“Liquid Asylum” Dark Flash Fiction by Margaret Sefton

We think you should know, dear ones, ones who have passed on, ones who live in the street, ones who have killed and molder in prison, ones who live in underground spaces—forgotten under cities until money and children and food go missing; until abandoned houses are destroyed; until libraries, parks, and public places reek of unseemliness—we will never leave you, we the representatives of who you were before you were placed on operating tables, drilled clean through your skull, hammered through your eye socket, shocked with insulin and electricity, precious memories flying, shrieking, from your skin, old personalities, pleasures, predilections lingering saddened, forlorn, in corners of the operating room.

See? The doctors and nurses and orderlies said. We don’t have to put them in cages. Look! We don’t have to put them in straitjackets. No longer the padded cell! And yet we said to you, we pointed this out dear ones: Your tongues are now so jammed in your mouths you can barely speak. They congratulate themselves while you convalesce in the infirmary. They smoke cigarettes outside behind the surgery and there is wine and beer on breaks and a cake to celebrate the next hundred-batch and sex in the janitor’s closet. And finally, families can bring their smiles to the common areas and feel relieved they are not pretending.

We the spirits of this place, the spirits that gathered when the town said we will build buildings for a keeping of those not fit to live among us, we those spirits want you to know we have been watching you and know you, and not your spirit of violence and destruction, of hate, but the spirit you can’t remember now, the one born of God, the one you believe you will recapture in order to get married again, the one you believe will help you regain the respect of your children and community, the one your mother and your father believe is waiting to break through the face you present, the one behind the blank mind and addled tongue.

For those who are dead, who lived in an even more draconian era, we saw your hands drift up uncontrollably to pat the space on your head where a drill bored through, the drill taking you with it, leaving you sensitive to light and noise, any disruption to a mellow day which means just about any sound, any sound flowing, finding its lowest point in the drain in the top of your head. And for those of you who became like power plants with nothing but current running through or for those of you whose bodies were flooded through with insulin or tranquilizing substances over and over, or those subjected to the mind-numbing pill cup, regular as communion, regular as Christ’s body, you were just as fucked. We say to all of you, both the living and the dead: We have your memories up here on a shelf. You may never get them back fully, but we keep them here and send them back in little batches like molded leaves rotting on trees, memories of leaves, veiny outlines, lace.

When you come back in your mind to us no matter where you are—the flophouse, the prison cell, the cardboard box, six feet under, the bungalow with a picket fence—we know you want the whole thing back, what you were, or, more accurately, could have been. You are with us in spirit, and we meet you in the air while you drift in your dreams. We meet you to try to help you find what you are looking for. In your mind you go back to the place where you lost yourself; you go back to your old bedlam; you come home to us, your home you never intended to consider home, and yet it was the site of your birth, a terrible birth of a broken self. Yet here we keep who you were for you, who you used to be. You will find your old self here, we promise, if only you return to make yourself whole among us again, to confront your executioners as they say. It is not as haunted as tourists say, you know that. Foolish people like to give themselves a shiver by spending a night in restraints. Idiots. We have half a mind to show them real fear, but it would be a waste, alas.

You were the real beauty and the romance. My, how we miss you, our beautiful, broken ones! Bring your old and weary bones to lie here again and let us give you back to your old self. Your memories await. So too the tears you cannot cry being too feeble to feel. We will give your young self to you whole, along with your pleasures and a deep and lasting sleep if you come to us and find your home once more in the bosom of health. It did not happen the first time—the wholeness, the health—but let us try again. Please.

Margaret Sefton has a graduate degree in storytelling but she has always been a professional liar. She may be found cooking up dark fiction and rich stews in a fortified bunker in central Florida. Some of her thoughts and tales may be found on her blog Within a Forest Dark

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