Most in this asylum were diminished souls. They shrank from the world because it was all simply too much. Merely breathing was too heavy a burden. Ricard could not fault them for their failures. He hid here for much the same reason. Out in the thick of life, in the noise, there was too much choice. You were left too open to pain. Every day carried with it the threat of loss. Yes, he could easily understand why one might secede from sanity.
Life, in these white walls, was simplicity itself. Feed 'the herd' (that was what the other orderlies laughingly called their constituents) the scheduled medicines at their scheduled times; lead them in daily activities—drawing classes, reading, painting, group 'therapy sessions' (mostly they sat in silent circles and drooled), arts and crafts with blunted scissors. It was simple routine: eat, shit, sleep and repeat.
But on the day this… this man was carried in on a gurney flanked by armed guards; iron cuffs shackling him to the table by wrist and ankle, metal bands wrapped tight around his waist and legs, Ricard could see in his eyes—dazed though they were by drugs—the same fire that once burned in his own. Somehow he sensed that the same thirst for vengeance tickled both their insides. He knew he had to reach this man, penetrate the medicated fog and discover for himself what drove him and what had led him to such an end.
So Ricard got close, insinuated himself as the patient's—listed as John Aible, an obvious pseudonym—primary caretaker. The others were glad to give him the duty. Rumors followed John's entry into the asylum. People whispered that they heard he was a violent felon, bearing a long list of crimes too horrid to be named. They feared what he did not: Ricard was a big man, soft around the middle, but he moved more nimbly than his bulk should allow. Beneath the fat hid a solid, muscular core, developed in his days of… he never would say.
Whispers abound about his past as well.
Though the patient sat still and was always silent, Ricard knew 'John' loved when he told him old stories: particularly fairytales about downfallen kings rising up against their usurpers, or Gods who toy with the lives of men. The flames burned most brightly in his doped eyes at these moments. Quickly he confirmed his suspicions. While most days, 'John' was any other patient, dully limping through the routines they set for him, one day, the veil was pulled back briefly and Ricard saw the King behind the curtain.
Ricard was reading the tale of the boy Arthur—who boldly pulled sword from stone and proclaimed himself Briton's King—when he first heard 'John' speak.
"I… I was…"
Ricard nearly dropped the book in shock, before quickly recovering and looking around to see if any other aide had heard him speak. Fortunately they were alone in the ward's small rec room. The asylum allowed its inmates to come and go rather freely as long as they were attended and, of course, thoroughly zonked.
The aide edged closer to his patient-cum-silent confidante. "You were what, eh? Not 'John' I bet, not John… someone else perhaps? Wherever did you come from Mr. Aible?"
Only then did he notice the chill in the air. Only then did he see how his words left his mouth and became mist. Ricard shivered. Who turned off the heat?
'John' acted as if he did not hear. Swirling in his eyes, once blank and white with only faint traces of old fire, were coal black storm clouds. They burned hot and angry, belying the room's sudden coolness. The wakened patient bellowed:
Ricard stumbled back. He had expected many things, but not this… never this. Instinctively he gripped John’s rippling forearm and felt the muscles convulse beneath his hand. ‘John’s whole body was seizing. It seemed, though Ricard could hardly believe it, that ‘John’ hovered nearly half an inch above his chair. Ricard reached into his back pocket and grabbed the patient’s ‘emergency’ dose. Straddling John in his chair, he pried his clench jaws open, and forced the pills down. After 30 terrifying seconds, ‘John’ finally calmed. His chest went slack, his muscles still. The black fire in his eyes extinguished.
Still he whispered: “I was… I was…”
Ricard knew he had mere moments before the true John was again lost in a narcotic shroud. “Tell me John. Go on, you can trust your storyteller.”
And at that word Ricard again felt the chill which haunted the room just moments before. ‘John’s eyes once again went white, spit dribbled down his jaw. Ricard sighed and dabbled at the wetness with his blue frock.
“And what are you now, eh John? What are any of us now?”
Days passed with no new episodes. Still only the dull recognition at the tales of heroism, still only silence. But Ricard, the aide, knew what hid with the quiet king. He had been the fire’s sole witness. He watched, with gentle eyes; spoke with a gentle voice. And waited.
“I know what you were ‘John’. And what you will be again. If only I knew how to help you…”
Late one night, when ‘John’ was fast asleep. Ricard rooted through the hospital records, searching for an emergency contact or maybe a next of kin. There was only a name, no explained relation, no designation.
Ricard smiled, and put his hand to his lips as if to quell his excitement. This could be no coincidence. He could learn something from this Cayne. There was a number by the name. Fingers shaking, Ricard grabbed the nearest phone and began to dial.
Here lie our answers, I think, Mr. Aible. Let’s see what light this… ‘Cayne’ can bring.