Speaking With Your Demons
16: A War Erupts
The final forming of a person’s character
lies in their own hands.
What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight
it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Phil and the others got up early, but were reluctant to venture downstairs, afraid of the reception awaiting them. They instead prepared what they could from their small refrigerator and packaged goods. They were munching on warmed leftovers, dry crackers and orange juice when Phil’s phone rang.
“Phil, this is Leslie. As you guessed, we’ve been swamped since we announced the news of today’s release. Everyone is demanding your number, as they either want their own exclusives or confirmations of what we’re reporting. We’ve been holding them off until a decent hour, but the natives, they be getting restless. I think you need to speak to a few outlets, at the very least.”
“I was hoping to put this off as long as possible, but if I don’t head it off, they’re likely to ambush me again. The group I’m with aren’t used to such abusive treatment. Yeah, you can release the information, but only to a few key sources. The others can rely on the Walker Institute, as they have the staff to handle the calls.”
“Believe me, no one has the personnel for this amount of inquiries! We called in extra personal just to answer the phones, and we’re barely making a dent. Hell, the damn President of the United States wants a private briefing, and the American Medical association is fuming, threatening lawsuits if we don’t retract the story immediately. This isn’t going away anytime soon, and we’re going to have to hire those temps for a longer stay. While the interview won’t pay for the added expenses, hopefully it’ll increase our circulation in the long term, so we can recoup some of them.”
“Well, you’d best get back to answering the phone them,” Phil advised. “After all, this is your moment to shine. This moment in the spotlight will define your career for the next five years, so you can’t squander it. We’ll handle our own calls.”
“Although you’ve faced this kind of attention before, I don’t think you’re anticipating the level of intense scrutiny before you, but you’ll see once it starts,” Leslie advised before ending the call.
Abe stood, grabbing the bottle of scotch, passing it to Phil. “It sounds like you’re in the hot seat again. You may need a shot of liquid courage.”
“No thanks, besides, it doesn’t send a positive message to Betty. I have to maintain a clear mind while I’m dealing with these explosive issues.”
Almost on cue, his phone rang. Sighing, he answered.
“Mr. Walker, this is the Wall Street Journal, and we’re interested in your opinion of the Seattle Times article on you that was published this morning.”
“It accurately reports my position, so I stand behind it.”
“So you’re acknowledging that you’ve regained your abilities?”
“I am, but I was forced into this admission, so I’m not prepared to begin treating thousands of desperate people. I did that before, and got kicked in the teeth for it. This time, I’m trying to document and verify my claims—a process I’ve only partially completed. If I’m allowed the time to complete my investigation, I can teach others how to do what I alone have been able to accomplish up until now. Since I can’t cure all humanity on my own, I need to turn the treatments over to the professionals.”
“By professionals, do you mean the medical profession alarmed by your claims, the psychiatrists who’ve largely backed them, or the Walker Institute, which is staffed by your people?”
“Again, you’re trying to corner me. I’m attempting to train people to achieve my results on their own. I’m looking to teach a new generation of specially-educated psychiatrists based on documented procedures, rather than unsubstantiated claims. To do that, I need additional time, and I can’t accomplish that if I’m constantly pressed to defend myself against malicious attacks. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve attempted to remain under the radar. It was Alex Tobias’ nosy guesswork which forced the release of this information before it was ready for publication. If he succeeds, he’ll be personally responsible for the failure of my work from benefitting millions of desperate people.”
“So you’re claiming that Tobias’s initial claims were false, despite confirming his assertions?”
“He was accidentally correct, but it wasn’t based on any evidence, just random supposition in a desperate search for ratings.”
“Well, from what I hear, his station is being inundated with critical phone calls. Multiple advertisers are reportedly pulling their ads. If so, the situation may change quickly. If nothing else, they’ll probably soft-pedal any attacks, though whether that’s a positive development remains to be seen.”
“I’m not for censoring the news, but then again, I never asked to be a celebrity. I was thrust into the spotlight against my wishes. I simply gained an unexpected insight into the nature of mental illness which allows me to uncover new treatment options.”
“There are also those who claim that, despite your denials, you brought this on yourself. That there’s still no evidence supporting any of your claims.”
“Which is why my critics and supporters should allow me the time to substantiate my results. I’m trying to reach across the aisle here, addressing my critics’ main objections. However, if they keep pushing for immediate answers, they’ll never receive the confirmation they’re demanding. It’s hypocritical to demand proof while simultaneously refusing to allow the collection of evidence.”
“Speaking of your study, is that the nature of your affiliation with UW? Are you teaching them how to treat patients?”
“You know better to ask that, as we can’t comment on it. It would be unfair if I told stories about what they’re doing when they’re not allowed to respond, just as it is for you to demand details when everyone acknowledges that we don’t have any definitive answers yet.”
“That sounds like an unofficial acknowledgment.”
“Yes, it is, but as I said, I can’t provide any specific information about our research. We’ll release the data when it’s ready, not while it’s still unsubstantiated.”
“One last detail, the photos of the dragon and devil sculptures are captivating, and every news station across the country is showing them despite having to blur the details. Are they authentic or clever marketing disguised as a reluctant admission?”
“I think this ends the interview, as once again, you’re not looking for answers, merely to trip me into compromising myself. But the images weren’t sculpted. They’re formed using casts of actual living creatures. They’d appreciate it if you used their names, which were included in the story.”
The reporter chuckled. “Could we get them to go on the record with a statement of their own?”
“I’m sorry, but despite their being entirely appropriate, you couldn’t print their responses. They haven’t learned to filter their honest opinions. In short, the cleanest interpretation of their answer is ‘Screw You!’” Phil ended the interview by hanging up on the reporter.
Abe offered him a shot glass, waving it before him enticingly. “Nothing like alienating the people you need to win over. You sure this wouldn’t take the edge off?”
“Don’t misinterpret this. This is the response they’re looking for. They’ll report exactly what I want them to, while the details will boost the ratings enough to keep it at the top of the national news cycle. However, I’m depending on the American public to see the reasonableness of my request, rather than demanding answers. As long as everyone gives me time to finish my research, I’m satisfied. If the media continues pushing, hopefully my supporters will yank their leashes. I’m providing the information everyone wants, voluntarily. There’s no demand for salacious details.”
“Yet, they continue to sell,” Abe countered.
“We’ll see,” Phil said as his phone rang again. “That’s the million-dollar question.”
“What does Celsius mean?” Meg asked.
“You handle that,” Phil suggested, “I’ve got more people to antagonize.” However, he didn’t seem the least bit apologetic.
As expected, despite putting the phone on vibrate, it began to buzz continually, tempting Phil to simply put it in airplane mode. When he wrapped up the next interview, he was about to do just that, picking up the waiting shot glass, when he reconsidered.
“Mr. Walker, this is Officer Jenkins. I was part of the group you met with in the Commissioner’s office. Something’s come up.”
Phil sat bolt upright, waving to get Abe’s attention.
“Just like you suggested, we have a crisis like you described.”
Phil was already heading for the door, not stopping to consider who was following. “Where is it and what’s happening?”
“I think somethin’s up,” Meg warned her uncle.
“It’s a confusing situation. There’s a man standing in the middle of the street, with a known history of PTSD, waving a gun, only he’s not threatening anyone. Since he doesn’t appear to be a threat, we backed off, although we have a couple SWAT team sharpshooters nearby. He keeps shouting nonsense about you.”
Phil hit the elevator button, but seeing as it was on the ground floor, he headed for the stairs, taking them at a run, three-at-a-time.
“That’s the right approach, it’s what I was anticipating. He’s not threatening anyone, because his berserkers are waiting for me. They wanted your attention, but he’s unlikely to act until I show up.”
“Are you sure it’s wise to come then?”
“I plan to keep my distance, but need to see whether it’s our rogue berserker. Rather than approach him myself, I’ll send my dragon to intervene, since he’s impervious to bullets.”
“I think you need to reconsider!” Abe yelled, as he and Meg ran after Phil on the stairs. Seeing his niece struggling to keep up, he stopped to lift her, holding her tight as he leapt down two or three stairs at a time. Meg clutched his side, holding her breath each time he jumped, gasping when he landed, jostling her.
Phil continued after getting the address from Jenkins. “I’m sure he’ll bide his time until I get there, after all, his beef isn’t with you, it’s with me.” He paused at the lobby door before opening it, not wanting to startle the hotel’s patrons. “Still, I’m curious why he didn’t come for me directly. After all, his berserkers know where to find me.”
“Look, I’ve got to go so I can apprise the Sargent. If you don’t get here soon, things might escalate. Whatever you do, warn us before you arrive so we can take precautions. A flak jacket seems appropriate.”
Hanging up, Phil walked across the lobby, giving Abe and Meg a chance to catch up as he planned how he’d approach the situation. After they reached him, gasping for breath, they exited the building as Phil waved for a cab. Surprisingly, one stopped almost immediately. They ran for it. Phil was opening the door for the others, when he heard a deafening screech. Turning, he felt sharp talons dig into his scalp as he stumbled back against the cab. Everyone glanced up, not seeing what his issue was, but he cringed, beating at something on his head no one could see.
Before the strange dragon could inflict much damage, Slavsin launched a counterattack with Abe and Meg’s dragons, Sazzil and Schog, joining him.
Slavsin spread his wings, screeching at the top of his lungs, opening his beak wide in challenge. The attacking dragon, realizing he was outnumbered, hesitated. However, what Phil hadn’t seen, was that Desttr, their renegade berserker, sat astride the new dragon. When it reared back, returning the challenge, Desttr—who’d been waving his sword—slipped from his position on the dragon’s back since he had nothing to grasp.
As the trio of dragons swept in to attack, Phil—finally grasping the situation—shouted “Stop!” in dragon, causing all three to veer off in surprise. As they paused, the new dragon rose, launching itself at him. But Phil was prepared. As it closed, he whipped his arm around, ensnaring it in his net.
“What the hell’s happening?” The doorman ran to assist Phil just as he threw his net at him. “Shit!” he shouted, jumping clear, though the net never reached him, instead hovering in mid-air.
Meg and Abe’s other creatures yelled “dragon attack” at them, and their eyes widened with the realization of what was happening. Meg was the first to respond, rushing forward and grabbing the net which Phil was already tugging down. Between the two of them, they dragged it to the ground. A crowd formed around them as blood dripped down Phil’s face from his torn skull, matting his hair.
Abe stepped in, stepping on two corners of the net. Phil knelt without bothering to wipe the blood from his face as he blinked rapidly. As he pulled the net towards him, Desttr squeezed through the netting, his sword forgotten. Before Phil could respond, he took to the air, flying away and beating a hasty retreat. When Phil tried to grasp him before he could get away, the dragon almost escaped. Changing tactics, Phil concentrated on the dragon, again yanking the net towards him, dragging it along the cement sidewalk as Desttr fled.
“Why are you working with that slimeball?” Phil demanded in dragon tongue.
“Wes hates you!” it hissed. “You kills dragons!”
Phil indicated Slavsin, Sazzil and Schog. “I know several who’ll disagree with you. “How do you think I learned your language if I despised you so much? I’m trying to save your damn species, as the Tzoxhols want me to correct their actions in any way I can. They are not pleased with your behavior.”
The dragon froze, his mouth agape. “The creators ... spoke to you?”
“How else would I know their name? Clearly, none of you ever told me.”
“It matter not!” it insisted, rearing back—as much as the net allowed, “they no care about us, ignore us for hundreds of years.”
“How do you think I have so many different competing species working with me?” Phil pressed. “Slavsin, Schog, Sazzil, tell this dragon what the deal is.” As the other dragons landed, speaking in a rush, he turned towards the hotel. “Anyone have any dental floss?”
“Wouldn’t you rather have a bandage, or possibly an ambulance?” the doorman asked.
“Floss, please,” Phil insisted.
“I’ve got some,” a woman said, digging in her purse. She handed him a spare container. Keeping the dragon in place, he held his hand up helplessly. “Could you cut off a piece about five feet long?”
“Five feet?” she asked.
Checking the arguing dragons, he nodded, motioning for her to hurry.
She did as he asked. Taking it, Phil interrupted the dragon confab, holding the new dragon’s mouth shut with his hand and wrapping the dental floss around its neck. When he was finished, he released it and wrapped the other end around his thumb, then stood and lifted the net off it.
The new dragon, seeing a chance to escape, tried to flee, only to be stopped abruptly. Everyone watched the floss fly off in a straight taunt line which snapped in place, under considerable strain. The dragon started gagging as Phil pulled it back.
“Stupid novice move. I’d suggest you not try to fly. Perch on my shoulder if you wish, I’ll deal with you later, but if you try anything, I’ll wring your little neck.”
“Zee? You try kills me!”
“No, but I won’t allow you to attack me. If I’m forced to defend myself, it won’t be a fair fight.” Phil turned to the other dragons. “Does Zukr understand what he needs to do?” he asked, having picked up his name from their hurried conversation.
“He does, but doesn’t zeem convinced,” Slavsin answered. Those watching noted the dental floss rose, now stretching to his shoulder where the tiny loop hung in mid-air. People began pulling their cameras out.
“We’ll discuss the terms of your surrender in the cab, but I need to deal with your decoy, before something happens to him.”
“Uh, shouldn’t we check your head?” Abe asked. “You’re bleeding pretty freely.”
“I’ll be fine, but if you have anything to sop up the blood, I’ll wrap it.”
The cabbie, who’d been sitting in amazed curiosity since the fight began, jerked alert as Phil approached and knocked on the window, giving him the address Jenkins provided. After they climbed in and he drove off, Phil pulled out his phone, both Meg, and Abe stared at him, as did the driver in the rear-view mirror.
“Jenkins. Is this Walker?”
“It is, we were momentarily delayed by an ambush. How’s the situation there?”
“It hasn’t changed, though everyone is getting restless. What do you mean by ‘ambush’?”
“Just what it sounds like. I doubt you’ll have any problems with the suspect. Tell him the following,” he instructed as he slowly recited a berserker phrase, letting him repeat it to be sure he could properly pronounce it. “I’m guessing his tormentors will flee once they learn their ambush failed, meaning he will be left confused when his symptoms disappear. Take his gun and bring him in for questioning, but I wouldn’t bother cuffing him. I’ll speak to him when I get there.”
As he spoke, the dragons and other creatures continued to argue with Zukr. “Where do you stand?” Phil demanded. “Will you work with me, or do I need to do something drastic? I can’t very well lock you up.”
“You fools me,” he snarled, “but others trust. I no trusts, but I lissen.”
Suddenly, the same Tzoxhol who’d visited Phil in his sleep earlier appeared, half in and half out of the cab’s hood, though no one else seemed to notice.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Abe said, glancing out the front window to see what he was staring at.