Terror Twilight by Ron Gibson
You are morose. More so than most, is Dr. Connie's official diagnosis. She hands you her card and instructs you to attend her therapy group.
You ask when and where.
She says it is all on the card.
But when you look at the card there is no name, number or address—only a doodle of two stick figures holding hands, consumed by flames, standing under a moon dripping blood.
"See you there," Dr. Connie says, with a smile and a slam of her office door.
You wait a long moment, before softly knocking.
Dr. Connie violently swings the door open and screams, "Look!"
She holds your face between her hands and stares straight into your eyes. You feel your whole face burning.
"You are an onion. An onion with many layers. And every single one of those layers makes you cry. Every single day."
Her hot touch, her eyes drilling holes into yours, her rough voice—you instantly start to cry because it is true.
Dr. Connie smiles at your blubbering, wipes her hands on your shirt, says, "Be there or be nowhere," then slams her office door shut, again.
As you walk away, confused, you hear, "Hey."
You turn, and Dr. Connie's secretary whispers, "Look in your right pocket."
You reach into your blue jeans and pull out a slip of paper with all of the information you had requested.
Dr. Connie's secretary smiles and whispers, "She used to do a magic act. Amazing, isn't it?"
"I guess so."
The secretary frowns at your lack of wonder.
Before she can say something nasty, you ask, "How much do I owe for the session?"
"It's been paid for."
"What do you mean?"
"Check your wallet."
Fifty dollars is missing, with a tiny note saying, Get lost to get found.
"How does she do that?"
No smile this time for you or your lack of wonder.
The computer keystrokes form audio waves of ellipses for you to ponder over as you leave the office and return to the world with red eyes and wonderment.
You are a character in a second-person point of view story. You love this or hate this. There is no room for any other emotion. You either hate yourself or love yourself.
You bank on the former.
You are vacant in a vacant space. You pour yourself into yourself in order to drink yourself down and feel nothing.
Sometimes you tell yourself you are a character in a second-person point of view story in order to forget the passage of time. You like blacking out until it is time for the next part of the story. You hate the mundane details as much as you hate yourself.
You feel out of sorts. As if you are a ventriloquist's dummy that's been pulled out of a dark cabinet, a glassy eye that reflects your emptiness right back at you, a storytelling device which you pour yourself into because the narrator chose you as a volunteer out of an audience whether you hate it or love it.
With a flourish of the hand, the scene changes. Rippling fingertips divert your attention from the dimmer switch that brings on evening. Air conditioner vents blow across the drawn curtain of dark treetops, rustling leaves like decks of shuffling cards.
You follow Dr. Connie's instructions and make your way to the city limits, near the train depot and adult video store. You spot a bunch of cars parked on the edge of a poorly-lit field, pull in and join them. A group of twenty or so roam in circles in the field, under a bruised sky, saying nothing. You wonder if you have inadvertently joined a herd of human cattle destined for ritual sacrifice when a fireball rips across the field. From the smoke and roar appears Dr. Connie clad in shiny, gold lamé. She remains holding a dramatic pose until you all applaud.
"Thank you! And give yourselves a round of applause for helping me help you!"
"Now, let us all sit in a circle...except you."
She motions to you.
"You're new. You sit in the center."
You are a ritual sacrifice after all, you decide, but sit down anyway. You think, Better to face death now than later, proving Dr. Connie's diagnosis to be correct.
Two metal cannisters, like propane tanks, are rolled into the circle by hand truck, along with a five gallon gas can.
"Thank you, Johnny Nine-Bears."
Dr. Connie opens the gas can, inhales deeply and passes it around the circle, each group therapy member doing the same.
"My mentor, the Great Gillingwater, worked in a traveling sideshow after being fired from illustrious theaters for exposing himself to too many men and women. He never seemed to care who he showed his wand to. He just needed to be seen. How many of you feel invisible? Unheard? How many of you question if you exist at all?"
Everyone's hand goes up, including yours.
"The Great Gillingwater was crude, yes, but he was onto something. When he wasn't looking up my magician's assistant skirt, he was imparting wisdom and I was taking notes."
"Today, after a decade of being under his late, great tutelage and after years of post-graduate study, I'm going to show you how to help me help you."
Some group therapy members lie on their backs in the grass, mouths moving, mute Pac-Men biting at ghosts of stars. Others sway, drunkenly, their glassy eyes holding you in place.
"The circle is the most perfect figure in the universe...fuck the geodesic dome!" Dr. Connie suddenly sneers, viciously.
"What about the square?" an inebriated man muses.
Dr. Connie quietly gets up off the grass, a golden goddess, caresses the man's face, holds it like yours that day at the office, then, without a word, she launches knee strike after knee strike to the man's face, until she knocks him out, blood staining her gold lamé pant leg.
"Charge Mr. Lamb for cleaning fees."
"It's been paid for," says Dr. Connie's secretary.
Dr. Connie's secretary rifles through his stolen wallet and whispers to you, "Magic!"
Dr. Connie seats herself. "Now what is the most perfect figure in the universe?"
"The circle!" said all that were conscious.
"Good! And now you."
Dr. Connie points at you.
"You are new. This is your initiation. This is the same ceremony your fellow group therapy members experienced before you. You sit at the radius, the hub, this pinwheel at the center of the universe. You are the eye of a hurricane, you are a black hole, you are the Sea of Tranquility. This is your conception. You are a love born out of hate. You are a dreaming embryo. Your thoughts are dividing inside you as I speak. Expanding. Wondering what I could possibly do to help me help you."
"Do you feel seen?"
"Yes," you say, feeling like an exposed wound, face burning with embarrassment. You never liked attention, always felt better in the shadows, anonymous, nothing. But you were also never happy.
"Do you feel heard?"
Dr. Connie quietly gets up off the grass, slowly walks toward you and holds your face in her hands. You close your eyes, wincing, waiting for the knee strikes. But they never come. Instead, Dr. Connie puts a tube in your mouth, turns a knob on a tank and says, "Breathe in."
When you say your name it comes out squeaky, like a cartoon character inflated with helium.
People softly chuckle.
"Breathe in...Tell us about the most traumatizing event in your life."
You shake, feel your heart beating out of your chest, tears already forming in the corners of your eyes. You haven't spoken a word, and then you do. The group begins to roar with laughter, building louder and louder as the details of your life become more horrific. Hearing your traumatic story being told with the squeakiest, most absurd voice, you alternate between tears and laughter.
Dr. Connie puts another tube in your mouth, "Breathe in…Tell us about the first time you fell deeply in love."
This time your voice comes out low, like a rundown clockwork, like a vinyl record played at the wrong speed. The lethargic change in pitch makes everyone laugh even more. As you list how much that love filled up the emptiness inside you, how it made you feel like you were something more than just yourself, leading up to the inevitable breakup and how you could no longer face the world, how you tried to masturbate your feelings away only to find yourself crying the entire time, even as you came—the laughter is thunderous, it comes in waves, a warm wind from an inviting bosom for you to rest your wet cheek on and close your eyes.
You open your eyes. The entire time you were venting your guts out in absurd voices, Dr. Connie had you speak into a hose, inflating what look like miniature hot air balloons. The flotilla glow with your words (and whatever strange gases she had you inhale), tugging at their umbilical cords held by inebriated strangers still smiling at your horrid life.
Dr. Connie holds up the gas can to your nose. You inhale, setting your sinuses on fire. Within seconds, you hear a dinner bell ringing in the distance, your face melts away showing your true self and when Dr. Connie asks if you feel heard, you say, "Yes," as your words, your old worlds, your psychic excrement are released into the air, swimming up into the nighttime sky like spermatozoa toward a bloody moon, bursting into fireballs, one after another, at the slightest command of Dr. Connie's hand, no one telling her how empty and alone you all truly feel as you laugh the tears up from your bottomless sadness.
Ron Gibson resides in Seattle, Washington and has been published in numerous print and electronic journals.