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The Guilt Doctor

by John W. Steele

“Reggie, why don’t you give it up? You’ve been whining about this for a year now, and I’m sick of hearing about it.”

Max the tavern owner stood behind the bar and looked hard in Reggie’s face. His large meaty hands were contracted into fists, and his knuckles rested on his hips, supporting the weight of his massive shoulders. It was 9 a.m. the bar had just opened. A few regulars sat glued to their barstools sipping Irish coffee, and watching the war on television.

“I wish I could do something for you, Reggie, but I’m a bartender not a psychiatrist.”

“Well, you could at least talk to me about it, Max. I’m in here everyday and you get half of my pension check.”

The furrowed lines in Max’s face stiffened. “You’re in here because you choose to be here, Reggie. No one forces you to sit here and drink all day. You might as well spend your money here as anywhere else. At least I see to it you don’t get mugged, this is a rough neighborhood.”

Reggie avoided Max’s cold steel gray eyes, and stared down into his drink. All I’m asking for is a little understanding, Max.”

“Look Reggie, I’m sorry your wife died such a miserable death. Cancer sucks... I don’t blame you for what you did to ease her pain, but the rest of your problems, I can’t help you with. If you got issues, why don’t you see a priest?”

“I did see a priest.”

“And what did he say?”

“He said I was forgiven.”

Well if God forgives you, why the hell are you bugging me for answers?”

“Don’t you see, Max? I can’t shake the guilt, it’s killing me.”

Reggie coughed, and took a long sip of amber ale. “It’s the eyes, Max, those big sad eyes. Some were green, some brown, or blue. Those eyes show up every night in my dreams, thousands of eyes pleading with me.”

“Snap out of it, Reg. Someone had to do that job. If it bothered you so much why did you stay with it?”

Reggie reached in his pocket and pulled out a cigarette. He rolled the cigarette in his fingers and his hand trembled.

“It’s hard to explain, Max. It’s a groove you get into. At first it stings. But then the feeling that what you’re doing isn’t right goes away. After a while it’s just a job.” Reggie’s face lost all expression. “And then the scary part comes.”

“What do you mean?” Asked Max.

“I got so I enjoyed it. It was like every rotten thing that happened to me, I could just flush down the toilet. All I had to do is twist the little knob on the chamber and all my problems faded away. You begin to feel power over life, like you matter.”

“You’re wrong only if you think you’re wrong,” Max said. “It wouldn’t bother me gassing the mangy bastards... crapping on the streets, and howling all night, what good are they anyway? The worlds better off without them.”

That’s what I thought too,” Reggie said. “I thought they were the scum of the earth, but when Agnes died, it all changed.”

Max pulled a lighter out of his pocket and lit Reggie’s smoke.

“What do you mean it all changed?” Max asked.

“It was her stupid cat, Sammy. When Agnes died the damn thing wouldn’t stop crying. I got so sick of hearing it whine that one night I hauled its sorry ass out on the back porch and stuck an ice pick in its heart. It was a knee-jerk reaction, I’d grown so used to killing animals it had become second nature for me. But then something happened I’ll never forget. Do you know what the cat did before I killed him?”

“Who cares?” Max said.

“It blinked at me three times.”

“So what?”

“I remember the vet at the animal shelter told me that’s how a cat tells you he loves you, they blink at you,” Reggie said.

“Animals don’t know what love is, Reg, most people don’t either, love is just a four letter word.”

Reggie chewed the inside of his lower lip and stared into the smoke curling up from his cigarette.

“I got to thinking, Max the cat didn’t put up any resistance the night I stuck him. It was like the damn thing was so heartbroken it wanted to die, like it wanted to be with Agnes. If that stupid animal felt sorrow, what else was he capable of feeling? That’s when I started having the nightmares. Everything I’d done for the last thirty years at the animal shelter all caved in on me.”

“You sound like a woman, Reggie. I told you, it wouldn’t bother me a bit.”

Max walked over to the cash register and shuffled through a stack of papers sitting on the shelf of the back bar. “Ah, here it is.”

He walked back over to Reggie and handed him a black business card with gold lettering. The card read,

Absolution Hypnosis Services
The first step for a guilt free life...
Dr. Sedrick Geeters

The hookers that hang out here all rave about this guy, Max said. They tell me he can mend a broken conscience; they call him the guilt doctor. Anyway, here’s his card, give him a call. Maybe he can pull you out of this.”

“Which girl sees him, I’d like to talk to her,” Reggie said.

Max’s forehead wrinkled.

“How the hell do I know who they are? Whores are like the wind, they hang out here for a few months and then they disappear. Who knows where they go? Besides, I’m big Max; I don’t pay for nothing, especially from them.”

“Reggie took a long drag on his cigarette and exhaled the smoke through his nose like a demon. “Hypnosis... I don’t believe in that mumbo-jumbo. I don’t want no witch doctor probing around in my head.”

“Suit yourself, just trying to help,” Max said. “My advice to you is: pull your head out of your ass, and go talk to somebody that gives a damn; I don’t. I got work to do.” Max grabbed a bottle of bourbon and headed for the other end of the bar.

That night Reggie had a recurring nightmare. He was locked in a tiny sealed room. The walls were covered with blinking eyes and the room was filled howling, whining, and gagging noises. A hissing sound pierced his ears, and his body convulsed as he struggled to breath. His stomach quivered with nausea, and he felt like he was going to puke his guts out.

Reggie woke up with a start. He lay in a pool of cold sweat and his heart was racing. He sat up at the edge of the bed, laid his head in his hands, and began to sob. For a long moment he looked at the rifle that sat in the corner by the dresser. He reached over, grabbed the gun, and placed the end of the barrel in his mouth. The safety made a click sound. Reggie gently stroked the trigger of the rifle with his thumb, back and forth... back and forth. A cold empty feeling seized his heart and he knew it was time.

* * *

A week later Reggie sat in the parking area of an immense Victorian mansion. The stone building was surrounded by a wrought iron fence. There were two circular garrets on the front of the residence, each one adorned with a gargoyle. A long paved roadway ran along the side of the house up to a large Quonset hut which sat on a ridge in the far back of the property. He could hear the sound of barking dogs coming from the enclosure on the hill.

Reggie strode up the walkway and onto the porch. He rang the old cast iron doorbell and peered through the lace curtain hanging inside the bevel glass door. Eventually a figure emerged and ambled down the dimly lit corridor. The door creaked open and a tall dignified looking gentleman stood before him.

The man had a full close-cropped snow-white beard. Long silver hair hung to his shoulders, and his face shined. He wore a single breasted Houndstooth jacket with a matching turtleneck. The man looked like a retired college professor.

The distinguished gentleman looked Reggie over for a moment and smiled exposing two sparkling gold-capped incisors. He reached out his hand, “Reggie Suggins, I presume.”

Reggie’s arm shot up to shake the mans hand. The mans grip was firm, and he gazed directly into Reggie’s eyes. The tall mans blue eyes twinkled, and Reggie felt mesmerized by his intensity of his presence.

“How’d ya do,” Reggie said. The man smiled again. Reggie thought the towering character looked like a distinguished diplomat and he immediately trusted him.

“I’m doctor Seedrick Geeters, please come in,” he said.

* * *

Reggie followed Dr. Geeters down the hallway and into his office. On the wall behind the doctor’s desk were displayed his numerous medical diplomas and certificates of achievement.

On the sidewalls hung a large number of black and white photographs of attack dogs. Bullmastiffs, Doberman Pinchers, and German Sheppard’s, all sat at attention. Their leads were taut, their muscles rippled, and their powerful bodies were well groomed.

“Please have a seat, Mr. Suggins.”

Dr. Geeters walked behind his desk sat down, and placed his elbows on the solid marble desktop. He folded his hands and in a mellow voice he asked, “Well, Mr. Suggins, what exactly brings you to my little purgatorium, and he laughed, his deep bass voice reverberated in the room.

Reggie cleared his throat. “You can call me Reggie.”

“Fine... fine, Reggie it is. But you haven’t answered my question.” Dr. Geeters said.

Reggie’s eyes wandered over to the canine portraits displayed on the wall, and he stammered as he spoke. “Well... I’m not sure how to tell you this, Doc... you being a dog lover and all...”

Dr. Geeters followed Reggie’s gaze over to the pictures. “As a hobby I breed guard dogs for security work. Perhaps I should tell you a little bit about myself, Reggie. I was a pathologist for many years. When I retired I became a hypo-therapist. Like everything else I attempt, I’m the best at what I do. I work strictly by word of mouth. You needn’t feel intimidated, Reggie. The patients I see have committed some of the most heinous acts imaginable. If my patients want treatment... if they sincerely seek absolution, I can remove the stains from their conscience, and free them from their guilt. You are seeking freedom from guilt aren’t you, Reggie.”

Reggie nodded his head.

“Good, you’re in the right place. Now tell me, Reggie, why have you come to see me?”

“Well, Dr. Geeters I’ve done a lot of things I’m sorry for, and I have some memories I’d like erased from my mind.”

“Memories?” Dr. Geeters said.

“Yeah, I worked in animal control for a lot of years and it was my job to exterminate the unwanted animals.”

“I see. And now you feel that you did something horrible? Let me ask you something, Reggie, why do you blame your self for the selfish actions of others? You’re not responsible for the callous disregard of irresponsible people.”

I don’t want to go into a lot of detail, Doc. Responsible or not, I’m having nightmares about what I’ve done. I feel like I’m losing my mind, and I want to die. Can you help me?”

Dr. Geeters stroked his beard for a moment. “Have you talked to a clergyman about this?”

“Yes. The holy man said I was forgiven but it ain’t that easy; at least not for me.”

“I see. What about your family, surely they understand?”

“My wife died over a year ago. I’ve got no one, and I’m alone.”

“Hmmm... that’s too bad. What do you think I can do for you, Reggie?”

“You’re the guilt doctor ain’t you? I want to be freed from the haunting memories of my past.”

Dr. Geeters leaned back in his chair for a moment and stared into space. “I am indeed the guilt doctor, Reggie. Some people may think my methods of compassion are a little bizarre. But I find great pity in what I do. But before we begin, I must ask you; are you sure it is total absolution you seek?”

Dr. Geeters stood up from his chair. He glared down at Reggie like a mighty giant and his burning blue eyes pierced Reggie to the soul. Dr. Geeters opened his arms like an evangelist, raised his head and in a thundering voice proclaimed,

“If it’s truly absolution you seek my son, it is I that can provide it for you. For I alone possess the authority to grant you lasting tranquility, and remove from your ravaged conscience that which not even the gods can amend.”

There was a moment of silence.

Reggie began to sob. He raised his hand above him, and reached out to the doctor, his voice quivered. “Yes... yes my guilt is too painful to bear. Yes, Dr. Geeters make it all go away... please.”

The doctor closed his eyes and fell silent in a moment of meditation, then seated himself once again.

Seedrick pulled a tissue from a box that sat on his desk and handed it to Reggie. “Very well, Reggie, I believe you. I know I can help you, and you’re an excellent candidate for guilt reduction therapy. Please follow me to the treatment room.”

* * *

They ambled down an arched corridor until they arrived at a chamber with a heavy padded door. The door wheezed when Dr. Geeters opened it. The walls were decorated with oil paintings in gilded frames. A rich crimson oriental carpet covered the floor, and a couch with a single arm sat in the center of the room.

“I’ll need you to lie on the couch, Reggie. I like to use free association to help induce a trance, and the couch will aid us in that.” The doctor walked over to a stoneware pitcher on the counter, and poured a glass of cool water.

Dr. Geeters reached into his pocket and fished out a little blue pill. “Please take this medication, it’s a hypnotic and it will open the mind portals and allow me to probe the memories and find the source of the anguish afflicting you.”

Reggie looked at the pill for a moment. “Are you sure this is going to work?”

“You have my every sympathy, Reggie. If I wasn’t positive my therapy would help you, I would not treat you.”

Reggie swallowed the pill and gulped down the water.

“It takes a little while for the medication to take effect.” Dr. Geeters said. He walked over to one of the shelves and turned on an amplifier. Mozart’s third Sonata in E flat gently flooded the room.

“I’d like you to try and turn off your mind, Reggie. Think of yourself as helium filled balloon ascending into the sky. I’ll return in a short while and we shall complete the procedure. Are you comfortable?”

“Yeah, I’m ready,” Reggie said.

“Good, in just a little while you will be a free man, no longer tormented by the memories of your previous deeds.”

Dr. Geeters looked at Reggie one last time, smiled, and left the room. The door closed with a muted thud. Reggie rested his head on the arm of the couch. The drug began to take effect and Reggie drifted peacefully on the sea of the haunting melody.

In time Reggie felt as free as the wind in the sky. The volume of the music increased, and buried somewhere within the glorious sonata he heard a gentle sigh. But Reggie felt so relaxed he ignored the sound, and savored the rapture of sedation, and the voice of the soothing violin.

An immense translucent green bubble appeared in Reggie’s mind’s eye. The limitless wall of the bubble was decorated with circles that appeared like craters on the moon. Reggie followed the sound of the violin deep inside the luminous sphere. He heard a pop like a starter gun, and realized a peace he had never known.

* * *

An hour later the door of the chamber opened. Doctor Geeters entered the room with his assistant, Milo; a stocky built dwarfish man with a limp and a harelip.

“Is he ready for the grinder... is he ready for the grinder, Dr. Geeters?” Milo asked.

“Patience, Milo, allow me to examine the body, and we shall see.”

The doctor performed neuro checks on the corpse. Milo paced back and forth at the foot of the couch rubbing his hands together in a delusional frenzy. “Ready for the grinder... ready for the grinder.” He repeated the phrase over and over.

“Yes, Milo, this one is ready for processing. Take him to the grinder. I will arrive at the kennels shortly and we shall prepare the formula.”

Milo wheeled a stainless steel operating table into the room. With a grunt, he hoisted the body, and transferred it to the gurney.

“The dogs love the formula, Dr. Geeters, I like it too... I like it too.”

Dr. Geeters fixed Milo with a cold eye. “I’ve cautioned you about this before, Milo. I don’t want you eating the formula. If I catch you sampling the formula again, you’ll face the shock treatments. You don’t want the paddles again do you?”

Milo cowered and began to tremble. No sir, Doctor Geeters, I don’t never want the shocks again... not never again... not never again.”

Doctor Geeters patted Milo’s head and smiled. “Then be a good lad, and do as I tell you.”

“I will, Doctor Geeters, I will... I be good... I be good.”

“What I do is for the benefit of mankind, Milo. Not for our own hedonistic delights, you would do well to remember this. It is rare that a man can provide security for the living, and solace... for the living dead.”

Milo laughed and shook his head in agreement, “Solace for the dead... solace for the dead.” He wheeled the gurney from the treatment room.

A dark blue van sat at the rear of the building. Milo loaded the body in the bed of the vehicle. A silver moon was rising in the west, and the dogs began to howl.

Copyright © 2007 by John W. Steele

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