he Apprentice (A rewrite)
The overwhelming sense of deja vu hit me as we sliced through the Georgia landscape in a rental car. Rows of cultivated pines flipped by like frames on an old movie. The rhythm of their passing lured me into a hypnotic state. I was remembering... something.

I hesitated mentioning these thoughts to my companion who was gently humming to the strains of the Charlie Daniels Band. “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” seemed appripo for the occasion.

Was John Smith the Devil incarnate? That was yet to be determined.

But the man was, indeed, the foremost authority on the psychological aspects of violent crime. His research fed masses of criminologists around the world from the point of view of the criminal. They lapped it up. It was almost sickening to the degree that they were turned like dogs from brutal hunters ready to tear apart those who crossed the boundaries of morality to passive pets who licked the blood from guitly hands. Personal reponsibility was moot.

The way he gathered his information was wholly astounding. His personality was that of a virtuoso violinist — he could play anyone, anytime, anywhere. From a gang rape victim shivering in a corner a month after wearing her boyfriend’s brains on the front of her prom dress to the smug snot who pulled the trigger, they all open themselves to the man as he surgically picks them apart to glean every meager piece of information from them.

They take in his sympathetic facade and pay him back with undying trust. If only that girl knew that the research Mr. Smith paved the way for the early release of her assailant.

The girl goes to rape counseling every Monday night.

The thug spends Monday nights with his cohorts swigging beer and watching football at the local roadhouse. Although, he does doubt his sanity every other Tuesday at 8:00 p.m.

And John Smith? He seems to love his job.

Me? I’m his assistant. He prefer to call me his “apprentice.” I have no aspirations to be him nor do I aspire to write lengthy treatises on brutal murders sympathetic to the criminals. Actually, I have no aspirations at all.

He calls me his “apprentice.” I prefer to think of myself as a slave.

The landscape slips away on the other side of the window and the ghostly reflection of a stranger stares down at me. It was like it was all a dream — one that reoccured nightly without fail. I now understand that it is not deja vu. I have been here, slipping through reality on a country road every night in my dreams.

And the dream was basically the same. Each night, more details reveal themselves through the haze of unconscious thought — a puzzle where every other piece is missing and the solution is hidden other a couch, in another room, across the country.

Or in the driver’s seat.

Mr. Smith was still humming along as we sliced through the landscape on a fair Georgia afternoon.

I close my eyes to relive the picture I have built so far. The landscape was the same as my eyelids drew closed. I was happy as a country tune droned in the noisy compartment of a compact car. It was a Nissan. A piece of the puzzle that I could touch and feel like the steering wheel before me.

I was driving this time and it was a good day because I could feel it was so. It was a good day until I reached the crest of the hill to find a truck in my lane.

The view at that point changes. I was either there in the driver’s seat, standing on the soft shoulder of the road, or floating above like a boom cam. The sequence was always the same, though. The brutal crunching of metal sounded the same no matter where I was. The pain was always with me no matter my distance from the scene.

The steering column rose to crush my rib cage leaving me to drown in my own blood. I coughed.

“Problem, dear?” he asked.

Turning to him, I slowly opened my eyes expecting to see an EMT standing over me. It was that real. But I was in the passenger’s seat and Mr. Smith was smiling at me. His perfect teeth framed by perfectly upturned lips as I heard a violin in the distance.

Or maybe it was a fiddle.

“I am fine,” I replied. As I looked down at the flannel, plaid shirt that clothed my perfectly healthy chest. I was fine. I was alive.

He nods and remarks, “That is good,” before the compartment of the luxury rental car falls silent.

I returned to watching the scenery pass. A sign beckoning us into Jones County came and went as did the rows of trees.

The dream did not need to continue. In it, I die as I always do.

For the superstitious, dying in a dream means death has taken you in the waking world. But I am here to prove that is not the case. Well, as much as you can consider what I do being a life.

My time is spent in the dusty file rooms of police stations, between the stacks of newspaper archives, hunched over a laptop computer in a different hotel room every week, and sitting across the dinner table recounting my research to the always pleasant Mr. Smith. See what I mean about being a slave?

This journey is taking us into the heart of Georgia.