Rorschach Redux – Flash Fiction Piece
Another fine flash-fiction challenge courtesy of Mr Chuck Wendig. He gave us five sentences to include in a story. The one I chose was “The shape fights the motionless ink.” Because why the hell not?
I hope you enjoy!
The inmates whispered quietly to each other as Simon Attwood was led down the narrow, cell-lined aisle.
“There he is,” they mouthed to each other, their words coming out as hissed breaths. And each time Simon took a step forward, the metallic jingle of the chains which bound his legs to each other, and his hands to his legs, were an oddly musical accompaniment to the muted whispers. “They say he killed his wife and two kids. Butchered them with a kitchen knife. Kept stabbing and hacking long after they’d gone. He’ll probably fry.”
The other inmates looked on with disapproval in their eyes. Most of them had killed, but few of them had killed family. Some lines you just didn’t cross. For that reason, Simon was kept apart from the other prisoners. He was put in a cell, released from his chains, told to sit on the bunk and wait.
For an eternity, Simon waited. He coped by living inside his own head. He was dimly aware that things happened in the prison; he was brought food and drink, his dry-pan toilet was removed once a day for cleaning, other prisoners shouted at each other and on occasion they fought, incurring the wrath of the guards. But he was apart from it all, wrapped inside a protective mental cocoon of happier memories, like Christmas with his parents when he was eight years old, and the time he and his college buddies had drunkenly trashed their rivals’ frat house.
Things began to change when the guards brought him out of his cell and took him to a small white room, which had in it a small white desk behind which sat a small white man wearing a long white coat. In his hands he held a clipboard, which itself held sheets of white paper. It was all very sterile, very clinical, and when the guard sat Simon down in the chair at the front of the desk, he did not object.
“Good morning, Simon,” the small white man in the long white coat said. “My name is Doctor Hart. Do you know why you are here?”
Simon nodded, mumbling because he hadn’t spoken since the conviction, and the words tasted strange in his mouth. “They think I murdered my family.”
“That’s right.” Hart looked down at his white paper. “I understand that your legal rep claimed diminished responsibility on the grounds of mental instability. That you believe monsters killed your family?”
“Can you tell me a little about the monsters?”
With a shiver, Simon began. It had sounded so strange, the first time he’d explained this. By now, he’d said it so many times that it was more than familiar, but the memory of what he had seen still left him cold.
“They’re shadow-men. They live in the shadows where darkness meets light and they come out to kill the people you love.”
“And you saw these shadow-men?”
“Can you describe them for me?” Hart asked.
“Their faces…” Simon closed his eyes briefly as a horrible memory flashed through his head. “They’re like a liquid, always moving, their eyes and their mouths flowing around their heads. Their hands end in terrible dark fingers, like shadows of knives—”
“It’s okay, Simon,” Hart said quickly. “I’d like you to think now about a place that makes you happy. A place where you feel safe and comfortable.”
The guard, Walt, waiting patiently beside the door, released his hold on his truncheon as the prisoner stopped rocking back and forth and uncurled his fingers from the fists he’d subconsciously made. Walt gave a small shake of his head as Hart continued to take Attwood to a happier place; no doubt at all this one was a nutjob.
After two or three sessions, Simon was transferred to a mental institution. The other inmates watched him go, whispering to each other across the narrow aisle.
“There he goes. Definitely loco. Did you see the emptiness in his eyes? Those are a dead man’s eyes. Man, I’m glad he’s gone.”
The institution was nice. It had airy rooms and toilets which actually flushed, and even gardens in which patients could walk to aid their recovery. But Simon wasn’t allowed in the gardens, and he was kept away from the other patients. Perhaps, Dr Hart said, once they’d gotten his medication dosage right, Simon could go outside and sit in the sunshine for a while.
Dr Hart’s therapy continued. One day, Simon was led into Hart’s office and seated at the now-familiar oak table. Hart smiled at him, and held up a piece of white paper with an angry-looking black blob in the middle of it. Simon froze, barely even registering Hart’s words.
“Today I’d like to try something different. Please tell me what you see.”
The blob began to ooze its way across the paper, a swirling maelstrom of tar-like liquid, and a monstrous face began to form. A white smile split the lower half, of the face-blob, a cold and malicious grin aimed directly at him. Hello again, Simon, said a voice inside his head. In response, Simon screamed.
Two hours later, Dr Hart stood with his colleague, Dr Windle. Their attention was focused on the tiny window in the door. On the other side of the door, Simon Attwood lay still on the soft floor, watching the soft white walls in a drug-induced stupor. A single sentence spilled over and over again from his lips, whispered but just about audible; “The shape fights the motionless ink.”
“Another shadow-men?” Windle asked casually, and Hart nodded. “Hmm. Good job. How many does that make now?”
“Six institutionalised, four suicides and nine imprisoned or executed. Three on the run, but we’ll pick those up later.”
“The human mind is a fascinating place,” said Windle. He closed the flap on the door’s window and turned to Hart with a cheerful smile. “So, what should we make the next group see?”