pressed.

“Sorry, since it’s such a central part of life here in Seattle, that’s how they refer to it. Either that, or simply UW.”

“I’ll remember that the next time I talk to them,” Toni assured him.

“Thanks for the contact, I appreciate it.”

As Phil closed his connection, Tristan hovered near his ear.

“Are you sure you’re comfortable lying to your family and friends?”

“I’d rather not let them know what’s happening until I decide whether this new approach works. While it appears more practical, it depends upon everyone’s participation, which affects the results. Since everyone back home is focused on their own goals, I prefer not distracting them with false hopes until I have something specific.”

“You sure you no feel bad?” Slavsin asked, perking up, his tail twitching.

“No! I’ve nothing to be depressed about. It’s purely a matter of focus.” Phil took a moment to consider their new addition. “You seem to understand more than you did earlier?”

Tristan giggled, a delightful sound coming from a fairy who threw off fairy dust with each chuckle. “I’ve been coaching him while you were busy. He’s developing nicely.”

“Figure no ‘vince others, if all I say is bad words.”

“That makes sense,” Phil acknowledged as he picked up his phone. “It shows you’re already modifying your thinking, considering alternatives. I like it. Now if you could include Mizo, we’d all be working on the same page.”

“I’m workin’ on it, but she’s less receptive,” Tristan admitted.

“This dumb. Devils torment!” Mizo countered.

“Who are you calling now?” Tristan asked.

“I’m making plans to document how effective our new approach is,” Phil said as the call was answered.

“Hello, University of Washington, Nancy Ellison speaking.”

“Good afternoon, this is Phil Walker. You may not be familiar with—”

“Wait, this is the Phil Walker? The one from Philadelphia?”

Phil smirked. “I expect there’s more than one in Philly, and several more in the nearby suburbs, but yes, I’m the one you’re thinking of.”

“Oh, my goodness. When I spoke with your daughter, she said they weren’t in a position to suggest treatment or training options. How ... how may I help you?”

“I’d like to ask something unexpected, and I’d prefer it not get back to my center in Philadelphia. I want to come in and discuss it, but since it’s fairly significant for the University’s future, I’d like to meet with a psychology researcher, yourself and one of the administrators of the University—someone authorized to underwrite investments.”

“I’ll contact them, though we’ll see how open their schedules are. When will you be available?”

“I’m already in town. If you can arrange it, I’d like to meet tomorrow. I suspect this will have a major impact on both of our futures, so I’m sure the people involved can make time. To make it easier to schedule, I’m thinking two in the afternoon, though I’m open to shifting the time if necessary.

“That sounds good. We have your number from our caller ID, so we’ll call to confirm.”

After he hung up, Tristan fluttered in front of his face, her face scowling.

“You realize, she thinks you’re proposing investing in the university, don’t you?”

“You not expose us?” Mizo asked.

“Not directly, but it’s important I remain independent of the university for this to work. Other than that, you’ll have to wait until the meeting, tomorrow.”

“What will you tell Mom when you see her?” Meg asked, studying Phil as they walked back to Pioneer Park.

“First, I want to see how she’s doing. If her devils are carrying their weight, I’ll leave them be. If not, I may need to persuade them again.”

“Wouldn’t it be better if you killed them all?” she asked.

“Shh,” Abe cautioned, glancing around them. “Watch the language.”

“It would, but I want the devils to know I’m watching their every move. Anyone else, I’d disappear and never see the results. Here, I’m not about to back off, regardless of who knows about me.”

“That’s not the same, but I’m glad you’re sticking it out.” Meg paused, her brow crinkling as she tried to remember the details of things she couldn’t see. “The devils are her addiction, right?”

“The black devils, yes. There are also red ones, too, which are more dangerous to Phil, at least,” Abe said, indicating he knew more than he’d revealed before.

Meg scowled. “I say send them to hell!”

“Meg!” Abe warned.

“Or, like with most addicts,” Phil continued, ignoring him, “if they change their lives for the better, they have a chance to reach heaven despite all the evil they’ve done over the years.”

Meg was silent as she processed that analogy.

Betty saw them approaching. She didn’t walk away, but crossed her arms, frowning as they neared.

Meg ran ahead, throwing herself into her mother’s arms. “How you feeling, Ma?”

In spite of sneering at Phil, she clutched and held Meg—something she hadn’t done for a while. “I’m not sure. I still have cravings, but instead of anticipating my next fix, I feel ill. Then I start thinking of you, and I consider what your life will be like if something happens to me.”

“Anything that keeps you from taking more, helps,” Meg insisted, though her mother didn’t look convinced.

Instead of addressing her, Phil spoke towards her forehead, his eyes shifting from side to side.

“I see you’re making progress. That’s excellent. I wouldn’t have thought of making her ill, though the guilt over her daughter is probably the key element.”

“We make addicts sick when miss drugs, now we do when they want.”

“Delightful thinking. It shows you are cut out for this approach. As I explained before, this is why your species was first created. It’s your true calling.”

Mizo launched herself forward. “Too many word.” Advancing, her voice took on a much more severe tone. “Do good and be rewarded. Return home months, not decades!”

“It difficult first,” one volunteered. “But then, easy. She want do good, not know how.”

“That’s why you lost your way. Hurting humans is simple, but not productive. Helping is hard because we don’t respond logically.”

“Do good, win. Do bad, we screwed!” Mizo interpreted. “Push her hard,” she said, indicating Betty, “go home sooner, never deal human ‘gain.”

“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” Phil said, noticing for the first time his group staring at him, waiting for an explanation. “I’ll explain later,” he promised.

“So I’m gonna feel bad anytime I think of getting high, like those stupid court-ordered drugs which make you sick whenever you drink?”

“I think you already know the answer. I’m sure they didn’t let that detail slip unnoticed.”

“I still don’t know who you’re talking to, but yeah, every time I consider taking a hit, I feel ill. But if that’s their intent, we need to find a better meeting place. I’ve felt sick the whole time I’ve been in this park. Every time I see someone buy a joint, light or shoot up, I’m about to vomit.”

“I’ll tell you what, Betty, why don’t we take you to an early lunch. I’ll pay.” Phil pulled out his wallet, peeling off a couple bills, handing them to her. “This is yours. Keep a little for Meg, but spend most of it for some new clothes. Once you get cleaned up, you’ll feel better. I’ll even let you use my hotel room to shower.”

“Ordinarily, I’d say screw you, but ... damn, there goes my stomach ... but I need to get out of here, and some decent food sounds good.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll improve before long, but it’ll be a long process. Just as your devils don’t have an easy task in front of them, neither do recovering addicts.”

“Says he who’s never been addicted,” she sneered, standing up and taking Meg’s hand.

“Who says? I chain-smoked through my early twenties, and smoked pot while in school. But like you will, I pulled my life together once I stopped.”

“We’ll see,” she mumbled, but hugged Meg tighter, which Phil and Abe took as a good sign.

“Do good, go home soon,” Mizo promised her companions.

“Everyone is waiting for you, Mr. Walker,” the receptionist, Virginia Till said, waving him inside.

“Thanks. Hopefully this will be quick, I’ve still got plenty of interviews to avoid,” he said, chuckling at his own joke.

“By the way, it’s an honor meeting you.”

Phil paused, his hand on the door handle. “Oh?”

“Yeah ... my sister struggled with depression for most of her life, attempting suicide three times. She’s currently stabilized on her newest medication, but she talks about you all the time. She’s cursing the fact she didn’t book a ticket the first time she heard reports about you—even though they were unsubstantiated at the time.”

“I may be around in the future. Bring her by sometime and we’ll talk.”

She brightened up, smiling broadly. “She’ll appreciate that.”

“Ah, Mr. Walker,” someone said, standing as Phil strode into the room. “I’m Nathan Kelly, the university president.” He noted each person at the table. “This is Nancy Ellison, the chairwoman of the Psychology Department, who you spoke with earlier, and this is Tracy Lakewood, a researcher, investigating energy medicine’s effects on various emotional issues.”

“You can refer to me as plain old Phil. I never attended college, so I’m clearly out of my depth here, but I’m looking for some help.”

“I gathered you wanted this kept secret, so everyone here has been instructed not to mention the gathering or what we discuss, particularly to the press. I understand your discomfort with them, given how your initial successes were treated.” Nathan was a typical college president, clean cut with close cropped, neatly trimmed hair, a sensible business suit, but a friendly, amenable smile. Nancy was a middle-aged woman with short blond hair, her face going ‘pleasingly plump’ and her focus pleasant but businesslike. Tracy, on the other hand, was still young for a college professional, with curly brown hair and a sensible conservative outfit, though you could tell she was more willing to challenge the accepted norms than her university bosses were.

“Well, to be honest, the one psychiatrist I worked with, Dr. Melissa Taylor, was completely supportive and provided a lot of assistance as I learned the ropes. Unfortunately, the University of Philadelphia neurologist and the Harvard-trained oncologist were anything but, doing everything they could to shut me down, which they did.”

“I’m curious,” Nancy said, leaning forward. “Are all the stories we’ve heard true, or were they merely exaggerations and hyperbole? I mean, some of them are a bit ... out there.”

“I’m unsure exactly what you’ve heard, but they’re likely correct. After all, you can hardly invent something more extreme than the truth. If you’re unsure what I was capable of, ask any homeless person anywhere in the country. I never knew how connected they were until they started approaching me wherever I went.”

“You mean each of the traditional mental illnesses are caused by tiny dragons, demons and devils, and that you actually see and combat them?” Tracy asked, her eyes growing wide.

Phil grinned. “Remembering that everything said here is confidential; let me continue with the introductions.” He pointed to his left shoulder. “This is Tristan, a depression fairy—one who both inspires and afflicts the more creative types.” He indicated his right. “This is Mizo, a black devil, those responsible for most addictions. She focuses on drug addictions.” He paused before continuing. “Sorry, I got that wrong. She handles all addictions, since they’re all interconnected, but each human tends to choose their affliction. As I’m sure you know, even after they make a clean break, addicts usually substitute a coffee or nicotine addiction.” He pointed a moving finger at something flying unseen before him. “And this is Slavsin,” a dragon, who’s strictly responsible for depression.” He lowered his voice. “His English isn’t terrific, so he won’t understand much unless you use simple terms. Even mine is too much for him.”

Everyone in the room fell silent, staring at him in stunned surprise.

“I ... I thought ... you lost your abilities,” Nathan said. “We assumed you were making a financial contribution to promote the teaching of your techniques.”

Phil chuckled, turning to his left. “You’re right, Tristan, they are.” He refocused on the three university leaders. “I recently recovered them, which brings me to why I want your assistance, and your continued secrecy. I don’t want word of my renewed abilities leaking out. Instead of confronting the entire medical establishment with my outlandish claims, I need to document my results. In short, I want you to research my methods, documenting how successful they are. Unfortunately, to prevent everyone from thinking I paid you for research supporting my position, I can’t financially support the project. Instead, it’s got to be independent of both me and the Philadelphia Walker Institute, though I’ll work with you as an alternative medical practitioner.”

“Wait,” Nancy said, waving her hands to pause the onslaught of new revelations until she could wrap her head around them. “If your entire process is ... slaughtering these ... mythological creatures, why are you now escorting them around?” She squinted at him, as if hoping to see them if she peered intensely enough. “Are they trophies of some sort?”

“Absolutely not, and if you don’t mind, they’re not fond of terms like ‘slaughter’, for obvious reasons. They’ve seen my ... prior techniques, but I’m trying alternatives which others can perform, so my abilities aren’t limited to myself alone. Again, this is what I’m counting on you for. I’m proposing three separate control groups, composed of at least twenty subjects, each with specific mental illnesses. The first group I’ll treat myself, using my older techniques. The second group will be treated by someone without any of my abilities—in fact they’ll be conducted by a twelve-year-old girl, just to prove that anyone can master the techniques. The final set will be the control group, who we won’t treat, though I’m also willing to treat them after the study concludes, so they don’t feel cheated.”

It took another few moments for everyone to recover enough to formulate a response, a tendency Phil, a high-school dropout, found humorous. He turned his head to the side. “See, Slavsin, even the most educated fall dumb when confronted with things they don’t understand.”

“Hold on,” Nancy said. “Shouldn’t you conduct the initial group, demonstrating your newest techniques, while someone else applies your older ones. After all, anyone can wave a cane.”

“Alas, it’s not quite that simple. While anyone can threaten them, I’m the only one who can physically harm them. However, my companion—who I’ve been training in this newer technique—can convince them, as can anyone else who knows how to handle the situation.”

“This isn’t what we expected,” Nathan hedged. “We’re ... unsure how to proceed, or even what questions to pose.” He stopped, staring at Phil. “You’re not putting us on, are you? This isn’t some ‘revenge against the experts’ thing, is it?”

“No. As I said, I need your assistance to document how successful my techniques are, especially since they’re still so new. So you’ll be learning them as we are.”

“Hold on,” Tracy said, pulling out her notepad and scribbling frantically. “This is fantastic! Can you describe exactly what this new technique is, and how it differs from your ... previous approaches?”

“From your prior question, I’m confident you understand my earlier approach. However, as I learned, once something happens to me the entire process comes to a screeching halt. Instead, if what I’ve accomplished is to have any meaning, I need to train others how to apply what I’ve learned. And by others, I mean both psychiatrists and my mythical creatures. Although I will continue with my previous techniques when necessary, I realized it’s meaningless if I never teach these other species alternative approaches, ones which aren’t destructive to everyone involved.”

He paused for a moment, continuing again while chuckling at a private aside. “It seems Tristan is becoming quite enamored by my new methods, and has plenty of ideas concerning their potential successes. The others are ... almost as skeptical as you.”

“Pardon me,” Nathan said, rising slightly, “but to ensure this is on the level, and that your earlier surgeries didn’t have some ... unfortunate side effects, I think we’ll need some sort of confirmation that what you’re saying is true.”

Phil chuckled again, enjoying watching the intellectuals struggling to accept what he was offering. “Confirmation of my techniques is what I’m expecting you to provide, but don’t worry, I anticipated this, as it’s typical of most people I’ve met.”

Nancy looked nervous, biting her lip, so Phil waited for her to say what was on her mind. Seeing him waiting, she rushed to make her point.

“I’m sorry, Phil, but we don’t operate that way. Normally, each of our professors spends the majority of their time writing research proposals and submitting them to various government or private groups who fund the projects. We’re not set up to underwrite something this ... extensive without outside support. Perhaps you could try the Army? They finance many research efforts and lose a lot of valuable talent to major mental illnesses. They frequently support these ... alternative programs.”

Phil pushed himself from the table. “That’s too bad. I’d thought as a less prestigious school you’d appreciate getting a leg up on every other university in the country, but I guess I picked the wrong institution. Maybe I could pick Harvard, but they produced the jackasses who tried to cut my brain into little pieces. I suppose I’ll try Howard University. I’m sure a small independent school like that would be eager to launch the premiere psychology program, drawing experts from every corner of the world. Excuse me, but it seems I’ve got some calls to make.”

He stood, and was almost to the door before anyone managed to respond.

“Please forgive Dr. Ellison’s overly cautious response. She’s not authorized to make large financial decisions for the university and is used to operating under narrow budgetary restrictions. After all, it’s these proposals which fund our professors’ research.

“I can speak for the entire university. It may take some fancy footwork, especially if I can’t describe what it is we’re funding, but I think for the stakes we’re discussing, it’s worth the investment—even if we have to extend our debt to do it. After all, it will certainly draw in a lot more students in the future.”

Phil smiled, walking slowly back to his chair. “Frankly, I’m shocked that given this opportunity, you’re not offering me a financial reward for bringing this to you. I wouldn’t be surprised if you approach me, offering to fund the Walker Institute if I’ll allow you to build a new psychology building using my name. I’m sure, if this is successful, that your students, faculty and alumni will demand it for the draw it would offer the university.” Phil snickered. “Yes, Tristan, I apply the same techniques to humans as I do you. I do what’s necessary, just as they’re doing now.”

Sitting down, he reached into a bag he’d carried in on his shoulder, opening it and removing several items that he placed on the table before him: a plain white bed sheet, a can of spray paint, a single coffee stirrer, and some industrial product they didn’t recognize.

“All right, folks,” he continued, not addressing anyone at the table, “this is where it gets uncomfortable, but I promise, nothing I do will injure any of you, though it may hurt your pride.” He then addressed the university professionals. “You’ll probably want some cameras to record this, although I’m sure cell phones will be sufficient.”

It again took several moments, but the three faculty members burst into activity.

“No, no. Hold on. I’ll arrange for a professional camera crew to set up a high-quality recording,” Nathan said.

“Please, no camera crews. They can set the equipment up, but if you want the fancy technology, you’ll need to operate it yourselves.”

“I’ve got some decent equipment in the AV department,” Nancy offered, “but it’s a couple buildings away.”

“Forget that nonsense, I’m ready,” Tracy said, leaning back and waving her cell phone. “That’s why they pay me to conduct their research, because I know how to implement ideas quickly, without wasting time trying to make everything perfect. If they were in charge of the research, they’d never pay for anything!”

“Nancy,” Nathan ordered before she could leave the room. “Tracy’s got a point. Since we’re not allowed to show it to anyone yet, I trust we can survive on simple cell phone technology. After all, they’ve got the same 4K quality as the more advanced video cameras.”

“Yes, but they don’t have the high-quality lenses, the sensors, the—”

“Forget it. He’s trying to convince us that he’s authentic, not film a damned documentary. This is for our eyes only. If he wants us to use the demonstration to persuade anyone else, I’m sure he’ll arrange another showing so we can record it more professionally. For now, what we have is sufficient.” Nathan tapped an intercom button on the table. “Alice, could you please loan me your smartphone. I need to ... record something on it, but don’t ask what.”

As they waited, Nancy sat down again. “Exactly what are we going to see?” Nathan asked.

“Proof that the creatures I’m dealing with on a daily basis are real physical entities. You’ll not only know that they exist, you’ll also have a better understanding of their sizes, capabilities and looks.”

“Man, this is going to be so cool!” Tracy said. “If you don’t want to wait, President Kelly, I can email you my video. That way, you won’t have to worry about erasing the footage from Alice’s phone.”

He considered it, coming to a quick decision as Alice entered the room, holding her cell phone out.

“No thanks, Alice. After some consideration, we’ve come to another arrangement,” Nathan said.

Alice shrugged. “All right, but I’m dying to know what you’re taking pictures of in here.” With that she departed, closing the door behind her.

“Now, where were we?” Phil teased, picking up the can of spray paint.

“You were about to prove to us that your invisible creatures really exist!” Tracy said. She was so excited she was bouncing in her seat.

“She ‘bout piss self,” Mizo observed. Phil snickered again.

“You know, you’re going to have to tell us what’s so amusing eventually,” Nancy said, studying him. “For all the tales you’ve painted over the past year, it seems these creatures are quite humorous. Maybe you should start a stand-up act with them?”

“Nah, without the context, it loses a lot,” Phil admitted. “Besides, Mizo tends to tell mostly off-color jokes unsuitable for mixed company.”

“Don’t underestimate us women,” Nancy warned.

“I don’t, Mizo is a woman, a devil-woman, that is.”

“Please, I’m dying here,” Tracy protested, still holding her phone up, ready to begin recording any second.

“Okay, folks, this is it,” Phil said, seemingly speaking to himself. “Tristan, you’re the first up. This is likely to be uncomfortable, and you may have trouble staying aloft. It should be temporary, since I can only hold the can without making physical contact with the paint inside. If you could fly above the table, right about here,” he said, indicating a position over the middle of the table in between the four participants. Everyone lifted their phones; ready for whatever occurred, while Nathan leaned forward, staring intently at the open space.

Phil took the can in his hand and shook it for several seconds, enjoying keeping the academics on the edge of their seats for as long as possible. Smiling, he partially stood up, leaned forward, and started spraying black paint into the air.

“Hey, is that permanent pain—?” Nathan asked in protest, before the words froze on his lips as the paint outlined the tiny figure of an actual living flying fairy. As it coated her, she became darker and more real with every moment, until they could see her every motion—including the sparkles she cast off as she flew. Nancy and Tracy’s cameras were capturing every second of the action, observing every motion, until the paint fell as if the figure under it had simply vanished.

“I’m glad to see it wasn’t any worse for you, Tristan, though I agree, the fumes are pretty potent.” Phil turned to Nathan. “I see your point about the paint, though once you release your results, I imagine this table will become a valuable cultural landmark. If nothing else, you may be able to sell it to a private collector to raise funds to pay for the study.”

“How ... why... ?” Nancy asked.

This time, it was Tracy who laughed as she leaned forward, recording the colored specs coating the table. “It’s simple. The paint couldn’t maintain its phase transition, so when it lost its physical connection, it simply sloughed off.”

“It seems you might be more ideal for this study than we anticipated,” Nathan observed.” He turned to Phil, who was holding the bed sheet in both hands. “That was astonishing! I’ve never seen anything like it. For a split second, we could see what you deal with every day. Believe me, like most people, I remained skeptical, even knowing what you’ve reported. But seeing it first hand and getting an idea of what these creatures look like, eliminates any remaining doubts. Consider me a dedicated fan from here on out!”

“Good, I’ll hold you to that later,” Phil threatened.

“I’m curious, though. Why haven’t you revealed these details to your own people?” When Phil glanced at him in confusion, he explained. “Since you told us you didn’t want us communicating with your Institute, I’m assuming you have some reason for keeping them in the dark.”

“See, I told you it’s suspicious,” Tristan whispered to him.

“I’ll tell you the same thing I told Tristan, they’re focused on their own tasks. Until I have definitive proof my new techniques work and are effective, I’d rather not get them excited prematurely. However, the primary answer, from your perspective, is I want to keep the two organizations separate so there won’t be any questions of collusion between the two. I’ll need to be involved if I’m to train a new generation in these procedures, but by keeping them in the dark, I’ll protect them from accusations of partisanship in your final report. That kind of negative scrutiny could negate the value of the study, so I wanted to sever all ties between the two of you, at least for now.”

Nathan nodded. “That makes sense, though I’m not sure it’ll end the claims, as people tend to be skeptical of everything, nowadays.”

“That they do,” Phil conceded. “Now, for my second demonstration.” He lowered his voice again. “Sorry about this, Slavsin. It’ll be difficult flying, but considering the alternative is using a net, which is heavier, you’re getting off easy.” He chuckled. “The same to you, and I hope I’ll never have to prove it.” He indicated the center of the table. “Same position as before.”

He waited a moment and threw the bed sheet out so it unfurled before him. The women worried the sheet would obstruct what they hoped to record, but as it settled, it outlined an actual dragon, hovering in mid-air, its wings flapping before them.

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