Authors: W. C. Anderson
This is a work of fiction. All characters in this publication are fictitious, and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Any reference to real persons or places is strictly for fictional purposes.
Copyright© 2012 by W.C. Anderson. All Rights Reserved.
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Ah me! How hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.
So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.
I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I abandoned the true way.
The Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto I
October 31, 20—
When I close my eyes, a dazzling kaleidoscope of warm color envelops me—color and warmth I am now certain I will never actually see or feel again. We both know what ultimately brought me to this—waking dreams of what could have been had left me broken-hearted. But I am
mad. I hope you can believe me. I know for some time I’ve been distant and strange, and yes, even utterly and stupidly reckless. But that doesn’t make me crazy.
For some reason, and I wish with my entire soul it weren’t so, I’m a poison to those around me. I know you know that’s true but would never admit it. (Remember Mr. Bailey, our fifth grade teacher?) Only now, for the first time, I finally know what to do. The problem is that no one else believes I’m here in this psychiatric hospital by mistake, that all my injuries were
. No one else believes I never tried to kill myself.
I know this is a little weird because we haven’t been as close as we used to be lately. Again, obviously, that’s my fault. Once I was determined to live an extraordinary life, filled with adventure and the
. The price for reaching too high and failing was higher than I could’ve imagined—
the bitter lapse into everyday life
I won’t lie; looking back is difficult—my memories are tinged with hollowness and shame. Still, I wasn’t suicidal. I mean, obviously, this last time, I did drink the poison—I just didn’t think it would kill me! And it
. But psychiatry, like alchemy, is a very inexact science. You’d think the psychiatrists—of all people—would have a sense of humor about an occasional lapse in judgment like taking a few drops of poison.
Having just reread this note, it’s… not coming out the way I’d hoped, or on paper, the words aren’t expressing themselves the way I imagined.
Returning to the point, dear Mr. Fernwood is telling me I have to escape—through the window—tonight.
It’s ten stories down
, I told him. His only response was, and still is: he’ll take care of it. Of course I asked him how he planned to do that, and he told me I needed to have a little faith.
. That was his answer. I’ve been in a psychiatric hospital for however many weeks now, I’ve lost all of my friends, probably my job, and I have felt more lost and alone here than you can possibly imagine. Clearly, conjuring faith out of soul-sucking lunatic asylum air is more than just a little difficult, I told him. Then I remembered a few nights ago, when I was confined to a strait jacket and needed his help, and he couldn’t—or wouldn’t—help me out of it. When I asked him how he could possibly get me safely down a ten-story window when he couldn’t even loosen a goddamn strait jacket, he just laughed hysterically. He’s laughing again now as he reads this.
Who is Mr. Fernwood, you’re probably wondering? He’s a friend, and the only one I have left, most likely. He sort of came to visit me one particularly melancholy day and never left. For all of his faults, he’s proven himself a true friend to me. I trust him now, for the most part.
Anyway, should things… not go as planned tonight, I’d like you to know that I didn’t commit suicide. It’ll have been another
Also, before I forget, thank you for visiting me in the beginning. I can’t tell you how much it meant. My soul seemed to brighten on the days you were here. I know I didn’t seem happy to see you at the time. I was embarrassed. I am embarrassed still. I just don’t have time for that now.
More time would be nice, in case things don’t work out, but I guess that’s what everyone says in the end. Though, at other times, I must admit, I feel the grim satisfaction of the condemned, knowing that with death comes
. No more invisible anchor around my neck or unsolvable labyrinth of the unknown. Sometimes, when I close my eyes I feel
But I can never escape for too long. The evil begins to tug on my soul, reminding me that I will never really be free. That place, wherever I went after my accident—when I died—it wants me back. And I know the haunting won’t stop until it has me.
Again, I think this note is really not saying what I want it to. I don’t want to kill myself. End of story.
One last thing—you are, and always will be, the best friend I have ever had. I’ll miss you, wherever I end up.
To Whom It May Concern:
I can no longer bear it. I want to be at peace. Tell my father and brother that I love them with my whole heart.
Mr. Fernwood took the notes from my hand as soon as the pen had left the paper. He folds more neatly than I do, I suppose. He led me down the long corridor, to the perpetually empty room at the end of the hall, where he bowed and gestured toward the window, the partially unhinged suicide screen swinging slowly in pendulum-like fashion. Although I knew he was clever enough to obtain a key and unlock the screen on his own, he had, instead, ripped off the screen at one of the hinges. He has an irrepressible dramatic flair that simply unleashes itself at moments like these. I don’t believe he really has much control over it. He’s just one of those people (or whatever he is) who literally cannot help themselves. This thought made me smile, and Mr. Fernwood along with me.
The crisp fall air blew my hair and god-awful hospital gown gently as I stood in silent admiration of the city that first stole my heart. I took in all of the quiet beauty of the cypress trees along the St. Johns River, illuminated by the twilight, in those few moments. If Mr. Fernwood was wrong, or more importantly, if I was wrong about Mr. Fernwood’s intentions, this glimpse of the wilds outside Jacksonville would be my last.
I inhaled deeply. My mind is made up, so I suppose it doesn’t matter. I’m ready for the answer now, whichever it may be.
Mr. Fernwood winked. I held my breath and… jumped.
One year (or so) earlier
I have an insatiable desire for the bizarre—the truly outré—and am often plagued by fits of restlessness. I may for days on end whirlwind around until every last undone task before me is completed. The tasks can vary from anything as commonplace as reading
in a single sitting
to as complicated as researching dark matter and dark energy, both of which I find absolutely fascinating. Other times I may spend days, even weeks composing music. Still other times, I become enraptured in something as hopelessly mundane as repainting my kitchen. While in the throes of these compulsions, I have forgone food, sleep, and company for days at a time—nothing else matters but the task at hand.
Unfortunately, in between these fits, I freefall into unrelenting doldrums, during which I’m completely absorbed in my own thoughts and daydreams. I’m self aware enough to realize I can only be truly happy when I have a goal to reach, something to look forward to and accomplish, but there are only so many times one can repaint a kitchen (in my case, eight). As an enigmatic man once said: My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplaces of existence. Only I have neither his brilliance nor accomplishments—nor drug habit—to see me through my own dark times.
At the moment, as I stare dully at my computer screen, cheek in palm, wishing by some miracle this report could just finish itself somehow already, I’m obviously not going through one of my restless phases. As I stare, a dark shadow casts itself onto the screen—as though someone is standing behind me. I know better than to start or turn. No one is there. Nothing is ever there—just a fanciful invention of my wild imagination. I close my eyes and count to ten…
When I open them, the apparition has departed.
Compounding matters is there just seems to be no end in sight to the mountain of work on my desk, and no matter how hard I work the pile never gets any smaller. Just as my fingers grace the keyboard, the point at which I can usually imagine myself composing a delicate, ethereal, symphonic creation instead of another dry research report, I stop short, my fantasy evaporating before it even has the chance to take shape. Today I just can’t see the point to any of it. No one would probably notice if I dropped dead right now; my replacement would just step over my lifeless body and continue with the soul-crushing work.
Even with my usually fool-proof music on, my dark playlist (currently playing
Mistaken for Strangers
by The National), I can’t drag myself out of it. Occasionally, I get so overwhelmed just thinking about how much I need to get done that I become sort of paralyzed and then can’t accomplish anything. Times like
. I knew I should’ve called in sick today. Not that the work would disappear if I weren’t here or anything, but it often helps to just... give
on days like this. Once in awhile, giving up is nurturing to the soul.
Anyway, it’s not like my work here is really that bad. Actually, that’s not true. I research and evaluate a variety of programs funded and/or sponsored by my company, Aviratia Corp., and write reports based on the findings, which entails loads of time spent poring over boring statistics. Enjoyment of the work really depends on the program being evaluated. If you’re evaluating crime statistics or the success rate of corporate-sponsored online dating services, it can be quite interesting. If, on the other hand—and far more frequently—you’re evaluating the mortality rate of food poisonings at corporate-catered events or the leakage rate of sewer systems installed at our facilities—or worse, sales trends amongst males 11 to 25—well, you get the idea.
The main problem with my job is that after all these years I still don’t understand what Aviratia actually does. It’s a conglomerate of several other smaller companies that Aviratia “manages,” whatever that means. All of the smaller companies are really disparate, anything from restaurants to brokerage firms to semiconductor manufacturers. For doing whatever it is we do, Aviratia makes an obscene amount of money. I’ve seen the silver and golden parachutes for our executives, and everyone’s heard the rumors about the millions they made in bonuses last year. As for the rest of us, our last bonus was the warm fuzzy feeling of simply having a job in this economy. At every single Monday morning staff meeting, all of us sit on pins and needles to see if ours is the job that will next be slashed. Especially nervous are the employees like me, whose jobs are glaringly expendable.