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Nothing to See Here, Just a Never-Ending Pile of Shit... Right on my Head

Nothing to See Here, Just a Never-Ending Pile of Shit Right on my Head Of all the students at St. Adelaide’s, of all the tragic backstories and fucked up personalities, Doug Bailey had the worst, and was the most. And no one knew it. To most people, Doug was just that kid who was there. True, he was a bit of an oddity, with his bright white hair and his tendency to slide in and out of rooms on Heelys. People often joked that he used them to “escape his feelies”, but no one even knew what his “feelies” were. So mostly, they wrote him off as a weirdo and forgot about him. Even his friends. There was just something about him that made people not want to know. They didn’t. Of course, Doug’s life didn’t start out full of tragedy and woe. That wouldn’t be good storytelling. Even so, Doug had been a loser since the beginning. He was the youngest of three, and from early childhood it was clear that he was never going to measure up. His brother Gordon amazed people with his intellect and knowledge. His sister Clover charmed everyone around her with her passion and ready smile. Doug was just kinda there. He wasn’t clever, or charismatic. All Doug was really good for was the occasional snide remark. Though no one ever said as much, people must have wondered what had gone wrong with him. By all accounts he should have been just as remarkable as his siblings. His mother Christine Bailey had a trifecta of Ph. Ds in Biology, Physics, and Psychology, and was a professor at Yale. His father Tim Bailey had received his medical degree at Stanford and had since written several books that had allegedly “Changed the American Diet”. At least, that’s what he had proudly scribed on all of their covers. So how had Doug happened? No one had any idea. For the first twelve years of his life it seemed as if he’d simply been a fluke of creation; that somehow the brilliant genes of his progenitors had mixed in such a way to create a perfectly ordinary child. At least that’s what he assumed, until the results of his “mandatory IQ test” came in the mail. He’d been forced to take it by his parents, who said there was no way a son of theirs wouldn’t be inducted into the Gifted and Talented program, which in his humble opinion, was a bullshit name. But who could have predicted the results? Because as his mother tearfully explained, the torn envelope crushed in the hand clutched to her chest, Doug was apparently a genius.

“Are you sure he didn’t just break the test?” Gordon asked over his physics book, as they all sat down to dinner that evening. “Gordon!” his mother scolded. “That’s not appropriate. Apologize to your brother.” “I’m sorry I doubted your entirely obvious genius, squirt,” he muttered, before turning back to the textbook. Rolling her eyes, Clover smiled down at him. “I’m sure the test is right, Doug’s just been holding back, right Doug?” He knew that she meant it as a compliment, but that phrase would grow to be his curse. Doug should do better in school, if he only “applied himself”. Even the very words sent shivers up his spine. What the fuck did that even mean? If he actually gave a shit? If he just tried a little harder? But he saw the already developing obsession with scholastic excellence in his fellow classmates, how they would check their grades every few minutes, how they would flip about tests. He simply couldn’t handle that kind of pressure. So he did… okay. But that of course was never enough for his parents. Once every semester he would hand in his report card, and wait for the inevitable sigh and the “sit down, Doug,” from his father. Then he’d get the same speech he’d gotten the last semester, and the one before that. Like clockwork. He wished every time that something would distract his parents from his “failing” grades. Anything. Well, anything but what he actually got. Because for the final semester of eighth grade, he handed his report card, covered with Cs and Ds, to his father, and braced for the worst. But his father had merely glanced blearily at it, said “That’s fine, Doug,” and turned back to his writing. Doug was frankly a little shocked, and wondered if he was dreaming. It all seemed so surreal that it couldn’t have actually happened. He couldn’t have gotten off the hook that easily. As would quickly become a theme in his life, he didn’t. Because that evening when his parents sat down to dinner with the two boys, they had some news. “Clover is… sick,” his mother broke the silence finally. “Well yes, of course, we know that.” Gordon frowned. She’d been bedridden for weeks. But they’d just assumed mono or something like that. His father looked down at his plate. He hadn’t eaten anything. “It’s… it’s cancer.” His voice nearly broke on the last word. “Brain cancer.” There was silence for a good minute. “What?” Doug asked finally, after looking over at Gordon, nearly frozen to his chair. “You’re… you’re shitting us, right?” The fact that they didn’t even scold him for his language said volumes. He couldn’t believe it. It didn’t seem real. Cancer… cancer was something that happened to other people. Something that distant relatives or friends of friends got and you had to pretend to feel sorry for. It didn’t happen to sisters. Not to Clover. Late that night, as he was failing to fall asleep, he heard his father cry for the first time in his life. It came soft and muffled from his parents’ room, and it almost destroyed him. If his father was crying, then the world really was ending. He was never going to fall asleep now. Doug stood, and padded across the dark room, taking care to avoid the piles of discarded clothes. The old wooden door creaked a little, and he cringed, but no one seemed to notice the sound. Before he knew what he was really doing, he found himself at Clover’s door. He opened it, just a sliver, just to make sure that she was still his sister. “Hi Doug,” her voice came from the room, exhausted, but decidedly awake. He didn’t question how she knew it was him. “Couldn’t sleep either?” “No,” he hesitated for a moment, before entering the room. She turned on a lamp, and patted the bed next to her. She didn’t look any different. Her cheeks were still their usual rose and her hair fell in dark ringlets around her face. More than anything, she just looked tired. They sat there for a moment, before Doug finally broke the silence. “Mom and Dad told us about…” “The cancer?” she finished for him finally. “Are… are you gonna… die?” She looked off to the far side of her room, her jaw tightening. “Probably,” she said finally. “Why?” Doug asked, shaking his head. “Why does it have to be you? You’re… you’re the most amazing person I know. You’re the only one who’s never… never wanted anything from me.” “I don’t know why things happen, Doug,” she admitted. “Maybe there’s some kind of great plan, and I got sick for a reason. Maybe it’s to motivate you to get off your ass,” she laughed bitterly. “Or maybe there is no meaning, and everything is random.” “I don’t know which one’s better.” She laughed again, but hard this time. “I don’t think anyone does. Wanna hear my opinion?” Clover’s blue eyes glowed in the low light. He nodded. “I think that you have to make your own meaning in the world. I think that you have to take what this universe hands you, and make something out of it.” “I don’t think I understand,” he admitted. “I’m not sure if I do either.” He thought about those words for a long time, for the months and months that it took for Clover’s body to finally give up. They had taken her in for Chemo, of course, and Doug had watched helplessly as her hair fell out and her eyes grew cloudy and she ceased to even look human anymore. And it almost killed him. He didn’t want to remember her like that, the dead look in her eyes, the pain omnipresent in the tenseness of her shoulders, the complete smoothness of her face and head where her beautiful hair used to flow freely. Of course, it didn’t work. Nor did any of the other treatments they tried, and gradually as the months passed, Clover just got weaker and weaker, until she could hardly lift her head to say hello anymore. By the time Doug’s freshman year of high school was nearing its end, she just slept. He didn’t think he would ever be able to forget the day when the doctor had gathered what remained of his family together, his parents and his brother and him, and told them that Clover was never going to wake up again. They did what any sane person would do, and pulled the plug. If she was going to be a vegetable, not able to think and feel, to laugh or cry, to enchant people with her kind words and plentiful smiles, then there was no point in letting her suffer any longer. “It’s time,” his father said, hugging his mother tightly. Doug left the room. He didn’t want to remember her as she was, before the end. But that was the singular image that kept flashing through his mind. The deathly pale skin, hollow cheeks. Stop it stop it, go away. I want to remember my sister, not the Cancer. He found his way to the too sterile hospital bathroom, and threw up. That night, he couldn’t sleep. The next night, he couldn’t sleep. The night after, he couldn’t sleep. The night after that— The night after that— All he could see was the Cancer. It stalked him, haunted his every waking moment. He saw It during class, in the morning, in the evening, while he was not eating, while he was not sleeping. He couldn’t get the image out of his head. Hollow eyes, hollow cheeks, lips stretched thin, not his sister, couldn’t be. It was Cancer.

Finally, after a week, he simply collapsed in the middle of his Bio final. But even in his dreams he couldn’t escape It. It was there, watching him in the dark, smiling, laughing at him. It loved the fact that It had ruined the image of his sister forever. It cackled with mad glee, the skin on Its face stretched grotesquely over Its cracked lips. He didn’t remember much of the next few hours. The teacher poked him, and began to panic when nothing she did woke him up, apparently, and someone dragged him to the nurse’s office. When he finally did wake up, it was nearly two. There was no point in trying to go back to class now, and he wasn’t sure he could stand if he tried. How many days had it been since he’d eaten? He couldn’t exactly remember. There was no point, he couldn’t keep anything down anyway. Maybe if he’d had the strength to get up and walk out, he wouldn’t have met Monte. Maybe his life wouldn’t have gotten so out of control. Monte was a junior, and quite obviously off his gourd on pot most of the time. There were the stoner kids, with their overlarge hoodies and baggy pants, and then there was Monte. When Doug had first seen him on the cot next to him he was wearing a dad shirt covered in flamingos, and his large feet were enrobed in socks and sandals like some kind of Tibetan monk. “And sleeping beauty finally awakes!” he said, grinning lethargically. “Thought I was gonna have to start mackin’ on you for a second there.” “What… happened?” Doug rubbed his eyes. The stoner shrugged. “Dunno,” he said. “You’ve been snoring away since I got here. Does that happen a lot?” “No,” Doug replied, shaking his head. “But I haven’t slept in… a few days.” He didn’t know why he was telling any of this to the random guy on the cot next to him, but something about him just made Doug want to tell him things. He seemed… cool. “A few days? What kinda damage you dealin’ with?” Doug shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.” He liked this dude, but not enough to tell him his life story. “Suit yourself. I’m Monte, by the by.” “Doug.” A few minutes later, the nurse came by, noticed that Doug was awake, at least nominally, and nodded at him, acknowledging that he was going to camp out here for the rest of the day. She then moved onto Monte, and handed him a small, metal tube that looked kind of like a pen. “Only one,” she admonished, and moved back over to behind the curtain. Monte put the pen to his lips and took a deep puff of it. It smelled oddly like cotton candy. He noticed Doug staring a second later. “Yeah, it is exactly what you think it is,” he laughed. “I’ve got epilepsy, ya know, seizures? The pot helps. Calms my body down, ya know?” Doug nodded, and kept staring. A thought began to bloom at the back of his mind. And it seemed Monte could read it, for he glanced over to the curtain, and then leaned over conspiratorially. “You wanna hit?” He hesitated for a moment, the pen hanging in the air between them. Would this help him? Would it get rid of the Cancer that even now was flashing behind his eyelids every time he closed his eyes? Doug reached out, and took the pen. “Go easy on it,” Monte instructed. “Though you might not actually get high the first time anyway.” Doug took a slow, deliberate puff of it, and coughed a little, even though it wasn’t actual smoke, more like steam. He paused. “I don’t feel anything.” “Give it a minute,” Monte said, and Doug did. After a little while, he realized that he was, for the first time in weeks, actually a little calm. The Cancer wasn’t gone, not entirely, but it seemed… further away somehow, slightly less important. Like a bird with a blanket on its cage. But still, it wasn’t entirely enough. Monte seemed to notice his hesitation. “Keep in mind,” he offered, “that this is shitty medical J. If you wanna real high you’ve gotta get the real stuff, ya know?” Every shitty DARE documentary he’d ever been shown flashed through Doug’s mind. He was supposed to say no to shit like this, wasn’t he? But Monte wasn’t pressuring him, not like everything he’d ever been told, he was just offering. And Doug was curious. And slowly getting desperate. “You’d… give me pot?” he asked. “Why? Couldn’t you get in trouble?” “Why not?” Monte shrugged. “You seem like a cool dude. And no offense, but you look like you need it.” So that day after the final bell rang, Doug followed Monte under the bleachers to get high. And it worked. For a little while, he didn’t have to think about his grades, or his thoroughly broken family, or the Cancer. For a few hours, he could just laugh with his new friend and not worry about anything at all. The summer was spent chilling with Monte and his friends, getting high in his dad’s garage, driving around the suburban wasteland. There was Jonah, who was a drummer that all the girls went nuts for, and Jake, who did theater and was constantly teased for it. He claimed he only did it so he had an excuse to be in the auditorium after school with girls. And then there was Morgan. Morgan, was… a little weird. A little twitchy. He hung with the others but they still kept a slight distance from him. Monte told Doug later that he did some… harder stuff. He was a little fucked. But even with Morgan among them, Doug felt awesome, for the first time in years. It was… cool, he supposed, to hang out with these older guys. He felt cool. He even got offered a beer. It tasted bitter and weird and he didn’t really like it, but he forced it down anyway. Of course, the universe just couldn’t give one to him. Uh uh, not allowed, old Dougy never gets a break. He felt like it was a written rule somewhere that he was not allowed to have anything good in his life, and if he did, it had to be snatched away from him as quickly as possible. To be fair, what happened after that was mostly his fault. The problem with chemistry-altering drugs, Doug soon found, was that your brain quickly got used to the imbalance and learned to work around it. He’d learned that in Psychology, he was pretty sure. If he’d taken it slow, only used when the dreams or insomnia got really bad, he probably could have kept going for years. But he got greedy. Like any sane person would, he enjoyed not being constantly plagued by the growing pit of problems in his stomach, the weight on his chest. He just wanted to forget it all, all the time. And so he did. All the time. And by the end of the summer, it became harder and harder to do so. By the end of the summer he began to feel the Cancer pressing at him again, staring at him through the blanket of its cage, just waiting for the day when the bars got thin and the blanket got worn and it could break free once again. He didn’t want to, but he could almost see it. He started to sleep less again, and when he did, the dreams began to return. He could feel himself slipping back into that pit, regardless of how much he smoked. And school only made it worse. One day he was at a football game with Monte and his friends, not really watching, just hitting a toke behind the bleachers and laughing at the muscle-bound football players. When the band came out they hooted and hollered as loud as they could to try and distract Jonah, and all had a good laugh. But it didn’t feel the same, it was harder, Doug was more nervous. He felt It sitting in the back of his mind. At one point, Morgan snuck away to go snort some cocaine in the trees behind the field, and a few minutes later, Doug followed him. “Hey dude,” Morgan nodded at him, wiping the white stain from under his nose. He leaned back against the tree he was sitting in front of and let out the most content sigh Doug had ever heard. He desperately wanted to be that calm. More than anything. He didn’t want to think any more.

So when Morgan asked if he wanted a hit, Doug nodded. Morgan grabbed the mirror he’d used just a minute before, and used a razor to form a line with the powder. It almost looked like powdered sugar, and Doug wondered vaguely if that’s what it would taste like. He took the straw that Morgan handed to him, and snorted. Coughing viciously as Morgan laughed, Doug nearly fell backwards. And then, he grinned. It was gone, completely gone. He didn’t even remember what It was. He nearly laughed out loud. He’d found it, he’d found the cure to his fucked-up head at last. “Feels nice, right?” Morgan asked, and Doug nodded. For the first time in months, he felt full of energy. He didn’t feel tired or down in the slightest. This was the best thing ever. The two of them went back to the game and joined the others, who were now cat-calling Jonah and making stupid faces. Doug joined in with a drive he hadn’t known he’d possessed. For once in his goddamn life, he was having fun. At least, until an hour later when he abruptly came down. It happened suddenly, on the drive back to his parent’s house. He’d finally gotten his license a few weeks ago, early birthday whoo hoo… and all of the sudden, out of nowhere, he looked into the rear-view mirror and for just a second, he thought he saw It grinning at him. Doug jerked the wheel so suddenly that he nearly ran into a parked car. “Fuck. Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.” But he blinked, and it was gone just as quickly as it had appeared. He shook himself, and eventually made it home without further incident. But for the next few days he brooded over the appearance. The Cancer had never appeared in the real world before, only in his head. He’d known what was reality and what wasn’t. If the two were starting to bleed into each other. Was he getting worse? Or had it been the cocaine? To any rational person, they probably would have come to the conclusion that it was the cocaine and never take it ever again. But Doug was a teenage boy, one who was still coming down from a high. His limbs felt heavy, and he suddenly felt like crying, or shouting, or both, it didn’t matter which. One thing was clear. He needed that high. In the future, he would have difficulties remembering the next four months of his life. It all seemed to pass by in a haze of confusion and fog. He did remember some basic facts. More and more he had stopped hanging with Monte and the guys and clung to Morgan like some sort of parasite, which was what he quickly became. “Dude,” Monte had pulled him aside sometime that fall. “Are you high… like, not on pot right now?” Doug responded with something largely incoherent. He felt free as a bird. This shit didn’t matter. “Is this Morgan’s doing? I’m gonna fucking kill that little prick.” Monte ran his fingers through his somewhat greasy hair. “What’s he thinking, getting a kid high?” “I’m only like, a year younger than you dude, shut the fuck you’re up.” And suddenly, that slip of the tongue was absolutely hilarious to him. Everything was pretty hilarious to him, when he was high. Finally, he had a little peace, and little quiet. The coke not only put a blanket on the Cancer’s cage, but dumped it into the fucking ocean. He could smile, he could laugh. He didn’t have to worry about the Cancer watching him. He didn’t have to mourn anymore. Until he came down, of course. But then he’d just do it all over again. He started going to parties with Morgan, even though he had never really liked them before. Usually it was because it would seem like a good idea at the time. And then he would wake up the next morning in a stranger’s house, smelling like booze and cigarettes. Sometimes if he was lucky, he wouldn’t have a vomit stain down the front of his shirt. He’d lost his virginity at some point, though he didn’t remember anything about it. He thought her name might have been Lindsay but he wasn’t really sure. Even if he thought hard about it, for the life of him he couldn’t find her face. There were a lot of girls after that, but they all blurred together into a mass of perfume and curves. In fact, there had been a girl on his lap the night of the accident. Luckily he hadn’t been driving. If he had, he wouldn’t be at St. Adelaide’s right now, he’d be in juvie. It had been after a party one night, and Morgan had piled something along the lines of eight people in his five-seat Dodge. Again, it had seemed like a good idea, at the time. Morgan had been high as a kite. Doug should have never let him drive. But he was flying at the exact same height. He didn’t give a shit. He was in the middle back seat with a pretty girl on his lap, her fingers in his hair, the taste of her lips, peppered with alcohol and cigarettes. And a second later she was through the windshield. He watched in horror as with a horrible crash her body was dragged through the glass and bounced like some sort of morbid doll off the front of the car. The police told him later when they were questioning him that Morgan had tried to run a red light, but had stopped at the last second when a semi had crossed in front of him. Unfortunately, the truck that had been attempting to show off its driver’s massive balls behind him didn’t, and the little Dodge’s back end had quickly been reduced to so much scrap metal. If it hadn’t been for the girl on his lap, it would have been Doug who was through the windshield. That thought kept circling through his mind. For a while, her mangled, Cocaine ridden body joined the Cancer in his nightmares. And the worst part was, he couldn’t even remember her name. He found it later, of course, in her obituary, Elizabeth. Her name had been Elizabeth. He promised himself he wouldn’t forget it. The rest of the night was a little foggy. He knew that the police had taken the six survivors of the crash to the hospital, and out of all of them, Doug was probably the least beat up. His parents had been called of course, but he was a little surprised when it wasn’t either of them who showed up, but Gordon. “What. The fuck. Is wrong with you?” was the first sentence out of his brother’s mouth. “Nothing,” Doug insisted, “I was just at a party and—” Gordon just shook his head. “Don’t even try to lie, the doctor told me everything. How you’re still high as a goddamn mountain right now.” “Where’s dad?” Doug asked, still a little behind. “Mom? Thought they’d be worried sick.” “Wow. You really are pathetic.” Gordon looked to the sky, as if it could help him. Looking to Clover. “You really haven’t noticed, have you? That coke dulled your fucking head so much you haven’t even realized that Mom’s been gone for the last four months and Dad’s been near catatonic since then?” Blinking, Doug didn’t think he followed. “Are you shittin’ me?” “No. I’m not.” At this point Gordon had grabbed his shoulders to try to get him to look at him. But now he let go in frustration. “God, I can’t believe I turned down MIT for this shit.” “Wait, what?” “Well, who the fuck else was gonna take care of you and dad, huh?” Several of the patients in the waiting room looked over at them. “Maybe it is just time for this family to fucking die.” It was in that moment that Doug realized he couldn’t do this anymore. The drugs, the parties. Not only was he killing himself, but he didn’t even know what was going on anymore. He’d missed his own mother leaving their house and hadn’t even noticed. What the fuck was wrong with him? The next week or so of withdrawal was absolute hell, but somehow, even with the dreams, even with the Cancer and the Cocaine flashing behind his eyelids, he gritted his teeth and got through it. Though YouTube helped quite a bit, if he was really honest. Without those Vine Compilations he would probably be dead. Finally, after about a week, Doug came downstairs. Gordon was sitting at the counter, eating breakfast, and the acceptance letter for St. Adelaide’s was on Doug’s spot. It was the strangest thing, because he didn’t even remember applying for a “School for Gifted Youth”. He’d done a lot of strange things while high, but he never would have done that. “What’s this?” he asked Gordon, flipping the envelope over to see the large wax seal. “I don’t know. I assumed you’d applied.” “Why the fuck would I do that?” Gordon finally looked up at him from his book. “I don’t know what you do period. I hardly know you anymore.” That hurt. Doug fiddled with the envelope and finally got it open. “St. Adelaide’s?” he furrowed his brow. “Isn’t that that school where all the fucked-up rich kids go?” “And what do you think you are?” Doug didn’t respond. After an awkward pause, Gordon sighed. “Sorry. That was harsh.” “’S’okay. I kinda deserve that one.” Again, there was silence for a long minute as Doug read the contents of the envelope. It seemed as if someone had applied for him, but unless it had been one of his parents he had no idea who could have done it. “I think you should go.” Gordon said simply. “It’d be a good opportunity.” Doug just stared at him for a long minute. That wasn’t the real reason, and they both knew it. This family was as good as toast. All Doug was doing was keeping Gordon chained here. He was brilliant. He’d do brilliant things. He shouldn’t be sitting around here waiting for Doug to graduate and then… probably do nothing. Doug sighed. “Alright.” The day before he left, Doug did something he had never imagined he’d do: he went in Clover’s room. No one had touched the place since she had died, and it was just how he remembered it: light pink walls, posters for the various plays she’d been in hanging on the walls. He didn’t want to dig through her stuff—that felt like a violation, even if she wasn’t around to care anymore—but he couldn’t help noticing a small box under her bed, wrapped in wrapping paper. He reached under the bed frame, trying not to cringe at the dead ladybugs and dust, and pulled the box out. On the top, in Clover’s handwriting, were the words: “To Doug, from your Sister xoxo” Hesitating for a second, Doug wasn’t sure if he wanted to open it. The Thing-He-Definitely-Wasn’t-Thinking-About-Right-Now danced at the back of his mind. But it was addressed to him, wasn’t it? Clearly Clover had meant it for him. He took a deep breath, and ripped off the wrapping paper. Inside were a pair of shoes. Not just any shoes, but a pair of Converse Heelys. He laughed, remembering just then that at one point, so long ago now it seemed, he’d joked about wanting a pair. He didn’t even know they actually made Converse Heelys. “Hey fartface,” said the note on the cover. “You talked about wanting these, and I had to cut off an arm and a leg to get them, but here you are. Sorry, I think they might be a little big, it was the only size I could get, but I think you’ll grow into them? Maybe? Unless you’re already done growing, squirt ;P. Love, Clover.” Doug smiled, blinked a few times, and left the room, taking the Heely’s with him. And then, just in time for the new semester, Doug was dropped in some suburb he’d never heard of somewhere in the Midwest. In the middle of bumfuck nowhere, at least that’s how it appeared to his east coast brain. Gordon had helped him pack as much as he could, but he was also finally getting his life started. He was able to drop Doug off before heading back east to MIT, but for the most part, Doug was on his own. He had heard that being away from home for the first time was hard, even for those who were more than ready, but he didn’t really feel it. Maybe he was too focused on ignoring the itch to approach the druggies on the quad to see if he could snatch a hit. But he persevered, and stayed as far away from them as possible. Even when the itch became nearly unbearable, even when his dreams were filled with Cancer and Cocaine. But it wasn’t so bad. His roommate was bearable, the classes were boring but not unconquerable, and now all he had to do was wait out the next two and a half years until he could go to college or do whatever the fuck else he wanted. Maybe the shit was over, maybe the nightmares were bad enough now that the universe had decided to leave him alone for a change. Well, you’re still reading this, aren’t you? The story hasn’t ended yet. So what do you think?

Doug had heard about the Director’s “sessions” in whispers, but found that most people didn’t want to talk about it. So he had no idea what they were exactly until one day he’d been called out of lunch and marched down to the basement. At that point, he wasn’t even surprised. After everything else, this might as well happen. He had no idea how bad it would get. “Well, well, Douglas Bailey. I’ve been waiting for this moment for quite a while,” said the figure from under the mask. By this point he was strapped down to a table, a piece of rubber in between his teeth. The numbness was fading now, replaced by a slowly building sense of terror that he hadn’t realized he was still capable of. Because this was weird. Even for him. “You’ve been having nightmares, huh? My psychiatrists have informed me that it’s been interrupting your sleep. And we simply can’t have your demons getting in the way of your schoolwork now, can we?” It was the flimsiest excuse he’d ever heard. This woman clearly could not care less about his current state of mind. He would have said something to that effect, if he could have spoken at that point in time. “These new ‘humanitarians’ keep saying that this method of treatment is ‘cruel’ and ‘inhuman’, but I still find it to be highly effective. I guess we’ll see just how well it ends up working for you, hmm?” And then he spent the rest of the afternoon with the sound of laughter in his ear and electric shocks jolting through his head. At some point that he later couldn’t remember, he found himself back upstairs long after the lights had gone out. He could barely remember what happened. All he knew was that he couldn’t think straight and his entire body ached. It would have probably been best for him to just collapse right then and there, but he didn’t. He started walking, back towards the dorm, trudging through the newly fallen snow, not even feeling the cold through the thin canvas and rubber of his Heelys. Doug felt… numb. He couldn’t feel… anything. Just nothing, just utter shock. So much shock. What had happened was so shocking that he couldn’t even… no, no more puns. That was a stupid coping mechanism anyway. He supposed this whole thing was a coping mechanism. One foot in front of the other, just keep moving, don’t think about what just happened, just keep moving, walk it off. Keep. Fucking. Walking. Don’t look back. Don’t look back. He stumbled into the room, and in the first stroke of good luck he’d had in years, his roommate seemed to already be asleep. He did not want to have to explain what he was doing back here so late with his eyes blank and his hair so full of static he could power the school for a week.

In his bedroom, he packed some shit in a backpack, his laptop, some clothes, other random garbage he didn’t think about too hard, and just left. Walked right back out. If this was going to happen, then he was gone. He didn’t know where he would go, or what he would do once he’d gotten there, but one thing was clear: he sure as hell couldn’t stay here. And then he’d ran right into one of the psychiatrists on the way out and was brought right back to the Director. “Trying to run away, Doug?” she’d cackled. “Pathetic. Truly. Think you can leave your problems behind if you just keep moving? Well, you are unfortunately, very important, so I can’t have you running away on me.” The psychiatrist had put the band on his wrist. “Now, just so you can’t say I didn’t warn you. If you break a rule, if you’re gone from the school grounds for more than two hours, this is what will happen to you.” She pressed a button on a remote control, and Doug’s whole body went into debilitating spasms.

To this day, the two weeks after that were completely gone from his memory. He doubted at this point that he’d ever get them back. It’s funny, really, how people are so able to adapt to their realities so quickly. People wonder how starving children in Africa or victims of human trafficking are able to keep on living, keep on breathing, and the simple answer is because they get used to it. As horrifying as it is, it becomes routine, normal. And that is exactly what happened to Doug. One would think that continuously receiving electric shocks about once every month for multiple years would do a number on your mental state, and at first, it did, but Doug was so used to nightmares that this new element to them did next to nothing. Though she didn’t show it much, he knew that the Director got frustrated when he stopped reacting to the shocks so much, so once every few months, she would turn up the voltage, which was just frankly annoying. It made it harder to get back to the dorm without anyone stopping to ask him if he was “okay”. Of course he wasn’t okay, but if he said or didn’t look as such then he’d just have to explain to people that he’d been receiving electric shocks in a basement and very few people would probably believe him that that was just a pain. So he just survived for the next few months, trying not to think about his next session as much as he could. Until the one day when the Director was in an especially prickly mood. Doug was strapped down as always—hot, a particularly immature part of his brain would insist every time—and he could feel the air of tension surrounding the masked figure stalking around him. “So, are we gonna get started or are you too chicken?” Doug asked, mostly hating the waiting. “Oh, we’re going to get started, all right,” the Director muttered. “I’m just figuring out how best to go about this. You see, Doug, I’ve had a particularly trying day, today, and I’m wondering how best to relieve the tension.” “I don’t like the sound of that.” She just laughed, that cackle that sent involuntary shivers down his spine. “You shouldn’t.” After sticking the piece of rubber in his mouth, she moved away from him, over to the big, hulking machine that was responsible for the shocks. “You’re a little shit, Doug Bailey, you know that? And as much as I like that in a person, every once in a while it’d be nice if they’d just shut the hell up. And this, my dear friend, is one of those days. That being said, today I have a special treat for you. Today,” she paused to chuckle again. “Today, we’re going maximum power.” Oh no. She’d only gone halfway up the scale in terms of voltage. This… was going to be painful. “So, uh, if you don’t survive this, it was nice knowing you.” The Director, as much as she loved her flair and drama, was deadly efficient when it got down to it. And so it was without any fanfare that she pulled the switch on the machine.

Doug immediately began convulsing as way too many volts of electricity shot through his body. He screamed, unable to form a singular coherent thought. All he could feel was pain. Sheer, unbearable pain. Usually, the Director would let up the electricity after a minute to let him breathe, but either time had slowed to the most unbearable crawl imaginable or she was letting the machine go. After too long of oxygen deprivation and nerve snapping pain, something happened. Out of the corner of his eye, Doug saw her. Not the Cocaine, not the Cancer, but her. Clover. She was still ridden with her disease, her eyes dull, her cheeks hollow. But for some reason, Doug knew it was her. Maybe it was the look in her eye, the one she had always given him when she was worried about him. This definitely counted as a time to worry. “You’re going to die, Doug,” she told him. He couldn’t speak, the rubber clenched too tightly between his teeth, could hardly even think, but she still seemed to understand what he would be thinking: Yeah, no shit. “Is that really okay?” she asked. “Is it okay to end it like this?” It’s as good as any. “Do you really believe that?” He didn’t respond. “This is what the universe has handed you, Doug.” She sighed, staring into his eyes. “What are you going to make of it?” What could he make of this? This horrible piece of shit that he called his life. Nothing, nothing at all. The best thing for everyone would be if he just died. No one would care that much anyway.

“Maybe not right now,” she said. “But will that always be the case?” He didn’t know what to think of that. Before now, his life had almost consistently been shit. It would probably continue to be shit. But there was always that chance, that small, insignificant chance, that things could end up differently. Life was long, depressingly long, after all. “Are you alright with this?” No. No, he was not. At the very least, giving in to what the Director wanted was simply not his style. At the most, at Clover’s behest, at that tiny little speck of optimism that she was, and had always been. He screamed again, but this was more of a battle-cry, a bellow against the darkness, against the void. But above that, above it all, he could hear laughter. Her laughter. A second later, the machine whirred into silence, and Doug blacked out. He didn’t know exactly how long he had been out for, but when he came to, he was leaning against a wall in an out of the way corner of the Bloch building. He picked himself up, nearly fell over, and meandered over to the nearby restroom. Water, he needed water. The inside of his mouth was sand. He didn’t know why he didn’t just go to the water fountain instead, but at the time he wasn’t thinking quite clearly. Though to be fair, he almost never was. Leaning on the sink, he managed to get some water in his mouth, though most of it just dribbled back out. In an attempt to get his mind unscrambled, Doug splashed some water into his face. But when he looked up into the mirror, he almost fell over. For a second, he thought that someone else had entered the bathroom, and was standing right behind him, but then he quickly realized that he was still alone. There was no one here. The face with the static-y, cloud-like halo of white hair staring back at him was his own. At this moment, there were a variety of reactions he could have had. He could have cried, he could have panicked and tried to cut it all off. He could have passed out again, if he so desired. But all of those things were far too overdramatic for Doug. So instead, he just laughed. And laughed and laughed and laughed. It was a harsh, bitter thing, and he probably sounded insane to anyone passing by. But that’s what he did. Eventually he stumbled his way back to his dorm room and collapsed. Finally, about two days later, when he was finally able to venture out and function somewhat normally, he emerged to find the school in a frenzy of activity and gossip. Because that was the day that Jilli Nakajima came to St. Adelaide’s.

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