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05/20/01: Blasphemies Observed (Part One)
by Jennier Wylie and Pieter van Hiel

(Hi folks! Just a quick word before the story begins. What you're about to read is based on an extremely long role-play session between myself and Radar. We played out this story over nearly four years, and it was entirely adlibbed. Neither of us knew where it was going, and as a result, we ended up in some unexpected places before the end. The resulting story was written by both of as well, though Jen handled more than I did. Enjoy! -Pieter/Plith)

A cold white light reflected from the thin circles of the doctor’s spectacles, hiding his eyes completely.

The doctor worked quickly, ignoring the occasional moans from his patient. His nimble fingers adroitly maneuvered the surgical tools, making a cut here, clamping an artery there. The operation he was performing would have been recognized by no medical student, and yet he performed the various essential tasks efficiently and without pause for thought.

His whole body, apart from his arms and hands, was almost entirely motionless. This, combined with the eerie effect of the reflected light, gave the impression that he was more insect than human.

A rattling window pane caused him to look away from his work briefly. His face fell into shadow, and  the reflected glare of electric light fell away from his glasses, revealing soft green eyes. And yet something in the quality of his gaze, an unfocused and nervous darting, made him seem somehow even less human than before.

The window pane clattered sharply in its socket. Outside, a driving wind winged stinging pellets of ice and snow through the midnight streets of St. Paul, Minnesota. The doctor shivered slightly and turned back to his work. The patient stirred once more, and the doctor soon forgot the sight of the black and deserted streets as he lost himself in his work.

St. Paul is not an easy place to live in winter.

That thought was foremost in Kathy’s mind as she stamped her feet on the hard pavement. Her thin-soled boots and ragged pea-jacket did almost nothing to keep out the biting wind. Another long day of shoe-shining had finally dragged to its end. The last few weeks of bitter weather had hurt her trade badly. Very few businessmen were about, and those that were had the sense to wear the new rubber overshoes.

Her last ditch attempt tonight to catch the late night theatre crowd had been unsuccessful. The few rich couples leaving the opera had been quickly whisked away by waiting cabs. She was alone in the street now...even California Slim’s whores were nowhere to be seen. Kathy rubbed her burning cold hands together and decided to call it a night. She loaded her polish and brushes into her thread-bare pockets and strode quickly down the street, her shoulders hunched against the biting wind.

Her life had always been this way. Orphaned at five, and raised in a series of drafty state facilities until her 16th birthday. She’d never been adopted. Hopeful couples had overlooked the willfully morose and bony child she’d been in favour of chubby, red-cheeked moppets. The orphanages had been clean and healthy places...but cold and impersonal. She had never been the object of anything more than casual pity and enlightened interest on the part of the staff, and unfocused hostility on the part of her fellow orphans.

She left the orphanage of her our free will at age 16, without a single human contact or real friend. Kathy spent a month wandering the Midwest, going from town to town, hitching rides from complete strangers or simply setting out on foot across vast expanses of empty prairie.

She had floated like some rogue bit of cosmic dust through a stellar void of farmers fields and grain elevator whistle stops, slowly and inexorably being drawn towards St. Paul. It was as if the city was a planet with a gravity all it’s own...an oppressive weight of wealth and population that drew transients in and kept them from leaving.

There had been jobs, of a sort, for her when she arrived. Two months as a bottle-washer - before she discovered what her employer’s idea of an after hours discussion was. A month sorting machine parts in a factory - before it went out of business, forced under by the economic malaise that had seized the entire country.

Quite simply, there were no opportunities for a girl without a family or education. At least, not any ones she’d wanted. California Slim had made it clear that she was welcome to join his stable of streetwalkers, and this offer still stood. The idea of joining those ranks of sallow-faced coughing young girls who sold themselves for $10 a night did not appeal to Kathy.

Franklin "California Slim" Dooley struggled under the weight of a completely inexpressible and stoutly undrownable sorrow. He’d been drinking heavily, and smoking the shit as well, but somehow it didn’t help.

Now one of his girls was giving him grief. All he wanted was a quickie, but the stupid cow was pretending she didn’t know what he meant. Susan was her name...and even now she was slowly backing away towards the door of Slim’s ground-floor apartment.  He took another burning gulp of the
cheap booze and stared absently out the window.

***

Kathy sighed, trying to hurry as best she could against the  bitterness of the wind. The shelters closed at eleven and it was already  half-past ten. That is, if any beds were still available. The shelters seemed more crowded now, the faces all beginning to blur into something  featureless and devoid of anything but despair.

"Hey, want to earn an easy twenty dollars?" came a voice from the shadows of an alleyway. Two women, shivering in their skimpy outfits, puffed on cigarettes as they huddled in a doorway.

"Doing what?" she asked, rather cautiously.

"Take this package across the street and drop it in post box twelve six blocks up the street," said a male voice from behind the women. They each stepped to the side and huddled behind the burly man who clutched a plain brown paper-wrapped package with string around it.

"Sorry, I'm not going that way. I'm trying to get to the shelter before it closes," Kathy replied, her teeth chattering in a sudden gust of wind.

"Fine. Go, if you're lucky to find a bed, or even a shelf. The shelters usually fill by nine," one of the women offered, stale smoke making rings around her face.

"All right, I'll do it," Kathy said. Twenty bucks would at least garner a little bit of food and maybe a cheap single motel room for the night. The man handed her the package, along with a twenty, crisp and rolled-up. Kathy slipped the money into her pocket and hurried across the icy street, heading for the post box.

"You there, stop!" came another voice from behind her. She turned, full-well expecting to see the same man again. Instead, as she turned, she was struck in the head by a well-placed brick. She crumpled to the ground in a heap. This other man, dressed in a tattered suit, picked up the package she'd been carrying and calmly walked away.  Daisy, one of the two hookers, went across the street to check if the  package had been delivered. What she saw was Kathy, lying prone on  the ground with blood on her head. "Carla, come help me."

***

"Fifty dollars, same as usual," Slim muttered, picking up Kathy from the backseat of his car and staggering half-drunk to the door of a large, dark mansion. He banged hard on the door with his foot.

"Yes, what is...oh, it's you. Another one?" the man asked, adjusting his spectacles. His name was Dr. Herbert Plith, man of medicine, science, and something a lot more sinister.

"She got clubbed. Unwary drug run, I imagine," Slim answered, placing Kathy's body on a gurney that was tucked away in the shadows of the foyer. Plith wrinkled his nose at Slim reeking of alcohol and removed his wallet from his jacket pocket, peeling off two twenties and a ten.

"I imagine so. Goodnight, Franklin." Slim muttered curses under his breath as he gave a nod and ambled back to his car.

Plith unlocked the brakes and took the girl down to the depths of the lab, where the pane of glass in the window still shook with the wind. He took out a penlight, looking in her eyes before checking her respiration and pulse. "You'll do nicely," he said to himself, setting up an IV in her bony hand for nourishment before attending to her wound, bandaging  it and packing it with ice.

Two hours later, she awoke with a groan, startling him from his cataloguing of supplies. "I see you're awake. How do you feel?" he asked, checking her eyes again.

"I have a headache," she grumbled, fingers absently making their way to the bandage on her head.

"Do you know where you are, the day, and your name?" he asked, checking  for her coherency.

"St. Paul, I don't know the day, and my name is Kathy," she said. Last names really didn't matter much anymore to people who had little or no identity. He handed her a cup of lukewarm hot chocolate.

"Sip this," he directed. She did so. "I am Doctor Plith. A concerned citizen saw that you had been attacked, so he brought you here since the hospitals this time of year are quite full. You suffered a minor concussion and you're malnourished and dehydrated, but I will help you  feel better."

"Um, thank you, Doctor, but I really can't stay..."

"How much money will you make polishing shoes before you become like the nameless girls found in the gutter by the police? No, my dear girl, you're going to stay here and get well," he said, drawing up a syringe with a small bit of from a vial left upon one of the many slightly cluttered lab tables.

"I guess I could. I mean, I'll bet the shelter is closed by now. I hate sleeping in the cold, but it's something you get used to," she said simply. He placed a rubber strap around her arm and tapped the vein a few times to bring it up, holding the syringe between his teeth as he wiped her arm with an alcohol swab.

"This is a little something to help you feel better. Don't worry, it won't hurt a bit," he said, smiling behind the syringe as he slid the needle into her arm with smooth and practiced grace and pressed the plunger. She slumped in his arms and he lay her down carefully, covering  her with a sheet.

He deposited the syringe in a container and glanced back at her. ''There's something about this one...'' he muttered to himself, thoughtfully tapping his fingers atop a lab table

***

Plith turned from the girl’s prone form upon the table, and strode across the room. A semi-opaque smoked glass screen, 7 feet long and 3 feet high dominated the rear wall of the operating theater, supported by a polished wheeled brass frame. A pair of heavy insulated cables led from the frame to a series of humming capacitors. Plith drew on heavy leather gloves and activated a knife-switch…the screen began to glow and vibrate, faintly.

Plith took hold of the frame, and wheeled the whole odd construct across the room, stopping by the bed. He adjusted a few knobs, and the screen flipped horizontally from its bottom, becoming a kind of elevated flat table. He slid this "table" over Kathy’s bed. The faint glow on the screen changed - bright reds and greens highlighting the dimly visible form of the shoe-shine girl.

Plith cut the room light, and returned to the table using the glow from the screen as lighting. In the dimness of the room, the highlighted form of Kathy on the screen was remarkable. It was as though Van Gogh had painted portrait of her using light and glass instead of canvas and oil. A ray of meadow sunshine seemed to have spilled into the cold winter of the brick walled operating theater. The warm, yellow white light illuminated Plith’s features, investing them with an unusually healthy glow.

The colours and details of the light-Kathy shifted and ran into each other as she inhaled and exhaled gently - a painting come to life. Below, the real Kathy was illuminated by a dim blue glow.

If Plith was impressed by the spectacle, he gave no sign. He turned and made a few adjustments to the screen…the image shifted into blue, then green, yellow, orange…before finally settling on a dim red, brightest in the region of her forehead. The image on the screen was still breathtaking, for now Kathy seemed to be made of glowing embers, tossing and flying in a wind.  The effect pleased him, though not for reasons of simple aesthetics.

"A very strong connection, yes. She will do nicely…an obvious physical element to the conection," he muttered to himself as he turned away from his patient. He crossed the room, and switched on a table lap. On the table top, steel instruments glittered in the light.  Plith selected a series of thin metal needles. "An obvious connection, indeed."

He placed the needles on a tray, arranged in length from shortest to longest before using black hair pins to hold her dark, dirty locks of hair away from her face. With a few more cursory movements, a thick black rubber mask was placed over her nose and mouth to deepen her sleep and numb the pain as he used a tiny drill to make holes in her skull in which to place the needles. The wounds bled little as he hooked the needles up to wires and recorded the readouts from a clunky-looking machine onto a clipboard. "Franklin ought to bring me more girls like these," he mused to himself, even though Kathy was the first he'd seen with these kind of readings.

***

"Mmmmpphhh," Kathy grumbled, moving her head slightly as Plith held an ammonia tab under her nose. "Time to wake up," he said, gently patting the side of her face. Her eyes opened and focused. "Mmmmmppphh," she reiterated. He handed her a glass of orange juice with a straw and helped her sip.

"Where the hell am I?" she managed to ask once the taste of dirty sock was clean from her mouth.

"You're at my mansion, child. You were beaten over the head and brought here by a good Samaritan," he explained gently. She tried to sit up and groaned. "Careful. You had some internal brain trauma and I had to ease it," he said to explain away two of the conspicuous holes near her temples.

"Oh...I remember now...Plith..." she mumbled, clutching the sheet about her. She looked around, focusing as the last of the anaesthetics purged themselves from her system. ''What the hell did you do with my clothes?"

"Washed them, and you, as well as a good solid delousing. How you have managed to keep relatively fair health is beyond me, but it is also up to me to make sure you don't get yourself into such a state again," he said.

"Oh, geez do I have a headache," she muttered, for more reasons than one. "How long are you going to keep me here?" she asked.

"As long as you want to stay. You seem strong and able-bodied. Few young people nowadays are, with food and money in short supply. I will give you room and board, in exchange for your assistance, of course."

"I assume I'm already in your debt?" she asked. Years in the orphanages and on the streets had taught her that nothing came without a string.

"Yes."

"Well, I guess I can't refuse. A bed, a roof over my head, clothes, and a bit of money. Hmm. I guess I really don't have much choice, do I?" she asked, shoulders slumping some. Not having choices always seemed to be the natural order for her.

"You have all the choices in the world. I recommend them being here, however. I doubt you'd last long when the winter gets colder and Franklin needs more girls on rounds."

"Okay, I'll stay. My name's Kathy. I think I told you. I barely remember..." she said a bit more quietly, putting her hand on her head. He stepped forward and shone his penlight in her eyes, searching.

"That's only natural with a head injury. You'll be fine, I assure you," he said with a smile...a smile that masked unspoken volumes, and wasn't exactly the most pleasant thing to behold. "You're in the best of care here. Get your rest now. I'll bring you lunch when you wake up again." As he spoke, he was already adding medication to the IV in her hand with a deftly hidden motion masked by the folds of his lab coat.

"Okay," she said, eyelids already drooping as she lay back in bed and slumbered. He retrieved an extra blanket and gently covered her with it, finally taking some time to get some coffee and sit down to look over the readouts from his gadgetry. He left her room, wiping his spectacles on his lab coat, he turned his attention to his work, sharp eyes skimming.

***

It was warm here. Kathy took a great deal of pleasure in that.

She had barely heard the door close, sinking quickly into a semi-drugged torpor. The brick walled room…it must be in the basement, close to the furnace, it was so warm…quickly faded from her immediate awareness. She was still semi-conscious, but aware of nothing beyond the confines of her own skin.  For the first time in several week the stubborn numbness in her toes was beginning to subside. Her face, though uncovered, was not chilled. The simple thrill of the goose bumps ran her entire length at this realization was more wonderful than anything she had felt in months. That was more important than the odd doctor. What was his name?

Her thoughts disintegrated, meandering and flowing down the familiar wandering paths of a brain well on the road to sleep. Images and words and memories linked with seeming illogic in her mind’s theatre…it was warm here, unlike the cold porridge at the orphanage. The clean floors were so dusty there….they would scrub and scrub and still see motes dancing in the sun which was cold as well, somehow, being trapped and filtered through a network of grimy stained glass. Light through glass. Stained glass? There had been no stained glass at the orphan asylum. Glowing lights, muted by colored glass. So pretty. I must be asleep. I must be…

Something nagged at her, still.

How could she be asleep? If she concentrated, she could still hear the low hum of some machinery in the room beyond, though it took a great act of will. A similar effort forced her thoughts to resolve themselves and she took stock of her body. Her arms and legs she could feel. They were there, feeling curiously light yet immobile. It was as though something were holding them down, something so light and yet immovable. She had a brief mental image of a being wrapped in softest spider’s silk, cocooned from head to toe. And…there…a pressure…more than the blanket…something on her chest?

The awareness of the pressure grew. What could it be? Her heart began to race, and she found she could not force her lungs to do anything but draw the steady, measured breaths of a sleeper. She felt as though she were drowning. If only she could throw off the blanket with one vigorous motion…she tried but could not. She must be dreaming, this was a nightmare, surely…a horrible one. She had to wake up!
Kathy tried to force her eyelids open, and found that they were equally unwilling to function. The dull roar of the furnace in the next room was being drowned out by the frantic pumping of her heart. Colored lights swam in front of her closed eyes. Maybe the doctor had buried her alive! Maybe she was covered by dark, heavy earth, lying on the bottom of a filled well. This thought, more than anything, gave her the shock she needed to force her eyes open.

With great effort she managed to open her lids the barest crack. For a moment, she saw nothing, and feared that she had indeed been buried. Then she became aware shadows on the stained plaster ceiling. Light from the crack under the door cast a gray half illumination on the ceiling, exaggerating the flaws in the plaster until it looked like a black and white map of some broken land of canyons and stone hills. She could not see what was on her chest…but the pressure was intense now, as though a full-grown man had straddled her. She moved her eyes downward.

The light streaming from under the door was intersected, blocked by a lumpen shape that perched upon her chest. Not a man. It was nearly shapeless.  A heavy pile of canvas? The beating of her heart was almost painful now, and her head was throbbing. She forced her eyes open further.

The lump was moving, silhouetted black against the half-light from the doorway. It expanded, ever so slightly, in and out, in and out…it was breathing. At the realization her oxygen starved brain finally shut down…and she soon dropped into a heavy sleep..

***

A hole. There was a hole in her head…

She touched it with on finger, lightly. It was raw and red, about one-eighth of an inch wide, scabbed over with blood.

Her head ached horribly. It was the headache that had finally awakened her in some God-forsaken hour before dawn. She had forgotten where she was, briefly, and lay quietly on the cot, waiting for the pain to subside. It didn’t, and when she finally remembered that she was in some kind of hospital, she had gingerly swung her legs over the side and walked towards the door. It had been locked. She didn’t like that, but a quick search of the wall beside it found the button for the electric lights.

Squinting in the sudden painful glare, she had stumbled towards a small alcove where she half-spied a sink and toilet. She saw the hole while splashing cold water on her face, an angry red blotch on her unusually pale features.

There was a hole in her head. There was no mirror in the washroom, so she simply stared at her twisted and distorted features on the silver fixtures. Her eyes filled with tears, and the horrible reflection softened and blurred, and she saw It.

Reflected in the taps, she could see a yellow shaft of…of…not light, but color, running from the centre of her head, up, up, disappearing into the ceiling. She blinked and it vanished.

The doctor, she was convinced, was trying to drive her mad.

***

Next month... part two!