Thursday, 23 June 2011

Sin... Second Death

These visions of being a deserting Confederate soldier were really interfering with my work day.

Well, I say 'visions'... That implies I went into a trance and mystical images visited me, foretelling events in my dim, dark future. I always thought the future was meant to be bright and it was the past, especially in my case, that was supposed to be dim and distant and dusky - on the edge of radiance but always with the shadow of night terrors.

And I say 'visit'... That makes it sound like they came bearing gifts of grapes and three week old magazines with the coupons cut out, and we sit around with our cups of tea going cold whilst staring out of the window commenting inanely on the weather for just long enough to say they've been but not long enough to say it made a difference.

And... well... I say 'work'... Everything in here is hard work. The brilliant, in intensity not wonderfullness, white. The slop that attempts, and fails - though can't be blamed for its failings - to be classed as food. The minutes that hold their breath long enough to become hours.

But I seemed to be phasing out. I seemed to be daydreaming, my mind wandering around outside the confines of my head, even going so far as to exit the asylum - probably on the Number Five bus. It was my only escape, my only way out. It was my only chance to feel free of the strait jacket you wear even when you weren't wearing one. The daydreams, however, had ceased to be mundane journeys to town, grocery shopping, bed with a beautiful woman - the things you had to think about to keep yourself sane... in the asylum...

They were becoming... odd.

Apart from films and vague memories of history lessons with Mr. Benson at school, I know not-a-lot about the American Civil War. Not being American means it's talked about, but takes a back seat to the many wives of a certain portly king and how one of his ancestors received an arrow in the eye as a thanks for leading the country against the invaders in 1066.

So why would I be imagining I was a Confederate soldier on the run from both my comrades in arms and those I was sworn to defeat?

I know exactly why.

Every so often you meet a person who is so completely convinced about their own story, no matter how ludicrous it might sound, you can't help but be swept away. You're drawn into their surely make-believe world until you almost end up convinced yourself. In here, there's a lot of people who live in worlds of their own creation, bubbles that are reinforced with despair to ensure they never pop. But you know that's all they are. Protection against the forces of darkness, or of reality.

But Mark Richards was different. Somehow. He wasn't necessarily more eloquent, weaving his surreality with words. Nor was he excessively manic, his fears or phobias becoming a facade of fact.

It was in his eyes. The eyes are the windows to the soul, apparently. In an asylum, usually, those windows are locked tight, with the shutters shut and the curtains closed. Not so with Mark. His eyes were bright. They were alive.

We were friends. He was insane but appeared not to be, if you ignored his stories. I was not insane but appeared to be, if you didn't ignore my own. We both had our curses. In my case, it was the deaths. In his, there were hunts and rituals and Isis and Osiris. And faceless enemies.

In both there were suicides. His father, my sister.

We were friends.

Did I believe him? You'd think I'd be mad to. Insane even. But I've said I'm not. I told you that already. Look past the things you know about me, those that haunt me, what I can do, that coin... that damned coin. See beyond.

OK, so I still look crazy. Fair enough. As does Mark. But it doesn't mean that we are. Yes, it doesn't mean that we're not either.

Mark told me he had only a month left. But for what? He wouldn't say. He just kept telling me that she was coming. She had a name. Sylvia Dee. His wife? Daughter? Mother? Postman's next door neighbour's third cousin's chiropodist? No idea. But he was afraid of her. As thirty one days counted down, Mark became drawn. He wasn't eating. His blackouts increased. He would flinch if anyone came in and would watch them intently, just in case they were someone else hiding in the sheep's clothing of an orderly or patient.

Mark believed Sylvia Dee, her name always spoken together, never as simply Sylvia, was watching him. She was manipulating him. If he wasn't gone by the end of that month, then terrible things would happen, not just ot him, but to everyone.

Fear can be contagious. In an asylum, where everyone is dumped in a recreation room to fester and ferment, contagions spread quickly. Mark's fever was a wildfire that burned all in its path. Patients were no longer patient. They were anxious. They were afraid, and they didn't even know why.

That was how you were with Mark. You believed him, and you shared his dread.

When he was gone, the apprehension disappeared like breath on a window. It faded to only a few drops of condensation that disturbed the clarity of the glass. But where had he gone? It wasn't like it was overnight, when he might have been carted out by Connors, or released in the wilds to fend for himself. Or even that Sylvia Dee had turned up early and spirited him away.

No. It was during the day. He was there and he wasn't. People don't disappear. They really don't. He wasn't in the room. To my knowledge, he hadn't gone to relieve his bladder or bowel, not that it takes days to do either. He had just gone.

And then I started to see myself as a Confederate soldier, circa 1860, with fear and blood and smoke and noise following me around like dogs desperate for me to open a tin of meat and feed them. I could even smell, could taste the air. It was acrid and bitter at the back of my throat.

Nothing odd about that, you might think. You'd be right. It's just the musing of a madman. The thing is, Mark Richards had a thing about him. You kind of believed what he said, as crazy as it was. And the curse? His own version of my affliction? It had lasted, he said, about a hundred and thirty odd years. It had started during the American Civil War.

That Number Five bus has taken my mind on some strange journeys. Now it's taken me back to a battle that shaped a country.

Really interferes with my working day, that.

I reckon.

(This blog entry is based on the book Second Death by Donna Fitch, available now in print from and as an ebook from

1 comment:

  1. Janica York Carter27 June 2011 at 05:34

    Donna directed me to this blog after I read her novel. This is so cool! Now I have to read your book, too, because your blog is so intriguing. Thanks to both of you!