A creature I don’t know is staring at me from the mirror. Wild confused look on its face, a disheveled spirit. But that’s not me. I know what I’m doing, what my weaknesses and strengths are and how to live within my limits. That’s not me. I’m self-assured, confident at times. How could this caged creature captured in a thin layer of silvered glass in any way reflect my own countenance?
The room felt disheveled, untidy. He’d expected that. An unordered environment, while not conclusive in itself, always expressed itself in cases like this. In his line of work, investigating potential enforced integration, the internal conflict between a primary or initial personality and a secondary or invading personality rendered the vessel, the physical person, impaired in several ways. A pronounced lack of propriety among them.
A formal interview of the patient would come, in time, but first, there was an investigation. That was the protocol, and he insisted on gathering a clear understanding of the environment. To confront the person without first placing them in time and space produced a biased understanding; and a first impression would also tinge the perception of the place to fit that bias instead of telling its own story in its own way. Not that he heard voices in the room. No, there were no spirits untethered to roam. All spirits needed anchoring. There could be no animas without an animal in which to reside. Inanimate objects were just that, things without spirit.
He started with the bedroom. This would be the place where the patient was most vulnerable. Sleepers experience dreams without inhibitions, or rather only those inhibitions the sleepers truly believe in rather than those imposed by the world around them. Their true selves would be expressed in this place, this room of sanctuary. It was here that he would find evidence, if any existed, of the imposition of alien personalities.
He first noticed the weed growing in his garden when he’d dashed out in the middle of a hails storm to place plastic buckets over his tomato starters. If the tomatoes were smashed, he’d have to reseed them and might not have a long enough growing season. After last year’s debacle, he decided a few bruises were worth it.
Once the storm subsided, he went into the back yard to assess the damage. One of his starters was smashed, completely ruined under the icy onslaught. He was sure he’d covered all of them, but must have missed this one. As he collected the sturdy painter’s buckets, he admired his remaining tomato plants, until the last bucket, a little out of line with his other tomatoes. Underneath the last bucket he found a weed. How on earth could he have mistaken that ungainly thing for one of his prize San Marzano tomato plants?
He frowned and traded the buckets for a pair of gloves and his favorite trowel from the shed. He’d take care of this weed right now. When he returned to his garden, the weed somehow seemed a little bigger than he’d first thought. As he dug into the loose soil of the raised garden-bed, the leaves were much thicker and spikier than he’d remembered, and he had to dig much deeper than he thought he would have to.
The deeper he dug, the more roots he found. This weed, whatever it was, certainly was tenacious. He traded the trowel for his favorite spade and returned to finish the job. Careful not to disturb the rest of the garden, he set to digging a deeper and deeper hole. It became obvious he wasn’t getting anywhere.
Spade replaced with post-hole digger, and now he was making a very deep hole indeed. Only briefly did he stop to consider that maybe he ought to check with the city to make sure he wasn’t in danger of hitting a power line or some other utility. And that weed was still growing!
Too late, he noticed the weed had flowered, sprouted teeth, and without so much as a by-your-leave, the noxious weed had chomped down on his face, pinning his arms to his side, and proceeded to suffocate him. His last thought was regret that he’d left the job undone, the root of the weed had bested him.
The pain began as a small point between his shoulder blades, the aftereffects of a strange snapping feeling in his chest as if a knife slashed through a tether from spine to breastbone had let go all at once, tension released in a quick severing of an internal structure, sapping strength and leaving him balanced precariously over a chasm. The pain spread, extending cold fingers across his back, an unseen hand leaving a chill and numbness, deep tendrils, a fistula to his empty interior.
The bell over the door tinged his arrival at the corner grocer. The shop was empty, but he knew that it was. All the shops were empty. At least when he looked directly at them. Sometimes, out of the corner of his eye, he’d catch a glimpse of a person walking or stooping over to pick up a coin or even waving, but when he turned to face them, they’d transformed into a tree or street sign or fire hydrant. Everyone did that when he was looking. Even the grocer.
Percy picked out the food he would need for the coming week, estimated the cost, left a fair amount on the counter next to the register, and as he exited, the bell over the door tinged again. There were more trees and signs and such on the street today, much more than normal, if this condition could be described as normal. Percy did not think it normal, but he did wonder: if everyone turned into inanimate objects when he looked at them, what did the people see when they looked at him?