Mary stared at the portrait in front of her. It was a portrait she had seen many times before. It hung in the doctor’s office and always had depicted the same image. The portrait was of a man. He was seated in a high back brown chair. He had short dark brown hair. His hands were clasped in front of him. One leg was crossed over the other. His gray suit and friendly smile made Mary think he was some kind of doctor.
Though for some reason, that she couldn’t quite place, he seemed vaguely familiar. Why all of sudden today he looked familiar, she had no idea. But she was sure she’d seen those twinkling eyes before. She was sure she’d heard his voice before. She just couldn’t place exactly where.
“Mary are you listening?” Doctor Jones asked.
“What?” Mary tore her eyes from the portrait and refocused on the doctor. She was in the middle of one of her visits and the doctor was clearly annoyed by her drifting off.
“I was saying, the boy from your dream, what happened to him?” he crossed his legs and placed the notepad on his knee. He raised his pen, ready to write now that he had Mary’s attention again.
“Uh…,” Mary paused, reluctant to continue with the story. She stole a quick glance at the portrait, his eyes bore into hers. He seemed to be begging her to speak. Mary took a deep breath and said, “We were walking together. I held his hand, he was eating a Popsicle. As we walked I noticed his grip loosen. I looked down and was holding just a bone. The other bones were in a pile behind me, “she could feel the tears prickling at the corners of her eyes. She blinked and continued on. “I rushed and gathered them together. I ran on, trying to find someone. I stopped under a tree and saw his bones had turned to dust in my arms. The wind picked up and blew them from me. Then I woke up.” Mary finished her voice breaking just slightly.
“And this boy was your son? The one you lost?” Doctor Jones asked.
“Yes,” Mary whispered barely audible. She looked down at her feet, avoiding the doctor’s and portrait’s eyes. She didn’t want sympathy or anything else for that matter. She wasn’t in the mood for this conversation.
“Okay, what do you think of this new dream?” the doctor asked. Mary took a deep breath and looked up into the doctor’s face. She didn’t want to discuss any of this with this stranger. She wanted to discuss it with someone she knew; some who cared for her. “Nothing, I think nothing,” the doctor opened his mouth but Mary quickly cut him off. “It is in the past. I’ve dealt with it,” she said.
“I’m sure you think that but really you’ve only…,” Doctor Jones started.
Mary wasn’t going to listen; she jumped to her feet and shook her head from side to side. “No oaky!? I’m not damaged. I’m not upset. I’m not anything. He’s gone and I can’t do anything about that,” her entire body shook as tears streamed from her eyes.
“Okay,” Doctor Jones closed his notebook and set it to the side. He slowly got to his feet and placed an arm around her shoulders. “Why don’t we leave it here for today and delve deeper tomorrow? Why don’t you lie down for a little while,” he led her to his office door.
Mary walked beside him silently. An orderly had been waiting and quickly came to her side. He led to her to the door that led to the hallway.
Before Mary walked out the door she took one more glance at the doctor. He was standing in the doorway, watching her go. But what really caught her attention was that portrait.
The slight smile on the man’s face had grown, only slightly, but it had grown. He looked just slightly happier, more content at least. Mary found herself calming and slowly left the office, feeling the comfort she had craved earlier.
The video screen snowed out and went black. Eric reached up and hit the switch. He turned in his chair toward Jack, his supervisor. Jack stood with his arms crossed, his eyes holding on particular spot. Eric knew he was staring at Mary’s bed.
Eric couldn’t quite figure it out but Jack seemed to have some fascination with this Mary. He seemed more interested in her than anyone else. Eric knew she was the second patient entered into their experiment, and that she had been admitted after her hallucinations had gotten out of control. Her mother had admitted her after a failed flying attempt. That was all Eric knew, nothing to indicate why Jack would have this fascination with her.
Eric cleared his throat and said, “Looks like we are making progress. She’s finally showing some emotions.”
Jack turned from the window and nodded, “Yeah, seems like it.”
“So boss do you want to watch the next one? Or do you want to do lunch?” Eric asked. Each day they watched each patient’s virtual visit and then went over all that happened.
The program they worked with was an experiment started by Jack. It was designed to help people with mental issues; the purpose was to have a more efficient way of allowing them to resolve those issues.
Once a patient was admitted they were placed in a deep sleep. A sleep that no one could wake them from except for the trained technicians. Each patient was then hook up to a computer. This allowed them to place the patients in a virtual world. One they could almost completely control.
The main idea was for the patients to have full access to every part of their minds. Especially the portions they refused or didn’t know about while they were conscious. They hoped that by having these treatments play out in their heads they would heal faster; because of the total access that they had to their own minds.
So far it seemed to be working. The progress was slow but most patients were showing some changes. For Eric this meant they could continue on for another year. He wasn’t entirely sure what it meant for Jack.
Jack nodded at him and said. “Let’s do lunch then finish up.”
Eric turned towards the console and switched off the viewing parts. He stood and followed Jack out. He was still wondering if he was missing something.
Mary lay on the cot in her room. She was staring at the stark white ceiling but what she really saw was that portrait. The image had been haunting her mind’s eye ever since her visit the day before.
That face that seemed so familiar, yet so distant at the same time; those eyes that beckoned to her. She knew this man was someone important but she couldn’t quiet place why or who he was.
She had even dreamt of him the night before. He was in front of her. It was as if he was looking down at her, a grin across his face at time. These times she felt warm and loved. These were the moments when she knew him, it was as if she had not only seen him before but had been close to him. But a moment later his grin would slip into a deep frown, one that held disappointment and sorrow. That frown scared her, made her sad, almost ashamed of herself. These were the times when she didn’t know the man; he lost all familiarity when he became this disappointed man.
The whole dream was like that. He was happy and comforting one moment; the next he was sad and depressed. Mary could barely keep up with his changing moods. The chaos slowly caused her to collapse in on herself. She woke up sweating and feeling very confused.
Mary turned her head to the side, trying to find something to stare at but she couldn’t find anything. Her room was bare except for a desk, chair and bed. She had nothing to rid herself of the images that plagued her.
Mary heard a slight knock at the door. She quickly sat up and said, “Yes?”
An orderly entered and said, “Mary you can come to the community room if you like,” he waited patiently for her answer.
Mary quickly stood and said, “Okay,” she followed the orderly from the room. She hoped this would help her distract herself.
Mary followed the orderly down the hall and into the community room. It was a very dull looking room. White covered the walls like everywhere else. A few tables were set up in the middle, surrounded by patient’s playing card or checkers. Along the walls were couches and more chairs where these who wouldn’t or couldn’t socialize sat.
Mary parted from the orderly’s side and headed over to the table farthest from the door in the right corner. Mary pulled out a chair from the table and sat opposite Melinda. She was another patient and an acquaintance of Mary’s.
“Hey Mel,” Mary said cheerfully. She reached across the table and cut the stack of cards that sat there. She handed half to Melinda and took the other half for herself.
“Hi Mary,” Melinda replied taking her half. As she placed her cards in front of her, her eyes strayed to a spot over Mary’s shoulder. Melinda couldn’t hold onto one topic or idea for long. It seemed almost impossible for her to truly concentrate on any one thing for more than a few minutes. Mary knew there was more to her case but she didn’t know the details. War was that game of choice with Melinda; mostly because it was easy to play and easy to restart over and over again.
“How have you been?” Mary asked casually. She laid a card in the middle of the table and waited for Melinda to move. As she watched Melinda’s wandering eyes she noted to herself how this was defiantly helping her be distracted. She hadn’t thought of the portrait once. She quickly cleared her throat to get Melinda’s attention back, to keep the distraction.
Melinda looked down and placed her card down. “I’m fine, been having blue dreams,” She said.
“Blue dreams?” Mary asked as she gathered her cards.
Melinda said, “Yes, blue. Everything was blue,” her voice went misty and she sounded far away. “The lights, the air, everything and anything were blue,” she stood and spread her arms wide. She started spinning and chanting. “Blue, blue, blue.” The orderlies rushed over and placed her arms at her sides. They nodded at Mary as they led Melinda away.
Mary watched them go, wondering at the words Melinda had just said. “Blue, everything was blue.” Suddenly her mind clouded and she saw her dream again, this time though everything else was blue, everything but the portrait. Blue that was like the depths of the ocean, deep and impenetrable.
Mary quickly threw the cards in the middle of the table and stood up. She quickly headed for the door; an orderly stood and followed her to her room. As she walked she contemplated what this blue could mean.
Eric sat staring at the screen in front of him. He wasn’t viewing the patients, but was watching their mental maps. Mary had been speaking to Melinda when something strange had happened. Something he didn’t quite understand.
“Jack?” Eric called. “Jack get over here!” Eric’s eyes never left the screen.
Jack walked into the room, Eric heard his foot falls. They sounded slightly impatient and angry. He knew Jack was tired of Eric’s little discoveries but he would want to see this one.
“What?” Jack asked, the annoyance Eric predicted seeping from every word.
Eric pointed at the screen. “Look at this,” he was pointing at red blinking dot that was surrounded by other red non blinking dots.
Jack looked down and shrugged. “This idea isn’t something we made,” Eric said.
Jack shrugged yet again. “So? The patient minds are all their own. We don’t have full control. It has happened that they’ve moved away from the ideas we’ve made.” Jack said.
“Yeah, I know that; but this dot is a mixture,” Eric looked up quickly. Jack’s eyebrows were scrunched in confusion prompting him to continue explaining. “A mixture of unconscious and conscious thought.”
“Excuse me?” Jack snapped. Eric knew he had him finally. This mixture was something brand new, and not something positive. The patients weren’t supposed to be conscious in any way.
“Exactly why I called you. I don’t get it,” Eric said.
Jack’s eyes never left the screen. His voice shook as he slowly asked, “Who is this?”
Eric was hesitant to answer but didn’t know how he couldn’t. “Mary’s,” he whispered. The look on Jack face scared Eric to death.
Mary woke to a thump and a grunt. Her eyes opened and she stared at the ceiling. She laid still for a minute trying to discern where the noise had come from. A minute later she heard a muffled voice say, “Which one?”
Mary sat upright in bed and clenched the sheets beside here. Someone was in her room. Someone she couldn’t see. The voice continued to whisper, too low for her to discern any real words from. Mary didn’t move, afraid the rustle of the sheets would give her away.
After another minute and the voice went silent. Her room was quiet, she didn’t even hear the patter of the orderlies shoes from outside her door. She slowly stood and went to her window. She lifted the shade a few inches, letting in a ray of moonlight. She could see every corner of her room, it was empty. Not a soul was present except her.
If there was no one in her room then where had the voice come from? She slowly walked to the door and pressed her ear against it. She heard nothing not the slightest movement. It wasn’t coming from inside and it wasn’t coming from outside, so where was it?
Just as she was sizing up the stability of her desk chair for its use to listen to the ceiling; the voice was back. This time it wasn’t a whisper but normal volume. She could hear every word perfectly.
“We can’t do that,” one voice said angrily.
“It’s my project, I can do whatever I want,” another more familiar voice snapped.
“Jack, leave it alone,” the first voice moaned.
Jack, that name sparked something in Mary. That name plus that voice brought up the portrait. They all were one, she knew. How she knew she wasn’t sure, but she was positive they were all the same man. A man she somehow knew.
The voices were bickering at each other. She had no idea what they were arguing over but she did seem to hear them from above her. Slowly she walked over to her desk; as if afraid the voices would hear here and become silent. Just as quietly she climbed up onto the desk and planted her feet firmly. The ceiling was low and her head nearly touched the top of the room.
On tip toes she strained to listen. The voices weren’t louder up here then they were on the floor. She settled back on her feet and crossed her arms against her chest. If the voices weren’t coming from inside the room or outside the room or from above, then where the hell were they coming from?
Many stepped down from her desk and sat on top of it. The voices were no longer bickering. It sounded more like they were discussing something now.
“It’s fool-proof. You said that yourself,” the first younger voice said.
“Nothing is fool proof, not when you’re messing with the mind,” the second, all too familiar voice, demanded.
“But we control all the major elements,” the first moaned.
“We control nothing! The brain adapts, works against what limits it. We were working with it but now it’s working against us,” the second snapped, anger dripping from his tone.
The first began to argue with the second again, but Mary wasn’t listening. The mind, the brain that was it! The voices weren’t in the room, they were in her. She grinned to herself but slowly lost her joy at her realization.
Voices in her head? Wasn’t that why she had been admitted here in the first place? Listening to these things was probably a terrible idea. But then again, what could it hurt? Maybe if she concentrated hard enough she’d learn something she needed or maybe they would just go away. Either way she wasn’t mentioning this to her doctor.
“Jack we can’t do this,” Eric protested for the thousandth time. “If we wake her up without the right procedure things could go horribly wrong.”
“I don’t give a damn. Wake her up!” Jack shouted. His eyes were centered on Mary’s face.
Eric turned toward the console at Mary’s feet. He tapped a sequence of keys. He was terrified now. Jack had never been angry before; annoyed yes but never angry. He was always so calm, mysterious yes, but always nice and calm.
This Jack wasn’t someone he knew. Whoever this man was, he scared him.
“She waking up,” Jack whispered.
Eric’s head snapped to the side. He wasn’t finished, she couldn’t be awake yet. He slowly said this to Jack, “That is all her, I’m not doing anything.”
Mary’s eyes were clamped shut and her hands were clasped tightly on her knees. Concentrate, she chanted to herself. Concentrate on the voices, on the noises.
She let her mind wander away, chasing any sound at all. Slowly she felt her breathing deepen, almost as if she was falling asleep.
Suddenly she was at a house, standing in the backyard; beside her stood the man from the portrait, Jack. In front of them her little boy chased the dog around the yard. He was laughing and smiling .Mary’s heart sored and she felt her face light up. She looked up at Jack and smiled down at her, sharing the same joy she felt.
Slowly his face fell, the smile replaced by the saddest, most heartbreaking look she’d ever seen. The blue sky and green grass become gray and white tiles. The patio furniture became hard plastic chairs.
Jack sat beside her, holding her. Her joyful heart was gone, replaced with shattered pieces. She sobbed into Jack’s shoulder, tears staining his coat. She felt his body shake as he sobbed into her shoulder. Their happy little boy was gone.
She was sitting on the side of their bed, head in her hands. She was crying again, something she’d been doing frequently since they lost their son. Jack was nowhere to be found. He stayed late at the office now, never coming home when she was up to talk. He didn’t want to deal with her sorrow and his own.
She was in the kitchen now, her hand falling to her side. Tears still staining her cheeks. Her mouth opened in a scream of “Why!?”
Jack stood across from her, the broken plate she had thrown at his feet. His gaze cast downward, refusing to meet her eye.
“Why can’t we talk? Why can’t we deal together?” she sobbed.
“I can’t,” he said quietly. He turned and left; left her broken.
She was asleep, curled into a tight ball. He sat on the bed beside her. He thought she was asleep but she wasn’t completely. He whispered to her as he prepared a needle.
“This will fix everything. I can’t help you and myself at the same time. This way you can deal on your own while I heal. I’ll wake up when you’ve healed and we’ll go back to our lives,” he said. He lifted her arm. She thought about resisting but decided this all had to be a dream. He would never hurt her in real life.
“I do this because I love you,” he whispered in her ear, as he plunged the syringe in to her.
The images whirled; her mind calculated and put everything in order. They lost their son, she had wanted to grieve together, and he couldn’t deal that way. So he set her up to look crazy so that he could use his new experiment to cure her.
Just as her memories flooded together and her emotions boiled to a point of no return; her eyes snapped open and she was looking straight into the traitors face.
Eric stood beside Jack and watched as Mary’s eyes slowly opened. At first she looked startled and confused but once they caught Jack’s face they became extremely angry and slightly hurt.
Jack bent forward and whispered, “Mary?”
Mary’s body was fine. She could feel as his hands flexed and beat on the glass. She had no idea what they did to her but her limbs seemed to work fine. They weren’t stiff or unresponsive, they actually felt strong. With this strength Mary kicked and clawed at the lid, she wanted out. She wanted to claw this man apart.
As soon as the words had left his lips Mary began thrashing and slamming at the plastic around her. Eric hit a switch and the top hissed opened. As soon as Mary was free she flew to her feet and slapped Jack across the face.
“You bastard!” she screamed. Her voice was a whirl of emotion. There was overpowering anger but also sadness, evident by the tears streaming down her face.
Eric stood to the side watching this woman shake and seethe. He had no idea what was going on but he knew it wasn’t good.
Jack hadn’t moved, clearly stunned. Mary continued screaming and sobbing. “How could you do that to me!? How could you lock me up like that? We could have dealt together,” tears were covering her cheeks. Jack never moved, didn’t even flinch. Mary seemed fed up; she spun on her heel and ran down the aisle.
Eric wasn’t stunned completely. He was confused but he was starting to put the pieces together. Jack had, had a son, one that he had lost. Eric didn’t know how but he did know it was something Jack rarely spoke of. Eric had heard about it from another co-worker; who had heard him speak of it once.
Now it seemed like Jack was more cold-hearted then he thought. Mary had to be his wife; why else would he be so obsessed with her? What had he done?
Jack still wasn’t moving. Eric pushed past him, and ran to find Mary. She was going to get lost or hurt. He dashed to the end of the aisle and stopped. He listened and heard soft sobbing from around the corner. He quickly turned the corner and found Mary there curled in a ball, sobbing.
“Shh.. it’s okay,” Eric kneeled in front of her. He reached out for her hand but she flinched away from his touch.
“Who are you?” she asked. “Did you help?”
“I’m Eric, a technician here. Did I help with what?” he asked her.
“Help him imprison me,” she sobbed. Eric didn’t ask who “him,” was, he knew it had to be Jack.
“No, I had no part in that. All I was told were you lost a son, resorted to drugs to cope and they caused you to lose your mind,” Eric said. “I know nothing else.”
“Okay,” she whispered. A minute of silence followed. Eric strained to hear footsteps. “How could he do that to me? Make me seem crazy? Why couldn’t he deal with his grief? Why?” she sobbed, her head falling to her hands.
“I don’t know,” Eric said softly. He understood now. Jack hadn’t known how to help his wife and himself at the same time. So instead of trying to get help he took the easy way out. He had made his wife seem crazy then dumped her here. He was too much of a coward to deal on his own. Eric seethed with anger.
“Mary?” Jack’s voice same from around the corner as he turned it.
Eric looked up and saw red. That bastard would pay. He leapt to his feet and punched Jack straight in the face. Jack stumbled and fell to the floor, out cold.
Mary screamed and tired to scoot away from Eric. Eric turned quickly to her. “It’s okay. It’s okay. We can set get you out of here now.”
He reached out a hand to her. She hesitantly took it and he led her over Jack’s unconscious body and around the corner. “I know where we can contact your parents. You’ll be safe now.” Eric told her. Mary just nodded.
Mary sat in her parent’s living room watching the television with her mother. It had been three months since she had woken up. She was still living with her parents but she was doing well.
She was seeing a real live psychiatrist now. He was helping her deal with the betrayal and grief she had. She was feeling much better and less angry now. Her parents had welcomed her home and held her while she cried. Every moment she needed them they were there, just like she had hoped Jack would have been.
As for Jack he had been admitted to his own experiment. She had heard from Eric, that the board had been easily convinced that Jack was crazy. Jack had apparently tried to explain but had just cemented their view more. He was now resting in Mary’s vacated bed. Mary was content with this idea, content to put the entire incident behind her. She would heal and move on, away from him.
Eric sat in front of the monitor. He was almost done with his viewing for the day. He moved on and brought up Jack’s video and mind map.
Eric was in charge now. He had known everything about the project and was able to convince the board to keep the experiment running. He had done an evaluation of each case and each person who had admitted them. Turned out that no one was as sadistic and crazy as Jack had been and they were able to keep the experiment running.
Eric smiled wickedly at Jack’s screen. He had said that he would make him pay and now he could. He brought up his mental map and started clicking and rearranging. His smile grew as he watched Jack suffer slowly on the screen in front of him.