Asylum

By John Mahoney

Simon Childe blinked, uncertain of where that blinding white light had come from. It was dark in the cell, of course, the sun hours set; the rectangular light above his head could not be turned off, so he’d used peanut butter to glue the lids of Styrofoam trays to it. Years of imprisonment had attuned Simon’s ears better than a hearing aid ever could, and the boot steps of the approaching guard pounded like an enemy’s battle drums. He halted his work, checking the end of the metal spoon he’d been sharpening against the cell’s rough concrete floor. Had a mirror been present in the tiny secure room, Simon might have seen the grin that cracked his pale middle-aged face like the San Andreas Fault. He had spent his last seven birthdays in the loony bin – or mental health facility as they called it with their fluffy, politically correct words. These same words cruelly labelled him a paranoid schizophrenic.

Simon knew he wasn’t crazy, or at least if he was, they’d driven him mad locking him away in this horrid room for the better part of a decade. Had he killed Melanie and her strapping young boyfriend? Why wouldn’t he have? That didn’t make him crazy, for God’s sake; it made him a man! He’d tried to tell them this. He’d poured his heart out to his lawyer, the jury, and the judge, but that had landed him here. It didn’t matter. He was sane. “I’d have to be crazy to stay here, that’s for sure,” he murmured, clenching the sharpened spoon in his fist to conceal it. “And I’m not crazy.”

The boot clomped closer, and Simon could now hear the softer steps of the Valentino shoes worn by Doctor Martin mingling with the louder noise. Pompous pricks like him could hardly be more despised if they wore signs depicting their diet of fried kittens and buttered beagles. But Doctor Martin made it his business to keep Simon in this hellhole. It was Martin who declared him crazy every six months like clockwork, to ensure the courts would never parole him, no matter what Simon said. Some extra hatred could always be dredged up from the last puddle of a drained lake for a man’s personal Satan. Yet Simon was almost happy to see him now.

The guard’s keys jangled like broken wind chimes as he opened the cell’s heavy metal door, calling out, “Childe! Meds up!” The voice belonged to Officer Ralph Renfrey, the closest Simon had to a buddy in this sty of madmen. Ralph would sometimes bring in a foil clad bundle of real food from his kitchen, giving Simon reprieve from the ungodly vittles served by the nuthouse, as well as the occasional, blessed cigarette. Few other guards would even speak respectfully to Simon, much less take steps to ease his suffering. Why did it have to be Ralph?

The cell door opened outward, scalding the concrete room with the hallway’s fluorescent light and illuminating Simon’s sky blue scrubs. Before him stood Officer Ralph and Doctor Martin. Ralph of course wore his immaculately pressed blue uniform, complete with its sewed-on felt badge and polished black boots. His hair was full and black, hovering an entire foot over the receding gray hairline of Doctor Martin. The wrinkled doctor had donned an ink stained white jacket and black slacks. He smelled faintly of pricey cologne, and Simon could see his own ghastly reflection in the man’s glasses. The sight of the unkempt red fringe hair scraggling from his otherwise bald head enraged Simon, though he refrained from showing it. He certainly looked like a lunatic, but haircuts were as frequent as August snow. Doctor Martin probably wanted to ensure Simon visually lived up to the part in case anyone uninvolved with the conspiracy to keep him here saw him.

“Hey, Officer Renfrey,” Simon greeted cheerfully, heading toward the door as Doctor Martin proffered a tiny, flimsy plastic cup containing the medication that his patient would not be taking today. “Thought you had off on Saturdays.”

“Christmas next month,” Ralph grunted in response. He hitched his utility belt-covered pants further up his considerable waist. “Kids want presents, so Santa has to work overtime, ya know?”

Simon neared the two, extending his closed right hand toward them, as if reaching to take the cup from Doctor Martin’s outstretched fingers. “Damn shame,” he muttered, before pivoting and stabbing upward to bury the point of the sharpened spoon deep into Ralph’s chubby neck. Ralph’s eyes bulged nearly out of their sockets, and his gasp blended with that of the not-so good doctor. As the cup of pills clattered to the floor, Simon mercifully jerked his weapon from Ralph’s throat, bringing forth a torrent of blood. The big man gurgled a horrid groan and joined the Thioridazine tablets forlorn on the tile. His massive body landed with a sickening thud.

No hero was Doctor Martin, as he proved by turning tail to bolt down the cell block, screaming for help at the top of his infuriating nasal voice. Simon caught him in seconds, tackling him to the ground, and put the deadly spoon to his throat. The other patients watched from the small windows in the doors of their cells, some of them cheering him on while others begged him to stop. The rest simply hooted and hollered like the animals they were. “Let me go!” screeched Doctor Martin, his initial resistance halting when he felt the metal at his neck. “Childe, let me go!”

Simon laughed, and it felt so good. “Let you go?” He hauled Martin to his feet, holding the vile shrink from behind and keeping the bloody point at his throat. “You must think I’m crazy, Doc!” he said with a chuckle, securing his grip on the trembling man. “How many times did I ask you to let me go? How many?”

With that, Simon nudged his hostage forward, and captive and captor – their roles suddenly reversed – exited the hallway, with Simon taking great care to hold his weapon in place as they walked.

Doors were unlocked by gaping guards in control booths three times at Martin’s wailed command before they made it out of the maximum security unit of the loony bin and into its main hall. All of the guards, doctors, and nurses who ran to the source of the screaming to help hurled themselves to tiled floor when Simon shouted, “Get down, or I kill him! Get down!”

Passing dozens of face down guards and civilians, Simon finally reached his goal: the tall black double doors that led to freedom, looming over him like a massive, elusive dark tower. He stabbed Martin, leaving his weapon in the man’s throat and allowing the body to hit the floor, before he grabbed the door’s horizontal handle and pulled. The door did not budge. Screaming in fury, Simon yanked on the handle with all his might as the guards behind him leapt to their feet.

The men dashed toward Simon, and he howled impotently. He let his body go limp in anticipation of the first of many merciless beatings he was about to receive in retaliation for his escape attempt, as if he was wrong for wanting freedom. His weight shifted and he nearly fell over as the door gave under him, swinging open outward just a bit. Simon’s heart leaped. The door required pushing instead of pulling to open! He felt the hand of a guard grab his scrub and he shrugged it off, slamming all of his body onto the handle. The doors opened and the heavenly white light of freedom engulfed him.

Simon blinked, uncertain of where that blinding white light had come from. It was dark in the cell, of course. Years of imprisonment had attuned Simon’s ears better than a hearing aid ever could, and the boot steps of the approaching guard pounded like an enemy’s battle drums. “I’d have to be crazy to stay here,” he murmured, clenching the sharpened spoon in his fist to conceal it. “And I’m not crazy.”

(Bio: John Mahoney is a writer from New Jersey.)

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