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Part 2 of
The Blackbird’s Tale: A Schizophrenic Fable
Praemble by R. E. Junesworth
Thunder. I lowered the patient file in my hands and looked into the night. Soft rain bickered against the dusty windows. It was the time of the year when summer was just over and the autumn rains were still a gentle tickle on the skin. Only the chilly night-hours heralded the approaching autumn.
My reading lamp threw a shimmer of light outside where it reflected on the blossoms of my lilacs. I could hear the wind howl. My eyes must have declared independence on me, or the file of J. Washington was simply boring. Joshua Washington, 47. Psychotic, married, depressed, and convicted.
I put the file down, opened the laptop and continued the report about Mister Washington. He was one of my many soon-to-be success patients. I just need to find the right pill for him. And let me assure you, I always do.
Psychiatry, modern shamanism, without the spiritual part. It’s all chemistry and logic, and its happening right in your brain. Why has the word shamanism such a negative connotation to it? Switch window, internet. I wrote in the search-bar: Shamanism. After spending two seconds on the first page, I closed the page. Bollocks!
I heard a car near the garage outside, probably my wife Azalea coming home from work at the hospital. Something heavy pressed on my stomach. Oh yes, the adipose Mister Washington at eleven tomorrow. I should up his dose . . . the grey days are coming.
I sighed. Years ago I was so excited, hyped you might say, for the job. Being a psychotherapist, it was my dream job. But I learned that if you wish for a dream, you might get a nightmare instead. In my early days, every single patient was an enchanted puzzle waiting to be solved. And I was so good at it. Still am. But the years of depressed stories, all so similar, had left their mark on me. First, I felt sad. Then, sadness turned into anger. I was angry at the people, and their stupid problems. How could so many people make the same mistakes? Cheating, hurting their partners, hurting their children. Generally everybody seemed to enjoy hurting one another. It was too much.
I thought about taking a break from work. Instead, I found the solution to my problem. I wouldn’t listen to their problems anymore, and try to get them to change their brain chemistry themselves, I would fix them.
I studied psychiatry and opened my new clinic. The pills worked brilliantly. Now, I could push my little sheep back into the same horrible lives they just escaped from.
Of course, not everyone was like that. And it wasn’t all that horrible and evil. But once you get angry you tend to exaggerate things a little.
After studying psychiatry I finished my doctorate. It was all easy, I understood how the world works, and how people work. You either get that, or you don’t. And those that don’t get it come to me, and I give them pills, and they forget that they don’t know.
Everything is explainable, and everything can be stopped if it goes out of control, even the human psyche.
The schizos were my favorites. You cannot believe how good it feels to see someone without any sense left in them suddenly make sense again. All thanks to the pills. It was exactly what I needed to continue my work. Helping those lost souls back into a clear and stable life.
Years went by and I have to admit that I couldn’t resist the sweet pills myself. Too much stress at the clinic? Or another seminar I had to attend? No problem at all, there’s something that helps make the experience bearable. Something to take the confusing colors away and give me a clear grey. Everything is grey, we just think there is color. Color is stupid, it is distracting.
I left my desktop, refilled my teacup and slowly moved over the wooden floor to the front door. The tea was still hot, leaving grey fading clouds in the hallway.
The door opened and Azalea threw herself into my arms. Immediately I knew that she had had a horrible day at work.
After a long and quiet hug Azalea asked, “Do you know someone called Arves?”
“No, I don’t. Why? Wait, let me make you a cup of tea first.”
Azalea and I went to sit in our study. She clutched her cold fingers around the hot tea cup. Her coat was drying over the fireplace. Then she began to speak.
“I was on my way home when I ran into this horrible nightmare . . . a man was skewered to some fence, like a brochette.”
I leaned forward and took her hand.
“That must have been terrifying.”
“Yes. But,” she stammered, “the man was smiling madly at me and was speaking some gibberish. He told me to tell you that something is happening. He fell unconscious very soon, and I stood there alone, a crowd forming around me. I called the police and work, but I was so shocked . . . I was crying. It took ages until the ambulance arrived. And then they took him to the hospital, but he was already dead.”
I wondered what the man said to her, but I wasn’t sure if it was smart to ask. She looked very pale still.
“So, who was he? The man. You said his name was Arves?”
“I don’t know, that’s what he said. There was a witness, a student. He said that the man jumped out of his window. He said he was smiling.”
“So why did he ask you about me?”
“I don’t know, he said I should tell you that it is happening. And then he said his name again and some other word that I couldn’t understand.
“How did it sound like?”
“If I have to make a word or two out of it, I think he said something like Jala, or ce-ala? It almost sounded like a magic spell from a children’s book.”
“Hmm, that doesn’t seem too odd. He was probably in shock, and dying too. The brain can go bonkers.”
“He looked so aware, it didn’t make sense . . . his skull was pierced by . . .” she stopped and squeezed my hand. Then she sipped her tea and let her head fall down on my lap. She was asleep within seconds.
Later that night I returned to my own study. I prepared for tomorrow and thought about the man who committed suicide. Then I thought about Mister Washington. He told me he thought about killing himself once or twice. Now he seems fine. I wish I could’ve helped that man. Poor Azalea.
I left the study, went into the living room, and sat down on the smaller of our two couches. I switched the television on. The newsman was speaking about something.
“… following a drug induced psychosis. The man whose name shall remain anonymous was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric clinic earlier today where his sickness will be treated. The police assured again that the manhunt is over and the public order has been restored. However, officer Luoney emphasized the civil duty to keep an eye for suspicious individuals who are acting outside of our norms and behaviors. It is still unsure if the attacker was really related to the terrorist group –”
Better they kill themselves before they begin to hurt others. I was a bit shocked about my own thought, but soon realized why I had though it. The man on the fence.
What makes these freaks so mad? I switched the channel. Another news report. At this late hour?
“. . . contact between Washington and Moscow has been discontinued over the disagreements in Syria. US-congress had a meeting earlier today in which the possibility of bombing the regime was discussed. Russia warned that this could possibly lead to a direct military confrontation with Russia.” The television turned black. No time to waste on paranoid news. Instead of calming down my thoughts, I returned to the dead man on the fence. Somehow, I couldn’t rid myself of images of the unknown man that had tainted Azalea’s day.
The next morning I left early for work. Azalea took a day off and stayed home. My first appointment was Mister Washington.
The fat man was sitting in the cozy chair, and I was sure he had eaten egg and bacon this morning. The air in the room was soaked in the smell.
“So, Doctor Junesworth, I must admit . . . that . . . that I . . . lowered my dosage.”
I interrupted him. “Why?”
“I had the feeling . . . that it made me feel dissipated and disconnected. Empty. Even angry.”
“Angry? In what sense angry?”
“I wanted to hurt myself.”
“Mister Washington, I can assure you that those thoughts were coming from your mental disorder. Maybe the medication intensified it? We may switch, or try another dosage, that sounds reasonable.”
“Actually, Doctor Junesworth . . . I thought that maybe I should try . . . you know . . . to get off the meds.”
I laughed. Mister Washington was one of my two patients with criminal charges. When Mister Washington was in his late thirties he attacked his wife after developing delusions that made him believe his wife was cheating on him. I was to decide when he was stable again. And nothing he told me in therapy in the last years sounded like the words of a stable man. Mister Washington lived from disappointment to the next appointment, how a friend of mine once said.
“I don’t think that’s a good Idea, Joshua.”
“Sometimes I have the feeling you want me to stay longer, so you get those nice bills. You are here to help me, ‘m right?”
“But I wouldn’t be of much help if I release you on the basis of your paranoid thoughts,” I said half serious, half joking. “I will try a different medication, if you allow, and then we will see how you will feel with that.”
“I have no choice, I guess,” Mister Washington grunted.
When I arrived at home my wife already waited at the door. Our cat Abyss in one hand, and a small piece of paper in the other.
“Someone called. An old man. Said he was living at your old place now. A package got delivered for you. He said he is leaving for vacation tonight, so if it’s urgent you should pick it up today.”
I wasn’t expecting any package, so I assumed that it wasn’t important. But I was up for a small adventure today. The day at the clinic had been a depressed kind of grey.
My old place was in a small village some miles south from here. It was a colorful and beautiful area, especially in autumn.
“Are you up for a quick drive over there,” I asked Azalea and she nodded.
One and a half hour later we arrived in the small village named Zeven Heuvels, which was Dutch for seven hills. The new owner of my old house was not at home. A note had been sticked to the door ‘Back at 7 p.m.’
“It’s four o’clock now, let’s go into the forest for a bit,” I said, and we did.
Deep in the forest we had to pass a metal fence through a gate. A sign next to the gate warned us of the free roaming highland cattle inside the area. Excited we went inside to find a spot to picnic.
It was a beautiful area that was almost untouched by autumn. Merely the trees surrounding the large purple landscape of heather flowers were losing their color and leaves. Soon the whole area will be grey. Azalea unpacked sandwiches. They were delicious.
“Hey, look! One of them is coming to say hi.”
A large bull with a thick brown colored coat trotted into our direction. The animal looked friendly.
“Hmm, now it’s coming really close. Didn’t the sign say we should stay at a distance?”
“Yes, it did. Let’s go back a bit.”
We left our picnic and turned around to go back into the more forested part of this area. Another large bull neared from the other direction. He walking to the exit gate.
“Do you think we should go into the field?”
Azalea kept quiet and shook her head. “I don’t know, it’s so open there.”
The second bull bellowed loudly. The first one – the one walking towards us – reacted with a louder sound. I could hear the heavy walk of the two animals speeding up.
“Is that the only exit?” I asked and scanned the area. The path was going from the gate into two directions. The left part surrounded half of the field and disappeared out of sight when it reached the forest. The right path led around the other half of the flowery field and it seemed to go further into the forest.
“Let’s go left, maybe there is another exit at the end of the path.”
There wasn’t. And worse, the bull was following us now. The other one was lingering around our former picnic spot. Another bull and two cows lay on the ground and blocked the way straight and to the right. Behind us was the large bull, and his eyes wouldn’t let go of us.
“Shit, shit shit. Wait, let me think. What can we do,” I took a look to my left.”
Fence, fence . . . hence escape.
“Maybe we can climb over the fence!” What do you think? Look, there’s a small post we can use to jump over the barb wire.”
“Okay, good idea,” Azalea returned with a similar nervous voice.
I grabbed a tree to my right, and lifted my right foot on the wooden post. Slowly I threw our bags over the fence. Azalea touched the metal line cautiously before she reached out for the fence. I reached out to the barb wire to push it down a bit.
I saw black for the tenth of a second and then felt my heart pump in shock. “Ouch! The barb wire is electric, not the fence!”
Still in shock I jumped over the fence. Now thanks to panic and not rationality. Azalea followed me. Then, finally, we looked back. The bull trotted along the path into the forest. He wasn’t looking at us anymore, and he didn’t seem to have been interested in following us into the woods close to the fence anyways.
I proposed that we should walk left, into the direction where the path was. But instead of the path we hit another fence. The electric barb wire was untouched, and there was no sign of a tree or other helpful objects close by.
“I just had a thought,” Azalea began. “What if . . . what if the fence is not primarily to keep the highlanders in, but us out?“
“Do you think we’re in the military area? No that can’t be, it’s across the highway. What then? Can you check your phone?”
Azalea searched her handbag and gave me her smartphone. I looked at the area. “Oh . . . there is some water facility. I guess they must be getting water out of the ground here.”
For at least one hour we walked around the securitized area. There was no way of getting over the fence anywhere. Then, we found a large locked gate with cameras. To the right a path led down into a small forest alley. We went down and spotted a modern looking white building.
“That must be the water facility,” I whispered to my wife.
“More cameras,” she returned.
We moved around at a distance and reached the other side of the construct. While we were under the trees I saw a light flashing in the distance. The light was followed by a thunderous sound. “I hope we get out of here before it starts to rain.
On the other side of the water facility we found a small staircase leading to an asphalted street. “No cameras over there,” I observed. I hoped I was right.
Ten minutes later we were at the exit gate of the facility. The gate was too high, but the adjacent garden fence seemed like an easy climb. We jumped down into the neighboring driveway when the police car arrived. When I landed on the ground the cops were shouting Dutch commands at us. It took us twenty minutes to convince the police that we were not terrorists trying to poison the water in the earth, but lost wanderers.
“You don’t look like wanderers to me,” repeated the officer in charge and pointed at our bags.
The police wouldn’t believe that we jumped over the fence to escape a bull. But there was not enough evidence to arrest us, so we were allowed to go after receiving a massive fine and a warning that we should not leave the country in the next 24 hours.
“I felt retarded. Arguing with them,” I said in a complaining manner. “Why did they freak out so quick? Not leave the country? Are they serious?”
“They wouldn’t believe us, no matter what we said. Everything I said was turned around against us. As if we were some kind of irresponsible children.”
Azalea nodded. “Yes it was horrible. I felt helpless. We weren’t doing anything wrong. We just tried to get out again.”
“Let’s forget it, it’s a good story to tell, and once the fine is paid there won’t be any more consequences.”
“Can you just hug me really hard?”
I laughed. “Of course!”
The sky was cloudless. I was unable to detect even the smallest sign of bad weather. Yet, the closer we came to my old home the foggier the air got. The unmistakable smell of fire reached my nostrils. I knew immediately that something was very wrong.
The driveway was lit into a bright orange light by the flames that were twitching out of a round hole in the roof of the house. Azalea called out to me. “The house is on fire! Oh my!”
The front door was shut, but the note had been taken away. My mind was racing.
The right side of the house is burning. Front seems still okay. What if the old man is inside? And the bloody package! Fuck the package. Now breathe in and get to the house!
I ran to the left side of the house and looked into the window of what used to be the living room. It was still a living room, but the furniture looked different. Like old people.
There was little smoke on this side of the house, so I was able to take the jacket off my mouth.
On the ground behind the window I could see a carton box, which looked like it must be my package. A white delivery note had been attached to the top, but I was unable to read the letters due to the smoke that was spiraling up into the room. The smoke was meandering into the room from under the door to the kitchen. I couldn’t see any sign of movement in the house. I took off my jacket, wrapped my hands into the cloth and smashed the window. The hot smoke entered my lungs immediately and I had to cough.
“Are you mad? Do you want to go inside?” Azalea had jogged over to take cover from the smoke.
“I just want to be sure that no one is inside, and I can see my package is untouched by the flames. Maybe we can safe some of the old man’s belongings.”
“By breaking into the house? That will just increase the airflow!”
It was a stupid idea, but in the heat of the moment I abandoned my rational thinking. Instead, I was thinking a new kind of rationality, a much more instinctive one. Quickly, I kicked out the rest of the sharp glass and entered the house. Inside I grabbed the package and threw it through the missing glass panel. After assuring that it landed safely in the grass my attention returned to the fire situation.
I called out for the old man, but I heard no response. Behind me Azalea was shouting something, but I couldn’t understand her. Then, I heard the sirens.
The policemen slammed the doors of their car and jogged to where Azalea was standing. In comical apery of our first meeting I climbed out of the broken glass frame right when the policemen arrived. They did not make the impression to have become lenient since our last interaction. Luckily, they had a fire to solve first.
The Brandweer, the Dutch fire brigade, arrived with the old man who lived in the house. Fortunately, the major part of the house was saved, only the still empty library had been destroyed by the fire. Mister Oberschlonger explained that he heard a loud bang in the house, and when he followed the noise’s direction he found his fireplace destroyed. The ashes had been thrown out of the fireplace and had kindled the emerald colored curtains. From there the fire spread quickly into the next room, which was the library.
The grimmer one of the two policemen speculated about possible terroristic backgrounds and glanced meaningfully at me.
“And was the window broken before or after that loud explosion?”
“Bang. I said bang, not explosion. Something came through the roof. Don’t you see that hole in the roof? My telephone line was dead, so I ran outside to call. I don’t know when the window broke, but it’s an old house,” Mister Oberschlonger said and winked at me when only I could see it. For a man who had just lost half of his house he seemed extraordinarily calm.
“And what were you two doing here?”
“They are here to pick up Doctor Junesworth’s package,” Mister Oberschlonger interrupted the policeman
“Exactly. That’s why I went inside through the broken window. I saw the package, and I wanted to make sure that nobody was still inside the building.”
“So, you’re the hero now? Anyways, you’re not pressing any charges Mister?”
“Charges? No, of course not.”
“Then, we’re done here,” the policeman said and nodded to the firemen who were standing next to the police car. One of them had burned his fingers during the operation and he was cursing ‘kanker’ and lit a cigarette.
Azalea wasn’t talking much with me on our way back home. I wasn’t blaming her. “I’m sorry,” I said multiple times, but I knew she simply needed time. Later she said that she wasn’t angry that I smashed the window, but because of the shock that I put her through.
“I just want a less risky life. All that stress from work already, and your work too.”
“I was acting on impulse.”
“I know, it’s fine.”
With a heavy feeling in my stomach and heart I took a shower. Azalea hopped in after, and I moved to the kitchen to make tea. I left her a cup and took mine to my study. The crescent moon was hanging low in the night sky. I switched the light on and picked the package from the floor where I had put it.
Dr. R. E. Junesworth
There was no sender information. It was a large and heavy package. I cut the tape with a scissor and opened the top. Inside was a stack of wadded newspapers, and a smaller carton box wrapped in duct tape.
A small letter fell out of the carton when I managed to open it. I unwrapped the letter and saw that it was addressed to me.
Dear Mister Junesworth,
I saw you have a doctor’s degree now, congratulations to that! I hope this is still your address. First, I wanted to send this to some big author, or a publisher. But then I didn’t care anymore. I told you about the stories I was imagining in therapy, do you remember? I think I understand myself a lot better now. That’s partly your achievement. You helped me so much. I have to admit that I have broken many rules that I learned in therapy with you. Probably all of them. Now I’m paying the price for that, but I have to say it’s not that bad. There are so many good things. I’ve finally found real love. I am off the meds, just like you told me to. I remember how you warned me that they would take the best of me. You were right, they did. I wanted to thank you. The only thing I have to give is what I wrote in the last years. I have been writing a lot, it was like therapy. Four books . . . And thousands of pages full of notes and other things. It’s the things I actually cared about in all this time.
Do you remember when I gave you that document that one night? I needed to be honest to somebody. No one truly knows me if they don’t know my writing. Now, I need to do that again. I wasn’t really honest to you – or anyone for that matter – back then. But now I am. So. . . I can’t just let all this stuff stay unread forever. And who else could I write? I wanted the book to be marine blue, but green was cheaper. I hope you can make some sense out of it.
I have enough of this world. I don’t hate it, I actually love it. But that’s why I have enough. I have enough of walking into supermarkets playing ever the same Queen songs. Isn’t it odd that a guy shouting that he “want’s to break free” is considered normal today? It’s almost as if any critical thought has lost its power, and everyone is just nodding along to nice melodies and mind numbing entertainment. Whenever it all was too much I escaped into the stories of a world that lies in that small package. Now I am one with it.
Even before reading his name I knew who he was. He was one of my first patients, back when I just made my license to treat young adults. Back when I was doing behavioral psychotherapy.
He was my first schizophrenic, though it took me a while to make that diagnosis. He came to me in the midst of a high school burn-out, deeply depressed and frustrated. It took me two years to get to the core of his problems, and the deeper we went down into his mind the less I knew what diagnosis I should give him.
One night he called me during a psychotic episode, and the next morning he gave me a document full of paragraphs about hallucinations and delusional beliefs he had never entrusted me with. Shortly after he quit therapy and declared that he found himself to be healed.
Over the course of the years we had remained in touch, though the last two years I haven’t replied to his emails anymore. The last thing I read was that he stopped his study of psychology and was pursuing a different career now. After that I rarely opened one of his confusing emails. His last emails were full of what I identified as pseudoscience.
I opened the smaller package. Inside, delicately placed into a satin bedded wooden box, lay a forest green hardcover book. Silver engraving on the front showed a leafy twig in circular shape and a blackbird that was sitting on the twig. When I opened the book I got the feeling that his letter was a suicide note.
Immediately, memories of the many unopened emails he sent to me flashed through my head. Sometimes I saw an attached file, but at that point his emails landed in my spam folder already. The guilt that was about to leave returned. I sipped my tea and began to read The Blackbird’s Tale.