“This is a very bad idea,” Canfield’s patient said as he lay back onto the recliner.
Canfield suppressed a smile. Diminutive Toby Winslow, five foot five and built like a clothes hanger, was convinced that every time he fell asleep he became the Night Terrors Killer. It was an absurd notion. The eleven Night Terrors victims had all been found with their necks broken and their skulls caved in. The man sitting in front of him couldn’t snap a wishbone in half.
“Just relax, Toby,” the psychiatrist said. “It’s time to bring the monster out into the open.”
Canfield liked that line. It’s time to bring the monster out into the open. He imagined Kevin Bacon saying it on the big screen. It was a beautiful image, and if the doctor’s plans came to fruition, it would someday be a reality.
Toby’s story was pure, dramatic gold, and Canfield had already hired a ghostwriter to help him compose a screenplay about it. The patient had lost his job and his wife because of his delusions. For weeks he’d been fighting to stay awake, wandering the city and sleeping in the streets. It was the kind of outrageous psychosis that Hollywood went gaga over. Canfield would be the movie’s hero, of course — the fearless, compassionate psychiatrist who brought his patient back from the brink of madness.
It wasn’t unethical, Canfield reasoned, because he really was going to cure Toby. Was it really so bad if he got to meet some movie starlets as a result?
“If you can’t get rid of it, then you have to kill me,” Toby said. “I’ve tried to do it myself, but I didn’t have the guts. The thing will keep hurting people. Hurting is all that it knows how to do.”
“I’m quite sure that I will not have to harm you, Toby.”
Canfield dimmed the lights. Talking gently, he counted backwards from one hundred, leading his patient into a hypnotic state. Toby’s eyes fluttered shut as he fell into a slow, rhythmic breathing.
Canfield started his tape recorder. “Can you hear me, Toby?” No answer. “Can you hear me?”
Toby finally answered, “You shouldn’t have done this, doc. You’ll never finish your screenplay now.”
The voice was deeper than usual, and caught Canfield off guard. He quickly steadied himself, remembering that he had witnessed voices change under hypnosis before. This was nothing new. “What screenplay?”
“Come on, doc. Get serious.”
The statement meant nothing, Canfield reassured himself. Who didn’t dream of writing a screenplay at one point or another? “You sound different, Toby.”
“I’m not Toby.”
“Oh? Who are you, then?”
“How did you come to live inside Toby, then?”
“Toby dreamed of my world. Dreams are like windows, sometimes. But these are things you wouldn’t understand. I was floating through the darkness that is my world, when I saw the window. I stepped through it, and into Toby.”
“You are alone in your world?”
“But you are not alone when Toby sleeps?”
“No. I always have company when Toby sleeps. Such as tonight, when I have you.”
Canfield willed his hands to keep still. It was preposterous to let the hallucinations of a lunatic with dissociative identity disorder unsettle him. You’re a trained professional, he reprimanded himself. “If you are from another world, then how can you speak my language?”
“I know what Toby knows.”
“Does Toby know what you know? Does Toby know about being all alone in the darkness?”
The patient trembled with laughter.
“What’s so funny?”
“You still think this is therapy. You’re getting scared, though. You’re beginning to understand.”
“I’m not scared,” Canfield said as he nervously tapped the tape recorder. “In my world, scientists know that dreams aren’t magical portals. They are neurological events completely contained within the dreamer. Using a dream as a gateway is physically impossible.”
“Ah, yes. Your science,” Toby laughed. “Careful, doc, you’re muffling the recording.”
Canfield looked down and realized that his hand was gripped over the tape recorder. “Pretty slick. Tell me how you knew that.”
“Because I saw it.”
“But your eyes are closed.”
“Toby’s eyes are closed. Mine are open.”
“You don’t see through Toby’s eyes? But you’re speaking with his mouth.”
“I do that just for fun,” the voice answered. This time Toby’s thin, chapped lips didn’t move.
Canfield’s body went cold. He almost said “Awake,” the command word that would snap Toby out of his hypnosis, but it would ludicrous to let such superstitious nonsense unsettle him. How could he possibly be the hero of the screenplay if he acted so cowardly? “That’s a neat trick. Where did you learn to throw your voice?”
“No tricks here, doc.”
“So you can speak without moving your mouth and see without opening your eyes?” Canfield made a fist behind his back. “Okay, if you can see right now, then tell me how many fingers I’m holding up.”
“You shouldn’t play stupid games, doc.”
“No games. If you can see with closed eyes, then seeing behind me shouldn’t be a problem.”
“This isn’t very professional.”
“It’s a simple question. Why can’t you just tell me how many fingers I’m holding up?”
“Because you’re making a fist, doc.”
Canfield began to tremble. Full-blown panic threatened to overtake him as he extended two fingers from his balled up hand.
“Now you’re cheating,” the voice chuckled. “But okay, doc. Okay. You’re holding up two fingers.”
Canfield felt a warm breath on the back of his neck. He opened his mouth to wake Toby, but before he could speak the thing grabbed his throat.
“Just think, doc,” it whispered in his ear as it crushed his windpipe, “you’re finally going to be famous.”