About 'The Fractured Man'
A story about an illness. The illness could be any related to anxiety, where a person puts on a brave face to the world but is suffering from inner turmoil. At the extreme end of the spectrum it can result in madness of sorts, but just before this point is reached a person can still exist in society if they are fortunate in certain ways - being financially secure one of them.
The premise of this story is that this person's mind has fractured somewhat. His outward persona has taken on a form of its own. This antagonistic and nasty persona keeps everyone at bay. The man hates his condition and imparts part of the blame on the persona itself. The intense loathing of his condition manifests as the discourse between the two characters.
It will not appeal to many, that is for sure, but it will strike a chord with some I should think. It is spooky and disturbing - as it is meant to be, but unless you have suffered from anxiety you will in all likelihood think it laughable.
I have chosen a Dickensian time period to add a little atmosphere.
The Fractured Man
Imagine the dead of night in Old London Town, where a solitary figure is seen to enter a horse drawn carriage. The man's visage is quite hideous in that his face is nothing more than a white mask with large, empty sunken eyes. He is otherwise attired in a top hat and cape befitting the era. As he takes his seat he takes hold of the white mask and with a flick of his arm casts it to the other side of the empty cab where it takes on a complete form of its own. The man and this being then take part in a heated discussion, with the ghost like entity defending its existence.
'Why do you treat me with so little respect? Do I not cosset and caress you so? Am I not worthy as a friend - that at least?', the ghost implores.
The man just sits there, with his eyes closed, seemingly exhausted. The ghost continues ...
'Rest - yes, rest. I will protect you from all harm. I give my strength and vigour freely'.
The man stirs and looks up into the empty orbs: 'I know who you are and where your strength comes from. A leech draws its sustenance from the host, and a leech you are - as well you know'.
'Come now. Without me you would have no life at all. Am I not worth a little of your soul to feed upon? Who but me cares so deeply for another and yet you harbour a grudge? Should I leave, what then? Will you not despair and fall into ruin? You know the fate that awaits you should your fall be so low.'
The man slumps a little in consideration, appearing browbeaten, dropping his gaze to the cabin's floor.
'As I care for you should you not care for me?', the ghost's wavering arms reach out.
The man becomes surprisingly animated ...
'Begone, foul thing. Your touch disgusts me. I will not live under your shadow till the end of time. I will not. There is a future for me where you are no longer needed. Where your strength is my strength once again. I have been free of you before and I will be free of you again.'
'A friend I am and a friend I will always be. Free of me, you say? Where is the sense in that? Strength, I am. Resistance, I am. Resolve, I am. There is no separation for the likes of us. Crush me if you must. Hide me if you must. But both of us know we are as one. Therefore why be so intolerant towards that which gives you a semblance of life? To be so scornful makes no sense. I embrace you warmly as a parent to a child. Can you not spare a fond action or thought in reply?'
The cab trundles along the dark streets. No-one is about as it is the early hours of the morning, even so the man feels drawn to looking out of the window, though in a highly furtive manner. Both his sight and hearing are in a constant state of heightened alert, allowing him no respite to his uneasy agitation.
The ghost waits silently ...
A tension is apparent in the man's demeanour. A separate inner struggle is going on. Suddenly his eyes light up with apparent hope. A vestige of the past swathes his features altering his countenance to one that appears younger and less stressful. A dagger-like anger beams from his eyes, though when he turns his head towards the ghost the worry lines instantly return.
'Can't you leave me be? I wish to share the love of others - the concern of others, and to feel the air on my skin in pastures new without having to look over my shoulder all of the time. Can you not grant me that? If you love me as you say then why are you still here? Who can live with an aberration keeping life at bay? You know how much I yearn for peace. Why do you not give it me? Am I to live the rest of my life in barren isolation? I have tasted freedom and so have you, as I know who you are.'
The ghost appears thoughtful and with some trepidation, consideration even, weighs its reply carefully before answering. Finally it speaks:
'It is not I who trembles day or night. It is not I who has spent so long in anguish. I am not to blame. I am here to protect you from yourself. My task is clear to me and I keep steadfastly to my duties. I will not depart or stray from my calling. Misguided anger does not hold the key. It is understanding you require. Will you be free of me entirely? No, I dare say you will not. My advice, a gift even, is to impart this knowledge: without help of any sort a solution will not be forthcoming, therefore only an iron will and heady intellect can keep your demons at bay. This you know deep down and this is all you will ever have. I, though, will always hover close by ready to come to your aid. You must acknowledge this if you want to be free of my presence directly. But, if you really want me to go, I will. Just say the word and I will be gone. But I will never leave you entirely - after all it is I who loves you more than any'.
The man lurches forward, waving his arm wide in an effort to swat away the steamy figure before him.
'Be gone. Leave me be. I am a man. A man of stature and bearing. I do not need such a crutch. A prisoner I will no longer be to the likes of you'.
The vapour separates and disappears. The ghost is gone.
Breathing a sigh of relief he sits back in his seat, feeling lighter as if a worrisome burden has been lifted from his shoulders. He smiles and momentarily shuts his eyes. After a while the noise of the rolling cab and the realisation of the onset of the journey's end becomes apparent to him. Once again he looks out of the cab window, but this time with confidence. The invigorating feeling remains with him. It feels so good to be alive, and the thought of mixing in company again seems so pleasant. The cab's wheels keep on turning.
Some time passes and the man becomes more aware of his surroundings - the cold night air bites at an exposed arm so he rearranges his clothes ready for departure. The elation he felt is waning, but enough remained to keep his spirits high. The cab bounces and rocks on the uneven roads and each jolt brings the man further back to the situation at hand: he is in a strange cab, being driven by a strange man to a place where he would be left alone to fend for himself. Child's play with his new found confidence. Nothing to worry about in the slightest, but a tiny bit of doubt creeps into his mind; just a smidgen, but to be ignored for now. He wondered how far was left to travel?
Why was he out and about at this time of night? What was so urgent an errand? Nothing of any note. Nothing that couldn't have been settled quite easily in a modern age, but this was a time before such a convenience, where only face to face transactions carried any weight, and with this particular business dealing only his attendance and signature would suffice; even so this had been arranged for the dead of night, when the risk of meeting unwanted strangers was at its lowest. The plan had worked well so far, but now the cab had travelled to unfamiliar surroundings.
The wheels of the cab stopped turning. The streets were empty at this juncture. He would take a jaunty walk and meet up with the cab again at the proposed destination, which was just a few blocks away. Donning his cap, whilst leaving the cab with glee, he went on his way quite joyously, determined to enjoy his new found and glorious freedom.
At the first turning he was met with the one thing he was now grateful to see - people. They were a long ways off admittedly, but people they undoubtedly were. Some revellers disembarking from an establishment and making quite a row whilst doing so too. 'How much fun they must be having', he thought. 'Such a long time since I have done anything similar'. He was looking forward to hearing the ribaldry.
It seemed others had left the party a little earlier and were walking along on his side of the street directly towards him. The nearer they became the less confident he felt, but it was nothing to be worried about - not now anyway, but nevertheless there was something bothering him.
The distance between the couple and himself whittled down to nothing at all and he politely voiced his greeting as they passed, but nothing came in reply, only the strange look he had very often seen before. Why? He wasn't as he used to be. He was totally different now - liberated - the same as everyone else - or was he? His newly found backbone began to crumble as quickly as it had formed. The party animals, who appeared so attractive to him not so very long ago, now seemed as attractive as a dose of bubonic plaque. Nothing but pain would be gleaned from such an encounter he reasoned. Where was he and where was his intended destination?
A terrible, deep panic set it in. Thankfully, it was only a street or so away. All he had to do was make another fifty or so houses. He could do that - he had to. What other alternative was there? Two minutes seemed like two hours. By keeping his head and eyes down he had managed to circumvent the noisy gathering all the while wondering if they looked at him as each glance would be as a dagger thrown. The house and cab were but a few footsteps away.
Entering the cab was as if being embraced by a mother's reassuring arms. The ghost had been right all along. Gathering his thoughts he sighed, closing his eyes for a while, finally stirring to hold out an outstretched hand, and portraying gratitude, along with an air of resignation, spoke softly to the accumulating wisp: 'Come, friend. We have work to do'.