Footsteps. Footsteps. Footsteps.
Hazy and muffled. Distant.
No creaking. More like clocking, clipping. Clopping? Do people feet clop?
It was the sound of shoes on tile. Somewhere to the left, a phone rang.
Aiden felt like he was moving. But he was sitting. Voices passing by. More phones ringing. He couldn’t see. His eyes were open, but everything was oversized blobs of light and color. The predominant color was white.
Footsteps directly behind him as he moved along.
“Ah, this must be young Mr. Keller. Let’s have a look at you. See if anyone is in there.” The voice was female and rich, putting the picture of a big-boned black woman in Aiden’s mind.
A door closed.
A bright light enveloped Aiden’s left eye.
Then his right.
“Can you hear me, Mr. Keller?”
Yes I can. popped into his brain. But his wiring wouldn’t carry anything from his brain to his mouth. His body had become a box for his soul, a shell, and he was the soft mollusk hunkered down inside of it.
Something cold went down his shirt and pressed against his chest.
“You have a healthy heart at least, Mr. Keller. And your breath is good and clear. Your parents should be on their way up here once I tell the doctor your vitals are done. Just a few more things, here…”
Something tightened around his right upper arm. PFFT-PFFT-PFFT-PFFT…
Then someone pinched his wrist for a few seconds.
A door opened.
“He good?” it was a male voice.
“Good timing. Just took the last stat. Everything checks out okay. As far as his body goes, he’s a healthy, strapping young man.”
The soul in the shell was trying every last lever and string to send a signal to them. Not even his eyes would obey him when he tried to roll them around wildly.
“Thorough and total shock,” said the male voice.
“What scares the mess out of someone like that when they trying to sleep? You must have some real nightmares, hun.”
“I’ve never read anything about nightmares doing this much damage to a developing mind. Once we get him back from wherever he is, he’ll have a story or two for us. Ring downstairs to send the parents up, would you?”
“Right. Hold on, honey. We gonna get yo’ folks.”
A strong hand grasped Aiden’s as the door opened and closed. The doctor’s soft breathing ticked away the silence somewhere off to the side.
The door again.
“…and here he is. Hey!”
“Aiden, Honey!” mom’s voice. Something off about her tone.
“Can you hear me?”
“Talk to me, doc,” Alan’s voice. Shaky with concern.
“Severe shock. And I do mean severe. He’s just a few qualifying factors away from what we would classify as psychotic break.”
“But it isn’t psychotic break, right?” mom again.
“No. And we want to keep it that way. I want to keep him overnight for observation.”
“Keep him overnight?” Mary’s voice was rising high.
“Yes, just to see how he does.”
“But keep him where?”
“He’ll have his own room in the K wing. If he has another episode, we’ll be able to respond quickly and keep it from getting worse. It’ll save you folks an extra trip in the middle of the night. You’re out-of-towners, aren’t you?”
Alan spoke. “Yeah, we just bought a house in Silverkey Crossing a couple of months ago.”
“You want to keep my son in the psychiatric ward?” Mary burst.
“Your son isn’t being committed. We just want to have him for one night where we can see what he does and where we can respond quickly to prevent any further trauma.”
“My Aiden is not a mental patient and you’re not going to treat him like one!”
“You’re right. He isn’t and he won’t. We have him for one night so we can make sure he’s going to be stable and he goes home the next day. That’s all.”
“Alan, tell them we can’t let them do this.”
“The doctor’s right, Mary, now come on and let the man do his job and take care of our son.”
Aiden lost track of the argument. His mother was eventually removed from the room by Alan, her mouth spinning like a top clear up until the door cut her off.
The events of the rest of the day registered in Aiden’s mind as snapshots. In a moment of clarity, he found he was in a wheelchair in front of a television playing one of his favorite cartoons. If it wasn’t a recording, that meant it was seven or eight o’clock at night. There was a taste in his mouth. Applesauce? And bread? He didn’t remember eating. He didn’t feel hungry. Nor did he feel full. His tunnel vision widened and his room – his cell – came into focus. Anything that he moved trembled. He wanted to stand up, but anchoring a leg or a hand anywhere made the whole wheelchair quake.
The cell door opened.
“Good evening, Mr. Keller,” came the voice of the black woman from before. Only she wasn’t black now that Aiden could see her. She was a very light-skinned Latina. But she was indeed big-boned and wore narrow glasses for her heavy-lidded eyes.
“Hello,” Aiden said, his head turned to her. She reacted as if witnessing a resurrection.
“Goodness gracious, Honey… oh my, oh my goodness. Baby doll…”
She stood between him and the television.
“Honey bunches of oats, oh my goodness. Oh my God. How are you? How do you feel?”
“I feel weird.”
The nurse chuckled.
“I bet you do, being blasted off balance and then coming back so soon. Oh my. The doctor is gonna be so glad. Oh, this is gonna be such good news. Oh!!”
The portrait of sheer delight before Aiden that moment. He wanted to smile and caper along with her. His body was only granting him minimal motor control.
“Your girl Madena doesn’t see people come back from where you been in one day. You made my day, Baby.”
She knelt down before him with the warmest smile, taking his hands in hers. She had to be a mom herself. There was no way she was this maternal about things without having a family of her own.
“Baby, what happened? What’s the last thing you remember? Tell Nurse Madena.”
He remembered a moment that felt centuries ago, of something happening, him forgetting, then remembering, then something happening again, and the universe leaving him entirely. Some moment of clarity in the equation. Yeah, when he was brushing his teeth. That was it. But what came to him? Something blasted it out of his skull with a shotgun.
“I don’t remember.”
Madena’s face dimmed a bit, but the smile wouldn’t disappear.
“We got you in the K Wing, baby. There’s no handle on your side of the door if you try to get out. I’m here for the rest of the night and I’ll be checking on you. There’s a red button next to the bed and another by the sink in the bathroom. You need anything, push it and I’ll be down.”
Aiden nodded more mechanically than he intended.
Madena gave him a huge smile as she shut the door behind her. True to her word, there was no handle. A lock clicked.
The cell was every bit like a regular patient room, with small modifications that made all the difference. Anything that could be used as a means of escape – or harm – had been removed. Door handles. Faucet handles. The shower was operated with b*****s. The shower head was a small, ugly little cube recessed into the wall.
Aiden could eventually wobble around the cell like a newborn fawn and discover the stern boundaries placed upon his freedom or any ideas he might get. The only plot he could hatch was sleeping. He was tired on an almost supernatural level. In this bare, minimalist, air-tight prison, sleeping shouldn’t have been a huge project.
Shouldn’t have been.
A hospital bed is a hospital bed, no matter how you doll it up or try to hide the chrome and the rigid, functional frame. Aiden couldn’t tell the difference in the state he was in. He hit the thin mattress and the world of silence began to fade away. He was plummeting into sleep when the gentle padding of footfalls manifested on the white tiles. His day had been full of the clops and clicks of professional footwear on the measured, gridded floors. This was soft. Barefoot. He distantly calculated that he hadn’t heard the door unlock or open or close. His heart picked up a familiar war drum rhythm.
Pad, pad, pad, pad…
The sound approached the bed and paused.
Part of the mattress to his side sank.
The entire bed frame lurched as someone got into it beside him.
The shriek that had been coagulating in Aiden for the last three days finally erupted. Violent enough to shatter glass and rend his vocal cords. He found the button next to the bed and pulverized it. It would be a work order the next day that the mechanism needed replaced.
It took four nurses to subdue Aiden and sedate him, and they all walked away with bites and scratches and bruises.