Chapter 1: Sandy Claws

In a suburb, in Santa Claus, Indiana, awaits our protagonist. These are his thoughts; he knows he’s being watched.


I am thinking in circles. Circles in thinking am I.

My name is Yukio Mishima, I think. I am stuck in a cage. It has walls; there are four of them. They are painted mint green. The coat of paint is eerily flush with the four, flat, rectangular walls. I’ve spent countless moments searching these boundless walls for a pocket of trapped air. I would settle for even the smallest of restrained energy with which I could commiserate. All attempts have been futile.

That is, until this morning. I happened joyously upon a miniscule bubble protruding from a section of wall nearest the floor and the door. My ecstasy quieted confusion concerning theories that I had already inspected this section. Queue paranoia. Upon my discovering, I felt compelled to fish out the safety pin I had left percolating in my pocket and pop the bubble, releasing the contained oxygen. Slowly, I approached the globule with the needle’s tip. Once I was satisfied with the point of entry, I plunged its point into the protrusion.

No noise. No sudden deflation. Nothing. The air, doomed for generations inside the room’s boundary, escaped involuntarily, invisibly from its prison, and then blended seamlessly with remnants of breath.

There is a bed. It consists of a shiny steel plateau extending from the wall; and on top of the plateau resides a white mattress, white sheets, and a white pillow. The white pillow is whiter than the white mattress. In the corner is a steel toilet. There is a sink next to the toilet affixed with a metal faucet and beige plastic basin. The pipes that deliver and receive the water from the sink are also metal. The toilet shines brighter than the pipes. I sleep on the tile floor more often than the bed. The floor is divided into rows crossed with rows of grey tile squares with small flecks of yellow scattered throughout the grey. The grey is the same color as the sky when it rains in the daytime in London in the winter. The grey is the same color as every grey-tiled floor in every institution with grey-tiled floors. No bars, of course, but a door. An off-white—like it was dingy, but done intentionally—white door, with a rectangular porthole two-thirds of the way up, accessed and retracted from its opposite side. That door and no windows is what keep me confined.

Why am I here? Because I am crazy. Do I agree? I do agree. I think everyone in the world is crazy. I should know because I am crazy.

Onto my escape plan.

It is inspired by nature’s true master of disguise: Thaumoctopus mimicus, the mimic octopus. It is most awkward that the title of fauna’s most deceptive is oft awarded to the chameleon. People fail to realize that the lizard changes color as a means of seduction, not trickery. Like me, the mimic octopus deceives its predators as a matter of necessity.

I obtained the uniform of a ahem “guard” at this infernal institution, and have clung to it desperately, anchored to it as my means of liberation. I frequently relocate where the uniform is being kept so as to prevent its being found.

I fetch the navy blue uniform hidden beneath the mattress. The uniform might be black; I can hardly ever tell the difference between navy blue and black. It doesn’t fit me very well. Loosely-cut pants swallow my legs and make them feel small and vulnerable in comparison. The trousers are complimented by a bulky button-up shirt and navy blue clip-on tie. The tie is a shade darker than the pants and shirt, though the pants and shirt match in hue. The clip-on tie is set in a bold, yet ironically fake, Windsor knot. The inescapable coordination of the three garments and their boxy, ill-fitting nature is dehumanizing in its rejection of the individual.

I crouch in waiting beside the door, my back flush with the paint flush with the wall. It is almost 6:36. I check my watch—my gold Timex watch—and expel pent-up tension laced with carbon dioxide: it is only 6:00. Wait, that can’t be. I rush the bezel back to view: 6:01.

35 minutes.

Only 35 minutes. I exhale another deep, slow breath. Thir-ty-five-more-minutes. Another breath. Inhaling, exhaling, crouching: this is what my life has become. I sluggishly lift a blurry wrist and gold watch toward bleary blue eyes…31 more minutes. Nothing; time is a concept. 22 minutes. How many more breaths is that? Did she hand me double my meds this morning? I’ll count. One.                                                          Another.  Three.   Again.    Five.     Geese-a-Laying.      Swans-a-swimming.       Asleep.

I don’t dream anymore.

“Wake up, you’re late.”

“Off me Silly Rabbit!” I scream.

My eyelids leap upward and hands to the throat of my assailant! My optic and auditory cortexes still inactive, I see only colors and hear only white noise. What I do is strangle the janitor. Eight fingers around the back of his veiny neck, palms at its swollen sides, and thumbs crossed over his engorged Adam’s apple without even getting up. This is made apparent only after I envision reality and release my grip. My newborn eyes find a limp, frothy-mouthed, pale-faced, eyes bloodshot and bulging, janitor—nay, custodial engineer—lifeless in my lap. He had been sent to check on me, couldn’t obtain a view, and subsequently made the mistake of walking in my cell and waking me up alone, and then letting himself get strangled.

His clean, outlined-in-gold black nametag with crisp, cursive, white writing, reads “Art Blakey.” I stroke his greying, greased-back black hair and lower his eyelids, catching a glimpse of my own reflection in his lifeless eyes first. And now that life (except for Art’s) is even more in focus, I may begin again.

Gold watch reads 6:45. I’ll be late, but late within reason. “Within reason”: who am I to say that? I’m giddy.

First, I have to hide the body. I move its head off of my lap and onto the cold floor. Then I stand up and seize Art’s dangling wrists. I have to drag his bloated, beer-bellied corpse over to my vacant bed. Thankfully, the process is quiet. Then I stow him beneath the white sheets, rolled onto his side, and facing away from the door so as to serve as a more concealed, more convincing body double. He’s too tall and too fat to be covered head-to-toe by the sheets, and so I rest the white pillow on the back of his greasy white head, ‘tween Art’s cerebellum and the door, and take a step back to admire my handiwork: artwork.

Words cannot do justice to the serenity that is what was Art, eschew and half-heartedly hidden in my bed, beneath the white sheets and beside the mint green walls. It makes me wish I was better at painting.

The metal circle bearing twelve keys sits in the security guard’s—my—slacks. Stolen artfully. I feel it nuzzle my thigh and pry the keyring loose from its guardian pocket. I choose, based on thousands of painful observations of its use, the Francis Scott I need to escape. It pushes pins this way and tumbles tumblers that way as it rotates until, with a ceremonial click, the latch unlatches, lock opens, and I’m free.

Chapter 2: The Nurses

I make my exit into dim light. Weak bulbs affixed to brass chandeliers cursed with fading tungsten emit dull orange, and are suspended meters from one another. I must blink my eyes a few times to adjust. The hallway bares memories drunk on a lifetime of cocktails of medications. The hallway has brown walls and a wood floor. Mossy green gül-i-frank runs the length of the corridor. There are margins left on either side of the carpet exposing the chestnut oak. The hallway is empty but for me, at least for the moment, and so I hurry onward. I pass original works of art done by patients seen hanging in frames on the walls. The walls are a lighter shade of brown than the floor. I find the artwork disturbing, a few pieces of merit. Smiling is a surprisingly consistent motif. The hallway dead ends and my choice is to be right or left.

I choose left. Another hallway: the same, exceptions are no artwork and a new carpet. This carpet is crimson, the pattern is Shah Abbas. I keep my head down, eyes aimed at my feet, because two nurses approach.

The nurses are dressed in one-size-too-small white skirts matched with white one-size-too-small oxfords. Atop their heads are white boxy hats. All is accented and emblazoned with red and red crosses. One’s hair is premium blonde and the other’s is strawberry red. The blonde is pushing a steel, four-wheeled (black rubber wheels), dual-shelved cart. Its burden its light; a few labeled plastic orange cylinders, topped with clean, child-proof white caps, and then on the cart’s bottom shelf, a neatly-folded, ironed and pressed straitjacket. I know these nurses. The wheels of the cart glide across the carpet without protest. Silence is just like an apparition. The nurses don’t have eyes. All I can hear is my footsteps muffled by the carpet and the slight rattle of the chemist’s candies in their containers. An oncoming blush slows me by a half-step, but I continue onward, and into my third (including Art’s) dead-end I’ve faced this evening, my only choice is to bear right.

Right into the last enclosed space I’ll ever have to experience here. I hate it here. Halfway down the hall, brown walls, another green gül-i-frank, imitating effective chandeliers; on the left side of it is the security office. At the end of it, the hall: the double doors to the world. Those doors are wider and taller than all the other double doors in the building. Quickly, I taste the air; stale. My vision zeroes in on a brass doorknob; the brass doorknob is attached to the security guard’s office’s door, and it is turning. The door is white. It readies to free from its frame, and in an instant, like flame raised from a Zippo to light someone else’s cigarette, I’m frozen, like game just shot, or caught, dead, and in your ice box now. The door is open. Out walks the captain of the guard.

He hasn’t seen me yet. Instead, he is looking straight ahead at the wall in front of him. He’s still tucking in his shirt to its natural state. His and my uniform match, except that he’s wearing the standard-issue navy blue military cap. I couldn’t find one myself.

And he sees me.

And he smiles. Stuart Ullman, the captain of the guard, smiles and makes his way up to me, jovial, titular, asks, “Clocking out, Jack? Where’s the wife? How’s your hat?”

And I answer, not nervous, “Well, I suppose so, Mr. Ullman. I don’t quite know, Mr. Ullman. She’s good, Mr. Ullman.”

And, head down, I walk out the door.


For all installments from 30 Birds, click here.

Previous installments

  1. “Velvet” by the Bloody Eyes