In this story, a psychiatrist’s unusual patient opens his eyes to a disturbing new view of reality. “The Soul Shredder” first appeared in a collection of short stories entitled The Left Palm and Other Halloween Tales of the Supernatural.
The Soul Shredder
“Is the light bothering you?”
He had dimmed the lights in anticipation of her visit, but she silently shook her head in negation staring out of his office window into the waning light of the November evening. He settled behind his desk, waiting for his last patient of the evening to speak to him. It was a new patient, oddly enough referred by an optometrist — some sort of odd reaction to cornea surgery. Evidently, he wanted to rule out psychological ramifications.
“Quite frankly, Randall, this is a shot in the dark. I’ve no idea what’s going on here. I’ve done all the tests I can, and the eyes themselves seem healthy, unusually resilient after the surgery. So, all this junk she’s seeing, I can’t account for it. It goes way beyond floaters or adjustment or anything I’ve seen or read about before.”
“So you think it’s in her mind.”
There was a silence on the other end of the phone. But Randall waited, if he was anything he was patient. It was a tool of the trade. He heard an exasperated sigh, strange reaction from a physician. Then again, he’d met more than a few who were enamored of their own ability and couldn’t fathom a problem eclipsing their talents. He himself did not suffer from such grand illusions. Time and life had showed him quite a different world. And then, after a protracted silence, his friend had relented, “I don’t know. I can’t call this one. She has a peculiar history. Bad eyesight all her life, until now. Maybe it was too much for her. I don’t know. Just see what you think.”
And so the appointment was made and cancelled twice. That conversation had been nearly a month ago. But this evening, last appointment of the day, she’d finally shown up.
Randall Callahan leaned back in his large, dark brown, leather chair and tried to stretch out his neck a bit. It ached from the tension that he carried there. He glanced at the clock, six o’ five. His receptionist had already left for the evening, pleading personal obligations. She rarely as a matter of course stuck around past five thirty. It had been only for the last three months that he’d begun scheduling later appointments. His divorce was final, his house empty. There was nothing to go home to. So, he might as well allow the night to stretch on. He cleared his throat to gain her attention. She still stood by the window overlooking Poydras Street below. His office was on the twelfth floor of one of the taller office buildings in the area. But she didn’t move an inch in response, just remained standing with her back to him. “Do your eyes still bother you from the surgery Ms. Wilshire?”
“No,” her voice was soft, nearly imperceptible.
“Well is it the light here? Is it too strong for you?” She turned around to face him slowly, her face still masked by the pair of large oval sunglasses that she wore. She was a slight woman, perhaps 5’4″, 5’5″ at most, small build, definitely on the thin side with shoulder-length blonde hair. Her face was hard to determine, given the glasses, seemed attractive he thought, but difficult to tell without seeing the eyes. He’d always thought the eyes the most telling part of a person’s appearance and personality. “Dr. Lariviera said that you complained of some light sensitivity. That is why you continue to wear the sunglasses. I did dim the lights in here in anticipation of your coming.”
“Does he think I’m having a breakdown?” she asked somewhat sedately.
Randall straightened up a bit, struck by the directness of the question. “Did he say that to you?”
“No, he did not. I suspect that would have been a tad bit blunt for him. He’s not a very honest man.”
“Why would you say that Ms. Wilshire, or can I call you Lila?”
She shrugged a bit, “It’s my impression. He tells you what you want to hear and then,” she paused, as if trying to collect her thoughts, “and then makes arrangements behind your back.”
“You mean consulting me.”
She nodded, “I wonder how many patients of optometrists end up in a psychiatrist’s office.”
“Well,” he laughed a bit, “perhaps those who have adjusting to do.”
“He thinks I have adjusting to do?”
“Well, what do you think Lila? Has your life changed since the operation on your corneas?”
“Changed?” she emphasized the word in an odd way. “Well, I suppose that’s one way of putting it.”
He lightly strummed his fingers on his desk. “How would you put it?”
He thought she’d smiled, but couldn’t be sure. The damn glasses, she would be so much easier to read if he could only see her eyes. “Dr. Callahan, is it? Or can I call you Randall?”
He shrugged noncommittally, caught a bit by her repetition of his earlier statement. “If you’re more comfortable doing so.”
Unexpectedly, she drifted closer to his desk. And he felt an impulsive chill transverse his spine. But she stopped, oddly right on the heels of that sensation. “What exactly did Dr. Lariviera say to you Randall?”
“Well, he said you’ve experienced some odd vision anomalies since the procedure. He told me you’d lived a long time with extremely bad sight, but the advances in laser surgeries allowed him to correct most of your problems. But there have been—”‘
And she interrupted, “Adjustment problems?” cutting him off directly.
“Is that the case?”
“If they were ordinary, I don’t imagine I’d be here.”
He shifted in his seat a bit and rubbed his bearded chin for a moment, as in some sort of contemplation. It would buy him time and hopefully put her off a bit. Her directness he found disconcerting. “He did say they were outside his area of expertise. He wanted to eliminate any other possibilities.”
He paused, deciding to refocus things, “Does the light bother your eyes Lila?”
He swallowed, “I’d like to see your eyes. I connect more easily with a patient if—” and then his voice faltered, as he understood how odd his request must sound.
“Would you like to sit down?”
“You don’t understand. I’m tired of covering up, of lying. It’s using me up Randall.” Her statement he found a bit surprising. Her voice was so flat, devoid of emotion. It didn’t match this eloquent plea for help.
“You don’t have to lie here Lila.”
She shook her head in negation, “I only told him a little bit, Dr. Lariviera, just a little bit. And he smiled, told me it was all right, and then I ended up here. If I tell you, where will I end up?”
“I can’t help you Lila, if you don’t tell me what’s going on.”
She stared down for a moment at the floor. And he waited, wondering if this was leading anywhere, feeling inexplicably unsettled by the whole business. But then, she raised her head again to face him. “It’s not the light that bothers my eyes.”
“It’s not?” he asked.
“No, it’s just that the glasses keep me from seeing them.”
He drew a breath, trying to process what she’d said, “Seeing what exactly?”
Her hands both lifted simultaneously. And as she placed her hands on either side of the sunglass frames, he could see that they were trembling, shaking nearly uncontrollably. Slowly, she pulled the sunglasses off her face and pulled them down so that he could finally see her. And in this most peculiar moment that he could only describe as odd, almost shocking, he wasn’t at all sure if he was looking at something exquisite or something bordering on hideous. They were blue, the eyes, but pale blue like a faded sky, or like something that had been shielded from the sun all its life. He stifled a gasp. But then the eyes widened and looked beyond him, suddenly examining every space in the room. “I suppose they come from all the different people who come through here,” she whispered huskily. “They carry them and leave them about.”
He followed her gaze and glanced about, seeing nothing but his office as he had always seen it. “What are you talking about, them?”
She wrapped her arms tightly around her, looking a bit stricken, but still not focusing on him, just somewhere else beyond. “It’s my eyes you see. He corrected everything too much. I see too much now.”
“So Randall, you met with our strange case last night, Lila Wilshire.”
He checked his watch. It wasn’t even nine o’clock yet. He was just walking into the building, cup of coffee that he’d picked up on the way still clutched in his hands. He’d have to speak to Carla, his receptionist, about giving out his personal, cell phone number. “I’m actually just getting to my office George. How about I give you a call later?”
“Look, I’m not looking for anything in-depth, just an impression. Is she off the deep end?”
He paused in the lobby, scooping up a morning paper from the security desk. “It’s a little early for all that.”
The voice at the other end sounded oddly rattled, something he found perplexing. But then again, yesterday’s appointment had definitely left him in a similar frame. “Is that it?”
“I just don’t want to make a premature diagnosis. I’m sure you can understand that.”
“So, you’ll be seeing her again.”
“Yes, today, in about an hour.”
He was nervous. Last night’s appointment with Lila Wilshire had fallen somewhere in that gray area between unnerving and downright bizarre. His formal training as a psychologist should have immediately categorized her as a disturbed personality, fraught with extreme bouts of depression and hallucinogenic episodes. That is if it had been anyone else that would be his prognosis. But somehow, somewhere, she’d struck a deep chord within him that quite clearly told him she was credible. His intercom beeped, with Carla announcing, “Ms. Wilshire is here.”
Uncharacteristically, his heart picked up its beat. He was a bit surprised. Given her reticence in seeing him initially, he had half expected her not to come at all today, even though he’d strongly urged her to do so.
“It’s essential we explore these visions of yours Lila.”
“Why,” she’d asked quite flatly. “Do you think you can make them stop Randall? Do you really think that’s in your power?”
He answered the intercom, “Tell her to come in please.” Quite quickly, the door to his office opened as he stood up from his desk.
Again, she noiselessly entered, wearing the same nearly oversized pair of sunglasses. She was dressed in a fitted suit of light blue, an outfit that would be striking if not for the odd eyewear. He smiled, determined in the bright light of day to get on a proper footing, a place devoid of so many shadows as was the evening before. “How did you sleep?” was his greeting.
She shrugged, “My sleep hasn’t been good since the operation. I consider myself lucky if I get a few hours.”
“Really?” he sat down, as she seated herself in a chair on the other side of his desk. “That’s not good. I could prescribe you something for sleep.”
“I don’t know,” she murmured. “I like to be aware.” But she didn’t elaborate.
He picked up a ballpoint pen from his desk. He realized dimly that it had been a present from his wife — an impulse gift last year, or had it been the year before? “Aware of what Lila?” he asked simply.
She leaned back in the leather chair that faced him and smiled he thought. “You remember Randall. We talked about it last night.”
He absently spun the pen around on his mahogany desk, “You talked about them, things you see.”
“And you didn’t believe me.” He glanced up. She was still, eyes focused on him, or as much as he could tell behind the sunglasses.
“That’s not true.”
“I didn’t disbelieve you.”
She laughed unexpectedly. It was a harsher laugh than he expected — not soft like the exterior but brittle like twisted metal. “Now that’s not the same as believing. I bet your wife had fits with you committing to anything.”
His eyes widened, trying to digest what he’d heard. “What did you say?”
“I said I bet your wife has fits with you committing. You equivocate.”
“That’s not what you said. You said had fits — past tense.”
She tilted her head a bit in surprise, “Did I? Well you aren’t wearing a wedding ring. That would make it past tense, would it not?”
“What makes you think I was married at all?”
Then her head straightened, “Last night, when I looked at you. It was obvious. I could see it.”
“See it?” he echoed.
“When I took off the glasses, I could simply see it. I can’t really tell you what, but I could see.”
“Take them off now, and tell me what you see.”
She shook her head. “It exhausts me. I don’t want to.”
“Are you afraid of seeing them, whatever it was you saw last night?”
“I’m tired Randall, not afraid but tired. Do you see the difference? Whatever is there is simply there.”
“Take them off. I want to know what you see,” he compelled.
She hesitated, “You want to know. I thought all of this was for me.”
He cleared his throat, “I can’t help you, if I don’t know what you’re seeing.”
And then he detected another smile, “You do equivocate Randall.”
Quite calmly, sharply in contrast to the drama of the night before, she reached up and took off the glasses as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Again, he was struck by the unearthly shade of her eyes, but in the morning clarity they seemed more normal, not quite so startling. She stared at him directly, quite calmly, not looking about her frantically as she had before.
“What’s changed Lila? Last night, all of this seemed quite disturbing to you.”
She shrugged, looking at him serenely and yet coldly. “I don’t know. I think I’ve given up.”
He leaned in a bit, struck by her words. “Given up? What does that mean?”
“I’ve decided not to fight what is, not to try to change it, not to try to make the world what I want it to be. I’ve stopped fighting it all.”
“So, then you aren’t seeing them today?”
Her cold eyes warmed, ever so slightly. “I am.”
“Now.” She repeated.
He glanced around. “Can you describe it to me?”
She nodded, rather blankly. “Your room here is infested with different things, some fly, some crawl. Most are smallish, no bigger than the size of my extended hand.”
He smiled, and then a chill flew over him that seemed to support her assertion. “And what do you think these things are?”
Her pale blue eyes widened. “I think they’re parasites.”
“Parasites of what?”
“Of living Randall, that’s all I’ve been able to put together. They come. They live off of us.”
“All of us?”
She frowned, with a look of fatigue marking her features. “I don’t know exactly. I’ve noticed people with problems, who are weak in some way seem to have more. I suppose they’re more vulnerable.”
He shook his head, “Problems? What do you mean sick?”
“Not always, emotional problems, I think it has something to do with energy fields. But then sometimes they just come in great hordes and attack no matter what.”
He was listening but glanced down at the hand that was gripping his pen more tightly hand than he realized. It was disturbing to him, this conversation, more than he cared to admit. “When you say attack Lila, what does that mean?”
She glanced away, toward the window that she’d spent so much time staring out last night. “I’m not really sure Randall. Just that they feed somehow from us, take something, because they get stronger.” He sat back, thinking for a moment, not at all sure where to take this. “You’re trying to decide whether to believe me. You know it doesn’t matter if you do or not.”
“Where do you think these things come from Lila?” was his next question, not willing yet to deal with what she’d just said.
“I don’t think they come from anywhere really. I think they’re just here, and now I can see them,” and then she swallowed hesitantly, “them and—”
He followed the direction of her eyes that seemed to be on the wall directly behind him. He looked, but again there was only an emptiness. Then, he turned back to her, “And what?”
“I’m not sure,” she whispered. “But I was worried about it. I came in your reception area last week and saw it. That’s why I cancelled. But then I was worried—” she was almost stammering, nearly unable to put into words what she was trying to express.
“Worried about?” he asked, feeling an odd panic surfacing in his stomach.
And then the eyes, unearthly pure blue eyes looked at him, and seemed to pierce him on some level. “There’s a real problem Randall, a real problem here. It’s following you I think, shadowing you — a thing, a dark thing hunting something.”
Her words struck him as fantasy suddenly, nonsensical. “What are you talking about Lila?”
“I’m not sure. I’m not sure, but I think it’s a soul shredder.”
There momentarily was a stillness that seemed to engulf them. “What did you say?” he asked, quite assured that he couldn’t have heard correctly.
And then her voice came to him in a whisper and yet felt like an odd discordant shout inside his head. “I said it’s a soul shredder.”
His eyes widened as her initial response was reaffirmed. As the cold hand of detached reason finally reached inside him and shook him soundly, he concluded the only reasonable assumption that was now available from his vast pool of professional experience. The woman was clearly, completely out of her mind.
The wind chapped her face as she walked away from the tall skyscraper that housed the office of Dr. Randall Callahan. It was a bright November day, so she was not at all out of place wearing her overly large sunglasses. But eventually, night would come and then so would the odd stares, but that was something she could bear more easily than the alternative. She took one last glance back at the building that she had exited merely moments before.
A sinking feeling of disappointment tangled around her insides. She’d misread him completely, the doctor. Initially, he’d seemed to have a greater capacity of awareness than nearly anyone she’d come into contact with in a very long time. It was less that she knew this, than she felt it — felt it as strongly as she had felt the shroud of disenchantment that he wore like a kingly cloak. She’d always been able to read people, long before she could see through them, as she did now.
She headed into the parking garage where she’d parked her car. Her head throbbed from that morning’s session. She imagined that fear had gotten a hold of him. That was why he’d stopped listening to her, started greeting her with the psychological doubletalk of a well-seasoned professional, the demeanor of one who had already dismissed their patient. It was remarkably disheartening to her. In an odd way, in a very short time, she’d come to like the doctor. He wasn’t at all what one would call conventionally handsome, but instead someone who was well-worn, already a face showing signs of age, wrinkles around his dark brown eyes, but a warmth there, of course a shrewdness as well. The profession, she imagined, left one jaded.
And it was all a shame, because she hadn’t intended to see him at all, not until she’d seen it near him.
She reached the darkened second level and walked to her small beige sedan. Her hand hesitated near the handle. Guilt swept through her. She shouldn’t have done that, left him alone with it. It didn’t make sense, no sense at all — why him? Why him?
His 10:30 had cancelled. So, he had the option of waiting until after lunch for his next appointment or going out. But he couldn’t seem to drag himself out of his chair. It bothered him immensely, more than he could say —— her story, her long winding story, and then his reaction to it.
“So, this — what did you call it?”
She smiled, in that odd, removed way of hers, “Soul shredder.”
“Why do you call it that?”
Then a shadow had passed over her translucent blue eyes. “It’s very complicated.”
“How so? Isn’t this something you’ve only seen since the procedure with Dr. Lariviera?”
There was a definitive, prolonged hesitation, and he had concluded in this self-created fantasy that she was weaving, it took time to extrapolate out the details. So, he was placating and gave her the space that she needed to weave. “Actually, I remember it from before, maybe not this one but one like it.”
“Before?” he questioned.
“Yes,” she nodded. “You see, my eyes weren’t always bad. When I was little, they were quite clear.”
“Little, how little?”
“I don’t know, seven, maybe eight. Sometime after that I got sick, very sick with a high fever. That was when my eyes were damaged.”
He nodded, beginning loosely to get a picture of where this was leading. “So, this thing, soul shredder, you believe you saw it before, back then.”
Steadily, her gaze took his, and he felt keenly as though she was seeing right past him, past all those hidden places that even esteemed doctors of psychiatry kept locked away. “I did see it Randall. The others, all the other things I didn’t, but this one I remember clearly.”
He swallowed on a bone dry throat. It was beginning to annoy him how much all of this affected him. “Under what circumstances?”
The pale blue eyes were steady on him, but she was considering he thought — considering whether to continue at all. Perhaps, he had reached the secret core finally of all of this nonsense. And he would find something he could make sense of. “I would see one, like this one, but not completely the same, around my Uncle.”
She nodded, “Yes, he stayed with us one summer. We lived in the country. I remember clearly that summer. And it would be around him, at first once and awhile then more, then always.”
He waited for her to elaborate, but she didn’t. She just sat in stillness before him, waiting for more questions, more prodding from him. Returning from that distant place of memory, she focused completely on him. “Are you all right Dr. Callahan?”
He had to smile. It wasn’t Randall as before. Now it was Dr. Callahan. And he wondered quite distortedly why he deserved that title. He pulled himself tightly back into his role. “Why? Lila, why do you think it—” And then his voice faded off, not at all sure what he wanted to know. “Why was it around him?”
Her voice was soft but deliberate. “I can’t be sure. I think I know, to feed. It fed off him. I would see it sometimes, doing that.”
“See it how?”
Her face seemed strained at the question, as though it were painful to recollect. And then he mentally corrected himself. It wasn’t a recollection. After all, he had decided she was weaving. “I saw it, a lot before he left,” her voice was nearly trembling as she spoke. “With its hand, it would reach right into his chest and pull something out and eat it. I know how bizarre it sounds, but it would.”
“What did it pull out? Was it blood, tissue? What did you see Lila?” he asked, with an uncanny need to know.
“It pulled out light. It pulled the light out of him and then ate it.” His head pounded at the vision that she had evoked in his mind. “I don’t know how I knew, but I did even then. I knew it was his soul. It was slowly eating his soul.”
He nodded, feeling an odd nausea boiling up inside him, “Soul shredder.”
She shrugged, “Just a designation, but it stuck with me all these years.”
“Was there anyone else?”
Her face seemed to blanche a bit. “What?”
“Was there anyone else that this thing attacked other than your Uncle?”
“No, I—I never saw it. But there were other people around.”
“Well, what made him unique?” Question marked her face. “Why him Lila and no one else?” She glanced away, not answering, and he was sure that she knew. And just as sure that she must tell him before she left his office. “It’s important, especially if you’re seeing one around here.”
“But you don’t believe me.” Her voice was distant.
“You must have some idea why.”
She sighed wearily, a sound that seemed to come from deep inside, “Yes, I suppose. I think it hunts certain kinds of people.”
He nodded encouragingly, “What kind?” His voice sounded a bit hard to him given the circumstances, but there was the gnawing need inside him now to understand, to understand everything.
“People, I think, who’ve made themselves vulnerable.”
“Yes,” her eyes had wandered to that window again, where she had spent so much time the night before. He could see now that it was a kind of refuge for her.
“How did your Uncle make himself vulnerable Lila?”
“I think he damaged himself, his soul maybe. He did things that, well, must have marked him some way.”
He breathed in deeply, as the picture began to solidify in his mind. Her voice, so vulnerable now, so young. He’d heard that tone before, so familiar, in victims, very young ones. And then he asked the question that made the picture complete. “Did your Uncle, did he do things to you Lila?”
Her eyes turned on him, the blue translucent eyes, on him now, hard and biting. “Did he molest me, are you asking that?”
“Yes,” he asked coolly, “is that how he marked himself for this thing to feed on?”
Their eyes clashed in the moment. And he knew, he had his answer, and now a very easy solution to this self-concocted delusion that she had presented him with. “Yes, I think so Randall. But that doesn’t make it any less the truth, the fact that he hurt me. It doesn’t make it any the less true that one of those things is standing behind you right at this moment.”
He waited, feeling a distinctive chill pass over him. But he brushed it aside deliberately. “It is helpful for a child’s mind to concoct ways to lessen their pain, even creatures that might take on the role of the avenger, punisher, for them.”
She smiled grimly, “You really believe I’ve made this up.”
“No,” he said quite coldly. “I believe your Uncle molested you. The rest I’m quite sure is a fantasy.”
She stood up, a marked expression of disappointment now marring her exquisite face. “What about the one I see near you? Aren’t you at all concerned that I might be right?”
“Have you seen it reach into my chest and pull out pieces of my soul?” he asked flatly.
She stared at him for a moment, then beyond him, finally shaking her head. “No, no I haven’t.”
He stood up, feeling quite justified in the growing disdain that he felt for the woman before him. “Well fantasy or not, Lila, I can assure you I’ve never molested anyone nor plan to.”
She looked at him a little sadly, a little beaten as though some battle somewhere had been lost. “There are other ways to mark yourself Randall. Please be careful. It wouldn’t be here for no reason at all.” And then picking up her purse from where she left it on the floor, she turned toward the door. Not looking back, but instead putting on her sunglasses, she opened the door and left.
The encounter had been incredibly draining for him. He considered having Carla call Lila Wilshire to schedule another appointment but then thought the better of it.
As he sat in his chair behind his mahogany desk, Randall Callahan considered things carefully. Considered his life, his anger, and mostly carefully rethought his plans to murder his ex-wife. Regardless of what he would do, he believed Lila Wilshire and knew that the soul shredder was only waiting for his next move.
Copyright © 2019 by Evelyn Klebert
Just when all seems well and quiet, when all becomes comfortable and predictable then reality bends. Evelyn Klebert takes you to a place where ordinary life fractures into the sphere of the paranormal. The journey begins with one woman’s unstoppable quest for vengeance against a supernatural creature in “Wolves,” and continues in an old historical graveyard where a horrifying discovery is uncovered in “Emma Fallon.” In “The Soul Shredder” a psychiatrist’s unusual patient opens his eyes to a disturbing new view of reality, while in “Wildflowers” a woman strikes up a supernatural friendship with impossible implications. And in “The Left Palm” a fortuneteller in the French Quarter receives a most unexpected and terrifying customer.