Bob was looking down the corridor. He didn't realise how much danger he was in. He didn't see what was on the end of my arm. He didn't see that I was pointing at him with a –
Just a hand.
I stared at it in disbelief. The trembling spread down my arm and when Bob turned back to face me he only saw the arm lowering and retreating as if in embarrassment.
"Stephen", he said brusquely, "How are you feeling?"
"Fine", I said, though it was a total lie. I was in shock.
"There's someone who's come to see you. His name is Doctor Quackstein. I hope you'll make him feel welcome."
Someone walked into my cell. I didn't see who it was; I had laid my head on the mattress and was staring up at the ceiling. Feelings of confusion pervaded me; all I could think about was my gun and why it had failed to appear at the crucial moment.
"Hello Stephen", said a face on my peripheral vision. "Are you feeling calmed down a bit now? Not so agitated as before?"
"Yes", said another voice which seemed to come from me. What had happened to the gun? Had I done something wrong? Usually it was just a matter of willing my hand to change, transforming the flesh with the power of the mind. But this time the hand had stayed a hand.
The doctor was speaking. "I wonder if you can tell me exactly what happened this morning?"
I yanked myself back to reality and tried to think straight. "They tried to separate me from the wheelchair", I said. "They dragged me away from it, and I tried to hold on."
"Hmmm. Yes. But what happened before that?"
"I – I was lying in bed. And they were telling me to get up."
"I see. And you didn't want to get up?"
"No", I said, still staring up at the ceiling. My voice sounded dead and hollow. All the crying had had a strange deepening effect on it.
"Because I didn't see the point."
"And I didn't see why I should do what the nurses say."
"So have you been feeling this way a lot lately, that you can't see the point of simple, everyday things like getting up in the morning? Showering? Shaving? Things that most people do automatically?"
"That's right", said Bob, answering for me. "I don't think he showers or changes his sheets either. As soon as I walked into the room, I could smell the B.O."
"Is this true?", asked the doctor.
"I shower enough", I replied.
"Once a week."
"Once a week? Well I don't think that's enough. Most people shower every day."
"I don't care what other people do. I just do what's best for me."
Bob spoke again. "You're not the only one on this ward, Stephen. There are twenty-three other people in here. If we're going to live together in peace, then you have to live by the rules and conventions like the rest of them. When you refuse to shower, or when you try something like you did this morning, then you inconvenience the whole ward."
"Well look – I didn't ask to be brought here."
"That's true, Stephen," said the doctor, "but your discharge date has already been set, and until that date you would do well to co-operate with us, because otherwise you'll find us less than willing to co-operate with you."
"There's nothing you can do to me", I said slowly and darkly.
"That wheelchair belongs to us, right?", inquired Bob.
"Yes", I replied.
"Hmmm. Good. Just checking."
"All right Stephen", said the doctor, almost cutting off the end of Bob's last sentence. "You just think about what I've said about co-operation, and we'll be back in a minute with your clothes. Bob, can I –"
The doctor made some sort of signal to Bob that I didn't see, and the two men filed out the door. I turned my head just in time to see Bob closing my cell without locking it. As soon as they were out of sight, my body became rigid with fear. Those two men – neither of them knew about my secret powers. What were they plotting against me?
I tried the gun again. I tried it repeatedly, and then started bashing my hand against the cold floor, trying to loosen it up. In the end I was punishing my hand for being so unco-operative, and tears were welling in my eyes. I was powerless. The magic gun was gone, now, perhaps for good. If the authorities tried to take the wheelchair away from me now, I would not be able to stop them. No-one in this hospital knew about my power. If they had tried to take the wheelchair away before this day, it would have been fine. It would have been exciting. I would have shown them my power, and they would have looked upon me with fear and reverence. But right now, the authorities were in a position where they might win the battle; perhaps they didn't even know it yet. Why did it have to happen now? Why did I have to lose my powers just when they finally succeeded in wrenching the wheelchair out of my grasp? One might almost think there was a connection between the two events – that the wheelchair itself had given me the powers. But that didn't really make sense. After all, I had changed wheelchairs several times since I broke my feet – it hadn't always been the same wheelchair.
I found myself wanting to speak to Doctor Cantaro – he was the only one who could sort this out. He would never let them take away my wheelchair if he was here. But Doctor Cantaro wasn't here. He had never visited me in this mad house. Where was he? And why had he abandoned me?
"Stephen, are you still here? Sorry for abandoning you like that. "
I raised myself up on one elbow and looked at the man in the doorway. He was sitting on an office chair and the light streamed out from behind him. Before I knew what was happening, that chair was rolling towards me on its castors. It was coming straight for my head. I wanted to move aside or at least shut my eyes, but I couldn't. The castors hit my head and passed right through, re-arranging my brain again. I had that helpless feeling of being mentally assaulted but enjoying the lack of defense on a deeper level. When the chair came out of my head I was facing the other direction, watching the white-coated man rolling away from me for half a second before coming to rest at his desk-side position. We were in an office. The wheelchair had raised me up, bringing me to eye level with the Doctor Cantaro.
"Would you like a cup of coffee?", he asked. I noticed he had brought his own cup of coffee in with him, half empty.
"No thanks", I replied.
"Biscuit?", he said, holding out a jar of them. I looked at them for a moment, surprised, and then took one. He put the biscuit jar back on his desk, leaving the lid off it. "So", he said. "I heard you've been causing a bit of trouble at home."
"That's right", I said in between nibbles.
"I heard you actually pulled a gun on your mother. Is that right?"
I nodded at his desk-lamp nervously, wondering if he was trying to lay another guilt-trip on me.
"Does that make you ashamed?", he asked. "Do you wish you hadn't done it?"
"No; I had to do it, to get my wheelchair back."
"Hmmm." The Doctor took a sip of his coffee and tilted his eyes toward the ceiling. He seemed to be deep in thought. There was a piece of literature on his desk entitled "Rehabilitation Centre Annual Report." On the front cover was a photo of a nurse and a bedridden patient, smiling at eachother. I wished I could just slip into that saccharine picture and avoid the sermon.
"So you'll go to any lengths to keep the wheelchair, then?", he said finally. "It's really that important to you?"
There was another pause, and I decided to break the silence for once. "Why are you asking me all these questions? You're not a psychiatrist."
Cantaro seemed pleased that I'd asked him a question. "Aah, that's true, I'm not a psychiatrist, and it's been many years since I did a term in psychiatry way back when I was becoming a doctor. Now I'm trying to recall some of that knowledge, because I need it in order to figure out what's going on in your head."
"So why don't you send me to a psychiatrist?", I asked, following the obvious line of reasoning.
"I will," he replied, "but first I want to sort things out between us. I just want us to have a talk, like two friends would talk. So don't think of me as a doctor. I mean, doctors are often seen as authority figures, in a way, but I don't want this to develop into a confrontational gun-wielding situation like it did yesterday. So I thought maybe we could negotiate without making any threats, or direct orders, and maybe we can come to an agreement about what we're going to do."
I shrugged and popped the last piece of biscuit into my mouth. "O.K."
The Doctor's "Annual Report" was behaving very oddly. It was growing in size and falling off the desk. Then it began to twist upwards, and I heard a voice coming out of it with a faint Egyptian accent:
"Hey, Stephen! What are you doing in bed?"
The annual report was coming towards me.
"Can you tell me about what happened this morning?" Doctor Cantaro was being obscured by the paper. I couldn't see him anymore.
"Come on, loafer! You should be up and walking." It was that female voice again. The photo swept forward and surrounded me. There was a moment of dizziness as the new reality twisted around to match my viewpoint. I was back in bed, but the scene was far from saccharine. The nurse in the picture turned out to be René, the Egyptian woman who was always nagging me to get out of bed.
"What's wrong with staying in bed?", I asked her.
"You need to practise walking", she answered. "That's what rehabilitation is all about."
"I get enough exercise in physiotherapy. And anyway, where am I gonna walk to? You want me to just go walking around aimlessly in the corridors?"
Nurse René folded her arms. "All I'm saying is, you spend far too much time in bed. It doesn't matter where you walk to, just as long as you get out of bed."
I pulled the bedclothes further up over myself. "Leave me alone", I said. "I just want to rest now. I'll go for a walk later."
"Later? Well you just make sure that you do. I've got my eye on you." René wagged her finger at me and walked away. I slid down deeper into the blankets, turned on my side, and closed my eyes. René was talking through her hat. The best thing about hospital was being allowed to stay in bed – I had to make the best of it. This era was drawing to a close. Soon I would be going home to my parents' house, and they certainly wouldn't be bringing food to the bed, let alone a bed pan. I would be expected to stand on my own two feet.
The bed is warm – I wish I never had to leave –
My eyes opened and I was in my own bedroom. The overhead lights were not fluorescent – there was one solitary light-globe in the middle of the ceiling, and it was turned off. Only muffled light came through the window – the curtains were drawn, as usual. The wallpaper was vaguely off-white and rough textured. There were no posters on the walls, apart from one large picture of a stack of money which Melissa had given me years ago; I felt obliged to keep it there because it was a gift, but it was so low down on the wall that the bed obscured half of it. When I was young I'd had a collection of posters and other objects stuck around the room, but just recently I'd developed a craving for bare, undecorated walls. I thought of it as an extension of my personality – it was empty and featureless. That wasn't quite true about my personality, but there was nothing about myself that I wanted to express via my bedroom walls. Most of all I didn't want people to form judgments about me when they saw my bedroom – blank walls were best because they gave nothing away.
I turned my head to the side and looked at the empty space there.
My wheelchair was gone.
I raised my head and scanned the room, my stomach getting tenser with each passing second. The wheelchair was not within reach, nor within sight. I had left it by the bed while I slept, ready to roll me out of this place in the morning. But now it was gone, and without the wheelchair I was helpless.
They took it in the night!
I sat up and took my wasted legs out from under the covers. My brow darkened as I started to form suspicions about who had taken the wheelchair. Doctor Cantaro? No – he wasn't so desperate to reclaim hospital property that he'd break into someone's house. Dad? No – he had been at work all night, and anyway I trusted him too much. The only one left was Mum; I didn't trust her as far as I could carry her. She hadn't been herself last night. I remembered the strange quietness, the bleak chill in her eyes, and now it seemed obvious that she was plotting something against me. But that wasn't conclusive proof –
My gun hand was tingling. Even though it was in fleshy-form, it felt heavy as if the metal was inside, primed and ready to shoot. I waved the hand in an arc, thinking it wouldn't be long before this weapon would be coming out, perhaps shooting off a round and mowing down anyone who came between me and my wheelchair. But that was for later. Right now I had to devise a way to get out of this room without walking.
I dragged myself to the tail end of the bed which was closest to the door. Fortunately, my wheelchair travel had necessitated that a path be cleared through the mess from my bed to the door, and the door itself was ajar, which was a bonus. I lowered my hands to the carpet and slowly inched my way forward, dragging the lower half of my crippled body off the bed. The carpet was neither thick nor soft. As I struggled onward, it scraped my elbows and made me wince with pain. Meanwhile the friction was threatening to drag my underwear off. I twisted my body around to reach the brown paper sack still full of my belongings, and pulled out a clean pair of tracksuit pants. There was no way I could go out into the house in this state of undress – I would have gotten dressed in bed if I'd been thinking more clearly.
Covering my lower half with the trousers without any leg muscle exertion was no easy task, but at least it gave me the opportunity to get off my stomach and face the right way up. I half considered the possibility of dragging myself the rest of the way reversed, on my buttocks, but that would have meant dragging my bare heels along the carpet, and my feet were painful enough already. Eventually I rolled onto my stomach, slithered over to the door, and opened it. The dark, empty hallway was there, just as it had always been throughout my childhood. I squinted at it and tried to estimate how much dragging it would take to get into the vinyl floored kitchen. The light in there was off. Mum was probably not in the kitchen – I couldn't hear her moving around.
Where was she, then? In the bedroom? She was not one to be sleeping in on a Saturday morning; not later than me, anyway. Dad would be in there, sleeping off his night-shift. I wanted to avoid waking him up, if possible. The kitchen was the hub of the household, and Mum would be sure to walk into it sooner or later, no matter where she was. I wanted to be ready for her, ready to put the hard questioning on her. I continued dragging my carcass down the hall in fits and bursts, with my mouth open and my eyes wild with self-inflicted pain. With every fit and every burst of movement, I became more determined to get my wheelchair back and more certain that this would all be worth it.
"And you say you dragged yourself like this all the way to the kitchen?", asked Doctor Cantaro.
"Yes", I replied, gripping the hand-rails of my wheelchair for security.
"Why didn't you just walk into the kitchen? I mean, it would have been difficult, but you've made a bit of progress with walking since you came here."
"No. I can't walk."
"You could have at least tried."
"No. Not anymore. I don't want to walk."
The doctor's chair was sprouting arm-rests and retreating even further from me; I had to lean forward to speak to him. Meanwhile his desk started to float up into the air, but one corner of it remained anchored to the ground. The objects on the desk slid off, and continued their slide across the floor like racing snails. I noticed that the objects were growing and spreading out, although later I wouldn't remember which exercise machine had been a phone, or which patient had been a desk-calendar. It all happened too fast.
"So", said the doctor, "you suffered the indignity of crawling across the floor on your belly, just because you were against the idea of walking, in principle?"
I looked around at the doctors office, which was turning into something messy and complicated on a much larger scale. Splashes of bright colour crawled out of the walls and split themselves up into milder hues. I could no longer be sure how far away the walls were, but I got the feeling that I was in a space so expansive, the boundaries were no longer a significant concern. The doctor was still retreating across the room as his hair became overtaken by grey, and his clothes became shabbier. For some reason I felt it was very important that I answered his question, but it was difficult because the gulf between us was widening, as was the age difference.
"That's right", I called.
The old man clenched his mouth over to one side of his face thoughtfully. He didn't seem at all angry, or weary – I just hoped the friendly facade wasn't hiding some sort of trick up his sleeve that would bring my downfall. But just then, any importance the old man had held was forgotten as Carol approached me across the busy gymnasium.
"Stephen", said the physiotherapist, "I've adjusted the height of these crutches to fit your height, so they should suit you better now. Yes?"
I nodded. But wait a minute, I thought. Carol doesn't know about my plan to not walk. How could she know? I only thought up the plan last night. So how am I going to tell her?
Carol continued, "Up until now you've been walking with the three-point gait, which puts the crutches in sync with eachother. The next step is to learn the four-point gait, which is faster, and I'm going to teach it to you today."
I was still looking at the old man. I couldn't look Carol in the eye. Any moment now it would begin. The rebellion. What will she do? Will she be angry with me? Will she be disgusted? Will she throw me into shame and humiliation? What will happen?
"So take these crutches", she said, "and come to a standing position like I taught you last time."
The moment had come. "No", I said.
"Why not?", asked Carol, "What's wrong?"
Now you've done it, fool! There's no going back now! It's easy to say 'no', but you're going to have to explain yourself!
Ignoring my little voice's doubt, I forced the words, "I don't want to walk." Even though everything was going to plan, I could feel the cogs and wheels screeching against eachother in my head, being forced to turn in a direction for which they hadn't been designed.
"Stephen, is this a joke?"
The cogs screamed louder. Maybe it was a joke – it certainly was absurd. Much of my effort had to be put into preventing my face from breaking into a smile. I didn't want this to be any more embarrassing than it had to be.
Carol was squatting down to look at me closely. She was in my peripheral vision; my eyes were staring ahead now, deadly serious.
"What's wrong? Why don't you want to walk?"
"Because – because – " I thought the talking would be easier from here on in, but it wasn't. Words had to be dredged out from the depths of my memory like drowned corpses. "It just – seems like – such a – waste of time! What's the – point of it all?"
Carol was silent for a while. I wondered what she was making of my strange behaviour; it certainly wasn't coming out how I planned. Finally she said, "Stephen, I know it's hard, and I know it must seem pretty pointless to you now, but – it'll get easier every day, and once we get you walking again, you'll see that this was all worthwhile. You'll be happier once you're out of here, trust me."
This is stupid, I thought. We're both talking in clichés, and neither of us is really understanding eachother. How am I gonna cut through this crap?
I shook my head "No! – I don't want to walk! Walking is bad! I – I want to stay like this!"
"Stephen, what's wrong, really? Tell me."
"I told you."
Carol was confused. She was trying to understand, but I could see from her expression that she wasn't too keen on dealing with a mental case. She didn't want a long explanation, she wanted a quick solution, and there wasn't one. I decided to speak up again, before she had the chance to work out what her next question would be.
"Carol – your job is to teach me to walk again, right? And – and to get me into a satisfactory state that I'm satisfied with? But your job isn't to persuade me to walk again, that would be more the job of a psychiatrist or something. So really I think your job here is done, because I'm satisfied with the state that I'm in. So I think we should end the rehabilitation here."
That last sentence was in such a low voice, she would've had to have been a lip reader to understand it. She certainly didn't look very understanding.
"Excuse me", she said, "I have to – talk with someone."
Many people claim to have seen a mysterious figure roaming the back streets late at night in a wheelchair. They all know the legend of Wheelchair Man, the maverick crime-fighter who lives by his own rules and always has a gun on his side. But no-one really knows who he is. It's only when criminals come face to face with his deadly glint of polished gun-metal that they realise he is more than just a man – he is a supernatural being, unfettered by physical laws. They gasp with astonishment as the impossible Wheelchair Man thwarts their evil plans.
Whenever mankind is threatened by evil, whenever trouble is at hand, Wheelchair Man will be there with his guns of justice, slaying all wrongdoers. The city will ring with the echoes of freedom and justice, sent forth from his mighty weapons. Run, base villains, run, but you cannot outrun his wheels. Hide, but you cannot escape him. The unearthly Wheelchair Man will follow you. Unless you go into some place where there's no wheelchair ramp, in which case –
"Stephen, are you listening?"
Oh. It's Doctor Cantaro. He's still there. We must have been talking for a long time.
"Yes", I said.
The Doctor continued. "I can do a deal with you, Stephen. We can make an arrangement where everyone is happy and no one has to get shot."
"Yes, well, as long as I can keep the wheelchair, it's O.K. with me."
"Good. Now here's the deal – you keep your powers a secret, and I will make sure that no-one tries to steal your wheelchair while you're in the new place. No one will try to take it away from you."
"How are you going to arrange that?", I asked, wondering if it was a trick.
"Never mind how I'm going to do it – there are ways. If I need to arrange it I will."
"But you'd have to be influencing people at a different hospital, a hospital that you don't work at!"
The Doctor shook his head. "Don't you worry yourself about that. All that matters is that you'll get to keep the wheelchair, and if anyone tries to take it away from you, then you can show your gun to the world and start shooting people. But it's not going to happen. So can I have your word that you promise to keep your powers a secret?"
"I don't know why you want me to keep them a secret", I said. "Why can't I just expose them?"
"Well, think about it. If the authorities see that you've got this incredible source of power, then they'll be scared of you. They'll regard you as dangerous. I mean, you may think you can handle this much power, and that you'll only use it for – well, you may think you deserve this much power, but – the authorities won't assume that. They'll want to analyse it – they'll want to control it, they'll want to control you – and from what I've seen in the past twenty-four hours, I think it's more than likely that you're going to get angry and start hurting people. I've seen how much power you have, with that little demonstration you gave before – it's frightening. The most frightening thing of all is your attitude. You seem to want to use the gun on every man or woman who gets in your way. But sorry, I'm not trying to criticize you, I'm just saying that if we follow my plan – and keep it a secret, then no-one gets hurt, everything stays – reasonably pleasant, and you get to keep the wheelchair. Do you understand?"
I nodded. The Doctor had spoken some weighty truths in his oratory, but the words themselves did not have so much of an effect on me as what was happening to him physically. He had risen up very slowly from his chair and was now floating above me like a hot-air balloon with his arms stretched out to each side. A warm yellow glow had begun to emanate from somewhere behind his head. It had grown brighter and brighter until his upper body was nothing more than a silhouette. I was staring upward in awe of that dazzling, brilliant light, unable to take my eyes off it. Who was this man?, I wondered. He was not an enemy at all.
"Do you promise to keep it a secret?", he asked.
"Yes", I murmured.
The Doctor's new light was now so blinding that his whole office looked dark in comparison. Nothing else could be seen.
There was a momentary flash as the light encompassed the doctor's whole body, and then it quickly dies, like a big studio light being turned off. The scene which replaces it is my familiar underground sanctuary with its eternal ceiling and that comfortable feeling of genuine security. Despite the events with Doctor Cantaro, and with Carol, I feel as if I never left this place. Can that be true?
To the left of me is the T.V., still glowing with meaningless pictures. To the right of me is some kind of machine, the purpose of which I can't figure out. There's something else I can see out of the corner of my right eye – it may be a cupboard or a chest of drawers. Apart from that, the only thing I can see from this angle is the top of a doorway on the front wall.
Blinded by the light
Revved up like a deuce another runner in the night.
What is that song? It was Doctor Cantaro's light that made me think of it. That's the song that was on the radio when Tora and I were playing pool together in the psychiatric hospital just before bedtime. It was the first game of pool I had ever played, so I was making all sorts of dumb mistakes and she was winning. In fact, by the time I potted my first ball, she had –
Wait a minute, stop. Who is Tora? One of the reasons I've lost my grip on reality is because I keep going off on tangents like this. Slow down. Shouldn't I be trying to think rationally, and figure out what my situation is? What's going on in the present?
There's nothing going on in the present.
So what we can gather is, time has somehow, inexplicably, come to a halt. At least, that's how we perceive it. But how long has time been halted like this?
That is a meaningless question. If there is no time, then we can't measure the duration of anything.
Be that as it may, we can still try to find the answers to some fundamental questions. Such as, who are we? Or more correctly, who am I? It seems that my name is most probably Stephen Clark, although that fact is far from definite. The only thing that it's based on is the events in these dream-states that I keep drifting into, and I don't even know it they're reflections of real life or not. This character Stephen Clark may or may not be me, but he creeps into my head so often, there must be a strong connection between me and him in any case. Like maybe I was him in a past life.
The thing to do now, then, is to work out how I got to this point. What was it that happened just before time came to a halt? What caused it to happen, and what were the events that led up to it? I have so many scenarios and memories spinning 'round in my head, but I don't know which order they're supposed to go in. That's what makes it so confusing.
Maybe we should work out exactly where "this point" is, the point where time stopped. Let's go over it again. I'm in a room without windows. Above me: a ceiling with fluorescent lights. To the left: A T.V., although the screen is so empty of meaning that it might as well be a microwave oven. To the right: some kind of machine, and now that I look at it again I think it's a gas cooker. To the front: A doorway, and beside that a refrigerator.
To the rear: a window.
Below me: a table.
I'd been sitting there for more than half an hour, poised and ready. I didn't know what she was expecting when she came home, but she couldn't be expecting me to just roll over in defeat. Not with all the power I had. How well did she really know me, I wondered.
The thing that was really cutting into me was the fear that I might never regain possession of my wheelchair, that I might have lost the battle. I also felt hatred for Mum and her underhanded thievery, and for that I intended to make her pay. What I did not want was for Dad to become involved; he was not likely to wake up from his daytime sleep after the nightshift, but if he happened to wake up and come out here, there might be some awkward questions to be answered. After all, I was about to cause a major scene.
In the life of every mental patient, I thought, there must be at least one incident. An event that causes pain and embarrassment. That's what defines them as a mental patient. There has to be an incident that makes people take notice, and this is mine.
I heard the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. A few seconds later, I heard the unmistakable sound of Mum's footsteps on the path. This is it, I thought, she's coming in and the wait is over. Remember the sequence – ask questions first, shoot later.
The front door opened. My mother came into view, carrying her handbag. At first she looked pleased to see me, no doubt as a result of my relaxed-and-happy facade.
"Stephen! You're up. This is a surprise. Did you walk in here?"
I couldn't believe she was talking to me like this, after what she'd just done.
"No, I didn't walk", I replied calmly. "I dragged myself in here. On my stomach."
"Oh. Is that going to be your preferred method of transport from now on?"
She was sort of making fun of me, in a vain attempt to get me on my feet sooner. I could feel the tension heating up now. "I hope not", I said.
She started walking past the kitchen table. "I hope not too, but it's your choice."
I glared at her. "Mum, where's the wheelchair?"
She stopped walking. For the first time she started to look worried. Then she said: "O.K., Stephen, look I know this is going to be hard for you to come to terms with, but we had to take that wheelchair away from you. In the long run you'll see it's for the best, it really –"
I interrupted. "You took it while I was sleeping, didn't you?"
"Well – yes, Stephen, but it was the only way. To get you back to normal again. That wheelchair has become an obsession for you. Can't you see what it was doing to you? It was dragging you away from recovery. And you were threatening to kill people who took your wheelchair away. That's not like you! I had to take the wheelchair away, for your own good."
My eyes frowned up at hers. She was looking more like Doctor Cantaro every second, with her delusions of authority. The explanations only made me angrier. "You don't decide what's good for me", I said coldly.
"Well it's not just me! Doctor Cantaro and I had a talk yesterday and we agreed that – – – – – – –
(that it would be best if you spend some time in a psychiatric hospital", said the doctor. "Now don't answer straight away – I know how you must be feeling about the whole situation, but I really think a short stay in a psych hospital could do you a world of good."
I was wondering how Doctor Cantaro could make room for such a long appointment as this one in his busy schedule. He had just finished a lengthy discourse about how great powers come with responsibility, and how power can sometimes corrupt a person, and how superheroes in comic-books are so idealised. It had been a long time since I had uttered a word, and a long time since I had looked in his eyes.
"I'm worried about you, Stephen", he continued. "I think you need help. When a person starts pointing guns at other people to get what he wants, it's not necessarily a psychological disorder – it might be just greed for money. But when he starts pointing guns at people in order to stay disabled, and to stay wheelchair bound, then we have to say that it is a psychological disorder. And that holds true whether the gun is "magical" or not. Do you see what I'm saying here? There's something wrong inside your mind which has caused you to become so – attached – to this wheelchair and this lifestyle, it's gone beyond anything normal or rational. If we don't do something about it, then it could ruin your whole life, and your parents' lives. The people in the psychiatric hospital can help you. If you say yes, then I can get them to admit you today, 'cause they have an empty bed there. The choice ultimately is yours – no one's going to force you into anything, but will you at least give this a try?"
Finally he stopped talking. Finally he asked me a question. "O.K.", I said, "whatever. I don't care. As long as I can keep the wheelchair, I don't care where you put me."
The doctor smiled. "O.K. then. After this interview is over, I'll give a call to the CAT team, or the Crisis Assessment and Treatment team, and they will come over and talk to you. You'll have to explain the whole situation to them. But I don't want you to say a word about your magical gun powers; just tell them that)
– – – – – – – that it would be best if I take the wheelchair away from you. You need to learn that guns can't get you what you want, and you need to forget about the idea of keeping the wheelchair, because the world doesn't work that way."
Mum was obviously fully confident that she was safe from my powers. It was as if she imagined a protective motherly shield around herself. I lifted my eyebrows way up high. "Do you really think taking the wheelchair away will solve the problem?", I enquired.
"Yes. I think it will."
I brought my eyebrows down again and pointed my finger at her. "Well, think again."
The hand changed into a gun.
Time has come to a halt.
"I had to wait for a long time in the reception area of the psychiatric hospital, and my parents arrived on the scene. They had brought me a box full of clothes and other belongings which I had requested. After an eternity of waiting around, we were met by another doctor, Dr. Quackamura, who interviewed us again."
The sound of the pen on my diary could be heard clearly in this quiet room, as tiny letters flew onto the page. It was already the longest diary entry I had ever written. Starting with the events in the morning, the conflict with Mum, moving through to the discussion with Cantaro, and then on to the afternoon events in the psychiatric hospital, it had been quite a day. I thought yesterday had been important, the day when I had revealed my powers to Doctor Cantaro and his orderly. And then I had gone to bed thinking the next day would be relatively ordinary. But today had been possibly even more important, certainly more complicated. By the end of the day I was living in a new place, the psychiatric hospital – and the near future looked very different. I continued with the diary:
"Finally Ma and Pa left and I had my bags searched by nurse Gloria. I guess she was looking for sharp objects or drugs or something. Little did she know that I was packing the ultimate weapon in my hand. Actually I was somewhat afraid that she was going to confiscate my pens, but she didn't confiscate anything. After that she told me my room number and I..."
The door handle turned suddenly. I thought it was just the nurse peeking in to check on me again, but instead it was a large middle aged man and he came all the way in. "Hello", he said.
"Hello", I replied. That was all.
This must be Eric, I thought. I had seen Eric's name on the door when I came in. He was my room-mate. I got back to my diary as he ambled over to his own bed.
"...went off by myself to find it. Something about this whole scene was making me happy. Everything seemed to be going my way. Once I was alone in my bedroom I could forget about the mess with my parents and just be ecstatic about the way things had turned out for me. Just a few hours earlier I had succeeded in getting the wheelchair back; it was a triumph I couldn't really celebrate at the time. But I celebrated as I explored my new bedroom, and everything was perfect. I did some of my traditional wheelchair spins, and danced in a sitting position. Then I put my things away in the drawers and..."
My writing was interrupted by Eric, who had been getting ready for bed and was now under the covers. "You gonna be writing for long, mate?"
I looked up from the diary. This was a dilemma. Eric would want to turn the lights out, no doubt. Two words escaped my lips:
Then I hauled myself off the bed and into the wheelchair, without turning on the brakes. Grabbing the diary and the pen, I wheeled myself out of the room. On the way out I turned off the light.
For the next few minutes my diary-writing took place in the long corridor with bedrooms leading off it. I continued:
"...cupboards at lightning speed. Such was my enthusiasm, the task was finished in next to no time. After that I sat myself on the bed and started to write this diary entry. I was hot after all my furious activity. During the diary writing I tried to stay happy, but I felt a change coming over as I described to you the nasty events of the morning. It was more of a physical change than emotional – a horrid, sickly feeling deep down inside my gut. It was there when I remembered the method by which I'd caused everyone. I was still trying to tell myself everything was O.K. when a nurse called me out for dinner at five o'clock. I wheeled myself out and joined the end of the dinner queue, even though..."
"Will you be going to bed soon?", said a voice. I looked up from the diary. A nurse had spoken – I thought it was the same black man who had called me out for dinner. It was just a question, but I recognised it as an urging to quit writing and turn in. Reluctantly I admitted to myself that I wasn't going to get this finished today – but I had to at least put a cap on the sentence.
"...I had no desire for sustenance", I wrote. Then I closed the diary and began the delicate process of opening my bedroom door without hitting the base of the wheelchair on it.