The Missing Man
Chapter 1 – The Ward
He opened his eyes, and found that he was standing inside an elevator. It was sleek and shiny, as though it had just been constructed only yesterday. He could even see his reflection staring back at him from the twin set of elevator doors just ahead of his nose. He was not an especially pleasant sight. Pale, lanky, and wearing at least a day's worth of black stubble on his chin, he felt very much in need of a shower and a shave. His short dark hair was messy and unkempt. He was dressed in a strangely uninteresting outfit of white fabric. A plastic badge clipped to the left pocket of his shirt caught his eye, and he flipped it up to inspect the name inscribed on its surface.
"Samuel Reed," he read in a whisper. Who was Samuel Reed? Was it him?
A sudden chime came from somewhere above his head, and the elevator doors opened soundlessly. Samuel jumped in spite of himself and started forward automatically. His eyes widened as he stepped into the waiting room, and quite abruptly he realized where he was.
He was in a psychiatric ward. And he was one of its patients. Completely unembellished save for the crisp and unfeeling white plastic that seemed to lay over everything, it was rather clear that this place had not been designed with creativity in mind. Samuel's gaze slid over to a section of uncomfortable-looking benches and accidentally locked eyes with a grinning lunatic who was at that moment babbling incoherently and attempting to drive an oversized wooden block into a round hole with a large plastic mallet. He was failing rather miserably. Samuel hurriedly looked away and shambled over to the reception desk that was thankfully in the other direction.
He stood quietly in front of the desk, waiting for the young woman sitting at the other side to notice him. She seemed to be completely absorbed in her typing, and for another few seconds the only sounds were that of clicking keys and popping bubble gum. At last, looking as though she had done all she could to keep this conversation from happening, the receptionist glanced up reluctantly and breathed an inaudible sigh. With an ungraceful movement she shifted her chair around to face him with a bored look on her face. She pushed her red glasses further up onto her nose and popped her gum again.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
Samuel nodded gratefully. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came. What was he here for? His eyes searched furtively around the room, until at last they settled on a bronze plaque that had been mounted onto the wall behind the counter. Hesitatingly he raised his hand and pointed.
The secretary raised an eyebrow and looked over her shoulder. Then she nodded in understanding, a slight smile playing around her lips. She probably thought he was crazy, just like the rest of them. That much was true, but perhaps she thought he was just a harmless sort of crazy.
"Doctor Atkinson will be with ya in a minute, hon." She gestured behind him toward the waiting area where the rest of the psychiatric patients were engaged in whatever activities they had deemed of interest.
Samuel shuddered and started back toward them. The hammer-wielding madman giggled and drooled, and he seemed to beckon with the wooden shapes he was holding in his other hand.
No thanks, Samuel thought, stopping in his tracks. Maybe he would just wait here with the woman in the red glasses. She may not have been the best of company, but there was no way he was going to associate himself with the insane hammer man or his cohorts. He could be killed, for all he knew.
Then a door behind him opened with a slight rush of cool air, and he heard someone call his name.
"Mr. Samuel Reed."
He looked around to see who had spoken. Standing in the doorway was a man dressed in what Samuel could have only described as a pristine white lab coat, with thick horn-rimmed glasses and a pudgy face. Though he was was rather overweight and had a nasal quality to his voice, at least the man looked sane enough. Dr. Atkinson's face split into a disarming smile, and he checked something off on the clipboard he was carrying.
"Hello, Samuel. How are we today?" he asked.
Samuel didn't know how to respond, so he just shrugged and meekly followed Dr. Atkinson into the next room. It was rather spacious in here, and he could feel the air-conditioning blowing down from somewhere in the ceiling. Atkinson led him to a table that was sitting rather conspicuously in a corner.
"Are you hungry, Mr. Reed? How would you like a piece of pecan pie?"
Samuel shrugged again and looked down. The table held a number of different platters, each containing a different kind of half-eaten dessert. Had there been some sort of party? Haltingly he picked up a paper plate and served himself a slice of pie.
"Fascinating," Atkinson murmured as he led Samuel further down the hall. "The last time we met you seemed to have a morbid fear of pecans, but now it seems you have overcome your most peculiar phobia. Excellently done."
He had been afraid of pecans? Samuel frowned as he finished eating. Why would anybody be afraid of those? They were just seeds, weren't they? Seeds of a tree, with a hard shell and an exceptionally bitter wooden aftertaste if you didn't pick off the...
Samuel froze. He vaguely recalled having being absolutely horrified when something small and hard had lodged itself into his gums. He had been unable to get it out. He remembered having cried out in a frenzied fit of frustration as he began to pick away at the minute sliver of wood. He had picked and picked until his gums had started to bleed, and then--
"This way," the doctor told him.
They were in Atkinson's main office. A long list of credentials had been tacked up all over the wall, displaying several awards from prestigious organizations, multiple academic degrees, and even a sign that proudly proclaimed that this was the most critically acclaimed institute in the field.
Samuel took all of this in without comment. Then he looked down to where a number of medical tools had been arrayed on a counter top lining the wall. Most of them looked rather unpleasant. There were scalpels, hooks, syringes...not to mention an electric drill mounted in a stationary holster. Everything looked sterilized and painstakingly clean, but Samuel still felt strangely bothered by the drill. Why would anyone need one of those in a mental hospital?
Doctor Atkinson directed him to sit down.
"Are you married, Mr. Reed?" he asked solicitously.
Was he married? What kind of question was that? Samuel racked his mind for an answer. After a few moments he shook his head. He didn't think so.
"Really? That's rather strange, Mr. Reed. According to our records, you have been married to a Mrs. Veronica Reed for over eight years now. In fact, she came to visit you just a week ago. Don't you remember her?"
He had been married for eight years? Really? But how was that possible? He would have remembered something like that. Samuel tried to speak, but again something prevented him from forming the words. Why couldn't he talk?
"Mr. Reed, I have some bad news. As you know, we at this facility have always done everything we possibly could to help you. You have received the finest treatment, and the very best in doctors. However, it has been over five years now, and I'm afraid we've seen little improvement on your part. It is with my deepest and most sincere regrets that I must inform you that your term has expired. You are not well enough to be able to function in society, and we have come to the conclusion that you no longer benefit from staying here. I'm very sorry."
Samuel stared at the floor in confusion. What could Atkinson be talking about? Hadn't he always done the best he could? Hadn't he submitted to their tests, time and time again? Their experiments? Why then was he being told to leave?
Dr. Atkinson took one of Samuel's bony arms and strapped it down to the chair. He repeated the process with the other arm, while Samuel looked on in bewilderment. His mouth opened wordlessly. He wanted to tell Atkinson that he would try harder, that he would do more, if only they would let him stay. He had nowhere else to go. Samuel felt tears well up in his eyes. If not for this place, the only home he could remember, where else would he be accepted?
Atkinson went to the counter and withdrew a plastic syringe the width of a finger. With a deft motion he removed the cap, revealing a long needle underneath. Clear liquid squirted from the tip, and he turned to Samuel with a manic gleam in his eyes.
Samuel started in horror. They weren't going to release him, after all. They were going to kill him.
He shook his head and cried out silently. If only he could make a sound!
"Please, Mr. Reed, try to settle down." The doctor walked back over to Samuel's side. "This will be quite painless if you will cooperate, and after it you won't remember a thing. Your wife signed the papers earlier today, and we have all agreed that this is in everyone's best interests. You're going to go to sleep now, Mr. Reed. You don't have to worry about anything anymore."
The needle slid under Samuel's skin with a sharp prick, and he wept silently. The world began to spin into darkness, and the last thing he heard before his heart stopped beating was Atkinson's final words into an unseen voice recorder.
"...will begin autopsy...now that..."
The sound seemed to come from far away. Listlessly it echoed around in his subconscious, searching something it could connect to. A moment later it faded away.
He no longer knew what he was hearing. A palpable silence was closing in from all sides, drowning him in a sea of nothingness. It swallowed him.
Samuel's eyes opened, and he screamed.
It was a bloodcurdling, anguished sound, born of a rage he had never known. He thrashed against his restraints like a rabid animal, his thin, atrophied muscles bulging and straining in his frenzy to escape. With a visceral tearing noise one arm ripped free, and then the other. He sprang toward Dr. Atkinson with a roar, and that was the last he remembered of him.
Samuel raced down the hallway, passing rows of identical cubicles on both sides. Unseen hands grabbed at his arms to stop him, but he flung them aside as though they weighed nothing. He burst into the lobby. The secretary in red glasses was again typing away on her computer, but something was horribly wrong with her. The girl's fingers were broken and bleeding, and there was blood all over her keyboard. She turned and smiled, revealing cracked teeth and an ugly crimson stain that was streaked across her mouth. Revulsion washed over him, and he ran past her with a cry.
The white plastic benches, once filled with other patients, were now empty. He rushed on, stumbling over invisible obstacles that yelled and shrieked in protest, but his focus was on one thing. A bright white rectangle was just ahead of him, beckoning him forward with such intensity that Samuel gasped in pain. The light was freedom. It was salvation.
He smashed through the window and plummeted four stories down to the street below. Samuel landed with a wet crack of snapping bones, but he got to his feet and sprinted down the sidewalk, heedless of the shrieking pain that was tearing through him. He could feel something awful eating him alive from the inside, and he screamed in terror as he ran faster.
He sped out into the road. Something enormous blocked his way, and he felt a shocking clip of agony as he was sent tumbling over its hard surface and to the pavement. He was up a second later, but there was something wrong with his legs. They didn't seem to bend right anymore, and every time he took a step it sent a bolt of fire shooting through his tortured bones. He was dimly aware of voices calling out to him, but he didn't stop to listen. He kept running.
Samuel had entered a deserted alley. Everything in him was clamoring for him to stop and rest, but his fear kept him going. An icy, numb sensation was spreading through his body, choking off his breath, his heart, his life. He had to find someone who could help him, and something told him he would find that someone here. Samuel burst through an old door just ahead and stumbled into the darkness. He collapsed to his knees. His strength was beginning to ebb, and he felt a freezing spiderweb of needles begin to crawl through his veins. He was dying.
"Help me..." he rasped to the darkness.
He could hear voices. They were here for him.
"He's back!" one of them said. "Get his body ready!"
"It's alright, pal. Just spit it out."
"Come on, man!" he heard again. "Hurry up and get back in your body!"
Samuel felt nauseatingly sick. He opened his mouth and vomited.
A thick, black shadowy mass came oozing out, and Samuel felt something that wasn't quite himself emerge into the bitterest cold he had ever felt. The biting numbness tore at him, and Samuel fell over as he continued to spew out his insides. He convulsed violently, and his body lay still.
Then, all of a sudden, the blackness was him. He hung in the air like a wraith, ethereal mouth gaping in a wordless shriek as the awful cold ate away at him. He needed somewhere to go, needed it so very badly that nothing else mattered. Then he saw it. It was another refuge of flesh and bone, somewhere he could shield himself from the tormented misery of this place. He could be warm again. He could be whole. He could be...alive.
"Please, let me in!" he shrieked.
He plunged forward.
Well, there you have it. Chapter one of something I literally dreamed up last night. I didn't want to forget it, so I fired up my computer and went to work. I have absolutely no idea where this is gonna go. If you have any comments or suggestions, feel free to leave a review.