Music of the NightSuzy McKee Charnas
Music of the Night
by Suzy McKee Charnas
Music of the Night
by Suzy McKee Charnas
The vampire, the werewolf, the witch, the Phantom of the Opera—Suzy McKee Charnas brings together four monster-movie archetypes as you've never encountered them before, along with an original Afterword. The rage of a tormented adolescent is poignantly expressed in the Hugo-winning "Boobs." A vampire's sessions with a psychiatrist become a contest of wills in the Nebula-winning "Unicorn Tapestry." Dark magic puts a woman's ugly insecurities on public display in "Evil Thoughts." And a beautiful woman exerts an uneasy control over the tempers of a monster in the critically acclaimed "Beauty and the Opéra or The Phantom Beast." Suspenseful and thought-provoking, Music of the Night affirms the vitality of these classic demons of our cultural imagination, at once nightmarish and seductive.
MUSIC OF THE NIGHT
Copyright © 2001 by Suzy McKee Charnas. All rights reserved.
Original Publication: Forge, 1997.
Ebook edition of Music of the Night copyright © 2001 by ElectricStory.com, Inc.
ePub ISBN: 978-1-59729-068-5
Kindle ISBN: 978-1-930815-24-7
ElectricStory.com and the ES design are registered trademarks of ElectricStory.com, Inc.
These stories are works of fiction. All characters, events, organizations, and locales are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously to convey a sense of realism.
Cover art by and copyright © 2001 Cory and Catska Ench.
Original Ebook conversion by Lara Ballinger and Robert Kruger.
v1.0 July 2001
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“Unicorn Tapestry”: First published in New Dimensions II, ed. Marta Randall, Pocket Books 1980.
“Boobs”: First published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, July 1989.
“Evil Thoughts”: First published in Seaharp Hotel, ed. Charles Grant, Tor Books 1990.
“Beauty and the Opéra or The Phantom Beast”: First published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, March 1996.
“Hold on,” Floria said. “I know what you’re going to say: I agreed not to take any new clients for a while. But wait till I tell you—you’re not going to believe this—first phone call, setting up an initial appointment, he comes out with what his problem is: ‘I seem to have fallen victim to a delusion of being a vampire.’ ”
“Christ H. God!” cried Lucille delightedly. “Just like that, over the telephone?”
“When I recovered my aplomb, so to speak, I told him that I prefer to wait with the details until our first meeting, which is tomorrow.”
They were sitting on the tiny terrace outside the staff room of the clinic, a converted town house on the upper West Side. Floria spent three days a week here and the remaining two in her office on Central Park South where she saw private clients like this new one. Lucille, always gratifyingly responsive, was Floria’s most valued professional friend. Clearly enchanted with Floria’s news, she sat eagerly forward in her chair, eyes wide behind Coke-bottle lenses.
She said, “Do you suppose he thinks he’s a revivified corpse?”
Below, down at the end of the street, Floria could see two kids skidding their skateboards near a man who wore a woolen cap and a heavy coat despite the May warmth. He was leaning against a wall. He had been there when Floria had arrived at the clinic this morning. If corpses walked, some, not nearly revivified enough, stood in plain view in New York.
“I’ll have to think of a delicate way to ask,” she said.
“How did he come to you, this ‘vampire’?”
“He was working in an upstate college, teaching and doing research, and all of a sudden he just disappeared—vanished, literally, without a trace. A month later he turned up here in the city. The faculty dean at the school knows me and sent him to see me.”
Lucille gave her a sly look. “So you thought, aha, do a little favor for a friend, this looks classic and easy to transfer if need be: repressed intellectual blows stack and runs off with spacey chick, something like that.”
“You know me too well,” Floria said with a rueful smile.
“Huh,” grunted Lucille. She sipped ginger ale from a chipped white mug. “I don’t take panicky middle-aged men anymore; they’re too depressing. And you shouldn’t be taking this one, intriguing as he sounds.”
Here comes the lecture, Floria told herself.
Lucille got up. She was short, heavy, prone to wearing loose garments that swung about her like ceremonial robes. As she paced, her hem brushed at the flowers starting up in the planting boxes that rimmed the little terrace. “You know damn well this is just more overwork you’re loading on. Don’t take this guy; refer him.”
Floria sighed. “I know, I know. I promised everybody I’d slow down. But you said it yourself just a minute ago—it looked like a simple favor. So what do I get? Count Dracula, for God’s sake! Would you give that up?”
Fishing around in one capacious pocket, Lucille brought out a dented package of cigarettes and lit up, scowling. “You know, when you give me advice I try to take it seriously. Joking aside, Floria, what am I supposed to say? I’ve listened to you moaning for months now, and I thought we’d figured out that what you need is to shed some pressure, to start saying no—and here you are insisting on a new case. You know what I think: you’re hiding in other people’s problems from a lot of your own stuff that you should be working on.
“Okay, okay, don’t glare at me. Be pigheaded. Have you gotten rid of Chubs, at least?” This was Floria’s code name for a troublesome client named Kenny whom she’d been trying to unload for some time.
Floria shook her head.
“What gives with you? It’s weeks since you swore you’d dump him! Trying to do everything for everybody is wearing you out. I bet you’re still dropping weight. Judging by the very unbecoming circles under your eyes, sleeping isn’t going too well, either. Still no dreams you can remember?”
“Lucille, don’t nag. I don’t want to talk about my health.”
“Well, what about his health—Dracula’s? Did you suggest that he have a physical before seeing you? There might be something physiological—”
“You’re not going to be able to whisk him off to an M.D. and out of my hands,” Floria said wryly. “He told me on the phone that he wouldn’t consider either medication or hospitalization.”
Involuntarily, she glanced down at the end of the street. The woolen-capped man had curled up on the sidewalk at the foot of the building, sleeping or passed out or dead. The city was tottering with sickness. Compared with that wreck down there and others like him, how sick could this “vampire” be, with his cultured baritone voice, his self-possessed approach?
“And you won’t consider handing him off to somebody else,” Lucille said.
“Well, not until I know a little more. Come on, Luce—wouldn’t you want at least to know what he looks like?”
Lucille stubbed out her cigarette against the low parapet. Down below a policeman strolled along the street ticketing the parked cars. He didn’t even look at the man lying at the corner of the building. They watched his progress without comment. Finally Lucille said, “Well, if you won’t drop Dracula, keep me posted on him, will you?”
* * *
He entered the office on the dot of the hour, a gaunt but graceful figure. He was impressive. Wiry gray hair, worn short, emphasized the massiveness of his face with its long jaw, high cheekbones, and granite cheeks grooved as if by winters of hard weather. His name, typed in caps on the initial information sheet that Floria proceeded to fill out with him, was Edward Lewis Weyland.
Crisply, he told her about the background of the vampire incident, describing in caustic terms his life at Cayslin College: the pressures of collegial competition, interdepartmental squabbles, student indifference, administrative bungling. History has limited use, she knew, since memory distorts; still, if he felt most comfortable establishing the setting for his illness, that was as good a way to start off as any.
At length his energy faltered. His angular body sank into a slump, his voice became flat and tired as he haltingly worked up to the crucial event: night work at the sleep lab, fantasies of blood-drinking as he watched the youthful subjects of his dream research slumbering, finally an attempt to act out the fantasy with a staff member at the college. He had been repulsed; then panic had assailed him. Word would get out, he’d be fired, blacklisted forever. He’d bolted. A nightmare period had followed—he offered no details. When he had come to his senses he’d seen that just what he feared, the ruin of his career, would come from his running away. So he’d phoned the dean, and now here he was.
Throughout this recital she watched him diminish from the dignified academic who had entered her office to a shamed and frightened man hunched in his chair, his hands pulling fitfully at each other.
“What are your hands doing?” she said gently. He looked blank. She repeated the question.
He looked down at his hands. “Struggling,” he said.
“The worst,” he muttered. “I haven’t told you the worst.” She had never grown hardened to this sort of transformation. His long fingers busied themselves fiddling with a button on his jacket while he explained painfully that the object of his “attack” at Cayslin had been a woman. Not young but handsome and vital, she had first caught his attention earlier in the year during a festschrift—an honorary seminar—for a retiring professor.
A picture emerged of an awkward Weyland, lifelong bachelor, seeking this woman’s warmth and suffering her refusal. Floria knew she should bring him out of his past and into his here-and-now, but he was doing so beautifully on his own that she was loath to interrupt.
“Did I tell you there was a rapist active on the campus at this time?” he said bitterly. “I borrowed a leaf from his book: I tried to take from this woman, since she wouldn’t give. I tried to take some of her blood.” He stared at the floor. “What does that mean—to take someone’s blood?”
“What do you think it means?”
The button, pulled and twisted by his fretful fingers, came off. He put it into his pocket, the impulse, she guessed, of a fastidious nature. “Her energy,” he murmured, “stolen to warm the aging scholar, the walking corpse, the vampire—myself.”
His silence, his downcast eyes, his bent shoulders, all signaled a man brought to bay by a life crisis. Perhaps he was going to be the kind of client therapists dream of and she needed so badly these days: a client intelligent and sensitive enough, given the companionship of a professional listener, to swiftly unravel his own mental tangles. Exhilarated by his promising start, Floria restrained herself from trying to build on it too soon. She made herself tolerate the silence, which lasted until he said suddenly, “I notice that you make no notes as we speak. Do you record these sessions on tape?”
A hint of paranoia, she thought; not unusual. “Not without your knowledge and consent, just as I won’t send for your personnel file from Cayslin without your knowledge and consent. I do, however, write notes after each session as a guide to myself and in order to have a record in case of any confusion about anything we do or say here. I can promise you that I won’t show my notes or speak of you by name to anyone—except Dean Sharpe at Cayslin, of course, and even then only as much as is strictly necessary—without your written permission. Does that satisfy you?”
“I apologize for my question,” he said. “The . . . incident has left me . . . very nervous; a condition that I hope to get over with your help.”
The time was up. When he had gone, she stepped outside to check with Hilda, the receptionist she shared with four other therapists here at the Central Park South office. Hilda always sized up new clients in the waiting room.
Of this one she said, “Are you sure there’s anything wrong with that guy? I think I’m in love.”
* * *
Waiting at the office for a group of clients to assemble Wednesday evening, Floria dashed off some notes on the “vampire.”
Client described incident, background. No history of mental illness, no previous experience of therapy. Personal history so ordinary you almost don’t notice how bare it is: only child of German immigrants, schooling normal, field work in anthropology, academic posts leading to Cayslin College professorship. Health good, finances adequate, occupation satisfactory, housing pleasant (though presently installed in a N.Y. hotel); never married, no kids, no family, no religion, social life strictly job-related; leisure—says he likes to drive. Reaction to question about drinking, but no signs of alcohol problems. Physically very smooth-moving for his age (over fifty) and height; catlike, alert. Some apparent stiffness in the midsection—slight protective stoop—tightening up of middle age? Paranoiac defensiveness? Voice pleasant, faint accent (German-speaking childhood at home). Entering therapy condition of consideration for return to job.
What a relief: his situation looked workable with a minimum of strain on herself. Now she could defend to Lucille her decision to do therapy with the “vampire.”
After all, Lucille was right. Floria did have problems of her own that needed attention, primarily her anxiety and exhaustion since her mother’s death more than a year before. The breakup of Floria’s marriage had caused misery, but not this sort of endless depression. Intellectually the problem was clear: with both her parents dead she was left exposed. No one stood any longer between herself and the inevitability of her own death. Knowing the source of her feelings didn’t help: she couldn’t seem to mobilize the nerve to work on them.
The Wednesday group went badly again. Lisa lived once more her experiences in the European death camps and everyone cried. Floria wanted to stop Lisa, turn her, extinguish the droning horror of her voice in illumination and release, but she couldn’t see how to do it. She found nothing in herself to offer except some clever ploy out of the professional bag of tricks—dance your anger, have a dialog with yourself of those days—useful techniques when they flowed organically as part of a living process in which the therapist participated. But thinking out responses that should have been intuitive wouldn’t work. The group and its collective pain paralyzed her. She was a dancer without a choreographer, knowing all the moves but unable to match them to the music these people made.
Rather than act with mechanical clumsiness she held back, did nothing, and suffered guilt. Oh God, the smart, experienced people in the group must know how useless she was here.
Going home on the bus she thought about calling up one of the therapists who shared the downtown office. He had expressed an interest in doing co-therapy with her under student observation. The Wednesday group might respond well to that. Suggest it to them next time? Having a partner might take pressure off Floria and revitalize the group, and if she felt she must withdraw he would be available to take over. Of course, he might take over anyway and walk off with some of her clients.
oy, terrific, who’s paranoid now? Wonderful way to think about a good colleague. God, she hadn’t even known she was considering chucking the group.
Had the new client, running from his “vampirism,” exposed her own impulse to retreat? This wouldn’t be the first time that Floria had obtained help from a client while attempting to give help. Her old supervisor, Rigby, said that such mutual aid was the only true therapy—the rest was fraud. What a perfectionist, old Rigby, and what a bunch of young idealists he’d turned out, all eager to save the world.
Eager, but not necessarily able. Jane Fennerman had once lived in the world, and Floria had been incompetent to save her. Jane, an absent member of tonight’s group, was back in the safety of a locked ward, hazily gliding on whatever tranquilizers they used there.
Why still mull over Jane? she asked herself severely, bracing against the bus’s lurching halt. Any client was entitled to drop out of therapy and commit herself. Nor was this the first time that sort of thing had happened in the course of Floria’s career. Only this time she couldn’t seem to shake free of the resulting depression and guilt.
But how could she have helped Jane more? How could you offer reassurance that life was not as dreadful as Jane felt it to be, that her fears were insubstantial, that each day was not a pit of pain and danger?
* * *
She was taking time during a client’s canceled hour to work on notes for the new book. The writing, an analysis of the vicissitudes of salaried versus private practice, balked her at every turn. She longed for an interruption to distract her circling mind.