Excerpt from the Novel – Chapter 1

Today, however, something was different. As he walked down the hall, a new patient was being admitted. Normally, he would jump at the chance to meet and familiarize himself with a new patient. Creating a comfortable environment for the patient was key to their recovery; however, something inside him resisted this newbie’s friendly personality. He felt his feet freeze onto the floor as prickles of ice flowed through his body. Slowly, he looked at the new patient. He looked to be a young man in his late teens, about Declan’s age. His ghastly pale skin contrasted fiercely with his pitch-black hair, spikey and messy.

Seeing patients around his age had always given Declan pause. Some say that mental illness is hereditary. If that was true, then he could very well be a patient at the center one day, just like the patient before him.

He took a closer look at the patient’s sullen face and noticed the dark circles around his eyes. His body appeared malnourished and frail. Although his body language conveyed that he was relaxed, his eyes showed agony and conflict. As he gazed into the eyes of the patient, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up and goose bumps ran down his arms. It was hard for Declan to grasp the gut feeling that he had about the patient, but something felt terribly wrong.

Nothing strange going on here. We’re in a behavioral hospital; some patients are bound to make me uncomfortable, he thought as he tried to reassure himself. Besides, I’m at least a head taller than him.

Declan walked up to the admissions counter ready to start some small talk with the patient, but redirected his attention at the last moment and spoke with his coworker, Joe Shum. Joe was about twice Declan’s age, with a little bit of grey starting to show on the sides of his head. If it weren’t for the graying of his hair, he’d hardly looked a year or two older than Declan. He was about a hair shy of being six feet tall and had a herculean physique.

Seeing Joe sparked a memory of their last camping trip and how the tent almost caught fire. They laughed about that for months. He was sure glad Joe took him under his wing, since he didn’t have any siblings. Declan loved to think of Joe as his big brother.

Joe had been an UAP at the center since Declan’s first visit ten years ago. At the time in his life when Declan had thought that he had lost everyone, Joe had been there for him. Throughout the years, they had formed a strong bond. Outside of work, Joe had taken Declan bowling, camping, and to watch all kinds of sporting events when Declan was in middle and high school. In a way, Joe also was a father figure to Declan as his own father had passed away, before he was even born. When Declan met Joe, he couldn’t help but latched onto him emotionally.

Throughout his childhood, Declan had asked his mother about his father and all she would say is that he had passed away. She would then get teary-eyed and too upset to say more. When the other kids would have their dads pick them up from school, he would look upon them with envy. At night when he would flip through his mother’s old photo album, he would imagine what his life would have been like if he was still around. They would play catch in the backyard or maybe he would teach him how to shoot hoops. Bedtime would be filled with adventurous tales by both his parents. But then, the day happened when he lost his mother too to the behavior center. He had then moved in with his aunt and uncle and the topic was also too taboo in his aunt and uncle’s house as it made his aunt too upset to talk about her dead brother.

Maybe Joe’s presence helped him overcome that gut feeling he was having about this patient. “Hey Joe, how’s it going there? Care to introduce me to our newest guest?”

Joe turned toward Declan as he approached. “Hey Declan, we’re doing just great,” stressing the word “great” the way that Tony the Tiger used to do in the television commercials. After years of working with young patients, Joe had incorporated many different cartoon character impressions into his speech. Unfortunately, after his divorce three years ago, he decided to consume himself with work as a distraction. He got so used to doing the impressions that he was no longer capable of stopping himself even when he was speaking with older patients and even coworkers.

Joe continued. “This is Kyle, and we’re just getting his paperwork done, while his parents finish his registration downstairs. I thought that I’d help Kyle get a head start so that his parents can help him get settled into the room when they are done.”

“Hi, Kyle. My name’s Declan, and I’m here to help out. Please let me know what you need, and I’ll try to make your stay here as comfortable as possible. Feel free to call for me whenever you need; even if you just need to talk,” said Declan, while keeping the last part in a whisper. Officially, Declan and Joe were just UAPs, but they pretty much took it upon themselves to also be “friends” to the patients on their floor.

Kyle stared at Declan. Although there were no facial movements, Kyle’s eyes were moving wildly. Not with very noticeable movements, but rather subtle, yet rapid shifts at every direction. Declan couldn’t shake the feeling that Kyle was crying out for help, but for some reason he wasn’t able to get the words out or think to try out any other bodily movements other than his eyes. Those eyes seemed to scream for help, but when they coincided the body language that conveyed tranquility, it made it difficult for Declan to decipher what this patient was really trying to convey. Declan had always prided himself on his ability to read how a person was feeling, and the contradictory eyes and body of this patient really disturbed him.

“Yes, Kyle. Declan is a good boy,” Joe said patting Declan on the head, which sobered Declan out of his thoughts. “He will take very good care of you while you’re here. I’ve known Declan since he was a little boy,” he added, making a hand gesture suggesting that Declan had been about waist high. He continued. “And there’s no one here with a heart bigger than his. So, you’re in good hands.” Declan gave Joe a quick glare. Declan always got annoyed when Joe treated him like a kid, and Joe knowingly continued the practice.

Why does he keep doing that? How am I going to get any respect around here if he keeps doing that in front of everyone? Declan fumed.

Kyle remained motionless and continued to stare. Rosy, who worked at the admissions desk, broke the silence. “Alright sweetie pie, your paperwork is all done and you’re gonna be in room 305,” she said in her usual southern drawl. A sweet but vengeful woman of 53, Rosy was like a mom to the workers at the center. Rosy’s desk was littered with photos of her children and grandchildren. In addition, a curious picture of a beautiful teenaged girl with long silky blonde hair and perfect skin stood at the corner of her desk. The photo was an obvious vanity glamour shot taken at an expensive photo studio. Compared with the sweet lady with giant crow’s feet and white hair, the way Rosy looked like today, no one would have ever guessed they were the same person. The regulars knew the real truth because every now and then Rosy likes to brag.

“Sweet as she is, that gal did not age well,” Joe had said on many occasions while Rosy was away from her desk. Once, Rosy had overheard Joe, and she made him pay for it over the next couple months. Whenever there was a “messy” job that needed to be done, Rosy would call Joe to do the cleanup. “Like all southern gals, sweet, but aren’t to be messed with,” Joe had concluded at the end of one of Rosy’s retribution.

“Declan, would you like to come with me to show Kyle his room? I’m sure he would love the company,” asked Joe as he turned to Declan and gave him a pleading expression. Declan realized that Joe also felt something strange about Kyle and wanted him to join them.

“It would be my pleasure,” replied Declan as he secretly patted Joe on the back letting him know that he understood his concern.

As they walked Kyle to his room, Declan still couldn’t fight the feeling that something was wrong. His palms started sweating profusely, and a trickle of sweat rolled down his forehead. A chill went through his body as ice prickled the back of his neck.

As they walked down the hall, Declan reviewed the list of amenities that the center offered with Kyle. The stroll toward Kyle’s room felt endless as Declan tried to fight down the feeling of alarm that was screaming inside of him. Declan continued to run through the center’s scheduled meal times and visiting hours. He kept talking the entire time, not only to inform Kyle, but also as a means of distracting himself from the distress he was feeling from within. As they got to Kyle’s room, Declan proceeded to open the room door just as Andy Smith came out of the room next door.

“Hey, Andy. Let me introduce to you our new patient. His name is Kyle. Kyle, this is Andy. He’s a local pastor who brings a group of volunteers to the center. He and his group of volunteers come by every week to talk to the kids. They put on fun events every so often too.” Joe and the pastor showed off a special handshake that included fist bumps. Declan raised an eyebrow as he watched the old guys trying to act like young guys.

“Great meeting you, dude. I hope that you find your stay here a blast. The peeps here are great, and with God’s grace they will get you better ASAP,” said Andy with a big warm smile. Although, Declan was once again turned off by the mention of God, he couldn’t help but feel some of his distress alleviated by Andy’s presence.

“I want to go to my room now,” said Kyle who turned abruptly toward his room.

Declan and Joe were startled from Kyle’s response. “I think Kyle is tired, Andy; we’re going to go get him settled in,” Declan quickly responded. Although, Andy wasn’t Declan’s favorite in terms of volunteer coordinators, he was offended when people were rude to the pastor. He’d known Andy since he was a kid, and he could testify to how the volunteers had helped the patients recover. Whether it was truly the grace of God or not, Declan could not deny the patients’ progress.

“Well, I’ll be seeing you later, dude. Hope you get up to snuff soon,” said Andy, as he turned and said a quick prayer for the room he was about to leave. Declan and Joe were walking into Kyle’s room to get him settled as Andy placed his hand on Kyle’s door. His next stop was Kyle’s room, and he started saying a silent prayer for Kyle.

Just then, Kyle violently turned toward the pastor and yelled, “Leave me alone!” The voice that came from Kyle sounded so foreign and so utterly wrong that it sent shivers down Declan’s spine.

Kyle started running toward the pastor, and Joe caught him by the arm to try to stop him. With inexplicable strength, Kyle took hold of Joe and threw him at Andy by using one arm. Joe collided with Andy and fell. Declan instinctively jumped onto Kyle’s back. Snaking his hands underneath Kyle’s arms to restrain him, before he could do any more harm to Joe and Andy. As his hand made contact with Kyle’s skin, he felt an overwhelming gloom that seemed to destroy all that was sunny and happy. All the feelings of dread and misery that Declan had ever felt in his life surged out from all the repressed corners of his mind. He felt that he would prefer to be dead rather than to live the rest of his life. As the sense of coldness spread across Declan’s body, he felt almost frozen.

Kyle started to spin to try to throw Declan off, and it jogged Declan out of his gloom. He tried to use his weight to pin Kyle down, but Kyle was much stronger than he appeared. He stood as if there was a mere child on his back. Kyle started spinning faster, but Declan held on tight.

“Help, guys, help! What are you waiting for?” shouted Declan as he clenched his legs tighter around Kyle’s abdomen. His eyes were closed because he had the feeling that if they were open, he’d be sick all over the linoleum floor from all the spinning Kyle was doing.

Joe ran into the room with a sedative shot he’d pulled out of the locked medical cabinet outside the room. He leaped onto both Declan and Kyle to add the extra weight to help pin Kyle down, but was immediately flung off, and he fell and hit his shin on the bed table. “Ahhh!” he screamed.

Declan managed a shout to Joe. “Throw it to me!”

Joe carefully tossed the sedative to Declan. It arched toward the ceiling and Declan held one firm grip on Kyle’s arm while he held up his other hand. He caught the shot and grabbed it tightly. “Got it!”

He looked at the tranquilizer in amazement, almost proud that he had caught it despite the chaos and shouting. But his conquest was short-lived; Declan hesitated a fraction of a second too long. Using his newly freed hand, Kyle grabbed Declan off his back and with a loud grunt placed Declan into a tight chokehold in front of him. Declan started to make gagging noises and his eyes widen with terror when he realized that Kyle’s free hand was inching toward his neck. He struggled but Kyle was too strong. When the injection went into his neck, he screamed.

Immediately, darkness crept into Declan’s vision and threatened to overwhelm him as deoxygenated blood flowed through his brain. Luckily, the sedative worked quickly.

Just before Declan lost consciousness, Kyle’s arms fell limp and collapsed, letting go of Declan and he crumpled to the floor, gasping for air. Bright colors now substituted the darkness and filled his eyes as oxygen flowed through his veins and back into his brain.

Rosy ran into the room with Kyle’s parents. They couldn’t believe what they saw – it looked like a battlefield. One man was on the ground, dazed, almost loopy, one was in the corner, grimacing from pain and the other was sitting in a corner with his head in his hands, breathing heavily.

Rosy noticed the used syringe on the floor in front of Kyle. “Oh dear, what happened? We heard a lot of yelling from down the hall. Are you boys okay?”

Joe slowly got up from the floor and limped over to Declan and helped him up to the bed. He tried to explain as much as he could remember, with everything happening so fast.

They all turned when they heard running footsteps in the hall and finally several large nurses’ assistants come in to take Kyle away. When the “nurses’ assistants” visited, you knew you were in trouble. They were two of the biggest and strongest men on payroll and they were hired for these instances.

After Kyle left with the nurses’ assistants on either side of him, each holding one arm, it was quiet in the room. Kyle’s parents stared dejectedly down at the floor, not knowing what to do. They’ve never seen their son in such a rage before. They were frightened and they held onto each other for support.

Rosy touched Kyle’s mother gently on her shoulder. “I’m sorry.” Kyle’s mother could only nod.

“Let’s get you back to the office and we can talk, okay?” Rosy led Kyle’s parents out of the room.

Declan, who was still feeling the effects of the asphyxiation, felt sorry for Kyle’s parents as he heard them openly sobbing as they walked down the hallway towards Rosy’s office. His heart shattered into a million pieces. He felt his eyes burn as tears flowed from them as the incident was all too familiar to him. He saw himself as a little boy once again, sobbing loudly as the policemen dragged his mother away. He shook his head to try to clear it.

Joe called his name, and it broke him out of his thoughts. He turned and saw that Joe was sitting down, still recovering from the whole ordeal. Joe, rubbing the bumps and bruises he received from the incident, muttered in his best Garfield impression, “I hate Mondays.” Declan gave Joe a small smile.

Suddenly serious, Joe complained, “I can’t believe how strong that kid is. Did you see how he was able to pick me up single-handedly? I’ve never seen a patient with anorexia have that much strength left in them. As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen anybody, patient or not, with that much strength in them. How in the world were you able to restrain his arms for so long, kid? You don’t even have a scratch on you.” Joe added in his Bugs Bunny voice, “I know this defies the laws of physics, but I never studied law!”

Declan smiled again shaking his head. “Adrenaline, maybe? I don’t know. Besides I was behind him most of the time, so it wasn’t like he could strike me or anything. And what do you mean without a scratch? My neck still hurts from being strangled.”

Joe teased, “Aw…did Declan get an booboo? Come here; let me take a look at that booboo.” Joe laughed, but winced as he clutched his ribs. “You know, you’re pretty lucky. With that kid’s strength, he could have easily broken your neck.”

“What do you think set him off anyway? I’ve never seen any of our anorexic or autistic patients have violent episodes like this. He seemed especially hostile toward Andy,” said Declan pensively.

“Maybe he was one of them ‘alter boys’ when he was younger. Or maybe he just didn’t like his room. Who knows what sets our patients off? It sucks when it happens, though, especially when they’ve been here for a while and you’ve watched them progress. From my years of experience here, there isn’t always a rhyme or reason as to why they do the things they do.” Joe gazed off into the distance the way he always did when he was serious.

“I don’t know, Joe, he just seemed like he wanted our help. I don’t know why, but that’s just my gut feeling.”

“You’ll get used to it after a while. You’ve only been working here for about six months; it isn’t uncommon for some of our patients to have a meltdown. You’re gonna want to help each and every one of them, but don’t forget that’s the doctor’s job. Our job is to keep them from harming themselves or harming other patients while they’re here. Don’t think about it too much. Wanna go grab a bite? Our shift is almost over.”

Joe stood up and walked toward the elevation. Joe, realizing that Declan hadn’t followed him, turned back and added in his Shaggy impression while dropping his serious gaze, “Let’s do what we do best, eat!”

“Sorry, Joe. I have dinner plans tonight. I’ll see you tomorrow though. I’m going to stop by my mom’s room before I leave,” said Declan as walked past him and he pushed the “Up” button for the elevator.

As Declan walked toward his mom’s room on the fourth floor, he couldn’t help but think of Kyle’s parents’ faces as they saw their son lying on the floor unconscious.

Once again he saw himself as a kid, when the police had to come to take his mother away. His mother was always so warm, kind, and gentle. He remembered the feeling of her warm hands on his cheeks. The warmth would spread from his cheeks all the way down to his heart. He remembered her long, straight black hair tickling his face as she bent down to kiss his forehead as she tucked him into bed. Most of all, he remembered those big brown reassuring eyes that made him feel that everything was going to be alright. She had never even raised her voice at him. He knew that he had felt nothing but love coming from her as a child.

But then one day, she just…snapped.

The image of the police restraining his mother as she was trying to pull toward him resonated through his mind. She had just tried to drown him in the local community pool. Luckily, the lifeguard there had noticed her and stopped her in time.

“You don’t understand! It’s the only way! I won’t let you have him! Leave my son! If you hurt him, I swear I’ll kill you,” screamed his mother with the look of menace on her face.

Snapping himself out of his memories, Declan approached his mother’s room, clutching the pendant that hung around his neck. The pendant didn’t have any expensive embedded jewels, just a smooth stone with a few symbols carved on it. The pendant had been one of the few articles of jewelry that Declan had found amongst his mother’s belongings soon after she had been committed. Ever since he was seven, he had worn that pendant around his neck. And whenever he thought about his mother, he would unconsciously clutch at the pendant as if trying to grasp and hold on to a time when everything had been good.

His arrival at his mother’s door broke him out of his thoughts, and he realized that he was clutching his pendant so hard that the symbols had imprinted onto his palm. He stared at the door for a few seconds as if deciding whether or not he should turn around and leave instead. He took a deep breath. When he placed his hand on the cold doorknob, goose bumps traveled up his arm. He was hesitant to open the door because he didn’t know what state of mind she would be in. Taking in another deep breath, he swung the door open.

Declan’s mother greeted him with a smile. She looked healthy; rosy cheeks, fair skin, and big warm brown eyes. The same eyes that had always given Declan peace. “There’s my boy. How was your day honey?”

Declan let out the breath he realized he had been holding since he stepped over the threshold to her room. “My day was fine, Mom. How are you feeling today?”

She walked over to him and gave him a long hug. “I feel great!”

Declan felt tears threatening to well up in his as his mother embraced him. From the day that he’s just had, he was afraid of what state of mind he might find his mother in. “Do you need anything? Can I get you some more water or blankets? I hear that it might get a little cooler tonight.” Declan quickly turned to the thermostat and adjusted it so that his mother wouldn’t notice that he had teared up.

“No worries, I’ll be fine.” Mother took a breath and had a shine to her brown eyes, like she was excited. “I had a chat with Dr. Lanier today…

“Oh really, mom? What about?” Declan didn’t know what to expect and was a little nervous about her announcement.

“He said that I might be able to come home with you soon. I can’t wait to get out of here!” She clapped her hands she was so excited. “It’s been too long!”

Declan nodded encouragingly. He’s heard this before but she’s never come home. It’s just her wish and he already knew the outcome.

She smiled tentatively. She figured out that Declan wasn’t really interested and suddenly changed topics. She leaned forward, wanting to please. “But enough about me; you told me yesterday that Caleb came into town last night. How is he doing?”

Caleb and Declan had been best friends since the second grade. They used to do everything together, but when they graduated, Caleb went off to college, while Declan had to start working to help support his aunt and uncle.

“He seemed to be having the time of his life last time I spoke with him on the phone. I’m supposed to have dinner with him tonight. I guess I’ll hear all about his awesome college adventures then. Yay…” he replied sarcastically as he walked over to the window and looked out at the setting sun.

At least Keira will be there, he thought as his face started to heat up.

“As soon as I’m out of here, Declan, I promise you I’ll help financially, and you can go to college,” she said, interrupting Declan’s thoughts. “I know that it’s been hard on you and your uncle and aunt. As a matter of fact, I’ve been working on a little something. I made these during craft time. I think I can sell them as jewelry and maybe make a business out of it. Here let me show you.” She walked toward a box on her nightstand and took out a flower with a string on it. It was an orchid that had been preserved in some sort of glossy resin. The sunlight from the setting sun reflected brightly on the glossy flower, making it shine brightly.

“That’s beautiful, Mom. I bet you there will be people who would want to buy these.” Declan examined the flower while taking hold of his mother’s hands. Declan felt his hands burn and looked up when he thought he saw something move in the corner of his eye. Suddenly still, his mother was staring off into the box. As calmly as he could manage, he asked, “Mom? What are you looking for? Mom?” He got no response from her, and he felt a chill go down his spine. The remainder of the setting sunlight seemed to have withdrawn from the room. A sense of panic engulfed all his senses, and suddenly she looked up, grabbing his arms.

He shuddered as she suddenly screamed out. “You can stop pretending to be my son! I will never tell you!” She grabbed Declan by the back of his shirt collar and dragged him toward the bathroom. Struggling to free himself from his mother, he thrashed his arms and legs around trying to grab hold of something.

Choking, Declan managed to shout, “Stop, Mom! Please stop it! I’m your son! Can’t you remember? I’m your son! Please Mom, don’t do this!”

She bashed Declan’s head against the base of the bathroom sink as she tried to push Declan’s head into the toilet bowl. Pain exploded from the side of his head, and everything started to look blurry.

“I will drown you this time, demon child! You took everything from me! I won’t let you hurt anyone else!”

Declan pushed off with his arms and legs and slammed her against the bathroom wall opposite from the toilet. The room seemed immensely longer than it had been as he ran back to her bed to push the call button for one of her nurses.

He had almost reached the button when she grabbed him by the hair to drag him back to the bathroom. “Not this time! I’ve got you this time!” she screamed.

Declan reached out once again toward the hospital bed where the call button was located. The bed moved forward a couple of inches and Declan’s finger collided with the button.


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