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You Fancy Me Mad

by Andrew Broadous
December 2018

The following contains graphic content that may not be suitable for sensitive readers.

I press my blackened thumb firmly on tattered paper and sign away for my treatment. There is a stack of sagging waivers creased and inked by what seems like hundreds of adrenaline-junkie, horror-buff, heavy metal-listening residents and non-residents of Tooele, Utah. My two companions, Megan and Adam, flank me on either side, their eyes fixed on the blood-splattered straitjackets adorning the ticket booths like fresh rabbit pelts. I pay the man up front, who staggers forward, slides a ticket through the window, and gives an Igor-esque smile. When I see his lips curl, I immediately forget why this was a group decision. I feel as though my sanity is in question here at Asylum 49. Maybe I do belong here, after all. I breathe in sharply and start tapping my hands lightly on my legs. There is a long, long line outside, and the air is deadly cold. By the end of all this, I just may become a committed patient.

 

Before it was one of Utah’s only full-contact haunted attractions and in the top 100 scariest haunted houses in America, Asylum 49 was first and foremost a hospital. Wind the clocks back to 1873, and it was the humble abode of Samuel F. Lee and his family. When the Lees moved in 1913, the place became a poorhouse, a derelict haven of slight repose for the elderly and the mentally ill. It was only until the town of Tooele grew from population: seven that people started to envision more than just a run-down shack. They imagined stethoscopes and hard candy, scrubs and clean linen.

 

Refurbished as an actual hospital with all the bells and whistles in 1953, Asylum 49, the then-Tooele Valley Hospital, did its job until it suffered severe underfunding. The budget blow couldn’t even accommodate those who passed away. Deceased patients were literally stacking up in designated, unrefrigerated rooms until a coroner arrived and signed off on each one. These particular papers, though, had no space for a black thumbprint.

 

“They want to make sure they can identify our dead bodies,” Megan says after we finish signing the waivers. “These’ll help, too,” she says, holding up the blue band on her wrist. The three of us had also received hospital wristbands with our names scribbled in Sharpie.  

 

I nod, staring at the black marks and my wristband, wondering if she’s serious; I can never tell with her. I’m also wondering, why the hell am I here, subjecting myself to this kind of morbid amusement? This isn’t my first haunted house, and it likely won’t be my last. And I can’t put my finger on why exactly that is. Maybe I’ve finally lost it—lost them. My marbles.

 

Maybe that’s it. They’ve tumbled to the ground. I’m stooping low and swiping my hands to try and find them. This idea truly takes shape when I realize I’m somewhat disheartened that I didn’t have to prick my finger for a blood signature. Or when I entertain the idea of one of the doctors locking me in a padded cell.

 

Then I think to when I’m dragged to a horror film by some friend of a friend. I shut my eyes while watching Insidious or Annabelle or even the 90s It miniseries. But there’s always one lid that slowly creeps open, like I’m a little boy peeking through the window blinds at the mailman. There’s that part of me that just has to see it. I have to know. I have to. Yes, I just have to.

 

Am I insane?

Only half of Asylum 49 is the attraction: the windowed rotunda, blinking vertical neon-green sign, and part of the dusty-bricked, blocky midsection perched on the hill. The other half of the building is an elderly care center, owned by Rocky Mountain Health Care.

 

At this other half, patients have reported a number of more-than-close encounters of the “other kind.” The “other kind” has been said to come in the form of mists, orbs, and mysterious portals. It has also taken the shape of a nurse clad in white who roams about when all other nurses wear green. A terrifying man in black who arrives in patients’ rooms precisely at 3:00 a.m. A mysterious little girl named Jane or Jackie or Jessica (the “J” names vary, depending on the source) who claps three times and disappears in a faint whisper.

 

This haunting and, some may argue, demonic, obsession with the number three (three specters, three o’clock, three claps) is said to be an affront to the Holy Trinity. This I learned with one half-opened eye watching The Conjuring.

 

Given the truly sinister nature of this building, it makes sense that the former Tooele Valley Hospital is neighbors with a cemetery. All this, I’m sure, is truly comforting for those who reside in the other half. It surely comforts my paranoia as I stand in line, hands jerking slightly, awaiting my checkup from the good doctors.

 

This, of course, isn’t my first checkup from shrinks milling about. It’s not my first hospitalization, either.

 

No, not at all.

 

Adam looks paranoid, too. I wonder if he’s also insane. As the line progresses, we pass under an arbor strewn with dim lightbulbs, cobwebs, and small hanging pumpkins. In the eerie light thrown over him, I can see Adam more clearly. He’s slightly shorter in stature, bespectacled, folding the leathery arms of his jacket, and tottering side to side. He's quite handsome and looks like he could be a secret agent in the Kingsman series. I don’t know him at all. He’s Megan's old high school friend, the quiet type I can identify with. He’s the lone wolf who runs by his own playbook, and it takes a lot for him to smile, like it’s against his religion. Maybe he’s the quiet madman who hordes handkerchiefs and mutters, “Banana” to himself at Home Depot.

 

Or perhaps Adam’s like the madman in downtown Salt Lake City, who follows me down the street and asks me, “Are you black or white?”

 

I'm afraid this might be a strange trick question, so I say, “Uh, no,” and briskly walk away.

 

I love Megan like the sister I always wanted, but she must be insane. If she hangs with me, it makes sense. What cements her craziness even more is the fact that she’s the horror lover of the group. She’s seen every movie from The Taking of Deborah Logan to The Witch to the early slashers. She even watched one of them with her boyfriend at midnight in a graffiti tunnel. And she came out alive.

 

Megan’s a madwoman. And it just happens that she’s friends with two madmen. 

 

An hour into the line, wall-to-wall spectators huddled in one giant snake, I see a teenager who’s suddenly snatched from his group by one of the doctors covered in dried crimson and wandering through the maze of the crowd. The boy is taken to the very front of the line, where he’ll soon be thrust through the doors of the asylum and on his own to navigate its bowels.

 

I look down at my wristband. Both my hands are shuddering. I shut my eyes and concentrate on steadying my pulse.

 

Distracted by the inside of my eyelids, I don’t notice another doctor slinking up behind Megan and yanking her ponytail. When she yelps, I’m wide awake, and Adam gawks with his thick glasses. The doctor looks at Megan squarely in the eyes. His face is weathered and droopy, complete with a mess of shock-white hair and a blurry nametag.

 

Megan and the good doctor spend a few minutes locked in a staring contest, then he saunters off to find another victim to torment.          

 

My hands shake more violently. I feel it coming.

 

I start to tap my hands against my legs again until my head stops somersaulting in the heat of July. Until my world slows down to the tick of a metronome. I blink hard and shake my head.

 

Megan looks at me. “Are you okay?”

 

Once my breathing gains traction, I nod and adjust my snapback. “Yeah. Are you?”

 

“That was awesome.”

 

“Did you see that?” a boy directly in front of us says, pointing his finger at the doctor, his slightly chubby face contorted with preadolescent terror. His name is Cash. He is not insane; he’s eleven years old. He darts his head around and surveys the crowd like a quail. Dr. Leatherface has entered the line. Cash holds his Dodgers cap firmly to his head because he’s afraid it might get snatched. As Dr. Leatherface approaches, Cash holds the cap so tight, it covers his nose. But the doctor merely passes, grunting to himself.

 

I steady my hands and do my best to give Cash consolation, a therapeutic talking-to, but I’m the one who really needs it. It turns out I was wrong. Adam's not insane. Megan’s not insane.

 

It’s just me.

 

***

 

“Just tap,” says Dr. Hermann, sitting with one crossed leg, a clipboard in his hand. His voice is mild and warm, subtly accented by an Arabian sun. He has a peppery-gray beard and thin spectacles that look like they might break. He doesn’t look at me like I’m an insect under a magnifying glass, like the male nurse here. He sees me.

 

I do as he says, gently bringing my wobbly hands to my thighs on the chair. Up. Down. Up. Down. Repeat. This exercise eases my racing thoughts, the ones that lead to my nervous breakdowns and what B.B. King calls the “blues.” These are the thoughts that put me in scrubs for two weeks at this mental institution, Highland Ridge Hospital, in Murray, Utah. Five years from now at another hospital, instead of Dr. Hermann, I’ll see Dr. Leatherface.

 

He gives me a puzzled look and leans in. “Tell me about those suicidal thoughts.” The last word comes out like “tots.” 

 

I look at my name printed on my light blue wristband. I feel my eyes go hot and heavy.

 

Dr. Hermann’s face is expectant, but his eyes don’t rush me.

 

“Every day,” I say, thinking of the one psychological breakdown and pill soup that urged my parents to bring me here.

 

“How about right now?” Dr. Hermann says, tilting his head. “In this room.”

 

I half-shrug. “I guess not right this minute.” I look away to the side, at the DSM-5 leaning on a bookshelf. “I’m not crazy, am I?”

 

Dr. Hermann smiles again. “What do you think?”

 

I wipe my eyes and laugh in spite of myself. “I honestly don’t know anymore.” I then tell the doctor I’m feeling a little ill and ask if I can leave his office and return to my room. He kindly obliges and shows me out.

 

“We can talk when you’re ready,” he says. “Get some rest.”

 

The hallway is blaring with light. On my way to my room, I spot an older patient stooping low to the ground and caressing the air. A nurse is standing beside him, asking what “breed she is.”

 

“Irish Setter,” the man says. “I call her Shelley.” He continues to pet the air. His name is Danny. He’s schizophrenic.

 

Then Nurse Duncan comes strolling down the hall, a smirk on his face when he looks my way. Unfortunately, Nurse Duncan isn't the most popular among the patients and has been likened to Nurse Ratched. On one occasion, he even made one of them scream, “Suck a big, fat cock!”

 

I walk past him without any sort of acknowledgement and enter my room, which has no door. None of the rooms do. This is to ensure patients are safely under the nurses’ vigilant gaze.

 

Nurse Sonia is one of the head caregivers dressed in all white. She’s always the one who checks on me, and we have nothing but pleasant exchanges. She peeks tenderly in the doorway and sees me slumped on my bed. “Andrew,” she says softly. “How are you doing today?”

 

I sit up and feign a smile. “Just fine.”

 

She smiles and lingers a moment, then checks a box on her clipboard and heads to another patient’s room.

 

I slump back over and close my eyes, wondering what’s written about me in that DSM-5.

 

***

 

Cash’s father must be insane for bringing his son to Asylum 49. I’m watching him closely. He resembles a taller, more muscular Michael Chiklis. He’s just like Adam in that he keeps his arms folded and his lips tightly shut. He laughs to himself when his son, ever-fearful of Dr. Leatherface and his team of zombie nurses, latches to his arm. His stoicism is even more evident in his faraway look, the kind that, if you meet it, says, Whaddya lookin’ at, bub? After a brief conversation with him, consisting mainly of grunts on his part, I conclude that he is not, in fact, crazy; he just doesn’t like long lines.

 

We’re now two hours in. Cash tugs periodically on my sleeve to keep me updated on Dr. Leatherface’s whereabouts. Megan and Adam are on their phones.

 

Adam is reading the Book of Mormon.

 

Megan’s playing Dark Meadow: The Pact.

 

There’s a hearse parked eerily near us. The waning gibbous peeking through the clouds glints off its windows and fender and every juncture where gray steel meets silver steel. I’m half-expecting someone or something to pop out, but nothing ever does. No need to tap my thighs.

 

Somebody in line has ordered a pepperoni pizza. I can smell the marinara and garlic wafting in the air, but I’m not hungry. My stomach churns like butter as we snake along the asylum’s southeastern wall.

 

A nurse brushes against my shoulder. Her face is a veiny, shriveled Cabbage Patch Kids doll, and she hobbles along with a walking stick. She turns and eyes me again and points her finger. Then she turns slowly back around and hobbles away.

 

Tap, tap, tap, tap...

           

***

There is a man who comes to me as I lie in my bed at Highland Ridge. He’s a hazy silhouette. His entire frame moves like lazy black static when he leans over me, examining me as if I’m a dead squirrel.

 

The strange part is that this isn’t a dream; I’m wide awake.

 

The silhouette stands up straight and fades into the white light in the hallway. I blink several times and stare at the ceiling. It’s early in the morning, 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., and I realize I’ve just experienced my first hallucination.

 

Later that morning, I see Dr. Hermann. He puts me on clozapine and informs me that hallucinations can occur in those with severe anxiety, panic disorder, and chronic major depression—all of which are Dr. Hermann’s diagnoses. All of which are just a part of me as they are a part of the DSM-5.

 

I take the medication along with a swig of water.

 

“Do you still think you’re insane?” Dr. Hermann asks me, still smiling the smile that puts me at ease.

 

I hesitate and sigh. “I’m not sure just yet.”

 

Dr. Hermann sits back comfortably in his chair and nods. He asks me if I’d like some breakfast. I say I would, and the doctor leads me to the cafeteria. I fill up my tray with eggs, bacon, kiwi, and chocolate milk, then join a few other patients at a table. I recognize Danny and another patient, Carla.

 

Danny and I talk about existentialism, then he goes to pet Shelley at the salad bar. An older patient asks me what ethnicity I am. This is not the first time I’ve been asked this question, and it won’t be the last. I proudly say my dad’s black and my mom’s white.    

 

He settles on “Hawaiian.”

 

An elderly female patient near me is too busy eying another man, who she swears has “cotton balls falling out of his ears.” She looks at him with pure disgust.

 

Carla talks to me the longest. She’s in her thirties, has short brown hair, and always wears purple fleece. She’s been here almost a month, a result of anorexia and the death of her four-year-old daughter named Jenna. It was the classic scene of a child crossing the street just when a truck comes charging along, then Spider-Man comes swinging to save her. Only Spider-Man never comes.

 

Carla’s mellow and contemplative. She likes hearing me play piano in the entertainment room. She says it calms her down. Whenever I see her, I always say hello. She always needs to hear it.

 

Someone makes a suggestive joke, and all the patients laugh. I laugh. Carla’s laughing, too. Or crying. These days, it’s hard to tell. Either way, she’s happy to be eating something for the first time in a week.

 

***

 

My two companions and I merge groups with Cash and his father. We now stand on the threshold of the asylum. Only a thick glass door stands between us and whatever unspeakable, horrific spectacle awaits us. Megan, Adam, and I lock elbows. Cash grips the hood of my jacket unforgivingly.

 

There is a white flash, then the flicker of a sickening strobe inside the asylum. The doors suddenly fly open. Three bulky doctors launch forward and manhandle our group. We’re practically thrown in.

 

The flashing lights persist, making me dizzy. These kinds of lights heighten my anxiety.

 

“Close your eyes,” Megan says, glancing over at my discomfort. She locks her elbow more tightly with mine.

 

The doctors continue to jostle us around. One of them breathes hotly in my ear. I keep my eyes closed until the lights stop. When they do, the doctors unhand us and push us forward. Surprisingly, our group is still intact.

 

We find ourselves in one of the patient rooms. There are bloody handprints everywhere. Babies strung up by their umbilical cords. There’s even a woman giving birth to a giant centipede. More blood splashes on the floor and trickles down an eviscerated man sitting on a toilet. A miasma of watery vomit saturates each room.

 

I look over and see Adam’s grim expression. He locks his arms with Megan so tightly, you couldn’t pry him off with a crowbar. Megan looks complacent. Not scared, just complacent.

 

As we traverse the asylum, we each contemplate more blood, torsos sutured together, bleating women in glass cells, and the Hippocratic Oath. Then we find mannequins wrapped in white bedsheets and sitting on four rows of pews. They bear a resemblance to Klansmen, and I’m immediately off-put. But I’m restored when we pass through a bayou and an Egyptian tomb; in the latter are African-American pharaohs.

 

Through all these ghastly scenes, though, a thought pops in my head. My hands stop quivering. I’m anticipating the three specters to come floating in somewhere, sometime. Past experience tells me they might not be as bad as they seem.

 

I’m waiting to see the nurse in white, who may just want to check up on her patients.

 

I’m waiting to see the man in black, who could just be a hallucination, after all.

 

I’m waiting to see Jessica, who may be trying to get back to her grieving mother.

 

I’m waiting in vain, for there are no apparitions of any sort. I become acutely aware that all the “crazies” here are just actors in makeup with a love for The Shining. It’s all fake. Epiphany: this is why I can brave the slew of spooky thrill rides. In the moment, it’s all make-believe.

 

I smile to myself.

 

Nobody here has half a clue what real crazy is.

 

What is “crazy,” really? Stephen King, master of horror fiction, once said, “I think that we’re all mentally ill; those of us outside the asylums only hide it a little better – and maybe not all that much better, after all.”

 

From a legal standpoint, it’s this: “unsoundness of mind or lack of the ability to understand that prevents one from having the mental capacity required by law to enter into a particular relationship, status, or transaction or that releases one from criminal or civil responsibility.”

 

Albert Einstein’s controversial saying goes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

 

And Nurse Duncan, in all his wisdom, compassion and candor, posits that it’s simply something you have when you want attention.

 

I truly struggle to grasp an accurate definition when we enter the clown room.

 

My smile vanishes.

 

Multicolored ribbons and balloons hang from the ceiling. The very moment I hear laughter, I start to tremble all over, not just in my hands. And I blink rapidly, like I just took two eyedrops. Let’s add coulrophobia to the list of mental defects, shall we?

 

This room doesn’t seem to affect Adam, so he releases his elbow. It surely doesn’t affect Megan, who’s now quoting scenes from It. She also releases her arm.

 

I freeze, watching both of them skip their way through the maze. I linger there, motionless—a still-life painting of a boy with a snapback.

 

***

I’m standing in the patchy grass of Highland Ridge’s fenced-off yard. I stare with sharp eagle eyes at barbed-wire and wonder if I can scale the chain-link steel and leap over like Randle McMurphy and hijack a school bus. I wonder what Randle would make of my situation. Maybe I should be the one wearing a leather jacket and beanie. Instead, I make do with my scrubs and wristband, and I drape a blue hospital blanket over me. It’s for this reason I’ve been dubbed “Linus” by the patients and nurses. It’s a term of endearment.  

 

Danny’s drinking a cup of coffee. For once, he lets Shelley rest awhile. A few other patients are playing basketball. It’s mid-winter, and the sky is the color of chalk. I stand alone.

 

Nurse Sonia approaches and stands by me. “Whatcha thinkin’ ‘bout, Linus?” she says in her usual easy and sympathetic voice.

 

“The outside,” I say, not turning to look at her.

 

She adjusts her coat and pulls her blonde hair out of her collar. “I remember the outside, too. Good times.” She turns and smiles at me. I can’t help but smile back.

 

“I feel like I’ve finally gone insane,” I say. “I’ve lost my mind.”

 

Nurse Sonia looks at me sideways. “You have, have you?”

 

“What do you think?”

 

“Well,” Sonia says, “For an insane person, you play some really nice piano. I heard you the other day. Maybe they’re right about madness and creativity.”

 

“I’m not that creative.”

 

Sonia shrugs. “Maybe you are. Maybe you just don’t know it yet. That’s why you feel insane.”

 

I sigh and fix my eyes on a light rail train passing on the other side of the fence. A bitter snowflake touches the earth.

 

“Sometimes,” Sonia chirps, “it helps to occupy your mind some other way.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

Sonia gives me another lesson on the importance of “tapping.” She says it helps Carly when she thinks about her daughter or when she’d rather starve herself. She also mentions how it stops some of the patients from trying to commit suicide by ingesting colored pencils in the entertainment room. According to Sonia, tapping “slows down the monkey mind, the one bashing cymbals in your skull.”

 

I pretend this is the first time I’m hearing this information. Then I say, “Will it stop my insanity? My hallucinations and everything else?”

 

Sonia pauses and watches a snowflake fall. “It won’t hurt.”

           

***

 

I’m still frozen in the clown room.

 

Just when I think about picking my legs up, a cackling jester in scrubs sneaks up and grabs me from behind. He holds something sharp to my neck. It feels like a scalpel or something worse. He brushes some of the stringy ribbons out of his face and drags me into a darkened corner of the room. This is what I imagine Nurse Duncan would have done, had he taken me into a private office.

 

I close my eyes and start tapping my legs. Literally tapping. While Dr. Bozo has me in a headlock and shushes me, whispering, “It’ll all be over soon,” I’m standing here, tapping.

 

And I keep tapping. Dr. Bozo eventually gives up on me and creeps away. I rub my throat and quickly regroup with Megan and Adam, who didn’t seem to notice my absence.

 

“Are you okay?” says Cash, a true pal.

 

I say I am and shrug it off. I expect the boy to latch onto my hood again and suffocate me more than the clown did. He doesn’t latch on because, mere seconds out of the office of Dr. Bozo, we find ourselves back out into the cold night air.

 

We’ve triumphed. Officially released from care.

 

We say goodbye to Cash and his stern father. They exchange a few kind words with us, and Cash hugs me. The boy then turns his Dodgers cap to the side like a “gangsta” and walks with his father in the opposite direction.

 

I remember the same goodbye to Nurse Sonia and Danny and Carla on the way out of the glass doors of Highland Ridge. I can still feel my eyes bite while I replay the image of languid waves of farewell from all the other patients our society refers to as “crazies” or “loons.” They talk to themselves. They pet invisible dogs. They go days without eating, and they don’t like cotton balls.

 

And they just so happen to enjoy haunted houses every now and then.

 

We glance once more at the eerie building: its sizzling green sign and empty line, and we walk back to the car. Adam makes wild gesticulations with his hands and smiles a smile—a real smile. Megan does the same. Both of my companions remove their blue wristbands, but I keep mine on and slip my hands into my pockets. I give a thin smile to myself.

 

On occasion, I still do hallucinate. I quake like an aspen. I have trouble controlling where my thoughts go, and where they usually go is not always bright and sunny. But I also remember what Dr. Hermann and Nurse Sonia say: “Just tap.”

 

When it comes to the subject of insanity, I’m not sure who I agree with the most: Stephen King, Einstein, or the court of law. Maybe I don’t really agree with any of them when I think about it. It’s all in my head, in my opinion. But that’s not a comforting thought, either.

 

Maybe I’m more like nutty Randle McMurphy. Yes, maybe that’s it. Maybe “I'm senseless, out of it, gone-down-the-road, wacko. But no more, no less, that's it.”

 

Well said, Randle. Well said.