1968 When Thomas Engelhart began to wake up, the first thing that struck him as strange was the smell he breathed deeply into his nostrils. Lysol. God he hated that smell. He had yet to open his eyes, but he knew he was back in the hospital, the same hospital his children had been born in. The same hospital his wife had died in. He wondered if his fate would be the same.
He could hear muffled voices in the background, but none he recognized. He slowly opened his eyes and took in the scene around him. There were bars of chrome blocking much of his view, but he soon realized that those were just the side rails of his bed. As he rolled his head from side to side, he also saw that he was in a room all by himself. Jesus, he thought to himself, this must cost a fortune! He tried to sit up, but found he was still too weak.
As he inspected his surroundings closer, he also saw that a tube was taped to his arm, and that it ran up to a clear IV bag hanging from a stand on the side of his bed. As he focused on the hallway outside his door, he saw a nurse go by and tried to yell at her. His voice came out as a raspy whisper and he realized he was so dehydrated that he could hardly speak. He tried to lick his lips, but his tongue stuck to the corner of his mouth. It took most of the energy he had left to pull it away.
Besides being thirsty as hell, he found himself in a state of confusion. He wasn't even sure why he was here. He tried to put the pieces together, but his mind just wasn't functioning normally. He finally gave up and closed his eyes again. It actually wasn't all that unpleasant, he thought dreamily to himself, as he slipped back into unconsciousness.
As Thomas slipped back into the darkness, he began to dream. At first it was a somewhat pleasant experience as he walked down a long row of mature corn, stopping occasionally to pull back a few tassels on an ear, seeing that it was almost ready for harvest. But as he neared the end of the row, he could see his farmhouse off in the distance, spinning around on it's axis like the house in the Wizard of Oz. Only his house wasn't falling through the sky, just spinning on the ground, as if someone had turned it into a giant roulette wheel.
Somehow he just knew that his children were in the house and he ran towards it as fast as he could. The harder he tried to run, the slower he moved. It was as if the ground had turned to thick molasses, and each step seemed to take an eternity. He reached down with his hands and tried to help move his legs forward, but his progress slowed even more. Somewhere in the distance he thought he could hear his daughter's voice. He tried to yell out to her, but no sound came. He tried again, and again, and again; suddenly he was awake.
When he opened his eyes, Janice was by his bedside, holding on to his left arm. His fingers were interlaced with his right arm around his left thigh. He sensed that he was still trying to get out of the molasses, but also realized that it was only a dream. He relaxed and fell back into the pillow.
"Dad, it's all right. It's okay now. I love you Daddy."
She hadn't called him 'Daddy' since she was just a pup, and it brought tears to his eyes, even though the rest of him was dying of thirst.
"I wuv you too, huhn-ee," he replied, barely able to form words with his dehydrated lips and tongue.
A nurse suddenly appeared behind his daughter, and he watched as her arm shot forward with a little glass of something that seemed to shimmer like diamonds.
"Try sucking on some of these, Mr. Engelhart," she said gently.
He looked at her bewilderedly, telegraphing his true state of mind to her professional eye.
"They're only ice chips, Mr. Engelhart. You must be thirsty after all you've been through. Just try to suck on one if you can. It'll make it easier for you to talk."
She held the edge of the cup to his lips. As soon as the first drop of melted water touched his lips, he eagerly opened his dry cracked mouth to accept some of the chipped ice.
He felt like the Tin Man after his first shot of oil, and he wanted to talk so badly he thought that he might explode. But he took the ice chips and circulated them around inside his mouth with his tongue instead. After he had unstuck most of the inside of his mouth, he swallowed the small remaining pieces and opened his mouth for more.
This time Janice was holding the cup, and he heard the nurse leave, saying she was going to get the doctor. He slurped in a few more chips, and nodded his head in gratitude. He still felt like he had been kicked by a Missouri mule, but at least he could open his lips without fear of ripping his skin off.
"Janice," he said. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, dad, I'm fine." She lied.
"Where are your brothers?" he asked weakly.
"Jonathan's resting, outside in the corridor. I should get him, he'll be glad you're awake," she said slowly.
Thomas wondered if he was still feeling groggy from waking up, or if his daughter wasn't quite all the way there.
"Are you sure you're okay, Janice?" he asked, as he looked at her closer this time. The lights were turned down low, but now he could see that her face was all bruised and swollen, and both corners of her mouth were split open. Her lower lip was at least twice normal size.
"Yeah, dad, I'm fine. Let me go and get Jonathan," she said as she started to turn away from him.
"What about Edward, is he all right?" he asked.
"Yeah, he's running around here somewhere. He came out of this without a scratch."
She sounded so distant, he thought to himself as she left the room, almost mechanical.
The next face he saw was Jonathan's. He seemed to be a little beat up at first glance, but not in near as bad shape as Janice had looked after further inspection.
"Dad, it's good to see you awake. You had us scared there for a while," he said as he grasped the retaining bars of the bed.
"It's good to see you too son. Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. It's you I'm worried about," he replied as if on another planet.
Jesus Christ, thought Thomas. I just woke up from God only knows how long of a blackout, and everyone else around here seems to be in worse condition than I am.
"Jonathan, forget about me for a minute. How's your sister doing?" he asked. "How's she really doing?"
"She's fine Dad. We're all fine," Jonathan said in the same monotone voice that was about to drive Thomas over the edge and out of his bed.
"You don't sound fine. Neither does Janice. Where's Edward?" he demanded.
"Oh, he's around,” Jonathan said dreamily.
"Goddammit, Jonathan!" Thomas shouted, and forced himself to sit up straight in his bed. "Just what the hell is going on around here?"
The next thing that happened took Thomas by surprise, as two male nurses showed up, each walking to opposite sides of his bed and holding down his arms. A man in a white jacket appeared behind Jonathan, and whispered something in his ear. Jonathan immediately left the room without speaking.
"Mr. Engelhart?" asked the man in the white coat.
"Last I remember, that would be me."
"I'm Doctor Johnson. We're awfully glad to see you awake, Mr. Engelhart," he said in a soothing voice.
"Yeah, well I'm glad to be awake too, I guess," Thomas said. "Although my kids seem to be walking around half asleep."
"Well, just like yourself, they've been through quite a lot the last few days."
"Last few days!" exclaimed Thomas.
"That's right, Mr. Engelhart. You've been unconscious for almost three days."
Thomas slumped back into his pillow again, suddenly too tired to even move. He couldn't begin to make much sense of his new reality so he asked the doctor.
"What happened?" said Thomas weakly, rolling his head over so he could look the doctor straight in the eyes.
"Your farm was struck by a tornado, Mr. Engelhart. You were found unconscious, and have been ever since they brought you here."
"Whatever hit my farm was no tornado mister, I can tell you that!" shouted Thomas.
"Then what was it, Mr. Engelhart?" asked Doctor Johnson.
"Hell if I know, but it wasn't any tornado. I've seen a shit load of twisters in my time, and this was no fucking tornado! Do tornadoes just tear up the inside of the house?" Thomas asked, surprised to see the look of astonishment on the face of Doctor Johnson.
"Mr. Engelhart," the doctor said as he motioned to one of the female nurses that had entered the room, "I hate to be the one to have to tell you this, but your whole farm was destroyed. By a tornado."
"No, that can't be true!" shouted Thomas wildly as he felt a prick in his left arm. "I was there, and only the inside of the house was swirling around. I was there, damn it! I was there! It wasn't any fucking tornado, I'm telling you! I was there. I was there…"
The lights went out again, one more time.
Thomas dreamed again while the sedative coursed through his veins. He was in the house again, and everything including the sofa and the television was flying around above his head. He couldn’t even tell which room he was in, with all of the paper and china and cookies winging around, but he knew he was in his own home. He tried to scream out for his children again, but couldn't. He started to turn around on his heels facing the same direction everything else in the house was moving, still not being able to focus on anything long enough to tell what room he was in.
He saw the dining room table fly by, and behind it followed the chairs, one by one. Next came the phone, with its cord trailing in the jet stream, and it was ringing. He reached out to grab it, but it flew through his hand as if he were a ghost. The complete set of his old World Book Encyclopedias came next, flapping their red leather covers in unison, looking much like a flock of Canadian geese heading south for the winter.
Behind the encyclopedias came the old chrome kitchen table, with it's yellow imitation-marble top. The matching yellow vinyl chairs came next, like little ducklings chasing after their mother. Soon after, the big old bathtub came waltzing by, its stubby little cast iron legs churning away like the ones on Mrs. Crimshaw's dachshund.
The only thing missing seemed to be the kitchen sink. As soon as he had thought of it, it too came barreling by, spilling out unwashed dishes as it passed overhead. ‘Damn it,’ he said to himself,’ I thought I told Edward to do those dishes? Where is Edward anyway,’ he asked himself. ‘I haven't seen him in such a long time.’
"I'm over hear, father," came the answer, right from the horse’s mouth.
Thomas looked to his right, and there was Edward. He seemed almost regal, standing still and erect, as all of the Engelhart family belongings flew by him at warp speed, parting around him at the last second.
"Edward, I should have known you would be at the bottom of all of this," he found himself saying.
"Yes, father, you should have," Eddie replied slowly.
"But you were slower than most, I must say. Aunt Louisee figured it out long before you did. Even that Lt. Taylor had an idea or two about me. Of course we know where they are now, don't we? But, not you; you were too busy playing with your little tractor. You know father, I've been meaning to ask you. Is that a John Deere you've been driving, or a Tonka?"
His vision of Edward began to grow until it was twice normal size. The boy started to laugh like some kind of evil thing from hell that even Thomas' imagination couldn't put a name on. The next thing he knew he was on the stairs again, fighting his way up towards the second floor. He chanced a look behind himself, not knowing whether he would see the giant Edward or the cast iron bathtub rushing up at him, but it was just as before. Small picture frames, pages out of the phone book, an occasional diner plate or piece of silverware. Only this time everything seemed to sail right through him.
He marched up the stairs without hesitation this time. Instead of finding the doors to all of the bedrooms closed this time, he saw that they were all open. To his left he saw Jonathan and Janice standing in their doorways, looking like mannequins in a storefront window. Their belongings flew about their heads and through their bodies as if they were ghosts also. He looked to his right and saw Aunt Louise standing in her doorway also, dressed in her old flannel nightgown, with her head hanging grotesquely to one side and eyes wide open. He felt the urge to duck as a lamp passed through her body as if it were made of fog, and then banked hard to the right and headed for Edward's doorway.
As Thomas turned his head straight ahead, he saw the giant Edward standing in the middle of his bedroom, holding their Hoover upright as if it were a machine gun. Everything that was flying by him was being sucked into the vacuum cleaner, and though the bag looked like it was forty times it's normal size, it didn't burst.
The giant Edward began laughing his evil laugh, and Thomas lunged towards him with all of his might, only to hear the loud crack of the ceiling giving way again, and to find himself in total darkness.
When Thomas felt himself coming to this time, he was afraid to open his eyes. Instead he listened for a while. The first thing he honed in on was a squeaky wheel on a cart that someone was pushing down the hall. As he became more cognizant, he could hear voices coming from other rooms down the hallway. He was almost to the point of eavesdropping on their conversations when he heard footsteps entering his room.
"He's been sedated," a nameless, faceless said. He thought he recognized the voice, but couldn't put a name with it. "He should be coming around pretty soon."
"Thanks," returned the other person. It had been a while, but he felt that he knew that voice too.
He was already turned towards the voices, lying on his side, so he opened one eye just enough to try and make out who was speaking. His vision was too blurry to recognize enough detail to determine who it was, though he could tell it was a man. He also had that damned thirst that seemed to accompany his every waking since he had ended up in this Godforsaken place. He quickly decided to quit playing hide and seek and let the world know he was awake again.
As he opened both of his eyes this time, he soon recognized the person standing in his room.
"My kinggom for an eyezchit, docker," he found himself mumbling.
"Well, well. You're back amongst the living again. Terrific. Unless I miss my guess, you're asking for these."
He held the plastic cup of ice chips up to Thomas' lips, just as the nurse had before, and Thomas repeated the same ritual.
"Would you like some more?" asked the doctor.
Thomas shook his head no, as he moved the ice around in his mouth.
"Are you up to talking for a few minutes?" asked the visitor.
"Yeah," rasped Thomas, "As long as you don't stick me with anymore needles. I'm afraid I was born way to soon to appreciate all of the drugs they have been giving me."
"It's a deal, as long as you stay calm."
"Okay, calm. No problem, Dr. McNally." said Thomas.
"What are you doing here? I thought you had retired."
"You know how it is Thomas. You can say you're retired, but all that means is that you get to slow down a little. I promised to fill in for a friend of mind while he's on vacation. I happened to see your name on the chart, so I thought I'd drop in."
"How long have I been out this time, Doc?" asked Thomas.
"Well, let me look at your chart. Hmm, look's like about twelve hours."
"Thank God," said Thomas.
"Why do you say that?" asked Dr. McNally.
"The last time I woke up, they said I had been out for three days."
"Do you know where my kids are, Doc?"
"Yep, they're with the missus right now. Probably getting spoiled rotten," he said.
Thomas rose up slightly in his bed. "Edward too?" he asked quickly.
"Yes," Dr. McNally replied, "All of your children, Thomas, and about five others if I remember correctly. Seems the missus has maternal instincts that just won't quit. We've been foster parents and guardians to more kids than I could ever count on my hands and feet, even if I were a millipede."
"I'm not so sure that's a good idea, Doc," said Thomas. "Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful as hell, but I'm worried about…"
"Edward, I know," said Dr. McNally.
"I don't think you understand," started Thomas.
"You're probably right, Thomas," interrupted McNally.
"Edward's not exactly…"
"Yeah, for lack of a better term."
"Well, in all honesty, that's partly why I'm here."
"I guess I don't understand," said Thomas.
"Thomas, as you well know, I was there when your wife, God bless her soul, gave birth to Edward. I was also there when she died, and I couldn't do a damn thing to save her."
"Hey look Doc, I've never had any hard feelings towards you about that. I hope you know that."
"Thank-you Thomas, but that's not why I'm here," replied Dr. McNally.
"I guess I still don't understand then."
"Thomas, as you also know, I've been your family doctor right up until I retired last year. Lt. Taylor also found out that bit of information, and paid me a visit last year. He knew I couldn't release any information due to the confidentiality laws governing doctors. All he wanted to do, and did, was speak his mind about Edward. Kind of a warning of things to look out for, I guess you could say."
"Then you should know damn well that you're wife shouldn't be alone with Edward!"
"I understand your concern, Thomas, but please calm down. If Dr. Johnson comes by and sees you all upset, he'll dope you up into next year, trust me," said McNally, looking over his shoulder, out towards the hallway as he did.
Thomas quieted down, but his eyes still showed his concern.
"But, Doc…" he whispered.
"It's okay, Thomas. Lt. Taylor had a partner he confided in about your case before he died, and I guess they were pretty close. He's volunteered to hang around while I'm not at home."
"So everyone still thinks that Edward killed Louise?"
"Not everyone, Thomas. But Taylor did, and he said he was pretty sure that you did too. But don't worry, that's just between you and me."
"Thanks, Doc. I don't know what to think anymore, but I sure wouldn't want anyone else to be put at risk, especially you and your wife. Can't we make some other kind of arrangements?"
"Only to put him somewhere else where he'd be more likely to go off. It's not like we could really warn anyone. There still's no proof, Thomas, there may never be. No, I think it's better this way for now. Besides, the missus and Edward seem to have really hit it off together. If he was to go out and hurt anyone again, chances are that it would be more likely to be someone like you. He seems to resent authority figures."
"So I've noticed," said Thomas. "But I still think you're taking a hell of a chance, Doc. How are my other two doing?"
"I won't say that I'm really worried about them, but they seem to be awfully distant. That's quite normal considering all that they've been through. I see it all the time with the other kids we bring in, especially at first."
"I gotta be honest with you, Doc. Something really strange happened out at the farm that night. Before the tornado they told me about came through. God, I can't believe that. Is it really true?"
"I'm afraid so, Thomas. Yours wasn't the only place to get hit, believe me."
"Still, I know I'm not crazy, the whole place was going crazy inside, and…"
"Look Thomas, I'm going to give you some advice. You can take it or leave it. There are some things that you just can't explain in this world. When your wife died, I tried to explain what had happened to the other doctors in the hospital. They damned near laughed me out of the county. When Lt. Taylor tried to build some kind of a case against your son, he got the same treatment. Most people around these parts are simple people, and they don't believe squat unless it bites them on the ass. You and me are no different, except that we've been bit on the ass.
"The rumors are flying around this hospital that you're as crazy as a loon. Those probably won't go away when you leave here, if you get to leave here on your own recognizance. If you're smart, you'll stop insisting that something 'crazy' happened out on the farm that day, and just play along with these dingle-berries until you check out of here. Then I want you to come straight to my house, and we'll have a nice long talk."
Thomas was so confused by now he didn't know what to think. Somehow he trusted Dr. McNally though and agreed to follow his plan.
"I just gotta know one thing, Doc," said Thomas.
"You know, if I wasn't so used to you calling me 'Doc', I'd insist on you calling me Jim."
"Thanks Doc," said Thomas, smiling for the first time since he had re-entered this so called reality.
"What's that you gotta know, Thomas?"
"Why you're really doing all of this. I can't thank you enough, and I'm just one of those simple people you talked about, but I know when there's more to a story than what I'm hearing."
"You're not as simple as you think, Thomas, and you're right. First of all, I have a deep interest in the paranormal, and so does my wife."
"Paranormal?" asked Thomas, as if the word was in a foreign language.
"That's correct. It's a term you'll probably hear a lot more in the future. I'll explain it more later, but let's just say for now that it covers your Edward, and maybe what happened before the tornado."
"You actually believe me?" asked Thomas.
"Let's just say that I don't disbelieve you, at the moment."
"Okay, Doc, I guess I understand now."
"Well, there's one other thing that you should probably know up front," replied Dr. McNally.
"What's that, Doc?"
"The man with Lt. Taylor in the car crash, I was the person that referred him. He was my brother-in-law."
"Jesus, I'm sorry Doc."
"Me too, Thomas, me too.”