Renowned holistic guide, Rupert Alves is currently hosting The SandPaper. He feels it is best read in chronological order, beginning January 2015. If you’d like to respond to any issues raised in any of the monthly issues, or read other readers’ protests, here is a link to the GuestBook
Birds are twittering. It’s a lovely sunny day. But I’m troubled and can’t seem to shake it off. The fact is, I’ve been giving patients advice that doesn’t come from me, including saying ‘God’s will be done’, which I would never say. I’m a therapist, not a vicar. No therapist should refer their patients to God. It’s an abrogation of responsibility.
And I know who the advice has been coming from. The ancient songstress Lila Kane. Because, after she sang to me at the party, she said ‘God’s will be done’. And the way she looked at me. She knew she was putting thoughts in my head, words on my lips.
How can I guide distressed people through their darkest hour, if someone else is controlling me? I might say anything. I might tell them to jump off a cliff or eat their babies. I can’t do my job, I mustn’t. I should report her to the police. The trouble is, the police may not believe in telepathic mind control. And nor do I. No. So it can’t have happened. In which case I can see patients. Okay. But check every thought, everything I do, to make sure it comes from me and me alone!
I think I’ll have a few more minutes sleep. Dozing off, I hear a voice in my head. It’s telling me to vote Labour. I sit bolt upright. This is not my voice. It’s nasty, nasal, crackly, like a loudspeaker. As the voice fades, I realise it is a loudspeaker, a travelling loudspeaker and today is polling day. I imagine I’ll vote for the brilliant Mr Cameron, not that I know what any of the parties stand for.
In the shower I remember my son Jason, rising through the floor outside Lila’s loo, and walking through a wall, onto a farm, when he’s in Thailand. How could I have imagined that? I’m going to be clearminded from now on. Grabbing the pile of election brochures that’s been shoved through the letterbox, I fling them on the kitchen table, ready to set about learning what they’re on about, so I can vote as a responsible British citizen.
The whole of the kitchen is bathed in golden morning light. Our big table top, hewn from a single oak and polished for a hundred years, shimmers. I notice last night’s dirty dishes, but decide to leave them for later. I hear my mother’s voice saying I should wash them now. They’ll attract flies in the heat. Mould will grow and the walls will cave in. I ignore her. It’s a beautiful day and I am a responsible citizen.
Mum warns me to move the kettle away from the overhanging shelves as, over time, the steam will rot them and she isn’t made of money. I tell her I’ll put the kettle where I like and I don’t want to hear her voice ever again. Bringing my coffee over to the table, I start sorting through the literature, trying to work out parties, policies, similarities, differences…
Okay, so the ‘UKIP’ Party will cut public spending, end the national health system, leave Europe, stop immigration, make sure everyone here is speaking English and not some foreign language. It will build nuclear missiles, pursue a mass programme of nuclear power stations, scrap all renewable energy, blow up windfarms, oppose same-sex marriage, legalise guns and double prison places. That sounds good.
There’s a Green Party, which will protect all the animals and plants, spend £44-billion on renewable energy sources, protect us from climate change, abolish plans for nuclear submarines, end nuclear power stations, restore health, education and public services to public hands, end prescription charges, make eye tests and dental care free, renationalise the railways, scrap university tuition fees, increase pensions, increase the minimum wage, build half a million homes, create a million jobs, initiate a 35-hour week, end austerity and tax the rich. Tax the rich? I don’t know about that. That might affect me.
The LibDem Party will also tax the rich, protect nature and fight climate change. The Labour Party will cut the deficit. The Conservative Party will eliminate the deficit. The LibDem Party will balance the budget. Conservatives will cut taxes. Labour will increase national health spending by £2.5-billion, while the LibDems will increase it by £8-billion. They’ll also make education free from nursery to nineteen, while Labour will slightly reduce university tuition fees, while Conservatives will help children reach their full potential and hold a referendum on Europe.
I’m interrupted by our cleaner, Megan, who bustles in and starts stacking the dishwasher with my dirty plates. She is employed by my partner, Michelle, and can be very short with me when Michelle is away. Today I get a verbal lashing from Megan’s thin lips, because she’s angry at the garbage spewing from travelling megaphones. I ask if she has a particular party in mind. “There’s only one party you can vote for” she informs me. She’s UKIP.
I seem to recall that UKIP proposes guns, bombs and doing away with foreigners. “Yes!” she says, shaking dirty cutlery at me. “All these lazy sex-mad foreigners coming over here, stealing our jobs, eating our food and raping our women. Send them all back to Africa!” I enquire if she’s actually a member of the UKIP party or even, possibly, the candidate? “No” she says. She’s her own woman. “Oh dear” I murmur, wondering who to vote for. “Sorry to hear that.” “No. It’s good” she calls, as I step out into the sunshine. “It’s good to be your own woman.” “I’ll bear that in mind” I call back, noticing our gardener, down below, in some difficulty.
Old Mr Shoebridge is cursing between his cracked lips, trying to lift a small branch. His movements are slow, but his mind is on fire. As I help him, he explains why he hates this time of year. “Everything growing. Bloody spring!” When I casually ask who he votes for, he says he’s votes for autumn.
I think I’d better do some more thinking. What are the parties again? Wandering down through the grove, my space-pod dome appears like a heavenly mirage, haloed by lush tree fronds, bushes, vines and grasses, a vision of sparkling green and suddenly I know who I’m going to vote for. I’m going to vote Green. So I turn about, stride over to the garden gate in a manly fashion, and set off for the polling station.
Strolling across the tarmac of the local school playground, closed for the day, no doubt to kiddy delight, I’m enshrouded in a bouquet of party representatives. When I say I’m going to vote for the foliage, a smiley woman with a green floret and two toddlers in tow, takes my details, so she can tick me off. Quipping that I don’t want to be ticked off by her, I turn and see a plump woman in a rich purple sari, staring at me. It’s Maryam Mazari. She’s just come out from voting.
Our eyes meet and I feel frightened. What if Lila’s voice is real? Maryam studies the mind. I must not let her voice invade me or change my course of action. She’s inviting me to tea at Lila’s, when Harry and Lila get back from their little holiday. There is something so beautiful, deep within Maryam’s eyes. A huge wave of longing makes me want to throw my arms around her. Luckily I’m saved by a rebounding wave of fear, which makes me twist round and bash my head on a doorframe.
Her face looms up, full of concern. I grin, to cover up, to resist her wicked charms. “Will you be there?” she asks. “Will I be where?” “For tea.” People are trying to get through and we’re in the entrance. “Sure. You can bet on it!” I say, in a strangely American accent, as if I think that’s cool. She turns and walks away. I can’t stop looking at her, at the way she moves in her swirly sari. Someone steps on my foot. I turn and am immediately plunged into darkness.
Slowly, I make out shadowy figures behind a trestle table. It was as if Maryam were in my head and there was nowhere to hide. How can you ever decide anything if someone has taken over your mind? I’m staring at a piece of paper with a list of names and my mind’s gone completely blank. The only way you can know if you’re your own boss, is if you make sure the voices in your head are really you. Yes, only listen to voices that belong to you. Yes, only you.
The sunlight outside dazzles me. The smiley woman with the green floret winks. She’s from the Green Party. I’m sure mine began with a ‘U’.
I’ve just come from visiting Gerald and Dennis and my heart is throbbing. They were sitting in Dennis’s little rose garden, holding hands. Gerald is recovering from having tried to drink himself to death. I get a pang the moment I see those knowing but utterly vulnerable eyes. Dennis has recovered the use of his spine, though he’ll be giving my whooshes a miss for a while. The two of them make me so welcome. I feel ashamed of my part in their pain. But Dennis thanks me for my advice.
As far as I know, I told him to keep away from anyone who damages you, meaning Gerald. But no, apparently I told him to listen to his heart, it was God’s will. The awful moment comes back to me. I said it, but it wasn’t me speaking! I almost blurt this out. But Gerald says he’s grateful to me, that Dennis is wonderful, that he loves him, which makes Dennis tear up and me blubber uncontrollably. And all the way home, the birds sing and flowers flutter gaily in the breeze in this world of unconditional love.
But I know I didn’t say ‘God’s will be done’. Furthermore, I’ve been monitoring my every thought, my every action, my every impulse. And I can’t tell where they’re coming from. A thought just whispered “butter them scones”. What scones? I’m at my desk in the dome, nowhere near any scones. Who’s manufacturing this nonsense? I don’t even like scones, horrible dry things.
If I think thoughts I’ve thought before, they’re probably normal and come from me. But what about new thoughts? How will I know? And even old thoughts might just be pretending to be old. Any voice may be tricking me into believing it is my authentic self. Even the me that’s monitoring, could be someone else. Or lots of other people.
Closing my eyes to think clearly, I find myself in a cave, freezing cold, looking down at a steep valley, beneath a starry sky and wondering if they’ve discovered me. Why? Thoughts and actions arise spontaneously, without my sayso. Someone must know the answer.
Online, I ask “what is real?” The oracle delivers a kaleidoscope of answers. A scientist informs me that my thoughts come from my brain. Another insists that they come from my whole body. The visionary face of Guru Sri Aurobindo intimates that “all thoughts come from outside, although some get trapped and keep circulating”.
A sallow man with a long face, long nose and long hair, stares at me from the screen, claiming “I think, therefore I am”. He says he’s René Descartes and he can prove it. “Even should I doubt, then something or someone must be doing the doubting, therefore the very fact that I doubt, proves my existence.” I’m very relieved to hear it. But isn’t he dead? He must’ve stopped doubting. Anyway, there’s a loophole. He doesn’t seem to know if the ‘something or someone’ dooubting, is him.
A small ferretty man called Schopenhauer, with tufts of white hair shooting out of his skull like horns, says “the world is my idea” which seems a bit arrogant. My head fills with quarrelling philosophers. To do is to be, is to think, is to imagine. Dreams are real and atoms are made of buzzing electricity.
Their words whir round and round until the horrific though hits me: No one knows. We may be deceived about everything, we wouldn’t have a clue. A hideous figure in frock coat and wig looms up. “Who are you?” I cry. “I am Voltaire, philosopher of the French Enlightenment, poet, playwright, novelist, historian, scientist…” I hear myself screaming “Fuck off Voltaire!”
The telephone rings. I put it to my ear. A voice says “Is that Mr Alves?” I say “I don’t know”. I’m about to ring off, but the voice persists. “He’s taken to his bed and I can’t rouse him.” “Who?” “Aiden. My boy. I’m ever so worried.” Aiden is my patient. He’s got ME. So this is his mum, Molly. Another voice growls “You don’t want to be bothering Mr Alves, the boy’ll be alright.”
I don’t like that voice, though I can’t remember its name. I hear Aiden’s mum say “Leave me alone” and the growling voice saying “Will you put that phone down Molly?” There’s a kerfuffle, then Molly Winkley whimpering down the line “Will you come?” The voice without a name snarls “Put that phone down or I’ll..” It’s Luke Chapps. The line goes dead. I scoot out the door, heading for the Winkleys.
Outside their little terraced house, warped by decades of trucks roaring by, I ring the bell and wait. After a while, I knock the knocker and wait another while and then ring the bell again. I know they’re in there. I’m not going away. I knock the knocker. My mind conjures up images of Luke Chapps attacking me with a knife but, when the door opens, it’s Aiden’s dad Alf, who can hardly walk, since he did his back in. Inside, Molly’s sitting staring at the floor. Luke Chapps strides up to greet me. “I’ll come up with you” he informs me. “No” I reply, barring his way on the stairs. “I’ll see Aiden alone.” “He won’t talk to you” Chapps insists. “You stay down here” I say, looking him in the eye. He flinches. I wait. He stomps back down into the room, waving his arm, as if dismissing me and grunting “You’re wasting your time”. I continue up.
Aiden is almost catatonic, face to wall, lanky frame curled foetally beneath bedding. I sit on the edge of the bed, place my hand on his shoulder and wait. The room is rancid. Stinking clothes, crumpled newspapers, a broken clock. Time here has ceased to pass. Aiden twists his head round, peers at me and hides his face again. His young face is bearded, gaunt, old.
Finally, a guttural voice deep in a pillow splutters “Can’t get a job. Can’t escape.” I bite my lip. Aiden was so optimistic when we were planning how he could get a job and leave home. But he can’t get a job. Of course he can’t, the state he’s in. He says he’s applied for umpteen jobs, since our last session. No one’s going to employ him. We fall quiet. There’s nothing to say. I’m just as in the dark as he is. And those people downstairs, those broken people. If he was my kid, I’d do anything for him.
In the darkness, a patchwork of reds appears, surrounded by a ball of white fluff, a craggy weathered face, staring at me, trying to tell me something. It’s bending over. Old Mr Shoebridge is struggling to pick up a stick. Before I know it, I’ve employed Aiden as our gardener’s assistant. “Really?” he asks, as if it’s too good to be true. “Really!” I say, wondering if it really is true.
There’s no one downstairs. I let myself out. A brisk wind is whistling down the street, gusting me along and I feel alive, resolute, motivated. Stars twinkle and I am at peace. How could there ever be a problem? I know who I am. I’m a good person. Let the wind carry me. At home, I flop into bed, feeling marvellous and looking forward to the first good night’s sleep in yonks.
I have been discovered. I know it, waking, a moment before dawn. As the rising sun bathes the valley far below this cave, I can hear it. A fluttering wing, the ghost of a sound, a faraway insect. And in my chest, the dull thud of a heart, that knows this life will now end.
There is no longer a reason to hide, so I am sharing this with you. Understand that, if they can find me, they can find you. Adapt. Use our openness to avoid invasion. Have faith. For what is about to happen, there are solutions, insights which you will receive.
I can see it now, flying out of the sun. A black speck with a halo of whirring light, following the course of the river up the valley towards me. Only moments away. Its glittering blades hum, now they roar. After all we’ve been through, I regret that I shall not be able to continue the journey with you.
I thought they would fire from the helicopter, but it is landing on the ledge above. Rocks are falling, dislodged by vibrations. Footsteps skitter down the path, to this dark opening and my naked body. I am with you in my heart. Goodness, they’re wearing spacesuits. They must fear us. They don’t understand.
A blast of light and I am back in the schoolroom, with its smell of dust, cardamom from the fields, a goat bleating and Mrs Kumaraswamy droning on about the value of pi. I am watching Sunita, her back, her shoulders, every little movement she makes. All I can think is “you are so beautiful” over and over again. A voice within me whispers “Why do you think that?” This question throws me into some confusion. “I don’t know” I think “you just are.” Slowly, Sunita turns, turns right round, and smiles at me. That is the beginning, the first time. Oh Sunita…
I’m dead. I’ve been incinerated. The world to me is infinite darkness. Only the echo of a scream and the ticking of a bedside clock. A bedside clock? I’m in a bedroom. Whose bedroom? Rupert’s. But who is Rupert? Rupert is me. So perhaps I’m alive. But someone died. I know it happened.
Can’t stop shaking. If you have a dream where you die, aren’t you supposed to die? I pinch myself. It hurts. I think I’m alive, but how can you know? I’m certainly never going back to sleep. Never dreamt anything like that before. Unless this is the dream.
No, I won’t let it be. Run out of the house, into my dome. Switch on all the lights and write the dream down before it fades. I’m terrified they’re going to come after me, like they came after him. After all, if they can find him, they can find me. Shockwaves of grief pour through me as I scribble. A world in mourning, an unbearable sense of loss. And fear.
Sit back, glance around this luminescent dome, take stock. I need to pull myself together, reassemble myself once and for all. This is me talking, no one but me. There’s no one in my head, no one influencing me. There’s only one me. And it’s me. Unless it isn’t and I don’t know it. But, apart from that, I’m probably me, so all that ‘voices in your head’ stuff is probably crap. Do you understand? It’s fearful, weak, like that UKIP party I might’ve voted for. It’s paranoia. Madness! A demonic laugh roars out through my lips, but I control myself. I tell myself I’m on a mission. “I’m on a mission” I say.
I ask Google about my dream and the oracle reveals that “a dream where we have touched the consciousness of another person, their thoughts and experiences, is referred to as a telepathic dream”. So it exists. It has a name. A telepathic dream. And a person who has telepathic dreams is a ‘psychic sensitive’. Wow! And there are loads of psychic powers. Maybe I have them all.
A clairvoyant can see other dimensions, energies, auras. A clairsensitive can feel them. A clairaudient can hear them. I hear voices. Blimey. So I might not be mad. It says “the key to develop all psychic abilities is energy, and hence how you work with energy”. You can “exteriorise your sensitivity to the periphery of your energosoma, thus becoming a full body energosoma radar”. Some Sensitives are also good at “smelling non-physical fragrances”. I think I might have smelt some of them.
A remote-viewer can see “consciousnesses, places, and events happening far away, even in different dimensions, in real time”. A lucid projector, astral traveller or sky walker, can “leave the physical body and, with the psychosoma, travel to other physical or non-physical locations”, gathering information from anywhere and anyone. These lucid projections “amplify one’s awareness of oneself and the reality of all consciousnesses”.
Oh my goodness, there are ‘lucid dreamers’ who can control their dreams and “induce conscious astral travelling”. ‘Precognitors’ can gather information from the future. ‘Retrocognitors’ can get information from the past that isn’t in the history books. And here it is: Telepathy. A telepath, or medium, can receive information from other ‘sensitives’. Wow! “Some telepaths can also transmit.” Lila can transmit.
A ‘psychometrist’ can read the energy of objects. An ‘intuitive’ grabs insights that escape the rational mind, “jumping over reason” and representing “a shortcut of the mentalsoma”. Blimey. A psychographer does psychic writing, being the instrument of “the non-physical consciousness”. Is that supposed to be God? Or all of us put together? Either way, this non-physical consciousness can use a psychophoner’s body to speak through. I could speak the voice of God. Can it be true?
A physical ectoplasmic medium works through ectoplasm, a “dense semi- and non-physical energy, containing leukocytes, epithelial cells, fat, albumin, combined with other non-physical substances, presenting an unstable form (vapours, spirals, threads, cords, webs, rays) and seems to be an intelligent being”. That’s a bit scary. I don’t think I’ll believe in that. Psychic surgeons operate on people intraphysically, using ectoplasm. Yuck!
Telekinesists can move things around the room without touching them. I’m going to move my pen. Concentrate. This a waste of time. Okay. Levitation means you can rise in the air and fly. I’m going to do it. Do I just stand here, or do I have to flap my wings? Do I have to jump, to get it going? Ouch. Bloody hell. Never jump sideways. If I could fly, I’d bloody know it. Pyrokinesis means you have the power of fire. No fire coming out of my fingertips. It’s bullshit.
It’s all bullshit, bunkum, balderdash. I jump around the room. I’m rid of it. It’s claptrap, poppycock, tripe and twaddle. Good! I’m feeling so tired. I’ll just rest my head on the desk for a moment and let my eyes close. I can feel something dribbling on my hand and an unearthly voice snoring.
It’s a beautiful day. Even Megan the cleaner seems attractive. I haven’t seen her for ages. “What days do you do, as our cleaner?” I ask. Her fists clench, her lips disappear down her throat and steam comes out her ears. “I am not a cleaner” she says, every word a bullet. “I am The Housekeeper!” But she doesn’t tell me which days she comes. I’m probably too lowly to be told. To make the peace, I decide to confess. “I have to admit” I say “that I voted UKIP”. “Oh?” she asks. “Yes” I say “but I’m still my own woman, because I did it by mistake.”
She tells me not to be ridiculous. But I don’t care and, to prove it, I hang about on our sunny veranda, gazing out at mother nature, not a care in the world and master of all I survey. I even stretch, nonchalantly. I feel good, especially as I have a new client. Her name is Chedeline Duffault. She’s from Haiti, over here visiting her aunt. And she is not a neurotic celebrity. In fact, I’ve a couple of new bookings and they’re both normal. And I’m normal.
Sauntering down the grassy knoll, I come upon old Mr Shoebridge and remember. “Oh” I say. “There’s a lad coming over later to give you a hand.” His face peers up at me, like a beetroot covered in white mould. He lets me know, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn’t want some young whippersnapper leaping about, pulling out all his lagoonias, crushing his prize pompadoodle tree and leaving all the weeds. (He’s referring to my brief burst of gardening, some years back.) What’ll I do about Aiden?
The garden bell tinkles. Chedeline must be early. I stroll over in an unhurriedly fashion. I’m self-possessed, even as I draw back the gate. There stands a slim but muscular black woman in a sleek silver-blue business suit. “Welcome Chedeline” I say, warmly. She beams at me as if I am God. As I lead her down to the dome, she tells me she’s sorry she’s early, but she just couldn’t wait to be free of her big problem. And whenever I look, she’s gazing as if she cannot express the joy she feels.
However, when I ask what’s troubling her, her eyes darken. It seems that she’s been sensing evil forces in the village, specifically in the pub. I pass no judgement. “Very strange vibrations” she says. “It is troubling me. In Haiti, we have witch doctors, spirit guides who draw out evil. You are a holistic guide. It is the nearest thing to a voodoo priest. So you must help me to root out the evil.”
I say I have no mystical powers. “But I have heard you have great powers” she says, flashing her eyes. “Well, I’d love to tell you about my great powers” I say, making light of it “but I think we should concentrate on you.” She’s not listening. She’s pouting, thrusting out her chest and slowly licking her upper lip. “Can you tell what I’m thinking now?” she asks, fluttering her lashes and starting to pant. “No” I say, rather too quickly, “I jolly-well can’t!” She laughs.
I suggest that the ‘evil forces’ are in her mind and it is her mind that needs exorcising, not the village pub. “Sure” she purrs. She wants a whole lot of therapy. But could I not put her mind at rest by meeting her at the pub and making it pure? I peruse the matter. “I don’t see why not” I say. “Tonight?” she asks. “Okay, no harm in it” I say, with a shrug. “Good” she says. “And then we can talk about your powers. So now you can tell me about my mind.”
I tell her the mind is a very delicate thing. It can break up into hundreds of pieces and you don’t know whose is which. “It is very exciting” she says. She wants to know all about it and books a block of sessions.
Aiden’s at the gate as Chedeline leaves. “Wow” he whispers, once the gate is closed and she won’t hear him. I ignore his incredulous grin, a bit worried about how old Cyril Shoebridge is going to take Aiden’s arrival.
Shoebridge is immediately suspicious. “What’s wrong with you?” he asks Aiden. “What?” asks Aiden, taken aback. “Why are you walking with that strange, shuffling gate?” “I’ve got ME” he explains. “My muscles and joints get weak and I get tired and…” “Ha!” says Shoebridge, turning to me. “So is this the lad?” I nod. “Ha!” he says and storms off very slowly. Aiden shrugs. I shrug. “Just follow him” I say “and help him.” Aiden shuffles off behind the ancient horticulturist.
I’m thinking about having a quiet drink with Chedeline tonight. Despite her obvious admiration for me, I don’t find her attractive, personally. But I am attracted to her admiration. And it’s nice to have a patient who’s not self-absorbed. How am I going to purge the pub for her?
I enter The Goat’s Neck, brandishing bulbs of garlic to purify the place. Chedeline is already here, sitting primly, while oggled by regulars. There’s an audible chorus of “pity” when I join her. She asks “why the garlic?” “To ward off the evil spirits” I say. “Oh sure” she says, beaming as if I’m her god, “but first, let’s talk about you and your magical powers.” A murmur goes round. Someone says “magic” in a baby voice and there’s suppressed laughter. “I haven’t got magical powers” I admit, with an embarrassed chortle. “And no drink” she says. “What will you have?”
Everyone’s watching her, leaning on the bar, while the bartender draws me a pint of local bitter, that I’ve only chosen to try to placate the locals. A rough, hairy fellow tells her he has magical powers. Giggles and guffaws emerge from every nook and cranny. They all fancy her. Why don’t I? Am I racist? I didn’t used to be. I mean, the way she sashays back, not spilling a drop, is dynamite. And she’s interested in me. She wants to know how I got into therapy, what my strengths are. And she’s so attentive.
This drink is horrible. It’s bitter. But it loosens my tongue and, as the pub fills up, I find myself waxing lyrical on the metaphysical paradoxes of being and nothingness and how you can never know who you are, or what’s happening, when, suddenly, a voice in my head says “I knew it was you”.
Looking up, I see a woman grinning down at me. She has long hair, a slim freckled face, simple floral dress and sandals. I recognise her. It’s Katy. She’s a wiccan, married to a much older wizard who can no longer wiz. She came to me as a patient, suggesting we might have an affair, which I, of course, refused. But, being caught here with Chedeline, I’m embarrassed.
Katy says “you look so different, I almost didn’t recognise you without the wispy beard”. I introduce Katy as a neighbour and she promptly sits down, asking Chedeline about herself. Chedeline explains that she’s from Haiti, visiting her aunt and has booked a series of sessions with Doctor Alves, whose special gifts will no doubt cure her of the evil spirits she senses. “No doubt” says Katy, somewhat tartly and, turning to me, asks why I’ve turned into Mr designer-cool. “Are you still in there?” she asks.
She has long salt-and-pepper hair, no makeup, wide lips and lines from all the smiling she’s done. I assure her that I’m still me, whatever that means. “I’m glad to hear it” she says. Next thing I know, Chedeline is rising, apologising that she has to leave, to be with her auntie. “It was nice to meet you, Katy” she says. “And I’ll be seeing you soon, Doctor Alves.”
With Chedeline gone, I find I’m a bit relieved, to be honest. What if Chedeline had actually propositioned me, what would I have done? My pride wouldn’t let me say no. And then maybe I couldn’t. But I mustn’t. Never. Katy’s talking about her husband, Bill, who is much older than her and wheelchair-bound, so he doesn’t get out much. Would I like to visit? He would so appreciate the company. I’m touched by her concern for Bill and tell her, of course I’d like to meet him. How pleasant.
I realise I’ve been quite tense. No one’s looking at us now, the way they were when I was with Chedeline. And Katy’s so relaxed and warmhearted. She’s chatting about some druid May Day festival called Beltane, she attended recently. Have I ever been to a traditional May festival? I admit that I haven’t and she tells me how jolly it is, meeting up together to welcome the spring. They’re having a little private festival soon. Perhaps that’s the evening to visit. “Then you could meet Bill and see the festival.” “Sounds great” I say. She writes the address and date on a napkin.
As we stroll through the village, Katy is telling me her beliefs. “Since all form, all matter is created by vibration, the world is made of sound. And not just random noise” she insists “but musical harmony. Look at the stars.” I look at the stars. “Spheres spinning around spheres.” I nod. “So harmony is one of the great truths” she informs me. “And disharmony is distance from truth.” “So we should all be in harmony, is that it?” I ask. “Yes” she says, in a soft, calming voice. “And is this religion Druid or Wiccan?” I ask, feeling marvelously relaxed and intelligent. “Both” she says, with a twinkle in her eye. “And not really a religion, more a philosophy, a spiritual path.” I watch her follow her spiritual path for a moment, as we part on the edge of the common.
Back home, I stretch out in bed, feeling blissfully normal. I might even have a nice sexy dream…
A labyrinth of narrow lanes and alleys, stuffed with cows, goats, bikes, carts. I am running. I duck under a gold-clad corpse being carried on a stretcher, past a food counter, swarming with flies. I know they have found me. They are all around me. I must get to the river, where a boat will take me downstream to the airfield in the desert. Please alert them.
So sorry, Sunita here. I’ve hardly been able to think since Kabir’s death. And I can’t help the tears. So sorry to shower you with my feelings. But I am afraid. The moment I open my mind to connect with you, it is invaded by psychic spies. I know, even as I run, that a moped is forcing its way through the passage behind me. I can’t believe this is happening. He created something so beautiful for us all to share. And they killed him. Now I will die too. If only I had his courage.
A brown limousine bars my way. It has no numberplate. Behind me, the moped swerves to a halt. I duck down a stinking alley and run. I will try to send you his last insights when I can. Must hide. So sorry.
I am running. Wading through lung-numbing effluent, tangled in bedding. Bedding? Oh, I’m back at home. Thank goodness. I sit up, try to catch my breath. That was no dream. She contacted me. She’s in grave danger. I am aware of her fear and the love and loss of her partner. And I know it’s a ‘her’, so she can’t be me. And they’re chasing her. They’re going to get her if she doesn’t get to that airport. Where do I know an airport, somewhere in a desert?
I google ‘deserts’. Saharan, Arabian, Patagonian, Taklamakan, Gobi... The world is littered with deserts. And which airport? Useless. I try looking up ‘psychic spies’ and, to my horror, stumble upon half a century of secret military research.
In 1960, the French scientific journal ‘Science et Vie’, publishes ‘The Secrets Of The Nautilus’, an article claiming that the US government has secretly used telepaths to communicate with the first nuclear submarine, while it is under the Arctic ice pack. As a result, the Russians develop their own military telepathy operations.
In 1978, the US Defense Intelligence Agency establishes the top-secret Stargate Project, to apply clairvoyance, telepathy, remote-viewing and other psychic phenomena for military and domestic applications.
This is all supposed to die out in the 1990s with the end of the Cold War, though many online commentators suggest it just becomes more secret. After all, what we get told is only the tip of the iceberg. Low and behold, in 2011, the US announces plans to “turn soldiers into telepaths”, to “allow them to communicate just by thinking”. And last year, The Smithsonian reports “the first instance of brain-to-brain communication on record.” So it’s real.
And it is real. Her name is Sunita and she’s on the run. She called to me in my dream, so I could help. But how can I help? Unless it’s in the news. I look up ‘psychic on the run’ and get ‘What do you call a psychic midget on the run?’ Answer, ‘A small medium at large’.
I don’t know if she’s small. My windows are glowing. It’s almost morning and I’m shivering. I don’t even know anyone called Sunita. It was an anxiety dream. Like the one I had before, where our great leader Kabir, was killed in a cave by spacemen. Except that he wasn’t. My head made it up.
I’m just in a mess, because of Lila’s voice and monitoring my every thought. Such as this one. And going round and round. I’ve come to this conclusion before. Am I destined to go through this cycle of delusions forever? Has my mind been deranged by evil forces? Do I require professional help?
Every therapist needs a therapist. Mine is a Dr Reginald Blatt, BACP HCPC and XYZ, whom I haven’t seen in years because he is the dullest man on earth. On balance, I think I would rather be devoured by demons than face an hour with Doctor Blatt.
A cloud has bumped into this hillside and enshrouded us. I am lost within it. Soon, I must leave to meet Katy’s husband, Bill. It can’t come soon enough. The cloud inside me reveals nothing. The cloud outside me reveals a medieval view. Crooked trees. Two figures in silhouette, carrying a small, but no doubt precious bag between them, slowly descend towards me through the mist.
“What are you carrying?” I ask. “Manure” says Shoebridge. “Can you handle it on your own, lad?” he asks Aiden. “Only, I want a word with Mr Alves.” Shoebridge waits until Aiden has passed out of hearing. “He’s a good lad” he murmurs. “I know him. Didn’t recognise him with all that hair. Knew him when he was a little’un.” “Oh” I say. “So, is he doing okay.” “He will, once he’s got the hang of it.” “Good” I say.
I should leave for Katy’s, but Cyril Shoebridge isn’t a fast man and shows no sign of moving. “Thing is” he says “the lad’s taking a bit of stick at home and I thought you could put in a word.” “A word?” “Just that he’s gainfully employed, not skiving off.” “Don’t they believe him?” “It’s not Molly and Alf, they’re alright. It’s that Luke.” “Luke Chapps?” “Nasty piece of work. Gets his claws into people.” “I know” I say. Cyril Shoebridge looks up at me and notices my lips tightening. He nods. “Alright” I say. “I’ll pop by, on my way.”
Puffing across the village green, I reckon I can still get to Katy’s on time if I hurry. I like Cyril Shoebridge. I’ve always thought of him as something to do with Michelle. And he was her mum’s gardener before that. Head gardener to Anthea Gladwish. Bet he liked it better back then. So he sort of came with the property. But he’s kind, perhaps even wise. What did he say? “Don’t get involved. Just reassure Molly and Alf.” Which house is it?
Molly answers the door. She’s pleased to see me. Would I like a cup of tea? “No thanks, I shan’t be stopping.” I greet Aiden’s dad, who smiles. I’ve not seen Alf smile before. I look around for Luke Chapps but he’s not about. Good. “I just want you both to know how well Aiden is doing, as our gardener’s assistant. Mr Shoebridge thinks highly of him.” “He’s not too slow?” asks Molly, nervously. “No, in fact he’s just about the right speed for Mr Shoebridge.” “Oh, that’s lucky” says Molly. “Sure you won’t stay for a cuppa?” “No, I’m on my way somewhere. I just wanted you to know.” Alf takes my hand as I go to say goodbye and, with great feeling, says “thanks”. “I like Aiden” I say.
Katy and Bill’s place is at the end of a private road and emerges out of the mist like some gothic Zanadu, replete with wrought iron gates. I ring the bell and imagine a butler with a bolt through his neck, but it’s Katy.
It’s Katy and she’s swathed in a gold cloak, her hair piled up high. We live in such different fantasies. Me in my dome, the Winkleys in their twisted little home, Katy in her castle. I follow the swoosh of her cloak, up to a grand Victorian drawing room with a balcony, where an elderly gentleman in an Edwardian suit with high wing collar, sits in a wheelchair by a blazing fire. He reaches forward and grasps my hand, staring into my eyes as if trying to read my thoughts. Deep-cut lines run vertically down his face, connecting his piercing eyes to his small clipped beard and moustache.
“Sir William Rosenthal” he rasps. He’s a ‘sir’? “And you are?” I ferret about for my name. I want to say Sunita. “Rupert, I think. Rupert Alves.” He releases my hand. I step back, glad to get away from the heat of the fire. As Katy explains who I am, his eyes flick from me to her and back again. “This is Rupert’s first Beltane” she says, with a nervous laugh. “Oh” says Sir William. “So you are a therapist.” His lips stretch into what might be a smile. “Yes” I admit. “What exactly does that involve?” I burble on about helping people, about kindness, love, healing and other nice things. I can’t quite get to the beginnings of my thoughts with his eyes on me. I feel as if I’m being judged and found wanting.
Katy comes to my rescue. She’s worried about the weather. Kneeling before him, she cups her hands around his and asks if he can help. “How would you like it?” he asks. “You know” she says. There is an intimacy between them. He obviously cares about her. “Then open the windows” he says. Katy opens two great french windows. Cloud billows into the room. “Excuse me” says Sir William. “Of course” I reply, as his wheelchair wizzes past, out through the french windows and onto the balcony.
Katy takes my hand. We stand behind him, staring into grey, swirling nothing. “Ye who makes the sea to rise, the winds to roar” he croaks “and the mighty earth to crack asunder…” Are all humans mad, or just the ones I meet? Katy smiles at me. I smile back, feeling a bit queasy.
After he’s told all the pagan gods what kind of weather he wants, and we’re back inside by the fire, windows closed, I ask Sir William about his line of work. He says “finance, this and that, you know.” I say “I mean your wizardy skills”. He frowns and, turning to Katy, wonders if her little friends might not already be waiting. “Oh” she says, beaming. “Yes, we better go.”
“Please send my apologies” he says and looks at me. “I hope you will treat my Katy well, follow her guidance and fulfil her requirements.” “Oh, yes, of course, sir” I stutter, led away by Katy’s firm hand.
Beyond the house I can see nothing. I only know we’re treading on grass. “We’re about to descend into the sacred grove” she whispers. “Watch out, it’s quite steep” she warns, holding my arm, to guide me. Strands of cloud, like ectoplasm, drift between the dark limbs of trees, soaking my clothes, dripping down my face.
I hear giggling and see a glade below, in the ethereal glow of a bonfire. And shadows moving about. “Hi Katy” “Hi Rosie” “Is Natasha with you?” “I’m here.” “This is Rupert.” If they are witches, they must be the prettiest witches in celtic legend. But I’m suspicious, they’ve both got mobile phones. They’re decked in garlands and very little else. I don’t know where to put my eyes.
I’m to be dressed in fine raiments. First they’ve to remove my earthly garb. I’m a bit embarrassed. In my earthly garb, I manage to look strong. Without it I’m skinny and weak with a pigeon chest. I thought I was coming to watch a ceremony, not be part of it. Katy is explaining that Beltane is the great fertility rite of life, the union of the god and goddess to conceive the sun-child.
I’m beginning to feel a little nervous. What was it Sir William said? Follow her guidance, fulfil her requirements? What did he mean? “Behold the Queen of the May” chant the pretty girls. Ceremonially, they remove Katy’s golden cloak. I behold. She isn’t wearing anything. Nor am I. Where are my fine raiments?
We’ve to jump the bonfire. I bet I land in the middle of it. Rosie skips over. Natasha leaps. Katy seems to float across, her back gently arching as she lands. I almost make it, landing in hot ash and helped by the girls. Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch.
I am seated on a treestump, beside a hollow, lined with straw and strewn with petals. Rosie presents me with a horn filled with mead, which I’m to drink. I’ve never had mead. It’s thick and tastes more like blood. It couldn’t really be blood could it? Whatever it is, it makes me feel very different.
I’m drawn to Rosie’s lips but they whisper “look at Katy”. I look at Katy, lounging in the bed of straw and petals. Natasha is uncoiling her hair. Katy looks up at me, smiling, as her hair falls around her freckled face. I realise I’ve never seen anything so beautiful in all the universe. She opens her arms and I am drawn towards her, while the pretty girls giggle and run away.
I know I should resist. I’m married. Katy says ours will be a spiritual union. “Not sexual?” I ask. As if to reassure me, she cups her body in mine from behind and whispers. “We seek to uncover the wisdom of the ancient world, to usher in an era of harmony between men and women, between science and spirituality, between humanity, nature and the divine worlds.” “Oh” I murmur. I am dissolving, don’t know who I am and it’s bliss. There are times when you don’t need an identity, when you join and just feel. Katy says “our spiritual faith puts love, freedom, beauty and kindness above all learning. The spirit of wisdom lies out of doors, surrounded by the mystery of sun, moon and stars. Look at the stars.” I look up and the stars shoot down and fill me with light.
Waking in a warm misty dawn, I find Katy, skipping about starkers, clearing up the fire. I feel strangely wonderful. Perhaps it was the potion. Katy beams at me. She hands me my clothes. I tell her I must be going, though why I don’t know. But she understands. “I really enjoyed the ceremony” I say “and give my regards to your husband”. She kisses my cheek and whispers “take care of yourself and from now on, keep away from psychic spies.” “What?” “Like that woman you were with at the pub.” I’m speechless. “I’m glad you enjoyed the ceremony” she says. “Now off you go.”
No one’s mentioned anything about psychic spies. That’s my secret. How could she say that? What’s happening? As soon as I open my mind to the possibility, it rings with alien voices chattering in tongues. Help! I need help. The moment I’m home, I try ringing my old pal Dow Jones. But Dow claims he doesn’t know me. Afterwards, I realise I don’t have a pal called Dow Jones. But how come I’ve got his number? I discover that I don’t have his number. But I spoke to him. I check my ‘calls sent’. No call was made. But I remember it. I AM mad. I run around clucking, as if it’s a joke, but it isn’t. I need a therapist, quick.
My fingers call Reginald Blatt’s secretary and my lips book an emergency Saturday consultation. I spend the night walking round the living room in circles, with my hands over my ears, singing ‘la la la la la’ to prevent any voices from taking me over.
I am on a crowded train to London. I can hardly keep awake. The rocking of the carriage, the mewling of infants, fades into silence. A voice whispers.
Sunita here. The moonlit surface of the water is now a mass of floating candles, drifting past like spirits of the dead. In the orange light of fires, people tend the gold-shrouded corpses, chanting mantras, tinkling bells. A small wooden boat creaks past, pushed by boating poles, with young children swimming alongside in the filthy slime.
It is cold. I am hiding among the ash faced sadhus and beggars, yet constantly sensing interlopers, infiltrating my thoughts, probing. Please. You must make provision for the onslaught. Learn to identify intruders, withstand invasion and control.
I have been waiting for a moment of safety, but I dare not wait any longer. I must pass on Kabir’s last insights, before my mind is taken over and its treasure stolen. Please be ready. There is a great deal of information. It will rock you. Are you ready?
I lurch forward, pinning down a commuter opposite. “Sorry. Sorry.” Everyone’s getting off. I’m in London. People pushing past, their voices ringing in my ears. “Is she alive?” “Did you get the download?” “Anybody?” “I fancy a jam sandwich.” “No one?” “Get out of my way.” I stumble, as I’m pushed by an angry traveller.
Out of the station, into the light and more voices, choirs of voices, weeping like fallen angels, a cauldron of voices echoing across the hot, crowded city. “Have we truly lost her?” “Will she no’ return?” “Have we lost his last insights forever?” “Have we lost Lord Kabir’s Last Insights?” “Are we doomed?”
I feel increasingly deranged and, tripping on the steps of the Blatt residence, land in a heap. Reginald Blatt answers and looks down on me.
Doctor Reginald Blatt takes a rational view of the world and becomes increasingly irked at what he calls my senseless metaphysical questions. He refuses to accept my dreams. Lots of people have recurring dreams, he says. I tell him that mine are not recurring, they’re continuing, but he refuses to acknowledge the significance. When he insists that Lila saying “God’s will be done” after I’d said it to my patients, was just a coincidence, I try to tell him. “It wasn’t just the phrase, it was her character, the smell of lavender, the…” “It was a coincidence!” thunders Blatt. But I can’t let it go. I challenge him. “How do you know your thoughts are your own?” “All my thoughts are my own!” he booms. “How can you be sure?” “Because they occur to me, they’re my thoughts!” “Can you prove it?” “Get out!” He’s pushing me towards the door. “But what’s your diagnosis?” I beg. “You’ve lost your marbles!” he shouts. “But what should I do?” “Get yourself sectioned immediately. I won’t charge you. Goodbye.” I’m pushed out, the door slammed. Find myself on the steps, looking at a dog owner, pausing while her dog piddles against a gatepost. As I start walking back, I find myself repeating “it’s a coincidence” in time with my steps.
It’s a coincidence. A pure coincidence. And I am pure. Because I am rational. Everything I think is rational. Furthermore I have a new patient, with whom I am being purely rational. He is an Iranian student of philosophy, stressed about his forthcoming examinations. So, rationally, I tell him not to be. He says he still is. I tell him it’s a coincidence. He says he isn’t just stressed, he hears telepathic voices. He senses I am telepathic too and I could earn good money if I worked for his organisation. I tell him there’s no such thing as telepathy. It isn’t rational and I can prove it. Instead of being glad, he seems disappointed. He says he was sure I was psychic. I tell him he’s mad and chuck him out.
Doctor Blatt would be proud of me. Good. Especially as I’m to have tea with Lila tomorrow afternoon. But she can say ‘God’s will be done’ as many times as she likes, I won’t go bonkers, because I am logical and that makes me strong. Good.
Even the news is good. Islamic State militants in Syria have taken control of the ancient city of Palmyra. Good. It’s good to take control. Also, five of the world’s largest banks have been fixing the foreign exchange market. Well done, I didn’t know it was broken. To cap it all, a wounded dog, found in her dead owner’s arms after the fatal tornado that ripped through Texas two weeks ago, has found a new home. I can’t help weeping for joy.
The garden bell rings in my ears. If it’s that student again, I’ll break his kneecaps. Grabbing the only weapon I can find, I run up the path and fling open the gate, brandishing my pencil. But he isn’t there.
Aiden’s there with an old suitcase, a rucksack and all manner of plastic bags. He’s been kicked out. He’s made the mistake of giving his mum his wages, infuriating Luke Chapps, who pays for Alf and Molly, in return for controlling them and having his way with her, causing a set-to which Aiden lost. I make him up a bed in the dome. I tell him other people are mad. He agrees.
It’s a warm sultry day, soft as a peach, as I pull up outside Harry Burke and Lila Kane’s wraparound eco-bubble that melts into the chalk cliff. It’s mad. There’s no one about. I go to ring the bell but the door is open, so I tiptoe in. Peeking from the safety of a chalk-white column, I observe a circle of strange folk, with black armbands, sitting in silence, eyes closed.
They seem troubled, heads lowered. A man, who looks like an ancient boy, has tears flowing down his soft pink cheeks. A fat lady in an emerald green dress is slowly shaking. At the far end of the circle, Lila Kane and Harry Burke are holding hands. I’ve only seen them in their spangly performance gear. But Lila’s wearing an old yellow dress and Harry’s in dirty orange dungarees, long white hair flopped forward over a face like parchment. Beside him sits a little girl, all in red, maybe eight or nine years old. Her arms are raised, hands splayed above her lowered head. They’re weirdos!
I close my eyes to give myself a last reminder to remain rational and keep an objective distance. Others are allowed to believe whatever they wish to believe. I shall not condemn their crazy ideas. But I shall only accept that which stands the test of reason. I shall be pleasant, but clearminded.
I open my eyes and they’re all smiling at me. Do they think I was sharing their prayer? Lila rises to welcome me. She holds my hands in hers. I smile professionally, remaining detached. She tells me I’ve arrived at a sad time. “We’re in mourning for friends.” That explains the armbands. So far so good. “I’m sorry” I say. “Perhaps I should leave you to your misery.” “Oh no” gushes the fat green lady. “We’re thrilled to be meeting you.” Her whole body shakes like jelly and her head wobbles. It’s hard not to stare. “Especially now” adds the ancient boy, peering at me. He tells me that his friends call him ‘ghost’, without a capital G, and intimates that “in our little psychic community, we have discovered that there may be those who would like to use our skills for nefarious purposes”. In my head I’m going ‘la la la’, because it’s poppycock.
A pretty mincing man with flaxen hair and pale blue eyes confides that “the true purpose of telepathy is to bring us together, to ensure that knowledge and experience is shared for the good of all. “This” he says “is the voice of God”. Inwardly I smirk. God is irrational. He divulges that “the corrupt use of telepathy is to spread suspicion and dissent. To divide and rule. To use for surveillance, even weaponry. This is the Devil in humans.” Devil? Humph. Likewise irrational. He lays his hand upon my shoulder. I do not flinch. He tells me I am to distinguish a pure voice from a corrupt voice. I may need training. “Thankyou” I say, concealing my indignation and making a note never to let myself be trained by this gay Jesus. He can’t do it, if I don’t want him to.
A large white tea trolley rattles in. Behind it, Maryam Mazari smiles at me. Her eyes are always so full of feeling. This is the tester. I instruct my eyes to look away but they won’t budge. Luckily everyone flocks around the tea trolley and I flock too. Splodgy pink cakes, cups of tea piled high with clotted cream.
I stand aloof, leaning on a white column, watching the weirdos fan out, balancing teas and cakes, forming little groups like petals of flowers. Something is creeping around my leg. I dare not look. It’s tugging at my trousers. It’s the spooky little girl. She wants to tell me something. I bend down. “Psychic energy is an electromagnetic medium” she says in a low monotone. “Oh” I say “I’m glad to hear it, er...” “Peggy” she says, continuing “it’s no mistake that psychology, electricity, spiritualism and relativity enter our minds at the same time a century ago. These wonders are revealed as humankind evolves.” “Really” I say, shuddering involuntarily. “Yes” she says. “It’s nothing to be frightened of. The unknown is only frightening because it is unknown. Your scepticism is only another form of fear.” My spine tingles. This is one scary kid. I want to kick her away, but think the better of it.
Between plump Maryam, twirled in her violet sari, and scary Peggy, I don’t know where to hide, so I wander about, haphazardly. Bonny, the shaking fat lady, wants me to know that all true thoughts are messages through the ether “emanating from the one universal source”. Noel, the gay Jesus, adds that, indeed, such intimations are the only source of truths. Ancient boy, ‘ghost’, says “you can always tell an evil one. They have dark corners, crooks and crannies they won’t let you see.” I certainly won’t let him see mine. I nod and smile, smile and nod, without letting their madness in. Harry Burke, on his way back to his seat, winks at me, saying “Openness is the key”, as if winking and wearing dungarees make him the acceptable face of craziness.
I find I’m standing alone in the centre of the circle, with everyone looking. There is only one space, which is next to Maryam, and I wish it wasn’t. Her body smells of warm cinnamon. She turns to me and I have to avert my eyes. “They want to know about your talents” she says. “I’m just a therapist” I say. “I try to help people through their troubles.” “But are you just a receiver, or a transmitter too?” asks ghost. I say “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.” There’s silence. No one says a word, but I’m holding tight.
“Rupert?” It’s Lila’s voice. “I have an apology to make” she says. “A few weeks ago, I was trying to help my friends, when, surprisingly, you picked up on it. I didn’t mean to speak through you. I’ll never do it again.” I look up at her. She says “You guessed, didn’t you”. I nod, helpless. “I never say God’s will be done” I admit. “No” she says “and I apologise. Though, in a way, God’s will has been done.” “How?” I ask. “He has sent you to us.” “I don’t believe it” I say, reeling from her admission that her voice really was in my head.
I can’t believe in it. I mustn’t believe in it. A question comes to mind. “Why are these cows not laying eggs?” I ask. Lila glowers at her friends. “Who did that?” she demands. The spooky kid giggles. “You’re not to do that Peggy.” “Well, it proved it.” “What’s going on?” I ask. “Oh, Peggy just put a thought in your head.” “What about?” “Cows laying eggs.” Everyone giggles except me. I feel as if all my floors and walls and ceilings are caving in, turning to dust, wind howling through.
“Would you mind?” Maryam is standing in front of me. Automatically I rise. She places her fingers on my temples. I suddenly remember my night with Katy, so warm and safe. Maryam looks surprised. I quickly hide the memory. Letting it go, I feel a marvellous humming in my head and down through my body, a feeling of infinite freedom. I hear Maryam saying “Amazing”. “What?” ask others eagerly. “Why, there’s no one at home” she announces, removing her fingers. “A rare talent” says ghost. “Amazing” they agree. I ask “what does it mean ‘there’s no one at home’?” “It means you can empty even the last vestiges of your identity.” “And that’s good?” Maryam smiles “You have the ability to possess a perfectly clear mind.” Lila and her friends gasp.
“Wow!” I say. “But, what if I don’t believe it?” Harry explains that, if I remain in denial, I could be vulnerable. He sites Lord Kabir’s wise words about safety in sharing. I realise I’ve heard that name before and wonder how it all joins up, or if my mind is broken. Lila seems to sense my confusion. “Let us form the psychic circle.” I look around the faces in the circle and, seeing their eyes close, close mine. Something starts to move, to whir, a spinning wheel of feelings and bodies.
Young Peggy, uncertain, fierce, a brilliant red. Harry Burke, quiet, knowing, warm orange glow. Dazzling songbird, Lila Kane, canary yellow. Fat Bonny, trembling in a haze of emerald green. Sky-blue Noel, faithful and helplessly kind. The deep indigo flame of ghost seeking shadows in light and Maryam, a shimmering violet. I feel wonderful. Floating through them and them through me, mingling, coalescing, disappearing, leaving one clear thought. God is love. God is love. Spinning to infinity, God is love. It is so overwhelming, Maryam has to help me to my chair.
“Last time I was here” I say, “I had a vision outside your loo. I saw my boy, Jason, rise through a trapdoor in the floor, open a door in the wall and step out. But Jason’s in Thailand, so what can it mean?” “There’s no trapdoor outside the loo” says ghost. “No. I know. I checked.” Sweet Bonny, who shakes, tells me she is consulting her pathway to the unknown. I wait. She asks if Jason might be a Martian spider? I rule this out. “He’s my son. And he’s in Thailand.” Sky-blue Noel with the flaxen hair says “Perhaps your son experienced this and, as he did so, you picked up on it.” “But it would’ve been evening in Thailand” I say. ghost suggests that “maybe he rose through a trapdoor in Thailand and your mind naturally adjusted it to British Summertime.” “But he walked through a wall.” “That’s because, where he was, there was a door.” I consider this. “But he opened the door on a traditional old English farm, with an old English farmhouse and sheep. How could that be in Thailand?” “Oh the farm is real enough” says Lila. “He means our little community. Show him Maryam.”
I follow her up to the top of the house, where, behind a curtain, a tiny staircase spirals up through chalk, to a viewing tower embedded in the cliff, which reveals a farm, deep in a hollow below, cut off from sea and land by cliffs. Even from this angle, I know it’s the farm in my vision. Maryam is describing their little community and asking if I’d like to visit. I would. The moment I turn to face her, I’m lost in her eyes. They make me feel so emotional.
“You mustn’t worry when you don’t know who you are” she says. “You are not defined by your shell, but by your gifts.” “Yes. What are they again?” “You have the gift of total vacancy.” “So what does that mean I can do?” “Everything. You are holy.” As she explains, I suddenly realise that her lips aren’t moving. I say “your lips aren’t moving.” She says “neither are yours.” “So are we just?” “Yes.” A wave of dizziness almost sends me over the edge of the tower. She grabs my arm to steady me. “I’d love to study you” she says. I gurgle like a baby.
Driving home, I feel happier than I’ve ever felt in my life, my confidence surging, my powers radiating from my being. I can treat hundreds of patients, thousands. Indeed, it’s my God-given duty. I possess a direct line to the Almighty. I’m going to be rich.
Aiden’s in the dome. I’d forgotten. I thought I’d take some time to sit, and possibly emanate. He’s just getting into bed. I’m surprised to see that his lips are moving as he speaks. “Your lips are moving” I say. Aiden asks me if I’m feeling alright, but I get another thought. “Are my lips moving?” “Yes” replies Aiden, nervously. He says “if you ever need help, Mr Alves, you can count on me. I’d do anything for you.” I lay my fingertips upon his brow to bless him and probably cure his ME.
Coming up the track to the house, I hear Maryam’s voice again and can’t help letting out a whoop. I always knew I was special. But it all makes perfect sense now. I have the gift of total vacancy.