Bewildering Stories

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Altered States

by Gerald Sheagren

Jedd Greenberg scrubbed his face with his hands, letting out a long, weary sigh. One last appointment, at four, and he could call it a day. Since nine this morning, he had dealt with a severe case of depression, a sleep disorder, a classic case of paranoia and not one, but two inferiority complexes. It was starting to wear him a little thin. A vacation with his wife was in order; perhaps a two-week excursion to the French Riviera or maybe a Caribbean cruise. Glancing at his watch, he noticed that it was nearly four.

He fingered a button on his intercom. “Judy. Is the four o’clock patient out there yet?”

“He just arrived.”

“Good. Send him right in.”

Moments later, the door opened and a short, disheveled man, in his mid-forties, trudged in. He had glasses with coke-bottle lenses, an unmanageable cowlick, a bowtie and suspenders. “Nerd” was the first word that struck Jedd. “Geek” was the second. The guy glimpsed around, honking nasally, exactly like Felix Unger use to do on the “Odd Couple.”

“Mister... uh...?” Jedd referred his notes. “Ah, yes. Mister Summerhill. Mister Walter Summerhill.”

“Correct. You can call me ‘Walt’.” Summerhill’s eyes shot around the office with a look of disappointment. “No leather couch so I can stretch out?”

“You watch too much TV, Walt. We’re going to do this just like the Sopranos. You know; when Tony spills his guts to Doctor Melfi.” Jedd flourished a hand toward a comfy-looking chair. “Have a seat right over there.”

“Well, I guess it will have to do.” Walt plunked himself down, hiking up his trousers and crossing a leg. “Not bad. I guess I’ll survive.”

“Now, Walt, if you had to sum up your problem in one word, what would it be?”


“Crazy? How so?”

I’m suffering from a multiple personality disorder that is driving me absolutely crazy. I guess you shrinks refer to it as MPD.” Walt honked a few times, clearing his sinuses. “At last count, I have thirty-two separate personalities.” He began to tick them off on his fingers. “There’s Mohammed and Rex and the Colonel and Claude and....”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold on here. You’re trying to tell be that you’re aware of each and every one of your alter personalities?”

“Yes. Quite aware.”

Jedd scribbled a few hasty notes on his yellow legal pad. “That is very rarely the case with one suffering from a hysterical neurosis.”

“Maybe so, but I’m telling the truth. I communicate with them and they communicate with me and they communicate amongst each other.” Walt gave a little school girl giggle, sweeping a hand from his head toward his feet. “There’s a whole interactive community in this poor body of mine.”

“And you remember things that occur while an alter personality is in charge of your body?”

“Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. It’s so bad that I rarely venture from the house in fear of what might happen. I can’t began to control thirty-two different personalities and they’re apt to do any number of crazy things at any number of given times. I’ve been arrested six times for stunts that Mohammed and Arlo have pulled.” Walt took off his glasses, huffed a breath on each lens and started to clean them using his shirt. “So I stay holed up in the house to play it safe. Have my groceries delivered and only stick my head out to check the mail.”

“But you ventured out today to seek my help.”

“I had to take the chance. I just had to.”

“Uh-huh. And where do you get the money to survive?”

“My father, a very successful businessman in the fifty years that he worked, left me a very generous amount of money in his will. Two hundred and eighty million dollars to be precise.”

Jedd let out a whistle. “‘Generous’ is putting it mildly. Tell me, Walt; did you suffer any severe trauma when you were a child? This is often the case with multiple personality disorders. You know; sexual or physical abuse, anything like that.”

Walter screwed up his face as though he was sucking on an extra sour lemon. After a few moments, he reluctantly nodded. “Dad served up a good amount of emotional abuse. Not a day went by without him telling me what a disappointment I was to him. ‘Loser’ and ‘failure’ were big words in his dictionary.”

Suddenly there was a vast change in the air, punctuated by what Jedd would describe in his notes as the “crackling of an electrical current.” Walt’s mannerisms abruptly shifted to one of his alter personalities; slow and easy, the tense muscles of his face slackening, his right leg casually crossing over his left.

“Bye, Walt. And might I ask, sir; what is your name?”

“Hunnicutt, sah. Colonel Elisha Hunnicutt, Confederate States of America.”

“I’m glad to make your acquaintance, Colonel.”

“And I your’s, Mistah Greenberg.”

“You know who I am?’

“Indeed I do. Just another dang-blamed Yankee in a whole city of dang-blamed Yankees. Blue bellies, every las’ one of ya.” The Colonel shifted, his features becoming stern. “When Lee invaded Pennsylvania, sah, he made dang certain that his men refrained from actin’ like a horde of heathen Vikings. Not a hair on a Yankee woman’s head was touched, nor a breast defiled. No homes were torched or possessions stolen.” Eyes blazed. “Not so, sah, when General Sherman an’ his mongrels marched through the good state of Georgia. No such rules were issued! Not a staid hand amongst them, sah! Not a one! Rape an’ pillage an’ burn at will!”

Uh, yes. But that was a long time ago, Colonel. Us... uh... Yankees are a good bit more restrained today.”

“Only a ‘bit’, sah. An’ a mighty small bit, at that.”

“Tell me, Colonel; did you survive the war?”

“I did. Only for this little affliction acquired at Gettysburg.” The Colonel stood and took a short walk, his right leg as stiff as a board, causing him to bob from side to side. “A piece of shrapnel nearly took it clean off. I’m plumb lucky to still have it, with the butchers you Yankees called ‘surgeons’.”

“Indeed. Amputation was very often the first resort.”

The Colonel had no sooner returned to the chair when the air again crackled with electricity. A new persona took over, Walt’s hand darting up to primp at his hair.

“And who, sir, might you be?”

“Claude,” answered a decidedly effeminate voice. “Claude Levesque.”

“I’m happy to make your acquaintance, Claude.”

Eyes ogled Jedd from head-to-foot, a tongue darting out to moisten the upper lip. “Likewise, I’m sure. I just love your tie. It matches your eyes in the most provocative sort of way.”

“Uh... thank you. I presume you’re aware of who I am?”

A weary sigh. “Yes indeed. Isn’t it quaint of Walt to seek the advice of a psychiatrist. He’s such an unbearable twit.”


“Of course; Walt. Who else? The rest of us would hardly waste our time with a shrink. We have so many better things to do with our time.” Claude glanced about the room, letting out a long groan of disapproval. Ugh! What an atrocious décor. What do you call it; Early Asylum?”

“Please. My wife helped me with this... uh... arrangement.”

“Women, the little dears. They seem to be all color blind.” A giggle. “Some totally blind.”

“I take it you’re an interior decorator.”

“Such a gauche term. I much prefer ‘design specialist’.”

“Uh, Claude. By your earlier remarks; it seems that you have some major differences with Walt.”

“He’s such an airhead.” An exaggerated flourish of the fingers. “He should be flattered that I bother to occupy his body; the Godawful mess that it is.”

Walt’s body twitched and trembled, his original voice and mannerisms returning with a vengeance. “Oh, right, Claude! And you’re so goddamn easy to live with, you freaking you-know-what! Maybe I should move to Provincetown or... or Castro Street in San Francisco. That would suit you just fine, wouldn’t it?”

“Walt, Walt! Calm down here.” Jedd couldn’t contain his excitement, for he had never witnessed a clash of personalities to this degree. “Tell me, Walt; do you experience severe migraine-like headaches with these rapid changes of personas?”

“Yes, yes! Sometimes it’s as though my whole head will explode.”

Walt suddenly calmed, slumping back in the chair, letting out a great gust of breath. When he spoke, the voice was that of a woman; deep south and back-woodsy, heavy on slang, illiterate.

“Da Col’nel ain’t here, issy?”

“Hello. And who might you be?”

“Dey call me Roxanne. The Col’nel, he ain’t here, issy?”

“Uh... I suspect that he might be lurking about.”

The eyes darted from side-to-side. “I’s hope not. If’n so, the Unnerground Railroad cain’t be helpin’ me none. The Colonel, he put me in shackles an’ haul my butt clear back to Alabamy. I’s don’t wanna go back dere. I’s don’t wanna.”

“You were a slave?”

“Yes’m. House slave. Halp cook da meals. Mastah Price, he was rightly fond a’me.”

Suddenly Walter’s body trembled and jerked, the surrounding air resembling a lightening storm. His eyes narrowed, turning viperous. The lips curled into a wicked smile.

“You frigging black wench. You were Price’s whore and you enjoyed every solitary second of it.” There was a gritty, gurgling laugh. “The whole plantation was full of half breed pickaninnies by the time you two were finished.”

“Tell me, sir; just who might you be?”

Walt’s head snapped toward Jedd, eyes flashing. “Arlo, if it’s any of your business!”

“Well, today it is my business. Now, if I’m not mistaken, you’re the identity that supplies Walt with his pain.”

“Oh, yes! I am a major supplier of pain, pal. I’ve got enough to go around for this whole damn city! The Marquis de Sade was a saint in the comparison.”

“Now just relax, Arlo. Take a good deep breath and relax.”

“Relax?” Arlo leapt out of the chair, snatched up an ash tray and hurled it at the far wall. “I’m too bugger-brained to relax!”

Moments later, the door swung open and Judy rushed into the room, her eyes as wide as saucers. “Doctor, are you all right? What on earth was that terrible noise?”

Before Jedd could realize or react to what was happening, Arlo hurled himself across the room, grabbed up a letter opener from the desk and drove it deep into Judy’s neck, zeroing in on her carotid artery.

Letting out an “aaaaagh”, Judy stood frozen to the floor for a few terrible seconds, her mouth flapping like a fish out of water, the ruptured artery spewing blood nearly halfway across the room. Then taking a few faltering steps, like a baby just learning to walk, she fell flat on her face, dragging over Jedd’s globe of the world. The impact drove the letter opener clear through her neck like a bloody spike.

“Oh nooooo!” Jedd jumped from his chair, his heart throbbing so fast that he feared it might burst. “What have you done! What in God’s name have you done!”

“Believe me, buddy boy; it wasn’t in God’s name. Oh no! Not by a long shot!”

Jedd made his way across the carpet as though he was walking on a bed of fiery coals. His head was spinning and his rubbery legs felt as if they would buckle out from under him at any moment.

“You... you crazy sonofabitch! You’ve killed her! You murdered her for no reason, no reason at all!”

“Not bad for a spur-of-the-moment decision, huh? Can you imagine what I could do if I displayed a bit more ingenuity?”

Jedd spun, nearly falling, and rushed to his phone, fumbling the receiver in his shaking hand.

“Going to call the Keystone Kops, pard?”

“Walter, please! Come back wherever you are! Come back, please!”

“Wally won’t come back till I will him to. Poor pussy-ass Walter.”

Finally, when Jedd managed to get a grip on the receiver, he stabbed out some numbers; all the wrong numbers and three too many. In an instant, Arlo was on him, wrapping an arm around his neck and applying his thumb to a pressure point. With a long gusty sigh, Jedd grew completely limp. Satisfied, Arlo released his hold, letting him drop to the floor.

“Sweet dreams, doc. Or should I say ‘sweet nightmares’?”

As Arlo began to pace the room, muttering and waving his arms, Walter slowly returned, his eyes widening at the carnage that greeted him.

“You just can’t seem to control yourself, can you, Arlo? You idiot! You bumble-brained, psychotic idiot!”

“Ah, shut the hell up, Wally. A man has got to have a little fun.”

“You... you call this fun! That woman is dead! Blood frigging everywhere! And the doc... he’s....”

“The doc’s in la-la land. So you have more than enough time to tidy up.”

“I’m sick and tired of cleaning up after you! Over and over and over!”

“Better get your butt moving, Wally. Time is of the essence.”

With an unwanted expertise, well-honed over the years, Walter hurried about his chores, pulling out the letter opener a tad and whipping its handle clean of fingerprints with a handkerchief. Then pulling Jedd’s body over next to the dead woman’s, he lifted the doc’s limp right hand and pressed its fingertips against the opener. A murder of passion, he thought to himself. Or perhaps one too many consultations had pushed him over the edge. Perfecto! Wiping away any fingerprints he might have left on the arms of the leather chair, he made a quick mental inventory to make sure everything had been taken care of and peeked into the waiting room to find it empty. Not a soul! He had been the last appointment of the day. Speaking of appointments; he located the schedule book, and, sure enough, there was his name, the very last entry. Carefully ripping off the page, he folded it and stuffed it into his pocket. Another peek, this time up-and-down the deserted outer hallway, and he hustled toward the elevator.

Three blocks away, he located a pay phone and punched out a number; one of many he had committed to memory.


Hello, Tenth precinct, Sergeant Murray speaking.”

“Uh, yes, Sergeant. It may be nothing, mind you, but I was just in the Henderson Building, near suite forty-three, and I heard a bit of a ruckus. You know; shouting, cursing, some toppling furniture. There might be a problem. I thought it best that I to report it. One can never tell, can one?”

“And your name is?”

Oh, let’s just say that I’m a concerned citizen doing his civic duty.”

Hanging up, Walter wiped the receiver with his handkerchief, let out a weary sigh and headed on his way up the block.

A deep, guttural voice, with a trace of envy. “Walter, Walter, Walter. What would I ever do without you?”

“Shut up,” hissed Walt, eyeing a woman who was eyeing him. “Just, please, shut the hell up.”

Copyright © 2003 by Gerald Sheagren