and do we not live in dreams?”
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Higher Pantheism
The screeches started around midnight. They were high-pitched, like the sounds of some horrible experiment performed on a live animal.
“Please. Make him stop.”
The orderly cocked an eyebrow and lowered his newspaper. “There goes Stanley,” he said, dropping his feet off the table and rocking the chair forward onto all four legs. Gary couldn’t remember this other orderly’s name, he just thought of him as the one with the bad bleach job. The guy’s coarse, spiked hair was a pale orange that, along with his thin, black goatee and array of small loop earrings, made him appear intent on looking either boy-band cool, or flamingly homosexual. The guy achieved both goals. Gary also realized, even in the limited time of being in this guy’s presence, that Bleach-head here was a concoction of annoying habits—drumming on the table, snapping wads of gum, a relentless use of nicknames. Know what I mean, Champ? Sport? Chief? Catch what I’m saying, Rookie? That was Gary’s most common address, Rookie. “We’ll just let ole Stan hang in there for awhile,” the guy said, finishing a word on his crossword puzzle. “Know what I mean, Guy?”
It was Gary’s first night at Mystic Mercy Hospital. And Gary, at times, felt like it might be his last. Something felt wrong about the place. A monstrous structure that, while housing both a mental health facility and actual medical hospital, still remained half-empty. But the whole island was like that, crowded with immaculate nineteenth century buildings that weren’t fully used for their original intent. Like a Lego village only partially populated by a child’s imagination. Even if Gary kept this job, he had already decided he would never actually move on island. Too many stories. Too many strange vibes. But he needed the job, so he guessed he could drive the mile across the bridge each day.
The screams came again. “Please stop him.”
“Shouldn’t we do something?” Gary said.
The orderly flashed his gaze from the paper to Gary. He hung his head to one side, as if saying, Don’t you think I know how to do my job, Rookie? “It’s just Stanley,” he said. “The guy’s fucking cracked.”
“What’s the matter with him?”
“I don’t know. They just moved him here from the mainland. Guy thinks someone’s gettin into his dreams or something,” the orderly said, focusing on his crossword and running the pencil’s eraser along his lower lip. He looked up at Gary. “Like I said, fucking cracked.”
Another orderly, Jack, rushed into the office. Jack seemed to be in charge, like some kind of squad leader. He’d also been the most helpful so far at showing Gary the ropes. “Hey, Fred,” Jack said to Bleach-head, “you ever gonna get around to helping Stan?”
“I’m gettin to it,” Fred said, tossing aside the newspaper. “I was just filling in the Rookie here on the technical aspects of Stan-the-man’s case. So you see, Rook,” Fred said, turning to Gary, “technically speaking, Stan-the-man’s fucking cracked.”
“Just get the syringe,” Jack told Fred. Jack turned to Gary, motioning for him to follow. They strode down the halls, further and further into the frantic web of Stanley’s cries. “Actually,” Jack told Gary, “Stan’s a paranoid schizophrenic. The guy’s convinced some kid gets into his brain and messes with his dreams. You should hear what this guy says happens in some of these nightmares.” They stopped outside the room’s door. “You finished all your restraint training, right?”
“Uh, yeah,” Gary said.
“All right,” Jack said, unlocking the door, “you hold him down, and when Fred gets in here, he’ll pump Stan so full of Zyprexa it would calm a rhino.”
Gary felt he should ask a question, get a better explanation of the plan. Just hold him down? That was a little vague. But before he could say a word, or even take a breath of preparation, Jack threw open the door and plunged into the room.Gary followed.
Inside the room, Stanley was on the floor in the throes of a screeching fit. “Hold his feet,” Jack called, smothering Stanley’s back as if it was a live grenade, trying to gain control of the man’s flailing arms. Gary kneeled, straddling Stanley’s ankles, struggling for dominance over the man’s erratic legs. “Careful, he’s a kicker,” Jack called over his shoulder.
Fred and another orderly—Gary thought his name might be Steve—ran into the room. Steve grabbed one of Stanley’s arms, he and Jack stretching Stanley into a prone position. Stanley’s feet bucked, sending numbing pain through Gary’s scrotum. Gary winced, stifling a groan. He shifted to a better position and managed to immobilize Stanley’s legs. Fred sprawled over Stanley and unsheathed a needle with his teeth. He winked at Gary, dug his elbow into the small of Stanley’s back, and jabbed the needle through Stanley’s pajama bottoms. “There ya go, Stan-the-man,” Fred called.
“It’s all right, Stan,” Jack said, “You’re awake, man. You’re safe.”
“I’m not,” Stanley cried.
Fred stood from his deed, with another dig of his elbow, and Gary saw Stanley’s profile pressed onto the floor. The man’s wide eyes looked back at him with the helpless, horrific alarm of a cow about to be slaughtered.
“He’ll come again,” Stanley screamed. “It’s William. He always comes back.”
Continued in: Earworm: Part 1 — The Prodigal Son Returns