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Fractured: Chapter 3

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I am posting a chapter a week of the first book I completed as I revise and edit. For the beginning of the book, click here.

 

 

Chapter Three:

Cognitive Dissonance – The realization of contradictions in one’s own attitudes and behaviors.

 

“Bet for when he will show?” asked Diana.

“If I know the prodigy at all he’ll be her in under ten minutes,” said Sarah.

“The prodigy,” snorted Diana. She pulled out a second piece of gum and added it to the wad she was already chewing. “Fine, ten minutes, and you still owe me five from the last bet.”

“You don’t think he’s a prodigy?” asked Sarah, changing the subject.

“Psychology genius, sure, but that was a natural by-product from his father.” She leaned her head in closer. “Everyone knows his father Richard was crazy. Probably crazy himself. That is why he is so good at what he does. He knows all about mental illness from the inside.”

“Still, growing up with a crazy dad didn’t write the last textbook,” said Sarah.

“Aren’t you supposed to get off now?”

“And miss his entrance? I don’t think so. Besides I only leave thirty minutes before closing anyway,” said Sarah. “The last time I left early he came in covered head to toe with water. A goldfish jumped out of his pocket. I think an extra ten minutes overtime is well worth the wait.”

“The only thing stranger than him is the boss with his plastic silverware phobia,” said Diana.

“What does Sergio do when he leaves in the afternoon?” asked Sarah

“I’ve heard he drives to the country, stops, gets out and screams at the cows.”

“He’s old enough to drive?”

“For a few years now,” said Diana. “Good thing too. I used to hear all the horrible noises coming from his office before. Screaming at cows is good for him.”

“I heard he goes to the bar,” said Sarah.

“They wouldn’t let him in the door,” said Diana laughing.

“It’s only what I heard.” Footsteps echoed outside. “Here he comes. Act natural,” hissed Sarah. They bent their heads down. Sarah shuffled some documents.

A pile of papers pushed through the door before a foot appeared. Sergio walked inside. Stacks of paper were tucked into each arm. Rolls of paper stuck out from all his pockets, his waist, and stuck beneath his tie.

He walked to the receptionist counter, trailing notes behind him. Sarah and Diana kept their heads down.

“Julie,” said Sergio.

“Jamie,” Sergio tried again. She looked around from a stack of papers.

“My name is Diana,” she said. She continued to chew a piece of gum.

“Right. No more appointments tonight.”

“Yes, Mr. Enger,” said Diana.

He nodded his head and turned toward his office, but stopped. His body convulsed, as if he were trying to hold back a cough.

“You okay?” asked Sarah.

His hands waved them away, and he shuffled down the hall pushing two piles of papers with his feet. The office door slammed behind him. Sarah and Diana leaned over the counter to look at the trail. Papers led from his office to the entrance. They moved to the window. The paper trail continued down the street and around the corner. They turned to one another and laughed.

 

***

 

Sergio tapped nervously. Each minute that passed made him more nervous. Tonight was the first appointment, and he didn’t know what to expect. The office was quiet. He had never had a client after hours, unless he counted Blaze. The only thing he knew about the person he was about to meet was her name.

“Dr. Enger?” said a woman’s voice from his office doorway. The voice sounded like a supple velvet pillow. Sergio looked up. Ringlets of chestnut hair bounced around her slender face. Although unnerving for clients to step into his office after hours, he had to admit not all was beastly. He still had no idea how Blaze walked them in after the door was locked. He even locked his office door, and never heard it open.

“Come in, come in, Mrs. Dristol,” said Sergio trying to be polite. The maroon silk dress hung to her knees where it tilted with one section going to mid-calf and the other exposing the fair skin just above the knee.

“It’s Ms. Dristol, and you can call me Tammy,” said the woman. She stopped and surveyed the room. The blue walls were a darker shade with the natural light from the window diminishing. Sounds of kids at the playground occasionally were heard. Sergio had allowed the mood fountain in the corner to continue running, more to calm his nerves than those of any potential clients.

Sergio led her to a soft seat. He sat in the chair facing hers, adjusting the round lamp table between them. He picked up a notepad and pen. She smiled and the light reflected off her green-brown eyes. “What can I help you with Tammy?” he asked.

“I don’t need help with anything,” she said. Sergio cleared his throat. He noticed the long dress that clung to her figure and the heels strapped to her feet. Overall, he admitted, meeting clientele after hours, as Blaze indicated, might not be altogether wretched. He never expected someone like Tammy to be the first client from Blaze’s list.

“So what do you need?” he asked puzzled.

“I came to deliver a message,” she stated and tossed a brown envelope onto the desk.

Most men envied talking to this woman, Sergio realized, but shoved the thought aside. He was horrible at talking to women, especially beautiful women. Talking about problems came easy for him. That was the key, focus on the problems.

“A message?” he replied.

“Read the paper in the envelope,” said Tammy.

“That’s it?”

“I suppose while I am here I could talk to you about an unrelated problem,” she spoke.

Sergio was relieved. “What is the unrelated problem?” he asked.

“It has to do with my monthly issue,” she replied.

Sergio shifted in his chair. “There may be a slight mistake. I’m not a medical doctor.”

“Not those issues,” she said rolling her eyes. “I didn’t think you were that smart.”

Sergio smiled and leaned back in his chair. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to jump to any conclusions. People get mixed up with the Doctor title.”

“Oh, I understand. People often mistake my job as a glorified secretary. I usually only have to pour the coffee down their shirt once before they stop asking me to bring them some. These mistakes happen,” she said.

“I will do my best,” said Sergio. He was trying to force out all extraneous thoughts coming to his mind, such as, It’s not often a woman of her age comes in as a client. I wonder if she is single? He again cleared his throat and tried to focus. “What issues are we talking about?” he asked.

“Well, I was talking about when I change, and the issues with that,” she said.

“Change? What kind of change? You get angry around certain people?” he asked.

“No, I am talking about when I change into a wolf each month,” she answered.

Sergio waited for a moment to see if she were going to begin laughing or at least break out into a smile. She was serious.

“I see,” said Sergio slowing his speech and beginning to write things down. He was not having as much trouble keeping focused.

“Still following me?” asked the woman. Sergio stopped writing, his page half full of notes, and looked up.

“Yes I’m still following,” he replied. “Please continue.”

“You can imagine the stories surrounding a person like me,” she continued. “It doesn’t help what Hollywood is doing either.” She leaned forward and placed a hand on his knee. “Well we both know how silly they are. Just because I become a wolf at the full moon doesn’t make me the spawn of the devil or anything, right?”

“Right,” confirmed Sergio. “How long have you believed you turn into a wolf?”

“Since I started to cough hair balls. Come on, when do you think?” replied Tammy raising a thin eyebrow and giving him a puzzled look. “Anyway, I think the bad publicity is starting to get through. I am starting to feel depressed every time I change.”

“What do you suppose made you feel like you had changed into a wolf the first time?”

“I’m not sure we’re on the same page Doctor.”

“Please humor me,” replied Sergio. He knew better than anyone that getting people to realize the delusion is a delusion was the hardest part. Sometimes the best way to help them see things was taking them back to the first episode of hallucination. The way Tammy continued to give him odd looks indicated she would be a tough case to crack. She leaned back into her chair.

“You’re the Doctor, Doc. I just don’t get how this is going to help with depression. I guess what made me feel,” she quoted the word “feel” with her fingers, “like I was a wolf the first time was looking down and realizing my hands were paws. Well it is not like it was unexpected or anything,” she replied.

“You were expecting transform into a wolf?” he asked.

“Of course,” she replied.

“And why were you expecting to turn into a wolf?” he asked.

“It’s in my blood,” she replied shaking her head. “Now can we get to my problem?”

“Well Tammy we can get to your concern soon,” said Sergio. He waited a moment. “Where are you staying? Do you live alone?”

“Yes,” she replied.

Sometimes there was no way around a problem. Sergio could see this issue persisting beyond one session. He knew people suffering from hallucinations often present a problem to themselves. He hated this part.

“Tammy, I’m sorry, but you are suffering from a form of hallucinations. Don’t worry, we will do our best to find the source of the problem. You may want to find a different residence until we do. I have a list of several places that can take good care of you in the meantime.”

Tammy’s face flushed a deep crimson. “I thought you were somebody who could help, not a moron.” Sergio was beginning to get a clearer picture of why he hated telling people bad news.

The woman sprang from her chair and walked to the door. Still not saying anything, she opened it. “I was recommended to you.”

“Give me a few moments and I can help you realize the delusions you’re having,” Sergio said hoping to calm her and allow them to resume.

“That will be unnecessary Doctor,” she said. Her face began to contort at a strange angle. The sharp jaw jumped from side to side. Sergio knew what was to come next. Soon she would be running around the office on all fours and howling. He waited. The best solution was to show the existence of the delusion while in the delusion itself.

The woman continued to make the strange face. She began to hunch over. He was impressed. Few people, while in a delusionary state, were willing to go all out in body and mind. Sergio sat in the chair with his arms crossed, waiting for her to finish. The woman, however, seemed to be changing more than just facial features and hunching over. Sergio watched in amazement as the effects became more pronounced and true transformation began to take place. Long russet hair sprouted from her arms, and her hand flattened and scrunched together. With a final silent explosion, hair puffed from everywhere. Sergio realized he was now looking at a wolf.

The wolf sauntered closer to Sergio. He lunged on the armrest of the chair and held his notebook out in hopes of stopping the beast. The animal let out a snarl and bared its long teeth.

Sergio gasped for several long moments and tried to keep his flimsy legal notepad between him and the creature. The wolf swiped its paws and sliced the notepad. Several pieces of paper floated to the ground. The word “delusional” was printed in black ink on one of the torn sheets. He found his voice, which had disappeared during the shock, was beginning to return. He prepared for a scream.

“If you scream, so help me, I will tear you apart,” said the wolf. Sergio eyes went even wider. The breath of the scream escaped his lips in a pathetic wheeze. The wolf inched her face closer to his. Sergio felt the damp breath blow against his face.

“You can talk,” said Sergio, his voice coming out in a ragged whisper.

The wolf rolled its piercing, amber eyes. “I came to leave a message from Blaze. He is making you an offer.” She pushed the large envelope from Sergio’s desk. The package thudded at his feet. “In thirty minutes I will return to pick it up with your reply. Now pick up my clothes and put them outside the office.”

Sergio blinked several times, but was still unable to move. As she approached, Sergio leaned further and further back in the chair. She gave a slight push with her paws. Still bewildered, Sergio sat stiff as the chair toppled backward and dumped him upside down on the floor.

“Now!” growled the wolf. Sergio jumped up and grabbed the dress, which seconds previous adorned Tammy. He hurried to his office door and flung them out. The wolf followed and snapped her jaws at him once before sauntering out into the hall. Sergio slammed the office door and locked it.

He ran to his desk drawer and pulled out the orange pill container. His hands stopped before popping the top. This was strange. This was beyond a normal episode. He paced back and forth behind the mahogany desk. He looked back at the pills in his hand. Again he wrenched open the drawer. With a grunt, he threw the pills back inside and closed the drawer.

“Sometimes you have to kill the delusion while you are in it,” said Sergio aloud. He began again to pace behind the desk rubbing his hands through his hair. His legs felt numb while he walked to the front of his desk and sat, uncaring that the chair was still on its back on the floor. He sat upside down thumping his head in hopes something would allow him to return to reality. He stopped and sat motionless, listening to the clock tick from across the room. He turned his body back over and let the blood that drained to his head flow back to his feet. Time passed very quickly when death seemed pending.

“Imminent death,” said Sergio aloud. He thought about this, then thought about being in servitude to a werewolf. Even a fine-looking werewolf was still a werewolf. Brutal scenes crossed his mind in rapid succession. Sergio inched toward his office door. He peeked out. Someone had turned on the music in the patient waiting room down the hall. He looked out a bit more. Tammy, now in human form, sat on the leather sofa in the waiting room. She was tapping her foot to the music and reading a magazine.

Sergio dropped to the floor and army crawled out of his office in the opposite direction. He turned a corner before feeling safe enough to stand again. The hall proceeded into the break room, which doubled as a dining area.

The silverware rattled the drawer opened. Looking closer he realized that one pair of silverware rattled, the rest just gave a soft tapping. The rest were plastic disposable silverware.

Sergio was acutely aware of the only real silverware in the drawer. Dr. Holford’s silverware. Dr. Holford, the owner of the practice, was eccentric when it came to silverware. He hated the taste of plastic in his mouth, which wasn’t a surprise as he hated most things…like people. Sergio had used the set when first hired. An impromptu meeting had been held where all employees were informed that they were not to touch Dr. Holford’s silverware. No names had been named, but everyone had known who had made the serious blunder. Sergio’s hand was poised over the silver blade. He thought about the possibility of stopping a werewolf with a plastic knife instead. He decided his chances were not good. He would just need to return the knife before Dr. Holford noticed.

The first chance that Sergio had he would open his own practice. But until he could get more capital to begin his own psychology center and years onto his age he was stuck with Dr. Holford. Despite the man’s eccentricities, he would look good on resume.

Sergio raced back to his office. Again dropping to his belly, he got to his office and pushed the door open. He sat with the knife in his hands, twirling it. When the knock on his door came the crooked smile remained.

“Come in,” said Sergio.

“Hello again Mr. Enger,” said the velvet voice of Tammy. “Do you have an answer?”

Sergio jumped to his feet with the knife in his hand.

“I don’t know what you are—”

“It’s called werewolf numbskull,” said Tammy.

“Well I have silver, and…and…”

“You’re not afraid to use it?” supplied Tammy.

Tammy rolled her eyes and sighed. The door beside Sergio creaked as it opened. Sergio threw his arm forward with as much force as he contained, with shock and surprise causing a reaction. He hadn’t meant to throw the knife, but fear had overridden any thoughts.

“I didn’t expect anyone else to be in the office this late,” said Dr. Holford.

Sergio tried to get the knife back, but it continued slicing the air. He watched as the knife soared in a straight course, at least five feet to the right from the motionless woman across from him. The knife bounced against a diploma hanging on the wall. The glass crunched as it gave way to the knife and a giant spider crack sprang from the impact. The room fell silent, except the sound of little glass shards breaking loose from the confines of the frame.

“I can explain,” said Sergio horrified.

“Is that my knife!” exclaimed Dr. Holford. His white knuckles froze on the open doorway. Sergio watched as Dr. Holford’s face deepened into a more contorted scowl. Sergio opened his mouth. He was not sure how to explain, but he was going to try. His mouth felt dry. He licked his lips to buy more time.

“Well, what it is. You see,” Sergio began. He licked his lips again.

“No need to explain,” said Dr. Holford through clenched teeth. He took long strides across the room to the knife. The end was bent and twisted.

“You are fired,” said Dr. Holford.

Sergio would have argued, complained, begged, or even talked under normal circumstances. Dr. Holford, however, held his kitchen knife in hand. Sergio could see that now was not the time to provoke him further.

“If you will allow me to explain, sir,” said Tammy.

“Who are you?” bellowed Dr. Holford.

“The name is Tammy,” she said extending a hand. Dr. Holford glared at her not taking her hand. He looked up and down at her. His frown deepened.

“We don’t allow late night rendezvous at this office, no matter what he has told you.”

“I am the one who requested it. I work for an investor. We are considering your practice for a substantial grant, because of the expertise of Mr. Enger. I requested to see his most unorthodox way of handling a particular problem. He has done as I had hoped.”

“Please,” said Dr. Holford. “What therapeutic technique could you be demonstrating by throwing knives at diplomas?”

Sergio found his voice lodged deep in his acid stomach. “A theory I am working with, sir. Ways of having people not focus on past success to breed a more competitive self of the future. Hence me throwing knives at my diploma.”

“Our conditions for the grant are outlined in the offer on Sergio’s desk. As Sergio is a major component of the deal we were going to have him look at the offer first,” said Tammy. She leaned over and grabbed the envelope. Dr. Holford glared before opening the envelope. He began to read. His eyes went wide.

“They want to invest that much?”

“My company never jokes about these types of things,” said Tammy.

“We are delighted to accept,” said Dr. Holford, a wide grin stretched the deep wrinkles across his face. The face was darkly disturbing to Sergio, who had never seen a smile on his boss.

“Well I doubt they are offering it any longer,” said Tammy.

“Why not?”

“You just fired the one person we are most interested in. Perhaps another time then. In the meantime Sergio, I suggest working on your aim.” Tammy walked out of the office.

“Wait. Wait,” said Dr. Holford.

Sergio watched in silence not knowing what to do. Psychology was his life, but he had not even looked at what the offer contained. It could say that he was to be the werewolf’s personal snack. If he let this continue, then he was going to have to play whatever part she had placed for him. If he did not speak up soon Dr. Holford would give him his job back, and Tammy would have set her price.

“I was speaking premature,” said Dr. Holford. “I did not understand the situation. Of course I’m not firing Sergio. That is preposterous. I couldn’t do that after he works so hard on developing new, umm, theories.” Dr. Holford gave a deep laugh. Sergio noted the edge of panic in it.

“Ha ha. Of course not,” said Tammy. “We are anxious to hear your reply Sergio.” With a final smile that barred her teeth, including the canines, she left the office.

“Let me show you out,” said Dr. Holford hurrying along behind her. At the office door he stopped and turned back to Sergio. “You owe me a new knife,” he whispered, his teeth barred as menacing as Tammy’s. “I expect it on my desk before you pack your things and go.”

“Before I pack my things?”

A wicked smile ran across Dr. Holford’s face. “Yes, before you go. They are asking for you to work for them, and only them, for a year. Part of a research and development team. Either way you are gone tomorrow, it can be with them or on the street.”

Sergio watched in silence as Dr. Holford left the office. His boss slammed the door on the way out. The diploma on the wall released from the hook and shattered to the floor. He looked at the office around him in despair. The lulling fountain and mollifying colors did little to help calm his nerves. He sighed and turned off the lights.

***

The next morning Sergio walked away from the building exhausted and surprised. He was stunned how things had could be flipped upside down, and his office could be packed into only a few boxes. Things could be worse, he realized. He was young and known in his profession. If things went south, he could find a job elsewhere. Tammy was not bluffing about the grant, which would help him get on his boss’ good side, or at least allow him to not hold the broken knife against him too long.

The sound of heels pounding made Sergio turn. Tammy stopped several feet behind him. She flashed a smile, showing a bit more teeth than was comfortable.

Things were worse, he realized.

“Have you considered our generous offer?” she said.

“Do I have a choice?” he asked. He wondered about this most of the night. His home, friends, and what family was left all lived around this area. He had worked with Dr. Holford and never thought ill about it for a minute because this was where home was. He could find another job somewhere else, but not here. Dr. Holford would also write scathing reviews of him if he were to seek other employment, which would make things hard. He doubted Tammy wanted to eat him, there had been plenty opportunity in the office, perhaps he could test the waters for a day or two before he decided. Above all else he was curious, although he would never admit this had been one of the things that weighed heavy on his mind.

Her smile grew wider and genuine. “No, not really.”

Sergio frowned.

“Try to have a little empathy,” said Tammy.

“You mean ask myself what I would do if I were a werewolf?”

“Yes, that sort of thing.”

“I think I would invest in a silver bullet.”

“You are feeling extra nasty this morning,” said Tammy. She smiled and led on.

 

***

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