An Odd Morning
No one at the Flush necessarily wakes up in a good mood. As a matter of fact, the patients typically wake up in more of a no-mood. It’s true, there wasn’t a single child at the American Continental Mental Hospital that should have been experiencing any wide range of emotions at all. It gets too dangerous, given their unstable conditions and all.
That’s actually how the hospital got its nickname- the Flush. The doctors, therapists and staff on this little patch of habitable land flush all of those erratic and dangerous emotions right out of you. That’s the first step to having a truly peaceful world, according to the Ancient Ones.
So it was really quite unusual that Hanu awoke this particular Wednesday morning in what we would call a very good mood. He lay quietly in his metal cot, wide eyed and suspicious of the peculiar feeling. His heart was pounding. It was going to float up and out of his chest if he didn’t breathe deeply enough. He felt like opening his mouth and bellowing at the top of his lungs. It felt so right.
But he couldn’t. He knew that if he did, Ms. Jones would call the nurse and he would be getting booty-juice within the minute. That’s what they called the injection you got when you started acting out of line. Nasty stuff. It burned going in and then you were knocked out for about twelve hours.
Mrs. Rand, the daytime nurse, always encouraged the patients to report these symptoms- elevated heart rate and swelling sensation in the chest; feelings of over excitability- so that they could receive the proper treatment for it. Once a month the psychiatrist would come and give his presentation with those little puppets about how dangerous it is to let these things get out of hand.
This feeling was pleasant, though. It made him feel nostalgic; as though he would soon remember some barely-out-of-reach memory that wanted to resurface. No, Hanu decided he would keep quiet about all of these feelings. He got out of bed and found his shoes in the dark. He moved about slowly so as not to trigger the motion activated camera that perched in the corner of the room. Everyone was monitored, and the children at the Flush were no different. But at least the Council had the decency to give them a little privacy as they slept or maybe sat in the corner and had a good cry.
Finding a comfortable place on the floor, Hanu sat with his legs crossed. He would wait until daybreak when Ms. Smith would finally come around and turn on his light to wake him. He breathed deeply and tried to calm his thoughts, hoping that the memory would return. He concentrated on it for quite some time.
And then it came. Or maybe he went. He was suddenly standing before a tall desk. He had to take a few steps back in order to see the creatures who sat behind it. There were seven of them. They were strange, with brown, wrinkled little faces and wispy whiskers protruding from underneath long beards. The room offered very little light, but he could see that they all wore maroon robes.
“You’ve been quite content to allow this to go on,” one of the creatures said, leaning in to get a better look at Hanu. “You’re dormant.”
“I’ve been in no position to carry out this task. And besides…I don’t want to become a martyr,” Hanu told him solemnly.
“You’ve allowed fear to cloud your judgement. You will find your strength again,” the old creature said with a comforting smile.
And then just as quickly as it had come, the memory began to fade. Or rather, the dream began to fade. Hanu realized that he had had a dream- the first one in years. He tried to hold on to every detail- the creatures’ faces, the dark room, the words…
Mr. Carlisle, Hanu’s therapist, once told him that dreams were windows to the subconscious. He said that since humanity’s subconscious had been so badly distorted, they had to abandon dreaming all together because it would drive a person insane. Hanu thought maybe Mr. Carlisle was right, because the creatures he had dreamt up were quite ridiculous looking. And on top of that, he didn’t know what a martyr was.
But at the same time he wanted to dream. He enjoyed the feeling that there was something more than his deranged existence.
Hanu could see the first light of the sun creeping into his room. It was close enough to daybreak, and he just couldn’t wait any longer. He crept over to the doorway and knocked gently on the frame.
“Permission to do my morning hygiene?” he asked Ms. Jones.
Ms. Jones, the night staff, was sitting at the only table in the long hallway, finishing up the nights paperwork. She dimmed the screen on her computer and looked at Hanu for a few seconds, debating the question.
“Very well, I shall provide you a towel,” she said curtly.
Hanu grabbed his hygiene box from underneath his desk and bounced down the hallway on the balls of his feet. He stopped at the door of the communal bathroom and waited for Ms. Jones to unlock it. Everything in this facility was locked- bathrooms, bookshelves, towel closets, and water fountains- so you spent a good portion of your day waiting for one thing or another to be opened for you.
Ms. Jones moved about, productively, preparing soap and towels for Hanu. All of the staff had that same air of productiveness. They hardly ever showed traces of distinct personality. Hanu and the other patients decided that maybe it was part of their training.
When she appeared at the bathroom door, she looked Hanu once over. He was only fourteen, but he was just as tall as she was. Her soft features didn’t quite fit the baggy black staff jumper she was wearing. A princess’ gown seemed more appropriate for her delicate frame.
“You awoke fourteen minutes early today. Yesterday it was seven minutes. Have you been feeling disturbed?” she asked.
Hanu hesitated. He would have liked to tell her that it was happiness he was feeling, but every time he mentioned such things to Mr. Carlisle he’d get a lecture about safe and unsafe feelings.
“I’m feeling…well, not disturbed,” he said.
“I shall document that you completed your morning hygiene early again,” she said, matter-of-factly. Then she straightened herself up as much as she could and looked him over once more before unlocking the door.
Confused, he entered the bathroom. He must’ve looked disturbed to her, he thought, because she was acting strange. He looked at himself in the wide mirror- first, from a side view, and then straight on. His hair fell around his face in tawny curls. Hanu’s skin was usually pale, but today it was warm and radiant, sparkling with sweat.
He looked around even though he knew he was alone, then he looked back at himself and cracked a smile. He sometimes practiced smiling to see what it felt like, what it looked like on him. In all of the seven years Hanu lived at the hospital, his smile never conjured any particular feelings, and it definitely never looked quite like it was supposed to. His vacant eyes always cancelled out the upturned corners of his mouth in a very creepy way. But he practiced nonetheless, because of Titanya. She’d been living at the hospital for almost six weeks now, but she never stopped smiling. One day Hanu would return that congenial grin.
And today might be the day. Today’s smile perfectly complimented this auspicious sensation he was feeling in his body. Hanu brushed his teeth and then treated himself to a long shower.
By the time the other patients had started entering the bathroom Hanu was finished. He put his towel in the community bin and headed back to his room. Jeremiah and Ester were sitting in front of the towel closet waiting for soap. No surprise seeing those two together. Jeremiah is the only one who can get Ester to talk- even if it’s just with him in whispers- and Ester has a disturbing way of staring that only Jeremiah can tolerate. The two seemed a little livelier than usual as well, he thought to himself.
As Hanu passed Ester she acknowledged him with her usual penetrating stare. Hanu gave her his much practiced smile, which she answered with a knowing nod. He was taken aback. He stood in the hall for a moment, looking at Ester, expecting her to do something more, maybe even say something. She didn’t. She had already moved on to staring at Les, who was coming to get soap, too.
Back in his room he folded his used rust-red jumpsuit and put it in his laundry basket, along with the rest of the week’s accumulated items. Then, as he walked across the room to replace his hygiene box, Hanu noticed something unusual going on outside of his window.
He stood there, hygiene box still in hand, trying to make his brain recognize what he was seeing. Hanu must’ve sat at this window for hours a day, watching the comings and goings in the concrete courtyard below, but today something was happening that he had never seen before.
He could barely see the rising sun. It was being blocked out by white fog. Not the usual fog that the drones sprayed. And besides, the drones wouldn’t be out this early anyway. They sprayed in the evening. This was a totally different fog. It was much thicker, and filled almost the whole sky.
Water was falling, too. Hanu could see it hitting the sidewalks and windows with a loud slapping sound. Where was it coming from? He stared out of the window, pondering the strangeness of the morning. The dream, Ester’s nod, now falling water…this morning was turning out to be an odd one, he thought.
“Meds!” he yelled to no one. Realizing he was late for the morning medicine line, Hanu dropped his hygiene box and ran out of the room. Through the window at the end of the hall he could see that the sun, swathed in fog, was rising over the buildings now. He slowed to a brisk walk as he came down the corridor towards the social room and nurse’s station.
To his relief Mrs. Rand was still passing out medicine. Hanu looked at the clock on the wall above the nurse’s station window. It read 6:32. The line was still quite long for it to be so late. Hanu didn’t complain, though. He situated himself at the back of the line, content with not having drawn any attention to himself.
In all the time Hanu’s been here at the hospital he only missed the med line a couple of times before he figured out just how much he never wanted to do it again. He refused to take his meds for the first time when he was nine. It was an all-out temper tantrum. The medicine made his stomach hurt and he was already angry with Mr. Carlisle for telling him that his mother would stop visiting, so he spit all over the floor and yelled at the top of his lungs at anyone who walked by. That was the first time he went to containment for behavioral reprogramming. The second time was when he was twelve. Enough time had passed for him to forget just how bad containment was, but they quickly jogged his memory.
One patient, a long time ago, had been sent to containment so many times that they just went ahead and shipped him off to the Capital City for override. Hanu didn’t know just how many times you had to mess up before that, and he didn’t plan on finding out. That was a fate that he just didn’t see in his own future. Which is why he had been so careful to show up on time for meds and make sure that nobody- not even the other patients- saw when he slipped his pills between his gums and lip.
From the back of the line, Hanu could see that the staff seemed a little restless today. At six in the morning they were usually bustling around- productively, of course- but today they were clustered in groups, whispering amongst themselves or rushing in and out of the nurse’s station. Mr. Drews and Mrs. Pack, the weekend nurses, were also present.
The TV in the social room was displaying the morning news, as usual. The familiar holographic news anchors were projected into the room by a round lens in the ceiling. The man and woman always wore cordial expressions, and their wit livened up the place in the morning time. Hanu could barely hear what they were saying, but he didn’t have to hear in order to know that today they were delivering bad news. At the bottom of the projection, revolving around the desk of the anchors was a bold red headline reading:
SABOTAGE ATTEMPTS CONTINUE. DISSENTERS MISS TARGET.
Hanu wondered if that was the reason the staff were acting so strange this morning. These attacks have been happening more frequently in the last few days. Two days ago Hanu heard Mr. Garret telling Ms. Santo that the Dissenters were trying to carry out some prophesy.
“It’s like a religious thing,” he said. “They think that humans need to overthrow the Ancients and create their own way of life, so they’re trying to kill enough people so that they can control the rest.”
“You’d think we’d learn from the past,” Ms. Santo sighed. “That’s the kind of thinking that led us to World War III. Leave humans alone and they blow the planet up… that’s exactly what we would’ve done if the Ancients hadn’t showed up when they did.”
“I know, right?” Mr. Garret agreed. “Look at us- almost a hundred years have passed and we’re still recovering from that war. And how can you go against the Ancient Ones anyway? That’s like going against a parent.”
“Well let’s hope they see reason and turn themselves in,” Ms. Santo went on. “If it were me, I would gladly ask for override. Why ruin life for everyone else just because you’re miserable?”
Hanu sat by his bedroom door listening to their conversation that night. Apparently, the Dissenters had snuck some sort of device in the water treatment facility.
“What’s going on?” A voice whispered in Hanu’s ear, making him nearly jump out of his skin. He was so deep in thought that he didn’t notice Akesh sneak in line behind him. Akesh was Hanu’s closest friend. He was shorter than Hanu even though he was a full year older than him, and his black hair perpetually stuck out in all directions, as if it purposefully rebelled against his hairbrush.
“I don’t know. Maybe they’re…running behind today?” He replied more as a question than a statement. In all of the years Hanu lived at the hospital the staff never ran behind on anything. It was just unheard of.
Akesh rambled on, shifting his eyes toward the nurse’s station. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the line’s not moving. I totally stopped in the hallway for no reason at all, but it just felt right so I stayed there staring off into space. I’m so glad they didn’t come looking for me ’cause this time it was an honest mistake.”
Hanu agreed halfheartedly as he craned his neck to see what was going on at the front of the line, but Akesh didn’t seem to mind.
“So what do you think about this new stuff they’ve been giving us?” he went on. “You know, the orange triangle? I like it, tastes a little like blood though… not sure what’s up with that.”
“Uh, I don’t know, ’Kesh. It’s okay, I guess,” Hanu replied. He would’ve been able to give a more accurate review if he actually had been taking the medicine, but it didn’t matter because Akesh had already moved on to fidgeting with the fake tree that was potted in the corner behind them.
Akesh enjoyed taking his medicine and often got too excited in the med line, so holding a full length conversation was near impossible. Sometimes when they got up to the window he’d ask for extra medicine for made up aches or anxiety- a request which the nurse was always happy to be obliged. The medicine doesn’t seem to have an effect on Akesh, therapeutic or otherwise, but he does enjoy comparing tastes and textures of the different drugs.
Honestly the new medicine was a mystery that Hanu had actually spent a lot of time considering. Mrs. Rand said it was to concentrate the treatment for his schizophrenia, but everyone at the hospital was required to take it. And moreover, she wasn’t going to inform him that he was prescribed a new drug. He just so happened to notice the orange mixed in with his usual assortment that morning. It was when they first tried to slip him that little pill, about two weeks ago, that Hanu decided he was finished with his medications.
As the two friends made their way to the front of the line, Hanu prepared for his med-cheeking technique. It was imperative that he not get caught, so he had to look and act as calm and relaxed as he could. He would be friendly, but not too friendly- and he wouldn’t doddle. Maybe today he would complement Ms. Rand’s scrubs again. Last time she blushed, looking down at her ensemble just long enough for him to tuck the six multicolored capsules between his lip and gums with his tongue.
But he never got a chance to follow through with his plan. Just as he was stepping up to the window at the nurses station the TV jumped to full volume. Hanu turned and saw the staff running into the social room where the other patients had taken their seats and continued to stare as if nothing at all were unusual. The two anchors were now replaced by a lone reporter who was standing in front of a mountainous landscape.
“Program, mute,” one of the staff commanded. But his voice continued to blare.
“…possible target was the Regional Food Production Facility located to the Southeast of these mountains. We can assume that their intent was to halt the distribution of food to the region, which would affect virtually everyone on the continent, but you can see here, the missiles that were fired around two A.M. landed here in the mountains, causing very little damage,” he said as he walked along the foothills of the mountain. In several places behind him there were smoldering columns. Then the usual anchors returned, and the woman was changing the subject.
“On a brighter note, Super Bowl celebrations will still be held as scheduled. Officials say that the Bowl will-”
But the staff must’ve gotten the program to mute because Hanu could no longer hear their voices. He couldn’t hear anything, actually. Hanu looked around, confused. Then his eyes jerked around without his permission, their muscles firing off rapidly. Trying to keep himself oriented, he attempted to focus on the people in the room, but he was no longer able to make sense of what he was seeing. Everyone was blurry, like they were shrouded in heat waves. Hanu looked at Akesh, who was saying something to him, but he couldn’t get his eyes to adjust.
Hanu’s body felt weak. He tried to grasp the rail but found that he couldn’t move his arms. And he couldn’t open his mouth to call for help, either, because his jaws were locked. His eyes finally stopped twitching, but he could only look forward at Akesh. Then he was only able to look at the ceiling as staff members closed in around him.
Hanu closed his eyes.