Down A Dark Desert Highway

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Dr Marcia Rickert, a psychologist is asked to see another doctor's patient. He is suffering from the long term effects of a traumatic experience from his early adulthood.

Horror / Mystery
5.0 1 review
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A Hole in the Calendar

From exit 192 of Interstate 10 take Farm-to-Market Road 3078 for twelve miles to find the remains of the ghost town of Calera. The town was formed by settlers in the 1880’s who farmed and ranched the desert land, drawing water from the nearby Phantom Springs (now dry). In the early 1900’s a mission was built to serve the community. The mission bell was said to have been heard for miles in the Pecos River valley. With the coming of the automobile, the town briefly flourished as a stop between El Paso and Odessa. However frequent droughts plagued the area and the construction of the interstate to the north by-passing the town sealed its fate. All that remains are the rock and adobe walls of the mission including a bell tower approximately 3 miles west of the junction with State Highway 17. Locals have reported hearing a bell tolling in the area during strong summer storms. – Ghost Towns of West Texas

A Hole in the Calendar

‘Damn it!’ thought Marcia as she fumbled with the keys to her office hearing the phone ring inside. “I hope it’s not going to be one of those days,” she said to herself as she dropped her purse in one of the waiting room chairs and lunged over the reception counter to grab the phone.

“Fair Haven Counseling Center, can I help you?” she exhaled, glad she got to it before it went to voice mail. It would have been easier to let it go and have Denise, the office receptionist, or, manager handle it. But it was summer and with seventy percent of her clients being minors, she had holes in her counseling calendar, with kids out of school for the summer. If Denise handled it, it would probably go to Brad Pasterani, who had holes in his calendar big enough to drive a truck through. Though it was a group center to the public, it was set up as three limited liability corporations with separate billing, each licensed psychologist paying a third of the center’s overhead to cover the office rent and Denise Bazolski’s salary. So, it was a bit of a dog-eat-dog situation during the lean summer months between Rickert, Pasterini, and Jill Kostner, as each had separate contracts for child and family counselling services with the Fair Haven Independent School District, Greenwich Public Schools, and Stamford School District, respectively. Though the contracts were separate, each licensed counsellor listed the other two as referrals for each school district should the primary counselor not have an opening. This worked well for the schools and the psychologists but made Denise’ job of sorting out the billing hell, as she was all too eager to tell them. As Bobby, Marcia’s husband, liked to say, ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease’, so Denise’ recent promotion with a pay bump from receptionist to office manager was as much to recognize her contribution as it was to grease her all too persistent squeak.

“I would like to speak with Dr Kostner,” the low female voice on the line said. Marcia knew immediately from the calm professional tone and practiced meter, this lady was medical, not a stressed and worried mother or the occasional frustrated father calling to get their kid ‘some help.’

“I’m sorry but Dr. Kostner is on vacation until the twenty third,” she replied knowing Jill’s annual two-week family vacation on the Cape, without needing to refer to Denise’s chicken scratch calendar blotter next to the phone. “I can schedule an appointment with her after that day, if you would like.” Marcia, an eleven-year veteran of the counselling business knew the rules of game. Rule 1: If they call, get them on the calendar. Even if they are just asking about rates, get them to agree to an appointment. Rule 2: If they are on the calendar, get them in the office. The business had a notoriously high cancellation or no-show rate. Calling the day before to confirm was a must. A 10% penalty for missing an appointment was written into the paperwork everyone signed but was largely toothless. Rule 3: If they are in the office, get them to return regularly. As Brad stressed when they opened the center, “Repeats pay bills.”

“Oh, I’m sorry she is not available. Would one of the other doctors be available for a consultation today or possibly tomorrow at the latest?”

Wow thought Marcia. A drop-in during the summer doldrums. Unheard of. She only had two appointments that day – a 10 am with Ryan Sweeney, a 14-year-old struggling with depression issues and a 4 pm with Robbie Wilkerson, 17, a court-ordered anger management session that even Brad wouldn’t touch. She had hoped to spend much of the day catching up on paperwork and reviewing the insurance receivables with Denise after finishing with Sweeney.

“Ah, yes, Dr. Rickert has some time today. Would 1 pm work?”

“Yes, that would be fine,” the woman said in a monotone voice. “How much time does the doctor have this afternoon?”

Marcia hesitated to openly disclose her calendar, even if this guy was medical. “Our sessions usually run for one hour,” was her stock answer, though it felt like a cop out.

“I believe my patient will require more than one hour. Can you spare the afternoon,” she asked. There was an air of expectation that regardless of her calendar the request would be accommodated. “I am speaking with Dr Rickert, am I not?”

Marcia was caught off guard by the woman’s sudden address to her. “Ah, yes, I’m sorry. Normally this call would be handled by our receptionist, but she has not yet arrived this morning.” She caught her breath. “I have a flexible scheduled until 4pm. Do you think that will be enough, Ms., ah?”

“Henley. Dr. D. Henley. I apologize for not introducing myself sooner,” Henley replied with a slight chuckle. “I do not normally refer my patients to other psychologists. I maintain a practice here in Huntington Beach, California. I am calling for a patient of mine who is in some amount of emotional distress and would need of some immediate counseling. His name is Richard Thompson. He has been a patient of mine for several years. He is, at present, in the White Plains, New York area this week as required by his work. He works in the petroleum industry here and his company has a large presence there that he visits on occasion.

“What type of emotional distress is Mr. Thompson experiencing?” Marcia asked almost on reflex, going into the analyst mode she was more at home with rather than impersonating her receptionist.

“Mr. Thompson has been struggling with symptoms of post-traumatic stress related to an event he suffered in his twenties. Mr. Thompson is fifty-nine. The traumatic event occurred in the late 1970’s. He came to me complaining of anxiety attacks, problems sleeping and some significant mood swings. He has had some past problems with alcohol but has been sober for five years. His coming to me initially was after a suicidal episode that required police intervention.”

“Is he ex-military,” Marcia asked, more as a business question than medical. The Veterans Administration had set rates and approved psychologists for PTSD counseling of veterans. She had run the VA bureaucracy gauntlet in the past and found it extremely frustrating. If Thompson was ex-military, she already knew, she would pass.

“No, Mr. Thompson has never been in the military,” Henley assured her. She correctly deduced the questions had a business element and followed with an brief description of Thompson’s employer provided insurance, offering to forward to her his group number and the contact number for pre-approval. He even disclosed her approved hourly rate, which was higher than Marcia’s, and offered to have her office provide a referral statement with a description of need when Marcia submitted her invoice. With the business issues addressed, Henley returned to Mr. Thompsons need for counselling.

“Mr. Thompson has some deeply repressed memories of the trauma that have not yet come to the surface. He has been making tremendous progress over the past few months but still has not been able to confront what happened. I’m at a loss to tell you what exactly happened, Dr Rickert. I have gotten him to recognize that there was something that happened to him. He has intimated approximately when this event occurred. But the substance has been too painful for him to address up to the point.”

“You said this happened in the late 1970’s. Can you be more specific?”

“I believe I can provide you the specific dates,” he said. After a pause where she heard paper ruffling, Henley added. “May 24th through then 27th, 1979. That was the time frame I have been able to deduce when Mr. Thompson traveled by car from Houston to Los Angeles.”

“Wow. That specific but he can’t open up about what happened?”

“Not as of yet, but I think something has triggered his memory while in New York, Dr Rickert. Mr. Thompson called me last night in a highly agitated state. I suggested he call 911 but he was fearful of another possible police confrontation. I suggested he could seek counselling there and that seemed to calm him. I offered to provide a referral as well. I know Jill Kostner from a psycho-therapy conference we attended in Sacramento last year and thought she might be able to help him.”

“Okay, Dr. Henley, I would be happy to clear my afternoon to talk to Mr. Thompson,” Marcia concluded not knowing what exactly to expect. “Is there any documentation of your work with Mr. Thompson you would feel comfortable providing to me to help with the session?” She was hoping to have some vital statistics and background so she wouldn’t go into the session blind, particularly with Thompson possibly arriving in an agitated state.

“I believe I can email you some background information that would be of help. I can sort out the HIPPA disclosure with Mr. Thompson when he returns here.”

And with that, the hole in her calendar for the afternoon was filled.

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