THE MENTOR

by Darlene Hanson


"Tom Anderson is the most generous, caring individual I ever met,” Barbara Whitaker said with a smile. “I am so happy he has taken an interest in your welfare. He has helped so many.” Her smile widened as she added, “God is looking out for you, Adrian.”

Adrian Knight sighed, a pained expression on his face. Lying in his terribly uncomfortable hospital bed, his leg winched high up in the air, he found himself at everyone‘s mercy. Barbara ran the local rehabilitation center that from time to time was his home. A strawberry-blonde with trendy, close-cropped hair that stood on end, she had become, to Adrian’s dismay, somewhat attached to him. Adrian had absolutely no idea why.

Five days ago, in a drug induced fog, he had crossed a road and been struck by a drunk driver. At least that was the opinion expressed in the police report. Then, after inflicting more damage than Adrian had ever dreamed a person could survive, the bastard had just sped away, leaving him lying in the middle of the road in a bloody heap. A classic hit and run. A motorist traveling in the opposite direction stopped and called the police with his cell. Then, after taking a quick look, purely in curiosity, he got back in his car and drove on his merry way leaving Adrian to wait the fifteen minutes that felt like fifteen hours completely alone and absolutely certain he was about to die. Cold. Really cold. You can’t make this shit up.

When he finally regained consciousness, the good Dr. Eric Randall had read him a laundry list of the damage. Three breaks to his left thigh bone, a hyper-extended right shoulder and knee, two broken ribs and a broken collar bone; a fractured right ankle and wrist. Not to mention the countless contusions and abrasions. Steel pins were inserted to hold his shattered thigh bone together.

Oh yeah, God was looking out for him. In fact, Adrian was quite sure God had his thumb squarely on the base of his spine like an entomologist about to impale a rare species of butterfly with a pin.

Glancing out the nearby window, it offered the all inspiring view of an emergency helicopter pad and, just barely visible in the distance, a quaint cemetery. No doubt, Adrian mused, a view designed with the critically ill patient in mind.

“ I’ve been so worried about you…” Adrian flinched as impulsively, Barbara leaned over and laid a hand briefly on his cheek. He hated when anyone touched him, and especially when they touched his face. And for some reason this hospital was chock full of scary, touchy-feely people who really had no business to be laying a hand, healing or otherwise, on anyone. Adrian shuddered at the very thought of inexperienced interns trying to better their faltering mortality ratings at his expense. Jesus!

“ Oh, Adrian,” Barbara sighed, her eyes quickly scanning his face.

“ That bad, huh?” Running his good hand through his dark, shoulder-length hair, he tried his best not to let it show how much this unknown upset him. Not exactly vain, he had always considered himself handsome in that starving rock-star kind of way. Sort of like an under-weight Jon Bon Jovi. It didn’t hurt business, either. Just what his business was, of late, he preferred Barbara to never know.

“ Does it hurt much?”

I must be some sight, Adrian thought, his mind drifting. There was just no telling how bad it was. All his teeth were still in place. That much he did know. Apparently miracles do happen. As for the rest of it, he couldn’t exactly walk to the bathroom to look in the mirror, now could he? Even if that were a possibility, he was quite certain he wouldn’t have the nerve to look. He just didn’t think he was ready for that. No. Not yet. All he knew for sure was that, like everything else, it hurt badly.

“ Adrian? Are you ok?”

“ Yeah, sure,” Adrian nodded slowly. “Everything‘s just ducky.”

A nurse entered the room to take yet another blood sample. It was truly ridiculous, the amount of specimens that left his room every day. Quite obviously, his mind rationalized, someone had a severe case of the dropsy’s down in the lab. Christ! How else could you explain it?

Sighing, Adrian stretched his needle ravaged left arm out for what seemed the hundredth time, wincing as the nurse tightened a rubber band around his thinning bicep.

“ Tom wanted to visit you tomorrow, but I asked him to give you a few days. Of course, if that’s ok with you?”

Barbara continued to smile and he suddenly had an insane vision in his head of her getting ready for work, looking in her mirror, and painting on that expression like a clown preparing for the circus. Gotta keep up the moral down at the rehab.

“ Yeah, sure. Why not. Just so happens my schedule’s wide open.”

Wincing again, he felt the pinch of the nurse’s needle. Looking down he watched her fumbling for a vein amongst the abundant track-lines that scored the inside of his forearm. He thought with some amusement that despite all her training, he could do this job far quicker himself, if not less painfully.

“ I’ll let him know. He’ll be so pleased. I told him all about you and he seems to think that with your education, there are lots of options for you.”

“ Great,” Adrian whispered, lifting his left hand to his constantly throbbing temple. Four years of college certainly had improved his intelligence. Oh yes, it certainly did. It takes a lot of smarts to get here, no doubt.

With the crushing overload of pain signals flooding his brain, it was getting way too hard to concentrate on Barbara’s well-intentioned, but nonetheless inane ramblings even though it was far more welcome than the usual ‘God grant me the serenity…’ litany he was often regaled with as a denizen of that lost soul asylum cheerily called the ‘Hope Springs’. At present his brain found it‘s priorities lay securely with it‘s pain receptors and the current lack of certain chemical suppressors. Closing his eyes, he feigned a yawn. It worked like magic.

“ You look tired, Adrian. Try and get some rest.” Leaning down, she planted a kiss on his forehead.

“ Yeah, later.”

Watching her leave, her skirt swishing widely about her hips with each step, he felt a strange emptiness. She was the closest thing to family he had. He had no one else.

And then the nurse was gone as well and he was all alone with his thoughts. Ah, yes, his wonderfully cynical, depressing thoughts.

Sometimes he tried to remember the accident. Sometimes he tried to forget the drugs. His addictions had led him down some very nasty roads of late and even so he was helpless to deny his cravings. At this very moment, albeit indirectly, immobilized by the urge to get high, the sweet siren song of heroin played over and over in the back of his head. Oh sure, he got drugs here at the hospital. Yes indeedy. A shattered leg was still considered a major thing as far as pain was concerned, but their idea of relief was not exactly what he needed. Nope. Not even in the ballpark, my friend.

To his amazement, they had given him a “hype buddy”. Of course, that was his name for it. He had no idea what the official moniker was. It was a push-button pain medication machine hooked up to his IV that only required a push of its red button for a dose of morphine to reach his ever clamoring veins. One preset dose per allotted time. The idea being he could medicate himself, which had never been a problem for him. It was a kind of personal motto you might say.

He was amazed, overjoyed even, until he came to the realization of what it really was. Not his personal savior; it turned out to be just a big, suffering whore of a tease. God he hated a tease. The dose was a joke and morphine was not his drug of choice. In higher doses it always made him extremely nauseous as it passed.

Gazing at the silent, annoyingly non-judgmental machine, he considered the love/hate relationship that had driven him everyday of his life for the last six years of his thirty-year-old existence. Tease or no, he needed it. My hype buddy. Jesus! Maybe going clean was not such a bad idea after all.

Finally finding a comfortable position on the stiffly starched sheets, he reached out his good hand and gave the button a push. Then he pushed the button again. And then, with a terse smile, he pushed it once more for good measure. He knew very well it made no difference how many times you pushed it, only one dose would be administered, but hey, you never knew. Like they say at rehab… ‘Hope Springs eternal‘.

Then, resting his hand on his chest, he really did feel tired. In a short time he was sound asleep. So sound asleep in fact, he did not hear his late night visitor enter the room. Nor did he hear the sound of one of the dreadful bright-red-vinyl-upholstered chairs; no doubt another hospital Marquis de Sade original, being pulled to the side of his bed. Or even the hand that brushed through his long hair and lingered on his bruised forehead.

***

Slowly opening his eyes, Adrian blinked hard at the bright morning sunlight shining in his face. Raising his one good hand, he wiped his mouth roughly. With some disgust he realized he had drooled spit all over his pillow in his sleep. There was just no end to the lows.

Waking up was always the toughest. Stiff and sore just didn’t even begin to describe how he felt. Flipping the pillow over, he reached his hand over the side of the bed and pushed the button on his hype buddy.

“ Good morning!”

Startled, Adrian blinked harder as he turned to focus on the source of the greeting. When his vision sharpened, he saw an older man with graying hair dressed in an expertly tailored black suit and tie sitting in a chair next to his bed.

At first glance, he looked remarkably like the horribly insipid undertaker that hovered about with an artfully portrayed, artificial moroseness during his parents’ funeral. It had been a double tragedy of inevitability that was entirely predictable, considering his step-father’s penchant for driving while completely hammered.

Who died? Groaning, Adrian pushed the button again.

“ I’m not Catholic.” Adrian whispered, still half asleep. Closing his eyes he wished the man away. Jesus. He had told the nurse he didn’t want any of those people coming in here. He had quite enough guilt to pass all around and still have leftovers. Thank you very much!

Hearing the man laugh, a low eerie chuckle, Adrian opened his eyes.

The man smiled, “Neither am I.”

Adrian felt a chill snake up his spine. Something about the voice oddly disturbed him. And then there were his eyes, pale blue and so piercing. They were unnerving. It was almost as if the man could look right through him.

“ Well, whoever you are, why don’t you just take a flying fuck,” Adrian muttered. “I don’t want any visitors.”

On second glance it occurred to Adrian that maybe he was a cop. He looked like a cop. God, he hated cops. Never around when you needed them, coming out of the woodwork when you didn’t.

One thing he did remember about the accident was the remarks by the fine, up-standing men-in-blue on the scene. Abruptly assaulted into shock by horrific bodily insult, but before his brain gave in to merciful unconsciousness, crude comedic references to road-kill were over-heard.

Apparently the tragedy of one formerly-promising-college-student-turned-messed-up-junkie was of no great concern to them. He’d take bets they didn’t even bother to look for the perp after seeing his arms. They probably even felt the driver had done a public service by taking him out.

“ Perhaps I should introduce myself,” the man held out his hand, “Vincent Poe.”

Adrian was instantly struck by his refined and proper British accent. A foreigner. He glanced at the impeccably manicured hand extended to him and the rather large ruby pinkie ring that adorned it. And was that a Rolex on his wrist?

He vaguely recalled Barbara’s hope-filled banalities last night. What was that guy’s name? The guy who offered to help him get his act together? Tom Anderson. Oh yeah. That’s it. Helped so many. Kind and considerate. Or was it generous and caring? Whatever. Adrian sharpened his gaze.

“ Who the fuck is Vincent Poe?”

“ Just an interested party.” Still holding his hand out, the stranger replied, “Perhaps I may be of service to you. “

Oh shit. Apparently busy, Tom Anderson must have sent this guy in his stead.

What a great first impression!

“ Ah… Sorry for that…” Hesitantly reaching out his left, Adrian awkwardly grasped the offered hand, flashing a sheepish grin. Normally right-handed, it was hard to get used to using his left. “I’m Adrian. Adrian Knight.”

Getting a closer glimpse at the man’s ring, it appeared to be an expensive piece of jewelry. And then there was the Rolex. That spoke for itself, didn’t it?

So, he’s got money. So what? Oh well, Adrian mused, might as well be polite to the guy. Probably has some kind of community service to work off. Maybe even for drunk driving. Oh yeah, life was funny that way.

Vincent Poe smiled broadly, “I know who you are.”

Adrian thought it was the creepiest smile he had ever seen. Even among hypes high on crack. It was the cruelly satisfied expression of the family cat after achieving murderous victory over the said family’s sweet parakeet or chubby little hamster. Unconsciously he shuddered as a blast from the past came to mind in the form of a childhood book, Alice in Wonderland. Yeah, just like the Cheshire Cat.

“ It seems you need some direction, Adrian. A purpose to your life, perhaps? Yes?”

Adrian, sensing something not quite right, tried to pull his hand back but the man tightened his grip. Pulling harder, it slipped free and suddenly he began to feel doubtful and not a little nervous as he looked closer at the grinning man sitting across from him. After all, he was quite vulnerable and completely helpless in his present condition.

Trying to return the smile, Adrian failed miserably, “Well, it’s like this, Mr. Poe…”

“ Please! Call me Vincent,” the man quickly interjected.

Adrian tried a more sincere smile on for size. It felt stupid.

“ Vincent… It’s like this. I do want to get clean. Really I do… eventually.” Looking into the man’s intense gaze he felt strangely like a bug under a microscope. “But I can’t right now. What I mean is…” Oh hell! God, he hated being stared at. “It might be difficult for me under the circumstances.” Shifting in the bed, his left hand indicated his leg. “It’s very painful.”

Reaching behind himself, he hit the red button again. Why did he feel nothing? No relief at all? Shouldn’t he feel something? His shattered thigh bone was just beginning its daily matinee ‘pain concert’ filled with exquisite notes of shrill agony. Soon to be followed by an evening encore of even more profound suffering, he mused with all the dismal resignation of a rat hopelessly stuck in D-Con ‘Rat Pack’ glue paper.

Vincent Poe sat back and it seemed he was thoughtfully considering Adrian’s words. Then, abruptly, the creepy smile returned and he leaned forward again.

“ Adrian. You are a noble creature, truly admirable in many ways. Such a degrading thing it must be to barter your body to sexual deviants for pharmaceutical favors.”

Adrian stared in horror at his supposed mentor, his face paling as the blood drained from it. Pimping himself on the streets had been his only source of income the past year. He wasn’t proud of it, but sometimes you just had to do what you had to do. Christ! He had needs! Barbara did not know this fact. At least he felt sure she didn’t. Swallowing hard, he whispered low, “How do you know about that?”

The Cheshire cat smiled wider. “I know everything there is to know about you, Adrian. But please, let us not dwell on past indelicacies. It is your future that concerns me more.”

Adrian groaned as he shifted on the bed, trying to sit more upright. The crisp sheets had made both his elbows raw. Without even thinking about it, his hand again reached to his ever faithful hype buddy and gave the button a push.

“ Look, I am not sure what you want from me. In any case, more than likely I will be a disappointment….” Adrian’s voice trailed off as the man reached out and lightly caressed his face with his hand.

Right! So he’s gay. God. The blessings just kept on coming. Quickly reaching up, he pushed Vincent’s hand away.

“ I don’t like to be touched. Okay?”

“ I understand, Adrian. So many horrid people have touched you in so many awful ways. I am sorry.” Leaning closer he whispered. “But perhaps you do not know how exquisitely beautiful and desirable you are.”

Oh yeah. He’s definitely gay. It took no imagination at all to see where this was going. “Mr. Poe… Vincent… I know you mean well, but I don’t think it would work….”

Adrian’s words caught in his mouth as grinning widely, the Cheshire Cat pulled a hypodermic needle out of the inside pocket of his jet black Hugo Boss suit-jacket. Jesus. Okay, he’s gay and a hype. Hey, there were much worse things in the world. Oh, yeah. He had first hand-knowledge of that fact. As he watched, his attention suddenly riveted, Vincent pulled the cap off the business end of the needle.

“ Quite to the contrary, Adrian, I think you are precisely what I am looking for.” Holding up the needle, he added, “And I have precisely what you need. Perhaps we can be of service to each other?” There was a strangely unnerving tone of bravado in his voice.

Licking his dry lips, Adrian stared at the needle and it became quite clear. It’s meant for me. He felt a chill as the name Kevorkian came to mind.

“ What is that?”

“ It’s just a little something to sweeten the deal, Adrian. Morphine, mostly. Of course, it’s a bit stronger than you are used to.”

Oh my God! Just what the hell was going on! Trying to look away, Adrian glanced towards the door. No nurses or doctors were to be seen. His hand searched in vain for the nurse call-button. Then, unable to help himself, his eyes turned longingly back to the needle. Suddenly feeling faint, the room felt way too hot and far too small.

“ I thought you wanted to help me.” Adrian whispered hoarsely.

“ Help you?” Still smiling that Cheshire cat smile, Vincent replied, “Isn’t this what you really want? What you desperately need?”

Adrian’s eyes remained transfixed by his would-be savior as his voice lowered even more to a barely audible croak.

“ Just what the fuck will you want in payment for that?”

“ Nothing much of value, it seems… to you.” The Cheshire Cat’s grin widened sardonically. “And I will admit a certain voyeuristic tendency is involved.”

“ What did you say…?” Adrian’s good hand tightly clenched the starkly white hospital bedding.

Vincent Poe’s clipped British accent was filled with an obvious evil intent that he made no effort to disguise. “Let me translate for you…”

Swallowing hard, Adrian felt a horrific shudder building at the base of his spine as his visitor leaned very close and whispered in his ear.

“ I like to watch…”

Jesus! Watch? Watch what? Suddenly he was thankful for the catheter that neatly drained his bladder for without it he most assuredly would have wet himself. Numerous agonizing memories of self-degradation flashed before him as closing his eyes tightly, he told himself it was just a dream. A very bad dream and now it was time to wake up. Just wake up! Now! Shivering, feeling cold and damp all over he realized he had the sweats. Eyes still closed, he felt a hand gently raise his fractured right wrist and lay it down, flexing out his inner arm.

“ Shall I?”

Adrian opened his eyes to see the needle poised over his already brutalized right arm. Abruptly bending his elbow up, he protested in a low, rambling and totally unconvincing voice. “No. Please don‘t! Don’t. Please!” His body, by far more mindful of his needs, gave in easily as relaxing his arm; he allowed the hand to gently tug it back down.

“ Adrian? Shall I?”

Closing his eyes even tighter, he felt hot tears press out of the corners of both eyes. In a choked voice he heard himself answer.

“ Yes. Goddamn you!” Turning his head away, Adrian whispered, “Please… Put it in my IV… My arm hurts…”

There was a brief, sharp pinch as the needle slid into his arm. Adrian’s eyes opened wide, “Jesus! You son-of-bitch!” Then the rush hit him with a wallop, sending his head reeling with euphoria, his arm completely forgotten. Yes! That was what his body and soul craved. Yes! Fuck yes!

“ Feel better?” Vincent’s voice seemed so very far away.

Oh yeah. Adrian felt a smile play across his lips. His pain forgotten, he drifted. You fucking bastard. You lovely, fucking bastard! Oh, yes!

“ I can promise you that as your mentor, I will see to it you get all that you deserve, Adrian.”

“ God… I think I love you….” Adrian whispered as he floated in ecstatic nothingness. Yeah, marry me….

***

Well, what do you know? Maybe God was looking out for him after all, Adrian thought with a wide smile. After Vincent Poe left, he spent the entire afternoon in a totally relaxed and thoroughly numbed state of bliss. So relaxed and numb in fact, he was unable to do anything. Eating was a vague postscript of no importance. Everything was funny. Everything was wonderful! Everything was fucking fantastic!

He hardly noticed the oddly perplexed look on Dr. Randall’s face when he came in to examine him. Or the fact that they constantly were checking his hype buddy with worried expressions. In rapturous good humor, he proposed marriage to every nurse that entered his room. And in a particularly humorous moment, he proposed to Dr. Randall as well.

That the doctor was deeply concerned and totally mystified by his behavior, there was no doubt. Suspecting outside assistance, Dr. Randall spoke in a low voice to the nurse.

“ Has he had any visitors today?”

The nurse shook her head solemnly. “Not a single one.”

Dr. Randall sighed, “Have that machine taken out of here immediately. Before he OD’s for God’s sake!”

Adrian watched with mild disinterest as his hype buddy left the room.

No problem, Adrian thought with a grin. He had the utmost confidence in his new friend.

***

As the morphine cocktail peaked and finally began to fade, a tidal wave of nausea followed in its wake and he began to vomit violently. Several times he doubled over, his body wracked with excruciatingly painful cramps, until it was only the soul scraping abuse of dry heaving. Then a very worried Dr. Randall had returned and given him a shot to settle his stomach. Finally drifting off to sleep, Adrian’s thoughts were only of his new friend’s next visit.

***

When Vincent Poe did not come to see him the next day, Adrian came very close to losing his sanity. Dr. Randall had no choice but to strap him to the bed, fearful that Adrian might harm himself. The pain was so intense he cried constantly, reduced to begging for his pain medication.

“ No Adrian. That won’t do.” Dr. Randall was adamant. “Yesterday you were far too medicated. You have to eat to regain your strength.”

“ But yesterday….” Quickly closing his mouth, Adrian realized he could not say anything about Vincent or he was sure he would never experience his “help” again.

Dr. Randall looked closely into Adrian’s eyes. “Do you want to tell me what is going on?”

“ I can’t…” Adrian began to cry miserably.

Incensed by his refusal, Dr. Randall spoke sharply. “Adrian. I am sorry about your pain but you are not being forthright with me and I absolutely refuse to be a party to your suicide!”

Left with no other choice, Adrian was forced to endure more pain than he ever imagined existed. Tylenol was the strongest pain reliever they would give him no matter how much he begged.

He knew it was truly pathetic how his sun rose and set on his addiction. The highest high was always the biggest crush. But this high had been well beyond anything he had ever experienced, a veritable Mount Everest of Blessed Oblivion that was far beyond his wildest expectations. Thus this low was by far the Grand Canyon of Monstrous Hells. His sheets were soaked through from intermittent cold sweats and feverous chills.

Before yesterday, he had actually entertained the thought of trying to make a go of being clean. Now, he had become nothing more than a wretched lump of cravings, spiked through with pain.

One dismal thought permeated the cloud of agony he endured. This fish was landed; hooked tight through the gills. And not one doubt remained in his mind that this suffering was what Vincent Poe had intended all along.

Then, finally crying himself to asleep at 3:00 a.m., he was able to find a small measure of peace.

***

“ Good morning, Adrian.”

Opening his eyes, red and swollen from crying, Adrian instantly began to cry all over again as he set his bloodshot eyes upon long lost friend. Still strapped tightly to his bed, he was incapable of any movement.

“ Where were you yesterday?” Adrian sobbed piteously. “You said you would take care of me….”

“ We have not yet struck a deal, Adrian. I thought it only right to give you a chance to think over whether you really wanted my help.”

Dear God. Jesus. Did he even have a choice now?

“ You know very well I have no choice! Not now!” Adrian sobbed.

“ Adrian. You always have a choice. It’s called free will. The decision has always been yours to make. I only offered a suggestion.” Oddly enough, Vincent’s voice had suddenly taken on a thick German accent.

Adrian looked up at Vincent Poe, confused, his face ghastly pale. He was still nauseous and very light-headed.

“ My God! What did you shoot me with?”

The Cheshire cat’s grin widened. “It’s my own recipe. And very persuasive I might add. Although now I think you‘ll find only my particular brand will suffice. From now on, you must barter with me.”

This was not good, Adrian thought. Not good at all. His hands began to shake uncontrollably.

“ Did you think about it, Adrian?” The Cheshire cat smiled.

“ You bastard!” Struggling weakly against his restraints, Adrian cried out,

“ This is fucking torture!”

The self-satisfied look on Vincent Poe’s face was terrifyingly grotesque.

“ Yes, indeed! It certainly is! The entertainment value of it all you cannot begin to truly appreciate!” Patting the inside pocket of his jacket, he leered obscenely, “Now. How about it? Are you game?”

Moaning loudly, Adrian closed his eyes again. “Yes! Anything! Please! Help me…!”

“ I am so happy to hear that Adrian. I had the highest hopes you would see it my way.”

Opening his eyes, Adrian looked with dawning horror to his new “friend”. And when Vincent again produced a hypodermic from inside his jacket, Adrian actually started to drool at the sight of it.

“ It’s my grandest desire to help you, Adrian.” His grin was appalling. “But first I must ask you to sign something to seal the deal, so to speak.” Reaching back into his blazer, he produced a folded sheet of paper and a pen.

Adrian continued to stare at the hypodermic, breathing in quick anxious gasps. Not wishing to obligate himself to this obvious monster of a man, Adrian quickly replied, “But my hand! It’s broken! I can‘t sign anything!”

Vincent Poe laid the hypodermic on the window sill. Holding the pen and paper under his arm, he untied Adrian’s good hand. “No matter, either hand will do. It is only a token.”

Adrian’s hand continued to tremble as he grasped the paper from his mentor. The pain was so bad he couldn’t see to read what was written on the page. “What? What does it say?”

“ Oh, nothing much that I haven’t said already. As your mentor, I shall look to your needs. This I shall do, Adrian, faithfully, unto the end.” Holding out the pen, the Cheshire cat grinned obscenely.

Looking to the hypodermic on the window sill, Adrian felt a bead of sweat trickle down his temple. Memories of a day’s suffering, not long past, were still quite vivid. A moment of indecision passed as he looked from the paper to the needle. Oh Please!

Then, quickly grabbing the pen, he awkwardly scrawled his name illegibly on the bottom of the page.

Immediately, Vincent retrieved the pen and paper, pocketing them inside his blazer. “Congratulations! You win a prize!” Humming, he re-tied Adrian’s hand as before. “There. Everything back as it should be, yes?”

Then picking up the hypodermic, he leaned very close to Adrian, whispering in his ear, “Now, I will take your pain away.”

Pressing his right arm up against the restraints, towards the needle again poised over it, a thin moan escaped Adrian’s dry, cracked lips. Then, feeling the needle’s pinch, he immediately relaxed. And when the rush hit him, he uttered small sounds of pleasure as his pain abandoned him at last.

This time, he was able to hold on to a fairly passable state of lucidity during which he was quite aware of Vincent sitting and watching him with an unsettling kind of interest. There was really no reason to ask Mr. Poe why he abused his arm when he had an IV that could easily be infiltrated. The answer was altogether simplistic given the obvious cruelty of the man. He had said it himself… It was the entertainment value that the monster got off on.

Still trembling, but beginning to regain his composure, Adrian tried to smile.

“ Got them all fooled at the rehab, huh? What…. What if I drop a dime on your pretentious ass?”

The Cheshire cat leaned forward, a mocking look of disappointment on his face.

“ That would make me very unhappy, Adrian. I am afraid we would then no longer be friends. And I suppose you would have to go back to … well, what it is you do. Yes?”

“ Go to hell!” Adrian cried.

“ It would be my pleasure, Adrian.” Vincent Poe stood and turned to leave.

What was it with this guy? Why did he wish to hook him up so tightly? Just what did he want? Did he enjoy tormenting a helpless junkie? There had to be a catch… No such thing as a free lunch. At least that was what his real father used to say, up until he left Adrian’s mother when he was eight years old.

“ Wait a minute! Wait!” Adrian felt his heart racing despite the drug. “Will you be back tomorrow?”

“ Perhaps.” Adrian gasped as Vincent turned and winked at him. “I can’t always be sure I will be able to make it up here every day. I’ve got many irons in the fire, so to speak. And there is that entertainment factor to consider…”

Adrian stared at him in disbelief. “Son of a whore! How can you be so cruel?”

Grinning widely, the Cheshire cat walked back to Adrian.

“ Cruel? What have I done that you did not wish for with all your heart? Mortals!“

Looking down at Adrian reproachfully he added, “Wretched things, you are. All of you!”

Adrian felt cold all over, as if it were ice water that flowed in his veins instead of warm blood. His voice suddenly became an uneven falsetto stutter, his eyes very wide.

“ Who…? Who…? Who…?”

“ Let me guess, you’re an owl!” Vincent broke out in hysterical laughter. “I do so love charades!”

Leaning down close to Adrian, Vincent Poe’s Cheshire cat grin returned.

“ Who am I really? Oh come now, Adrian. You know who I am. Think. Think real hard.” Shaking his head, he grinned even wider, “Shall I give you a hint, a bit of a clue?”

Adrian’s jaw dropped wide open as two enormous, leathery, bat-like wings began to emerge from Vincent Poe’s shoulders. Rising up to the ceiling, they cast a shadow that completely enveloped Adrian’s terrified form.

“ Who am I? Oh, I’ve got many of names, Adrian. Beelzebub, Lucifer, Unclean-one, take your pick. But, a rose by any other name… It all means the same in the end. I’m rather partial to Satan, though, if you’re asking!”

Shocked, Adrian gasped, “What was that I signed?”

“ That, Adrian, was a bill of sale… for your soul.”

Adrian struggled desperately against the straps holding him tight.

“ What kind of a deal is that? I get nothing, you get everything!”

“ My dear Adrian, you get this.” Vincent held up the now empty hypodermic. Laughing loudly, he turned once more to leave.

“ You tricked me! It’s not fair!”

Looking back to Adrian, Vincent’s eyes seemed to burn with a reddish glow.

“ Hey! It’s a hard sell, Adrian. Nobody ever wants to come with me. Get them anyway you can, my personal motto.”

“ No it’s not fair! I was waiting for some else!”

“ I got here first. That’s absolutely fair, Adrian! Absolutely! Early bird catches the soul or something like that. Just as promised, I shall be here for you always, Adrian. And when you are tired of my torments, when you cannot bear it anymore, I shall be there for you then, as well. You now belong to me.” Vincent Poe turned to the door to leave. “Think of it as an iron-clad contract with an eternity clause.”

The winged figure of Vincent Poe faded long before he reached the doorway but even so Adrian heard his voice call a cheery farewell.

“ Auf Wiedersehen!”

Adrian opened his mouth very wide and began screaming. And once started, he found he could not stop. Screaming and screaming.


NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:


I’ve have always found it interesting to consider the notion that within all rational men there lies, wired deeply within the subconscious; or primordial brain if you will, the intuitive ability to recognize what is right from what is wrong. It is an equally interesting belief that, when confronted with any of the varied forms of what is commonly perceived as the Devil; the supreme evil and source of all evil intent, almost without exception, a man will choose not to acknowledge what is quite plainly before him.

My story concerns itself not so much with the outcome… for certainly there is predictability in such tales… Instead I endeavored to portray in “The Mentor” the emotional considerations and conscious thought processes that inevitably follow in the wake of such an encounter. What such a meeting might be like when a man lost in the darkest of moments looks into the face of pure evil… and simply chooses not to see it.


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