Summary: Noah Winters hears voices and they sing. But they also tell him to do bad things. After listening to the voices one terrible night, he’s sent to a correctional facility for an indefinite amount of time. While imprisoned, Noah has to find a way to appease his voices. The only way to do this is to listen to music, but music isn’t allowed on the premises. As his condition worsens, Noah takes it upon himself to make his own music with the help of a beautifully tragic and damaged companion. (This is a story in progress. Comments are welcome!)
The sharp collision of metal on metal penetrates my eardrums. The guard next to me mumbles under his breath as he flips through the silver and bronze keys that hang from his weathered leather belt. His breath smells of stale coffee and nicotine. Pockmarks and craters mar his pudgy face, sweat rings stain his armpits and back.
I roll my eyes as he passes the correct key several times. Even so, I wait somewhat patiently as the guard – a voice in the back of my mind tells me his name is Frank or something like that – surveys his key ring one final time before finally choosing the right key and inserting it into the scoured lock of the heavy metal door. Another guard posted inside a small office to the side of the entry nods to Frank and glares at me with wary eyes. I gaze back without blinking, forcing the man to lower his eyes in defeat.
My wrists ache as the steel cuffs restraining my hands chafe my skin. I look down and study the chains around my ankles. A deep sigh escapes my throat. I’m sure I’m the only one within this godforsaken place who has to be escorted with chains around my ankles. It’s not like I’ve ever tried to run. Truthfully, attempting to do so seemed like too much work. Every single night there are guards posted outside my door, walking the long stretch of halls, constantly surveying the outside perimeter through their high tech monitors and bored eyes. Trying to formulate a plan would be just as much a pain as executing it.
Frank waddles over to me and places a firm hand on my arm, leading me away from the frightened sentry and the locked exit. I throw a glance over my shoulder to eye the door one last time as we head down the misty grey hall. The temptation to leave still resides within me, but I know there is no point in longing for freedom. It’s not as if I have somewhere to go and someone to turn to.
I turn my attention away from the gated door and focus on the walls. Deep grooves, long jagged scratches smeared with faded blood, are etched along one wall. On the other are small pits that are encrusted in crumbling plaster, filled with cobwebs and inky blackness. I spot the knuckle-sized crater I had formed on my first day. A tingling sensation prickles across my fingers as the memory comes to mind.
They had dragged me down the hall. My hands were bound behind my back with steel cuffs and my legs frantically scrambled beneath me as they hauled me down into the depths of The Ward. I broke free momentarily, only to slam my fist into the wall, leaving a deep crater, a constant reminder of the pain I had felt upon being sentenced to this place for life. I had broken all the bones in my hand.
Though I haven’t posed much of a threat since then, the guards still place these shackles on my hands and feet, constantly afraid that I may relapse. I don’t blame them, though. The patients within this hospital have the potential to do very bad things. We’ve done it once and we can do it again. I’m no exception.
Frank and I eventually reach the end of the lengthy hall and enter into a main vestibule painted in a severe medical white. A large administration desk is situated across the far wall; three women wearing traditional nurse outfits are quietly taking calls and entering data into the computers. Not one looks up as Frank leads me further into the lobby.
Several doorways branch off into different sections within The Ward. Faded silver plaques are placed next to each wooden door – reading Medical Center, Patient Housing Units, Courtyard, Therapy Rooms, and Auditorium. Past each door are several more halls that lead into wings of the building.
I have never been in the east wing. I hear that’s where the women are.
Though the hospital is three floors high, I have yet to spot an operating elevator and I’ve been here for four years. I keep asking Frank whenever I see him why there are no elevators. He never answers me. In fact, Frank has barely said a word to me since I’ve arrived. I’ve been kind to him – never taking him for granted, always asking how has day has been – but he never speaks to me. I’m not hurt by his behavior. Back when I was in high school many of the students treated me in a similar way. I think it’s my eyes.
Frank tugs my arm to the left, forcing me to shuffle towards the door that leads to the housing units. The rotund guard waves to a pretty brunette nurse sitting at the administration desk. She doesn’t wave back.
He slides his staff card into the lock and opens the door for me and gently guides me through. That’s what I like about Frank. He never pushes me.
Once I’m through, he motions for me to begin walking. He takes my arm again and we stroll down the passage. This hall is much different than the one that leads into the therapy section. Against the scarred, dilapidated walls of the therapy corridor, this hall is painted a bright white with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the courtyard area. Outside, I can see the dark green lawn with red rose flowerbeds and a fountain placed in the center with a cherub perched atop the cascading waters. I laugh inwardly each time I see that fountain. An angel doesn’t belong here.
We pass by the crystal screen and reach the end of the hall where Frank guides me towards the housing compartments. Further down the corridor there is a metal door with a small gridironed window. Frank and I come to a stop in front of this door and he swipes his key card next to the long, silver door handle. The sound of tumbling metalwork escapes from the crevices.
Frank swings the door open while keeping a firm hold on my arm. I sigh as I gaze into the dimensions of my living space. To the left is a single twin bed with thin sheets, a scratchy cotton blanket, and one white pillow. Next to the bed is a simple nightstand with an ugly two-tone brown table lamp and a single drawer that holds an unread copy of the Bible. To the right is a simple desk and chair along with a corkboard hung above the wooden surface. There is nothing pinned to the corkboard except two pictures of my mother and four badly drawn sketches of Death himself.
I shuffle into my room and turn around to hold out my hands to Frank. He does not meet my eyes as he unlocks the cuff restraints around my wrists and ankles. After Frank removes the manacles, I rub my aching wrists, causing the soreness to seep deeper into the muscle. I hiss under my breath as I turn my back on the guard and amble over to my bed and sit down with a heavy groan. I hang my head and close my eyes, hoping Frank leaves quickly.
In my peripheral vision I can see Frank hesitate and take a small step towards me. I raise my head and look in his direction. He hastily steps back as I stare him down. Without another word, he turns and strides out the door, leaving the small confines of my dull grey room. The lock hisses in his wake as the door swings closed.
I sit in silence for a bit until the voices begin to shout at me to do something. Something bad. I begin to panic because there is no music here. Music cannot be broadcast over the radio system because some patients can’t handle the sound of song. And the facility has banned the use of personal electronics due to an incident three years ago. Since then, I’ve been having a harder time controlling them. I tried convincing Frank that I need the music, that I need to have some sort of symphony ringing in my ears at all times, but he acted as if he didn’t hear me.
To fill the silence, I begin to hum a song – I can’t remember the name of it – and the voices begin to sing. But they won’t be appeased for long.
Something is happening today. The nurses seem to be a bit panicked and the other patients are whispering under their breaths, their anxieties radiating outwards. I feel their nervousness as I pass by a small group of men who have befriended one another over the years. They are huddled together at a dining room table, speaking in low mischievous tones.
“I hear they gon’ let the ladies come, too,” one man whispers. He has thinning hair and yellowed teeth. Some are missing.
“Wouldn’t that be a treat? I feel like I haven’t seen me a real woman in years. These nurses ain’t nothing. It’s the crazy ones you want,” says another man with messy brown hair and black eyes. I don’t like him. He feels…wrong. Just like me.
I hear other snippets of their conversation but it’s hard to capture what they’re going on about, so I wander past and take a seat by the window. The food here isn’t so bad. It reminds me of the food my friends and I had tried to avoid during our high school years. It wasn’t bad, but it was considered a last resort.
There is a small white Dixie cup settled on the corner of my chipped blue trey, holding two round white pills. Seroquel. My medication. It doesn’t help. But I haven’t told anyone that. Music is the only solution.
Other conversations occur around me. Sometimes I feel jealous that everyone else seems to have a companion while I sit here alone. But my isolation is one of my own doing. I have no right to complain. I look around and survey the men occupying the dining hall.
The patients here come in all shapes and sizes, all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. We are a melting pot of psychologically ill individuals who were unable to control our urges, who were unable to distinguish the real from the fictional, who were unable to silence the voices in our heads.
And so here we are.
We aren’t treated unwell. The inner ward is fairly nice and well maintained. The staff is well trained and patient. Of course, there is the occasional nurse who can’t stand it or the guard who needs the extra cash, but the experience here is mostly bearable. Only some halls and corridors look like the entrance into the therapy section. Money is a slight issue and not all sections of the hospital can be updated. And though the hospital looks like a prison on the outside, I don’t necessarily feel imprisoned on the inside.
While I eat, the other men’s voices raise in anticipation, as whatever is happening seems to be reaching a crescendo. I watch as men buzz from one table to the next, dropping news as if it’s the newest commodity, a flavorful piece of gossip. I divert my attention away from my surroundings and focus on finishing my meal. I have a meeting with my therapist after this and he hates it when I show up late.
Right after I take my last bite, Frank appears next to me with my restraints.
“Come on. Let’s go,” Frank says gruffly, his voice hoarse from cigarette smoke and burnt coffee.
“Are those really necessary, Frank?” He glares at me and shakes the manacles in my face. “All right. Calm down.”
I stand and extend my arms outward towards Frank. He deftly locks the manacles on my hands and feet before ushering me out of the dining hall. We walk down the corridor and enter into the main lobby once more, but instead of leading me down the dilapidated corridor towards therapy, Frank leads me towards the door labeled “Auditorium.”
“I have to meet with my therapist, Frank. Why are we going to the auditorium?”
He doesn’t answer me and instead swipes his key card and escorts me past the threshold and down the brightly lit hallway. We reach the double doors at the end of the corridor and pass through into the great hall.
To be continued…