16. Lucid Dreaming
Using a dishcloth he knocked the wall phone off the hook and dialed 911. A dispatcher’s voice squawked at the other end. Chase dropped the receiver, and raced me out beneath the useless plastic wall.
“Aren’t we going to talk to them?”
“Hells, no! We are officially not here. They’ll send someone out to check. Especially given the restraining order.”
I fretted pointlessly. “We should have put her wig back on.” Haunted by the fear that I’m the one that took it off.
Said Chase, “Sorry. That’s not on The Crime Scene Tour. No handling the corpses. Less is more.”
“They’ll know we called,” I argued as we climbed into Shelby.
“They know someone called. If we don’t give them us to chase, who do you think they’ll look for? Corso! Which is as it should be.”
As we drove down the insufferably long avenue I imagined tree after tree turning its mutilated head to stare after us imploringly. At the intersection of Mad Bear and Route 108, Shelby turned left instead of right. On the corner of the four-way stop was a waffle place. Chase insisted on a booth by the window. “We can see all the action from here,” he said. “Plus I love waffles.”
And I love blintzes exploding with blueberries. A police car – no lights, no sirens, no speeding – moseyed past our vantage point long before our order arrived. It turned in at Mad Bear Road.
“There they go,” said Chase. “Let’s hope leaving the basement door open was enough to send them down there. Since psychic powers aren’t taught at police academy.” He sounded glum and deflated, as if the party was over and only cleanup loomed. Personally, I don’t enjoy feeling on the wrong side of the law.
Under this aggressive artificial light Chase looked younger; like me he’d skipped the makeup and paler, reddish hair threatened to overtake his dye job.
I asked Chase, “Got a light?”
I knew for certain that I was in love with him when he handed over a lighter without even asking me why I wanted it. Around us the tables were empty; it was not a busy morning. From their bald surfaces I gathered six candles and built a little circle. The waitress watching from the corner of her eye was bemused, but voiceless. Maybe even crazy customers are always right. I sparked Chase’s curiosity.
“What are you doing?”
“Building a circle of safety,” I said. “So they can’t come after us.” A circle of trust, so we spoke only truth to one another.
Candlelight flickered off his martyr’s cheekbones. His heart attack special arrived and he poked at it like a child whose eyes are bigger than his stomach. Something had killed his appetite. He reached out with his wounded wrist and took my hand. “Thank you for taking over my head,” he said. “I didn’t like what was there before.”
Feeling every beat of my own sore heart, I released the breath I’d held since I was five. “Maybe we’re soulmates,” I suggested. “Two halves of a whole.” I couldn’t forget our magically rhythmic walk. It was like we were one creature. Maybe we were always meant to help each other.”
“Makes sense to me,” he said, leaning way forward, as if longing to be on my side of the table.
It was time for him to expel that pain. “So, share.” I suggested. “What happened? Why not tell me what Corso did to you?”
“If I tell you,” he warned me. “You won’t love me any more. You’re going to want to back out. You won’t have anything more to do with me.” He flipped the lighter up and down.
I touched his healing wrist. “I doubt it. But that’s the thing everyone forgets, isn’t it? People are always free to do pretty much anything they want.”
He shivered in his seat. “I’ll never be free. No one’s done the terrible things I’ve done.”
How could I manage this central intimacy? Kisses, fire circles, crime scenes, out of body experiences and a fireman’s carry rescue can carry a couple just so far. I moved into his side of the booth and put my arms around him, rubbed my cheek against his, close as I dared.
In his ear I whispered, “Shouldn’t we share our nightmares, now that our universes are perpendicular?”
That made him laugh. “Perpendicular like bumper cars,” he said. The analogy was inspired, because I could visualize it. “So get in my car. Let’s steer together.”
He looked at me like he really wanted to believe me. “I won’t blame you for walking away,” he said. “I want you to know that’s OK.”
I nodded, as if agreeing, but feeling certain nothing he could say would turn me away.
“Corso was my teacher at the Cathedral School,” he said. “He was still pretending to be a priest back then. He molested me.”
He pulled ice out of my water glass and ran it over his face as if to reassure himself he still existed.
“Wow,” he said. “I’ve never told anyone young before. Even the lawyers – didn’t want to know everything.”
I hadn’t expected it, but as I turned the idea around I could see it was the only thing. I kissed the side of his face before whispering, “How old were you?”
“I was seven, eight years old when it started,” said Chase. His blue eyes glazed over, focusing on the horror within. “It went till I was thirteen. He taught catechism and theology.” He snorted. “You better believe he had his own version of the Ten Commandments. He always tried to make it seem like it was all my idea, like he was answering some call I’d made.Like he was recognizing me as already lost.”
I stroked his face, drinking in his clover scent. “You have to know that isn’t true. You were just a little kid.”
“My higher brain might know it. But my heart feels – I can’t explain. Co-opted. Stolen. It’s like he ruined me. It’s like he stole my soul and he won’t give it back.”
“We’re taking it back.” Slid my hands inside his jacket and laid my head on his shoulder. “And your heart is fine. It’s mine.”
“I’m happy for you to have it.” His breath along my neck. “Take it. Please. Corso had secret hand signals he used to use, fingers on my palm, telling me what he wanted. It gets worse. I brought him others,” he hissed. I could feel his stomach writhing against me. “That made it easier on me. We were Corso’s little club. They always tell you if you bring them someone else, they’ll let you go. It’s a lie. News flash: absolute suffering corrupts absolutely.
And once you give in you’re gone forever. Fatally, fatally lost. See? Now I’m a monster as well as a victim. Monsters aren’t gay or straight or anything, they’re just rapacious. Monsters can’t have girlfriends because they’d crush them. “ He laughed hollowly. “He broke me. Don’t you see he’s holding my past hostage? He captures you with this big pretense that time is meaningless, that we’re somehow outside of consequences, but don’t you see, time is the only thing. Because it’s the theft that can never be made right.”
“Yes, it can,” I insisted. “I know because we stepped outside time,” I sounded more confident than I felt. “I think our souls are separate. Pristine. My half waiting for your half.”
I felt him withdraw from me, so I spat out my “secret”. Such as it was. A pathetic little one-celled monster, compared to his. “When I was a little baby, my mother thought I was molested at my daycare center, because some other kids were. But I didn’t remember anything. I was just too little. You can call it a block. But the only thing I know is soaring. I learned how to leave my body, then, I thought everyone did that. In dream lab my fear was, if I ever did it again, I wouldn’t come back. And that scared me so much I was afraid even to sleep.” I squeezed his arm. “Until I found my flying partner.”
“Dissociation!” he exclaimed, meeting my eyes for the first time. I saw the lawyer, the thinker, the scientist awaken within him. The monster – a nightmare construct anyway – was banished forever.
Chase clutched me hard. “You’re so right. I thought separating body from spirit–flying away–was such a terrible thing. Asignofweakness, the mark of a slave. I wanted to be Corso, always in control. Power seemed like plundering people and using them for fuel. But now that we know – can we ever do it again?“
“You mean because we looked down?” My turn to tease him. “I think we can only grow stronger. It’s just an ability; like, say, running. Takes practice. And commitment. You can be running to something or from something, or you can get into running as a discipline. Maybe we learned it first to defend ourselves, but now we know how. Did you read that Cadwallader book? This is the central skill, the art people have yearned for throughout the centuries. It’s both the ultimate union and the ultimate freedom. It separates the mortal from the immortal. It’s what we’re counting on at death.”
“But what if we’re frozen in our bodies? Trapped?’ He chewed his lip angrily. “Like, over-identified with our bodies?”
I touched my mouth to the shell of his ear. “You’ve proved that you can break free, ” I whispered. “So come with me.”
His eyes lit with excitement. “I thought it was escape. But what if it’s presence, not absence? You know how they say when you’re lost; climb the tallest thing you can find? Well, I feel like that’s what we’re doing. We’re overseeing the universe; so we can sort the puzzle pieces. Thank you, Jazz.“ I looked up to see a line of breathless wait staff watching us as if we exotic birds perched briefly on their floating wreck. Just made us sit closer together, whispering more intimately.
“You’re more than just my lucky charm,” said Chase, “more than someone sharing an amazing
“Don’t forget your gifts,” I insisted. “Inquisitiveness. Determination. Courage. Tenacity. Intelligence. You must have seen the future while you surveyed the puzzle, because you recognized me. Let’s just get away from him. Isn’t happiness the best revenge?”
There it was, the dragon in the room. The subject we had to discuss. The fire dampened and went out of him.
“Don’t you see I tried that already? Corso’s horror never ends. Back at choir school, when he met my sister he decided he wanted her. Part of his growth plan, he told me, like he uses people for vitamins. That’s when I realized you can’t placate the monster; you have to destroy it. Otherwise you‘re only feeding it and making it bigger. I refused to go back to that school. I finally told my parents.”
“What did they do?”
The words were so painful his lips cracked and peeled before my eyes. “Actually, they did everything wrong. First they didn’t believe me. Then they talked to Corso, who as you know is a plausible bastard. Shock therapy was his recommendation, like he hadn’t been shocking enough. He encouraged them to blame me. But I knew too much. There were too many others involved, and that’s where he overstepped. Some of them denied it, but not all. One kid hanged himself. Corso should have killed me before making me his lieutenant. He learned never to make that mistake again.
The diocese got lawyers. They kicked Corso out. Then he got lawyers. Then all the other kids’ parents got lawyers. “ He drummed his fingers restlessly on the greasy, gummy table. “My dad saw a payday. He had dreams of power, too. A chance to build his dream house, to buy all the toys he’d ever wanted, to become his own man.
The one thing he had always hated was taking orders. His idea of freedom is the freedom to kick other people around. Naturally he couldn’t let our lawyers run things. If they didn’t act like servants they made him feel small. So while he hired and fired, time went by. All the other families settled. Everyone hated us. After three years, the diocese caved. But at that point I was old enough to emancipate. You better believe I just wanted to get the hell out of there. My father has a knack for making people hate him, plus I could prove abuse, so the judge wouldn’t give my dad any of my money. My father declared bankruptcy. He said our family was ruined–my fault, of course. But I did escape. I got the hell out of there. ”
I struggled to comprehend the runaway train of damage. “But if you’d escaped Corso once, why did you come back to him?“
“Because nothing bad happened to him! All he got was his freedom – which he’d been wanting anyway. I couldn’t get it out of my mind that he wasn’t hurting! The police never got involved, so he never spent a night in jail where he belonged. Every night I tried to sleep, that’s what was racing through my head. I finished high school out of state, but I kept track of him, going from strength to strength. The big bequest he got from some old lady bought his way into Cadensis. Then when I enrolled here, I discovered he’d married some other elderly rich woman nobody had ever had time for – like he was opening up a new specialty.
I had my name legally changed and I disguised myself…but he recognized me right away. He was flattered that I’d come here! Took it for granted that I couldn’t live without him.”
“But did he — “
“Thank God I was no longer his type. He’d had my vitamin, absorbed me, the way a cannibal absorbs his enemy. Don’t you see I’ve got to make hi spit me out?”
“But how could he never apologize?”
“By insisting he’d “recovered”. Bullshitter!” Chase growled like an animal. “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger! He doesn’t think he did anything wrong. He thinks he did me a favor.”
“He doesn’t think sex with children is wrong?”
“His mind changes everything that happened. His goal is to destroy your memory. Says I’ve got him all mixed up with Dad. Who knew settling out of court record could prove so devastating? It means there’s no official record; everyone signed confidentiality agreements. But I’m never forgetting what I know. Corso hates the truth, I’m telling you. It’s like he’s allergic to it. He has rafts of excuses. Believe me, you don’t want to hear it.”
“How about, that I’m an old soul who never really was a kid! How about that! He recognized me, is all. It’s like the opposite of a soulmate. Fellow demons, I don’t know. He says celibacy is perverse and wrong ‘cause it’s inhuman. He’s the victimized one. I was special. I was magic. And look how great everything turned out! I’m about to graduate; he’s a big time professor! No harm, no foul. If I’m having problems they are caused by my lack of freedom. Or my unwillingness to let go of the past. Corso tells everyone he’s a healer. “
“A healer who needs to murder people.” The man I’d trusted. Had to trust, because he was the dealer and the dealer holds the cards.
Chase went on, “He’s just a polyamorous, polymorphous genius placed on earth to cure us of whatever ails us. And you know what ails us? Having any independence apart from him. Don’t you see I’ve got to destroy him? I let the monster out of his cage. In some horrible way, I feel like I created him.”
It was a thicket all right, but if we tackled it together we could find our way through. “He’s trying to make you feel responsible,” I said, “So it lets him off the hook. You are not responsible. It’s time for you to forgive yourself.”
“Maybe he didn’t kill his wife; maybe he got too clever and had Howk do it,” Chase continued, ignoring what I said. “It would be just like Howk to think she could hold back a piece of evidence that made her safe.“
“Forgive yourself,” I interrupted. “It’s the first thing you have to do. Until you do that your eyes won’t clear and neither of us can see.”
“It’s just words,” said Chase. I can’t eat, can you?” He signaled the waitress for the check.
Of course I couldn’t eat, the blintzes were too sweet, I didn’t know they’d arrive smothered in sickening mounds of whipped cream.
In the car I returned to the attack. “Everything’s just words. This conversation we’re having now. You telling me you love me.”
“No,” he insisted really wounded, “Don’t say that. Some things are so real they cross the bounds of time and space.”
I felt safer locked in Shelby than under the eyes of lip-reading wait staff. “Forgive your child self,” I repeated. “He’s just a little boy.”
“Oh, I can forgive him,” said Chase, starting the engine. “He definitely didn’t know what he was doing. But I can’t forgive myself now unless I stop him. You’ve got to help me. Do you think Howk could be buried at Hadleigh? Somehow?”
“He wouldn’t be so stupid.” I realized Chase was telling me he couldn’t forgive himself as long as that self belonged to Corso. And as long as it did, how could it ever be mine? “He can’t afford two corpses turning up at once. He needs a place where she disappears forever. He wouldn’t want her ever to be found and if she is, it has to look like an accident. You know he thinks he’s smarter than anybody. So my Hadleigh vision must mean something different.”
At the crossroads a police forensics van turned into Mad Bear Road. Chase angled the car out onto Route 108. “Let’s hope this is the beginning of the end.”
“What’s the end? What end are you expecting?”
Resolutely he refused to meet my gaze.
I said, “We need to fly again to find Howk’s body. You know it and I know it. And we can’t do it as long as you make space between us.
“If I take him out, my family gets the money. Everybody gets what they want.”
“Except me of course. Don’t you see if you offed yourself, you’d be killing me?”
He drummed his fingers against the steering wheel. This fantasy had supported him for so long and I was asking him to live without it.”
“But what do we do? How can we make sure he’s rendered harmless?”
I imagined Corso ruling Super-Max. “I don’t know yet,” I admitted. “Don’t you see we can’t guess?
The universe is trying to tell us but for some reason we can’t listen. We need to fly.”
“All right,” said Chase. “I surrender. “Let’s fly.”