Raoul’s spidery fingers pulled the first of the inkblots out of the envelope. “Now, tell me what you see.”
He unfolded the card and suddenly a furless wolf leaped out towards me. Its skin was patched with pussy seems between the mottled tones, like a poorly stitched together doll. Its mouth grew huge and lunged straight towards me, but instead of snapping and biting, a hundred purple tentacles swarmed out waving their razor pointed suction cups at me. I screamed and scrambled up the bed, shoving myself into the corner.
Raoul folded the card back up and the creature went away. Sweat was cascading down my forehead, every limb trembling; I’d nevr had a hallucination that vivid before.
“A very promising response.” Raoul said blandly.
“I thought you said I wouldn’t see any monsters!” I screamed at him, feeling a mixture of embarassment and rage.
He slid the card back into the envelope. “Some parts of your schizophrenia are wrapped into your reality matrix, this test is designed to figure out which parts those are.” A new card came out of the envelope. “Part 2.”
The card unfolded to reveal a completely blank space, except that the walls of my room suddenly sprouted deep green algaes. Thick, slumbering vines tumbled down from the ceiling and flowers in colors I hadn’t even known existed burst out of the foliage. I just gawked at it, trying to take it all in, a rare scene of beauty in my world. Just as a toucan was about to fly over my bed, Raoul folded the card back up and the jungle vanished.
“How are you doing that?” I asked, ready to cry over the loss of my jungle.
“I’m not,” Raoul smiled all lips. “You are. These just provide a catalyst. Ready for one more?”
I sighed, expecting another monster. “Sure,” It didn’t matter: a jungle that gorgeous is worth a couple of monsters.
The third card opened and light filled the room. What I saw, I replay in mind almost every day, at least once and I still can’t totally make sense of it. It was like being submerged in an ocean of light. Somewhere out in those bright depths was a man on a horse, riding it for all they were worth, trying to give his own strength to the animal. So much desperation and so much beauty. I was entranced by the suggestions of images in the currents of light. Then my room returned, though the walls did seem to glow just a little.
Raoul was staring at me, his mouth hanging open just a crack. Slowly, he turned his head towards the door, as making sure that no one was listening in. Leaning forward, he whispered: “What did you see?”
I looked around, more than a little worried about his paranoia. “I... I don’t really know. There was a lot of light.”
“Okay,” He said quickly, to cut me off. “That’s most promising.” He put the card back in the envelope, then returned it to the brief case. “Miss Lilly,” Raoul said in his normal voice. “Do you believe in accidents?”
I went back to the blank stare. I know a rhetorical question when I hear it and the blank look facilitates that pretty well.
“Do you think that the voices, the monsters, the phantom thoughts, are all just a cruel turn of fate? Blind, stupid, bad luck? We at the Damascus Institute do not. Our founders grew up in a world where hundreds of children died every day of starvation and widows froze to death because they couldn’t afford firewood. Meanwhile, billionaires threw themselves out the windows of their 82nd floor penthouses and the paragons of beauty and glamour shot up, just to escape.
“The inevitable question is: what is wrong with the world? In the face of that question, our founders dared to wonder is the answer was ‘nothing’. What if all the pain and suffering and horror of this world was meant to draw our attention to something lurking below the surface? What if it’s all a giant puzzle waiting to be unraveled? That’s what we do: unravel the puzzle of pain. And we’ve made some very exciting progress.
“Some of these puzzles are a bit too advanced for us, we haven’t learned enough yet. You, however, could be our introduction to the enigma of schizophrenia. Our 101 class. With your help, we may be able to find what lies beneath this condition. Once I report back, the board will make a decision and if they give the go-ahead, we will begin the process of moving you to the Institute.”
“Wait,” I said, scared that so much of what he said made sense to me. “Are you gonna try to cure me?”
Again he smiled. “We’re not looking for cures, Miss Lilly, we’re looking for purposes.” He stood with his briefcase in one hand and moved to the door. “Don’t worry, the board is notorious for making decisions with breakneck efficiency. We should have an answer tomorrow.”
Raoul stopped and let his eyes flutter closed. Then the room seemed to shrink. He didn’t move and I didn’t move, but my bed got closer to him. Close enough that he reached down and picked up the water bottle without moving his feet an inch. Then, suddenly, the room returned to its normal dimensions and the water bottle was in Raoul’s left hand, my door knob in the right.
“Like I said, some very exciting progress. Enjoy the Dryad’s Kiss. Until tomorrow.” With that, he left.