A pair of dark blue high-heeled shoes step out from behind a car door and clack down onto the concrete underneath. The car idles there, exhaust blowing out, the heat condensing into visible vapors in the air.
Alaina Troy-Ryan stands up straightening her dark-blue pantsuit and looks around, her breath also visible in the cold Chicago air. The long sidewalk path up to the door of the house in front of her is framed by not-quite-yet melted snow, remnants of a light dusting the day before. The house is decorated for the Fall, with posed animals lying haphazardly on their sides on either side of the main door, and orange twinkling lights still hanging around the eaves.
Her eyes turn to her right, looking down the length of the house to the garage area, where the door is wide open, but no car is present.
Alaina turns back and taps lightly on the window of the car, and it rolls down. She leans down, making eye contact with the driver.
“Just wait here. I won’t be inside for long.”
He nods, and she turns away from the rising glass.
Looking around again, she takes a deep breath and blows the air from her lungs softly and slowly across her lips, and begins the walk up to the door. Weeds are protruding from cracks there, and a small green vine has begun to wind its way up the side of the doorframe.
The stillness of the air is eerie, and peculiarly calm for Chicago this time of year, and the echoes of her steps ring in her ears as she approaches. Looking down at the ground as she steps up onto the patio, she takes note… the concrete has a reddish hue to it, something not quite cleaned up perhaps… but she moves on, and reaches out to slowly turn the handle on the door.
It creaks open as she pushes, and the sound echoes through the open space beyond. Stepping in, she crinkles her nose at the musty smell of the place, and walks forward, moving from the foyer into the spacious living area just past. Furniture is overturned there, some of what is left of a wooden table of some sort are shattered against a wall, and small wooden splinters are evident in the carpet. She holds her eyes on this just briefly, then she turns back, where on the kitchen island a large manila folder sits, splayed open.
Ignoring it, she walks through the room and past toward the door which leads to the backyard. She pushes it open and stepping out, and shields her eyes briefly against the sun setting over the lake in front of her. The yard is still decorated in much the same way as the front, and clearly has been left unattended for some time. Three large, long clumps of dirt are arranged in rows, but the dirt has begun to be grown over with weeds and grass. Walking through, she approaches the lakefront and turns her eyes upward to a large oak tree there. She stops in place and gazes up at an effigy, of a woman, hanging there. Her eyes travel down the length of it and stop on the golden, weathered ring there. No emotion crosses her face as she looks it over, and after a few moments, she turns her head and walks back through the yard up toward the house again.
Keeping her head down, she reaches the heavy dark-stained door and opens it again to the living area inside. Looking at the kitchen again, this time she realizes there is food on the counter clearly abandoned some time ago, and possibly the source of the smell. She runs her hand on the granite countertop of the kitchen island, following the shape of it, then looks back up as she approaches the end where she began.
Alaina walks toward the thick file folder there, and before she gets to it she can already see the writing at the top – divorce papers – and her eyes avert to the hall that passes to the left of the kitchen. A flickering light down the hall catches her attention, and she follows the glow to a room halfway down on the left-hand side. Looking in, she first notices the scribblings all over the walls, red and black-colored gibberish. Without emotional reaction, she scans them all, then turns her attention to a small writing desk where a tiny Hello Kitty lamp is flickering, desperately trying to draw enough power to keep itself lit. She approaches the desk and sees the papers that are strewn all over it, the word “TRAITOR” in large erratic scribbling. She nods just slightly, glances out of the picture window above the desk, and then shakes her head slightly to herself.
Turning back to the open door, she sees an abandoned computer workstation in the room across the hall, but she ignores it, heading back toward the kitchen area and the stack of papers sticking out of the manila folder there. A stamped date of February 18, 2002 is in the top-right corner. Her husband’s name is clearly marked as the defendant in divorce proceedings, but the plaintiff’s name is not her own. She doesn’t react to this either. She reaches out and folds the top paper slightly in her direction, then lets it fumble from her hand again.
With a quick motion, she scoops the papers and slides them all back into the folder. Picking it up and tucking it under her arm, she walks with purpose back to the front door and out to the yard. Not waiting for the driver, she opens the back door of the car herself and hastily gets inside.
“Okay, let’s go”, she says, holding her eyes on the folder as she sets it on the seat next to her. “I have what I came for.”
“Big match this week.”
Dan Ryan sat in a large leather-backed chair facing floor to ceiling windows that make up an entire wall of his office. He leaned back, elbow propped up on one chair arm, fingers absent-mindedly running over the stubble on his chin.
He’d heard Phyllis come in, and knew she was standing there, but she hadn’t said anything. Clearly, she wanted to talk…. An observation that makes sense in Dan Ryan’s mind.
But he stayed in place, not turning around. “Yes. A very big match.”
Phyllis clasped her hands behind her and looked down slightly, though he couldn’t see.
“Main event….. ICONIC…. Mike Best….”
“Yes, Phyllis”, he said, turning his chair around at last. “All of those things.”
She looked him in the eyes, trying to decide, despite a decade-plus worth of time in his employ, where his mind was. In the silence of this, he raised an eyebrow, questioningly.
“Phyllis, have you come in here only to torture me with the obvious, or is there, as I suspect, something else you’d like to talk about?”
The steady eye contact she’d maintained with him wavered a bit, and she glanced over his shoulder through the window to the back part of the property. But she caught herself and looked back at him. His eyes had never moved, and his expression was as hard and cold as steel. She felt something fluttering in her stomach — fear, no, not really, trepidation perhaps, but resolve too. Straightening the hem of her blouse, she leaned forward and placed both hands on the desk, resting her weight on it.
“We need to have a talk about Cecilia now.”
His expression hardened even more if that’s possible, and he frowned.
“What about her?”
Phyllis stood back up, measuring her words carefully, and blinking once or twice, since she became strangely aware that she hadn’t done so in some time.
“I’m concerned with her well-being, to be honest.”
“Oh?” His eyebrows shot up at this. “You’re concerned with Cecilia’s well-being?”
She looked on his quizzical expression and steeled herself for whatever could come next.
“I’m more concerned with your well-being, to be honest, sir.”
He waved a hand, almost rolling his eyes.
“You’re concerned about me, Phyllis? Is this a new sentimental side of you yearning to break free? Gimme a break, huh? Don’t worry about my well-being. I take care of myself just fine, thanks.”
“Yes of course”, she looked down, closed her eyes for only a split-second, then looked back up.
“Have you been talking to Cecilia much more than usual lately?”
He looked incredulous. “I speak to her several times a day. What kind of question is that?”
Phyllis looked down again.
He watched as her posture changed, then narrowed his eyes just slightly.
“Phyllis, I would absolutely love to know why you’re asking me this and what exactly your point is.”
“Sir I just…” she stammered, losing her nerve. “I just wonder if maybe you shouldn’t consider…”
She trailed off. She didn’t have the strength to say it.
Dan leaned forward now.
“Phyllis, if you have something to say, I suggest you get to it, because I’m starting to get really tired of this conversation, and I’m about to lose my patience.”
Now or never.
“Well, I was thinking maybe… maybe I should give Dr. Mossler a call.”
As quickly as the sentence rolls from her mouth, Dan is up in a rage, practically crawling over the desk to get into Phyllis’ face. The panicked assistant closed her eyes, waiting for impact, but none came. Instead, he was inches from her face. She dared to peek and saw a face full of maniacal indignation.
“WHAT…. DID YOU SAY?”
She didn’t dare speak. She closed her eyes and waited, waited for it to end.
“DO NOT…. EVER…. SAY THAT NAME…. IN MY PRESENCE…. AGAIN.”
He pulled back just slightly, chest heaving in anger, and she opened her eyes finally, looking up at his, and cowering despite herself. He shoved past her, not hard enough to injure, but plenty enough to startle her again, and she yelped slightly, involuntarily. He turned toward her one more time when she did and leaned in one last time.
Phyllis closed her eyes again. She couldn’t help herself, and a small tear started to form in the corner of her left eye. She made sure she was turned away from him and listened as he started to walk to the door.
Dan Ryan left Phyllis there, mewling like an abandoned pet, and turned his head to the open office door. Cecilia was standing there, black and pink hair draped to one side and partly over her face, pink shorts, and top, a cheerful expression on her face. She smiled, and he smiled back.
“Is everything okay, daddy?”
He turned back, looking at Phyllis one last time, and felt disgust.
Walking to the door, he muttered, under his breath.
“Everything is perfect.”
September 23rd, 2007.
The doctor let out a sigh as he looked down at his notes. He ran a hand through one side of his gray hair, scratching a slight itch just over his right ear. He was dressed in full whites, save for a silver name tag which read “K. Mossler – Psychology” on the left chest side in front. The case had been a fascinating one, with a patient more than willing to talk, at least occasionally, which is rare — and yet, had closed off almost completely in recent weeks as the episodes grew worse.
Dr. Mossler had found himself increasingly disgusted with the professional standard of treating severe psychoses with pharmaceutical help and preferred to use other types of therapy. “Just give ‘em some drugs and keep ‘em going”. It wasn’t good enough, didn’t make any real change, didn’t really help.
He looked down at his notes, studying the words, then looked up at his computer monitor and started typing.
“The purpose of this attempt is to analyze the existing quantitative research evaluating the influence of music upon the symptoms of psychosis. Results indicated that music has proven to be significantly effective in suppressing and combating the symptoms of psychosis. However, there were no differing effects between live versus recorded music, nor between structured music therapy groups versus therapist-selected music. Furthermore, the subject reacted poorly to group functioning of any kind, preferring solitude, but was receptive to therapeutic efforts when alone. Additionally, classical music did not prove as effective as non-classical music in reducing psychotic symptoms. This supports the therapeutic potential of popular music while dispelling the theory that classical music provides the form and structure that can contribute to mental health and well-being. Further study of the subject is therefore recommended and strongly warranted to refine unique aspects of music therapy interventions effective for subject’s psychotic symptoms.”
He read it back to himself, muttering the words only under his breath, then moved the cursor over to a large blue blocked button with the word “attest” on it, and clicked, uploading the notes to his personal server.
Dr. Mossler stood up, gingerly stepping away from his desk. The ankle again. The healing had gone well but wasn’t complete, and the noticeable limp was still there. He gritted his teeth and left the office, turning the corner and heading down a long corridor. Approaching a large white door with black outlining and a square, metal keypad, he punched in six digits and listened for the tell-tale sound of the locking mechanism disengaging. Stepping inside, he found himself standing behind a chair, which he pulled back and sunk into. In front of him, a thick pane of plexiglass ran from wall to wall and ceiling to about desk high in front of him, and looking through, he looked on a man there, sitting behind a thick white plastic table, his head down in front of him and his arms folded over his barely visible blonde hair.
Inside the portion of the room where the man sat, a crackling noise heralded the speaker button pressed by Dr. Mossler on the other side of the glass.
“Good morning, Daniel.”
No response, but the doctor didn’t expect one anyway.
“We’ll be doing the same as yesterday. I’ve been very happy with the results so far.”
With another click, the song “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves announced itself with the loud blaring of the opening horns. The man doesn’t react, keeping his head down and stationary, hands clasped over the back of his neck. The song plays, and the doctor simply watches as it does so, eyes looking for the slightest indication of any reaction at all.
With no response at all over the next few minutes, Dr. Mossler tilts his head slightly the other way as the song ends, then immediately blares back to life in a loop. He watches as the process repeats itself twice more, and would have thought to check on the man, if not for the clear signs of breathing.
Finally, on the fourth time through the song, just before the bridge, the man’s fingers start moving and he begins to lightly tap the back of his head with them in a rhythmic fashion.
“Daniel,” the doctor says, leaning forward slightly. “How are you feeling today?”
For a moment, save for the loud music, no response. But then, a muffled voice, barely loud enough to be heard…
“I fucking hate this song. Turn it off.”
“Daniel,” the doctor pressed. “How are you feeling today?”
His head stays down, but his voice raises, growing more intense.
“Like I want to hurt you really, really badly….”
Dan Ryan raises his head from the table and fires a look directly into the eyes of the doctor that would cut right through the glass if such a thing were possible.
Dr. Mossler instinctively flexes his foot as a sharp pain runs through his ankle again, or was it in his head? He winces, but works hard to keep it out of his expression, and doesn’t flinch in the face of the hard, sinister stare coming through the glass in his direction. As the music plays on, they continue to stare at each other until finally Dan groans and puts his head back down on the table, his hands now balled up in fists on either side of his head. He bangs them on the table over and over, the white in his knuckles growing more pronounced until finally, they start to slow. They slow until they fall into a slow steady rhythm, and Dr. Mossler starts writing down his observations.
Calm starts to wash over the patient, his eyes close, and he breathes deeply, sedately, as the music plays on.
“I’m walking on sunshine. Yeah, and don’t it feel good?”