The next drug they gave me was called Thorazine.
From the very start, I did not like the Thorazine, and I tried to tell everyone so.
“It makes my head feel gross,” I told Vincent.
He and I were in the center of the common room. Shadows lurked around us, and the walls were too loud, but it was either there, or sit at the cafeteria tables. Proctor was too busy that day to see me. Said he wanted to wait another day or so until I was more ‘clear’ before starting psychotherapy or something.
Clear. Code for "not bugnuts insane."
I was really starting to hate that word.
“That might mean it’s working,” Vincent said calmly. He wasn’t as good as faking nice as Proctor. Like, he had a selfish vibe to him. He didn’t give a shit about me, he just was putting up with me because he was told to, because he wanted his school credit or something.
I scratched my head, imagining there were fleas running over my scalp. There weren’t really, but it felt like it. Like I had to move. It was either scratch my head, or start jogging around the commons.
“I don’t like it,” I said again.
* * * * *
I tried to do as Robby suggested.
He was gone by that point, but his advice stuck with me. I went to group therapy, though I didn’t talk at first. I hung out in the common room instead of hiding in my room. I didn’t watch the TV-- my eyes used to break them, and I didn’t want to risk that part of my power still sticking around, but I did sit in the same area as the TV and listen to others while they watched it. I sat behind the sofa, on the floor, cross legged and kicking my foot out rhythmically, antsy and discontent and trying to pretend to be friendly on the few occasions that someone tried to talk to me.
I was on Thorazine for maybe three days before I decided I couldn’t do it anymore. It made my brain hot. It made my skin itch, though there were no rashes. It felt like I was trapped inside my skin, and I grew terribly afraid that Brandon’s body was dying.
"It messes with my head," I tried to tell Proctor once.
"That's the goal," he said.
I ground my teeth and pressed myself further back into his office sofa. What was even the point of talking? He was nice, but he never listened. Or he listened, but he never understood.
"It makes me antsy," I tried again.
He 'hmm'ed and jotted down something. "That we will need to watch," he said. "Does it cause you to move involuntarily? Like you can't stop yourself, even when you try?"
I was, at that moment, bouncing my leg. I stopped it experimentally. I had the urge to continue, but I wasn't fighting myself or anything.
"I can stop," I said.
"That's good," he said. "Thorazine's one of the ones with a risk of movement disorders. If it ever feels like you can't stop, let me know."
"It's frying my brain," I said.
"But have you seen any more spiders?" he said.
I knew it had been a mistake telling him about that.
"No," I said. "But there was just the one. Maybe it's in a different part of the hospital."
"Then we'd find evidence of it," he said, using his sensible voice. "What would a spider that large even eat?"
I flushed. "People?"
"Nobody's gone missing, or reported any spider attack."
I rubbed my eyes and face. "Maybe it's loose in the city," I said.
"Do you see what you're doing?" Proctor said gently. "You're creating more excuses to defend the idea of a giant spider instead of accepting the much more likely scenario that there isn't a spider at all."
"You say it like I'm doing it on purpose," I said. "Like I want there to be giant spiders."
"I know you don't," he said. "You're terrified of them, and if they were real, that would be the appropriate response. But that real and reasonable fear is based on false information."
I scowled at him, but couldn't think of an argument that would convince him otherwise.
I could only hope that when the spiders came for us all, I'd have my powers back and be able to fend them off.
* * * * *
On the night of the fourth day, I devised a plan.
Robby had been right; if you played along, did the good little patient bit, they started taking it for granted that you’d do what you were supposed to. I’d been taking my pills like a good little crazy person, and while Darren or Basco still checked my mouth after, they didn’t check-check. Just had me lift my tongue.
In the back of my mouth, sorta behind my back teeth, there was a gap where my wisdom tooth had been. I remembered how the dentist had messed up somehow, how my parents had been furious. It wasn't just the hole, though that was the part I had to deal with. The dentist had done something wrong with the paperwork-- let me sign something without my parents present, then used an anesthesia that messed with my antipsychotics. That part was harder to remember because I'd gotten sick after.
My parents had taken it to court-- my mom was a litigious monster-- and had gotten the place shut down. I couldn’t remember if it was because the offices had been forced to close, or if they’d gone bankrupt after the year-long legal battle, but either way, my parents hadn’t felt the least bit bad about it. I always had, though.
But the hole. There was a hole in my mouth, covered slightly by my cheek.
And the next day, after I decided that enough Thorazine was enough, I slipped the pill in there, tried to subtly hold my cheek in, and let Darren check my mouth.
“All clear,” he said.
I tried hard not to smile.
It was tempting to spit the thing out the moment his back was turned, but I resisted. Instead I hung around the commons for a bit, trying not to look suspicious, and then I went to the restroom and flushed it away.
Rinse and repeat.
A day later, and the weird heat under my skin was gone. The twitchyness was gone. The urge to run, to hit my head against the wall and let the shadows take me, to claw open my skin, were gone.
I knew the Thorazine was garbage, I thought.
Not long after, I started seeing Dog again.
I'd be turning in my tray after lunch and I'd see him in the hallway. I'd run over to him, only to wind up with him vanishing before I got there and two orderlies on my tail. When I went to the restroom, I'd hear Dog whining at the door like he did at home or whatever motel we'd been staying in that week, but when I opened the door, there'd be no Dog.
About a week off the Thorazine, I was sitting by the window with a quiet guy named Eddie when I saw a familiar black mass sitting on the grass.
"Dog!" I shouted. I stood up so fast that I knocked over my chair. "That's my dog! Look, that's my dog!"
Eddie hadn't moved. Frankie waddled over, leaving the foostable unguarded for the first time in ages. “What’s going on?”
"My dog's outside." I pressed up against the glass and started hitting the window with the flat of my good palm, willing Dog to come over, to walk through the shadows in the room and break me out.
Or at least come and visit.
"I don't see any dog," Frankie said. "Where is he?"
"Hey, what's with all the ruckus?" Darren said, coming over.
"My dog's outside!" I said, refusing to take my eyes off Dog in case he vanished. "Right there, by those hedges."
Darren looked out the window.
"Brandon," he said reproachfully. "Have you been taking your medicine?"
I felt a twinge of guilt, but ignored it.
"Let me out," I said. "I can go catch him."
"Brandon," he said gently, "There's no dog out there."
"Yes there is! He's right there! He's the big black thing!"
These people were blind.
"There's nothing there," said Frankie. He sounded cheated, like he’d really wanted to see the dog.
Darren looked at me and sighed. "I'll go ask Proctor if it's alright for you to be out," he said. "If he says yes, we'll go out and look for him."
"Great idea," I said, not moving my eyes from Dog. All he was doing now was sniffing at the ground. "Get him in here so he can see for himself."
I didn't see him go, but I felt him leave.
"You're crazy," Frankie said. “Let me know when you wanna play foosball.” And he left, too. I was there for maybe fifteen minutes, blinking only one eye at a time so as not to lose sight of Dog, when Proctor arrived.
"Brandon," he said, stopping beside me. "What do you see?"
"My Dog," I said, blinking unevenly. It was hard to do, so I held one eye open at a time with my fingers.
"What is your dog doing?"
"Just sitting there, now. Not even looking at the hospital. He's looking at the road. I don't think he knows I'm here."
"But you said before that he was wandering around the halls."
Right eye. Left eye. Switch.
"Brandon," he said. "You haven't been taking your Thorazine, have you?"
"I don't need it. It made my skin weird."
"When was the last time you took your medicine?"
I racked my brain. "Thursday? I think?"
"We're going to start injecting you if you're going to skip your meds."
"I don’t need them, look, he's right there--"
"Brandon, I don't see any dog. There is no dog."
I tried to blink. I let go of my left eye, moved to open the right with my hand, and he stopped my hand. He quickly moved his hand in front of my face as though he were going to bop my nose, and I instinctively closed my eyes. I blinked normally, looked outside, and Dog was gone.
“Dammit!” I said.
I turned and saw Proctor standing with three big nurses. My heart sank.
“Oh, come on,” I said. “You had to have seen him!”
“Brandon, you have a choice now,” Proctor said, his voice neutral. He held up a little cup with pills in it.
“You can either take your medicine right now, or we will inject you.”
I knocked over a chair, hoping to slow them down, and ran for the hallway on the opposite side, the one that led to Proctor’s office. The one that led to the gate.
They caught me, of course. I couldn’t open the gate; there was a panel that needed a code I didn’t know. They got me to the floor and gave me not one, but two injections.
“We’ll try again, Brandon,” Proctor said, sounding patient and unsurprised. “Don’t worry, nobody’s mad. We just need to get you back on track.”
Darren, Basco, and the third man hauled me up.
“Take him back to his room,” Proctor said. “Let him cool off until lunch time.”
They had to drag me away, kicking and screaming and calling out for my dog.
* * * * *
Proctor wasn’t taking any risks after that. Not until I was ‘clear.’
“We’re going to keep trying the Thorazine,” he said after my now-daily injection. Basco was disposing of the needle while Proctor leaned against my bedside table and talked at me. I sat cross-legged and agitated on the bed, turtled up.
“I’ve upped the dosage again,” he went on, “so hopefully that will help quell the noise you mentioned to Vincent.”
“Squealer,” I muttered.
“You’re in a mental hospital. It’s his job to squeal.”
“What about doctor confidentiality?”
“Doesn’t count when we’re all your doctors.”
I grumbled and rubbed my face.
“Did you want to talk today?” he said.
I shook my head. “No.”
“You should lay down,” he said. “Remember for how long?’
“A half hour,” I said, not caring if my irritation showed in my voice. “I’m in bed, aren’t I?”
“That’s good,” he assented. “Laying down would be better.”
I noticed I was rocking back and forth. I hadn’t realized I’d been doing it, and stopped.
“Do you want to talk today?” Proctor said again.
“No,” I repeated.
“That’s alright. Maybe later, then,” he said, cheerfully. “The medicine will take another day or so to get through your system, but you should be ready for therapy sessions tomorrow.”
I said nothing and started rocking again.
“Can I be by myself?” I said. “I don’t feel good.”
“Of course,” he said.
He left, closing the door behind him, and the five enormous spiders that had been on the ceiling dropped to the floor.
I scowled at them, still cross-legged and cross-armed, still miserable and itchy on the bed. My skin was too hot and dry, my eyes too itchy, my muscles too stiff to feel even a small amount of fear.
“Get out of here,” I said.
The spiders appeared to ignore me and started scuttling around the floor, like they were looking for something.
We’re here to help! said a high pitched voice. Not like a child, but like an adult pretending to be a child.
“You’re spiders,” I said tiredly. This was not the first time I’d had this conversation.
Just come off the bed and we can help you!
“No way,” I said. “You’ll eat me.”
It was true. I knew it.
The only thing that protected me from them was the bed. For some reason, they couldn’t get up here, despite being able to climb the walls and ceiling. If I stayed on the bed while they were here, I was safe.
“Besides,” I added. “You’re not real. If you were real, you would have died just now from falling. Vincent told me. Tarantulas die from falling off tables, and you’re way bigger.”
The spiders’ bodies scuttled around, ignoring me while their voices sang out,
It’s a lie! Vincent is a liar!
Even as they protested, their bodies suddenly turned for the door. One by one, they squeezed themselves under the slim crack between the bottom of the door and the floor.
I grumbled and let myself topple over sideways, opening into a slightly more comfortable position.
Ridiculous. I thought.
* * * * *
The days started to blur. Repetition is supposed to be comforting to crazy people. Patterns, schedules. It's comforting to other people, too, but crazy people especially.
At 7:30, Darren or Basco come in and wake me up to tell me that they'll be waking me up in a half hour. Usually, I'd groan and bury myself under the thin covers, and a half hour later they'd come in with Proctor and give me my Thorazine injection.
“Can’t I just give myself the shot?” I said once, rubbing my wrist where they’d administered it.
“Get your M.D. and we’ll talk,” Proctor said jovially.
After, they’d lock me in the room for a thirty minutes. I still don’t know why I had to lay down after the injection, but Proctor insisted. Then Darren or Basco would come back and pester me until I made myself presentable.
After, it was off to the cafeteria for breakfast.
The shadows in the walls didn’t bother me as much. As Proctor pointed out, if they were trapped in the wall, then no matter how angry they were at me, they couldn’t actually hurt me, just complain about it.
So I'd get a tray and a selection of food elementary-school-style and sit down with the other patients. I had to use plastic sporks and spoons. Other people could use forks and butter knives-- a few could even use real knives-- but I wasn't allowed to after Darren caught me trying to electrocute myself again.
“I wasn’t trying to hurt myself,” I tried to explain. “I was trying to get my powers back!”
Once again, I got a one-on-one and an upped Thorazine dosage.
After breakfast was a bit of free time, then "Community Session" where a group of us varied crazies would listen to Laura or Darren or Basco or nurse Edith or whoever of the staff as they went over the rules of the place-- because some numbnuts was always breaking the rules. Usually the numbnuts was a guy named Gary, who had a thing with phones.
"Gary," came the usual admonishment. "What's the rule about using the phones?"
"No more than ten minutes," Gary would mumble. Gary was always on the single phone accessible to patients. You needed to put money in it like a payphone, so none of us pennyless slobs could actually use it without someone helping us, but that didn’t stop Gary. He said he was talking to the president, or the mayor, or the Illuminati, but there was never anyone on the other end.
"That's right," Laura or Darren or Edith would say. "And what else?"
"Other people can use them too."
"So what are you going to do today?"
"Let people use the phones."
Every day we went through that spiel, all because Gary thought he was the high and mighty ruler of phones. After that, we'd break into group and all do an AA Meeting style intro where we said why we were there.
"My name is Alan," I'd say.
"Brandon. . ." Laura usually said.
"My name is Brandon,” I’d correct. “I'm here because they think I'm paranoid schizophrenic with some kind of identity delusions and I see shit that isn't real." And if the Thorazine was working right and I wasn't in a bad mood, I'd end it there. If I was feeling antsy, I’d add, "the real reason I'm here is because Iotech industries arranged it. I don't know why, but they've switched my body with this one and are probably doing terrible things to it--"
--And then Laura would cut me off, assure me that that wasn't the case, and go to the next person.
Then we had to make lists of three things we want to accomplish that day. Mine was always the same: find Dog, stay sane, remember the truth. Before, when I was still being cheeky, they were "find dog, escape, kill Simon Brandenburg" but then I got put on one-on-one and had Basco shadow me for a week, and had all kinds of questions and weird looks, so I stopped doing that.
After group, I went to see Proctor, who’d ask me how I'm feeling, what sorts of thoughts I was having, what I was thinking (which aren't the same thing). These meetings only ran a half-hour to forty-five minutes; he's a busy guy, after all, so I got to go back into commons and finger paint or play foosball with Frank or sit with Eddie and stare at a wall for an hour.
Then it's another group therapy thing; this time with Basco. He has us do activities that help us do stuff like "combat negative thoughts" or "deal with aggression through positive outlets."
Those were all about as fun as they sound, and I spent most of the time thinking about hurling myself through the window. What would break first? I wondered. Glass, then me, then the metal grating? Or would the grating not break at all? If the glass was reinforced, then I’d be the first thing to break--
And so on.
After that group, we’d split into one-on-one sessions where we all get individual "lessons" with techs or social workers. I always got Edith, who tried to get me to trust people through the art of empathetic nagging. I hated going to those because it's patronizing as fuck. Maybe these people need to learn how to deal with their heads, but I'm perfectly fine thanks. I'm on good terms with the weird shit in my head so I don't need to learn how to deal with it, and it's not paranoia if something's trying to kill you. Edith never understood that when I tried to tell her.
Then lunch. Lunch was never as good as breakfast. But maybe it's just really hard to fuck breakfast up.
The group was pretty colorful there, more so than I would have expected. There were a few depressives who had checked themselves in, a girl with bulimia who needed to be watched after meal times, two dudes with "homicidal ideation"-- I didn't know what exactly that could be aside from the obvious. Like me, they were not allowed to have sharp things at meal times.
There were other people, too. Ones where I didn’t know the names of what was wrong with them. Frank who seemed nice enough except he had the crazy eyes that look too intent when he talks, and Geordie who repeats words over and over and over again because they "get stuck" in his head and won't go away until he says them fifty times. Some words are worse that others; none of us are allowed to say "okra" or "meringue" around him, or else he'll be muttering hysterically to himself for hours and it takes forever to calm him down. I learned it the hard way during group once when I'd mentioned Dog. Dog is one of his triggers. He’s terrified of them, and it took ages to calm him down.
I wasn’t the only quote-unquote schizophrenic in this place, even after Robby left. There were three of us, though the other two were a lot more stable than I was-- according to the doctors, I mean. I thought myself the only truly sane one there. Jonathan and Jeannie have both got meds that work for them, and Jeannie's family visits regularly. Word was they're going to be taking her home, soon.
They tried to talk to me sometimes, the same way Robby did. Sometimes together, sometimes separately. They tried to encourage me, or convince me to play along with Proctor's rules, but I made a point of ignoring them. I was pretty certain they were actually plants. Either they were plants sent by the administration or Iotech to get me to comply, or they were genuinely crazy people, and who wants to take sanity advice from crazy people?
* * * * *
Proctor told me my parents were alive.
Both of them, living with my sister. I had a younger sister-- not a baby or anything. Only a couple years younger than me, but I had one. And aunts and uncles and cousins. I had a family. One out of state. One that would pay for my care, but wouldn't come visit me. He said that I'd burned some bridges a long time ago, and that my family was willing to work with me once I was sane.
"Fuck them," I said.
"That's a rude thing to say about your family." Proctor said. We were sitting in his office, him at his desk and me slouching grumpily and half-sinking into the cushions of the big armchair.
"They're not my family."
"Even if I am Brandon, they let me run around crazy for years without trying to find me."
"You left them," he said. "You stole your father's Mercedes and drove away. I don't suppose you know the location of the car, by the way? They were interested in finding it."
"Fuck them. They want some car but they don't want me? Fuck them."
"They want you, I assure you. They just want to wait until you're more. . . Stable."
"Fuck them," I said.
But sometimes, after, I’d catch little flashes of memory in my head. I’d be thinking about my mom and how she’s a litigious nut-- it comes from being a prosecutor. I’d be thinking about how I look like my dad, and my sister, dark hair and eyes, looks like mom. How the view from our house overlooked the valley because we were at the top of the mountain--
But then they’d slip away, and I’d try to pretend they’d never happened.
I had no siblings.
Our house was tiny and dingy and in the middle of a city.
My family was dead.
* * * * *
I dreamt a lot.
The most reoccurring one was of an empty city, filled with giant versions of the shadows I'd seen in the hospital and pools of blood on the ground. I hated that dream because it always felt like I was supposed to do something, but I didn't know what, and I always woke up before I could figure it out.
The other dreams were all more normal. Dog and I hanging out in a motel room, reading one of the yellowed paperbacks I'd picked up somewhere. Us eating Chinese food out of the carton, with me occasionally dropping a piece of chicken onto the ground for Bugsy and company. Sometimes it was just me, lying in a motel bed, watching lights and shadows move on the walls, cast through the slits in the blinds by cars on the nearby road passing through.
I loved and hated those ones. In them, there’s always that thread of paranoia-- Simon and Iotech was going to swoop in at any moment and put me god-knows-where-- but they were also comforting. I woke up feeling homesick whenever I had those ones. I missed Dog. I missed Bugsy.
Hell, I missed coffee.
That was another pain: there was no coffee at the institution. No soda, either, and the juice was only served in tiny portions. Some of the patients got manic when they had sugar and caffeine, and it set them off. One guy, Steve-- I think he was bipolar or something-- got super excitable just eating chocolate. Once, a visitor snuck in an energy drink and Steve flew off the handle. It took three orderlies and enough tranqs to fell a bull moose to put him down.
Funny thing was, I don't remember ever liking coffee. It was too bitter for me, even when laden down with milk and sugar.
But suddenly, a couple weeks into the Thorazine, I started craving the stuff. It was like going through withdrawal at one point: headaches, foul temper, growling at anyone who tried to talk to me.
I blamed the meds.
* * * * *
It was about three weeks into the Thorazine when things went wrong.
Well, to hear Proctor say it, things were going wrong before that point, but nobody noticed and it was the Tuesday of the third week that sealed it.
I woke up and everything ached. Everything was already aching all the time anyways, so that wasn’t so unusual, but that day, it was almost impossible to get out of bed.
“Come on now,” Basco said to me, helping me up. “I thought we were past this.”
I wanted to tell him we were, I wasn’t doing this on purpose, but I couldn’t get my mouth to work right.
It was hard to think, hard to focus. I didn’t eat anything during breakfast, just stared ahead and tried to keep my hands from shaking. My arms and legs kept cramping up for no reason, and I'd try to flex or massage it away, only to wind up making it worse. When I walked, I hobbled like an old man, so I tried not to walk, instead staying as stationary as possible.
During group therapy I heard everything people said, but I'd only understand about every third word. Then fifth, then tenth. I nodded along, though that sent horrible spasms of pain down my back, and when it was my time to talk, I waved my turn away.
Good old Darren pegged on that something was up first. During lunch, he noticed I wasn't eating.
He took one look at me, touched my head, and said, “you've got a fever."
He sent me to the nurse, who verified that I was feverish and sent me back to bed with some Tylenol.
The next day, when Proctor and company came in for the injection, they found me semi-conscious in bed with a 104 degree fever.
It’s fuzzy after that.
I remember people talking to me, and trying to talk back.
I remember the shadows on the wall watching.
I remember someone tossing blankets on me, but that making me colder, and fighting to kick them off.
Then there was an ambulance.
Then an emergency room.
And then nothing.