All Stories, General Fiction

Not Criminally Responsible by Harrison Kim

You move into the world, a mind arrival, after a disturbing darkness.  First you perceive outside the body visual… another odd spot on the ceiling.  Peer at the shape, like an inner organ.  Not the spot itself, though it has a strange form, but what hides behind it, from the writing in your dream.   In this dream, you came walking through a heavy mist.  You perceived yourself moving in a swirling, grey white wash of cloud come to earth.  Then you entered the corporeal, inside a body walking from a car towards the front of a gated institution.  You understood that you possessed the persona of a staff member, approaching daily work at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital….the hospital for the criminally insane.  You walked in this persona, up a road which bridges over a dike built to repel high water, a barrier that separates the hospital from the surrounding farmland. You observed the man-made berm with the oak tree at its summit.  You stepped by the sixteen-foot-high fence and the wall cameras.  You pulled out an electronic fob and opened the blue iron gate, and entered the inner grounds. The pastel buildings lay about at diamond-shaped angles, over a small rise you perceived the Central Hall.   You looked past the staff person’s early morning bleariness and found your own motivation for walking in his shoes: the need to know the truth about yourself.  You possessed the staff’s body and followed his path, and his path led to the office of Poplar Central Ward.

There, you pulled out written records, thumbed through files, and reached your own chart.  You opened the pages, viewed classified documents with the other’s eyes.  Written on that purple cover was “Travis Hales.”  Inside, the complete police report.  Murder x1 it said.  Loud and bold. But it also read that Travis Hales “was found not criminally responsible by reason of a mental disorder.”  You know now, as the form on the wall lightens, that the central matter becomes whether you are the staff or the patient.  If you follow through another’s eyes, then you lack the central staff identity, his Forensic employee number, his name tag.  You possess only a temporary vision.  With this  awareness, the knowledge from the chart, you rise from the staff person’s body, drift down the hallways of Poplar Central Ward to Room 12, and enter the body on the bed,  that of Travis Hales.

You’re lying in that hospital bed for a good reason.  You peer again, up to the ceiling spot.  Looks like a lung, or a kidney.  An art representation of part of a familiar form.  Let the picture come clear now.  The spot represents a damaged body, a body in bits you carried in large pots around the yard, your Mom’s backyard, under the old tamarack tree and past the trellis with the flowers.

Years ago, you found pieces of robin’s eggs in the trellis. The colours looked so pretty, so you brought the pieces to your Mom.  She explained that your touch killed the eggs.   “Robin parents do not care for eggs touched by a human hand.   They abandon their nest, because of the scent.” she tells you, her voice rising.

“But I only touched the pieces!” you said.

 Mom stands up, sunken cheeked, with furrowed brow, working herself into to a yelling.

“Leave nature alone!” she shouts.  “This world makes me sick!”

 You see her again, a decade later, leaning in close to your face. “Son, do not take medication from those pill pushers.  I don’t want a zombie boy.” 

You wanted to be a true nature spirit. You obeyed your mother, spit out your medication.  She watched this and approved, and gave you handfuls of vitamins,  They did not stop the voices in your head.   Over the next few months everything became loud, and scary, then terrifying, filled with moving spots and growling commands.

“You must keep on the right path,” Mom said.  “The things of this world restrain your soul, and it struggles.  Let it be born.”

She did not hesitate to commit.  Every day she had your vitamins ready, always there. When you were ten years old, she saved your life.  She swam out into the lake and scooped you up from the deep water and onto an inner tube.  You were out of your depth with no one else around and going under.   When you turned eighteen, she took you in when everyone else kicked you out.   She lifted you up from the streets and gave you a room to stay.  Your Dad would not share his home with you.  Crystal meth kept you awake and skateboarding up and down his kitchen.  At least, skateboarding’s what you thought you were doing.  Dad said it was mostly pacing.  He worked clubs as a  late-night musician and needed his rest.  You left him and moved in with Mom.  Mom never minded the skateboarding.  She said it was only a young man working off steam.

Now, in the hospital, you feel very much sedated from last night’s injection.  That’s why it takes so long to wake up. You wanted that sedation and maybe you need more right now.  It depends how awake you become.

Concentrate only on that spot on the ceiling.  Do not move from that spot.  A far off voice calls, and calls again.  It wants to take you from your reverie.  It’s a nurse notifying medication time. The nurses can wait.  You are a grown man, 20 now, and can make your own decisions.  You need time to ponder.

The major question involves guilt.  Can you be guilty of murder if it was your possessed body acting out another’s whim?  Just as you possessed the staff member in your dream, someone or something possessed you to kill your Mom.  That’s why you are not criminally responsible.  It wasn’t you who killed her, but a hollow, diseased facsimile.  Turn around, look at something other than that ceiling spot.  When you glance back the spot seems larger. These changes compel you to blink, to study again.   You wonder if you’re still diseased.  Not guilty, but still sick.  The spot bulges.  Could it  be the alteration of the light?

Over the last few months, as the hospital staff stuck you with inter-muscular medication, you began to doubt your not criminally responsible status.  You also began to doubt the original idea of demonic possession, or if there was even an evil brother who took over your mind, as you had once believed.   You do have one real brother, Dan, who lives with your Dad and drives a delivery truck.  He came to visit you, he brought some chocolate and apples.  So he must not blame you, maybe he knows you didn’t do it.  Otherwise, he’d  wish you’d starve or die.  Maybe he believes the murder urge came from a demon hand, a sickness.

Doctor Poss says the act was no-one’s fault. This is something you’re becoming more aware of each day, as the nurses needle and give pills and talk with you about the nature of untreated mental illness.  The truth comes closer, as you are born again into a new person.

You believed your mother’s body was possessed, filled with the soul of a demon witch from hell,  and that evil soul could be vanquished by killing its physical form.    Dr. Poss blames “faulty brain chemicals”.  There are changing modes and mixtures of these brain chemicals, like right now, as you become possessed by the new, changing Travis.  Your thinking is more outward, and the voices you are hearing are not something you need to kill, like the sound of your mother screaming.  They are much softer, gentler, informative rather than commanding.  You hear the new Travis outside your mind, too,  in the voices of the nurses, or your doctor speaking to you.  He says that it wasn’t the Travis waking up today who killed his Mom.  It was the body and mind of the Travis who woke up a year ago, terrified and full of fear.  That was the Travis who ran stumbling and wild out into the garden, and through the garage, and held high the axe.  Now, over time, a different Travis has emerged.  From deep slumber, your true self has woken up, and you are meditating on a ceiling spot that represents the past and memories of a demon-destroyed life.

There is a crossover between old Travis and new Travis, because you both possessed and still possess the same memories.   These often come forth in dreams.   You hear voices from those dreams.  One voice hooks you through to the outside.  A voice of reason, that’s becoming stronger.  At least, you like to think so.  “You are not criminally responsible” it says.

It doesn’t do you good to ruminate about the axe, and the blood, and the clay pots beneath the robins’ egg trellis.  Memory sets you back.  You want to progress.  That’s the purpose of your hospital treatment.

You have remorse.  Don’t negate that.  You had so much guilt that you begged for sedatives all through the first year at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital.   You were on your knees, crying in seclusion rooms, weeping in front of the doctor and the treatment team, pleading for release of any kind from the flashbacks and the voices.  There was no crystal meth here, no cutting knives.  If you had a cutting knife, you would have tried it, the sharp slice like that of the axe, down your own arms.  Now measured medication quiets your wildness, eases the voices and the shimmering illusions, the moving spots across ceilings and walls.   After a year at the hospital you can calculate and figure out a little more as your thinking improves.  You are now able to make change with a ten-dollar bill.  You are able to concentrate enough to brush your teeth, and have a shower.  You can pick up litter, and put it in the garbage can.  You can pull on matching socks, and comb your  hair.  You are coming into the realization of what your body did without reason, under your own name.  There is only one ceiling spot now, placing itself in front of you upon your awakening.  It shimmers in the service of contemplation.  That’s what you tell yourself.

Your Dad has visited.  He says he’ll support you all the way.  He said your Mom was not to blame for the way she was, for her schizophrenia.  Dad couldn’t live with her illness, and Mom would not take  medication.  That’s why they split up, and it’s not anyone’s fault.  That’s likely where you got your sickness, Travis, from the one who saved your life.

You were ten years old.   One evening, your mother drove the Old Winnebago  up the back roads behind Adams Lake, to a lonesome beach.  You, your Mom, and her friend Angela.  From the beach you leapt splashing into deep water, towards the setting sun.  It was a child’s summer paradise, moving through the blue lake under green shining mountains, stroking forward towards the dusk.  The world felt warm from the sky to the water, and every move was a reach forward into the lake.  You swam out further and further, just to see how long your limbs could stretch under that fading summer sun.   All that season you knew a growing, changing power in your arms and legs.   You felt purpose for adventure, to move out beyond the edge of the trees,  to eye the approach of a farther shore.  The trees grew tall  by the opposite lakeside, a hazy line far off shimmering in the August heat.  Your Mom was swimming also, not too far away, yet when you turned around, she had stopped, her head a small black half-moon above the still waters. You felt driven to continue for a while, with the rush of being the lead swimmer with so much energy inside.  But then, you noticed the sun had retreated, gone behind the hills.  You spun about, in sudden awareness of the disappearing light.  As you turned,  a pain pushed into your side, growing with each kick of your legs, and push of your arms. You’d been swimming with your mind in a haze, dreaming of that far shore, not quite flying, but very close.  Now, you felt exhausted and cramped, woken up by weariness.  You had to go back, with the shore so far.  You began to cry for help, for your Mom, the one you knew best.  You waved, yelled and witnessed Angela waving back, she’d moved to a far point, but she would not swim.  She stood there, waving.  No boats motored this lake either.  The glassy blue and silver mirror surface lay flat all the way to the other side.  You pushed your arms and legs, and it was as if they were not yours any more, like something held them, and pulled hard, and no matter how you struggled and flailed, your legs would sink, your head would go under.  You’d push your face up, then it would fall beneath the water again.  You needed more air, and you could not get it.

That day, you heard the voices, loud and insistent, coming into your head from out of the deep.  “Give in, give in” they commanded, and repeated this again and again.  You peered up to the haze covered mountains and yelled for help, and sank a little more.  The more frantically you struggled and shouted, the less you stayed on the surface, and the louder the voices urged you down.  Then your Mom was there.  She arrived so fast, pushing the inflated inner tube in front.  She shoved the tube to you and you held on, picturing vividly and exactly her curly hair, the touch of her hand on your arm and across your back,  her voice breaking through, cancelling the others.  Now you see her face, in the form on the ceiling.  Very faintly, it repeats and repeats that phrase from years ago.

“Son, are you okay?  Tell me you’re okay.”

Harrison Kim

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6 thoughts on “Not Criminally Responsible by Harrison Kim”

  1. Hi Harrison.
    I thoroughly enjoyed this!
    When you read the story, you just know that the writer knows what he is talking about. Some folks try to wing experience and knowledge by throwing in a few ‘looked up’ references. The reader is put off as this falseness stands out like a politician with his sleeves rolled up!.
    It is not overly technical and in a strange way there is a simplicity and a clarity within how complex the MC’s issues are.
    There are touches in this that I have come across.
    We were the lowest of the low, we dealt with folks twenty four hours a day, it was those who saw them for ten minutes that made the decisions without any consideration of our observations or concerns on any sort of escalation.
    The first section of your story deals with detachment and the surreal nature of a schizophrenic. They can see themself looking from a distance to where they are and what they are doing. They can believe that they become someone or something else. Most drugs, as is mentioned, helps them with clarity and that small bit of focus that allows them to do daily tasks.
    The MC using other drugs causes a whole host of problems as any hallucinations could be either coming from the illness or the drug use but more than likely a mixture of both.
    The question about how responsible he was is that question for those to argue who don’t have to deal with him or more importantly, be him.
    I think you did a brilliant job in choosing that POV.
    With other submissions of this type, we’ve questioned on many occasions how clear things can be and what logic can they have? Especially, when explained from the person themself if they have drug / alcohol or mental health problems. Using the POV that you did, takes away the comprehension problem.
    There was no dwelling on the murders and I liked that, that’s not what this was about.
    This is an interesting, well told story that could very easily be used as a learning tool.


    1. Thanks, Hugh. The story was based on the experience of a particular individual I worked with, it took me about two years to get the story down right, before that, maybe five years of thinking about it, then introducing the idea of a person who kills the one who saved his life.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hugh is correct. Your writing is greatly aided by the vocations of your characters. I trust them and find them informative as well as interesting. Not once did I find myself experiencing a false tone while reading this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Irene Allison. Back in the day I had many dreams where I possessed another person’s experience and form, usually a person who told me a very intense story. It took quite a while to wake up, and looking at the ceiling kind of helped. Sometimes I’d go for long early hour walks to shake off the phantoms. Now, I can barely remember my dreams, but I sleep pretty good!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, David H. That is true enough…. he’ll never be totally ok. People like Travis can make miraculous recoveries for quite a while, as long as they realize that. Insight is a bit of a paradox.

      Liked by 1 person

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