I sat there, silently, staring at my one hundred and nine scratches on the wall. I took a deep breath, trying to stabilise my will, to keep going. Yesterday... Yesterday had hurt. A pain I hadn't felt in months. Not since I last saw her. Not since I got here. I sighed, standing up, when a rattle on the door jeans me out of my reverie. Peering through the plexiglass, I could see a man flanked by two of the orderlies of 'East End Asylum for the Criminally Insane'. I sighed, focusing on the man. He was somewhat short, shorter than both me and the orderlies (who were huge). He wore circular spectacles and a stethoscope was draped around his shoulders. Everything about him screamed 'shrink'. I sighed again.
"Step back from the door and place your hands upon the opposing wall, feet two shoulder lengths apart.'
The monotonic voice came from a pre-recorded message playing through a speaker. I did as instructed, not willing to invoke the wrath of the orderlies. I could beat a few up, but they'd just overwhelm me with numbers. Plus, what was the point? They were just doing their job.
The door clanged loudly as the heavy electronic lock accepted the biometrics and key cards of the left orderly. I fought the desire to take a look at my... Caregivers.
"Slowly place your hands above your head, clasped together."
Christ, I hate straightjackets. They slipped it over me, before zipping it up tightly. Satisfied that I was now contained, they led me to the door, where the shrink was waiting.
"Good to see you again, Mr. Hill. How are you feeling?"
"As well as a person stuck inside a cell can be, I guess."
"Solitary confinement won't be necessary for much longer if you keep up your good behaviour."
"What, is that supposed to be some kind of incentive? Thanks, but no thanks. I kinda like my cell. Better than mingling with the crazies who inhabit this place."
The shrink looked a bit miffed at my rejection. He probably wasn't used to such... An unenthusiastic response.
"I'm sure you mean the rest of the crazies," he replied.
I didn't miss a beat. He was implying I was insane. As long as he could keep diagnosing me with... Whatever he had me diagnosed for, I wouldn't be able to leave. I had no doubt that Sarah wasn't going to simply let me waltz out of this place, but I wasn't even sure she knew I was here. Those details were still fuzzy. Glancing at the doctor, I figured I should play nice, just to see where it got me. If I wanted confinement, all I had to do was throw a punch, after all.
"Look, doc... I'm sure you can understand that this place stresses me out. My fellow... Patients stress me out. I don't really want to risk mingling with them, if you can see where I'm coming from."
"Oh, yes. I understand how you feel, but it is important to socialise as part of your recovery."
"Umm... I don't really know what to say to that. By the way, I didn't catch your name."
"Oh, call me Doctor Smith."
I threw a sarcastic grin his way.
"Haha, Doctor Smith, huh? Not one John Smith, husband of a Jane Smith?"
He seemed more flustered than amused, so I quickly rectified my attempt at humour.
"Sorry Doctor Smith, it's just a... Rather common name, is all."
"You're quite right in your assumption that it is an alias. In my line of work, it is imperative to disassociate personal aspects from my patients. Relapses, especially relapses of psychotic breakdowns, can be detrimental to associated practitioners. In the event that one of my patients has a relapse, at least I am safe from them."
"Speaking of psychotic breakdowns, you never told me what you diagnosed me with. Also, now that I think about it, I've never met you, but you greeted me with "It's good to see you again". Am I missing something?"
"Hmm. You're rather sharp, aren't you, realising the implication of such a small segment of speech. I'll have to watch out for you, Mr. Hill"
I groaned internally, realising my mistake. I'd shown my knack for details and he'd picked up on it. I was getting rusty.
"Your recall of your arrival here must be damaged. What is the first thing you remember of your time here."
"Waking up in my cell. That was the first day."
"Actually, it wasn't. That was your fourth day. Your first three days... You were very violent. Very unstable. You alternated between moaning, screaming and whispering a name. Do you know the name?"
"Was it Sarah?"
"No... It was Marcus Edison. Do you know who that is?"
"... No, I've never heard of him. Huh. I guess he must be important somehow."
"Important to what?"
"Still working on that one, Doc. I'll let you know when I get something."
We had been walking and talking for a few minutes, that I hadn't really notices we'd arrived at the third floor until the orderlies stopped in front of a wooden door. It was well adorned, and slightly ajar. I could smell the slight scent of an artificial fire; the fumes of burning hydrocarbons. Stepping inside, I glanced around and felt my heart drop. Staring back at me, in painted form, was the face that caused me so much torment. A gorgeous portrait of a teenage Sarah stared back at me.
"Oh, do you like the painting. It's of my niece. She sent it to me, when she was visiting Paris. It looks the part of a true Victorian era classic."
"Yeah, I couldn't tell. Are you related to royalty, Dr. Smith?"
"Oh, no. My niece is just a rather classy girl. Speaking of classy, you're possibly my most exotic patient, Mr. Hill."
Fuck me... This guy was talking as if I was some sort of specimen.
"Oh, yes. I dug up your records from before you were expelled from the army. It claims you have the most combat and noncombat tours of anyone your age, achieving the much venerated rank of gunnery sergeant. I'm in the presence of the army's famed psychopathic streak."
I was tempted to shut this guy up then and there. Army's famed psychopathic streak? What the fuck did this little college bred shit know? Then, I reminded myself that his niece was some upper tier assassin. Something called an Echelon field agent. Pffft, could we please get a more generic name for our agency of spooks?
For a few seconds, I debated on my responses, as the Doctor peered over his glasses at me. Hmm... If he was Sarah's uncle, from her father's side, I knew his last name. I needed more information, before I made an attempt at getting in his head.
"So, Doc, what am I diagnosed with?"
"Quite a severe case of schizophrenia. Tell me, are you aware of any... Strange symptoms? Anyone been talking to you, in solitary confinement? Is that why you like it so much."
At this point, Doctor "Smith's" pointed tone was really getting to me. I was sick of going on the defensive.
"Oh, no. Not in confiment. The voices only start getting noisy when I'm about to kill someone. Does that match up with your prejudice? Or do you need further evidence so you can lock up someone you're ill disposed to?"
I haven't seen someone bristle that hard in a while.
"Are you accusing me of corruption?"
"No, I'm accusing you of being shit at your job, Dr. Laine."
I took a risk. It payed off. He sputtered, before regaining composure.
"Excuse me? My name is -"
"No it's not."
"... How on Earth did you know that?"
"Let's just say I've been paying attention. Now, why don't we get whatever it is that's going on here started, so I can get back to my cell and out of this accursed jacket."
The orderlies looked surprised at my coherence. I imagined my first few days here must've been something spectacular.
"So, I am to guess you don't believe you're mentally ill?"
His tone gave the attempt at baiting me away. Seriously, this shrink was the worst I'd met.
"If I say I'm insane, you'll take my word for it. If I say I'm not, you'll just say that's something someone delusional would say. So... How about.... Fuck off?"
The orderly to the left sniggered at that.
"That's enough, Mr. Hill. How can I help you if you don't want to help yourself?"
"Question, Dr. Laine. How many shrinks does it take to change a lightbulb?"
"This is not the time to make jokes, Mr. Hill."
"Oh, to the contrary, Doc, I have all the time in the world. You will never accept that I'm fine, provided you have some excuse to lock me away."
"I'm growing sick of this going in circles. You think I'm predisposed against you, utilising the evidence I have at hand to, as you phrase it, lock you away. Then how do you explain your behaviour upon arriving at this facility?"
"I don't remember it, but I suppose I was delirious."
"And the reason for the military expulsion? They don't just fire anyone from the military. You have to be someone whose psychotic tendencies they can't hide."
"There you go again, with your prejudiced opinion. How many people do you even know in the armed forces? In the seventies, mental health problems in commanding officers was, indeed, a big deal. But times change. Now, a psychotic commander causes too many friendly casualties for them to be worth for their man-hunting traits. The army booted them all out in the nineties. Systematically hunted them down, under the guise of looking after their health and replaced their much needed blood-lust with extensive training. Remember how they experimened with giving troops LSD to increase their kill potential? They eventually uncovered that through repetitive training, they could disassociate the enemy from being people, to being targets, which worked a hell of a lot better than having a bunch of loose cannons running around. Perhaps you should have a little more respect for the men and women who give up their lives to let you keep your standard of living."
Dr. Laine remained quiet throughout my explanation.
"I... Have heard of some of these things. But that's beside the point. The army kicked you out because of your association with the Islamabad incident. Interestingly enough, you were the only one kicked out. Then you were sent here. From my understanding.. You and you alone are responsible for the millions of casualties that resulted, and the turmoil that followed."
I sucked in a deep breath. It was a low blow, but I knew he had me by the balls. So I lied.
"I was just following orders. I wanted to say no. Actually, I did. They threatened me with execution for insubordination. I don't even know who 'they' were. Some spook."
I glanced at the portrait of Sarah. The best lies contain elements of truth.
"How would a gunnery sergeant even know how to use a nuclear weapon? It's not like they have a 'click here to arm' button. No, I relayed the coordinates for the strike. But it was unauthorised and, naturally, I copped the blame. It haunts me... All those souls. All those people... Gone, in a flash of light. You know the Oppenheimer quote? Everytime I think about that moment, I remember that quote."
My lie had a lot of holes in it. Why would anything be carrying a nuke around? Why would I obey the spook who I didn't even know? Why would any pilot, mortar operator or submarine fire a nuke at request from some grunt on the ground? Hell, why wouldn't my squad stop me? I was relying on the military's penchant for secretiveness to protect my lie. It payed off.
"Taking all you've said into account, perhaps I need to reconsider my position, especially what you said in regard to my predisposition. Naturally, I'll take whatever you say with a grain of salt. I am, after all, talking to a mental patient. But perhaps he is suffering from depression, not schizophrenia, and perhaps he is racked by guilt, not violent bouts of insanity."
I was surprised by the humility in his voice. I immediately regretted judging him so harshly.
"Take all the time you need, doc. It's a serious situation. Oh, if you get in contact with Sarah, send her my love." I nodded at the painting, smiling as both realisation and shock flooded his features.
"Very well. I hope... Well, I hope whatever misfortune has befallen you passes into the light soon, Mr. Hill," he said, voice ringing with finality. I took the hint and stood up. The orderlies walked over to me and we left, but as we reached the door, Doctor Laine called out.
"Jared, Michael, the jacket won't be necessary next time. I'm sure Mr. Hill is no longer suffering from the violence that inflicted him on his arrival."