He woke up on the bathroom floor of his room in the locked ward. His legs, when he could move them, had strings tied around them, at the ankles. The strings rose up to the ceiling and stopped in the far right corner of the room. The tension on the strings was great, as if a team of elephants were pulling them in the opposite direction.
He could see a sliver of light coming through his bedroom’s sole window if he crawled away from the bathroom, but a sliver is all it was. He scratched and clawed at the strings and his legs as if he were a wild animal stuck in a trap.
He could see the light, but not the source of it. He was filled with the knowledge that the sun wasn’t merely out of sight, but it was out of existence. He called for help, but his parched mouth couldn’t utter a syllable. He was naked and so attempted to cover his shame behind the curtain that separated bedroom from bathroom, but this was not effective.
For a moment, all he saw was his room filled with water, over his head and nearly touching the ceiling. When his vision became antediluvian again, he found that the unbreakable strings had been given some slack. Even so, he couldn’t pull pants over them, so instead he put on his largest shirt and tugged on the bottom of it until he was decent.
The ward was empty. Not in the figurative sense of there only being a couple nurses and patients, but empty empty.
Every time he got near an exit, the strings pulled him back. He found a pair of scissors at the nurses’ station and tried again to free himself, but the strings withstood even the sharpest of blades.
When he looked out the solitary window in his room, the passing cars and people moved like they were fighting their way out of quicksand: slow and morphing into their surroundings. Coming back to his room one day, he looked for his window but it was gone. The section of wall that covered where it was looked like it had been there since the hospital opened.
He ran the water to wash his face, but the water avoided his hands like a cat hunkering down to avoid a pet. When he put both hands directly under the faucet, the water ran upwards and settled at the ceiling.
The next day, he woke to see portraits covering the room’s walls. They were all of him, usually sleeping but also trying to break free of his strings. The paint on all of them was dry, and each portrait appeared to be very old. Every night he took them down, and every morning they appeared on the wall again. If he destroyed a painting, the painted carcass would be gone by dawn with two more in its place. He thought of the mythical Hydra.
He let the ceiling-bound water go until it covered his head. This was no use, though, as a drain opened on the ceiling and sucked up all the water. When he stopped eating for weeks, he’d wake up with a full belly.
Once he rolled his ankle and could not move. Next morning, his foot was outfitted with a professionally secured ankle brace.
All the while, the unbreakable strings remained. He tried to tangle the strings by walking from room to room, crisscrossing here and there. Not only did the strings not tear, they began following him like a leash that could go taut at any moment.
He searched inside for fear, but there wasn’t any. There was a feeling like a cup condensing on the outside while bone dry inside. He spent days recalling words that fired at random in his brain:
Raisin–Dried, wrinkled. Can be eaten.
Sunset–Milky window. Fades away.
Time–Fluid and unruly. Can’t be trusted.
The next morning, he came to on a cold tile floor that left a grid on his back. The people had returned, but they couldn’t see him. He took his things and left the hospital.
He no longer had a name. He no longer had a shadow. But he’d always have the strings, stretching up, higher now, perfectly straight, up past the clouds and beyond where the sun used to be.