One of the goals of SPFBO is to give a chance to self-published authors to get more exposure. This year I’m taking part in the competition with my own team. You can keep updated on our progress and all of our content on my SPFBO 5 page!
Tales from the Asylum is a new feature I came up with for SPFBO. I wanted to create a unique opportunity for the authors to show off their story telling skills by taking their characters and putting them in an asylum room to see how they would deal with the situation. A lot can happen in a closed space…
I’ve always believed there’s more to the story than we know, and I read and write to explore possibilities. I attended The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA and still live in the Pacific Northwest where I enjoy hiking in the mountains, playing ultimate Frisbee, and being a member of the Olympia Writers Group. I’m a night owl who is most comfortable in the company of cats, fire, strong coffee, dark chocolate, and interesting weather.
I can tell by your questions that you want to know how I first came to the asylum. But that story, in my current experience, is like a movie I saw so long ago that I can barely remember it. The only things I know for sure are that I wasn’t paying enough attention to the movie, and so then when it came to the crisis, I didn’t know what to do. And so I was brought here. Really, it’s no longer important. Let me tell you how I came to Room 23.
Some people brought me into a wide hall, mostly gray. Way at the back, behind a desk with a “Reception” sign above it, a nice lady with a bun in her hair sat watching. At least I thought she was nice, because when I was brought to her, she smiled and asked what my favorite number was, and that is something that nice people do, right?
She said that Room 23 had just become available, but they would have to clean it, replace the linens, etcetera. She said I could wait in the cozy waiting room, which would be much more relaxing than the drafty old reception hall. The sound of clicking heels echoed off the high arched ceiling as she led me to a door nearby. The people who brought me rolled away behind me like movie credits as I followed the nice lady.
The waiting room had a few couches, chairs, and tables covered with magazines. I sat and looked through the magazines, one at a time. Sometimes other people came and went, either talking or not talking; either pretending not to watch me or not bothering. My drowsy head was nodding when a young man wearing light blue pajamas came in and said, “Room 23?” I looked up from my magazine and he was standing at the door watching me.
Room 23 wasn’t ready yet, but it was getting late, so he was going to take me to a different waiting room—one with a bed. The man’s hair was very short. When he went outside, wind would have to go elsewhere to play. The other waiting room had two beds, two chairs, and two small tables, each with a lamp with a little chain to turn it on that you could reach from the bed. I was glad I brought the magazine from the first room, because I couldn’t sleep. Even with my new green pajamas I couldn’t sleep. I kept expecting someone else to come in and pretend to sleep in the other bed.
I was so tired the next day, the short-haired man brought me to a nearby room, Room 109, that was smaller, but had only one bed, and I slept all day. Wouldn’t you know it? While I slept, someone else got put in Room 23. But they said it was only temporary. Meanwhile, they moved me to another room. This one had no chair, no table, no lamp. The ceiling was lower and had fluorescent lights in it. It’s not like it was a long walk or anything, but I was annoyed that my pillow was at one end of the bed, but the light switch was at the other, by the door. I was in Room 109 for a long time, and the short-haired man brought me a tray with food and water at intervals I could not measure. I knew every word and image in the magazine I had brought from the first waiting room. One day I complained to the short-haired man that my room was too small. I wanted to get out of the temporary room. He just shook his head, and then left and didn’t come back.
The next person had longer hair, but I couldn’t imagine the wind wanted to play anywhere near him, because he was so angry and unpleasant. He said I’d broken asylum rules, and I had to leave my magazine and go with him. He gripped my arm too tightly and took me down a long hallway with lots of doors. I got excited for a second because I thought I saw Room 23, but it was Room 123, like the counting, not my room.
At the end of the hall we stopped before a door with no number on it. He said to go in, and I said but it has no number, and he said it’s the punishment room and you broke the rules. This room was very quiet, and had no place to stand, even. Just walls around a bed, which was a lot smaller than my last bed, and no window, no light. Without a magazine, it didn’t matter much except when I was eating the food from the tray they pushed through a large mail slot. Every time the angry man brought me food I asked when I could go to Room 23. I didn’t complain, I just asked, and he said not yet.
Then one day the door opened, and a nice lady with blue pajamas and a big toothy smile said Room 23 was available again. They just had to clean it, replace the linens, and, you know. I didn’t know but I skipped that and asked hopefully if I could wait somewhere else, somewhere with a window, or perhaps a light, maybe a bit more room. She had to go check, and closed the door. She must have been wearing sneakers because I couldn’t hear footsteps leaving.
After a long time she returned. She found a room. It wasn’t very big, she said, but it had a light and a window. As we walked, she spoke enthusiastically of the many features of Room 23. She said it had a light, a closet, and a window that could open and close. I was glad to hear of these things. We stopped in front of Room 147. The door did have a small window in it, but the room was even smaller than the dark room with no number. I couldn’t help it, I said this is smaller than the punishment room. Her smile whisked away and she said sorry, but at least it’s only temporary. Room 23 would be ready soon.
And she was right. I didn’t stay at Room 147 very long, which was good because the bed was so short I had to bend my knees to sleep. What happened was, in my sleep I would try to straighten my legs, and bang them on the wall at the foot of the bed, and wake up. I was downright groggy when that lady came back and said that Room 23 was so close to being ready and she wanted to take me there before her work shift ended, so would I be willing to come see part of the room. My sleep-deprived mind figured even part of a room with a closet would be better than Room 147.
The “part” turned out to be the closet itself. No light or furniture, except for a wooden bar going across the top, for hanging clothes I guess. I broke it by accident. I just kind of pulled on it a little and it cracked in two. There was no place to hide the evidence, and I was frightened. After a long time I heard a panel in the wall slide open near my feet, and light with a shadow in it came pouring in. A young boy stuck his head in and whispered to me. He said he and the others heard I’d been put in a dark closet, so he came to rescue me, while the others distracted the guy in the blue pajamas. Follow me down this air duct; it’s not far.
I said but I want to stay in Room 23, and I’m so close. He said it wasn’t as nice as they made it sound. He said I should join him and the other kids in their big room and have fun. I decided I could stay in a room with kids, even if they watched me, because I was bigger and could push them down if they were mean. I crawled after him in the air duct, heading for the rectangle of light at the end. Just before we reached it, a metal grate was placed over the light space, and someone tapped on it three times.
That’s our secret code, the boy said. It means we have to wait for the guy to leave. A secret code! The boy was right, this was fun. Soon the grate was lifted, and another boy’s face whispered. Safe moment, he said. One at a time. Be quick. The first boy scurried out, and the grate came down, and they tapped on it three times. I waited for a while, but was tired and fell asleep. Even in a dusty air duct, it was nice to lie down with my legs stretched out. They’d wake me up when it was safe to come in. But they didn’t. When I woke up alone in the dark I felt angry, and I didn’t care if I got caught or of all the kids got in trouble. The punishment room was better than an air duct. I pushed and yanked and banged on the grate to no avail. So I backed up, to return to the closet. As soon as I was standing again, the nice lady opened the door. Oh there you are, she said. I’ve been looking for you. Did you go exploring? I didn’t know what to say. The asylum is confusing. At least the broken closet bar was gone, and she didn’t mention it.
It’s okay, she said, and patted my shoulder. Room 23 is ready for you, except for the door, they are still working on that. The previous occupant caused some damage that must be fixed. But, for now you can use the temporary entrance. It’s a little small…
So here I sit. They cut a hole in the door and installed a little square window through which they give me food and water. Because of the closeness of the walls and ceiling, I can’t move my arms well enough to open the window myself, but sometimes they leave it open for a while and I can watch for knees to go by. One day they opened it and showed me a brass number two and a brass number three, and then screwed them into the door. We had to make some changes to Room 23 they said. You still have a closet. The door doesn’t work, but it’s still there. You don’t even have to share it. Some folks have to share a closet, and they have to be careful or they’ll put on someone else’s pajamas. So at least you have your own.
Since then my body has become old and wrinkled, with hair long enough I can see it is gray now. A while back the old lady with pink nail polish went away and now cheerful man with a wristwatch hands me food and talks to me. He asks me if I want to change to another room. He asks me what my favorite color is. I do not answer him.
Note of the Author
If you’d like to get in touch, you can find I. W. Ferguson on social media:
I. W. Ferguson entered Belief’s Horizon, the first book of the Lightfeeder Menace series into SPFBO, which you can check out by clicking on the cover:
You can keep updated on our progress and all of our content on my SPFBO 5 page!