by Team Training Bra
Tonight was the night.
Ben smoothed his fingers over the outline of the key in his pocket, breathing slowly. He calculated every movement as he walked down the corridor into his room, ensuring to adhere to the list of rules written on the wall of the ward.
1. No contraband in the Rose City.
2. No stealing in the Rose City.
3. No smoking in the Rose City.
4. No sudden movements in the Rose City.
5. No leaving the Rose City.
6. No loud noises in the Rose City.
7. No sharp objects in the Rose City.
8. No locked doors in the Rose City.
9. No self-harm in the Rose City.
It was a cruel sarcasm to the name the schizophrenic’s unit the way they did. Ben found himself referring to it in the same acerbic way as the orderlies as if he was working on the unit instead of staying there. His sanity was never up for question. He was nothing like these people. He could have a conversation with Margaret, the nurse’s aide. He would ask her about her day and how the commute had been. She seemed to enjoy his intellect and conversation without being patronizing. Ben had been a model patient and had provided Margaret a respite from the likes of patients such as Adam, who spit at the wall and screamed obscenities from breakfast to bedtime.
“You think the Rose City is condescending? We almost named it the Elysian Fields. It was a toss up,” she would tell him.
Margaret seemed to want to believe Ben.
“I mean, I remember when the FLDS was raided,” she started. “They were a church. It was everywhere. And the rest of the world condemned them as a cult. I can I imagine if someone spoke out against Warren Jeffs, what he would have done to that person. I mean, before they got him.”
“And then it began to feel patronizing. Ben knew that despite what Margaret might have wanted to believe, he was still a patient on a psychiatric ward of a hospital, and whatever he said had to be taken with a grain of salt. He could never risk trusting that she believed him — that he wasn’t really crazy — that there was a life at stake.
However trivial their talks, their conversations had been what grounded him in the past few months. The ability to talk to another normal person during the day, in a alien world of people who would lunge at Ben convinced he was the devil, was one of the few things ensuring he wouldn’t succumb to the effects of the medicine, the other patients, or living in the ward itself.
He couldn’t afford to have as much as a whisker out of place tonight. There couldn’t be a scene as there had been yesterday. Any violation of the nine would have him pumped full of Midazolam, putting an end to everything. The Thorazine might make him see things, it might slow his movements, but he couldn’t afford to be knocked out cold as he had been in his first month in the ward. He had worked hard to get to this point, and he wouldn’t allow anything to veer his fortune off course. Ben had always been adaptable and able to function highly given his circumstances.
It hadn’t been easy to steal the key. An insane person couldn’t have hatched the plan. Maybe it was self-aggrandizement; maybe it was self-assurance. Margaret had been administering meds to the unit. Adam got into the line, muttering that the wall was a cocksucker he was going to kill, a usual Thursday. In the scuffle between Adam and Tychie, an ex-marine with a penchant for rules, Ben had slipped into the aide station to take not the door key, but the fire alarm key. Tychie had been beating upon Adam shouting, “Rule six! Rule SIX! RULE SIX!” It took every orderly and aide in the station to pull the old man off of the crazed mental patient as Ben lifted a uniform from the locker station. His insistence to Tychie that Adam’s failure to adhere to the Rose City rules was a disgrace had paid off when he needed it most.
Ben clicked the key slowly into the metal box, removing the lid in order to display the fire alarm. His breath slowed, either from the Thorazine or from his sense of purpose. Placing the metal frame on the floor, he held his breath as he released the lock. Before pulling the lever, he stared at the words “FIRE ALARM” emblazoned on his key to freedom, his way to Hannah. The lever didn’t need much force, but Ben pulled with all of his might, blaring the sounds of the alarm throughout the entire psychiatric hospital as each door unlocked for the safe harbor of the patients inside.
Ben had lived in Portland most of his life. While he was never one to consider himself intimately acquainted to society’s dregs, he at least considered himself city savvy enough to know where to find whatever he might need.
He walked toward the waterfront in long strides, slipping into the public bathroom and waiting for the man who made rounds every hour, known only as Batman. He had a bat signal on his furry arms, wearing short sleeves even in the cold.
Ben paced in the bathroom for what seemed an eternity, even though he knew the arrival of the person he needed would be within an hour or less, assuming he had just missed him.
He had borrowed a cigarette from a passerby. It had, after all, been eight months. Ben began to feel panicked and at unrest. It was time to do a check. He glanced at his hands. They weren’t his. He stared for a moment and blinked. The last of the Thorazine was still in him, speaking in soft words to stop what he was doing — that this was not real; that this was not happening — that he was still locked inside the walls of the Rose City, sleeping sound amongst Adam’s shrill cries in the next room over.
He wavered the cigarette over the hands to make the ash hit his skin and wake him up. He paused and blinked, seeing his own pair of hands again and drew a breath, reassuring himself that he, not the Thorazine, was in control.
A wide, short man entered the restroom with red eyes, glancing around the room in what seemed as fear. Despite the reputation of a hero, the man was nothing more than a fat junkie, his Batman tattoo speckled with pocks and scars. He was a caricature of someone you’d expect to see in a movie, his eyes blurry, his heaving breathing’s stench curling around Ben’s nostrils.
Ben began to wash his hands in the bathroom sink with a fury, and over the rush of water, hushed, “I heard you can find people.”
Ben kept washing his hands in the bathroom sink, a counterintuitive action considering the condition of the sink.
The junkie straightened his shoulders up on the alert.
“Sorry, officer. I’m not your guy.”
Ben turned the water off, turning to look the man in the face.
“I’m just looking for a friend. I’m not – “
“I can find you anyone in the city,” the man replied with an eagerness. “I just need to know who you’re looking for. Charlie? Mary Jane? Molly? I know lots of people.”
“I’m not looking for anyone, really. I’m okay. I just need…protection. I heard you can find…”
The junkie’s pupils flared, either with rage or paranoia – perhaps both.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The junkie started for the door and Ben lunged in front of him in a panic.
“I have Thorazine. Even for a guy who knows so many people, that has to be hard to come by. I can trade you that.”
Junkie Batman shifted between feet.
“I don’t see a lot of people who talk to Thor anymore. Maybe we can work something out.”
Ben pulled the small packet of pills out of his pocket. He knew he had to have a few more in order to avoid withdrawals, however much it robbed him of his own will. Sweat began to form on his forehead at the thought of this junkie asshole robbing him and taking those. As crazy as the drugs were making him, he couldn’t risk losing time with even a headache, let alone getting dizzy and nauseous.
The junkie snatched the pills from his hand in a frenzy, holding them up to the green light of the public restroom which all of a sudden seemed too public.
The junkie sniffed as he examined the pills.
“Whaddya know. Thor still does exist,” he chuckled. “This shit is stronger than Klonopin. Bitches love it. Yeah, I can help you. This all you got? I can’t do much with just this.”
Ben hesitated, and then produced the last of the Thorazine from his pocket and shoved it into the man’s hands.
The junkie grinned and fished in his own pockets, his fingers searching for the right item in his jeans. He continued to search until he smiled again and pulled a lock blade knife secured in a sandwich bag and slapped it into Ben’s hands.
“That’s all I can give you for what you brought me. If you had more, maybe something else. But you get what you pay for. “
“It’s – it’s fine,” Ben muttered. Anything would do. The junkie could have handed him a carrot peeler. He was running out of time.
When she opened the door, it was as though Ben had only seen her the day before. Her face paled and her neck stiffened for a moment, then her face softened as she recognized that he looked well, and then her brow furrowed.
“Benjamin,” she sighed. “You can’t be here.”
“Benjamin” stung him in the ears. He had always been Ben. Her Ben.
“They let me out, Hannah. I’m fine now. Full release. Clean bill of health.” He smirked. “I have medication that controls things, and I might need to take a pill now and again, but that’s it.
She remained stiffened in front of the door jam, refusing to return his smirk as she used to.
“That’s great, Benjamin,” as her brow relaxed and her face tendered. “That’s really good to hear. I’m glad for you.”
“I was thinking we could go somewhere. You know – just to talk…anywhere you want. Maybe that place up on Second Avenue we used to….”
“Benjamin…” she stopped him.
“You know I can’t. You know what tonight is.”
“I just thought since I’m out, and I haven’t seen you in such a long time…”
Hannah’s face hardened again.
“What do you want me to say, Benjamin? That you’re fine, you have no problems anymore? You attacked Matthew in a church meeting, you kept spouting off your insane theories about what we’re trying to do – and now I’m supposed to believe that they just let you out, and that everything is fine now, and there should be no questions asked. I can’t….I can’t trust you.”
Ben gazed at her. He didn’t have a defense. He never did.
“It’s symbel, Ben. Tonight is symbel. Of all the nights…and you know I’ve been chosen.”
Ben shifted between legs. He had to get her away from her apartment and away from where she was going.
He knew why she had been chosen, and what she had been chosen for. Symbel was a fate weaving ritual that committed the church to future evolution for the good of the community, a diatribe he had heard several times from Hannah as she stressed its importance. He couldn’t understand her resolve to go through with it. Hannah had never been one to throw her life away, especially not a life they had once planned to build together. When he looked into her eyes and saw her determination, he began to doubt himself – maybe he had been wrong this entire time. Maybe he was crazy. Hannah kept looking at him with her eyes, asking silent questions, and he knew the real answers he wanted to give her would do him no good. If he was wrong, then he’d accept that, but if he was right, he couldn’t bear the thought of losing Hannah.
“I just want to explain to you. That’s all. If you only have an explanation.”
Hannah sighed again and moved from the door jam. She backed up as if to let Ben inside her apartment. She seemed to want to believe him – not in the patronizing way Margaret had.
“Why don’t you just come with me? It’s not like we abandoned you. We only committed you in order to get you the help you needed. We didn’t leave you in the cold. We sent letters, every week. I don’t see why you can’t come tonight. You should. We’re the Bane Kindred, not the fucking Catholics.”
She raised an arm and touched his shoulder.
“It just Matthew…you violated his church. You violated him. You attacked him in the middle of a church meeting. Maybe I can forgive you, and maybe the rest of them can, but — you should come. Show Matthew how different things are. But going anywhere else – it’s symbel, Ben. ”
Ben scoffed in his head when Hannah referred to the meetings as Matthew’s church. He was the northwest leader of the Bane Kindred, a servant to an organization greater than Matthew could ever hope to be. The deluded and depraved mind of a madman who had created an occultic gathering, who by community rite, placed him in a mental institution and ripped him away from Hannah was given the respect of a leader of a church, as though he had been Billy Graham himself.
He wanted to pick up with Hannah where he had left off, and he knew that was impossible. It had been eight months. He knew why Matthew had chosen her for symbel, and it wasn’t religious in nature. Tonight, however, jealousy had no place, and it was only Hannah’s life he cared the most about preserving.
The couple stood in silence, looking at one another, each one unwilling to bend on their choices. It became clear to Ben that he had to go with her to symbel. He had to save her because she didn’t seem interested in saving herself. He wanted to hold on to the idea that maybe he was wrong, that it was the Thorazine making him better instead of feeling as though he was unraveling, but knowing that he had not touched it in 24 hours, and that knot in his stomach ever present as it had been the day he left for the hospital, he knew he was right. A quick glance down at his hands confirmed his reality. The Thorazine was no longer with him, whispering in his ear, creating the effects of a disease he never had. It was just a matter of time before the withdrawal effects would start to rear their head. This was his only chance to change her fate.
His jaw relaxed.
“I’d like to go with you. I just want have an opportunity to explain to you.”
Hannah edged out a smile.
“We’d like to hear what you have to say, Benjamin.”
They pulled into the parking lot of the building that served as their church. It was small and unassuming, the brick steps leading to a small swinging door where proms and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings met alternatively, each to bring people together in different ways. And there was of course his old church, the Bane Kindred, meeting on Fridays in a small group of 62 people. He never understood why the elders would want to draw attention in such a manner by renting a place that required only a key deposit, rather than meeting somewhere more private. But that was when he was showing up in Hannah’s car eight months ago, her hand on the steering wheel and his hand resting on her knee.
In retrospect, 62 cultists most likely would have enjoyed any attention they received. However, the group was quiet and unassuming, never drawing any attention to themselves. Ben alone discovered the group’s true intent. Had Ben looked at the brick steps and small metal door a year ago, he’d never had a clue about what would happen in the small gathering room full of metal folding chairs.
Ben had originally been drawn to the small community of neopaganists for their authenticity. His mother dragged him to church as a boy and the distaste for the preservation of self-interests above all remained with him. It wasn’t until Hannah had taken him to a local meeting that the Theodic ideal of the Wyrd being a sacred, ever-changing fate that he had control to change, together as a close-knit community, resonated with him – if not for seeing Hannah’s ever-present kindness and joy as a propelling factor. She was his passion, and the Wyrd was hers, so he adopted it as his own.
He could tell by the number of cars parked that they were one of the last ones to arrive. He bit the inside of his cheek, fretting over his failure to get Hannah out of the apartment and away from the group meeting. He didn’t know if the others would allow him to stay throughout the evening, or what Matthew’s reaction might be once he saw Ben. The last Matthew saw of Ben was a face full of rage, his lips snarled and fists dripping with Matthew’s blood as Ben towered over him on the floor screaming that the knew everything.
Ben and Hannah made their way up the steps and Hannah rested her hand on Ben’s back in support. Ben felt his heart breaking. He thought to check his hands one last time before entering the building, but so as to not alarm Hannah, stuffed them into his pockets.
As they entered the building, the group of people visiting one another stopped and looked at the last couple to arrive. A hush fell over the room. Matthew stood in the corner, wearing traditional red over white. An average man with blonde hair and blue eyes, he looked out of place in his clothing, as though he was prepared for a Halloween party than a religious gathering. Once Matthew locked eyes with Ben, his face matched his dress clothes and his neck tightened.
Matthew excused himself from the group of people he was speaking with and made his way through the crowd, taking short steps to Ben and Hannah. His face was kind and welcoming until he arrived in front of them, his expression turning to disappointment and apprehended rage.
“Hannah, I was worried about you making it. I see you were – occupied. Benjamin, I assume you were released?”
“Clozapine at 10 and Thorazine at 8, and I’m just like you, Matthew.”
Matthew’s expression remained stiffened.
“I see. Hannah, are you sure he can be…”
Hannah touched Matthew’s shoulder in the same manner she had Ben’s back at the apartment. Ben looked away.
“It’ll be fine, Matthew. Hospitality is one of the nine sacred virtues. On tonight of all nights, we need to embody those. ” Hannah words were soft as she spoke directly. It was easy to see why she had been chosen to be the alekeeper for the evening. Eight months ago, Ben could not have said the same. She had been more timid and less direct.
Matthew cleared his throat.
“Indeed,” he grunted. “Hospitality. I’d like to remind Benjamin here that honor is one of our virtues as well. We won’t have any more of this ‘blot’ nonsense?”
“Of course not,” Ben nodded. “I suppose we should have a seat then.”
Ben sat in a metal folding chair, his heart pounding. This could have been any other Theodish meeting. The altar was splayed with flowers and vegetables, the offerings of the local community for symbel. Candles had been lit to invoke protection. A horn laid on its side at the altar, one that Hannah had been chosen to pass around the group in order to drink from communally. Ben’s eye’s darted back and forth, looking for anything out of place. Amidst the din of the members visiting with one another, Ben’s ears searched for the sound of an animal somewhere in the recesses of the building. He wanted to be wrong. Had he heard bleating, a rustle – he heard nothing, not even the languid sound of the drugs telling him he could not trust himself. A traditional animal sacrifice meant Ben could loosen his grip from his pockets and go home. His heart beat faster and his palms began to sweat.
This wasn’t a typical Theodish meeting. Matthew had gone mad. What was once a peaceful heathen meeting had decayed under the guide of Matthew’s mind. He had eschewed the Odinic rites for something far more sinister. Matthew had wanted to turn the once peaceful and quiet community gathering of symbel into the traditionalist animal sacrifice of blot. Ben had followed Matthew with stealth and precision for months to discover Matthew’s belief that the sacrifice of a human would strengthen the Wyrd more than any innocent animal. Ben knew Matthew’s alarming and sudden interest in Hannah was more than affected romance. Hannah had meant nothing to Matthew other than being his message to the neopaganists of the world. It was Matthew who should have been in that hospital for eight months, not Ben.
Ben’s thoughts came to a halt as Matthew spoke at the front of the room.
“Welcome, brothers and sisters on our hallowed evening of symbel, And I’d like to be the first to welcome back to our valued community Benjamin Thorpe, after he has suffered from medical issues for some time. It is a joy that he can rejoin us for symbel. I would like to remind you all that the first of the nine charges of our sacred rites includes, ‘To maintain candour and fidelity in love and devotion to the tried friend: though he strike me I will do him no scathe.’ Please join me in welcoming Benjamin back into our family.”
A sea of faces turned to Ben, some of them with half smiles, some of them with distrust, confusion and anger. They hadn’t forgotten what Ben had done.
Ben patted the outline of the knife in his pocket and paced his breath.
Hannah stood off to Matthew’s side, proud of her station during the ritual. Ben couldn’t understand why she had ascribed to this insanity. It was supposed to be a defenseless animal standing to Matthew’s side, not her. Matthew turned toward the altar in a slow motion, turning his back to the group as Ben’s face grew hot and sweat beaded at his temple. Matthew turned, knife in hand, raising it in honor. There was going to be no opportunity to explain anything to anyone. Despite wanting Hannah to realize the truth, there was no way to make her see anymore.
Ben bolted from his chair and lunged at Hannah with a yell. Before Matthew was able to close the distance, Ben threw Hannah out of the way with all of his might. Despite being charged with rage and his eyes focused on Matthew, Ben was faintly aware of a sickening thud as he leapt toward the leader.
The group members sat in shock, unsure of the next steps. There was a crash of metal chairs as a woman leapt to Hannah’s aide.
It was only Ben and Matthew now. Ben drew the knife and surged at the madman.
Matthew avoided the clumsy thrust of someone who had never stabbed anyone. Ben tried to flail the knife again, but Matthew was ready this time and grabbed Ben’s arm. Hands grabbed Ben from all sides, forcing him off of Matthew.
He had failed. Ben was overcome with injustice, fighting against the hands holding him, his rage focused on Matthew. The blows began to reign down on him, a fist striking his head with a crack. He felt his knees buckle, and he dropped to the floor. Combined with the dizziness of having taken no medication, the fight had been taken out of him.
Ben looked up, his vision starting to clear. Matthew was holding Hannah in his arms, screaming something Ben was still too dazed to understand. Her head lolled to one side in the crook of Matthew’s arm. Blood trickled down the side of her soft face, spilling into her blank eyes. He was waiting to hear something, trace effects of Thorazine and reminders of the blank walls of the Rose City. Silence. There was no doubt, this was real, Hannah was dead. He had slammed her into a concrete piling in his fury to prevent her fate.
His gaze moved from her face to the knife that Matthew had been holding. His eyes searched the floor until he located it at the corner of the altar. His vision blurred and cleared again. Matthew’s weapon, wielded toward an unsuspecting Hannah, had been an alehorn, which lay cracked and spilt upon the floor.
Ben glanced back down at his hands. They were his own and not anyone else’s. Ben ran through every trick he had learned over the past few months in order to keep the Thorazine’s words at bay, but nothing came. He saw and heard nothing.
The words that Matthew had seemed to be uttering without a sound came screaming into Ben’s ears.
“You killed her! You fucking killed her!”
Ben was pinned down by a brute man with a long beard and he could feel the blood pumping through the man’s arms.
“This is a church community, you bastard! I can’t believe she brought you here. You’re not well; you’re as crazy as the day we had you committed! And we had you committed to prevent this!”
Tears were flowing from Matthew’s eyes as he spat out his words in guttural sobs.
Gasps and wails filled the room. A group of women held each other, unable to look at Hannah’s lifeless body lying on the floor. A tall elder shouted into his cellphone in a panic that an attacker had intruded their church meeting and they needed an ambulance right away.
There was no more Thorazine in his system, but nothing seemed real. Ben felt disoriented and hazy with a pounding in his head, looking for voices of admonition amongst the din.
Matthew’s head rocked in his hands. He couldn’t bear to look up as he spoke.
“The paranoia, the following, the visions – I never understood why we didn’t put a restraining order on you. Hannah kept reminding me of the nine virtues, of fidelity to our community, and now…”
The words burned in his ears as he recalled Hannah’s recitation of the small community church’s nine virtues. Hospitality, honor, fidelity…truth.
He looked down at his hands, suddenly despondent at the silence in his head, and the sounds of the drug, his one true friend, providing him with the reality he had shunned for so long and the plain truth he had refused to see. Ben flashed back to the restroom with the whispers of “Stop” before he had traded his safety net for a knife.
“All of your rantings about a blot sacrifice!” Matthew finished. “Why did you have to drag us all into your sick fantasy!”
“We are a community church, you psychotic bastard,” bellowed the man holding Ben down with his knee.
In background Ben heard the elder on the phone. “No sir, she doesn’t seem to have a pulse.”
“I heard about you,” the man leered, his knee digging deeper into Ben’s chest. “How you think we were going to sacrifice an animal. Who would hurt an innocent animal?”
Ben let himself succumb to the grip of the man’s hands around his arms and the knee on his chest and closed his eyes in order stop hearing anything at all.
Ben stared at the nine rules written on the Rose City’s walls. He knew them by heart at this point, every one numerically, but the lines blurred and one remained in clear focus. Ben rocked back and forth, resisting the urge to scream and spit at the list.
The Thorazine pumped through his brain as he read, over and over,
“No leaving the Rose City.”
© 2011 Danielle Nichols and Nathan Davis