Pareidolia: Prologue

I’m publishing my science fiction novel Pareidolia in slow motion. A new chapter will be published every week. The premise is available here.


“Now I want you to open your eyes and come slowly back into the room,” Mandy says to the window and the white Sedona morning.

Twelve people form a triangle on the carpet. They face the interior of the triangle and sit upright, knees together in front, feet under their buttocks. A few sigh and stir.

Mandy turns from the window, stern and compactly pretty. “Who would like to begin?”

A moment passes. Two.

A man in the triangle raises his eyes.

“I’ll start.”

“Fine. Thank you, brother Joseph.”

“Thank you, brother Joseph,” the group echoes.

His real name is Nathan.

“I saw horses. Horses running through shallow water.”

“Mm-hmm. What else, brother Joseph?”

Mandy walks to the triangle and stands at Nathan / Joseph’s back. Nathan / Joseph closes his eyes.

“Ah, a waterfall. Maybe a river? The horses were running across a shallow river just before it turned into a waterfall. I think.”

Mandy smirks and says, “I think somebody has to go to the bathroom.”

Some of the triangle giggle, even Nathan / Joseph.

“Do you need to use the bathroom, brother Joseph?”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

Mandy kneels and cuts the zip tie around his wrists with a knife. The man stands, bows, and leaves the room.

“Does anyone else have to go?”

A few more eyes look up.

“Those of you who have to go, pick a number between one and twenty. Say it out loud.”

Five of the triangle whisper numbers.

“When Joseph returns, you may be excused by your number, in descending order.”

A small woman with straight yellow hair clears her throat.

“Sister Karen. Did you have something you wanted to share with us?”

“Yes. I, ah… I’m not sure.”

“Well?”

Mandy turns around and traces the other side of the triangle in Karen’s direction.

“I thought I heard something. A sound…” Karen shifts on her knees, wincing.

“You may all sit however you choose. Please, don’t be shy. All of you.”

A few of the triangle reposition themselves. One man stretches out on his back and groans in relief. People near him chuckle. The house cat pads over and sniffs his hair. He reaches both hands up to pet it.

“It’s difficult, but it’s difficult for a reason,” Mandy beams at the ceiling, still walking in triangles around the room, passing Karen without stopping. “I’m afraid those of you who gave up so easily just lost your bathroom privileges. Don’t worry, you’ll get them back soon. But we need to get better at this.” She slaps a nearby end table for emphasis. “The Seer will be here in a week, and we need to show him that we’ve made significant progress. Now, I don’t expect any of you to suddenly turn up as the Student of the Infinite Prime…” (this arouses sparse tittering) “…but that is the perfect goal for which we aim, however imperfectly.”

Nathan / Joseph returns and resumes his position on the carpet.

“Good. Who’s next?”

No one moves.

“Joseph, you may go and dress.”

“Thank you, Mandy.”

“Thank you, Mandy,” the group echoes.

Nathan / Joseph stands, bows, and quits the room again. The cat trails behind him.

“All right. No one has to use the bathroom who hasn’t lost their privileges? Really?”

A woman clears her throat and gives Mandy a sheepish smile. “I was number nineteen.”

Mandy cuts the woman’s zip tie.

“Thank you,” she utters and walks away.

“Thank you,” the group echoes.

“OK! Karen, I believe you were on the verge of sharing something possibly very interesting with us.”

Karen’s real name is Rebecca.

“I guess I thought I heard my mother’s voice.”

“Your mother’s voice.”

“From when I was a little girl.”

“Go on.”

“She was singing a lullaby. Something sweet and… sad.”

“What else?”

“That was it, I think.”

“And how does this fit in with our training?”

Rebecca / Karen closes her eyes. She takes a deep breath and opens her eyes.

“That it’s a lie, that it’s not what I was truly meant to see.”

Mandy nods, still circling the room.

“Right, and why?”

“Because the Great Liar walks with us every day.”

“The Great Liar walks with us every day,” the group echoes.

“Karen, why are we naked right now, in this exercise?”

Karen looks down at herself. She looks back up.

“To, um… To show the Great Liar that we’re not afraid of our own bodies, or of each other, or of the truth?”

“Right. So why won’t you tell us what you experienced in your vision, other than your mother’s voice? What are you holding back?”

“Ah…”

“It’s OK. No one here is judging you. This is a safe place.”

Karen stammers and falls silent.

“Karen, which prime are we on today?”

“Two. We’re on prime two.”

“We are on prime two,” the group echoes.

Rebecca / Karen bites her lip and does not cry.

“And what do we do on prime two?”

“Wait. We wait for the right information to penetrate the lies.”

“And what lies are you telling us right now?”

“I’m not… I’m…”

Mandy runs to her side, grabs a handful of hair, and pulls back hard. Rebecca / Karen lets out a choked yell.

Lies!” Mandy screams.

This time Rebecca / Karen cries.

Mandy lets go and resumes her walk along the sides of the triangle, calm again.

“What else?”

Rebecca / Karen remains still. Tears stab her naked thighs.

“Don’t be frightened, Karen. I wasn’t angry with you.”

“Thank you, Mandy,” she hiccups.

“Thank you, Mandy,” the group echoes.

“Well?”

“Nothing. I didn’t see anything. Except…”

“Yes?”

“Well, I did hear water dripping in like, maybe a cave.”

“Good. What else?” Mandy lowers her eyes and gives a sideways smile. “More water…”

The group laughs. Rebecca / Karen does not laugh.

“Um, trickling water from inside an echoey cave.”

“What did you see?

“Darkness. A hand.”

“A hand?” Mandy stops pacing.

“Yes, a hand. White, in the dark. Reaching out for me.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere. What did this hand do?”

“It tried to… it tried to strangle me.”

“Good, good. What did you do?”

Rebecca / Karen shakes her head.

“I’m sorry, I don’t remember!”

“That’s OK, Karen. It’s OK. Shh…” Mandy is at her side again, stroking her hair. “We only fear the truths that can penetrate our lies.”

“We only fear the truths that can penetrate our lies,” the group echoes.

“You’ve made tremendous progress today, Karen. You’ve been very brave. Everyone, please note Karen’s bravery today.”

The group pops their lips in a mouthed applause.

“Very good. Now,” Mandy says, stepping away from the triangle. “Who wants to tell us about the technology of the Great Liar? When we last discussed…”

Mandy’s sentence is interrupted by the cough and rumble of a van’s engine.

“Looks like your ride’s here. You’re off the hook for now. Until next week, then. And please this time don’t forget to practice going long stretches without using the bathroom, right? Yes?”

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