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Aging gracefully, superbly maintained, the regal structure resembles a medieval castle spread across a grassy knoll.  A newly paved driveway cuts between a pair of black wrought-iron gates and leads uphill to its sculptured stone and masonry fascia.  Dark slate walls absorb bright autumn sunlight, defeating temporarily in its own quiet way the rage that burns within. Short stout maple trees shade the grounds during hot summer months but now stand naked in an early November freeze.

Deceivingly docile at first glance, chilling upon a second, the medical research center spreads across two acres covered with neatly trimmed plantings and red cedar chips, and confines the most disruptive and sadistic mental patients in the country. Haunting and unapproachable, its silent grandeur preens in the breeze as if its keepers embrace the brutality and fierceness it conceals.  Violence rolls over this facility like a continuous nasty fog.

A Beauty and her Beasts…

*        *        *          *

A bell rings twice, the call to dinner. A security officer toggles a switch. Six cell doors in each residential unit remotely unlock and remain unlocked for exactly five minutes before and after each meal. Twenty-four doors swing open simultaneously and thirty-nine men step out, some alone, some in pairs.

Inside his cell, a short, wiry inmate opens his eyes and flips back a gray cotton sheet. Walter Ferguson stares at his clock. A white face and black numerals document the hours and minutes, a thin red arrow ticks off the seconds. Obsession and compulsion rule his life. He lifts one finger each time the red spike cycles past twelve, and counts four minutes aloud.

“One … Two … Three … Four.” He hops off his bunk, quickly wiggles into orange coveralls, and wraps a blue scarf around his neck. Less than a minute remains.

Ferguson peeks out his door, cocks an ear in each direction, listens carefully. Silence. He glances left and right along the hallway, checking for demons or spooks. As always, he finds the corridor empty and hurries toward the dining hall, continuously glancing over one shoulder then the other. He exits the corridor through an open steel gate and enters the common space. Six cell doors and the steel gate bang shut and lock.

A security officer barks, “Forty,” steps out and locks the gate behind him. “Full tally.” The officer glances at the clock and marks a chart. “Seventeen-oh-six.”

In its main residential wing, a fat green stripe defines a no-walk boundary bordering the food counter.

Inmates shuffle along the lane. Each one lifts his tray and watches a server fill the slots – corn, mashed potatoes, brown gravy, a chicken chunk, a frosted cake square, and a milk carton or juice box. Each man sits and wraps his arms around his portion, glances over a shoulder, watching his back and guarding his grub. The eyes dart everywhere. No trust amongst felons, a world filled with fear and suspicion.

Ferguson picks up a tray, and pokes the last man in line. The inmate looks back once and steps aside. Ferguson takes his place, and taps the next man. The man turns, looks into two cold dark eyes glaring directly back at his own, and steps aside. Ferguson edges up another notch and pokes again, three more times he moves up, filling his tray as he goes. He suddenly stops and hops backward one quick step.

Walter Ferguson frequently envisions demonic hallucinations that arc around in his brain and scream orders at him, demanding violence. Unable to resist its spell eleven years ago, Ferguson received four consecutive life sentences for killing his housemates, a very nasty and bloody mess, a butcher knife and a fireplace poker helped. Now, he stands wide-eyed and points a finger at the next man in line, a red-haired convict.

He sets his tray on the counter. “Hold still Harry, I’ll knock it off.” He slaps Harry Parker from behind, a left then a right palm pop on each ear.

Parker drops his tray and raises his arms as the assault continues. The tray bounces off the concrete floor and food splatters both men. Fear and anger redden his face as Parker ducks sideways and begs, “No Fergie, please, not again!” Ferguson snaps a quick fist, opens a cut over one eye, a second blow splits his lip. Parker covers up and jerks away. Ferguson swings again, another punch drops his victim to the floor, both nostrils leaking blood.

Parker curls into a fetal ball. Bright red fluid drips off his chin and stains his coveralls. Ferguson grabs the shirtfront, muscles his victim up off the concrete and punches again, his knuckle cuts a cheek this time.

“Got it Harry, gonna save your life even if it hurts, just lie still a minute and let me kill it.” His fist lands once more, aimed at an imaginary demon hiding behind Parker’s left ear, a demon only Ferguson can see. He frequently imagines a similar demon on other friends as well, always eager to rip it off and protect his pals.

Ferguson cocks a fist. Two security officers tackle him, wrap zip-straps around his wrists and ankles, then jerk him to his feet and shuffle him out into the corridor. “Wait, wait, gotta get my tray,” Ferguson howls, squirming back toward the chow line. The burly guards ignore his squawk and hustle him along the hall and into an isolation cell. No food tray, a major penalty, much worse than lockdown or a beating.

An inmate assists the injured man and sits him at a table. Parker grabs a napkin, wipes the blood and sweat off his face, dabs gingerly at the cuts. A vivid red bruise begins swelling beneath each eye. A food server offers ice wrapped in a towel. Harry Parker hunches over and leans his face into the cool cloth, pain spilling down his cheeks.

“Gonna miss dinner now I bet,” Parker grumbles into the wet red towel.


Chapter One

 A young athlete pushes his mountain bike through the brush, lays it down beside a tent centered in a small clearing, and drops a blue tarp over it, protecting it from dew and pine pitch. The tarp catches maple leaves and dead needles that began falling this month, too. Be chilling up soon.

He sits on a stump, ignites his Coleman, drops a teabag into a cup, and hides from the rangers, most of them anyway. One girl ranger he met and befriended sneaks him food two, three times a week at least. She brings him soap occasionally, so he can clean himself and his clothes.

He chops his hair short with a razor blade wrapped in tape, keeps the sweat from sticking it to his head and neck when he runs. He slips over and uses the washroom late at night so no park officials see him, a two-week maximum stay in this park and if a ranger finds his home, he’ll lose it. He hides his tent in the woods, no marked site and off the trails. That helps. He sips his tea, worries about his future, hopes his work picks up. Been a bit slow lately, no wind, no storms, no down trees. Sonny likes storms. Bothers his living space – the wind does – but it gets his chainsaw working.

A low scratchy voice whines a few words back in a corner of his mind, scares him a little, getting louder lately, making demands. That ranger wants to lock you up. Better give her a flat tire, poke your knife in it. It’s easy. The voice comes more often lately, a little louder, a little meaner. Sonny ignores it.

His eyes circle the camp, pause beside each thicket, each bush, watching for a spook spying on him. Finds nothing but trees, brush, and rocks. Finally, he sneaks in under a shrub growing a few yards behind his tent, flips over a stone, spends a few seconds and twists up a bud then rolls the stone back quickly. He crawls back out and squats beside the stump, touches a match to its tip and soaks up its relief.

“Never inhaled, Clinton once claimed.” He whispers the words aloud, inhales a second time, grinning. “What a mistake.”

An imaginary spook engages his mind now and again, mostly at night, never lets him rest easy, keeps his mind tight and twitchy. The alien entity sits in his brain, a figment of dysfunctional brain chemistry.

Started a year or so ago when hormones began pushing into his bio-system. It arcs across his mind as if it somehow belongs, barks at him, orders him around like a supervisor, like the boss of his life. Smoke helps push the voice away, allows him sleep.

Running and heavy sweat beats it down too, a lesson he learned accidentally. One day he realized when he sweats he never hears it, so he hit the trails harder and proved it. Wears himself out some days just pushing out the anger, pulling in the silence, outrunning that nasty voice.

He checks inside the tent, his bag and pillow lie beside two clothing piles, one stack clean, one stack worn a day or two, sometimes three. His saw sits on a flat brick, chained to a tree limb through a small hole he cut in the tent wall for that purpose, keeps the saw dry inside, and safe. If a thief wants it, he has to earn it not just grab it.

He owns one power saw, a Stihl 290 he babies and carries in a crossbar saddle while he knocks on doors. Two round files and a few miscellaneous wrenches complete his tool kit. An axe and a splitter maul lie beside it. He earns his pay clearing brush and cutting broken tree limbs all over town, keeps himself fed. People pay him to cut broken trees he packs out and sells to others that need firewood.  Smart thinking.

Cooler weather slipping in now and winter gets much tougher in these woods.

Last few months though, a haunting voice been gabbing at him even during the daylight hours, growing stronger, and pushing harder, not so easy now, sending it off somewhere else. Getting a bit more demanding, it no longer just lies up there in his brain, spying on his life. No longer accepts his choices, it tells him what to do now, raises its tone, insisting instead of simply advising like the early days when the demonic sounds first emerged in the back of his mind.

Sounds a bit altered too, this newer voice, like a different entity entirely than earlier in his life, two separate voices. The loud and mean bossy voice gains dominance and rules the meek spiritual voice lately. The words order him to punch space aliens that live in human forms, but Sonny runs miles and breaks things instead, the sweat releases his frustration because down deep inside he never wants to hurt anyone he knows, or even a stranger. But the demon pushes harder, demands violence, louder and louder it rages at him. He ignores it as best he can. Gets more difficult as it gains power.

The meek spirit voice he remembers as a child mostly hides in the background, not saying much anymore but then it never pushed hard anyway even early in his life, just offered a little advice once in a while when he asked it, when he bounced a question off it about a thing that puzzled him. He calls the nice one his spirit brother because it sounds like a young boy the same age as himself, but it reveals no face and hides its gender, its slim body hovers like a wispy shadow at the edge of his mind, more often then but now only occasionally as the malicious demon grows stronger.

The loud, mean voice emerges only during his time awake and overwhelms the friendly spirit so any help it may offer disappears into a piercing vacuum. He likes the meek guiding tone, but hates the shrill demanding alternate. It makes him angry and provokes uncontrollable rage. The nasty voice barks. Find something alive. Punch it. Kill it.

“Shut up!” He yells and jumps up, grabs a branch, and swings hard, breaks it against the tree truck at the edge of his camp. He grabs another, breaks it, and another, and another. He drops the chunks on his firewood pile and takes off running down the trail, circles through the forest, and arrives back at the camp twenty minutes later. Heavy sweat streaks his body.

Sonny drops down and counts fifty push-ups aloud, then sits on his stump and holds his head in both hands. Alone and afraid. A tear leaks out one eye and dribbles down his cheek.

He begins a worry, not much a one though, not yet anyway. His mind plays rough, like the rest of him, but the rage forces longer runs and more biking. Exercise kicks the spook out, the heavy sweat and the smoke, but he needs a gym. Cold weather coming soon, harder to run or bike outdoors when the snow falls, though he can do it, he knows that right here in his heart. A gym allows him to push weights and run a treadmill without weather interfering. A nice option.

Hope sits in there too, like comfort, and he feels good about it. “I can ask,” he tells himself. “I will ask.” The gym at this time of year means no cold air chilling his bones. He hopes the owner agrees. A great word, hope. He likes that word just fine, cradles it down into his word basket until he needs it again. “Hope.” He says it aloud, just once. No one else hears.

Chapter Two

 The windowless conference room contains two old wooden chairs painted red, one gray metal table bolted to the concrete floor, and a convicted felon chained to the table. Bleached nearly transparent and worn thin from years of washing, an orange jail-suit and a dark blue neck-rag tucked into his collar tops off his felony wardrobe.

Walter Ferguson cut off the sleeves above his elbows years ago and prison inks color his once muscular forearms, the red and blue artwork faded with age and wear. Half an inch of oily brown fringe speckled with gray circles his balding head, and tasteless jailhouse grub leaves his body a bit leaner than he likes. He last scraped whiskers off his face more than a week ago, and no-shower days fill his routine more often than not in a lockdown cellblock where he awakens each day to life without parole and at least one green demon sitting in his brain yapping at him. His mornings really suck.

A short stout security officer opens the steel entry door, steps aside, and admires a shapely figure as the psychiatrist enters the room. The escort locks the door behind her then slouches against the wall outside, his brown staff uniform and a silver badge pinned on its pocket hint at his official capacity – observe and manage inmates at Stark Medical Facility. The escort monitors Walter Ferguson and the doctor through a glass peep window, and yawns.

“Hello Cat.” Surprisingly soft spoken, Ferguson reveals stained broken teeth in a friendly pretense masquerading as a grin. A rusty steel ring anchors his handcuffs to the table, a nylon braid links the cuffs to a cable wrapped around his bare ankles, and worn leather sandals protect his feet. Hardcore convict, a very dangerous character. He would probably break her neck if he could reach it, or give her his only coat and hat and freeze himself if a snowstorm catches her outside one day – depends on the time of day and his mood at that particular moment.

Cat sits and plants a genuine smile on her face. “I miss our chats Fergie.”

The ghostly Russian tickle still haunts her English and becomes more noticeable whenever she gets excited. A touch of accent Cat tries hard but fails to hide reveals her childhood homeland despite the fact she’s lived in the United States almost half her thirty-one years.

An odd pairing early in her medical career, the four-time convicted murderer and the bright rising star at Harvard Medical Center once spent uncountable hours swapping stories right in this building. Elusive and unpredictable, his mood swings dump peaceful, or solemn, or boisterous, or violent into the mix on the spur of a moment and at the whim of his choice with no warning.

Cat grew quite fond of Ferguson despite his disconcerting anti-social behavior and violent tendencies. Neither regret nor reservation blunts his words and he reveals the torturous truths that live in his brain to no one but Cat. A refreshing honesty bridges two contrary characters in a world where most commercial and social values today reflect at least one false component everyone accepts no matter how misleading.

Walter Ferguson lives an extremely brutal lifestyle but never once told Cat a lie.

Ferguson stretches his fingers as far as he can reach through the steel cuffs and bindings. Gently and briefly, Cat touches his fingertips, a mini-handshake between two old friends, but no hug. “Nice suit Cat,” Ferguson observes, eyeing her mint green jogging sweats. “Been a while.”

“Easy to run in, and machine washable,” she quips. “And yes it has, almost two years.” She checks the back of his hands. Knobby scar tissue and a few fresh scratches across his knuckles give it away.

Cat nods her chin at his hands. “You still punching walls Fergie?”

Cat grins across the table, always upbeat even at the state mental facility. Her relationship with Ferguson dates back more than six years to when he volunteered in a two-year study she led during medical school. Ferguson tops her list as one of six intensely psychotic and violent subjects she counseled and treated during a psychiatric internship she and Doctor Aaron Clark administered through Harvard Medical Center after she earned her medical degree. She turns toward the window and wiggles a Snickers bar at the guard. Cat peels down the wrapper and pushes it across the table.

Ferguson eyeballs his favorite snack. Cat eases the bar closer and centers it on the table, pulls her hand away.

“Didn’t forget, did you?” His infatuation obvious, he stares at the bar for a few seconds then picks it up, bends his head down and bites off the end. His eyes caress the nuts, the chocolate, the smooth caramel topping. That nasty smile spreads impossibly wider, but slicker now, and more content. He takes a bigger bite and chews, moaning its sweetness.

“Yeah, punching walls,” he grumbles. “Turned forty-three two days ago and it pissed me off, one more birthday stuck in this fuckin’ rat-hole. Got a little blood on the concrete, but not too bad this time, couple cuts and scrapes. Warden Brooks hung up some thick wall pads last year, but I can still punch between ‘em in a few thin spots.” Ferguson chuckles briefly at his own stupidity, examines his swollen knuckles.

“The demons still piss you off too?”

Yeah, you know how it is Cat, can’t stop myself sometimes. Damn spooks holler at me, and the guards never help. They just ignore ‘em, let ‘em yell at me. Keeps me awake sometimes, don’t know how the rest of those guys sleep through it, so fuckin’ loud.”

“Your demons Fergie, they live inside your head. No one else hears them.”

“Yeah, maybe you think so, but I hear ‘em even if you can’t. Just gotta pay more attention, listen with both ears.” The convict chuckles again, admires her ears.

Ferguson pulls lightly at the cuffs, testing. No luck, the steel digs into his wrists so he settles for another nibble instead, a single bite remains. The convict stares at the solitary chunk as if watching his best friend melt away right before his eyes. Ferguson gobbles the last piece then sneaks a peek at Cat, a silent query, as if afraid to ask outright if she brought a second treat because she might tell him no, and that would truly bum him out. So he rides out the torture, uncertain but hoping she brought two.

Cat reads the question on his face but offers no answer. Makes him wait, testing.

“I hear you’re getting angry. That you’re getting lockdown most of the time.”

“Yup, keeps me safer. Demons gettin’ into the yard now too, sittin’ on guards, make ‘em push me around and search me all the time, stealin’ back the food I smuggle out the mess hall after I done all that work. So, gotta whack at ‘em to keep ‘em away. Damn spooks even snuck into some lifters out in the weight yard too, so I can’t buff iron anymore or they’ll git me.”

“You’re losing a little tone Fergie, you should exercise more,” Cat declares. “You’re too thin.” A mother hen scolds an offspring much older than herself, but he loses weight without his workouts and extra food he steals, plus the stress and worry plaguing his brain.

Ferguson ignores her health advice, wipes off his grin, installs a serious look on his face.

“Got worse after that, demons came into my room again, almost every night. Pads hung on the walls so the spooks hid in the gates and made me punch the bars instead. Got ‘em both, but it cut me up pretty bad. Chased ‘em away that day, not for long though. Always creep back in. Fuckers!”

“Fightin’ still works sometimes but when the demons hide inside them walls it ain’t so easy on my fists. Getting good scar tissue on ‘em again so it don’t hurt as much, just bleeds a little.”

“I thought we stopped all that Fergie, you hurting yourself.”

“Not hurting myself, just hurt the demons. Punch it out no matter where it hides.” He runs his eyes up and down, checks out Cat the woman not Cat the doctor after two years of separation.

“Lookin’ good Cat. Still runnin’, workin’ out I see, trim and fit. Little fuller up top where it counts since I seen you last.” Ferguson sneaks out a giggle after that observation, fills his mind with her features, and turns his lips up at each end. “Green always a good color on you, matches those eyes.”

Cat ignores his flattery. Once he starts in on her appearance, he keeps at it, the OCD kicking in. Gets his mind stuck in a loop and continues that line of thinking no matter it never goes anywhere. She evades it best she can, and changes the subject, distracts his thought pattern each time he starts. Most of the time, it works.

“So, what about your meds, do you still take them?”

“Not the good ones you gave us, something different.”

“Oh no!” Her eyes flash, a note of concern. “When did it change? Why? Who?”

“Pretty soon after you left us, a year or so, maybe less – went back to the blue med and two brown capsules, then that small whitey for sleep. Warden changed everyone back you treated once you and Aaron left us. Once in a while when we act out, me and the demons, we get the fat red capsule that makes us drowsy all day so we don’t cause no trouble.”

“Why do that? Why change it? I thought it kept the demons away.”

“Well, they never was gone Cat, just quiet. Still bossin’ me around, but was less pushy. Voices talked softer, and faces hung around like smoke. Could see ‘em, but spooks just couldn’t control me.  Could ignore what it said if I don’t agree with it.”

“Was just with those meds you gave I could blow it off, didn’t have to follow its orders, but the demons still laughed at me, and pissed me off. Not all the time and it couldn’t make me punch the wall then. It still makes me punch walls with brown and blue stuff. Warden took away the ones you gave us and the demon snuck right back in, powered itself up, and got me.”

“Like when I hit Harry Parker during dinner last month, guards locked me down again. Harry was standin’ there looking innocent but that damn spook kept yellin’ at me right out the top of his head, wigglin’ its ears and flappin’ its gums. Tried to beat that sucker outta Harry and save his life. Wasn’t too happy about it though, didn’t even tell me thanks after.”

“You put him in the hospital Fergie. Why should he thank you?”

Ferguson shrugs, pulls at the cuffs again, a little harder this time, his eyes dart around the room. His feet sway back and forth under the table, bang rhythmically between the chair and table legs, chains clink each time he swings his feet.

“Tried to tell Harry, but he don’t believe me. Says he don’t see or hear no demons, but he don’t listen hard enough. I can hear ‘em just fine. Got mad at me for those cuts over his eyes and two nasty shiners he got when I hit his spook for him. No wonder he can’t see ‘em though, eyelids swollen half shut like that.” Ferguson grins as the image flits across his mind then floats away, the damage he did, believing he hit a demon.

“I thought Harry was your friend? Roomies last time I was here, right?”

“Yeah sure, cellmates, not roomies.” His grin transforms itself into a snarl, “This ain’t no college, Cat.” Just as quickly, his smile reappears.

“But when Harry got a demon too I had to kick him out. He moved upstairs with Tommy Jenkins after that chow hall fight. Told me I was nuts, but Harry got away before I could help him. Was gonna kill his demon for him. His own damn fault if that nasty green spook finishes him off someday. Harry’s the nuts one, not me.”

“Want to talk about your own demons for a minute?  Exactly what they look like now and what they tell you.”

Ferguson squirms around a little. His body agitates, his eyes flick from Cat to the window, watching the guard watch him. He stretches his hands up as high as the chains allow and wiggles his fingers at the window, a mini-wave. The guard smiles and tips his cap. Ferguson elevates both middle fingers then giggles with sick humor only he appreciates at the moment, then turns his attention back to Cat, looks her right in the eyes.

“Just told, that’s enough, gets me antsy.” He ponders his spooks a few seconds longer, reconsidering, shakes his head. “Nope, don’t want to talk about ‘em. What about you, you got demons Doc. You talk about ‘em, I’ll listen, Doctor Walter J. Ferguson, my new pay number.” The convict cackles again, basking briefly in his new title.

“Maybe can get your old job Cat. You punch any walls lately? Come on, lie down on this table, and tell me all about it?” Ferguson laughs aloud.

Cat laughs with him, “Sorry, job’s not open Fergie, I still have it. That’s why I’m here.”

Cat remains in her seat, motionless, predicting exactly what will happen next. A repeat behavior every time she interviews Ferguson, he always jumps at her right after his eyes dart and he licks his lips, an absolute and undeniable compulsion anchored in his psychotic brain. She sits and waits, makes no attempt to escape it. It never works but he never learns from his repeated failures. The chain anchors him halfway and flops him face down on the table each time he tries. Cat knows it and expects it. Patient as her namesake, she waits.

His agitation elevates, his eyes dart around the room, and Ferguson licks his lips. Suddenly, he lunges toward Cat but the cuffs stop him short and dig into his skin. He grunts and grits his teeth, flops back down in the chair.

Cat remains rock still, never flinches.

“Missed again Fergie, when are you going to learn?” Her eyes never leave his.

The same event happens nearly every time, and numerous times during earlier sessions, so she expects it each visit. She watches Ferguson settle back. The felon glares at her for ten silent seconds, then blinks and shows his crooked yellow teeth again.

“Told me what you give us is too expensive, he feeds us different meds now, something else. ‘Gotta meet the budget,’ Brooks said after you and Aaron left. New pills don’t work so good. Can still see demons, see ’em inside you too Cat, same ones yakked at me before, pissing me off again. Starting now, right here again!”

Ferguson grunts, his anxiety more apparent, sweat pops out on his forehead. He suddenly lunges across the table a second time but the cuffs and chains pull him up short once more. He slumps forward this time and his head hits the table. His chair slides sideways and Ferguson thumps his head on the metal top three times intentionally. He squirms backwards and scoots sideways, half on the table and half under it. He lies still a moment then suddenly screams and rages at the demons, kicking his feet and struggling with the chains, losing control.

The door swings in and the guard enters. Ferguson shouts at him. “Get away! Get the fuck away! Get out! You’re just like the rest!” He thumps his fists on the table, jerks at the restraints.

Cat holds up her hand, shakes her head, and flips her fingers toward the escort twice, indicating he should step out and close the door. She brought a document stamped and signed by the governor authorizing Doctor Catherine Morgantholavich full access to the facility and its inmates. The officer reviewed it earlier when Warden Brooks assigned him as her escort. Reluctantly, the guard backs out and locks the door again, but pays much closer attention through the window, his eyes wide open. No yawns this time.

Ferguson pulls at the cuffs, trying to wrestle his hands free, and suddenly kicks up and out of his chair, sends the chair flying against the wall behind him. He loses his footing and his legs slide farther under the table, his chin bangs on its edge. Trapped, hanging on the chains, laid out and swaying just off the floor, his feet splayed apart, his wrists leak a little blood, the cuffs bite deeper.

Cat studies him a full minute. His sandals lose traction and his fists remain clenched in the cuffs, his arms lying flat across the table. Tangled in the restraints, he just hangs there breathing hard.

“You see ‘em Cat? You hear ‘em? Yelling at me inside your head, just like Harry. Gotta rip ‘em out Cat, only way I can save you.”

Cat circles behind him and grabs Ferguson beneath the shoulders, and lifts him. He drops as if falling but regains his balance exactly as he planned it. Neatly, he fakes a slip sideways and Cat makes a huge error, she grabs him around the waist. Ferguson quickly slides a knee on either side of her hips then squeezes his legs together and traps her, then twists an elbow over her head and forces the chain around her neck, eases her gently back against the table and presses the chain tighter across her throat.

“Gotcha, you sweet little kitten.” His lips flat-line, as if deciding her fate, and his eyes bug out then glaze over and for an instant Walter Ferguson envisions a distorted world no one ever sees but Walter Ferguson. The chain rattles beneath her chin and Ferguson tightens his chokehold. Sweat runs down his checks and drips off his chin, he growls directly into her ear. “Gonna kill it for you Cat, gonna save your life.”

Cat struggles and twists, unable to break the hold. A week-old no shower stink rises off Ferguson and fills the stagnant air, forcing Cat into a gag reflex and a cough. Twice more she coughs – the chokehold and nasty odor takes her breath away. “You need a bath Fergie,” she grunts, hoping to draw his attention away from the violence.

Ferguson twists and pins her in place, licks his lips and whispers directly into her ear again, a hoarse rumble. “You made a mistake Cat, got too close. Should know better after all this time, my demon told your demon, twice, but it don’t listen. Just like Harry.” The horrid grin returns and Ferguson licks his lips repeatedly, a continuous action now.

The door bursts open and the guard rushes in, unarmed, with no stun gun, unsure how he should respond, young and untrained. Torn between grabbing Ferguson and running for help, he stands motionless, undecided, finally blinks then fingers a radio button on his shirt collar, yells a code into it and his location then moves toward the table.

“Stop right there, or one little twist gets you a dead Cat for Christmas.”

Accustomed to obeying orders, the escort stops immediately, his eyes skip back and forth between Cat and Ferguson.

In a very soft and patient tone, Cat speaks. “Stop Fergie, it’s me, it’s Doctor Cat. Let me loose. You forgot your second Snickers bar.” Cat coughs again then holds her breath and turns her face away, evading his offensive stench.

Walter Ferguson remains motionless for what seems an hour, but in reality, freezes three lives for a mere five seconds. Ferguson blinks, moisture rolls down his cheeks, and he quiets immediately. His rage and anger release as quickly as it arrived, leaving tears in its wake and docile reactions.

Wet-eyed, Ferguson relaxes his grip, releases the chain, and begs. “Where is it Cat?”

“Not until we’re done Fergie.”