Checking In :: Short Story

Checking in to a mental institution shouldn’t be that difficult, right?

“Excuse me? Hello!” Daniel pressed the button again. Finally he saw some movement through the glass door.

The door opened and a man wearing a white coat popped his head through the opening, scouting the surrounding. His hair was undone and his glasses were thick, like the ones from the 70s. Daniel didn’t really think about it, though. Anyone working at an asylum must be at least a bit crazy themselves, right? Although that was probably not politically correct. It was a mental hospital, for the mentally disturbed, or something like that. All those bullshit social rules, and the government still wondered why people were going mad? 

The man with the glasses scanned the surrounding for a bit, but upon realising it was just that one crazy guy who had rung the bell, he opened the door a bit further. “Yes?”

“This is an asylum, right?”

“Yes…”

“Good. I’m here to commit myself.” No matter how resolute he had been about this decision, Daniel felt weird hearing himself say those words aloud.

The door opened a bit further and the man in the white coat stood a bit to the side. “Welcome, sir. Please come in.”

As Daniel stepped through the front door, he entered a large hallway. A polished concrete floor, a bright white covered with black dots, made the place look massive. As far as he could see were closed doors along the walls. Lots of dust covered everything, there was trash lingering in the corners, but Daniel didn’t really notice. He was too busy wondering why it was so quiet.

Daniel turned around. “Where is everyone?”

The man with the glasses shrugged. “You catch us at a bad time. There are some renovations underway. And besides, it’s lunch time, so most of the stuff is down in the mess. You’ll meet them in due course. I’m Haffle, I’m one of the attendants. I was just catching up on my rounds, you’re lucky I heard you ring the doorbell. I’ll just go get the head nurse who will take care of your registration. She’ll be delighted.”

“Why would she be delighted? What a strange thing to say.”

Haffle shook his head. “I didn’t mean anything by it, sir. It’s just. People here have been here a long time, mostly. We get along, of course. We’re all professionals here. But it’s nice to, well, to get someone new. We haven’t had a lot of new patients come in lately.”

“Ah. Because of the renovations.”

Haffle chuckled. “That’s one way to look at it. Personally, I think not having replaced the porter when he left some years ago might have been a mistake.”

Daniel nodded. It sure was a weird policy. But perhaps that meant they put patient care first. Seemed like he came to the right place. He particularly liked that no-one had asked him yet why he was here, or what kind of crazy he was.

“Just take a seat and Miss Jacobina will be with you shortly.”

As Daniel sat on the chair, he went through his options once more. It was not too late, he could still leave. He could walk out that door and pretend nothing was wrong with him. Hell, he might even make it. He could have killed himself several times already, right? But he didn’t. He was facing his problems. All those tricks his mind played him. It had gotten worse lately, though. People at work asked him who he was talking to all the time. Turned out that colleague he had been sharing his office with for some weeks wasn’t really… real. Well, real enough according to his brain. He had to stop going to work, but he still handed in his articles on time, he had never missed a deadline in his life, so they couldn’t really fire him. But when they asked him if he would be interested starting a ghost column, he knew it was time to pack his bags.

So here he was. Waiting for someone to check out his brain. Because besides those apparitions, he wasn’t really mad. Maybe he should ask about that. By signing himself over to their care, would that mean he acknowledged he was mad? That couldn’t be right.

A tall blond woman dressed in a blue dress and a white apron approached with big strides. Daniel was still not sure what to do. “Would you mind coming to my office, sir? We can talk there.”

Daniel quickly got up to his feet and followed her through the hallways. Through a door, another hallway, and finally he stepped into what seemed like an office alright. Desk, chairs, books lined against the wall. Some framed pieces of paper with what once must have been medical licenses were hanging behind the nurse, who had briskly sat down on the chair behind the desk.

“Please have a seat, Mr…”

“Brandon. Daniel Brandon.”

“Mr. Brandon. Pleased to meet you. As the attendant has probably already told you, my name is Miss Jacobina. I’m in charge with registration. Could I ask you, bluntly, what it is that you have come here for?”

Daniel shifted in his chair. Finally here it was. The question he had been dreading all along. He felt the palms of his hands getting damp. There wasn’t really any way around this, was there?

“I see things. I need some help to figure out what has happened. I’m sure there must be some explanation, and I’m hoping you’ll be able to fix things.”

The nurses scribbled some things on a notepad. “What kind of things do you see?”

Daniel swallowed hard. “Ghosts.”

Miss Jacobina looked up sharply. “Really?”

“Yes, it’s weird, I know. Ghosts don’t exists, trust me, you don’t need to explain that to me. It’s just something wrong with my brain. I’m sure we can figure it out.” Only now he noticed how blue her eyes were. Light blue like the sea on a bright summer day, on an exotic island. It seemed they almost looked through him.

“Can you tell me what you did before you came here, please?”

That was not the response he was expecting. He had made a list of moments where he had seen those apparitions, what they wore, whether they had interacted, what time of the day. Surely that would be something she’d like to know? “I was at home. I had something to drink. And then I did as I have been doing most evenings recently… I took out my gun. And I stared at it.”

“You just stared at it?”

“Yes. And I cleaned it. I like to keep things clean. Organised. Controlled. Which is why I decided to come here. To get rid of these so-called ghosts, finally.”

Apparently that was everything she needed to know. She quickly got up, opened the door and stuck out her head. “Richard!”

Daniel wondered what was going on. He had answered the question most reasonably, considering the circumstances, hadn’t he?

The nurse had now stepped completely outside, conversing with someone. Must be this Richard person. She hadn’t fully closed the door behind her, but he couldn’t really hear what was being said either. Daniel tried not to think about it too much. Richard might just be the shrink. Or the resident ghost. He almost smiled about his own joke there. But it wasn’t funny enough to make him stop thinking about the inevitable. Because this place looked decrepit enough to have their own resident torturer. Richard must be the special ops guy, hired to get the new recruits to tell what was wrong with them. To go all the way.

“Daniel?” The man with the glasses was back. How had he come in?

“Daniel, listen carefully now. Please don’t make any noises, to alert Jacobina. What I’m going to tell you might be a bit of a shock. But I think it’s best to tell you straight up, even though it goes against policy. But you seem like an okay guy, and I would hate for you to have to sit around for years to figure it out yourself. You can spend your time better. The first months after the transition are so precious, you can visit your relatives…”

“Transition?” He whispered as loud as he dared. He was confused, but something in Haffle’s posture made that Daniel believed him.

“Yes.” Haffle looked at him with a slight trace of pity in his eyes. “You’re dead.”

This story was written for @mctiller’s twentyfourhour short story contest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *