Chapter 1 – Jaciam

Tak-tak-clip-tak… the sound of high heels echoed down the bright corridor. A few white-coated staff looked up from their business in expectation to the feminine footsteps, murmuring ‘good-mornings’ and offering the usual customary smile. The feline psychiatrist accepted their compliments with the usual nod. The long curls of hair she had swept up into a bun for the sake of professionalism, with a pencil tucked into the bun for safekeeping.

The Schmerzen asylum discouraged individuality of staff members, so Luisia had given up her makeup for prescription glasses and traded in her designer clothes for a starch white uniform, too striking against the darkness of her appearance. Everyone on the staff force, from the guards who kept watch at the entrances to the cafeteria ladies wore such uniforms. Aside from small differences, they all appeared to be members of a white nunnery, and the atmosphere was not unlike. Sometimes Lusia, or as she was known professionally, Dr. Kuin, felt as though she might be the insane one when making her way through this part of the asylum, because most of the patients in this wing had the freedom to wear what they wished.

Of all the wings in the entire ward Dr. Kuin favored this one. Its white, marbled walls were golden with morning light that flooded from the windows overlooking an open courtyard. The gardens that were planted by patients where still glinting with moisture, illuminated by the sunrise peeking over the surrounding spires of the ward. Even now, as she passed a few doors of the patients, the psychiatrist could almost hear them rousing themselves from the bedsheets. Everything in the atmosphere seemed to be filled with an uplifting hope; as visible and as the optimistic of the high-pillared ceiling.

This wing of the asylum quartered the “safe” patients. These patients where, if you met them, could seem almost normal. Most of them where trying to sign their release forms and had their suitcases packed and waiting at their bedside. In fact, some of the patients should have left a while ago; there were even a handful patients that where not mentally ill, but serious drug addicts that only needed professional help. Yet, to have a full corridor of patients in a ward meant more funding from the federal government… and the asylum liked to delay their patients as long as possible. Besides, patients were not much trouble. Ramped on a schedule that told them when to eat (8 AM) until lights were to be turned off (9 PM), there weren’t any idle moments for the patients… or the staff.

For Dr. Kuin, today was evaluation day. Her job was to go around and give a personal interview of most of the patients of the ward. Not that the patients were not already being evaluated every day, but her process was more official. Dr. Kuin would compare her notes to see how the patients progressed in their illness from the last evaluation, and depending on that, the patients would either be emitted into a “safer” ward or to a more “unstable” ward. Hopefully the former. Typically, she would wait until later until she began such interviews, but there where simply too many patients to go through in the short time span she had from to breakfast to lights out (and patients do not like having their evaluations skipped). She wanted to begin her day with the patients that seemed most promising to leave the facility, instead of later in the afternoon when her good humor would be nullified from the patients in the more unstable wards.

Dr. Kuin flipped the front page of her busy clipboard. The first person that on her evaluation list went by the name of Jaciam Katiyen. You would think that a psychiatrist would invite the patient into a private room somewhere in the ward to which she could bombard them with personal questions… perhaps give them some paperwork to fill out, and so on. This she didn’t like to do at all, it was much too impersonal. She liked to be with the patient one-on-one, and see how they where faring in their own space, less corrupted by nervousness. To the patient, she reasoned, it would be more agreeable to be able to have the psychiatrist over like a guest, instead of themselves coming to them as like beggars to a pulpit. That’s what separated Dr. Kuin from her fellow psychiatrists on the board, and she was formally known as the “good lady” to some of the more unstable of patients in other wards.

She made her way to the end of the hall and paused at the last white door. With her clipboard at her side, she knocked gently on the door with her free hand.

As usual, Jaciam had awoken early that morning, even before the rose-plaited rays of the sun had touched the tips of the dew-struck plants in the garden. It was always dark when she woke up, because she worked best in the lonely hours of the morning, drawing and then retiring for several hours of sleep, getting up and drawing and then napping. This was a cycle she repeated many times over the course of the night while the other patients were sleeping. It seemed that Jaciam needed less sleep than normal people, and this was something that she considered with  mixed feelings. While it was a blessing because she had more time to draw, which was the only thing anymore that ever made her happy, it was also a curse because sleeping was the most absolute and complete way that she could escape from the confines of her body.

Once she had made her bed of crisp white sheets, the paint chipping from the creaking, alabaster bars above her pillow, Jaciam exchanged her cotton nightclothes for something more appropriate for public wear. Shelving away her folded pajamas, she decided on a stark white v-neck long-sleeve and old jeans that were frayed at the bottoms. She never cared that much about clothing; even though patients in this ward were allowed to choose from the clothes they were permitted to bring to the institution, she had never considered clothing a legitimate expression of her individuality. Similarly, Jaciam rarely wore any form of jewelry. What did such superficial things really say about a person?

She turned to scrutinize her face in the mirror with dissatisfaction and tiredness etched in her unnaturally bright teal eyes. The crack at the uppermost right corner of the mirror mocked her, threatening to split her reflection into bipolar halves so that her image would reflect how shattered she truly felt.

The gryphon was covered with a layer of dark violet down plumage. Zigzag black designs arced from the narrow tips of her eyes, down her cheeks, neck, shoulders, and arms. This pattern was the only thing she truly liked about her appearance. Her gaze traveled to her black hair, which she had brushed and braided that morning. Her hair was a constant source of dissonance and discontent for her. She had attempted many times in the past to keep it short so as to keep it out of her face while she painted, but due to the flyaway nature of its constitution, it had decided to flaunt its disobedience anyways. She consequently grew tired of trying to control her mischievous tresses and let it grow out. It now was the length of her shoulder blades, but Jaciam always kept it bound in a tight braid. It seemed that only after she gave up could she have any control over her hair.

Her great purple wings shifted uncomfortably in response to her negative scrutiny. The muscles of her upper back that attached to her pinions were atrophied flat, a sign of neglect. They were a constant reminder of her failure of a flying creature, for she was terrified of heights. It didn’t matter in this place anyways, for when she had arrived, they had dipped the tip of her flight feathers in liquid metal. The metal had dried, giving the tips of her feathers the impression that they were encased in silvery knife sheaths. This was to prevent her from flying away during their exercise time outside, during which Jaciam only spent playing morosely with the grass anyways. She would never attempt to fly again; she was sure of that.

Jaciam settled down at her desk with pale orange light illuminating her meager space. With another frown itching on her features, she studied what she had done last night, which she now had absolutely no memory of doing. Everything she did, every movement she made, every sentence she spoke, was disconnected from the world in the strangest of ways. She was a ghost standing beside the stranger of her body, an alien in a world that seemed so damned familiar to everyone else.

As she began to erase the pencil marks she had made only hours before, a knock cracked into her consciousness and Jaciam dropped the eraser. Though it was a gentle sound, she had been acutely startled, her pupils pinning wildly. Jaciam waited for a moment, then pushed back the chair with a scraping sound and stood up.

Once she opened the door with hands that were almost more furred than feathered, Jaciam’s eyes swept the stranger’s face hungrily, almost as if she sought something within those depths that even she could not explain. When the moment of silence stretched the limit of social appropriateness to a breaking point, Jaciam turned away and invited the psychiatrist in.

“Hello,” she offered, her hands clasped almost nervously in front of her as she whirled around to face the new woman. “Please… have a seat” Her hand gestured to the wooden chair at her desk. It was only afterwards that Jaciam realized that the woman would have full visual access to the pieces on the desk that she was so dissatisfied with. The girl gave a self-conscious squirm, hiding her uneasiness by clearing her throat. “I don’t think we’ve ever met.”

“I am Dr. Kuin,” she nodded as she entered “It’s a shame we haven’t met earlier really; I have heard fine things about you, Jaciam.”  Perhaps she would have shook the patient’s hand, but the gryphon had such a startled look in her unusually bright eyes, and there was such an obvious nervousness about her body language, that she decided to save her the pressure. Instead, she offered a reassuring smile, practiced with conduct of anxious patients but also quite genuine.

She seated herself in the offered chair, crossing her legs and smoothing the papers on her clipboard upon her lap. The living quarters were almost as familiar to her as they were to each individual patient. There was same mirror (only this one with an unsightly crack)… the single bed, the windowless white walls, the desk… her gaze skipped over the various scattered pieces of paper, and couldn’t help but admire the meticulous pencil work. The pockmarks of erasing expressed a self-dissatisfaction. She turned back to Jaciam and placed her chin on the palm of her hand.

When Dr. Kuin engaged in conversation, it was not forced like was expected of the robotics of many psychiatrists, it was as casual as a friend might begin a conversation in a cafe.

“So do you need some more art supplies?”  Art therapy had always intrigued Dr. Kuin. She had tried it for herself once before when in the throes of depression, although she was no artist.

“Oh?” Jaciam said with an eyebrow raised. She couldn’t imagine who would have given her a positive recommendation—it didn’t seem like she knew anyone real here. She fought the instinct to fold her arms, which would have acted as a subtle distancer between her and Dr. Kuin. She had completely forgotten to offer her hand for the woman to shake, but the genuine smiled helped assuaged her startled nerves. Slowly, her eyes stopped pinning and her body language grew more relaxed.

The artwork strewn on the desk was the only way that Jaciam knew how to individualize her living quarters. No one would have permitted her to paste the completed pieces up on her walls, of course (fire hazard, they would have claimed, in their gruff and unfeeling voices), but at least she could feel like she was at home while she sat in her chair and basked in the feeble yellow light given off by the fixture in the wall. Or at least, as home as anything could be. Though, she reflected, home was a lie; there was nothing that could be described as her own, not even her body.

Jaciam gave a little self-conscious squirm as Dr. Kuin’s eyes roved over her pictures. Most people smiled and pretended to like them, but Jaciam knew that it was impossible to tell the flatterers from the real admirers. She had stopped trying. Besides, nobody really understood the meaning behind her surreal pieces—and surreal was all she ever did. She wished someone would understand them, but since she didn’t really comprehend them herself, how could she ever expect anyone else to?

She glanced down at her covered feet for a moment, and glanced back to Dr. Kuin with obviously softening wariness. “Er, no, I don’t think so. I’ve run out of some colored pencils, but… I’d rather wait until I’m down a few more before requesting any.” She smiled tentatively, and her wings shifted so that the metal clips at the ends clicked together softly.

“Well, you are much more modest than some other artists I know,” the psychiatrist said. She looked down at her papers, the list of customary questions such as
“what do you like most about yourself?” and “do you feel any different from your last visit?” and the forever famous “are you happy?” were there awaiting her orders, but Dr. Kuin didn’t want to ask those things; it would snuff out the little spark of interest that pricked the back of her mind. Right now, she greatly desired to perlustrate Jaciam’s abstract pictures, to peer into the soul of this skittish artist.

“What do you do when you’re a finished with a piece?”

“I don’t mean to be modest,” Jaciam answered honestly, her avian head tilted sidewise in thoughtful consideration. “I just don’t know any other way to be. I’m just honest. I don’t know if you can call it modesty if you don’t even try.” One of her fingers twirled absentmindedly around the slightly frayed tuft of hair at the end of her braid as she stared blankly at the mirror. She could not see her reflection from where she stood. If she could ever be sure that what was staring back at her was ever her reflection at all.

“Hmmm…” the girl answered, a warmth in her voice that wasn’t there before indicating that she was interested in the question that the doctor had asked. While she thought, Jaciam sat at the end of her bed as the linens stretched beneath her slender weight. Her black tufted tail twitched listlessly on the ground.

“I guess… it’s not really anything obvious that gives it away or anything. I think people think that it’s something that just clicks, but that’s not how it happens for me. I’m… done with a piece when I feel like… I have been able to put something of myself in it, and I’m happy with how it looks as a mirror. I’m not sure if that makes any sense.” Jaciam rubbed her palms together self-consciously; she didn’t think she was doing a good job pretending to be sane.

The psychiatrist was becoming increasingly enthused, and she shifted forward in her seat a little. Her clipboard seemed to be forgotten in her lap as she rested her elbows upon it, folding her fingers together gently as she gazed at her patient with new inspiration.

“Would you mind showing me one of them? A finished piece?” she asked, her ears perking slightly.

“A finished piece?” Jaciam replied blankly, as if she had never heard of such a thing, despite the fact that she had just spoken in depth about what completed art meant to her. “Oh… sure!” Jaciam had not expected the request; she would have been incredulous if anyone had told her this morning that a psychiatrist would visit abruptly and asked to see one of her pieces.

With the air of absentmindedness, Jaciam idly scratched the tiny feathers of her cheek in barely disguised self-consciousness and stepped forward, opening the bottom drawer of the desk. She had to maneuver clumsily around Dr. Kuin’s chair, flipping through drawings on material as diverse as cheap printer paper and canvas stretched over a hollow wooden frame. Eventually she pulled out a colorful drawing on thick watercolor paper and handed it to Dr. Kuin.

The scene encompassed what could only be described as a bitter, dead space under a sky of red and grey. It was not anything that could be seen in the world they lived in, but that did not make it any less real to Jaciam. Beneath the desolate sky with its spider-webbed clouds, feathers of brilliant colors fell to the ashen ground like rain. Frozen in the air in which Jaciam had chosen to position them, they formed a chaotic pattern, a whirlwind of vivid hues that would soon turn to dust on the apocalyptic ground.

Jaciam shifted her weight back to her feet after shutting the drawer. “That was as finished as I could make it,” she said after a pregnant pause. She studied the picture with uncomfortable pride mixed with nervousness. “I guess I like actually drawing better than looking at them. This one is called The Ashes of the Late World.”

Dr.Kuin’s eyes took in all the detail of the painting, pushing the bridge of her glasses up her nose. She muttered something appreciative without her consciously knowing it; holding the canvas close to her face as if inspecting it for dust damage, smelling the paint that was so carefully situated hue by hue. Incredible really.

As her eyes roved from raindrop to raindrop, her imagination traveled from dot to dot, painting to painting, patient to patient, ward to ward.

“Jaciam,” she said so suddenly that she surprised herself, her eyes jumped up to meet those turquoise eyes. “Would you be willing to show this to someone else?”

A ridiculous idea, no, a brilliant idea, was knocking at her mind’s door. It barged in with the same rudeness of one of her urges to scribble an extra post-it before bed. She felt a little warmth grow on her neck, hoping that she hadn’t taken too much of an unexpected turn. In fact, now that she took a moment to reason, she was sure she wasn’t following the respective guidelines of doctor-client interaction.

As the doctor looked at the painting with mounting concentration and fascination, Jaciam’s anxiety began to fade and the feathers along her arms and the nape of her neck smoothed down flat against her skin once more. Without even noticing it, her turquoise eyes were slowly drawn to the colors of the exposed picture as memories lapped at her consciousness. She remembered that she had felt particularly strange during the weeks that she had painted that specific piece, The Ashes of the Late World. She had imagined at the time that the feathers falling from the ashen, listless sky had been the last threads of sanity from so many fragile minds, spitting down to nestle amongst the dust on the indifferent ground. She remembered the smell of the paint and the slightly manic feeling of the twilight hours slipping by in a velvet stream before the brazen arrival of dawn.

But then Jaciam’s gaze was drawn to the clinician, who was looking at the piece with far more interest than Jaciam had ever had in the final product. The doctor intrigued her much more than The Ashes of the Late World did. Why had Dr. Kuin begun the conversation with her art? Was there something in her drawing that was disturbing to the committee of psychiatrists that discussed case studies such as hers? Didn’t ordinary people make art too? Or was it simply the content that was offensive? But Dr. Kuin didn’t look offended—indeed she looked almost manic with excitement. Jaciam could identify with this emotion, if only because it was how she felt when she drew—the only thing that had ever made her feel even remotely alive.

When the psychiatrist asked if she could take the picture to show to someone else, a wave of subtle dizziness crept through Jaciam, as if tentative spider hands had begun massaging her brain. Almost instantly, Jaciam felt her leave herself, felt herself stand next to her own body as her bright eyes stared with polite surprise at the doctor. She knew that her body had wavered slightly where it stood and she had blinked several times, a spasm of shock passing over her face with the quickness of a hummingbird’s wing. She knew this because it happened every time.

Her beak formed the words that she couldn’t. “Show someone else? Sure… sure. I wouldn’t mind, really.”

“Very well, very good.” she muttered in approval, but her voice fell to a quiet phlegm. Her tail swept the floor as she stood up slowly, easing herself out of that state of mind. For a moment the Ashes of the Late World was forgotten as she looked back and forth between Jaciam’s eyes, as if they where windows and she was waiting for one of them to open.

Dilated pupils…

There came the automatic urge to jott down a note about it, but with a painting under the crook of her arm, Dr. Kuin couldn’t easily do so. And also, she had been put into such a mood were such a little thing seemed trivial to what was amassing in her mind.  She cleared her throat.

“Like I said earlier, I’ve heard a lot of fine things about you.” She was still watching Jaciam with an air of whimsy.  “Though, it would be my personal recommendation for you to stay with us for a little while longer for therapy… art therapy.” she added afterwards, smiling oddly.

Jaciam felt herself tilt her head, watching the doctor intensely from a place just beside her body. She still quite could not work out where the doctor would have heard fine things about her; though she felt more comfortable with her current assigned psychiatrist than some of the other ones, she still felt as if she could not be completely comfortable with him. She had imagined a barrier sometimes, a giant glass-ice block that had barred her real sounds from anyone else. It was quite possible that Dr. Kuin was merely trying to make her feel more comfortable, and that she hadn’t heard anything at all.

Still, the mystery persisted—why hadn’t the doctor asked her any of those strange questions, the ones that all the doctors asked? How do you feel? What were you thinking after your suicide attempt? Are you glad you’re still alive? She had just wanted to know about Jaciam’s art. But the gryphon supposed that she was okay with that. Perhaps it was just as well, as her drawings were the most real thing about her.

“Art therapy?” Jaciam finally blurted, confused but drawn to the suggestion despite herself. She had never heard the term before—had no idea that art could be used in a professionally therapeutic sense. “What’s that?”

“It’s something you’ll enjoy I’m sure, especially if you fancy meeting people with artistic interests.” Her explanation was brimming with zest. “It would be best if you experience it first hand for you to decide it for yourself.”

She licked her thumb and flicked a paper over on her clipboard as she went chattering on like a contented capon, obviously pleased about this whole proposal and self assured that Jaciam would be just as delighted to depart from her small room for it. “…We haven’t had art therapy in ages because someone usually ended up ingesting all the paint… I expect that our paint brushes could be considered antiques by now, and surely we will have to replace the old oils from the cellar…” The elaborate tree of agendas on her clipboard was as jumbled and as random as the passionate mutters that spilled from her mouth, but somehow the doctor picked up on a blank spot to insert a memo.

“… and I’ll have to check if we can find an opening…” she glanced up at Jaciam after a fragile pause. “When is your next free hour in your schedule? I’ll could set you for your session then.”

Jaciam stared at the doctor from some place next to herself. “Meeting someone else with artistic interests…?” she echoed strangely. Mentally, she kicked herself for sounding so stupid. Why could she do nothing but parrot the poor psychiatrist? It seemed like so many new ideas were being brought up that Jaciam had never been exposed to before that her mind had briefly been annihilated by the threat of excitement. “Do those people actually exist?” She hadn’t meant it to sound ironic or sarcastic, and indeed her voice reflected a kind of dazed amazement. Later, however, she would reflect with exasperation upon how idiotic she sounded.

She laughed nervously. “My next free hour…?” she repeated again, starting to wonder if this wasn’t an elaborate test. “Ma’am, I’m in an inpatient facility. Don’t you determine when my next free hour is? As far as I know, I don’t have anything most of the day. I have group therapy at six, and individual therapy tomorrow at two, but that’s as far as I know.” She gave a lethargic shrug, almost a self-protective gesture, and she flipped her braid around from the front of her shoulder so that it again lay between her shoulder blades.

“Well then- three-thirty it is.” Dr. Kuin seemed to have slapped herself fully awake, thoughtfully humbled by Jaciam’s statements. This was blurring the purpose of her initial agenda, but as far as she could see, she had salvaged something of far deeper consequence.

“… Jaciam,” she said, in a tone that seemed rather hushed compared to the gusto she had spoken with before. She looked as if she might say something else, but then changed her mind and melted into a smile instead.  “have a wonderful morning.”  in a moment she had swept herself from the room, taking her notes and The Ashes of the Late World with her, which she handled as if she were carrying off an ancient artifact. She managed to close the door behind her with the heel of her shoe, glancing over her shoulder once as she did.

‘Click-clacking’ her way back down the hallway, Dr. Kuin scarcely noticed the strange looks she received from the staff. Her mind was a flutter; most of her thoughts settled on Jaciam. She sincerely hoped that she didn’t disturb Jaciam during their visit, what with her utterly self-concerned tenue (she chastised herself with a moan). Actually, that evaluation did not have the decency to be called an evaluation at all, for the doctor had asked none of the questions that where bulleted on her papers. She would have to face the ire of her superior later when her paperwork wasn’t drafted on schedule. Not to mention, there were scores of other patients to visit.  Before that though, Dr. Kuin would have to first extinguish her epiphany and find a place to put The Ashes of The Late World. Now that she thought about it, had it even been necessary for her to grab it at all?

By the time she reached the end of the hallway she was practically running in her high heels, yet not fast enough to be reprehended.

“Hobbs! Oh Hobbs!” she sang as she approached the heart of the white labyrinth. A small office directory was donated to each wing of the asylum, presumedly for staff only, although there were times that a patient or two wandered in. This one was secluded by walls of the nearby infirmary, so wails of the disturbed would likely be replaced by the cries of the injured (though not that many people were injured here).

The only person present was an aging rabbit with ears that drooped nearly to the floor. He sat hunched over at the desk behind the plexiglass, takking away at his tiny, little computer with a mouth in a lopsided gape. He looked over his thick glasses at the out of breath doctor, who was tucking away her graying curls.

“What is it /this time/ Miss Kuin?” he droned monotonously, turning his attention back to the flickering blue computer screen and pushing up his glasses.

“Oh Hobbs, I need you to make an appointment for two patients at three thirty this afternoon and I need to find a room vacancy by then… is Doctor Chuvez in? I need to talk to him,  and to get in touch with a staff member or two who can chaperone someone from the unstable ward. Oh! -and I need a spare key to the cellar.” Hobbs did nothing to interrupt the awkward pause that followed this jumbled statement, only raising one skeptical brow, which was returned by the doctors hopeful smile. “Please,” she added.

“How many cups of coffee have you had this morning?”  the rabbit continued in the same bored tone. “It seems to me that you should be evaluating patients right now, not making silly requests. They don’t pay me to be your personal secretary.”

“O-ok, three thirty!” Jaciam confirmed in a somewhat dazed mien, as if she had been unexpectedly struck in the face with something quite heavy. Even though the psychologist was telling her to have a good day, Jaciam felt like there was something more behind her dissociated mask of a face, something else that she wanted to tell the gryphon-woman. Something that could not be said for fear of violating laws or personal boundaries. By the time Jaciam’s ebony beak had parted to encourage the doctor to voice her concerns or her excitements, she was already gone, closing the door with a parting click.

It had been such a strange encounter that Jaciam was not sure whether to believe it had ever really happened at all. She stared at her palm for a moment, flexing and extending her fingers, forcing herself to ground her sensations into that visualized reality.

Something seemed to occur to her, and she checked her desk drawer for her collection of finished paintings. The Ashes of the Late World was not there. It seemed that it had happened after all, and wasn’t just a dream or a series of waking hallucinations.

Jaciam yawned spontaneously, suddenly realizing that she was very tired. Since she had woken so early that morning to work on her most recent drawing, the amount of sleep she had gotten last night had been substandard. Without thinking, Jaciam sat down at the edge of her bed and flopped backwards. Almost as soon as her head struck her pillow, she was asleep.

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~ by komicks on February 27, 2011.

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