There will be no Katalepsis chapter on the 11th of March! My apologies! Please see this public patreon post for more information (but you don’t have to read it, you won’t miss anything important). Katalepsis will resume as normal on the 18th of March!
Mental health/medical trauma
Discussion of institutionalisation
‘Dissociative Identity Disorder’/plurality medicalisation
The waking world pounced upon us, bright and sharp and loud.
Consciousness was like a hook snagged behind half a dozen ribs, dragging us up and out of the dream-waters until we breached the surface into the freezing void of the air. Then a flinch, a snap-crack full-body jerk from crown to toes — and down to fingertips and the ends of six tentacles. Eyes were flung wide open, real light pouring through lenses and filling photoreceptor cells. Lungs inflated, sucking real air down a fleshy windpipe. Throat muscles swallowed a small amount of saliva, to the taste of sleep and oral bacteria and unbrushed teeth.
Sensory data piled up: bedroom, ceiling, lying on back; covers pulled up over feet and legs to keep me — me? my body? my self? — warm. Lights blazed from the usual lamps, throwing soft fuzzy shadows across the corners of the familiar space. Curtains stood open on the glory of a summer sunset blurred by the decay of drizzle from the skies, turning the horizon a rotten orange. It was late evening in Sharrowford and reality could not be denied.
Sheets lay against bare hands and exposed tentacles, warm and soft. Clothes wrapped the rest, familiar t-shirt and pink hoodie and pajama bottoms. The bed smelled of Raine and Zheng and—
“Heather! Hey, hey, Heather, hey there cloud pilot, you back down on earth? You with us? Say something, yeah? Heather?”
That was Raine, sitting in a chair next to the bed, a chair she had dragged over from the desk. She was leaning over the body I inhabited, smiling with relief, holding up one hand as if to draw my eyes to her parted fingers, to test if I was present.
Raine was a sight for sore eyes — raw physicality, instant and large and undeniable, an antidote to all dreaming, though she herself was a dream; she was stripped down to a black tank-top and some shorts, the curves of her muscles on display, and obviously not wearing a bra. Perhaps she’d been trying to call me back from the dream with raw sex appeal. I appreciated the gesture. Warm brown eyes and fluffy brown hair, brown like bark, like chestnuts, filled my vision as she leaned closer to frown into my eyes. She was like sun-heated wood left out to dry and harden and grow more real with every piece of light and degree of heat it absorbed. The real sun — drowning in thin rain — painted her face sidelong with planes of orange light. She was beautiful. The waking world was beautiful. I had forgotten.
But then I blinked hard, to clear my sleep-addled vision, because I felt like I was seeing too much of Raine — too much of her sides, from angles other than my own eyeballs.
Was I still dreaming?
A hand reached upward — my left hand — and squeezed Raine’s upper arm, her biceps. Smooth muscle gave way beneath my fingers, thick and plush. No dream could fake that. No illusion could match my Raine, my beloved, my saviour. My own imagination was a pale shadow of her reality. I let my eyelids flutter half-shut, then forced them open again, fighting against the drag of regular sleep. Raine’s eyebrows climbed and her lips curled in a grin.
“Heather?” she said.
“One ticket please,” my mouth said.
“Gun show,” I croaked. “Ahhh. Dry mouth.”
A sharp sigh came from beyond Raine, toward the front of the room. Evelyn said, “Is she back with us, or not? Is she sleep-talking?”
Twil said, laughing, “Sounds like her alright! Get that girl-beef, big H.”
“Heather?” Raine was repeating my name. I held on to her arm. “Heather? Hey, Heather, you gotta do more than flirt with me and squeeze my muscles, ‘cos you’d do that even high as a kite. Are you here? You with us? Talk to me.”
“I’m not sure I am here,” I said. “Sorry.”
A cough came from the other side of the room, followed by the distinctive sound of Evelyn’s walking stick swishing through the air as she failed to connect with somebody’s leg. “Go get everyone, then!” she snapped.
Twil said, “But we’ve already—”
“Alright, alright, fine, fine.” Twil’s voice vanished beyond my range, chased by the sounds of her feet on the floorboards.
Raine was peering into my eyes, not quite frowning but not quite happy either. Still worried for me. I said, croaking out the words, “I’m fine. I think. But things got weird, went funny, and—”
“It’s alright,” Raine told me — and she was correct; her voice made it alright, honey over steel. She put her hand over mine. “We’ve already heard most of it from Lozzie and Jan. You’re at home, lying in bed. Everyone’s safe. Nobody got hurt — not physically, anyway.” Raine cracked a grin. “Though Jan’s acting like she just lost her V-card or something.”
“Got Lozzie to handle her sword,” I croaked.
Raine snorted with laughter. That was beautiful. On the other side of the room, Evelyn huffed so hard I could feel her rolling her eyes. That was beautiful too.
“What?” Raine said, trying not to laugh. “No, never mind, they didn’t explain that part. Seriously, nobody’s hurt. You’ve been out for just over six hours, not like knocked out but just sleeping, real hard to wake. You must be really disoriented, but it’s okay, you aren’t displaying anything like a fugue state. You’re fully awake, you’re really here, this isn’t more dream. I promise.”
“S’something a dream would say.”
Beyond my line of sight, Evelyn huffed. “I’m quite certain I would not be showing up in one of your dreams, Heather. No, sadly, this is all very real.”
Raine turned away from the bed to pick up a little flash-light from the bedside table. “Here, let me check your pupils, just in case. I’ve got a lemon here too, if you’re still craving them. Just hold still a sec.”
But I was already pushing myself up into a sitting position, struggling against mattress and sheets and a heavy dose of sleep.
My tentacles lifted me; I did not lift myself.
I was lifted — yet, I lifted.
We all lift together.
My tentacles took my weight and helped me sit, six additional limbs doing half the work of moving my body around, still a little bruised and sore. Strobing in slow, deep rainbow phosphorescence, with mushroom-pale skin and subcutaneous muscle and buried nerve bundles. They finished the simple task of raising me up, then drifted outward to hang in a loose ring, their tips level with my eyes, pointing upward, like seaweed in a secret shallow current. I counted them: one, two, three, four, five — and six, the one had I used to communicate with Mister Squiddy; that final tentacle was still a little swollen and puffy, her colours tinted neon-purple, skin still thicker than the rest, numb and tingling with the aftermath of the modifications and the dream and—
“And what we did,” I breathed the rest of the thought. “What we did — together?”
Raine was saying my name with increasing concern. Evelyn was asking what was wrong with me — and what was wrong with me? I hadn’t even looked at her yet, checked if she was okay, and here I was entranced by a piece of my own body. My own body? My own body. My own — body? Evelyn said something about how I was still miles away and suggested splashing water in my face. Footsteps were hurrying up the stairs, accompanied by other familiar voices — Lozzie, Jan, Twil, a trilling flutter, the silken drag of a yellow robe,
All of it may as well have been a dream.
I was sitting on the bed and looking at my tentacles — and I was sitting on the bed and looking at myself.
I wish I could compare it to something mundane, like a split-screen effect in a video game or on television, or some kind of trick optic lens. Something fun and silly which would make sense, something Raine or Evelyn could imagine, something that did not belong in a dream. It was not actual sight — I had not built additional eyeballs into my tentacles and then forgotten about doing so; that would have been simple to fix. But when I screwed my eyes shut I still saw myself, reflected back at me.
One of my tentacles — top row, left flank — dipped toward my face, laying herself across my cheek and lips and eyes. Soft, smooth, pale pneuma-somatic flesh was warm and silken against my skin. Part of me felt like a little girl nuzzling a plushie. But the rest of me was panicking inside. My heart was racing and my head was spinning; I had not moved the tentacle to touch my own face, I had not sent the impulse or made the decision — but also I had. We had. Together.
Top Left pulled back slightly — ‘Top Left’? I couldn’t call her that, that was terrible — leaving me blinking and panting, confused and disoriented; reality swirled around my senses, threatening to collapse back into a dream once again.
I started to hyperventilate. I couldn’t stop.
“How did I do that?” I said, staring at the tentacle. “How did I— wasn’t me— but you’re just a—”
Raine clutched for my arms, worried that I was having some kind of panic attack. She wasn’t wrong, but I shoved her away; I couldn’t deal with the additional sensory input of another person touching my skin right then. I wanted to plunge into dark water, alone, in silence, to still the whole world beyond myself, lest I lose my mind from the overload.
Dream-knowledge was crashing back onto my mind like a tsunami; my mind itself was crashing back together, two halves left bifurcated for too long, tectonic plates smashing into each other and squeezing me between them like so much grey-matter meat-paste.
I had felt something akin to this once before; back when we had rescued Lozzie from Alexander’s castle, when I’d first laid eyes on Lozzie herself and realised who she was. Until that moment the dreams we had shared had been inaccessible to my waking mind, consigned to a dream-self to whom I had little access. But when the proof of Lozzie herself had stood before my waking eyes, the dream-self and the waking-self had crashed together with the weight of knowledge and experience.
Now, something similar happened, but multiplied by six — or by seven, depending on how one chooses to count.
Memories of the Reading-dream sharpened into undeniable clarity, rasping like sandpaper across my brain — the house, Lozzie, Tenny the size of a Godzilla monster, Jan in her armour, the city where I’d grown up, the zombie, the race through the streets, the dome, the aching, painful, pinching, burning journey through those mechanical guts, the sense of futility and failure, the mysterious Miss V.B.
But all those memories were seen from over my own shoulder, over the shoulder of myself reflected back at me in a mirror, through a pair of thick rubber gloves, squinting through a slit-visor. The sensations were muffled, the control distant, as if all I had been able to do was suggest and encourage — and supply limitless energy, pumping outward from me to — me?
What had happened in the dream was more than just a metaphor. I had seen through the eyes and senses and thoughts of my own limb. But how could a limb have thoughts?
Eyes wide, mouth agape, tears running down my cheeks, I turned to stare in awe at the purple-tinted tentacle.
Bottom Right. She coiled toward me. A bow? A curtsey? I wouldn’t have thought to curtsey; neither did she.
“That was you?” I breathed. “Did I … did I make you? Were you … are you me? Was I you?”
She was me. I was it. We were us. Hello, Heather.
I already knew the answers to an endless array of rhetorical questions; we’d learned those answers together, inside that brass dome which was a representation of the inside of Mister Squiddy’s mind. But in the waking world it seemed—
Crazy little Heather, talking to herself in her padded cell.
A scream threatened to build, down in my gut.
Another tentacle — middle right — was wrapping herself around my stomach and torso in a comforting hug. Middle left was doing the same with my left arm, coiling up and winding around until she was resting in my palm. I was doing this to myself, holding myself like a confused child in need of an embrace — but I wasn’t thinking about it. Not consciously.
I reached out with my other hand and stroked the numb, tingling surface of the firewall-tentacle. She curled into my touch. I curled into my touch. I was touching myself, curling into my own touch, touching me, and being touched.
“What’s wrong with her? For fu— Raine, what’s wrong with her? Lozzie! What is this? What happened to her inside that bloody dream?!”
“She’s just hugging herself, it’s fine! Evee-wevee, it’s fine!”
“She’s crying! That isn’t fine!”
“Tenns, that’s a swear word, hey? Cool it before ya’ mum tells you off.”
“Oh, oh no, oh, look, I really shouldn’t be witnessing this, I swear—”
“Janny, it’s fine! You’re one of us!”
I spoke — to myself, to my tentacle. “I’m here. I’m all here. I don’t … how can this … are you … real?”
Part of me was waiting to hear a voice in my head. A little voice, tinny and squeaky, like something from a cartoon. Something like, “Hello Heather, it’s me, top left tentacle! I bet you’re surprised that I’m an independent entity, right? Haha, had you going all this time by not saying anything, didn’t we?”
Everything would have been so much easier if that had happened, if it was clean and clear and straightforward as voices in my head. Then I could file this away with all the other absurd things I’d witnessed and experienced in the last year of my life. Just another piece of supernatural silliness — oh yes, and by the way, my tentacles can talk, and they all think they’re little versions of me. Isn’t that funny? Isn’t that amusing? How goofy, what a novelty, what a laugh.
But there was no voice in my head, let alone six different ones. There was only touch, my fingers and palm running down the front of the firewall tentacle, another tentacle wrapping around my torso, another up my arms, the others in a ring around me, as they always had been. I was touching myself, and being touched, and touching another part of myself, and—
“Is this just masturbation?” I said out loud, then hiccuped, then felt that scream building higher.
Raine’s voice, cracking like a whip; Raine’s hand on my shoulder, firm and hard; Raine’s attention dragging me out of my inner space to stand naked and shivering in the light of reality, a bucket of cold water over my head.
My tentacles responded as well. Two of them dipped toward Raine with affection, with familiarity, with a desire to touch, to touch, to touch.
I was crying, and panting, and I wanted to scream.
Raine said, “Heather, whoa, it’s okay, it’s okay. Who are you talking to?”
The scream gathered at the back of my throat.
My tentacles retracted, tucked in tight, mirroring my own shock, my discomfort, my self-disgust.
Our bedroom was full of people now. Evelyn was hunched on a chair at the far end of the room, with dark rings around her eyes and many strands of hair escaped from a rough ponytail gathered at the back of her head; she looked wiped out, emotionally exhausted, back bent and half her weight on her walking stick despite the fact she was already sitting down. Praem was nowhere to be seen, but Twil was hovering by her shoulder, wearing an expression which said ‘I am very out of my depth and would like to go home and/or punch something’. Lozzie was leaning on the foot of the bed and peering at me, her usual self, wrapped in flopping pastel poncho and with her wispy blonde hair going absolutely everywhere. A shell-shocked Jan stood by the doorway, dressed not in a suit of mysterious armour but wearing a comfortable pink tracksuit; she was wringing her hands together in either guilt or awkward discomfort. Two little faces peered around the door frame — Sevens and Aym, in yellow and black respectively.
Tenny was up on tiptoes behind Lozzie, big black eyes watching me in concerned surprise. Her own silken black tentacles wiggled and waved in the air, as if she knew how to help but did not wish to impose or cause offense.
I stared at her tentacles and felt such envy, sudden and sharp and shocking. Hers were not hidden. Hers were not a secret. Hers were plain for all to see.
“I told you!” Lozzie chirped. She bounced on the end of the bed, waving at me with a corner of her poncho. “She was filtering! Heathy was filtering! We were in there with the tentacle, not just Heather! It wasn’t just her! I told you!”
Evelyn let out a long-suffering sigh. “Yes, you did tell us. Reflection theory, indeed,” she said, in a tone which left no doubt as to how comprehensible Lozzie had been. I made eye contact with Evelyn and she frowned at me, as if trying to see through my flesh. “Heather, it’s good that you’re awake. Welcome back, yes. But what’s wrong? Talk to us, for pity’s sake.”
If I spoke, I would scream. I just shook my head.
Raine got Lozzie’s attention, and asked, “She was talking to her tentacles?”
“No, not reflection!” Lozzie said, looking over her shoulder to wink at Evee. “Refraction! She was refracted! It’s different but it’s the same. She didn’t go anywhere else, she was always with us in the dream! I promise she didn’t go anywhere else!”
Evelyn sighed again. “Lozzie, nobody has blamed you, nobody is going to blame you. Whatever happened, it wasn’t your fault.”
“Yeah, Loz,” Twil added. “It’s alright. Heather’s … fine.”
No, I wasn’t.
Jan cleared her throat, eyes a little too wide, hands laced together like a child who had been caught doing something she knew was very naughty. “I’m afraid it was all my fault. I can only offer my apologies. I had no idea any of that would happen.”
Evelyn snapped at her: “Oh, will you bloody well stop with that? It had nothing to do with you, either.”
“I insist, it—”
“Did not!” Evelyn snapped.
“Did too!” Jan insisted, right back at her.
Neither of them knew, neither of them understood. I was in a room full of people and also very alone.
Praem appeared, gliding in through the doorway, carrying a tray laden with mugs and glasses — drinks all round. Evelyn opened her mouth to shout something at Jan, to escalate the argument. But Praem stopped just short, heels clicking on the floorboards. She said, clear as a bell: “Inside voices.”
Evelyn bit back her words, hissing with frustration. Jan ducked her head, a performance of apology.
“Morons,” cackled Aym from the doorway, in a voice like a handful of rusty spoons being dropped into a tin can full of rats.
Praem turned her entire body, tray of drinks still in her hands, without letting one drop spill from a single mug or glass. She turned toward Aym and just looked at her. Aym whipped back around the door frame like a naughty cat, just a flash of black lace. Sevens stayed in place, puffing out her cheeks at Praem in a silent laugh. Sevens glanced at me and nodded ever so slightly; I understood all at once, even through the building scream and the whirling panic, that Seven-Shades-of-Silent-Sympathy was the only one who understood that I wanted to be alone right then, that I did not need more people, more reassurance, more noise. I needed to look inward.
Evelyn made a visible effort to straighten her spine and take her weight off her walking stick. She said, “We can debrief and analyse later — without apportioning blame.” Her eyes slid to me, hard and irritated, but also wet with relief. I had no doubt who Evelyn blamed, whatever words she said: herself and me. “I hope we at least got something useful out of that. Heather — Heather, what’s wrong? Lozzie and Jan have already told us everything they experienced. Tenny as well, though—”
“Biiiig!” Tenny fluttered, all excited and smiling suddenly.
Praem echoed the sentiment, “Large.”
Lozzie said, “You were amazing, Tenns!”
“Largesona,” said Praem.
“Big!” Tenny repeated. She gave both Praem and Lozzie tentacle-hugs; Praem set her tray of drinks down on the desk.
“Yes, quite,” Evelyn grunted as Praem forced a glass of water in her hands. “We have a rough picture of what happened, Heather, but not what happened to you inside the — what did you call it, Lozzie?”
“Big brass button,” said Lozzie. “Brass brain!”
“Yes. The brass brain,” Evelyn echoed with a little sigh. “Heather — are you paying attention? Was it worth it? Did it work?”
“Did it … work?” I echoed.
My eyes slid off Evelyn, back to my own tentacles.
Raine held up a hand to forestall Evelyn’s next question, Jan’s awkward apology, and Praem trying to hand me a drink. “Evee, wait, hold on. Something isn’t right here. Heather? Heather?”
Lozzie whined, “She’s fiiiiine! Heathy’s fine! Heathy!”
Praem said, “Heathers.” I hiccuped; did she know?
“Heather,” Raine said my name so very gently. She could tell that something was terribly wrong, she could see that I was knocked sideways, that I wasn’t reacting right — but for the first time ever, I didn’t want her to know. “Heather, look at me, please.”
I did as she asked. Raine washed over me, warm and brown-eyed and so very gentle as she touched my face. She peered into my eyes, shined a light into my pupils to make them react, had me say how many fingers she was holding up. She tried not to frown, but she couldn’t help the worry on her face; she could see it, see that I wasn’t myself anymore, see that I was the kind of freak I’d always been worried about turning into. My tentacles didn’t know what to do either — looping toward Raine but then shying away from reach touch. She would feel them on her shoulders and I wouldn’t be able to explain what they were doing and she would ask questions I couldn’t answer and the room was full of too many people and half of them could see the tentacles moving and they knew, they knew, they knew—
“Heather?” Raine said eventually. She pressed her hands around mine. “Heather, you’re shaking, but there’s nothing physically wrong with you. What happened in there? Heather? What are you looking at?”
“Herself!” said Lozzie.
I had slipped up. My eyes were following the tentacles, not Raine’s face. I flinched and blinked and focused on her as hard as I could. I lifted my own metaphorical mask to my face, desperate to hide my growing shame.
Lozzie was sitting next to me on the bed now, dimpling the sheets, poncho brushing my knees. She had followed my gaze too, tilting her head back and forth. For once, she didn’t understand. Even Lozzie, my sweet dreamer, did not understand. She had seen it all first-hand, but did not know what it meant.
Nobody understood. How could they? I was crazy, I’d always been crazy. It didn’t matter that I’d been right — that my world had always been demon-haunted, full of gods from elsewhere, inexplicable monsters, and evil magicians. It didn’t matter that I was not schizophrenic, not really. I was still crazy little Heather, screaming in the back of my parents’ car on the way to Cygnet Children’s Hospital.
“Stop it!” I hissed — at myself, at my tentacles, as they kept reaching toward Raine, like they wanted to hug her. They wanted to be felt, to be acknowledged, to love her too. They all reared back, hurt and confused. My hurt. My confusion. I sobbed, horrified at my words, reaching out to apologise. “S-sorry, sorry, no, no, I love you, sorry, n-no—”
“Oh,” said Jan, in a very small voice. “Oh no.”
“Heather?” Raine asked. “What’s wrong? Heather, come on, talk to me. Look at me.”
“I’m not talking to anybody!” I snapped at Raine. “I’m not … talking to … ”
To my tentacles?
How could I deny what was right there, attached to my own body? Half the people in the room could see my tentacles; a good thing, too, because they were the most beautiful part of me, better than any other piece of my body. The urge to shut my mouth fought a losing battle against six other tongues, pressing up my throat in a low hiss, crying out to be heard. The hiss came out slow and quiet and broken. I sobbed and hiccuped, desperate to burrow into my sheets and be ignored.
“They’re me and I’m them,” I sobbed. “We’re all here. Me and myself. I can’t … did I do this to myself? Was it always like this? I can’t— I can’t— I can’t— everybody needs to— go— let me— let me think—”
I couldn’t get the words out. I couldn’t get my head around this concept — not because it was alien and other, supernatural and weird — but because it was all too familiar, too real, too mundane. I’d been here before.
Raine tried to take me by the shoulders and administer an emergency hug; Lozzie tried to help too, hands catching one of my tentacles and cuddling it to her chest. Even Praem attempted some assistance, reaching in to catch my failing hands. But I pushed them all away, heaving and sobbing and mortified by the show I was putting on for everybody who had crammed into my bedroom. Voices swirled around me, prodding and poking and probing for meaning that I could not express.
“Heather, whoa, it’s okay, it’s okay, slow down, slow—”
“What’s wrong with Big H? She was fine a sec ago, I thought the dream went right, it—”
“Praem! Praem, get her some water, please, right now. Heather! Heather!”
“We should give her some space, this is private. I-I don’t think I have any place witnessing this, I don’t—”
“Heath! Heath touch! Heath safe! Heath-er, Heath-er!”
I wrapped my arms — my human arms, two of them — around my head, and blocked out all my friends.
The revelation inside the dream was undeniable: there were six other versions of myself, six little versions of me, sub-brains or sub-selves or budded spiritual masses. My tentacles, all six of them. I had no idea how this worked on a technical level. I’m sure Evelyn could tell me, given time and investigative tools.
By using one tentacle as an informational and sensory buffer between myself and Mister Squiddy’s dream, I had spent subjective hours peering down the tunnel-vision perspective of my own alternative self-hood, created by information being passed back up the tentacle to my main body. The process had made me aware for the first time, like pulling a muscle one couldn’t name, deep inside an obscure portion of one’s own thigh. And now it ached and ached and ached.
How long had I been this way?
My tentacles had always moved semi-independently, hadn’t they? Even before I had fleshed them in pneuma-somatic beauty, when they had been merely an impulse, a desire, the constant presence of phantom limbs, they had always moved ahead of my conscious decision making. Propping me up when I couldn’t stand, levering me out of bed or up to my feet, reaching for things before I knew I needed them; my six little helpers, my subconscious body with a mind of it’s own. But that wasn’t a metaphor. They were me, and I was them — but they were not me.
A person with less experience of psychologists and psychiatrists may have freaked out at that realisation; somebody without my very specific history might have considered the tentacles as abyssal parasites, alien things that had ridden back with me from the abyss. Not of me. Pretenders. Fake. I didn’t think any of those things. It would have been easier if I had.
Not that I wasn’t freaking out. I was. Very much so. I was teetering on the edge of a full-blown traumatic response.
Because I knew better; because I’d been here before; because I was not meant to talk to myself.
In the early days after Wonderland, after the Eye took Maisie, when I had no idea what was happening to me, when I’d been a scared little girl of nine, then ten, then eleven years old, the doctors had tested all sorts of different explanations for what was wrong with me. First at Royal Berkshire in Reading, then Cygnet Children’s in London, with a half-dozen other specialists in between, both NHS and the occasional expensive private doctor, and even one short-lived visit to a Catholic priest to discuss exorcism. My parents thought I didn’t recall that last one; they hadn’t gone through with it in the end, mostly because the priest in question had been a decent man, unwilling to exploit the fears of parents terrified for their very sick daughter. My parents loved me very much, that I did not doubt; they had tried everything, been willing to entertain almost any avenue of therapy or treatment.
The doctors took years to settle on an official diagnosis. My parents never said it out loud, but they knew the doctors had given up; they knew that ‘schizoaffective disorder’ was not accurate, did not account for my experiences. But we were all exhausted, and I was able to pretend that the drugs were working. I had my coping mechanisms, I pretended not to see the spirits, and I’d just about come to terms with the lie that Maisie had never existed.
But back at ten years old, during some of my earliest sessions at Cygnet, a trio of doctors had experimented with the notion that I was suffering dissociative identity disorder. What they used to call multiple personalities, split personalities, things like that. Wrong things.
Eventually they ruled that out almost a year later, but by then the damage was done.
“‘Maisie’ may have been a separate identity, in your daughter’s imagination. She may have been this way since very young, displaying one or other personality, or a mixture of both. What she is experiencing now could be the ‘death’ of this alternate personality, and she has no other way of processing it except this wild and inexplicable grief, for a twin who you’ve never met. To her, this is very real. But the first step of any therapeutic program must be to show her that ‘Maisie’ did not exist in the way she believed.”
My mother had asked, in perhaps more words than this: “What if the second personality is still in there?”
I hadn’t seen the doctor’s smile. They had talked about me as if I was not sitting right there. “In my professional opinion, it is better to suppress such delusions, not encourage them. I suggest we begin with sessions of therapy and also a light pharmaceutical option. Here, we have a few different pathways to discuss, if you’ll look at this informational sheet.”
Even then, I’d understood. Barbarians and cannibals and murderers, all of them. And my parents went along with it.
You mustn’t talk to yourself, Heather! You mustn’t talk to the girl in the mirror, it’s just you! Don’t you dare cry for your twin in the middle of the night, because that’s just more proof that she was never real. ‘Maisie’ is a banned word, a banned name, a fake name, a name for you reflected in your own mind and nothing more!
A full year of watching myself for ‘Maisie’, wondering if she really was a product of my imagination — only to be told, sorry, we got it wrong. We don’t think your daughter is suffering DID. We think she’s just crazy in some other way. Generally crazy, non-specific crazy. Sorry, Heather. Maisie wasn’t an alternate self. You’re just bonkers.
You can’t do that to a little girl’s head. You can’t do that.
So I sat there on my bed, surrounded by friends who knew that there was more in heaven and earth than dreamed of in any clinical psychologist’s philosophy, and I sobbed in confusion and shame.
Had I made six more of myself? Was this abyssal biology and pneuma-somatic flesh married in self-generation? Or was I just insane all along, just as crazy as the doctors had always suggested; had these six other Heathers always been here, waiting for a space to inhabit? Where was the line between the supernatural and insanity?
For one horrible moment, held for eternity in between one sob and the next, I longed and feared in equal amounts that I was about to hear Maisie’s voice in my head.
But I didn’t.
I didn’t hear any voices. No Maisie, no six little versions of me dancing around in a circle, no muffled half-drugged mumble from what had been my firewall tentacle. All I heard was the subtle creak and gentle tug of pneuma-somatic muscle anchored inside my flanks. That was real. That was undeniable. I had made that.
My tentacles gave me a hug; I almost screamed.
Everybody was still talking at me, over me, around me. Lozzie was chirping my name like I was a baby bird who’d fallen out of the nest. Evelyn was snapping commands about painkillers, bottles in the kitchen cupboards, get her chocolate, get her chocolate, like all I needed was a good dose of serotonin. Raine was up on her feet, trying to add her arms to my own tentacles. Sevens kept her distance but I felt a sun-kiss pressure on my shoulders. Tenny was trilling and fluttering in terrible panic, with no idea what was happening to me.
They put together a team effort, in the end, because I couldn’t do this alone — how ironic, when there were seven of me now.
Evelyn kept everyone moving, a voice of command amid the chaos. Raine grounded me in physical contact, hands on my head and shoulders and upper arms. Lozzie kept talking at my ears, absolute nonsense but very engaging. Tenny — bless her, I don’t know if she understood, I doubt it — she engaged my tentacles directly, one at a time, using her own to draw each little Heather up and off me, wrapping pieces of me in silken black comfort. Twil ran up and down from the kitchen with water and food and medication. Praem forced me to drink, and to swallow, and to drink more. Raine handed me a lemon; two tentacles peeled it for me, and I ate the whole thing in tiny, nibbly little bites.
Twenty minutes later I was almost myself — my-selves? — once again, sitting on the bed, exhausted, but no longer sobbing.
“That’s it,” Raine said as she rubbed my back. “Just take little sips. Little sips. Breathe in, breathe out. It’s alright, Heather, you’re safe now. It’s alright.”
“Heathy’s just fine,” Lozzie said from right next to me. She peered at my face by dipping her head, but I didn’t even meet her eyes. I had so little left to give. “It’s okay, Heathy.”
Evelyn was slumped heavily in her chair, Praem at her shoulder, Twil hovering awkwardly, way out of her depth. Evee let out a big, heavy sigh, leaning on her walking stick again, eyes like she wanted desperately to go to sleep. “I thought we understood what happened in that dream. I thought we understood. Heather, I’m so sorry. What happened to you in there?”
“ … nothing,” I croaked. I couldn’t begin to put it into words.
Half my tentacles were still playing handsies with Tenny’s silken black limbs, but the other half were wrapped around me at various angles. I was both feeling myself touch, and touching myself, and being touched. I was half-hugging one of them with an arm. Hugging me. Being hugged.
I couldn’t even sort it out inside my own head. All of the tentacles twitched and throbbed and adjusted in different ways. I was in each of them; each of them was in me. How could I begin to explain this?
Evelyn sighed sharply. “What the f—” She bit off the swear word and glanced at Tenny; but Tenny looked none the wiser. “What does that mean, Heather? You don’t have an experience like that and come out crying and not—”
Jan cleared her throat. She was hovering by the door, not having participated much in the process of dragging me out of my mortified self-horror, but unwilling to seem heartless by leaving. Part of me wondered where July was. She said, “We didn’t see what happened to Heather after she went into the dome. I’m sorry, I—”
“Again,” Evelyn almost snapped. “It’s not your fault, Miss January.”
“Just Jan,” Jan crunched out.
Evelyn went on, “You didn’t sign up for it. We did — Heather most of all. We thought we took all the necessary precautions, we—”
“We did,” I croaked, raising my eyes to Evelyn. “Nothing went wrong. We did it right. I found the … Squiddy. Brain-math. I did. I … solved it.”
“Right on,” said Raine.
“Then for pity’s sake, Heather,” Evelyn huffed. “What happened in there?”
I shook my head; there was simply too much to process right now — the way the house itself had appeared and followed me, Jan’s suit of armour and zombie doppelgänger, the mysterious Miss Vee, among many others. The most immediate thing was the most difficult to explain. How could I tell anybody I was seven?
“They’re me and I’m them,” I muttered, then took another sip of water; one of my tentacles, middle left, wiped my lips. Middle Left. I couldn’t call her that. “We’re all … one? I don’t … s-sorry, I can’t … ”
Evelyn frowned at me with increasing worry.
“Heather, hey,” Raine said, purring softly as her hand drew little circles on the tense and tight muscles of my upper back. “Why don’t you start at the beginning, tell us what happened when you went into that dome? We’ve heard the rest from Lozzie and Jan. Just start at the start. Go as slow as you like, focus on what you saw, what you felt, where you went. As slow as you like. We’ve got all night. Nobody’s going anywhere.”
Evelyn pursed her lips. Twil sighed, big and floppy; she very much wanted to be elsewhere. Jan looked like she was stuck in the middle of somebody else’s domestic argument.
I took a deep breath, and said, “Is Mister Squiddy okay?”
“Yeah,” Raine said. “No change. Whatever you did, it didn’t hurt him. Fliss and Kim are downstairs with the bucket still. Hope they’re not necking in front of him.” She cracked a grin.
“Don’t be vile,” Evelyn grumbled.
“Big crack!” Tenny said. “Eggshell crack.”
I nodded, “Yes, Tenns. Hope it didn’t hurt him.”
“Made you biiiig,” Tenny trilled. I almost smiled.
“Yes, he did. Made me big too.”
Raine shook her head, grinning wider. “Can’t believe you got to have a kaiju fight. Wish I could have seen it.”
“Zheng?” I croaked.
“Still out,” Evelyn snapped. “She missed every bit of this. No contact all day. Thought she was going to come running as soon as you slumped out of consciousness.” She snorted, unimpressed.
I looked at Jan. “Where’s July? She’s here too?”
Jan nodded, giving me a real winner of an awkward smile. “Reading a book. In the kitchen. We came straight over, after the … well. I could … ” She cleared her throat, pointing awkwardly at the door.
“We’ll talk later,” I mumbled — which prompted Jan to pull an extremely worried look; then I looked up at the ceiling and said: “Thank you.”
Evelyn sighed again. “Heather, what happened in there? Did it work? Did it work? And … ” She tutted. “Are you okay?”
“Not really,” I croaked.
“Alright. We can talk about that — right, Raine?”
“Absolutely,” Raine said, so gentle and soft, just for me.
“And,” Evelyn added, “Heather, you solved the brain-math problem? How? What’s different now?”
I let out a sad little laugh and looked down at my tentacles; my tentacles looked back at me, framing me in the mind’s eye of six different ways of thinking. I felt a moment of vertigo-like dissociation, like I was looking up at myself from beyond my body. I raised one tentacle — upper left — and allowed her to spiral around my left arm, supporting and lifting my flesh-bound muscles.
Where could I even begin?
“I can … ” I started. “I think the brain-math can … distributed. Um … ” My voice cracked.
Raine’s hand tightened on my shoulder. I looked up and found her beautiful in the dying sunlight. She smiled just for me, that endless beaming confidence she kept so close to hand, telling me she knew, she understood, she accepted whatever was going on — and she didn’t even know. She didn’t have to know, in order to accept.
She said, “Heather, if you’re having trouble, you don’t have to explain anything. Not right away. You can take as long as you need, you—”
“But they’re all right here,” I said — before I remembered that Raine and Evee couldn’t see, not without the magically modified glasses.
“It’s her tentacles!” Lozzie chirped.
“Wiggly!” said Tenny. She wiggled too.
“The tentacles?” Evelyn grunted. “Praem, where are my glasses? Thank you, yes. What do the tentacles have to do with—”
“No!” I snapped, overcome with emotion. I waved an angry hand at Evee to stop her from donning her own pneuma-somatic glasses. She blinked at me, stalled by the sudden fire in my voice.
“Heather?” Raine said. “I can’t see them right now either, but—”
“No,” I said again, just as forceful. “You— they’re right here, they’ve always been right here, they— there’s always been seven of me, or maybe I made them all! But it doesn’t matter which, but you can’t see them. You can’t see me. You can see me!”
It was suddenly vitally important that Evelyn and Raine — and Twil, and anybody else who lacked the pneuma-somatic sight — could no longer deny what lay just beyond their awareness, even if they had never denied me at all.
Before I knew what I was doing, I was tugging at my hoodie to pull it off over my head. I tossed it onto the bed, panting with nervous excitement, with fear, with worries about pain and mistakes and all the ways this could go wrong; but I had no choice, I could no longer accept this bitterness. Then I did the same with my t-shirt, wriggling it off and over my head. My flanks and ribs and stomach were exposed in the rotten sunset light, shivering despite the lingering summer heat.
Raine took a step back, giving me room but keeping her hands ready, though she had no idea what I was planning. Evelyn was frowning at me like I’d gone mad — perhaps I had. Twil wasn’t sure if she should be averting her eyes or not. Lozzie nodded along; perhaps she got it. Tenny hovered for a moment, uncertain what was happening. Praem just stood, placid and calm, hands folded, back straight; somehow, that helped me relocate the shreds of my courage.
“Oh, okay,” said Jan, delicate but embarrassed, turning for the door. “It’s naked time, I see. I’ll be, um, taking my leave. Downstairs. Ahem.”
“I’m leaving my bra on,” I panted. “It’s fine. And it won’t take more than a second. A split second. A-a thought. Oh, oh I’m shaking.”
Jan had already left. I didn’t blame her. She’d seen enough of me already.
“Heather,” Raine said. “Whatever it is, I’m right here. I’m right by your side. Right here.”
“Whatever it is,” Evelyn echoed. “I would prefer to be in the loop! What is happening? Heather, what are you—”
I answered by showing, not telling.
There wasn’t much to it in the end — no blood and guts, no forging new tendons and muscles and nerve-connections. I’d done all the hard parts months ago. The tentacles were already real, already a part of my body, anchored deep inside my flanks with pneuma-somatic flesh married to human form. All I had to do was flick that final value, not from unreal to real, but from spirit-flesh to flesh — to make my tentacles like Praem’s body, or Twil’s wolf-form. They would never be like Tenny, true flesh born from a natural process, but they would be undeniable all the same.
My bioreactor spooled up by just a single notch of a single control rod, sending an awful stab of pain through my gut. But we would fix that soon enough. In a second, new ways of thinking would open to us.
There was no need for the great dripping black machinery of the Eye’s lessons for this, though the needle I held still burned my mind like the sliver of a star. But I made it quick. I reached into the space where I was described, the mathematics that wrought me upon the substrate of reality, and I flicked one value, one figure, upward, by one increment.
“Uuuunnnnhh,” I grunted — not from the tentacles, from which I felt no difference, but from the sheer difficulty of the last piece of brain-math I would ever have to perform alone.
Panting, shaking, bleeding a little from my nose — and instantly helped by Praem handing me a tissue — the first I knew that the brain-math had actually worked were the looks on everyone’s face.
Evelyn was gaping at me, wide-eyed. She lifted the pneuma-somatic glasses to her face, then dropped them again, falling from limp fingers into her lap. Twil just cracked a stupid grin and started laughing, “Squid girl, looking good!” Raine laughed too, genuine delight in her voice.
Of course, for the others, for the non-humans, for Praem, Lozzie, Sevens at the door, for Tenny bouncing and clapping, there was no difference.
I lifted my tentacles, as real and solid as Praem’s pneuma-somatic body. Anchored in my flanks, buried in my flesh, visible to all.
“They’re real,” I croaked. “They’re all me.”
Raine sat down gently. “Of course they are, Heather. They’re part of your body.”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “They are me and I am them. Say hi.”
One tentacle — top left — rose in front of Raine. She — Raine, not the tentacle — eyed me, without suspicion, without reluctance, without the least bit of confusion, just curious. Then she looked at the tentacle.
“Call her Heather,” I said. “They’re all … they’re all Heather.” I was blushing, burning in the face, still stemming a nosebleed. But I was so happy.
“Heather, then.” Raine nodded to my tentacle.
“This is weird,” I said. “I know this is really weird and I’m sorry, but—”
“Pfffft,” Raine said. “What’s weird about it?”
I could have kissed her right there, in front of everybody else. I didn’t, because Tenny was watching. I would have been a little embarrassed.
“Heather,” Evelyn said, “What— what does this have to do with— I mean … what are you going to do about going out in public? The mental censor effect only goes so far, you can’t hide those down your top all the time, you—”
“I can reverse it, make them pneuma-somatic. I mean, they are pneuma-somatic, but like Praem, for now. It goes in reverse, too, it’s … yes.”
“Pretty,” said Praem.
“Yaah!” Tenny agreed.
“Pretty,” Praem repeated.
“Yes, yes!” Evee said, waving us all down. “The tentacles are very impressive, and yes, Praem, you’re very pretty, well done. Heather, I—”
Lozzie suddenly sat up, delighted and amazed in a way I’d never seen on her face before. “You refracted yourself! You refracted and you kept it! Heathy! Wow! There’s seven of you!” She grabbed a tentacle and hugged her. I almost sobbed again.
“What?” said Twil. “I mean the squid thing is cool, fuckin’ rad, but seven of what? Am I missing something?”
“I-I can explain,” I said. “Just, give me a—”
“Heather,” Evelyn snapped. She stamped with her walking stick. “How does this help you? You said this will help with brain-math, but I am lost, I’m sorry. How does this help? How is this the lesson from all we’ve done here? Explain. What did you learn from the Eye-thing, the squid-thing — was it from your sister, or not? How does this help you?”
I looked at Evelyn, full in the face, smiling in a way I did not expect.
“Cognitive load balancing. Additional neural tissue. A distributed brain — or … or soul, one I can regrow.”
Evelyn frowned as if I was talking nonsense. Lozzie went wide-eyed. Well, as wide-eyed as she could with her sleepy lids. Raine just nodded, as if this made perfect sense. Twil tilted her head and said, “Uh, cool.”
But Tenny, of all people, Tenny looked right at me, smiled, and nodded. “Like me!” she trilled.
Evelyn sighed. “Heather—”
“Let me show you,” I said. “It’s still going to hurt, and I don’t know my limits, but let me show you.”
And before anybody could stop us, we plunged our hands — all eight hands, many more hands than the number accounted for in the Eye’s lessons — into the black sump at the base of my soul. And this time, we had more than enough hands to pull at what lay beneath.
Heather! And Heather, and Heather, and Heather, and Heather, and Heather! And Heather, of course. Oh dear. Was she always like this, or did she make herself this way by accident? Does it even matter? Well, all these extra Heathers, stored in extra neuron-flesh, are about to help her do something she’s never done before. That can only be good, right? If the waking world can take it.
Since this chapter touches on the very real world issue of DID (“Dissociative Identity Disorder”/plurality), one of my long time readers suggested I link one of the better informational websites on the subject, since it’s very poorly understood and readers might want to know more: https://morethanone.info/ Of course, what’s happening to Heather here is a supernatural, fictional version, but heavily drawn from real experiences.
If you want to support Katalepsis and also read a couple of chapters ahead of the public ones, please consider:
Subscribing to the Patreon!
All Patrons get access to two chapters ahead! No matter what level you subscribe at! That’s almost 18k words at the moment. The more support I get through Patreon, the more time I can dedicate to writing, and the less chance of having to slow down the story. The generous and kind support of Patrons and readers is what makes all this possible in the first place, I would literally not be able to do this without you; thank you all so very much, more than I can express! You can also:
Vote for Katalepsis on TopWebFiction!
This helps so much! A lot of readers still find the story through TWF! Only takes a couple of clicks to vote!
Thank you so much for reading my story! It’s all you readers out there who keep me going and remind me why I do this. Feel free to leave a comment too, if you like!
Next chapter, it’s down, down, down, into the oily dark where the secrets brood, where Heather’s tools lie preserved in toxic grease. She’s got a task to do, and eight hands to do it. Next week is also the last chapter of arc 19! After that, it’s finally onto arc 20. Onward!
I love Heathers abyssal dysphoria plotline so much, and I’m glad it’s so well written.
She’s reached the stage where it’s not enough to *know* that she’s a squid girl, it’s not enough that everyone *believes* she’s a squid girl. She needs everyone to SEE it, with their own eyes.
Thank you so much! I’m really glad you enjoyed this. I struggled with this chapter a lot, and I really wanted to make sure I treated the subject right, that I didn’t trip Heather up with anything, that I let her speak fully, here. Very happy it all worked!
And yes, that’s a very important principle; she wants everyone else to see and know and acknowledge what she is. That does present a unique problem, what with being supernatural, but that doesn’t mean those In The Know can’t see with their own eyes.
*We all lift together*
A Warframe reference or just coincidence?
It wasn’t an intentional reference at first; I’ve actually never played Warframe. But then during editing I realised I’d heard that line before, so I googled it and found the song, but decided to keep it in because of the positive connotations.
At least they are not devouring the very gods, togethaaa!!
Togethaaaa! I think only Raine would be knowledgeable enough to make that comparison, but Elden Ring’s release is years away in the setting.
I really liked this chapter, it made me giggle, nice job Author.
Thank you for the chapter.
Thank you so much! This chapter was pretty heavy, but I’m glad I could provide relief at the right times, too. Glad you liked it! You’re very welcome indeed.
Thank you for replying.
You’re always very welcome!
What year is Katalepsis set in?
It starts in 2018 and is currently in summer 2019.
Thank you for answering and for replying.
So amazing! I love heather’s growth. And poor little Heather having to go through that!
Thanks for the chapter!
Heather has come so, so far. I’m really happy that readers have enjoyed the nature of her personal journey so far. This, too, is part of recusing her sister – we hope!
And you are very welcome indeed, glad you enjoyed the chapter!
When you’re trying to process that you have/are sentient tentacles but your friends won’t stop fussing over you
Heather needs introspection time but everyone keeps trying to hug her better!
Heathers, yes! This is not the way I thought you would do it, but I love love love it. It is really difficult to explain these kinds of feelings, and Heathers have a lot of trauma about people telling them they are crazy before, so that is why the screaming. But now they know each other, and that is beautiful. It is not plurality, it is something else; I know plurality because I live with my sisters every day. It is different from that, but it is beautiful.
Thank you so much! I’m really glad you liked this part.
Yes, this is not meant to be real-world plurality, I want to be clear about that. This is a fictional, supernatural representation. Nevertheless, I have tried especially hard to draw on real experiences and also be as respectful as possible to real plural people; some of my longest-time readers are plural and it was at their urging that I included the link in the after-chapter note. I’m very very very glad that I could work these themes into the story, they’ve been hinted at for a long time.
The one thing you really do right about plurality, is that it is surprising and scary and awful but also this wonderful thing when finally people turn and look at each other, and know each other, and know they are different but also together. It was that way for me and my sisters, fear and awe and wonder. It is a powerful moment and you did it perfect, you let it be so powerful. Thank you.
I’m very glad that I could capture that feeling so accurately! And thank you for reading.
I just… thank you for the chapter, Hy. That was painful to read, but oh so real, and accurate. It hurt *because* it captured the feelings so well. Just, thank you.
You are very welcome indeed! I’m glad you enjoyed reading this, no matter how hard and painful the subject. I’m very glad that I managed to capture this specific feeling so accurately, I always try to draw on real experiences as much as possible.
Yeah I’m fucking lost.
Someone explain this
I’m quite happy to provide metatextual explanations if you have any specific questions about what’s going on.
took heather months of work and a lifetime of the eye’s lessons but she finally managed what tanny did in a month starting from scratch, congrats.
Tenny is extremely powerful and good and literally made of tentacles!
“looping toward Raine but then shying away from reach touch”
Pretty sure “reach touch” is a typo
Oop, well spotted, thank you! Yes, that’s a typo, it should say “each touch.” Thanks for bringing that to my attention!
This definitely is going places I didn’t expect. Heather-as-system gets the benefit of distributed cognitive load when doing brainmath.
I’m curious how much research you did on cephalopod tentacles and if you ever read Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky?
I’m gonna name her tentacles now, left to right, top to bottom:
Tillie, Tara, Millie, Mary, Billie, and Barb.
I’m really glad you’re enjoying the narrative surprises! These themes have been foreshadowed for a while, but it’s been very quiet, things like the tentacles acting semi-independently before Heather has conscious thoughts about what to do. And yes! This opens up some serious benefits for brain-math, hopefully.
I did a lot of research on cephalopod tentacles, actually! This is all heavily inspired by real life cephalopod distributed nervous systems. I haven’t actually read Children of Ruin yet, though I did read Children of Time. Partly I wanted to stay away from anything that might bias me too much, but now I can go ahead and read it and see how differently Tchaikovsky handles the same concept!
Hehe, she might name her tentacles, indeed!