The Commitment of Charles Mayweather (Short Story)

As was usually the case during the winter, the rooms and hallways were absolutely freezing.  Kathy Turner retrieved a sweater from the small closet in her office and quickly put it on.  Making sure that her hair was still at least somewhat pulled back, she put on her lab coat and stuck her hands into her armpits in an attempt to warm them up.

It didn’t help that her office was the closest to the hospital’s main entrance.  Every time the doors opened, the cold air would blow right at her office door.  Even if it was closed the gusts would get in through the cracks and crevices to fill the space and drag the temperature down.

She made a face.  One of the many perks of being the newest doctor on staff.  Another one would be having to work on New Year’s Eve in the first place.  All of the other doctors were bringing in 1974 with their loved ones, and she was stuck here

She sighed.  There was no point in complaining, even just to herself.  The building was quiet, and with the nurses handling most of the routine work she was getting off easy, all things considered.  She might even be able to finish the book she had been trying to get through for the past three months.

Before she could sit down at her desk, she heard the sound of the front doors opening.  Cold air washed in over her feet and legs from under the office door.  She closed her eyes and shook her head.  Lovely.

“Doctor Turner,” a man’s voice called from out in the hallway.

Kathy opened her eyes.  It was the voice of one of the security guards.  Whenever one of them came to get her, something was wrong.  She mentally gathered herself and left the office.

The guard was a giant of a man.  He stood nearly seven feet tall, and he was built like a linebacker.  He nodded as she joined him.

“The police are here,” he told her as they headed towards the entryway.

“Right,” she replied shortly, knowing that meant that she wasn’t walking into a pleasant situation.

A group of people were wrestling with a distraught man on a gurney near the front desk.  He was tied to it with the usual straps, but a long cord had also been wrapped around his chest.  His eyes were bulging and the veins in his neck were standing out.  He was speaking so quickly that Kathy couldn’t understand what he was saying.

“Is that really necessary?” she asked as she approached, pointing at the cord.

“You’re damn right it is,” a man dressed in a police uniform growled back at her.  “Where are we putting this nutjob?”

“He’s bleeding from his forehead,” she pointed out.  “He also has multiple contusions on his arms and legs.  You should be taking him to County General.”

“We can’t,” one of two paramedics told her in a much kinder tone than the office had used.  “There’s a major accident just outside of it.  At least a dozen cars.  No one can get in or out.”

“Besides,” the officer put in, “a nutjob belongs in the nuthouse.”

“We prefer to call this a hospital,” Kathy snapped, already tired of the man’s attitude.  She looked over at the nurse behind the front desk.  “Joanne, would you please show them the way to one of the rooms, one far enough from the other patients that they won’t be disturbed?  Seventeen is open, I think.”

The paramedic stayed behind while the rest of the group followed the nurse.  Kathy opened her mouth to say something, but he shook his head and waited until the others were out of earshot.  When he was satisfied he nodded.

“There’s one more wrinkle in this, Doc,” he said, running a hand over his face.

“I don’t even know what this is,” Kathy pointed out.  “Everyone just barged in without actually filling me in.  If I didn’t think that man would be safer away from that cop I wouldn’t have assigned a room.  What is going on?”

The paramedic hesitated.  “Maybe it would be best if you get that from the officers.”

“Oh, yeah, they seem really inclined to give an unbiased account.”

He smiled slightly.  “You’ve got a point.  The patient’s name is Charles Mayweather.  He lives over on Sixth and Pennington.  You know the neighborhood?”

She nodded.  “Yeah.  Pretty upscale place to live.”

“Maybe not tonight.  From what we can tell, Mayweather just sort of… snapped.  He tried to kill his kid tonight.”  He looked away.  “Eight years old and his dad tried to strangle him.”

“Jesus.  Why?”

“I don’t know.  You heard him ranting and raving, right?  He’s been doing that since we got on the scene.  One of his neighbors called it in.  Apparently the screaming was so loud they could hear it two houses over.”

Kathy mulled it over for a moment.  “It could be stress related.  Maybe his family is prone to mental disorders.”

“Yeah, maybe.”  The paramedic turned his attention back to her.  “He went completely off the deep end with those cops before we got there.  He even bit Office Sunshine on the arm.  But listen, Doc, there’s that wrinkle I mentioned.  We’ve got the kid with us.”

She blinked.  “You brought him here?  Why the hell would you do that?”

“We didn’t have a choice.  Child services couldn’t get there for hours because of the storm, and both us and the cops are going to be out most of the night with all the wrecks.  Drunk people and ice don’t mix.”

“What are you going to do with him?”

“Philip.  His name is Philip Mayweather.”

“Fine.  Philip.  What are you going to do with him?”

The paramedic smiled crookedly and shrugged.  “We were kind of hoping that he could stay here until the social worker picks him up.”

Kathy shook her head.  “We’re a hospital.  No, you know what?  Let’s cut the crap.  We’re an asylum.  This isn’t a place for a kid.”

“Neither is out there,” he pointed out.  “We haven’t been able to track down any family, and we’ve got to get back out there.  He’s got nowhere else to go.”

She sighed in frustration.  As much as she didn’t like to admit it, he was right.  The child couldn’t go back out into the storm with the police or paramedics, and at eight years old he certainly couldn’t just wait alone at his house.  She grudgingly nodded once.

“Okay, fine,” she agreed.  “It’s just a few hours, right?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” the paramedic said with noticeable relief in his voice.  “Just until child services gets here.  He’s a good kid, too.  Polite and everything.”

“Yeah, yeah, you can stop the hard sell.  Hand him off to Joanne when she gets back, okay?  I have to go get Mr. Mayweather checked in.”

Kathy went over to the front desk and dug a clipboard out of one of the drawers.  She was glad to find that admission paperwork was already fastened on it.  With a final nod at the paramedic she headed down the hall towards Room Seventeen.

The second paramedic and the two police officers were just coming out of the room as she approached.  They walked past her without a word.  It was rather rude, but she actually preferred it that way.  The officer she had briefly spoken to had rubbed her the wrong way, and she didn’t have time for people like that.  She childishly hoped that the bite on his arm was still hurting.

She entered the room’s open door without pausing.  Although she was still in her first year at the hospital, she had seen her fair share of disturbed individuals.  A surprisingly high number, in fact, when she took into account the small population of Blackwood.

Joanne was in the room talking to the patient in soothing tones.  Mayweather didn’t seem to be responding to her.  He just continued to rave at high speed while struggling against the bonds that kept him tight against the gurney.

“Mr. Mayweather,” Kathy said to him, loud enough that she knew he could hear her voice over his own.  “My name is Dr. Turner.  May I speak with you?”

He continued on as he had been.  She motioned for Joanne to come closer, and she relayed that the son would be waiting for her in the entryway.  The nurse nodded but didn’t move as she continued to watch the man.

“I’ll be fine,” Kathy assured her.  “Just have one of the guards standing by in the hall, okay?  Oh, and have one of the other nurses come in to treat these wounds.”

Joanne left the room.  She observed Mayweather for a few moments.  He was straining against his bonds so hard that she started to worry that he would give himself a heart attack.  Coming to a decision, she went over to the side of the gurney and gently placed her right hand on his shoulder.

“Mr. Mayweather,” she said, keeping her voice calm and friendly.  “You need to settle down before you hurt yourself.  I want to get this cord taken off of you, but I can’t do that if you’re pulling against it like this.”

The man turned his eyes towards her.  They looked surprised, like he hadn’t even realized that she was in the room with him.  His rantings slowed down and grew quieter until they stopped entirely.  He fell flat against the gurney and ceased struggling against the restraints.

“There, that’s much better,” she told him with a smile.  “Thank you for letting me help you.”

She set down the clipboard on the room’s only chair and knelt down to get a better look at the cord.  It was an extension cord, the kind that you could find at any hardware store.  She shook her head in revulsion.  No matter how difficult he had been, this was bordering on inhumane.

It took her a few minutes to undo the knot.  It had been tied tight, and the end had been looped through multiple times.  She eventually managed to get it to come free and unwrapped the cord from around his body.

“There,” she said as she tossed it on the floor and retrieved the clipboard.  “That’s much better, isn’t it?  I know the straps aren’t very comfortable, but that should at least give you a bit more breathing room.”

Mayweather stared at her for a long moment.  She returned his gaze as she waited to see what would happen next.  She would eventually have to go through the standard admission forms, but she wanted to give him some time to process what was happening before getting into that.

Truth be told, she was feeling a bit unsure of herself.  The man that had been dragged into the room acting like a lunatic had been someone that she was used to.  Not him in particular, but she had seen patients in the same kind of mental state before.  Now, though, he was acting completely different.  It was like he was another person entirely.

“The others,” he half spoke, half whispered.

“The other straps?” Kathy asked.  “Those can come off when I’m sure that you’re not going to be a danger to either me or yourself.  I’d like to talk for a while and see how that goes, and we can go from there.  Is that fair?”

He nodded his head once.

“Okay, good.  Let’s start over.  My name is Dr. Turner.  Yours is…?”

“Mayweather,” he replied after a moment.  “Charles Mayweather.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Mayweather.  May I call you Charles?”

“Yes.”

“Good.  Charles it is, then.  Now, are you on any medications that I should know about, or any-”

“Philip,” he interrupted sharply.  “Where is he?”

Kathy blinked.  “Philip?  As in your son?  He’s safe.  He’s with one of the nurses right now.”

Mayweather’s face grew pale.  “Keep him away.  Keep him away.”

“Why should we do that, Charles?  Are you afraid that you’ll hurt him again?”

He surprised her by laughing loudly.  It was a cynical laugh, one that didn’t have any mirth behind it.  The sound was cut off as he began to cough.

Kathy tried asking more questions, but Mayweather either refused to answer them or he was no longer processing that she was even speaking to him.  Telling him that she would be right back, she left the room and made sure that the door closed behind her.  Logically she knew that he’d never be able to get out of the restraints, but something about the looks he had given her and the way his voice sounded made her want to take every precaution.

She wasn’t going to be able to get through to him when he was like this, and it was very possible that he would injure himself if he was allowed to remain in such a state.  After motioning for the security guard in the hallway to stay near the room, she hurried down the hallway to a locked door at the far end.  She fished a key out of her pocket and unlocked it.  Inside was the hospital pharmacy.  

Normally she would have opted for the less intrusive option of pills, but she doubted that she could get those down Mayweather’s throat.  Instead, she went over to a cabinet and retrieved a syringe and two small glass bottles.  She put them  into her right lab coat pocket and hurried back to her patient’s room.  He was still caught up in a fit of laughter.

“I’m sorry about this, Charles,” she said as she stuck the point of the needle into the first bottle and pulled back on the plunger part of the way before doing the same with the second bottle.

Kathy inserted the syringe’s needle into the man’s arm and pushed down on the plunger.  When she had empted the syringe, she leaned back out of the room and tossed it and the empty bottles into a wastecan in the hallway.  She waited patiently for the medication to take effect.

After a few minutes, Mayweather’s laughing subsided and his body relaxed.  She waited longer to make sure that it wasn’t some sort of ruse.  She doubted that he was in any condition to come up with anything like that, but there was no point in taking chances.

“There now,” she said finally.  “Feel better?”

“I’m… a bit light-headed,” Mayweather answered slowly.

“That’s a side effect of the tranquilizer.  Nothing to worry about.  Now that you’re calm, I have some questions that I need you to answer.  Can you do that, Charles?”

“Yeah, okay.”

“Good.”  She paused to gather her thoughts.  “Can you tell me what happened tonight with your son?”

“That… that thing is not my son,” he spat back with such hatred that she was momentarily taken aback.

“How do you mean that?  Who is he?”

He laughed again, but this time it only lasted for a few seconds.  “What’s the point?  You wouldn’t believe me anyway.”

She arched an eyebrow.  “Try me.”

Mayweather was silent for a long moment.  At first Kathy thought that she had lost him again, but as she watched him closely she could tell that he was internally struggling with something.  He chewed on his lower lip as he stared up at the ceiling.

“You’re a psychiatrist, Dr. Turner?” he asked.

“I am,” she confirmed.

“I figured by the room decor.  It’s funny, my wife used to joke that someday I’d be dragged kicking and screaming to the looney bin, and here I am.”

“You’re married?”

“I was.  Doreen passed away five years ago.  Wait, no, it’s six now.  As of this past November.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Not as sorry as I am.”  He sighed.  “Anyway, as a psychiatrist, you must have some experience with recurring dreams.”

She nodded.  “Some, yes.”

“I’ve been having the same dream every night since the day my wife passed away.  The exact same dream, down to the smallest detail.”

Kathy furrowed her brow.  It was rare for someone to have a recurring dream that frequently.  Usually a person would have them sporadically rather than over and over again.  She sat down in the small uncomfortable chair and crossed her legs.

“What happens in this dream?” she asked.

“I’m standing on a beach filled with white sand,” Mayweather began.  “In front of me is a vast ocean.  It stretches from horizon to horizon.  The water looks gray in the pale light, and it’s surface is completely undisturbed.  It’s flat and unmoving, without a single wave.

“I look out over the water for what feels like hours.  It could be days, or weeks, or maybe even longer.  I just wait on the beach for something to happen.  I don’t know what will, but I can feel it in my bones that something is going to happen.”

He licked his lips.  One of the side effects of the tranquilizer was dry mouth.  Kathy stood up and retrieved some water from the room’s sink in a small paper cup.  She helped him take a few sips.

“Thank you,” he said gratefully.  “After what seems like an eternity I can just make out a figure walking on the surface of the water.  At first I think it’s some trick of the light, but as it draws closer I can see that it’s definitely a person.  When it reaches the water’s edge I see that it’s Doreen.”

“Your late wife?” she asked.

“Yes.  She’s wearing this long flowing white robe, and she looks like she did when she was in her twenties.  She smiles at me, and all that I want to do is run to her.  Somehow I know that I can’t do that, though.  I can’t leave the beach.”

“Why is that?”

“I don’t know.  I just can’t.  It’s like…  It’s like there’s this invisible barrier.  I don’t know how to explain it any better than that.  I can’t go into the water and she can’t come up onto the sand.”

“So there are… rules in this dream.”

“I guess so.”  Mayweather grunted uncomfortably.  “Can I at least have the strap around my head taken off?  My neck is killing me.”

Kathy went over to the gurney and undid the restraint.  He sighed in relief and moved his head from side to side.  She could hear his neck crack as he did so.

“Much better,” he muttered before he began to describe his dream once more.  “Doreen and I stare at each other for a long time.  I don’t know if you’ve ever lost someone that you love, some that’s your entire world, but you lose some of yourself when you do.  Seeing her, even like this, makes me feel whole again.  It’s a feeling that you don’t want to end.”

He stopped talking and stared off into the distance.  His eyes were wet, and Kathy could tell that he was struggling to continue.  She patiently waited until he started to speak.

“Eventually Doreen reaches out one hand.  I think that she’s trying to touch me, but she’s actually pointing.  I turn around, and right behind me is a metal contraption.  A machine.”

“A machine,” she repeated.  “What kind of machine?”

“In the dream, she calls it the Stygian Machine.”  He sounded almost wistful as he spoke.  “An instrument that can pierce the veil between life and death.  She tells me that if I can build it to the exact specifications, she and I can be together again.”

There was a scream from out in the hallway.  Mayweather’s head snapped towards the sound, and the blood rushed out of his face.  His breathing became hurried and shallow.

“What was that?” he asked sharply.

“Just one of the other patients,” Kathy assured him.  “The nurses will get it taken care of.  Tell me about this machine.  What does it look like?”

“It’s three pieces,” he replied, his eyes still locked on the door.  “There are two platforms and a large ring.  The ring sits on the platforms, and they supply power to allow it to spin.  On all three pieces are these markings that I don’t recognize.”

“Describe them to me.”

“They’re…  I don’t know.  They look kind of like Egyptian hieroglyphs, but not quite.  They’re carved into the metal on nearly every square inch of the machine.”

“If I unstrap your hand, can you draw some of them for me?”

Mayweather furrowed his eyebrows.  “Well, yes, but is it important?”

She tilted her head slightly.  “It could be.  Symbols in our dreams can represent important messages that the subconscious is trying to pass on to the conscious.”

Being careful not to get in reach of his fingers, Kathy carefully undid the strap around his left wrist.  He rotated it a few times, most likely to get the feeling back into it, but he didn’t make any move to grab her.  She carefully slid her pen into his hand and held up the clipboard so that he could draw on the paper.  When he was finished, she retrieved the pen and looked carefully at the symbols.

“Tell me the rest of the dream,” she instructed.

“There isn’t much more to tell,” Mayweather said.  “I look at the machine for a while, and then I wake up.  But here’s the thing.  When I wake up, I know exactly how the Stygian Machine should be built.  I know exactly where every bolt should be and exactly how tight it should be tightened.  I know that I can build it and get it working.”

Playing on a hunch, she stated, “So you built it.”

His eyes narrowed as his head nodded ever so slightly.  “I built it.  God help me, I built it.”

“And you used it.”

Before he could reply, there was another yell from outside the room.  This one only lasted for a second before it cut off in an odd gurgling noise.  He opened his mouth but Kathy was already continuing on.

“You built the Stygian Machine and you used it,” she said.  “You got the plans for it in your dream and, not knowing exactly what it did or what the symbols meant, you built it and flipped it on.  Does that pretty much sum it up?”

“It wasn’t that simple,” Mayweather countered with sudden anger.  “The machine took me years to build.  Everything had to be exact.  Every single night after my son went to bed I’d go down into the basement and work on the blasted thing.  I had to custom make most of the parts.  It cost me nearly every penny that I had.  And do you think that I liked killing those people?”

The words were barely out of his mouth when his eyes opened wide in shock.  He stammered incoherently as he shook his head slowly.

“Why did I say that?” he asked in a confused voice.

“Who did you kill?” Kathy countered.

“Nobody.  Just some hitchhikers I picked up on the highway.”  The answer was automatic, and he didn’t seem to have any control over it.  “What the-”

“Why did you kill them?”

“I had to.  The machine runs on human flesh and blood.  Please stop, I can’t-”

“How many people did you kill?”

“Eleven, maybe twelve.  I lost count.  What did you do to me?”

Kathy set the clipboard down on the chair and reached up behind her head with one hand.  Using two fingers she took out the band holding her hair up, allowing it to fall down onto her shoulders.  She brushed it away from her eyes before looking back at Mayweather.

“Sodium thiopental,” she told him.  “I filled the syringe with medication from two bottles, remember?  The first was a tranquilizer, like I said.  The other was sodium thiopental.  We use it mainly as a general anesthetic, but at the right dosage it can make a person very compliant when answering questions.  You might have heard it referred to as truth serum.”

Mayweather stared at her uncomprehendingly.

“You built the Stygian Machine,” she continued.  “You carved the symbols into the metal.  You fed it victim after victim to give it the strength to work.  The whole time you thought it was just some… how did you put it?  You thought it was just some contraption.  Never once did you realize that you had created something alive.  Made of metal and oil, yes, but alive nonetheless.”

She leaned in close to him.

“And then a miracle happened, right?  The machine actually worked.  It shredded time and space to create a gate between this world and… somewhere.  Only it wasn’t your wife that came through.  It was something else.”

Tears were streaming down Mayweather’s face.  He was on the verge of breaking down entirely.  It was a bit surprising that he managed to choke out words around the sobs.

“It… it came through and…”  He sniffed loudly.  “I thought Philip was in bed.  He…  must have heard the noise from the machine, and he was at the bottom of the basement stairs watching, and the thing went into him…”

There was a hard thump against the door.  It was quickly followed by a second, and then a third.  When the fourth one came a thick red liquid sprayed against the small window that allowed hospital staff to look into the rooms from the hallway.  It ran down the glass in wide streaks.

Kathy shook her head in a mixture of annoyance and amusement.

“I can’t believe you’re the one that did this,” she said.  “Then again, maybe I can.  You’re the perfect puppet, aren’t you?  An idiot that’s easily manipulated.  You didn’t even think that much about what you were doing.  You just followed an empty promise.  You brought a god into this world without even realizing it.  Then you, what, tried to kill it?  As if you could.”

She absently smoothed a wrinkle out of her lab coat.  “You asked me if I had any experience with recurring dreams, and I told you that I did.  You see, Charles, I have one myself.  There’s a great darkness surrounding me, and a thunderous voice proclaims that I will be the first to greet the bringer of the world’s end.  When this voice speaks, you believe it.  Now that day has finally come, and in a way that I never could have imagined.”

Kathy reached out and opened the door leading to the hallway.  Standing just on the other side of it was an eight year old boy.  He was wearing plaid pajamas; they were soaked in blood, and flecks of skin and gore were stuck to it and tangled throughout his light brown hair.  In the hallway behind him body parts were strewn across the floor and blood was splattered across every surface.

The boy took a step forward.  There were small protrusions coming from underneath his eyes, thin translucent tendrils that moved across the surface of his eyeballs.  He opened his mouth, and four tentacle-like appendages emerged.  Saliva dripped from them as they curled and writhed.

“Charles Mayweather,” Kathy said with a twisted grin on her face, “please allow me to introduce you to the son of your blood, your labor, and your sin.  He is Ancient Erra, Akkadian God of Violence and Plague, and the end of all things.”

The boy came into the room, and she slowly closed the door behind him.

Mayweather screamed.

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