Chapter 15 - 2018
Cassie stood in her usual spot where the hall met the community room, freshly released from the medical wing. The old man was in his usual spot--on the couch. Charles was nowhere to be seen. Taking a deep breath, Cassie steeled herself and took a step. The other patients ignored her as she crossed the short distance to the couch.
The old man stared at the TV. Cassie watched him as intently as he seemed to watch some old rerun.
Maybe he’s imagining being somewhere else as much as I am. I could be somewhere else… Back home in my own body. All this insanity forgotten.
But the body she inhabited told her otherwise. She wouldn’t have believed it possible to ever get used to being in a man’s body, but she wore it well, she supposed. She remembered Danielle’s devastation over losing their unborn child. Cassie recalled seeing Evan in the hospital right after he’d been born.
“But aren’t babies supposed to be cute?” seven-year-old Cassie asked, scrunching her pert nose up at the red-faced bundle her mom held.
Her mom sighed and smiled at the baby boy.
Her dad placed a hand on Cassie’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. With a chuckle, he said, “You looked much the same, pumpkin.”
Cassie leaned in closer, using the rail on the side of the bed to balance. She was inches from her brother’s face. “He looks like you, Daddy.” She turned to him and giggled.
Her dad gazed back with a blush on his cheeks.
“Cassandra Grace, that’s terrible,” said her mom with a laugh. “Your brother’s name is Evan William. Being born is a hard thing, you know.”
“And how are babies born?” Cassie asked.
Her parents exchanged a look. Cassie knew that look. “Hey, you just don’t wanna tell me!” she exclaimed.
“Shh,” her mom said. “He’s just gotten to sleep.”
“When you’re older, you’ll have plenty of time to learn how babies are born,” her dad said, guiding her away from the bed. “Why don’t we let your mom and new brother rest and go down to the cafeteria to get ice cream?”
Cassie’s mind returned to the present day. If only ice cream could solve every problem.
She took a deep breath and approached the old man. When she was nearly upon him, he turned and gasped, as if seeing her was the last thing he expected. His craggly face took on the mask of someone haunted by a vindictive spirit.
“What the hell do you want?” he asked.
* * *
“Can we just talk?” asked the man who everyone called Randy Davis, who Randy knew wasn’t him at all.
“You remember how that went last time, don’t you?” Randy growled. “Leave me alone if you know what’s good for you, Jimmy Williams.”
“I told you. I’m not Jimmy Williams.”
“Sure, you’re not. You know I’m Randy Davis. There’s only one way that’s possible, and it’s because you, Jimmy, switched our minds.”
The younger man held out his hands. “Look, I don’t want to fight. I just want to talk.”
Randy crossed his arms over his chest. “I dare you to come closer.”
“I don’t blame you for being suspicious. It’s not exactly normal to just up and switch bodies, minds, whatever.”
Randy snorted. “No kidding, yet somehow, that’s what you’ve done. Of course, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that you’d frame me and then be stupid enough to get caught a couple of years later. Did you enjoy ruining my life, killing Danielle?” His throat stoppered up. Damn it.
“You should hate the person who killed her,” the younger man said. “I don’t blame you in the least, but I think you’re just as much a victim here as I am. If you’d give me a minute to explain, please…”
Randy glared at the other man. His former eyes were glassy. The other man looked like he’d been forced to walk around in an abandoned haunted house for a year. He had a certain desperation about him, like if he could escape, he would pounce the first person he saw. “I told myself I’d kill you if you ever talked to me again,” Randy growled, clenching his hands at his sides, “but seeing as where we’re at, that’s not exactly an easy feat.” He opened his hands and raised them. “See these?”
The other guy nodded.
“They might be old, but they still work. You know I’m fast, strong, despite these damn meds they give me to try and keep me calm.” Where’s a good shank when you need one? Should’ve been more creative...
“Yes, I know.” The younger man shivered.
Randy smirked. “Good, you’re listening. Scared yet?”
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t.” Yet his action of sitting on the edge of the couch betrayed those words. “Consider things from my perspective. I wound up in Randy’s body, the man who supposedly killed his wife. How do I know you didn’t kill her, Randy?”
“Don’t you dare--” Randy made to lunge at the other man, but he caught the eyes of a nurse ten feet away and pulled back. He sighed. “How can you even suggest such a thing? I loved Danielle with everything I had.”
The other man raised his eyes and met Randy’s. “And I believe that. I-I have proof. In here.” He tapped his head with his index finger.
“What?” Randy’s stomach dropped. He retreated farther into his corner of the couch when the younger man leaned in.
“I believe you loved her because I...I can feel that love as if it were my own. I don’t know why, but I have your memories. They were part of the you that I found myself in, and before you ask me to prove it, listen. I know Danielle was pregnant and lost the baby five months into the pregnancy. You were both heartbroken.” His voice cracked. A tear rolled down his unshaven cheek.
“How dare you,” Randy breathed. A red-hot poker drove through his heart, then up to his head, splitting him. “You- you-” He trembled, his hands opening and closing at his sides.
“My name is Cassie Meadows,” said the man who looked like Randy Davis. “I’m an eighteen-year-old girl, and whoever is responsible for these murderers is in my body.”
* * *
Cassie wondered how she forged on as the old man in front of her fell to pieces. A series of tremors overtook him, until his body went into convulsions. She gazed on in horror as a nurse and an orderly came to him, heaved his arms over their shoulders, and carried him away.
“Oh, God, what have I done?” she whispered, glancing at the ceiling, the closest thing to heaven in this hell.
When the man she presumed was Randy was gone, Cassie rested her elbows on her thighs, sighed, and ran her hands through her hair. With a groan, she tugged on the strands.
“You are quite the charmer, the effect you have on poor old Jimmy,” came a sly voice.
Cassie jumped, quickly recovered herself, and glared at the man next to her. “What do you want?”
“Who needs a TV when you can have all this free entertainment?” asked Charles, leering at her.
“Get away from me.”
“Touchy, touchy.” Charles twitched his neck. “You know, I’ve been trying to get Jimmy to open up for years now. Poor guy thinks he’s you. Ain’t that funny?”
Cassie leveled him with a glower. “Nothing is funny about any of this. These are people’s lives you’re talking about. Do you think it’s amusing to that poor guy that no one believes him? Hell, you wouldn’t believe me either if I told you I’m not Randy Davis.”
“Sure look like him. Or what? The pressure, the fame, the money go to your head, buddy? Make you wanna off the pretty little wife?”
Cassie was tempted to strike the smile off Charles’s stupid face, but she kept herself in check. She stood. “I don’t know why you bother talking to him or me if you aren’t going to be a real friend.”
“Friend?” Charles snorted. He stood and came nose to nose with Cassie. His bloodshot eyes seemed to see through her. “Let me give it to you straight, sweetie. There ain’t no friends in the looney bin. There’s only those you can rule and those who you let rule you. That’s rule number one.”
Cassie stepped back. “Your breath wreaks. Get a mint.” She left the community room without a backward glance and returned to her room.
Later that day, she sat in one of the small, nondescript rooms with Dr. Winslow. The heavyset doctor leaned back in his swivel chair. He rested his hands on his stomach as he spoke. “It’s good to see you back and out of the medical wing...eating, taking your medication, socializing, going to therapies. So, Randall, inform me how you’ve adjusted to life here.”
Cassie frowned. “You ask me that question every time we meet.”
“And I’m curious to know the answer.”
“Sure, you are. Tell me, Doctor, aren’t you worried you might break your neck?”
“The way you lean back in that chair. It’s dangerous.”
The doctor straightened, stunned by his patient’s observation. “No one ever pointed that out. I suppose it’s just habit.”
Cassie smiled. “Then you ought to be more aware of it. I wouldn’t want you to get hurt.”
“Yes, well.” Dr. Winslow cleared his throat. “Thank you for your concern, but we aren’t here to discuss me. I’m interested in how you’re doing.”
“How would you expect me to be doing? I’m behaving if that’s what you’re insinuating. What happened to Randy Davis, um, Jimmy Williams earlier, it wasn’t my intention.”
The doctor frowned at her slip. “What’s your obsession with James?”
“Just to talk.”
“It would be in your and his best interest to refrain from such behavior. He’s a delicate man, but that’s enough about James. I think it might be useful for you to be moved to a different facility, perhaps one where you could exercise that bright, inquisitive mind of yours.”
Cassie leaned forward in her chair, gripping the arms. “Why?”
“I believe I just stated why, Randall. It would simply be better for you. It’s clear you have a good mind. I’d even go so far as to say you have a good head on your shoulders if you weren’t currently residing in this facility. My concern for your well-being while you’re here isn’t my only one. Before you came, you must have been under a severe amount of pressure. Your behavior at the end wasn’t like you, according to your history. What changed, Randall? Can you help me better understand what’s going on in your mind?”
Cassie sighed, easing back into the chair. “Please don’t move me to another facility, Dr. Winslow. I promise to behave better. I wish I could give you the answers you want, but none of this makes any sense to me either. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you the truth.”
“I’m always interested in knowing what the truth is. The question is, what is truth?”
“You sound like Pontius Pilate right before he gave the command for Jesus to be crucified.” Cassie shuddered.
“Very well, then. Your truth, Randall. What’s your version?”
“Are you suggesting truth is subjective?”
“Every person believes what they do because they think they are correct. Otherwise, they wouldn’t believe it. That doesn’t necessarily make it right or factual, but it is true to them. How can you work your way to understanding if you don’t start with where you are?”
Cassie’s head spun. “I feel like I’m talking in riddles with you, Doctor.”
Dr. Winslow smiled slightly. His chair squeaked as he leaned back into it. Realizing his blunder, he righted himself. “I rather enjoy talking with you, Randall. You’re perceptive, thoughtful, engaging. Now, I would very much like to hear your truth.”
“I think you would be happier with the facts. What I’m about to tell you is what actually happened, not some delusional version of the truth--not that I expect you to believe me.”
Dr. Winslow motioned with his hand. “Go on.”
“Okay. First of all, I’m not Randy Davis. I know I look like him, sound like him, even have his memories up until two years ago. It’s like I’m wearing him, if you will, but I’m still very much myself.”
“And who are you?”
“You mean, who do I think I am?”
The doctor’s grin widened. “There you go again, that inquisitive mind of yours.”
“I’m Cassie Meadows. I’m an eighteen-year-old girl from Hurston. I was riding my bike to school back in May when something I can’t explain happened. A blinding flash and then, I was in this body, standing in a house I didn’t know. I wasn’t aware I had access to Randy’s memories then. I was already confused and frightened enough. Then I heard water running in a different part of the house. I went to find out what was going on, and that’s when I found her.” Cassie screwed her eyes shut, trying to keep out the image of Danielle’s vacant eyes, eyes that asked, Why did you kill me? Then Danielle said, You’ll never forget me, ever. I’ll haunt you the rest of your days. I’ll burn you right under the skin like a rash that won’t go away. I’ll spread my love all over you, make you feel it until you’ve lost your mind. You loved me, Randy, and you betrayed me.
“Randy?” came a voice from far away.
Cassie was drowning. The voice was muffled.
She opened her eyes, and her cheeks doused in tears. Realizing she had her fingers in her ears, she pulled them out and relaxed her shoulders. She shook her head. “I can’t get her out of my mind.”
“Who? This Cassie Meadows you mentioned?”
“No! Danielle Davis!” Cassie pounded the arms of the chair and shot up. “Have you ever seen a person after they’ve been murdered, Doctor?”
The doctor made to push the alarm button on his wristband.
Cassie slumped back into her seat. “That won’t be necessary. I-I’m sorry.”
Dr. Winslow’s finger hovered over the button. He withdrew it. “I think that will be enough for today, Randall.”
Cassie gave a shuddering sigh. She walked toward the door. Placing her hand on it, she turned toward the doctor. “You don’t believe me. Big surprise there.” She gripped the knob, looked at the drab door, and exited.