Twice I've come across instances in which school chaplains have more than just religious services in mind for the little boys in the school: once in a French film, once in a book. Which is mildly disturbing. But being irreligious myself, I came up with this version, just slightly more twisted in my opinion.

Peppermint Dreams


The last time I was in here, the maroon-coloured blinds were halfway up the window. Today they were down, and all that lit the office was the fluorescent light on the ceiling. I could not see whether it was cloudy or sunny outside.

Mr Herlitz sat in his big black armchair, scribbling onto the clipboard sitting on his crossed legs. His face was clean-shaven. His hair wasn't combed back like last week, and some of it was over his eye. His shirt was blue. His tie was white and shiny. Then there was a flash and it became the thick rope that bound my hands together. Then there was a second flash and it became a tie again.

I turned on my side. The broken spring under the couch creaked. The wall I was facing was faded blue, and crumbly at the bottom edges. My hand felt cold on the brown leather. I closed my eyes.

"Are you feeling too cold?" Mr Herlitz asked. "Do you need me to turn up the air-conditioner a little?" I did not respond, but heard the wheels squeaking and some digital beeps after that, and the squeaking again.

My school shoes were still on my feet. I wished I had untied the laces so I could let them breathe. But I did not take them off, because then my socks would go next. And my watch. And my sweater. And the buttons on my shirt —

"So, Jack." He said this in a very cool, conversational manner. "How has my client been?"

I heard the smile behind his voice. He probably thought it made me more assured when he referred to me as his 'client'. But then it was probably because I was a private patient, and all private patients were called that.

His pen was making tapping sounds, and I thought he was getting impatient with me, because I did not answer. I did not want to. I almost did, though, and made a sound like a frog's croak.

"Have you been sleeping well lately, Jack? Did you take one of those green tablets every time you go to bed?"

I did. I took my medication every night. But there was once, last weekend, I woke up in the middle of the night, after the same dream. It had been the same man in my room, the same storm outside. He had the same wide grin on his face, the same huge hands that forced my knees apart.

I had woken up just before anything else could happen. And I was so scared he would suddenly open the door and appear that I swallowed three more tablets and downed three whole glasses of water. In the morning I was sick in the bathroom.

"Yes," I said, and then nothing more. Mr Herlitz's office was less cold now, and I unclenched my fist slightly.

There was more scribbling. "And do you still have any . . . bad dreams for the past week? Or any time when you keep worrying it might happen again?"

I said nothing.

After that there was a long pause. "You know you don't have to answer if you really don't want to. But I'm here to help you, Jack. And you have to let me help you in return."

I turned my head slightly. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mr Herlitz look at me over the top of his spectacle lenses. He seemed more kind than angry, and some little part of me felt bad. But the rest wanted me to leave the room and get Mother to take me home and lock myself up in the wardrobe and not talk to anybody else forever, because I didn't want him to find me . . .

I heard myself speak anyway. "No, doc," my voice said quietly. "No dreams."

"None at all?"

Mr Herlitz had told me during the first appointment, three weeks ago, that it would be good if I answered whatever he asked truthfully. He said it would aid him in helping me. But I didn't see the point. Already last week he had made me describe to him what dreams I've had, and I had felt so ashamed and dirty. He wasn't the one that had to go through all that. It was me.

And it had hurt.

"You may want to lie back, Jack. And relax. You seem extremely tense."

I did. But I could not relax. Something was still curdling inside me. Something from a month back. I shut my eyes, and pressed my fists against my ears, but from behind my eyelids I could still see that same silhouette, towering, that person who was Mother's boyfriend's cousin. I could still see his eager, glittering eyes. I could still hear the rain and wind howling outside. I could still hear his voice, small and cajoling. Your darling mother is busy next door, boy, do you know? Moaning the life out of her, enjoying every bloody second of it. You take after her, you know? You look like that whore. Do you scream like her too? Huh? Tell me, boy. Do you?

Or do you want to show me?

I could still feel the hand over my mouth, my scream being silenced. I could still feel the nylon cutting into my skin. I could still feel the weight on me, that terrible hot breath, that exposed cold between my legs, that horrible thing pushing inside of me, pushing, pushing, and me bleeding and bleeding dark into the night and . . .

What remained of all that he had poured inside me erupted with crackles of pain, and I gasped sharply.

"Jack?"

I opened my eyes with another gasp, and saw him again. But my scream would not come out. Suddenly I saw a glint of glass, and saw — Mr Herlitz. I blinked, and tears ran hot and wet down my face.

"I cannot," I whispered.

Mr Herlitz stared at me. Then he put his pen down, uncrossed his legs, and came over on his black rolling armchair. His hand took both of mine, placing them gently on my chest, one by one, then let go. My left hand grazed against my school crest. "Relax," he said again, very gently. And then: "You don't have to remember if you don't want to."

My breaths were still quick and shallow. Vainly I tried to make them more even, and I counted to myself, just as Mr Herlitz stood up.

"Now, why don't you tell me what you did yesterday?" he asked, casually. He went over to his desk, took something from a drawer, and sat back down. "Have a candy while you're at it, if you like."

There were two sweets in his open palm. I took one, unwrapped it, and put it into my mouth. It was a peppermint drop.

"Now," he continued, picking up his pen and clipboard again. "You mentioned about moving house last session, if I remember correctly. How's it going so far?" There was a small smile on his face.

I ran my right hand through my hair, and it came out cold and damp. I tried to recall. I tried, very hard, to push that memory out, and replace it with the huge lorries, and that new carpeted staircase beside the new kitchen. The coolness of the peppermint made it easier. I shifted it with my tongue.

"We . . . we got some of the furniture into the new house. Mother and I." I remembered her relieved smiles, and forgot her grief after that night. "It's bigger. There's a balcony on the second floor. And there's a backyard, but the plants there are all wilting. Mother said I can do some gardening after . . . after everything's done."

"And do you like the new house?" Mr Herlitz asked. He wrote more things on his papers. "Have you met your neighbours yet?"

I glanced at the clock. Five past four. My appointment was supposed to end at half past four. I could go on with details. I could go on and not think about what happened last month. I could forget even after this appointment.

"I like it," I murmured. Somehow I felt sleepy, and very languid. I let my arms fall onto my sides. My socks were black and long, and they kept my legs warm. The peppermint was melting sweet in my mouth. "It's a creamy pink colour on the outside, not white like the rest along the street. And . . . and I saw this nice old lady next door filling her birdbath, and she said hello to me . . .

"And the doorknobs are gold and crystal, and the doors have these curly spiral patterns on them, and . . ."

I wanted to continue. I wanted to tell Mr Herlitz that on every door in the house there were different things carved into those spirals, but I didn't. I heard my voice slurring, and felt like slipping. The couch seemed really, really cosy enough.

"Jack?" I heard Mr Herlitz call. "Are you still there?"

"Uhn." The candy was very comforting in my mouth, and I sucked at it every couple of seconds or so. "The doors . . . the doors . . ."

I got no further, and was very nearly asleep when I heard Mr Herlitz's voice again. "You're not here to sleep, Jack. And I don't want to have to tell your mother that after today's session."

My eyes closed, and I faced the wall again, knees bent, the spring creaking in protest. There was nothing but the whirring of the air-conditioner, but suddenly I heard the low roll of thunder from outside the building, far, far away. I curled up further.

I felt a dreamless slumber coming.

It almost did, but a hand closed around my shoulder, and turned me to face upwards again. "Are you really feeling sleepy, Jack?" Mr Herlitz asked, very softly.

I nodded vaguely. The last of the peppermint vanished just then, and I felt too cold again. "I cannot," my voice came out in another murmur, tight and scared. "He will . . . he's going to . . ."

"He's not, Jack," I heard Mr Herlitz say, soothingly, and gradually more quietly. His hand smoothed my hair, again and again. "Nobody is. Nobody is going to harm you, Jack. Nobody."

"Nobody . . ." I was half drowsy in sleep. And finally I relaxed, in the safety and warmth of the couch - and something, someone close. I faintly heard the padded clatter of the pen onto the floor, and the creak of the broken spring under my back yet again.

The hand that was stroking me left my hair. Then I felt someone — that man? How did he get here . . .? — pressing his mouth light against mine, then my own lips parting. His hands dropped mine over the sides of the soft couch, and straightened my legs. I felt his knees locking one of mine.

That dream again. That bad dream. I was supposed to forget about it. I was supposed to tell Mr Herlitz about the doors with the spirals. But I was the one spiralling instead . . .

His hands slid up the length of my socks, up my legs. They went under my school jersey and shirt, and pushed them up my chest, wide and warm. The same moist hotness on my mouth went to my chin, and down my neck, and onto my chest. He pulled at my skin, and nibbled with his teeth. It was too familiar, and I could not snap out of it.

I let out a small cry. Mr Herlitz was waiting, for my story. Mother was waiting, outside the room. I shouldn't let them wait. I shouldn't be remembering this now. I shouldn't. I shouldn't.

But one of those hands went behind my neck, pushing my head upwards. The other slipped down into my shorts, holding, kneading, pressing down against my body. The hard breaths on my cold skin. The dull rumbles from the heavens. I could not forget. I could not . . .

But it went away, after a very long time, and was no more. And I slept, dreamless. Mr Herlitz's peppermint had helped. I hoped he would not know about my dream. I hoped he would let me continue sleeping. It had been a long time since I've dreamt about nothing in my sleep.

Maybe I could still tell Mr Herlitz about the doors. Maybe I could wake up at four thirty, and tell him. He would wake me up before that. I was sure. I was sure he would . . .

-fin-


(I chose a quiet, soothing attack over a fierce, straight-on one, because it somehow seemed more . . . satisfying. So kill me if you will.)

Comments on unprofessional questions (on the psychiatrist's part, initially) or any other suggestions are all welcome.