The Prince, The Knight, And The Fool
A novel by Macko and Elena
San Francisco… City of my dreams. I arrived in the city yesterday night, and the sight of the Golden Gate Bridge was overwhelming. It took the cab ages to get through to the hospital, twiddling itself through the hustle and bustle of a city preparing for a night out, but it gave me a good opportunity to look at my new homeland.
City of my dreams… I recall the sweaty nights in clubs, the darkrooms, the numerous pretty faces, men who were as eager as myself to find someone to love – well, no – to make love with, for a night or two, or maybe even a fortnight. But that was then and this is now, and I shouldn’t look back. I should rather listen to what Sean has taught me, my dearest friend and teacher, and the person to whom I owe this job. Without the fantastic references he gave me, I wouldn’t have dreamt of going to the States again, of applying for this ward doctor job. Without his connections (or should I call it intervention?) I wouldn’t have got it.
Officially, I’m not even here as a psychologist. This ward doesn’t have one, the hospital provides one therapist only, and she is in other sections most of her time, like geriatrics or gynaecology or what knows I. No, it is good old medicine I’m in, and I have been hired as a physician; officially. The prospect of this particular problem, though, the traumatized children, the need for a psychologist without extra cost, must have contributed to my getting this job.
Now I am here, my packets have arrived safely, I’ve had some hours of sleep (and will I ever catch up with this sleep deficit I’ve had since I was studying?) and I made my first round. The hospital has kindly provided me with sleeping quarters until I've found myself a place to stay.
Thirty children are living in this hospital at the moment, thirty traumatized little souls stuck in here. I know something dreadful has happened in this ward, my ward now, and some of it happened to my predecessor. As far as I can tell, being burnt in an oven isn’t what people expect. I wasn’t even told about that by the local authorities, such as management or police or the like, but by a little boy who happened to be witness to this gruesome scene. This little boy, though, will be gone tomorrow, because he had a spontaneous recovery. He will be replaced by another child, at least one relief, for then there are only twenty-nine to go.
So, I don’t know anything. Some of them talk to me, others are just silent. All of them are afraid, well not of me, but of the situation itself. All I can do is finding out what harm has been done and trying to make things better. First of all, there will be a thorough change of interior. The colour of the rooms, the aisles, the furniture, all this is dreadful, and if I was a little child, it would suffice to see those yellowish tiles and those bare walls to scare me shitless. Pictures, too. Maybe some of the children like to paint them for me. For us.
It is a foggy afternoon, as sometimes happens in this city. I don't mind the billowing moisture. It suits my mood, even though, hidden below ground as I am, I do not see much of its visible effects. But its scent lies in the air, filling everything with the sublime odor of earth and wet stone, something I find soothing.
I've been introspective of late, more so than usual. It happens to all of us from time to time - we question the way things are, our place in them, the meaning of our existence. That is normal. But more than this, I have begun to feel a restlessness, a need to look beyond, as though something was missing from my existence. I have no idea what this might be. Nothing has changed for me in decades. I've been content for so long, it's a mystery to me why I should feel less than content now, and for no apparent reason.
Even painting doesn't have its usual relaxing effect upon me, and I give up after an hour spent staring at an empty canvas. After some meaningless meandering through the sewers, I finally resolve to check on the children in the hospital. It has been three days since I last visited them, I realize with some surprise. How easy it is to lose track of time when all nights appear to blend together with their sameness!
Three days ago, Abel left the hospital, and I have not been back since. I quicken my pace through the sewers, angry with myself. My care for the children should not end with him. He was the one who first spoke to me, but the others need my help as much as he did.
Upon my arrival at the hospital, I become aware of something else in the air besides the fog.
Something has happened since the last time I visited with the children. It does not take me long to find out. A new doctor has arrived, a Dr. Callum McKay. Since Julian has not told me of this, I assume that this new doctor is not Kindred.
Change is not something I deal with very well. I don't like surprises. Few of us do. They invariably introduce an element of danger. This time, the danger is not to me, but to the children I've taken under my protection. They have been treated cruelly by Kindred, and it behooves us to make up for it as best as we can. Therefore, it is my responsibility to make sure that this new doctor will be good for my children, and not be yet one more person to abuse their helplessness.
I question a few children, gently, so as not to remind them of what happened here less than three weeks ago. They cannot tell me much about the man, except that he seems nice.
Nice. That's a non-description. A deserted sewer is nice. A dark street with many shadows under a full moon is nice. A good vintage is nice.
I need to see this doctor for myself. Finding a handy corner, I fade from sight to wait.
It doesn’t take long. He’s young, I notice with some suspicion. Are doctors this young in this day and age? Shouldn't they take longer for their studies?
He does not wear the traditional white clothes I've come to expect from the medical profession, but rather the blue jeans favored by the working classes during the last century (and by the young generation of this one). Also, his physique is not indicative of a sedentary lifestyle. Instead, he is built tall and slender, something I would expect from a sportsman, not a physician.
His eyes strike me. They are blue beneath a fringe of sandy, longish hair, and they appear unusually perceptive as he looks around the corridor through a pair of unobtrusive glasses. Lightly tanned skin with faded freckles. All in all, he looks aesthetically pleasing, if much too young and unconventional for a doctor.
I follow him into a room with three children, noting their reaction to the new head of this ward, his reaction to them. They seem to like him, which is encouraging. And, as I continue to observe, it's not surprising.
His manner is calm and gentle. He uses his words to examine his little charges, and only when they have settled does he add touch to his examination. His voice is accented, something European I haven't heard before, but then, my contact with mortals is severely limited.
I continue to follow him on his way though the ward, and my mistrust towards him is appeased more and more. He's a good man. Maybe I can trust him with my children, gradually withdraw my own presence and let them be taken care of by a mortal from now on, one of their own, as it should be.
The thought hurts.
I reluctantly walk back toward the door which will lead me to the cellar, and then I find myself hesitating.
I don't want to give this up. Through Abel's interference, something has happened here that taught these children not to fear me. He came to know me, and he told of me. They all accept my presence. I can't remember the last time a mortal looked upon me without fear or revulsion, and here is a ward full of innocents who are glad to see me, who talk to me. They're damaged and sick, but they are human, and they will recover, and they do not fear me.
If Julian can have his mortal cop to protect, then I can have my children. I turn my back to the door and return to the ward, still obfuscated.
The doctor has entered little Daniel’s room and is trying to talk to him. I follow, taking up a position near the door, to observe.
There's something about this man. As I approach him, I try to find out what it is. Some quality, something that fascinates me. Is it his eyes? The way he talks? The way he tries to coax little Daniel out of his shell with only words?
I'm only a few feet away from him now. Of course, he can't see me, but I realize he senses something. I can clearly see goose bumps rise on his neck in response to my unseen presence. Quickly, I move back to the door. It is not my intention to frighten him, but still, I don't want to leave the room just yet.
Daniel has not spoken yet, but I'm amazed to find him nodding in response to a question. This has not happened before. He has not spoken or reacted to anything around him since he came here. When I first touched his mind in order to find out what has struck him dumb, I found it in turmoil with grief, confusion, fear, and guilt, and I realized that using any kind of mind trick or domination will not help him. Neither will chemistry, or alchemy – all of those methods will only cure the symptoms, not the cause. He will have to find his way back by himself.
And now this mortal man has made him nod just by talking to him.
I want to know him. But how can I approach him?
I’ve been here for a couple of days now, and everything seems to be settling down nicely. The colleagues are very kind, albeit a bit intimidated, presumably by my predecessor. I try to be as open and friendly as possible without currying favour, because I need them. Well, to be honest with myself, nothing seems to be settling down at all. Some City Great Mogul called Luna or the like is said to have promised the hospital a leisurely amount of money, and of course everybody is looking forward to putting it to good use for a whole new sanitary image. But it is not the redecorating of the aisles and rooms I’m worried about, or the pictures the children are painting. Why, what kind of pictures do you expect from children that have been abused? We will hang them up in the aisles, in spite of their questionable artistic value, if only to remind us of the job we have. It is all those little tasks besides everyday hospital routine best described as “the hygienic and digestive circle of life”; those little tasks like listening to what they are not saying.
Talking about digestion... There's something strange about the food. I mean, there is nothing wrong with the food, I've taken samples: the cocoa is just fine, the pancakes are edible, the whole range of hospital food is appropriate for, well, hospitals. And yet, most of the children seem to be starving. Some are dehydrated, too. I've tried to ask them what's wrong with the food, with the drink, but they refuse to answer me. Maybe the food was poisoned by my predecessor. Ridiculous, I'm getting paranoid already! Maybe it wasn't exactly poisoned, but some kind of sedative was added in order to keep them quiet. Rumour has it quite a lot of hospitals tend to do that to children, elderly people and all those who might be a burden otherwise. Just great.
But this is something I can take care of. If the children are afraid of eating and drinking, I will have to show them that the food and drink are all right. Which simply means that I will pay them a visit at breakfast time and have thirty small bites of pancake and thirty small cups of cocoa. Well, that's what I call commitment. Getting fat for the sake of health and morale.
Although I have been here for a few days only, I can already see that I can’t take this upon myself entirely. The harm that has been done to all of them (including the personnel) is too great for one person to deal with, and what kind of superman am I supposed to be? It is like a back flow of negative energy so strong that it sometimes makes my jaw tense while walking to my office. I can hardly sleep at night, listening to the whisper of spirits of the past.
I make my round every night, and I have promised the children that I won’t enter their rooms unless they allow me to. Most of them are wide awake when I softly knock at their doors, and many want my company; preferably for the rest of the night. The days are no better. They are demanding, and I am always tempted to spend much more time with each of them than I should allow myself in order to keep a professional distance. Daniel alone could keep me occupied the whole livelong day.
Daniel is most interesting.
I would like to write more about his state of mind, but I feel distracted by other thoughts, now that I’m reflecting. Something happened in his little room today, and I can’t tell what. I felt – watched. As if some ancient ghost was standing behind me, watching my every move and word, guarding over the children. Sean once told me that I have exceptional insight, but – ghosts? I don’t know. And yet, strangest thing of all is, the children seem to sense it, too, although they tell me nothing. Especially Daniel. Which takes me back on track.
The boy is scared, but not only of the things that might have happened to him in this house. There is a more important influence, like a vision, foremost in his mind. What can it be? I have checked his records, but the only thing I could find was, his parents died in an accident. Died in an accident… How? When? Well, I know when it happened, there’s a date. But, I don’t know, that’s not all there’s to know, a date. A place. But what did happen? What does Daniel know?
Children whose parents die in an accident don’t necessarily go mute. I must have ignored an important detail. But what? Did he hear something, did he watch? I look at his sad little face, and for a moment I see something fall, something big and dark, and then – nothing. He looks back at me, he understands, he is open to communication, but he doesn’t want to tell me. He doesn’t seem to mourn; well, at least not mourn only. It’s more like… if I only could put my finger on it… like guilt. Yuh, that’s the ticket. He feels guilty. Why? I have to find out.
I think I know now what it is about this man that draws me so. He is a transcender. He transcends walls between worlds. I’ve known about people like him, but I have never hoped to meet one.
Some mortals are able to accept our existence without automatically calling us monsters. By their mindset, they can accept that things beyond their comprehension or experience exist, and when they meet such things, they are intrigued, not frightened. Many centuries ago, during one of my philosophical phases, I spent some time pondering this, and in my mind, I called them transcenders. Well, the word does not translate very well into modern English. Diercheothaios; the goer-through. He who looks beyond. He who is ready to touch the veil. The transcender.
This Callum McKay is one of them. Watching him work with the children, and especially with Daniel, I've become convinced of this. His mind is open to possibilities. I'm almost certain that he won't run away screaming in terror when he finally sees me. Almost.
And it seems more and more inevitable that, soon, he will indeed see me. I have to be exposed to normal sight for the sake of the children if I want to talk to them, if only to avoid giving McKay the impression that his charges talk to themselves. Besides, the children are going to mention me eventually. I have tried to impress upon them the need for secrecy, but their guileless young minds have no concept of deceit and circumspection, and I don’t want to be the one to teach them.
Callum McKay will transcend the walls in Daniel’s mind to find the knots and clots that currently stem the flow of his words. Already, Daniel has begun to answer with gestures – a remarkable improvement. And another breakthrough has occurred with the aid of drawings.
Daniel has begun to express himself by drawing letters and hieroglyphs. I'm consumed by curiosity, so I resolve to visit him a little earlier than usual.
He looks up at me as I enter, even smiling a little.
“Hello, child,” I say softly, holding back a moment before approaching. He’s still skittish. “How are you?”
His smile grows wider, which I take to mean he’s fine.
His bed is littered with paper sheets, many of them covered with multicolored designs. I go closer to him. “May I look at your drawings?”
I'm intrigued to find that they are, indeed, hieroglyphs, real hieroglyphs. My ancient Egyptian is a little rusty, but I recognize the cartouche for Ra, surrounded by a prayer for bountiful crops. This boy either has an exceptional memory (a feat by itself), or he can actually write in this dead language.
On another sheet, I see Cyrillic letters forming perfect ancient Greek sentences. Inspiration strikes.
“Can you understand me?” I ask him in what is now regarded as classical Greek.
His eyes grow wide. “Yes,” he says in the same language, and then, to my utter astonishment, he giggles. “You sound funny.” His Attic Greek is clear and carefully pronounced.
I have to hold myself back from hugging him with joy. This is the first time he answered my attempts of speaking to him, the first time he let me hear his voice. “That is because I learned this language a very long time ago.”
He cocks his head as he listens to my pronunciation. “How long ago? Longer than a thousand years? Is your name really Daedalus? Can you speak Minoan, too?”
I smile at his exuberance, and then I have to fight back tears of joy. A conversation with a child - the wonder of this simple thing is almost overwhelming, and my heart gives a few painful beats before stilling again. It is only then that the meaning of his questions becomes clear to me, and I stare at him in shock.
He just asked me if I learned ancient Greek a thousand years ago. No question about whether it’s possible or not, no thought about limitations of normal mortal lifespans. Another transcender!
“Have I said something wrong?” he asks hesitantly.
I gather myself. “No, no, child. You said nothing wrong. But I do wonder why you never spoke to me before. I know you speak and understand English.”
He lowers his head. “I don’t like English,” he mutters. “I don’t like America.”
Before I can pursue this interesting revelation, a knock interrupts us. “Daniel, can I come in?”
McKay is outside the door. Damn, he must have heard something. Daniel looks at me out of big blue eyes, wondering about my reaction. I stare back, indecisive. I can’t become invisible or alter my appearance in front of the child. I can’t just ignore the good doctor. I can’t go out and confront him. If I let him come in, he will see me, which would be just as bad. Just letting a human see my face would be a breach of the Masquerade. I'd have to alter his memory, embrace him, or kill him. If I don't do any of those things, my life is forfeit.
“Daniel? I'm coming in if you don't say something.”
If he goes on like this, he will scare the child. It can’t be helped. I stride over to the door and open it.
I have heard his voice before. I’m not quite sure when, but it was like the familiar susurrus of an old building such as my grandmother’s place. It was soft and warm, and whatever I might have thought its owner would be like, I am not prepared for what I see when the door opens.
They say you know a person within seconds. Sean said, your instincts do the rest, let them work for you. I always say, I don’t know a person, not even after a decade, and my instincts are pretty poor compared with my emotions. For instance, I don’t know anything about love at first sight. People I hated most at first sight more often than not turned out to be the ones I liked most once I got to know them better. I even fell in love with some of them, my instincts having been overridden by what you call common sense.
Whatever it may be, the sight of the stranger in Daniel’s room washes over me like an unusually warm tidal wave, just with a slight hint that sharks might be in it.
For one thing, he doesn’t look human. Of course, I know that he must be, though, but his cosmetic surgeon must have earned a fortune to design a head that – different. He is quite tall. I am quite tall, mind you, and he's taller than me. And bald. But it doesn't look as if he shaves his head on a regular basis, for his eyebrows are missing, too. It is more like the heads I've come to know in the cancer section. Anyway, somehow it suits his whole appearance, so whatever makes his hair stay away, it's worthwhile. His skin has an almost greyish pallor, definitely not healthy, the features look – for lack of a better word – reptile-like, especially the ears (if reptiles had ears, that is), and his whole appearance is even more grotesque because of his old-fashioned clothes. His hands look longer than usual, and at a closer look I find that he has grown and somehow shaped his fingernails into what I can only call talons. So, I have in front of me someone with a serious Goth problem. Or else, a towering pale reptile in a frock coat. If I didn’t know better, I would think he can’t be human, after all.
Then I see his eyes: dark, melancholy eyes that tell me the rest of the story. What relentless pain lies in them, what power, what expressiveness! Those eyes that look at me in expectation, rimmed with a hint of fear. And then, like so many times before when I met someone special, I feel this sensation seize me again, a feeling like being cut off reality for a sec, while the background fades into a kind of fog, and for a glimpse I see a different face, a handsome one with a dark tan, framed by black curly hair, smiling at someone, probably someone from the past, altered, and yet so related to the features in front of me that it can only be him. And, as usual, the image is gone in an instant.
Who is he? What is he? I look at the boy, and what I detect in his face is all the answer I need. Without a word, Daniel tells me that this man needs not be feared, but may be trusted, and thus I am relieved. I stick my hand out and look into the stranger's eyes, “Hi. I am Dr. McKay. And you are…?”
I come to in my own room, safely seated on the couch. I can hear a voice in my head, it is but a blur. But, yes, if I close my eyes, I can see that face again. Dark, piercing eyes, strangely familiar, as if I’d seen them before. And I have. Or I haven’t. I look around me, feeling watched, but I am all on my own. I close my eyes again, trying to concentrate. There it is, the voice I must have heard, at least in my dreams, saying: “My name is unimportant,” and then, “You will forget that you have seen me in a moment. I would advise you not to call for help – it will merely frighten the children and avail you nothing.” The voice is getting softer, but I can still hear it. “Neither you nor the children have anything to fear from me.” Then, there is only a soft whisper. “Forget me. Forget that you have ever seen me.”
With a start, I open my eyes. Now I know what happened. I owe it to Sean that I have learned to read the signs, but there they are: the slightly unsettling feeling of a kind of déjà-vu, the lack of memory, the reverberation… I must have been hypnotised. But I can’t remember what really happened. Whatever it was, I will have cameras installed in every single room tomorrow morning. And then – we’ll see.