Installment 8 of 22 of the serialization of Sacred Vow (Dragon’s Beard Publishing, ISBN: 978-0-9774271-4-7, paperback, Fiction: Visionary/Metaphysical).
Ian knew he was growing increasingly attached to an experience that he could not explain to most people, but what was the harm? Just like many others, he had dinner or a few drinks with friends after a day of less than fulfilling employment. So what if he then came home and had tea with his mysterious friend Katerina? Though theirs was not the most orthodox relationship that he had ever known, it made him inexplicably content.
Unfortunately, Ian’s time spent outside the domain of his conscious world did not remain confined to only a few seconds during each visit. He did not mind initially when the time span increased a little. But after a while, there was evidence that he actually was losing consciousness during the sessions and for unpredictable amounts of time during visits with his tea companion.
When the visits began, Ian felt as though his perception was briefly being expanded to include some part of reality not ordinarily seen by him, and he willfully chose to concentrate his full attention on that redefinition of his world for a period of time. What he was now beginning to experience was more like an unavoidable blackout. Sometimes for seconds, sometimes for hours.
Despite the implied danger, he continued to desire contact with Katerina. Common sense forced Ian to consider that he might be out of control. He could no longer avoid the blackout experience if he had the ritual cup of tea, and yet he could not deny himself visits with her. Of additional concern to him, the visions had begun to leave Ian with the sensation of a particularly noxious poison flowing into every cell of his body.
After a time, Ian began to notice disconcerting changes in Katerina’s appearance. Since he believed that it was the traveling that was affecting his health, and he was generally the one doing the traveling, Ian had not imagined that their visits could have a corresponding ill effect on Katerina.
Tea was later than usual that night. He had stayed at work late to catch up on some things that had been delayed due to his developing health issues. Feeling like he had just dragged himself across the infinite space between their realities, Ian strained to focus on the likeness of Katerina that was available to him. No longer was her image fully formed and substantial. It was more phantasmal like he had seen of his own form when he first visited her world.
He didn’t know if he would be able to remain this time any longer than the other visits of late. Why have I come back with no more answers than before? he wondered.
Ian had to ask himself why he was making so much effort to bring Katerina’s image into view. He knew it would only sadden him. Even if he could overcome the visual distortion, it was evident much more was going terribly wrong.
In the beginning, Katerina’s face had been radiant. Now it was growing haggard and unhealthy looking. She moved like a completely different person, with a labored step rather than her former gracefully flowing movements.
The haziness of her present form kept Ian from being able to make out much of Katerina’s countenance. He hoped all this unpleasantness was the result of the delusional consciousness that now seemed to take hold of him during recent visits. If Ian could trust what he saw, her bright eyes, with their bold spirit, had become dim—and perhaps angry.
Thinking the details of his facial expressions were probably no clearer to her than hers were to him, Ian raised his hand to say hello. She threw him a kiss in return. Though the action told him she was not angry with him, it actually made him more depressed about the situation. It was disheartening to see Katerina struggle through the visit as if she was also victim to a poisonous atmosphere, even though she tried to be congenial. If she was subject to any of the same physical effects that he was, Ian did not want to impose the situation on her.
In desperation to express his feelings for her, Ian tried to move toward Katerina, but he could not budge. He could sense that he had a fever, and that it was rising rapidly. He knew he would not be able to remain much longer. Maybe this is only a delusion from the fever, he thought. How he wanted to believe that was the case!
Transitions in and out of the visions had lost their unheralded nature. A flood of input to Ian’s nervous system signaled the beginning to his return home: nausea, tension, and pain. It warned that he would pay for this transition. These days, he increasingly felt some of these symptoms while in the visit. However bad it was during the visit, it was much worse as the visit ended.
Ian reached out as to try to touch Katerina, just before the scenery reverted to his study. With his high fever, sweat was rolling down his face. The only way Ian kept the pain in his poisoned muscles from making him vomit was by clenching his teeth. With long, slow breaths, he started to calm his stomach. This, however, was not all good news. Recent experience told him that as soon as the physical distractions subsided, he would have to fight the onset of a round with depression. Though the vision seemed relatively short, his watch told him that he had been “out” for half the night.
His blackouts had become extended, and the nasty aftereffects lingered long after his return. Quite often, Ian “awoke” with his body fighting off this resulting fever. He also had the sensation of a sleeper who had not been fully released from a dream.
He made his way to the bathroom sink, to throw some cold water on his face. Ian hoped it would cool him off and shake him completely free from this nightmare. The face in the mirror was looking as strained as Katerina’s had. After each visit, Ian swore that he would not attempt another one before coming to an understanding of what was happening and how to combat the deterioration of their experience together. Yet, as soon as his health recovered enough, he could not resist returning. He knew better, but each time he managed to convince himself that the two of them would not suffer ill effects in the next visit.
The breaking point for Ian came when he started to feel the same erratic waves of distorted perception when he was not with the teapot, or even when he was not at home. In these experiences, he never remembered Katerina appearing, but he would suddenly become conscious of the sensation of returning to awareness—an abrupt regaining of his consciousness—which almost always followed recent visits. This situation was proving to be particularly tricky at work.
One day, Ian was making his way to the office when his supervisor joined him in the hall.
“How are you feeling today, Ian?” she said.
Without slowing his pace, he responded, “Good morning, Mary. I’m doing pretty well. How are you doing?”
The look on her face said that she thought he looked terrible. He knew he had dark circles under his eyes and that his skin was ashen. Ian’s recent visions were costing him much sleep, and his appetite was not good.
“Are you really, Ian?”
“Yes, I really am,” he said.
“And how is the testing going with the doctor?” she asked. “Is he getting any closer to finding the source of the allergy?”
Ian felt he had everyone in his daily world convinced about the causes of his health issues.
“Food allergies can be very complicated to pin down, you know,” Ian said. “There are just too many variables. But we’re making headway, Mary.”
“I hope so, Ian. I would be a lot more comfortable if I knew you were taking time off and focusing on your health. You have enough seniority and vacation to take as much time as you need.
“If the effects of this allergy are causing a lot of insomnia, like you say, you should be home, resting.”
Ian stopped to make eye contact. Mary took a step past him, and then turned to face him.
“I know you’ve been concerned about my health, Mary. I very much appreciate the fact that you are letting me continue to come into the office. With the exception of time needed for doctor’s appointments, and the infrequent time that I can catch a little extra sleep, the best thing for my health is to be here, focused on work instead of my health.”
The last thing Ian wanted to do was remain around the house when he had no idea how to resolve the issue and did not dare to make additional visits.
“Okay, Ian. If you assure me that you will take any time you need,” she said.
“Yes, I will, Mary. Thank you.”
She momentarily put a hand on his shoulder, “Now, if your health allows you, I need for you to do me a favor. I was hoping to ask you for some assistance for an associate working on one of the projects that you are doing research for.”
“Sure, whatever you need,” he said, glad to have the conversation change.
“Do you remember Thomas Hutchins?” she asked. “He is a talented fellow, but his group is a little short of senior-skill-level help and he has been put into a position that might be demanding more than he has experience to handle in the timeframe we need. Can you give him a few pointers in some of the more problematic functions for their code section?”
Mary’s concern was now fully shifted to schedules and performance. That motherly look had completely left her eyes; she was viewing Ian solely as programming talent. He was much relieved.
“No problem at all. I’ll give him a call and set up a work session with him,” Ian said.
Without further delay, she started to walk away, returning to her usual fast pace of making sure each of her current projects was bustling along productively. “Thanks, Ian. He’ll be expecting your call.”
Ian had always preferred to work alone, more now than ever. But if he was going to be under someone’s scrutiny, he much preferred it to be a junior associate rather than his project manager.
A couple of hours later, Ian was sitting at his laptop, going over a code structure with Thomas Hutchins. All had been going well and they were just about to clean up most of the group’s areas of confusion. Out of nowhere, Ian felt faint, as if his consciousness was being forcibly pulled elsewhere. This sensation was similar to the initiation of the recent visits, but he had never been threatened with such a strong experience outside of his study.
“If you move this value to temporary storage . . .”
Ian knew that he had stopped speaking in mid-sentence, but he could not force further words out.
“Are you all right, Ian?” Thomas asked.
Ian’s eyesight was getting patchy and the sense of touch was fading from his fingers, as they became numb. Ian looked down at his right hand, at the fingers frozen in place on the keyboard. He tried to tap the keys, but no finger would move.
Though Ian did not see any vision of Katerina, and did not fully lose sight of the office around him, he experienced many of the unpleasant physical responses that had become common during his recent visions. He managed to avoid blacking out, but it took every effort he could muster. Ian didn’t know for sure whether Thomas believed that he was conscious during the entire episode.
Thomas had placed a hand on Ian’s shoulder. He was leaning forward to look into Ian’s face. “Ian?”
Fortunately, the immobilizing spell snapped at just that moment. Instantly, Ian’s vision recovered, and the cloud in his mind vaporized. He found his voice. “Sorry. What were you saying, Thomas?”
Thomas quickly pulled his hand away and shifted his weight back to the center of his seat. “Are you all right?” There was an obvious concern in his voice.
Ian tried to cover up. “Oh, yes. Sorry, I was completely absorbed, thinking about a possible solution to that database screening. I just might have a solution.”
“Oh? Sure,” Thomas said.
“I’ll work on that later,” Ian said. “Now concerning this module.” He pushed ahead without hesitation, gave the junior programmer an important bit of code to work on, and sent him on his way.
Ian knew Thomas did not believe his explanation for his peculiar behavior, but Thomas was young and unsure of his status in the company. He would not cause any problem for Ian by bringing up the episode with anyone else. Ian knew he would have to spend a good bit of time instructing Thomas on how to work through that module, but the effort was well worth the trouble if it bought his silence. Thomas would benefit, in turn, from Ian’s instruction and from the recognition he would receive once the code was completed. Still, Ian was sorry to have to use his seniority in such a way.
Ian had had other experiences when he was away from the study. Fortunately, the incident with Thomas was the worst. However, it had become evident that Ian could have the blackouts not only at unpredictable times, but in random places as well. He was afraid he might even black out while driving. He needed answers, right away, concerning the recurring visions of the alluring but silent Katerina. And he felt confident that a visit to the original home of the teapot would provide some resolution.
Continued next week, Liz
copyright 2006 CG Walters
For those who cannot wait to read Sacred Vow over installments, I have a gift for you–the first 15 chapters online to be read at your leisure!
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C.G. Walters primarily writes fiction that focuses on the multidimensionality of our loves and our lives.