Submission to a Writer's Group on the Earthsong Forums.

INTERNAL GROWTH


"No!" Ester put her hands to her head, bending over the table. She had gone over this with the Board of Doctors innumerable times before; she HAD NOT started the fire!

"All right, Ester, we believe you – truly. But… are you sure you don't know what happened? You are the only one left, after all."

Ester groaned and put her head down on the table, letting the metal cool her forehead. She could probably quote their spiel back at them, if they would let her.

"Maybe you don't remember doing it; maybe you just put it out of your mind. Try to remember – what happened?"

"I don't KNOW! I don't REMEMBER!"

The doctors looked at each other, and Ester could tell they didn't believe her. Finally one of them nodded and said kindly, patronizingly, "Okay Ester, you can go."

Relieved, Ester jumped up and raced out the door, eager for her room's offered shelter.

Except there was no shelter to be had. Dr. Kenny, her personal doctor, was in one of the two armchairs, waiting for her. "Ah, Ester! How kind of you to finally join us!" Dr. Kenny always spoke in third person, and it drove Ester bonkers.

"Dr. Kenny," she said wearily, "Could you please get out of my room? I'd really like to sleep, and I can't do that when you're here."

"Sorry Ester, no can do. We've got a few more questions for you." It wasn't even that he did it to outright annoy her – it was that she could never tell if he meant HIM, or ALL of them. Ester groaned under her breath and dropped into the other chair. The questions were all the same, as were the answers. Yes, she had gone to the museum that day. Yes, she had explored on her own. Yes, she had found the passageway and the piano. No, she couldn't remember what happened after that. Certainly, she could tell him when she woke up – at the hospital, being treated for burns.

"Burns?"

"Well – yes. Didn't you say there was a fire?" Ester pushed up her sleeve to reveal the still-tender new skin. "See?"

Dr. Kenny nodded for her to go on.

"What's there to say? I've told it all to you before. I don't know. Go away," Ester sighed. "Please?

Dr Kenny huffed in annoyance as Ester dropped her head back on the chair and closed her eyes in a clear mockery of a dismissal. She'd never displayed such blatant disregard before. Impertinence, yes – she hadn't been broken yet. But not this. Dr Kenny glanced at Ester, then looked back carefully. Some small nuance of her posture had changed, something was different. "Ester?" He asked quietly.

Ester snorted, still with her eyes closed. "Not hardly. I'm Danté." Her voice was harsher, deeper. Dr Kenny blinked in shock. Multiple Personality Disorder? This was unexpected. Perhaps this Danté would shed some light on the matter. Before he could question, however, Danté spoke again.

"Ester's a weakling, old man, she cries at everything. She hates these meetings, you know, that's why I took over. Not for long, though. She's still strong enough to fight me."

"Fight you? How?"

Ester – Danté – snorted again. "Come on old man, you're not that stupid."

Dr. Kenny couldn't figure out what he meant.

"Or perhaps you are." The sarcasm was heavy.

"Why won't you open your eyes?" Dr Kenny finally asked, exasperated at the obvious show of disrespect.

"Trust me, old man, you don't want me to open my eyes."

"What? Why not?"

Danté's posture stiffened the tiniest bit. "You're getting too curious for your own good, old man. Besides, it's time for me to go. Have fun explaining this to Ester. You won't have much time."

"What? Wait - !"

"Wait what?" Ester raised her head, blinking confused, normal – thankfully – brown eyes.

Dr. Kenny sighed. "Nothing Ester." Jumping up and gathering his notebook, he said, "We're going to leave you alone now!"

Ester watched warily, wondering why he was acting so weirdly. It wasn't like him to suddenly switch tracks like that. One minute he was bothering her about the fire, then suddenly telling her to wait? It was very odd, and Dr Kenny was not offering any explanation as he retreated, pulling the door shut behind him. Ester sighed and curled up on her bed. Granted, Dr Kenny was odd anyway, but this wasn't normal. A bitter smile quirked at her lips as she thought sadly, /Welcome to a day in the life of Ester the Crazy./

Dr Kenny presented his findings to the Board of Doctors.

"She's developed an alternate personality calling itself Danté. He manifested today white I was interviewing her. I believe it formed to deal with the pressure we've been putting on her. It implied a history and a definite beginning, as if a separate entity. I move that we keep her under close surveillance. Perhaps stop the interrogation for a bit –" His suggestion was met with vehement negativity. The Board Director finally shot it down.

"We've never stopped our questions until we have the answer we want; I see no reason to stop for one girl with MPD."

Dr Kenny inclined his head. "Then I suggest we try to contact Danté." The Board discussed it, and appointed Dr Kenny to the case, which was what he wanted in the first place.

The weeks following that interview were frustrating for everyone involved. The Board wanted results, and they weren't getting them. They'd never had a case of Multiple Personality Disorder develop while under their watch, and they wanted information. Dr Kenny wanted results too, but for a different reason – he wanted to see what made Ester and Danté tick, wanted to poke at them. But Ester didn't change, and Danté never appeared, so he was left hanging. And Ester just couldn't figure out what was going on. There would be times – random times! – when she'd get lost in a mental conversation with herself, and regain awareness of her surroundings somewhere else, having done something she couldn't remember doing. And no one would tell her what she'd done! Ester wanted to believe it was a new experiment by the Board, because then she'd know approximately what to expect, but this didn't fit any of their usual habits. And with the questions Dr Kenny was asking, he didn't know either.

Ester would wake up suddenly in the middle of the night, in the bathroom, at the foot of her bed, sometimes even huddled in the corner, not knowing how she got there or why. It got to the point where she was 'waking' to herself in the middle of an action, with a funny feeling in her forehead that wouldn't go away. Finally, she confronted Dr Kenny.

"What wrong with me? Why is this happening?" She was fighting back tears, but losing. Dr Kenny smiled. Finally, they were getting somewhere!

"Now you have it, Ester! There IS something wrong with you, and we're here to HELP you." The glint in his eye belied his gentle tone. Ester unconsciously shrank back into her chair. Why would he say that to her? He'd never been so outright mean before. /Because I finally admitted it./ She realized. /He's been waiting until I say it!/ But really – it was so out of character - /But nothing,/ came the angry thought. /He's been acting!/ Ester snorted gently, oblivious to Dr Kenny's start. Her conscience had been getting very violent of late. It'd always been pretty vocal, but recently it seemed to be taking on a whole different character. Since before the alleged fire, actually… she shook herself back to the present. She didn't care if he was acting or not, it was still unsettling. /Then tell him so!/ She shook her head. No, she couldn't do that, he'd be mad at her, and give her nasty medicine to cure her 'attitude', and they'd poke and examine… /Then I will/Wait, what-?/

Dr Kenny had been startled when what was clearly the Ester persona snorted, he'd been pretty sure that was purely Danté's mannerism. He was intrigued by Ester's long silence, punctuated by shaking her head, or other physical responses to stimuli that apparently didn't exist. He was shocked when she suddenly sat up and glared at him. Jerking back into his chair, he stared at the snarling girl across from him, then forced himself to relax and casually cross his leg over his knee in a show of comfort.

"Ah, Danté, how good of you to join us! We had suspected your presence for quite some time now, but could never be sure –"

"Cut it out, old man," Danté growled. He was furious. He'd been holed up in Ester's mind since before the fire, and only now had the strength to take over permanently. He was tired of hiding, of running the first time Ester showed signs of consciousness, tired of pretending. This was HIS body, by right of conquest! Ester had been misusing it, it was HIS turn now. Time to show what he could do with the materials at hand, with only an annoying voice in the background, instead of the other way around. Danté realized he'd gone wool-gathering, and renewed glare at the doctor. He was gratified to see the man flinch.

"Now," Danté said coolly. "You want answers, I'll give them to you. They won't do you any good, they can't persecute Ester anymore because she's certifiably crazy, and her remaining family already believes she did it, so they won't be paying you anymore. YOU have a burden now, congratulations!" His sarcasm was as heavy as the first time, and his smirk was almost impossibly wide as his eyes narrowed to slits.

Dr Kenny was shaking so badly he had to put his pen down. Danté was a lot more violent that he'd expected, and sounded like he meant every word of what he said. "Um… uh – why?" he finally stammered.

Danté barked a laugh. "Why what? Why did I take over? Why did Ester create me? Why am I here?"

"Um – yes?"

Danté snorted. "In order then. Why'd I take over? Ester's a weakling, she doesn't deserve her body anymore. It's mine now. Why'd she create me? Ester's been under a lot of stress, did you know that? Of course you did, you propagated it. Even before the fire, the demands of her family have been on her shoulders and hers alone, ever since she was a girl." Danté shrugged. "Dunno when she started compartmentalizing, but I came up about a month before the fire."

Dr Kenny stared in shock. A month? Wasn't that when people had started reporting a change in her personality – more crying, and weak behavior than she'd shown previously, and she would fly into towering rages at odd moments. And the Board had yet to give her a psych evaluation. Dr Kenny paled. Sudden mood swings – loss of memory – personality shift – Ester had split herself long before now!

Danté watched Dr Kenny carefully. When he saw that Dr. Kenny was looking at him, he nodded and slowly smiled. "I started the fire and made sure they were all there. It became my body as soon I came on the scene, Ester certainly couldn't handle it. It's my body now, and I don't want to have to work. Besides, Ester was always wishing her family didn't have to worry. Well – they're not worrying now."

Dr Kenny was sick at Danté's cold logic. There certainly was no arguing with it. Danté was outright grinning now, reveling in the shock he caused and the fear he was generating. This was a very amusing game, like cat and mouse, except he had no intention of tiring and eating the poor thing. Though – he was rather plump, and not too hairy… Ester gave an angry shout at that, and Danté flinched. Right, he had a passenger. /Shut up, you little idiot, you don't matter now/ He said. /No! Stop it! That's not NICE, that's not FAIR!/ Danté scowled and stood up.

"If you'll excuse me, Doctor," – and on his lips, the title was a mockery – "I have something to take care of." A thin smile drew at his lips as he surveyed his prey. "I'll be seeing you again…"

Dr Kenny could only sit and stare as Danté left, taking with him Ester, her body, and any hope the terrified man might have had for a peaceful death.

-FIN-