Chapter 9: Walter


What a horrible morning. November is so depressing anyway, and I had a heavy cold. Cough. Blow. Sniffle. Wipe. Britty had an ear infection, Nick had a cough. The house was strewn with used tissues, waste baskets overflowing. I sneezed violently as I pulled on my stockings and groped for another Kleenex. Nothing. I went into the bathroom. Empty box. I hunted everywhere. No tissues. Damn. Maybe in the car....

The morning was dark and chilly. Wet leaves were everywhere. There were no tissues in my car either, and my nose had already begun to drip. I checked my purse. Nothing. Maybe my briefcase, I thought, and rummaged. Aha! Success! And what's this? A tape? I remembered the sticky summer, and the recording session at Adam's, and the dirty dishes, and Dirk's annoyance. Let's see, I thought, what all that fuss was about.


I walked up the steps to the school humming under my breath.

"Good morning, Dr. Dawson."

"Ah, good morning, Ms. Dubrowski. Nasty morning, isn't it? Are you ready for Thanksgiving?"

"We're going to my husband's mother's. You look like you have a cold."

"Yes, I can't seem to shake it. So unaesthetic."

"You seem to be keeping your spirits up, though."

I smiled uneasily. I did feel better.

"Do you have a moment? I'd like to show you something one of my students wrote. I found it - unusual."

"Certainly, bring it by my office, I'll be glad to look at it. Do you feel that this student is at risk?"

"I'm not sure. It might be part of this weird new humor sweeping the school, the pointless and stupid movement. But considering the assignment, and what I know about this student - this student is under a great deal of pressure."

"Why don't we have a cup of coffee and talk?"

"I'm sorry, I have another student waiting for me in my office. But I'll bring his story by during my free period. About two, then?"

"I'll be in my office all day doing paperwork. Please drop in any time. I'll probably welcome the interruption."

"Thanks, Dr. Dawson."

"Of course."

"Dr. Dawson?"

"Please, call me Janet."

"Janet. What was that song you were singing coming up the stairs? It sounded vaguely familiar."

"Song? I honestly don't recall. It was probably one of Britty's preschool songs. They're insidious. Once I get them in my head, I can't get rid of them. I'll look forward to seeing you around two, then."

"Yes, thank you again."

But of course I knew what song I'd been singing. I'd circled the parking lot four times, playing it, rewinding the tape, and playing it again. I continued down the hall with chant echoing in my head. "Chicken bomb, chicken bomb, chicken bomb, chicken bomb, chicken bomb." It made me want to laugh and dance.


I spent the first two hours of the morning looking at epidemiology. What I saw was remarkable. Eagle Hills High's rate of drug arrests, DUI, psychiatric hospitalizations and teenage pregnancy had almost doubled since last December, not quite one year ago. Although it was possible that some of the increase was a consequence of improved reporting and tracking, the evidence was overwhelming. No matter how I ran the numbers, this change remained statistically significant. It was no accident. Something was happening in Eagle Hills that was changing the behavior of the town's teens. It was an ideal opportunity for a researcher. I was considering hypotheses based on the demographics of my sample when the telephone rang.

"Dr. Dawson."

"Dr. Dawson, this is Jeanine, the dispatcher at the firehouse."

"Of course, Jeanine, how are you?"

"We've caught one that looks like it might be yours."

"All right. Where should I go?"

"Well, it's all over. They had to scrape him up in two body bags. You don't need to see the pieces. Claire at Central DuBose asked me to call and have you meet the paramedics in the ER. She's going to call the parents after the MOD pronounces him. She thought it might be nice if you could be there."

"Of course. I'm on my way. Thanks, Jeanine."

"Any time."


I got back into my car, played "Chicken Bomb" three or four more times to calm my nerves and drove as fast as I dared to the hospital. The ambulance crew was just pulling away when I parked my car in the ER parking lot.

Claire spotted me as soon as I walked in the door. "Dr. Olatungi just pronounced him. What a mess. Nothing recognizable from the shoulders down. Just a head with a Walkman stuck on it, tape still going around and around. Crazy stuff these kids listen to. What in the name of heaven is a Chicken Bomb?"

Only years of training kept my face blank.

"I - er - excuse me. I don't know. A chicken bomb? Claire, ah, excuse me, I need to get some water. I've been fighting the flu." I hurried down the hall to the water fountain. It was all I could do to remain upright. I splashed a little water on my temples and took some deep breaths. When I felt calm again, I returned to the nurses' station.

"What makes you think this one's for me?" I asked. "What happened?"

"Didn't Jeanine tell you? He was hit by a train."

"Was there a note?"

"We don't know. The parents didn't say anything."

"What about accident? Kids aren't always careful on those tracks...."

"Engineer swears the kid had plenty of time to get out of the way, and walked right at him down a straight stretch of track, smiling. Looked like he was singing, had his arms stuck out at his sides and doing some kind of dance."

"Oh, my. I'll wait here for the parents. This isn't going to be easy. And Dr. Olatungi's English may not be up to the task."

"You're telling me. That's why I asked Jeanine to call you. Uh oh, look, this must be them." A pale, disheveled couple was half-running through the ER doors.

"I'm Walter Adkins Sr. Someone called and said my son was here," announced the tall man with the rumpled suit and expensive haircut.

"Yes, of course, Mr. Adkins. I'm Janet Dawson, I'm with CO-HORT, at Eagle Hills High. Please come with me. Claire, is Dr. Olatungi free?" I led the Adkins into a nearby conference room.

"Can I get you some coffee? What did the doctor say to you on the phone?"

"Why are you taking us this way? I need to see my son! Where's my Walter?" Although both the Adkins were distraught, Mrs. Adkins' distress was more visible. Her hair hung limply around her partially made-up face, and her shoes didn't match.

"Mrs. Adkins, Dr. Olatungi will be here in a minute, and he'll be able to take you to see Walter. What did he say to you on the phone?"

"He said - he said Walter had been terribly hurt. Is he all right? Oh, God, where's my baby?"

Mr. Adkins shouldered his wife aside. "Excuse me. Whom did you say you were?"

"I'm Dr. Janet Dawson, part of the crisis intervention team from Eagle Hills. Mr. Adkins, had you noticed any changes in Walter's behavior lately?"

"What are you talking about? Walter's been fine. His mother coddles him too much, that's all. But he's fine. He listens to that ridiculous music, but we'll soon have him done with that. As soon as we get this settlement agreement nailed down," here he glared at his wife, "which we would have accomplished long ago if this wino bitch from hell could manage to show up on time for - "

"Oh, Walter, please don't start in on that now," his wife - well, perhaps his soon-to-be-ex-wife, interrupted. "We don't need to drag this nice woman into our personal problems. I'm quite sure she has no interest in hearing about your affair with that woman from your health club, for example."

"... get him away from his mother ..." Mr. Adkins interjected.

"Or the little trip to Santa Barbara you took with a certain Miss Fredericks. Or that you haven't been able to sustain an erection in our bed for more than ten seconds in the last two years." A dense cloud of alcohol fumes obscured Mrs. Adkins' head and shoulders. Dr. Olatungi blinked as he encountered its outskirts.

"Mr. and Mrs. Adkins," he said. "I am Dr. Olatungi. Your son is here. He is in a crash. My deepest apologies. He was pronounce dead at 10:22 this morning. He has his head still OK, if you can look at it and say this is him. And also your son. Thank you very much. My sympathies. Perhaps you have had a drink. I must to see to my patient now. Let me get the nurse."

Mr. and Mrs. Adkins gaped in silent horror as Dr. Olatungi walked swiftly away. Another nurse appeared and led the dumb struck parents to the body. I waited by the desk for less than a minute, until Mrs. Adkins burst weeping through the double doors. Her husband rushed behind her, trying to control both his own emotions and his wife, who seemed on the verge of hysteria. I moved myself into her path and she almost knocked me over.

"My son! Oh my god!! My son!" she cried.

Mr. Adkins put his arm across her shoulders she hit him in the mouth. A pair of ER nurses in scrubs hovered at a discreet distance, poised to intervene.

"Don't you ever touch me! Damn you! Damn you! My son!"

Mr. Adkins stood numbly as blood trickled down the corner of his mouth.

"This is a hard time," I murmured.

"You don't know! He was my son!" she covered her face and sobbed.

"Mr. Adkins, please take my card. I am available at these numbers at any time if you need to talk." He took the card unseeingly and rubbed his red-rimmed eyes with his fist.

"His broken face," he mumbled, "It was all that was left. Why? How? What are we going to do? How awful. How could he have been so stupid? Why would he walk along the train tracks with his Walkman on his head? What a horrible accident. This is the worst day of my life." His face twisted.

"I'm so sorry. Please feel free to call me."

"What? What could you possibly do?" cried Mrs. Adkins. "He's dead. His poor young body is smashed. And you think you can help!? Help? Can you bring back my son?"

I put my hand cautiously on her wrist. She flinched, but made no move to strike me. "I'm truly sorry," I said quietly. "You've suffered a terrible shock."

"Please, just leave us alone," said Mr. Adkins. "Leave us alone. I have to get outside. I need to breathe some fresh air."

"Yes," Mrs. Adkins choked. "Yes, I need to get out of here. I need to get away from this place. I can't believe that any of this has happened. I'll walk with you."

Mr. Adkins looked at my card and then up to my face. "Thank you, Dr. - ah - Larson."

They walked out shoulder to shoulder but careful not to bump into each other. I felt useless and small as I watched them leave.


Back in my office, I found the story Mrs. Dubrowski had asked me to read. I added it sadly to Walter's file:

One morning, Walter awoke to find that his entire life to that very moment had been a dream he'd had while huddled asleep in a boxcar.... This train seemed to be moving at a rather slow, clomping-kinda speed up the track; Which oddly enough, tended to captivate Walters companians into falling out of their seats. This was ideal with Walter, for it allowed him to place his very muddy feet, on their crisp white coats.

Walter was....Walter was secretly pleased that this was so, for in this manner, he could better think his rather odd situation. That is the dream. "this must be heaven!!" Walter must have thought.... or else he thought again, "Am I really a mortician??"...No! no absolutely not.

Walter was a great leader! Walter was a wise and just commander ... uh ... commander of intelligence! and ... divine insight ..... Walter was, a jewel! The apple of his mothers eye!...Walter was Walter. And Walter was secretly pleased that this was so! His companians, now in mud, were not.

Walter wondered what real life might be like....he thought about getting off the train..."was THAT indeed the outside??"..."would THAT be reality?".... or was this all the dream???

It certainly seemed to be taking Walter's companians quite a while to regain their composure, and reclaim their seats....in fact, as Walter was... secretly pleased to discover, YES Christmas does get here and yes WOW its even better than we've IMAGINED IT to be.

And so....Walter's companians continued to lie on the floor, and Walter stared out the window at the fish swimming through the subway..........

Walter decided to leave his body and explore his new life.....and so he did...and so it goes. And Walter, Walter was secretly pleased that this was so.





Case 042 Interview 042-05ab



INT: [standard introduction]

RES: [sniffs] Hello.

INT: How are you feeling?

RES: OK. I guess. I can't believe it's true. I can't believe he did it. He had everything to live for. [begins to cry]

INT: [offers a tissue] I can see that you're very upset. Would you like to take a moment?

RES: I'm OK. I'll be OK.

INT: Can you tell me if Walter had been acting odd lately?

RES: Odd? Walter? No. He was my best friend. I would know. I mean, his parents were getting a divorce, but that happens to lots of people. He was the best. He was a hero on the football team. Everybody thought he was great. The girls all thought he was a dream, but he's been going steady with Sarah for over a year and a half. Kathy and I used to go on double dates with them.

[narrative deleted]

INT: Why do you think he was out on the train tracks?

RES: I have no idea.

INT: Did he like your music?

RES: Not really. I mean, he was my best friend. He never came right out and told me that he didn't like it. I gave him a tape. He said he'd listen to it. But I don't think he did.

INT: I see.

RES: I just can't believe he's dead! Oh god! My best friend, and now he's gone. [cries]

INT: Perhaps we should continue this another time when you're feeling better.

RES: OK. All right.

INT: Thank you for coming to talk to me. Good afternoon. Please shut the door on your way out.


Welcome to Singlenesia


"connect <name> <password>" connects you to an existing character.

"WHO" tells you who is logged in to the game (case sensitive).

"QUIT" exits the game and saves your character.


connect elavil CO-HORT


WHO Connected Idle I'm going to ....

Elavil 1s 0s who cares?

Carissa 45s 30s Graduate

Flagran 2m 3s wash my mouth out w/soap

Phineas 5m 0s kick myself in the balls

Butch 17m 12m call this girl

Nighthawk 35m 10s [censored]

Crimson 1h 44m get married!!!!

Brimpydale 1h 2m live forever

Croaker 1h 20s kill earnest

Eastern 1h 5m eat my foot

Zalcor 3h 18s D: waiting for Elavil

Elroy 2d 9s Wandering aimlessly

11 Players Connected


Porch (#7098) A screened porch. There is an old, chintz-covered sofa along the back wall. Several tattered wicker chairs with faded cushions surround a wicker table, where a pitcher of lemonade sweats incitingly. You can smell the gardenias planted along the path from the gate.


Zalcor pages, "Hello!"

You page Zalcor, "Hello! I see you're waiting for me! I'm flattered!"

Zalcor pages, "May I join you?"

You page Zalcor, "Always."

Zalcor has arrived.

Elavil hugs Zalcor alot, and kisses his ears.

Zalcor hugs Elavil warmly.

You say, "How goes?"

Zalcor says, "Goes well, thank you. How goes with you?"

You say, "I talked to Adam today. Do you remember Adam?"

Zalcor thinks. "Adam. Drummer?"

You say, "Yes, very good. Adam was the drummer. What a tedious and ordinary boy."

Zalcor says, "Why did you have to talk to him? Is he OK?"

You say, "Oh, yes, he's fine. Adam doesn't have enough imagination to kill himself. I saw him because he was Walter's best friend."

Zalcor says, "Walter?"

You say, "Walter. Train tracks. Chicken Bomb. Perhaps you have had a drink. Walter."

Zalcor says, "Ah, yes. Walter. Poor boy."

Elavil nods. "Most certainly a poor boy."

Zalcor says, "Adam wasn't very troubled, then, by what happened?"

You say, "Oh, yes, he was troubled enough. He cried all over my office, snivel snivel. What a dork."

Zalcor hrms.

You say, "???"

Zalcor says, "Well, this is a sad story, isn't it? His best friend hit by a train? But you call him a dork."

You say, "Yes, I suppose it sounds cold. But you had to know Adam. What a pathetic little worm he is. Perhaps Eagle Hills would be better off without so many - um."

Elavil shuts up.

Zalcor smiles. "I'm sure you're just tired. You've been very busy."

Elavil says, "No, this is worrisome. Do you know, I never even assess him for risk. And look at my @doing. I actually said Who cares?"

Zalcor hugs you. "I know you care. You are one of the most caring people I've ever known."

Elavil hugs Zalcor. "Thank you. Imagine if I became the very thing I despised? Imagine if Dirk were right and malign indifferent attitude *were* contagious. Boy, the joke would be on me then."

Zalcor looks worried.

You say, "Oh, no, I'm fine. Adam is just a dork, that's all. But this gives me an idea ...."

Zalcor looks interested.

You say, "Well, Walter was popular, everyone agrees to this."

Zalcor says, "Yes? But you said Ben and John and Rob and Bill are >not< popular?"

You say, "Right. But Bwi *wanted* to be popular, and so do most of the other kids I see."

Zalcor says, "It's natural to want to be liked, isn't it?"

Elavil nods. "Yes, but somehow, the kids who reject all that, who say Who cares, who *don't* care about how others feel ...."

Zalcor says, "Yes?"

You say, "Well, it seems like those kids are entirely unaffected by this epidemic of angst."

Zalcor says, "Interesting."

You say, "And then there's something about the Gland Puppies' music, although I'm not sure what yet. But it seems that if you listen to the music and *do* say Who cares, you're all right. But if you listen to the music and *don't* say Who cares - you're not."

Zalcor smiles. "Maybe your @doing is just your way of protecting yourself from the "virus," then."

Elavil says, "Speaking of virus, have you figured out what's been messing up the queue?"

Zalcor frowns. "No, I have not, and it worries me. I'm beginning to believe that someone is trying to crash Singlenesia, but so far I can't find any real evidence."

You say, "That would be horrible. I know how much you care about Sing, and how hard you've worked to keep it running."

Zalcor says, "Yes. I would never say "Who cares" about Sing."

Elavil nods. "I know. I think *you* are one of the most caring people *I* know."

Zalcor kisses Elavil on the temple. "I know I care for >you<.

Elavil blushes and smiles and takes your hand. "I care for you, too."

Zalcor says, "Come with me, I want to show you the ocean I'm building."

You say, "All right, but I only have half an hour."

Zalcor says, "Teleport to #6164."

Zalcor has left.


Research Journal 12/7/


I believe I see a pattern becoming clearer, although I don't in any way understand it. Walter seems to have been a model student. In particular, he was popular. Even Ben admitted that Walter was well-liked. Somehow, the desire to be loved, to care and be cared for, is killing these young people. And, even more strangely, there seems to be an association with the Gland Puppies' music and suicidal risk. I don't quite understand it, but it's unmistakable. Is it coincidence? Interaction effect? The numbers are too small to find statistical significance. But I am going to be more alert now to possible connections between the music, the desire for acceptance, and suicidal risk.

I wonder if Adam knows that he's no longer part of the band. Or at least, according to Bill he's not. Bill says they've started a new tape, just John, Ben and Rob. Something about a tape that will make you fart. Or smart. Or something. Who knows. But I do care. I have to remember this: I do care.