Authors: Thomas Ligotti
Tags: #Thomas Ligotti, #Horror, #Dark Fiction
The Spectral Link
Subterranean Press 2014
The Spectral Link
Copyright © 2014 by Thomas Ligotti. All rights reserved.
Dust jacket illustration Copyright © 2014 by Harry O. Morris. All rights reserved.
Print version interior design Copyright © 2014 by Desert Isle Design, LLC. All rights reserved.
“Metaphysica Morum” and “The Small People” are original to this volume.
PO Box 190106
Burton, MI 48519
To Nicole Ariana Seary
To be at odds with the status quo of one’s world can be frustrating to the point of madness. Fear, hate, and desperation are just a few of the mental states that fall to those who would have things other than they are. To become unhinged from the majority is to lose that vital link that keeps one complacently within the fold. Set adrift within the forbidden, the outsider remains on a steady course toward utter doom.
Not infrequently, accommodations are eventually made for the discontented, though they may come too late for those who need them most—the irremediably disconsolate, for example. For them, nothing less than an easeful annihilation upon request will suffice. Thus far, however, this desideratum has been withheld. Quite likely, it is being kept in reserve for the future, when the rigid morals of former days relax, as they tend to do. What once seemed to require a metaphysical upheaval is then accepted as commonplace. Still, none can say that this upheaval did not secretly occur.
Of course, the situation is hopeless for those who wish an alteration in affairs that by their very nature are fixed and define the world in which we are all chained. Their dispute is with reality itself, or what passes for reality. In these instances, no changes are forthcoming—the link to nightmare may seem nebulous, even wholly doubtful, but it holds fast all the same. There is no harm in wondering about certain matters: Who? What? Why? But to ask for answers is to be condemned to a life sentence of silence. At that point, insanity may become the only salvation, that is, until an easeful annihilation upon request is permitted.
My instructions were to follow a sequence of absurdly simple acts and to keep the operation secret. First, I was to make my way into the assigned environment; second, I would depart in the most natural manner, undetected if possible, though that part was not essential. Such was the basic framework of the dream. Nevertheless, my sense was that the orders I was carrying out would have repercussions in a far greater scheme. While feelings of this kind often inhere in night visions, their quality on this occasion seemed of a nature surpassing anything I had previously experienced in the world of sleep.
The role I was to play was that of a common individual on a “shopping mission,” words that suggested to me the most sinister fusion of the banal and the remarkable. I was already in character when someone approached me—the Dealer (as I thought of him)—to accommodate my pretended purpose. His place of business, that “chain of galaxies” showroom, impressed me as having been synthesized in a rented bathtub, as my mind conceived it. At the same time, this was not an unfamiliar environment to me. Once again, I quivered at a representation of the outlandish and the everyday. It was in some way an analogue of the world I desperately wanted to exit by suicide in my waking life, ideally by the administration of an anesthetic—the most benign form of euthanasia. In a momentary flash of lucidity, I even came to the realization that such a procedure was then unsanctioned in both the material realm as well as the most distant frontiers to which I had been directed in dreams.
The Dealer was a lanky specimen who was nearly twice my height. He seemed about to break at the waist as he bent toward me. For what seemed the tenth time, he said, “If I understand you correctly, sir, you are in the market for an
“I shouldn’t be able to see so far,” I said. I meant the dimensions of the dream. There seemed no limit to what my sight beheld. Grotesque patterns were in movement seemingly light-years from where I stood.
“You are a metaphysical mutant, if I’m not mistaken. Not even a generation from the swamplands, fertile soil for aberrations of all types.” I now felt a connection to some awful genesis, something transmitting forces of harm to the nucleus of my being. “And you’ve been seeking my services for some time.”
Much more was said, words spoken to me in an unknown language, yet one I understood as relating to schemes of immense repercussions. And there were other things that were not said but still related all the same, as if my mind were communing with itself. There were instructions of intent, infinitely complex processes and principles at work, manifestations that were singular and manifold at once, particular and universal, arbitrary and absolute, all of which were correlated in ways both infinitesimal and immeasurable within my nature. As is common in dreams of affairs beyond sensible conception, which I had experienced all my life and over the years refined into the formulations here articulated, I was overwhelmed by an uncanny dread and thereby phased out of sleep.
Now, by this time of my life, I usually awoke from such a dream in a state of agitated annoyance, both with the deranged experience I had just undergone and with my ranking as a defective human being, which is to say a human being as such. As a dreaming organism I had long ago abandoned obsessing over scenarios and details of a symbolic standing, tediously auditing that which I allowed to be sucked down the drain of all psychological point or meaning within seconds of my regaining consciousness of the waking world. And as I have noted, this world itself seemed to me no better than a landscape synthesized in a rented bathtub, oneirically speaking. But on this dream occasion, as I will refer to these excursions henceforth, the words “all-new context” stayed with me and did not disappear into the black hole of my careless memory.
I brought this phrase to the next session I had scheduled with my therapist cum meditation instructor, who hung his shingle outside an old storefront. His name was Dr. Olan. However, with his familiars and clients he preferred to be addressed as Dr. O. This personal designation also appeared on his business cards, as if it were some kind of alias. The simple “O,” he once explained to me, was not a declaration of negativism, as I once hoped, but one of openness to interpretation and non-sectarianism. I found this affectation nauseating, but at the time I wrote it off as part of the whole package that was Dr. O: his gentle yet commanding manner, his projection of a superior erudition, and, despite his shabby place of business, his clearly expensive yet tasteful attire and fastidiously groomed person. Furthermore, I was not in a position to shop around for the help I needed to get me from one day to another. And the only reason I needed such help was that what I really wanted—to be euthanized by anesthesia—was not available to me in the barbaric society to which I belonged. While Dr. O was capable of assisting me in my true desire, I was not so unhinged or unreasonable as to expect his compliance. In fact, he would not even allow me to speak of it due to his expansive acceptance of an objective moral order in the universe.
“An ‘all-new context,’” repeated Dr. O when I told him of my dream occasion. “Interesting.”
“Why is it interesting?” I asked.
“Well, for one thing, it’s so open to exegesis.”
This reaction in no way took me aback. As I have suggested, Dr. O was so blatantly, so ostentatiously open to “delightful possibilities and interpretations” that nothing really meant anything, or not much, in whatever context he spoke at a given time. For this reason, I often felt like murdering him. However, the intensity of my demoralized state of emotion left me with nowhere else to go, since I had been rejected by every other psychotherapist to whom I had previously appealed. And having somewhere to go was at this point all I had going for me, that is, until I went for good, preferably via euthanasia by painless anesthetic. Nevertheless, I must admit that I still felt at some level a totally idiotic need to exhaust every speck of interest left to me in being alive. Consequently, I was drawn in by Dr. O’s use of the word “interesting.” Of course, he knew that this is how I would react, just as I knew how he would react. The whole pitiful drama between us was such that there were no surprises, or none that indicated any progress in my condition. There were only confirmations that everything was just what it seemed—birth, the business of living, and death. This was simple enough for most, but quite intolerable for a moral and sometimes even a phenomenal nihilist like me.
Claiming that he found the phrase “all-new context” to be interesting was a sort of empty compliment, though I could not prove it or I might have saved myself much time and expense. After all, it was not as if I needed Dr. O to perform emergency surgery on my body, just to tinker enough with my brain to keep me from going to ruin in a purely
. And what therapist or meditation guru does not use flattery as a tool of leverage when dealing with his clientele? No one who seeks the attention of either type of healer, let alone one who is both, wants to be seen as just another face in the crowd. If one is defective, as are we all in some way, being
defective is something of a consolation in the absence of a cure.
All the same, my resentment of Dr. O was based primarily on his prestige as an authority figure, one who by virtue of his specialized learning could lord it over anyone willing to pay in order to benefit from what he knew, or pretended to know. This attitude toward authority figures applied with special vehemence to those who conveyed, though they may not explicitly declare as much, the condition of being “saved”—that is, of having no need to fret over the plight of human existence. While there is nothing inherently contemptible about the saved, I nonetheless could not help but scorn them. One might say that this was the result of my envy of persons who did not suffer from the defects, or at least the same defects, that I did. To my mind, though, I despised the saved for what I saw as their sense of contentment with the order of being in its physical essence, its psychological essence, and not unusually in a metaphysical essence they contended to experience, so boundless they could be in their outright assertions of directly apprehending all reality.
The whole business of a therapist’s or guru’s occupation was in my view tantamount to a swindle. There is no necessary or sufficient reason to possess, or feign to possess, a sense of salvation in light of the pain of existence. But because I was taking a chance that Dr. O might do me some good, I had to go along with his being saved, even if it was all an act to cover up the unavoidable harm that awaits us all. As a physician of mine once said in a rare moment of candor, “Everybody ends up badly. At best, it’s only the luck of one in a million if you don’t see it coming. I should know. It’s my business.” Afterward, he charged me a considerable sum for an emergency surgery. Such episodes have been a running theme in my life since my earliest days. You could attribute my psychological instability to this fact as well as to the dream occasions that so suspiciously bled into my quotidian life that sometimes I could not tell one from the other, which hypothetically might be attributed to there being no actual distinction between them.
On top of all of the above-mentioned ordeals concerning my presence in the world, my therapist-guru took liberties that I resented. One of these liberties that aggrieved me also intimated and suggested to me Dr. O’s true identity as nothing but a swindler was the following: he was always moving around the city to take advantage of rental rates and lowered property taxes attaching to places that had become undesirable due to criminal activities and other forms of urban degeneration. Dr. O once explained this strategy to me when I complained about coming to see him in a warehouse hovel by the city’s docks, a venue that attracted an array of unlawful enterprises.
“An indifference to one’s surroundings,” Dr. O intoned, “is basic to any psychological or spiritual advancement. The Enlightened One himself relocated from a palace to a life of uncertainty and hardship on the open road, not the other way around.”
What authenticity was contained in Dr. O’s excuse for his deteriorating professional locales, I could not tell. How else could he explain his questionable migrations—that he was perpetually on the run from creditors as a consequence of some illegal undertaking on his part? Even if I suggested such a possibility, he would only have recast this accusation to conform to his public image as an elevated being who was well worth the discount rates he charged. Naturally, an excuse of this kind would just exacerbate my scorn for the saved and their smug sense of how perfectly right things were in the universe, while at the same time highlighting my impotence to challenge their claim. This inability of mine to impugn their felicitous vision of themselves and everything else only bolstered his point. Whatever he was, Dr. O was a creature who could flourish in the worst conditions—if only until his day finally came—and this gift went a long way toward confirming his authority to direct the lives of defective persons such as myself.
For me, the consequence of being out of work, which was both a cause for and result of my turning to the services of Dr. O, led me to overlook that his base of operations was situated in what was known as the “battleground district.” I was on my last legs when I saw Dr. O’s advertisement in the classified section of a local publication I found abandoned in the booth of one of the cheap diners where I was taking my meals at the time—and thereafter, if truth be told. To an emotional wreck, the words “fair rates,” which were featured in the classified ad, were good enough reason to overlook a great deal on the side of safety with respect to the “battleground district.” For a time, Dr. O even took me in when I was at my lowest point. He also treated me on an installment plan once I revealed financial documentation of my embarrassed circumstances. “You’ll find something soon enough,” he told me. “I’m sure of it.”
As it happened, the reason Dr. O could be sure of my finding gainful work was that he referred me to a variety of temporary services with which he was associated, arranging for them to hand over my wages directly to his keeping. In turn, his therapeutic treatment of me began, followed soon after by a more ambitious program of guided meditation.
At this juncture, the average individual might doubt my intelligence in agreeing to Dr. O’s stipulations regarding my work life. But my intelligence was by no means at issue during this time in my life. Instead, the behavior I manifested was entirely dictated by my state of demoralization. In fact, the whole of my existence had been critically demoralized for one reason or another. From my earliest days, I was unwell with more than my share of childhood diseases. Of course there may be people who have had a diseased childhood without having a bad childhood. But good, bad, or indifferent, my diseased childhood seems in retrospect to have laid the foundation of my subsequent years, which, as I am with difficulty trying to depict, had been years of severe demoralization.
To pursue this subject from another angle, it is not necessarily true that a diseased physical life is the cause of a diseased mental life. Such calculations of cause and effect are too simplistic. More probable is that a diseased physical life may be the cause of an active—meaning overly active—mental life, a life in which mental phenomena predominate and may even seem to have objective form. As everyone learns who has been attentive to their own thoughts, what manifests in one’s brain is often directly traceable to what is happening in some other part of one’s body. And if a disease is happening in some other part of one’s body—or in the whole of one’s body, as occurred during my childhood—then you can be sure of having an overly active mental life, even to the extent, as I have said, of perceiving mental phenomena as equally real, or more so, than physical phenomena. When the rest of your body is lying inactive because of an illness, or thrashing with fever and the dream occasions of fever, your brain is left to compensate for this inactivity by overactivity. It only makes sense.