The two doctors stood outside of the room, peering through the observation window.
"You say he acts rational?" the first one asked.
"Oh, very rational. He's in there reading Poe right now. We've discussed it. He has some very thoughtful insights."
"Then maybe I'm missing something. Why is he here?"
"The police brought him in," the doctor said, "He was raving, spouting off all kinds of nonsense. Among other things, he claims to be from the 23rd century. Says he once switched bodies with a woman. Says he has died at least twice. Says he died and lived again. Clawed his way out of the soil he was buried in.”
“How does he explain being here?”
“He says he’s gone through a number of “time travel” experiences-claims they are ‘temporal anomalies’- and that this is just one more. I dunno, sometimes I find myself caught in his fantasy-he makes it seem so real. It’s a place I’d surely like to visit.”
Doctor number two lit a cigarette. “You have to keep your distance. Patients like this, they’ll trap you in their delusions.”
“When they brought him to me it took three orderlies to hold him so I could sedate him. He used some strange combat techniques, kind of like martial arts but nothing I'm familiar with. Nearly broke free twice before the drugs kicked.”
The second doctor frowned in thought. "But now he's rational and reading Poe. Why haven't you released him?" He puffed a smoke ring that headed for the ceiling.
"Well," replied the first doctor, "We can't identify him. He calls himself 'Jim' but won't give us a last name. And he insists that he's dead."
The second doctor looked at the first with a startled expression on his face.
"Yes. The worst part is...he may be right." The look on his face was grim. The two doctors took another look through the window. The subject of their study was relaxing in an easy chair, a book in hand. He was in late middle age, yet his hair remained virtually free of gray. He looked like a man who had remained fit his whole life. He didn't look dead.
The second man turned towards the first. "How can you say he might be dead? I mean, what the heck is that? If you called me down here, Mills, as a joke..." The doctor looked fairly annoyed.
Dr. Mills never lost his grim expression. "Dr. Kim, I assure you, this is no joke. Watch him. Sometimes, especially when he is engrossed in something, he forgets to respirate. I'm not kidding." Kim looked back through the window. "If you look close, you'll see that his chest doesn't rise and fall like it would if he was breathing." Kim watched for several moments and then turned back to Mills.
"That's not necessarily proof that he's dead. He could just be breathing shallow."
Mills shook his head. "I was going to try shock treatment. We hooked him up to the monitor. He had no brainwave pattern. And, yes, the equipment was working perfectly at the time. I tested it on myself."
"Did you ask him what was going on?" Kim asked.
"I did. You have to understand, there's more to it than that. The man claims to be from the future, on top of everything else. He says he is, and I quote, 'The piece of me that was left behind.' end quote. When I asked him about this he only smiled and said I wouldn't understand. He claims a number of outrageous things. The stories only have one thing going for them. They have a consistency that most delusional patients can't produce.
Kim thought for a moment. "So we have a man who thinks he's dead. He claims to be from the future and his stories are consistent within themselves. He doesn't register on a brainwave monitor. Have you had a doctor examine him?"
"We have all of our new patients examined by a physician. I thought we'd have to admit Dr. Burroughs here at Birchwood afterwards. The man has no pulse, no detectable heartbeat. When Dr. Burroughs tried to draw blood nothing came out. Jim just shrugged at him after the fifth attempt and said, 'Sorry. He took all of the active stuff. I'm just the part left behind.' "
Dr. Kim started to say, "Indian fakirs can..." but Dr. Mills cut him off.
"I don't know what's going on but by every test we can perform this man is not alive. And he agrees. He claims he's dead. That's why I called you. I think the answers are in his head but I'm just not asking the right questions. I need your help, sir." Dr. Mills was practically pleading.
"I can talk to him," Dr. Kim said, "I don't know what you think I'll learn but I'll talk to him."
Dr. Mills looked relieved. "That's why I asked you here. Maybe you can find answers I couldn't."
Dr. Kim nodded and opened the door.
Jim looked up as Kim came in. “I suppose you’re here to ask me questions. Are you a medical doctor or a psychiatrist, a psychologist or a medium? I’ve talked to them all, y’know.”
“I am a psychologist and I am here to ask you some questions, nothing more.” Kim watched him closely. He was breathing now, Kim could see the inhalations.
With a sigh, the patient named Jim set down his book. “Okay, shoot. What do you want to know?”
Dr. Kim walked to a chair opposite Jim. “Dr. Mills tells me you have some strange stories to tell. He says you’re also giving his M.D. fits.”
There was a faint grin on Jim’s face, almost boyish in appearance. “I bet I am. Being dead and holding conversations tends to throw most people off.” He looked like a less-than-recaltrant schoolboy.
“Yeeeees, well, Dr. Mills says you claim to be from outer space. Why would you do that?”
Jim smirked and looked off for a moment. “I told a young lady this once, long ago, about thirty years from now, when she asked a similar question. I only work in outer space. I’m actually from Iowa.” He seemed quite amused with himself.
Kim made a few notes on his pad. “And you are dead? That’s what they’ve told me you’re alleging, anyway.”
“Death is highly overrated. I am what I am.” He fingered the book on the table next to him.
“Do you find Poe interesting because you think you’re dead? Is that why you read him?” Dr. Kim waited, pen poised over paper.
“You’d like me to give you a nice, neat, wrapped-up answer to that, wouldn’t you?” Jim’s expression was mildly amused, verging on boredom. “Death is…a place you don’t want to go. Not if you’re me. Others? They die. C’est la vie. C’est la guerre.” He shrugged.
“The doctor couldn’t draw your blood. Why do you think that is?” Kim held his breath, waiting to see what the patient’s response would be. They were treading on delicate territory now.
Jim laughed. “He took all of the vital parts when he left. Then he got himself killed. There wasn’t any blood to take.”
“What do you mean, when he left?”
“The Nexus, of course. He took all of the vital parts with him, I did, when we went to save the poor folk at Viridian Three.”
Kim shook his head. “The Nexus? Viridian Three? I don’t understand.”
Jim looked exasperated. “Of course you don’t. It’s two hundred plus years in the future.” He shook his head, as though looking at a slightly slow child who had just disappointed him. “I was in the Nexus. When it threatened an inhabited planet I left it. I helped save the world and died doing it. That’s really where this story starts.” He stopped, waiting for Dr. Kim’s reaction.
Kim stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray. “Okay, I’ll bite. Why don’t you tell me the story. I get the feeling you want to tell someone.”
Jim gave him a wide smile. “You won’t believe it. Dr. Mills didn’t. That’s why I’m still here.”
“I’m willing to keep an open mind,” Kim said.
Jim cleared his throat. “It started, for me, a few moments after Picard finished burying me.”
“Another starship captain. Are you going to keep interrupting me or can I just tell this thing?” Jim seemed annoyed.
“I won’t ask anymore questions until you’re done. I promise.” Mollified, Jim continued.
“When you enter the Nexus your every desire awaits you. When you leave you never completely get away. A piece of who you are stays behind. In my case, the Nexus was very close to where I died. The piece of me that remained behind was drawn to my body, forced out of the Nexus. I found myself six feet under, wondering what the hell had happened. I eventually clawed my way out. For the next six weeks I lived on water that collected in hollow spots in the rocks and whatever lizard-things I could catch and kill. Picard was a noble type, though, and he eventually sent a team in a shuttle to retrieve my body. I gather that he wanted to give me a burial on Earth with full honors.
At first, the crew of the shuttle were glad to see me. They thought Picard’s report of my demise had been inaccurate. After checking me over, they got some of the results your local witch doctor got and they became uneasy. It more or less came to a head that evening when I brought them dinner. They over-reacted when I prepared it. I’m not sure what their problem was.”
“I’m sorry, I know I said I wouldn’t do this but I have to ask. What exactly did they over-react to?”
“I think it bothered them when I brained the lizard I’d caught. I had to hit it against a rock to kill it,” Jim admitted.
“How many times did you hit against the rock?” Kim inquired.
“About ten or twelve times.”
“Really,” Kim exclaimed, “That must have been one tough lizard!”
“Not really,” Jim said matter-of-factly, “It died after the third hit. It just felt good to keep pounding it on the rock. I guess I had a little pent-up frustration going on there.”
Kim made some more notes on his pad. “Go on,” he said.
“Anyway, they started acting a little weird towards me. Things might have gotten awkward between us but I guess I’ll never know. They were all killed in their sleep by a freak rock fall. Having no other choice, I took their shuttle and went looking for a ship to take me home.”
“They were all killed in a rock slide. And you just left them there?” Kim waited, pencil in hand.
Jim gave him a cagey look. “I wasn’t going to try and unbury them! There must have been a ton of rubble covering them.”
“So you left on the shuttle…” prompted Dr. Kim.
“I made my way to the closest commercial shipping lanes since that was about all I could hope to reach in that little ship. After a couple of days a tramp freighter responded to my hail and took me aboard.” He picked up the book from the table beside him and began to riffle through the pages. “The crew of that ship was the most pathetic group of beings I’d ever seen in space. Not one of them could have made it in St…the organization I had belonged to. They were uneducated, unsanitary, and uncouth. They began to get on my nerves. When they refused to take me to Earth, claiming it was too far from their own destination, I took matters into my own hands. Lucky for me, a friend had taught me a bit about engines. I was able to make some improvements and nearly double the freighter’s cruising speed. I had by this time changed my plans, though. I realized Earth held nothing for me. I didn’t really feel alive, I guess because I wasn’t. I wanted to, though, and I remembered the one time I felt the most vibrant, the most alive.”
“And when was that?” Dr. Kim asked.
“There was a woman some years ago. A very special lady who taught me a few things about living. Her name was Edith. I thought that if I could get to her she could make me feel that way again. After stopping briefly to dump the bodies of the crew I headed for the one place in the universe that would let me find her again.”
Looking slightly startled, Dr. Kim asked, “The bodies of the crew? What happened?”
Jim gave him a smug look. “They didn’t want to take me where I wanted to go. There was an altercation. I won,” he said flatly, “They didn’t.”
“Do you always get what you want?” Kim asked.
“I don’t believe in the no-win scenario, if that’s what you mean. Anyway, I made my way to an obscure planet. On it is a device, an ancient artifact that allows you to view the passage of history. The woman I was seeking lived in the past. I intended to find her. Unfortunately, I didn’t have Spock with me this time.” He set the book down again, giving Kim a somewhat bleak look.
“I’m sorry, who’s Spock?”
“He’s an old friend. Let’s just say that precision is more his forte. I tend to be more of a man of action. So I stepped into the device when I thought the time was right. Turns out, I missed by about twenty years. I ended up in her future, but she has none, you see. I didn’t save her then and I can’t save her now. Maybe I’ll get a chance in the future, who knows? When I appeared here I had the worse luck to step in front of an automobile before I could get my bearings. It struck me and I must have hit my head. I don’t recall much right after that, but I gather I talked about things I shouldn’t have and ‘Presto!’ here I am.” He smiled again, as if his current circumstances didn’t bother him much.
Kim looked again at this man, as if seeing him for the first time. He had a gentle, almost innocent look to him. He exuded charm and had a warm smile but if his story was to be believed he had killed a number of people just because they had gotten in his way. Kim could feel the hairs on his neck standing up. “An interesting story, Jim. Those people you killed. How do you feel about that?”
Jim shrugged. “Like I said, I’m just a piece of the man I was, the part left behind. I don’t feel much of anything, honestly. I had a goal and I did what I had to in order to reach it.”
The way he said this made Dr. Kim very uncomfortable. Jim acted like he was talking about the weather. “You have to understand, Doctor, I’ve had my mind messed with more times than I can count. I’ve had my personality literally split into two. I’ve been tortured, beaten, and, as I mentioned earlier, killed. All of that, especially death, tends to alter your perspective.” He shrugged again. “What do you want me to say?”
“You could say you felt some remorse,” Kim answered.
Jim looked at him and Kim saw no passion in his eyes. They were flat, placid pools of nothing. “If I did, I’d be lying. I have a goal. I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve that goal. Nobody’s going to get in my way. If an obstacle comes along, I’ll remove it. I told you, I don’t believe in the no-win scenario. All of this,” he waved his hand to take in the room, “Is only a minor set-back. I’m an anomaly; I don’t belong in this era. Someone from my time will eventually notice. When they do, they’ll come for me.” He gave Kim another smile but this time Kim felt no warmth from it.
“Jim, what makes you think they will find you?”
“Oh, I’ll do what I have to do to make my mark. They’ll notice and when they do they’ll come get me.”
“I see. Well, I think that’s enough for one day. Perhaps we could talk again tomorrow.” Kim rose to leave.
“Sure, Doc. Anytime.” Jim waved to him as he left and then picked up his book again. Kim made sure the door was firmly locked behind him.
Outside of the room, a nervous Dr. Mills stood waiting for him. “So, Dr. Kim, what do you make of him?”
Kim lit another cigarette. He exhaled slowly, watching the smoke meander into the hall. Then he answered, “You did good to call me. The man seems sociopathic. He acts as though he has no feelings for his fellow man. As for his story, I found it entertaining but nothing more than a delusion. He’s probably been building it up for a long time. Its going to take many sessions to dig down to the root of his problems. I suspect it could take years. I’ll come back tomorrow to talk to him. Right now, I need to write up my notes while they are still fresh.”
“Of course, Dr. Kim. Thank you for your help. If you’d like, Charles, here, can show you the way out.” Dr. Mills gestured to a nearby orderly. The two men shook hands and Dr. Kim headed for the exit.
The next morning, on his way to the hospital, Dr. Kim stopped as usual for his coffee and morning paper. Glancing at the headlines, he stopped in shock.
“MENTAL PATIENT GOES ON RAMPAGE, HOLDS OFF POLICE!”
Beneath the headline was a picture of the man named Jim. Kim jumped in his car and raced off to Birchwood.
The hospital was surrounded by police cars, each with officers crouched behind their doors, weapons drawn. A large crowd was being held back by other officers at the end of the street. Kim parked and showed his hospital ID, which got him through the police line. He spotted Dr. Mills talking to a captain and made his way over.
“My God, Mills, what happened?” he asked. Mills looked to be in shock.
“It was horrible, Dr. Kim! When I got here about two hours ago I went up to “C” wing.” His voice broke for a moment. “There was blood everywhere. He killed everybody on the floor! He grabbed Nurse Reilly, took her hostage. He’s been holed up in there ever since. Says he’ll kill her if the police come in. I thought he was going to kill me but he told me to leave instead.”
Kim thought for a moment. “Did he say anything else?”
Dr. Mills nodded. “He said he was letting me go because he wanted to make sure the papers correctly identified him!” Kim thought some more.
“If we looked in places like the Library of Congress we could find two hundred year old newspapers, couldn’t we?”
Dr. Mills gave him a puzzled look. “What?”
“Nevermind. Officer, that man is my patient. I’d like to go in and talk to him. I may be able to get him to release his hostage.” The police captain protested at first but Kim was very persuasive. Eventually, the authorities allowed him to enter the building. Making his way nervously past the armed officers, he pushed the door open and went to the elevator. Stepping inside, he pressed the button for ‘C’ wing and waited.
The doors opened onto a bloodbath. Two patients lay just outside of the elevator, their throats cut. Jim’s voice carried through the body-strewn hall. “If you’re a police officer I will kill the nurse. Be warned, I’m armed!” Kim could see a dead security guard farther down the hall with an empty holster.
“Jim, its Dr. Kim. From yesterday. I just want to talk!” Kim wiped his hands nervously on his pants, trying to dry the perspiration that had formed.
“Oh, sure, Doc. C’mon in. I’m in the common room.” Jim’s voice sounded casual, like he was just passing the time of day with a friend. Kim walked down the hall, trying not to step in the drying pools of blood. Passing several patients’ rooms, he noticed more bodies within. He wiped his forehead with his handkerchief and swallowed hard, then stepped into the common room.
“Hi, Doc,” Jim said, waving to him with the gun in his hand. In the corner of the room Kim could see a young nurse, bound and gagged but still alive. “Sorry about the mess out there but, like I said, I did what I had to do to make my mark. I assume it made all of the papers?” Kim nodded in reply. “Well, I guess it won’t be long then. Someone should be coming for me soon.”
“You really believe that, Jim? All of these deaths…” Kim swallowed again, choking down bile.
Jim shrugged. “It was the most logical course of action since I was locked up in here.” He gestured at the room and the hospital beyond. “I told you I have a goal. This was the most efficient way to achieve it.” The expression on his face was bland. Kim felt a chill on his spine. He opened his mouth but Jim spoke first.
“Good old Spock.” Something was happening to Jim. His body seemed to be glowing slightly. The glow increased and a humming filled the air. His eyes bored into Kim’s.
“I told you, I will find her. Nothing can stop me.” The light and noise reached a crescendo and then it was gone. Jim was gone as well. Kim felt his knees waver and he stumbled into a chair.
“A dead man,” he thought, “A dead man wandering through time, looking for his lost love like some kind of revenant. Determined, merciless and without feeling. I wonder how many more will die?” He looked down and realized his hands were shaking.
Chapter End Notes: Sometimes I have dark days. This came from one of them.