|The Evil of Two
By Brian D. Roth
Doctor Stephen Manneval waited in silent anticipation for his client to open up and spill his trauma.
A tall man in his late forties lying on a chaise lounge, wearing a checkered shirt and loose fitting khakis,
lifted his hands in front of his face, letting the sleeves hang from the wrists. Sounding somber,
remorseful, he said. “Whenever I look at my hands, I can’t help but think they’ve done something awful.”
Doctor Manneval leaned forward and pushed his glasses high onto the bridge of his nose. After
smoothing out his tie, he inspected Larry Crandall’s hands. They were gnarled, red.
“Larry,” the doctor said, concerned. “You’ve been coming to see me for four years. Never once have you
expressed concern about your hands doing anything. Nor have I ever seen them in this condition. Can
you tell me what happened?”
Larry sat up straight, eyes widening. “I don’t remember any of it. It’s all a blur, a mirage.”
Still holding his client’s gaze, the doctor asked. “So, you were outside of yourself, so to speak.”
Larry considered the possibility, shook his head and grimaced. “I wish I knew. Just talking about it is
making me upset. Look.” His hands trembled. “They’ve been doing that a lot lately. I used to be able to
play the guitar. I used to run these fingers through my wife’s hair.”
Doctor Manneval noticed his client’s ring finger. A lustrous 18 Carat gold ring gleamed dully in the
lamplight. It appeared to be caked with dried blood.
Larry shifted his gaze from Doctor Manneval to the gold band wrapped around his finger, then back to the
doctor again. “I’ve been haunted by insurmountable guilt. I don’t know how a person can feel guilty about
something they can’t remember doing. When I came back to my senses, Ruth lay beside me on the floor in
our bedroom, not moving, not breathing. Larry stammered. “I’m afraid I may have…may have…”
His face hardened. Wrinkles deepened. He gripped a beige cushion with his other hand and squeezed it,
squeezed it hard. “I could not have done it. I don’t have it in me. I loved Ruth. I truly loved her.”
Larry’s eyes swelled with sincerity and sadness. Tears ran down his cheeks.
Doctor Manneval handed Larry a box of tissues. “I am deeply sorry for your loss.” Sympathy smothered
the doctor’s heart, causing a crack in his professional façade. Larry had lost someone dear to him, his
wife; his soul-mate. What was more, he might have brought about her death without even realizing it.
From a psychological standpoint, it was possible. Doctor Manneval understood he was dealing with a
severe case of dissociative disorder. He waited for his client’s tears to subside before continuing.
The doctor was momentarily distracted by ambulances and fire trucks outside. Sirens blared and horns
blatted while the vehicles raced down Filbert Street in Center City, Philadelphia, struggling to maneuver
around departing Greyhound buses. Rush hour had begun.
Manneval observed daylight fade into the ashes of a fall evening. The sun descended into a tomb
beneath the horizon. The moon cast vibrant pink and orange splinters across the horizon before it
vanished entirely. A full moon arose to spy on the land below. The moon possessed an odd reddish tint.
Glancing back and forth between the moon and his client, the doctor experienced a peculiar sense of
foreboding that he neither liked nor understood.
Manneval squinted at the clock. It was a quarter to six. He had only twenty minutes left with Larry
Crandall, and so far he had made little progress. He wanted to help Larry. He was confident that he could.
Since earning a Doctorate at Harvard before settling down in Philadelphia, Manneval had encountered
hundreds of clients, all with their own mental and emotional blizzards. He hadn’t met a single one to whom
he could not provide warmth.
The doctor focused as best he could on Larry slouching into the lounge, head down. Tears streamed
down his cheeks.
“Larry,” the doctor said, “I want to try an exercise with you.” Without giving Larry a chance to object,
Manneval added. “I’m going to put you under hypnosis. It is an induced state of awareness in which you
may be able to summon suppressed memories.”
Wariness crossed Larry’s features, colliding with barriers of doubt and disbelief. It was as though he
thought that what the doctor was proposing was going to be impossible.
Doctor Manneval expected that Larry would resist, even hesitate, perhaps because he thought that
participating would cause him to make yet another staggering discovery, one that would confirm his worst
fears. The doctor wasn’t surprised when Larry folded his arms across his chest.
“I understand, Larry. Nobody wants to retrace their own snowy footprints, or trudge through their own
dark wilderness. I’m doing this so we can get a firmer grasp on what happened and why. Don’t worry. I’ll
be here with you no matter what happens. We’ll go through it together. I promise.”
Color crept back into Larry’s cheeks. He blinked and gave a subtle nod.
Speaking just above a whisper, Doctor Manneval said, “All right, here’s what I need you to do. I need you
to relax, clear your mind of thoughts and questions, breathe in through your nose and out through your
mouth, close your eyes and count backwards from thirty. You should start to feel drowsy.”
Larry thought for some time. The doctor presumed that his client was focused on giving his top floor
apartments a good spring cleaning. He then started counting. By the time he had reached fifteen, his
cheeks sagged. His lids drooped. His arms fell to his sides. Sinking further into the lounge, he
submerged into the mystery of himself.
When Manneval spoke, he altered the inflection in his voice. He sounded curious, methodical. “Tell me
how you feel.”
With his eyes closed, lids moist with the residue of falling tears, Larry sighed.
“I believe we should begin,” Doctor Manneval said. “Now can you tell me what happened with you and
Larry furrowed his brow, solemn. “Ruth and I looked forward to taking a trip to the Jersey Shore,” he said.
“We always loved going out to the beach. We enjoyed walking hand in hand along the shore at sunset.
That was our favorite time of day. We had been there before.”
Larry’s breathing slowed while reabsorbing the memory. “I remember the cool, soft sand brushing against
our bare feet, the earthy, salty aroma of the ocean, the waves rising and toppling over one another, the
pathetic but somehow pleasant squeal of a flock of seagulls soaring above us, the sun shedding its
sherbet colors into the horizon. Most of all, I remember the feel of my wife’s hand as she held mine, the
way her hair flailed in the wind. I remember how her lips, light and little, curved into a subtle smile, subtle
but precious. That was where we had decided to spend our fourth wedding anniversary. That was just
Larry bowed his head. “We never made it there. I…” he paused. “She…” he paused again.
Instinct caused the doctor to peer out the window once more. His face grew sallow and pale. The reddish
tint he had noticed earlier was no longer just a tint. It eclipsed the moon, transforming it into a red eye.
Larry could reminisce no further. Something had disturbed him. Manneval equated it to the moon. It was
as though it were X-raying Larry Crandall’s soul.
Larry groaned, sounding as though he was trying to ward off nightmarish intrusions. “No, no, no, no, no.”
“Larry,” Doctor Manneval said, “are you all right?”
Larry shook his head.
He then sat stooped and speechless upon the lounge.
Doctor Manneval advanced toward him. Larry lifted his head, opened his eyes and directly at him. His
expression had turned sinister. Doctor Manneval took a step back and cursed.
Larry’s eyes had changed from hazel brown to harsh granite. His exterior sclera had acquired a network of
crooked red lines. Wrinkles dug into his face. They resembled scars, hideous scars. Whoever this man
was, he wasn’t Larry Crandall.
“Who are you?” Manneval asked. He wiped cold sweat from his forehead.
The man spoke as though his throat was permeated with phlegm and sawdust. “I’m Alex. Alex Ackerson.
Boy, do I have a story to tell you.”