The Transformation of… What?

by nielskunze on October 27, 2015

Leopard in Thistles

Leopard in Thistles

(Author narration with musical accompaniment: Aga of the Ladies by Hellborg Lane & Selvaganesh)

Dr. Mikhail Nostro stood a moment outside the door. His knock had gone unanswered. No matter. The quarters which housed his patient were functionally separate from the rest of the house where the son lived. Dr. Nostro had a key.

He let himself in, as he had done many times before. The son– what was his name? Harold? Yes, Harold, was often out attending to life’s niggly details; either that, or he was simply too busy with housework to answer the door. No matter.

The patient, Harold’s mother, was bedridden. The good doctor was the last of a dying breed. When he finally gave up these last few house-calls, the extinction event would be complete. Nowadays most people weren’t even aware that doctors had ever made house-calls. But to Mikhail it had been his favourite part of doctoring; there was a certain advantage to knowing specifically how his patients lived, of observing them in their natural habitat, so to speak. Unfortunately, none of his colleagues concurred. No matter.

He closed the door behind himself and slipped off his shoes. A coatrack stood by the door awaiting his hat, cane and coat… to which he obliged. Then, retrieving the old leather satchel, his medi-bag, from the floor beside him he shuffled off to the door at the end of the hall. At the intersecting corridor, which led to Harold’s living quarters, he noticed, with a quick sideways glance, that indeed the son was home. Harold was engrossed in… something… which was none of the good doctor’s damn business. No matter; he moved on to where his patient lay.

Her condition was unchanged. Frankly, there was very little hope for recovery, but as long as she continued on the medication she remained relatively pain free. She was cogent and even cheerful– considering the circumstances. The doctor was committed to doing what little he could.

As he exited the patient’s room, he was startled by Harold who was coincidentally on his way in. They met outside in the hallway.

“Oh, Dr. Nostro, I hadn’t realized you were here.”

Mikhail smiled and shook his head. “Please, just call me Mike.”

Harold nodded. “How is she?” The obligatory question had been asked.

“The same,” affirmed the good doctor. “But tell me,” he continued in the gentlest tone he could muster, “when did the medication run out?”

Despite the ease with which the question had been asked, Harold looked panic-stricken. He glanced furtively toward the closed door behind which his mother’s ears still functioned all too well. He grasped Dr. Mike by the elbow and whispered “Won’t you come join me for tea?”

“Delighted,” answered the doctor, even as he was being dragged away.

It was definitely his mother’s sitting room, decided the doctor, as Harold busied himself in the kitchen. He guessed that the room had probably remained unchanged for the last forty years… except for a few oddities. The books on the coffee table were an eclectic jumble of philosophy, religion and ritual magick. There appeared to be what he could only imagine was a makeshift altar cobbled together and neatly arranged on the fireplace hearth. It was complete with candles, incense, an ornate chalice… and was that a scrying bowl? And then there was what appeared to be a faint chalk outline of a circle drawn upon the carpet. The good doctor awaited his tea inside the ritual circle… feeling quite safe and rather amused.

Thankfully, Harold dove headlong into the pending conversation even before he set the tea service down… amidst the clutter of books. “How did you know about the sugar pills?” he asked.

“Had you used icing sugar, I probably wouldn’t have noticed a thing.”

“Too granular,” concluded Harold.

The doctor nodded and sipped his tea. “No matter.” He took another sip. “She’s fine. The placebo’s working.”

Harold nodded in agreement, but then his demeanor soured somewhat. “Dr. Nostro– um, Dr. Mike– I simply can’t afford the medication any longer. Our medical plan covers your expenses, but the prescription comes out of my pocket, and frankly, my pocket is empty, threadbare and full of holes!”

“These are difficult times indeed.” As awkward as this topic seemed, the doctor chose to pry into the deeper gawkiness of the books, the altar and the ritual circle instead. “I see you have an interest in ritual magick.” He raised an eyebrow for dramatic effect and to give the statement the inflection of a question.

“Um, yes… well,” Harold began, reddening in the cheeks.

“Nothing to be embarrassed about. I’ve dabbled a bit myself. But if you don’t mind my asking, what are you trying to accomplish?”

The utterly blank look on Harold’s face was very telling. It was often thus with novice practitioners. Not only do they not know what they’re doing; rarely are they sure of what they’re even trying to do!

“I suppose I’m trying to affect a change… a transformation of circumstance… of fortune.” Harold too answered with the inflection of a question, wondering whether he’d gotten it right.

“So you’re not trying to magickally cure her or any such thing?”

“Oh no! Nothing quite so ambitious. I’m really just attempting to conjure a bit of luck for myself.” The doctor nodded in understanding. “It seems that I’ve been in a rut for… well, for as long as I can remember. Certainly for as long as mother’s been ill. Something HAS to change!”

Dr. Mike tipped his chin toward the scattered tomes on the coffee table. “It’s easy to think that there’s some procedure, a secret formula, some exotic incantation or obscure ritual that can transmute everything bad into something good. After all, isn’t that why we have things like philosophy and religion in the first place?”

“Yes!” said Harold eagerly. “If only I could learn it.” There was such earnestness in his eyes. “Would you teach me?” he asked the good doctor sheepishly.

“I will,” affirmed the doctor. “And before I leave here today.”

Harold looked on confusedly, expecting there to be more to the sentence… and so he asked “Before you leave here today… what?”

“Before I leave here today, I’ll teach you the secret formula of transmutation, how to transform your life’s circumstances.”

Harold was dumbfounded.

The good doctor winked.

“Now, this one here catches my eye,” he began, reaching for a specific book from the haphazard pile. Its title was Butterfly Dreams: The Nectar of Transformation. “Have you read it?” Harold nodded. “And so, what is the nectar of transformation?”

“I’ve read it three times,” explained Harold. “As near as I can tell, the nectar of transformation is awareness.”

“Ah, I see.” Dr. Mike seemed pleased with the answer. “Awareness is assuredly a good thing, essential really… But awareness of what?”

Harold shook his head… dumbfounded again.

“Then let me ask you this,” continued the doctor undaunted. “When is the placebo effect in effect?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Or to put it more bluntly, when is the placebo effect NOT in effect?”

Harold was still obviously confused, but he ventured an answer anyway. “When the medicine’s real…?”

The doctor stroked his goatee. “I like that answer, but let’s examine it.” He took a sip of tea. “When we’re dealing with an illusion– the sugar pill, the placebo effect kicks in. But when the medicine is real, there’s no placebo effect; it’s the physical action of the substance itself… providing the very same desired result. How do we know when we’re dealing with an illusion and when we’re dealing with a proven causality?”

“I don’t know,” answered Harold quite honestly. “So, is that it? I need to develop the awareness to know what’s real and what’s not? How on earth do I do that?”

“You’ve jumped ahead,” admonished the doctor ever-so-gently. “Let’s return to the placebo effect for a moment. Allow me to tell you of one of my patients from many years ago. He was a young man, the nervous type. I honestly never liked him as a patient. Anyway, he arrived one day at my office looking for a diagnosis. He was quite convinced that he was dying. His symptoms were odd– and a bit frightening to any layman– but I was sure I knew what it was that he had. I told him my suspicion, procured a blood sample, and provided him with the appropriate prescription. I told him that he’d be fine in a few weeks; all he needed to do was get the prescription filled and follow the protocol for ten days. Two weeks later, he was dead.”

Harold was aghast! “You’d made a mistake!”

“No. My diagnosis was right on the money; the blood sample confirmed it. The prescription had been filled, and all indications were that he’d taken the medicine as intended.”

“So why did he die then?”

“The placebo effect,” said the doctor casually between sips. “Or if you prefer, the reverse placebo effect.”

“He was taking the real medicine–”

“Proven to work unfailingly,” interjected the doctor.

“And he died anyway…” Harold seemed to be catching on.

“So, returning to my earlier question: when is the placebo effect in effect?”

“Um… always…?”

“Exactly! It’s very much like gravity; it’s always in effect. There’s nothing selective about it. One could almost say that it’s universal law.”

Harold was nodding enthusiastically now. Something of import had gotten through.

“Now all we need to do is to return to the original question: awareness of what?” The good doctor drained the remainder of his tea and declined a refill with a dismissive wave. “So what do you suppose is the fulcrum upon which all of your leverage to affect change, to transform your life, to transmute all of the bad to good– what do you suppose it all teeters upon?”

“I believe I know,” whispered Harold. And then with utter conviction “I BELIEVE I know!”

“Yes, I believe you do.”

And with that the good doctor took his leave.

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