By James Dixon
Key Themes: Mental Health, PTSD
Witness Joe Pilgrim, recently returned veteran of the conflict in Afghanistan, child of the age of terror, recent convert to a particularly dogmatic branch of Catholicism and newly diagnosed sufferer of post-traumatic stress disorder. Fleeing his family as the terror of his past catches up with him, he crashes his car and is taken to reside within the Isis Trust Home, one of the best, and most secure, mental health facilities in the country.
Whilst there he meets Jonah S., renowned physicist, bestselling author of science fiction, outspoken advocate of a hard line brand of anti-theism, and lifelong manic depressive. Delusional, paranoid and befuddled by medication, Jonah S. is nevertheless still a sharp polemicist; as the two patients get to know one another they each question the other’s world view, with drastic, deadly consequences.
About the Author
Born in south London in 1990, and now living in Edinburgh, James Dixon was diagnosed with clinical depression in his early teens. After several years of treatment, at the age of twenty-one, he was diagnosed with Type II Bipolar disorder. Writing is, for him, both a cathartic experience and an intellectual investigation into the effects of the psyche on the human condition.
After writing several novellas and short stories in his early twenties, he began his first full length novel, Death and the Pilgrim, six months after his diagnosis as a way to explore the many ways that perception, and in particular the clouded perception granted by the dysfunctional thought patterns suffered both by diagnosed mental health patients and by the general public as a whole, can affect people’s world views.
‘You calmed down now, nut-job? Aha ha ha!’
Witness Joe Pilgrim: this beautiful line lies along the upper echelons of his wit’s boundaries. He refers, in his own callous way, to an incident that had occurred this morning, and from which I only recovered a few minutes ago. They drugged me, the bastards, and I have been out cold for hours while they settled the rest of the ward down and pretended that there was nothing to worry about.
After breakfast today we began our experiment. Some of my comrades didn’t believe me; others clearly decided to play along, but a couple- Rousseau, Billy Fulcrum and a few others, thought it possible. Even Flashman backed me up, claiming that he had known for some time before he had been committed that something else was out there, something sinister. Big Brother is watching, I told them, just open your minds to that fact and their power will start to dissolve. Joe Pilgrim snorted, called me paranoid and walked away.
My experiment: if They can watch us, I reasoned, then we could shatter the one way mirrors and stare straight back at Them. Accordingly, after breakfast we sat in the day room in a small circle, seven of us in total, all with the our backs to one another, staring outwards. Billy Fulcrum said that he would keep an eye out for the tiny cameras that peep around the corners in this place; O’Donhal and Flashman, experienced in such matters, watched the doors- if any of Big Brother’s agents came bursting in to break up their vigil then the two men would deal with them; myself and Rousseau were in charge of the mirrors, noting that they were likely places behind which the agents might be hiding.
Another two, an old man named Jeremiah Fitzroy, and a teenage girl who called herself, simply, Rose, minded the air conditioning units for signs of gas being pumped in (this, I was sure, would be a fundamental weapon of theirs.)
Thus positioned, we stood guard. I stared at my reflection in the mirror, scrawny and unshaven, as it listened and looked and waited. On the other side of our circle Rousseau was posed in the same way, alert and staring.
And there, my old nemesis, there it was!
Imagine this: just at the edge of my vision, peeping from a corner of the mirror, hardly noticeable to an inexperienced eye, is a dark face, shrouded in shadow and bespectacled. A clipboard is there. It is out of my view but he is clearly taking notes- I can see his shoulder moving from the motion of his pen strokes, and his lips whisper under his breath. Everybody else in the room is watching too, all of those who scorned my theories and rejected the invitation to stand vigil with us, all of those who sat at jigsaw puzzles, chess sets and card games, they are all aware of the scratching of this man’s pen as he records our comings and goings. They’re trying to act like they don’t know, keeping their eyes determinedly fixed on the games that they are playing, but they aren’t fooling anybody. I know they’re just scared.
I don’t blame them, but still.
The nurses and the guards are watching the mirrors too. They look at me one minute, and then at the mirrors, and back and forth. They’ve clearly sussed out that I’m on to their game, and they’re just waiting for orders from the top to deal with me. Ha! I think: I’ve rattled their cages.
Rose, sitting two spaces to my left, gave a soft moan. Following her gaze towards the air vent I saw what it was that had scared her. Thick white smoke billowed out, carrying with it the stench of rotten eggs, of mustard gas, of everything bad ever done, everything bad that could might would be done; as we watched it sank downwards and began to settle along the ground. Everybody else, keeping up their pretence, acted as though nothing was happening. Traitors, one and all-
No, this is unfair. Flashman and O’Donhal stayed put, not shifting to deal with the agents that would soon be bursting through the door; Rousseau, Fitzroy and Rose did nothing, content merely to keep up the charade of watching; the game players and gamblers about the room carried on, mechanically, with their leisure. Billy Fulcrum, however, was with me. He jumped to his feet, squawking and shrieking:
‘My God, my God, he was right, he is right- Listen, everybody! Jonah is right, they’re coming!’
And then an orderly had him under the armpits. Jackboots pounded the corridors outside, doors buzzed as key cards were swiped, and two tall men burst in. One punched me in the stomach, grabbing me by the collar so that I didn’t hit the floor- I merely went limp in his grasp, winded and gasping as spittle flew from my mouth. By the sounds of it Billy Fulcrum, apparently my only true friend in this nut-house, was getting similar treatment. The white smoke, the stars at the edges of my eyes, the air restricting in my lungs, the needle looming before me, pricking me and dispensing-
Darkness came, closing its shroud.