Whispers Page 56


"Yes," Hilary said. "At least that's a place to start. What were his symptoms?"


"The most disturbing thing, at least from Mr. Frye's point of view, was a recurring nightmare that terrified him."


A tape recorder stood on the circular coffee table, and two piles of cassettes lay beside it, fourteen in one pile, four in the other. Rudge leaned forward in his chair and picked up one of the four.


"All of my consultations are recorded and stored in a safe," the doctor said. "These are tapes of Mr. Frye's sessions. Last night, after I spoke with Mr. Rhinehart on the phone, I listened to portions of these recordings to see if I could find a few representative selections. I had a hunch you might convince me to open the file, and I thought it might be better if you could hear Bruno Frye's complaints in his own voice."


"Excellent," Joshua said.


"This first one is from the very first session," Dr. Rudge said. "For the first forty minutes, Frye would say almost nothing at all. It was very strange. He seemed outwardly calm and self-possessed, but I saw that he was frightened and trying to conceal his true feelings. He was afraid to talk to me. He almost got up and left. But I kept working at him gently, very gently. In the last ten minutes, he told me what he'd come to see me about, but even then it was like pulling teeth to get it out of him. Here's part of it."


Rudge pushed the cassette into the recorder and snapped on the machine.


When Hilary heard the familiar, deep, gravelly voice, she felt a chill race down her spine.


Frye spoke first:


"I have this trouble."


"What sort of trouble?"


"At night."


"Yes?"


"Every night."


"You mean you have trouble sleeping?"


"That's part of it."


"Can you be more specific?"


"I have this dream."


"What sort of dream?"


"A nightmare."


"The same one every night?"


"Yes."


"How long has this been going on?"


"As long as I can remember."


"A year? Two years?"


"No, no. Much longer than that."


"Five Years? Ten?"


"At least thirty. Maybe longer."


"You've been having the same bad dream every night for at least thirty years?"


"That's right."


"Surely not every night."


"Yes. There's never a reprieve."


"What's this dream about?"


"I don't know."


"Don't hold back."


"I'm not."


"You want to tell me."


"Yes."


"That's why you're here. So tell me."


"I want to. But I just don't know what the dream is."


"How can you have had it every night for thirty years or more and not know what it's about?"


"I wake up screaming. I always know a dream woke me. But I'm never able to remember it."


"Then how do you know it's always the same dream?"


"I just know."


"That's not good enough."


"Good enough for what?"


"Good enough to convince me that it's always the same dream. If you're so sure it's just one recurring nightmare, then you must have better reasons than that for thinking so."


"If I tell you ..."


"Yes?"


"You'll think I'm crazy."


"I never use the word 'crazy.'"


"You don't?"


"No."


"Well... every time the dream wakes me, I feel as if there's something crawling on me."


"What is it?"


"I don't know. I can never remember. But I feel as if something's trying to crawl in my nose and in my mouth. Something disgusting. It's trying to get into me. It pushes at the corners of my eyes, trying to make me open my eyes. I feel it moving under my clothes. It's in my hair. It's everywhere. Crawling, creeping..."


In Nicholas Rudge's office, everyone was watching the tape recorder.


Frye's voice was still gravelly, but there was raw terror in it now.


Hilary almost could see the big man's fear-twisted face--the shock-wide eyes, the pale skin, the cold sweat along his hairline.


The tape continued:


"Is it just one thing crawling on you?"


"I don't know."


"Or is it many things?"


"I don't know."


"What does it feel like?"


"Just ... awful... sickening."


"Why does this thing want to get inside you?"


"I don't know."


"And you say you always feel like this after a dream."


"Yeah. For a minute or two."


"Is there anything else that you feel in addition to this crawling sensation?"


"Yeah. But it's not a feeling. It's a sound."


"What sort of sound?"


"Whispers."


"You mean that you wake up and imagine that you hear people whispering?"


"That's right. Whispering, whispering, whispering. All around me."


"Who are these people?"


"I don't know."


"What are they whispering?"


"I don't know."


"Do you have the feeling they're trying to tell you something?"


"Yes. But I can't make it out."


"Do you have a theory, a hunch? Can you make a guess?"


"I can't hear the words exactly, but I know they're saying bad things."


"Bad things? In what way?"


"They're threatening me. They hate me."


"Threatening whispers."


"Yes."


"How long do they last?"


"About as long as the ... creeping ... crawling."


"A minute or so?"


"Yes. Do I sound crazy?"


"Not at all."


"Come on. I sound a little crazy."


"Believe me, Mr. Frye, I've heard stories much stranger than yours."


"I keep thinking that if I knew what the whispers were saying, and if I knew what was crawling on me, I'd be able to figure out what the dream is. And once I know what it is, maybe I won't have it any more."


"That's almost exactly how we're going to approach the problem."


"Can you help me?"


"Well, to a great extent that depends on how much you want to help yourself."


"Oh, I want to beat this thing. I sure do."


"Then you probably will."


"I've been living with it so long ... but I never get used to it. I dread going to sleep. Every night, I just dread it."


"Have you undergone therapy before?"


"No."


"Why not?"


"I was afraid."


"Of what?"


"Of what ... you might find out."


"Why should you be afraid?"


"It might be something ... embarrassing."


"You can't embarrass me."


"I might embarrass myself."


"Don't worry about that. I'm your doctor. I'm here to listen and help. If you--"


Dr. Rudge popped the cassette out of the tape recorder and said, "A recurring nightmare. That's not particularly unusual. But a nightmare followed by tactile and audial hallucinations--that's not a common complaint."


"And in spite of that," Joshua said, "he didn't strike you as dangerous?"


"Oh, heavens, no," Rudge said. "He was just frightened of a dream, and understandably so. And the fact that some dream sensations lingered even after he was awake meant that the nightmare probably represented some especially horrible, repressed experience buried way down in his subconscious.


But nightmares are generally a healthy way to let off psychological steam. He exhibited no signs of psychosis. He didn't seem to confuse components of his dream with reality. He drew a clear line when he talked about it. In his mind, there appeared to be a sharp distinction between the nightmare and the real world."


Tony slid forward on his chair. "Could he have been less sure of reality than he let you know?"


"You mean ... could he have fooled me?"


"Could he?"


Rudge nodded. "Psychology isn't an exact science. And by comparison, psychiatry is even less exact. Yes, he could have fooled me, especially since I only saw him once a month and didn't have a chance to observe the mood swings and personality changes that would have been more evident if we'd had weekly contact."


"In light of what Joshua told you a while ago," Hilary said, do you feel you were fooled?"


Rudge smiled ruefully. "It looks as if I was, doesn't it?"


He picked up a second cassette that had been wound to a pre-selected point in another conversation between him and Frye, and he slipped it into the recorder.


"You've never mentioned your mother."


"What about her?"


"That's what I'm asking you."


"You're full of questions, aren't you?"


"With some patients, I hardly ever have to ask anything. They just open up and start talking."


"Yeah? What do they talk about?"


"Quite often they talk about their mothers."


"Must get boring for you."


"Very seldom. Tell me about your mother."


"Her name was Katherine."


"And?"


"I don't have anything to say about her."


"Everyone has something to say about his mother--and his father."


For almost a minute, there was silence. The tape wound from spool to spool, producing only a hissing sound.


"I'm just waiting him out," Rudge said, interpreting the silence for them. "He'll speak in a moment."


"Doctor Rudge?"


"Yes?"


"Do you think...?"


"What is it?"


"Do you think the dead stay dead?"


"Are you asking if I'm religious?"


"No. I mean ... do you think that a person can die ... and then come back from the grave?"


"Like a ghost?"


"Yes. Do you believe in ghosts?"


"Do you?"


"I asked you first."


"No. I don't believe in them, Bruno. Do you?"


"I haven't made up my mind."


"Have you ever seen a ghost?"


"I'm not sure."


"What does this have to do with your mother?"


"She told me that she would ... come back from the grave."


"When did she tell you this?"


"Oh, thousands of times. She was always saying it. She said she knew how it was done. She said that she would watch over me after she died. She said that if she saw I was misbehaving and not living like she wanted me to, then she's come back and make me sorry."


"Did you believe her?"


"..."


"Did you believe her?"


"..."


"Bruno?"


"Let's talk about something else."


"Jesus!" Tony said. "That's where he got the notion that Katherine had come back. The woman planted the idea in him before she died!"


To Rudge, Joshua said, "What in the name of God was the woman trying to do? What sort of relationship did those two have?"


"That was the root of his problem," Rudge said. "But we never got around to exposing it. I kept hoping I could get him to come in every week, but he kept resisting--and then he was dead."


"Did you pursue the subject of ghosts with him in later sessions?" Hilary asked.


"Yes," the doctor said. "The very next time he came in, he started off on it again. He said that the dead stayed dead and that only children and fools believed differently. He said there weren't such things as ghosts and zombies.He wanted me to know that he had never believed Katherine when she'd told him that she would come back."


"But he was lying," Hilary said. "he did believe her."


"Apparently, he did," Rudge said. He put the third tape in the machine.


"Doctor, what religion are you?"


"I was raised a Catholic."


"Do you still believe?"


"Yes."


"Do you go to church?"


"Yes. Do you?"


"No. Do you go to mass every week?"


"Nearly every week."


"Do you believe in heaven?"


"Yes. Do you?"


"Yeah. What about hell?"


"What do you think about it, Bruno?"


"Well, if there's a heaven, there must be a hell."


"Some people would argue that earth is hell."


"No. There's another place with fire and everything. And if there are angels..."


"Yes?"


"There must be demons. The Bible says there are."


"You can be a good Christian without taking all of the Bible literally."


"Do you know how to spot the various marks of the demons?"


"Marks?"


"Yeah. Like when a man or a woman makes a deal with the devil, he puts a mark on them. Or if he owns them for some other reason, he marks them, sort of like we brand cattle."


"Do you believe you can really make a deal with the devil?"


"Huh? Oh, no. No, that's just bunk. It's crap. But some people do believe in it. A lot of people do. And I find them interesting. Their psychology fascinates me. I read a lot about the occult, just trying to figure out the kind of people who put a lot of faith in it. I want to understand the way their minds work. You know?"


"You were talking about the marks that demons leave on people."


"Yeah. It's just something I read recently. Nothing important."


"Tell me about it."


"Well, see, there are supposed to be hundreds and hundreds of demons in hell. Maybe thousands. And each one of them is supposed to have his own mark that he puts on people whose souls he claims.


Like, for instance, in the middle ages, they believed that a strawberry birthmark on the face was the mark of a demon. And another one was crossed eyes. A third breast. Some people are born with a third breast. It's really not so rare. And there are those who say it's a mark of a demon. The number 666. That's the mark of the chief of all demons, Satan. His people have the number 666

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