by Joe Zabel


The hospital staff were aggressive in protecting their new patient from police questioning. Although the cuts weren't deep, Kathy needed stitches for nasty gashes made by the broken glass. More seriously, she was suffering from psychological shock, and had been treated with sedatives and counseling. Thus, she was an inpatient for nearly 48 hours before she was permitted any visitors at all.

When, inevitably, Lieutenant Corruthers was permitted to see her, Kathy was reticent about being interviewed before speaking to an attorney.

'I'm disappointed,' he said. 'I cooperated with you when you were asking about Jen Marriott. You obviously didn't level with me then, and now you're still holding back.'

'I may have made a mistake before, Lieutenant,' said Kathy. 'But it's not going to be the end of the world if you have a little delay in assembling your case against Vaughn. I intend to cooperate fully, but I'm entitled to know what my rights are first!'

'I don't get why you're so squirrelly!' said Vaughn. 'You haven't been charged with anything-- you're the crime victim!'

But Kathy knew that she'd been unintentionally impersonating someone else for several months at least; during all that time, she must have broken SOME laws!

Soon after the police left, she had two more visitors who were far more welcome.

Margo walked over and took Kathy's hand. Kathy reached up and gave her friend a hug.

Yang hung back a bit, waiting for them to finish. He was holding a bouquet of flowers. 'We got these in the gift shop,' he said, 'but I think you might get a bigger kick out of this-- I saved it for you.'

He handed her yesterday's paper. Front page headlines pronounced, 'PSYCHIC RESEARCHER RESCUES WOMAN FROM DEADLY CLINIC ATTACK.'

'It was carried on all the networks!' said Margo. 'The TV cameramen at the party got live footage of you and Vaughn struggling up there. It looks amazing! I taped it for you.'

Kathy laughed. 'Just the thing for me to pop in the VCR for a cozy night's viewing! So-- Hollister came out of it as the hero!'

Yang chuckled. 'Right time, right place. It looks like he was never really involved in the New Leaf cult. They just used his writings to wrap an extra layer of mumbo-jumbo around what they were doing. He may have thought he was co-opting the Vaughn institute, but actually it was Vaughn who was trying to exploit him, and turn the Institute into a cash cow! Hollister's done an excellent job of damage control, though, a real pro. Been on every public affairs show that'll have him, denouncing suicide cults.'

'Vaughn, on the other hand,' said Margo, 'has been arrested. They've got him on aggravated assault in your case, but there's all sorts of charges they're considering!'

Kathy looked up at her two friends, wondering how she was going to explain everything, and make them believe her. 'I've got to let you know... I'm not really Kathy Swanson. And Dr. Vaughn, he's not really Dr. Vaughn.' She looked at Margo. 'We're both just like Sally-- except that we were a lot more convincing. I guess I was so convincing, I ended up convincing myself!'

'We know all about it, dear. It's all come out as a result of the police investigation, and the news shows have really played up coverage of the cult.'

'They've invented a new name for it,' said Yang, '--an imposter cult. It's the next step in cultic evolution!

'You've got to remember that most cults exist for one purpose only-- to make MONEY for the cult leader. But the problem with most cults is, once a person is recruited, they become so dysfunctional that they can't make as much money as a free-willed person could. Not much cash in selling flowers on the street, or begging relatives for hand-outs.

'But the New Leaf cult devised a way to put its recruits back into society, in highly-paid positions. And of course, if any of them ever tried to break away from the cult, New Leaf had some terrific blackmail material to hold over their heads!'

Kathy shook her head. 'But I didn't ever give New Leaf any money!'

Margo said, 'Try looking at your checking account, dear. Think about it, did you ever wonder why you, the head of public relations for a prestigious clinic, are driving around in a clunker of a car and have a rat-infested apartment in the worst part of town?'

'I never thought about it,' said Kathy.

'It's because you were donating HALF YOUR SALARY to New Leaf!'

'What? I had no idea!'

'That's how mind-control works,' said Yang.

Kathy shook her head in disbelief, and finally laughed out loud.

'So what's going to become of the institute? Without Vaughn... well, it can't be called the 'Vaughn Institute' anymore!'

'The Board of Directors, minus two members who were connected to New Leaf, is committed to the Institute's survival,' said Yang. 'They're moving quickly to prevent a melt-down.'

'He's just being discrete!' said Margo. 'The fact is, the board has asked him to be acting director.' She looked defiantly at Yang. 'And everybody knows it, too!'

'Congratulations!' said Kathy.

'My first act as Director,' said Yang, 'will be to change the organization's name to the YANG Institute of Sleep Research-- YISR for short!'

Kathy and Margo giggled.

'Seriously, I had one decision in mind to help the Institute get back on track.'

He leaned towards Kathy. 'I'd like to offer Kathy Swanson's job to somebody I respect and trust. I'd like to offer it to Rachel Prescott.'

Kathy stared at him. The name sounded strangely familiar.

'That's you, honey,' said Margo gently. 'That's your real name.'

Kathy concentrated very hard. Then she shook her head.

'No!' she cried. 'I don't remember it!'

She looked desperately at Yang. 'Whoever I was before, it's all GONE! If I'm not Kathy Swanson, then I'm NOBODY!'

Yang shook his head. 'Listen to me, Rachel. It'll take you a little bit of time. But you haven't really lost anything. You're a very strong-willed young lady. You CAN get through this. And you've got friends, and people who care about you. We'll help you every step of the way.'

Kathy stared at them, and tried to smile.

'I've got someone I'd like you to meet,' said Margo. She got up and went to the door. 'It's ok,' she whispered to someone in the hall. 'Come on in.'

Margo put out her hand, and led Sally into the room.

'Rachel,' said Margo, 'I'd like you to meet Jane Prescott.'

Kathy looked at the young woman whose identity had been such an enigma.

'She's your sister, honey,' said Margo.

The two women named Prescott stared at each other, as if transported to some far shore where everything was quiet and new. Margo stepped back, and glanced at Yang with a smile. She crossed her arms in front of her, then lifted her hand to brush something out of her eye.

Jane Prescott sat down on the bed, and smiled at Rachel Prescott. Rachel stared at Jane in amazement. She lifted her hand, and slowly began to stroke Jane's hair.


One year later...

'We are as one,' said the man, folding his hands in front of him.

'WE ARE AS ONE!' replied the group of men surrounding him.

'I protect you,' said the man, holding his left palm over his right.

'I PROTECT YOU!' repeated the men.

'You protect me,' said the man, placing his right palm over his left.

'YOU PROTECT ME,' repeated the crowd.

'And we don't listen to any false speech!' said the man, whose name was Jonathan, lifting both hands and cupping them over his ears.


Two prison guards looked through the bars at the group within. 'What's your beef, Charlie?' asked the first guard. 'They're the best behaved cons in the entire cell block!'

'I don't care!' replied Charlie. 'They scare the living CRAP outta me!'

'We are as one!' said Jonathan.

'WE ARE AS ONE!' repeated the men.

The End.


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