At first, there was darkness, total and comforting. Gradually consciousness began trickling into my brain, like water trickling into a dry desert plant. Then, I noticed the fog. It permeated my brain the way smoke fills a house. What the hell happened? I felt that my brain was packed in gauze. After several minutes of lazy, half assed concentration, I realized I was under the influence of drugs; probably pain killers. I began counting the dots on the ceiling when the scene abruptly winked out like the picture on a faulty screen. When awareness finally flooded into my empty brain I was in a private room, complete with drab decorations and dim lights. Jake sat in the corner of the room watching lousy cable.
“Unh—“ I said.
“What the hell, happened?” I wanted to know.
“You got shot in the back.” Said Jake.
“He’s safe. You called for backup before passing out.”
“You took a couple in the spine.”
“What? I said crestfallen
I heard a woman’s voice say. “Cainus, my name is Doctor Pierson. The bullet penetrated the C4 and C5 vertebrae of your spine. Your lower body is completely paralyzed.” My anguished scream washed awareness away.
Purgatory. The place between heaven and hell. I felt like a ghost or phantom. I could see the physical world around me. I could see it, I could hear it. Sometimes, I could even feel it. But I couldn’t change it, couldn’t use it, and couldn’t bend it to my will not like I could before. The simplest things were now all most impossible. It was as if I was drowning in a sea of torment and misery. Sometimes, these moments would be especially horrible, and they would painfully sear into my brain like a festering burn. I remembered a moment. Staring out of my hospital window, thinking dark thoughts, seeing nothing except my wizened atrophied legs, hearing nothing except my own screams of rage and denial. Trapped by painful circumstance.
Hygiene was the worst, I couldn’t even do simple things, like walk to a dresser and pick out my on clothes. There came a point where, I didn’t even care if I was naked. I will never forget when I smelled it for the first time, a tangy, sickly bitter smell, I’d smelled it before, but hadn’t paid attention to it because I could just leave the bathroom whenever I smelled it.
I looked down and saw myself lying in a pool of urine.
“I wet the bed.” I said, then louder with incredulity, “I wet my fucking bed.” A mountain of self-pity fell on me. I was not conscious of the light coming on above my head. My vison was obscured by cloudy tears. My own angry howls drowned out murmurs of empathic voices and helping hands as I was lifted from the bed and placed on a gurney. Then, I heard the rustling of the soled sheets being taken away and freshly clean linen being laid on in its place.
“There now,” said a voice, “isn’t that better?” I felt myself being laid on the freshly made bed.”
“Go away.” I told the voices. Finally, they left.
It was Milton who wrote, “The mind is its own place and in itself can make a haven of hell or heaven.” It’s amazing how some writers, like Milton, can lay bare the basic truths of the human soul and use the beauty of language to ennoble all those who read their words and burn the truth they have gleaned on the hearts of their readers like the flaming finger of God. Milton’s truth certainly applied to me now, for pain and loss trapped my mind in a prison of anger and self-pity. The warmth of sun did not reach my days, and during my lonely nights I was entombed in a den of self-recrimination and loathing, trapping me in the throes of a recurring nightmare. As soon as my eyes closed I found myself in a cave. I’m desperate to fight off a frenzied mad wolf who tore the clothes from my flesh as he began to tear holes in my body and drink the blood from my naked flesh. I would kick at the wolf and would try to run from his den, but the maddened howling thing always knocked me down and ripped opened my back with its piercing fangs. I would kick him off and then crawl out of the cave on the flat of my belly, dragging my dead and bleeding legs behind me. I would desperately crawl away from his cave with my dead father’s voice screaming at me, “Live, Live!” The crimson trail of my blood on the dark evening snow would lead the wolf right to me. Just as he was about to claim me, my eyes would open and another dreary day would begin.
Sometimes a thin point of light would penetrate the cold burning fog which entombed my mind and soul, like lighthouses on a cloudy sea. One such moment, was when Jessica came into my hospital room followed by a veritable army of nurses. “Come on Jack” She said, “We’re going out.” I looked at her as if she were nuts with hissing snakes for hair.
“We are going out.” She said, as if reasoning with an obstinate child. Like Athena’s disgraced servant, Jessica wasn’t deterred by my reticence. I felt like a wooden doll as the doctors and nurses dressed me in a dark blue suit. “Look your best in the company of a woman Jack,” they said. Again, I was slightly disturbed by the mention of my name. That was the name my parents gave me. But ever since their death it never felt real to me. I just kept on using it because I didn’t know what else to do. The truth is, I always felt adrift from Jack, since my father’s murder. I’ve felt as far from Jack as the stars are from the ground, adrift in a sea of emptiness. For a while, I found an anchor in a new name, Cainus. Silverwolf gave it to me to honor his wolf totem. I’d lived with him after we brought down the corrupt officials at the orphanage. He put me through school, provided for my needs and set me on a path toward law enforcement, a path which I hadn’t walked very long, and which led me only to failure. Like Jack, I felt myself drifting away from Cainus, as well. Which path would I walk now? How could I ‘walk’ any path now? My legs were gone, dead, and as useless to me now as a boat in the desert. That’s what my life felt like now a desert, a dry empty, airless wasteland, a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
“Jack” Jessica said you need to get out of your own head.”
“Huh?” I had no idea what she was talking about.
“Where are we?” She demanded.
“We’re ah, in a park sitting on a bench.” Well to be more accurate, she was sitting on a bench. I was setting next to her in a power wheelchair in a park. The suit the doctors put on me hung like a scare crow on my atrophying frame. We were people watching as I vaguely remembered Jessica putting it. All sorts of people were walking by, playing games, throwing footballs chattering like chipmunks among themselves. I could feel the long, golden fingers of the sun try to tickle my drawn, wizened face and I shied away from it like a burning vampire. Everywhere I looked, people were walking, running, jumping, sometimes rolling on the grass. Every sight my tortured eyes beheld was a reminder of all the things, I could once do but would never do again. It occurred to me that none of those people even recognized how lucky they were, just to be able to stand, and they probably never would realize it. Until by Destiney’s capricious hand, they lost that ability, the thought made me almost unbearably sad.
I was supposed to be watching an Idyllic summer scene at the park but, I felt so dead inside, I might well have been watching the fields of Asphodel.
Jessica’s voce felt like the buzzing of bees in my ears. I could hear her but I couldn’t connect her words to thoughts and actions. My mind felt like a pond brimming with mud.
I looked at Jessica. I was not so embittered that her loveliness didn’t quicken my breath. She reminded me of a single rose decorating a newly closed grave. He raven hair caught the sun and held it, crowning her head in a fiery halo, as if heaven had ordained her its queen. Her green eyes absorbed everything and filed it away with keen intelligence. Her perfectly symmetrical face was open and honest, extending a friendly invitation to all her beheld her lovely classic features.
For a moment I felt like dead Hades gazing at lovely Persephone. What on Earth could I offer like this? The life I knew was gone. I couldn’t even get myself out of bed in the morning. I needed three attendants to even dress myself. I felt so uncertain and unsure. Was she willing to brave the underworld of my depression, like Psyche attending to wounded Cupid? I felt so unsure and anxious, like Odysseus heading for Charybdis. Her beautiful calming presence reminded me, “Loneliness is that thing which God deems not good.”
Jessica turned toward me and opened her purse. She extracted a book, Milton’s Paradise lost, “Have you ever read this book Jack?”
“Yes”, I said.
“I’ve always found Lucifer to be quite a compelling character. “
“The Devil?” I said.
“He rebelled against God and was punished for it.”
“True but another way to look at it is he wanted to make a choice to live his own life and made the best of a situation, he himself, had created.”
“A valid point,” I acknowledged.
“Lucifer made his bed, but he laid in it. Maybe you could do the same thing.”
Her insinuation stung a bit. “Are you saying I’m like the Devil?”
“Aren’t we all?”
I had to admit, that was true once in a while, but, I still felt her insinuation was a bit unfair. Lucifer had chosen rebellion against God because of misguided arrogance. His punishment was righteous and just. I was an officer of the law who was wounded during the performance of my lawful duty. I felt it was unfair to lump me in with the prince of darkness, and, I said as much.
“Did anybody twist your arm to be a cop? Jessica asked.
“You knew the risks did you not?”
“Of course I did. I didn’t think it would actually happen.”
“Of course you didn’t. Nevertheless, it happened because of a choice you yourself, freely made.”
The stark, frigid logic of her statement was impossible to argue with, it infuriated me.
“You’re right.” I said quietly. My face screwed up with the bitter reality of the situation. I felt like a child swallowing liver, it was unfair that I must live this way, but live this way I must. For the sake of my life, and my sanity, I had to find a way to live with my new reality.
A terrified scream ripped through the stillness of the moment. A blond haired human woman was running full tilt toward the park. Her legs were pumping furiously. An open expression of fear was on her face, etched in stone as if the hand of god himself had put it there. She was being chased by one of the Animen, Minos, a half man, half bull, I recognized from police training videos. People were starting to look their way when they heard the raging mad cries of the bull.
“Uh, Oh” muttered Jessica. I gripped a two foot long stick. Two feet long and smooth to the touch. Cainus used to be an action oriented man who couldn’t ignore someone’s cry for help. Perhaps, part of him was still inside me now. Jack always was a brave, yet nervous child. I felt stirrings of the child’s fear as I eyed trouble coming. I controlled it with a man’s patience and resolve. My eyes became cold, calculating as I awaited the proper moment to strike. The girl’s legs were pumping furiously as she rushed past us. I could hear the wailing of police sirens, help was on the way. I could hear the unearthly grunts of the man-bull as he thundered down the path and considered myself lucky he wasn’t looking at me. I threw the stick in front of his legs with a grunt of herculean effort. It collided with the beasts’ legs at exactly the right moment to send Minos falling hard to the pavement right in front of me.
Jessica and I both managed a yelp of surprise as a thunderous crash shook the ground, shattering the peace of the day.
“Holy crap look what I did”, I muttered. Officers I didn’t recognized ran up and subdued the behemoth with their Tasers. He grunted loudly and went still.
A cheer went up from the crowd.
People almost gasped with relief. Their nervous laughter reminded me of pots over flowing with pressure. The cops ran up and restrained Minos, wrapping him with cuffs and chains and dragged him away. I felt amped, energized as if I touched a live wire and it charged my body, ruined though it was with, energy. Outwardly, nothing had changed. My body still felt crippled and broken. I was still adrift, a ghost floating in a world I didn’t know. But perhaps, I didn’t need to stay that way. I felt the broken pieces of my soul struggle to reconnect themselves. Maybe I could make something out of my new circumstances. Optimism started to bloom in my soul like a newly planted flower in the sun.