This story is by Alan Kennamer and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Classic Schizophrenia his doctor had said. The onslaught of distinct voices, their emotions and their needs overwhelmed him. The competition for dominance never eased, yet he had to discover a way to keep the disparate speakers quiet.
“It’s not fair. I’m just as talented as she is.” One voice careened into Michael’s ears like a piece of wood on a raging river, relentless in its intensity. He pictured a woman, vibrant yet melancholy, fierce yet meek, confident yet pessimistic. Her voice a stage for contradiction.
“I can make you do it. Make you believe.” Another voice, this one high pitched, whiny, and tinged with bile. Male. Angry. Aggressive. It pierced Michael’s ears like no other, distracted him from his focus.
“Help… help… help…” that one word, over and over, never ceasing, a waterfall of desperation. This voice was soft yet persistent. The lone word intermixed with all others, a constant echo in the cacophony.
More voices, more discussions, more contradictions, more more more. He closed his eyes, an unthinking reaction when the speakers overwhelmed him.
He looked around the room; the walls were bright and cheery, rosy pink with coral accents. This color scheme helped him stay positive and promoted tranquility. Other times he favored darker hues, the blackness cloaking and shielding him from his suffering, while blue shades calmed him, eased his misery.
No art hung on the four walls, a simplistic approach to dealing with the tumult. A bed sat unmade in one corner, a reminder that chaos reigned. With focus, he could enforce order, make everything neat and clean, every aspect of the room perfect. Yet perfection harbored harshness, and he preferred the clutter and disorganization, the rounded corners insisting a balance could be found. A framed picture of him and his sister Marcia rested on the table, her smile bright and toothy, a stark contrast to his scowl.
A lone window overlooked a courtyard filled with fauna and flora, lush in the heat of summer, promising relief and comfort. Michael sat in his dark-brown leather recliner and watched the people stroll past, none looking his way. How do they do it? How can they just walk by, soak in the warmth and drape themselves in the comfort of the shadows and ignore the clamor?
It had always been like this, the voices insistent and disorganized, not moving toward a central purpose. At fourteen, he met with a psychiatrist who diagnosed his condition. She prescribed medication, but the side effects dulled his mind and could not counteract the auditory assaults.
“Create your Primary voice. It will be the one above all others. The one that will reign in the discord in your mind,” she said.
“But how? It’s so hard to concentrate!”
“Determine the one characteristic you deem the most valuable, the one that will cut through the noise and confusion. This one that will instill order to the many internal points of view.”
It took years of practice and trial and error to find his Primary, but at age 25, he found a solution: a white canvas. Not for painting; rather, a technological canvas, one he could manipulate with a thought, one that would elicit calm and focus. One that would allow the Primary to take control and make sense of the chatter. His room was a construct of his imagination, a retreat when the pressure and voices became unmanageable.
Yet this time, the scene in his mind was different. No door led back to reality, the window unmovable and unbreakable. The voices pummeled him from all directions, the varying tones and disjointed context confusing him, plunging him deeper into despair. “He can’t do it. Not strong enough,” one voice mocked, a speaker he hadn’t heard before, yet who spoke with a confidence he couldn’t ignore.
The individual words sped up, began to overlap and became lounder, rendering it impossible for him to decipher the embedded meaning. “… Ice-cream… Shipping… Warrant for your arrest… Cute….” The pressure mounted, a persistence that enveloped him like a wet blanket, heavy and suffocating. Escape. He changed the color scheme with a focused thought, deep reds to help him ramp up his own energy, but it only caused the voices to increase in intensity. Another change to shades of brown for simplicity and security, the earthy scheme designed to overcome complex influences. Escape. Another shift, gray highlights this time, his mind screaming for discipline. He thought of positive affirmations designed to help him gain control. Yet nothing worked. Trapped; he needed to find a way out.
He closed his eyes again as the dizzying shifts overwhelmed the Primary. Inhale… exhale. Inhale calmness and peace. Exhale turbulence and discord. He repeated this silent mantra, yet the desired quiet did not materialize.
He opened his eyes and searched for any change in the room, any subtle discrepancy, one that he could use to leverage a way out. The walls were lime green now and pulsed brighter and dimmer at static intervals. Still no door, but the scene outside had changed. Gone was the sunshine, the cloud-cover diffusing the light. Gone were the plants and shrubs that just minutes ago had provided shelter and security for the passersby. In its place stood hundreds of people crammed together, each person’s mouth moving, but he was unable to decipher the meaning from individual speakers as their words tripped over each other’s. “Helpcheesereportingoods….”
The voices grew louder, more insistent. The glowing walls echoed his own heartbeat, the thudthudthud in his ears unable to drown out verbal deluge.
ESCAPE! He screamed, yet the volume wasn’t enough to break through. How can I force the quiet to return? What is the solution? On the table next to the recliner, the picture changed. His sister no longer smiled. Her eyes had grown larger, and her mouth moved in exaggerated gestures. He put his hands over his ears and leaned closer to the picture and tried to hear her gentle and musical voice, but the other mouthpieces drowned hers out. He watched her mouth’s exaggerated movements and was able to decipher her message.
“… of you. Do not lose hope. I am here for you. I am proud of you.” Those sentences repeated until her familiar voice rose above the others, a clarion call in the chatter. He grabbed the frame with both hands and held it near his eyes, blotting out the visual cornucopia of the walls and the people beyond the window. Stronger her voice grew, the extraneous noise dissipating by degrees, her melody the anchor he needed to regain control.
He sealed his eyes, her words audible above all others. The green light penetrated his eyelids, yet slower now, more controlled. His Primary voice spoke then, adding to his sister’s mantra. “I will succeed. I am in control. I will find a way.”
While still seated in the recliner, he focused his mind and his will on creating a door. He blocked out all other thoughts, including his sister. The pressure lessened, the voices dissipated; his Primary was in charge. Peace, calm, and control. He had won the battle.
He opened his eyes.
The bay window was gone, replaced by an observation window through which a group of people in white coats leered at him. He was still seated; the cushions of the chair hugged his body. The chair itself reminded him of one in a dentist’s office. He looked down at his arms and saw the restraints; the leather straps with cotton lining had chafed his wrists as if he had been struggling. A group of electrodes and wires attached to his chest restricted his movements like a straitjacket. Grey, sterile, and unemotional walls surrounded him.
His sister stood next to him and held his hand, tear streaks on her cheeks, her toothy grin a welcome sight. A bead of sweat dripped into his eye, and a kaleidoscope of color and blur enveloped the surrounding scene. He had escaped.
“Tell me, Michael. What happened? Are you ok?” Marcia’s voice was steady, clear, and pure. No other chatter infiltrated his mind; it was her voice, no others.
“I’ve found it. The solution. It was you all the time.”
“Me? How could I?”
“Your persistence. Your love. Your empathy.”
“So your voices are gone now?” Marcia wiped a tear from her cheek and squeezed his hand harder.
“No. They’ll never be gone. But I can control them. And I was right: they aren’t mine. They’re everyone’s.”
“Everyone’s? What do you mean?”
“People have external and internal voices; one they speak and one they think. They don’t sound the same. But your voices are pure and consistent and was the key to the solution. I have been hearing their internal voices all along, not different personalities inside my own mind. That was the revelation. And you guided me.”