Lisa hadn’t given psychics much thought before the Bad Trip, but after the neurology consultant told her that it was impossible to remove the eidolon without causing serious brain damage, she began, like a cancer patient who’d been given a terminal diagnosis, to search for cures outside mainstream medicine. Meditation and mindfulness. A sleep machine that was supposed to modify her alpha waves. And then she finally nerved herself to walk into the psychic parlour she passed every day on the way to work.
She waited until the place was about to close. Feeling, as she slipped inside, like a kid trespassing on a grouchy neighbour’s lawn. There was none of the paraphernalia – velvet drapes, antique furniture, wax-encrusted candelabra, batteries of crystals – she’d expected. Just two plastic stacking chairs either side of a small glass-topped table, recessed spotlights in the ceiling, a doorway screened with a waterfall of plain glass beads that clicked as a young man pushed through them. He wore a white shirt, black pants and wire-framed glasses, looking more like an architect or a college lecturer than someone who communed with alien spirits. Holding up a hand when Lisa began to explain why she was there, giving her a lingering look, saying that he could see that she was troubled, that she wanted help. It was her aura, he said. It was an unhealthy colour and had a swollen, lopsided look.
‘You have a guest with deep roots. How did it begin?’
She found herself explaining about the Bad Trip. The psychic listened attentively. He did not seem to judge her. When she finished talking there was a silence. Then he told her that understanding what possessed her was the first step on the road to self-knowledge.
‘That’s why I’m here.’
Lisa paid a hundred and forty dollars for an initial consultation. They sat either side of the table and the psychic took out a small parcel of silvery mylar cloth and unfolded it to reveal a pale, thumbnail-sized tessera. He centred it between them, told Lisa that he was going to evoke his familiar and that she should not be frightened.
'I’ve seen eidolons before,’ she said.
‘The Butcher can be intimidating to some people.’
‘It is what I call him,’ the young man said. ‘His actual name has no real human equivalent, of course.’
‘Of course,’ Lisa said, beginning to feel that she’d made a mistake.
The psychic told the lights to dim, touched the tessera. And his eidolon was suddenly there, filling the room like a faint fog of cigarette smoke. The psychic closed his eyes. His hands rested palms up on the table, thumb and forefinger pinched together. Lisa expected him to speak in a sonorous voice, channelling his spirit guide, offering nuggets of wisdom, asking leading questions. Instead, the fog began to thicken and coalesce behind him, and she had the brief impression of something larger than the room leaning in, looking down at her. Then the smoky fog blew away, vanishing beyond the walls of the dim little room, and the psychic stood with an abrupt motion that knocked over his chair.
‘Go,’ he said. He looked as if he had been punched hard in the stomach.
‘What about my reading? What did you see?’
There was a stinging metallic taste in Lisa’s mouth, a headache pulsing behind her eyes.
‘Just leave. Please. I can’t help you. I can’t . . .’
For a moment the young man stared at her, a look that was half longing, half revulsion, then turned on his heel and shouldered through the glass-bead curtain.