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When My Fist Clenches, Crack It Open

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The door to Cary's office opens and a young woman walks in. He glances at his notebook to remind himself of his new patient's details.

"Kerry," he greets, warmly. "I'm so glad you came."

Kerry is nervous, her body language tight and restless. "I hope you can help me, Doctor Loudermilk," she says. "I just don't understand what's happening to me."

"I'm sure we can get it all sorted out," Cary assures her. "Why don't you tell me what's upsetting you?"

"I've always been kinda forgetful," Kerry admits. "But lately— It's been a lot worse. People will come up to me and act like I'm supposed to know stuff we never talked about."

"That must be very distressing," Cary says, concerned.

"It freaks me out," Kerry says, brow furrowed with confusion and anger. "At first I thought it was a practical joke but— Sometimes it's people I don't know at all! Why would they do that to me?"

"It sounds like there's some confusion going on," Cary says. "Is there anything else wrong?"

Kerry huffs and leans back against the sofa. "I dunno. Like I said, I'm forgetful. But like— I usually don't forget if I bought something. I thought someone was stealing my credit card but the bank replaced it for me and it still keeps happening, even if I don't use my card at all! And sometimes my passwords change, or there's food in my fridge I didn't buy and I don't even like! I feel like— I'm haunted or something. Or I have some kind of crazy stalker. Everyone thinks I'm crazy."

"And that's how you ended up here?" Cary says, glancing at his notebook again.

"Do you think I'm crazy?" Kerry asks, strained.

"Not at all," Cary says. "I think what's happening to you is very real. Summerland helps people with all kinds of problems. Sometimes those problems are a little bit complicated, and it's hard to deal with them all on our own. There's absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help."

"I've been asking," Kerry says, annoyed.

"And here we are," Cary says, smiling. He's always found a calm demeanor helps ease his patients' minds. By the time they get to him, they've usually been doubted and disbelieved for a long time, and blamed for whatever ills they suffered from. Support and respect are essential to a positive outcome. "What you describe could be caused by a number of factors. I think we can rule out a stalker, at least a human one. It's possible that we're dealing with some kind of psychic phenomena."

"A psychic stalker?" Kerry asks, wide-eyed.

"We take such things extremely seriously," Cary tells her. "The percentage of the mutant population with psychic powers is small, but such mutants can be incredibly powerful. There have been cases of psychic stalkers before. If that's what's happening to you, you've absolutely come to the right place."

"Thank god," Kerry says, her whole body slumping with relief.

"Based on the material you provided, the police and your bank haven't been able to identify the source of these invasions," Cary says. "So we can probably rule out simple fraud or stalking. With your permission, I'd like to bring in one of our therapeutic telepaths."

Kerry tenses up again.

"You're uncomfortable with mind reading," Cary says. "That's quite normal. But you must have been aware of our methods when you made your appointment."

"Everyone says you guys are the best," Kerry says. "It's just— Kinda— Weird and creepy? Sorry."

Cary chuckles. "That's how new things are: a little strange and unsettling. But everyone here is dedicated to the work of helping others, especially our telepaths. Imagine always hearing the thoughts of others. Imagine if those thoughts were unhappy, anxious, even depressed— And there was no way to escape them?"

"Sounds awful," Kerry says.

Cary nods. "It used to be that people suffered in silence because no one could hear their pain. That's no longer the case. The mutant population increases all the time, and so do the number of telepaths. Global mental health is increasingly important for their own mental health. That's why so many telepaths come here to help make the world a better, happier place." He pauses. "Is it okay to bring him in now?"

Kerry nods.

The door opens and Oliver walks in. He sits down next to Kerry and offers his hand. "Kerry, it's good to meet you. I'm Oliver and I'm going to help you. Okay?"

Kerry hesitates, then shakes his hand. "Okay. Um." She gives him a nervous look.

"Oliver is bound by doctor-patient confidentiality," Cary assures her. "Just like all our staff. All he's going to do is listen to your thoughts and see if there's anything unusual happening in your mind. If there's evidence of telepathic invasion, he'll be able to detect it."

"Will it hurt?" Kerry asks.

"You won't feel anything at all," Oliver assures her. "Just relax. Close your eyes."

Kerry closes her eyes, and Oliver raises his hand to her head. He doesn't touch her, but closes his own eyes and listens for a long minute. Then he smiles.

"You've definitely come to the right place," Oliver tells her. "I know exactly what the problem is."

"You do?" Kerry says, eagerly.

'You're right,' Oliver sends to Cary. 'I heard four separate streams of conscious thoughts, and another five are dreaming. She's a system.'

'Any sign of psychic interference?' Cary asks.

'We'll see what the genetic test says, but she seems to be purely human,' Oliver thinks back. He turns back to Kerry. "Kerry, it's been a pleasure meeting you. Cary's going to work with you, but I'll be back to help as needed. You'll be just fine."

"Um, thank you," Kerry says. She watches Oliver go, then turns to Cary, expectant.

"I'm happy to say it's not a psychic stalker," Cary says, getting that one out of the way. This sort of thing is always delicate, no matter how many times he does it. "Kerry, we know what's happening to you. And we can absolutely help you with it. But I'm afraid— This may not be easy for you to accept."

Kerry's relief vanishes. "What do you mean?" she asks, worried.

"This forgetfulness," Cary says. "You said it's afflicted you your whole life?"

"Pretty much," Kerry says.

"Do you remember much of your childhood?" Cary asks, treading carefully.

Kerry pulls in on herself, shrugs. "Does it matter?"

"Very much," Cary says, gently. "Sometimes in our childhood, or even when we're older, our minds can become tremendously stressed. A kind of survival mechanism kicks in. It allows us to compartmentalize our trauma so we can survive and continue to function. But these changes stay with us. They can affect our day-to-day lives, our memories, our relationships."

"There's something wrong with me?" Kerry asks, upset.

"Not wrong, but different," Cary cautions. "And you're not alone. We've helped many people in your situation."

"Just tell me what it is," Kerry says, tightly.

"Based on Oliver's observation, you have something called Dissociative Identity Disorder," Cary tells her. "Colloquially known as multiple personalities."

Kerry's eyes go wide. "I'm crazy? Oh god, I'm crazy." She covers her face, distressed.

There's a knock on the door, and Oliver opens it again. "Cary, you're needed."

"Right now?" Cary asks. "Oliver, this isn't a good time."

"Kerry needs you to wake up," Oliver says.

Cary looks over at Kerry, weeping on the sofa. "Oliver, if this is a joke, it's in very poor taste. Please go."

"Very well." Oliver sighs. "The natural pathos of the human soul, naked original skin beneath our dreams and robes of thought." He leaves, closing the door again.

Cary turns back to help Kerry, but she's gone. Strange, there's no other doors out of his office. He goes to the window and looks out. He sees David, Divad, and Dvd lounging on a picnic blanket in the sun. Amy, Lenny, and Syd are with them, and they all look so happy. They're all eating cherries and cheesy toast.

Cary opens the window. "Did you see a young woman? About— Yea high?" He holds his hand to the correct height.

They shake their heads no.

Cary pulls back inside. "Strange," he mutters. Perhaps he should go help Oliver after all. He walks out of his office, past the forest display and the stuffed goat. Summerland is bustling as usual, patients and students and doctors and teachers all mixing and mingling. Eventually he finds Oliver sitting at a cafeteria table and tinkering with the coffee machine. The man is an inveterate tinkerer.

"Oliver," Cary calls, trying to get his attention. "You said you needed me?"

Oliver looks up. "No. Perhaps it was Melanie?"

"Maybe," Cary says. He pinches the bridge of his nose. "I'll go find her."

"That is a good idea," Oliver says, and bends back down again.

"Melanie?" Cary calls, searching from room to room. He can't find her anywhere in the main building, so he goes outside. Maybe she's with a patient? He follows the narrow footpath over the bridge and into the forest. He sees three figures in the glass cube.

"Melanie," Cary says, relieved, as he walks inside. "I've been looking everywhere for you."

"You found me," Melanie says, calmly amused. "We're doing memory work."

"Would you like to join us?" Ptonomy asks.

"We can make you whole," David promises.

Cary takes a seat, grips the psychic conductors. "I'm worried— What if I remember everything wrong?"

"It'll be okay. Where do you want to go?" Ptonomy asks. "What do you want to see? Feel it all again."

Cary's hands are sweating. He adjusts his grip on the metal handles and tries to clear his mind. He doesn't want to look back. He's afraid of what he'll find.

Mom.

The tableau is a young boy, perhaps five. He's pale and blond and blue-eyed, and he looks nothing like his mother. He doesn't know why he's so different, but sometimes different is all he feels. Even when people don't say it, he sees it in their faces, in their eyes.

Freak.

"Try and see it from the inside," Ptonomy urges. "Go back in your body, in the moment."

Cary lets his mind slip. He opens his eyes, and she's a young girl, perhaps five. She's Assiniboine, like her mother and her father, and shares their straight dark hair and dark eyes. Sometimes people are mean to her, call her names, and it hurts. But she belongs to her family, her tribe. She knows she belongs.

Her mother sits with her and brushes her long hair, working out the knots. Cary feels calm and safe and loved.

But then the brush glides through short hair and touches his bare neck. His mother gasps and pushes him away. He falls to the carpet, and he's older, fully grown. He smells alcohol and cigarette smoke. He curls in on himself, afraid, ashamed.

"Mom, please," Cary begs.

"Came out wrong," Mom mutters, tired and bitter. "You ruined my life, you know that?"

"I know," Cary says. "I know I ruined everything, but please. Let me help you. I'm your son."

"I don't know what you are," Mom says. "I know what you were supposed to be, what the doctors said you'd be. If I didn't watch you come out of me—" She looks away, takes a drag of her cigarette.

Cary sits up. He brings up his knees and hugs them, hides his tears. Coming back here was a mistake, but how can he leave? Whatever she does to him, he knows he deserves it. He's always deserved it.

But he feels Kerry stir inside him, waking up from sleep, and he can't subject her to this. For her, he finds the strength to stand up and walk away. Only for her.

"Mister Loudermilk," the doctor says, and Cary turns back to him. "We need to talk about your treatment."

"It’s not schizophrenia," Cary says, desperately. He doesn't want to be sick. He's used to being a freak but he doesn't want to be sick. "Kerry's real, I swear. When she comes out of me I can touch her."

The doctor gives him a patient look, but not an understanding one.

"I know how it sounds," Cary admits. "But I know what's real. She's not a delusion. She's my— My friend, I—"

It's no use. Kerry won't come out if anyone else might see her, she's too afraid. She has every reason to be afraid. Cary doesn't want them to become some kind of— Medical experiment, to be tested and dissected. But protecting her means—

"I know you're scared," the doctor says. "We'd prefer to manage your symptoms if we can. Fever treatments and lobotomies— They're for the era of dementia praecox. There are new electro-convulsive therapies that show promise.”

"Shock therapy?" Cary asks, horrified.

"I understand you were attending medical school," the doctor says. "They gave you medication, tried to treat your symptoms. But that’s over. This disease is progressive. The school can't waste their resources on a lost cause." He looks down and makes a note.

"I'm not sick," Cary says, angrily. "Kerry's real!"

"Orderlies!" the doctor calls, alarmed. Two men dressed in white come in and take hold of Cary's arms.

"Put him in solitary," the doctor tells them. "Just until he calms down. Let's start with 48 hours and see how he behaves."

"You can't do this to me!" Cary shouts, struggling. "Please! Let me go!"

'Cary?' Kerry thinks. 'What's going on?'

He didn't want her to wake up for this. It's better when she sleeps. But it’s too late.

Cary opens her eyes and looks down at the degree in her hands. One of the first women to train as a doctor at her university, and the first Native woman to graduate.

“I’m so proud of you,” Dad says, tears in his eyes.

“My sweet girl,” Mom says, looking like she’s so proud she might burst. “I always believed in you, always.”

“No one’s ever going to believe me,” Cary tells Kerry, mournful. He knows she’s real, he knows it. But telling the doctors that only makes them more certain that he's insane.

‘They’re hurting you,’ Kerry thinks, upset. ‘I hate this place, it’s awful.”

“I know,” Cary sighs. He looks around the asylum. This isn’t a place where patients get better. It’s a place to put them out of the way. And the treatments they force on him are little more than torture. There's a new medication that they're giving him that's supposed to replace the shock therapy, but it makes him feel so awful.

Kerry sleeps a lot here. Cary’s glad. He doesn’t ask her to come out anymore. That’s the last thing she should ever do.

“We have to leave before—“ Cary trails off. He heard a rumor that they were going to sterilize all the patients soon. He loathes eugenicists. Monsters, all of them. “We have to escape.”

‘I’ll help,’ Kerry thinks, boldly. ‘I’m small. I can sneak around and steal the keys.’

“It’s too dangerous,” Cary insists.

‘You’re always being brave for me,’ Kerry thinks. ‘I wanna be brave for you.’

Cary sighs. He doesn't know what kind of life they'll have even if they do manage to get free. His dreams of being a doctor, of helping people— They can't be anything but over. The world decided what he is and he has no say in it.

But the world hasn't touched Kerry. No matter what it costs, he has to keep her safe. It's going to be terrifying, breaking out of this place, but he has to do it for her.

"Okay," he agrees. "But please be careful, please."

Kerry steps out of him, and Cary lets out a soft grunt. She hasn't been outside of him since they were taken here. It always feels strange when she does it, like— He's a little empty without her. She's a part of him that's gone missing.

She's barely aged since he first saw her, even though it's been years. He wonders if he'll spend his whole life with a little girl inside him. If he could only stop talking to her, accept that she's a fantasy, a delusion— maybe they'd let him go. But she feels so real. She hugs him and he holds her tight.

Kerry gives him an intense, meaningful look, but doesn't say anything.

"Kerry, you have to say things aloud when you're outside me," Cary reminds her. "With your mouth."

Kerry struggles, concentrates. Cary realized early on that she won't do 'outside things' without his urging. He can help her with some of it even with her inside him. He taught her to read, made word games out of his studies to engage her in learning. Before they were taken here, when she would come out they played the same games aloud, to encourage her to speak, to exercise her lingual and facial muscles. Not using them for long periods seems to make it harder for her to talk.

It's been a while, this time.

"'m gonna protect you," Kerry says, slightly slurred but determined.

"Find somewhere to hide," Cary advises. "Wait for an opportunity to steal the keys, then stay hidden until everyone's asleep. I'll wait for you."

Kerry gives him one last hug before she goes.

The hours she's gone are the longest of Cary's life. He feels so utterly alone without her. He often wonders if maybe he is mad after all, if Kerry isn't his mysteriously real imaginary friend but a schizophrenic delusion. Maybe he belongs in this asylum. But if he doesn't respond to the treatments, he knows what will become of him. He's not a person anymore, not to these doctors. He's just a sickness he might not even have.

If he ever gets out of here, if he can somehow make a new life for himself and Kerry— He has to make sure no one ever gets misdiagnosed again. Maybe that's an impossible fantasy, but he holds on to it anyway, tucks that hope deep in his heart.

When he hears the jangle of keys, he sits up, his heart in his throat. He doesn't dare call out. But the door opens and—

It's Kerry. Thank god she's alright.

"Quickly," he whispers, going up to her. "Give me the keys and get back inside."

But she doesn't give him the keys, she doesn't step inside him where she belongs. She just frowns at him.

"Cary, I can't," Kerry says, without any of her usual difficulty. And then he realizes she's older. When did she get so grown up? Is she too big to fit inside him anymore? "Of course not. You're the one inside me, remember?"

"You heard my thoughts?" Cary asks, surprised.

"Of course I did," Kerry says, tolerantly. "I'm on the outside now. Everything's reversed. So I'll just do what you did, and you do what I did, and we'll be fine."

"No," Cary says, stepping backwards. "Please, I don't want that."

"We can't stay here," Kerry insists. "Just get inside me and we can leave."

There's a noise outside the door.

"Someone's coming," Kerry whispers. "Get inside me right now!"

"Please, no," Cary begs, but there's a pull he can't resist. It takes hold of him and forces him to go to her. She opens her arms wide and he falls inside, into darkness.

Darkness. Warm and tight, holding her from all around. She hears sounds but she doesn't know what they are. Some of the sounds never stop, like the thump thump thump thump. Sometimes the thumps are slow and even, and sometimes they're fast. She feels bad when they're fast, so Kerry sleeps. When bad things happen she sleeps.

Cary sleeps in a narrow bed in a coldwater apartment in the city. He takes jobs at places that don't ask too many question, that don't care that he talks to himself all the time. It's not the same as fixing people, but he finds he likes fixing things: radios, TVs, all kinds of gadgets. He stays current on the latest technologies to stimulate his mind. He's fascinated by the new computer kits and he's saving up to buy another one.

When he's working at night and things are quiet, Kerry likes to come out and help him. The more time she spends outside of him, the older she gets. Still very slowly, but— He's not sure if he's relieved or not. He's never figured out what she is, what they are. If it's all in his head, if he's actually schizophrenic or something worse. Now that she's growing up, when he looks at her she reminds him so much of his mother. Their mother, perhaps.

He stares at himself in the mirror after brushing his teeth. Where did his face come from? Mom always insisted she never cheated on Dad, and there's nothing about him that bears any resemblance to either of them, the obvious aside. In Irish mythology, fairies steal human babies and replace them with their own children. Sometimes Cary thinks he's one of those creatures and Kerry was the human he replaced, and somehow they got stuck together. But it's only a story.

And maybe that would have been it. He would have spent the rest of his life in back rooms, staying out of sight and wondering who and what he is. But then—

"I hear you're good at fixing things," says the man. He has a beard and an accent that Cary can't quite place. "I have something I'd like you to fix, but it's too big to move. Do you do home visits?"

"Uh, that rather depends," Cary says, adjusting his glasses. "There will be an extra charge for travel."

"Oh, that's no problem," the man says. "I've been building a computer. It’s only the size of a fridge! It's amazing how small they can make them these days."

"Vacuum tubes?" Cary asks.

"Transistors," the man says, proudly. "When can you come out?"

Cary glances at his schedule. "I'm afraid things are rather busy right now."

"High demand," the man says. "Tell you what. We can do this off the books, if you like. In your free time. How about tomorrow night? I'll make it worth your while."

That sounds suspicious to Cary. But he does need the money; it's not like he's paid what he's worth here. And the chance to work on a computer like that is deeply tempting. "Okay," he says, and takes the man's name, address, and a sizeable deposit.

“Oliver Bird,” he reads. He folds the paper and puts it and the cash into his pocket.