I can’t actually tell you the inspiration for this story without giving too much about it away, or even tell you about which scene in ‘Total Recall’ (the one with Arnie, not the remake) made me want to write it. So instead, I’ll just give you the story. This was the one I named ‘The Patient’ but I thought this title was much more clever.
Keeping in Mind
By Ben Pienaar
Randall was unaware of the crazy man and his spying eyes until he actually showed up at his front door. Then he remembered the times he’d seen him all at once: begging on a corner in Paris while he was on his way to meet a friend – yelling gibberish on 31st street in New York – watching from across the road while he ate lunch in England. And now here he was, somehow standing on the front porch of his Florida mansion. He looked wild, dishevelled, but composed. He wasn’t railing about or shouting as Randall remembered him; he simply stood and smiled politely.
‘How did you get past security?’ Randall asked.
The man put out his hand, which was somehow clean unlike the rest of him. ‘My name is Dr. Pence, and there was no security.’
Randall didn’t shake the madman’s hand, and eventually he dropped it.
‘I hate to barge in like this, but you and I have some important things to discuss. It’s about your health.’
‘My health?’ Randall said, wondering whether the man would wonder away or get agitated if he slammed the door in his face. Where the hell was security, anyway?
‘Yes. I’m afraid it’s quite serious, and you might need to be sitting down. Is it alright if I come in?’ He stepped forward, as if to push his way inside, and Randall swung the door shut in his face. He realised his heart was beating fast, as fast as if he’d just been in a fight, and he didn’t know why. He went into the kitchen and picked up the phone, dialling 001. There was no answer. That was not good. What had he done to the security? They had guns, for god’s sake, what could he possibly have done? He dialled 911, and this time there was an answer.
‘Operator, what is your emergency?’
‘I’d like police, please. A man has broken into my property and somehow incapacitated my security. Please hurry.’
‘What is your address, sir?’
‘I’m Randall Gaits, you know my address, and if you want there to be a Born Wild 2, you better hurry.’ He hung up.
He realised that he’d been overly dramatic just for an odd man at his front door, but something in him knew he was in danger. That man’s eyes… He shook his head. Better embarrassed than dead, anyway.
He left the kitchen, meaning to go up to his second floor office where he kept his magnum, and froze at the foot of the stairs. The man who called himself a doctor was standing halfway up, his hands behind his back and a polite smile on his face. If his looks weren’t clean cut, his manner certainly was.
‘H… How did you get here?’ The man was doing nothing but standing, yet Randall felt as though he were in extreme danger. This man, he thought madly to himself, was death. And how in God’s name had he done that? Just how had he got from the front door to the stairway in perfect silence in under a minute?
‘That too, I shall explain if you’d only give me half a chance. Please, Mr. Gaits, I only want to talk.’
There was real pleading in that voice, and something like sympathy also. Randall knew the police would be here soon, but would it be soon enough?
‘In my office,’ he said, relieved to hear that scratchy quality leaving his voice.
The man nodded and walked up the stairs. Randall followed him several paces behind, and found that the man – the ‘doctor’ – knew his way to the office just fine. He’d had his stalkers before, but this one was exceptionally more dangerous. This guy wasn’t going to settle for a shrine of photographs in his bedroom and a collection of autographs. This was the kind of crazy that might just kill them both rather than suffer rejection. He decided to humour him for a while.
There was only one chair in the office, and so the man stood a few feet back from the desk while Randall moved to sit behind it, keeping his eyes on the ‘doctor’ every step of the way. When he sat down in his familiar, comfortable brown chair, he pulled out his top desk drawer. He didn’t reach into it, but the magnum was there, fully loaded and ready if he needed it. While he spoke to the other man, he kept it in the corner of his eye.
‘So, Doctor. What is it you need to talk to me about? Are we meant to be together? Is my health going to suffer if I don’t dedicate a movie to you or something?’ Now that he was near his gun, he was confident again, but he still heard a shake in his voice that he didn’t like. It almost sounded hysterical.
The doctor was no longer smiling, but he wasn’t angry or shocked, either – he just looked concerned. Randall had a terrible urge to grab his gun and jump out of the window just to escape that look.
‘I don’t know how quite to begin this…’ Dr. Pence said. ‘It’s never been done before, and now that I’m here myself I can see how… real it all is. Convincing you will be difficult. All I can say, Mr. Gaits, is that your life depends on your understanding me. When I’m done, you can do anything you like and I won’t stop you. I urge only that you listen. Will you listen, Randall?’
‘Sure I’ll listen,’ Randall said, resting his right hand on his desk, near the top drawer. ‘I’ll listen to how you got in here, first.’
‘That…’ Dr. Pence said, chuckling, ‘is actually quite a difficult thing to explain by itself. But I will do my best. Alright.’ He took a deep breath, seemed to gather himself for some effort, and then went on. ‘You are not here in this room with me. You are actually somewhere else, in the ‘real’ world, though I admit you’ve done an incredible job on this one.’
‘Sure. Hey, thanks.’ Randall said. He looked at his watch. Now the Doctor did look shocked, and he realised the man had actually expected him to believe him.
He shook himself and continued. ‘To be exact, Randall, you spend most of your time in a padded room because your insane delusions have resulted in serious injuries. Both to yourself and to the staff at North Point Asylum.’
‘Uh, huh.’ He should have relaxed, now – this was just one of the rambling loonies and boy, he’d encountered them plenty of times – but somehow he couldn’t shake the idea that this one was different.
‘I am your primary psychologist, and I’ve been trying to bring you back to reality for quite some time. So far, no medication or treatment of any kind has worked.’
‘I see. Back to reality, huh? And where I am now…’
‘Is in your mind. This is simply the fantasy you are living out mentally. I can tell you everything about it if you like. You believe you are a famous movie star, and travel the world signing autographs for adoring fans. Occasionally these fans get violent and you have an… incident.’
‘Like right now, huh?’
The doctor nodded, sadly. ‘Yes. In fact, once you were imprisoned by a mad fan for nearly two days, isn’t that right? And he tied you to a table and shouted madness at you before you attacked him and broke free.’
That made Randall’s blood run cold. He remembered that, alright. It haunted his nightmares even now, the things that nutcase had said. Sometimes he couldn’t sleep at all, thinking of what might have happened if he hadn’t got out.
‘That man was a good friend of mine, and you broke his arm and bit off his right ear,’ the doctor said, and now there was a trace of anger in his voice, though he tried hard to conceal it. Randall’s hand tensed and moved closer to the top drawer.
‘He was trying to help you, and was the closest anyone’s come until now. You actually became aware of your surroundings, including the table you were bound to, and might have made further progress if you hadn’t escaped.’
‘You knew that nutcase? That explains a lot.’
‘Yes, well, I hope it does. Currently, Randall, you are strapped to that same table and I am in the room with you, speaking to you. When I came up to this office, I simply turned my back and walked to the corner of the room and that is where I am now. I cannot see your mansion, but I know all about it, because you’ve spoken many times, and my colleagues have all played parts in it. The police operator you spoke to a moment ago, for example, was the warden of this asylum, Mary Woollins. We discovered that the more familiar you became with us in the real world, the more we tended to appear in your hallucinations, and so we’ve been infiltrating your mind this way, for want of a better phrase.’
Randall smiled without an ounce of humour and looked down at his desk. He could smell the varnish on it, still. He rapped his knuckles on it and heard it, loud and clear. ‘That’s not real?’ he said. He took a deep breath of air, savouring it. ‘That’s not real?’
Dr. Pence watched him with that concerned look on his face and said nothing. Randall stared at him, and now he thought he did feel a little crazy. But not in the way the doctor suggested. Not in the same way the doctor was, either.
He took the gun out of the drawer and laid it on the desk. The doctor continued to stare at him, as if he didn’t care. It was entirely possible that he didn’t – it was possible that the man honestly believed what he was saying – probable, even. Randall had had loonies sincerely believe they were his soul mates, too, but that didn’t make it true.
‘So if this is all just happening in my head, and you’re not really in this house with me, then if I aim this here…’ he lifted the gun and pointed it at the doctor’s head, and he could have sworn the man flinched, then. ‘And pull the trigger, you’ll… what?’ Just keep standing there?’
‘What will happen to me is exactly what you’ll expect to happen,’ the doctor said. He still wasn’t certain, but Randall thought he could detect the fear in his voice now. Maybe he didn’t believe after all. ‘You’ll see me get shot, and I’ll drop to the floor and die, and you’ll be able to go on with your life.’
‘Oh? Okay, well doc, I’d have to say that sounds pretty good. Is there a reason I shouldn’t do this?’ He was sure he had the bastard then. He rested his finger on the trigger and paused, deliberately. Then the doctor said something he hadn’t expected.
‘If you pull that trigger, Mr. Gaits, you end your own life.’
‘You’re scheduled for a lobotomy in a month’s time. You’ve simply been too violent for the asylum to hold you for much longer. I’m your last chance, Randall.’ The doctor, Randall realised, had broken out into a cold sweat. He was holding his hands up, and they were shaking. He did not look, Randall thought, like someone who was totally sure that he couldn’t be harmed. He didn’t believe his own lies.
There was silence. The doctor, moving slowly and keeping his eyes fixed on Randall, reached into his jacket pocket with one hand and brought out a syringe. ‘This will help,’ he said.
‘Oh, really? How so, doc? And let me ask you one other thing. If I’m strapped to a bed, how come you don’t just step right up and inject me with it?’
‘It wouldn’t work if I did it. It’s a symbol, more than anything else. Essentially a placebo. You take it, and you’re admitting that this is all false and you want to escape, to come back to reality. That admission, that decision, is all you will need to make the first steps. After that we can help you. I’m here to lead you to the water, but I can’t make you drink, if you see what I mean.’
‘You calling me a horse?’ Randall smiled, but he found his mouth was dry. And why was he so terrified, he wondered? What was in the syringe?
The doctor stepped forward and he raised his gun, but he only leaned forward and laid the syringe on the desk. It was full of clear liquid. The doctor retreated back to the corner of his room. ‘The decision is yours,’ he said.
Randall looked from the syringe on his left to the gun on his right and shook his head. Somewhere far away he heard the first police sirens, and thought it was about goddam time, but still he didn’t feel safe. He was threatened by this man, deeply threatened. It occurred to him that the only crime he’d committed was breaking and entering, and that no one but him could possibly see how dangerous he was. This man wasn’t going to give up – he’d be back. Maybe next time he’d be a little more… persuasive.
‘Tell me something, doctor Pence,’ he said. ‘What am I in your “real world”?’
‘You’re a good man,’ the doctor said. ‘You used to work as a teacher. You had a wife.’
‘A good man,’ Randall repeated, nodding. Then he raised his gun, saw the doctor’s eyes widen in terror in the moment of hesitation, and fired.
The bang was loud and satisfying and Randall thought later that no one was ever going to tell him that wasn’t real. No one was ever going to tell him the blood he saw pouring out of the madman’s throat wasn’t real, or the choking sounds he made when he went down. No one was going to tell him the smell of gun smoke wasn’t goddamned real.
He took the time to put the syringe back in the man’s hand. Bingo, he thought, self defence. And who cared if there was nothing harmful in the thing – anyone could see how you’d want to shoot a madman waving a syringe at you, after all.
The sirens were right in his front drive, now, right on time. He kicked his chair over to make it look like he’d rushed behind the desk, and then he went to crouch in the corner with the gun. He conjured the best expression of remorse and terror that he could (and he was a good actor, after all).
Not that any of it would matter, in the end. He was Randall Gaits, famous movie star, multi-millionaire and philanthropist. He’d given twenty million to various charities and entertained the world with his movies – who was going to look too close?
The front door opened and Randall assumed his position. Behind the yelling of the swat teams and media helicopter outside, he thought he heard someone laughing. A very unstable laugh, that sounded, and it was accompanied by other voices, crying for assistance.
He shook his head and the voices disappeared. There was going to be a movie in this, he thought. Maybe a book, too, if he played it right. People were going to talk about him for months after this. He was going to make money, be famous. Randall smiled to himself and waited for the police to arrive.