And class is in session!
Oct. 19, 2022




    The living room window must be subtly highlighted by the perfect accent of drapery; this window facing due east to allow an immaculate luminescence over my obsessively selected sofa set. I study through my pretend camera, the lines of every piece of furniture and décor, that they are angled and pieced as aesthetically as humanly possible. Yet something is amiss. I can feel it instinctively.... Yes, upon the polished mahogany shelving. There, optically centered in the background between two hourglass-shaped lamps in the foreground of thick crystalline glass capturing the room's every hue and characteristic, sits a simple yet ceramic flower vase in contrast. It is more of a garden green than an aquatic green, which is upsetting the overall flow of the room. This cannot stand!

    I am no longer chief executive of the famous/infamous advertisement company, I.R. Hotcake Marketing, yet old habits die hard. So, I toss the vase into the garbage—a clank of stainless steel, reflective of a modern and sanitary kitchen area—and I begin my daily routine of internet shopping.... I need the perfect vase! Anything to feel normal. Anything to forget. Anything to subdue the beast inside.

    My shopping cart fills with decorative accent pieces: a posh kitchen knife set, a trendy black-and-white print of Italian theme, tasseled curtain tiebacks, and the most beautiful vase that human eyes have ever beheld....

    A knock resounds and echoes within my skull. The door creeks open and there smiles Beezy; a smile of unknown intent. Behind it is some unspoken darkness I may never know. Yet, still, she comforts me. She is familiarity. And since the courts took my daughter from me, Beezy is all I know of human relationship. They call her Busy Beezy back at the office over which I once reigned. That is where we met and became close associates. I say “associates” as “friend” is a bit more of a social investment than I'm willing to permit myself.

    The browns of Beezy's eyes are so deep, they are almost darker than her pupils, which match her silken black hair. It hangs like spider webs, framing her pale face which captures every shadow of her expressions. Her smile darkens her features with shaded dimples. Sad that the life I've lived leaves me over-analyzing something as simple as a smile.

    This smile always precedes a request, proposition, or interrogation. This time she interrogates, “Why didn't you attend the virtual book club meeting last night?”

    The day has just begun and already I'm annoyed. “Catcher in the Rye again? How many times do we have to read that damn book?”

    Beezy pays no mind to my rebuttal, fighting the power button on the television remote. “When are you going to fix this TV?” She pulls from her red leather purse a small container of hand sanitizer, engaging in her obsessive disinfection ritual of her hands and arms.

    What she doesn't realize is, I gutted all the electronics from the devilish contraption. I don't need what's inside of it reeling my brain into its mother ship like a paralyzed fish impaled by countless hooks that once dangled before her; so shimmery, shiny, and alluring. I just need the square design to complete the vintage mahogany stand upon which it rests. Televisions are normal. I want to seem normal. I need normal … somehow....

    “Did you think it over what we talked about, Cass?” Cass, that's me. Strange, it feels as if she reminded me of my own name. I've always been Cass, but some days I don't quite feel her behind my eyes. Some days I feel … I don't know … of a different character than this one now staring blankly at Beezy, awaiting an answer.

    “No, I didn't”, I finally respond.

    She rolls her eyes, huffs and puffs in her typical display of annoyance. “You know what the courts will say if you don't go back to work. You want your daughter back, don't you?”

    Of course I do and she knows it. She holds this anvil of power over my head every day. Perhaps it is retribution for the tortures I put her through when I was in charge. Yes, I used to be in charge, yet I wasn't. I, Cass, was never in charge … not even when I was the boss calling all the shots. It was somebody else … something else. Yet Beezy could care less for this inner dialogue she sees playing across my face, as I stare through her, while she grows impatient for reply. So, I take what power I can and I don't respond. Silence is my strength over the conversation. Silence is my reign.

    “I'm going shopping later. Would you like to come with me?” she asks as if coaxing a frightened child, which in many ways I am, I suppose. Stubbornly I cannot yet relent the silence and so I simply shrug and shake my head.

    “Come on, we'll have fun”, she attempts to entice me as if dangling chocolate before a fat kid. “You need to get out. You've been in here too long. Surely you're getting cabin fever.” She pulls back the curtains to reveal way more sunlight than should be permitted for the pristine image I've created of my apartment. I stare daggers into her, yet she never seems to recognize my exasperation. She doesn't seem to notice the blue bird flapping wildly about just outside the window either. She is a very unobservant type—another thing that has always irritated me about her, although I envy it. I wish I could experience blissful unawareness. Yet I cannot. That damn bird is casting the wrong shape of shadow across the room.

    “You remember what happened last time?” I remind her and she knows exactly what I mean, as her smiling face turns to frown.

    “You'll be fine. That won't happen again”. She lends this promise in the most uncertain tone, as it is a promise nobody may possibly keep. She takes me by the hand pleading, “Come on, come on, it'll be fun!”

    “No”, I remain as stubborn as a tranquilized mule.

    “You don't have to go. It's your choice. But if you want things to get back to normal, you have to start doing normal things again.” She always uses this line on about how it's my choice, yet it doesn't feel that way.

    “Okay, okay!” I peel her cold scaly hands from mine that she immediately sanitizes in the disinfection ritual. “I'll go. But you said 'later'. I'll go later. Not now! I need to prepare myself.” I give her a scolding visage as if to say that she has won, but it is time to give me my space now.

    She celebrates in jubilation, as if it is the victory of a lifetime, yet finds herself alone in this excitement. “I'll be back later”, she grins a kind of sinister smirk etched in pencil. “Here, I picked this up for you.” She drops a newspaper upon my coffee table, completely destroying the Feng shui.

    “No! Take that with you!” I scold, yet she leaves, slamming the door behind her. Does she know what she's just done? She has no clue the hell she has left in her wake! I cannot be alone with that newspaper. God only knows what is inside, what is encoded in its print, what hidden messages are calling out from its realm of horror. I try to scoot it away from my sight, but my eyes rest heavy on the photograph upon its cover.... Dare I look?... It calls to me. I'm entranced. I cannot look away now. I'm locked upon the headline of “Bob Dylan's Victim Speaks Out”.

    I rush for the scissors hidden away in the hallway closet. This closet is where my skeletons are kept. This is the closet nobody may see. It is where I go to connect the dots. It is where the lines are drawn and things add up. So, I cut the article from the paper and up it goes with thumb tack upon the closet wall where all the other newspaper clippings link together their story. Someday it will all make sense. Someday the final piece of the puzzle will link it all together so neatly and precise and all will be clairvoyance—no more racket inside of my brain, only serenity of the answer.

    Not yet, however. I tack a string from the “Elvis is Alive” article that links to the “Paul is Dead” article and so forth and so on all the way to a horrific Disney World postal card from my childhood. This is my vault of secrets. Here I find a nightlight in a world of monsters. For a moment, the new link in the chain of clues gives me a burst of dopamine and I feel orgasmic pleasure. Yet it does not last. It never does. Now I feel shame. This is not normal. I must become normal!



    Beezy pulls up to the curb in her liquid black S.U.V just in time. I usually hate the sight of her vehicle, as it looks as if a Saturnian cube on wheels. Yet this time it is my savior from these cult-followers walking up and down the sidewalks masked and gloved and devoid of all individuality. I leap inside with a sigh of relief. She sits there grinning like a possum, some kind of motive behind the smile that eludes me. She is shoved forward into the steering wheel as the pedals are comically too far away from the reach of her foot. The vehicle is much too large for her, especially in that ridiculous black gown and glassy red high heels she's wearing, much too over-the-top for casual shopping.

    She goes to reach for the radio button when I immediately halt her hand. She says perplexed, “I just wanted to listen to some music”.

    I grit my teeth at her amnesia of my condition. She knows what can happen. She knows, but forgets, just like she forgot with the newspaper. Is she really this air-headed that she doesn't know me by now? “No radio!” I order her. For a moment I'm snapped back into boss-mode and the command seems to come from a voice not my own.

    “But I want to listen ...”

    I interrupt her, “No radio!... You know what happened last time.... What if that song plays again?” She inhales deeply, composes herself, and relents. “Besides,” I explain, “what value can be obtained from the radio? It's the same fifteen songs running on a loop all day, every day for the rest of your life.”

    “There's nothing wrong with music”, she rebuttals with a hard bat of her eyes, casting looks to kill.

    I chuckle sarcastically. “There is nothing wrong with music, you're right. But you'll find no music on that device. That is programming … not music.”

    “Whatever”, she sarcastically admonishes, slamming on her brakes, honking viciously at the shiny bumper now presented directly before us. Yet I don't allow her reckless driving to trouble me. There are things much more dangerous than death in life.... And there's that blue bird flying just outside my window. Why does this blue bird seem to follow me everywhere? Is it the same blue bird? Are there many blue birds magnetized to me and my pathway? Is this some spirit of a past I once knew breezing in and out of my day for reminder? Either way, the blue bird stalks me and I don't understand how such a beautiful creature could be so haunting. It flies away into obscurity, as if it were never really there.

    When we arrive at the clothing shop, there is a line backed up from the entrance all the way around the block. This I find overly disturbing and I long so badly for my apartment. A home it may not be, but this hell before me it is not. My apartment is picturesque and magazine cover-ready. This scene is sheer madness and despair—ritualistic abuse of an entire population. “What is this line, Beezy?” I ask as we approach, passing masked face after masked face, eyes leering into my soul, as if having forgotten their own.

    “They need to check us in, do a temperature scan, have you disinfect your hands … you know … all that good stuff.” She states this so casually as if it makes any sense at all, but she may as well be speaking a foreign language as far as I'm concerned.

    “Temperature scan?” I ask entirely perplexed. “What the hell for?”

    “Are you serious, Cass?” She glares at me in humiliation, as the others in line are now looking back upon me in judgment. “This is 2021, my dear.” She chuckles awkwardly, trying to calm the gawking audience. “The pandemic?... How long have you been stuck in that apartment?” She laughs while applying a red silk mask that perversely matches her shoes.

    She takes from her purse a blue surgical mask and attempts to hand it to me. I slap her hand away. “I'm not wearing that damn thing!”

    “Cass, my dear, you have to, it's mandated.”

    “If they mandated you to put a bucket on your head, would you? I'm not wearing it.” I feel my pulse rising. I'm starting to sweat. The memories are bubbling just under the surface. I cannot allow them to rise to consciousness.

    We approach the entrance where masked and gloved employees in surgical gowns shoot red laser beams into the foreheads of all who enter, even the children. My heart beats erratically. Beezy obediently permits the beam into her skull and passes through the fascist checkpoint. It is my turn. They hand me a mask and attempt to shoot their laser at my brain, but I resist. They command me to put on the mask. But again, I resist. I know this ritual. I've been here before. The memories. Please don't let the memories return. The others are now shouting at me, “Just wear the mask!” I cannot! I will not! I know this ritual. I have left this abuse and will not return.

    Even Beezy joins them in begging me to wear it, “You don't have to wear it, your choice, but you cannot come in without it. You want to come in, don't you, my dear? It's just a facial covering.” Security guards encircle. Flashes of memory flicker behind my eyelids with every blink. Panic sets in. All shouts are now white noise. The memories flood.

    Aren't memories of childhood supposed to be an enjoyable experience? Don't most adults say, “O to be young again”? Not I. I'm here in the memory of a cold, dark, damp basement with harsh brick walls and concrete floor beneath my bare feet. As I look down at them, I notice my entire childish body is bare and shivering. My head is being shaved. A mask is being applied to my face. My abusers yell curses at me, lashing me, touching me in grotesque ways no child should ever have to endure. These abusers are my parents … or “parental unit”, as they referred to themselves when not referring to themselves as masters or gods. They too are wearing masks and strange hooded robes. There is an altar and I fear it with all fears of the universe collected in one bout of dread. What it means, I do not know, but it paralyzes me. There are other dark mysterious figures in masks dancing around the altar. I do not know who they are, and I do not want to know. They fade to shadows. The abusers go dark. The basement goes dark. All is darkness....

    I awaken on the sofa in my apartment. My cellphone is ringing and vibrating on the coffee table a kind of electronic seizure. Not the damn cellphone—that mind-reading data vampire. I'd give anything to make that cellphone not exist right now.... It's Beezy. “Hello?”

    “Are you okay, Cass? I haven't heard from you since the incident.”

    “I'm fine”, I lie through my teeth and walk around the room, making certain this is real, that this is actual concrete reality, that I really am back in my apartment. Looking out the window, I see a man standing on the sidewalk below. He pulls his mask down to smoke a cigarette. My instinct is to judge the absurdity of this contradiction, but I know the trauma his mind endured. I understand the ritualistic programming he has underwent. His psyche has been broken and remolded into something not of his own freewill.

    “Don't forget, tonight is the virtual book club meeting”, she says in an annoyingly bubbly manner, which is much too effervescent for my tolerance at this time.

    “What's the book?”

    She pauses a moment and, with a peculiar chuckle, answers simply, “Catcher in the Rye”.

    “Wait … what day is it?” It suddenly dawns on me the most important meeting of my life is today. Before Beezy can respond, I already know that I am late. “I need a ride!” I say this not as a request, but as a demand of her services. The boss inside of me takes over.



    I force her foot harder on the gas pedal, urging her to speed faster and faster, as we weave in and out of traffic, barely making the yellow lights before they flick to the cease and desist of roadway law. I have to make this meeting. I have to make it to the court on time. This is for my daughter. This is for my return to sanity. This is for the normal life that I need to have with her and for her.

    I race through the courthouse, through the metal detector—Lord knows I despise that demonic contraption! I catch the judge and my case manager just as they're exiting. “You're late”, the judge reprimands, as they continue walking away from me in frustration.

    “Please, please”, I beg them. “I'm here now!”

    They stop and turn to me. My case manager is wearing a dress that seems fashioned from a tailored tuxedo. Her briefcase hangs heavily at her side. Her hair looks as if pressed from some factory machine and her makeup blasted upon with a shotgun, so thick and clownish. She sneers. “I heard you had a recent incident at the shopping center?”

    “Yes”, I cry. “But I'm working on that.”

    “That's not what your counselor tells me. He says you haven't seen him in weeks.” She looks down her long sharp nose at me in condemnation.

    “It's not working with him. But I'll find another counselor. Please let me see my daughter!”

    The judge, in a black robe borrowed from the Grim Reaper in between slayings, slams a figurative gavel on the discussion in stating solemnly, “You were late. Too late.”

    Once again, I'm being ritually abused. My daughter is being held captive by the state and molded to their form of robotic servant just as I was all those years ago. I fall before them on my knees pleading and crying for any pity I can receive, yet they ignore me, for it is their lunch break and they are off the clock. This is nothing more than a paycheck to them. Destroying families is just a part of their job duties. Beezy comes to my aid and pulls me away just as I begin reaching out for heartstrings that do not exist. The scene is sheer sorrow as the rainclouds position themselves overhead on cue. Beezy sanitizes her hands in the disinfection ritual.

    The clouds rupture as we are stuck in traffic, yet I do not care. Let it rain. Let it rain for years and drown away all the reptiles in control of this laboratory we call a society. Even in the rain I see lines of people on the sidewalk awaiting their free injection for a trip to Disney World. I see zombified fools limping out of the injection booths pale and dizzy with the toxins flooding their cells.... And there is the blue bird struggling with its heavy wings drenched and pounded by droplets yet putting on its show just for me. I don't care though. Nothing matters. I can't even hear what Beezy is blathering about so incessantly like a droning motor.

    Returning to my apartment doesn't feel as comforting as it usually does. It feels like Oz. It feels so far from home. Opening the door is like opening the front page of a magazine to see a studio setting. Nothing seems real. And there on my charcoal gray velvet sofa sits a man … an odd character, although not seeming out of place at all. He blends with the furniture. He seems to belong here more than myself. I recognize him:

    “Doctor Rudin, what are you doing here? How did you get in?”

    He approaches me with his hands clasped behind his back. He seems to slither towards me, is the way I see it, as he is a rather serpentine personality. In a poorly veiled German accent he hisses his words, “Cass, I apologize for my uninvited appearance; however, I feel we should chat. Wouldn't you agree?”

    “No, I do not agree”, I argue, disoriented at this bizarre situation. “What is going on?”

    Suddenly Beezy appears in the doorway. She pulls out her cellphone, presses the screen, and holds it outward to assist its weak speaker. “Calm down, Cass. Everything's going to be alright.” I hear the piano and I immediately know the song.

    “No!” I implore. “Anything but that song! Not that song!”

    The lyrics begin:


    'Stars shining bright above you.

    Night breezes seem to whisper, “I love you”.

    Birds singing in the sycamore tree.

    Dream a little dream of me.'


    Suddenly Doctor Rudin pulls the syringe from behind his back and all I can recall is Beezy opening a jar of monarch butterflies as they flutter about within my mind. The darkness returns, yet so too returns the memories of a basement. There is the altar. There are the robed strangers chanting. My abusers coax me towards the altar. I am not myself. There is somebody else taking over my mind and body. It is not me walking to the altar where lies a horrified child. It is not me accepting the knife that is placed in my hands. It is not me, yet it is someone within me guiding the blade to the child's chest—a child as young as I who could be my classmate in kindergarten had I been permitted the normalcy of public schooling. However, it is indeed me wondering why the robed strangers are all holding ceremonial chalices.


    I return to consciousness … well, not exactly consciousness. I return to subconscious, peeking out from some sort of psychological curtain within a man named Denny. And I step forward into his costume. I become Denny. I'm overseeing a studio set. How do I know instinctively where each prop should be positioned? How do I know the lead model should be wearing a black crown with dark red hair? It comes natural to me as I bark orders, while suppressing the other personalities whispering in the corridors of my mind.

    There is Beezy with that devilish grin carved into the ivory of her cheeks. “Denny, the set is looking great!” she showers me in this compliment, looking as if she wishes to kiss my feet.

    “Yes, yes, of course it is. Why are the cameras not flashing?” I say so arrogantly and caustically.

    This is me? This is my character? Or am I just wearing the mask? Reality is so foggy, yet I mechanically play my role. “These three,” I refer to the male models as if they are mere props, their bodies chiseled from oak, their eyes as blank as an erased chalkboard, “Put these three in her shadow as if they are bathing in it devoutly. I want them to worship her shade!” The lead model stands tall in black and white, everything black and white besides her red hair crowned in black jewels. The cameras flash, the models obey, the shoot wraps up with cheers of my genius, while I do not even know the product being sold from this image. For all I care, I am the product … a product of brilliance, mastery, and sorcery of scene and psyche. We all model our designer masks, showing only our empty eyes of the tunneling abyss and we part ways without farewell, as “goodbye” is the emotional foolishness of the plebeian, not us of regal class and bloodline.

    Beezy and I walk together, she speaking only when spoken to, as the well-trained canine I've made her. A personality inside of me tells me to empathize with her, but I know there is no place for empathy in this world. The fittest who survive are made fit by adoption of cruelty and apathy.

    We pass by a clothing shop. I don't know why, but it seems familiar. Something about it upsets my stomach and makes those maggots of mind squirm. Yet I can draw no memory that makes these feelings make sense. I ask Beezy, “What is it about that store that bothers me so?”

    Beezy shakes her head, “I don't know. Perhaps that dreadful window display?”

    “Yes, that must be it.” No, that cannot be it. There's something more to it. There's a story there in the recesses of my memory that refuses to come to light.

    A newspaper stand? These still exist? What is a newspaper stand doing here in 2021? Odd! Yet I am drawn to it like a demon to a pitchfork. Neil Young is on the headlines. Why is this photograph captivating me? He is protesting Spotify, whatever that means. I do not care the nature of the story, but there is something encoded in this article. I must buy it.

    Beezy tries to convince me out of the purchase for whatever reason. It is a mere two dollars, what am I losing? “You can buy it, your choice, but you know the way these news stories can trigger you!” she scolds me and I feel a feminine voice in the back of my head crying out.

    Beezy looks across the street and suddenly says, “I see an old friend. I'll catch up with you later at the virtual book club meeting”.

    “I'm not doing any book club thing”, I contest, although I know where this will lead.

    “You don't have to, it's your choice, but activities like this look good for your case manager. Your choice.” She runs away to some strange character dressed all in black like some bad C.I.A. costume from a novelty shop. What does she mean, "my case manager"? What case manager? This is such a perplexing comment to leave the conversation on; some unknown case manager. Why would I have a case manager? A case of what exactly? Something or someone inside of my head pounds the walls of my skull to a thundering migraine.... Case manager?

    Suddenly I feel something very strange and difficult to explain. It's humiliating what is going on inside of my mind, yet I feel a great discomfort upon my chest, feeling as if I have a female's breasts not my own, although they are my own, yet they are pressed hard against me under some great force. The phantom pains throb. My suede jacket seems to fit so oddly and my black leather pants feel of void where there should be no void. I feel a strong feminine body inside of my skin and it terrifies me to the marrow. I'm mortified and somehow stupefied by this grotesque sensation, yet I ignore it. It must be ignored.



    The droopy face in the corner of my laptop screen, slowly drools her words, asking, “So, Denny, what did you think of Holden Caulfield's character? What did he mean to you?” She maintains the same countenance of comatic disconnect, blinking slow blinks of a sloth's demeanor.

    “I think he's a whiny brat of no particular interest to society whatsoever and deserving no mention in any literary work, especially not one so overly praised as this absolute rubbish we herald as a classic!” I don't know why I react this way. I actually rather enjoyed the book. However, there is an inner voice that resounds from my core and speaks for me.

    “By God”, another face pops up on my screen, bloated and reddened in anger, veins engorged and bursting from his forehead. “You nailed it! Thank heavens somebody said it! Catcher in the Rye is pure garbage! An overrated box of nothingness gift wrapped with a bow of self-aggrandizement, although it's literally a tale of blathering nonsense; the ramblings of a spoiled, boring, thoughtless child with no story to tell and no reason for writing other than to seem deep and introspective, which is sheer pompous vapidity!”

    Beezy appears on the screen engaged in the disinfection ritual although all alone in the confines of her disinfected home, “Now, now, everyone. We're all entitled to our opinions, but let's keep it civil. You can dislike the book. That's your choice. But we're here to discuss it, so let's try to do so in a more sophisticated, less judgmental manner, shall we, my dears?” The one face continues blinking slowly with an unchanging expression of sedation, while the other struggles to compose himself, wiping sweat from his brow. This is all I can handle, so I close my laptop and am drawn to the newspaper.

    I find myself operating as an automaton, my mechanics in motion with no conscious driver behind the levers. I cut out the article and am guided by subconscious to the closet. There in the shadows of the drawstring light, the red yarn tentacles connect headline after headline, all leading back to the crinkled, faded Disney World postcard. I see flashes of the network that links it all together. I see Charles Manson connecting to Marilyn Monroe connecting to Mark David Chapman connecting to Aleister Crowley connecting to Barbara Bush connecting to Anton Lavey connecting to Walt Disney connecting to Moloch.... I faint to the dizzying effects of unbridled clairvoyance....

    I awaken back at the office. We are in a meeting and I do not know how I arrived here or even when I arrived, yet the yes-men and the 'at-a-boy women are all awaiting my response, awaiting their contrived applause of my genius. I see the power-point presentation giving its conclusion to some shoe commercial, yet I am as lost as a moth at sea on a moonless night. Thinking quick, I turn it back upon the presenter, “A bit complicated, don't you think? Now, summarize this commercial in a much more simplified, palatable manner”. I can tell by the looks around the table that the presentation must have been as simple as possible, yet they will not say a word. They know what's best for them and their career in the security of silence and acquiescence. Marionettes know their cue at the tug of the puppet master's string.

    He clicks the mouse and the frames roll backwards in time. A small timid girl, looking as Alice in Wonderland, wears her red sneakers with black swoosh. She grows much larger than the mushrooms which once towered over her. The presenter gives explanation, but I hear not a word he says. His voice is as a light breath in a deep cavern, silenced by the loudness of the imagery on the screen. There is a foul stench of wizardry playing about in the subliminal undertones of the scene, although I cannot quite put my finger on it. What is this feeling in my stomach? I feel a visceral repulsion. My every organ tingles with the sickness of mind.

    I look down at my body, the ridiculous black satin shirt with pearl buttons that fits so awkwardly and loose. The little girl in this commercial bothers me at every nerve ending. I shudder to my spine. I can see in her eyes the torment. I can see in her posture the release of soul. I can see in her something, someone … and I remember.... I remember so strongly, so vividly, so compassionately, so instinctively, and so damn horrifically!... I remember!

    I shout at Beezy, as it dawns on me, “Case manager!... I have a daughter!... I am a mother!”

    “Now, now, my dear”, she tries to tame me. “Have you taken your pills today? I think we should be taking those pills.”

    “I am not Denny”, I shout with empowering vehemence! “I am Cass and I want my daughter back!”

    Beezy takes her phone from her pocket. Her finger glides over the screen threateningly. I know what this means, but I am powerless. I thrash a stack of documents across the table and a chair into the drywall in violent rebellion, but nobody reacts, and it does nothing to deter Beezy. The music plays:

    'Dream a little dream of me.'

    Beezy's eyes flood with black. The shadows creep in and overtake me. I am paralyzed to the darkness....

    It is this darkness that awakens me with a tap on the eyelids, a television flickering before me. I try to run, but my confusion grips me and restrains me to the wooden chair. A Mickey Mouse-like cartoon character dances upon the screen, although more like a character I would name Rickey Rat, as it carries some plague of mind that I cannot immediately identify. The strange sounds of disharmony are whispered, then shouted, then rattled to a static, echoing voices resounding within the dark corridors of what is a cold, damp, shadow-infested basement.

    I see some fantastic bright shimmering that appears from blackness behind the grainy box television. Alien jewels twinkle and entrance. I am mesmerized, as Beezy reveals her grinning face with a long powdery white neck enveloped in encrusted hypnosis. It suddenly becomes apparent that she is not alone. She is accompanied by Doctor Rudin in a blood-stained white lab coat, holding a dripping syringe; his face struggling not to laugh that stereotypical villain's laugh. I then realize, there are no blood stains. There is no syringe. He is not laughing nor smiling in the slightest. This is my mind playing tricks, although honest tricks, emphasizing the true nature of the beast that stands before me in all its gory advertisement of purest evil.

    “You should take these, wouldn't you agree, Denny?” Doctor Rudin says temptingly, clicking back and forth the clear plastic pill cup, as the blue pills inside clap against one another mockingly.

    “There, there, my dear”, Beezy says in motherly hush, trying to lull me again into the realm of slumber whence I've resided most of my life. “You do want to see your daughter, right, my dear?”

    My eyes fight themselves, trying to close and shut out the horror of reality as it stands here now, while simultaneously widening in attempt at understanding this o too familiar place and o too familiar derangement. My eyes meet a compromise and remain in a squinted stare, fixed upon the pills. I shake my head. It is all the remonstrance that I can muster.

    “You need your job to get your daughter back, my dear. This is the only way. This is the way back to your career, back home, and back with your daughter. But it's your choice.” She vanishes. Doctor Rudin sits the plastic cup on the splintered arm of the chair with fingernail markings beside me and he too vanishes. To where, I do not know. Where did they go? Are they still there in the breeze of shadows? Were they ever really there? I cannot be too certain of anything in this state of delirium, but the music plays and I find myself raising the pills to my lips....

    A memory flashes to mind—the basement, my childhood cell, just as this place now; a subterranean torture chamber of will and thought. The robed figures have disrobed and are groping one another most inappropriately for my virgin eyes. The knife is in my hands raised above my head. I see the dazed child lying at the altar. I see in him myself. I feel his horror and his pain. My human emotions, although dulled and buried beneath the abuse, reveal themselves in his visage. Suddenly I grab him and wrestle him to his feet, threatening the naked strangers with the knife. I fight for the stairway to the door that leads to freedom … and I return in a blink of my eyes to the current situation with the pills pressing against my lips; a chalky bitter taste as my tongue tests the intruders....

    No!... I will not!... I cannot!... This is my decision! I can guide my mind. I can guide my body. I can get my daughter back. I am Cass. I am a mother … and I am in control of my life!... It starts here. It starts now. Put the pills down, Cass. I can do this. I AM doing this against the muscle memory fighting back against me with every ounce of energy I have. Every fiber of my being tells me to swallow the pills thoughtlessly and without regret—just go back to that lullaby of the coma. No, I say, NO, never again will I hand over the reins to the neurological parasites. I decide!... It's my decision and my decision is no more! I toss the pills to the stained concrete and I hear them clack and echo against the moldy wall.

    In a daze, I stumble my way to the foot of the stairs. They are rotting and bowed with every step. They seem to stretch upwards into eternity; a never-ending ascent out of hell. I fight my dead legs step by step, being impaled by a loose nail, the blood gushing its trail behind me, but I do not stop. I make it to the door. The cold, rusty knob turns … it turns! Much to my surprise, it is unlocked! It opens to a torrent of bright, blinding light, white as sunlit snow. It hits me like a strong, overpowering hug from God! There is grass. There is sky. There is the asphalt of the road, never before so beautiful. There is freedom just within reach....

    In mid-stride to emancipation, I see the blue bird flapping spasmodically in front of my face as if in warning, and there steps before me Beezy and Doctor Rudin. This time he is holding a very real syringe. Some things you just know are not hallucination. This is not a trick of mind. The blue liquid inside of its plastic container sloshes menacingly, while its slippery metal needle gleams a nightmarish horror show. The blue liquid almost appears to be boiling and bubbling as if in a miniature cauldron. It plunges into my arm and I am immediately tranquil, falling limp into their assisting hands. Beezy's eyes fill with a blood red, as her curse is stared into my soul.

    They drag me to Beezy's car and position me into the passenger's seat, Doctor Rudin taking the back seat with another needle loaded and primed for my veins. Beezy gives me one last glance of disappointment while sanitizing her hands in the disinfection ritual, perched high in her driver's seat, before slowly accelerating to the long winding road that snakes in and out of surreal forestry.... Sleep becomes me. I am sleep. We are one in the same. I fight my heavy eyelids, but this is a battle not to be won. The deck is stacked against me. The playing field is not level. I lose to the coma yet again.

    When I awake, I feel the itchy fabric over my face. It is a surgical mask and I thrash it away. I am strapped tightly into the passenger's seat, but the vehicle is at rest and Beezy and Doctor Rudin are outside by the rear bumper, having a very heated discussion. I stretch forward and my body is much stronger than I had anticipated, my functions regained. This miscalculation causes me to bash my knuckles against the glove compartment as it flies open. For a moment I am fearful of them knowing of my state of consciousness, but they do not react to the loud thud and remain in muffled debate. I look forward and there it is … a handgun nestled in the owner's manual. Why does Beezy have a handgun? She's always professed herself to be opposed to the Second Amendment. Never mind that. Is it loaded? I never handled a gun before. How do I know if there are bullets? Isn't there some sort of clip or magazine? I've heard gun nuts use this type of terminology.

    But it's too late to check. They've turned to the car doors and are reentering the vehicle. I must close the compartment for now. What do I do? What if it's loaded? What if it's not?

    “Denny? You're awake?” Beezy acts her role, hoping I have returned to the costume of their design, whoever it is “they” really are, so I must play my role as well.

    “Yes, I must have dosed off. When is the photo shoot? Are we late?” I say in the tone of what I believe Denny would use in such a circumstance, quite annoyed and arrogant.

    “The photo shoot is tomorrow. You have a 2 o'clock with the Governor for his campaign ad.” She says this in delight, so pleased that the techniques have brought me under control. All disappointment has flushed from her countenance. Doctor Rudin lowers the syringe in approval of my return.

    “Wake me up when we get there,” I say in drowsy monotone, feigning sleep, as I lie my head against the window, taking one last look at the glove compartment.

    I peek through my eyelids seeing the city approach and suddenly an opportunity arrives with a pickup truck swerving into our lane, Beezy narrowly avoiding the truck's dented and rust-worn bumper. She honks maniacally and this is just the distraction I need as I pull the gun from the glove compartment, pointing it directly at Beezy's head. “Take me to my daughter!” I command like a war-ravaged general.

    I feel Doctor Rudin's needle swiping through the air towards me from the back seat. As I turn my sights on him, Beezy attempts wrestling the gun away from me with her free hand. When I turn back to her, I feel the cold, sharp, wet needle tip press against my flesh. I give Beezy a swift kick across the face, as I back my body away from the syringe and she loses control of the wheel, slamming us into the guardrail. She stomps the brake pedal with full force and the jolting momentum sideways and backwards leaves Doctor Rudin tumbling to and fro and suddenly he is motionless. His head is bloodied and the window is cracked. The needle is no longer in his hand. Instead, it juts from his throat as he struggles for breath before fainting.

    I turn to Beezy and aim the gun with purpose and daggers for eyes gleaming intent of a monstrous nature. “Drive,” I demand! “Take me to my daughter!”

    She relents, but not without flashing me an angered countenance of disapproval, as if this means anything to me now. “My dear, surely you don't think you'll get away with this.”


    “If you go through with this, they'll put you in the ward for life. Is that what you want? You stop this now and it all goes back to normal. You'll have your job. You'll have your apartment.”

    “I don't want normal. Normal is too strange these days. I just want my daughter and I will have her back!”

    She sighs in disgust yet seems confident that I will lose in the end. I can see it in her dark, sadistic eyes. Her pupils seem to mirror shadows of midnight lamp posts through a heavy downpour of black winter rains. Even the whites of her eyes are shaded in some malicious gray of deep-seated evil. She parks in the open space before the courthouse.

    “What are we doing here? You better take me to my daughter now!” I jab the gun against her cheek. I press it hard and yet her pale skin doesn't change color. It remains as white as bleached cotton.

    She looks to the gun as if she doesn't fear it, but respects it. She seems to have a kind of admiration for its threat. Looking down its barrel to my finger on the trigger, she nearly smirks, as if knowing something I do not. This is her intimidation tactic. Yet I am not afraid. Fear will no longer possess me. I am master of this horror and I orchestrate the nightmare that will follow for all those who oppose me now in my mission. Beezy turns away, brushing the wrinkles from her polyester top, collecting herself and says softly, “Your daughter is in there. If you want her, that is where she is”.

    “In the courthouse? Why?... Never mind,” I stop myself. “Let's go!”

    I follow behind her, pushing the gun up into the soft meaty part of her back, as we approach the courthouse steps. Men in suits and women in masculine dresses with long stiff sleeves holding briefcases and files pass by unaware of the situation that I nervously control. Most draw immediate cigarettes to their quivering lips. We pass through the doors and the cold tile hallway, waxed to a mirror-shine, recedes infinitely before us, a checkered pattern drawing the eyes into a tunnel of institutional entrapment. I coax Beezy faster and faster, as she trips over herself with each step.

    “In there,” she points with a devilish grin. I can see through the glass panel of the door, the Case Manager sitting behind her desk on the phone with ink pen in hand. Her thickly applied mascara and rouge makes her seem as if an animated mannequin. There is nothing human about her. Even her motions seem automated and overly rehearsed like some body-snatcher from another planet attempting to act like the intelligent species of this planet. I force Beezy through the doors. The Case Manager freezes in confusion.

    “Put the phone down and take me to my daughter!” I order her in a quieted shout, every facial muscle flexed for visual expression of my sincerity.

    She slowly hangs up the phone, the voice on the other end calling out questioning hellos without response. “Now, now, Cass,” the Case Manager slowly stands with her hands in the air. “You have two options here. We can forget this ever happened and everything can go back to normal or you can go through with this and you'll never see your daughter again. Which is it? Your choice.”

    “Damn right it's my choice. I'm the one with the gun and I've made my decision. What's yours'?” I crack Beezy on the temple with the butt of the gun, her falling to her knees crying out in pain. Pointing the gun to the Case Manager, while maintaining control of Beezy by grabbing a handful of her bloody hair, standing her back on her feet, they both know this is no game. They see the deranged look in my eyes and the willingness to kill, battle, and fight to the death. There are no options for them other than my daughter or a bullet. So, she leads me to the hallway, as I follow behind.

    We walk to the dark, dead-end of the hallway, through a doorway that becomes even darker, the overhead lights zapping and flickering. We approach a door on the right. It is steel and dungeon-like, its locks of seeming permanence in their enormity and strength.

    “She's down there,” the Case Manager says with chattering teeth, a demeanor of pure horror. She opens the locks one at a time, the door creaking open with a screech of solid iron hinges, metal on metal grating. I can hear strange echoes resounding from the stairway that leads down to some dusky nowhere. A strange gust blows the hairs up on the back of my neck.

    “Go!” I thrust the gun in the direction of both of their heads, showing in my eyes the reel playing out of what will happen if they do not obey. They see the gun blast and gaping skulls in their future staring at them in my honest glare and slowly, step by step, they comply. The farther we descend, the darker it becomes, the light but a dim distant twinkle in the haze. Yet I can feel that she is down here. My daughter is my guiding light; she is my beacon in the basement and I, her rescuer, her savior in the shadows.

    I see the rusty bars of a cage and a terrified figure hunkered down in the corner, rocking back and forth. There stands before a concrete stand with a large metal bowl, dipping his hands in its dark waters in the purification ritual, the Judge, still in his black robe. Suddenly he turns to us and begins to run when I flash the gun and aim it at the Case Manager's head, while simultaneously tossing Beezy, still dazed by the earlier blow, at my feet. He sees who is in control and he halts. I order him to bring me my daughter and he stutters and stammers, beginning to weep. I thrash the Case Manager against her head, as she falls prostrate upon the solid concrete and point the gun directly at him, following my aim all the way between his eyes into the frontal lobe, through the occipital lobe and out through the back of his cranium. He sees my intent and complies, fumbling his key chain before clanking the iron gate of the cage open. He guides the horrified figure from the corner and out into a thin stream of light. I see my daughter's angelic face—the most beautiful vision ever perceived.

    She looks to me, but knows me not. I am another stranger of the basement to her, and she shudders in fear of what is to come. Yet she slowly walks to me, frail, emaciated, in tattered rags. I kneel before her. “My precious, Janus, cover your eyes.” She cries, frightened by such a request. I reiterate, “I will not hurt you, sweety. I will never hurt you. I am your Mother and I am here to save you”. She looks at me with wide bulging eyes, glittering something most magnificent to behold—a radiance shimmering behind her tears. She doesn't smile. She doesn't need to, for a mother knows what is inside of her child. In there somewhere is a smile, lost though it may be, it will find the surface again. She has forgotten expression. She has forgotten joy, but it is there like a flickering flame in a blizzard, needing fuel and protection from the winds that have blown it out. She covers her eyes as I lead her to the stairway. “Wait here, honey.”

    I stomp my way back to the three of them as if in jackboots, Beezy, the Case Manager, and the Judge, with absolute authority. The gun feels like Thor's hammer in my hand. It is the gavel that shall slam on their case. This gun is my ultimate decision: to shoot or not to shoot.... I shoot!... The bullet just misses the Judge's head, ricocheting off the back wall somewhere in the dark. He dives to the floor, but I step closer and aim with a devoted eye on my target. The Case Manager grabs onto my leg, fighting me with a flurry of weak punches to my knee. So, I ready, I aim, and I fire a bullet directly into her skull as she drops like a ripe melon onto the cold, gray concrete.

    The Judge makes a mad dash for me, his fists flailing, his teeth reared, and the trigger squeezes so pleasingly to its punctuation on the end of his sentence. His skull liquifies and blows out of the back of his head and THUD ... his body falls lifeless to the masterpiece of retribution.

    There, at my feet, whimpers Beezy. The confidence is flushed from her eyes. She seems as a little girl, crawling around in a fit of panic, mumbling through the mucus pouring from her nose into her mouth. I enjoy the sight too much and, looking back upon Janus cowering behind her little hands, I know what I must do.

    Beezy looks up to me and the gun, pleading, “You can kill me, that's your choice, but they'll find you and take her away again. It's your choice”.

    “You're right, Beezy. It is my choice.” I toss the gun aside and just as she begins to grin that trickster's grin, I take her by the hair, dragging her over the blood-strewn concrete to the cage. She screams a deplorable scream that echoes and then suddenly begins laughing in hysteria. I see why, as she pulls her phone from her pocket. She shows it to me tauntingly before pressing the screen. It begins playing as she turns the volume up to its maximum.

    “Stars shining bright above you,” the haunting voice sings. “Night breezes seem to whisper, 'I love you',” the song continues in a strange frequency vibrating into my ears like a worm squirming its way into the soil. My head begins to hum and I feel the fluttering of butterfly wings against my brain. Things begin to get foggy and I become so tired. My eyes grow heavier, heavier … and the music stops.... I recover consciousness and the silence awakens me to the sight of my daughter in all her heroic glory with a foot upon the cellphone, stomped and trampled to its demise.

    I take Janus under my arm as we exit the cage, slamming the iron gate on Beezy's new residence with the lock tumbled into eternal position. We ascend the stairs, Janus and I, as if ascending into heaven, the light glowing brighter and brighter with each step. I shoot out the only light bulb of the basement, leaving Beezy to her blinded realm of shadows. Her scream echoes into oblivion before drowning in the pit of blackness.

    Passing through the doorway, Janus and I clang the steel door with its many locks on a decision made of final conclusion to a saga most horrific. I carry Janus to freedom and into a future of never looking back, never relinquishing the reigns of control over our own lives, and forever facing the dawn of a bright and novel sun that sets for anyone but us, for we have each other and a choice I'll never regret.