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Autumn Hollow

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The leather armchair squeaks and puffs when Castiel unceremoniously lets himself fall onto it, instantly interlocking his fingers as soon as he finds a position comfortable enough to spend the next hour in.

His skin is sticky from the heat, sweat drying on his temples when the chill of the air-conditioner begins to cool him off. Castiel was mindful enough to freshen up his deodorant in the car before stepping into the building. It’s ninety degrees outside, and he’s wearing a suit and trench coat, so he hopes Doctor Visyak will forgive the layer of perspiration contaminating her potpourri-scented office.

Lavender colored walls, white carpets, stainless steel appliances, skyline view of San Francisco—it’s all very chic and Metropolitan Home. He guesses it’s meant to ease the distress of sitting in a psychiatrist’s office, about to have one’s brains picked at for any tell-tale signs of instability.

The digital clock over a squid statue reads 3:37PM.

Behind the desk by the window sits Doctor Eleanor Visyak, a haughty woman somewhere in her mid-fifties. Her blonde hair and designer suit are a statement of clinical authority, and Castiel is forced to think before he speaks. He’s aware that lingering too long on his answers is the exact opposite of what he should be doing, but Castiel has learned to never challenge a woman, or else risk being burned.

“You’ve missed your previous two appointments. Had it not been for Gabriel calling in when he did, I would have prematurely cancelled today’s as well,” Dr. Visyak says, sitting prim and proper on her office chair.

“I’m aware of this, yes.” Absently circling his thumbs, Castiel offers her a professional smile. “I was at a book signing appointment and it slipped my mind.”

“No phone?”

“Yes, I—I know, I’m sorry. I should have—”

“And your other appointments?”

Castiel straightens his back, placing his elbows on the armrests while flexing his fingers still. It’s a nervous tic, and he knows that she knows this much. He quietly resents Gabriel for putting him through this, under the all-seeing eye of a stranger.

“There’s no excuse,” he says simply. And it’s the truth.

“Finally being honest, are we, Mr. Novak?”

Pressing his lips into a thin line, Castiel nods his head. “I suppose.”

Humming thoughtfully, Dr. Visyak takes a notebook and pen from her desk. “What matters is that we’re here now.” She flips through a series of pages until she settles on one, silently reading and scribbling at random times.

Castiel impatiently waits for her to start talking, desperately wanting for the hour to be over already. His focus is on the bookshelf to his right, where he spots a volume of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Complete Horror Compendium wedged between endless collections on psychology and anatomy, when Dr. Visyak interrupts the stiff silence.

“All right, let’s start off by asking how your book launch went.” Closing the notebook over her lap, she places her hands over it and gives him a kind smile. “A best-seller, I heard. Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” he says, halfway between honest and unsure. “Um, well, it’s been… a long couple of days. A lot of people, coffee—not enough sleep. I feel… relieved, mostly because I don’t have to worry about my higher-ups trying to murder me for lack of new material.” He laughs uncertainly, but sobers up when her face remains impassive. “That’s about it.”

“You haven’t been sleeping enough?”

“I’m on tour,” he says. “I’ve been from Oregon to Virginia, and six states in between, in just a week. It’s perfectly normal to lose sleep.”

The hum of the air conditioner is the only sound that interrupts the sudden silence.

“I’m sorry,” Castiel says, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I didn’t mean to shout.”

“All is forgiven.”

She says nothing more, and it only takes seconds for the itch to fill the quiet manifests across his skin. Castiel will take anything but silence, even if he has to ramble for God knows how long.

“I’m not fond of hotel rooms,” he says. “Not because the pillows are too hard, or the coffee tastes terrible regardless of the five-star quality.” Castiel taps his fingertips against his knees. “They’re… impersonal.”

“You would rather spend time at home?”

“No. Yes. I don’t know.” Castiel shrugs half-heartedly. “My house, I know its ditches and holes; the shadowy spots where people won’t be able to find me. I know through where I can get out if something were to happen. At a hotel, I can jot down the exits; sleep with the door halfway locked or unlocked, depending on my mood. I don’t know what’s better: an easy way out, or an easy way to keep it out. But it’s… impersonal. I can’t control when those things change.”

“No one can change the emergency routes overnight, Castiel,” says Dr. Visyak, her tone patronizing.

Castiel remains perfectly still, for the exception of his mouth, which he feels involuntarily lift at its edges. “No one can break into a house in the dead of night without tripping the alarm.”

“Technology is unreliable.”

“The fruit doesn’t fall too far from the tree.”

“Is this what you want to talk about today? The unreliability of humans?”

“Truth be told, I don’t wish to talk about anything.”

Castiel wonders if the cold emotionlessness in a psychiatrist’s face truly does make it easier for the patients to talk. Personally, he finds it unsettling. He could yell, cry, cuss, and Dr. Visyak would remain as stoic as the painting behind her desk. She is an ivory statue holding in her palms the balance of the human mind.

“We’re on your time,” she says. “Tell me about the impersonality of hotel rooms. You seemed fine talking about that. What is it that you want to keep out?”

His nails scratch at the fabric of his pants, but he doesn’t answer.

Dr. Visyak cants her head to the side, the only motion that tells Castiel that she’s real, rather than a robot, as he suspected. “Do you still think the monsters are trying to get you?”

The sound of his heartbeat thudding in his ears stops, and the ticking of the digital clock grinds to a halt.

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I shall die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Licking his lips, Castiel says: “Monster. Only one.”

He still has nightmares of the darkness that drifted through the tombstones at San Francisco’s Holy Trinity Cemetery, impervious to the shrill singing of the church choir: women and men in white robes, singing their praise in honor of the deceased.

There is another beat of silence before Dr. Visyak stands up, places her notebook on the desk and walks over to her bookcase. Castiel figures the intention is to think rather than to choose a book.

“Police have dropped all charges against you, therefore you are no longer a suspect. Yet this monster still haunts you.”

Castiel sighs as he turns his face towards the ceiling. “I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve said this. That thing isn’t a figment of my imagination. It’s not a coping mechanism, and neither is it some manufactured reality triggered by PTSD. I’m not insane, Dr. Visyak, I really am not.”

“Ninety-four percent of psychotics think they’re perfectly sane, so I guess we’d have to ask ourselves, ‘what is sane?’.”

Irritation slowly begins to curl in Castiel’s chest. “I am not crazy,” he says, words slow and deliberate, giving no room for misconceptions.

Dr. Visyak turns towards him, her hands joined at the small of her back. “A case of mistaken identity, then? The killer you insist crept into your home and killed your family, when in fact, neither wife nor child were inside the home at the time of the incident.”

“I don’t know—”

“Humans can be scarier than monsters, Mr. Novak. The mind is a potent thing, capable of things beyond your wildest imagination.”

“It wasn’t a person, Dr. Visyak.”

“There is no such thing as monsters—”

“I’m not crazy!

“—and until you accept that fact, Castiel, you will never be able to move on from this issue.”

Her face remains unchanged, cold and calculating, though her eyes burn into him with what reeks of contempt.

The session is over with twenty five minutes to spare.

“Thank you for your time, Doctor. That will be all.” Adjusting his suit jacket when he stands up, Castiel clears his throat, head held high. While walking towards the door, he adds: “I’ll be calling to reschedule my next appointments. These coming months will be difficult to accommodate them.”

“Of course. Whenever you need to talk, you know where to find my office,” Dr. Visyak says, not moving from her place before the bookcase. “Make sure not to let the darkness win.”

With a hand on the doorknob, Castiel snorts derisively. “Have a good day, Doctor,” he says, and shuts the door behind him with a conclusive click.