Monty Cranston had a headache.
This was not unusual, unfortunately. Migraine-esque projective headaches were becoming common for Monty nowadays. They'd started about ten years ago, after his retirement from active duty as The Shadow had stopped giving his projective telepathic energies a regular release, but had been occasional and manageable for most of that time. Normally, a quiet afternoon of meditation, a round of psychic defense, or some other activity that allowed Monty to let go of his powerful projective psyche kept them in check. But over the past two weeks, even that hadn't been enough, and it seemed as if he was doing release activity after release activity, never really making any headway. He was pretty sure he knew what was going on--a psychic growth spurt, like the ones his father had gone through on occasion for most of the last 40 years of his life--but that didn't make the headaches any easier to take. What puzzled Monty was why the headaches didn't seem to be fading--surely a growth spurt wouldn't be this long. He knew he probably needed to get up to the Catskill Mountains, to The Temple Of The Cobras, and spend some time with The Marpa Tulku to sort through what was happening in his head, but somehow it always seemed to get pushed down the priority list of things to do--some business meeting at Cranston-McAllister Research, some Shadow case that needed his consultation, some activity with his beloved grandchildren always came first before any retreats for his own needs. As much as Lamont had suffered with this very condition, he and Monty had never really talked about coping with this...as if Lamont were hoping that the condition were not genetic, that Monty would never have to go through it. But like everything else in Lamont Cranston II's life, he was following in his father's footsteps psychically...and eighteen months after Lamont's death, Monty found himself wishing he could talk to his father even just once more, ask him how he'd managed to get through spurts like this without going insane.
Especially right now.
This latest bout with pain had started about 9 p.m., not long after Monty had returned from walking grandchildren Mickey and Suzanne Benning back to their home just up the block. He'd had an annoying pressure in his head all day, and even a psychic wrestling match with son Trey hadn't done anything except lower the noise, but it was only after he'd settled in for the night that the dull pressure intensified into a red-hot ache. It was times like this that Monty understood how his father had managed to get hooked on narcotics in his early 20s--right now, he'd give almost anything for the pain to stop. A sharp, explosive burst of projective energy intended to relieve pressure about an hour ago had only made it worse, and it was taking everything he had not to cry out for help. He had to do something.
Maybe a drink would help force his mind to relax a little. He sat up in bed.
The pain increased dramatically as he did. Monty doubled over and held his head, moaning. Something was definitely wrong. This was like nothing he'd ever experienced...the only thing he could compare it to was the pain of his psychic awakening almost 50 years ago. He felt nauseated, disoriented, shaking from the pain. He needed help, and he needed it now. He forced himself to get out of bed.
The room spun. Monty grabbed the bedpost to hold himself upright, then steadied himself and got his robe, trying to think of who he could even call for help. It was after midnight--most likely, Trey was still out on the streets as The Shadow, and his daughter Linda Benning was with him, along with his sister Lane McAllister's children Adam McAllister and Barbara Ryan. Linda's husband Michael was Chief Trauma Surgeon at St. Vincent Hospital in Manhattan, but was in the midst of his shift right now and couldn't come to Monty's rescue. He hated to wake his sister, but he needed someone to come to his aid, someone who understood psychic phenomena and would at least have a clue what might be wrong. He headed out the door of his bedroom, calling Lane's name as he made his way downstairs.
Suddenly, the entire world turned sideways.
The last thing Monty felt was his legs buckling before he passed out.
Times Square at night was a hotbed of activity. Just on the edge of Broadway, the revitalized tourist area was a focal point for the sometimes crazy nightlife in Manhattan. It was not exactly the kind of place one went unnoticed.
Still, four swirls of blackness, shadows unattached to anything, made their way from the back of a cab near a dimly-lit corner into a darkened alley, then drifted around a corner and up to a dead end...which morphed into a retracted door into the side of an old brick building. The four dark specters slid through the darkened entryway, and it closed over...sealing the Shadows in their Sanctum.
Moments later, four black-clad figures swirled into visibility as they reached the bottom of the staircase that descended from the entryway above. The first to shed hat and scarf was Barbara McAllister Ryan, who fanned herself with the broad-brimmed fedora. "Man, oh, man, it's hot out there," she groaned.
"Muggy," Linda Cranston Benning agreed, tossing her hat and cloak onto a nearby hook. "Felt like a sauna."
"There are days I wish it was possible to get the effect of the cloak and hat out of a t-shirt and shorts," Adam McAllister noted, opening his riding coat and airing himself out.
"Oh, come on," Trey Cranston teased, heading for The Sanctum's kitchen. "This is the glamorous part of the job, remember?"
"You are a sick man, Trey Cranston," Adam retorted.
"As if that were ever in doubt?" Trey opened the refrigerator and tossed three bottles of water across the room to three waiting partners, then grabbed one for himself, opened it, and took a huge swig. "Ah. That feels good."
"Almost as good as seeing Unguin Ugbeth get what was coming to him?" Linda asked.
"You got that right. That was a sweet takedown." Trey doffed his Shadow uniform and stripped off the black t-shirt he wore underneath, then poured some of the water over his head and shook it away to cool off.
"You know, this is so unfair," Barbara observed. "Guys can strip off their shirts at the drop of a hat and get away with it. Women do it and they get arrested for indecent exposure."
"As if anyone down here's going to say anything?" Adam laughed, pulling off his shirt to join his cousin in the bare-chested cooldown.
"I think they're just jealous," Trey noted.
"Yeah, right," Linda remarked. "I'm jealous of two guys with rugs on their chests."
The two cousins gave mock-curious glances to their respective torsos, each covered in a thick layer of reddish-black chest hair that was perfectly in line with the Black Irish bloodline that dominated each of their genetic makeup. "I don't know," Adam said, casting a sidelong glance at Trey. "I mean, it sounds like there's some repressed incest thing going here..."
Trey nodded. "The lady doth protest too much."
Linda sloshed what was left of the water in her bottle at them, then stormed off to change clothes.
"Men," Barbara grumbled, then headed off behind her cousin.
The two male cousins laughed. "You are rotten," Trey scolded.
"Me?" Adam looked offended. "Who do you think I learned it from?"
"Granddaddy," they agreed simultaneously, then laughed again.
Trey held up his empty water bottle. "Another one?"
"I'd really like a beer," Adam replied, downing the rest of his water in a swig.
Trey glanced in the refrigerator. "You're in luck. Looks like Barbara remembered to pick some up this week when she restocked." He pulled out two bottles and handed one to his cousin.
Adam didn't reach for it. Instead, he froze in place.
Trey recognized the look in Adam's eyes immediately. What are you seeing?
Mom, Adam whispered mentally, then his eyes widened in shock. Oh, no! Oh, my God!
What is it? Trey demanded.
Adam blinked, then gasped. Your father...he fell down the stairs.
What? Trey pushed his way into his cousin's mind. Let me see.
Adam replayed the clairvoyant vision.
Trey watched in horror as his aunt Lane hurried in the front door of Cranston Manor, screaming as she saw Monty lying at the foot of the stairs, unconscious and trembling. Dad! Trey shouted mentally.
Mom already tried that, Adam told him. He's out cold.
Trey looked shaken. Linda! he called, running toward the clothes closet.
Linda came out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, still dripping from her shower. What's going on?
Dad collapsed and fell down the stairs. Trey tossed her some clothes from the closet, then grabbed a change of clothes for himself.
Oh, my God--what happened? She pulled on her clothes quickly.
I don't know. Adam says he's out cold. Aunt Lane found him.
Where is he now? Linda called to Adam.
Adam concentrated. They just put him in an ambulance. Mom told them to take him to St. Vincent's.
Trey sent for Joseph Shrevnitz, the third generation of Shadow cab drivers, as he finished fastening his belt and slipped into his sneakers. Hold down the fort, guys. We'll be back later.
Be careful, Barbara called out as Trey and Linda raced up the stairs to street level.
Dr. Michael Benning came out of surgery on one of New York City's many gunshot victims that St. Vincent's saw on a nightly basis and stretched tiredly, giving a glance to the wall clock outside the OR. 12:45 a.m. Just under 18 hours to go in his 24-hour shift. As Chief Trauma Surgeon, Michael was one of the busiest members of St. Vincent's staff; he oversaw nearly every operation during his shift, taught residents, and generally led a team of doctors and nurses through the minefield of a life in a big city trauma center. Colleagues and students praised him as a brilliant, compassionate doctor, driven to succeed. Almost no one outside his family, though, knew why Michael seemed to have the edge on nearly every other doctor in St. Vincent's: He was a receptive empath, able to assess a patient's life energies and general health with just a mental glance. It was a vital skill in trauma, where seconds could mean the difference between life and death and fast diagnosis was crucial. Take the young man upon whom he'd just operated, for example. The case had looked fairly straightforward, but Michael saw the man's life energies ebbing unexpectedly, concentrating below his heart and above his stomach...to Michael, a sign that the man's aorta had been nicked and was beginning to bleed out. He'd made a decision to bypass a CT scan in favor of immediate surgery, which was completely against protocol and irked several residents--but the decision had been correct, because when Michael opened the man up, he found a 2 millimeter hole in his aorta that was beginning to leak. Left unchecked, the pressure of the blood flowing through the aorta would have torn the hole open wider...and the young man would have bled to death in minutes. That kind of quick thinking made Michael a legend among St. Vincent's ER doctors...and an extremely busy man, as everyone seemed to want his consultation on their cases.
So when Michael's trauma beeper went off, he gave a sigh, then glanced at the text message:
Level 1 trauma--male, 62, fall down long flight of stairs, unconscious. Possible stroke. Four minutes out.
Michael felt a strange chill go through him. His 62-year-old father-in-law had been trying to hide how bad his headaches were becoming for days now. And Cranston Manor, where Monty now lived, had a huge center staircase. He took off running for the ER.
Michael's worst fears were confirmed when the paramedics brought Monty in on an ambulance gurney, shaking and looking pained. "This is Monty," one of them introduced to the trauma team. "62 years old, in overall good health. Sister found him lying at the bottom of a staircase--said he'd called her complaining of a severe headache about a half-hour ago. He's had these tremors you're seeing apparently since before the sister arrived. No drugs, probably had a cognac around 10 p.m. Family history of strokes and aneurysms."
Immediately, the team surrounded Monty and transferred him off the ambulance gurney and onto a hospital examination table. Monty let out a low moan.
Michael stepped to the head of the table to give Monty a quick empathic sweep.
The projective psychic energy that slapped away what Monty's instinctive defenses must have thought was an intrusion nearly knocked Michael backward. He drew back suddenly from the table, and would have fallen to the floor if a resident moving to check Monty's pupils hadn't been right behind him and caught him.
"Dr. Benning?" a nurse asked, concerned.
"I'm all right," Michael reassured, giving a nod to his rescuer. "Took a misstep." He turned to his team. "Injuries?"
"Right knee is swollen," reported Dr. John Stagg, the new primary ER physician. "Kneecap looks out of alignment. Possible ligament tear. Doesn't respond to reflex tests in that leg."
"Slow to respond to stimuli," one of the nurses reported. "Mild trembling. Body temperature normal."
"Check his pupils, get his vitals, get a line going, and I want a blood O-2 reading. Something's not right here." He turned back to Monty and concentrated, trying to get through the chaos he could hear in the man's thoughts. Monty? What's happening?
The energies took a long time to coalesce, and when they did, they sounded distorted, like speaking through a microphone turned up too loudly. My head...it's about to burst...oh, God, it hurts...
Michael took a second to again attempt to read Monty's life energies, and again felt the man's instinctive defenses swatting him away. Monty, stop fighting me.
I'm sorry...I can't help it. He winced noticeably as the pain increased, struggling to hold back the surging energies.
Your projective reservoir is really full. What's happening in there? When did this start?
Pressure all day...started hurting when I went to bed...can't think straight, can't release fast enough...it hurts...oh, God, it hurts...
I know it does. Open your eyes and look at me.
It took a second, but Monty opened his eyes.
"Hello there," Michael greeted aloud. "Can you hear me?"
"Yes," Monty whispered weakly.
"Good. What hurts?"
"My head..." He trembled again as the pain increased.
"Shall I call for some t-PA?" a nurse asked, preparing to inject clot-busting drugs into Monty's bloodstream to counter the effects of a stroke.
Michael gave Monty's psyche yet another sweep, just to make sure he wasn't reading this wrong. "No," he finally said. "I know what's wrong. Call Neurology--we need an EEG."
Dr. Stagg looked taken by surprise. "His right side is impaired," he said in a condescending tone. "He's having a stroke."
"He's not having a stroke," Michael stated firmly. "He's having an epileptic seizure. His brain is electrically overloaded."
"And you can tell that just by looking at him."
Michael didn't like to be questioned in the midst of an examination. "Yes, I can." He looked coldly at the other doctor. "But to prove it to you..." He looked down at Monty. "Monty, stick your tongue out."
It took a minute for Monty to find enough focus to respond, but he did.
"Straight," Michael pointed out to his team. "Good job, Monty. Look up at me."
"Don't move your head," Michael urged, then shone a penlight above Monty's eyes. "Follow the light."
Monty's eyes traced around in synch with the pen.
"Eyes track normally," Michael indicated to the other doctors. "Good. Move the fingers on your right hand."
His right fingers rippled.
"Good. Now your left."
The left hand moved, fingers fluttering.
"Wiggle your toes."
Monty did so.
Michael looked at Dr. Stagg. "He follows commands. He's got motion on both sides and all four extremities. His right knee's impaired because he fell, not because he's having a stroke. And he fell because he's having an epileptic seizure." He looked back at his team. "Get Neuro in here now. And call X-Ray. I want a shot of his head, his neck, and his right knee."
"Yes, sir." Nurses scurried off to make the calls.
Dr. Stagg glared at Michael. "You'd better be right about this."
Michael looked confident. "I am."
"You do know who this is, right? He'll sue this hospital for everything it's got if you're wrong."
"Of course he knows," one of the nurses retorted. "It's his father-in-law."
Dr. Stagg looked taken aback.
Michael forced himself not to react. He turned his attention to the vital readings on the monitor next to Monty's bed--which were showing signs of severe pain taking its toll on his body. "His blood pressure's going up. The seizures may be feeding on themselves. Get me some phenobarbital." He turned to a nurse. "ETA on Neurology?"
"Right here," a doctor replied as a technician wheeled in an electroencephalography machine.
Michael cleared the way for the technician to set up the EEG and turned to Dr. James Jenkins, the neurologist. "62-year-old male, family history of brain abnormalities, developed a severe headache and fell down a flight of stairs. He's had tremors off and on for at least a half-hour now. Extreme pain and disorientation, having a hard time staying awake."
"You rule out stroke or aneurysm?" Dr. Jenkins replied.
Michael nodded. "Motion in all four quadrants, follows commands. BP's elevated due to pain, but it's not what's causing the pain. This is electrical, not cardiovascular. Something's short-circuiting."
"I believe you. Just making sure it's not something a lot easier to fix." Dr. Jenkins turned to his technician. "Got it?"
"He's wired," the technician replied, adjusting the last electrode on Monty's skull.
"Switch it on."
The technician did--and the sensors over the left frontal lobe went berzerk. "What the..."
"Look at that," Dr. Stagg said, incredulous. "I have never seen an EEG do that."
"Neither have I," Dr. Jenkins admitted. "Not live, anyway. I've seen the aftermath, but never seen one of these in progress."
"What is it?" the technician asked.
"Benning's Syndrome," Michael said. "A rare brain disorder. A mental electrical storm, literally. Left frontal lobe--the perception area of the brain--overloads and discharges like mad. Causes stroke-like symptoms and severe spatial disorientation, which is why he fell. A single one is not in and of itself life-threatening, but it can cause things like falls and accidents that aren't so good. But if the discharges start feeding on themselves, the patient can end up in status epilepticus, which can cause brain damage. Plus, it hurts like Hell, which drives up blood pressure--definitely not a good thing in the brain." He took the bottle of phenobarbital and drew out a dose into a syringe, then injected the contents into Monty's IV line. "15 milligrams of phenobarb going in now."
Monty looked alarmed when he heard the name of the drug. What are you doing?
The EEG vibrated wildly again, in rhythm with Monty's mental words to Michael.
"Relax, Monty," Michael said aloud. "We're giving you a sedative. It should calm down the storm in your head."
The look in Monty's eyes turned from alarmed to terrified. No...I can't control this as it is...
More vibrations in synch with his words.
"We want you to go to sleep," Michael urged. "No talking, no thinking. Just sleep. When you wake up, you should feel a lot better."
The drug hit Monty's brain, and he could no longer stay awake. He closed his eyes and blacked out.
The EEG recorded a violent burst of activity, then the readings began to calm.
"Wow," Dr. Stagg whispered.
"Some storm," a nurse cracked. "And that must have been like a bolt of lightning, right?"
Michael felt himself shaking from the energy his empathic senses had absorbed. "Pretty much," he agreed, then looked at the readings on the EEG again. "Looks like it's breaking up, though."
"That's a lot calmer," Dr. Jenkins observed. "He's lucky you were on call, Michael."
Michael took a deep breath and allowed the remaining energy he'd absorbed from the discharge to pass through him, then looked over at Dr. Jenkins. "Seen enough?"
Dr. Jenkins nodded. "Switch it off," he told his technician.
Michael turned to his team. "O.K., he's stable. Let's get his head, neck, and knee x-rayed and get him to CT to make sure we didn't miss anything. I'm going to talk to his sister." He headed out of the ER.
Dr. Stagg quickly moved to intercept him. "Dr. Benning?"
Michael looked back.
Dr. Stagg looked somewhat contrite. "How did you know? What made you so sure?"
Michael looked almost modest. "Look up Benning's Syndrome sometime and find out what primary researcher it's named for." Then, he headed for the waiting room.
Lane Cranston McAllister had been pacing the waiting room when she felt a sudden burst of projective energy smack her in the psyche. Even at that distance, the discharge from Monty's mind was incredibly strong and unnerving. She called out to her brother anxiously, but got no answer.
Michael came into the waiting room. "Aunt Lane?" he called.
Lane looked up. Over here, she called back.
Michael headed over to her--and caught her in his arms as she rushed to hug him. "He's going to be all right," Michael reassured.
"Oh, thank God..." Lane fought to keep the emotions down.
Michael gently patted her back and released her. "I've only got a second. Let's go in here and talk." He pointed to a private room off the main waiting area.
Once inside the private room, Michael closed the door. There. Less chance of someone seeing that the doctor and the worried family member aren't really talking.
Smart move. Lane looked nervous. What happened?
Looks like he had a psychic growth spurt that spun out of control. It triggered an epileptic seizure. He was on the verge of something called "status epilepticus"--near-constant seizure activity caused by electrical storms feeding on themselves. It can burn out the brain like an electrical discharge on a circuit board. You'll hear the term "Benning's Syndrome" tossed around--that's what I called this frontal lobe overload phenomenon in the research paper I wrote years ago. It was as good a diagnosis as any, and it gets the ball rolling on treatment.
I remember. You took great pains to write around the word "psychic", as I recall.
No sense in giving away the family secret.
How did it get out of control? Normally, Monty's really good at keeping his head balanced.
Which is why I'm wondering if there's not something else going on here. Epilepsy isn't really a disease, it's a symptom of a larger disease or disorder. Adept brains have a really high threshold for electrical overload, but Monty's mind also has a very large psycho-electrical potential, so he's in many ways even more vulnerable than most to something that could upset the balance that helps maintain that threshold. He's on his way to CT for a head-to-toe scan. I want to make sure he didn't hurt himself in the fall, but I also want to see if he's had some kind of illness or injury that would weaken him physically to the point that his energies would surge that high.
What was that blast he let out a minute ago?
I dosed him with phenobarbital...a sedative used to slow down brain activity and break epileptic seizures. It did its job.
Lane looked startled. Are you all right? That had to hurt you almost as much as it hurt him.
Tell me about it. I'm still buzzing. He checked his watch. He should be down at CT by now. I'll be back in a bit, after I've seen the scans. Has anyone called Trey and Linda yet?
Not yet. I didn't want to distract them in the middle of the mission.
Might be a good idea to give them a heads-up. If I were them, I'd want to know.
I know. She looked shaken. But if they're in the middle of something and I distract them...
We're not, Trey's voice answered her.
Lane looked around and spotted Trey and Linda hurrying into the waiting room, heading for the private side room. The family exchanged quick hugs--and Michael and Linda shared a quick kiss--then everyone turned serious. How did you know? Lane asked.
Adam had a vision, Linda replied. We'd just come off the streets and were cleaning up to come home.
What's the word? Trey asked.
Epileptic seizure, Michael told them. Benning's Syndrome is the preliminary diagnosis. I'm off to CT to confirm it. Excuse me. He hurried from the room.
Benning's Syndrome. Linda shook her head. Secret code for "his psychic reservoir overflowed".
Pretty much, Trey agreed. What happened?
Michael was hoping we would know, Lane told them. He thinks something physical may be wrong that would cause him to weaken physically...
...which would cause him to strengthen mentally, Linda sighed. Just like Granddaddy.
Oh, crap. Trey ran his hand through his hair, then looked thoughtful. You know, I wonder if it could be a delayed reaction to that accident he had a couple of days ago.
Linda nodded. I remember that. His limo got rear-ended. He looked fine. Said he was a little stiff, but otherwise all right.
But if he's got some sort of hidden injury like a muscle spasm or a pinched nerve..., Lane began.
...those things take a couple of days to develop, Trey agreed. And it could have hit him all at once.
Which would have thrown his balance way out of whack. Lane shook her head. Dammit, and I told him he was just getting old when he told me how stiff and sore he was this morning.
He was babysitting the kids tonight, Linda realized. And they always roughhouse with him something terrible. Bet he aggravated that injury, whatever it was.
Well, the kids weren't the only ones roughhousing with him. Trey grimaced at the memory. He and I went at it psychically earlier today. He said he needed a release really badly.
He probably did, Lane replied. He's been in this growth spurt for a couple of weeks now. I've even tussled with him a few times, and I don't provide half the challenge you two do. He must really have been desperate for some relief.
Why doesn't he just go up to The Temple? Linda asked. A few days with Marpa Tulku, and he'd have this under control for sure.
Because he doesn't feel he can, Lane sighed. That was Dad's world. Dad was the psychic master, the great teacher...our teacher. We don't have the same connection to Marpa Tulku that you kids do, or that Dad did, because we weren't trained by him.
Trey looked confused. I thought you both trained under The Tulku when he first came to America.
No, we went up there for a few lessons, spent some time there honing our craft, but it wasn't the same as actually training under him. We spent our formative years with Dad. Dad was our teacher, our guide, our ultimate psychic authority. When he died, we lost all that...unfortunately, right at a point where we both really need it. Lane looked as if she were about to cry, then fought back the tears and gathered herself. It's been tough the past few months trying to stay balanced...especially when neither of us has a spouse to provide us with that much-needed life balance any more. I've had some real struggles with age-related psychic expansion, but nothing like what Monty's been through. She looked shaky again. He's so much like Dad. And that scares him, because I think what Dad went through near the end with his mind just shook him to the core. Now he feels it happening to him...it's been so hard for him, and he's too stubborn to admit he needs help from anyone... Now she was crying, overcome with emotion.
Linda put her arms around her aunt. Why didn't you tell us any of this? I don't think any of us realized it's been so hard on you two. You could have told us--we'd have tried to help...
Lane shook her head. You kids have your own lives...your own familes...your own missions. You have enough to do without worrying about whether your parents are going insane on a daily basis.
Of course we do, Trey scoffed. We don't need to know about this at all. Not like it's ever going to happen to us, or our spouses, or our kids...
Trey..., Linda said in a warning tone.
What? Be nice to Poor Old Auntie because she's been through so much? The whole family treats this phenomenon like it's some sort of state secret, even from each other. Don't ask, don't tell, and it doesn't exist--is that it? Granddaddy never told anyone what he was going through until the very end...so Dad had no idea how to handle it when it happened to him. Then Dad doesn't tell anyone that he's on the verge of exploding until he collapses and falls down a flight of stairs. Makes me feel really good about my future. No wonder they call this the "Cranston Curse". So, Aunt Lane, when can I expect my head to start exploding?
Back off, Lane snapped in reply. You have no idea what it's like to deal with this.
Well, maybe I would if you two would start being honest about all this! Is this the real "Cranston Curse"--the inability to be honest with each other until it's too late to do anything to help each other?
Back off! Lane pushed him back with her mind.
Trey took a surprised step back, then gave her a hard mental shove in response.
Trey! Linda snapped, giving him a psychic slap.
Trey held his ground and refused to back down. What? She can't take it? I am through with the kid gloves. I am tired of this game of "Keep The Kids In The Dark For Their Own Good". I want answers, and I want them now.
Lane raked him over coldly with her eyes. Oh, you are so superior. You think you know so much.
No, I don't, and that's the problem! I don't know anything about this, because no one will talk about it! Now he looked shaken. Why did it take Dad nearly breaking his neck falling down a flight of stairs for us to find out how shaky his control had become? Why did it take Granddaddy fighting for his sanity nearly every day of the last year of his life for us to learn about late-life psychic growth in the first place? He fought to keep his emotions under control. We deserve to know the truth. We're the ones who have to live with this. I'm 37 years old, and I've been awakened 24 years now--that's almost two-thirds of my lifetime. Dad's 62, you're 60--you've both been awakened for almost 80% of your lives. My son is 15 and in the second year of his awakened life. My 11-year-old daughter is, by Marpa Tulku's estimates, a year at most away from her awakening. There are four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, every one of whom will have to deal with this in some form or another...and you and Dad are the only ones who can help us understand what it's like to be a Cranston who's getting older. We need to know what you're going through so that when we go through it, we're not completely overwhelmed...and our kids aren't shocked when Mom and Dad collapse with psychic migraines or die suddenly of projection-induced strokes or brain disease.
Lane looked away. Monty and Lane were very protective of one another, a product of nearly 30 years of partnering as Shadows on the streets of New York City, where one second of not watching out for your partner could mean the difference between life and death. The siblings had literally saved each other's lives on multiple occasions, each bound to the other by The Shadow's life debt. The anger and rage in Trey's words made her want to strike back at him, to protect her brother from accusations that they were deliberately harming the younger Shadows. But the pain and fear in his mental voice made her want to take him in her arms and comfort him, like the mother and aunt she was. Torn, she slumped into a chair and put her head in her hands.
Linda looked daggers at her brother.
Trey returned the glare. Don't start with me. I am not in the mood.
You are such a spoiled brat, Linda spat back.
Trey pretended to look hurt. Oh, I'm sorry. This must be some new definition of "spoiled", meaning "not wanting to be lied to any more."
Keep it up, Trey. I'll be happy to give you the fight you're looking for. She scoffed. Big man you are, with your oh-so-strong mind, taking on your poor aunt who's in no position to argue with you right now.
Poor Old Auntie could go 10 rounds with me and barely break a mental sweat, Trey retorted. That's the whole point. This is going to be us in 25 years...one of us will be sitting in a hospital waiting room, waiting on the doctor to come out and tell us how bad the other one's brain damage is from some kind of late-life psychic overload, wondering what the Hell we can do to stop it from happening to us because no one ever warned us what to expect. Does that not bother you in the least?
What bothers me is that you don't know when to shut up. Yes, I'm angry. Yes, I'm scared. But at least I have the decency not to take it out on my own family...
Of course not. You're such a good little girl. You'd rather backbite than be up front about your feelings.
Linda shoved her brother mentally.
Trey shoved back.
Suddenly, a burst of projective energy threw them both against opposite walls. Stop it! Lane ordered furiously. Stop it, both of you! Then, she broke down and sobbed into her hands. Stop it...stop it...stop it...
Linda recovered her senses and came over to her aunt once more, kneeling to comfort her.
Trey shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs. At 60, Lane Cranston McAllister's projective powers were deepening to a level that rivaled Trey's, who was the strongest of the current generation of Shadows...and whose projective powers were topped only by his father's. There were times, though, Trey admitted to himself, that even ultra-projectors needed to show a certain amount of respect for their elders. He came over and sat beside his aunt, putting a gentle hand on her shoulder.
Lane reached up and patted his hand, then gave it a squeeze.
The three of them sat together in silence, waiting and worrying as one.
The first thing Monty Cranston noticed as he regained consciousness was how foggy his brain felt. The second thing he noticed was how heavy his body felt. He opened his eyes and looked around.
Look, Lane teased. Somebody's actually home in there.
It took a second for Monty to realize he was looking right at his sister's face. He was so tired, so disoriented, that he felt like he was looking through gauze or a screen door at her. He tried to answer, but his projective energies wouldn't focus. "What happened?" he heard his voice croak weakly.
Michael moved into his view. Relax. You're in the ICU at St. Vincent's Hospital. You had an epileptic seizure and fell down the stairs. You broke a couple of ribs and dislocated your right kneecap. We've got you on heavy painkillers right now. That's why you're having a hard time staying awake.
He tried to talk again, but his mind fought every attempt to focus its energies. "My mind...I can't project..."
Oh, you can project just fine. That's the problem. Your projective reservoir is overflowing. That's why you had the seizure. We gave you a dose of phenobarbital to force your mind to relax. It's wearing off, though, so we just started you on morphine a few minutes ago so you wouldn't be in so much pain that the seizures would start up again. We'll probably start weaning you off it sometime tomorrow if you show some improvement.
Lane gently stroked her brother's cheek and looked worried. What happened? What made your mind go crazy like this?
"Hell if I know." He tried to remember. "It just started surging. I'd been trying to balance it all day, but every time I'd stop releasing, it would build right back up again. By the time I went to bed, I felt like something was burning inside my head. That's when I tried to get downstairs and get over to your house for help. Last thing I remember was the room going sideways...I guess that's when I blacked out." He looked at Michael. "I have epilepsy?"
You have Benning's Syndrome...a disorder of the brain characterized by extreme electrical activity in the left frontal lobe. He smiled wryly. At least, that's the diagnosis for public consumption. What you really had was an out-of-control growth spurt aggravated by a pinched nerve that's causing you a lot of pain. Your natural defenses tried to ease the pain, but the inflammation on that nerve is scrambling the feedback signals, and your psyche overloaded. Play a little too rough with the kids last night?
"Last night?" He looked confused. "How long have I been out?"
Michael looked at the clock on the wall. About five hours. I was getting a little worried. Your mind is still showing signs of overload, and you had a mini-seizure as the phenobarb was wearing off.
Monty still looked confused. "I can't have been out five hours...it feels like it was just a second ago that the room went sideways..."
Trey moved into his view. Dad, it's six in the morning. You've been here all night.
Monty looked upset. "Oh, God...I can't even think straight. Why can't I remember what happened?"
Michael gave a reassuring smile. It's not unusual for epileptics to lose the block of time surrounding their seizures, plus you're on some pretty heavy drugs that are only adding to your disorientation. You'll probably never remember the exact moment of seizure, but I think you'll eventually get most of that time back. Right now, you need to rest. Your brain was pretty traumatized by what happened last night, and it needs time to heal. Just relax. He clicked some keys on a computer nearby, making notations on Monty's electronic chart. Need anything before I go?
Monty sighed, fighting to stay awake, still unable to concentrate enough to focus his thoughts into psychic conversation. "A new brain."
Michael patted his shoulder gently. I think the one you've got is perfectly adequate. It just needs a good tuning and cleaning. Hopefully, we can help you get that. He gave Linda a kiss and Lane a hug, then nodded a good-bye to Trey before departing.
Monty looked frustrated and frightened. "What is happening to me? I can't think, can't think at all..."
Linda came over to her father's bedside and gently stroked his hair. That's the drugs, Dad. It's O.K. Just relax. You'll be fine when they wear off.
"I feel blind...like I'm in a fog..."
It's O.K., Dad, Trey soothed, rubbing his father's shoulder. Remember when Granddaddy when through this after his heart attack?
"He could still project," Monty snapped. "I can't...my mind is gone..." Tears began to fall down his cheeks.
Lane returned to his side and took his hand. Your mind's not gone. It's just injured. You'll be all right once it heals. She touched his temples. Remember the weeks after your awakening, when you thought it would never stop hurting? This is just like that. Your psychic defenses are really battered, and your energies keep surging over them, so you're having trouble focusing. You've got to give your mind a chance to rebuild itself. Stop trying to think so hard, close your eyes, and rest. We'll be here to help if you need it.
Monty squeezed his sister's hand, looking frightened.
Lane rubbed his hand lovingly, projecting a gentle hypnotic wave to ease his fears.
He laughed uneasily. "Trying to cloud my mind, sis?"
It may be the only time I ever can, she teased.
Monty nodded his agreement, then drifted off to sleep.
A week passed very slowly in St. Vincent's Hospital for Monty. His mind was still surging at times, making repair of his psychic barriers as difficult as it had been when he was a newly-awakened adept almost 50 years ago. The overflow from the surges brought on yet another seizure not long after Michael had begun weaning Monty off morphine, and he ended up spending another day in ICU with heavy painkillers in his system, much to his chagrin. But gradually, Monty got control over his mind once more, and he was transferred to a regular hospital room and began physical therapy to rebuild the strength sapped by seizures, medication, and the fall down the stairs. Monty longed to solidify his psychic control again so that he could better focus his energies on tumo summonings to heal his body, because the weakness in muscles that had helped him once practically rule the darkness was extremely frustrating.
It was shortly after his return from one of those physical therapy sessions that daughter Linda came to visit. Hope I'm not disturbing you, she called as she came in.
Monty sat up in bed and smiled broadly. Not at all. I just got back from therapy. Waiting for that sorry excuse for food that they call "lunch" around here.
Father and daughter embraced as Linda grinned. That is the clearest you've projected in almost a week. You must be feeling better.
I'd feel a lot better if I were out of here. I could go home and unwind. I can't let go of my mind here. Every time I start a tumo, I get interrupted by some nurse coming in to take my vitals or give me some pill or tell me to get up and walk.
Linda took a seat in a chair next to the bed. They're just trying to take care of you. Are you still having those growth spurts?
He sighed. Nothing I can't handle.
So that was a "yes"?
He looked annoyed. Yes, that was a "yes". But I'm fine. I haven't had a seizure in five days. Whatever this was, it was only temporary.
Why are you snapping at me? I'm just worried about you.
I know. He looked frustrated. I'm just tired of having people hovering over me, as if I'm some frail and fragile thing who's going to die any second. I'm fine. It was a fluke thing, and I'm over it.
Linda sat silent for a moment, then leaned back in her chair and laughed.
Monty looked suspicious. What's so funny?
You are. You keep denying you're still having problems keeping your mind balanced, when I can feel the surges coming down the hall of the hospital. She shook her head. Trey was right. Don't ask, don't tell, and it doesn't exist--that's the family motto.
Now there was darkness in his angry eyes. Don't take that tone with me.
This time, The Shadow's mocking laugh answered. What are you going to do about it, Dad? Deny it? Tell me I'm wrong? She looked at him sternly. Aunt Lane is terrified that this is going to happen to her any day now. Trey feels like this is going to be him in 25 years. And I'm wondering if Granddaddy was the exception to the Cranston Curse, because Michael said you could easily have died from this. Why are you acting like it's nothing?
What am I supposed to do, Linda? Wring my hands and say it's over? Roll over and die, like everyone else did before Dad came along? If I don't treat this like a big deal, then it isn't.
There's another answer, you know. Get help.
This time, The Shadow's laugh came from Monty's mental voice. From who? You? Lane? Trey? Maybe Michael's got some medical miracle drug that will completely obliterate my psyche--then I won't have to worry about it any more.
Monty looked away. He's got better things to do than fuss with me.
How can you say that? He lives for this sort of thing. His whole life is devoted to caring for adepts and helping them as they grow. Look at how he was able to help Granddaddy in his later years...
I'm not Granddaddy, Monty interrupted.
Linda raised an eyebrow. Aha. So that's it. You're afraid to ask for his help, because you don't want to be compared to Granddaddy. Afraid you'll come out on the short end of the comparison?
Who wouldn't? Monty looked at his daughter once more, his expression frustrated. There'll never be another adept like Dad. He was the best student The Tulku ever had. And The Tulku never hesitated to tell everyone that.
Monty scoffed. Don't be ridiculous.
Sounds like jealousy to me.
There's a difference between being jealous and being realistic. I know I will never be the projective master my father was. I don't need to be constantly reminded of that by his teacher.
So you'll let your pride keep you from seeking the help you need to deal with your expanding psyche. That's intelligent.
You know, I don't need to take this from you.
Then shut me up.
Monty looked out the window again.
You won't do it because you know I'm right. You know this is what Mom would be telling you if she were here. You know this is what Granddaddy would tell you to do. But you're too stubborn to listen. And it almost cost you your life.
Monty let out a hard sigh. So, I should just get on a plane and go up to the mountains and show up at The Temple unannounced? With my luck, The Tulku will be in the middle of some child-monk's training session, and I'll be left in the lurch.
He would drop anything short of an awakening for you.
No, he would drop anything short of an awakening for Dad. I'm not Dad.
Linda looked frustrated at her father's stubbornness for a moment, then something occurred to her. Remember what you told me when I was getting ready to go up there for my awakening? When I was afraid to go to some strange place where I wasn't going to be allowed to see or talk to my family for a year, where I'd be sick for days and wouldn't have anyone to take care of me except this guy called The Tulku? What did you tell me?
Monty remembered the moment of taking his precious daughter, not even 13 years old, into his arms to soothe her fears as she stood on the cusp of her awakening. I told you that I trusted Marpa Tulku with my life. And now I was trusting him with yours.
Were those just words? Or do you really trust him with your life? Linda put her hands on his shoulders and turned him toward her. You trusted him to take care of your wife...your children...your grandson. Trust him to take care of you. Please, Dad...please.
Monty looked at his daughter for a long moment. Though she had the unmistakable Cranston features--the coal black hair, the intense blue-green eyes, the heart-shaped face with high Irish cheekbones--Linda was so much like her mother Annie that it was scary at times. She knew exactly what to say to get him to listen. And her strong will was almost impossible to contradict. He finally relented. How can I say no to such irrefutable logic?
She smiled at him. You can't.
Two days later, Trey held Monty's crutches while he climbed out of a military transport that was stopped outside of The Temple Of The Cobras. Need a hand?
Monty shook his head. Got it. He slipped a crutch under each arm.
The two men made their way slowly up the sloping path to the front steps. Monty looked up at the stairs and cringed.
Trey slung the strap on Monty's suitcase across his shoulder. Let me help. He picked up his father in his arms and carried him up the stairs.
I can do this, Monty complained.
I know you can. But it's not good form to pass out in front of Marpa Tulku from exhaustion before you've begun even one exercise. He climbed up the long flight of stairs to the front door, then set his father down and rang the bell.
The door opened a crack, revealing a Chinese boy wearing the robes of a junior initate. "Yes?"
The sun is shining, father and son projected almost simultaneously.
The initiate looked immediately attentive. "But the ice is slippery," he returned. "May I help you?"
We're here to see Marpa Tulku, Trey responded.
"He is occupied at the moment. May someone else help you?"
Trey smiled tightly. You're new, aren't you?
The initiate looked surprised at the deduction. "I have been here two months."
A chuckle. As I suspected. He held up his left hand, revealing The Shadow's fire opal ring. Tell Marpa Tulku that The Shadow wishes to speak to him.
The initiate turned pale. "I am so sorry...I did not realize..." He opened the door for them to pass through and bowed deeply. "Of course you may enter."
Thank you. Trey and Monty came through the door. Trey doffed his shoes and helped remove his father's, then placed both pairs against the wall.
The initiate quietly closed the door and bowed once more.
Monty looked back at the young man, who was averting his gaze and looking chastized. What's your name?
"Tsing," the boy said quietly.
Monty smiled gently. Rise, Tsing. Don't be ashamed. You were only doing your job. He gave a nod toward his son. I'm Lamont Cranston II--"Monty" for short. This is my son, Lamont III--"Trey".
Tsing rose, then looked at the two men. "It is an honor to meet you, sirs. I have heard the stories. But I never expected to actually meet the great projective master called The Shadow." He looked ashamed. "I had heard he was dead."
Monty smiled wistfully. That was my father. And yes, he passed away a year and a half ago. But The Shadow lives on. Now, if you would be so kind as to tell Marpa Tulku that he has visitors...
"Of course." He scurried away toward the main chamber.
Trey and Monty made their way down the long corridor. Trey looked around and smiled broadly. There are times I really miss being in this place.
Monty listened to the mental voices ringing through the building, the sounds of young minds growing and training. It is a unique setting, isn't it?
That's an understatement. Lamont loves it. He couldn't wait to get back this summer to train some more.
You were the same way. Monty sighed. I don't have quite the same attachment to this place that the rest of you do.
Maybe a few days here will change that.
I doubt it.
Trey frowned at his father.
Monty smiled at him indulgently. But I'm willing to be open to the possibility.
Good. Trey patted his shoulder.
Tsing returned from the main chamber, surprised to see the men practically in front of him. "He is with another student," he announced. "But he will see you now."
Trey listened to the frequencies coming from the main chamber and smiled broadly. And I'll bet I know just which student he's with. He gave a nod of dismissal to Tsing. Thank you.
Tsing bowed once more, then left.
Trey gestured toward the main chamber. After you.
Monty nodded his thanks, then crutched into the room.
Sure enough, The Tulku was engaged in a round of psychic defense with another teenage initiate, this one with lightning-quick reflexes and powerful projective energies. The Tulku blasted a hard telekinetic wave at his student, and the student leapt aside to dodge the mental projectile, rolling to his feet and blasting back.
Good move, Lamont-4, Monty praised.
Teacher and student stopped their battle long enough to notice the new visitors. Grandpa! Lamont Cranston IV greeted happily, then looked alarmed at the large knee brace that encircled his grandfather's right knee and the crutches that supported his balance. What happened?
Monty smiled. Fell down the stairs and wrenched my knee. You going to give me a hug?
Lamont IV came over and hugged his grandfather, then gave one to his father. Hey, Dad.
Hey, yourself. Trey pulled back and looked at his son. Have you grown again? You weren't this big when I dropped you off a month ago.
Lamont IV grimaced. Dad...
He has grown about a half-inch, The Tulku commented. He is already taller than his teacher.
Yeah, well, he'll be taller than I am before long, Trey laughed. Then, he knelt and bowed respectfully to the great psychic master.
Monty joined his son in a bow, grimacing as he tried to kneel with his good leg.
Rise, The Tulku instructed, then smiled warmly. Welcome. It is good to see both of you again. He turned to Monty. It has been a while.
Monty smiled wryly at the reminder that the two men hadn't seen each other since Lamont's funeral. Eighteen months.
It is good to have you back. He turned to Lamont IV. Lamont-4, would you please take your grandfather's bag to your great-grandfather's chamber?
Monty looked surprised at the notion that he would be staying in his father's chamber...and even more surprised that the room was even still set aside rather than given to another initiate.
The Tulku noticed the change in Monty's expression. Do not worry. It was cleaned just yesterday. It should not be stuffy or musty at all.
Monty tried to find words for his confused emotions, finally settling on a simple expression of gratitude. Thank you.
Trey sensed the unspoken suggestion that the two men be left alone together for a bit. I'll carry the bag, he offered. Come on, Lamont.
Monty watched as his son and grandson left the room together. That was very good, he noted. I almost missed the clouding suggestion you gave Lamont-4 to leave without asking any more questions.
It is difficult to cloud a Cranston mind. But not impossible. He gestured toward the steps to the altar. Sit. You look quite fatigued.
Monty took a seat on the steps. Not quite as young as I once was. He nodded in the direction Lamont IV had gone. I used to be as spry as him. Now, I can't even climb the stairs in my own home.
The Tulku sat down on his altar and crossed his legs in a lotus position. Nor the stairs up the walk outside.
Well, I could have, given enough time. But Trey thought I shouldn't exhaust myself before I got through the door. He shook his head. This is so ridiculous.
My complaints. I mean, all I really need is a tumo and a good long rest. But the kids wanted me to come up here and talk to you, for some reason.
So you do not really want to be here.
Monty sighed, not wanting to seem disrespectful. It wasn't my first choice.
Then it will be difficult for me to help you.
Monty frowned. This is one of those "The teacher appears when the student is ready" lessons, isn't it?
Yes, it is. The Tulku sighed. I have been expecting you for almost three weeks now. I am disappointed you did not come sooner. Had you come when your symptoms first started, this unfortunate incident might have been preventable. Now, it will be difficult to undo the damage.
I thought as much. Monty looked frustrated. I knew this would be a waste of time.
Time is not something that one should waste. It is precious. All we have is here and now. Yesterday is gone, and tomorrow is not promised to us. It took your father almost 101 years to understand that, so I am not surprised you are resisting the notion.
Monty laughed sarcastically. Once again, I fall short of my father's example.
And that bothers you. You did not want to come because you felt you would be compared to him, and you have spent the last eighteen months trying to establish yourself as his successor in the role of family leader and have no desire to be found lacking in anything.
Reading my mind again, I see. Then he heard the harshness in his mental tone and backed off a bit. Sorry. I'm being pretty rude, and you don't deserve that. I do want to thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. You've been really busy, and probably have a ton of students who are more deserving of your time and attention that I am right about now.
The Tulku sighed. You still do not understand. I am not simply clearing time from my schedule for you. I am putting everything aside right now because you need me. It is my divine charge to train and guide adepts like you through whatever they need to be guided through, whenever they need to be guided through it. I could no more refuse to help you than I could refuse to breathe. He looked sad. I should not be surprised you do not understand. I am, to you, a minor figure, irrelevant to your life experience.
Monty looked confused. When did I ever say that?
You do not have to. It is in your thoughts. Not those exact words, of course, but that sentiment. Your training came from your father. He was the one you turned to whenever you needed advice, teaching, guidance, reassurance. I was your father's teacher. Annie's teacher. Trey's teacher. Lamont-4's teacher. But not your teacher. In your mind, I cannot possibly help you now because I have no idea of your skills, your life experience. And you do not think you need to be taught, anyway; you just need something to get you through the immediate problem of rebuilding your mind after this little incident.
Monty looked frustrated again. You know, it would be useless for me to deny that I have my doubts about whether anyone can help me at this stage. I mean, maybe my father really was the exception that proves the rule--this power is too big to be handled by anyone for very long. It killed my entire family before he came along... He stopped as emotions began to boil inside him. ...and I don't know why it hasn't killed me yet.
You are torn. You have a very human survival instinct--you want to live, and will do almost anything to guarantee your survival. But you see your father's life span--39 years beyond where you are right now--and dread spending the rest of your life alone.
Monty hated it that The Tulku could peg him so easily. But he continued to resist the easy pigeonholing. But I'm not alone. I have my sister, my children, my grandchildren...
But your wife is gone. Your life partner, the mind that was almost a peer with your own, the light of your life is no longer by your side. You could conceivably spend the better part of the next 30 to 40 years without any peer companionship whatsoever. Your father never really got over the loss of his wife...and he had children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren by his side. The Tulku looked down at Monty, his expression hard and firm. You know you are much like your father, as much as you strive to keep your own identity. You see your life becoming more like his with every passing day. And that frightens and frustrates you more than you can find the words to express.
The emotions began to boil inside Monty again. Oh, God... He rubbed his eyes. I wake up every morning and look at that empty side of the bed...and my heart just sinks. Sometimes I see her in my dreams, as young and beautiful as ever... Tears began to spill down his cheeks, and he forced them back with a hard swallow. ...and then I wake up and she's not there.
And no one understands how completely empty you feel.
He nodded, wiping his eyes. I know Lane's going through the same thing, but in a lot of ways, it's different. David was 68 when he died. That's about the average lifespan for a man in the United States. Lane's adapted a lot better to life alone than I have, maybe because she was expecting to have to spend her latter years alone. But Annie was so young--just 59--and her mother's still going strong at 82. I'm the one with the family history of short life spans...
...and you wonder why it wasn't you who was taken.
Monty nodded. And then Dad went downhill so fast...I had to watch him dying by degrees, his body getting so weak that he had trouble just holding a teacup. But his mind...oh, my God, his mind...
His mind kept getting stronger, in defiance of everything you thought you understood about this power you possessed...this power you inherited.
Monty felt chilled from the memories of his father's last days, of the surging energies that were strong enough to have knocked down walls if Lamont had wanted them to. He kept telling me that it was probably just something odd about him, that most likely I'd never have to go through this. Or, at least, that's what he hoped. He looked angry. But I am going through it, dammit. It's happening to me now. And no one understands what this is like. It's constant noise, constant pressure, and it hurts like Hell. It's like awakening all over again.
And you have no teacher to turn to like he did.
Now he was shaking with emotion. I would give anything to be able to talk to him once more. I need him... He covered his face with his hands and tried to force back the tears, agony and pain pouring forth from his psyche in waves.
Conforting hands encircled Monty's shoulders, and he looked up.
The Tulku was now on the floor beside him. The stern expression of the all-knowing psychic master was gone, replaced by a young boy's gentle, sympathetic eyes. I miss him, too.
Monty finally allowed himself to fall apart and slumped against the young Tibetan's shoulder, crying for all he was worth.
Marpa Tulku rocked him back and forth, letting the emotions run their course. Let it out, Monty, he soothed quietly. Let it all out.
Monty sobbed for several long minutes. What am I going to do, Tulku? What am I going to do?
There are times I ask myself that very question...and I have been around for over a thousand years, through 23 different incarnations now. The truth is that none of us know what tomorrow will bring, nor how we will cope with it. We simply must deal with the here and now in the here and now. To do otherwise is to deny reality. He sighed. When your father died, I felt as if I had lost part of myself. I had never had a student like him. I doubt I ever will again. He taught me as much as I taught him. He and I shared so much through the years. Losing him is not something I will ever fully recover from.
Monty got hold of himself, wiped his tears, and looked up at the young man. There are times I forget what a loss this was for you. In many ways, you were the only person other than Mom who understood him. He trusted you with everything...his greatest joys, his deepest fears. I was jealous of you in a lot of ways--you knew him better than I ever could.
Which is why you find it hard to trust me now.
Monty hesitated, then nodded. But I need to. I need help. And you're the only one who can help me figure out how to deal with all this.
Marpa Tulku looked pleased. My prayers have been answered.
Monty laughed slightly. You were praying I'd break down like this?
No. I have been praying that you would someday need me. It will probably seem selfish to you, but I have always felt that I skipped a generation of your family. I trained your father, your wife, your children, and have begun training your grandchildren, but I never had the chance to guide you through your formative years. You were already quite well polished when I met you. You did not need me to do anything except challenge you. And as much as I enjoy challenging and being challenged by a Cranston mind...
...you felt cheated because you didn't have the chance to shape me like you did Dad.
Not cheated. Just incomplete. My life mission is to shape and guide psychics like you. You needed no shaping, and very little guidance. Your father had already give you all that. Despite his constant protestations to the contrary, he was a fine teacher...one of the best. He trained you and Lane very well for what you needed to do in life. You did not need me to give you anything but a good fight...and not even that very often. He looked humble. I have wanted the chance to help you do more...to help you deal with your mind as it continues to grow throughout the rest of your life. Projective growth in an adept is something that fascinates me, even as many times as I have seen it. Projectors are so rare--only one in ten adepts I train is a natural projector, and few of those have ever even approached the depth of power I saw in your father when he first awakened. Projective sides will often broaden with age, but seldom do they actually get deeper and stronger. I had never seen such extreme projective ability in an adept until I met your father--nor such incredible late-life growth. But I knew you possessed the same abilities from the moment I first met you. And your son and grandson both have that same growth potential. His eyes lit as he talked, in a way Monty had never seen before. You have such power. You have always felt you fell short of your father's example. And indeed, you will most likely never match the level of power he reached. But you will come very close. You have barely scratched the surface of the remarkable gifts you have.
Monty looked sad. But I may have squandered those gifts by waiting too long to seek help. Now I've got irreparable brain damage from the seizures.
Marpa Tulku looked into Monty's eyes and swept easily into his mind. Your protective walls are indeed damaged. They are no longer as strong and sturdy as they once were. There are weak points, jagged edges, even tiny holes, and the growth spurts you have been experiencing are putting a great deal of strain on them. The good news is that most of this can be repaired. But it will take time--weeks, perhaps even months--and a lot of work on your part. And you will have to continue to shore up your mental walls for the rest of your life as your mind continues to grow, or you will continue to have epileptic seizures every time your walls break down. Are you prepared to make the commitment to this?
Monty looked into the eyes of his new teacher. Absolutely.
Then let us begin.
Monty looked surprised. Now?
No time like the present. Marpa Tulku extended his hand to Monty.
Monty took it and rose unsteadily to his feet, then felt his right leg starting to crumple under him.
Marpa Tulku caught him before he fell forward. We will have to work on strengthening your leg later.
No kidding. Monty laughed slightly. It took a week of physical therapy to get it to this point. I haven't been able to maintain enough control to get enough focus to be able to tumo for very long.
Which is precisely what we are about to work on. He handed Monty his crutches. Move to the center of the room.
Monty did so.
Monty turned around and leaned against his crutches.
Take a good look around the room. Familiarize yourself with every corner, every crack, every irregularity.
Monty looked around. Is this an exercise in recognizing details?
In a way. Now, close your eyes and see the room in your mind.
Monty did so.
The Tulku smiled. The clarity of your mental pictures is very good. Your father taught you well.
Monty nodded his thanks. He worked me hard on recreating details of things I saw. Said it would help me mind cloud much better. He was right.
It took your father several weeks to learn to picture details as precisely as he needed to. But he became much better at it through the years...and it became one of his greatest strengths. A pause. You do not know the layout of this room as well as I do, so your mental picture is missing a few details. But those will come. Now, I want you to very slowly let your mind expand outward, toward the walls of the room.
Monty looked puzzled. Push toward the walls?
No. I do not want you to push. This is an exercise in control, not force. Think of your psychic energies as being encased by a balloon. As more of them become encased, the balloon expands. Your job is to make the balloon expand very slowly, so it does not pop and cause your energies to overflow. Fill this room with the balloon. Let it expand into every crack, crevace, and corner.
Is this the exercise Dad was doing when I could feel his mind swirling through the house?
Perhaps. More likely, he was actively stretching his mind, a slightly different activity we will tackle later. Learn this first.
O.K. Monty took a deep breath, then began to open his mind. The pressure behind his barriers quickly became intense, and he tried to release the pressure.
You are pushing, The Tulku scolded. Do not push.
Monty stopped what he was doing, and the sudden cessation of release made his head hurt. He winced and shook noticeably.
The Tulku rushed to his side, steadying his newest student. Deep breath, he urged. Relax your mind. Your energies are surging.
It's starting again, Monty realized. This is the same feeling I had the night of the seizure.
The Tulku nodded. Easy...do not let it overflow...just relax. He gave a glance to the altar, and a nearby kneeling cushion floated into the air and across the room, settling on the ground right behind Monty. Sit down slowly. Nothing should be rushed.
Monty tried to sit, battling his stiff leg and his balance the whole way to the floor. He finally got seated on the cushion--with a lot of help from Marpa Tulku--and gasped for breath, his face pale and his head pounding.
The Tulku knelt beside Monty and swept into his mind--and the sheer force of the surging energies startled him. This storm came up so suddenly. Is this what has been happening to you?
Monty nodded. Sometimes for days on end. This was what was going on the night I had the seizure.
The Tulku noticed Monty's pained expression and the way he was rubbing the brace surrounding his injured right knee. Your leg is hurting?
Monty nodded. Which I already know is not helping the situation.
The Tulku started to guide the excess energies to the injured leg to generate a tumo, then pulled his own energies back suddenly. One of the nerves in your back is impinged.
I'm not surprised. I was in a car accident a few weeks ago. It was getting better, but the past few days on crutches have aggravated it again.
That explains some of your difficulties. You have become so accustomed to generating tumo summonings when you are injured that you do it frequently without realizing it, which is what you were trying to do when your leg began hurting a moment ago. But the impinged pathway is causing feedback when you attempt to direct energy along it in a tumo, like a crack in a phone line causes static and noise. This feedback combines with the normal age-related psychic growth to create the overload sensations you are experiencing now. The Tulku looked through Monty's mind carefully, looking for leaks and breeches in the psychic's protective walls that could cause immediate danger, seeing the stormy growth spurt continuing to build. But even without the overload, this is just an amazing amount of adept growth. Truly amazing. He placed his fingers on Monty's temples. I can ease some of this for you. But you must let me. You are struggling to keep control, and you are fighting me unintentionally as a result.
I know. I'm sorry. Give me a second. He took a deep breath, then let it out slowly, firmly. He felt The Tulku's psyche wrapping around his own and finally yielded control to the master.
Much better. The Tulku closed a calm suggestion around the surging energies, enveloping them completely.
Monty looked amazed for a moment at how easily The Tulku had managed to encompass and secure that pesky growth spurt. Then he felt an odd swelling inside his mind...and realized the energies were still growing. Tulku...what's happening?
Exactly what I want to happen. Relax and let go. I will not let you get hurt.
Monty tried to relax, but the swelling and pressure continued to rise. He felt as if his mind were on the verge of bursting, like an overinflated balloon...Wait a minute. This is what I was suppose to be doing?
Yes. Relax. Do you feel what is happening?
Monty forced himself to let go of his fears and absorb the psychic experience...and felt incredible sensations surrounding his mind and carrying him along. Oh, my God...this is amazing! It's like floating in a pool, except not even the weight of the water holds you down.
Do you feel anything else?
Monty's eyes widened. The texture of your robe...the cold metal in the crutches...the stitches in the pillow...dust on the floor...my God, it's like my sense of touch has been magnified a thousand times and moved into my head. Every time the bubble expands, I can feel more. This is incredible.
The Tulku gave him a knowing smile. If you think these sensations are strong, wait until you learn to do this without help.
What is happening to me, exactly?
Psychic energy is often called a "sixth sense". The term is a misnoner. Most adepts use their energies as enhancement to their other senses, and find that certain senses are enhanced more than others. Clairvoyants, for example, generally see better than non-adepts. Receptives hear more.
And projectors have more sensitive touch.
Projectors generally excel at anything that requires physical effort or contact. Their energies are constantly reaching outward, pushing toward something beyond their boundaries. This is one reason your father became addicted to narcotics--opiates dissipate these energies as they dull the senses, especially pain receptors and nerve endings. What I will teach you to do is to stop fighting these growth spurts and allow them to expand your mind, which is what they are trying to do. As your mind expands, you will become more conscious of anything interacting with it--including physical barriers that intersect the psychic waves, like walls and floors. But like everything else a projector does, mental expansion requires control...a very different kind of control than what your father taught you. The first step is to learn to enclose the expansion without trying to break it, to go with the growth instead of trying to stop it.
Monty looked confused. But won't I overflow my psychic walls this way?
Not if you encompass the energies completely. If you can encompass the energies completely, you can let the moments of growth expand your mind outward without damaging the walls. In fact, enclosing the energies in this fashion will help ease the stress on your walls, and they will repair themselves faster than if you constantly try to disperse the energies through redirected pressure. Once the growth slows, then deflate the balloon to collapse the energies back to controllable levels. The Tulku looked into Monty's mind again and saw the storm dying down. Like this.
Monty felt The Tulku's gentle enveloping energies begin to tighten, stiffen, pull inward. Then he felt the energies inside his head pushing back in protest. Ow...
Relax. It will only hurt for a moment.
The pressure became intense, then something popped, like a bubble. Monty felt every bit of the overload drain away. Wow...that's better. That's much better. He looked lost in a memory. God, I can remember Dad doing that for me when I was first awakened. I can still remember vowing I'd learn to do that if it was the last thing I did. But he never did anything like that inside my head. The way you shaped that expansion was just incredible. I want to learn how to do that.
The Tulku smiled broadly. In many ways, Monty was so much like Lamont that it was almost frightening. But there were moments that the resemblence was soothing, reassuring. And until this moment, Marpa Tulku had not realized how much he missed Lamont and their moments of interaction.
Monty recognized the look and smiled gently. I miss him, too.
Teacher and pupil clutched each other's hands and smiled, finally beginning to establish a bond that had too long gone neglected.
Three weeks later, Trey Cranston returned to The Temple Of The Cobras. It was mid-August, and Lamont IV was due to start his junior year at St. Michael's High School in just a week. Trey remembered as he walked down the halls of The Temple how he used to love spending summers here and how hard it was to leave every year when his father and grandfather returned to pick him up. As much as he missed his son during the times he was up here, he found it heartening that Lamont IV had such an intense desire to learn more about his psychic heritage, to continue to develop beyond the basic learning experiences of most adepts who trained here...to move toward his life mission of carrying on the tradition of The Shadow.
As he approached the main chamber, Trey heard two familiar, powerful minds pressing one another in a round of psychic defense and gave a broad smile. The interaction of his father and his son reminded him of his own training, of the times he and his grandfather had tussled mentally, with his father joining in occasionally in a level of interaction other adepts could only dream of. But even more heartening than the memories was the realization that his father's psychic health had to be much improved; the strong energies he could feel ringing down the hallway were more coherent than he'd felt from Monty in several months. The entire family had taken the deaths of Lamont, David, and Annie very hard, and his father in particular had been in a near-perpetual funk for a year and a half now; Trey hoped with all his heart that Monty had finally found a way to focus his emotions and overcome his grief to start his life anew. He reached the main chamber and opened the door.
Sure enough, Monty and Lamont IV were engaged in a mock psychic battle, pressing with their minds against each other in swirling, ever-changing patterns. Trey slipped a projective tendril into the midst of the energy waves.
Monty and Lamont IV both stopped pressing and turned to the doorway. Well, well, Monty greeted. Look who wants to join in the fun.
Trey beamed. His father's mental voice sounded so clear, so focused, that he could scarcely believe it. Just like old times.
Monty smiled back. Better.
Good to be back.
Lamont IV looked over to Marpa Tulku. Gee, we might as well not even be here.
I don't think so, Trey laughed, crossing over to his son and embracing him. Good grief, you're growing like a weed. What are they feeding you here?
Lamont IV rolled his eyes. Come on, Dad...
Barley vegetable stew, Marpa Tulku answered. From his great-grandfather's recipe. It has become a Cranston specialty.
Yeah, I remember. Trey looked lost in a memory. I used to make it every time it was my turn to cook.
Monty looked over at his son and gave him a fatherly smile. I just learned the recipe for the first time while I was up here.
Trey looked surprised Really?
Monty nodded. Dad never showed me when I was training. And I never bothered to learn it during any of my visits...until now.
Marpa Tulku looked over at his once reluctant pupil. You have learned a lot of things during this visit that you had never bothered to learn during any others.
Monty shrugged, guilty as charged. Yeah, I'm stubborn like that.
Just like your father.
Monty looked pleased. I wouldn't have it any other way.
Yeah, but you still can't beat me in psychic defense, Lamont IV cut in.
Monty raised an eyebrow at his grandson. What did you call that flop on the floor you did yesterday?
Lamont IV scoffed. A lucky shot.
You were lucky I didn't put you through the wall, you mean.
Trey shook his head. Tulku, he told the master, you are a miracle worker.
The Tulku smiled. Miracles happen every day. I am fortunate I get to witness so many.
Yeah, but I think you had a lot to do with this one. He looked at his father. You look great. You sound even better.
I feel better, Monty agreed.
I can tell. The difference is just astounding. You're even standing up on your own.
Monty looked at the cane he held in his left hand that he was using to balance himself. More or less.
Better than when you got here. Where'd you get the walking stick?
One of Dad's. Found it in his chamber. He gestured over the ebony cane's silver handle. It suits me, I think. Simple, with just a touch of flash.
How's your leg?
Much better. It still buckles occasionally, though. I'll have Michael look at it when we get home.
Speaking of which... Trey turned to his son. Ready to go home?
Lamont IV groaned. Of course not.
You'd stay here all the time if we let you.
The Tulku smiled. Like father, like son.
Lamont IV nodded, smiling wryly. Wouldn't have it any other way. I'll get my stuff. He gave a bow to The Tulku and headed out of the chamber.
Monty sighed. I should probably get mine, too.
You do not have to leave until you are ready, Marpa Tulku reminded him.
I know that. But I'm ready. Not that I don't appreciate the time I've had here...
...but it is time you started living your life again. And that life is not here.
No, it's not. Monty looked at his son. It's back among my family. Even if some of them are no longer there.
Trey looked pleased at his father's resolve. It'll be good to have you back. We've really missed you.
I've missed all of you, too. He looked at The Tulku. But it's been a good three weeks. I learned a lot.
The Tulku smiled at the elder Cranston. As did I.
Trey realized suddenly that three was a crowd. Think I'll go get your stuff. He bowed to Marpa Tulku, then left the room.
Marpa Tulku looked over at Monty. Your subtlety is much improved over the past few weeks. I doubt Trey noticed that his realization that three was a crowd came from outside his own mind.
I just wanted us to have a minute alone before I left. Monty bowed deeply to the young monk. Tulku, I will be forever in your debt for the great gifts you've given me the past three weeks. You helped me gain control of my mind again. You gave me a chance to mourn my father and celebrate his legacy at the same time. You gave me back my life. Thank you for everything.
The Tulku took Monty's hands and practically pulled him to his feet. It was my pleasure. And a great privilege. I no longer feel as if you and I are estranged relatives. It was important for us to knock down the walls between us.
I think so, too. I know I'll never be the student Dad was to you. But that doesn't mean I should spend the rest of my life bemoaning that fact. Nor does it mean that I can't learn anything from his teacher. It was important I finally get that through my thick skull.
Marpa Tulku shook his head and marvelled. You are so much like him.
Monty smiled knowingly. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Nor would I.
Monty looked a bit unsettled. The only thing I dread about leaving here is going home to an empty house.
It will not be empty...any more than your father's chamber here could ever truly be empty. Memories will fill it more than sufficiently if you allow them to.
Just the thought of remembering his beloved wife made Monty emotional. And I've certainly got plenty of them.
As it should be. The Tulku put a gentle hand on Monty's shoulder. If your mind or your memories become too much to take, come back here. A few days away should help you gain perspective over them both.
Monty nodded his thanks. At least now, I feel like I can.
Perhaps that was the most important lesson you could learn from this whole experience.
Teacher and pupil clutched hands for a moment, then embraced warmly, letting the walls between generations and life experiences drift away.