At a simple wooden square table sat a slender teenage boy by himself, drawing. On his left was the large panoramic window that looked out on the greying city of San Francisco. Every day for the three years the boy lived in the psychiatric hospital this young patient sat at the same table and the same chair so he could see the rest of the dayroom, especially the entrance. This view of the dayroom and the doors allowed him to know what was going on. It was where he felt the safest, outside of his bedroom. The dayroom is where he and the other psychiatric patients spent most of their time, waiting for counseling, food, or bedtime. The large open room was scattered with tables, chairs, and couches all of which were occupied by young men and women. Some of them sat quietly staring off into space. Others rocked back and forth in their seats nervously waiting for something to happen to them. A few other patients quietly worked on projects such as puzzles or crafts. Various staff roamed through the room checking on each patient. Sometimes the staff member simply needed to say hello. Other times they needed to calm a patient down. The patients learned to leave the teenager alone out of respect. The staff learned to leave him alone out of fear.
At the entrance to the expansive day room a woman stood and scanned the people for her new client. Her long brown hair was pulled up into a ponytail, with a bright red band. She wore a simple white button down blouse, with a form fitting beige skirt. Her entire persona seemed to clash. Her persona said she wanted to be serious and professional, while parts of her attire said fashion and fun, such as her high heel tan strappy shoes. This was a new counselor who had not settled into a routine and a comfort zone with her new position. A part of her wanted to prove she was a good counselor, while another part still demanded some personalization. To prove she was capable of doing her new job the new counselor had volunteered to take this new patient after the last counselor said the patient had become too aggressive for her to handle. She thought this would be a good way prove herself.
The counselor draped her motorcycle jacket and dark red scarf over her arm and pulled open the file folder on her new client and read through the description. Her new client’s name was Alexander Traux. The file said he was sixteen years old. The picture of him was very sullen, almost like a police mug shot. In the picture the boy had long dark brown hair that rarely saw a comb and he wore a brown hoody sweatshirt. She looked up and scanned the room again. In a corner was a young man wearing the same brown hoody, but the hood was now up. He was sitting by himself at a table, drawing. She glanced at the file again and saw that her patient, Alex, liked to draw.
She crossed the dayroom to stand silently next to the young man. He ignored her and concentrated on his artwork on poster size paper. There were several other sheets loosely piled under this piece of art. Since her new patient refused to recognize her presence, she had to take the first step, “Hi Alex. I’m Sue Haviland. I’m your new counselor and will be working with you from now on.”
Alex did not stop working, but simply said, “Hello.”
Sue placed her black leather jacket over the back of a chair and took a seat. She then studied the picture Alex was working on. There was a silhouette of a woman behind a steering wheel of a car. One hand on the steering wheel and the other was taking a bottle of whiskey from the passenger. It was apparent in the drawing both the driver and the passenger were laughing and having fun. In the headlights was a teenage girl on a bicycle scrambling to stay ahead of the car and get out of the way, but the front of the car was right on top of her. Sue cringed at the darkness of the artwork then forced her professional side to take over, which asked why would this boy be drawing such a thing and why is he being allowed to.
“Alex can you tell me about this picture?” Sue placed her hand on the drawing, near Alex’s hand. He reflexively withdrew his hands to his chest. Alex’s thumbs were pushed through the cuffs of his hoody sleeves and he was now tucking his hands down inside the sleeves.
“I’m sorry Alex,” offered Sue. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
Alex looked out at his new counselor from the edge of his hood. Some of his unkempt hair flopped down in his eyes. Relaxing a little, the teenager put his arms back on the table, but his hands were still hidden in the sleeves, “It’s O.K. Mrs. Haviland. I just don’t like being touched.”
Sue withdrew her hands, “That’s alright, but will you still tell me about this picture you’re drawing?”
Alex paused for a moment, staring blankly at his work. He wondered if he should tell her. He decided he might as well. She would probably run away like the others, “It’s from when Mrs. Harper was in college. She had been drinking with some friends and she hit this girl.”
“Mrs. Harper was your last counselor, right?”
“Did she tell you about this?”
“No.” Alex continued to concentrate on his artwork.
Sue wondered how he knew about Harper’s accident. Maybe she did tell him, but why would she do that? Maybe he had made this entire story up about Harper. Is this why she said she could not control him?
The social worker decided to find out more about her new patient and began the professional process she had been taught to get to know a patient. It was a standard process used on every client. The questions ranged from the patient’s information to how long they had been having problems. Questions were asked that confirmed the diagnosis that was stated in the folder. Alex slowly paid more and more attention to her as the minutes passed and eventually stopped drawing to talk with her. Sue learned Alex was pretty much a normal kid. He loved cartoons and comic books and video games. She also learned that Alex had had a harsh life with very few people that he could trust. His father had abused him. Alex remembered his mother loving him, but had abandoned them. He was bullied at school. He was the kind of child that did not fit in anywhere, so everyone picked on him. Not even his teachers were kind to him. They used him as an example as what the other students should not do.
Once she had collected the patient’s history Sue felt it had been a long enough of a day and promised she would be back to visit with Alex and said goodbye. She collected her briefcase and black leather jacket. As an afterthought she tried to pat Alex on the shoulder. He quickly leaned out of the way of her hand. Alex was mindful of who was around him and what was going on. He worked hard to keep a shell around himself.
Sue Haviland crossed the dayroom to the doorway, but stopped and turned to a hefty nurse who was helping a patient, “Excuse me, miss. Could you tell me a little bit about Alex?”
The round woman, with her black hair pulled into a tight bun stood up and turned to the counselor. Looking over the top of her glasses, she lightly smiled, “What would you like to know?”
“Why is Alex allowed to make those drawings?”
With a giggle under her breath, the nurse asked, “Did he tell you about his little trick?”
“Trick?” Sue asked, confusedly.
“Yes. Supposedly when he touches someone, he can tell that person about something bad they have done.”
Sue smiled in disbelief, “Do you believe he has such a power?”
“Don’t know. He’s never tried it on me, but everyone he’s touched walks away scared and doesn’t want to talk about what he’s told them.”
Sue looked back at the lone hooded figure slouched over the table with a pencil in hand, “Does he have any friends?”
The nurse looked over at Alex, “No and he prefers it that way.”
“Thank you.” Sue said as she touched the other woman’s shoulder and walked away. The nurse paid no attention to the physical contact, the counselor noted, testing if such gestures were still acceptable.
The Department of Mental Health, filled the third floor of the Health and Welfare building. The floor was filled with varying kinds of social workers and a couple of psychiatrists. The main area was divided into multiple chest high mauve colored fabric cubicles. Around the edges of the open area were doors that led to offices, conference rooms, bathrooms, and a breakroom. Workers buzzed about, in and out of different cubicles and to the occasional office door. A guest to this area of Health and Welfare would never guess it was full of professional counselors and mental health experts.
Sue did not care for her cubicle. It lacked the caring and quiet atmosphere a mental health patient needed. She weaved her way through the cubicles to her personal space and placed her files on the desk and laptop bag on the floor. She then relaxed into her office chair and concentrated on the air above her head. The social worker was stumped by her new patient. On the surface Alex seemed like a standard case, but she felt there was more to the boy and she did not know how to proceed.
Sue swung around to look down the aisle way to see if her supervisor was in her office. The supervisor was there and her door was open, which meant someone could visit with her.
Sue snatched up her file on Alexander Traux and quickly made her way to the supervisor’s office. She had to hurry. Any second someone else might want to talk with the supervisor. Sue slid up to the door and rapped on the frame, just as a young man stopped next to her. Sue looked him in the eye, with a victorious grin, “I was here first and I’m going to be awhile.” The young man walked away dejected.
Sue turned back to her supervisor. “Maggie, could I talk with you about a new client?” inquired Sue.
“Sure,” Maggie replied. Maggie was a woman in her late fifty’s, but the work at Health and Welfare had weathered her an additional ten years. Maggie was a woman who took care of herself. She looked healthy, dressed very nicely, and carried herself with confidence and strength. Yet, there were years of fatigue that shadowed her.
Sue sat in a chair opposite Maggie’s desk and opened her file on Alex, “I met for the first time this morning with a long time client of ours, up at the Psychiatric Trauma Center. He’s sixteen and has been there for over three years. Based on my initial evaluation I believe he suffers from PTSD based on the bullying and abuse he has endured. I believe these hardships have also led to acute agoraphobia, mainly of people. He instinctually protects himself from contact. Through the evaluation testing I believe he is suffering from depression.”
“Sounds like a fairly standard client.” Maggie offered uninterested, as she shuffled through paperwork on her desk. “What seems to be the problem?”
“His name is Alexander Traux.” Sue purposely only gave her supervisor the client’s name. She wanted to see how Maggie would react.
Sure enough Maggie stopped what she was doing and sat back in her chair. Maggie’s complexion darkened, “How do you have his file?”
“Last week’s meeting when we farmed out new clients. His was recycled. He used to belong to Maxine Harper.”
“And he belonged to a couple of other counselors before her.” Maggie leaned forward on her desk, “I’m sorry. After what happened with Maxine, I requested his case be taken by a personal psychiatrist. He is too much for a social worker. I don’t know why he got put back in the mix.”
“What happened between Maxine and Alex that upset her so much?”
“Alex is exceptionally smart and good at playing head games. He wasn’t like this when we started working with him. He was quiet and easy to get along with. Some progress was made with him. It was the first counselor who suggested he start drawing to process things he has dealt with.
“He then got passed around from counselor to counselor. Alex was drawing very dark things. The next counselor asked him about the drawings. Alex claimed the drawings were visions he was getting from touching the other patients and staff.
“Rick and Maxine were the next two counselors. They were scared by Alex. Each of them said they were touched by Alex and he told them about the bad things they did in their pasts. Maxine was so far over the edge we had to put her on administrative leave.”
This was quite the story, thought Sue. How was Alex figuring out a person’s past? What kind of mind games was he playing? What did he gain from it? These questions intrigued her.
“Sue,” Maggie called to bring the counselor’s attention back around. “How about you give me the file? I’ll make sure he gets to the right people.” Maggie held out her hand.
The social worker hugged the file to her chest, “If it’s alright, I’d like to keep Alex. I would like to meet with him at least a couple of more times. I think I can help him.”
Maggie withdrew her hand. She remembered being this enthusiastic when she was a new counselor for the state. Maggie also knew sometimes the best way to break in a new counselor is to let them get bitten by a client or two. Maggie felt Alex would be the one to break in Sue. Hesitantly Maggie agreed, “Alright, but I can’t be responsible for what might happen.”
Bedtime was about two hours ago. All the patients were in their rooms for the night. Alex sat in his twin sized bed with his knees pulled into his chest, reading “Foundation” by Isaac Asimov. Alex dreamt of being like the main character who was wanted by everyone for his brains and talent. His iPod was tucked under his leg, with little white earbuds wedged in his ears. The cheap earbuds hurt his ears, but he would rather put up with the discomfort than not have his music.
Over the noise of his music Alex heard two orderlies talking outside his room. He stopped reading and froze on his bed. Was it finally his turn? There was a low thud through the wall behind him. It was not his turn. He was relieved, but guilt and fear set in for the girl in the room next to him. It was her turn, again.
Alex put down his book and earbuds then crept to his door. The scared teen opened the door just an inch to peer out. He could not see much of the hallway. Opening the door a little more he could finally see the orderly dressed in blue scrubs. He was bald and had a light brown goatee that hung down two inches from his chin. His name was John Levin. He liked to wear his blue orderly scrubs tight so he could intimidate the patients with his muscular body. Alex knew of John’s history of abusing the other patients. The boy also knew the orderly was frequently talking to Dr. Sheppard. Levin was the doctor’s right hand man.
John whipped his head around and looked right at Alex. Suddenly he was towering over Alex in the doorway. Alex stumbled backwards. Trying to keep his balance he grabbed the orderly’s arm without thinking. The sights, sounds, and feelings flooded into him.
The girl in the next room. Sitting up in her bed. Pushing her back down into the bed. She’s too drugged up to fight back. Kiss her. Pull her clothes off.
It’s Dr. Sheppard, in his office. Hands over a tablet with medical orders. “I want you to implement these new med prescriptions.” “Why?” “Business is slowing. We need to keep these patients longer.”
Now pushing another woman down on the bed and rolling her over. Yank her pants off.
Then it’s a father of a woman that’s been abused and hurt. “I’m sorry, sir. She has been harming herself. We tried to help her. It’s why we have her on stronger medication.”
Excited, the Doctor has included him in his plans. Ecstasy with the woman. Rush of power over the girl. Joy and relief in tricking families.
John yanked his hand away from Alex and punched the thin teen in the chest. The boy dropped backwards onto the floor, holding himself and shivering. The orderly stepped forward. “What did you see?!” John was worried and angry. He took a step closer. Alex rolled over and scrambled on all fours to the bathroom. He grabbed the toilet and vomited. Alex felt as if he was expelling all the feelings from the orderly.
John started towards the bathroom, when he heard a loud whisper in the hallway, “John! Where’d you go man?” He turned and hurried out of the room and closed the door behind him. The other orderly asked, “What were you doing in there? Everything OK?”
John grabbed the orderly by the shoulder and spun him around. “Everything’s alright. I just had to make sure that freak stayed out of our business,” changing the subject, John asked his friend, “Now, how was she?”
Alex slumped on the floor next to the sink. He opened one of the cabinet doors and reached up under the sink. He fumbled blindly for the brace that held the cabinet together. On top of the brace was a plastic bag. He grabbed the bag and pulled it out.
Alex could not control his emotions anymore. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He sobbed uncontrollably as his body shook. Alex slid over onto his side and curled into the fetal position. Concentrating on the feel of his familiar brown hoody, tightly wrapped around his body offered no security.
Alex looked at the bag full of medicine. It was medication he was supposed to be taking, instead had been palming it and hiding it in the little plastic bag he found. Alex hated his ability. He hated seeing the things that were done. He hated most of all the perverse feelings of joy, power, and ecstasy. But, he knew if he was going to get out of this hospital he was going to need his ability. Sometimes it was too overwhelming, just as it was now. He was also terrified the orderlies might come back. He unzipped the bag and searched through the pills, for the certain one that would calm him down. He found the little white round tablet and placed it in his mouth. The bitter taste coated his mouth as he choked it down.
Alex lay on the floor. The boy finally stopped shaking as the tears dried. He balanced his plastic bag back up under the sink cabinet and then crawled back to his bed. He felt so weak that his arms and legs trembled. Pulling himself into his bed where he laid sobbing.
The young man slowly relaxed thinking about the visions he just experienced. He had information about the orderlies and now he had something on Dr. Martin Sheppard, the head of the Psychiatric Trauma Center. The good doctor was giving extra medicine to the patients. Alex wondered why. He hoped this new counselor would be strong enough to help him. The last two scared too easily.
Three days later Alex was sitting at his favorite table, in his favorite chair. He was working on a new drawing. He wanted to draw about the images he pulled from John Levin. Drawing those images would help get the memories out of his head, but he knew if someone saw the pictures he would be in danger with John and Dr. Sheppard.
Just after lunch the dayroom began to fill with the other patients. This also meant there would be more orderlies wandering around. Alex tried to keep an eye out for Levin. Yesterday before dinner John stopped him in the hallway and asked quietly, “Are we OK?” Alex did not fully understand why the emphasis on we, but knew John was threatening him. Alex told him everything was fine and there was no trouble.
Keeping a watchful eye around the dayroom, Alex spotted his new counselor, Sue Haviland. He allowed himself a small glimmer of hope. He decided that he needed to get help from her now. There was no telling how long he had before John decided things were not OK.
Sue crossed the room and sat down next to Alex. He had watched her the entire time. “Hi, Alex. How are you doing today?”
Alex did not know how to answer. Did he just start blurting stuff out? Did he wait until she asked a question that gave him an opening? Maybe this was not the time. Maybe he should wait for another visit.
Sue studied her young client’s expression. He looked nervous and anxious, as if he wanted to tell her something, “Alex? Is there something wrong?”
Alex sat back in his chair. His shoulders slumped as if his body caved in on itself. He just realized there was no way his counselor would believe him. He had to show her his ability and hope she did not run away, “Mrs. Haviland…”
“You can call me Sue.”
Alex paused at this. All the people in the hospital made him call them by their last name. This was something special to him. Feeling calmer, he smiled at her, “I’d like that … Sue,” pausing to make sure it was alright. She smiled back at him. “Last time you were here I was drawing a picture about Mrs. Harper.”
“Yes.” Sue was hoping she could talk more to Alex about the drawing. She wanted to know how he knew about the accident and if the nurse was being truthful.
“Well, see the thing is I have this ability…When I touch someone, I can see the bad things they have done.”
“How long have you had this ability?” Sue asked, with complete professionalism.
“It started just before I was put in here.”
“How did it start?”
“I don’t know. It started after a really bad day I had.”
“Can you tell me about this bad day?”
Alex dropped his head. This was not how he wanted things to go. He did not want to talk about his past, especially that day. Alex pulled his hands up into the sleeves of his brown hoody and took a deep breath, “I never really got along with anyone. I’ve never had a friend for very long. The other kids always liked to beat on me. This one day four of them ganged up on me. It had something to do with winning a race in P.E. He told me a spaz would never be faster than him. I only did it because the coach said he thought I could run fast and wanted me to try out for track. The kids followed me home and jumped me a couple of houses from home.
“After they knocked me down, one of them kept hitting me in the face and another was kicking me in my side. Another was kicking me in the legs. I just laid there. I couldn’t do anything to fight back. Finally they quit. I was hurting so bad. It took a while for me to get up and make it home.
“When I got home…” Alex stopped. This was the worst part, “See my dad was always angry…I think it was because my mom abandoned us …I always tried to stand up for myself and…I always tried to follow the rules.” Alex stopped again. He froze and went completely blank. Without thinking he reached out and grabbed Sue’s hand.
Driving home. There’s that cat again. Hate that cat. It uses the garden as its personal kitty box. Old lady next door won’t take care of it. Jerk the wheel. THUMP. Car took care of that miserable cat.
Stupid Organic Chemistry. Don’t need this to be a counselor or a therapist. Professor Avery has a nice office. Says I can pass for a favor in return. He’s old, but for a good grade could do him.
Alex sat back and looked up at his counselor. She stared back at him, waiting for what he had to say. Alex crossed his arms in his lap and leaned forward, “You ran over your neighbor’s cat about two weeks ago. Its name was Spatz. Then when you were twenty, you had sex with Professor Avery a few times so you could pass your chemistry class.”
Now Sue stared at him in complete shock. It took her a moment to collect her thoughts. There was no way anyone could have told Alex about those things. She told no one about the cat and the only other people who knew about the sex for grades was Professor Avery and her roommate, “OK. Nice trick. How did you know that stuff?”
“I told you I can see bad things people do, when I touch them.” The two stared at each other frozen for several moments. Alex started to lose hope. He had scared another one away, “Are you going to run away, like the last one?”
Sue swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and adjusted in her chair, then looked back at Alex for another minute, “There’s no denying what you can do.” Sue looked down at the hands buried in Alex’s lap, “This is part of the reason you don’t like to be touched.”
Alex simply nodded his hooded head.
“Have you touched people around here?”
“Yes and I need your help.” Alex leaned forward on the table, “I’ve seen things that are going on around here.”
“What have you seen?”
“Do you see that female orderly over there, with the long red hair?” He waited for her to look over her shoulder, “She’s been stealing things from patients. She keeps them in her locker, until she can sneak them out. Then she pawns them.
“The cook got a hold of one of the nurse’s keys and made a copy. He now steals the meds and sells them.
“Then there’s him.” Alex looked over Sue’s shoulder to the broad bald man with a goatee, “He’s the worst. He’s the one I’m afraid of.”
Sue turned to look. The bald man with the goatee turned to talk to Dr. Sheppard, who had just walked into the dayroom.
Alex took notice of the doctor as well, “The bald man is John Levin. He’s been changing up the meds on a lot of the patients because Dr. Sheppard ordered him to.”
Sue snapped back around, “What?! Why would Dr. Sheppard do that?!”
“I don’t know. I only touched John and saw the doctor giving him the order and a list.” Alex looked back over at the orderly and the doctor, “That’s not all. John is abusing the female patients. When I touched him last night I saw him pushing himself on five or six different women. A lot of them I kept seeing over and over again. A couple of their names are Nancy Barton and Tracy Solidad. Then there’s the girl in the room next to mine.”
Sue pulled away from Alex. It was too much to take in at once. He knew about her past, when no one else knew. She wanted to believe him, but if she believed him there were a lot of horrid things going on at this facility she had to believe. She did not know what to do.
Alex stretched his arm across the table towards Sue. Tears were welling up in his eyes, “Please, Sue. You have to help me. I’m afraid of what John will do to me.”
Sue remembered the need for professionalism and steeled herself, “I want to help you Alex, but what you have told me is not evidence. I can’t go to the police and tell them some boy is having visions about bad things happening at the Center.” She watched Alex slump back in his chair, hide under his hood, and curl his hands up in his lap, “I’m sorry Alex, but you have to have evidence.” Sue gathered her things and stood up, “I think we should be done for today. I will see you in a couple of days, OK?”
Alex nodded his head. Sue walked off towards the entrance. Both John and Dr. Sheppard watched her as she passed. Sue nodded and smiled at both of them as she left. She was unsettled. The social worker rationally knew she was safe, but could not help looking over her shoulder all the way to her car. Once in her car she hurried back to her office where she would be safe.
Dr. Martin Sheppard watched Sue Haviland leave. Once she was around the corner of the hallway, he sauntered across the dayroom, stopping every so often to say hello to a patient, or to help an orderly. He finally made his way to Alex and sat down next to him, “Hello, Alex. How are you doing today?”
Alex remained motionless, with his hands buried in his lap and his face hidden under his hood, “I’m alright.”
Dr. Sheppard stared out at the panoramic view, “I think you have the best seat here. This view of the city is wonderful,” The doctor then turned on Alex, “Did everything go alright with Mrs. Haviland?”
“Did you try to tell her about your special power?”
Alex looked up from under his hood and through his straggly hair, but said nothing.
Dr. Sheppard smirked and rolled up his shirt sleeve. He held out his bare arm, “You know, I have heard a lot about this power of yours from other patients and staff, but I have never seen it. How about you try it on me?” He suggested with a smile.
Alex looked at the bared dark ebony arm then up at Dr. Sheppard’s face. The doctor’s smile had faded. Alex slowly reached out, but stopped a couple of inches from the bare skin. Sheppard’s arm moved a little closer to Alex and he pulled back his hand.
Alex was not sure about this. He knew the doctor was testing him. Dr. Sheppard wanted to know if his ability was real. He also wanted to know what Alex knew. Alex took a deep breath and grabbed ahold of Dr. Sheppard’s arm.
Pulling files out of desk drawer. Have patients’ names and new prescriptions. Giving to John Levin and a nurse, Michelle. Lots more files in drawer. Fear some patients will get sick. Worried files will be found.
Computer screen. Patient names and dollar amounts. Moving some of the money to fake patients. Services billed to fake patients. Money taken out to pay for services, but sent to bank. Pride in scheme. Excited how much money there is.
Having sex. Not with wife. Thrilled by adventure. Never done this before. Do it again.
Alex pulled away from the doctor’s arm. He was trying to organize the memories he had seen. He also had to figure out what to say. He had to say something or Dr. Sheppard would know he was lying. Alex hunched over in his seat and looked down at his artwork.
Pushing down his sleeve and buttoning the cuff, Dr. Sheppard asked, “So what did you see, Alex?”
“You don’t want me saying,” pulling the sleeves of his brown hoody tight and clenching the fabric in his fists.
The doctor chuckled, “I’m an open book. We all make mistakes. We’re human.”
Alex braced himself. He had to do this. He had to show them and hopefully they would leave him alone, “Are you an open enough book that your wife knows about your affair?”
Scrunching up his face, Dr. Martin Sheppard shook his head and stood up, “An affair is a good guess, Alex. After all half of all married couples cheat.” He turned to walk away.
“Their names are Diann and Paul.”
Turning back, the doctor’s face drained of color, “What did you say?”
“The ones you are having an affair with are Diann and Paul. The three of you like to do it outside. Your favorite is the beach. Diann likes the rooftops. Does Paul know you are trying to push him out of the picture so you can have Diann all to yourself?” Alex paused for a deep breath, “Or, do you want me to tell you about the fake patients you created.”
Alex stood, trembling. With a wavering voice Alex made his demands, “You and John need to start taking good care of me and leaving me alone. I know what goes on around here and I’ll start talking.”
Without taking his eyes off of Alex, mostly out of fear of a dangerous animal, Dr. Sheppard warned him, “You have to find someone who will listen to you first.”
The doctor waved over an orderly. John Levin appeared next to him, “Take Mr. Alexander Traux to his room. He is to be confined there until further notice. He has become a danger to the other patients and staff.”