One Year Ago
The office of psychologist and family counselor Vera Sanders
Eleven forty five in the A.M.
Patient name: Nicholas Clayton
He sat uncomfortably on the leather couch inside the spacious office, shifting from time to time trying to position himself so he would feel secure but not trapped. Thirty-year-old Nick Clayton held a lighter in his right hand, clicking it continuously, but never bringing the flame to life. He dreaded having to come to these sessions. He had been coming to therapy for almost two years. The smell of dust and aged wood was something he would always remember from this place, not that he wanted to remember anything from Dr. Sanders’ office however…
“I’m not entirely sure, Doc. Sometimes I feel like I need convincing,” he told his therapist, clicking the lighter once more.
“Convincing? How so?” she replied. Doctor Vera Sanders sat behind her desk, legs crossed, with a giant notepad in hand and a pen in the other. Her office consisted of old oak furniture, it was a windowless room, metal filing cabinets that decorated the corners and oil paintings that covered the walls. She kept her desk neatly organized with folders and papers from what Nick thought were files on other patients, or perhaps files that held information about him from previous sessions.
Nick shifted on the couch. “Yes. Just listening to that voice in my head—telling me, repeating and repeating that I’m okay. That there is good inside me.”
“You’re not convinced?” She crossed her other leg, keeping her glance on Nick and keeping a firm stance. Her hazel-colored eyes traveled from Nick’s posture towards his fingers as they flipped the lighter’s lid, then towards the movement of his lips, listening carefully to what he had to say.
“Who am I but a complex puzzle, with pieces scattered—almost like a shattered mirror, pieces dangling from its corners, sharp, staring back with my broken reflection. What if I can’t stop it? What one day I’ll become?”
“It’s all about self control, Nick, which you’ve got more than your fair share of.”
“You think so, Doc?” Nick didn’t want to believe her—he had always been skeptical about therapy, and more so when he had been diagnosed with PTSD about a year ago.
“To not go over the edge is a conscious decision you make every day, but in order for you to actually make a decision you have to be conscious of what you are going to do. It doesn’t just happen because it’s in the back of your mind, Nick,” she guided her pen towards the pad slowly, catching Nick’s eyesight and pulling it alongside it as she started writing down notes. “You can’t act upon something unless you know what it is that you are doing. Control, Nick.”
“What about those people out there who are not aware of what they do? What if one day I wake up and I become that person? With no feelings—just…lose it all?” Still unconvinced, Nick fought Vera’s words with his, every chance he got. He was very stubborn.
“What do you mean, people with no feelings? Are you referring to sociopaths? Those types of people lack empathy—they are aware of what they do, but they do not care. They have no remorse for what it is they are causing. No consequence. In your case, I am more than positive that won’t happen, because on the contrary, you feel too much—you just fail to recognize it…or choose to deny it. It’s alright, though; there is nothing wrong with feeling, Nick. It’s what makes us human, after all.”
“I don’t know, Doc… I—I don’t know what I feel… Everything is wrong. It’s like I don’t know who I am; as if for the past year my identity has been slowly fading away, to an almost incomplete picture of myself.” Nick grabbed the lighter with the other hand and kept flipping the lid open and closed. Dr. Sanders was keeping count on her notepad of the times Nick switched hands with the lighter. Over the course of their sessions, she had noticed that Nick had been exhibiting a bit of OCD behavior; he would do things in threes. She would notice how many times it would take between clicks of the lighter for him to switch hands, or how many times he would tap her pen on the desk before he wrote her a check at the end of the session. Dr. Sanders’ profession allowed her to notice small details like these, and when presented to Nick, he would flat out deny having any memory of them, or even noticing.
“Many people who have gone through post-traumatic stress disorder can suffer from a loss of identity, and it’s not their fault, consider it like an after-effect. The mind of an individual can only take so much, Nick. Again, our faults are what make us human.”
“Loss…lost. I’ve actually been feeling…lost. Like I stare at myself in the mirror and I don’t know who’s looking back,” Nick felt shaky, the atmosphere of the room bothered him from the moment he entered it, until the moment the door closed behind him at the end of the session.
“You are probably just confused as to who you’re supposed to be looking at, trying to find a way back to your old self, you got to remember to go back to what makes you happy, Nick. Just because you are lost does not mean you are left without hope. You step into my office once a month in order for me to help you get back to who you used to be. That happy, outgoing, positive man that used to carry—as you once told me--a smile from cheek to cheek. You’ve made some progress along the way and I will keep reminding you that no matter how small the accomplishment, you still need to pat yourself in the back for it.” Dr. Sanders believed in Nick Clayton; she remembered the first time they had met, Nick looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks, but she hadn’t given up hope on him then, and she sure wasn’t going to give up hope now. What Dr. Sanders didn’t know, however, was that Nick Clayton wasn’t the only person in the room.
“And I do, believe me, Doc, I do, but it’s been a hard struggle. I’ve been at it for almost two years now and I just think that—”
“—the fact that you no longer need your medication is worth that hard struggle, Nick. We all have our battles to fight, and sometimes, those battles go for longer than we anticipate, but trust me, in the end, you will look back at all this and smile. You will know that the struggle was worth getting to where you will be.”
“It doesn’t feel like a battle, Doc, it’s more like a war. A war within me; and sometimes I don’t feel like I’m winning, it’s more like… Well, it’s more like—”
“Like he’s winning?” Dr. Sanders put the notepad down on her desk, and looked up at Nick. Her eyes gazing into his, trying to find something, something that perhaps wasn’t meant to be found—or couldn’t be.
Whenever she’d mention him, Nick would freeze. He would get flashbacks of the night he lost control, when he almost ended up hurting someone he loved. His gaze would lock onto the last place he had been staring at and his mind would travel.
“Nick?” Dr. Sanders felt like she was staring at a lifeless body sitting on the leather couch, eyes wide open, with an infinite gaze that sent chills down her spine. It was as if in that moment, Nick’s soul had escaped and walked out the room.
One twenty eight in the A.M.
It was a night of full moon and its light shone upon Nick Clayton as stage lighting would on the actors of a play. The cemetery was Nick’s platform; he stood upright on the fresh dirt, a shovel next to him. He inhaled, taking the cool air in, letting it out and then smiling. The stars decorated the sky; they were the only witnesses to what was going on below them. Nick felt complete—like what laid before him was the finished play he had been composing for the past week. He bowed down once to his left side, then to his right, hearing applause coming from the other gravestones. And then he heard him.
“Bravo, Nick, you have performed, spectacularly, if I say so myself,” the voice called out.
Nick stood upright again, and glancing to his left side, he saw him standing there, mockingly. Theodore, or as Nick called him, Theo, was about Nick’s height, bulkier, and sported a goatee. He was wearing a dark blue scarf under his black wool top coat. He smiled at Nick, who could see his white, perfect teeth shine in the moonlight. Theo took his hands from his pockets, revealing black leather gloves as he greeted Nick with open arms, something Nick always felt disgusted towards.
“I wish I could wipe that grin off your face, Theo,” Nick took a step back away from him.
“Ooh, such hostility to your most dearest of friends, tsk, Nicholas, tsk indeed.” Theo’s smile disappeared into the night as he started circling Nick. “There’s nothing wrong with admiring the work of a talented creative mind.”
“No, I suppose not, but perhaps you can do it quietly,” Nick picked up the shovel and started throwing dirt onto the open grave before him. “You just can’t seem to notice how annoying you can sound sometimes, Theo.”
“Well that’s what I have you here for, isn’t it? You let me know how annoying I sound, and I tell you to go to hell. That’s the way this works, isn’t it?” Theo let out a laugh, then stopped circling around Nick and looked up to the sky. “It’s a beautiful night, Nick. Perhaps once you finish up here we can find ourselves on the way to the closest bar.”
“Perhaps not, Theo.”
“Perhaps when we enter the closest bar we can find ourselves some pretty company as well.”
“I said no, Theo.” Nick stopped throwing dirt and looked back at him. “Not tonight.”
“Oh, but why not? The night is still young, come on, my dear Nicholas, why should I let you have all the fun?” Theo turned around, revealing to Nick once again that perfect, but eerie smile. “What do you say, Nicholas?”
“As if what we’ve done here wasn’t enough damage already,” Nick said firmly, he shook his head and then picked up the shovel. “You are becoming demanding, Theo.”
Nick started shoveling dirt on top of the body that lay before him; Theo walked closer and stood beside him, observing. The body that was in the graveyard slowly disappeared as more dirt fell on top; a big grin formed across Theo’s face. Nick could feel his heartbeat slowly speed up, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Theo whispered something in Nick’s ear, and just like that, Theo vanished. Nick was the only one at the gravesite now. A sudden feeling of disorientation overcame him as he stumbled, failing to keep balance. Feeling lightheaded, Nick fell onto the covered soil.
“What—where am I?” Nick said, feeling dirt under his palms. He saw the shovel lying next to him and promptly kicked it away in disgust. His eyes adjusted and he could see gravestones surrounding him. “No, no, please, God, no!” He got on his knees and stared at the dirt; he grabbed the soil, feeling it between his fingers. A frown formed on Nick’s face, he formed his hands into fists, soil crushing within them. He started punching the ground and let out a scream.
Three Days Later
At the gate of Silent Pines Retirement Home
Eleven thirty in the P.M.
Nick was sitting inside his vehicle, parked not so far from the entrance to the retirement home he had been stalking for over a week now. He had episodes where he would remember being there but not remembering why. It had been over a year that he had left therapy, but his episodes of misplacement and loss of memory had been recurring for over that whole week, making him wonder if he needed to go back to therapy again. If perhaps, he was slipping once more.
“C’mon, Nick, it’s almost time,” Theo’s voice thundered from the back seat. Nick looked at the rearview mirror and noticed his grin shine in the darkness that surrounded him. He hated Theo’s smile, it made him remember of the first time he had seen it. Back in the days before he started therapy, back when he had committed his first murder. None of the murders he had committed had been pinned on Nick—during the episodes he would always remember hiding the bodies. Cleaning the evidence. He never remembered being caught, or having anyone witness his crimes. Which made it easier to hide what was already hidden when starting therapy. All he would tell his psychiatrist was what he felt was needed to tell her. But also what Theo felt he needed to tell her… and Theo always got his way.
“Shut up, will you, I’m trying to concentrate here,” Nick answered.
“We have a small window of time, if we really want to catch him, we have to go now,” Theo added.
“Are we sure about him?” Nick said.
“Old, pedophile, and a prick. C’mon, Nick. He’s waiting to die.” Theo added, then gave an eerie laugh.
“Very well, then,” Nick said as he opened the door of his car and got out. He walked to the back of his car, opened the trunk and took out a shovel. The interior of the trunk was very organized; it contained a white sheet covering the bottom, whilst different types of shovels laid on top, accompanied by a large thread of copper wire, a pair of gardening shears, and a white mask that covered the wearer’s whole face. Nick grabbed a pair of white rubber gloves and put them on. Theo watched over him like a guardian, a mentor—he smiled at Nick, but Nick ignored him.
“Uh-uh, you’re forgetting something, Nick,” Theo pointed to the sharp gardening shears.
“I’m not forgetting… I was about to get them.” Nick responded.
Theo snickered. Then Nick shut the trunk and started walking towards the entrance, but turned and went around it, following the outside brick wall, circling until the very back, where he had planted a couple of bricks as a stepping stool four days ago when he had been stalking his prey. He carefully stepped on them and threw the shears and the shovel over the fence, and then he stood there, turned around and looked at where he thought Theo was standing. He wasn’t there. He turned back and saw Theo on the other side of the wall, his hands inside the pockets of his coat. That eerie grin on his face gave him chills, but he got over the wall and joined him. Theo patted him on the back.
“Let’s get going, that old prick will be sneaking out to smoke in about three minutes,” Theo said.
Nick walked carefully through the row of bushes around the retirement home. He followed a trail he had studied when he first sneaked in four days ago. Staying in the shadows Nick moved gracefully, but that didn’t prevent drops of sweat forming on his temple. He reached a patio just outside one of the doors of the main building. He crouched and hid behind a bush, then heard the door open. A figure stepped out, sneaking carefully. Theo crouched next to Nick, setting his hand on Nick’s shoulder, and smiling.
“That old bastard,” Theo and Nick whispered unanimously.
To be continued...
Copyright 2018 Francisco Meneses"
All Rights Reserved.
- This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.