Planets. Colors. One amazing hat. This photo was sent to me by Australian children’s book author Linda Lokhee, and I love everything about it! The other cool thing? This is one of her own photographs! Being a complete nerd for all things space, I was really excited to come up with a story based off this pic 🙂 I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Oh! And be sure to check out Linda’s children’s book on her website, http://www.lindalokhee.com!
“I found him!” Doctor Cassie LaRue yelled across the small park to the psychiatric nurse practitioner that was helping her look for the missing patient. When Cassie was sure the nurse, Cora, had heard her, she turned and took a deep breath.
Wade Carson was sitting on a stretch of railing, staring with unblinking eyes at the wall in front of him. As Cassie moved closer, the wall came into view, and she shook her head. It was some kind of space mural, one with stars and planets, though not from the earth’s solar system.
“Wade,” she said, voice low and quiet as she approached her patient.
If Wade heard her voice, he didn’t acknowledge it.
When Cassie was within a couple of feet of him, she turned and rested her back against the railing, keeping her body relaxed even as she mentally prepared to reach out and grab hold of him should he try to run.
Cora soon joined them, and she mimicked Cassie’s position on the rail. That was why Cassie loved the nurse so much. She was totally chill even if crisis situations. Like a runaway patient.
“Isn’t it beautiful,” Wade murmured. A tear was forming in the corner of his right eye.
“It is beautiful,” Cassie affirmed. “Someone very talented must have painted this.”
“That’s my home.”
“No, Wade. That’s not your home. Your home is right here in Portland. That’s just a painting.”
The tear that had been forming slipped down Wade’s cheek.
“Why does no one believe me? I’m telling you, that’s my home.” He sniffed and brushed at the moisture on his face.
“Wade, it’s time to go back to the hospital.”
“I don’t want to go back there. Why do I have to go back there?”
“We talked about this. You know why. You stopped taking your medication. Someone found you wandering the streets in the middle of the night, talking about how you’re an alien. You can’t do that, Wade. We need to get you back on your medication, wait a few days to make sure there are no side effects. Then, you can go back home. OK?”
“You can’t make me stay there.”
“No, but your wife can. She’s worried about you, Wade. She wants you to take your medication.”
Wade turned angry eyes to Cassie and said, “She’s not my wife. She’s an imposter.”
“Well, if you felt that way, maybe you shouldn’t have said ‘I do’ eight years ago.”
“No one believes me,” Wade whispered as he lowered his head and shook it slowly back and forth.
It took another half an hour of convincing, with Cora helping the conversation along, before Wade allowed himself to be led across the street to Portland Central Hospital.
“Remember,” Cassie told him as they got him settled back in his room, “when the nurse comes by, you have to take the medicine she gives you. And you’re allowed to go visit at the nurse’s station, or walk around, or whatever. But you have to stay in this wing, ok? No trying to escape again.”
Wade turned his head away from her and looked out the window without answering. Cassie sighed and walked out of the room.
“How did he get out anyway,” Cora asked when Cassie was out in the hallway with her.
“No idea. They’re still looking into it. Going over the footage. Hopefully we’ll find out soon.”
“You know I’m not prone to the supernatural,” Cora began, and Cassie groaned. “But the way he was looking at that mural, the way he talked about it, man, it was so real.”
“He has schizophrenia, Cora. You know that. You’ve seen dozens of patients with the exact same thing.”
“That’s why I can say that he seems different.”
“He’s got hallucinations. Delusions. Thought disorders. Little communication. Trouble focusing. Positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms. Textbook case. And don’t forget his grandfather also had it.”
“Well then how did he hear that conversation the nurses were having last night. They said they were whispering about Amy’s mom, and he asked her about it when she went in for rounds.”
“I’m sure he was out roaming around and was close enough to hear.”
“No, they said he didn’t leave his room all night.”
“Ok, then, how about he knew that Jules was going through a break-up, even though she didn’t say anything about it to anyone.”
“So you’re calling him a mind reader now?”
“He’s probably an empath. They have an uncanny way at picking up on what other people are going through. Seriously, Cora, I really respect you as a nurse. Don’t start losing it on me.” Cassie gave her a long look, then went to check up on her other patients.
The next day, Cassie wanted to bang her head into her desk when the call went out that Wade had managed to make his way out of the psychiatric ward again.
“How does he do that?” she asked Cora, who was already standing to her feet.
“Aliens can do whatever they want.”
Instead of dignifying that with a response, Cassie brushed past the nurse and headed for the wing’s exit.
Wade was right back in front of the mural again, the same longing look on his face that had been there the day before. He was quite a sight sitting there in broad daylight in the blue, flannel pajamas his wife had dropped off for him. His hair was a mess, and he hadn’t had a shave in days.
Some mothers eating with their children at a nearby table were casting him furtive glances out of the corners of their eyes. Cassie smiled politely at them, then turned her full attention to Wade.
“Wade, buddy, I thought we talked about this,” she said, leaning against the rail in the exact same way she had the day before.
As with the day before, he ignored her first attempt at conversation.
Since he wasn’t in a talkative mood, Cassie took a closer look at the mural. At the large, pink, white, and orange planets sitting in close proximity to each other. Stars and nebulae were spread out in between them, creating quite a pleasing picture. She could almost feel as if she was floating through that expanse of space.
“I can see why you’re drawn to it,” she said. “So many colors. So much power. So much beauty.”
“I want to go home,” Wade said in response.
“As soon as you’re safely back on your meds, we’ll call for your wife to come pick you up and take you home.”
“Not that fake home.” He shook his head in agitation. “My real home.” He pointed at the mural.
“Wade…” Cassie trailed off, then she looked up at his face, still full of longing. “Why don’t we take a little walk?”
“To the hospital?”
“Not just yet. I was thinking around the park.”
After a pause, Wade nodded and slipped off of the railing.
For five minutes or so, they strolled around the park in silence, but not an awkward one. The day was beautiful, and there was a lot to observe.
When Wade seemed comfortable next to her, Cassie decided it was time to question him.
“If you’re an alien,” she started, “how did you get here?”
“I…” His face screwed up in concentration. “I can’t remember.”
“Ok, then. Why are you here?”
Again, that concentrated look, then a shake of the head.
“I don’t remember that either.”
“What is your home planet called?”
After so much uncertainty in his other questions, Cassie was surprised at his abrupt response with the name.
“Andoline?” she repeated.
“Yes. Well, at least that is the English translation for it. It’s a bit different in my native tongue.”
“Your native tongue?” An uneasy feeling crept up Cassie’s spine. “Can you still speak this native tongue?”
“Of course!” He then began to rattle off something that was far, far from any earth sounding language.
Cassie stopped and turned to look at him while he continued to speak in the alien language. When he was finished, he looked back at her and smiled.
“Isn’t it a pretty language?” he asked.
“Dr. LaRue!” It was Cora. She had spotted them and began a casual-looking, fast walk in their direction.
Trying to shake off the uneasy feeling from her surprising turn in conversation with Wade, Cassie gave a wave in Cora’s direction and said, “We should get back now, Wade.”
The man sighed in resignation, his head falling forward, but he followed after her.
They were about halfway down a fairly steep incline in the path when Wade reached out and wrapped himself around Cassie as someone behind them shouted, “Look out!”
When his grip was firm, Wade leapt to the side with Cassie in tow, narrowly saving them from being plowed into from behind by a man on a bicycle that was clearly no longer in control of his mode of transportation.
“Sorry!” The cyclist yelled over his shoulder as his bike continued to race forward.
“Are you ok?” Wade asked as he released her.
Cassie, breathing hard, nodded her head up and down and placed a hand over her heart.
“I’m fine,” she said shakily.
“Are you ok?” It was Cora’s turn to ask the question, worry heavy in her voice as she ran up to them.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Cassie repeated. “Let’s just get back to the hospital. I think we’ve all had enough excitement for one day.”
When Wade was settled back in his room, Cora came excitedly up to her and said in an excited whisper, “Dr. LaRue, I saw it! How fast he moved! He was like a blur! He saved you!”
“The bike! It was coming up on you guys so fast! I couldn’t even react! But it’s like, somehow he knew it was there, and he moved so fast! He saved you!”
“Ok, yes, sure. He saved me from a little bit of bruising. How heroic.” Cassie rolled her eyes. “It was adrenaline induced reaction, Cora. Anyone could have done the same thing. Quick reflexes do not an alien make.”
“You’re not convinced at all?”
“He pulled me out of the way of an oncoming bicycle. Have him stop a train. Fly. Take a bullet without injury. Slice through metal with laser eyes. Then I’ll believe you.”
“He’s not Superman.”
“No? Superman was an alien, right? If this guys is, too, I want Superman-like proof.”
Cassie ended the conversation by walking around Cora. She tried to look calm as she did, but inside, she couldn’t get rid of a nagging concern. Trying to push aside the unease, she pulled out her phone.
Later in the day, she was called to Wade’s room. He was having an episode. When Cassie walked in, his hands were pushing against either side of his head as if he were trying to crush his own skull. That didn’t seem to be bringing him any ease, because he began to pound his head with tight fists.
“Get them out!” he shouted. “Make them stop talking to me!”
Cassie rushed up with Cora, and the two of them tried to grab hold of his flailing arms.
“Wade!” Cassie yelled, trying to get through to him. “Stop it! You’re going to hurt yourself!”
“I can’t take it! Why are they talking to me?”
Two male orderlies ran in, and with their added strength, they were able to get Wade’s arms down and strapped to the bed. While the nurses were restraining him, Cassie prepared a chlorpromazine injection and pushed the needle into Wade’s skin. Within a few seconds, he began to still.
They were all breathing like they had run a race and sweating hard by the time the patient was still. Cassie turned to Cora and crossed her arms.
“Voice talking to him? Do aliens have a way to communicate with each other mentally? Were the mean aliens bullying him?”
“Ok, ok,” said Cora, mimicking the doctor’s crossed arms. “I never said I thought for sure he was an alien. All I said was that he was different from some of the other patients.” She looked over at Wade. “Though I guess not as different as I thought,” she muttered.
When Cassie went to check on Wade the next day, his face was pale, and he looked like he hadn’t gotten much sleep.
“How you doing today, Wade?” Cassie asked him, placing a hand on his shoulder.
Wade turned haunted eyes up at her and swallowed hard.
“Are you what?”
“Am I really…crazy?”
“You aren’t crazy, Wade. You have a condition. Schizophrenia. And it can be controlled. I promise. You just have to take your medication. Don’t you want to be well? Don’t you want to stop the voices in your head?”
“Yes,” he whispered. “What about the language? I can speak this alien language.”
“Wade.” Cassie shook her head. “It’s gibberish. No pattern to it. The same sounds repeated over and over again. Look, next time you hear those voices or think you can speak some alien language, just keep telling yourself it’s not real, ok? Don’t let it control you. Fight back. I know you can beat this. Will you try? Will you work with me on this?”
“I will. I want to get better.”
“Good. One last thing. Your wife has been through a lot. Take it easy on her, ok? She loves you. A lot. She wants you to get better and come home.”
Cassie smiled at him and gave him a reassuring pat on the arm.
“The first step in recovery,” she said, “is accepting your condition and being willing to fight back. I’m proud of you, Wade. I’ll be back later when your wife gets here so we can all discuss future treatment plans in more detail.”
Later that evening, after her shift was over, Cassie went back to the park and sat on the bars in front of the mural. She studied the colorful planets again, the images spreading a happy warmth through her chest. How she longed to see those beautiful orbs again with her own eyes. One day she would. One day she’d go home. The humans had given such a boring name to her galaxy, the one furthest from their own puny solar system. MACS0647-JD. She knew it by a much more majestic name, one which had no translation in any of Earth’s languages.
A familiar sensation in her head had her smiling, and she let the voice in.
“You seem to be in a good mood,” the male voice said in the same language Wade had been going off in earlier. Wade’s words had merely described the beauty of the day. The voice in her head would be sharing something much more valuable.
“He’s really starting to think he’s sick,” she replied in her head. “We’re almost there. Your people tormenting him earlier really helped. How did you get into his mind without his permission, though?”
“He let us right on in. Probably thought we were going to confirm for him that he wasn’t from Earth. So gullible. That’s why he had no right to rule Andoline.”
“I couldn’t agree more.”
“You’re doing good work. Just a little longer. Get him to accept that planted wife of his, and I’ll let you return home.”
“Looking forward to it.”
Cassie felt the voice leave her head, and she smiled again. She’d get Wade to accept his wife. She’d make sure he fell head over heels. Then she’d stage some kind of boring, quiet death for herself and be free from this planet.
Just a little longer. Just a little longer.