I’m not crazy. I’m just like anyone else. I played football in high school. I had a girlfriend and a job. I wore a tux to prom, twice. Went with the same girl both times. I got laid at sixteen. I looked at rings that would take more than a month’s pay to afford. We moved in together and slept in the same bed for two years.
That’s when the visions started. Blood covered sheets haunted my dreams, leaving the sheets sticky on waking. Pictures of her, bound and screaming, flashed in my mind when I came. I prayed it was a kink that I could keep secret and would never act on. I was answered with my first fantasy in daytime. A woman on the street, tears running from her bleeding eyes. She was beautiful in my dream and left me aching for reality. Salty fluids in open wounds, cuts and screams. I held the urges back desperately. The fantasies escalated.
I saw hands, my hands, choking slender throats. I saw blood and blue lips. I saw eyes rolled back. I saw my own girl gasping for breath and finding none. I saw her stop gasping as I woke in orgasm.
The next morning found me at the Arkwood Psychiatric Hospital. That filthy asylum, which had stolen six months of my life, would see the highpoint of my life till then. My first orgasm was not so precious to me as the first time blood trickled down my arm. The high I found in that moment had sealed my fate and sent me on a trip to the state psychiatric hospital with a sentence of life.
Entering State, I realized three things. First, some of the patients were truly crazy. A woman with scars down her arms and legs floundered toward me, begging me to kill her. I wanted to, but I refused. I stared at the woman as she grasped at my clothing, crying.
Second, not all of the patients were crazy. One man I had seen on the news. He had made a habit of kidnapping children and leaving them to starve to death. He’d kept tapes of their suffering in his bedroom. I had seen one video posted on the internet despite all the efforts made by the police to contain the spread of the material.
Finally, I found that State was a prison like any other. Guards patrolled the floor and the patients were locked down like beasts. The days bled together in institutionalized monotony. Treatment was punishment. I vomited my pills every morning and they began to give me shots instead. The shots made me a mindless creature, staring into the life, the world which I could not reach, moving around me. The movements hurt my eyes, though I kept watching, like it was moving too fast and too violently for me to conceive as reality. I needed constant care in those days. I was positioned and cleaned and fed by helpers on tax dollars. When they lowered the dosage and I was able to move myself, I moved upon orders from others, if not automatically. Wake, piss, eat, shit, bathe, piss, eat, piss, sleep, wake. I did not think. I did not dream. I was not dangerous.
I was left without attendants on occasion. There would be no one forcing me to leave my bed or eat my breakfast, so I would sit in a daze until the shift would change and dinner would be forced upon me. One such morning, I lay spread out on my cot. No nurse with a needle appeared to numb my mind and body, no food appeared, no demands that I bathe or leave my bed. Thus, for most of that day, I barely did. I drank from the sink, but had not had much desire to eat since they’d begun giving me the shots of burning numbness. When my stomach had finally become a constant demanding beast, I took to my feet and emerged from my room in search of food.
The hallways were a welcome sight, much more welcome than they had been since the first day I’d arrived at state. Blood stained the walls and the smell made me crave more than food. I walked toward kitchens, stepping over stains and debris from an event that had missed my attention entirely. The kitchen was cleaner than the rest of the hospital, as far as I could tell, but things had still been thrown from the cabinets and freezers. I dug through the piles of food packages and took what seemed good and some of what seemed merely edible. When my stomach was full, the other cravings became more pressing every second I went without the intravenous leash.
I wandered slowly down the hallways. Not a soul in sight. Blood covered most surfaces. I wiped a clock face clean and checked the time. Nearly five. The next shift of guards would arrive soon and they would probably call for aid. Anyone alive in the building would be blamed for the mess. I could hardly expect differently. Most of the patients were capable of the destruction I saw before me and I was considered capable myself.
I heard a crash in a room down the hall. This meant that either an animal was loose in the building or someone was alive. I went down at a fairly tame pace to investigate. If I was looking for people, it wasn’t for a chat. They might expect me to render aid or call for help, neither of which sounded beneficial to my own situation.
I stood outside the door and listened. There was soft noise inside. Someone walking. They sounded like they were on the other side of the room. I wondered if they were armed. No human hand could have caused such mayhem as what I saw in the hallway. I walked away.
I went back to the kitchen and opened the drawers. Several knives were available to me, though none of them were particularly dangerous. I was what made them dangerous. All the straight bladed knives had already been taken. I assumed they were with the person who had killed so many. I took the bread knife, the longest serrated knife, and went back to the doorway to listen.
Footsteps. Cabinets opening. Cabinets closing. Breathing. For a moment, I thought I could hear sobs. I knelt down and prepared myself. I knocked the door open with my elbow as I propelled myself forward, knife extended ahead of me. The knife landed in something soft and warm. Screams erupted from above me and blood stained my shirt red.
I looked up at the screaming face of the suicidal woman who I had finally given what she had begged for the day I arrived at State. I pulled the serrated knife from her stomach and looked around. Bodies were piled against one wall, some cut into such small pieces that they would take days to sort, and a door was open on the other side of the room. I walked toward the doorway and readied my knife. I could hear no sound from the other side, but I stayed ready. I jumped through the doorway, stabbing one way and looking the other. My knife and eyes found nothing but empty hallway.
The hallway was pristine and white. Either no one in that wing of the hospital had been slaughtered or they had all been dragged into the room I’d just left. I wondered if the person who had killed them was cutting them into edible sizes. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me and they did have a clean cut to them. Before I began to wonder what human flesh would taste like, I heard more movement down the hallway. I followed it, of course. If the other person was running away, I could safely assume that he was a good deal smaller than me and not armed with much more.
I kicked in the door to the room and looked around with my knife ready. I wondered what it would feel like to have someone else plunge a knife into my own flesh. Purely curiosity, of course. I saw a desk with a chair between myself and a large window. The chair was turned away from me, rocking from side to side.
“Sade Jr. I wondered when you’d come around.”
This was not the person who had fled from the other room. The other person may have been an accomplice or a stray survivor. He may have been trying to help the woman who had been left bound in front of the doorway, waiting for me. It hardly mattered. This was the man who had gone to slaughter in the State Psych Hospital. This was the man I was looking for and he had apparently been expecting me.
“Sade Barnes had quite the record, you know. He killed eighty four people with a knife in one session. Do you know why they keep you sedated as they do?”
“Because I’m a killer.”
“They think you’re a killer.”
“I killed a man.”
“Who wanted to kill himself.”
“It made me hard.”
“Just like a Barnes.”
“My name is Shaw.”
“I don’t care.” The chair swung around. “And neither will history.”
I could not see the man’s face, but I recognized the mask. It was not an uncommon mask. Simple, undecorated. The kind that athletes used to cover their faces. He could have easily gotten it from the closet where the sports equipment was kept for the good behavior patients. I had seen the mask elsewhere.
My mother had saved every clipping, every photo, every sketch artist rendition of a particular mask like the one this stranger wore. She had been captured by him for ten months. He would leave clean, come back bloody, and make use of her. Six months after she had been rescued, after she had been placed in a mental hospital for Stockholm, I was born.
“They saw this mask kill those people.” I looked at the busted camera on the wall and knew that every other camera was in a similar state. “They will know it was you.”
“Except that it was you.”
“History won’t care about that, either.”
“So what’s the point of all this?”
“I’m going to escape.” He said, “They’ll assume my body is chopped up into little pieces in the other room and you will be held responsible for all of this.”
“And you’ll be free.”
“I’ll go to Canada. Or maybe Mexico. I haven’t decided.”
“Mexico has better food.”
“And dancing! But it’s so damned hot there.”
“We’ll both burn in Hell at the end, anyway.”
The stranger chuckled and removed his mask. He gave me a genuine smile like an old friend or companion who had rekindled a long dead joke that smelled of better times. I didn’t smile back. I took a long look at his real face. That face had not been splattered with blood from all the people he had killed. The face that I had seen on the news so many times as his crimes were investigated and his trial carried out. The face that I saw in passing as I was taken directly from the front door to my room. I decided, looking at that smug face, that I would take credit for all the death on his hands as long as his death was on mine.
The mask was tossed to me. I held it in my hands for a moment, while he smiled in victory.
I looked down at the pale plastic and thought it grew heavier in my hand. I traced my finger along the eye holes and across the edge.
“I’m going to kill you.” I told him.
“No you aren’t.” He said. “I don’t want to die and you only kill the willing.”
For the time that he had known me, it was true enough. Rules had changed since then. I put the mask over my face and looked across the room at my new victim. My first real victim. I could feel the heat of his blood on my hands just by looking at him. My heart pounded. My head raced. I could feel the urge, the deep desire I fought against with every fiber of my being. I could feel it boiling like molten iron inside of me.
“Run.” I told him. A voice that sounded nothing like my own.
He stayed put. He was still smiling at me. I stepped forward, twisting the breadknife in my hand. I was directly next to him before he showed any reaction. I plunged my knife into his arm, where it was sitting on the desk. He looked into my eyes, pain twisting his face. I smiled behind my mask. For the first time in over a year, a real smile.
Some emotion flashed in his face. I’m certain it was fear. It may have been doubt for his words or regret for his actions. It hardly made a difference to me. I could smell the sweat gathering on his brow as he stood from his chair, a chopping knife in his shaking right hand. I pulled the bread knife from his arm and plunged it into the chair as he pushed it between us. I pulled the knife back and saw a flash of his back as he ran from me.
I looked out the window and saw that two floors beneath me there were flashing blue and red lights. Someone had sounded an alarm or hadn’t answered a phone. I walked to the doorway and looked down the hall toward where he had run. He wasn’t stupid enough to walk into the flock of pigs waiting with guns. I was certain of that. He would find another way out of the building.
I walked to the elevator and pushed the button. No response. I wasn’t surprised. With the police buzzing around the building, loading their emergency gear to storm the castle, I wouldn’t imagine they would want the elevator in service. I went to the stairs, knife in hand. When I got inside, I could hear the frantic footsteps of my quarry.
Stepping lively, I went down the stairs. I didn’t rush. There was no need. I listened for the floor he would evacuate the stairwell, in case he would try to be clever. His footsteps sounded nearly at the bottom, where there was no further way down and only a basement to escape to. I followed at a sedate pace, enjoying the anxiety of my prey.
The basement was nothing more than an extensive laundry room. I looked around with a smile. There was no way out except through the stairwells, but I saw no one in the room. I walked inside and closed the door behind me. I readied my bread knife and paced counter-clockwise around the room. When I passed the laundry chute, I listened hard. The faint sound of breathing seemed to echo from within. I braced myself, pretending that I was more like my father than I had ever wanted to be. I ripped open the door of the chute and looked up. The pulley had been pulled up above me, where I was supposedly not able to reach the clever rat. I felt the wall on the inside of the chute and found little more than drywall and studs.
I put my ear to the wall and listened for the frightened breathing. I stepped away from the wall, as though I was no longer suspecting the laundry chute. I plunged the bread knife through the drywall and into something harder. I heard screaming and pulled my knife back, blood and mudded sheetrock staining the end. The dumb waiter crashed down and released its contents into a writhing mass on the floor. Shaking hands pressed hard on a gushing hole in his stomach where the knife had punctured the organ. I watched as the pool of blood grew at his side and his movements became weaker. His face grew pale and he swooned in and out of consciousness. I put my boot on his chest and pushed down.
His stomach would rise and fall with every breath, pumping more blood to the wound he prayed would stop bleeding. His hands fell limp to his sides as he lost consciousness. The smell of urine from his weakly breathing body. I stomped down and felt the breast collapse under my foot. Blood choked from his lungs and drooled from his stomach as he struggled through his last futile gasps.
I heard the sound of footsteps in the stairwell behind me. I pushed a washer in front of the doors to keep the policemen out for the short moments I needed to thoroughly enjoy my kill. Under the washer, however, was a hole. I took one last look at the corpse of the man who had so forcefully pushed me down my path. I jumped down the hole and I’m sure I’d made it a full mile away from the hospital before the police had even dislodged the washer from the doorway. Even then, the door would open and push the washer back in place, hiding the hole by which I escaped.
When I climbed from the hole, I saw thick woodland close by. I disappeared into the woods surrounding the area, but I felt that I was being watched. My footsteps echoed in the leaves so loudly that I was sure I could hear another set of steps following my path. When the woods disappeared and I stood at the edge of a large valley, leading down into a town, I turned back toward the woods. I saw no sign of pursuit and heard no footsteps. I threw my mask into the brush and walked at a calmer pace toward the town, casting away the bloody t-shirt and exposing myself to the cool autumn air. Perhaps Mexico would be warmer.
Two hours later, with a clean shirt and a heavier wallet, I boarded a bus to Arizona. As we passed, I caught a last look at those woods and saw a mask staring back at me from the darkness.