Murder: It's All in Your Head

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Chapter 21

Every moment Cassie spent trapped in the restraint room was another moment she wondered if her parents and brother were still alive. Try as she might to return to them, she failed. Her emotions ran wild as she trashed, until the drugs took over. She went to dreams, and her parents came to her...but when she awoke, she knew she hadn’t visited them.

I couldn’t even go to them when I was asleep. Tears tracked down her face into the pillow. I’ve failed. Helen’s killed them for sure now.

“How could I be so stupid, God?” she whispered, staring into darkness. “I had a chance to make things right and I blew it because I needed to see them one last time...and one last time is what it was. God, if you have any compassion, please let them be alive. I n-need…” She dissolved into sobs.

When Nurse Nora came to release her, she said, “Everyone is outside enjoying this last bit of sunshine for a while.”

Cassie knew the weather was slated to turn rainy and cold. It was late September, after all, and the summer was dying.

“Thank you,” Cassie said. “Is Ra-- I mean, is Jimmy outside, too?”

Nora nodded. “He asked for you, in fact. I’ll take you to him.”

A small mercy. At least I still have Randy.

As they walked through the empty halls, a void filled Cassie. Randy had left after she pushed him away last time they were together, yet he still wanted to see her.

All so I can tell him I messed up.

When they arrived outside, Nora pointed toward a large oak tree. In the shadow of the giant, Randy stood, staring straight at her. “There he is.”

Cassie ran toward him, trying not to fall as her legs wobbled, carrying her like in a dream.

* * *

Cassie collapsed into his waiting arms. She buried her face in his shirt and sobbed.

Randy wrapped his arms around her. “What happened?” he asked after her shoulders stopped shaking.

She pulled away enough to look in his eyes. “I’ve failed, Randy. I did the most idiotic thing and went back to my parents, not prepared to stop her. I-I just wanted to see them, and now she knows I was back. She’s surely killed them by now.”

“But you don’t know that. Did this happen right after I left?”

She nodded, hiccupping.

“That was hours ago. Nothing was on the news. Maybe there’s still a chance.”

“Don’t give me false hope.” She glared. Her eyes dropped to the grass, where the first leaves had fallen to their deaths.

Randy cupped her chin. “Hey,” he said softly. “Hey, look at me.”

She raised her eyes to meet his.

“You gave me hope when I had none. You, Cassie. No one else. There is no one else but you who could do that for me now. You just have to do the best you can. I believe you can stop her. You gave me reason to believe it’s possible.”

“Do the best you can,” she whispered, a tear slipping past her lashes. “That’s what my dad used to tell me.”

Randy chuckled. “Now, don’t go telling me I remind you of your dad.”

Cassie sat up a little straighter and wiped her eyes. She gave him a small smile. “No.” She trailed her fingers along his jaw, over his lips.

Her touch sent a chill through Randy, both pleasant and unnerving. This might be the last time she’s with me. Her shuddered. Randy gazed at the other patients and staff as they meandered around the grounds. He imagined the grass would be soft under his toes if he could take his shoes off. The green of the grass, the leaves on the trees, all spoke of life. But all he had to do was whisk his eyes toward the high fence that surrounded them on all sides to be reminded of his place. Still, he looked to Cassie and marvelled. He no longer saw himself, as if looking in a mirror, when he watched her. Somehow, he saw her, that lively, beautiful spirit of a young woman who reminded him of Danielle.

“I think…I think it’s time I ended this once and for all.” Her words sounded far away. Randy wondered if she was purposefully detaching herself from her emotions.

“Would it be selfish of me to tell you not to do this?” he asked. “To say I’m worried what might happen to you?”

Cassie smiled and placed a hand on his arm. She squeezed his other hand with hers. “You’re one of the reasons I have to do this. Just...stay by my side, and if she wins, stop her, Randy. Do whatever it takes.” She implored him with her eyes.

A chilly presence entered him when he realized what she meant. He would kill his old body if he had to, his fate be damned. “You’re gonna stop her, Cass. I know you will. Promise me.” He cradled her face and leaned in for a kiss.

* * *

Cassie’s eyes slid shut when Randy’s lips claimed hers. She lost herself in the moment, the world fading away. Her tears mingled with his. They shared a bond no one else understood and never would.

“I’ll do my best,” she whispered when she broke away, the pain of losing everything she’d ever known too great.

Before he could reply, Cassie went to the closest tree and sat, leaning against the trunk. She closed her eyes and tuned out all the noises around her. She focused all her thoughts and energy on being Cassie, on shifting her consciousness to another place. When she opened her eyes and found the grounds of the hospital staring back, she groaned.

It’s my body, damn it. Come on! She closed her eyes. Just focus. You’ve got this. You can do this. Come on!

Warmth enveloped her. The sounds of birds and traffic grew muffled, then coalesced into other sounds...a radio on in the background, voices arguing beyond a closed door. She opened her eyes. “Mom, Dad...you’re still alive.” Her parents were in the house--the raised voices. Tears sprung into her eyes. She swallowed, trying to push past the lump in her throat, only for it to settle in the pit of her gut.

I’m in my car. She left the car and took a step toward the house. “Come on, work,” she told her legs. She reached the side door and grasped the handle. She entered.

The kitchen was empty, but her parents’ voices grew louder.

“This is the last straw, Emily!” her dad yelled at her mom. “She’s not coming back! I don’t want her back!”

“But you can’t mean that, Will!” her mom cried. Cassie’s throat hitched when she heard the distress and tears in her mom’s voice.

“You’re as crazy as she is if you think she still belongs here! All I gotta say is it’s a good thing Evan’s at Joe’s house all weekend. You think he deserves to hear this?”

Her mom replied with a sob, her voice likely muffled by her hands. Her dad went quiet, too.

Evan isn’t here. Oh, thank God. She hadn’t seen her brother earlier that day, either.

Her eyes tracked to the drawer with the knives. She moved like an automaton, opening it. The largest knife caught the sunlight, gleaming. She picked it up.

I’m going to kill myself, at least this body. Part of me will be gone forever.

She held the knife in her sweaty palms and nearly dropped it. Taking a deep breath, she eased the blade around until it faced her heart.

She closed her eyes. There’s no going back. Just do it. Do it!

She lifted the blade.

* * *

The girl blinked, momentary confusion settling over her as she took in her surroundings.

What the fuck?! Not again!

She shot to her feet. Her eyes honed in on an old man yards away. He stared at her. What?” she breathed, recognizing him. “But how?” Enough!

She ran at him full-force, growling like a lion. In an instant, she was upon him, her hands around his neck, the pieces falling into place. Flashes of Cassie and Randy together in their current forms entered her mind, playing like a fast movie reel. Cassie’s in Randy’s body and Randy’s in Jimmy’s body and they know… She spat in his horrified eyes. “Time to say goodbye, I think, Randy,” she hissed in his ear.

She’d been doing this for over a hundred years. Killing was her best friend, her most intimate lover. She understood it as deeply as the fact that death comes to everyone in time, expect her. She would conquer it yet again.

Then something sharp hit her in the side. Screaming, she lost her grip on the old man. Her eyes settled on the blade in his knobby hand. She recoiled and covered the side where blood pooled on her shirt. “Thought you’d not play fair?” she asked, snarling. She yanked the razor blade from his hand. She released a noise somewhere between a snarl and a scream, slashing at his face. For an old guy, he was fast. He blocked his face with his arms, taking the brunt of the blade. Blood sprayed from the lacerations along his forearms, but he didn’t cry out.

Others noticed the struggle and approached to watch. Some patients whooped and hollered, amused by the scene. Others screamed, perhaps thinking they were next to be attacked. A few of the staff surrounded the girl, ready to intervene, yet cautious she would make a sudden move.

The girl jumped off the old man, holding the blade to her neck. “I’ll do it; I swear!” she cried. “One step from any of you and I’ll do it!” And a big surprise you’ll have, dear Cassie, when you try to come back to your boyfriend’s body!

“Randall, please, just remain calm,” said Dr. Winslow.

“You think I’m Randall, Randy, whatever?” the girl asked. The normally pleasant features on the face that belonged to Randy screwed up into a grotesque mask. She curled her lips, her teeth exposed like a rabid dog. Her pupils were but pinpricks, honed in on these fools. Red glinted in those ancient eyes.

The doctor stepped back. A hush fell over the crowd. Even the patients who had been making a ruckus a few moments earlier went silent.

The real Randy lay on the ground, gripping his arm, moaning. A couple of orderlies tried to tend to him, but he waved them off. He pushed himself to sitting with great effort. Gazing back and forth between the orderlies, he murmured, “I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me. He...she...is the one you need to worry about.” He pointed a shaking finger at his former body.

The orderlies exchanged confused looks, but remained at Randy’s side.

Randy focused on the girl. “Whoever, whatever the hell you are, leave her alone.”

The girl laughed. “Well, isn’t this a quandary, Randy Davis? Your body was one of my favorites, I must say.”

“What the hell?” Doctor Winslow asked, gaping at the man he thought was Randy. Doubt flashed in his eyes, replaced by real fear.

“Think you’re all so smart,” the girl mocked. “So smart…”

She lifted the blade to her neck again…

* * *

Randy charged the girl without thought or care, Jimmy Williams’s frail form running on adrenaline and determination. The orderlies who had been at his sides fell back, trying to recover as they lay in the grass, trying to figure out how it was possible for the old guy to move so fast.

Randy jumped the monster, pinning her to the ground. The blade dropped from her hand in the hustle.

“You...won’t...win,” Randy said between clenched teeth, his face inches from hers. Saliva dripped from his lips. Sweat coursed down his face. “You’re a fucking murderer, think you’re so smart, but this is it, you bastard. She’s going to end you. If she doesn’t, I will.”

The girl’s lips formed a smile, but not a drop of human compassion rested in it. It was the image of a demon. Randy thought he saw red in her eyes. Taken aback, his strength waned enough for her to push him off some, but he just as soon regained control and pinned her down.

Randy reached for the blade and grasped it in his sweaty palm. Breathing heavily, he regained his hold on the demon. “This...ends...now. For Dani. For Cassie.” He held the blade to his former neck.

No one moved. It was as if time had stopped and only Randy and the girl existed.

Randy’s old body went limp. Randy held his grip down, not to be fooled.

“Randy, Randy...please, let me go.”

* * *

“Cassie, what on earth are you doing?” asked her mom as she stepped into the kitchen. She covered her mouth, gasping when her eyes landed on the knife.

The body that belonged to Cassie gazed down at the knife aimed at her chest. The blank expression on her face evaporated as she turned the knife around and ran at the mother.

* * *

“Randy, it’s me, Cassie… Please listen to me. She’s back in my body. Please!” Tears coursed down Cassie’s cheeks.

Randy gazed down at her, not releasing the blade on her neck. In the distance, an alarm blared. “How do I know it’s really you? If you’re the murderer, you could be lying! How do I know it’s really you, Cassie?!” Someone moved toward him in the corner of his vision. Pinning his old body to the ground with a hand to the throat, his knees still over the chest, he held out the blade. “Stay back! Back!”

Dr. Winslow held up his chubby hands. “Please, James, if you’ll only put that down and come with us.”

“You know me, Randy,” begged a voice beneath him. “I know you. I know your memories, remember? The day you married Danielle... And then...then when she got pregnant, it was nothing short of a miracle, but then…” She choked on her sobs. “Then Danielle lost the baby halfway through the pregnancy. You both were devastated.”

Randy whisked his eyes back to the body under him. His hold wavered as he blinked back tears. “The murderer could know that, too. You’re just playing with my mind. You know my mind, and it’s not fair! It’s not fucking fair!” He flung the blade in his tirade, sending the onlookers scattering. He brought his hands around her neck. “You’re a fucking murderer and a liar!”

“Randy, no, please!” But Cassie’s pleas were choked off as her airway closed up.

* * *

“Cassie?” asked the mom, a tremor in her voice.

The girl held the blade over the woman’s neck.

The dad stepped into the kitchen behind the mom. “Emily, stay away from her--” His eyes locked onto the scene in front of him. “Emily!” He made to move toward his wife, but the girl held the blade firm.

“One move, old man, and she’s gone. Do you hear me?”

The mom glanced at the dad, a tear escaping. “Will, leave me. Just...go.”

“You’re not going anywhere,” the girl said in an unnervingly calm voice. “One step, one tiny step, and your precious wife is dead.”

The dad held up his hands. “Okay, okay. Cassie, please, talk to us. Why are you doing this?”

“Because I can.” The girl slashed the knife across the mom’s throat. Blood sprayed as the older woman collapsed to the floor.

She charged the dad next. He tried to run, but the knife took him in the back. The girl jumped on his back in a horrific version of a daddy giving his little girl a horsey back ride. He flailed, but lost his resolve as he gazed down upon his unmoving wife, at her blood pooling on the white tile.

The knife came down again and again and again into his back, between his shoulder blades, through the back of his head. The dad dropped to his knees, released one last gurgling breath, then fell forward, joining his wife on the floor.

The girl hopped off him and stood. She brought the knife to her tongue and licked the blood from the blade. The crimson covered her lips like melted lipstick, ran between her teeth like a predator that’s just eaten its prey.

She laughed.

* * *

Then she cried. Cassie cried as she gazed upon her dead parents. She fell to the floor, grabbing at them, shaking them. Tears fell down her cheeks in a torrential downpour, mixing with the blood on her mouth, running it all down her neck, soaking her shirt.

“M-Mom… D-Daddy… N-n-no...no…”

The knife was still in her trembling hands. It slid in the slick blood of the two people who had created her as she faced it to her chest, but she held onto it. She held onto this last memory of her parents as she delivered the final blow to her heart. The body of Cassie Meadows stood for a moment, wavering, then dropped to the floor with her parents like a battered rag doll.

* * *

Randy kept his grip around his old body’s neck and watched as the life drained out of the shell. A couple of orderlies tried to pull him off, but his strength remained focused in his hands, on one goal...on ending this thing’s life once and for all.

“Stop it! Enough, James!” Dr. Winslow shouted.

Four people tugged at Randy, and try as he might, he lost his grip on the thing.

“NO!” he screamed. “You can’t! You don’t understand! If you let that thing live--”

The thing that was in Randy’s body grabbed at its neck and sat up, almost as if unharmed, but rather amused as a grin spread over Randy’s old face. It stood and faced its attacker, took in its audience. It opened its mouth, but the smile dropped off as it screamed.

The body went limp and collapsed. No one moved for several moments. When it seemed safe that the body wasn’t going to move again, a couple of orderlies approached it.

“No, no…” Randy murmured as a couple of orderlies tried to lead him away. He wasn’t sure why he said it.

No, don’t touch it. It’ll kill you.

No, Cassie, you can’t be dead.

“Oh, God...Cassie…” Randy buried his face in his hands and would have dropped to the ground if the orderlies weren’t holding him up. I’ve failed.

* * *

Helen screamed.

She screamed. He screamed. It screamed.

One second, she was gawking at the old man and the crowd of wackos in the grass outside Hatford Hospital. The next, the gentle autumn breeze on her cheeks turned into hot coals. The swirling dance of colorful branches morphed into skeletal arms clawing at her, pulling her in every direction.

“No!” it screamed. “I always finish what I start!”

“No.”

It looked up into a pale face, the skin stripped to bone in places, a forever grimacing smile in the skull. Fathomless eyes penetrated what was left of Helen. Of her, of him, of it. The creature of darkness lifted his arm, extended into a belt.

He laughed.

“N-no.” It froze as the blackness charged. Buried. Trapped. Forever.

* * *

Cassie blinked. The clear sky gazed down beyond two fuzzy faces. The sun was hot on her face.

“What?”

She blinked again.

“Are you all right, Randy?” asked someone. It was the big orderly… Dennis or Davis or--

She swallowed, the feel of that big Adam’s apple bobbing. She choked back a sob and shook her head.

“Let’s get him inside,” said someone else.

Cassie caught movement to her left. Randy was being led away by two orderlies, in addition to two guards.

Wait! she tried to call out, but the pain in her throat was too great.

Blackness tinged the edges of her vision, then took over, and she knew no more.

* * *

One Month Later

Cassie stood by the barred window, staring at the grounds. The leaves were changing. The brilliant hues marked the passage of time, another season dying into the next. She brought her hand to the glass and ran it along the smooth surface. A single tear trailed down her cheek, or Randy’s cheek, or both their cheeks--she didn’t know anymore. She couldn’t separate herself from the man whose body she now lived in.

Sometimes she thought about trying to jump her mind into someone else’s body, if only for a little while, a moment to escape, to feel the breeze on her face, to smell the crispness of autumn, to sip a pumpkin spice latte. But she knew she couldn’t do that...or wouldn’t. Not yet anyway.

To know her parents, and her body, she supposed, lay in graves now sat with her every moment. The knowing was a rock pulling her down, down, under the sea to drown. She was dead to the world.

Dead to herself.

She rarely spoke anymore. What did she have to say?

The doctors said she was recovered enough to return to normal functionality, whatever the hell that meant.

“Cassie.”

Her throat caught, a breath hitched. She kept her gaze on the outside world.

He didn’t try to touch her, but she felt his presence beside her.

“I wondered if I’d ever see you again,” she whispered after several minutes.

“I wondered the same thing.” A pause. “But you aren’t seeing me. I mean, you aren’t looking at me.”

She laughed in spite of her bleak thoughts and turned to him. “Very funny.”

“So, how are you?” Randy asked.

She sighed. “I’ve been better. What about you? What adventures have you been on since I almost died?”

“That’s not funny, Cassie.” He kept his voice low. “I’m not supposed to call you that, you know. For the sake of not appearing crazier than I already am.”

“Then I should call you Jimmy? I don’t know if I can. We’re the only people who know who the other really is, Randy, in all the world. I wish we could run away and live on a deserted island somewhere, forget all this shit...but I don’t think I could ever forget.”

“And how could you?” His hand brushed hers.

She blinked back tears. “I was too late to stop that...that thing. That girl. Helen.” The memory of the young woman Helen had been clung to Cassie like a stain leftover from blood on cotton. Some stains never come out. Some memories are never forgotten. “I always finish what I start. That’s what she used to say, Randy.”

He placed a hand on her shoulder. “Hey, you’re alive. You’re here and I’m here. You stopped the cycle.”

“Then why do I feel so empty, so worthless?” She hadn’t seen Randy since the day the rest of the staff thought they tried to kill each other. They’d been confined to separate wings.

He wrapped an arm around her. “We can feel worthless together.”

“But how are you even standing here next to me? Why would Dr. Winslow allow us to be together after everything that--?”

Randy kissed her, and her questions went quiet.

* * *

Footsteps came from behind Randy. “Mr. Williams, if you please, release Mr. Davis right now.”

Randy leaned into Cassie and kissed her a second time, his eyes sliding shut. They were no longer in a mental hospital. Nothing existed but the two of them and the world they’d created.

When he opened his eyes, he stared at Jimmy’s craggy face. “What?” he breathed. “What did you do?”

* * *

“Keeping a promise, Randy,” Cassie said in Jimmy’s harsh voice that was softened by her youth.

“But you can’t--”

The nurse came between them now. “That’s quite enough. Your first day back in this ward, Mr. Williams, and you’re already seeking out--”

Dr. Winslow appeared at the nurse’s side. “Doris, that will do.”

Nurse Doris glared at the doctor, huffed, and walked away, muttering under her breath.

The doctor stepped up to the pair, surveying them with his penetrating eyes. He rocked on his feet. “Something tells me there’s more going on here than it appears.”

“Is that why you allowed me back, Doc?” asked Randy through his own mouth.

The doctor gaped, staring at the younger man. “J-James? B-but you’re in--”

“In Randy’s body, yes, because I am Randy Davis. What gave it away?”

“You’ve always called me Doc. And just something about the tone, the way you spoke to me. But then...who?” He gazed at Cassie, shaking his head. “This is most irregular.”

“What did you see, Dr. Winslow?” asked Cassie in her calming, sweet voice, even though it filtered through Jimmy’s vocal chords. “You glimpsed an impossibility that day, didn’t you?” She glanced at Randy, took his hand, and smiled. “Who should tell him first?”

“Well, you have the ability and I don’t.” Randy grinned.

“Doctor, there’s something you ought to see,” said Cassie.

* * *

Dr. Winslow blinked. Staring back at him was himself--that is, his body. Randy Davis stood next to his old form, an amused look on his face.

“Well, I’ve never been this overweight before, but I suppose there’s a first for everything,” said his old voice.

When Dr. Winslow nearly fainted, his old self laughed. “Don’t worry, Dr. Winslow. It isn’t permanent, but you should know that I’m Cassie Meadows, and I have quite the story to tell you. A story of impossible hope.”

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