The Last Appointment
[Note: The Last Appointment is the title story in The Last Appointment: 30 Collected Short Stories by Charles Levin published by the Munn Avenue Press ]
“In my twenty-five years of practice, I have never…” Lark says.
Dr. Saul Geier looks at his former student, long since an accomplished psychiatrist. He studies her unkempt, auburn hair and the powdered whiteness of her complexion interrupted by swollen hazel eyes. Then, he turns his gaze out the floor-to-ceiling windows of his tenth-story office on Fifth Avenue. “We’ve known each other for a long time, Susan. We used to discuss cases often until you surpassed your mentor. I don’t take it personally. It’s a point of pride for me that you’ve done so well. But why, after ten years, come to me now?”
Susan Lark clenches her fists and sucks in a deep breath. “It’s not only that I’m stumped, which I am, but I might be losing my mind too. I didn’t know who else to turn to.”
Geier’s face seems to smile with wrinkles, his blue eyes piercing. “You probably didn’t know since we lost touch, but I’m retiring today. I think at age ninety-two it’s finally time to hang it up. I don’t know how many patients I’ve seen over the last sixty years, but most are gone now. I think what I’ll miss most is this view of the city, the four seasons over Central Park, the blossoms in the spring, the winter snow blanketing the ponds and meadows, the bikers and joggers and baby carriages, the hawks and geese taking a rest stop during their southbound fall journey. I have relished the seasons of life right here.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. You did a lot of good over the years, and not just for your patients. I don’t know where I’d be now without your guidance and your wisdom.”
Geier takes out a pouch of Captain Black and taps some tobacco into his Stanwell. He hangs the pipe unlit from the corner of his mouth. He promised his wife he would quit smoking. So for him, the smell of fresh tobacco is the next best thing.
“It’s nice to hear you say that, but I’m tired. I look forward to sitting out on my deck in Montauk and staring out over the waves, inhaling the salt air. That’s enough for me now. But my door will always be open to you. It just won’t be here. OK, so tell me about this case.”
Susan hands Geier the patient’s intake form. He reads the form aloud to himself. “Anxiety, depression, sleep changes, racing thoughts, gets exercise running. She’s a writer—nothing terribly unusual here. Let me see your notes.”
Susan’s face flushes. “I can’t do that.”
“Why not? You know I’ll keep them confidential.”
“I destroyed them.”
“What? You can’t do that. It’s a cardinal sin—you could lose your license for that.”
“I know that, but I couldn’t risk someone ever reading them.”
Geier rubs his fingers through his thin gray hair. “OK, then just tell me what’s going on.”
Susan stands and walks to the window. “You’re right, it’s a glorious view. You can see Central Park and all of Upper Manhattan from here.” She turns back and points at the intake form. “About a month ago, that patient walked into my office. I had an immediate visceral reaction to her appearance. Yes, she was attractive, mid-forties, slender, and with a confident posture. My reaction was not sexual. Maybe it was her haunting black eyes that seemed to go right through me. As if she’s known me all my life, but we’d never met before. It was eerie.”
“OK, you’d already lost your objectivity, I see. It happens.”
“Yes, but aren’t we supposed to observe everything about our patients, especially appearance and body language?”
“It’s a fine line, isn’t it? Go on.”
Susan looks up as if reading something on the ceiling. “Angela Auger was a writer. She wrote fiction, thrillers.”
“You’re using the past tense. Is she dead or just no longer a patient?”
“I’ll get to that. Anyway, she tells me a story about her writing that gets more and more disturbing, bizarre really.”
Geier looks back at the form. “I know this name. I believe I read a few of her books.”
“You probably have. She was very talented; a few of her novels made the bestseller lists. I think her greatest knack was making her readers want to turn the page. Once you started one of her books, you couldn’t put it down. Like me with potato chips and romance novels.”
“That was my experience.” He looks down at the end of his pipe and gives it a tap as if stoking the unlit flame. “For me, the equivalent is apple cider donuts. Sorry, continue. So she was a good writer. I’m not seeing the problem yet.”
Susan sweeps the tangled hair from her eyes, then recounts the plot from one of Auger’s novels. “Here’s the plot from one of her recent novels. The villain, a foreign terrorist, genetically engineers a virus that turns into a pandemic. She then aligns herself with a white nationalist group that successfully pulls off a domestic terror attack on the U.S. Capitol. Sound familiar?”
Geier dumps the tobacco from his pipe in the trash and refills it. “Sure, those things happened and she wrote about them. So what?”
“You don’t get it. She wrote about those things before they happened. Like she foresaw them. The real pandemic started just as her book was hitting the store shelves and the attack on the Capitol happened a few months later. As her fictional scenarios unfolded in the real world, that’s when her anxiety attacks started. She couldn’t reconcile whether she had an unusual power to predict disasters or if it was purely an accident.”
“Go on,” Geier says.
“When the weight of these events hit her, she stopped writing for a few months. But to Angela, writing was like breathing—she had to do it or she would die. So tentatively, she started again. She wrote a short story about an assassination attempt on the First Lady that included a scene where a bomb exploded at Union Station. Even before her editor reviewed it, both things happened. She became paralyzed by her own thoughts, fearful of writing them down.”
“You are familiar with schizoaffective disorder, which might explain her delusional belief that she could see the future?”
“I am, and it was the first thing that occurred to me. Still, her delusions went a treacherous step further. She came to believe that not only did she have the power to predict the future, but she in fact was writing the future—that what she wrote caused those horrible things to happen.”
“In layman’s terms, a God complex.”
“There’s only one problem with your analysis.”
“I believe or should say, believed her.”
“What made you swallow that besides her telling you those things?”
“OK, first, I read her book, Not So Done, and the publishing date coincided with the predictions of the pandemic and the subsequent assault on the Capitol. Those could just have been coincidences. So I gently challenged her to give me more examples.” Susan sits back down, more like collapses into the chair on the other side of Geier’s oversized mahogany desk. She silently looks into Geier’s sympathetic eyes.
He breaks the silence. “Did she give you more examples?”
“She did. At our next session, she brought a handwritten notebook. She writes all her story ideas, notes, and first drafts in longhand. She claimed the act of writing by hand helped her think and tap into her unconscious.” Susan hesitates, choking back her words.
“Would you like some water?” Geier offers.
Geier swivels around to a mini-fridge in the credenza behind him, extracting a bottle of Poland Springs. The bottle is surprisingly cold. He rubs his palms together as he watches her take two gulps, her eyes closed.
She licks her lips. “The patient pointed me to a passage that described a twenty-four car pile-up during a snowstorm on Route 78 in Pennsylvania. People were trapped in their cars for twenty-four hours or more. She was working on a survival story about two people trapped upside down in a minivan during that storm and accident—how they relived their lives and their upside-down turbulent relationship. The couple is ultimately rescued and their lives changed for the better, their love for each other renewed as a result of the trauma they faced and overcame together. Three other people died in that accident.”
“She had a date next to the title of the story, Two for the Road, January 17th. Then she handed me two press clippings. The first was from the Morning Call dated January 20th that recounted details of the snowstorm, the accident, and the three deaths. The second story, dated February 18th in the Modern Love column, was written by the wife of a couple trapped in an overturned vehicle during a snowstorm that fights and ultimately reconciles while trapped for twenty-four hours in their vehicle. Auger said she felt like if she hadn’t written the story, it wouldn’t have happened. The three who died would be alive today.”
“Hmm, extraordinary. There could be other explanations.”
“Like the accident or love story are still coincidences or she falsified the date of her writing either wittingly or unwittingly. People with schizoaffective disorder can do things like fabricating a date to support their delusion.”
Susan steeples her fingers in front of her lips and says, “Yes, but as for the accident, according to the paper, the couple was trapped upside-down in a minivan just like Auger had written. And regarding the dates, I thumbed through her notebook and there were subsequent entries for every day leading up to the day she showed me the notebook and every day six weeks after she wrote that story. It was all too much.”
Geier strokes his goatee. “I see,” he says. “But she still could have faked the dates in her journal.”
“Yes, I was still not a hundred percent convinced. So I thought about it and at our next session I challenged her to write down three things right there in front of me that could prove her ability to either predict, or God forgive, create the future.” Susan hands Geier a piece of yellow-lined paper. Judging by the jagged top edge, it had been torn from a legal pad.
“What’s this?” Geier asks.
Geier lowers his bifocals perched on his head and scans the document. “OK, I see a number, 30,911.40. Then there is ‘trip and lose car keys,’ and ‘win $100.’” He slowly removes his glasses and looks up at Susan. “What’s all this mean?”
Susan draws a slow breath. “Those are three predictions she made. The first number is the Dow Jones stock market average—”
“Don’t tell me, she predicted how the stock market would close?”
“She did, for that day. Then, after her appointment, I headed out for lunch and was about to cross the street to get to my Audi. Stepping down from the curb, I stumbled. The car keys slipped from my hand and fell through a sewer grate. A sanitation worker nearby was kind enough to fish the keys out for me, but I was shaken. Still, I drove to the deli to pick up my sandwich. While paying at the checkout, I noticed the deli sold lottery tickets. I thought, why not?”
Geier starts wheezing. “And you won?”
Susan’s words now flow in a frantic wave. “I had to believe her. After she showed me her notebook, the clippings, and the three accurate predictions, I felt like the ground was shifting under my feet. I’ve had dizzy spells ever since. My regular therapist was at a loss. That’s why I had to see you.”
“I understand. I can see how that would be troubling and make you doubt your own sanity.”
Susan’s face reddens. “Do you think I’m making this all up?”
“No, I think you believe what you’re telling me.”
“But you don’t trust that this really happened?” She pauses, studying Geier’s raised eyebrows. “OK then. Aside from my distress, there’s one other reason I’m here.”
‘Yes, it’s the second-to-last story in her notebook. It’s called, A Knock at the Door.”
“Wait, before you tell me that, what happened to your patient, Angela Auger?”
“Unfortunately, that’s the last unfinished story in the notebook.” Susan reaches into her oversized handbag. “She left this with me. Here, read the last page.”
Susan hands the notebook to Geier. It’s one of those composition notebooks that’s black and says School in a white block in the middle of the cover, with white, blue-lined paper inside. The notebook is almost full. Geier turns to the last written page.
A Writer’s Last Line – March 21
Main character: a midlist writer, a journeywoman, who is a journalist and a novelist on the side. Her earlier novels were science fiction. One of her heroes was Ursula Le Guin. Who says women can’t write page-turning, inventive science fiction? But her fruitful imagination eventually turned to writing about things gone wrong in the actual world, more personal than political, yet still considered real-world events.
One of her novels included the detailed story of an attack on the Paris office of a satiric newspaper, similar to The Onion, that left twelve people dead and eleven injured, followed by a bloody attack on a Jewish grocery store. Then, six months later, terrorists carried out an attack identical to the ones described in her fictional story. She freaked. How could she reconcile her story being precisely detailed and identical to what actually occurred? Had the terrorists read her story and followed it like a plan? But how could that explain the exact same number of dead and wounded?
The writer continues to write fictional stories that come true until she eventually concludes that what she writes is not merely predicting the future but causing it. Still, she can’t stop writing. She tried to stop, but then she got uncontrollable shakes and sweats, like a heroin addict in withdrawal. The pain of not writing became so severe that the only way she could get relief was to write. Yet then these terrible things happened.
Convinced that what she was writing was causing the pain and death of innocent victims, she concluded that there was only one way this story, her story, could have a happy ending. Well, not happy for her, the writer, but safer and better for the unknowing world and innocent people around her. She puts down her pen and pets her black lab, Noodles. Noodles rolls over and the writer rubs her belly. Then she gets up and walks out onto the balcony of her tenth-floor apartment on Central Park South. She looks down at the busy two-way traffic below, then out across the long expanse of Central Park. The air has an early spring feel and she could swear she smells honeysuckle. A cool breeze caresses her cheeks. A black hawk circles over a meadow in the park, riding the thermals created by the warm sun, higher and higher.
She inhales a full breath of the sweet air and jumps…
Geier’s face drains of all color. He closes the notebook. “My God. did Auger actually do this, jump?”
Susan looks down at her trembling hands. “Yes, yes, she did.”
The two sit quietly for a few minutes, thinking of Angela Auger. Geier considers his own fragile connections with what’s real and what’s not.
Finally, Susan says, “Read the second to last story.”
Geier hesitates and opens the notebook again, a few pages from the end.
The Last Appointment
Main character: an aging psychiatrist in New York. The psychiatrist made a large share of his income giving expert testimony in criminal trials. The prosecutors usually called him in when alleged murderers used an insanity defense as an explanation for the heinous crimes they committed.
The psychiatrist had evaluated hundreds of murderers who had done everything from slashing throats to decapitating their victims. The worst in his mind were those who had brutally raped and killed young children. He was called on mostly by the prosecution because he rarely concluded that the defendants were insane. He believed that in some part of their twisted minds they knew what they were doing and should be punished for their crimes. Since he had published many articles in medical journals about criminality and insanity, taught at Columbia, and been in practice for decades, his testimony in favor of the prosecution carried formidable weight with juries. So it was no surprise that jurors usually awarded life sentences or death to the killers.
One of the child-rapist-killers who had been given a life sentence was released on parole after serving twenty-two years. He had kidnapped an eight-year-old boy from a school playground, taken him to a wooded area in Central Park, penetrated him several times, and then strangled him to death. A jogger found the child the next morning, covered in flies, a black turkey vulture feasting on the child’s eyes.
The ex-con killer, now on parole, never forgot the doctor who testified so many years ago and sealed his fate, half a lifetime at Rikers. Now it was time for payback. On a warm, early spring day, the psychiatrist was in his Fifth Avenue office visiting with his last patient before his planned retirement when there was a loud knock on the door. The pounding grew louder into loud thumps and kicks….
Geier’s face, now a stone-cold gray, looks up from the notebook at Susan. “Why did you bring me this?”
Tears are running down Susan’s cheeks. “I had to, I had no choice.”
Suddenly there is a loud thumping on his office door.
Geier shakes his head. “So we’re just characters in your patient’s story. Not even a story yet, just her damn notes.”
Susan mutters, “Predictable, inevitable….” Her voice trails off.
The banging on the door gets louder and louder. Then there’s an explosive crash as the door flies off its hinges. A tall man, maybe two-hundred-fifty pounds, dressed in all black with a scraggly black beard, powder-white face, and yellow eyes fills the doorway. He’s holding a long-barreled pistol at his side.
Susan and Geier freeze. Then Geier smiles, slowly lights a match to his pipe, and sucks in three quick breaths to fire up the tobacco. His grin widens, and he exhales a plume of blue smoke toward the ceiling. Turning his gaze back to the intruder, he says, “Come in. We’ve been expecting you.”
If you enjoyed this story, you can get the other 29 stories in The Last Appointment: 30 Collected Short Stories as an eBook or paperback at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
POSTSCRIPT: the inspiration for The Last Appointment came from my personal experience as a writer. As I was putting the final touches on my third novel, NOT SO DONE, in February 2020 in which a terrorist launches a pandemic in the U.S., the real-life pandemic struck us. I made a few minor changes to the manuscript to acknowledge Covid-19 but otherwise left that story element as originally conceived pre-pandemic. And in the same novel, I wrote about an attack on the U.S. Capitol, which actually occurred six months after NOT SO DONE came out. I had to wonder when those two real-life events happened after I had written about them, what if?
Other Titles by Charles Levin:
NOT SO DEAD Series, Books 1 -4 – Kindle/eBook, Paperback, Hardcover, and Audiobooks
NOT SO DEAD Trilogy – Kindle/ebook and Kindle Unlimited – Boxset of all 3 Sam Sunborn Novels.
New! NOT SO DEAD Trilogy Audiobook–the first 3 Books of the NOT SO DEAD Series–27+ Hours–5 Amazon Stars