Chapter Forty One

Doctor Holloway’s Offices

Hickman, Kentucky, 9:09 p.m.


Kemper had not dreamt in quite some time. Therefore, when he found himself in the land of Morpheus, he did not at first realize the landscape for what it was.

He found himself crawling on bloody hands and knees through a field of flowers too tall to see over. He tried to stand but discovered he had no feet, merely jagged bones where his shins stopped. He teetered on the spikes, but they sunk into the earth deeper and deeper with every step. He was able to see over the canopy of flowers sweeping across his horizon. Though many were abloom in bright, blinding red, the petals had no smell. Many of the long stalks were bent, curving downward under the weight of huge green pods yet to blossom.

Hearing a muffled, high keening from the pods, he cupped one in his hands and brought it to his ear. Faint, yet clear came the bawling of a child. He fingered the outer husk of the pod, working his nails into the layers of leathery green leaves. A rancid, sticky secretion seeped out, making it hard to manipulate. This ooze was blood red, just as the petals of the flowers. Forcing his fingers in deeper, the husk gave way with a sucking pop. He tossed aside the fleshy leaves to find the center—the small head of a child with no body, eyes squeezed shut in anguish. Kemper could not tell if it was a male or female, as there was only a wrinkled orb with a bawling maw, smeared with the gruesome nectar. In the gaping mouth he saw an upper and lower row of tiny, razor-sharp teeth.

Soon, the collective wail of the babies turned into a mind-shattering banshee cry. The sound slid like a rusty, jagged knife across his brain. Having no idea how to force the sound to stop, and with the screaming baby head being only the size of a small plum, he popped it into his mouth.

The screaming lessened, but he felt the teeth shred the inside of his cheeks and tear at his tongue. In a panic, he bit down. He felt a solid pop beneath his teeth, not unlike biting through the skin of a grape. There was a pleasant crunch as he ground it between his molars. He ignored the fact it was most likely the baby’s teeth and bones. The most delicious flavors exploded in his mouth. It was at once as sweet and syrupy as maple sap, yet tangy and tart. A tingling sensation made his mouth water.

Though he wanted the flavors to linger, he swallowed. A warm energy coursed through him. He looked down to see an amber glow suffuse his naked body. He felt a tremor at the stumps of his legs and watched as a new pair of feet grew out slowly and painlessly. He hopped about, bouncing on the new toes.

Nearby, another pod opened of its own volition. This baby head screeched as the first and, without hesitation, Kemper plucked it from the stalk and ate it. Though not as luscious as the first, it did silence the noise and satisfy him. Soon, all around him, pods were either humming with muffled baby cries or exploding open like popcorn in a skillet. The whistle and pop of them filled the entire world.

He gorged himself on the pods. This made his head grow larger. It grew so heavy, it forced him to tip over. He ate more, since his bigger mouth could hold more. Picking enough baby heads to fill his face was a meticulous chore, so he grew himself a pair of giant hands. He swept those hands below the surface of the opening pods. Much the same as a pair of hands cupping handfuls of water from a cool stream, he scooped and swallowed and scooped and swallowed.

Kemper grew to dwarf the field and then the entire dream world. With his toes, he tried to cling to the orb as it shrunk beneath him. The sensation of falling started slowly. He clutched at the pod heads as they were ripped from the stems and swirled in the air about him. He swallowed them without chewing and soon, inhaled even the unopened pods.

He plummeted into darkness and kept falling, yet he blindly snagged and gulped whatever his immense hands touched. Every bite and swallow was fainter and fainter in the sensations he craved.

Kemper was still falling, but the world around him suddenly grew brighter. He awoke mumbling, “I just want them all to taste like the first one.”

A dewy breeze drifted across Kemper’s face through some nearby window. He turned his head and tried to raise himself up, only to find his arms did not respond to the notion. He was lying on his back, resting on a soft surface. His head and neck were free, but the rest of his body would not move. He peered down his body to discover he was tied with rope at wrist and ankle. These ropes were strung around the black metal frame of a squeaky bed.

He was low to the ground, but still made out the room. He was in some type of office, with a rose-colored wooden desk in the corner by a closed door and a few cabinets against the other walls. Medicine cabinets. Various bottles and jars behind the glass. Liquid behind glass behind glass. He tilted his head back and spied a wooden bench in a corner.

He was clothed in loose garments similar to those at the asylum, though this long gown seemed much cleaner. He realized he had been bathed, for he no longer smelled of the dirty and mucky Mississippi river.

His belongings—Pie’s bowler, Felix’s coat and shoes and his last three bottles of laudanum–lay neatly across the polished, dark wood.

He could not recall how he arrived in this predicament, but he was certain the man in the woods, the doctor, was involved.

Kemper had been restrained before. Andersonville first and then many times at the asylum. It never angered him, for he had always been sedated with some magical compound or another. In this instance, he was feeling the surge to have a sip of his liquor-bolstered potion, so he grew angry. He thrashed at the ropes. They cut into his wrists. An odd thing happened. He panicked.

Panic was an emotion he was not at all equipped to deal with. Anger was his companion, friend, confidante and bottomless well of drive. Panic was his enemy. The bed rattled and the springs shrieked.

Though he was bound like a Christmas turkey, his thrashing was substantial, for the bed moved closer to the bench as if by his sheer will alone. He kicked and felt the ropes drawing blood from his ankles, but he did not care. If he found a way to get to his medicine, the rest would be inconsequential. He continued and soon found himself so near the bottles.

He managed to bump the bed hard against the bench and one of the bottles teetered. He stopped his agitations and watched helplessly as the bottle fell against the bench slats and dropped to the floor. He held his breath, cringing as he braced himself for the inevitable crash that did not come. He craned his neck and looked down over his shoulder and through the springs of the bed to see the bottle intact, label side up, cork still in.

He rocked side to side in the bed using the restraints as leverage to heave the edges higher and higher, the legs lifted and slammed down harder with each rock. He was sweating heavily. The perspiration soaked into the bloody bindings, forcing them to grip even tighter.

His whole weight teetered on the two bed legs for a brief moment. He jerked his body a touch more to the left, slamming down onto his side, bed still attached to his legs and arms. He stuck his neck out and was able to touch his forehead to the bottle, but it spun further away.

The door swung open and in walked the man from the woods. The fellow had traded out his thick jacket for a long white smock, which showed his slight shoulders and thin frame.

“Now what in the world do you think you’re doing?” He said with an eerily pleasant smile. “You are going to hurt yourself trying a silly stunt such as that.”

He strode over and grasped the bed frame near Kemper’s feet.

Kemper, face purpled with rage, kicked at the doctor.

“Hold on there, stranger,” he warned, “you already have several lacerations on your ankles here and if you keep that up, it will just end up making it worse. You already got a good poke in on that fellow who helped me bring you up from the river.”

Kemper saw the man’s lips move, but heard nothing beyond the rush of blood and anger. The doctor heaved the bed upright and dragged it once again to the center of the room.

Being so close to his laudanum and having it yanked away, Kemper felt the exhaustion of defeat and his fire died down. He could hear the doctor’s words.

“You know, I thought at first you had experienced one whale of a heart attack, but when I found your bottles there, I knew it was probably an overdose or some thing related to your ‘medication’.”

Kemper heard the wailing of infants again, however, in this instance, he was not dreaming. Two children cried in tandem from the other room. “What goes on in there?”

“The twins. They have the measles and are being kept here so as to not infect the entire family of ten others at their home,” the doctor said, rising to his feet. He went again to his cabinet. He retrieved some cloth patches and a bottle of some chemical. “I hope you have had the measles. Ah, well, the risk of exposure is small now. Still we can’t have my patients causing each other undue stress. These children with their crying are not conducive to your rehabilitation.”

The doctor took a small square of cotton cloth, uncorked the bottle and held the cloth to the open top, tipping it up-side-down. Small bubbles rose up as the liquid soaked the cloth.

The doctor continued absently. “I even thought you might have had a combination of the heart attack and the overdose. I think you should have died if that were the case, but here you are,” he said, smiling at Kemper as he righted the bottle and placed it on the counter. He replaced the cork with a squeak.

He held the cloth out before him as he approached Kemper. “The most painless way to help you through this is to keep you sedated. Now, I realize similar drugs—the opiates—cannot be employed in this case just yet, for they will add to your problem, so I prescribe a peaceful slumber induced by this harmless drug, chloroform.”

Kemper once again thrashed against the ropes, but could not free himself. He spat and cursed at the physician with great vigor.

“My, my,” the doctor said, “you are obviously deep in it’s clutches, but believe me when I say you will thank me later. Now don’t struggle. This will be over in but a moment.”

The doctor pushed the cloth closer and Kemper thrashed his head back and forth to defy him. The doctor finally grasped the back of Kemper’s head and forced the cloth against his face, keeping it there, despite the frantic fighting.

As the world dissolved in a misty haze, Kemper heard the doctor whisper, “Don’t you worry, I am going to bandage up those cuts while you are away. Sweet dreams, stranger.”

Kemper tried to protest, but he was too weak and docile. He shaped a twilight promise to be fulfilled when he woke. “I am going to kill you, Doctor.”

He wondered if he had actually uttered the words, as his mouth was covered and his perception a milky mess.

He was reassured he had actually spoken when the good Doctor Holloway smiled down into Kemper’s unfocused, half-lidded eyes. “Oh, now, that’s just your addiction speaking. When you are through the darkness and arriving on the other side, you will be a new man. Trust me.”

Wafting down between worlds, like a feather buffeted by unseen winds, Kemper hoped to remember the promise he had made to himself. He focused and imagined a stone tablet before him.  He had conjured a chisel in one hand and hammer in the other. Though he had never carved a single chip from stone his whole life, it was as if he had done it forever as he worked into the surface, Kill the doctor . . .

And with the oath sworn strongly, Kemper went limp, and surrendered to the soft, smothering bosom of slumber.

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