Dee’s eye started to twitch. She held the note in her hands, staring at it, trying to integrate this new information with the events of the last month, with what little she remembered of her childhood.
Behind her, the box of tapes and papers beckoned. The video cassettes were arranged roughly in chronological order, judging by their labels; beneath them, the stacks of paper and binders bore symbols and contact information representing mental health institutions and various courts.
“Dee?” Sam was as nervous as she was confused.
“What exactly happened in California?”
“I’m starting to wonder the same thing.”
They hauled the box downstairs to the TV in the living room and got the generator going. Dee found the tape with the earliest date, from when she would have been three years, six months old. The video quality was not very high, but this had been done in the early eighties, when consumer video equipment was bulky, expensive, and rare. A hand briefly came into frame before disappearing again, and then the focus adjusted and the camera panned to the view of a hallway. A woman Dee had only seen in photographs was leaning on a wall, arms folded across her chest. The camera froze on her for a beat, and she spoke.
“Just what the Hell do you think you’re doing, Tom?”
“Calm down, Tracy. I just want to be able to show this to the doctors. They need to see this with their own eyes, in case Dee gets nervous and decides to clam up.”
“That’s bullshit, and you know it. You just want to document this because you believe her.”
“No, I don’t. I think it’s just as weird as you do. But I think there’s something going on here, and -“
“And what? And you want to get to the bottom of it? Bottom line, Tom: she’s crazy! I don’t know how, or why, but that’s all there is to it. Just let it go. This is freaky enough as it is, we don’t need to be preserving it for posterity.”
“Then don’t watch it. I’m gonna go talk to Dee.” The camera moved past the fuming woman into a living room strewn about with children’s toys. In the middle of the floor was three-year-old Dee, reading a book while laying on her stomach, feet kicking idly in the air. “Hey there, hon. What’cha up to?” The child looked up at the camera and beamed.
“Hi, Daddy! I’m studyin’ aggerculture!”
“Oh, really? And why are you doing that?”
“For when the zombie umpocalypse happens! We gotta be prepared, or ever’body’s gonna die.”
“Really? And how do you know that?”
“I saw it. I was there.”
“When was this? Should you have been sleeping when you saw these things?”
“No, Daddy, I didn’t dream it.” The girl on the screen rolled her big brown eyes. “I mean I was there, an’ it happened, an’ I found a way to come back an’ warn ever’body. I’m ‘onna save the world, an’ then I’ma get a physics prize when I find the time machine again!”
“That’s pretty far-fetched, you know. Some people might not believe you. What else can you tell me about all this?”
“Well, for one thing, we’re gonna need clean rooms, ‘cuz otherwise the parasite’s gonna get all up in our kids, an’ then -”
“That’s enough, Tom!” Little Dee went wide-eyed and silent at her mother’s angry shout. The frame swung around to capture Tracy’s livid countenance.
“Jesus, Tracy, what’s your problem?”
“I don’t want to hear any more of this! That’s enough, the doctors will be able to see that something’s going on, OK? This is freaking me out!”
“Well, then calm down. Why don’t you go have a smoke out back or something? We’re just talking, it’s not -“
“You’re not ‘just talking,’ Tom, you’re encouraging her! Whatever’s going on, you’re just feeding it by asking her questions.”
“Well, maybe if we ask enough questions, she’ll run into something to trip her up and then we can talk her out of this.”
“No! Not in this house! This is too weird!”
“Mommy, calm down.”
“Dee, I’m talking with your father, don’t interrupt us.”
“Mommy, he’s right, you should just calm down. Talking won’t hurt anyone.”
“See what you’re doing, Tom? Now she won’t shut up!”
“An’ why should I? I got a right to talk, don’t I? What are you afraid of?”
“Dee, honey, I’m - I’m afraid that my little baby girl’s really sick, and I don’t want her to hurt herself, or anyone else, and I don’t want to worry about what other people will think if they hear about this.” The anger had mostly faded from her voice by now, and tears were coming from her eyes. “They won’t understand you, sweetie. They’ll say really mean things that will make you feel bad, and you’ll wish you didn’t do the things you did to make them say those things.”
“What, the same way they did to you when you were in college?” Little Dee’s voice was flat, challenging. Tracy’s jaw fell open.
“What -?” Dee came back into frame, getting to her feet. “Tom, what have you been telling her?”
“What are you talking about, Tracy? I’m never around, I work all the time! I only even know about this because you told me!”
“He didn’t tell me, Mommy, you did. You told it to me when I was in high school last time, about the doctors and their drugs and their so-called ‘treatments’ on the hippie-farm. You just don’t want me to go through the same embarrassments you did in college. Well, I can handle it, OK? My daddy’s not an alcoholic, so I don’t have to sleep with other men to feel good about myself, so leave your baggage out of my life so I can do my work!”
“You - you fucking bitch!” Tracy came into frame as soon as she set into motion, raising her arm as she stomped towards little Dee.
“Jesus Christ, Tracy!” Tom set the camera down sideways on the couch, then ran around it to try to get between them. Dee was in frame again, standing her ground. As her mother approached and swung at her, the child reached for Tracy’s arm while simultaneously leaping with the force of the blow. Tom’s figure occupied the frame immediately afterward, obscuring what occurred. There was a scream and a thud, then Tom stopped abruptly and backed away. As he left the frame, Dee was standing upright with her mother face-down on the floor in an arm-bar. Her tiny hands were each gripping one of Tracy’s fingers, twisting her wrist and elbow in a way her shoulder wouldn’t turn.
“I’m not afraid of you, Mommy,” the child said. There was iron in her voice. “I’ve been killing zombies for years. I won’t let your personal hang-ups get in my way. So get over your bad self, and let me do what I need to do, OK?”
“Goddammit, Tom! Get her off of me!”
“Dee, honey, let your mommy go, OK? She didn’t really want to hurt you, but you can’t say things like that. They’ll just make people angry, OK?”
“Well, she needs to fucking believe me, Daddy! Everyone does! Or we’re all gonna die! I’m serious!” Little Dee started crying as she released her mother’s hand and embraced Tom’s leg. Tom scooped her up and set her down on the couch next to the camera, then went to help his wife up. Tracy had already gotten to her knees, and pushed him away as she rose to her feet. Her voice was low and detached as she spoke.
“That’s it, Tom. We’re through. I’m done - I am fucking done - with this. I’ll be back for my stuff later. You can expect divorce papers on Monday. You have fun with your little freak show. This is too much for me.” The door slammed, and she was gone. Tom was left alone in the frame, frozen, palms out in supplication, jaw open in shock. The only sign that the tape was still rolling were little Dee’s sobs from off-camera. Then Tom’s shoulders slumped, he moved to the camera, and the recording ended.
The tape picked up again during a birthday party. They both recognized Linda’s house from the Chicago suburbs - Dee was in junior high at the time of the recording. As the party wound on, Dee and Sam watched in silence, reeling from what they had just seen. After a few minutes, Dee ejected the cassette and popped in the next one.
Tom was alone at a table in a white room. After a few seconds, a door opened and closed, then a man in a white labcoat with a clipboard came into frame and sat across the table from Tom.
“So is that thing on, then?” Tom pointed to the camera.
“Yes, as you requested.”
“Thank you, doctor.”
“It’s no trouble. Like I said, the hard part is going to be getting your hands on it. Sometimes you can request copies, but if what you told me is true, well - look, to be honest, I think you may need to take legal action. It can be done, but we’ll probably have to see a court order before releasing the records.”
“OK, then. Is there anything else?”
“Not that I can think of. Shall I go get her?”
Tom stood and left the room. He reappeared later with Dee, who sat at a third chair around the table.
“Hi, doctor!” She grinned and stuck out her hand.
“Hello there, Dee. You can call me Dan.”
“OK, Dan. Does my daddy hafta be here?”
“Well, strictly speaking, he doesn’t. But he can stay if that makes you more comfortable.”
“No, that’s OK. I don’t want you to think he’s coaching me or anything.” Dr. Dan let out a nervous chuckle and looked at Tom.
“Hey,” Tom said, shrugging. “It’s her show, I guess.” He stood and left the room again.
“So, Dee, your father tells me you have quite a lot on your mind. Why don’t you tell me all about it?” He readied his pen above the clipboard.
“Listen, Dan,” she said, reaching up to fold her arms on the table. “I know you’re gonna think I’m crazy, OK? But you hafta believe me, and I dunno what else to do.”
“Well, don’t be too hasty, OK? I don’t think you’re crazy. I can’t right now, because I haven’t even heard what you have to say. So why don’t you tell me what’s going on, and then we’ll see how things go. Does that sound all right to you?”
“Sure, fine.” Dee took a deep breath. “I use’ta be a scientist, OK? I was a physicist, I graduated from UCLA, and when I was twenty-three and in grad school, a bunch’a stuff went down. Twenty years from now, unless I get this all sorted out, it’s all gonna happen again.”
“Really? And what - went down?”
“First, the power went out. All over the world. Every power station got bombed, all within a few minutes of each other. The satellites went down, too, which made us think that whatever did it came from space. An’ three days later, the zombies showed up.”
“Zombies, huh? And what were they like?”
“Well, they’re not like the zombies you see in Hollywood movies. They’re technically alive, but the hosts of this parasite. It looks like a lichen sometimes, like a moss other times, or like a fungus. It can grow anywhere, it just grows differ’ntly depending on where it’s growing. It can even be like a slime mold when it’s living in the human body.”
“So you’re saying that this parasite - which isn’t just one plant, but several - it can infect people and turn them into zombies, huh?”
“It is one plant. It just goes into a different life phase depending on where it’s growin’ at. We think it spreads by spores in the air, and they latch on to stuff, and that’s how it gets everywhere so quickly.”
“We - that would be you and who else?”
“The other scientists. We all stuck together. We couldn’t do too much without power, but we still found out a lot with good-ol’-fashioned science.”
“I see. Let’s go back to the parasite for a second. How is it that an infection can turn a person into a zombie?”
“We never figgered that out exactly, but it had something to do with the brain. It works on the microscopic scale like zombies work on other people in Hollywood movies - just surround your prey and overwhelm them. It’s hard for it to get through the skin, unless there's an open wound - or I guess if you had a coma or something. But it mainly goes in through the lungs or stomach. You can hold it off indefinitely with booze and cigarettes, as long as you catch it early enough. Babies din't stand a chance, though - they were infected three, four days out the womb. Five, tops.
"Anyway," she continued in an excited tone, "I remember that it had something to do with the frontal lobe and the base of the brain - y’know, all that 'lizard brain' stuff. Decision-making processes and base instincts, that's really all it needed to change, the way we figured it. The rest of the brain - balance, coordination, whatever - that could all run on its own. After the infection takes root, it gets into the bloodstream and goes up into the brain where it grows like roots. But it gets into all’a major organs, too, since it needs to keep the host alive. The parasite also slows down the host's metabolism, which we think is why the zombies moved so slow but lived so long without food or water. We found redundant circulatory and nervous systems in various stages of development as the zombies lived longer an’ longer, too."
"How long did this go on?"
"Oh, about six years or so."
"Really? And what happened then?"
"That's when I found the time machine!"
"OK, tell me about that."
"Well, even affer we hooked up our generators and got things running, nobody else had power, and all the satellites were down, so we couldn't really do much. We started lookin’ around, though, and six years after the blackout started, we found some electrical signals from the North, by the San Andreas fault line. We thought it might be another survivor outpost, but they didn't respond to our messages, so we sent some people to look. What we found looked like some kind of alien ship. It's hard to describe. It didn't appear to have any weaponry, it was just all shiny an' stuff, so we drove up to it, figuring we were dead if we ran, anyway. We had all gone a little stir-crazy at that point, and just wanted a break in the routine. Well, nobody was in it, it looked like, so we went inside an’ started pokin’ around. At the back, I found what looked like some kind of computer, but way more advanced than anything we had built at the time. I managed to find a way to send myself back -"
"Wait a second. If this was alien technology, how could you use it?"
"I dunno. It wasn't in English or anything, but it was really simple to use. After staring at the symbols for a while, I just felt like I understood ‘em, like they were written to be recognizable."
"I see. Thanks for clearing that up. Please, continue."
"OK, anyway, I started recognizing physical constants, and it looked like it could be used to go back to points in time. So I tooled around with it until I got to the year I was born, and then sent myself back."
"But it didn't send you back."
"Oh, it did."
"Well - I'm sorry, I'm confused. Why is it that you only appear to be three years old, if you were really twenty-nine when you used the time machine?"
"I'm not sure how, but it sent me back to the way my body was at the time. So, I have the mind I had when I went back, but with a renewed lease on life, I guess."
"And you didn't tell any of your scientist friends in the ship?"
"No, I thought the whole thing was gonna go back."
"Oh, it didn't?"
"No, I told you, it only sent my mind back. Otherwise somebody would’a found the ship by now."
The conversation wound on and on, little Dee explaining details of the situation that confirmed their findings over the past month, as well as what Dee had thought were her own delusions resurfacing. Sam was aghast, Dee was stone-faced. After about thirty minutes of talking, Doctor Dan sent little Dee to go get Tom. He came back alone.
"So what's the story, Doc?"
"I'll be straight with you, Tom: I don't envy you."
"Huh. Yeah. I can see that."
"I'll definitely want to review that tape you've got. Have you made a copy?"
"Yes, I duplicated it in case you wanted to keep one, it's out in the car."
"I do, and thank you. It will be one less thing you have to get back from us, I guess." Dan jotted a few things down on his clipboard. "We'll want to perform a few tests on her, nothing invasive, just some cognitive assessments and CT scans. The results will be shared with you, but as for getting copies of your own, well -" Dan trailed off, alluding to yet another red tape barrier in Tom's way.
"Yes, I had assumed so."
"OK, then we can discuss the tests out in the waiting room, I'd like to schedule what we can at the same time."
"Sounds good." The two men stood and left the room. There was a brief jump, and the time-stamp changed to a few weeks later. Otherwise, it was the same shot of the same room. Dee and Doctor Dan entered and sat at the table.
"So, Dee, how have you been?"
"I been well, thanks."
"Things going OK at home?"
"Yeah, they're fine. Mommy left, though. I guess I won't have a brother, after all."
"Hm. Speaking of your mother, your father showed me a tape of you from a few weeks ago. Do you remember that?"
"Yeah, the one when I was readin’ up on aggerculture?"
"Yes, that's the one. Do you remember what happened after that?"
"Well, yeah. It was just a couple weeks ago."
"Can you tell me about it?"
"Ugh. You watched it, didn't you?"
"Yes, but I want to hear how you'd describe it."
"Fine. I started talking about the future. Mommy threw a fit. Dad an' I tried to calm her down, then she started projecting fears from her own youth onto me and I called her out on it. So she came over and tried to hit me, and I put her on the floor.”
“Uh-huh. Those were some pretty fancy moves you had on that tape. Not many three-year-olds could take down a fully-grown adult.”
“Well, she doesn’t really know how to fight. I mean, she took some judo and some tae kwon do when she was in college, but that was a while ago, and she didn’t really stick with it, anyway.”
“Hm. So, where did you learn to fight like that?”
“From one of the survivors who stuck with us. He was a second-degree black belt.”
“Ahh, neat. Is that in - karate, then? Tae kwon do?”
“No, none of those.”
“Well, which martial art, then?”
“It’s called ‘bujinkan.’”
“Uh-huh - and how do you spell that?”
“Bee you jay eye enn kay ay enn. Boo-jin-con.”
“I see. And what manner of martial art is this, then? I’ve never heard of it.”
“Meh, you can look ‘em up on the web.”
“The - excuse me, what ‘web?’”
“Y’know, the inter - oh crap, that’s right. This is only 1987. Look, in a few years, everyone’s gonna have a computer in their home. Like, the progress with ‘em is just going to be amazing, leaps an’ bounds beyond the pocket cacolators we got today. An’ all the ‘puters are gonna be connected by a network that spans the whole world - well, the whole developed world, anyway. It’s called the ‘internet,’ or the ‘world wide web,’ or just the net or the web.”
“Computers, huh? You mean like that clunky beige box with the green letters on the screen, right?”
“Hmph. Comparing that ‘puter to a ‘puter from twenty years from now is like comparing a Model T to a Lamborghini Gallardo. I mean, sure, they’re both technically automobiles, but one’s a relic and the other’s an example of state-of-the-art technology.”
“Umm - there is no Lamborghini Gallardo. At least, I’ve never heard of it.”
“Of course there is, it - oh, dammit, that’s from 2003. OK, nevermind. But do you get the idea?”
“Sure, I guess. You’re saying that in twenty years, computers will make progress equivalent to almost a century in the automotive industry?”
“Yeah, it’s Moore’s Law, accelerating returns an’ all that. The better machines we build allow us to build even better ones, an’ those allow us to build even betterer better ones which are even more an improvement than last time.”
Once more, the conversation wound on, then little Dee left the room and Tom entered.
“Hi, Tom. How are you?”
“Eh, I’ve been better. Tracy’s still living with her parents, but she’s having second thoughts about the divorce. Things are just really busy.”
“I can imagine. How’s Dee?”
“She seems to have calmed down a lot. I guess she really just wants to talk to someone about this.”
“That seems about right. I have the results from the tests here, would you like to go over them now?”
“OK. Well, let’s see what we’ve got.” Dan pulled a folder from behind his notepad on the clipboard. “The tests we performed on her are helping to put this into perspective. Intellectually speaking, she’s got the cognitive abilities of a college graduate. It’s quite frankly amazing. The imaging we did on her brain also shows highly-increased brain activity in nearly all areas. Her mind - look, this is - Jesus, Tom. If I had fewer scruples, I could make a career on this girl.”
“What do you mean?” Tom raised an eyebrow.
“I mean that her brain is highly developed, and I don’t know when it would stop. There are people who would want to study her, but - look, sometimes, ethics doesn’t really keep a strong hold over actual practices, OK? I look at her, and I see a sweet little girl who’s really smart but also really confused. Others wouldn’t see her like that. They’d see her as a puzzle, something to be figured out, and they’d probably try to get you to sign all kinds of releases to do all kinds of things to her that would screw her up for the rest of her life.”
“Why are you - I mean, you’re not doing yourself any favors by telling me this.”
“I’m not trying to make myself look good here, Tom. I’m trying to do what’s right for her. That girl - if she can get her head screwed on straight, there’s no telling what she might be able to do. But not if a bunch of researchers get their hands on her. They might never let go.”
“So - OK, what are you saying I should do?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t. And truthfully, that’s up to you. You have to follow your own conscience on this and do what you think is right. Just be careful, OK? Watch out for her.”
“That’s what I’m trying to do, but - Jesus. I don’t know.” Tom held his head in his hands. “I don’t know what’s right. I don’t know what will turn out well. I don’t know how to do the best thing for her.”
“Nobody knows the future, Tom. You’ve got to make decisions you can live with.” Dan put his hand on Tom’s shoulder. “I told you last time, I don’t envy you. I’m not going to sugarcoat this - you have a lot of hard decisions to make.”
“I know.” He sniffed and rubbed his eyes. “OK. So what’s next?”
“Well, the tests show that Dee’s incredibly intelligent, but getting to the bottom of what’s causing her to say and think these things, that’s going to take some time. Do you want to schedule another appointment?”
“Yeah. Let’s do that.” They stood and left the room, and there was another jump in the time stamp to a week later. Dee and Dan entered and sat down once again.
“So, Dee, what do you want to talk about today?”
“Dunno, Doc. What do you want to know?”
“I’d like to know whatever you want to tell me.” Dee sighed and put her elbows up on the table.
“Look, Doctor. I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but I don’t think you’re taking me very seriously. Nobody does, it seems.” Dan put his elbows on the table and steepled his fingers. He took a deep breath before speaking again.
“Dee, I want you to listen very carefully to me, OK? I take you seriously. I really do, and I want you to believe that. However, the things you’re saying are very far-fetched and hard to swallow. There is a difference between you and the things you say, and for a person in my position, that is a very important difference. Do you understand?”
“Please don’t patronize me. You don’t believe me, and that’s OK. What would it take to get you to believe me, though? How can I convince you?”
“Well, let’s see.” Dan leaned back in his chair and tapped a finger on his chin. “I suppose actually seeing the time machine would be a very strong piece of evidence for your case.”
“I told you, we didn’t even see it until twenty-three years from now. And it didn’t come back with me. I don’t know how it works, so I can’t build a new one. I thought it would come back with me, so I didn’t really plan on needing anything else to convince people.”
“OK, well, if you know the future, then tell me some things that will happen.”
“Well, I already told you about the development of computers.”
“Yes, I remember you talking about that last time. I went to the library and looked some things up - I understand you go to the library a lot, too - and the things you said - well, after checking some facts -“ Dan stammered for a moment before continuing. “To be honest, what you say doesn’t sound that far-fetched, now that I’ve done the research. Actually, it looks like a very educated guess - and you are highly-educated, to say the least. And for someone with your intellectual abilities, I don’t see it as that far of a leap to hypothesize that things will go the way you say they will.”
“Well, how about elections? George Bush is gonna win in eighty-eight, and then Clinton in ninety-two - he’s the governor of Arkansas - and -“
“No, Dee, that’s even easier. Elections are a fifty-fifty shot, more or less, and I can’t see those as anything more than lucky guesses.”
“Well, dammit!” Little Dee slammed her hands down on the table. “What’s it going to take, then?”
“Dee, the claims you’re making are extraordinary, and they’re going to require -“
“Extraordinary evidence, I know. Carl Sagan said that.”
“Yes. Good job. Now, I have to look at what the most likely explanation is. You are an extremely intelligent young girl, Dee - probably more intelligent than anyone I’ve known. However, you’re also very young, and children your age typically have imaginations that run wild because they don’t have the experience required to rein in those extraordinary imaginations. So please, put yourself in my position, and ask yourself what looks most likely in this situation: a little girl has an incredibly detailed and completely unfalsifiable story of what the future’s going to be like. Is it more likely that she’s telling the truth? Or is it more likely that she’s confused, caught up in her own fantasy world?”
“Well, when you put it that way -“ Dee’s shoulders slumped, and her arms fell into her lap. “OK, then put yourself in my position. You know what the future’s going to be like, but you’re helpless to prove it. Nobody else will believe you. What do you do?”
“That’s a tough question, Dee.” Dan sat up in his chair again and folded his arms on the table. “I really don’t now. It’s hard to say, because I’m not actually in your position, and I don’t know what it’s like to be you. If I had any solid evidence, though - anything at all - then I would try to bring that forward to convince people. Otherwise, I would probably just bide my time and prepare myself. That’s what I think I would do.”
“But - I mean - dammit! Lives are at stake here! People are going to die - lots of people - and a whole lot more will, too, if nobody listens to me!”
“That may be so. And lots of people have been in that position in the past. How many military advisors do you think have had their pleas fall on deaf ears, only to see their worst fears come true on the battlefield? They were right, too - but nobody would listen to them. And if nobody will listen to you, railing about it won’t help you get your point across. It will just make you look like -“
“Like I’m crazy.”
“That’s not what I was going to say.”
“That’s what you meant, though.”
“Other people would probably say that, sure. And, well, other people will hold a lot of influence over your life. Even if they’re wrong, you have to take them into account. What it comes down to is: do you want to be right? Or do you want to be effective?”
“I want to be both. I know I’m right, so how do I be effective with that?”
“Well, what do you think would be the most effective course of action, if nobody listens to you?”
“I guess - I guess - I would just have to wait it out.” Dee’s head bowed in thought as she said this. She looked defeated. From there, little Dee talked about her feelings about the situation, how helpless she felt to change things, and Dan returned to his usual clinical self. This was his territory, this was progress to his mind - getting past the facts of the situation and discussing what they meant to people, and the effects they had on feelings and relationships and how those affected interactions between people. The conversation wound on, and eventually, Dan and Tom were in the room again.
“How are things at home, Tom?”
“Tracy’s thinking about coming back, now that Dee’s in therapy. I told her how Dee had started calming down, now that she had someone else to talk to, and that seems to have improved Tracy’s opinion on the subject.”
“I see. Hopefully, she can come back for good. Dee would probably show much more improvement in a stable household.”
“Yeah. So what’s next?”
“Well, Tom - I think we made some good progress this session. She’s starting to understand how other people think of her fantasies, and the effects they have on those around her. However, I think that we may want to try some other things as well.”
“Well, did you have a chance to look over the side effects on the medication information sheets I gave you?”
“Yeah, I read them all. They look pretty intense. I’m not so sure about them.”
“Well, we have two options. And they’re not mutually exclusive, we can try them in combinations. The first is therapy, the second is medication.”
“I would highly recommend therapy. Dee seems to get a lot out of talking to people, and I think interaction is really what she needs at this point. However, she has some really solid beliefs in her fantasies. She’s a child, after all. These fantasies, while extraordinary to you or me, are really just blown-up versions of the fantasies that any child has - the difference is that Dee has the intellectual capacity to flesh them out with convincing details that other children can’t. When adults do this, we call these fantasies ‘delusions.’ Dee shows all the classic signs - she’s thoroughly convinced, her story is unfalsifiable, and she lacks the slightest bit of evidence.”
“I just - it seems that putting a child on these drugs, while she’s still developing - I think that could do more harm than good.”
“That’s true. There have been studies to show that if a person isn’t psychotic, then antipsychotic medications can actually induce the conditions they’re meant to treat. There is a small possibility that if this is merely an overgrown fantasy and not a full-blown delusion, the medication may exacerbate her condition.”
“Yeah. That’s what I’m worried about. I mean - maybe this is just wishful thinking, but if she talked herself into believing these things, can she maybe - do you think she can talk herself out of it?”
“That brings us back to the therapy option. I’m glad you came to that conclusion, Tom - I’m at the same point, myself. The human mind is a very powerful thing, as I’m sure you’ve seen. If Dee is - if she’s under the impression that she’s on these medications, and undergoes therapy in tandem, I think we could get her to do exactly that. She would probably look up the side effects at the library or something, and maybe imagine that the sedative and amnesic properties were taking hold, in effect talking herself out of it without actually subjecting herself to the potentially harmful side effects.”
“Are you - I mean - lemme get this straight, Doc. Are you trying to get me to hypnotize my daughter?”
“No, not hypnosis. Well, not in the Hollywood sense, anyway. No dangling pocket-watches or ‘you’re getting sleepy’ nonsense. However, we would in a sense be trying to use the power of suggestion on her. The way I conceive of it is this: we’re giving her another, better fantasy to counteract the one she’s got, and it will eventually be indistinguishable from reality.”
“And when she’s old enough, well, then we can spill the beans. Right?”
“Ideally, yes. That’s the hope. We just want to get her, as you said, to talk herself out of this fantasy until she’s old enough to grow out of it on her own.”
“And when would that be?”
“I can’t say for sure. This isn’t a hard science, exactly. I don’t even know if it will work, to be honest, but I think it’s worth a shot, and I think it would be the safest option to try at first. What do you think?”
“I think - I need to sleep on this.”
“I understand. Take as much time as you need. If, as you say, just talking to me is calming her down at home, then maybe we won’t even need to go that far.”
“Same time next week, then?”
“Sure, sounds good.”
“OK, let’s go tell Carrie up front.” The two men stood and left the room.
“Jesus Christ,” Dee said, staring at the TV. “What the fuck?”
“My God,” said Sam, equally in shock. “I mean, I’ve - everyone knows about the placebo effect, but this - this is just - how on Earth could they -?”
The women stared, numb, as the next session played on tape. The story, as best they were able to reconstruct it from the other tapes and various documents, was that Tracy had moved back in and things went back to normal for a bit. Then Dee started to backslide, culminating in the pipe-bomb-at-the-library incident, and Tracy walked out again, this time for good. So Tom started going along with Doctor Dan’s recommendation for suggestive therapy, and it worked. Little Dee fell for it, hook, line, and sinker. She talked herself into forgetting everything she had known from her previous life. When Tom moved, he had to take legal action to get the records released, but he got copies of all the hospital records and court transcripts so he could hold on to them. Dan, for his part, downplayed the extent of Dee’s condition to another doctor in Illinois, and her therapy continued uninterrupted. Eventually, when Tom felt she had a handle on things, the talk therapy went away altogether - but this was after numerous backslides during gradeschool due to a not-entirely-smooth transition between therapists.
Tom saw how well Dee was doing scholastically and socially, and didn’t want to rock the boat with the news until after Dee had graduated college. He didn’t even tell Linda. While Dee lived under his roof, he handled all the prescription pick-ups, then handled the legal forms regarding the placebo medication when she left for college.
Dee was floored. It was too much at once for her to feel anger, sadness, frustration, anything but utter shock. Sam, too, was bewildered beyond words. They watched and read in silence, eyes wide, mouths shut.
As darkness fell, Dee rubbed her eyes and finally spoke.
“Well, I think we’ve seen enough.”
“Um. Yeah. I think so.”
“Then I guess we go to California?”
“I guess so.”