She opened the door. I fled.
I couldn’t take it anymore—her “Harker this” and “Harker that.” I had to get out of that place. I didn’t even wait for her to start into it. As soon as she had stepped into the room, I rushed the door. It took her completely off guard. The last thing I saw was the “O” of her open mouth.
I slammed the door behind me. The corridor was empty. I made for the stairwell. I could hear Lucy banging on the observation window. Her key was no good from the inside. Somehow the other inmates on the ward got wind that something was up. They started throwing their bodies against the doors and rapping their knuckles against the windows. Despite their considerable efforts, it wasn’t loud: a kind of smothered uproar, quiet and yet extremely emphatic. By the time I’d skittered down the first flight of steps I couldn’t hear it anymore.
I stopped on the landing. I needed to think. Where was I going? I had had to get out of the room. That was certain. Going back was unthinkable. But then where was I to go now? I felt strongly that I wouldn’t really be safe until I’d gotten out of the hospital. If anyone found me here, I realized, sadly, glancing down at my (actually Harker’s) dirty white bathrobe and pathetic plastic hospital slippers, they would almost certainly mistake me for a patient and return me to the room. What’s more, here in the hospital, as I was only to painfully aware, any assertions I might make as to my identity or state of mental health were doomed to have an effect exactly opposite to what I intended. As chief officer of admissions, how many lunatics had I myself consigned to permanent custody based on their delusory assertions of their own sanity? In truth, the Hopeless Ward was full of them.
Clearly Harker had played a diabolical trick on me, but there in the hallway I couldn’t say how he had done it, or even exactly what he had done. Much of the recent past remained a blur. I knew I’d been incarcerated, but how long had I been incarcerated? I must have been given powerful sedatives. That much was clear. And Lucy was now locked back in the room? (Hee! hee!) That felt like a good thing, but why? Ought I not go back and release her?
I remembered innumerable meetings with Lucy, not in a discrete sequence but as a part of a hazy and unpleasant habitual past, in which she seemed to go on and on about the man who had been our mutual patient (Harker). But was that correct? (“How is Mr. Harker today?” “Has Mr. Harker slept well?” “Will Mr. Harker take his medicine?”) Was she talking about Harker? Or was she, rather, talking to Harker, or rather to me as Harker?? My god! That was it! Lucy thought I was Harker!
What a nefarious gambit! I thought, resting for a moment, taking it in. This far outstrips even the most outrageous of Harker’s previous hijinx. Harker has put me in his place! But what about him? Had he…?
I should have seen this coming, I thought, becoming agitated once again. In hideous retrospect, all the signs were there. Harker and I looked almost perfectly alike for one thing. (I may not have mentioned this. Can you blame me? Who would advertise such an unflattering coincidence?) His habit of mimicking me during the last several of our one- on-one therapy sessions was another clue (though those had taken place months, if not years, ago), not to mention the reports from the staff that he had begun performing his impression of me for them.
I remember that report had disturbed me briefly. “He’s started saying he’s you and you’re him and that you’ve locked him up under false pretenses,” Leo, an orderly, told me months ago over his morning coffee. “Can you beat that? What a caution! Still it breaks my heart sometimes to hear him banging on the door all night, sobbing, ‘He’s escaped! He’s escaped!’ ‘Can’t you see? Can’t anyone see?’” I must admit I may have chuckled a bit over Leo’s comical imitation of the whiny desperation in Harker’s voice. It didn’t seem so funny now nor the question with which Leo terminated his anecdote: “Do you suppose he really believes it, Doc?” Did he believe it, indeed. The point was no-one else believed it. But now I would have to make them believe….
I had to hand it to Harker, he’d prepared the grounds for this dastardly caper with uncanny thoroughness. But how he had managed the actual switch was still a bit hazy. Evidently a blow to the head—or quite possibly several blows administered, perhaps, at regular intervals—had played some role, I realized, passing my fingers gingerly over several good-sized (and growing?) lumps on my own forehead.
I needed to get out of the hospital; that much was certain. What’s more I needed to get away from the hospital. But how far away would I have to get? That depended, I reasoned, on how far Harker had penetrated in his appropriation of my identity. Had he had time to take possession of my apartment? Had he been passing himself off as me at the neighborhood café? Could he have gone to the extreme length of visiting my home country to find and lay claim to whatever of my credentials might remain there?
And what about Lucy? Could Harker have succeeded in displacing me from my perch in the nest of her affections? Or rather, could he have pre-empted me there as, I confess, despite considerable efforts, I had not yet managed to attain that perch.
That woman was a cipher! First off (of course) there was no accounting for her immoderate interest in Harker; and secondly, given that interest, not to mention her long association with him (How long I couldn’t say. She’d been in his employ when he entered the hospital. That much I knew. But how long had she been attending to him before that?) how was it that she of all people had not noticed the switch? Certainly our striking physical resemblance worked against her. But even given that, you would think, Lucy, who had in all likelihood been attending to Harker since his earliest infancy, would have spotted a counterfeit. Shouldn’t something in my eyes, for example, have given the game away immediately?
Or was it possible, though I shuddered even to consider it, that Lucy had been in on it all along? Could she actually have conspired with Harker? Was she perhaps playing out the absurd charade of continuing to mistake me for Harker only for my own benefit and that of the hospital authorities? Was she not, perhaps, in this way, playing for time, as they say, until Harker, having liquidated all my local assets, would abscond with her back to my home country, there to live comfortably off my paternity while I wasted out the remainder of my days in the ten by ten padded cell that had been allotted to him?
I sat down on the floor for a moment, stunned by the enormity of the crime being perpetrated against me.
They’ll never get away with it, I thought, rising.
At least I had already immobilized one of my adversaries. You could bet there was no noise Lucy could make inside that room that would inspire an investigation on the part of the custodial staff. She ought then to stay put at least until the next morning when an orderly would show up with her (Harker’s (my?)) breakfast. Harker, however, I was sure, would prove far more difficult. He had after all, with extremely limited resources, mastered-minded my present predicament. In light of this—I must admit, stunning—achievement, even his illness was called in to question. Could that too have been entirely a ruse? But to so perfectly mimic the vast array of symptoms he had exhibited would have required an encyclopedic, even professional, knowledge of psychiatry. But in that case, Harker would have had to have been a psychiatrist himself! Could he have been a renegade practitioner who had turned his vast and arduously acquired knowledge of the healing arts to diabolically selfish and destructive ends?! Confronting him was rapidly becoming a significantly daunting prospect. But I had no choice but confront him. My very survival depended upon it. But not here.
I had to get back to my room on the other side of town. That was the key. My clothes were there for one thing (my black ward walking shoes, my lab coats, my respectable trousers and button down shirts, even my socks for God’s sake! (How could I be expected to confront anyone without even a pair of socks?). Those at least would put me on an equal footing with my adversary (the fraud) should I choose to return. But also I had there, in my room, on the other side of town, other resources (assuming, of course, Harker had not already discovered and pillaged them) that might prove instrumental in the coming struggle. And, not least, there was the matter of my other job as Vampire Tracker—rather neglected as of late, I must admit.
I left the ward using the emergency exit at the bottom of the stairwell. The moon was full, the air cool and tangy with salt. It felt good to be outside. It had been quite a while since I had tasted fresh air.
Unfortunately the air did nothing to clear the blur from my memory. A blow—or several—to the head, yes. I could still feel a dull ache from the lumps. Only Lucy…only Lucy… I could only clearly remember those innumerable sessions with Lucy. She was pretending I was Harker. For the authorities. To gain time…But was that really all there was to it? Could it have been their (Harker and Lucy’s) nefarious ambition to expunge my identity completely? Could they not have been attempting, through a regimen of powerful psychoactive drugs and relentless suggestion, to convince even me myself that I was the lunatic Jonathon Harker? My pulse raced at the thought.
I confess that though up until then my nascent plans had so far focused exclusively upon regaining only what was rightfully mine, now my thoughts began to stray toward revenge. I even for a moment considered re-entering the hospital, returning to Harker’s chamber and confronting the incarcerated Lucy with her colossal guilt then and there. And you can bet I would not limit my expressions of outrage to vindictive speeches! But then a sea breeze passed chillingly beneath the skirt of my (actually Harker’s) dirty white bathrobe, bringing me back to the sharp realities of the situation. For the moment, I must abscond.
Still, shivering there in the scrubby, dark cul-de-sac just outside the little used auxiliary exit of the hospital’s most peripheral ward, I vowed, as God was my witness, I would return and when I did, vengeance would be mine!
It was in truth a beautiful night. The moon covered over everything with a milky luminescence such that the expanse of scrub grass through which I ran—dimpled in the night breeze, dark against white dunes cresting high into the air at its furthest edge—took on the characteristics of a stretch of oddly calmed sea, the trough of an immense wave, stretching in wait beneath the gathering whiteness of a breaking surge. My sinews thrilled with freedom. In my exuberance I may even have begun to howl or hoot at the night air. I feared no discovery. The massive face of the Hopeless Ward blank with darkened windows was dead behind me, and with each leap I left it further behind.
~ Excerpt from Harker (novel)
BIO: James Lewelling’s first novel, This Guy, was published in 2005 by Spuyten Duyvil, his second, Tortoise, by Calamari Press in 2008. Over the years, his short fiction has appeared in a variety of literary venues ranging from The Cream City Review to The Stranger to The Evergreen Review to Fence. He has been writing fiction since 1988 while at the same time teaching and working abroad in Morocco (as a Peace Corps volunteer), Turkey and for the last ten years in the U.A.E. At present, he is writing fiction and taking care of his family as a stay at home dad in Abu Dhabi.”