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Virgil Walks When Prometheus Rises

by

Chuckie Campbell

 

 
     
   

 

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"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."

                                                                                                (Vonnegut, Mother Night )

 

THEY SAY BEFORE YOU DIE EVERYTHING FLASHES BEFORE YOUR EYES.

            If that were true, she thought, where were the blotched memories, the sensations of transcendence, the bright tunnels? After all, what the hell kind of near-death experience doesn't have a tunnel? Why was it she only felt some long shuddering wave, hot for an instant, then weightless like the feeling people describe before fainting? She heard background noise, but it sounded far away. She felt herself trying to breathe, but the air seemed thick, torn into rags and everywhere around her--except in her lungs. What remained was one guiding voice, speaking omnisciently over dashes of thought, opening all at once, then, slamming shut like some obscure door to another world.

            But Leslie MacIntosh was not dying of anything, except maybe a need for attention.  

            Leslie MacIntosh was not dead, yet.

***

Looking back before the money, the sex, it all started one leg at a time. First with her right leg, making it rigid and taut, then consciously relaxing all the muscles from her toes to her hip. Then it was her left leg, feeling the sensation tighten and then release.

            Then her stomach and chest the same.

            Then her back and shoulders the same.

            Then, rendering her body limp, she let the tension in her face melt away and drain out of her.   Next, she concentrated on becoming relaxed--then heavy--relaxed--then empty--relaxed and so on.   This was the drill.

            She breathed in.

            Then out.

            She was the rhythm--in and out, buoyant and light, unforced and even, smooth and flat.   She was told to think thoughts like:   My legs are tired and heavy . She was told to think:   My eyes are closed now and I will begin to feel a pleasant listlessness fall over me. As I lie here comfortably, I will find myself relaxing more and more. I'll give way to this feeling. I will feel a sense of comfort and well-being. Drifting deeper and deeper, I will go deeper, deeper with every breath.

            And she did.

            She did just as Victor Lombard told her. After all, Lombard was no beginner in the field of hypnosis. He was considered, and rightfully so, an established and highly qualified authority on the subject. His techniques were used by many to help lose unwanted weight, stop smoking, stuttering, twitching, biting their nails, beating their girlfriends. There was nothing that Lombard thought hypnosis couldn't do. Because of this, Victor Lombard was a billionaire. His ideas became the religion of movie stars and rock gods, made him a best-selling author, put his voice on instructional tapes, his face on infomercials and talk shows.

            Victor Lombard wasn't trying to think outside the box.

            Victor Lombard was going to redesign the box altogether.

            To the lower class and middle America, Lombard was the American Dream, and nightly as they caught a glimpse of him, with his square shoulders and bronze face, high cheek bones and animated eyes winking into the camera and saying "When you conceive of your limitations, you create them," they mouthed his words back to him.

            There was that rumor that Victor Lombard helped cure a lady of cancer.

            There was that rumor that Victor Lombard converted a sex addict into a nun.

            But, Leslie didn't have cancer, and, she definitely didn't want to become a nun. She just wanted what most sexually active females want from their significant other.  

            Leslie MacIntosh had never had an orgasm.

            She had been on sex diets and done sexercises, had oral sex and anal sex, cybersex and phone sex, read books and watched movies all amounting to--

            Nothing.  

            She had done the "reverse amazon," the "head to toe," the "rocking chair," the "leapfrog," the "cowgirl," the "spread eagle" wrapping around to a "stand and carry" into "a reverse piggy back" and back to a "wheelbarrow..."

            Still nothing.  

            Masturbation--nope.   Tantric--nun uh. Tribadism...

            Maybe, she really couldn't remember.

            So, after actually giving birth to two kids, going through five years of marriage counseling, and even considering surgery, Mrs. MacIntosh was at her last resort. Money was not a problem and approaching her sexual peak made what was once a tiny inconvenience for a humble soul now an obstruction hindering nearly every thought in her brain.   

            So she told herself she would no longer feel like a part of her life was missing.

            She told herself that "When you conceive of your limitations, you create them."

            So, as she lay stretched across the cold leather of Lombard's couch, back arched, eyelids fluttering, mind completely in the gutter and her frame completely lax, she followed Victor Lombard's instructions.   Lombard scanned over her with his eyes, then, dimming the blinds, he began to speak. "If you are done with the preliminary drills, I now want you to imagine that you are standing before an escalator. Looking down, you see the rails and the steps moving beneath you.   I am going to count backwards from ten to zero. When I reach zero, you will already be under and will not remember anything afterwards. Can you see the escalator?"

            Leslie bit her lower lip and replied, "yes."

            Lombard began his counting.

            "Ten--Now step on the escalator and begin to go down."  

            "Nine-eight-seven-six--going deeper and deeper with each count."

            "Five-four-three--still deeper and moving down."

            "Two-one-zero--Now, step off of the bottom and go deeper and deeper with each breath."

***

The next thing Leslie remembered was ten. When she heard the number ten, something happened. She awoke refreshed, like a new woman. Something entirely pristine had emerged from inside her. As she looked around, she noticed the lighting in the room was soft, highlighting Lombard's surrealist paintings that lined the walls.

            There was something different about the room--about her.

            The shadows lay stretching around corners of cherry paneling, and as she examined the bookcases and tables, she felt a breeze of amnesia flow over her. As she looked closer at the bookcases, she imagined pulling out one of the rare books with one of the unusually long titles and discovering a secret passage that would lead to a set of never-ending stairs.

            But she didn't.

            Instead, her attention was stolen by the expanse of the room. It was big and open and set along the tall ceilings and gilded aisles. From where she was, she could barely spot what looked to be a bar sitting distant through an open corridor, branching into more corridors, laid side by side, and wedged together by leather sofas and club chairs. With her fist, she rubbed her eyes and re-opened them. As her focus returned, she spotted a silhouette lined in splashes of light.   In the corner of the room stood Lombard with a whiskey in his hands, propped against a grandfather clock.  

            "How do you feel?" asked Lombard as he opened the shades and circled the couch.  

            "I feel good. In a much better mood." She was glowing. If everything else were black and white, she felt as if she were in color. Lombard moved behind her and sat his drink on the table, placing his cold hands on her warm shoulders. At first, the cool temperature of his grip electrocuted her. Then, as his hands molded themselves to the contour of her flesh, she could feel their presence releasing tension, cradling the avenue between her neckline and ears, kneading the pressure from her back and neck.

            "Many researchers believe that the endorphins released in an orgasm are involved in controlling the body's response to stress and determining mood. Endorphins are a natural substance in the body that naturally relieves pain. "

            He massaged deeper, moving back over her shoulders and down the sides of her arms. "They have a natural analgesic effect that causes contractions in the intestinal wall and releases hormones from the pituitary gland, and their release also causes laughter, while a depletion of bodily endorphins can have the exact opposite effect--it can lead to depression."

            He stepped away and removed his hands. Re-circling the couch, he pulled a cigar from his ear and wedged it between his lips. Leslie noticed that his heavy silk tie was loosened and his baby-soft cashmere jacket was lying on the floor.  

            "So does that mean I'm depressed?" Leslie said, still drowsy and confused.

            Lombard glanced into her eyes, then closed his own and began to speak. He grabbed her clammy hand just as if he knew exactly where it should be and said, "Of course not, Mrs. MacIntosh. Today you learned how to harness your energy, and, Mrs. MacIntosh, you have a remarkable energy."

            There was a slight pause between his words as he opened his eyes and removed the cigar from his lips with his off hand.   "Energy. The purest form of life. Did you know Einstein once said that one day we wouldn't need our bodies, we would become the purest form of life--energy." Releasing her hand, he dug deep into his pockets.   Looking down at the planks of his hardwood floor, he said, "Today, Mrs. MacIntosh, you had your first mature emotional and physical sexual response." He spoke to her as though he were reading the words off the insides of his eyelids.            

            Like it was all rehearsed.

            Like he had been here before.

            "So now I can do this all the time?" she replied rather quietly.

            "As far as I'm concerned, the response was normal, Mrs. MacIntosh. We had changes in breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure as well as the dilation of the pupils, darkening of the lips and flushing of the skin. These are fairly positive signs, but the true test is whether you may reach climax with your husband."

            A strange smirk came over Victor Lombard, and, as if to hide it, he stretched it further into a full smile.   Leslie felt renewed, but not without a little curiosity. It was joy mixed with uneasiness, entangled in a web of mysterious events that were unmemorable. Still, if the practice worked, Lombard was what everyone expected him to be--a genius.   Leslie hugged Victor Lombard like he had once taken a bullet for her, and she collected her things. She no longer felt ostracized, cut off from the right to enjoy her sexuality.

            She felt like a whole new woman.

            As she opened the heavy mahogany door to Lombard's office, throwing her purse over her shoulder and the insecurities of yesterday under the blanket of her newfound identity, she glanced back to thank Lombard for everything.   But when she looked back, he was gone.

***

The next morning Kevin MacIntosh crawled from his bed a battered and beaten man.

            His legs, arms, and back in a continuous cramp. His head looked to be spinning like a cyclone spiraling from a funnel cloud. The whites of his eyes were jaundice yellow; the bags under them so heavy that they sank into the mush of his face.   He now walked and talked like a slave, with his head to the ground, shoulders slumped and low, limping with an imaginary ball and chain manacled to his ankle. (Perhaps this description is all too pleasant, let one perhaps consider another appendage to which that ball and chain lay cuffed.)    

            Regardless, Leslie MacIntosh had completely outdone herself.

            She walked with a bop as if the theme music from Three's Company followed her through every room.   She wore a short skirt that day. When the sun went down, she wore sunglasses.   Her favorite new drink was Jose Cuervo tequila with a twist of lime. She spoke in 70's slang.

            Leslie MacIntosh was focused.

            She saw the bigger picture in life where before she was afraid to look.   She was blessed with food, shelter, and money. She liked her job and both of her kids were attending college on scholarship. Not to mention her sex life was fabulous.   Whereas before she could never achieve orgasm, now she was setting records--having them in multiples. Two at a time. Three at a time.

            In the morning. In the shower. In the car.

            On the counter. On the sink.  

            Everyday.

            Every way one could think of having sex, Leslie was going for it. She had become an unstoppable force of sexual energy, a machine.   Until one night as she skipped through the door of the local XXX movie store, Leslie MacIntosh lost her focus.   As she stared down at the various pornographic materials before her, she realized that she couldn't read the names printed on the boxes--everything seemed bleary. Wiping her eyes and picking up the movie, she missed a stair and nearly fell approaching the nearest counter. She laid down the video and reached into her purse.

            She looked up, expecting to see a sixteen year old, pimple-faced cashier, but instead she saw a flesh-colored splotch.   The fuzzy image seemingly looked back at her and said, "Three dollars and fifty cents, Mrs. MacIntosh."

            Still digging in her purse, she pulled out a number of wadded up bills which she was forced to guess their value and gave them to the cashier.   He looked back at her out of the blur and said, "Mrs. MacIntosh, this is fifteen dollars..."

            Embarrassed, she said, "Oh, just catching up on some late fees," and grabbed the movie.   As she stumbled out the door, Leslie began to believe she was going blind.            

N Months later, when she arrived at the doorstep of Victor Lombard, Leslie MacIntosh knew that there were several ways to miss the big picture. One of the ways was to look at everything up close and concentrate on every minute detail.

            Another was to be blind as a bat.

            She was no longer walking with a bop, more like with a German Shepherd and a walking stick. She was wearing her sunglasses, but it was daytime.   Her theme music was "Three Blind Mice."

            As Leslie picked up her walking stick and bludgeoned the base of the front door, her stick scarred and welted the heavy flat surface, but still she continued to beat the door.   As she swung and connected, her German Shepherd began to howl, and without hesitation the lashing and lashing remained unrelenting.

            Then, the door slowly cracked and an eye appeared in a small crease.   A voice emerged and said, "What-in-the-hell do you think you're doing?" Immediately, Leslie recognized the voice and swung the stick in the direction of the utterance. Completely missing, she connected brutally with a marble sculpture that sent a vibration from the end of her cane, to the support of the handle, into her hand, and through every skeletal fiber in her body.

            As she dropped her stick and fell to her knees, Lombard placed his arm around her.

            "Come on, step inside before someone calls the police. We can make it better in here."

***

Long ago there existed a myth among the Aztecs. It was recited as a prayer for those who were sent off to war in hope that they would come back without injury. It went as follows:

            He who loses his sight hears like a wolf.

            He who loses his hearing sees like a hawk.

            He who loses his taste knows sound is vibration.

            He who loses his mind forgets how he can touch the world.

            Leslie MacIntosh was hearing like a wolf. Leslie MacIntosh didn't give a damn about how to touch the world.   Leslie wanted to be able to see again, and Victor Lombard was the only one who could tell her how. As Victor paced around the room, Leslie sat Indian style on his hardwood floor, the dog sitting beside her, tracing the rhythm in Victor's steps.   Once again Victor shut his eyes and started to speak.

            "Okay, I need you to listen and listen well. If you do not, you may be blind for a week, but you risk being blind for the rest of your life."

            Tears formed and flowed down under Leslie's sunglasses, rolling down her cheeks.  

            "Leslie, some people think that when a person goes blind, because of their loss of sight, they develop an acute sense of hearing.   Many physicians propose that this is because the body must compensate to bring a normal balance to the natural equilibrium of all the bodies senses.   Your condition has been caused by an imbalance in that natural equilibrium. Naturally when you lose the ability to use one of your senses, it is a source of function for your body to compensate.   In simpler terms, if you lose your sight, your body compensates by enhancing your other four senses as a survival technique." Lombard stopped pacing and bent low to the ground as if to let Leslie feel him close. Attempting to show him she was paying attention, she tilted her chin--but in the wrong direction.

            "The hypnosis cannot add anything to the natural senses of your body; it can only take away from one and balance it with another. It is an attempt to modify the stability that is naturally present and create a new one--one that functions stronger and healthier. Your condition is rare. Your body must have been already in balance, so,   in order to make up for your unfortunate sexual dysfunctions, it was necessary to dull another one of your senses to improve the nerve stimulation, the blood flow and over all ability to feel during sexual intercourse. Most people don't go blind, Leslie; they get contacts. Your senses were forced to compensate for such a lack of natural nerve stimulation that your body over compensated--you went blind."

            She looked over in the correct direction for the first time and asked, "How do I get my vision back? How do I see again?"

***

If Victor Lombard could cure cancer, could he heal the blind?

            If Victor Lombard could convert a sex addict into a nun, could he raise the dead?

            All of which were the thoughts of Leslie MacIntosh when she agreed to participate in a hypnotic procedure that involved being dead for 10 minutes. It was a hypnotic technique called "Virgil walks when Prometheus rises."   The procedure goes as follows: The patient involved goes under normally. The patient then remains in a hypnotic state until all memories--childhood, repressed, or otherwise--are stripped from the subconscious. The patient, then, enters what has been described as an empty hollow. It has been hypothesized that this emptiness is due to the patient's inability to manipulate memory; in all theory, every memory has been successfully probed. At this moment, shamans who have conducted such practices have described the next stage as entering a dream state.   This state seems to fit the profile of what modern medicine has often referred to as a near-death experience.   Since hypnosis can only take away and redistribute what is already in the body, many refused to use the technique.   However, to Lombard's knowledge, it had been attempted once. There were rumors that it failed.   Attempting a technique like "Virgil walks when Prometheus rises" was not for an advocate who thought outside the box.

            Attempting a technique like this was redesigning the box altogether.

            Victor Lombard knew this. Victor Lombard told Leslie MacIntosh all of this.

            She nodded and agreed and Leslie MacIntosh began dying one leg at a time. First with her right leg, making it rigid and taut, then, consciously relaxing all the muscles from her toes to her hip. Then it was her left leg, feeling the sensation tighten and then release.

            Then her stomach and chest the same.

            Then her back and shoulders the same.

            Then rendering her body limp, she let the tension in her face melt away and drain out of her.   Then she concentrated on becoming relaxed--then heavy--relaxed--then empty--relaxed and so on.   Once more this was the drill.

            She breathed in.

            Then out.

            She became the rhythm--in and out, buoyant and light, unforced and even, smooth and flat.   She thought to herself:   My legs are tired and heavy . She thought to herself:   My eyes are closed now and I will begin to feel a pleasant listlessness fall over me. As I lie here comfortably, I will find myself relaxing more and more. I'll give way to this feeling. I will feel a sense of comfort and well-being. Drifting deeper and deeper, I will go deeper, deeper with every breath.

            And once again Victor Lombard began to talk to Leslie saying, "I now want you to imagine that you are standing before an escalator. Looking down, you see the rails and the steps moving beneath you.   I am going to count backwards from ten to zero. When I reach zero, you will already be under and will not remember anything afterwards."

            "Ten--Now, step on the escalator and begin to go down."  

            "Nine-eight-seven-six--going deeper and deeper with each count."

            "Five-four-three--still deeper and moving down."

            "Two-one-zero--Now, step off of the bottom and go deeper and deeper with each breath."

            As she questioned where her mind might be going, she heard background noise, but it sounded far away. She felt herself trying to breathe, but the air seemed thick, torn into rags and everywhere around her--except in her lungs. What remained was Victor's guiding voice, speaking omnisciently over dashes of thought, opening all at once and then slamming shut like some obscure door to another world.  

            Leslie's mind was on fire; memories floated and dropped all around her like burning flakes of snow. On the outside she convulsed and twitched as Lombard suppressed her tongue, preventing seizures. A storm stirred within her soul and Lombard directed her through narrow rooms almost like he knew what was about to happen.

            Like it was all rehearsed.

            Like he had been here before.

            He repeated softly in her ear, "This is now the basis of being. This is the electric sensation of pure life."   Gripping her shoulders, he continued, "I belong to nobody. I am not what I once was. I have no past. I am cut loose and there is really nowhere to go but where they take me." He leaned closer and with passion in his eyes said, "I am separated from the outside world physically and now mentally. I am waiting. Waiting on change." Lombard watched her eyes as they fluttered and her legs as they kicked and then...

            She was still.

            All was still.

            And Victor Lombard whispered these words in her ear: "I owe everything to Victor Lombard. Which of me believes this I do not know."

            Lombard counted backwards to ten.

            "Zero. You are stepping on the escalator."

            "One-two-three-four--you are rising."

            "Five-six-seven--rising higher and higher toward your destination."

            "Eight-nine-ten--now, step off the escalator--you have reached your destination. You may awake when I snap my fingers."

            Lombard snapped his fingers, but all remained still. He snapped his fingers once more and Leslie appeared stiffer. Lombard snapped and snapped and snapped some more and watched as Leslie MacIntosh lay cold and dead, frozen from a dream state in which Lombard's methods failed her.  

            Immediately, Lombard panicked and the dog began to bark. He ran along side the gilded aisles, knocking over painting after painting.   Sprinting through an open corridor, branching into more corridors, laid side by side, and wedged together by leather sofas and club chairs; Lombard appeared to be a maniac. Turning lights on and off. Shifting and moving things.

            Pacing.

            Once he reached the open bar, he checked everywhere for a knife. He frantically checked the cabinets for trash bags and towels. Then he ran out to his garage with all in his hands, started his car and opened the garage doors.   Popping the trunk, he filled it with shovels and loose rope. Gathering himself, he picked up the knife and swooped up the towels and trash bags.

            Sprinting back through his huge house, Lombard opened the heavy mahogany door to his office, throwing the towels over his shoulder and the possibility of being a murderer under the blanket of some odd, newfound identity.   But when he looked back to where Leslie MacIntosh had once lain, he found nothing.

            When he looked back, she was gone.

 

     

 

 

Chuckie Campbell

Chuckie Campbell received his B.A. in Communications from Lee University, and more recently, his M.A. in English from Eastern Kentucky University. In the spring, he was the winner of the Madonna Marsden Fiction Award for best fiction and best in graduate coursework. He also served as an editorial assistant for the anthology New Growth: An Anthology of Recent Kentucky Writing . Currently, Chuckie teaches developmental composition at Eastern Kentucky University.

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