An American doctor gets more than he bargains for when he is put in charge of a young mental patient called Nine. Nine's history is cloaked with intrigue, and his behaviour is startling to Malcolm. But is Nine really mad, or is he simply conscious of something in this world that everyone else isn't? A dark and twisted tale with an interpretive ending.
I wish the walls would stop looking at me. They stare, they blink, they scrutinise. Write things down in their little notebooks…oh wait, those are the people, and there are a lot of people, yes yes yes, people with white coats pure as virgin snow and faces like ash. I don’t like the way they look, they pity, they observe. That’s why I’m in the corner, yes, because corners are safe and hide me from sight, no one can see me, nobody, I have my own little cloak of invisibility right here and everyone is ignorant of it! Haha, isn’t that funny?!
“So, this is the guy huh?”
The interim doctor looked up from his notes and trained his tired eyes on the fresh faced individual in front of him. “And who are you?” He said gruffly.
The new arrival raised an eyebrow. “I don’t believe we’ve met. Dr. Malcolm. I’m Dr. Williams’ replacement.”
The interim doctor grunted. “Oh yeah, the American Howards said about. You’re taking care of this thing, eh?”
Malcolm ignored him, and looked in at the young man hidden in the corner. There was a sickly smile on his face, and a look that rivalled that of a trapped animal. “What’s his story?” he asked.
The man shrugged carelessly. “Dunno. No one does. He doesn’t even have a name. He just appeared here one day. It was before my time.”
Malcolm frowned. “Okay.” He looked again at the patient inside, one now identified as having no name. “How old is he? He looks young.”
“Looks can be deceiving.” The older man answered. “Like I said, he’s been here longer than I have, and I came here quite a few years back.”
Malcolm’s frown intensified and his eyes narrowed. “What do you call him?”
He shrugged. “Before my time, remember?”
That was the first day of observation.
On the second day, Malcolm walked into the institute after having bought a coffee, drank it, and thrown it in a bin outside. He walked through the hallways, said hello to the pretty student researcher and went into the room he had gone in before, this time with no interim doctor. The subject, or Nine as he had been called, was as he’d been before. Well, almost. This time he was closer, sat in the same position and with the same smile. It was as though someone had merely picked him up and deposited him a little further along. It was today that Malcolm realised the boy had no irises. His pupils were swimming in an endless white that made him look high- which he probably was, considering the medication he was given. It was enough to knock out a horse. And throughout the whole day, Malcolm swore that he never once saw those alien eyes blink.
I can see I’ve confused him. A madman, confusing a clever one? Ha! That won’t do-won’t do at all. He’ll find out soon enough, yes, soon enough. Soon is good, very, very good, and maybe he’ll actually understand instead of just listening.
That was the second day of observation.
Malcolm nearly jumped out of his skin on the third day. He walked into the institute after having bought a coffee, drunk it, and thrown it in a bin outside. He walked through the hallways, said hello to the pretty student researcher and went into the room. Nine was not sat down in the corner, or sat down in the middle of the room, but stood up and peering through the glass. And he was so close Malcolm could see the frosted pane where he had been breathing on it. Those eyes were wide open now, the pupils nearly eclipsing the whites of his eyes like ink had been dropped on water. And his mouth was moving-only minutely so, but it was moving, he was forming words, he was trying to speak. Malcolm stood frozen for a while, and the moving lips stopped. A finger was drawn up and placed against the glass whitened by breath so that Malcolm could see its print. And then words were being drawn: ‘InTeRcOm’. For some absurd reason, Malcolm found himself obeying. When the click sounded, Nine smiled his sickly smile.
“Hello, Mr. Malcolm.” The voice was softly spoken, and if it was any other place Malcolm would say it was coming from a respectable gentleman. “I would appreciate it if you shut the door. Yes, shut doors are better than open ones I’ve fathomed.”
Malcolm did so, then returned. “Why did you want me to turn the intercom on?” he questioned.
“I want to see if you’ll turn mad too with what I know.” Nine’s tongue slithered out of his mouth and wetted his lips in a serpent-like fashion. “Like the others.”
“What others?” Malcolm asked.
“The otherrrrs.” Nine began to count them off on his spectral fingers. “Howards, Tyler, Prewitt, Smith. We’re all mad, Mr. Malcolm. Some of us are
just worst off.”
Malcolm leaned closer to the glass, mouth slightly open in shock. “What did you just say?”
“Maad. We’re all mad in our own way. Us madmen, we live in shades of grey, whereas you, you sane people, you live in black and white. Now who’s the one truly living, hmm?” Nine bobbed his head slightly like a buoy on the sea. “I know that I know.”
Malcolm shook his head. Having a logical conversation with a mental patient wasn’t something he was accustomed to in his career. He then realised that this could be a golden opportunity to do something not many people had done; figure out what made this crackpot tick. It was his enthusiasm that drove him on. “How did you get here, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Nine blinked again, slowly. “I had parents. Believe it or not, us madmen do have them.”
Malcolm sighed, humouring him. “Your mother?”
“She was a whore.” The word was spat out like a bad taste. “My father…fishing. I used to sit at the edge of existence watching the cork bob…bob…bob…” His head began to mimic the movements he remembered. “Then the fish splashed.” He giggled childishly. “It splashed!! And I got wet!”
Malcolm shook his head- this was hopeless. He made to turn away and there was a thud on the glass. He turned back. Nine’s fists were clenched against the surface and he looked worried. “Listen. Listen. Don’t you understand? You must understand! You must!”
Malcolm hesitated. “What do you mean?”
“Listen, listen, listen!” Nine pressed his forehead against the glass. “Are you a believer?”
Malcolm’s brow creased in confusion at the sudden direction the conversation had taken. “I believe as much as anyone else.” He conceded eventually.
“Then you’re wrong.” Nine answered bluntly. “Why look for a higher power, when everything dies alone?”
Malcolm blinked. “That’s a dark assumption to make.”
Nine shook his head. “Not an assumption. Fact.” He pushed away from the glass. “I tell everyone the same. Fact, fact, fact!”
Malcolm started forwards. “How many others have you spoken to, Nine?”
“Hundreds. But only a few actually understand what I tell them.”
“I don’t understand you.”
“I haven’t told you yet.” Nine’s smile returned. “What did you do when you left here last night?”
Malcolm raised a brow. Humour him. “I drove home, read a page of my book, ate, showered, then slept.”
“And the day before that?”
“I drove home, read a page of my book, ate, showered, slept.”
Nine nodded. “What about last week, or last month? And do you ever finish that book?”
The colour drained from Malcolm’s face. “Who are you? What’s your real name?” he whispered, his body slowly taken over by quakes.
Nine’s smile split into an unnerving grin. “I don’t know. But I know yours.”
The serpent’s tongue flicked Nine’s lips again. “You’re Ten.”
And suddenly, it all made perfect sense.