"Before we get started, I think we should review what we have learned in our previous sessions," Dr. Caffer said from his leather chair.
The unspoken purpose of the review was to focus his client's subconscious mind on things from the past.
Priming the subconscious mind for an inner search was also important. The paintings on his office wall stood out against their white backdrop. One painting was of the outside of a big house, another of a treasure chest, another of a wrapped gift.
Relaxation was possibly the most crucial ingredient to a hypnotic regression session. Across from his chair was an inclined couch, possibly the most comfortable piece of furniture ever invented. Behind him was his desk, bare except for a plastic pencil holder at one corner, overflowing with writing instruments and other office paraphernalia.
Thirty-year-old Beth Shoemaker sat on the couch with a dazed look on her face. Her slack posture made her look as if she might melt into the upholstery. With dark eyes that matched her dark hair, a slim figure and a presentable smile, Beth was an attractive woman, but her appearance interested Dr. Caffer very little.
Caffer folded his hands in his lap and began to speak, unobtrusively observing his patient's reactions. "A fear of children and things that represent children has troubled you for years. You have tried various treatments and have not been able to overcome this fear, nor have you been able to uncover the fear's source. Your condition has recently become a major issue in your marriage, as your husband would like to have a family."
Beth nodded lackadaisically, in marked contrast to her hysterical reaction the first time she'd spoken to him.
Caffer continued, "Over the past few weeks, we have trained your mind to enter a trance and travel back in time. Now I think we have discovered the time when this fear developed. You were a small child, seven years old, living in an apartment building where your father was the superintendent. We do not yet know how your fear began, but these facts establish the time. Today, I would like for us to go to that time."
Beth's face lost its vacant expression and her hands clutched the edge of the couch hard enough to make the tendons stand out.
Caffer sighed. "Beth," he said soothingly, "Remember -- you are safe in this office. Nothing bad can happen to you here. Please, relax."
Beth had heard him say the word "relax" so many times, her body could hardly resist its command. She returned to her calm state.
"Much better," Dr. Caffer said. "Let's begin."
Caffer got up. He stretched, releasing the tension in his trim (though middle-aged) body and limbs. He dimmed the light.
The room was not so dark that he couldn't see his client's facial expressions and gauge her reactions. Nor was it so light that it would disturb her through her closed eyelids.
"We're going to move back in time now."
Beth had gone under without a glitch. It sometimes took many sessions, but Dr. Caffer doubted there were many English-speaking people whom he couldn't take under.
"As before, you will not become the person you see in the other times, but you will be able to observe her. You will see what she sees, know what she thinks and what she feels, without becoming her."
If possible, Dr. Caffer always avoided making the patient become the person they were when their trauma happened. Viewing instead of becoming made the experience a little less personal and a lot more palatable. Most importantly, it increased the odds the patient would stay in that time long enough to do the necessary work.
"I would like for you to go back to the age of twenty-nine. It doesn't have to be any particular day or hour, as long as it is when you are twenty-nine. Once there, look around for a little while. See what twenty-nine-year-old Beth sees, feel what she feels, without becoming her."
After about thirty seconds, Dr. Caffer repeated these instructions for the age twenty-eight. He continued through each year until Beth was visiting herself at age seven.
"Now that you are at the age of seven, I'd like for you to go to the time an hour before you were traumatized."
Beth grimaced and sighed.
"Relax," Dr. Caffer said in a drawn-out breathy voice. "Remember that you are safe. You can see what I ask you to see without being harmed by it. Tell me when you are at the time an hour before you were traumatized."
The muscles on Beth's face relaxed. After about a minute, she said, "I'm there," in a nervous voice.
"Relax. Nothing can hurt you. You are just going to observe. Tell me what you see."
Beth started to speak, then gasped slightly instead. Then she said, "I'm lying in bed. I'm awake. I'm waiting until I think my parents are asleep."
"Why are you waiting for your parents to go to sleep?"
"Please, no!" Beth said in a squeaky voice. "I don't want to be here!"
"Relax. You're just going to see. It can't hurt you. You won't even remember what you have seen when you come to. Tell me why you are waiting for your parents to go to sleep."
These instructions seemed to work very well. The next time Beth spoke, her voice was calm and monotonous. "I want to see the room with the dolls."
Dr. Caffer studied Beth for a little while. He saw a smile creep up on her face. She felt some connection to this girl, possibly too much.
"Beth. I want you to separate yourself further from the girl. Go up above and watch her from a distance. You will still know her thoughts and feelings, but they will come to you as if you are reading a book."
The smile didn't disappear, but it lessened substantially.
"Now, tell me what the little girl in bed does when she thinks her parents are asleep."
Beth's face grew slightly inquisitive. Then she said, "She's getting out of bed. She's getting dressed. She's thinking she needs to be quiet like a mouse."
"Okay, Beth. Follow her every move and tell me what she does."
Beth's lips curled downward and pulled her entire face into an awful expression.
"I don't want to follow her!"
"Beth. You're just experiencing what part of you knows already. You're beginning to sense something bad, but it won't hurt you. You won't have to think about it for very long."
"You can! Relax and you will."
What was in Beth was huge. She was removed from it, watching it, not knowing what it was, and it still scared the hell out of her.
"She's leaving her room. She's going into her father's office. She's looking over the keys on the board. She's taking the one for number thirty-four."
"How does she know it's the right one?"
By the look on her face, Beth was searching, like someone scanning a page. "She knows because of her dream."
"Is this the dream where she saw the room with the dolls?"
"Tell me what happens next."
"She's sneaking out of her apartment. She's walking down the hall. She's going down the stairs."
The detail was too much, Dr. Caffer decided to do a fast-forward of sorts. "What floor does she go to?"
"Okay. Tell me what happens after she gets to the third floor."
"She's going to Apartment 34. She looks around to see if anyone is watching. She doesn't see anyone so she puts the key in the door."
Beth gasped. "Please! Please! I don't want to go in there!"
"Relax. You will be safe."
"There's something bad in there."
"It's just your memory of it. It can't hurt you. Relax. You will be safe if you follow her inside."
Dr. Caffer studied her as she relaxed again. Then he said, "Go in with her. Tell me what you see."
After a few seconds, Beth said, "She's in the room. She's looking over the dolls on a shelf."
Dr. Caffer realized the young version of Beth had gone on while Beth waited in the hall. Now Beth had caught up to the younger version.
"The room with the dolls."
"What is she doing?"
"She's looking at the baby-doll in the blue petticoat dress."
Beth begins to cry. "Please! I don't want to stay!"
"You must stay, Beth. You have to relax. Tell me why she's looking at that particular doll."
After a few seconds, Beth said through sobs, "Because she wants to know if it really talks. I want to leave her now."
"Relax, Beth. Calm your emotions, and tell me what happens next."
Beth's sobs disappeared into a gasp. Her face grew into a ghastly expression, and then she was completely still. Even her breath stopped.
"What has scared you, Beth?"
"The ... The ... The doll moved. It moved its arm and now it's talking."
"What's it saying?"
"It's telling her to come closer to it and to take its hand. It wants to pray with her."
Beth's voice had lost all expression again. Dr. Caffer thought she'd been scared into a state of emotional numbness, which so often occurred when people witnessed something they thought couldn't be real.
"What happens next?"
"She moves to it. She takes its hand."
"The doll is chanting something. She thinks it's a prayer, so she closes her eyes."
"Then what happens, when the doll is done chanting?"
"The little girl is gone. She sees a garden with big flowers. There are kittens in the garden. She wants to gather them, so they can all play together."
A smile came over Beth's face, which meant the garden was a powerful barrier to reality.
"What happens when the little girl comes out of the garden?"
After a few seconds, Beth said, "She wakes up in her bed. She thinks it was all a dream. She thinks she never got out of bed. She hears the fire alarm. Her mother comes in and grabs her by the hand. They run out of the apartment. They run to the stairs. She sees other people running. She sees more people on the street. Then her mother hugs her so close that she can't see. She hears her father telling her mother to take her away from here."
"Stop, Beth. I want you to go back in time. Go back to just before the girl entered the garden, and stop. Tell me when you are there."
After a few seconds, Beth said, "I'm there."
"All right. I want you to tell me what happens next, but this time, stay with the girl's body. Do not follow her into the dream."
"I don't want to!"
Again, Beth was crying.
"Stay with the body Beth, and tell me what you see."
Beth spoke through sobs again.
"The little girl is turning around. Her face doesn't look like it's supposed to ..."
Beth trailed off into a wailing cry.
"Relax, Beth. Control your emotions. Separate from them if you need to. Tell me about the little girl. What does she look like?"
Beth's breath became slow but loud. She finally said, "Her face is red. Her smile is too big. Her eyes look like they're coming out of her head. Please, I want to go inside. I want to go to the garden."
"No, Beth. You must stay in the room."
"Please! It's so bad! It wants to hurt! It wants to kill!"
"Stay with it Beth. I won't let it hurt you."
"Oh my God! Please! It's looking at me!"
"Don't worry, Beth. It can't hurt you. I won't let it hurt you."
"It knows I'm here! Something's coming from its eyes. It's red! It burns! Noooooo!"
Dr. Caffer raised his voice over her screams. "Go into the dream, Beth! Go into the garden ..."
... and do not come out until I say."
Beth's mouth went wide open. It hung that way for a few seconds, before dropping into a relaxed smile.
Satisfied that she was in a safe place, Dr. Caffer got up from his chair. He strolled to the far wall, which ran parallel to the couch his client was on. He stared at the painting of the house. He didn't think of it, though.
He thought of how many clients he'd taken under over the years. He remembered some of them in particular, the toughest of cases. He thought of the big scar on his chest.
He never heard her get up. He didn't hear her footsteps either. He didn't even hear her lift the letter opener from the pencil holder.
It was the changes in the shadows that told him where she was.
"Oklahoma," he said.
He then turned around.
Beth was standing a few feet away. In the dim light, he couldn't tell the exact color of her face, but he could tell that it was darker. Her smile was as big as a clown's, but this smile wasn't painted on. Her eyes looked as if they could come out of their sockets. She had the letter opener raised above her head. She was motionless except for the expansion and contraction of her chest as she breathed.
Dr. Caffer laughed at the demon within her.
"You used a little girl's body to burn the top three floors of that building. A few dozen people died in that fire. Beth's parents always shielded her from knowledge of what happened. Of course, they didn't really know what happened either. No one did. The police figured out that it was arson. They never found the culprit, though. That's just because they never suspected a little girl."
Dr. Caffer laughed again, this time in exasperation. "They never knew you were there."
Dr. Caffer looked hard into the bulging eyes. "I research my clients very well, though. I knew you were there. I knew you had been other places. You've murdered hundreds of people in Beth's body, without once leaving a trace of her or yourself. I knew you were timeless. I knew that you would notice her watching you. I knew you would come out. Your kind always does when recognized. That's why I always install a word in my client's subconscious that will cause their body to freeze up."
Dr. Caffer got right up in Beth's face, close enough to see the quivering of the muscles around her distended eyes, close enough to smell the sour tang of perspiration tainted by inhuman fury.
"I have another surprise for you."
He walked to his desk and opened a drawer. There were two baby dolls inside. He took out the one crafted from wood.
"We're going to say a little prayer now."
Beth Shoemaker sat on the ground and stroked the kitten in her lap. Then she heard the numbers and knew she had to leave this place.
"... Three ... Four ... Five."
Beth opened her eyes. Her face was sticky, as if she had been crying and hadn't washed her face afterward. Off to the side was Dr. Caffer. He was holding a baby doll. He pushed it at her.
"A present for you."
She recoiled at first, but then she found she could take it. She wanted to take it. She did.
She cradled it to her as if it were a real baby. "It doesn't scare me. I like it."
"Of course you like it, my dear. The subconscious source of that fear is gone."
Beth looked at the doctor and tried to read his face. She thought of asking him to clarify, but decided she didn't really care, as long as she was really okay now. She went back to looking at the doll. How long had it been since she'd been able to have one?
"So tell me, Beth. Have you ever been to Oklahoma?"
Again, she looked at the doctor. What an odd question. What an odd man. But he was good at his job.
"No, Doctor. With my condition, I haven't traveled much at all."
The doctor smiled. "Just checking."
The doctor talked with her a little more. He said she should call him if anything strange happened but that he doubted her irrational fear would return.
Beth thanked him, then left his office. In the lobby was a fireplace. Beth thought it strange that it would be lit this time of year. She then noticed something even stranger.
She would reflect on it during later days and think it had something to do with the last of her madness leaving. But, in that moment, leaving Dr. Caffer's office, she could have sworn she saw a little wooden hand coming from the fire.
© 2005 by Joshua Scribner
Joshua Scribner is the author of the novel Bone Song. He has published short stories with Whispering Spirits, The Writerís Nook and Readerís Corner, Dark Fire, Mega Print Ink, Nevermore Magazine, AlienSkin Magazine, Fables, Camp Horror, Aphelion (Hell and Back, October 2004), Thirteen Magazine, Echelon Press, and Seasons in the Night. His stories will also appear in the Trip the Light Horrific Anthology and the Tabloid Purposes 2 Anthology.
Website: Joshua Scribner's Home Page
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