“I would like to check myself in.” Ben held on to the counter. Sweat was forming on his forehead. He knew this was the right thing to do, but that didn’t make it any easier.
The nurse looked him over, and handed him a piece of paper and a pen. “Please take a seat and fill out the form. We’ll be with you in a moment.”
Ben nodded and looked at the form. Name, address, the usual. He turned around and walked over to the waiting area, looking for the nearest empty seat available. Fortunately it was an open space, so he didn’t have to worry about any walls. As he sat down, he had to make an effort not to start crying.
At first it was just a joke to him. Open the door before someone rang the bell. Join the neighbours as they watched their television. But after a few days it started to get annoying. He had lived his life being content with himself, enjoying the privacy modern life brought him. Not knowing his neighbours had suited him just fine. And the cheap apartment came with its downsides, but most of those could be blocked out with anti-noise cancelling headphones.
But not any more. He tried closing his eyes, but he couldn’t un-see himself floating mid-air, above people floating just like him, with all kinds of junk around them. Eventually he had closed his eyes and left his apartment, walking to the elevator like a blind man, only opening them when the elevator doors had closed. But it was only a short relief. For once he didn’t mind the smell of piss that somehow permeated the elevator. He touched the walls, happy to finally be confined in a small space again.
But then he arrived on the ground floor, the doors opened. And the horror started again.
He made himself walk to the park. One step at the time. Looking down, hands in front of him. It was raining a bit, and he made a mental note to thank the weather gods for that. It meant less people outside. He had preferred to just run to the park and be over with it, but he still had to be careful, looking down at the pavement to be sure not to walk into a building.
The park was beautiful. Feeling the air around him, the open space, the natural absence of walls. He felt like a kid who saw the ocean for the first time. Perhaps he’d just move to the park. Become homeless. Without walls, you couldn’t have a home. Not really. Unless he won the lottery and built himself a steel cage or something.
“Sir?” Ben looked up. The nurse was beckoning him. He stood up and carefully walked over to the nurse’s station, two hands in front of him at all times.
A few minutes later he was sitting in front of Richard Holden, MD. In a little examination room on the ground floor, as Ben had insisted. Ben tried to explain how he was going crazy. But it wasn’t easy.
“You do know, that you sound a bit mad, don’t you?” That was Holden, trying to sound as normal as possible.
Ben nodded. “Of course. But I need help.”
The doctor looked at him, straight. Probably already thinking how best to get rid of this guy. “What kind of help do you think you need?”
Ben looked down at his hands. The woman in the next room had just undressed herself and she was, well, about the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Ben thought it would be best not to look. Decency and all that. Although, why should he care. He hadn’t asked for all this. As he looked up, he was just in time to see her unhook her bra. He could live with this, if only he knew how to switch it off, in order to be able to sleep. “I know you don’t believe me. And perhaps even if you did, you might not think it was really a problem. And I agree, right now it’s pretty nice, as the woman in the next room has very nice curves and I don’t mind looking at her.”
Holden turned around, but of course he didn’t see any woman. Just a white wall.
“Would you say you are suicidal?”
Ben shook his head. “No. Why?”
The doctor looked relieved. “Good. Let me make a few phone calls. I’ll be right back.
Two hours later, after a lot of tests, Ben realised this was not going anywhere. He didn’t mind telling them how many fingers they raised up a few rooms down the corridor. Or saying a guy two floors up seemed to be no longer breathing. But what good did it do him? More and more doctors came in, phone calls were made. He was turning into a national guinea pig soon. Somehow he didn’t feel comfortable with that.
“Doctor. Could you please bring me to a place with steel walls? Or someplace without walls. Either is fine. I just want to be able to sleep, you know.”
Holden tried to comfort him by touching his hand. “We just need to figure out what is going on, before we know how best to help you.”
Ben sat back in his chair. He was wondering what guinea pigs sounded like. When he was little, he always asked his sister to teach him, but she didn’t know how she did it. She just did. “I don’t need to know how it works in order to know what’s going on.”
The doctor didn’t respond, just kept hitting the keys at the computer, jotting down notes.
“The walls have disappeared. Might be a virus, perhaps all of you will go mad in a few days. I don’t really care. I just want you to help me. And if you don’t…” Ben had thought about the alternatives. There was only one thing left to do when these doctors were not willing to lock him in a steel cage.
The phone rang. Holden picked up the receiver and started mumbling. Ben looked around. Behind him were some cupboards, some medical stuff lying in neat stacks.
And then he saw it. A big metal spatula, just hanging in mid-air. This was it. The answer to all his problems.
Ben stretched his arms, yawning a little. Slowly he got up, nodding kindly to the doctor who was keeping an eye on him, but who seemed to be happy with whatever was being said to him on the other side of the line.
Ben walked over in the direction of the spatula, stopping just a little before it where he estimated the wall was supposed to be. Using his hands to make sure it was really there, he leaned against the wall. The spatula was close, close enough to grab it. He only had to stick out his arm, and it would all be over.
He looked at the doctor once more, but he was still on the phone, using a lot of latin sounding terms that were too long to remember. Ben took one more deep breath. He was ready.
He reached for the spatula, but instead of the object of his desire, he slammed his hand into something solid.
“Fuck.” Ben looked at his hand, blood seeping from places that had just some seconds ago still been fine. One finger looked like something was wrong with it, bent in an unnatural direction.
“What the hell?” The doctor had dropped the receiver and walked over, just in time to catch Ben as he dropped to the floor.
Blood wasn’t really his thing.
When he came to, he was laying strapped to a bed, his eyes covered with some heavy dark cloth. It was heaven, if it weren’t for the heavy throbbing in the stump of his hand.
Ben started laughing. Sometimes ramming your hand into an invisible wall was all you had to do to get the help you needed.
This story was written for @mctiller’s weekly #twentyfourhourshortstory contest following the lead by Harlan Ellison, who recently passed away, but would write short stories in a book store window. A dream job. And I’m glad to be involved in @mctiller’s contest for a while now, as it gets me writing about weird and crazy things I would never think about before I actually sit down and start writing them.