204/366 – The “Institution”

Day 62 of 100 Word Prompts: Ripe

The room was cold as I paced nervously. The loose medical gown hanging from me gave me little comfort and even less insulation to shake off the cold. There was no furniture in this room and never had been through every time I had been here. This was the observation room, and normally it was less than a minute of waiting, but I had been here for more than ten minutes already. The door hit the frame as it always did, but I jumped at the sudden echoing slam as the door opened.

“Come on,” the guard said, waving me forward. I practically sprinted out of the room. “Stop biting your nails. You know how bad that is for you.”

“Sorry,” I muttered, dropping my hands to my sides.

The guard’s hand found its way around my bicep, it’s normal position on these walks but tightened as we reached the end of the hall. I moved to go to the left, the way we usually went,  but the guard pulled to the right, catching me off balance.

“You’re not going that way today,” the guard said, tugging on my arm. “Come on.”

I backpedaled, struggling to find my footing as the guard didn’t break his stride redirecting me. I spun and nearly tripped, but the guard’s grip held tight. My heart was beating loudly in my throat as we passed more numbered rooms than I had ever seen. I had hoped that the guard didn’t think I was resisting him. I didn’t want the pain again. My arm had grown accustomed to the tugging, and while it would be sore, there wouldn’t be any bruising this time.

“In here,” the guard said, pulling his keys out and opening the door that had no sign at the end of the hall.

“What’s happening?” I asked meekly, keeping my eyes down. “I’ll be good. Please, don’t leave me here. I’ll stop biting my nails. I promise!”

The guard didn’t reply. Instead, he pushed me through the door and slammed it behind me. At first, I panicked, thinking this another bad place at the Institution, I didn’t like the bad place, and I didn’t want to feel bad anymore, but then I saw the light was softer here. When I looked to my right, there was faded blue paint on the walls instead of the stark white of every other room I’d seen since arriving.

“Hello, James,” a voice cooed behind me. It was gentle and had a resonance to it that soothed rather than the harsh commands of the staff. I turned slowly to find a man in a gray suit with chiseled features smiling warmly at me from a couch. He registered my nervous expression in a moment. “You’re perfectly safe here, James. I just wanted to speak to you for a moment today. Please, come sit down.”

I nodded and quickly walked over, sitting on the floor across from him, keeping my eyes on his shiny black shoes.

“James, you can sit on the furniture. I promise you won’t get in trouble,” he said, but I knew that trick. I wouldn’t be tricked again. I wouldn’t have the pain again if I could help it. “Please, look at me, James.”

I shook my head. “I’m not supposed to look,” I replied as quiet as I could.

“This place is different, James,” the man said. “We have different rules here.”

I shook my head again.

“Very well,” the man said as I saw his legs move. He had shifted to the edge of the couch and now looked down on me. “My name is Doctor Matthew Hudson. I’m a doctor assigned to this facility to monitor the health and well-being of the patients. I have some questions for you if you feel up to answering some for me.”

I nodded. “I’ll answer.”

“That’s wonderful, James. Thank you for being so cooperative with this process. It’s not every day that a young man reaches maturity, you know. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather sit on the furniture across from me?” Doctor Hudson asked.

“I’m not allowed to sit on the furniture,” I repeated, images of an angry guard hitting me flashing through my mind. The brief distraction stopped me from seeing the doctor move again, this time, his hand was right next to my face, and I flinched, expecting a strike. Instead, his fingers curled around my jaw and lifted my chin gently.

“Please, look at me, James,” Doctor Hudson said as I looked straight at the ceiling.

“I don’t want the pain anymore,” I whispered. “I don’t want to break the rules.”

Doctor Hudson, moving slowly, moved to the floor in front of me. His other hand moved to the other side of my face and guided my head back down to face him squarely.

“I’m on the floor now too,” Doctor Hudson said. Even with my eyes pointing up, I could see an odd expression on his face. “Is this better?”

I had to admit. I didn’t know about any rules that stopped me from looking at people on the floor. Hesitantly, I brought my gaze down to look at him and his soft smile.

“That’s better, right?” Doctor Hudson asked. “I promise there won’t be any more pain. That part of your life is over now.”

“I just don’t want the pain,” I repeated, forcing my hand to stay at my side instead of coming up so I could bite my nails. My head twitched to the side against the doctor’s hands. I didn’t know when it had started, but the topic of pain always brought flashes of a fist coming in from the right.

“You’re safe here,” Doctor Hudson said, releasing my head gently. “Are you okay if I ask you some questions now?”

I nodded quickly but kept looking around the room, expecting a guard to come from nowhere, but the furniture was everywhere. The doctor said something, but I missed it.

“Did you hear me, James?” he asked.

“Sorry,” I replied, looking back to the floor. I knew it would come now. I knew he would call the guard in again.

“You’re okay, James. I know. A lot is going on here. It’s okay to be a little distracted. My question was, do you know how old you are?”

I shook my head.

“You’re eighteen,” he provided before continuing, “Do you know where you are?”

“The Institution,” I replied.

“Excellent, James. Do you know how long you’ve been here?” he asked.

I shook my head again. I knew I had been somewhere else before, but I couldn’t remember it well. It was just vague images of odd objects and people with no faces now. Sometimes I would dream about it, but it scared me. I would get in trouble. I knew I would be in trouble if I told anyone. The dreams were too far from the Institution.

“You’ve been here for ten years, James,” Doctor Hudson provided. “You’ve matured into a man in the time you’ve been here. You’re ripe for harvest if you don’t mind the analogy.”

“Harvest?” I repeated, confused.

“Oh, yes. With the time you’ve been here, you’ve endured many things. You know the rules now. You know the way of the world. It’s time for you to leave,” Doctor Hudson said.

“But I’m sick. I’m not well,” I protested, rocking in place as I wrapped my arms tight around myself. “The doctors all said I wasn’t well. I’m not safe to be around others. That’s why I’m here. I need to stay here.”

“You’re healthy now, James,” Doctor Hudson said. “I’m a doctor too, you realize. You were once dangerous to be around others, but now you will do good. I could tell the moment I saw you in the observation room. You’ll be a contributing member of society now. You’ve done good, James.”



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