There’s a convertible in the scrap yard covered in “PSYCHOLOGY RULEZ” and “Radio Nil Midnight Sessions” stickers. The owner must have been a fan of Grant’s show. We settle across the leather backseat with a squeak as the tape starts its loop over again. The top is down, and the stars and heat are competing for attention with Grant’s gravel-grumble of a voice.
GRANT: Hey, everybody. This is your favourite psych doc with the brain-bug laser-lock, and you’re listening to the Midnight Sessions. Whatever is going on in your life that you need to talk through, doc Grant is here to hear it. Start punching our number, and I’ll catch you on the air right after this song.
I broke your bones and buried them,
Salted the ground and worried, then.
What if I’d hear them scurry, and
What if they’d look for me?
GRANT: Looks like we’ve got our first caller, and Brian from the sound box is flailing at me like it’s some sort of emergency. Hi, Brian! Lay off the coffee for me, will you? All right, Marty from Toronto, you’re on the air. Tell me your woes.
MARTY: Listen, Grant. Just so you know, before we start. I have no respect for you.
GRANT: Whoa, buddy. Tell me how you really feel.
MARTY: No, listen. We’re both gonna have to make concessions we don’t want to make. You’ll have to concede that you’re nothing but a smart-mouthed hack, and I have to concede that you’re the only person who can help me right now.
GRANT: Marty, it sounds like you’re in a lot of distress. Tell me what’s going on.
MARTY: What’s going on is that I’m coming loose from my own body, man. Literally, and not how kids say ‘literally’ but mean whatever. Actually literally. I don’t think I have time to screw around, so let me just ask you for one small favour. One small favour before one big one.
GRANT: What’s the small favour, Marty?
MARTY: As long as it doesn’t cost you anything to do so, just assume I’m telling the truth and know what I’m talking about. I am too damn tired, and I don’t know how much longer I can hold on.
GRANT: All right. You’ve got it. I’m with you.
GRANT: Yeah. Whatever it is, I’m listening.
MARTY: Right. Thanks, man. Here goes, then. Something happened about a week ago. I was driving to work, heading towards that awful Bloor Viaduct—you know the one?
GRANT: Sure, over the Don Valley River.
MARTY: That’s it. This guy had climbed to the top of the safety fence. It was dark, and so desolate. He was lurching around, trying to make it over, and at first, I sped up to reach him.
GRANT: You’re talking about Harold James, aren’t you? He was on the news. He wasn’t trying to do anything, man, he succeeded. If you saw that, it’s no surprise you’re struggling and need to talk.
MARTY: No, man. I mean, yeah, but I saw way more than that. I saw his body fall off the bridge, and then I saw the rest of him fall off about three seconds later. It’s hard to describe, but you know how sometimes you can tell someone’s staring at you? There’s a real awareness in there, and you can feel it. It’s magnetic. But there isn’t one in a plastic dummy, right? So his body was a plastic dummy, and the awareness was coming from behind it. It was so vivid, at first, I didn’t even register what was going on. My brain was so sure it was an invisible dude pushing a dummy off the bridge, then jumping off to save it. What kind of first impression is that?
GRANT: Were you tired? Migraines? Had you been drinking?
MARTY: You’re already trying to fix the problem, but that ain’t the problem I need you to fix. I thought we agreed you’d listen.
GRANT: You’re right. I’m sorry. I’m listening.
MARTY: I thought it was just a random blip, too. It scared me so bad, though; I turned around and drove back home. But I’ll admit it, I was telling myself I’m being stupid the whole time. In hindsight, there was already something pushing at the back of my head that night, but we sure love to tell ourselves we’re being stupid and there’s nothing wrong, don’t we? We get a lot of practice at it.
GRANT: Amen brother, that we do.
MARTY: It’s been getting worse every day since then.
GRANT: What has?
MARTY: I think whatever he had, I’ve got it now. I’m becoming just like him.
GRANT: You mean you’re experiencing some sort of out-of-body episode?
MARTY: Except this episode is always playing. It’s like I’m driving my own body with fishing line, and the handling is getting shakier and looser each day. Right now, I’m talking to you through a ten-foot meat tube. I tell this body to breathe because I know I have to, not because I want to. I can’t taste the food I put into it. At night, I dream, but I’m not even in those dreams. I’m not even a spectator.
GRANT: I’m guessing you don’t want me to tell you what plausible things this could be.
MARTY: If I wanted a real therapist, I would have called a real therapist.
MARTY: I have called real therapists.
MARTY: This ain’t no dissociation, man. This is not PTSD. I’ve been to those places before, and this is a whole other zip code. Besides, they say I have to go in for sessions. They say they need to see me.
GRANT: That’s what I’d tell you. You need to talk to someone. In person. This isn’t you not getting along with your wife, or you not knowing how to get with the girls. No offence to the rest of the callers, but there is a certain—low—level of problems we solve here. And this isn’t it.
MARTY: I know, man, but don’t you get it? They wanna see me. That’s how I got this in the first place, I saw a man who had it. I saw a man who was loose to the point of not tolerating it anymore, and it cut me loose, too. So that means, if it’s option B and I’m right, if I let anyone see me, they’re goners, too.
GRANT: You think you’re gonna give this to someone else?
MARTY: I know I will. Even if I’m nuts, what kind of man would take that risk?
GRANT: Taking this at face value, assuming everything you’re saying is true, how can I help?
MARTY: Do you believe me?
GRANT: Do I believe you feel separated from your own body? Yes. Do I believe it was caused or aggravated by witnessing someone commit suicide? Definitely. Do I believe it’s some sort of virus, transmitted from person to person by the very act of being observed? No.
MARTY: Would you bet someone’s life on it?
GRANT: I don’t know, buddy. I guess I have to say no.
MARTY: And that’s why I need you. For once, the fact that you’re just some guy on the radio telling people what to do with their lives could actually be of some benefit to someone.
GRANT: Just so we’re clear, I am a licensed professional. I dispense common sense, and mental hygiene advice, and occasionally, when somebody who really needs help comes along, I tell them to go get help. Which is what I’m going to be doing with you.
MARTY: So you’re not gonna help me?
GRANT: Whoa, buddy. You know you’re on the air, right?
MARTY: You underestimate the magnitude of the nothing that I have to lose.
MARTY: Something that’ll knock me out hard. Reset my brain. I dunno man, you’re the licensed professional. Something against hallucinations.
GRANT: So you do think you’re hallucinating?
MARTY: So that I can prove I’m not. I need something that will kick my ass into kingdom come, and when I wake up, I’ll barely remember who I am. Something that’ll shake me back into myself. Write me a script. Have someone drop it off. I’ll tell your sound tech where, pick it up in the middle of the night. Nobody needs to know, nobody needs to be put in danger.
GRANT: Out of the question.
MARTY: Then, that’s all we’ve got to say to each other, isn’t it?
GRANT: Wait, Marty. What if I promise it’s safe to go see somebody—And he’s off. Brian’s telling me we haven’t got a number. There you have it, folks, thanks for tuning in. If you’re a regular of the Midnight Sessions, you know the drill by now; you can’t always help everyone, but it’s always worth a try.
The tape clicks, then rewinds and begins again. They didn’t use to do that, but we found a way. There’s something charming about old technology. It’s so easy to reach into.
This time, it’s a tape deck in an overstuffed room with a brown leather armchair and a brown leather couch. What was it about leather back then? Files litter the floor, and there’s something growing out of a mug on a mahogany desk. There’s a window cracked open, letting in the smell of heat and asphalt. This loop starts just as a cool breeze picks up.
GRANT: Marty, I’m really glad you’re back. You’re on the air.
MARTY: I don’t think I’ve got a lot of time left. Last three days since I called you have been brutal.
GRANT: I was really hoping you’d gone out to talk to someone.
MARTY: I did, man. I did. I gave up. My head was hurting so bad. My real one, not the body one. Moving around the house gives me the wildest motion sickness, like I’m seeing everything from two places at once and I can never figure out which angle to react to. I mostly don’t look anymore. Can’t eat. Just making my mouth move right now feels repulsive. I was desperate, so I caved.
GRANT: What happened?
MARTY: I managed to get some poor asshole to see me in the middle of the night. Mitigate the damage, I thought. He’d been listening to your show, knew all about me.
GRANT: I’m flattered.
MARTY: I wired him a bunch of money in advance, blacked out my car windows. I did my best, man. I really tried so hard.
GRANT: I believe you. Take a deep breath, bud.
MARTY: I even got him to send the receptionist away for the night. It was all going fine but…
MARTY: I saw it the moment I walked into his office. The moment he clapped eyes on me. It’s like he jumped out of his own skin. He tried to keep it together, put up a fight. Sat me down, started asking me questions. But every time I looked at him, his eyes were bulging out, and the top of his lip was drenched. He excused himself to go to the bathroom. I heard him throw up, and man, I remember what that felt like. The first days. He was in there for minutes, and I just… I just left.
GRANT: Do you know if anything happened to him?
MARTY: Grant, man, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say it sounds almost like you believe me. Which would be great, because I think there’s more to it, and it’ll only get weirder.
GRANT: Hold on. Why don’t we check on him? Maybe he’s right there, reading the paper. Maybe he’s listening.
MARTY: I already know the answer. But sure.
GRANT: All right everybody, thanks for staying tuned in. We’re gonna take a minute to get the phone number of Marty’s therapist and call him up. We’ll be right back as soon as we’re connected.
It’s in the trees and above
in the clouds
Getting hungry, getting wicked,
My elemental house, I’ve moved out of,
It’s in the corners of this love and
GRANT: Marty, are you still on the line?
MARTY: I’m here. Did he answer?
GRANT: Yeah. He doesn’t wanna talk to us. I’m sorry, buddy.
MARTY: I’m not surprised. I didn’t talk to anyone for days, either. What did he say?
GRANT: I’ll be honest with you, he didn’t sound so good. Hang on Marty, Brian says we’ve got another call, and he really wants me to hear this. We’ve got Kyle from Oklahoma. Kyle, you’re live.
KYLE: I just wanted to tell Marty that I believe him. I’m sick, too. I know exactly what he’s been describing, and I believe him. It’s killing me. I don’t know how he could stand it for so long.
GRANT: When did this start, Kyle?
KYLE: When I first heard you guys. But I don’t blame you. I know it’s not you. It’s something else. That’s all I wanted to say. I believe you, and I don’t blame you.
GRANT: Kyle? Looks like Kyle’s out, folks. Marty, did you get that?
MARTY: Yeah. I…
MARTY: Hey, Grant. How’ve you been?
MARTY: And the truth, now?
GRANT: The truth is, my head’s been killing me. There’s a pull in the back of my skull that no amount of booze is shaking loose.
MARTY: That’s how it started for me.
GRANT: I’m praying real hard to whatever’s out there that it’s some new virus and you’re a lonely weirdo looking for notoriety.
MARTY: Holy shit. Maybe I gave it to you. And Kyle. What about your tech, what was his name? In the sound booth?
MARTY: Does Brian have it, too?
GRANT: He’s shaking his head. Weren’t you throwing up when I came in, buddy? Saying he’s hungover. Wait, so your do feel…? Yeah. Marty, I think that might be a yes. What the hell is going on?
MARTY: Maybe I was wrong.
GRANT: If this is some sort of mass hallucination, it’s the worst trip I’ve ever had. Whoever cooked this batch can take it right back.
MARTY: Maybe you don’t need to see it to catch it. Maybe hearing about it is enough to crack us open.
GRANT: Shit, man, we’re on the air!
MARTY: God help me. You know what’s worse?
GRANT: There’s worse?
MARTY: I think. I think I can feel something moving into what I’m moving out of.
There’s a scrabbling, clipped noise at the end of this loop that we’ve always wondered about. Who reached for the off button? Was it Grant? Or Brian? Maybe one of those details that will be lost to history forever.
The last stop is a quick one, but the space is spectacular. It’s some sort of improvised transmitter atop a building tall enough to see the ruins of downtown. We’re both eager to hear it and sad that the experience is nearly over. This short loop plays with no audible barrier between the end, and the start. Over, and over. Funnily enough, we weren’t the ones who rigged this one.
GRANT: This is Doc Grant, and you’re listening to the final Radio Nil Midnight Session.
I don’t know if I’m doing more harm than good, but I’ve got to try one last thing. If you’re just tuning in for the very first time, tune out right now. Just do it. Your life may be in danger.
But if you’re a Midnight Sessions fan, then you’re already screwed, anyway. You may as well keep listening.
Do not, under any circumstances, let anyone hear what happened. Do not record this message. If you have any recordings of our encounters with Marty, burn them. If you’ve heard them, you may be infected, too. Look for the symptoms and isolate yourself.
Symptoms include an ache at the back of the skull. A pressure. A pull. A hollow space between you and the skin on the front of your body. The inexplicable feeling that your body is watching you. There would be a clear trigger moment when you first saw someone who was infected, or heard them describe their condition. The knowing, alone, could cause a crack, and entropy only goes one way. That’s all they need, a tiny crack where they can apply leverage.
They. There’s a they. We figured it out; horror vacui. Nature abhors a vacuum. Whatever new spaces are being made, are being filled, and we don’t know by what. By whom.
Whatever is coming, it’s coming. I don’t know if there’s any stopping it, but maybe we can slow the spread until someone figures something out.
All they have to do is fix it without ever seeing it or hearing about it.
That’s the end of it. It’s a beautiful thing, in many ways more violent than the violet of the sunrise. We preserve these loops with reverence. It’s important to remember one’s history, the sacrifices and losses. Where we come from. How we got here.
It’s important to remember that everything is only a loop.