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THE CHOSEN Part Two: IN THE PADDED BELLY OF A CONCRETE WHALE Chapter 8

Brian dropped onto the bed as though overcome with weariness. Already the walls of the small room felt like they were closing in on him. He sighed, reaching for his guitar, one of the few personal belongings he’d been allowed to bring with him. *Surprised they weren’t afraid I’d hang myself with the strings.* With no TVs in the individual rooms, Brian knew he’d be needing it. Oftentimes in his life, music had been the only thing that kept him sane.

He strummed the strings out of habit, knowing the instrument would already be in tune. Rolling his neck from side to side until he felt the muscles relax, he began to play. Simple chords bled into a Steve Earle riff, then metamorphosed into “Goin’ Blind” by KISS. Brian closed his eyes, feeling the vibrations of the music in his fingertips, his hands.

“Gotta leave the door open, Ace,” a voice intruded on his performance. Brian glanced up. A tiny black woman in a nurse’s uniform stood in the doorway. “That’s the rules.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Brian answered.

“You sure do play pretty,” the nurse said, leaving.

Brian returned his attention to the guitar, trying to ignore the noises creeping in from the hallway. He finished one song, began another. Then a blockage of light from the doorway registered in his peripheral vision and he looked over.

“Hey. Sorry to interrupt.” Brian recognized the old man from the recreation room. Dr. Frye had called him Dave.

“You need something?” Brian asked.

“I, uh, just wanted to apologize,” Dave said. “For before. If I seemed rude.”

“Yeah, okay.” Brian began to pick at the guitar strings again, a gesture he intended as dismissive.

“I didn’t mean to stare at you like that,” Dave said. “You know, gawk at you.”

“Forget it,” Brian said, not looking up.

“It’s just that, well, I thought you were an angel.”

Brian looked over as Dave turned to leave.

“What did you say?” he demanded.

Dave looked back. “That’s, well, that’s why I was staring at you. I thought you were an angel.”

“And why would you think something like that?”

“Oh,” Dave said. “It’s just that you have the most beautiful aura I’ve ever seen.”

“You can see my aura?”

“Oh, sure.” Dave smiled. “Brightest I’ve ever seen. Just like an angel surrounded by radiant glory.” He chuckled.

“Right,” Brian said. “Sure.” He looked away.

“Surprised the Spooks didn’t notice you,” Dave said.

“What?” Brian’s head jerked up.

“Oh,” Dave replied. “That’s what I call ’em. Spooks. See, I can, uh, see things.”

Brian put aside the guitar. “What sort of things?”

Dave cocked his head. “You see them too, don’t you?”

Brian didn’t answer.

“Makes sense,” Dave said. “With an auric identity so well-developed, you’d almost have to.”

“What exactly do you see?” Brian asked.

“Well, the worst ones,” Dave said. “They’re like leeches. They attach themselves to a host, usually at the base of the neck.”

Brian took a long breath. “Come in.”

Dave sat down in the room’s single chair. “I have a theory about them,” he said. “They’re not individual entities, you know? With each one attacking independent of the others. I think that, what we’re seeing, they’re all just individual parts of one whole. Are you under any spells of protection, by the way?”

“What do you mean?” Brian asked.

“The Spooks ought to be drawn to you like skeeters to a bug zapper,” Dave said. “But they didn’t seem to notice you at all.” Brian watched him. “You wouldn’t necessarily be aware of it,” Dave said.

Brian decided the man wasn’t as old as he had first thought. His long hair, solid white and tied back in a ponytail, coupled with a certain weathered look lent an impression of long years to the man, an authority.

“The spells could have been put in place before you were born,” Dave continued. “Or any time during childhood.”

“Who are you, man?” Brian asked.

Dave grinned. “Nobody special,” Dave said, crossing his legs. “I was a career soldier. Jarhead, Semper Fi. Anyway, Uncle Sam did a real good job turning me into a soulless killing machine. Too good. I had a little problem readjusting to civilian life.”

“Is that how you ended up here?” Brian asked.

“Nah. That came later,” Dave said. “See, all I knew at the time was that I craved some peace and quiet. After I was discharged, I mean. So I took Horace Greeley’s advice. ‘Go West, young man.’ That’s how I ended up at the reservation.”

“Reservation?”

“My great-grandfather on my mother’s side was full-blooded Apache,” Dave said. “So I figured I’d learn a little about the Indian way of life. Build myself a little cabin out in the desert, away from people. Live like Thoreau at Walden Pond, you know?”

Brian nodded.

“Met an old woman. A shaman. She explained to me what was wrong, what had happened to me.”

“Which was what?” Brian asked.

“Soul-loss,” Dave said. “I had almost succeeded in killing my own soul. But this little spark was still burning. That’s why my instincts had told me to head for the Res’ before it was too late.”

“That’s a new one on me,” Brian said.

“Was for me, too,” Dave said. “But it made sense. See, God would never destroy a living soul, ‘cause it’s a little part of Him, but a man can destroy his own soul. The life of a professional soldier, a professional killer, that had pretty much negated mine. ‘War is Hell,’ right? And being an agnostic, I had no way to counteract the damage, replenish what I was losing.”

“So it grows back?” Brian half-joked.

“Yeah. Like a tiny ember can be fanned and fed kindling till it’s a big fire again. That’s what life on the Res’ did for me. That, and it opened my eyes.”

“So you can see things,” Brian said.

“Yeah. I guess I always had some latent ability. In my blood, you know? Like I said, my great-grandfather was Indian. Anyway, I learned how to use my gift. So, who taught you?”

“Nobody,” Brian answered. “I’ve been seeing things since, hell, as far back as I can remember.”

“Born with the switch already flipped,” Dave said. “You’re a special one. No wonder they think you’re bonkers.”

“So, what was the deal with the bowl of water?” Brian asked. “And ice cream?”

Dave laughed. “I try to do cleansings several times a month. This place is crawling with Spooks. Anyway, that’s what the water’s for. It’s activated water.”

“Activated?”

“Well, I hesitate to call it ‘holy’ water, since I performed the ceremony myself,” Dave said. “I don’t consider myself to be holy, so I say it’s ‘activated’ water.”

Brian smiled. Despite his natural hesitance, he found he was starting to like the old man. Even more, he believed him.

“It can be easy to repel Spooks,” Dave said. “Even a positive thought or emotion can help do the trick. So I try to think happy thoughts when I’m doing a cleansing.”

“Ice cream?” Brian asked.

“Ice cream makes me very happy,” Dave said.

Brian chuckled. “How long have you been here?”

Dave whistled. “Goin’ on fifteen years.”

“Wow.”

“Thing is,” Dave said. “It’s not so bad. I still crave peace and quiet more than anything else, and this place is peaceful and quiet, most of the time. I’ve even had the opportunity to help a few folks. Not everybody who comes in here has a problem with their brain. Sometimes, it’s soul-loss or demonic influence, or a case of out-and-out possession.”

“Try telling that to Frye,” Brian said.

Dave laughed. “Yeah. Hank’s one of those post-modern, ‘enlightened’ shrinks, thinks the answer to everything can be found in a pharmaceutical encyclopedia. But he means well.”

“So you’re saying this isn’t such a bad place to live,” Brian said. “That I should make the most of it.”

Dave shook his head, still smiling. “Don’t get too comfortable, kid,” he said. “You won’t be here that long.”

“You don’t think so?”

Dave leaned forward. “Trust me on this one. You’re intended for bigger things.”

“Why do you say that?” Brian asked.

“You can’t see your own aura,” Dave said. “It’s a metaphysical impossibility. But I can see just fine. You’re radiating light like a disco ball. There’s something extraordinary about you. Like I said, when I first saw you, I thought you were an angel. And maybe you are. You just don’t know it yet.”

“Believe me,” Brian said. “I’m no angel.”

“You’re no accident, kid.” Dave said. “There are no accidents.”

TheCheezman • April 7, 2020


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