Where the Wild Things Were
by Mizhowlinmad (HBF), 2010
Summary: Set immediately after "If Thou Sorrow." Murdock finds himself in a new home, but is he really a new man? ATSB TTD "Mirror."
Disclaimer: TAT belongs to SJC and Universal. I'm borrowing them for a carom or two off the bouncy walls. Apologies also to Maurice Sendak and The Byrds.
Dedicated: Once again, to H.S. and to all my Vietnam veteran friends. I'm proud to know you.
The evening comes with a soft sigh. Strips of sunlight alternate with shadows across the walls. It looks as though the bars are not just on the window, but surrounding the entire room.
It unsettles him. Badly.
The room itself is not large, only about as big as a $29-nightly motel might be. Its walls have been rather hastily re-daubed with uneven white paint, and some of the stains beneath are still glaringly obvious. Rust-colored, splattery stains. One that resembles a tarantula from some child's worst nightmare.
But there are walls surrounding him, for the first time in a long time. Whether they exist to keep the monsters out or in, he is unable to say for now.
It's so cold.
The air conditioning is arctic, and it feels unnatural against his skin. He almost misses the raspy kiss of hot city air across his forehead, and the gritty caress of the streets every night before he sleeps. Almost. They have been feeding him, too…the first few dozen times, gingerly through the cat-flap in the door, as with a rabid animal. Just today, now that he's "behaving himself," he was allowed in the mess with the Others. He barely noticed.
The food here is not rotten, or fetid with heat, or nibbled on by rats. That in itself is a treat. He's eaten it all, down to the last crumbs, not caring that it's bland and industrial. Maybe he's even gained a few pounds.
For many moons he has been a pale gypsy, going from place to place, eating what and whenever he likes, singing at the top of his lungs when the demented Muse visits him (often), wearing his beloved but tattered garb until it fell apart. Here, he is only confused with ORDER and all these people in white uniforms who want ORDER.
"Roll up your sleeve. I'll just need to take some blood. Won't hurt a b…GOD-dammit, he bit me, get restraints!"
"Now, it's time for group therapy, Mr. Murdock. You can play your game later…no, I'm afraid the session is mandatory."
"Tell me about your mother. She's deceased? Scribble, scribble. How does that make you feel?"
So many questions. So many demands. His head hurts with them. Always it's ….like he were a creature with four legs instead of two. A stupid animal. They'd done everything but make him wear a leash, and he isn't about to put it past them.
Everything here is ORDER. Like the cogs of a big cosmic watch, neatly and predictably turning, turning, precisely in place, as the Time Lords watch from their perches with amusement.
The Muse keens, screeches in his mind, the way only She can:
To everything, turn, turn, turn
There is a season, turn, turn, turn…
He remembers vaguely that casinos don't have clocks. Those crazy bastards who run those places want their happy little gamblers to forget all their troubles, relax, spend all their dollars right down the tube, never thinking of what time it is, yes they do. Maybe the Time Lords, or whoever is in charge here, are somehow related to those deviant souls.
Because his mind is racing as if it's been injected with a mixed infusion of Tabasco and speedballs. Time, ticktock, ticktock, how long has he been here anyway? Days? Weeks? A month? It has all the meaning of an empty Coke can thrown in a gutter. He forgets, because they want him to forget. They are all out to destroy him with their shots and their pills and their "therapy."
The Muse stops singing and whispers seductively to him. They say they want to help you. Do you believe any of that shit for one second? You're a prisoner here…
But it isn't really her voice. It's the other one's voice, the delicate, feminine hiss of a viper before she sinks her fangs into an unsuspecting mouse.
"Shut up, fool!"
That voice, he knows. From where, is a mystery. (Seems like it's some kind of sucker…maybe?) It's a random piece of a thousand-piece puzzle, and he doesn't have the picture on the box to guide himself. It could be a castle or a bunny in a meadow or a lighthouse.
So many voices in this place. He hears them at night. They whisper. Taunting him. Laughing at his predicament.
"Best goddamn Huey pilot I ever knew…look at 'im now, bouncin' off the fuckin' walls…"
"And that's how you make the perfect Molotov…"
"Captain, listen to me. I'll need you to give us some air cover here…"
And they're gone for now. They'll be back.
He's flat on his back on the bed. It's lumpy and too small to accommodate his six-foot-one frame, but it is a bed. It's the first time he's slept on a real bed of any kind in eight months.
No paper stars taped to the ceiling. He'd have to fix that, eventually.
Finally, last night, they'd let him out of that other place and given him his own quarters. The other room where all colors but white were stripped away, along with hope itself, and he was forced to gnaw in vain at the straps binding his arms forcibly to his body. Through the red haze of pain and drugged stupor, the last thing he remembered hearing had been someone muttering "dangerous to himself and others."
He knows he's not dangerous. But he is afraid. The gangbangers and addicts and feral animals prowling Garrett and Thurman Streets were monsters, but they were monsters with weaknesses. Monsters he knew. Monsters he could slay.
These monsters, in their starched coats and shiny shoes, are worse. They demand of him. They want him to "get better" so he can be a "productive member of society." That one whitecoat always uses those exact words in his chirpy little voice. He hates that damn little chickadee.
Now the sunlight is only a tiny square on the floor, just in front of the bed. A patch of inviting in an ocean of cold and sterile and hostile everything else. He stretches his foot out, feeling the familiar sensation of gentle warmth on skin. It reminds him that beyond these walls is a world filled with helicopters and frozen pizzas and Pac-Man games and bougainvillea in bloom…
He has to get out of here. Somehow. If he doesn't, they'll fatten him up and serve him with an apple in his mouth on Christmas Eve. Or maybe sell him as a slave to marauding aliens.
Quit the jibber-jabber and help yourself, fool.
The voice again. It's gruff and deep and commanding, and he definitely knows it from somewhere. Then the Muse cuts in and continues her siren song:
A time for every purpose under heaven..
The thought of frozen pizzas remind him that he's hungry. Very hungry.
They'll be coming soon to feed him, no doubt. He wonders whether it'll be meatloaf or spaghetti tonight, and whether the dessert will have a sprinkling of cinnamon on top the way he likes it. Then, after that, then he'll plan a daring escape. But he has to eat first.
Maybe the Time Lords have their infernal devices. He does too. When they come with his slop, he will be ready for them. The bedspread isn't flannel and it isn't soft and it doesn't have any of his favorite cartoon characters dancing across it. It's plain and gray. It'll do. He'll only need it for a minute. The bedspread goes around his shoulders like a cloak.
Beneath its bulk, his eyes twinkle and his lips curl up in a playful snarl. If he'd had a copy of Wolves in Sheep's Clothing, he'd be a suitable choice for the title character.
"And now," he sing-songs, "let the wild rumpus begin!"
His room is completely dark now. No one has been to check on him for a long time, which means someone must be on their way. His senses are keen and he hears every footstep on the linoleum outside.
There's the swing shift nurse with her click-click staccato, and behind her, a flat-footed orderly who always bumps into things, and…
He stops. Something different. And different, in this place, is never good.
It's a man; he can only tell that much. Click-Click is walking with him in stride, and they're talking. About him.
"Come to me, my precious," he mouths.
There's a nice, deep shadowy spot behind the door, and it's perfect for a sneak attack. Whoever it is is about to get a nice surprise, and not a Book of the Month Club delivery.
"Thanks, Nurse Prater, I'll take it from here…"
A key jiggles in the door handle. Whoever it is is a brave SOB. About to enter the lion's den, with a bloody steak in his arms.
He waits. Nurse Prater is click-clicking her way back down the corridor. The door finally opens, and the man searches in vain for a light switch.
"Now where is that li…..AAAARGGGGHHH!"
The man's scream is cut off immediately as Murdock claps a hand over his mouth and jumps on his back like a demented rodeo rider. Even in the near-darkness, he can tell it's a whitecoat. He doesn't like whitecoats.
"Now, let my people go!"
"For crying out loud, Murdock, it's me!"
And he knows. One more piece of the puzzle.
"Who'd you think it was? The pizza man?" Face says, recovering and, still piggybacking Murdock, finding the light switch. "Didn't you get my message?"
Message. Dammit. He'd known there was something weird about the paper napkin at lunch that had "Tonight, 2045, I'll be there. Now eat this" handwritten on it. At the time, he hadn't been able to make the connection.
Murdock climbs down and sheepishly makes his way over to the bed, still clutching the bedspead to him like the Golden Fleece. "Sorry, Face," he manages. He's embarrassed that he almost concussed one of the few people who really cares about him.
"Were you going to knock me out or something?"
"Uh, yeah. I thought you were one of them," he says. It is an easy mistake to make. Face is dressed in white and has a badge on his chest and a stethoscope around his neck.
For a minute, neither says anything. Face still rubs at his head where a fist dealt him a glancing blow. Murdock sits on the edge of his bed.
"So, how are you liking it here? I know it's not Club Med or anything."
That's the understatement of the century. Far as he knows, nobody at Club Med gets tube-fed anything or forced to piss in a cup.
Murdock doesn't know what to say. Face wanted him to come here; talked him into it. But Face could sell a gross of Frigidaires to a Lapplander couple in January. Which makes him question his motivation even more.
"Face?" He is surprised at the tone of his voice. There's anger, and trepidation, along with the fear. "Can you break me outta here?"
Sadly, Face shakes his head. "It was hard enough for me to get visiting rights. They wouldn't let me in for the first week, when you were in isolation. Don't you remember?"
He doesn't. The time between Face coming to get him on Garrett Street and now is a patchwork quilt of memories, and unraveling fast. He doesn't want to remember the screaming and the kicking and the thrashing any more than he has to. So he shrugs.
" I guess…"
"Hey." Face moves closer, puts a strong, caring arm around his shoulders. "I'm here now. And I'm not going anywhere. They think I'm your doc's intern, so we've got till morning. Oh, and I almost forgot." He reaches into the inside pocket of his jacket and produces a theater-size box of Whoppers. "Thought you'd like these as a change of pace."
Murdock grabs the box, rips it open, savages its contents. They're gone in scarcely a minute. He wipes his mouth with his bare arm.
"And I thought I was in need of a sugar fix," Face says dryly, offering a hankie.
"How'd you remember I liked those, Face?" For the first time tonight, Murdock smiles.
"Would I forget something as important as that?" Face smiles along with him. "You look like you're gaining some weight, getting back some of your color. But you never did tan well."
"Really?" Along with the absence of clocks, the Powers that Be and the Time Lords have banished mirrors from this place. They're probably just afraid that someone might use them to cut their own wrists, but…
"See for yourself." Face flicks open his pocket vanity mirror, his lucky one with "T.P." engraved on it in fancy script.
Murdock sees a ghost. It's not the same phantom that recently haunted Garrett Street. This vision is an angular face, crowned with a quarter-inch fuzz of hair coming down into a sharp widow's peak on the forehead. Dark eyes glinting with the same anxiety the squirrel feels at the hawk's swooping approach. A lanky, but rangy and powerful, upper body with old souvenir scars of Nam barely visible through a dark thatch of hair on the torso.
It's not a man he'd want to cross. It is a man whose muscles are coiled like a steel spring. It takes him a moment to realize he is staring at his own reflection.
"You don't look quite the same without your hair," Face says. "Last time you looked like that, you and I were wet behind the ears and dodging bullets outside Da Nang, remember?"
That, he can remember. Just one of a half-dozen times Face had saved his life. He also remembers now what happens to his hair (as he recalls, the nurse had recoiled in disgust at his head lice and immediately grabbed a set of clippers.)
"How could I forget?"
Face looks briefly at his watch. He's an outsider, and is therefore allowed to have one. "So, since my date backed out on me tonight, I'm all yours. What do you want to do?"
He's always been like that. Able to calm the waters just by looking at them. Like he knows exactly what you need. Murdock feels himself smiling again, and it feels strange. The answer to Face's question isn't an easy one.
I could tell him I hate it here. Or I could have him help me sneak out. Knowing him, it'll be easy-breezy. Or we could just shoot the breeze, like the old times.
And it does feel like old times, back in the team's hooch. Face in his disguise that's just silly enough to work, him in a pair of well-worn camo trousers and nothing else. Like they were in Khe Sanh or Cam Ranh Bay instead of boring old Westwood.
"Can you at least promise me one thing?"
"Long as it's not the Brooklyn Bridge. I'm afraid I already sold it."
Murdock thinks of how he wants to say what he's about to.
"Can you come see me on weekends?"
Face smiles. His "dazzle me" smile. "I'll come and see you whenever you want. And I think I'll be able to swing that air-hockey machine you had your eyes on last Christmas. You know, make this place a little more livable? Huh?"
"Yeah…" That would definitely be cool. "How about a foosball table, too?"
"Murdock, like I said, whatever you want. And before long, I'll be getting weekend passes outta here for you. Just got to get to know the right people."
Before long. The way Face says it, it gives him hope. Real hope, the kind with feathers.
There are still bars on the window, and somewhere nearby, the Time Lords plot to hide his clocks and his mirrors and keep him locked away until he can be a Productive Member of Society. Somewhere in the back of his mind, the voices whisper and seduce and entice. The Muse howls like a woman possessed.
Just for now, he decides, he doesn't give a flying fuck about any of them. They can wait.