Aphelion Issue 244, Volume 23
October 2019
 
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Seepage

by Roderick D. Turner




It was the toothbrush that gave it away, although I didn't know it at the time. I'm a creature of habit, or at least so I thought. The moment I reached for the brush and noticed that it had moved, I should have known. It wouldn't have helped much.

"What's this new hairdo all about, Evie?"

Henry had never been one to comment on my appearance, probably a wise practice. As a boss, he was only just tolerable to begin with, without the ignorant remarks.

"Say again?"

He looked as if he'd been slapped. "I was only thinking--how good it looks on you. Probably set a new trend." He grinned uneasily. "Good to see you here so early this morning. Braddock's the biggest client we've ever had. Give you time to get ready."

That got my brain in gear. Early was not a word that went down well with me. I looked at my watch, as if for the first time. Stared at it blankly for a few seconds, trying to understand what I was seeing. "Seven o'clock?" The shock must have come through in my voice, because the next moment I had to wrench Henry's arm off my shoulder. I glared at him. "Keep your hands to yourself, jerk," I said.

He backed off, curling himself up like a porcupine going for spiny ball status. Then he rolled off into a corner, eyeing me fearfully, trying to keep the friendly smile on his face. Slimy bastard.

I went for the door, took the hallway in three strides, stepped into the Ladies. The mirror told it all. I had this kind of springy puff piled up the center of my scalp, bangs trimmed at the front, edges clipped above the ears, both sides of my head shaved to an inch or less. "Holy crap!" I looked like a punker from the nineteen eighty's. All I needed was the safety pins and a major change of wardrobe. My slick business skirt and tailored jacket just didn't cut it any more.

But it wasn't the hairstyle that really worried me. It was the fact that I couldn't remember getting it done. Couldn't remember, in fact, ever having contemplated such a hideous monstrosity. There was something unnerving about going to bed one night and waking up in the morning a different person. Seven A.M. I'd never been to work before nine, not in the eight years I'd worked legal practice. I looked at myself in the mirror once more, just to make sure I wasn't imagining it. No doubt about it, I was not the same woman. I hadn't noticed the makeup before, but it was all over my face, eye shadow and lipstick, God knows what else.

I kicked open the door and headed down the hall to the stairs. On the way, I stuck my head in at the office. "Cancel my appointments for this morning," I said. I didn't wait for an answer, just made for the stairs, and headed for my car in the basement. Mark would see me. I needed to talk to someone about this.


* * *

I arrived at his office just before eight, well before Mark. His secretary Alice let me in and offered me a coffee. She smiled and made a show of not noticing my appearance, but years of feeding off people's vibes as a lawyer told me differently. I couldn't wait to see Mark's face. When he arrived at eight thirty, I wasn't disappointed.

He swung the big oak door open with characteristic confidence, but stopped in mid-stride when he caught sight of me. His eyes went wide, and there was a moment of stunned silence as his jaw slowly worked, his head shaking from side to side in disbelief. He glanced quickly at the clock on the wall, and then turned back to me. After several anguished seconds, he finally managed to speak. "What the hell happened to you?"

I gave an eyebrow shrug, rose to my feet, and ushered him into his office. Then I followed him in and closed the door behind me.

"All right, let's hear it." Mark had made it as far as his desk, but had stopped in front of it and turned to face me. His eyes were still wide with shock, and his mouth formed the characteristic 'O' of surprise.

"What you see is what I know," I said. "I thought it started this morning, but now that I've had some coffee and my brain's kicked in, I realize it must have been earlier. There have been signs. Like this morning my toothbrush was not in the proper place."

"Toothbrushes? Listen to what you're saying," Mark said. "Evie, we played squash at lunch yesterday, and everything was fine." He gestured towards my head. "Now look at you. Like you've been out picking up guys on the street corner. Slutty makeup, some freaky hairdo, and--" he pointed at his watch, "--in my office waiting for me at eight thirty!" He shook his head. "I got to say, kiddo, in my professional opinion you've fried something in the past twenty hours."

"Now that we have the formalities over with, can you stop the psychotherapy and be my friend for a minute? Christ, we've known each other for ten years and all you have to say is I have a screw loose? How do you think I feel?"

Mark stared at me for a moment, then pushed himself away from the desk, and gave me a hug. "You've got to allow for the shock factor," he said. "Even psychiatrists seize up when their best friends suddenly show up completely out of character."

"No chance of denial here," I said, "but this is truly freaky. The first I knew of the way I look, even of the time of day, was when I got to the law office this morning at seven and that dickhead Henry commented on my hair, and my timely arrival."

"You don't remember getting the hair done? Or buying makeup?" Mark pushed away and took another long look at my face. "Jesus, Evie, it's like a mask, but it looks as if you've been doing it forever." Our eyes met. "I've never seen you in makeup."

"That's what freaks me out. Not only do I not remember doing it, but like you said, I haven't touched my face with a makeup kit since my grade eight peer group coaxed me into it and I ended up looking like a clown." I wiped my finger down my cheek, and waved the colored fingertip at him. "Someone else did this. It couldn't have been me."

Mark nodded. "OK, I get it. You do need my professional advice, not just my friendship." He took my arm and led me to his assessment chair, sat me down, and clipped a sensor band to my wrist. "This is quick and easy. I use it to identify people with multiple personality disorder, schizophrenia, and related problems. It remotely scans the blood for the levels of chemicals responsible for a stable psyche." He was being clinical now, shutting out his emotional involvement, keeping the situation at a distance. "It also helps me define a treatment, since we'll know what levels need adjustment." He powered on a small oblong box, then turned on the attached computer. "We'll figure this out, Evie."

"What if everything turns up normal?"

Mark tapped nervously at his keyboard, his body belying his words. "We'll deal with that when we get there," he said. There was a sweep of LED light across the display on the little box, then a soft beep from the computer. Mark studied the screen for a few moments, and then looked up at me. "How did you know?" he asked.

"I don't feel any different, and anyway, don't these problems kind of build up, get worse over the years? You know me, Mark. This is an overnight change."

"It's been known to happen, but that's all irrelevant now. There's nothing abnormal in your blood balance. I need to take a look at the energy patterns in your brain."

"What's that supposed to show us? You don't have anything to compare it to. How will you tell if what you see is normal for me?"

"I can't say for sure, but if I record the pattern now, I can use it as a reference for future scans, and be able to see if there's anything unusual going on over time." He gave me a confident smile. "We'll figure it out."

I nodded. "You said that already." I tried to smile reassuringly as I settling my head back into the rest, but it came across forced and I knew it.

Mark lowered the scanning unit down across my forehead, then moved back to the computer and made some adjustments. "Just sit still for a minute or so. It takes some time to acquire the data."

I waited, frustration and anger fighting for dominance, but there was another cold feeling creeping along my spine, one that I hadn't felt in a very long time. Fear.

"Evie. Come take a look at this." Mark's voice was shaky. Whatever he wanted me to see, it had spooked him.

I pushed the headgear away, uncoupled myself from the arm sensors, and stood up beside him at the computer. There was a floating three-dimensional representation of a brain on the screen, various colors drifting around inside it, with occasional flashes of other colors interrupting the display. "What am I seeing?" I asked.

"In normal brain activity, those flashes you see are subdued. If a patient has a personality-related disorder, I often see the background patterns drift out of shape, especially in this area." He indicated the lower back region of the brain. "In your brain, the flashes are extinguishing, meaning that they overpower all other activity."

"What does that mean?"

"I don't know what it means, Evie." Mark turned to look at me. "What's got me really nervous, though, is what I see between flashes. The normal background brain activity. Each time a new flash runs through the brain, the pattern that appears afterwards is different."

"Like I was a new person?"

"Like that," Mark said. "According to what I see here, every eight to ten seconds you are a different person." He shook his head. "Evie, I've never seen anything like it."

"But I don't feel different," I said. "Do you think I've always been like this, or that it just started yesterday?"

Mark put his arms around me and his head on my shoulder, then squeezed me hard. "How the hell should I know, Evie," he said softly. "I've never even heard of anything like this. Whatever's going on in your head, it's nothing anybody's ever experienced. We're on our own on this one, kiddo."

Rage got the better of me then. I shoved him away, stamped over to the desk, and drove a fist solidly into the back of Mark's plush chair. Heavy as it was, it went over on its back with a crash, leaving its swivel feet spinning crazily in the air. I kicked the chair while it was down, sent it crashing onto its side, and stood over it with my fists planted firmly at my hips. I turned and glared at Alice as she stuck her head around the edge of the door. She withdrew hurriedly.

"So I've got the multiple personality disorder of the millennium?" I shouted. "All of a sudden, at the age of thirty-one, struck with a condition only my best friend should know about, only a thousand times worse than anyone has ever encountered?"

"Evie."

I looked up at the commanding note in his voice.

"Calm the hell down, or I'll calm you down." Mark's tone was icy, and he moved up beside me as he spoke, so as to be ready to follow through with his threat.

I took a deep breath, sighed deeply, and then looked him in the eye. "What am I supposed to do, Mark?" I said. "Ever since I saw that hair in the mirror this morning I've had this chill creeping about in my gut, running down my spine, little insects gnawing away at my insides."

"I don't blame you. Something like this would freak anyone out, but I'm pretty sure whatever it is just started in the past day. That means something caused it, and regardless of what we see going on in your brain patterns, you're still you." He cocked his head. "Or at least, you have been since you walked into this office. Both of those things are in our favor."

"Yeah, right. So I have one dominant personality that goes to sleep at night and lets some set of random ones take over?"

"I don't think so. I 'm telling you this is something new. We have to study your behavior and see how and when these changes manifest themselves. That's the only way we'll be able to understand how to deal with it."

"Right. So I just go on about my work, screwing up cases in court, freaking out a few judges with my hairstyle and outlandish clothes, piercing my skin and tattooing my body by night, and someone is going to study me for posterity?"

"I volunteer," Mark said.

"Mark, I can't lead a normal life until I figure out how to control whatever is going on inside me. How do we know I won't turn into some weird psycho in the middle of a trial? Or go suicidal while I'm crossing a bridge?"

"I'll watch you. I'll take the time off, and I will follow you wherever you go."

"You mean you'll be my full-time chaperone?"

"For want of a better term, yes. Look at it my way. Even if I didn't care about you, heaven help me, this is the most unusual thing to appear on the psychiatric horizon in decades. Any data I collect will make me famous. Will make us both famous."

"Infamous, more likely." I thought about it for a moment. Private client discussions would have to remain so, but pretty well everything else was OK, and if I started to act weird, I couldn't think of anyone who'd be able to react faster than someone who had known me as long as Mark. I put my hands on his shoulders and leaned my forehead against his. "Thanks, Mark. It helps to have you on my side." We stood like that for a few seconds, and then I turned and headed for the door. "So let's go and do something about my appearance."


* * *

Mark kept me under twenty-four-hour surveillance, and was as discreet as any woman could ask for. He slept on the floor of the bedroom in my apartment, used a camera with no audio feed to observe my private sessions, and sat in the courtroom for all my cases. Although I knew from his attitude and the rings under his eyes that he had made some discoveries, he refused to give me any information on what he found, saying that he didn't yet have enough data to draw conclusions. The only thing I knew for sure after a week of this was that our ten years of friendship were over. I knew that I liked the twenty-four hour thing, and I wanted it to continue, but with the intimacy that was missing, and I was sure he felt the same way. I stayed quiet, and waited.

Mark looked progressively more exhausted as time went by, but I respected his professional space and made no comments. It was nearly three weeks before he approached me at breakfast and told me he was ready to talk about it.

"Talk about what?" I asked.

"About your brain, Evie. The phenomenon of the century."

"Nice to think that someone finds it interesting. I'd get rid of it in a second, given the way it's treated me in the past few weeks."

"I've got some conclusions," he said. "I can't be totally sure, but I think I understand what's going on."

"All I can tell from my angle is that during the day I feel like everything goes on like normal. I win my cases, I hate my boss, and I have a generally boring existence. I like having you around." I paused. "You give me something to look forward to every morning. That, and my work."

"You don't see it, do you?"

"Spit it out, Mark. I'm not a shrink like you." I frowned at him. "And take that smug expression off your face. It makes you look ridiculous."

He went suddenly solemn. "You just diagnosed yourself, Evie. You are not alone in your lack of enthusiasm for life, but you are unique in how you deal with it. How your brain deals with it, rather."

"What, this multiple personality thing is like my way of livening up my life?"

"You are not suffering from multiple personality disorder. The closest way for me to describe your condition is--"

"Insanity? Depression?"

"Seepage."

"What the hell is that?"

"We all have the ability to empathize with others. Your mind has developed itself beyond anything I've ever heard of in this way. When you talk to clients, you pick up on their thoughts and feelings, your brain works them around and interprets what they went through, gets at the truth of the case by putting you entirely in their shoes as if you had experienced it yourself. At night, you dream, but not in the normal way. Your new experiences, pulled in from your cases, work their way into your dreams. It doesn't stop there, though. You sleepwalk, in a manner of speaking."

"You mean I parade around the apartment at night? No way."

"I checked with your parents. Apparently, you've done it to some degree all your life. Now, when you get up at night, you draw on the personality from one of your new experiences. Usually, the freshest one. You become them. It's like a vicarious existence, but to you it's just a dream. Kind of like it seeps into your dreams and becomes physical. It's how you deal with the lack of excitement in your life." He stroked my hair. "As long as I got up and intervened, the sleepwalking sessions were short and stayed inside the apartment. If I let you go, you changed the arrangement of the furniture, took a long bath, went out and bought makeup or junk food, even visited a dance club. Just to be sure, I was right, two nights ago I guided you back to my office and ran a scan on you. You registered as fully asleep, your brain patterns perfectly tranquil, except they were the patterns of the woman you'd defended in court the afternoon before."

"So I assume the role of the people I defend? I get my thrills out of leading other people's lives?"

"It's more general than that. The reason you're so successful as a lawyer and can defend clients so fully is that you don't just believe what they've told you, you experience it for yourself. You share what they went through, and you know their innocence from first hand experience. Do you remember that man the other week, Jack Salter, I think his name was?"

"Yeah. He was a slime. I refused to take his case."

"You had a bad night following that interview. You cried and kept looking at your hands, saying you didn't mean it. You knew that he was guilty of molesting his girlfriend. You'd experienced it."

"Jesus," I said. "Like some kind of psychic fortune teller. What every judge wishes he could do. See into the mind of the accused."

"Exactly. You see it, you experience it, and then it seeps out of you in your dreams. I think we can make use of this talent, Evie. You can take justice to a new level. Maybe we can even figure out how you do it, and spread the ability to others. Imagine what the justice system would be like if every accused could be judged on the basis of what he or she actually did, not on what a lawyer can convince the jury of."

"Sounds great, but you're missing the point, Mark. I'm stuck with this crap floating about in my head, and it's seeping out of me all the time. Sooner or later it's going to get me in real trouble."

"I think I have an answer for that," Mark said. "If I were here all the time, beside you all the time, maybe your super-brain wouldn't have a need for these night excursions. Maybe if you move away from your present practice and start a new one, which deals only with high profile cases and only with innocent clients. Guaranteed. I think that together we could cut your seepage to almost nothing."

I had to smile. "If anything will work, Mark, I think that's it."


* * *

I saw Braddock the next day. Huge murder case, him protesting his innocence, a media circus, but I knew as soon as I walked into the room that he'd done it, and I turned him down on the spot. Told the press what I thought. In the end, he got life, and the seepage was minimal.

Within a few weeks, the word got out, and Mark and I set up our practice together. A few slime bags showed up the first week, but they quickly got the message. So did the public. Other lawyers started taking their clients to lunch and inviting me. Soon enough, the guilty couldn't get a defense lawyer anywhere. It was justice, at last.

And Mark--by that time, I was pretty sure that he was sincere. Somehow, I just knew.


THE END


2014 Roderick D. Turner

Bio: In the author's words, "I like writing stories, and am particularly pleased when I find I enjoy what I have written. That is the best part of writing - you are after all most often your only audience. Second best is when you start writing about a character and they take over, almost literally writing the story themselves. Then you read it through and the characters surprise even you. Several of my stories have appeared in Aphelion, most recently Parasitic in February 2014. For more of my material, both prose and other media, visit www.rodentraft.com."

E-mail: Roderick D. Turner

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