Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Short Story: Randal's Place

Sometimes a past event can haunt you.

Sometimes it can drive you crazy.

Sometimes helping others is not what they want, but what you want.

Sometimes things, and people, are better left alone.

Randal's Place
by Paul Darcy

Jillian’s eyes were stunning, beautiful and blue-green. Eyes which consumed Randal’s life. Each time, before Jillian’s car hit the pot hole, she and Randal exchanged glances. Each time it is exactly the same.

If possible, Randal would freeze that moment.

If possible, Randal would not let Jillian die . . .

Stopping this memory, Randal turned off the water, and stepped out of the shower. This particular memory, far too vivid, far too real, always left him dislocated. While dressing, he could still smell the mountain air, hear the faint echos of the crash. There were six small pebbles before the lip of the pothole. That horrible accident occurred ten years ago, but the images, smells, textures and sensations, once recalled, never faded in his mind, every minutia retained in exact detail. Whenever he wished to recall that memory Randal would think about it, and it would come.

The year following the accident, Randal spent months trying to draw the images from his mind. He was left with a collection of illustrations distorted by his inexperienced hand, a child’s scribbles. Having little skill as an artist, Randal stopped. Why bother when he could view the detail any time? And his recall would be perfect, better than any artist’s rendering. Those eyes. Those terrified, beautiful blue-green eyes.

Randal’s search for the truth about his unusual condition was futile. Nobody offered a satisfactory explanation. He listened to many theories, harebrained ones, about eidetic memory or post traumatic stress syndrome. But they were textbook psychologists’ dogma. If the psychologist’s interpretations of his condition were true, why did Randal share no uncanny intimacy with other events from his life? Randal’s other memories came to him in the proper distorted perspective, dreamlike, indistinct. They were normal memories.

Except Jillian’s death.

Randal’s friends thought him crazy, and he wondered himself. The only doctor to take him seriously gave Randal an MRI. But nothing unexpected registered on the instruments throughout the scan. Even during the height of recall, when Randal glimpsed Jillian’s beautiful and fear filled eyes, her white knuckles on the wheel, when he could smell the mountain air, feel the wind on his skin, hear the sounds of squealing tires and . . .

But the MRI scan revealed normal brain activity. How could this one event torment his mind with excruciating detail without any physiological trace? It was like a recurring visit from hell, agonizing reality without substance. But as vivid and unsettling as the event was, Randal was drawn to it, and viewed his ability as a kind of power. Always it was the beautiful features of Jillian, especially those stunning eyes, which drew him back like a drug. Why did Jillian have to die? Randal should have done something besides watch.

Licence plate number ten-o-four-six-three. The owner was Jillian Buell, five foot six inches tall, one hundred and twenty pounds. Eyes: blue-green, beautiful, those of an angel. Jillian was twenty-three. It was midsummer and Jillian, recently graduated from University, was taking a road trip across Canada before starting a permanent job in Vancouver. How did Randal know this? After ten years of research, Randal accumulated all the facts. Randal even spoke with Jillian’s parents once, though that experience was painful and pointless. There was nothing he could do to ease their pain. How could he? What could Randal say or do to console them? All he could offer was an impeccable account of how Jillian died . . .

Randal, hitchhiking in the rocky mountains, heard the sound of squealing tires a long distance off. Someone was traveling too fast down the winding mountain road. Randal stood still, unable to do anything except listen to the screeching tires, feel the mountain wind blowing cold on his skin. The damp air and heavy gray clouds promised rain. Randal began to breathe rapidly, waiting, tense. The pothole, one foot in diameter, was easy to spot. Six pebbles sat around its rim. It is the spot where the blue nineteen-ninety-nine Pontiac Grand Prix’s front tire will hit and blow. The tire, a Goodyear Eagle P185/75R15, is polished. The wear knobs, still intact around the tires’ circumference, stick out like black needles. The polished five spoke rim will bite the pavement and hurl the speeding car into a rolling crash. Jillian’s car will rotate precisely four times before he loses sight of it as it smashes into the guardrail and through. Randal will see Jillian behind the wheel, panic frozen on her beautiful face, her eyes wide, her hands gripping the wheel, knuckles white, hair streaming . . .

Make it stop, Randal thought, grabbing his head. And before the car came around the fated turn again, he was clear of the vision. The painful memory passed as rapidly as a cough. If Jillian didn’t hit that pothole she would survive. Randal thought that every time. And every time he did nothing, nothing but watch.

Cold salmon straight from the can and a half loaf of bread. It was Friday night and Randal’s friends wanted him to go out, but he decided to watch a movie at home. Randal retreated to his apartment, sat in the darkness, searching for a resolution. His friends were trying to get him out of his shell. Damn them, they had no idea of his torment.

After twenty minutes, Randal turned off the pale images on the television. They were nothing like . . .

Far off squealing tires, roaring engine. Randal stood still like a statue, the deer in the headlights. The pothole, the damp wind, the clouds, the weight of the pack pressing on his back, were immediate and real. He must prevent it. Out of a perverse need to follow through with that thought, Randal tries a hopeless act; to turn his head and look toward the mountains.

Randal gasps. His eyes focus on another part of the terrain: the mountains, the majestic mountains. Randal is seeing them for the first time: dark and light grays, patches of black, boulders, gullies, crags. God, he thinks, I have gone mad. Or have I altered this hellish memory? But the damp wind, squealing tires and roaring engine remained . . .

Randal snapped out of the memory and stared at his dark television, mind racing, like Jillian’s car, wild and out of control.

Sleep eluded Randal that night, his mind was consumed with the thought of altering his perfect memory. Randal left the warm comfort of his bed and sat on the couch. Belial be damned, he thought, and began to recall the event again . . .

This time, with greater effort, Randal managed to look down at his left arm hooked under his pack strap. He tried wiggling his fingers and they moved . . .

He snapped himself out of the memory, and jumped. It was real, vivid, but it was ten years ago. It couldn’t change. Randal didn’t looked down. Randal didn’t looked at the mountains. Randal didn’t wiggle his fingers. Running his hands through his hair, Randal hovered near panic in his apartment. What was wrong with him now?

The tepid water from the tap smelled of sulphur, but Randal splashed his face with it and drank some. It tasted like copper pipe. Light brightened the sky. The sun would soon crest the horizon.

Randal sat staring out his window. What was a constant memory for ten years was now liquid, mutable and frightening. Jillian’s beautiful eyes. What if?

Something in Randal’s will twisted. His mind, perhaps strained by a lack of sleep, compelled him to try the impossible. Sitting down again on his couch, Randal leaned back and entered his personal nightmare . . .

The second he was in, Randal tried with all his will to drop his pack. He succeeded. Randal moved as quickly as he could out onto the road, forced himself to run.

The sound of squealing tires grew louder. Randal could see the next turn in the road. Passing the pothole, Randal kicked aside the six pebbles at its lip. Damp air blew through his hair and Randal yelled as loud as he could, reveling in his new found power. Randal’s heart hammered. Then the blue Grand Prix rounded the corner. Randal saw Jillian behind the wheel. It was a new image. Jillian looked at him running up the road, her eyes opened up like twin orbs of sheer beauty.

Randal, intent upon altering this constant recall, suddenly realized his mistake. Jillian’s eyes projected primal, insane fear. Her knuckles curled over the wheel, white like the skeletal hands of the Reaper. The car tires screeched like wailing banshees. She was traveling too fast.

Jillian’s car, traveling at sixty three miles per hour, struck Randal. He could feel his ribs crushed in, his body snapped into a position it was never meant to be in. And then Randal was in the air: tumbling, pain, blurring images.

Something stopped Randal’s wild motion. To his left Randal saw a row of white posts crossed by gray horizontal wires. He couldn’t breathe properly. The screeching of the car tires continued a moment, then ceased. The sound of an opening car door was followed by the clacking of uneven footsteps on asphalt. A girl’s voice, Jillian’s voice, was yelling over and over, "oh-my-god, oh-my-god." Randal couldn’t turn his head to see, couldn’t move at all. His body was numb.

Then Jillian moved into Randal’s field of view, screaming, "oh my god," hands to her face, eyes wide with terror.

"Don’t worry," Randal tried to speak, but his broken body failed him and no sound escapes his lips. "I saved you."

Randal couldn’t hear Jillian’s voice anymore. But she was still screaming, holding her head, yelling, "oh-my-god," over and over. Those beautiful blue-green eyes, wide and full of panic, were the last things Randal saw before the darkness.


A tall man in a tweed suit approached the desk. A nurse, busy with paperwork, looked up and asked, "Can I help you?"

"Ah, yes," replied the tall man adjusting his thin tie, "I am Dr. Sorenston."

The nurse put down her pen, then tapped a few keys on her computer keyboard. "Can I see your identification, please?" she asked.

"Certainly," he said. And from an inside pocket, Dr. Sorenston retrieved his identification card and handed it to her.

"Thanks," she said, taking the card and swiping it through a reader. "This should only take a second." A moment later the machine beeped. The nurse returned the card to Dr. Sorenston.

"Dr. Adams is expecting you, though you’re twenty minutes early," the nurse said. "Second door on your right." The nurse picked up her pen, put her head down, and returned to her paperwork, ignoring Dr. Sorenston who seemed about to speak.

Dr. Sorenston hurried down the clean white hallway until he came to the second door on his right. In clinical silver letters the name, Dr. Adams, stood out on the otherwise featureless white door. He knocked.

"Come in," a tired sounding voice said from behind the door.

Opening the door, Dr. Sorenston walked in briskly, leaving the door to close by itself. The inside of the office was white and stark. A short, dark haired man sat behind a metal desk, a laptop the only embellishment before him. The small office seemed prison-like. One hard wooden chair was positioned in front of the desk. Looking up from his laptop, the dark haired gestured toward the empty seat.

"I am Dr. Sorenston," said the tall man approaching the seated figure. "And you must be Dr. Adams?"

"That’s right," replied Dr. Adams, looking Dr. Sorenston in the eyes. "Look, I know you’re keen on this case—"

"Oh, yes," said Dr. Sorenston interrupting. "I have read everything about it. Perfect recall in every detail. Unusual. I have some theories and have been working on special treatments—"

"I know," Dr. Adams cut him off. "You aren’t the first, believe me." Since Dr. Sorenston didn’t sit down, Dr. Adams got up instead. "Look, why don’t we go see the patient first. You can read all you want about this case, but first hand exposure may be best."

Dr. Sorenston’s face lit up like it was Christmas morning. "That would be excellent."

"Follow me," said Dr. Adams in a deadpan voice.

The two doctors traveled down several long white hallways in the facility and past two guarded doors before they arrived at the room holding the extraordinary patient. The smell of antiseptic and the sounds of wailing and cursing behind closed unmarked white doors lent a sense of helplessness to the poor souls locked away. Two years of working with the insane had not squashed his enthusiasm, but Dr. Sorenston was always a little disturbed by these places. If he could save this patient, or at least help, he would try.

The two doctors stood outside the patient’s door.

From behind the door, Dr. Sorenston could hear sobbing. Mixed with this he could make out the words, "oh-my-god," over and over from a voice nearly scratched away to nothing. Dr. Sorenston peered through the door’s small glass observation window.

"Ten years," Dr. Adams said from behind him. "Hard to believe isn’t it? Nothing we’ve tried works."

"She does have the most beautiful eyes, poor girl," Dr. Sorenston said observing her pretty features. "No treatment has helped her?"

"Nothing," stated Dr. Adams. "She relates details which check out to the most minute detail from her case. But her mind is gone. Snapped. She remains unchanged, ever since she killed that boy ten years ago."

"She’s been here ever since?" Dr. Sorenston asked.

"Yes," Dr. Adams said. "She is unable to function in the real world." His voice was hopeless, resigned.

"The poor girl. I do hope she can be saved," Dr. Sorenston said, looking into her beautiful blue-green eyes again. "What a terrible life."

"It’s not a life," Dr. Adams commented. "Sometimes I think she would be better off dead."


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