Chapter 16 (Author's note: The name "Docie" is pronounced "Doe-see") Even as Verbena Beeks was entering the Waiting Room to talk with "Evalyn" again, Howard Kirkwood was turning the gray pickup truck into the empty visitors parking lot of the Colver County State Hospital. Turning off the ignition he sat in silence for a couple of minutes, not even noticing the stifling heat building up inside the cab as he stared out the windshield at the building in front of him. The Colver County State Hospital for the mentally retarded and the insane had occupied the same unassuming two-story faded red brick building for as long as Howard could remember. Even as a child he'd heard whispered tales of people who had been committed to the quiet establishment sitting behind the seven-foot red brick wall that encircled the entire acre and a half of land on which the building sat. Staring at the iron bars bolted over every window, he remembered another hot August night.... It wasn't the first time the screaming had jerked young Howard from sleep like a creature snatching at prey. Not even thinking, he had rolled off the far side of the narrow iron framed bed and crawled under it. Putting his head down close to floor, he peered between the ragged fringe of the bedspread brushing the floor at the end of his bed, his eyes fixed on the crack under his bedroom door. He watched bare feet rushing past, listened to his parents' shouting to be heard over the screaming. "Tate, bring the car around front! Ellen get a dose of her medicine ready." "You know she won't take that pill.." "Then crush the damn thing an' put it in some water an' we'll pour it down her throat." "But Will, how can you do this to your sister? She's not like Granmaw Hildie. Docie's never hurt nobody!" "Not yet," Howard could still hear the grim finality in his father voice. "An' I ain't gonna give her the chance. Me an' Tate's taking her over to the asylum in Colver right now... t'night." Not until nearly an hour later when he heard the sound of the his father's 1918 Ford wheeze to life and then fade quickly into the night did eight year old Howard crawl out from under the bed. He'd crept downstairs, then paused at the front screen door, watching his mother sitting on the top porch step in her nightclothes, staring into the darkness. She hadn't said anything when he came to sit beside her and lean against her. "Mama," he finally whispered, peering up at her face in the dim light of a quarter moon. "Where's daddy an' Uncle Tate takin' Aunt Docie?" "Over to the...hospital...in Colver," she whispered back. "Is Aunt Docie sick agin?" "Yes." "When kin she come home, mama?" Howard had shivered when his mother had said sadly, "Nobody never comes home from Colver.".... Thirty-five years later, sitting in his pickup truck with the windows rolled up in the stifling midday heat of an August day, Howard felt the same cold uneasy shiver run down his spine. Getting out of the truck he walked across the empty parking lot to the double front doors of the unassuming red brick building. At the front doors, he paused, one hand on the door handle. Then, feeling the heaviness in his heart, understanding exactly what his mother had felt that night long ago, her words echoing in his mind, Howard entered the place where "nobody never comes home from." ----------------------------- In the Waiting Room ----------------------------- Verbena stopped just inside the Waiting Room doors, watching the figure on the bed in the center of the large white room sit up and turn to face her. "What is it, Doctor Beeks?" "Evalyn" said quietly, her gaze meeting that of the handsome black woman. "I can see by your expression that somethin's the matter." Verbena hesitated a moment, then spoke. "Our...friend," she began as she moved to stand at the foot of the bed, "and Aaron have transitioned twice today in less than two hours. nd judging by your expression, I'd say that's not a good thing." "Evalyn" shook her head. "No, it isn't." "What's a usual time period between transitions?" "They vary, depending on the age and strength of the personality, and what Perry needs at any given moment. Or how restless Aaron is. With the little ones," Evalyn got up and began to pace, "it was often sudden and over with quickly when Aaron would overpower them." "What about with you?" "I'm the only one who can deny him," "Evalyn" said. "But I'm getting tired and as we discussed before, I don't think I can resist him much longer." "Did you ever force him out of control suddenly?" "Is that what your friend did?" "Evalyn" asked, stopping in front of the other woman. "We're not sure," Verbena admitted, then related almost verbatim the account that Al had given her of his last two visits with Sam. "To answer your question," "Evalyn" began as she got on the bed again and smoothed the white sheet, arranging the fold across her lap just so, "yes, I have, many times, especially when he was stalking the little ones. Or if he was contemplating... inflicting coarse behavior upon a young lady while in control of Perry's body." Though genteelly said, the look in her eyes and the meaning of her words were quite clear to Verbena. As the doctor turned toward the door she said, "I've even battled with him once when it was his intention to...harm Perry's father." Verbena turned and stared at the visitor. "He was going to hurt Perry's father?" she said, a note of unexpected incredulity in her voice. "No doctor," "Evalyn" said plainly, keeping her eyes level. "He meant to kill him." "Ziggy!" Verbena ordered loudly. "Tell the Admiral I need him in here right now!" ----------------------- In the Control Room ----------------------- "Admiral Calavicci," Ziggy announced over the speakers in the Control Room, "Doctor Beeks demands your presence in the Waiting Room immediately." "Tell Doctor Beeks..." Al began. "Now..Al!" the computer's voice had a sharper edge than anyone in the room could ever recall hearing Ziggy use. And she had addressed him by his first name. It was one of the few times that the Observer's train of thought had been so suddenly derailed that he just stood for a moment, speechless, and then strode out of the room. Upon entering the Waiting Room, Al still didn't get the chance to speak, cut off when Verbena said sharply, "Sit down, Al. There's something you need to hear." There was a time to talk, a time to command and a time to listen. Now, as he perched carefully on the end of the bed, Al knew it was time to listen. "Go on," was all he said as he looked first at Verbena, then "Evalyn", doing what he'd instructed Sam as he gave his complete and undivided attention to what was about to be said. "When you told me that Sam had just come out of a transition when you got to him this last time, less than two hours after the first one," Verbena began, "it worried me. I'm not up to date on...Multiple Personality Disorder," she said, deciding to keep it simple, "but I've read up on it since this leap began. According to what I've read, and remember from the course I took on it in college, rapid transitions between personalities usually occur when the subject is under high emotional stress." "But Perry's the one with the emotional problem," Al pointed out. "True," Verbena agreed. "But..." "...but when your friend..exchanged places with him," "Evalyn" pointed out, "a part of Perry's mind remained and joined with your friend's mind." "And even though Perry is physically here," Verbena pressed on, "he's still experiencing M.P.D. because waking up..here, caused him emotional stress. That's why "Evalyn's" here," she flicked a glance at the visitor. "She's helping Perry to cope and understand that he's safe here." There was a moment of silence. Al waited. He knew he'd just heard the preliminaries. Glancing between Verbena and "Evalyn" he knew they were about to get down to the main event. After another moment, Verbena quickly outlined her earlier conversation with "Evalyn"; not by so much as a flicker of an eyebrow did Al react. Only when she finished did he speak. "So in essence," Al said, "you're telling me that because one of Perry's alternate personalities is in Sam's mind, that every time any sudden emotional change.." "Any sudden strong emotional change," Verbena corrected, "such as anger or fear..." "Okay, whenever any sudden strong emotional change pops up that it's going to make Sam more vulnerable to "Aaron" taking control of Sam's body. Correct?" "Correct." "Then what about the incident in the bathroom?" Al asked. "He was just listening to what I was telling him. No anger or fear." "But you said he was anxious," Verbena reminded, "because of Perry's father watching him get dressed for school..." "For one thing," Evalyn" interjected, "you said you'd just mentioned Aaron to him. Aaron is always listenin'. And if he's had a chance to..explore your friend's mind, depending on what he's learned about him, it sounds to me like he's determined that your friend know as little about him as possible. And," "Evalyn" went on, meeting Al's gaze, "if Howard was in the room watching your friend, it would be because he suspected that a transition either had or was about to occur." She glanced between the admiral and the doctor. "Over the years Howard has become quite adept at reading the signs of impending personality changes." Her words took Al by surprise. "Years?! How long has Perry ...been like..he is?" "The first time Perry...needed me," "Evalyn" said quietly, "was the night his mother... left. He was four." She nodded at Al's surprised expression. "The others, the little ones came along in time." "What about Aaron?" Al demanded. "When did he "come along"? Why would Perry need a punk like him?" But Verbena interrupted with a question of her own. "How old is Aaron, "Evalyn"?" "He's twenty." "And when did he first appear?" "Shortly after Perry's fifteenth birthday." She smiled, a soft blush coloring "her" cheeks. "It was about the time that Perry first became interested in a girl in his class." Her smile widened. "From the moment he laid eyes on Margie Hennessey, he's never looked at another girl." But Al's next question dimmed the smile. "And what did his old man think about that?" "At first he didn't mind," "Evalyn" replied slowly. "But he quickly became more strict with him." Al didn't say what was on his mind at that response, repeating instead, a still unanswered question. "Why did Aaron appear?" he asked, making a real effort to keep his voice calm. "In the early evening of Perry's fifteenth birthday, Howard allowed him to invite a few of his friends to the house for a small party. Hot dogs and ice cream and cake. He only invited five. Margie was one of the two girls he invited." "Evalyn" paused, the look in her eyes telling Al and Verbena she was remembering that time. Shaking herself, she hurried on. "Anyway, it didn't last long but they seemed to have fun. Margie was the last one to leave, and Perry ...and Howard walked her home." She glanced up at Al. The Observer read the glance unerringly. "What happened?" Al asked. Though it had been a very long time since his fifteenth birthday, he had a fairly good idea of what was about to be said. He wasn't far off the mark. Verbena however was noticing that "Evalyn" was beginning to fidget as the discussion intensified. Unobtrusively she caught Al's eye, then glanced at "Evalyn's" hands endlessly twisting a section of the sheet as she talked. She caught the almost imperceptible nod of understanding but did not interrupt the flow of information. "...Margie lives just two blocks from Perry's house, and it was a nice evening so they decided to walk to her house instead of driving. Howard walked a little ways behind them. Anyway," she said, her agitation growing as the memory became ever more vivid, "when they got to her house, Perry walked her up to her door. Howard waited on the sidewalk, watching. And then..." Al's eyes kept darting from "Evalyn's" face to her hands, now twisting the section of sheet even tighter. Getting up he moved to stand beside the visitor and gently laid his hand on "hers". "Are you okay?" he asked quietly. At Al's touch "Evalyn's" eyes flew up to meet the Observer's dark eyes. Reassured by the strength "she" saw there, "Evalyn" felt the tension within her ease a little. "Yes..thank you," she said with a hesitant smile. She was unaware though, that "she" continued to hold Al's hand tightly as "she" continued relating the memory. "It was perfectly innocent," "she" said earnestly. "What was?" Verbena asked. It was Al who answered her question. "Perry kissed her goodnight...didn't he?" Al said softly. "Evalyn" nodded. "It was his first kiss," she whispered. "A soft,sweet, shy little kiss." "What did his father do?" "He yelled, "Stop that!" "Evalyn" said, talking as fast as she could. "Then he stomped up onto the porch, grabbed Perry by the arm and dragged him down the steps just as Margie's mother opened the front door." By now tears were standing in "Evalyn's" eyes. "He was so shamed and embarrassed, being dragged down the street like..... Anyway, when they got back to the house..." "Evalyn's" inner turmoil had renewed, now an almost viable, living thing pervading the Waiting Room as Al and Verbena waited for more of the memory to be spoken. A long, nerve-stretching moment of silence passed. It was Verbena who finally broke it. Moving to stand on the other side of the bed, she laid her hand on "Evalyn's" shoulder. "What happened after Howard and Perry got back to the house?" she asked, her voice quietly encouraging. "It's okay," she reassured the now trembling figure on the bed when the tear filled gray-blue eyes looked up at her. "It's an ugly, painful memory that's been buried far too long, "Evalyn". And often the healing process can be as painful as whatever caused the injury in the first place. But it has to be brought out into the light and dealt with openly and honestly if Perry's ever going to have any chance at a normal life." As "Evalyn" talked tears spilled down "her" cheeks, and Al felt his guts begin to twist as an old war-spawned rage buried over thirty years ago began to burn afresh within him. It took every ounce of self-control he had not to give vent to it as he listened. "Howard locked the front door," "Evalyn" said, "and then turned around and slammed his fist into Perry's face, knocking him halfway down the hall. Then while Perry was still dazed, he dragged him upstairs...to the attic." "Why the attic?" "It's where he always takes the boy to...punish him," "Evalyn" whispered. "Perry cried and begged his father not to punish him. Promised that he'd never do it again, but Howard wouldn't listen. I..I don't think he even heard Perry." "Go on," Verbena said. "In the attic..." "Evalyn" got off the bed and began pacing agitatedly round and round as if attempting to get away from the ugliness pouring out of "her" mouth. "...Howard forced Perry to strip, then stuffed a rag in his mouth and tied another across it..like he does every time. He tied his wrists with ropes he had attached to two rings he'd bolted to one of the rafter beams, and then tied ropes around his ankles and secured each one to a ring set in the floor, then pulled the ropes tight until he was stretched until he couldn't move. It..it was like he was spreadeagled in the air." The mothering side of Verbena clamored at her to take the young man in her arms and try to sooth him, but the experienced psychiatrist ignored that inner urging, instead keeping her attention focused on the visitor. She not only heard, even more Verbena listened to the agony being relived as the young man who had endured the atrocities struggled through "Evalyn" to fight his way out of the black hole of pain and terror that had incarcerated him for most of his life. But all of her experience couldn't keep the Project's psychiatrist's hands from balling into fists inside the pockets of her lab coat. "Evalyn" couldn't stop moving as she continued exposing the horror endured by the young man who was her host. Like a lanced boil that has festered far too long, the fetid corruption of ugliness of physical and emotional abuse continued to pour out. The longer "she" talked the rawer the emotion in "her" voice the more tortured the look in "her" eyes. "He...took off his belt and began to beat Perry and...scream at him," "Evalyn" gasped the words as if they were being jerked out of "her". "Lash..after..lash..swinging that belt so hard... it left welts. Horrible welts..that bled. And the whole time he never stopped screaming..." "What was he screaming "Evalyn"?" Verbena asked, speaking in a loud, firm voice in order to be heard. "..."Don't you never touch a woman again, boy!"..." "Evalyn" shrieked, the raging words echoing off the Waiting Room walls, the intensity of emotion causing a sort of shock wave to ricochet off of and over the room's occupants. "You may have her blood, but s'long as there's breath in me, you ain't never gonna be like one of 'em. Arrogant, chicken stealin', shifty-eyed..... Never! Never! Never!" "Verbena, do something!" Al shouted. "He's gonna have a nervous breakdown!" Not waiting for the psychiatrist to respond, he moved to restrain the young man now acting out the beating even while his "protectress" continued to scream. But... "AL! DON'T TOUCH HIM!" Verbena shouted, darting forward to push the Observer away from Perry/"Evalyn". "Why the hell not?" Al demanded, his tone and attitude slipping into "admiral mode" as Sam had once dubbed it. It was a tone he reserved for visiting officials and other stuffed shirt types. At the moment though he needed it, needed the security of his authority to shield him, to push the old memories back. To keep them at bay until the drenching, cold sweat that had sprung up all over his body could evaporate, taking the memories with it. "Because he might think it's his father," Verbena said, her tone sharply decisive, "and he could turn violent." For a few seconds she locked gazes with the Observer, then nodded slightly when she saw his expression relent, watching him step back a few feet. From that brief distance Al watched, listening as Verbena, her voice firm and calm, began moving toward Perry/"Evalyn". Talking reassuringly, her words slow and even, helping the tormented young man understand, to calm him. "It's okay," Verbena said quietly, repeating it over and over as she moved closer until she could put a hand gently on one of the visitor's up-stretched arms. "It's okay. He's not here. You're safe." Her attention sharpened, watching as the visitor's expression changed, the eyes blinking then closing, the body swaying slightly, then as suddenly as it had begun, the screaming stopped. She didn't move her hand, not flinching when the visitor placed a hand over hers. Then...Perry opened his eyes. "Easy! Easy!" Verbena reassured when he gasped at the sight of his hand over hers. "It's okay." "But daddy said..." Perry began, his eyes darting nervously around the large white room. Verbena reached out her free hand, her fingertips brushing lightly across his forehead, gently pushing the sweat soaked hair out of his eyes. "I know what your daddy said. But I'm not him, and I don't mind." It was the longest fifteen minutes of Al's life as far as he could remember, waiting and watching as Verbena talked with Perry. He moved unobtrusively closer to the Waiting Room door to give her and the now exhausted young man as much privacy as he could, yet kept a keen eye on them. He listened as she talked openly with Ziggy, ordering a low dosage of a mild tranquilizer to be brought to the Waiting Room. Several minutes later after administering the tranquilizer and helping the visitor get settled on the bed again, Verbena joined the Observer by the door. She watched Al put his hand on the recessed recognition plate, and when the door slid open, followed him out. In the hall they stood for a long moment staring at each other. Finally she glanced at her watch; so did Al. "It's almost time for you to contact Sam, again," she said, then looked up when he moved away from her, heading down the hall in the opposite direction. "I need a shower first," he said in a tone that forbade any argument. "A very cold shower," and then disappeared around the corner. A few seconds later the low hum of the elevator activating was Verbena's only companion in the empty hall. Another moment passed and then she, too, went to the elevator.