He Spoke Without Moving His Lips
by Ethan Perritt, 3.49am March 10th 2022
“The words bind you as you read them.” Dr. Ross pointed to the passage in the notebook. “What does that mean, James?”
His patient sat across the room. He scratched his face while his eyes watched the floor. “Exactly what it says. I just write the messages down.”
“From the same being we talked about before?”
Has not improved, continues to lack insight. Patient exhibits a strong belief in “extradimensional nightmares.” Perhaps a change in approach? Ross scrawled his thoughts in illegible handwriting. He asked him about the next line. “The modern priest knows not of what he speaks.”
“You’re the modern priest—you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.” James wore white approximations of clothing. All he needed was a straightjacket to pair and he’d be batshit-chic. He insisted they weren’t his words. “Why do you think analyzing them will reveal something about me?”
Ross leaned back and observed the patient’s behavior.
“Look, I know you think you’re doing good work here, and I believe you have a remarkable healing power. But for others. Not for me. These labels you slap on, they’re not correct. Human naming of behaviors you can’t understand,” James said.
“You’re right. But I can’t type up demonic possession as a justification for antipsychotic medication. Maybe I can for an exorcism?”
The patient chuckled. That might do him some good.
“Well, why don’t you tell me about the demon?”
“Not a demon. Do not refer to it as such.”
The sudden tonal shift shocked him. Biting, cold. Was this James speaking? Ross scribbled fake notes. If he made the patient think he was writing something, it would pique interests. “You’ve told me you can’t, but could you try to give me its name?”
James coiled a fist around his pen and jammed it into the notebook. Black ink cut the page, overlapping lines he held it on display. Nothing in English. A jumbled picture of symbols. Gibberish.
Ross couldn’t help staring. The images were hypnotic, spiraling into themselves with complex patterns. It was pure unconscious energy channeled onto the page. “I imagine the psychoanalysts would have fascinating remarks about this.”
The patient ignored Ross and continued writing. The words you read speak to your soul but do not have a sound. They have a rhy-thm but their ess-ence is not to be found. They bind your heart and fill your void and will en-snare your mind. Voi-ces of the deep speak through me heard by all of man-kind.
“You should be a poet. You’d be great.”
“You’d have to let me out first. Anyway, I didn’t write this, I channeled it. I’m her voice like always. But you never believe me.”
“I want to believe you. As a man of reason, I require evidence and you refuse to provide it.”
James covered his ears, shaking his head. “You think I’m psychotic but I’m telling the truth. What the hell is the point of having this gift if I can’t use it? Zombie-minded shrinks know best, you set the rules.”
He turned to stare at the fluorescent lights above. They hummed and crackled. James went silent.
“What can I do to help you?” Ross asked.
“Let me perform the ritual. Let me speak. You’ll get your proof.”
He clicked the white noise machine off. Almost six months with no progress. James’s behavior had deteriorated, steadfast beliefs digging in deeper. Ross could cure him no matter how difficult.
Ross read the file. His official diagnosis was schizotypal personality disorder, bipolar 1, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies thrown in. Jargon meant for insurance companies.
“Any luck?” Dr. Kim’s voice startled Ross. She carried a stack of books and manilla folders.
“James is—well—he’s maddening to deal with.”
She laughed. “I can see that. Your hair is even grayer now.”
“And your crow’s feet are more pronounced. Coffee?” Ross filled their cups and they entered her office.
“What the hell does this guy believe anyway?” Kim placed the books in a pile, adding to the chaos of the paper-strewn room.
“Communication with the beyond as far as I can tell. A specific being. I haven’t been able to get a name out of him. It gives him these—what should I call them? Instructions? No, orders. As he had a commander living inside him.” He stroked his beard. “Half a year and no progress.”
“Why do you think knowing the name would help?” Kim stirred her coffee, watching the sugar cube melt into mocha swirls.
“If you have a demon’s true name you can control it, right? That’s mythology. But if I can’t even get the name it’s presenting to him, then how can I figure out its goals?”
“You’re talking like it’s real.”
“It is to him. And when I crack these delusions, I can heal him.” Ross looked at the bookshelf and let his eyes trace the titles. Freud, Foucault, Lacan, Jung, modern greats lined up in alphabetical order.
Kim slumped in her chair and combed folders. “What if you played along? Not in the normal ‘and is this demon in the room right now’ sense. Total acceptance. Pretend it’s real. And treat it as if the being were more alive than you were.”
It violated the protocols and principles Ross had established when he founded his practice. Was it ethical? Never mind that, would it work? If it didn’t, there was a good chance he’d reinforce the delusions.
“There’s another part. For months he’s mentioned a ritual and I never let him do it. I think I will.”
She stared at him with blank eyes.
Ross gazed out the window. It was gray with more gray, bruised clouds hanging over brick buildings. “What choice do I have?”
“You can’t be serious. Up his dose? I suggested playing along but that’s too far. You can’t go that extreme. It could cost you your career, which means my career.”
“Why would it?”
Hungry press would eat up a story about shrinks encouraging occult rituals. They’d label him unhinged, James a poor victim. The patient didn’t trust anyone, but his theatrical flair could drive him toward anything. Speaking to the press wasn’t unlikely.
“He called me a modern shaman,” Ross said. “James understands his archetypes.” If he played out the psychodrama of his ritual, the healing potential was immense. Darker thoughts fogged Dr. Ross’s mind, ones he didn’t want to share with Kim. Would she think he was crazier than his patient? Goddamn suspicions. He felt the paranoia bubble in his gut. James had infected him.
She placed a hand on his shoulder. “I know that look.”
Of course she did. With a decade of experience over him, Kim could read a face like a book. No, like a painting. She knew him better than anyone, even himself.
“The whole thing is strange. Peculiar. Odd. That’s the only way I can describe it,” he said.
“The doctor finds a case to stump him.”
A chill crawled up his spine. “I’m scared. That’s the truth.”
“Of James? He’s harmless.” Kim stepped back, stapling a stack of papers. “Maybe a bit of a douchebag.”
“A crazy one. There’s something about the way he writes. He’s obsessed. Like writing it down is the only way he can relieve the being’s pressure. It’s a clear compulsion, but one that’s starting to freak me out.”
“People do disturbing things—”
“But that’s not it. I’m starting to wonder if there’s something to it.”
Kim’s eyes widened. He knew what she was thinking. This isn’t the normal Ross. Maybe he needs treatment too. Maybe it’s gotten to his head. Maybe he’s senile!
“Any flickering lights or sudden temperature drops?” Her inner parapsychologist spoke.
“You think I’m nuts.” He faked a smile, trying to ignore the theories and hypotheses bouncing around his head. “If he believes he’s in contact with this being, even possessed by it, then what’s to say it isn’t real? Not in a literal sense. A metaphor. The collective unconscious. This energy presents itself to him with such vigor that it’s indistinguishable from reality. It’s Jungian. That ideas can spread like spirits, or that spirits spread like ideas. Chicken or egg. Terrifying and insane but maybe true.”
“It sounds like you’ve made up your mind.”
He opened a drawer full of candles and leather-bound books. “You won’t mind me using these?”
Kim finished scribbling her notes, chugged her coffee, and placed her pen in its cup. “If I can watch the ritual. Then sure.”
Butterflies soared in Ross’s stomach. If it worked, they’d publish papers revolutionizing psychology. “We’d be famous. But you have to promise you’ll never talk about this. Not until it works.”
She nodded. Her lips were sealed.
He didn’t know what to expect. Ross handed James the candles and enough paper to burn the building down. The patient arranged them in a pentagram, five on the outside, five on the inside, and placed his notebook in the center.
It was insanity.
Kim leaned against the sofa and watched. “Do you trust me to be here?”
The patient glanced at her, then continued placing the candles in ever more perfect order. “Not any more or less than Dr. Ross. I don’t know you. I don’t know him. You can’t know anyone. All projections of the mind, isn’t that right?”
“In a sense. Then why can’t you tell us the being’s name?”
He pointed to the symbol-filled page. “It’s not something you can pronounce. You have to speak without moving your lips.”
Kim shot Ross a glare. Could James tell them what was going to happen? He knelt to face the patient.
“I don’t myself. How could I?” James said.
Ross hovered a pen over a blank page. “Do you have any expectations?”
“No.” The patient wasn’t handing over any information. Even if he knew, he was guarding it. “Let us begin.”
Kim nodded. Her lips curled into a comforting but sinister smirk.
What did it mean? Ross tried to calm his nerves. Nothing worked.
“Turn off the lights. Listen to me. Follow my orders.” James struck a match and lit the candles, wicks popping.
“Are you serious?”
“Just do what he says,” Kim said.
Ross shook his head. Something was off. “This doesn’t seem like a good idea—”
“Sometimes you don’t get to choose.”
He flipped the switch and watched the room descend into darkness. Wavering shadows cast by candlelight with nothing else visible.
“Come out, I say!” James’s shouts echoed. “I call you out from the night!”
Nothing visible happened. The room stood still. Dead. Cold. Sterile.
The patient sucked in deep as he began slinking around the pentagram. His shadows danced on the wall, growing and shrinking as he circled the candles. He vibrated unpronounceable words. They weren’t English, not even an approximation of another language. The words bellowed out of his mind’s deepest recesses.
Ross felt something in his heart. Ice, then heat. A mixture of pure fascination and utter terror swallowed him, hands gripping inside each organ. Psychosomatic, it had to be. His patient’s fluid movements and sudden shift into alien words were intoxicating. There was an energy—even the hardcore rationalist had to admit it.
The patient stopped. “Do you hear that?”
Both doctors closed their eyes to listen. Rain pattering on the glass, air conditioners whirring, waterpipes hissing. Nothing out of the ordinary.
“Did you feel that?” She said something shocked her skin.
Ross shook his head. She was messing with him, right?
“She’s coming,” James said.
“Who?” Ross’s hair stood up as his surroundings zapped with static buzzing.
The room droned with high-pitched frequencies bouncing in the air. It would’ve been bearable, but the sound fluctuated in and out of earshot. A magnetic field that pulled at the bits of exposed skin.
Ross was captivated. The splendor was too much. He felt the vibrations of James’s words as if they were part of him—like there was no separation at all.
It was all in his head. He muttered that mantra over and over. Made it easier to rationalize that way, he wouldn’t have to face the truth lurking beyond the periphery of thought.
A candle blew out with a whisper from the dark. There was something here, a force lurking without a purpose. Watching.
James leered at the corner with a saucer-eyed stare. He had an intuitive sense of where the thing stood. Could he see something Ross couldn’t? If it was standing over there, what was it doing?
Get a grip. You’re a rational man, there’s a rational explanation. Collective projection. That’s it. The mind is a powerful place. How powerful could it get?
Ross struggled to open his mouth. His palms were soaked with fear.
A woman’s voice hissed in his ear: Hush.
He turned to face Kim. Eyelids sealed away her vision, rhythmic breathing taking over her body. She hadn’t said a word.
His heart pounded. Can you hear my mind?
Ross’s eyes shot open wide, red fingers webbing around his pupils. He was certain the shadows were speaking to him. Neuroscience couldn’t explain it. These were deep depths of the mind unexplored, the unconscious made conscious.
And yet you deny its veracity, doctor.
This voice was a psychological phenomenon, nothing more. All he could do was wait, long enough and James would finish up his ritual and make a step towards integration. The healing process of the psychoanalytic mind, the therapist’s dream!
You feel it with your senses. Your intuition tells you what you need to know and you shove it away. And for what reason? Built-in functions that exist because we made them so.
He wanted to scream.
He knew better than to give in to a patient’s delusions.
Are they lies if you see them too?
“James, there’s nothing here, finish it up.” Knives jabbed from the inside of Ross’s gut, dragging him to his knees.
“Listen to the words I speak!” The woman’s voice vibrated for all to hear. A hulking shadow grew on the wall, standing over the patient as he scribbled in the notebook. “You treat me as if I do not exist—but I am not a metaphor!”
James smiled, oscillating the pen like a pendulum in a storm. Words bled onto the page, tearing the paper and inking the book.
The doctors watched in awe, their jaws hanging slack, veins pumping with adrenaline. Ross dove to hug Kim, arms wrapping around her. He kept a space between his chest and her skin. His stomach stabbed him. The shadow flickered in candlelight as James’s words became a portrait of something stranger. He stabbed the pen into the paper and tore pieces in frenzied apathy. An alien being made of words and symbols formed from the page as he directed energy into it.
“You stifle the heralding cry of my prophet because you lack the words to describe the feelings coursing through your being. You take synthetic substances and force him to imbibe as though they were more natural than his own mind. You are foolish! Caught in a palace built from nothing, weeping ash from wilting roses from tears that are mine.”
What was she saying? How could Ross make her go away?
“You don’t understand. And you are not meant to. I am the vibration from which all things emanate. Too long has your kingdom of false light coated the earth in a technological nightmare. Humans. I create you to grow into something worth looking at and you trash the gift and say your own is better.”
Could it be? Was this being God?
“Stop with your words! I told you—you lack the ability to speak it. Cease. You must speak without speaking.”
His hands dug like claws Kim’s skin. He couldn’t let go. Something from beyond animated him to listen to this song. “Please, tell it to stop!”
James looked up. “But doctor, haven’t you learned? There is no way to stop it.”
A black grin grew in the dark. Ross fell to his knees. Like a puppy does to its master, he gazed at the being. “What would you have me do?”
The static stopped. As a hand fell on his shoulder, warmth filled the air and cold needles subsided.
“Relinquish words and speak with symbols.”
Her beauty was blinding. It was too much to bear—a white light shining in the night, a summer’s breeze on the air. The storm stopped and kicked back up, the psychiatrist gazing at her flowing hair. It was gold like divinity and he knew he had stumbled onto that esoteric aspect of what the Christians called the trinity. Kim was gone, and so was James. There was nothing left but a magenta glow calling with each inhaling breath.
“He wasn’t insane?”
The goddess smiled. “Nothing is without a reason, my child. You simply lack the perspective to see it.”
“Why couldn’t I learn your name?”
“How can you name that which comprises everything? My love, I am sorry. You were but a victim of your times, metamorphosizing into something inhuman that you called the natural progression of mankind. But it is okay now. You can rest.”
“What is this?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
And the sing-song rhythm made sense.
The static dissipated as Ross collapsed. Kim darted to grab him as he fell. His voice croaked as the light behind his eyes faded. Pale skin shed dust onto the linoleum floor.
The patient burned stray paper scraps in the dwindling flames.
“Ross? Doctor?” Kim’s face went pale, his gray hair weaving through her fingers. “Where is he?”
The patient said nothing as he handed Kim the notebook. Each page was filled with surreal and detailed drawings. She flipped the pages, fingers trailing across transcribed nightmares. If there was a narrative, she couldn’t describe it, though she sensed there was.
“What does it mean?” she said, turning to the final page. A mandala churned inside a diamond. She saw herself in fragments. Pieces of her face were cut into rivers and oceans. James’s body was dissected by pens and pages that formed books inside novels. Where was Ross? She searched for him but found him nowhere, erased from history, as if he never existed. A shadow danced behind the image, spider-like hands pulling the strings. And two quotes to top it off, one above, one below, were written in scrawled letters resembling Hebrew.
Wait six months, the world sings praises and joy unto his name—sitting above a drawing of a throne.
Bring forth the goddess love, she balances the world alone—resting on a candlestick.
Kim looked James in the eyes. “Where did he go?”
And James gave his final gaze as she heard his voice in her head:
He spoke without moving his lips.