The books became her life. She ate less,
slept less. Sometimes she woke up in the middle of the night to start reading
again. She read at work, at school, in bed, and on the toilet. She stopped
seeing friends. She stopped going to see Ruthanne.
Jake started coming
around less and less. The last time she saw him, he said he could tell he
wasn’t wanted, told her to call him when she’s ready to come out of her cave.
She wanted to stop him at the door, throw her arms around his neck and say, “Of
course I want you. Please don’t go.” Instead, she stood and watched him leave.
Once he was out the door, she opened The
Cosmic Heart and started reading again.
She never stopped to cry
for his absence. Never stopped to think about what her obsession was doing to
her life. She just kept reading.
Katie believed that
within their pages, she could find some kind of meaning. A cure for cosmic
ills? Nothing so dramatic, but she hoped to at least find something, some
nugget of wisdom, some piece of magic to help her get her thoughts in order. To
help her make sense of what had happened to her family. Maybe help her find out
what happened to Melissa. Maybe find out what really happened to her father,
She supposed this was
what it was like when someone began to explore a religion, particularly if they
were someone who expected a religion, a faith,
to fix them somehow. Like alcoholics who swore off the sauce and gave their
addiction to a higher power. Like a CEO who loses all his earthly gains and
decides to reject materialism altogether, throwing himself into Eastern
thought. Like the child whose family is killed by drone strikes, and grows up
to be radicalized, a killer for their god. All different degrees of mad
devotion. She wondered where she lay on the spectrum.
Something swam behind the
veil. She couldn’t see or hear it—couldn’t even see the veil, really—but she
knew it was there. Just. Out. Of reach.
The only things that
remained from her life before the books were the dreams. Everything on fire,
spiraling into that unfathomable black hole.
Three months after she
obtained the books, a call from Ruthanne woke her from a midmorning nap.
Hearing her therapist’s smooth, clean voice brought Katie, not just out of
sleep, but also back from the brink of disappearing completely into her own
“Ruthanne, hey, how are
“Concerned about you. I
haven’t heard from you since before the funeral.”
“Is everything okay?”
The question, standard
enough, something people asked each other all the time, carried great
magnitude. How Katie answered it seemed like the most important thing in the
world. Despite that…
“I, uh, I don’t know.”
“What do you mean?”
“Maybe I should schedule
And so they did. The next
morning Katie entered Ruthanne’s office, comforted by its familiarity. The
smells of cinnamon and chili powder. How the building’s temperature never
dipped below seventy-two degrees or above seventy eight. She crossed her arms
and plopped down in the waiting room, feeling at ease for the first time in
She made it a point not
to bring the books with her. She wanted to have her head clear for the
conversation. Hoped Ruthanne would serve as the perfect sounding board for
everything she had been going through.
A door opened and
Ruthanne padded down the hallway. She always moved in slow, purposeful strides,
feet soft on the ground. Her skin always had a glow to it, like a serene energy
pulsed somewhere within her. Katie sometimes wondered if Ruthanne’s catlike
manner of movement was all part of an act, something to make it seem like
Ruthanne had it all figured out when she was perhaps more damaged than Katie,
or any other client. The glow made it seem like more than an act though.
Something like that was hard to fake.
Katie knew very little
about Ruthanne’s personal life. Once she looked Ruthanne up on Facebook, but
most details were hidden from people who weren’t friends, and Katie couldn’t
bring herself to send a friend request to her therapist.
Ruthanne smiled and it
held a warmth Katie felt she didn’t deserve. When Katie examined the last few
months of her life, she saw a woman who had isolated herself, engaged in
selfish pursuit of answers while neglecting people who only cared about her.
Deserved or not, Ruthanne’s smile Katie even more at ease. She felt okay
admitting her own faults around Ruthanne, and part it was because of that
smile. So welcoming, so soft. On the way to the office, Katie hadn’t been sure
how much she would tell Ruthanne. After that smile, she decided she would
confess a good portion.
They said their hellos
and Ruthanne led Katie back to the room where their sessions took place. Katie
sat in the corner seat of a teal sofa and Ruthanne sat across from her in a
flowered armchair. Ruthanne rested a legal pad on her knees, but she seldom
wrote in it. For the most part she just listened. Only time she scribbled
something down was when Katie said something pivotal, profound, something they
could return to later.
Ruthanne waited for Katie
to talk. It was a ritual, in and of itself. Sometimes Katie started talking
immediately. Sometimes it took almost a minute. Other times, Katie just wanted
to scream and beg Ruthanne to talk instead. This time Katie led with an
“I’m sorry I haven’t set
an appointment in a while. It’s been a hard few months.”
raised, imploring Katie to continue.
“The funeral was a
nightmare. I had some kind of attack.”
“Like a panic attack?”
“I guess…I mean, I’m not
sure. I thought I saw my father in the woods outside the church and…I don’t
know. Jake and Dale said when they found me I was just screaming.”
“You said you saw your father?”
“I thought I did. My
memory of that day is kind of foggy.”
“I can understand that,
but you’re okay now though? No more attacks?”
“What about the dreams?”
“They’re still happening.
Pretty much every night, whenever I actually sleep anyway.”
“Are you not sleeping?”
“Not a lot. I got these
books the day I was cleaning out Dad’s house. They were intended for him, but,
grew somber. Right on cue, but genuine.
“Did the sale of the
house go okay?”
“Yeah, some developer
bought it. Not the ideal buyer, but I just wanted to get rid of it, really.”
Katie stopped talking,
let several beats of silence pass. She worried they were getting off track by
talking about the house.
“So, these books,”
Ruthanne said, as if reading Katie’s mind.
A nervous laugh escaped Katie
and she covered her mouth.
“Basically, they’ve been
my life for the last few months. I can’t stop reading them or thinking about
them.” Ruthanne frowned. “They’re religious texts. I mean, sort of. More like,
I don’t know, esoteric mythology or something. I never heard of them until they
showed up at Dad’s house.”
“What are they called?”
Katie told her.
“Never heard of them
either. Can you describe the symbol?”
“I can draw it.”
Ruthanne handed her the
legal pad and a pen. Katie sketched a rough version of the symbol, about the
size of her hand, its points and angles exaggerated, the animals mere
impressions. She handed back the pad.
“I’ve never seen that
before,” said Ruthanne.
“Yeah, I’ve tried occult
message boards in every seedy corner of the internet you can imagine and
haven’t come up with shit. It’s very obscure. The book explains it—and The Cosmic Heart’s—obscurity by saying
people who share the wisdom without permission would be killed.”
Ruthanne laughed. Katie
“You don’t believe any of this, do you?”
Katie kept a straight
face, said nothing. Ruthanne took a heavy breath. Worry creased the therapist’s
features. She wrote something down.
“Anyway,” Katie said, “my
brother’s girlfriend went missing the day I got the books. I found my sketch of
the man who assaulted me and my mother in her room. Maybe it’s all coincidence,
but I don’t know.”
“Did you tell the
“Of course.” Katie peered
out the window. Several cars zipped by on the street below. Sunlight reflected
off the window of a nearby building and made her eyes water when she stared for
too long. “I guess I’m just looking for answers.”
“We all are,” Ruthanne
said. “Especially in difficult times. You’ve had a tumultuous year.”
“I think the answers are
in those books.”
“Like their message may
help all of this make sense? Sure, I can appreciate that.”
“More than that. The
books have these rituals and…”
“You’re thinking about
“I wouldn’t recommend
that.” Her voice hardened. Katie had never heard Ruthanne take such a tone.
“When people are in a fragile mental state, dabbling in the occult, hell any religion, can have an adverse effect
on your ability to distinguish reality from fantasy. I did a thesis on it.”
“Maybe, I don’t think I’m
“I didn’t mean…”
“Except, you did.”
Ruthanne’s lips pressed together. Katie gave a dry laugh. “You want to talk
about the difference between reality and fantasy? I never told you everything
about the day my mother and I were attacked. That woman my father was with, the
one the man who kidnapped us wanted back? She was someone from Dad’s past,
someone who died and came back.”
“At least that’s what he
told me, and what choice did I have but to believe him after seeing a photo of
her standing next to him when he was twenty-two. So, yeah, it’s safe to say, my
ability to tell between reality and fantasy is a little skewed.”
“Are you thinking about
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I have to ask.”
“I know, and I’m sorry.
No, I’m not suicidal, homicidal. I don’t own any guns and I’m not fucked up on
“I’m worried about you.”
Katie tried to focus on
the comforting scents of the office, on Ruthanne’s kind face, even though the
jaw was tight and the eyes bore into Katie. She needed to regain her composure.
She hadn’t come here to fight.
The session’s time ran
out without any other words spoken. This was becoming an uncomfortable pattern
in Katie’s human interactions.
Katie handed Ruthanne a
check and said, “I’ll call you.”
As she marched down the
office stairs to her car, she wondered if she would ever see Ruthanne again.