Carrion and the Cat (or, Torture by Animal) – Amaruk Wolfheart
Spoilers: Meh, same old. Clive Barker is almost as bad at getting stuff out there as I am.
Warnings and Pairings: Warning: If you have issues with anger management, do not expect to try these "strategies" and have a huge success. In fact, don't even try them in this form. Go to my profile and check out the original sites. Pairings: Still none. But as usual (maybe slightly more so, actually) you can read some CandyxCarrion into it. Blame Red Stockings. I just read like 10 chapters of The Stars like the Dark.
Notes: …So. Yes. I've taken an extraordinarily long time once again. I can offer no excuses, & although I highly doubt it can make up for the wait, I do so hope that you enjoy this chapter. I realized several pages into it that I was actually in Friendly-perspective. Do you have any idea how disturbing that was? (shudder) …However, I am rather proud of Carrion's scraps of paper. ; ) The list of strategies on Friendly's paper? Yeah, not making those up. At all. Found it on a site and nearly died laughing, thinking ZOMG it's perfect for Friendly! Also, this chapter contains a tiny nod to one of the most brilliant Harry Potter fics ever, Aspen in the Sunlight's A Year Like None Other.
Chapter Eleven: In Which an Epic Plot Unfolds
Journal Entry Nineteen: Day 25
Plans have been made, reviewed, revised, and finalized, as have several backup plans. That Idiot would never miss two visits in a row and I will be prepared. If nothing else, the self-reproducing glitter taught me not to underestimate him. My handling of this issue is more critical now than ever, as it affects my release as well as simply preserving my peace and sanity. If I cannot rectify my earlier mishandling of the situation during today's torture session, I may never be able to.
The cat, of course, will assist. It has proven lately that it can grasp my plots relatively quickly and act in accordance with them instead of opposing them. With some discussion beforehand, I'm sure its actions will only improve.
We will be ready.
Christopher Carrion stared at the journal for a moment, then carelessly tossed it aside (so carelessly that it landed closed and out of sight from the kitchen) and slumped forward, his elbows on his knees. The kitten, which had been grooming itself on the arm of the couch, looked up eagerly. Carrion's chin tilted down slightly, and it leapt down to settle at his feet.
"We have discussed the plans," said Carrion in an authoritative tone totally at odds with his pose, "and I believe I have answered all of your questions. Correct?"
The kitten blinked, then cocked its head.
"The part with the fish?"
Another blink, and the slight twitch of an ear.
"Don't be ridiculous. We've gone over it twice; you'll be perfectly fine."
The kitten righted its head and lightly batted Carrion's foot with a paw.
"Good. Just remember to keep your head. If we have to improvise – which I don't doubt we will; That Idiot is so far from the realms of sanity that even I can't possibly predict his every reaction – just follow my lead. I want him out in twenty minutes at the most, and the sooner the better."
The kitten's eyes shone with fervent agreement.
"That Idiot could arrive at any moment. Be ready, or you will know my rage."
The kitten meowed, looking rather fierce, and bounded into the kitchen.
Carrion gave a satisfied smirk that would be invisible from behind any of the mirrors. The cat was an unorthodox ally, certainly, but the Carrion family had a long history of using whatever or whoever could benefit them. He leaned back in the armchair then, limbs sprawled inelegantly and head lolling to one side at just the right angle to check the kitchen one last time. Yes – the cat's supplies as they should be, crumpled papers scattered over the floor in seeming disarray… All in place. This time he had to keep the smirk internal.
Acting constantly for the past five days had at times been a great strain, but Carrion felt confident that his performance thus far had been a convincing one. It hadn't taken long after he'd driven Hob away for his mind to turn back to his collapse and examine it from all angles, looking for ways to turn it to his advantage.
And then he had realized something. Something rather unpleasant.
He, Christopher Carrion, had been phenomenally stupid.
He was an arrogant man, probably more so than was healthy, but he had long known that. He had also long known that one should be completely honest with oneself – even if with no one else. And thus, while it was a very irritating truth to realize, he could admit to himself that he had made a severe strategic error. And he knew why, too: pride. Arrogance.
What he should have done right from the beginning was painfully clear in retrospect. He ought to have immediately devised a schedule for his "successful" rehabilitation, slowly conforming to the behavior expected of him in a way that was carefully, even painstakingly, planned out while appearing to be a natural progression. Or rather, he thought wryly, as natural as any change of behavior could be in an environment such as this. Then The Girl and her band of idiotic followers would have believed him truly rehabilitated – and sent home a Prince of Midnight that was nothing of the kind.
But no. In his pride, he had not even thought of pretending to be affected by their tactics, only resisted – not just internally, but outwardly as well. Carrion shook his head at himself irritably even now, several days later. If he had suddenly realized his mistake only a day earlier, there would have been nothing he could have done to rectify it. None of his jailers, foolish as they were, would believe in a sudden change of heart, or that only ten more days of rehabilitation would have any significant effect.
Except for the collapse. Completely unplanned, one of the most humiliating moments of Carrion's life, and yet truly a miracle in disguise. Although at first he'd only hoped to save some face by Hob convincing the others that it was a ploy for sympathy, in the light of his new plans it was very important that everyone think the collapse was genuine.
A sudden change of heart would be suspicious, yes – but a change of heart after collapsing under overwhelming pressure? Oh yes. That was plausible. And if he finally began to play his cards right, there was a distinct possibility that Carrion could make that vision of returning home (supposedly) rehabilitated into reality.
This realization had led nicely into his plans for Friendly. The therapist, after all, was the main person who would testify as to whether or not Carrion should be released. The tricky bit would be convincing him in only two sessions that he was cooperating and being "cured" while also getting him out of Carrion's quarters as soon as possible. A lesser man than Carrion might be intimidated by this task, but after several hours of diligent thought, he had the beginnings of a workable plan. It would require, of course, near-constant acting for the next nine days, but Carrion had found himself feeling invigorated by the challenge. (After the emptiness of the collapse, this was particularly reassuring.)
Several days' work brought him to his current state: slumped in the armchair on the 25th day of his imprisonment, surrounded by crumpled paper, with an alert, scheming tarrie. All was going according to plan.
Behind the living room mirror, one of the two guards stationed there snorted half in disbelief and half in disgust. "Just lookit 'im," he said to the other guard, his brother Argud, for the third time in less than an hour.
Argud rolled his eyes, though inwardly he had to admit that his brother had a point (if a repetitive one). The two guards hadn't been on duty behind one of the more active mirrors in almost a week, and Darug couldn't seem to stop comparing the Carrion they watched now to the Carrion they had seen more than three weeks ago, flailing a clinging kitten around and looking half-mad with rage.
This Carrion looked, for want of a better word, dull. His movements were listless, lacking their earlier conviction and purpose. Instead of sniping at Finnegan or immolating crickets, his two most common pastimes were scribbling rapidly in his book, then tearing out and throwing aside the page, and sitting with his head in his hands.
Rumors had been circulating for several days now, rumors that the mighty Prince of Darkness had suffered some sort of attack and was finally succumbing to Candy Quackenbush's plan – a plan that had seemed so outrageously farfetched in the beginning and now seemed almost possible. Opinions were, of course, divided. Some thought that Carrion had had some kind of mental breakdown. Some thought that Candy's rehabilitation strategy was finally yielding results. Some thought that Carrion was shamming, using the apparent quietude to plot something truly dire. Everyone, however, was expecting Dr. Friendly to shed some light on the truth of Carrion's behavior. After all, he was a therapist. He would know what was really going on inside the head of the Lord of Midnight.
Darug spoke up again. "So, what're the odds he attacks Friendly? Mischief wanted to place his bet."
Argud began to flip through the book where all the bets, bettors, odds, and winnings were penciled in with painstaking care. "Lessee now…" he muttered, running a finger down a page. As the unofficial bookkeepers for all the betting that centered on Carrion's imprisonment and rehabilitation, the brothers had been very busy for the last couple of days. Mostly they had been collecting bets on this very moment: what would happen during Carrion's second-to-last therapy session?
A knock on the door almost made Carrion break into a predatory grin. Fortunately he mastered the impulse and made a rather lackluster figure as he heaved himself up with a sigh and made his way into the hall.
"Good afternoon, Mister Carrion!" Friendly's voice, even muffled, was enough to prompt a grimace of distaste but Carrion nevertheless opened the door.
"Good afternoon," he returned, rather sullenly. There was a slight pause as he gathered up every scrap of self-control he had before forcing himself to add, "Doctor Friendly."
The fact that this was the first time Christopher Carrion had ever actually used the therapist's name and title was not lost on Barnabas, who clasped his hands together in a paroxysm of delight. Being the professional that he was, he of course did not comment on this highly significant breakthrough. "It's so good to see you again, Mister Carrion, particularly after so long. Shall we sit down?"
"By all means," Christopher muttered, gesturing to the kitchen.
As Barnabas bustled into the kitchen, he caught sight of the tarrie on the counter and let out a squeak of delight. Unfortunately, the cat's ears (up and twisted back), tail (lashing wildly), fangs (quite sharp-looking), and hiss (back off or I'll shred the flesh from your bones) were more than a little discouraging. He felt rather heartbroken by this less-than-warm welcome, having hoped that the little kitten would have thawed toward him by now. Perhaps it was time to extend his practice to caring for non-humanoids. Clearly Christopher's anger management issues had affected the impressionable young tarrie.
"Now then," he began as he turned away from the tarrie to sit at the table, offering his recalcitrant patient a smile. "Today we embark on Stage 3 of your anger management therapy. As you will recall, the first stage was identification of the mistaken attitudes and convictions that predispose us to being excessively angry in the first place. For the second stage, we identified those factors from childhood that prevents us from expressing our anger appropriately. Today's third stage is learning the appropriate modes of expressing our legitimate anger at others so that we can begin to cope more effectively with anger-provoking situations." He was practically bouncing with eagerness, though of course he appeared calm and professional to Christopher. "That means only one stage left after this! Are you ready to begin?"
Poor Christopher hesitated, gaze trained on the table. When he at last spoke, his voice was quiet, without any of the usual scorn or fury. "I… Yes, doctor, I am ready. These past few days have been – rather difficult."
Barnabas's eyes widened. He could hardly believe it. The man was finally opening up to him! He could dance a jig! Carefully keeping any hint of shock or joy from his expression (for that too would be most unprofessional), he leaned forward earnestly, planting his hands on the tabletop.
"Mister Carrion, although it may be painful, as your therapist and close friend I must ask that you explain what exactly has been going on to make life difficult for you," he entreated. Of course rumor had got round about his patient's little collapse. Candy, dear girl that she was, kept him informed about how Christopher was getting on, but Barnabas had thought this incident to be most likely exaggerated. Christopher Carrion was his toughest patient yet, after all. But this confession made him wonder if it was true and perhaps the poor man really did have a bit of a mental or emotional breakdown. How wonderful!
In response to the therapist's request, however, Christopher merely shook his head, closing his eyes and reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose. Barnabas released an inaudible, disappointed little sigh, and was trying to think of a way to get his dear friend to open up when his gaze fell on several crumpled scraps of paper on the kitchen floor. More careful inspection revealed a multitude of such papers all over the kitchen and the other room.
"Your home looks rather less tidy than usual, Mister Carrion," said Barnabas, wondering if this line of inquiry might lead to another breakthrough.
"I suppose so," Christopher murmured disconsolately without opening his eyes. "I've been trying… That is, they…" He faltered, then fluttered a hand at the general paper-strewn area.
Hoping that meant what he thought it meant, Barnabas asked, "Might I have a look at them?"
"I suppose so," Christopher repeated, although Barnabas fancied there was a slight uplift in his tone. Oh yes – no matter how the distraught fellow tried to play them off as unimportant, these papers were definitely a cry for help.
"That's very kind of you, Mister Carrion!" Barnabas praised his patient warmly as he got up to collect some of the papers. Positive reinforcement could work wonders, after all. Soon he had a small pile on the kitchen table, and he began to smooth them out and read them.
O how my Heart sore yearns for Darkest Home
Where I'd no longer be Depressed - Alone.
These looming Walls Imprison me so well.
O when will I go Free? No Soul can tell.
My Pain is like - - -
(the following words are scribbled out)
"Why, my dear Mister Carrion!" Barnabas said in hushed tones. "I had no idea you wrote poetry! This is simply amazing! Why did you cross the rest out and give up? It has such a wonderful rhythm to it." (He could almost have sworn he heard Christopher mutter, "It's iambic pentameter, Idiot," but of course that couldn't be right.)
"It's a terrible poem," Christopher began after a deep, bracing breath. "It didn't truly say what I feel, I couldn't find the right words, thinking about stressed and unstressed syllables just made me feel stressed…" He shook his head.
"Nonsense!" Barnabas argued. "This poem truly speaks to me. Perhaps you aren't satisfied with it yet, but that's certainly no reason to deny your talent!" More positives. Christopher looked like he needed rather a lot of them.
Midnight calls to me
but I cannot answer it.
I am so alone.
Where has happiness gone?
Why has my black sky turned to day?
I am stalked by ravening beasts
In the forests of my sorrow.
How can I - - -
(violent scratches obscure the rest)
(a detailed ink drawing of Iniquisit)
My home has been destroyed, and with it my heart.
Rest in peace.
(a beginning sketch of the Midnight gallows, crossed out with several angry lines)
I finally realized today that I will never see my home again. These people don't expect me to become rehabilitated, and neither do I. Dr. Friendly may be a brilliant therapist, but I resisted him so much in the beginning that I'm afraid I won't be able to succeed in his program now, even if I wanted to. And even if I did, they'd never let me go. There's nothing left, there's nothing I
(several sharp lines cross out the paragraph)
Barnabas felt his eyes widen once again. Here! This was want he had sensed in Christopher all along – a sincere desire to succeed in his therapy, to change his life, held back only by his own pride and need to live up to his reputation among the people of the Abarat! It was as though the ceiling had opened into the shining land of the Hereafter, filled with choirs of happy spirits. Barnabas nearly cried with joy.
"Mister Carrion," he said quietly, sliding the last paper across the table, "is there anything you would like to say about this?"
Christopher glanced at the paper, then quickly turned his head way. "…No."
But Barnabas didn't hear "no." Well, actually he did, but he also heard what Christopher was really saying: "yes, I want to talk, I need to talk, I'm tired of being angry all the time and I need help and only you, the greatest therapist the Abarat has ever known, can possibly give it to me but I'm afraid that even you can't help me so I don't want to ask!"
It really was amazing how much a single word could say. Poor Christopher was truly lucky to have Barnabas as his therapist. Most others would have understood only a fraction of what he was trying to say, if they heard anything but "no" at all.
"Mister Carrion," he said again, leaning forward as any confidante would. "My dear Mister Carrion. Do not despair! Already you have made progress! Your application of the Five Steps to that unfortunate cricket incident showed a lot of thought and willingness to admit your own mistakes. I was truly quite impressed! And then when I heard that you tried to pass your knowledge into Mister Hob… Well, that was very good of you." He frowned slightly. "I did try to talk to dear Finnegan about it, but he became rather defensive. The loss of a loved one can be very distressing even years later, particularly if he hasn't dealt with his grief. I daresay I should try to set up a proper session with him. He seems a bit unbalanced, to be honest."
Christopher's lips curved slowly into a grin. "I am certainly not an expert of your caliber, Doctor Friendly, but that sounds like an absolutely marvelous idea."
Barnabas blinked uneasily. His patient's expression could only be described as utter, unholy glee. Nonsense. I'm sure he's only pleased to hear that Finnegan will finally be getting some help. Still… Perhaps best to move on.
"But we aren't here to talk about Finny, are we?" he said heartily. "We're here to teach you some–" Barnabas paused midsentence at the look on his patient's face of total bliss – eyes unfocused, small smile, quite relaxed – in disbelief.
"Finny," Christopher repeated quietly. "Finny, off to his first session of anger management and grief counseling…" His gaze refocused on Barnabas. "Doctor, I could almost apologize for today."
You must never let a patient see that you are confused or otherwise not in complete control of the session. It undermines their confidence in your ability to help them. So Barnabas offered him a wide smile and said with cheerful conviction, "I'm sure there will be no need to apologize, my dear Mister Carrion! Now, it's time to get to the true purpose of this session: first, teaching you some strategies to manage your anger so that it can be properly expressed, and second, practicing appropriate expression."
Carrion realized the kitten was trying to catch his eye and he gave it the very slightest tilt of his head. All is well – no need to initiate the plan just yet. Carrion had originally wanted to dive straight into it after Friendly had examined the papers, but – wonder of wonders – he was actually in a better mood than he had been since sending Hob fleeing from the room, tail tucked firmly between legs. The idea of Finny in therapy would bring him great joy for some time to come. So he would let That Idiot prattle on for a while. After all, if the fool reported that Carrion had mastered a variety of ways to manage his anger, that could only work in Carrion's favor.
The Midnight Prince watched Friendly dive into the polka-dotted bag, growing somewhat wary at the collection of papers that was growing on the table. Carrion reminded himself not to let his guard down again, no matter how amused or irritated he became. He could not afford to make a mistake at this stage, and there was no telling what That Idiot would try on him. At least the lack of ink bottles was a little reassuring.
"Now then!" Friendly said cheerfully as he finished gathering his materials. "I have collected these tried and true methods from my many years as a therapist and from the works of my colleagues. Every one of them may not work for you, and that's all right. But I think our goal today should be to find two or three that do. How does that sound?"
"It sounds – difficult, doctor," said Carrion, slipping back into his sullen/depressed mask. (He should not have let himself slip out of it, of course, but it seemed That Idiot hadn't noticed anything untoward. …Hm. Perhaps mood swings would be appropriate at this point?)
"Now, Mister Carrion," Friendly admonished, trying to look stern and not quite succeeding. "You mustn't degrade yourself before we even begin. I have already told you that you've done wonderfully understanding the Five Steps, and you didn't think that would work, did you? Just do your best and I guarantee you will find success."
Carrion drew out his hesitation, keeping his eyes submissively on the table. At last he glanced up and said quietly, "Very well, Doctor Friendly. I put my faith in you." He almost lost his composure when the therapist's eyes glistened with tears, but he managed to push the nausea away – until Friendly reached across the table to grab Carrion's hands. Oh dear Midnight it's touching me! his thoughts screamed, drowning out Friendly's babble about how proud he was.
Carrion felt bile rise in his throat and for the rest of his life he would never know where he found the strength not to immediately yank his hands away. And then three interminable seconds after That Idiot touched him, Carrion felt a solid warmth collide rather gracelessly with his shins and press against them. Carrion focused with all his might on that sensation, ignoring his hands ferociously for the next ten seconds. Then Friendly pulled away and, after a final soothing rub, the cat darted back to his position on the counter. Normally Carrion would gave frowned on this deviation from the plan, but since the cat's quick action had kept him from strangling That Idiot and thus ruining said plan, he decided to let it go. We've passed the first major, unexpected problem successfully, and it will be only a matter of minutes before I can scrub my hands clean. At least six times.
"Right then!" Friendly was saying. "What I see in your poems and writings is a man who thinks he has no chance. When we are anxious or depressed in our relationships, we are often experiencing the consequences of our suppressed anger. Learning these techniques to deal with and express anger will help with those feelings. Let's just go down the list, shall we?"
He looked up expectantly. Carrion nodded, a trace of his earlier reluctance still visible, but said nothing.
"Ah, well. Right. In order to express our anger, we must first calm down enough to look at the situation with a clear mind. One possible strategy is called 'cognitive restructuring.' When you're angry, your thinking can get very exaggerated and overly dramatic. Try replacing these thoughts with more rational ones. For instance, instead of telling yourself, 'oh, it's awful, it's terrible, everything's ruined,' tell yourself, 'it's frustrating, and it's understandable that I'm upset about it, but it's not the end of the world and getting angry is not going to fix it anyhow.'" Friendly grinned widely, clearly pleased with himself. "Do you understand?"
"I do," said Carrion slowly, "but it seems terribly difficult to completely change the way I think all at once." Not to mention that everything is ruined and it will be the end of the world – or at least my life – if I don't get out of here. Idiot.
Friendly looked crestfallen, appeared to think hard, and after a moment brightened again. "True, Mister Carrion, true, but if you work on changing just a little at a time, you'll soon see significant progress!"
"But I don't have time!" Carrion suddenly, slamming a hand down on the table for emphasis. Inwardly he snickered at the therapist's startled jump. "There are only five days left before they decide whether or not to kill me!"
Friendly patted the air in what was apparently supposed to be a calming gesture. "No, no, Mister Carrion, you mustn't fret about that! Your therapy is of the utmost importance. I will ask dear Candy for more time if we agree you need it. Perhaps another month?"
Carrion nearly swallowed his tongue. Oh, get him off that idea right now. "Doctor Friendly, I just don't know if more time here would help me. It's a stressful environment, as I wrote in my assignment. I believe I would be more comfortable and successful in my own home."
Friendly frowned slightly. "That may be, but I doubt dear Candy would want you to leave early, if that's what you're suggesting. And I'm concerned that your many traumatic childhood memories would negate any benefit of your returning to Gorgossium."
A fierce spike of rage shot through Carrion, but he grimly held onto his composure. Deep breath in – slowly let it out – consciously relax all the muscles…and he was able to slump in his chair, looking defeated. "You may be right." He glanced away, as though embarrassed, and used the opportunity to catch the tarrie-cat's eye. It was time for stage one.
"Well, let's just see where we are in five days. Do try the cognitive restructuring a little at a time. If it doesn't help right now, it surely will in the future. A faster strategy might be using humor!"
Carrion stared. Friendly grinned brightly. "How," Gorgossium's Prince began slowly, "will humor help?"
The therapist wagged a finger at him. "I don't mean your usual sarcasm, my dear Mister Carrion!"
"Sarcasm is the only mode of humor I have."
Friendly went on as though he hadn't spoken. "Don't give in to harsh, sarcastic humor – that's just another form of unhealthy anger expression. Using silly humor can help defuse rage in a number of ways. For example, if you were to say…"
The kitten caught Snarl's signal and a frisson of excitement ran through him from nose to tailtip. This was it! Such careful planning – and Snarl was trusting him to do almost all of it! He wriggled with glee, then stopped and shook himself firmly. It was time to focus. Snarl was depending on him.
He leapt noiselessly from the counter and carefully opened one of the cupboard doors below (they'd practiced this). Yes, his stash was just as he'd left it. Moving with speed and stealth, the tarrie went back and forth from the cupboard to Leech's bag – each time depositing a hairball or little mass of blood, fur, and bone that had once been a meal. And a couple of fish skins, several fruit peels and bread crusts, a number of dead crickets, and – oh, very carefully – shards of a glass which Snarl had secretly broken in the smallest room. All went without Leech noticing into the bag.
When the stash was gone, he closed the cupboard door. Leech was still chattering on obliviously and… Yes, there was Snarl's subtle nod. All was going to according to plan, and he would wait for the signal for stage two. He wriggled again, unable to help himself. Time to double-check the other supplies. There was no reason for them not to be in order, but Snarl had told him over and over that you could never be too sure.
He was still a little worried about the part with the fish, but Snarl's confidence in him outweighed his nerves.
This was going to be brilliant.
Carrion noted with mild relief the tarrie's completion of the first step. Friendly had gone on to try to convince him to develop a "happy place" with sunshine and rainbows and flowers and small fluffy animals, complete with hand-drawn pictures for reference. Carrion had insisted he could only think of the Gorgossian gallows and described the scene in detail. This had the dual effects of easing Carrion's disgust and irritation and disturbing the therapist.
"Let's move on," said Friendly hurriedly. "You can, er, work on that, too. Let's try… Ah, my dear Mister Carrion, do you perhaps have a drink to offer? Water would be fine."
"Certainly," Carrion replied with a morose sigh, rising to his feet as though it were one of the most difficult things he'd ever done. The remaining glass was on the counter next to the sink. He picked it up and bent to open the cupboard door, the one next to the kitten's collection of disgusting things. He opened a bottle there, poured some into the glass, and straightened.
"Here," he said dully, setting it in front of Friendly and slumping back into his chair. He happened to catch the tarrie's eye and for a split second they exchanged a look of pure, malicious glee.
"Ah, thank you!" Friendly was saying. He lifted the glass to his lips – and suddenly choked and sputtered, dropping the glass as he spat out its contents (thankfully onto the floor). "Oh! Oh, blergh! Mister Carrion, what–" Here he descended into more coughing and sputtering, and jumped up to stick his head in the sink and try to wash his mouth out. "Oh, ugh!" he said when he finally resurfaced, flopping limply back in his chair. "Mister Carrion, I've never tasted anything so thoroughly awful in my life! I'm sorry, I know it's hardly friendly of me as your guest to criticize, but what in the name of the Hereafter was that?"
Carrion blinked. "I'm – not sure. Things don't seem to have a taste for me anymore." Oh, Commexo Carpet Cleaner, he thought affectionately. I knew I'd find a use for it someday. It was hardly his fault if That Idiot was stupid enough to accept a drink from the Lord of Midnight – especially one that was pale orange and fizzed slightly.
"Oh dear." Friendly looked rather appalled. He floundered for a moment, then apparently decided to ignore that. "I'm afraid I've spilled that whatever-it-is all over your kitchen."
"It's no trouble," Carrion managed to say as he heaved himself to his feet again. He picked up the glass (unbroken, unfortunately, but oh well) and filled it with water, tossing said water onto the main puddle of Commexo Carpet Cleaner. He flicked a glance at the kitten, who nodded acknowledgment, and sat down again. "There. I'll – I'll clean it properly later."
"I really am terribly sorry–"
"It's no trouble," Carrion repeated. "Please, doctor, may we go on with my therapy?" (He imagined the cleaning fluid tasted a lot like those words. He was very proud of himself for not gagging on them.)
"Of course, of course, my dear Mister Carrion." Friendly seemed to be regaining both his cheer and composure. He extracted several sheets of paper from the disarray and slid them across the table. "Let's have a look at this list."
"'Walk outside and look at the sky,'" Carrion read.
Friendly smiled widely. "Yes! Breathe deeply, realize how insignificant your troubles are compared to that wide open sky, and let its beauty soothe you!"
Carrion stared at him. "Doctor. I am trapped in a set of four rooms."
"That Idiot blinked at him, uncomprehending, and then slowly realization dawned. "Oh. Oh, yes, I see." He paused, clearly trying to think of a positive spin on this. After a moment or two, the smile returned. "Let's continue!"
"'Get some paper and start writing,'" read Carrion dutifully.
Friendly actually clapped. "You see, Mister Carrion? You're already using that method! Keep writing your feelings down. Pour them onto the page! Poetry, drawing, journaling – all things you've done, all of which are very helpful. Write down your anger, your depression… It's perfectly all right to tear it up afterward, maybe even beneficial."
Carrion, who'd been staring first at Friendly's paper and then at his own crumpled ones, looked up with a small, tremulous smile. "I… Thank you, doctor. I think that's something I can do. I had no idea it was helpful – I thought it was just, well, stupid."
"I thought you might," said Friendly with a knowing nod. His voice oozed sympathy. "Your troubled childhood has taught you that expressing your feelings is foolish, even wrong."
Unbidden, he heard again a dead woman's voice, felt the cold, sharp touch of a needle against his lips, and stiffened. His hands clenched the edge of the table with sudden fury – at Friendly, at himself, at his cursed grandmother – and then the sensation of warm fur against his legs helped to firmly shove aside the ghost and the phantom pain.
"–know it's difficult to overcome the ideas and habits ingrained in us as children but–"
He shut out That Idiot's voice and let a hand slip off the table to dangle past the chair. Almost immediately a furry head was pressed into his hand, and he allowed himself to stroke the cat while he regained his calm. There will time to castigate myself for this foolishness later. The therapist must be dealt with. A light tug on his ear sent the tarrie reluctantly back to his station.
"–making wonderful progress!" Friendly finished with a grin.
"Thank you, doctor," Carrion murmured, managing to bring back the tiny smile.
"To get even more out of your writing, you should try focusing on things you're grateful for. Looking for the positives, remember!" Friendly winked, and gestured encouragingly at the paper.
"'Imagine you are the person you are mad at.'" Carrion let some of his distaste for this suggestion slip into his voice.
"Look at the situation from their viewpoint. How do you look to them? Is that how you want to look? Decide who and how you want to be and act as if you were that already," Friendly told him. "You don't have to be angry to be respected. You don't have to live up to your image!"
"If I were Finnegan Hob," Carrion reflected, "I would kill myself." He offered a slightly predatory smile at Friendly's wide eyes. "But I'm not Finnegan Hob, am I? Look, doctor – I've just found something to be grateful for."
"Wonderful!" Friendly chirped, clearly deciding to focus on that sign of progress and ignore the fact Carrion had pretty much missed the point of the exercise. "Look at how many strategies you're finding useful! Let's learn about some more!"
"'Imagine you are at the funeral of the person you are mad at,'" Carrion read, and the smile turned into a distinct smirk. Now there was a technique he could actually use! Two feminine faces hovered at the edge of his mind's eye, but he easily waved them away by conjuring an image of Hob at his best – deceased. "Doctor Friendly, I rather like this one."
Friendly visibly swallowed. "Are you, er, wondering what you would say? What you would miss about that person if he or she were gone?"
Carrion gave him an innocent look while inwardly he cackled. "Oh, I'm thinking of what I'd say…"
"Right then," said the therapist, still looking a touch suspicious. "Do continue."
"'Remember a time in your childhood–" Oh dear Midnight. "–when you were afraid, hurt, or angry."
"Perfect!" Friendly nearly jumped out of his seat in his excitement. "Oh Mister Carrion, this is possibly the best exercise for you! Close your eyes and pick a memory, go on! Close them, close them!"
Reluctantly, Carrion did so, if only to avoid the sight of That Idiot flapping his hands with eagerness. Grimly, he vowed not to let any such memories surface.
"Now," he heard Friendly say, "in your imagination, embrace that child, saying 'It's okay. I'm here. You didn't do anything wrong. You're a good kid. I love you just like you are. I'm not going to leave you.' Then take your child self out of the situation to a safe place where he can relax, heal or even play!"
It took a great deal of effort not to burst into laughter (almost as relieved as it was amused, but he'd never admit that). On a whim, Carrion mentally put himself on one of Gorgossium's rocky shores, standing next to a ten-or-so year old prince whose bearing and expression made him look almost twice that age.
"Why hello there, Young Christopher!" said Carrion. "I'm here to give you a hug and tell you everything's going to be fine."
"Touch me and die," said Young Christopher.
"Well said, Young Christopher. Well said."
Carrion smirked and opened his eyes. "I must say, doctor, that does make me feel better."
Friendly squirmed in his chair with joy. "Oh, I knew it would! Keep going back to different memories and comforting the child you were! It will at times be very difficult and emotional, I know, but –"
Firmly tuning Friendly out even as he appeared attentive, Carrion noted the tarrie-cat's unwavering attention. One of his hands was resting on the tabletop, and he tapped his first two fingers twice. It was the sort of brief, absentminded gesture that usually went unnoticed and unremarked upon, but the tarrie knew it for what it really was.
Carrion kept his eyes on Friendly. No matter how tempted he was to watch the young tarrie and make sure it didn't run into any problems, he couldn't risk drawing any attention to it. This first bit was one of the most difficult. Oh, they'd practiced a lot, but the kitten still missed two or three times out of ten…
Suddenly there was a flash of brick red fur behind That Idiot's head. Excellent! The cat was perched precariously on the back of the therapist's chair, three small, cold, dead smatterlings gripped by their tails in its jaws. The tarrie gave Carrion a triumphant look, leaned perilously forward…
…and dropped the fish down Friendly's collar.
Friendly jerked and yelped in surprise, squirming vigorously as he tried to dislodge the cold, slightly slimy things sliding down his back. The cat, long gone, came dashing back. Carrion couldn't see it under the table, but suddenly it was darting away again and Friendly leaped out of his chair with a shriek.
He hopped on one leg, flailing his arms and shaking the other leg violently, and almost immediately slipped on the large puddle of water and Commexo Carpet Cleaner. He tried and failed to grab the table for support, and fell with an almighty crash as he kicked his chair into the counter. Carrion stood up for a better view, his expression one of confused concern. "Whatever is the matter, doctor?"
Friendly responded only with a series of incoherent yelps as he writhed on the floor, rather like a person on fire or perhaps covered in biting ants. (Biting ants, thought Carrion almost dreamily. Yes, I'll have to remember that. Too bad we didn't have any. Dead fish and live rodents will have to suffice.)
A sudden shower of cat litter exploded from the base of the wall nearest Friendly, quickly mixing with the liquids to form sticky clumps which clung to the man's clothes and hair. Friendly didn't appear to notice, too preoccupied with the tiny scrabbling claws of the two shrew-like rodents trying desperately to find their way out of his green plaid pants.
When at last they did, not a minute after the tarrie had released them, they fled to the darkness and relative safety of the cupboard – but not before a particularly irritated one bit That Idiot's ankle. Friendly collapsed in the mix of water, carpet cleaner, cat litter, and a handful of other disgusting things (similar to the new contents of his bag), shivering pathetically.
Carrion folded his arms, tilting his head as though trying to decide what to do. The cat obediently readied himself for the final, crowning insult and injury.
A deep, rumbling growl caused Friendly to weakly lift his head. He saw a tarrie-cat crouching at the edge of the counter, eyes glowing with an almost demonic light. He whimpered. With a ferocious, screeching battle-cry the tarrie-cat launched off the counter, landing on Friendly with claws extended even as the therapist tried to scuttle away. Friendly screamed like a little girl and the tarrie became a howling whirlwind of claws, fangs, and fur.
Carrion scowled down at the pair of them. If he could only time this next part right… "Doctor, stop struggling," he lectured. "You're only scaring That Thing. Thing, you really must leave Doctor Friendly alone. This is hardly appropriate behavior and you're supposed to be setting a good example for me."
The door burst open and what seemed like a horde of people (but was probably only six or seven) streamed into the hall, all speaking loudly at the same time and offering such helpful advice as "Get that cat off him!" and "What the Nefernow is going on?"
Perfect. As though he hadn't even noticed their arrival, Carrion heaved a put-upon sigh, stepped forward (carefully skirting most of the mess), and gingerly extracted the tarrie-cat.
Silence reigned at the sight of the Prince of Gorgossium with a kitten in his arms. Even more shocking was that the previously crazed kitten endured this quite calmly, except for a venomous glare at Friendly.
Carrion stroked his head lightly. "Really, cat," he admonished. "One would think you were the one who needed anger management. You ought to apologize to the good doctor."
The kitten's grumble made it perfectly clear what he thought of that idea.
"Would someone please be so kind as to explain what's going on!" Candy finally burst out. She said "someone" but her glare was directed at Carrion. For once, it was not necessarily because she believed him to be the guilty party; it was more that Friendly looked incapable of answering.
Carrion shrugged, his shoulders hunching defensively. It appeared that, having finally realized the others' presence in the room, he had lost his momentary burst of confidence and was shrinking a little back into the listless figure of the past five days. "I don't know," he said warily. "Doctor Friendly was in the middle of explaining another anger management technique to me when he suddenly jumped out of his chair. I don't know why. He slipped on some spilled water and fell, yelling. I was trying to figure out what was wrong when the cat attacked him."
As Candy tried to decide how much of this to believe, Jimothi stalked forward looking very stern. He reached for the tarrie-kitten, who shrank back against Carrion with a soft noise of protest. Jimothi glanced at Carrion, clearly surprised, and Carrion held out the tarrie with a scowl. This time when Jimothi went to pick him up he merely sighed, resigning himself to the blistering lecture that was sure to follow.
Candy's stare shifted back and forth from the Lord of Midnight to the therapist (who was curled into the fetal position, trembling and whimpering), obviously at a loss as far as what to do in this situation. Carrion stared back silently. Looking thoroughly depressed with an audience, not trying even half-heartedly for a façade of his old arrogant manner, would almost certainly make her suspicious.
"Okay." Candy said finally, running a hand through her hair. "Doctor Cerra is with a patient right now, Doctor Friendly, but we have our own first-aid kits and we can help, um, patch you up." Friendly remained motionless but for the occasional shiver. "Um, if you'll just come with me…" Still no response. She exchanged looks with Malingo and Geneva, who shook their heads – no suggestions. Jimothi was still talking to the kitten – no help there. Slowly she looked back at Carrion.
His eyes widened as he tensed. His entire body said "no way."
She raised her eyebrows – he's your therapist.
Carrion almost glared at her. Then his shoulders slumped slightly and he muttered something irritable under his breath as he stepped forward and crouched next to Friendly. He hadn't expected an opportunity like this. He would have to play it very carefully.
"Doctor Friendly," he said quietly.
The therapist whimpered again, but this time it seemed to have an inquiring note to it.
"Doctor Friendly, the cat is gone. Jimothi has him. He can't attack you again. If you get up, Miss Quackenbush will get you medical attention." He paused again, eyeing the therapist's prone form. The trembling had ceased. Carrion rolled his eyes. "You're safe now, doctor. I – I need you to recover. I think that I've made a lot of progress today, with your help but I –" He stopped abruptly. That Idiot had uncurled enough to look up at him with wide, beseeching eyes.
"Yes, Doctor Friendly. So I need you to let Miss Quackenbush tend to your injuries, all right?"
"I – I think I can stand," Friendly whispered pathetically.
Carrion rolled his eyes again as he straightened. Even if That Idiot were a competent therapist, Carrion would feel nothing but contempt for him based solely on his response to the attack.
Carrion glanced down at the frail, pleading voice to see That Idiot holding up his hand with a piteous expression. Carrion steeled himself. He was the Lord and Master of the Abarat's darkest hour. He could do this.
He had to do this.
He reached down, grasped Friendly's hand, and hauled him to his feet. Before letting go, he said quietly, "I believe that after today, you may call me Christopher."
It was part of the plan, of course. Pretend to become a good patient, cause complete, traumatizing chaos through the tarrie, rescue him from it, and for the piece de resistance, grant him the honor and perceived closeness of using Carrion's first name. Friendly would be as loyal to him as a dog after that, and his final report to The Girl would be exactly what Carrion wanted.
It was a brilliant plan.
It also had some unfortunate side effects.
Friendly stared at Carrion for a long moment in sheer disbelief. Then he burst into loud, wailing sobs and flung his arms around Carrion's waist.
The look of sheer panic Carrion shot to Candy was instinctive and completely genuine. Unfortunately, she looked like she couldn't decide whether to gape or giggle. She managed to pull herself together, though, and signaled two of the guards to help her. With one guard on each of Friendly's arms, the three of them were able to extricate Carrion from the embrace. Friendly transferred his grip to the guard on his left, still bawling. The guard sent Candy an aggrieved look, but nonetheless he and his partner began to maneuver Friendly out of the kitchen.
"Wait, doctor," said Carrion, forcefully ignoring his disgust for a few moments longer. "You've forgotten your bag."
Friendly looked up and, after a few last gasping sobs, was down to sniffling as the guards obligingly helped him back to the table. He slowly shuffled his papers together, sniffed again, and seemed to remember something. Probably a handkerchief, Carrion thought with an internal smirk as Friendly set the papers down. Then he reached deep into the bag…
…and jerked away so hard he almost fell again, squalling as though something had bitten him.
Carrion felt a bone-deep sense of satisfaction as Friendly collapsed in a mess of tears, but then the therapist flung himself onto Carrion a second time. His teeth grated audibly as the guards detached the man once again. He latched onto the guard on the left a second time, so the other collected the bag and papers, and together they half-dragged, half-carried Friendly from the rooms.
Argud scowled darkly as he walked down the corridor with a wet, bloody, sobbing therapist clinging to him. When he had volunteered to help Candy Quackenbush and her closest allies guard one of the Abarat's most dangerous criminals, he had not signed up for this. He could hear Darug sniggering helplessly behind him. "You could gimme a hand, y'know."
"Aw, don't be silly - he likes you best!" Unable to contain himself anymore, Darug burst into outright guffaws.
Argud hauled Friendly onward grimly. Oh, he would find a way to make his brother regret that...
Carrion shuddered convulsively. Shower. Now. He had water, cat litter, Commexo Carpet Cleaner, and That Idiot's bodily fluids all over his front. Then he felt a warm hand on his shoulder which helped to erase the lingering sensation of Friendly's arms clutching at him. But who…? He turned slightly to look just as Candy let her hand drop back to her side, and he tensed in wary surprise. But she was smiling.
"Well, I'm glad you could get him up. I'm sure you want to, uh, get cleaned up so we'll talk about this" – she gestured at the total mess that had once been a perfectly nice kitchen floor – "later. I'll send you some soap and towels."
"And disinfectant," Carrion blurted before he could stop himself.
Candy looked at the floor again, grimaced, and said, "Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.." She glanced over at Jimothi and, seeing he was done lecturing the kitten, headed out the door. Her three friends and the remaining guard followed her.
Blessed silence followed, broken only by the soft click of the lock.
In the few moments that the mirrors were likely to be still abandoned due to the chaos, Carrion allowed himself a deeply self-satisfied smirk. It was reflected, he realized, on the face of the tarrie-kitten, who swaggered over to him with such a smug air that Carrion found himself amused against his will.
"Well, well, well. I see someone is rather proud of himself."
The cat sat at Carrion's feet, throwing his chest out in clear agreement.
"Yes, well, don't let it swell your head. I told you that you would do well, didn't I? And when is Gorgossium's prince ever wrong?"
The cat purred loudly and got up to rub against Carrion's leg.
"Don't get too excited. We still have this absolute disaster to take care of – yes, I said we! I have cleaned up after you far too many times already, cat, and if you want to help with the fun parts you have to help with the clean-up. Now go find those two rodents and get them back in the cage. Or eat them, I don't care. Either way I don' want them ending up in my bed. I'm going to get out of these filthy rags so don't wait for me. And for Midnight's sake, don't lick your paws if you have to step in the water! Carpet cleaner is mixed with all of it, and I don't care what it says on the bottle – that stuff is as toxic as my grandmother."
The tarrie purred to himself as he strolled through the kitchen, nudging all the little gross bits into one pile so that Snarl could dispose of them easily. He couldn't help replaying the attack on Leech over and over again in his mind. It had been so brilliant!
He had noiselessly tipped over one of his dishes, full of water and some of that awful-smelling cleaning stuff, to make the puddle on the floor even bigger. And after Snarl's next signal, he'd gathered the little fishes. He'd leapt to the back of Leech's chair, landing perfectly, neither falling off nor overshooting his mark. He'd dropped the fishes down Leech's collar, dived off the chair, raced over to pull the two shrew-mice-prey-things out of their cage (difficult, especially since they were both alive, but he'd practiced that too and he was a Hunter), and dashed back to Leech to let them go – right up the leg of Leech's pants! Oh how he'd yelped!
And then he, brilliant tarrie that he was, had pounced right onto the edge of his litter tray, which was sitting on top of his water dish. Oh, Snarl had made him practice that a hundred hundred times and the cat had gotten quite sick of it, but the sight of Leech being showered with litter while not a speck of it touched his fur and the pan fell harmlessly to one side… Oh, that sight had made the hours of practice (and multiple whacks from the falling pan) absolutely worth it. He still thought that they shouldn't have used clean litter, but Snarl had told him – well, snarled at him, actually – that he didn't want "hazardous biological waste" all over the floor. The cat had added some of the scraps that might have gone into Leech's bag anyway.
Then, his very favorite part: the epic leap from the counter, landing on Leech and tearing him to shreds!
Best. Day. Ever.
Of course, Jimothi had been very unhappy. He paused a moment in his work, tail drooping guiltily. He didn't like lying to Jimothi, or getting in trouble. But Snarl had told him that if Jimothi knew the plot was Snarl's idea, the whole plot would be ruined and Snarl would be trapped in these rooms forever – and so would the kitten. Well, the kitten didn't want Snarl to be trapped. He wanted Snarl to be free, to be allowed to go back to his home. He wanted… He wanted Snarl to take him home with him. He wanted to see this Midnight island and help Snarl rebuild the towers that appeared in many of Snarl's pictures. Plus, he hated Leech.
Jimothi had told him today, after the scolding was over, to just wait a few more days and try to behave – especially not to attack anyone like that again. Jimothi would take him away soon and the kitten wouldn't have to put up with that bad-tempered, uncaring Christopher Carrion anymore.
But that bad-tempered man wasn't just Christopher Carrion, he was the kitten's Snarl! And he did care! And the kitten wanted to stay with him! But he wasn't sure how to explain that to Jimothi, who didn't know Snarl, and so he'd just agreed to be good.
He shook himself sternly. Enough. He would worry about that when the time came. Right now, he had prey to stalk before the water stopped running in the smallest room. Hmm… All the excitement had made him pretty hungry. Snarl's second suggestion was sounding more and more appealing.
He started to pad toward the cupboard and grimaced – ugh. Wet paws. He might slip on the floor when he pounced and that would be embarrassing. He ducked his head to start cleaning his forepaw. Oh, yuck! Yuck yuck! …Oh, right. Cleaning stuff. Well, what Snarl didn't know wouldn't get the cat in trouble.
He dropped back into his hunting crouch, the best moments of the day already replaying themselves again in his head.
Christopher Carrion sprawled in his armchair that evening, eyes closed and head lolling to one side. Somehow, keeping up the act had been harder these past few hours than it had been for the last few days. It was probably the temptation to let success – and he did, finally, count this day as a success – equal relaxation. It was more important that he stay focused now than ever before. He had to predict what they would consider believable "rehabilitated" (or nearly rehabilitated) behavior from him. Cand- his jailers had to believe him.
"Everything is not going to be fine, Young Christopher," said Carrion contemplatively as he stared out over the Izabella.
"I know," said Young Christopher.
"Your dear grandmother will make your life thoroughly miserable."
"That's nothing new."
"Your lifelong plot of bringing Absolute Midnight to the islands will be foiled."
"Not too surprising."
"You will fail utterly in love, to your undying pain and humiliation." He paused, and added grudgingly, "Twice."
Young Christopher shot him a disgruntled look. "No need to rub it in."
Silence fell but for the quiet sound of the waves lapping at the shore. Eventually Carrion spoke again.
"You know, it won't be entirely awful," he reflected. "You get to torture a lot of people. Strike fear into the hearts and minds of every sentient being in the Abarat. Kill your grandmother."
"That does sound pretty good," Young Christopher admitted.
Then Carrion felt a familiar weight on his foot – not on the shore, but in his rooms – and sighed. "Of course, you will end up spending possibly the last days of your life locked in a set of four rooms with an insane beast."
Young Christopher glanced over at him, then down at his feet. He finally seemed as young as he really was when he said quietly, a little embarrassed to admit such a weakness, "Well, I've always wanted a pet…"
Carrion opened his eyes to glower at the ceiling. "I'm so glad I've grown out of that idiocy."
A mew came from the vicinity of his feet. He rolled his eyes and sat up, leaning forward to look down at the cat, who was probably twice as heavy now as he had been the first time he'd sat on Carrion's foot. In fact, he was big enough now that he could really only fit his hindquarters; his forepaws had to stay on the floor.
The cat tilted his head and patted the arm of the chair with a paw.
"What, the couch isn't good enough for you anymore? … Oh, very well," he muttered, giving in with bad grace. "Make yourself comfortable. I suppose you've earned it."
Gleefully the tarrie hopped up, curling into a happy ball on the arm of the chair.
"Don't think you're going to make a habit of this," Carrion grumbled as he reached down to pick up his book.
The tarrie closed his eyes and purred, perfectly content.
And thus I would consider today a complete success. I would even go so far as to say it couldn't have gone better. Well, That Idiot clinging to me like a leech was truly one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life but I will endure.
The cat is a better servant than Mendelson Shape or Otto Houlihan ever were, although whether that's a compliment to the cat or an insult to the men I'm not sure. I find it ironic that he was put here to torture me and yet has become my greatest – well, my only – ally.
My only worry now is whether I will be able to accurately predict and execute the behaviors they want to see to prove that I am truly "rehabilitated." Simply depression was easy enough, but now there are many possible actions to choose from… I am the Prince of Darkness. I will be able to fool them.
…Actually, two worries: I hope we haven't traumatized Friendly so severely that he won't be able to oversee my final session and give a favorable report. I never thought I would want him to be here, but I simply don't have the time to manipulate another therapist into working for me rather than against me. …Hm. But perhaps I'll find a way for a nightmare or ten to visit when him when I'm free, finish the job then…
No. Not when I'm free. Not until dear Finny has had his grief counseling. Oh, that thought will bring me pleasant dreams tonight…!