Chapter 1 Trouble in River City Charlie felt it rising again—that familiar, almost welcome warmth, radiating out from his belly. He knew he was about to do something that would lead to trouble, but he simply couldn’t stop it from happening. Boredom and the overwhelming feeling that he could control virtually nothing in his life were going to burst out again. He looked at Mr. Twiddle, hoping for an understanding glance of compassion, but he was met by the Twiddle glare—a look that said it all: “Don’t you dare do it again Charlie, or you’ll be out of here so fast you won’t know what hit you.” Charlie really didn’t want to be here anyway. As Mr. Twiddle turned toward the board, Charlie rose quickly from his seat at the rear of the room, grabbed his butt cheeks and, moving his hands to make it appear his butt was talking, said loudly, “Hey, Twiddle, can you explain how you can talk without your butt cheeks flapping together?” The entire class burst into screams of laughter and, without looking back, Charlie walked slowly out of the room toward the principal’s office. Here we go again…he thought as he walked more quickly down the hall. Twiddle’s voice and his classmates’ laughter faded behind him as the office door closed. ∫ ∫ ∫ “I’m sorry to have to bother you Dr. Draper, but Charlie’s done it again, and I’m afraid you’ll have to come take him home this time. Alright then, Good-bye.” The receiver clicked as it settled a bit roughly into its rest. This disturbed Charlie’s concentration on the slowly growing reddish color that had appeared on the cheeks of Principal Rudd.
“That’s right son, you should be afraid!” boomed principal Rudd, “I just don’t know what we’re going to do with you.” Charlie waited patiently for what seemed an eternity. How long would it take his dad to get here? He didn’t know how much longer he could pretend to listen to Mr. Rudd’s lecture without reacting. Charlie was amusing himself by calculating how just how many times in a year Principal Rudd would say, “I don’t know about you.” If he continued at the present rate of three times every five minutes, Charlie determined that it would be 288 times a day—but then he wasn’t allowing for sleeping or eating—which made Charlie wonder how many hours Mr. Rudd slept each night. He was just about to ask when his father appeared in the doorway. “Hello Bill, I’m sorry. I got here as quickly as I could. Mrs. Render broke another tooth on her frozen, chocolate-covered bananas, and I had to take care of her first.” Charlie was once again amazed that his dad, the town dentist, and Mr. Rudd had known each other since high school and were the same age. “I understand, Craig. It’s given Charlie and I a chance to talk.” Given Charlie and I…what a failure of basic grammar. I didn’t say a word. “I’m afraid that we’ll have to ask that a complete psychiatric assessment be done before we can discuss when Charles can return to school. In fact, this may not be the best place for him. We may not be the right sort of facility to meet Charlie’s needs and see that he gets the best education possible—and, of course, that’s what we all want.” Sure…then why don’t you teach me something I don’t know? “What exactly do you mean Bill? The city? My gosh, that’s at least an hour and a half away. How can…”
“This is a list of names and phone numbers of psychiatrists serving our area. I’d suggest you call one of them today. I know their schedules are pretty full. Mrs. Hobson, my secretary, can help with any records they may need and…” “But Bill,” Charlie’s Dad interrupted, “are you saying Charlie can’t come back to school here? I know he’s a little mischievous but…” “That’s what a full psychiatric examination will tell us Craig. It’s either that or expulsion. The district policy is very clear on this matter. I’ve already put my own job on the line by waiting this long. Seven suspensions in the same year! Legally we should expel after five. I’m sorry. My hands are tied.” Charlie’s father took the list and walked toward the door. “Come on Charlie.”
Chapter 2 A Doctor’s? Appointment The silence on the drive to the city was broken only by the menacing honks of motorists frustrated by Aunt Gladys’ habit of driving the speed limit in the passing lane. After the sixth angry honk, Aunt Gladys finally broke the silence. “I don’t know why everyone’s in such a hurry. I’m going the speed limit for Gosh sakes. They should all be ticketed. Try to remember their license plate numbers, will you Charlie? I’ve got to concentrate on the road.” Charlie grunted a reply. He hadn’t slept well and was too busy thinking, Another shrink with another test! He just wanted to be left alone! Why couldn’t he just study at home by himself? He’d have to be careful, or they’d discover the truth, and then his life would really be over. Ever since third grade when he’d been caught trying to borrow Miss Havershom’s romance novel, Charlie realized that people just didn’t understand him. They were trying to teach him to read when he’d already read most of his father’s college textbooks at night in the darkness of his room. He’d been punished for trying to “steal” from Miss Havershom’s purse and learned quickly that being “different” was not OK—especially when you were smarter than the teacher. So Charlie had learned to do just well enough to please his parents and help his teachers believe he was average. This hadn’t been easy. Experience had taught him to gauge just how many to get wrong and how long to feign ignorance before getting it. Charlie thought that to be average was to be happy, and he had been struggling toward average his entire life. All his average classmates sure seemed happy. Why couldn’t he be like them? He felt cursed—as if some cosmic power out there had it in for him. He only felt happy when he was alone 4
with a stash of his father’s novels and old college texts. Charlie closed his eyes and tried to sleep. ∫ ∫ ∫ The office was not unlike others they’d been to before. A standard reception desk, standard chairs with the standard mess of magazines and toys strewn about greeted them as they entered. Charlie was a bit surprised (and pleased) with the decidedly non-standard receptionist. Perched behind the standard desk was a young woman with green hair spiked up at least seven inches above her head. Charlie guessed her to be no more than seventeen years old and hoped his mouth wasn’t gaping when she looked up and said, “Oh, hi Charlie,” nonchalantly as though she’d known him all her life. “Come on in and try to relax. There’s a really interesting article on quarks in one of those magazines. See if you can find the one I mean.” Charlie stood absolutely still, temporarily frozen. He, at last, was able to turn toward his aunt who was smiling benignly and trying inconspicuously to signal to Charlie to sit down. Charlie shook his head, blinked twice, and glanced up at the green-haired receptionist who was still smiling and looking directly into his eyes. Charlie noticed that, although she had on too much make-up for his taste, she had brilliant blue eyes and was strangely attractive. Her name-tag read Miss Twillip. “But…how did you?…I…ah…” Charlie stammered. “Oh, you mean how did I know you? It’s a special gift, a kind of telepathy really…your school did send your file already, and you’re the next name in my appointment calendar. Don’t let it bother you. You’ll get used to it. Have a seat; Dr. Whipshank will be able to see you shortly. By the way, I like your eyes too. Do you really think I use too much make-up? No matter, we’ll get to know each other soon enough.” She smiled and turned to answer the phone. Charlie could feel his aunt’s eyes boring small holes into his back, so he turned and sat next to her. 5
“Now Charlie,” said Aunt Gladys. “I know you’re scared, but there’s really nothing to worry about. Everyone wants to help you.” She reached over and touched Charlie’s hand with her sweaty palm. Patting his arm gently she said, “Now you just relax. Everything’s going to be fine.” Charlie wasn’t the least bit nervous. He was still a bit shellshocked by the unusual reception, but knew that his aunt said this as much for her own comfort as his. He forced himself to squeeze her hand reassuringly and smile. “Thanks Aunt Gladys, I’m so glad you came along. I’m fine. This will probably take a couple of hours. Why don’t you go over to the mall for a while. There’s that great jigsaw puzzle store, Piece of Mind, that you like so well. Go and have a good time. I’ll be OK.” “Oh, are you sure Charlie? I’ll be sure to be right back. I would like to get a few new puzzles since we’re here. I know you’ll just love them. They’ve got these new, 1000-piece, glow-in-the-dark puzzles you can do at night with the lights off. Oooh, I get the shivers just thinking about it!” “I’ll be just fine Aunt Gladys; you go ahead and enjoy yourself.” “Oh thanks, Charlie,” responded Aunt Gladys, “I’ll get you some of those chocolate-covered bugs you like so much.” Rising to leave, she added, “I’ll be back shortly.” ∫ ∫ ∫ “Charlie…Charlie?…wake up Charlie.” He jolted into consciousness, at first unaware of where he was. When he saw Miss Twillup’s spiked hair, he quickly remembered. “You must have been pretty tired. It’s only been about ten minutes. I’m sorry I had to wake you, but Dr. Whipshank can see you now.” She rose from her kneeling position, and to Charlie’s surprise, took him gently by the hand, pulled him to his feet, and said, “Right this way,” as she led him toward a pale, blue, leather-covered door. 6
Having recovered his bearings, Charlie said, “Thank you Miss Twillup,” gave his head a shake, and strode firmly through the door. ∫ ∫ ∫ It was as if he’d entered a different universe. There was movement everywhere from an amazing variety of what appeared to be either large, complex, wind-up toys or some very unusual scientific contraptions. A strange form of music that reminded Charlie of recorded whale communication with harps played in the background. There was no overhead lighting. The light available came from five or six tree-like lamps with tiny bulbs at the end of each twig. These cast a glow across the room and dimly illuminated what appeared to be a large, turtleshaped desk piled high with folders, books, and papers. A faint scent of lavender filled his nostrils. “Hello?…Dr. Whipshank?” Charlie said timidly, seeing no one in the room. He heard a rustling sound that seemed to be coming from under the turtle desk and moved closer. A small, well-padded, leather chair that reminded Charlie of a teacup moved slightly every few seconds. As he moved closer, the rustling sound became more apparent. Charlie concluded that it was, as he had suspected, the sound of papers being shuffled, but he could still see no one. Approaching the front of the desk cautiously, Charlie peered over the pile of books. As he reached the edge of the desk, Charlie stopped and looked closely at the layer of papers scattered randomly across its top. The first title he could make out was, “The Effect of Gamma Rays on the Movement of Electrons in a Green Laser When Introduced to a Vacuum with the Concurrent Pressure of Lime Green Jello and the Resulting Change in the Color Spectrum as Viewed by…” The rest of the title was obscured under a second paper which read, “After fifty consecutive trials, the temporal displacement factor of the newly introduced spermatozoa appears to correspond exactly 7
with the variance calculated from the gradual increase in the amount of centrifugal force used to…” A large book entitled, The Universe—A Comprehensive Guide, lay on top of this. Fascinated, Charlie was reaching to pick it up for closer examination when a gravelly voice suddenly rose at him from under the desk booming, “Don’t touch anything!” The shock of this unexpected command sent Charlie stumbling backwards over a low, padded bench behind him. His scream was silenced as his head struck the floor with such force that he saw only tiny, dancing pinpricks of light in a field of blackness before losing consciousness. The next thing to register in Charlie’s mind was the feeling of something cool and moist being pressed softly to his forehead and a soothing voice quietly repeating his name, “Charlie…Charlie…Charlie wake up.” The image which greeted Charlie’s slowly-opening eyes was that of two large, hair-filled nostrils attached to a rather puffy, bulbous nose set squarely in the middle of Santa Claus’ face. Charlie quickly closed his eyes again. I must be dreaming. Yet the voice persisted, this time in a distinctly feminine tone. “That’s it, Charlie… Just lie still…you’re OK…just open your eyes…Charlie…Charlie?” This couldn’t possibly be Santa Claus. Nor could it be connected to those hairy nostrils. So Charlie, determined to enjoy the dream he must be in the middle of, re-opened his eyes. “Hello Charlie…Welcome back…” A soft hand caressed his cheek as Charlie’s eyes focused on the pert, black lips that were now poised over him. The black lips moved away, and Charlie could now make out the entire face of Miss Twillip, her overly painted face haloed by a bouquet of spiked, green hair. The sickly sweet scent of lilacs greeted his nostrils. “That’s twice now you’ve passed out on me. It’s enough to give a girl a complex. You should be fine soon enough. It’s 8
lucky your head hit Dr. Whipshank’s slippers. There’s not even a bump.” Charlie now realized what had happened and remembered where he was. A shooting pain struck him behind the eyes as he tried to sit up. “You just lie still for a bit yet,” said the gravelly voice as Santa Claus appeared in front of him. Strange, I don’t believe in Santa Claus, and yet there he is. He’s much smaller than I thought he’d be. “I’m so sorry to have startled you. I’ll fully examine your cranial capacities shortly, but I don’t think there’s been any permanent damage,” said Santa Claus. Charlie mumbled, “I’ll be fine,” before losing consciousness again. ∫ ∫ ∫ When he awoke, Charlie was alone in a white room strapped to a bed. He couldn’t move his arms, legs, or sit up. Leather straps held him firmly in place. “Help!” yelled Charlie, too scared to do anything else. “Help me!” Immediately a door opened and a large, matronly nurse entered. “Oh good, Charlie! You’re awake! A very pleasant day it is to be alive,” she said in a jovial, Irish-accented voice. “Now you just relax me-lad. Every little thing will be all right. You’ve had a bit of a bang to your brain. But a young, healthy lad like you will recover lickety-split I’d say. Dr. Whipshank will be so pleased. You’re in his clinic, ya know. I expect he’ll be along to see how you’re doing shortly. Here’s some wonderful ice chips to suck on while ya wait, deary,” she said as she handed him a cold, plastic cup. “I’m nurse O’Malley, and I’ll be watching over you from now on. You can be sure of that my boy.”
Charlie gratefully took the cup as she undid the straps running across his chest and arms. The smell of her lavenderscented perfume followed her as she moved around the bed. “We thought it best to be sure you didn’t fall out of bed while you were off visiting Brigadoon. I trust your stay was a pleasant one. I do believe your return home will be.” The cold moisture from the ice chips felt wonderful to Charlie. His head was much clearer now though a wave of dizziness swept over him when he lifted his head to pour more ice into his mouth. He surveyed what he could see of the room while lying flat on his back. It was completely white. Everything! Even the flowers! There was a window showing a sunny day outside and directly above him, on the ceiling, a large poster of an Escher print which offered the illusion of a continuous stairway where the people pictured appeared to move both up and down simultaneously. Escher had always been a favorite of Charlie’s. His first exposure to the artist’s work, depicted on T-shirts in the mall, had taught him at the age of five not to believe everything his eyes told him and later, as he learned more, that logic and common sense couldn’t always be trusted. Charlie smiled and searched the rest of the room for the mandatory television which occupied one corner of every hospital room he’d ever seen. There was none. No TV. Not that it bothered him. He rarely watched it anyway. Charlie just found it odd. So, left with nothing else to occupy him, he began to try to figure out how Escher could manipulate your vision to make you believe that… “Oh Charlie, so good to see you awake,” said the Santa Claus from his dream as he entered the room. “I’m Dr. Whipshank. Right off, I’ve got to apologize for the unfortunate accident of our first meeting. I of course, have explained what happened to your aunt… Oh…What’s her name… Very nervous woman carrying a large bag of puzzles… Quite flustered really… Why can’t I…” 10
“Gladys,” said Charlie helpfully. “Oh, that’s right. I explained to your Aunt Gladys…she’s gone home…and I spoke directly to your father, seems a very pleasant, understanding sort…so…knowing what happened, he okayed your staying at the clinic and will probably be in to visit on Saturday. What day is it today Charlie?” “Well it’s…it’s…” Charlie stopped and realized he had absolutely no idea. “It’s strange doctor, but I’m not at all sure. I know I came to see you on…Thursday…but I’m kind of blank after that. It must be…Friday?” “Just as I thought,” said Dr. Whipshank, “It’s a normal reaction after a trauma like you’ve had. It’s actually Monday. You’ve been resting peacefully for three days. A relatively short time as comas go, but a major trauma to the brain nonetheless. There doesn’t seem to be any obvious loss of motor function or mental capacity, thank god, but we’ll know more after testing’s completed. Your father and aunt… Oh… Aunt what’s-her-name were at your bedside all day on Saturday and Sunday but, after being satisfied that you were getting the best care possible, had to return home for work. You have been in a comatose state for three days, Charlie. Your brain needed a rest. That’s why you don’t remember the passage of time. As I said, from a visual examination, there doesn’t seem to be any permanent damage. How old are you Charlie?” “I’m fourteen,” answered Charlie “Good,” replied Dr. Crukshank, “And a fine physical specimen. You’re exactly five feet tall and weigh 110 lbs. We were able to weigh and measure you while you were out. You were sent here for an examination because of some behavioral difficulties at school. Can you tell me about that?” Charlie paused before answering. He had to remember to appear average. Now what would your average kid say? “Oh yeah, I remember. I just didn’t want to stay in ol’ Twiddle’s class so I left. I didn’t cause any trouble…went straight to the office.” 11
“Yes…that corresponds pretty well with the report I received. It seems a pretty innocent gesture but when combined with other similar incidents, it led to your suspension and brought you to me. I can respect your choice to leave the classroom and can even try to understand the disrespect you chose to show your teacher, Mr.…ah…” “Mr. Twiddle,” said Charlie with obvious contempt in his voice. “Yes, Twiddle, thank you Charlie…the disrespect you showed Mr. Twiddle. What really interests me…and…what you probably already know, is the why of your actions. I’m certainly not calling you dishonest. You undoubtedly did want to leave Mr. Twiddle’s classroom. But when I look at your records, I don’t get the picture of a young man who acts so impulsively. You may not know, consciously, why you acted or reacted the way you have, but I think we’ll find out. I won’t judge you or assume anything about you from simply reviewing your file. They can tell me some things about you, but I don’t feel them valid enough—too many variables—to be of any real significance. I hope to get to know you on a deeper level than paper can show me, and I hope you’ll begin to trust me. I have a strong feeling that we’ll become friends—even help each other—and I’m usually right about these things. Now, I’ll let you ponder that for a time, and then this afternoon we’ll complete the physical examination…CAT scan…reflexes…etc…and there will be some assessments to satisfy the school system. I have great expectations for us, Charlie. Together we’ll be able to achieve feats even you have never imagined. Enjoy trying to figure out our friend Mr. Escher’s work, and I’ll see you in about an hour.” With that, Dr. Whipshank turned and left the room before Charlie had a chance to reply. The door closed behind him leaving Charlie to add this new information to his quickly forming picture of this unusual man to whom his care—and possibly his future—had been entrusted.
He’d heard it all before, from teachers and counselors at school who had undoubtedly wanted to help him but were stuck inside the box of trying to “fix” him, to make him more like everybody else so he could “fit in,” trying to put him in the proper slot on the proper shelf so that they could be comfortable and feel they were fulfilling their professional obligations. While this latest little speech had certainly sounded familiar, Charlie had to admit to himself that he was intrigued with Dr. Whipshank. Everything else about him, from his choice of employees (Miss Twillup in particular) to the highly unusual furnishings of his office and the intriguing papers Charlie had glanced at on his desk, pointed to someone who was anything but typical. He certainly seemed like someone who was able to think outside the box. If nothing else, this offered the possibility of being more interesting than school. Charlie began a slow inventory of his memories and intellectual abilities to reassure himself that he had not been permanently damaged by the blow to his head.
Chapter 3 The Clinic The next two days were filled with CAT scans of Charlie’s brain, X-rays, and a barrage of psychological and intelligence tests which were administered by Dr. Whipshank himself. Charlie’s curiosity and an inkling of respect and trust for him began to grow slowly. Before each standardized assessment, Dr. Whipshank had apologized to him for subjecting him to these but explained that the bureaucracy required it and, “I wouldn’t be able to get to the real issues without complying.” While these assessments and examinations were tedious to Charlie, he’d come to a momentous decision. He’d decided to trust Dr. Whipshank and actually try on them. Charlie began to doubt his ability to fool Dr. Whipshank and really didn’t want to attempt it. He began to realize that he wanted to reveal his intelligence. He was tired of pretending. Charlie yearned to explore the library he’d caught only glimpses of in passing as he was wheeled around the clinic. State guidelines required this for any “brain-injured” person even though Charlie was, by now, fully capable of walking on his own. One upside to this was that, occasionally, Miss Twillup would assume the duties of wheeling Charlie from his room to the examination area. These brief interactions afforded Charlie the opportunity to, not only test her seemingly innate ability to read his thoughts, but to try to learn more about Dr. Whipshank. Apparently, information about the good doctor was not to be denied him as Miss Twillup answered willingly Charlie’s inquiries. She also proved to be irritatingly accurate at reading his thoughts. As a fourteen-year-old whose hormones were beginning to rage, Charlie was embarrassed by his own inability to control his sometimes blatantly sexual thoughts. Miss Twillip’s ability to hear them, and her tendency to comment on them unabashedly provoked a severe amount of anxiety. She was in no way 14
condescending or judgmental, yet Charlie still felt as if he’d shrivel up and blow away every time this happened. “Well Charlie, I’m sixteen years old and no, I don’t exercise much. Just genetically blessed I guess. Thank you,” said Miss Twillup after Charlie had absent-mindedly thought about her nice form and wondered if she exercised regularly. Charlie felt the warm redness of embarrassment creep over his face. He quickly looked down at the white-tiled floor passing beneath him as Miss Twillup wheeled him toward his “assessment summary” meeting. His father, Mr. Twiddle, and Principal Rudd would all be there to hear the results and Dr. Whipshank’s recommendations. Charlie was nervous. He felt beads of sweat gathering on his forehead and an itchiness in his palms. What’s going to happen to me? How would they react? Can I go home? Where will they send me? All these and many more questions buzzed across Charlie’s brain as they approached the blue leather-covered door. He enjoyed being at the clinic and had to admit to himself that he’d like to stay—at least for a little while longer. “Don’t worry too much Charlie,” said Miss Twillup. “I’m sure everything will be fine. Dr. Whipshank is very good. He has a special surprise to offer you that I think you’ll like. Oh, I shouldn’t have said anything—please don’t mention anything about this. That was terribly unprofessional of me. Dr. Whipshank made it very clear—and rightfully so—that I was not to tell any patients his diagnosis. I just like you Charlie, and I don’t want you to worry. You won’t say anything, will you?” giving Charlie’s shoulder a gentle squeeze with her hand. Now Charlie was really confused. She liked him! She squeezed his shoulder…A special surprise? What could that be? She really liked him! “No, don’t worry. I won’t say a word…and thanks,” said Charlie as they stopped momentarily so Miss Twillup could open the door.