Claire Meyer, artist
October 12, 2018
He sat in silence, hearing all the voices in the world except his own. Rhett glanced out the window, barely able to make out the stars in the dark night sky. It was cloudy tonight, like so many others. He wondered if it was going to rain.
He fidgeted, adjusting his relaxed position in the chair. He should be walking the hallways and doing room checks, but exhaustion would not allow it. Sleep tugged at his limbs, threatening to pull him under. The last couple of days had taken their toll on him, long hours with little to no action. The job could wait for a minute longer. It wasn’t like he had anywhere to be, not really. Rhett had taken the job at the psychiatric hospital a few months back, to pay the bills. Being a security guard in the third most dangerous institution in the country had its ups and downs, particularly the late nights. But Rhett got along with the patients, and most of his coworkers, and that was good enough.
He sighed halfheartedly. He leaned back in the chair, threw his arms above his head and yawned.
What time was it anyway?
With a grunt, he pushed himself into a standing position, his legs crying out in protest. The hallways were empty as he wandered them, searching for the clock he checked so often. He shivered, and tugged on his coat. The chill in the air was a constant menace, as if a child left the back door open and decided not to tell anyone. The breeze snuck in and sank its teeth into every corner and crevice, making it impossible to have even a sliver of warmth in the lonely hours. It was inescapable. Another wonderful perk of working there.
Rhett ambled down a particularly dark hallway; the lights had gone out and maintenance hadn’t bothered to fix it. There, in that shadow-ridden alley, was where he heard it.
He knew where the sound was coming from. Cell 45. The words were printed in bold letters beside the door menacingly.
“Tick, tock, you’re looking for a clock.”
Rhett crept towards the door, choosing curiosity over duty, as always. The man was sitting cross-legged on the floor, with a smile that stretched too widely across his face. “Jonathan?” The man clicks his tongue, cutting Rhett off and impatiently shaking his head.
“Address me by my full name, Rhett, please.”
He stands, folding his hands behind his back. There was an odd professionalism to the man, it was almost disconcerting. Of course, that was his cardboard sign. Everyone had one, or so his mother said. It was rainy that day, too, when Rhett saw the bedraggled old man with that cardboard sign on the side of the road. He had written something in messy script displaying his sob story, and that was when his mother told him. People always presented their best selves, as what they aspired to be, and sometimes ended up believing it themselves. It was their mask.
He pushed away the far-away memory and asked, stretching out his syllables,
“Doctor Jonathan Weir, what are you doing at this hour?”
“Composing, dear friend, of the literary variety.”
A beat, then he grins wildly. “I was basing my poem on you actually. Always searching for that accursed clock.” Rhett looked the man up and down. He was lanky, and his clothes hung off of his thin frame, like towels on a clothesline. He reminded Rhett of a professor he had once, always condescending and much more intelligent than himself. Rhett hated him. But Jonathan Weir was different in the sense that he had a sincerity about him.
“Why write about me?”
The ex-doctor gave him a half smile.
“You’re the only one who cares enough to hear what I have to say. Besides my little fan club, but they hardly count.”
Rhett nodded. He had seen them at lunch, patients gathering around Weir as if he were a god and took every word he said as the truth. It was a touchy subject, as people with followers always used it to their advantage, however, Weir’s cause seemed a just one. He was an entertainer at heart, nothing more nothing less. He told wild stories and that was all.
“Want to read me what you’ve written?” The man shrugs.
“There’s not much to it. Simply, there are two kinds of people. People want to know what time it is and those who control the clocks.”
“And which am I?”
“Rhett. Think. I know you can if you really try. You’re a smart kid.”
Just like his haughty professor. Rhett shakes his head hopelessly, suddenly feeling tired again.
“You’re just like me,” said Weir.
Weir gives him that smile, the one that implied he knew something Rhett didn’t. His eyes were dark, haunted almost. Crazed. With this in mind, Rhett shook off his suspicions and rolled his eyes.
“All right, sure. Time for lights out. Goodnight Doctor.”
A scream broke his anxious sleep. The second scream made him truly start awake. Sun peeked through the windows, melting away the frost from last night. He forced himself stiffly off his bed and rubbed his eyes. It was too early for this. He went to the mirror only to see an entirely different person glaring back at him. This man’s eyes were bright with sleep deprivation and empty. Dark circles accented the eyes, making them stand out against his pale face. He was a phantom. Tediously, he slicked his hair back, making sure the surface was smooth. A small perfection in his imperfect world. He stared at the man once more, and then the third scream split the air.
He hurtled toward the cafeteria. It was probably breakfast time, judging by the intense smell of eggs wafting in the air. Usually things were pretty quiet in the morning; patients were left to get up on their own and wake up in their own time. It was slow and monotonous, like sitting in the coffee shop on Sunday morning. Not today, apparently.
The uproar grew closer as he neared the cafeteria, and anxiety grew in his chest.
What was happening out there?
He checked his belt, in case he needed his gun. Extreme violence was a rarity, but he could never be too careful.
He arrived and stopped in his tracks. He began to wonder if this was another one of his nightmares. A patient lay on the floor, hands folded neatly on his stomach. He was breathing, barely, and his face was bleeding badly. Food littered the floor and the walls, smelling of sweat and bacon. Some guards were coaxing patients out from under tables, while others stood huddled together by the office. They glanced around with wide eyes, not comprehending the chaos around them.
The other guards began to scowl at Rhett as he walked over to them, throwing his hands in the air. They hated it when he took charge.
Finally, one acknowledged him, brushing aside his dark chestnut hair. Rhett immediately recognized him as Leon, his closest ally in the place. They bonded over a similar hatred of the place and figured in the long run, it was better to suffer with someone else. Leon gives him a sappy smile before announcing,
“He just went wild. We’ve got it under control now Rhett.”
“I want to know what happened. What set him off?”
Leon grabbed him by the shoulder, leading him away from the group.
“Look, all I know is one of the patients said something to him and he lost it. He lunged for him and he fought back. Smashed his head on the table and gave him a bad cut. The nurses are working on him now. Alright?”
Rhett glanced back at the patient on the floor, as nurses in white uniforms surrounded him.
“This kind of stuff happens Rhett. We just have to let it go.”
He shakes his head. It was true, patients fought on a daily basis, but never like this. Rhett looked at the unconscious body once more, then nodded.
“Okay. I won’t force you to check it out. But I’m at least going to ask around, see what I can figure out.”
“Justice? Curiosity? I don’t know, it just feels right.”
It was true, the job may have been loathsome, but it was important to have some morality when dealing with it. The lines between right and wrong were blurred, but still present. Or at least, he thought so. Leon ran his hand through his hair.
“Then go for it.”
Just don’t get into trouble.
Confused, Rhett glanced at Leon.
“Did you hear that?”
Leon shook his head,
Rhett shrugged. He must have been imagining things.
“It was a whisper,” he laughs, “Maybe you guys need to lock me up too if I’m starting to hear things.”
Leon smirked at him, dark humor playing across his features.
“I’ll think about it.”