NEW FICTION: Unseen (conclusion)
September 5, 2002
Concluding the short story Unseen...
I called her on May 23, 1987, on the date of her graduation from college; my graduation date was still two years away.
“So what are you going to do?” I asked.
“I’m not sure.” Her voice was melancholy. “Nothing anytime soon.”
“Well, you’re in the top two-percent of your graduating class. You needn’t rush into anything.”
“Listen,” she said. “I’ve been meaning to tell you something. Something, well…important.”
“It’s just that, well…geez. It’s just that…I lied to you. That night a few years back—the night Derek died. I told you I couldn’t walk in your mind…but the truth is...”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that…”
“What?” I asked. “What did you see?”
The other end of the phone was silent for a beat.
“Bars,” she said, finally. “I saw bars.”
“So I’m going to become a lush who spends all her time at Chancy’s Pub?”
“No. Not exactly.”
There was another silence that lasted for several seconds.
“It wasn’t very clear. Anyway…I’m sorry I lied to you.”
“That’s perfectly okay. Congratulations on completing college,” I said, then added, with the enthusiasm of a Hollywood studio executive talking to a first-day intern, “We’re all expecting great things from you, Carol.”
“I just…I just don’t know what I’m going to do.”
I thought for a moment.
“Well, maybe you should write a book.”
After saying goodbye, I pondered the significance of the “bars” she’d seen in my mind. Three images entered my mind—music, taverns, and prison—of which only music held any significance. At the time I was too much the skeptic, and too involved with my studies, to give it more than a passing thought.
We lost touch after graduation.
By 1992 I’d been working professionally as an MD for nearly three years and had gotten to know many of the residents of Centerton, some of whom knew me from my childhood, most of whom did not.
Dr. Harwood and I worked together in the office on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. She worked the office alone on Tuesdays, I did likewise each Thursday.
I received a package on February 6, one week after my 26th birthday. There was no return address. Inside of the plain brown mailing envelope was a small, colorfully wrapped package. It was a book, I could tell that much—a paperback. I slowly opened the gift wrapping. The book cover was sunset red with yellow typography. The design was simple, not altogether captivating. But the title…my eyes widened at the title and its author: Mind-Walking, A Journey Into the Hidden Past and Future Memories of Self by Carol Donovan. I fanned through the book and found a small card that simply read:
“Took your advice. Love, Carol.”
I wrote to Carol several weeks later to congratulate her on the accomplishment. Not knowing her address, I sent my correspondence to her via Random House but received no response. The matter was soon forgotten as l continued to focus on my career and my life.
Five years later, in March of 1997, Carol Donovan walked back into my life. I hadn’t spoken with her in 10 years and hadn’t seen her since 1985.
The patient load had been light that day; thus, when Carol entered the office at 7:00 pm, it was empty but for myself and Juliene, our soft-spoken RN assistant.
Carol was visibly upset. Her hands were shaking nervously; her eyes were bloodshot from crying. I told Juliene she could leave early, and I invited Carol into my office.
“What’s happened?” I asked her, fearing the worst.
She began crying hysterical tears. She was scratching uneasily at her left palm with the fingernails of her right hand.
“It’s okay; whatever it is, it’s okay. Tell me what’s wrong.”
“I…I mind walked.”
“Yes. That’s what you do.”
“No. I…I mind walked inside my own…my own…mind.”
She’d taken the mind walk earlier in the day, following the news of her father’s arrest--he’d been taken into custody in Sacramento after allegedly offering twenty dollars to an eight-year-old boy to engage in acts of a sexual nature. Carol had stepped into her own mind in search of a door that would indicate what, if any, future her parents might have together, and what role she might play in their lives.
There were thousands of doors, and inside Carol’s mind they appeared in one of the three primary colors of red, blue, and yellow. She’d wandered inside the vast corridors of her mind for hours—days—before stumbling upon the Black Door. It stood before her, a tall, oblique monolith. Its surface was velvet smooth, untouched purity, and as black as a starless, moonless night. It was finality. The night she’d walked through Derek’s mind, the doors had been black. All the doors had been black.
The Black Door towered over her and she’d felt like a little girl who had no preconceived notions of boogie men, vampires, or witches. The light that escaped from the base of the door was faint, but it was of the purest, coldest blue.
“I knew what the door represented,” she told me. “It meant Death. My death. I should have run, but I found myself unable to move. The door seemed to triple in its dimensions. I felt smaller with each passing moment. Finally, I reached for the cold steel of the doorknob. It felt like dry ice upon my fingertips and, having touched it, I felt compelled to open it—helpless to do anything except open it.”
And she’d seen that which is otherwise denied us. She’d witnessed her own death. That it had been violent (she’d seen images of glass, as if she was falling through a door or window) did not cause in her a state of alarm. That she would be alone at the moment of her death did not instill a sense of dread.
That she would die in two weeks time terrified her as it would anyone cursed with Carol’s gift.
I asked Carol if she could remember any specific details—to pinpoint the time, the exact time and place, that this tragic event would occur.
“There was a desk calendar—one of those daily calendars that you tear off a page every day. March 22. It was March 22. The place—I think it was my apartment. I remember seeing the Klimt poster above the fireplace. It must have been my apartment. Oh, Christ, what am I going to do?”
There wasn’t much I could say to comfort her. I offered to write a script for valium. She declined. Carol wrote down her address and left the office, still in tears.
I went to her apartment the following day. She was exceptionally quiet and reclusive. Across the wall that served as the entranceway to her apartment she’d scribbled in spray paint a series of 14 numbers—9 through 22. The numbers nine and ten were crossed out, a large “X” having been scratched across them. Twelve days to go, I thought.
“What’s new?” I asked.
Carol laughed. Then she talked quickly and quietly about many things including sleeping pills. I later discovered several bottles of an over-the-counter sleeping pill in her bathroom medicine cabinet.
“Listen,” I said, “don’t take any drastic measures. Let’s meet again tomorrow and talk about this rationally and do what we can to ensure that your vision doesn’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“It’s going to happen.”
“You don’t know that. Just…just don’t do anything dumb. Promise me that, Carol. Okay?”
As I stepped into my vehicle I formed a conclusion as to what I was going to do; I thought I was so clever. How very small and foolish I was.
We met again the following afternoon and addressed once more the specifics of her impending demise. What was certain, she said, was the image of glass—breaking glass. We assessed her apartment and rounded up every object we could locate consisting of glass—two mirrors, and a half-dozen drinking glasses.
“What about the apartment windows?” Carol asked.
We agreed to nail plywood sheets across the three apartment windows, and drove directly to a hardware store in Carol’s SUV. A few hours later the deed was done.
I placed her drinking glasses and mirrors into a shopping bag.
“I’ll take these,” I said.
One of the bag’s two handles snapped, and the bag dropped to the floor. Several of the drinking glasses shattered, as did one of the two mirrors.
“Seven years bad luck,” Carol said.
“Let’s hope not. So do you feel any safer?”
She shook her head in affirmation. But I knew—I knew what she was thinking and what she needed to do. To be certain she’d have to go back—back into her mind, back through the Black Door—to be certain her fate had been altered. But therein lay the trap: By going back through, she would still learn her fate. We may have circumvented her immediate demise, but the Black Door was such that it showed one’s death--nothing more and nothing less. Whatever fate awaited her might be worse than the one she’d first seen; this was doubtful but entirely possible.
“I’m not going back,” she said. “I don’t want to know.”
I understood, but I was also increasingly concerned about Carol’s mental stability. My fear was that she’d hurt herself—consume a fatal dose of sleeping pills.
The phone rang. While Carol took the call, I walked into her bathroom and closed the door. I replaced the contents of her sleeping pill bottles with placebos—harmless sugar pills. I couldn’t allow Carol’s vision to become a reality by her own doing.
“Why don’t you take a vacation?” I asked plainly, a few minutes later.
“No. I want to be here. I’ll be able to control what happens to me if I’m in my own environment. I’m going to lock myself in the bedroom on the evening of the 21st. I’ll stay in there until the 23rd. About 36 hours I think.”
“I can stay with you—keep you company.”
“Thanks. No. That’s okay. I’ll be fine.”
I left Carol alone in her apartment. We talked on the phone several times during the next few days and also spoke on the night of the 21st.
“How are you feeling?” I asked.
“Nervous—I’m fucking nervous. Maybe I should take a sleeping pill or two.”
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” she said.
“Okay. Rest well.”
“Right,” she said.
When I phoned Carol the following morning she did not answer. I left several messages throughout the day. Following my third call I decided to drive to her apartment. As I reached the stairs to Carol’s flat, I was stopped by a tired-looking portly man in an ill-fitting gray two-piece suit. His body stank of nicotine and he was badly in need of a manicure and a shave.
“Can’t go any further, ma’m,” he insisted.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Who are you? What’s happened here?”
“Might ask you the same thing. Were you friends with the victim?” he asked.
I could not utter a reply. He asked for my name. From within the apartment a voice called 0ut.
“It’s okay, Chip. Let her in.”
The room was controlled chaos. Several uniformed police offers were standing in the kitchen, speaking in hushed voices that grew more silent when I entered the apartment. A Latino woman in her late 40s with short, stylish hair shook my hand and presented a badge in my line of vision. I glanced at the name on the badge—Detective Maryellen Sanchez. She was dressed casually in black jeans, a white cotton blouse, and a burgundy jacket. My eyes continued to assess the room. There were blood stains on the carpeted floor and shards of broken glass. Only then did I notice the coffee table. Covered as it had been with magazines and newspapers, we’d both forgotten its top was entirely glass. I raised my hands reflexively and covered my mouth to stifle a scream.
“Quite a mess,” the detective said.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I’ll tell you, but I do have several questions that I need to ask you. You’re a physician?”
“You were Ms. Donovan’s doctor?”
“No. We’re friends—since childhood.”
“I see. Did Ms. Donovan have any enemies?”
“Enemies?” I repeated.
“I know it’s a silly, clichéd question, but yes—did she have any enemies? Anyone who would want to cause her harm?”
“No. I mean, I don’t think so. It’s been several years since we’ve actually been close.”
“Yet you’re here on the afternoon of her murder.”
“Murder? But she fell through a—I mean, it looks as though she fell through that glass table.”
“She did. But it didn’t cause her death. Just…just do me the courtesy of telling me what you know, okay. Maybe you can start with these dates that have been painted on and marked off the wall?”
Following several lengthy explanations, I was, a few hours later, driven to the central booking station and placed under arrest and charged in the murder of Carol Donovan. The days and weeks from that day forward are a blur. At the arraignment hearing the prosecution convinced the judge to bring the case to trial based on the evidence against me.
Exactly one year to the date of Carol’s murder the trial began in district circuit court number five. The prosecution argued that I’d been jealous of Carol’s success and what I believed to be her “gift.” The prosecutors presented to the court an image of me as ruthless and cunningly savage, stating that when Carol returned into my life it was more than I could handle, and that when Carol spoke of her possible “sealed fate” I exploited her fears and ultimately, planned and carried out her demise. Why else, they argued, would a “close friend and physician” replace over-the-counter sleeping pills with sugar-filled placebos in the home of a person with type 2 diabetes. Carol did not die as a result of falling through the glass coffee table. With Type 2 diabetes the pancreas produces an insufficient amount of insulin. If increases in blood sugar levels are not controlled, damage to body organs or even death can result. The medical examiner, Pauline Jolie, testified that Carol had succumbed to catatonic diabetic shock several hours after ingesting several of the sugar pills I’d placed in the various bottles of Sominex within her medicine cabinet. It was Jolie’s belief that Carol had fallen through the table while stumbling across the floor, probably while attempting to locate her life-saving insulin, and was dead before her body broke through the glass.
My defense attorneys argued that I was unaware that Carol had type 2 diabetes. She’d never told me, they declared.
I testified in my own defense and spoke truthfully, echoing the defense’s statements.
“I hadn’t known Carol was a diabetic. She never told me; even her medicine cabinet had been devoid of any indication of diabetes,” I explained.
The jury felt otherwise. How could I not know, they reasoned—a doctor and close friend since childhood. Had I been a juror I’d have been inclined to agree.
The deliberations were completed in less than four hours. As the paper verdict was passed from the jury foreman to court bailiff to presiding judge, the significance of the “bars” Carol had seen during her mind-walk into my future at last became beach water clear.
NEXT: On September 9 I'll be returning to the drawing desk to begin completion on the final 3 chapters of ALTERCATIONS. This is going to limit the amount of time I'll have to write creative prose fiction even further. Thus, The Man Who Couldn't Die, which I'd hoped to begin next week will most likely begin a few weeks from now. Meanwhile, watch for the return of Silver- and Bronze-age reviews, beginning in seven days...
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