Drama Historical Fiction Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.


Feels like my brains are on fire.  Smell smoke.  

Flames everywhere, not a drop to drink.  The mattress is not soft.  There is no soft place to land.  This is a journey inside my broken mind. Strap yourself in good, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. 

Like Alice down the rabbit hole.  The Mad Hatter is waiting for his tea. 

Nurse Carlin puts the rubber in my mouth.  So I won’t bite my tongue off. Words swirl.  Phrases sound like alarms.  Soon there will be nothingness.  A void.  Black hole that sucks everything in, including the light.  Close my eyes.  Can’t stomach the take off coming soon. 

Whirling. Stand back.  Ready for launch. Here comes the wave.  Lost.  Waves wash and lick the shore. 

Disjointed thoughts flutter like ghosts. The smell of camphor. Metallic. 

Liselol and disinfectant. Clean, germ-free.  Sterile.  Sterile like they made me.  Operation to safeguard society.  A cut here.  A cut there.  And just like that I was neutralized, so I would not pass on my stain, my forbidden illness.

Different.  Buddy, you are different.  Dad left.  My defect was too much for him.  Blamed mom.  Her fault. Her fault that I am the way I am.

Music.  Classical.  Bach.  Beethoven perhaps.  A steady buzz above the ringing in my ears.  Soothing.  That's what Dr. Waldthorp wants.  Soothing the savage beast.  Savage beast.  I am that beast.

Bit the nurse's aide.  When she put the medication on my tongue.  Screaming in pain.  Blood in my mouth.  Panic.  Disorder.  Shot in my ass.  Lights were swirling.  White coat eased me to the gurney. 

"It'll be alright, Mr. Albright. It'll be alright."

It's never alright.

This room where they solve for X.  Solve for the variable.  In the equation with the radical. I am the radical.

Dr. Waldthorp must solve for X.

There is a puzzle.

My file is thick.  

On the table over there.

My radical file.

It says I loved my mother.  Hated my father.  Tried to kill my baby brother.  Accident as most things are.  Left to my own devices when mom slipped away.  Just for a minute.  A break.  A break from me.

Jason was in his crib.

"What are you doing, Buddy?"

A scream.  Sirens.  Rushing Jason to the emergency room.  Sew up the gash. I put it there.  Didn't mean to. I was solving for X.  Why won't anyone believe me? 

"Buddy, how are you today?" 

"Fine, Dr. Waldthorp."

But I'm not.

Mom told me lying is a sin.

Sin is bad.  I'm bad.

Colors are swirling now.  Colors swirl just before I land.  Clouds.  I see clouds.  My body is in my room.  But I am floating.  Floating free.  I like my voyages after the electroshock.

"Please buckle your seatbelts.  Return all trays..."  

"Why, Buddy, why?"

I have no answers.

"I cannot take this anymore!"

The last words before dad left for good.

Depression.  Clinical depression.

Handful of Xanax.


No, mom, no.

"Son, let us get her in the ambulance."

More colors.

Distant voices.  Disembodied voices.  One angelic voice calling my name.

"Buddy, are you okay?" 

I'm fine.  Leave me alone.  Swirling colors.  Is something burning.  Smelling smoke.  Hand contacts my shoulder.  Gentle touch just before landing.  My seatbelt is fastened.  I'm ready.

Swirling stops. Nurse Carlin smiles down at me.

I have landed.

Cold compress on my forehead.  Just like every time before.  And apple juice.  Tastes good.  Sipping through A straw.  Nurse Carlin holds the cup.

They tried saving my mom.  Too late.  Aunt Velma, her older sister, took Jason.  No one took me.  But I'll be here for A while.  

Howdy Doody on television.  He's funny.  I don't laugh.  Laughing brings the white coats.  And the nurses with medication.

They have rules.  Some rules are not posted.  You have to know them, too.

You can't tell the staff that they smell like cigarettes.  Or anything else unpleasant.


No more opening windows and standing on the ledge.


I did not know.

The alarm sounded and four white coats grabbed me.

I wasn't hurting anybody.  Not like before.

If they left me alone, I would not have had to go to the shock room, again.

It was the view.  I can see the playground where Mr. Wright takes us for recess.  He wears A whistle around his neck.  Monkey in the middle.  Why am I always the monkey?  He just smiles.  He blows the whistle when time is up or there is lightning.

Aunt Velma is here.

"So, you like to go on the ledge?" She smells like Kool cigarettes and her voice is raspy when she talks. "Keep it up kid and you'll end up like Kenny."

Kenny was her and mom's brother.  His brain was broken.  So they took out the broken part.  Hemorrhage.  He died.  He was my age when it happened. Never met him.  Mom took me to his grave at the cemetery where she's now buried.  She put flowers on his headstone.  

Kenny James Brannigan (1945-1958).

My brains are not broken.  Aunt Velma disagrees.  Hope she is wrong.  I don't want to be like Kenny..  

Bad thoughts.  I have them.  More than I should.

I could take lighter fluid she has in her purse and squirt her when she lights another cigarette.

I smell something burning.

Bad thoughts.

Buddy, you got to quit having bad thoughts.

Sitting in group.  Seven of us are present from Ward 10.  Three are half asleep.  Medications.  It’s medication time. 

Clinician Monroe with bags under his sleepy blue eyes. 

Part of the treatment plan. Rules.  Schedules.  Compliance.  Routine.  All enemies of the sick mind.  The broken brains. 

When you float through time.  Cut free from responsibility.  Chances are someone will shoot you down.  You are the radical.  We have been taught that radicals are not allowed.  You can’t allow radicals to exist.  You have to solve for X.  What if there is no solution?  What if the guy sitting next to me can’t be fixed?  What if I can’t be fixed?

“Does anyone have something for the group?” He asks.

I raise my hand. 



He looks at me.  Weird expression, “Tell me what happened?” 

Flight. My perspective.

“I heard you wanted to jump.” He says as if he is the pundit.


Fly!  I wanted to fly.

“Gravity will kill you.” He smirks.

“Only if you allow it.” 

“There is no choice.” He folds his arm across his chest. 

Tell me, Chuck, what if I’m right? 

One of the members wakes up and laughs. 

“Please call me Mr. Monroe, not Chuck.” He shakes his head.

Only friends are allowed to call you Chuck, right Chuck? 

Treatment plan.  Routine.  Medication.  Radical.  X. Formula. Solution.  

You never know what someone will perceive looking out the window of this institution.

Starry Night? Swirling colors? Flowing together into distortion? 

Thin is the line between genius and madness I’ve been told. 

What is madness?  

What is the definition of lunatic? 

Is my picture there next to the dictionary entry? 

That thick book that sits on your desk, Chuck?

Have you ever opened that daunting tome? 

Or do you keep it there to impress patients and staff?  Backs up your words…your diagnosis…your labeling…so no one will question your authority…your knowledge…your summary judgment…as they do mine? 

“Buddy, Mr. Monroe reported that you…” He puts his finger on the note in my file. “Belligerent and argumentative.” 

Good old Dr. Waldthorp. Always trying to solve for X.  He wears that unsolvable expression.  I’ve seen him wear it a million times. 

Question authority.  I am no neophyte.  I have been baptized in the waters of wellness.  Eaten from the Tree of Good and Evil until the fruit juices flowed down my chin. Do not bedazzle me with therapeutic words that mean absolutely nothing.  Contain no value in definition or connotation.  I am a resident on the dark side of the moon.

“Shall we take another trip to the shock room?” He suggests.  Cutting through the therapeutic crap, “Or something more permanent perhaps?”

Lobotomy? Frontal cortex?  Remove my internal controls so I will no longer be a danger to self and others? 

I stare at the small papers in the carpeting.  Someone really needs to vacuum.  Books on the shelves are shoved into the open spaces with no regard to any semblance of order. 

Chaos.  The world rests in utter chaos. 

“What should we do, Buddy?” He rests his chin in his hands. 

You already know the answer. You have removed my parts of procreation.  What’s next?  Diagnosed as a threat of rape? If I can’t think, I can’t question authority.  I can’t cause a disruption in this sterile environment.  Gentle as a lamb.

“Buddy, be careful.” Gene warns me as we eat lunch in the cafeteria, “They do a shoddy job on the operation like they did Max and you become a vegetable.” 

Carrots or broccoli?

“Funny guy.” He smiles revealing gaps and missing teeth from the dentist in the infirmary.  “I’m just saying on account of what happened to Max.”

When you poke around in someone's skull, bad things will happen.  

“You ain’t kidding.” He laughs as he runs a spoon through his soup. “I know that you will have to stay here until you die.” 

There are plenty of ghosts who drift through the halls. I know some of them by name.

“As do I.” He showed me his toothless smile again, adding, “I don’t want to mess anything up.  Dr. Waldthorp is making arrangements for my discharge.  I’m going to a residential treatment home.  It’s a very nice place.  They took me there last week.” 

Sounds wonderful.

“I did my time in the Pacific against the Japs.” He stirs his cold coffee, “Got my head scrambled by a shell.  Told me it was shell shock.  All I know is that I wasn't the same when I come home.” Gene Mullberry was a head case from the war and would wear his tattered marine uniform around the ward.  Most left him be.  Patients knew he was crazy, yelling, “Banzai!” in the middle of the night.

He was harmless for the most part.  Just another head case from the war.  He was like the rest of the patients on the ward. Even if you do your part, they take the best parts of you when it’s all said and done. 

Human nature is funny.  In an effort to protect the vital parts, we are capable of great things and not so great things.  Depends. Depends on the circumstances.  Depends on the deep seeded morals we keep close to our heart. 

Some of the patients think they are hearing Jesus mixed in with the voices in their head. 

I ain’t never heard Him.  He doesn’t speak to me much. 

Bradley wears a cross on his chest.  Speaks verses from the Bible he carries around with him.  He says Jesus is preparing him for something special.  His medications keep him calm.  So I’m told.  He waves to Gene and Gene waves back. 

“Bradley used to be married.” Gene sips his coffee, “Lost it all.  Killed his wife and kids because Jesus told him to do so.” 

I shake my head.  This place can be very depressing. 

Janitor Reggie is cleaning some excrement off the tiled walls near the cafeteria entrance. It’s just lunch and already he has cleaned up about a dozen hit zones. 

At one o’clock we have movie time in the Rec Room.  Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.  It’s pretty boring, but mundane and keeps everyone calm and compliant until it’s medication time. 

Nurse Carlin is clocking in on her shift at the nurse’s station.  

Roger Rooster begins to crow, flapping his arms around like his name sake. According to the staff, he has an identity displacement.  Whatever that is.  All I know is he thinks he’s a rooster and so he acts like one. 

“Good afternoon, Buddy.” Nurse Carlin greets me with a smile. 

I nod. 

“Dr. Waldthorp has a new medication he wants you to take.” She looks at my chart.  There is a note paper clipped to it.

I shake my head.  

“He insists, Buddy.” She nods. 

Don’t want to.

“Have to.” 

I see the pill.  It’s one of those sleeping medicines. 

“Here you go.” She puts the pill on the counter. 

If I refuse…

It will be a violation. 

A violation will be put in my chart.

After so many, it will be impossible for me to leave this awful place.

This prison. 

Where I depend on them to provide me with daily subsistence.

I depend on them for just about everything

When you get right down to it. 

Nurse Carlin is just solving for X.  Afterall. 

There will be no radicals on the ward.

By order of Dr. Walthrop.


The Goon Patrol will be called.

Wearing white coats.

And brandishing clubs when they come.  

One will have a fire hose. 

They don’t mess around

That goon squad. 

It’s all business.  

With no other option

I put the large pill under my tongue.

I’ll spit it out like all the others,

In that potted plant next to the water fountain. 

That plant has absorbed every one of my medications. 

“Hey Buddy.” Dr. Walthrop greets me walking out of the elevator.  

The elevator patients are not allowed to ride in.

I have pushed all the buttons sometimes when no one is looking.

It’s a game. 

But Dr. Waldthorp’s sudden appearance 

Has startled me.  

So much so, I swallow the pill. 

There will be no spitting this one out into the plants. 

This time. 

Someone is playing their transistor radio loud.

It’s Elvis singing about his jailhouse blues.  

Next they play a Beatles song.

I don’t really care for long haired boys from England.

Hell, Elvis is bad enough, 

Singing his Negro-Hillbilly songs

Why play those songs?

Sounds like a cat yowling  

Colors appear.

Swirling around.

Nurse Carlin guides me to my room.

Guides me to my bed. 

Dr. Waldthrop looks pleased that I am in my bed.

“You won’t feel a thing, Buddy.” He assures me, “And when it’s over, you will feel a whole bunch better, I guarantee you.” 

Not sure what he means.

Deeper I go

Into the darkness.


Taking out the central controls.

Solving for X.

Swirling colors fade to black. 


Voices of staff.

Voices of friends.

Voices of patients.

I feel hands on my head.

Someone draws something across my forehead. 



Deeper still. 


I am no longer in this world.

There is something burning.

I smell smoke.

I hear the electric saw.

I’ve heard it before.

Deeper and deeper still. 

Jesus is that you?

Why are they doing this to me? 

My sixth grade math teacher, Mr. Davis

Told me how to solve for X.

He was a good teacher, because I never forgot. 

Move the numbers around until you isolate X.

Combine like terms until X = that unknown number.

Simple.  Easy-peesy. 

There is nothing magic to it.

Just simple execution. 

I smell smoke. 


I hear voices.

I will hide where they can’t see me.

I was always good at hide ‘n’ seek.

I will stay quiet so they won’t find me.  

I won’t let them find me.


I’ll be invisible. 

You can’t see me…

February 18, 2023 18:36

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Jane Andrews
06:09 Mar 04, 2023

A well executed take on the prompt. I loved the constant swirling of thoughts interspersed with present action. This whole story takes on an unsettling and unreal atmosphere which is perfect for the subject matter. Well done!


20:12 Mar 04, 2023

Thank you Jane.


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Nona Yobis
21:58 Mar 01, 2023

Simply beautiful. Love the execution, and 1,000% love adhering to the time period, which, in mental health, really was this awful and ugly. You've either done research, or have background knowledge, and I can tell in how well you put together your story.


20:13 Mar 04, 2023

Thank you, Nona


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Delbert Griffith
13:28 Feb 25, 2023

Loved it! Especially the 'solving for X' part. No radicals allowed. Nicely done, George.


15:45 Feb 25, 2023

Thank you, Delbert


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