Dark, Dank Places with Large Snakes
To Be Heard
Sci-Fi Short by Alan Nelson
"I don't know exactly how to explain it to you, Doctor," the young man began. He smoothed back his slick black hair that shone like a phonograph record and blinked his baby-blue eyes. "It seems to be the opposite of a persecution complex."
Dr. Manly J. Departure was a short severe man who made a point of never exhibiting surprise. "The opposite of a persecution complex?" he said, permitting one eyebrow to elevate. "How do you mean — the opposite of a persecution complex, Mr. McFarlane?"
"Well, for one thing, I keep thinking that I'm following someone." McFarlane sat placidly in the big easy chair, hands folded, pink cheeks glowing, the picture of health and tranquility. Dr. Departure stirred uneasily.
"You mean you think someone is following, you, don't you?" the doctor corrected.
"No. No, I don't! I mean that while I'm walking along the street, suddenly I have this feeling there is somebody just ahead of me. Somebody I'm after. Someone I'm following. Sometimes I even begin to run to catch up with him! Of course —there's no one there. It's inconvenient. Damned inconvenient. And I hate to run."
Dr. Departure fiddled with a pencil. "I see. Is there anything else?"
"Well, yes. I keep having thes feeling that people ... that people...well, it's really very silly..."
"It's quite all right," Dr. Departure purred. Feel free to tell me anything."
"Well, I keep having this strange feeling that people are plotting to do me good. That they're trying to be benevolent and kind toward me. I don't know exactly who they are, or why they wish me all this kindness, but...it's all very fantastic, isn't it?"
It had been a long hard day for Dr. Departure. Somehow he did not feel up to any more symptoms. He busied himself the rest of hour obtaining factual background. McFarlane was thirty-two; happily married; healthy, normal childhood; satisfactorily employed as a radio repairman; no physical complaints; no bad dreams; no drinking; no history of parental discord; no financial worries. Nothing.
"Shall we say Thursday at ten, then?" he smiled, ushering McFarlane out.
At ten minutes to ten on Thursday, Dr. Departure looked at his appointment book and frowned. Well, maybe he wouldn't show up. Very often that happened. He certainly hoped that this would be one of those occasions. Opposite of a persecution complex! Delusions of beneficence! Indeed! The man must be... he checked himself hastily. He'd almost said mad. At that moment the door buzzer sounded, and McFarlane was grinning and shaking his hand.
"Well, well." Dr. Departure's affability seemed somewhat hollow. "Any new developments?"
"Seems to me I'm getting worse," McFarlane beamed. "This business of following someone, I mean. Yes sir. Yesterday, I must have walked five miles!"
Dr Departure relaxed into his chair across the desk.
"Well, now, suppose you tell me more about it. All about it. Just anything that comes to mind."
"What do you mean, Doctor, just anything that comes to mind?"
"Just ramble on —about anything— whatever comes into your head."
"I'm not sure I understand. Could you show me what you mean Doctor? Just by way of illustration?"
The doctor permitted himself a little chuckle.
"Why, it's very simple. ...Well...like right now I'm thinking how one time I stole some money out of mother's purse...and now I'm thinking about my wife, wondering what to get her for our wedding anniversary..." The doctor looked up hopefully. "See? Just anything like that."
"Anything like what? I still don't quite understand." But McFarlane's face was'nt puzzled; it was eager. "Could you give me just a couple more illustrations? They're very interesting.
The doctor found himself relating disconnected, half-forgotten images. McFarlane sat back with a strangely contented expression.
At the end of the hour, Dr. Departure was quite exhausted. His voice was hoarse; his collar and tie askew. "...and well, my wife —she completely dominates me...I always was very sensitive that my eyes are slightly crossed...I never will forget —that time in the attic, with the little girl across the street...I was only eleven I guess..." Reluctantly, he broke off, wiped his eyes and glanced at his watch.
"I feel much better," he heard McFarlane say. "Shall we say Tuesday at ten?"
Next Tuesday at ten, Dr Departure inwardly braced himself.
"There'll be no more nonsense like last Thursday's session," he assured himself, but he had no cause for concern. McFarlane was strangely silent and preoccupied. He carried a large cardboard box, which he carefuly set upon the floor before seating himself in the leather chair. The doctor prodded him with a few preliminary questions.
"I'm afraid I'm beginning to be troubled with hallucinations, Doctor," McFarlane finally volunteered.
Dr. Departure mentally rubbed his hands. He was back on old familiar territory now. He felt more comfortable.
"Rather, they're not really hallucinations, Doctor. You might say they were the opposite of hallucinations."
Dr. Departure rested his eyes a moment. The smile disappeared from his face. McFarlane continued:
"Last night, for instance, Doctor, I had a nightmare. Dreamed there was a big ugly bird perched on my short-wave set waiting for me to wake up. It was a hideous thing —a fat bulbous body and a huge beak that turned upward like a sickle. Blood-shot eyes with pouches under them. And ears, Doctor. Ears! Did you ever hear of a bird wth ears? Little tiny, floppy ears, something like a cocker spaniel's. Well, I woke up, my heart pounding, and what do you think? There actually was an ugly fat bird with ears sitting on the short-wave set."
Dr. Departure perked up again. A very simple case of confusing the real with the unreal. Traditional. Almost classical.
"A real bird on the short-wave set?" he asked gently. "With blood-shot eyes?"
"Yes," McFarlane replied. "I know it sounds silly. I know it's hard to believe."
"Oh, not at all. Not at all. That type of visual aberration is a common enough phenomenon." The doctor smiled soothingly. "Nothing to..."
McFarlane interrupted him by reaching down an hoisting the carton onto the desk. "You don't understand, Doctor," he said. "Go ahead. Open it."
The doctor looked at McFarlane a moment, then at the brown box which was punctured with air holes and tied with heavy twine. Disconcertedly, the doctor cut the string and folded back the top flaps. He leaned over and peered in — then sucked in his breath. Pouchy, blood-shot eyes leered up at him. Floppy ears. The up-side-down beak. An obscene-looking bird.
"His name is Lafayette," McFarlane said, tossing a few bread crumbs into the carton which were quickly devoued with a noisy, repulsive gulp. "He rather grows on you after awhile, don't you think?"
After McFarlane left with his hallucination, the doctor sat a few moments meditating. He felt a little dizzy and lightheaded, as though he had just emerged from a ride through the Tunnel of Horrors at the beach.
Maybe I am witnessing an entirely new psychosis, he told himself. Funny things are happening in the world today. He saw hiself before the American Psychiatric Congress delivering a monograph: "The Emergence of a New Psychosis." This new disorder apparently had symptoms opposite from paranoia — he would call it "narapoia." Hopefully, Dr. Departure foresaw the possibility that some of his colleagues would insist on naming it after its discoverer: "Departureomania." He would be famous; his name linked with Freud. A sickening thought struck him. Supposing this man McFarlane were a malingerer! A fake! By God, he'd find out! Quickly, he buzzed his secretary, Miss Armstrong, and instructed her to cancel all appointments for the rest of the day. Then he reached for his hat and fled from the building.
Three days later the telephone in Dr. Depature's office rang. Miss Armstrong answered it. It was Mrs. Departure.
"No, he isn't here," Miss Armstrong said. "As a matter of fact he hasn't been here for three days except to bounce in and out for his mail."
"I dont know what's the matter with that man." Mrs. Departure's exasperated voice rattled the receiver. "He's gone half the night, too. Comes home utterly exhausted. What do you supose he's writing in that little notebook?"
"Frankly, I'm worried about him," Miss Armstrong replied. "He's so irritable. And in such a frightful rush all the time."
"You're looking peaked, Doc," McFarlane said, at his next meeting a week later. It was the first time the doctor had sat behind the desk for many days. His legs ached. Stealthily, beneath the desk, he slipped off both scuffed shoes to relieve the pressure from his blistered feet.
"Never mind about me," the doctor snapped. "How are you?" The doctor's fingers twitched. He was much thinner and his face was pale and drawn.
"I think I must be getting better," McFarlane announced. "I have the feeling lately that someone is following me."
"Nonsense!" Dr. Departure snapped at him irritably. "It's just your imagination." He squinted his eyes and gazed at McFarlane. If only he could be sure this McFarlane was not faking. So far there was nothing to indicate he was. After all, his sudden urge on the streets to overtake someone seemed perfectly genuine. McFarlane would raise his head, his pace would quicken, and away he would go. "Well, I'll just have to watch him a little while longer," the doctor told himself. He closed his eyes a moment, reviewing his activities for the previous week: the long cross-city jaunts in which he had almost lost McFarlane a dozen times; the long, long waits outside restaurants and bars waiting for McFarlane to emerge. "I'll just have to keep going until I get all the facts," he thought. But he was a little concerned with the weight he'd lost, and with the strange ringing noises in his head which had recently developed....
At the end of the hour, Mcfarlane tiptoed out of the office. Dr. Departure was snoring fuzzily.
On the day of McFarlane's next appointment with the doctor, he was met at the door by Miss Armstrong. "Doctor isn't here," she informed him. "He's taken a leave of absence for three months —possibly a year."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear it," McFarlane said. "He was looking done in, though. Where is he, on vacation?"
"As a matter of fact, he's at Marwood Sanitarium."
A strange puzzled look suddenly settled over McFarlane's face and he gazed into space a moment. Presently, he smiled at the secretary.
"I just had the funniest feeling," he said. "Suddenly I feel like I'm completely cured. All of a sudden. Just when you told me about Dr. Departure."
The doctors had quite a time with Dr. Departure at the sanitarium.
"Just tell us anything that comes into your mind," they urged. Departure's eyes were glazed and he was very excited.
"I've got to follow him, I tell you! I can't let him get out of sight. Not for an instant. He's got a bird with baggy eyes and floppy ears."
"Very interesting. Allo very interesting!" The doctors glomed among themselves, shaking their heads scientifically:
"Something entirely new!"
"It's rather like a persecution complex — isn't it? — only the opposite!"
"He seems to have the delusion he is following someone. Amazing, isnt it?"
"Probably the emergence of a brand new psychosis. I suggest that we observe him very closely."
And here one of the doctors went so far as to suggest further that they allow Dr. Departure to move about the city at will — closely watched, of course, by alternately selected members of their staff — so that all his actions could be carefully noted...