“Daddy?” Gene’s voice caught William’s attention. Turning William lost his smile as he looked down at his son. Gene’s face was pale and beaded with sweat. “You’ve got to get out of here,” Gene pleaded “she’s going to come back.” He struggled to get up pulling on the IV’s in his arm.
“Shhh it’s ok baby,” William soothed “you’re safe now.”
“No no got to keep moving,” Gene struggled weakly in his father’s grip. “Got to get a way ….” William grabbed some ice and rubbed the cubes around his brow until he calmed and fell into an uneasy sleep.
William fell asleep in the chair beside Gene wakening every time Gene stirred restlessly in his sleep. Early the next morning the doctors came in to check on Gene’s foot. William caught the frown crease the doctors forehead. “What’s wrong?” he asked sitting up in alarm.
“The infection is a lot worse and your son’s fever is dangerously high,” the doctor explained as he checked the IV drip. “I’ve ordered a stronger antibiotic,” shaking his head ” I think we may need to consider amp_”
“Is that the only option,” William interrupted “isn’t there anything else we can try?”
Rubbing his chin the doctor considered his options “there’s one thing we can try but most people don’t like it.”
“If it will save my son’s foot, I’ll try anything,” William enthused.
“Well …. we can use maggot therapy…”
With a look of disgust and disbelief William interrupted “you’re joking right?”
“Maggot therapy is very effective in cleaning wounds of infection and in most cases better than we can do surgically,” the doctor explained.
Sighing William looked over at Gene “let’s try it. What do we have to lose?”
“His foot,” the doctor said as he made notes on Gene’s chart. “I’ll get this started today and we’ll know if it’s working within the next 48-72 hours.”
William nibbled on his lip as he watched Gene toss uneasily in his sleep. His fever causing him to be delirious the few times he spoke. Always shouting for William to run away, that she was coming back. William woke up with a start to Gene’s frantic screams “no no please stop.” William reached for him only to have Gene shrink from his touch moaning “please no more I promise I won’t try to escape. Please no more.”
Tears spilled from William’s eyes as he listened to his son plead for mercy. Screwing up his courage William reached for the dressing covering Gene’s foot. Swallowing the bile that rose to his throat. He forced himself to look at the wound past the squirming maggots. In some areas he could see finger impressions where some had dug in deep to inflict maximum pressure. No doubt to keep Gene compliant and under their control. Replacing the dressing William sat down stunned, how could someone do this to another human being? No wonder his son shrank from his touch. No doubt he had become conditioned to believe it caused unimaginable pain.
Towards morning William fell into a fitful sleep. Dreaming he was being chased by a crazy lady with a machete intent on chopping off his foot. A light touch on his shoulder had him jumping to sit up. Blinking he stared into the doctors concerned eyes. Heart pounding in his ears William ran his hands through is hair.
“You should go home and get a good night’s rest,” the doctor suggested.
Shaking his head “I wouldn’t sleep,” William mumbled.
“Perhaps not,” the doctor smiled “your son is much improved. The fever broke. He should rest easier now.”
Rubbing his eyes William didn’t know if he wanted to cry or laugh. He was so relieved for some good news. “Does that mean the infection is gone?”
“It is better. The maggots are doing an excellent job of cleaning the wound. Another 24 hours and there work will be done.” Putting a hand on Williams shoulder smiling “relax papa your son will be well.”
Dropping into the chair William put his head in his hands and cried. He had been through the wringer. He started shake from the release of pent-up stress and anxiety.
“Dad, dad?” Gene shook his father’s knee until William jerked awake.
“What?” he practically shouted before he saw the hand on his knee and followed it over to Gene’s face. Smiling in relief William said “you’re awake.”
“Obviously,” Gene retorted frowning “where am I?” He swallowed trying to moisten his dry throat.
“In hospital,” William told him “do you want something to drink?” Nodding Gene allowed his dad help him sit up to drink the room temperature water. “Better?” William asked smiling down at Gene. Gene simply nodded closing his eyes.
William watched his son sleep as he reached out and ran his finger through his son’s unruly hair. Standing William stretched before leaving the room to call Aimee to give her the good news and hope Amelia would be able to keep Aimee at home.
A half an hour later William returned to Gene’s room to find his son still asleep. Sitting down in the chair he was sure would have permanent imprints of his butt once this was all over. He recalled the screams of delight from Aimee when he told her the good news. He noticed Gene’s leg start to jerk in agitation. He heard Gene ask “what’s crawling on me?” William glanced at Gene’s pinched and scrunched up face and the fist pounding the mattress.
“What’s wrong?” he asked “are you in pain?”
“Get them off,” Gene yelled between clinched teeth. “I can feel them crawling on me. Make it stop …”he pleaded.
“Son what are you….” William began before he realized Gene must be referring to “the maggots,” he said out loud.
“Maggots? I have fucking maggots crawling on me. That’s so not ok.” Gene sat up inspecting himself for maggots, “where are they? I can feel them but I can’t see them.”
“Relax and calm down,” William said reaching for his hand before he was able to dislodge the dressing covering his foot. “The doctors are using them to clean the wound of infection. They’ll remove as soon as the infection is gone.”
“I want them gone now,” Gene shouted struggling to reach his foot.
“Gene please it’s helping you. It’s only for a little while longer.” William assured him, “please baby leave it alone.”
Weakening Gene turned his face away tears streaming down his cheeks. “You don’t understand.”
“No I don’t I’m sorry,” William touched his shoulder only to have Gene flinched from his touch. “Tell me. Help me understand.”
“While I was,” Gene gulped for air “while I was in the tomb. I couldn’t move fast enough to keep them off me.”
“Keep what off?” William asked smoothing his son’s hair back.
“Bugs, beetles, rats … I don’t know what else. Most of the time I couldn’t see them. I just felt them crawling on me. Biting me.” Gene took a deep breath and continued “I thought I was going to die down there. Covered in bugs being eaten alive.” He burst into sobs “I’m sorry I can’t … I should be able to shake this off but I …”
William pulled Gene close holding him as he sobbed. “It’s ok son. You’re not going to shake this off as nothing I’m sorry baby it’s going to have a long-lasting effects. But I’m here. I’ll help you. Aimee will help you once we get you home.”
William continued to talk to soothe his son as he cried in his arms. William hoped he was saying the right things. Hoped he wasn’t seeing the broken shell of his son. Hoped this wouldn’t send him back to drugs and alcohol. Hoped that Gene was strong enough to get past this.”It’s alright. Let it all out,” he murmured encouraging Gene to let it out.
Moving restlessly on the bed Gene groaned loudly “dad how much longer will I have to be here? It’s been weeks.”
Unable to refrain his smile William laughed “not weeks Gene two. The first week you were delirious. But since your complaining you must be feeling better.”
“I just want to go home. I want to be with Aimee and the kids…”
“They’re fine,” William told him pushing him back into the bed “you have to stay off that foot Gene.”
“Why? It’s never going to be the same again,” I’ll never perform again. My career is over.”
“It’s only over if you give up,” William replied back.
“Don’t give me empty platitudes,” Gene yelled back “I’m tired of being told quitters never win and other bullshit.” Breathing hard Gene put his hand to his face in a vain attempt to reign in his emotions. The anger that threatened to overwhelm him. The despair that was eating his soul. The fear that he’d never find his way out of the dark abyss he found himself in. “I just want my life back,” he cried. He felt his dad sit beside him on the bed and wrap his arm around him. Since when he wondered had he become so needy and pathetic.
“I know,” William muttered holding Gene tight “maybe it’s time you talk to some about what happened….”
“No please don’t make me,” Gene said in an unusually small voice “I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to forget about it. Please don’t make me.”
Against his better judgement William didn’t press the matter unable to bear his son’s pleading. Instead he offered “then talk to me. It’s not good to keep all this locked inside.”
Gene nodded mumbling “later please I …I can’t face it right now.” Lifting blood-shot eyes towards this dad “please.”
“Ok” William agreed knowing later wouldn’t come but it never did much good to force Gene to do anything he wasn’t ready to do. Pushing would only alienate him further. He hoped once they got him home he might open up to Aimee.
The next morning the doctor came in earlier then usual announcing “I have arranged a flight for you and your son to the surgeon who specializes in traumatic foot injuries. He has an opening Monday morning.”
“That’s wonderful news,” William clasped the doctor’s hand in gratitude. Losing his smile when Gene asked “what’s the point? I’ll never walk again.”
“Not with that attitude young man,” the doctor frowned “a vital part to recovery is a positive attitude. Perhaps you should talk to a psychologist …”
“No,” Gene flatly refused
Eyeing Gene the doctor turned to William motioning for him to follow him. Once they were outside the room “it’s vital we figure out how to improve his attitude. It will do no good to perform the surgery if he believes he will not walk again.”
“I know. I’ve suggested he talk to me but he refuses,” William looked down “I don’t know what to do.”
“Lucky for you I don’t need my patients approval to send a psychiatrist in to talk to him,” the doctor patted Williams’ shoulder “I know one who will come. We’ll see if we can rid your son of his dark cloud.”
“I hope so,” William smiled “I would like to bring him home to his wife and kids in a somewhat better frame of mind.”
A couple of hours later a young man entered the room casually dressed “excuse me I was told Gene Bennett was here.”
Gene scowled at him “if your from some gossip magazine you can go to hell.”
“No no I’m not here for that,” the young smiled “I just wanted to talk to him.”
“Why?” Gene looked suspicious wishing people would leave him alone.
“Why not?” the man responded back with a smile that caused Gene to grunt in response. “People are concerned about you.”
“You’re a shrink,”Gene turned his scowl on his father. “I told you I didn’t want to talk to anyone.”
“It’s not his fault. Doctor La Fiet put in the request.” He extended his hand towards Gene who ignored it “I’m Jean Paul.”
Scowling Gene mumbled “it’s not a pleasure to meet you.”
“So what seems to be the problem?” Jean Paul asked.
“I don’t have a problem. I’m being a realist,” Gene grumbled.
“Are you an expert in these kinds of things?”
“It’s my damn foot isn’t?” Gene waved a hand towards his injured leg.
“It is. Don’t you think if it was medically impossible for you to walk again that your doctor would know.” Jean Paul asked.
Shrugging Gene looked away “I guess.”
“Why are you so sure you won’t?” Jean Paul probed.
“I’m … I’m” Gene stopped puzzled looking at Jean Paul he admitted “I’m afraid.”
“Afraid of what?” he asked.
“I’m afraid that it won’t work. That I’ll get my hopes up only to have the dashed. I’m afraid that Aimee won’t me … ”
Gene stopped his mouth hanging open astonished he had said what was tormenting him the most.
“Why wouldn’t she want you?” Jean Paul asked gently sensing he was getting at the heart of the problem.
“I’m different,” Gene started to pull at the blanket as he talked. “There’s a big chuck of my memory that’s gone. As hard as I try I can’t remember what happened in those months in the tomb.”
“You remembered the bugs and things,” William inserted.
“Yes only after something happened to jog the memory.” Gene turned terrified eyes toward Jean Paul “what if something triggers a memory that I can’t handle. What if I hurt someone? I have glimpses of what happened in my dreams and I wake up terrified. I want those memories to either come back so I can deal with them or stay gone forever.”
“There’s more to it then that,” Jean Paul stated directly at Gene.
Covering his face Gene nodded “yes I’m afraid to much hope will break me. It’s like I’m standing at the edge of an abyss and the only thing that keeps me from falling is accepting this the way my life will be.” His shoulders started to shake as he gave into the desire to unburden himself. “You must think I’m an idiot.”
“No only human,” Jean Paul smiled “it’s ok to be afraid and it’s ok to hope.” He moved to sit in the other chair “We’ll work on your memory. Let’s start with the bugs.”
They talked for an hour making no break through but Gene felt better for having opened up. “I wish I could continue to talk to you in the future but after the surgery we’ll be going home.”
“Then we will meet again,” Jean Paul smiled “I am moving to Starlight Shores in a few weeks.”
Relieved Gene said “I’m glad. I don’t think I could talk to anyone else.”
Standing up Jean Paul gave him a card “call me when your home and I’ll set up a schedule.” Walking to the door he stopped “Good luck.”
“See that wasn’t so bad was it?” William asked.
“Yes I don’t like being set up,” Gene grumbled “but I do feel better.”