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Appearances and Reality
A man, dressed in simple scrubs, sits on a chair in the middle of the room.
The room is small and colorless, furnished only by a lone desk and the accompanying chair. A long window occupies the topmost corner of the back wall. The man's face is unkempt and unshaven, his cheeks ruddy. He sits, unmoving, looking stoically at the wall. His focus never wavers, although his eyes are bloodshot and weary.
He's been here for a while, judging by the air of acceptance about him. The man is calm, unnervingly so. Ominously so.
Quite suddenly, he spots another man, dressed in a clean black suit and a black hat, standing in the corner of the room. He leaps up, sending the chair skittering across the concrete floor, with a roar.
The man strides towards this new threat, throwing punches, and is reaching for the throat when the door bangs open. A woman, wearing glasses and a white coat, walks into the small space.
The man pauses, and then turns back to his victim, but he has vanished. He says, “Hello, Doctor.”
Walking to the desk in the middle of the room, Doctor sits down. She pushes the glasses up the bridge of her nose and examines the man.
“Take a seat.”
Caleb shuffles over to the chair and sits.
Doctor reaches into the drawer of her desk and pulls out a file, slowly, methodically. When she speaks, a full minute later, her voice is monotonous and soothing. “Do you know why you are here, Caleb?”
He looks down at his dirty hands. “I did something wrong?”
She nods her consent. “You murdered four people, Caleb. A woman, a man and two children.”
“I didn't murder no one.”
His declaration rings in the small room, echoing longer than it should.
Doctor raises her eyebrows at this. “You may have mistaken them for someone else. Do you remember anything, Caleb? Anything at all?”
He shakes his head, but he does. He does remember. He remembers seeing the hated man, wearing the same black hat and the same suit. Filled with loathing, he had stalked the man into a corner and strangled him – but, somehow, he always returned. Haunted by these appearances, Caleb had tried to kill him four times.
She looks down at the papers in front of her, sitting on the desk. “Caleb, you have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. You suffer from hallucinations. This man you keep shouting at – he isn't real.”
His thoughts turning inward, Caleb's brow furrows. “Impossible. I saw him. Standing in front of me, clear as day, like you are now. I saw him just before you came in.”
Doctor nods gravely. “It can sure seem that way. Do you see him now?”
He looks again into the corner, and his spine stiffens. The man is there again, giving him that mocking smile. Caleb shoots out of his chair, pointing, trembling. Doctor turns around and then turns back, evidently seeing nothing. “There's nothing there, Caleb. Trust me.”
Unable to speak coherently, Caleb mumbles, shaking from head to toe.
“Caleb, your examination is on Tuesday,” Doctor says firmly, standing. “The authorities see you as a threat to yourself and others. Do you realize that if you ever want to get out of here, you're going to have to listen to me? There is no one there. Sit down.”
He stares, wide-eyed, into the corner, and slowly sinks into the chair, never taking his eyes off of the man.
“Better.” Doctor nods her approval.
The man walks deliberately over to Doctor and stands next to her, smiling maliciously. Caleb narrows his eyes, his hands gripping the armrests of the chair. The knuckles are turning white.
Doctor observes this. “Ignore him. He isn't real, Caleb. He isn't real.”
The man mocks Doctor as she speaks, moving his mouth to her words. He examines his fingernails, and then glances up at Caleb and grins.
Caleb begins to shake violently. “You aren't real!” he screams suddenly, making Doctor jump.
Doctor holds out her hands in a calming gesture. “Take deep breaths.”
He does so, his chest heaving dramatically with each intake of breath. His eyes close.
Ten minutes slowly pass, with him breathing out of his nose. He opens his eyes as a light passes through the window. Doctor is gone.
A few moments go by, and there is a knocking on the door.
“Caleb, Doctor Russell is here.”
The door opens, and a short, mousy man trots inside. His face is round. It is impossible not to think of a gerbil.
Remaining motionless, Caleb doesn't take his eyes off of the far wall. “Hello.”
Russell lowers himself into the other chair, which squeaks as he sits. He opens the drawer and pulls out a file, slowly, methodically. “Do you know why you are here, Caleb? Your examination is Tuesday.”
Caleb doesn't answer, but stares into the corner, where the man with the black hat is smiling.
Russell looks over his shoulder, but sees an empty space behind him. “Do you see anything you shouldn't?”
A long pause.
Caleb looks away from the man, making eye contact with Russell for the first time.
Russell peers out from under his glasses. “How are you feeling, Caleb?”
He shows no signs of indication when Doctor appears, placing a hand on Caleb's shoulder. They speak together.
“I feel fine... doctor.”