Chapter 1 - 2018: Cassie & Randy
Cassie rode her bike to school and wondered why she couldn’t get a date to her senior prom. A flash of light blinded her. She shielded her eyes. The tires squealed, and the whole bike shook to a stop.
When she opened her eyes, a wall of old books stared back. She rubbed her eyes and blinked rapidly, taking in her surroundings. Gone was the familiar tree-lined street with rows of 40-year-old ranches and split-levels. Sunlight filtered in through parted drapes. Unlike her house, where dust danced in light beams, this room sat still.
Her sweaty hands clenched into fists at her sides, her nails digging into her palms. A chill jolted up her spine and extended down her arms, freezing her in place. She gazed across the room. Marble pillars flanked an archway to another room across the vast library.
A faint noise came from another part of the building. Curiosity claimed her caution as she took a step. Realizing her fingers were wet, she glanced down and nearly fell over. Blood covered her large hands all the way to her think fingertips!
She gasped. She reached for her throat. A sharp intake of breath.
“What?” she croaked in a foreign voice.
A dream. This must be a dream. Her voice rang through her mind, but when she opened her mouth to speak again…
“This can’t be happening.”
Cassie’s hands wrapped around her throat, as if she could somehow pull out the vocal cords responsible for this new voice. When her fingers grazed whiskers, she raked them over the jaw and cheeks.
“No. N-no.” What the hell?
She closed her eyes and forced herself to take a long, slow breath. Okay, okay. Calm down.
When her eyes opened yet again to this new reality, Cassie gave a shuddering gasp. She felt like she was doused with ice water, the burn throbbing through her body. She tried to step again, but she wavered in this oversized body that wore like a linebacker’s uniform. The large feet lumbered with a clumsiness contrary to her agile body. For a girl who had taken gymnastics since she could walk, the dragging, teetering movement of this form almost stopped her efforts. But she willed herself to move. One step at a time. Always do the best you can. Her dad’s words echoed through her mind.
Her steps were short-lived. Her dad’s advice died. She halted. A trail of red on the spotless marble floor lead to an archway. Her nerves fired in overtime, and her head spun. She followed the path and exited the elaborate room into a hallway.
The sound was louder now. The unmistakable sound of running water.
“What’s going on?” Cassie whispered. She tried to ignore the voice. Really tried.
Something moved out of the corner of her eye. She turned her head to the right and landed on her reflection, only it wasn’t her face. A tall man of about thirty stared back. She ran her hands through the trim brown beard that contoured the strong jawline, confirming what she felt earlier. Liquid brown eyes under thick, wavy hair and a deep brow held confusion, panic. A sleek black business suit covered her well-built frame--fit for an executive dined on caviar and champagne and rode in chauffeured limos. But against the black of her suit the blood extended, weaving an unknown horror story.
She shook her head. “This is impossible.” Yet the voice that wasn’t hers told a different story.
Her body trembled, and she realized her whole being felt different. Her eyes, if she could call them that, fell on a picture frame below the mirror. Her fingers fumbled to pick it up. A younger version of the man in the mirror gazed out of the photo. He smiled, his face next to a gorgeous auburn-haired woman. The woman’s hazel eyes crinkled around the edges, her freckles standing out against her fair skin in the sunshine. It was a happy couple’s wedding photo.
Cassie returned the picture to its place, the frame now coated in blood. A drop of crimson marked the floor every few inches. This body must have come from the opposite direction through the house, for how else could she explain the blood everywhere? She rested a hand on the railing at the base of the stairway and gazed up the twisting steps. The running water came from upstairs. She took the first step and steadied herself. Something drew her to the source of that sound.
She reached the landing and glanced behind her. Her mark was on the railing, another path of blood. The tell-tale trail continued, decorating the floor in a macabre design, as she went down the hallway toward the sound. Her knees wobbled as a dizzy spell overtook her. She steadied herself with a hand to the wall and blanched at the red print she left.
Just call the cops.
I don’t know what the hell’s going on.
She pushed herself from the wall and arrived at the bathroom. Water leaked under the door.
The knob slid under her slick hand. She used the end of her sleeve to grip it and pushed the door open enough to peek inside. Pink water flooded the marble floor. Her gaze traveled to the bathtub. Water spilled over the tub’s edge. A woman lay sprawled in the tub, her vacant eyes staring at the ceiling, her mouth open in a scream. Her head lay at an odd angle, her neck nearly cut in two. Blood ran from the gaping gash into the water.
Cassie tried to scream, but her stomach tightened. Bile rose and she vomited into the pooling water and blood. She slammed the door and collapsed against the outside, pulling her knees to her chest. Water soaked her pants, making the fabric stick to her clammy skin. The tall frame of the man’s body convulsed with the sobs of a teenage girl as she cried into her hands. Hands that weren’t hers.
“I want my mom.”
She couldn’t get the dead woman’s face out of her mind. As the scene replayed through her head, she realized where she’d seen the woman before. In the photo. She had been this man’s wife.
* * *
“Mr. Williams, please take your medicine, and we won’t have a problem,” the middle-aged nurse with the big hair said. The hair he hated. It drove him crazy.
“How many times do I have to tell you, Poodle? I’m not Mr. Williams.” I’m Randy Davis.
The nurse sighed. “Please call me Nurse Stephens, Mr. Williams.”
Behind him in line, another man nudged his shoulder. “C’mon, Jimmy, just take them. You’re not doin’ yourself any favors here.”
The old man called Mr. Williams frowned, snatched the tiny paper cup from the nurse, and downed the pills. He shoved the cup back. “Here, you happy?” He stepped out of line, returned to the community room, and took a seat.
His friend joined him. “Jimmy, why do you gotta be so difficult?”
The old man stared at him. “My name’s Randy, not that it makes any difference.”
Charles clapped his hands and ran them over his buzz cut. His young face broke into a grin. “Right. ’Cause you’re completely sane, bro. That’s what everyone here tells themselves.”
Randy shook his head. “You wouldn’t understand. Just leave me alone.”
Charles chuckled. “Aw, leavin’ you alone’s a dangerous thing, Jimmy-boy.” He stood and walked away, twitching his neck.
Randy watched the younger man go. Charles was younger, true, but according to Randy’s calculation, he was only six years his junior, not forty.
He sighed. Of course everyone thinks I’m crazy. I’m in a damn nuthouse. He gazed out the barred window at the sunshine beyond his world. The more time that passed in here, life passing him by, the crazier he got, he supposed.
The drowsiness and frequent dizziness of his anti-psychotics kept him from thinking too much about his predicament. Randy returned to his room like a good patient and fell asleep facing the wall.
Later that day, he sat across a bare wooden table from his psychiatrist. Randy’s light-blue scrubs were the brightest color in the room. Dr. Winslow leaned back in his chair, his bulk spilling over either side. He was the only thing separating Randy from bolting out the door, where an orderly was stationed. Just in case, the rules stated. Randy knew what the “just in case” meant.
Just in case I decide to strangle this quack around his no-neck. Just in case I give in to the insanity. Just in case I’m like Willy “Wacko” George, who attacked that poor nurse with an eyeglass shank last week.
Randy shook the thoughts away. What’s become of me? An echo of better days, of Danielle’s gentle smile, of her soft hands holding his face, brought a small smile to his lips. He schooled his mouth into a hard line, glaring at the spot on the wall above Dr. Winslow’s head.
The good doctor surveyed Randy over his half-moon glasses perched on the end of his bulbous nose. The grease from his lunch hung on his chin as much as oil clung to what remained of his greying hair.
“So, tell me how you’ve been, James.”
James. It was worse than Jimmy or even Mr. Williams. The doctor chose somewhere between familiar and formal. Randy didn’t know how to read him.
Randy shrugged. “You tell me, Doc. Aren’t I supposed to be up for my board review to tell me if I’m reformed enough to return to civilized society?” He rolled his eyes. “I’ve been stuck here two years. I’ve tried to be good. I’ve done what you asked, but I know you’re not going to let me out.”
Dr. Winslow leaned back further in his chair. Randy wondered how the hell that was possible. The doctor rested his beefy forearms on his ample belly and steepled his fingers. “True, but one step at a time, James. If you are, in fact, determined to not be a danger, your next move would be to a fully supervised group home. What will you tell them at the time of your hearing?”
“Ah, the truth or your truth, James?”
“My name isn’t James Williams. I’m Randy Davis, and I’m--”
“Yes, you’re a millionaire, successful CEO of Randall P. Davis Innovations, making a better future for us all in the Cleveland area and beyond. James, have you seen the news recently?”
Randy nodded. “Yeah, I’ve seen it too many times.”
The doctor smiled. “Then you’ll know and understand that Davis isn’t a guy you’d want to be even if that were possible. His name might be popular in the industry these days, but not for the right reasons. I’m afraid his company’s image isn’t the empire he built, either.”
The old man shifted, his stomach growing queasy. “You think I haven’t seen those damn biased news stories? They love any sort of gossip that’ll ruin a man’s life. There’s no proof it’s true that I’m anything but faithful to my wife.”
“You mean his wife?”
“No, my wife. I love Danielle. We’ve been married for ten years and--”
Dr. Winslow held up his hand. “That’ll be enough, James. Now, let’s get back to discussing you. What would you do with yourself if you were released?”
“I’d like to find myself.”
“How do you intend to find yourself, James?”
“I mean, find myself. Simple. If I were free to walk out of here, I’d find my real body.”
“Isn’t the body you have your real body?”
“No.” Randy shifted in the chair and tugged at his collar as microscopic pins pricked every pore. “This is Jimmy Williams’ body. Before you say anything, look, I hope how it sounds. Crazy, but I’d swear on my dear mother’s grave it’s the damn truth. I can’t say it any plainer than that.”
Dr. Winslow sighed. “All right, James. Let me rephrase the question. How would you contribute to society? For example, some sort of meaningful hobby or way to give back would show that you’ve made a good recovery.”
“You mean, reflect well on the institution for not putting another nutcase out on the streets?” Randy gripped the handles of his chair. A vein throbbed in his forehead. His face heated.
“Now, James, there’s no need to refer to yourself as--”
“I don’t care! I’m done! I’m tired of this--” Randy stood, the chair clattering to the floor. He lunged at Dr. Winslow. I’ll strangle you, I swear it. You and your ugly mug.
The doctor recoiled and pressed a trembling finger to a button on his wearable alarm.
Randy screamed, his arthritic, knobby hands clutching at the doctor’s thick neck. Seconds later, two big men entered and grabbed Randy.
“I’m Randy Davis!” he yelled as the orderlies hauled him out of the room.
Dr. Winslow righted himself in his chair and averted his eyes from Randy. The door closed on Randy’s raving. The doctor scrawled in his notes: For the consideration of the review board, my recommendation is further treatment.