Meepit Oaks Sanatorium: Patient 600
When I first received a neomail saying that I was needed at Meepit Oaks Sanitorium for a consultation with a particular mental patient, I had a near panic attack. I then spent the rest of my afternoon penning a neomail riddled with several desperate excuses:
I'm sorry, Neil. I'm not feeling particularly well this week—sun stroke and all that.
Hasn't the Haunted Woods been experiencing a strange number of storms recently? Surely travel isn't optimal at this time of year.
I'm not quite sure if I'm qualified for this. I mean, twenty-five years of practicing psychiatry isn't that long...
Twenty-five years ago I had set up my psychiatric clinic in the Lost Desert—and for a good reason. The Lost Desert is a place where the most common psychiatric ailment are slight delusions brought on by the heat. I was used to that sort of illness; in fact, I specialized it. But the terrified ravings of the mad kept at Meepit Oaks petrified me, and years of practicing psychiatry hadn't diminished this fear. In fact, after my one visit as a medical student, I had never returned.
Unfortunately my colleague, Neil Linin, responded with a neomail so desperate that I could no longer resist. I grudgingly told my secretary to cancel my appointments for the next three days, packed up a small suitcase, and took an Eyrie cab to Neovia.
When I arrived, the sky was particularly overcast. It hadn't started raining yet, but the sky grumbled discontentedly with thunder. I too grumbled discontentedly as I excited the coach and walked up the flagstone pathway towards the dreary sanatorium.
Neil Linin greeted me at the doorway. "Harry!" the green Nimmo called out, shaking my hand firmly. I noticed there was a slight crack in his smile.
"Hello, Neil." For some reason I couldn't think of anything else to say. I talked with patients all day, yet I couldn't form a proper greeting with a mentally-sound colleague. "So... how is Neovia?"
"Good, good. You've actually come on a rather nice day," he said, gesturing to the grey sky.
I couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic or not. Perhaps that's what made him a good psychiatrist: he was particularly hard to read. But I had caught that crack in his smile. Things weren't all peaches and cream.
"Let's just get to the patient," I said brusquely.
Neil's smile faltered yet again. "Yes. Follow me."
When I stepped inside, I expected to see the same scene from twenty-five years ago. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Meepit Oaks Sanitorium had apparently undergone extensive renovations since then. The hallways had been thoroughly dusted, cleared of all dirt, spyderwebs, and, most importantly, Glacks; one such petpetpet had scuttled across my foot at my last visit, and I had jumped right into the arms of my aged professor.
"Everything has been redone in the past few years," Neil commented as we ascended a rather luxurious looking spiral staircase made of polished wood. "We got a nicely sized grant from both the town of Neovia and the Haunted Woods, and some of the local shops made donations. Chesterdrawers' Antiques gifted us some lovely decorative lamps."
"They do look rather nice," I said, examining the small flowers painted on the porcelain sides. I also passed a rather large mirror, and caught my reflection: a blue Tonu, hair streaked with grey, and a slightly apprehensive set to my mouth.
"Now the patient rooms are down here," Neil said, turning into a long beige hallway lined with nice wooden doors.
"Did you run out of money to decorate this hall?" I joked. Compared to the entryway, it was rather stark. No picture frames, no side tables, and definitely no lovely decorated lamps.
The Nimmo smiled weakly. "Well, sometimes the patients get a bit too rowdy for that sort of thing."
"It sounds pretty calm right no—"
Suddenly, an earsplitting wail resounded down the hallways. I instinctively covered my ears with my hands, and I felt my heart jerk forward in my chest. Neil didn't even flinch.
"That is your patient for today," he said simply, and led me to a door. The patient's file was slipped into a plastic holder screwed into the wood, and Neil took the manila folder out for me. I saw the name "Gregory Varnum – Patient 600" on top in big bold letters.
"The 'Patient 600' thing is fitting, as you'll soon see," Neil said as he rapped his fist against the wood door. This was greeted with another shriek from inside and a string of garbled syllables that I couldn't quite make out.
"Now he knows we're here," Neil explained. He then pulled out a rather skeletal looking key—I guess the renovations hadn't included changing the locks—and led me inside.
The lights were dim, and at first all I could make out was a hunched form in the corner.
"I'm going to turn on the lights now, Mr. Varnum," Neil said, flipping on a switch.
The room was suddenly flooded with light, and what I saw made the few hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. All the walls in the room were covered in smeared red words; most notably the number "600" was repeated over and over again, in various orientations and sizes. Gregory Varnum, a yellow Tuskaninny, was sitting in the corner of the room, and my jaw dropped as I noticed his hands were dripping globs of red...
"Good Fyora, Neil! Restrain him!" I yelled. "He's bleeding!"
"Oh no no no! It's just red paint," Neil said, with a nervous laugh. "We supplied him with a paint brush as well, but he seems to prefer using his fingers."
"But the walls..."
"...are covered in paper so he can write. Don't worry; it's all been thought of."
"Oh." I looked over at Mr. Varnum. The yellow Tuskaninny didn't seem to care that Neil and I were in the room with him. He was engrossed in his activity. He first dipped his fingers in the jar of red paint—which I could now see he held in his left hand—and then smeared his fingers across the paper-covered walls. Mostly it was that same number, 600, but in other spots there were sentences, sometimes long descriptive phrases that were later crossed out with a line of red paint.
"Neil," I said suddenly, feeling completely out of my element, "why was it you wanted me here in particular? What do you think I can do for him?"
"It's the numbers," Neil said bluntly. "We simply can't figure out what's so important about the number 600. Some of the staff thinks it has something to do with his life before arriving here, maybe some early childhood trauma. Others think it's just mad ramblings. I'm not so sure. He's been getting more insistent in the past few days, and I'm getting concerned."
"But why me?" I pressed. "I specialize in sun-stroke delusions."
Neil blinked. For the first time, he looked befuddled. "Aren't you big into numerology?"
I stared at him in shock. "Neil, doing a few Roodokus at psychiatric conventions does not make me a numerologist!"
"Oh dear." Neil blushed. "I'm sorry Harry. I thought you were... This is embarrassing... and you had to fly out to come here..."
I sighed and shook my head. "Don't worry about it Neil. Now that I'm here, I might as well see if I can help." Even if he was far different than the patients I normally treated, the yellow Tuskaninny was still a patient. As a psychiatrist, I knew I had to at least try to help. "Leave me here with Mr. Varnum, and I'll see what I can do."
Neil's face lit up and he shook my hand firmly. "Goodness, thank you, Harry. Thank you so much! Let me know if you find anything of interest." He then passed me the key to the room along with Mr. Varnum's file. "I'll be out in the hall checking on other patients. Holler if you need anything!"
"But that would make me indistinguishable from most of your patients," I joked weakly as the Nimmo exited the room, shutting the door behind him and leaving me alone with Mr. Varnum.
For a moment I just stood there. "Good afternoon, Mr. Varnum," I said after a moment.
The Tuskaninny ignored me. Instead, he stood up and moved to a new section of the wall and began to write. I tried to read it, but after a few words, he shrieked and heaved the paint can at the wall, covering the words in a bright red splotch.
"600 600 600 600!" he moaned loudly.
I took a few steps forward and tried my normal patient introductory. "My name is Harry. I'm here to talk with you, Mr. Varnum. Is there anything that's bothering you in particular today? How are you feeling?"
"You must think I'm crazy," he said, turning towards me suddenly. His eyes were reddened, and brimming with tears—not the countenance I had expected. "I'm not I'm not not I'm not not not!" He gripped his head; red paint stained the yellow fur and tinged it orange. "600 is important. So important. Why won't anyone help me? Why won't anyone believe in me? Believe in Greggy Varnum?"
And then he turned and began to write on the walls again.
I was stunned. He was so insistent that he wasn't crazy, yet he was clearly crazed. I flipped through his file to see what the psychiatrists at Meepit Oaks had already gathered:
Name: Gregory Varnum
Color and Species: Yellow Tuskaninny
History: No previous signs of mental illness. Previously worked a job constructing Neohomes but quit two weeks before admittance. Reportedly told his boss "600 is important!" and then threw off his hard hat. Patient 600 then began acting odd at home. According to his sister, he would scribble on paper and then shred it into long strips. He bought an inordinate amount of paint and drew images accompanied by text that he, too, would tear up. Roughly one week before admittance, he began spewing nonsense, referencing people that no one had ever heard of before and clearly didn't exist. His sister had finally checked him into the asylum.
The history made me even more confused, especially when it noted that he had only been in the sanatorium for two weeks. Whatever had happened, it had happened suddenly and recently. Some sort of hysteria? Neologisms and graphomania, perhaps? What about hallucinations...?
"Are you hearing voices, Greggy?" I asked. "Do they tell you things? Or do you see people around you that no one else can see?"
Mr. Varnum looked up at me, shook his head, and resumed his work. I knew that patients experiencing hallucinations would often lie about their visions, but for some reason, I believed him.
Neil's right. The number is the key to figuring this out. But "600" is so vague!
I scanned my mind. What was so important about the number 600? The only thing I could think of, unfortunately, were Roodoku puzzles. If you completed the hardest one The Neopian Times offered on Fridays and sent it in, you would receive a 600-neopoint prize. I often worked on the puzzle during the week, keeping it in my pocket in case I found myself with a few free minutes between patients.
I highly doubted Mr. Varnum was into Roodoku puzzles, but it was the only lead I had. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the small newspaper clipping with this week's puzzle. A few of the numbers had been filled in, but I hadn't completed it yet. "Greggy," I said, waving the sheet, "does 600 have to do with this?"
He turned to look at me almost in exasperation, but as his eyes fell on the scrap of newspaper, they widened. He immediately bounded over to me, ripped the page out of my hand, and turned it over. And then his face crumpled like a popped helium balloon. He wailed: "It's almost here! It's almost here!" and began crying, hunching over himself as great wet tears fell from his face.
"There, there," I comforted without touching him. But I leaned in gently, just to see what had set him off. The clipping was still in his hand, but it was not the Roodoku puzzle that had upset him. It was the opposite side that had, the part that contained a bit of the front page of The Neopian Times. I was confused for a moment, until my eyes fell to the small bit of text beneath the newspaper title: Issue 597.
Everything suddenly made sense. I knelt down and spoke in a quiet voice. "You're trying to get into the 600th Issue, aren't you, Mr. Varnum?"
He looked up from his sobs. His eyes were rimmed red with tears, and his fur was damp and bunched in little tufts, but he also looked relieved, as if someone had finally understood him. "I've been trying for weeks. But it's so... so..."
"Hard," I completed. I could feel the pain in his words. "It was the stress that drove you to quit your job, right? The 'imaginary people' your sister said you talked about are story characters, and the words on the walls here are snippets of stories that you haven't been able to complete?"
He nodded, but then added, "Bad handwriting too." He looked around at his scrawls, and I had to agree that it was hard to read his writings, even the ones that weren't completely drenched in red paint. "Good ideas. Bad writing."
"What if I write down your stories for you?" I suggested, reaching into my pocket to pull out the pen I typically used to solve Roodoku puzzles.
His eyes widened even more; I thought they were going to pop out of his skull like golf balls. "Yes! Yes please! Greggy would love that!" He ran to the wall, ripped down some paper that wasn't covered in paint, and put it on the ground in front of me. He was smiling now, though his eyes were focused on the blank page. He meant business. "Once upon a time..." he prompted, nudging my elbow.
And so I began to write down his story in my neatest handwriting (which, as a doctor, is not particularly beautiful, but trust me, I tried my best).
* * *
Neil Linin returned an hour later to find us finishing up Greg's story on the floor of his room. I was actually a bit surprised by the quality. The beginning was a bit of a mess, with random phrases here and there and a few too many characters, but it progressed into something more concrete and sensible by the end. It was as if the longer I sat with Greg, the saner he became. I began to think that perhaps his "craziness" was more of a sudden episode brought on by stress, and not an indicator of his overall state.
Neil told me I didn't have to stay at Meepit Oaks any longer since I had found an explanation for the 600, but I stayed for three whole days, helping Greg revise his piece in long writing sessions while also counseling him on methods of stress management. On the day I left Neovia, I helped Greg tie his submission to a Postal Weewoo, and we released the petpet into the sky, hoping that his story would make it to the Neopian Time Headquarters in time to be considered for the 600th issue.
"Thanks, Harry," he said as we watched the bird disappear into the grey Neovian sky, and he didn't sound a bit crazy.
I returned to my office in Lost Desert, and for a few weeks everything returned to normal. I was back under a blue sky and a scorching sun, dealing with patients who needed to drink more water and stay in the shade. And yet I couldn't stop thinking about Gregory Varnum. When the 600th Issue of The Neopian Times was released, I had my secretary buzz me as soon as it was delivered, and I hastily skimmed through the short stories in my office lobby in front of my waiting patients. I was terrified that Gregory hadn't made it in.
But he had. I saw his name, in crisp black ink, next to the short story we had written together. But what really caught my eye was the author's note in italics right at the top, a note that I had no idea he penned: This is dedicated to Harry Seff, the only Neopian who believed in me enough to make this piece happen, and a darn good psychiatrist.
When I finished work for the day, I cut the article out and framed it.
To this day it hangs on my wall as a reminder of that crazy day at Meepit Oaks and the not-so-crazy Patient 600 who reminded me why I love my job so much.