I have only come here because I am following instructions and not the ones from my court appointed attorney. Well, maybe “instructions” is the wrong word. They are more like signs. You see, I am trying to save my soul.
How do I know there is such thing as a soul? I know because I can feel mine trying to scratch and claw its way free from the confines of my body, its prison. And I know it is a thing separate from my mind, because my mind is its tormenter. I wonder if this is what it is to be crazy?
The woman trying to find out if I’m crazy is Dr. Leeds. She has done the socially acceptable things to make me comfortable: body-temp water in a paper cup, skin-so-soft handshake, flat-lined voice as uniform as her teeth. As she pulls some cards from her desk, she is using her voice, but I am concentrating on those teeth. They are bringing me closer to clarity than her words can.
I lift my fingers to press my own teeth and then walk them around the mask of my skin. Pressing harder, I feel the bone, the skull, the eye sockets. Hm. This is all that will be left of me one day. A skull like those in the science books and museums which have been excavated and displayed for the purpose of teaching, of learning. Of learning that time marches on. That we exist in a blink of an eye.
I jump. She has cleared her throat loudly. This means she is unhappy, and I need to pay attention to her. I will try.
She pulls up a chair beside me. “Okay, Mr. Collins. I’m going to place a card in front of you, and I want you to tell me your first impression of it, all right?”
I want to touch her teeth. They are so close now. I grip my hands together and nod instead.
Her sun-freckled arm moves smoothly to place the card in front of me, and I feel my soul fling itself violently at its cage, its wings beating my ribs. My chair scrapes the wood flooring as I thrust myself back from the image on the card. I can feel the heat of her stare now which means I have done something wrong. I feel myself shrinking, sucked inward by the vortex of her disappointment.
“Why don’t you tell me what you see?”
I shake my head vigorously as I watch the black ink splotches unfold their wings, their beaks screaming, trying to rip free from the face of death placed between them. The black face of death grips them like a vice between his teeth. I know there is no escape.
“Okay, we’ll just move on then.” She takes the screaming birds away and places a second card in front of me.
Blood. Blood everywhere! I begin to shake and look away. My skin is becoming slick with fear. I stare at the starchy white curtains behind her desk. I try to make my mind a white space, too.
“Mr. Collins? Mr. Collins? Are you all right?”
I can smell her worry. It smells like lemons. It breezes through my mind, quieting it. My soul quivers in its cage, exhausted.
“Okay. Why don’t we just talk for a bit.” She returns to her place behind the desk and slips the cards back in a drawer.
I know what I have to do now. Those cards were given to me as a path to the last image I need to see. A path to the answer. The signs are always so clever. I feel my lips pulling away from my teeth in what I believe to be a smile. By the look on Dr. Leeds paling face, I am wrong.
The gun is heavier and cooler in my hand than it was in my jacket pocket. She screams as she pushes herself away from the desk, trying to put distance between her and death. It is the scream of the black birds. I pull the trigger. The loud bang silences the screams. The smell of burnt powder and flesh, the tang of blood replaces the smell of lemons.
I barely notice the late doctor’s secretary open the door and stumble back out of the room.
Dr. Leeds’ soul is free now. It has flown from the hole in her chest. I can’t help myself. I lean over her and run my finger under her lip. Her teeth are hard like bone and still damp. Then I see it. The last sign! I scoot backwards and stare at the blood splatter on the white curtains. She has sacrificed herself to give me one last image. Her blood is alive, running like veins along the fabric, spelling out words for me. Instructions, after all. Of course! I am in charge of my own destiny. Escape is possible. Thank you, Dr. Leeds.
I hold the still warm gun barrel to my chest and free my own soul.