Come to Church

These are the psychiatric logs of Dr. Harriet Church, regarding her, treatment, of Ward Harlan Crist. They were obtained from her private archives at great cost. They are posted here with great abandon.

I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be here, but here I am. Hello Dr. Church.

I’ve wanted to attend the Academy since I as a child. My father wanted it for me too, and my mother was too drunk and whorish to care. Not to say that my father wasn’t a drunk whore, just one with a purpose.

Early on, things went well. I excelled at my studies, as I always had. I failed to make any new friends, as I always had. But I had Hiro and my sister, so I didn’t want for companionship. Things were going well. And then I was called into Dr. Church’s office. Hello Dr. Church.

The first meeting was unremarkable, if extensive, getting to know the specifics of the machine, and letting it get to know me. The second meeting was brief, a final calibration. It was during our third meeting, some months into my time at the Academy, when I was finally hooked in, and Dr. Church put me in the Garden.

The Garden was a medium sized restaurant, a sushi establishment that I’m told actually existed, near the early half of the century. I can still picture it perfectly when I close my eyes, although I can’t hold it long. The fish heads start to speak, if I do.

Walking through the double-doored entrance, there’s the smell of copper water: an array of small, blubbering fountains serve to obscure the cries coming from within, and collect the odd penny. Pictures of patrons, all realistically or pseudo-realistically enjoying their food, line the walls. “Sushi so fresh, you can still hear it screaming.” Even through the pictures.

Past the entrance is the hostess station, placed directly across from a medium sized fish tank. Further to the hostess’ left are the bathrooms, and the Tea Room. I’m not going to talk anymore about the Tea Room.

The fish tank houses a number of guppies, small orange creatures that move on one or two axes. There are some snails and bottom feeders to keep the place clean, but mostly it’s the guppies. They open and close their mouths like this, they poop and eat and poop, like this. Patrons encourage the fish to fight, to attack, to eat each other.

It is my first time in the Garden. The hostess approaches from the back, previously engaged in wiping down the bulky menus, and sees me staring with curiosity into the tank. “You get to name the one you have for dinner.” With her dead expression, I can’t tell if she’s joking.

“One for dine in,” and I can’t tell if she’s asking or telling me. I look down at the floor and I’m only in my socks. I look up quickly, hoping she won’t notice.

“Right this way,” she says. The hostess nonchalantly guides me over the fake wood floor, liberally patched with handy duct-tape. There’s a wall of windows looking out into the perforated darkness, and I see a old fashioned street lamp casting light on a deserted thoroughfare. I don’t know where I am, but I know I don’t want to go outside. Something rustles inside a row of hedges across the street, and I jump as the hostess slams the menus onto the table.

“The seahorse booth, it’s our best,” she says, gesturing to a pair of bubbly sculptures overlooking the table. I smile uncertainly, but she has already turned and left. A whirling fan above the table partially obscures the dim lighting, the blades casting flickering shadows. I see a child, barefoot, run in through the back and out of sight. I look down at the fake wood floor. It left a trail of blood, like breadcrumbs. A busser, dressed sharply in all black and a red bow tie, brings out a mop, begins to adroitly scrub the blood away. My waiter comes up from behind me.

“Have you chosen something to drink, sir?”

“Oh, I’m not- I’m not a sir…” I stammer, startled.

“Nonsense! You are what God made you,” it says, grinning widely at me. It’s teeth are stained an off color orange, grimey, revolting. It’s clothes are immaculate, and I barely suppress the urge to vomit.

“A water-A water please,” I absorb myself in the menus praying it will go away. Please please please please go away. It doesn’t.

“I’m sorry, sir. But I’ll have to see your ID now. Company policy.” Something almost falls out of it’s mouth, but it manages to quickly slurp it back in. It runs its sleeve across its face and stares at me with wide fish eyes.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t bring an ID-”

“But you did,” it says, a little closer to me now. “I can see it in your pants.”

“NO!” I scream without realizing I’ve screamed. I start to rise but it easily shoves me back down in my chair. Its hands are wet and dripping, leaving large, soggy imprints against my shirt, against my skin. The hostess peeks her head around the corner, and smiles at me. Inside her mouth, instead of teeth, I see the clear wall of a fishbowl, a fishbowl filled with guppies, ravaging each other in their hunger. The hostess’ eyes curl up in sick ecstasy. I close my own and tell myself that this isn’t real. But I know it is. I feel a dripping hand clutch my shoulder, and feel another traveling down my back, down my side, towards my secret and shame. I wait until the last possible moment before I jump upwards and back, knocking my chair into my attacker. There’s a damp cry, and instantly two more pairs of hands are clasping me, from I know not where.

I flail, wildly, blindly, hitting myself as much as I’m hitting any of them, but suddenly I’m free, running towards the entrance. I turn the corner of the hostess stand and scream as I trip over the body of the child with bloody feet, lying lifeless at the threshold. An old man, bald, toothless, dressed in black with a red bow tie, blocks the double doors. He looks at me, begins to laugh a laugh like limp rice noodles. I jump to my feet and run back, turning right instead of left at the hostess station. It’s a dead end, an abbreviated hallway with two doors, one for the boy’s restroom, one for the girl’s. I run into the latter and turn around to bolt it, but my hands can’t grip the lock, my hands are dripping with sweat, what I hope is sweat. And blood. Blood now courses between my knuckles, the skin flaking off in patches, revealing a dull orange shine below. I bunch my hands up and shove them against my sopping shirt, hoping the pressure will stop the discharge. It doesn’t . I hear a knock, and realize it’s coming from inside. A toilet flushes, and the furthest stall door opens. Out steps my waiter.

“See, that wasn’t so hard,” it says, speaking without moving its thin, fleshless lips. “Now lean back. Let’s see what you really are. She or He or It or Me. She. Or He. Or It. Or Me. She. Or He. Or It. Or Me. SheOrHe. OrIt. OrMe. SHE. OR HE. OR IT. OR ME.” It’s piccolo voice is deafening, but I can hear myself screaming, the sound of a fish, feasting on it’s friends.

The simulation powers down, and the next time I open my eyes, I’m sitting In Dr. Church’s office, between the rustling oaks, and she’s stroking my damp forehead, playing with my hair. There’s something close to fish hunger swimming in her eyes, and I turn my head down quickly, before I lose my stomach. I see a still wet stain on console next to me, and wonder if I already have.

“There, there, little sweetling,” my torturer says. “There, there. You did well. Oh so very well. Our next session will be scheduled shortly. Then we’ll have a look at that nasty Tea Room, yes? But you don’t remember, do you? Yes. Be sure to stay with the drone on your way out. Never mind the mess, I’ll have it attended to.”

Goodbye Dr. Church. I’ll see you. Or I’ll kill myself.

___________________________________________________

Weeks pass, and I hear nothing from Dr. Church, quickly even the horrors of the Garden fade from my mind. I’m absorbed more and more with my training, with preparation. I’ve been assured by Warden General Knox that they’re saving something important for me, that I’m to be paired with an Unknown Initial, maybe even a Capital. I can barely contain myself, day to day, I have to go to the Sept to blow off all the energy. Vie and I are the youngest Wards with Sept authorization, by far, and the surprised looks I get as I’m toweling off further boosts my elation. I’m special. I’m unique. Me, alone. Vie senses my joy, but doesn’t share it.

And then my FAN starts buzzing, softly, gently, waking me from my dreams. It’s a message from Dr. Church’s office. I’m to report to her immediately.

I leave the chute and present my credentials to Dr. Church’s assistant. It’s a lower order attendant, messing up several times, so I have to guide it. Normally I would be upset about the delay, but now I’m hoping and hoping and hoping that the stupid thing will never get it right, that I’ll be waiting here forever. I don’t know why, but my muscles are tensing and between my shoulder blades is a swamp, hot and humid and dripping. The attendant submits me for entry, Dr. Church’s doors buzz open, and I walk forward, about to lose my stomach. I can’t show it, can’t let myself appear anything other than extraordinary, but I’m dying, I know I am. I hope it’s quick.

The last few times I’ve been to see Dr. Church, the path to her office went through a giant forest, an indoor floral sanctuary, blooming in yellows and marmalades and reds. It took me fifteen minutes to navigate the path the last time, zigzagging around giant trees and prickly bushes, flowing streams and small, darting fauna. Now the atrium is a bare chamber, a tabula collosa, the forest gone, the water features, gone, the life, gone. It’s bare, and the only impressive fact is its size. I can barely make out the ceiling, a dark canopy masks it, so far above. My footsteps echo metallically as I quickly cross to the only other door. It takes but minutes. My hands are shaking as I approach, so I tuck them in my pockets. I kick the door twice, hard but not too hard. It’s all fake, this real is not real. I stop myself from puncturing my palms with my nails. I’m an actor. This is a play. The machine comes on, the lights go down.

I’m in the Garden, and suddenly I remember my last visit. How did I forget? The waiter, the hostess, the busboy…I’m standing between the two sets of double doors, holding both tightly closed, knowing that at any second the monsters will come out from under the bed and I’ll be dead again, ripped to shreds. But they don’t, and I’m not. I look outside the restaurant, and see the same haunting street lamps, casting a swaying lights so you’d expect a high wind, but there’s stillness everywhere else. A row of bushes sit some twenty yards from the door, and I know there’s something in there, watching me. I look up and discover a lock, a deadbolt I hadn’t seen. Was it fear, or was it not there before? I don’t know, but my fingers hurt I shove it home so hard I cry out. I turn around.

The inside of the Garden is sporadically lit, some lights on, some hanging dead in their sockets, it seems dilapidated compared to the place I remember before. There’s another window into the booth section, and I peer as far around it as I can, knowing that the waiter is waiting there to take me, to do things to me. I see nothing.

I have to go inside.

The door opens quickly, swinging outward on greased hinges faster than I can catch it. It slams into one of the burbling plastic fountains, and I shrink down as small as I can. Nothing happens.

I check each section of the restaurant, one by one, and see no one, nothing. Nothing near the booths, nothing in the aborted hallway, nothing in the bathrooms, nothing in the Tea Room, nothing at the bar, nothing in the back room, nothing in the server station, nothing in the kitchen. The Garden is full of nothing, it stinks of nothing, I can feel the nothing between my feet. I look down and realize I’m only in my socks. Didn’t I have shoes before?

“Right this way please.”

I hear the voice and quickly duck behind the server bar. Minutes pass, as I’m pressed up against the fake wood, it’s a long time before I have the courage to peek around my protection. When I do

“Right this way please.” I get up and walk forward slowly. I come around to the entrance to the back room, and I see a single light shining on a single table, set for two. There a piles of ashes scattered around the room.

“Here we are. When you’re ready to order, let the Lady know.” I feel something brush past me, through me, and then I’m alone with nothing again. I look down at my wrist; there’s something bubbling below my skin. I don’t feel it but I can see it, a roving lump the size of a fingernail. A loud smack at the table forces my eyes up. Nothing is impatient. I take the chair closest to and facing the threshold, knowing the waiter will come from behind me no matter where I sit. I look at the small plastic plates littering the table, the demure cloth napkins wrapped around wooden chopsticks. I pick up a plate, and there’s another large rap on the table. The Geisha doll at the head of the table finally catches my attention.

There’s a large wall of windows to my left, ending at a table height ledge, running the length of the wall. This ledge is stuffed with kitch and clutter, from black porcelain gas lamps to toy fans to jars full of bottle caps. At the end of our table there sits a sterling porcelain Geisha doll, two feet tall and brimming with self possession. The doll’s expression is hidden behind a miniature fan, and as I watch it the fan begins to slowly flutter, the Geisha’s eyes crinkle in amusement. It’s only a play, I tell myself, praying they’ll leave my intestines in my body this time. Play your part.

I bow my head to the Geisha doll – it bows back, ever so slightly. It takes the fan away from the bottom of its face, to reveal it doesn’t have one. A gaping black hole stares out at me from where its mouth should be, but then again what do I know of doll anatomy. I smile, big and wide. It’s a play it’s a play it’s a play it’s a play it’s a play it’s a play it’s a play.

The doll gracefully extends her arms, showing off its delicacy of movement, its precision and poise. I clap delicately, not sure if it’s polite or not. The doll does a full turn, and I clap louder. Then it stops, and beckons towards the opposite wall. Track lighting from the ceiling flares to life, and and the cubbyhole wall is showcased for the first time. There are a hundred or so compartments, each varying in  dimension, each showcasing a particular item or items, just like those lining the Geisha ledge. There are terra cotta figurines, chubby little imps wearing conical hats. There are large whiskey jars, filled with an amber brown liquid, and something resembling a severed hand sprouting tree roots. There are fist sized balls covered in sparkling gemstones and mirror fragments. There are small paper boats and cranes, some folded hastily, some precisely. A hundred different items in a hundred different holes, all giving off the sense of death and dying. I don’t want to touch anything on that wall, so now I know I’m going to have to. I look back at the Geisha doll, and try to convey polite disinterest. She beckons again at the wall, then to the ledge beside her, and the items scattered there. Take something from the wall, put it on the ledge. I feel the bile at the back of my throat. It’s a game. Play the game. I know what I have to do.

The wall envelops my sight like it’s all that exists in the world, a coverage complete and complicated. I pace from end to end in slow motion, taking in everything and letting intuition guide me. I pause before a small pyramid, a cheap plastic imitation colored a pasty yellow. I reach for it, and feel the room begin to collapse around me, to converge on the tip of my finger inching inexorably towards accepted damnation. My vision tunnels, filled totally by the fake ficking pyramid, and the hands start to run along my back as my finger comes to rest delicately, soft, then hard, then harder, on the point. I push down till I feel the skin break, the hands now running along my face, along my head, and I pull hand back like lightning, like I’ve barely escaped a bear trap. As quickly as they came the hands are gone, my vision is full and light, and the wall waits. I look down at my finger, where sits a single red drop of blood. It’s done. Now to finish it.

I take two deliberate steps to my left, now I’m in front of one of the large whiskey jars, and I don’t hesitate, pushing the jar over the back ledge of its cubbyhole, pushing it till I hear it fall, crash, shatter. There’s a hissing like escaping steam behind me, the hands are all over me, grabbing, pinching, the blackness collapses my sight till I’m moving through impenetrable fog, but still I’m resolute. I grab the empty air, the nothing air where the jar used to be, and turn around, facing the Geisha doll. She’s backed against the mirrored windows, her reflection ricocheting a thousand times, her fury redoubling infinitely through her expressionless features. Her hair flies wild in a wind I begin to feel as I inch closer to the ledge, to my only chance, one step at at time.

“I CHOOSE NOTHING,” I shout, using the chairs to battle the gale pushing against me. The wind is silent, and my shout reverberates through the restaurant, waking things I wish would stay sleeping. “TAKE IT!” I demand.

The Geisha doll screams, but it’s in victory, not defeat.

“You have chosen nothing. In nothing will you be taken.”

The unreal wind reaches a fever pitch, and tears the clothes from my body. I scream, but it’s lost when I lose my trachea.


 

This is what happens in the Tea Room.

It’s my third trip to the Garden, bad things happen on three, so this is when we go to the Tea Room. It starts with them ripping off your toenails. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It starts with them ushering me into Dr. Church’s office. The attendants are firm, because they can tell I’m about to bolt. Standing there, I can’t remember my time in the Garden, but I have the sick fear of a deer surrounded by fire. I see the smoke. My legs quiver. My stomach shrinks.

The hook up to the machine is rougher this time, the technology blunt. This is new territory, a fuller integration. They are careful with the implements, they are not careful with me. I open my mouth to scream and they shove in a gag. Something slithers down the back of my throat, a giant, sticky tongue, undulating inside of me. The session begins.

I’m at the entrance to the Gardens, outside the double doors, rapping my knuckle impatiently against the poorly tinted glass. I don’t feel anxious, or nervous, only a little cold in the afternoon rain. I turn away from the doors, and as soon as I do there’s an icy hand on my shoulder, not pressing down, just limp, and very cold.

“We’re so happy you’re here. Why don’t you come inside. The rain isn’t good for you. No, no it’s not.”

I turn around and there’s nothing and no one there. I push on the door and it collapses inwards.

The inside is dark, but there’s a row of tealights, laid along the floor. They lead to the right, away from the now empty hostess station, away from the now empty fish tank, away from the now empty backroom and the missing Geisha doll. Everywhere there is ash; I watch as a small dust devil whirls it’s way like the manager doing last call. This place is dying. These tealights lead to the Tea Room.

“Go on,” nothing, or no one says. “Go on. See what we’ve made you.”

I take a step forward. The lights trail through a bead curtain. I push through, and a single, silver, line, thinner than a hair and a billion times as sharp, cuts me off at the calves, sluicing me off my feet so quickly and cleanly that I don’t feel it. I try to take a step up the bamboo steps, and collapse onto weeping stumps. I look back and see my feet, still standing upright, bare and intact only as high as my calves.

“That was the hard part little one. See how easy it is?”

Darkness pinholes my vision. Coarse hands cover my chest, convulsions rip across my body.

“Hush, hush little one. Don’t scream.” But I’m not screaming. Am I?

I wake up seated at a table recessed into the raised floor, so that my feet dangle beneath ground level, and my butt rests on a padded cushion. The Tea Room is darkly lit, and I get the impression of candlelight, although I see no candles. I’m at one of three tables in the room, but mine is the only one set with plateware, and a glass of wine.

“It’s not cozy, but it’s close.” The voice jerks my attention to the women sitting across from me. A Doctor, I think, although she’s not wearing anything to suggest it. “How do you like my Garden?”

My legs itch. They itch terribly. Fire ants tearing up and down my ankles. I reach down to scratch them, to tear them off, when the doctor reaches across the table and grabs both of my hands, tight, too tight, her nails dig into my skin.

“Don’t. Look under the table. Yes? The pain will stop, in a moment.” I look at her, seeing the wrinkles that slash across her face for the first time, recognizing her for the first time. Dr. Church. And this is the Gardens. And I’m going to die.

“No,” she says, seeing I’m no longer struggling, she leans back on her cushion. “We’re not here to kill you child. I’m here to free you. There’s something, deeply, deeply wrong with you, you see.” A bell rings, outside the Tea Room.

“Ah,” she says, flapping open her napkin and tearing apart her chopsticks. “Dinner is ready.”

I look towards the door, waiting for the Waiter to come for me, to savage me again, but when I look back there’s already covered plates on the table. Dr. Church raises her chopsticks akimbo, gesturing modestly.

“What they used to call ‘movie magic.’ Don’t be shy now!” The smell is revolting, a combination of stale grease and burning fungus.

“It smells awful but it tastes sublime. Here, try this!”

In front of my face, Dr. Church is dangling a shiny morsel, strings of skin still attached to the dark red flesh. It’s served rare, because we’re at a sushi restaurant. As I open my mouth to accept it, the thought makes some dark sense.

“Werry good,” I say, spitting globules of fat all over the damson purple table cloth. “Awh Mah Gawd! Dewicious.” I chew and chew and chew, but the succulent meat isn’t breaking down. Juices flood from my mouth, and I look around for my napkin. Can’t find it. I must have dropped it on the floor. I bend over to reach under the sunken table for it.

“Now, now,” purrs Dr. Church, deftly catching my ear with her chopsticks. I see her lick her lips longingly, and don’t realize what it means until later. “Isn’t this the best you’ve ever had? Don’t worry about making a mess. There are bigger things afoot.”

I look at her, and mistake the callous mischief in her eyes for sympathy. I feel like I can tell her anything, here at this dinner. I’m about to, when she bursts out laughing.

“HAHAHA!” she cackles, made ugly by the noise. “I’m sorry. I promise myself every time I won’t make the same tired jokes…” That’s when I look down at the elaborately arranged plates, their contents raw but somehow steaming. I try to kick up my legs, but they’re shackled tightly to the floor. I open my mouth to scream, and Dr. Church takes the opportunity to shove in another bite of dripping meat. I must learn to keep my mouth shut.

“Chew,” she demands. “Chew now, don’t talk. Now it’s my time to talk. Such a necessary thing, for someone in my profession. The catharsis of speech. Now,” she gestures at the spread. “Let me elaborate on what has been prepared here, because it really is, a momentous thing.”

“The problem is,” she says, wafting greedily the sickening aroma. “You accept this as, real. You think that this,” gesturing to an oblong tray holding a sashimi of my flayed calf muscle, “was you. Is you. You’re confused, dear child, about where you stop and start. Is this” her chopsticks flash to a bowl of what looks like blood red calamari, but is actually blood red toes, the meat still attached to the bone. Dr. Church snaps up a specimen and flicks out her tongue to taste it, snake.

“Hm. Is this your big toe? Was this your big toe? You believe it was. Here, you can still feel it. Do you feel this?” She sets the lacerated piece delicately on her small plate, then stabs it viciously. I scream and she shoves my impaled toe into my mouth. I chomp down instinctively and hear teeth cracking, can feel myself chewing on my toe, as if it’s still attached. Is it? Behind Dr. Church, a flat screen television set is tuned to a golf tournament. A small white ball flies through the air, lands on the green. A stand of people clap politely. The grass is so green. I gag and spit out the thing in my mouth. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not mine. I look down at the table spread, but it’s just ashes, piles of ashes stacked on dissolving plates, swarming with devils.

“Oh, quite rude,” Dr. Church says, as I raise my arm to wipe the trails of ash from my chin. “You might have waited. At least till I’d had some. All the effort of preparation. Wasted now. Because of you.”

I lift my legs and find they’re no longer restrained, but they still end in bandaged stumps. I thought that would have changed. I have to drag myself on my belly out of the Tea Room, past Dr. Church, sitting angrily before her spread of decay, her arms crossed, spitting venom at me. I drag myself down the Tea Room’s bamboo steps, and see the hostess standing in front of her station, graciously holding out a pair of crutches for me.

“Yes, you did fine without your feet!” Dr. Church’s voice echoes strangely behind me. “But how will you be when I rip off your ears, little one! How will you be when I pull apart your fingers, one knuckle at a time! Hurry back to Church, little one! Hurry back to me!”

When I wake from my drugged state, I’m sitting in Dr. Church’s office, her attendants arrayed around me, the machine purring quietly, the woman herself seated at a terminal with her back to me.

“Very good, Ward Crist. You may return to your quarters. You’ll be notified of our next appointment at the proper time.”

I look down at my feet, and they’re covered in bandages. They throb at the end of my toes, a steady pumping telling me they’re leaking blood, barely restrained by the wrappings.

“A side effect of the procedure, I’m afraid. You’ve lost your toenails. They’ll regrow. Hurry along now Ward.”

I leave the Dr. Church’s office gingerly, not remembering the events of the Garden, not remembering the realness of it, not wanting to. I leave Dr. Church’s office without realizing the significance of the raw, red meat laying on her desk, not questioning the jar full of a honey colored liquid, filled also with the suspended outlines of what looked like toenails. I leave Dr. Church’s office not remembering her dark promise, just as I’ll return without fearing it.

How can you be afraid of what you can’t remember?

Come to Church.

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