Flash Fiction Challenge: Three Random Photos
Courtesy Ye Olde Terribleminds Prompte
He’d first caught a glimpse of her true form after two years in the lock-up.
They couldn’t fool him. Words like ‘hospital’ and ‘mental ward’ were kindly terms for ‘prison’. He was a prisoner. He couldn’t remember why they kept him here, feeding him chunks of dog food in sewage gravy, denying him his shoelaces and talking to him like he was five years old. But he hated it. He hated every second of it.
Every once in a while, there had been peace; moments that blended together into a meaningless lump of dulled senses, vague lukewarm sentiment and pithy reinforcement from the Beamer-drivers in charge. He remembered week or month-long stretches of time in which he felt calm but not himself, like he was always wearing earmuffs and a thick, gauzy veil. They would call it ‘happy’ but he considered that too strong a word; no strong emotion applied at all when he felt that way. ‘Normal’ was an even more bogus term they tossed around. It never lasted. They kept trying to put him back there, though, with upped dosages and increased voltage and longer group therapy sessions.
And then he saw her.
It had just been out of the corner of his eye, at first. A glimmer, a phantasm, a touch of whispered laughter. As time went on he’d see another wisp, get a longer view of what may have been smoke, hear her voice over his shoulder more clearly. At first he told himself he was hallucinating, that it was the drugs or something. But she became harder and harder to ignore. She’d touch his shoulders in group, brush past him in the hall, even visit him in bed at night only to leave him alone in the morning with sweat and sticky sheets. By that point nobody could convince him that she was fake. How could the only good thing left in his life be imaginary?
Her presence brought things into focus. The drugs stopped working. The shock therapy became a distant thing, pushed aside by her presence. He’d burst out laughing in group because she whispered something funny in his ear. He wanted to be with her so much it hurt, but it was something they’d never allow. So even before she told him how to do it, he was thinking of escaping.
When he threw a chair at the small, old-fashioned television, people were surprised. The tube tossed sparks in a really impressive fashion, and once they died out he saw what he needed on the floor. Orderlies came running in, a couple with syringes and one with a taser. He wasn’t going to let them stop him. He scooped up the biggest shard of glass from the floor, and when the stun-gun guy came at him, he opened up a long bloody hole in the orderly’s scrubs. There were screams and more blood and before he knew it he had one of the nurses by the throat, screaming for the door to open as he held the glass to her pulse. The weak men obeyed and he was free.
He ran through the corridors to find the stairs. He wasn’t sure where to go at first, then he saw her beckoning him upwards. He took the stairs two at a time and when the door opened, sunlight washed over him. Blinded for a moment, he held up his bloody hand as his eyes adjusted. Apparently they had lied to him. He wasn’t in a hospital downtown.
He was on the mountain trail where he’d met his wife.
The memory flooded back with razor-sharp clarity. The view was gorgeous, spreading out below him like a green and brown carpet. He’d been hiking the trail and found her sitting off to the side with a sprained ankle and a busted bike. He’d let her lean on him as he carried them both down the mountain. They visited the mountain many times before and after they were married.
Things were good for a while. Before the miscarriage, the booze, the fights and the tears. Before she’d get angry at him for so much as looking at another woman. Before he started having trouble holding a job. Before he’d come home to find her in the tub with a glass of wine, a bottle of pills and wrists slashed open.
He’d never understood why she’d left him alone like that. Didn’t everybody have trouble with relationships? Weren’t all marriages rocky at times? He’d told her they could work it out. Why didn’t she believe him? He’d wept for her, wrapped her in their wedding-gift bedsheets, carried her outside and set the house on fire. The judge had ruled ‘not guilty due to mental defect’ and that was how he’d been in that hospital.
Only she hadn’t left him alone. She had been there, smiling at him, laying with him, reminding him of the good times they’d lost but could have again. And now she toyed with him, laughing a little, beckoning him closer. He took uncertain steps, the gravel beneath his feet not the familiar gravel of the mountain trail. Not anymore. The trees were replaced by air conditioning units and TV arials. The valley was no longer full of forests but now full of cars and, directly beneath him, started gawking people. Cars with flashing lights would arrive.
And there she was, somehow floating off the edge of the hospital. Her smile was radiant. He could see her clearly, now, when before it had been just a glimmer. She held out her arms. Her wrists were whole. He wanted to badly to lose himself in her embrace, forget all the darkness, be her husband again. He stepped towards her.
“Be with me,” she whispered.
His feet touched air. His body tilted forward. He was still reaching for her. Maybe she was really still waiting for him. He smiled on the way down.
Be it heaven or hell, he’d find her.