ABOUT THE SPELL
Dr. Malm sat in her office facing Sandy.
"It would seem that Billy may be experiencing an acute pschological amnesia that is blocking his access to his memories," she told Sandy. "It may also be a loss resulting from physical trauma to the brain as a result of the accident. For either of these reasons, or a combination of them, Billy remembers very little of who he is or once was."
"Do you think he will ever remember me?" Sandy asked.
"That's the number one question, isn't it?" Dr. Malm replied. If Billy regained consciousness, and the amnesia is a stress-induced block, we could most likely help him begin to regain his memory through a variety of therapeutic interventions. If physical damage to certain neural structures in the brain has played a part, then we can only hope to medically facilitate re-generation of those damaged structures."
"It all sounds so complicated," Sandy said with a frown.
"Yes, quite complicated," Malm replied. "So, we can only move carefully a step at a time. You might be interested in knowing that there are many scholars and research neurologists who have taken interest in Billy's case. Papers are being written exploring the issue."
"Really?" Sandy exclaimed. Dr. Malm nodded. "What are they saying?"
"Well, it gets quite complicated in the field," Dr. Malm smiled. A lay person might not be able to follow their arguments or hypotheses. Some of their writings are in the form of neuro-chemical equations and so on. In general though, it seems Billy's predicament is a stimulus for re-examining what we know about the mind, and what remains to be explored. I read a paper recently written by a bright young intern on controlled provocation of transfer of function."
"What does that mean?" Sandy asked.
"Well, briefly, it has been the case that a person with brain damage sometimes regains a lost function, not because the damaged portion of the brain recovered, but because the larger brain body, sensing somehow its damaged part, assigns to some other part of itself the function of the damaged part. Another part of the brain takes on that role. In the case of damage to the speech center, for instance, the brain re-establishes or re-constructs that center elsewhere in itself, and the person regains the ability to speak. The intern's paper was proposing research into ways to facilitate that kind of transfer."
"There's so much we don't know yet," Sandy mused. Dr. Malm nodded.
"Yes," she replied. It's a bit like trying to understand an iceberg by what we see sticking up out of the water, when most of it is hidden from view. But now, I'd like to bring this down to a more personal level, Sandy. Are you still writing down your memories of Billy in your journal?"
"Yes," Sandy said. "It's my way of re-living what we had."
"I know. I think it's a good idea. I've enjoyed listening to some that you have read to me in the past. Many are memories Billy would share with you if he could - those special times when you were together. Unfortunately, it seems Billy is not able to remember much. We base that on interpretations of his EEG read-outs."
"I wish he could remember us," Sandy said tearfully.
"Dr. Bell and I," Dr. Malm continued, "Working with a specialist at John Hopkins have been developing a framework for potentially giving Billy back some of his memories. It would be exploratory and experimental. And it would require your assistance. What would you think about that?"
"What on earth could I do?" Sandy asked. "I don't know anything about all these things you tell me."
"But Sandy, you have the memories Billy needs. So, it is a question of how to put your memories into Billy's head. Giving him some traces of his past that might enable him to remember you."
"I would do anything in the world to help Billy remember me; or remember us," Sandy said excitedly.
"Of course, it may not work," Dr. Malm said. "But we can only try."
"Yes," Sandy said. "I want to. I want to try."
JACK BE NIMBLE
Jack paced back and forth in the basement of Billy's head, shuffling monotonously past the table beneath the hanging light in the middle of the room.
"How long has it been?" He mumbled. It was twenty four paces from one wall to the other. Twelve fixed the table and the light. "Is each traversing a minute?" he wondered. "Or an hour? Or could it take a week to travel from one wall to the other?" He pictured himself as some kind of clock ticking away in Billy's addled mind. "Is this what you have made me into Billy?" He shouted into the corner, then continued to pace the room contemplating his mission.
"It must be the case," he mused. "Billy is not here. He left with Violet. He put her somewhere and now he has gotten lost in the tar again himself. So I am left alone here to maintain some sense of the beforeness and afterness of things. I am the keeper of Billy's time. I am all he has left. A sense of time." He felt a little better about his solitude knowing it had some kind of purpose. He began to count his paces methodically and kept a running total. "Twenty four...forty eight...seventy two..ninety six...paces...one hundred and twenty..." He stopped abruptly and stared into the black wall. "Violet!" He shouted. "Can you hear me, Violet?!" He turned and regained his pace. There was no telling how long a pace was, whether a millisecond or a week. But at least it was some semblance of time.
Violet lay motionless although afloat somehow. She would fall into a dream and wake up in another only to be gone again. The dreams disappeared behind her as fast as they appeared. It was as though there was a morphine drip inside her heart. It made some kind of puddle that swelled in cycles and became a rolling sea that tossed her from one dream to another.
"Someone called my name," she murmured in one dream. "Jack, is that you?" she cried in another.
A PLAN EMERGES
Dr. Bell stood shuffling through Billy's data as it rolled by on the monitor. Something had shifted in Billy's brain. It was an aberrant pattern of spikes and hollows, and flat lines. It went on and on that way. Billy was losing control. And yet, one part of his mind seemed quite agitated. He scribbled his notes.
"Billy is breaking down. He is less himself, and more and more some alter-ego is stepping to the plate. It looks like a psychotic break with some splinter of his psyche taking over, as though a whole other personality is emerging."
Upon returning to his office Dr. Bell called Dr. Corrigan at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Corrigan said his team was ready to begin the procedure for establishing a brain-computer interface for Billy. He said he could send three members of his staff to assemble the interface on site within a matter of days. Dr. Bell replied that time may be of the essence in that current read-outs would suggest Billy may be on the edge of a psychotic break.
"Of course," Dr. Corrigan added, "We would want initially to map out Billy's thought patterns whatever they are, in order to establish a base-line. Once we have that, then we can position the chronic electrode implants and begin to attempt intervention." Dr. Bell concurred.
"Yes," he replied. "Once we see that we have a path in, we can then possibly transmit Sandy's thoughts and memories and hope that Billy can use that information to find himself, or even emerge from his coma."
"That would be the best of all possible outcomes," Dr. Corrigan said. "We must move methodically one step at a time. If we can bring Billy back into the world in tact, it would be nothing short of revolutionary."
WHO'S IN CHARGE OF WHO?
Jack sat beneath the dim yellow light in the basement drumming his fingers on the wooden table top. It made the sound of a horses galloping, or soldiers marching relentlessly toward something.
"If Violet is gone, and Billy too," Jack reasoned, "Then I am left in charge." He looked around the basement scanning the ambiguous dark walls and darker corners. "This realm of consciousness is mine. Wittingly or unwittingly, Billy has given me some autonomy. I am functioning in his absence. I am the commander in chief now."
He stared off into the darkest corner Billy and Violet disappeared into. He wondered whether Billy had left Violet back in there somewhere and then got lost himself trying to make it back. Or whether he found he could not let go of her, and has chosen to stay with her there in the empty nothingness of his unconsciousness. He paced about the room nervously pondering a course of action. Perhaps Billy would find his way back and take over again. Or maybe Billy's assumption is that Jack would come and find him.
"But, do I want to?" he muttered to himself. It felt traitorous to think that way. And yet, he liked being in charge. He stood staring into the dark corner. "I wonder where he put Violet? Do I dare go into that blackness to find her? We could live here, just the two of us. Violet could be mine."
(to be continued)