Kinney dreamed of walking on the beach of Grand Haven with his Rose, his first Rose. She ran ahead of him, laughing, but it was a laugh of pure hysteria. “You can’t catch me!” she called to him. He ran. It was November and the lake had not cooled enough yet. By January entire waves would be frozen mid-crash, but now, the water was simply as cool as ice but still a liquid. Rose ran, her dress pressing against her body. It began to drizzle. Kinney felt his lungs expand and his heart beat. He had to catch her! He had to.
And then he did. She turned to look at him and her bare foot caught the sand. She did not fall as much as fly, landing face down in the sand.
“You are a foolish, foolish woman,” he said to her. “Stand up! Stand up at once!” She refused. He did not think, but reacted, allowing his hand to fly through the cool air and smack her with such force that electricity jolted through him. She stopped laughing at once.
“Do it again,” she said.
And he did. And then something strange happened to Kinney. A deep, residing anger uncoiled within him and he was hitting her, shaking her, forcing her to the ground. He lifted her dress, pushed himself between her legs and then…
It was over in moments.
He pulled back, looked at his hands that were not his hands, looked around the beach to see if anyone had seen his monstrous act.
“Who’s the crazy one now?” Rose asked him. “It isn’t me, Elliott. It’s you. It’s you! You! You! You!”
He longed to throw her into the water, hold her head beneath cool surface. Instead he got to his feet and walked away, leaving her in the sand, an abandoned doll.
Kinney woke with a start. He was in her room. In Rose’s room, his new Rose. She was asleep beside him breathing heavily. He felt his fingers tingling with electricity again, and that familiar sleeping anger within him began to roil.
Things were not moving fast enough. He needed more time with her. If he did more memory exercises, more actively tried to wash her mind free of her own history, he would have his wife back to him, only this time she would be perfect. He thought of the things he hadn’t tried: more aggressive therapies, hypnosis, reshaping her personality through discipline. There was so much to do! So much to do! First, he would put in a leave of absence at the asylum. He would devote all his time to creating the perfect wife, one who would not laugh at him or taunt him.
Kinney reached for her bare shoulder, drew his fingers across her skin.
Then suddenly realized that the episode on the beach with Rose hadn’t been a dream at all, but a memory.
In the halls of the asylum, a storm was brewing. It began with a whisper: “Kinney took Ama” and was repeated and repeated until the syllables slurred. The words drifted through the staff at Building 50, the three floors of the women’s ward, and finally slithered under the locked doors of the men’s ward, pouncing on Robert Kostic’s chest. He was twisting in bed, writhing as if being attacked by tiny knives. Ama was gone. Cut. Kinney had taken her. Slice. Kinney was not coming back. Stab.
Kostic bolted awake.
Though the drugs of his ‘therapy’ pulled at him, he shook his head as if he could shake free of their grasp. Whatever it took, whatever face he needed to wear to convince the foolish doctors that he was normal, he would do. What was normal anyway? Find out how a doctor understood normal, and be that for them. Change for another doctor.
Kostic silently stepped out of bed, touching the cold floor with his bare feet. He was in solitary for a few more days he knew. Though he couldn’t actually hear the men in the ward breathing in their sleep, he felt the rise and fall of their lungs. He bent to the floor, placed his hands flat against it, and pushed. He would do pushups until his muscles bulged and burned. And then he would run in place. And then he would box. He would be ready for what was coming.
He sent a whisper back through the corridor, knowing the words would eventually find Kinney: “I’m coming for you,” he said.
The words took flight.