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Billy W. Mitchell

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Are You Real?
By Billy W. Mitchell
Monday, May 02, 2011

Rated "PG13" by the Author.

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A dual perspective short story of a paranoid schizophenic teenager and his mother.


            Darkness seeped in from the blackened walls. Like black holes they pulled in all light, threatening to take him to the farthest reaches of nowhere. He didn’t care anymore, though. He had already been there. The nowhere place was where his friends lived. They called to him now and again, beckoning for him to come home where they could better protect him from the demons beyond the window.
            Garret Baxter was no stranger to the voices. He had heard them off and on all throughout his young nineteen years of life. He had never before believed that they were real until about six months ago when he had called out for them and they had answered. The demons had been really bad back then, but then again, when hadn’t they been.
            Garret had lost track of how long he had been locked up in this padded dungeon. It must have been about four years now. Yes, for four years he had been here, ever since that little geek with the horn-rimmed glasses had sat at his table during lunch in the eighth grade. The demons had confiscated his trophy when they threw him away into this dungeon like a piece of table refuse. Garret had never known that his teeth were that strong.
            “Oh well,” Garret thought aloud, “the little dweeb didn’t need two ears anyway. That damn demon, that ear was mine fair and square.” The sound of his own voice startled him and he had to laugh at how well the silence shattered.
            Today was the day. Doris dreaded it more and more every time it came around. It was hard to see her son the way he was. Poor sick boy, she thought to herself. She pleaded silently to God to help mad men in their lost worlds.
            “Perry, I’m on my way to Willard to see Garret. Are you sure you won’t come with me?” pleaded Doris.
            A stocky, slightly balding man of about forty years of age walked slowly through the arch leading from the living room to the entryway.
            “I can’t, Dor. You know what seeing him does to me. I just…can’t.”
            He turned away from her as a solitary tear descended from the corner of his left eye.
            Without another word, the slender woman picked up the keys to her Bonneville from the telephone next to the entry closet and went through the open front door of their middle income ranch house outside of Cayuga Heights, New York, and closed it softly behind her. As she walked down the front steps to the driveway she silently asked God to forgive Perry for abandoning their son when he needed them most.
            As Doris started her car, she allowed herself to think about how life used to be. They used to be such a happy family. As tears began to roll down her cheeks, she forced herself not to cry.
            “I won’t cry! I have to be strong for Garret. I…will…not…cry!” she told herself aloud.
            She pulled out of the driveway and turned south down Country Club Road, which led to the main highway. Once on the main road, she headed west toward Ithaca. As she turned onto Highway 96 in Ithaca, she reminded herself to stop and get gas at Buck’s One-Stop on the other side of the city.
            Fifteen minutes later found her pumping the petroleum into her gas tank. The pump nozzle clicked off and she replaced it in the receptacle. On the walk indoors, she rummaged in her large brown and black leather purse for her pocketbook so she could present her gas card to Buck. As she opened the door, light silvery bells announced her arrival.
            “Hey, Dor, how are you today?” a voice sounded off from behind the well washed counter.
            “Hi, Buck. I’m about the same as usual, I guess,” answered Doris, presenting her gas card to the grizzled middle-aged man. “I thought you were going to shave that mangy thing attacking your face.”
            “Well, I was going to, but Christine’s kind of grown fond of it, so I think I’ll keep it a bit longer,” Buck replied, scratching a scraggly beard.
            “Buck, I swear, that woman is going to be the death of you. You really should watch out who you pick up in bars, especially when they work there.”
            “Oh, I’m doing alright. She treats me well enough,” Buck said. “Are you going to see Garret?”
            The smile that Doris had on her face slipped south a little bit.
            “Yeah, it’s visiting day again.”
            Buck finished the transaction on her card and handed it back to her along with the signature sheet, which Doris quickly scrawled on. The attendant retrieved the slip of paper, gave her back her copy, and put the original into his cash register.
            “Well, you take care and don’t worry, he’ll get better soon. You’ve got to keep the faith,” Buck reassured her.
            “I hope so. God, I hope so,” Doris replied as she exited the tinkling door.
            As she turned back onto Highway 96 West, she started thinking about the ‘normal’ days again. Garret had been so happy back then. He had been so normal. He had been just a normal teenager with a bright future ahead of him. He had wanted to join the football team when he got to high school. He had even had a girlfriend…Amelia Durkin. That whole bloody mess had kept her in therapy for two years.
            “Poor girl,” Doris thought out loud, “and that poor little Brice boy…he will never be the same again. Those scars on his ear will be visible for the rest of his life. I wouldn’t doubt it if he still has nightmares. Why did he do it? Why, Garret? Was it something we did…something we didn’t do…did we not love you enough?”
            Doris shook her head violently.
            “I’m not going through this again!” she said, as if saying it would make it so. She turned on the car radio to take her mind off the troubles for a while. The song that was playing was “Crazy” by Patsy Cline. Doris quickly changed the station. Patsy Cline was replaced by a rock station playing Ozzy Ozbourne’s “Crazy Train.” Doris turned the radio off.
            Thirty miles down the road, about two miles from Willard, New York, she turned down a narrow two lane drive which lead to the Willard State Hospital for the Mentally Ill. As she exited her Bonneville, she couldn’t help but wonder what kind of mood her son would be in today and mentally kicked herself for not calling before she came.
            She entered the antiquated building and walked up to the receptionist’s desk. The receptionist was busy filing paperwork and did not notice her approach. Doris cleared her throat lightly. The young blonde woman, startled, turned around.
            “Oh, hello,” she said.
            “Sorry if I startled you,” Doris apologized. “I have an appointment with Dr. Silverstein to see my son.”
            “Okay, if you will please have a seat, I’ll inform the Doctor that you are here Mrs. Baxter,” the young woman replied.
            Doris sat down in a worn yellow cushioned chair as the receptionist disappeared through a large metal door to the right of the desk. Willard had originally been a men’s college around the time of the Civil War, but it had been turned into a hospital for the casualties of that war. Eventually it had become a state run mental hospital. Like all hospitals, the sterile atmosphere made Doris nervous. Five minute later a tall, well built man of approximately thirty-five years of age came through the door that the receptionist had used.
            “Mrs. Baxter, hello, how was the drive today?” the Doctor asked.
            “Good. Good. How is Garret doing today?”
            “Well, to be perfectly honest, not good. Why don’t we go see him and I’ll explain,” the Doctor said as he held the door open for her. As she walked down the black and white tiled corridor, she felt as if she were going to an execution.
            The darkness swirled within the closed padded box which was Garret’s home. In the center of the tiny room, the Master was holding audience. His friends had come from the nowhere place to talk with him.
            “Do you like it here,” Garret asked.
            “No, we hate this place. They are too dark.”
            “Do you hate them?” he asked.
            “We do not know them. We have never seen them.”
            “I hate them. They perch up in their tree just beyond the window up there, watching,” Garret said, laughing softly. “No, I have never seen them, but I can feel their eyes. They watch me, you know, watching…waiting. They want to hurt me. They are waiting for me to go to sleep so they can hurt me. They have been after me for years, but I have never given them their chance to catch me. We were too smart for that,” Garret said proudly.
            “How can you be sure that they are even real if you have never seen them?”
            “I know that you guys are real and I have never seen you. I know that you protect me. You even talk about me behind my back, but I don’t care. You guys are the only friends I can trust. The others, though…oh yes, they are real. Sometimes I can see them out of the corners of my eyes, but when I look, they are gone. I am not crazy. You guys are real, aren’t you?” Garret asked with a slight whimper.
            “Guys?” he asked again.
            “Don’t leave me! I didn’t mean it, please, come back,” the young man pleaded.
            “Don’t leave me alone!” he screamed. “They’ll come and hurt me. You have to protect me,” Garret whispered, crying. “You guys don’t understand what it’s like to be locked up in this cage. They come and stare at me through the window. They want to hurt me.
            “Come back!” the scream came again.
            Light dawned in the room and the nineteen year old man could be seen. He had white pajama pants on that appeared to be too small for his tall, thin frame. He was also wearing something that resembled a long-sleeved shirt, but it appeared to be on backwards with the arms of the shirt fastened together behind his back. Needless to say, he couldn’t get the damned thing off, no matter how hard he tried. His face was an ordinary one, though it had not been shaven in some time. His mouth was a thin line across a narrow face with slightly protruding cheekbones, as if slightly malnourished. All in all, normal features.
            His eyes, however, could never have been called normal, by any means. They seldom blinked, always wide…searching, but never finding…lost…seeing what others could not. Sometimes they skittered about so. Sometimes, though, they just stared at the soft, quilted walls, not seeing them at all.
            As the light continued to brighten, the young man stood up with much effort. It was hard to move when your arms were useless.
            “Guys, come back!” Garret screamed in terror. “They’re coming! They’re going to hurt me again! Guys, please come back!”
            The door to the padded cell rumbled slowly open and four demons rushed in. They were covered in blood. Their faces had recently been ripped off their bare white skulls by the looks of them. The young man fought them off, screaming. He kicked at them with his twig-like legs. His feeble attempts to ward them off had no effect on the outcome, however. It never did. The demons wrestled the poor boy to the floor and they stabbed at him with their thin poisoned daggers. The poison always worked quickly, so in a matter of seconds, the young man was unconscious.
            That the demons had won again was the last thought to flit through the boy’s mind. The last image that he saw was that of the square window set in the wall high above him.
            “Mrs. Baxter, I wish that I had better news for you, but I’m afraid that there is no improvement in Garret’s condition. On the contrary, he seems to be getting progressively worse. I now have reason to believe that your son is not only paranoid, but showing signs of schizophrenia and even mild dementia. For the past couple of weeks, he has been very disturbed about something and, as we just saw, he is conversing with the voices he hears in his mind. It is my opinion that he thinks that these voices are real entities. He is slipping farther and father away from reality…retreating into his own little world. The orderlies have just administered 300mg of Thorazine, which will keep him unconscious for a while, but will make him feel better. I have a feeling that events are going to get worse before we start to see any improvement, if indeed he is capable of improvement,” the Doctor informed.
            Doris looked up at the Doctor and nodded fearfully. She had known that this was coming for a while now. Nothing that she could say or do could change the cold, hard realities of her son’s condition. As she looked back through the window at her son lying on the padded floor amongst the orderlies, she wondered to herself if they would ever be real to him again. Her hope was small and her pain all-consuming, but she forced herself to turn away from the window and walk through the open door into the main corridor.

            Before she left, she told the Doctor, “I don’t care so much if what my son sees is real or not, but Garret is real. Dr. Silverstein, don’t you ever forget that.”


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