The Man Who Could Not Leave
by James Wasserman
The first words out of a man’s mouth after awakening from unconsciousness.
“My head... swimming...” He groped around. He was on a bed – there was a nighttable. On it, a digital alarm clock...
...And a lamp. He reached out, waved his hand around in an effort to find some on/off switch – and found one, pressing the button heavily.
The light filled the room and the man looked around. It was a prototypical bedroom; nice wallpaper, door to the bathroom facilities, nighttables, king-sized bed, a ceiling fan — even a fairly new-looking television — which, unfortunately, had been smashed. Someone wasn’t happy with the programming, apparently.
He tried to recognize it. No memory came. Or it was blocked by his wracked brain.
Speaking of a king-sized bed, he remembered he was lying on it. As his eyes adjusted, the confused man looked around him.
Pills were spilled everywhere. He saw some bottles: One was tylenol, the others... prescription bottles, but unlabelled. Little white pills and triangle-shaped orange ones.
The bed was wet; A tipped-over bottle of some generic brand of bourbon (a big bottle) had emptied its brain-killing juices over most of the bed. Well, at least it confirmed that he probably wasn’t a bedwetter.
That explained the headaches. It looks like he had attempted suicide. Which reminded him:
“Who am I?” He muttered, still lying down and still reeling from what appeared to be a very impressive combination of potentially deadly drugs.
Struggling to remember...
His name was John. John... something. That was it, apparently, for now. He was wearing a fairly expensive olive suit with a fairly bland tie. The collar was loosened and the tie partially undone.
“John... John..” he mused as he rose painfully from the bed, his body on fire. “John... what?”
John was in bad shape. He figured that he couldn’t remember much because he had obviously come close to death. There was most likely brain damage. He’d heard of a syndrome that occurred with alcohol abuse... caused damage to the brain which resulted in amnesia...
Well, there’s a memory. So I’m a guy who heard that drinking kills brain cells. Now I’m reeeeeaaallly getting somewhere. Sarcasm didn’t agree with John either; the fire in his brain, his muscles, and seemingly his organs, continued to burn. Every second word he thought or said was some pain-related moan or grunt.
Call 911... John momentarily considered. He withdrew the thought. I’d rather see if I can figure out some things myself first. Auughh... He considered taking tylenol for the pain, then realized that those were part of the problem.
He noticed a phone on a small table near the window, those items he did not register earlier. The Brain, she is a-dead.
John picked up the phone. Nothing. No dial tone. He looked at the phone’s speed dial — also nothing.
He went into the bathroom. Pills and broken glass on the floor. The mirror was smashed. John did, however, manage to catch a glance at this face — nothing remarkable — stubble presumably from a day or two of missed shaving sessions, fairly thin, oval-shaped. Blue eyes. Kind of a big nose. He splashed water over his face. That, too, didn’t make the pain yield. However, it did wake him up a bit. Some new room in his brain to use.
John still recalled nothing. I need some air, he thought. He walked to the bedroom door and opened it up. A hallway led to a set of stairs which went down, presumably, to the main entrance. He took a deep breath, steadying himself as he walked, and stepped through —
Into the bedroom.
“What the hell?” he asked aloud. Apparently, he had left the bedroom —or so he thought — and somehow got turned around — or so he thought — and ended back up where he started.
“Okay.. let’s try that again.” John shook his head briefly, trying to focus.
He opened his eyes and walked over to the door. He opened it, this time pausing for a moment to look outside. Same damn hallway.
He strided into the doorway and the images got closer. He sighed with relief, and then —
Realized that he was back in the bedroom.
John stood silently for a moment. Okay, that’s twice, He thought, I’m sure I went outside. Unless I’ve got some wicked hallucinations going on...
He made a run for it. Dove out the bedroom door.
And landed on the bedroom floor, head banged up. John decided to lie there for a while. He was speechless and thoughtless. None of this computed. He could accept that a near-successful suicide attempt with drugs and booze could give his brain a run for its money. He accepted that, in his current state, he was suffering major memory loss. However, John was damned sure that he had left the room — three times, even.
“Oh god, I don’t need this right now...” he moaned.
He decided to play ball. Exit through another route. It made no sense, but nothing was making sense at this point. Then he recalled something: I did enter the bathroom successfully.
John walked into the bathroom. However, there were no other exits from that room. Then he realized that the bathroom was not really separate from the bedroom, just a short hallway. Dead end.
“Ah, fuck.” John said. He marched back into the bedroom.
That was when he realized that there was a door in the corner of the room. also facing the bathroom side. It looked more like a closet door; but it was seemingly the only way out. This is ridiculous, he thought, why couldn’t I leave by that door? What the HELL is going on?
He sighed and tried the other door. It was a closet; however, he could see past an array of shirts hung from a beam. It was a fairly large walk-in closet; John walked inside. Clothes hung everywhere. Some very nice suits. and several police uniforms.
Bells rang in John’s head. Detective John? It sounded familiar in his head. Triggered something.
So he was a cop. It felt right. Why was he committing suicide? Or rather, why did he try? Or perhaps that wasn’t the reason that he did this to himself.
There was another door on the far end of the closet, leading away from the bedroom. “This better work,” he thought aloud, “otherwise this is some fucked-up dream, which it seems to be, and I’ll just sit here and drink until I wake up.”
It was his lucky day. Well, as lucky as a day as one could have in the ten minutes after waking up ailing and amnesic. The swung the door open. It revealed another bedroom, but this one was half converted into a study. Desk, ergonomic leather chair, computer and accessories.
He walked slowly inside —
And came out into the next bedroom. All right, he thought, this is good. Maybe I’m coming out of this. I think I’ll just ignore that thing with the other door in the bedroom.
He approached the desk. There were lots of computer magazines and sheaves of papers spread out all over. John wondered if maybe the computer would have some answers. Unfortunately, the screen was smashed. There was a door presumably leading to the further side of the staircase he had been unable to access. There was also a window, and sunlight shone in a beam onto the floor.
John looked outside. He was clearly up a few floors from the ground. He couldn’t see much; the sun was so blinding it hurt just to look out.
He heard something. Voices, perhaps? It was coming from the other door. Very faint, but he could make out some human voices. However, he had no idea what they were saying. It was somewhat unnerving. Friends or foes? There were no more memories reaching for the surface, so he had no idea who those people might be. If he was a policeman... well, that wasn’t much of a hint. Other cops, or maybe paramedics, coming to find him? He decided to take the other route.
The window was shut tightly. He fiddled with it for about a half a minute, then sighed and grit his teeth. He was becoming annoyed.
Come on, come on. John became impatient. Finally, in almost an enraged state, he smashed through it with his fist. Pain erupted in his hand. It was bleeding, but the window was now a legitimate exit. He hoisted himself up with his arms, and crawled in. Suddenly, he lost his balance, and fell out of the frame. He tumbled onto —
The floor. The damned study floor.
Whatever game was going on here was still persisting. The window was apparently not a viable exit. Was this some kind of experiment? Did some scientist juice up his brain so he wouldn’t remember anything, then have him run around a house with... with invisible force fields?? Even thinking about it made it sound even more absurd.
He noticed something interesting on the desk. It was a newspaper. Finally some answers, John thought.
No deal. On the front page, everything, every word or image – was crossed out with black marker. It was impossible to read.
John looked at the second page, the third: All blocked out. Peculiar. He wasn’t going to get any information from this either.
There was only one route left. The one back into the hallway. He sighed and opened the door.
This door led to the hallway, but a little further down , so it wasn’t in full view of the downstairs. This has gotta be it, John thought. He stepped through the door.
And, as predicted, walked into the other room without any barriers. He was in the hallway now. He could go left (which would lead to the earlier room’s view of the staircase), which somehow he doubted he could pass into, or there were several doors down the hall to his right. One along the corridor and one at the end. He could hear the voices more clearly now. He saw figures ascending the staircase and had a funny feeling. Should he stay and try to contact these people? Or should he just march along to the beat of this drum?
A letter appeared in John’s head. V.
He had no idea what it meant. He decided to wait.
The figures emerged into the corridor.
Policemen. They were all policemen. About five of them, running up the stairs.
“Hey!” John yelled. “Hey, can you hear me?”
The cops seemed to be chatting amongst themselves, but he could not hear what they were saying. They did not respond to his hails. They stood outside his room of origin, the bedroom. Their voices seemed raised.
John listened hard, tried to make out what they were saying. He seemed to pick up some of it, as they stood in front of the door.
“mmh..hellw...detect..vargss? Jon varga..ss?”
Detective John – Vargs? Var...?
That was it. That was his name. John Vargas. It fit with the letter V that had popped into his head. His memory was returning slowly. Why couldn’t they hear him?
Then something astounding happened. The cops went through the door.
Okay, John (Vargas) mused, This makes no sense. They can’t hear me. But they can apparently go into the room via an exit he could not enter himself. Maybe it was one-way? John approached the policemen . Suddenly he was going the other way again. Great — I’m shut out from there now.
Again, John figured he had to play the musical doors game. He tried the door along the corridor, looking in.
It was another bathroom. Sparsely dectorated. It was pretty much like the one in the bedroom. He noted a few things: Like the previously discovered bathroom, there was a lot of glass on the floor. Again, the medicine cabinet mirror was smashed. As was the other mirrors. However, this bathroom contained a radio. It too had been smashed on the floor. John stepped inside —
Finding himself at the entrance of the bathroom again. He was used to this phenomenon now. He wondered: It’s always one exit. Just one alternative in every situation. Every other one I can’t seem to go through. Now people from, well, maybe the ‘outside’ world can’t interact with me.
Nothing really made sense, just a bunch of garbled pieces of information that didn’t seem to be related to one another. His memory was toast. At least he could remember his name — a luxury, it seemed, at the moment. Force fields or something blocking exits. He was a cop, apparently, but why did he wake up in his own filth? And why couldn’t he talk to the police that had ascended the staircase?
All nonsense. No connections. The cops seemed to be calling for him, and they could use the doors. He couldn’t talk back, though.
Back to business. He marched up to the door and the end of the hall, which would be the only exit. Once again he was not surprised to enter what looked like —
Some kind of large closet or storage room. Boxes everywhere. Papers everywhere. John scrummaged through the papers...
All either blanked or crossed out in black marker like the other paper.
Only one exit. The window. If he was right, it led out of the back of the house. He smashed it open once again, taking the pain. It was open. He crept up onto the ledge.
The window was on the third floor. He wondered if he could jump. Nothing else I can do at this point.
Some realizations came to him. Why could he remember his name, but not anything else? Why had he not found any identification or anything, or really any other clues? It was like one road in a map. He had to follow it. It seemed suspicious to John, though; was this kind of amnesia possible? You can only remember your name, but nothing else? Nothing?
He looked down at the mound of dirt that lay below him. Seemed distorted, though; was it only a few floors or more? Well, he’d better find out —
John crawled out and jumped. Halfway through, he realized the ground was not getting closer. His speed accelerated. “Geezus Chri...
“...st” John found himself lying on top of some grass and dirt. He had made it. He stood up —
And there he was. On the ground, a successful jump. Then something odd happened. Everything around him began spinning. Like a tornado, houses and trees moving around... all fuzzy. He seemed to be trapped. No —
“Exit.” A voice boomed. John covered his ears. The voice was not only loud but seemed to be painful. He felt his head palpitating again. Everything was dark. He was now surrounded by nothingness, as if in space.
“Glad you could make it, Mr. Murdoch.”
The voice made his hands shake. He could feel his ears. They were bleeding.
“Mmmm—mmmister Murdoch??” John spat.
“Oh, you think your name is still Vargas, don’t you? Let me help.”
More booming. Tingling was moving all the way through his body. His nose started bleeding. His eyes were unfocussed.
Then it came to him. That little voice that John had heard, giving him his name — it was like it had been planted. Murdoch. The name was... familiar. This time, in a more meaningful way.
“I’mmm not — whoo am —
The voice stopped him cold again. “You know who you are. You aren’t John Vargas, Detective. You’re Kiefer Murdoch, murderer and rapist of women.”
Blood poured from John’s (?) mouth. But memories returned. Yeesss... the sweet women... he remembered... So sweet... I especially liked the little one. The six-year old. I can remember her now...
“No!” John screamed. He had been Detective Vargas, in his mind. Now this murderer’s identity was creeping in or rather, returning.
“This is not happening!” As a result of the outburst, his tongue shot out of his mouth and disappeared into the blackness of — wherever he was. It was getting quite clear. His head was bleeding from every orifice. He could only gurgle now.
The booming voice got louder and louder. “Yes. You remember. You thought you were Vargas, but it was the man you murdered. However, you might not be sure about this exercise.”
Vargas/Murdoch was melting. He started giggling.
“You escaped me. Or nearly so. After you killed Detective Vargas — who, incidentally, died in shock, bleeding profusely after you castrated him — in his own home, you became unbearably psychotic and decided to commit the cowardly act.”
Murdoch’s head split open. His brain started to rearrange itself. Different shapes. Nice shapes.
Murdoch knew everything up until he had woken up. He had killed Vargas. He had thrown his body into the bathtub and then closed the curtain. He had not, of course, remember it, presumably because the booze and drugs did have an effect on him. He never checked the bathroom (the inaccessible one) because he could not.
Murdoch tried to roll away — more nothingness. Yes, he was a murderer... he could taste it. His body began to mesh together into a big fleshy mass.
The voice unbearably continued. “You would have been found, of course, by the police. You were unsuccessful at killing yourself. The lawmen would have found you and you would be in jail for life. Then I’d have to wait.”
While Murdoch was still somewhat human, his brain remembered some things. It made sense. This one-door phenomenon. It led to an escape from capture. And the smashed media devices and blocked out newspapers?
“I had to do that, Kiefer. Otherwise you might have gained insight into your real identity.”
NOW I CAN HAVE YOU ALL TO MYSELF.
The creature that had once been human — or, rather, inhuman — made mewling sounds. What had been Murdoch was now more like a pretty jellyfish now. But, amongst the fire and stink of brimstone, it was home.
Copyright © 2005 by James Wasserman