A Point of Concern

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short story about the internal struggles and irony of thinking differently.

Submitted: January 21, 2015

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Submitted: January 21, 2015

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An uncertain amount of miles behind an inconspicuously built high school campus lies the decaying shambles of a mental institution that wanted to be called a small town.

 

A steady dripping noise can be heard from one of the house-like buildings on the far left edge. It seems to have taken the damage from the invading forest life harder than the others, being built of wood and not brick. This is the last “occupied” part of the facility. Some would say only half, but that’s all relative.

 

Hung above a doorless doorway with erratically placed staples is what appears to have once been a doctoral degree. Run-off from the moldering roof is slowly smearing the ink into grayish tears that land in a puddle of water beneath the door frame. If left like that long enough, and the staples show full intention of keeping it there, the paper will disintegrate and be gone completely. For now, the legible parts are a name, “Jasper S. Tent,” a major, “Psychiatry,” and a date, “August 1984.”

 

Mr., or, rather, Dr. Tent is the one who is rumored to “somewhat” live in that structure. That is true, and he might be able to tell the story of how he came to be there on his own if he was a writer, but he isn’t and never was. Not even in medical school.

 

Dr. Tent’s father was also a doctor, and he was the head of the mental institute (although they never referred to it as an institute back then. Shh…) as was his grandfather as was his grandfather’s father. And it is customary for people to believe that the places and establishments that become important to them will exist forever, it was no question that young Dr. Tent would tell his kindergarten class that he wanted to be a doctor and the director of his father’s mental institution when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up.

 

So, following the well-trodden path of his father’s footsteps, Jasper went through elementary, middle, and high school, college, and finally medical school for psychiatry without honestly ever having the time or defiant spirit to question whether or not he actually enjoyed where his life was going.

 

At Jasper’s medical school graduation party, he was offered by his father the first step to his future - Since his father was not yet ready to retire and pass his job on to a son who had zero experience in running any institute at all, he was to become his father’s intern. Predictably, he accepted.

 

Jasper arrived alone and early to his first day of work. It was early enough to still be dark outside, but his father would already be there; he practically made the administrative building a second home. The foliage surrounding the grounds was not as unkempt as it would later be, but it was still very much a secluded area.

 

He parked his respectably-expensive-but-not-flashy car in the one single parking lot on the property, which boasted only ten spaces, and began to walk towards the administrative building. It was large, brick, imposing, and exactly what the head building of an old mental institution would be expected to look like. It was actually quite a walk from the parking lot, and the paranoia of one walking alone in a (sort of) forest at night overtook Jasper’s mind. Strangely, though, he didn't’t sun towards the safety of  indoors, florescent lights, and other people; his fear of the dark evolved into a feeling that he didn’t have a name for because he had never consciously let it in.

 

The building was waiting to consume the rest of his life. The rough surfaces of the bricks and the sharp edges and the shadows cast on them seemed cruel and unfeeling. That was nothing compared to the filmy dead fish eye look of the unlit windows. It wasn’t that he hadn’t been dragging it around since birth - It was just now in a more visible form that he could direct an acute desire to avoid as quickly as possible.

 

Jasper stumbled to a stop with an expression that could probably look like that of a deer about to be hit by a train, if deer had human facial expressions. He looked down at his dress shoes. They were muddy now. Something briefly flickered in and out of his sight from far off to the left of him.

 

The strange movement caught his attention, and, without really making a decision to do so, he turned and walked off in the general direction he thought he had seen it.

 

Moving away from the center of the property, smaller buildings fanned out around him between sparsely placed trees. Those buildings were all square, brick, and the same, more or less, except for the placement of the two windows that they each had. Upon paying closer attention to the windows that he passed, he noticed that all appeared to be locked, some were boarded up, and a few were barred. At one point, Jasper loudly crunched a fallen branch and a series of agonized screams came from one of the barred-window buildings. He lost his jacket somewhere on a tree he clawed out of the way as he put a safe distance between himself and whatever that one was. He was careful not to step on anything noisy again, although he couldn’t be sure if he had caused the screams or not.

 

He saw it again - It was a flicker of candlelight. Candlelight far too bright to have been made by one candle. It illuminated a window and an open doorway, closer now, and then the wind blew the trees and blocked it from his view. Jasper cautiously approached. One of his shoes was bogged down by mud and had to be abandoned, but he was intrigued and beyond caring how many articles of business attire the journey cost him.

 

He stepped onto the wooden porch of a house that had a wide open door and nothing for windows but splinters of glass that stuck in the frame when the rest was bashed in. The eerie candle-glow spilled from every opening with nothing to contain it. Jasper wandered in.

 

The first thing Jasper saw was the sheer amount of candles. Candles everywhere. Candles on the floor, candles on wooden tables and empty shelves and an overturned bucket. And then there were the cats. Cats everywhere. The floor was a wreathing mass of fighting, playing, sauntering cats. One of them suddenly streaked up the wall and vanished behind a support beam. And on all of the walls were paintings. Paintings that Jasper didn’t understand, as he had never been inclined to be an artist, either. The paintings had been painted directly on the wall and continued on every open space, flowing from one thing to . The one-roomed house was alive with them, lived and almost breathed and died through them. And there was one girl, who was actually a lot older than a girl but didn’t really strike Jasper as enough of an adult to be called that (girl didn’t really work, either, but she had to be called something), sitting in the middle of the room with a tin can of very decrepit paintbrushes. She had on a hospital gown, pants that probably weren’t hers, and had paint in her hair.

 

Jasper stepped back in fear, confusion, and a little sprinkling of awe, and hit his shoulder on the door frame.

 

“Ah, you weren’t supposed to find this yet,” remarked the girl, though amused and not the least bit concerned, who had known he was there the entire time he took to gawk and simply waited for him to reach some kind of emotional resolution of how to proceed. “But I’m leaving soon, anyway, and I doubt you could catch me with one shoe if I ran. Of course, you could take the other one off and have a fair chance, but I’ve yet to see men like you do that.” Snicker.

 

“Wha… what?” Jasper stammered, rubbing his shoulder and coming no closer. “I thought this place was for men and boys only.”

 

She rolled her eyes and set down the can of paintbrushes. “And you didn’t think wrong. It is. It was. It doesn’t matter. I’m not a patient. Not here. I was somewhere else, but I escaped. Don't try to turn me in - You don’t know where I came from, and we’ll actually have to test my running theory.”

 

“But why would you come here? To another version of the place you left?”

 

“You really aren’t entitled to any of that information at all, and you’re just blurting out stupid questions because I’ve fried the logical explanation part of your brain,” she mused. “I never wanted to talk to you in the first place, seeing that I was here alone for a long time before you came. But you’re  not going to leave, are you?”

 

She smiled excruciatingly slowly, the kind that can either be interpreted as pained or wittily amused. “No, like all sciencey people, I have your curiosity, and now you won’t be able to leave unless you die here. And I’m not going to kill you, so at least get out of that doorway.”

 

Jasper walked in and sat on the floor at a distance and angle from her that indicated intense uncomfortableness, but she was right about him. Everything she said about him had been right. He had studied the mind in college for years, but never had anyone in the psychology department used his own psyche to slap him in the face like that. Definitely not upon meeting him for the first time a few minutes before. And he was very perplexed. A gray cat attacked his foot with its teeth.

 

 

“Well then,” the woman began, resting her head on a hand and giving Jasper a quick pause to hide his foot from the cat, “I will first give you something to call me other than whatever asinine little phrase you came up with when you found me here - Sylvia. I will never tell you if that is what’s on my birth certificate for the good of us both.”

 

“Now, I made it clear before that I didn’t want to talk about where I am from or how I got there, but for the sake of my one chance to affect a system that I merely throw stones at for entertainment, I will say that I got under the wheels of my powerful old family, and I was always an easy target for ridicule.”

 

Jasper, being the doctor that he was under any circumstances, was still trying to come up with something diagnosable to pin on Sylvia, who seemed to be a master at dancing right around every bush. At this point, he decided that she was a psychopath of some kind. Extremely delusional, but not certain if dangerous. “You’re really pretentious,” he remarked, bolder now.

 

Sylvia laughed once, dismissively, “You have to honestly believe that you are more important than you are or know more than you do to be pretentious. Frankly, I don’t care how important to other people I am. Call me pretentious if you will, but everything I have said and done I has been because it was what I wanted to say and do.”

 

She shook her head. “No, you don’t understand that yet because of the way you were raised. And you’re young, but the way you were raised really sets you back. Now, don’t interrupt me again, or we’ll be here for a week. And I don’t intend to wait here that long.”

 

All he gathered from that was that Sylvia had a tendency to go off on tangents, and that he would have to oblige because his father would come looking for him if he didn’t show up on time. He raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.

 

“As I was saying, I wasn’t well liked by my family. Understandable. There are black sheep, and then there was me - I caused a lot of unrest, broke traditions, made people uncomfortable… You get the gist. They couldn’t and didn’t want to have someone around talking and thinking the way I do, so they had two options…”

 

“And before you assume that I’m weaving a distorted mafia alias tale for you, don’t. They were simply a group of rather unsuccessful politicians, and they weren’t going to execute me. They could have disowned me and let me go about my merry way alone, which I would have been pleased to do, and they knew that, but the other way involved simultaneous punishment of me and monetary gain.”

 

Sylvia scooped up the gray cat, which had wandered off and was about to bat a candle off a stool. “You see, I had a record of hospitalization for some things from before, and I was an artist… Not a successful one, but I never wanted to be. And I didn’t like to paint flowers or pretty things to be hung in waiting rooms. Not anything most people would want hanging on a wall in their house, really… So they convinced a certain location that I needed to be kept there for my own safety, and once I was gone, strange and shocking though it may have been, they took what I had and sold it under another name.”

 

The irregular sources of unnaturally bright candlelight made Sylvia’s already grim expression ghastlier, and the cat’s eyes reflected an almost translucent pale green. “That is the worst thing you can do to an artist. Take what they live for and their personal expression of themselves and alter it for money.”

 

Jasper admitted to himself that he was inclined to believe her, no matter what his psychology training said about strange and overly dramatic people. As lofty as she was, she had an undertone of honesty that he didn’t believe could be faked. And her philosophy rang true to the creature in him that had always wanted to destroy everything he had been given and go after some fantastical idea. Only he didn’t know what it was. Somehow, he understood her pain.

 

“I had a lot of time to think, after I calmed down, of course - I’d been pretty badly betrayed, and I wasn’t happy - and I came to understand a few things out of that situation. For one, the people who are remembered in history positively for their bizarre, novel ideas that society happens to be prepared to handle at the time… ‘Creative genius’ I think they call it… are often considered slightly crazy. But there are only a small number of people who make it that way. Many are just too crazy for that time, and are ignored until someone decides that the stuff they made up was somehow worthwhile, and then there are those who are so upsetting that the vast majority pretends that they aren't there and will disappear if no one looks at them.”

 

She stood up and whirled around, making an extensive gesture at the entire landscape outside the house with the arm that wasn’t holding a cat. The candles in the direction of the wind it produced flared up in response. “Just look at this place,” Silvia enthusiastically scoffed, “Do you really think you know what all of this is for? It’s so that the average human of today doesn’t have to look in the eyes of a disgrace and know that it could have and could still be them. Everyone’s out for their own welfare and things look a lot better when everything’s shoved under a rug, nevermind that no living thing will survive stuck under a rug for very long.”

 

Unceremoniously, she sat back down. Her mood switched from darkly humorous to empty and serious again. “Without realizing that all is not naught when people are classified as ‘mentally ill’, ‘crazy’, or whatever it is fashionable to call it now, this is what the solution apparently is. To take these people far away to a place that is supposed to benefit them, but that’s a lie to comfort those who don’t want to know. It’s more of an oubliette of life. It is, of course, one thing to keep people from hurting themselves or others, but that’s not really what this is about. There are many better ways to do that, and most of the patients here and at similar places are not the violent type.”

 

After hearing and seeing what he did on his stumble through the forest, Jasper was receptive to the idea that his father’s business and the one he was trying to enter wasn’t all he had believed it to be. Besides, he was entranced by now and stared rather blindly while he thought about many things.

 

“No, the aim of these little villages is to hide the ones who simply make ‘normal’ people a little uncomfortable. Whether by their thoughts or the way they look, it doesn’t matter. What they forget is that there is a very thin line between genius and madness, and the definition of crazy changes to suit whoever has the power to use it in the moment. Don’t assume people aren’t manipulated into situations like mine, or you’ll be forgetting the trials in Salem and every type of inquisition that ever happened,” Silvia warned with a bitter half-smile.

 

“It’s a good thing some unusual people have always survived, or we’d all be a nauseatingly uniform group of sheep following itself around in circles and nothing would ever change. And so, knowing all of that, I escaped my obilette, and I’ve been finding every institution I can and doing this -” she paused to indicate what had become of the empty building “- somewhere in all of them. The cats are strays; they’ve come from many areas. They come and go because I feed them.”

 

“When I’m done here, I will leave this as it is and find the next one. They either burn down (which is why I don’t use buildings with people in them or that would catch fire to other buildings) or some poor janitor finds it and has to report it. Either way, I assume it’s quite upsetting, which is why I do it.” Silvia shrugged. “I have nothing to return to, except being caught again, and I’ll never let that happen. Stirring people up with strangeness is amusing, and my chance to protest what has been done to me. I’ll likely continue to do it as long as I can.”

 

It was no longer as dark as it had been when Jasper parked his car that morning. Sensing that Sylvia had reached the end of  what she had to tell him and that was a sign for him to leave, he cleared his head and turned to go, feeling like he should say something but not knowing what something was.

 

He could feel that Sylvia and the eyes of many cats watched him leave until the view from the open windows was obstructed by the forest. Jasper solemnly sat down on the gnarled trunk of a fallen tree. It would take him longer to understand the full gravity of what he had just heard, but he knew that he had to get out of owning the institution. It did not matter how or what his father’s reaction was, but he had to. And then he had to shut it down.

 

As planned, Jasper’s father was informed calmly by his disheveled, one-shoed son that he would not be going through with his career as a mental health institution director or even as a doctor. He was nearly disowned, and if he wasn’t then, he was in the years following which he used to publicly expose the reality of treatment and life there.

 

While going through the fallout of the exposure, Jasper took up violin playing as a relaxing hobby and realized that he loved it. He never made much money, and the songs he composed were always eerie, but he was truly happy for the first time in his life.

Sylvia’s house was discovered intact that time, and Jasper’s father always blamed it on him. He denied it every time, but never incriminated anyone for it. He never saw Sylvia again, nor did he ever find out if Sylvia was her real name, where she came from, or if she was still alive. Jasper could only assume that she’d continued her bizarre protests as long as she had lived.

 

Jasper lived and still lives now in that same abandoned building, which is still painted and covered in candles. One day, he felt overwhelmingly angry with his past and aggressively stapled his old diploma to the door frame, and it has been disintegrating there since in the hopes that time will symbolically destroy it. The locals have turned him into a legend about a deranged man who lives in the forest in a dilapidated shack that was once part of a mental institute, but Jasper doesn’t care at all. In fact, he plays his violin rather loudly when hikers travel by.

 

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© Copyright 2018 Allison Chelsea Burke. All rights reserved.

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