Every morning, psychologist Dr. Brian Manifold wakes up to a catatonic wife and the memory of an accident he’d rather forget. In order to escape the frequent panic attacks, delusions, and recurring dreams of a hideous beast, he embraces an aberrant behavior that makes coping with reality easier to handle.
But when the hospital administrator worries that Brian may be a danger to his patients and to himself, and orders him to see a therapist, there’s no way for him to escape the horror that the truth reveals.
The rhythmic sound of the tapping pencil had a hypnotic effect. Dr. Raven’s eyes started to glaze over and his brain with it. The phone rang, jolting him back. Tossing the pencil in its cup, he answered the phone. “Yes?”
“Your new patient, Dr. Manifold, is here to see you.”
“Send him in.”
Dr. Brian Manifold entered the dim counseling office and stood in the shadow of a bookcase.
Raven treated patients like Manifold every day. Something he took pride in—his ability to read a client, and by the slumped manner in which Manifold carried his broad shoulders, Raven could tell that this once successful doctor was now a broken man.
Manifold was dressed well enough; gray suit, black tie, and his brown, slightly gray-salted hair neatly combed to one side. His beard looked to be freshly trimmed and his horn-rimmed glasses seemingly free from smudges. To the naked eye, one might think this man had it together. But the morose expression in Brian’s eyes told the real story.
“Hello, doctor. Please be seated.” Raven waved to a leather chair to the side of his desk, and then straightened his yellow tie. “Can I get you something to drink? Water? Coffee, perhaps?”
Dr. Manifold shook his head as he slowly peered around the room, dazed.
“Well then, I guess we’ll just get started.” Raven withdrew a legal pad from his top drawer.
“I’m not sure why I am here,” Manifold whispered. “Dr. Jensen told me this morning you wanted to see me, but honestly, I don’t know what all the fuss is about.”
“We’ll get to that in a minute, but first I need you to sit down.”
The man didn’t budge. “Please, call me Brian.”
“I’m not here to be your friend, doctor. I’m here to determine if you’re still fit to practice psychology. Now, I’ll ask again. Will you please sit down?”
Like a child ordered to his room, Manifold scuffled to the couch and positioned himself on the edge. His gaze then fell to the multi-colored carpet.
This wouldn’t be easy, but that was part of the fun—the challenge. Raven sat in the chair opposite the couch and picked up a file from the coffee table. “I have to admit, I’m quite surprised to find you on my calendar today.”
Manifold folded his arms and offered a tight smile. “You, too?”
Raven stared at him for a moment before opening the folder in his lap. “I see that you came to St. Ruth’s Hospital at the top of your class. Until a few months ago, you were one of the best doctors we had on our staff.” Raven peered over the top of his bifocals. “Which brings me to your visit. What happened? Why are you here?”
The once “great doctor” shifted in his seat, and tugged at his collar. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
Here we go. Raven lifted the file in the air to emphasize his point. “It says here that you’ve been late almost every day for the past few months. There have been several complaints of yelling coming from your office, usually when you’re alone. And most recently, you have been accused of drinking on the job.” He laid the report back in his lap and leaned forward, emphasizing each word as a teacher might do to a child. “I repeat, Dr. Manifold. What happened to you?”
“Things have been difficult at home,” he rasped before his gaze fell back to the carpet.
The air grew still, and the grandfather clock in the corner ticked like a drone in a metal factory.
Raven removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Is that it, doctor?”
“Are you aware that I hold the power to revoke your license? That the hospital board looks to my recommendation to determine your fate? According to my report, your actions have raised a few concerns. And in our business, it’s a problem when the counselor exhibits more aberrant behavior than his patients.”
“I don’t know what you want from me.”
“How about the truth? How about sharing what’s going on in that head of yours? You’re in a lot of trouble, doctor, and I’m the only one who can help you now. Either you’re honest with me, or you’re through.” He tossed the file on the table by his chair, the papers fluttering to rest. “Now, what’s going on?”
Manifold folded his arms and pursed his lips, his expression as cold as a day old corpse.
Raven sighed. He wanted to help this man, but he could only help someone who wanted it. Reaching for the file, he shifted to stand.
“OK.” Manifold blinked, eased himself into the couch, and then closed his eyes. “But what you’re asking me to do is not going to be easy. Things are happening that are way beyond my explanation. I’ve been living it for months, and I don’t even remotely understand what’s going on myself.” He cleared his throat. “Coffee.”
Raven titled his head to the side. “I’m sorry?”
“I’ll take some coffee.”
“Yes, of course,” he said. Raven crossed to a brewed pot and poured a cup. “Sugar or cream?”
He nodded and handed Manifold the foam container. “Please continue.”
“Time is a funny thing. To some, it’s what they see. A man may notice gray hair and wrinkles taking over his once smooth complexion. A woman may notice her child developing into an adult. Both may realize their pets will soon die. For me, I feel lost in some void. As if time doesn’t exist.”
“And why’s that?”
“I wish I knew.” He stared into his cup.
“And why do you suppose you don’t know?” Raven sat back in his chair.
“It’s all a blur.” Manifold seemed mesmerized by the coffee’s rising steam.
“Well, why don’t you start from what you do know?”
The man finally seemed to relax against the couch cushion, apparently ready to comply.