The Illusion of Reality

I wrote this for Kit's birthday

Renfield’s always seen things, things which aren’t actually there, or at least things that everyone else tells him aren’t there which is about the same thing. He stopped commenting about them a long time ago, after a particularly unpleasant encounter with his Grandmother telling him about the arsenic she put in Great Uncle Em’s tea and subsequently with a child psychologist who told his parents that he was clearly traumatised and should not be allowed to watch detective show on the television his mother kept the African violets on until he was at least twelve and possessed of a significantly more mature mindset, and with his parents, who told him to stop telling tales or he would be grounded forever after he’d washed his mouth out with soap that or be sent to a monastery which operated on vows of total silence. That was when he stopped telling people what he saw. It was that or child psychology and helpful well-intentioned cruelties for the rest of his life.

He did however, get some small satisfaction when the local Constable decided that it was clearly not a flight of fancy, that a small boy could describe the mode and methodology of arsenic poisoning, and somehow convinced his superiors that the youngster had clearly seen something that was too traumatic for him to cope with except as imaginary ghosts.

His satisfaction was short lived, however, when the superiors decided to exhume Great Uncle Em and indeed found that he had enough arsenic in him to poison the entire rat population of Victoria. For some reason, his parents were not all that terribly amused by truth, justice and the Canadian way; even if the middle one was rather moot since Grandmother was dead as well, so everything just had to be quits.

He didn’t see why they had to move in the middle of the night, and he wasn’t allowed to tell anyone at school his new address, not even Jimmy, who was the coolest person ever, or even say they were going away.

He didn’t like the new town anywhere near as much as home, it was full of old folks, and they smelled kind of musty, and the not-there-people followed them around like ducklings. And nobody else could see them!

And then they realised that they could see him. When he was in depot, the other guys in his training detachment had dared to sit through this, what had they called it, hacker zombie video nasty flick. They couldn’t understand why he wasn’t sacred, why he wasn’t sick, how he could even contemplate eating pickled onions. Drews had been violently sick, mostly over Larssen. How could he tell them, how could he tell them that the scene that scared them most, the one where the dead all turned and began to mournfully scream messages at the psychic girl unwise enough to stay overnight in a haunted house until her eyes, and then her nose and ears and mouth, began to bleed; how could he tell them that was his everyday world.

That was what happened, the day they realised that they could talk to him and he would hear.

But then, they didn’t exist, everyone had been very clear on the matter, except the sort of person wheeled out the worst class of late night chat show, and they were clearly charlatans, seeing only on demand, not realising that the dead were everywhere and so was their noise. Sometimes it was so loud that he could barely hear what the real people had to say, sometimes they spoke so loud, so insistently that they startled him and the vase he was holding, that became a ghost too. Sometimes he reconsidered telling somebody, perhaps Constable Fraser, who dealt in things nearly as improbable as his invisible friends, but then, they could think he was crazy and send him away and all he’d ever wanted was to be a Mountie, and bring foul evil doers to justice. Perhaps, he should have told his fellow Constable about the dead girl in the basement, leading him through the narrow passageways babbling about how she loves Shaolin Amphibians or something, leading him towards the suspiciously new patch of concrete floor, which he looks at because anything is better then looking at her, looking at the black dried blood that decorates the gash in her head so prettily, the eye trailing from the broken eye socket, the jump rope she still holds in her hands.

Salt, mustard, vinegar, pepper. He wants to chant to her, play with her, make the alone more bearable. But he can’t she’s not real.

And if she is real, then perhaps they’ll call in more psychologists, not the cardigan wearing one with the stacking blocks he remembers, but sinister, people-killing psychologists. He read the good Constable’s report, and he’s decided he doesn’t particularly care for insanity.

And this is why he ignores the Sergeant as he walks across the entrance hall, muttering to himself about his son and how standards have fallen across the Service. He’s checked the records, there’s no Sergeant stationed here, never has been. And he waits, poised at his desk with a smile at the ready, for when the real people come.

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