When one is under the influence of heavy medication, the kind that’s designed to prevent one’s mind from spinning out of control at thousands of miles per hour towards the edges of some mental abyss, everything around one tends to blend together. It’s like all of one’s interactions and experiences are shoved together and pulled back apart into small bits that may or may not have the same parts they began with. It was a puzzle with a thousand pieces, pieces that were being forced to fit together with a sledgehammer without any regard for if those pieces were meant to go where they were being forced.
That was John Pierce’s experience, anyway. As the old commercials used to say, results may vary.
After who knows how long of floating in a constant cloud of medically induced fog, John started to slowly become more coherent with regards to what was happening to him. He began to have a firmer grasp on the timeline of his life. That was his first indication that something was happening. His medications were being reduced, or some other factor was at play. There was no way of knowing what was happening, but there was no question that something was.
He caught a few snatches of conversation from the various doctors and nurses whose job it was to poke and prod whatever was left of him. Words like “wake” and “release” were being used. It took him a bit to understand that they were in regards to himself, and once he did his mind started prying apart those poor sledgehammered puzzle pieces and began to form them into something resembling a picture. He couldn’t tell what that picture was just yet, but his mental muscles hadn’t been flexed in quite a while and they were a bit atrophied. He knew that it would come with time. He had learned long ago to be patient.
The more that he came out of his fog, the more pain he began to feel. Lights were too bright and seemed to be perpetually pointed directly into his eyes. Every sound was amplified a thousandfold, and even when he clamped his hands down over his ears he couldn’t block out the torturous audio calamity. He was still mentally out more than he was in, but most of his lucid moments were spent rocking in a corner of the cell that masqueraded as his room and moaning in agony. He kept telling himself that it would subside, that as he readjusted to living without the perpetual numbness his body would adapt, but in those moments he wasn’t really sure if he truly believed himself.
He was right, of course. As the medication made its way out of his system, he started to become reconditioned to the real world. His eyes began to see clearly, and the ringing in his ears ceased. Most importantly, his mind began to sharpen, and rational thought became the normal rather than the exception.
An indeterminate number of days after the process of returning to normalcy had begun, he found himself standing in front of the small sink that was attached to one wall of his room. Above it was a mirror, and the image that was staring back at him was barely recognizable. He had no way of knowing how long he had been kept medicated, but it was long enough that he had lost a substantial amount of weight. His reflection’s face was gaunt, and the eyes that peered back at him were tired. After a few minutes he looked away. The man in the mirror was a stranger to him.
Draped over the room’s only chair was a small stack of clothing. It included a pair of jeans, underwear, a pair of socks, and a long sleeved shirt. On the floor in front of the chair was a pair of shoes. He noticed that there was no belt for the jeans, and the shoes were meant to be slipped on and had no laces. There was a time that he would have gotten a smile out of those precautions, but he didn’t feel much like smiling at that exact moment. He changed out of the white hospital gown he was wearing and into the provided clothes. Not sure what to do next, he sat down on the edge of the bed and waited.
Minutes passed, or maybe hours. John still wasn’t a hundred percent sure when it came to the passage of time. There was no clock in his room, and there wasn’t even a window for him to judge the time by the sun. The only reason that he knew that it was morning was because a tray with breakfast had been standing next to his bed when he had woken up. Lunch hadn’t been served yet, so he was fairly certain that it was still morning, but he also didn’t know what time lunch was served at. He corrected himself. He didn’t even know if lunch was served. Maybe there were only two meals a day here. He would have thought that there would be three if for no reason other than to follow state mandates, but he couldn’t know for sure.
Some time after he had sat down he heard the sound of voices in the hallway outside his door. His first instinct was to jump to his feet and rush over to press his ear against the door to listen, but he resisted the urge. There were still some lingering traces of the medications in his system, and he wasn’t sure that he could rush anywhere. The more important reason to remain still, however, was that he had no way of knowing if he was being monitored. There could be a camera anywhere. In fact, he would have been surprised if there wasn’t any surveillance equipment. It seemed prudent to monitor the rooms of people such as himself.
Instead of approaching the door, John simply adjusted on the bed slightly and waited. The voices were getting louder, and he strained his ears to hear what they were saying. The door and walls muffled most of the words, though, and he wasn’t able to make out anything coherent.
The lock on the door clicked as the bolt was slid from the outside. He turned his head to watch as the door was opened. Standing out in the hallway was an orderly that he recognized from his arrival at the facility. The orderly was a large man, with forearms so muscular that they were almost cartoonish. He stepped inside and did a quick visual check of John’s room. He didn’t seem to find anything out of the ordinary as he nodded with satisfaction before turning his attention to John.
“You’ve got a visitor,” the man said in a deep rumbling voice.
A thousand questions immediately came to mind, but John kept his mouth shut. He nodded instead and crossed the room to the door. The orderly motioned for him to hold his arms out, and he did as he was instructed. He was quickly patted down to make sure that there wasn’t anything concealed under his clothing. He wondered what exactly the orderly expected to find, as he had been dead to the world for all intents and purposes for quite some time. The man performed the search with the care and distrust of someone that had some experience with such matters, though, so John resisted flinching during the process.
“All right,” the orderly grumbled. “Let’s go.”
Waiting out in the hallway were two other orderlies. They weren’t as big as the first one, but each was imposing in their own right. They formed a triangle around John, one in front of him and two directly behind him. They all stayed just out of arm’s reach. They fell into the formation naturally, as if they had practiced it countless times. It was efficient but unnecessary. He wasn’t planning to try anything. Still, if it made them more comfortable, they were welcome to it.
The group made its way down the hallway and turned right at the first intersection. The walls were painted an off-white color, and the floors were smooth linoleum. Doors lined the walls, each roughly twelve feet from the next. Everything was illuminated by bright overhead lights.
As they passed the doors, John could hear any number of unpleasant sounds coming from behind them. The sounds ranged from screams and weeping to uncontrollable laughter. He turned his head as they passed one door and he caught a brief snatch of something that sounded a lot like a wet sucking. He decided that he didn’t really want to know what was making that particular sound and turned his gaze forward once again.
They continued down the hallways, making turns at seemingly random intervals until they arrived at an elevator. The order that had come into his room had him get in first, while the three brutes stepped in after him and turned so that they were all watching him. Without so much as a glance back the orderly reached back and pressed a button on the control panel. The elevator shuddered and began to descend.
Less than ten seconds later the doors opened and they exited onto the building’s first floor. They once again took up a triangular formation, and they began walking. Instead of patient rooms, this floor contained medical rooms and offices. While the second floor hallways were clear of other people, here they passed a number of individuals in lab coats and suits that stepped off to one side and watched them nervously as they passed. John looked directly into the eyes of one man as they approached and he instantly looked away, apparently not liking what he had seen in their brief moment of ocular contact.
They eventually reached a large metal door. The lead orderly stepped forward and unlocked it before pulling it open. He waved his hand to motion John inside.
John did as he was instructed and found himself standing in a large room with two chairs facing each other in the middle. As his eyes adjusted to the dimmer light he saw that it was actually two small rooms that were separated by a thick pane of plexiglass. In the center of the glass wall were dozens of dime-sized holes, presumably to allow sound to pass between the two rooms.
He turned slightly to look back at the men that had escorted him, but they were already closing the door as they left. He went over to the plexiglass and rapped on it with one knuckle. There was a hollow thud. It was extremely thick.
The door on the other side opened. He put his hands behind his back and waited silently while a short woman entered. Her brown hair was shoulder length, and it framed a face with faint freckles across its nose and cheeks. Her blue eyes were adorned with a pair of glasses. She was dressed in a black suit with a white shirt, and she was holding a thin folder in her right hand.
She crossed about halfway towards the plexiglass before she stopped. She lifted her head slightly and regarded him through the barrier. She was obviously trying to give off a sense of calmness and being at ease, but it was just as obvious that she wasn’t succeeding at it. Her mouth opened as if she was going to speak, but she closed it and remained silent.
For his part, John simply stared at her, making sure to keep any expression off of his face. Maybe it was just the lingering effects of the drugs, or perhaps it was because he was so unsure of his own feelings, but he didn’t think that he should be the one to speak first. As she visibly grew more and more uncomfortable, however, he sighed and quietly sat down in the nearby chair. She kept standing where she was for a few heartbeats before she did the same.
John folded his hands together, one elbow on each of the chair’s armrests. He did so slowly, and as he did the woman brushed at her pant leg self-consciously. Her eyes kept flicking back and forth between him and anywhere else in the room. She placed the file on her lap and bit her bottom lip. It was a small thing, something that most people would have simply written off as nothing, but he knew her too well for that. It meant that she was embarrassed. Nervous and embarrassed. It was an interesting combination. She took a deep breath and finally spoke.
“Hello, John,” she said, her voice quiet but steady. Strangely, he felt proud of her for keeping control over her feelings like that.
“Hello, Lore,” he replied.
Simply saying her name caused cracks to form in the wall that he was attempting to keep up. Lorelai Brooks was the only person in the world that could stir such strong feelings in him. It had always been that way, ever since they had met at a local park when they were six years old. She had made him feel like a raw nerve then, and over thirty years later she was still doing it without even trying. He felt his jaw clench.
“How… how are you feeling?” she asked hesitantly.
“Indescribable,” John answered truthfully. If there were words that could be used to accurately portray how he was feeling at that moment, they weren’t a part of his vocabulary. “If you’re asking if I have the urge to start chewing the furniture or to speak in tongues, I don’t believe so.”
“That’s not what I… John, I’ve never thought that you…”
The despair in her words was enough to cut through the remainder of the haze in his head. He leaned forward in the chair and started to reach his hand out to her before he remembered the glass. I let the hand fall limply to his side.
“I know, Lore,” he assured her. “I don’t… I don’t blame you for this. I never have. You need to understand that.”
She nodded, tears welling up in her eyes. She angrily wiped them away and sniffed loudly. He could tell that she absolutely did blame herself and that nothing he could say would change that.
“It’s great to see you again,” John continued. “It’s amazing, even. Why are you here, though? How did you convince them to thaw me out?”
“They had to,” she replied, opening the file on her lap and pointing at the document on top. “I have a court order. I couldn’t get you out, but I did convince the judge to order the medication stopped so that you could assist from in here.”
He frowned. “I don’t understand. Help with what?”
The tears returned to her eyes, and this time they ran down her cheeks. Her shoulders convulsed as she cried, and soon she was gasping for air. He felt a sudden rage building in him, a strong anger that he was being kept from comforting her. All that he could do was sit silently while she fought to regain control.
“Oh God, John,” she got out around the gasps. “Annie is gone. Our daughter is gone.”