The cloak of time folded over Christian and the voice took him effortlessly back through his past, what seemed like a mere blink and Luke's life flicked by, another and he had travelled through Joseph's short existence. As the minutes slipped inexorably by the monotonous tones acted like fingers on the keyboard of his brain, index, mark, copy to a new file. Then the new data began to be transferred to random access memory. Eventually it was time to probe.
"Who are you?"
"Eli Jackson."
"When and where were you born?"
"Eighteen thirty seven, Broken Ridge, South Dakota."
The doctor checked the date on his watch, perused over a year and prompted Christian for a response.

"Today is the seventeenth of July, eighteen fifty, what did you do this afternoon?"
It wasn't a good idea, to pick numbers at random, because they have a habit of turning out badly, almost as though they are not random at all. Just as there are Gremlins ready to reck the smooth running of things, there are invisible demons prompting subconscious minds to choose the figures with the most significance.
"Oh Pa, I told you it wasn't a good idea to dig that damn ditch.'
‘What's Ma going to say, do even?'
‘Hell, you're fucking heavy.'
‘Oh Lord, isn't life hard enough out here already.'
‘Still a hundred yards to go.'
‘Ma! Ma!'
‘Got to rest."

"Oh Lord, why Pa? Why us?'
‘Ma! Help me, Ma!'
‘Sod this heat, but I ain't going to drop you Pa, no matter how much I sweat.'

"No, Ma, he's past hurting."

"The foreman from the Bar T, while we was sitting under the tree. No warning, just plugged him like he was a fucking coyote."

"I don't care Ma, them's only words, the Lord ain't listening, he don't care if I swear every other time I open my mouth."

"Well he ain't going to do a lot is he, he's dead."

"I'm sorry, Ma, honestly; try to help me get him to the house."

"The sheriff won't even look up from his damn desk. All we can do is bury him and go on as best we can."

"We could move into town, perhaps I could get some work at the livery."

"We ain't asking for charity off nobody. And you ain't working as a whore in no saloon, Pa wouldn't have it, it wouldn't be fair, him lying out here an all."

"Then we does the best we can here."
Eyebrows already raised, it was time for another question.
"What did you do, to live?"
"We were dirt farmers and dirt was about all there was."
"Move on two or three years, did you get any help on the farm?"
It was almost a nervous pause, waiting for the customary delay to pass.
"No, Ma just couldn't take it neither. I buried her alongside Pa on my sixteenth birthday."
"What did you do then?"
"I lit out, drifted about."
"What sort of work?"
"Work, shit no, I robbed folks."
The doctor breathed in sharply, startled by the revelation, pondering over the course to take.
"Let the pictures fade, drift through life to your twenty first birthday, tell me what happened then."
"O.K. Boy, we're going into town, I want to celebrate some."

"You can do what you like, I want a couple of drinks and a woman, maybe even a bath."

"Hell, I bet your skin ain't seen water since you left home."

"That's one thing about drifting, you ain't got no people to impress, if you want a fuck you pay a whore and she'll oblige, she don't care if you stink, hell near everybody she sees probably ain't washed in ages."

"We'll leave the horses here, one saloon's as good as another, shit I'll even buy you the first drink."

"Two whiskies."

"Hell kid, you just walk up to a woman and ask her if she wants to poke, only polite folks jaw for ages first. If you're shy about the words ask her to take you upstairs, she'll know what you mean."

"If they're working in a saloon they ain't got no business not being whores. Look, they know what we want, that one's coming over anyway."

"Drink, sure, we'll take a bottle up with us."

"There ain't no reason to piss about pretending lady, we both know why we're here."

"No, I'm just passing by, I don't really live nowhere."

"I don't never take off my boots just to screw around, you making it out to be a problem, it ain't as if I uses spurs."

"Just show us your fanny so I can play a bit first."
"Alright, I get the picture, drift on through the night, until the following morning, tell me about that." It was more than a shade embarrassing, the candour above all.
"Hey Kid, get down off your horse."

"Don't ask, I ain't got time for that."

"Hold mine, lead it over and wait behind them trees."

"It was a crap horse anyway, I did it a favour, you can have mine in half an hour, now get out of sight."

"Course we ain't going to bury the damn thing, hell just piss off before the buggy comes."

"That was because you wasn't looking."

"Hi folks, bit of luck that, just had to shoot my damn horse, put its foot in a rabbit hole and damned well broke it. Any chance of taking me into the nearest town, or ranch even."

"Then get down off that buggy, before I blow your head off."

"Can't say I didn't warn him lady, you his wife?"

"Get in the back, hold this saddle and stop blubbering."

"See Kid, I told you not to worry, now dump this idiot in the middle of the trees and empty his pockets. I'm going to have some fun."

"Last night it was a whore, this is a real lady. Not that she's a virgin or anything, but pretty all the same."

"You shut up lady, you'll do what you're damn well told."

"You don't have to undress if you don't want to, I just do this: and your clothes just fall off your pretty little body. Now stop screaming, ain't you never seen a knife before."

"I said stop screaming or you'll feel the fucking blade."

"That's better, now lie down.'
‘You're lucky, I had a bath yesterday, special occasion, now, you going to kiss me too?'
‘There, now you can't say that don't feel nice."

"Shit, lady or not, nobody insults me like that.'
‘Does that feel better, make your eyes water. I can keep this up just long enough so I come before you die, if I get pissed off I'll skewer you again, to speed things up."

"You didn't think I'd let you back into town anyway did you, after shooting your husband, you just die while I fuck you instead of afterwards."
"Stop! Haze away from those scenes, wash the memory from your mind, cleanse all violence from your soul, I do not want you to remember any of this.'
‘Have you killed before?"
"Yes, that's what I do best."
"Oh God!'
‘Walk back, back through everything you remember, back until you were a child, a baby in you mother's arms and forget every scene you pass, everything you have even recalled.'
‘Now run through time as quickly as possible, keep your eyes closed so that you see nothing, can remember nothing of this existence, run until blackness fills your world.'
‘The void, wait in the emptiness."
"Wait there a minute or two, cleanse your mind of any image you recall, there will be no trace of this encounter, nothing at all in your memory." Wiping sweat from his brow the good doctor pondered his options.
"Now run through life, as though you are in a hurry to get home, run once more until night fills your mind."
The doctor was still restless, his breathing shallow, disturbed.
"You are safe in you mother's womb, but I want you to flow through life once more, until the night of your wedding."
"Yes, your wife, think of her."
"Margerie Gladys Bickerton, sounds good doesn't it."

"Don't be frightened, we've all night to get the feel of things."

"They were just trying to frighten you, it won't hurt."

"Let me help undress you, after all we have a lifetime to spend together, we may as well start as we mean to go on, helping each other, loving each other."

"I love you too, so much my darling.'
‘There, now you undress me."

"There's no need to hesitate, it's all natural, see. Now, let me step back and look at you."
"Hold that image, fix that thought in your head, the only thing you will remember from your travels tonight is the picture of your virgin bride waiting for you. Slowly her arms reach out and you step forward into her embrace.'
‘Then kiss and as your lips meet you close your eyes, passion floods through your whole body you feel warm, warm in the darkness behind closed eyes.'
‘Blackness and a gentle thumping sound.'
‘Remember the sound of the womb, where all is safe and the image of Margie lingering to guide you on.'
‘Now I will begin to count and as I count the darkness will fade, you will return to the real world recalling only the image of the virgin Margie on your wedding night.'
‘Ten. Nine, gradually sweep back the cloak that envelops you. Eight..."
A smile filling his face Christian awoke from his strange trance, stretching slowly as if awakening from a long sleep, refreshed by inner thoughts.
"How do you feel?"
"Fine," replied Christian, bemused by the apparent concern in the doctor's tone. "Shouldn't I be?"
"Well," began the therapist, almost fumbling for words, "it was a little strange, you seemed to get stuck in your previous incarnation, I couldn't take you back, even as far as last week."
"Is that unusual?"
"Not really," came the rapid reply, eager to discourage the slightest twinge of doubt or curiosity. "Sometimes it goes like that, the mind becomes hypnotised by a single thought or memory. I believe you merely wanted to hold on to your wedding night with Margerie."
"Strange, I can picture her so clearly, though nothing that went on."
"The vagaries of the human mind."
"That's it then I suppose," began Christian, glancing at his watch, a move which raised an eyebrow.
"Don't worry, we are a little early, but I won't charge you for this session, it doesn't seem fair, we accomplished nothing."
"Are you sure?" asked Christian cautiously, grateful for financial reprieve.
"Yes, it will ease my guilt. Let me see you out."
As they neared the doorway, it became apparent that the rain had not abated, the staccato rhythm on the thick wood panel almost chilling in itself.
"I'll shake your hand then, say goodbye," said Christian, still enraptured by an image of beauty pervading all thoughts. "Suffer a quick dash out into this foul evening."
"Good night Mr Giddens, I hope I haven't tortured your soul in any way."
As the door creaked open Christian fled into the awaiting torrent, feet sliding on the gravel drive. As he neared the road, protected briefly by the vast canopy of an ancient Yew tree he paused, turning for one final glimpse of the foreboding residence, sinister in the eerie light. A flash of lightning lit the façade, revealing the doctor still hovering in the porch, it appeared that he was shaking his head solemnly.
"Odd, perhaps he's thinking about the weather.'