The story of a young girl growing up with the tortured spirit of Elijah Pretzer, and healing his soul the way that doctors at Chased County Insane Asylum couldn't.
I didn’t bother learning how to drive when I had turned 16; I didn’t bother having a party either. All I wanted to do was visit Elijah every day, like I have been for years. Foxy let me visit, and I became good friends with him over the years, but I didn’t let him in the same hallway that Elijah would stay in. Buddy was said to have a spot on his lung, a spot of cancer he said. He cried for a week, exclaiming how he was going to die a broken man. Buddy still lived with us, but Mum still brought me some new uncles every once in a while. So I ran to the hospital every day, just like before, and took an alternate route to avoid the old stairs. The big two by four scare crow had collapsed a few months earlier, and I never made a new one. I had chopped all my hair off when beginning my sophomore year, thinking I would look less girly and not have to worry about how I looked anymore. But so many guys, even Jimmy, said I wasn’t appealing anymore with my short hair. It was much higher maintenance than I thought it was going to be. One or two cars were always outside the hospital, and they were always teenagers or unmarried men with video cameras, hoping to get a glimpse of the Phantom of Chased County. I pushed them out of the way when I found them, and forbid them to go into my hallway, but they did just that. I finally one day had to chase them out of there with a crowbar I found in one of the old bathrooms. “Get outta here, scram!” I would shout at them. “Go on, beat it you pieces of shit!” They would call me a crazy bitch and run, but never the less they would come sneaking right back. I had bought new books for Elijah in our room, just in case he wanted to read, if he could at all. I bought many things at that garage sale; Great Expectations, Of Mice and Men, The Outsiders, Catcher in the Rye, and just for kicks, Goodnight Moon. That one was Elijah’s favorite, when I read it aloud; I would catch a flash of his brightest smile. I played the Beatles for him on my old cassette player, a piece of obsolete technology to some, but I was happy neither Elijah nor Foxy could tell. I sang to ‘”Let it be” completely out of tune, while he sat in his wheel chair, showing only down to his torso in a haze. He smiled at the music, and didn’t mind my terrible singing; maybe he had some way of filtering it. I sighed then and lay back on his bed with my arms behind my head. “You ever hear of Caspar?” I asked. His head turned very slowly to me, like it had been stiff for some time. He then slowly shook it, so slowly it was eerie. I sat up quickly and bounced a bit on the mattress, a new and bigger one Jimmy had given to me, which was another hand-me-down. However, it was still too damn small. “Caspar’s a ghost-“ I bit my lip, remembering what Buddy had told me to never tell spirit’s they passed away, or they’ll get angry. I had never done it before, and I never wanted to find out what would happen. “Caspar’s a cartoon ghost from the 50s I think. And he’s a friendly one; he’s real friendly like you are.” Elijah grinned and tilted his head. “You like compliments, I noticed. Who doesn’t I suppose.” A few days later I had a limited visit with him, because Buddy was breaking down more every day, and losing his hair already from the chemo. I let him wear a few of my bandanas, and draw his eyebrows with some of my makeup. I, mum, and apparently the new Uncle Steak Knife ordered a special dinner for him from the Chinese place on the other side of town. We got his favorite, sesame chicken and a Mountain Dew, complete with wanton soup and white rice, steaming hot out of the box. To please him, I got the exact same thing, and when he found out, he rubbed my back and said, “Thank you, clumsy girl.” All of us gathered around our large and boxy television with TV trays, and I sat shoulder to shoulder with Buddy, and he wrapped his arm around my shoulder. Mum and Uncle Steak Knife barely ate, and were piled on top of one another the whole time. We all watched the evening local news together. Evidently there had been an accident on the New York border, the Gail Station House in Ridgefield had burnt down, killing poor cats and a poor goldfish. In Manchester, a man had turned ninety one, and was having the biggest party the town had ever seen, a baby was born in Hartford, whose first sight was the capital building. And in Chased, tourists had the sighting of a spirit in the Chased County Insane Asylum. Me and Buddy gasped as we saw Elijah’s face on the screen, but mum didn’t pay attention, but her eyes could say it all, “what a quack.” They showed footage of one of the biggest rooms in the building, the cafeteria I always thought, and shown what looked like a cloud of white dust strolling across the floor then ceasing. They then cut to another piece of footage of a file room, brown with the lack of light, and grainy with the poor broadcast quality. They anchor kept very silent, and a man crying was heard. A pattern of mournful sobs and sniffs came from the darkness, and wouldn’t stop as the camera man searched the room as hard as he could, but not finding a single thing. “Others visiting the building have reported seeing glimpses of a man’s face either smiling or crying.” I clenched my fists. “These faces have been matched to one of the hospital’s patients, Elijah Pretzer, a World War One veteran and a Slavic American who was treated for post traumatic stress disorder. The patient was reported by others to be abused by the doctors, and given much different treatments than the other patients in the asylum.” Buddy looked down at me with a mouthful of chicken. “Pretzer, huh?” “Do you remember your Uncle Pretzer when you where three?” Mum whispered on Uncle Steak Knife’s lap, who was snoozing in our hand-me-down lay-z-boy, from Jimmy’s father. “I remember an Uncle Spazz.” I said. I could tell Buddy had trouble swallowing his meal. “I wonder if there are any files about him.” Me and Foxy looked for just that on that Saturday. I waited for him all afternoon in Elijah’s room, were me and him listened to all the music we could. I tried my best to slow dance, holding my hands and arms wide open just in case Elijah wanted to step in to dance with me. I wasn’t too sure if he did or not, I wouldn’t have been able to feel it anyway. I found him resting on his bed after I finished dancing, and leaned down to kiss his cloudy cheek, like he used to when I was seven, and fell asleep in his room. But I only kissed the air, it felt like nothing. Elijah felt it; he turned a bit when I did, and smiled a little. I did too, and sat on the edge of his bed while waiting for Foxy to unlock the file room, I just hoped the ceiling wouldn’t collapse on me when we went down there. I heard him come in, so I decided to go and meet him at the doors. Before I did, I turned to his bed to see he had disappeared. I then jumped to see his fingers inspecting my hair, but I still felt nothing. I stood for a minute and let him twirl one of the short locks, and then playfully tapped me on the nose, which I could have sworn I felt at least a breeze on.
“We’ll bring these files back upstairs,” Foxy said on his way down to the basement, advising me to stay behind. “So we take a gander without getting lung poisoning or somethin’, how’s Buddy, by the way?” He made his way down stairs with a cloth over his nose and mouth, and a lamp in his lands. I sighed in remorse, thinking about how much Buddy hated his treatment, and couldn’t stop it unless he wanted to die early. He said he rather to that than live in pain. “I don’t know.” I could tell from his silence that Foxy was regretting what he had said. I stood at the top of the stairs, reminding him the name “Pretzer”, and he came upstairs in a hurry, afraid the room would collapse on him. He dropped the cloth to the floor with a spit, and was grinning ear to ear with an underarm tilled with ancient photographs and documents, a frame, and a thin reel of old movie footage. He had brought his old time projector that used to belong to Dr. Marksman, which was now worth the price of a small house. We found one of the cleanest walls to run the film on when we had the chance to, but our first order of business was the files. Both of us expected oodles of pictures of Elijah laughing with his war buddies, but the only photograph with the mood even close to what we were hoping for was Elijah playing patty cake with who we thought was his little sister. Behind that was an entry form for the hospital, and a tiny thumbnail of his war portrait. It was small but grand, and I had never seen him more content. He looked beyond the camera again, he never looked directly at it I noticed, and was dressed in a proper military uniform and hat. “Ain’t that nice,” Foxy read it, kneeling next to me. “Wish we knew what he did with that ol’ uniform, maybe you can ask ‘em.” He smiled, and as did I. We both studied the thumbnail together, not suspecting what was behind the form. We gasped when we saw gentle Elijah in a white mask and a suit, tied by his chest with a splintery rope, which was attached to one of the support beams in the cafeteria. We flipped to the next one to see him tied to his bed, arms and legs. His eyes were wide open, and although the picture was colorless, I could tell they were bloodshot. He was dirty, he needed a shave, and he was bruised and beaten. What especially broke my heart were the nurses standing above him and smiling, along with a well groomed man in a white lab coat; Walter Marksman the third. The others were no better, neither were the papers. “Patient has been vomiting consistently,” “Patient’s left eye has been removed from untreatable damage,””Patient has been isolated for six days in his room, this method hasn’t improved his symptoms.” With a heavy heart, and overflowing eyes, we mustered up the courage to overlook the roll of film, and we watched in horror. There was Elijah sleeping peacefully in a bed with dirty sheets, and being purposely electrocuted another. He jolted every few seconds, which scared me half to death. I could see him crying when they shocked him, and I could see him scream as the nurses and doctors held him down. He was gagged, in another, and held down with a dozen nurses when I saw his left eye looked rotten, like a pile of mush in his skull. I had to turn away when Dr. Marksman came into the shot with a sharp hooked instrument, dangerously close to his face. His arms were out in other tapes, begging for an embrace, and those yearning arms were struck down with a forceful slap from Dr. Marksman’s apprentice, and Elijah began to cry. I saw him shaking in the very last reel I had the heart to watch; he was biting his nails, too, and looking out on the horizon and then suddenly directly at the camera for the longest time. His eyes were glassy and terrified, and they scanned the world around him, looking for guns. Foxy had enough, as have I, and he stopped the roll right at the end of that clip. He held his face in his palm while standing upright; I looked up at him on the floor, holding back my tears. “Elijah.” I sniffed and said sweetly. “Did he have a lobotomy, Foxy?” “I don’t know, youngin’,” he had the sniffles too, and a sparkle of absolute and utter guilt in his eyes. He covered his mouth with one hand, looking off into space. “Foxy,” I said, looking down at my knees “What is it, a lobotomy?” Foxy didn’t have the words to explain to me, he wanted to say something about changing someone, about drilling through someone, about the easy way out for the cure for madness. But he could only murmur, “It’s no better than what we saw.”
Foxy excused me from the room, because he could plainly see my struggle to hold my tears back. I ran out of those metal doors and into the open field, completely empty of anyone trying to get footage. I stomped so very far, all the way to the bottom of the stairs, next to the scare crow that was no more. I stood still with my head hanging below my shoulders, and my hands keeping my bare arms warm from the frigid autumn air. Even when I was alone, I still fought my gloom, and I felt young and stupid not being able to take it. I felt like I was shrinking and everyone could see, so I covered my face with my hands in embracement. When I let free only one sob, I peeked through my fingers to see if anyone could indeed see, but I saw something queer myself. The grass below me was green and brilliant with a kaki ant hill here and there. I scanned upward to see the scare crow in full attire, with a fresh pumpkin head, with a painted face this time. He had a friendly smile, wore a hat and a golfers jacket, and I thought it couldn’t scare one thing away, even if it tried. I looked behind me to see a clear blue sky, and the hospital fresh and new. I never knew its bricks could be that red, and I never knew so many people could come and go in it. The oldest vehicles lined up in front of the asylum one by one, almost all of them brown or black; a red one was shining and standing out from the rest. Carriages parked there, too, with all different types of horses I would have died for to own. There stood on the steps greeting visitors where two doctors, the tall, ridged, and dark haired Dr. Walter Marksman the third, and another doctor I had never seen before. He wall shorter than Dr. Marksman, bolder, and jollier. He had a bit of pink in his nose and cheeks, along with a curled mustache that reminded me of cat’s tails. I liked that man, because I haven’t seen him in any of the photographs, not even Elijah’s; I had never seen him ever in my life. I stared at all of them in awe, of how different it all looked, how much brighter it all was. My heart skipped suddenly when I heard a shift of gravel behind me, and a muffled chorus of young men’s laughter. I turned to see Elijah leaning on the bronze railing, arms, legs, face, clothes, and all. He was all flesh and blood before my eyes, and a clean young man. His teeth were long and white, his cheeks had a steady hue of red, and his eyes were what I had always suspected; hazel. He wore an airman’s jacket, probably bought from a friend, and airman’s gloves, and a newspaper boy’s hat. The suddenly I felt five years old again, and could practically feel myself shrink before him. As I stood there becoming younger and younger, I had finally let myself cry, and boy, did I do it hard. I caught a glimpse of Elijah tilting his head in sympathy, and walking my way to lift me up, and rock me side to side. “Shh…” he tried to sooth me, and kissed my eyes, my ears, and kissed the tears away from my cheeks. I felt warmth from him, I felt skin, and I felt his eyelashes brush against my face. “Shh, sugar pie, it’s alright.” I heard his voice for the first and last time, a sweet voice that was neither a man’s nor a boy’s, and matched the sound of his cries and laughter. The slightest hint of the South topped it off. “Aw honey,” gently bobbed me up and down, as he would a baby, and leaned his forehead against mine. “I’m gonna miss you, but don’t you think you should quite your cryin’?” He smiled. “I won’t be away that long.” He slowly put my back on the ground, and I held my little arms out for an embrace, tears still streaming down my face uncontrollably. He leaned down to kiss them all away as I wrapped arms around his neck, but it was short lived. He playfully tapped my nose with one finger , and lifted himself up. “I love you, sugar pie!” he called while strolling to the other young men in uniform on the top of the stars. “I’ll come back for you, just sit tight!” He then hollered at the fellas ahead, Over there, Over There… they all began to sing that word, lead my Elijah, my sweet Elijah. He led them all away in song, a song I had heard in my eight grade history class. “Send the word! Send the word, to beware! We’ll be over, we’re coming over, and we won’t come back ‘till it’s over, over there!” Their chorus faded away into the woods, as did the blue sky, the jolly doctor, and Elijah’s soul. I found myself still standing before the stairs, rotten and ancient again. The scare crow was gone, so was the color, and Elijah. Not one gust of wind stirred, not one noise sounded; all laid completely dull, still, and silent. I wondered what it was like for him to finally be free, I still do now. To make sure, I held my arms out for him, silently praying for him to comeback; I couldn’t remember a time without him. I got nothing, not even a caress from the wind, or the song of a bird. So I looked back with no more tears to cry, back to the old hospital. You can get rid of your cameras, I thought, you can put down your journals and turn off your cars, your phantom is gone.
I had unconsciously rested my hand of the rail, rusted and bent. I turned to the stairs and thought that it didn’t matter where they took me now, so I climbed up to the very first step, for the first time since I had been coming here, and didn’t give even one huff in exhaust. My stomach turned when I saw and sensed nothing, until I looked down at my ankles. My heart melted when I saw old Cowboy still leaning against the rail. He was dirty, burnt, frozen, and beaten, but that didn’t stop me from scooping my horsey up to embrace him. I kissed his face like Elijah had kissed mine; grime, disease, and all. I didn’t make my way back to my apartment, nor to the hospital but in between, standing alone with my long lost friend, neither of us knowing where to go next.
And so life went on…