Acid of the Mind
by Downing Street
"Is there no end to this infernal rain!"
The petite woman behind the reception desk jumped. "How was lunch, Dr. Sondgaard?" she asked.
Her employer stepped into the reception area of her office, shaking out her umbrella. "Lunch was wet," she replied. "The streets are wet, the cab was wet, and I'm wet." She folded her umbrella and ran her fingers through short brown hair. "My hair is a mess," she supplied. She started unbuttoning her raincoat. She stopped when she saw her receptionist was about to say something.
"Kerri, please tell me nothing has come up while I was out."
Kerri was a good six inches shorter than the other woman. She was a cute young thing, almost girlish in her powder blue sweater and simple black pants. "I'm sorry, Dr. Sondgaard," she said respectfully. "You have a walk-in. His name is Damien. He seemed very upset, so I let him wait inside."
Dr. Sondgaard looked at her watch. "All right. I have a free hour before Mr. Albright gets here. I can review those files some other day."
For a moment she regarded her receptionist quizzically. Kerri's sweater skimmed well above her navel and snuggled fetchingly around her darling young breasts. Although not unusual by the style of the day, it was positively daring by Kerri's conservative standards. Was that the same sweater she had been wearing earlier?
Dr. Sondgaard frowned, scolding herself for her momentary envy of Kerri's well-shaped breasts. Funny she had never noticed them before though.
She stepped into her private office, raincoat over one arm. She locked the door for privacy "Sorry to keep you waiting," she said to the man who looked up from the couch. "I almost drowned waiting for a cab." She hung up the raincoat and umbrella, then smoothed out her modest brown suit. She kicked off her wet shoes and stepped into a different pair, black flats like she always wore.
"Well now," she said, settling into her professional demeanor, "Damien, is it? I'm Dr. Monica Sondgaard." She extended a hand. The other man shook it but said nothing.
Monica sat down in the big chair beside her desk. She pulled out her notebook. She studied the distraught young man sitting in front of her. He was under thirty, of no unusual size or character, with a bland, forgettable face. A rather plain woman herself, Monica had a lot of sympathy for the ordinary.
The man hadn't shaved for a couple of days. His clothing was clean but rumpled. His eyes were haunted, shifting nervously this way and that. He avoided looking at her.
Anyone could see that the man was in distress; it didn't take a psychologist to figure that out. The first thing was to get him calmed down a little, Monica decided, work through the crisis, then look at the long-term situation. It didn't help that he had hardly said a word since he came in.
"OK, Damien," Dr. Sondgaard began, deliberately using his first name to establish rapport, "calm yourself down if you can. I'm here to help you. Nothing is going to hurt you in this office. Try taking three deep breaths."
The man did as she instructed, breathing in deeply three times, then letting it out slowly. He seemed a little calmer when he was done.
Monica encouraged him gently. "Good. Now just lean back and relax. Tell me what is troubling you. Begin anywhere. We'll straighten out the details as we go."
"Doctor," the man said, "You have got to help me. I can't handle this any more. I read in the paper that you know something about the paranormal. Maybe you can understand. I have this -- this thing inside me, this power or ability or something -- and it's driving me crazy."
Monica groaned inwardly. Not another one. Eight months earlier she had written a paper for a psychological journal about paranormal experiences such as hauntings and alien abductions. Even though her paper showed how all these traumas could be explained and treated by conventional therapy, it had led to a parade of oddballs through her office.
She kept her continence even. "What kind of power, Damien?" she asked gently.
"I have no idea," he replied. "I don't understand it. It's just that I think -- no, I know that somehow I can change things. With my mind, I mean. I can manipulate things and events around me. It's frightening."
The slender brunette flicked a speck of dust off her designer suit. She wrote "delusional?" in her notebook. "I see," she said, although she didn't. "You have some special mental ability.
Where did this, uhm, "power" come from?"
He waved a hand. "I performed a ritual. It's a very old, pre- Druidic rite. It was part of my research for my degree in anthropology. I did it during the planetary alignment a few weeks ago, when the ancients believed cosmic forces were strongest. Did you know an alignment like that only happens every thousand years? I won't tell you the details of the ritual, but it involves sacrificing small animals and dancing naked around a stone circle under a full moon."
Actually, that was quite enough detail, Monica thought, wincing. "I see, " she said again, trying to keep the revulsion out of her voice. "This ritual conferred some sort of magical ability on you, is that right? How do you know you have it?" She crossed her knees sedately. For a moment her patient's glance fell to her legs, below the hem of her tasteful, knee-length skirt.
Damien ran a hand through his uncombed hair. "I knew it the instant it happened. I don't know how to explain it. Lying there on that moonlit rock, covered with mud and blood, I felt, sensed, a change in the natural order of things, a shift in the force or cosmic energy, call it what you will. Something flowed into me, into my mind, into my soul. Something ancient, timeless, and very powerful."
Monica could already see the outline of the man's problem. Some sort of quasi-religious experience had caused a delusional break, clouding the lines between fantasy and reality. Could be evidence of a serious psychosis. Could be just working too hard. She decided to probe a little deeper.
"So you believe you now have an exceptional mental ability. You can change things around you, I think you said? So what exactly is the problem?"
He drew a breath. "Doctor, are you familiar with the folk wisdom that a man has a sexual thought about every fifteen minutes?"
"Yes, of course."
"Those thoughts are mostly pretty harmless, right? They're momentary fantasies. A man sees a pretty girl on the street and he thinks, 'wow, nice ass. I wonder what she would look like bending over on a diving board.' A moment later he has forgotten all about it."
"But what if he could fulfil these fantasies, however fleeting? What if he could make the girl stop and strip and bend over so he could admire her behind? What if he could make a sexy schoolgirl jump into his lap on the bus and make out with him until her stop? Better yet, what if he could transform any ordinary schoolgirl into a teenage sex-pot and have her fuck him on the bus in front of everybody. What if he could instantly fulfil all the selfish, base, lustful desires that float around in the bilge-water of everybody's unconscious mind? What would become of him then?"
Monica was struck by the intensity of his speech. Whatever was at the root of Damien's problem, it was torturing him. She wrote "sex obsessed?" in her notebook. She brushed back her long hair, noting with approval that it had already dried. "But in reality such things don't happen," she said reasonably. "So any question of wish fulfillment is entirely hypothetical.
Damien, why are you bringing this up?"
"Because that is my whole problem! This power of mine, it doesn't just reside in my conscious mind, it's in my unconscious mind too. It's become an integral part of my being. Look, how do you raise your arm? You don't think about it, you just do it. You want your arm to be raised, and your unconscious mind takes care of the details."
He was becoming increasingly agitated. He got up from the couch and began to pace back and forth, gesticulating as he spoke. "This power of mine, this thing in my head, it works just like that. I don't have to do anything. I just have to want something to change, and it changes."
"Do you have any idea what a burden that is? The world as we know it would collapse if we could all indulge our selfish whims. I have to guard my thoughts every minute, lest one of my subconscious desires suddenly come true. Every time I see a pretty girl I have to concentrate on not thinking about her. I can't go into a bank because I'm afraid I'll have a stray thought and someone will start giving me money. It's the curse of the Midas touch, to the second power."
"I must not give in to the temptation. Because once I start using it, I know I won't be able to stop. The steps are so obvious. First, I'll start indulging my idle whims, then satisfying my baser appetites, and finally, acting out my most perverse fantasies."
"I know this is all true. Yet the effort of not using the power is getting to be more than I can bear. I can feel the power inside me: tempting me, eroding my willpower, wearing away at my moral convictions."
He sat down heavily. "It's like acid," he said softly. "An acid of the mind. It eats away at my humanity, bit by bit. Corroding. Corrupting. Eventually it will leak out, and my soul will be indelibly stained."
He wound down, looking at Monica expectantly, hoping for understanding. She arched a delicate eyebrow. Most of her patients didn't present such unusual symptoms. She shook off the clinging image of a schoolgirl having public sex on a bus long enough to realize that he had concocted an elaborate delusion.
She said: "If your new power is too corruptive to use, then how do you know it really ...