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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

by Iain Watt

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Did you know I could see it? It's there looking back at me! Hello little thing, sitting there looking, breathing.

Just sitting there!

What are you doing?

Why do you have to do it sitting there?

Did you know I'm the only one that can hear it? It's talking to me and you don't know what its saying! Ha!

If I make it go away will you let me out of this room? It's too white in here and it smells like a hospital. Please, I can make it go away.

See it's gone now? My mistake, you couldn't see it in the first place?

'Well, Mr and Mrs Holland, I would like to say that your son had improved over the last month but I can't.' said the doctor.

They stood in the welcome room at the Mental Institute. It was a dull room, white paint both on ceiling and walls, and a grey tiled floor. The smell was of a doctor's waiting room; although it was called a welcome room it did not seem like one. There were two sofas and four chairs, all the same dark grey. In the middle was a plain looking, square, teak table. There were a few magazines and papers littered on top of it, the most recent one a year old. A clock sat on the wall beating out each second with great force, like the pulse in your head when pressed against a pillow.

Mr and Mrs Holland, Mike and Judy, had been waiting for twenty minutes before the doctor came to see them. They both looked gaunt and withdrawn. Mike was a well set man, brown hair and dark brown eyes, with a kind weathered face. Judy was slight of build with blond hair and piercing blue eyes although at this moment in time they did not look as if they could pierce anything. It had been a month since Simon was moved here, and the last time they had seen their son. The doctor advised them not to come. He had said that it might be a good idea to stay away until some improvement had occurred. Now the doctor stood facing them saying there was no progress.

It was Mike's pulse that was beating now, threatening to explode from his head. 'So there isn't any improvement? What the hell are we here for then? Stay away you said, give him time to settle down and let us do our job. What are you doing?' Mike was furious and not used to being this angry. From a very early age Mike had learned to control his temper. With two older brothers he had to, but this was his son and he could not hold back the volatile feelings from within.

'Like I said there was some improvement. It was very good but just last week Simon started to deteriorate again. First he stopped taking the medication then he refused to eat.' The doctor looked very concerned as he talked to Mike and Judy. Like Judy the doctor was slight of build, but with mouse brown hair and pale green eyes. As he stood there he looked more at the floor than at the two of them. He was an exceptional talent in his field but dealing with patients' relatives was not his forte. He always seemed to find the wrong things to say or came across as blunt as a wooden spoon.

Judy did not know what to do or how to react to the information she was receiving. How could this be happening? Up until a year ago she had shared with Mike the perfect family. They had two lovely children, a son and daughter, a great house, jobs they both loved, the list went on and on. Their daughter, Sandra, had just started college in September and was doing really well, especially considering what her brother was going through. Simon, their son, had also been bright. Younger than his sister at fourteen, he was well ahead of his peers. That was until a year ago. One year. What a difference that year had made! She needed to find out what was going on and how to solve it. She would and she had to. 'Did he give you a reason?' She asked.

The doctor looked awkward standing facing the couple, as if contemplating a response to the question. He shuffled his feet and looked at them. 'Please, would you like a seat?' He motioned to one of the sofas. Mike and Judy sat down. 'I did ask him a number of times and each time came the same answer. He told us that if we couldn't save him from "it", the only way out was...death.'

Judy burst into tears and put her head in her hands. Mike looked bemused as though he was still waiting for the explanation, because what he had just been told was not real. Nothing followed except the sobs of his wife.

The institute was quite small. They only ever held a maximum of twenty patients, normally fifteen. The doctor led them down the corridor towards the ward. The walls and floor were pretty much the same as the waiting room, cold and grey. There were doors either side as they walked; these led to the rooms where the patients slept. During the day they were all in the ward where they could interact with each other or watch the television, as they seemed to do every waking hour. Judy, Mike and the doctor came to the end of the corridor and went through the double doors. The doctor explained to the Holland's that there was nobody in the ward as the patients were attending a group therapy session. Mike wondered how anyone might get better here, staring at such blandness. Perhaps it was a mistake to have moved Simon here. What else could he have done though? This was the best possible place for him, the best specialists in the world, or so Mike had been informed.

The ward was a big room; it was not a ward in the hospital sense because there were no beds. The patients all slept in the rooms that the group had just passed in the corridor. Mike thought it strange they called it a ward at all because clearly it was not. He thought it more to be an activity area. A place where the patients could get together and socialise. In fact they spent most of their days there. Occasionally they would venture outside or even go on a day trip, but most of the patients relied on their family to relieve them of their monotonous surroundings and predictable routine.

The ward had green plastic tables and chairs where people could sit and play a selection of board games provided for them. In the far right hand corner was a large television set with comfy chairs arranged to face it. The screen was left on but the sound had been muted. Again the colour of the room was the same as the corridor and the waiting room before it. The colour from the television was like an oasis in the middle of a stark desert, the only focal point in the room. Mike guessed this is what took up most of the patients time. He probably would have done the same.

There were four doors in the ward; the door leading from the corridor, two group therapy rooms, and a fourth without any indication as to what lay behind it. Through the window of the first door on the left Mike could see a group of people sitting on chairs in a circle. They seemed to all be talking at once. On one of the chairs a lady with a clipboard sat; the therapist. She had a smile on her face and seemed to be enjoying the conversations that were taking place. He looked closer and realised they were all smiling. This warmed Mike's heart to see these people having fun. This is the first time he had been able to come to the institute. When Simon had moved to the institute a month ago his father had been away on a business trip. After that they had been told not to come until "things" had settled down and here they were and "things" had taken a nosedive. He wondered if all the white walls were a clever trick to make the patients look forward to the group therapy meetings. After this thought, Mike then noticed the vivid hues emanating from the room he was looking into. Pictures hung from these colourful walls and two large windows let in the light from outside. The room might have been in a different building as it was such a contrast to the ward they were standing in.

The doctor pointed to the room that Mike was looking into, 'You may have noticed that the room is decorated differently in there. This is an idea we are experimenting with. The group therapy sessions are very important to us. We have tried to make it an inviting place to come so the patients associate it with pleasant emotions. We want them to like this room and everything that goes on in there.'

Mike was pleased with himself for spotting it, 'But does it work? They all seem to have smiles on their faces in there, which is great, but what about when they're out here?'

The doctor looked pleased at the question as there had been no conversation on the way along the corridor. He had sensed the tension growing but now it seemed to ease just enough for them to talk again. 'It has been a great success. There have been fewer arguments in the main ward here, and some improvement in a majority of the patients behaviour. In fact we are ready to move one of our patients to his parents' house. They will have home help but I don't think they'll need it.'

Judy looked at the doctor, 'But Simon was one of the minority?'

The doctor felt the tension mount back up. What could he say to that? He was so caught up in his achievements that he neglected to use tact! Instead of answering he turned and walked towards the final door. It had no window and no sign.

When they reached the door the doctor pulled out a set of keys. He found the one he was looking for and unlocked the door. He pushed it open and walked inside holding it for Mike and Judy to follow. It was a small room, more of a hallway really. At the far end there was an open door leading to a larger room where people seemed to be working. These were members of the nursing team. Just before this room, on the left there was another door. This was closed.

The doctor walked to this door and stopped, 'We will be able to see Simon from here. I must warn you that he is being fed intravenously and is strapped to the bed due to him trying to leave and pull away the tubes. He doesn't look well either. He is very pale and thin.'

Judy's eyes started to fill up again but this time she fought back the tears. She needed to be strong and knew it was no good crying in front of her son as it would not help him.

They walked through the door and into a room with a big window in front of them. There was nothing else in the room apart from another door situated in the right-hand wall. Through the window they could see their son. The doctor had not lied, Simon looked awful. There were tubes coming from him, which were bad but bearable. That was not the real problem. It was the way he looked. His eyes were dark and sunken with little colour emanating from them. Even though he was wearing a gown they could see he was desperately thin. And white; he was so pale. The doctor had been right not to hold back on this point because it would have been more of shock than it already was to see their son in this state.

'He can't see us, it's mirrored on his side. We have this little room so that we can monitor him. It is also good because of the reaction we can sometimes get off relatives. Best for them to react out here than in there.'

'I can understand why. Can we go in and see him. We need to talk to him and see if we can find out what's going on.' Judy asked.

The doctor opened the door and let the two inside. Judy went to the bedside first, 'Hello Simon.'

Simon looked up at her, 'Have you come to stop it? It found me here. Only took three weeks to find me. Three weeks! What do I have to do to get away from it? I tell the doctors it's not here just so they will let me go home. They don't believe me though and keep me here. Why have you been staying away?'

Judy could not hang on to her tears this time. Her son was blurting one sentence after the other. Mike came over to hold her.

'Sorry son. We didn't mean it to be so long. We were asked to stay away so you could get better. It won't happen again I promise.' Mike sounded calm and reassuring.

'OK Dad. Look I know you think I've lost it. I haven't. I just want to get it away from me. I've tried to hide away. I thought I'd lost it too. When you're the only person that can see something and everyone else is saying its not there then you do question yourself.'

The doctor looked shocked, 'I've never heard you speak like this before. If I'd have known bringing your parents would have such an affect on you I would have suggested it sooner.'

'What's going on son? Why won't you eat?' Judy had stopped crying and looked up when her son had started talking again. She could not believe it. He sounded like the bright fourteen-year-old again. He had not sounded "normal" for almost a year.

'Sorry mum. When nobody would listen to what I was saying I didn't see the point anymore. I just wanted to get away. This was my last resort. I don't want to die yet but it seemed my only way out.' Simon moved in his bed.

The doctor came to the bed now and asked, 'If I take off the straps will you stay calm and not pull at the tubes?'

Simon looked at the doctor and answered, 'If you take the drips out I will happily eat something. When nobody came to see me I thought I was on my own. It didn't mater if I died or not. You're here now so it does matter.'

The doctor unfastened the straps. There were only three. Simon sat up, glad to be free of his bindings. His father and mother both opened their arms and embraced their son. The doctor buzzed for a nurse to come in so that she could take out the tubes. He also asked for a sandwich and a glass of water.

Mike was so happy. From being told your son would rather die than go on living, to him making a miracle recovery. All this in the space of an hour! He could not stop smiling. Perhaps everything was going to be all right after all. If Simon could continue to behave like this he could come home. It would not take him long to fit back in at school. He would still be ahead of everyone else in the same year.

The nurse brought in a sandwich and glass of water as instructed by the doctor. She placed it on the bedside table and smiled at Simon, 'Hi. Tuna OK?'

Simon smiled back, 'Yes fine. Could I use your pen and notebook? I'd like to write something down.'

They all looked at Simon and then at each other. Each one of them was asking the same question as the other but none asking out loud. The nurse looked to the doctor for guidance. Without speaking the doctor nodded and the nurse handed over her pen and notebook. She then left the room, again smiling at Simon.

Simon pressed the button on top of the pen so the nib came out. He started to write something on the paper. None of them knew what to expect. He sat, writing, for what seemed to his parents, an eternity. Nobody said a word.

'Come and have a look at this Doctor Williams.' Simon motioned for the doctor to come over.

He looked at Mike, then Judy, smiled, and sat down next to Simon. Simon pointed at the paper.


The smile was wiped clean off Doctor Williams' face. Just as he turned to look at Simon he felt a sharp pain in his neck and screaming filled his ears. The screams were not from him but were produced by Judy. He tried to look but only saw a pen coming towards his eye. Before he could react the pen had pierced his lens and continued through the retina directly into his brain, killing him almost instantly.

Judy looked on in terror as Doctor Williams' lifeless form slumped onto the bed, blood spurting from his neck wound and flowing from his eye. There was a wild look on her son's face. A big grin stretched from ear to ear, an unfamiliar glimmer in his eyes. Mike was making a grab for his son, their son! Simon leapt from the bed. For someone that had been lying imprisoned for nearly a week he had surprising vigour.

Mike screamed, 'Come here son! Put the pen down! PLEASE put it down!'

'IT! IT! I TOLD YOU ABOUT IT! DIDN'T FUCKIN' LISTEN THOUGH. DID YOU?' Simon lunged for his mother. Before Judy could let out a scream he had implanted the pen into her throat. The only thing that came out of her mouth was spatters of blood. She dropped to the floor holding her wound, trying to stop the flow of her ebbing life.

Mike was stunned. He froze to the spot. It was all too much. If this were some attacker he did not know would he have done something by now? Is it because it was his son he could not react? What the hell was going on? Wake up now, please, God! His inability to grasp what was going on was his downfall. Simon grinned at his father then stabbed wildly at his eyes.

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