One of the goals of SPFBO is to give a chance to self-published authors to get more exposure. This year I’m taking part in the competition with my own team. You can keep updated on our progress and all of our content on my SPFBO 5 page!
Tales from the Asylum is a new feature I came up with for SPFBO. I wanted to create a unique opportunity for the authors to show off their story telling skills by taking their characters and putting them in an asylum room to see how they would deal with the situation. A lot can happen in a closed space…
While growing up, David was that weird kid with his nose in a book and his head in the clouds. He was the table-top role-playing game geek, the comic-book nerd, the story-teller and dreamer. Fortunately, he hasn’t changed much. David is a software engineer by trade and a long-time sci-fi and fantasy devotee by passion, and he lives in Silicon Valley with his partner of twenty-seven years. David’s first trilogy, the Chronicles of Fid, has just recently been completed; these were his first novel-length projects, but they certainly won’t be his last—he’s having far too much fun!
You’re not crazy, the voice in my head reassured me. I promise!
I sighed and twisted my head to once more examine my surroundings.
The small cell’s padded walls were a very institutional shade of off-white, and the rubberized floor sloped ever-so-slightly towards an ominous grate at one edge of the room. Every time I shifted my weight on my mattress, I could hear the crinkle of artificial, most-likely waterproof, sheets. This was a room designed to be cleaned with a hose. There was an observation slit—currently closed—in the room’s also-padded door.
The thick canvas of my straitjacket bunched up uncomfortably under the small of my back, and I shifted my weight in a vain attempt to find a more pleasant position.
“That assessment appears to be at odds with my current predicament,” I smiled, oddly relaxed. In a way, I’d always expected to end up here. I could only hope that—however I’d ended up here—Mom and Dad and Bobby weren’t too distraught.
Oh. Um. You probably shouldn’t speak out loud, the young, feminine voice replied. They keep upping your medication when you talk to me.
Can you hear me? I thought carefully. ‘Normal’ wasn’t an adjective that I would ever have applied to my own mental state, but hearing voices was an entirely new symptom. Still, I couldn’t think of any reason to be rude to the childlike mental intruder.
Mm! she confirmed, and I felt the distinct impression of a relieved hug wash over me. Confusing, but strangely welcome. I engaged your liver’s advanced functionality, you’ll feel better as the C17H21CkN2S is filtered out of your system.
I was violent? I asked, confused. Promethazine hydrochloride was usually used to sedate particularly unruly patients. And what do you mean about my liver?
You were confused and you lashed out, she told me, mournfully. Too much information flooding your neural implant. I turned it off! Mostly.
I’m afraid that I’m getting more confused rather than less, I admitted. Theoretically, I supposed that a neural link might explain the presence of a voice in my head; I seemed to recall having made a study of neural implants some time ago. Soft sciences such as biology or neurology didn’t normally hold my interest for long, but the theoretical applications had been quite intriguing. Had someone else expanded upon my work? When had the technology been developed and approved for civilian use?
You were at work, she interrupted my musing, and I somehow knew that her name was Whisper. The lab was attacked by a supervillain named—
“Lethe!” I growled aloud. A sorcerer who specialized in mental effects and memory modification. The existence of mages had always irked the part of me that would have preferred a more rational universe, of course, but the intensity of my sudden rage was still shocking. My heart thundered so loud that, for a moment, I could concentrate on nothing else but the pounding, and the insistent urge to reach out, to wrap my hands around Lethe’s skinny neck and to squeeze until I’d choked the life from his corpse and then beat the remains into a bloody, unrecognizable pulp.
The sturdy canvas of my straitjacket creaked in strained protest; my captors, perhaps, had had valid reason to keep me so thoroughly restrained.
Ah, I sighed mentally, regaining control of myself. I’m mad after all.
You’re not! Whisper insisted.
Sweetheart, I started, though I wasn’t certain why that appellation was appropriate, That wasn’t a sane response. And (though I have to admit that I don’t mind the company) choosing to converse with a voice in my head is also a worrying sign.
You’re not crazy, she said, her mental voice tinged with sad desperation. You’ve just had a bad couple of days.
She sounded so young and forlorn that I decided to humor her.
Okay, I smiled sadly. I’m not crazy.
The cheer in her voice sounded strangely forced, So, when do you think you can come home?
I think that decision is going to be up to my doctors. Whatever I might have realized regarding my mental state, I had to admit that Whisper’s statement about my liver appeared to be true. The fog lifted from my mind as though burned away by the brightest sun. Mom and Dad would bring Bobby to visit soon, I was sure, but for now…perhaps my time here would be useful; without distractions, I could focus upon my studies. There was a mathematical proof I’d been working on, an expansion of a prior work that had applications on mapping the presence of celestial dark-matter. There was a way to reduce the N-theta equation, I was certain; I just needed to puzzle it out and the entire proof would open up to me. I could see the tantalizing edges of a possible application of the Riemann hypothesis, but demonstrating relevance would be tricky…
I’m staying with Mr. Schwartz for now, Whisper interrupted, But I miss you.
Dr. Schwartz from the English department? I asked, confused. I barely knew the man; whoever Whisper was to me, I couldn’t imagine why she would be placed with a virtual stranger.
Aaron Schwartz, she sent mentally, with audible dawning fear. The current acting CEO of AH Biotech. Your friend!
The supervillainous wizard known as Lethe must have taken more time from me than I’d originally estimated. A friend! A real one, from the certainty in Whisper’s voice. The very idea was remarkable.
Rage bubbled, but this time I was prepared; a few deep breaths and I was able to refocus upon the clarity of higher mathematics. The zeta function was defined for complex s…
Whisper interrupted again, You’ve known Aaron for years. Since before you met me, even.
I’ll talk to my doctors about it, I reassured her, still focused upon the equations dancing in my imagination.
…Do you remember me?
I’m still confused. I know that your name is Whisper.
But…you don’t remember who I am to you, she stated tremulously, and I could feel her heartbreak across the neural link.
No, I admitted sadly. Whoever she was, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the hurt I’d caused her. Please, tell me…Who are you?
I’m your sister, she sniffled. You’re my big brother.
Oh, sweetheart, I’m so sorry…
The doctors will make you better? she asked, hopefully.
Of course, I reassured, though for some reason I was certain that a few of Lethe’s targets had never fully recovered. Which was odd, because Lethe was a relatively minor villain, and I could not imagine why I had ever done research upon his history. But the knowledge was there: Seven percent of his victims still receiving treatment, with two percent judged unable to return to society. There’d been a court case, I somehow knew, about a wealthy man judged incompetent and his wife being awarded sole control of the man’s fortune. The wife had bribed the hospital and the judge, but she’d eventually been discovered and punished. Why did I know that she’d been—
Whisper, if you’re my sister…why are you staying with Mr. Schwartz? I asked. Where are Mom and Dad?
Oh no. Oh. Oh, Terry…Your parents died in a car crash a long time ago.
The knowledge stabbed, but it felt like an old pain. Odd.
Damn. Okay. Then, who is taking care of Bobby? I took a deep, unsteady breath and then exhaled. Is he with you?
I’m so, so sorry…
The shock was like being swallowed, a black flood of anger and horror striking me like a physical force. It felt like oil filling my lungs, like hot tar scalding my skin and pulling me deep into an endless abyss. The pressure cascaded, overwhelming. Eternity beckoned and Whisper called to me, urgent and concerned and sorrowful, and I couldn’t make sense of the words, couldn’t make sense of the world. There was no direction, no distance, and no escape. I couldn’t have screamed even if I wanted to; there was nothing left of me but tension, quivering rage, and hatred so pure that it burned like ice. It glowed…blinding, incandescent, tearing at the darkness until the world around me boiled.
I remembered Bobby’s death and I remembered who was responsible. I remembered decades of terror, and the suit of armor I’d built to contain my fury, and the faceless mask I’d built to conceal my pain. I remembered battles and blood and death and violence the likes of which had never before been unleashed upon the world. I remembered what I really was.
Whisper had been wrong, I knew. There was madness in me. Fortunately, the insanity was of a flavor that I could accept.
The monster coiled inside my soul was, after all, a creature of my own creation. And when the beast was unneeded, I knew how to cage it.
I fully reactivated my neural link and sent Whisper a reassuring mental hug before quickly hacking the sanitarium’s medical records. Already I could foresee lawsuits; the dosages of Lorazepam that they’d flooded into my system were outside the recommended levels for a patient with my symptoms, and they’d followed up with Olanzapine well before two hours had elapsed. Furthermore, poor recordkeeping had listed me as a John Doe despite the fact that witnesses had identified me to police.
“My name is Dr. Terrance Markham and I was attacked by the supervillain known as Lethe,” I said aloud, now certain that anything I said in this room was monitored and recorded. “I’ve regained control of my faculties and wish to consult with my attending psychiatrist, Doctor Lawrence.”
I’m coming home soon, I told Whisper. I promise.
And I would. Police reports would quickly confirm Lethe’s involvement, and my lawyers would have a field day after reviewing the treatment that I’d received. The hospital would leap at the chance for a quiet settlement.
In a few hours, I’d go home to greet Whisper—the adorable, precocious artificially-intelligent android that I’d adopted as a little sister—and I’d read to her and reassure her that everything would soon return to normal. We’d play board games, and maybe build a pillow fort.
And then, once night had fallen, I’d don my powered armor and faceless mask and take to the skies. Deep within me, the monster strained at its chains but settled at the knowledge that it would soon be set loose upon the supervillain who’d dared invade my territory without permission.
Terrance Markham—the name I’d given to the psychiatrist—had been the name I’d been born to, but I’d since assumed another. Within my powered armor, I was Doctor Fid.
And Lethe would be punished for his crimes.
If you’d like to get in touch, you can find David H. Reiss on social media:
David H. Reiss entered Fid’s Crusade, the first book of the The Chronicles of Fid series into SPFBO and got sorted into Nicole’s (Thoughts Stained With Ink) group.
You can keep updated on our progress and all of our content on my SPFBO 5 page!