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MOLDY BREAD

by Devin Thorpe about a year ago in fiction
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THEORY OF THE CASE - CHAPTER EIGHT

THE THIRTEENTH EXCERPT FROM DR. JAGEN'S BLACK JOURNAL:

"Why have you kept me around this long?"

I have changed my course of action going into today's session. Now that the child chooses to speak to me, I will not pre-formulate questions that attempt to diagnose it as a brown-level patient. That will skew my interpretation of the conversation. I need to ask questions that flow naturally from the conversation, and then reflect afterwards upon the child's answers.

The child stared at me blankly after this question, almost as if I spoke it in another language. It was not a complex question, though, so I remained persistent.

"You have made it clear through your track record that you have no love for those in my profession. The five psychiatrists you saw before me are now dead. Each of them died while talking to you, alone, close quarters. Your parents died in the same mysterious manner. All who seem to come close to you die. But here I am. You've let me stick around for the greater part of a year without becoming one of your victims. I'd like to know why."

And that's when it happened. I blinked in a manner that wasn't slow in the slightest, but that blink alone was long enough for me to miss it. Within the lapse of a millisecond the child's face went from a look of derranged, spaced-out indifference to vehement, dialled-in intent. The blink was faster than the flicker of a light bulb, but it was as if in that millisecond the child before me changed entirely. As if my question drew the curiosity from whatever malignant spirit operated within the child.

Its black eyes dilated, expanding to the outer reaches of its eyeball. Like a single drop of black food coloring consuming the confines of a glass of water.

I became so transfixed on the darkened eyes that I almost missed the sillhouette behind the child morphing.

But I saw the shifting shadows out the corner of my eye and caught their final motion. Saw the child's shadow changing inexplicably. It metamorphasized along the back wall, growing in size until it consumed the greater portion of the wall, head creeping to the ceiling. Even without defined features, the shadow was equally monstrous as it was menacing. Not to mention the fear it caused in me from defying how shadows operate in the laws of physics.

I do not live in the world of Peter Pan. Shadows do not dance and detach from their owner. They do not operate independently from their host. They do not move arbitrarily, making onlookers ponder whether they are their own entity.

The child seeks to make a mockery out of me. Every time I enter its presence I feel myself slip further and further into my own madness.

I think the child could sense my delirium, though I did my best to conceal it. I gave no reaction, though my rapid heart rate screamed echoes up my throat.

I felt faint as the shadow expanded upon the back wall. Mortal minds aren't meant to comprehend such extraterrestrial phenomenona.

I digress.

I do not wish for this academic journal to turn into a documented descent into my own madness.

The child's shadow grew, and so did the child's willingness to speak with me. I'm not sure if it was even the child I was speaking with any longer. Its black, dilated eyes were like staring into an emotionless solar eclipse.

"What do you know of snakes, Dr. Jagen?" the child hissed from across the table. Its voice contradicted my opinion. It was still very much the voice of an innocent child. Still squeaky and pre-pubescent as ever. But the way its words trailed from its mouth concerned me, the faintest hiss interlaced with the words.

"Nothing much. I kill them when I garden," I replied.

The child cocked its head in an amused sort of way. It enjoyed my response. Was it because I mentioned killing?

"Take a boa constrictor with a full stomach and put it in an enclosure. Then take a plump, juicy rat and throw it in with the serpent. What do you think happens?"

I hated the snicker the child had on its face. Hated its perfectly white teeth. Innocent chubby cheeks should never partake in such a disgusting sneer.

"Nothing at all."

"Ding ding ding!" the child chuckled, glad to see me answering my own question through its allegorical maze.

It continued, "And even more than that, the rat is free to do whatever her little heart desires. She can walk all over the snake. Badger the snake with questions. Graze freely on the resources of the enclosure. The rat may even, after enough time, come to believe she's friends with the snake. Get comfortable. But the truth is, the snake is totally indifferent to the rat's company. So it watches its next meal mozy around, getting comfortable in its temporary home. But the snake will digest its stomach's content at some point, and it will be when the rat least expects it that it strikes."

I gulped involuntarily. The child's cold glare accompanied by the malevolent aura radiating from the shadow. Bouncing off the walls like radioactive waves cooking me from the inside out. An uncomfortable death to be certain.

"Why did you kill them? The psychiatrists before me, and your parents before them. Why did you kill them?" I've asked this question before, but it's important to revisit the purpose behind such events. See if the victim's answers change over time.

"Why does the snake kill the rat after letting it feel comfortable?" the child asked in return.

"It gets hungry."

"It's in its nature," the child replied.

"Killing is in your nature?"

"And dying was in theirs."

"Dying is in your nature too. You are human, after all."

"That's where you are wrong, doctor. Like the snake, I will shed this skin for a new body. Again and again, avoiding death each time, bringing my affinity to kill with me with each—

A shy knock sounded from Dr. Vinnit's apartment door. He snapped the journal shut, his eyes aching from fawning over its pages all night. He stood abruptly, a sharp pain from his hip pleading him to slow down. He conceded and limped pathetically to the door, tucking the black journal under his couch cushion on the way.

He slid the chain lock aside, leaning on the doorknob to hide his gimp slouch as he pulled the door open. "Good evening, Amanda," Dorian greeted, the tempting scent of pizza hitting his nostrils at the sight of her.

"Late night again, Dr. Vinnit?" she asked, her eyes dog-tired.

"When is it ever an early night?" he responded, inviting her in. Amanda had built a deep appreciation for Dr. Vinnit. He had somehow become a sort of father figure in her life, even though they were virtually the same age. But to a woman who only ever had intimate relationships with immature neanderthals, a man who had his shit together seemed ten years older in accumulated wisdom.

Unlike with most men, Amanda didn't have the slightest fear or intimidation towards Dorian Vinnit. From what she'd seen, he was harmless. Wanted little more than a little conversation, and Amanda got free counseling out of conversing with him, and the doctor's tips were more money than her ex's monthly child support.

She came in and set the pizza box on the kitchen island. Took a good look around the apartment.

"Still getting settled in I see," she remarked, analyzing the complete disarray of the room.

"It's a work in progress," Vinnit replied, rubbing his aching temples. He limped to the kitchen island and took a seat in a bar chair. The pizza's steam hit him like a blanket of love when he opened the box. Amanda sat at the bar chair next to him.

"You should stop eating all this crap," she said, looking at the half-finished takeout boxes that littered the room. Chinese. Mexican. Pizza. An eggplant parmigiana grinder with only a single bite taken out of it.

"But then what would I eat?" Dorian asked, rolling the first slice of cheese pizza into a burrito and eating half of it in his first bite.

"You could cook like normal people," Amanda suggested.

"No time." He finished the burrito-squished pizza with his second bite. It was entirely too much to cram into his mouth all at once but he did it anyways.

"Put the time aside now to eat healthy and you'll have more time to live in the long run."

He chewed with his mouth open. He didn't mean to do it, but his mind was in an entirely different place. Consumed with the black journal and the child patient. Haunted by his conversation with Desmond. Perplexed by hours of flipping through the black journal—searching for mention of the child killing Cardinal Grisham. Nothing.

The black journal didn't cover the child killing Cardinal Grisham. Didn't mention the child injuring Father Rowski or putting Sister Galen in the insane asylum. It's as if Dr. Jagen was completely ignorant to these events, when he should have been the first to know. But how? How does such a crucial event in the child's actions go completely unmentioned in their black journal?

"Doctor?"

Dorian swallowed the pizza mush and snapped back to reality. He stuttered, then apologized. "Sorry, work has been a bit much lately."

"Want to talk about it?"

"Do you not have to get back?"

"You were my last stop. I clocked out on my phone when I got here."

"Fair enough. I can't discuss the nature of my work, but I will say that I'm faced with an impossible mystery right now. Only have a week to solve it."

"And what's at stake if you can't?"

"A child's life."

Amanda's face went blank. She hadn't been expecting to hear that, nor did she know how to reply to such a statement.

Dr. Vinnit didn't allow the silence to linger. He pushed forward, asking, "Have you ever heard of the Acolytes of the Chosen?"

Amanda laughed. It was the type of laugh that caused Dr. Vinnit to smile, then chuckle slightly to himself, though he wasn't sure what was funny.

"Yeah, I've heard of those quackheads. Only heard about them in rumor though. Just some weird cult. Makes sense for Covet to have a group like them. It's a weird town."

"But they do actually exist?"

Amanda was somewhat startled to see Dorian's serious expression as he took two slices of pizza and sandwhiched them together like a crustless calzone. He ate his pizza like a child would, playing with it. And like a child, he ate the pizza without seeing how childish he was being. It made it hard for her to take the conversation serious.

"I mean sure, they exist. I don't know anyone who takes them serious though. I'm not even sure what it is they believe. I just know there was a lot of controversy when they beheaded that Jesus statue at St. Gabriel's."

"Do you know anything else?"

Amanda's brow furrowed in contemplation, and it made Dorian feel good to see his companion taking the conversation serious. "A coworker of mine said that their cult has existed a lot longer than just the amount of time they've been in Covet. She said she heard they moved here, bringing whatever demon they worship along with them."

"Demon?"

"I'm pretty sure that's what they worship. But like I said, I don't know much about them. And if I've ever met one of them then they hid their extracurricular activities well."

"Figures. There's no information in the public domain about their existence. If they actually do exist, they are very lowkey about their activities."

"But what does this have to do with what's bothering you at work?"

Dorian finished off the pizza sandwhich, finally realizing that he had been chewing loudly with his mouth open this entire time. He closed his mouth, apologizing to Amanda with his hands for biting off more than he could chew. She laughed again, and it was infectious once again, causing Vinnit to nearly choke on the cheesy mush in his mouth.

He swallowed with difficulty. Took a deep breath, then answered, "The demon they worship. I think they believe it lives in the child. I need to prove with science that the child isn't possessed."

"But that shouldn't be so hard, right?" Amanda asked. "I mean, demons aren't real, so all you have to do is give the kid a proper diagnosis."

"It's a bit more complex than that, but I've said too much already. I'm sure I'm holding you up."

"Claire is at my parents for the weekend. I work a double tomorrow and Sunday, so I had to get them to watch her."

It was her way of saying she didn't have anywhere to be, and she enjoyed Vinnit's company so she wasn't in a rush to leave. The refusal to leave left Dorian slightly aroused, though he wasn't sure of the psychological explanation why.

He forced himself to look back down at the remaining pizza in effort to exile the sexual desire. Picked up a single slice and decided to eat it like a normal human being.

"Would you care to talk about how your day at work went?" Vinnit ask, realizing he had spent the entire time talking selfishly about his own obsessions.

"I've been having trouble lately on my morning shifts at the gas station," she admitted. What a dolt I have been, Vinnit chastised himself. Here is a woman who has no one to talk to about her day, bottling the events up in the most unhealthy way possible. And here I am, ranting about the occult. Idiot.

"Is that so?" Vinnit asked between bites of pizza, a long strand of cheese dangling from his mouth like drool from a dog.

"Mhm," she said, biting her lip slightly. "There's this guy who comes in every morning and steals all the sweetener packets at the coffee bar. He thinks he's slick but I see him do it. I'm going to have to say something if he keeps doing it. He's stealing it faster than we can replace it."

"And what do you think he's doing with all that sweetener, if he's stealing it every day?" Vinnit chuckled.

"Maybe selling it on the sugar black market," she replied, laughing along with him.

"I hear it's quite the lucrative black market business this time of year," Vinnit joked, then asked, "And Tommy's Pizza? Anything funny happen on your recent deliveries?"

"Delivered to a house the other day that had a sign on the front door that said: 'Having sex. Leave pizza on doormat. Money in mailbox.'"

"I guess it can't wait sometimes?" Dorian teased.

"I guess not. Lousy tip too. And I wasn't even late. Got there in twenty minutes from the time they called. Can't believe how fast it must've conspired between them."

"Can't relate."

"Me either. But work is work."

It wasn't until then that an idiotic idea entered Vinnit's mind. The kind of idea that can only enter the mind of an individual who is sex-deprived, and, more importantly, lonely beyond all limits.

"Say, what will you make tomorrow working your double shift?" he asked earnestly, setting down the unfinished slice of pizza and deciding subconsciously he was done eating for the night. This meal would join the graveyard of the room's dozen other unfinished meals.

"6am to 12am. That's 18 hours at $8.50 an hour. Before tax it's $153," Amanda worked the problem out step by step, though broke people like her who work hard for their money know how much they're making from any given shift without having to do the math. They live paycheck to paycheck, never relying on anything but themselves for survival. And besides, Amanda was a woman who had a child relying on her.

"I'll pay you $500 to call out sick and accompany me to Charity, NC tomorrow. I could use an investigative assistant, and you seem to be the perfect fit," Vinnit offered, his face unflinching. His lips were greasy and reflected the overhead light in a way that made him look silly.

The offer didn't have it's desired effect. Instant humiliation arose to Amanda's cheeks, so red that it matched the red tint of her Tommy's Pizza collared shirt. Oh no, what have I done? Vinnit instantly asked himself at the sight of her offended reaction. And to make matters worse, I have just offered charity to her if she accompany me to Charity, NC. How stupid could I be?

"I'm not a charity case, Dr. Vinnit," she snapped, anger replacing her embarassment.

"No, I wasn't—"

"Did you know I went to three abortion clinics, Dr. Vinnit?"

The subject changed so swiftly that it caused Vinnit's head to spin. She was heavily offended, which meant she had a point to make.

"Three. I wanted nothing to do with Claire. I knew her father was going to split town and leave me to raise her by myself. I knew what this life was going to do to me. But the doctors wouldn't do it. Chances of me having a fatal hemorrhage were too risky. Now I tuck my daughter in every night knowing that if things had been different she would've never been born. How do you think that makes me feel?"

There were tears welling up in the woman's eyes. If Dorian had to guess, that was the first time she'd ever admitted to the events of the past. And shining light on such events can be freeing, but they can be equally as horrifying.

Her body trembled now, realizing that she had just shared her darkest secret with a relative stranger. Dorian was surprised to see that they were both standing, though he wasn't sure when they'd both risen from their bar chairs. He rushed forward and wrapped her in a hug, arms tight around her to combat her incessant shivering. This made her break down further, her sobbs growing deeper and more manic.

Any normal person would have pleaded with her to stop her crying. Would have lathered her with false words filled with comfort. Said anything that would get her to feel better. But Dr. Dorian Vinnit was not any regular person. He'd sat in with so many patients whose eyes streamed with tears that this did little to affect him. It did little to penetrate the callous over his heart, so he stood there, patting her back gently, intimately, waiting for the initial tantrum to subside.

And it did in time. The sobbing ceased. The tears ran dry. And then it was just two adults, locked in an unprofessional embrace. Two strangers who had become close in the course of a month by shere luck alone. A man who needed pizza, and companionship. A woman who needed money, and someone with an open ear.

"I'm sorry—I'm so sorry," Amanda said, pulling away from the hug. She wiped the tears on her cheeks, further smearing the running mascara that covered her face like war paint.

"I don't view you as a charity case, Amanda. I view you as a human being. One who deserves more than what she gets. I phrased the question insensitively. But understand, I am overpaid for what I do. I make six figures for listening to crazy people problems. You're surrounded by double the crazy people for a fraction of the pay. And why's that? Because you didn't go to school for eight more years like me and rack up a debt that would make a king cringe? $500 is less than a real investigative assistant would charge me so you'd actually be saving me money. And if you—"

"Okay! I get it," Amanda sighed, a smile returning to her face. She knew Dorian would have continued ranting until she conceded to his offer, and she was inwardly grateful for his persistence. She needed the money, and it felt nice to feel wanted. "I'll go. But why Charity?"

"I must find a hidden loaf of bread before it goes moldy," Vinnit joked metaphorically, flashing a smile, then continued, "And Charity is where the crumbs lead next."

fiction

About the author

Devin Thorpe

I am a 22-year-old recent graduate from Mars Hill University. I have a double major in Criminal Justice and Religion & Philosophy. I also played collegiate lacrosse! In my free time you can find me writing fiction and hiking with my dog.

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