31

ALEX SAT ON THE EDGE of the bed, exhausted from the effort of getting dressed. Every day they told him to get dressed. He wasn’t sure why he had to get dressed, but they had told him to, so he did.

Whatever they told him to do, he did.

He didn’t want to comply with their orders, but he didn’t have the will to fight them and couldn’t think of a reason why he should. He knew that he had no choice, no way out. He was at their mercy.

At the same time, his imprisonment seemed unimportant. What difference did it make? Confinement seemed trivial.

The thing that concerned him the most, in fact the only thing that concerned him, was his inability to think, to form complete, coherent thoughts. That was the most exasperating thing of all to him. He would sit for hours staring blankly at nothing, the whole time trying his best to form a sentence in his head, but nothing would form. It left him feeling hollow, empty, and distantly frustrated.

He knew that it was the drugs that were causing him to be unable to focus. More than anything he wanted out from under the mountainous weight of what those drugs were doing to him. He couldn’t envision a way to bring that about.

One time when he had turned his face away, saying that he didn’t want them anymore, they had warned him that if he refused, if he became difficult, they would strap him down to his bed and give him injections.

Alex knew he didn’t want that. He knew that it was hopeless to fight them. After they threatened to strap him down to his bed, he took his medication without further complaint.

But more than anything, he wanted out from under the dark weight of the drug-induced stupor.

He had the sense that he had been confined for a couple of days. He couldn’t figure out how many, but he didn’t believe it had been long. He vaguely recalled the doctor coming again to talk briefly with him.

The doctor had wanted to know about the things that Alex thought about. Alex wasn’t able to identify any thoughts. The doctor had then asked if Alex was guided by voices. Alex asked what kind of voices. The doctor said that perhaps he heard the voice of the devil, or maybe even people from another world who haunted him, wanted things, told him things. Alex had felt a vague sense of alarm at the question, but he didn’t know what the doctor was talking about.

The doctor had left, then, saying that he would return another day and they would talk more about it then, adding that Alex was not going to be going home anytime soon.

Home. This was his home now.

A fleeting thought flashed somewhere deep in his mind. It was about his mother. He felt that he needed to know if she was all right.

Although the drugs suppressed any emotion, every waking moment Alex felt unsafe in the place, even if it was only a vague concern, and so he felt that his mother was in some kind of trouble as well. He was completely helpless to do anything about his fears.

When the door opened, he saw a big man lumber in.

Alex looked up and saw white bandages over the middle of the face.

“How you doing, Alex?”

“Fine,” Alex answered by rote before he stared off at the floor again.

“They put my nose back together for me. Said it’s going to be fine.”

Alex nodded. He didn’t like the man standing as close as he was, but he couldn’t imagine what he could do about it.

“I wanted to come back to work as soon as possible and see how my patients are getting along. Everyone here knows how much I love my work and how concerned I am for the patients.”

Alex nodded. In the back of his mind he felt a sense of danger in the pleasant voice, the casual conversation.

“The doctor said that you need to start going out and sitting in the sunroom. He wants you to get accustomed to being around other people without becoming violent — get used to fitting into society, I guess you could say. The only society you’re ever going to see again, anyway.

“But before I walk you down to the sunroom, I want you to tell me about the gateway.”

Alex blinked slowly as he stared up at the man with the bandaged face. “What?”

“The gateway. Tell me what you know about it.”

“I want to see my mother.”

“Your mother?”

“I want to see her safe.”

Henry, that was his name, Alex remembered.

The big man sighed. Then he chuckled softly to himself. “All right, Alex, let’s go for a walk and see your mother. Might do you some good to see for yourself that she’s fine — as fine as she’ll ever be, anyway. Then, after you see that she’s fine, I guess you’d better think real hard about telling us what we want to know — if you want your mother to stay healthy.”

“Please.” Alex managed to look up. “Don’t hurt her.”

Henry leaned down toward him and smiled. “I guess that’s pretty much up to you, now, isn’t it?”

Alex saw to each side of the bandage that both the man’s eyes were blackened. A few of the pieces came together. Alex thought that he had done that to Henry, that he had hurt him, broken his nose. Try as he might, he couldn’t remember why he’d done it.

Henry plucked a tissue from the box and wiped Alex’s chin. “Okay, let’s go see your mother.”

Alex began slowly levering himself to his feet. He immediately got light-headed. Henry stuck a big hand under Alex’s arm to keep him upright.

“The doctor said that your blood pressure is pretty low, so you have to be careful or you’re liable to pass out. Got to take it easy, he said, or else you could get hurt.”

Holding him up with one hand under his arm, Henry suddenly punched Alex in the abdomen.

Alex doubled over from the shock of the blow and fell back into the chair. He covered the cramping pain with one arm, even though the ache seemed remote. With his other hand he gripped the arm of the chair. He looked up to see Henry grinning.

The big man reached down and pulled Alex to his feet again, then punched him twice, both blows harder than the first.

Alex crashed back into the chair, moaning.

“Do you want to fight back, Alex? Take another swing at me?” He chuckled again. “Guess not. Thorazine takes the fight right out of you, doesn’t it? Makes it impossible to work up any aggression at all. That’s what it’s for, you know. It’s to keep dangerous psychopaths like you from hurting anyone.”

Alex was aware of the pain, but it was only a distant awareness. It seemed inconsequential. Even though he knew he should, he simply didn’t care. He couldn’t imagine how to care.

“Thorazine represses aggression so well that you can’t even work up a little anger when you need to. But I guess you know that.”

Henry pulled him up, held on to him, and in rapid succession pounded his fist into Alex’s middle. The blows staggered him back, but Henry was big and strong enough to keep Alex from falling.

Alex couldn’t get his breath. He knew that he was struggling to breathe, gasping, but the drugs were preventing him from being able to react. It felt like they were preventing him from being able to breathe as fast as he needed to.

Henry released his hold on Alex’s arm and gave him another mighty punch. Alex crashed back down into the chair, holding his middle. He couldn’t pull in a breath. He thought he might throw up. He sensed desperation in the way he gasped, but he felt like he was no more than a distant observer.

With his nose all bandaged up, Henry was looking a little winded, too.

“All right, let’s go for a walk and see your mother. Get it over with.”

Alex couldn’t get up. He was having great difficulty drawing each breath. Henry pulled him to his feet and rammed a knee into his groin. Alex collapsed to the floor, curled up, moaning.

Henry watched a moment, pleased by the sight, then yanked Alex to his feet again. He had great difficulty straightening up. Henry spun him around and shoved him, getting him moving toward the door. Alex tried to walk, but his legs wouldn’t move fast enough to walk. He could only shuffle in a hunched posture.

Henry followed close behind. “Don’t you think that this is over, Alex, or that we’re even. I haven’t even begun to get even.”

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