Universe W-2020: Apex MERCs 5
June 2nd, 2017
Bryan And Sadie
A sleek black crow glides through the balmy spring air above a small suburban town called Buffalo Lake. Situated in a dried lakebed in a valley between two of South Dakota’s many rolling hills, the crater is capped by dark gray clouds floating in from the East. The village is due to get slammed by a rainstorm in a few days and the crow can feel it in its feathers. As it continues its evacuation, a man walking along a sidewalk below stops and watches the bird disappear over the skyline.
Our man, carrying the name Bryan, resumes his stroll. Wearing a greasy pair of flannel-lined overalls one would find in a garage next to a stained white rag, Bryan darts between the shadows of the trees planted along the road, seeking a break from the heat. Sure, he’s not wearing the best walking attire, but this walk was something of a spontaneous idea. A little bit of sweat won’t hurt him anyway, what’s there to complain about?
Having his wits scared out of him, that’s what; a few moments after the crow disappears, a blue SUV roars past Bryan, tearing him from the thought hole he almost got stuck in. The driver of this SUV happened to be a very beautiful blonde woman, and Bryan gives her a wave and a friendly smile, even though she startled him. Get this – the woman even returns the gesture, astounding! A meadow of butterflies opens a wormhole into Bryan’s stomach cavity as easily as the words, ‘Luckiest man alive,’ pop into his head. Who would’ve thought such an encounter could arise from a purposeless stroll?
Lo, but this stroll must have a purpose, as all spontaneous ideas usually don’t; Bryan has to get home somehow.
We’re not talking just any home here, either; we’re talking the home that Bryan was just welcomed back into, a home made by his beautiful wife Sadie. They had stopped communicating altogether a few weeks ago, months even; the lapse was especially hard on poor, bewildered Bryan, but he managed to pull through. He chuckles to himself as he heads up the tar black asphalt; at this point, Bryan can’t even remember what they were fighting over in the first place!
The house has a lovely set of rustic brick steps leading up to the front entryway. Unlike the other houses on their street, all garden variety in the front door department, Sadie and Bryan’s primary entrance showcases a deep carmine hue. In Sadie’s mind, the color is unique and symbolic of her passion in life; in Bryan’s mind, it’s a dazzling smile on Sadie’s face. Their abode is fairly mediocre in size, the first floor broken into a wonderful little living room, a checkerboard tiled kitchen, a small office, a quaint bathroom, and a laundry room that both connects the house to a disproportionately large three-car garage and also stairs the first floor to the second. Upstairs we have the guest bedroom and the master bedroom, the master with a private branch bathroom.
You know, just in case you don’t know what’s on the inside of a fuckin’ house.
The front door quietly opens when Bryan inserts the key that he found hidden under the doormat – good ol’ Sadie, she’d always left the key there for him. Our boy is graced by the magnificent smell of home as he removes his shoes after pocketing the key, as to make sure he doesn’t lose it again. When he got home earlier, he found the door locked and he couldn’t open it no matter how hard he shook, how forcefully he rammed the door with his shoulder, how loud he screamed expletives and Wiccan curses into the air; he wasn’t aware that Sadie changed the locks after he left last time, it’s not a big deal though. She told him time and time again in their love letters that she had hidden a new key for him under the doormat, it’s his own fault for forgetting. Nothing a quick walk couldn’t solve.
Luckily for Bryan, Sadie wasn’t home at the time to witness his silliness. Her job is very involved, so she tells him, and some weeks she only gets to stop home for fifteen minutes every few days. She could never tell him the exact nature of her employment either, or why she would spend so much time away from home. Away from Bryan. He thought she worked for the government or something, maybe at that lab in Nevada lab where her cousin used to work, but the details don’t really matter. As long as she came home to him at the end of her shifts, Bryan was always happy.
As he’s sealing himself inside, Bryan notices a mailman walking up the sidewalk. He decides to stay outside a few moments longer and chat with the public servant. The mailman evidently feels chatty as well, evidenced by the small smile and the outstretched hand.
“H-hi there s-s-sir. M-my name’s D-Darryl, I uh, I’m the mmm-mailman. I just st-start-started a week ah-go, I hav-ha-haven’t met you yy-y-yet.”
Bryan takes Darryl’s stuttering, and the various sweat stains marking up the pits of his otherwise pale blue attire, to mean that Darryl is something of a nervous nelly. Not wanting to poke any bulls in disguise as nellies, he decides to keep this observation to himself.
“Hi there Darryl, my name’s Bryan. I hope you’re enjoying your new job.”
“I am enj-enjoying it, thh-thank you, Buh-Bryan!” Darryl tries to say as his smile expands like a universe, the warmth in the grin spreading to Bryan’s heart. “S-so how d-d-do you em, h-how d-do you know Mih-Mih-Miss Ssss-Sadie?”
Bryan chuckles rampantly at the pure irony of this question, and when he notices that his random outburst of laughing is seeming to make Darryl uncomfortable, he answers, “That Miss is actually a Missus. Sadie is my wife,” emphasis on the italics.
Darryl looks as if he doesn’t know how to answer, making him come off even more preyishly. “Y-yes, of c-c-course you ah-are. I j-j-just have to ahh-ah-ask, who was that, that, that guy I s-sss-saw here last week?”
Upon witnessing Bryan’s facial expression go blank at the same time as his jaw drops, Darryl creeps into an entirely new level of edginess, a level that he’s only ever had nightmares about.
“Ex-cuse me?” is all Bryan can manage to get out, what with his brain still spinning over the implications of Darryl’s question.
The friendly, innocent, bystanding mailman tries to offer some words of encouragement but Bryan had stopped giving energy to the act of acknowledging Darryl’s presence. After a few more failed attempts at bringing Bryan back to reality, Darryl opts to duck away in a half-sprint and continue along his route.
Bryan doesn’t notice that his new friend has left for another five minutes, which is right about the time the raging monsoon within his skull calms down to more drazzly levels of precipitation. He turns around, closes the door, and leans his back against the cool wooden surface, sliding towards the center of the Earth until he’s sitting on the floor. Is this really happening? So soon after he returns to his promised land, is there already poison in the well? Was she cheating on him the whole time, and that’s why they really started fighting?
Was Bryan invited back not to repair the weakened ropes, but to burn the dilapidated bridge that was his and Sadie’s relationship?
A few minutes of heavy contemplation produces a resounding, “Naaaahhhhh.” Not Sadie. They’ve known each other for too long, been through too much. Their bond is simply unbreakable; all that aside, she would never cheat, her moral code is too flawless. Maybe a different girl in a similar situation, but not Sadie.
Bryan stands and composes himself, allowing the sweet aroma of honey and incense to waft into his nose and rejuvenate him with a familiar sense of peace. The aromatic home opens up to a small foyer with the living room off to the left and a hallway leading to the office and laundry room to the right. As he steps into the living room, the ochre carpet nearly swallows up him up to his mid-calves. He remembers this sensation well, and fondly at that; many nights were spent sitting on this carpet with Sadie, cuddled into a ball in front of the fireplace, bodies blanketed with a fuzzy one whilst tubs of ice cream were emptied and burned with the logs. He sits down on one of the plushy satin couches and takes in his surroundings, the wooden cave identical to what he remembers: the old sofas and loveseats, pillows fluffed and cushions primed for sitting; the brick fireplace with a tiled shelf, the fireplace’s tiles of course matching with the checkerboard in the kitchen; the coffee table between the two couches, a bamboo frame holding an opaque resin tabletop; the six pictures hung up on the wall in the shape of a triangle, Sadie’s picture pyramid; and of course, the sixty-nine inch high-definition television, housed by a custom made mahogany television cabinet.
While in the midst of an ever-increasing wave of joy, something wraps itself ‘round the ankle of our friend Bryan and stings him with its tentacles: an unfamiliar face stands out in one of the photographs hanging pyramidly upon the wall. ‘Who in the what is that?!’ Bryan thinks as he suddenly finds himself standing against the wall, his face mere centimeters away from the bottom left picture. (You see, as Sadie often told and retold Bryan, she had her picture pyramid organized by relationship significance: three pictures showcasing her friends on the bottom tier, two pictures each including a side of her and Bryan’s family makes up the second tier, and the wedding photo serves as the top tier.) Right there, standing in the background of Bryan and Sadie and all their friends at a pool party, is a very strange man that Bryan’s sure he’s never seen before.
The man’s quite tall, easily six feet in height, and he has no hair. In fact, man’s dome is so shiny that the sun doesn’t even reflect off it in the picture, which is even more unsettling to our bristled Bryan. The mystery figure isn’t even dressed in pool part attire either; dude is wearing a gray tee with dark stains all over it underneath a pair of bright yellow latex overalls dotted with more unsightly oil stains and smudges that one would find in a mechanic’s third garage that he rents to store the junkers in so his wife doesn’t find out and maim him. To top off the outfit, mystery man wears an old pair of boots, the age evident from the fact that his big toe seems to be poking out of the front. Then there’s the crowning jewel: plastered on this foe’s face from his maw to his brow is an utterly deadpan and emotionless expression that clashes exceptionally well with his lifeless eyes, said eyes pointed directly into the camera.
And Bryan’s soul.
‘This man was obviously Pictureshopped into the photo,’ Bryan thinks to himself, trying to regain stability via logic. ‘Neither I nor Sadie knows anybody who would ever wear that to a pool party.’
That helps a bit, but Bryan’s still lacking even a remote idea of who this guy, this Mister Deadpan character, even is. To further his investigation, Bryan decides to search through the other two bottom-tier photographs. To his immediate regret he finds Mister Deadpan again, except this time it’s just his face peeking out from behind a group of posers. That is, humans all locked in a pose, not wannabees.
This photo captures the memory of the day that all of Sadie and Bryan’s friends decided to go for a group hike, the photo taken at the top of some local mountain that nobody learned the name of. This is actually one of Bryan’s favorite memories too, a shame that the deadpan-ass face is eerie enough to sway Bryan into steering his gaze to the third photo.
To his utter disbelief, Mister Deadpan intruded into this memory too, a wonderful group shot of Bryan and Sadie kayaking with a few other couples they hang out with. Mister Deadpan had apparently decided to go for a swim that day, because, just like in the second picture, only his head is sticking up. This time though, it’s coming out of the water.
The water right below the airspace between Bryan and Sadie.
‘This is NOT good,’ Bryan thinks to himself with a slight panic that’s quickly losing its slightitude. Sadie originally suspended her pyramid before the fight that Bryan can’t remember, and he didn’t notice anything odd about the photos back then, but now, he can’t stop noticing the oddness. This unfamiliar face, the haunting, empty, cannibalistic eyes, the druplet of spittle dribbling from the lower lip, it’s all clearly present in all three of the friend-tier pictures. It makes no sense, this rando couldn’t have been there to say cheese when the pictures were originally taken. Bryan knows this for a fact – his memory isn’t perfect, but Bryan would definitely remember another human being who looks like that.
After he accepts the fact that his past, the only part of Bryan’s life that he can remember, has been invaded by a creep, our photo-gazing friend is not exactly at ease. He takes a very detailed look at both family pictures which, to his relieved amazement, don’t contain the Deadpan. The momentary relief is nice, yet the quandary still floats heavy in the air like a thick fog: who is this man who appears with such paucity? More importantly, who Pictureshopped him into the photos? And even more importantly, why?
The answer to any of these three noetic queries evades our young hero, so he decides to conjure his own, the words coming out of his mouth almost immediately as they’re summoned into his brain: “Oh my fucking… of course, of course! Sadie’s pranking me!”
How he loves that mischievous and spontaneous nature, how he craves its presence in his life, how he’s promised himself that he wouldn’t lose it again.
In a desperate attempt to stop staring at his pseudo-boogieman, Bryan hightails it into the kitchen to eat his way into short-term amnesia. He almost slips and falls when his socks hit the glossy tiles, but he saves himself at the last minute by hooking the handle of the refrigerator. Alas, once adequately composed, Bryan finds himself unable to open the refrigerator’s door! This is because, stuck to the door, is the largest sticky note Bryan’s ever seen, upon which a note was written by the hand of none other than his beloved. It reads:
It’s looking like another busy week, and I likely won’t be home until mid-afternoon on Friday. This saddens me… along with the thought of you in our bed alone. Sleep in the boat until I get back (;
When Bryan opens his eyes, he’s lain on the floor of the kitchen with a sore lump protruding from the back of his skull. He shakily stands up to his feet, then immediately falls back down onto a nearby chair. After watching all the stars and miniature Sadie heads a’spin around his cranium for a few precious moments, Bryan gathers himself and proceeds over to the freezer. From there he pulls out a bag of frozen peas and eases his conjoined golf ball out of Existence. This takes longer than Bryan had expected it to, and he winds up spending the majority of the evening sat in that chair, frozen produce pressed against the back of his head and a mountain devolving back into a molehill.
Once he can hear himself think again, Bryan proceeds to do just that. His train of thought stops at the following stations in the order presented below:
- ‘Why does my head hurt?’ where it picks up ‘Oh yeah, I passed out and hit it.’
- ‘Why’d I pass out?’ where it picks up ‘Oh yeah, I read the note that Sadie left on the fridge.’
- ‘Why did that note make me pass out?’ where it picks up ‘Oh yeah, it was addressed to someone who shares her bed with her that she addresses as B in writing.’
- ‘Who sleeps in Sadie’s bed that she addresses as B in her writings?’ where it drops everyone off and picks up ‘Oh yeah, not me. Because I’m By on account of the y in my name.’
A few seconds after the train returns to the station, the realization hits Bryan. His key not immediately working, the mailman telling him about another man being around the house, and now this note… Bryan can no longer allow himself to play the fool in Sadie’s game. He just can’t ignore it any longer.
Sadie is cheating on him.
He drops his ice pack and it hits the floor, sending semi-thawed peas flowing all over the checkerboard as tears do the same down Bryan’s face. Screeches and wails of sadness, agony, and a broken heart echo throughout the empty house for hours after, at least until Bryan gathers up his shattered life and walks into the garage to sleep in the boat. He’s half-hoping to find this B character there, but alas, the vessel is empty. Just like the heart of poor, broken Bryan. He lifts the cover, climbs into the boat, and lays himself to rest in an attempt, albeit a feeble one, to prolong the apparent fantasy that he once thought was his life.
A Poke To The Ribcage
The next day, a poke to the ribcage followed by a light giggle wakes Bryan from his slumber. At first he was extremely confused because he thought he would be home alone all week, and it definitely can’t be Friday yet… can it? Nah, no way. It’s not Friday, as far as Bryan decides; he’s not even sure what day of the week it is, to be honest. When one wakes up in a boat, one tends to be fairly confused about a lot of things.
Bryan elects to simply lay there, air frying himself in the pocket of body heat between the boat cover and the boat itself, allowing his systems to calibrate and his memories to slowly flow back into his awareness. When he hears the garage door closing a few minutes later, everything comes back to him at once and he realizes that, ‘Sadie had just woken me up thinking that I was B!’
Bryan moves fast, launching himself out of the boat to confront the woman who used to be his about the feelings he still very much has. Unfortunately, the man’s bootup sequence lagged him back; the garage is stark empty when he lands. Bryan’s knees tremble; no blue SUV, no gorgeous soon to be ex-wife, no nothing. Just Bryan and his shame.
And his disappointment.
And the cold concrete floor.
Bryan sulks his way inside the house that he’s not planning on staying in after Sadie comes home. He slowly strolls through the living room, his mind set on leaving immediately and never coming back. Before he leaves though, he decides to take one last look at the photos on the wall, for old time’s sake. One last happy moment before the end of life as he knows it officially begins is the way he justifies it on the walk over, but in truth he just wants to see Sadie’s face. Seeing as much as a picture of her would normally make him feel better when he feels down, so why not?
The original plan was to stare at the wedding picture for an extended period of time before leaving, but, like always, something stopped him. Something that wasn’t there before. Something with a uniquely deadpan facial expression present in both of the family pictures. In fact, Bryan hadn’t noticed earlier, but it’s quite obvious now – Mister Deadpan seems to be gravitating closer and closer towards the space between Sadie and Bryan with each picture he appears in. In the first photo he was just in the background, off to the side and hard to notice, but in the fifth photo? He’s lurking right behind Sadie. If Bryan’s emotional state wasn’t already a unique mixture of livid and desperate, it certainly is now. It’s quite clear to the man that Sadie was indeed pranking him, but not because she’s happy that he’s finally back in her life. No, this is malevolent; she clearly wants him out.
Overdosing on shame and desperately in need of a detox, Byron does the most reasonable thing he can think of and proceeds into the laundry room in search of a special drink. He dedicates a lot of energy to searching through the cupboards but is left disappointed and bleachless so, he sulks back out to the living room.
On his way there, Bryan notices that somebody left the computer screen on in the office. And the lights.
‘Impending divorce aside,’ he thinks to himself, ‘electricity doesn’t pay for itself.’ He exits out of Pictureshop before shutting the computer off, then he makes sure to push the swivel chair back under the desk and turn off the lights, like a proper gentleman.
Bryan walk of shames to the living room and sits down cross-legged in the middle of the floor, immediately losing himself in thought. ‘Sadie will be back tomorrow, she must have just poked in today. You don’t have a lot of time, so you better think fast, ol’ boy. When she gets home, she’s probably going to have that Bee guy with her, I can burst into their room and scare the crap out of them before I leave forever. Catch them in the act… yeah, that would be perfect! I’d never be able to forget the sight, but they’d never be able to finish, either. What are they going to do, this is my house, after all! I’ll even sleep out in the woods tonight so if Bee gets home early he won’t see me. This is perfect… in the end, I guess it’s a good thing that I saw the note she left… oh, what’s that?’
Bryan promptly stands and performs a series of adept acrobatic vaulting maneuvers, landing him right in front of the refrigerator to check for a new note. Just like he imagined, there it is: a handwritten zazzy from Sadie scribed on a huge sticky note. It reads:
I got to stop in real quick and saw that you actually slept in the boat! You’re crazy baby, this is why I married you. I’ll be home at 6 tomorrow… can’t wait to see you (;
Ten minutes later, when Bryan’s done pacing the note out of his mind, he goes into the garage and digs out a tent. He’s had his fill of torment at this point; there’s nothing left to be lost.
The Durham Residence
“He gathered up all of his equipment and went out into the woods in the nearby park where he set up the tent and a little campfire. He slept there all night and loitered in the park until five thirty pee-em the next day. He found his way back to the Durham residence at around seven forty-five. Let’s pick up there.”
Bashful Ol’ Bryan
The fallen leaves from the latest winter passed crinkle and crunch under Bryan’s feet as he creeps up to the garage’s back door. The doesn’t seem to be any lights on, looking in from outside the house at least, and Bryan has to force himself to not consider the possibility that they’re not home. He’s not sure of what he’s about to see, nor of what he’s about to do, but he knows there’s going to be two humans in that house that won’t be expecting bashful ol’ Bryan to come barging into their bedroom. He’s a bottle full of rage topped with a froth of desperation; a man scorned by a woman can be very unpredictable. Bryan knows this well, yet there he is inside Sadie’s garage, pressing his hand against the cold hood of the SUV with enough force to leave a dent. There’s another car parked in the garage between Sadie’s whip and the boat, a new-looking Nahson something or other, dark gray. Bryan assumes it’s the B-mobile and pelts the windshield with an especially mucous-rich glob of saliva before quietly entering the house and breathing the door shut behind him.
Bryan tiptoes through the living room, the carpet embracing his feet and smothering any sound waves that even begin to think about resounding. He tries to fight darkest temptation when he walks past the picture pyramid but fails; even in these shadowy, lowest of light conditions he’s drawn to the damned wedding photo. Sadie’s golden locks look so beautiful in the frame, matching with the gilding in her dress, and her eyes! Simply marvelous. Bryan doesn’t look half bad either, his short brown hair done up with a fade and spiked with gel, his smile that could sell a trampoline to a vinnegarbrained fish. And of course, who could forget the lifeless eyes and face, so desolate of any and all emotion, of Mister Deadpan, standing directly between Sadie and Bryan?
This discrepancy, evidently, is the final straw for poor, abused Bryan. The camel’s back has been broken; he rips the picture off the wall and marches up the stairs, leaving the dust-coated nail to lay spike-up in the carpet. That’ll haunt somebody in a few days, yikes!
When Bryan’s boot hits the top step, he hears the faint noise of a television and prepares himself for the worst. He slowly steps up to the plate, so to speak, striding over the dirty dishware that Sadie didn’t feel like bringing down into the kitchen after her and B were finished pigging out following their porking sessions. Gripping the photo that tore his heart to shreds with one hand, he grasps the door handle with the other and feels tremors echo through his nerves. As far as Bryan can remember, he’s never been in a position like this, being done in by such a dastardly duo; they probably know that he’s here, they’re probably yuckin’ it up right now! That’s why they have the TV on anyway, because they’re making fun of Bryan, or maybe because they want a background track to drown out (highlight?) the moans, groans, squishes, and slapclaps from all the pank they’re hankying. Yes, it’s obviously that second one. Obviously.
The tension inside our warrior has built up to the point that the rest of his body begins to tremble with his hand. Afraid the door will start to shake and blow his cover, Bryan counts to three in his head and enters the sanctuary, yelling and screaming over any and all potential criticisms and reactions to his life choices.
“How dare you, Sadie! How dare you how dare you how dare you how dare you?! I thought what we had was special, I thought we were special! What the hell is that guy? He looks exactly like me Sadie, like what the fuck?! No, put down the phone, who are you calling?!” as Bryan draws his arm back, as if he’ll throw the framed picture at them. “I said put it fucking down! We’re talking about this right now, an– HEY! You sit down too, buddy, you’re no innocent bystander here! How could you Sadie? He has my hair, my smile, my… my scar that I have above my left cheek, an… and… oh my god, what the fuck is going ON?!”
“Then Byron, feeling a bit faint after all that shouting, stumbled a few steps backwards and tripped over his own feet, falling himself into the hallway. You and Sadie slowly approached him as he flailed around, trying to crawl backwards to the stairs whilst making the strangest freaking noises Sadie’s ever heard. What did you tell me last time dear, that he sounded like a genetically deficient narwhal? I can only struggle to imagine. Anyway, he clumsily pulled himself up and jump-walked down to the powder room to look at himself in the mirror, and that’s when he finally saw it. That’s when everything came crashing down around our poor buddy Byron. The reflection gazing back from the mirror was not the one with the cheesy brown haircut and the winning smile, not the familiar face with the little knife-fighting scar – kudos for that – not anything Byron could have possibly expected. The face staring back had a pair of dead, soulless eyes and a uniquely expressionless facial expression.
“Byron, according to the mirror and the brain in his head, had been Mister Deadpan all along.”
Sadie nods her head in agreement and Bryan just looks at the Doctor, half of his eyebrows expressing disbelief and the other half dumfounded. The Doctor, in response, coughs and adjusts his lab coat, thinks to himself, ‘Believe it or don’t, this is what I have,’ and then proceeds.
“He yelped and screamed and cried out before smashing the mirror with his hands and sprinting out of the house and down the street. He kept on running until he found another house, where he proceeded to hide for three days. Eventually my search and rescue team picked up the scent and nabbed him before anybody noticed he was squatting in their house. It’s a good thing you suburban types like to buy extra houses just to rent them out, else Byron would have been in serious trouble! He’s currently inhabiting a nice soft padded room with a straitjacket.” Then, “For no other reason than his own safety, I assure you.”
“He’s still in there now, right?” Bryan asks with one foot up on the desk. “That dude was in my house for almost a full week. He was in our house, Sadie. Doctor, how do you even have this whole convoluted story anyway? Where’d you get all that?”
“Oh come on darling, it’s kind of sweet, isn’t it? He thought he was married to me and that we were in love, it’s so cute,” as Sadie puts her hands together and leans her head on them. “The name Byron is so familiar too, I wonder why that is?”
“That,” The Doctor interjects, “is exactly what I was going to address next. A few years back when I had just started my work at this facility, we hosted something of a pen pal project for the in– er, I mean patients. I was going to say interns, don’t think into it now. Anyway, Byron was still new here at the time, so he was one of the first picked to participate.” A pause. “Also, Bryan, I interviewed Byron multiple times, and this is the story I was consistently told. Your names are very similar on paper, I’m sure he just got confused. I’m sorry if you didn’t like it.”
Bryan folds his arms and leans back in his chair, the front two legs lifting off the floor. He makes a hmph noise though his closed mouth.
“Come on baby BOOOOOYYYYY, get your head in the game.” Then, to The Doctor, “Ummmmm… I’m sorry, I just don’t think I remember anything, Doctor. Can you hypnotize me?”
“Hah! Maybe another time, there’s no need for such tomfoolery now.”
The Doctor reaches under his desk and pulls out a large brown filing box that’s overstuffed with handwritten letters, photocopies of said handwritten letters, and typewriter copies of said photocopied handwritten letters typed on the back of a second set of photocopied letters. He drops it on the table and a few pages fly out, The Doctor struggling to grab them all before they drift daintily to the floor. Sadie’s already busy digging through the records and reading the passages. Bryan, keeping his eyebrow raised as if he was preparing for a flood on his forehead, tentatively picks through a few letters. He seems rather impressed, as does Sadie.
With his left eyebrow raised in a mockery of Bryan, The Doctor asks of Sadie, “So, care to fill us in?”
Sadie smiles and her cheeks turn slightly red as she exclaims, “Totally!” whilst stuffing all the letters back into the box. “So yeah, I completely forgot his happened, but I used to do this pen pal thing and Byron was my buddy. We were pen pals! That’s where I got the picture of the deadpan guy that I would occasionally Pictureshop into the pics on your phone. Hehehe. That’s Byron. Don’t be mad babe, I just forgot.”
The smile on Sadie’s face could melt the Antarctic ice shelf.
Bryan looks to his partner with a neutral expression, as if he could see through her. The Doctor thinks he’s trying to tell if she’s lying, trying to get some semblance of a read on her, anything. Sadie seems complicated; in the pre-consultation interviews The Doctor conducted, Bryan described her as one of the most complex beings he’s ever been involved with.
“I’m just impressed honestly, that’s really awesome of you. I’d never do that shit for someone. Why’d you have to Pictureshop him into all the pictures in the pyramid though? That was a little overkill, eye-ehm-oh,” as Bryan takes out a toothpick and shamelessly uses it in front of everybody.
“What?” as Sadie cocks her head sideways, cracking her neck. “I didn’t… OH YEAH I almost forgot about that. Doctor, what’s up with my Pictureshopped picture pyramid? I didn’t put Byron into my actual photos, and I’m more than pretty sure that Bryan didn’t either.”
Before Bryan can confirm this, The Doctor says, “Ah yes! Thank you for reminding me, I actually believe Byron did that himself. He has a rare condition where he will see something and his mind will automatically put together some delusional tale regarding whatever he’s experiencing, usually with himself at centerstage. It can be anything, any ground of circumstances; his mind will randomly start connecting dots that aren’t necessarily there and as soon as some semblance of a picture comes to him, he goes with it. Combine that with blacking out and you have one of the most incredible disorders that the human brain can possibly get tangled up with… sorry, I digress. But yes, he probably Pictureshopped the photos and forgot that he did it so he could find them, you know, to keep the story in his mind going.”
The Doctor then stares at Bryan and, in an patronizing tone, “At the end of the day, we can’t really know what went through his mind, he’s probably yelling at a wall made of pillows as we speak calmly to one another in my office. All we really know is that he was in your neighborhood, as Sadie saw him walking; that he was camping, as we found the tent, that he was in your house, as you saw him, and that he was in an empty house down the street from your house, as that’s where my men found him. And that’s enough, isn’t it?”
Bryan loudly sniffs the air, saying nothing more.
“Anywho, now that all that’s out of the way, on to business,” as The Doctor opens one of his desk drawers and pulls out a few pieces of paperwork and a box of cigars. He lays the paperwork down in front of Sadie before cracking a wooden box of cigars and supplying everyone with their very own
phallic symbol big boy right-handed cigarette. Then, “I think it is time for the celebration! I’m very glad that you’re being so generous and supremely intelligent about your generosity; coming to get a background on Byron before taking him into your home was a splendid idea, especially in your specific case! Hah! Not many of our caregivers do this. Now, if you’ll just fill out these forms, I can get the processing process started and he can be sent home with you within the week.”
Bryan’s already puffing on his cigar, and Sadie is struggling to find a pen, so The Doctor assumes they have no questions. He lights and puffs his cigar a few times before swiveling his chair around so he can stare absentmindedly out his window. What a lovely view of the forest he has, Nested Mill’s Ford was definitely the right call.
A few moments later, Sadie taps The Doctor on the shoulder with an unlit half of a cigar and The Doctor turns back around to face her and her pet. He means, her and Bryan, who shares her last name.
“Yes sir!” Sadie exclaims as she hands the paperwork bundle to The Doctor. “Thank you so much! So how does this whole process work? When you said you’d take care of it I assumed I would be involved somehow along the way.”
The Doctor notices Bryan rolling his eyes. With a smile, “It’s very simple actually, it kind of works like a foster home for animals, although that comparison probably seems like a demeaning analogy. Byron will live with you in your house and we will provide a nurse that visits to help out, either on a weekly basis or as needed. Plus, if anything out of left field ever transpires, we’re only a phone call away! Remember though: Byron is another human being, so I don’t think there will be any huge problems. Just make sure he takes his medication. Eventually, when he learns how to function more like a neurotypical human being, he’ll move out into his own place and live his own life. If you guys are good housemates, he might even want to keep in touch, hah!”
“Are there any special instructions we have to follow besides making sure he takes his meds? Are there any books or articles I can read about being a caretaker for a mental patient? What kinds of music is he allowed to listen to?”
Sadie keeps rattling off question like a broken record player, feet tapping the floor almost as fast as her fingers tap the desk. She’s so excited about the whole thing; when she saw Byron freak out upon breaking into her room, she just knew something was off; if the guy was going to hurt them, he would have, and the same logic goes for stealing. He was clearly just distressed and in need of some help, like a little birdie. Why else would they fly head-first into windows, they’re just trying to get inside where it’s all warm and cozy! Going against Bryan’s minor suggestions to Call the fucking police! that night, Sadie took matters into her own hands and called her cousin Sigmund, who sent her to voicemail. When he eventually called back, he referred her to a private referring firm called reFerr in New Manhattan, and they referred her to The Doctor, the owner of a small practice in northern New Jersey. Sadie’s the type that loves to help others almost too much, she thinks she can fix everybody; that said, this Byron clearly needs a fixing, so her and her husband Bryan hopped on a plane and flew from South Dakota to New Jersey for this meeting, and now that it’s over with, one thing is for certain: living with the Durhams will be either a sublime experience, or one akin to an unpaid internship for Byron; only time will tell.
The Doctor, on the other hand, doesn’t really care about Byron as much as he probably should. He sees Sadie’s uppity-ness as an easy way to empty a bunk in the lower floor of his building, nothing more and nothing less.
“Well you seem pretty excited, Miss Sadie, so maybe I can get them to process this by the fifth. That would be…” as he checks his entirely blank calendar “…Monday. Wow, I can’t believe it’s June already. Time flies.”
“I know right? Oh my god BRYAN we need to take Byron swimming, he’s probably never gone!”
Bryan takes the last puff of his cigar before crushing it on The Doctor’s bare desk. Then, as he stands up to stretch, “Whatever you say, hun. I,” yaaawn, “got you, you know that.”
Sadie and Bryan don’t visit with Byron before they leave Doctor Torpol’s office. They have a lot of work to do, they’re going to fly home and fix up the guest bedroom immediately, and Sadie’s more than aware that she’s going to have to buy a lot more food and make up a bunch of rules, among other things. Bryan is doubtful, but by the time they walk out he has a smile on his face.
Doctor Torpol, peering out the window of his waiting room, watches the couple walk to their car and pull out of the parking lot. He smiles to himself and returns to the office to turn his computer off; it’s finally quitting time, the end of another dragging day. The Durhams were his final appointment for the day at least, and Eddie’s got a plane to catch.
Before leaving though, The Good Doctor has one last loose end to tie up.
On his way downstairs, he grabs one of the nurses assigned to Byron and instructs her to switch his medication regimen from cocktail Gamma to cocktail Theta. The nurse gives Doctor Torpol an expressionless look and does exactly as she’s told, just like she was programmed to do. With a pleasant, “Thank you, my automaton,” accompanied with obligatory wishes for a good weekend, Torpol continues down the stairs towards the containment units. He finds the cell Byron is sitting in and enters to see the grown-ass man curled up in a ball in the corner, sobbing.
“Hey zhere Byron, vhat’s vith zhe tears? Your friend zer Sadie is taking you with her soon, she’s a vedy nice lady.”
Byron looks at The Good Doctor and makes some noise, but the waterfalls roaring down his face drown him out. The Doctor rolls his eyes at this, dropping his accent.
“Ugh, always so dramatic with you. Look, you’re going to need to get up, because we have a special procedure that you need to go through. There are certain things you experienced here that we can’t risk you remembering one day. You got a ton of drool on the walls too, Jesus… what a disgusting habit, Byron. Oh well, nothing a few more rounds of electroshock won’t fry out of you. You’ll make a fine housemate for the Durhams yet, Byron. Without a doubt.”
Byron closes his eyes and quietly whimpers.
“Plus, this round of treatment will probably help get rid of your tendency towards delusions. One’s brain cannot possibly delude if one’s brain cannot think, no? It’s not all bad, now chop chop!”
Torpol pulls Byron to his feet and leads him out of the padded room. They go to the electroshock room, similar to the padded one except for the delightful sofa chair in the middle of the floor. This is no normal sofa of course, but actually an electric chair that was designed to look harmless while at the same time functioning just like the ones in the prisons across this great country that havn’t yet gone soft with age. The chair even has sensors that detect when the patient is in their most comfortable state; that’s when the restraints clamp down. The restraints then emit high-voltage shocks directly into the patient’s brain and nervous system, which must have some sort of an effect, whether it be short-term, long-term, or both!
Torpol stands at the door with Byron and holds him steady, waiting for the whimpering and waterworks to stop. Byron looks at Torpol with a pleading misery in his eyes, wishing to be released from whatever eternal circle of hell this place is. Torpol looks back and shakes his head, looking like he’s about to laugh.
“Count your blessings, kid,” muttered as Torpol shoves Byron face-first into the room. The door smoothly shuts between them as if it was recently lubricated, leaving our young Byron feeling like a caged abductee being studied by extraterrestrials.
Torpol then turns to his nearest cybernetic nurse and says, “As soon as he’s all tired out and sitting in that chair, toast him. You know what to do, give him a blank slate,” before returning to the elevator to leave the building.
As he gathers up his things, only one, singular thought travels through the mind of Doctor Edvard Torpol: ‘Boy am I excited that we finished up early today, Hawaii can’t come soon enough!’
He’s even got all his luggage ready in his car. Aloha!