Cornelius fingered the white fabric of his straight jacket. The straps weren’t tied today. Today was a good day. He was sitting at the edge of the dock, his uncovered toes were just barely grazing the surface of the water; they floated back and forth gingerly observing the abyss below. His toes touched the water in a way that caused small ripples, like how his family affected his life. They were always just present enough to assert their control and just when he thought they were gone they would cannonball back into his life. Big, random, deposits in his bank account or freshly changed locks on his house with a handwritten note from his mother.
“Do better,” Chris muttered.
Cornelius was Chris no matter how much his parents protested.
“Nicknames are not distinguished, Cornelius.”
“Your actions have consequences.”
“You represent the family, it would serve you well to remember that. Above all, it is your job to ensure the continued legacy of your family.” Chris stomped at his reflection in the water. No matter how much he splashed the water always returned to show his reflection. Some wheels couldn’t be stopped from turning.
Sarah sat under the old oak tree observing Chris. Her straight jacket was tied. Today was not a good day. She saw him fuss about at the edge of the dock. She saw a calm therapist walk over. They were always so goddamn calm. Their uniforms were a bright, annoying, shade of white. Everything about the facility was that same shade of bleached to perfection white as if it were designed to be a white stable for black sheep. The therapists were all female with perfect posture with hair pulled back tight enough to elongate their severe cheekbones.
“I wonder if the therapists are required to get plastic surgery?”
“Don’t be insane Sarah.”
“You’ve always had a penchant for irony Jamie.”
“What can I say? Maybe I was a playwright in a past life.”
Jamie wasn’t wearing a straight jacket. Every day was a good day.
Under Old Oakie, they had a view of the sprawling facility. The lake to their left, the facility in its gothic grandeur up the hill and the electric fence buzzing behind them. What was beyond the fence you ask? Hardly anyone could remember. Not because so much time had passed because it hadn’t. It was easier to forget the life they all used to live. The expensive fabrics, the small-town celebrity status, the preferred treatment. In here they were all the same. Not because they were collectively crazy, because they weren’t. The things they did (and huge payouts to the facility) got them here. Too many DUI’s, teen pregnancy, drug addictions, a preference for underage sexual partners, online shopping habits, swearing at church. When you boiled it down they all had the same story. Rich people from distinguished families doing not so distinguished things. This place was the preverbal rug that covered the mountain of scandal in every living room.
Sarah had been here long enough to know that there was no coming out from under the rug. By now her social media accounts had been deleted and her trust fund friends would have all gone about pretending she was never born. Her wing of the mansion had probably been transformed into an indoor-outdoor living area. Her mother always said, “we must invite the public in but keep them at a distance.” She would explain her charitable donations by saying “I believe it is my duty to open doors for those less fortunate, but no one said I couldn’t wear Chanel gloves while doing so!” Her book club would laugh their high pitched nasal laughs. They always would laugh at her jokes— her monthly bank statement was single-handedly responsible for the deforestation of the Amazon. Sarah used the last five minutes of outdoor therapy to fully observe her surroundings. As far as insane asylums go, this one was pretty posh.
The therapist had left Chris’ side but her eyes were still very much on him. The bell rang. It was time to go in. Chris stood with his own eyes on himself, well the reflection of himself. The image began to distort as an object floated towards the dock. It wasn’t an object but an animal, a dead animal.
Chris looked closer at the beaver and saw it had black, charred skin, “Poor thing. What burned you little fella?” The beaver didn’t answer him, the dead never talk.
Chris resigned himself to walk back to the facility. Maybe insane asylum was a stretch but to the judicial courts and more importantly the court of public opinion this is what the Cedar Creek Asylum for the Criminally Insane was. The actual psychopaths were housed in a completely separate facility “nestled” into the thick forest on the other side of the lake. No one knew that these former socialites were essentially stuck in a regulated five-star resort. They even had a sweat lodge because apparently sweating is good for you; Chris had always heard that sweating caused acne. Chris trudged up the quiet hill and thought there were worse places to be stuck. His internet usage was monitored and the porn was crap, but at least he had running water and electricity. Electricity? Could that be what burned the beaver? Chris had thought that the hill was quiet because everyone else was already inside but now he realized it was something else. He listened harder and couldn’t hear a thing, not even a faint buzzing. The fence was out. What should he do? If he left where would he go? If he went home his parents would send him right back. If he told someone it would be a wasted opportunity. Then a dark thought crashed into his brain like the event that landed him here. It was a one word, satisfying, thought. Revenge.
He remembered painting a creek near the edge of the compound during art therapy, maybe the beaver chewed through the fence and flowed into the lake? It was the absolute longest of shots but it was a shot he had to take. Chris diverted from the path and began a straight march to the brush. They were given a slight grace period with the curfew, but even that had its limitations.
“Where is he going.”
“I dunno but I don’t want to be late.”
“Come on Jamie live a little. Let’s follow him.”
“No, what if we get caught?”
“What if we get caught? What will they do? Restrict our sauna time?” Sarah put her hand on Jamie’s in a way that brought much needed color to his cheeks. He looked younger and almost attractive.
Jamie looked at her hand on his then back up to the facility. He knew his face was blushing and only hoped the blood didn’t flow elsewhere.
They followed in pursuit of Chris, who they both thought of as a friend until recently. He walked with a definitive purpose.
Chris felt eyes on him the whole duration of his walk but as long as no one tried to stop him he didn’t care.
The creek was exactly how he remembered it but the fence was nowhere in sight. He followed the water for about fifteen feet before reaching a clearing. The fence that had held him captive for so long was now in front of him. The fence that represented everything he hated about his family. The fence that now had a small hole in it. Jackpot. It wasn’t large enough to squeeze through by any means but it was located just far enough in between the posts to have some give. Chris dug through the soft dirt with hands and managed to squeeze and scrap his way to the other side. Freedom.
“Oh my god, he left!” Sarah said.
“Yeah, I know.”
“Well, we have to go after him!”
“What? No we don’t!”
“Come on, let’s go.” Sarah dragged Jamie through the opening in the fence. As Jamie was face down in the dirt he realized it wasn’t his family he was afraid of.
Chris did not have a plan; he had an emotion. Chris meandered through the forrest aimlessly. If he was caught? Oh well. The air somehow tasted sweeter on the other side of the fence, as if he was standing beside a cotton candy machine. He made random turns to ensure no one was following him, with every second of freedom came an increasing sense of reality. He had one goal.
He crested a hill and saw a large shack. Large enough to house a small plane, maybe it used to be part of a lumber yard? Back in the day, Cedar Creek Pennsylvania made it’s money off two things: lumber and fur. Those industries quickly dried up but not before the descendants of the original settlers, or the founding families as they’re now known, made a savvy buisness deal. From 1836 to 1840 Cedar Creek was the largest supplier of wood for the pencil industry. The sixteen families with the most land banded together to sell off half of the land they owned to the Dixon Ticonderoga Company, amounting to 166 acres, in exchange for a one cent royalty per pencil sold in perpetuity. The families made their initial fortune off these royalties (and still split the money to this day) but they also made various individual investments in oil, steel, and most recently technology. With the Johnsons fortune crippled after a class action lawsuit against big pharma the richest family had to be Louis family. They were early investors in Google, Facebook and Uber. Family history and superstar status bound them to Cedar Creek but Chris was free to do as he pleased, as long as it pleased his family.
He hated that hanger because it symbolized his family history and the money that bought his very expensive cage. He spat. Chris wanted so badly to burn it to the ground but the start of an engine caught broke his tirade. He noticed a school bus for the first time as it kicked up dirt sputtering away from the shack. Chris followed it in hopes of finding a main road.
“Where the hell is he?”
“I don’t know Sarah. Can we go back now?”
“Do you know the way back?”
“No, I thought you did?”
“How would I miraculously memorize the path? My name isn’t Gretel.”
“Gretel didn’t memorize anything she dropped bread crumbs.”
“Not whatever! Was this your plan the entire time? To use Chris as excuse to escape?”
“No. My plan was to follow him and to see what his plan was, but clearly that didn’t work ou—” Jamie dragged her to the ground just before a yellow school bus rolled down the dirt road. When the bus was out of earshot they peeked through the foliage and saw Chris slinking along the path on the opposite side of the road. Bingo.
Chris made it to the main road and couldn’t believe his luck. He knew this area, in fact, one day he would own this area. Well, if he wasn’t already cut out of the will. Chris took the well worn path to his left. Laughter from his childhood echoed in the present. He had to remind himself that everything had changed since then. He walked a quarter mile, navigating the familiar backroad with confidence, before reaching his own backyard. He grabbed a log from the ground and stomped forward.
When Chris was eight years old his father taught him how to shoot clay pigeons. He was an excellent shot, but not as good as his father.
BANG. BANG. BANG.
Inside the police station was the Sheriff’s office, inside that office was a desk with a locked drawer. Inside that was an envelope with thirty thousand dollars cash. Ten thousand per body. That envelope was thin compared to the dozens beneath it.