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The Phantom Lover

by John W. Steele

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

I awoke late Saturday afternoon and looked at the clock on my dresser. I’d been asleep for twelve hours, yet I remained exhausted. I managed to take a shower and after I’dcleaned up, I felt a little better.

My refrigerator was empty except for three tall-boy beers, and several half-empty boxes of Chinese takeout. I warmed the food in the microwave and doused it with soy sauce; the rice wasn’t too bad. I grabbed a handful of assorted vitamins, washed everything down with the remainder of my beer supply, and fell back into bed.

My lover appeared immediately. She was more vibrant and animated than I had ever seen her.

“I’ve missed you, Doctor Harrington,” she said.

“I’ve missed you too, honey.” We spent the remainder of the weekend in bed. The pleasure I knew with her had no parallel in the borders of my warped ascetic life. She swept me repeatedly into a mind-shattering climax, each one deeper and more satisfying than the one before it. The rush she induced came from somewhere in my soul. Little did I understand then it was my soul, draining out of me.

Late Sunday evening, Ursula said. “It’s time for me to go.” She gleamed like a diva, and her countenance thrived with energy.

“Please don’t leave. I feel as empty as a shell.”

“I have to go, Milton, it’s the law, but I’ll return. I promise.”

“I love you,” I said.

The demon looked through me. I’d seen the look before, in the eyes of a snake about to strike a lab rat.

“You shouldn’t love me, Milton. What we are experiencing is only a change in state.”

“How can you say that? What do you mean?” I asked.

“Our intercourse is only a transference of energy, like steam when condensed to water,” she said.

I felt heartbroken, and I stared at her like a lovesick buffoon. For the first time I was able to see her eyes. They were yellow with black ovoid pupils. Her retinas glowed with a green neon hue like a cat’s eyes reflect moonlight.

“Osmotic pressure is a direct consequence of the law of conservation of linear momentum. As a physician, I’m surprised you forgot that, Doctor Harrington. What this means to a Succubus is: a vacuum can exist only until a body appears that needs to fill it. But if you must get sentimental, Milton, look at it like this, you’ll always be part of me.”

I struggled to understand the concepts she described, but all I could feel was lust and affection.

“I’m leaving you a gift, Milton, a little candy from the other side. It will help you with your hollow feeling.”

Ursula laid something on my dresser. “I’ll be back.”

She walked out of the room and I watched her pass through the wall.

* * *

Monday morning arrived. I tumbled out of bed at five a.m. My body felt like a sack of lead, and my legs quivered beneath the weight of my torso. I braced myself on the dresser and knew I was too weak to make it to the hospital. Three tiny objects that looked like desiccated peas lay on the dresser top.

I snatched them up, tossed them into my mouth and then crashed to the floor. I crawled into the kitchen and pulled the water jug from the refrigerator, but it was too heavy for me to handle. It slipped from my hands and boomed on the faded linoleum tiles.

Water spilled from the mouth of the container and flowed across the floor. The peas were lodged in my throat and I started to gag. Like a thirsty dog I lapped up the water and forced the tiny lumps into my stomach.

I remained paralyzed on my hands and knees until my arms buckled. I hit the floor hard and a wave of nausea erupted in my stomach. A surge of cold energy flowed like ice water from my spine into my nerves.

I rolled over on my back and lay staring at the ceiling. My body suddenly felt like a balloon completely empty and light. I stood up and stumbled into the bedroom. A set of grungy scrubs lay crumpled in the corner. I threw them on and headed for the door.

The air on the avenue smelled faintly of reefer smoke and rotten eggs. I staggered from the tenement into the street. Like a zombie I stood motionless and disoriented in the early-morning fog. If not for the process of classical conditioning I would not have found my way to the hospital. I wandered onto the floor just as my fellow interns were finishing morning rounds.

Dr. Noble stood amid a class of his disciples. He opened his arms in a Socratic gesture as he delivered his morning litany of medical wisdom. His father was a senator from Texas, and Winston had risen to the rank of chief medical director.

Noble was a thin, wiry man with an Adams apple the size of a golf ball. His glasses dangled from a golden chain strung around his neck. He always wore black cowboy boots with silver toes, and a turquoise studded belt buckle shaped like a horseshoe.

When he saw me he dropped his arms and his face grew stern. He looked at me squarely for a moment, then turned his head and said. “That’s it for today, gentlemen. You’re dismissed.”

The doctor approached me casually, his voice a strained octave above normal when he spoke. “You look like hell, Harrington. Are you anemic?”

“No sir.”

“Have you been tested for HIV?”

“No sir.”

“Well you need to be tested. You’re sallow, but your eyes aren’t jaundiced. If you were a horse, I’d shoot you.” And he laughed his stupid cowboy laugh.

Then he grew serious and dignified. In a hollow monotone he cried. “You need to come to my office, Harrington. Now!”

He strutted down the hall like a military general on parade, his lab coat flowing behind him like the cape of Superman. I hung my head and followed like a convict on his way to the gallows. Despite the endless agony I’d endured, I knew the worst was yet to come.

When I walked into Noble’s chambers, a half dozen administrative staff sat at a conference table. Their faces were as stoic as the monuments at Mt. Rushmore. The Administrator Uri Weiss fidgeted like a chipmunk and when he saw me he looked away.

Nurse Van Gaff sat next to the hospital attorney. Three of the nursing assistants that were involved in the incident sat at the side of the room staring meekly at the floor. I could sense by the gloomy ambience that my sentence had already been determined.

Doctor Noble sat down at the far end of the table and put on his glasses. He picked up a file, cleared his throat, and began his inquiry.

“It’s been brought to our attention that on the seventeenth of August while on duty, you assaulted a patient, Doctor Harrington. Is this true?”

From there my interrogation just sank deeper into hell. When it came time for Van Gaff to testify she recited her lines with such perfection she should have won an Oscar for her performance. Her voice cracked when she spoke, and tears streamed down her cheeks. “How you in good conscience could perform such a barbaric act of cruelty is an insult to the medical profession, Dr. Harrington, but it’s more than that, it’s a revilement to God!” She broke down; the attorney rubbed her shoulder and glared at me.

When the charade was nearly over, Doctor Noble closed the folder and stared into space. A look of consternation formed in his features. He folded his hands on the table and frowned.

“The arbitration board has decided your actions were appalling and plainly irrational. There is no room for patient abuse in this facility, Doctor Harrington. The arbitrator has decided that you will be placed on a three-month suspension. At the end of this period you may be given an opportunity to redeem yourself.”

I felt too broken to fight, but I had to try and I cried, “Please listen to what I have to say, Doctor Noble.”

Noble raised a fist and slammed it hard on the table. “That’s all, young man! You are free to seek legal counsel if you disagree with our findings.”

On cue the jurors stood abruptly and marched out of the office.

I sat numb and mute like a catatonic. In time I gathered the remaining shards of my will and stumbled from the hospital. A pewter sky obscured the sun and a fine rain rippled on the surface of the pools in the parking lot.

I knew a three-month suspension would place me in the upcoming round of interns. This meant I’d be forced to spend another six months as student doctor, even if I was redeemed. This would be impossible. They’d see to it that I’d be assigned to the E.R. Van Gaff and her posse of handpicked vigilantes would be gunning for me.

I was as good as finished, my dream gone up in smoke, the Golden Fleece just a fantasy. I didn’t have the money or the connections to fight them. My best shot now would be in pharmaceutical sales. A wave of nausea surged in my guts and I hurled a bolus of bile-colored slime on the blacktop.

On the way home I stopped at a liquor store and bought a bottle of cheap gin. When I made it back to my apartment I shuddered, the bottle slipped from my fingers and crashed to the floor. I felt a sense of gratitude that the penetrating minds in the liquor industry had the foresight to package their product in a plastic container.

I sat down on the edge of my bed and I wanted to cry, but I’d forgotten how. I wanted to scream, but I didn’t have the strength. I opened my dresser drawer and pulled out a box of narcotics and assorted mind candy I’d pilfered from the E.R. I grabbed a handful of pills. It made little difference to me what they were. Some were green, some were red, and some were yellow, just like M&M’s. I tossed them in my mouth. In an hour or so the empty gin bottle lay toppled on the nightstand.

Was it suicide? I don’t know. My life was in shambles and I felt more dead than alive. I guess I didn’t give a damn one way or the other. I lay on my bed savoring the rush of chemical compassion that soothed my wounded heart. If only the gods knew such mercy.

A tranquil sea of apathy surrounded me and I knew that soon the love of my life would arrive. I closed my eyes, and Ursula appeared. I thought it odd that she brought a tiny satchel with her this time, but I felt so glad to see her I ignored the little bag.

“I need you bad, honey,” I said.

“I know you do, Doctor Harrington.” She straddled me and I dove headlong into a bottomless sea of ecstasy. I don’t know how long we boned. All I knew is that nothing else mattered. I wanted to make love to her forever. After a while we took a breather and I said, “Let’s run away together, Ursula.”

“Oh, Milton, you’re such a romantic. That’s a sweet idea, but it’s impossible.”

“Why is it impossible? We love each other. We should be together.”

She fixed me with a cold eye. “I’m not capable of love. The concept of love is as foreign to me as the mind state of detachment is to you. My only intent is to create a sense of craving, Milton.”

I measured her words, and though I knew they were true, I refused to accept them.

“Surely after all we’ve experienced you must feel something for me,” I said.

“I do feel something, Milton. I sense the priceless treasure of sensation, and free will. I’ve waited forever for you. I’ve dreamed about you for ages. But alas, like all things ephemeral, the time of my departure has arrived.”

“I’ll always love you,” I said.

“I know you will, Milton. That’s why I chose you.”

I knew it was over. My physical body began to implode. I watched its cells dissolve like a seltzer tablet in a glass of cool water. I couldn’t let her go, and I struggled to find the words to make her stay.

“God, you’re beautiful. You’ve never once kissed me. Will you at least kiss me good-bye?”

She eyed me warily; her eyes were bright and her flesh thrived with life. Ursula had emerged as a sentient feminine masterpiece. It comforted me to know that her existence on the material plane would ignite a flame of thwarted lechery in the frustrated male populace of this cold impossible world.

“Kiss you? That’s ill-advised, Milton. Someday you’ll understand. But you’ve been such a good boy, I’ll break the rules one time.”

She leaned over and pressed her lips to mine. Her tongue probed my mouth and the bitch sucked hard. My vision faded and Ursula drew the last breath I would ever know from my lungs. When I awakened from the swoon I knew our time together had come to an end.

A fading outline of my ethereal body hovered over the bed, and it cast no image in the mirror.

She reached into the satchel and removed a sexy black business suit. With great care she painted on her lipstick, and ruffled her perfect blonde hair. When she had finished she looked in my direction and winked. In a sultry voice she whispered. “It’s been real, Milton, the pleasure’s been all mine.”

I leered at her curves as she strode from the bedroom. She paused for a moment in the living room and lit a cigarette. She took a deep drag and held the smoke in her lungs for a long time. I heard her moan when she exhaled. Then, as casual as a sea breeze, she opened the door and walked away.

I wanted to cry.

For a long time I felt sorry for myself, until I realized I now had the ability to look into people’s dreams and see the deepest imaginings in their heart. Since I had no choice anyway, I decided to look on the bright side. I suppose there are worse ways to become extinct than to be screwed into oblivion. After what I’ve seen becomes of the human body in old age I don’t feel quite so bad.

Besides, I’ve already captured the imagination of one anal-retentive bitch. She calls me her savior. Last night we bonded, and tonight, I’m going to steal her heart.

Copyright © 2014 by John W. Steele

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