The orderly walked to the large metal door skillfully balancing the tray in one hand. He worked the lock open and pushed against the door with his shoulder. It swung open throwing a square of light into the little room and on the bed tucked into the corner. He stepped into the room. He was agitated. Joseph Tanner was no king, but for the past few weeks he’d been receiving his meals in his “quarters” like one. He was frustrated. Not just with his job, but with this grueling task. Joseph was violent with the other patients and was not allowed in the dining area. His meals were taken to him in his room, but each meal time meant trouble.
“It’s meal time Tanner” he said irritably, looking at the strange figure curled up in the sheets. He looked at it suspiciously, and then took another step in.
“Hey coo-coo, didn’t you hear what I said? It’s meal time....” He said rolling his eyes in frustration, growing impatient he was ready to drop the tray and leave the room. Suddenly, as he took yet another step into the tiny room the door swung back and hit him in the face, he fell to the cold floor. Hazed and struggling to gain composure he tried to raise himself, but Joseph emerged from behind the door, grabbed his ankles and dragged him into the room. Then he closed the door. He delivered several blows to the man’s head, knocking him completely unconscious, and then busied himself getting the orderly’s uniform off and slipping his clothes onto the victim.
The clever old trick, pillows under the sheets was not just good for sneaking out on a school night. He put the pillows back in place, then put the unconscious man in the bed lying on his side with his back turned to the door.
He used some of the water that was served with his meal to moisten his hair just enough to run his fingers through it smoothly. Using the surface of the serving tray as a mirror, he stared at the dull reflection hoping that this look would buy him some time to find a better disguise. He was due for a shave, but this didn’t bother him in the least. Out in the long narrow passageway, similar metal doors decorated each side of the light grey concrete walls. Dull potted lights flickered noisily from the ceiling and threw patches of light on the tile floor, leading like a guide to the double doors with a neon exit sign glowing in red at the end of the passage. For the moment he was alone, so he stepped into the hallway cautiously and walked toward the door.
Halfway to the door, a loud buzzing noise echoed in the passage, the alarm went off. Frightened that he might have been the trigger, he turned and started walking back to his room. Three orderlies burst through the doors and ran past him. One of them yelled over his shoulder to Joseph.
“One of the patients attacked one of the orderlies; we need help to get him under control now.” Amazed that his disguise fooled them, he nodded to confirm that he would render assistance. Joseph walked sluggishly behind the threesome until they disappeared into one of the little rooms that housed another patient. Now, he was more confident, if this disguise got him past those guys it just might get him through the front door he thought as he pushed the doors.
He walked down another narrow hall studying the red wooden doors studded with golden name plates on each side of the walls. He knew these were offices for the doctors and therapists that care for the patients of Horizon Mental Hospital. Among them, his own doctor, Paige Malik. He walked for minutes, going in circles. Maybe causing so much trouble and ended up being banished to his room wasn’t the greatest idea. At least if he’d been out of his room more often, he’d have a chance to check out the place and memorize the exit routes. He had no idea which way to go. And each step was taking him farther and farther into the administrative section of the facility. He got scared when he heard voices coming down the hall. Quickly he started walking back the way he came. Ted had Michael in a wheel chair, pushing him slowly down the hall.
“Don’t worry Mickey, this will only hurt a lot” he said giggling. He stopped in front of a door then tussled around a bunch of keys, opened the lock then went in. Michael was a wild schizophrenic, his treatment ranged from a cocktail of antipsychotic drugs to shock treatments. Joseph’s first thought was to move on and leave him there. Unlike him, Michael deserved to be at Horizon. He deserved a lot of things for the crimes he had committed. He’d electrocuted every pet his ex-wife got for their family, till he finally turned on them, killing his only daughter. He said the man in his head told him to do it in order to save her from the rooners, an alien species that kidnapped people and took their souls. He knew though, that Michael was subjected to inhumane treatment on a daily basis. The orderlies would beat him, and even sexually assault him with thermometers. He couldn’t stand the thought of just leaving him there. Joseph snuck around the corner quietly pressing his index to his lips, telling Michael to be quiet. He crept up to the door and looked in, Ted was mixing a cocktail of drugs.
He knew they were getting ready to juice up Michael. There was nothing he could do, not by himself. This was the reason for the many rebellions that he instigated. These people had rights and they needed to stand up for themselves. With a heavy heart, he turned and walked away. He heard them coming behind him and ran down the hall. He found the stairs to the basement and went down. There was a Janitorial closet; he took a khaki janitor’s uniform and dressed himself along with a scruffy old ball cap. He looked for an exit in the basement but found none.
He climbed the stairs and surveyed the halls. With the cap tucked low over his eyes he pressed on. Walking cautiously down the hall way, he searched the building for an exit. Finally he came to another corner and went around it cautiously, he was in the main waiting area now, a rather gay room with bright yellow walls, white crown moldings, and large framed photos of smiling people on the walls. He almost bust out in laughter at the sight of the bright room. He thought he’d walked right onto the set of a TV program for three year olds. Well, they gotta make this place look attractive for the unsuspecting relatives that will admit their loved ones to the care of this place not knowing the horrors that goes on behind these walls.
A set of large red leather sofas and an impressive round dark stained mahogany coffee table decorated with glossy magazines, brochures and pamphlets of more smiley people drew the focus of anyone who entered the room. To the left of the room, he could see the double French doors that led to a well-manicured garden where more well behaved patients were taken for walks on sunny days, given that they take their meds and cooperate fully with the staff. And visitors could take their folks out for picnics. He however, was never privileged to receive such a luxury. Between attacking the staff and other patients, and even trying to start a rebellion, he was secluded to his room most of his days at Horizon.
The waiting room was the only area between him and the exit to the facility. But there was a reception desk close to the exit manned by a grumpy looking old enough woman who look like she’d been having a bad day since she was born. A well groomed man in a suite approached her desk, she etched a lazy lopsided smile unto her wrinkly face and greeted him. Joseph was relieved. The distraction was welcomed. Joseph inched closer to the exit as he pondered his next move. Just then his doctor stepped thru the front door in a dazzling white pants suite. Nothing got past her, he knew. She would recognize him no matter what he was wearing.
During their weekly sessions he’d swore she had some telepathic ability that could somehow pick up what he was thinking. She could tell when he was holding back or just cleverly trying to avoid a question or line of questions. Doctor Paige Malik was that good. And this scared him. She was not like other psychiatrists. Joseph was an enigma but she was able to dig deep into the inner machinations of his mind and draw out any hidden thoughts, emotions or inclinations. He could leave nothing to chance. He drew back into the corner, went back and found the nearest trash receptacle and came back pulling the bin with the cap low over his eyes. His back turned to his enemies of the past two years and headed out the door pulling the bin. His disguise was convincing enough because they paid no attention to him as he left the facility. Joseph abandoned the trash can the minute he was out the door and strolled across the parking lot. He headed down the street choosing no particular direction he just walked. He gave no thought to looking back, not even for moment. Horizon Mental Hospital was a thing of his past; there was no going back. His focus was going home to his wife and kids.
The town he felt was anything but warm and inviting. Well, if you owned a Mercedes and took private flights to Milan for dinner then you were welcomed. Just looking at the designer clad youngsters, posh shops and artesian restaurants confirmed that he was indeed a complete misfit. He knew that walking around in full janitor’s garbs would eventually raise suspicion. So finding new clothes was next on his agenda. He came to the conclusion that whoever decided to put a mental hospital in this town was mentally ill themselves. This was food for the taking he thought. Since he was locked up in that Looney bin for so long he deserved nothing more than to enjoy the finer things in life.
He walked down the street staring into all the shops and restaurants that lined the streets. He looked no one in the eye, and just kept walking even though the dirty looks and judgmental stares pierced him from every corner. He noticed a crowded line forcing their way into a store. He went to investigate, and found out that the latest designer shoes had arrived. Joseph stealthily forced himself into the line. At least they didn’t stare him to scorn, after all there were more important things at hand than eyeing some dirty, smelly janitor.
The mob of shoppers went primarily to the shoes section, he surveyed the store clerks carefully, who were quite busy dealing with the deluge of shoppers trying to fetch a deal on anything they got their hands on. He quietly snuck into a rack of jeans at the far end of the store. He looked at the not very attractive jeans on the hangers, and scuffed in disappointment.
“This is designer? Guess the ‘other half’ isn’t as interesting as it seemed.” He crouched down and slipped on a pair of the jeans. Hideous as they were they would have to suffice. Shedding the janitor’s pants on the floor, Joseph came out from the clothes rack wearing a new pair of designer jeans and the top half of the khaki uniform.
Shoes were not the only thing the shoppers were after, a crowd attacked over a large stack of neatly folded shirts on some shelves. He shimmied his way through, and grabbed a few. Then he pushed his way through the crowd again. He looked at what came up in his hand, not very satisfied he made his choice, and then threw the others on the ground. He went into a change room to exchange his khaki for a new Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt, Joseph felt dirty wearing the shirt and knew he needed something to cover his shame. He spotted a brown leather jacket on a rack.
“Finally, something wearable in this God forsaken store. At least it didn’t look like crap sprinkled with glitter.” He thought out lout and grabbed the jacket from the hanger and put it on.
The theft tags were the only problem. He didn’t have the skills or the time to dig them off. He waited in a corner close to the exit for the perfect opportunity to make his move. Three hair flipping blondes laden with shopping bags, bragging about their new BCBG and Marc Jacobs shoes, approached the exit completely oblivious of the rest of the world.
The attendant worked up a perfunctory smile as he opened the door for the threesome. Joseph crept up behind them then pushed his way past and ran down the street as the theft alarm blared out a high pitched shrike. Not even stopping for a quick glance to see if he was followed Joseph took the corner. He was now a designer clad wanted man. His first thought is that the cops would sniff him out in the blink of an eye. Joseph Tanner knew he couldn’t linger in town. But he was broke and had no way to get home. He needed a way to get his hands on some cash and fast. He was sure he was hot be because of the shoplifting, and thought it might not be very wise to steal a car, besides he wasn’t sure it was possible to hot wire one of those cash on wheels these people called cars. After all, he was no experienced car thief and how many middle class Insurance salesmen like himself was able to successfully hotwire a Cadillac? He walked some more until he came to a small diner on the outskirts of town, like Joseph it seemed out of place and unwelcome in this posh town. With its flickering neon open sign in the door and missing N and apostrophic from its Andy’s he was sure he’d feel more welcomed there.
He approached it with glee. There were rundown sedans and the occasional station wagons and some impressive motorcycles in the parking lot but, one caught his eye. He knew this was no time to be picky, but the call was irresistible, unbearable. Cautiously he looked around to see if anyone was watching him, and then went over to the bike, but just then the owner came out and approached him.
Stunned, Joseph stepped back “Nice bike you got here. What is this a Harley? I’m bike illiterate, but I don’t need to know a lot about bikes to see that this is a beautifully machine.” He spat out a nervous stuttered laugh, trying to cover up his intent as he pretend to merely admire the bike. He took a step back, hoping that the man wouldn’t attack and pound him to dust. The biker shook his head and smiled pitifully as he saddled the bike. With one steady kick of the pedal the engine rumbled to life. Joseph began to walk away in defeat.
“You need a lift?” The biker turned and asked.
“Yeah I do,” he answered delightfully,
“Well hop on.” He gestured with his head for Joseph to get on.
The biker was a taller fellow than Joseph at least 6’4, he boasted thick muscular arms, a clean shaved head and a thick bushy beard, Joseph mounted the bike, and wondered where to put his hand, because he dared not touch this man. The wind was brutal as the motorcycle stormed down the road.
“So where are you heading?” the biker shouted back to Joseph who was trying to take cover behind him to dodge the assault of the wind whipping his face. “Northridge,” he yelled back.
“I can’t take you that far, but I’ll take you close to the interstate.” He gripped his jacket tight and closed it across his chest and folded his arms to try and warm up. Joseph was amazed that the biker was wearing nothing but a sleeveless denim vest and leather pants. He didn’t seem to even notice how cold the breeze was.
It seemed like hours before they were close enough to the interstate. Joseph wasn’t a man of prayer but he distinctly remembers praying to be off that motorcycle. The roads climbed rolling hills and hugged dizzying curves as the tires ate up the asphalt beneath them. Every turn drew on the biker’s skills and years of experience handling a motorcycle. He rode fearlessly, at times seeming to forget that he had a pillion.
Joseph wasn’t thrilled about walking, but he was relieved to be off that motorcycle. Night had fallen, and he walked for some time before he reached the interstate. If the past few years of his life was rough this night could have been categorized as one of the worst. Car after car he watched the headlights go past him. No one stopped to pick him up, even though he signaled to every car that passed. His feet were aching, and weariness was beginning to get the better of him.
He heard a car coming up behind him for the umpteenth time, he turned to face it while walking backward, and beckoning for it to stop. It pulled off the road a few feet in front of him. Joseph ran to the car, all the while a song of triumph sang in his ear. Then he got to the window, music was blasting in the car, and it reeked of alcohol. He got in, only to find three kids bopping their heads and swinging their bodies unnaturally to heavy metal music.
Immediately he regretted it, and wanted to get out. But reasonableness set in, sitting half in half out of the car decided to tough it out, it wouldn’t be forever, he reasoned and he didn’t have a choice.
He slapped his hands on his thighs, and made circles with his palms as he stared out the window. He glimpsed at the youngster beside him swinging his body to the music and wondered why the minutes were crawling so slowly.
“Hey, you want a beer?” the juvenile shouted over the noise. Joseph nodded yes, and took the beer from his hand. He threw his head back and took a long satisfying drink.
“You guys enjoy your music loud huh? I like music m’self but, ah could you take it down a notch?” The question went un-noticed by the threesome.
“What are you doing out here by yourself?” Jason yelled curiously.
He took another sip of the beer, and ignored the question.
“So where are you heading?” Still another question that felt like a nail piercing his skull.
“I’m Jason, this is Carly and Blake. You got a name old timer?” The kids in front raised their bottles to acknowledge the introduction. His fist tightened around the bottle, as small beads of sweat formed on his forehead. He looked over at Jason dancing away. Another song came on, and the three screamed in unison and turned up the stereo.
The muscles in his jaw worked fiercely as he ground his teeth, anger and frustration took him over and was about to consume him. His grip tightened around the bottle.
“You like music man?” Jason screamed with excitement.
But he said nothing and just stared at Jason with utter disdain, the bottle shattered in Joseph’s hand.
“Hey, he’s mute, hey Blake we picked up a mute! Speak up old man we won’t bite.” They laughed hysterically and teased. A flash bulb chattered in Joseph’s head. He sprang at Jason and went straight at his face with the piece of broken bottle. The chard glass tore deep into flesh, the youngster grabbed Joseph’s hand and struggled to push him back.
The car swerved across the road as Blake reached back to try and help his friend. Jason wrestled under Joseph’s weight. Not only was the old man a stick in the mud who couldn’t take a measly joke, he was a maniac who put up a hard fight. Jason gritted his teeth, dug for some strength and delivered a punched that rattle Joseph’s jaw.
He sat up quickly and pushed Joseph back, his head hit the window, which shattered on impact. He lunged at Joseph and pushed him up against the door the two grappled for a while. Jason tried desperately to shake the broken bottle from his hand. But Joseph was much stronger and more determined, Jason grabbed at the lock and the door flew open. They both fell back, and were hanging out the car Jason eased up; his friends grabbed his jacket and pulled him back into the car.
Once back on the seat Jason dug deep for every ounce of strength he had left and delivered a one final kick, which sent Joseph flying out the speeding car he hit the asphalt and tumbled like a weed before stopping in the middle of the road.
He lay on ground groaning and struggling to regain composure, he looked up only to catch a glimpse of the red tail lights fading in the distance. He shook his head a bit a attempted to get to his feet, then the blinding lights of a car came straight at him. The car came to a screeching halt just inches away from his face; he heard the door open, and then felt the presence of someone standing over him.
“Are you all right Mr.?” A voice filled with concern put the question to him. He rolled over unto his back and saw a man kneeling over him. His vision started to blur as the man’s voice faded away. Joseph woke up on the back seat of a car. His temples pulsed with pain, and he was quite bruised up, but he was sobering up now.
“Thank God, you’re ok!” the driver said glancing at Joseph then back at the road, letting air out of his lungs and relaxing.
“I’m going to get you to a hospital.”
“Thanks. But I’m all right.”
“Are you sure? You look pretty banged up, the hospital is just up the road it’s no problem.” The man insisted.
“I said I’m fine what part of that don’t you get? Joseph roared. He looked out the window and realized that he was in Northridge.
“Just drop me off, and I’ll go in by myself,” he said with noticeable excitement. Fear crept into the driver’s expression as he peered back at Joseph thru the rear view mirror. The car pulled up at the hospital, and Joseph got out and thanked the man for coming to his aid. The driver uttered not a word in response and started driving off before he even closed the door. He went in to get his wounds treated. While he was waiting, he saw Blake and Carly waiting, he knew they had taken their injured friend to the hospital. He couldn’t risk the chance of them ratting him out. He left the waiting area and walked toward the reception counter.
Behind him he could hear the bickering of three people who he suspected were related, they argued on and on about who would best be able to take care of their mother who was now paralyzed from the waist down due to a car accident. While they argued the doctor came to speak with them, without hesitation they went to him. Joseph helped himself to a fresh cup of coffee that evidently the oldest of the three had bought.
The hot brew went down smoothly, it felt therapeutic. He savored the taste and started to sip the brew greedily. He turned his attention back to the reception counter trying to concoct a sellable story for his injuries. When suddenly the heavens opened up and beamed down a beautiful light. Karen walked to the counter and collect a jacket folder from the lady manning the counter then she left. Just like that she was in and out. He smiled with satisfaction and pressed the cup to his lip to suppress the laughter that was about the break thru like a broken dam.
The coffee started to taste even better he smiled cheerily and approached the counter. There was hope, and he didn’t go thru all that crap for nothing. He thought, as he began to ask the reception nurse for assistance.
She ran out so fast she didn’t even see him standing there. Could it have been any easier? They had been divorced for four years, but now they could finally be together again the way a family ought to be. In his mind, their marriage was as real as the day they first wed, and he intended to get her back at any cost. If she thought theirs was an unfixable relationship, he would mend it. And if she didn’t yield he would have to do it the hard way.
He left the waiting room before she came back and saw him; he couldn’t believe he had found her that easily. Things were looking up. Now he knew where she worked, but he needed to plan his next move carefully so that he could take her and the kids and get a move on. If things continued to go this smoothly, their family would be back together in the blink of an eye.