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The Apparition of the Virgin

by Louis B. Shalako

“Oh, yes,” murmured Doctor Malcolm. “Hmm.”

George Fortuna-Limitado. The man who saw the Virgin. Sighing deeply, the doctor opened the file. Doctor Frederick Malcolm studied the case notes before letting the man in for another session.

George was likely to have these delusions for the rest of his life. The prognosis didn’t look good, especially if he couldn’t find the root cause. Yet before the incident, George was a fairly well-balanced person, with a wife and two kids in Owen Sound. George hadn’t shown any previous signs of stress or anxiety-based symptoms.

The real question was whether the patient was at high risk to become violent. That one was always a tough call, but past history was the best indicator of future behaviour. George was in control of himself, and had never raised his voice or complained about anything.

Little enough to go on, thought Doctor Malcolm.

According to the information in the file, George had shown every sign of a healthy and normal adult development. Until now, that is.

Imagine seeing the Virgin Mary, complete with Her chest open, and a blazing heart! But the human psyche was capable of some amazing feats.

The Sacré Cœur, plainly visible to George, had the salutary effect of reforming him. While an honest man, he was ‘slightly prone’ to drinking, brawling and sowing his wild oats around the docklands and waterfront dives.

The way George described it, the heart was both beating, and on fire.

Interesting imagery.

Maybe George had been looking for an excuse to clean up his act. The man had a young family now. Maybe he simply lacked the self-esteem to make the decision for himself. He had run away from home quite young. The Doctor wondered again about that, but George had never admitted to suffering any sort of parental abuse.

George was quite a spiritual man, like many a sailor before him. Previous to the apparition, George had relied on a rather profane type of superstition to protect him from the hazards and snares of the sea — or the Great Lakes, to be more accurate.

George relied on curses, half-remembered bits of Sunday-school prayers, imprecations; and even vague threats to the gods in general. George’s taste had run to tattoos, talismans hanging round his neck, and maybe even a lucky rabbit’s foot prior to seeing the Virgin Mary.

George didn’t seem to suffer any unresolved guilt conflicts.

George’s family had stayed in Argentina, but George, along with an uncle and an aunt came to Canada. When the arrangement proved untenable, George simply took off and got a job on the docks at Hamilton.

George wasn’t exactly a do-gooder; he was just reclusive, and spoke with a humble piety when questioned about the Virgin. George was totally unfamiliar with the finer points of theology or any denomination’s dogmas or teaching. George had no metaphysics in him. He simply ‘knew’ things that roughly corresponded to someone’s Christian teaching somewhere.

“Jesus was transmitted through Mary like a beam of light,” according to George.

Doctor Malcolm wondered a time or two if George even had the imagination to make some of this stuff up. The patient didn’t seem to read very well. Where was George getting his material? Some subconsciously remembered book or film somewhere?

The diseased mind might play strange tricks, staring out of the wheelhouse on a dark and dreary night. Cruising across a foggy Lake Superior with a load of iron ore from Duluth, or grain from Thunder Bay. Doctor Malcolm realized that he didn’t know much about ships and couldn’t recall if sailors had any unusual predilection to one malady or another. He couldn’t recall any such opinions in the literature.

Doctor Malcolm closed the file, and got up to open the door. He beckoned at the great, hulking, thick-necked, super-masculine brute that was George.

“Please come in now, George. You’re looking very well today,” said Doctor Malcolm.

“Thank you, Doctor Malcolm,” said George.

Once George was comfortably seated, Doctor Malcolm calmly regarded him over the tops of his reading glasses, while flicking back and forth through the file. He couldn’t stall much longer. He had to make up his mind.

Doctor Malcolm grinned at the other man. For some odd reason he respected George, and maybe that was the difference. George sat there, as calm and as cool as a cucumber, perfectly aware that everyone thought he was nuts. Perhaps even a danger to himself and the community, although that part hadn’t been acknowledged openly. Not in quite so many words.

George was supremely confident, now that he had seen the Virgin. And he didn’t care what happened to him or what anyone did to him. Yes, what indignities they had heaped upon the man who had seen the Divine Mother, revealed in all her celestial glory, to a humble junior-high school dropout.

George was too honest, too good, to try to deny his affliction. George wouldn’t play the game. He refused to try to fool people and get himself let off by dishonest means. He wasn’t going to lie about it, and he certainly wasn’t in denial.

In a sense, George had dealt with it. Almost better than those around him... including the system, Dr. Malcolm admitted rather ruefully. Doctor Malcolm respected George. The man at least practiced what he preached.

If it was really the Virgin Mary, why did she always reveal herself to such poorly educated people? But the natural explanation was that they were humble people. The two of them just sat there regarding each other for a moment.

George had no history of drug-taking or serious alcoholism. That really didn’t jibe with what Doctor Malcolm knew about the lakers. On the big lake ships, alcoholism and hard drugs were an ever-present reality. In practice, drying out crewmen who were in trouble and trying to keep their jobs was a fairly regular occurrence. But a ship was a small community, and secrets were hard to keep.

George had no needle tracks, and his liver seemed in good shape. A non-smoker. Hmm.

Ships and their cargoes were expensive. If they suspected a problem, firstly it would be in a file somewhere, and secondly there would be a record of treatment. The shipping company’s insurers would make sure of that. Or else George, as a fully-qualified senior helmsman — and expensive — would have been fired.

“How have you been feeling lately?” inquired the doctor, with a breezy optimism designed to draw George out of his shell a little.

“I feel great, although I could use some proper work to do once in a while,” George told him. “It’s not natural for a man to just sit around watching daytime television.”

“I see,” said Doctor Malcolm. “How do you feel about going home?”

“The sooner the better,” said George. “You guys are all nuts in here.”

Doctor Malcolm had to smile at that. “You may be righter than you know,” he told George. “Do you think you would take all your medications, and see your family doctor once a month?”

“Sure, doc. But it’s just bullshit.”

Doctor Malcolm was expecting that. “It’s important bullshit,” he told George. “Will you promise me?”

George shrugged, but in a fairly positive way. “Sure, doc, sure,” he agreed with a grin. “So you’re going to let me loose then?” George’s eyebrows were raised in mild disbelief.

“Sooner or later, we have to kick everyone out. The number of life-long patients is actually quite small,” Doctor Malcolm informed him. “Honestly, I think you’ll be all right. You’ve just gone through an extraordinary experience. It’ll all settle in after a while. And there’s no place like home.”

George just sat there in silence. He seemed to be blinking back tears. Malcolm didn’t even feel a lump in his own throat at this sight. It was just one of many.

“Sign the papers,” nodded the doctor, pushing the sheaf of forms across the desk.

George might be crazy, but he was harmless enough, and perfectly capable of functioning in the ‘real’ world. Hopefully the man was smart enough to stay away from the news-hounds, or he might find it hard to get work again. Anyway, the key thing was to make a proper assessment.

George had signed himself in to begin with, at his family doctor’s suggestion, and wasn’t under any court-ordered conditions. While George had lavish insurance through his union, he really was better off seeking treatment on an out-patient basis.

He presented with no signs of violence, no persecution complex, and no paranoid symptoms. This was about as comfortable as it ever got, in Doctor Malcolm’s experience.

“You don’t believe me, do you Doctor Malcolm?” asked George rather sadly as they shook hands.

“Is that why you were here, George?” grinned the doctor rather unexpectedly. “Really, George, what I think simply doesn’t matter. It’s what you think that matters.”

With that, they would both have to be content. George was just a pretty nice guy with an unusual problem.

* * *

Perk Ditt and Geordie Albaniorno sat in a rented BMW Mini-Cooper, an inconspicuous blue one, just across the busy street from the mental hospital. Geordie tried to watch out the left-hand window and also keep one eye open for hints and clues as to Perk’s mood and intentions. His black-haired and blonde-bearded pal’s glittering green eyes were hooded; yet relaxed and casual in their deceptive calm. A real tiger lurked behind those eyes, Geordie knew.

“There’s the old lady,” said Albaniorno. He was immaculately shaven and thick-set. And he was unhappy at almost any time when he and his inseparable partner were not somewhere deep under the ocean depths, debunking mysterious mysteries, fighting evil in general, and undersea crime in particular.

“She’s bringing the car around,” the dreadfully handsome Ditt yawned, over-dramatically.

That was just the way the Medal of Honor-winning, former Navy Seal and carrier F-4 combat pilot with seventeen MiG kills, who had served three tours in the Vietnam War, did things.

Adopted as an adult by a former Attorney General, his mother had won the Miss Universe title at twenty. Perk’s came from a rich family active in society events, and the whole bunch of them were well known for their philanthropic tendencies, but none of that ever spoiled Perk’s masculine disregard for privilege, policy, and procedures, and protocols.

Albaniorno glanced over unresentfully at his friend. Perk had a way of making virtually every hot chick fall over backwards in front of him with their legs wide open, without even hardly trying, or so it seemed sometimes. His friend was nodding fitfully and impatiently.

“I’ll bet he makes a try for the president,” Geordie muttered darkly. “Or the Pope. Probably within the next few days. It was a good thing you predicted they would go after some dumb guy on the lake ships.”

“That mental-image projector, and the limbic stimulator, invented by our old mutual arch-enemy, The Evil Doctor Blowfish, could be focused that tightly only at extremely long distances,” noted the tall, yet muscular Perk, which was short for Perkins.

There had been a time in his youth, when he hated his parents for giving him that name.

“His big mistake was to use the leftover parts from Gerry Bull’s Sky-Cannon for the reaction tube. Now, his idea of presenting false religious symbols, while pleasurably stimulating the brain stem and subliminally implanting coded instructions, has the diabolical elegance of simplicity,” he added.

Geordie didn’t pretend to understand what his buddy, a self-acknowledged genius, was saying; it was enough to know that Perk was usually right about such things.

“Here he comes now,” said Albaniorno, putting the car in gear. “I’ll bet there’s a secret rendezvous. Like maybe in an old abandoned warehouse somewhere.”

“All we can do is to follow them,” agreed Ditt, settling down into the seat as best he could.

Privately, Perk figured they would just go home, but that wouldn’t be too motivating for Geordie if he told him. The drive from here to Owen Sound would take a few hours.

Hopefully Mrs. Fortuna-Limitado wouldn’t drive like a bat out of hell. Albaniorno was known to be a cranky driver at the best of times. Worse, Perk had forgotten his driving glasses back at the supersonic flying mini-submarine he and his Southern Comfort-slugging buddy were developing for the CIA.

The flying submersible Armadillo had been pressed hastily into service, although they had forgotten about the Welland Canal. In spite of their insouciant disregard for procedures of any kind, it just didn’t seem right to pay a really big bribe and then sneak through the canal underwater, with the lockmaster opening up gate after gate for no apparent reason whatsoever.

The craft worked fine underwater. It pulled two skiers on the surface, and in all weathers and conditions, too. Unfortunately, the rocket motors for the airborne portion of its maneuvering envelope were on lay-away at “Weapons R Us,” a friendly, neighbourhood store where customers received friendly, knowledgeable service in twenty-two languages.

And for some reason, Perk was perennially short of cash. And besides, someone somewhere would be bound to notice such an odd-looking flying thingy cutting through commercial air corridors. Anyhow, Albaniorno was designated driver for the duration.

Armadillo was tied up in the boathouse of the cottage Albaniorno’s aunt owned in the Thousand Islands chain of the St. Lawrence River. Hopefully the Royal Canadian Mounted Police wouldn’t stumble on it in a search for smuggled cigarettes while they were away. It was just a chance they would have to take. The future of the free world and even the bad guys’ world might be at stake.

Geordie glanced over surreptitiously at his good friend of all these years. Still no signs of problems, and it had been three weeks. Albaniorno was awfully worried when his friend went into a pharmacy and came out with three different colours of nylon support hose clutched under his arm.

But Albaniorno had been reassured to learn that these were for Perk’s new girlfriend, the world-famous Russian secret agent Ludmilla Getonanov. Apparently she was worried about her varicose veins.

What the hell, he thought as he headed up Highway 6, half a kilometre behind Mr. and Mrs. Fortuna-Limitado in their gleaming, mint-condition orange AMC Matador. None of us is getting any younger.

Other than that, Ludmilla was a pretty nice girl once you got over her checkered past and flaky persona, which belied a whip-cord sharpness underlying her gruff exterior.

Geordie had been afraid Perk would begin morphing into some kind of superhero, but then that would have called more for tights or a body-stocking and some kind of tight little jumper.

For a moment, Geordie wondered what he himself would look like in a cape. A big, long, beautiful red cape. But so far Perk showed no signs of suffering any ill effects from eating those radioactive cabbage rolls during their last escapade.

The truth was, they got lucky last time. It would have been so easy to screw up, in their lackadaisical, happy-go-lucky way, and lose the planet for good.

He hunkered down and peered through the little windscreen of the Mini-Cooper. It was all their private underwater security consulting firm could afford to rent out of petty cash. Albaniorno wondered what it would be like to be a sidekick to “The Cabbage” or something really cool like that. You had to admit, Perk had pretty much done everything else in his fifty short years on this good green Earth. A disciplined side-kick was a precious thing, he belatedly realized.

Geordie was fighting a sudden urge to zoom up ahead of the Fortuna-Limitados, and try and find a popular fried chicken outlet and grab some lunch. He manfully resisted the temptation.

Glancing over, he was dismayed to find his friend pale, sweating and disoriented, with a little trickle of drool coming out of the corner of his mouth. Perk’s eyes were glazed, and he seemed to be in a state of deep and profound shock.

“Perk! Perk!” he cried, grabbing his friend by the shoulder and giving him a shake. “What’s wrong?”

Albaniorno did a quick mental review, going all the way back to lunch. He had the usual, chicken nuggets with ketchup, and Perk had the fish sandwich. Was his friend suffering from salmonella?

“Uh, uh,” moaned Perk. “Oh, wow.”

“What’s the matter, Perk?” called Geordie loudly. “Are you okay?”

“No. You’re never going to guess what just happened,” he said, looking deeply and directly into his friend’s highly-concerned eyes, stirring in his seat now, and attempting to sit up a little straighter.

There was a long silence, while Geordie thought and thought and thought. “Sorry,” he said. “Maybe you’d better just tell me.”

Perk gave a sharp nod. “I’ve just seen the Archangel Gabriel, standing right there by the side of the road, and he was telling me to kill you!”

Both men stared into each other’s faces as the significance, whatever it may have been, of this momentous incident sank in. This revelation was greeted with a sodden, sullen silence, as now the rain, long-promised by the TV Weather Channel, was beginning to come down with a vengeance. Unwashed, unwatched, and unguided, the Mini-Cooper careened down the road a half a kilometre behind the Fortuna-Limitados, all of them on their way to some kind of unwanted destiny.

Copyright © 2012 by Louis B. Shalako

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