The Doomsday Therapists
And I cut my hands and break my back...
2 years ago
Corey walks along the faded yellow line at the center of the road. He weaves around the abandoned cars, peeking inside each as he passes. As unlikely as it would be, there may be something useful that was overlooked. He manages to find a red jacket that would help in the winter months to come. He collects a few unopened water bottles scattered along the floorboards. While useful, it wasn't groundbreaking. That's when he noticed a familiar shape hanging out the window of an abandoned SUV. There, dangling from a set of 12 steel strings was the neck and head of a guitar. The body rested on the passenger seat. The instrument snapped in half some time before. Corey studied it. It called to him, in a way. He used to play, but that was years ago. What good would it do if he took it? It would probably never play again. The moment his fingers traced along the neck, however, he felt compelled. He retrieved it. He could try at the very least.
Night falls. He sets up the guitar in his shelter, a large blue tarp tied to surrounding trees. He takes a moment to truly assess the damage. It's a clean break. The neck and the body could easily be joined with a strong enough glue, and maybe some reinforcement wouldn't be a bad idea. It may not be easy to tune or play, but it would still play. It needs new strings, and a set of strings for a twelve string guitar can be hard to come by. Corey considered the problem for a moment. There was a hardware store nearby. Maybe it still had wood glue on the shelves. The strings could be found a mile south at that music shop he passed. It's a longshot, but it is possible. Corey peers through the glass door of the music shop. The walls are red with black tile flooring. He sees a select few products still hanging along the walls behind the counter. He tucks the wood glue under his arm, steps forward, and tugs on the door. Locked.
Picking it was an option, but no. It already took him ages to get here. Corey takes out a hammer, the hardware store salestag still hanging from the handle. He presses it against the glass, turns his head away, and braces himself. The glass shatters and falls leaving more than enough space for him to step through. Corey feels a moment of panic as he scans the shop's wares. What if someone was still here? He grabs a capo, some picks, replacement parts, a case, and of course, strings. The shop lacked a proper set of 12 strings so instead he took all the strings he could carry. Normally, Corey would call It waste of a day, but he felt strangely accomplished. His little stint of looting didn't have much to show for it, but he could finish his project easily enough. He sets up the guitar, applies the glue, and the pieces fit together perfectly. He attaches two steel brackets to the neck with small screws and places a few clamps to help hold it in place while the glue dries. Corey spends the time removing the old strings with careful precision. He replaces the tuning knobs, the pegs at the base of the body, and a few frets that looked worn and in need of repair. He sifts through the strings he managed to grab and tries to fashion a proper set of twelve. The gauges are slightly off, but he finds them with little effort.
Finally, after several hours of waiting and a well deserved nap, the moment of truth arrives. The strings are added, one by one, each given the slightest bit of tension as Corey turns their respective knob. The process is slow. If the glue didn't set right or the project was doomed from the start, too much tension at once could break it again. After an hour of fiddling, she sings. Corey didn't bother to question why his fingers weren't hurting. After hours of brushing up on what he thought long lost, he plays without pain or discomfort. It comes in waves, the muscle memory following the steps with little effort. Every note is crisp and clear, the sound soft and dark even when playing more lighthearted songs. Was it the strings? Why did she sound so sad? It took a moment to realize he was being watched. A small family huddled together just outside his tarp, smiling. They listened as if in a daze. It was then Corey realized something was off. He never played this well before. Was he singing? He can't sing. He opens his eyes and admires the sleek black finish of the first good thing to happen to him since the fall. He fights a burning in his eyes when a thought rises in his mind. He wonders if the thought is truly his at all. She deserves a name, no?
He doesn't smile. In the end, it's not a happy memory. He speaks without hesitation, the name and its memory escaping his lips as if it was never in question, "Faith."
I've mentioned magic before, but I failed to touch on those who wield it. It's a peculiar phenomena. Before the end of the world, magic was a fleeting fantasy for some and an improbable, likely impossible, mystery for others. Most who use magic practice spellcraft and while their beliefs and methods vary, the magic itself is always the same. It should be said that most wield magic naturally present in reality, the magic of the world. Others, however, walk a different path. Some among the touched wield magic of the mind. The Doomsday Therapists are secretive but not because they have secrets. They don't actually know what they are. Unable to produce curses or enchantments, their skills are more abstract in nature, and even if they could study it, they don't seem to care all that much to do so.
A brief introduction
Doomsday Therapists are nomads by default. They don't really have a choice. They never stay still for long and those who meet them are always sad to see them go. They're driven, you see, pushed toward an unknown destination while charting an often illogical path to reach it. They'll pass through small settlements time and time again, yet always seem to feel as if they're pressing forward rather than retracing their steps. These nomads are tortured philosophers. They're meanderings in the physical world are incidental. Their true journey is more complicated and not tied to any one place. Theirs is a path to healing, a path toward peace. Any who encounter them will likely find peace of their own after the fact. A gift for time well spent and a rest well earned.
Trauma and treatment
Like all among the touched, doomsday therapists are known for their trauma and their neurodivergent tendencies. This is what gives them their gifts. Their power differs from other touched in that their magic is a tool meant to help them on their journey and nothing more. To reach their destination is to no longer require the use of said tool. Those who have healed will find solace but only at the cost of their gifts. The goal is subjective, and the individual will never know what it truly is until they reach it. Until then, they're restless, running from their own dread, a creature that follows them everywhere they go. That is how they got noticed. Most are performers, musicians, comedians, artists who raise the spirits of those around them. This is where the magic comes from. They can alter emotions and perceptions. They can take your pain away just as easily as share a taste of their own. They do so through connection, through shared grief and laughter.
Why are they called therapists, you ask? That's because therapy is what they do. Doomsday therapists are known for their capacity to heal the mind; the soul. This gift often manifests during their performance, but some are innate. These men and women have an aura of calm that seems to radiate from them. They're the only ones who can enter the direwood or sail the oceans without fear. They seldom do it alone, offering safe passage to any and all who wish to join them. While most of their gifts involve altering emotion and rewiring the brain, they are also gifted illusionists. They can cause hallucinations to trick or entertain those around them. Sometimes, they use these illusions to help others on their own path to healing.
Chased by your own shadow
Wanderlust is a given. The moment a therapist arrives, the clock starts ticking. This isn't about a desire to wander, though. It's a necessity. It's easy to forget that these men and women carry a deep rooted trauma from before the end of the world. This trauma follows them, and they do everything they can to avoid it. They often describe it as being chased by their shadow. It's literal, a figure that shows up in the distance prompting the therapist to leave. Sometimes it's more of a feeling, the thrill and novelty of their new environment wearing off allowing existential dread to settle in. Either way, it's unnerving. They can feel it. It doesn't matter if anyone else can. While their lives are filled with adventure, it's always at the back of their mind. They fear it. The moment they sense this shadow, they pack up and leave. No one knows what happens if they choose to stay.
Name your darlings
Musicians make up the majority of the doomsday therapists, though each of them have their own take on the rule, their instrument. Every therapist names the source of their gift. A pen, a journal, a brush, a guitar, all are examples of what they consider their most prized possession. These objects have a personality all their own and will always reflect the trauma the therapist experienced. Therapists name them to give them life, and the gift cannot manifest until they do. Once named, their gifts will manifest on instinct. They can control it, guide it to wherever they wish, but the gift manifests without thought. It doesn't need to be the highest quality. In fact, the source of their gift will usually be what they least expect. It's never their favorite pen, nor is it their most impressive and expensive guitar. The source is unassuming. It's subtle but it calls all the same.
The end of the road
As I said before, every therapist is on a journey. They seek to heal from pain that has weighed on them since before the fall. This means their power has an expiration date. When they reach the end, regardless of what that means, their gifts fade away until all that's left is the connection they have to the source of their power. It's a strange thing to learn for those who are new to the gift. What does it mean to heal from something like that? How does one do it? These questions point to fear but they also point to hope. Their first steps are coupled with the fact that they will heal. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. No matter the damage, the gift is more than a tool. It's a promise. For this reason, the doomsday therapists tend to be the most optimistic and laid back people you can encounter in the world.
While usually musical in nature, the therapists are fond of those they meet on their journey and are always willing to perform. They'll share stories, play music, dance, and more while briefly pausing for rest during their journey. The experience is said to be life changing. Take the more musically inclined among them, for example. While there is plenty of original material involved, therapists find their special brand of magic is far easier to use when the audience knows what to expect. They perform songs written by others more often than not, but not without adding their own style. The songs chosen tend to resonate deeply with the therapist in question, and their power allows them to share that resonance with others, a mutual process of healing.
Sympathy and Empathy
Now let me be clear, it isn't singing about your problems in hopes that others will feel sorry for you. Sympathy is an inherently selfish thing. It seeks to make you feel comfortable when confronted with someone else's hardships. That's not the case here. Empathy, though. Empathy is something truly powerful. Imagine having the power to transplant your experience into the hearts and minds of others. A lover's quarrel would end as soon as it had begun, killers and abusers may well experience guilt, and an entire crowd of people could truly know the burden you carry… and help you carry it. The therapists can sense emotions around them, being a whole new level of empathetic. They can smell emotions; taste them in the air. They can sense it through objects and locations. The more emotion, the more powerful the sensation. They can share this emotion with others and if need be, alter it. Needless to say no one can read a room like they can.
Corey watched the building blaze, felt the complex emotions dissipate and die. He narrowed his eyes, collected all the courage he could, and rushed toward the flames. Toby called to him, but he didn't turn to listen. She'd feel alone for only a moment. It was worth what he was after. When he reaches the revolving door, he takes a quick breath. Being out of shape does that. He slowly enters, darting through the rooms in search of what mattered most. He found Toby's bag of tools. He removed a picture of her family from its perch atop a mantle along with a photo album and put them inside the bag. The fire raged, the smoke hard to handle. Cory keeps low as he tries to find an exit. It's then his attention is pulled toward a closet. Something lingered there, an emotion forgotten, a dream long since abandoned. He opened the door, dodging falling debris and shielding his face from the heat. Inside stands stacks of boxes, which he then proceeds to toss aside, carelessly. He digs to the back end of the closet and his fingers graze the sleek, leather surface of a case, a violin or viola by the look of it. He turns and the wall of flame before him makes him rethink the decision to toss the boxes. They only fed the blaze more.
Just beyond the burning wall, he could see the path to safety. The heat hurt, even from where he stood. He'd have a few burns after this. He prepares to leap over the flames, clutching the bag and case close to his body. When he makes it to the other side, he feels the sting on his hand and both ankles. He rushes forward, now finding it hard to breathe. When he exits the building, he does so covered in smoke and ash. Toby sits on the curb, her head resting on her knees. When she sees him, she rushes to help him, taking the bag and case. Toby sets them aside and assesses the damage. His hands were badly burned, his legs too. "Why would you do that?" she asks. "Do what?" "These burns are going to leave a mark." Corey ignores her and smiles. He speaks in labored breaths, his lungs heaving "Is my beard okay, at least?"
"Is your beard okay?" Her brow furrows as she crosses her arms. "Really? Yes, it's fine, unlike your hands." "Oh, thank God." He chuckles. "If I had to shave, you would not believe the level of baby face I'd have to deal with." "Why aren't you taking this seriously?" Toby asks. "It's not that serious. Mavis and Oli will fix me right up." He points to the bag and case on the ground. "That though. That is important." At first he expects her to yell. She didn't. Her voice gets quiet when she's angry. "My tools can be replaced and I haven't played violin since high-school." Cory stumbles forward and opens the bag. He takes out the picture and hands it over. The family in the image stood outside the funeral home. It's sentimental, yes, but for Toby, it was the last time her family was truly happy. Henry died two days after the photo was taken. Tears form and Toby turns as if to hide them. "That's not easily replaced." Cory says. "The rest was on a whim, but that." He pauses winces from the pain. "That was what mattered most."
- Lapesnape from 123rf
Huge shout out to Stormbril for his forbidden CSS wisdom! Would not have been able to do this without his advice. Backgrounds by Rawpixel and coolvector on Freepik