Working Title: Mr. Sunshine WIP
I’m incredibly on the fence about this one, but finally decided to put it up. I’m not happy with it, but I have an idea that I think will make me a lot more happy with it, detailed below. As a note, this is likely only part of the story, with a secondary piece to follow at some point soon. But, should I decide the second piece does not actually work, it is also a standalone story, so there’s that. Enjoy!
“Have you ever heard sunshine? I did, once. I heard it in his voice. It’s really hard to explain what sunshine sounds like, but I’ve tried really hard. First, imagine the sound of a bell, and then imagine the most delicate bell you’ve ever heard. Everyone always imagines some really high-pitched sound, but that’s not it at all. It’s more of a baritone sound, but the most delicate baritone bell you can possibly imagine. Then, once you’ve got that, I want you to imagine dozens of those bells, all with slightly different tones. And those bells ring all at once, in perfect harmony. That’s what sunshine sounds like. That’s what he sounds like.”
Josie scratched some notes onto the legal pad in front of her, and looked up at Devon with a smile. “That sounds really beautiful. I was wondering if we could get back to what he said to you.”
Devon smiled and nodded. “Oh yes, he said so many things to me. It was all so beautiful, like the sound of sunshine, and I—there were just so many things,” he concluded, dodging the question yet again.
Josie opted to change her tactic. “So, he had a lot of nice things to say to you.”
The smile disappeared immediately from Devon’s face, his expression turning instantly to one of abject sadness. “I guess they were. But he only told me these things when he showed me terrible things. It was always terrible what I saw and felt, but…” His smile returned, dimmer, as if he was trying to convince himself of the emotion. “But he’s wonderful, you know. He tells me wonderful, terrible things.”
Josie nodded and blinked, her eyes remaining close for one beat extra as she tried to gather her thoughts. “So, on the one hand he sounds wonderful, but on the other, he shows you things that scare you.”
“Exactly,” the smile faded to a pale grin as he relaxed in his chair, seeming content with the apparent paradox. Josie waited, but he provided no further information.
“So, what kinds of things did he tell you? Use his words if you can.”
Devon shuffled in his chair, his eyes skipping across the room without finding anywhere safe to alight. “He said—well, he didn’t really say anything. Or he did, but they’re words I can’t really remember. But they were wonderful, comforting words. Instead, he showed me things, and it felt like he was talking to me with those pictures. He showed me Shelly and Marcie dead. They didn’t have any faces left when he showed me, but they were screaming and I knew it. He showed me the whole world burning and black, empty of everything. There was so much blood in the ashes.” His voice had faded away to a breathless whisper, as his eyes widened like those of a frightened animal. His chest hitched with uneven breaths.
“Remember our breathing exercises,” Josie prompted, demonstrating a few slow breaths in and out. Devon began to calm, and she pressed forward, thankful for the break to gather her thoughts. While she wanted to clarify all these apparent inconsistencies, it seemed fruitless. Instead, she opted to delve into the heart of the matter. “So, did he make you do those things to Shelly and Marcie?”
Josie watched the man in front of her wither, tears building in his eyes as he withdrew into the plush chair. He nodded, a slight squeak of assent sliding through his lips as the tears began to roll in heavy tracks down his cheeks. “He told me to. I had to do what he told me.”
“So you killed them?” He nodded rapidly, as if he could assent quickly and push the memories aside before more tears broke free.
“I didn’t want to,” he gasped, the words running together into one unbroken utterance. “But he’s so wonderful. I had to.”
Josie decided it was time to back off. He had been more than forthright with her, and they had made a great breakthrough. This was the first time he had ever actually identified any of his hallucinations, and it was a breakthrough worth reinforcing. However, it was not worth pushing him any farther, as that could very easily prevent any future progress. “I know you didn’t mean to, Devon. In my time getting to know you, I can see that you are a very kind and caring person. But you are sick, and so we’re here to help you with that. I think today was a great step forward, and can really help us make some plans on how to best help you. How are you doing right now?”
Devon sniffed, his eyes meeting hers again. “You know, I’m doing okay. But it’s hard,” he said, drawing the last word out as his eyes pleaded with her.
“I know. And you have been so willing to go into this and explore with me. These are really difficult things to talk about, but you’ve been willing to dig through all of this hard stuff. How are the groups going?”
That made him smile, even if it was a dim reflection of his prior joy. “They’re great. Everyone is so nice and supportive. I really like those.”
“And your medicine? Any side effects?”
Devon shrugged at that question, his eyes darting around the room. “They’re okay. I mean,” he sniffed again, “they make my thoughts feel all fuzzy. Like I can’t really think straight.”
Josie nodded understandingly. “Well, maybe I can pass along to Dr. Leeson, and he can make some adjustments at your next appointment. Have you heard him since taking the medicine?” There was silence from the other side of the desk, and Josie studied him as he stared pointedly at the worn blue carpet. “Devon?”
“No,” snapped the man, sorrow appearing across his face again. “Does the medicine mean I can never hear him again?”
“Well, we can’t really be sure. We’ve talked about some of the risks of command hallucinations like him,” she began, and noted the way the sorrow began a subtle shift towards anger, “but I think we have to make sure you’re happy with what we’re doing. Do you want to talk to him again?”
Light bloomed behind his eyes. “I just miss the sound of sunshine.”
With that, a loud knock sounded on the door as it squeaked open on ancient hinges. A bespectacled face appeared beneath a mop of dirty blond hair, almost as if she had been waiting for that very moment. “Time for our appointment, Dr. Lewis!”
“Gloria, yes, I’ll be right with you,” she smiled as she made the mental note to discuss boundaries yet again, then turned her attention back to Devon while the door settled back closed. “It sounds like you have some concerns about what you might be giving up here. I think that’s something really important for us to discuss. Do you think we can pick this up next time? If we need, I can ask Gloria to wait a few minutes so we can discuss this today.”
Devon was already out of his chair and moving toward the door, no sign of his prior sorrow, anger, or joy. He looked like a deflated person, walking about empty inside. “No, doc. I’m okay. I mean, you’re right; he’s dangerous. It’s just if you had ever heard him—” He shook his head, cutting off the thought, his hand on the door knob. “Some days, I’m not sure I’ll ever really be happy again. Not after what I did—what he made me do. But I think I’m getting happier, and that’s pretty amazing.” Then he was gone, the door squealing in protest as he flung it open.
His chair remained empty for a brief second before Gloria plopped herself down, smiling from ear to ear. Josie closed the door. “Good afternoon, Gloria. What’s on your mind today?”
As usual, Josie was exhausted by the time she made it home. The winter months meant that dark shadows loomed from the front of her house as she walked up the steps. It was days like today, when her feet could barely pull herself up the few steps, that she wondered about changing jobs. She could open a nice private practice, set her own hours, and step away from the daily rush that accompanied an inpatient ward. As tempting as the thought was, she also knew she could never actually leave the challenge and reward her work provided. She would just sleep solidly tonight.
Josie washed her face and changed into sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt. She microwaved her dinner before falling into a too deep chair to binge on mindless television for a few hours before bed. There were some days where she felt like her brain had spent so long gathering and holding information that she could not summon the resources to even follow the plot of inane television shows. But that was okay because she was not responsible for these lives. You’re not responsible for anyone’s life but your own, she reminded herself, but the words bounced off her internal psyche. She knew that was true, but it did not always feel that way, true as it was. But your feelings don’t define reality, chimed her internal counselor, squeezing in one last jab before Josie drowned her out with useless reality TV.
It was hours later—and even darker outside—when the phone jolted Josie awake from the comfy confines of her chair. The television had switched over to drone on about some miracle invention, and she drowsily groped in the dark for the phone. She always forgot to put it back on the charger, and tonight was no different. Finally, she found the switch for her lamp, flooding the room with light. The phone screamed from the coffee table as she picked it up.
“Hello?” Her voice cracked with sleep; what time was it anyway?
“Dr. Lewis? This is Cici.”
The night nurse, her sleepy thoughts provided. The microwave in the kitchen stated that it was 3:46am. An ungodly hour of the night for a work call, but not unheard of. “Hi, Cici. What’s going on?”
“Uh—well.” The woman’s voice cut off as silence hung between them. There was the sound of shuffling papers, Cici cleared her throat, began and stopped a few times, then silence.
“Sorry, Dr. Lewis. I don’t know how to say this. Devon Jackson died. He killed himself.” She spit the words out swiftly, and they poured out of the phone like water.
“What? He did what? Are you sure?”
There was a heavy period of silence. “Yes. We’re sure. Would you like to come in?”
Josie already had her keys in her hand. “I’m on my way.”
Getting to the office was easy on the empty streets, but there was little for her to do once she arrived. Her first instinct had been to rush to his room, but the door was cordoned off with detectives swarming about. Josie caught one glimpse of Devon before she was shuffled away, but for a moment she was certain his eyes were screaming. Rebuffed and uncertain of how to proceed, she gathered her case notes, pouring over them as if she missed some clue to his intentions. But it wasn’t there, no matter how hard she tried to see the signs. How did something like this even happen? He was on suicide watch—had been since he got there two weeks before. Did the overnight staff forget to check on him?
It didn’t take long for the gruesome details to leak out. Night staff had conducted their fifteen minute check, just like they were supposed to. One round he was sleeping soundly, the next he had painted his walls with blood. He had gotten a pen knife from somewhere and used that to carve around every major artery in his arms and legs. He excavated them from the remainder of his body, leaving those pulsing arteries exposed. He had then carefully cut each one. The coroner asserted that there was no way he could have done so much to himself in 15 minutes. They asserted that there was no way he could have stayed alert through all of it period, but the facts were there. The door was locked, the security cameras showed no one else enter or leave the room, and the body was on the floor.
Josie saw the autopsy pictures, heard the coroner’s assert that there was no evidence of antipsychotics in his system—he had been tonguing the pills since he arrived. She poured over her notes, over the reports, over every scrap of information she could find, but there were no answers in there. All she was left with was the image of his face, twisted into a grimace of pain, anger, and terror. And those screaming eyes warning her of blood and ash.
In the weeks that followed, Josie took comfort in the internal voice that sprang up to comfort her. He spoke softly, gently. His voice sounded like soft blankets by a glowing fire, roaring and warm with baritone notes. The voice was wonderful, and she wrapped herself in it as the days went by, though she was never quite sure what things the voice said that comforted her so.
It was a wonderful voice, and Josie felt a brief moment of peace in all the chaos that her life had become. And then the nightmares began.
At first, Josie brushed off the dreams. She was stressed, possibly depressed, and feeling like an absolute failure. Such dreams were not unheard of, she assured herself, even as reality began to steadily intrude into her lies.
In the first one, she stood outside of her quaint little house while flames licked at the frame. It crumpled downward, sparks flying towards her and kissing her skin with fiery lips. As it fell to ashes, she looked out to see everything covered in ash, the finally remnants of civilization smoldering at her feet. There were screams, screams she had at first confused with the groans and screeches of her burning home, but now screams that echoed across an empty wasteland. The wind ripped at her, blowing dust and ash into her eyes until all she could see was death.
In the second, she watched her car drive down her suburban street, speeding along with screaming tires. It struggled around corners, nearly flipping to its side with the force of each turn, but continued driving its familiar route through the little two-level homes. Police sirens blared after her, painting the suburb with fading blues and reds, but none of that could slow her. She watched as her car slammed into an elementary school playground, saw little arms and legs tumbling over her car. Josie woke up in a chill sweat.
In the third one, Josie realized she was not dreaming. She watched as Gloria’s face melted away in session, the face of her skin peeling away to reveal jabbering muscles and tendons. As blood began to fill in the space vacated by skin, her eyes oozed out of her face, dripping onto the desk. The voice told her it was okay, told her wonderful things as it showed her these terrors, as it began to rip Gloria apart from her jaw. Josie gasped as she saw the internal workings of head, throat, chest, and abdomen. The chair and carpet shifted from pale blue to black with the pooling blood. He whispered to her, told her not to respond, promised her wonderful things. His voice was like blankets and fire and comfort, but his visions were Hell.
Devon was right. He was terrible and wonderful. Josie locked the door and picked the scissors from her desk. He was wonderful. She had to.
So, I think I’m going to bring Crypto into this one. I intended his character to be a one-off, but I’m getting an interesting idea about his role in this particular story that I think could be a lot of fun to write and very interesting. We’ll see how it actually feels on paper, but for now that’s the direction I plan to head with this.
I also wanted to note that I went back and forth with this to make sure I was being truly fair to mental illness. As this note may suggest, I’m not actually attributing any of the events to mental illness in this piece, but that may not be evident. So, if anyone feels that it does not align with my goals as put forward in my discussion on Horror and Mental Illness, please let me know in the comments, because I can always be oblivious to my own mistakes.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.