Chapter Three: Comfortably Numb

Charlie opened his eyes and stared without truly seeing anything. At first there was only a comfortable mix of light and color, pleasantly blurred and non-threatening. He felt safe; he was warm and lying down on a soft surface. He couldn't remember anything about where he was or why he was wherever here was. He realized that he couldn't really remember much of anything at all. He was just floating comfortably in a blurry sea of light and color. He smiled.

"Ah, Charlie," said a voice somewhere. "I see that you are awake at last. How do you feel?" Charlie, he thought. Yes, that's my name. He must be talking to me.

Charlie tried to speak and found that he couldn't quite work his mouth. All he produced was a kind of croaking squawk. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Fine," Charlie replied. "I feel fine."

The man said some other things to Charlie, but he was no longer listening. There was a rushing sound in his head, like the sound of a stream briskly flowing over smooth stones. He could hear the wind blowing through the trees above him, and he could feel the fir needle coated forest floor beneath him. He was alone in the forest and wondering where the police station had gone to. He sat up and tried to find his purse. No, that wasn't right. Charlie didn't have a purse to find. But then his sense of that awareness faded away and the blurry colors and light filled his vision again.

"Charlie? Can you hear me?" The man's voice intruded upon Charlie's awareness once more. He tried to answer but couldn't seem to manage it, so instead he weakly nodded his head. "Good. Try to stay with me Charlie. There's still too much of the sedative in your bloodstream apparently. You seem to be having a reaction to it."

Charlie's vision cleared somewhat, revealing an abundance of white: white curtains, white linens on the bed, a white jacket on the doctor. There were other colors, too. The blue sky and dark green evergreens he could barely make out through the sunlit window. The walls were a muted brown, and there was a photo on the wall of a bright red barn surrounded by green fields. This must be a hospital, Charlie thought. Have I been sick? Or maybe there was an accident? Missy would know… where is she?

"Missy?" Charlie asked softly. "Are you there Angel?"

"I'm afraid your wife is… unavailable," the doctor said.

"Where am I?" Charlie asked the doctor. "Who are you?"

"We were introduced when you arrived," the doctor said. "But you may not remember that in your current state. I am Doctor Haven, and I am going to help you to get better, Charlie."

"What's… what's wrong with me?"

"Well, Charlie," answered Dr. Haven. "That is something we are trying to ascertain. Do you feel up to answering some questions?"

"I think so, yes."

"Good. There are some police officers here who would like to speak with you if you think you are up to it," Dr. Haven told him.

"Police officers?" Charlie asked, suddenly feeling more alert. "Why?"

"I'll let them explain that if you don't mind," Dr. Haven replied. He stepped to the door and opened it. "He's awake now, officers." Two men stepped into the room following the doctor. They were both in suits, one man looked to be middle aged with graying brown hair and a paunchy middle. The other man was in his early thirties, if Charlie had to make a guess, with blonde hair and gray eyes that seemed to convey a chill when the man locked eyes with Charlie.

"Mr. Thompson? I'm Lieutenant Barnett," said the older man. "This is Detective Hollister." Charlie nodded as each man was introduced. "We would like to ask you a few questions about what happened at your home last night. How much do you remember?"

"I still feel pretty groggy, I'm afraid," answered Charlie. "I'll try to answer, but right now I'm afraid I really don't know what you're talking about." Barnett looked to Dr. Haven for clarification.

"Mr. Thompson was given a sedative to calm him when he was first brought in," the doctor told the police. "He seems to be having some sort of reaction to the injection. He appears to be gaining clarity as we speak to him, so I suggest asking your questions and see if his memory clears." Barnett nodded once in acknowledgment.

"Mr. Thompson, do you remember a disturbance of any kind at your residence last night?" Barnett asked. Charlie tried to remember. At first, there was nothing there when he reached for the memory, and he began shaking his head in frustration. But then there was a glimmer of a memory, just a feeling of fear and tension. Barnett noticed the change in his reaction and adjusted his line of questioning.

"How long have you lived at 429 Maple street, Mr. Thompson?"

"We've lived there since shortly after we got married," Charlie said without hesitation. "Wait, is this about Missy? About Melissa, I mean… my wife."

"I assure you, Mr. Thompson," said Hollister. "Your wife is alright." Charlie felt a wave of relief that nearly vanished when he noticed the look that Barnett shot at his partner.

"Where is my wife?" Charlie asked sharply. "Why isn't she here?"

"Mr. Thompson," said Hollister. "We're trying to ascertain just what happened at your home last night. Until we know for certain that the disturbance was not the result of a physical altercation between you and your wife…"

"What he means to say," interrupted Barnett. "Until we know that your wife didn't attack you, we don't think it's a good idea to let her near you."

"Melissa? Attack me?" Charlie repeated in bewilderment. "Why would Melissa try to hurt me? It wasn't Melissa, it was… the other." Charlie shuddered as he said this last.

"Then your wife was not present when you were attacked?" Barnett asked.

"No," said Charlie. "I had gone into my office to be alone. And Melissa…" Charlie trailed off as he fought to remember what had happened. He remembered it all started when Melissa read his short story about surprising her with a puppy. Then the puppy had actually been there, and he had realized the awful truth about his writing.

"Then if your wife was not involved in the disturbance, she will be cleared to come see you right away," Barnett said. He nodded to his partner, and Hollister excused himself to go phone the station.

"So I really don't recall much of anything after I went to my office," Charlie said. "I remember hearing Melissa leave the house, and her car pulling out of the garage." Charlie shivered violently, a wave of dark fear washing over him as he tried to make his memory see into that space of time. He was aware that there was something there that his mind was not prepared to face, and assumed it was his guilt and distress over the discovery that his writing had actually been made real, the disbelief was gone and he was left feeling shamed by the cruelties he had visited upon the characters in his stories. All that pain, Charlie thought. And it was all my fault, all because of me.

Charlie was only marginally aware of Hollister entering the room and whispering urgently to Barnett. He was too worried over why he couldn't remember what had happened and too upset by his guilt. But when he at last registered that the two men were very agitated and realized it might have something to do with his wife, he focused on them. "What is it? Has something happened to my wife?"

"Do you have any idea at all where your wife might have gone to, Mr. Thompson?" Barnett asked suddenly, blocking further comment from his partner with an extended arm.

"What do you mean?" Charlie asked. He was feeling more and more fearful with every passing moment. "I don't know… where is she? What's happened?" His voice was rising. Beside the bed, a monitor started beeping loudly. Dr. Haven stood up and came to the side of the bed, frowning at the policemen for agitating his patient. Haven was checking the monitor and resetting it to silence the alarm.

"Charlie," said Dr. Haven softly. "Please try to remain calm."

"Don't tell me to calm down!" Charlie shouted. "My wife is missing, and that… that… other is still out there. How do I know he isn't after Missy? She's in danger!" The monitor alarms were chiming again, and Haven was pushing against Charlie's chest to keep him in the bed. A pair of orderlies came running into the room and took over holding Charlie in his bed while the doctor prepared a sedative.

"Mr. Thompson," Barnett said urgently. "Who is this ‘other' you keep mentioning? Is that the person responsible for your injuries?"

"The other?" Charlie murmured, seemingly confused. "He's me, and he's not me."

"Just what does that mean?" Hollister asked, bewildered. Barnett glared at him for interrupting, but he, too, looked irritated by Charlie's response.

"Perhaps you could clarify that statement for us, Mr. Thompson?" Barnett asked calmly, trying to reassure Charlie. But Charlie could not be reassured. He was too busy staring at the black, shadowy mass of a man standing at the doorway, grinning at the chaos.

"Ask him, why don't you," Charlie said, beginning to struggle against his captors. "That's the monster that attacked me. That's the one that has done something terrible to my precious Melissa… ask him."

Everyone in the room, even the two orderlies, turned their heads to look at the space that Charlie was pointing at. None of them could see anything amiss, none of them saw the black shadow figure. The policemen looked at each other and then at the doctor. Dr. Haven frowned, and then directed the orderlies to hold Charlie tightly while he leaned in and administered the sedative. Charlie tensed wildly, still shouting at the shadow by the doorway. The orderlies relaxed their grips on Charlie as the madness began to flow out of him and he sank back into a drugged slumber.

"I'm sorry officers," said Dr. Haven. "I'm afraid Mr. Thompson will need some more rest now. I hope you were able to get some of the information you needed."

"Thank you Doctor," said Barnett. "Please let us know if he becomes more lucid, we'd still like to get a clear picture of what happened."

"Certainly, you'll be the first to know," Dr. Haven assured them. The two policemen left the room, followed by the pair of orderlies. Dr. Haven stood beside the bed for a time watching Charlie sleep and thinking about the mysterious 'other' that Charlie kept referring to. Clearly he is delusional, Haven thought. The question remains whether the delusions will pass as he heals from his trauma or whether he will have to remain here under long term care.

"Well, that was a bit odd," Barnett said as he and Hollister walked down the hospital corridor away from Charlie Thompson's room.

"You said it," agreed Hollister. "But where does it leave us in dealing with this case?"

"We can drop the investigation of the wife," Barnett said. "At least we can if she doesn't turn out to be another victim."

"You thinking there might actually be something to this shadow figure he muttered about when they brought him in?" Hollister asked his partner.

"You mean, a black shadow man with a grin?" Barnett asked his partner with a raised eyebrow. "A man that no one else has been able to see and verify?"

"Other than the wife, that is," corrected Hollister.

"Yeah," Barnett said slowly. "The wife did mention him too, didn't she. And now she's disappeared."

"Right out of the station," Hollister added.

"We need a lot more information from this guy," Barnett said after a few minutes of silence. "A lot more information. Let's see if we can find out anything more from neighbors."

"And then we check the family again?" Hollister asked.

"Yeah, then we check the families again," Barnett agreed. "Someone knows more than we're being told. We just need to find the right person.

Things were much the same by the end of that week. The police were still baffled as to the identities of the assailants, and Melissa Thompson was still missing. No one had seen her leave the police station, and careful review of the security cameras in the station did not show her leaving the room. One police technician, Dale Strumper, had noticed an odd flicker in the surveillance video of the interrogation room where Mrs. Thompson had been sleeping after the questioning. He told his supervisor that he thought he saw the shape of a man's face slide into the video frame and smile, just before the room was empty. His supervisor had rewound the tape and watched the section with Strumper, but neither of them saw the shadow this time. Melissa Thompson was simply there one moment and gone the next. The only logical conclusion they could reach was that the video system had somehow malfunctioned precisely when the woman had chosen to walk out of the room. How she had unlocked the door and then locked it again behind her, no one had any idea. She seemed to have simply vanished.

Dr. Haven continued caring for Charlie, who grew stronger each day. The scratches and bruises were fading on Charlie's arms and face, and the concussion he'd suffered was healing nicely. Charlie still suffered from painful headaches, but even those were becoming less of a worry. What really concerned Dr. Haven were the delusional episodes that Charlie still suffered once or twice each day. He could be perfectly normal, confused yes, but still sounding rational one moment, and the next minute he would be claiming to see the black shadow figure grinning at him from some place in the room.

Dr. Haven had noted on more than one such occasion that the room seemed colder during these episodes, but since no one in attendance could ever see what Charlie described, they were clearly evidence of a residual delusional fixation brought about by the mysterious trauma that Charlie had suffered on the night of the attack.

But what really fascinated Dr. Haven was Charlie's insistence that he was able to create material objects by writing about them. He supposed there were other writers, perhaps even perfectly sane writers, who believed that their characters were somehow alive and real. But Charlie Thompson carried that belief beyond anything Haven had ever heard of. He was already picturing the fame he would derive from documenting this case for the medical world to consume. He would one day soon be running this entire hospital, perhaps even his own elite clinic somewhere with warmer weather and palm trees. He smiled to himself as these thoughts ran through his imagination. If only he shared Charlie's power of creation and could make his visions of professional stardom come true. That is, of course, if such a thing were possible instead of residing within the realm of a delusional mind.

Dr. Haven found himself frequently envisioning his private clinic, thinking about every detail of what it should be like, what the staff should look like, and how they should all revolve around him. If only there were a way to make this all come true. He knew Charlie Thomson was a gold mine of opportunity and was determined to maintain control of his case. He knew that Charlie was the key to his personal future and success. If only I could persuade Charlie to write my future, Haven thought late one evening while gazing out of his office window. He never noticed how alien this thought was for a man of medical science, he was caught up in the wonderful vision of the future that could thus be created for him. He shivered slightly, feeling a wave of cool air waft over him. Yes, he thought, my clinic will definitely be somewhere warmer.

In the corner of the office, a black shadowy shape of a man grinned in chaotic triumph as the doctor dreamed.