My name is Stephen Leeds, and I am perfectly sane. My hallucinations, however, are all quite mad.
The gunshots coming from J.C.’s room popped like firecrackers. Grumbling to myself, I grabbed the earmuffs hanging outside his door—I’d learned to keep them there—and pushed my way in. J.C. wore his own earmuffs, his handgun raised in two hands, sighting at a picture of Osama bin Laden on the wall.
Beethoven was playing. Very loudly.
“I was trying to have a conversation!” I yelled.
J.C. didn’t hear me. He emptied a clip into bin Laden’s face, punching an assortment of holes through the wall in the process. I didn’t dare get close. He might accidentally shoot me if I surprised him.
I didn’t know what would happen if one of my hallucinations shot me. How would my mind interpret that? Undoubtedly, there were a dozen psychologists who’d want to write a paper on it. I wasn’t inclined to give them the opportunity.
“J.C.!” I shouted as he stopped to reload.
He glanced toward me, then grinned, taking off his earmuffs. Any grin from J.C. looks half like a scowl, but I’d long ago learned to stop being intimidated by him.
“Eh, Skinny,” he said, holding up the handgun. “Care to fire off a mag or two? You could use the practice.”
I took the gun from him. “We had a shooting range installed in the mansion for a purpose, J.C. Use it.”
“Terrorists don’t usually find me in a shooting range. Well, it did happen that once. Pure coincidence.”
I sighed, taking the remote from the end table, then turning down the music. J.C. reached out, pointing the tip of the gun up in the air, then moving my finger off the trigger. “Safety first, kid.”
“It’s an imaginary gun anyway,” I said, handing it back to him.
J.C. doesn’t believe that he’s a hallucination, which is unusual. Most of them accept it, to one extent or another. Not J.C. Big without being bulky, square-faced but not distinctive, he had the eyes of a killer. Or so he claimed. Perhaps he kept them in his pocket.
He slapped a new clip into the gun, then eyed the picture of bin Laden.
“Don’t,” I warned.
“He’s dead anyway. They got him ages ago.”
“That’s a story we told the public, Skinny.” J.C. holstered the gun. “I’d explain, but you don’t have clearance.”
“Stephen?” a voice came from the doorway.
I turned. Tobias is another hallucination—or “aspect,” as I sometimes call them. Lanky and ebony-skinned, he had dark freckles on his age-wrinkled cheeks. He kept his greying hair very short, and wore a loose, informal business suit with no necktie.
“I was merely wondering,” Tobias said, “how long you intend to keep that poor man waiting.”
“Until he leaves,” I said, joining Tobias in the hallway. The two of us began walking away from J.C.’s room.
“He was very polite, Stephen,” Tobias said.
Behind us, J.C. started shooting again. I groaned.
“I’ll go speak to J.C.,” Tobias said in a soothing voice. “He’s just trying to keep up his skills. He wants to be of use to you.”
“Fine, whatever.” I left Tobias and rounded a corner in the lush mansion. I had forty-seven rooms. They were nearly all filled. At the end of the hallway, I entered a small room decorated with a Persian rug and wood panels. I threw myself down on the black leather couch in the center.
Ivy sat in her chair beside the couch. “You intend to continue through that?” she asked over the sound of the gunshots.
“Tobias is going to speak to him.”
“I see,” Ivy said, making a notation on her notepad. She wore a dark business suit, with slacks and a jacket. Her blonde hair was up in a bun. She was in her early forties, and was one of the aspects I’d had the longest.
“How does it make you feel,” she said, “that your projections are beginning to disobey you?”
“Most do obey me,” I said defensively. “J.C. has never paid attention to what I tell him. That hasn’t changed.”
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