The Bad Thing

The Bad Thing

A Story by J.L Hunter

What happens when all reasoning goes away, are we merely philosophical ghosts without bodies of reason? I wrote this story, which is the first part of two, to give me an answer to this question.

                                  I. Waiting

           The waiting room was a suffocating little place full of shoulder-to-shoulder, beady eyed men and women, staring at each other with anxious expressions. The walls were a cream-colored backdrop that to Ian resembled vanilla clouds swirling softly up to a startlingly white ceiling. Bright, florescent lights filled the room and seemed to make every minute detail stand out; like the withered leaf on the clean, white tile next to the pot that held a flowering magnolia; or a scuff mark on a nearby wall.

Most of the people were silent, though the room was filled with an orchestra of sounds like the squeaking of chairs and the shuffling of feet, the almost painful gritting of teeth, and the inconsistent sniffling of stopped up noses.

           It was an odd thought, though one as relevant as any that could be running through Ian's mind, that silence only existed for those deaf and dead (and possibly not even then, bringing up the notion that silence did not exist at all). For some reason the idea filled him with an incomprehensible dread. It was like giving into the realization that he himself was not sitting in a claustrophobic room with too many worried people, whose fear and anxiety filled the room like smoke in a closed up bottle, waiting like everyone else for his whole world to be turned upside down or simply postponed along a rough, yet straight, path -the same path that he had been gliding along for the past two years. It was like the realization that he was in fact in his old house, the one he had shared with his wife, waking up from a long night of nightmares and telling the blonde haired woman next to him that he had had cancer in one of them and that the doctor had told him he wouldn't make it past his next birthday in another.

           What was maddening though, was that he hadn't been dreaming, that the past two years were real, that he had lost his job -random lay-offs they had told him then- that he had subsequently lost his wife, who had never really figured out how to deal with stress. It was something that she dealt with only by keeping her thoughts pushed deep inside and shut out any resemblance of anxiety and covered with a thin veil of complacency. The news that he had cancer had simply been too much for even her carefully constructed mask to hide. A few months had then gone by and then all at once the unemployment checks threatened to stop, which eventually they would, and the house he hadn't been able to keep up the payments on had periodically gathered interest like a wild animal gathering fleas. Reality closed in on him in the form of a letter from the bank stating that if he wasn't able to keep up at least the minimum payments on the mortgage, they would foreclose by the end of the year.

           That was possibly the most stressed out he had been. Radiation treatments and chemotherapy left him a sullen outer hull of a person whose insides twisted and churned like something black and vile. He slept most of the time, but was able to pick himself up to the doctor appointments, and when he wasn't, his brother, Mark had taken him.

           Finally, after almost six months, Ian's long term disability kicked in and he was able to keep up the payments on the house right at the last moment. Though, as a sort of sick-sweet twist the interest had piled up so much that he would never be able to pay the house off, if he even lived long enough. So he decided to declare bankruptcy and moved into a small, two bedroom town-house on the south side of the city, declining his brother's offer for Ian to move in with him. He couldn't bare the thought of putting him through something like that.

          Also, he wanted to be alone, for logical reason other than the fact that he had grown bitter and resentful toward the world as if every passing car only passed by carelessly, knowing of his situation yet each one deciding to not have anything to do with him.

           Ian's mind, as his ego filled him like some rabid creature, inside, growing larger and more incomberant every day, became infested with the thoughts of suicide. Though, it wouldn't be suicide, because he would only be killing something that he had become, someone drastically different from the person he had been before. It would be murder, and not the sort of causeless murder that led most despite whatever moral aptitudes they had to commit, that it was a necessary evil.

           A necessary evil.

           That was when he decided to tell his doctor, who had solemnly explained that he was experiencing traumatic stress and had prescribed him a month's supply of ambien to see if anything changed.

It did, in fact, and the thoughts eventually went away. Though, he couldn't help glancing at the knife shimmering on the kitchen counter when he went to make his breakfast in the morning.

                A necessary evil.

           Or the cabinet-full of various medicine. One bottle would do the trick, the thought would slither across his mind as he walked into the bathroom. He found himself sometimes, without even really knowing how he got there, staring into the mirror atop the dresser in his bedroom, his eyes bloodshot and the bruised looking skin under his eyelids hanging loosely like two deflated balloons. His thinning hair sticking up in wisps and revealing a pale-white skull cracked with flakes of dried skin.

           This was his life, he confessed. Not much of one, but it was all he had and he would keep hanging in there until the last little strand of it detached as if it were the last thread of a ragged-looking blanket that had been dragged and beaten.

           Sitting in the waiting room, a blue scarf he had found in the closet wrapped around his neck, a Red Sox cap covering his now completely bald head, he realized that he probably looked like some crazy that had wandered in from the street. His arms were folded self-consciously across his chest, and he tried to keep his eyes low, not wanting to look at anyone for fear that it would spark unwanted conversation.

           After a while it seemed like the lights had gotten brighter and the air colder. A cool draft issued down from the one ceiling vent. He thought about mentioning to the receptionist when his name was called that they should probably turn the air down, but no one else looked that cold, some had even taken their jackets and coats off and hung across the arms of their chairs.

           It was probably just him. His internal thermostat had gone on the blink, so to speak, and usually kept his apartment a good ten degrees colder and warmer than it really needed to be.

He pressed his arms closer to his chest, trying hard to keep from trembling.

           Once in a while the dark-haired receptionist would poke her head out of the window and call a name, scratching the person off a list as she did so.

           Ian waited for his own name to be called, dreading it severely, yet wanting to get out of the room that felt like a closet and an ice-chest. He wanted to walk away from the constantly staring eyes of strangers. Ian didn't like at all the fact that there were plants in the room, as if they were there only to give the impression of some natural order in something that was entirely unnatural. It was like covering up a slaughterhouse with pink silk and painting it a bright sunshine yellow, detracting from the terrors that those brightly colored doors kept in.

           He kept looking at the withered leaf on the floor. It was a sad thought that it had once been a part of the magnificent plant, green and lively. What had caused it to die apart from the others? Had fate simply decided that it would be the one to fall, or had there been a cause that led to the eventual detachment from its former existence?

           None of the answers came to him, but he noticed a similarity between himself and the dried up thing that had been discarded.

           “Mr. Lang!” The dark haired woman called out. Her voice cut through the room like thin razor wire and almost everyone looked up.

           Ian stood up shakily, bumping the old lady's arm, who had been sitting next to him, a little as he did so. She offered an exasperated huff and they both glanced at each other, although Ian ultimately ignored her. He walked over to the little window. The woman had gone over to a set of filing cabinets, pulled out one of the drawers and closed it so hard it made Ian jump, she then returned to the desk.

           She looked up from the computer, her eyes giving that 'what the hell do you want' look, “Yes, sir?”

           “You called my name?”


           There was an awkward moment of silence between the two. The dark haired woman returned her attention to the computer screen and began typing something so fast it was almost unbelievable that she was actually typing anything at all.

           “Well... Where do you want me to go?”

           It was the first time he had ever been in this office. Two days ago he had received a phone call that he had missed, but the person on the voice mail had told him that the office location had changed. He had drove up there on his own and had almost gotten lost on the way. Next time, he was sure he would get his brother to take him, or take a bus, which was saying something because Ian hated taking the bus.

She looked at him as if he had just asked her something utterly ridiculous. Ian, in his two years of self reflective meditations on life had forgotten that people like that actually existed. Of course he was supposed to know where to go in a place he had never been in his life. Why the hell shouldn't he just waltz into a doctors office, or a surgical room, or somewhere equally dangerous and humiliating?

           He wanted to say something smart, but a surge of nausea had overtaken him and he closed his eyes to stifle a certainly unwanted outburst of leftover lasagna.

           The woman evidently clued into the fact that the guy standing in front of her was in pain and in her own little way of showing what pity she could offer, lifted up her hand and pointed to a mahogany-stained door on the right. It was a good thing, because if she decided that she was going to say something smart-a*s he might just open his eyes, stare straight into the light fixture overhead, which would result in inducing a great surge of vomit all over her desk.

           They were all lucky that day, he supposed, and walked away.

           He was able to hold his stomach through the carpeted hallway, passing by a series of familiar windows with familiar dark haired receptionists clicking away at their keyboards. There was a door on the left, opened outward about halfway with a wooden wedge pushed underneath to keep it from slamming shut. He figured that that was where he was supposed to go and was somewhat elated to find Dr. Browne's name-plate beside the molding of the door-way.

                         II. The Meeting

           Dr. Browne was sitting at his desk, a gold-rimmed pen in one hand, the other hand holding up a sheet of paper. He was clicking the pen with his thumb and stopped when he noticed Ian walk in. He placed the piece of paper back down neatly on a stack of similar pages.

           “Good afternoon Mr. Lang.”

           Ian offered a conciliatory nod and pulled a chair -noticing how less comfortable the patient's chair was in comparison to the doctor's. As he sat down, shimmying this way and that to settle in, Dr. Browne placed his hands on the desk softly, one on top of the other.

           “Well, there's no easy way to say this, so I'm just going to get straight to the point.” The doctor inhaled a lungful and let the air out of his nose with a long drawn-out sigh, as if he were physically putting himself in the mood to deal with the situation that had come his way. It was like a roll of the dice, and he was unlucky to get an ill-fated cancer patient. Poor b*****d, Ian thought, and had to suppress a grin. What, he thought, does thinking about your dog getting run over by a car not do it for you anymore? Inside, he was screaming laughter, but not the funny kind, because nothing in the place and time was even remotely humorous. It was more like the kind of laughter that came from being so nervous that you didn't really know what else to do. His mind had been so dissident to what a sane mind should be, so out of the ordinary for him. He wanted to cry, because he hadn't done so in months, because he thought he was over that period of shock, that phase that he assumed most people went through in situations like his. Unfortunately he was considering the possibility that the real shock had not come yet, that he was one of those rare circumstances where most of the anxiety was bottled up until one finite point where it would simply explode, unbeknownst to any who find themselves in similar ordeals including himself was to how that eventual explosion would occur.

           “It's been a very long road, and I know your tired, and we've tried everything that we possibly can to get this thing taken care of. The radiation treatments have been excruciating, I know-”

You don't know the half of it, bud.

           “-and the physical tole it's been taking on your body is incomprehensible to anything. The cancer cells have multiplied and despite chemotherapy they have traveled up the base of your spinal cord and gathered just above the brain stem, making any kind of surgery the most risky kind there is. We could try to do the surgery, but with a statistical turn out of about ninety five percent, that is, against ninety five percent that would be successful with about five percent left over for a good turn of events.”

           Go ahead say it. Ian thought as the room began to spin, thus making it difficult to keep his nausea down to a manageable level. Go ahead and spit it out Mr. Doctor.

           He breathed in and out again slowly and continued, “So, there is nothing that we can do for you anymore. I'm very sorry, Mr. Lang,” his eyes were wide and sympathetic, his lips curved downward in the middle that said, I wish I could do more for you, “Is there anyone who you can stay with, family? Parents, maybe?”

           “No.” Ian said distantly. He was looking past the man in front of him to the wall beyond. It was the same swirling vanilla color as in the waiting room. He could see the rough granules of dirt that had been trapped in between the last coat of paint and the dry-wall. He could see little chips in the crown molding wedged into the corner of the ceiling.

           “Well, we need to keep with the treatments, if you want, and when things progress we will need you to come back to the hospital where you can be comfortable.”

           For the first time since the day he had found out, in a very similar office, that he had stage three cancer, his body went cold and the room spun. Ian grabbed onto the armrests of his chair as if it would halt the swirling shapes of the walls and ceiling which began to coalesce.

           This is it, he told himself, the moment where clarity comes in a fit of complete disarray. However it wasn't exactly clarity he was experiencing, but more of a terrible sensation of his life and all of a sudden he didn't want to die.

           During the past few years he had been given a psychiatrist, or mediator, a startlingly young woman with dark rimmed glasses who always wore her hair up in a bun. Her main focus of the two or three hours a week Ian spent on the rigid couch in the room that seemed like a library, was to redirect his focus from the trauma of disease and the possibility of death to the understanding of death's inevitability and the feeling of life. She asked him a lot of questions about his family, his past, the best memories and the worst memories. She rarely jotted anything in the steno notebook she kept on the coffee table between the two of them, but when she did, it was to draw a picture of something that she would show to Ian and ask what he thought about it.

           Ian knew that it was all psychological bullshit, that the woman who was so easy to talk to (and to look at), but overall the therapy sessions did some good. They helped him to see what was happening from the outside in, understanding that the pain would come and go, and would probably leave forever and that that was the worst that he had to expect.

           Now, though, it was as if all those conversations and tests had never happened at all.

He felt his heart beating, fluttering, inside his chest. The room finally settled, however the man in the middle of his vision was a blurred shape. There were some noises, a voice, maybe two, speaking to him. He tried to concentrate, to put the shapes back together, to make sense of the things he was seeing.

           “Are...” The muffled voice was saying, broken, distorted fragments of speech, “... Okay?”

           Ian nodded his head numbly as if he understood. He tried to calm himself down by breathing in and out, counting to five with each inhalation and likewise as he breathed out. Eventually his eyes cleared up and the doctor was once again a solid shape, though the contours of his shoulders still shimmered as if that part of him were an ethereal spirit.

           He thought of bright fuzz, or the dust caught in a ray of light from a cracked window blind.

           “Are you okay?” The doctor repeated. There was a hand on Ian's shoulder and he saw that there were a couple of nurses standing next to him.

           “Y-yeah, I'm fine, just got a little dizzy is all.”

           Dr. Browne leaned forward, a slightly concerned look on his face, “You passed out.”

           “What? For how long?” Ian said, genuinely surprised.

           “Just a few minutes, but are you sure you're okay?”

           Ian shrunk back into the chair. It certainly hadn't felt like he had blanked out at all. His vision had been distorted, but all in all he hadn't remembered ever actually going out. There had been a few times when he was very young, still in grade school, that he would pass out in class or in gym, but that had been related to his blood sugar which had leveled out as he got older. Even then, it was like going to sleep abruptly, darkness shutting over his vision and then he would wake, moments later in the nurses' office or on the bleachers with a wet rag on his forehead.

           Nothing like this, he thought.

           Dr. Browne glanced at his watch and said to the two nurses, “I think it's okay, that is, if Mr. Lang feels that it's okay,” his eyes met Ian's and then traveled back to the women, “he can help himself, if not I'll call you back in.”

           The nurses nodded and left, one by one.

           “I'll be okay, thanks,” Ian forced a smile, “these things used to happen all the time, not recently, but I'll be fine.”

           “Good,” Dr. Browne's tone was of a businessman wrapping up an interview with a client, “I'll have the desk clerk schedule another visit in about three weeks to see how the treatments are going and to see if there are any updates. I'm sorry that I cannot do anything else for you at the time, I would spend all day with you if I could, but I have other patients and our time has run over schedule.”

           “Of course,” Ian Lang said and got up unsteadily. His legs trembled, his arms, his hands felt as if they were somehow separate from the rest of his body and he had to make a conscious effort to lean across the table and shake the doctor's hand. There was a thrumming deep inside his ears as if he could hear his body's energy vibrating within his head and the hollow places between bone and meat.

           There was a horrible feeling of emptiness. It was like something had poured out all that was left inside of him, leaving nothing but a cold vessel, a clay pot with cracks along its frail surface, on the brink of crumbling to dust. It lingered as he drove himself home -which terrified him to no end- and as he pulled up safely to his apartment, as he sat in the car after putting it in park and cutting the engine off.

It lingered like an inseparable film that clung to his clothes and skin, an invisible cloud of webbing that only he himself could feel.

           When he finally got out of the car, he trudged up the concrete walkway to the door of his apartment -what he thought was his apartment, he had to double check the gold number Seven above the peep-hole to be sure.

           He fumbled for his keys, absently, as if he weren't there at all, nor were the keys, nor was anything around him. The sunlight felt real, the cold metal of the keys inside his pocket, the hard ground underneath his feet, but all of that existed in a sort of dream-like state, everything he was experiencing seemed to have the consistency of a sheet of cotton that was being pulled apart just so that you could see faintly the other side.

           Nothing was real, the thought surfacing and resurfacing in his mind like a steadily beating wave. He managed to find the right key and opened the door. Cold air blasted out from the darkness inside -Ian had always kept his apartment as cold as an ice chest and the blinds shut so that it was as dark as one also- which chilled him through to his bones as he walked across the threshold and closed the door behind him.

© 2013 J.L Hunter

Author's Note

J.L Hunter
If you look at a nebulae on a picture, you see beauty, mostly, an awe-inspiring array of colors swirling magnificent bands towering over and atop one another like a overlay of negatives... madness is like a dark nebulae... a bruised and swollen, monstrous thing... though beautiful in it's own right.

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This is a very compelling story. It's interesting to look at the real perspective of those going through this, and all the stress it really causes. The only real criticism I can give is just keep the paragraph formatting more consistent. That's all. Keep it up good sir!

Posted 6 Years Ago

I really like this. You captured the hopeless feeling wonderfully. I pray that I never have to go through something like that, but I would hope that I could stay strong enough to live my life while I still had the chance.

Posted 6 Years Ago

story tells the personality

Posted 6 Years Ago

J.L Hunter

6 Years Ago

Thanks. That was the idea ;)

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3 Reviews
Added on March 24, 2013
Last Updated on March 24, 2013


J.L Hunter
J.L Hunter

Pensacola, FL

Writer. Father. Lover of cheese. Umbrella salesman. Badger enthusiast. Doorknob. Cup. Also, cigarettes. Lots and lots of cigarettes. And beer. Smoke. Sizzurp drinker. Lemon flavor, never grape. more..

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