Departure: 1254 words

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This topic contains 2 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Anonymous 11 months, 3 weeks ago.

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  • #346450


    An insistent wind drove dense cloud formations inland and threw waves against the sand. The sun had bleached my fatigues to a tired gray. A line of figures dressed in worn scraps of clothing knelt before a deep trench parallel to the line of the surf, heads bowed, eyes and mouths covered by broad strips of dark fabric tape.

    A woman sat facing me across a long conference table surrounded by empty chairs. Her hair, tied behind her head, was straight, thick and black. Her eyes were dark and her skin shone like gold leaf. She wore a double-breasted suit with a tiny silver salamander basking on her lapel. She didn’t look away when I dead-eyed her stare.
    She spoke to me as if I might shatter.
    “Do you know where you are?”
    I looked down at my orange cotton scrubs and the padded leather cuffs binding my hands to a heavy leather belt locked around my waist. She waited a few seconds for me to respond.
    “Do you know how long you’ve been here?”
    Her voice retreated as my vision went black.

    A man appeared at my side before a trench. Cables of muscle tensed in his forearm as he raised a pistol and fired into the head of a figure kneeling before us. Even in the open space and blowing wind, the sound of the shot seemed to explode from all around us like a thunderclap. A face splashed into the trench.

    A woman’s voice crackled over dizziness and nausea.
    “Why do I keep losing him, doctor?”
    “It’s his medication.”
    He placed a steel binder on the table in front of her.
    “His file.”
    She touched the binder lightly with her fingertips but didn’t open it.
    “Thank you, doctor. Could I speak with him for a few moments in private?”

    A man turned from a trench to regard me, a pistol at his side. His eyes were cold and metallic and he wore fatigues identical to mine. He stepped behind a kneeling figure and shot him in the base of the skull. As the body slumped into the trench he looked at me as if he had asked me a question and was waiting for an answer.

    The door swung shut and locks slid into place.
    A striking woman in a black suit searched a steel binder for something elusive and important.

    A man deftly flipped a pistol in his hand to hold it by the barrel, offering it to me. I refused to move.
    He shrugged, flipped the pistol again, extended his arm at his side and, his eyes fixed on mine, put a bullet behind the ear of a figure kneeling before a trench. He smiled as I jumped at the sound of the shot.

    A quite attractive woman in a black suit with a silver lizard pinned to her lapel turned pages in a steel binder, her eyes scanning and pausing in a quick and steady rhythm as if watching a passing train.
    “’Catatonic for three months following admission, restrained following a violent psychotic episode that resulted in staff casualties.’ They’re poisoning you.”
    She looked intently into my eyes, watching for a missing sign.

    A man with a handgun was waiting for me.
    I shook my head.
    “This is not who I am.”
    He chuckled and a scalp disappeared in an explosion of blood, tissue and bone.
    His face was set in a broad smile.
    “You deny your nature as easily as you deny your past.”
    Another body toppled into a trench as the wind carried the sound of the shot over the trees and into the jungle. I could taste blood in the air.
    “This is you.”

    “-and it shows in every laboratory diagnostic. Blood chemistry, thyroid function, liver panel and kidney function all indicate punitive brute chemical force.”
    A woman with dark hair frowned at at a steel binder, then abruptly flipped it shut and looked at me.
    “We’re going.”
    This seemed unlikely.
    I was as surprised to hear myself speak as she was.
    She flashed an identification badge with a photo of her with longer hair and a broad smile.
    “By the authority of a board-certified psychiatrist to whom I bear an uncanny resemblance.”

    A shot made a corpse. A man with a gun was stained by a fine veil of blood. He shouted against the rising wind.
    “You’ve been a psychopath, a vegetable, and everything in between. Which state represents your true self? The strongest? The safest? How did you choose?” His laughter danced along the sand.

    “I’ll ask once more, and I urge you to think carefully before you answer. This could be the most important decision of your career.” Somehow she made the threat sound merely convivial. We stood in a wide, sterile, windowless hallway lined with closed and unmarked doors. A woman in a black suit and dark glasses stood beside me, her gaze locked on a man in a white laboratory coat who stood in our way. He didn’t seem reassured by the sudden arrival of a silent phalanx of white-clad orderlies. One conspicuously carried a white straightjacket.
    The woman standing at my side glanced through dark glasses at the arrivals as if in rapid calculation. The doctor’s face was resolute, but his voice betrayed him.
    “He will remain under our supervision without proper clearance for his release.”
    “Proper clearance.” The woman drew a silenced pistol from a holster under her jacket.
    Everyone but the woman with the gun took a step back.

    I jumped as a man missing the right side of his jaw slid into the trench. A man with a pistol stood before me, eyes burning into mine, his voice a strident hiss.
    “Who do you think you are?”

    “Take the patient,” stammered a man in a white laboratory coat.
    “Take all the patients. Take as many patients as you need.”
    A beautiful woman’s face blossomed into a brilliant and predatory smile.
    “Now, doctor, I’ve given you two chances. You can’t change your answer after I’ve shown my hand.”
    She retracted and released the slide on a large silenced pistol and started killing people.

    I stared at the next in line kneeling in the sand, realizing with dawning horror that he had my exact build, skin tone and hair color. I ran my hand along the side of my own neck and felt the jagged contours of a scar that ran from below the man’s left ear to his collarbone.

    I woke in the passenger seat of a parked sedan. A woman with dark hair sat in the driver’s seat. I wore orange hospital scrubs and restraints. The woman held a clear plastic bag containing a soggy surgical mask soaked in a clear fluid. Bubbles trapped in the fluid surrounding the mask moved like amoebae pressed between microscope slides.

    A man pressed a gun at the base of a kneeling man’s skull and turned to face me.
    Paralyzed, I waited for the shot.

    A beautiful woman smiled beside me and gently slipped a wet surgical mask over my face. Butterflies sailed and fluttered just out of reach over a meadow of tall grass, wildflowers and sunlight. Names returned in steady recitation: black swallowtail, red admiral, monarch, azure, fritillary, viceroy… my net would arrest their flight, but I would protect their delicate wings from the winds and rain that would leave them tattered and faded. They would survive under thin panes of glass, wings spread one last time in symmetrical crucifixion. The killing jar flooded my senses.

  • #654264


    These are intensely vivid images. But very hard to follow as a story.

    I recognize the attempt to portray mental illness. Or, at least, the appearance of it. Then problem, I think, is that I as a reader am not (yet) ready to make those leaps of perception with the protagonist (I presume the mental patient is the protagonist). This stems, I think, from a reader’s need for sense and flow. I once read an agent’s blog that said don’t justify writing by saying that it really happened that way.

    I always took that to mean, in essence, that there’s such a thing as too much truth. See, life can be random. It doesn’t always make sense. Things happen for no apparent reason. But readers want and expect a flow, a story.

    I think you need to give us a story first, THEN let us see one of these “episodes”. Give us a reason to feel this man’s situation straight up. And then (I words, Rob)… And then I’m invested and understand that he’s not necessarily a reliable narrator, and that I can simply go with the flow of his altered perceptions.

    I think you’re taking on an incredibly difficult subject, and I think you’ve done well. I just needed a reason to join the ride.

  • #654265


    Great feedback; very much appreciated.

    “Readers want and expect a flow, a story”

    “I think you need to give us a story first”

    “I just needed a reason to join the ride”

    I received essentially the same response to another story; I wrote it for myself without engaging the reader.

    “Don’t justify writing by saying that it really happened that way.” is valuable advice.

    Thank you for your time and effort.


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