Bryson City Tales — The Murder (Part 3)

This is from the first chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Tales. I hope that you’ll enjoy going back to Bryson City with me each week, and that if you do, you’ll be sure to invite your friends to join us.

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THE MURDER – PART 3

We entered a living room that couldn’t have been more than ten by fourteen feet. There was barely room for a small TV, a small sofa and chair, and a small table. To the left, a doorway led to a small kitchen. To the right was a doorway to a small bedroom—maybe eight by ten feet in size. Most of the space was occupied by a twin bed. Just to the side of the bed was a body. The boot-clad feet were lying together, the toes pointing up. The blue jeans and the plaid shirt looked quietly peaceful. However, there was nothing above the shirt. In fact, the shirt ended at the wall—almost as though the head were stuck in a hole in the wall.

The wall. It was then that I noticed that the walls were an unusual color and texture. The nausea and near-wretch overwhelmed me as the shock of what I was seeing registered in my mind. Plastered on the walls and the ceiling and the bed and the floor were thousands of globs of brain and skull and scalp and hair. Only a small section of the bed was clean.

The sheriff, as though reading my thoughts, commented, “The girls were sittin’ on the bed. They was covered with brains and blood when we got here. The clean spot on the bed was where they was sittin’. One of my lady detectives has taken them over to the safe house in Sylva. They’ll be seein’ the victim’s advocate right away.”

A combination of shakes, cold sweats, and the sure feeling of an approaching faint now replaced the rush of nausea. I backed out of the bedroom and sat on the sofa in the living room.

The sheriff followed me into the living room. “Don’t feel bad, son,” he said, trying to comfort me. “I felt the same way the first time I seen a murder like this.”

“Oh, I feel just fine,” I moaned. “I’m just sitting here to reconstruct the events of the crime.” The sheriff was experienced and kind enough to allow my delusion to remain intact. He patted me on the back as he turned to walk out of the house. “Deputy Rogers is here to help you with anything you need,” he said.

After a few minutes the nausea and weakness passed. “Deputy, let’s go to work.”

Alongside the investigating detective I supervised the exam- ination of the room, the collection of evidence, and the police photographer. We then moved the body away from the wall. It was still warm and soft—no evidence of stiffness, no coldness. This killing was fresh.

The neck seemed normal but was only connected to a small piece of the back and base of the skull. The inside of the skull— what little was left—was strangely beautiful, glistening white, still moist and warm. There was nothing left of the head. The shock and nausea had receded, and now my training and limited experience took over as I, almost mechanically, finished the evi- dence collection.

As soon as I had all the information I needed, I jumped into my car and headed away from the scene. I fought to focus my mind on the medical data and to shut out my emotional reactions to the horror. So often in residency we had to stuff our emotions deep into our subconscious—there to lie hidden, not talked about, not explored, not released.

I thought, This isn’t the medical center—this is a little town— now my home. These folks—the victim and the survivors— I don’t know them, but in a sense they are my new neighbors. I thought of the woman and her daughter. Who are they? Will they be OK? Will they—can they—ever recover from witnessing such a horrible tragedy? Will I ever recover?

My mind was a swirling cacophony of emotions. Suddenly I felt a strange sensation on my cheeks—my own tears. I pulled off the road, turned off the engine, and lay my forehead on the steering wheel. Three years of residency—of learning to be a doctor—with all of its anxiety and failure and repressed emotion erupted out of its repose like the deep waters of a dam that had just burst. I sobbed and sobbed. After a bit, I collected myself and blew my nose. I found myself wondering, Who am I crying for? Myself, or for this senseless tragedy? Maybe both, I thought.

I heard a noise and turned to see the hearse, followed by Deputy Rogers in his squad car, drive by me and down the hill— probably heading toward Moody Funeral Home. After the cars drove by, my eyes were drawn to what appeared to be, in the half-moon’s light, a football field—and beyond it, a cemetery. What an unusual combination, I thought. In a sense, one repre- sented my past. Then I felt goose bumps on my arms as I realized that the other represented my future. I was between the two. What would be said, I wondered, when life ended for me? What would my tombstone say?

I had no idea what my future in this small town might hold. I again bowed my head onto the steering wheel. Father in heaven, I prayed silently, haltingly, and confusedly. I continued, Thank you for the skills and training you have given me. Guide my use of them, and grant me your wisdom. I don’t want my life to end like this man’s did tonight. I want my life to mean some- thing. I ask you to use me. I ask for your peace.

I felt suddenly refreshed—strangely peaceful. I smiled at the cemetery. Not just yet, I said silently to the rolling knoll of tomb- stones. Not just yet!

I started the car and headed back toward Hospital Hill. When I arrived at the house, I walked around back and sat down on the wrought-iron bench just outside our back door. The view was stunning—looking up the Deep Creek Valley and into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I filled my lungs with the crisp fall mountain air.

I thought about my decision to move to the Smoky Mountains to practice medicine. What were you thinking when you accepted a position in this little town? Was it these mountains? The second thoughts and self-doubt that plague every young physician flooded my mind. Am I just a do-gooder? Am I trying to be some sort of Brother Teresa? Was I wrong to bring my pregnant wife and young child to these rural mountains? Some of the local doctors don’t really want me here anyway. Should I just leave? Have I made the worst mistake of my life?

There were no answers that night. But as I sat there looking out over the mountains—which had been viewed by several gen- erations of Smoky Mountain physicians before me—a fragile sense of peace came over me. No, I thought. This is where I’m supposed to be. At least for now.

The wind was picking up, and I began to feel chilled. I got up off the bench to go inside. I scrubbed my hands and face and then crawled into bed. As I wrapped my trembling arms around my sleeping wife, Barb didn’t stir. After four years of medical school and three years of residency, she was used to me leaving at night, sometimes several times a night, to respond to emer- gencies at the hospital. She slept well that night. I did not.

Here I was in a warm and safe home, with a precious daugh- ter and incredible wife. I was in an amazing profession in a stun- ningly beautiful location. But the self-doubts had come crawling into the house with me. Was this all a mistake? I thought again. One big mistake?

(TO BE CONTINUED NEXT FRIDAY)

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© Copyright Walter L. Larimore, M.D. 2016. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.