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April 1, 2012 / Ronald Chapman

The recurring nightmare

Kevin snapped awake with a loud grunt, the damp bed sheet clutched in his hand. Maria Elena threw her arm protectively across his chest and pulled herself tightly to him. The sound of nails clicking on tile announced the arrival of the dogs. Lucy nuzzled his forearm.

He took a deep breath and exhaled swiftly in several short bursts to force the terrible picture from his mind. It was part of a detraumatization regimen he’d learned to help him cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“God damn it,” he muttered.

Her grip tightened.

The nightmare began in 1988. He was on assignment for the Indianapolis Star a few miles down the Ohio River from Evansville, Indiana, in the town of Mt. Vernon. A plastics manufacturing site had been conducting studies to prevent catastrophic chemical emergencies, a major news story. He had visited Hawk’s, a tiny bar and grill, then at the urging of the barman had meandered down the hill to the riverfront titty bar where he proceeded to get very drunk.

Somehow he had driven his car to downtown Evansville, but rather than heading for his hotel room he found another bar. After that, his memory was spotty.

The nightmare filled in troubling details. Lurid wallpaper in a seedy, riverfront hotel formed the backdrop. His right hand clenched an ugly little man by the throat. Pitcairn’s whitened knuckles stood out in vivid contrast to the man’s face with its bulging blue eyes and torrid complexion. Bluish tinges of asphyxiation gave way to dark violet as bubbles frothed on the man’s lips. In the periphery of Pitcairn’s vision the man’s arms and legs flailed. A terrible focused fury held him against the wall until the struggling ceased. The little man’s eyes dimmed. He dropped with a dull, lifeless thud when Pitcairn eased his grip.

Pitcairn awoke at dawn, slouched sideways in the seat of his car. The dirt parking area lay atop a wooded bluff above the banks of the Ohio River. At first he had no recollection of the night, but when the image of the man he strangled came to him through the drug- and alcohol-induced fog, he bolted for Indianapolis.

There was no telling what really happened. Pitcairn guessed he left the bar to find drugs. A bad drug deal ensued, or perhaps he simply flew into a drug-induced rage. That was certainly not uncommon in those days.

News reports confirmed that a man was found murdered in the Old River Inn. The police had no leads but the dead man was a drug felon. Little effort was expended to find the killer.  Pitcairn was never even questioned. He escaped the police, but not the guilt.  With it had come the nightmare and a powerful fear that drove him to the seeming haven of New Mexico. It was an unconscious attempt to find a geographic cure. While it didn’t free him from the demons of his past, it did lead to his eventual sobriety.

“Emmy,” Pitcairn said as he leaned his head against hers, “the eyes in the nightmare were Daniel Davidson’s.”

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