by Brent Sisson
Rated: ASR · Short Story · Mythology · #1194968
A psychotherapist has a mysterious visitor from an unexpected realm.
| The Appointment|
I have earned considerable renown in the field of psychotherapy, honed by years of professional practice. I enjoy all the benefits: acclaim from peers, comfortable living, travel to exotic places, money - the good life. I think it particularly important to lend special attention to the therapeutic environs I offer my new patients to help set them at ease. My "therapy room", replete with subdued lighting, is furnished with an inviting, comfortable couch and assorted easy chairs, paintings of tranquil scenes of meadow and stream, soft music, and a small decorative fireplace.
My unique treatment setting may be a real advantage for my next client. The caller left my secretary a hurried, cryptic message about wanting to meet with me "at once on a matter of grave importance for the future of all creaturedom." He didn't elaborate, but on the face of it, someone so uptight probably needs to "get a grip", take a deep breath and unwind. I asked my secretary to set the appointment at the end of the day to assure I have ample, uninterrupted time to establish, as we say in the profession, a "therapeutic relationship".
He strode into my office at the appointed hour. My secretary was taken aback by his appearance, rather odd for the autumn season; but she has seen all sorts of people walk through these office doors. He wore a long gray tunic with a hood, much like the monks of old. She directed him to the therapy room, announcing I would be with him shortly. He sought the darkest corner near the flickering fireplace and sat without a word. A gangly sort, he leaned his chair back slightly and stretched his long frame.
I entered, placed myself strategically facing him, off to one side, and studied him carefully. I sat, transfixed, my mind racing as I wondered about this strange apparition sharing my life space. The hood obscured his face, except for a prominent chiseled nose and vivid piercing blue eyes. At long last he spoke. “I have a problem, Wizard," he said, pointedly.
Wizard? Did he say Wizard? He must know of my annual tradition of playing the Wizard of Oz in our community theater. Have I seen him in the audience before? Not hardly! I’ll straighten him out. “I’m a Psychologist."
He scowled. “Don't talk riddles, Wizard! I have weighty matters to discuss with you." He leaned forward, the flickering firelight giving substance to his furrowed brow, his eyes blazing. I caught my breath. "Go on," I said.
"I have a mission,” he said, urgently, “a dangerous mission. Dark forces are arrayed against me, success is gravely in peril and the fate of a kingdom rests on my shoulders. I must find the ring bearer, creaturedom depends upon it!"
There it is again, the strange reference to creaturedom. “You do have a problem," I confirmed.
His rage was instantaneous. "Don't toy with me Wizard! I know full well I have a problem. Why else would I come to you? What in the name of sorcery and middle earth am I to do about it?"
Sorcery? Middle earth? Who is this guy? I began to do a mental status assessment in my head. Is he psychotic? Is he a danger to himself or others? Do I need to initiate a mental health hold and take him into custody for psychiatric evaluation? On the other hand, there is something unusual, something regal in his bearing; a commanding presence demanding attention and obedience. Perhaps I should examine him further. "You mentioned the bearer of a ring, tell me more."
"The ring bearer, Wizard, the ring bearer is what he is called. He was given the ring for safe keeping by the Wizard of all Wizards, Gandalf. But the ring has a powerful dark force and I fear it is possessing him, taking him to the other side. I must find him! I must wrest the ring away from him before all is lost!"
"I see," I said, not really "seeing" at all. "What does the bearer of...the ring bearer...look like?"
"He's a squatty little shoeless creature with hairy toes, barely taller than a dwarf, with a round face, trusting brown eyes, and an overwhelming sense of responsibility."
A short, squat fellow, huh? Come to think of it, I had such a guy drop in to see me last summer - a kind of unkempt, weary looking fellow carrying a walking stick. I didn't notice anything unusual about his feet, though. Instead, I was drawn to his sorrowful, pleading eyes. What was his name? It was a rather peculiar name. Frito? No. Fredo? No, but something like that, I think. Clumsily preoccupied - obviously not in his element - he couldn't keep still, constantly picking at his clothes and checking his pockets, as though looking for something. He had been through some kind of ordeal - what was his issue? Oh, right, he was looking for a place he called the Shire. England, I think. The chap was desperately homesick. I remember now, I referred him to a travel agency called “Dream Travel, Incorporated”. I told him the Agency guaranteed passage to any location on the planet. It worked wonders; he ran from my office, forgetting to pay his bill!
Could it be...?
No. No way.
I returned my attention to my patient. I've figured you out. I've got your number. I assumed my most authoritative affectation and summarized. "You, my friend, must face facts. You feel driven yourself - just as that little hapless, hairy creature is - with an overwhelming sense of responsibility to save this Kingdom of yours and all of creaturedom from the power of darkness epitomized by a magic ring." My patient bristled. I ignored his reaction and went on: "These are all symbols from the deepest recesses of your psyche. They aren't real! You were obviously unloved as a child, imputed evil in the world about you to gain power and psychologically conjured this notion of grandeur whereby you save the world and make everything all right if only you can wrest the ring from this naive little traveler who possesses it! Look at me! None of this is real."
He was immediately on his feet. The hood fell free to his shoulders and the tunic opened revealing a sash with an emerald laden sheath and a bold black and white onyx sword handle. With dazzling speed the sword tip was at my throat. I dared not move, my fate in his hands.
"What kind of a wizard are you, Wizard? You look without eyes to see. You invent words without meaning, speaking of things you don't know. Where are your spells? Why haven't you called forth the ring bearer with your powers? I'm done with you." Disgusted, he returned the sword to its sheath and turned to leave.
"Wait!" I demanded, angrily. "You can't just threaten me and go away. Who the devil are you? You haven’t even bothered to tell me your name!"
He paused, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword, and I wondered if I had tempted fate once too often. “They call me Strider," He said firmly. He wheeled and, as if to demonstrate, he strode from the room.
I sat alone, shaken from the encounter, trying to gather my wits about me. Obviously the man is delusional - what bizarre thinking - and he's packing a concealed weapon! In his state of mind, what is to prevent him from hacking someone to death?The terrible image stirred me to action and I jumped to my feet to call law enforcement. As I rushed to the door something shimmering by the fireside caught my eye. An ember? I stopped in my tracks. Lying on the floor was a silver ring, undulating as though alive. A glowing inscription on the ring - runes of an ancient script - faded in and out. How entrancing. How...beautiful. I must...have it. Overcome by a strange, seductive longing, I grabbed the ring and slid it on my finger.
My heart leapt and I fell to my knees, my head swirling with a vision of a tormented multitude reaching for me, pleading with me - a din of a thousand clamoring cries. Orcs and trolls, fire breathing dragons and giant spiders gathered and approached. A sleazy, emaciated dung covered green creature, slinking low over the ground, stalked me.
The command boomed in my ear like a cannon shot, thrusting me to seek its source. In the distance, beyond erupting cauldrons of blood, fire, and ash, I saw it. The All-Seeing-Eye riveted me with its evil gaze, laying my soul bare, claiming its prize.
"You are mine, Wizard; you belong to me. Come!"
Repelled, I struggled to pull back from the brink. I must be insane. Is this what it is like to be delusional? Insane dream or not, I heard myself shouting. “I’m a man - can’t you see that? I'm a Psychologist, dammit! I'm not a fool. I answer to no one but myself. No! You can not...you will not have me!”
A wave of excruciating pain and fire coursed through my body. I was being torn apart: flesh and fiber, bone and marrow, stretching, ripping... Oh God in heaven, what have I done! I can’t let this happen! Resist! I must resist!
"Obey!" The Voice demanded. "Now!"
"Yes, my Master," I whimpered, broken. "Yes, my Precious..."