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Authors: Jeremy Perry

Diseased

BOOK: Diseased
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DISEASED

By

JEREMY PERRY

Sunrise Publishing

 

I can’t exactly say when I discovered my thinking had become off-kilter. I’d always been a deep thinker, a free thinker, all my life. As a child, I loved sports, the outdoors, and the arts. I had troubles in those formative years, but I never thought I’d feel the repercussions of those misfortunes later as an adult.

Now, I’m old and crazy, at least that’s what the people in the white uniforms have been telling me all these years. They often say, “You’re nothing but an old, senile coot, Carter Lynch.”

That’s why I’ve been in this hospital forever.

I haven’t always been crazy. I do have flashes of happier times in my life, of my family and friends. I remember a time my daughter and I took a bike ride to the park. I remember pushing her in the swing, and she laughed and yelled, “Higher, Daddy, higher!” I also remember proposing to my wife at the lake. She had no idea what I was up to, and I was scared as a puppy in a thunderstorm.

So, yes, there was a time when I didn’t have the
disease
—the term often used in this place. But most of those days I can’t remember, only snippets here and there. Lost forever, I suppose. Although, I wish I could remember. I know my memories are in there—somewhere. They stopped telling me long ago that I would get better. I guess it’s true, but I don’t feel crazy.

Tommy Jenkins is another resident who came to Ryker’s Ridge Institution a few years ago. I don’t know his age. I’m guessing he’s half as old as I am. He doesn’t say much either. I usually do most of the talking when we have our daily game of Rummy.

This morning he sat across from me eyeing his cards as if they were about to speak to him, clueing him in on what suit to play next. He looked across the table at me and then back to his cards.

“Will you just play,” I said irritably.

He shot back with an annoyed smirk and squinting eyes. I didn’t care if I was interrupting his strategy. He had always played in this manner, always taking his time, always dragging the game out at a sloth’s pace.

He drew a card from the stack and scrunched his lips to one side, appearing to bite the inside of his jaw. When he did this gesture, I knew he was in deep thought. Finally, he laid a queen on the table.

“See, that wasn’t so hard,” I said in my most sarcastic tone.

“Bite me,” he said.

I scoffed and said, “Screw you,” then drew from the deck.

“Why do you always act like this?”

“Act like what?” I said.

“Like a royal d–bag.”

“‘A ‘d–bag’?”

“Yes, a
d-bag
,” he said.

I laughed.

“What’s so darn funny?”

“Nothing. Let’s play,” I said.

Tommy threw his cards on the table. “I’m not playing anymore until you tell me why you’re laughing.”

“Okay,” I said. “You want to know?”

“Yes,” he said. He clasped his hands together and laid them on the table in front of him, waiting for my response.

“I was laughing because you said
d-bag
.”

“So,” he said.

“So. It’s funny because every time you try to insult me you can’t use the full word. It’s always been
a-hole
or
son-of-a-b
or
d-bag
. It really detracts from the insult and makes you look ridiculous.”

I watched from across the card table as a mental storm brewed within Tommy. This was the first time I had called him out on his incompetency at verbal warfare. He slid his chair out from the table and bolted upright, scrunching his lips to one side, biting the inside of his jaw.

“Oh yeah,” he began. “Well,
f-you
, Carter! I don’t need this abuse!” He swatted the stacked deck and cards went flying. He stomped away angrily, across the room and out of my bedroom door.

His outburst made me snicker again. I knew he’d be okay, though. I knew he’d settle down and come to his senses after a bit. I was the only one he had in this place. I was his only friend. I knew he’d be back. He had always come back.

 

I can’t say exactly for sure how long I’ve been in here with the people who have contracted the disease. Time, for me, has become a mangled, splashing sea of lost memories, ones that I’ll probably never recover. But I don’t think too much about it anymore, especially today. The people in the white uniforms tell me that today is my birthday. I don’t know my age, but I do know I’m old. The man in my shaving mirror tells me this often, as he had done earlier.

“Carter Lynch,” he said. “Your face reminds me of a piece of ancient leather. You’re old and washed up. On the brink of insanity. In the midst of a slow, agonizing death.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But I’m not listening to you. You won’t corrupt my thinking today. Today is my birthday.” I wiped the shaving cream from my face and walked away. He’d always been the negative type, that man in the mirror.

I picked up the cards and restacked them on the table. Not long after, I went venturing out of my room, looking for something to appease my time and warrant myself of a grand birthday. And, like most mornings, I decided quickly on what it was that I wanted to do.

The living room, as it was called on our ward, seemed pleasant today, more than usual. There was a scent of vanilla in the air, telling me the housekeeper had come and gone. Clarence and Daryl watched another episode of
Bonanza
on the big screen. Though, I’ve always thought that they were probably not watching at all—being oblivious to the horses, to the shootouts, to Lorne Greene’s deep baritone voice. After breakfast, the people in the white uniforms always led them both there, dropping them off to be forgotten, to soil themselves, eventually.

I walked to the service counter where a tray of doughnuts and bagels and the orange juice machine were sitting. Not everyone on my ward has this privilege, to help himself at the service counter. I’ve earned that right throughout my years here. Most residents see the orange juice machine and the coffee maker sitting next to it as a threat of some sort, with the sloshing and percolating. I’ve seen many residents freeze with fear, or retreat and cry out in agony. I used to do it myself, but time and rational thinking have cured me of that. Although, sometimes when I walk away, I’ll look over my shoulder to make sure the machine doesn’t decide to follow me. Only to make sure, of course.

I poured a glass of juice and grabbed a bagel from the tray. When I stepped from the service counter, I nearly ran into Pat, the housekeeper.

“Good morning, Carter,” she said. She had her usual rag slung over her right shoulder, ready to do battle with any mess that came her way.

I jumped a little and said, “Good morning, Pat. I see you’ve been busy this morning. The ward looks very clean.”

“Thank you,” she said. She stepped around me, grabbed the rag from her shoulder, and wiped the splatter of orange juice and coffee from the counter. I’ll admit, every time a mess occurred, whether big or small, Pat would be there on the spot to clean it. I’m certain she had some innate ability to detect clutter and muck. An incredible ability to have, and appropriate for a housekeeper.

“Going out to the duck pond this morning?” she asked.

“Oh, yes,” I said. “I wouldn’t miss saying hello to my feathered friends. Mrs. Duck should be hatching her ducklings any day now. It’s an exciting time.”

“Yes. I’m sure it is,” she said. “You enjoy your day.” And as I began to walk away, she said, “Happy birthday, Carter.”

“Thank you,” I said with a sincere smile.

I made my way out the front door and into a cool, but sunny morning. Even though today was my birthday, I was unsure of the day or month. Maybe late March or early April.

There was a brisk breeze that slipped through my open robe that made me reconsider coming outside. But I drudged on. I walked down to the duck pond and took a seat on the weathered bench, where I had always come to admire the ducks.

A blinding glare skipped off the water, hitting me in the eyes. I sat my bagel beside me on the bench and blocked the sun’s rays with my hand over my brow, looking out and over the pond to find the beautiful ducks. I sipped from my glass of orange juice.

I came out to the duck pond every day to watch the wonderful creatures swim and waddle around in the water. I could tell they loved life and I could tell they loved this beautiful pond. The two of them had come about a month ago when a hint of spring was present, but still too brisk for my old bones to endure sitting outside to appreciate the real enjoyment of their company. I could only watch from the front door of the building, or sometimes I’d catch a glimpse from my bedroom window. They were so beautiful, and I’d realized they were mates when I’d discovered Mrs. Duck sitting on her nest of eggs not long ago. I anticipated the arrival of the baby ducks, and I was certain Mrs. Duck did as well. She was a great mother who tended her nest regularly, never straying far from her babies who, I felt certain, were dying to break free and become full-fledged members of society. I couldn’t wait for that day.

Looking around, I couldn’t see Mr. and Mrs. Duck anywhere. I sat my juice beside me, tore my bagel into little pieces, and tossed them out into the water, knowing the ducks would come waddling by as they always had.

Out on the concrete path that surrounded the perimeter of the duck pond I spotted an object lying unbothered and unmoving. I gathered my robe at the front and stood from the bench to go investigate.

Walking along the path, I found that the ducks’ absence today was odd. I had come out every morning for the last week to admire the little creatures, which would be swimming around without a care in the world. But today was different, and I got a sudden chill the closer I advanced toward the object on the concrete path. A sick feeling, really.

I passed some shrubs and crossed a small wooden bridge, and then, only a few feet away, there was the beautiful little creature. A gusty breeze slipped underneath a wing, causing it to flap and simulate flight. Velvety feathers glistened in the sunlight and were still lovely to behold. However, the duck’s small, fragile head had been crushed and a smattering of duck brains and its little crushed bill lie on the ground. A large rock with fresh blood lay nearby. Next to the bank, I saw the nest that mother duck had tended for the last week. Bright yellow goo and smashed eggshells lay in a pile—the remnants of an obvious massacre.

My hands began to tremble and my vision blurred. I was unsure of what to do. The invading panic disrupted my breathing and I felt welling tears forming in my dry eyes. Confused, I wandered down the path, past Mrs. Duck, staggering to the edge of the forest that surrounded the acreage on which Ryker’s Ridge Institution sat. I stood there bent over with my hands resting on my knees, crying and gasping for air. My breath was snatched from my body again when to my right, in a ball of blood and feathers, I saw Mr. Duck, looking as mangled and helpless as his female counterpart. I couldn’t take any more of this brutality. I ventured down the path and around the duck pond until I was a good distance away from the bloody carnage.

The chilly breeze kicked open my robe, exposing my boxers and white undershirt. But I paid little mind to this uncomfortable coolness. I wiped my tears and after a few seconds of blubbering, I regained my good sense. Was I really crying over these animals? Had my life come to this? This was absurd and unlike me. I’d fought in Vietnam, for Christ’s sake. I’d seen enough blood and gore to last a lifetime. I’d seen many a brave soldier with their faces blown off, with mangled limbs hanging from their charred torsos, die in the jungle, in the clutches of my own arms. And now, I was reduced to whimpering like a little school girl, crying because she couldn’t find her dolly. Nonsense, really. Pure nonsense. I hadn’t cried in years, not since my mother’s funeral.

There was only one thing to do. I gathered my composure and went back down the walkway, back to Mrs. Duck and her crushed babies. I had to dispose of her and the nest properly. I couldn’t leave her lying there, neglected, at the mercy of the elements or wild scavenging night animals. She and her unborn ducklings needed a proper send off, and I was just the one to give it to them.

Standing over top of Mrs. Duck, I choked back the knot in my throat. Keeping my composure and my manhood intact wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I began blubbering again. How could anyone treat these harmless creatures with so much cruelty?

I thought about throwing Mrs. Duck over into the edge of the forest with Mr. Duck, but I knew she would be no better off than if I left her lying where she was. Some hungry critter would come in the night and cart them both away. I had to bury them properly. I needed a digging implement of some kind.

Manuel, the grounds-keeper, was already tending to his usual landscaping and yard work. He was walking around with that huge tank on his back spraying the weeds around the building and trees, or anywhere else that a sprouting of unwanted greenery might push through the earth. He’d always called the weeds an
abomination
. In fact, everything to him was an abomination. His low pay, his beat up 1986 Nissan, his little sister becoming pregnant, all of it was an abomination according to Manuel.

With Manuel busy, I knew I could sneak into the storage building and grab a shovel without anyone noticing. The people in the white uniforms didn’t watch me with the keen eye as they once did when I had first arrived at Ryker’s. I was harmless to them now. Crazy, but harmless.

BOOK: Diseased
11.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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