By Benson Phillip Lott
Sheriff Gerald Keylee knows the identity of the man walking down the middle of the road even before he sees his face. Simon Fielding: White male, six feet, approximately one hundred and sixty pounds, brown hair, hazel eyes.
At precisely 11:14 p.m., Mr. Fielding was reported as having escaped from County Hospital (his third AWOL in the last six weeks). On each of his flights he is always found wandering down the shoulder of the Jessup County expressway. His escapes are always sudden, always unexplainable and they always occur in the middle of the night.
Tonight is no different.
Law enforcement in Jessup is held together by a handful of officers. There’s hardly any crime. On most nights, only the sheriff and the dispatcher, Debbie will remain on duty. A fellow officer, Ralph Jenkins, is on call and can be alerted to assist if necessary.
Because of Fielding’s history, Keylee had started the night’s search on the expressway, using his searchlights in an attempt to locate his suspect. At 1:26 a.m., after nearly an hour of driving the same twenty mile portion of road, the sheriff had begun to wonder if somehow Fielding had moved beyond the city limits. He had expressed his concern to Debbie over the radio and she in turn had suggested that he check out some of the back roads near the southern county lines. She further recommended one road in particular: Shepherd’s Pass.
“And it looks like you were right, Deb,” the sheriff says to himself, thinking of his loyal dispatcher as he pulls his patrol car over to the side of the road. Simon is ten yards away, venturing the uneven concrete, the pavement ruined from years of neglect.
Fielding is a notorious sleepwalker. The worst case Keylee has ever seen or even read about. He walks the cool pavement barefoot, dressed only in his state issued hospital clothes. If he were actually conscious, he would undoubtedly be freezing. Fortunately, (or perhaps unfortunately) he is lost in the depths of a dream.
Keylee reaches for his radio and prepares to check in. “Deb? It’s me. I’ve got good news.”
The radio crackles. An excited woman’s voice asks: “Did you find him, sheriff?”
“Okay, great. I’ll get County Hospital on the line and tell them we found their patient.”
“Right. I’ll let ya know when I’m en route.”
“Should I send Ralph for back up?”
“Just thought I’d check.”
The conversation ends and Keylee switches off. Next, he opens the driver’s side door and exits the cruiser to approach his suspect.
Fielding walks in perfect stride, missing every pothole, every pile of loose gravel, as though he were coordinating each step meticulously. This is impossible of course. After all, his eyes are closed.
The sheriff knows from past encounters that he could speak to Mr. Fielding and occasionally he would even reply despite his lack of awareness. The trick was to speak to him gently, act polite. And most of all: show no fear.
“Evening Simon. Where you off to tonight?”
Simon’s eyelids flutter, his head turns ever-so-slightly. The reply he gives is a soft spoken enigma. “The corner of 1st and May.”
Keylee swallows and takes a dramatic step forward. “Well, how ‘bout I give you a lift?”
Simon halts and Keylee stops with him.
“That’s right Simon…” Keylee places a hand on Fielding’s left shoulder and guides him back to the patrol car. He gently places him into the backseat without cuffing him. There’s no need. The sheriff straps in his suspect then quietly shuts the rear door. He returns to the driver’s seat and puts the car in motion, making a quick U-turn so he can get back to the expressway.
Minutes pass in silence. Keylee glances up and checks his rearview mirror. Mr. Fielding sits motionless, both hands resting in his lap.
Keylee knows the staff at County Hospital will place him in the disturbed ward once they arrive. “Disturbed” is a high security section on the fourth floor of a six story facility. The two floors above it are also occupied by men with mental incapacities, some of them mild, most severe. To prevent him from escaping again, the staff will undoubtedly monitor him on camera and possibly strap him to a gurney or hospital bed. Electroshocks are out of the question, but heavy sedatives are certain to be on hand. There will not be another escape.
Keylee’s thoughts shift to Simon’s escapes in general. He suspects someone at the hospital might be assisting him with breaking out, but the real question is why?
Suddenly, the police scanner clicks, the sound of static erupts through the speakers –ssssssssssssssssssssssssss- a voice finally transmits. It’s Debbie again.
“Sheriff? You there? How’s it going?”
Keylee snatches up the receiver. “Copy, Deb. I’ve got our man in custody. I’m heading to the Interstate, but it’s gonna be minute ‘til I get there. He was pretty far out there this time.”
“How far’d he make it?”
“Hmmm, about six miles. He was right where you said he’d be.”
“Did you ask him where he was going?”
“And did he give you that same address? “First and May?”
“God, that’s so strange…”
“Yeah well, this whole thing is strange if you ask me.”
“Well, just so you know, I ran a search and there’s no record of a First and May anywhere in the state. I double checked. I even asked a few locals. Lots of First streets they said, but no May.”
“Well, I think it’s safe to say our boy’s from outta town.”
“Yeah, but from where?”
“You know as much as I do, Deb. In fact, I got a feeling you know a lot more. Speaking of which…how’d you know for me to check Shepherd’s Pass? He’s never come out this way before.”
“Just call it a hunch, Sheriff.”
Hearing this, Keylee smiles and shakes his head. “Bull. C’mon, Deb. What’s the story?”
“Well, Sheriff, I can tell you, but you won’t believe me.”
“Try me. I got a good ten minutes to spare before I make it to the Interstate, another thirty to get to County Hospital. So I got plenty of time to debate your wild theories.”
Laughter comes over the radio speakers. Keylee checks his rearview mirror again to monitor his suspect. Mr. Fielding is still asleep, his breathing, slow and even. Debbie’s voice cuts in, but Keylee misses it.
“What’s that, Deb? Sorry. I was checking on something.”
“I said I had a dream about it.”
“A dream about what?”
“The road. Shepherd’s Pass.”
“I’m not following you.”
“Well, you know the old story about it, don’t you?”
Keylee groans into his radio. “Oh boy, here we go. I knew this was coming. You and your old stories...”
“What’s that’s supposed to mean?”
Keylee sighs, still smiling as he plots his next words carefully. “I guess I’m simply saying that you’re…beyond common understanding.”
“Well put, sheriff.”
“Anyway…what’s your latest? Let’s hear it.”
“Well, since you’re so eager to know, Shepherd’s Pass was where they found that doctor.”
“Doctor? What doctor?”
“County Hospital’s got a history of patients goin’ missing from it, Sheriff.”
Keylee frowns. He has been on the Jessup County police force for ten years, sheriff for five. And during that time he has never heard of anyone other than Mr. Fielding escaping from the County’s mental ward.
Then again, he thought, Debbie has lived in Jessup County all her life. Her father had been a deputy for thirty six years. Perhaps she knows something he doesn’t.
“It was before our time,” Debbie explains as if sensing his confusion. “A good twenty somethin’ years ago. Back when Shepherd’s Pass was still open.”
Keylee frowns. “What’s the Pass got to do with it?”
Debbie continues. “A lot of folks in town who were around back then think it’s got a lot to do with it actually. They say that road is…of the devil.”
Keylee sighs. “Deb, some folks in town say everything is of the devil. Cable TV is of the devil. McDonald’s is of the devil. Airplanes…of the devil. Hell, Ms. Clarkson accused my cat once of bein’ ‘of the devil’.”
“I know, I know. But this is different.”
“Yeah? How so?”
“The doctor, I think his name was Grover, claimed he knew the cause for all the disappearing patients. He said he’d discovered some secret manuscript, some book. Of course no one ever saw this mysterious book and before he could produce it, the good doctor just snapped.”
“What do mean?”
“Well, he showed up at the hospital one night, took out a guard and then helped one of his patients escape.”
A knot tightens in the sheriff’s stomach. So the hospital had a prior incident of someone helping patients break out.
“Go on,” he says, his level of intrigue rapidly increasing.
“Well, the police were called in, my father included. He said they never found the patient, but they did manage to locate the doctor. And I’m sure you can guess where…”
Keylee ponders this information then asks: “So, where is this doctor now, do we know?”
“He’s dead,” Debbie says flatly. “When they found him on the Pass he was in his car. Apparently he’d been in a terrible accident. The car had flipped over several times. When the medics arrived and transported him to the hospital they said the doctor was delirious. He died a few hours later, slipped into a coma in his hospital bed, then he flat-lined.”
“Wow. That’s too bad. I would have had a lot of questions for him.”
“You and a lot of other people, Sheriff,” Debbie remarks slyly. “The hospital was furious that they couldn’t press charges. The guard he’d taken out almost died from his concussion. Anyway…that’s the story.”
“So no one knows what became of the missing patient, huh?”
“No, but you can bet there were some pretty wild theories. That’s why the city council decided to close the Pass. Folks in town were scared. Thought the crazy man might still be out there. And sheriff, you’re not gonna believe this next part. The patient? They said his name was Fielding.”
Keylee’s eyes widen in bewilderment. “What? Debbie…why didn’t you tell me this before?”
A dead silence fills the patrol car. The radio crackles, hissing with static. Keylee attempts to switch frequencies, but the white noise continues.
“Debbie? Debbie, come in?”
“Sheriff? Are you there?”
“I’m here Debbie. What the hell’s happening?”
“Debbie, can you hear me, copy?”
“Yeah, I can hear you now. Did you get him?”
“Get who?” Keylee asks, confused.
“The suspect. Simon Fielding.”
What’s going on here? “Of course I got him, Deb. I already told you this. Who do you think we’ve been talking about for the last ten minutes?”
“Uh, sheriff…” Debbie replies hesitantly. “You haven’t called in for over an hour.”
Keylee’s face reddens. “Deb, what the hell are you doing? Quit playin’ games.”
“Sheriff, I’ve been tryin’ to reach you for the last thirty minutes, but all I’ve been getting is static.”
Keylee’s pulse quickens. He gazes out the windshield, losing himself in the beam of headlights reflecting on the asphalt. The surrounding night has consumed all visibility. There is only the road ahead.
“Debbie, what are you saying to me?”
No response. The radio is crackling again. The hiss of static returns.
“Debbie? You there? Deb, are you receiving me?”
“Deb, this isn’t funny…”
The radio clicks off. A dreaded silence fills the patrol car, amplifying the hum of the engine as the sheriff looks up and stares at Simon’s reflection. His eyes are open now. He’s alert…and smiling.
Keylee turns in his seat, bewildered. “Mr. Fielding? Are you alright?”
Simon remains silent as he reaches out and taps on the Plexiglass divider and points to the windshield, his lips mouthing two words: “Look out.”
Keylee immediately panics, realizing that he had unknowingly let go of the steering wheel. With a terrified gasp he frantically realigns his position on the road. He calls out to his suspect. “Mr. Fielding I need you to sit back in your seat, sir…”
Simon does as instructed.
Keylee calms himself by inhaling a deep breath. “Are you okay back there? Mr. Fielding? Please answer my question…”
Simon’s head tilts back, his eyelids fluttering even faster than before. “Let me out of this car, sheriff…” His voice is soft, thoroughly absent of malice, yet all the same, it manifests something eerie that causes the sheriff to shudder.
“Mr. Fielding…what’s going on?
Simon’s lids peel open. He stares ahead, blankly. “I have to stop the crash,” he says, his voice trembling. “I have to stop it…or we’ll never get out.”
Keylee’s gaze sharpens.
I should pull over. I should pull over and put him in restraints…No, that’ll take too long…I just want to get back to the Interstate…We must be getting close…Just keep him calm, dammit. Keep him talking. Assess the situation. Be professional. Find out what’s going on.
“Mr. Fielding? Can you hear me? I need you to explain to me what crash you’re referring to.”
Simon bows his head. “I’m lost…”
The sheriff shakes his head firmly. “You’re not lost, Mr. Fielding. You’re right here with me.”
Simon reaches up to his face, emitting an agonized groan. “Oh God, I’m lost…so lost…I can’t get out…I can’t escape it…”
Get to the hospital. Stop fuckin’ around and get to the god damn hospital now! Hit it!
Keylee floors the accelerator. The speedometer races to 90mph as Simon cries out in terror, banging at the divider. “You have to get us out of here!”
Keylee whirls around. “God dammit, sit back!”
Simon ignores him, pounding the plate glass like a man in the midst of some horrendous torture. Keylee grits his teeth and instinctively reaches for his sidearm. “Sit back in that seat right now or so help me I’ll-”
A loud crash as the hood of the patrol car collides with a thick mound of dirt. Keylee is thrown forward in his seat, the vehicle swerving headlong into a ditch. A spray of white rocks crack against the windshield. The sheriff grips the wheel, screaming as he stomps on the brake pedal. No use. The vehicle falls directly into the ditch and abruptly flips on its side. There’s an explosion of shattering glass as metal crumples and exhaust fumes rise in horrendous black clouds.
Minutes pass. The echoes of the impact fade and the dust clouds settle. The police scanner crackles as the roaming frequencies locate Debbie’s transmission:
“Sheriff? You disappeared on me again. Is everything all right?”
A wind picks up. The patrol car headlights dim. Debbie tries again: “Sheriff…? Sheriff…?”
The road is silent.
“How are you feeling today, Simon?” Dr. Fredrick Grover asks of his patient as he enters his living quarters (room 28-C), located on the fourth floor of the mental ward inside Jessup County Hospital.
Simon is sitting at the edge of his neatly folded bed, a suitcase at his feet.
“I’m fine,” he replies and his appearance suggests that this is the case. For the first time in weeks he is clean shaven and wearing civilian clothes (donated to the Hospital by members of a local Protestant church).
Dr. Grover is pleased to see his patient looking sharp, but the sullen tone combined with his demure manner is somewhat unnerving.
The doctor grabs a metal folding chair that’s been placed near the front door beside the chrome sink area and sets it directly across the bed.
Simon tilts his head at an angle, intrigued by the folder Dr. Grover is carrying under his left arm. A thin label is printed in the corner: FIELDING, SIMON.
Under the name is a personal identification code used for filing purposes. Simon studies the numerical sequence then drops his gaze to the polished marble floor
The doctor senses his discomfort and briefly eyes the suitcase.
“All set to go I see…” He opens his folder and sifts through several pages of handwritten notes, most of which are simple observations made during weekly sessions with his favorite patient. There are other notes left by substituting psychologists who filled in while he was on vacation or sick leave, but these are rarely considered by the hospital staff who meet twice a month to examine their patients’ progress and discuss further methods of treatment.
Dr. Grover is mainly concerning himself with the last six pages near the back section of the folder that are stapled to a xeroxed copy of Mr. Fielding’s discharge papers. These pages consist of notes from last week’s session.
“You’re quiet today, Simon,” the doctor remarks, glancing up from his papers. “Are you sure everything is fine?”
Simon raises his head slowly, his expression shifting to one of dreariness. “I’m ready to leave this place.”
The doctor nods his sympathies. “I’m sure you are.”
A brief silence follows.
Simon’s gaze returns to the floor. “I want to thank you for putting in your recommendation.”
Dr. Grover leans back in his chair. “Well Simon, I have great confidence in you, as do many of the others on staff.”
Simon’s timid smile vanishes. He eyes the doctor suspiciously. “Your hands are shaking, Dr. Grover. Is something the matter?”
The doctor laughs, but there’s an underlying nervousness that seems, on the surface, unwarranted. “I am a bit shaky, aren’t I? I suppose I had a little too much caffeine this morning…”
Simon’s glare darkens. “Did you?”
Dr. Grover clears his throat, ready for a change of subject. “Let’s stay on track here, shall we? We have very little time this morning. I’m supposed to take you to the transitional housing center by noon and I want to finish our discussion from last week.”
Simon frowns. “You’re the one taking me to the halfway house?”
“Does that bother you?”
Simon shakes his head. “No. It’s just…well you’re a psychiatrist. Seems strange they would expect you to take the time.”
“I volunteered,” Grover says, a bit too quickly.
Simon turns to face the curtains over the sealed window above his bed. “I see…”
Grover retrieves a retractable pen from his sport coat and clicks the tip open. “Let’s get on with the session shall we?”
Simon looks back from the curtains, unable to ignore the doctor’s rising impatience. “I had the dream again last night,” he says and the doctor immediate poses interest.
“You mean the one about the road?” he presses.
Simon shuts his eyes, nodding. “And the policeman…Keylee…”
Grover flips to an empty page, jotting brief notes. “The one whose death you feel responsible for?”
Simon’s lids open, he stares blankly at a wall. “I am the one responsible.”
Dr. Grover sighs. “Simon we’ve been over this. There are no officers in this county—in this state for that matter—with the last name ‘Keylee.’ Nor are there any records of any law enforcement officers dying in a car accident while on duty. Your dream is a symbolic reflection of your own suppressed guilt. The victim represents your unresolved issues. An inner self you can’t remember.”
Simone can’t help but smile. “You say that so convincingly.”
Ignoring the humor, Grover shakes his head. “I think we should continue with what we were discussing previously.”
Simon cranes his neck, glancing toward the ceiling. “You mean, Shepherd’s Pass?”
“Yes,” Grover replies. Once again, his nervous energy betrays him.
Simon shifts his weight on the mattress. “Something’s happened to you. Hasn’t it, Dr. Grover?”
The doctor’s lips part, but there’s a subtle hesitation. The chance for denial passes as silence prevails and both men remain still.
“I’ll tell you what, Dr. Grover” Simon finally begins. “How ‘bout we make a deal? I’ll tell you about Shepherd’s Pass, if you tell me whatever it is you’re hiding.”
Again the room goes quiet. From behind the door, footsteps can be heard. A full minute passes. Then two. At last the doctor speaks.
“Very well, Simon…” The doctor places his pen back into his pocket and points a steady finger. “You go first.”
Simon cocks an eyebrow. “So, we have a deal then, doctor?”
Grover nods curtly. “Yes. We have a deal.”
“Okay,” he says. “So where did we leave off?”
Dr. Grover sits up, instantly alert. “You were describing that first night.”
“Right…I remember now.”
Simon shuts his eyes, ready to begin.
MEMORIES OF THE FUTURE:
I wake up in a hospital room. I know it’s a hospital room because I’m connected to an IV drip and a loudly beeping heart monitor. My head is firmly bandaged, although I do not sense injury. In fact, if anything, I feel a tremendous sense of elation. I sit up quickly and unhook the tubes in my skin. Next, I unravel the bandages and focus on the front door, left partially open to reveal the empty ward beyond.
As I rise from my position on the bed and drift slowly out of the room, I am amazed to discover that the entire floor of the hospital is utterly deserted. No nurses, no doctors, no other patients; I am completely alone.
Making my way along the narrow corridors of the building I locate an exit by way of a staircase and once I descend the three flights that lead the first floor I enter the lobby (also empty) and head for the automated doors, which direct me to a massive parking lot where there are no cars and the sky is pitch black and the moon is a bright crescent, partially concealed by dark looming clouds.
There are no stars out tonight and as I look down at my bare feet, I’m forced to wonder if I should locate a pair of shoes. I test the feel of the pavement beyond the edge of the hospital grounds. I discover a bleak path that eventually progresses into the rough terrain of an open field, expanding outward into a desolate stretch of highway. Somehow I walk onward without discomfort even as the asphalt joins with the barren earth. Somehow, I visualize myself being lifted. In the dream, I move upwards and with each step I take I’m miraculously guided above a fiercely blowing wind which carries my weightless body through the air.
The wind increases the higher I ascend. Finally, I achieve great distance from the field below me and I’m overtaken by an invisible force that wraps itself tightly around my chest. The sound of flapping wings echoes above my shoulders. Suddenly I hear a voice. It speaks to me in whispers. This is what is says: “Remember all that you see…and all you will be shown.”
Though these words are unnerving, I remain unafraid. I do not cry out or demand to be released. Instead I embrace the hidden power and I allow myself to be flown through the clouds, until at last the wind changes and I’m gradually moving downward, returning to the landscape that is no longer an open field, but a path of white light: the intended destination.
“Where am I?” I ask, hoping that the voice will respond. And it does.
“This is the Road of Things to Come…” Then it repeats: “Remember all that you see…and all you will be shown.”
Before I can ask what “things” I will see, the power around me dissipates and I fall to the earth like a discarded stone. Again, I’m alone, but the light beckons me onward.
With only slight hesitation caused by caution of the unknown, I take my first step down the brightly lit path. Silence becomes deafening - an eruption of space - as intense vibrations swarm all around me.
Somewhere the world is shaking.
Somewhere a void is preparing to open.
A figure emerges from the shallow end of whiteness; not a person exactly, but rather a translucent being, similar to myself, but without definition, save for a pair of illuminate pupils that shimmer as they gaze at me. I cease all movement. Both arms are at my sides. The shifting form levitates and I am alien to its purpose. And as the shape continues to hover, I stare longingly into its disappearing eyes.
Simon stops talking and studies the doctor’s captivated expression. “You’re believing every word of this, aren’t you?”
Grover blinks and immediately shifts in his chair. “Why wouldn’t I believe it?”
Simon shrugs casually. “Well, according to you and your staff I’m a diagnosed schizophrenic...”
Grover realizes the trap and quickly defends himself. “Schizophrenia is a fairly open ended diagnosis, Simon. When you were first brought here-”
Simon cuts him off, raising a dismissive hand. “When I was first brought here, you didn’t believe a word I said. All this time you have never once considered anything I’ve told you to be anything other than paranoid delusion. Everything I’m telling you now, I’ve told you before, but until last week you’ve never really listened. Why is that, doctor? Why are you so suddenly interested?”
Grover crosses his legs, avoiding eye contact. “This is our last session together…I just want to make sure that we don’t leave anything half dealt with.”
Simon shakes his head. “Doctor Grover, please don’t lie to me. Remember we have a deal.”
Grover takes a breath, inhaling deeply as he considers something. The moment passes and he recovers. “I think we should get back to what we were discussing.”
Simon nods with full agreement. “You’re absolutely right. I wasn’t finished yet. It’s still my turn…”
I stare at the glowing image for what seems an eternity and when the voice speaks again, a question is imposed: “Do you know why you’ve been brought here?”
Without moving my lips, I am able to respond. “You want to show me something…”
The shape moves closer. “That’s right, Mr. Fielding. I want to show you the future. Do you wish to see it?”
Without hesitation: “Yes. I do.”
“Then you must close your eyes.”
“But how will I see?”
The image raises both hands. “Your own vision impairs you. There is only one way to examine the future…and that is through me.”
I shut my eyes, my body trembling as cold fingertips caress my cheeks and gradually move up toward my eyes. Instinctively, I flinch. That’s when it happens: the fingers seize my skull, thumbs sink deep into my sockets—an eruption of pain—and instantly I’m screaming.
A fantastic blue light bursts inside my head. Electric waves shoot down my spine. A magnetic force is pulling me. Draining my energy. The blue light intensifies then abruptly vanishes. I lose all sound. And everything is black.
I’m in a car, the front passenger’s seat. There’s someone else with me and they’re driving the car. For some strange reason, I can’t see their face. A scene of a suburban morning surrounds us: a rising sun, a neighborhood of three storey houses, fresh cut lawns, children with backpacks walking to school.
Another -FLASH- the person driving disappears. I’m all alone now. The car is still in motion, racing to high speeds. Something is coming for me, a massive white shape, and I’m terrified. It’s headed straight for me…
Impact. My world endlessly spins. Instantly, I am dizzy. My pain is constant. A part of me has broken. And I’m whirling upside down, the sky becoming pavement, the streets becoming clouds. In the distance I hear voices. Some of them are screaming. From across the street I see a man at a bus stop is clutching his cell phone, he’s frantically dialing numbers, calling for an ambulance.
The roof of the car caves and I am trapped inside.
Next comes the blood, it’s splattered against the windshield. The smell of smoke is choking me, but there’s one last image to see. I remember it very clearly. It reminds me that I’m dreaming. It’s the sight of golden apples, falling in reverse - from the blue sky below me to the paved road above – and there are hundreds of them, falling like rain, landing in piles that form all around me.
That’s it, doctor.
That’s my vision.
BETWEEN TWO DREAMS:
“That’s it?” Grover demands. “Don’t you see anything else?”
Simon sighs. “Dr. Grover, I’ve told you before...”
“I know you have, Simon,” the doctor says irritably. “But I think you might be forgetting something.”
“I’m not,” he insists.
“You must be.”
“I’m not. Why don’t you believe me?”
“Because you have amnesia or at least you claim to. And I think you’re deliberately blocking something.”
“I remember what I’m supposed to,” Simon argues quietly. “And that’s more than I care to. And they’ve already locked me up for the things I’ve tried to explain…”
Grover shakes his head. “What did you expect, Simon? You were found wandering aimlessly on the Interstate. You told the police you could see the future, of course they locked you up.”
“I expected them to do exactly as they did,” Simon says simply.
“So you knew no one would believe you?”
A short pause as he two men stare at each other, attempting to assess what the other is thinking.
“Well,” Simon begins. “Apparently you believe me.”
Grover shifts again in his chair. “What I believe…is that you need to elaborate on what you saw. Stop holding back and tell me everything.”
“What is it that you hope I’ll explain, doctor? What is it you think I’ve seen that I’m not telling you?”
Grover leans forward. “I want to know what you saw…about me.”
“You heard me.”
“Why would I see anything about you?”
Grover drops his folder with the notes. “God damn it, you know something!”
“There’s nothing else,” Simon protests.”
Grover’s outburst has surprised even himself. Confused, he picks up the folder and quietly says, “You’re lying…I want to know what they showed you. Do hear me? I want to know what they showed you about me.”
Simon stares at him, his face unreadable. “I have no reason to keep anything from you. The only one hiding something here is you. I know something’s happened to you and until you tell me what that is, there’s nothing more to say.”
Dr. Grover tilts his head, his mood turning sullen as he expresses his apologies. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I shouldn’t have raised my voice. There’s no excuse for my actions. Please forgive me.”
Simon calmly nods then rises from the bed. “You’ve been to Shepherd’s Pass, haven’t you?”
The doctor shuts his eyes, an admission forming. “I’ve been there…”
Simon’s face dims. “When?”
“Three nights ago.”
“You drove there?”
The doctor exhales quickly and reopens his eyes. “I don’t know. Your case was up for review…I was intrigued by the story-”
Simon shifts stances. “But do you believe?”
The doctor hesitates before answering. “I’m a psychiatrist…”
“And I know that the mind is very powerful…”
“It can make anything seem real. Anything.”
“Tell me what you saw.”
THE DOCTOR’S VISION
I was on my way home from the hospital, exhausted from a full day of board meetings. I remember I accidentally took the wrong exit, heading North instead of South. When I crossed the county limits, I had to take an alternate route going east to get back on the Interstate. That’s when I noticed the sign.
The wooden board was old, the black lettering, scarcely legible, especially in the night that I had to squint to make out what it said.
Underneath the words, there was a painted arrow pointing to my left, but when I looked in the designated direction I only saw the endless fields of wheat.
Then I looked more carefully.
About three yards from where the field began there was a partially paved road. I thought about you and the things we’d discussed, your fascination with the road, which I had always summed up as a way for you to detach from your real issues. But I never knew the road actually existed.
I slowed my car to a near halt, checked my rearview to see if any vehicles were approaching from behind me. There weren’t any so I turned and drove into the field which then became the relatively hidden Pass.
I went the entire length of all six miles. The only sight I came across that provided any interest was a thin stretch of CAUTION tape wrapped around the branch of a long dead tree.
At some point there must have been an accident out there. Other than that, the road was precisely what it appeared to be, desolate and forgotten.
When I arrived home that night I went directly to bed, but I had trouble sleeping. I found myself lying on top of my sheets, staring into the darkness that covered my bare walls and ceiling. I was thinking about the road. There was something irregular about the way I’d come across it. I felt as if my getting lost on the freeway had not simply been an accident. Something had led me astray. I was beginning to feel as if I had been out there before. Then I shook the thought, surmising it as nonsense.
Finally, I shut my eyes. I was monitoring my breathing (a technique I’d used many times during my heavy bouts of insomnia throughout my years at college). Within a few minutes, I was fast asleep and dreaming.
When my eyes reopened, I found myself in motion.
INSIDE THE VISION:
I’m walking to the main entrance of the disturbed ward on the third floor of the hospital. I’m carrying a briefcase and approaching the Oakwood security desk where discover there are no screen panels. The computer console has been removed and only a single officer is seated behind a tall glass panel. He’s quietly reading a newspaper; the date at the left hand corner is blurred.
I’ve never seen this man before and yet somehow, I know his name.
“Evening, Dr. Grover. Working late, huh?”
I tell him I’m here to finish some paperwork and without hesitation he buzzes me through the two sliding doors that lead straight for “Disturbed.”
So old fashioned, I think to myself as I enter the corridor of the ward. The layout is completely different than how it should be. There are no cameras monitoring the halls, the locks on the doors have switched to manual and the design of the building seems distinctly narrower. I recall then a picture I’d once seen: the hospital in its early days, back in the 1960’s. The scene before me is identical to that picture.
“Have I traveled back in time?” I wonder idly as I halt in my steps and set my suitcase down on the checkered tile floor.
The thought quickly vanishes and I’m crouching down now to open the lid of case. Inside I discover a small glass bottle filled with ether. Beside it: a white rag and a handgun, nothing more.
What am I doing? I ask myself. But somehow I already know.
I dump the ether unto the rag, grab hold of the gun and rise to a standing position. Cautiously, I quietly walk back through the glass doors and sneak up behind Avery.
All at once, I’m attacking him. Gun in hand, I thrust the chrome butt down on back of his skull and place the wet rag over his screaming mouth. There’s no struggle whatsoever as Avery breathes in the fumes. In seconds he’s unconscious.
I place him on the floor and remove his set of keys. Then I’m racing through the doors, making my way toward 28-C. Once inside I find the patient I’m looking for. He’s sitting on bed, alert in the dark. I know now that he’s been expecting me.
“Are you ready?” I ask.
“Yes,” he replies.
I reach for the light switch and immediately turn it on. The fluorescents above us flood the empty room. The patient rises from his bed and looks at me. Immediately I recognize him: It’s you.
“Me?” Simon asks stunned.
Grover nods his head curtly. “Yes. You. I helped you escape. That’s what the dream was showing me.”
Simon looks away, thinking of his own visions. “Then it’s true.”
The doctor frowns. “What?”
“The escape,” he explains. “I thought it was a rumor. But now we know. It really did happen.”
“What are you saying?”
Simon looks back at him. “I’m saying I dreamed of it too. Someone is trying to tell us something doctor…”
Grover shakes his head. “You haven’t let me finish. There’s still a lot more…”
The next morning I woke up feeling the same way as you do now. I was certain what I had seen was real. Obviously, I did not believe that it was really I who had helped a patient escape, nor did I believe that you really were the one who had fled. I suspected that the dream had used our faces to fill in the blanks of a possible incident that had transpired long ago. My head was full of questions, the two main ones being: Had there really been an escape? Had a doctor aided in the process? I was going to find out.
So that day, after finishing my shift at the hospital, I went down to the Records Department and inquired with the woman who worked there about any documents concerning a history of missing patients.
After completing a few searches, the woman explained that there was nothing on file, she also added that she had been employed with the hospital for twenty years and had never heard of any “missing” or “escaped” patients during that allotted time.
I responded by telling her that the incident may have occurred even further back than twenty years. She said that if that was in fact the case then there wouldn’t be any record of it in their system. The files on hand only went back two decades. She then advised me to check the county library. They had newspaper articles going back as far as the nineteen twenties and if someone had escaped from this hospital, especially a mental patient, the papers were certain to have run a story.
I thanked her and left, thinking to myself that she was probably correct. Unless, of course, the hospital had covered it up. (I hadn’t told her about the possibility of a doctor being involved.)
That same afternoon, I stopped off at the library and asked the man working there the exact questions I’d posed to the woman in Records. He gave similar replies, saying that he had lived in Jessup County for fifty-two years and had never heard of an escaped mental patient.
In response, I asked him about the library’s stock of old newspapers and he directed me to the section of computer terminals and old fashioned machines designed for reading microfilm. Then he showed me their selection of newspapers.
Even on microfilm the possibilities were endless. There must have been thousands of articles, going back nearly a hundred years, all of them without specific dates or a frame of reference.
I knew it could take weeks before I would find what I was looking for (assuming it was really there to begin with). So instead, I decide to take a different approach. I asked the man if he knew of any articles concerning the history of Shepherd’s Pass.
He said he had plenty and in less than five minutes, I was sitting at the microfilm machine, reading three articles simultaneously, feeling strangely unsatisfied. Most of the articles were simply the coverage of a raging debate that occurred over a long period of months in the Jessup County Hall of Justice where the decision to permanently close the road was underway and city officials were claiming that the tax money spent on labor for maintenance wasn’t balanced by the few farmer’s who used the road as means to transport their goods across state lines in a more timely fashion. There was also speculation that the local townspeople regarded the road in a highly superstitious manner, but the articles didn’t go into any further detail.
Two hours passed as I searched futilely for a more thorough explanation of the road’s ultimate closing and I was about to give up and abandon the entire project, a sense of irrationality finely settling in. In fact, I was shutting down the machine, preparing to vacate the premises when suddenly I heard a familiar voice—that of an elderly woman—speaking to me from over my shoulder.
“You won’t find anything helpful there.”
I turned around. It was old Mrs. Clarkson. I knew her well. Everyone in Jessup County did. She was very active in the church, though that was not how I knew her. She had a severe case of arthritis and refused to take pain medications.
I had seen her on the emergency ward of the hospital many times when I was on the floor counseling burn victims or people who had been in serious car accidents. I had heard her many times complaining to her church member friends (the ones who had forced her to come to the ER) when the pain caused her joints to lock up and she was unable to move her fingers. She would shout loud enough for the entire staff to hear that medications were “of the devil” and that we were committing unholy deeds, forcing her to take injections to alleviate her difficulties.
“If God wants to take away my pain He will,” she had said to the doctors and nurses who continually persisted with offering her pills.
They had even suggested that I attempt to console her, perhaps persuade her to see through her religious hysteria, but it was to no avail. She adamantly refused my services, claiming that psychiatry was most certainly “of the devil” and that I was unquestionably an equivalent of The Antichrist.
Only now here she was again, standing over me, insisting that my search was useless.
“How do you know what I’m looking for?” I asked.
“I know,” was all she said in response.
“Ok then,” I said, deciding to humor her. “Where do you suggest I look?”
“In fiction. Where else? Come. I’ll show you.”
Confused, yet somewhat intrigued I followed Mrs. Clarkson to the other side of the library, passing several rows of bookshelves, the titles changing from non-fiction “How to” and “The Complete History of” into “Faust”, “Canterbury Tales” and “Catcher in the Rye.”
Mrs. Clarkson made a left turn after directing me all the way through “classic fiction” and we finally stopped near a laminated sign: Short Story Fiction, Collected Works.
“Here is where you’ll find your answers,” she said to me.
I smiled, patiently. “I’m afraid you don’t understand, Mrs. Clarkson. I’m looking for information about-”
“I know what you’re looking for,” she said, cutting me off. She took a step closer to me, staring deep into my eyes, wanting me to know how serious she was about whatever she would say next.
“Sometimes the truth hides in places where you wouldn’t expect to find it,” she explained. “Sometimes you must keep an open mind. Even a man like you, a man who’s strictly after logic can eventually grasp what I’m talking about. In fact, I know you will. Now, here…take this book...”
She reached out to the nearest shelf and selected a hardcover hiding between two sizeable novels. Had she not pointed it out, I probably would have skimmed right passed it (that is if I were someone looking for a book of short stories).
Mrs. Clarkson winced with a sudden pain. The effort from simply lifting the book had triggered her arthritis. I helped by taking the book with both hands.
“No, no, no,” she said and snatched the book back from me, opening it to its middle pages. I kept one hand on the cover to help her support the weight.
That’s when I noticed the book’s title: The Other Stories.
I was curious, but more concerned about Mrs. Clarkson’s pain. Whatever she was looking for I had severe doubts of its usefulness. Obviously her age was affecting her behavior. Perhaps she was even showing signs of-
“Here,” she said, breaking my train of thought. “Story Two. Don’t bother with the others. They’re of no concern to you.”
I gently took the book from her again and right away the bold-typed lettering leapt out at me: THE ROAD OF THINGS TO COME
My interest perked considerably as I scanned the first few paragraphs. Then—about halfway through the second page—my heart skipped a beat. There it was. Two simple words that forced me to shiver: Shepherd’s Pass
I looked up from the book and frowned at Mrs. Clarkson. “What is this? Who wrote this story? How’d you find it?”
Mrs. Clarkson stepped back. “Just read,” she instructed. “But be careful…that book is of the devil.”
“What else was in the book, doctor?” Simon asks desperately. His face is sweating now, but not from any heat.
Grover rises from his chair and nervously paces the room. “There were two stories in one,” he explains. “It’s difficult to explain.”
Simon relaxes and gradually takes his seat on the bed. “Please, Dr. Grover. I have to know.”
Grover swallows hard. “The first one was about a psychiatrist who worked right here in County Hospital…back when it first opened in the early 1960’s. He was secretly doing research with a patient that believed he could see into the future. And over the course of their time together, the doctor came to recognize that his patient’s claims were true. He also believed that the road offered the key to everlasting life by way of transference, a kind of spiritual teleporting… ”
“Go on,” Simon says eagerly.
Grover stops pacing and takes position against the chrome sink. “One night the doctor is lying in bed and that’s when he has a vision.”
Simon nods expectantly. “And it’s the same vision you had, isn’t it Dr. Grover?”
The doctor hesitates, but finally concedes. “Yes. The exact same…”
“When did you have it?”
Grover takes a deep breath and softens his tone. “I saw a man…”
THE FINAL VISION:
He was standing in a doorway, watching me. I was lying on a bed in a great deal of pain, unable to move. I didn’t know where I was, I just knew that I was in danger.
The man in the doorway was dressed in a lab coat and wearing a surgeon’s mask. He had something hidden behind his back and as he entered the room I begged for him to “stay away”, but he only moved closer. When he reached the foot of the bed, he raised his hands and that’s when I saw the syringe.
The man looked at me then glanced at my left arm. He placed the needle to my skin and prepared to make an injection. Suddenly I felt a terrible drain of energy. I fought hard to stay awake, but eventually the drowsiness took hold. The last thing I remember was the man removing his mask, but I never saw his face.
“Now do you see?” Grover asks. “There’s something going on here that doesn’t add up.”
Simon nods silently.
Grover continues. “In the next chapter, the doctor awakens from the dream—still very much alive—and goes straight to the hospital. Then, just as I envisioned, he helps his patient escape. The scenes in the book are virtually identical to the scenarios in my mind: the doctor taking out the guard, stealing his keys, going to the patient’s room, helping him escape...
“And then what?” Simon cuts in. “How does it end, Dr. Grover?”
Grover tenses in his seat. “They drive out to the road and instantly disappear. The following morning a search team locates the car…still out on the road. The vehicle had been in some kind of accident. The found the car flipped upside down in a ditch. The doctor was still in the driver’s seat…but the patient was nowhere to be found.”
“Taken by the road,” Simon adds sullenly.
Grover nods. “That’s what the book implies, yes.”
Simon leans back, drifting into his own thoughts. When he speaks again, there’s a strange sort of confidence to his words: “The book is a written dictation of our dreams.”
Grover agrees then says: “Maybe now you see why I’m so desperate. I need to know everything that you do…about the road…about everything.”
“If there was more to my vision, Dr. Grover, I swear I don’t remember it.”
“But you believe the story is true?”
Simon searches Grover’s face, eyes narrowing. “Don’t you?”
The doctor shrugs, almost dejectedly. “I don’t know what to think anymore. I tried to tell myself that this whole thing is symbolic, that it’s simply about the struggle between two halves of the same mind; the doctor representing the rational side, the patient representing the irrational. The road is simply the line that separates the two.”
“But you don’t really believe that, do you?” Simon asks, suspiciously..
“What’s the alternative? That we’re both crazy?”
Simon sits up, angry. “The alternative is that the story is real. Remember Doctor, I know what’s out there on that the road. I’ve been there.”
“So have I!” Grover snaps. “There wasn’t anything!”
“Not for you. Or so you think. But if there’s one thing I know, it’s that road is not a barrier…it’s a gateway.”
Grover eases forward. “A gateway to what?”
Simon’s confidence falls and he draws back in defeat. “If I knew the answer to that I don’t think I’d be in here…”
The doctor contemplates something. “Do you think if you went back there…you might be shown more?”
“Do you?” Simon replies.
Grover closes his file and stands from his chair. “I don’t know…but I’m willing to find out.”
Simon looks up at him. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying…our session’s over.”
The doctor places his chair back into the corner and opens the door to the room. He stands in the entrance and motions for Simon to join him.
“Let’s get you out of here. You’ve got somewhere to be…we both do.”
Simon rises to his feet, then pauses. “Something’s still missing,” he exclaims. “There’s a piece we haven’t connected.”
Grover frowns. “And what’s that?”
Simon turns away, his dreary expression darkening his eyes. “The golden apples…”
…OF THE DEVIL:
The discharging of patient “Fielding” takes less than hour. Many forms are signed, both by the doctor and by Simon. A 30-day supply of medications is quickly dispersed and personal belongings are then accounted for. When Simon finally exits the facility he is exhausted. He sets his suitcase on the pavement and quietly surveys the outside world.
The overwhelming display of activity beyond the parking lot is almost too much for him. There are several men and women conversing with one another as they exit their cars and head for the administration building near the back of the main clinic. Simon watches their hurried pace then switches his focus to a nearby construction site across the street where workers in orange vests take measurements of the broken asphalt and drink hot coffee in Styrofoam cups. Some of them work silently, others laugh and tell jokes.
Grover studies his patient, who turns to study a row of eucalyptus trees lining the foreground of a freshly cut lawn that acts as a perimeter within the secured lot.
Simon is recalling his supervised walks, the ones taken twice a week, guided by the hospital’s security team who followed in him from a respectable distance as he’d wander the designated area of a gated courtyard. The trees planted in that recreation area never moved to a breeze, because a cement wall protected the yard from any and all wind.
But out here, amidst all this freedom, the branches of eucalyptuses sway peacefully, leaves flapping as the gusts continue to strengthen in force.
For Simon this is unquestionably the greatest sign that his stay in the ward has at last come to an end. It isn’t long before tears start to swell and he is moved to stance of inward relief.
“Are you all right?” Grover asks, mildly concerned,
Simon slowly nods and picks up his suitcase. “Lead the way, Dr. Grover...”
Three minutes later, Simon is in the passenger’s seat of Dr. Grover’s silver Lexus GS Hybrid. The doctor is behind the wheel maneuvering out of the parking space. Once they exit the hospital grounds, Grover heads east down a stretch of avenue that allows them to travel a more scenic route of the neighborhood. He explains to Simon that they should make time for him to adjust to his new surroundings. Simon agrees and stares quietly out the window, watching the three-storey houses (freshly painted with beiges and bright yellows) that pass his line of sight.
“Everything looks so different…none of this was here before.”
How long has it been? He can’t seem to remember. And the more he tries to focus on the concept of time the more his ability to conceive it fades, until he is no longer capable of discerning ten years from ten minutes.
“You really want to us to go back?” Simon asks suddenly.
Dr. Grover makes a sharp left and speeds through an intersecting street. “Don’t you?”
Simon draws a short breath then gradually exhales, evoking sadness that quickly envelopes his sense of relief. “I just want to be free of this.”
The doctor nods. “Well, I can’t think of a better way to get closure than to face what’s been haunting you.”
Simon gaze narrows. “You don’t have to pretend like this is strictly for my benefit, Dr. Grover. We both know that this really about all the—Oh my god…”
Grover turns, concerned. “What’s wrong?”
Simon is silent. Something out his window has absorbed his attention. And all at once, he starts to tremble.
“Simon, talk to me…”
Simon opens his mouth, struggling to formulate words. “That sign back there…”
The doctor glances at his rearview mirror, forehead creasing. “What sign? You mean the street sign?”
Simon smiles, he’s speaking to himself now. “My God, how did I not see it coming?”
Grover is unnerved. “Simon, are you alright? Should I pull over?”
Simon ignores the question and continues talking. “I didn’t know…I didn’t make the connection…I just didn’t know…”
“Know what?” the doctor shouts frantically. “Simon! Talk to me.”
Simon cranes his neck, still smiling. “Would you like me to tell you what’s happening, doctor?”
Simon begins to laugh. “That story? The one you say you read? It isn’t fiction.”
Grover takes another turn. “What are talking about? Of course it is. I told you I looked into it. There are no records of any missing patients…”
Simon raises a finger, a gesture of demonstration. “That’s because the story didn’t happen here.”
There’s a pause.
“You’re not making sense, Simon.”
Simon sighs. “You said it yourself. The book is two stories, intertwined. Remember?”
Grover says nothing. His eyes focus on the street in front of him. The Lexus has slowed to 20mph. Traffic is rushing by from both sides, the driver’s staring angrily.
“Dr. Grover? Do you remember saying that?”
“I remember,” he says at last, but his tone has changed, he seems coy, almost menacing.
“I think I know what’s going on,” Simon exclaims.
“Do you?” Again the doctor seems patronizing.
“Yes!” Simon hollers, excited, but afraid. “Doctor, don’t you get it? The second story. This is it! We’re in it right now! It’s here! This place! It’s all around us! The road is tricking us! It’s got us locked inside an illusion. And the two stories intertwine to ensure that it never ends. Don’t you see? We’re still on the road…”
The Lexus roars to life as Grover hits the accelerator, chuckling maliciously. Something has changed in his expression. He seems stable, void of concern, like a man who’s been playing a sick kind of game.
“Well, well, Simon. That’s a very interesting theory.”
Simon glares at him, aware of what’s happening. (The game is moving.) “You should know. You read about it.”
“On the contrary…you did…Doctor.”
The word “Doctor” hangs in the air.
“What did you just call me?” Simon finally asks. The Lexus is moving faster. Suddenly there are horns.
“You heard me,” he says, his face still grinning. “I was wondering what it was going to take for you to figure this whole thing out.”
Simon stirs in his seat, ignoring the obscenities shouted by the drivers who pass them. “What is this? What are you doing?”
“Oh stop pretending,” Grover snaps. “I think we’re ready to take the masks off, aren’t we?”
“What’re saying? Are you trying to tell me that I’m Dr. Grover?”
“You said it yourself not two seconds ago. It’s all switched around. Everything’s reversed.”
“I meant the stories!”
“Aw, but you are the story Simon…I mean…Dr. Grover.” He laughs wickedly at himself. “You’ll have to excuse me. Even I get a bit confused sometimes.”
Simon looks down at his hands as a light blue static fills his palms. Could it really be? Had he really been the doctor all along?
A question emerges. Simon looks up. “If I’m the doctor…then who are you? And why are you doing this? Why did you pretend to be me?”
Dr. Grover shakes his head. His skin tone is grey and the change in his features becomes something ethereal, like a vapor, like a spirit. Like a ghost.
“Why are you asking questions you already know the answer to? You researched them yourself when you were studying to write the book. Mass delusion? Clairvoyance? Remember your studies, doctor. That’s the best way to—”
“Stop calling me ‘doctor’! You’re the doctor! You’re Dr. Grover! I’m Simon Fielding!”
“Oh please. There is no Simon Fielding. That’s all in your head…along with everything else. Face it, my friend. You’ve snapped. Gone nuts. Too many nights on the disturbed ward, maybe. You’ve lost your grip on what’s real.”
“Stop it!” Simon screams. “Stop messing with my mind! What are trying to do?”
Suddenly, the spirit’s eyes glow. The accelerator increases to 50mph. The laughing does not stop.
“I just want to help,” the ghost says innocently.
Realizing his danger, Simon begs for him to stop. But the car only moves faster.
Simon’s fear turns to rage. He points at the “being” accusingly. “You’re the one that doesn’t exist! I’m real! I’m Simon Fielding!”
The being casually shrugs. “Well doctor, if that’s true then I’d say that puts you in quite a predicament.”
Simon’s heart skips a beat. “Why’s that?”
“Well, if I don’t exist,” the being suggests, blue eyes gleaming. “Then tell me one thing: Who’s driving this car?”
The blood drains from Simon’s face. “Oh no…The dream…”
The ghost vanishes, leaving the driver’s seat empty. The Lexus swerves dramatically into the neighboring lane. Oncoming traffic emerges.
Simon screams, desperately reaching for the wheel—but it’s too late. With the remaining seconds of his life, he gazes out the windshield, eye fixating on the massive produce truck and the panicking driver who slams his horn repeatedly and attempts to—
ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW:
The man sitting at the bus stop hears the thunder of impact. His eyes dart quickly to the middle of the street—just in time to witness the explosion—as glass shatters and a collision of metal erupts in fumes of gray and black.
The Lexus is struck so hard on the passenger’s side that car whips around half circle, flipping onto its back in the process; the roof caving as streaks of blood splatter the front windshield.
The truck veers left from the collision; the driver unconscious as a Victory Red Chevy engages from the panic of traffic and smashes directly into the truck’s storage compartment.
The rear doors burst open. Over two dozen crates spill out of the truck’s the storage unit and splinter into pieces as a white Audi S4 plows into both vehicles as well as the left over carts.
The man at the bus stop gasps as he watches the crates explode. A wave of gold apples rain down, filling the tragedy will a twinge of the surreal.
Suddenly a crowd of pedestrians come running from their houses. Several passing cars stop abruptly and the passengers quickly exit to race over and join the scene.
The man at the bus stop breaks from his trance. He reaches into his plaid sport coat and retrieves his iPhone, frantically dialing 9-11. Within two seconds he’s speaking to a dispatcher.
“Police! Yes. Look, there’s been an accident! Oh God…It’s awful. Please. Send an ambulance. I’m at…”
The man pauses, realizing he’s unaware of his exact location. He steps out of the bus stop and speed-walks to the corner. At the sidewalks crossing he locates the intersecting street.
“I’m on…First and May…the corner of First and May…Please hurry! I don’t think they’re gonna make it…”
The man shuts off his phone and shifts his attention to the carnage in front of him, a single thought entering his mind: I will not sleep tonight.
THE ROAD’S END:
When the medics pull the sheriff from the front seat of the patrol car and out of the ditch, they realize immediately that he’s still alive and partially conscious (his eyelids are fluttering and his chest is heaving). They decide to set him on the ground about five yards distance from the wreckage so they can examine him while a gurney is quickly fetched.
“Sheriff? Can you hear me?” one of the medics asks, a young man, maybe twenty with name “J. Lynnwood” stitched above the shirt pocket of his starched-white uniform.
Too weak to reply, the sheriff just lays there, squinting at the red and blue lights that penetrate the darkness.
Lynnwood places two fingers on the sheriff’s throat. “I got a pulse!” he announces to three medics standing over him.
“Let’s get him on that stretcher,” one of them replies and a serious of movement commence as the gurney is finally brought over.
The sheriff moans as he is gently placed on the plastic/metal stretcher and fastened in tightly by way of leather straps. Lynnwood continues to speak to him while shining a handheld flashlight into both of his shrinking pupils.
“Sheriff, can you hear me?” he repeats.
The sheriff blinks a signal of response and the flashlight moves away. Spots fill his vision, deleting the features of Lynnwood’s face, previously illuminated by the two ambulances’ headlights.
“Everything’s gonna to be fine, Sheriff. You’ve been in an accident. We’re gonna take you to the hospital. Now sheriff, if can, please tell me…do you where you are? Do you know your name?”
The sheriff strains to remain conscious, gasping for breath as he attempt to speak. The medics hear him wheezing and it’s Lynnwood who leans in closer. “Sheriff, please try not to move your head. Just relax.”
The sheriff’s eyes narrow. “Am I…still dreaming?” .
The confusion escalates. A group of state troopers shout frantically to each other, ordering the area to be sealed off with CAUTION tape.
“I can’t hear him,” Lynnwood tells the others as they head toward the rear ambulance doors.
“I think he might’ve asked if he was dreaming.”
“He’s delusional,” another replies.
“Probably in shock,” Lynnwood agrees. “Lets get set for blood pressure. I need this man’s vitals. Asap!”
“I’m on it,” a fourth medic shouts, opening the red, plastic kit he carries at his side.
The sheriff stares dazedly, looking to Lynnwood. “Am I out? Am I free?”
A commotion of voices rises.
“What’s he saying now?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s probably a concussion. Ask him again to give us his name.”
Lynnwood touches the sheriff’s forehead as if testing for a fever. “Sheriff, please sir…can you tell us your name?”
The sheriff clears his throat. “My name…is Douglas Grover…I’m a doctor.”
The medics all look to each other.
“He’s delusional alright,” one of them says. “C’mon, let’s get this guy in here and get a move. Now!”
The crew eases the gurney into the ambulance. Two medics climb inside, while Lynnwood and another man shut the vehicle doors and move around opposite sides of the vehicle (Lynnwood driving).
Within thirty seconds the ambulance is speeding away, sirens blaring. Dr. Grover lies motionless on the stretcher and quietly shuts his eyes.
I made it out.
He feels sorry for the man whose body he has taken, but there was simply no other way. A switch had to be made. He had figured out that much after reading the book. And even now, the story remains embedded in his mind.
After all, he was the one who had written it.
And now that the cross-over has occurred, now that Simon is gone and the character of the sheriff has been taken, there are no other loose ends to worry about.
Or so he thinks.
THE ONE FORGOTTEN
With the ambulance gone the rest of the officers examine the inside of the police cruiser, attempting to assess what had happened.
They already know that the dispatcher, Debbie had called Ralph Jenkins for back up (who in turn calls in the state police) after she repeatedly lost contact with the sheriff. She also mentioned that Keylee had taken a man into custody. But when the officers check the backseat no one is there. So they radio in for an APB and Debbie quickly provides them with a name and description of the assailant. The officers assume the man is fleeing on foot and is probably still wandering the Interstate. They’re assumption becomes a certainty once a trail of footprints are discovered, leading away from the scene. After forty-five minutes of searching, a helicopter is flown in, but ultimately this added effort proves futile.
Simon Fielding is nowhere to be found.
AWAKENING TO THE DREAM:
When Dr. Grover opens his eyes he discovers he’s lying in a hospital bed of Intensive Care Unit on the fourth floor of County Hospital.
Alert and sensing movement, the doctor quickly looks to entrance of the room. The door is wide open and a man in a white lab coat and a surgeon’s mask slowly proceeds to the bed. His hands are behind his back, he’s concealing something.
“I know you,” the doctor says to him. “I’ve seen you before…”
“Indeed you have,” the surgeon remarks (his voice is hushed, but nevertheless familiar) revealing the syringe held carefully in his left hand. “Hiding in some else doesn’t change who you are, Dr. Grover.”
The doctor’s eyes widen. He knows what’s coming. He knows what happens next. The man in the mask leans forward, inserts the needle and slowly pushes down on the plunger.
The doctor gasps in horror as the poison races through his veins and the man at his bedside removes his surgical mask.
“But…you’re dead,” Grover says, bewildered.
The face of Simon smiles. “You didn’t read carefully enough. You forgot the footsteps. In this story…I’m alive…”
Grover moans in agony. “No…please…”
“Two halves of the same mind, doctor,” Simon reminds him. “Those were your exact words. I read the stories too…” He leans in further to whisper: “Remember all that you see and all that will be shown.”
“Please…don’t do this…”
“Shhh…quiet, little sheep. You’re going back where you belong…back to the road with me...”
THE FINAL SWITCH:
Your eyes open. You’re in a strange room. You’re lying in a bed, your head is bandaged and you’re dressed in hospital clothes. You’re also barefoot.
Slowly you get up and disconnect the IV tube that’s stuck in your left arm. The hospital ward is empty as you venture through the corridors and take the three flights of stairs that lead you into the lobby where you head straight for the sliding glass that lead you out of the deserted hospital and into the wavy field. As you drift into the darkness, a crescent moon covered by clouds, guides you toward the Interstate. Your destination is clear. Remember what you are shown.
“Evenin’ Simon. Where you off to tonight?”
The ghost has arrived in a flash—taking the appearance of a man in a sheriff’s uniform, one who doesn’t know he’s dead. And neither do you, Simon. That’s why you respond.
“The corner of First and May…”
Then the ghost makes a suggestion: “How ‘bout I give ya a lift?”
A hand appears on your shoulder. All at once, the ghost is standing beside you, leading you toward a patrol car. It places you into the vehicle and gently shuts the door.
When you see the ghost again, it’s climbing into the front seat. Next it puts the car in motion and grabs the radio transmitter. You listen for awhile as it converses with the one who resides in the static. Then you lose interest (you’ve heard their words before) and you shift your gaze to your reflection in the rearview mirror. You smile at yourself. Your reflection smiles back. The smirk expands as your image gradually darkness; then quietly fades away.
See you in the Dream, Mr. Fielding