Abyss & Apex : Second Quarter 2005

NEXT Illustration


by Patrick Samphire


Carbamazepine Retard 600 mg bd.
Zuclopenthixol 50 mg bd.
Paroxetine 20 mg mané.
Sodium Valproate 200 mg nocté.
PRN Haloperidol 5 mg max tds.

bd means twice a day. Mané means in the morning. Nocté means at night. PRN means as needed. tds means three times a day.

Doctor Ben wrote the list out for me. I copy it twenty times every day. I’m very good at it now. I write it so they can’t change what I take without me knowing. I don’t like it when they change things. I get confused.

Last month they stopped my Epilim (that’s the Sodium Valproate, in case you didn’t know). They thought I was getting better. I started biting my arms until the skin came off and they were covered in blood. Now I have to take the Epilim again. I’m happy. They were messing up my lists.

Some children shout at me when I’m walking to the clinic. I’m very good. I ignore them.

I’m proud of you, Eddie says.

Eddie’s my carer. I have other carers too, but Eddie’s the one who’s always with me. He helps when I have one of my turns. That happens a lot, but Eddie doesn’t complain.

I’m in the clinic for my music therapy, but I’m early. Eddie always makes us early. It’s not his fault. He has a few problems. He’s a bit slow and he worries a lot.

There’s a new man in the clinic, standing behind a desk. He shouldn’t be there. Sally should sit behind that desk. I start to get angry. I think I hear one of my teeth crack. But then Sally appears.

Hello, Keith, Sally says.

Hello, I say.

No one says hello to Eddie. They never do. That used to annoy us, but now we’re used to it. Eddie says it’s because I’m their client and he isn’t. I think it’s because they’re a little afraid of Eddie. Eddie’s pretty big. He wears a black padded anorak with its hood up, even indoors. The anorak’s too short for him, but he won’t get another one.

Sally sits down behind her desk again, which is better. But that man still shouldn’t be there.

Sally’s angry with the man. People think I don’t notice much, but I do. I’m not very good with words, but I know looks maybe better than anyone else.

The new man smiles at me, but it’s not a real smile. His face is tired and angry. His hair is messed up at the back. My hair is always neat.

I turn away from him. Eddie doesn’t, but Eddie is slow and doesn’t understand looks so well.

This is Doctor Hudd, Sally says.

Oh no, I say. Not another fucking doctor.

No fucking here, Keith, he says. Just an ordinary doctor.

My face is hot. They’re all looking at me. I feel like someone’s sitting on my chest. My arms are flying around my head like my hands have been cut off or they’re on fire or something. (They’re not.)

I’m breathing too hard. I do my counting as my hands smack together, left on right, then right on left the same number of times (it’s always got to be the same number of times). One half. Half quarter. Quarter half. Half one.

That makes me feel better. It’s parts of three, and three makes me calmer.

What’s he doing here? I ask Sally.

I’m here to help you, he says.

I didn’t ask him. I asked Sally. I make noises so I can’t hear him.

Eddie puts his hands on my shoulders until I manage to calm down again.

A really big man comes through the clinic door. He’s much bigger than Eddie even.

We’re going on a trip, Keith, Doctor Hudd says. Isn’t that nice?

Why did no one ask me? I don’t want to go.

He’s got a therapy appointment, Sally says.

Doctor Hudd smiles one of those fake smiles.

It’s cancelled, he says. It’s official. It’s none of your business.

He takes me by the arm, and pulls me towards the door. I can feel prickling down my side. I’m going to have one of my turns. I try to tell them, but I can’t make words, just noises.

Eddie’s shouting and screaming, but no one takes any notice of him. I pull at my left ear. One half. Doctor Hudd is holding my right arm so I can’t reach my right ear. I have to reach my right ear.

Doctor Hudd lets go to open the door. I pull the right ear. Half one. I breathe.

Doctor Hudd pulls me out of the clinic. There’s a white van in front of me. It doesn’t have any windows on the sides. Doctor Hudd is pulling me towards it.

Where are we going? I say.

Shut up, Doctor Hudd says.

The tingling starts again. Doctor Ben said it’s called an aura. That means one of my bad turns might start soon. I don’t want that.

We’re almost at the van. No one else has come out of the clinic because the really big man is standing in front of the door. Eddie is looking out the window. I think he’s crying. I wonder if he knows what’s going to happen to me. I don’t.

Doctor Hudd pushes me into the back of the van. The really big man comes out of the clinic and climbs in with me. It’s dark.

The van starts. Where’s Eddie? Eddie always goes with me when we drive. I’m having trouble breathing again. The tingling is in my head. I can’t see. My turn is definitely starting.

I didn’t mean to touch her. I didn’t.

My thoughts are spinning like a merry-go-round, up and down and round and round.

Who? I ask myself. But I don’t actually say it so you could hear.

I’m getting confused. Sometimes that happens. Things get out of order.

My body goes stiff. Then it jerks and jerks again. I fall onto the metal floor of the van. I feel blood in my throat. I must have bitten my tongue.

Shit, somebody says (not me — I can’t talk at the moment).


I don’t know when it is, but the van has stopped. The really big man is pulling me out. I feel dizzy.

I don’t recognize this place. There’s a big, grey building. There’s a wall around it. We’re inside the wall, near the door to the building.

Where’s my list? I say.

I still need to copy it eleven more times today.

What list? the really big man says.

I want my list, I say.

Shut up, retard, he says.

He pushes me forward.

Retard’s a bad word. People aren’t allowed to call me retard. I want to hit him, but Eddie said I mustn’t hit anyone anymore, not even if they call me bad words. If I do, the doctors might change my medication again. My list would be messed up.

We go into the building. I’m trying to walk, but the really big man is pushing me so fast I keep falling. I scrape my knee twice.

Up we go in a lift. It’s scary at first because it’s very fast, but then I want to do it again. The really big man says I can’t. I don’t like him.

We’re in a room with windows that look into other rooms. (Why do they do that? Windows are supposed to look outside.)

There’s me, sitting in a chair with arms, like the queen, and Doctor Hudd, and another doctor, and a nurse. The really big man is watching us through one of those windows. (Lucky the windows don’t look outside, really, or he’d have to stand on the windowsill.)

Doctor Hudd is reading out loud from a bit of paper.

Moderate learning disabilities, he says. Schizoaffective disorder, autistic spectrum disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, epilepsy, depressive psychosis. Well, Keith, he says. Looks like you’ve got a pretty good bundle there.

The nurse behind him gives me a nice smile. I like her. She’s very pretty.

Got a cold, I say.

He raises an eyebrow. He’s laughing at me and thinking I don’t realize it. He thinks I’m stupid.

A cold, too, eh? he says.

He looks at the other doctor.

Exactly the same symptoms and medications as Nicholas Briggs, Doctor Hudd says.

Except the cold, the other doctor says.

Doctor Hudd turns back to me. He’s smiling, but it’s not a proper smile again. I think the other doctor has made him mad.

It’s just a cold, isn’t it Keith? Doctor Hudd says. Soon be gone.

I don’t think he’s a real doctor.

Real doctors say things like, How are you feeling today, Keith? Would you like a cup of tea, Keith? (Yes, but I’m not allowed any sugar.)

I don’t think he’s a real doctor either, Eddie says.

I’m glad Eddie is here now. I don’t have to worry so much. Eddie will worry for me.

This is going to seem like a strange question, Doctor Hudd says, but answer it honestly. Can you do that, Keith?

I nod.

Good, Doctor Hudd says. Now, can you see things that haven’t happened yet?

You’re wasting your time, the other doctor says.

He goes away. So does the nurse. Now it’s only me and Doctor Hudd. And Eddie, of course.

So, Keith? Doctor Hudd says. Can you?

I don’t know, I say.

This is a strange place. I don’t like strange places. I want to go home.

What do you mean you don’t know? he shouts. Tell me.

Then he pushes his hand through his messy hair, and he shudders. I think he should lie down. Maybe he’s tired.

Tell me, he says.

I don’t know, I say.

How do I know if I know things that haven’t happened yet until they’ve happened? Maybe I do know them and maybe I don’t. I’ll tell him if they happen. I want to explain that to him, but I’m not good at words, and he’s leaning too close to me, shouting. I’m feeling confused, and I’m just trying not to hit anyone because Eddie would be angry, but he’s shouting in my face in my face and he’s too loud and he’s too close and he’s too close and he’s too close.

He’s lying on the floor, holding his nose. He’s bleeding, and I think I’ve been bad again.

The door bangs open. The really big man comes in. He’s angry. He should be. Doctor Hudd was scaring me. The big man is going to shout at Doctor Hudd, I can tell.

You fucking retard, he shouts.

He’s shouting at me.

He reaches for me, and I think I must have gone to sleep because I wake up in a chair.

After a few minutes, Doctor Hudd comes in. He’s got a big bruise on his cheek. He’s angry. So angry he walks straight through Eddie. I hate it when that happens. It’s very rude. I don’t know if Eddie notices though.

The other doctor comes in behind Doctor Hudd. He’s smiling slightly. You wouldn’t notice if you didn’t understand looks like I do.

Let me tell you something about Nicholas Briggs, Doctor Hudd says. He was a lot like you. The same age, looked pretty similar. He had the same problems and took the same medication. But he could do one special thing. Do you know what that was, Keith?

I shake my head. What’s he talking about? I’ve never met this Nicholas. I’m concentrating so hard on what Doctor Hudd is saying that my head hurts. I think I can feel the tingling start again.

He could see things that haven’t happened yet, Doctor Hudd says. He could see the future. That was very useful for us, but he died. Do you know what the future is? Doctor Hudd says.

Of course I do. It’s what’s going to happen next.

Yes, I say.

Good, he says.

He walks away from me, then turns suddenly.

Can you see the future? he says.

I don’t know, I say again.

I don’t. I already told him that.

He closes his eyes. When he opens them, he goes and gets a chair. He puts it in front of me. He sits on it.

Listen, Keith, he says. This is the way it is. I’ve been working on this project for nearly four years. Do you understand that?

I nod.

Well, he says. They’re going to close me down. In a week, if I can’t give them any results. I can’t afford to lose my job. I’ve got a family and a house. That means you’re my last chance, Keith. So you’d better fucking well come up with the goods. Don’t mess me about. I haven’t wasted four years here.

He’s sweating. I don’t know what he’s talking about, but I nod. It’s easiest that way. I’ve learned that. If I don’t nod, people explain again, and I still don’t understand it.

Doctor Hudd gets up.

Think about it, Keith, he says. I’ll be back in an hour.

He leaves with the other doctor. They’re arguing. I don’t know what about.

They didn’t lock the door, Eddie says.

Oh, I say. I want to go home.

Me too, Eddie says. Come on.

We walk out the room and down the white corridor. The lift is up ahead. I press the button and the door opens. We get in and Eddie lets me push the down button. We zoom down, and I laugh. That was fun.

The doors open and we walk out. The door to outside is just ahead. The really big man is standing there. He sees us.

Get back upstairs, retard, the really big man shouts.

He comes towards us.

I want to go home, I say.

The really big man grabs me. He smiles.

No, he says.

He pulls me all the way back up again.

The tingling is starting in my side.

I’m in the room with the windows. The big man pushes me into the chair and I bang my head. It hurts and the world goes funny for a second. That wasn’t very nice of him.

He goes and locks the door.

The tingling is strong now.

Eddie, I say.

Keep calm, Eddie says.

I can’t. I’m dizzy.

My muscles go stiff.

I jerk onto the floor. My arms and legs are flying about. My head thumps on the concrete.


I watch the inside of my eyes for a while. When that gets boring, I open my eyes. I’m on a bed. The nurse is nearby. She leans over me, smiling.

Are you okay, Keith? she says.

She’s very nice to me. Not like Doctor Hudd.

You’ve been unconscious all night, she says.

My head hurts, I say.

Drink some water, she says.

I do.

She leans close to me.

I don’t like what they’re doing to you, she says. I think it’s wrong.

The door opens. She stands up very quickly. It’s Doctor Hudd.

Thank you nurse, he says.

She goes. I wish she would stay.

Doctor Hudd takes me to the room with windows. The really big man follows. He’s very close behind. He has his arms crossed.

Doctor Hudd’s face looks a real mess now. The bruise is very big. I’m sorry about that. He shouldn’t have shouted at me, though. I can’t cope with that. I get confused.

There’s a machine in the room, a big box with a tube coming out the top.

I want you to help me, Keith, Doctor Hudd says. Will you do that?

Can I go home? I say.

If you help me, Doctor Hudd says.

Come over here with me, he says.

We go to the machine. There’s a button on top of it.

I want you to do some tests for me, Keith, Doctor Hudd says.

Okay, I say.

I hope they’re not hard tests. I always get confused and angry if they’re hard.

What I want you to do, he says, is close your eyes and tell me the first number you think of. Then you press the button and a ball will come up the tube. Then we’ll see if it has the number you guessed.

Like the lottery, I say.

That’s right, Doctor Hudd says. Like the lottery.

I always lose on the lottery. Eddie made me stop playing it because I spent all the money we had for food on it.

I close my eyes.

Five, I say.

I press the button.

Seventeen, Doctor Hudd says.

Three, I say and press the button.

Two, Doctor Hudd says.

Eddie comes over.

What are you doing? Eddie asks.

Playing the lottery, I say.

Just guess, Doctor Hudd says.

Eight, I say.

Twenty-five, Eddie says.

No, eight, I say and press the button.

Twenty-five, Doctor Hudd says. This is useless, he says.

He walks away.

Eddie got it right, I say.

Doctor Hudd turns round. His face is red.

Who the fuck is Eddie? he shouts.

He takes a deep breath. Then he blows out from big puffed-up cheeks.

After my meal, both doctors come into the room. They’re arguing again.

He’s not Nicholas Briggs, the other doctor shouts (that’s the doctor who isn’t Doctor Hudd). Nicholas was unique. Just because Keith’s got the same disabilities doesn’t mean he can do the same thing. You’re plucking random factors out the air and trying to make them into something significant. You’ve no evidence at all that Nicholas’s abilities had anything to do with his impairments or his medication.

Bullshit, Doctor Hudd shouts.

What you’re doing is unscientific and unethical, the other doctor shouts. I should report you.

Doctor Hudd smiles.

But you won’t, he says. You need this job too, and we just don’t have the time for the usual battery of tests.

I wish they would stop shouting. It hurts my head. I don’t know what they’re shouting about.

It’s okay, says Eddie. They don’t matter. They’ll all be gone soon. Everyone will be gone.

They shouldn’t ask me about things that haven’t happened yet. They should ask Eddie. That’s the kind of thing Eddie knows. Things like, It’ll be all right soon. Things like, There’s nothing to worry about. Things like, They’ll be gone soon. He helps me by telling me those things about the future. I would tell them that if I could. Maybe they wouldn’t listen.

The other doctor leaves. He never seems to do anything except shout at Doctor Hudd. Then Doctor Hudd shouts at me. Everyone shouts at me, except Eddie and the nurse. They’re my friends.

We try the machine again. I get all the answers wrong. Doctor Hudd shouts at me. It’s not my fault. I never get tests right, not even at school when everyone else can do them. Later, I go to bed.

They won’t give me my list. I’m worried. Maybe they’re changing my drugs.

Doctor Hudd looks like he didn’t sleep last night. He keeps looking around like he thinks someone’s going to jump on him, like the boys at school used to jump on me and hit my head. We’re in the same room as always. The machine is gone. My chair has wires and straps on.

Okay, Keith, Doctor Hudd says. I think we’ll assume for now that you have no controlled prescience. Let’s see if we can find any involuntary prescience.

Can I go home? I say.

Sit down, he says.

The really big man pushes me into the chair then puts the straps on my arm. Eddie tries to grab him, but he doesn’t notice.

Doctor Hudd sticks the wires to my arms, all the way up to past my elbows. There are large buttons under each of my hands.

Now, Keith, Doctor Hudd says. There are two lights on the arms of the chair. Do you see them?

I nod. The really big man goes out the room.

Well, Doctor Hudd says. One of the lights will come on. Before the light comes on, you have to guess which one will come on and press the button on the same side. If you get it right, then nothing happens. If you get it wrong, you’ll get an electric shock in that arm. Understand?

My side is tingling.

One half. Half quarter. Quarter half. Half one.

Like this, Doctor Hudd says. He presses a button.

I think someone’s put knives in my arms. I scream. Then the knives are gone, and I see there weren’t any at all. I’m confused.

So try and get it right, Doctor Hudd says.

He smiles. He’s sweating, like he was the one who got hurt. He looks around again.

He goes over to a computer on a table. I wonder if he’s going to play a game. I wonder if he’ll let me play. I like the games where you can jump about. I hope he’s not playing one of those games where you hurt people. Those are bad games.

I’m starting the routine, Doctor Hudd says. The computer will record the results. Press a button.

I press the left one. The right light comes on, and the knives are in my arm. I scream again and start to cry. The pain stops. Doctor Hudd runs his hand through his hair. He looks nervous.

The really big man opens the door.

Phone for you, Doctor Hudd, he says.

Keep trying Keith, Doctor Hudd says.

Then he goes out.

I’m on my own in the room, except for Eddie. The right light comes on. The invisible knives hurt. I think there’s metal in my mouth. I press the right button. The left light comes on. Knives in my left arm. They hurt more and more. My face is covered in sweat. I can’t move my arms. Right. Left. I’m thrashing my head against the back of the chair till I’m dizzy. My body’s jerking up and down. I bend my head so my mouth can reach the wires they’ve stuck to me, and I tear them away. My skin comes away with each bite, but I don’t care. I keep biting. My arms have blood on them.

Doctor Hudd comes running in.

Shit, he says.

He shouts at me while the nurse puts on bandages. She keeps looking up at Doctor Hudd. She’s afraid of him. He can’t see that. Maybe he’s slow, like Eddie. Eventually they go out.

I’m scared what they might do to me next. Eddie smiles at me. He looks scared, but angry too.

I think we should kill him, Eddie says.

Maybe, I say. Would that be bad?

No, Eddie says. He’s a bad man, so it’s okay.

All right, I say.

I don’t swallow my Zuclopenthixol tablets next morning or that night. I just pretend to. Eddie says that will make it easier. I trust him.

I feel a bit agitated when I go to bed.

Here’s another test for you Keith, says Doctor Hudd in the morning.

I think it’s the morning, but everything keeps going fuzzy like there’s a net curtain that keeps falling on my head. For a moment, I think I’m back home, writing out my list. Or maybe at the clinic.

The really big man grabs my arms. He pulls me towards the table. I try to pull away. He won’t let go. I don’t like him. I can hear drums in both my ears. The boys at school are running towards me, about to jump on me. I close my eyes.

When I open them, Doctor Hudd is holding an axe.

Which hand am I going to cut off, Keith? Doctor Hudd says.

Where’s Eddie? Where’s my list?

Both, Doctor Hudd says.

I scream.

He swings the axe. One. Two.

No no no no no no. I’m throwing my arms about my head, trying to make the pain go away.

I can see blood. It’s everywhere. My arms fly more and more. The big man falls on the floor. I’m kicking him. I can’t stop.

I blink.

My hands are still there. The pain has gone. I don’t see the axe anywhere.

I was sure Doctor Hudd had cut off my hands.

I’m frightened. I try counting. One half. Half quarter. Quarter half. Half one. It doesn’t make me feel any better at all.

Doctor Hudd has run to the door.

He’s dropped his keys, Eddie says.

I look down. He’s right. The really big man has dropped his keys. He’s lying on the floor. He’s got blood on his face. It must be his blood. I feel sick. I’m trembling.

Pick them up, Eddie says.

I kneel down. Doctor Hudd can’t see what I’m doing from over there. I take the keys.

The really big man groans. He gets up slowly.

Get out of here, Rich, Doctor Hudd says.

He’s come back from the door now. He looks a bit nervous, if you ask me.

The really big man goes, but he gives me an angry look.

Help me please, Keith, Doctor Hudd says. Can you see the future? Tell me or God help you.

I don’t know, I say.

He’s confusing me again. He’s too loud.

He kicks the table. He’ll hurt his foot.

He walks out. He slams the door. I shiver and hold my hands tight together so no one can cut them off again.

One day I’ll take you to the future, Eddie says.

That’ll be nice, I say.

I like going on trips with Eddie.

The future’s not like any of them think, Eddie says.

Later, I go to bed and sleep.

It’s dark outside my window. I’m standing by the door. I’ve just come back from the bathroom. I think I have, anyway. I don’t remember, but I must have. I’m tired and a little confused. My hands are shaking. The lights are very dim.

The nurse is there, standing by my bed. And Eddie, of course, but Eddie is always there.

Where have you been? the nurse says.

Toilet, I say.

You were a long time, she says. Come on.

I’m getting you out of here, she says. They shouldn’t be doing this to you, she says. You’re a nice man, she says.

I’m glad she says those things.

I look at Eddie. He nods.

I don’t have to get dressed because I always wear my clothes to bed.

Good, I say. Just the three of us.

Three is a good number.

Three? she says. There’s only two of us.

Three, I say.

Maybe she doesn’t want Eddie to come. I won’t leave him here. He doesn’t like it here either.

She shrugs.

We go down a corridor. I feel so angry. I’m trembling. I want to hit someone. Maybe I should have taken the Zuclopenthixol tablets after all.

The door at the end of the corridor is open.

I’m sure I locked it, the nurse says.

I look down. The really big man’s keys are in my hand. I put it behind my back. I don’t want to get in trouble.

Doctor Hudd’s office is just ahead. The light is on.

Very quietly! the nurse whispers.

We keep going.

The office door is open. I remember Doctor Hudd cutting off my hands. I remember him shouting. I remember the things on my arms. I remember him jumping on me with the boys at school and banging my head on the pavement. And. And. I’m shaking so much. Eddie looks worried.

We pass the door. I look in. Doctor Hudd is lying on the floor inside his office.

The nurse gives a little scream.

She goes in. I don’t think that’s a good idea.

The nurse kneels over Doctor Hudd. I stand near her. She sounds like she’s choking. There’s blood everywhere, most of it on Doctor Hudd’s face and around his head. His metal rubbish bin is lying nearby, all knocked out of shape.

Oh my God, the nurse says. Oh my God.

Eddie has blood on his anorak.

The nurse stands up. She’s crying. I hug her. She feels very stiff. I hold her tighter. She hugs me back.

Then she pulls back.

You’ve got blood on your coat, she says.

Have I? I didn’t know that.

She tries to pull away from me.

My hands are under her clothes and I’m touching her.

I didn’t mean to touch her. I didn’t.

It feels nice.

I let her go.

She runs to the door. She’s crying.

I’m sorry, she says. I’m sorry. I’m going to call the police.

She runs out.

I didn’t mean to touch her. I didn’t.

I pick up the bin. The dents in it are really big. I hope I don’t get in trouble about that. Eddie always says I shouldn’t break things.

I look at Doctor Hudd on the floor. There really is a lot of blood.

Did we do that? I ask Eddie.

He nods.

I think we made a mistake, Eddie says. A bad mistake.

Poor Eddie. He’s slow and he makes a lot of mistakes. So do I. Normally, the nurses say it’s okay. They say I’m doing my best. I don’t think they’ll say that this time.

Maybe we shouldn’t have killed him, I say.

Eddie nods. He looks shocked. I don’t remember killing Doctor Hudd. I think I remember him cutting off my hands. But he can’t have. They’re still here. The room is a real mess.

I don’t think we have much time, Eddie says. The police will be here soon. They’ll put us in prison.

I don’t like prison. I’ve been there before. I don’t want to go back. People shout at me there. They call me nasty names. The boys from school are there, waiting to bang my head on the floor.

We look around. There’s a wardrobe built into one wall.

Open it, Eddie says.

I do. There are two shirts and a suit and some ties hanging from the rail. I don’t feel confused any more.

Eddie pulls the rail. It looks very strong.

He puts a hand on my shoulder.

I’m sorry, Keith, Eddie says. I didn’t do very well.

I smile at him. Everyone makes mistakes. I don’t blame him. He does what he can for me. He can’t do everything.

Are we going to the future? I ask.

Yes, Eddie says.

He looks very sad, like he’s going to cry.

I’m going to have to leave you now, Eddie says. Just for a while.

Yes, I say.

Your belt, I think, he says. It’s strong.

Yes, I say.

I take off my belt.

One half. Half quarter. Quarter half. Half one.

I step into the wardrobe. The belt makes a good loop. I reach up to the rail.

I think I can see what happens next.


Patrick Samphire lives in Yorkshire, UK, with his wife Stephanie Burgis and their dog, Nika. His fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Strange Horizons, and The Third Alternative. You can visit his website at www.patricksamphire.co.uk


Copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted.


Art Director: Bonnie Brunish

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