AN/ A while ago I wrote a story called 'The Wastelands' (a sequel/parallel storyline should be up some time soon),and the wonderful danang1970 (whose stories are made of pure awesome, so please go and read them) reviewed with an interesting alternate interpretation on what happened in the story. Although it wasn't meant that way, the idea for this one shot popped into my head, and wouldn't go away. And obviously the concept of writing something deliberately ambiguous appealed to my evil nature of screwing with my readers ;-)
A hell of a lot of research went into this, most of it which probably isn't apparent in the story, but that's why it's taken so long to get this up. Hope you guys like anyway.
"I know they've all been talking 'bout me
I can hear them whisper
And it makes me think there must be something wrong with me"
Unwell, Matchbox 20
His head feels filled with sawdust as he opens his eyes. Dry, scratchy sleep clings to his lashes, and his eyes roll momentarily in his head as the world creates itself around him, unable to commit to any one thought. Ideas are dulled and heavy in his brain, and it takes much effort on his behalf to focus himself to follow his trains of thought. He keeps wandering off, back to the blank page of thinking nothing at all.
He doesn't know where he is. That is the first piece of knowledge which sticks.
Something is covering his eyes, allowing him to only see crumpled dark. In the past that has never spelt anything good, and his mind begins to work up to a heightened capacity, forcing its placidity away. He imagines a blindfold tied over his eyes stopping him from seeing the surroundings he is imprisoned in, a restrictive hood over his head, so he strikes out at it in a panic of motion, grabbing it with his fingers; at this point he doesn't stop to consider it strange that his face is covered while his hands have been left untied. Whatever is restricting his face he tears away, freeing his sight. Sitting bolt upright, the brightness knocks him to shuttering his lids back shut, dizziness from sudden motion making him sway.
He pivots around blindly, disorientated, but wherever he is, it appears to be against an edge, and his movement over to one side has him falling from a height in a tumble of his own frantic limbs caught up in something, cursing in a voice which is croaky from unemployment. His arms he pulls around to protect his face from damage as the floor connects with the side of his body. There is a weight that crushes down upon him, on top of him. In his head, he sees an assailant, the same person who blindfolded him, and in his fright, he hits out, kicking with his bare feet at his enemy.
Someone is trying to kill him, it dawns on him suddenly, a cold sweat overtaking him, fuelling his fearfulness. Whoever they are, they're going to strangle him, and he feels a pressure around his neck, tightening with every fight he puts up. It's to subdue him, to stop him struggling. They are the men from his past reality in war, terrors from his nightmares made tangible, faceless monsters with dark blackened hearts, and they want him to choke up the secrets they're trying to tear from his lips. They want him to tell, like they did before. There'll be a prick in his arm or neck as they hold him down, injecting a chemical devil in his blood stream through a needle; Sodium Pentothal, a truth serum drug banned under several human rights conventions that tempts him and beckons him to blaspheme and inform all. Tell us what we want to know, it whispered then and it will whisper now, tell us and all the pain will stop. Don't you see it'll be better for everyone? Except he wont, he'll never divulge to these bastards anything – they'll use it to hurt his team, hunt them down and he wont let that happen.
The men with no faces he can see out of the corner of his eyes as they hold him tight with hands clamped, nails digging crescent moon marks into his upper arms, and he can hear them running through a barrage of monotonous questions as his head is submerged underwater. The waterline stops at his ears, his whole face forced under, but he wont tell them anything, he'll kill them before they'll get anything out of him. But damn they might just kill him first, because his lungs are burning, his heart thundering, the little supply of oxygen he managed to inhale before exhausted already, and he's choking and struggling as they hold him under, thrashing wildly to no avail, and he's scared that this time they aren't going to pull him back up...
Then air, blessed air that he drags back ferociously into his lungs so he can stop feeling like he's going to drown, his hair plastered against his scalp, water trailing off his skin to the floor, and this is his chance, and he turns back round at them, snarling. And in his head he claws with fingers that are suddenly talons at those faces (Make them hurt, make them bleed, sing the voices in his head). There are the crimson splatters of blood on his hands like a Jackson Pollock original, and he glances up into dark eyes and sees that he was right from the beginning, that they really have no faces at all where a face should be, and underneath the dark cowls they wear there is only a skeletal head on which the foundations of facial muscles have been built up, fusing into the bone in a horrific mix of off-white bone and grotesque lines of red tendons, and those monsters are laughing and cackling at his puny attempts at freedom as they lean down at him again –
And then it is not his phantoms that have grasped him, he realises as reality hits him again, his imaginings fading back into the nothing that they have always been. It is only a duvet, pulled down with him in his fall from what appears to be a bed to the floor, that he has been fighting. The duvet which had covered his eyes, the duvet which lay atop and over him which made him think he was being attacked.
He's only been getting lost in memory, mixing past reality into the bizarre fantasy of horrors he's created out of his fear. He pushes the duvet off him and away as though scalded, breathing violently, muttering aloud in an effort to dampen the fire of his panic.
"It's ok – it's alright. Ain't nothing to be getting all jittery about, just your imagination jumpin' the gun... so just calm down, calm... calm. Like Facey says yeah? Breathe. In, out, in, out, in, out..."
He continues his mantra until he is fully under control, grounding himself in the actuality he can truly feel, the cold ground that is chilled against his feet, the texture of his hair under his hands when he runs his fingers through it. And then once he is calm as it is possible for him to be, he tries to order his jumbled tumultuous thoughts.
It is much easier considered than actually accomplished. Murdock's thoughts have never been exactly streamlined and it's always been the case that unless it's flying, something so natural he barely needs to think about it, if he doesn't deliberately focus his thoughts on what he is doing, his mind wanders away without him after a while to something new and attracting his attention and ultimately more interesting.
His thoughts now are as though someone has tried – hard and diligently – to give the insides of his head some semblance of orderliness, packing everything into easily accessed files where things just go together. And then someone or something or even one of those super-cell tornado's that he saw in a documentary about storm chasers – or was it a film? – has came in uninvited and knocked over all those strands and files of carefully sorted thought, mixing them up and maybe even breaking the more fragile imaginings. So now he subconsciously picks up junk at random, scrabbling through the mess left behind, hopeful that at some point he'll manage to find the strand he was aiming for.
OK, ok, so that was just a duvet, nothing bad, nothing dangerous, and for the moment I'm safe and dandy – where am I anyway? Walls are white too, kinda boring. Why are the walls this colour? I'm not meant to be inside, am I? I'm supposed to be outside, I'm free, running away and not looking back. Inside = bad. Inside = jail. VA. Being separated, being alone – but I was out, the Colonel rescued me, got me out. 3D movie and a tank, never did find out how it ended though. But now I'm out, and we're running as fast as I've ever ran, from Lynch and the Feds thanks to Morrison – run run as fast as you can, you can't catch me, I'm the mad mad man – Still bothered about those walls. White was always Hannibal's favourite colour. Said it always reminded him of calm, although he likes green as well – HANNIBAL! Hannibal. Hannibal. John Smith, Colonel, Ranger, man with a plan, where is he? Where are they? I'm alone, they aren't here are they, and maybe this time they're gonna leave me here – I'm not supposed to be here. If Lynch has got them... If he's got them and hurt them I'll find him, them first but then I'll stay to deal with him and then I'll show him what happens when he messes with my friends – Bet he's here now. Watching me, every move I make with his black eyes and his fat fingers holding the puppet strings. - He's behind this, he has to be – I'll find him, I'll make him stop looking for us, make them leave us alone, make him stop looking, make him stop staring at me like he does- I will, I will –
A shock of self inflicted pain and he re-emerges from being lost in the rapids of his thoughts to catch himself pinching the skin pink near his wrist with a thumb and forefinger to bring himself back round. He needs to focus. Hannibal. Hannibal was the train of thought that was important. Hannibal and Bosco and Face. Where are they, and where is he? This is important, the big flashing-light-in-neon-colours kind of important.
Time to play detective.
He slowly picks himself up of the floor, throwing a cursory glare at the duvet – just in case. The room he's in is medium size, shaped like a square, with white walls the colour of which continues to the ceiling. He notices he's wearing pyjamas, which explains why he was in bed at any rate, the usual plain blue ones that get handed out in hospitals. He'll figure that one out later, and with slow steps (in case they can hear him, in case they're waiting behind the door for him with gloved hands and needles and cold lifeless eyes that bore into him...) makes his way over to the door on the other side of the room. At least it'll be a start in finding out where he is.
Turns out he didn't need to move at all. The answers are coming to him.
The handle of the door chirps out as it is forced downward by an invisible hand. Murdock jumps in shock and quickly skitters back to a place of retreat, getting back up onto the bed, his back flush against the wall, his eyes watching the door (those bastards, those bastards found him and now they're gonna kill him and hurt him and make him tell...)
Yet when the door is pushed open on its hinges, it is only a man who walks in, not the vicious enemy Murdock imagined; short, pushing the wrong side of forty and not looking the best for it, hair that used to be ginger from what he can still see in areas of hair clinging onto the colour, now dulling and greying where it haloes around his head, leaving an expanse of baldness that has tried to be covered by a comb-over of pathetic hair. Small glasses that really don't seem of much use to his eyes perch at the furtherest end of his nose, and those eyes of a watery green colour take in Murdock, scrutinise every facet of him before flicking to a clipboard in his hand. He is dressed in a long white coat over a blue shirt and smart tie, making Murdock think he might be a doctor, and from the decoration of big and small grey elephants on his tie, a show of over-cheery humour to amuse his patients, he's either a paediatrician or a psychiatrist.
Unfortunately, it's more likely to be the latter.
Then the nameless man gives a small quirk of his mouth, an attempt to placate the distressed man who has pushed his body as far back against the wall as he can to get away from the door, whose eyes are casing about the room for either an exit or for a weapon to defend himself with should the new arrival turn out to be in league with Lynch, should try and attack him.
He looks nice enough. But Murdock knows you can never be certain when it comes to some people.
"Mr Murdock!" The doctor greets him like an old friend, crows feet around his eyes deepening as he smiles, but Murdock's never met this guy before in his life. He's pretty good with faces, he would have remembered. He's scared now and he's trying not to show it – because damn it, he's a ranger, he doesn't get scared – yet there is the first prickle of pre-panic sweat on his forehead, his Adams apple bobbing in his throat as he swallows what little saliva he has left in his mouth."So nice to see you finally awake!"
Murdock shakes his head like he's trying to knock his fears away. He wants Facey. Facey'd know what to do, would have the answers.
Facey isn't here.
"Where am I?" The question is pulled to the forefront of his mind, offering itself in ten languages first – Où suis-je? Wo bin ich? Ambapo mimi? – that he ignores in favour of his mother tongue. He works hard to keep the tremor out of his voice as he speaks. For the most part, he succeeds.
"The VA hospital" The doctor betrays nothing else other than an unwavering smile.
"Germany?" Damn, he's back in Mannheim again. He must have been caught, screwed up somewhere enough to get captured by the Feds and placed back here again. What about the others? Are they safe? Incarcerated again in separate prisons? Murdock stores the bundles of questions away in an alcove of his mind to retrieve again and ask the doctor later. One step at a time.
A microscopic frown crinkles that smooth pastiche of a smile, as the doctor's brow furrows, as though Murdock's said something nonsensical "You were moved from Germany over a year ago. When you had your relapse... Don't you remember?"
"Look, doc," Murdock says, and yep, there's the tremor he's tried so hard to keep control of, putting a quiver in his words " I don't know who you are or how I got here, or even where here is. Can you just..." Breathe, come on, stay calm. Facey's voice is in his head with him, and it helps him reign in his emotions"Can you just tell me where my friends are?"
The frown deepens, cracks the mask just faintly "Mr Murdock," the doctor states in a voice that is foreboding regardless of its unimposing tone. He pauses, then moves over from the door, closing it with a quiet click before seating himself on the white chair that stands next to the radiator on the side of the room opposite the bed, leaning back while one leg is raised up to rest over the knee of the other, seeming for all the world completely at home here. Like nothing is wrong.
"My name is Dr Richter" he offers as an initial introduction after a moment of terse thought "Your psychiatrist here. We altered the medication to try and give you a last push, to get you out of your psychosis you understand. Such a comeback to reality might be a bit jarring, so that will probably the reason that there will be some short term memory loss. It will most likely fade in time. You need not worry, you're perfectly safe here."
"Psychosis?" Murdock asks faintly, moving his body down so that he's perched on the side of the bed. The gaze of Dr Richter is boring into him, and he fiddles with his fingers nervously, feeling as though a bug under a microscope. He doesn't feel safe at all.
Richter sighs, pulling off his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose before replacing them "You've been experiencing near total immersion – auditory, visual, kinaesthetic – into delusions of your own devising... hallucinations, for a long while now. We thought we had it down in Mannheim but there was a chemical imbalance as a side effect of the anti-psychotics we had you on and you just withdrew deeper" The doctor's expression is funny as he looks at him, like a satisfied parent proudly passing on worldly advice to a questioning child, but at the same time...it's subversive, like he's holding something back, some nugget of knowledge Murdock isn't allowed to see. Murdock doesn't trust him.
"I've been livin' my life for a good while, doc." He raises an eyebrow, feigning an uncaring unaffected attitude he doesn't feel. "I think I'da known if I'd gone walkabout from reality" His voice lowers, and an edge of something threatening enters in uninvited "Now, where are my friends?"
So, ignorant is how he wants to play it. He'd play along, usually he likes games, but Murdock's angry and scared and just a little bit freaked out by the way the doctor is looking at him with all his emotions controlled like this has already been scripted, like he knows how he's going to play every quirk of his mouth or raise of eyebrows. Murdock doesn't have the patience for games.
"My team," he snaps, glaring hard at the man, reading his face, trying to catch him out "Hannibal. Face. BA. What have you done with them?"
Richter gives a funny little shrug "I haven't done anything with them," The clipboard appears to come into play as he looks down to read the neat letters written there, his lies put down onto paper in sloping handwritten fiction in order to appear more plausible.
"Ah yes" he hums at the back of his throat, as though confirming something to himself "This is, er... John 'Hannibal' Smith, Templeton Peck – known as Faceman, am I right? – and er, BA... Bosco Baracus, correct?"
Murdock's hands clench into tight fists, the skin over his knuckles taught and whitening. The way he's saying their names, like they're dead or gone...
Don't think that, he berates himself fiercely, don't even dare.
"Murdock," Richter stares at him seriously, a sad gaze on his face "They aren't real"
Murdock almost scoffs, making a curious snorting noise that punctuates the quiet room. The idea is so ridiculous that even the stony expression on the man's face is farcical to him, part of the act, the big joke this is all going to turn out to be.
"That would be one hell of a twist, doc," a smile graces his face "'cept, you see... I've already seen the Crying Game... and the Sixth Sense – you know the one with Bruce Willis turning out to be dead at the end? So if you wanna shock me, you really gotta have to do better than that"
"I'm deadly serious Murdock"
That noise he makes then has too much of an inflection and length to be anything other than a laugh, but it's too forced and brittle to be as a result of humour. It sounds like its bordering on hysteria.
"So am I" he replies, and his smiles fades away to be replaced by a stoic look of contemptuous disbelief. He glares at the doctor, and he imagines the gaze burning into him with laser intensity, eating up a hole sized like a cigarette scorch in his pristine white uniform, the man blending into the clean background of the wall, seeming too perfect with his exactly positioned hair and his carefully cut nails. It looks false, scripted.
"It's Murdock." he counters brusquely "Captain HM Murdock, formerly employed by the army. My friends call me HM, and on occasion, very rarely, it can be James." his eyes narrow "But you sir, are certainly no friend of mine"
Dr Richter sighs again, puts a hand to his head and rubs his temple with his fingers for a moment, like he has a headache oncoming. If Murdock actually cared, he'd probably tell him to take some ibuprofen or something.
But he's a liar, out to make Murdock trip up and lose his way. And the pilot doesn't know what his motive is, but he's damn well going to find out.
"Mr Murdock," Richter's obviously learned from his mistake, reverting back to something more polite, sounding more like the title reserved for patient-doctor conversations. Murdock's always hated it when people call him Mr Murdock. Only doctors and nurses have ever called him that, and its always in the same patronizing tone, like he's always wrong, that they know best because he's the mad man with the problems, so obviously has the mental IQ of a five year old. That's what he likes about his team; they never talked down to him. Hannibal called him Captain, and was the first person in a long time to say it like it wasn't a joke, like he was a grown adult with his own independent mind. "I know this is hard to accept, but none of anything you believe you've experienced with your so-called 'A-Team' is real."
He leans forward in his chair "You were a pilot in the first Gulf War, there isn't any doubt about that. You've got a glowing military record to prove it. But your plane was shot down in Afghanistan when you were posted there... killing your co-pilot and allowing for you to be captured by enemy forces. After they got you back after months of being imprisoned by the Taliban, you had withdrawn further into yourself. You'd always had a history of odd behaviour. I think one of your commanding officers put on your record that you were … eccentric?" Richter smiles like it's a joke, but Murdock isn't laughing "But your mental state worsened after that, and you began fabricating realities to suit your preferred surroundings. The army psychiatrist said it was a defence mechanism, to deal with what happened after the crash." Richter studies Murdock seriously "Do you remember the crash?"
Murdock does but gives no answer. The Gulf War and Afghanistan has been a long time past, and the crash was nine years ago. He's always managed to restrict the memories he's rather forget into nightmares that wake him frequently. He'd rather not recall those memories, and if he could forget he would.
"What happened then," he growls out as a reply, angry to be reminded of his past. It is none of this man's business and he doesn't want to talk about it, not to Richter or to anyone. "is no evidence to prove I've just been imagining my whole life afterwards. What rabbit hole you think I fell down, doc?"
"Delusions were the form your mental illness took after the crash and you're aware of this." Richter responds "We placed you in the VA in Mexico, but you just kept sinking further and further into hallucinations. It's classic delusion material, your fabrications; placing yourself in the position of the good guy. The hero. Even when you were framed – "
"Now how would you know about that?"
"We kept notes on what you experienced. Documenting the story as it unfolded" he explains, jabbing a bony finger at his notes "Anyway, even being accused of something you didn't do is standard textbook. You – the man trying to do good in his life, fighting for his country – framed and imprisoned by the 'bad guys' and the bureaucracy"
"I ain't buying this one, doc" Murdock grins with a forced smile. This is bullshit. He knows he hasn't been imagining the last eight years with his team, knows he can't have been – every moment has been so real, so believable in a way that hallucinations wouldn't have been able to be, but there's just something about the way Richter is looking at him that makes him feel so uncertain. Tempts him to consider that he might be wrong.
"Well, lets go through the profiles of your 'friends' then" Richter isn't giving up, and settles back comfortably as though he's going to be here for a while. Murdock doesn't like the way he creates air quotations around the word 'friends'. It's condescending and makes him bristle in irritation. "You want to belong, always have done. You've never been able to easily relate to people, so you created a team inside your own head, imagined them from nowhere. We've got the mentor/father figure, the close friend, who understands you despite your problems, and a brother-like antagonist who questions your mental stability but in the end values you as a friend. They all represent something that you've felt like you never had. Gaining the protection and trust you subconsciously crave from Hannibal, a leader to take command . You don't need to make the decisions, Hannibal does it for you. Your own responsibility is diminished, you don't need to question the things that don't make sense in your delusions because Hannibal always has a plan."
"This is just ridiculous – " Murdock starts, but Richter interrupts.
"Then we come to Peck. The man who understands you, a close friend, a womaniser – who reflects a part of your personality which possesses a comfort with the opposite sex you've never achieved . You've never had a long-term girlfriend have you Murdock? Whereas Face has all the personality features you feel you lack. Good looking, popular, good with women."
"If you like him so much, why don't you go sleep with him?" Murdock bites. Who the hell does this guy think he is? Richter stops, then carries on regardless, soldiering on with his psychiatric rubbish.
"Then you have challenge to your reality, which only serves to back up your own convictions in BA. He calls you names, teases you. That's the emergence of your own self-deprecating attitude to your illness. And Baracus is incidentally an image of strength; powerful, capable of defeating any enemy in his way, a quality you haven't ever really had. This not all looking a bit too geometrically simple for real life?You've invented a family for yourself Murdock, their traits all formed out of the things you want to be. In control, self-assured, strong. They exist in place of the deplorable family you had in reality"
Murdock snarls. " You leave that out of this" Yet Richter is gazing beseechingly at him, desperate for him to understand, for him to believe his crackpot story.
"It's all fake Murdock, with bits and pieces from true life that you've thrown in for plausibility. There was a Brock Pike and Russell Morrison, but they were orderlies who worked here. You saw them on the ward every day till they both got rotated to different areas. We've never, admittedly, been able to find out where you conjured up the likenesses of Hannibal and Baracus from, but Templeton Peck was the name of the co-pilot who died when your plane went down. Even Billy is part of this real world – Billy, the dog only you can see? He comes into the VA from time to time as part of your animal assisted therapy. Can't you see that it all hasn't been real?"
"Stop..." Murdock wants to close his eyes, shut off the world with his hands clamped over his ears so he can't hear the tempting falsities spewing forth from this man's mouth. Lies so well created he can barely see the stitch lines. They're clever lies. They sound plausible – well, parts of them. Richter's taken things that they know about his team and turned them into some sort of psychiatric analysis of Murdock. So that they're reduced to characteristics, not real people with flaws. Hannibal's not always in control, doesn't always believe in himself. BA has fears just like everyone else, has been defeated and beaten down before. And Face wasn't confident in his own abilities after Sosa left him, didn't always manage to pick up every women who gave him a second look.
Murdock breathes out, telling himself this, helping convince himself that it is Richter who is wrong, no matter how believable he's trying to be. Then, flicking his gaze around, he catches sight of a face that looks in through the glass segment of the window, peering in before retreating again. A flash of a cold and aloof face, short dark hair, sharp suit, the face of his fears. A face he knows well.
He's on his feet then, off the bed, finger pointing accusingly at Richter.
"I saw him!" he crows triumphantly "Out there – Lynch. I knew it, you're one of them, trying to get me to talk, trying to get me to tell you where they are, or whatever information you're trying to get. Well, I tell you now, doc, with all your fancy diplomas and shrink skills and you analysing my brain like you think you're Freud, I ain't telling you a goddamn thing..."
"Calm down Murdock, or I'll be forced to restrain you" Richter has risen to stand also, a tendril of worry present in his face. He's lost, his plan's been messed with...
"If this is all not real then how come I'm seeing Lynch outside the window? Or is he an orderly too, huh?" Murdocks eyes glint, a spark of fire relit after Richter's tales tried to dampen the flames "You're a liar, I know that you're lying, so just get out of here and leave me alone"
"Mr Murdock" Richter starts, hands up to calm him but Murdock's angry, has nothing to lose. They've got him here, Lynch and Richter, but he doesn't have to play by their rules.
"Get out!" he shouts, and his tone is getting louder as he speaks. "Get out!"
Richter finally sees the inevitability, will slink away to tend his wounds before the next battle. Murdock doesn't know whether he saw Lynch at the window or not, has made no mention of his existence, but he supposes that he's just trying to hold on to what plausibility he has for when he's trying to pull the wool over Murdock's eyes again.
"Very well," he says, eyes hooded, expression unreadable "but you're going to have to accept the truth sooner or later. I'll be back later when you've calmed down"
And then he leaves the room, locking the door behind him with a click that echoes loud in the near empty space, with its white walls and no window. Leaving Murdock alone and exhausted. His head hurts, his throat sore and body suddenly very tired. All his bravado falls away, and he's not so strong now. He's just a scared man imprisoned, with people questioning everything he's ever held in regard. It's only his word against Richter's, and his word has never stood for much to anyone. Hannibal would believe him, would look at him with those knowing eyes as he drew in from a smoky cigar. Hannibal's not here.
Pulling up the duvet with him, Murdock gets back into the bed, drawing the material all around him; covering him, protecting him. With all that's going on, he wont be sleeping. He doesn't even know what time it is. There are no bars to his door, yet there are locks, and he knows he is imprisoned. Trapped. With people who belittle every word he speaks, who will put needles in his veins, give him drugs to swallow with a glass of water.
He thought he'd been rescued from his own personal hell caged away from the sky when the guys got him out of Mannheim. It makes him shake now he's left alone to know he's back.
It's now that he's starting to miss his friends more than ever.
~~ This one-shot grew to ridiculous lengths, so this is going to have to be posted in two instalments. The second part is written and finished, but it just needs some polishing and checking, so should be up soon.
Hope you're liking so far anyway. =]