EXCERPT: INCUBUS, FIRST CONQUEST
Halfway down the hall was a sign that read, ‘Psychology.’
Four doors past it, I found an open door with a plate on the wall, ‘Dr. Matt Lawrence.’
I muttered, “I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m okay...” as I clutched my purse to my chest like a shield.
I stopped and stared into a tiny, odd-shaped room. It was narrow in the front as if it had been an entryway at one time, but then opened into a larger space filled with two cluttered tables and wall-to-wall bookshelves. I was intrigued by the odd collection of very old books, crystals, and aged bottles.
“Planning on stealing something?”
I jumped and turned to see the man in the television interview.
“You’re a mess. Is this how you always look? Do you have a name?”
“Frankie,” I couldn’t stop the trembling, which was causing an annoying stutter. “Dr. Frankie Harbor. I tried to call ahead, but your voice mail was full, and your secretary wouldn’t let me through.”
“I have a secretary? No one told me! Is she nice? I’m Matt Lawrence. Psychology department. So you’re a doctor? I’ve been having this pain...”
“Ph.D. Neuroanatomy. I work at Mercy General. In Bennington. Dr. Lawrence, I desperately need your help.” He handed me a towel, moved a stack of folders and notebooks and one lone shoe so that I could sit on a shabby leather couch.
“My friends call me Matt. My mother calls me Matthew Eric when she likes me. And my boss... well, you don’t want to know what he calls me. Please, come in. You’re dripping. You look like you could use a drink. I knew you were coming, so I made coffee. Need a little something in it, I think.”
He handed me a chipped black coffee mug with Einstein’s picture on it, then added Scotch to the black coffee. I was still shaking.
“I don’t know where to begin.”
“Have you always had ghosts and beasties disturbing you?”
“How do you know I have ghosts and beasties?”
“Just a wild guess. You saw my show, didn’t you?”
“Yes. I think it was Vita Mae who turned it on.”
“I see. Does she live with you?”
“Not exactly. She doesn’t live at all. She’s a spirit. She said she likes to be called a transcendental displaced.”
“I see. And she told you to come and see me.”
“Yes, because yesterday I couldn’t find Jonathan.”
“Jonathan is lost.”
“Jonathan never existed. You see, I’ve researched everywhere, and he never existed.”
He stared at me then took the Scotch and poured more in his coffee. He made a hrmphing noise, stared more, then took a big drink.
“You look a bit like a raccoon...mascara.”
I wiped my eyes with the towel.
He nodded. “So, you need my help to locate someone who never existed. Perhaps you could hire a fictional private investigator...Sherlock Holmes comes to mind. This is getting more fascinating by the minute. One of us isn’t drinking enough. Please, go on.”
I sipped my coffee, decided it felt good going down and took a bigger drink.
“But he had to have existed, or I wouldn’t have known him. You see the obvious logic there. I knew him several times. In the Biblical sense.”
“The Biblical-you are lovers then.”
“We had sex.”
“But you weren’t lovers.”
“‘Don’t believe in love.”
He nodded. “That’s too bad. Lots of songs written about it, plays, books, movies. Hollywood is nuts about it.”
“Sex is a physical desire. A need.”
“Are you, by any chance, under a doctor’s care?”
“No. Please. You have to listen! You have to understand. I bought this house. It’s old. It’s called the Pendulum House because it has a huge pendulum clock in it. Built into it. It’s quite extraordinary. And it keeps wonderful time. And it keeps changing- the house, not the clock. Sometimes the walls are different colors and the windows become the leaded kind you see from the early 1900’s. I have a book, and it shows the old windows. Vita Mae Knox, the spirit, said her grandfather built it. And there’s this other ghost. He’s a seductive ghost. Named...”
He held his finger up.
“Don’t say its name.”
“Okay. It came to me in my dreams the other night. But it seemed very real, and it had sex with me. Lots of ways.”
He watched as my thoughts pulled me away.
“And it was so good. I mean unbelievable! I know this sounds absolutely incredible, but I’m telling the truth.”
“And who is Jonathan?”
“He’s a neurosurgical intern I work with, and we’ve dated a couple of times.”
“And you’ve had sex with Jonathan? At your house?”
“And now it appears that he never existed.”
I got up and walked to the window, watching the raindrops rolling down the glass. I touched it, feeling the cold seeping in around us.
“I know this sounds absolutely crazy. Give me any crazy test you want. I’m telling you the truth, and I don’t know what to do. And I don’t know how to fix it! When Jonathan disappeared, that was it. I can’t take it.
“No one knows him at work. There are no research papers published with his name. He’s been published several times. His phone belongs to some old lady, and some woman I don’t know--who knows me--has his office. And he gave me a clock, a beautiful mantle clock, and it’s gone now.”
I sipped the coffee and watched him intently.
Then I felt Kroft’s breath on my neck.