Crispin rolled his cloudy eyes. Here he stood, guarding the elevator for Dr. Loboto. He was fine with standing outside all day and night until his work was finished. Nobody told him he'd have to listen to Fred's endless shouting, yelping, and whimpering as the battle raged on in his mind and all over the courtyard. Somehow he'd managed to draw a grid of that damned game and had been endlessly playing it for as long as either of them could remember.
"This is the worst. I hate this stupid game."
If you hate it so much, why do you keep playing it? Crispin thought. Of course, he couldn't stop. Not since his mind had snapped like that. Sure, there had been something amusing in watching his desperation grow and grow the more he was beaten at his own game, but ever since he went over the brink he'd been downright insufferable.
"I thought I had a spy! Where'd I put my dang spy?"
Now his life was just hopping up and down, moving the objects he'd decided were game pieces with his feet because his arms were bound in a straitjacket. Up and down, up and down, always playing that game and crying about it.
"This golden day is ours!"
And, of course, sometimes shouts of glorious triumph as Fred, thinking he was Napoleon, beat himself in the game. It was irritating; the more Napoleon won, the more he crowed, and the more Fred lost, the more he whined. And it never went any other way.
"What am I supposed to do?"
"Weakling! Shut up! You call yourself by the name Bonaparte?"
"I'm going to lose, I'm going to lose, I'm going to lose, I'm going to lose..."
"You are a stinking disgrace to your family, stinker!"
Crispin couldn't see him from the elevator, and he was impressed at how different the Napoleon persona sounded from Fred. It really would sound to the uninformed like two men were arguing over a game- or, rather, arguing over a battle, as Fred seemed convinced that he was really leading troops into battle rather than playing a bastardized home version of a dime store board game.
"Hey, can we take a break? I need a quick disco nap."
I'm not surprised, Crispin thought. You've been at this for hours. He wasn't sure if it was one long game or many games all ending in crushing defeat, but if they were they all ran together. Fred never stopped, couldn't stop, until he was so tired he couldn't move, and then he berated himself constantly for giving in to tiredness.
"Hey, I'm tired, too, but you don't see me lying down in the shade, now do you?"
Look at that, even his pieces had privileges he didn't. You know, that's how pathetic Fred was, he couldn't even get inanimate objects to do what he wanted them to. And since he was the one moving them around, that was a special sort of failure right there.
"Oh, you want a court martial too? I got one for you too! And you, buddy!"
"The sun is bright, the enemy is weak, and there is cheese back in the tent!"
Napoleon had a much better handle on his troops. It was hard to think of Napoleon as anything but a separate entity possessing the body, rather than a mania affecting Fred's thoughts and actions; so different was he from Fred. Even the way they moved was different. Whenever Fred was whining and pleading, Crispin could see a hunched, trembling form lope across his field of vision. But when he spoke with authority and a French accent, suddenly he walked tall, proudly, and with a swagger of victory. Or, at least he seemed to, because the unrecognizable blur was much taller and thinner.
"Flank! No, wait, uh counter flank! No, uh, uh, unflank?"
"Let's take it to the chateaux, boys!"
"Look, we're not just an army. We're a family, and today we all have to pull together and kill."
"Le jour de gloire est arrivé!"
Crispin wondered if Fred, passive and timid as he was, really thought he was sending people to die in battle. If so was he also putting up with the psychological guilt of it? Was he losing sleep over the probably hundreds of lives that had been lost because of his incompetence as a general? The mothers who lost sons and the wives who lost husbands because of his incompetence?
"Run over there and poke that guy with your gun knife thing!
"You think I'm dumb, don't you?"
They'd be foolish not to, Bonaparte.
The game went on and on. After a while, Crispin noticed something interesting: that he hadn't heard Napoleon's voice call out orders in a while. He also noticed a strange desperation in Fred's tone of voice, and his talking became more urgent and, frankly, strange.
"He calls this a game, but all I see is death."
So which is it, Bonaparte, a battlefield or a glorified board game? Although, to the well trained military leader, perhaps they were one in the same.
"Why aren't you attacking?
"Kill for daddy!"
Hm. Usually he didn't sound that demented, but it had to be Fred because that was a very un-Napoleon thing to say. However, he was back to his usual whiny self shortly.
"Where are my reinforcements?
"Stop dying! Get up and stop dying!"
He's totally out of ideas. He must really think he's on the battlefield surrounded by dying soldiers and he has absolutely no idea what to do. It would be sad if it were true, but as it was just happening in Fred's mind, Crispin found it annoying.
"These boys are too young to die! I'm too young to die!"
God forbid you should do me any favors.
"Everything's on fire! We're all going to burn!"
Where did that come from?
"Everythings going black."
After that, Crispin hoped that he'd dropped dead. In fact, it was so quiet after that one that Crispin thought maybe he really was that lucky. But eventually, of course, Fred had to open his mouth.
"Everybody who's still in the army, please raise your hands, unless you're dead."
Again, it was quiet for a while...
"Where'd everybody go? Is everybody dead?"
And after that, Crispin realized he heard crying. Seriously? Was Fred actually crying? Was he so upset over the loss of his dirty garden gnome that he was crying?
This, Crispin had to see.
He left the elevator and followed the sound of pathetic weeping. Sure enough, he found Fred, kneeling down on the edge of the chalk outlined board game, hunched over with his chin resting on the straitjacket, drawing shuddery breaths and crying.
"Got 'im on the run now, eh, Bonaparte?"
"What do you want?"
"He went to his tent. He told his men that if I haven't made my move by daybreak, he's going to kill the prisoners. I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do."
"So the teddy bear isn't going to live to see another Sunday. That's not anything to get so blubbery over."
"He's never gonna stop," said Fred. "I'm gonna be fighting this stupid war- playing this- stupid- game- I don't even know what it is anymore!"
"It's you, waddling around the courtyard shouting orders at a bicycle pedal."
"Shut up!" He straightened up and Napoleon shouted, "A Bonaparte does not waddle. He walks proudly into his victory!"
"Oh, good, you again."
"Are you in the army?" Napoleon snapped.
"Not unless I've been drafted."
"Tch." Napoleon sneered.
Suddenly he hunched over, and Fred said, "Can I go to sleep now?
"Fine. Let your soldiers die. They're only depending on you for their lives, that's all.
"No- I mean- can't we have a time out?
"There are no time-outs in war!
"What about World War I?
"If I were there, I would have had none of it. Now do as I say or your soldiers will die.
"But- that's not-" Fred looked around. "I mean..." but he trailed off.
"Sounds like you're in a tight spot," said Crispin.
"I don't know what to do. I don't know how to win. I don't know how to lose." Fred was still curled up sitting, hunched down, trembling.
"Look," said Crispin. Fred looked up. "No one is going to die."
"No, I know- I mean, sometimes I do."
"Sometimes... he goes somewhere, and I think I can... I can remember that this isn't how it's supposed to be." He shook his head. "But he's always there. He's always watching me. Judging me. I feel like I'm going to explode. I can't take any more of this."
Crispin then turned away and slowly walked into a little nook in the wreckage of the asylum. There was an old, broken window lying on the ground, shattered around. Crispin bent over and inspected it best as he could, then kicked a large piece of glass over to the battlefield. Fred hadn't moved.
"What's that?" Fred asked when Crispin kicked the glass under his nose.
Crispin lifted up his foot and brought his heel stomping down on it. "It's glass," he said flatly. "Look. I just got a message from one of your spies. He says that the entire south side of the general's camp is left unguarded. You could sneak in there, no problem. Cut off the head and the body dies."
"None of my men can do that. It's not in the rules."
"Of course not- you have to do it yourself."
"I can't," said Fred, struggling a little to demonstrate: "The uniform won't let me move. What if he wakes up and fights back?"
"So don't do it directly. Crush up some of this and put it in his French toast or whatever it is he has for breakfast." Crispin stomped on the glass again, breaking some off into tiny bits. "Just get him to swallow it. That'll shut him up once and for all."
Fred looked up, catching Crispin's eye. They both knew what he was really suggesting. Crispin could see that much in Fred.
Fred looked back down, not at anything in particular, just letting his head droop naturally. "I guess... I mean, I could give it a try."
"Don't just half-heartedly try, Bonaparte, that's what got you into this mess to begin with. No, take ownership of this. That'll show him once and for all."
"I really would like him to shut up and leave me alone..." it was barely a mumble. "But I wouldn't want t- him to suffer for a long time."
"Well, that can't be helped. No mercy."
Fred still looked unsure.
"Think about it. Peace and quiet. You'll be rid of him forever. No more failure, no more war, no more game."
A hint of a smile. "You know... actually, that sounds nice. I'd kinda forgotten what it felt like, but now... I guess now that he's gone for a little while... I could get used to peace and quiet."
"Well, what are you waiting for?"
Fred looked up, at the starry sky above them. Crispin couldn't see the stars, and he wasn't sure if Fred was looking at something in particular or just taking it in one last time. "You know," Fred said, "it would be kind of nice to live on a star."
"At 5500 degrees? Sounds balmy."
"Yeah." There was a strange calmness in his voice. Well, any calmness in his voice would sound strange simply because it was so rare, but this was different. He sounded like a an enormous weight had been lifted off him. He sounded like he had no obligations or worries. His voice was even, tranquil, and sturdy.
It was a little creepy, actually.
Fred was smiling for real now. "It'll be so nice not to worry anymore."
"All right... here we go."
He really was going to do it, Crispin could tell. But before he could, Napoleon had to come in and ruin the party.
"What are you doing?
"Nothing, I was-
"Ha ha! Fighting dirty now, n'est-ce pa? There may be hope for you yet. But we do not conduct ourselves like that in a gentleman's war, so I'm afraid it's back- to the- battlefield!" Fred lurched away, as if he was resisting being dragged. "Help me," he whined.
Fred heard no more from Crispin that night. He was lost in his game of war, trapped in his own mind, a slave to his own mania. Crispin stood guard by the elevator, as always, watching him. The moment had passed. Fred was unreachable.
"I shouldn't be surprised that he can't even kill himself properly," Crispin said to himself.
But then, what kind of orderly would he be if he talked one of the patients into suicide?