This story was a birthday gift for my son, inspired by one of his mind-blowing questions. After he read it he said “This looks really pro. Like you’ve taken a course.” Thanks kid.
DISCLAIMER: This story might seem to suggest that I am against medication, which is not true. There is a lot more to this story. I take lithium daily and sometimes need clonazepam and olanzapine. Take your meds!
Don’t Call Me Crazy
Something is wrong. I glance around the room. I’m looking for something obvious to stand out. Anything. But it doesn’t. I turn back slowly, doing a one-eighty from shoulder to shoulder, and there it is. The Rubik’s cube on my bookshelf. I haven’t touched that thing in months, so it’s got books and crap leaning or draped on it. But still, it’s impossible not to see that something is wrong with the Rubik’s cube. The colours. They’re off. They keep switching and morphing, so it looks like I’m travelling through a kaleidoscope. If I let my eyes blur, that’s exactly what it looks like, a Star Wars hyper speed multi-coloured tunnel.
I drop the controller I’ve been holding and hear a soft thud as it lands on the rug beside my bed. The Rubik’s cube looks weirdly like the game I was just playing, Grand Theft Auto. Flashes of red resemble brake lights, swirls seem like cars speeding past. Have I somehow been pulled into the game, like Jumanji? No, that’s so stupid I can’t believe I even had the thought. I reach for the remote and switch my TV off. The screen goes black but the cube colours and kaleidoscope tunnels don’t change. I feel drawn to it, like I want to keep flying, but something feels wrong, scary, so I somehow break the spell and force my eyelids to close. This can’t be real. Am I dreaming? With my eyes still closed, I take three deep breaths, even holding them between inhaling and exhaling, like those mindfulness nerds at school teach us to. I still see moving colours in the blackness behind my lids. I open my eyes.
The Rubik’s cube is still fucking nuts. It’s like it’s come alive or something. I’m seriously wondering if it’s about to jump off the shelf and make a run to lunge for me when something else catches my eye. Just two shelves below, also long neglected, sits a photo frame from when I was a kid. A baby, really. It’s me and my mom, just the two of us, before any of my siblings came along. My dad took the shot. It’s pretty cool actually. She’s got me propped up so I’m sitting on her stomach, and I’m playing with the ponytail draped over her shoulder. We’re both just beaming at each other. So much fucking happiness. I wonder when either of us last felt that kind of doped up bliss? I don’t wonder for long though because right now, the picture is also fucking nuts. All the colours are changing. Her hair is blonde then brown then red then green then purple then blue then every shade of every other colour on the wheel. Same with my skin, clothes, her shirt, the chair, and every other damn thing, even the frame. What the hell?
I force myself to look away so I can check if anything else is going crazy in my room. Pretty much everything has become psychedelic splatter art.
A knock on my bedroom door brings me out of my trance.
“Joel?” My mom. She can’t see this place like this.
“One second,” I say a little too loud. I don’t know if all my senses are as screwed up as my vision, but I feel like I can hear her sigh and see her prop one hand on her hip through the wooden door. I reach for my hoodie and my hand starts to shake as it gets closer to the fabric. I have this feeling of dread that touching it will burn or send me spinning into the vortex or something equally bad. But I have to do it. I grab it and draw my fingers into a fist as I suck in a breath. Nothing happens. I throw it on the pile of clothes on my floor and reach down to pick the whole thing up. Again, nothing happens. I start to shovel everything into my closet. It all keeps changing colour so fast that I can barely register one shade before it’s turned into something else. There’s no point trying to hide everything I own. Even my walls, which used to be light gray, are morphing through the spectrum, and for some reason they also seem to have waves rippling up and down, everywhere. How do you hide walls that have turned into an ocean of Skittles?
“Joel?” Mom asks again. This time I’m the one to sigh quietly, before I walk to open the door and face her. She is going to be pissed. I open my door a crack, trying to block her field of vision so she can’t see the damage behind me, and wait for her to notice and react.
“Dinner’s ready,” she says. “Meatloaf.”
That’s it? Her face looks calm. Wait, her face looks like a fucking rainbow. And her clothes, her hair, and everything else in the hallway behind her. The walls out here, which used to be blue, are also full of colour-changing waves. It took me a minute to realize… I guess I’m adapting to this new normal. But why hasn’t Mom said anything? Doesn’t she see it too?
“Okay, thanks,” I say. She turns to go. “Hey, Mom?”
She looks back at me with her eyebrows raised like a question mark.
“Are you feeling okay?”
She tilts her head and her mouth forms a small frown.
“Yes. Are you feeling okay, Joel?”
“Nothing seems… different to you?”
She looks me up and down as she purses her lips and shakes her head.
“No. Why? Is something different? Did you change your hair?”
“No,” I say. “Never mind. I’ll be right there for dinner.”
She gives me a smile with apparently no awareness that her face keeps freakishly changing colour, and turns to walk away.
“Love you,” she calls out behind her.
“Love you,” I reply, my voice barely louder than a whisper.
This waiting room was designed for kids. When I look beyond the colour explosions, which I’ve adapted to and can somehow ignore, all I see are toys, picture books, and those bendy-wire brain games that parents go apeshit about. Great. It’s not bad enough that I’m here to see a shrink, but it looks like it’s a pediatric shrink. Quack quack.
It’s been two weeks since the Crayola box exploded in my brain. I didn’t say anything to anyone at first because I thought it would go away. Mom figured it out though. The first time I messed up was when she asked me to pass her a red mug and I reached for the one closest to me, which she informed me was green. Red, green, purple, it looked like every freaking colour to me. The next day she went to have her hair done and asked me if I liked the new colour. I told her it looked great and gave her a big thumbs up, and she gave me a cock-eyed look with her head tilted towards her shoulder. It was the same old shade, she’d asked as a test. After that she began to pepper me every chance she could until she wore me down. When I told her what was going on, the colours on her face continued to change but every shade was ghostly pale.
She took me to our doctor, who referred us to this doc, who is running so late that he’s burned any respect I might have had, along with my patience. My appointment was over an hour ago! What kind of psychiatrist keeps a new patient waiting that long? Whatever, I’ve been reading up about this condition and it doesn’t exist. Nowhere. There is nothing written about it anywhere that I can find. Which means there’s nothing.
“Joel Ling?” A male voice calls out. He says my name so fast that it sounds like only one word. I hate it when people do that.
I look up and see an impeccably dressed man with closely cropped hair and framed glasses staring into me. He stares at me without blinking. His smile looks forced. I can tell because of how dark green his lips are. His entire face is dark green. I’ve been paying attention to the colours these past weeks. I know it sounds crazy, I know it is crazy, but it feels like they talk to me. The dark ones make my hair stand up. My teachers are dark most of the time, and Dad is too when he’s pissed off. Mom’s usually pastel. I haven’t seen my brother, Wade, much lately but whenever I do he’s black. No swirls or changing colours, just black. It freaks me out.
“Do you want me to come in with you, Joel?” Mom grips my arm with her left hand, which is slowly alternating between bright red, orange, and yellow. She must be nervous.
“You can if you want,” I say. Her skin becomes a bolder red. “It doesn’t matter to me.” Her colour intensity relaxes immediately. She leans back into her chair and offers me a smile.
“I’ll be right here,” she says. I nod.
I stand and walk towards the man in the doorway, who still stares at me with the same fake smile. His features haven’t changed, and neither has his green skin. Weird. Without a word he turns and walks down the hallway. I follow. He stops at an open door and turns to face me, motioning me into his office with an outstretched hand. I walk in and take a seat. This room is nothing like the waiting room. There are no toys, books, or bright colours, and nothing hangs on the walls. It’s a small room, with a small desk, which contains a computer, a notepad, a closed file folder, presumably mine, and nothing else. The bookshelf behind the desk has cabinet doors, which are closed. The entire room is varying shades of grey, mostly dark.
The guy sits in a very expensive looking chair and stares even further into me, like he’s literally trying to read my brain. I feel droplets of cold sweat on the back of my neck.
“Hello, Joel,” he says. “I’m Doctor Insane.”
“What?” I say too loudly as I almost fall off the edge of my chair. Is he playing some kind of psychiatrist’s joke?
“My name is Doctor Hussain,” he says. His forced smile has turned into a smirk, one he’s barely trying to conceal. I’m beginning to wish Mom was in here with me.
I nod and mumble some sort of greeting.
“Can you tell me what brings you here today?”
Seriously? No casual conversation to build trust and make me feel safe? He’s just going to jump right in? Fuck that. This guy’ll pull out the strait jacket if I tell him anything.
“I’ve been feeling weird,” I say as slowly as I can.
He nods and furrows his dark green eyebrows, which I guess is his way of pretending he cares. Wait, his dark green eyebrows are STILL dark green. Just like the rest of his skin. He hasn’t changed once. That hasn’t happened with anyone except Wade. Everyone else’s colours change constantly, sometimes so fast I can’t keep up. And no one else has been one solid colour, except Wade. What the?
“Weird how, Joel?”
Weird like I’m crazy, doc. What does he think, I’m just going to spill all my secrets? This guy has a medical degree?
“Just weird,” I say.
He nods and keeps staring into me, but the smile on his face is gone.
“Okay,” he says. “You know, Joel, I can only help you if you talk to me.”
It sounds more like a threat than an invitation. Even his words sound dark, like his dark green face and the dark grey walls. Wait, that’s another thing I just realized. His wall are all the same dark grey. Everything in his office is a varying shade of grey but none of it is changing, just like nothing about his colour is changing. What is going on? It’s like before any of this colour-fuckery began and things just looked normal. Except that his normal is green.
I shake my head. Nothing about this feels right. In fact, it all feels terribly wrong. My sweat is cold, skin is clammy, and all my adrenaline is screaming at me to fight or flight. And so I do. I stand up, raise two fists defensively while bending my knees in what I hope is a believable boxing stance, and look him in the eye. I open my mouth to command him to face me, but before I can say the words he gives me a green smirk and, in slow-motion, reaches across his desk to push what is probably a bright red emergency stop button but in this office it is dark grey, not once taking his slimy eyes off of me.
“I was hoping you’d do that,” he says, each syllable is drawn out and spreads like corn syrup, deeper than a church choir’s baritone.
I reach for the doorknob with a sinking feeling. Did he just lock me in here with that button? But it turns with barely any effort on my part. I yank the door towards me and there goes the fight. Now it’s time to flee.
The waiting room is empty except for Mom, whose head rests back against the wall behind her chair. Her eyes are closed.
“Mom, we gotta go,” I say softly. I have no idea why I’m trying to be quiet. Dr. Scaryquack already knows I’m out here. Mom’s eyelids slowly open, like she’s forcing them up through quicksand. She looks more tired than I’ve ever seen her.
“Go? You’re done already?”
Now she looks tired and confused. I cross the room and reach for her arms to pull her up.
“Yes. We have to go,” I say more firmly. A deep red shade crosses over her face, joining the dark swirls interrupting her usual pastels. It’s fear. The red is fear. The colours are emotions! But I don’t have time to analyze this revelation. Dr. Scaryquack has caught up to me. He’s watching from the doorway, leaning against the frame, his reptilian arms crossed over his too-puffy emerald-coloured chest. That shirt was darker in his office.
“Joel, you should come back. We should talk,” he says, staring directly at my mother. She meets his eye and now she stands, shoulders back, head held high, and draws me close to her by wrapping one arm around my shoulder. Her colours race so fast I can’t keep up with them. They all look brilliant though.
“Joel is not feeling well,” she says firmly. “I’ll reschedule.”
He doesn’t reply but he takes a step forward and an ugly red-green blush creeps up his face. I step forward too, reach for Mom’s hand, and pull her towards the exit. Where did the receptionist go? Why is there no one else in this room?
“He needs help, dear,” he says. “I can help him.” He reaches slowly into his army green pants pocket and then slowly out again, this time holding something in his balled up fist. He holds it up for us to see and with a dramatic snap, opens his fingers to reveal a bottle of pills. Even the bottle is a translucent green.
“Mom, let’s go,” I say, tugging at her arm. She drops her head to one side. She looks almost hypnotized.
“Steven?” A voice behind Dr. Scary startles him. He turns, scowling, and his gaze follows as another man, a monochrome lilac man, steps around him into our field of vision. He stands slightly blocking Dr. Scary, who has narrowed his eyes and now wears swirly black forest shades of green with dramatic spiral bursts of brilliant yellow, like a shield. It’s the first time he’s worn a bright colour. What does yellow mean again?
“We were just leaving,” Mom says. Her voice is a lot calmer than her colours, which have slowed down but are still bright and the main theme is red. She takes a step forward as this new guy scowls at Dr. Scary and then turns to us. We freeze.
“I apologize if my colleague has offended you,” he says directly to me. His words are calm and his eyes are kind, but can I trust him? Something about his lilacness makes me think I can.
“Thanks,” I say. “It’s fine.” I push Mom to get her moving again. We cross the room in silence and finally, finally, Mom reaches for the doorknob, which turns easily in her hand, and swings the door open. We can’t get outside fast enough. Mom’s colours start to settle down and the red dissipates. We’re still holding each other’s hands, something we haven’t done since I was a kid. It feels nice. Reassuring. I look down at our skin and discover that it is a pastel shade of pinkish red. It makes me smile.
“Sounds awesome. I’d pay for that trip.”
My brother Wade, who barely talks to anyone in our family, has been talking to me for over an hour.
“Wade, it’s not like…” I leave the sentence unfinished but we both know what I was going to say. It’s not like a high that eventually goes away. It’s not like the drugs we all know he’s doing.
He gives me a serious, bug-eyed stare, and for a moment I think he might get up, storm out, punch me, or worse, but his colours are calm. He’s usually black and always dark but right now he’s got bright blue, green, yellow, even purple bursting all over his skin and clothes like bubbles. Somehow it looks like laughter.
“Yeah, man, I know.” He smiles a kind of handsome smile. Wade would be great if he wasn’t so fucked up all the time. When I was a kid I once had pneumonia and had to stay in the hospital. Wade never left my side. Mom or Dad stayed too, they traded so they could each go home and shower and get stuff done, but Wade was always there. He read to me, made paper airplanes with me, and a lot of the time just lay cuddled up with me in my hospital bed. He never once tried to eat the dessert on my meal tray.
“So, what are you going to do?” he asks. He looks at me like I should already have an answer to this question. I hang my head, round my shoulders, and focus on the cotton-candy clouds dancing across his sneakers.
“I don’t know.” My voice is barely louder than a whisper but Wade nods.
“No one knows, man,” he says. “No one knows what to do.”
He reaches for his TV remote, turns on the television, puts the remote down, and picks up the remote for the PlayStation. I guess our nice brotherly moment is over.
“Maybe think of it like your super power,” he says. He reaches for a second PS4 remote and tosses it to me. It lands in the gap between my thigh and the couch. I guess our nice brotherly moment is not over. I hope not. Wade and I haven’t gamed together in years. We’ve barely talked in years.
“Yeah,” I say. Some super power.
“Seriously, man, it sounds cool. You can see behind what someone’s saying to know how they’re feeling? That’s like super intuitiveness or something. It’s not flying or super strength, but still.” He looks from the screen directly at me. “Better than nothing.”
Better than nothing. Is this better than nothing? I guess before all this started would be nothing. I thought things were okay then. But, come to think of it, okay is not great. Things aren’t great now, but they weren’t great before either. It is kind of cool to know someone’s mood before he’s even said anything, like that jerk doctor. Seems like useful information for me. It’s also kind of cool that Wade seems impressed. I don’t remember the last time I did anything that impressed him. I don’t remember the last time he was calm like this. Happy, but mellow.
“You playing?” His eyebrows are arched and head tilts toward the TV. I’ve been staring at his popping pastel colours for so long that I didn’t realize he’d started a game. GTA. I haven’t played it since the night this all began. Even seeing the cars on the screen makes my heart beat faster. But something tells me it’s all in my head. I take a deep breath and my nerves settle down.
“This is what I was playing the night this colour stuff started,” I say. I reach for the remote. My palms are sweaty and it’s hard for me to maintain control. I keep crashing or falling off bridges. Baby stuff. Like when Mom plays.
“Man, you suck tonight,” Wade says. “Did your spidey colour-vision throw off your game too?”
My first instinct is to lash out at him, because maybe it did and I’m fucked forever, but then I see him sitting on the couch, leaning forward with his elbows resting on both knees. The pastel pops have turned into a bright rainbow and each colour looks like it’s bursting. Bursting with joy.
“Looks like it,” I say. I chuckle and so does Wade. We both start to laugh while I continue to crash and he crosses the finish line.
“That was just my warm-up round,” I say with more confidence than I feel. I don’t know if my skill level is tied to this colour thing, but I don’t care if I lose all night. I just want to stay here with Wade looking like a box of smarties.
“Okay, man, bring it.” He starts the game again. This time I go almost six blocks before I sideswipe a motorcycle and smash into a brick wall. We laugh and I start again. It becomes a pattern: crash, laugh, start again. But even though I keep crashing, I notice that I’m getting better. Not better enough to beat Wade, that has never happened, but better enough to at least finish without crashing. We keep playing for a while, and I keep sneaking sidelong glances at him just so I won’t forget this moment when tomorrow he goes back to being a dick. Suddenly, I notice something.
“Wade—” I jump up and my remote falls to the floor. He calmly turns to look at me. “Your colours! They’re gone!”
Wade looks down at his arms and chest and legs and he even bends in half to look at his feet.
“Whaddya mean ‘gone’? I’m the same colours I’ve been all night.”
“Exactly! You’re the same colours you always are! All night you’ve been changing but now you’re normal!”
He looks at me with an expression that suggests he’s unimpressed. He doesn’t seem to get how big of a deal this is. I glance up and around the room.
“Everything is the same! Nothing is swirling or exploding or anything! The couch is the same old brown leather it always was!” When we first started playing, the couch was purple.
“Wow, man, GTA really fucks you up.”
Yeah, as if it’s that simple. Wait, could it be that simple? Could Grand Theft Auto be the reason for this weird multi-colour phenomenon? And also the reason it stopped? Has it stopped? Could I start it again? Do I want to?
© Charise Jewell, 2021