Jim Sweeting was quite fond of quoting the axiom, “Chemotherapy destroys ailing cells and psychotherapy ailing thought patterns”. The vast corpus of his professional opinion was hinged on those golden words. According to Jim, the use of anti-psychotics, barbiturates, narcotics, and other wonder drugs that most clinicians were vastly dependent on in treating their patients was bereft of formative power because they merely blanketed the symptoms of psychiatric and psychological dysfunctions, dressing them in superficial garments of normalcy as to garner the illusion of restored health. For a professional whose chosen medium was merely an avenue for financial gain, the answers offered up by drugs sufficed; alternatively, for a compassionate humanitarian like Jim, the latter were merely an intermediary until humanity experienced another fundamental leap in their understanding of neuroscience. But being of an impatient disposition, he wasn’t just going to fold his hands across his chest and wait for that glorious moment to transpire; that would be an immense waste of time and energy. Instead, he would initiate a radical departure from the reductionist approach of Western medicine, opting instead for herbal preparations that exhibited recuperative effects on the nervous system. Many of these he’d learnt whilst living and travelling through the Hindu Kush.
Jim was, amongst other things, intensely ambitious and profound–a beacon of light in Stygian darkness. He lived, breathed, and practiced clinical psychiatry and psychology with an evangelical zeal. There wasn’t much he wouldn’t attempt for the sake of curing his patients. He was a devoted advocate of conventional psychotherapy, and unlike other practitioners in the field, didn’t mind listening to nonsensical and eccentric ramblings that typified many consultations and took up thick slices of his day. Jim was a good listener and his high success rate in exacting cures attracted the admiration and respect of his peers, but also the enmity and jealousy of those towing their dreams along the same denomination of inquiry. As of late, he’d become deeply involved with Orpheus, a Greek-Australian musician suffering from acute night terrors and mild hallucinations.
The severity and longevity of Orpheus’s anxiety and unrest didn’t disconcert Jim, not as yet anyway. He’d dealt with many such cases in the past, and all of them could be explained in the context of Freudian theory; just like the physical body came equipped with immune defences to mend and protect it from foreign invasion, so too was the human mind wired with a psychic mechanism that became activated when a median threshold for traumatic and hurtful experiences was surpassed. In such instances, individual memories pertaining to the trauma were isolated from the conscious roll of psychic film and buried deep in the vast and oceanic territories of the unconscious. When the individual experienced an event whose internal composition or anatomy was identical or near-identical to the repressed memory, details of the former trauma erupted into consciousness again like a landmine being trotted on.
As a therapist, Jim’s role was to access the contents of repressed memories through the application of techniques like guided fantasy, expressive therapy through art and word association, and hypnosis. Being the language of the unconscious, dreams often held the key to identifying and harmonising the traumatic contents which in effect healed the individual by fusing together the two fragmented halves of the personality. Thanks to his intimate knowledge of Freudian ideology and Jungian archetypes, Jim was especially good at interpreting dream symbols and had identified innumerable phobias, past traumas, complexes, and disorders in this way. If the working theory had served him so well in the past, then there was no reason why it should meander about and cease as an intellectual dead end now.
He picked up the dream journal and flipped through it again, looking for distinct patterns in this pictorial sequence of strains and dissatisfactions that might betray the nature of the trauma. Jim was going to get to the root of Orpheus’s problem; he could not, would not fail. A future promotion to the position of Director of the Faculty of Clinical Psychology could very well be contingent on the outcome here.
After meditating on one of the recurring images, he clasped his eyes shut and rubbed his face with both hands.
“Dr. Sweeting?” sounded a familiar voice from the door.
“Amara, you’re early.”
“Oh yeah, it’s nearly six.”
“You shouldn’t work so hard Jimmy. Liz might end up filing for divorce,” she joked.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t blame her. Did you get the chance to look at this?” Jim held up the diary.
“Just the samples you sent me.”
“Wacky stuff, hey?”
“I don’t know if I’d want to sleep if I had to endure dreams like that every night,” Amara said. “Some of them make horror flicks like Paranormal Activity seem lame and tame by comparison. The poor guy must be mortified.”
“Well, it’s got me kind of edgy and I’m not even the one experiencing them. Liz thinks I’m becoming it.”
“True that,” said Amara, shaking her head. “I seriously don’t know how you do it. I mean, the dream where he’s talking about all those invisible hands groping him everywhere really sent shivers up my spine. The one where his fingers are blown off doesn’t fall too far behind either.”
“That’s just a fear of losing what he loves most.”
Jim laughed. “No, the ability to play the harp and mandolin. He’s a musician, remember?”
“Oh, I’d forgotten about that. Anyhow the dream which really got me jittery was the one where he’s trapped in a cellar with all those cockroaches crawling all over him. That made the hair on my skin stand. I can’t stand creepy crawlies.”
“Is there anything that really stood out?”
“In the diary you mean?”
“There was one thing.”
“The recurring vision in the cave,” said Amara. “You know the one where he’s trapped underground.”
“Exactly my thoughts,” said Jim. “That one is fascinating because it always occurs just before waking. In the diary, he explains that it’s a fragmented vision; there’s no beginning to it. It just starts off midpoint, as if he’s a passive observer that has been dropped smack bang into the middle of an action scene. It’s always pitch dark in there, and ghastly. He’s always running away from something too. He doesn’t quite know what he’s running from, save for the fact that it’s something evil, very evil. Then he sees the pinprick of light which is the exit, the mouth of the cave leading to freedom…”
“But he awakes just before passing through it,” Amara added.
“There’s someone with him too, isn’t there? Someone who’s running directly behind him.”
“Yeah, that’s Eurydice.”
“Who is that?”
“It’s his wife.”
“I didn’t know he was married,” said Amara.
“Was,” said Jim. “She died a few years ago.”
“It happened while they were on their honeymoon,” said Jim. “They went exploring and discovered a deserted mine that hadn’t been in use since God knows when. After such a long time of disuse shafts become highly unstable. Orpheus and Eurydice ignored the signs of wear and tear and decided to go walkabouts anyway. They didn’t get very far though; one of ceilings collapsed and the breakdown rained onto Eurydice, killing her instantly.”
“That’s sad,” Amara sighed.
“Do you think the vision is an admittance of guilt then? You know, the guilt that comes with having surviving such a tragic event; the guilt of having done nothing to save her, even though he couldn’t. ”
“Maybe,” said Jim. “I still haven’t figured out whether he’s leading her out of the cave or whether he’s running from her.”
Amara frowned. “Why would he run from her? That doesn’t make any sense at all.”
“It does when you look at it as a whole,” said Jim. “Think about the psychosomatic symptoms. Orpheus said that when he’s running through the cave, he feels like there’s someone biting and scratching his arms and legs. The marks on his body correspond precisely to those positions.”
“And you’re sure that they’re genuine, yeah?” asked Amara. “I mean, someone in his condition could easily self-mutilate and then make up wild stories and embellishments about how they’d come to be.”
“No, I’m pretty sure that they’re genuine. I’ve had him under close observation.”
“If the trauma is manifesting physically then it must be something very deep,” said Amara.
“How much deeper can it be than watching a loved one die in front of you?”
“I don’t think we’ve quite gathered all the pieces of this puzzle yet,” said Amara. “There’s something else. There’s got to be.”
“You’re reading my mind and I don’t like it. That’s my job!”
“We’ve missed something for sure,” said Amara.
“Yes,” said Jim. “That’s why I called you, remember?”
“You’re just looking for new and wonderful ways to spice up my life, aren’t you Dr. Sweeting?”
“How did you know?” Jim asked, grinning. “We need to exhaust the possibilities. We need to get to the bottom of this.”
“We will,” said Amara. “But don’t expect the bottom to be a bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolates or a cheerful face.”
Orpheus barged into the consultation room looking dishevelled and glum. His shirt was furrowed, open and untucked. He’d obviously been running in the rain; strands of wet hair were glued to his forehead. There were gobs of fresh mud splashed onto his pants. Sweat ran along his temples. Jim was always thankful that Orpheus never used deodorant sparingly.
“I’m really sorry but practice finished late.”
“Not a problem,” said Jim. “We haven’t been waiting long anyway. Orpheus, I’d like you to meet a colleague of mine, Dr. Amara Edmonton.”
“Hi Dr. Edmonton.”
“Pleased to meet you Orpheus.”
“Dr. Edmonton is a clinical hypnotherapist and will be guiding the hypnosis today. Are you ok with that?”
Orpheus shrugged. “Sure.”
“We’re going to approach this in a very simple manner,” said Jim. “There seems to be a blockage of sorts in your subconscious.”
“We’re hoping that the hypnosis will clear it,” Amara added.
“Once we know what it is we’ll talk about it and hopefully it will stop.”
‘Do you think it will stop?” asked Orpheus with a glimmer of hope in his eyes.
“Don’t see why not,” said Jim. “Much of it depends on your own attitude.”
“I hope I can beat it.”
“I’m going to beat it.”
“That’s better,” said Jim. “And you will.”
“It’s been a long while since I’ve had a good night’s sleep Dr. Sweeting.”
“How long Orpheus?”
“Oh years,” he said. “It all started when my wife died.”
“Why did you let it linger for so long without seeking professional help?”
“I was scared.”
“The dream,” he said. “
“The dream isn’t real. It can’t hurt you.”
Orpheus remained silent for a few seconds. “I know, but it might be something embarrassing.”
“You’ve got nothing to worry about,” said Jim. “My colleague and I are professionals. Everything is strictly confidential; whatever you say in this room stays in this room.”
Orpheus was staring directly at Jim; his eyes were blank and unnerving.
“Tell me more about Eurydice.”
“What would you like to know?”
“Anything,’ said Jim. “What was she like?”
“I loved her very much. She was a decent girl, very pretty, a bit stubborn; she was a Taurus, you see. She was a bit queer too.”
“Yeah into pentacles and all this Gothic stuff,” said Orpheus. “She used to keep these weird looking wax figures in the wardrobe.”
‘No she wasn’t a pagan.”
“What was she then?”
“You’re Greek Orthodox, aren’t you?”
“I’m not quite sure anymore.”
“Faith in a higher purpose can be a powerful thing,” said Jim.
“Do you believe in life after death?”
“You mean whether or not somebody can continue to exist in an alternate dimension?”
“Yeah,” said Orpheus. “Do you think someone can cheat death, continue to exist in an alternate dimension, and then find a way to come back into our world.”
"Are you referring to reincarnation?"
Jim sighed. “No, I don’t believe in reincarnation Orpheus. What about you, do you believe in it?”
“I never used to believe in it but now I’m not so sure.”
“Sorry to interrupt,” said Amara, “but how is reincarnation related to your wife?”
“She said she knew how to cheat it.”
“Cheat what?” asked Jim.
“When did she tell you this?”
“When we first got together,” he said. “I don’t think there was a day that I wasn’t reminded of the fact.”
“That’s not a fact Orpheus.”
“So you never took her claim seriously?”
“Never, but I’m less certain now than I used to be.”
“Why would you entertain it now?”
“Well things have started happening,” said Orpheus. ‘Things I can’t explain.”
“Do you think that there’s a chance that these things come from your own self?”
“Are you trying to say that I’m crazy?”
“I never use that word Orpheus.”
“But that’s what you think.”
“I don’t think that at all Orpheus. I’m just curious if you think they could be irruptions of your own subconscious.”
Jim watched from his reclining chair as Amara put Orpheus into a hypnotic trance with the use of a swinging pendulum. Once he was under, she regressed him to a date and time consistent with the recurring vision in his dream journal.
“Where are you Orpheus?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can you see anything?”
“No, it’s dark.”
“Start walking forward.”
“What if I trip over a rock?”
“A rock? You must be outside somewhere.”
“It feels like it.”
“Oh, hold on a second.”
“What is it?”
“There’s something in the distance. It looks like a bonfire.”
“Yeah, it’s ablaze next to a stone table. The stone table is enclosed in a circle of tombstones. No wait, they’re not stones. They’re people prostrated on the ground.”
“A tall, hooded figure with horns a red robe. She’s holding a stiletto knife.”
“Is this a cult of some sort?”
“She’s holding the knife over an infant which they’ve strapped onto the table. Oh no! She can’t do that! For God’s sake, don’t let her do it!”
“You need to calm down Orpheus. Calm down, ok? You’re reliving a dream. Nothing can hurt you here. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.”
“Very good. Now, without getting too caught up in the experience I want you to tell me exactly what happens next.”
“They’re all chanting in a language I don’t understand. It sounds a lot like Latin. Th-there’s blood splattered everywhere.”
“P-people are walking around the table, h-howling at the top of their voices and s-stabbing it with their knives. It’s s-still alive.”
“Oh, J-Jesus… No, I c-can’t look!”
“You need to stay calm Orpheus. Tell me what’s going on.”
“The horned woman with the red face is using the stiletto knife to cut out the beating heart… Oh, J-Jesus C-Christ.”
“Oh my God.”
"What's happening now?"
“A woman has flopped onto the stone table. The horned woman has sliced a leg off the dead infant and is inserting it into the woman’s vagina with a pair of pliers. Oh, I think I’m going to be s-sick…”
“Do you see anyone you recognise?”
“Are you sure? What do the people attending look like?”
“I can only see their shadows. There isn’t enough light."“What about the horned woman. Do you know who she is?”
“Her head is always lowered. I can’t see her face.”
“Orpheus, is this what you see every night before waking?”
“Yes, this is the vision I see.”
“But is it only a vision?”
“What do you mean?”
“Is this something you’ve witnessed before in real life?”
“Many years ago. Right after I got married.”
“Where did you witness this?”
Orpheus remained silent.
“Where Orpheus? A cave?”
“An abandoned warehouse?”
“A mine maybe?”
“Yes, that’s it. There are wagons loaded with coal beside me. It’s a mine.”
“An abandoned mine?”
“Where is this mine?”
“Nothing’s going to happen to you. You’re perfectly safe.”
“Wait a second she’s lifting her head up.”
“The woman with the horns.”
“The high priestess?”
“Who is she?”
“Oh, my G-God.”
“Who is she Orpheus?”
Jim felt the hair on his skin begin to stand. He exchanged glances with Amara, who was equally flustered. Nevertheless, her calculated psychic probing was proving to be very successful and she wasn’t about to let up. Jim couldn’t discern anything in her overall demeanour to suggest that the session should be terminated.
“Oh!” he exclaimed.
“What’s wrong Orpheus?” asked Amara.
“She’s looking straight at me!”
“She knows I’m here, huddled near a wagon.”
“You need to stay calm Orpheus. Remember, nothing can hurt you so do your best to ditch the emotion. Breathe in, breathe out. You’re completely relaxed now, right?”
After a few seconds of graveyard silence he said, “She’s coming.”
“She can’t hurt you.”
“Orpheus lie down on the sofa.”
“I need to get out of here, out of the darkness and into the light. She’ll kill me if I stay here. I need to get to the light…”
“Orpheus, you need to listen to me. I’m commanding you to lie down on the sofa.”
“She’s coming for me. She knows that I know.”
“If I can only… get out of here… they won’t be able… to… to follow,” he wheezed.
“I order you to stop running around the room! Orpheus, listen to me!”
“I can hear her… sh-she’s behind me… g-gaining on me. She’s gaining on me. Oh, J-Jesus Christ!”
“Orpheus I am commanding you to calm down. You will listen only to the sound of my voice, you understand? Let my voice guide you…”
Jim watched Orpheus scuttle to a corner of the room and curl himself up into a foetal position, as if the act might insulate him from the ravages of his invisible assailant. He was trying to yell, though the only thing that sprung from his mouth was a few garbled croaks; fear had apprehended his vocal chords. For a long while he just sat there, imprisoned in a cataleptic state between sleeping and waking. Had they gone too far?
Jim tried to keep his hand from shaking as he handed Orpheus a cup of water.
“How are you feeling?”
“We thought we’d lost you for second. You really scared us!”
“I scared me,” said Orpheus. “The last thing I remember before going under is being on the couch and when I finally awoke I was hunched over in the corner there. It freaked me out.”
“I’ll say,” said Amara. “I’ve never experienced anything quite like that before and I’ve regressed hundreds of people.”
“I don’t remember any of it.”
“Really?” she asked.
“Nothing at all.”
“It was intense,” said Jim. “But you’ll remember quite soon.”
Jim waved a note taker about.
“Oh, you taped it.”
“I tape all our sessions Orpheus,” said Jim. “You consented to it when we first started, remember?”
Orpheus remained silent for a few seconds. During that time a strange clicking noise issued from the nape of his neck. Jim could see that he was pouting and flutter his eyes, the latter now glistening like orbs of pure obsidian. He crossed one leg over the other and placing both hands atop one knee. The gesticulations were way out of character. Stranger still was that they were typically feminine.
“Did you tape all of it?” asked a voice that wasn’t Orpheus’s.
“You’ll be handing that over to me.”
What happened next was preternatural and fast, like an electric shock. Orpheus’s left arm darted out and clasped tightly around Amara’s neck, squeezing until her face went blue. He then hurled her across the room with brute force, like a fuming child punishing a battery-powered toy for its refusal to work. Her limp body crashed onto the floor with a loud thud.
“What’s going on here?” asked Jim, backing up against the wall.
“Orpheus didn’t make it out this time Dr. Sweeting,” said the strange voice. “No thanks to you and your colleague. He stayed behind with all the others.”
“Wh-Who are you?”
“Somebody help me!” Jim screamed. “Security help me! I’m being attacked!”
“Dr. Sweeting, you need to listen to me. Listen to me, ok? You’re reliving a dream. Nothing can hurt you here.”