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He sat brooding on his cold white bed, staring at the cold white walls, in a cold white, all locked up in a cold white room. Sid Harrison was what you could call a minimalist. He didn’t have much furniture, had a rather small living space, and wasn’t a huge fan of material possessions. Then again, he didn’t have the money for them. All his life, he had been dirt poor.
As a child, Sid wasn’t a dimpled ecstatic boy with a room full of brightly colored trains, whimsical wallpaper, and dinosaurs glaring from every corner of the room. By the time he had crawled painfully into the awkward adolescent years, he realized that he was different, that he didn’t have as much as everyone else. Big-mouthed, loud, overcompensating teenagers bragging about their cars and girlfriends swarmed around him, as if to rub in the fact that he was poorer than all of them. All he had was an old guitar. He didn’t even have the privilege of real parents. No, those had died many agonizing years ago. Every day, Sid’s memory of them and their death became more and more distorted. It was almost as if he was trying to see his parents through five pairs of glasses, putting on more when he realized he couldn’t see them. The more he tried, the more faint his memory of them became, the quieter their whispers became, the more desolate their picture seemed. But there were a few things Sid could remember. Their bodies strewn bleeding across the twilight-soaked highway. The flames devouring the car alive, crackling and roaring, reaching up to the blackening Bohemian sky as if to intertwine passionately with it. Sometimes he could remember the fire licking hungrily at the broken distorted bodies of his dying, coughing parents. Sometimes he could remember himself laying in the middle of the road, crying and bleeding. Sometimes he couldn’t remember anything. His memory of the incident was now so cloudy, it hurt his brain just to try to remember it.
But today… it was especially strong. Why, he could almost see flames caressing the walls of his room. He could almost feel the heat… smell the pungent smoke as it creeped seductive into his nostrils… Sid stopped. His breathing stopped. Even his heart stopped. This was too real. Not just a memory. Sid’s room was on fire. But he couldn’t do anything about it. He just sat there cross-legged on his cold white bed, staring transfixed at the angry flames. He belonged to the fire. He was its slave. Sid was paralyzed. All miniscule shreds of self-preservation that had existed in his body had promptly left, leaving the poor man at the mercy of the crazed beast leaping up his cold white walls, staining them black with its guilty soot. Only when it crawled ravenous into his bed, seeking Sid’s flesh, did a tiny bit of reason show through. It began to grow, then conflict with the strange hypnotization that had taken over him. Within seconds, a full-on battle was raging inside Sid’s head. His two distinct personalities were clashing over whether or not he should remain transfixed by the dancing flames or run for help. The mental turmoil was nearly invisible, except for the occasional twitch of the head as he tried to dislodge the voices from his brain. His eyes widened. Torn between survival and a beautiful death, he could take it no longer. Sid Harrison let out a soul-wrenching howl that echoed throughout the house, throughout the world. He howled until he could feel vibrating in every part of his body. He howled until he was out of breath. He howled until he was certain he would die. When his lungs finally deflated, shriveled and dead, he lay shuddering on his cold white bed, murmuring horrible nothings to himself, waiting to die.
Suddenly, a knock came on his door. A nurse walked in rather nervously, as if into a lion’s den.
“Mr. Harrison… it’s time to take your pills. Are you okay?”
Sid snapped out of his twitching trance.
“Who are you?” he asked sharply.
“I’m Nurse Barrett, remember? It’s time for your pills, sir.” She smiled encouragingly at him.
“Oh, yeah… uhm, bring ‘em over here.”
He swallowed the white tempting pills with ease and looked around. The flames were gone. The soot was gone. He was back in his old room. His cold white room with the soft walls. The tiny excuse for a window near the ceiling was allowing a few desolate rays of light to slink in. He recognized the furniture – his bed, sheets tangled and piled up in a heap. A chain attached to the wall. Sid was safe. He was home, back in his comforting room. His fragile porcelain mind was calm now.
“Mr. Harrison, I heard you screaming… You know the asylum policy about straightjackets, right?”
“I’m fine now, Ms. Nurse. I just had a… um… nightmare.”
Sid Harrison lay back down in his cold white bed, staring at his cold white room, and thought cold white thoughts.