This month I’m going to try something a little different. Each month I’m going to expand my Flash Fic Pics so that you get one story with lots of cool illustrations. Each month you’ll get a different look and theme. Check back everyday for a new picture and the next part of the story! See you on the other side…

When I was young, I met a man. I was out drinking some coffee with a couple of friends when he arrived. He wasn’t a particularly remarkable man but he had the kind of face you’d swear you’ve seen somewhere before once. Maybe even a hundred times. You could have passed him on the street every day but you would never remember where or when. The day I met the unremarkable man with the familiar face, he told me I was going to die.

That day, my friends and I were sitting in a room—a den really—talking about this and that like we always did. I don’t recall the topic but I’m sure it was unimportant. Hell, the rest of the room escapes me. I’m assuming there were other chairs and tables and it was painted a light blue, I think. Or maybe gray. But the angel—that I remember. It hung on the wall near the entrance, life-sized and crucified.  It made me sad to look at it (which is probably why I stared). It’s funny what you remember at the end. Anyways, they were sitting with their backs to the angel when he walked in and stood before us. 

His head scraped against the low ceiling to our little nook and he held his neck in a craned way that made me uncomfortable. My friends, up to this time a loquacious pair, stopped talking. After an awkward  and very pregnant pause, they stood and left me alone with the bent man. To this day, I’m not sure if they could even see him. He sat down in the chair opposite me and rested his face in the purlicue of his hand. His eyes were intense. He said nothing.

I asked him if we had met before and he shook his head. No. I asked him if he was from the area and he shook his head. No. Out of towner? Nope. Admirer? Not even close. Then what? What did he want?  I’ll tell you what he wanted. With a voice as calm and as deep as still waters, he said that he had come to take me. My heart barreled in my chest as I searched his face for an intention. Did he mean to murder me? It sure sounded like he meant to murder me. I felt like a caged animal caught in a trap in a tight corner. Where? Where are you taking me? Where are we going?

Fear gripped me to the seat. But then he offered me his hand and the fear melted away. I realized I was going on this ride whether I wanted to or not. The train had already left the station. “Hurry,” he said, “you only have 48 hours.” I rose to my feet like some newly born Bambi and grabbed hold of his outstretched arm. The nervous beads of sweat on my palm crystallized, fusing me to him like a tongue on a frozen pole. His skin was colder than ice. I peeled my hand free and walked out of the den into the morning light.

It was official: Fall had gone for good.  The sun shone through the tall buildings in blocks of warmth and winter. The trees lining the roadway were bare. I asked him his name but the answer was lost in a sudden gust of wind. He walked off down the sidewalk before I could ask again so I dubbed him the Ice Man. It took me a few blocks to realize he was wearing a jacket. I’m almost positive he didn’t have one when he arrived. It was one size too small and his hands were stuffed in the pockets as if ice could get cold. It was a nice coat, though, one of those unisex leather trenches. My mother owned one just like it. One year I left it outside for the whole winter and when we found it again in Spring, the leather had cracked. She never forgave me.

Trying to stave off the bitter winds of winter with their empty gazes, the ambling host of transients provided us with a wide berth as we made our way down the boulevard. Their accommodation was too wide for just me but also too wide for just two. Their eyes darted every way but ours, leaving evidence of my companion’s corporeal status in short supply. He was cold, yes, but was he imaginary? I kept my eyes forward for the most part, only stealing glances every chance I could. It was pointless. Every time I’d look away, the image in my head would get lost in the faces of the crowd.

I don’t know why I went with him. In situations like this, the need for self-preservation would advise against it. This time, it didn’t. Looking back, I suppose it’s because I didn’t want to be alone. My friends had all but disappeared and he was there. I didn’t ask him to be there, he just was. He walked by my side, led by some Ouija force, past the relics of my youth (which, in my opinion, was not long enough ago). I waited for my chance to escape. It had to be coming. I just had to wait for it to show itself. We walked in silence, stopping only when a friendly smell or showgirl’s laugh came drifting on the wind. Fountains misted me with cold spray as they step danced with their water jets. 

After walking for God knows how long, we took a break at a crosswalk to let cars on their way to somewhere better zoom past us. The tower where I received my first kiss loomed overhead across the street. I waited for the feeling of awe and nostalgia to wash over me but it would never come. I suppose I lost it a long time ago. The look in Ice Man’s eyes, on the other hand, was full of it. I mentioned it was weird being back here as an adult. His eyes asked why and I didn’t know for sure. I just always thought it was taller when I was a kid. Everything was taller back then. 

I don’t think I ate at all that day. Just couldn’t find the urge to. Ice Man didn’t seem to mind.  He seemed perfectly happy to do what I wanted to do. Maybe this dying thing wasn’t going to be so bad after all. In lieu of a better idea, I decided the best thing to do was sit in the same spot for the next 48 hours and wonder if this was really happening to me. I was convinced that if I just sat there and stayed still, Ice Man would go away and this would be over. It was either that or get drunk. I stared off into space hoping I was right.

Option number two went into effect when I decided to drink my night away in some 24 hour dive bar that night. Seemed like a good enough use of time for someone in my position. Like going in a time machine where you can just skip past all the sucky moments. Stopping on the not-sucky moments is the tricky part. It didn’t matter to me. My life had been a whirlwind of sucky parts on top of sucky parts. What’s one more? The Ice Man sat on the stool next to me, never leaving my side. I got the best look at his face that night. Too bad it was a blur.

On the morning of day two, with a splitting headache and 24 hours to go, he let my feet lead the way.  If there was a right way to go, he gave no indication we were going the wrong one. The boulevard gradually whittled down to an avenue and the avenue to a street occupied by solely my car. My keys jingled in my shivering hand as the wind blew snow drifts from mound to mound. The jagged cuts of my name etched into the sidewalk by the stoop made me pause and look at the ashy brownstone with its blue doors. I knew this place. 

The site of multiple after-school playdates and hours wasted waiting for my mother should have carved out a deeper pit in my mind but its place in my memories were as shallow as my name in the cement.  But I figured if anyone could tell me if I was going crazy, they could. They’ve been there from the beginning. They were the best people I knew and they could save me from the Ice Man. I stomped up the stairs and was halfway up when I noticed that he wasn’t following me. “There’s no one there.” he told me. “They’ve long since gone. You will join them soon.” Frantic, I rang the doorbell, knocked and shouted but he was right. There was no one home. He shrugged and opened my car door. As he sat down in the front seat and buckled up, I decided that maybe he was real after all.

As I drove away, I got angry. Angry that this was happening to me. The leather of the steering wheel squeaked under my furious grip. It was too soon. Too soon for this stranger to come for me. I was still young. Too young. This is bullshit, I tell him. Of all of the fucked up things going on in the world, why he had to come to me? It’s not like I deserved it. I told myself I didn’t deserve it. I had my whole life ahead of me, damn it! He merely patted my hand and stared out the window.

My angry breath fogged the windows of the car until my windows were opaque. I had to lean towards his side at one point just to see. His side was crystal clear. He told me he liked my car and I said thanks, I worked really hard for it. My mother always liked Mercedes so I guess I got it from her. Champagnes tastes, beer money. I told him it was even better on long drives. We could go anywhere. All he had to do was tell me where and zoom, we’re on our way. I would have driven one thousand miles away if I could. Anywhere was better than where I was headed.

The lonely feeling started to creep in about an hour outside of the city. As long as your parents are still alive, you’re somebody’s child but when they’re gone you’re just….you. The ‘you’ that you have to be without them depends what you got from them because, believe me, once they’re gone there’s no more. The tap is tapped out. All you can hope is that you got some good stuff. What did I have left behind? The me I was at that moment was a sad human being. Really sad. The worst thing is I vowed to myself that I would be different. Do the things my parents didn’t do. Looks like I’m just more of the same.

Every time I looked over at the Ice Man, he reminded me of what I was losing. Time. Opportunities. Love. Soon, those things would be buried deep down and there was no digging them back up again. I had my chance and I wasted it. I still wonder how I got here. Months of not speaking turned into years until you’re at the point where no one even checks to see if you’re alive. I didn’t want to go like that. No one should go like that.

I drove on autopilot until we came to a familiar house. I recognized it because I grew up there. My parents and I had moved in right after I turned 3. It was shiny back then. Now, there was a grime on it that I couldn’t unsee. My throat grew hot and nostrils stung. A miasma had polluted my childhood home and its influence was clear. No one lives here now. As I wiped the tears from my burning eyes, the gray face of my mother peeked out from the upstairs window. I looked again and saw only a smudge.

I waited at the end of the driveway with my companion for the UPS guy to finish his business at the front door. He rapped on the wooden door and placed the package underneath the bench to its side. I got out and put a hand to my face for protection. I could no longer see the memories I forged within its walls, only danger. Did you know, a human body, if left untreated, will begin to liquefy after a month? Did you also know that in a warm environment, such as a house, the effects of bacterial decay on a human body can leave a rather distinct odor behind that could likely traumatize a person? I didn’t. Now, I do.

The warning signs that plastered the door what I thought was only moments ago were gone and all that was left was the sound of my ragged breathing. There was no trace of tattered plastic or caution tape to be found. Like so many other things that day, I wondered if I had imagined it all. I was glad to see that the package from the UPS man still sat underneath the bench as real as the nose on my face. The box was heavier than expected and I struggled to lift it from its hiding place. I read the name on the slip. It was addressed to me. 

The urn inside of the box was beautiful, a glossy navy blue with a pearl rose inlay. And it was right on time. If I had to choose between this jar or a bag of bones for a resting place, I’d take the jar. The Ice Man asked if I got what I came for. I hoped so. I drove us to a hotel downtown and laid in bed with the windows cracked, thinking about the places I had been. I asked him why he chose those places and he said he didn’t. I did. He was right. I needed to see those places again. I needed to say my last words. He sat in the corner watching over me as I tried to exhale the grief out. The shadows grew long as the sun set on my day. Exhaust from the cars stuck in traffic beside us puffed along like grumbling locomotives. Stop, go, stop. Puff, puff, pass. 

The following morning, I dressed in my best death suit and left my hotel room for the home across the street. The Ice Man was standing on the sidewalk waiting, presumably, for me. I smoothed down the front of my clothes and told him I was ready and he asked what for. How could he not know? My 48 hours were up. It was time for me to die, he said so himself.  “Is that what you heard? Go. They’re waiting for you.” He picked at his fingernails until a chunk of ice piled up on his thumbnail. He flicked it away casually and watched a squirrel bury an acorn in the snow across the street. The sounds of familiar voices drifted over on the wind. I stepped off of the curb and into the empty street.

I had barely taken two steps when the Ice Man yanked on the back of my arm with his ice cold hands like a bear snatching salmon from a river. “Sorry,” he said, “there was something on you.” He directed my scrambled steps beck across the street and I glared at him one last time before heading on my way. The place where he touched me on my arm felt raw and burnt. A piece of me had been torn off and I let him have it. I had somewhere to be.

It was a quiet procession to the other side. I held the urn one last time before I had to hand it over to the man who cremated what was left of my mother’s body. Last I saw the Ice Man, he was standing on the other side of the street, far from the heavy wooden doors to the mortuary behind me. I would have to enter on my own. He stood there, hand in hand, with a child that resembled someone I used to be. My arm still burned from where he touched me. A bus with an advertisement for an injury firm sped past me, buffeting me with its wind. When the bus passed, they were gone. 

Some people believe that the killing frost marks the true start of winter. The ice grey day when all the color seems to have gone from the world and you have to hold yourself to keep warm.  That’s the day life stops. You never know when it’s going to come until it does. When I met the unremarkable man with the familiar face all those years ago, I wasn’t prepared for it. I told you this was the story of how I died. And although I’m still here, living and breathing, it was true. The person I was before was a child and children cannot survive on their own. I went inside and said goodbye to my mother that day.  I had no other choice. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized he hadn’t come for me as I was then. He had come for the child I used to be. He was making room for growth. He was making room for Spring.

The Killing Frost.

THE END

This was a little blurb i wrote while out in LA for the month of November. I was sitting in crowded cafe (sans headphones…the horror) and was amazed at the little nuggets of information I would pick up every now and then. So, I got to wondering: what truth would the universe share if you […]

I don’t know why I started writing this story but it just kept coming. I think I intend for it, or at least some of the characters, to continue on in some way. You might even recognize a certain name if you’ve had a chance to read my story in the Atthis Arts anthology, Five Minutes at Hotel Stormcove. Enjoy!

CASUALTIES OF THE TRANSITION

On December 4th, 2012, the County Ledger Press in Lake Balsam, Wisconsin received a package. There was no return address or name. The contents of the package were as follows: One (1) torn advertisement for an upcoming festival in Lake Balsam, one (1) picture of a young woman in her mid-2o’s attached to a medical chart, and one (1) composition notebook. The notebook’s contents are detailed below:

GREETINGS

My name is Antonio Junkan and I am of sound mind and body. Today is November 12th, 2012, and I am 32 years old. Let all that is written therein serve as an accurate and truthful account of my time as a patient at the Nelson J. Stillwater Psychiatric Rehabilitation Hospital. 

There. 

Now that that’s done, you can believe everything I say. 

And you should. 

I wouldn’t lie about this.

This is all for Alexandra. 

Alexandra’s residence at Stillwater Psych preceded my own by seven months and ended abruptly on account of her being found dead one morning. According to them, the 25 year old depressed girl dropped dead from a rotten brain. 

I believe the word they used in the autopsy report was ‘mush.’

I blame her parents. 

Her father, ‘The South’s Greatest Doctor,’ threw money at the problem. That’s the only reason she was here in the first place. Rather than meet her needs, he concerned himself with what her little problem—as he liked to call it—would do to his reputation if everyone knew he had a troublesome daughter. Never once considering that maybe, just maybe, his particular lifestyle of gluttony and malice was not conducive to raising a child. 

Unless you wanted that child to grow up to be a greedy, overt racist, that is. 

Alexandra started to get in a little trouble.

 Theft. Assault. Assault with a deadly weapon.

If Alexandra was left unchecked, he would be deemed a failure in the eyes of the Club. Despite his occupation, the Good Dr. Samson is so disconnected from the well being of others, he figured all his felonious daughter needed was extra attention. So he got it for her; all the extra attention money could buy.

Mom, on the other hand, was so busy with her head stuck up the Good Dr. Samson’s ass she barely noticed her daughter was sick. Hell, barely noticed her daughter.

Or that her only son was gone. 

I’ll go into that later. I’m sure I’ll get a chance to tell you all about it.

Forgive my rush but I’m on my third day in Club Stillwater and I’m just now able to use a pencil.  I have to get this all out while it’s fresh. 

First, a quick glance into how I found myself in my current position. I’m sure you’re curious.

To put it simply, you could say that Alexandra’s death affected me quite a bit. Others would call it a raging bender. Desperate to avenge her, I did what I could to learn about her last few years on this planet. Things I could’ve known if I had only been around. 

I never thought I’d say this but maybe social media can be used for good. If you find that hell has frozen over, please forgive me in advance. But, God, if everything wasn’t right there! PIctures, appointments. Likes. Dislikes. Her obvious disdain for the snobby role she was being forced to play. Her disinterest. Her written words and captured expressions spelled it out plain as day. She was almost alive again, a shadow immortalized on the internet.

Eventually, her online activity stopped without warning. She disappeared from shared pictures of the social elite and her name was no longer mentioned in the various posts of White noise that filled the internet. This was also around the same time the Good Dr. Samson made a considerable donation to the Nelson J. Stillwater Research and Advocacy Foundation. This inevitably led me to discover the facility that Dr. Samson had shipped her off to and, in doing so, I found a bit of interesting information about said institution. My new home.

Number 1: Alexandra wasn’t the first to die in such a fucked up way. Built in 1957, Stillwater Psychiatric had a stellar record for the number of patients rehabilitated successfully. That is, until twelve years ago, when patients who were admitted for seemingly manageable conditions were dying at an alarming rate. This was hidden from the general public, of course, but thanks to some childhood friends and favor calling, I got a little dirt. In the past twelve years, over three hundred patients had died. Alarming, yes, but Good Boys keep it to themselves and most inquiries never got past the red tape.

Number 2: Nelson J. Stillwater was quite the explorer. In twenty years, he led a total of fifteen expeditions to the North Pole and back. Odd for a man tasked with running a full-time mental health facility that many would say was on the breaking edge of medicine at the time, don’t you think?

Number 3: The facility is now run by Nelson’s grandson, Richard Stillwater, who assumed his position as head of the hospital, you guessed it, twelve years ago.

And number 4: For every ten deaths, there would come a case so hopeless, so futile, that hope for rehabilitation was all but gone. Amazingly, these cases were cured within a week of the worst symptoms and the new person sent back home with a gift basket. Blue-blooded and sparkly clean.

Once my trail of leads dried up, I decided the only way to find out for sure was to become a patient myself. There’s something going on here. It’s my intention to get to the bottom of it.

Alexandra can’t have died for nothing. 

WEEK 1

DAYS 1-3

The first three days ‘on the inside’ went by fast. 

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t just walk in here and tell them to sign me up. It took several weeks and multiple interviews before I was even allowed to discuss my options. The only thing they really wanted to know is if I could afford it. My last name gave me a watery connection to a respected lineage and the long shot in hell I had of being accepted.

They don’t accept insurance. Places like this never do. According to the intake specialists at Stillwater Psych, if you don’t actually ‘experience the transaction’ you can’t appreciate the therapy. Naturally, this was a loophole to keep those without from coming in.  

Experiencing the transaction was easy enough for me. In the short time we had with each other, Mommy Dearest taught me well. Getting to the money was easy.

What wasn’t so easy was convincing them I needed to be there. 

I had no shortage of hospital visits from my adventures in narcotics. That, coupled with an arrest record sprinkled with a touch of mild sexual deviance for good measure, made sure I was off to a good start.

You would think the rest would be simple but it’s a lot of work. How much do you actually turn “it” on? You don’t want to seem too crazy or else they’ll just slap a straitjacket on you and dope you up. But you don’t want to seem too well-adjusted either. You have to come off as suffering but functioning.

A thin line to straddle, believe me.

They believed me.

So here I am.

When you first walk in, you notice the doors. Feels a little unfair when you think about it. So many choices but none of those choices are yours.

The first set of sliding glass doors open easily enough during visiting hours but the second set separated those welcome to enter and those forbidden to leave. They were reinforced with metal netting and accessible only to those granted access by nurse or magnetic key card. The nurses themselves occupied the circular station in the middle of the lobby with a 360 degree view of every hallway and door leading to the main entrance. Directly behind them and opposite the main doors was a hallway marked EXAM ROOMS. On either side of the hallway were the common rooms. One designated for activities and the other for group; both were empty at the time of my arrival. 

Both doors are magnetically locked. 

On the other side of those were the offices of Drs. Vanessa Bullers and Clyde Campbell, the resident psychologist and psychiatrist, respectfully. 

Both magnetically locked.

In line with the nurse’s station are doors to two hallways marked WOMEN and MEN with their corresponding community bathroom on the ends. 

All magnetically locked.

The only thing separating the visiting guests from its permanent guests was a waiting room guarded by a thin door with a wobbly handle. Inside was unremarkable, I presume, so as not to overexcite or trigger anyone within. While I was there on my preliminary visits, I passed the time thumbing through old Reader’s Digests and watching the 700 Club on the muted tv. More unsettling than the fact that the 700 Club still aired was the idea that somebody believed they should continue taping new shows. 

The door to the waiting room is not locked. 

Ever.

Cameras in the lobby are either very well hidden or conveniently absent.

Before I was allowed to my room, they had to make sure I wasn’t bringing any contraband in. They confiscated: 

shoe laces, 

my shampoo, 

belt, 

and all sixty-two of my pens. 

The nurse escorting me to my room was named Brandon Juarez. 

I only know that because they encourage staff to use first and last names with patients to establish an atmosphere of trust. He is a giant man with a loving wife and two young kids.    

The men’s hallway has seven dorm rooms, which I can only assume is mirrored by the women’s, for a total of fourteen on this floor. The floor above is reserved for those patients in need of more secure ‘alone time.’ Below, there’s the laundry, file rooms, and emergency generators.

My room had two twin beds and two desks with two hard plastic chairs. The sun shining through the small square window served as a natural line of demarcation. 

There was also a man. 

My roommate, Charlie Daniels.

‘Call me Stamps,’ he says. His hair is stark white although the rest of him doesn’t look a day of 30.

There are two things I know about Stamps so far: 

The guy loves to play bingo

and 

he is one hundred percent sure that he is perpetually at risk of being kidnapped. This unfortunately causes him to lose joy in the very thing he loves above all else as he is the most paranoid on Bingo Night. Something about it being the most obvious place to find and ambush him. After a string of violent bingo incidents, he eventually attacked a 62-year-old woman because she ‘was in on it.’ The result was his mandatory occupation of Stillwater Psych. He attributes his heightened risk of abduction to secret experiments that the military performed on him when he was younger. Although, according to his medical history, he never missed a day of school or work in his thirty-seven years on this earth. 

‘All part of the cover up.’

He won’t go into exactly what kind of experiments they performed on him, just that he wasn’t supposed to be set free. He sleeps with a large bell attached to his wrist in case ‘they’ come. He assured me it wouldn’t be noisy during the night because he doesn’t move in his sleep; another side effect of the experiment. 

In his own way of ending conversations, he told me that’s all he would share that night, slammed his head down on his pillow and closed his eyes. I didn’t see him stir an inch. I fell asleep, quite surprisingly, not long after. I guess the bell made me feel a little safer too. I dreamt of Alexandra.

 The next morning I continued my mini tour of the facility with a physical examination checking, this time, for any new cuts or injuries. The nurse attending me was a woman named Mallory Thompson. She was kind and gentle with me, a pleasant addition to my experience, to be sure, considering this was to be a daily part of my stay. She was also very pretty despite the worry she wears on her face. No wedding ring but a tan line where one might have been. 

Once I was done, I was cleared to join the others in the activity room to the left of the exam room hallway. Two orderlies stood by on either end of the room while the nurses floated among the patients, checking on all those under the care of Dr. Richard Stillwater. The shorter orderly gave me a bad vibe. He seemed to be the ‘point and laugh’ sort of guy. The taller fellow by his side was the ‘lights on, no one’s home’ sort. And by taller, I mean GIANT.

Including me, there are nine of us in treatment. The opportunity to learn a bit about my new “housemates” would come in our group therapy session later that evening. Dr. Bullers was scheduled to facilitate and let me tell you right now, the woman makes me uneasy. 

There’s just something about brunettes.

The Activity Room was split up into four stations (art, reading, music, and games) with five round tables set up in the middle. I took a seat at a table in the reading section, far from everyone else, and pretended to read the first book I grabbed. 

At the art station, in the left corner of the room, was a pair of twin sisters painting a man being torn in half. They are Dorothy and Elizabeth Garfield, Dottie and Lizzie to those who knew them before Stillwater. Dottie and Lizzie do not speak to anyone except each other and their conversations take place in a language only they can understand. A slew of burnt down houses and missing persons paved the way for their treatment here. 

They also stare quite a bit.

Stamps sat opposite the door to the activity room with his back to a corner and clutched a pillow in his lap, eyes darting from person to person in turn. My arrival must have thrown off his surveillance pattern because his eyes stuttered when they saw me. He huffed and continued on. Later that night, in group, he expressed his clear distrust of me. Apparently, someone who only blinks ten times a minute is hiding something. Stamps promises ‘he’s working on it’ and believes that we will have a ‘healthy relationship’ before long. Rehearsed words, to be sure.

Talking to Nurse Brandon was a young woman with deep brown skin and pitch black hair down to her waist. She was beautiful to watch as she flirted with the nurse. Bandages covers her arms from wrist to elbow. She admitted in group that she suffers from body dysmorphic disorder and is what those in the industry call a ‘cutter.’ Her name is Aisha Solomon. She is a year younger than Alexandra.

The woman staring blankly out the windows as gray as the day itself was Madeleine Bernard, a 40-ish husk of a woman diagnosed with severe depression who still actively mourns the death of her teenaged daughter. That was all she managed to eek out through her tears before sobbing through the rest of the group session. The naughty thing she did to land herself here is still a mystery to me.

The only person to speak to me that day was also the first one to speak in group. He went by Danny Kruse and he gleefully announced he was happy to be there. Ever since the release of his roommate the other day, he said was feeling on the up and up. Although his sick pallor and persistent cough indicated otherwise.

As for me, I got away in group with a quick introduction of my name and greeting before sitting back down. I didn’t mind sharing but it’s recommended that all patients meet with the psychologist before contributing to group. This was to give me a moment to settle in before my treatment began. They did offer me use of the Scream Room, though, which I found out is located through the closed door at the back of the Group room. The Scream Rom is a place where you can ‘let it out.’ Let it all out.

There was one girl in the activity room that wasn’t at group that night. She was confined to a wheelchair that was sitting in the middle of the room and didn’t move at all. Not one bit. Every so often, one of the nurses would check on her to wipe any drool that had accumulated on her bib or to reposition her chair. Her short brown hair curled wildly on her head but someone had the good nature to pin back one side with an ornate pearl barrette. 

One of these people knows what happened to Alexandra. Getting it out of them, however, is going to be difficult.

The next morning, this morning in fact, after our seven a.m. wakeup call and supervised showers, I had my first meeting with Dr. Vanessa Bullers. Mallory and the giant orderly, Tanner Turcell, escorted me to my appointment. We must have showed up a few minutes earlier than expected because as I approached her office, I could hear whispers and giggles on the other side of the door. All that stopped once I knocked. A man, who introduced himself as the Dr. Stillwater, slinked out and went to the common room. He busied himself talking to the nurse that was attending the Wheelchair Girl before wheeling her out himself and down the hallway to the exam rooms.

The smell in Dr. Buller’s office was intriguing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, though I suspect fingers were involved.

The evaluation was straightforward enough. I had to recount the reasons I told the admissions board I was there, which was surprisingly easy considering I was a little nervous sitting in her presence. Then came, what I guess, are the standard questions:

Do you hear voices in your head? 

Only my own.

What type of relationship do you have with your mother?

Minimal.

Your father?

Nonexistent.

Do you feel like everything that goes wrong is your fault?

Who else’s would it be?

How did you get that scar on your forearm?

Accident from when I was a kid.

Do you feel like you have control over your life?

Not usually.

Do you want to hurt other people?

Not at the moment.

Do you want to hurt yourself?

Not on purpose.

Do you have plans?

Oh God, yes.

There were more but for some reason it was a blur. I hope my answers didn’t seem rehearsed but I was actually quite honest with her. 

Maybe I belong here after all.

She eventually asked if I had any siblings and, for the first time in a long time, I spoke to someone about my sister. I said things out loud that never said aloud to anyone else. I told her I was a shitty older brother. I told her I was a shitty person, and that I should have been there for her. That I felt like her death was my fault. I told her I felt I failed.

It was like diarrhea spurting out of me. All of my bullshit and excuses stunk up the room until I couldn’t take it anymore.

When I was done, I didn’t speak for a while and Dr. Bullers let me. I was grateful for that.

Then she mentioned the one thing that was crucial to my plan; the one thing that allowed me to even get this far: all of the pens that the good nurse Suarez threw away.

I knew this would throw up some sort of red flag. I mean, I brought an absolutely absurd number of pens and pencils with me. Only a crazy person would have that many. As I predicted, she inquired as to their purpose. I told her that I used to write to cope with unpleasant thoughts but when my sister died I stopped. 

She practically shoved this notebook in my hands. It’s crucial I have it, otherwise I wouldn’t have any way to share the truth of Stillwater Psychiatric with the rest of the world.

And so my work begins.

I will find out what killed Alexandra. If it’s the last thing I do as her big brother, I promise I will.

DAY 4 — 1:05p (LUNCHTIME)

The morning was uneventful. While they shuffled us between our respective doctor appointments and physical exams, we killed time in the activity room. 

In my first round of activities, I was accompanied by The Twins and Wheelchair Girl. Neither party was very talkative. For obvious reasons. 

The Twins busied themselves with a sculpture of a double-sided woman. One twin worked on the side to represent sadness. The other worked on pain. I made a calendar.

Despite the earlier lack of excitement, lunch had more than a few nuggets. Thanks to available space and the order of post-appointment arrivals, I ended up next to Madeleine who, when she wasn’t crying, held it together well. She did her part to welcome me and offer some reassurance about treatment there. Citing Danny Kruse’s roommate as inspiration, she advised that I ‘give it a chance.’ I asked to elaborate about the latest miracle case and this is what I got:

  1. His name was Ben Olsen. He is 25 years old. 
  2. He was in treatment for extreme schizophrenia and suffered from its worst symptoms for a few years. Ex.: violent hallucinations, persistent delusions.
  3. One day, after he mentioned a new voice in his head in Group, Ben started having new symptoms. States of catatonia were frequent and long-lasting. When he wasn’t unresponsive he was in the Scream Room. Screaming.
  4. One day he was sick and then next day he wasn’t.

I tried to get more out of her but I must have said something wrong because she stopped talking and we finished our meals in silence.

As I sit and wait for my day to continue I wonder if Alexandra thought this place with its blank walls and hard chairs and sterile thoughts, could help her. Aside from those miracle cases, it doesn’t seem to be helping anybody else. 

DAY 4 —- 9pm (BEDTIME)

I received my recommended anti-anxiety medicine, something called BuSpar, shortly before dinner and I am still super high. Its been over 4 hours and I’m walking in a cloud. 

It’s some real industrial grade shit.

Let’s talk about dinner. Dinner was enlightening. I sat by Stamps who seemed to be considering the thought of leaving me alone when Aisha came along and sat with us. This seemed to put him at ease. Her presence gave me a comforting feeling, too. Or maybe it was the BuSpar.

After some roundabout get-to-know-you-better conversation, Aisha revealed that she was Alexandra’s roommate. Unlike Madeleine, it was easy to keep this one talking. She enjoyed the attention.

According to Aisha, Alexandra was a sweet woman but very sad. They would stay up late and talk about their lives outside of Stillwater. Aisha thought her roommate was physically strong but her heart was broken. By what exactly, she didn’t say. Aisha assumed, as any girl friend would, that it was over a man and she took much pride in sharing her deduction with us. Alexandra told her about her preoccupied mother and disappointed father, the absent brother that could have helped. 

That hurt the most to hear. That she thought I could’ve done something if only I was around. 

Group was a place Alexandra opened up freely as well. She even laughed sometimes. 

She was getting better.

But then, Aisha said, she went into treatment with Dr. Campbell and everything changed.  Alexandra was physically ill most of the time and had trouble keeping food down. Her sleep was erratic, filled with feverish nightmares and most nights she would wake up screaming. Aisha could hardly sleep herself. Alexandra often retreated into her own head and complained that the voices wouldn’t let her sleep. Wouldn’t let her think. She even attacked Nurse Thompson. This went on for days until one morning Aisha found Alexandra unresponsive when they tried to wake her for the morning routine. They took her up to the 3rd floor and the next time she came down, she was dead.

“Just like Ben, except Ben didn’t come down dead. He didn’t come down Ben either. The fritz got ‘em,” Stamps interjected, the first time he spoke all dinner. I was surprised he was even listening. Odd thing to say, even for someone living in a mental hospital.

Just when things were getting good, dinner was over and it was time for Group. 

I fudged my way through Group easily enough. I said the things that Alexandra might have said, things she posted in her final days, but even that didn’t feel right. These people were here sharing their real problems, their real lives, and I was a fake.  

So, I talked about my mother. Seemed a good a place as any to start. 

I told them how the Junkan family, since the days of my mother’s mother’s mother, was known for deep pockets and pale reunions. The urge to perpetuate that standard of living ran so deep in my mother’s bones that she married my father. 

My father, though very financially endowed, was a bit of a cunt. Devoid of all compassion or love or poise, he treated me with the gentleness of a rockslide. The jagged scar on my forearm a constant reminder of his touch. More than willing to make herself scarce, mother’s motto was truly out of sight out of mind. I left before he died. Snorting my way across the country, leaving burnt bridges in my wake. My mother never reached out or tried to contact me. I have a sneaking suspicion he tried to pull the same stunt with her but if I know my mom, like I think I do, she put a stop to that with the quickness. For good. Then came the Good Dr. Samson. The Southern Gentleman. And I was history. I didn’t care either.

Until Alexandra. She was a little girl when I returned home,19 years old and a royal fuck up. A junkie Junkan. Junk. My mother tolerated me but no more than she had to.  

But when I met Alexandra, my sister, I felt something I hadn’t felt in years. That tug in the middle of your chest telling you to protect something. To love something. I found my family.

She grew up and we grew closer. We were friends. Probably each other’s only friends in the whole world.

Then the Good Dr. Samson and I had a little “disagreement” and back out into the world I went. 

Alexandra was 15, the last time I saw her alive. 

I stopped short of recounting those nine lost years to the group and sat down. It felt good to unload. It felt good to remind myself why I am here.

So, getting back to that I would like to report two notable changes in group tonight:

1. Danny Kruse wasn’t there. Stamps shared privately with me that he had made his way up to the third floor early this morning and that the ‘fritz was on him’. Whatever that means.

2. Wheelchair Girl made an appearance with Dr. Stillwater, who, it turns out, is her father. Her name is Bridget. As usual, she said nothing, but her eyes never left me. 

 Coincidentally, Dr. Stillwater’s eyes never left Dr. Bullers. He seemed very intent on watching her, particularly as she walked away.

Everything else was the same. Same tears. Same silence.

Will have to be more aggressive in my questions. This is moving too slow. Tomorrow I’ll see what I can pull out of Stamps.

4:22am

There was someone standing at the door staring into my room tonight. Hard to write in the dark. Will elaborate in the morning.

DAY 5 — BREAKFAST

Last night was freaky. I’m glad I wrote something down. Otherwise I would have thought it was all a dream. In my first night of a shitty sleep, I woke up and laid in bed trying to fall back asleep. Stamps was laying still as death with that bell bobbing up and down on his chest. I don’t know what woke me up, maybe it was a forgotten dream, or maybe it was the change in air pressure. Either way, I woke up suddenly and waited for sleep to return. The silence of the room was broken when I heard a shuffle. It was faint but in the absence of sound even the faintest noise echoes.

Now you have to understand, at this time of night, the staff let the cameras and mag locks do the securing. There are no late night rounds by the nurses or orderlies, they sit in their circular command center and monitor from there. Unless there is an emergency, the halls of Stillwater Psych are empty.

 The footsteps came slowly. 

Shuffle shuffle shuffle stop. 

Shuffle shuffle shuffle stop. 

Shuffle shuffle shuffle stop.

They shuffled all the way to my door until my window was blocked by the head of someone shrouded in darkness. A halo of hair filled the window and although I couldn’t see their eyes I could feel them looking at me. 

I guess they found what they were looking for because they walked away and I heard them shuffling all the way down the hall without stopping.

Who the mystery person was is hard for me to figure out.

Maybe the night shift brings a new character to this game I find myself in. 

This morning at breakfast I deliberately sat next to Stamps, who received me quite well despite his inherent distrust of me. He even offered me some of his muffin, which I politely declined considering he had been playing with it like putty since I sat down.

I had just got to the part where I could grill him a bit more about his time here when a clearly distraught woman burst into the main lobby from outside. Dr. Campbell was doing his best to console her when the two orderlies, accompanied by two workers from the local funeral home, wheeled out a black bag containing the body of young Danny Kruse. Through the commotion and thin glass walls separating us a few of her lamentations broke through.

“You said you could make him better! You said he would be a new person!” 

She cried all the way out the door and to her car parked in the loading zone behind the van transporting her son. Weird thing to say, when I think about it. Most people want their loved ones back as they were and not a whole new person. 

Interesting…

So, back to Stamps.

While he was a bit taken aback at my refusal, he busied himself once again with his culinary project. I asked him a little about the routine of the hospital at night and he had some interesting notes.

Turns out Stamps is quite the gossip. 

He says some off-the-wall shit but you almost have no choice but to believe him because everything he says is so precise. When someone speaks with that level of certainty it’s almost hard not to believe them.

Except when he talks about the ‘experiment.’ That’s when he loses me.

Anyways, we’re sitting at breakfast and I bring up the recently departed Danny Kruse and Stamps launches into a lengthy discussion which I will do my best to relay to you.

From the very first day Danny arrived (which was exactly seven weeks, two days, four hours, and thirteen minutes after Stamps arrival) the fritz was on him. Now, according to Stamps, the fritz are all over Stillwater Psych and are plotting their takeover everyday. Every new patient is at risk. The only reason that they haven’t gotten him is because of the tests that were run on him by “the ones who took him.” Apparently, he can’t absorb anything new into his system and the “fritz don’t like that.” I pressed him to tell me exactly what ‘the fritz’ was but he shushed me because “they were probably listening even now.” I do admit that there were a few eyes on us that weren’t too attentive before. 

Stamps hypothesized that Danny Kruse was the latest victim because he didn’t mesh with the fritz, something about faulty programming and that only the compatible ones make it. 

Like Ben Olsen.

By his logic, the ones who die suddenly are incompatible. He didn’t mention Alexandra by name but I have a feeling he would include her in that list. 

Then he mentions the walker.

The one who watches the flock late at night. He says that’s the leader and once the leader has their eye on you its’ over. 

“The fritz is on you.”

That’s all I could get. Stamps was whisked away to his next doctor’s appointment by Terrance and my first meeting with Dr. Campbell is imminent. I’m interested to see how this goes. Will update after.

DAY 5 — BEDTIME

There’s something up with Dr. Campbell. 

Our meeting was so awkward that by the time dinner came around I was ready to be around the normal crazy people again.

Not that he did anything abnormal to me. He was an abnormality himself.

Maybe the experience just wasn’t what I expected. Every other session I’ve had seemed more like a conversation where this one felt more like completing a checklist. 

Questions included:

Do you have any living siblings?

No

Are you now or have you ever been married?

No

Are you a part of any athletic clubs?

LA Fitness 

(I actually take great care

of my body when I’m not numbing it with blow)

How long does it take you to run a mile?

7 minutes and damn proud of it

Do you know how to swim?

Um, yes

Have you ever suffered any broken bones?

Never

What was your most recent occupation?

Pilot 

(not a total lie…

in my spare time I make certain deliveries, 

some just so happen to be by air)

Does anyone know you are a patient at this facility?

I regurgitated the emergency info from my file but I suspect he knows it is a fake. No one knows I’m here and if you receive this journal without me accompanying it, it’s too late for me.

I’m dead. Or worse.

He continued anyways. Complete this puzzle. Blow into this tube for as long as you can. He seemed more interested in learning about my body than my mind but maybe this is his special way.

Even after what I thought were stellar answers Dr. Campbell ordered a vaccine to be administered to me in the morning. According to Dr. Campbell, “it’s common for hospitals such a Stillwater Psych to have outbreaks of infections of tuberculosis and thanks to the negligence of a nurse who is no longer with us all patients are at risk of exposure.” He said he hoped I would understand.

Well, I didn’t but I also don’t have a choice. If I want to continue to stay here I have to get it. 

I can’t help but wonder: if this was such a problem, why wasn’t this ‘vaccine’ given to me at intake?

I had hoped to talk with him and probe a bit deeper into his methods of treating various mental symptoms but after the questionnaire I was dismissed.

So here I sit, unaccompanied but not alone, at my dinner table with only the unease I still feel by my side. 

I like to think of myself as a good judge of character, considering the types I deal with, and my fickle desire to preserve my life. I’ve always been able to discern a person’s true nature upon meeting them. There are near misses but in the end, there’s always a tell. But with Dr. Campbell, there was nothing. No quirks or mannerisms other than absence of both. My exam was conducted with absolute indifference as he scanned me from his brown leather chair across the room. 

Alexandra had just had her session with Dr. Campbell a few days before she died. Did he offer her the vaccine too? I’m afraid I have to continue on and get it otherwise I won’t get the answers I came here for.

I need more time.

There was another bizarre interaction tonight during dinner: one of the twins, I’m not sure which, wrestled something from the other’s hand, walked across the room, slammed a piece of folded up paper on the table in front of me, and walked back across the room to her table. They fussed for a bit in that secret language of theirs before the delivery twin turned from her sister and finished her meal uninterrupted. 

On the offending piece of paper was a sketch of a man who looked remarkably like me, down to the long pink scar on my right forearm. The paper doppelgänger was surrounded by a dark aura and that aura seemed to be slowly taking over his body.

I’m not sure what to make of it. I can’t help but feeling I’m getting close to some answers because the danger is getting closer to me. 

I need sleep.

DAY 6 — 9:45am (JUST AFTER BREAKFAST)

Breakfast is hard to keep down this morning. Even writing this my hands are shaking like your everyday dope fiend.

I wish they would’ve let me eat something before getting that shot. Not that I’m sure that has anything to do with my current state of misery but I find a full stomach is nice to have in most situations. 

The official asshole of Stillwater Psych and the short orderly I mentioned earlier, Terrance Kelly, walked me there personally. He made sure I was annoyed every step of the way. Terrance received his well-deserved title based on a few key observations I’ve made:

  1. He’s a prick. He clearly doesn’t want to be here and doesn’t care about any of these people.
  2. He bullies Stamps. Anytime he can trip, bother, poke, or prod him, he’s going to.
  3. He eye-fucks Aisha whenever he sees her. When he thinks no one can see him he advances to air-fucking, which his goon, Tanner, thinks is hilarious.
  4. I’ve seen him switch the twins’ art materials around or hide them while they question their already fragile mental state and argue with each other.
  5. He’s a prick.

Luckily, for him, he hasn’t pushed his limit with me but I would gladly dole out some justice for the others. Nothing would make me happier than to punch him in his stupid face. 

We parted ways without incident. Dr. Campbell personally received me and made sure I was comfortable in Exam Room #4. Like, really comfortable. The robotic indifference from yesterday was gone and replaced with a gentleness and care only a mother could have. The syringe bearing the vaccine was stored in a cooler overflowing with the frozen mist of its subzero container and required a thumbprint to release it from its protective cage. He carried the syringe the way a person would carry a tiara on a pillow and took great care not to disturb the contents. It was more surgical than I expected, like the delivery of a baby. Ritualistic, even. 

‘Don’t you worry now,’ he says to me, eyes frenzied. ‘Be strong. I’ll be with you every step of the way,’ he says to the syringe. 

 Now, half an hour later, my body is burning up with the fever from hell and my vision is blurry. I’ve thrown up twice already and there’s more on the way.

I’ll admit it, I’m in over my head. Maybe the people here are rubbing off on me. Or maybe its the fact that I’m even in a mental hospital. 

But I’m getting nervous. I have no idea what’s going on anymore but I know something is not right.

WEEK 2

DAY 9 — 9:30PM (BEDTIME)

I have been a coma for the past two days. Both Nurse Mallory and Dr. Campbell (but mostly Dr. Campbell) have been monitoring me in the infirmary on the third floor ever since I suffered the seizure that put me here. My fever is running high at 104 degrees and as such I am required to stay here for observation.

If what Stamps said earlier is to be believed, this is bad news. 

Oddly, except for my increased body temp, I don’t feel any closer to dying than normal. 

I’ll just have to see how this plays out. If anybody read this journal while I was out and discovered my true purpose for being here they are aren’t letting on. It was waiting for me on the bedside table when I woke up with a pen laying neatly on its closed cover.

The infirmary is what you would expect, only smaller. There are 6 beds total, 3 on each side, with heavy curtains suspended above them in a U-shape to create a partition when necessary. The tiny window opposite the door and pictures of quiet countrysides hung above each bed tied it all together.

2 out of the 6 beds are occupied.

One happens to be my bed.

The other belongs to Bridget Stillwater.

I know that because she is laying in it right now, eyes wide open and looking at me. Her wheelchair sits empty on the other side of her bed, awaiting its master.

She’s been that way ever since dinner three hours ago. I mean, she hasn’t even blinked! I tried calling out to her but she didn’t flinch. Dr. Stillwater came up to check on her but not even he could illicit a response. He did his best to feed her and make her comfortable until there was nothing else he could do. I’m doing my best to ignore the feeling of the girl’s eyes on me but it’s hard. I wish he would have pulled the curtains between us and given me some relief from this unwanted watchman.

Nurse Mallory brought dinner around 6:45 and it was gone by 7. It wasn’t a particularly special dinner: just roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Yet I devoured it like filet mignon and lobster. I am still very weak but I feel a strange sensation of growth, like my body jumped into overdrive and it needs more fuel and it needs it fast. 

If that makes any sense. 

Not much makes sense anymore.

Nurse Mallory turned out to be a great source of information. As long as I lend an ear to her unintentional overshares she feels comfortable enough to answer my questions. 

After a rather long discussion on the amount of time she spends looking at her pores in the mirror we eventually circled around to the topic of Alexandra and everyone else that succumbed to sudden illnesses.

She, too, remembered Alexandra fondly as a ‘sweet girl that just needed a good shoulder to cry on.’ 

But as for the others…

All of them, including Alexandra, were being seen by Dr. Campbell in their last days. 

Excluding, the unfortunately deceased, Dr. Campbell had a way with changing people into better versions of themselves. Nurse Mallory seemed satisfied with his outcomes and told me I should consider myself lucky that Dr. Campbell was handling my case. She gave me some medicine and told me it should be shuttling me off to sleep any minute.

Nurse Mallory is gone now.

It’s just Bridget with her two eyes and me with my fever of 106 degrees.

The one remaining light rests on my night stand and in an effort to ease this headache, I am going to turn it off.

Let’s see how well I can write in the dark. 

The sudden dark has aroused a great need for rest but the tiny window to the hallway provides more than sufficient light to close my message to you.

My body feels alien to me now. As though I am just the operator of a machine that does not belong to me. 

  Sleep is coming fast. Too fast. My eyes are getting heavier and heavier. But if my eyes are to be believed, our sweet Bridget has just sat up in her bed. I do not— 

Writing trails off….

ENTRY UNFINISHED

DAY 10 — 11:30am

I have just concluded my second visit from Dr. Campbell, who seems a bit more fussy than would be considered appropriate for our particular doctor-patient relationship. He even went as far to reprimand Nurse Brandon when he brought a lukewarm breakfast to my bedside. He obsessed over my vital signs and blood work but made no effort to inquire about my mental health. Told me I could work through that in group later tonight after I am released, which should be just after lunch time. 

But for now I am alone. 

Waking dreams and body aches punctuated my night of terrible sleep. Visions of Alexandra as I remembered her haunted me through the night like a ghost seeking its vengeance. She doesn’t understand that I’m trying. Trying harder than I did in the past. Trying harder than I ever have.

And then there was Bridget. Standing over me like a mother watching their child sleep. Was she really standing there? Defying logic and all I’ve known since I’ve arrived here, was this hapless woman free from her physical maladies? Was she another miracle case? Or was she simply another wraith come for my penance?

She was gone by the time I woke up this morning. Wheelchair and all. 

 I will be joining the rest of them soon. I’m wide awake now and thankfully so. I don’t think I can handle any more spectral visits. 

3:09pm

I ate lunch alone today. Aside from the fact that I was feeling like shit and didn’t want anyone in particular to join me, no one wanted to sit next to me, either. Words spoken in confidence move swiftly. I was a leper. I suppose they were just being cautious. Didn’t want to catch what I did. 

It feels like a balloon is being filled up inside of me. 

Or maybe it’s more like that spray foam insulation, itchy and filling every nook and cranny as it expands. Yeah, that’s what it feels like. 

At least I came back from the third floor alive.

Bridget wasn’t at lunch. Which was weird considering she there was every other time. Did she magically get cured too? Is that why she was able to walk? Able to stand over me?

They allowed me to stay in my room after lunch, rather than honor my appointments, on account of my receding fever. Thought it best that I get some rest. The nap I took was good enough. Scenes from a forgotten dream linger but they are only shapes, blurs of a picture. A faint smell.

There is a feeling, too. Longing, maybe? A craving? It’s slight but it is there, right behind me. 

Despite my fever, my appetite grows stronger. Thankfully, my quarantine is not mandatory so I will take this opportunity while I’m unsupervised to see what I can find. 

Alexandra, did you feel the longing I feel now? Were you alone at the end?  

DAY 11 — 6:00am

I didn’t sleep very well last night. In between bouts of temperature spikes and muscle pains, my mind wandered. I couldn’t wrap my head around what I found.

And didn’t find.

When I finally ventured out of my room late yesterday afternoon. I found the staff more or less preoccupied with the other patients. With my lethargic shuffle and drowsy countenance, I was easy enough to ignore. Dr. Campbell cleared me to get ‘slight exercise and fresh air’ if I was feeling up to it. 

Dr. Campbell pretty much cleared me to do anything I wanted. Our relationship had evolved into one not unlike a bond between a human and its prized pony. I only wish I knew what he was grooming me for.

My first stroke of luck came when I happened upon my favorite orderly, Tanner, manning the nurse’s station. I never noticed how young he is until then. Eighteen or nineteen at the most. Despite his slower nature, I believe Tanner actually wanted to help the patients here. I can’t help but get a Frankenstein and his monster vibe from him. Actually, The Hunchback of Notre Dame may be more appropriate. Maybe Stillwater Psych was sanctuary for this unfortunate soul whose own mother most likely lived and died in this very hospital. Too impaired to function out in the real world, our dear orderly is now a ward of the institution. Indefinitely.

But of course, I’m speculating.

I enjoyed standing there chatting with him. Or rather, chatting to him while he listened as best as he could. He did look concerned when I started to wobble a bit. So concerned that he jumped into action when I nearly fainted, catching me just in the nick of time. I’m grateful he did, too. Made it much easier to grab the ID clipped to his pocket. If he was gonna be stuck at the nurse’s station for a few hours then I figured he wouldn’t need it. He offered to walk me back to my room so I could rest but I assured him that wasn’t necessary and that I was feeling much better.

I shuffled back down the men’s hallway and straight to the staircase at the other end. 

I decide to go down one level; the file room was my best bet to getting any real information. I got inside without any problems and it must have been my very lucky day because the filing system was one of manilla folders and alphabetical order. Alexandra’s was the first I went for. And there it was, filed under names Sa-Sm, where it should be. They had a picture of her on intake day paper-clipped to the inside of the folder. 

My poor sister.

Her hazel eyes were the dullest I had ever seen them. Just empty and pale. That’s where she carried her pain, her eyes. Despite her sorrow, she was still just as beautiful as I remember. Ages ago, when I used to protect her from the boys she wanted to leave her alone. When I was a good brother. She cut most of her hair off. Her long, black, curly hair that followed her like a hero’s cape was limp and cut so that it barely passed her jaw. She was a shell of her former self. Samsonite, really.

Alexandra’s file revealed four things to me:

  1. Counting from the day she was admitted to the day she died, Alexandra was here for 20 days. In the top right corner of her file was a stamp: SUITABLE CANDIDATE
  2. Her attending physician was Dr. Clyde Campbell and on her seventh day here, he administered a shot to her. The shot is labeled as DUALLAFRIT-2137. The results of the vaccine were being monitored in phases. In the column marked PHASE ONE, her subsequent blood work showed that she tested positive for active and ongoing acceptance of the DUALLAFRIT shot. Her PHASE TWO results were conclusive, as well. The words REJECTION/TOTAL LOSS were written in bold letters and initialed with the letter C.C., presumably the initials of Dr. Campbell.
  3. DUALLAFRIT. Frits. Stamps was on to something.
  4. Alexandra was four months pregnant.

I don’t even think our mom knew that she was pregnant. She could hardly be bothered to make an appearance at Alexandra’s funeral. From my hiding spot, I watched her be bored and aloof. She didn’t care one bit. 

There is no information about possible paternity. 

It’s  a shame, really. But would I have been a better uncle than a brother? Could I have been? I suppose I’ll never know.

I checked for my file next. It was missing. I figured one of the physicians must have it. Ben Olsen’s was missing, as well.

I did find Danny Kruse’s file, though. His results for DUALLAFRIT-2140 were similar to Alexandra’s. Tested positive in Phase One and total loss in Phase 2. 

According to Aisha’s file, she scheduled to receive the vaccine soon. A big red stamp like the one Alexandra had on her file spread across the top but comments on her self-harm had delayed her shot. 

If I had to take a guess, I would say my own file would soon read the same results that Alexandra and Ben had in Phase 1. 

I pray to God that Phase Two is different.

Now, Stamps, the plucky devil, had a very interesting file. It turns out he had been administered the vaccine on three separate occasions. DUALLAFRIT-2109, DUALLAFRIT-2116, and DUALLAFRIT-2125 all ended in failure in Phase One, or SYMBIOTIC FATALITY, to be exact.

All of the others, like the Twins or our lamenting mother, Madeleine, were deemed to be unsuitable candidates. Madeleine is suffering not only from the loss of her daughter but also Stage 2 esophageal cancer. The brain MRIs in Dottie and Lizzie’s file pointed to some kind of a brain abnormality. A stamp across their photos made sure everyone knew. 

But some, that are no longer with us, made it to Phase 3.

Now, this is where it gets interesting. It wasn’t the way they died (suicide) but what the files said the results were.

‘PROGRAMMING INTERRUPTED’ 

Programming interrupted? On the best of days, I would excuse the jargon for typical A-list rehab bullshit. But none of the things that have gone on at this place have been typical. I know that this is what I was meant to find. The reason that Alexandra died. What successful programming looks like, I have no idea. In the time I had, I couldn’t find a record of anyone that had achieved it. 

But just because there’s no record that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

I snuck away before anyone noticed my exploits and hid Tanner’s ID on the side on my mattress. Thanks to the mattress’s plastic exterior and my pens, I was able to rip a small slit in it to avoid detection. Thanks to Tanner’s general awkwardness, no one thought it was odd that his ID had gone missing.

I can only wonder what this morning has in store.

7:45pm

Typical. Whenever I know what I’m looking for, that’s when I can never seem to find it. 

Not until it’s too late.

Everyone was in such a good mood today. Even Stamps, who sat next to me, on purpose, in Group. My appointment with Dr. Campbell was cancelled and I sat for an hour in Dr. Bullers’ office talking about my feelings. She’s actually quite good, and I left feeling in awe of my own ability to fuck my life up and that there’s no one to blame but me.

Next week, she’ll begin telling me how to fix all of that. 

In between my session and dinner, I took the opportunity before I was expected in the Activity Room to see what the news from the outside world was. I ambled over to the empty waiting room and slipped in.

According to the magazine in the waiting room, everything was still shit.

But still, I wanted to read about it so I took the periodical with me into the Activity Room and sat in the reading corner alone with my magazine. 

Couple o’ tidbits in there:

1. The drought in California is worse than ever. Wildfires have consumed over eighty percent of the state.

2. After a horrible skiing accident, Alec Baldwin horribly disfigured his face but through this tragedy he has discovered his bold yet smokey singing voice. He now has been guaranteed a seven year run as the Phantom on Broadway.

3. The President is coming to town. Part of some goodwill initiative she’s got going on. By the looks of the ad in the magazine there’s going to be a big crowd at the festival . The ad promises free entry with its redemption.

4. Mercury is in retrograde. 

No wonder everything has gone to shit.

DAY 13 — 11:07pm

I woke up in the scream room today. When I went in there, I have no idea. Apparently, I had been attending my doctor’s appointments and group as usual for the past two days. That’s all fine and good. But why don’t I remember it? My memories are slipping away from me.

And that’s not the only thing.

I stumble over words, if I can remember them at all.

All that are left are flashes of pictures and sounds. Hints of a familiar scent and a sadness so heavy I thought it would bear down on me forever.

And the migraines are unbearable.

I’m losing my mind. Or worse, someone is taking it. 

For the first time since my arrival, I am afraid. Afraid of what precious thing each night of my slumber leaves susceptible to theft.

Visions of a vast crowd are burned into my mind. Always a different crowd but I know they look to me for wisdom. They look to me for comfort.

Are these the sights of another? Are we all connected in some way?

We. 

Have I already joined them? 

DAY 15 — 9:34pm

I am in the infirmary today. Back on the third floor. According to Brandon Suarez, I was brought here when they couldn’t wake me up this morning. Stamps, who I’m sure wants nothing to do with me now, did his part in alerting them when he lined up to take his morning shower. 

Even through my sleep, I know she was here.

Bridget.

I remember the sound of her footsteps as she walked the third floor. I remember the feel of her hand on my forehead. I hear her voice. Even though I’ve never heard it in any waking moment, I know it’s hers. I know it belongs to Bridget. 

The mother. 

My body is weak and my mind wanders easily. I think of Alexandra and I can barely hold on to the details of her face.

I need rest.

DAY 16 — Lunch

My body is cold. Weak. Like my energy is being reserved for some other function. On standby. Waiting for me to be turned off and back on again so my system can reboot.

I have not had much contact with the other patients. It seems my ‘leprosy’ has been fully realized. Stamps has requested to room with one of the new arrivals, a request that was granted wholeheartedly by Dr. Campbell, the lieutenant. I see it now. All it takes is two moving behind the scenes to make it all work. 

And it is working. 

The days have gotten away from me. Chunks at a time. Chunks that are only getting bigger. 

DAY 17 — Noon

Or at least I think it’s noon. The clock in my room had been stuck on 12:03 since last night but the sun seems to be in the right place.

All I hear now is her voice. Telling me it’s ok, to relax, that the time has come for me to be free. 

I don’t think the words I hear are meant for me. 

Never in a thousand years, could I have imagined finding a place like this. A secret like this. 

Things are moving faster than I anticipated. As if I have any idea what to anticipate. 

If I had to take another guess, I would say that Phase Three is turning out to be a success. 

Lucky me. 

DAY 19 — 5:26pm

I know for sure, now. My dreams have shown me the truth. But they aren’t dreams. They are memories. And they don’t belong to me. War. Genocide. These things, these Frits, aren’t fighting on vast fields. They are fighting on the inside. Inside of whatever creature they bond with. Where they were before, wherever that was, they had almost achieved complete assimilation. But something stopped them. That I cannot see. Exiled and with mediocre hosts, they were casualties of the transition to the Ice Age and were trapped.  Freed from their cryptobiosis by Richard Stillwater all those years ago, they have slowly been infiltrating the human race, one patient at a time. 

So, why a psychiatric hospital? 

I have a theory. 

The point of origin for the Frit resurgence may well have been the luck of the draw but it is an ideal one. Where better to scrutinize candidates for selection than somewhere people go to become someone different? Where symptoms of Frit programming are expected? Who knows how many people are out there at this very moment, reprogrammed, and under the control of their Frit host? How many are going to gather at that festival? 100,000? 200,000? 

The festival is the key.

I’m afraid my time in control is almost at an end. They have also shown an acute disregard for the human life. This ordeal has been quick and jarring and relentless. Either it would work or I, too, would become a casualty. 

I am under the impression that the only time our joint consciousnesses can peer into the other’s is when I am asleep. The Frit is unaware of my activities and I his, or hers, when they are in control. The integrity of my mattress hiding spot remains intact. Otherwise, my intentions would have been discovered by now. By tomorrow, this journal and my words will be on its way to you, thanks to Tanner’s ID, I will have no problem dropping this along with the mail.

In case this gets intercepted, I have hidden another crucial clue in the waiting room. I cannot say where or what it is but you, whoever you are must find it. You will know it when you see it. Human to human, I know you can figure it out. Tonight, I will fall asleep. When I wake up, I, Antonio Junkan, will be no more.

To you, heed my words and take them for truth. Something is going to happen at that fair. I am almost certain that the crowds that occupy my dreams are the same that our Madame President will address.  

To Alexandra, I’m sorry. I failed you.

I’m so sorry.

TEXT CONCLUDED

The reporters for the Ledger tried to get information on the author of this journal but there is no one by the name of Antonio Junkan, nor has there ever been one, listed on any hospital records at Nelson J. Stillwater Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center. There is also no public record of his existence. Inquiries were made after the publication of the journal contents but findings are inconclusive. 

Stillwater Psychiatric is currently still operational and treating those suffering from mental illness.  

GREETINGS

My name is Antonio Junkan and I am of sound mind and body. Today is November 12th and I am 32 years old. Let all that is written therein serve as an accurate and truthful account of my time as a patient at the Nelson J. Stillwater Psychiatric Hospital. 

There. 

Now that that’s done you know you can believe everything I say. 

And you should. 

I wouldn’t lie about this.

This is all for Alexandra. 

Her residence at Stillwater Psychiatric preceded my own by 7 months and ended abruptly on account of her being found dead in the community shower. According to them, the 25 year old depressed girl dropped dead from a rotten brain. 

They used the word ‘mush’ when they provided us with the autopsy report.

Her father threw money at the problem, of course. That’s why she was here in the first place. More concerned with what it would do to his reputation if everyone knew he had a “crazy” daughter. In the eyes of the Club, he would be deemed a failure. He’s so disconnected he figured all she needed was extra attention so he got it for her. All the extra attention money could buy.

Mom was so busy with her head stuck up the great Dr. Samson’s ass she barely noticed her own daughter was sick. Hell, barely noticed her daughter.

Or that I was gone. 

I’ll go into that later.

This is already my third day in this place and I’m just now able to use a pencil so I have to get this all out while it’s fresh. 

But first, a quick glance into how I found myself in my current position. I’m sure you’re curious.

You could say that Alexandra’s death affected me quite a bit. Others would call it a raging bender. Desperate to fill my life with her, I did what I could to learn about her last few years on this planet. Things I could’ve known if I had only been around. 

Never thought I’d say this but maybe social media can be used for good. Everything was right there. Her obvious disdain for the snobby role she was being forced to play, her disinterest. Her written words and captured expressions were nuggets of truth and cries for help that you could see plain as day. 

If you looked. 

Eventually, her online activity stopped without warning. She disappeared from shared pictures of the social elite and her name was no longer mentioned in the various posts of White noise that filled the internet. This was also around the same time the good Dr. Samson made a considerable donation to the Nelson J. Stillwater Research and Advocacy Foundation. This inevitably led me to discover the facility that Dr. Samson had shipped her off to and, in doing so, I found a bit of interesting information about said institution.

Number 1: Alexandra wasn’t the first to die in such a strange manner. Built in 1957, Stillwater Psychiatric had a stellar record for the number of patients rehabilitated successfully. That is until 12 years ago when patients who were admitted for seemingly manageable conditions were dying at an alarming rate. This was hidden from the general public, of course, but thanks to some childhood friends and favor calling, I got a little dirt. Over 300 patients had died but Good Boys keep it to themselves.

Number 2: Nelson J. Stillwater was quite the explorer. In twenty years he led a total of 15 expeditions to the North Pole and back. Odd for a man tasked with running a full time mental health facility many would say was on the breaking edge of medicine at the time. Don’t you think?

Number 3: The facility is now run by Nelson’s grandson, Richard Stillwater who assumed his position, you guessed it, 12 years ago.

And number 4: For every ten deaths, there would come a case so hopeless, so futile, that hope for rehabilitation was all but gone. Amazingly, these cases were cured within a week of the worst symptoms and the new person sent back home with a gift basket and Blue Blood once again. 

Once my trail of leads dried up I decided the only way to find out for sure was to become a patient myself. There’s something going on here. It’s my intention to get to the bottom of it.

Alexandra can’t have died for nothing. 

WEEK 1

My first three days “on the inside” went by fast. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t just walk in here and tell them to sign me up. It took several weeks and interviews before I was even allowed to discuss my options. The only thing they really wanted to know is if I could afford it. My last name gave me a watery connection to a respected lineage and my long shot in hell to being accepted.

They don’t accept insurance. Places like this never do. According to them, if you don’t actually “experience the transaction” you can’t appreciate the therapy. Naturally, this was a loophole to keep those without from coming in.  

Experiencing the transaction was easy enough for me. In the short time we had with each other, Mommy Dearest taught me well and getting money was easy.

What wasn’t so easy was acting crazy.

You would think it would be simple but it’s a lot of work. How much do you actually turn it on? You don’t want to seem too crazy or else they’ll just slap a straitjacket on you and dope you up. But you don’t want to seem too well-adjusted either. You have to come off as suffering but functioning.

A thin line to straddle, believe me.

They believed me.

So here I am.

When you first walk in you notice the doors. Feels a little unfair when you think about it. So many choices but once you enter here none of those choices are yours.

The first set of sliding glass doors open easily enough during visiting hours but the second set separated those welcome to enter and those forbidden to leave. They were reinforced with metal netting and accessible only to those with a magnetic key card or those the nurses buzzed in. The nurses themselves occupied the circular station that sat in the middle of the lobby with a 360 degree view of every hallway or door leading to the main entrance. Directly behind them and opposite the main doors was a hallway marked EXAM ROOMS. On either side of that were common rooms. One was designated for activities and one for group; both were empty at my time of arrival. They are magnetically locked. On the other side of those were the offices of Drs. Vanessa Bullers and Clyde Campbell, the resident psychologist and psychiatrist, respectfully. Both magnetically locked.

To the direct left and right of the nurse’s station are doors to two hallways marked WOMEN and MEN with their corresponding community bathroom on the ends. All magnetically locked.  The only thing separating the visiting guests from its permanent guests was a waiting room guarded by a thin door with a wobbly handle. Inside was a rather unremarkable and boring room that I presume was meant not to overexcite or trigger anyone within. While I was there on my preliminary visits, I found myself thumbing through some old Reader’s Digests and watching the 700 Club on the muted tv. More unsettling than the fact that the 700 Club still aired was the idea that somebody believed they should continue taping new shows. 

The door to the waiting room is not locked. 

Ever.

Cameras in the lobby are either very well hidden or conveniently absent.

Before I was allowed to my room, they had to make sure I wasn’t bringing any contraband in. They confiscated my shoe laces, my shampoo, belt, and all sixty-two of my pens. 

The nurse escorting me to my room was named Brandon Juarez. They encourage staff to use first and last names to establish an atmosphere of trust. He is a giant man with a loving wife and two young kids.    

The men’s hallway has seven dorm rooms which I can only assume is mirrored by the women’s, for a total of fourteen on this floor. The floor above is reserved for those patients in need of more secure “alone time”. Below, there’s the laundry, file rooms, and emergency generators.

My room had two twin beds, two desks with hard plastic chairs. A small square window divided it all.

There was also a man. My roommate, Charlie Daniels.

“Call me Stamps,” he says and the guy loves to play bingo. He is also absolutely sure that he is constantly at risk of being kidnapped. This unfortunately causes him to lose joy in the very thing he loves above all else as he is the most paranoid on Bingo Night. Something about it being the most obvious place to find and ambush him. He eventually attacked a 62 year old woman because she ‘was in on it” and the result was his mandatory occupation of Stillwater Psych. He attributes his heightened risk of abduction to secret experiments that the military performed on him when he was younger. Although, according to his medical history he never missed a day of school or work in his 37 years on this earth. 

“All part of the cover up,” he says. He won’t go into exactly what kind of experiments they performed on him, just that he wasn’t supposed to be set free. He sleeps with a large bell attached to his wrist in case “they” come. He assured me it wouldn’t be noisy during the night because he doesn’t move in his sleep. Another side effect of the experiment. In his own way of ending conversations, he told me that’s all he would share that night, slammed his head down on his pillow and closed his eyes. I fell asleep, quite surprisingly, not long after. I guess the bell made me feel a little safer too.

 The next morning I continued my mini tour of the facility with another physical examination, this one checking for any new cuts or injuries. The nurse attending me was a woman named Mallory Thompson. She was kind and gentle with me, a pleasant addition to my experience, to be sure, considering this was to be a daily part of my stay. She was also very pretty despite the worry she wears on her face. No wedding ring but there is a tan line where one might have been. 

Once I was done, I was cleared to join the others in the activity room to the left of the exam room hallway. There were two orderlies standing by on either end of the room while the nurses floated among the patients, checking on all those under the care of Dr. Richard Stillwater. The shorter orderly gave me a skeevy vibe. He seemed to be the “point and laugh” sort of guy. The taller fellow by his side was the lights on, no one’s home sort. And by taller, I mean GIANT. He was a hulk of a man.

Including me, there are nine patients in treatment. I would soon have the opportunity to learn a bit about them all in group that evening. Dr. Bullers was facilitating and let me tell you, the woman makes me uneasy. I don’t know what it is. 

The Activity Room was split up into four stations (art, reading, music, and games) with five round tables set up in the middle. At the art station was a pair of twin sisters painting what looked like a man being torn in half. They are Dorothy and Elizabeth Garfield, Dottie and Lizzie to those who knew them before Stillwater. They do not speak except to each other and their conversations seem to take place in a language only they can understand. A slew of burnt down houses and missing persons paved the way for their treatment here. They also stare quite a bit.

Stamps sat opposite the door to the activity room with his back to a corner and clutched a pillow in his lap, eyes darting from person to person in turn. My arrival must have thrown off his surveillance pattern because his eyes stuttered when they saw me. He huffed and continued on. Later that night in group, he expressed his clear distrust of me. Apparently, someone who only blinks ten times a minute is hiding something but “he’s working on it” and believes that we will have a “healthy relationship” before long. Rehearsed words, to be sure.

Talking to Nurse Brandon was a young woman with deep brown skin and pitch black hair down to her waist. She was beautiful to watch as she flirted expertly with the nurse. She had bandages covering her forearms up to her elbows. She admitted in group that she suffers from body dysmorphic disorder and is what those in the industry call a “cutter”. Her name is Aisha Solomon. She is a year younger than Alexandra.

The woman staring blankly out the window as gray as the day itself was Madeleine Bernard, a 40-ish husk of a woman diagnosed with severe depression who still actively mourns the death of her teenaged daughter. That was all she managed to choke out through her tears before sobbing through the rest of the group session. 

The only person to speak to me that day was also the first one to speak in group. He went by Danny Kruse and he gleefully announced he was happy to be there. Ever since the release of his roommate the other day, he was feeling on the up and up. Although his sick pallor and persistent painful-sounding cough indicated otherwise.

As for me, I got away with a quick introduction of my name and greeting before sitting back down. It’s recommended that all patients meet with the psychologist before contributing to group. This was to give me a moment to settle in before my treatment began. They did offer me use of the Scream Room, though, which I found out was located through the closed door at the back of the Group room and is a place where you can “let it out.”

There was one girl in the activity room that wasn’t at group that night. She was confined to a wheelchair that was sitting in the middle of the room and she didn’t move at all. Not one bit. One of the nurses had to check on her to wipe any drool that had accumulated on her bib and to reposition her chair every so often. Her short brown hair curled wildly on her head but someone had the good nature to pin back one side with an ornate pearl barrette. 

One of these people knows what happened to Alexandra. Getting it out of them, however, is going to be difficult.

The next morning, this morning in fact, after our 7am wakeup call and supervised showers, I had my first meeting with Dr. Vanessa Bullers. Mallory and the giant, Tanner Turcell, escorted me to my appointment. We must have showed up a few minutes earlier than expected because as I approached her door, I swear I could hear her whispering and giggling to someone. All that stopped once I knocked on the door. A man, who introduced himself as the Dr. Stillwater, slinked out and went to the common room. He busied himself talking to the nurse that was attending the girl confined to the wheelchair before wheeling her out himself and down the hallway to the exam rooms.

The smell in her office was intriguing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, though I suspect fingers were involved.

The evaluation was straightforward enough. I had to recount the reasons I told the admissions board I was there, which was surprisingly easy considering I was a little nervous sitting in her presence. 

Then came what I guess are the standard questions:

Do you hear voices in your head? 

Only my own.

What type of relationship do you have with your mother?

Minimal.

Your father?

Nonexistent.

Do you feel like everything that goes wrong is your fault?

What else is there?

Do you feel like you have control over your life?

Not usually.

Do you want to hurt other people?

Not at the moment.

Do you want to hurt yourself?

Not on purpose.

Do you have plans?

Oh God, yes.

There were more but for some reason it was a blur. I thought my answers seemed rehearsed but I was actually quite honest with her. 

Maybe I belong here after all.

She eventually asked if I had any siblings and for the first time in a long time I spoke about my sister. I said things out loud that never said aloud to anyone else. I told her I was a shitty older brother. I told her I was a shitty person, and that I should have been there for her. That I felt like her death was my fault. That I failed.

It was like diarrhea spurting out of me. All my bullshit and excuses stunk up the room until I couldn’t take it anymore.

When I was done I didn’t speak for a while and Dr. Bullers just let me sit there. I was grateful for that.

Then she mentioned the one thing that was crucial to my plan; the one thing that allowed me to even get this far: all of the pens that the good nurse Suarez threw away.

I knew this would throw up some sort of red flag. I mean, I brought an absolutely absurd number of pens and pencils with me, only a crazy person would have that many. As I predicted, she inquired as to their purpose and I told her that I used to write to cope with unpleasant thoughts but when my sister died I stopped. 

She practically shoved this notebook in my hands. It’s crucial I have it otherwise I wouldn’t have any way to share the truth with the rest of the world.

And so my work begins.

I will find out what killed you Alexandra. If it’s the last thing I do as your big brother, I promise I will.

Day 4 — 1:05p (LUNCHTIME)

The morning was uneventful. While we were shuffled to and fro between our respective doctor appointments and physical exams they allowed us to kill time in the activity room. 

In my first round of activity time I was accompanied by the twins and wheelchair girl, neither party was very talkative. For obvious reasons. 

The twins busied themselves with a sculpture of a double sided woman. One twin fashioned a side into what seemed to represent sadness. The other worked on pain. I made a calendar.

Lunch had more than a few nuggets. Thanks to available space and the order of post-appointment arrivals I ended up next to Madeleine who, when she wasn’t crying, held it together well. She did her part to welcome me and offer some reassurance about treatment there. Citing Danny Kruse’s roommate as inspiration, she advised that I “give it a chance”. I asked her a little more about the latest miracle case and this is what I got:

  1. His name was Ben Olsen and was 25 years old. 
  2. He was in treatment for extreme schizophrenia and suffered from its worst symptoms for a few years. Ex.: violent hallucinations, persistent delusions.
  3. One day after he mentioned a new voice in his head in Group, Ben started having new symptoms. States of catatonia were frequent and long-lasting. When he wasn’t unresponsive he was in the Scream Room.
  4. One day he was sick and then next day he wasn’t.

I couldn’t get any more out of her. I must have said something wrong because she stopped talking and we finished our meals in silence.

As I sit and wait for my day to continue I wonder if Alexandra thought this place with its blank walls and hard chairs and sterile thoughts could help her. It doesn’t seem to be helping anybody else. 

Day 4 —- 9pm (BEDTIME)

I received my recommended anti-anxiety medicine, something called BuSpar, shortly before dinner and I am super high. Its been over 4 hours and I still feel like I’m walking in a cloud. It is taking everything I have to stay focused. 

Stay Focused.

Dinner was enlightening. I sat by Stamps who seemed to be considering the thought of leaving me alone when Aisha came and sat with us. This seemed to put him at ease. She gave me a comforting feeling, too.

After some roundabout get-to-know-you-better conversation, Aisha revealed that she was Alexandra’s roommate. Luckily for me, it was easy to keep her talking. She seemed to enjoy the attention.

According to Aisha, Alexandra was a sweet woman but very sad. They would stay up late and talk about their lives outside of Stillwater. She was physically strong but her heart was broken. By what exactly she didn’t say. Aisha assumed, as any girl friend would, that it was over a man and she took much pride in sharing her deduction with us. She told her about the preoccupied mother and disappointed father. The absent brother that could have helped. 

That hurt the most to hear. That she thought I could’ve done something if only I was around. 

Group was a place Alexandra opened up freely as well. She even laughed sometimes. She was getting better.

But then, Aisha says, she went into treatment with Dr. Campbell and everything changed. She was physically ill most of the time and could hardly keep food down. Her sleep was filled with feverish nightmares and most nights she would wake up screaming. Aisha could hardly sleep herself. Alexandra retreated into her own head and often complained that the voices wouldn’t let her sleep. Wouldn’t let her think. She even attacked Nurse Thompson. This went on for days until one morning Aisha woke up to find Alexandra unresponsive when they tried to wake her for the morning routine. They took her up to the 3rd floor and the next time she came down, she was dead.

“Just like Ben, except Ben didn’t come down dead. He didn’t come down Ben either. The fritz got ‘em.” Stamps interjected, the first time he spoke all dinner. I was surprised he was even listening. Odd thing to say, even for someone living in a mental hospital.

That was as far as I got. Dinner was over and it was time for Group. 

I fudged my way through it easily enough. I said the things that Alexandra might have said but even that didn’t feel right. These people were here sharing their real problems, their real lives, and I was a fake.  

Two notable changes in group tonight:

Danny Kruse wasn’t there. Stamps shared privately with me that he had made his way up to the third floor early this morning and that the “fritz was on him”. Whatever that means.

Wheelchair girl was there along with Dr. Stillwater, who, it turns out, is her father. Her name is Bridget. As usual, she said nothing. But her eyes never left me. And Dr. Stillwater’s eyes never left Dr. Bullers. He seemed very intent on watching her, particularly as she walked away.

Everything else was the same. Same tears. Same silence.

Will have to be more aggressive in my questions. This is moving too slow. Tomorrow I’ll see what I can pull out of Stamps.

4:22am

There was someone standing at the door staring into my room tonight. Hard to write in the dark. Will elaborate in the morning. 

DAY 5 — BREAKFAST

Last night was freaky. In my first night of a fitful sleep I woke up and lay in bed trying to fall back asleep. Stamps was laying still as death with that bell bobbing up and down on his chest. I don’t know what woke me up, maybe it was a forgotten dream, or maybe it was the change in air pressure. Either way, I woke up suddenly and waited for sleep to return. The silence of the room was broken when I heard a shuffle. It was faint but in the absence of sound even the faintest noise echoes.

Now you have to understand, at this time of night, the staff let the cameras and mag locks do the securing. There are no late night rounds by the nurses or orderlies, they sit in their circular command center and monitor from there. Unless there is an emergency, the halls of Stillwater Psych are empty.

 They came slowly. Shuffle shuffle shuffle stop. Shuffle shuffle shuffle stop. Shuffle shuffle shuffle stop.

With each shuffle they came closer to my door until my window was blocked by the head of someone shrouded in darkness. A halo of curly hair filled the rest of the window and although I couldn’t see their eyes I could feel them looking at me. 

I guess they found what they were looking for because they walked away and I heard them shuffling all the way down the hall without stopping.

Who the mystery person was is hard for me to figure out. No one at the hospital has curly hair like that. 

No one that can walk. 

Maybe the night shift brings a new character to this game I’m in. 

This morning at breakfast I deliberately sat next to Stamps, who received me quite well despite his inherent distrust of me. He even offered me some of his muffin, which I politely declined considering he had been playing with it like putty since I sat down.

I had just got to the part where I could grill him a bit more about his time here when a clearly distraught woman burst into the main lobby from outside. Dr. Campbell was doing his best to console her when the two orderlies, accompanied by two workers from the local funeral home, wheeled out a black bag which contained the body of young Danny Kruse. Through the commotion and thin glass walls separating us a few of her lamentations broke through.

“You said you could make him better! You said he would be a new person!” She cried all the way out the door and to her car parked in the loading zone behind the van transporting her son. Weird thing to say though, when I think about it. Most people want their loved ones back as they were and not a whole new person. 

So, back to Stamps.

While he was a bit taken aback at my refusal, he busied himself once again with his culinary project. I asked him a little about the routine of the hospital at night and he had some interesting notes.

Turns out Stamps is quite the gossip. Crazy thing is, you almost have to believe what says because everything he says is so precise. When someone speaks with that level of certainty it’s almost hard not to believe them.

Except when he talks about the “experiment”. That’s when he loses me.

Anyways, we’re sitting at breakfast and I bring up the recently departed Danny Kruse and Stamps launches into a lengthy discussion which I will do my best to relay to you.

From the very first day Danny arrived (which was exactly seven weeks, two days, four hours, and thirteen minutes after Stamps arrival) the fritz was on him. Now, according to Stamps, the fritz are all over Stillwater Psych and are plotting their takeover everyday. Every new patient is at risk. The only reason that they haven’t gotten him is because of the tests that were run on him by “the ones who took him”. He can’t absorb anything new into his system apparently and the “fritz don’t like that”. I pressed him to tell me exactly what the fritz was but he shushed me because “they were probably listening even now.” I do admit that there were a few eyes on us that weren’t too attentive before. 

So, Danny Kruse was the latest victim because he didn’t mesh with the fritz, something about faulty programming and that only the compatible ones make it. Like Ben Olsen.

There are a lot of incompatible ones too. The ones who die suddenly are incompatible. He didn’t mention Alexandra by name but I have a feeling he would include her in that list. 

Then he mentions the walker.

The one who watches the flock late at night. That’s the leader. Once the leader has their eye on you its’ over. The fritz is on you.

That’s all I could get. Stamps was whisked away to his next doctor appointment by Terrance and my first meeting with Dr. Campbell is imminent. I’m interested to see how this goes. Will update after.

DAY 5 — BEDTIME

There’s something up with Dr. Campbell. 

Our meeting was so awkward that by the time dinner came around I was ready to be around the normal crazy people again.

Not that he did anything abnormal to me. He was an abnormality himself.

I suppose the experience just wasn’t what I expected. Every other session I’ve had seemed more like a conversation where this one felt more like completing a checklist.

Do you have any living siblings?

No

Are you now or have you ever been married?

No

Are you a part of any athletic clubs?

LA Fitness 

(I actually take great care

of my body when I’m not numbing it with blow)

How long does it take you to run a mile?

7 minutes and damn proud of it

Do you know how to swim?

Um, yes

Have you ever suffered any broken bones?

Never

What was your most recent occupation?

Pilot 

(not a total lie…

in my spare time I make certain deliveries, 

some just so happen to be by air)

Does anyone know you are a patient at this facility?

I regurgitated the emergency info from my file but I suspect he already knows it was a fake. No one knows I’m here and if you receive this journal without me accompanying it you won’t know until it’s too late for me.

Complete this puzzle. Blow into this tube for as long as you can. He seemed more interested in learning about my body than my mind but maybe this is his special way.

Even after what I thought were stellar answers Dr. Campbell ordered a vaccine to be administered to me in the morning. According to Dr. Campbell, “it’s common for hospitals such a Stillwater Psych to have outbreaks of infections of tuberculosis and thanks to the negligence of a nurse who is no longer with us all patients are at risk of exposure. You understand, don’t you?”

No, I don’t but I also don’t have a choice. If I want to continue to stay here I have to get it. If this was such a problem why wasn’t this “vaccine” given to me at intake?

I had hoped to talk with him and probe a bit deeper into his methods of professional investigations of various mental symptoms but after the questionnaire I was dismissed.

So here I sit, unaccompanied but not alone, at my dinner table with only the unease I still feel by my side. 

I like to think of myself as a good judge of character, considering the types I deal with, and I’ve always been able to discern a person’s true nature upon meeting them. There are near misses but in the end, there’s always a tell. But with Dr. Campbell, there was nothing. No quirks or mannerisms other than absence of both. My exam was conducted with absolute indifference as he scanned me from his brown leather chair across the room. 

Alexandra had just had her session with Dr. Campbell a few days before she died. Did he offer her the vaccine too? I’m afraid I have to continue on and get it otherwise I won’t get the answers I came here for.

I need more time.

There was another bizarre interaction tonight during dinner: one of the twins, I’m not sure which, wrestled something from the other’s hand, walked across the room, slammed a piece of folded up paper on the table in front of me, and walked back across the room to her table. They fussed for a bit in that secret language of theirs before the delivery twin turned from her sister and finished her meal uninterrupted. 

On the offending piece of paper was a sketch of a man who looked remarkably like me, down to the long pink scar on my right forearm. The paper doppelgänger was surrounded by a dark aura and that aura seemed to be slowly taking over his body.

I’m not sure what to make of it. I can’t help but feeling I’m getting close to some answers because the danger is getting closer to me. 

I need sleep.

DAY 6 — 9:45am (JUST AFTER BREAKFAST)

Breakfast is hard to keep down this morning. Even writing this my hands are shaking like your everyday dope fiend.

I wish they would’ve let me eat something before getting that shot this morning. Not that I’m sure that has anything to do with my current state of misery but I find a full stomach is nice to have in most situations. 

The official asshole of Stillwater Psych and the short orderly I mentioned earlier, Terrance Kelly, walked me there personally. He made sure I was annoyed every step of the way. Terrance received his well-deserved title based on a few key observations I’ve made:

  1. He’s a prick. He clearly doesn’t want to be here and doesn’t care about any of these people.
  2. He bullies Stamps. Anytime he can trip, bother, poke, or prod him, he’s going to.
  3. He eye-fucks Aisha whenever he sees her. When he thinks no one can see him he advances to air-fucking, which his goon, Tanner, thinks is hilarious.
  4. I’ve seen him switch the twins’ art materials around or hide them while they question their already fragile mental state and argue with each other.
  5. He’s a prick.

Luckily, for him, he hasn’t pushed his limit with me but I would gladly dole out some justice for the others. Nothing would make me happier than to punch him in his stupid face. 

We parted ways without incident. Dr. Campbell personally received me and made sure I was comfortable in Exam Room #4. Like, really comfortable. The robot from yesterday was gone and replaced with a gentleness and care only a mother could have. The syringe was stored in a cooler overflowing with the frozen mist of its subzero container and required a thumbprint to release it from its protective cage. He carried the syringe the way a person would carry a tiara on a pillow and took great care not to disturb the contents. It was more surgical than I expected, like the delivery of a baby. Ritualistic, even. 

“Don’t you worry now,” he says to me, eyes frenzied. “Be strong. I’ll be with you every step of the way,” he says to the syringe. 

 Now, half an hour later, my body is burning up with the fever from hell and my vision is blurry. I’ve thrown up twice already and there’s more on the way.

I’ll admit it, I’m in over my head. Maybe the people here are rubbing off on me. Or maybe its the fact that I’m even in a mental hospital. 

But I’m scared. I have no idea what’s going on anymore but I know something is not right.

WEEK 2

DAY 9 — 9:30PM (BEDTIME)

I have been a coma for the past two days. Both Nurse Mallory and Dr. Campbell (but mostly Dr. Campbell) have been monitoring me in the infirmary on the third floor ever since I suffered the seizure that put me here. My fever is running high at 104 degrees and as such I am required to stay here for observation.

If Stamps is to be believed, this is bad news. 

But except for my increased body temp, I don’t feel any closer to dying than normal. 

I’ll just have to see how this plays out. If anybody read this journal and discovered my true purpose for being here they are aren’t letting on. It was waiting for me on the bedside table when I woke up with a pen laying neatly on its closed cover.

The infirmary is what you would expect, only smaller. There are 6 beds total, 3 on each side, with heavy curtains suspended above them in a U-shape to create a partition when necessary. The tiny window opposite the door and pictures of quiet countrysides hung above each bed tied it all together.

2 out of the 6 beds are occupied.

One happens to be my bed.

The other belongs to Bridget Stillwater.

I know that because she is laying in it right now, eyes wide open and looking at me. Her wheelchair sat empty on the other side of her bed, awaiting its master.

She’s been that way ever since dinner three hours ago. I mean, she hasn’t even blinked! I tried calling out to her but she didn’t flinch. Dr. Stillwater came up to check on her but not even he could illicit a response. He did his best to feed her and make her comfortable until there was nothing else he could do. I’m doing my best to ignore the feeling of the girl’s eyes on me but it’s hard. I wish he would have pulled the curtains between us and given me some relief from this unwanted watchman.

Nurse Mallory brought dinner around 6:45 and it was gone by 7. It wasn’t a particularly special dinner: just roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Yet I devoured it like filet mignon and lobster. I am still very weak but I feel a strange sensation of growth, like my body jumped into overdrive and it needs more fuel and it needs it fast. 

If that makes any sense. 

Not much makes sense anymore.

Nurse Mallory turned out to be a great source of information. Just as long as I lend an ear to her unintentional overshares she feels comfortable enough to answer my questions. 

So after a rather long discussion on the amount of time she spends looking at herself in the mirror we eventually circled around to the topic of Alexandra and everyone else that succumbed to sudden illnesses.

She remembered Alexandra fondly. A “sweet girl that just needed a good shoulder to cry on”. 

But as for the others…

All of them, including Alexandra, were being seen by Dr. Campbell in their last days. 

“Except for the unfortunate ones, Dr. Campbell had a way with changing people into better versions of themselves.” Nurse Mallory seemed satisfied with his outcomes and told me I should consider myself lucky that Dr. Campbell was handling my case. She gave me some medicine and told me it should be shuttling me off to sleep any minute.

Nurse Mallory is gone now.

Now it’s just Bridget with her two eyes and me with my fever of 106 degrees.

The one remaining light still on rests on my night stand and in an effort to ease this headache I am going to turn it off.

Let’s see how well I can write in the dark. 

The sudden dark has aroused a great need for rest but the tiny window provides more than sufficient light to close my message to you.

My body feels alien to me now. As though I am just the operator of a machine that does not belong to me. 

  Sleep is coming fast. Too fast. My eyes are getting heavier and heavier. But if my eyes are to be believed, our sweet Bridget has just sat up in her bed. I do not— 

ENTRY UNFINISHED

Day 10 — 11:30am

I have just concluded my second visit from Dr. Campbell, who seems a bit more fussy than would be considered appropriate for our particular doctor-patient relationship. He even went as far to reprimand Nurse Brandon when he brought a lukewarm breakfast to my bedside. He obsessed over my vital signs and blood work but made no effort to inquire about my mental health. Told me I could work through that in group later tonight after I am released, which should be just after lunch time. 

But for now I am alone. 

Waking dreams and body aches punctuated my night of terrible sleep. Visions of Alexandra as I remembered her haunted me through the night like a ghost seeking its vengeance. She doesn’t understand that I’m trying. Trying harder than I did in the past. Trying harder than I ever have.

And then there was Bridget. Standing over me like a mother watching their child sleep. Was she really standing there? Defying logic and all I’ve known since I’ve arrived here, was this hapless woman free from her physical maladies? Was she another miracle case? Or was she simply another wraith come for my penance?

She was gone by the time I woke up this morning. Wheelchair and all. 

 I will be joining the rest of them soon. I’m wide awake now and thankfully so. I don’t think I can handle any more spectral visits. 

3:09pm

I ate lunch alone today. Aside from the fact that I was feeling like shit and didn’t want anyone in particular to join me, no one wanted to sit next to me, either. I was a leper. I suppose they were just being cautious. Didn’t want to catch what I did. 

It feels like a balloon is being filled up inside of me. Or maybe it’s more like that spray foam insulation, itchy and filling every nook and cranny as it expands. Yeah, that’s what it feels like. 

At least I came back from the third floor. Alive.

Bridget wasn’t at lunch. Which was weird considering she there was every other time. Did she magically get cured too? Is that why she was able to walk? Able to stand over me?

They allowed me to stay in my room after lunch, on account of my high fever. Thought it best that I get some rest. The nap I took was good enough. Scenes from a forgotten dream linger but they are only shapes, blurs of a picture. A faint smell.

There is a feeling, too. Longing, maybe? A craving? It’s slight but it is there, right behind me. 

Despite my fever, my appetite grows stronger. Thankfully, my quarantine is not mandatory so I will take this opportunity while I’m unsupervised to see what I can find. 

Alexandra, did you feel the longing I feel now? Were you alone at the end?  

Day 11 — 6:00am

I didn’t sleep very well last night. In between bouts of temperature spikes and muscle pains, my mind wandered. I couldn’t wrap my head around what I found.

And didn’t find.

  When I finally ventured out of my room late yesterday afternoon. I found the staff more or less preoccupied with the other patients. With my lethargic shuffle and drowsy countenance, I was easy enough to ignore. Dr. Campbell cleared me to get ‘slight exercise and fresh air’ if I was feeling up to it. 

Dr. Campbell pretty much cleared me to do anything I wanted. Our relationship had evolved into one not unlike a bond between a human and its prized pony. I need to figure out just what he’s grooming me for.

My first stroke of luck came when I happened upon my favorite orderly, Tanner, manning the nurse’s station. I never noticed how young he is until then. Eighteen or nineteen at the most. Despite his slower nature, I believe Tanner actually wanted to help the patients here. I can’t help but get a Frankenstein and his monster vibe from him. Actually, The Hunchback of Notre Dame may be more appropriate. Maybe Stillwater Psych was sanctuary for this unfortunate soul whose own mother most likely lived and died in this very hospital. Too impaired to function out in the real world, our dear orderly is now a ward of the institution. Indefinitely.

But of course, I’m speculating.

I enjoyed standing there chatting with him. Or rather, chatting to him while he listened as best as he could. He did look concerned when I started wobble a little bit. So concerned that he jumped into action when I nearly fainted, catching me just in the nick of time. I’m grateful he did, too. Made it much easier to grab the ID clipped to his pocket. If he was gonna be stuck at the nurse’s station for a few hours then I figured he wouldn’t need it. He offered to walk me back to my room so I could rest but I assured him that wasn’t necessary and that I was feeling much better.

I shuffled back down the men’s hallway and straight to the staircase at the other end of the hall. 

I decide to go down one level; the file room was my best bet to getting any real information. I got inside without any problems and it must have been my very lucky day because the filing system was one of manilla folders and alphabetical order. Alexandra’s was the first I went for. And there it was, filed under names Sa-Sm, where it should be. They had a picture of her on intake day paper-clipped to the inside of the folder. 

My poor sister.

Her hazel eyes were the dullest I had ever seen them. Just empty and pale. That’s where she carried her pain, her eyes. She was still just as beautiful as I remember. Ages ago, when I used to protect her from the boys she wanted to leave her alone. When I was a good brother. She cut most of her hair off. Her long, black, curly hair that followed her like a hero’s cape was limp and cut so that it barely passed her jaw. She was a shell of her former self. Samsonite, really.

Alexandra’s file revealed three things to me:

  1. Counting from the day she was admitted to the day she died, Alexandra was here for 20 days. In the top right corner of her file was a stamp: SUITABLE CANDIDATE
  2. Her attending physician was Dr. Clyde Campbell and on her seventh day here, he administered a shot to her. The shot is labeled as DUALLAFRIT-2137. The results of the vaccine were being monitored in phases. In the column marked PHASE ONE, her subsequent blood work showed that she tested positive for active and ongoing acceptance of the DUALLAFRIT shot. Her PHASE TWO results were conclusive, as well. The words REJECTION/TOTAL LOSS was written in bold letters and initialed with the letter C.C., presumably the initials of Dr. Campbell.
  3. DUALLAFRIT. Frits. Stamps was on to something.
  4. She was four months pregnant.

I don’t even think our mom knew that she was pregnant. There is no information about possible paternity. 

It’s  a shame, really. But would I have been a better uncle than a brother? Could I have been? I suppose I’ll never know.

I checked for my file next. It was missing. I figured one of the physicians must have it. Ben Olsen’s was missing, as well.

I did find Danny Kruse’s file. His results for DUALLAFRIT-2140 were similar to Alexandra’s. Tested positive in Phase One and total loss in Phase 2. 

According to Aisha’s file, she scheduled to receive to the vaccine soon. A big red stamp like the one Alexandra had on her file spread across the top but comments on her self-harm had delayed her shot. 

If I had to take a guess, I would say my own file would soon read the same results that Alexandra and Ben had in Phase 1. 

I pray to God Phase Two is different.

Now, Stamps had a very interesting file. It turns out he had been administered the vaccine on three separate occasions. DUALLAFRIT-2109, DUALLAFRIT-2116, and DUALLAFRIT-2125 all ended in failure in Phase One, or SYMBIOTIC FATALITY, to be exact.

All of the others, like the Twins or our lamenting mother, Madeleine, were deemed to be unsuitable candidates. Madeleine is suffering not only from the loss of her daughter but also Stage 2 esophageal cancer. The brain MRIs in Dottie and Lizzie’s file pointed to some kind of a brain abnormality. A stamp across their photos made sure everyone knew. 

But some, that are no longer with us, made it to Phase 3.

Now, this is where it gets interesting. It wasn’t the way they died (suicide) but what the files said the results were.

‘PROGRAMMING INTERRUPTED’ 

Programming interrupted? On the best of days, I would excuse the jargon for typical A-list rehab bullshit. But none of the things that have gone on at this place have been typical. I know that this is what I was meant to find. The reason that Alexandra died. What successful programming looks like, I have no idea. In the time I had, I couldn’t find a record of anyone that had achieved it. 

But just because there’s no record that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

I snuck away before anyone noticed my exploits and hid Tanner’s ID on the side on the mattress. Thanks to the mattress’s plastic exterior and my pens, I was able to rip a small slit in it that should help it avoid detection. Thanks to Tanner’s general awkwardness, no one thought it was odd that his had gone missing.

I can only wonder what this morning has in store.

7:45pm

Typical. Whenever I know what I’m looking for, that’s when I can never seem to find it. 

Not until it’s too late.

Everyone was in a good mood today, Stamps even sat next to me in Group. My appointment with Dr. Campbell was cancelled and I sat for an hour in Dr. Bullers’ office talking about my feelings. She’s actually quite good, and I left feeling in awe of my own ability to fuck my life up and that there’s no one to blame but me.

Next week, she’ll tell me how to fix all of that. 

In between my session and dinner, I took the opportunity before I was expected in the Activity Room to see what the news from the outside world was.

According to the magazine in the waiting room, everything was still shit.

But still, I wanted to read about it so I took the periodical with me into the Activity Room and sat in the reading corner alone with my magazine. 

Couple o’ tidbits in there:

The drought in California is worse than ever. Wildfires have consumed over eighty percent of the state.

After a horrible skiing accident, Alec Baldwin horribly disfigured his face but through this tragedy he has discovered his bold yet smokey singing voice. He now has been guaranteed a seven year run as the Phantom on Broadway.

The President is coming to town. Part of some goodwill initiative she’s got going on. By the looks of the ad in the magazine there’s going to be a big crowd wherever she goes.

Mercury is in retrograde. 

No wonder everything has gone to shit.

DAY 13 — 11:07pm

I woke up in the scream room today. When I went in there, I have no idea. Apparently, I had been attending my doctor’s appointments and group as usual for the past two days. That’s all fine and good. But why don’t I remember it? My memories are slipping away from me.

That’s not all.

I stumble over words, if I can remember them at all.

All that are left are flashes of pictures and sounds. Hints of a familiar scent and a sadness so heavy I thought it would bear down on me forever.

And the migraines are unbearable.

I’m losing my mind. Or worse, someone is taking it. 

For the first time since my arrival, I am afraid. Afraid of what each night of my slumber give that thing the chance to steal.

Visions of a vast crowd before me are burned into my mind. Always a different crowd but they look to me for wisdom. They look to me for comfort.

Are these the sights of another? Are we all connected in some way?

We. 

Have I already joined them? 

DAY 15 — 9:34pm

I am in the infirmary today. According to Brandon Suarez, I was brought here when they couldn’t wake me up this morning. Stamps, who I’m sure wants nothing to do with me after that, did his part in alerting them when he lined up to take his morning shower. 

Even through my sleep, I know she was here.

Bridget.

I remember the sound of her footsteps as she walked the third floor. I remember the feel of her hand on my forehead. I hear her voice. Even though I’ve never heard it, I know its hers. I know it belongs to Bridget. 

The mother. 

My body is weak and my mind wanders easily. 

I need rest.

DAY 16 — Lunch

My body is cold. Like my energy is being reserved for some other function. Waiting for me to be turned off and back on again so my system can reboot.

I have not had much contact with the other patients. It seems my ‘leprosy’ has been fully realized. Stamps has requested to room with one of the new arrivals, a request that was granted wholeheartedly by Dr. Campbell. 

The days have gotten away from me. Chunks at a time. Chunks that are only getting bigger. 

DAY 17 — Noon

Or at least I think it’s noon. The clock in my room had been stuck on 12:03 since last night but the sun seems to be in the right place.

All I hear now is her voice. Telling me it’s ok, to relax, that the time has come for me to be free. 

I just don’t think the words are meant for me. 

Things are moving faster than I anticipated. As if I have any idea what to anticipate. 

If I had to take another guess, I would say that Phase Three is turning out to be a success. 

Lucky me. 

DAY 19 — 5:26pm

I know for sure, now. My dreams have shown me the truth. But they aren’t dreams. They are memories. And they don’t belong to me. War. Genocide. But these things, these Frits, aren’t fighting on vast fields. They are fighting on the inside. Inside of whatever creature they bond with. Where they were before, wherever that was, they had almost achieved complete assimilation. But something stopped them. That I cannot see. All I know is that this is their mission now. Freed from their cryptobiosis by Richard Stillwater all those years ago, they have slowly been infiltrating the human race, one patient at a time. Why a psychiatric hospital? The point of origin for the Frit resurgence may have been the luck of the draw but it is an ideal one. Where better to scrutinize candidates for selection than somewhere people go to become someone different? Who knows how many people are out there at this very moment, reprogrammed, and under the control of their Frit host? How many are going to gather at that festival? 100,000? 200,000? 

I’m afraid my time in control is almost at an end. I am under the impression that the only time our joint consciousnesses can peer into the other’s is when I am asleep. The Frit is unaware of my activities and I his, or hers, when the other is in control. Otherwise, my intentions would have been discovered by now. By tomorrow, this journal and my words will be on its way to you, thanks to Tanner’s ID, I will have no problem dropping this along with the mail.

Then tonight, I will fall asleep and when I wake up, I will be no more.

To you, heed my words and take them for truth. Something is going to happen at that fair. I am almost certain that the crowds that occupy my dreams are the same that our Madame President will address.  

To Alexandra, I’m sorry. I failed you.

I’m so sorry.

TEXT CONCLUDED

The reporters for the Ledger tried to get information on the author of this journal but there is no one by the name Antonio Junkan, nor has there ever been one, listed on any hospital records at Nelson J. Stillwater Psychiatric. There is also no public record of his existence. Inquiries were made after the publication of the journal contents but findings are inconclusive. 

Stillwater Psychiatric is currently still operational and treating those suffering from mental illness.  

This is actually my very first story ever accepted by an editor for an anthology but due to reasons out of my control (and his, I believe) the anthology was never published. This was a cool one because the theme was based on the John Silence universe created by Algernon Blackwood. John Silence is a psychic doctor who uses his powers to diagnose his patients with otherworldly maladies. This story branches off of that idea and applies it to POC as psychic detectives battling foes from the Unseen, another dimension that houses unknown terrors. I always saw this story as continuing on and on as my main character get stronger. This story takes the form of journal entries so who knows? Maybe there are more pages left to her adventures….

Water Babies

September 24, 1959 – Entry #159

It was waiting for me in the shower. 

It wasn’t always there. 

Over the past few days it had been slowly getting closer and closer to the house. Water attracts them so the bathroom was a natural choice but compared to the lake just outside, it made me wonder: why here? 

There are tons more down by the lake, milling about like deacons in the church.

My grandmother called them “water babies” and said they were the ones who led the slaves out of the South up the Mississippi and into freedom. The more cautious travelers thought it was safer to settle here where there weren’t as many people. Figured they couldn’t get in any trouble if no one knew you existed.

But that’s where they were wrong. 

There’s always something watching from the Unseen. But that’s a story for another time.

But it was this water baby that had me a little concerned. No one knows what they are really called but I do know there were a lot of them back home in Georgia. They were especially abundant where my family lived up in Cherokee County on Lake Allatoona. During my unconventional education (which by any convention was very hard to come by for someone of my Color) I would learn that an intense battle during the Civil War was fought on the land under the lake. I would also learn that more than 1,500 lives were lost. 

I think that had something to do with the considerable number of water babies but I don’t have a way to prove it.

Yet.

Reminder: examine sites of major battles near water. 

But still, there were not as many of them at home as there are up here.

After the newly freed men and women started to settle I suppose the water babies ended their journey here too and even in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” there was enough of them to make it seem crowded. There are some areas where they cover every square foot. I hear that walking in areas like that is akin to walking into a pond. The school surrounds you but at a safe distance. You are not likely to bump into one of these.

But this one was different. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to one and I couldn’t help but wonder if this one was trying to lead me somewhere too. 

I think it knows why I came to this place. It has me feeling quite nostalgic considering the situation.

The lake was calm this evening, a one way mirror between us and the Unseen world.

I wonder if my creature had his claws pressed against the glass, picking its next meal from the pasture. 

Humans are the cows, if you didn’t know.

I wonder if normal cows know that they’re even meant for the slaughterhouse. One day, you’re minding your business, chewing your cud, and the next, poof! You’ve been chosen and you’re gone. 

It would be kinder not to know, I think.

That’s how it is for the rest of my family: shuffling through life blissfully ignorant. My relationship with my family is fine, I suppose. Ever since father died it’s been a bit strange but I don’t mind the solitude, if I’m being honest. We love each other very much but our interaction is limited to casual check-ins and gossip concerning those outside our family. Always outside of the family.

Through it all, family comes first. 

But Grandmother and I share something special. Grandmother and I can see the Unseen. 

Well, not “see” see. You don’t know exactly what they look like but each creature has a unique feel.

The feel kinda fills in the blanks, you know?

Of course you do.

I think about Grandmother a lot. Especially on nights like this. Her birthday is the day after mine and passed only four nights ago. When she disappeared I had to leave Georgia. I knew that it was a creature from the Unseen that took her but no one would believe me. It was a night like tonight, when the moon is bright and the water still. I was there when the giant monster broke through that mirrored lake and pulled her through. The police classified it as a missing persons case but they don’t worry too much when a Colored woman goes missing. They filled out the obligatory report and left it alone. My family figured it was a bear that got her. A bear! 

I knew I couldn’t rely on them either.

I was but a young Colored woman myself, barely out of my teens, and my resources were already minimal. 

Ever since I could remember Grandmother and I made a game of it. Solving our town’s most persistent problems, which more often than not were the results of lower level Unseen, had become a training ground for my budding psychic powers. Over the years my strength grew and so did the size of the Unseen we encountered. But through it all grandmother and I would defeat them.

We were a great team.

But this case is different.   

I pursued it alone for months relying on everything she had taught me to track down the bastard who took my best friend from me. 

Luckily, she taught me well and I tracked it to this lake.

It took me years but I found it. After many run-ins with the wrong sort of Unseen I was finally about to have a run-in with the right sort.

At least I hope so. His feel had waned over the past few days and I can’t quite put my finger on his location. The water babies are all that I “see”.

Another odd thing: the lake’s population of bald eagles had been steadily increasing over the week and with it the water babies were less and less. I think there’s a connection to the raptors’ presence and the lack of the water babies. I feel like the eagles are the heralds to something far more sinister.

Shame. I really liked eagles. I don’t want to think of them in that way.

Or maybe they are guards? Protecting a doorway that is soon to be opened? Perhaps it is the same kind of door that opened and allowed that thing to take Grandmother.

Yes, but back to the water baby still waiting for me in my shower. I feel drawn to it. Maybe this is the same feeling my ancestors felt when they took that long walk to freedom along the river. I have come too far to stop now. I always thought it strange that I never could feel Grandmother’s spirit when I could feel almost all other departed from my family. 

That means she is still alive, right?

It has to. 

So, wish me luck. I’m going to follow this water baby wherever it means to lead me and hopefully I will find Grandmother, too.

Or die trying.

Yours always,

S.L.

It is worth noting that although none alive have seen the contents of this journal, the penmanship of the following entry is that of a person still unsure of reality and who is also in a great rush.

Entry #160

I just got back today.

Not that I knew today was today. It feels just like yesterday. But thanks to the papers at the 46 Store I found out that today was November 17th, 1961. 

A full 2 years, 1 month and 24 days since I followed that water baby to the Unseen. 

Slipped right into the water and fell out on the other side. The eagles that night made quite the fuss as I got closer.

Maybe I should I have listened to them. 

I’m glad I didn’t.

When I washed up on the shore they were there again. Maybe they never left. 

I think the door only opens every so often and every time they’re there.

Reminder: research eagles and their psychic significance to natives.

It also turns out the water baby sort of had a life as a little girl in a town just over the border into Alabama. She was about nine years old and she lived and died over a hundred years before me, murdered long before her time. She was part of the necessary “migration” our people had to take and she wanted to show me something. 

See, Nanny, you were right. 

Reminder: William McGinnis, LOACHAPOKA

Anyways, on that night 2 years, 1 month, and 24 days ago she showed me the way.

The way in.

But there’s one problem…

No matter how hard I try I can only remember my time there in flashes. It’s like I was walking in a dream stuck in that little place between the curtains and the window. 

I hope it will come back to me. 

But I do remember the rage. It was everywhere and I felt bombarded by it the second I touched down. I’m afraid it won’t be contained for much longer. It took all I had to fight back the charging Unseen. Maybe it wasn’t the true Unseen world. I found it to be more like a giant waiting room for the bad things lining up to kill us and the real Unseen was just behind the curtain.  

Oh, I found Grandmother too.  

In that space between spaces I wasn’t alone.

She stuck out like a sore thumb with her light and together we kept the rage away. I don’t know how she survived this whole time but it was amazing! I’ve never seen our powers so in sync. And I’ve never felt so powerful.   

Although, the creature that took her was nowhere to be found. I find this odd. Grandmother’s recollection of events is fuzzy as well so I will continue to observe her for any clues to restoring our memory.

The cabin is pretty much in the same shape as it was when I left. Only the dust and cobwebs show the passage of time. 

Then there were the letters. 

Mother had sent two.

The first invited me to the then impending and long since passed wedding of my sister to the pastor’s son. 

The second was a bit more interesting. 

In the course of the time I was away, the country had changed. 

Colored people had changed.

The new president was ruffling feathers all around the world but the situation in the South was more volatile than ever. The fragile state of race relations had been pushed to its limit and was spilling over into the streets.  

The resulting hate, anger, and fear was the perfect feeding ground for the Unseen and they were flocking there in droves.

Unfortunately, my brother, as sweet and well-meaning as he is, had left home over a month ago to join the Freedom Rides to Alabama. 

He has no idea what he’s in for.

We are leaving tonight for Montgomery.  

Now that I think about it, I think that’s why Grandmother let herself get captured, to find the greatest clue of all. The Unseen are planning something big and we have to help stop it. 

Til next time,

S.L.

END