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  • Linda Thackeray

The Patient - Chapter One: Moses

Contemporary Fantasy (Work in Progress)

It started with a phone. Specifically, his. In the haste to leave work the night before, Doctor Daniel Ellis forgot all about the cell phone he put away while with a patient, in the top drawer of his desk. By the time he met up with his college buddy Stuart at a local sports bar and remembered his mistake, it was too late to go back to the hospital. Now, he would have to come into work, instead of catching up on a dozen projects at home. Dan swore at himself because failure to keep one’s phone within arm’s reach in the 21st century was tantamount to sacrilege. To avoid compounding his sin any further, Dan woke early and drove to Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, the next morning where he was a physician on staff. He wanted to get the device so he did not waste the rest of his day. There was paperwork he tried to catch up on, the football game he taped last weekend and if the weather held out, a plan to wash his car. Dan left his Dodge Ram in its usual place at the parking lot and wasn’t guilty of arriving at the facility in jeans, sneakers, and a t-shirt. When he met patients, he wore the respectable white coat over what he considered his grownup clothes. The doctor still thought it annoying he had to look the part when it should be enough, he was a doctor. His gold hair was not exactly long, but it wasn’t short either. Despite nearing forty, there had been many times Dan was mistaken for someone younger. The psychiatric ward was busy today. On his way to his office, Dan noticed the non-violent patients wandering through the hallways escorted by orderlies and nurses. Most appeared lost in their own psychosis, awaiting evaluation before transfer to either state-run or privately funded psychiatric hospitals. Security remained visible, keeping a close eye on them while hospital staff hurried from place to place armed with charts and medication. The doctor hated seeing so many patients in need when the hospital appeared bursting at the seams. At what point he would become indifferent to their plight was a mystery, but he knew he was not there yet. Dan supposed he was a late bloomer in this regard. He never felt he developed the calluses doctors were supposed to grow over their feelings to maintain professional objectivity. The discipline seemed easy enough to achieve in theory, except Dan always failed at it. “Doctor Ellis!” Dan heard his name echoing down the hallway from behind him. The voice was familiar to him because he knew most of the people on staff and could narrow down the possibilities. Dan turned around and saw Warren Sheldon, one of the second-year psychiatric residents on staff. It was early morning and judging by the bleary-eyed look on Warren’s face, it appeared the kid had been on call last night. Warren was able enough, but Dan was sure his plans after completing his residency, would not involve the hospital. The sum of his psychiatric practice would include listening to rich matrons, telling him what was wrong with the world and how breast implants would cure all of it. “You’re still here, Warren?” Dan said with some measure of surprise because someone else should have taken over Warren’s shift by now and he looked like he needed the sleep. Warren tried to smooth his ruffled blond hair by running his fingers through it, looking sallower than usual. “Shouldn’t Doctor Lee be on duty by now?” “She’s got the flu,” Warren frowned rubbing the bridge of his nose. “But I’m glad you’re here. I wanted to talk to you about a John Doe the NYPD brought in last night.” “Oh no, I’m off today,” Dan protested, guessing Warren was about to refer him a case that was too much for the resident to handle. Then again, when could Dan ever say no to a challenge or refused when a colleague needed the help. “All right, all right, what’s his story?” “Thanks,” Warren said appreciatively. “He’s an old guy about the same age as Moses I’m sure. Anyhow, NYPD picked him up last night for causing some kind of disturbance outside the Malcolm Building. He’s got severe hallucinations, and it took two cops to get him into a squad car.” “Pretty strong for a seventy-year-old” Dan commented and noted the folder clutched in Warren’s hand. “Is that his file?” “Yeah,” Warren nodded and handed it over. “We tested him for chemical abuse, and the only thing of note was the amount of nicotine in his system. The guy should have lung cancer by now, but instead, he’s in pretty good shape for someone that age.” “What about any neurological abnormalities?” “Nothing,” Warren shook his head. “No irregularities whatsoever. It’s not the wiring.” Dan gave him a look, “that a professional opinion doctor’?” “I mean he has all the symptoms of schizophrenia,” Warren answered a little flustered. Dan suspected the hours were catching up with him. “But it just doesn’t sit right with me.” Dan studied the file before him. He could not deny there were gaps in their knowledge, preventing them from making an accurate diagnosis at this point. The patient came in with no identification whatsoever, so there was no way to access any previous medical history. Dan could see why Warren was reluctant to act on his own and needed to consult with someone far more experienced than himself. “You get some rest,” Dan answered after a moment. “I’ll go see John Doe. Is he lucid?” “Yeah,” Warren nodded. “When he calmed down, he was pretty coherent, but any discussion about where he came from agitated him.” “Enough to be violent?” “I’m not sure,” Warren answered with uncertainty. “Sounds interesting,” Dan frowned, not up for this today and sighed with resignation because the plans for his day off just got shot to hell. Still, this was his job, and he did because he enjoyed helping people, and there was no caveat he could only do it on his days off. “On your way out, get a nurse to move him into my office. I’ll see him as soon as he’s ready.” ***** A short time later, Dan stared across the floor at the man designated John Doe. Now that they were face to face, Dan estimated John was in his late sixties with a scraggly pepper coloured beard. He appeared to be a man living rough, with gaunt cheeks and too many lines across his face. His blue-green eyes seemed a little dazed, but Dan expected this after the dose of Thorazine administered the night before. Enough time had passed for the full brunt of the drug’s effects to wane so Dan could evaluate his patient and get some further information. His previous violent behaviour warranted an orderly being posted outside Dan’s door just in case John acted out. Doctor and patient stared at each other for a few minutes as if a mutual evaluation were being undertaken. Dan sat in his chair with a note pad in his hand, watching the man react to being observed. He tried to picture this old man causing a commotion outside the Malcolm building and could not deny being sceptical he would try to harm anyone. Something deeper than instinct told Dan the patient was ill, not dangerous. “May I have a glass of water?” The older man spoke, his first word croaked into an articulate English accent. “Of course,” Dan poured him a glass. “I am uncommonly parched,” John commented before taking the glass and adding his thanks to the end of his statement. “Thorazine can do that,” Dan offered in understanding. “I dislike the concoctions you doctors put in my veins,” John grumbled, giving him a look of annoyance after he drained the contents of the glass. “You were dangerous,” Dan explained, not about to apologize for anything. The best way to gain a patient’s trust was, to be honest. He found nothing worked better. No psychiatric buzzwords or patronizing tones of empathy, just plain sincerity. “We had to give you something to calm you down.” “Yes, yes,” the man rumbled, shifting restlessly in his seat, denying nothing. “So they tell me.” “You don’t remember?” “No.” “Do you often have memory problems?” “I don’t know,” he shrugged, his lips quivered as if he were nearing a place he did not wish to be. “The benefit of having memory problems is one does not remember it.” A smile cracked Dan’s lips and made a mental note to pull back to safer ground for the moment., “Good point. What do you remember?” “Nothing, before waking up in this place,” his attention shifted away from Dan as he swept his gaze across the room to indicate the hospital. “Nothing more.” “You don’t know what you did yesterday?” “No,” the patient bit back. Dan could see John was just as unhappy about this as everyone else. His reaction sparked the doctor’s curiosity and Dan felt for this patient in his blue hospital pyjamas, that seemed so out of place not just in his office, but anywhere. There was something about the man Dan could not put his finger on, convincing the doctor he wasn’t dealing with any run-of-the-mill schizophrenic. If that was what John was. The patient’s eyes seemed a little glazed but that was because of the medication administered to subdue his violent outburst during admission. “You weren’t in any condition to give us your name last night,” Dan moved onto a safer subject. “Care to tell us what it is? I don’t want to call you John during our sessions.” A furrow appeared above those grey eyebrows, and the blue eyes stared at him with hesitation, “I don’t know what I am called. I told you I remember nothing more than what I have said. Is badgering me with foolish questions your way to help me War Dragon?” Dan blinked and stared. “Excuse me?” John looked back at him just as perplexed, “what?” “You just called me by a name,” Dan pointed out. “I did?” The old man regarded Dan with disbelief. “You called me War Dragon? Who is that?” the doctor reminded his patient. “I don’t know,” John met his eyes and Dan could see the sincerity in his answer, not to mention the genuine puzzlement, “it just slipped out. It seemed… appropriate.” Dan arched a brow at that statement and made a note of it. The patient did not seem violent, but then he was not about to underestimate the effects of 400 mg of Thorazine on a person either. He wanted to see what the man was like with no medication because Dan couldn’t make a diagnosis from one session alone. “We have to think of something to call you. If we continue talking to each other, I think I would prefer to call you something other than John.” “How many of these talks are we likely to have?” John eyed him with suspicion, a trace of urgency in his voice. “I’m not sure,” Dan confessed. “Until we find out what your name is and why being outside the Malcolm Building upset you so much.” Tension ran through the patient’s body. Relaxed hands clenched into fists, his back straightened and the muscles of his jaw ticked. He was angry and barely able to restrain himself, Dan realized. “You seemed disturbed,” Dan probed, doubtful if he would get an answer that made any sense. “Is there something about the Malcolm Building that upsets you?” “It is a place of darkness!” John snapped, rising to his feet, and seemed to tower over the doctor as his voice altered, becoming deeper and more forceful. It was a voice that made Dan beware, not for his life but because for a brief insane moment, he was almost ready to believe the old man. “Sit down,” Dan ordered, determined to regain control of the session. “Please,” he added with a kinder tone. He looked at Dan with a start, as if he remembered where he was, and the burst of anger subsided, once again replaced by confusion. “Why do you think it’s a place of darkness?” Dan could not believe he was using such a melodramatic term. People used speech like this when describing the plot to the latest George Lucas epic, not a psychiatric session. “I don’t know,” John shook his head, his expressions strained. “I know nothing, it is something I sense.” “It’s all right John,” a surge of sympathy filled Dan for this old man who seemed so lost. Who was he in the world when he was far away from this place? Did he have a wife or children, or even grandchildren? He was old enough for all those possibilities. “You don’t have to tell me until you’re ready.” “I want to tell you,” John whispered, “I think I need to tell you. I’ve been away for a long time, and it’s important I come back.” “Admitting you have a problem is always an excellent step,” Dan said, offering him more assurance than was customary but John appeared to need it. “We’ll find the answers together, I promise you. In the meantime, I hope you don’t mind if I won’t keep calling you, John. You’re not a person who doesn’t exist, you’re here, and you’re my patient. How does Moses sound to you?” “Moses?” One grey eyebrow flew up. “You are naming me after a man with a terrible sense of direction and masonry skills?” “A terrible sense of direction?” Dan almost laughed. “It does not take an inordinate amount of sense to realise he was wandering on that mountain for 40 days because he was lost. Not enough to dedicate an entire testament to his affairs.” At that moment, John sounded very much like a cantankerous old man accustomed to waving his cane at young children from his porch. “All right then,” the doctor laughed at that, “you tell me what to call you.” A loud harrumphed followed before the patient spoke again, “Moses will do. I suppose under the circumstances I am in no position to take the high ground for sanity.” ******* The ship appeared out of the mists in the middle of the North Sea almost two months before Doctor Dan Ellis faced the patient he called Moses. Its arrival went unnoticed because people avoided travelling through the North Sea during the winter months. It was icy cold on a pleasant day, let alone during winter. Hazardous sheets of ice drifted above the black water, pieces of flotsam jettisoned by the artic pole and sure to spell death to any ship unfortunate enough to encounter them. Icebergs, mists, and turbulent waters made the North Sea a most inhospitable place, even for those who spent most of their lives on the ocean. If anyone had been present, they would have seen a ship not unlike a Roman trireme, with a trio of large white sails as grey as the mists it had just escaped. The vessel was crafted from wood, but the skills of the carpenter were unlike any seen in centuries. It was a thing of beauty, crafted not by shipbuilders but artisans. It sailed across the choppy water as if it were gliding upon the waves, trailing a bed of foam as it surged towards its destination. Amidst the singing voices of humpback whales, the ship did not seem real, and anyone who saw it would most likely wonder if they were dreaming. There were only three passengers on the craft that would seem big enough to accommodate more. Three was enough because this was a journey centuries in the making. With a galley stocked with enough food and water to reach their destination and back again, so far, the trip took place without incident. If anything, it was dull until they pierced through the Veil and sneaked into the world they left behind so long ago. Once they left the Veil, their trip became a little more exciting as it had been smooth sailing until that point. Where they had been, the sun shone, and the water was still. There was enough breeze to power their sails and keep the air fresh. It was idyllic. Now they were thrust into a place where the waves could rise almost as high as their masts, where it was grey and gloomy even though they could see the sun above their heads. Winds lashed at the travellers with sheets of rain and the periodic rumble of thunder and lightning required reacquaintance. It was a stark reminder of how far away from home, they had ventured. Those left behind advised against the journey, calling it foolishness to venture from a place of safety into the unknown, grown more barbaric since their departure. Aeron stood at the bow of his ship and saw nothing ahead but the horizon of a grey sea against a similar coloured sky. The wind was so cold he felt frozen but leaving the open space for the shelter of the craft’s innards did not occur to him. It was too long since he experienced anything as adverse as weather, and he was rather enjoying it. Eden Hallas’s perfect weather was so constant he no longer knew how to appreciate it. A few months of this, he thought, and he would be happy to return home again. “You should come inside,” a voice advised. The prince glanced over his shoulder and saw his older brother Syannon wrapped in a thick warm cloak, who also brought him his own. “Thank you Syn, but I prefer to remain out here for a little longer,” Aeron said gratefully, taking the garment and slinging it over his shoulders, before facing front again. “How long do you think it will take us to cross this sea?” Syannon asked as he sat down on the deck behind Aeron. “I do not know. A hundred thousand years have passed since we entered the Veil. Such lengths of time can reshape the world. We sail what was once the Brittle Sea, but we do not go east but farther west than anyone has travelled during our time in Avalyne. We are most likely bound for what was once the eastern coast of the Uncharted Lands.” “Are you sure that is where we must go?” Syannon asked with concern, aware that more than just their quest drove the Prince of Eden Halas. “It is the only clue we have to begin,” Aeron shrugged, unable to deny the difficulty of their quest. They knew little of where Tamsyn disappeared to, and they were emerging into a world that most likely remembered nothing of their kind. “He could be dead,” Syannon pointed out. This was a volatile subject to discuss with his brother, now that it was too late to turn back. However, Syannon and their older brother Hadros had placed themselves at risk, just as Aeron had when they accompanied him on this journey. That earned them both the right to speak their mind, Syannon decided, and make Aeron aware of the reality of the situation. “If Tamsyn were dead, his soul would have returned to the High Castle. It has not so he must still live.” “Aeron, no one wishes to think the worst, but you must prepare yourself for the possibility. Much has changed in Avalyne that we are unaware of. We may find that the reason there has been no word from Tamsyn is because something worse than death might have befallen him.” “I refuse to believe that,” Aeron shook his head, his eyes fixed on the gloomy horizon. “You may not wish to, but you must at least entertain the possibility.” “I will speak of this to you no more,” Aeron stood up to leave, aware he was running away like a child. “Aeron,” Syannon stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “People die. It is an unfortunate reality of what we are. We must accept it.” Aeron turned to his brother, his features softening a little because he could not deny this truth was at the heart of his pain, driving him to find Tamsyn. “I have done nothing but accept the price of immortality is to see the deaths of all I love. I held Melia’s hand when her life slipped beyond my reach, and I sat at Dare’s bedside when he passed. I will not be the last of us that still lives, Syannon. I refuse to lose another person. Tamsyn is alive, and I will find him.” Syannon could appreciate Aeron’s grief for he knew all too well what it was like to care for mortals and be helpless to prevent their eventual demise. He had loved Dare as much as Aeron who was not the only one who lost someone close to his heart. “I understand your fear of losing the last of your friends, but we have all lost. I have seen mortal I loved, pass to the Creator’s hands.” Aeron saw the sorrow in Syannon’s eyes and remembered friends like Arianne. So many of the former queen’s words remained with him, even thousands of years after her passing. To this day, her mother Lylea still mourned her passing. The High Queen of the Elves would light a candle on the day of Arianne’s birth, as she had done so every year since Aeron brought her the news her daughter was at rest with her king. “It does not have to be this way for you, Aeron,” Syannon continued. “I know Melia is dead, but the Creator promises the race of men does not live one life, they may not have immortality, but they are blessed to return until the End of Days. “Stop,” Aeron warned, not wanting to discuss the open wound that was Melia, his wife. Syannon’s word rang true. Even Tamsyn told him once of the Creator’s plans for men, who in their own way, received a kind of immortality because their souls could return to the world to lead new lives. A hundred thousand years had passed, and Aeron waited, praying his Melia would find her way back to him, and still he was alone, mourning her. It would never happen, and he reconciled himself with that long ago. It did not matter. Tamsyn was in trouble and needed help. The Celestials would send no one else, and Aeron suspected they were reluctant to do so until they knew what had become of Tamsyn. For four centuries, Aeron had waited with growing impatience for his old friend to return, but with another millennium passing, he knew it was time to act. Syannon and Hadros had volunteered to accompany him, aware he would go alone otherwise. Aeron intended to find Tamsyn because he would not be the last living member of their circle of friends. “I cannot abandon him, brother,” Aeron looked Syannon in the eye. “I refuse to.” “I know,” Syannon nodded, admiring his younger brother’s determination if not his stubbornness. Defeated, he rose to meet Aeron’s eyes, standing a little taller, before squeezing his shoulder in comfort. “If he is alive, we will find him Princeling.” “He is alive,” Aeron insisted, smiling at that old nickname, used when he was a child. “If I were lost, Tamsyn would find me.” Syannon hoped it would be as simple as that. Time moved much faster beyond the Veil, and the world of Avalyne ended millennia ago. What lay waiting for them was a mystery. The further away they sailed from the comforting mists keeping them concealed for so long, the more Syannon believed they may never see the seraf again. Disclaimer - the graphic for this story is a piece of fan art, not intended for any commercial purposes.

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