PART B (The City)

Stripped and Sold for Parts - PART B, The City

We brood in outer darkness like ancient spirits over endless seas, ever peering across this great fixed gulf to where our new homes shall be.

As we await our last departure, let us consider once again the nature of our humans and their plight.

Children, have you noticed something altogether new?

Have you felt a sudden massive change or shift?

Call me desperate, even foolish, for these words of baffling hope.

Soon there shall be no need for words.

My human came to me, wavering and reluctant.

I then sensed something of an eerie closeness in the flashing.

What I glimpsed next as I fought to tear my focus from eternity was so bizarre I had to wonder how it could be real.

I saw my human pressing in toward me with all its might.

Yes, I have surmised the humans lack our ability to think beyond mere points and simple lines stretching between single events.

We provide a gateway, which proves ever more enticing.

And our humans never fail to draw us in.

Yet they then get wrenched away to their own flashing.

Regardless of the cruelty or unfairness of such basic creatures being driven for our sake toward their compulsions, I was confident a thought close to just one more time, just one more… would always keep my human coming back.

The automatic pull seemed to work like a tripwire set to spring the perfect trap each time.

So surely you can imagine how taken aback I felt to find my human literally leaning in, desperate for more.

Moments later, as I sensed the flashing in its beauty begin to ease, I grew aware of another entity hovering just beyond my precious crystal . . . something of an entirely different kind.

I will call it a “thing that showed” or “thing that wished to be.”

Like me, it was not something my human could know directly.

The thing was also unaware of me, my human, and really all but itself.

I watched it writhe about in blind desperation, bound by a darkness greater than even that about which we dwell.

My attention was pulled back to my human as it came to engorge itself with more.

Then gushing with the weight of galaxies, I felt myself glance the very farthest edges of my swelling sacred crystal.

It was dizzyingly perfect, beyond anything I have…

Still, that same odd sense of being watched or studied only remained and grew.

And my human pulled in even nearer, searching as if for an actual face or eyes to stare into.

Of course it would not find what it was looking for.

To then cast my gaze outside that most intense and wondrous of all flashings was to meet and hold the nothing eyes of death.

I can only say I was driven by the same grand sense of purpose I feel now in sharing this with you.

I had to know how my human’s patterns had been changed.

Instead of just one more, just one more… its function had shifted closer to: I want everything from you that you can give me!

As that most splendid of flashings finally slowed to steady streams of light and power, I was able to better grasp the nature of the strange and lonely being locked outside . . . the thing that showed or wished to be.

For simplicity, I will say I heard it speaking itself aloud, ever repeating only these same words: “You people come up with all sorts of amazing ways to harness value, and yet you stop yourselves and each other?!”

Though I alone could comprehend the thing and its expression, its very presence had been enough to alter my human’s function.

I ask you, dear ones, to please consider what this transformation in human thought patterns might mean for us . . . a shift from fearful surrender to ruthless eagerness.

Could our humans be capable of seeing for themselves some of the good . . . the value to them . . . we provide?

I dare not stretch this line of giddy reasoning too far, for I realize relying on human appreciation to serve our great aims goes against everything we have understood of how our kingdom is to come.

How outlandish and risky this all sounds, I know.

And I confess, I do still have much cause for caution.

For there are two niggling questions I have not yet found answers to.

First, after failing to find whatever it was looking for when it sought to stare straight into me, my human has since turned away again to fear and hesitation, at least in part.

I consider the silent words of the thing that showed or wished to be: “You people come up with all sorts of amazing ways to harness value, and yet you stop yourselves and each other?!”

Having known humans for lifetimes, is there anything that holds them back from making use of what they find worthwhile other than fear of running out . . . fear of there not being enough?

And if such fear is what underlies their irresolution, then let that inspire our hesitant assurance all the more.

For does fear of lack ever not push them to build and build, and go on building, so as to cling tightly to all the “finite” good they see?

My second remaining question is whether there are other things that show or wish to be, and if those things’ unheard expressions have the same effect on humans.

Again, my first question to you: Have you noticed an immense and sudden shift?

Take heart, children, and always remember: Regardless of exactly how, we can rest in knowing our prophecies shall surely be shown true.

It is but a matter of time before all final questions of inconsistency are answered like the rest, and our precise way forward presents itself.

. . .

There was once an army of ideas.

Of course people couldn’t see it as it was.

So lives and careers got built around fighting to scribble ideaesque shapes on flags.

The first generation of competing scribblers had their sights set on authority.

Each worked to make their particular shapes the only ones trusted and adhered to.

All flags chosen came to be held aloft by a proud and special, select few called collectors.

In the beginning, the collectors arranged themselves and their flags naturally into squads, platoons, companies, and battalions that more or less matched the ideas’ formations.

The intricacy and beautiful order of this ever-expanding, fabric-and-squiggly-line enterprise made it all the more enticing to command.

One day, both the unseen idea army and its profiteering counterpart came unaware upon a great and consuming fog that filled the City.

As both armies marched headlong into the fog, nothing at all changed for the collectors.

As always, their eyes stayed glued above to only where their flags were meant to fly amongst those nearby.

In fact, the collectors soon became extremely successful in the City.

The prestige of their flags protruding high up over the fog drew many from far and near to come be made collectors themselves, even at great expense.

To the collectors now, and all who saw them, the flags and symbols were and had always been the ideas.

Lost, the forgotten ideas fell blind in the fog, unable to see or even remember one another.

Each was hopelessly isolated.

Most wondered if they were real.

Every lone idea might as well have called itself aloud with all its worth, yet found no one to hear or understand.

Maybe in the City, the lost ideas could have stayed stuck forever in blank and grey for no good reason at all.

. . .

A grandson of one who came from the land of Genesee and Adrian cautiously enters a place in the City where rights to hold flags are bought and sold.

He is rough, with hard eyes, and scars that range like craggy rocks across his neck and face.

His clothing and movements match those of foreigners known never to pull plants, clean floors, or otherwise serve the City’s natives.

Alone, he is painfully aware of being the first of his kind to show any interest in the power and beauty of the flag shapes.

He reaches a daunting inner gate.

A tall figure with a black cap and heavy stick steps forward to block the way.

A tiny metal shield pinned to the tall man’s chest shows all in the City he is in charge of keeping something safe.

Neither man speaks.

Anger wells up like a hidden eruption from beneath the scarred man’s skin . . . a hot seething he has always known, yet one he would never hope to carry.

As teeth and muscles clench unseen, the scarred man feels the coarsest patches of his face begin to steam.

He knows he will not pass this point.

He has reached what will now have forever been his limit.

Thus far, and no farther.

Not him.

Too different and too old to be so out of place.

Too early, and too late.

In a nearby den, points of view considered newest in the City are blurted with utmost seriousness, one-by-one, to then be leaped upon by any who might wish to try to tear them down for fun.

Most in the den would say to the scarred man stuck at that possibly redundant gate something along the lines of: “Why would you want to look like trouble? What could a security guard really do to a grown-ass man if you’d just say something like, ‘Yeah, I’m thinking of going here. I wanted to check it out first.’? What’s your motivation for putting out this vibe that can only tie you to the worst troublemakers in our society? What good reason could you have ever had to join a gang in the first place?”

Many cries for help are heard like beacons in that busy den.

Yet everyone ignores one man’s.

The ignored man concludes his day’s renditions with: “I hope you people don’t feel like I’m blaming you for all the horrible stuff in my life!”

A woman somewhere listens as an older man attempts to speak.

She quivers, fondly imagining hurting him as his voice quarbles and rasps along so slowly, breaking unpredictably into disgusting slurps and squeaks.

She is incensed at his failure to keep up with his own thoughts . . . infuriated by all signs of his coming apart.

. . .

Jordan Mackie. Male. 40’s. Outlier.

If not for my intervention, Jordan would have undoubtedly gone on spouting a perpetual string of utter nonsense for our entire hour.

Even his responses to my direct questions were wholly random and ridiculous.

I first asked about his reasons for coming, to which he rifled off a string of short, disconnected sentences, showing no signs of stopping (or even slowing).

I considered that perhaps he might be testing me, gauging my ability to unearth some common theme or hidden thread tucked secretly beneath and between each incoherent line.

No such test was taking place.

An early example:

JORDAN:

“I can’t read, but smelled all the books at the library.

“I never voted neither.

“But I dated this girl, and she turned out to be a shark in a reverse scuba suit.

“Said she was a mako.”

To this, I asked if he was joking.

His response:

JORDAN:

“I’m a walking contradiction in these overalls, man.

“Come on, bats, why crap in caves?

“You see in the dark!”

Most would be at a loss in the face of such stalwart absurdity.

Fortunately for me, my Method made obvious within minutes exactly what Jordan was intending though his unique and endless onslaught—key word: intending.

The aggressive, zany nature of his forced, incessant folly revealed it to be a clear rhetorical tool.

A tool for what?

Unapproachable, unquestionable, unpunishable insanity was actually his excuse to allow for total freedom.

In other words, choosing to always come across as crazy could negate the need for shame or restraint of any kind.

As with every case, Jordan’s Sticking or Breaking Point would result from his true intentions and motivations being brought to light.

Yet the tricky part with some Outliers is they seldom speak to have real conversations.

Masked well in shells of practiced loudness, humor, madness, etc. these are not easily touched by others’ words at all.

In that regard, Jordan and Ray are opposites.

As I pondered how I might go about erecting a vocal mirror to what was essentially a noise box with no OFF switch, one of Jordan’s quips seemed to leap out from the rest to provide my Method with its perfect means.

JORDAN:

“Help me, Doc!

“It’s like I got a banana farm with no dirt.

“But I told this girl I’m packing plantains so she’d be, y’know, the good kind of surprised.”

From this particular deflection, it was the phrase “packing plantains” I recognized as key.

I knew exactly what to say, if not how the rest of the conversation would play out.

All the basic stepping stones toward Jordan’s Sticking or Breaking Point were now in view.

I love Outliers.

I cut in as soon as he paused to take a breath.

ME:

“You weren’t embarrassed at all about surprising that girl, were you?

“Is there anything that embarrasses you?”

I expected an attempt at re-steering away from what would likely be perceived as approaching (unbearable) sincerity.

Yet he remained quiet for a moment—the first real break in his continuous steam—as if he had been knocked somewhat out of alignment.

JORDAN:

“Na, Doc.

“I’m an intransigent fixture of blackness.”

ME:

“Well, good.

“That’s what I thought.

“So you can be completely open with everyone about all the things you want, right?

“You never have to hide at all?”

JORDAN:

“I ain’t crazy.

“This is me.

“I’m real . . . right?”

I had been handed the correct strand or tip to now pull and unravel the knot.

ME:

“No, you’re not crazy at all.

“Not really.

“And you’re not pretending.

“You can talk and act however you want.

“You can be completely free.

“That’s important to you, isn’t it?”

He smiled.

You see, driving our dialogue in the direction of Jordan’s true intentions by calling out a positive aspect of his secret motivation (freedom) worked to cancel out any opportunities he might have taken to lunge away into offense or defensiveness.

Here is where I could turn to textbooks, and cite copious studies and research to back up my…

Blah, blah, blah…

Case closed.

I may have mentioned wanting to keep these notes as jargon-free as possible.

And how difficult would the relevant research really be for anyone reading to find?

Please understand, I celebrate the research.

Of course I recommend you follow and fully familiarize yourself with the literature.

In fact, it was due only to ever-expanding degrees of confirmation I discovered in my studies that I was forced to abandon the inefficiency of merely mapping my Method’s beta form (indefinitely) to further approved interpretations of taught conclusions.

It was my findings from the literature I followed here, out to the real world—to my world of serving various Outliers and Normals.

Should I have kept my Method untried and hidden just to overload its burgeoning core with a surplus of accepted terms expressed in others’ words?

Should I have waited just to bolster its acclaim by adding certain special letters to my name?

Let me share another quick case just for comparison.

I met with a young Normal girl and her mother yesterday morning.

I believe the girl was looking for ways to control her anger—specifically, humiliating rage outbursts suffered semi-daily in class.

Now, research would suggest sending a professional there to the school to examine the girl’s behavior, and to walk her through techniques for calming down, better expressing feelings, etc.

I agree, of course.

That would be best.

Yet who could afford such a service?

Consider that the mother is already paying top dollar for them to come see me.

My Method simply brought that girl—in a single session, just like Jordan—to her own individual Sticking or Breaking Point where she could no longer hide from her anger’s true source and consequences.

Or, I think it was anger…

Anyway, it felt invigorating to begin today with such a smooth case as Jordan’s.

I got quite little sleep again last night.

Why?

Actually, there was another strange cup dream.

In the only part I can still recall, I was here in session with an old, old man.

And this time it was his arms that were the giant coffee cups.

They looked like ceramic saucers with long, flat edges sticking out sideways from his shoulders.

He was shaky, as if he simply could not keep any part of himself still.

I knew somehow his rampant jitters were from desperation for me to solve his problem and show him how he might drink from his massive cup arms.

And I remember feeling so strongly that there must be an answer.

Did I think of my Method in the dream?

How might those long, straight brims be viewed as anything but insurmountable?

I think there was also something like a clock, the hands spinning impossibly fast.

Much feels missing now as I revisit to recount, though I know I did not awake immediately.

. . .

Life-changing events don’t always change lives, at least not right away.

But what if a life were to pass by and end in the gap between a big event and the change it could have brought?

It was in such a gap Bing believed he lived.

In another life, the boy who would be Bing once dreamed of many futures.

A new girl in class, and there would be an all new dream gleefully scrawled across new journal pages long past midnight.

But every added written whimsy had served only both to hide and throw childhood’s sheer freedoms and fantastic irrationality square up in the clueless face of that young Bing’s budding manhood.

And like life and death, manhood would prove unstoppable.

So a sacred mystery, lost both to youth and age, was how each new happily-ever-after finish line could be crossed with the very same zeal and faith as whatever forgotten “ending” had been captured back on page one.

A later Bing would enter his 30’s drained and quirky, almost thoroughly convinced his dreams had all been but wasteful lies.

That Bing had then watched himself fall still and crack apart like a dying plant, swarmed and eaten away by decay as algal eyes grew crinkled peering back through smoke in mirrors.

A distress like never quite hearing some vital wakeup call had loomed just close enough to shave off shards of any remaining sillinesses . . . pruning ever away, but never to the root . . . never to where actually getting on with whatever else might be left could be possible.

For every Bing, something had always been just about to happen.

Once he had bought his prescription, the most recent Bing would spend his non-work days driving between various outskirts, parking lots, public restrooms, backs of playgrounds, and the gritty undersides of withered, empty architecture.

That Bing had known better than to hold up for too long at any such illusions of free space.

Instead, he would slowly bounce between them like a flat soccer ball with no goal.

But time spent cycling through only those same old ugly, letdown destinations had begun to be punctuated by loud, vast stretches of an unbearable sense of nothingness . . . ever more lonely and desolate.

Then the life-changing event had come to bring about the current Bing, changing nothing (yet).

It was a normal day.

Mostly dark, un-lively ghosts amused themselves in a playful racket that buzzed between and beneath what Bing saw of the lot and beat-up Buick parked ahead.

Each dull spirit crumbled back to tottering piles of dusty bones once it finished its turn at cheap projection.

Bing sighed.

He knew smoking more would do absolutely nothing.

He had never managed to see about smoking less.

Slowly swiping his iun, he absentmindedly tapped twice to play a new recording.

A fuzzy cheering crowd blasted through in high pitch static to signal the start or end of something good.

A bland flash, and Bing swiped and tapped twice more.

why would anyone want another person to cheer
for them? cheering is obviously not spontaneous.
we do it to fulfill some social thing. obligation.
bands make u cheer while u wait for
encores. it’s just time going by. why, if
everyone knows? always forced and fake.
unneeded.

There was some relief in having emptied the notion like urine upon his little screen.

He tapped to read an unread message from himself, surprised to find he had no memory of it.

this is the shit u catch urself saying now when
u’r high: “i love how mr. peanut is a vegetable,
so its ok to eat him…” (and then u got some guy
in the front row who’s all like (pic))

He had no idea what “pic” was referring to.

But seeing a reply to that one, also forgotten, he tapped and slid up again to read.

ever think to urself while high ‘which part of
me said that?’

gay thoughts.

He almost smiled.

But anything close to laughing alone in his trashy car (again) rang just sad and pointless enough to be worth fighting against with all his…

To let the laughter seep out and become real would be like admitting . . . like letting go of hope for good.

How long?

Well, how many self-told iun bits had Bing collected now?

He guessed it would be at least ten-thousand . . . over three full years’ worth.

And he was still getting high for most of almost every single day.

But now 32, even more wrinkled, and just about officially dreamless, the idea of actually seeking and booking gigs, or starting out anywhere . . . at anything, really, was…

Bing knew a dream’s comfort could be poison, sure . . . for dreams were always free.

But time marched only onward and away, which was something no Bings yet had quite been able to see.

And the trickling of days and weeks gained more unfair advantage with each new unshared line of bitterly assembled text.

If I haven’t done anything yet, what hope do I…?

Scanning through his once-flashed blips, they all seemed so brutally clumsy and desperate.

The opposite of funny.

What could he really expect to gain from being booed off stage now, and watching every suspicion the weed had always warned him of rise in the real world to swallow him whole?

Silence rang in his ears like a terrible screech.

He thought it might be the noise of his own mind being held both dumber and smarter for reasons only former Bings had maybe known.

Too dumb to know how any of it should be shown.

Too dumb to make it touch the minds of others.

Too smart to laugh alone in his car forever.

Too smart to really try for once and fail.

Held and nestled in a safety-net web that joined the last Bing’s life-changing event to new Bings yet to be, this Bing felt himself being readied for torture and death by relentless thoughts that wouldn’t stop screaming at him from a tired replica of a bunch of old highs.

Like always.

Was this it?

His life was a single picture, complete in its neatness, of everything he knew he could never figure out . . . at least not alone.

Imbalanced.

Damaged.

Deranged.

And as always, part of him wished and pushed to go back to a life that had never really been, where he could be like all the others . . . those happy masses of folks who spent their days high as well, only without all the…

But it was his endless demanding flashing thoughts that meant he never could.

Besides, those folks might not exist.

Was there a limit to how many times the same painful concerns could be rolled or glossed over in such an addled, aging mind?

How long could he go on being so on edge without it doing the “forever” kind of damage?

FLASH

heal ur heart, dude. u have to, or this will
just keep happening.

But as with all his stupid bits, Bing knew this apprehended piece would soon be…

Why?

Why still so trapped?

But the questions weren’t even rhetorical.

If knowing had ever been enough, he knew, there’d be no gap to be so stuck in.

Bing had a difficult call to make.

. . .

Mr. and Mrs. Rolman each took calls on their landline.

His came in the morning, and hers in the early afternoon.

Both calls were from their family doctor.

The doctor spoke to each of test results, repeating words like: “Unfortunately,” “Alzheimer’s,” “Beginning stages,” “Early-onset,” “Dementia,” “Severe…”

Mrs. Rolman thanked the doctor and hung up the phone.

It was time to put together her boy’s afterschool snack.

She laid a circle of cookies on a plate and poured some milk in a paper cup, happy.

. . .

It was morning.

Three ducks hovered apart across the still surface of a bluish manmade lake.

Revy sat on a sun-bleached bench admiring the peaceful body of water he had come to at the heart of the small community college.

Sporting scruffy, dingy flannel, he hadn’t shaved in weeks, to where sparse splotches of beard had grown just past the point of always being itchy.

With his crusty old guitar resting light across his knees in tattered jeans, he might have passed for a college student from another time.

Jodie had needed the apartment for a meeting.

The results she had to show for her efforts meant there had been no real discussion as to if or why the place would go to her.

So Revy had set out at random to find his muse in nature.

Now slowly thumbing through the faded pages of his shabby PRACTISE notebook, he expected to find nothing.

There was no more 4-for-4 plan.

No more fumbling through others’ patterns and songs.

No more learning names of scales, or what dots and dashes scattered about lines were meant to mean in terms of tone and time.

None of it had ever mattered anyway.

Propping the book down beside him on the bench, Revy did both exactly what he felt like doing and its exact opposite.

He sat still and watched the colored water.

It was time to write a song.

It was always time.

It was way past time.

For however long he could remember, all that had remained in the wake of countless strategies was to reach inside and pull out what would have to be an instant hit . . . to snap fully alive at once and capture everything of the moment, and of his feelings, and of hidden meanings immediately recognizable to an entire generation as their own.

What generation?

He suddenly realized he had not sung anything since the band’s big final gig.

His mind ambled along to catch up.

No record.

No deal.

No royalties.

No real friendships left within the band, or any lasting fans without.

There was only Revy and his wooden sibling left sitting silent by some nice fake pond.

And was he really afraid to sing for the sake of students cooler than he who might pass by?

Could any of this be considered close to a life he might still want?

Why?

What had become of the sheer and naive, beautiful simplicity to how if he didn’t come up with something great (from nothing), then nothing would ever happen?

How many more months and years framed in madness, and now soaked in pill-fueled isolation, could he really hope to redeem with just the right mix of purposeful sound and effortless lyrical…?

What?

He picked up the book again and rifled to a section near the back marked LYRICS.

Then stretching the rumpled page hard beyond open, he returned it to the bench.

What were lyrics supposed to be again?

What did he want to say?

Lost in hazy notions of iffy, unsure messages, Revy began to strum or pluck along lightly, absentmindedly moving a little outside the lengths of his standard windup runs until his guitar’s own lilt reached to join the light, steady lapping of the lake, bringing a soft, transcendent fixed-ness even as ducks and floating leaves all leant to the cheerful voice of dirty strings.

Magic.

But only background music.

Something to soothe.

But nothing to call forth or show.

Certainly nothing he could sell.

And Revy couldn’t help but hear Dale there with him in the sound, one circling around like an elated tornado as the other kept steady as a boundary line . . . always the perfect blend of pleasant straights and playful jangles.

Not a care in the world, together, outside, as happy as…

Revy’s well-worn, heavy heart became a well logged to the brim once more by its most familiar storm.

Yet with squinting eyes and grimacing lips, he let himself be washed away this time without the usual fight.

And why not?

The band was gone, and Dale would never be back.

Their beloved boyhood dreams seemed doomed to stay forever stuck in versions of past future plans either locked away in Revy’s mind or lost to yellowing pages.

It was his reality, no?

Or maybe there had always been some sort of lingering musical spirit that would allow him certain moments of grace to approach and be merged with.

Maybe it really was poor old Dale’s ghost, drawn out of the grey by the other half of a forgotten favorite tune.

For however long, Revy played.

And he wept, a disheveled man with an ugly guitar on a bench at a school near some ducks.

. . .

Bing. 32. Big (quiet; awkward; shy). Outlier (?).

Bing was my first appointment today.

I must confess: I was so consumed with thoughts of my afternoon session with Ray that the notion of including Bing’s case in these new integrated notes was probably farthest from my mind.

A quick aside about myself, which I am hesitant to add (please feel free to skip the next few sentences): It seems throughout my life I have come to hold a rather sticky, irrational belief that events will always turn out the opposite of how I expect if I have specific expectations and have not considered alternatives.

This morning I expected only boring, substitutable Normals.

I never considered Bing at all.

And as I see my absurd belief written out here for the first time, I am sure it could be chalked up to mere predictive probabilities feeding a confirmation bias—though “confirming” only that I have no actual psychic powers.

In reality, despite my illogical, interpretative filter of expectations, the reason Bing might be such an important case for demonstrating the effectiveness of my Method is that his sole need appears to be a clearer picture of himself.

In other words, it is not that seeing himself will bring to light some primary concern or tendency, as with most clients.

Bing’s actual problem is his lack of self-concept.

Accurate self-revelation is at the heart of what my Method is and does.

Also, Bing shows a highly unusual, unprecedented fusion of Normal and Outlier traits.

So it is my prediction that his case will prove invaluable in enabling me to detect differences between multiple Normal clients, particularly those with interpersonal issues.

Why interpersonal issues, and not issues of identity or personality?

Did I not just get through stating that Bing’s only true obstacle is his fundamental blindness to himself?

Yet I sense myself jumping way too far ahead again, and that further conjecture and exposition now would be to plow the wrong way down a one-way street with my eyes shut, shouting at the top of my lungs with fingers lodged deep in both ears.

I will surely have to edit much of this part out.

As always, all shall be made clear via the simple recorded workings of my Method.

Let me start again at the beginning.

It would be an understatement to say Bing frightened me initially.

My plan this morning, before arriving early and putting on a pot of coffee to brew, had been to spend my first half hour or so quietly preparing for my later time with Ray.

I was glad to have gotten something of a good night’s sleep, though found it strange to find no recollection of having actually gone to bed.

I could remember perusing my notes on Ray at about eight o’clock last night, but then nothing after that before having awoken this morning with new angles and lines of questioning already circling my mind.

Sipping my coffee, I glanced at the mess of strewn papers that currently makes much of my desk resemble an uncovered landfill.

These are the previous case notes I mentioned—the disconnected ones, each of which is meant to tie somehow to an individual client.

I considered that, since my Normals have become so maddeningly interchangeable, I might be able to record a single generic session with one and simply sell it to the rest.

Patting around the more chaotic edges of my paper pile, I began to wonder what I could hope to charge for such a product.

I was reminded of my need to raise my prices soon.

Then out of nowhere, a tall, rugged, heavyset man emerged beside me like an enormous killer whale about to crash down and crush a tiny rowboat.

Fighting not to stumble sideways, or otherwise reveal how startled I was, I peered covertly over at my schedule and realized the hulking, unkempt blob before me must be Bing.

How might I describe my first impressions?

I was certainly intrigued by the way the big man moved as he sauntered ever so delicately back between the two small chairs opposite me.

His stance was crooked and sideways . . . his gate, slow and shuffling.

He gave the impression of never quite being able to sit or stand up straight.

He seemed at all times to be drawn away from the center of the room as if pulled by magnets in the corners.

His overall demeanor depicted something of a silent, restless search for ways not to assert himself.

Basically, despite his size, I would say Bing seemed to want to occupy as little of my space and visual attention as possible.

If there were such a thing as a reverse inferiority or superiority complex, that would be my diagnosis just from having briefly watched him stand, move, and sit.

I first asked how he was doing.

BING:

“Well, it looks like having dreams isn’t enough to get me straight, right?”

Never be disarmed by a client’s sudden rush to depth.

New clients will have likely spent a great deal of time reflecting in advance on how to best express their dilemmas once in session.

Yet I certainly would have expected neither depth nor haste from the uncomfortable, extremely cautious giant lumbering and slumped before me.

I fired back immediately, asking what he had meant by “straight.”

He mentioned an ongoing addiction to marijuana.

This was a new one for me.

It made me smile.

I realized right away, however, how inexcusably unprofessional smiling was.

So I quickly covered up with questions about the duration and scope of his addiction.

He spent the next few minutes scratching through all sorts of attempts at tying his overuse of the drug to hindrances in job performance, motivation, health, and essentially every other important life arena.

All of those ties utterly failed.

In fact, he was unable to articulate any specific negative effects at all.

So, sans such measurable consequences, I interpreted Bing’s addiction to really be a stand-in scapegoat used to blame for some other personality, character, or developmental issue he would be likely just as burdened by if he had never tried marijuana.

Yet rather than getting caught up in fruitless arguments over terms, I realized Bing’s Sticking or Breaking Point would result from examining just what he hoped “breaking the addiction” would mean or do for him.

Client narratives, no matter how ridiculous, almost never need be opposed directly.

Once underlying hopes and desires can be effectively made known, any false stories told and believed get brought into alignment with reality on their own.

Such is the beauty of my Method.

I have had great success with a relaxation exercise called Faum’s Successive Breathing Technique.

So to help Bing calm down and concentrate, we cycled together through Faum’s first ten breaths or so.

I then had him lay still and continue to breathe as deeply and slowly as possible for another two minutes as I watched.

Next, I told him to imagine his addiction as a living, intentional entity—something else, separate from himself.

The irony here should definitely not go unnoticed.

For though the faux effects of Bing’s addiction exist entirely within his own perspective, having him envision a [false] distinction between the addiction and himself was a subtle way to begin to rob it of its fall-guy function as an excuse to hide behind.

We circled back to some of the challenges he had mentioned already.

ME:

“So how does the addiction make you feel at work, when you’re around your supervisors and coworkers?”

BING:

“At work, it’s like I’m not even there.

“I just sit in this big room, so worried everyone’s going to know I’m high.”

He next mumbled something about noticing his thoughts could be particularly funny at times, but that the drug made him act like too much of a “dorky loser” to ever actually joke with anyone.

This led to mention of “an extreme pain,” but he quickly backpedaled, assuring me it was something he no longer felt.

I pressed a little, but Bing was resolute.

Always assume a client wants to share whatever they might begin to reveal.

I noted that perhaps I would first need to gain a bit more of the big man’s trust.

I asked him to elaborate on his funny thoughts.

He stammered through a convoluted explanation of having recently (reluctantly) given up on an unspecific goal to pursue standup comedy.

He claimed his addiction had kept him from ever taking any practical steps toward performing, and that it would now be most likely too late.

ME:

“What steps did your addiction keep you from taking?”

BING:

“Well, I could never call to book an open mic night, or anything.

“I was just too wasted in my apartment all the time.”

Of course, nothing about a felt inability to refrain from marijuana use should have kept Bing from making that call.

After all, he called me two days ago to arrange our session this morning.

Having Bing picture his addiction as a separate entity would allow for such logical disconnects to be sidestepped so my Method could then begin working indirectly to reach and reveal the true source of his pain, reluctance, failure, etc.

ME:

“Take some time and think about why you wanted a career in comedy.

“What good outcome were you hoping for?

“Maybe think about that and record your thoughts in a journal we can look at next time.”

His eyes widened inexplicably at mention of the word “journal.”

ME:

“So, at the end of the day, what do you want?

“I’m asking because I think we need to view your addiction in a new way.

“Imagine the addiction only wants to overtake you.

“It wants to consume and control you as much as it can so your goals will be no match for its goals, so to speak.”

Again, although my language here surely appears to inflate and amplify the role of Bing’s addiction, understand that such over-exaggeration was to ultimately highlight the overblown nature of his beliefs about his addiction.

ME:

“Don’t see the situation as you failing to do what you want because you can’t stop using marijuana.

“Instead, view your addiction as something foreign that’s currently living its life through you, keeping you from living it.”

Bing kept quiet for a moment.

His thoughtful expression suggested he really was digesting my words, which speaks to his intelligence.

So, what does Bing want?

What is he using the idea of an addiction to avoid?

What is it about himself he refuses to see?

Well, consider the examples cited already.

Bing feels unable to connect at work, unable to make friends to laugh with, and unable to assert himself in pursuit of his dreams.

I am certain that I do in fact know why he blames such concerns on his abiding overuse of marijuana.

But I also know his reasons are irrelevant.

I could undoubtedly fill limitless volumes with data to flesh out the true driving force I see behind his self-deception, labelling him with every relevant fancy-sounding condition imaginable.

Yet such work would prove pointless, both in bringing about Bing’s Sticking or Breaking Point, and also for purposes of future study.

Again, the only thing needed is for my Method to make clear exactly what Bing, himself, wants.

Once he sees what he wants, it will be impossible for him to go on ignoring his own next steps toward that desired outcome, regardless of whether or not he continues to use or abuse any drug.

He will then no longer be able to carry his addiction card as a crutch.

Since only self-revelation is required in Bing’s case, I wonder if there is even potential for breaking when he reaches his Sticking or Breaking Point.

I began to hint that he might try to see his addiction entity as something positive—something (or someone) to actually learn from.

Yet I sensed we had already reached a good stopping point for today.

We may have been moving a little too fast.

I like Bing.

Despite his refusal to be or acknowledge much of what he is, he comes across as having a very honest, trustworthy nature, which I find quite refreshing.

I had planned to delve more into his impossible combination of Normal and Outlier characteristics, but will leave that for my notes on our next session.

The last thing Bing shared before leaving today was about a recurring dream in which he finds himself performing in public for the first time, yet cannot keep from floating up and off the stage like a balloon no matter what he tries to grab and hold to ground himself.

. . .

And very nearby…

The sun and sky were bland.

Colors were not quite right.

Everything felt dim and dull . . . zapped of joy and luster.

Everywhere looked closed-off and hostile.

Had these same streets not once been somehow nicer, and maybe less littered by scads of such forlorn souls drifting along in downcast shambles?

Johnston sped beyond Holding Ave., pulling up fast to make a yellow light, and then pumping his brakes as he saw from the gauge just how far he was over the limit.

A large brown van ahead signaled to pull out in front.

Johnston slowed a tad more, holding until the van began to emerge.

Then he sped up.

The van showed no signs of stopping.

Johnston counted seconds, convinced he had judged correctly.

One, one-thousand; two, one-thousand; three…

He whisked by, careful not to look in the direction of the blaring, retro horn blast.

A moment later, he returned to considering how happy he was about his hair, having shorn it neat and tight the night before.

Simple and professional, it felt fresh on his head and cool on his neck.

But then there was the shirt…

He could not be more aware of his yellow polo’s worn-out bottom button, its sad thread now several loops loose and obvious.

He all but felt the speckled star-field stains that glimmered across his chest.

Irregular fading gave his sleeves the look of having been splashed with mild acid.

And he knew his car could only be described as intensely nondescript and shabby.

To Johnston’s left, next to a grimy pole set to mark some forgettable locale, stood a young, odd-looking man.

Pudgy and soft, the young man’s hair was painted black with blood-red tips.

His face was powdery white, with greasy charcoal splotched about the eyes.

He wore an ink-black coat, cut at its edges to strips and tendrils, which hung still in the windless, seedy heat of midday sun.

Johnston glared directly into the stranger’s eyes, forcing them with piercing ferocity back from whatever distance like an unyielding death-trap magnet.

Then, driving on, Johnston almost nodded to himself in satisfaction at the unspoken acknowledgment he knew had just occurred.

His stare alone had been sufficient to draw a sharp enough distinction.

He had needed no words to clearly declare, “You can paint yourself however you want. But you and I both know that you are really nothing. Look at me. I look normal—this shirt, this car, this haircut—but you can see in my face something more than you will ever reach. LOOK AT ME!”

He took a deep breath.

No use getting all worked up.

Not too far ahead, a car facing Johnston inched to its intersection and halted right at the line, ready to turn across.

Johnston’s light leapt from green to yellow.

He sped up a little.

Now, Johnston knew for sure that he was not a violent person.

He had never, ever been violent.

But he learned that day if he ever found himself thrown into a game of chicken, he would also never lose.

Never.

. . .

In truth, I was completely thrown off by the way Ray calmly strode through my office, sat down, and looked me right in the eye.

I had spent days and nights preparing to accommodate the same fidgety, jumpy gaze, carefully plotting specific phrasings to circumvent all latent awkwardness and connect with this Outlier who had given the impression that eye-contact and the sound of his own voice were akin to torture by repeated jolts of current.

Today he was stoic.

His eyes did not once dart from mine to zip between background details.

In fact, the dead stillness of his expression left me at times somewhat anxious and unsteady.

Of course I noted the obvious change in demeanor right away, estimating it to be a clear sign of dissociation.

I concluded that I was likely in the company of an entirely different Ray, perhaps another of many.

I tested this estimation by beginning with a reference to our last session.

ME:

“So, I’d like to explore your past a little more.

“You told me something had happened to you in adolescence.

“Something painful.

“And it was something you felt you were trying to make up for when you ran away with Caylee.

“Why don’t we start there.”

His response was so sudden it took me several seconds to decipher the actual words.

RAY:

“I saw them kill someone, but . . . but it was like they thought they had to.

“I felt like I couldn’t do anything about it, so I just had to leave.

“That’s why, I think.”

Pacing back across the span of my working short-term memory, my awareness crossed the chilling phrase “kill someone,” which came into focus like a silent alarm.

I am pleased to report my immediate inclination was to fight to remain as still as Ray’s eyes.

I sensed myself sinking reflexively back down into Faum’s, filling my lungs by degrees in roughly calculated percentages while exhaling as slowly as possible.

Having used Faum’s so often now to moderate my pulse and remain outwardly unresponsive, it seems to have become something of an automatic response to more shocking client revelations.

I considered sliding my iun covertly off and under the desk to dial Minkrit.

For all I knew, Ray could be about to share important testimony.

Yet my primary need to gain and hold his trust won out against all other inward appeals.

It was absolutely crucial I avoid whatever could be perceived as anything close to suspicion or negative judgment.

I knew even the slightest unplanned facial cue or flicker might bring unpredictably dire repercussions—perhaps irreversible.

Besides, I figured a recorded confession would suffice.

ME:

“Who killed someone?”

I marveled at my pleasant, even tone.

RAY:

“Well, it was, like . . . they all just thought someone would have to die.

“It was the…

“It wasn’t their idea.

“No, it wasn’t their fault.

“They really…

“They thought they had to.”

I love Outliers.

They do my job for me.

ME:

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but is this the first time it’s occurred to you that it wasn’t whoever’s fault?”

RAY:

“No.

“Or . . . maybe.”

Having finished with Faum’s, I forced my breath to remain deep and steady.

I spoke lightly and cheerfully, as if enquiring about his favorite foods or pastimes.

ME:

“So, who had to die?

“And why?

“And who killed that person?

“And are you telling me it was seeing someone die that motivated you and Caylee to run off?”

As I spoke, Ray’s eerie, unaffected stare gave me the sense that I was interviewing some sort of living computer program rather than the overly self-conscious Outlier I had anticipated.

Yet his cognizance of our previous conversation ruled out the possibility of this being an all new persona.

I hoped my questions were not overly leading.

What do I mean by that?

To illustrate, let me state that I despise the work of lawyers, who merely play with words and rhetoric to paint whichever biased picture they are assigned.

My aim is the exact opposite: to always let more truth be uncovered (whatever that truth happens to be).

The last thing I would want would be to force a disingenuous or incomplete answer by making the likes of Ray feel incriminated or ashamed in any way.

That would equate to me and my own experience or opinions cutting in to jam the flawless function of my Method.

Through the decades, I have gotten better at avoiding such self-indulgences so as not to hinder my own groundbreaking work.

So many in our profession are taught to lead clients toward specific endpoints, which are probable interpretations based on statistics.

Yet those most common conditional bookends have become so widespread in popular culture, and now carry such harsh social stigmas, that I find it far more impactful and efficient to simply let each individual see the full implications of their own shared narratives for themselves without any added designations or analysis.

My Method allows for whatever is there to rise to the surface and be seen.

Anyway, at this point Ray launched into a speech most would write off from the get-go as pure nonsense.

I wondered if his choice to wax unrealistic then might be an unconscious retreat from talk of killing.

Or could it be tied somehow to this new peaceful side of Ray?

I apologize for prolonging my introduction here with so lengthy a barrage of caveats and ponderings.

Ray just presents so interesting a case.

I caution you: Do not be overwhelmed or put off by the sudden, sheer erraticism to come.

We are indeed about to step from the proverbial edge of the strangest cliff.

Be assured that regardless of the purpose behind Ray’s bizarre confabulation, my Method will work to uncover all hidden motivations and desires buried beneath the fanciful words.

. . .

“It’s, um…

“It was a long time ago.

“That’s how I saw it, I think.

“You know how different times have a different . . . feel, or something?

“Well, everything was simpler, and quieter, and more spread out and free.

“Even the air was different.

“And I saw this little town, way high up between these pretty mountains.

“First it was just a few wooden buildings in a circle . . . y’know, some basic stores with rickety signs and things . . . carts and wagons, and animals . . . and then shacks around the edge where people lived.

“And since the town was so high up, it stayed cut off from the rest of the world.

“I mean, they did everything there for themselves.

“And yeah, travelers would pass through.

“But for sure no one from the town ever left.

“They’d all known each other since…

“Well, I think it’s because the town was cut off for so long . . . that…

“I don’t even know how to say it.

“Okay, I’ll just….

“I saw them . . . eating people.

“But there was no…

“I mean, honestly, I’d say they made it . . . the eating . . . look like this fun, like, peaceful activity . . . something they all just really enjoyed doing together.

“It was kind of like their town tradition.

“And even though they were filthy, and their faces and teeth were dirty and brown, everyone always had this happy gleam in their eyes when they ate.

“Even the little ones.

“Okay, sorry, none of this probably makes any sense, huh?

“I have no idea how you’d write this down.

“But say you’ve got only a few people and families who have done the same things for…

“I mean, the eating must have gone on for generations.

“It was like their heritage.

“And I started seeing this . . . picture . . . carved in the corners of all the walls, and burned into beams in the middle of town.

“It definitely wasn’t obvious.

“But somehow I knew the picture was a symbol that perfectly matched that smile on everyone’s faces when they ate.

“And the symbol was their identity.

“It’s something they were proud of.

“So then, well, I saw that little town start to get a lot bigger.

“But . . . wait, I need to back up first…

“Sorry…

“So, the only pathway through those huge mountains crossed the cannibal town.

“And most travelers, especially in winter, decided to stay for a while.

“That’s what the town symbol really meant.

“I mean, that’s, like, the whole deal with the eating, y’know?

“The town’s culture was to only eat outsiders.

“Actually, you could say it was to only eat whoever didn’t share their symbol.

“And that’s how things were for a long, long time.

“But as more and more travelers decided to stay, I started seeing these smaller communities getting together on their own to eat whoever they’d collected.

“And they’d eat some from other communities in the town who obviously knew the symbol and culture.

“But none of it was a secret or anything.

“Everyone saw exactly what was going on.

“And I’m sure they all would have agreed . . . like, officially . . . that their town identity was still wrapped up in only eating outsiders.

“It’s just, basically, the rules for who to eat and why never got talked about or written down or anything.”

“Still, okay, here’s the thing: Wouldn’t you expect people to be . . . horrified, and fight not to be killed and eaten?

“That’s where this whole thing gets . . . almost . . . funny.

“I’m not sure how to tell you this part, but…

“It’s like this new business started springing up everywhere in the town where these really complicated-looking traps were made and sold to be used on whoever anyone decided was an outsider.

“And so deals started being made on every level . . . deals that really reached to everyone in the town.

“But you could trace it all back to owners of businesses paying each other to catch and sell whoever they could to anyone that would buy, all across every community.

“Somehow, everyone still got sold as ‘an outsider,’ but . . . but, yeah, it could be anyone from anywhere being bought to be eaten by anyone else.

“Anyway, the town kept growing and growing until first it became a city, and then a whole bunch of cities.

“But something changed before the cities fused back together to make one huge City.

“It looked to me like it happened all of a sudden, but…”

“Right before it became the City, when it was still just clusters of little cities, I watched the rest of the world come together and join on every side, connecting all around.

“So, everyone knew things couldn’t stay the same anymore.

“But the symbol and culture in the cities never changed.

“The eating stopped, but not the . . . the cannibalism.

“Way before the City, I watched those powerful ones whose awful deals clotted all the communities and smaller cities together like blood, become, like, a whole new class of eaters.

“And in the City, the new eaters could still buy, and sell, and kill anyone . . . anyone at all.

“And everyone seemed just as happy . . . all just as smiley and…

“And I watched that same old symbol, once cut and burned into doors and walls, get raised up to shine in lights across the City sky.

“Everyone loved and celebrated their symbol, since it showed them who they were.

“Maybe the change only looked like it happened so fast to me.

“But, I mean, really, everyone was already used to the idea of lives being sacrificed for…

“So they all kept grinning just the same and carried on as before in a world where there couldn’t be any outsiders anymore.”

. . .

Ray’s cannibal city is almost certainly the projected construct of a victim mentality.

It seems Ray’s escape with Caylee was to play the victim with her, safe from every unpleasantness wrought by their everyday high school world.

I am positively inspired with anticipation to see how my Method serves to delicately uncover exactly who or what Ray’s cannibals represent.

I should clarify that I do not consider Ray to be delusional.

I do not believe he truly holds to a literal population of cannibals who evolved from eating humans outright to…

Well, perhaps the end result had been left rather deliberately unclear.

Each Outlier has a unique way of overtly masking, while simultaneously covertly expressing, their true feelings and perceptions.

What do I mean by that?

If you were to question a sad Normal, you could probably get them to land at something close enough to: “I’m sad because…”

With an Outlier, you might only succeed in guiding them to circle such adjunctions as: “It doesn’t seem fair that so-and-so [group] can cause such-and-such [injustice, etc.]…”

If Normals know reality and their experience directly, Outliers are ever fixed at some peculiar distance from it.

Yet it is in measuring and comparing my various Outliers’ specific projections that I am able both to deliver those Outliers to their Sticking or Breaking Points and begin to distinguish my Normals from one another.

In short, my Method functions like geometry.

I am made aware of intervals and angles between individuals, which enables me to better understand each and many all at once.

Though you surely do not share my particular irregularity when it comes to client (or human) identification, the geometric insight you gain from employing my Method will no doubt prove invaluable in connecting and categorizing your clients to serve them more efficiently.

First and foremost, I cannot overstate the importance that there is no need whatsoever for me to bring each fantastic detail of Ray’s outlandish tale into question.

Rather, Ray’s cannibals and cities will dissolve on their own to whatever underlying realities get brought to light and shown back ever more objectively.

For now, note my soft return to my same initial questions.

ME:

“So then who did you say you saw killed?

“And who killed that person?”

Ray said nothing for a moment.

Both he and his expression remained as still as empty space.

He then gestured toward my iun at the edge of the desk.

I handed him the device, intrigued, and watched as he clicked through to bring up a video of a hefty, well-dressed man, mid-pace across a beautiful stage.

As soon as Ray thumbed the triangular PLAY button, I immediately discerned the large, dapper man to be some sort of religious leader preaching to an expansive, boisterous crowd.

Though I heard but a snippet of the preacher’s eloquent ramping about success first requiring many failures and rejections, I remember thinking I could see myself quite comfortably thriving in such a role, perhaps in another life—as another application of my same Method—delivering polished pep talks in splendid time to an eager crowd.

There would, of course, be substantially more money in it.

Ray spoke as he tapped the square STOP button center screen.

RAY:

“I saw Friendship.”

ME:

“Friendship?”

RAY:

“Yeah, Friendship was very, very happy.”

ME:

“Help me understand.”

RAY:

“Well, I mean, I watched Friendship build the Church . . . and everything else like it . . . out of stones, one at a time.

“And the stones were people.

“I saw their faces when they were being set together into walls.

“And in the Church, I saw the Pastor too, smiling, watching and encouraging Friendship along in its happy work.

“It was . . . the way they looked at each other . . . Friendship and the Pastor…

“It was beautiful.

“Like, so much was said without words, y’know?

“Because . . . well, they both just knew.”

ME:

“Was this your pastor when you worked for the church?”

RAY:

“This would have still been way long ago, back before the cities became the City.

“But Friendship looked so dignified working to cement those people together . . . all the families and their friends, and…

“And in the Church, I heard the Pastor say things then like, ‘Most all are won by loved ones.’

“And the living stones knew it was true.”

ME:

“Was there . . . pressure in your church to invite new people?”

I hated using the word “pressure,” but was unable to think of a better term in time to frame my thought.

RAY:

“No, Friendship worked slowly and quietly . . . lovingly . . . for years.

“And the Pastor was a great man.

“Everyone knew, even outside the Church.

“You could just tell . . . I mean, hearing him speak each week to all the people in his walls, giving them everything he had.”

ME:

“The Pastor ‘was’ great?

“Or he ‘is’?

“I get the impression something changed?

“How does the city fit in?

“And what happened to friendship?”

Note my intentional use of Ray’s own terms.

This was to assure him that I would not be challenging his perspective as I drew out more information for my Method to unravel.

He hesitated, his eyes still fixed forever away, staring straight through me and every distance beyond.

RAY:

“I don’t…

“I’m not sure.

“I don’t want to…”

I immediately sought to further relax my posture and expression, falling back into Faum’s until I felt as serene as I hoped to appear.

I could not allow Ray to retreat at that moment.

I also could not afford to come across as pushy or deceptive in my directing of the conversation.

ME:

“It’s okay.

“Can I be honest?”

RAY:

“Yes.”

ME:

“I feel as though I’m listening to you tell me about a fascinating dream you had.

“Maybe it’s a dream that means something to you.

“But I’m not too worried about that yet, because I’m sure we’ll get there if we need to.

“For now, I’m only interested in hearing more . . . whatever you’d like to share.

“I promise not to take anything you say as being against your church or pastor, or anything like that.”

Such a transparent outlaying of my true cards and colors in expressing my aim to eventually reach any hidden points of significance was intended as a peace offering or sign of respect to help nullify Ray’s niggling concerns.

RAY:

“Good.

“Yeah, I don’t have anything bad to say about him or anyone there.

“Not at all.

“If I sound negative, I’m sure I’m saying it wrong, y’know?

“But it was really just something that happened when I saw the City come together and form itself all around the Church.

“It wasn’t…

“I mean, well . . . I should have said this part first . . . but there were all kinds of beautiful things happening in that little cannibal town.

“Then in the cities.

“And it had everything to do with the killing and eating, if that makes sense.”

ME:

“The eating was beautiful?

“Was it because of the symbol—the gleam in everyone’s eyes as they ate?”

RAY:

“How can I put it?

“It’s like there’s this special kind of sweetness when you’re part of the smaller group . . . the ones being captured and killed by everyone else.

“You share, like, a certain bond in going through it together . . . like maybe an understanding of how fragile life can be.

“But even cruel things, like all those horrible deals happening in the cities . . . they’re really no one’s fault.

“It’s just the way it’s always been.

“The big and strong kill and eat the small and weak because everyone thinks that’s how things are supposed to be.”

ME:

“What changed in the church?”

RAY:

“I don’t want to say.”

ME:

“That’s fine.”

RAY:

“Well, now if I don’t say it, you’ll probably think it’s something much worse than…

“It was nothing.”

ME:

“Whatever you want to tell me is fine.

“I won’t hold anything you say or don’t say against you or anyone else.

“I won’t assume anything.”

RAY:

“Well, it’s that…

“Okay, it’s just sort of how life changes as time goes on.

“So, imagine you start off young and full of passion for . . . for something big you want to do in the world.

“And all you have is this genuine desire . . . this fire . . . deep inside.

“And your reasons come from . . . from somewhere personal, and spiritual, and…

“But when you grow up in the City . . . or, when the City grows itself up around you . . . it’s like you end up somewhere very different, maybe, from where you thought you’d be back when it was just you and that burning dream.

“The way you see things in the City always has to shift . . . outward . . . as you go, I guess.

“So, again, you set out to do something good.

“It’s something you know could help a lot of people.

“I’m sure you can imagine something like a church that’s small, and connected, and loving, and . . . and afraid of that big, scary world outside you know could stomp you out at any time.

“But if you don’t get stomped out, then one day you…

“It’s like everything turns practical, y’know?

“And then you’re looking at the difference you can make as part of that bigger world instead of being knit together in simple love for fear of it.

“That’s how dreams come true in the City.

“But it’s not bad.

“And it’s no one’s fault.

“No one meant for anyone to get hurt.

“Of course not.”

ME:

“Who got hurt?”

RAY:

“Well, right before the City became…

“I mean, right when people stopped being actually eaten, I saw Friendship standing still for the first time.

“It was the weirdest thing ever . . . sort of like seeing someone who’s just lost their job staring at their work as it continues on, now without them.

“And I watched that eternal smile fade to…

“But wait…

“I don’t think I made this part clear enough yet, and you have to understand: Before the City, Friendship wasn’t only in the Church.

“That’s just mostly where I saw…

“I mean, maybe it’s like the Church was the perfect place to see Friendship at work.

“But Friendship was everywhere, bringing all the small and weak together as stones to be set in different walls.

“So what happened in the City was New Cannibalism replaced Friendship with something else.”

ME:

“New cannibalism is people still being bought and sold by the powerful, though no longer literally eaten?

“Is that correct?”

RAY:

“Well, really, it all has to do with the symbol.

“Again, everyone since the early days loved their town symbol.

“But to be put somewhere by Friendship meant loving your symbol in . . . in a different way.

“It meant it was time for you to play the part of the outsider.

“And when you were an outsider, you and everyone with you in your wall had a whole new view on life, like I said.

“But then in a world with no outsiders, it was those sorts of connections that couldn’t…

“Yeah, that’s when Friendship got replaced by another, called Advertising.

“But Advertising didn’t just highlight part of the symbol.

“Advertising was the symbol, now lit up and made alive to be shown everywhere, all the time, on every screen.

“And Advertising had only one goal from the beginning: to celebrate New Cannibalism . . . to make everyone on every level proud to be part of their City.”

ME:

“What happened in the church once advertising took over?”

RAY:

“So, for anything like the Church that became successful in the City, its walls of living stones built by Friendship got broken down.

“That’s so the whole thing could be put back together and keep growing, but much faster than before.

“You see, Advertising doesn’t connect the stones in the same personal, individual way Friendship did.

“Instead, everyone gets arranged by their levels in the City, whether strong and powerful or poor and weak.

“And as I watched more and more come to be made part of the Church’s walls, I heard the Pastor shift to saying things like, ‘We must become all things to all men in order to win some.’”

ME:

“So it was advertising that convinced the pastor to build his church that way?”

RAY:

“No, not at all.

“And it’s not that it was a . . . mistake.

“Man, I’m sure I’m saying this all wrong…

“I mean, it’s definitely not like the Pastor wanted power, or wanted to hurt anyone.

“He just saw what the Church’s place in the City would have to be going forward.

“And it’s like his focus shifted outward to something . . . measurable . . . the same as with anyone building anything in the City.”

Ray was evidently endeavoring to avoid the true nature and felt cause of his frustrations, circling ever back to hover about varying degrees of “just how things are.”

I would have to approach his complaint carefully, employing non-leading questions that could work indirectly to uncover and underscore perceived abuses.

ME:

“But if friendship was already causing the church to grow naturally, with people bringing their families and friends, then why would that have to change in the city?

“That’s the part I’m having trouble understanding.

“Why take apart the whole structure and adopt advertising?”

Ray smiled, though it somehow seemed a tad too contrived.

His tranquil eyes appeared to glow with shadow undertones forged by what I supposed to be years of perpetual disgruntlement.

RAY:

“It’s ironic.

“Sorry, it’s perfect.

“You asked the perfect question, because everything I said leads up to it, y’know?

“It all leads up to now, and now everything’s changing again.

“Advertising for New Cannibalism in the City is…

“Okay, I’ll say it this way: Friendship and Advertising might be so different . . . so completely opposite . . . they almost look like twins.

“But…

“Well, Advertising only shows the few who actually make it in the City.

“And it also carefully hides the fact of how many unseen lives get used up just so those few can always be seen enjoying what everyone’s supposed to want.

“Yeah, once the City formed, and Friendship was replaced, the Pastor also started saying to the people in his walls things like, ‘Friends in the Lord are closer than brothers.’

“But that’s not quite the irony I’m trying to…

“I don’t…”

ME:

“So friendship wouldn’t have worked for the church once the church was part of the city?”

RAY:

“No…

“I mean, yes…

“I mean, that’s the change I’m talking about.

“That’s what everything’s been leading up to.

“So, imagine Friendship brings you just the right people . . . the ones you know your dream can help.

“It’s slow, but . . . but still, you start to get excited.

“Things are really happening.

“Then, all of a sudden, you’re part of the City, and it’s like everything speeds up.

“You dig down, searching for the . . . for that same fire that pushed you out to go help people and make a difference in the first place.

“But all you find is just this uneasy feeling, like you know something’s gonna have to change so you can keep things alive and growing at the same pace and scale.

“That’s where we come to now.

“It’s fear.

“It’s always been fear.

“It’s the same fear that colors everything made, shown, or said, everywhere in the City.

“The symbol . . . that smile . . . could there be a more perfect emblem for what once convinced a town to eat anyone called an outsider . . . and now convinces everyone New Cannibalism is worth living and dying for?

“But New Cannibalism should make the irony so much more obvious.

“I mean, some burnt smudge in wood gets blown up into the same picture shown over and over, and…

“And fear of not having enough gets reimagined back to you as fear of losing some good thing . . . some ideal . . . that’s supposed to be worth going after more than anything else.

“And if most people have to die to keep that smile . . . that gleam . . . alive, well…”

I waited a moment until it was clear Ray would not complete his thought.

ME:

“I guess I don’t see the irony there.

“Or maybe I’m confused…”

Ray then flicked my iun screen off and gingerly set it down.

RAY:

“Sorry, I was saying how Advertising and Friendship are, like, mirror images of each other.

“But the difference is Friendship could have worked without the symbol . . . without any fear of being eaten or used up . . . to still bring everyone together where they naturally fit.

“And Friendship always worked for free.

“But Advertising costs everything.

“And now, when I see things like this iun, it’s like I’m watching the City’s whole economy get pressed harder and harder against itself . . . with Advertising fighting so desperately, y’know, to take up every single new screen.

“That’s the irony, I guess.

“That’s what it really is.

“I mean, all the City’s money still goes to Advertising, right?

“But paying everything for everyone’s fear of lack to be spun into love for . . . well, for watching those few who can appear to lack nothing…

“That could only make any sense back when Advertising owned all the screens.

“Now no amount of money would…

“But it’s no one’s fault.

“And . . . and really, I think it’s okay.

“Friendship never left.

“That’s important to know.

“I guess . . . well, just picture standing quietly and watching from a distance as more and more wealth gets blown on doing a job you got fired from for political reasons, but now know you’ve got what it takes to do for free way better and faster than the new guy.

“It might make you start to smile again, even if you still felt kind of sad.

“That’s all.”

Ray continued to stare at my iun in silence.

My current assessment: Ray’s role in the church had likely been limited by the allocation of significant resources and attention to new technologies for impersonal automation intended to replace what had been his free, human work of connecting with individuals one at a time.

Or maybe Ray had simply been frustrated by his own lack of advancement within the church.

Being so strange and nuanced tends to render many Outliers far too unpredictable for promotion within fixed hierarchies.

ME:

“Ray, will you tell me your experience in the church?

“Who did you see being hurt or killed by the powerful because of new cannibalism in the city?”

. . .

“So, okay, I was 14.

“It started with, um . . . maybe it was a dream . . . something like a baby about to be born.

“I just . . . I remember this feeling of being swayed around in warm, peaceful darkness.

“Or, no, I think it was cool, not warm.

“But then my eyes squinted open, and I got real startled to . . . to see the sky and realize I was outside.

“There was this bad stinging like a slice or stab at the back of my head, especially when I moved to sit up.

“But…

“I mean, there’s no way to even tell you how shocked I felt to find myself sitting near the edge of a small, wooden raft, surrounded by so many others . . . way too many for such a tiny boat.

“For a long time, everyone was quiet.

“And I didn’t say anything either.

“I thought maybe none of us had any idea what was going on, like we’d all just woken up or whatever the same way.

“The ocean in every direction looked totally still.

“It seemed like we were just drifting in place on flat, clear glass . . . endless.

“Then these two people next to me started talking in a hushed sort of whisper.

“But I could hear them pretty well.

“One goes, ‘This boat is our provision from on high!’

“The other’s, like, ‘Yes! We escaped the sinking ship, for we’re being brought from glory to glory!’

“The first comes back with, ‘Why would God give us this provision if we were destined to drown?!’

“And the other agrees, ‘Amen!’

“So, I knew we must have come from a ship.

“But I wondered why the life raft would be so, y’know, old-fashioned and made of wood.

“I still had no memory of traveling anywhere, or of a crash, or anything.

“But then I got, like, fully blown away to recognize two people from the Church, a mother and son named Carmen and Vin.

“And the funny thing is the three of us would end up working there together later.

“But yeah, for sure I didn’t know anyone else.

“Anyway, after not much time, Carmen started making these really loud pronouncements . . . though her tone stayed steady and formal, kind of like a news reporter reading off a screen . . . warning everyone the raft was slowly filling up with water.

“And it was true.

“We could see it trickling in over the edges.

“Before long, Vin, her son, got this weird look on his face . . . all serious . . . and started shouting how the rate the boat was filling meant it would sink before the standard rescue time.

“He didn’t give any details, but just kept repeating the same thing in different ways.

“This went on for a few minutes until it was like their voices merged, and then both were insisting one person on the raft would have to be thrown over the side to save the rest.

“Honestly, my head felt like someone had just pried a nail out of the back.

“But I kind of winced through the pain and moved up to a crouch, then stumbled forward toward Vin.

“I was fuzzy, but wanted to ask about his calculation or whatever . . . like, what he’d meant by ‘standard rescue time,’ and how he’d figured it out so quickly.

“I mean, we were both kids, y’know?

“Vin would have been maybe 11 or 12.

“But before I could talk, he raised his voice even higher than it had been and questioned my loyalty to everyone on the raft.

“Carmen laughed a little, and urged me not to worry.

“She announced her son was at the top of all his classes, and on his way to becoming an engineer when he grew up, so he would know.

“No, you don’t need to write this down.

“Sorry, it’s just . . . it’s so obvious to me now, looking back.

“I never saw the connection before, but…

“You see, Carmen and Vin’s family had been leaders in the Church for . . . well, since before the City formed, so definitely a long time.

“For generations.

“And later on, working with them, it’s like they both always had to be so sure of themselves in everything, no matter what, y’know?

“I think when it comes to New Cannibalism . . . how it’s all based in fear . . . well, anyone that wants to be in charge, that’s trying to move up . . . anyone in ‘the middle’ . . . knows they could be replaced at any time by those above.

“And that’s a scary feeling to have to live with, right?

“I don’t think Carmen and Vin wanted to hurt anyone.

“I mean, I’m sure they didn’t.

“I think it’s more they backed themselves into it without even…

“Sorry, please don’t write that last part.

“I don’t want this to sound bad.

“But . . . well, back in the days of Friendship, the Pastor would paint these beautiful pictures each week with his words . . . pictures of another world to come.

“It was supposed to be a world filled with the exact same sweetness and love that connected everyone in the Church’s walls hidden together from so many crushing powers and sets of snapping teeth outside.

“And back then, the Pastor said no one’s levels or titles in this world would even matter in the next.

“So being lowly and kind could be considered noble . . . even insightful . . . since it meant you were able to look beyond your pain to a future when everything would be made right.

“But in the City, the Church became its own empire, like I said.

“And you just can’t do things like apologize or show weakness by second guessing yourself if you want to move up in an empire.

“It’s like the Pastor’s words never changed, but their meaning . . . um…

“Instead of a shared hope for a life to come after being caught and killed, the other world became more, like, a reward for staying a slave . . . I mean a slave to the Church to help it keep growing in the City.

“But Advertising only ever celebrates the powerful.

“So everywhere in the City, people are always driven to think they should want to rise as high as they can.

“Some succeed, and others fail or give up.

“But as far as the Church is concerned, you might as well mash your teeth into the concrete if you’re a slave who doesn’t believe in the other world to justify your position.

“When you think about it, the City just came from generations who thought they couldn’t survive without having deals where lives got sacrificed in one way or another.

“Then later generations were convinced some were meant to rise up and share in their empire’s wealth and power, where most would have to stay lowly, and quiet, and happy to be its fuel.

“The irony is…

“I see a . . . a fog that’s…

“Sorry, you don’t have to write any of that.

“So, there was an atheist with us on the raft.

“To me, I’d say he seemed like just a really likeable, funny guy.

“Not rude or anything.

“But someone happened to bring up the Church, and the atheist mentioned he didn’t go.

“When asked why, he said he’d once believed the Pastor’s message about the coming other world, but didn’t think he believed it anymore.

“Everyone got real quiet.

“Then, all of a sudden, the conversation sort of erupted back out of nowhere, and…

“Well, now it was only on whether or not the atheist should be the one killed.

“I guess everyone agreed with Vin and Carmen that someone would have to die to save the rest.

“One lady asked why they should even put up with the atheist in their presence at all, using up their resources.

“Another kept calling the atheist an “anti-newcannibalist,” though the atheist had already said he’d moved to the City to become successful, and even admired the Church’s position.

“Vin treated the atheist’s words like meaningless noise to be ignored and drowned out.

“A few suggested maybe another on the raft should step up to take the atheist’s place.

“That way, they claimed, the atheist might stay alive long enough to believe again.

“Many argued the atheist’s contrary spirit was a bad, corrupting influence, and insisted he be thrown out right away.

“I mean, they were, like, furious it wasn’t happening already.

“Someone mentioned sacred writings comparing believers and non-believers to light and dark, having nothing in common.

“Another remembered a passage that states if someone doesn’t accept the message, that person must be turned away at the door.

“Then this guy next to me brought up an even older part . . . a story about a man who gets thrown overboard from a ship during a storm, and how God sends that rebellious person into the belly of a giant fish to keep him safe so he can turn and change his ways.

“Somehow this idea made everyone on the raft stop talking.

“And after another quiet moment, all agreed, one by one, it would probably be best to throw the atheist over the side so he might believe again like he had before.

“Carmen even recited the Pastor’s own words about the storms of life often serving as the means God uses to bring a wayward believer back to Faith.

“But I just couldn’t believe it . . . any of it . . . how all those sensible-looking people could be so…

“I finally stood up and tried to argue something like, ‘Are we really talking about letting someone die? How can we decide what’s…? I mean, don’t we also hear that showing love, even to our enemies, is the sum total of all we’re meant to do?! Aren’t we told to imitate God, who makes the sun shine on both the evil and the good?’

“But they all talked over me and outvoted me without ever voting.

“Carmen started yelling about standing against the devil and his powers.

“Most of the others echoed her words and enthusiasm.

“I kept trying to find a way to show how unfair the whole thing seemed.

“But it was like they’d all blocked their ears from hearing.

“Did I sacrifice myself?

“Well, I was young.

“But that’s just an excuse, y’know?

“I didn’t even think of it at the time.

“Now, every day, I wish I’d…

“I’ll never forget the last words I heard that atheist say.

“I mean, it was like he looked right at me, and was just: ‘Well, if it’s you or me, and they pick me…’

“Once the others all crowded in to hold the atheist in place, I couldn’t see him anymore.

“Then one after another, they started firing questions at him about whether he’d believe the Pastor’s message again before he died.

“But I didn’t hear him respond.

“I did catch a glimpse of his face when he was pulled forward and then wrenched up to be thrown over . . . and it was like I could literally hear him pleading without words something close to: ‘I don’t know if I believe or not. Hey, I would if I could!’

“The atheist stayed floating near us until that night, almost completely silent in the dead calm of the ocean.

“The next morning, he was gone.”

. . .

Johnston sat as always on the brown shag floor, propped beside his same old reddish desk.

He had been fidgeting carefully for hours without realizing, shifting his weight to war against a stiffness that regrouped to take fresh segments of his back and neck like rot.

Hovering somewhere between roughly two positions, he stared down at his brand new iun fixed in place and bright against the carpet.

So far, the iun had functioned solely as a sort of secret eye, allowing Johnston constant access to what was essentially a continuous high school reunion.

Remembered faces, only ever happy, were spersed with snippets of most smug and cheery words.

No one appeared to have aged.

There was something quite appealing about keeping real-time tabs on all the detestable idiots from each of his previous lives at once.

Perhaps it was the controlled distance he enjoyed . . . a distance from which he could watch unseen and marvel coldly at the implied success enjoyed by every single one.

A red flashing was unprecedented.

A new message?

A . . . request?

The sense that someone might have chosen to make an actual stab at connecting with him was quite surreal.

But Johnston did not dwell long on having maybe been reached out to.

Another click, and pools of whatever chemicals could have served to trigger and feed excitement flashed quickly hard like clay and clogged their tubes.

For up had popped the face of Scott, the initiator of the contact . . . perhaps the biggest idiot of them all.

Why would Scott want to…?

Johnston covertly sidewindered his way to his old work colleague’s iun page, huffing in dull impatience as boxes of advertisement graphics mimicked a pack of lax gypsies pausing mid-path to casually set up shop and block his way.

Passing seconds revealed but a few fresh pixels at a time.

Further clicks seemed not to matter in the least.

He watched.

…trapped…

He cranked himself back hard against the desk.

What first peered up successfully over the mutable commercial space was a counter tracking how many others’ pages Scott’s had already been connected with.

Johnston’s congealed elation stiffened further like a corpse.

A button marked “Latest” eventually gave way to lines of text.

Great news! I was jus waiting tables $ one of my customers told me he thought I should come work with him and run his CS dept! a 300% increase! Wow y’all! Good things can happen!

Glancing a little below, Johnston’s eyes quivered, sweeping in chaos to half bathe in the glow of a sea of mostly female avatars, too many to count, and all at least as perfect as any costly, invasive rectangles might be made to look.

Each bright, peppy face or likeness represented a response made that day to Scott’s stupid misspelled note.

Something bad happened.

You might say a problem chose that moment to finish sweeping itself into being like a terrible fire that would or could now never fully be extinguished.

As was often his practice when accosted with news of another’s gain, Johnston let his mind stretch to construct a rigid network of tight, ordered comparisons.

What if he were in Scott’s shoes, faced with the same opportunity?

“Hello sir, how might I best serve you today? [Insert appropriate quip for maximized compensation]”

But the inescapable, burning question would always be: Why?

Why would anyone desire another to perform so wasteful a routine?

How would the attention of whoever could afford to be distracted by such valueless luxuries possibly be worth so little?

But Johnston already knew he knew no “why” would make a difference.

Not to him.

And in terms of value, probing the air for the sake of his own indignation felt irredeemably close to staring silent as either flashy interrupting slots or service songs-and-dances ran their course.

I’d just have to do it.

For me, it would be for tips.

For signatures.

For checks, and trusts.

For money, of course.

Having fought harder than anyone else now for stacks on stacks of bitter years, Johnston knew he had never truly won at selling himself in any given role.

That was his reality.

And it made no difference whether his impassible edginess was the result of futile time or just some fundamental un-likability.

He gritted his teeth, feeling the muscles in his jaw petrify as he re-centered himself in doubled-down, pure determination.

But again: Why?

Money?

How much could more of the same ever eventually be worth?

And even the best of his exceptional efforts seemed no match for the celebrated pretense of a Scott . . . an air shown and told in bold-faced lies which must be clear to all except those most obtuse, entitled creatures, the customers.

Johnston’s tired back pinioned him once more away from the desk.

No, but they do know that they are being lied to.

They reward the liars in order to be . . . charmed.

Johnston’s gaze broke from the iun as his mind’s eye caught traces of rich, fat, withered goons, all decked out in spiffy cloaks and hats.

The goons were guests who winked at gorgeous, young, and naked hosts from near enough to clutch, and smear, and sully, before beauty then with boundless grace would pocket compensation, smile wide, and pirouette away.

What right do they all…?

But the thought was killed and so far gone it swept only in form as through an iun’s uncolored mind to be sold exclusively amongst those who would never give a Johnston a single second look.

Memories flooded back, uninvited and unwelcome.

He grew rattled all anew by the crazy, zany sounds of Scott and co hidden away in their secret compartment while he, Johnston, painstakingly pushed to make systems run a little better every day.

Then flashes of being blamed, laughed at, discarded, forgotten…

An old conversation reared its ugly head, as unpredictable and sick as sounds from all off-limits rooms.

And the sacred cleanliness of reason doused disgusting flies that flittered up . . . so many coming at him at once, and potentially carrying such dangerous diseases.

Johnston jerkily flicked on his TV to catch a man with a pockmarked face and cheap dress shirt who stuck like landed punches to both sides of the panning screen.

The man was shouting, “Claim those promises! They are yours! My God shall supply all your need. Do you receive it? Say it with me: ‘I am above and not beneath…’”

And there was more.

. . .

Again, to take Ray’s absurd story at face value would be to miss the point of it entirely.

Yet when he spoke of Carmen and Vin, I witnessed swells of raw emotion pass like flaming waves across the surface of his cool, tranquil features—the surges resembling vengeful beasts repressed beneath a translucent statue shell.

So, I do suspect that Carmen and Vin are real.

I predict they will prove of great significance as my Method works to piece together Ray’s actual experience at his church/former job.

As he finished speaking, I jotted:

What do the fog, raft, and sacrifice really represent?

How often in the church is someone “killed”?

Is it to offset the cost of keeping everyone else “alive”?

What/where is the city?

Such questions, of course, are not for me to ever ask directly.

I intend them simply to serve as loose guideposts to frame our sessions as we continue to progress.

To repeat, I would not diagnose Ray as delusional.

He does, however, show clear signs of psychosis in thinking he sees things no one else can.

Note Ray’s obvious reluctance to disparage even those to whom he attributes cognizant responsibility for the “awful ironies” he cited.

Yet does each use of “it wasn’t their fault,” “that’s just how things were,” or some other variant not imply a unique and superior awareness on Ray’s part?

Some examples:

Unlike himself, most in Ray’s society are so blinded by fear as to be willing to die or kill for a system that would keep friendship from accomplishing for free what paid advertising never could.

Conversely, Ray alone picks up on the ridiculousness of a town and then cities’ populations being sold amongst themselves as “outsiders.”

Unlike his pastor, Ray can accurately track how ambitions in a fear-ruled world begin idealistic before inevitably turning coldly pragmatic and results-driven.

Unlike a vast congregation (large enough to be considered an empire), Ray is perfectly aware of fundamental modifications in meaning to the pastor’s message over time.

A more specific and less abstract instance:

Only Ray understands why Carmen, Vin, and the other believers on the raft should not be blamed for the atheist’s death since they “backed themselves into it” without realizing.

Then building upon my solid base of evidence:

Because Ray obviously holds what he sees and knows to be of great potential benefit for everyone else (those not privy to it), the literature would label his particular psychosis as a christ or savior complex.

As I considered this, the connection my Method next pointed me toward struck me as being so crucially and undeniably relevant I hope you can appreciate the odd irony of my being solely mindful of it thus far.

I realized how few scenarios I could imagine that would prove rougher for all involved than having someone with a savior complex be employed at a large, established religious institution.

How could deep, inscrutable conflicts not arise over the nature of the “saving” to be done, and the means by which it must be carried out?

Returning to our session, Ray sat silent as I perused my notes and pondered where the conversation might be best directed.

ME:

“So you left with Caylee right after everything on the raft?”

RAY:

“I think it was, like, a year later we left.”

ME:

“Can you help me understand that a little more?

“How or why did what was happening in your church make you want to leave with Caylee?

“And then what does that notion of everyone agreeing to kill in the name of love and salvation make you want to say to your church now, or to your boss or bosses?”

RAY:

“Nothing.

“They didn’t do anything wrong.”

ME:

“Right or wrong, at this point we’re just trying to get to exactly how you feel or felt at that important moment in your life.

“That’s all.

“So take some time and think: What do you want to tell them?

“Anything?”

Ray responded immediately.

RAY:

“Well, this is probably hard to…

“But maybe I’d say something like, ‘It seems you guys are willing to kill for things that . . . that you’re not even really paying attention to anymore…?’”

ME:

“What does that mean?

“What are they not paying attention to?”

RAY:

“It’s just . . . believing the Pastor’s message about the coming other world was supposed to be what mattered more than anything, right?

“But then the City came, and it got to where everyone in the Church who wanted to be in charge sort of felt like their job was to show they cared more than anyone else about what the Church was doing to grow and bring in as many new people as possible.

“That’s, I guess, what the importance of the message turned into…?

“But when it came to regular workers like me, whether or not we believed, well . . . that didn’t actually matter so much anymore as long as we kept doing and saying the right things, y’know?

“As long as we were useful.

“Anyway, I was mad for a long time.

“But I think now I see where that . . . that way of thinking . . . comes from.”

Notice again Ray’s implication that he alone is aware of important matters his church or leaders stopped “paying attention to.”

I could easily go back line by line and show you every instance where Ray’s clear issues with authority tie to what he perceives to be his secret savior wisdom falling on the collective deaf ears of an ineffectual empire.

Yet the religious nature of Ray’s case presents me with a rather more interesting and pressing potential problem.

In approaching belief systems such as Christianity, my Method works stunningly well to sift through symbolic language and uncover the appeal of every given claim or term: a star, a snake, a baby, a devil…

Or in Ray’s case: friendship, advertising, cannibals, fog…

In listening to Ray speak, however, the danger I sense would be in getting bogged down by ever more detailed descriptions of his figurative representations instead of allowing my Method the free use of those representations to help unlock what each one means and why it matters.

Put simply: A religious person with a savior complex who sees and communicates via metaphorical Outlier visions might feel obligated to clarify vision particulars all day, etching endless distinctions like further mixed up puzzle pieces for my Method then to have to work to place.

So, in order to avoid my precious time being eaten up with frivolity, while also still not challenging Ray’s presented revelations in the least, I must commit to keeping the direction of our conversations general instead of ever letting us get stuck spinning out in specifics.

Show a client broadly what they want in their own words, and you can keep them from retching out further words to mask or make false sense of what they care about.

ME:

“Were you mad that they’d be willing to kill for something they no longer even valued the same way?”

RAY:

“Well, I saw Grace.”

. . .

Revy clutched the tiny bag close to his chest by fading daylight.

Cars whirred by beneath and off to join the sunset where it blurred wide and low across the skyline.

He took in the scene, leaning out a little from an overpass, then shrugged and stumbled slightly farther on.

Should he take another from the bag?

Was he bored enough yet?

Words were scribbled then to an open, rumpled page, definitely in someone else’s handwriting.

A talking vegetable.

Smiling to impress u.

Carrot.

Dancing with teddy bears.

Space.

Dinosaurs.

Planets of peace.

A smiley fish tipping his hat.

Be there.

“Be there” was enough.

Another down, and the chalky bitterness made him shudder worse than a sudden shot of liquor.

Then another.

Why not?

But shouldn’t he be hiding better from all those hazy faces down in cars?

Wouldn’t they be looking up to see?

He was famous, wasn’t he?

Oh yeah.

A hand like Revy’s began to twitch and vibrate sideways again, capturing more words before their meaning could begin to wrest his spangled mind’s approval.

The wrist shook like a flimsy reed, drawing his gaze down to partly watch as black scurried but failed to fully fill in dingy white.

Liquid worms on screens, flashing.

Chipmunk-faced detectors on ships, looking at us.

I see them.

Hahaahhaa.

They are alien robots from the future, all rolled into one.

It’s whatever we want it to be (whatever we want it to be).

For a moment, Revy saw himself skirting the pavement, dirty, and draining what remained from the last of his special medicine.

And there would be no more, he knew.

For designer drugs were just one of the perks reserved for signed recording artists instead of aging flakes, lost and wasted, roaming city streets alone.

‘Talking vegetable’…?

What the…?

The cars became as comets once the sun was laid at last to rest.

And Revy’s clump of frayed-edged papers, torn from the back of his old spiral notebook, made for more of a mess than the trash he saw scattered in most directions.

Still, he gripped the bunches tightly, each page almost filled with . . . what?

Pieces of spaced-out visions, or…?

But there was only a deep, deep throbbing left . . . a strobe tied to all sides of his soul.

Then another’s voice.

But the voice lowered and became his own as that now familiar foreign hand scrambled once more to close the gap and take a final corner.

UUUUUUUUOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Who gave it a gun, ma?

Who let it write that just now?

That’s what I was looking for.

A person inside the person.

A hidden connection.

This could be a song.

Or this could be your life.

You write poems now from the inside!

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, THAT CAN’T GO THERE!!!!!!

You’re writing about writing again, JOURNAL JOURNAL JOURNAL.

NO SHUT UP.

THEY’RE WATCHING YOU.

NO U HAD TO SAY ALL THIS (no u had to say all this).

This was all part of it.

But you missed half of it (all part of it).

But u missed half of it (all part of it).

Revy wheeled around and forced his soft-shod feet to continue their rustling, now a little quicker.

Home!

He had to go, not that the bitch there would much care either way.

Who was this one, anyway?

Well…

Revy caught a vivid picture of himself slapping Jodie, her mannish hands rising in dumb, instinctual defense.

He could scream at her in his mind.

But she was as gone as his band, and his songs, and his…

What are lyrics?

What are songs?

The questions were a swarm of ticks that had bit, and dug, and latched, and threatened to never ever release or die.

And there was that strange new voice again.

A woman’s voice.

A voice he knew he never would have heard, if only…

But it was only that he didn’t understand it yet, right . . . and hadn’t quite worked out that secret age-old combination for what music with words was meant to even be?

Journals about his dissolving life, and/or scribbles of what his disappearing drugs might show, seemed worlds apart from whatever it was that just sort of happened whenever he simply rose to greet the sound of his guitar . . . that grand old union serving always to call him outward from all his silly stabs at explanation to embark on new adventures, raw and primal, and…

Tired, but he reached to almost touch an age-old freedom . . . maybe the only constant to transcend a world where trends kept shifting, leaving age by age to whine while passing through in past others’ noisy shadows and lame dust.

It was the searching . . . the reaching . . . that alone was real.

And it was all Revy had ever really wanted.

But how could he hope to find its shattered pieces once again?

Or had it ever really been?

. . .

ME:

“What did you mean when you said you saw grace?”

By now, my affection toward Outliers should be obvious.

I am delighted in watching the likes of Ray be met and laid bare by the scientific precision and artful pliancy of my Method—perhaps like witnessing the inner and outer workings of an iun.

Yet I had carried a rather tentative, restless sense all morning as I cycled through scenarios for how to best pose my question on grace.

Why the atypic hesitation on my part?

Imagine working with a client who remains adamant she will one day be Queen of her own new nation.

You dedicate sessions to circling and narrowing in on the essence of her stated objective.

Yet rather than allowing herself to be brought anywhere near the actual roots of her desire (so her goal might then be mapped to comparable realities), she refuses to do all but unpack further specifics about her future castle, its courtrooms and tapestries, the surrounding countryside, etc.

I was reluctant to bring up grace today because Ray had already provided my Method with plenty of entities to explore without need of adding or multiplying more.

Yet it is important to note my aversion did not stem simply from my own personal distaste for overabundances of time-wasting complexity.

My real concern, rather, was for Ray.

You see, the problem with a habit of hyper explication is it can serve as an inadvertent excuse used for avoiding the discomfort of seeing all those restlessly clarified particulars get measured objectively, unwound, and dug beneath.

Essentially, a client might give my Method ever more to work with for the express (unconscious) purpose of escaping the difficult truths my Method itself could uncover.

So as I sat here at my desk this morning, sipping piping coffee, and rifling through Ray’s notes thus far, I came to arrive at an all new and potentially groundbreaking hypothesis.

As stated: Because my Method works semi-automatically to bring each individual to their unique Sticking or Breaking Point, its use requires committing to never challenging a client’s words directly.

That means thoroughly eliminating all leading language which could in any way be interpreted as interpretation.

Our role, again, is to allow each client’s own words to all but weave themselves into an effective mirror for revelation.

Yet how can we then keep said clients from getting so comfortable with this process of unchecked sharing that they begin to unwittingly use it as a means of hiding from what truths should otherwise be reflected back?

Thus, my new hypothesis: that along with total freedom of unhindered expression, my Method also calls for a measure of efficiency to be maintained.

If you can keep a client moving through their narrative from beginning to end, you can avoid getting stuck in unhelpful frivolity.

This balance of intentional liberty paced by measured productivity will no doubt prove a challenge to master navigating, as I predict the remainder of these notes shall serve to show and prove.

I could say so much more here, I am sure.

For the exact role I play as conduit to my Method has been a point of rich and ongoing deliberation through the years.

Yet I must instead return to today’s session with Ray so as not to mistakenly replace the power of potential falsification via demonstration with more mere (easy) conjecture.

Now, my hope that grace would be the last representation introduced was, of course, summarily dashed as soon as Ray opened his mouth to speak.

His cryptic response to my careful question, however, came so littered with pauses, stammers, and rephrasings it will be far more prudent just to summarize.

Ray described seeing grace and faith trapped together in the mysterious fog he had alluded to.

He told of watching faith attempt to shine some stupendous light on grace, as well as on a multitude of nondescript, non-human entities all likewise held in place.

I sighed at the sudden influx of new (pretend) beings to process.

ME:

“Okay, so what is grace?

“What does that word ‘grace’ mean?

“Obviously you’re not talking about a person named Grace, right?

“And who or what is faith?”

Regrettably, I heard the bite of an old razor beginning to tinge the edges of my voice.

Why?

In my mind, I was all the way back with first paid clients who had seemed to almost relish in meeting each of my provident roadmaps for reaching sure Sticking Points in single sessions with their own unique bombarding sieges of unforeseen deflective nonsense.

Yet had I ever once seen my Method fail?

Besides, although Ray’s honest outlook was a cunning fish on a line, capable of swooping out so effortlessly from wherever I had felt it first bite, all such additional bolts or zips away were but further indication of my need to lean more to the “efficiency” side of our new fundamental equation lest superfluous sessions be spent slaying fog dragons to rescue grace maidens, etc.

I penciled “Faum’s” on the front of a blank yellow pad, underlined the word twice, and circled it as a reminder to practice the relaxation technique before and during all upcoming sessions (especially with Ray).

Calmness is always advantageous when awaiting the right angle from which to approach and corral an unpredictable client’s slippery perspective.

Ray responded, not addressing my straightforward questions.

RAY:

“I saw Grace, and . . . and I guess I smiled.

“But I was smiling at myself, y’know?

“Like, have you ever just realized . . . all of a sudden . . . you have no idea what you’re even thinking or talking about?

“It’s like a switch flips on, or . . . or off . . . and you see right away how totally unreasonable you’ve been.

“And then it’s so obvious you wonder how you could have ever missed it.

“But that’s sort of, like, the whole point, right?

“I mean, it had to happen.

“Like, of course you missed it, y’know?

“When I see Grace, I get this wonderful feeling of just how . . . how limited I am, I guess . . . limited in my place here, where I find myself . . . alive.

“We’re all just people . . . that’s what I’m…

“I mean, how much can we really…?

“We live different lives.

“But I don’t think anyone deserves more than anyone else.

“Or, no…

“I mean, yeah . . . some deserve more because of what they…

“But it’s not like anyone asks to be born with…”

I sat in semi-bewildered silence as the tell-tale sequence of flat-lining trail-offs proved progressively freer from attempts at revival.

My questions had been aimed at returning Ray to more rote definitions of “grace” and “faith”—preferably definitions drilled into him from his youth at the church.

Because memorized terminology inevitably loses much of its meaning with use, my tactic would have been to go through and re-approach each of his representations in turn, using the terms and their understood definitions as common-ground starting points from which we could then diverge.

Ray’s leap to how grace made or makes him feel—without first establishing what he thinks grace is—could have only further clouded our already murky waters if I had not heretofore had in mind the importance of refining my strategy for fostering efficiency on the fly.

So purely for the sake of keeping Ray moving, I shifted with him from concepts over to feelings.

This felt a little like slowing down in a race to let an inferior opponent gain ground.

ME:

“That’s interesting.

“Did you know that what you just said about grace actually describes one of our primary, human needs . . . the need for unconditional approval and understanding from our parents?

“How is your relationship with your parents?”

Ray spoke again after a weighty pause, not acknowledging my question in the least.

RAY:

“Well, when I see Grace, it’s like I’m just really happy.

“Like, Grace looks so nice and peaceful . . . and kind . . . almost the same as Friendship.

“I’m sorry.

“I think the whole point I was trying to get to was . . . I guess seeing Grace makes me feel like, even though I’m not perfect, and don’t really know anything, I’m kind of okay how I am.

“Grace makes me appreciate the good things about me because, well, the bad things are just…

“I mean, I’m just a person, y’know?

“How amazing is it that this is all even happening, right?

“And we didn’t ask to be part of it.

“But still, we get to be.

“I’d say seeing Grace makes me feel . . . free . . . like all I have to be is all I am.

“Does that make sense?”

At this point, Ray surprised me again by turning noticeably pensive as if to spite his own hopeful, joyous speech and tone.

What I saw was an immediate reversion back to the Ray of our first session, when words simply could not be forthcoming, nor eyes at all kept still.

Connecting his plummet from warmth and ease to the topic of our conversation last time—that which had spurred mention of grace in the first place—I was able to quickly piece together something of an essential overview.

ME:

“So, it was experiencing grace that made you not mad anymore about all the bad things you saw going on—the killing in the name of love, etc.?”

RAY:

“Well, when I see Grace . . . and I know I’m not perfect, and don’t ever see things perfectly . . . how can I…?

“I mean…”

His voice dropped to a shaky whisper.

RAY:

“But yeah, I was just thinking how that whole thing comes back to another…

“Sorry, this one’s…

“Okay, I knew I’d…”

Ray stopped for a moment to sigh, deep and slow.

RAY:

“I guess I have to talk about the fog now.

“I was trying not to, but everything I’ve been saying . . . all of it . . . it all has to come back to the fog in the end.

“The fog . . . covers the City and the Church.

“No, not completely ‘covers,’ but . . . but what the fog does . . . maybe . . . is it keeps everyone from seeing all that’s there…?

“Like, they can see through it in parts, but it makes them partly blind, y’know?

“And when I look at Grace stuck there in the fog, I always see this huge crowd of people . . . so big I can’t come close to seeing everyone.

“And they all see Grace too, like me, which is wonderful.

“I mean, some see from closer than others, but…

“I don’t…”

ME:

“What sorts of things does the fog cover or keep hidden?”

I glanced at my watch, shocked to see our session’s end looming so soon.

I then made perhaps the biggest mistake of my career.

Catching sight of my next appointment seated out in the waiting room—a Normal—I covertly clicked to buzz that client in without Ray realizing.

In retrospect, I see how my incredibly unprofessional action was born from a vindictive urge to quietly allow the conversation with Ray to play out into awkwardness as the other slowly entered and stood in silence just beside him.

Why would I desire such an outcome?

Let me clarify that I in no way felt as if I were being outmatched or outsmarted by Ray.

My Method has made short work of all who have come to challenge my intellect.

Instead, our game of chess was one in which he could flippantly change the rules at every turn.

So buzzing in that Normal was my petty (pathetic) way of changing the game preemptively, in response.

I have no idea who the Normal was.

Bing, perhaps?

Regardless, Ray continued on, apparently unaffected by the stranger’s sudden intrusion and silent presence.

RAY:

“I mean, we all just see in part, y’know?

“And I love how Grace still has the same effect on everyone, making that whole crowd feel really good, and happy, and…

“But the thing is . . . and yeah, I should have said this first, I just…

“I hate talking about the fog.”

I penciled and underlined the word “hate.”

RAY:

“It’s like each person thinks what they see in the fog is all there is to see . . . and only whoever sees the same things they do sees anything at all.

“But since it’s Grace they’re looking at…

“I guess, even though it’s like I watch them all smile just the same when Grace shows them how okay it is to be exactly what they are, it’s the fog that makes them think they have to . . . to push up to the front . . . to be as close as they can.

“So, it’s the fog that turns them into a crowd, y’know?

“And these little groups start to form . . . groups made from whoever sees the same parts of Grace.

“And the groups always get so excited . . . the members, like, going on and on about how wonderful Grace is.

“But . . . well, what they’re really getting at . . . without saying it, of course . . . is how special they think they are, and their group, for being the only ones that see.

“Yeah, that’s the irony.

“Because seeing Grace makes you feel okay with how much you don’t know, or how much you can’t see, or do, or be.

“So for someone to think they’re better than others because of the parts of Grace they see in the fog…”

Ray let out another long and labored exhale.

RAY:

“But it’s not their fault.

“It’s just sad because Grace never wants to be kept from anyone.”

ME:

“Who is grace kept from?”

RAY:

“Grace is sort of like this open faucet that waters all who come.

“But how much of Grace a person can experience doesn’t depend on which parts they see in the fog.

“That’s the thing.

“So while everyone presses forward into groups, and acts like they should try to bundle and hold Grace only for themselves . . . like some sort of hidden treasure . . . no one outside that massive crowd ever gets to see any of Grace at all.

“They’re just too far away.

“And no one anywhere sees Grace reaching out, longing to help those ones kept off in the distance . . . those honest, humble souls, so ready to admit what they can’t see, and so filled with shame and worried feelings for what would obviously be needed to make up for all the ways they already know they’re not perfect.

“But Grace is stuck, hidden in the middle by that frantic, joyful thrashing mob closing in from all around.

“It’s just what happens in the fog.”

Despite how far we had strayed from my plan to refocus on standard definitions, I would have to admit how useful our departure into Ray’s range of feelings was proving.

For it was my willingness to move with him in this way that enabled me to glimpse and record certain specific values now so clearly evident in every winding, stop-start rehearsal of affect.

In light of Ray’s savior complex psychosis, I was particularly intrigued by the high importance he places on not knowing—on admission of ignorance—contrasted, of course, with those mentioned who hold their perspectives as absolute.

Considering many of the more religious clients I have met with through the years, I find the unique way Ray endeavors to communicate rather refreshing and remarkable.

Ray speaks as one not having authority.

The nondescript Normal remained quiet and unmoving by his side.

I decided to continue.

ME:

“So grace wants to reach every single person, everywhere, to make up for whatever they might be lacking in character and understanding?

“But the person first needs to see grace, even if only in part through the fog?”

RAY:

“Grace wants to…

“Well, that has a lot to do with…

“I mean, that’s where we come to Faith, right?”

ME:

“What do faith and grace look like?

“Are they people?

“What characteristics do they have that make them recognizable to you?”

RAY:

“Faith always seems really determined, I guess.

“But Faith also isn’t that easy to look at, y’know?

“Actually, I don’t think Faith wants to be seen, but just to show other things.

“Sorry. I don’t know how it works.

“I just…

“I see Faith holding up its awesome light, like I said . . . brighter than anything else.

“And while Grace stays stuck in the crowd and fog, it’s like Faith is always moving, always re-angling itself to . . . to light up as many new things as possible . . . things people might hear and see.

“That’s what…

“I mean, what Faith wants is to show how things fit together . . . and how good things could be.

“So it’s like I see Faith wading all through the fog, bending and stretching in every direction to keep revealing more of Grace and all the not-a-persons.

“And in the fog, it’s what Faith’s light touches that . . . that anyone sees.

“That’s why people see Grace the way they do.

“Does that make sense?

“They see the parts the light can touch through the fog from where they are.

“But the way the fog limits Faith’s light is exactly what makes everyone think there’s nothing else but what they see . . . and, like, only those who see what they do see anything at all.”

ME:

“So, it was near your church that you saw grace and faith, and all the non-people held fast in the fog?”

RAY:

“Yes, but I also see them now.”

. . .

“Hi,” said the man, happy to be with the Psychologist again.

Before the skinny guy slid out past him, the man wondered if something might be wrong.

Did he not have an appointment today?

Had it been canceled?

But Doug was with him.

The man did not know why the Psychologist called him Bing.

Then the man was talking.

The Psychologist seemed to be listening and nodding along like always, so this must be an appointment.

As he had so many times before, the man heard himself describe his living nightmare to the Psychologist: telling of always having felt the need to do . . . something . . . and of countless costly preparations made through many, many years.

He listened as he used all his usual phrases to describe so often figuring out exactly how his path should go . . . but that the nightmare was knowing no psychologist, or anyone else for that matter, could really make any clearer what had always been the most obvious reality in the man’s whole world . . . that his entire life had become a life-eating pattern of distraction from actually doing by only ever further perfecting plans for how to best do one day (soon).

The man looked over at Doug with him, and beamed, then back to the stern Psychologist dressed in black.

But the man knew the smile he felt now plastering the width of his face must look so stupid and out of place.

Maybe crazy.

This brought a fresh sense of urgency to hear himself get to his good news about the breakthrough he had reached at home, basically all on his own.

It was not that the Psychologist had failed him.

Of course not.

The man’s particular nightmare just happened to be the type that could only end by waking.

No one inside could make the nightmare’s conditions more livable.

So the man had reached outside, and found…

“This is Doug,” he heard himself say.

“Hello, Doug,” said The Psychologist, his face cool and bland.

“Doug, here, is very creative,” explained the man. “He’s like a grenade. I throw him in, and, well . . . I can still plan and schedule and everything, but Doug knows how to do things with iuns. And he’s just more . . . romantic . . . than me. More wild, free…”

The man scratched his neck.

“So, Doug is the missing piece?” asked the Psychologist.

“Yeah! It feels like that, right?” the man responded, turning to Doug.

The Psychologist’s sharply aloof gaze remained only on the man.

“Doug is you,” the Psychologist said. “Now you’re doing both. It’s working.”

. . .

Having no context for who this afternoon’s mystery Normal was, why did I not hesitate in the least to reveal that he and Doug were one?

How extensive a list could I compile of male Normal clients with stifled dreams?

Was it this Normal’s wife who had called to eagerly arrange sessions at which I would be tasked with helping her husband let go of false, dissociative personas?

Wait, does Bing have a wife?

I am sure I remember at least one Normal wife shouting furiously in my office about how her Normal man always wrote plans instead of sitting to watch TV with her.

Regardless, why choose that particular moment to disassemble Doug for good—sans both the [possible] wife in attendance and usual fostering of a natural Sticking or Breaking Point?

Could it have been Mr. Rolman?

Did the one today show signs of mental decline and poverty?

Does Mrs. Rolman watch TV?

After the unknown Normal left, I fully intended to shift my focus back to Ray’s case notes.

Yet I could not escape a compulsive urge to dig through my old scattered notes on Normals instead, knowing upfront I would fail to locate that elusive, connecting, cornerstone piece: the specific activity today’s Normal has or had always planned to do, and then began accomplishing through Doug.

Was it music, writing, comedy, school…?

Bing has a wife, right?

Would Bing’s wife be the same as Mrs. Rolman and Caylee?

Wait . . . why Caylee?

. . .

The Psychologist sat dead still, shuffling through various combinations like blind memories of countless disjointed components which might have all once linked to form some unknown, perfect, grand machine.

This search always played out the same way, at least in its simplicity . . . in feverish pursuit of that single fabled crossover place where clockwork gears could all clink together and simultaneously wind myriad tubes through their million individually matching threads.

Yet all he kept arriving at was that Bing was the closest Outlier to Normal, where Ray was always furthest away.

So, what about Caylee then?

Why would she be…?

And where might the Psychologist, himself, fit along his own continuum?

Oddly enough, he had never considered it.

. . .

Fog lay still in every space between people, counters, and tables . . . a hanging sparse and lazy grey, utterly unnatural against a vibrant backdrop of orange-lit, greasy air.

Darren lounged in a glittery booth, slumped into its firm red cushion, thumbing dismissively across the face of his large iun like one might peruse a magazine in a waiting room.

Mo and Ray sat across.

“How’s your relationship with God?” snapped Mo, his voice cutting like a warm knife through surrounding chatter as if to pierce Ray’s face at its nearest edge.

Ray remained still, choosing not to run with the first or second streams of thought that fought to trickle through.

He saw the ways each response could be interpreted.

“I guess,” Ray began, almost smiling in concession as he glanced across from Darren back to Mo, “my relationship with God is, sort of, everything. It’s my whole process, y’know? How I see every… I mean, with what I’ve been working on all these years . . . the way it comes together . . . it’s like a destiny, or calling, or something. I don’t know if that makes sense.”

Ray watched as his words were met by Faith’s incomparable light and made to glow hotter and brighter than stars shining through doorways to connected universes.

The words and light swept outward together, reaching everywhere they could in nearly matching swoops and eddies.

And as he saw the conversation play out in time and other textures, Ray almost watched himself marvel at the fact that nothing at all had changed.

Of course the not-a-persons, fog, and all the rest had really been there all along, since decades or lifetimes before that night of strange anguish and breaking near the Church.

Seeing anew served only to partly ease the effects of an old unrest, which sought now to clamor and tremble in every space . . . even to where ancient winds blew free through caverns sacred deep and secret dark.

“You have it backwards!” exclaimed Mo, his voice rising to monopolize more real estate in the busy crowded fast food restaurant air.

“I think what Mo means,” ventured Darren, speaking slow and sweet, “is it’s cool you have a process and everything. And you’re working on something, um . . . mysterious?”

Mo and Darren shared a quick glance.

“But…” began Darren again.

“But it’s not about your process!” concluded Mo. “Use your process for God, to spread the gospel. Truth does not warp to fit your process. That’s backwards!”

Faith and Ray might have then made eyes as well, if such were possible.

And Ray felt a fluttering near his chest . . . a rapid river cresting in deep swells of warring unease as it was wrenched into every ironic shape like a best friend’s cutting words, slicing through in mirror shards across dimensions to draw the only truly intolerable pain.

It was more than known that this pain would kill every single part of Ray if either fought or left to fully run its course.

He looked over again at Mo, and loved him.

For there was a sudden hazy sense of standing tall and fighting through anything to prize and defend the value of everything seen lit by narrowed beams.

As empires and worlds to come must suffer violence when taken by force, there would surely be a place up at the very front for Mo to reach, and win, and there be set to govern entire sets of thronging mobs.

Only a matter of time.

“Maybe you’re right,” Ray sighed, accepting something close to fate for not the first time as he witnessed every attempt to reveal or defend . . . or to argue for worlds housing unlimited prizes and endless places in boundless kingdoms . . . fail in advance at all but bolstering Mo’s resolve to dig in deeper and sacrifice more in defense of his devotion and its happenstance borders.

And though it hurt how no words could give either of Ray’s friends ears to hear from his wounded heart, it was also okay.

“Dude!” encouraged Darren, “God is bigger! Whatever you’re going through right now, it won’t be enough to keep Him from reaching you and dealing with . . . whatever this is . . . and bringing you back!”

Ray was not surprised at all to see on Darren’s face the exact expression of pure love and compassion as held on the faces of Grace and Friendship, identical.

And from where Ray watched, even automatic questions, which arose like a sea of snapping traps, seemed somewhat entertaining . . . the strings of perfectly predictable queries piling up like glitching pixels, demanding as always to know why him, and why was he so different, and why, why, why…

And maybe Ray already knew.

Maybe…

For a moment, he was with the Psychologist again, floored by gratitude just for having someone to talk with about all these new developments . . . not really new at all.

The timing, of course, seemed too perfect to be a coincidence.

And still seeing the Psychologist as he watched his own gleaming words glide through to soften the teeth of hungry, gnawing, silent ponderings, Ray wondered if there might be others like him hidden off in secret spaces of their own, ready to accept what they too had likely seen along, and to…

Maybe one day Faith’s light could reach everywhere.

Glancing up into the kind, knowing eyes of Grace, Ray did not have to decide to believe the best of Darren and Mo.

All at once, he became oddly aware that he might in fact actually be this particular person seated at this booth in this restaurant, half involved in this conversation.

Was this really his life?

Was he the one having these thoughts?

Why?

And so many of the Pastor’s stories came alive in that moment as well, lit afresh by Faith amidst static patches surrounding the three at their table.

Mo seemed to twitch in his seat like a ball of pent-up life.

“If you had just been honest with me…” Mo lamented.

Ray felt a familiar eerie grin ark all by itself across the whole lower half of his face . . . an involuntary contortion he knew had overtaken him at least once before, though this time felt far less ominous and more relaxed.

Everything I said was honest, Publican.

I’m glad it wasn’t you that wrote me off.

Not really you.

I love you, Brother!

. . .

Icy morning air had frozen Revy’s nose and cheeks, leaving them numb.

He hugged shivering knees to his chest as winds now took turns nipping at his wrists, ears, and neck.

His own warmth inside his coat made him sweat, slowly drenching innermost layers of the filthy clothes he had worn for days.

He sat alone and huddled on a stiff bench at a downtown bus stop.

There were no signs of any others on the streets, though he knew they would come later with the sun.

An odd twinge in his throat felt like a stubborn thorn, and he swallowed, hard, again and again, trying to catch whatever it was on soft, fleshy tissues to send down.

His eyes were squelchy pools, his pupils probably dilated to alien proportions.

Voices like scheming old ladies seemed to cross each other everywhere in his mind.

He had been asking the voices questions before being overwhelmed by waves of advancing cold, though they only ever seemed to laugh and splinter out in response, disappearing to fractal machine sounds and echoes of things Revy felt he could almost recognize.

Did they not like being paid attention to?

His head ached in jolts.

Certain spots felt as though they were being run through continuously with swords.

These wounds became old men who grasped at bearded uh-oh faces as they slipped off edges of cliffs.

Revy could have sworn he saw beds of tiny yellow flowers, pretty amongst the cliffs’ jagged rocks.

But glimpses came only in moments too late, and never to last.

He watched it all blast to splintered colors . . . then nothing.

There was a funny feeling, like seeing through the eyes of something else that wished to live.

Could it be an unborn song?

A familiar conversation emerged from the noise.

“Need more pills. How many left? Four each day, and there has to be more, or else…”

The old men now took turns gnashing themselves against daggers of various lengths in pitiful display.

Within and amongst each fleeting outline remainder of Revy’s hard night(s) alone on the bench, he heard hints and traces of the mysterious woman’s voice from the day(s) before, now lifetimes ago.

She had sung to him, off and on, especially throughout the night now ending.

And her voice was also his . . . he was sure of it . . . though he somehow knew that wasn’t why she sounded so familiar.

Whenever she sang, he would sit up straight to listen, but then immediately curve his spine, wrists, and ankles, knowing without knowing why this would allow him to hear her all the more.

Like him, she only seemed to sing in songs unfinished.

He tossed back another pill, regretting the loss right away.

He hoped it would force down whatever still felt lodged.

The blades through his skull withdrew at once from their torture, and every wound was stuffed with pads of fuzzy cloth.

The pain grew soft and distant, like an underwater scream.

And Revy was submerged in crystal liquid then as well, floating completely still in vast emptiness and silence.

Turning in the deep, his eyes were closed.

Yet he watched as summer sunlight began to paint its dazzling arrays across his eyelids.

The light came through to meet him in swirls like endless cosmoses, flashing with no distance in-between each unique beginning and end.

He smiled the smile of a grandmother then, one left with few if any teeth.

Feeling full of years and slow-spun kindnesses, he knew only fondness for a happy, bright, and well-lived life of smiling faces and special places shared.

He was hardly aware as the cold worked its way through to penetrate his coat at last, quickly permeating the drenched fabric of his undershirt.

He didn’t mind the icy monster that wouldn’t seem to rest until it squeezed him to his core.

Sleepily, he felt the shivering advance.

Fast, then slow, it led him quietly and curiously toward what must be smiling Death.

And Death could only ever smile.

How nice.

And what was she singing now?

But there she went, shying playfully away as he coiled his back but couldn’t help but lean in close to hear.

Perhaps she really was the voice of all his would-be words, like children crying out to their father from within, imploring him of things he wanted to say, and would love more than life, but could never quite hear.

His eyes went all sketchy and loose, like spinning, pulpy water balloons dangling far outside his skull.

His throat clenched, raw and mechanical, against its own matter, threatening never to open again.

Had he simply filled his quota for swallowing, and then promptly forgotten how?

His iun came to mind.

He hoped it was still charged, at least enough to last until the sun fought back this miserable cold and all its friends.

He rose on unsteady ankles and slid pods into both ears.

Then the quaint and jolly sound of his guitar, his oldest friend, was like being greeted by a panting, wooden family dog that couldn’t help but leap to lick his face at his return.

The crisp voice of familiar strings . . . and he could smell them fresh on his fingers.

The woman’s voice grew louder, trembling within and upon his beloved sound.

She swept up to rest above . . . high, proud, glorious, and simple . . . and all, and all at once.

He knew then he probably never would make out her precious words.

Yet he let himself listen without leaning in at all, happy just to hear the way she lit his friendly shambles with her warmth.

As Revy walked, the combined sound failed to remind him of even the chance at better days gone by.

. . .

ME:

“How did Mo respond?”

RAY:

“Oh, I didn’t actually say that last part out loud, about him writing me off.

“Or, I don’t think I did.

“I mean, if I said it, I don’t remember what he…”

Ray’s sudden forgetfulness seemed strange enough to merit further exploration.

Yet I was determined not to brake at all if possible.

In light of my efforts last time to discern the proper role of measured efficiency, I had arrived at a fairly familiar conclusive imperative: to make no attempts at controlling the conversation at all, while likewise always remaining ready to delve immediately into whichever sets of seemingly impossible surplus details I find myself and my Method faced with.

In Ray’s case, efficiency means avoiding opportunities to sink from his first, natural, instinctual responses down into safety nets of too much tangential deflection.

Essentially, I had been brought once more to the single lesson I seem forced, time and time again, to have to learn on ever deeper levels: that my Method yields truth in unearthing connections impossible for me to predict or initiate.

As degrees of skepticism and negativity are invalidated by the reality of successful case upon case, I find myself increasingly adept at releasing all frantic designs for any specific session outcomes or timeframes.

It is indeed freeing to consider that Ray’s Sticking or Breaking Point could come from practically anywhere.

ME:

“In what ways did you feel Mo might have written you off?”

RAY:

“He didn’t.

“That’s what I…”

ME:

“Or Darren then.

“Any of them.”

RAY:

“Well, I think I know how I . . . how I must have come across.

“Actually, it’s kind of like this dream I have a lot.

“No, you don’t have to write this part down.

“I’m just . . . just trying to think of a way to…

“Okay, so in the dream, there are all these demons, right?

“Thousands of them.

“They look like shadows, or insects, or just vicious . . . like, dark, ugly things.

“But for some reason they’re never really that scary when I see them, even though I know they should be.

“And it always goes the same way…

“I feel the demons floating in and through my body all at once, overtaking me.

“It’s easy for them.

“I’m like their floppy doll or something when it happens.

“But, actually, it feels kind of . . . good . . . like being caught and pulled around and, y’know, thrown down by waves at the beach.

“It’s like it’s supposed to…

“I mean, I have no control.

“But I’m never afraid when it happens.

“I kind of think that’s how Mo and Darren, and all the rest, see me . . . as someone loose and easily overtaken by things.”

I was immensely encouraged to hear Ray’s explanation of his demon dream.

Why?

Backing up a little, I have found that my first reaction now whenever Ray shares new pieces of his Outlier visions is a mix of apprehension and distaste.

I am angered by the notion of one such as him wasting my most valuable resource: time.

Yet then whenever I read back through my notes on previous sessions, I unlock ever deeper layers of his real perspective and feelings.

Notice in this instance how Ray bypassed the need for more reflection later by mapping his own dream to its interpretation—that it relates to how he believes he is perceived by others as being “loose and easily overtaken.”

ME:

“People see you as overtaken by what?

“Not really demons, right?”

RAY:

“I think that’s how everyone sees me . . . like I’m just overtaken by lies and crazy.”

My hand twitched and flew across the open page of my notebook, scribbling feverishly.

I had to force myself to slow down only to keep from being overly obvious.

Ray had just provided me with actual answers to a sequence of direct questions about his real experience.

I consider that a breakthrough in itself, as well as confirmation of three key aspects of progress: I have earned Ray’s trust, we are moving in a good direction, and he is beginning to feel our headway for himself.

ME:

“So, what would you say to Mo if you could tell him anything?

“Imagine it’s Mo sitting across from you instead of me.

“But take your time.

“Just try to speak as freely as you can, whenever you’re ready.”

RAY (speaking to Mo):

“Well, don’t you think it would make someone look crazy if they had to lie all the time?

“I mean, yes, I’m in this . . . weakened state.

“It’s true.

“And that’s what you’re responding to . . . I think.

“Um…

“But there’s . . . there’s more to it.

“There’s a reason.

“It’s not your fault, and it’s okay you don’t see.

“I just have to…

“I wish I could…”

I leapt in my notes—more covertly this time—to target Ray’s most crucial implication, jotting:

Ray believes he always has to lie.

Perhaps the most strikingly obvious explanation is that, having never quite seen eye to eye with his peers growing up in the church, Ray came to equate honest expression of his thoughts with rejection—with being written off.

I have already noted the great importance he places on admitting that which he does not and cannot know.

How frustrating would it be to highly value truth and honesty, yet see lies and duplicity as a necessary way of life?

Would an overwhelming and unbearable constant felt need to deceive, ingrained from an early age, not likely lead to imperceptible crossings and blurrings of the lines between true inner beliefs and false outer portrayals to the world?

In other words, could Ray have grown accustomed to deceiving himself, along with everyone else, without realizing?

Yet I must make abundantly clear that this is all still only conjecture on my part.

In the early days of my career, I would have pushed hard for the sake of my own reasoning to tie Ray’s stated inclination to deceive others back to any detected self-deception, making that particular bleed-over my piece of yarn to pull and unravel so as to quickly cultivate a tidy Sticking or Breaking Point.

Even now, I feel a giddy sense of warm delight all but erupting within as I ponder the perfect sense of completion such a forced connection could evoke—no doubt snapping Ray awake from his fantasies while simultaneously enabling him to see more (with greater clarity) of the truths those fantasies represent.

Yet regardless of the source and direction of Ray’s lies—whether lying only to others, or also to himself, and for whatever purpose—my goal is to keep honing in on traces of those repressed assessments of worth hidden beneath and behind each word picture he puts forth.

ME:

“It seems as though you find Mo’s opinion particularly relevant.

“Would you ever actually ask him if and why he might have considered writing you off?

“Do you think he would give a truthful answer?”

Suddenly, I watched Ray stumble again from his air of stoic distance back to the anxious, awkward personality, dropping instantly as before from spacey and calm to jumpy and perplexed.

His eyes once more darted from point to point around my office like distressed twin hummingbirds on alert.

RAY:

“Yes…

“I…

“I’d want to ask him.”

ME:

“You said Mo is responding to your weakened state.

“What did you mean by ‘weakened state’?

“Why are you in a weakened…?”

But Ray blurted out his unsteady answer even before I had finished the question.

RAY:

“Well, the danger is that…

“I mean, I might have . . . have lied and acted different in front of people so many times that I . . . that now I believe my own lies and . . . and y’know, I’m really . . . crazy.

“Is that…

“Oh my…

“Is that why I’m meeting with you?

“Am I really . . . crazy?!”

I fought to conceal my shock.

Ray had basically raced beyond the workings of my Method to touch on the very conclusion I had already been rolling around.

It was as if we had vaulted forward in time to just after his Sticking or Breaking Point, entirely circumventing the usual, gradual process leading up to one.

Yet due to my decades of extensive experience, combined with the severity of Ray’s mounting bewilderment, I knew to resist my first urge to compound his conclusion about self-deception with the soundness of my own reasoned suspicions.

I would instead respond in such a way as to diffuse Ray’s jittery panic, while still tipping him slightly further off balance, not allowing him to collapse back to anything that might aid in delusion or wishful thinking rather than the useful discomfort of unsullied self-awareness.

I love my Method.

I love my job.

ME:

“Let’s say that crazy does not exist.

“But if there was a lie, what would it be?

“What do you have to lie to Mo and anyone else about?

“Why…?”

Ray’s face went blank.

His eyes froze from their pinging, and seemed to focus in on some point that began just behind my head.

I watched him re-enter whatever hypnosis he had momentarily slipped from, both shifts occurring within mere moments.

All signs of anxiety were gone.

He had switched completely back.

I was looking again at the other Ray.

After a quick glance from left to right, he spoke.

RAY:

“What a bitter irony!

“I feel it . . . so strong!

“Why…?

“Why do I have to…?

“I mean, yeah, I see the Lie with Mo and me.

“It’s hidden there in the fog.

“But, I mean, that’s why…

“This one’s . . . different.

“It’s actually the same color as the fog, so it’s really hard to see.

“I guess, it’s like, maybe the most powerful lies aren’t from trying to, y’know . . . to lie to someone.

“Maybe they’re from really wanting, but . . . but fearing . . . the truth…?

“I think that’s why this Lie looks the same as the fog . . . because of fear.

“But that’s also why it’s so hard to…”

He sighed.

RAY:

“It’s no one’s fault.

“I . . . I only see the Lie because it’s shimmering with this, sort of, chaotic blend of . . . like, back and forth between . . . fear and innocence.

“And the fear is that same one we talked about . . . y’know, the one that’s really unneeded, and…

“It’s just a wrong way to…

“But that’s what I keep saying.

“That’s what’s no one’s fault.

“The Lie wouldn’t be there if not for that fear, but…

“If it wasn’t for the fog…”

Ray’s eyes widened.

They widened too far.

His body seemed to grow rigid like a dried out tree.

I was worried he might slip from his trance to an actual anxiety attack.

I decided my best tactic would be to keep him talking.

ME:

“Tell me more about the lie.

“Who told the lie, you or Mo?”

Ray looked up and lurched, startled, as if seeing me for the first time.

His face swam again with restless panic.

Yet the panic ceased quickly like a burst of fragrance disappearing off into the air.

His gaze fell once more aloof and still.

RAY:

“Well, I lied all the time about what I was doing after work.

“I had to.

“I had to . . . to always lie to everyone about that.

“But the Lie I see between Mo and me goes much deeper than . . . than just me being crazy because I had to pretend all the time or whatever.

“Or, I hope it does.

“But all I can do is…

“Again, the Lie comes from that same fear that’s deep in the . . . the fabric . . . the foundation of everything that makes the City and Church what they are.

“It’s the culture.

“It’s that fear that convinces everyone on every level New Cannibalism is the best way things could be . . . the only way . . . which just means someone always has to end up getting sacrificed to pay for…”

ME:

“Well, why don’t you start at the beginning.

“But I want you to tell me, specifically, about only the real lie you see.”

Even if Ray was unknowingly attempting to deflect attention away from his own self-lies, I do not believe his show of emotion and confusion were at all false or manufactured.

I will make it a point to eventually bring him back to whatever it was he felt the need to lie about “doing after work.”

Yet I take the way Ray now seemed to be so rapidly and uncontrollably crashing back and forth between his two dispositions as more confirmation that we are headed in a good direction.

. . .

“No, it’s not like Mo’s a slave in the City.

“Or a ruler, yet.

“He has a . . . a different role . . . kind of like me, but the opposite.

“That probably makes no sense, huh?

“Well, in the City, New Cannibalism is something everyone thinks they’re supposed to be proud of.

“And that’s because of Advertising.

“People try to celebrate New Cannibalism in everything they do.

“Everything they make is…

“I mean, that’s what art is in the City.

“And Mo . . . Mo is an artist.

“But I think it was a long time ago, I started hearing people whisper stories.

“And every story was the same, everywhere.

“It’s also about when Advertising came to kick out poor Friendship . . . back when places like the Church were, y’know . . . becoming their own empires, and…

“And yeah, speaking of the Church, it’s funny how even the Pastor’s messages were sounding more and more like all those same stories.

“But I’d say the change went both ways . . . like, the Church was so important in the City the stories also changed to match the messages.

“Now every story, and every Church message . . . it’s all exactly the same.

“It always begins with people . . . slaves or rulers . . . y’know, food or eaters . . . living perfect lives, with everyone perfectly happy in their roles.

“Then it switches to something feared or bad . . . something new that causes a problem, or . . . or challenges the happy characters’ beautiful lives.

“The rest is just them finding their way back to how things were at the beginning.

“The bad thing gets dealt with.

“And everyone on every level celebrates New Cannibalism again for being the only way to…

“But that same story has been told and retold so many times it’s something everyone in the City feels like they’re part of . . . something I see them all rating and measuring themselves by without even thinking about it.

“Just like how crazy amounts of money go to Advertising to keep showing the City’s rulers on all the screens, I started seeing even more being spent on turning every story into, like, its own massive production.

“It’s probably pretty obvious why Advertising was happy to give up most of its screen time for those big story productions to get shown instead, right?

“I mean, the City’s art can go deep with whole new layers in how it celebrates New Cannibalism.

“It’s definitely way better at keeping everyone’s attention.

“But even though perfection costs so much to make and show, it’s…

“Well, the higher the quality, the more the productions started having that same hazy, empty look as the fog.

“And once the Pastor’s messages came to fully match the City’s art, I watched even the fog itself start to change.

“Or, at least it looked like it was getting . . . richer . . . more colorful, until…

“Now the fog and art are identical too.

“It’s just what happens when everything that’s made is meant to show the same Lie . . . that Lie that blends and disappears so easily into the fog.

“I know this all probably sounds so stupid, or…

“Again, I see the art being sold to all the people as their story . . . their culture . . . something they’re supposed to think should show them how to be.

“So they’re convinced it’s their job to fight against whatever might remind them of those fears and tensions all the stories show as threats to their identity and culture . . . threats to New Cannibalism.

“Any idea that doesn’t fit with New Cannibalism gets written off as dangerous and worth resisting.

“But…

“I guess one thing I never saw before is how much most people in the City actually hate the art they celebrate.

“All they do is complain, and say nasty things about the…

“You’re probably wondering: What’s the Lie, then?

“And how could someone hate something they celebrate?

“Remember how I mentioned Friendship could use things like iuns to keep building the Church and other places, or groups, for free . . . y’know, if not for Advertising taking over and costing everything?

“Yeah, all the slaves have iuns now.

“But that’s what I . . . the thing I was getting at…

“They’re taught to be so afraid of whatever might threaten the way things have always been that instead of using what they have to show and tell their own real stories . . . whatever they could do, and make, and share with each other for free . . . all they do is go on giving their lives and all their money for more of that same art they really hate . . . those huge productions that only ever put others up in front of them, on their screens . . . in their place.

“New Cannibalism makes it more than just okay for the lives of everyday, normal people to be sacrificed.

“Everything made or shown in the City convinces everyone, over and over, nothing normal can ever be special or worthwhile.

“So the City’s art turns normal into just another perfect character in all its productions, like everyone else.

“And all the real normal people . . . the slaves . . . all they see is how impossibly far their lives are from the perfect versions they keep getting shown.

“It never changes, but keeps the slaves all low, and hidden, and useful, and…

“But that’s the Lie I see that hides so perfectly in the fog.

“Even though it still hurts, I…

“Just, for now, maybe imagine everything born from that fear, and the Lie . . . everything that makes New Cannibalism what it is . . . as, like, water being poured into a tank or drum on one side of some epic scale.

“Once the tank gets too full, it…

“I could say when we come to now, and the way things are in this moment…

“Well, everything always gets turned up on its head.

“And I guess the thing I’ve had to learn is it happens on its own.

“So, it’s really okay.

“I do feel a lot more . . . peaceful.”

. . .

I sat, attempting to sift through a random stack of Normal client files like indistinguishable pins in a box.

How is it that I can so often and intensely resort to putting myself through such fruitless motions?

Could I be any more aware that my Method works regardless of whatever identifying specifics I seem so hell-bent on pinpointing?

Besides, I suspect my Normal numbers will soon dwindle even more.

Ray’s words rolled through and crested over in my mind like sets of swirling waves as I continued to reshuffle crumpled pages which might as well have been blank.

We will certainly be returning to the cryptic after-work activity Ray mentioned having always felt the need to lie about.

Yet what piqued my interest today was what I will refer to, I suppose, as Ray’s appraisal of popular art in society.

One statement in particular that arrested my attention was how “art turns normal into just another perfect character…”

My mental picture was of those responsible for creating the most significant cultural and commercial works spending fortunes on acquiring something of an accurate spec on what could be considered most common or mainstream.

An example would be the statistics used to plan out an appeal so it draws as large an audience as possible.

Knowledge of what is currently seen as most ordinary would be immensely valuable in assuring the greatest return on such an investment.

Yet then as I continued to patter around the shapeless edges of my paper pile, Ray’s words suddenly came to touch on a concept far more personal and relevant to me than either art or advertising.

It was an instant, deep connection—like a steep and unseen underwater drop out in the surf.

I immediately became enraged at myself for having missed it earlier, while Ray was here.

For in contemplating how specific “characters” Ray described might fit within my scheme of Normals and Outliers, I realized his rulers (the “eaters”) would obviously be the wealthy who never come to me for fear of having their secrets exposed.

And Ray’s slaves (the “food”), of course, would be my Normals.

Yet my moment of illumination came as soon as my mind or Method took its next inevitable step.

Since both slaves and rulers are characters, are there any non-characters?

Is anyone not part of Ray’s city?

I then instantly recognized my own thoughts as they occurred, like seeing old friends approach my door from far away.

For they were the same thoughts I had been preoccupied by already scouring aimlessly through the jumbled mess before me—the same thoughts I always have.

My interest in Outliers is really a search for the exact same thing.

My Outliers would be non-characters in Ray’s world.

My mind spun with the similarities, leaving me with the eeriest of feelings as if I were somehow thinking Ray’s thoughts for him, in his absence, perhaps after having heard his unique perspective put forth so often in recent sessions.

Yet the sensation of thinking for Ray also somehow felt not strange at all, but bizarrely right.

Why am I so fixated on those not part of the system?

Yet I have indeed always known exactly why.

As I sit, day by day, racking my tired brain against so relentless a siege of formless, practically interchangeable individuals, what I am actually searching for are even the slightest of Outlier traits—any qualities that might shift a client away from the center enough to make them identifiable.

It was as though my Method had used Ray’s words to lock my mind in sync and bring me to a sort of miniature Sticking or Breaking Point, myself.

How ironic.

Ironically ironic.

I wrote the following on the back of some form whichever Normal had long ago filled out and signed:

Normals feel no need to question their place in the world or how things are.

So are Outliers non-characters because they are too aware of societal conventions (consciously or unconsciously) to take part?

Yet even as my worn mind continued to reel and assemble what would have amounted outwardly to further hurried jots, my surge toward triumphant breakthrough was interrupted by a pesky little man who barged into my office unannounced and sat down across from me in a huff.

My day’s appointments long-finished, I sensed myself becoming livid.

I considered quietly tapping the Security button beneath my desk so as to have the wee man forcefully removed.

Yet then, I reasoned, he might be waiting for me out in the parking lot later with a blade drawn (or likely two to equalize his stature).

I decided to at least determine the nature of this interruption, which seemed too perfect in its unfortunate timing to be accidental.

ME:

“Can I help you?”

STRANGER:

“Yeah.

“See, I woke up, and was with this weird bunch of people on a raft.”

Even though I was still thinking of (or as) Ray when the stranger spoke, it took a moment for me to register and make the connection.

ME:

“What?!”

Of course the probability of two potential clients informing me about awaking to separate raft scenarios seemed infinitesimally small.

Besides, I knew at least Ray’s raft could not be literal.

I tend not to notice things like variations in facial features, though the stranger was clearly far older, stouter, and lighter-skinned than Ray.

Yet I could tell the stranger was indeed an Outlier just from his presumptuous entrance and the curious confidence tingeing his outré opening remark.

At least Outliers are easy to pick out.

STRANGER:

“Yeah, there were twelve of us, so I knew it was probably because of Astrology.

“I picked that up even before I got everyone’s birthday.

“But once I got the dates, I made little mental charts, and found that all the twelve suns, moons, and ascendants were represented there on the raft!

“But no one would take me seriously!

“I tried to show them!

“It was so obvious!

“How unlikely . . . with exactly twelve people?!”

I had no idea.

His words sounded to me like grating, faux-epic gibberish.

ME:

“You tell me.”

ASTROLOGER:

“Freaking impossible!

“We must have been there for a reason, somehow!

“But…”

ME:

“Wait, how could you tell that the, um . . . that all the combinations were there on the raft?”

ASTROLOGER:

“Well, when I asked for birthdates, of course that should have made the sun signs clear to everyone right away.

“We were all born about a month apart.

“But I also know all the moons and ascendants by heart.”

Something about the ever-so-slight grin this supposed client seemed to want to always wear struck me as deeply suspicious.

ME:

“What are sun signs, moons, and ascendants?”

His answer came draped in tones of condescension.

ASTROLOGER:

“Well, the moon moves between signs . . . certain star constellations . . . every few days.

“And the ascendant changes all day, every couple hours.

“It’s also called the rising.

“So I just know them all from seeing people’s charts for so many years.

“I get to know their personalities, and I see the connections, so it’s really easy for me to remember the dates.

“That’s all.”

ME:

“How many years are we talking about?”

ASTROLOGER:

“Well, the oldest on the raft was 50.”

It occurred to me that it might be beneficial at some point to have this odd little man in with Ray for a joint session.

Could this be some elaborate trick or setup?

My current diagnosis: The astrologer most probably has a condition similar to what textbooks call synesthesia, which enables him to remember an almost infinite number of dates and times by naturally associating each figure with a specific feature or behavior seen.

Those with the likes of synesthesia make all sorts of unusual connections between various aspects, allowing huge amounts of data to be recalled.

But with astrology, there should be no reason for birthdates to correlate with actual observed characteristics.

So I will need to consider this one some more, assuming the astrologer is genuine (and pays to become a client).

How could astrology literally be true?

It makes no objective sense.

And then we come to just moments ago as I sat to compose these notes, when two ideas occurred to me right away.

First, I am ready to outright marvel at the fact that, in the space of one day, I was carried through Christianity’s backdoor deals with mainstream art, and thrust into astrology as it worked to arrange individuals on yet another raft.

Such is the life, I supposed, of one infatuated with Outliers.

Yet do they seem to somehow seek me out?

Anyway, my second realization was that as soon as I switched from shuffling old client files to developing and refining these new detailed notes, a deep-seated feeling of useless, wasted effort was immediately jettisoned and reversed.

It was like seeing a misplaced, frustrated worker being slipped over into a more ideal role where they can experience all new levels of reached potential and satisfaction.

In other words, I could appreciate just how good and right it feels to be doing this right now.

. . .

Revy flicked a sideways ‘On’ button and watched his old laptop retch to life.

As drives crunched, and icons loaded, up popped a desktop background image he knew well.

Across empty blackness were plain white letters:

Jtvczsa rtyxcvbh s deefghdseeethgdfggnhhhhh swetupb

. . .

What up TIANions! Welcome to my daily Tian-o-gram. Hello first timers. Im sure u all saw from our heros latest he wore a tank top for the first time. Seeing that made me think: Either Tian’s weird body is like a metaphor for life or life is a metaphor for his body. Which do u think? Should we all go with what comes natural, or against? I think I know what Tian would say (?), but I want to hear from YOU out there in the Tian-o-sphere. Toodles!

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