Alan flopped over on his side and reached up to turn on the lamp on his nightstand. "Oh my god, Denny, I can't sleep! I think I'm going to lose my mind!" He sat up and put his back against the headboard and crossed his arms. "This is beyond ridiculous! How can I participate in a voir dire as a zombie? I have to get some sleep, what am I going to do?"
His best friend and favorite bedmate, Denny Crane, put the book down that he had been reading and clucked his tongue in sympathy. "It's only 8:30 but, I'll turn out my light if that helps," he said.
"I was wearing blinders, the light wasn't bothering me at all, Denny. Nothing you were doing was bothering me. I just seem to have insomnia for some reason. This is the third night this week I've had trouble falling asleep." He turned over, punched his pillow then flipped onto his back and looked at the older man sitting up in bed next to him. "What are you reading? Maybe if you read it aloud to me, I'll fall asleep."
"It's Stephen King's latest; I'm right at the part where everything starts to go to hell in a hand basket."
Alan groaned, "Fabulous, that's all I need: Lying here wide awake waiting for a monster to crawl out of my briefcase. Never mind." He eased back down under the covers, closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep. His mind continued to race with thoughts of work; the voir dire, depositions that needed to be taken, cross examinations that needed to be prepared. The more he tried to empty his mind, the more things seemed to fill it. Normally, he had no trouble falling asleep, especially when he was with Denny; but, every once in a while, his mind would go into overdrive and prevent him from sleeping. He hadn't had more than two hours' sleep a night since this episode started.
"Alan! Will you please stop tossing and turning? It's like being in bed with a whirling dervish! And, not in any good way. You know, it probably isn't helping that it's not even nine o'clock and you're used to going to bed much later."
Alan sat up against the headboard and looked at Denny. "That is true; I read somewhere that you should try to keep your sleep pattern consistent even when you have insomnia. I have a book here, maybe I'll try reading some more."
Denny grunted and picked his own book back up. After a few seconds, he looked over at Alan, put the book back on his lap and started chuckling softy. When Alan looked askance at him, he said, "I just flashed back to Nimmo Bay. Do you remember how freaked out I was to wake up with you in my bed?"
Alan snorted, "Do I? I was afraid you might kill me! You were so, so shocked."
"I was shocked," Denny agreed. "My entire life I was taught that stuff like that was not what real men did. Now look at us! It just goes to show that an old dog can learn new tricks and this old dog is the better for it."
Alan smiled in acknowledgement of how much Denny has evolved since that trip to British Colombia three years ago. As they became better, closer friends, the barriers that usually stand between men, their emotions and their friends crumbled to dust between them. They developed an easy intimacy they could draw strength from to shield them from the madness and expectations of the world in which they lived. Their relationship could be, at times, father to son, brother to brother, colleague to colleague, or partner to partner. Alan didn't waste time trying to define it; he just accepted that they shared a unique bond that he would do almost anything to protect.
Denny intruded on his reverie by saying, "Thinking about that night at Nimmo Bay, Alan, I want to ask you something: Do you remember telling me that you hate sleeping alone because you think you were murdered in a past life? Was that true or were you just trying to get me in bed with you?"
Alan laughed and said, "Yes, I remember and no, I was not trying to get you into bed! And yes, I really do believe I was murdered in a past life while I was asleep."
Denny considered this for a few moments, and then stated, "So, you believe in reincarnation, then."
Alan smoothed the front of his nightshirt. He really had never given it much thought beyond his personal belief. "Yes and no," he hedged, "I don't believe that everyone on the planet experiences reincarnation like some kind of cosmic, karmic revolving door but, I guess, some souls have stuff they need to work through so they have to come back." Alan noticed that Denny had frowned and shaken his head. "What?"
"Every time I think I'm aware of all your levels of insecurity and self – loathing, you show me yet another one," Denny sighed in exasperation. "OK, I'll bite. Why is it that you believe you were murdered in a past life?"
Alan got out of bed, went to the armoire and poured himself a glass of scotch. He raised the bottle in Denny's direction and when Denny shook his head "no," he put the bottle back in its place and returned to bed with his drink. He took a sip then placed the glass on the coaster on his night table. "When I was about six or seven years old, I started having recurring nightmares, horrible nightmares. They were different from night terrors; I would never get up and run through the house. But, they felt so real. I would be asleep and in the dream, I would be awakened by someone attacking me. It felt terrifyingly real. Sometimes it was with a bat, most times, it was with a long knife, like a machete. I was being killed and I knew it and couldn't save myself. I would wake up screaming for my life."
Denny shivered and said, "That sounds awful, alright. Did your parents help you with any of this?"
"My mother actually did come to my bedroom the first two or three times it happened but, after that my father must have forbade her. He said I would never learn to be a man if my mommy came running every time I had a bad dream. From then on, if I awoke screaming, no one came. I just kind of sucked it up until I developed a sex life. I found that the nightmares didn't seem to come as often when I had someone in bed with me."
Denny closed his eyes and grunted. He sat like that for so long, Alan thought he might have dozed off. Suddenly, Denny opened his eyes and asked, "Have you ever considered past life regression hypnosis? There are seminars held in Boston a few times a year."
Alan rolled his eyes and laughed, "You can't be serious! I've heard of those seminars. No one who participates ever seems to be a Joe or Jane Schlub who lived and died in anonymity. Oh no, everyone was either Jesus Christ or Napoleon Bonaparte or Joan of Arc. I really don't think I would fit in with that crowd."
Denny clapped his hands together and exclaimed, "I've got it! I'm going to hire a hypnotherapist to come to the house to put you under so we can get to the bottom of this so – called past life memory of yours. That way, we don't have to put up with sitting in a roomful of people all claiming to have been on the Titanic when it sank. Leave it to me; I'll take care of everything."
Alan knew by the glint in Denny's eyes that he wasn't going to be able to talk Denny out of proceeding with this venture and that if he flat out refused to participate, Denny's feelings would be hurt. The things I do to maintain this friendship, he thought. Aloud, he asked, "If I agree to this ridiculous idea of yours, will you promise me that this will be the end of it?"
Denny put his right hand over his heart and replied, "I promise. If you don't want to keep being hypnotized, I won't push it."
"Fine, set it up. I'm going to try to get some sleep. Goodnight, Denny."
Alan had hoped that Denny had forgotten about that conversation (Where's Mad Cow when you need it?) but, sure enough, the following Saturday afternoon, as they were sitting out in the garden, Denny's butler, Rodeo, came out to announce the arrival of Dr. Anita Thorsten, the hypnotherapist Denny had hired.
"Show her out here, Rodeo. Thanks. Alan, we can do this in the gazebo. No one will bother us there." The gazebo was an eight – sided, enclosed structure made of cedar with French doors leading into a space that contained a table and four chairs, a small fridge, a chaise lounge and an intercom that connected to the house. A ceiling fan cooled the room and each of the eight walls was half – window and half hand and picket railings. Set back about fifty yards from the main house, it afforded the privacy they would need.
"Denny, I know I said I would do this but, I'm not entirely comfortable. How did you find Dr. Thorsten? How do you know she's qualified?"
Denny smiled and answered, "I contacted the American Board of Hypnotherapy to get recommendations. They gave me the names of four practitioners in the Greater Boston area and I got some of the First Years to do background checks. Dr. Thorsten seemed like the best choice. Don't worry, Alan. I'll be by your side the entire time and she's willing to answer any questions you might have before she puts you under."
Dr. Thorsten was a slightly plump middle – aged woman with brownish – gray hair tied back into a bun and black, horn-rimmed glasses. She was wearing black slacks with a burnt orange sweater set and low – heeled shoes and stood about five feet seven inches tall. Insisting that they call her Anita, she presented as both professional and approachable and Alan felt a little more relaxed after the introductions.
She explained to both of them what hypnosis entails and dispelled the myths most people, Alan included, have about hypnosis. She assured them both that she would not be in control of Alan's mind, that he would continue to have free will, and that he would not reveal any secrets or do anything against his will. Finally, Alan was as satisfied as he was going to get and nodded his head that he was ready to begin.
While Alan was voicing his questions and concerns to Anita, Denny was sitting off to one side in the chaise lounge watching them and thinking: I hope this works out. I think that "former life" nonsense of his is an early manifestation of his night terrors. What else could it be? When he had first spoken with Dr. Thorsten by phone, he told her what Alan had told him and his own belief that Alan had mistaken a very realistic nightmare or night terror for a memory of a previous existence and that, incidentally, sometimes Alan suffered from insomnia. He wanted to know how the process worked.
"Well, Mr. Crane…"
"Very well. Denny, a typical session with me begins with the patient being asked to sit in a comfortable chair or lie on a couch, close his eyes and relax. I will help Alan reach a deeper state of relaxation by speaking slowly and calmly while asking him to tense and relax his muscles one after the other starting from his toes and moving to the top of his head."
Denny was a little skeptical. "And, you've done this before and that works?"
Dr. Thorsten was used to these kinds of questions. "Absolutely," she answered, "the aim is to help the patient enter a relaxed state, what the layperson refers to as a 'trance' so that the conscious mind can stand aside and allow easier access to the subconscious mind. Once that happens, I will be able to ask him questions and hopefully, his subconscious mind will know the answers."
Dr. Thorsten had said she would try to get to the source of Alan's belief. What Denny had liked initially about her was that she did not jump on the "past life" bandwagon and that she didn't object when Denny said he planned to sit in on the session. I wouldn't have chosen her if she had. I would have hung the phone… Anita broke into his train of thought.
"Denny? Mr. Crane? Alan is in a relaxed state now. I'm going to start asking him questions."
Denny looked at Alan who was sitting peacefully in the chair with his eyes closed and his forearms resting on his thighs. Please, let this work. "Sorry, Anita, I let my mind wander for a moment. I'm back now, go ahead."
She nodded and said softly, "Alan? Can you hear me?"
"I want to ask you some questions. Is that alright?"
"Good. You have a recurring nightmare in which someone is trying to kill you. Is that right?"
"Can you tell me how old you were the first time you had that dream?"
"Yes, I had just turned six the week before."
"Alan, I want you to go back to that night when you first had the dream. What I want you to do is listen closely and tell me if you hear anything before the dream begins. Do you understand?"
"Good. You're six years old and you're in bed. You are asleep but, the nightmare hasn't started yet. Alan, I want you to tell me if you can hear anything."
"I hear yelling. It's muffled because my door is closed and probably my parents' door is too but, I do hear it." Alan's face tensed.
Dr. Thorsten asked, "What is it, Alan? What is happening?"
"The yelling is louder; I think my parents are in the hallway. My mother is shouting at my father that he is drunk and to please go to bed. My father is yelling that she can't tell him what to do. Oh!"
"Tell me what's happening, Alan."
"I heard a slap. My mother is crying. My father is telling her she made him do it."
"Are you still asleep, Alan?"
"What happened next?"
"My father is telling her to shut up. I hear the sounds of a struggle. Oh, no!" Alan looked as if he were about to jump out of his seat.
Firmly and calmly, Dr. Thorsten intoned, "Alan, listen to me. You are safe now, there is nothing to fear. Just tell me what is happening."
Alan relaxed visibly and said, "They're screaming at each other again. My mother is yelling at my father 'let go of me!' and he's telling her to shut up. My bedroom door is opening. Someone is on top of me! I wake up screaming and my father is pulling on my mother and she's fighting back and pinning me to the bed. I can't move. Finally, my father is able to pull her up and out of my room. I hear them go back to their room where they argue more. I guess they eventually went to sleep because it finally got quiet."
"Alan, listen to me. I'm going to bring you out of this state. I'm going to start counting from one to five. When I finish counting, you will open your eyes. You'll remember everything you told me and you'll remember what happened when you fell back asleep that night and what happened over the following nights. Do you understand?"
Denny grunted to get her attention and mouthed the word "insomnia."
She nodded and continued, "Also, when you feel you are unable to sleep, I want you to visualize yourself lying on a beach listening to the waves while the sun warms your body. That will relax you and clear your mind and make it possible for you to fall asleep easily. Do you understand?"
Alan slowly nodded his head, "Yes," he replied.
Dr. Thorsten smiled and said, "Ready? One; you feel relaxed and well – rested. Two; your eyelids are getting lighter. Three; take some deep cleansing breaths. You feel refreshed. Four, your eyelids are almost ready to open and five; open your eyes, Alan."
Alan opened his eyes and looked from Dr. Thorsten to Denny and back. He cleared his throat and said, "Thank you, Anita. I would never have been able to retrieve these memories without your assistance. However, now that I do have them, please, please understand why I don't want to discuss them further with you."
Dr. Thorsten stood and extended her hand for Alan to shake. "I do understand, Alan. I'm not offended." She looked at Denny who also stood. "You have a good friend in Denny here. I know you'll be fine." She started to gather her things in preparation to leave.
"I'll walk you out, Anita. Your check is in the house, anyway. Alan, I'll be back in a few moments. Will you be OK?"
"Not to worry, Denny, I'm fine. Take your time." While Denny escorted the doctor out, Alan used the intercom in the gazebo to call Rodeo to bring scotch, glasses and cigars. Denny's butler brought everything out on a tray and set it down on the table next to the wall. Alan poured a drink for Denny and a generous three fingers of scotch for himself. He lit up a cigar and walked outside to wait for Denny's return.
Denny's mind was whirling as he saw Dr. Thorsten out and headed back to rejoin Alan in the yard. Oh my god, he thought, it's a good thing his parents are dead because if I ever met them, I don't think I could trust myself to remain civil. I mean, my relationship with Dad went south when I was a grown man. Growing up, my parents were wonderful and compared to Alan's, my parents were perfect.
When Denny saw Alan standing next to the gazebo with a glass in his hand, he stepped inside to pick up the drink he knew was there. He didn't feel like a cigar just yet so, he left it on the tray. He came out of the building and stood next to Alan and waited.
Alan swirled the amber liquid in his glass. He started speaking softly while staring straight ahead. "I remember it all now, Denny. I had the nightmare when I went back to sleep. I must have been in shock and that was how my six year old mind dealt with the trauma of being pinned in my bed because my parents were fighting on top of me. The next morning, they both acted like nothing had happened. I guess that convinced me even more that it had all been a horrific dream. When I told you last week that my mother came to comfort me a couple of times when I woke up screaming, I believed it. Now, I realize that she was coming into my room in an attempt to escape my father's wrath. The last time she tried to run to my room, my father caught her in the hallway and slapped her around and told her he would break her neck if she tried it again. She really did come to my room once after I woke up screaming from the nightmare a week or so later just to tell me to be quiet." He looked so forlorn, Denny moved closer to give him a hug. Alan sidestepped to evade him. "Denny, I'm sorry but, I don't think I can handle contact right now. I have a lot of thinking to do and I need to do it alone. Why don't you go in and I'll catch up with you later?"
Denny nodded, "Sure. Dinner is in an hour. I'll see you then." He walked into the gazebo to pick up the cigar from the tray. When he came out, he told Alan to have Rodeo send someone to clean the gazebo when he came into the house. Alan waved his hand to acknowledge that he had heard and proceeded to walk slowly toward the stream that bordered the property on the north side. Denny headed in the opposite direction toward the house. He turned to see Alan standing near the stream with his back to him, sipping his drink. Not only is it a good thing his parents are dead, I'm glad they're dead. I've never had the urge to shoot a woman before. Until now. And that bastard father of his…Denny was so angry he couldn't even finish the thought. He turned around and went into the house.
It was 9:30 when Alan walked into the master bedroom. He smiled at Denny, who was already in bed reading. He went into the bathroom, showered, changed into his nightshirt and eased into bed.
Denny put the book on the nightstand. "When you didn't come in for dinner, I went looking for you. Dave said you took the Bentley out for a spin. Are you alright?"
"No, I'm not. I will be eventually. Regaining those memories made me want to rescind the forgiveness I had given my parents. That's why I went for a drive; I refused to come into the house angry at them. I refused to let them rob me, again, of the little peace of mind that I have. I got on the highway and drove for two hours up the coast. I stopped at some roadside diner and had a lobster roll and coffee. On the drive back, I turned off the radio and spoke to them."
Denny's eyes widened. "You, you spoke to them?"
"Like I spoke to my father when I spread his ashes, and like that time, I knew I had to forgive them so I could keep my sanity. But, I cursed them out first. I told them exactly what I thought of people who would subject a child to that environment; how screwed up they both were to literally fight on top of me and then act like nothing out of the ordinary happened. That is just sick."
Denny looked at Alan and stated, "I admire you, Alan, and I'm very proud of you. You are far stronger than I ever could be. Now, I want you to do something for me."
Denny cleared his throat and said, "I want you to promise me something. Now that you know how that nightmare started, I think you should be able to change the way it ends. If you ever have that dream again, when you get to the part where you wake up being attacked, put me in the dream in the bed next to you armed with a semi – automatic machine gun. I'll blow your attackers to hell. I shot the bad guy to save you in real life; let me kill the bad guys for you in your dreams too, Alan."
Alan was very moved by Denny's words. He wants to protect me from harm even in my dreams! He had to blink several times to keep his tears under control. He breathed deeply and responded, "I'll do that, my friend. Thanks, Denny, for having Anita come to the house to see me and for staying with me while I was hypnotized; that made me feel safe. It's good to know that I wasn't murdered. I think my insomnia is finished, too. I'm in your debt."
Denny just grunted in reply. They sat quietly lost in thought for a few moments, then Denny turned out his lamp and slid down under the covers. After another minute or two, Alan laid down as well.
"Good night, Denny."
"Good night, Alan. Sweet dreams."