Javier the Insane
He murmurs nonsense, his eyes flying back in his head. The straps tying him down strain as he pulls and arches against them. Around him the whispers continue - "psychosis, insanity - unexplainable!" They are hisses against the white walls. They leave welts on his mind. The men in white coats poke and question him, ignoring his words - this isn't the answer they want. Around him is the sound of water trickling through pipes. It slips around his thoughts and makes him struggle harder. The straps stay solid.
He's always been an oddity in a would prizing conformity. As a boy he spoke only four words, over and over again - "This is not me." Always he struggles against what he is supposed to be, trying to discover who he is to become. At nineteen he kills a woman. He tempts her to a warehouse easily. She is transfixed with his stunning looks. The warehouse is cold and derelict. Water drips from the ceiling and edges across the floor. He stands in the middle of it and feels a thrum of excitement in his veins. She touches his face and he shoves the knife into her stomach. She falls with a sickening crunch and her blood poisons the sweet, clear water in which she lies. It spreads like a vile pool about the broken body. He feels nothing. The drip of water from a cracked mains pipe beats a tattoo in his mind. The soft bloom of blood across the floor leaves vacant. It is decided; a murderer he is not. By process of elimination he will discover himself. He lets the smell wash over him and the red seep into the pores in his skin. He must go deeper in order to purge himself of it. They find him scrawling four words over the walls with his blood stained hands -"This is not me." The woman lies dead in a sea of his confusion.
They ask him, "Did you kill this woman?" He answers with silence. It unnerves them. In the gallery a teenage girl thinks he's the most beautiful person she's ever seen. The most frightening, too. They say, "Two people saw you with the knives."A pregnant pause,"Two more when you were drawing on the walls with her blood." He struggles against the strapping, his phenomenal strength stretching them to the limit. He thinks, one day he will snap them. They think, one day they will break through his barriers. One day, he will crack.
He replies fastidiously, the same answer every day, "This is not me."They don't know what to make of it. Leaving the room the locks thud into place. The straps are removed and he thumps to the padded floor. Every day the same - every day the same questions and the same answers.
He stares blankly at the crowd. His dark blue eyes pierce the people like the knives he used to kill the woman. Every look is of animosity. Every mind is full of curiosity. He can speak, they know he can. But he doesn't. The silence terrifies them more than words. It is not his intention to terrify. He only wants to know who he is. Their hateful gazes slide over him with not even a flinch. The woman had been well loved and the press is out in force. The flashes of cameras outside the courtroom lodge themselves just behind his eyes. In the pictures his skin is bleached white, his eyes turn the most thrilling shade of blue. The teenage girl cuts one out and hides it in her journal. No one will ever know. Sometimes when she comes home from a rough day she lies down and stares at the picture. She imagines that maybe, if he knew her, he would change. She imagines a world where there is only forgiveness. No one will ever know.
In his cage, as the accused, he shakes his head and turns his gaze to the Judge. "This is not me."He says. The Judge orders silence in the court. Jeers from the gallery continue. They'll never understand, he knows. They'll never understand that he's a victim too. His parents give evidence against him. He knows he should feel something. Betrayal. Guilt. But all he feels is apathy.
They tell his story but sometimes they get it wrong. He never knows who he is. From the moment he walks he knows he is different. There are no words in his childhood. No words that matter. His parents are alienated by their silent, clever son. They say, all he wants as a boy is to sit in the rain. Just sit there, like he's waiting to be washed away. They pull him inside and he retreats a little further every time. By high school, his grades are impeccable, his silence unnerving. When he speaks, which is rarely, he says four words with increasing regularity. He volunteers nothing and speaks only the words under duress. At the age of fifteen he stops speaking altogether. Now, with the death of the woman who he doesn't know, he speaks only in answer to direct questions. His voice is rough with lack of use. It rumbles like a thunderstorm. It is low and dangerous and when he says his precious four words - the only assurance he had in life - people shudder and look away. He closes his eyes and the jurors imagine his cold ocean eyes can still see them. It's more effective than a threat any day. When he rolls his shoulder and pulls against the straps holding him down ripples of fear move through the room in response. One man pictures a scene over and over where Javier breaks free and like some kind of hero uses supernatural strength to overcome all and escape. He pictures himself following him, assisting in his recapture, a hero to all. He basks in his imaginary glory.
Javier presses his big, rough hands against the thickened bullet proof glass. They cage him like a rabid bear. He wonders; perhaps he is an animal? He tries out a low, menacing snarl - getting the feel of it. The sounds roll around in his mouth. They taste bitter. At the back of the courtroom a psychology student shivers, asterisks a note. He answers the Judge's questions the same every time. His state lawyer pleads insanity. He hears the word repeated over and over. It imprints on his skull, neon and bloody with shame. After a while he closes his eyes and escapes to a world where he doesn't exist.
"The defendant, Javier Riley Wilson, has been found guilty of the murder of Marie-Eve Pinto. He is sentenced to life imprisonment in Greylands Mental Institution eligible for consideration for parole after serving fifteen years, and not before."The words echo in his head. They are meaningless. He looks at the triumphant faces of the prosecution. He repeats his mantra in his low, husky voice and allows himself to be led away. The power in his movements frightens his guards. The treat him carefully; none wish to anger the terrifyingly large, unbelievably strong, officially insane murderer in their midst. He walks by the woman's widower: their eyes lock. Javier feels nothing.
Months of silence pass. He watches his guards and carers with the same strangely blank but chillingly intelligent gaze that he did at the beginning. His doctors start to think he is a lost cause. He thinks they may be right. Every day though, he feels himself getting stronger. His mind moves faster, as agile and sharp as a dancer. His body is all hard muscle even though he spends his days sitting and watching. His guards flinch away in fear from him even as they escort him around the clinic. He watches and whispers the words in his mind.
His chance comes exactly one year after his incarceration. A new guard steps in the room. The clinic is short staffed, they make do with the few resources they have. He lulls them into a false sense of security with passive, contained behaviour. They think his mind is empty and high on a clouds of dulling drugs. They are wrong. Every day he grows more and more impervious to the drugs the pump into him, everyday he grows more alert. Today, there are only two guards, one of them new and less than wary. More quickly than the eye allows he lashes out and the guards thud to the floor. Their fall is cushioned by the soft red carpet which disguises the blood of past patients. He can smell it though; the smell ingrains itself in his mind. He sees the flecks on his skin sometimes. The bitter chemicals polluting the water in the institution will never wash it off.
He strolls from the clinic more easily than he imagined. No one seems to look at him, no one seems to see him. He slides along the shadows, his pale skin absorbs the sunlight - that which he had not seen in a year and a day. He revels in it and decides that, whoever he might be, he is not a creature of the night. The glow of his pale face in the strong summer daylight draws the stares of passers by. He experiments with a smile. They flinch away, their gazes slide away from him like he's a disease. He doesn't care though. The sunlight wraps him up and carries him away like an old friend. The smell of freedom liberates him more than any drug.
He walks on and on and on. It grows dark but still he walks because it's been so long since he's been able to unhindered. With every step the chains around his mind slip away. With every passing moment the drugs which keep him sedate wear away and after a while he ceases to feel their effects moving sluggishly about his veins. They no longer tie him down. He feels like he can do anything. The whispers are still there; they will take longer to forget, he thinks, they will take longer heal.
He ends up far from the city in a stretch of bush-land in which grows wild and free. To some it would be ugly, filled with plants that bite and scratch and tear at the skin, but to him it is more beautiful than anything he's ever seen. As a boy he'd never been far from his cage, his home. Now, without the bars and accusing stares, he is free. He revels in it. He lets himself drift among the tang of eucalypts and acacias. Eventually, when he sleeps, it is deep and unhindered. The undergrowth embraces him and pulls him from any prying eyes. There are no dreams in his sleep, there is no one filling his veins with the drugs which dull his mind. When he wakes he repeats his mantra. This is not me.
He moves on from the bush which cared for him so. He walks north. For days and days he walks. He eats little but thrives. His skin is browning in the sun and his eyes, the colour of the deepest ocean, drink in the landscape. Brown dirt turns red. Trees turn to stunted bushes but he still doesn't feel like he belongs. Every day he wakes with the same words on his lips. Every day he wakes with the need to walk. To escape. To find himself.
A month passes. He resembles a wild man, loping down forgotten dirt tracks. The hair on his face grows without fear of a razor. A woman who drives by tells her husband later that he resembles a bear more than a man. Feral and uncontrolled. Powerful. His feet crack and bleed from all the walking. When the hot sand bites his cuts he feels uneasy and repeats his words. They are familiar, a retreat for him. Still he walks.
His body is nothing but raw power now, any fat he carried long since melted away in the heat. The clothes he escaped with are in tatters. They were not build for the strain he puts them under. Eventually he discards the rust coloured shirt, it crumbles to the ground, forgotten and lonely, and the breeze pushes him from behind, cool against his bare back. It feels good. It feels right.
He walks and walks, bare chested and glorious. Days later a car stops. Inside are a young couple. The boy opens his window slightly, wary of the stranger on the other side of the glass.
"Do you need a ride?" The boy asks.
He doesn't know what to say. Walking is not getting him where he needs to go. He nods and climbs into the backseat. He stays silent. The girl tries to talk to him but he looks at her with his unreadable, endless eyes and she stops. Eventually she turns on some music.
It's like nothing he's ever heard before. It echoes and pounds in his skull. At first it frightens him with its intensity, its unrelenting wall of sound. Then he loses himself in it. The girl turns. She asks him if it's okay, if he minds what they listen to. For the first time since he was a small boy, he smiles. Her eyes widen and she's intoxicated by his looks. The boy grins in the rearview and says it's his favourite band, too. He asks if there's anything specific he wants to listen to. Javier shrugs and forgets to repeat his mantra.
For two days he sits in the back seat of the dirty land cruiser and for two days the music invades his skull. He learns the words, they come to him easily. He doesn't say them out loud, but sometimes they sit on his lips and he thinks he could. On the third day the young couple tell him that they've reached their destination. The boy gestures him inside the house, gives him a pair of denim jeans and a t-shirt and a razor.
The jeans are snug around his waist but reach only the top of his ankles. The shirt is tight around his shoulders and loose around his hips. It's bright blue and Javier feels like the sky. The girl laughs at him, says he looks silly with his too short pants. He smiles again, dazzles them both, nods and leaves. When he looks back they are there, watching him walk away. The boy raises his hand in farewell, the girl wipes a tear from her cheek and wonders why she cries for the silent, beautiful boy with eyes as deep as the ocean. Javier raises his hand in reply and walks. He misses the music. He misses the sweet girl and her shining gold hair and the boy with his soft eyes and dirty fingernails. They are the only friends he's ever had.
The words come back to him. The phenomena of music had held the feeling at bay, but now they're back. Sweat drips down his spine, trickling and making the shirt itch and rub against his skin. After a while he takes it off and tucks it into his back pocket. It isn't ready to lie in the dirt, forgotten. His skin is tan and supple. It absorbs the light and releases it in a soft golden sheen. A gang of kids practicing their BMX riding watch him pass as he walks into a small town one afternoon. One boy comments on how the sun seems to shine from him, he then looks down at his own bare, heavily freckled arms and screws up his nose. Another whispers that he's never seen someone that freaky before; he steps back into the protection of the group. The smallest boy crosses himself and thinks that he's witnessed the miracle his grandma always prayed for.
Javier struggles and whispers his words. They start to feel like a burden. Before they were solace, comfort in a world that made no sense but now they are a heavy reminder hanging over his head. They tell him he will never fit. The wide open spaces echo them back and he bows his head, trying not to listen. Sleep is fitful, the ground no longer welcomes him. The dirt grinds at his skin and sends him away, chasing him further from everything.
It is not long now, not long before his legs fail him. He falls in the middle of the desert. It stretches around him; endless, red and beauty beyond anything he's seen before. It's cruel, though, taunting him. Mirages flicker in the sand. Water calls to him and then laughs in his face as he stumbles towards it, laughs and flits to another place, just out of his reach. I will die out here, he thinks. It is better than behind bars. Better than dying in a cage. He lies there beside a dirt track for a long time. He thinks that days might have passed. He stares at the sky and wonders how long it will be before he dies. The strength which normally runs without fail through his veins deserts him. He doesn't fear death but he hopes it won't take long.
The sun beats down at him and it is hours before salvation arrives. He wakes to an elderly lady leaning over him. Her face is puckered with concern. She pushes his hair back from his forehead,
"Come on, honey, you can do it, it's time to wake up." She murmurs words of encouragement and shelters him from the sun with her body, "I'm going to sit you up now, okay, honey?" She, with help from the little strength he has left, manages to wedge him into a sitting position. Her hair smells of dust and coconut. "I've got some water here, honey, you need to get a bit into yourself, you're very dehydrated and very lucky to be alive." Her concern seems to settle on his skin. She ignores the glow, thinking that she would contemplate it when the boy has some water in him. With her holding a plastic container to his lips, Javier drinks greedily. The water seems to absorb instantly into his system. Within ten minutes he is standing on his own. The old lady seems shocked,
"Arthur," She calls, "Arthur he's fine. Don't worry about the emergency services."
In reply an elderly man hangs up his radio transmitter, gets out of their car and comes to have a closer look at him. "What's your name, son?" Javier stays silent, watching the two through wary eyes. He drinks the rest of the water.
"I don't think he can speak, love. He hasn't said a word this whole time." The old lady says, watching him with pity. "I'm Alsa, honey." She says to him, "Come on get in the car. We'll take you to the next town, okay? We can't leave you out here in the middle of nowhere."
"I'm Arthur," The old man announces abruptly, "Get in, son, we don't have all day. We have a christening to get to. Our daughter would never forgive us if we're late." He is gruff but there is concern as he herds Javier into the backseat of the car. He is squished between a basket of Alsa's knitting and a swag but he is easy and alive. They play music. It isn't at all like in the car with the boy and girl. It's a different beat and it rests softly in his ears rather than forcibly inserting itself into his brain. Javier decides he doesn't like it more than the other stuff. It seems too sweet. It suits Alsa and her wrinkled husband perfectly though. For them, it has beauty.
In the afternoon they reach a town. It's small and filled with red dirt but he likes it. The outside world seems to hold no sway here. The elderly couple insist he come to their home and have 'a good square meal' before he goes wandering off. He entertains himself while they are at their grandchild's christening by mouthing the words to the songs he has learned. Not a sound escapes his lips but he believes that, if he wanted, he could do it.
They arrive home to find him contemplating a family picture. His eyes are on their pretty, plump daughter who smiles with her whole heart when she looks at a camera. He thinks that maybe someday he'll have something to smile at like that. The old man is wary and takes the picture, putting it back on the sideboard where it belongs. The old lady bustles about getting the dinner ready. When it's time they sit down and Arthur says grace. Javier is reluctant to hold hands but does it anyway. The soft skinned, tiny hand of the old lady is dwarfed in his rough, long fingered grip. She chatters happily as she piles half a kilo of mashed potato on his plate. She thinks he is too skinny. She thinks he needs someone to love him.
Later, they sit in the living room. He still has not uttered his words. Any words. Arthur flicks through the channels, curses the satellite dish which is old and in need of repositioning, and settles on ABC News. They watch and then it comes on. A picture of Javier. He is paler, not so lean and slender as now and he's clean shaven in this one, but it's unmistakably, irreversibly him. There is a stunned silence as the bulletin continues. Javier unconsciously moves closer to the TV. They show footage of inside the courtroom, of him being led to the mental institute and of inside the institute. Footage from security cameras of him simply walking out the building. Javier feels something inside as he looks into his own haunted, lost eyes on the screen. He reaches out and touches the cold glass where his face is but it disappears and is replaced with a plea to call Crime Stoppers for anyone who's seen him.
Two sets of eyes bore into the back of his head. He remains kneeled on the carpet, his shoulders hunched over. The words are screaming in his mind. There is nothing he's holding onto. All he can see is his, handsome and lonely, somehow alien, face staring back at him. He doesn't hear Alsa getting up but he feels her arm around his shoulders.
"You're a very troubled boy, aren't you honey?" She murmurs in his ear. "You remind me of my son. He... passed away when he was barely older than you." Her voice holds the sadness of a thousand tears in its depths.
He whispers his mantra, just like they said he would on the television. The old man appears on his other side and orders him to stand. He obeys.
"Come on son, you need to get out of here." He says gruffly. "We won't call the police, but you can't stay here with us. We're too old to go to jail." The old lady pulls him down to her height and kisses him on the cheek.
"Off you go then, honey. I hope life is kinder to you." He looks at them in despair, and stays silent. They seem to know what he means. Finally he disappears out the door and is running down the street faster than they've ever seen anyone run before. He looks back before he turns the corner and they are standing there. The old man raises one hand and wraps the other around his wife's shoulders. She blots her cheeks with a hanky. Javier lifts his own in farewell, the gesture more familiar now, and heads off into the darkness. They will not sleep tonight. Her mind will be filled with images of her son, morphing into those of Javier. His will linger on the tiny baby boy he held in his arms this afternoon. He will promise himself that no one will damage that boy like they have damaged Javier.
He sleeps uneasily. His own sad, suffering face haunts his dreams. When he wakes a little boy with white-blonde hair and grubby hands is crouching down and staring at him. In one dirty little hand he holds a stick and in the other a beetle is scuttling around, up and down his fingers. Around his neck is a strung a water bottle. It says his name on it in clumsy, colourful letters; Donny.
"Hello." Donny says as Javier sits up. "I've never found someone sleeping in my secret camp before." Javier doesn't speak, he just watches the little boy as he trundles around arranging tree branches and rocks. There is a sort of lean-to close by with a collection of rusty metal plates, broken toys and some planks nailed together.
"It's okay," He says, "I don't mind if you play with me for a while. My older brothers never want to play. All they do is kick the football and play on the computer." He seems to consider something, "And they go to school, but they tell me I never want to go there. They make you do writing." Donny whispers the last word like it has special powers. He looks up from industriously tying to metal bars together with a bit of twine, "They never let me play football with them because I'm too little. So I made my own house out here."
There is silence for while and then Donny offers him the water bottle. "Here," he offers it to Javier, "My mum says I have to drink lots of water because it all disappears from the little holes in my skin in the hot weather. She says I'll have a really sore head if I don't drink enough every day." He points to jumble of old forty-four gallon drums, "I'm going to make a water tower so I don't have to bring my bottle everyday." Javier eyes the dirty drums and wonders if the boy's mother knows of his plans.
Javier drinks some of the water and like the day before he feels it in his veins. It makes him alive again. Donny asks him to plait some string together to make it stronger so he can tie more things up. Javier takes the string and sets to work, feeling peaceful as the little boy continues to chatter. "Mum says I have to go home everyday for lunch. Do you wanna come?" He asks as he gets up and brushes some dirt of his pants. Javier shakes his head and then wipes a trickle of sweat from his temple. He points to the water bottle which lies empty between them. Donny nods, "Okay, I'll bring some more water when I come back!" Then he runs off between the trees and Javier listens to the silence. It's not as friendly as the little boy's laughter and one-sided conversation and it's definitely not as welcoming.
An hour or so later Javier has plaited all of the twine and fixed up the lean-to a little. Another hour passes and with some scraps of wood and nails he makes a bench, just big enough for a little boy and a big man to sit on. Donny arrives a few minutes later with the full water bottle and a little bag of sandwiches. "Don't worry," he says, "I never told mum you were here. I said I get really hungry when I work and I needed an afternoon snack." He sits on his new bench in delight, "You're really good at this." He smiles so honestly that Javier returns it, the muscles unfamiliar in his face. "Wow." Donny says, "This is so much fun! I like having someone here to play with me." The shadows grow long and eventually Donny says he has to go home. "Will you be here tomorrow?" He asks. Javier doesn't answer. "Okay, well, I'll sneak you some dinner out later!" Donny looks excited about the prospect of having a secret friend and sneaking around at night without telling his mum. Javier tries to tell him no, but the words won't come out.
He stays until the evening when Donny comes back with half a roast and two muslie bars. Javier eats them hungrily and then leaves. He takes the water bottle with him. That night no dreams disturb his sleep and when he wakes, he thinks the words, but he doesn't say them. He doesn't need to when he thinks about the little boy's happiness. He wonders if Donny will miss him when he's not there in the morning, curled up in the dirt of the lean-to, surrounded by rusty cutlery and paint tins.
He walks. Soon he comes to where the land changes. The bushes are low and scrubby with waxy leaves. The landscape morphs from steep canyons and endless deserts to rolling dunes. Javier trudges with heavy feet and while he is constantly tired and thirsty and hungry he still glows. No one else stops for him, they are scared of the gold radiating from his skin. They are fearful of his size and his air of mystery and violence. He thinks that probably they are sensible. He wakes every morning with the words torn from his lips. The restlessness is growing, the sense of not belonging drives him forward every day.
Then he walks over a dune and he sees it. The most beautiful thing that he's ever lain eyes on. The pictures don't compare. On the TV or in books and magazines. Or in the psychiatrist's office. They have nothing on the real thing. He sinks to his knees in the sun warmed sand of the dune. He drags a hand across his eyes, disbelieving. His glow magnifies, it reaches from everywhere. He kneels in respect and stares until the sun sets. The chill of night in the desert washes over him, but he is not cold. He buries down into the sand where residual warmth is held. He sleeps.
The heat of the midmorning sun beating down on his face wakes him. He tries to remember the words but they evade him. He smiles. He glows. He walks.
Down the dune and across the beach. Out into the ocean. The water wraps around him like an old lover, singing to him. Kissing his skin. The glow is a blaze which ignites the ocean. It welcomes him home and suddenly he knows, he understands why all his life there's been nothing and him, why he's never belonged. Then he's swimming. It carries him further and further out. After a while he grows tired. He relaxes into the cool embrace.
He drifts beneath the surface and opens his eyes. The beauty stings but he keeps them open. His lungs burn for oxygen so he breathes in the salty, heavy, sweet water. The pain is nothing compared to the exaltation. Slowly his consciousness fades. Slowly he sinks deeper and deeper to the ocean floor. The gold ripples in the water around him but gradually fades.
Slowly his lips form the words. This is me. They can't find me here.