Ending complete on this ten-year-old story. Feel free to review it. :)
| The autumn wind was gently grooming the lightly colored trees. The leaves hung steadfast, defiantly holding on against the crisp wind that blew through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Nathan sat quietly on top of a boulder, overlooking the valley and ridges that surrounded him. When was the last time he had been up here? He couldn’t remember. He figured it had been well before “everything” had happened. He held the cigarette close to the palm of his hand so he could feel the warmth of the tobacco heat. The brisk air would only continue to get colder as the day progressed.
Nathan cautiously climbed down the group of rocks.
The 3 o’clock sun shined down through the thinning walls of leaves. Nathan followed the trail as it twisted and turned down the side of the mountain. His eyes opened wide as he heard a loud snap of sticks about 30 yards away. And the question that lingered every time he became unnerved came to the surface. How come I only feel fully awake and alive when I’m on edge, he thought. Nathan stayed in place for a few minutes, waiting to hear any more … footsteps? The silence that greeted his nerves did not help them.
Nathan begin walking down the trail again, asking himself if the sticks he heard snapping were real. After “everything” happened, he had learned to be somewhat distrustful of his mind. Only now was he beginning to befriend it again. His past relationship with his mind had ended in a great betrayal.
Looking up from the trail, he stopped again. A doe stood tall 20 yards down the trail, where the trail curved. The camera was in his backpack. The $25,000 question was whether or not the doe would split if he went for his camera. Slowly Nathan slid the backpack down his arm. The doe continued eating something on the ground, looking sideways at him with darkened eyes. The zipper made little noise as Nathan slowly opened the backpack.
The doe held her head up after the camera went off and sprinted down the side of the mountain. The 23-year-old smiled his crooked smile and continued down the trail.
Nathan’s mind wandered, as it often did while he was hiking. He thought back to when the psychiatrist had used a word he was unfamiliar with … schizophrenia … With the use of that word, Nathan realized he was being grouped into the same class as Norman Bates. Out of all the odds, being diagnosed with schizophrenia was the worst that he could have ever possibly dreamed of.
As he got to the end of the trail down at the base of the mountain, he turned and looked back up towards the rocky summit. After a few months of taking walks through his neighborhood, Nathan had regained some of his physical prowess that he had lost with the gaining of weight and lethargy, both side effects from his medication. Taking baby steps had become more than advice from his doctor; it had become the method of dealing with the everyday obstacles in his life
* * *
The drive down the parkway was nice and quiet. After turning off the parkway Nathan closed his eyes at the first stoplight and let his face feel the sunshine. It's what he did to remind himself that he was doing good and that there had been times when he could not have gone out in the sunshine.
He pulled up to the apartment building that had been his home since moving out of his dad's house a few months ago.
The apartment door opened slowly as Nathan peered pensively inside. Was anyone in there? After looking behind the door he walked into the apartment. The next checkpoint was the closet and behind the shower curtain in the bathroom. Discovering that all was clear, he felt a great relief. It was tiring to have the suspicion that someone was in the apartment waiting to get him. Laughing to himself, Nathan wondered why anyone would break in anyway. It’s not like he had anything worth taking. Maybe a few bucks could be made from the old Zenith television in the main room. Were black and white televisions worth more these days, he wondered.
Flipping through the three channels that he could get on the television was tricky. He had to move the antennae to a different angle to get a somewhat clear reception. As the dark crept up on the orange sky, Nathan became nervous. He realized he had forgotten to get a light bulb to replace the one that had burnt out in the one lamp he owned. It would be dark soon and he was unsure if he had enough time to go get a light bulb before total darkness fell. Nathan was scared of the night. The night made him feel a sense of vulnerability. He would have to go now or else the dark would invade his apartment and then who knew what would happen.
The car was old but it still had some get-up-and-go left in it. Nathan used every ounce of it as he sped towards the local Walmart. He was getting the jitters. Looking up into the sky, Nathan could tell that night was about to fall. With that the Nova sped up. He was not going to make it back in time. He just knew it.
Finally, the Wal-Mart was in sight. The big glowing sign was only 400 yards away. Flashing lights bounced off Nathan’s rearview mirror. He pulled into the Wal-Mart parking lot and stopped the car.
As the cop approached the Nova, Nathan began to shake. Too much happening, he thought. He began rocking back and forth in his seat. The policeman came to the window. Nathan looked straight ahead, not acknowledging the cop.
“Sir, please get out of the car.”
Nathan turned his head and looked at the officer. He was in a dream wasn’t he? This wasn’t real, he thought, it was another hallucination. Nathan stepped out of the car. Thinking he was strung out on drugs the officer ordered him to turn around and put his hands on the car.
“Do you have anything in your pockets that will stick me?” asked the officer.
As the officer felt inside his pockets, Nathan realized this wasn’t a hallucination. He had never had a hallucination that affected his sense of touch.
Nathan felt cold metal as he was cuffed.
* * * *
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. To think six days ago he had been in his comfortable, reclusive world with no bothers. But frivolous things turned into catastrophic things and he was forced to deal with them or shut down and try to “reboot”.
A smile sealed the deal of the thought that was going through his head. He had rebooted. Some thoughts accumulate like a snowball rolling down a hill with trees on it. Sooner or later … sooner or later you hit a tree. Looking out the ice-covered window, the world was a kaleidoscope outside. Jagged views fractured into a kaleidoscope of pieces. Eventually the temperature would warm and the window would regain focus. More power to it he thought. Focus. Clarity. Long ago ideals that had lost their meaning. His days were filled with wandering thoughts, nomads on the landscape of the mind. Never sitting still long enough, always moving more than enough.
Universal truths would come to him daily. Although some of them were the same truths he had thought before, he met them with an affirmation that was full of enthusiasm. And to himself, he hadn’t. Loss of short-term memory is a fickle thing, with its own set of blessings and curses.
“Time for your shot Nathan,” said the woman dressed in white standing next to him.
“You’ll never guess what my favorite 80’s song is,” Nathan said. He loved this part, the part where she began a fake smile and played it out for all it was worth.
“I couldn’t begin to guess dear.”
“Needle and the Damage Done by Neil Young.”
“He he, don’t worry though, there won’t be any damage here, just a pin-prick.”
With that, the nurse lifted up Nathan’s sleeve and rubbed the alcohol on the spot where the needle would puncture the skin, leaving him with a feeling of waking up from too long a nap. But it was worth it. A small price to pay for sanity at any rate.
“My wrist itches. Can you scratch it?”
“Of course dear.”
“Right where the buckle hits.”
And all was well again. He looked out the window at the shards of life. There were 3-and-a-half birds that he could see on the snow-covered ground.
No, he knew this was wrong. Really only three birds. The window played tricks on his eyes. Nathan laughed. Wasn’t that his mind’s job?
“A game of chess Nate-dog?”
Sitting at a table with scattered chess pieces on a faded board was a young African-American male with wire-rimmed glasses and a goatee. Unlike Nathan’s arms, his were free to move about and right now they were gesturing for him to come to the table.
“I would play but I’m a little tied up right now Micah,” Nathan smiled.
“If you would take the time to chill a little bit and take your pills like you should then you wouldn’t be. Have you found out it’s not poison yet, or are you still paranoid bro?”
“Still paranoid-yes, poisoned-no. I figure if it was poison it would have killed me by now, would it not?”
“You’ve been here at least a week man, if they wanted you dead you woulda died by now.”
Nathan looked at the nurse across the green-tiled room and wondered how she felt about her “friends” that were residents here. More like prisoners, he thought. No, prisoners had more rights.
“Sheila, can you undo these straps? I’ve come to the conclusion that you and your co-workers are not trying to poison me.”
The nurse looked at him with a face full of sympathy, but the brain behind it was all but empty of it for sure, he thought.
“Dr. Jakers will be seeing you in about 35 minutes. He has the final say honey,” she said with a reassuring voice.
Wayne sat at the one of the tables in front of the window down from where Nathan was. His formerly thin frame had put on some serious weight over the past couple of weeks. He never talked much, except to the people or things that would come to him in his tormented imagination. The voices had been able to repel the medications, making him one of a misfortunate minority. His mind would reassuredly comfort him with the certainty of the “reality” that was taking place around him. At the same time, however, his passive aggressive mind would be creating the tormentors that he heard, almost as if in spite.
“Hey Wayne, care to play Micah a game of ebony and ivory?” asked Nathan, almost absent-mindedly, not expecting an answer as past experiences had taught him.
“Yes… I believe I would care to. Yes…” Wayne said as his voice trailed off as though he were trying to pay attention to voices that did not enter the air.
Wayne went to the table in a daze, paying attention to what wasn’t really being heard by anyone else. “I’m white,” he said.
“I do believe a revelation is unfolding,” Nathan said with a smile.
“I’ll be ebony then, my friend,” said Micah.
As they were setting up the pieces Nathan noticed that Wayne was with them there in the ward, not some other place that his brain dreamed up.
“I think I remember how to play,” said Wayne with an excited smile. “I haven’t played since I was 15. My brother taught me about the pieces… the way they move.”
“Try to take it easy on me then, I haven’t played since yesterday,” said Micah. “Seriously Wayne, if you have any questions about the game, just ask.”
“Why does the pawn only move straight? My father… he would have liked the pawn… for me to be a good pawn,” said Wayne.
“I’d wager everybodys’ dad hopes they go the straight and narrow. This world would be a boring place if we were all the same bro,” Micah said with a smile in his eyes.
“Well, it might be a happier place at least, my friends. But yeah, on the other hand, maybe we have it so bad so that people realize how fulfilling their lives are,” said Nathan waxing philosophic.
“I don’t want to be a martyr, an’ I don’t think Wayne or anybody else here does either.”
“Simmer my friend, I was trying to look at the load that this disease makes us carry in a positive light,” said Nathan, looking at the chess board and wondering in the back of his mind when the game was going to begin.
Micah motioned to Wayne for him to make the first move of the game. Wayne held onto the smile on his face for a few seconds longer, and then it was gone, replaced by furrowing of the brows.
At that point, Nathan realized that Micah and Wayne were in for a long game and held back a grin for the frustrated state that he knew Micah was going to be in by the end of the game.
After a series of take-backs the game between Wayne and Micah was still going strong when a nurse entered the room.
“Well, I suppose it’s about that time then. I guess the doctor is in,” said Nathan.
“That’s right dear,” said the nurse. “Remember to lift your feet up so they don’t drag.”
Nathan’s wheel chair had “character” as Micah would say. Nathan often joked since he had been relegated to it that the straps on the wheelchair were the only thing keeping him from finding a better one.
The nurse wheeled Nathan down a long corridor of white walls and cracked plaster. When they arrived at a green door near the end of the corridor, Nathan took in a deep breath, realizing that he would have to do what had been asked of him if he wanted to get out of here. It was something that he had to do during his first visit there. To open up his darkest fears and inner-most thoughts to Dr. Jakers. It had really helped the first time around. He had come to trust Dr. Jakers as best he could over the years since his first break.
A knock on the door by the nurse was answered with a good-natured voice saying “come along”.
Nathan had to hold back a laugh at the sight of the doctor. Dr. Jakers was eccentric in his own right. With his black metal framed glasses and hair that was jet-blown in appearance, Dr. Jakers was a character that most people would not forget if they were to meet him.
Along with his Hawaiian shirt and blue jeans Mr. Jakers also wore a disarming smile that had first put Nathan at ease, or at least as much at ease as he could be since his first episode had occurred years ago.
Nathan took a seat in a room of potted plants and a miniature waterfall. The trickle of the water seemed to always give him the thought of eternity on a roll. It never stops. It trucks on through death, destruction, rebirth. Is that what all this was… a rebirth?
Dr. Jakers looked down at his mound of papers, trying to bring this patient into focus. What he saw was a textbook case of paranoid schizophrenia. In a few more days hopefully Nathan would break free of his delusions with the help of the medications and therapy with the great Dr. Jakers.
Dr. Jakers looked up and smiled at Nathan. “How are we faring today?”
“I’ve got some good news for you, I’ve come to the conclusion they’re not trying to poison me. I’m ready and fit to be untied, not tied for once.” Nathan said with an amused grin.
“You’ve come a long way Nathan, I have to say,” said the doctor. “What led you to that conclusion?”
“Like Micah said, you could have poisoned me at anytime since I first got here. Unless… they’re wanting to get information out of me first…” said Nathan as his face clouded over into a series of creases and folds which foretold of years to come.
“Nathan, you have known me quite awhile, even years… do you really believe I would allow something like that to transpire?” With this the doctor stared into Nathan’s eyes, careful not to give a warm grin because there was no humor in it to be found for Nathan.
“Maybe you don’t have a choice...”
The doctor leaned back in his brown leather chair and was lost in thought for a few seconds. Psychoanalytical therapy was not his strong suit. He considered himself to be of the old school of psychology. ‘So much potential,’ thought Jakers. Nathan was a smart man in some ways, most ways even… but his mind had fallen down somewhere before walking into a normal life.
Nathan stared at the ragged carpet that hid the cracked cement below it and wondered. What if the doctor…could it be…how stupid was I to have not thought of that till now.
“I think it might be a good idea to increase your meds. I know you disagree but I think it is for the best.” said the doctor. “If you go along with it I guarantee you in couple of days you will be fit to be untied as you say.”
“I look forward to it.
After being confined to his room for a few days as part of the deal for him to be untied Nathan opened his eyes. He saw the same 538 dots on the ceiling that he had seen for the past three weeks. Although he might try to make dot number 539 if he ever got the chance to hold a pen again. He would throw it up at the ceiling and hope it stuck. Anything to break the monotony of the motions that he had come to know so well. Dr. Jakers had eventually handed down the order that Nathan was to be released from his room and Nathan was very much looking forward to be able to walk around again.
The meds were working but his metabolism wasn’t and he had been able to see the price of being “in your right mind” as the doctor had so kindly put it. Nathan needed the meds though. He knew that. Everyone knew that. But at the same time he knew that for everything gained there was always a price and what that price was he could only imagine.
* * *
“Morning sweetie, time for some good eat’in.” said the nurse.
Nathan laid there for a minute giving his medicated mind time to catch up with the present.
Since his stay had begun he had been enlightened by discovering that he actually liked Ranch dressing along with a wide assortment of food that he thought he would never ever let into his stomach. The medicine made every meal seem like part of heaven’s delicatessen. His body seemed to agree, savoring every ounce of fat that he ate and never letting it go.
As he entered the cafeteria he saw familiar faces along with a few new ones who eyed the pairs of others with a stoned stare. Micah was in line with a yellow tray filled with eggs and sausage making the cafeteria worker laugh with some wise crack that he had probably been rehearsing throughout the night when he couldn’t sleep. Nathan believed that because he had done the same sort of thing at night. Although his thoughts encompassed a myriad of situations which he believed he would face sooner or later… the wise crack for the Doc when Jakers asked him if he had noticed any changes…his first face-to-face meeting with his cousin Jimmy that he knew would be picking him up eventually. These things crossed and then double-crossed his mind with the anxiety he built up for the future.
Patrick, the 28-days-sober fellow happened to be in front of Nathan in line, his lucky baseball cap sitting high and mighty on his head, like Elmer Fudd’s hat in the Looney Tune cartoons.
“Top of the morning to ya!” said Patrick louder than any normal person really needed to but Patrick never claimed to be normal and Nathan didn’t think there was such a thing anyway.
“Same to you young man!” said Nathan to the 68 year-old man with a grin.
“Thanks ya!” said Patrick as he slid his tray a little further down the lunch line.
“Have you gotten used to Mr. Daniels not having breakfast with you yet?” said Nathan.
“The first week was a bitch, lemme tell ya! Now not so hard but I do miss him…” said Patrick trailing the words off. “…lots.”
You always will, Nathan thought.
Micah was sitting solemnly at the corner table staring at his breakfast while his fork danced around the eggs.
“Why the long face?” asked Nathan.
“Something…something bad happened after you left the game room.” said Micah with a grimace.
“Enlighten me my friend,” Nathan said with a smile.
“Wayne took one of the chess pieces…was a pawn. He stuck it down his throat…I got the nurses and they grabbed him to take him to the E.R. but you and me both know that is a good ten minutes walk from where we are. I don’t think he made it…”
Nathan’s smile faded as he took in the news of Wayne’s death. He could feel his mind reeling away. With the last drop of his bitter sarcasm came the words “Pawn takes the king…pawn takes the king.”