Tuesday, November 11, 2008

chapter 6ish

I sat in a chair at the coffeeshop on Wednesday evening, sipping occasionally on a cheap coffee, and trying to look casual. Every few moments I found myself tapping my foot anxiously or clenching my fist, and forced myself to remain calm and still.
I heard the chime as the door opened, and Scott walked in. He nodded to me as he entered, but walked over to the ordering line to get a latte and a small muffin. As he waited to piuck up his order, I had the chance to examine him. I’d never really paid attention to what he looked like when he was in my apartment. He was on the short side, and wiry. He had dark straight hair, parted in the middle, and a lock of it kept falling into his face. He had an intense but not unpleasant expression on his face, and thanked the barista with a smile when she handed hiom the steaming cup of coffee. He grabbed a fistful of napkins from the dispenser, and took a seat across from me.
“So…you said you wanted to talk again,” he said, carefully breaking off a bit of muffin and popping it into his mouth. “I’m glad you did. But what in specific did you want to talk about?”
I pushed aside my dislike of him for a moment, and cleared my throat. “I went to the psychiatrist yesterday. She, naturally, thinks that I need severe help, since I am seeing things that do not exist. I was given a prescription for a sedative, and if that doesn’t work, she will advance that to more psychoactive drugs.” I dug into my pocket, and held up a small amber pill bottle. Scott held out his hand, and I tossed it to him. As he examined the label, I continued. “Now, so far the only confirmation that I have that these things are real is the fact that you saw the same things I did. I don’t necessarily trust you, but there’s no way you could have made that up. So, ok. I want to know more. I want to meet some of your people, and find out if they were ever put on prescriptions, and if it did or did not help, and what happened.” My voice was slightly harsh, but I did not want to give Scott any impression that I was willing to join his group of…whatever they were.
Scott gave the pill bottle one last look and tossed it back. “Of course. There are several people who were given rather extensive psychotherapy before we found them, and they’d be happy to talk to you. But I can tell you some of it right now. See, I did the same thing.” He held out his arm towards me, and rolled back his sleeve. His wrist was crisscrossed with scar tissue, as if he had been restrained for a time. “It got so bad they had to strap me down on the gurney to give me an injection. The drugs didn’t help me. Either they dulled me down so much I couldn’t function as any sort of normal human being, or they made it worse, opened my mind more to the visions, and twisted them into something that they weren’t, mixed them with ddreams from my own nightmares.”
I shuddered involuntarily. Scott rrolled his sleeve down, drained the last of his coffee, and stood. “We’ll be meeting tonight. It’s the best time to get to know some of them. You’re more like us than you realize.” He gestured slightly at the occupants of the coffee shop. “Look at all of them, sitting here. They’re plugged into music so they never face the silence, they connect themselves to the interenet at every chance because they can’t handle being alone, and they bind themselves to everything about them. They don’t see, and those of us who do have to protect them. It’s our duty.”
I stood slowly, eyeing the door. “Where are you meeting?”
“It’s a warm night, we usually just meet in the park. There’s a table by the playground, and we usually meet there.” He grinned, and headed for the door. “Relax, we don’t wear black robes, goat skulls, or yellow spandex. We’re mostly normal, just like you.”
I followed him out the door. “I’ve got my car, do you want a ride?”
He shook his head. “Best to walk. It’s only two blocks down that way.” He pointed down the street to the park just across from the back entrance to the college. “It won’t take long.”
As we walked, I was silent. The cars rushing by, the noise of college students out and about, and the pumping bass of stereo systems was more than enough noise for me. Again I found myself wishing to be back in Santa Barbara, enjoying the silence of St. Joseph’s. The night air was slightly cool, but warm breezes blew through, carrying the scent of honeysuckle and jasmine, mixed with the fumes of passing cars and the sticky sweet cherry scent of spilled slushies from the nearby gas station.
It only took a few minutes to reach the park, and I could see a few bright stars glinting over the tops of the trees. A small group was already gathered around the table: a pudgy young man who seemed to be still in high school, an older man with glasses and a heavily lined face, a middle-aged woman who looked like she would be at home on Wisteria Lane, and a young woman with dark hair, perched on the edge of the table. As we approached, she leaped down and ran up to Scott.
“Hey, you’re late. I thought you said you’d be here by 8:30, and it’s almost 9.” Her voice was quiet and lilting, and I caught a quick glimpse of blue eyes as she turned towards me. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. I’m Brittany. Scott told us he’d try to bring you tonight, but we didn’t know if he’d actually succeed.” She held out a small tanned hand, and I shook it.
“James, meet the Society,” Scott said, chuckling. “Sorry, we call it the Society because we’ve never found a name that didn’t sound pretentious. This isn’t all of us, we’re missing Michael, Soren, and Mikaela. The gentleman in the blue shirt there is Richard, Henry is the kid, and Rachel is our soccer mom.” The woman laughed, as if it was an old joke. Richard smiled, but it was a guarded smile that spoke of pain and caution. Henry, the pudgy kid, stuck a hand out to shake, and grinned widely from a freckled face. Rachel’s blond hair was slightly mussed by the breeze, and she raised a hand to smooth it as she shook mine. Brittany tugged her knit cap down over her ears, and jumped up and down slightly. “C;mon guys, we need to get going. My mom’s expecting me to be at the coffeeshop again by 11. Let’s go.”
“Hang on a sec, Brit, we’ll make sure you’re back in time, but we’ve got business first.” Scott motioned for me to sit, and I did so carefully, still on my guard. I felt out of place in my buttondown shirt and tie—I hadn’t taken the time to change from school. I loosened my tie, and undid the top button of my shirt.
Scott cleared his throat and raised his voice a little. “Okey, everybody, we’d like to welcome James today, he’s just got some questions, and isn’t a part of the Society as yet. Richard, Rachel, I know that both of you went through pretty intense psychotherapy when you first started seeing things, would you be interested in telling your stories?” Rachel blushed slightly, but nodded. Richard’s face tightened, but he nodded as well. “Richard, you go first, just get it over with. It doesn’t have to be long, just the basics”
Richard turned toward me, and began nervously polishgin his glasses with the tail of his shirt. “I, uh, I used to be a professor. At that school just down the street. I, uh, started seeing things in class. Got to where I could know things about my students without them saying a word to me. Finally, one day I saw this big black creature standing behind one of my best students, this sweet little girl named Hannah. I knew she was having some troubles, but I didn’t know what. I freaked out a little bit when I saw that big thing standing behind her, but kept telling myself I was just tired, just imagining things.” He turned away, his eyes filling with tears. “That night, she took a bottle of blood thinners and slit her wrists. I always wondered what would have happened if I’d said something. Drove me nearly mad, but when they sent me to counseling, the young man I talked to didn’t know what to do. I got passed from doctor to doctor, and was on ten different medications. I even spent a week in an insane asylum. It got…bad. Finally, Scott met me going into the shrink for my latest therapy sessions. I was so doped up, I could barely understand what he was talking about, but something of it sunk in, and I skipped my appointment. The next day, I flushed all the drugs down the toilet, and haven’t taken one since. It took me a while to understand what I was seeing, but…you couldn’t get me to take any of those pills again.” He fell silent, and I looked away, unwilling to stare at the obvious pain he was feeling.
Rachel spoke next, her voice a soft alto. “I thought the things I was seeing were due to a nervous breakdown after my husband left me. I went straight to the psychiatrist my friend recommended, but the pills did nothing.” She smiled wryly. “They never made me sleepy, only a little irritable, but my doctor kept getting worried when nothing he prescribed would make these things go away.”
I turned back to Scott. “Obviously, everyone here doesn’t respond to the medications, for whatever reason. But you told me once that you made everyone in the group get fully tested and treated if possible. I’m assuming you’ve found a few people who were simply hallucinating.”
Scott nodded. “Yeah, we have. Either they find us, or we mistake them for a real seer. It seems like the beings we see have some sort of effect on the mentally unbalanced and they can sense them, though their impression of them may be radically different. We have to be careful. Most of those we’ve turned away, we’ve been able to persuade to get real treatment, and some of them have been completely fine. One young man, Kris, seemed very promising, but it soon became apparent that he was schizophrenic. Fortunately, after getting in touch with a good doctor and starting a treatment plan, he’s been hallucination free for months.”
He leaned forward over the table. “We really are serious about not taking in anyone who isn’t seeing the things we see. We can verify these things, to some extent, though we’re still learning about what we see. We’re still trying to figure out what everything means, though we have some pretty good ideas. You don’t have to decide tonight whether you want to join us or not, but I think you might enjoy one of our patrols. Brittany and I will be going out tonight, and walking up to the grocery store parking lot. It sounds weird, but a lot of high school and college kids hang out there.”
I hesitated. It still sounded strange. Visionary vigilantes, scouting out a parking lot. But I couldn’t resist; I wanted to know how they were able to see things that could make a difference to anyone. I nodded, and rose silently from the table.
“Ok,” Scott said, motioning to Henry, Richard, and Rachel. “Henry and Richard, you take the park here. There’s usually people over by the lake. Check the sidewalks, too. Rachel, are you ok with taking the shopping center on the corner? Yes? Ok, good. Meet back here at 10:30, and we’ll coordinate.”
Scott and Brittany turned and walked up the street, and after hesistating for a moment, I followed. The night had grown slightly colder, and the wind had picked up. As we neared the grocery store parking lot, Scott slowed slightly. “Ok, this is what we’re going to be doing. Mostly, you’ll just be looking. Do whatever you need to do to see—everyone’s a little different. Just keep both sets of eyes open. It’s rare that we see anything dramatic, but you never know.” He turned, and handed a few crumpled dollar bills to Brittany. “brit, do you mind checking out the juice shop? Grab something to drink and just hang out. Looks like they have a pretty good crowd in there tonight.” The young woman nodded, and stuffed the cash in the back pocket of her jeans. “james, you and I are going to take a quick lap around the parking lot, and then hit the grocery store.”
“The…grocery store?”
“I know, it sounds weird, but there are a lot of people there. Brittany found a women who was about to have a heart attack, and was able to call 911 right before the woman collapsed. Richard was walking back from here when he saw two guys planning a robbery. He followed them until they got near the house they were planning to hit, then contacted the police.”
“Before seeing them do anything?”
“Well, yeah, or he wouldn’t have been in time. But he watched until he was sure.”
We walked forward into the grocery store, blinking slightly as we moved from the night into the bright interior of the store.
For a moment, my heart sank. The sterile white walls of the grocery store were covered in bright packaging, orindary people were doing their weekly shopping, and garbled versions of pop songs at least 10 years out of date were playing over the muzak system. It seemed so…normal.
But then from the very corner of my eye, I saw the faintest edge of an unfolding robe. Not much, just a flicker from the corner of my eye, but it was enough. We moved off towards the back of the store; as we walked, I closed my eyes for just a moment, and took a deep breath. When I opened my eyes again, I knew I was Seeing. Little things flickered on the outskirts of my vision; I looked over at Scott, and what I saw almost took my breath away. The air around him flickered like fire. In the center of his chest was a warm red glow, pulsing like the beating of a heart. He smiled slightly, but turned away and kept walking. “Just keep your eyes open,” he said.
Walking through the store while Seeing was an extraordinary experience. Wings and flames darted out from behind soccer moms, and strange lights shone on guys in sweats and carrying six-packs. To keep from looking out of place, we each picked up a few items; nothing seemed dramatically in need of action, so we made our purchases and left.
I was walking on the outside edge of the curb, still slightly in shock of the night’s events, when Scott elbowed me in the ribs. “Look!” he said, and pointed to the middle of the road. A figure stood there, swathed in black robes from head to toe; the light of the moon did not shine on it, and what light shaded the folds of its robes seemed to come from behind it.
A car turned the corner, and began picking up speed. I heard the sound of footsteps behind me, and saw a man running from an alleyway. He was looking frantically behind him as he stepped into the street, and in a flash I knew. I reached out a hand and grabbed his jacket. I braced myself, but as he ran past, he almost dragged me to the ground. I stumbled, and let go of his jacket. The car whizzed past in front of us, calmly proceeding on its way. The figure in black shifted, dwindled, and fell away to nothing.
The man looked back at me with a frantic expression as he scrambled to get away. His eyes were slightly crazed, and a few days worth of beard grizzled around his chin. He ran away into the darkness of a side street, and disappeard.
“Well that was…” I paused, trying to figure out what I thought about what had just happened. Scott was ecstatic. “Your first save! This is fantastic! Let’s go check in with Brit, she’ll want to hear about it, too.”
Inside the juice shop, it was crowded, but not raucous. Brittany was slumped in a large leather armchair near the door, using her straw to stir some watery juice around in the bottom of her cup. As Scott walked through the door, she bolted upright, slurped the last bit of juice from the straw, and ran up to him. “It’s been all quiet here. I only saw a few little things, but nothing big.” She looked irritated. “Anything for you?”
He nodded, and waved her towards the door. “Yes, but let’s not talk about it here. Besides, you need to get back to the coffee shop to meet your mom. We’ll fill you in on the way.”
“Holy cow,” Brittany exclaimed after Scott finished telling her the story. “That’s great, to get a save your first time out.”
I was a little uncomfortable with Brittany’s fulsome praise, but couldn’t help but admit that it was flattering. “I didn’t even know what I was doing, you know. Just...I dunno, reacted. Did the first thing that came to mind. Honestly, I think I scared the guy more than anything, I don’t think he ever even saw the car.”
An SUV drove up, and honked twice. “That’s my mom,” Brittany said, rolling her eyes. “I’ll see you guys later.”
“Finish your homework, kid. Drink your milk. Eat all your veggies,” Scott teased, grinning. Brittany made a face at him as she backed out the door of the coffee shop.
Scott chuckled, waited for the headlights of the vehicle to disappear, then headed for the door. “Come on, let’s meet up with the others. They’re probably waiting.”

The walk back to the park was uneventful, and we mostly kept silence until we arrived, and saw Richard, Rachel, and Henry waiting for us. Scott hailed them and jogged over; I kept my own pace, and arrived a few seconds later to find Scott already in the middle of retelling the story/. I was no longer consciously trying to See, but flickers of Sight remained. As I approached the group, I felt myself passing through an invisible barrier, and saw the faintest hint of red. I squinted, a for a moment, saw a ring of red-robed figures surrounding the group.
“So then James just reaches out for the guy, and…James? You ok?” Scott turned toward me as I halted in my tracks. “You look like you just saw a ghost!” The others laughed, as if the phrase were a common joke among them.
I shrugged it off. “Well, you said that some of these…things…you see, that they tend to gather around people who can see them. I guess that explains why there’s a circle of them around us now?”
Scott nodded. “Yeah. See, we’ve been meeting here for a while, and they’ve realized that this is where we’ll be. We’ver never gotten a real clear look at them, but they’re here. Even when you’re not Seeing, the air feels a little…prickly, I guess…when they get close. Like the air before a storm, sort of. “
I shivered, but joined the rest of the group at the table. “I dunno, they give me the creeps. If they’re like the one I saw a few weeks ago, they’re a little disturbing.”
Rachel shrugged, brushing her hair back from her face. “You get used to them. Usually, it’s the tall figures in black you have to watch out for. We think they’re an archetype of death…well, that’s what Scott calls them.” She smiled kindly at Richard who lifted an eyebrow. “You see, Richard thinks that they actually are some sort of angel of death. We’ve never been able to satisfactorily determine whether they have some sort of objective existence, or are simply projections of a human mind.”
Scott smacked his palms on the table and leaned forward. “Ok, people, any other stories from tonight? Brit had to go, but it was a quiet one for her. Rachel, how about you?”
She shook her head, and folded her arms across her chest to warm herself. “No, not really. I saw a few little squabbles, some minor accidents in the waiting, but nothing big enough to merit ingterference. Pretty quiet evening.”
Henry spoke up. “We saw a couple people coming up out of the tunnel, there by the golf course. Most of them were fine but one guy was pretty high. We watched him, but he just got in the car with his friends—he wasn’t the driver—and drove off. Man, you should’ve seen the air around that guy, it was crazy. Dark purple, and this little green slimy thing growing tentacles all over him. He’s pretty far gone, I think.” He nodded with the sagacity of someone who wanted very much to be thought mature.
Scott sighed, and ran his fingers through his hair. “I hate ones like that. There’s really not much we can do. I don’t suppose you got anything that might identify him?” Henry shook his head morosely.
“Ok, well, I think that’s about all we can expect for a night. Keep taking notes, keep working.” The four of them joined hands in the center of the table; Rachel looked over at me as if expecting me to join in, but I pretended not to notice.
“See what you can, do what you can, save everyone you can.” The meeting dispersed after that, Richard pausing for a moment to whisper something to Scott. He nodded, and Richard headed over the hill towards a small parking lot. “Well…Ok, I’m sure everything seemed a little cheesy to you. I suppose it is. But we really do want to save everyone we can; it’s all about helping other people. It’s amazing how good you start to feel when you know you’re really doing something to make the world a better place.” He inhaled deeply, and let his breath out in a great whoosh. “I hope you’ll think about doing this with us. I think you’ll end up seeing more clearly than any of us—You’re already seeing much more clearly than I did when I was twice as far along. With every person who joins us, we see more, and we’re so close to being able to do so much more.” He shoved his hands into his pockets and looked away. “Sorry, didn’t mean to get so intense. I just really care about this, is all. It’s given meaning to my life, you know?”
Something inside me still whispered frantically that I should just turn my back, and run away as fast as possible. But part of me wanted so badly for these visions to be about something, for my life to have some end goal, some purpose other than going to work every morning and grading papers every night. Helping others, saving lives in ways other people couldn’t do…it was undeniably appealing.
“I just need to think about this for a while,” I said, turning to go. “I’m not saying no, but I’m not saying yes either. Just give me some time.”
He nodded, and fished around in his pocket for his car keys. “Sure, sure, that’s fine, we all find our own way. Just let me know when you’re ready.” He waved good-bye, and jogged toward the parking lot, keys jingling faintly in the night.
The moon was shining brightly as I walked back towards the coffee shop where my car was parked, and I wished I’d brought a jacket.

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