by Ian Lahey
“Hi, I’m Russell, and my mind is broken.” Russell held out his hand. Sometimes people would shake it, other times they’d hesitate or even go away. On some occasions there was really nobody there. Russell waited, smiling, to see which one the woman with dark glasses would turn out to be.
“Hello Russell,” the woman said; she didn’t shake his hand, Russell noted. “I’m Agent Dwyers, CIA. Do you remember me? We spoke yesterday. And this person next to me is Agent Kurt Byrne.” Both sat down in front of him on the black chairs in the small padded room of the psychiatric ward.
“I have a memory of your visit, yes,” Russell said. “That’s two of us with a delusion. Him I don’t remember seeing, are you sure he’s real?”
“What do you mean delusion? How can this guy be of any use, Dana? He’s a nutcase like everyone else in here. Let me slap him around and we’ll see if I’m real enough.”
“Relax Agent Byrne,” Dwyers replied, “Russell is not just just any nutcase, he’s a very special nutcase. Aren’t you, Russell?”
Russell remained silent and stared at the man, who stared back at him, clearly irked. “Well,” he finally said, “Maybe he’s real. Maybe he was here even yesterday, and we just didn’t notice him. Or maybe you and I are not real, and he’s here alone, imagining us.”
Agent Byrne threw his hands in the air and glared at his colleague, expectantly.
“Could be, could be,” Dwyers said, ignoring him, “Do you remember our conversation too?”
A nurse walked into the room with a tray and sat down next to Russell, who spontaneously offered his arm.
“So you remember that part as well. Yes, it was a nice conversation. It had some verbs in it, a lot of nouns albeit not many adjectives, except towards the end. Oh, and some parts were rather – intriguing.” He ignored the needle in his arm. Sometimes not seeing was the best way to avoid pain. Other times it made things worse.
“The intriguing parts, yes, ” Agent Dwyers insisted while Agent Byrne shook his head. “Do you remember what they were about?”
“Oh, you mean you don’t remember that part? Did I imagine them?” The nurse wiped his arm with some cotton imbued with alcohol, Russell let the vapours run up his sinuses.
“Oh, no, no, I just wanted to make sure you remembered correctly.”
“I see,” he rubbed his arm and let his gaze follow the cart as the nurse left the room. “Excuse me, did you just see this happen?”
“See what?” Dana Dwyers asked, she seemed determined not to lose her patience as she had the day before. The one named Kurt stood up and walked to the small barred window, growling his train of curses.
“Oh, nothing, nothing. Yes, the bit about that criminal you are hunting for was very interesting. How can he cause hallucinations in people without resorting to drugs, you asked. Could it be hypnosis, you asked.”
“Yes,” she waved for her colleague to sit back down again. It was a complex gesture, indicating both superiority in command and a vague threat of punishment to come, in case of insubordination. There was something else, too.
“Yes,” Russell repeated and smiled.
“And then a giant cockroach crossed the room, do you remember that too?”
“No… no, Russell, I think you made that bit up,” Dana sighed.
“Pity, that part, too, was quite interesting.”
“Cockroaches!” Kurt snorted as he sat down heavily, “How can this clown help us with our case? Half of what he sees ain’t real and the other half he can’t say straight.”
Russell brighened up at this definition of his condition. “You know? I think you’ve pretty much squared me out, Kurt. The problem is, well, the third half.”
“What would that be?” said Kurt.
“The half I don’t see. You two are lovers, aren’t you?”
The two agents stared back, dumbfounded.
“She’s your boss, and keeps the dominant role in the bedroom as well. You play rough and tough because you know it turns her on. Your colleagues never discovered anything of this except for the usual rumors which go around the building and which you, Dana, occasionally fanned to distract people from the truth. In a certain sense that is not too far removed from the hallucinations which have haunted me since I was born. Rumors in my brain which distract me from reality, whichever that may be. But my mind is broken, and I can sometimes see through the hallucinations, or see other people’s ones, or even not see them, but I know they’re there. I let them go freely, in and out of my breached conscience, and they have stopped bothering me long ago.”
“Ah… yes,” Dana took a deep breath, she was trying hard to maintain her cool. “You have done it again… I knew I shouldn’t have brought you, Kur… Agent Byrne, but you had to see what Russell is capable of.”
“Well, he’s good at guessing people out, I’ll admit to that,” Kurt said. His mask had dropped but he still was holding onto his dignity. “But still a patient in a mental hospital. How can he-”
“He has a natural gift for deduction and is an expert on hallucinations. So, Russell, you’ve had your fun… again. Could you please answer my questions now?” There, she was on the edge of losing her cool. It was not a good idea to let this happen with her boyfriend at her heel. Russell smirked. The woman knew exactly what she was doing when she brought her violent half along with her.
“The answer to both your questions is no. You can’t cause hallucinations in other people without drugs, not even with hypnosis.”
Agent Dwyers hung her head in defeat. Next to her, Agent Byrne straightened up a bit. Things were bound to change a little, in their crazy little relationship, Russell thought.
Both agents stood up at the same time and, without another word, left the room. A pity they didn’t wait long enough to let him find the words to complete his answer. You can’t cause hallucinations, he was going to say, but you can feed and encourage the ones people already have, make them see what they want to see, and hear what they want to hear. Sometimes it worked, others it didn’t. The nurse, for example, that one didn’t work.
Where was he now? He looked around; his surroundings didn’t look like a padded room anymore, Dana had expected to find a madman in a psychiatric ward and that’s where he’d let himself be found. Brilliant woman; pity for her delusions on her dead lover. Russell touched his pockets and found a fat wad of bills. Of course it was the result of his most recent robbery but he was amazed nonetheless by the fact that for some reason it hadn’t disappeared. No need for action tonight, it seemed.
He stood up and the black tin can he’d been sitting on toppled over and rolled next to the other two. He wasn’t sure this abandoned warehouse was real, but the door appeared open to him, and he walked outside.
Ian Lahey was born in Milan, Italy, to an American father and an Italian mother. He teaches English Literature and Aviation English in Udine and leads a quiet and ordinary life with his wife, his two children and his invisible cat, Laurelin.
Ian’s books can be found at Amazon, here: http://www.amazon.com/Ian-Lahey/e/B00PCKJC98