Chapter 28 - 'Choices'
Jason opened his eyes, squinting against the bright light. His head pounded against the glare and he tried to shield his eyes with his hand. His arm wouldn’t move. He struggled frantically and heard canvas rustle. Looking down, he could see his arms crossed firmly in front of him under white sleeves that crossed around on either side. He struggled harder, trying to wrestle his arms free-- until his body toppled sideways onto the padded ground. His eye fixed on the stitching centimeters from his iris. His right eye roamed, taking in the padded walls and door.
His scream gurgled out of his throat, echoing down the white hall outside the door.
* * *
The telephone by his bed rang shrilly. He buried his head under the pillow. After a few more rings, it fell silent. He closed his eyes again and sighed in relief. It was short lived.
The phone began ringing again. His eyes cracked open once more and found the red digital clock. It stared back mockingly, the red glow of a four and two zeroes lit up in the darkness. He groaned and reached out wildly for the receiver. His fingers clasped around the cool plastic and lifted it, bringing it to his ear under the pillow.
“Do you have any idea what time it is?” He growled.
“Sor--” screaming echoed suddenly in the background and cut out the woman’s voice. “Sorry sir.” She said again.
“What the hell is going on?” He demanded.
In a flustered voice, she tried to explain. “It’s the Patient Number 572... He woke up and he won’t stop screaming!”
“He bolted upright in his bed-- the pillow went flying. “He’s awake? Jason’s awake?! Try to sedate him until I get there.”
“We’ve tried sir! He’s thrashing around too much, needles would break off inside him.”
He kicked his feet over the edge of the bed and started rapidly dressing in the dark. “Hold on until I get there then. Just keep him from harming himself.” He slammed the receiver down and dashed to his closet, almost tripping on a stray shoe in the middle of the room.
* * *
The nurse from the phone met him in the entrance hall, taking his winter jacket off and helping him into a white medical coat.
“Thanks Nodiesha,” he said hurriedly. “He stopped screaming?”
“Nope-- he’s just screamed himself hoarse.” She told him just as urgently as she tossed his coat onto a hook and they ran off down the hall. They rounded a bend and found two burly male nurses standing panting outside a locked door.
“He’s like an animal!” One of them wheezed as they approached, nursing his side and a bruised eye.
The other one clutched painfully at his shin. “Thank God you’re here Doctor Chastfield!” He groaned. “He’s already broken Luke’s nose!”
Another male nurse came hurrying up from the opposite end of the corridor. The front of his white uniform was stained red with his blood and he clutched with one hand at the bandages he’d wrapped on his nose.
“All right,” Dr. Chastfield said. “I’ll go in alone and see if I can talk to him.”
Jason lay heaving on the ground. His heart racing in his chest. He wasn’t about to let them stick any fucking needles in him! He heard the hinges on the door creak and he started to lash his body about again. Since he’d managed to connect his foot with one of their noses, the men seemed to have stayed away. Maybe he could do it again. That’d show them.
But this time they weren’t coming near him. He heard the door clank shut again and stopped thrashing-- no point in wasting energy. He panted and gasped in the silence.
“Glad to see you’re awake Jason,” Someone said.
Jason froze. He knew that voice. It made his blood run cold. He’d killed that voice! Beaten it into the ground until nothing but a bloody pulp remained. “Get the fuck away from me you fucking bastard!” He snarled.
“Jason, that type of language is not polite.” The voice reprimanded.
Dr. Chastfield sighted. He moved around so he could see Jason’s face. “Jason do you remember me? I’m Doctor Chastfield,” he started adopting a sincere, somewhat patronizing voice-- one that a primary school teacher might use to address his students. “But we’re special friends so you get to call me Damien.”
“Don’t talk to me like I’m a fucking toddler. I know who the fuck you are. Now let me go!”
“Jason, where has this language come from? It’s not nice at all!” Damien crouched down to be more level with the boy. “Do you know where you are Jason?”
“No I don’t fu--” he stopped after a warning glance from the doctor. “No I don’t know where I am.”
“You’re still in Dramsby, remember? It’s an asylum for troubled individuals. Do you remember?”
Jason was starting to calm down now. This certainly didn’t seem like the Damien he knew and loathed. At least, he hadn’t tried to kill him yet. “What do you mean ‘still’?”
“Jason, you know this.” Damien insisted. “You’ve been here since the incident. Twelve years now.”
Panic started rising in his throat. Twelve years? He’d been in here twelve years? Where was Matt? Where was everyone else? Something wasn’t right. “Wh-where’s Matt?” The look of confusion on the doctors face caused his panic to double. “Where’s Matt?! Where is he? Where is MATTHEW?!” He shouted.
Damien stood up and backed off. “All right then Jason. Clam down. I can see you’re very confused. I’m going to go call your family and tell them you’re lucid again. Try to think and remember what’s going on, ok?” He slipped from the padded room and locked the door behind him. “Once he calms down enough, you can take the straightjacket off and put him in one of the observation rooms. Tell him he can only see his family if he cooperates,” he instructed the nurse.
* * *
Elizabeth Parker switched on her bedside lamp and picked up the ringing phone. “Hello? Dr. Chastfield? He’s awake? Thank you! We’ll be right there!” She hung up in excitement and shook her husband’s side vigorously. “Jason’s awake and lucid,” she said and they both shot out of bed, dressing hurriedly.
The metal doors of the entrance hall clanked open again, letting in a gust of swirling snow and predawn light. Mr. and Mrs. Parker shucked their coats into the waiting hands of Nodiesha, before she led them briskly down one of the endless white corridors. She ushered them into a small room with a long mirror running across one wall and closed the door.
“We moved him in here once he was calm enough,” she explained.
Elizabeth pressed her hand against the one-way mirror, looking at her son. He sat on a chair in the middle of the room by a table. His knees were drawn up to his chest and his arms wrapped across his shins. “Can we speak to him?”
Nodiesha shook her head. “Dr. Chastfield wants to speak to him first and find out what he remembers-- he was very confused when he woke up.”
“Jason...” Elizabeth whispered, her breath fogging the glass slightly.
Jason looked up from pressing his knees into his eyes sockets as the door groaned open. It seemed to him like all the hinges in this place were due for a good greasing. The doctor entered with a manila file. He slid his chair across the faux-tile floor and took a seat at the polished chrome table. He unfolded the manila file in front of him and slipped on a pair of reading glasses before briefly reviewing Jason’s details. Without saying a word to the boy, he withdrew a ballpoint pen from his breast pocket and clicked the point out. He looked up at Jason--still sitting, knees drawn-up in a ball.
Finally he spoke. “Well Jason, now that you’ve had time to calm down and contemplate your situation, do you feel you’re ready to talk now?”
Jason nodded, his chin grinding against his knee-caps.
Damien smiled encouragingly. “Well then, why don’t we start with the last thing you can remember?”
“I was falling.”
“Falling?” the doctor inquired.
“Yeah.” Jason moved his hands down to clasp his chilled feet. His chin stayed firmly pressed to his knees, causing his head to bob with every word. “I was falling from Heaven.”
Damien stopped writing and looked up at him. “Heaven?” There was a condescending tone to the word. Jason glared at him until he sighed and started writing again. “So you’re an angel?”
“Yes-- I mean no. Well kind of.”
Damien stopped writing again and looked up.
Jason furrowed his brow. “I was an angel, but I wasn’t me. But I was... if you see?”
“No Jason, I’m afraid I don’t.”
“I was Azreal-- or he was me. I’m not sure which.”
Dr. Chastfield kept writing, but asked, “Azreal-- the Islamic Angel of Death?”
Jason shook his head and sat up straighter in his chair. He slid his legs down to rest of the cool floor. “No. He--I--was just Azreal Not from any specific religion.”
“So you were an angel in Heaven. OK... What were you doing there?”
“He opened Heaven to the dead--”
“The dead?” Damien interrupted him.
“Yeah, they didn’t used to go to Heaven.”
Dr. Chastfield slipped off his glasses. He sighed heavily. “All right Jason. Why don’t you tell me about your dream afterwards. Can you try and answer my original question?”
“Fuck you!” Jason snapped. “You asked me the last thing I remembered, so now when I tell you, you listen, ok?”
“Jason,” Damien warned. “Don’t get excited again or we’ll have to cut this short.”
“So then listen to me and I won’t have to.” The boy retorted. He gripped the bottom of his chair with his fingers and heaved a sigh. “Should I just start from the beginning?”
“When’s that? From when you were twelve?”
“Why twelve? I just meant since things started happening...”
“Because you were twelve when you were brought in here.”
Jason shook his head vigorously. “I’m telling you, that’s not right. I must have been brought here after I fell-- someone found me and--”
Dr. Chastfield pulled out a sheet from his file and slid it across the table. Jason’s hand slammed down to catch it under his palm. He rotated it so he could read the writing. As well as general information about his height, weight, and health, it had a field labeled ‘Age at which admitted.’ A number had been clearly written in. ‘12’. Clipped to the paper was a Polaroid. He pulled it off-- it was a photo of him as a twelve year old, intravenous tubes running into his arms and a breathing tube in his nose.
His hand started shaking, jittering the photograph until it was just a blur. He cast it frantically away from him. “No. No. Nonono... It’s not true!” His hand shot to the side of his head and he pressed his knuckles into his temple. He started dragging his hand backwards over his ear, pulling his eye tight and pressing down his hair. “No!” he muttered repeatedly. “It’s not REAL!” He stood up, pushing the chair back with his legs.
“Jason, calm down. If you just try to remember--”
“NO!” Jason shouted at him. His hand was still repeating the process on his temple Push and drag-- again and again. He started shaking his head violently from side to side. “No it’s not real-- it’s a lie!” He backed up against the wall. “This is just a trick!” He looked up at the ceiling above him and started shouting again. “Matt! Matt where are you? I need you! MATT!” His legs collapsed from under him and he slid down the wall, still calling Matt’s name over and over. His body went into sudden spasms and his head lolled sideways, jerking with convulsions.
Damien knocked his chair over as he slid around the table and ran to Jason’s side while Nodiesha and a male orderly came rushing in through the door.
* * *
Jason was vaguely aware of lying on something soft. White light flooded in from everywhere and figures moved around him in shadowy blurs. A scent of lilies and jasmine filled the air and he smiled as his eyes closed again. His lips parted to mumble sleepily, “Mmmmatt.”
When he opened his eyes, a white tiled ceiling faced down on him. A soft scent of lilies and jasmine still lingered in the air.
“Good afternoon, Jason.” Damien said from outside his vision. Jason groaned.
“Go away. You’re meant to be dead.”
“Am I now?” Dr. Chastfield said quizzically.
Jason turned his head on the pillow to look at the doctor. An air freshener rested on the small table between them.
“You know, your family is really worried about you.”
“Can I see them?” the boy asked hopefully.
“Do you think that’s a good idea right now?”
A long silence passed between them. Then he spoke again. “I’ll have Nodiesha come by later and take you to your new room. Can I trust you to stay here and behave until then?”
Jason looked to the TV in the corner of the room. “Do you have cable?”
* * *
It wasn’t until the following morning that Dr. Chastfield came to see him again. Jason was sitting in his room in a padded chair staring out of the window-- the glass separated from him by a screen of mesh metal. Damien entered and took a seat in the corner, his manila file spread across his lap.
“How are you today Jason?”
“I’m fine. When can I leave?”
Damien sighed. “As soon as I’m certain you don’t pose a risk to yourself-- or anyone else.”
Jason stared hard at him.
Eventually Damien started again, “Why don’t you tell me everything you remember since you were say... eleven?”
“Are you actually going to listen this time?”
Damien nodded. “I’ll just listen to your account.”
And so Jason started to tell him. It was everything you might expect in a child’s life. Jason stopped recounting briefly to say, “You see? Nothing happened when I was a kid. That’s why none of this makes sense. You’re wrong about me. I haven’t been here since I was twelve. Maybe they put me in here after I fell... Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself.”
Damien meanwhile scribbled something down in his file and underlined it twice.
Jason sighed heavily. “Look, is there any point to this? I mean, the weird stuff only started to happen when I was in college.”
“Yeah college. Why are you surprised? Of course I went to college.”
“All right,” Damien tried to pacify him. “What weird things?”
“Well people started trying to kill me for one.”
“Before we move on to that can I just ask...” he left the question unfinished, hanging in the air. He took Jason’s silence as consent. “I notice you haven’t mentioned your brother at all.”
“Well I would have if I had one,” Jason replied scathingly.
Damien frowned. He made a pretense of looking at his wristwatch. “We’re going to have to leave it there for today I’m afraid.” He stood and moved to the door.
“I’m not crazy.” Jason said suddenly. “I don’t belong here.”
Dr. Chastfield looked back at him. “No-one ever thinks they’re crazy, Jason.” And then he slipped out the door.
Dr. Chastfield entered his office and apologized to Mr. and Mrs. Parker for being late. He took up his seat behind the oak desk and opened Jason’s file on the table before him.
“When can we take him home?” Elizabeth burst out.
Damien frowned slightly. “I’m afraid it’s not that simple.” He turned a few pages of notes in the file and then looked back up. “I’ve been speaking with him and there seems to have been a certain amount of psychological damage.” He hurried on at their concerned looks. “Jason has no recollection of the incident-- nor in fact of his brother. My guess is it’s some kind of defense mechanism for dealing with the trauma. He’s simply erased his own brother from his memory. The interesting thing though, is that he seems to have fabricated an entire world around him-- completely unaware that he’s been isolated in here.”
“What does that mean? Can we make him remember?” Mr. Parker asked worriedly.
“Would you want to? Think about what he saw. Would you want him to remember that?”
“But we want to be able to take him home!” Mr. Parker interjected. “Can’t we do anything to help him?”
Damien tapped his pen on the desk. “I want to talk to him more about what he thinks has been happening. Maybe that way I can gleam what his subconscious has been doing. It may take some time though.”
“How long are we talking about?” inquired Mr. Parker.
“That depends entirely on Jason.” Dr. Chastfield spread his hands for emphasis.
Elizabeth opened her mouth tentatively and asked, as if it were too much to hope for, “Can we see him?”
“Just for a few minutes. I’ll have Nodiesha take you down now.”
* * *
There was a quiet knock at his door, but Jason ignored it. Just another nurse or maybe Damien back for another session. The hinges groaned slightly-- god, why did no one grease the damn things!--as the door opened.
“Jason?” someone called tentatively.
He turned his head slowly in stunned recognition. His eyes started to fill with liquid. “M-m-mommy?” Without a moment’s more hesitation, he was springing to his feet and running to her, hugging her tightly and sobbing into her shoulder. She stiffened at first under his sudden embrace, but then relaxed and allowed her arms to move up and circle her son.
After a moment, Jason withdrew his face from her shoulder. “Mom, you have to tell them they’ve made a mistake. They’re saying I’ve been in here for six years-- but I haven’t. You know that! We just had Christmas together-- and Matt gave you that fountain and... and...”
Elizabeth’s upper lip started to tremble slightly. “Jason-- I...” she shook her head suddenly, as if clearing it and then her face hardened again. “Jase baby, we’re going to get you out of here as soon as we can, ok? Just cooperate with the doctor and we’ll all be home again in no time.”
Jason looked at her. Bemusement flashing across his face. “Mom, what’s going on? Where’s Matt? I want to see him... and Sara too.”
The nurse, Nodiesha, put her hand authoritatively on his forearm and sternly pulled his hand off his mother. “All right Jason, that’s enough. It’s time for them to leave.”
The boy looked desperately to his dad. “Dad, TELL THEM! You know I don’t belong here!”
His father looked sullen. “It’s ok Jase. We’ll come visit you again soon.”
Jason started to struggle against Nodiesha. “NO! Don’t let them do this! I want to go home now-- I want to see Matt!” He tried to wrench his hand free and grasp again towards his parents.
Nodiesha blocked his arm with her body and called over her shoulder, “CHRIS, I need you in here!” No sooner had the words left her mouth than a burly orderly marched into the room and moved himself between Jason and his parents. Nodiesha ushered them quickly out as Chris blocked Jason’s frantic arms. Chris slowly started backing out, and as soon as he got to the door, it slammed shut. Jason sank to the floor, curling his legs up into a ball and clutching his shins. He wept bitterly into the hollow between his knees.
* * *
“So he swerved to hit you, and then someone just grabbed you and lifted you to safety?” Dr. Chastfield asked, looking up from his notes. It was two days after Jason had seen his parents, and Damien had decided Jason had calmed down enough to have a level discussion again. This time he was being much more attentive to what Jason said-- every detail seemed to enter into his notes, and he never argued with what Jason said. Just asked the occasional question for clarification. “Who was it?”
“I didn’t know at the time. I only found out later. But I got pretty banged up anyway.”
“My leg got a nasty bruise on my thigh, and my hand swole-- swelled?-- up pretty badly.”
“Did they leave any scars or marks?” The doctor asked curiously.
“N-no. They... they healed up over night.”
“Oh. I see. Carry on.”
“Well,” Jason began again, “then I went back to the apartment I share with Drew and Jeff.”
“Sorry,” Damien apologized again for interrupting. “How long have you known them for?”
“Just since the beginning of the school year.”
“And you all had-- sorry, have an apartment? The college doesn't have a policy on freshmen spending the first year in a dorm?”
Jason shifted uncomfortably. “Uh... no. They didn't.” There was a long pause before he carried on once more. “The next day was when things really kicked off. After they’d left for the day, I started getting e-mails from this guy to leave the house. I didn’t take any notice of it, I thought it was just a prank. But then he kept sending them and eventually asked me to turn on the TV-- so I did. It showed me through my window, and then changed to under my bed. So I looked there too and there was a block of explosives underneath it. Of course, I didn’t need telling anymore. I just ran. I was about halfway across the lawn when the house blew up and sent me flying the rest of the way to the street. Next thing I know, this Lotus Elise pulls up and this guy is yelling for me to get in. Now, I’m not about to do anything of the sort-- how do I know he didn't blow up my house himself?--and then he just reaches out and bodily hauls me into it.”
“In a Lotus Elise.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said.”
“Jason have you ever been in a Lotus Elise?”
“Didn’t I just say he dragged me into it?” Jason snapped indignantly.
Damien raised an eyebrow. “ The design of that car alone would prevent someone being able to reach that far-- not to mention the strength this person must have had to lift you with one arm and--”
Jason’s eyes narrowed. “Look, normal rules don’t apply to Matt. He can do things normal people can’t--”
“Ah, so this is the Matt fellow you keep asking about.”
Jason fell silent.
Dr. Chastfield waited a few moments before, “Do carry on.”
“Jason...” he warned.
“No.” The boy snapped. “Fuck. You. Don’t play that shit with me. You know perfectly well who Matt is. I know he’s been here. He would never just abandon me in here.”
Damien sighed and flipped closed his file. “...And we were doing so well.”
“Don’t be an asshole about this...”
“I have other patients I have to see besides you, Jason,” the doctor said as he rose from his seat, tucking his pen back into his breast pocket. “You can’t have all my time. I’m calling it a day. We’ll pick up where we left off tomorrow.”
“Wait!” Jason called out as Damien reached the door.
The doctor paused and looked over his shoulder.
The boy looked at him from the padded chair by the window. “Do you think I could have a new book to read? I finished the last one this morning...”
“You know, you could always leave your room and go spend time with some of the other patients in the common areas.”
Jason shifted awkwardly. “They frighten me. I’m not crazy like them...”
“You’d be surprised how many of them say that.” Then Damien sighed slightly. “I’ll ask Nodiesha to come by with the book cart later today. You can choose something new to read.”
“Thanks.” Jason said quietly.
“You’re welcome Jason.”
After the doctor left, Jason sat in silence for a few minutes. It bothered him when Damien questioned his story-- not because it meant he didn't believe him, but because it made Jason wonder. He was becoming less and less sure if what he was saying was right. Some things just seemed... unlikely. Never mind though. A lot of what had happened would seem unlikely to anyone else. But they had happened to him, he reminded himself. It was real. He stood and moved to inspect the screen protecting the glass from him, until Nodiesha arrived.
* * *
“And that’s when I first encountered Damien-- the other one.” Jason finished.
Dr. Chastfield was looking at him oddly. “So you say he looks, and sounds exactly like myself?”
“Yeah. That’s why... that’s why I reacted so violently to you at first... I thought you were him again.”
“But you also said I was meant to be dead.” Damien paused, his pen hovering above the paper.
”Well yeah... but that happened later. Much later.”
“And Matthew and this other Damien seemed to have a past?”
Jason nodded. “Yeah. But I also didn’t find out about all that until later.”
“So what happened after that?”
Jason took a moment to gather his thoughts. “Well, once we were in the car, he-- Matt-- did that bloody hand thing again, so I don’t know where we went. The next thing I remember, we were pulling up in front of this motel.”
“So you were just trusting this guy the whole time?”
“Well, I didn’t really have much of a choice. I mean, I spent about half my time at the safe house trying to find a way out, and then I was unconscious for the rest of the time. But that wasn’t really an issue. I can’t explain it. Matt just... he just makes people feel safe around him.”
“I’m wondering,” the doctor mused, “what he put on his hand... maybe some kind of nerve gas to knock people out.”
Jason shook his head. “No, it wasn’t that at all. It was just something he did.”
“There are chemicals that can do what you described in the right combinations. You said yourself that you never noticed his hand until it was too late. He could easily have concealed something in his pocket to put on his palm...” his sentence wound to a halt at the look on Jason’s face.
“No, believe me, it wasn’t that. I haven’t explained what he was yet, so of course you’d say that.”
“Well then, do carry on.”
Their sessions carried on like this for a good while, Jason explaining what he remembered. It was at some point in the second week of sessions, that Dr. Chastfield paused the conversation. Jason had just been telling him about his time spent at Matt’s sanctuary.
“Jason, I don’t mean this to be an awkward question, although I’m sure it may seem like it... But I am curious... in your descriptions of Matt-- the way you talk about him, things that happened...”
Jason fidgeted in his seat.
“Are you gay?”
“Does it matter?” the boy chewed his lip.
“Not at all, I was just curious.”
“Then yes. I am. I suppose you’ll want to treat me for that too?”
The doctor looked appalled. “Of course not. I’ve never believed that homosexuality was a treatable condition-- or in fact, that it was even a ‘condition’. I just think it’s interesting that someone who’s been in here without...” he caught himself, but too late.
Jason was glowering at him. “You don’t believe any of this, do you? I can’t believe this!”
“Jason, try to look at this from my prospective, ok?” Damien suggested. “I mean, from what I believe to be true, you’ve been in here for six years and a lot of what you’re telling me would be hard to believe even if you hadn’t.”
“How can I look at it from your prospective, when I KNOW it’s wrong. I’ve experienced all of this, I have vivid memories of it all. Do you think I could make this all up on the spot?”
“I’m sorry Jason, but you have to understand that in my profession, I deal with a lot of people-- more than a few have invented tales for me.”
“Well I’m not.”
Dr. Chastfield’s pager started suddenly vibrating and beeping. He looked at it and then closed his file quickly before leaping out of his seat. “Jason, I have to go. We’ll continue later.” And then he ran out of the door, leaving it partially open.
Jason stretched out his legs and padded to the door, peeping out. A group of orderlies rushed past his door, headed off up the hall. He looked the way they had come, and a number of other patients were also peering out of their doors after the commotion. A few had stepped into the hall to get a better view.
Jason pulled his head back inside. He stared at the door for a while, before closing it firmly. Then he reached for the handle and pulled it open. It wasn’t even locked! He stepped tentatively out of his room into the long white hall. He’s assumed that since he was in a mental institute, they would lock the doors on the patients. Clearly not.
He started when he noticed someone else leaning against the wall near his door.
“So you’re the new guy Dr. Chastfield is spending so much time with, huh?”
Jason stepped backwards towards his door, reading to dash inside again.
“Hey, kid, I’m not gonna hurt you.” He extended his hand. “I’m Jamie.”
Jason looked at the white tag bracelet on the boys wrist. Cautiously, he took the boy’s hand and shook it. “I’m Jason.”
“You scream pretty loudly, Jason.”
Jamie chuckled. “The night before they moved you down here. You woke up most of the ward with your screams.”
Jason blushed. “Sorry. I just wasn't expecting to wake up in a padded cell in a straight jacket with someone trying to stick a needle into my neck.”
“Yeah, I see how that could be weird.”
Jason kept eyeing the bracelet on Jamie’s wrist. He absently clutched his own bare one.
Jamie caught his glances. “It’s so they know what medication to give me. You don’t have one though. Guess that means they don’t think you need pills-- that or you’re too far gone for medication to help.”
Jason blinked. Then smiled. “Oh. Haha. A joke. I get those...”
Jamie laughed at him. “Cute.” He looked back down the hall. “You wanna go hang out in the common room? Everyone wants to meet you.”
“Uh...” Jason stammered. “It’s ok, I think I’m gonna go lie down for a while, if it’s ok with you?”
“Oh sure!” Jamie said, still grinning although his eyes showed that he was a bit disappointed. “Don’t be a stranger though.”
* * *
Damien took his seat and took out his pen, before unfolding his folder, in what was becoming an increasingly predictable routine for Jason. “So...” the doctor started.
“How come you don’t lock the doors?” Jason asked abruptly.
“Our doors. You don’t lock them... But we’re in a mental institute.”
Damien smiled. “Well, we lock the doors at night; we don’t want patients wandering around in the dark. But during the day, we let the patients mingle. That way they don’t become reclusive and recede into themselves. It’s perfectly safe, I assure you. This is the wing for cases deemed not to be a threat.”
“Oh,” was all Jason said for a while. Then, “And how come I’m not on medication?”
“Do you want to be? It can be arranged...”
“What?” Jason asked.
“You’ve been out of your room.”
“So? You said I could.”
Damien nodded. “Meet anyone interesting?”
Jason shrugged. “This boy called Jamie.”
“Ah. Yeah, he’s quite popular in here. You might try getting to know some of the others, he’s a good place to start.”
“What’s he in for?”
Damien tapped the name tag on his chest. “Sorry, Doctor-Patient confidentiality. Why don’t you ask him yourself?”
“Sure.” Jason looked back out of the window.
A long pause passed between them before the doctor spoke again. “Why don’t we cancel our session today. You can go meet some of the other patients, explore the common room. We can have our session tomorrow.”
Jason shrugged. “Sure.”
As soon as Damien returned to his office, he picked up his phone and called the Parkers to arrange a time to talk. They happened to be free so they came as soon as he called. When they arrived, they found the doctor in a state of fevered excitement.
“What’s going on?” Elizabeth inquired. “Is he recovering?”
Damien looked at her and confusion washed briefly over his face followed quickly by recognition. “Oh, no. No, his state hasn’t changed at all.” He cleared his throat, took his seat behind his desk and shuffled around under the many papers until he found Jason’s folder. “As I told you before, he’s created an entire world around himself to replace a world here he feels disjointed and traumatized by. But what’s interesting is the similarities between his dream world and the real world. His subconscious seems to have taken me to be responsible for his presence here and manifested me as a malignant force in his dream-world. But he’s actually managed to keep an accurate sense of time with his other life. According to him, he just had Christmas of his first year at college-- exactly where he would be had the incident never happened.”
“So you’re saying he’s insane?” Mr. Parker asked, concern heavy in his tone.
Dr. Chastfield shook his head, “insanity isn’t curable. Jason can be brought back into this world and rejoin society, I’m sure of it. It’s just a question of time and finding out exactly what made him wake up.”
Elizabeth meanwhile, had taken interest in the papers strewn across his desk. She read the title of one to herself, ‘Nature or Nurture?’
Damien caught her glance. “There was something else though,” and the excitement came back into his tone. “This is amazing really-- it’s proof that it’s not nurture-- I mean, no one has ever been able to say for sure before. Because no one could ever create a test case. It would have been a breach of human rights to keep someone like that and it would have taken too long to bear results-- just too impractical that...” His words dwindled to a stop at the looks of confusion on the Parkers’ faces. He took a breath and then explained. “He’s gay. Your son is gay.”
“Pardon?” Mr. Parker asked in surprise. Mrs. Parker was looking equally startled.
“He told me in one of our sessions that he was a homosexual. Now, I know you both to be very accepting of this sort of thing. Your own company, Mrs. Parker, has given large grants to AIDS organizations and gay support groups.”
Elizabeth nodded. “I know, I just wish he weren't-- because he already has enough to deal with as it is, and this is only going to make life harder for him.”
“What were you saying before about proof?” Mr. Parker inquired. “Proof of what?”
Dr. Chastfield looked at them both excitedly. “Don’t you see? He’s been in a coma since he was twelve-- before the average male reaches a state of sexual activity. And yet he’s decided, on his own through this dream-world of his, that he is gay. This is evidence that homosexuality is not something that can be taught or inspired in someone. It’s proof that it’s either something biological or pathological-- and not something you can be cured of.” He hefted a stack of papers on his desk and waved them at the boy’s parents. “I’ve been reading everything I could find on the subject, and this is the first recorded instance of something like this happening.”
Mrs. Parker looked at him. “But he’s only one. No-one will accept it as a fact unless you can prove this isn't an isolated incident. And critics will argue that he could have been ‘made gay’ before he was committed here.”
Damien nodded. “I know, I know. But this will give hope to the entire gay culture. And there may always be other cases discovered in the future. If we can--”
Mr. Parker interrupted him. “Look, I can’t speak for my wife, but I don't give a damn if he’s gay or what that means to the field of science. I just want my son back home with his family.” He looked to his wife and she nodded her agreement. “You can publish this discovery--do whatever you want with it-- but only once Jason is out of here and home with us. Do everything you can to help him.”
Damien looked slightly miffed at this, but eventually nodded as Mister and Missus. rose from their chairs, and after bidding him goodbye, they left. He sat down again in his seat and looked at the papers one last time before sighing and pushing the stack of reading to the side. He pulled forwards Jason’s file and looked over what they’d been through in their sessions.
The common room was busy with patients when he entered. No one noticed his presence at first. Most were standing with their faces pressed to the tall windows looking out at the blizzard that was developing outside. A brown haired, mousey-looking boy saw him by the door and quickly poked the boy next to him. Jamie turned to him, and as he turned, spotted Jason standing alone. He vaulted over a sofa and dashed to Jason’s side.
He gave a mock bow of politeness and extended his arm to sweep across the room. “Welcome, oh Jason of many mysteries, to the Dramsby First Floor Common-room, Home to the most excitement you’re likely to find in here.” He made a show of tipping a non-existent hat and Jason laughed. “Quick,” Jamie said, grabbing his hand, “Let’s grab a sofa by the fire before people stop watching the snow.”
Jason noticed for the first time a large fire and chimney on one wall of the room. It was surrounded by a wire mesh fence that kept the patients several feet from the flames, but still allowed the heat to reach anyone sitting on the other side.
Jamie grinned at him. He seemed so young for his size. He was definitely taller than Jason, but he seemed considerably less mature.
“So what made you come out?” the boy asked him.
“What?” Jason was surprised... he didn’t think Dr. Chastfield would have told other patients... surely that would be a breach in doctor-patient confidentiality?
“Of your room, I mean.” Jamie grinned. His eyes held a sort of childish innocence.
Jason shrugged. “Dr. Chastfield canceled our session and said I should socialize before I become a recluse. And my room was getting boring.”
“What are you in for?”
It was the mousey boy who had followed them over.
“Uhh...” Jason struggled to think. “I don’t really know. I only woke up the day before they moved me down here.”
“But you must remember what you got committed for?” The kid had a very high-pitched voice and he held himself very timidly, increasing the mouse image.
Jason shrugged. “I don’t know anymore... Dr. Chastfield says that what I remember wasn’t real.”
“Oh. Ok.” Then something by the window caught his eye and he ran over to a press his face against the glass with the other patients.
Jamie pulled his legs up onto the sofa. He saw that Jason’s eyes were still on the boy and spoke, “He came in here after he was in an accident. He suffered Third Degree burns on sixty percent of his body when he was ten, and his body and mental state never really matured after that.”
Jason blushed that his curiosity had been that easy to see. But it explained why the boy held himself so fragilely. He looked at Jamie, who smiled.
“I’m in here because I’m gay.” He said it so jauntily that took a moment to register what he’d said.
“Wait, that’s not right! You can’t be kept in an asylum just because of your sexuality-- it’s against human rights!”
Jamie nodded. “Oh, I’m not forced to stay.”
Jason furrowed his brow. “So why are you here?”
“Well, after my dad walked in on me going down on the captain of the soccer team in my room, he kicked him out and beat me within an inch of my life.” He said it so casually it shocked him. “The doctors were worried I’d got some minor brain damage? So the hospital sent me here to be observed for a few weeks. But social services wouldn’t let me go home to my parents, and I didn’t really want to go to a foster home-- so Dr. Chastfield said I could stay as long as I wanted. I’m not complaining. It’s warm, and we get free food and it’s not like I’d have anywhere else to go.”
Jason felt instantly sorry for him. He wished Jamie had had parents like his-- they were so accepting of him when he told them. Then a thought struck him. It was like a cold claw gripping his gut. What if Damien was telling the truth? What if he’d been in Dramsby since he was twelve? Were his parents even the same?
Jason spent the rest of the day speaking with Jamie and meeting the rest of the patients in the ward-- at least, those that weren’t too shy to say hello-- but the seed of worry in his stomach had been planted, and it quickly grew. He lay in his white bed that night, looking up at the white ceiling as the white snow fell outside his window. What was he to believe? Did any of it really matter anymore?
* * *
“So they were all angels?” Damien asked. He was slightly amazed. The boy was either completely and utterly insane, but able to create stories on the spot, or he had one of the most detailed imaginations he’d ever seen. The attention Jason gave to detail in recounting his story for the doctor was, for lack of better word, incredible.
And Jason had spared no detail. From the cravings on the walls, to the very blemish-less features of the council of Elders, to the sensation of the lightning bolt that struck his head.
Jason nodded in answer to his question.
“What about God?”
“That was something that bothered me for a long time and was only explained near Christmas.”
Dr. Chastfield made a ‘huh’ sound and started to write something. As he did, he glanced up over the rim of his glasses and then back at his file. “Nodiesha tells me you spent your day in the common room yesterday. Did you have a good time?”
Jason grunted something noncommittal.
“Did Jamie introduce you to the other patients?”
“Jason?” Damien looked up over his glasses.
Jason sat slumped in his seat.
A rivulet of blood trickled from the boy’s nose and down over the ridges of his lips. It pattered softly as the blood spattered onto this white shirt, staining it a rich crimson that quickly spread. He slumped sideways off of the chair into a twitching pile on the floor.
Damien jumped to his feet and threw open the door, punching the red emergency bell on the wall, before rushing back to Jason.
Nodiesha arrived moments later with two orderlies and a gurney between them. She found Dr. Chastfield struggling to hold the boy’s head and chest still as he went into convulsions. Blood poured from his nose, staining his shirt, neck and the doctor’s hands.
“What happened?” She asked as she grabbed her flashlight and pried one of Jason’s eyes open. She flicked the light across the glistening orb but there was no change. His pupils were already fully expanded to the size of pennies. She checked his pulse-- it was racing.
“We need to get him on the gurney and to the emergency ward NOW.” Damien ordered.
Jason couldn’t tell what was going on anymore. There was a dull ache deep in his left arm, and he was for some reason on the floor looking at the white ceiling. There were voices all around him, some calling his name, others saying things he couldn’t quite catch. Nodiesha’s face swam into view and she shone a bright light in his face, passing it over his eyes. When she moved the light away, a man frowned and shook his head. The ceiling was a pale greenish color and machines beeped all around him with dull regularity. Then the beeping started to become irregular. They began to beep frantically, and the man’s face appeared over him again.
“What’s happening?” Someone asked.
Jason felt his heart skip a beat.
Was that Matt?
“The adrenaline is spiking his system.” It was a doctor, but it wasn’t Chastfield.
His lips moved as he tried to call out his angel’s name.
“Jason?” It was a gray haired doctor over him. “Jason come back to us now.” And then, “We’re losing him again. Get the paddles ready in case he goes into arrest.”
Damien waited anxiously outside of the asylum ER. The doctor pushed through the swinging doors, pulling her gloves and face mask off.
“Is he stable? What happened to him?” He asked in a rush.
She nodded, the brown bob atop her head jiggling like some sort of plant. “He’s fine. But I haven’t a clue what happened. We didn’t even have time to get an IV in before his vitals stabilized.” She tossed the gloves and mask in a garbage bin. “I can’t even explain what happened. I’m sorry, but he’s physically healthy from what we can tell.”
* * *
As Dr. Chastfield eased open the door, Jason caught a glimpse of Jamie anxiously looking in. Jason fiddled with the white bracelet tag on his wrist. Damien noticed.
“Sorry, we had to put one on you to keep track of what medications you’re on.”
Jason uttered a simple “Ah.” What more could he say?
“Do you remember what happened?”
Jason shook his head gently, but said, “something about pumping me with adrenaline and then I passed out again I guess.”
A twitch of confusion crossed the doctor’s face. “Do you feel up for a session today?” he asked.
Jason stared at him. “What’s the hurry?”
“No hurry--” Damien said quickly. Too quickly. “But don’t you we’re moving rather slowly?”
Blink. “Too slowly for what?”
“Well... we want to get you home, don’t we.” It wasn’t a question.
* * *
Jason paused in telling Jamie his story and the boy piped up, “You really believe it all, don’t you?”
It was two weeks on from Jason’s collapse and the two had become fast friends. There was just a connection between the two that drew them together.
Jason arched an eyebrow at him. “I don’t just believe it all,” he said testily. “It happened. I know it. That’s why this place is wrong. I know that I can’t have been in here since I was twelve. They must have found me after I fell and brought me here and then some mistake was made.”
Jamie considered pointing out that Jason’s own parents had come to see him at the asylum and hadn’t tried to get him released. Maybe Jason really was crazy. He kept those thoughts to himself though. Instead, he asked, “Well what does it mean if your world is real?”
Jamie crossed his arms over his chest and nestled back into the sofa. “Well, most of what you’ve been telling me about would be impossible in the world I know. So what if there are two different worlds? Or even, if this one is a dream world?”
Jason stared at him, thoughts churning round in his head like a cuisinart. “Like if I... If I were unconscious now-- like in a coma or something-- in the other world, and all this was fake?”
Jamie shrugged. “That would mean I’d have to be fake. And I feel pretty real to me.”
Jason nodded slowly. “But the question is-- actually, there are a few questions. How do I know that my unconscious isn’t just making you, but also making you tell me that you think you’re real? And then, even if you do have your own sense of ‘self’ who’s to say my subconscious couldn’t simply make characters who felt conscious for me to interact with? Because really, that’s what we’re talking about. Either here, or there is real and whichever one isn’t, is created by my mind. But I know that the people there are just as real as they are here. They love and they hurt and they... they LIVE just like everyone here does. And whichever place is fake is just as real as the real one because my mind is telling me it is, so there’s no way that I’d be able to tell which was the fraud. Or to add a further complication but to take a rather solipsistic view, what if all that exists is me? What if neither world is real and my brain were in a vat being stimulated to create certain experiences and--”
Jamie wrinkled his nose. “My head hurts. Let’s talk slash do something else.”
* * *
By now, Jason’s sessions with Dr. Chastfield had reached his return home, the confrontation between Matthew and his mother, and his flight from his home to Tristfall gorge. Damien’s list of names and places was steadily growing and he felt it was time again to have a discussion with the Parkers. Perhaps they could shed some light on the import of the references Jason had given. Only this time, it would have to be all of the Parkers. The sister too.
After finishing his rounds of the ward, he returned to his office to welcome them in. Sara was dressed casually, but the manner with which she held herself gave away her military profession.
They struggled for a moment to find room in his office. It was becoming increasingly filled with texts and research papers. Jason’s case was consuming more of his time now than the rest of the entire ward together. He flipped open Jason’s file-- now bulging with papers-- and took out his list. “I’m having some trouble with Jason,” he started. “He seems utterly convinced of the existence of his ‘dream world’-- and to be honest, I can see why. Jason has created an entire world to replace this one, complete with characters and places. What I need to know, is how much of it mirrors this world, how many of these things bear resemblance to real-life people or places that he may have encountered in his childhood prior to the incident.” He handed the trio the list and they looked it over quietly.
Elizabeth tapped her finger on a name a few from the top. “Tom Wolf. He’s my brother, Jason’s uncle. He’s a university professor up-state.”
Mr. Parker also recognized a name on the list. “Fiona Sutherland,” he said. “She lives down the road from us still... they... they grew up together and were close friends when he was younger.”
Damien hurriedly wrote these things down, noticing how they correlated with Jason’s story. Clearly he was drawing on memories of his childhood to enrich his world.
Sara was sitting rather stiffly, looking at the list of names.
“Miss Parker?” Damien inquired.
She hissed through her teeth. “Where did you get these names from?”
Dr. Chastfield blinked in bewilderment. “From Jason of course. He’s been telling me all about this world he claims to have been in. Do you recognize anything on the list?”
He waited, pen poised over his paper.
She closed her eyes as if reliving a painful memory, and started. “When Jason was little, he had an imaginary friend named Matt. It was when Jase was going through his feather obsession, so Matt had wings... I remember him telling myself and Marcus about him once. He wasn’t another boy though, he was a full-grown man with wings. It freaked us out a bit at the time and... and we made him promise he wouldn’t tell mom and dad about Matt.” Her parents looked at her, slightly shocked, but she ignored them and slid her finger further down the page. “This sanctuary place... I.. I took a trip a few years back with my boyfriend to camp in this place called Sanctuary Woods. We camped there overnight...” She paused again. “Jason was fifteen then, and when I visited him here afterwards, I told him all about it and the redwood trees we saw.” She went silent again.
Her finger was on the last name on the list. A place. Tristfall Gorge.
“What did he say about the gorge?”
Damien shook his head. “He didn’t. He just mentioned that he left his house to visit the gorge, apparently. But that was where we left off in our last session.”
She frowned and shook her head. “Jason shouldn’t know about that place.” Her voice started to tremble. “It was where me and Marcus would go sometimes to meet friends, or just be alone. But... we never told Jase about it incase he tried to follow us...” She looked up at the ceiling. “Ironic, isn't it. We didn’t want him with us back then, and now all we want is to get him back...” She dropped her eyes again. “I planted a rose bush there where Marcus used to go to sit and relax before...” she trailed off, and then hardened her expression. “I know I never told Jase about that place though.”
* * *
Dr. Chastfield was eager to resume Jason's story in their session the next day, although Jason was somewhat less enthusiastic. Incessant noises-- the creak of the closed door opening, the gentle hum of machines, the rhythmic compression and release of a pair of billows-- had resulted in a sleepless night for Jason. He had dark shadows under his eyes and sat lethargically in the chair by the window.
Damien was too eager to carry on to take more than superficial notice of his condition. But after an hour, Jason's words started to lag. He looked drowsy and began losing patience with the doctor.
Damien sighed in exasperation. He desperately wanted to carry on-- to reach the end of Jason's saga so he could know why Jason had woken up, so he could know what it was in his dream world that had triggered his return to reality. But Jason was clearly exhausted. He replaced the cap on his pen, signaling the end of the session and closed his folder. He'd have to get a new one soon. It was starting to be difficult to hold everything inside.
Jason grunted his thanks as the doctor rose to leave, and crawled back onto his own bed, face down in the pillow.
As soon as the door closed, Jason sprang to his feet. He used the edge of his bed sheet to wipe the dust and grime he'd swiped off the ledge above the door and rubbed under his eyes. He peeked out the window in the door quickly to make sure the hall was clear before returning to his bed. He lifted up his mattress and pulled out the nail file he'd managed to swipe from the nurse's desk the day before, and returned to the window.
Several of the links in the wire mesh screen had already been ground away. With a final surreptitious look over his shoulder, he resumed his work.
And so Jason's life continued. Every day, Dr. Chastfield would come at his arranged time and their session would begin. And as soon as he'd left, Jason set to with his tiny file. It was quickly becoming a dull stick of metal however and he knew soon he'd have to steal another from somewhere. Most of the links along the bottom of the screen had been filed through, but he'd have to do much more to be able to reach the glass. And to make matters worse, the metal dust was becoming hard to hide. He'd used one of his socks to wipe the accumulation of particles off the sill and the floor into the dimmest corner of his room. But sooner or later, one of the nurses was bound to notice.
Damien was becoming increasingly annoying. He seemed to hang onto every word Jason spoke-- but believed none of it. At one point, a printed map had slipped from the doctor's file and Jason recognized the location immediately as Tristfall Gorge. While he maintained the pretense of listening to Jason, he knew that the Damien was going off after each session to check every detail he gave him. No doubt he was compiling some case to keep Jason locked away permanently for study.
* * *
Jason had chosen a day. He guessed it he need only file away a few more of the links before he could bend the screen away and break though the window. Sooner or later, someone was going to notice the state of the screen and the game would be up. He’d have to move soon. But not during the day.
Dr. Chastfield’s session seemed to go on forever, but Jason trudged through it, depicting his Christmas with Matthew, certain that the doctor would hurry back to his desk to try to see how much of his story was true. He almost liked the old Damien better. At least with him, Jason was sure of what he was trying to do-- but this one... this one was much more subtle.
When their session finally drew to a close, Jason ambled into the common room to sit by the fire. He’d become accustomed to spending his time in there. If you wanted to be alone, all you had to do was appear immersed in one thing or another, be it reading or drawing or just staring out the window. But today, Jason wanted to maintain an illusion of normalcy. His heart thumped every time a nurse came too near, certain that he’d somehow been discovered and they were coming to take him away. But they always veered away to deal with another patient. He and Jamie chatted aimlessly for a good while, discussing books they’d both read. But as the afternoon wore on, Jamie grabbed his hand and led him out of the common room explaining:
“Come on, I wanna show you something.”
But when they got to Jamie’s room, there was nothing there.
Jason took a seat on the boy’s bed (exactly like his own) and waited expectantly for the boy to reveal whatever surprise he had concealed.
Jamie took a seat next to him, legs dangling off the edge of his bed. “Jason...” he started.
Jamie seemed agitated and nervous about something. He was struggling to find words. “Me... and you... we’re...” He went silent before trying again. “Do you like me?”
Jason wrinkled his brow. “Yeah, of course! That’s why I hang out with you.”
Jamie grinned and nodded. Then, “We’re really the only ones in here, you know?”
Jason looked around the room. It was indeed empty. He said so.
Jamie shook his head. “I mean, in our ward. We’re the only two... ya know?”
Confusion washed over Jason. They clearly weren’t the only two. He need only stick his head out of the hall to see the common room was full of other patients. Was this boy losing it? Was living in an asylum finally starting to take its toll? He looked back to his friend. “What?”
“We’re the only two who are gay.” Jamie’s fingers drifted across Jason’s where it rested on the bed.
Before he could even finish the word, Jamie’s lips were pressed against his in a kiss.
Jason almost fell off the bed in surprise. “What are you doing?”
Jamie stood and approached him. “Jason, you like me, I like you... what’s to stop us? It’s perfectly ok.” He moved towards him again, and Jason backed away.
“Stop it ok. This isn’t funny.”
“I’m not trying to funny Jason. I like you, and I want to kiss you.”
“Jamie, I love Matt!”
The boy’s face clouded over with a mix of emotions. “Damn it Jason, why won’t you wake up to the real world?” He said venomously. “He’s not real. None of it is. Don’t you think he would have come for you by now? He doesn’t exist!”
Jason stared at him, hurt clear on his face like a carved relief. “What? How can you say that Jamie? You know I know it’s real. All of it--”
“WAKE UP ALREADY!” Jamie shouted. His voice echoed around the small room, rebounding upon Jason. “Do you have any idea how frustrating you are? You’re like a twelve year old stuck in your fantasy world. I’m here, and I’m real and I love you. Don’t you get that? Matt’s just a dream. He’s just a figment of your imagination--”
Jason’s hand silenced him, delivering a solid slap across his face.
“Don’t you ever fucking tell me what is and isn’t real. I know what I’ve been through. I know what my heart tells me. Don’t you even think for a minute that you understand me.” Jason couldn’t believe what he’d just heard. How dare he say that to him. He felt his viscous tongue slipping out again. “Who the fuck are you anyway? Just some faggot kid who can’t deal with the world so he hides away in an asylum where he can be leader of the pack. Grow a spine and get out in the world.”
Jason’s words hit their mark and he saw the reaction on Jamie’s face almost as soon as he closed his mouth. A moment of silence passed between then, Jason’s chest heaving, Jamie’s clenched fists quivering.
Then Jamie shoved him. He slammed his palms into Jason’s chest over and over, forcing him back. “GET OUT OF HERE. DON’T YOU FUCKING TALKING TO ME LIKE THAT. HOW COULD YOU?”
Jason grabbed at his wrists the next time Jamie came at him and caught them. He pushed the boy backwards-- harder than he’d meant, and Jamie hit the floor. He slid across the smooth tiles and knocked into his bed, shaking it’s metal frame.
The boy was on his feet again as soon as he came to a stop and he screamed at the top of his lungs. “GET OUT! GET OUT OF MY ROOM! JUST FUCK OFF.”
Jason curled his lip and grabbed for the door handle. “With pleasure, you spoilt little brat.” And then he slipped out, closing the door behind him and running up the hall to his own room.
Jamie screamed as the door swung shut, flinging the book that lay by his bed at the door and hitting the glass. He grabbed his pillow and started tearing at it, screaming and sobbing until his face was wet with tears. His shouts attracted the orderlies who found him tearing his bed apart and flinging its contents around the room, tearing the sheets with his teeth. They rushed in to pacify him, before calling for Nodiesha to come and sedate the boy to stop his wild tantrum.
Jason curled up on his bed. He held his pillow pressed around his head and his eyes tightly closed. He winced every time Jamie’s door opened and his wailing screams echoed out into the corridor. His body shook with silent sobs as a single tear tickled it’s way across his nose to hang annoyingly from it’s tip. He was out of time. The window would have to do as it was. He was leaving tonight.
* * *
He waited, curled on his side in bed, for the lights to go out and for the heeled step of the night nurse to pause outside his window as she did her rounds. As soon as he heard her clipped walk start to fade, he leapt out of his bed, his day clothes already on over his bed clothes. He stripped the sheets off his mattress and carried them over to the window. Slipping his fingers into the mesh screen, he carefully lifted it, wary of the sharp edges. The metal whines loudly as he bent it, sending his heart thumping in his chest. Every sound he made seemed to echo in the room.
Once the screen was bent up at its mid point-- just large enough for him to climb through-- he reached for one of his bed sheets and wrapped it tightly around his fist. With his bare hand, he touched his palm to the glass, feeling it’s cold seep into his fingers. He pressed gently on the center of the pane, and then took his hand away. He used his padded fist to punch through the glass. The first impact cracked the glass, but it held form. His second punch though, went clean through, shattering the fractured glass. The bed sheet protected his hand and wrist from the sharp edges, but not the cold air outside. It rushed into his room like an icy breath, making him shiver slightly. Carefully, he knocked out the shards that hung on along the edges of the window frame, making sure they fell outwards not inwards. Taking the sheet from his hand, he unwound it and shook it out on the floor to be sure there was no glass on it still, before wadding it up and pressing it down around the sharp edges of the screen that were left. He grabbed his pillow off his bed and dropped it carefully out of the window onto the ground below to cover the glass. The second bed sheet he bundled up and tossed out too, before wrapping his quilt up and letting it too slip out of the window.
Then, careful not to scrape himself on the wires, he lifted himself into the gap between the window and the screen. He crouched, half inside and half out, on the ledge and delicately removed the sheet from the wire, careful not to rip it. Then, reaching up, he took hold of the screen with his fingers and slowly bent it downwards and back into place. If no one looked too closely through the glass panel in his door, they’d never notice his window had been broken out. He hopped off the ledge, thankful that his ward was on the ground floor. Any higher, and he had no idea how he would have gotten to the ground safely. His pillow did its job of protecting his feet from the glass as he shook out the sheets and wrapped one of them around his body. The quilt, he put over this for warmth and finally, the second sheet he draped over the quilt. Hopefully it would help him blend in with the snowy ground.
He dashed over the ground, his feet sinking a few inches with every step so that his trouser legs were quickly soaked and collecting ice lumps. He’d spent night after night, memorizing the nurse’s schedule, so he knew he had a good half-hour head start before anyone noticed he was missing. Even so, he hurried across the open grounds. There was no fence around this part of the asylum. He’d learnt that the PD (Potentially Dangerous) wards, was surrounded by a fence and although they shared some walls with the ward Jason had been in, they had no access points to one another. Access to the PD wards was through one main door kept under heavy surveillance. This meant that for the patients who were thought to be safe and relatively mentally stable, the grounds were largely open for their leisure, particularly when the weather was warmer. Jason had been counting on this to aid his escape. All he need do is cross the grounds undetected, and then once he reached the brick wall that formed the ground’s boundaries, find a tree and climb over. Then he could find the nearest road, and ghost it, keeping to the tree line so that no one would see him and recognize him as an escapee.
He was almost to the tree line and was looking over his shoulder to make sure the asylum was still quiet, when his footing slipped on an icy stone buried under the snow. He catapulted forwards, his head striking the trunk of a stout maple. He felt the icy chill against his cheek and then across his front as the snow melted and soaked into his wrappings. He tried lifting his head and pain lanced through his skull like bolts of lightning that burned behind his eyes. He felt more than saw the hem of a long, draping robe in the snow before him, and then either white light surrounded him, or his neck muscles finally gave out and his head dropped into the snow, leaving him to stare at pristine white.
* * *
Jason stood in the middle of a vast white expanse. The ground beneath his feet felt solid enough, but he had the distinct sensation of plummeting through the air. Like his fall from Heaven, but without the currents of air to buffet him and flip him around. He turned three-hundred and sixty degrees on the spot to come round to face a nondescript boy about ten feet away.
“Hi Jason,” the boy greeted him cheerily.
“Uhhh hi. Where are we, who are you and how do I get back?” Jason asked, all in one breath.
The boy smiled. “Oh, nowhere. And everywhere.”
“Huh. So that would mean I’ve present in all matter and no matter all at once, thus resulting in a confusion between matter that is being gravitationally acted upon, and matter that isn’t, thus resulting in this peculiar falling sensation?” Jason quickly closed his mouth, which seemed to be working on its on own, and then spoke again. “Yeah, so kinda freaking me out now a little bit?”
The boy was still smiling. “Who do you want me to be?”
Before his eyes, the boy started to grow and expand, becoming a plumber, complete with toolbox and belt.
Jason closed his eyes and started muttering to himself. “Ok, I have a concussion and I’m dreaming now. That’s all it is, just a dream. Ok Ok, just play along now.” He exhaled slowly and then inhaled deeply before opening his eyes again. “Ok, so since I don't have any clogged pipes, a plumber isn’t going to be hugely helpful right now.”
And again, the boy/plumber changed. Now he was staring at a mechanic in grease stained overalls and a spanner in his hand.
“Yeah, don’t really have a car here either. How about an information desk?”
He was pleasantly surprised when the boy/plumber/mechanic/thing expanded further to form a young woman with too much lipstick sitting behind a neat desk with a sign hanging-- from nothing-- above her that read ‘Information Desk’ and a kiosk beside her with a white panel and a red dot in the middle with an arrow pointing to it, informing him that he was, rather un-helpfully, ‘here.’
Jason walked to the desk and leant on it with his elbows, crossing one ankle over the other.
“How can I help you sir?” She asked, her smile wide and forced.
Jason repeated his question from before. “Where am I?”
She pulled a black sheet of paper, like the map on the kiosk, from under her desk and tapped the red dot in the middle. “Right here, sir. Have a nice day.”
Jason stared hard at her. “Who are you?”
She smiled her forced smile again, some lipstick on her teeth. “This is the information desk, sir. Can I help you?”
“No, I mean you. Who are you? What are you?”
She opened her mouth and started to repeat in the same tone, “This is the infor--”
“Yeah, I got all that.” He interrupted her. “Ok, so I’m unconscious. Which means I’m dreaming, which means you’re a figment of my imagination.”
Her eyes narrowed and her smile drooped slightly. “It’s not terribly wise to call anyone a figment of your imagination.”
“Oh so you do have a personality.” Jason smirked at her.
“Let’s talk, shall we?” The receptionist said, her voice growing deeper, more masculine, and somewhat soothing.
She seemed to take a seat-- despite the fact that she was already sitting, as everything shifted around him until he found himself lying on a leather couch in a dim room full of high shelves with books. He was still propped up on one elbow, and he looked across to the receptionist, only to find she too had changed. Changed into a balding man with a sharply pointed beard and glasses.
“I’ll be Freud then, shall I?” He said, his accent vaguely Germanic.
Jason blinked. Then, “Um, I’d rather not, if it’s all the same to you. Freud was a bit to sexually oriented in his diagnoses.”
“Fair enough,” his companion smiled and dissolved into a more reserved looking, clean shaven therapist.
“So,” Jason kicked off. “What’s brewing in the teapot that is my massively screwed up subconscious?”
His therapist smiled at him from his chair. “Well Jason, here’s the thing. You’re trying to live in two different worlds at once. One is a fabrication of your mind, the other is-- for all purposes-- real. I’m here to tell you, that, quite frankly, it’s got to stop.”
“What has?” Jason queried.
“This. Everything.” The therapist gestured around him. “You’re splitting your time between your two worlds, and it’s taking it’s toll on your body. If you keep this up, your headaches will increase in severity and frequency, as well as the nose bleeds, you’ll start to experience dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, hallucination, dementia, psychosis, coma, halitosis, and finally death. And no-one likes a corpse with bad breath.”
The man sighed. “You’re going to die Jason. Either your body or your mind is going to give out, sooner or later. And one can’t live without the other.”
Jason was sitting up now. He wrung his hands. “So what do I have to do?”
“You have to choose one. Choose one world and stick to it. None of this faffing about and switching between worlds.”
“Well which one do I choose then?” The gurgling, clawing sensation of panic was starting to rise in his chest, slithering it’s way up his throat. “Which one’s the real one?”
“That’s up to you to figure out.” The therapist started to shift and bulge outwards. Soon his entire form was hidden underneath a thick white cloak that seemed always to be in a gentle, shifting motion. Everything was falling away again, melting back into the empty white void. “I’m sure I’ll see you soon, whichever one you choose. Just remember,” the cloaked figure said, pulling a large hourglass from his sleeve. “The clock is ticking.”
He tossed the hourglass to Jason and then vanished. It spun through the air towards the boy, and as he reached out to catch it, it shattered, exploding and sending him flying through the airless space to crash down. His head struck something solid and he landed with his face in something cold and wet.
There was shouting and then someone rolled him over on his back. Hands pressed on his throat, and then he was being lifted by several pairs of arms and carried bodily. Their rapid, jolting steps told him his bearers were running-- most likely through the snow, back across the lawn to the asylum. He tried moving his arms, but found instead that he couldn’t feel them. In fact, all of his extremities seemed to have become detached somehow. Maybe the explosion had blown his body to pieces and now they were running around, picking up the pieces to be reattached again. He tried to chuckle at the mental image of it, but it stuck in his throat and he started choking on it.
* * *
The beeping machines were back. All around him, they hummed and chirped. The breathing apparatus wheezed nearby and he felt the rubbery plastic tubes winding across his skin once more. He tried opening his eyes, but they were bleary and he couldn't focus on anything. Two doctors were talking over him to someone else. One was male, the other female.
The woman was just saying, “We’re lucky they found him when they did. If he’d been out there much longer, he would have frozen to death. As it is, he has severe hypothermia. I’m doing everything I can right now, but frankly it’s something of a miracle we haven’t already lost him.”
But the other doctor was talking to someone else. “We thought his coma might be lifting, but his body seems to be staying resolutely comatose. We ran some scans of his brain though, hoping we could see what was wrong with him. In case we missed something that hadn’t fully developed before-- some form of brain trauma-- but there wasn’t.” There was the sound of a plastic sheet being pulled out of something and held up. “What we did find though, was a hugely abnormal amount of brain activity.”
“What does that mean?” Someone interrupted. Was that--? Could it be--? Was Jason hearing Matt again?
“Well,” the doctor carried on, “it means he’s not in a vegetative state. I’d say it shows that he has a high chance of pulling through, but these readings... they’re off the chart. His brain is more active than the average person when awake. It’s frankly somewhat baffling.”
Then Damien was beside him, peering into his slitted eyes. “Do you think he’ll recover?”
“Well, now that I’ve got him in here, I’d say he’s got about a 60 percent chance of recovering.” The woman again. “He was smart enough to wrap himself in as much as he could-- even if the white sheets made him harder to find, the quilt probably saved his life. Do you know yet, why he tried to escape?”
Dr. Chastfield grunted. “Aside from wanting to get out of this place? He’d clearly been working at it for some time. He’d managed to file through half of the screen on his window. My guess is he was intending to wait until it got warmer, but something caused him to feel he had to leave today.” There was a long pause and then, “His family’s going to be pissed.”
A whisper of a smile played across Jason’s lips. He didn’t envy anyone on the receiving end of his mother’s wrath.
* * *
When Jason next woke up, Damien was sitting beside him in a hospital chair. The doctor smiled at him when he moved his head.
“Guess I didn’t make it to the wall then?” Jason mumbled.
“Not quite. We found you a few yards short.”
There was a long silence which neither really wanted to break.
The doctor braced his hands on the arms of the chair as if to get up. “I’ll leave you to rest then...”
Jason burst out, “Wait.”
The doctor remained, half raised out of his seat.
“Can... can we have a session now?” Jason asked, trying to look pleading, not really sure if he was succeeding.
Dr. Chastfield looked at him. “Wouldn’t you rather rest? What’s brought on this sudden eagerness to communicate?”
Jason shrugged his shoulders against his pillows. “I wanna tell you everything. I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to be around for.”
“Jason, you’re not intending to do something are you?”
He understood what the doctor meant. “No. Suicide’s not my style.”
“I don’t have your file with me...” Damien started, but Jason shook his head.
“I think it’ll help me if you’re not taking notes on everything I say. You can write it all up later if you really need to.” He looked at the clock over the door. “Do you have to be anywhere?”
Damien shook his head. “It’s Sunday. I was just in to do office work today, but it can wait.”
“Good.” Jason nodded. “Because I want to finish my story today.” As an after thought, he added, “You can ask questions if you need to, but for the time being just take it for granted that everything I say happened, really did, and we’ll get through this much faster.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“Now where did we leave off?” The boy asked.
“You’d just opened your presents at christmas.”
“Right. Well, after we saw the fountain, pretty much all the presents had been opened...”
Jason talked right through the morning, Damien only stopping him a few times to clarify one thing or another. Nodiesha brought him in a tray of lunch, complete with pancakes and maple syrup. Jason tucked in heartily, keeping up his narrative between bites. By then he was recounting his dinner with Lucifer and seemed much more energetic. He’d begun gesturing with his hands and using them to help describe things as he went along.
The sky was darkening in preparation for evening by the time Jason rounded off with his fall from Heaven. Damien sat in silence for a long time, waiting for Jason to carry on.
Finally the boy said, “And the next thing I know, I’m waking up in a padded cell bundled up in a straight jacket.”
Damien uncrossed his legs and then re-crossed them the other way. He tapped two fingers to the bridge of his lips. “You’ve given me a lot to think about Jason.” The boy muttered something that sounded like “Yeah, me too” but didn’t elaborate. Eventually, he stood up, stretching his stiff muscles. “Well, Nodiesha will be here soon with your dinner. After that, you should try to get some rest. I think we’ll move you back to your old room tomorrow.” He smiled wryly. “Don’t worry, we replaced the window and the screen with something a bit stronger. We’ll be installing the new ones in all the rooms after you demonstrated how easy it was to break through them.”
“Good night Jason,” The doctor said as he made his way to the door.
“Thanks for listening!” Jason called out.
Damien turned and smiled warmly. Genuinely. “Thanks for telling.”
* * *
Jason’s room was just as he’d left it. Almost.
The old screen had been replaced with a new, much sturdier, stainless steel mesh that had fewer, but much stronger links. He smiled to see the window had also been replaced with shatterproof glass, the thin wires criss-crossed inside the glass making it look like graphing paper. Outside, the snow had finally receded and flowers were beginning to push through the thawing earth. He took up his old position on the comfy chair, his knees tucked up to his chest and sat staring out of the window. Damien didn’t come to see him that day.
Nor the day after.
Nor the day after that.
In the time that passed, he never left his room. The common-room was no longer a welcome place for him. He didn’t want to bump into Jamie again. Even if it had been several weeks since that night-- at least according to Dr. Chastfield. Nodiesha came by with the book trolley almost daily, and he exchanged one for another, day after day.
At one point, she grinned at him and tossed him a copy of a book manifesto. “I noticed you were running out of books hon, so I figured you might as well just check out the list of what we can get our hands on. If you give me a few days head’s up, I can get just about anything on there for you.”
He took it gratefully, and the next day he handed it back to her with a list of books he was interested in getting hold of.
“You planning on going out at all this year?” She asked once she’d seen its length.
He smiled and shrugged. “You never know what the weather’s gonna be like.”
The truth was, he could easily have been reading two books a day. But half of his time, he spent staring unseeing at his room, or out of his window. He was meticulously going over everything he could remember. From his child hood right up to the present day. He ran the events over and over again in his head trying to find something that didn’t make sense. Some inconsistency. Something that would give him a clue as to which was the real world.
The therapist come boy come plumber come mechanic come clerk come whatever, had given him a lot to think about.
He was aware of lapsing out a few times as hours seemed to have a habit of skipping themselves for him. And once or twice, Nodiesha had approached him and had to pat his arm to get his attention. Each time, when she asked “Hey there Jason, everything all right?” He’d smile and his eyes would return to focus. He’d look up at her and say cheerily:
“Fine, fine! Just daydreaming.” And he’d look for the newest book she’d acquired for him.
It was a whole week before Damien came to see him again.
Jason turned down the corner of his page and draped the book over his knee.
Damien took his usual chair and dragged it towards Jason before taking a seat. He glanced at the door. Jason caught the shift of his eyes and followed it. Nodiesha lurked just outside the door, waiting for something. “I’ve been talking with your family...” Damien started. His tone made Jason immediately apprehensive. “And They’ve decided, against my council, that it’s time you were told what happened when you were twelve.”
Jason gritted his teeth and muttered under his breath. “Gee, thanks for listening to me for the past three months.”
Damien seemed to guess what he was thinking. “Now Jason, I just want you to suppose, just for a little while, that everything you’ve been telling me never happened. Just for a little while, ok?”
He held his stony silence, his jaw line set firmly.
“From all accounts-- all other accounts save yours,” he corrected himself and then started reading aloud from his file. “When you were twelve, approximately five weeks after your birthday, you returned home from school and made your way upstairs. It’s assumed the sound of running water drew your attention to the large bathroom on the second floor. It’s not known if you interrupted him, or if he had already done it when you arrived.” He paused and Jason held his breath. “When your parents arrived home, they found you unconscious, curled in a fetal position just inside the bathroom door. The tap in the sink was still on, pouring hot water into the basin and filling the room with steam. Your elder brother, Marcus was in the bathtub. Both of his wrists had been slit with a razor. Forensics later showed that only his finger prints were on the blade.”
Jason sat in stunned silence. His mouth worked up and down, but no sound came out. He slowly started shaking his head from side to side. It quickly became a frantic denial.
Damien withdrew a number of large photos from his file and handed them to him. His hand which he’d left resting on the arm of the chair instinctively grabbed hold of them. He turned his head slowly to look at it and let out a silent scream. It was a color photograph of a wrist hanging off the edge of a bathtub. Blood trickled down the fingers and had pooled on the floor beneath them. The photo tumbled out of his trembling hand and he used his other hand to try to cover his mouth. His fingers were held like a claw and his lip started trembling. He saw the next picture, his brother’s head, leaning back against the edge of the tub, his eyes staring vacantly outwards, his skin a lurid pale tone. The water he lay in was crimson with his blood.
The rest of the world had been muted as Jason screamed and tried to stand. The pictures tumbled out of his hand across the floor, revealing the macabre scene in gory detail whichever way he looked. The forgotten book slipped from his knee to flop forlornly on the photos. The chair skidded and tipped backwards, hitting the ground with a thud as Jason wailed again. His open mouth quivered, trying to make any noise, but all that kept coming out was the same gurgled scream. His knees gave out and he slumped to the floor, his hands on either side of his head, his fingers extended so they didn’t touch his scalp-- as if they were coated in something. Sitting on the floor brought him closer to the pictures and he saw the blood spray on the tiled walls, the wrist in detail, the razor, the bath drained away, his brother’s naked body, stained red by his own blood, the hollow eyes again, and then him. Twelve year-old Jason, wrapped in a towel, seated on the edge of an ambulance, being treated for shock.
He collapsed forwards, his cheek striking the cold floor of the asylum and the tears brimmed over his eyes and flowed down his cheeks as his hands clawed uselessly at the pictures that littered the ground. He cried out raggedly, over and over, curling his body into a ball.
Through his tear-filled eyes, he saw Damien leap to his feet in slow motion. The door opened and Nodiesha charged in, her feet like slow claps of thunder on the tiles. He saw his hand laying next to him where it had fallen limply on the floor. It rested on the photograph of his brother’s wrist hanging from the tub. They mirrored one another almost perfectly. He rolled onto his back, screaming at the ceiling. And then he stopped.
He reached up.
Up to the hand that reached down to him.
Down from billowing white robes.
“I choose! I choose!” He cried out over and over, his voice like a whisper to him now.
The pale fingers met and touched his softly, and then his world fell away underneath him. The tiles, the pictures, Damien, Nodiesha, his bed, the shatterproof glass windows, his bed, the room, the ward, the asylum, the world.