Mightier than the Sword
Willie usually got a few hours of uninterrupted sleep in his own room late in the morning, and Julia took a long nap in the afternoon, so the lab assistant took off as soon as she went down and the coast was clear. The IN bottles were full and turned to low. The OUT bags were empty. He wore a plaid button-down shirt and the Prussian blue tie. Allowing forty-five minutes each way travel time would afford the visitor more than an hour to square away business with his girlfriend and have a brief reunion with old pals. Nicole smiled up at him from the reception desk.
"Yes, sir, may I…oh my God, Willie Loomis, is that you?" The young man grinned back at her, adjusting his tie. "Why, don't you look nice. Visiting hour isn't for a while yet."
"That's okay, I'll wait." He took off through the Common Room.
"No, sir—I mean, Willie! You can't go in there!"
While the orderlies were breaking up a screaming match between Roberta and herself, Willie slipped past and down the hall where he discovered Nurse Jessica wheeling the meds cart. He jumped in her path, causing the woman to let out a small scream.
"Hi, don't be scared; it's just me, Willie Loomis."
"Oh dear, Willie, you're not a resident anymore, so you can't go past the reception area."
"I know but I'm too early and there's not much time and I had to see you," he rambled, watching for an orderly to appear and give him the boot. "I have to ask you something very important. Will you go out with me on a date? I really like you a lot and it's okay because I'm not crazy anymore."
"I like you too, but no, Willie. I'm sorry."
"Why not? Is it the money, because I'm flush—"
"I'm married," the nurse interrupted with an apologetic smile. "I have two little boys."
"But you ain't got a ring or nothing, because I checked."
"We're not allowed to wear any jewelry in the ward."
"We're also not allowed to entertain guests in the hallway, Nurse." Dr. Ned was standing in the doorway to his office, arms folded.
"Yes, sir, I know," Jessie was flustered. "I was about to escort this visitor to Reception but I couldn't leave my cart."
"Then you walkie for assistance. I'll have to write you up for this."
"Hey, don't be a dick," Willie interjected. "It wasn't her fault."
"Mr. Loomis, I never realized how much I appreciated your absence until you returned. Come with me."
Willie bared his teeth and growled, causing the doctor to back into his office.
"I know the way out." The former patient kissed Jessica on the cheek and ran off.
Willie slipped into the TV Room and plopped on the sofa next to Bug Eyes. After a short silence, the loony looked sideways at him with suspicion.
"Have we met—before?"
"It's me, Psycho," the visitor laughed. "I completed the mission you gave me."
"But you're not here; you were discharged."
"That was in the future," the agent explained. "Now I've traveled back in time to report to you that it was a complete success, or will be." He shook hands with his former commander. "And to warn you: Dr. Ned is an alien spy. He must be taken out or the entire plan will be in big jeopardy."
"Roger that." Bugs Eyes made a note on his pad.
Psycho borrowed a sheet from the yellow pad and scribbled a message. He saluted just as Leroi and Vinny came to escort the young man to where he belonged.
"Just can't stay away, can you?" Leroi smiled. "Did you come for a visit? Let's go sit in the outer room with the other normal people."
"Sure." He slipped the note to Roberta and patted her head as they passed.
Dear Soldier of the Lord,
Dr. Ned has been possessed by Satan himself. I trust you to handle the situation and take no prisoners.
Willie parked himself in the chair by the end table.
"I want to see Tranny Jack. Will you get her for me? I'll stay right here and won't move. Promise."
Willie didn't recognize his friend when Jackie was wheeled in. She wore shapeless slacks, a man's polo shirt and no makeup. Her hair was cropped short, and thick eyebrows had grown in along with a few days' worth of facial hair.
"J-Jackie, what happened to you? Is this because they took your pills away?"
"Der Ned…tol'…" The woman was too drugged to speak coherently. "Sed'ives. S'ock ther'py. I t'ied to han' myself."
"I'm going to stab that guy someday. Want to help?"
She raised her heavy-lidded eyes. "Kill me. If you're m' f'iend you'll pu' a bulle' in my head."
"Now that's the drugs talking. You are a strong woman, the most self-confident person I ever met; you can't let them bastards win, you got to fight back." He sat with Jackie for a long while the patient dozed and drooled. Willie held her hand, speaking softly in his companion's ear, lest they be overheard. "I got some important friends, you know, in high places. My boss has supernatural powers, plus he's very rich and his wife is a famous doctor psychiatrist. I'll tell them what happened and they'll fix it, okay?"
"I think Jack needs to rest now," Vinnie was standing nearby to wheel the patient away. "Why don't you come back and see her another day when she's feeling better?"
"You guys got it back-asswards," Willie snapped as he stood to leave. "People come in here normal and you make them crazy."
"Four hours!" Julia smacked him across the face so fast Willie didn't know what hit him. "You left it unattended for four hours. You selfish, brainless fool, it almost died!"
"It took longer than—I'm sorry—It was just that—"
"You're going to be very sorry when Barnabas wakes up." The servant had never seen Julia so angry before. It was usually she who stopped the vampire from hurting or yelling at him. "Of course today's blood is now thoroughly contaminated because the bags leaked all over the floor. Go to the lab and wipe up that mess; then stay in your room."
"Now's not a good time to ask for a favor, is it?"
The doctor tried to slap him again but the young man saw it coming and ducked, running up the stairs two at a time.
Willie mopped and scrubbed the lab and made sure all the bags and bottles were functioning properly. He cleaned up Adam and replaced his hospital gown with a new one. The creature didn't look any different to him. Julia must have been exaggerating.
"Sorry, big fellow, I won't do it again—won't get a chance." The lab assistant went to his green bedroom to chill.
It was almost dark, which meant Barnabas would rise soon and Julia would tell him to thrash the living shit out of Willie, or even kill him. But maybe not, because then the servant wouldn't be able to work, and his job was very important, as the good doctor constantly reminded him. Barnabas would probably just yell a lot. Willie's first thought was to scare the vampire away, so he took his mounted wolf head from the wall and hung it on the bedroom door, as a warning to other fanged creatures to stay away. He heard voices from downstairs.
"Well? Are you going to do something or not?" Julia demanded.
"Dear God, woman, may I not have five minutes to myself?" Barnabas retorted irritably. There was a sound of newspaper hitting the floor. "What do you wish me to do? Tell me so I can enjoy a little peace for once."
"I want you to impress upon that boy the severity of this situation. If he is unreliable and can't follow orders—we have no further use for him."
There was a long pause.
Willie heard the master's footsteps on the stairs and ran back inside, looking for a place to hide. The wardrobe? No, too obvious. The servant ducked behind the draperies of one of the alcove windows.
"Willie!" He recognized that tone of voice and held his breath. "You had better be in here."
As Barnabas investigated first the armoire, then behind the curtains of the second window, Willie made a dash for the door. The vampire turned and grabbed him by the collar.
"You defied Dr. Hoffman's directives today."
Willie chuckled dismissively. "Come on, Julia just overreacted, that's all. You know women; they don't give you five minutes peace. She flipped out when I just wanted to see my friend—"
Barnabas backhanded the boy, leaving his usual souvenir, a cut on the cheekbone from his onyx ring.
"You belong to me, and may have acquaintances only at my discretion." He painfully gripped Willie's arm. "If you cause distress to my wife again or disobey a direct order, I will toss your broken and bloodless body from Widows’ Hill."
Julia stood in the doorway, but the vampire shot a look in her direction and she silently retreated, closing the door behind her. Willie felt like he was in some sort of surreal, dreamlike state as something grasped his other arm. He must have imagined it, because a third hand gripped the back of his head and yet another turned his face to one side. He felt backed up to the wall, or pinned down or floating. The young man squeezed his eyes shut and tried to think of being somewhere else, but Barnabas could smell the fear and was irresistibly drawn to the cut on the mortal's face.
"You may have ruined that wretched bag of blood, but you will not deprive me of my dinner." The vampire licked the trickle of blood from Willie's cheek before greedily plunging his fangs into the young man's neck.
It had wrapped up as a rather unpleasant evening, for Willie at least, so he decided to forget it ever happened. Barnabas, however, had, once again, shed his disgruntled disposition and appeared chatty and content the following night, like nothing was amiss. Julia, her usual no-nonsense self, was still pissed and barely spoke to the lab assistant. So Willie took his cue that the subject was not to be addressed and, he hoped, the incident not repeated.
His subconscious, however, was less cooperative and, a day later, the nightmare returned. It was the one in which he was being eaten alive by a silver wolf, only now there were two of them. Snarling, one tore the meat from his bones as the other lustfully lapped the blood that poured from his wounds. He awoke curled up in the corner of his bed, clutching the pillow, unsure if he had screamed in his sleep. It didn't matter, no one would have responded anyway.
Willie had his pay docked and was grounded for a week, but it was of little consequence. He was on a mission that consumed most of his concentration. Willie lugged the colossal dictionary and thesaurus from the library and, sitting at the desk next to his creature companion, composed a letter. He used the master's finest linen paper and Barnabas' handwriting, complete with swirly curls at the ends of words. He then proceeded to fulfill his promise to stab Dr. Ned—with a fountain pen.
To the Board of Directors, Wyndcliff Sanitarium
Dear Sirs and Madams,
It has come to my attention that a therapist named Ned Stuart has repeatedly engaged in conduct unbecoming of a staff member at your renowned institution.
My dear friend and colleague, William H. Loomis, has on numerous occasions witnessed his unprofessional tantrums and was even assaulted and strangled by the oaf. Dr. Ned records incorrect falsehoods in the files of clients. His actions are detrimental and deleterious to these poor insane people and everyone he works with.
I was particularly shocked to learn of the ongoing sexual relationship this Stuart fellow has been having with a girl in Ward B named Angela, who is a junkie. He bribes her with smack and other drugs and alcohol locked in his desk drawer along with a boatload of condoms and pornography.
Because of this man's dangerous advice, another patient named Jackie almost died and suffers now from post traumatic stress disorder. I demand that her case be reevaluated by a competent psychiatrist, namely my wife, Dr. Julia Hoffman. Her letter of recommendation will shortly follow. Jackie must restart her hormone therapy treatment immediately and resume plans for her sex operation.
As you know, me and several members of the prestigious Collins family are generous charitable contributors to your hospital. It would be a shame if that were to change. There is no need to reply to this letter. I trust in your fine judgment to see that justice is done.
Your obedient servant,
PS: This fellow also calls himself a doctor when he's not. I believe that is against the law, so you should probably have him arrested.
The second letter would be more difficult. Willie would need to use some medical terminology for Jackie's letter of recommendation. He poured through the psychology texts on her bookshelf in hopes of finding some appropriate passages to borrow.
The lab assistant was perusing Dr. Hoffman's journal when she entered the lab, carrying a package. Slanted to the right, elongated loops…
"May I ask what you're doing?" She sounded only mildly mistrustful.
"I was just reading your notes, to learn more about this experiment. I think it'll help me do my job better…and I was admiring your handwriting."
"What is that envelope?"
"It's a letter to my mother," he answered respectfully. "I was hoping to mail it later, if that's okay with you."
"I thought you told me your mother passed away."
"No, I said she blew her brains out. I meant it's for my stepdad, but it's about my mom. Can I have a stamp from your drawer? Or two?"
"I'll post it for you."
"Please, doctor, Can I go into town? It's been seven days. I want to get a shower and a lobster roll sandwich and go to the library and the post office."
"You can't do all that in an hour."
"Sure I can. I won't ever be late again, I promise." He looked up at her with the big orphan eyes. "I'm awful sorry about what happened." Two tears fell down his cheeks. He wiped them away with his sleeve, after making sure she had noticed. "I didn't mean to do anything wrong. I know how important this is for Barnabas."
"Don't upset yourself." Julia patted his shoulder. "We're all on the same team, you know."
"Yes, ma'am," Willie sniffed. "So, can I go?"
"Very well. Speaking of your family, this package arrived from a Rick Harrison in New York." She dropped a box on the desk.
Willie opened the attached letter.
I found this box with your name on it among your mother's things and thought you might like to have it. The children have not been doing well. They are plagued with bad dreams and I've had to take them out of school. We're going to sell the house and move to Wisconsin to be near my Aunt Jenny where I'm hoping the change will help in the healing process.
I'm glad we got to meet each other and am only sorry we couldn't have arranged to visit more frequently. Your mother loved you very much and spoke often of how proud she was of your success. I hope you and Maggie are doing well. It was good that you got the help you needed in time.
All the best,
Willie opened the worn-out cardboard box labeled Big Bill. Inside was a frayed blanket remnant and snapshots of the family from that Thanksgiving he spent with them. He and the children were goofing around for the camera; even the bulldog did rollovers on the floor. Everyone was laughing or making funny faces—except Lydia, but no one had noticed at the time.
Beneath were a collection of childhood treasures, including a one-legged GI Joe doll. His friend Denny had pulled it apart when they decided the soldier had stepped on a landmine. Afterwards the child had let Willie keep it since it was broken. There was some of his old comic books: Batman, Spiderman, and the Illustrated Classics: American Revolution, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Frankenstein. There was a dog-eared, hardcover book called Peter Pan, which would have been due back at the library in 1967, except that it had never been officially checked out. Finally, at the bottom, in a small white box, was a pair of sapphire and diamond earrings.