Cheyenne settled in the other recliner. She put in a small pair of earbuds and started a playlist as Michael placed similar electrodes around her head. When she nodded at him, Michael activated the computer program and left the room.
Within moments Cheyenne felt herself being tugged out of her body. The chaotic intensity of what she entered hit her like a stun grenade. Slightly panicked, she focused on finding the beat from the music she knew was in her mind alone. It took longer than she cared to admit, but she found it. Cheyenne breathed until her heart rate matched the rhythm of the music. Then she opened her eyes.
It took several agonizing minutes to discern what she was seeing. Fragments of events from the Middle East blended with voices she presumed were from some point in Lucas’s military training. Under all of it she could smell cologne. Each time she tried to focus on one sensory memory, it shifted.
Cheyenne shook her head. This was not good. Praying Michael was wrong, she moved deeper into the vortex of disintegrated memories. Somewhere was the core of Lucas’s psyche, the heart of who Lucas was. Without that, nothing would weave his psyche back together.
Each layer further into Lucas’s mind assaulted Cheyenne with broken bits of Lucas’s past. Every time she managed to get to that next metaphysical level, those slivers were a bit more vivid. Bit just a little deeper.
Cheyenne lost track of time. Space. Everything but finding the essence that was Lucas. Thick, warm, metallic tastes randomly filled her mouth and nose to where she gagged and were just as quick to disappear. Pain had long since set every last nerve singing to where it was all she could do to keep it tuned to the music that anchored her being. Tortures were wreaked upon her metaphysical body.
One thought began to filter through all the sensory chaos flooding Cheyenne’s mind. She was dangerously near the shattered precipice. The merge was so complete, though, that she struggled to discern if it was Lucas’s or her own.
The clear, strong voice sounded so alien to Cheyenne it took her a moment to even compute what was said.
“Who are you?”
“Cheyenne. I’m here to help.”
“Who sent you?”
“Your father. He brought you to me. He wants you back.”
“He’s dead. Who sent you?!”
“How do you know my name?”
“Your father sent me. He told me your name. He told me something happened to you. He didn’t know what. That doesn’t matter to him. He wants you back.”
“I saw him die.”
“No, Lucas. He’s alive. In my office right now.”
Lucas laughed, “Don’t know if you’ve missed it, but we’re not in an office. Now. Who the hell are you?”
“I told you. My name is Cheyenne. I’m a special type of therapist. I help people. I want to help you.”
“Help me what? I don’t need any help.”
“Lucas. You’re not in the Middle East anymore. You’re home.”
Cheyenne caught a glimpse of a memory whirling near her. She reached out as if to grab it. Lucas’s attention shifted. The memory flew past her to collide with Lucas. The haze weaving through him lightened a little.
“The plane ride. Remember? There were the banners and balloons. Your parents were so over the top you were embarrassed, but you loved that they were so excited to see you.”
“Jamie and little Tommy were there. He tried to chew on my uniform.”
Even though his words were slow and hesitant, Cheyenne wanted to jump up and down, “Yes!”
Lucas scrubbed at his face. Several more memories wrapped themselves around Lucas. Cheyenne could only see glimpses, but that was enough. Lucas tensed. His face went blank. An invisible band wrapped itself around Cheyenne. The pressure was almost unbearable.
“Lucas! Please! You’re safe. You got home. You’re living with your parents.”
“They tried to poison me.”
“They love you!”
“Then where are they?”
“This is your mind. They couldn’t follow me here. Come with me and I can bring you to your father. He’s in my office.”
“Why should I believe you?”
“Look at me. You can see my thoughts. You know the truth.”
The hurricane slackened enough for Cheyenne to see Lucas’s mindscape around her. Then wished she hadn’t. They were on the shattered precipice. Any mistake, any misstep and the ground beneath them both would crumble away. She’d never been here before. Close, but not actually here. The supernatural wind picked up again, this time driving her toward the edge.
“Lucas! Look around you!”
“We’re in the Hindu Kush.”
“Why would I be here then? Why would I know what I do about you? Your father’s here. In my office. Come with me and I can show you.”
“Know what about me?”
“You enlisted in the Marine Corps two months before you turned eighteen. It was all you ever wanted to do. Your mother cried the day you left for Boot Camp. It was the first time you ever saw her cry. The second was when you were sent to the middle east for the first time.”
“I had to go.”
“She knew that. And she was proud of you, even as she hated that you were leaving.”
“I promised her I’d come home.”
“And you did. Lucas, you’ve served your time in Hell. Let me help you home. I will help you fix the rest.”
Whatever was holding her disappeared. Cheyenne collapsed even as the ground around her crumbled further.
“How do you fix this?”
The venom in his words were arrows that literally pinned her to the unstable ground. A black miasmic bubble spun out of the maelstrom around them and slammed into her. Viscous emotions writhed into her body, melting their way through every pore.
Cheyenne opened her eyes. Mountains surrounded her and a language she didn’t recognize echoed in her mind, yet she knew what was being said. It was a deal being made. Weapons. Intelligence. Military positions. Part of her had no real idea what all of it meant while another could picture every last detail being described.
Then the talk shifted to drugs. Heroin. That Cheyenne knew quite a bit about. Over the years she’d had several clients die from heroin overdoses. They were all trauma survivors that hadn’t really survived. Here, the amount of heroin being discussed was staggering. Millions of dollars.
When she saw the speakers it felt as if a knife had been shoved through her guts. The Afghan man didn’t spark any recognition, but the man in the American military uniform certainly did. He was the CO of the nearby US forward operating base. And he’d just sold out not only that base, but two others as well.
A storm of emotion and memory whirled around her. Then, the CO was in front of her, a pistol aimed at her chest.
“Why did you have to follow me? Nothing was going to happen until you were gone.”
“Why the hell did you do it? Heroin? You were always so against drugs. And to sell out your fellow Marines?”
“It wasn’t for drugs. The heroin was simply a means to an end.”
The CO smiled as he pulled the trigger. Cheyenne felt the bulled tear through his upper shoulder and chest.
The pain ejected her from the memory to a spot on the decaying precipice just a few feet away from Lucas. One arm dangled over the edge. In theory, even if she fell, she wouldn’t go mad. However, finding her way out of Lucas’s insanity would be a feat of mythical proportions.
She ventured a glance up into Lucas’s face. Fear, loathing, guilt, hurt, sadness, and anger vacillated there.
Cheyenne tried to get up, but couldn’t, “Lucas. I get it. He destroyed everything that meant anything to you. He’s destroying you, too, with this. Please. Let me help you.”
Whatever was holding her began inching her toward the abyss. Cheyenne could see the psychosis creeping around the edges of his eyes. She was losing him, and probably herself as well.
With almost half of her body hanging over the chasm, Cheyenne took an approach that, had any of her professors or mentors saw they’d probably help shove her over.
“Lucas! You will stop this instantly! Stand your post and let me go!”
Something got through because her slow slide toward insanity stopped. Maybe she had an opening.
“You are not a murderer and I am not your enemy. Look at me.”
His eyes attempted to focus on her. For a moment, maybe they did. Then they slid away again. Unfocused. Back into the cruel memory.
“Look. At. Me. We are not in Afghanistan. I am a civilian. Where is the honor in harming me? It took so much courage to do what you did in Afghanistan. Where is that courage now? Come with me. You’ve been loyal to all the Marine Corps stands for despite everything. Don’t give that up now.”
The feelers of psychosis faded from Lucas’s face.
“Ma’am? What are you doing here? It’s dangerous here.”
Cheyenne blinked, “I’m here to help you, Marine. I can show you the way out.”
Lucas pulled her back from the precipice, “Please, ma’am. I’m not sure where I am. Every time I try to leave I end up back here.
“Take my hands and listen. Peel back each layer of sound until you hear music. Feel the tempo match your heart. The cadence calling you. Follow it.”
Cheyenne chose to wait for a moment before leaving Lucas’s mind. The shattered precipice looked a little stronger already. The maelstrom was dying down. It was more like a vicious prairie storm now. She closed her eyes and let a few tears fall. It had been close. Too close. Michael would be furious. Would probably demand her retirement from active PRT.
“Maybe he’s right. But, how can I leave men like Lucas hurting when I can start to fix it?”
Cheyenne followed Lucas back to the conscious world.