Murder: It's All in Your Head

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Chapter 9 - 2018: Randy, Cassie, & The Girl

Randy woke, restrained. He sighed. The memory of why he was here came rushing back. He thrashed, pulling at the cuffs, but they only pulled back.

“He’s a murderer! A liar! Let me go! I deserve this one thing, you assholes. Do you hear me? That man isn’t Randy Davis.”

The door opened. Dr. Winslow entered, his stupid, calm face gazing at Randy.

“Now, James, do stop it. You do yourself no good with these accusations.”

“I have nothing to say.”

“It seems like you have plenty to say on the topic of Randy Davis. Strange that you kept wanting to be him, only for the man himself to wind up in the same place as you. Perhaps it would be in everyone’s best interest if we moved one of you.”

Randy stared at the ceiling, trying to tune out the idiot doctor.

“You have nothing to say?”

Randy turned his head toward the doctor. “What I say doesn’t matter. What I’ve been saying all these months, hell, for over two years, hasn’t mattered, so why should I repeat it?”

“Yet you repeat it and will likely again.”

Randy glared.

Dr. Winslow sighed and mopped his brow with a handkerchief. “Despite what you might believe, we are trying to help you, James. We want you to get better, but you’ve got to do your part.”

“My wife is dead because the real Jimmy Williams killed her. He switched bodies and got away with murder. First his neighbors, then my wife. He framed me. That’s the truth.”

“That’s your version of the truth, James, nothing more. Think of what you’re saying. We all know it’s impossible to switch bodies. Those are the things of science fiction and delusions.”

“I have nothing more to say.”

“Don’t you regret attacking that poor man, the man you claim you are, perhaps your idol?”

“That man is not Randy Davis. Just...leave me in peace.” Danielle...

The doctor sighed. “Very well.” He addressed the orderlies, “You may release him.” He turned to Randy. “You are to go to your room and stay there until eight o’clock tonight.”

“And what about dinner?”

“I’m sure someone has made arrangements to bring it by.” The doctor spoke as if Randy’s nourishment wasn’t his concern.

The orderlies undid the restraints and escorted Randy out. Dr. Winslow headed the other direction. As they passed other patients and staff in the halls, Randy looked for his old body but didn’t see him. He dropped his gaze to his dragging feet, his shoulders slumped, his head bowed.

He gave no fight as the orderlies dropped him off at his room. The door closed, the lock in place.

They say this isn’t a prison, yet I’ve never felt so imprisoned in all my life.

They say I’m a patient who needs help, yet no one really wants to help me. But how can they when no one believes me? Knowing the absurdity of his claims, Randy knew he wouldn’t buy into it if he were anyone else. But this is my reality, and I know it’s true. How can I make anyone believe me? How can I make the real Jimmy pay for his crimes?

He stared at the ceiling, tears stinging his eyes. Right before he woke in this body over two years ago, Danielle had told him she was pregnant again. That had been the happiest day of his life, besides the day he married her. After years of trying to conceive and a miscarriage, the hope of being a father, of sharing in the joy of parenthood with the woman he loved sent him to new heights of joy. Now, he wondered what had become of the baby. Since there was no mention of a murdered child when Danielle’s death was on the news, Randy supposed she must have miscarried again.

“Oh, Dani… And I wasn’t there.” He turned onto his side and pulled his legs up to his chest as much as this wretched body would allow. Randy hated the cursed body even more because it wouldn’t let him mourn properly.

The creak of the door woke him. Not realizing he’d fallen asleep, Randy pushed himself to sitting. His eyes adjusted to the light streaming in through the gap between the door and the wall.

“Mr. Williams?” came the gentle twang of Nurse Nora.

Randy rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Yeah, I’m awake.” His stomach grumbled. “What time is it?”

“Eleven. I’ve just started my shift.”

“I suppose they told you about me?” Bitterness coated every word. He searched for a tray of food and frowned. “I see they couldn’t be bothered to give me dinner.”

“It’s my understanding that you were asleep when they came by.”

Randy stood and stretched. “I don’t suppose I could get something now?”

Nora smiled, her kind eyes twinkling. “I’m sure I can arrange something. I must finish rounds. I’ll see you later.” She made to leave, then stopped, her hand resting on the doorframe. She met his eyes. “Is everything all right, Jimmy?”

His breath caught in his throat. “I-- I’ll survive.”

“I don’t mean for you just to survive. I know it can be hell in here, but you can find little glimpses of hope if you look. Spend some time out in the courtyard instead of holing up inside. Go to group therapy more. Talk to people.”

Randy crossed his arms over his chest. “Excuse me for saying it, but talking with the people here isn’t exactly uplifting.”

“Your family never visits?”

Randy stiffened. “My wife is dead.”

“Yes, I’m sorry you lost her. I lost my Walter nearly ten years ago. Sometimes…you remind me of him.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know. Danielle didn’t die naturally. She was murdered.”

Nora sighed and shook her head. “Perhaps I’ve said too much. I’m sorry, but I must go now, Mr. Williams.”

Up went the invisible wall. Like the glass separating the patients from the nurses, there was no crossing the boundary between Randy and Nora. He knew she’d gone over, had before, and likely would again. That was what he loved about her. Of all the people at Hatford, she was the one he liked talking with. Still, she wouldn’t believe him any more than anyone else.

Why hope when it’s pointless? He flopped back onto his bed and stayed in his room, even though the door was open.

* * *

“How are you holding up? Are you adjusting to your surroundings, Randall?” Dr. Winslow asked.

Cassie sat across from the psychiatrist in a small, plain room. She studied her stubby fingernails, then met the doctor’s eyes. She shrugged.

“I apologize for what happened to you today. Do you want to talk about it? We can discuss anything you wish.”

“Do you mean the man who tried to attack me in the shower and hurt that poor orderly or the old guy who went after me?” She shuddered.

“Either. Both. The first man, Ronald Peterson, has made such moves before, so you shouldn’t feel like he was singling you out.”

“Does that matter? What he did was wrong, disgusting, disturbing.”

“Which is why he’s here.”

Cassie sighed. “I was trying to talk to the old guy. I didn’t mean to provoke him.”

“Provoke him? Did you say something that set him off?”

Cassie realized what she said. Damn it. “Nothing important.” Her eyes dropped to her lap.

“Hmm.” The doctor rubbed his chin. “It may be helpful if you could tell me something, anything, Randall.”

“What happened to the old man?”

“That’s not your concern. We’re here to talk about you.”

“What’s there to talk about? You all think I’m crazy, that I killed her.”

“During your testimony, you said you didn’t kill your wife. Do you still believe that?”

“It doesn’t matter what I believe, at least to you it doesn’t.” What matters is that I believe what I believe, what I know.

“And your meds? How are you feeling?”

Cassie shrugged. The medication made her drowsy. She tried tricking the nurse on the first day that she’d taken it, but the older woman wasn’t fooled. She’d checked Cassie’s mouth and found the pill hidden under her tongue. Since then, she had taken the small pill every morning, wondering what the medication was doing to her mind.

“Is there anything else you wish to talk about?”

“This isn’t talk between friends, Dr. Winslow, so please don’t pretend to be mine. You think I’m psychotic, delusional.”

“Delusions can be very strong, Randall, very hard to overcome. Until recent years, you never showed any signs of psychosis. I believe you are essentially a good person behind all the delusions. You must try to find that man again.”

And who is Randy Davis? Is he really a good man, or did he murder Danielle? Really go crazy? As much as Cassie longed to believe Randy was innocent, she couldn’t ignore the lingering pressure of his hands around her neck. She shook, then recovered. “You have me pegged as a murderer. Don’t act like you care about my wellbeing or anyone else’s in here.”

The doctor frowned. “It’s my job. You think I haven’t seen every act in the book? You can’t be held responsible for killing your wife, which is why you’re here...to heal. The first step in healing is admitting that you’re delusional. When you understand your condition, you can work to overcome it. You have an impressive history of doing good works.”

“If that’s the case, if I was such a good person, then doesn’t killing someone, especially the woman I, um, loved, seem ridiculous? Why would I do that?”

“Everyone has a breaking point, Randall. Everyone. My understanding is that the last few years haven’t been kind.”

And what if I told you I was supposed to have graduated from high school and should now be at Miami U pursuing a degree in pre-med? That I’m a girl, and that the worst I’ve done is toilet paper Mandy Miller’s house? I’m an honors student and a Christian. I don’t believe in killing people. I’d never break and do that. What kind of monster does that? Randy Davis, who are you?

“Can I please go back to my room now?”

“As you wish.” The doctor waved his hand.

Cassie stood and headed toward the door.

“Don’t forget your group session tomorrow at 10:00.”

Cassie stopped, turned, and stared as Dr. Winslow scrawled something on his notes. Probably making a record of how wacko he thinks I am. “Why did you choose to become a psychiatrist, Dr. Winslow?”

“What’s that?” he asked in a distracted voice.

“A psychiatrist. Why become one, especially one who works in a place like this?”

The doctor set down his pen and gazed at Cassie, giving the impression he saw her for who she really was. “I want to help people. That’s the honest answer.”

Cassie smiled slightly. She wondered if he second-guessed his belief that she was delusional. Could a psychotic person speak this clearly? Dr. Winslow’s tone sounded believable enough, but just as soon as he said it, he waved his hand again and returned to writing.

* * *

“I don’t understand all these sudden changes, Cassie. Why? It’s just not like you,” the mom said.

The girl sat on the couch, staring beyond the nattering idiot in front of her. The mother stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room, a mixing spoon in one hand and a potholder covering the other. The girl ignored her.

“Cassie, hey! Excuse me, young lady, I’m talking to you!” The mom got in the girl’s face.

The girl’s eyes focused on the woman as a slow smile crept onto her face. “Why do you care? I’m an adult. I can do what I want, and what I want is for you to leave me the hell alone. All you ever do is nag...and cook...and eat. It’s going to your hips, Mother.”

An image of another nagging mother from years ago flickered in and out of the girl’s mind: the early twentieth-century house with its drab kitchen, where her mother toiled for hours to prepare meals for the girl’s abusive father. The mother turned off her ears whenever the girl’s screams echoed through the wooden floorboards. It was a nightmare from more lifetimes ago than the girl could count, yet her own pain pierced her core even now. That Cassie’s mother loved her real daughter ripped the brief pang of regret from the girl’s heart. She shredded it. Shredded it with any ideals of love she might have once believed, yet had never known.

The mom gasped in outrage as she took a step back.

The girl’s grin widened. “He won’t stay with you if you’re fat. Men never like fat asses.”

The mom turned and stormed into the kitchen. A moment later, her mutters over the phone carried into the living room. The woman was complaining to her husband about their wayward daughter again, threatening to kick her out if he didn’t do something about it.

The girl stood and left the house, growing bored with the usual domestic unrest. She stepped into the sunlight but didn’t appreciate it, then got into her car with one mission. Sure that the parents would divorce if she didn’t finish them off first, she debated whether to let them suffer a while longer and sign the divorce papers or take the kitchen knife the mom used so often…

“Ah, decisions, decisions,” she said as she glanced in the rearview mirror at her reflection. I always finish what I start.

Her cell phone beeped. The girl ignored it, knowing it was likely another text from that ho, Melanie. The stupid bitch hadn’t stopped with the messages all summer.

Why won’t you talk to me, Cassie?

What did I do to deserve this?

You’re lying. I never slept with Matt.

I liked him. That’s all.

I thought we were friends, best friends.

The girl chuckled. “Another life ruined.” Her laughter died, slashed like her victims’ throats. As the imaginary blood spewed out, the girl set her mouth in a grim line. “Ruined because if I can’t have what they do, why should they? Why should they know love when it’s only been denied to me?” She snorted. “Love doesn’t exist.”

The natural beauty of Cassie’s face hid under false eyelashes and layers of makeup. She opted for a touch-up to her dark roots every two weeks, the platinum blond worth the upkeep. The mom hated it all, of course. Hated the tight clothes that hugged Cassie’s toned body. Hated that she had gotten her navel and tongue pierced. Hated most of all the tattoo on Cassie’s lower abdomen that read Fuck ’em all.

The girl spent much of Cassie’s hard-earned savings on revamping her look. She’d quit the pointless job at the fashion boutique and spent her time with Wayne now--a guy she’d met at the local bar that didn’t card hot girls.

She winked at her reflection, started the car, threw it into reverse, pulled out into the street, and cranked it into drive. The tires squealed and left skid marks in her wake. The girl drove through town 20 over the speed limit. If she caused an accident or hit someone, she would spare the parents. She’d skip heads and leave her next victim in this shell to clean up the mess.

But I don’t fuck up. I’m that good.

As she drove to Wayne’s place, she smiled, remembering her first time as a man besides her father. A man named Harlan Lowers.

He had the reputation of being the troublemaker in South Liberty. He was the younger son of a wealthy businessman. The expectations had always been on the older son to follow in his father’s footsteps, leaving Harlan more or less free to do as he wished. The girl loved being him.

Rumors flew around town that Harlan was a devil’s child, that he couldn’t have the same blood coursing through his veins as the rest of the noble Lower family once the girl inhabited his body.

“Just a little further,” he said to Julia Zander, his latest catch, as he led her to the barn behind his parents’ house.

Harlan pulled open one door. It creaked its protest.

Julia gazed inside the dark interior and wrinkled her nose. “Ugh, it smells like manure.”

Harlan chuckled. “Aw, don’t be like that. It’s the perfect place for privacy. We won’t be caught.”

“But it’s so...so…”

He yanked her into the barn and slammed the door, pushing her up against the interior of it with his body. He claimed her mouth with his as his hands roamed over her body.

“Harlan, why the rush?” Julia asked between kisses.

“You know you’ve wanted it. You pursued me, remember? Why else would you come to me if not for this?” A gleam in his eye caught as the sunlight filtered in through the tiny gap between the doors.

“Is it true what they say?”

“And what’s that?” Harlan forced his tongue into her mouth.

“That your, um...you know, that your , um…” She trailed off, a deep blush on her cheeks.

“You wanna see?” He released his belt buckle, unzipped his fly, and grinded into her. The girl inside Harlan’s head paused for a moment, the sound of a belt buckle’s undoing and the unzipping of a fly playing through the mind. Images twenty years dead flashed, but she forced them down. It’s no time to be weak. I always finish what I start.

Julia panted. “I’m...I’m not sure if--”

“If what?” He pulled back for a moment, unused to any hesitation. With a shake of the head, he led her to the hay and lay on top of her.

“I think I’ve changed my mind.”

Red-hot coals heaped on his head. He blinked. Darkness embraced him, and when he opened his eyes, he gazed upon his own face. “What the hell?”

Fear lanced him--really her, the girl buried deep in minds. Sometimes she forgot herself, lost control, even years into this game. Damn these emotions! They’re what hurt me in the first place! cried a lost soul.

She was he. He. He. He. He was in the arms of a boy as they danced across the floor during last summer’s festival. He watched the memory like those silent films, yet there was color and sound, and he was part of it. He realized the boy was that chubby oaf, Sylvester Johnson, who had died in a tractor accident last fall...and Julia had been seeing him at the time.

He blinked, and the vision disappeared as quickly as it came.

Julia was sprawled on the hay underneath him, fear in her eyes, her mouth open in frozen horror. She struggled, pushing on his chest.

His head spinning, his body limp, Harlan didn’t try to fight back as she pounded on him. He collapsed on his backside into the hay and watched as she stood.

“You are a demon,” she said, her voice quivering. You are a demon. Those words echoed across time.

“I-I don’t know--” He hated the way his voice wobbled. Grasping his fear and confusion, anger poked through him as he also stood. He growled, coming at her like an animal, smashing her into the wall. The flimsy boards threatened to give. “You won’t repeat this to anyone, you hear? One word and you’ll wish you’d never met me.”

She spit in his face. “Get off me, you-you freak!”

He leaned in. A lewd grin covered his face. “What did you see?” he asked into her ear, snaking his tongue into the hole.

She cringed. “What does it matter? How the hell did you do that?”

He laughed. “Why would I tell?” He trailed kisses down her jawline and claimed her mouth again. “On second thought, I don’t think I’ll let you go. Too risky.”

“Please, Harlan.” Tears seeped out of her large, glassy eyes. “I won’t tell anyone. I promise.”

“Words are worthless.” Power is not. “Now tell me. What did you see?”

“Please--”

He shoved into her, his breath hot on her face, adding to the humidity. Sweat pooled along Julia’s hairline. She turned her face to the left. Her body shuddered.

“I’m only going to ask one more time, or I’ll find out the hard way.” He ground into her with his groin.

“I-I was looking back at my face, like I was inside your body, but just as soon as I swore it was true, it was over. Now, please. Let me go.”

He laughed. “I don’t think so. Tell me, Julia. Do you miss Sylvester?”

Her breath caught in her throat. “W-what?”

He licked her neck, then hissed in her ear, “That fat fuck, Sylvester Johnson, who couldn’t even run a tractor right. I bet you spread your legs plenty of times for that piece of shit.”

Julia tried to raise her hand to slap him, but Harlan held her fast. His grip firm on both her arms, he forced her to the floor. She whimpered, but her cries morphed into screams as he ripped the buttons on her blouse, then jerked up her skirt and tore away her slip.

“No one will hear you,” he said with a laugh. “His parents are away on a cruise all month. His brother is living in the next town over with his new wife. And the nearest neighbor is, I’m afraid, a half a mile away. Might as well not bother to scream, Julia, dear. Best you save your energy for what’s to come.”

Julia’s screams continued for the next several minutes as Harlan took her as his own. When she was but a husk and blood trailed down her legs, she cried silently, her body trembling under his weight.

“I learned from the best. Or the worst. I guess that depends on your perspective. You know, I’ve had lots of perspectives, my dear.” He smiled, his arms around her. He kissed her cheek and caressed it. “That was...perfect.” After a pause, he said, “Now the question remains: What to do with you?”

He closed his eyes, held the image of Julia, pictured dancing with Sylvester Johnson. He remembered how it felt to be Julia, to have feelings for a Sylvester, as unnatural as that was for him. Disgusted with the warmth that attempted to sway his cold heart, the memory of Julia’s love for another human penetrated Harlan’s thoughts, going deeper than his conscious mind could understand. He closed his eyes. The rush of darkness enveloped him.

His eyes opened, and he saw a young man standing but feet away, his face devoid of its usual arrogance. The man’s mouth opened, but before he could speak, the girl who was in Harlan was now in Julia. Julia. The girl tested the name in her mind, then embraced her new body, her next life. No longer he or him, she thought.

The new Julia pushed herself to her feet, adrenaline surging through her body as she tackled Harlan’s form and wrapped her arms around the neck.

A few minutes later, the girl waltzed out of the barn with a smile lilting Julia’s face, Julia’s tattered clothing back on. She gazed down at her new hands, amazed at their delicacy, yet strong enough to end a life--much like another pair of womanly hands that held that power. The body of Julia Zander walked over the sodden earth to the pig sty and opened the gate. Harlan, Julia, whoever he or she was, coaxed the animals toward the barn. They hadn’t been fed in two days. Mr. Lowers had given the servants the week off in his generosity. Harlan was supposed to tend to the animals. Now he was. Now she was.

After the last of the pigs entered the barn, Julia closed and bolted the doors. The pigs would have a feast now. Who could accuse her--him?--of starving the poor creatures when Harlan was dead, after all?

She entered the house through the back door and stopped when she came to the full-length mirror in the parents’ bedroom. She ran her hands down this new body--over the supple curves. She covered her breasts and cupped them, smiling at the feel. She unfastened the two buttons that still worked on the blouse and moved her hands lower, until they stopped at the hemline of her bloomers. She stepped out of the skirt, pushed off the blouse, and then the undergarments. She lay on the parents’ bed and explored her body, the body she had just ravaged, the tingle of the sex still remaining. Oh, to be a woman again!

As the sky grew darker, she collected Julia’s clothes and burned them. She wore one of the mother’s dresses, although the style was too mature and baggy for her young body. When the last of the light died, fireworks exploded in the sky over what Julia knew was the town square. Everyone would have turned out for the Independence Day celebration.

She walked to her new house. As her fingers made contact with the back door, a memory surged through her mind. Julia was about five years old and running about the back yard on another Fourth of July, laughing with her sisters as the fireworks went off. She entered the house, and as she strode through it, memories flooded her brain like a torrential downpour. She found her bedroom and lay down on the bed, marveling once again at this ability, this gift.

* * *

Now, ninety years later, the girl arrived at Wayne’s house. Overgrown shrubs hid the 1950s-style ranch. A half-dozen broken old cars and trucks sat in the driveway, some on blocks. She got out of the car, walked with purpose to the side door, and knocked.

Wayne answered in a stained wife-beater and boxers. Leaning on the doorframe, he drank in Cassie’s body. “Yeh lookin’ for somethin’?” He took a long drag on the cigarette in his right hand.

The girl raised an eyebrow. “Do you answer the door like that for all the girls?”

Wayne laughed and pushed open the screen door. After she entered, he slapped her ass.

The girl thought back to her times as a man and of the memory of her original form. Harlan was as antiquated as the name of a great, great-grandfather, long-buried and dead. She grinned up at Wayne. If only you knew what I am. Then she jumped into his arms and wrapped her own around his neck and kissed his jawline, ears, cheeks, and lips much like Harlan had Julia’s many years earlier.

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