Chapter 4 – Art Therapy


Dr. Chuvez, or as he often preferred to be called, Oba, had transferred to Germany in pursuit of his interest in therapy. It had been a great monetary opportunity for his wife and kids, who awaited his return back home in the Congo. It had taken time to adjust to this big white institution, just as much mastering English and bits of German besides. Oba oftentimes resigned himself to silence in order to avoid the embarrassment in speaking in a mixed-languaged answer.
Adding to his feelings of exclusion, the therapy tactics of this place sometimes frightened him. Today for example, he had been approached by twith a last minute assignment. From what he understood, the one-on-one art session was between a paradox of patients. Oba only had a little time to spare to look over the paperwork on the backgrounds of the pair. The patient from the left wing seemed less complicated of a case, but the second case, after looking it over half a dozen times, hardly made any sense to him at all. Even with his broken English, he could tell that something was not right. A maximum security patient interloping with a left wing patient? Subliminally, he wondered how Jaciam would react to being in the same room with such circumstances. He hadn’t been sure of her awareness of the situation; the director of psychiatry seemed rather in a hurry, and had not left him a lot to go on.

The only room that was available was not very large, but not claustrophobic either. There were a few skylights on the slanted ceiling where white cirrus clouds floated free beyond the pane. They cast gentle light around the room, an inviting and almost ethereal atmosphere. Now, Oba was not much of an artist himself; he was more interested in music therapy, which had been his source of inspiration in therapy in the first place. So, when he had received whatever art supplies there were left in the storage room, he prepped them as best he could and laid them all out for use. Paints, pencils, paper, canvas… a small gathering of antique objects, an old radio, a miniature harpsichord, a bowl of plastic fruit. Still life, in other words.

But Oba didn’t plan on the pair of painting still life; that might invite a sense of competition between the two, when what he really wanted was interaction.

At promptly three thirty in the afternoon, Jaciam was woken from her sleep by a sharp knock on the door. The knock was merely a formality, one that she found fake and nonsensical. If she didn’t answer they would just open the door anyways.

Her dreams had been strange and disturbing. A pristine white weasel had woven in and out of the haunting images. It had tried to lead her somewhere, but every time she had asked it a question, it had smiled and she could see that its teeth were molding, as if the animal were rotting from the inside. All around them, pieces of the sun had fallen to the earth on fresh pairs of wings while the sky cracked apart.

The door was opening and Jaciam looked blearily up at the woman’s face. It was a stranger, and she smiled encouragingly. “I’m here to take you down for your art therapy appointment,” she said quietly.

“Sure,” Jaciam mumbled, blinking several times to try to get her eyes to focus. She felt overwhelmingly tired and disoriented, as if she had just woken up on another planet, while her real home was the world with the cracked sky and the falling sun and the rotting weasel. As she sat up on her bed and rubbed her face, the clinician waited patiently, then shifted her weight when Jaciam didn’t move for a while, as if to remind the gryphon that she was still there.

Finally, Jaciam grimaced and stood up, following the woman out of the room and down the corridor. She couldn’t help but feel as if she were hovering near the ceiling, watching the doctor and her body lumber down the hall like slouching beasts.

It was with a mixture of trepidation and apathy that she followed the doctor into the high ceilinged room, strips of white sunlight painting the floor and the items on the table next to the seated African dog.

“Here you are, Ms. Katiyen,” came the cool voice of the staff member. “The rest of your group should be here shortly.” She approached the art therapist, Jaciam following but staring slightly wearily at him, as though she couldn’t decide whether he was real or not. “This is Dr. Chuvez. He’ll be working with you and your group this afternoon.”


“Bonjour Mesdames.” Dr. Chuvez smiled warmly, and the beams of the skylight illuminated the fur around his head like a golden halo as he stood up in suited greeting. He beckoned the couple inside with open arms, ‘although it seemed as if the violet gryphon strayed with more weary steps. Oba’s dark, brown eyes softened, and he took a step or so forward,  and then he raised his smile to the staff, but only momentarily, for the door behind them had opened….

—-

The burlesque guard that had been escorting Nox to the therapy session had a booger that danced when he exhaled. Nox had been watching it for the past… for however long they had been walking.

Everything shifted in sound movement like flies in a paper bag. Nox’s ears swooped perpetually like satellite dishes, and his whiskers twitched. He was tripping over everything and everything, tripping over cracks, ants… his own shadow. Everything around him was so distracting, vibrant and sudden, that he began to ignore entirely where he was going, and decided to settle upon the guard with the booger. It was a safe if not amusing distraction to the sudden perceptiveness he was now armed with.

The guard paused at the door, checking the address above first before opening it, proffering Nox to go in before him. The frazzled head of the feline squinted as he peered from the entrance of the door. His dark eyes scanned the washed walls of the room and slid down the skylights, until they landed on the crafts on the table, and finally turned upon the trio who stood together near the corner. The guard finally got impatient and gave the lollygaging feline a gentle nudge inside.

“Bonjour Messieurs,” the African dog thrummed deeply with their arrival, and there was the swoop of the Nox’s ears again as the new couple approached. Dr. Chuvez spread his arms once more in welcome, though clearly addressing the patients in the room this time. He gracefully gestured to what was displayed on the table, where various supplies of pencils, paints and oils were bathed in lazy light.

“Jue may chooze what jue would like to work with from here for today.” He had an iambic pentameter undulating in his voice, and contrasting gleams of white smile appeared as he spoke the words.

Jaciam glanced nervously towards the woman that had escorted her and she interpreted the gryphon’s anxiety correctly. The staff gave a mollifying smile and murmured, “Don’t worry Ms. Katiyen, I will be back here in an hour to see how you are doing.” Jaciam clicked her beak in nonverbal response and the staff gave a smiling nod before leaving, the doors shutting with a sharp click behind her. There was now only Jaciam, the spaced-out feline, and the African dog with the warm, accented voice, like rolling honey.

The gryphon cleared her throat nervously, glanced over her shoulder as if to verify that there was truly no one else there, and sat down at the table. There was a paint stain on it, and Jaciam made an effort not to look at it in order to not get overly absorbed by the flaws of the furniture. She picked a sheet of heavy white pressed paper and several tubes of acrylic paint, pulling them towards her. Jaciam poured herself some water from a jug into a plain plastic cup and placed it beside several paintbrushes.

She hesitated; she had all the materials, but what was she going to paint? As if for inspiration, she glanced towards the other person there. Her beak opened, but then shut again with a click as nervousness overcame her. She was not used to speaking with the other patients. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she found herself wondering when the other people who were in their group session were going to arrive—didn’t they know they were late? It was already five minutes past the hour.

With a sigh, she again found herself gazing at Nox, one of her tufted ears twitching in idle agitation. “What’s your name?” she finally burst, a little too loudly, and there was a hint of a blush beneath the jagged black lines over her purple plumage.

Pencils, crayons, charcoal, pastels–all the colors he that he hadn’t seen in a long time were now served in dizzying pallets. He noticed the chipped paint on the secondhand brushes, and slowly drew a few from the ranks. He found himself a plate, threw a couple gobs of paint on (he didn‘t need water, who needs water anyway?), and then pulled out a heavy canvas with slow, robotic motions, until a voice hit him square on the side of his noggin.

Swallowing hard, Nox tried to digest the vibrant purple image of a young gryphon, perched not too far away with her electric blue eyes, so electric, he thought he felt a static shock surge through his nerves at that moment their gaze connected. When the hell did she get here?

“Er, I’m Nox.” he said, needlessly gesturing to himself. After he had finished standing and looking at her, he grabbed the back of a nearby chair and commenced to drag it obnoxiously across the linoleum floor, the direct middle, where he wheeled it around to slouch into. As if summoned by magic, the therapist appeared and placed an easel right in front of him.

“So,” said Dr. Chuvez, smiling between his patients, as if he where about to learn something interesting, “I want jue to look at each other close, and I would like jue to paint what jue see.” Dr. Chuvez was very fond of freelance projects in which he could observe imaginations blossom, but these two needed something to anchor them a bit to reality, while still able to expand on their artistic abilities. “Do not restrict jueself to ze person alone,” he grinned as he tried to explain “jue may paint what comes to mind, or what jue see beyond what iz there. Jue will ‘ave all ze time jue require to finish-”

“What’s your name?” Nox asked quite suddenly. Furtively, he had been watching Jaciam, nearly phasing out the therapists instructions. Oba merely smiled a little of his white teeth, and spoke a quiet last minute note,“If jue need anyzing at oull, simply ask.” And he retreated a little bit to the white noise, busying himself with his yellow lined paper (but only known to him, there were also a few “how to speak proper English” papers sandwiched somewhere between his notes), and after a minute, he would check with the guard who stood silently outside of the room, further opening the door for his patients to un-self-conciously immerse themselves into the project.


Jaciam released a small laugh that sounded a mixture of cynicism and dark amusement, her own personal inside joke, at the words ‘what you see beyond what is there.’ She was immediately attracted by the doctor’s accent and found herself focusing intently on it, almost to the exclusion of the content of his words. When Nox’s sudden question cut through the African Dog’s velvety speech, the gryphon visibly jumped, her eyes pinning roughly in surprise. She stared down at them, positioned somewhere near the ceiling, watching her empty body convulse in sudden startlement.

“J-Jaciam,” she stammered, somehow finding it bewildering that anyone other than the doctors would wish to know her name. She had never been in group therapy before, and knew very little about the other tenants of the hospital.

When the art therapist sat down nearby, Jaciam frowned, again wondering when all the others were supposed to get there. She wasn’t sure, but weren’t group therapy sessions usually conducted with ten or fifteen people? She had never heard of anything like this before—group therapy with just two people. But their easels were directly opposite each other, not positioned as if it were going to be a circle, and it didn’t look like anyone else was coming.

She glanced furtively at the psychologist, as if fearful of being scolded for starting prematurely. Once she grew more confident, she darted her paintbrush into the black paint gob on her pallet and slashed it roughly near the bottom of her canvas, becoming engaged with the menacing dark shape evolving from her work. Every so often, she peered at Nox, at first tentatively but then more and more boldly, as if she could draw more information from his person if she was not as cautious. Her brush moved like a blade, the shadow evolving into something with jagged teeth stabbing into the canvas.

She wanted to talk to him, wanting to get a sense of where she was getting this darkness from, this menacing shape that crouched like a slouching beast at the edge of her consciousness. Perhaps if she heard his voice she could discover where it was coming from. She wished she could feel more of herself; she wished she could see what her body felt like, what her mind was feeling… but she couldn’t; she was completely disconnected from any sense of self that might have been locked away behind closed doors.

“So…” she finally began, as casually as if one were going to talk about the color of the autumn foliage this year, and not something as monumental as this project really was. “What are you in this madhouse for, anyways?” she asked him, her voice determinedly light.

A few minutes had passed and he could hear his counterpart’s brush easily slash across her paper. The tip of his still hovered above the canvas, dripping with oil and ingenuity, but it was as though an invisible barrier kept him from making a mark on that field of white. White had been so good to him, it had enveloped him in security, and now he had to spoil it.
Glancing up, he observed the gryphon a while longer. It was almost astounding how easily she let /it/ come to her, as if she where simply picking it out of the atmosphere like berries.
At that moment, he realized that she was a great deal more than he was at the moment… and the teeth of that cold barrier gnawed at him as he continued to sit there brooding in unmuse, with that cold emotionless gaze of his that was nothing more than a mask.

“I just got tired, is all.” he drew up an answer from nowhere to the question she had asked. The tip of his tail twitched; that twitch seemed to gradually seep up the muscles of his leg and into his arm, and the grip on his brush tightened to the point where his knuckles bulged.

CR-ACK.

In one fine, diagonal sweep, he violently jerked the brush as one swings an axe. Even while his fingertips still grasped the handle of the brush, as Newton’s first law would have it, everything that had been on the bristles went upwards, or vaulted across the floor, or landed splat on his clothes… but most of it left its mark upon the canvas in the form of a raw, energetic splatter of blue.

The therapist had risen from his seat at the sudden movement. The rounded ears of his largish head had flicked forward like disks. In a moment or so, he was beside the feline patient, peering at the canvas inquisitively, and then at the patient himself. There was a brief exchange of looks between the two, but Nox seemed to be more surprised at himself than the therapist was.

“Well-?” asked Dr. Chuvez slowly “what du jue zink?”

“Er…  sorry, I won’t do that again.” Within the patient’s practiced monotone there was a stroke of embarrassment, or perhaps it was amusement. There seemed to be a definite change, more fluctuation, and more focus. Dr. Chuvez chuckled deeply in response to this, and offered his soft, brown gaze to Jaciam for a moment, as if to provide an anchor of reassurance, then raised them to the ceiling, where there was a comical splat of paint beside the skylight. There came an even a deeper belly laugh, but it was more inward now as the therapist shook his head gently, wondering how he was going to explain this to his colleagues later on.

“Towelz zen…” Once again the African’s presence blended and merged into the background as he sought for something to clean up with.

“So, why are you here?”  Nox again returned the question; his voice was in the sort of tone in which Jaciam had earlier asked it, continuing on the discussion as if the interruption had been a perfectly and utterly normal occurrence. He was playing with the splatter with cautious, careful strokes, like an infant’s first steps. He let the line of blue drip and bleed downward.

Jaciam jumped visibly when Nox’s brush sliced through the air, jabbing like a knife, paint slipping to splatter violently over nearby surfaces. Her feathers ruffled slightly, stood on end, her wings parting slightly as if preparing to take flight from a predator. Jaciam found herself abruptly back within herself, firmly planted behind her eyes, seeing and feeling everything. She looked at her hands, and they did not feel like her.

Suddenly, she rose from her stool, circled around the back-to-back canvases, and stared bleakly at the aggressive splatter of blue paint across the canvas. She studied it neutrally for a moment, then broke into a pleased smile, as if what she saw was congruent with something inside her. “That’s good!” she insisted, no trace of sarcasm in her voice. “It looks just like me.”

She wheeled around and sat back down at her station. She couldn’t remember why she had begun to paint the subject she had chosen, and now she looked at it as if it were a stranger. She had no memory of deciding to paint this. The oppressive black figure prowled near the center of the frame like a bear or a cat, its glistening white teeth arching from its maw and eyes staring like street lights casting a reddish glare over rain-slick roads. It seemed amused to Jaciam, like it was just biding its time.

There were cage bars around it, grey and barren, but they seemed far too flimsy to hold such a monstrous beast. Why had she chosen to draw this? Why had she seen this, looking at this cat-man who was admitted to a hospital because he ‘just got tired,’ who didn’t seem to care much about anything in this moment?

Jaciam shrugged and decided to accept the bizarre whimsy that had taken hold of her consciousness, just as Nox had incorporated the indeliberate splatter of color into whatever he was painting now. She wondered what she looked like to him. She began to paint shapes in bold, lively colors surrounding the cage, the shadowy figure leering in hateful entertainment. She painted brilliant eyes, hands, a tail. But as colorful and bright as they were, they were fragmented. Disconnected.

“I took twenty two tablets of aspirin,” Jaciam said flatly. Out of the corner of her eye, she glanced at the therapist, wondering if perhaps he was going to stop her from trying to talk about her attempted suicide. She had never talked about it in a group session before, although she had spoke about it with individual therapists. As much as she craved interaction, she found that she did not often like to talk about the things that were truly important to her. “I guess I felt a little… out of myself.”

“Hnn.” He grunted to let her know that he was still listening.

Since he chose not to use water, all of the vibrant colors he had incorporated into the painting blended into a blandish wash, occasionally lashing out in fresh, electric splatters, dripping down like the original mark he had left. Wing-like shapes loomed out of these drippings that seemed like they where on the verge of imaginary and real… Nox couldn’t decide what the fuck he was doing at the moment; the whole image he was creating made him feel as though he didn’t have control over his brush.

When he looked up at Jaciam again, he pulled back some mangled hair to betray half of a face. Since when did he get all this hair? He was well on his way on growing a mane.

“Right before I came here, I fell out of a boat.” Frankly, he couldn’t recall if he was pushed, or if he jumped. The chaotic memory was so subdued that the most recollection he could manage was the steel percussion noise, and the taste of salt on his lips.

“I went straight to the bottom like a stone.” he made a slow, sinking whistling sound while dragging his brush down the canvas. “Sure are a lot of pretty fish down there.” It seemed ironic to him that he had drowned for the first time in breaking his abstinence of flirting with large bodies of water. Since he was young, he had a chronic fear of drowning, lamentable because his steel entrusted bones were so dense that they dragged the rest of his body down like an anchor. The drowning memory was the first one he had woken up with in the institution. Since then and up until now, he had refrained from thinking about it.
It was only because Jaciam had been so, well, refreshingly blatant, it prompted him to be the same way. Now that he thought about it, this whole situation was darkly comfortable.

By now Dr. Chuvez had cleansed most of the splattered mess, save for the random color webbed about on the ceiling. Now, as he leisurely scratched a few notes down on his yellow paper, his ears were hiked so high on his head they might be straining muscles to hear. Certainly this wasn’t your standard therapy session, and it intrigued him to  such an extent that he was almost sorry that he was the only staff here to experience it. He thought that although the exchanged statements between the two patients were brief, he doubted whether they would have spoken so openly if the group had been more extensive, and he was trying to decide for himself if this was a good or bad thing.

Jaciam made an identical noise, a soft humming sound of acquiescence. “I’m sure the fish were very pretty,” she offered softly, unsure of what she was saying as her brush darted across the canvas of its own accord. Her eyes had taken on a wounded, flaccid look, and she suddenly looked ten years older. It was unclear if she was espousing some kind of metaphor, or if she were being literal. Even she wasn’t sure; sometimes her voice worked separately from her, as if whatever intelligence inhibited it was quite different from her own.

“Have you ever read anything by Virginia Woolf?” Her voice sounded loose, dreamy, and her hand worked furiously at the painting. “That’s how she committed suicide. Filled the pocket of her coat with rocks and walked out into the river. I wonder if she saw any pretty fish.”

Around the caged beast stretched across the watery surface of her canvas, its grinning teeth bearing white and violent, the fragmented strips of color circled all the way around the edge of the picture. In between the ring of disembodied arms, eyes, nose, whiskers, teeth circling the edges and the loose, shadowy monster imprisoned behind grey bars, the fractured body parts became grayer, more devoid of life and color. They lost their details, lost their texture. They became slates of flat nonsense as the parts drew closer to the cage. When the final ring of colorless eyes touched the edge of the enclosure, they melded into the edges, forming the bars that flimsily trapped the leviathan biding its time. He was fragmented, lost, separate, few and far between—a vivid and violent presentation that grew dead/crazy/numb the closer he drew to the black devil housed in the cage.

Jaciam stared at it, wondering where it had come from. All she had to draw from his identity was his flat voice, the mane of hair shielding his face, the tired way he described what had happened to him. There was nothing to suggest such violence and rage in such a dissociated entity inside him.

Jaciam blinked and continued to paint. “Do you have anything you’re hiding from?” she asked conversationally, her voice a hushed whisper.

“Virginia Woolf huh… yeah… the feminist… ” In an odd way, he was charmed. Not one person that he’d met had such an interest in that sort of thing.

“Don’t we all have something to hide from?” he asked, looking at her again. The sun beams now were shining into his face (a sure sign that some time had passed). The feathers fringing Jaciam’s crown burned into a blinding white, and a few delicate fly away hairs that had just managed to escape her braid were like electric wire. He wished he could paint those instead.

From a distance, his canvas could have been just moody suffusion with one electric splot. More aloof shapes loomed from the clouds, centered around a growing symbol. A pair of wings could be perceived arching as if in flight, the feathers molting in careless flecks of violet paint, some small, some grossly huge and unreal. The original splatter he kept as it where, but let the drips connect to the steel glazed wing tips, disproportionate and cubist as Picasso. Now he edged in white around some of the objects in the background outlining them with white noise.

“… nightmares.” he said passively. “I’m hiding from nightmares. Do you ever get those, Jaciam?”

Her wings shifted restlessly, and she stretched one and then the other in evident relish, her feathers trembling slightly as she could feel the muscles stretch. Like clay that someone pulled, elastic and pliable. The titanium tips of her wings clicked together as they collapsed back into their folded, bowed shape.

“Nightmares…?” she acknowledged distantly. Her voice seemed to come from the end of a long hallway, her eyes wiped clean. Someone had lived behind them before, but now they were blank and shuttered, the inhabitants digging through the listless, empty attic. Her hand moved as if she were in a dream. The paintbrush was an extension of her body—a prophetic finger.

“I’ve had nightmares. I dream of an unblinking, dead eye with a cataract and a pupil like a pin. Blood effusing from the ceiling. I smile as the spiders run all over my hands. The world of the television leaking onto my feet. I dream of rotting teeth and the sky falling down in clumps of ash. Rage from a distance. The dark rising. I dream of a bruised hand. I dream of selling my eyes and a cold sun. Of being buried alive by my shadow and of children on the freeway.” It all came like a poem, like a nightmares in itself, images flashing in grim acknowledgement. She could have gone on, but the list felt finished, like something deep inside her she had reached out and shown him.

“What kinds of things live in your nightmares?” she asked him.

That’s certainly not what he was expecting, not at all. Surely, he would have thought a one syllable answer would suffice for the gryphon… as he listened to her answer, his brush remained frozen upon his canvas in fascination of this woman to explain her dreams.

Was that how people here normally talked?

His reply certainly wouldn’t be as poetic.

“Nothing /lives/ in my nightmares. That’s the thing.” he said “I’ll dream of being in a space of neverending white… where there is not a soul and I am just a lost vibration of sound. I dream that I will be in a field of venus fly traps, and each one shrivels beneath my fingers. I am lost in a maze of cadavers on strings, and their faces weep for me not to leave. I watch silent films of my childhood in an abandoned theatre, and in them I am a hellish boy that I don’t recognize, with red eyes.
‘You look just like your father. Yes, a spitting image I’d warrant-‘scept for the eyes-’
I dream there is long hair growing everywhere around me, snaking down my throat, wrapping around my ankles and pulling me somewhere deep-
I dream of souls crying for me… but I can never find them, until I find their charred skeletons in cages, their hands still reach long after the voices are gone.
I dream of lust… terrible lust that is so animalistic that the lovers destroy each other before they are finished, ripping at each others throats with fear and anger.
‘You‘re just a stubborn asshole Nox that is too proud to let anyone make you happy- ”

Whether he was aware of it or not, Nox’s voice had escalated and intensified as he went on. It was almost as if he couldn’t stop, like a train destined to run off the edge of an uncompleted bridge.

“I dream that I am awake, and that I am being watched from the ceiling and I even though I do not open my eyes to see who it is, I can smell her, and feel her breath on my face. When I do open my eyes, it is a shadow with a cheshire grin, who has been standing on the ceiling with her head inches away. She devours me in the dream, but I always wake up before too long with my eyes wrenched shut. It is then, that I still feel that am being watched and I can smell that rotting smell again, even though I am awake. I never open my eyes.”

He had stopped painting. Nox had become so involved in this explanation, he had found himself in a cold sweat, his fur was sticking up in odd places, and he was breathing very irregularly, with his tail whipping back and forth in disgust.

“I think I’m finished.” he announced, instantly withdrawing into himself. The art therapist almost jumped at the sudden sound of urgency the man exercised in his voice, and he stood, tucking his clipboard, a page full of scratched notes running off the corners of the paper, on the table.

“Iz finished?” he repeated in a very tender tone, approaching the disturbed man. “Are jue surre?”

“Yeah… of course I‘m sure. Can, can I go back to the room?” the feline had cast his gaze downward. His hands drummed very lightly on his splayed knees with glinting silver claws that seemed to emerge from nowhere. “I just feel… really tired y’know. All of a sudden. Really tired. Love to tary-doodle some more but-” (and then he yawned extravagantly to cut off the end of his sentence). The African Wolf dog’s large ears laced back gently as he placed a hand on the shoulder of the man, and inhaled deeply, but not with a sigh.

“Eeet az been long enough. Jue may leave any time jue vwish.” said Oba quietly, “But do jue want to say goodbye to Mademoiselle Katiyen first? Vill jue allow heir to see your painting, or perhaps, jue would like to zee heirs if jue ask heir?” Nox seemed to be rather disgruntled about all of the questions, and frankly, rather embarrassed and second-guessing himself for bringing up such a fuss at all. Yet, his dark eyes still seemed to avoid the violet gryphon, instead, they strayed up to the therapist in protest.

“Yeah… yeah sure. If it will get me out of here faster.”

“Zen, don’t look at me monsieur,” the therapist responded gently, gesturing to Jaciam. “Ask heir.”

“Er…” Nox began, “I-…” then he wrinkled his nose. He stood up slowly, unfurling to his rather tall height like some Tim Burton imagining, he took a moment to regain his dull monotony before regarding Jaciam with the most uninterested, and platitudinous look he had ever tried to muster in a long time. “Do you want to see the painting… or not, before I go?” he asked her, scratching the cold sweat off from the nape of his neck as he spoke.

At a certain point during Nox’s monologue, Jaciam stopped painting and watched him, her turquoise eyes fascinated and almost scared, as if she were standing on a precipice and watching someone fall into an abyss. It was not the volume of his voice, but the fierce intensity, like fire cracking and burning vulnerable wood beneath the surface. He was more alive now than she had ever seen him before. Her hand remained aloft, but the muscles were rigid, as if she had lost all communication with that particular appendage and it had begun to act upon its own intelligence.

A knot began to form in Jaciam’s stomach, disconnected and fragmented, like a dead piece of flesh. She placed her other hand over the tense knot, letting her mind generate brief flashes and images, which immediately formed a coherent visual story.

In her mind’s eye, Nox was standing opposite her, and he held a ball of light in his hands. The light was growing steadily brighter and he was mouthing incantations, or perhaps he was calling to her for help, only she couldn’t hear the words. She smelled burning flesh—his hands were blistering from the heat of the light he held. It was affect—pure, unadulterated, unintegrated. It could not be put into language, into symbols. It was rejected, fragmented, inchoate. It was untenable.

He attempted to give the light to her but it was too hot—the warmth radiated from it in painful waves. When she could not bear to see the pain in his eyes, smell his burning palms, she took it from him, held it between her own hands. It was too intense, too frightening for her in that moment, and she found herself abruptly not in her body, watching from the ceiling, observing her own anesthetized blistering.

It was at this moment in the room when Jaciam’s face adopted a slack, distant expression, as if part of her had fallen away from his intense affect, unable to integrate it into her own narrative experience. Her eyes seemed glassy.

Jaciam envisioned herself putting the ball of light on a shelf. She could not manage the intensity of his emotion now, but perhaps it would be something to revisit later.

Something shifted in the room; the affect had disappeared, dissociated, and Nox was standing, asking to leave. Her feathery ears flicked in irritation at the sudden change in the energy of their dyad, but she did not protest, only watched him warily. She almost flinched at the proffered apathy and boredom in his voice, so changed from his previous intensity, as if he was reanimating a corpse.

“Yes, I would like to see what you have painted, please,” she asked in a quiet voice. “Here’s mine.” She took her still damp canvas from the easel and held it aloft for him to see.

The fragmented pieces, eyes, body parts circled the picture as if in a vortex. The outside layer was cold and grey—the indifference, the medicated tameness he presented to the world. As the color grew more vivid towards the center, his core self, it approached the caged beast, its shadowy tendrils sneaking out from behind the bars. It had eyes as red as the sun and a menacing smile.

She shrugged, slightly self-conscious. “I don’t really know where I got the monster in the center from. That’s why I asked if you were running from anything. But there you go.”

Laying eyes on Jaciam’s painting made his heart slow to a sickening pace, and the noise seemed to leave the room. The red eyes on the canvas glowered directly down his own, down his throat and deep into the pit of his slowly beating heart. The predator icon was so familiar that Nox simply stood there, dumbfounded, flabbergasted, swallowing several times to dislodge the lump in his throat and ended up gagging on his own spit.

“You’re, that’s… very…” he choked, seizing his own painted rendition in defense of himself. He pulled courage up from the soles of his feet like lead weights as he padded across the room towards her, his dark eyes narrowing. The therapist hovered close nearby; a hand slipped into the front pocket of his uniform to finger a pager to the guard standing outside, who would jump inside at the first chirp of the receiver. Dr. Chuvez’s faith in the more unstable patient changed with the body language he gave off.

Nox knelt down beside Jaciam to accommodate her size and pushed his own canvas into her arms. It was funny that only a while ago he had actually felt good about it, in a quaint sort of way. Now the endorphins had all but perished, and he saw before him a flat slate of colors with no discernible pattern. It now had no romantic value, if it ever did.

“Keep this.” he said softly, stroking the edge with a finger “I won’t be able to.” he paused, staring blankly at nothing in particular before leaning in nigh, all of his hair slipping forward on his face. His mouth was close as he dared to the feathers that where the gryph’s ears, so intimate in proximity, that if he breathed he had the potential to make them quiver.

“You didn’t really paint that… did you?” he whispered delicately and clearly; it wasn’t stated as a question. He withdrew himself almost immediately, gazing aloft with somber indifference. The therapist was there to take him by the shoulder and show him the way out, but Oba’s eyes were wide and ponderous. He didn’t catch the whispered statement between the two, but there was no doubt that his interest was piqued.

The guard started himself awake when the door swung open, snapping to attention when the patient from the unstable ward was shuffled out.

Jaciam froze uncertainly at the sudden slackness of his face, the dumbfounded astonishment, as he regarded her picture. It was a reaction she had not at all anticipated. She would have expected confusion, perhaps, or skepticism, but not that shocked familiarity that rendered him almost unable to speak.

She stiffened as he approached, leaning away as if afraid that he would hit her. Her body felt extremely light, as if she had been carrying a thousand pounds on her shoulder and had suddenly discarded them. She seemed now to be floating on the air as a consequence of Newton’s third law. His breath was humid and warm and it made the fine hairs in her erect ears tickle. She did not know if she was scared or not.

Her beak turned slightly away from him at his whispered comment. The accusation reverberated like a echoing, banging hellion bouncing in her skull, repeating over and over the word you you you you. She did not know exactly what he had meant by it, but she didn’t need to know—it certainly meant something to her, but there was no guarantee that their interpretations would be the same.

“You…” she murmured back. “You have to be a person to have a you. Continuity. Coherence. That is the stuff of fiction. Don’t think I’m anything other than what I am.” She felt her words move autonomously, but she felt estranged from them, as if they were the speech of an entirely different person. She could claim no ownership to them. Her hands felt as if they were shrinking, growing smaller and smaller, little pinpricks perched on her slender wrist bones.

She watched him shuffle out of the room like an automaton, a sleepy robot. She felt a strange sense of nostalgia right then, as if something rare had occurred between them that Jaciam missed from a very long time ago. She wondered what Nox had felt about the encounter, but she decided that she had no way of discerning anything about his thoughts. He was still utterly incomprehensible, as intriguing as he was. Perhaps that was part of what made him intriguing. She still clutched his painting in her impossibly tiny hands, and she gazed upon it with mixed sorrow and satisfaction.

“I think I will be going back to my room now, sir, if you don’t mind,” Jaciam reported to the attending therapist, standing up and still staring at the painting she held. “I don’t know what I should do with my painting. Do you think I should keep it?”

Drip.

Oba had pacified attention for Jaciam when he stood by her shoulder and peered at the two paintings she held in her tiny hands.

“Et depends ‘ow jue feel about zem.” He reasoned. “I zink eet is very powerful…”

Drip.

“If jue want such an energy with jue, then keep it, but if at all eet feels negative, then jue you may always leave eet ere.”

Drip.

Her response to whether or not she felt good about the paintings could clue him in on how she felt about the session in general, although he could never draw any specific conclusions about that. Nox’s own opinion seemed blaringly self-evident, but he had yet to learn from this quiet, forward artist.

Drip.

For the fourth time, his ear perked to the pittering sound, and he looked around for the source of it until he noticed a prick of red on the floor. It seemed odd that he didn’t notice the splotch before, and as another drip fell into it, his round eyes raised to the ceiling, where a violent, scarlet streak could be seen dripping slowly like a wound. Oba hummed tactfully in acknowledgement of the phenomena. It was strange though, jamais vu, if memory had served him right, the paint on the ceiling had been blue, not red… although he didn’t think to check the painting to verify himself, he only assumed that he might be getting a bit dozy.

It was later in the day after all.

“Vell Miss Katiyen, unless you need an escort…”  he gazed at her fondly for a moment; he had faith that she could find her way back to her room (she likely knew the way better than he), but if needed he would accompany her with a simple request.

It felt horrible.

Watching the soles shoes of the guard in front of him, Nox had never felt so sick of himself before. Within his own bubble of protection, emotions circled outside like lanky black wolves, leering in with the hungry faces of Jaciam, Dr. Chuvez and the doctor that had interviewed him earlier that day. It was foolish to think that he would be able to keep it up this long. The phrase ‘You’re a fool’ just sorta sat there on his shoulder and mocked him in a high pitched voice. Nox refused to look at it… but eventually he’d have to swat it away if he was going to get any sleep tonight.

Sleep.

And for no reason at all, he had a sudden overwhelming, sickening wave of panic. He wouldn’t do it, that’s for sure. He’d find a way to stay awake tonight…

“You alright?”

“Are you-?”

“Sir!”

His entire perspective changed. The white walls around him were gone, and it was like an inversion of color, a negative. The white became black, and the world outside the asylum became a glowing orange yellow, streamlining into the windows like some gigantic church in the distant future or buried in the distant past. Dimensions blurred in and out of focus for a minute like a camera lens trying to focus on an object. Nox was bewildered, and he spun around on the spot; the guard was gone.

There was no sound; he couldn’t hear anything except for the omni-present static that had the same rapid pulse as his blood, and then some other consciousness melded with his…

You…

Down the hallway was where most of the moving light was coming from. He began running towards it as the ground recoiled beneath him like a magic carpet. There was a shadow at the end of the hallway, standing there, and as he neared, he saw that the light from behind was piercing through the eyes and mouth. The hair was a-fly like ashes in the wind.
You have to be a person to be a you…

And it was coming for him, and suddenly he was running backward from the light; his fangs were sweating as he bared them but there was no sound.

Continuity. Coherence. That is the stuff of fiction.

Death was inches from him; it made no difference how fast he could move.

And soon everyone will know.

He was on the ground and staring at the ceiling. He’d completely pissed his pants, but he hardly noticed that as he found the strong mitts of the guard upon shoulders. The burlish man was saying something into his receiver, with some measure of concern as he checked the patient’s pulse. Nox roared at him and staggered drunkenly to his feet, making a swing to grab him at the neck, wishing to punch and bite the strange guard, or do anything really. He wanted to pick him up and shake him like a dog and throw him against the wall. He wanted to bust in his fat, concerned face and break his nose. The guard was too quick and was able to easily disarm him by conducting a hammerlock.

“What did you do to me?!” Nox yowled, bristling with cornered dread as his face was mashed against the cold ground. He had a horizontal view of feet running towards him from down the hallway, and they blurred in and out of focus, his tail was having an episode of its own, smacking the man in the face repeatedly before it too was pinned down like a writhing serpent. “This is all your fault! This wasn’t supposed to happen!”

Jaciam continued to look at the two paintings, wallowing in that incomprehensible nostalgia that filled her with images of a child swinging silently on a swing set, nestled in the solitude cast by a setting sun. She lowered them to her sides; for all their metaphor and  hidden imagery, they seemed like nonsense now, still clasping them with tiny, robot hands that she could claim no ownership to.

She wondered if she had done something wrong, painted something so shattering and offensive that Nox could not abide by its raw truth. Perhaps he looked upon her now as the face of an enemy, or maybe an uncouth foreigner that had accidentally uttered something offensive in a language she did not understand. What had she done that had caused his face to slip into anger and apathy, as sudden as a stinging slap?

“I guess… I will keep them. Maybe I will look at them later and feel better. It was a dialogue, in a way, even if it wasn’t in any language. I think in some ways words are not enough for me anymore, and I suspect that Nox might be the same way,” she told the art therapist slowly, not looking at him, but instead at the growing puddle of red paint on the floor, like a shock of crimson lipstick smeared on a thin blanched face, positioned beside startlingly white teeth. “But it is a good record of our conversation,” she concluded firmly. “Anyways, thanks for your time. Maybe I will see you in the future.” She finally glanced upwards, meeting his eyes and resisting the urge to squint, as if she had accidentally stared into the sun.

* * *

Jaciam was watching the television in her room, trying to ignore the feeling of her weightless arms, the peculiar apprehension in her proprioception that made her body feel as if it were about to cast aside the meaningless restrictions of gravity at any moment and being floating aimlessly towards the sky. Of course, the ceiling would intercept her—would she be able to push her way through that steel and paint and rock when it was time for her to drift towards the yawning forever-sky?

The television was soundless; she had turned the volume off. An actress’s mouth opened in mute, shrieking terror, and Jaciam unexpectedly imagined that she was the actress all along, acting in this play called Life, and when it was finished she would take a bow and walk off the stage and no one would applaud, no one would even remember her because they had forgotten to write her name on the theater bill. She didn’t remember any of her lines anyways. No one thought she was very convincing in her role.

As she watched the movie actress attempt to clamor away from some horror on the screen that Jaciam couldn’t see, the television itself suddenly began crying. Tears of golden light slipped from the smudged, greasy screen, and each of its tears dissolved into ten more tears, and ten more, until each one was a tiny fragment of blistering light that swept to the floor and crawled over to Jaciam’s bed, shoaling around her body in a cold fractal dance. She could not decide if she was scared or not, until a magnificent pain cracked in her head—someone had cleaved her skull in two—and yawning in there was shrieking, timeless lunacy that had no language for that godless abyss. She pressed her hands over her eyes and screamed, letting those indifferent, driven fractal pieces sweep over her body like shimmering diamonds of light on the bottom of a clear pool. The world of the TV had found her way into her consciousness, turning the gaps in her brain into a million small white clouds.

There was a smear of orange and she felt as if she were running. She heard her voice echoing back at her as if from the end of a long tunnel. You have to be a person to be a you. There was some creature at the end of that hallway; it was hunched into itself as if the weight of its cranium was so overwhelming that its neck could not support it. She saw it then; it was not a cat’s head, but its skull, which looks nothing like a cat at all; two wicked sheaths of bone curved and met teeth that exploded from its jaw in a depraved, curving grin. It admonished her with that witless, lunatic grin, its blank sockets unblinking, strips of flesh hanging still from the sides of its skull like pink ribbons.

She was in someone else’s body, which felt all too normal, and that person reeled backwards away from the thing it saw at the end of the hallway.

“HELLO,” she screamed shrilly, unsure if she was speaking with her stolen body’s vocal cords or purely communicating through neural resonance alone. “HELLO. CAN YOU HEAR ME. hello hello hello you are direct enough to damage me if you look at me without using a mirror, your eyes are the color of green yellow of something sad and furtive of fish flitting guiltily in a poisoned river hello hello can you hear me now? my brain has turned to ash and when it is all done when they have nothing left to say to us we will go away into unbroken solitude. they will betray you and betray and betray and they will betray you to what isn’t human. be careful of the cat’s skull, she isn’t human at all and she can never betray you enough.”

It emerged from her in a tangle of dream-speech, and though it made perfect sense to her at the time, later she would remember the connection with baffled amusement and wonder what on earth she had meant, and if the last vestiges of her sanity had finally crumbled like the tottering, ruined cities of men.

Hello. Hello can you hear me. It whispered. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hear me. The sounds tossed him about like a violent, golden sea with light erupting from chasms of the depths of Tartarus. The titans were escaping, that’s for sure; Zeus had failed.

He writhed and bucked like a ram, thrusting his head back to gore something within reach, but more hands were reaching for him and pulling him under. When he slammed down his eyes he could still see what was happening to him, and when he opened them it was the negative dimension rebirthing. It flickered in and out like a damaged light bulb, and he felt his body lurch between the flickering with convulsive spasms in what was fiction and fantasy.

There was no more coherence, logic nor reason left within him. His clenched fist met someone’s face and he smashed it in like a giant, origami doll. More of them clamored on top, eagerly replacing the first. No faces, just blank slates of no color, not even grey.

“whAT’s gOiNg oN hErE?!”
“ziVe hIM a sEdAtIvE-“
“nIcHt! Inbezzile!”

Silence.

Hellohellohellohellohellohellohellohello.
It was beyond gibberish, semantic satiation rendered it into a meaningless codex. Where was it coming from? He tried to roar out the question despite its pointlessness, because the answer was everywhere around him, but of course his voice had no sound. He sought the true voice that had asked it originally before it became pointless, the lighter of the two voices that was innocent; but the whispers clung to his ears like stinging gnats.

The orange world outside was revolving furiously, and the church bell was tolling. He couldn’t hear it, but he felt the vibration in each blood cell as the foundations of this dimension reeled with each deep and explosive knell. The light at the end of the tunnel had elongated like a slinky….

Hellohellohellohellohellohellohellohellohellohello… it whispered, like some sort of retrotransposon in the junk DNA of the genome, it repeated itself in happy contentment. Icaaaaaaaanheeeeeeaaaaaaaaaryoooooou.

The hands were engulfing him and he was punching and screaming, spit was flying like bankok yellow sapphires and for a flicker of reality, he saw a bloody tooth fly across his field of vision. Fingers yanked on his hair and his scream was cut off in a dry yelp, and the force of their grasp finally overtook him.

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~ by komicks on February 27, 2011.

One Response to “Chapter 4 – Art Therapy”

  1. It’s starting to get interesting

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