“I used to think that darkness was the same as evil.”
“And what do you think now?” the therapist asked.
“It’s…a dim light.”
I watched intently as Doctor Gaines scribbled down his notes as his eyebrow flew up at my response.
“And what brought on this new revelation of sorts?” he casually glanced up and then back down at his notepad, preparing himself to over-analyze my next answer. I doubt he would be able to fully comprehend it all.
“My last night terror,” I glanced out the window to my right, pretending to reminisce. It was the only interesting thing he had in his office. The bookshelf with all the typical hardbacks on the power of dreams, various self-help titles, and books on neuroscience, were dull enough. The random globe in the corner, his college awards, his two diplomas hanging on the wall behind him, the pictures of his wife and kid on his desk, and the knock-off paintings around the room were more than cliche as well. It was like his whole life was staged. Nothing in the room told me what kind of person he truly was or why I should put my trust in him.
“And how long ago was that?” He asked autonomously. He didn’t sound a bit interested in my problems, but then again, I wasn’t exactly his usual patient.
An owl suddenly appeared at the window I was staring at and gently tapped on the glass. Doctor Gaines immediately jumped in attention to it. “Is that an owl? How strange and random. I thought they were nocturnal.”
I soaked up his random burst of anxiousness and just smiled to myself at his ignorant statement. “A week ago,” I said, returning to our conversation.
“I’m sorry?” Doctor Gaines whipped his head back at me.
“About a week ago,” I repeated, but then elaborated, since he still seemed distracted. “That’s when my last night terror was.”
“Tell me about it. What happened within your night terror?” Doctor Gaines asked, half distracted. He kept a watchful eye on the random owl at the window while trying to stay engaged in our session.
“Well, I’m running through the woods at night, even though I know I’m still in my bed. I’m there, but I’m not. I still feel the sheets between my arms and legs, clinging to my sweaty body. In the woods, I’m being chased by someone or something. I manage to make it to this clearing and I end up tripping and falling. When I get back on my feet, I notice all these yellow eyes in the trees surrounding me. They’re just staring at me. Then I hear their hoots and realize that they’re owls, ironically,” I pause and glance over at the owl over at the window that’s now become two. “One by one, in different directions. Hoot, hoot, hoot. It eventually grows louder and more frequent until it becomes a cacophony of noises from every direction. Somehow, throughout all the noise, I realize that they’re not hooting, but actually saying ‘who’ over and over again.”
“Who? Like, who are you?” Doctor Gaines clarified.
“And how does the dream usually end?” he asked, no longer jotting down notes, as his focus is already split between conversing with me and watching the owls at his window.
“I usually wake up right around the time my brain realizes what the owls are trying to tell me,” I answer.
“And what is it, do you think, that they’re trying to tell you?” Doctor Gaines asked, moments before another two owls slam into the other window on the other side of the room on the wall behind him. He whipped his head in the direction of the noise. “What the hell? There’s four of them now.”
“It’s funny that you ask me that. I was kind of hoping that you’d be able to answer that question for me,” I watched as my alleged therapist became more and more skittish, like a cornered insect.
“I’m sorry, but you do see these owls too, right?” Doctor Gaines was no longer concerned about our session.
“Fascinating creatures, they are, and highly underestimated. They are one of the smartest predators on this planet, of course, no one takes them seriously because of their size and how docile they may appear,” I said, completely ignoring his concerns, as he did mine and so many others before me. “Did you know that owls usually only hoot for one of two reasons? When they’re looking for a mate and when they’re claiming their territory.”
“Are you behind all of this? Is this some sort of prank?”
“Why? Are you scared? I wonder if this is how Odessa felt when she came to you for help,” I said and got the reaction I'd been waiting for.
At the very mention of her name, he froze in his chair. His eyes suddenly became cold and disconnected when they met mine, but his mouth strangely twisted into an overly confident grin.
“I don’t know what game you’re playing or who put you up to this, but I don’t have to prove my innocence to anybody. Now I suggest you leave. Your time is up anyway,” Doctor Gaines said as he rose from his seat and gestured towards the door.
“And yours is just beginning. You’re on my time now,” I smiled back at him. “Please, sit,” I commanded and his body dropped into the chair so hard it was like the chair itself grabbed him and dragged him down.
I then stood up and began pacing the entirety of the room. When I glanced back out the windows, the owls had seemed to multiply again.
“What do you want?” Doctor Gaines asked through gritted teeth. He seemed more pissed off than terrified, and I preferred the latter.
“Owls aren’t exactly social creatures. I can relate. So when a group of them assemble, it’s for good reason,” I explained. “Did you know that a gathering of owls is called a parliament? Seems like an overly pretentious word to describe a group of owls, but when you think about it, it makes sense. Owls are essentially symbols of wisdom and what better creature to oversee your trial than the wisest of them all?”
“Trial? I did nothing wrong,” Doctor Gaines protested.
“Do you even know the difference between believing you did nothing wrong and knowing you did nothing wrong?” I paused for a moment and looked him dead in the eye, I had no intention of waiting for his answer. “No. I suppose you don’t.”
“Are you some kind of detective or cop or something?” He asked, still defiant.
“Nothing of the sort. I’m simply the friend of a victim,” I answered. “That victim’s name is Odessa Kramer, and she used to be a student at a certain high school where you used to be a guidance counselor at. That was about five years ago, I believe.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he continued to lie. It was so easy to tell to.
Lying is always accompanied by a mixture of emotions. Confidence, for when you come up with the lie and then have the guts to actually say it out loud, and then fear. Fear of the truth exposing the very lie. Normal people also experience regret for even telling the lie, but usually that third emotion is absent when it comes to sociopaths.
“Didn’t you have a younger brother around her age too? I believe he died that same year, didn’t he?” I said, switching tactics a bit.
“Shut up!” Doctor Gaines said through clenched teeth.
“Oh, so you do know what I’m talking about?” I said, as I stopped pacing the room. Yellow eyes covered both windows and almost nearly blocked out the light of day from spilling in. “Did you think that finishing what your brother tried to do to her would somehow avenge him?”
“Go to hell! You don’t know shit!” Doctor Gaines spat.
Such honest emotion was pouring from his restrained body and filling the room. It almost became too much to handle all at once, but I took a couple of deep breaths and managed to stay in control.
“Do you know what a strix is?” I asked as I walked over to him, nothing but a glass desk separating us both from each other’s rage. He continued to stare at me with intense hatred, refusing to even acknowledge my questions now. “Well, in mythology, a strix was a giant owl that fed on the blood and flesh of humans. It was a bird of ill omen. Some people even thought that they were the product of witch metamorphosis.”
Doctor Gaines immediately started to laugh. “So you believe in witches now?”
“The truth is, that they’re really just very misunderstood creatures. A strix is actually very choosy when it comes to its prey. You see, they only kill prey that is guilty or malicious. Something to do with the taste.” I gently motioned my hands towards the windows and they instantly slid open, my eyes never leaving my prey. “Odessa Kramer was one of the few people who took the time to get to know me. She accepted me whole-heartedly and if it wasn’t for her sacrifice, I wouldn’t even be here doing her this favor. She’s gone because of me. She’s neither here nor there. She’s neither alive nor dead. She’s simply stuck in between and I’ll be damned if I bring her back to a world that you still exist in.”
“I didn’t want to hurt her,” he confessed as a single tear fell from his eye.
I took another deep breath, savoring the smell that accompanied these fresh regret stained emotions, before smiling and saying “Just ripe.”
I left the room just as the parliament of yellow eyes closed in on him and the blood-curdling screams filled my ears. As the door closed behind me, I strangely felt just as satiated as my familiar did, but I knew my work still wasn’t done.