“Tell me more about this creature,” prompted Lumen, changing the subject.
Venatio sighed heavily, and slouched down in his chair, gritting his teeth, anguish visible on his face. He looked darkly into Lumen’s eyes, and replied.
“It’s a master stalker, able to blend into crowds, shadows, anything. I’ve followed it down deserted streets in broad daylight and still managed to lose it. It chooses victims according to circumstance, sometimes the weak, other times the strong. It’s all a matter of opportunity.
“Once it finds a quarry, it pounces on it, sinking its claws into their skin. The claws must have some kind of venom or something, because as soon as it claws them, its victims are paralysed. It then pins its prey to the ground, or against a wall, and extends its proboscises.”
“Proboscises?” interrupted Lumen, his eyebrows raised.
“Yeah, that’s right. What, you think I don’t know a few big words? Would you prefer the word tendrils?”
Lumen resumed his usual blank expression, shrugged and scribbled something into his notes.
“I’m sorry for the interruption, please continue.”
“As I was saying, the thin tendrils are forced into its victim’s nasal passage, all the way up to the brain, to the pituitary gland where endorphins are produced. As I’m sure you know, endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers. Whatever it is that Dolor injects into its targets does more than simply paralyse them. It causes an intense burning sensation that permeates the victim’s entire body. Every cell feels as though it’s ablaze. In a hopeless effort to control this pain, the prey’s pituitary gland secretes endorphins, right into the creature’s waiting proboscises. The victim’s pain worsens and more endorphins are produced, until the body simply can’t handle any more. I figure some kind of brain damage is caused, permanently impairing the victim’s natural endorphin production process.”
“Then what happens?”
“Well, having taken all it can from its victims, the creature abandons them, leaving them to suffer until shock sets in. And then they die. Screaming.”
Venatio spoke the last word through gritted teeth, his face a grimace of pain. Lumen regarded him silently for a moment. He imagined himself lying on cold pavement, wracked with burning agony. He shook his head abruptly.
“You keep referring to it as Dolor. Where did that name come from?” he resumed.
“I gave it the name. To take away some of its power. Things are not as mysterious or terrifying if you can call them by name.”
Lumen nodded thoughtfully, then began flipping through his papers as a thought occurred to him. He located the autopsy report on the vagrant Venatio had killed and skimmed it.
“I told you earlier that the junkie was autopsied. He didn’t have any brain damage, and no evidence of any toxin was found in his blood. There weren’t any chemicals in his system, even his blood alcohol level was very low.”
“Just because they failed to find the damage, doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. Do you think this creature would have survived as long as it has if it left traces behind? It continues to exist because there is a complete lack of evidence to show that it exists.”
Lumen set his pen down and leaned back in his chair. He cocked his head to one side and regarded his patient critically.
“I’ll agree that for a creature like Dolor to survive, it would have to have evolved a keen ability to hide its tracks. But why feed on humans at all? Many animals produce endorphins. If it fed on rats or even deer, no one would ever notice or care.”
Ventaio rolled his eyes and groaned.
“I don’t know doc, maybe rat endorphins don’t taste the same as human endorphins. Maybe there’s something special about humans that draws Dolor to them. Maybe it’s not even a conscious decision. I can only guess, doc, but one thing I can tell you is that it doesn’t feed on animals. Humans are its prey of choice.”
“Fine, forget about animals,” responded Lumen, changing tack. “No matter how cunning Dolor is when taking victims, it still leaves some subtle evidence, right? How else would you be able to track it?”
Venatio said nothing. Taking it as agreement, the therapist continued.
“Now consider this, if this creature exists, there would have to be more than one. And each one would leave a trail of bodies behind it, which would add up in time.”
“Wait a minute,” interjected Venatio. “Why would there have to be more than one?”
“Well, if Dolor’s the size of a man, presumably it would reproduce sexually. That would mean there would have to be enough of them to ensure some overlap between the hunting territories of different individuals…”
“Whoa, doc. You’re making a lot of assumptions there. You’re right that if there were lots of them, they would leave more bodies behind. That’s something I would notice, even if no one else did. But I can tell you right now, I have never seen evidence of more than one creature. There’s only one Dolor.”
“How can you know that for sure? Have you ever been to China? Why couldn’t there be another Dolor hidden among their enormous population?”
Venatio shook his head, as though unwilling or unable to consider the possibility.
“You just don’t get it, doc. Dolor is unique.”
“But how is that possible? Doesn’t it age? Wouldn’t it eventually die and render its race extinct?”
The patient looked exasperated.
“We’re not talking about a hyper-evolved gorilla here. Dolor is not like anything else you’ve ever seen or heard of.”
“You’re suggesting it’s supernatural? Or some kind of alien?”
“I don’t care what label you want to put on it, but you have to forget everything you think you know if you want to understand it.”
Lumen looked into Venatio’s eyes. He saw nothing but confidence and conviction. And pain.
“How do you know so much about this creature? I know you’ve spent a long time chasing it, but there’s more to your story than that. You speak as though you’ve been inside the heads of its victims.”
Venatio looked directly into Lumen’s eyes.
“I have. I am a victim.”
Lumen was taken aback.
“But how can that be possible if you’re still alive?” objected Lumen. “You said its victims die of shock, which would certainly make sense after they’d suffered what you described.”
Venatio’s gaze seemed to lose focus. He shrugged and became thoughtful.
“I didn’t die,” the patient answered quietly. “I didn’t go into shock. When it fed on me, while I was in greater agony than I could ever describe, I just hung on.”
Venatio paused, shaking his head. Lumen leaned forward.
“I didn’t let go,” Venatio continued. “I swore to myself that I would never let it get away. I swore that I would make it suffer, just as I was suffering. I guess my thirst for vengeance has kept me alive. I refuse to let go, not until I’ve paid it back.”
“And so, you’ve hunted it ever since.”
Venatio nodded slowly. Lumen thought for a moment, then decided to try a different approach.
“Do you consider this creature evil?”
Venatio snorted and looked back at the therapist.
“What does it matter? Is a bear evil for devouring a salmon? It certainly doesn’t make much difference to the salmon. Either way it’s still dead. I think Dolor is just trying to survive, but that survival threatens our own. Our only option is to destroy it.”
“How do you intend to kill this creature? Silver bullet? Wooden stake through the heart?”
“This ain’t some fantasy story, doc,” Venatio smirked. “To tell you the truth, I’m not sure what’ll kill it, ‘cause I haven’t killed it yet. I can tell you it doesn’t like ordinary bullets one bit. You see, I’ve hit it a few times. Just after it has fed, nothing stops it. I mean nothing. I’ve tried fire, bullets, even a blade. It was all I could do to get away from it with a few scars. You gotta catch it just before it feeds, while it’s still hungry. Then, the slightest knick will send it running. So, I figure I get a good shot right between the eyes just before it feeds, it’ll go down.”
Lumen scribbled a note, nodding.
“Ok. What else do you know about this thing? Where did this creature come from?”
“Dunno. Maybe it has always been around. How many legends have you heard of monsters preying on helpless victims? Those stories came from somewhere. They had to have been based on something. Hell, maybe this thing was the real live Dracula.”
Venatio laughed drily. Lumen shook his head.
“In the case of Dracula, the story was based on a human, a cruel man. However, most of these other legends you’re referring to weren’t based on facts, but on fears. People were terrified of what lurked in the dark. Wild animals, like bears and wolves, attacked them—an absolutely horrifying experience. Their imaginations got the better of them and they spawned these tales of evil spirits to explain what they feared but could not see. Now that civilization has spread, the legends have died. People know them as fiction, fantasy, not reality. There are far more people around now, and they do not report actual findings of these spooky creatures.”
“Sure they do. The problem is, no one believes them. They are put on the cover of tabloids. Their neighbours ridicule them until they convince themselves that it never happened. Like I said, that’s how Dolor survives. No one wants to believe it exists, so no one looks for it or tries to stop it.”
Venatio’s expression became deadly serious.
Lumen looked up abruptly from his notes. He paused for a moment, shifting his weight in his chair.
“What does this Dolor look like?” continued the therapist.
Venatio’s expression lightened. He leaned back in his chair and shrugged tiredly.
“It’s pretty difficult to give a precise description since it never seems to stay still for long. I’ve already told you that it has the build of an average man. It always slouches, so I’m not really sure of its height. It has short claws on its fingers as I said, but they’re usually sheathed and not obvious. Its skin is very dark, but not quite a human tone, almost grey. Its face has two small black eyes, with no mouth, but instead it has these two long curled-up proboscises with small hooks at the end.”
“Yes, the proboscises,” commented Lumen. “Can we back up a bit? Now, you’ve told me that you’re from Montreal. Is this where the creature first attacked you?”
“Yes,” grunted Venatio, rolling his eyes.
“Could you explain how you manage to follow this thing around?”
“Well, as I said before, I know Dolor’s pattern. It moves into a city, picks one corner of it and takes one or two victims. Then, it hunts in one of a couple of fixed patterns, taking anywhere from five to eight more victims. Then, it leaves town and resurfaces somewhere else.”
“So, once you’ve found it in a city, you can place yourself in its path and intercept it?”
“And that’s what happened the night you were arrested?”
“How do you manage to find it once it has left a city?”
The patient shook his head.
“I don’t always. I’ve lost it more than once. I once spent over a year without having any idea where it was. But now that I’ve been hunting it for almost nine years, I’ve developed a certain… intuition as to where it’ll strike next. So, once the body count in a particular place has risen high enough that Dolor’s presence might start getting noticed, I guess where he’ll hit next. I’m right more often than I’m wrong.”
“If Montreal is where you were first attacked, almost nine years ago, why has it returned here now?”
“I never said that it didn’t revisit places. This is actually the second time it has been back here since my attack. Maybe Dolor likes it here. I don’t know.”
Lumen nodded, chewing on the end of his pen. After a moment, he straightened in his chair and cleared his throat.
“What will you do once you’ve finally killed it? Finally settled the score?”
“Dunno. Die, I guess.”