The Journal of Dr. Corrigan
(Journal among items found next to the body of Dr. Corrigan.)
Let me begin by saying that I am not really a doctor. And by that, I mean that I am not a doctor in the sense of a degree or even a college education. As such, I learned it is illegal to end my signature with the title of MD. However, I am a practitioner of the unknown, a voyager into the ether that is hitherto known as The Dream. And by that, I mean specifically nightmare. DSM-IV 307.47 is my field of study. And so, by that knowledge, dedication, and a degree I purchased, I am, in fact, a doctor.
In the early hours, I received a call that woke me sharply from my sleep. "Hello?" I croaked into the static.
It was a woman's voice. A young woman's voice. Perhaps it was the grey whiskers in my beard or the airy unformed way she said my name, but I pictured a child standing on a chair, whispering into the phone. "Yes, tis I, Dr. Corrigan, although I am legally obligated to tell you that I am not a doctor in the generic sense. However, I do have many hours studied, researched, and experienced in the field of self-induced mental terror, or nightmares as the layman might consider them. This is why I presume you are calling…Miss….?" I heard a cacophony of voices. Which, if you are unsure of the meaning of that word – it essentially means "a bunch of bad sounds." Which is something most people do not know. I heard from them the cacophony of voices, a spattering of sentences that I could not discern. Certain words did, however, strike my fancy. Words such as "Kill." Or "Possess." And at the end, there sounded to be something about a yellow-orange. Which personally, despite my green thumb, I'd never heard of. So, I said to her – "Who else is there with you? I hear a bunch of people, and I can't quite figure their intentions." She coughed, then there was silence. I took a moment to appreciate the feel of the cool air across my chest. I was making home in a houseboat I'd illegally knotted in a remote stretch on the Gulf of Maine. Tucked away so deviously that I could only be found if one was looking. I pressed my cheek against the phone and stared at the waves lifting into the pitch of the horizon, white waves blending into blues and blacks. The ocean was frantic and violent under the gravity of an ugly moon. If I let myself if I remembered, they were there; I'd stare out there into the foamy blue-black distance and see strange creatures flying in from some horrible distant shore. Small and always at the farthest possible point visible to my eyes. I see them coming to deliver me to some final judgment, but their journey is long. And I think to myself that it must take quite some time to travel through infinity.
"There's no one here but me for now." She said.
"Oh. I must've lost my hearing. What'd you say your name was?" I asked.
"Ms. Plaize." She said.
"No with a Z."
"Ah. Ms. Zlace, how rare." I heard a cacophony of sighs.
"You are the doctor of nightmares?"
"I am many things. A provoker of death, a tempter of the bleeding edge, a scholar of the –"
"We need your help."
"Ah. Well, I am more than willing to rise to the task. However, I must inform you that I must charge a hefty fee due to certain restrictions with state funding for doctors of my classification. For science. For truth." And privately, my shoulder was beginning to ache more and more. If there did come a time that I must seek a different doctor's advice, then I fear that surgery would be the suggestion, which is not a cheap solution.
"I assure you doctor, that should you be successful then you will be heavily compensated in a manner befitting for a man of your social status and skill. ""Excellent. Now, where will I be heading to?"
"We live in a house that's deep within a forest. The trees are so dense that in low light, the sun does not break through the branches. The house is old and crooked. The draft is everywhere. And at night, there are howls. Howls that don't sound exactly canine or human." She said.
"My god." My nose twitched, "You have a howling cat in the woods? That's extra. I've developed a cat allergy." Of course, I was not actually allergic to cats. I'd lived with a cat for 12 years. Ages 12-25, Her name was Chris, and she was a cuddler. A strange cat in that we shared a hatred of heights. We'd shudder, man and feline, simultaneously as we peered from the 3rd floor of the hotel window. Both of us kept our heads forward on the skyline and made an oath. I, with words, and Chris with gentle purrs, that we'd catch the other should they slip. I have died in several imaginable ways. I must stress the word imaginable. I have, of course, been stabbed or shot or even beat to death in a nightmare. But all of those are possible. I could have that happen to me while getting gas in the wrong parts of certain Zlaces. But imaginable is different. Imaginable is the time my dead father rose as a zombie from my childhood basement and limped, quickly, quicker than logic might allow, after me. Imaginable is when I was split into the essence of my pieces and then ground into a paste. I have died in intangible ways. But it is falling that terrifies me. Not because it's real and zombies aren't. But because it terrifies me. It requires no further explanation. It just terrifies me. And that's the gist of nightmares. Isn't it? Some unavoidable part of oneself that can't be cured by being ignored. Only suppressed. And I once spent an entire spring on opium. I can tell you here and now that all that we suppress has its day.
"Did you really?" She asked.
"Did I really what?"
"Did you really develop an allergy to cats?"
"Yes. Horribly so, and due to this, I must charge extra." I pulled my pill case from the drawer by the bed.
"I'm afraid you may be mistaken, doctor – I meant to say that we cannot place the origin of the howl. It is not necessarily a cat, and in fact, I've not ever heard a cat howl as much as perhaps I have heard it hiss or even whine. They have clicked before and meowed, purred and pushed but never howled." She said.
"Well, you surely have not known enough cats. A howling cat is a horrible thing. They are typically aggressively out of pitch. Cats. They are not dogs." I replied as I slipped a tablet under my tongue.
"Yes, Doctor…this is true…"
"In any case, I'm not a hunter or a trapper. I'm a doctor, in a non-legal variant, I shan't be helping pinpoint the noise of your great distress."
"We don't expect you to –"
"I. I don't expect you to find the howling. You see, I've read of your exploits, doctor. Traveling from place to place and curing nightmares by having them. I've read this practice of yours clears the calamity of an area, calms any restless spirits even."
"Yes, you are correct. Can I assume that your air is full of calamity?"
"It's stuffed into every breath. Besides the howling, I feel generally uneasy in this place. Even during the day, I feel that something is watching me. I feel hunted.
"Hunted. I suppose haunted as well."
"Hmm…well, felines are master predators by trade."
"Well, yes, I suppose they are. Tell me doctor, how exactly is it that your nightmares do so much for people?"
As she spoke, I could feel my mind fading out into the ocean that so intently held my gaze.
"They are not my nightmares Ma'am. In this case, the nightmare will be yours."
"But how could you possibly dream someone else's nightmare? She asked.
"A trade secret and I still need the address," I said as I pushed the pill case under my pillow. The trade secret was micro dosages of psilocybin. That and, of course, a willing mind. And perhaps an intensive ten-week course on astral projection learned in the forbidden corners of the internet. I took it ten times. "
"940 Hightowers Road. You'll come down a long winding single car road around a few blind turns and down a rather steep hill until you reach the grounds. We'll leave the gates open for you, doctor. And for privacy, we request that you come alone."
"I accept your case and your terms."
"Good. I'll see you soon, doctor."
"All things willing." The line went dead, and I tossed it under the sheets. Ulwandle, my boathouse, rocked gently on the midnight tide, and I pondered the strangeness of the call. The way she spoke and the whispers I'd heard. I felt within myself that feeling of fierce curiosity that had guided most of my life. The pursuit of some cosmic truth that once I find, I will likely wish I'd never had.
She underplayed the steepness of that winding road. I parked off the side under a tree and proceeded forward on foot. In the early days of my career, I carried a suitcase that made me feel professional. It was flush with certain tools of the trade I take on these jobs. But after a while, I got tired of carrying it. And more times than I'd like to admit, I got tired of running with it as well. There are times when nightmares bring to light a truth that people are not ready to hear. And often, when I woke up, I'd do so at the edge of a blade. Or once in Aspen I ended up with no more than my underwear as protection from the elements. Now I carry a brown leather satchel that I'd acquired in a dreadful manner. It however, is much more suited for running. The road twisted through the trees, and at some points, footpaths led deeper into the surrounding wilderness and perhaps also offered a short cut to the house. I may never know. After maybe an hour of walking I came at last to the house. I must admit that there came an energy from the home. It caused an overwhelming sense of doom that drilled into my bones. It was a windless, quiet day, and for the hour walk there, I'd heard only my footsteps, my thoughts, and creatures. But standing in front of that house, I heard a buzz. It intensified as I approached until it became an aggressive droning. These things might drive a normal man mad. However, I'd once had a nightmare where a swarm of oversized bees made a honeycomb out of me. So, a buzzing house was not exactly on a list of things to unnerve me.
"Are you the good Dr. Corrigan?" A voice yelled out.
I looked to the rafters of the house and saw her there standing in the window. She wore a deep blue dress that seemed to damn-near shimmer. Her dress's skirt was wide, which is to say not fitted against her form but instead in cahoots with it to keep it hidden. She wore a thick white belt of ornate craftsmanship. She was holding her head at a strange and somewhat frightful angel in that it was cocked to the left. But cocked, I dare say too much.
"I am indeed him, and he is I, and you are Ms. Plaize, I presume," I yelled back.
She waved her hand as if to shrug away the title. "The door is unlocked. Please come in." She said.
It was strange that I could not see her clearer than I did. It was a bright albeit cold blue morning at the edge of fall. From where I was standing, I should've been able to make out her features to some degree. Instead, the window appeared to have its own fog that rested just over her face and blurred it. Perhaps it was the aesthetic of the house that lent itself to such a suspicious mood. She'd been right that the house was built in a dense patch of forest. However, she'd said that in the low light, the sun could not break through. And although dim, the sun was doing just that.
Moreover, the house did not look crooked, and I could scarcely imagine a draft breaking in at any point in the structure. The architecture, while odd, was surely also rich. The money needed even to build it in that forest gave me great hopes about the payment for my services. It was crafted from stone and brick. But a trim of black wood outlined it. At its prime, I am certain it was a sight. It was two stories high with a row of windows across the front. Ms. Plaize stood in the middle window, which was also the largest window in terms of height. And unlike the other windows with the same black wood trim; the grand windows trim was cut from marble. The home had two balconies – one on either side. As I approached the house, I saw that it seemed more decrepit the closer I drew. It was not abandoned but instead in disarray.
The garden was overgrown but not terribly so. Three marble archways led to the front door. Which itself was made of hand-crafted oak with large iron bands pressed deep into its grain. Curiously, there was a cobweb covered chain linking the door handles and a small, weathered handwritten note that read,
"We request to be alone during this time. Do not knock and do not come back."