Jeremy sat very meekly with his knees together. He clutched his notes and tried to look as though he was behaving himself.
The professor was still cross about Jeremy’s over-enthusiastic ingress, which had upset his umbrella stand in a spectacular manner. “When you graduate, Mr Davies, your patients will expect you to walk into their room, not galumph. And preferably without breaking things. Psychiatric patients do not appreciate being startled so unceremoniously, especially the bestial ones. You do know that they are more sensitive.”
“Yes, prof. Sorry, prof.”
Thunder rumbled and the professor sighed. “Today of all days you have to break my umbrella.”
“Hmph. Well, you may begin presenting your case. The proper way, mind—third-person perspective, no full names—I assume you know how.”
Jeremy cleared his throat and shuffled his notes. “Right. So my patient’s first name begins with C, so I’ll call him that. I clerked him this morning. C is five months old, male, species Gallus gallus domesticus. Been living at Oakbridge Farm in Wiltshire since birth. He has no previous psychiatric history. No formal education either.”
The professor waved an imperious hand.
Jeremy hurried on. “C came to us courtesy of the Somerset police. According to their memo, he filed a missing person report for three neighbours yesterday. He was in considerable distress at the station, verging on what the police called incoherent agitation—which they spelled with two Rs and two Gs—so they turfed him over here.”
“‘Referred him to our care,’ Mr Davies,” corrected the professor.
“Right, sorry. Right. But in our session, C denied filing a missing person report. He said what he reported was murder.” Jeremy’s last word coincided with a portentous roll of thunder and he giggled.
The professor glared.
Jeremy pulled himself together. “So of course I asked him what he meant. He said that something strange had happened on the farm early yesterday morning, something that he had to give an important message to the Duke of Somerset about. He was really quite disturbed about it. He told his three neighbours—also avian, all of them—about it and they were worried enough to accompany him. They set out immediately, on foot. They got about three miles outside Oakbridge when they—“
“Hold on, hold on,” interrupted the professor. “What was this strange thing that happened to the patient? You can’t just allude to a possible delusion and not elaborate on its content.”
“Right. Sorry, prof. It’s just such a strange story and I haven’t got the hang of structuring my psych presenta—“ Jeremy caught the professor’s eye. “All right, he got brained by a metal acorn.”
“Er, this thing hit him on the head—“
“Yes, Mr Davies, I do actually know what ‘brained’ means. But a metal acorn?”
“See, that’s what I mean. I know real acorns aren’t made of metal, but if the patient calls it a metal acorn, do I call it a metal acorn, or do I call it the thing that the patient calls a metal acorn?”
Looking as though he would quite like to brain Jeremy himself, the professor growled, “Just describe the object.”
More thunder growled along with the professor.
Jeremy shrugged. “He said it was maybe an inch long, almost egg-shaped, made of solid metal but lighter than it looked. Good thing too. It dropped right out of the sky and brai— and onto his head, knocking him to the ground. I saw the bruise on his head.”
“Hm, acute head trauma,” the professor mused. “That could explain his presentation. But what was the message he wanted to give the Duke?”
“That’s the thing, prof. I don’t know how to sum up what he said, it was just so odd. Apparently the metal acorn thing talked to him. I really don’t understand it. But I made a recording, got his permission and all. Here, I’ll play it for you.”
Jeremy pulled his phone out of a trouser pocket and worked it rapidly. It produced a tinny, quavering voice. “… said hello, it did. Nearly jumped out of me feathers, seein’ as there was no one around me to say anythin’! It got me name wrong, it called me Bye Ped, that’s not me name at all. And it said hello right strangely, like it was two words—Hell. Oh. Who talks like that? It said I had to—lemme think—raise the alarm and get the pla-ne-ta-ry-ee-co-sys-tem deep ‘neath ground right now ‘cos it was a glow-bal-ee-mer-gen-cy. It musta made me practise sayin’ all that twenty times, it did. What’s all them long words mean?”
Jeremy stopped the recording and said, “I know these are command hallucinations. Sometimes people who are very depressed hear them. They literally tell people what to do, and it’s usually unpleasant things.”
“Very good, Mr Davies. But was the patient depressed? He certainly doesn’t sound depressed.”
“I’ve got an even better question for you, prof. If the hallucinations came from his own mind, how come they know words he doesn’t?”
The professor frowned. “That, Mr Davies, is an excellent question indeed. Hm. From his point of view, the voice came from the, ah, metal acorn, didn’t it? Did it say anything else?”
“Yup, apparently it also said something like ‘oh shit, wrong biped.’”
“Remarkable,” the professor muttered.
“So it wanted C to go find the right biped, which it tried to describe as ‘head honcho,’ ‘bull moose,’ ‘numero uno’ and so forth. You can imagine how that went. But eventually he got the idea that he had to go to the Duke of Somerset.”
“Ah yes, along with his—I say, what a crack of thunder—along with his neighbours. What happened then? Did he become paranoid? Violent?”
Jeremy shook his head vigorously. “Uh-uh. The four of them ran into what seemed to be a friendly stranger, also bestial, who gave his name as Fo— sorry, F. C described him as a big red guy, furry, with an enormous tail and twice the normal number of legs. The avians were tired out by then and were only too glad when F said he knew a shortcut. He led them to a narrow tunnel in the downs. F squeezed in first. C gets nervous about enclosed spaces, so he hung back, let his three friends go first.
“It got very quiet after that. C called down the tunnel but got no reply. Started shouting. No diff. Kicked some pebbles in. Nada.”
The professor said, “What was his mental state when he told you this?”
Jeremy looked at his notes. “He was—“
“Sorry, dear boy, you’ll need to speak up! I can barely hear you over the thunder.”
Jeremy raised his voice. “He was very distressed. Sobbing, tremulous, quite traumatized really. He must have been terrified, said that he felt like—God, it sounds like it’s raining bloody pianos out there!—uh, he felt like ‘something was grinning at him in the dark with sharp teeth.’ And he said that the acorn spoke up again at that point.”
“Interesting,” the professor bellowed. “What did it say?”
“That his friends were dead. That he needed to run away, or he’d be next. So he did, leaving the acorn behind him.”
The professor shook his head. “Poor fellow,” he roared. “Poor fellow! But well done, Mr Davies. Your presentation technique requires polishing, but you have a good feel for psychiatry. Now, it’s early, but you’d better go home before it storms.”
Jeremy folded his notes haphazardly and bounced to his feet. “Thanks, prof! Hey, listen, I’ve got a spare brolly in my—“ he caught sight of the window and stared. “But it’s perfectly sunny out there.”
The professor looked out the window too. They looked at each other blankly.
Then came the longest, loudest crash of them all, and the entire floor yawed sharply clockwise before tilting earthward. The professor’s umbrella stand toppled for the second and final time that day and smashed to smithereens. Jeremy and the professor also fell and began sliding towards what used to be a wall.
The professor only just managed to make himself heard. “… DAVIES! What—ACORN SAY—global EMERGENCY was?!”
Jeremy screamed, “THE SKY IS FALLI—”