Kozak stares at his subject. “Look at me,” he says. “Look into my eyes.”
His subject looks into his eyes.
“Your eyes are heavy, yes?”
“My eyes are heavy.” The subject is old. Her voice is weak.
“You want to sleep, don’t you. Your eyes are heavy and they want to close. But you must stay awake. You can stay awake, yes?”
“I can stay awake.” The subject’s head nods slightly. She breaks eye contact.
“Look at me,” Kozak says. “Look into my eyes.”
The subject looks into his eyes.
“You must stay awake. Your eyes are heavy but you will stay awake. You will stay awake, yes?”
“I will stay awake.”
“You are in pain, yes?”
“I am in pain.”
“And I am here to take your pain away, yes?”
“You are here to take my pain away.” The subject’s voice is barely a whisper, but her eyes are firmly on Kozak’s.
Kozak nods. Good. His subject is fully under now, in his control. Without breaking eye contact, he reaches into his shirt pocket and extracts a cigarette and lighter. He lights the cigarette and inhales deeply. The nicotine relaxes him slightly, but does little to alleviate the feeling of dread that sits in his belly like a stone. He is coming to the most difficult part of the therapy.
Kozak blows out a cloud of smoke, which hangs heavily in the air. He speaks softly but firmly to his subject.
“You’re on fire, aren’t you. The pain is burning you alive. You see the smoke, yes?”
The subject winces as she looks at the cloud of blue smoke in the air. “I see the smoke.”
“Good. Where there is smoke, there is fire. Your pain is the fire, yes?”
“My pain is the fire.” The subject whimpers and her eyes cloud over.
“Look at me,” Kozak says. “Look into my eyes.”
The subject looks into his eyes.
“Before you can extinguish the fire, you must first eliminate the smoke. Reach out with your hand. Reach out, yes, like that. You can feel the smoke, yes?”
“I can feel the smoke.”
Kozak snuffs out the cigarette. “Now brush away the smoke. Dissipate the smoke. Wave it away. Yes, like that. Just like that.”
The subject waves at the remaining cigarette smoke and the air clears.
“The smoke is gone now, yes?”
“The smoke is gone now.”
“But you still hurt, don’t you. You still feel the pain, yes?”
A tear rolls down the face of his subject. “I still feel the pain.”
“And now you can see the pain as well. The smoke is no longer obscuring the fire. Look at your body. It’s on fire. You can see the fire, yes?”
The subject’s eyes widen as she looks down at her body. “I can see the fire.”
“Good. Very good. Now that you can see the fire, you can extinguish the flames. You want to put out the fire, yes?”
“I want to put out the fire.”
“Then you must take hold of the fire. Pick up the flames. You can do this, yes?”
“I can do this.”
“Grab a handful of fire. Take the flames into your hand.”
The subject looks down at her body. With a wrinkled, age-spotted hand, she rubs her torso, then makes a fist.
“You can feel the ball of fire in your hand, yes?”
“I can feel the ball of fire in my hand.” The subject closes her eyes.
“Look at me,” Kozak says sharply. “Look into my eyes.”
The subject’s eyes snap open. She reestablishes eye contact.
“Give me the fire,” Kozak says. “Throw the ball of flame to me. Throw it!”
The subject hesitates. She is weeping now.
“Do it,” Kozak commands. He spreads his arms wide and raises his chin. “Throw the ball of flame! Hit me with the fire!”
The subject makes a throwing motion in the direction of Kozak. He reels back as the invisible ball of fire hits him in the chest. He grunts with pain.
“Good,” he says, his voice strained. “The fire is burning you alive. Get rid of the fire. Scoop it all up. Throw the fire at me. You can throw the fire, yes?”
“I can throw the fire.” With both hands, the subject scoops up the flames that are burning her alive and throws them at Kozak. Handful after handful, she flings the flames at the man sitting in front of her.
With each throw, Kozak rears back as if struck. The pain he feels is genuine. He is in agony now.
The subject continues throwing the fire at Kozak. Several minutes pass. Kozak is slumped in his chair, catching the fire.
His voice is choked. “The fire is dying, yes?”
“The fire is dying.” The subject’s voice is stronger than at any point during the therapy.
“The fire is out, yes?”
“The fire is out.”
“The pain is gone, yes?”
“The pain is gone.”
“Good. Very good. It is time to wake up.”
With effort, Kozak snaps his fingers. The subject blinks. She is out of her trance. She stares at Kozak for a moment.
“My God,” she says. “My God.”
“How do you feel?” asks Kozak, but he already knows the answer.
“I feel…it’s a miracle.” The subject is weeping openly now. She is weeping with relief, because the pain is gone. And she is weeping for another reason as well.
The subject leans forward in her chair and studies Kozak for a moment. She reaches out and gently touches his arm. “The pain,” she says, her voice a whisper. “You have it now.”
Kozak grits his teeth and struggles to his feet. “As per our agreement.” He forces a smile. “I must go now. Is my payment ready?”
The subject’s husband, who has been watching the therapy session from a corner of the room, steps forward. He hands Kozak a large envelope stuffed with cash. Kozak doesn’t count the money, he knows it’s all there. He has delivered on his promise to alleviate the suffering of his subject, something for which his clients are more than happy to pay.
The husband shakes Kozak’s hand. “The pain,” he says, looking over at his wife. “Will it come back?”
Kozak shakes his head. “Not this pain.” He turns to go.
I’ll walk you out,” the husband says, taking hold of Kozak’s arm and leading him outside to where Kozak’s car is parked.
“That’s far enough,” Kozak says as they approach the vehicle. “Please, join your wife. You have reason to celebrate.”
The husband nods. “Thanks to you,” he says. “Mr. Kozak, I just want you to know that I am eternally grateful for what you have done here today. I admit I was skeptical at first, especially when you instructed my wife to forego her pain medication in preparation for treatment. But you did what you said you would do, and now she doesn’t need her pills.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small vial. “Please, take them with you.”
Kozak takes the vial. He pockets the pills and walks to his car, staggering slightly.
Despite the pain, Kozak drives for hours. He is tempted to use the medicine, but fights off the urge. He knows that in order for his pain therapy to be successful, the pain must be pristine, exquisite, not clouded by chemicals. It must be pure. He grits his teeth and drives on.
After another hundred miles, Kozak pulls off the road, onto the gravel shoulder. He climbs out of the car, walks around to the passenger door and opens it as wide as it will go. Then he walks to the back of the car and opens the trunk. There is a woman in there, hog tied with thick plastic tie wraps, a strip of duct tape across her mouth. Kozak cuts the wraps binding her legs and helps her from the trunk. He walks her to the passenger side door and places her gently into the vehicle. He reaches into the glove compartment, picks up several large tie wraps and secures her inside the vehicle. After inspecting the bonds, he closes the door, goes around the car and climbs into the driver’s seat.
Kozak looks at the highway in front of him and then into the rearview mirror. The road is empty in both directions. He and the woman are alone. Facing her, he sees how defeated she looks. She has been in the trunk for so long, her will appears to have been broken. She doesn’t struggle, doesn’t make any noise, she just sits there silently, staring at him, her eyes filled with terror. It is heartbreaking to see her in this condition. He has to turn away.
Kozak wishes he could hypnotize the woman. It would make things easier for the both of them. But he knows that any attempt would be futile. She is in no condition for that. Instead, he attempts to hypnotize himself, breathing in and out, slowly, deeply, working himself into a trancelike state.
After several minutes of this, Kozak turns again to face the woman. He reaches into his shirt pocket and extracts a cigarette and lighter. He lights the cigarette and inhales deeply, then blows out a cloud of smoke. The smoke hangs heavily in the air.
“I’m on fire,” he says, his voice thick and dull. “The fire is burning me alive. I can see the smoke.”
The woman stares at him. Her mouth is taped shut but she makes a sound, a pleading noise.
Kozak reaches out and waves the smoke away. “The smoke is gone now,” he says. He looks down at his body. “I can see the fire.”
The woman is more animated now. She is beginning to struggle, but the tie wraps are secure. She is not going anywhere.
Kozak looks at the cigarette in his hand. “I can feel the ball of fire in my hand.”
The woman is staring at him, her eyes wild.
“Throw the fire,” Kozak says, staring at the burning cigarette in his fingertips. “Throw the ball of fire.” He is weeping now.
The woman is panicking. She is trying to scream, but her screams are muffled by the duct tape. She is thrashing, but the tie wraps are tight and she is immobile.
“Get rid of the fire,” Kozak says. “Throw the ball of flame.”
He hesitates, looking again at the cigarette in his hand, listening to the muffled screams of the woman beside him.
“Do it!” he commands himself. “Throw the ball of fire!”
He raises his hand in a throwing motion, then slowly reaches out towards the struggling woman. In the pitch black darkness of the car, the red hot tip of the cigarette, the ball of flame, moves towards its target.
Kozak carries the body as far as he can, then drags it the rest of the way. He had dug a shallow grave a week ago, and now he places the body in it and covers it with dirt and leaves. He knows this place has just become a crime scene, but he’s not overly concerned. The grave is located deep in the woods, and won’t be found for some time. By the time it is discovered, animals will have destroyed any useful forensics.
He walks back to his vehicle and gets in. He is pain free now, but exhausted. The therapy session has left him physically and emotionally drained. He slumps in his seat and rests for a few minutes.
While he is resting, his cell phone rings. It is a potential client. The client’s husband is in severe pain and Kozak has come highly recommended.
“I understand that you can ease his suffering,” the client says.
“In most cases, yes. I would have to evaluate your husband first, however, to test his susceptibility to hypnosis. If he qualifies, I will take his pain away.”
“Do you have an office?”
“I will come to you.”
“The doctors say–”
“I am not concerned with doctors. Their treatments only mask the pain.”
“My friend told me that you literally take the pain away.”
“But how? How is that possible?”
“Pain can be neither created nor destroyed,” Kozak says. “Like energy, it is conserved and can only change form.”
“I don’t understand.”
Kozak sighs. He looks out into the woods, in the direction of the grave. “Pain can kill but it can never die,” he says, his voice tired and resigned. “It simply…moves on.”
“So my husband’s pain–”
“Is not your husband’s. He has no ownership of it.”
“And you can take it away?”
“Yes. I will move the pain, transfer it away from your husband.”
“By using hypnosis.”
“This is what I do,” Kozak says. “This is my gift.”
The client starts to ask another question, but Kozak cuts her off. “I must tell you that my methods are confidential,” he says. “And my services are expensive. There is a lot of planning involved, a lot of groundwork. I require half my fee at the time of evaluation. It is non-refundable under any circumstance, even upon the death of the subject, whether before, during or after the treatment. If you agree to those terms, we can schedule an appointment.”
“I agree,” says the client.
“Good. Very good.” He waits a beat. “Your husband is in pain, yes?”
There is a pause on the line. “My husband is in pain.”
“And I will take the pain away, yes?”
“You will take the pain away.”
“Good. I’ll call you presently to schedule an evaluation.”
Kozak clicks off and sits silently for a moment, staring off into the woods. This is what I do. This is my gift.
He closes his eyes.
The sound of his own voice startles him. “It is time to wake up,” he hears himself say. A snap of his fingers and he is fully alert.
Kozak scans the highway in both directions. He has been here a long time now. Too long. He starts the engine, knowing that he still has many miles to travel.
As he pulls out onto the highway, Kozak feels himself begin to relax. The past is behind him now; it is time to look to the future. He thinks about his upcoming appointments, and notes that his calendar is full. His services are in demand and business is thriving. The word is out: Kozak will take your pain away.
Pressing down on the accelerator, Kozak enjoys the sensation of power in the surging engine as he moves on down the highway.
Kevin Z. Garvey’s crime fiction has appeared in Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter and other online and print publications. In addition to writing, Garvey is an award winning combat sports ring announcer and a member of the New Jersey State Martial Arts Hall of Fame. He lives in New York with his wife and son. Visit him on the web at kevinzgarvey.com.