Dr. Haven stood at the window of his office watching the fading light from the sunset. Evening was settling quickly among the forested hillsides surrounding the hospital and a few stars were beginning to twinkle overhead. He was tired; he'd been awakened several times the previous night by vivid dreams. I haven't had dreams like that since I took that peyote in college, he thought. I almost believe someone slipped a hallucinogen into something I ate yesterday. Haven had dreamed that he had been talking with the shadow man that Charlie claimed to see, and that the shadow man had given him a silver ring that was imbued with the power to travel into Charlie's worlds.
But if the ring is real, thought Haven, doesn't that mean that I really did converse with the so-called shadow man?
"Of course it does, my good doctor," said a voice from the far corner of the room. Haven spun around to see who had entered his office without being heard, but found only darkness. His eyes had become adjusted to the afternoon sunlight and he was unable to make out any detail in the shadowed and unlit corner of the room.
"Who said that?" Haven asked in a voice he hoped was forceful and confident, rather than revealing the fear that had his heart hammering within his chest.
"Have you forgotten me so soon, my friend?" Haven heard a faint rustling sound, like someone moving, and then he was able to resolve the faint shape of a man standing in the darkness. Haven reached for the switch on his desk lamp. "That really won't do much good you know. You can try, but I'm afraid it will just leave you more disconcerted, rather than less so." Haven paused, his motion locked by uncertainty. As seconds ticked by, Haven felt a bead of perspiration roll down his left temple, tracing the outline of his cheek bone as it raced toward the destination ordained by gravity and chaos theory. At last, he seemed to reach a conclusion within himself, and his hand moved the final three inches and snapped on the light.
The Shadow Man was standing in the far corner of the room. The office was now lit by a warm yellow light that revealed everything in detail. Everything, that was, except the Shadow Man. Haven could see no detail at all on the Shadow Man; it was as if all the light in the room was insufficient to illuminate the depths of darkness that defined him. The Shadow Man stood like a man-shaped space cut out of the world, an emptiness or lack of light. He was completely made of darkness except for his eyes, which were a bright silvery gray, startlingly bright against the darkness.
"Are you real?" Haven asked softly.
"What is reality, Doctor? And does it really matter if I am real?" The Shadow Man chuckled, and the hair rose on the back of Haven's neck at the sound. "I am real; at least I am real to the people who can see me. Others may have a somewhat different point of view I am afraid."
"Let's accept for the moment that I believe you are real," Haven said. "What is it that you want from me?"
"Permit me to be brutally honest with you, doctor," the Shadow Man said. "I wish to push you over the brink of sanity into the realm of the gods. I wish to introduce you to the powers of creation and destruction so that you might complete my epic tale. It was for this reason that I gave you the ring you now wear. It was for this reason that I escorted you to the worlds that Melissa will lead her champions to. Those worlds have been twisted by her presence and the powers of her champions, and they must be cleansed and set right."
"Melissa? Do you mean Melissa Thompson? Charlie's wife?"
"Yes Dr. Haven," the Shadow Man replied. "That is precisely who I mean."
"The police are still trying to find her," Haven said. "Do you know where she is?"
"Not exactly, no." The Shadow Man shifted. If Haven didn't know better, he might think the other was afraid to admit something important that made him distinctly uncomfortable.
This man, or thing, or whatever he is, is completely mad, Haven thought. Push me into madness? He already pushed himself far beyond that brink. I should get Security in here to wrap him up and then we can place him in the cell next to Charlie. The Shadow Man suddenly laughed.
"Wrap me up and put me next to Charlie? You foolish man," the Shadow Man said. "You don't have the power to touch me, Doctor. And there is no one here on your staff that can even see me. How then will you convince them not to wrap you up and put you next to Charlie? Stop wasting my time."
"Where is Melissa now?" Haven asked, ignoring the Shadow Man's evident ability to read his thoughts.
"I don't know," the Shadow Man admitted. "She eluded my pets at the Crossroad and entered into one of the alternate pathways. My pets killed the most powerful warrior among her companions, perhaps even wounded Melissa herself."
"Why are you trying to kill her? Or anyone else for that matter? Do you want to be caught by the police and punished?"
"Doctor, you are not seeing the Big Picture here," the Shadow Man told him. Haven had the distinct feeling the Shadow Man was both amused with him and impatient. "There is no law when you stand where I stand in the universe, no right and no wrong. There is only choice and desire. This is what I am trying to give you."
"Why me?" Haven asked. "Why not Charlie? Or someone like him?"
"What makes you think I didn't give this to Charlie? I was there when he was attacked, remember. I have always been there with Charlie, watching as he struggled to adapt to the power of Creation; struggled to accept the gift and truly wield it as it is meant to be used. And now, his mind is breaking beneath the weight of the gift and he is sinking farther and farther into insanity. But you, doctor, you could succeed where Charlie has failed. You could flourish where he fades away. Don't you want to have your sweetest desires fulfilled? Wouldn't it bring you utmost joy to heal not only one person, but to truly heal an entire world? Think of the glory that could be yours. This is what I have given to you."
Haven had always believed his true calling in life was to bring stability and health to people. He felt most alive and whole when he led a broken person out of the darkness of insanity and back into the light of health and wellbeing. If I could do that on a grander scale, imagine the fame and fortune that could be mine, he thought. I could be like a king, with all the wealth I could ever want, to hell with a clinic of my own. I could make my own kingdom and be worshipped. And why stop with a kingdom? Why not build my own world? I could create a global utopian society, populated by happy well-adjusted people, all of whom would thank me for my efforts on their behalf.
The Shadow Man grinned his most chaotic smile as he followed the doctor's thoughts. Good, he has taken the bait, he thought. Now to point him in the right direction and let him go. Fly true, my lovely arrow of Chaos; strike the hearts of the gods and free me from my chains.
"What must I do?" Haven asked. There was a fierce light burning in his eyes.
"There is a city called Kor Opan," the Shadow Man told him. "That is where you begin. I will introduce you to their new king and see you placed as the chief advisor. I am sure he will find you immeasurably valuable. After that, it will be up to you. There are no limits, you see. Only a question of what it is that you want and the choices you make to achieve that desire."
"And what is it you want in return?"
"Only a very small favor," the Shadow Man said. "It's so small I hesitate to bring it to your attention for fear of wasting your time."
"I always have time for friends," Haven said. The Shadow Man rejoiced inside at the signs of total surrender in the man's demeanor.
"I want you to stop Melissa, only that. The rest is entirely up to you."
* * *
Dr. Knutley was fuming; her anger at being made to wait for Dr. Haven was boiling over. The man is simply insufferable, she thought as she strode down the hallway. I can understand needing to reschedule an appointment, I'm even willing to cut him slack if he needs to reschedule a session mandated by the Board of Regents for disciplinary measures, but no phone call and no email, this is not to be tolerated.
The nurses were hiding behind the long counter where they controlled the scheduling and monitored all of the readouts from the sensors in patients' rooms. Dr. Knutley paid them no mind, not wanting to let anything dilute the anger that she intended to lay on Haven's desk. She reached the end of the corridor containing patient rooms and thrust open the double doors that separated the business section of the hospital from the private offices of the doctors. She strode right up to the administrative assistant's desk, addressing her as she passed on toward Haven's desk.
"Carol, is Haven in his office?" Knutley said.
‘Yes, Doctor," Carol answered confidently. "I heard him speaking with someone just a few minutes ago."
"Good," Knutley growled. She turned the doorknob of Haven's office door and punched it open. The door rebounded off the wall and came to rest against her open hand. "Haven, you arrogant son of a…" Her voice trailed away as she looked around the room and found it empty. She stepped fully into the office and checked the corner that had been out of her line of sight. That corner proved to be empty as well. Her anger faded a bit in the face of the tide of confusion rising within her. She let the door close behind her and walked slowly back toward Carol's desk.
"He isn't in there, Carol," Knutley said as she approached the desk. "Are you sure he didn't slip out?"
"I'm certain of it, Doctor. There's no way he could get past me without me seeing him," Carol told her.
"You wouldn't be trying to help the good doctor to escape me, would you Carol?" Knutley asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Doctor, I will admit to a slightly rebellious tendency at times," Carol said with a half-smile. "But lately, I have to admit the man has been giving me the creeps. He'd have to offer a rather significant bribe to get me to help him. If you see me driving a new Mercedes Benz, you can worry." Dr. Knutley knew that Carol drove an older Toyota sedan, and found herself chuckling at the woman's jest.
"Sorry, I'm just really getting irritated with Haven," Knutley said. "Do me a favor and buzz my office if you happen to see him slinking back in, will you?"
"You got it," Carol said. "And no charge, unless you happen to see some chocolate sitting around all alone and undefended."
"If I do, we can split it," Knutley said with a warm smile.
"Deal," Carol told her.
Knutley walked back the way she'd come, slower and calmer now. She still wasn't happy with the situation, but she was no longer in the grip of a burning rage. I don't know how that man gets me so angry, she thought wryly. If this keeps up I'll be scheduling my own therapy sessions.
* * *
Haven adjusted his silk robe once more, feeling oddly undressed in the flowing garment. It was vastly more comfortable than his normal business attire had been, but that very lack of confinement sometimes tricked his mind into thinking that he was undressed. There will be time for being undressed later this evening, he thought. I wonder how many girls I should summon tonight? Gray will be irritated if I take more than he does. Perhaps I should placate him and only call for three tonight. A royal advisor must maintain and air of dignity and wisdom, after all. He smiled as he thought this, ignoring the scene before him. Raised voices brought his mind back into focus on the matter at hand.
"But Majesty, there is no more money to give to taxes," a merchant protested. The man was dressed in brocaded silk fastened with chains of gold, betraying the level of his wealth. Haven very much doubted the man's veracity when it came to reporting his wealth to the Crown.
"We understand your concerns, Darnell," King Zavius replied patiently. "We have heard similar concerns from many people in Our city. You may rest assured that We have nothing in Our heart but the deepest concern over the wellbeing of the populace. But if you continue to withhold your fair taxes, We have no other option than to seize your property. This is all part of the path to a better world. Perhaps Lord Haefyn can explain it in a way that you might comprehend. Lord Haefyn, if you would be so kind?"
Haven smiled in response to the king's words. He stepped gracefully from the shadows beside the throne and nodded to the king. "My dear friend Darnell, you've had this explained to you many times. I'm sure we've made it clear?"
"Yes, Lord Haefyn," Darnell responded. "It's been explained until I can nearly repeat it in my sleep." There were chuckles from a few of the guards in the room. Haven looked around quickly, trying to identify the men who weren't taking this seriously.
"Allow me to be brutally honest with you, Darnell," Haven said as he leaned closer to the man and lowered his voice. "In the better world we are making, everyone will be equal and share equally in the wealth of the kingdom. You have too much wealth when compared with other citizens in our city. You can either pay higher taxes and shoulder your share of the burden, or we can take it from you and leave you with nothing. It really is that simple, and now your king is awaiting your decision."
The blood drained from Darnell's face as he finally realized this was no joke. They really meant to strip him of his wealth and probably his life if he refused to pay his taxes. "Your Majesty, I believe I understand the situation at last. I believe I can find the rest of the money required for my taxes." Darnell swallowed hard, trying to fight back the tears that rose to his eyes. In order to pay the taxes, they wanted seven-tenths of his wealth. The amount was staggering; far more than any king of Kor Opan had ever demanded. King Niall, like his father before him, had taken only two-tenths of the money that changed hands in business, and never levied taxes against property. They had understood that capital was required to build a business, and that the more business thrived the more the coffers were filled by the reasonable tax. This new king was mad to think it was right to take so much from those that had enjoyed success. It would break the city in time, but Darnell hoped to have gotten his family and remaining wealth away from the city before that happened.
"Wonderful news, Darnell," Haven said loudly. "I hope I may express His Majesty's gratitude that you have seen the light and have chosen to support our fair city as is your obligation. Guards, please escort Darnell to the tax collector's office and help him make the proper arrangements." Two guards stepped forward, saluted, and then dragged Darnell to his feet and frog-walked him out of the throne room. Haven hoped the tale would spread and that the rest of the wealthiest members of the city would learn from it before he was forced to send out the guards to seize what was required of them. They would never achieve the utopian society he planned without redistributing the wealth from these oppressors at the top of the food chain to those they had bled dry for so many years. I simply don't know what this place would ever have become without me to guide the king, Haven thought. The silly ass really thought that capitalism was the path to a normal society. He is no different than the kings that came before him, really. He simply wanted the same things with himself at the center of the grand spider web of wealth.
The Shadow Man watched the tableau from the shadows beyond the pools of light spilled from the crystal lamps in the throne room. He grinned with delight as Haven worked to change this kingdom and warped it beyond recognition. This will tear at their hearts more than anything I could have devised, he thought. Melissa is sure to appreciate the cleverness of the trap I lay for Mikey and the king she loves. Once she realizes that there is no hope of seeing her husband again, she will cease this quest and I can continue my own journey.
Haven failed to give any importance to the sensation of cold seeping into his flesh from the mottled silver ring on his hand. If he had glanced at it in that moment rather than enjoying the spectacle of the rich merchant being dragged from the presence of the king, he might have seen a new bit of blackness swirling into the brightness of the metal. But his attention was given wholly to the feeling of power rushing through his bloodstream as the overly rich merchant was brought to justice, and the change passed unnoticed.
* * *
"But it just doesn't make sense Haefyn," Gray said. "How does taking the money away from the wealthy and spreading it out equally help the kingdom thrive?"
"Because it restores the citizenry to the perfect balance that Nature intended," Haven answered. "All men are equal. It is only the corrupting force of greed that separates us, lifting one class above another. Eventually we see the rise of the wealthy elite oppressors standing on the crushed hopes and dreams of the working class."
"And how do you take the wealth from the wealthy and give it to the poor so that all are equal?" Gray asked.
"Taxes, my king," Haven said. "We institute a progressive tax scale. The more wealth you have, the higher your tax rate becomes. As we reduce the wealthiest members of the kingdom to a more reasonable level, their tax rate will decrease to the normal level. Then we give that money to the oppressed people, raising them up from the gutter to the level they were intended to live at."
"What? We simply give the money to the poor?"
"Yes, in the worst cases," Haven told the king. "In the case of the middle classes, we provide them with health care and better education."
"And that makes their lives better? And it makes everyone in the kingdom better than they have been in the past?"
"Yes my king."
The two men were sitting alone on the terrace of the king's apartments in the palace. Haven was patiently explaining what he saw as the proper changes to the kingdom to bring about the utopian dream he had for the people. The king sipped a cool fruit drink from his golden cup, and sat thinking about his counselor's words while gazing across the lush garden beyond the terrace.
Haven's eyes were blazing with possibility as he became wrapped up in the future he was describing to the king. This has never been accomplished at home, he thought. Just imagine, I will be the first person to fully realize the socialist dream. My world will provide full care for everyone, the best education, and total health care for every citizen. There will be no oppression of the poor; no victimization of the working class by the wealthy elite. And of course, with me to guide the government, we will succeed where no one else has.
"I'm sorry Haefyn," said Gray. "I just don't see how this plan of yours can work. I do, however, like parts of it. I think we should begin to implement the health care and the education immediately. But I cannot forget my origins enough to think that this 'redistribution of wealth' as you call it can be a good thing for the kingdom."
"Perhaps if I explain it more clearly, my king…"
"Perhaps another time, my friend," interjected Gray. "I will think on it in the meantime. Now, if you will please excuse me, I will move on to other matters now." The king nodded graciously, clearly indicating the audience was at an end. Haven was irritated but knew better than to object. Zavius Gray had an alarming habit of making people who angered him disappear.
Haven bowed to the king and left the royal apartments. I'm sure he will come around to see the true beauty of this method of government in time, Haven thought as he walked through the quiet hallways. Perhaps I just need to explain more clearly to him. Obviously, the king's intellect isn't quite up to the task of implementing a utopian plan such as mine. If only I could find a way to move forward in spite of his resistance, surely he would understand once he saw it in action and then would approve. I'll just have to find a way to make that happen.