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My Face is on Fire: A Novella (Part Four)
The Fugitive wasn't doing so well. Not sleeping, eating poorly. These days he found it difficult to stifle the gag reflex when confronted with meat. Losing weight. He took pills to keep from sleeping, dreadful of the nightmares. He took other pills to remain alert, due to his lack of sleep.
He was messing up at work. Coming in late and calling out sick. Bumbling about when he was on the job. Coming off like a complete incompetent.
He would kill himself but he was afraid of Mildred. Afraid she was waiting for him on the other side. And he did not want to hasten the encounter. He was afraid the dreams were premonitions instead of merely the manifestations of a highly distressed mind.
He was heading in the direction of being tired of living but afraid of dying.
Perhaps he could find one of those crackpot organizations and get himself cryogenically frozen, and sealed in a basement vault below ground. That way he would be neither alive nor dead. That way he could truly sleep undisturbed.
Possibly. Maybe. Hopefully.
He could make up some lie about having an incurable, inoperable disease; and that he hoped to be thawed out and cured sometime in the distant future. Was this not the usual crackpot routine?
Certainly it was!
That was crazy talk, of course. But insanity was the well-known refuge of the terrified. Really he was full of an exhausted, numbing dread. He was not quite all the way resigned though. He held out hope that there might be a solution.
Maybe he should see a psychiatrist.
Yeah, right! He should just go in there, stretch out on the doc's couch and say: "Listen, doc. This is my problem. I've been having really bad dreams lately. Its post traumatic stress syndrome, or something. You see, it all started many years ago when I killed my wife and a bum that looked like me so I could fake my death and disappear with a bunch of money I stole from the insurance company my wife bought for me to run. I'm eating myself inside-out with guilt."
But then again, why not? Doctors, therapists were bound by patient-doctor confidentiality, weren't they?
The best thing about psychiatrists was that they were also medical doctors. Which means they can prescribe drugs. Wonderful drugs! Lovely drugs! Wonderful, lovely drugs! The kind of drugs that would let him sleep. The kind of drugs that would stop him dreaming.
He imagined how it would go with the doctor.
Fugitive: Now that I'm your patient, we're in strict confidentiality-mode, right?
Therapist: That is correct.
Fugitive: I can tell you my problems and you have to keep it to yourself.
Therapist: Quite so.
Fugitive: Anything I tell you about the issues that gave rise to my problems...
Therapist: ... remains absolutely confidential.
Fugitive: No matter what it is?
Therapist: No matter what it is.
Fugitive: Because its pretty bad. Can you bear the weight? Can you bear knowing and keep it to yourself? Can you bear the burden, doc, without sharing it?
Therapist: It is a sacred trust that I take very seriously. I assure you.
The Fugitive envisioned dribbling out information slowly and gradually. Not overwhelming the good doctor with it all at once. He envisioned building a rapport with the doctor over several visits, perhaps over a period of months.
He would present his story in the best possible light. The light it deserved to be shone by. He would build trust, build sympathy. He would get the doctor on his side; and he would be on his side, despite his profession of clinical distance and objectivity.
The doctor would be able to handle it. He would keep his secret. He would not judge him. He would find a way to make him alright with what he'd done, to make his mind alright with it. But most of all---most of all---the doctor would prescribe marvelous drugs to make him sleep, and stop him dreaming.
Now, obviously he could not see a therapist locally. He'd have to go far, far way where nobody knew him.
He would take a leave of absence from his job. He had loads of vacation time stored up. He'd travel way out of state, maybe to the other side of the country. Perhaps he should go into Canada...
He'd use an assumed name, naturally. That is, yet another assumed name.
Wake up, you macaroni head, he admonished himself. Did he really expect any kind of therapist to keep double murder under his hat? He'd have to be crazy himself, to hold that confidence on behalf of a stranger.
Fugitive: Are you crazy, doc?
Imaginary Therapist: If I am, it should reassure you.
Imaginary Therapist: You can be insured that I keep your confidence.
Fugitive: How so?
Imaginary Therapist: Who would believe a crazy man about another crazy man?
Fugitive: Can you keep my name off any paperwork?
Imaginary Therapist: Yes, absolutely!
Fugitive: Really? Just like that you agree?
Imaginary Therapist: I care about you. I would no sooner give you up than I would my own mother.
Fugitive: If you have to refer to me at all, can you just call me Patient X, or something like that?
Imaginary Therapist: I suppose, also, to bolster your anonymity you should pay me in cash instead of check or credit card.
Fugitive: That's the ticket, doc!
The Fugitive knew better than to expect such an accommodation in real life. People had the irritating habit of doing precisely the opposite of what you asked them to do. If the therapist was corrupt, he would turn to blackmail. If he was honest, he'd go to the district attorney. That was all there was to it.
As time went on --- as he struggled with how to get therapeutic help for himself --- as one after another of his conceptual hopes got dashed by the cold water of reality --- he turned to his imaginary therapist for consolation.
Soon, abandoning all hope of finding aid in the world of three dimensions, he brought Dr. Sigmund---that's what he called his imaginary therapist---into his life. Dr. Sigmund was a wonder worker; and apart from the doctor's habit of trying to convince him that he was sexually attracted to his own mother, he found the therapy very helpful.
The Fugitive found himself becoming more integrated. He should have created an imaginary therapist a long time ago. Now if only the imaginary therapist could prescribe him some real drugs. But now that his head was clearing, he could see that this was not an insurmountable obstacle.
He knew how he could get his hands on drugs. Some first-rate pharmaceuticals. Cheap. Bollocks to that! Free! After all, in this new life he had created for himself, he was a police officer.
One night Torch Head and Liz were lying together, in her bed, after having satisfied their carnal desire.
Torch Head said, "You ever get... ideas from your tattoos."
Liz frowned. "What do you mean?"
"You ever read a story by Richard Bradbury called The Illustrated Man?"
He explained that Ray Bradbury had been one of the early deans of science fiction literature, in case she didn't know. But he considered The Illustrated Man to be more of a horror story than science fiction; its like something Stephen King could've penned.
The story is about a carnival performer, whose act had become obsolete. He would have been out of a job if the carnival's head man hadn't been in need of an "illustrated man," a tattoo-covered man from head to toe, every inch of his body. The 'carny' went to a blind, ancient witch, who worked an enchantment on him.
He found himself covered with various tattoos. He quickly discovered that each tattoo was a window into the future. And of course, this being a true horror story, the whole thing ended in the appropriate orgy of violence and murder.
"I saw a tattoo that gave me an idea one time," Torch Head said.
"Yeah," Liz said, waiting.
"This tattoo I saw gave me an idea for the perfect name of a rock band--"
She exhaled and laughed.
"What'd you think I was gonna say?" he said.
She shook her head. "I don't know."
"If I had had a lick of musical talent, I would have started a band just so we could call ourselves that."
"Call yourselves what?"
"Hold on, let me tell you about that tattoo."
"You're cute," she said and kissed him.
It had been many, many years ago, when Torch Head had been a kid. Working a summer job at Hi-Top Palace, a huge sneaker store in a huge mall. One of his colleagues had been a fellow a few years older than himself. Bart---short for Bartholomew---... something was his name. Bart was older, seemingly more worldly, charismatic, cool, and laidback.
Torch Head was human-looking way back then and still known as Wrigley Lord. Bart had blown Wrigley's mind when he had announced, one day, his attention to become a prison security guard.
"A what?" Wrigley said.
"A prison guard, you heard me. I hate when you ask me to repeat myself like you didn't hear me, when you know good and damn well you heard me the first time."
"Don't do it, Bart."
"They'll eat you alive in there. You know they're straight animals in prison. Why do you want to risk it?"
"Good money. Pretty great money. It's not like I have a lot of other options."
"Be a cop, then. Just throw animals in prison. Don't stay in that caged cube with them. Roam free in the fresh air and sunshine."
But Bart's mind was made up. Wrigley, younger than he, could never talk 'Black' Bart into or out of anything.
But we digress, dear friends. Black Bart had been into tattoos. He had a sweet one on his forearm. At least Wrigley had been taken with it.
Taking hold of Bart's forearm as though he were an antiques expert examining a precious Ming Dynasty vase, Wrigley examined the tattoo. It looked like the detached head of a woman. The woman's head had short, black hair. The head's pallor was pasty white. The head looked to Wrigley like it had been in water for a long time, for some reason.
He thought of zombies under water. And then it had come to him. He suddenly, and irrelevantly and uselessly, had the perfect name for a rock band.
"What is it already?" Liz said.
"Zombie Mermaid Queens," Torch Head said. "A rock band should call themselves The Zombie Mermaid Queens."
"That is kinda cool at that," Liz said. "Should they be male or female?"
"Doesn't matter," Torch Head said. "Isn't there a group of guys who call themselves Bare Naked Ladies?"
"I had a band," Liz said. "Started it in my twenties. We called ourselves The Scarlets, after Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, The Scarlett Letter."
"Yeah, we wore tight, little red dresses with the letter 'A' stitched across the bosom."
"Pretty sexy," Torch Head said, imagining it.
"Our fans thought so."
"We went the way of most bands. We had a good run and then broke up."
"Ever record an album?"
"No, we never got that far. We were strictly an opening act. We opened for some pretty big names: Metallica, White Snake, Poison. We toured a lot. Did the college scene, bar mitzvahs..."
"How long were you all together?"
"And then you broke up?"
Liz turned her back to him, ready to go to sleep. "The thing had run its course, that's all. It wasn't fun anymore."
End of Part Four.