Startled, Timothy Orson looked up. Dr. Myles Shepard’s dusty blue gaze peered over the top of his wire-rimmed glasses, waiting.
Timothy fiddled with a hole just beginning to bloom where his jacket front met the pocket. The jacket was a Christmas gift from his mother. At the time, it had been too big for him, but he wore it any way, rolling the sleeves so they wouldn’t hang over his hands. Its dark gray hue reminded him of fall storm clouds as they rolled in from the east. The once lush and plump fleece lining had become balled and stiff from repeated washing, but Timothy didn’t care. It felt right on his person.
“Sorry, I wasn’t listening,” Timothy mumbled into his hands.
“How have you been sleeping?” Dr. Shepard repeated, his silky voice carried an almost imperceptible glaze of condescension. Yet, however slight and well-masked the intonation, Timothy picked up the subtle nuance in the therapist’s voice.
Timothy shrugged noncommittally, sinking farther into the lily pad colored armchair. It was an exact match to the one Dr. Shepard sat in across from the nine-year-old boy with rumpled brown hair and circles, the color of slate, under his eyes. The armchairs reminded Timothy of giant Venus flytraps ready to snap shut. Their predatory postures always made the boy ill at ease.
The chairs sat in front of a large picture window that the doctor kept draped with dark curtains, blocking any passerby from catching glimpses of his patients. The result was a murky atmosphere the doctored used to try to ease his clients into a state of security.
The doctor adjusted his position and folded his hands in his lap atop a yellow Steno notebook. “Are you still having nightmares?” he prodded further.
“They’re not just nightmares. They’re true.” Timothy found the hole again and studied it. Light gray and white filaments nested the edges of the void.
Dr. Shepard ignored Timothy.“Would you like to talk about them?” He sneaked a glance at the clock fixed to the wall behind Timothy, noting the time. Timothy was the doctor’s last appointment for the day, and he was ready to head home and pour himself a stiff glass of bourbon. Listening to whiny housewives complain about their selfish husbands, and children with their silly schoolyard issues all day had a price, and that price was a mildly pickled liver.
Another shrug. “Bears. It’s always about bears.”
The news piqued the doctor’s interest. In the two months the boy had been seeing the doctor, he had never offered any information about his dreams.“And what do these bears do?” Dr. Shepard asked, shifting his hand from his lap to his closely shaven chin.
Timothy sighed and dropped his jacket front. “Mostly just sniffing around and knocking over garbage cans. Then,” he paused, the memory of the dream cragfast in his throat. “Then it changes.”
“They start fighting with each other. Growling and chasing the Peterson’s dog because he started barking, and then people.” Timothy’s voiced faltered at remembering the dream.
Dr. Shepard shifted again and took some notes. The mechanical pencil scratching over the light yellow pages of his notebook. “You said the Peterson’s dog. Did you recognize any of the people in the dream?”
Timothy’s already pallid skin blanched further, making the smattering of freckles across his nose and cheeks almost glowed in the dimly lit office.
“Yes,” he whispered, unable to find his full voice.
Dr. Shepard waited, keeping his relaxed demeanor while his heart did a slight jig at the prospect of making headway with Timothy.
With a heavy sigh, Timothy trudged on, the dreams as vivid now as they were when he woke every morning, sweaty and fearful of the massive hulking beasts that held his sleeping self hostage.
“Mr. Peterson came outside to see what Trigger was barking at, and the bears started to move toward him. He closed the front door right as the biggest one started banging on it.” Timothy shuddered at the memory. “It left big claw marks in the wood.”
Dr. Shepard looked over his notes, “Do the bears always try to get the Petersons’?”
Timothy shoved his hand into his jacket pockets, “No, it’s different every night. Sometimes they’re in the center of town, breaking park benches, and running after people out late. Or they’re in people’s yards.” Timothy trailed off.
“Do they ever do anything really awful? Not just running around town, knocking over trash cans and scaring dogs?”
Timothy nodded, his eyes locked fast on his knees.
“Tell me about that. Tell me about what they do.”
“They kill people,” tears brimmed in Timothy’s deep brown eyes, his voice thick with emotion.
The doctor waited patiently. “I understand your dreams are very frightening, but you’re safe here.”
With a shaky breath, Timothy continued, “They chased this man in a green jacket last night through the park, and when they caught him. . .” he trailed off.
“When they caught him, they hurt him?” Dr. Shepard finished the frightened boy’s sentence.
Timothy looked into his therapist’s denim colored bespectacled eyes and nodded.
Dr. Shepard held the nine-year-old’s steady gaze, “You’ve heard about the bears wreaking havoc on the townspeople? You’ve heard the news reports, the adults talking, the rumors at school, the curfew? Now these facts and embellishments are making their way into your dreams. It’s very straightforward.”
Timothy’s face grew hot, his gaze intense, “I told you,” he said, sitting forward. “They’re not just dreams. They happen. The man with the green jacket was on the news this morning. I saw him. A jogger found him in the park. The bears got him in my dream last night, and he was dead this morning.”
“Alright,” Dr. Shepard said, holding up a hand in a gesture of peace. “Let’s talk about the shadows. Are you still seeing them?”
The change of subject calmed Timothy, and he sat back in the creepy green arm chair. “Yes,” he answered matter of factly.
“Can you tell me what you’re seeing?” Dr. Shepard prompted knowing they’re session would be ending shortly. Timothy was finally opening up, and he needed to make the most of what time they had left.
Another shrug. “They always start out like a person, like normal shadows, but then they change.”
“Change into animals and scary stuff,” Timothy sounded tired and irritated. “Once I saw a wolf or a big dog. Another time it was something I had never seen before, like a monster.”
“Yeah, tentacles and stuff. It was really scary.” Timothy picked up his jacket front again and found the hole. “It looked a little like the Flying Spaghetti Monster.”
“You saw the Flying Spaghetti Monster?” Dr. Shepard’s voice had that smooth quality that Timothy hated.
“That’s not what I said. I said it looked a little like it. I didn’t say it was the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Don’t put words in my mouth.” Timothy’s eyes snapped up from the quickly widening hole in his jacket to shoot the doctor a fierce look.
Dr. Shepard barely suppressed a smile at the child’s astute observation. “You’re right. That’s not what you said. So what happens when you see these shadows? Do the people ever change? Do they act strangely?”
“No, they’re normal people. They just have strange shadows.”
The pencil scratched across the notebook. “Do any of the people ever have bear shaped shadows?”
The blood rushed from Timothy’s cheeks once again. He nodded, unable to speak, eyes on hands once again.
This piece of intelligence made the doctor’s cool veneer crack at the edges, and he sat forward before he could catch himself. Now we’re getting somewhere. Maybe taking this job wouldn’t be a complete waste of his time.
“That’s very interesting. Could you tell me who they might be?” His voice crooned smoothly, but a thin film of excited sweat had broken out between his shoulder blades.
Sensing the therapist’s change in demeanor, Timothy looked up and pressed his back into the chair’s faux green velvet. A vulturine glint flashed behind Dr. Shepard’s eyes, setting off an internal alarm in the boy.
“I uh,” Timothy stammered, unsettled by the doctor’s sudden aggressive carriage, “I don’t know. Just people.”
The glint faded from Dr. Shepard’s gaze. He wiped the perspiration from his hands on the front of his trousers and sat back. The doctor’s previously relaxed posture slowly returning. “Let’s try something different. Do you recognize any of the people with bear-like shadows?”
The bell of suspicion made Timothy continue cautiously, “I may have recognized a few people. Some boys from the high school, but no one I know.”
“Can you tell me any of their names?”
Timothy lied, shaking his head, his face tense. One of the boys was the high school quarterback. Everyone knew who he was.
An exasperated laugh escaped Dr. Shepard, “This is very important Timothy. I need to know which people in town have bear shadows.” He pulled his glasses from his nose and rubbed his eyes.
“Why? You said it was just my imagination. Why would it matter who I saw with animal or monster shadows if I made it all up?” The urge to leave bubbled in Timothy’s gut, threatening to boil over and send him running. He’d never liked Dr. Shepard. Something about the therapist made Timothy distrustful, but his mother had told him needed to talk about the nightmares if he was ever hoping to sleep well again. Timothy was now regretting taking her advice.
Another tight laugh. “I simply want to help the police neutralize the bears. Any information would help.” He placed his thin framed glasses back in place and blinked his eyes innocently.
“No,” Timothy replied, unconvinced by the doctor’s performance.
Anger flared, “They’ve been killing people Timothy, destroying property, terrorizing the town. They need to be stopped!” he threw his hands into the air for emphasis, knocking the dark curtains back from the window, flooding the cozy office with light.
The brightness of the setting sun flipped an internal switch. Timothy squeezed his eyelids shut and turned his head away from the window as the light stung his unadjusted eyes. Blinking, Timothy now faced the wall opposite where he and the doctor sat. A perfect shadow of a wolf-like beast, not a man, darkened the white stucco.
Dr. Shepard stood and scrambled to recover the window, cursing himself silently for losing his composure. For months, he’d been gaining Timothy’s trust to discover what he knew about the mysterious bears. He was about to blow all his work because he couldn’t keep it together.
The desire to flee zipped through Timothy, but he instead found himself stuck fast to his seat. The Venus fly trap having snapped shut without his knowing.
“I’m sorry,” Dr. Shepard apologized, his back to Timothy as he straightened the draperies. “I was out of line. Why don’t we pick this up next week.”
Timothy stared at the spot on the wall were the doctor’s shadow had fallen. With the window firmly covered, the white stucco was innocuously blank. “Sure. My mom wants me home to help with dinner.” Grabbing his backpack from its place by his feet, Timothy stood and slung it over his shoulder.
Dr. Shepard heard the boy’s worn sneakers pad across the rich Oriental rug on his way to the dark mahogany door followed by a mild click as he let himself out. The doctor took a deep breath knowing the chances of Timothy revealing the identity of the werebears might now be damaged beyond repair. It had been a huge mistake on his part to have lost his temper like that. And the curtain. That damned curtain could have been a major disaster. He was almost positive that he’d righted the dark fabric before Timothy had seen anything.
Unable to wait until he made it home for a drink, Dr. Shepard went to his desk and brought out a flask. Bringing the stainless steel to this mouth, he took a much-needed swig of the brown liquor. It left a warm wake as it traveled down his esophagus to this stomach. Immediately he felt calmer as the alcohol traveled through his empty digestive tract to his brain.
He was about to take a second pull from the flask when he heard something in the empty waiting room.
“That you Marjory?” He’d sent his receptionist home early as was their agreement for Fridays. Perhaps she had forgotten something and returned.
Instead of Marjory’s pert voice, the doctor’s question was answered with a light scratching on the office door.
Perplexed, the doctor stood, flask still in hand, and walked to the door. He reached for the brass knob and turned. The door swung open silently. Instead of Marjory at the desk, Dr. Shepard found the largest bear he’d ever set his gaze upon blocking his exit. Familiar deep brown eyes, once wide and frightened in a small boy’s face, were now deeply set and menacing. Just behind the bear’s massive hind leg peaked Timothy’s beloved gray jacket.
The realization dawned the doctor, much like the realization that occurs to an insect when trapped in a cavernous plant. Even though they know death is imminent, they beat and struggle against the green jaws, trying to get free. The same spark of hopefully survival occurred to Dr. Shepard as he wondered how quickly he could take his wolf form and defend himself.
Before he could finish his thought, Timothy raised a massive furry paw and struck the doctor, sending him flying across the dark office into the wall, cracking the white stucco. A yelp reminiscent of the Peterson’s dog escaped the doctor’s snarled mouth.