Speaking With Your Demons
12: The Devil’s in Them Papers
Copyright© 2017 by Vincent Berg
Life is tough, my darling,
but so are you.
It is better to keep your mouth closed
and let people think you are a fool,
than to open it and remove all doubt.
“I got a strange message when I unplugged my phone this morning,” Phil said as they headed out the next morning. “It was recharging, so it never rang, but some reporter from the Seattle Times wants to speak with me, right away. Even stranger, I got several calls from Philadelphia, warning me someone was looking for me.”
“If it’s so intriguing, why not just call him?” Abe replied.
“Her,” Phil corrected before chuckling. “You know me, I can’t think straight without a cup of joe.”
“Well, you’ve had your coffee, what’s preventing you now?”
“The weak complementary swill they serve here only provides enough fuel to reach the decent stuff at the corner.”
As they exited the building, someone rushed up, shoving a microphone in Phil’s face. There was a camera crew and a news van behind him.
“Mr. Walker, this is Alexander Tobias from KTVK. Could you confirm that you’ve returned to battling demons again?”
“Excuse me?” Phil said, backing up, edging away from the hotel rather than seeking its temporary shelter. “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
“You’re denying the claims? Are you refuting the photo?”
“What claims, what photo?” Phil’s mind shifted into overdrive. He’d known this day was coming and was prepared to accept the inevitable, but only if absolutely necessary. “I have no clue what you’re referring to.”
“We’re running a full report online and will broadcast it on the six o’clock news tonight,” he announced, no longer addressing Phil but speaking to his TV audience, flashing them his broadest smile. Seeing his opportunity, Phil edged away, trying to escape unnoticed. He wasn’t so lucky.
“So you’re denying you’re up to your old tricks?”
“I don’t know what claims you’re referring to. This is the first I’ve heard of it. I have no clue what you’re describing.”
“Surely you’ve viewed our release by now? Everyone in Seattle is talking about it,” he gloated, again turning to the camera, allowing Phil and the others to slip past, hurrying away.
“Mr. Walker!” he yelled again, although he didn’t pursue him—probably because their cables wouldn’t reach that far. But Phil considered it telling. While most in Seattle were relatively accepting of controversial figures, this news figure was anything but. He seemed more interested in scoring points than in determining the truth.
“What was that about?” Abe asked as they scurried away, Phil’s coffee forgotten.
“I bet that’s what the reporter wanted to ask you,” Meg countered. “Maybe you should have called.”
“Ya think? Abe, find the link he was referring to? As you know, my phone doesn’t have service coverage since it’s not linked to my name.”
Abe pulled his smartphone from his pocket. “I can try, though I haven’t quite mastered the thing yet. They’ve changed a lot since the last time I used a phone.”
“Here,” Meg said, grabbing it from him. “I’ll find it faster than you ever will.” By the time they’d paid their tolls, she passed her uncle’s device to Phil. “Press play.”
However, since the Link was approaching, he hesitated. Though even in the short time they waited, things felt different. While normally few openly stared, now everyone seemed to. It wasn’t the challenging glare of the reporter, but a curious look, as if they hoped he’d suddenly confess some deep dark secret if only they peered deeply enough. As the Link pulled into the station, Phil shook his head, shoving the phone in his pocket so he wouldn’t lose it in the shuffle, and boarded.
“Do you think it was about the scene at the church yesterday?” Abe asked in a low voice, as they entered the Link to the University of Washington. Unlike the other times they rode the same line, instead of the passengers ignoring them, everyone now stared, a few glancing between him and their own devices.
“Whatever it is, I didn’t do it,” Phil insisted, as he selected three seats, someone shifting over to make room for them.
“I doubt it,” he said to Abe as they sat. “There wouldn’t be enough time for them to vet the story, plus being Sunday, most of their staff would have been off-duty. I’m guessing this was triggered by something else.”
Settling in, Phil extracted the device and pressed play, starting the short clip which featured the same reporter:
“This is Alexander Tobias, reporting on a highly controversial case, likely to embroil the city in scandal and make us the mecca for every homeless and mentally ill person in America.”
Abe and Meg leaned in on both sides, watching the report unfold.
“Famed plumber, Phillip Walker, who reportedly cured nearly every case of mental illness in Philadelphia before a new wave of disturbed people inundated the city, has begun combating the supposed creatures he claims only he can see. Attacked by every reputable medical source other than a large collection of individual psychiatrists—even the American Psychiatric Association denies his claims—the already unstable chorus of the mentally ill continues to defend him. The recent subject of a Times Magazine retrospective challenges the medical establishment to account for the undeniable claims of his patients. None of those he’s supposedly cured have suffered a relapse—despite not taking any of the recognized psychiatric medications recommended by trained psychiatrists.
Having taken up residence in Seattle for a little over a month, he’s been seen frequenting many local locales, though he’s always jealously guarded his privacy. He’s long denied the claims of his healing abilities until stating an emergency court-ordered brain surgery resulted in his inability to see the creatures he supposedly combatted.
A remarkable and shocking photo has come to our attention, which documents not only that his work continues, but that he’s made significant advancements over his earlier efforts. The image we’re about to show is controversial, if not outright obscene, but since it contains information vital to every citizen of Seattle, we’ve chosen to censor it by blurring certain regions, though that won’t make it any easier to view. We suggest you keep small children from watching it.”
Instead of giving families time to escort their kids from the room, or even allowing time to prepare for the transition, a photo Phil instantly recognized showed up on the screen in excruciating detail.
“While he was previously unable or unwilling to document his claims, the photo—so far unauthenticated—accurately depicts what one ‘species’ look like. It portrays the ‘black’ devils, complete with horns, long-pointed tail and wings, and is amazingly detailed, revealing an attention to detail unimaginable by most sculptures. We’ve had to censor the image as certain details were too explicit for younger viewers—though you can view the original on our online site. These devils were supposedly responsible for various addictions, including everything from drug and alcohol to sex, according to the Walker Institute (which incidentally was largely funded by a cash settlement from the reportedly unjustified brain surgery performed on him).”
Frustrated, Phil turned off the recording mid-steam.
“You’re not interested in what else they have to say?”
“Aside from the one photo, all they presented was a rehash of the recent Time magazine article. I doubt I’ll learn any more listening to his vitriol. It’s old news.”
“I never heard it,” Meg complained.
“I told you the same details, multiple times,” Abe reminded her.
“It’s not the same as hearing it on the news. Still, I couldn’t quite follow it all, anyway.”
“The rest is a series of quotes from various man-on-the-street interviews,” someone sitting nearby volunteered. “Local psychiatrists, someone from the National Psychological Association and an ‘expert’ on dementia treatments describing what you might be suffering from. It wasn’t terribly sympathetic.”
“So, aside from the photo, they have no new data.” Abe summarized.
“Unless they’re withholding corroborating information, it doesn’t sound like it,” Phil agreed.
Abe hesitated, then brought up the subject which haunted him since the reporter cornered them, dropping his voice so those nearby wouldn’t overhear. “Tracy has a copy of the sculpture.”
“Yeah?” Phil countered. “So do I, and mine is stored in my hotel room, where any member of the staff may have encountered it. I seriously doubt Tracy would release anything compromising her study. After all, it would jeopardize her career and professional reputation.”
“Do you have any other ideas?” Meg asked, unsure what to offer to the discussion.
“The photo shows the sculpture on a bookshelf. That means it’s unlikely to be from my apartment. If we can figure out whose office it is, we can identify the leak, though that won’t address the issue, which is coping with the revelation.”
“So you suspect someone at the university?” Abe asked.
“It’s the most obvious source. There are scores of people with access to the sculptures.”
“So how do you plan to respond?”
“The sculpture itself doesn’t prove anything, yet it highlights the very issues those opposing me hoped everyone would forget. I not only have to tamp down expectations, but I also need to placate those who feel threatened by my revelations. That’ll take a bit more care than a mere refutation.”
“So do you plan to deny it, or as you keep saying, since it was only a matter of time until you were eventually exposed anyway, do you admit it and move your schedule forward?”
“Frankly, I’m not sure. I need to reflect on that.”
The school was abuzz with the news, though as Phil and his people walked across campus, no one dared mention a thing, though many discussed it over shared laptops. The others weren’t sure how to interpret the reluctance to confront them, but Phil appreciated it as it provided him time to consider his next move.
The Psychology department building was even worse, with many holding their breaths as they passed, with few venturing a ‘hello’ or ‘how’s it going’. Part of it may have been Phil’s intensely brooding demeanor. Given his reputation for blowing up at unseen creatures with seemingly little provocation, few were willing to risk it.
“Did you see it?” Tracy asked as they entered her clinic.
Phil simply nodded, holding his hands palms up.
“Nathan is interested in how you plan to respond,” Nancy Ellison said, stepping forward.
“That all depends on where the information originated. Do any of you recognize the office where the shot was taken?”
“It’s not mine,” Tracy immediately replied. “That was the first thing I checked.”
Instead of answering, Nancy crossed over to her chair, retrieving a copy of the paper and examining the photo. She didn’t look pleased.
“Care to explain?” Phil prompted.
“It’s hard to be precise, but it looks like my bookshelf. Still, there are a lot of students, faculty and family members who pass through my office on a regular basis.”
“All the more reason not to store it in a public area,” Abe argued.
“Most of the time it’s hidden, however a few times I forgot to return it after taking it out.”
“You shouldn’t be showing it off to anyone who hasn’t signed a confidentiality form,” Phil stressed. “Even then, there’s little reason to display it. This isn’t a conversation piece!”
“Can we examine security footage to see who entered your office?” Abe pressed. “At least then we’d have an idea how many people we’re talking about, and whether anyone looks suspicious entering or leaving.”
“It would take weeks to review the tapes and even longer to identify the individuals,” she protested. “Contacting them all would be difficult, at best.”
“Let’s not get all bent out of shape,” Phil cautioned, considering their options. “Aside from the single photo, whoever leaked this supplied surprisingly little information. Anyone involved in the project, or authorized to see the sculpture, would have provided more details. The fact they never identified the university is telling, as it implies they don’t know where the model is from, though they must know who supplied it. That implies it was likely leaked by a third party. I’m guessing someone took a photo and shared it online, which means anyone could have grabbed a copy.”
“If that’d happened, we’d be fielding calls from across the country,” Nancy argued. “What’s more, most students authorized to view it would keep the information restricted to specific research areas, rather than posting it to Facebook or Twitter.”
“The essential question,” Tracy said, “is do we halt our testing or continue?”
“Given the lack of specifics,” Phil said, “I doubt it’s anyone involved with the project. Even if it was, they’re not revealing any details. Even if more comes to light, I’ll just have to admit what we’re doing, which won’t invalidate what we’ve done. We may need to institute better security, though. Once the general public discovers the university is involved, there will be reporters crawling over the campus searching for information and interviewing everyone they can find.”
“So we continue?” Tracy asked, just to verify.
“Yeah, just give me a minute to do some damage control.”
Phil walked into the hallway and pulled out his cellphone, returning the call he’d received that morning.
“Leslie Sharpton, Seattle Times.”
“Leslie, this is Phil Walker.”
“Oh, Mr. Walker. I’m glad you called. We’re eager to get your take on the recent revelations.”
“My take isn’t any different than it was. What’s done is done,” he hedged. “What I did before is in the past, it doesn’t reflect my current situation.”
“So you deny the validity of the photo?”
“Oh, no. The photograph is authentic. It’s a very lifelike representation of Mizo.”
“Mizo?” she asked, quizzically. “Who’s that?”
“She’s the devil the sculpture was based on. I had a fairly involved discussion with her at one point, so I recall a lot of details about her.”
“Those are some pretty phenomenal details to recreate from memory in a work you didn’t create yourself. The photo reveals individual pores on her skin, the hair on her arms, the folds where she flexes her arm. I find it hard to believe someone created that from your recollections.”
“Then tell me, how else would it have been? Without an ability to see or communicate with these creatures, how could I create such a sculpture?”
“So you’re claiming it is a sculpture, instead of a cast model?”
“And what’s the alternative? That I captured one of these invisible beings, held her steady as she resisted while I applied modeling clay to her body and waited for her to suffocate?”
“That does sound a bit far-fetched.”
“It certainly does. I had the image molded to remember what we’re dealing with. It was never meant to get out.”
“Could you give me the name of the sculptor, so I can verify this?”
“I’d rather contact them first. I insisted he sign a confidentiality statement. We’ll both need to meet with a lawyer to see how we release those claims.”
“I’d think, if you authorize him to speak, he’d be free to say whatever he pleases.”
“Not necessarily, and given the public scrutiny he’s likely to face from skeptics who think I’m inventing this entire thing, I wouldn’t ask anyone to undergo that unless they volunteered on their own.”
“So you won’t allow us to verify your claims?”
“I’m not going to publicly humiliate someone I asked to do me a favor. No.”
“So it’s your word against...”
“Against what, precisely?” Phil asked. “All they have is an unauthenticated photo, which I’ve verified is authentic. Only I won’t expose the sculpture to public scorn unless I’m convinced attitudes have shifted, which I don’t believe they have.”
“You’re not being very forthcoming,” Leslie argued.
“Do you blame me? I had this created for my own amusement, not for public consumption. How it got into a reporter’s hands is a mystery. For all I know, someone broke into the artist’s loft and stole it, in which case they’re complicit in a criminal action.”
“That’s not the way the law governs reports of public figures.”
“And who says I’m a public figure? Simply because my name was once splashed across a newspaper—against my will—I no longer retain any expectation of privacy? Besides, you can and will claim whatever will get you your story. I’ll need to consult with an attorney to determine what my own rights are.”
“You realize they’ll state that you refused to name the sculptor?”
“I understand the press will report whatever they can get away with. I’ll tell you what; how about you get them to identify who provided the photo, so I can call the cops. Then I’ll consider identifying the sculpture once he authorizes me to release his name.”
“You know they’ll never agree to that.”
“Then it seems we’re at an impasse.”
She sighed, clearly frustrated. “I’ll give you until three o’clock to ask his permission, otherwise I’ll report you were uncooperative. It’s best to get ahead of this kind of negative news.”
“I’ve been fully cooperative. I not only verified the photo, I identified who it’s of, which is more than you had before. But until I know how you got the information, I’m not about to reward anyone for railroading me. Just as you want to protect yourself, you’ve got to expect me to do the same.”
“Just let me know what he says,” she said.
After she hung up, Phil turned, preparing to reenter the room when he noticed Abe, Tracy and Nancy observing him.
“Well played. We should hire you to run the university’s PR department,” Nancy said. “You obfuscate with the best of them.”
“Is that even a word?” Phil asked when his phone rang. Holding up a finger, he answered it, expecting Leslie again.
“Dad, it’s Toni. I think it’s time we talked.”
Phil sighed, leaning against the wall, motioning to the others this was a private matter. “Yes, I imagine we need to address a few things.”
“I’m fielding phone calls left and right, about something I have no knowledge of. It’s time you came clean with me.”
“I just finished speaking to a Seattle Times reporter detailing how it’s merely a sculpture based on my recollections of—”
“Dad, we both know that’s a load of bull! I know about most of your encounters with these creatures, and you rarely got close enough to witness that level of detail. So cut the crap and tell me what the hell is going on.”
“All right. I concede. I’ve been holding out on you, but mostly to keep from ramping up everyone’s enthusiasm until I was willing to take a public stand. Yes, I’ve regained my abilities. I can not only see and combat these creatures again, but I’ve been in negotiations with them.”
“How did this happen, and does it mean your tumor is back?”
“It was never a tumor, but it came from the same place it did before. The ‘growth’ was engineered by an alien race taking advantage of a rare genetic ability which allows me to ‘phase shift’—something these creatures aren’t even capable of.”
“For how long?” Toni demanded.
“Close to a month.”
“So all the time I was insisting you were hiding something, you never considered telling me what was happening?”
“Oh, no. I considered it very carefully. But I also knew you hadn’t mastered your poker face yet, and I knew if I told you, it wouldn’t be long before everyone else knew too.”
“Dad, you can’t keep me and those close to you in the—”
“Sweetheart, I’ve learned from my mistakes. I didn’t want to run into the same problems I did before. Instead of drawing attention to myself by fighting these creatures in public, I’m taking a measured approach, trying to learn as much as I can as well as documenting my results.”
“So all those phrases you taught me, they were things you only learned recent ... wait a minute, ‘documenting’? What does that mean?”
“Before I’m exposed once again, I wanted to document my results, rather than trusting that the medical experts will simply accept my word about how effective it is.”
“And just how are you documenting them?”
“I’ll brief you on that in good time, but for now, at least, it’s still unexposed. By the way, expect a shipment of models. They’re really quite accurate. Her name is Mizo and—”
“Wait, who is this Mizo?”
Phil leaned his head against the wall, closing his eyes, backtracking. “The mold was of Mizo, someone who’s been working with me since this first started.”
“So this ... devil is living with you?”
“Closer than you can imagine. She’s sitting on my shoulder and is with me nearly all the time. By the way, I’m also sending one of Slavsin, a dragon.”
“Geez, this is too much to take in so quickly. We need to set up another conference call so you can bring the entire staff up to pace.”
“I don’t think so, honey. You’ve just started to learn how to lie effectively. I’m not sure everyone on your staff has yet. I don’t mind updating Emma and Ethan. After all, they’ve both been lying much longer than either of us, but I don’t trust your mother or any of the others.”
“All right, how about this. I’ll schedule a private video chat between the four of us and you can lay out exactly what you know and how it may impact us.”
“I’ll tell you what you need to know, but I’m still keeping a few things close to my chest. If I reveal everything, it will potentially implicate you, complicating my plans.”
“Oh, God, Dad! What law have you broken this time?”
“I haven’t broken any laws, it’s just that my project needs to remain independent of the Institute, and informing you of it will unravel all the work I’ve been doing for the past several weeks.”
“Geez, this seems more complicated than I feared. Let me set something up with Emma and Ethan and I’ll allow them to decide whom to tell. I trust you’re comfortable with their decision on this?”
“Yeah, I trust them. As I said, they’re accomplished liars. I’d never play poker with either one.”
“And you’re known to pull cards out of your sleeves,” she countered. “Anyway, I’m still expecting a full accounting, and if you don’t tell me everything, I at least expect to know why and how it might impact us.”
“Set it up, we’ll figure out what you can handle.”
When Phil finished the call, Abe was still there, watching him.
“Trouble at home?”
“Yeah, the reporter just exposed my deepest, darkest secrets to my daughter.”
“And I thought the details the newspaper blurred were embarrassing enough!”
“Jason, this is the infamous Phillip Walker, the person responsible for your sculpture,” Nathan explained as he introduced Phil to the resident campus sculptor. “Jason is a respected artist and tenured art professor.”
“Pleased to meet you, Jason,” Phil said, extending his hand. “I must say, you did an excellent job.”
“Hell, it was simple given the detailed mold you provided. I had to smooth out where the foam folded on itself, but that wasn’t that difficult. I’m sorry it was exposed, though.”
“It couldn’t be helped. It was inevitable it would come to light eventually.” Phil handed him an already hardened casing. “I’ve got another one for you. This one is of Tristan, a fairy, much like those who assist you in your creative endeavors.”
Jason appeared stunned, staring at him. “Really? You can see them around me?”
“Yep, there are four of them. Go ahead and introduce yourselves,” Phil instructed them. “It’s about time you got to know one another. That way, you can give him pointers on the proper color details. You can also ship the models I ordered. And I never got a chance to see the sculpture of Slavsin.”
“I assume that’s the dragon in the mold you sent?” Jason said, moving to a cloth-covered sculpture hidden by several objects. He carried it out, resting it on a central table, pulling off the cloth with a dramatic flair.
The sculpture of Slavsin was even more spectacular than Mizo’s. Not only was he larger, but with his wings fully extended and his beak spread is an open challenge, it made chills run up your spine just looking at it.
“One fine sculpture,” Slavsin gloated.
“I demand a new mold,” Mizo protested.
“You know, seeing this, I have no desire to see the real creatures in person,” Nathan reflected.
“Hey!” Slavsin objected.
“He merely means that you’re terrifying,” Phil explained, mollifying him completely. Slavsin continued preening, repeating the same pose for Mizo to prove he was the top dragon.
“Please, you not so tough!” Mizo complained.
“I’m eager to work on the color palate. You said the colors for Mizo were pretty straight forward, but I imagine Slavsin’s will be more challenging.”
“Absolutely,” Phil clarified. “The scales glisten with a full prismatic effect. They seem to both reflect and deflect light in interesting patterns.”
“I’ll have to see what I can do with them,” Jason said. “For now, let’s finalize how you want Mizo to look. I’d like to get her looking perfect before I ship them out.”
“Again, you can largely trust your instincts, as they’re actually governed by your own fairies. They know the colors better than I can describe. Since I’ve talked to them, they’ll tell you flat out if your choices are right or wrong.” Phil paused. “You can’t get them all painted that fast, can you?”
“I can go a general quick coloring if it’s not too complex, though I imagine you’ll simply send the basic model of these, and include a separate color photo of the more accurate image.”
“A reasonable compromise,” Phil said, walking around the model, checking out each detail for accuracy. “Though I’m sure my Philadelphia Institute will commission a full-color version of each—though you’ll need to authorize that through my daughter, Toni before you begin—just to avoid complications.”
“That won’t be a problem. I’m eager to work with them, as I’m sure it’ll open additional sales.”
“Is that what ours look like?” Meg asked.
“Well, both Schog and Sazzil are smaller, and not quite as intimidating—though they’re still plenty scary,” he added when he saw Sazzil reacting to his unintended slur.
“I’d like to get a model of Mrrzl, too,” Meg said.
“I’d like to see that too,” Abe said, perking up.
“I think that Wakko is waiting his turn first, but they’re pretty similar,” Phil explained. “The wings are the same, though the tails are completely different, and Wakko’s pot belly is larger.”
“Hey!” Mizo complained, hefting her own and jiggling it for effect. “This nothing to crap on!”
“Exactly,” Wakko responded, flexing his belly without having to rely on his hands. “There not nuff to crap on!”
“Now, now, you two,” Phil cautioned. “Play nice.” They both stared at him as if he’d lost his mind. These were their normal social activities, their fearsome countenance and cursing how they established their social standing.