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His eyes bleared awake, unfolding like a chrysalis to uncover a panorama of light blues and unappealing yellow-greens. A sharp metal instrument, in the rough shape of a scalpel, if scalpels had been designed by a man with a bent for sadism and no medical training, glinted in the fluorescent lighting.
“Welcome, Mr. Tiang. We were hoping that you would be asleep for this nasty bit of business.” This was said with a chuckle, as though this whole situation held some humor beyond Tiang’s comprehension. Tiang sank farther and deeper into his leather restraints and quivered in fear.

“50 CC’s of morphine, if you would nurse.”

Darkness.

*

*

*

Tiang’s arm was aflame. It burned, and crawled, as though there was a fire with some living and insidious will lodged within him. Tiang moved his head in order to inspect his arm, but found it difficult at first to focus with his grogginess. There was nothing different, nothing at all. Considering the state of semi-delusional stupor Tiang was in there was little real investigatory method to him, but even to the closest observer there would appear no flaw in his tanned, wiry arm. The correct muscles and bones in the right places, no inflammation, no gashes or burn marks or festering sores. No vile, scrabbling insects, squirming beneath his skin with a disturbing degree of familiarity, white grubby things with whipping tails and multiple rows of suckerlike teeth. Just an arm, that continued to burn and crawl, despite Tiang’s gentle massaging of it, and his windy exhalations meant to cool.

Click.

Tiang looked up. The door hung open. “Feeling better, Mr. Tiang? Ah, you certainly look it. And my, how you’ve healed. You’re a lucky man Mr. Tiang, you know that? We saved your arm following the accident, a bang-up job if I say so myself. We’re going to keep you here to monitor the results of our – experimental therapy. Perfectly legal. It’s just that – “

“I don’t mean to intrude, sir, but what accident are you referring to?”

“A most shameful incident, Mr. Tiang. Being a resident here for some weeks, I don’t suppose you may have heard of it from news reports, but there have been stirrings regarding a new drug being proliferated amongst the less fortunate peoples in urban communities.” Click. “Nasty thing, it tampers with your central nervous system, producing euphoric responses and brief jolts of intense physical pleasure, or pain depending. The nerve center is often a finicky matter to interfere with.” Click. “You were apparently attempting to take both this drug, and someone’s nice new car, for a test drive. You crashed, in a most violent manner – we have some photos on record - but luckily, the man whom you stole from, being a gentle and conservative person with some concern for the affairs of the community, has volunteered to pay for your numerous reconstructive operations. I talked with him on a few occasions, and I found him to be a most interesting fellow.” The pen’s clicking occurred at irregular intervals, seemingly unintentional. The doctor looked down at the pen as he did it, again without apparent intent. “It’s quite a task to even imagine all the things he possessed an intimate knowledge of, just as though he had received a degree upon whatever topic he extemporized upon. Most interesting.”

Tiang listened as the conversation flowed along these meandering and uninteresting paths for several minutes, until Tiang found that he had difficulty keeping his eyes open. He tried to keep his eyes open, as it was discourteous in the extreme to fall asleep while talking to someone, and he really wanted to understand where he was, but in the end he could not resist. His eyelids, of their own volition, found their way to meeting, and darkness once more engulfed him.

*

*

*

Tiang found he had woken on a sofa in an entirely different room, this one painted in the cheery colors particular to hospital visiting wards. It is an odd fact that no matter what condition a person may be in, they will seem infinitely better when received in a cheerily decorated room with a purple sofa. The room itself was large and inviting, with two broad hallways allowing for traffic. After some deliberation, Tiang decided to follow the hall on the left.

The hospital traffic, while isolated in the visitation area, quickly increased. People streamed past, nurses and doctors moving with streamlined purpose and efficiency, their features strained and their coats flowing behind them gently. The ambulatory patients meandered for the most part, connected to sundry machines and IVs to maintain their dubious state of health. Whereas the doctors and nurses all moved with a palpable sense of purpose and action, their faces made vivid as though purpose was a lamp which illuminated them from within, the vast majority of the patients seemed to be blurred oil paintings, their features muted and without any distinct meaning. Tiang wandered about, himself joining the moving painting as one of the blurred.

Sometime in the course of his brief journey, Tiang encountered a patient with scruffy facial hair, skin yellowed with regular nicotine use, and hair that jutted out in every imaginable direction. Despite his crazed appearance, there was a definite sense of purpose to the man. He was there, but he was there for a reason. Or so it seemed, at least. Tiang readied himself to come out of his comatose state, and after a steadying breath, stopped the man with a, “Hello.”

“Eh? Do I know you?” the man asked.

“No, but you seemed to be, less, less dead somehow than the rest of these people. I was wondering why you are here.”

“Same reason the rest of us are, son.”

“That’s just the thing sir. I was told by a doctor I was in a car crash, but this doesn’t seem to be a typical hospital to me,” said Tiang. “Shouldn’t I be outside?”

“In the real world, you mean? I don’t know what you mean, ‘cuz I haven’t been out in years.” He leaned in conspiringly towards Tiang, and looked from side to side before he smiled and said, “But I will soon. I’m a crazy son-of-a-bitch. Stole me a spoon while I was eating Jell-O one day, and I’ve been –“

“Digging, sir?” Tiang could barely stifle the chortle that arose out of him.

“No wonder you’re here. You some sort of idiot, you think you can dig through a linoleum floor with a dull spoon? No, you can’t. I used it to look for hollow spots in the walls, then I drew up a diagram ‘fore I went to bed. When I checked it with the ventilation that runs through here, I think I could get out.”

“Wouldn’t that take a while, sir, all that checking?” asked Tiang.

“Damn right it did. Going on four years, trying to make a floor plan from scratch. ‘Nother thing that takes up my time is I gotta make a run for it some of the time. See, before I got this plan in my head, I would always try to run away. Now I gotta just to maintain appearances. It gets annoying some of the time, doing my little dance for these guys. Then they put me in a straightjacket for a while, and everything goes back to normal. But soon it’ll all be over. I’ll get out of here, and live again.”

“Sir, that’s an excellent plan. But do you have a job you could do, or a family, something to support you?” Tiang asked.

“No family, but I used to have a job at a plant. Fastest bottler you ever seen.”

“I had asked you earlier sir, but received no response. How did you become incarcerated here?”

“They say I killed my dog, then strung ‘im up at a fancy restaurant. But I liked that dog. Why would I hang him . . . ?”

“Um, yes. Why would you? A good question, but I’m afraid I must go, sir. My name is Wong by the way.”

“Eh? Nice meetin’ ya Wong. Name’s Ed. Get goin’.”

Over the course of the next few weeks and numerous conversations, Tiang acquired the diagram Ed had placed so much stock in. Unwilling to blindly put faith into such a risky endeavor, Tiang wandered the halls, checking Ed’s calculations with his fist. Among the eccentric / crazed patients, he fit right in.

*

*

*

“Now really, Mr. Tiang, you must open those eyes of yours if you wish to better your condition. Of course, no operation is a complete success, as they say, and complications were bound to arise. If only you were more cooperative Mr. Tiang. The staff, and especially myself, had very high hopes that we could rehabilitate you quickly, but your reticence is growing downright aggravating.” The doctor glanced down at a computer screen, scrunching his eyebrows down as he fixed some minor point or other, his face illuminated with a bluish hue that made him seem crazed.

“Pardon me for saying so, sir, but at times I feel as though I am completely healed, and I grow irritated upon your insistence that I am not. I would normally feel remiss upon saying so, considering my lack of medical training, but I really do feel healthy.”

“Well, Mr. Tiang, that’s why we’re the doctors. Now please try to lie back and relax while the computer scans you. And leave your eyes open or we’ll never know the full extent of retinal corruption. Why, I once had a patient with much the same sentiments as you, and he was very pushy with the staff in general. He managed to bemoan his circumstances and file enough complaints that he was released. And wouldn’t you know it!” the doctor said as his eyes flashed upwards briefly, “he lost most of the vision in his right eye from exposure to too much direct sunlight on his first day. It would be most unfortunate if the same were to happen to you, wouldn’t it Mr. Tiang?”

“Certainly, sir. Certainly.”

“Well then, I’m just going to ask that you place more faith in our abilities.”

“Yes, sir. My eyes are opened. They are opened and ready to see what you have to show me.”

“That’s excellent, Mr. Tiang. When you get back to the outside world, I shall be happy to mention how helpful you were. This one occasion will stick with me, as these trivial moments tend to. Everything’s relative, right Mr. Tiang? Well, everything’s trivial in relation to something else. Your incarceration here could end the very next day, after all.”

It may very well, thought Tiang as he lay back.

*

*

*

Tiang was held at the compound another few months, in which his escape was intricately planned but never acted upon, and he was submitted to various and sundry experiments of questionable scientific value. He walked about in the bald fluorescent lighting, often for hours, shifting about with a dragging gait. Tiang was in a matter of indecision concerning his walk. He was quite sure the doctors were confident in his docility, and to reinforce this belief he had taken to walking the way the rest of the patients walked. But, on occasions, he found himself adopting the walk of the dead as his own, as though he were honestly one of them. Tiang was very worried that if he didn’t move soon, he’d walk all day, and never really get anywhere, that he’d become just another prescription waiting to be filled.

*

*

*

More time passed. Tiang’s resolve to leave was no less, but even given his decent physical and mental condition upon his first endeavors to move about the clinic, he was simply caving in. The muscle relaxants and Prozac they pumped him full of was beginning to seriously affect his motivation. He wanted to leave, but he found his muscles unwilling to agree with him. He took to sitting in a chair all day, watching the progress of others.

Tiang became a hermit, and he watched the events unfold at the clinic. Patients running disjointedly like spiders in their efforts to escape whatever it was they felt most oppressive, the smell of fecal matter from Room 104, the demented old veteran’s quarters, the complaints of the interns and guards as they stuck in the air, held in place with honey, only to continue on and speed up as they turned to vinegar. Tiang loved to watch the floating musical notes that represented the guard’s gripe about his girlfriend’s decorating, or the TV being on the fritz. Sometimes events were so trivial and disconnected that Tiang was forced to wonder upon the greater scheme of things, his reason for being in the clinic. He grew increasingly despondent.

Until one day he saw his regular doctor, his name was Shytesmith or Müeller, something, Tiang had ceased caring really, until one day as the doctor was checking a report he tripped over his own expensive tennis shoes, whose laces had been left undone. He fell almost flat on his face, and his chin clacked with a thud like on a kettledrum. The noise seemed to echo in the halls, and carry on to Tiang in his chair, who had watched the event unfold - his sitting room was what the hall led to. Tiang began laughing in a way analogous to leaves rustling, but eventually he lost his abashment and laughed in a tenor chuckle like a horn, ringing out in the almost vacant halls. The doctor brushed himself off and walked off, giving Tiang a reprimanding look with an oddly personal bite to it. Tiang renewed his laughter upon witnessing the doctor’s expression. And that one laugh carried Tiang from despondency and melancholy to purpose and hope.

*

*

*

Tiang, once again imprisoned more by his own reservations than a lack of ingenuity and cause, stayed in the clinic. He had begun taking a count somewhere shortly following his conversation with Ed, and was now at 158 days. The pills were hidden, the plans were in effect, and Tiang felt there was no reason for him to stay. He was itching to leave, and there was little to do but think.

One rather bitter irony that occurred to him was that even though he had been supposedly interned at the clinic as a result of his abusing drugs, he was now being given addictive prescription drugs. And he had no idea why the drugs were handed to him, or what they did. Tiang had never placed much trust in beurocracy, but had never given in to conspiracy theories until he began pondering the reasons for his continued stay. The fact that he could not think of any was more telling than any evidence he might have produced.

Tiang packed up his few allotted possessions, stole a change for when he reached the outside, and began loosening screws around ventilation shafts in order to have a quick escape ready. Everything was in order. The suspended nightmare would be over. He went back to his room to eliminate any last evidence of his presence, as a matter of rote, and breathed once deeply. Click.

“Mr. Tiang, wonderful news! You have a visitor! I think you’ll appreciate the importance of this occasion.” The doctor cleared his throat, as though he had readied a speech beforehand. “Well, Mr. Tiang, when we first received you, we know there was something different about the circumstances surrounding your entrance. I could positively be certain that that’s what I felt. And a large factor in your continued care in this wonderful facility has been the benificence of one man, a philanthropist by the name of Mr. Mercelli. I’ll leave you alone with him, because you’ve shown yourself to be very pacifistic, and I know you’ll be eager to show your gratitude in an unencumbered atmosphere. Without further ado –“

“Sir? He’s standing next to you.” Mr. Mercelli had indeed silently crept up to the doctor, and grinned slightly as the doctor abruptly turned.

“Thank you, Doctor. But I think I can handle it from here.” Mercelli was a trim man with an air of efficiency about him, oiled black hair with gray strands along the top, and a clean sleek suit. He was small and dark, and gave off a meek sort of self-assurance that fit somehow. He grinned once more upon seeing Tiang, and moved to sit down, disregarding the doctor standing in the doorway.

“Hello, Mr. Tiang. My name’s Mercelli, as I trust you’ve heard. I’m not here to waste your time. I’m here to offer you a way out of here. I assume you are going to grasp wildly at this chance, and therefore I will explain to you my motives and such similar frivolities prior to your growing too excited. Firstly, there really was a car accident, from which you emerged uninjured. There were no drugs in your system, but in that of your victim. The accident killed a notable public figure, a good friend of mine who had risen quite far, and in doing so incurred the public wrath. I am myself, as you may have realized, a man of considerable means, and so I invented some excuse to detain you here indefinitely, with I must admit, malicious intent.” Mercelli smiled, but considering his comment, it was very gentle and magnanimous. “I realize you cannot forgive me for what I have done to you, and the things which I have done to your memory, but please,” and here Mercelli paused, “consider my grief. All will be forgiven soon.”

“I think I can forgive you, sir, as I hope you have me,” began Tiang. “But, why?”

“I thought I had just explained it. But, if you must have it defined more clearly, I was never very good at being an evil person, and erego I was forced to forgive you. Forgiveness is such an odd subject at times, that one can forgive everyone everything, but it becomes a question of comprehension when the issue is put on a smaller scale. It is by nature impossible to comprehend the nature of pereptrated sin of all the people on Earth, so it is easy to forgive them. But one sin, one sin is able to be understood. I took my time learning to accept yours for what it was, and once I had I felt no need to continue your internment in this sterile Hell. Come, I’ll take you with me, give you therapy to aid with your memory. I’ll try to make this all disappear, as a bird whose cage has been left open, and perhaps you an start anew.”

“Mr. Mercelli, I would like nothing better,” said Tiang. “But unfortunately, I must decline. You see, I’ve been carefully engineering my escape for some months and I feel that I would be unable to forgive myself if I did not try to find my way out. It’s the only thing that’s been keeping me sane, strange as it may sound, in this place, and to know that it was all for nothing will certainly drive me over the brink. Here, may I have a pen?” Tiang reached over without asking in his eagerness to grab a pen that was in Mercelli’s pocket, took a sheet of paper that was on his drawers, and began sketching rapidly but precisely. He finished, dropped his pen authoritatively, and walked off after grabbing his possessions. On the paper was a detailed sketch of Tiang’s escape plans, and a location where Mr. Mercelli could pick him up. On it, quickly scrawled in a spidery script was: Everything’s relative, I suppose.



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Comments

The following comments are for "The Way Out"
by Washer

bleared?
This is a janky story alright. Interesting psychological proclivities your character has, yes? Bit confused by the logic of his captor though. Thought he might at least want to kill the guy, rather than let him out.
I suppose I'm not one to talk about logic though. What was the reference to the drug about? The one that gives you vast pleasure and pain. Was it a red herring? In all a fun read.

( Posted by: albie [Member] On: July 2, 2003 )

Sorry
I was on a glorious vacation to sunny Myrtle Beach (yes I'm gloating, but wait!), which was followed by a return home and the discovery of the vast and uncaring damage our dog had equaninimously laid out unto us all. Damn it. Anyway.

The drug was a convenient excuse, nothing more.

The idea of the captor having forgiveness in his heart over the death of his friend was the main point of the story. I don't know why it happened, what deep motivation he had, but he did. So thanks for commenting.

( Posted by: Washer [Member] On: July 11, 2003 )





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