Historical Fiction Speculative American

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.


The flickering shadowed light from the kerosene lantern danced across the page that lay on the lone table in the room. The quill pen paused above the parchment, then spotting its prey below, swooped down to the page. The frenzied scratches of the sharpened nib poured out words, demanding release. The script was wild and barely decipherable, mirroring the mind of the author.

I lived an orphan’s life bereft of hope

Resentful relations taking me in

My thoughts spiraling downwards on a slope

But then the voices came from deep within

How sharply my perception pierced the veil

Now fortified by wisdom from inside

How surely I could spot another’s tale

My scrutiny behind which none can hide

Now I’m bidden this monumental quest

Commands from ether “undo this regret”

Untie the knot conspirators behest

With one single act the clocks I reset

They’ll ask why I did it I’ll answer firm

Simple, I just don’t endorse a third term

  The man lifted the page from the table giving it silent perusal, suddenly crushing it into a ball, throwing it to the floor where it joined the others mimicking new fallen snow on the dark wooden floor. His surroundings in the Milwaukee flop house were sparse, and a springy mattress on the floor was the only companion to the chair and the table he sat at. His lantern showed the tables display. A sheaf of paper. An inkwell. The pen in his hand, and a .38 caliber Colt handgun. He avoided the gaze of the gun and kept his eyes downcast. Several minutes passed and the man sat open mouthed at the table, eyes unfocused and distant. A drop of drool formed on his bottom lip and stretched towards the table like a gossamer strand of silk dancing in the light. Had anyone peeked in on him they would be certain that his pose suggested a mind blank of thought, a void of cognitive activity that would draw derision and ridicule from the general populace. This was not the case with John, a thirty-six-year-old who hid his disenchantment with society behind the title “Poet”. Anyone who might have been watching John sit at that table would be shocked to know that inside his head, things were heating up.

  “Johnny-boy, what’s the matter? Finding out you’re not a poet?”

  “Don’t call me that, my name is John. I AM a poet! If I keep writing it will one day fit. Maybe I can help with people that struggle like this.”

  “No one wants to hear of your struggles and pain. Everyone thinks you’re insane! That’s what your aunt and uncle were talking about before you…”

  “Stop! You know as well as I do that the fire was an accident. I loved my aunt and uncle, why would I do them harm?”

  “You know what we heard. They were talking about you. They were scared of you.”

  “No! It was YOU that they feared. I told you to stay quiet and no one would know! We came to this country, then both my parents die. Then you came along, and I thought you were my friend!”

  “I am your friend Johnny-boy. You could even say I am your only friend. We would have been all happily ever after if you hadn’t met…her.”

  “Leave her out of this! She loved me!”

  “No one could love you! You knew that, so that’s why you let me talk to her. You knew she might love me.”

  “But you blew it! You always come on too strong. I just needed a little charm was all. Thought I could borrow that from you, but oh no. She knew something was up. She had started asking questions, about you!”

  “So you burned her up along with your aunt and uncle?”

  “No!” John held his head up by two fistfuls of hair. “No! I never meant for her to get hurt. I didn’t know she was home.” He cried in despair. Rising from the table suddenly he knocked the chair to the floor.

“I didn’t know!” He started to thump his forehead with the heels of his hands. One after the other, building with speed and force. “Go away!” he begged.

   In time his blows began to soften and become irregular. He stood for a long moment silent, listening. Satisfied that he was now alone again, he up righted his chair and sat back down to his writing.


  The October morning broke as cold and grey as a stone. John slowly drifted to consciousness, his head lying on his right arm on the table. He grimaced as he realized that his arm had gone to sleep. He dragged it off the table and it hung dead at his side. With a start a panicked thought burst into his head.  “I need my arm!” He furiously massaged it, moaning as a slight tingling led to a full ache. Soon he had restored his blood flow and had the full use of his arm and hand. The page on the table caught his attention. He lifted it and mouthed the words as he read what he had written.

My heads hurts

No solutions

Only institutions

Will anyone help me?

 It is alone for me

To right the wrong

I have followed you for so long

Not hearing what you say

Just waiting for today…

My thirst for justice must be sate

You must be stopped it’s not too late

  Leaving the poem on the table, John Flammang Schrank picked up the revolver from the table, checked the two remaining bullets, and pocketed it. He had never felt as assured of his fate as he did this morning. President William McKinley himself had again come to him in his dreams last night, assuring him that the upstart that had assassinated him was now within his grasp. The great man had guided his path across the country, too often demanding he wait. But now the time was right. The Bavarian immigrant closed the wooden door behind him and descended the rickety stairs. On the streets of Milwaukee, he asked a newspaper vendor the way to the Gilpatrick Hotel. He turned his collar up and tucked his chin as he turned into the wind and headed to his destination.


  President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt bustled through the lobby of the Gilpatrick Hotel. His entourage struggled to keep up with the energetic Progressive Party candidate for President of the United States. Having been denied his party's nomination for a third term he had joined up with the young party and set out on a whistle stop tour of campaigning. Two uniformed doormen darted to open the hotel’s ornate front doors for the famous man and his phalanx of followers. Stepping through the door being held to his open-air sedan, he turned to raise his arms and encourage his supporters. As Vice-President Mr. Roosevelt had filled the presidency of the assassinated William McKinley. He had easily won a second term, so he was confident this day that no matter the platform he would return to the White House. The crowd roared their approval at the beaming gap-toothed grin of their hero, but as he pumped his fists in the air a shot roared louder than the crowd. Roosevelt saw clearly the man not six feet away with a distant stare holding a smoking weapon. His eyes were lifted skyward, a look not unlike relief passing over his features. A sublime moment passed before the crowd around him fell on the gunman.

  “Don’t let him be harmed!” cried Roosevelt from his car seat where he had plopped. His hands scurried frantically to his chest where he knew there would be a geyser of blood from the bullets hole. Only a slow spreading under his vest was visible, and upon examining the contents of his pocket that had protected his heart, he found a hole in his metal eyeglass case and his folded ten-page speech that he was off to deliver. He commanded his driver to drive on to his scheduled speech, which he delivered with the bullet still lodged in his chest. There it remained for the remainder of his life.


  The white coated attendant unlocked the barred steel door with a key tied to a strap around his wrist. The creaking of the metal scattered off the concrete block walls of the long corridor like the bats you might suspect hung upside down in the shadows above. The footfalls of the three men intruded on the muted cacophony of madness that bubbled and simmered always within the reach of one’s hearing. Moans and cries and chants and grunts all scuffled about in the cold stone of the asylum.

  “Gentlemen, we here at the Central State Mental Hospital pride ourselves on utilizing the newest innovations in treating the criminally insane. Ah, here we are.” The hospital administrator made a sweeping gesture indicating a particular cell with bars, indistinguishable from any other save for a small sign above the door with the number 317. “Our most famous, um, patient, John Schrank.”

  Inside the cell was a single bunk, a metal toilet, and a sink. Sitting on the floor cowering in the back of the cell in a corner was Theodore Roosevelt’s would-be assassin. A skeleton of the man he once was, his haunted eyes watched warily as the men spoke outside of his cell.

  “Gone are the days of bloodletting and purgatives to stem the ravages of schizophrenia. We know that the brain is the site of madness, and the overactivity of its ravages creates excessive heat. But directing cold streams of water to specific locations of the body, for specified periods of time, has a noticeable effect on the patient.”

  The two gentlemen of the press wore derbies popular in 1912 and scribbled frantically in their notebooks to keep up.

  “Add to that the new battery of pharmaceuticals that will cure everything from lingering malaise to dementia. Haloperidol, Fluphenazine, and Chlorpromazine all seem to have some positive calming effects, of course once the individual patients’ dosages are determined.”

  “How long would that take doctor?”

  “Well of course that is going to depend on the patient themselves. While experiments with the first two drugs had some rather…undesirable side effects, Mr. Schrank had remarkable results with Chlorpromazine, and has taken it now,” the doctor smiled a toothy grin of stained teeth, raising his bushy eyebrows, “for years. Many years. Of course, there are Insulin coma treatments, Metrazol shock, and the newest electro-convulsive therapy. For some patients a more…mixed approach is necessary to yield results.”

  “What exactly doctor, is that desired result?”

  Now the man took on a sterner tone. “Gentlemen. There is…no…cure…for mental illness! We have two missions for these depraved souls. The first is to protect society from them. The second is to protect them from themselves. Other than that,” the resident expert on mental health cast a parting glance at the wretched figure hiding in the shadows, “We can only hope for a little quiet in their minds.”


May 10, 2023 18:41

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Graham Kinross
22:58 May 23, 2023

I’m still disgusted by the idea that electro shock therapy was ever considered a good thing, as someone with epilepsy I know the damage seizures can do. The idea that it’s a better alternative to their problems is a cynical and psychotic point of view.


Timothy Rennels
01:59 May 24, 2023

We have so much to learn about the human brain. There's been too little progress and too much shame on the sufferers. Thanks for the follow Graham!


Graham Kinross
02:41 May 24, 2023

You’re welcome. Yes, I think if humanity put as much effort into healthcare and wellbeing as we do with war we might be immortal and in balance with nature by now. Not that I’m immune from the fascination of violence when I write about it. Humanity is full of contradictions.


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Marty B
05:19 May 14, 2023

Great description of the anguish of he 'voice' inside this man's head, along with the connection to a famous- almost assassination. I knew TDR spoke after getting shot, I didn't know they never got the bullet out!


Timothy Rennels
03:49 May 15, 2023

He was fortunate that the speech was so long, and folded in half! Thanks so much for reading my story.


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Mary Bendickson
02:48 May 11, 2023

Yikes! Have we made any progress at all on this???


Timothy Rennels
18:09 May 11, 2023

Freud's ""talk" therapy brought many sufferers out of the shadows, but I can personally attest that they were still administering electro-schock therapy in 1972. So much more needs to be done to address mental health. Thanks for reading!


Timothy Rennels
18:10 May 11, 2023



Mary Bendickson
18:15 May 11, 2023

'Shock' I believe.


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