Be sure to check out part one if you haven’t already: All My Friends Are Freaks
Sunlight peaks through the ripped sheets acting as makeshift curtains in this distressing excuse of a mobile home. Crucifixes ironically line the walls with quotes of false hope like “God bless our home and all who enter”. Cigarette ash falls onto my head as my foster father reaches over me extinguishing another butt in a beer can on the coffee table. Sweeping the ash from my journal, I continue to write, scribbling through the obvious grumbles of hunger coming from my stomach. After a quick swig from his flask, he derisively snorts in my direction coughing up a loogie onto my notepad.
“Dinner is served,” he mocks, laughing himself into another coughing spell.
Grasping my skull for balance, he stands then stumbles towards the bathroom. Encasing the forest green ball of mucus, I close my journal listening to his stream hit the toilet bowl. My stomach rumbles once again. Curious if he has left any scraps on the table, I peruse hastily through the bottles, cans, and ashtrays uncovering a few forgotten chicken nuggets. Glancing towards the bathroom while his stream continues, I blow ash from my foraged treat. The toilet flushes as I begin to scarf more down chewing vigorously in anticipation of his return. With a painful swallow, I open my journal jotting down anything that comes to mind seeming busy. Making his way back down the hallway, behind my busy eyes I tremble, swiftly wiping the crumbs from my face. My foot taps anxiously, but I bury my head into what I’m writing.
Approaching me, he looms villainously, sporting a criminal smile. Belt already at hand, he takes a swing hitting the side of my leg. WHIP! Jumping to my feet, I make a break for the door. WHIP! Striking my back, I cry out in pain falling to the floor. Turning to him, I crawl backward shielding my face as he winds up for one more. WHIP! Breaking the skin on my arm, I hold it close to my chest. WHIP! With a backhanded return, he continues to lash until the fact sinks in that I’m an unwelcome guest. WHIP! Swiping the side of my head I fall defeated to the floor. A few moments pass, with some extra beatings to be sure.
“Oh look, the dogs pissing on the carpet again,” he leans over to shout in my face.
His breath reeks of brown liquor and stale cigarettes invading my senses like a toxic fume of discomfort and hatred. My vision gently fades as a light seemingly passes by my eyes. I can see him confidently stumble off dropping the belt by my side, whiskey bottle now at hand. Light passes by my eyes again, brighter than before.
“The convulsing has ceased,” a nurse sporadically states as others gather around me.
“We’re just passing four minutes,” another nurse says grabbing my wrist.
“Son, can you hear me?” he asks as I slowly open my eyes drained of all energy.
“Can you hear me?” he repeats.
Nodding my head, I realize I’ve moved to the floor. Groggily I turn my torso situating myself in my own puddle of piss.
“Do you know where you are?” he asks checking my awareness.
“The hospital,” I mutter flinching from the bright day room lights.
“What’s your name?” he continues.
“Twitch,” I confidently smirk back at them.
“Let’s get him up,” he states pulling me to my feet.
An MHW grabs my other arm as they drag me out of the day room. Picking my head up for a moment I can see Ethan standing by the doorway in tears. Placing me on an examination room table my head hits a pillow and I immediately want to fall asleep, but I can hear Annie screaming down the hall. The only reason I know it’s her is by how confidently she disses the MHW’s. No one compares to the amount of courage she holds within her heart. SLAM! The quiet room door shuts, silencing her cries. In attempts to sit up, my head feels full of concrete immediately touching back down on the pillow. Lowering the lights in the examination room, an MHW slides a chair in the doorway scrolling through their phone as my eyes gradually close.
The gossiping chatter of patients lining the halls of the unit wake me up. Sitting up slowly, I hold my head for moment regrouping my surroundings. Stepping out of the examination room, the remainder of the children’s unit is lined up to head out.
“Twitch!” Ethan excitedly shouts running over to me.
“Hey Ethan, you guys going to lunch?” I ask.
“Dude, it’s almost six o’clock. We’re going to dinner,” Ethan answers.
“What, no piss stains? Someone’s growing up,” he teasingly adds.
“Pretty sure I left it all over the day room floor,” I return.
We both share a laugh.
“Glad to see you’re doing alright. You scared the hell outta everyone,” Ethan states.
“Have you seen Annie?” I inquire after a quick look down the line.
“Not since this morning,” Ethan’s excitement fades.
“Dude, she thought you were dead. We both did,” he continues.
“We talked about this before, it happens all the time,” I try to explain.
“No Twitch, this time was different,” Ethan expresses making his way back in line.
“Eyes forward, silent mouths until we reach the cafeteria,” an MHW declares before waving his access card by the magnetic lock system.
A loud buzzing indicates the doors to the unit have been unlocked. Ethan waves as they make their way to the cafeteria. Dr. Shaundry slips through the open doors as the patients exit. Greeted by the nursing staff, Dr. Shaundry smiles and waves like a cocky pharmaceutical celebrity. The doors lock behind her.
“Mr. Gatto, glad you’re up and about. You’re just the person I wanted to speak to,” she starts.
“My name’s Twitch,” I reply.
“Right. Let’s talk in here, shall we?” she points towards the day room.
Head down, I follow her into the day room. Finding my usual seat, I pull my gown over my legs holding my knees close to my chest. Staring at the floor, even though it’s been scrubbed thoroughly, I can still make out my piss stain, faintly shining under the blinding fluorescents.
“Mason,” she starts.
“Twitch,” I sharply interrupt.
“Yes, Twitch. First, I wanted to commend you on being so mature this morning. The nursing staff mentioned to me that you exuded a bit of growth in cooperation prior to the…your…the emergency,” she continues seemingly suspect.
“With that said. The medication you received earlier today wasn’t intended…it didn’t agree with your system. Do you understand what I’m saying?” she questions in a conflicting tone.
I nod my head in agreement but remain silent and now a bit confused.
“Perfect. After careful consideration, I’ve decided to take you off SP1, and onto SP2. After a few days, we can explore the idea of letting you leave the unit, but for now we want to make sure you’re safe,” she finishes.
“We’ll talk again in a few days. Keep up the good work Mr. Gatto,” she states closing my chart.
“It’s Twitch,” I whisper to myself as Dr. Shaundry hastily exits the day room.
Dr. Shaundry checks her phone before making a stop at the nurse’s station. She seems upset speaking with the head RN. With their hands raised, they seem to be oblivious as to what Dr. Shaundry is upset about. Assertively pointing to my chart, Dr. Shaundry checks her phone once more, then exits the unit bumping the dinner cart on her way out.
Missing lunch, my stomach is prompt to remind me that it’s time to eat. The unfriendly aroma of the cafeteria’s poor interpretation of Salisbury steak lingers into the day room. Annie jokes that if you rinse the congealed gravy from the sides of that rubbery slab of the reconstituted meat product that it resembles the soles of our shoes they’ve conveniently confiscated upon admittance. I usually just smoosh it between two pieces of bread covering it in ketchup hoping to mask the stench. Approaching the steel shelved trolley, I begin to rummage around for a tray with a sizeable helping. One of the nurses turns to me with a false sense of pity.
“How are you feeling Mason?” she asks.
“My name’s Twitch and…alright, I guess,” I gently respond.
“Ah, well then…Twitch, thought you’d like to know that they brought you extra chocolate milk from the cafeteria,” she happily gestures towards a few extra cartons on another tray.
“Don’t they bring those when there’s a new admittance?” I question skeptically of her offering.
“Well, yes. You’re quite observant, aren’t you? Tell you what, you take the extra carton to the day room and it will be our little secret,” she states placing a carton on my tray.
“Sure, thank you,” I finish walking towards the day room puzzled.
“Ah ah ah, forgetting something?” she snidely asks.
“Pull the plastic from your tray here, you know the drill,” she continues pointing the trash can.
Uncovering the meat and potatoes, the rancid steam assaults my nostrils. Throwing the plastic away, the nurse sarcastically smirks as I turn away.
“Let us know if you need anything else, Mason,” she calls out as I enter the day room.
“It’s Twitch,” I say under my breath.
Digging in, I stick my plastic fork into the overcooked and under seasoned thin slice of meat. Using the edge of my spoon, I do my best to cut off a piece, but am unsuccessful. Placing my spoon aside, I lift the entire slab attempting to take a bite chewing forcefully through the tough lump like a vulture pulling the intestines from a rotting corpse of an elk.
“A little barbaric, don’t you think?” Annie mocks from the entrance of the day room.
I laugh a bit, grinning as I place my food back down. Taking her usual seat, Annie releases a deep sigh, then starts eating dinner. There’s an odd feeling between us that I can’t describe. I want to speak, but I feel she wants to say something first. A mutual misunderstanding. After a few bites, Annie just pushes her potatoes around her steak.
We both start, interrupting each other. Our uncomfortable, yet calming stillness is accompanied by the steady rainfall outside.
“It’s not very good,” I start.
“Is it ever?” Annie shyly smiles back.
The silence returns as our awkward moment is spotlighted under the bright fluorescents.
“Did you see Ethan, yet?” Annie asks.
“Yeah, he’s alright, I think. Are…are you alright?” I ask.
“Am I alright?” Annie begins.
“You’re the one that almost died,” she returns.
“You spent a whole day in the quiet room,” I retort.
“Ethan thought you were fucking dead Twitch…and so did I,” Annie expresses.
“Look. I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened, alright? They gave me the medicine, then I had a seizure, and now everyone’s either kissing my ass or chewing me out. The nurse even gave me an extra chocolate milk because she thought it would make me feel better or something,” I vent.
“Wait, back up,” Annie says.
“I said I got TWO chocolate milks, you want some?” I offer.
“No, you idiot. What do you mean everyone’s kissing your ass?” Annie asks.
“Oh, well Dr. Shaundry came in right before dinner and took me off SP1 and said the medication didn’t agree with me or something,” I explain.
“Then, the nurses were all smiley and nice handing me an extra chocolate milk, it was weird,” I finish.
“They fucked up,” Annie says to herself.
“Yeah, they did. If there’s a new patient, they’re not getting any chocolate milk,” I boast polishing off the first carton.
“No, Twitch. They fucked up. Don’t you see? The medication they gave you is what caused your seizure. That’s why Dr. Shaundry took you off SP1, that’s why the nurses were being so nice to you, and that’s why you got a second chocolate milk,” Annie exclaims.
“They could’ve killed you,” she finishes.
“You’re thinking way too much into this,” I reply.
A sudden flash of lightning followed by a roaring boom of thunder adds to the torrential downpour outside. The unit doors buzz as a mental health worker enters with a new patient. The boy is audibly sobbing dragging a soaked knapsack behind him, his clothes are covered in mud and hair as greasy as it could be. Head down he follows the MHW into the evaluation room. Annie and I continue picking around our trays. After a few minutes, the boy emerges from the evaluation room with the same defeated look we all had after being felt up like we’re magically hiding weapons up our asses. The MHW holds his clothes and shoes directing him towards dinner trays and the day room. Shuffling slowly towards us he grabs a tray and makes his way in continuing to whimper. Annie and I look to each other, then back at the boy. He places the dinner tray in the seat next to him and pulls his knees to his chest.
“First time here?” I ask.
Looking up for a moment, a faint black eye shines back at us. Grasping my second carton of chocolate milk, I look to him again, then walk over to him offering it up.
“Hey, ummm…my name’s Twitch and that’s Annie,” I start.
There’s no response. Looking to Annie I shrug my shoulders.
“So, I think this was really for you, but they gave it to me because they almost killed me,” I continue.
The boy glances up with a concerned expression. Turning to Annie again, she covers her face with her palm.
“I’ll leave it on your tray. They like to take notes on things we do, so try to eat something. Doesn’t have to be much,” I say trying to be supportive.
“Anyway…if you need anything Annie and I have been here for a while and know quite a bit. Our friend Ethan as well,” I finish, taking my seat near Annie.
“Idiot, you scared the shit out of him,” Annie aggressively whispers to me.
“I did not. The last thing I wanted to do after the MHW’s probed me was eat,” I retort.
“My name’s Samuel,” the boy quietly states.
“Right. Like I said, I’m Twitch and this is Annie,” I repeat myself.
“How long do I have to stay here?” he asks wiping snot from his upper lip.
“Uhhh…well probably shorter than us,” I joke.
“Usually three to five days,” Annie jumps in slugging my shoulder.
“Your parents bring you here?” she adds.
Shaking his head, he begins to hold his knees tighter.
The unit door bursts open as the other kids arrive back on the unit rushing into the day room. Ethan sprints in moving my tray aside taking his usual seat.
“Dude! Did you guys get any of that banana cream pie? It was so good,” Ethan exclaims.
Samuel sits up promptly, staring at Ethan with intent in his glare.
“Hi. I’m Ethan, what’s your name?” Ethan extends in a welcoming tone.
Awaiting a response, we all sit awkwardly twiddling our thumbs hoping he might reply.
“Ethan, this is Samuel. He just got here while you guys were at dinner,” Annie affirms unable to look away from Samuels fixated gaze of Ethan.
“Well this sure has been fun,” I interject.
Collecting my scraps of food, Annie and I dump the trash from our plates outside the day room returning our trays to the steel trolley unit. An earsplitting shriek painfully echoes through the halls of the children’s unit. Pushed aside by a nurse, an MHW rushes closely behind into the day room. Through the observation windows, Annie and I observe Samuel pounce violently onto Ethan tackling him to the day room floor. Another MHW blocks the door as we watch Samuel viciously claw at Ethan, tearing into his gown just enough to break the skin on his chest. While the MHW’s attempt to rip Samuel from Ethan, Annie aims to barge her way through the blockheaded bodybuilder obstructing the entrance. Successfully restraining Samuel, Ethan hurriedly crawls backward to the far corner of the day room.
“Code green children’s unit. Code green children’s un-,” the nurse is cut off as lightning strikes nearby cutting off power to the hospital.
Annie shoves her way through hastily making her way to the back of the day room in aid of Ethan. The MHW at the door rushes to assist in wrangling Samuel who cackles wickedly, then willingly surrenders to the power of the MHW’s. Entering the day room, I pass by Samuel who’s sporting a conceited grin with a bit of Ethan’s blood dripping from his chin. He groans in agony as an MHW digs his knee deeper into his back. The fire alarm sounds before the antique backup generator can kick in. Shielding my eyes from the flashing lights, I continue towards the back of the room reaching blindly in front of me. Annie eventually grabs my hand pulling me behind a cluster of chairs as the alarm continues to piercingly wail. She’s screaming, but I can’t make out anything she’s saying. The lights are too overwhelming as I become dizzy. Squinting my eyes, I use one hand to visor my vision slowly raising it hoping to read her lips as she shouts.
“He’s gone,” Annie shouts.
“Ethan’s not here, we have to go,” she says attempting to pull me to my feet.
Unconfidently finding my footing, Annie directs us out of the day room. Afraid to open my eyes I can hear the cries of other patients as MHW’s cluelessly attempt to regain control of this maddening situation. Forcefully grabbing my shoulders, Annie shoves me forward into a closet closing the door behind us.
“Fuck, c’mon Annie that hurt,” I cry out.
“Shhh,” Annie whispers.
“We’ll be alright as long as no one finds us in here,” she continues.
“What do you mean Ethan was gone?” I ask with a low voice.
“He wasn’t there, Twitch. When they pulled Samuel off, he crawled to the back of the room, but he wasn’t there,” Annie quickly attempts to explain.
“You think he got out the day room back door? The power might have cut out the lock systems,” I inquire.
“No, no. Any door leading directly outside is bolt locked, he’d need a key. There’s no way Twitch, there’s no way!” Annie mutters frantically.
“Okay, okay. We’ll figure it out just try and calm down,” I add.
The alarm sound subsides, Annie and I cover our mouths as we hear MHW’s walking about the unit unable to gain control of the other patients. SLAM! Annie and I jump as the unit door bursts open without warning.
“All unit doors have malfunctioned, middle unit patients are attempting to escape,” an MHW shouts onto our unit.
“We need assistance immediately,” he continues.
“Two of us will stay here, the others will head to the middle unit,” another answers.
SLAM! They swiftly exit the unit as the doors crash behind them. We can make out a few pairs of boots from underneath the door. A thick pink substance runs from under my gown. Annie nudges me pointing to it, as I slowly sit up hastily wiping it before it leaks out onto the unit.
“The majority of the kids are back in the day room; how many are we missing?” the MHW’s converse directly outside the closet.
“I don’t know two…three?” the other answers.
“You search the right corridor rooms while I watch the day room. Then we’ll switch. No room goes unturned,” they split.
“Twitch, this is our only chance. We have to go now,” Annie insists almost pushing me out of the door.
“We have to find Ethan while the unit doors are unlocked,” she persists.
“Fuck alright let’s go,” I muster the courage slowly opening the door.
Staying low Annie and I use the nurse’s station as a barricade. Glancing towards the quiet room, sounds of hissing and snarling echo towards us.
“You hear that?” I ask as Annie sneaks into the nurse’s station.
“Annie, no. C’mon let’s go,” I encourage.
Annie hands me a few pens, then we turn towards the unit doors. Glimpsing at the quiet room monitor on the counter, Samuel can be seen struggling. His limbs are contorted wildly as he gripes towards the wall. Annie and I stare at the screen in awe as we witness his bones bend and crack. Even without sound, it’s terrifying to witness. He stops. We turn to each other, then back to the screen. Samuel is gone.
“Go. Now!” Annie exclaims as we both sprint towards the unit double doors.
“You ready?” she turns to me.
“Let’s do it,” I whisper back.
With a quick look over our shoulders, Annie gently pushes the doors open just enough for us to squeeze through.
To be continued…
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