“You have a problem? You want a problem?”
“No... no... I didn‘t mean...”
“Well you got one.” Terry‘s fist crunches into the weasel‘s face. Beneath his knucles, bones crack. Blood pores from the nose. “You want some more of that? I got some more of that!” The weasel backs up, falls. Terry advances, looming large.
“Hey! Hey, that‘s enough!”
“Oh, you want some too?” Terry turns to see a new kid, looking rough and disheveled.
“Nah, nah,” he waves it off, “Just that if you kill this kid, he‘ll won‘t be around to respect you.”
Terry looks down at the weasel, who stares back at both of them in terror.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“I‘m Nick, by the way,” he starts walking away with Terry, “Hey,” his voice lowers, eyes dart around, “you seem pretty tough. Want to go check out the Perry house?”
“The what?” Terry asks.
“It‘s that old abandoned mansion up on the north hill.”
“Oh yeah,” Terry too glances around, “I‘ve heard about that. Totally creepy. I heard that a bunch of guys went up there and never came back. It‘s haunted or something.”
“What, now you‘re scared, tough guy?” Nick laughs, “Come on, let‘s check it out.”
“NO TRESPASSING. VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED.”
“DO NOT ENTER”
The sun fell behind the dull approach of overcast skies as the boys scoured a sagging chain-link fence. A multitude of signs cautioned them to stay away, but that is precisely why they came. Terry looked beyond the signs. Through the fence, the hill, overgrown with weeds and long stemmed grasses, rose up to a summit. At the summit sat a house. Not the largest house Terry had ever seen, nor certainly the grandest. Beyond age in years, the roof sagged and in places had fallen off entirely, the windows broken by previous vandals, and even a hint of fire damage marred the place. Yet still it retained a hint of dignity; stained wood siding, archways and balconies.
Nick lead, walking the fenceline in silence. “Here,” he whispers, and Terry turns to see a hole cut in the fence behind some bushes. “Come on.”
Nick climbs through, and Terry follows. The pair scrambled up the hill of loose dirt, trampling a path through the overgrowth. A crow cries. The sun peaks out from behind a cloud, only for a glimpse, then hides away again.
A long, low porch becons them. Nick and Terry step up onto, the old wood beneath their feet creaking ominously. Terry turns and looks out. From here, the town spreads out below, looking silent and idellic. “Come on,” Nick urges, “Let‘s check this out.”
The front door lays fallen, broken, inside the house. Without furniture, the rooms are large and bare. The wood floors are discolored, and in places unexplained holes into darkness below leer eerily at them. Each slow step causes the house to cry as if in pain. Light trickles in through broken windows, casting odd shadows on the floors and walls. Terry wants to turn back, but daren‘t reveal his fear to his new friend, who seems confident.
As they proceed away from the door, the hair on back of Terry‘s neck rises; someone is watching. He glances around, but only many dark nooks and crannies glance back. No one but Nick, apparently, who doesn‘t seem to notice.
“I hear there is some cool shit in the old kitchen,” Nick gestures into a darkened room. “Let‘s check it out.”
Terry ignores him, and walks toward the old dining room, which is bathed in light and air through many broken windows.
“Hey, no, this way,” Nick pleads.
Terry walks into the glowing dining room, now leading, and Nick follows cautiously. The floor continues to protest. The broken windows have admitted much rain, and the floor and walls are warped and wavy.
“This is cool,” Terry says.
“Yeah,” Nick replies flatly.
A step. CRACK. Motionless. Silence.
“What was that?” Terry spins.
“I stepped on something,” Nick shakes, “I think something broke in the floor.” The confidence flees from Nick‘s voice, and raw fear is clearly heard. The house seems to whisper, awaken, in response.
“Ok,” Terry says uncertainly, “Maybe if you just step wide over here by me?”
Nick eyes him, unsure. “Ok,” he says. He lifts a foot, and the floor erupts. A scream, debris. Falling. A crash. Thud.
“Nick!?” Terry calls out, edging closer. Where Nick stood seconds earlier, there is now a gaping hole in the floor, much like those Terry saw earlier. In the hole he can see nothing but darkness. It extends down, down, how far down? “NICK!”
Silence. The house creaks. Terry glances around sharply. Another creak. A trifle of wind tiptoes through the dining room, carrying with it unknown whispers.
Fear. Fear like Terry had never know. Alone. Terror. Terry looks up. A figure.
White coat. A doctor. Black hair. Black eyes. Tall. Sharp face. Pale face. Frowning. Angry. Dark. Fear. Afraid.
The doctor stands motionless.
The other way, the front door. Terry runs. The doctor turns. The house creaks. The door. The front door is laying on the floor, off its hinges. Just like when he came in. Dark holes in the floor. Behind him, the doctor watches. Impassive. Dark. He isn‘t helping Nick. He isn‘t helping Terry. Run, Terry, run.
“I know. It‘s crazy. I don‘t know what to do. I don‘t want to get in trouble.”
“What if he is dying or something? He needs help!”
“But... What about the guy? The doctor?”
“Maybe you just imagined him?”
“No! He was there!”
“I‘m sure he was as surprised to see you as you were to see him. I bet as soon as you finished running away he helped Nick out of the hole.”
The weasel has been bandaged up, his face cleaned off. On either side of him stand two police officers, looking seriously at Terry.
“This is the guy,” the weasel says.
“Young man, do you know this individual?”
The office shows him a picture. Nick. Terry hesitates.
“I don‘t think so.”
“We understand that after you had a fight with the witness, you went off with this individual.”
“Oh. Maybe so. Yeah, it‘s possible.”
“What happened then?”
“Nothing. I went to class.”
“Your sixth period teacher tells us you weren‘t in the class that day.”
“Uh, yeah, actually I think I was in study hall instead. I had a big test the next day.”
“I‘m sure. When was the last time you saw this individual?”
The officer again shows him the picture of Nick.
“At the end of school, when I got on the bus.”
“Do you have any idea where he is now?”
“No, I haven‘t seen him since then, a few days.”
“Alright, if you remember anything at all, here‘s my card,” the officer hands him a card, “This individual is currently missing, and we‘re trying to help find him.”
“Uh, good luck.”
The officer eyes Terry suspiciously for a moment.
“I mean, I hope you find him,” Terry clarifies.
Creak. The sound of the old house. Terry awakes suddenly. His girlfriend, who had previously told him she was sure the doctor would help Nick, seemed perturbed by the police visit, and suggested he should tell them the real story. But Terry didn‘t. He couldn‘t.
Terry slowly rose in the darkness, his girlfriend sleeping soundly. Shadows.
Sweat. Apprehension. This house was new. This house doesn‘t creak. It‘s not like that.
Terry turns back toward bed. The doctor stands there, between him and his girlfriend, facing her. A knife, gleaming in the moonlight, in his hand. Raised, poised, to stab her. “NO!” Terry screams, tackling the doctor.
Searing pain. Sharp. The knife against his skin. Blood. He wrestles the doctor. Pain. Overwhelming pain. The light comes on. A scream. A girl‘s scream.
“Terry! Terry! What are you doing?” His girlfriend shakes hysterically, her hands covering her mouth. Terry looks around. He‘s sitting on the floor, near the bed, covered in blood and cuts. In his hand, a sharp, bloody knife. His girlfriend screams again, and the sound of his parents trooping down the hall follows.
“I saw a man. He looked like a doctor. I mean, he was dressed like a doctor. Dark hair, dark eyes. Tall. Real tall. Six and a half feet maybe? Taller than me. Pale skin.”
“And what was the man doing?”
“He had a knife. He was standing by my bed, and he raised the knife above my girlfriend. Like he was going to stab her.”
“What happened next?”
“I screamed and tackled him. We fought. I got cut.”
“How long did you fight with him?”
“I don‘t know. Thirty seconds? A minute?”
“Your girlfriend says she heard you screaming, so she turned on the light and you were sitting there with a knife covered in cuts. How did the man escape so quickly?”
“I don‘t know.”
“The window was closed and locked, your door was closed, all exterior doors were closed and locked. No signs of forced entry anywhere on the property,” the officer looked at him again suspicously. The same damn officer that came to his house earlier that day.
“Your parents have agreed to have the hospital hold you for 24 hours for observation,” the officer continues, “The doctor has also recommended a psychiatric evaluation.”
“The doctor?” Terry climbs up in the hospital bed, “The doctor!?”
“Yes,” the officer says, sighing, “The doctor who examined and treated you for over 20 apparently self-inflicted knife wounds.”
The officer leaves and Terry‘s parents enter, followed by a young woman in a lab coat.
“Oh Terry,” his mother hugs him, causing him to wince with pain, “I‘m so glad you are alright.”
“Physically,” the doctor begins, “Terry should be just fine. The wounds are all superficial. However, this kind of thing is... well-known in the psychiatric community. People, good people,” she nods to Terry, “sometimes become addicted to the adrenaline response that an injury produces. To continue to receive such stimulation, they start cutting themselves -- just shallow cuts, usually where the scars can‘t be easily seen with clothes on. Unfortunatly, it appears that Terry,” she again nods to him, “is a textbook case. The hospital will hold him for 24 hours for observation, but for his long term safety, I strongly recommend a psychiatric evaluation at the earliest possible opportunity.”
The shock wears off. “I did not cut myself!” Terry protests. “I told you, there was a man in my room and he attacked me!”
“Terry, the wounds you have received are not consistent with a knife fight. They are consistent with self inflicted injury,” the doctor explains gently, “And there is no way that a man could have gotten in and out of your room without being noticed by someone.”
“He was noticed by someone! ME!”
The psychiatrist was a grumpy old man with a mess of gray hair. Terry sat with his parents. Two sessions a week, once alone and once as a family. A month now. Terry sat silently but not comfortably -- the pain from his many bandages and scars gabbed for his attention constantly.
“These incidents seem to be escalating,” the old man observes.
“We‘re really quite concerned,” Terry‘s father replies, “We‘ve tried different rooms, having different people in the room when he sleeps. Nothing. We turn away for a minute, or fall asleep for a minute, and then the scream and he‘s covered in blood. We‘ve locked up all the knives in the house. I don‘t know how he gets them. We search his pajamas before he goes to bed. We search his bed. We search,” he throws up his hands, “everywhere. But every night, every night doctor, this happens.”
“I see. What do you say about this Terry?”
“The same damn thing I‘ve said since the beginning,” Terry replies aggresively, “They don‘t find a knife because I don‘t carry knives. I‘ve never carried knives. I‘ve never cut myself on purpose. I wake up, there is a man, a doctor, attacking me with a knife, and then he‘s gone.”
“How do you explain the fact that other people in the room don‘t see or experience this doctor?”
“I don‘t know, they aren‘t watching, they just said they turn away or go to sleep! That‘s why!”
“How long do your encounters with the doctor last?”
“A minute, sometimes two.”
“Yet on numerous occasions, both your mother and father have stated that even when they turned their back for 10 seconds to pick up a bottle of water in the same room, that was enough time for you to cut yourself and scream.”
“But I was asleep!”
The old man turns to Terry‘s parents. “Terry‘s health, I mean physically and mentally, is hanging by a thread here. I strongly recommend for his sake that you place him, just temporarily of course, into a residential treatment facility.”
“Put me away?” Terry yells, and stands, “You can‘t do this to me! I haven‘t done anything!”
Terry‘s father looks down, and his mother looks away, a tear in her eye.
“You have to believe me!” He cries out.
“Terry, please,” she cries, “We love you. We want the best for you. There is no man, Terry, there is no man that comes into the room at night.”
“There is! There is!” Tears stream down Terry‘s face, “I see him! He attacks me! Look at this!” Terry holds out his bandaged and scarred arm.
“I‘m sorry,” she whispers, “We‘re just trying to do what‘s best for you.”
Terry wakes slowly from a painful sleep of dark, flickering dreams. The light brightens from its wire cage in the ceiling. Terry sits up on a small, sterile white bed surrounded by sea blue walls. A window with bars. Bare. Empty. A heavy door with a small window, set opposite the window, opens slowly.
Terry screams. Dark, flickering. A man. White coat. A doctor. Black hair. Black eyes. Tall. Sharp face. Pale face. Frowning. Angry. Dark. Fear. Afraid.
The door closes.
“Good morning Terry,” the voice. Not as cruel as he expected. Not as angry. The doctor pulls out a clipboard. “How was your sleep?”
Terry stares at the doctor.
The doctor frowns. “I see.” He makes a note on his clipboard. Two orderlies come in the room. Terry glances franticly between them. Something seems wrong. Terribly wrong. The doctor pulls out a syringe. Terry screams again, and the orderlies grab him. A pinch, pain for a second.
“You may be numb for a few minutes, but it should pass,” the doctor states as the orderlies release Terry. He nods to them and they leave.
“What are you doing to me?” Terry finally asks.
“That drug will help you calm down and remember what happened. I can help you find out.”
“What are you talking about?”
The doctor removes a photograph of Nick from within his clipboard. “Do you remember this person?”
Terry pauses. Somehow... The face... He shakes his head. “I‘m not sure.”
“His name is Nick,” the doctor replies.
Yes. Nick. “Yes, I remember him now.”
“What happened to Nick?”
What happened? “I don‘t know what you‘re talking about.”
The doctor puts the photo away and removes another one, this one showing a nearby river.
“Do you recognize this place?”
Flowing. River. “Yes, that‘s Willis River.”
“Good. Very good. Now, do you remember anything special about Willis River?”
Special. Strange. Different. Unusual. “I don‘t know.”
The doctor places Nick‘s photo beside the river photo.
“Why would these two pictures go together?” he asks.
The river. Nick. “Nick was at the river.”
“I see.” He makes a note on his pad. “What did Nick do at the river?”
Nick at the river. “I don‘t know.”
“Was anyone else at the river?”
Another. Someone else. “I don‘t know.”
The doctor removes another photo and places it beside Nick.
“Do you recognize this person?”
“Yes, that‘s me.”
“Why would these three pictures go together?” the doctor stares into Terry‘s eyes.
Why? For a moment, silence. Nick. River. Terry. “I was at the river with Nick,” Terry says hesitantly.
“Do you remember that?” the doctor asks.
“Yes,” Terry answers more confidently, “yes, I remember, I was at Willis river with Nick.”
“I see,” the doctor makes another note. “What did you and Nick do at the river?”
River. Nick. Nick. The doctor. Dark, flickering. “No, wait, you were there too. Yes, all of us were there.”
The doctor frowns. “I think that‘s enough for now,” he says, stands, and leaves the room.
It went on like that, day after day. For how long, Terry lost track. Everyday seemed to be the same. Awake, dark, flickering, the doctor, an injection, a discussion about Nick and the river. How many days?
“I was at the river,” Terry said to the empty darkness, “Nick was there too. I wanted to tag some warehouses, but Nick said he didn‘t want to. I insulted him. He pushed me. Then... I don‘t know.” Silence. Darkness. Flickering. Terry doesn‘t seem to notice it anymore.
A pinch. Numbness. “Good morning Terry,” the doctor says from behind his clipboard.
“Good morning,” Terry replies.
“How was your sleep?”
“I‘m glad to hear that.
The doctor removes a photograph of Nick from within his clipboard. “Do you remember this person?”
“Yes, that‘s Nick.”
“Very good. What happened to Nick?”
Terry stares into space. Slowly, images flicker and change.
“He died,” Terry whispers.
“I see,” the doctor replies dramatically, making a note on his pad. “How did he die?”
Terry is silent for a moment, then swallows. “He was at the river...”
“Which river?” the doctor interrupts.
“Willis River,” Terry continues, “He was at Willis River, and... he fell into the river.”
“He fell into the river?” the doctor replies. “Are you sure?”
Fading. Images. Changing.
“No, no he didn‘t fall,” Terry shakes his head, “I don‘t know.”
“Was anyone else at the river?”
“Yes,” Terry responds after a second. “Yes, I was there too.”
“What were you doing there?” the doctor asks.
“We were walking, and talking. We got into an argument, he pushed me...”
“Then what happened?” the doctor picks up the silence.
Terry stares at the sea blue walls, which seem to foam like the real ocean. “He fell into the river.”
“Are you sure?”
“No. He didn‘t fall.”
“If he didn‘t fall, what happened to him?”
“I pushed him.”
“You pushed him?” the doctor responds with a smile.
“Yes,” Terry stares at the bars on the windows. “I pushed him into the river.”
“Why didn‘t he swim back out?”
Swim. Nick. “I don‘t know.”
The doctor pulls a photo of the river and shows it to Terry. “There are a lot of rocks in the river.”
Rocks. River. “Yes,” Terry replies slowly, “Yes, he fell onto a rock.”
“Are you sure?”
“No. No, I pushed him into the river. Then I...”
“What did you do?” the doctor leans forward.
“I hit his head on a rock.”
“Why did you do that?”
“I wanted to kill him.”
“Because he wouldn‘t come with me to tag warehouses.”
“I see.” The doctor makes a note. “So you killed him? You killed Nick?”
“Yes,” Terry whispers, “Yes, I killed him.”
“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
The courtroom shines bright with sunlight. Terry sits at the witness stand, a rich mahogany box below the judge. The whole courtroom seems to be so sweet, so big, so alive.
An attractive woman approachs Terry, dressed in a sharp suit with cropped hair. He smiles. She pulls a photo out of a binder and shows it to Terry.
“Terry, can you identify this person?”
“Yes, that‘s Nick.”
“Your honor, I submit this photograph of Nicholas Jenson, identified by the defendant, as prosecution exhibit A.”
She turns back to Terry.
“When‘s the last time you saw Nick?”
“We were at the river together,” Terry replies with a smile. It‘s so nice in here, big windows and wood furniture.
“What happened at the river?” the prosecutor persists.
“I wanted to go tag some warehouses...”
“Excuse me, what do you mean by tag?”
Nick frowns. He looks out into courtroom. In the corner, the doctor. Their eyes meet for a moment.
“Spraypaint. You know, graffiti,” he responds, annoyed.
“Ok. So you wanted to tag some warehouses?”
“What did Nick say?”
“He didn‘t want to.”
“Then what happened?”
“I told him he was a wuss and pushed him into the river.”
“He was mad. He was mad that I pushed him. He was the wuss. I took a rock and hit him on the head.”
“I wanted him to die.”
“How many times?”
How many times... “I don‘t know.” His eyes meet the doctor. “Maybe a lot. It seemed like a lot. There was blood everywhere.”
“Then what did you do?”
“I pushed Nick into the river and he floated away.”
The courtroom is silent for a moment.
“Did you kill Nicholas Jenson?” she finally asks.
“Yes, I killed him,” Terry responds.
“Do you feel any remorse or sadness about that?”
“No, he deserved it.”
“Because he didn‘t want to tag the warehouses.”
“No further questions, your honor.”
“In the charge of Murder 1 in the killing of Nicholas Jenson, we find the defendant guilty, your honor,” the jury foreman reads.
“In light of the severity of this crime, and since you are being tried as an adult, I hereby sentence you to life in prison.”
The gavel falls.
The rosiness of the courtroom falls away as deputies escort Terry out of the room. The doctor meets his eyes again and smiles, mouthing some words... But what, Terry does not know.
“It‘s like a dream. I remember being there, in the courtroom, but nothing that was said.”
Through a glass partition, Terry‘s attorney looked at him with doubt. “Terry,” his voice tinny over the phone connecting them, “That‘s not going to work as a defense. You confessed to the murder.”
“But I didn‘t kill anyone!”
The attorney shakes his head. “Listen, after your testimony, the police found Nick‘s body. It was in the river, downstream from where you said you killed him. His head was bashed in, just like you said. Terry, all the evidence points to you.”
“I wouldn‘t do that...”
“We can try to appeal on the grounds of incapacity. Other than that, I don‘t know what to tell you. I‘m sorry.”
The attorney hangs up the phone, stands and walks away. Tears roll down Terry‘s face as a guard escorts him back into the cellblock.
“You‘re really into these papers?” the prison librarian asks as she provides Terry with stacks of local newspapers from the previous years. He skims them quickly, ignoring her comment. Finished with one, he pushes it onto the floor and grabs another. The librarian frowns.
“There,” he whispers. A short article dated several years back.
Police today are investigating the disappearance of Anton Moffe, a local high school student. Anton was last seen leaving school grounds with another unknown young man. Witnesses have reported seeing the pair heading toward the abandoned Perry house. Police are asking anyone with any information to please come forward.
Terry writes the issue date and page number, and sets it aside. His determination redoubles as the giant stack of papers looms ahead of him.
High school student Larry Wildeski has not been seen since Monday, when he left school early. A teacher reports she saw him heading north with another young man. Police forensic artists have reconstructed a sketch of the unknown man. When asked if this disappearance has any connection to last year‘s disappearance of Anton Moffe, police claim they are investigating that possibility. If anyone has any information, please contact the local police immediately.
“My god,” Terry whispers. His spine shivers and the hairs spike on his neck. Nick is staring at him, staring at him through hollow, penciled eyes from the police sketch. “It‘s you,” he whispers at the paper. The librarian glances in his direction and frowns again.
“Look! See, it‘s the same guy!” He presses a copy of the article to the glass.
The attorney looks at it obligatorily. “Yes, it appears so,” he replies. “What‘s your point?”
“This person! He took me to the Perry house just the others!”
“It doesn‘t say he took anyone to the Perry house,” the attorney replies.
“But, in this article,” Terry shuffles and pulls out the other article, “it does.”
The attorney skims it through the glass. “There‘s no description. How do you know Nick was involved in this?”
Terry pauses. “It just makes sense. Every year, he takes somebody to the Perry house and they‘re never seen again. Except this time, something went wrong. He fell down a hole.”
“Terry,” the attorney shakes his head, “Nick‘s body was found in a river all the way across town from the Perry house. Police have checked it out before, and there‘s never anything there except graffiti and broken beer bottles.”
Terry hangs his head.
“Terry,” the attorney says more gently, “I‘m working on an insanity appeal. Given your mental state, and the fact that you‘ve spent time in an institution before, I think we have a shot. It would be better than being here.”
“I‘m not insane,” he whispers, “I‘m really not.”
“Good-bye, Terry,” his attorney hangs up the phone.
“Dr. Jerry Ashmal,” the heading reads. Terry is back in the prison library, this time going after the doctor. “A leader in behavioral psychiatry. Dr. Ashmal is known for his research into behavior-modifying drugs and treatments, especially in the area of reducing violent tendencies. He follows in his late father‘s footsteps in pioneering this research.”
“Late father?” Terry asks. A slightly older version of the same text shines light onto the late Dr. Ashmal. “I‘m glad you didn‘t change your name,” Terry whispers. The librarian shoots him a dirty look. Terry ignores it. She‘s been badgering around by cons so long, she‘s afraid to really enforce any library rules.
“Dr. Perry Ashmal,” the old text reads, “A community pioneer in the field of behavior modification and memory recovery. Performed research at the state psychiatric institution until his mysterious death at age 53.”
“Perry?” Terry notices.
After some inquiries with the reticent libarian, Terry manages to extract a copy of land ownership records. He finds the famous mansion on the hill, the Perry house. “Owned by Dr. Perry Ashmal until his death, then transfered to heir Jerry Ashmal.”
The doctor. The doctor owns the Perry house.
“Last time, you told me it was Nick. Now it‘s Dr. Ashmal?”
“Yes,” Terry replies. “Look, he owns that house! And I saw him there even though it was supposed to be empty! And then he‘s my doctor at the facility, and conveniently I confess to killing Nick after being under his so-called care?”
The attorney shakes his head, “Nick, Dr. Ashmal is a very respected figure in the community. There is not one shred of evidence tying him to anything improper.”
“There is!” Terry yells, “I am the evidence!”
The guards rush over in response to the yelling, and begin to drag Terry away. “I am the evidence!” he yells again.
“Listen, you have to believe me,” Terry‘s hair is mussed and his eyes blood-shot. “There‘s something going on at that house. I need you to get people up there, whatever, report a fire or something.”
Terry‘s girlfriend stares back at him through the glass. “I believe you, Terry, I‘ve always believed you.”
“Then just do this for me. I don‘t know how. Somehow, figure out how to get them to check it out. I mean, in detail, not just a once-over. I know there is something there that will prove what I‘m saying.”
“I will, Terry,” she nods, “I promise.”
The house stood as dominating yet silent as always, a silhouette against the afternoon sun. The warnings tacked against the fence scream at Amy, or perhaps merely awaken the fear already planted inside her.
Yet it stood, unmoved by her emotion and trembling; dilapidated, old, sagging, yet still stately and powerful. The Perry House.
What could motivate a beautiful young woman who just started her first job as a waitress at a Mom and Pop diner to stand in fear and determination before the very catacomb that somehow consumed her first love? And what preparation would she make, or weapons would she carry?
Jeans, artifically faded. A t-shirt advertising a local punk band. Tennis shoes designed for appearance, not sport. A note on her bed. Perhaps what it all boils down to was an intrinsic faith in the goodness of humanity.
The tall grass and weeds seemed to grasp at her jeans as the panted up the hill. At every step, her eyes raised to meet the visage of the house. It remained steady and still, calmly waiting for her as a master karateka would wait patiently while his opponent became exhausted in pointless maneuvers.
The house acknowledged her final arrival with a groan as her feet climbed upon the old porch. There she sat, filled with despair. The city spread out below like a tranquil paradise, inviting her with open arms. Yet here the only arms which surrounded her were the ancient timbers of this most cursed house. It is here, at the very portal out of her world that she reveals that she is not so unarmed as she appeared.
Some weapons are complex, some are meant to destroy. But sometimes the best weapon is merely knowledge of the truth, or second best, tools to reveal the truth. It was the latter that came forth from the pockets of her faded jeans: a small flashlight and a camera.
Did she really believe? If Terry was right, then there was something very wrong within the walls of this old house. In that case, she would be putting herself in mortal danger. On the other hand, if he was lying, then why waste the time to come at all? Yet such questions cannot really be asked of one moved like Amy. She could not explain the whats or the whys, only that she came to the house out of love.
The floor creaked loudly at every step Amy took. The flashlight, though on, was not necessary given the afternoon sun streaming through the dingy and often broken windows. She follows Terry‘s description into the dining room. Her stomach knots, the flashlight slips a little from her fingers. There is the hole, the hole that swallowed Nick. Nick, where did you go?
She creeps close to it and peers into the darkness, the illumination of the flashlight useless against such a great mass of darkness. The hole goes down a ways, quite a ways. There must a basement, maybe even several, beneath this main level.
Beneath the floor, the rotting subfloor gives way to pillars of stone and wood. Without thinking, without knowing, Amy puts the flashlight into her pocket and lowers herself into the hole. The house groans, creeks. It wants to drop her.
Yet here she sees a solid beam, a support, only inches away. As the rotting floor that her arms rest upon gives way with a sickening crumble, she lunges for the beam and stifles a scream.
Clatter. Pieces of flooring hit a surface below.
Inch by inch. Amy is not a climber, but there is no way to go but down. Finally her feet touch another floor, and the hole that she entered through is now but a light high above her. She breathes; one, two. Then removes the flashlight. Her feet stand upon dried blood, a splatter. Nick fell here. Nick hit here. Nick died here.
If Nick died here, then there was no rock. There was no river. If Nick died here, then Terry did not, could not, have killed him. As Amy soaks this up, the house creeks again and she immediately realizes one final piece. If Nick had simply fallen here and died, his body would still be here. But it is not. Someone removed Nick‘s body. Someone knew he fell, knew how to come down here and knew how to take it away. Someone did it to frame Terry.
Another creak, a slight, stale breeze. A hint of foulness. Silence.
Amy looks about her. The flashlight provides only a tiny cone of illumination, hardly enough against the oppresive push of darkness. The blood seems to trail off in one direction. She follows, step by step. An open door, a hallway. She walks slowly, then freezes.
“Yes,” the voice says, “We are almost there. One more, maybe two. Nick was no loss thanks to the boy. I am so close, father, I know you will be proud.”
Step. Step. The floor does not creak nor groan. Here ancient is replaced with a surreal mix of classic and super-modern. This is not the house, nor could it ever be the house. A world within a world, a world beneath a world. Amy steps closer and closer. Light streams out ahead through a doorway.
The doctor‘s back is turned. His workbench is surrounded by various bottles and vials of unknown substances. There are cages and shackles, currently empty. A bookshelf full of books, some appearing new and crisp, others old and disintegrating.
Click. No flash. The single, yet bright, bulb above the doctor‘s head will have to be enough. The doctor looks up from his work, and turns.
“Come on, move it,” the guards hussle Terry down the hall into a small room. Two detectives sit waiting.
“Sit,” one of them says tersely to Terry. He sits.
“What‘s going on?” Terry asks, confused.
The detectives don‘t reply, but one removes a piece of folded paper from his pocket and places it on the table before Terry.
If anyone finds this, I have gone to the old Perry House because I believe Terry is innocent. If I don‘t return, you will know he is no murderer.
The note is signed Amy, and written in her familar hand. A tear passes down Terry‘s cheek. He didn‘t intend for this, not for her to go alone.
“What happened?” Terry finally asks.
“You tell us. Amy‘s mother called day, frantic that her daughter was gone and there was this note on her bed.”
Terry shakes his head. “The courtroom, I told you, it wasn‘t true. I don‘t know why I said those things. The house, listen, people have been disappearing at that house for years and no one has put together the pieces. There is something going on, that‘s what I told Amy, that‘s what I told my attorney, that‘s what I believe.”
The detectives look at each other. “That‘ll be all,” they tell him.
“Police! Anyone in here?” the voice booms, echoing off the fragile walls of the old Perry house. Footsteps, boots, walk authoritatively from room to room. Powerful mag-lights add to the failing light of the evening.
“Over here,” one says.
The detectives gather around the hole in the dining room. “This looks freshly broken.” The other nods. Lights shine down, piercing a tunnel through the darkness. “That looks like blood.”
“I‘m going in.”
Pain. Grogginess. Darkness. Small.
Amy‘s wrists are bound behind her, and a gag strains her mouth. Her breathing is labored, slow. Darkness. Nothing to see. She shifts, and falls over. Her feet are also bound. Such a small room, a closet?
“Mmmmmm!” she tries to scream, but the gag is tight and effective.
Noises. Voices. Amy quickly freezes and listens.
”...one sick fucker...”
”...sign of Amy...”
It‘s not the doctor. Amy shifts, tries to hit wall, but slumps again in her bonds of rope and drug. She moves her feet to kick, anything to make noise, but succeeds only in slopping from side to side. “Mmmmm!” she tries again to scream. Anything, anyone, help! Yet her desperate pleas are silenced and the voices oh so close begin to fade.
Amy tries again to hit or kick the wall, or to scream, but the voices of salvation are gone.
The effects of the drug worn off, Amy finally manages to break free of her bonds, one at a time, and finally rises. The closet is no more than three feet on any edge. She feels the walls all around, up and down, until the hands fall upon a lever above her head. She pulls it, and one wall swings open in a dimly lit room. The lab. She stumbles out, looking back at her prison. A bookshelf stands swung open from the wall. “Sneaky bastard,” she mutters.
As she turns to leave, the horror sweeps back into the room. Footsteps, slow and steady. Not the detectives.
She looks around quickly, something, something to stop him. A knife, a rock, a brick. Something, something. She tears open a drawer. A syringe, filled with yellow liquid.
She turns. The doctor stands before her. Hard, impassive. No feeling. He moves. She moves. The syringe, stuck into his chest. Injected. He stares, he stumbles. A wave of dizziness. Her head falls. Another syringe. Another injection. The world goes again dark.
Light. Harsh, pulsing light from ancient fluorescent lamps. Amy turns her head away. It responds slowly. Bars cover a small window set high in the wall. A voice. Woman‘s voice.
“It‘s time for your medication, dear,” the voice says. Amy turns, crossing again the harsh light. A woman in white stands beside her bed, holding a syringe.
“Am I dead?” Amy croaks.
The nurse smiles. “Not at all,” she replies. The needle pinches Amy‘s arm for a second and then is gone. “All done. Not so bad, right? The doctor will be glad you‘re coherent today. He‘ll be in in a minute.” Before Amy can respond, the nurse scoots out, closing a heavy door behind her.
She looks around, slowly dragging her consciousness in from various derelict corners of the mind. A small room, painting a light but dulled blue. A small window, inset with bars, near the ceiling. A damn obnoxious flickering light. A metal hospital bed. White sheets. White gown, tied in the back. A small, metal table next to the bed. A book and a pen rest on the table. A heavy door with a small, square window.
The door clicks, creaks, and opens. Amy screams.
“Can you tell us anything else about the house or the doctor?”
“Like what? I already told you everything that happened. Did you search?” Terry leans forward, “Did you find Amy?”
The detective leans back. “No.”
Terry immediately slumps.
“But we did find some suspicious circumstances that seem to match with your descriptions of the events. We want to go back, but we need to know where or what to look for.”
“Amy!” Terry screams, and a guard steps quickly forward to restrain him.
“Terry, we want to help. We want to find her. Her note and your claims are the only leads we have. We searched that house from top to bottom. We didn‘t find her, or the doctor, or anyone else.”
“What did you find?”
“As far as we can tell, your buddy Nick fell through the dining room floor and died when he hit the basement level. There‘s only two problems. First, the fall shouldn‘t have killed him, and second, the body was gone. We only found a big, dried pool of blood. So either you moved the body, or someone else did. Either way, it‘s inconsistent with your conviction testimony.”
Terry shakes his head. “I didn‘t move the body. I didn‘t see what happened after he fell.”
“Ok,” the detective nods grimly.
“Hello Rachel, glad to see you‘re up,” the doctor, the horrible doctor, smiling his evil smile, grinning his evil grin; the whole sequence from the house flashes back in Amy‘s mind and she screams.
“Shhh, Rachel, calm down,” he sidles up next to her. His words somehow have a soothing effect on her, and she quites down. “Did you have another dream?” he asks.
“What are you talking about? Why am I here?” Amy spits.
The doctor frowns. “Rachel, you‘ve been having some dreams, and you‘re having trouble remembering what is real, and what is a dream. That‘s why you‘re here.”
“My name is Amy!”
“In the dream, you claim to be Amy. Sometimes Amanda. Sometimes Emily. In real life, your name is Rachel.”
“What...” Amy gasps.
“I‘m having you keep a journal of your dreams,” the doctor picks up the book on the table, “To help you separate the dream world from the real world.” He hands it to her.
She flips through the journal. It has many entries, spanning several months. She turns to the most recent entry.
Woke up screaming. They were out to get me. Men and women wearing black. I ran from them but couldn‘t get away. They were calling the name, “Amy... Amy... Amy...” I woke up again in the hospital. I asked the nurse my name and she told me, “Rachel.”
Words and phrases, symbols and memories, now here and now there. “I... Remember...”
“Yes,” the doctor encourages, “Very good. You should write your most recent dream in your journal. I promise it will help you.”
Suddenly a small mental light goes on. “What about Terry? Is he real?”
The doctor frowns. “I‘m afraid not. Your boyfriend, Jim, broke up with you when you had to be committed seven months ago. Terry is just a mental projection of protecting figure that you want to have.”
She frowns. “I‘m sorry,” the doctor continues. The memories blur... Terry... Jim...
“It seems unreal,” she whispers.
“Good,” the doctor responds, “that‘s a start. Now write in your journal.”
“Yes,” Rachel says. “I will...”
“What‘s going on?”
“Terry, we need you to testify. Today.”
“The detectives went back to the house,” his attorney continues, as they walk with escort down the prison hall, “they found the doctor‘s lab. They found bodies. Dead bodies. They found blood, including some which matches Amy.”
“My god! Where is she?”
“We don‘t know. We found the doctor through fingerprints at the scene. He‘s in charge of a psychiatric institute outside of town. We‘ve brought him in, but he‘s got a strong defense and alibis, so we need your testimony.”
“Sure thing,” Terry replies.
“Good morning, Rachel,” the nurse says as she enters the room. “Are you ready for your medicine?”
Rachel smiles. “Yes. I didn‘t have any dreams last night.”
“That‘s great!” the nurse replies as she gives the injection, “The doctor will be glad to hear that. Now he won‘t be seeing you today, though.”
“He‘s in town for a while, taking care of some business. But I‘m sure he‘ll be very glad to hear how you‘re doing. You know, this is the first morning you haven‘t claimed to be someone else.”
“Someone else?” a frown creeps across her face. Flickers of images, very vague, then gone.
“Don‘t worry about it,” the nurse quickly counters. “How would you like to spend some time in the garden?”
“I‘d love to,” Rachel beams.
“In your previous sworn testimony, did you admit to killing Nicholas Jenson?”
“Yes,” Terry replies, swallowing hard.
“Is it true that you were committed to a psychiatric institute for some time?”
“Yes,” Terry replies, looking down.
“Is it true that my client, Dr. Ashmal, was in fact your doctor at that institute?”
“Yes,” Terry replies. “He brainwashed me.”
“Do you think it is more likely that he somehow magically brainwashed you into freely confessing, or that you just don‘t like him and are out to settle a score?”
“Objection, conjecture!” Terry‘s attorney intervenes.
“No further questions.”
“This is insane. He‘s got the jury believing you‘re crazy...”
“I believe I‘m crazy,” Terry responds.
“Yes, well, the point is he‘s also got them believing that this house of horrors is just an ordinary research lab. The doctor is going to get off scot free.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“We need to find Amy. Her body would be conclusive evidence...”
“You don‘t know she‘s dead!” Terry interrupts.
“If she‘s not dead, where is she?”
“Where was I?”
“There‘s no one by that name, I‘m sorry.”
“We‘ll need to check everyone who has been admitted or transfered in the past two months.”
“I‘m sorry, you can‘t just go barging into people‘s rooms. Some of these people are very sensitive.”
“This warrant says we can.”
Had a mild dream about a house and some kind of lab. There was a man in the dream who sort of looked like Dr. Ashmal. But he wasn‘t. I know it‘s a dream. I can tell the difference now.
Rachel closes her journal and places it back on the table. The door opens. She looks up, expecting the nurse.
Two men stand there, dressing in suits wearing badges.
“What‘s going on?” she asks.
“Are you Amy?”
Amy... Amy... Flickers, images. “My name is Rachel,” uncertainty clouds her words. She frowns.
One detective nods to the other. He pulls out a small box and piece of paper. “I‘ll need to see your thumb, ma‘am.”
He takes her fingerprint, and holds it up next to a pre-existing print. “It‘s a match.”
The first detective picks up a clipboard from the end of her bed. “Rachel Tomlinson. Transfered in a week ago under the direct supervision of Dr. Ashmal.”
“A week? I‘ve been here for months.”
“I could see how a week would seem like months in this place.”
“Amy, you‘re under subpoena to testify. Come with us.”
“Amy...” she repeats the name.
“What the hell is going on here?”
“Does it matter? Amy disappears in his house, and is found under a false name in his institute? Kidnapping and false imprisonment right there, at the least. We‘ve got him.”
Another detective walks in. “I think I might have some answers.”
“Oh yeah? Let‘s hear it.”
“The defendant‘s father, another psychiatric doctor, pioneered some research in behavior modification, including a drug which could be used to both suppress and reconstruct memories based on suggestion.”
“That this drug he was developing could have the kind of effect we‘ve seen in both Terry and Amy. He could administer it, and then plant memories in them.”
“Like killing or being someone else?”
“Yes. And he has had access to both victims to do so.”
“That‘s it then.”
“There‘s something more.”
“The father died in mysterious circumstances. I did some digging, and it appears that he was killed by one of his patients, who was on this drug.”
“He found out the truth and snapped?”
“Possibly. Either way, it looks like junior here has taken up his father‘s footsteps, in a less than ethical or legal way.”
“I‘ve just talked to the judge. She‘ll allow Amy to testify, and admit the evidence that Amy was brainwashed as well as the historical evidence. This case just turned around.”
“When can I see her? Amy?”
“Once the trial is over.”
“What about me? I mean, if I was brainwashed into confessing...”
“If the jury finds that to be case, then your sentence will be vacated.”
“It‘s like ... a bad dream. I remember being there, in the institute. I remember calling myself Rachel. But it‘s bizarre, like it didn‘t really happen.”
“I know what you mean.”
“I know you do,” Amy smiles.
“He was that close to having us silenced forever, believing whatever he told us.”
“If it wasn‘t for you,” Amy says, “it probably would have been.”
“I guess there is one saving grace.”
“The drug can wear off over time, and the real memories return.”
Amy nods. “I wish the false memories went away.”
Terry stares into the sunset.
“What are you going to do with your share of the settlement?” Amy asks.
“Buy some property.”
“Oh, you have your eye on something?”
“They made it a class-action of all the victims against the doctor. He was completely bankrupted. He has to sell the Perry House. I‘m going to buy it.”
“I‘m going to buy it,” Terry reiterates, strongly, “I‘m going to buy it and tear it down.”
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