From the author: “Timmy, Come Home” was written ten years ago at the invitation of Gordon Van Gelder for an anthology he was putting together called Is Anybody Out There? All the stories were themed around the Fermi Paradox, which asks the question, “If there are alien civilizations out there, why haven’t we been contacted by them?”
TIMMY, COME HOME
by Matthew Hughes
At first, they were just shadows and whispers in Brodie's dreams, voices he could not quite hear, movement he could not quite bring into focus. Then the shadows and whispers began to filter into his waking hours, and he sought help.
"Neurologically, there is nothing wrong with you," said the neurologist. "Your brain is anatomically and functionally normal. We found no lesions, tumors or chemical anomalies."
"What does that leave?" said Brodie.
The neurologist spread his hands. "Psychiatric causes?"
The psychiatrist said, "You're not schizophrenic. I find no dissociative tendencies."
"So I'm normal? But I hear voices."
"You hear voices but you don't know what they're saying. Most people who hear voices know exactly what they're saying. The voices tell them to do things. Often they are things they shouldn't do. Sometimes they are things no one should do."
"So I should feel good about that?"
The psychiatrist interlaced his fingers and said, "How do you feel about it?"
The psychologist said, "You fall in the middle of the bell curve on every measure I've taken of you, except two." The man looked through the sheaf of papers before him, found one and scanned it. "In intelligence, you're in the top percentile." He looked at another. "In terms of affect, you seem to be sad."
Brodie sat in the patient's chair, a comfortable armchair upholstered in brown leather. "They told me I was bright in high school," he said. "I don't know if I'm sad. I'm just me, the way I've always been.
"I'm a little concerned that you live such a solitary life--"
"I'm not concerned," Brodie said.
The psychiatrist made a gesture of acquiescence. "It's not uncommon in cases of exceptional intelligence. And you don't seem to be actually depressed."
Brodie ignored the motion that he saw indistinctly from the corner of his right eye and the barely audible sussuration that seemed to come from just behind his right ear. "If there's nothing wrong with me," he said, "then what's wrong with me?"
The psychiatrist stroked his chin. "How does it affect your life?"
Brodie thought for a moment. "Minimally," he said. "It comes and goes and I can usually ignore it. But, steadily, it comes more often and lasts longer."
"What is it that bothers you most? The inability to control it?"
"At first, yes. Now I'd just like to know what they're trying to tell me."
The psychiatrist zeroed in. "'They'?" he said.
"There's more than one voice," Brodie said.
"How do you know?"
"I just do."
"And what makes you think 'they' are trying to tell you something?"
Now it was Brodie's turn to spread his hands. "Why else would they be trying so hard to get my attention?"
The parapsychologist said, "Have you experienced any instances of precognition, lengthy periods of deja vu, astral projection?"
"Would you like to?"
The exorcist closed the book, rang the bell and snuffed out the candle and said, "Are they still there?"
"Dammit. Now we'll have to start over."
The medium said, "I hear the name Walter. Does that have any meaning to you?"
"I don't think so."
"Not your father's name?"
"A childhood friend?"
"Maybe an uncle? A pet?"
"Close your eyes and imagine you're sitting in a darkened movie theater. The screen is bright white and in the middle of it is a small, black dot."
The hypnotist's voice was warm and calmly assured. it reminded Brodie of his mother's voice when he was young. "Concentrate on the dot."
"The more you concentrate, the more relaxed you feel."
"All you can see now is the dot."
"It's growing larger. Now it fills the screen."
Brodie made an involuntary sound.
"I don't like it."
"What don't you like?"
"The big dot. It's too big. Too dark. Too... deep.
"All right. It's not a dot. It's an x. Is that better?"
It was. Brodie felt his anxiety fade.
"You're becoming more and more relaxed," the woman said. "Your feet are relaxed."
Brodie's feet were very relaxed.
"Your legs are relaxed."
He felt the muscles of his calves and thighs slacken pleasantly.
"Now your abdomen and your lower back are relaxed."
"Yes." The word came on a sigh.
"Your shoulders and your upper back are relaxed."
"And your neck."
"You're relaxed from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. You've never felt better."
It was true. He'd never felt better. "Mmm," he said.
"Wonderful. Now turn your attention to the whisper in your right ear."
"As you listen, it gets louder."
Brodie listened. The whisper grew louder.
"As it gets louder, it becomes clearer."
"No," he said. "It doesn't."
"Concentrate. Your hearing is becoming much sharper. You could hear a pin drop in the next room."
Brodie's hearing became sharper. The hypnotist's voice sounded more crisp. But the whispering remained an undifferentiated sequence of sounds.
"I can't make it out," he said.
"You're still relaxed, more relaxed than you've even been before."
"Let the sound come to you. Let it become clear."
Brodie did as he was told. But the whispering did not become clear.
The hypnotist was a plump, grandmotherly woman. The room where she practiced her profession was as congenial as she was. "I want to try something else," she said.
"It didn't work," Brodie said. "Nothing I've tried has worked."
"We got somewhere," she said.
"So it's worth trying a different approach." She leaned back in the comfortable chair that faced and matched Brodie's. "You get a feel for these things. I've got a feeling that there's something buried in you."
"I don't think so," he said. "I had a completely untroubled childhood. My parents didn't beat me or cast me as a supporting player in their own psychological dramas. I was not ritually abused or locked in a dark closet."
"Even so," she said, "you're throwing up a lot of dust right now."
Brodie thought about it. "I am, aren't I?" He agreed to come back for another session.
Brodie made a contented, compliant sound. The chair held him like the palm of a warm hand.
"Now you're standing on a high place. You can see very far in every direction."
"In one direction, you can see your childhood."
"What does it look like?"
"Sunny. Bright colors. I see my dog, Willy."
"What happened to Willy?"
"He got old. The vet put him to sleep. It didn't hurt him."
"It made you sad?"
"Yes. I cried. Mom and dad cried, too."
"Think about Willy."
"Now think about the dot in the middle of the screen. Think about it getting larger."
Brodie shifted in the chair, as if preparing to stand.
"You're still very relaxed, as relaxed as you've ever been. You're completely safe."
He settled back.
"The dot cannot harm you. It cannot harm Willy. You can think about it without being troubled."
"I don't like it."
"What don't you like about the dot?"
"It's a hole, a dark hole."
"Why does the hole bother you?"
Brodie shifted nervously. The chair wasn't supportive now. It was confining. "Because you can't get out."
"The hole is going away now. It's far away where you don't have to worry about it."
Brodie relaxed, settled back into the chair. "Good."
"Now you're back on the high place, looking over your whole childhood."
"You've got a telescope that lets you focus on any time in your childhood, any event. You can see yourself and other people, see what you were doing. And Willy, too."
"Look through the telescope now and see a time when you were frightened by a hole."
"You're still far away from that time, just seeing it through a telescope."
"The you that was frightened then doesn't have to be frightened now."
"You're safe and relaxed. Nothing can hurt you."
"Now look through the telescope. What do you see?"
"We're getting somewhere," the hypnotist said.
"I suppose," Brodie said. "But where?"
He could remember what he had seen, because the hypnotist had told him he would. At first, the scene had been contained within a circle, just as if he had viewed it through a telescope. Then, as she had told him to zoom in on it, the image had filled the inner screen of his mind.
He saw himself -- his much younger self; he could not have been older than five -- sitting on the old couch in the living room. Willy, still just a pup, was lying on the carpeted floor, licking his paws, paying no attention to the television.
Now the image shifted its point of view, so that Brodie was looking over his earlier self's shoulder. The television was showing an old movie about a boy who had a dog -- a bigger dog than Willy, a collie. Now the dog on the tv was barking. Willy looked up at the sound, then went back to his grooming.
A woman wearing an apron over a long dress was asking the collie what was wrong. The dog's boy was nowhere in sight. The animal ran off a short distance, stopped, turned back to the woman, barked.
"Is it Timmy?" she said. "Find Timmy!" The dog ran off, barking, and she followed it out of the shot. As the scene changed, Brodie had felt a chilling shock pass through him. The hypnotist had had to tell him to freeze the scene in his memory so that she could spend a few minutes calming him and distancing him from the events. Finally, he was ready to go on.
And then, when the moment of revelation came, all that he recalled was a shot of the dog barking at the edge of a hole in the ground -- a hole partly covered by splintered boards. Then came a shot of a little boy, his blond hair seeming to glow against a surrounding darkness, looking up toward a dim light far above, with the sound of the dog barking off-screen, and the woman's voice calling, "Timmy! We're going to get you out of there!"
"Can you remember now what was so frightening about that television show?" the hypnotist asked.
But Brodie couldn't remember. Seeing it now, in his mind's eye, and stretching to recall what emotions his little-boy self had felt, all those years ago, he came up blank. "No," he told the grandmotherly woman, "fact is, I don't even recall being scared. I just felt..." He searched inside himself and after a moment it came to him, "So sad. I was so sad for the little boy. He'd fallen in the hole."
"Why was that so sad?"
"I don't know," Brodie said. "I just knew that it was the absolute worst, the absolutely saddest thing in the world. I couldn't bear to think of it."
Brodie's response to the memory of watching the tv show about the kid who fell in the hole had been so strong that the hypnotist had wanted to let the emotions settle before she ask the crucial question: what did this have to do with the shadows and whispers that still plagued his dreams and, more and more, his waking moments. She let that wait until his next visit.
Before she put him under, the woman said, "We're going to go back to the memory of the boy in the hole. It won't be so difficult now that you've confronted the emotion, and we'll try and see how that memory connects to what's happening to you now."
Brodie wasn't averse to using the telescope to go back to his long-ago self again, sitting on the couch watching tv. In the few days since they had uncovered that memory, he had thought quite often about what had happened. The whole business puzzled him. He accepted that some part of him hadn't wanted to remember feeling so sad, had buried the memory and had had to be gently led back to it.
So it was with more curiosity than apprehension that he relaxed in the comfort of the chair and allowed the hypnotist's soothing voice to take him back to the high place then through the telescope to the boy on the couch. And from that came... nothing.
"Put yourself back in the boy's body," the woman said. "Look around the room. Are there shadows in the corners, perhaps a curtain blowing in a window that you see from the corner of your eye?"
"What do you hear in the background? Is anyone talking in another room, talking softly?"
"Your hearing is getting much stronger. You can hear every sound around you. What do you hear?"
Brodie listened with the boy's ears. He heard a distant radio playing rock and roll, the sound of water running. "Wes Fordham," he said, "the teenager who lives next door. He's washing his car. He loves that car."
"Anything else? Your hearing is even sharper now."
"Where is your father right now?"
"Where is your mother?"
"In the kitchen, reading Reader's Digest. It came in the mail today. She likes to read it. Sometimes she reads me funny bits. They make me laugh."
The hypnotist took him back to the high place. "Was there another time when you were frightened about a hole? Before the time you saw the tv show?"
"I don't remember."
"Look back across your childhood, even to the earliest times you remember. Was there a time when you were frightened by a hole?"
"I don't remember."
"You can use the telescope to examine the farthest-away parts of your childhood. Look closely."
"You need fear nothing. You are perfectly safe."
"I'm not afraid. I just can't see anything."
The hypnotist told him to put down the telescope. She relaxed him further, took him deeper into the trance. Then she said, "You are on the high place again. Before you stretches your childhood."
"Now look down at your feet. You are standing on a flying carpet."
"You sit down cross-legged on the carpet and tell it to fly over your childhood."
"You are perfectly relaxed and safe. You are flying over your childhood, toward the earliest years."
"You fly past the day you saw the tv show about the boy who fell in the hole."
"Now you are flying over the years when you were a toddler."
"Now you are flying over the time when you were an infant."
"Now you are flying over the moment you were born."
"The carpet keeps flying, carrying you further back."
"Back to when you were growing in your mother's womb."
"You are very relaxed, very safe."
"I am safe."
"Now the carpet takes you back before you were in your mother's womb."
"Where are you?"
Brodie was silent.
"What can you see?"
"Your eyesight is very sharp. You can see very clearly."
What do you see?"
"What was that? What do you see?"
"What is the tatuksha?"
Brodie's face collapsed in sadness. His mouth fell open, the corners turned down in a grimace of despair. Tears flowed down his cheeks. "I've fallen into it," he said. "It's dark. I can't get out."
It took her a long time to bring him back. At first, he refused to recognize the existence of the flying carpet. He wept and made odd sounds that might have been words or might have been wordless cries of anguish. She spoke soothingly, telling him he was safe, that the darkness could not hurt him. Finally, she got him to focus.
"You see a white dot in the darkness."
"A white dot."
"It's above you. Look up and see it."
"Yes. I see it."
"It's the way out of the tatuksha."
"Look down at your feet."
"You have feet. Wriggle your toes." He had taken off his shoes for the session,. She saw his toes move in his socks.
"I have feet."
"You are standing on the flying carpet. Look down and see it."
"It's underneath your feet. It brought you here and it will take you back."
"I see it."
"It is a strong carpet."
"A magic, flying carpet."
"Now it lifts you up, toward the white dot."
"The dot grows larger. You focus on it. You see only the white dot."
"I see it."
"It is the way out of the darkness. The way out of the tatuksha."
"Now the carpet is lifting you back into the light. You are free."
"Yes." Brodie began to weep again, but not from despair.
"You see ahead of you your life, all the moments that led up to this moment."
"I see it."
"The carpet is flying you back to this room, this chair, where you are safe and relaxed and nothing can harm you."
"In a few moments, you will wake. You will be calm and rested. You will remember what happened. You will remember the tatuksha, but it will not frighten you. Because you escaped from it. And now you are here and safe."
She played him the tape recording of their session. Brodie listened. He winced when he heard the agony in his voice.
"Does it mean anything to you?" she said. "That word, tatuksha, does it call up any memory?"
He shook his head. "In a way," he said. "It's like something I've heard before and forgotten. Or maybe something I've heard in a dream."
That week, whenever Brodie lay down to sleep, the whispers were in his ears and the shadows flickered at the corners of his vision, even when his eyes were closed. It seemed to him that they were more insistent and when he dreamed, the whispers were louder, clearer. He heard "tatuksha," and it seemed that he heard other words, too; the shadows became faces, strange faces, not human. And yet familiar. But when he awoke he could remember none of it.
"I have to tell you," said the hypnotist, when he came to her again, "I had never done a past-life regression before. To be honest, I'd never quite believed in it. Now I'm not sure what to do."
"I want to try again," Brodie said.
"First, let me tell you this: a friend of my sister's is married to a philologist."
"I don't know what that is."
"He studies the development of languages through time. I asked him what language the word 'tatuksha' might have come from. He checked his references and found nothing."
"What does that mean?"
She leaned across the space between their chair and touched his hand. "It may mean it's just a word your mind made up."
"Not from a past life?"
"Under hypnosis, the mind wants to cooperate. Ask it for something that isn't there, and sometimes it manufactures an answer. It's called confabulation."
"No," said Brodie.
"No. Something happened. I'm hearing other words in dreams now."
"Tell me about them."
"I can't remember them when I wake up. I want to try under hypnosis."
She frowned. "I'm worried that I might be leading you up a false trail."
"Don't be," he said. "I'm not."
She didn't take him back to the tatuksha. She took him into his dreams. The shadows came and the whispers. He tried to make them clearer, struggled to hold the images in his mind's eye, the sounds in his mind's ear.
"Relax," she said, "let yourself float, as if you were on a warm river, drifting slowly."
"You let the images come to you. You make no effort to focus. They just pass before your eyes. The sounds wash over you."
"What do you hear?"
He made other sounds. She wrote them down on a pad.
"What do you see?"
"The sort-of faces. But they won't stay still. They keep changing, flickering, dissolving."
"In your hand is a remote control, like for a dvd player. When you click it the images pause. You can examine them."
"Do you recognize anyone?"
"Some of them are movie stars. Jimmy Carter. The Dalai Lama."
"What do you think of Jimmy Carter?"
"A good man, kind."
"What about the Dalai Lama?"
"How do you feel about the faces in your dream?"
"Good. They're kind people. They want to help me."
She brought him out of the trance. "I don't know if this is helping you," she said.
"I think it is. I feel... better."
The woman looked worried. "For me, this has gone way off the map. I'm thinking I should refer you to another practitioner. Someone who does past-life regression."
"But you don't really believe in that," Brodie said.
"I didn't. Now I'm starting to."
"Tatuksha," the hypnotist said. "Kekkethet. Estittit." She spoke three more words that Brodie had heard in dreams, words that they had recovered together when she had led him to revisit those dreams under hypnosis. "What do they mean to you?"
She put him under again, took him to the high place and the carpet, then flew him back beyond his mother's womb. It was a smooth and easy ride.
"Where are you?" she said.
"I... I can't describe it. A familiar place. But I can't make it hold still. It all flows. In different directions, all at once."
"What are you doing?"
"Looking at something."
"What are you looking at?"
"What is Tatuksha?"
"The place you don't go."
"Why don't you go there?"
"Can't get out."
"Kekkethet," she said. "Estittit." She said the other words.
He nodded as she said them, like a man remembering.
"What do they mean?" she said.
His face brightened. "I have to die."
She didn't want to see him again, recommended another hypnotist. He refused to go away. He found out where she lived and came there.
"I'm frightened," she said. She would only open the door a little and spoke through the crack.
"It's all right," he said. "You have helped me. I need you to help me just a little more."
"Help you how?"
"To get out of the hole."
Her living room was messy but the chair was comfortable. He closed his eyes and her voice came to him through the darkness. He knew she was worried, frightened even, but she strove to keep her tone calm and assured. "You look up and see the white dot."
"Yes." It hung above him, very far, unreachable, but he was confident now, the sadness fading.
"It's the way out of tatuksha."
"Look down at your feet, see the flying carpet."
"I see it."
"It is a good carpet, a strong carpet. You have faith in it."
He felt it, soft beneath his stocking feet. It was worn in places, yet strong. "Yes."
"Now it lifts you up, toward the white dot."
"Yes." It pressed against his soles. He began to ascend.
"The dot grows larger."
It grew to the size of a winter's full moon, then became as gibbous as in autumn. "Yes."
"It is the way out of tatuksha."
"Yes." The light from the glowing circle grew brighter and now it was warm on his head and shoulders. He raised his hand and felt its gentle heat on his upturned palms. It was nearer now, wider than he was.
Her voice dwindled in his hearing. "Almost free now. Then the carpet will fly you back to this room, back to where you are safe."
"No," Brodie said. "Not here. Here is tatuksha."
"Safety," she said. He heard her trying to keep her voice calm, trying to bring him back. "Here is safety."
"No," he said. His eyes opened. He was looking at her, across the small space between their chairs, a space that was now growing immense; at the same time he was looking up into the warm glow. The woman, the chairs, the room, were all trapped now in a dwindling circle of fading light, falling into the surrounding shadows, becoming shadows. He saw her tiny shadow-head jerk back, and he supposed she must have been startled by what she was seeing in his eyes, seeing the reflected glow of his destination. Perhaps she even felt its warmth, radiating from him, spilling into lonely, cold tatuksha.
"What is happening?" He heard the alarm in her voice, though now it came to him as barely more than a whisper.
"It is all right," he said, closing his eyes again. He felt sad for her, left behind in the shadows. But it could not be helped. "I must go now."
"Where? Where are you going?"
"To Estittit," he said. The light bathed him, warm as cream. It flowed over him, through him. The voices that had been whispers in his dreams were clearer now, stronger, full of surprise and joy, familiar. The shadow motions were forming into fluid patterns, flowing in ways he now remembered.
"Where is Estittit?" came the hypnotist's fading whisper from below.
"Home," he breathed.
There was a coroner's inquest. The past-life regression aspect of the story caused a brief sensation in the media and a longer one in the blogosphere. But the verdict of death by natural causes eventually tamped down the tumult.
The tabloids and cable news services spread the hypnotist's name widely. Notoriety was no longer fame's ugly stepsister; now they were twins. Celebrities consulted her. Her practice grew. She learned to live with it.
The entity that had been Brodie became itself again. It was a long process, shedding the gray ash of tatuksha, but there was infinite time to rediscover the subtleties of the eight thousand effulgences, each with its five thousand tints and tones. One by one, or in clusters, it regained its one hundred and eight senses, until it could be invited once more into the great sympathic dance.
The entity roiled and insinuated itself among the multiforms, now cohering to the richness of the center, now arabesquing out to the filigreed edges. It embraced and was embraced by the Host, penetrating even as it was penetrated, swallowing that which swallowed it. It sang the endless song, the grand harmony ever dissolving, ever reforming, only to dissolve and reform again.
It reposed in bliss. But always it kept, in a pocket that was not really a pocket, a small fragment of the poor, tiny thing it had been when it had become Brodie. And sometimes, when it passed by--or through, or around, or overunder--a newly forming node, it would reveal the cold, sad cinder and then it would make the terrified new entity promise never, ever, to go near tatuksha.
This story originally appeared in Is Anybody Out There?.