My weakness was always power.
I don’t mean that in an inspirational way you might find in fairy tales or The Children’s Book of Virtues. I mean it literally: I will do anything for power.
And I did.
I suppose my attraction to power stems from my miserable start in life. There’s no point describing it, so let’s just say life started bleak and got bleaker as I grew older. I got bleaker, too. Colder, hungrier, meaner. My only solace was my uniqueness. I knew I was different than everyone else. I thought differently, behaved differently, felt differently. I was just different.
Therefore, I was special.
My grandparents, who’d taken custody of me following my mother’s and father’s respective death and incarceration, disagreed. They thought I was sick in the head, so they took me to the doctor. When all the pills and syrups proved ineffectual, they took me to the only psychiatrist in Serenity Falls.
Because of my grandparents’ wildly insane work schedules, the appointments were always at night, usually after the clinic had officially closed. I always came in the back, through a small door that led directly to his office.
I saw him for three years and honestly expected to see him for many more. But I was wrong.
One day, I walked into the office. Instead of the gloriously fat, reassuringly unshakeable Dr. Horner, I found myself staring at a man with a curiously blank and utterly hairless face.
“Good to meet you,” he said. The voice confused the hell out of me; it danced along the register between alto and tenor, and could easily have been male or female. “I’m Dr. Yihowah. I’ll be handling your therapy from now on.”
“Dr. Horner,” he said delicately, “is deceased.” He pursed his lips. “Suicide.”
I was too stunned to speak.
“I met you here today to make the transition as smooth as possible, but I practice out of my home. We’ll have our appointments there from now on.”
He handed me a simple white card that read:
Doctor Yihowah, MD
26 Adonneye Road
“Okay,” I said.
Dr. Yihowah’s little house was on a tree-choked hill several miles outside town. I don’t even think the road was officially named; rather than a street sign, he had a handpainted piece of plywood announcing Adonneye Road.
My grandfather bitched up a storm about the drive. “Fifteen miles! Fifteen miles outside town! What did you do to Dr. Horner?” he snarled. “Chased him off, you little psycho?”
I didn’t answer. There was rarely any point in answering my grandfather.
Though small, Dr. Yihowah’s house was curiously grand: an old-world European estate compressed into a half-dilapidated Midwest cottage. I loved it immediately.
Our first appointment began with pleasantries. Then Dr. Yihowah made me tea – rooibos, which I still love to this day – and we got down to business.
“Tell me about yourself,” he said.
“Uh…I was born in town.” My eyes wandered. There was so much to see, so many colors to drink in. Colors of the deep, cold sea: indigo and silvery blue, glassy green and black and darkest grey. “At the clinic. The old one.”
“The one by the river?”
His gaze traveled over his desk. An array of glass bottles took pride of place. They matched the colors of the room: blue, black, grey, green. He took one and turned it slowly. Liquid sloshed within. “That building is part of the treatment plant complex now.”
He watched me keenly for a terribly long minute. For the first time in my life, I felt anxious.
Then he set the bottle down and folded one leg across the opposite thigh. “Tell me. Do you like causing pain?”
I frowned. “Do I like…hurting people?”
“Dr. Horner’s notes indicated –”
“No,” I said. “But yes.”
Another long pause, stretching through the air like taffy.
“I like being in charge,” I clarified. “Scaring people and hurting them makes them think you’re in charge. I figured that out when I was really little.” My enthusiasm dimmed. “My dad says thinking that way makes you crazy. I guess that’s why I’m here.”
Dr. Yihowah ran a hand through his thick yellow hair. It was heavy and smooth, clipped in a pleasantly dated style that fell somewhere on the spectrum between Farrah Fawcett and Sonny Crockett. “Shall I tell you something?” His blank, sexless face practically glowed with excitement. “Crazy is a label weak people use to describe people who have power. People like me…”
“…And people like you. You aren’t crazy. You’re just powerful.”
Excitement flared and coursed through me, lighting my veins with pleasant fire. I knew it. “My granddad says –”
“You granddad,” he snorted, “is weak. The weak resent the powerful. Do you know why I took on your case?” He crossed his other leg and leaned forward. His eyes practically blazed. Like someone in love. Or someone whose dream is coming true before his eyes.
“I want to make you strong. As strong as me. Or even stronger, if you’re worthy. ” Those wild, blazing eyes paralyzed me. A small smile spread over his face. “Are you?”
“I am,” I answered.
He picked up the bottle again. “This,” he said, “is medicine. I created it right here in Serenity Falls. It will help you reach your full potential.” He slid the bottle across the desk.
I looked at it dubiously. I am a broken person, but not a stupid one. Not now, not then. I knew that all of this was wrong.
But did I care?
“How do I take it?” I asked.
“Here in my office. Twenty-six doses. One per month, for two years and two months.”
“What does it do, exactly?”
The doctor smiled. “It makes you powerful. Take it.”
I uncapped the bottle and drank. It was just water. Clear, clean, terribly cold water.
Part of me was furious, but part of me was intrigued. “You’re not a shrink, are you?”
“I’m a specialist,” he responded, “for special people. Are you special?”
I didn’t answer.
After a long moment, he smiled. “Good. I have an assignment for you. Think of it as homework.”
“Envision yourself as a powerful being. Every night before bed.”
He watched me shrewdly. “That’ll do. We’re done for tonight. We’ll have our next session in a week’s time.”
I’ll be honest; I soon grew to love Dr. Yihowah. For his stability, his understanding, his acceptance…and of course, for the praise he lavished upon me.
Our sessions always followed a script. Pleasantries, rooibos, and long conversations about power, potential, and weakness. Every fourth appointment, I drank a bottle of the doctor’s medicine-water, after which he would give me a homework assignment. These ranged from meditation to other, darker activities. Things like exerting power via emotional means, such as manipulation.
And of course, through physical means, as well.
It wasn’t difficult; everyone, including my parents, were already terrified of me. I’ll spare you the details – I’d rather not share the secret of my success – but with the doctor’s guidance and medicine, I whipped my grandfather into shape within days. Others followed. Teachers, children, neighbors. And I almost killed a man. A sniveling, weak piece of shit named Calvin Tims. I had so much power over him, he refused to press charges.
It was phenomenal. Unreal. Intoxicating. Here I was, a scrawny little shit from the wrong side of town, controlling every interaction in my daily life, with almost no effort.
I was powerful, thanks to a blank-faced doctor and his magic water.
After the ninth dose, Dr. Yihowah asked, “What is the most powerful thing you can think of?”
“Being in charge of everything.”
“You misunderstand. When you think of power, what comes to your mind’s eye? That is to say, what is the most powerful being?”
“Powerful,” he repeated. “Omnipotent. Almighty.”
That jogged my memory. Grandma loved going to church, and she sure loved praying to Father God Almighty to save her crazy grandson. “God. I guess.”
“Yes!” Dr. Yihowah’s eyes blazed again. “God is power. God is life. Life is also water!” He slammed the empty bottle on the desk. “Water is life. Life is God. God is power. I engineered God and put Him in water. In these little bottles right now, just for you.” He smiled. “One day, that will change.”
“So…you’re going to turn everyone into…” Into me, I thought but didn’t say.
“No. No. Not everyone is powerful. My medicine only works for the powerful.” A small, satisfied smile spread over his face. “On the deserving.”
I considered this for a long while. He picked me because of my innate power. His medicine and therapy would make me more powerful. Enhance me. Perfect me. But I wasn’t the only one. I wasn’t actually special. There were others like me. Many others.
I didn’t like it, not at all. But I had no choice. It was better to one of the few than one of the weak.
So once again, I said, “Okay.”
Perhaps the doctor sensed my deception. Perhaps he simply changed his mind. Whatever the reason, when I returned for next week’s appointment, he was gone.
The house was emptied of everything but the remaining bottles, arranged in a box with a note that read:
Remember to take your medicine. Remember to be powerful.
As I stared at the bottles, the last of my excitement, of my warmth, died. My bleak life grew bleaker and darker from there, reaching depths of emptiness I could hardly comprehend.
In my mind’s eye, I saw my soul as Wisconsin’s winter landscape: cold, hard, and bitter, with the occasional gleam of cold winter sun on brilliant ice.
One of those gleams was Eleanor.
I met her six months after my last dose of medicine water. I was eighteen. Our relationship was doomed from the start. I was too cold by then. Too broken, and too vacant. I was like a shark. Endlessly moving, endlessly searching, for something that might provide happiness. But I’m just like my parents. I don’t feel happiness. I only take it.
I took Eleanor’s.
I broke her into pieces, relishing the way the light in her eyes dimmed a little more every day.
Enjoying the new, delicate lines slowly etching their way into her young face.
Waiting with bated breath for her joy, her softness, to melt away, revealing the cold, broken, genuine thing beneath.
That’s something no one wants to understand. Happiness is an illusion at best, a delusion at worst. Happiness isn’t real. But power is. Forcing someone to acknowledge this truth is power in and of itself. I held power over Eleanor. But it was trivial power. Useless. Worthless.
So I left her.
Worthless though it was, I didn’t like relinquishing my power. So I stretched it out as long as I could by impregnating her first.
I pretended to be overjoyed. I pretended to change. I joined the military, because the military is the best prospect I had. “It’s for us,” I lied. “For our baby.”
I waited for the light in her eyes to fully rekindle before snuffing it out for good.
“I hate you,” I said. “And I hate it.” I pointed at her stomach. She recoiled, eyes so wide she looked grotesque. “I’m doing this to get away from you. If you come after me…” I forced a carefully modulated chuckle. “Remember Calvin Tims?”
She stared at me like a tortured deer caught in headlights.
“That was nothing compared to what I’ll do to you.”
I fully believed Eleanor died that day. Sometimes it made me proud. Sometimes it made me feel uncertain. But mostly, I didn’t think about it. The power I created and exerted over her was complete, but ultimately useless.
And compared to the power I created and enjoyed in the military, utterly forgettable.
Just as I spared the details of Dr. Yihowah’s assignments, I will spare the details of my tenure in the military. Suffice to say I found it incredibly easy to create and exert power, especially on deployments. The military is full of people who are intentionally broken down and rebuilt to follow a leader. They love leaders. They just need the right one.
I molded myself into the right one. I even managed to operate under the radar, which made my power all the sweeter.
It was ethereal. Beyond all imagining. I would have given anything for Dr. Yihowah to know how far I’d come, to see the pride in his face. Sometimes I could almost feel his medicine coursing through me: cold, clean, clear.
I could have gone on forever. And I probably would have, if it weren’t for a weak link. The weakest people resent the strong.
And a very weak piece of shit brought my empire down.
Through manipulation and influence – that is, through the power and influence I so meticulously cultivated my entire career – I narrowly escaped a court martial. I received a dishonorable discharge, and drifted home.
I quickly discovered that my power in Serenity Falls had evaporated. No one remembered me. I passed Eleanor in the street a dozen times, and she didn’t even recognize me.
To my chagrin, she looked happy. Tired, but fulfilled. Her smile was cautious but bright, her step light.
I hadn’t snuffed her out after all.
This confounded me. I followed her around town for days. I soon realized that a child – our child – had undone all my work.
Clearly, this made me weak. Dr. Yihowah would be terribly disappointed if he knew.
This realization crushed me. I withdrew, losing myself in the frozen winter landscape within my heart. It was safe in there. Empty. Controllable. Smooth, unbroken, unfeeling ice.
Then, not very long ago, I got an email. The sender was a boy. A local student with my last name.
A boy, it turned out, who was looking for his father.
Is your mother Eleanor? I wrote back, even though I knew the answer.
Yes, he responded.
And there it was: an avenue, a plan, to rectify my mistake.
We exchanged emails for awhile. I pretended I’d had no idea he existed. It was simpler than the truth. Soon enough, we made plans to meet. I emailed him my phone number.
Shortly after, my telephone rang.
“Hello?” I asked, expecting my son.
Instead, I heard a high, steady voice that danced along the register between alto and tenor. Dr. Yihowah. “I heard you’d come home.”
The ice in my heart broke apart, revealing a volcano beneath. Confusion, joy, and love erupted, rendering me speechless. “How…?”
Dr. Yihowah chuckled. “It wasn’t difficult. I’ve been following your accomplishments. And I’m proud. Very, very proud of you.”
My heart swelled with excitement and happiness. I’d done it. I’d made him proud.
“Will you visit me?” he asked.
We met by the river, near the water treatment plant.
I drove up and saw him standing on the shore, limned in cruel moonlight. He’d barely changed. Same hair, wiglike in its dated perfection. Same smooth, androgynous face.
He smiled. Tears glittered in his eyes. “You seem so powerful. Almost perfect.”
That single word punctured my excitement. “Almost?”
“Almost,” he repeated. “Here.” He reached into his coat and extracted two identical glass bottles. They caught the moonlight and shone like silver. For a surreal moment, I was a teenager again, bemused and dreadfully curious about my new psychiatrist. “You need one more dose.”
“Then why are there two?”
He pressed one into my hand. “Drink.”
It was so cold it stung my mouth and made my teeth hurt. It was glorious.
When I finished, he said, “I have an assignment for you. A last bit of homework.”
I watched him silently. Moonlight shafted through wind-driven clouds, dappling him with silver light and darkness.
“I need one last thing from you. Or rather, you need one last thing from you. A final act to establish your power. Once you’ve done it…” He gave the second bottle a brisk shake. “You’ll get your final dose.”
He explained that powerful gods, truly great gods, must spill blood. The taking of life is a great power. Transcending human bonds is another, perhaps greater, power.
“Prove to me that you’re strong. Prove to me that you’re worthy,” the doctor said. “Take the life of your son.”
Smugness and pride seethed; I’d come up with this plan on my own. Killing my son would serve a dual purpose. It would show Eleanor that I was still in control.
And it would propel me to the perfected state Dr. Yihowah had always wanted for me.
The doctor mistook my proud silence for doubt. “If he’s strong, he’ll survive,” he promised. “If he’s not strong, he won’t. And would that really be a tragedy? The world doesn’t need more weakness.”
“Of course,” I said.
I’m not heartless. I spent several hours choosing the way my son would die. I settled on drowning. The river would be painfully, paralyzingly cold this time of year, perhaps cold enough to stun him. And while drowning itself isn’t pleasant, the body releases one last burst of chemicals that put you in a state of bliss. That seemed appropriate. I could give my son joy.
With that in mind, I scheduled our reunion at the Falls. It was easy to convince him; I lied and said it was where I’d taken his mother on our first date.
He wanted to bring his mother. The ice in my heart cracked again, once more revealing that volcano. Eleanor. The first woman to feel the full force of my power.
Except she hadn’t. She’d escaped with our child, so she escaped with her heart. All my work, undone.
“Of course,” I said.
My son said they might be a few minutes late because of Eleanor’s work schedule, so I offered to pick him up. “She can follow when her shift is over,” I said.
The night I finally met my son was frozen and beautiful. He looked like me, but smaller, with his mother’s hair and nose.
We drove to the trailhead near the falls. He was too shy to look at me for long, but the few times I caught his eye, I saw hope. Bright, profound hope.
We got out of the car and hiked to the falls. They gleamed under the moon, a vast, jagged palace of ice and diamond.
We stared at the frozen falls for several long minutes. Soon, my son began to shiver. I put my arm around him and drew him close. His chest hitched. I pretended not to notice. But disappointment bloomed in my gut. Crying already? I thought. How weak of him.
Once he’d gotten himself under control, I asked, “When is your mom going to be here?”
“Not for at least an hour.”
My mood soured even further. “Do you want to wait in the car where it’s warm?”
Trembling, he blurted: “Why did you really leave?”
Irritation swept over me. I withdrew and looked out over the falls, carefully choosing my next words. But why? I was wasting time. I was being weak. “I lied earlier,” I said. “I did know you existed before today.”
“Then why did you—”
“I wasn’t ready. I loved your mother,” I lied, “but I didn’t want to have a family yet. I’m sorry.”
My son shrugged. When he spoke, his voice was thick. “Were you really in the army?”
“And a diplomat? And a doctor?”
I laughed. A diplomat? A doctor? Oh, Eleanor.
“But you really did love my mom?” he persisted.
“I still do. More than anything,” I lied. “That’s why I’m here. But I’m still not ready to have a kid. I don’t think I’ll ever be.”
The brokenness in his face made me feel an entirely unique kind of power.
I put my arm around him and pulled him close. Then I stepped toward the railing. “It’s only going to be cold for a minute. After that you won’t even feel it. It’ll just be like drifting off to sleep.”
He began to struggle. “I want to go back to the car.”
“Everybody wants something,” I said, “but not everybody is willing to do what it takes to get it.”
I threw him over the railing and into the frozen river. He hit the ice with a shudder-inducing crack. The ice broke under his weight and the water pulled him under.
He struggled and fought for several minutes. I willed him to give in, to experience that last burst of ecstasy and die.
After a while, he fell still. I waited another moment, just to be sure.
Then I turned and left.
When I got into my car, I felt curiously light. Empty. Not at all godlike. Not at all powerful. In fact, with each passing minute, I grew anxious. Then afraid.
Then – for the first time in my life – I panicked.
I sped out to the doctor’s house. The plywood sign had long since disappeared, but I found it anyway. It was dark, with broken windows and dry-rotted siding, but I went inside anyway.
Dr. Yihowah was waiting for me.
The relief I felt was exquisite. I envisioned the doctor’s final dose, no doubt nestled in his coat. He would give it to me, and I would be complete.
I would be fully powerful.
“Is it done?” he asked.
“Do you feel powerful?” His face was blank, colorless porcelain in the shadows. A disembodied mask.
Fear engulfed me. My skin began to crawl even as relief coursed through me. He understood what I was feeling. “N-No.”
He smiled. The smile is something I will never forget: small and prim and terribly white. “Then…I’m afraid you aren’t worthy, or powerful. I was wrong. You are weak.”
And with that – with his disapproval, with his disappointment, with the rejection by the only parent I’d ever had – a lifetime of panic and terror descended upon me. It was a living nightmare. Hours and hours of unimaginable horror.
When I finally came to my senses, it was morning. Frost covered my shoes and clothing.
And Dr. Yihowah was gone.
I left town quickly, but not before learning my son was alive. I hadn’t killed him after all. I wasn’t special. I was a failure. All that work, all those years of Dr. Yihowah’s medicine and therapy…and I still failed.
I’d do anything for power. And I did. But it wasn’t enough.
I suppose nothing is enough when you’re as weak as I am.
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