Think #20: Left, Right, Low, High
This story was inspired by one of the “Thinks” proposed by Dr. Seuss’s “Oh the Thinks You Can Think!”. If you are unfamiliar with the book, you can find an online version of it here. Every day from now through February 15th, I’ll be posting a short story or poem based on one of the “Thinks” in the book. Enjoy! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The hallways of Rockford Asylum were as sterile as they were hushed. The orderly, a huge bald man with a crease where his neck met the back of his head, marched Simon past closed door after closed door. Room 18, 20, 22. Judging by the hallways they were taking and the absurdly late hour, they were going to the behavioral ward.
Simon yawned and stared up at the back of the man’s head. He was so tired. It would be so easy to make it all stop. He shook his head, rubbing the long cut on his hand. No. That wasn’t the answer. He couldn’t let them win so easily.
They turned down another bland white hallway. 51, 53, 55. He spotted the same scuff on the door of room 55 that had been there for months. It was odd, that in this compulsively sanitary building, that stain had been left for so long. Maybe it was supposed to be a reminder. A warning.
Or maybe the janitor wasn’t getting paid enough.
“So, are you taking me to the beach? Or, no, I got it, to see the circus? Man, I’ve always wanted to see the elephants and stuff. Idiots sticking their heads in lion’s mouths? Awesome. I bet you’d be good at it.”
The orderly snorted, and the movement pinched his neck roll above his crisp white collar.
“So, you must be into some messed up stuff,” Simon continued, stifling another yawn. “I mean, you knowingly allow a fifteen-year-old boy to be psychologically tortured for like twenty hours a day, every day. That’s jacked up, man.”
The orderly tensed. They were almost to the end of the hall. Almost to the Think Room.
“But you don’t have to keep doing this anymore,” Simon pressed. “You can just stall. Give me five minutes, and I promise, I’ll make it worth your while. You know I can.”
The giant stopped so suddenly, Simon crashed into him. It was like crashing into a squishy wall, but a wall, all the same. The guy started walking again, but Simon caught a low chuckle.
The orderly opened the solid, white metal door and grinned at Simon. He had two wicked-looking cracked teeth beneath his dull blue eyes. But he didn’t scare Simon. If anything, it was the other way around. Simon glared into the orderly’s eyes until the man’s smile shattered.
“Get in,” he said, shoving Simon into the room with a rough hand. The door closed, leaving him with his eyes tightly closed, alone.
Alone in the Think Room.
It didn’t matter that he’d been sent to this room nearly every day for the past two months. The Think Room had a way of making him thankful that he’d already taken his daily dump. It had a way of making him wish he were still in whatever nightmare he was having before they woke him from his allotted three hours of sleep.
He was so tired. He’d give a kidney for a single night’s sleep. But he had to open his eyes. Because he knew he was being watched, and if he showed weakness…
He forced his eyes open, and he was instantly bombarded by color, by screaming patterns and bold, terrible optical illusions. And everywhere, the subliminal message beneath it all was so blatant to Simon, so loud, it may as well have been written in an enormous black sharpie on a plain white wall.
He looked all around the room, like usual, but it was the same thing everywhere. Left and right, low and high: think, think, think, think.
Worst of all, though, was that stupid, decades old motivational poster on the back of the heavy door. It bore the sinister, smiling faces of children whose eyes had been clawed out by the room’s previous victims. And in cartoonish font, a word bubble came from the children’s mouths in an awful chorus Simon could almost hear. “Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”
Oh, just end it all, already, the stowaway voice inside his head told him.
Shut up, he told Stowaway.
The speakers crackled, then a voice filled the room. The distraction was almost a relief. “Hello, Simon,” the voice said from everywhere at once.
Simon plopped to the padded floor, cross-legged. “What’s up, Douche-Butt.”
The speaker tsked. “Such language.”
“What do you expect when you kidnap a teenage boy? I could scratch myself and fart for you instead, if you’d like. And you would like that, wouldn’t you, Perv-Bag?”
Speaker didn’t take the bait. “Simon, you know we didn’t kidnap you. Your mother admitted you for the safety of your family. Do you need me to remind you of what happened to your father?”
A drunken, enraged howl filled his mind for only a flash. Simon winced. He closed his eyes, blocking out the room, suppressing the sound of Stowaway’s cruel shouts and crazy, hateful laughter.
“Simon,” Speaker said, pulling him back. “Haven’t you wondered about your mother? About your poor sister?”
Of course, Simon thought. What else can I do in this hellhole? It’s not like you let me sleep—
“Your mother has told everyone that you died in the same, er, accident that took your father. But you suspected that. The day she admitted you, you felt her relief that she didn’t have to lock you in your room any longer, that she wouldn’t have to cry out in the night for you to spare her. You knew it then, didn’t you? That she wished you were dead?”
With his eyes shut, sitting in blackness, he could almost let this go. Could almost let the words bounce off of him and be all I’m rubber, you’re glue. But the taunts increased.
“And your sweet sister, Pippa. Well, I’m sorry to say that Pippa may have some of your…talents. She was admitted for observation at one of our sister facilities. Your mother thought it best.”
“My mother is weak!” Simon yelled, instantly cursing himself. But it was true. If she hadn’t been so weak, always letting the worthless drunk come home, cowering in the corner while he yelled and cursed and kicked—
Stop it! he ordered himself. But just thinking of him made Stowaway’s voice rise again. He was shouting at Simon. Raging and roaring and fighting to be heard.
“Si-mon,” Speaker sang. “Oh, Si-mon.”
Simon’s eyes flew open, and the room seemed to attack him. For a brief moment, he didn’t know where or when he was. He didn’t know if he was at home, getting wailed on, if he was tripping on some horrible drug they’d dosed him with, or if he was having a vivid, Technicolor nightmare. “Si-mon,” Speaker said again, invading his hell. Simon clung to the voice, letting it drag him back to safety. Back to the Think Room.
How had he let himself go down that rabbit hole?
He shook his head. “Enough. We go over the same thing every day, and every day, I go back to my room. And. You. Lose. You must have had a lot of practice with rejection in high school to be at this for so long.”
“That’s cute, Simon,” Speaker said. “But we’ve only just begun our fun together. If you think you’re tired now, just imagine what more we can do to you.”
“See? Here you are, flirting again.”
Speaker laughed. It was a hollow, yet tinny sound that was neither high nor low. It circled all around him, sounding genuinely delighted. “Wonderful,” Speaker said. “Such resilience. I’ve never seen a mind like yours before, Simon.”
“Buddy, you still haven’t seen a mind like mine. You have no idea what I’m capable of.”
“Oh, but I do, Simon. I do.”
The tone was too earnest. Almost breathless. Simon shuddered and adjusted his legs under his butt. “What do you mean?” he asked, wishing he didn’t sound so…nervous.
Speaker chuckled. “I’m not sure you want the truth here, but then, you aren’t like other children, are you?”
A chill ran up Simon’s back. He stared at those mindless, eyeless kids on the back of the poster. No. I’m not.
“How did you get that cut on your hand, Simon?”
He frowned, looking at the exposed gash. From the floor, the subliminal THINKscreamed at him. From his mind, Stowaway yelled. He flinched and rubbed his sandy eyes. “My dad.”
“That’s right. Your sister thought maybe your father cut you with a broken bottle when you tried to protect her. Is that what happened?”
If only, Simon thought, but he growled out, “Yes.”
“Does it hurt when you touch it?”
He refused to give Speaker the satisfaction of an answer. But, yes. It still hurt, whether he touched it or not. It hurt all the time.
“Why hasn’t it healed, do you suppose? After so long, what keeps it sore and festering?”
The walls were getting louder, the swirling and spiraling illusions trying to turn him, trip him, drown him. “Maybe it’s me,” Simon said, low. “Maybe I don’t want to let it heal.”
“Why would you do that to yourself, Simon?”
He shook his head, trying to stave off the visual assault. But the message was so loud. THINK.
“Why?” Speaker’s demanding voice besieged him. The question echoed, bouncing off the already deafening walls. But instead of fading, it just kept getting louder. “Why, Simon? Why? WHY?”
He jumped to his feet and turned around the room, yelling at Speaker from all sides, like Speaker did to him. “Because maybe I shouldn’t be allowed to heal, okay? Maybe no one who’s done what I did should!”
The room went silent. Simon looked up, and gone were the images on the wall and floor and ground, replaced by something far, far worse. Covering every inch of the ten-by-ten room was one word, scrawled over and over again:
THINK. THINK. THINK.
It was written in tiny, scribbling letters and huge, blocky ones, slanted, semicircular, downward and up.
And it was all written in blood.
Simon backed up against a wall, then recoiled. Because when he brushed up against it, the blood from the words rubbed off on him. On his white shirt, his pants, his bare arms. Blood was everywhere. He screamed and wanted to fall to the floor, but it was there, too. He was stepping on it with his bare feet.
“Why are you doing this?” he cried, his voice seeming to split.
“Why are you letting us?” Speaker asked softly. Its voice sounded almost sad, like it was trying to soothe him. To help him. “Why shouldn’t you be allowed to heal, Simon? You killed your attacker. You killed the man who beat you and your sister and your mother. You did nothing wrong.”
Tears burned his eyes. He stared down at his hands, covered in the blood of a million murderous thoughts. But not the blood of his father. A chuckle escaped him. A low, menacing laugh that sounded nothing like his, but one he couldn’t quite stop. Not even now. After more than two months.
“Is that what you think happened? You think I killed him?”
Speaker sighed. “We know you did, Simon. We saw the crime scene, the autopsy reports. And poor Pippa told us what you did. He was hitting her, and you hit him to lure him away, into another room. And then, well, we know what happened. At first, we focused on how you…threw your bed through the roof.”
Stowaway’s heavy presence filled Simon’s mind, wanting to laugh again. Wanting to call Speaker a fool, to say there was so much more to it than that. Simon breathed, straining to keep Stowaway’s voice buried.
“Yet, the odd part,” Speaker continued, “was that despite the fact that your father must have outweighed you by what, eighty pounds? You didn’t have a single scratch or bruise apart from the first one he gave you, the one from the bottle…a bottle we never found, oddly. Even odder, though, is that your father’s body was fine, too. Completely unharmed. But his mind…” Speaker gave a ragged exhale. Was that excitement? “All that, on top of the other reports we had on you from your school and neighbors, stories of strange things happening, things moving…”
Simon bowed his head and rubbed his temples. He was so tired.
“I didn’t kill my dad.”
“Enough lies, Simon. You didn’t harm his body, you left him brain dead. Your mother may have pulled the plug, but you killed him.”
If only, Simon thought.
Stowaway bellowed at him, mocking his naïve longing.
Shut up, Simon said.
“We know what you are, Simon,” Speaker said.
“Do tell,” Simon muttered. His face was in his palm, and he was still massaging his temples. He had to stay calm.
“You’re a Stochastí̱s,” Speaker said in an awed tone. “A Thinker.”
And Simon laughed, then. A sharp, barking sound that was all his. “You’re right. I ama Thinker. But you’re wrong, too. I didn’t kill my dad.”
“Simon,” Speaker chastised. “Where do you think you are? Who do you think you’re talking to?”
“I’m at Rockford Asylum, and I’m talking to a creep from some military agency, if I had to guess, who has a thing for teenage boys.”
“No!” Speaker yelled. Simon smiled. He’d finally gotten to him. “Do you think this is some kind of game, Simon? That we’re just playing around?”
“Aw, are you saying you don’t like me?”
“Enough!” Speaker roared, and the room itself seemed to shake. “Show me.”
A trickle of sweat ran down Simon’s cheek. He dropped his voice. “Show you what? What really happened to my dad?”
“Whatever you want. Show me what you can think up.”
A chill ran over him. He walked in a circle with all the bravado he could muster, sneering and clapping to the camera. “Bravo, man. Really, well done. I expected a few weeks, but two months? You should have gotten to the point a long time ago.”
“Enough blustering, Simon.” Speaker said, sounding harsh and commanding. “Show me.”
Suddenly, the whole room came back to life. He was drowning in illusions, suffocating on colors, choking on patterns that seemed to be around him and over him and in him. He crouched down to the floor, covering his head with his arms.
“Show me!” Speaker roared.
“THINK!” the walls screamed. “THINK! THINK! THINK!”
And Stowaway let out a brutal, taunting laugh that made Simon scream to shut it out. To keep it in.
The world was too loud. There was too much going on. And this full body cacophony, this assault on his senses…he had to make it stop. He could end it all. He had to end it all. Had to shut up the violent laugher in his head.
Simon exploded to a stand. “Stop!” he screamed. He stared at the roof of the Think Room and blew it clear off. Gone.
Fresh, cool air caressed Simon. “Wonderful,” Speaker gasped. “We hardly dared hope for such power.”
You want power? Stowaway laughed.
Shut up! Simon thought, looking up at the clear sky and breathing.
The stars winked at Simon. Stowaway didn’t shut up. This raw burst…Simon wished it was enough. But it wasn’t. It never had been. He never could control the hunger for power that overcame him. Not when his dad taunted him and threw things at him and told him to think up beer and money and drugs for him. Simon had thought the power trip was the biggest drawback of his “gift.” But he was wrong. He’d learned that the hard way just over two months ago.
And now that Simon had tasted it…that surge…he wanted more.
And Stowaway’s psychotic laughter just grew louder.
“More, Simon,” Speaker said.
“No,” he begged, forcefully restraining his will. His desire. “You don’t know what you’re asking.”
“Show me more, Simon.”
Yes, show him, Simon, Stowaway dared.
He was just so tired. And so…hungry. The room wouldn’t shut up. Speaker’s voice wouldn’t shut up. And now Stowaway wouldn’t shut up, either.
Show him, Stowaway goaded. Like you showed me. He wants to see it. He’s begging for it.
“Please,” Speaker breathed, sounding reverent. Perverted. “Show me, Simon. Then we’ll let you rest.”
Simon looked up at the stars, a slow smile creeping across his face. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Speaker whispered.
“You want to know what I can think up?”
“Yes.” It was almost a prayer.
Speaker fell silent.
Then through the intercom, Simon heard the distinct sound of a body crumpling on the floor. He took a long, deep breath, humming with pure, unadulterated power. It was beautiful. Then a laugh burst from his mouth. A new laugh, though one he recognized.
He closed his eyes and breathed, quelling the glee, the mania that threatened to bubble up and take him over. Sorry, pal, Simon thought.
With so much power expended, he wanted more than ever to sleep. Holy hell, did he want to sleep.
The temptation to blow off a little more power, though…eh, he’d just sleep better if it was spent.
He opened his eyes, and looked at the door. It burst open. Not just open, it smashed through the opposite wall, exposing the hallway to the sweet night air. Simon smiled and left the room to see the orderly standing agape. He looked like a jackrabbit, one too fat to bolt.
“Go,” Simon Thought. The orderly’s body lifted into the air and was hurled into the Think Room. Simon Thought up a new roof and wall around the man.
“Yeah, suck it,” he mumbled.
He walked through the hallways, Thinking the stain gone from room 55. Clean. He liked that. Then he Thought all the walls in the asylum gone. The doors stayed, though. Just random doors with no walls. No, there shouldn’t be a roof, either. No roof, no walls. Just floors and doors. Ha! He rhymed! Floors and doors. Nice.
He turned the hall, spent, but reveling in the cries and squeals and prayers of shocked inmates as they awoke to freedom. Everywhere, people ran around their doors, scattering past him into the night as he took the moonlit path to his room.
At his door, he reached a hand out to turn the knob, and he saw a long, fresh cut on his hand…right below the first cut.
Wonderful,the new voice in Simon’s mind said. Speaker’s voice.
Don’t act so impressed, you idiot, Stowaway said.
Simon sighed. Speaker, meet Stowaway. Stowaway, this is Speaker.
Stowaway growled. Is that anyway to introduce your father?
Shut up, Simon told him. Both of you, just shut up.
Simon stumbled through his exposed room as the sound of dark laughter bounced around in his mind.
He fell down onto his bed.
And slept. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Katy White is a Janeite, Muggle, Whovian, foodie, and BYU fanatic who writes ridiculously cute YA contemporary and YA fantasy. Although Canadian, she loves watching BBC shows that help her perfect the nuances of her Mancunian accent and Suffex dialect. She has eaten haggis but has only just learned how to order Mexican food. She lives in Arizona with her pasty skin, freckles, and adorable daughter and husband. She contributes to Mormon Mommy Writers and occasionally tweets.