Continuing the story of the caretaker... for many reasons, some personal, this was a very hard story to write.
oh, and the fact that it starts with one of my earlier poems, and also incorporates bits of the original Lockdown is intentional. i was hoping to superimpose the caretakers attitude between "then" with "now". somewhere along the way though, the story wandered and got personal.
The worms of paranoia grow,
Crawling, burrowing through the mind.
Eating away everything good,
Still crawling, still burrowing.
Destroying the whole,
Leaving a dark space,
A hollow vacuum.
The darkness grows,
Filling the void with bad things.
Mistrust and loathing,
Fear and loneliness,
Nowhere to turn, a different person awakes.
The awareness intensifies,
Sounds, colours, smells are sharper.
More animal than human.
People everywhere, all strangers.
Who are they?
What do they want from me?
Why do they care for me?
More feelings from the void,
Vision through a twisted clarity.
Fight, maim, run.
Sanity returns slowly.
Purity, goodness, spirit.
Slowly, mind and body whole.
Safe, rational, alive.
With a rattle of keys and a decisive clunk, the Caretaker locked another door. He was halfway through the nightly lockdown of the site with only an hour to go. The site was huge and he faced yet another corridor. It stretched before him, an endless supply it seemed.
He paused, listening for any untoward sound. Things were different now, the rules had changed. Turning from the door and facing the corridor, all the caretaker could see was a monochrome darkness. He automatically reached out for the light switch before stopping and cursing to himself. There was no more electricity, no more lights. They were dead.
Dead… his mind echoed. Everything gone. no more amenities, no more gas heating, nothing… all dead…Ever since the school was attacked, the food stolen and his rib broken, the caretakers sanity was slowly being eroded away.
When he was a child he once looked into the bathroom mirror, stared at his face and repeated his name over and over like a mantra. It was initially out of curiosity, but after a while the face changed into a stranger and the repetition of his name rendered it useless, with no meaning. The incident scared him and he spent the rest of that day feeling very uncomfortable. And now it was happening again, more insidious this time… his self was disappearing. More and more the primal side of his humanity kept trying to force its way through the social and mental barriers that made up his psyche. The beast that he had unchained in that fight was winning; the red mist was never too far away….
Not even aware that his mind was crumbling, he could never shake the feeling that the school was fully secure. As soon as he was mobile enough, he had enlisted all the students to clear the ground floor classrooms of benches. Under his direction, the benches were broken down and used to board up the windows. The classroom doors were then locked and nailed to the doorframes. The remaining bench tops were used to reinforce both interior and exterior doors and, after rummaging in the stores in his workshop, the caretaker had produced a large box full of hasp and padlocks. Each door had one installed on it, and every night, the residents abandoned the wing and retreated to the central part of the building. The abandoning of the wings seemed the most sensible idea. But still... the caretaker included them in his lockdown routine. That’s all I am now he thought …routine. The same pointless route over and over….
The caretaker looked down the corridor and faced the darkness ahead darkness ahead the whispered thought made him shiver. Only the barest glimmer of moonlight insinuated itself through the slight gaps in the boarded windows.
Gathering himself, the caretaker stalked slowly through the darkness. His keys were muffled in his pocket and his squeaky workboots had been replaced by black soft-soled running shoes, liberated from the sports hall. He was almost invisible in the darkness as he wore jet black cargo trousers black T-shirt and a black jumper. He had a torch but was loath to use it. He had explained to the others that it was because he wanted to save the batteries for emergencies. Secretly though, he wanted to remain unseen while he was patrolling. Invisible in the darkness.
The sounds of the old school settling was different too. Gone were the strange noises of lights creaking and ticking as they cooled, gone were the grumbling and moaning of the pipes…. all gone, everything….gone… instead there was an almost deathly silence, punctuated by the sound of the wind whistling around the school and the smallest creak as the heat of the day left the ancient stones, causing them to expand.
Before, the lockdown was always simple. All the Caretaker had to do was to go from one end of the site to the other and lock all the doors as he passed them. Intruders used to only be a faint possibility but now they were a real threat. The caretaker know that the building was not a hundred percent secure, and that someone could sneak in and hide… hiding in the darkness, ready to jump out … there were alcoves along the corridor. Alcoves filled with deep black shadows… Is there anyone waiting in there? … The caretaker was convinced that someone was in the school, someone who shouldn’t be there someone…. Waiting for me…..
Unseen eyes seemed to bore into the back of his head, making his skin prickle and sending sharp slivers of fear shooting down his spine. Warily, the caretaker continued down the corridor. He finally gave in to his fear and flashed his torch into each of the alcoves as he passed. Every time the beam lanced into the alcove, the caretaker kept expecting it to light up the pallid face of an intruder. In the shadows of his imagination he saw flat, black eyes boring into his own, a rictus of a grin as a hand raised a knife…
“Gaaa!!” the caretaker exclaimed, shuddering. Sometimes His imagination was sometimes too vivid for his liking, but superimposed over the paranoia that he felt was the real fact that there could be an intruder. No longer were these potential enemies simply students breaking in to cause mischief. It was far more serious than that. This night, like every other night, the caretaker resolutely thought “not on my watch. Some things, it seemed, did not change.
As he stalked down the corridor he could see his next destination. Another set of double doors lay ahead of him. This time no light from the corridor beyond glowed through the window panel of the door. The Caretaker felt a strange trepidation as he approached. He was so used to the two squares of light, surrounded by near darkness and seemingly staring at him as he approached. Before, he thought it odd that the prospect of leaving the darkness and stepping into the light should make him feel nervous. Now he realised that the lack of light was much, much worse. Terror was only a few heartbeats away and the caretaker had to pause and take deep breaths to steady his jangling nerves before striding through the doors. As he selected the key from the bunch clipped to his belt, the doors swung shut and slammed with a loud boom that echoed down the corridor. One more section of the old building was secured. Only the theatre and Library to go.
The Caretakers route was such that he entered the theatre from the rear of the stage. Side-stepping the various props and costume racks, he padded quietly onto the stage. Moonlight flooded from the high windows, bathing the stage in a silvery glow. Feeling exposed, the caretaker quietly moved to the wings. This was still a powerful place to him and yet… instead of a feeling of awe and imagination, a sense of malice and evil intent seemed to permeate the air.
His senses were strung taught and the caretaker couldn’t help but suppress another shiver. Leaning up against the wall in the wings the caretaker cupped his face with shaky hands what is happening to me! An inner voice cried. The thought seemed to open a floodgate of revelation. The caretaker realised that he had been blinkered, tied to the past. The rules that governed a peaceful society had changed. Society was just a thin veneer, and the caretaker realised that under that veneer, the populace was just as savage, just as bloody as the rest of nature. These thoughts stripped the caretaker of the fantasy of the old ways, and showed him the reality of where he was. The reality of world he now lived in came crashing into his psyche.
With new awareness, the caretaker imagined what the future would be. A new future filled with the violence of survival. Do I want this life? He asked himself and realised that the answer was no. he tried to think of alternatives... there is one choice, one way out … a small but insidious thought nagged at him. There was no denying it and the caretaker was forced to consider its consequences... the thought of suicide was as compelling as it was repellent. No. he thought not that, never that… stifling a sob the caretaker slowly stood up. Head up, and back straight he stalked out of the theatre, continuing his lockdown.
As he proceeded down the corridors towards the library, his tortured mind mulled over this new future that he had to face. Slowly acceptance came, but at a price. A big part of him had died inside, overwhelmed with grief and self pity. Survive for now, he thought the other option will always be there.
As he finally entered the library, the caretaker was surprised to see that the place still seemed timeless. With chaos boiling within him, and confusion rampant in the world, the library was still a place of sanctuary. And yet the feeling of being watched, of being stalked was still with him. This was not just paranoia. The caretakers senses, heightened by his extreme emotions knew that there was another presence here.
Slowing his walk and with his body tense, yet ready, the caretaker paced down the aisles, eyes wide and ears straining. Close, he thought someone is very close. Earlier, in the corridor, the caretaker was overcome with fear. This time it was a cold anger that suffused him. This time he was ready. Ready to attack. Ready to survive.
Seconds after he felt a tingling of premonition running down his back, he heard a slight noise behind him. Something tugged on his sleeve. Screaming, the caretaker whirled around to face his assailant, fist cocked and ready to fly... at the last second he checked himself as he stared into the shocked eyes of the Librarian.
“um...” the librarian said, nervously. He had seen the caretaker and thought to enquire about his day. There was an affinity, an unspoken understanding between the librarian and the caretaker. They were both outsiders to some extent and the librarian had approached the caretaker simply to make contact.
The reaction of the caretaker, and seeing his wild expression scared the librarian. He had seen that look months before. The day the caretaker went berserk and tried to fight off those thieves. Nobody really noticed how perceptive the librarian actually was. Similar to the caretaker, he was always on the fringes of society. Observing. He noticed the caretakers shock as he recovered himself, noticed the way his face went from a snarl to an apologetic smile. Most of all he noticed the caretakers eyes. Looking closely, the librarian could see the now familiar empty, faraway look, deep in those orbs.
The librarian had realised that the caretaker was becoming more withdrawn over the past month. He assumed that it was simply the pressures of keeping the school secure and organising the students. Now he saw that there was a deeper pain, one that the caretaker was trying to deal with. And failing.
“Sorry”, mumbled the caretaker, trying to look relaxed and non threatening “you startled me”.
“um… that’s ok” replied the librarian, cautiously “it’s my fault for not letting you know I was here”.
The caretaker gave the librarian a long, flat look and seemed on the verge of saying something. I can’t tell him thought the caretaker I will have to deal with this on my own. “Well…” he said, trying to sound cheerful “no harm done” turning slowly the caretaker said “I must be off now. Early start tomorrow”
“Um... ok... bye” the librarian said to the caretakers retreating back. The librarians brows creased in consternation I fear we may have lost him he thought as the caretaker left the library, quietly closing the door behind him.