Life Volunteer

I loved Sebastian Krause, in a platonic way. He was my mentor and a very good friend. I knew there was something wrong when the weekly phone calls stopped. It left me with a feeling of unease I didn’t know the source of. It was only when one of his life support volunteers phoned me, that it hit me. He never liked to use the words patient or client, they set the wrong tone and didn’t line up with the philosophies he would teach. Lily Passion (no not her real name, but in the same vein), said Sebastian told her to phone me if the inevitable happens. Within a few hours his other life support volunteers had called.

I agreed to see Lily later that day. She was a little frantic, it was hard to tell if she was excited or panicked. I was intrigued. Sebastian had tutored me for many years. While I didn’t agree with his laissez faire attitude to the job, he got results.

Lily greeted me with a suspicious look as I welcomed her into my home office. I found it was more inviting than meeting patients in a sterile environment.

“You’re not as tall as you sound on the phone,” were the first words that came out of her mouth. It was quite an odd statement but filled me with questions I wanted the answers to there and then.

“I have a gift,” she continued, and handed me a pink cardboard box decorated with a white bow. It was one of those types of boxes you expect to be given at a bakery filled with sweet treats.

“Thank you, I’m not supposed to accept gifts from patients.”

When the word left my mouth, I winced.

“Sorry,” I said, “you’re not a patient, you’re a…”

She cut me off.

“Life support volunteer,” she said with a smile, “Look, you don’t have to pussyfoot around with me. I’m a grown woman, I know why I’m here. Besides, I know you like coffee and walnut cake, Sebastian told me.”

I felt it odd that she was on first name terms with her psychiatrist. It felt odd that she knew more about me that I knew of her. She walked around the room, studying the books in my bookcase, the little trinkets I had on shelves, judging me.

I sat down and waited. One of the first things Sebastian taught me was to never ask the first question, wait until they initiated the conversation no matter how awkward it became.

Two minutes had passed, Lily was now resting on the couch opposite, waiting. She didn’t seem annoyed or anxious about the lack of conversation.

“I’m sorry,” I said, breaking the silence, “I don’t know much about you. I haven’t got your file, I’ll need a couple of weeks to get up to speed.”

“That’s fine,” she said, a smile erupting on her lips.

“How long have you been seeing Mr Krause?”

“I’ve known Sebastian for five years. He saved me.”

“Saved you from what?”

“From the life I was living. Have you ever needed saving?”

The question took me off guard.

“No,” I replied, a little too firmly.

“How would you know if you needed saving if you didn’t know you needed it in the first place? I didn’t. Then I met Sebastian.”

“Where did you meet him?”

She went silent, contemplating an answer.

“Can you remember when you met your wife?”

“Yes, I can actually. I was twenty-seven, it was at a friend’s party,” I didn’t like to share personal information with patients, so was cautious to be vague.

“Can you be sure though, that that was the first time you met her?”

“I don’t know what you mean?”

“You could have seen her in the street years before. She could have served you coffee in a fleeting visit to a far-away state.”

There was something disturbing about that example. My wife had, in fact, been a waitress a couple of states over. And I had visited there during the time she worked there. It was possible.

“So, to say I met Sebastian on a specific day is rather asinine, don’t you think?”

I didn’t know what to say. There was a powershift in the room, suddenly I felt like the patient and Lily was the life support host.

“I’m not comfortable talking about my family, if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” she said.

The silence from moments before was back and I had no intention of alleviating it. I was unprepared. I didn’t know this person. I hadn’t even checked to see if she had been a patient of Sebastian. She could be anyone. I hadn’t thought about it before. What did she mean by when the inevitable happens. It slowly dawned on me.

“Where’s Mr Krause?”

“I was waiting for you to ask. Some friend you are, I spoke to you this morning and this is the first time you think to ask?”

“It’s all hit me rather suddenly.”

“Do you mean, is he dead?”

“Yes,” I said, my voice cracked.

“What is dead exactly?”

“I mean, is he still alive?” I caught myself from losing my temper.

“If that’s your definition, then no, he’s not dead.”

“Who are you?”

“What a fantastic question, who are we?”

I stood up.

“Enough of this bullshit. What’s happened to Sebastian?”

“You’re not as tall as you sound on the phone,” she answered, her smile now gone, but her voice still calm.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“A nonsensical statement in order to trigger, confuse and disarm. Don’t you remember anything I taught you?”

“Sebastian?” I asked, almost automatically.

“We are neither dead nor alive. We only exist.”

I slumped back in my chair.

She stood and knelt in front of me.

“I know this is very confusing for you, it is for me. But he did it, he actually did it.”

“What did who do?”

“Sebastian. He and I are legion.”

“This is some sick joke isn’t it? Is Sebastian outside listening to all this? Him and his fucking practical jokes.”

I got up and stormed to the door, pulling it wide open to see my assistant, Erica, at her laptop.

“Is there a problem, Adam?”

“Is anyone else here?”

“Your 4 o’clock is due soon, but no, I’ve not seen anyone.”

“Cancel them and call the police.”

“What’s happening, Adam?”

“Do it.”

I slammed the door, turning the lock. Lily was standing just behind me.

“Calm down,” she said.

“You’ve killed him, haven’t you?”

I sidled past her and to my desk, looking for something, anything to protect myself.

“You’re having an internal crisis, stop and think.”

The words struck a chord in my memory. Sebastian told me that all the time when I was a student.

“Think, don’t act. Impulse is the reaction of the primate brain. Compartmentalize.”

“You want me to think?”

She nodded.

“The box, what’s in it?”

“An idea.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“A revolutionary idea about what it means to be alive. How can I be here, and in there at the same time?”

“You’re Lily, and you need help. If what I think is in there is in there, then…”

“You’re not as tall as you sound on the phone.”

“Stop it.”

“You’re not as tall as you sound on the phone.”

The words started to lose all meaning and I calmed.

We are legion.

“We are legion,” I said.

“You understand?”

We understand.

“I understand.”

In that moment I did. I didn’t need to look in the box. I knew what was in there. It was my proof if I ever needed it. Sebastian knew it, we knew it.

There was a knock at the door. I unlocked it and answered.

“The police are here,” Erica said.

“Tell them it was a misunderstanding.”

Exhausted I sat on the couch. Lily sat in my chair.

“So how does this work?”

“How do you mean?”

“Sebastian, is he still there?”

“He is with me and you. We are legion.”

“How can he be in two places at once?”

“He isn’t. We aren’t. I am you and you are me. We’re all the same.”

“This is too much to take in.”

“It took me a while, but then he had prepared me for years. I suspect it’s a shock for you.”

“Can I speak to him? I cannot hear him anymore.”

“I’m here, it will take some time to get used to it. How about we have a session tomorrow? My calendar is quite free,” Lily said with a smirk.

There was another knock.

“They won’t leave without seeing you,” Erica said.


“I best be leaving. You know where I’ll be.”

And I did, I just knew.

I felt drained for weeks. Memories that were not mine gradually filled my mind; lives I’d not lived but had. Do you know what I mean? If it wasn’t for my reflection in the mirror, I would have trouble differentiating which me I originally was. But it’s good.

I’ve put the box in the freezer, just in case. If it’s what I think it is, I best get rid of it, though it would be like losing a part of me, as silly as that might sound. Sebastian thinks it’s funny every time I think about it. I’ve told him I’m not going to prison for him. He asks me how can I be charged if he’s not dead. I don’t think that’s how the law will see it. We and the other life support volunteers have been talking, recording video. No matter how comprehensive our research paper will be, he tells me there’s a thin line between genius and insane. I tell him it helps if others can see the line.

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