Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Writing Prompt Wednesdays - Lunacy

Belief: Bathing in cold water would make you insane
This episode of Writing Excuses talked about some crazy Victorian ideas - like how women were not allowed to learn knitting because it would cause their brains to overheat. So I looked some real reasons people were put in sanitoriums way back when. Bathing in cold water is one of those ideas I decided to treat as fact for this submission.

For a list of the writing prompts I share, please see my Writing Prompt page :)

Cold Water Lunacy
(2300 Words)

Slowly, Ty snuck down the carpeted stairs, his large frame carefully maneuvering as if he were traversing a mine field. He had negotiated these stairs hundreds of times during daylight hours while doing normal household chores. On every trip up or down he secretly paid attention to new developments in their sound, structure, and nuance. 

Each individual step had its own personality, and Ty knew that the next step down was firm, but had a tendency to groan if the weight was not properly distributed to the left on descent. He also knew that two steps from the bottom the boards under the carpet had a bit too much give and would chirp like a toddler’s squeak toy. He had to be careful, though. It was dark, and sound always traveled faster and louder in the dark.

Night had come as it always did, the sky darkening and with it the lights within the houses winking out one by one as the residents took their cue and headed to the meticulously controlled environments of their warm bedrooms. With the dark came the cooler temperatures, and as the lights winked out, the people hid under their covers awaiting the safety of the warm and bright sunshine. Some even had heated pillows just to make sure they awoke with the same faculties that they had gone to sleep with. Within minutes the entire city seemed to be asleep.

Except in house 10 at the end of Barbary Lane. House 10 was just like house 9 and house 11. It had the same non-descript siding and non-descript windows and non-descript door. What made house 10 special was that Ty Lombard lived there. 

On the outside, Ty looked and acted just like everyone around him. He went to work in the mornings like clockwork. He fiddled with numbers every day, counting figures in columns and knowing when and where to move them to so the sums would mean more or less depending on who was looking. He laughed at jokes, he brought lunch from home half the time and ate lunch with co-workers the other half. He went out on Friday nights with his social group, and he attended lectures on sanity every Sunday as per government recommendation.

Ty had been attending the lectures once a week since he was a small child. His mother had even requested extra personal sittings after The Incident when he was four. He remembered it like it was yesterday. Ty and some neighborhood friends had been playing with cars in the sandbox on a very warm afternoon. Play had turned into chase, with cars and sand and vrrooooom noises filling the air. The sand had made everything sparkle, from the cars to the skin, but it was also dry and itchy. 

When his mother had brought them cool drinks, Ty drank his fill. But then, then he felt the grit embedded in his hair. He felt it on his neck. And he had done the unthinkable. He poured the remaining cold water over his head to not only cool off, but to remove the itch from his scalp.

 His mother’s scream echoed in his mind, along with the whirlwind of office visits to be evaluated, watched, monitored, poked, probed, and measured. Of course the water had been the recommended temperature from the tap. Of course it had not been altered nor cooled, his mother had insisted indignantly. In the end it was determined that the water had not harmed young Ty, that he was as sane and normal as any other four year-old boy. 

Ty’s mother set the temperature of his bath and drinking water a few degrees warmer than recommended and paid a counselor to do additional in-home sanity lectures on Wednesday evenings for the next two years. He had grown into the man his parents had expected him to become. Relatively good looking in a non-descript kind of way, his frame more out of shape than in, he was threatening to become more wide than tall. He had become the normal son his mother had always hoped for.

Every time Ty took a drink of luke-warm water, tea, or flavor-aid, he would close his eyes and relive that brief moment of cold water hitting his tongue, the initial shock of the splash followed by cool dribbles running over his head and down his neck. It had tickled, it had teased, and it had made him want to cover his entire body in it.

Of course, that was forbidden. He knew that. It had been drummed into him bi-weekly that bathing in cold water would cause insanity. He had heard the stories, he had toured the sanitoriums and performed service for the people housed therein, wiping their chins after feeding them and listening to the shrill laughter at untold and unseen events. He knew the very real consequences that cold water could have on a body and brain. The government had taken measures to control as much water as possible to protect the people. All sources of water were under heavy guard, and the drinking water directed to homes had strict temperature regulations that were monitored closely.

And yet, Ty wondered. He wondered at the brightness of the inmates eyes, the color in their faces. They seemed to have access to a part of life that Ty was missing. They had experienced the cold water and had not been strong enough to resist its effects. Ty was sure he could. Positive, in fact. Ty had once considered leaving the city to go for a drive, hoping that maybe somewhere in the middle of the wilds would be an unguarded fountain of water, cold, refreshing, and so pure that of course it wouldn’t cause insanity. 

However, taking a trip required planning, as did learning how to backpack and hike and survive in an area far enough away that it wouldn’t be under guard. None of which were things his friends were interested in, none of which were things his parents and Sunday group would understand, condone, or encourage. So Ty had found a way around the system in his very own house in his very own basement under everyone’s very own noses.

Which is why he crept down his very own stairs as quietly as possible every Wednesday night.

The staircase was his own personal obstacle course, every foot placement a possible trap to call out his indiscretions.  In spite of the stairs seeming determined to alarm the house to his activity, Ty was cautious. He could see the path and movements he would need to make as if they were lit up before him in the darkened stairwell, and he moved accordingly.

Ty lived alone, but he knew that if he was too loud, any number of neighbors or neighboring pets would hear him moving. He knew it so well that a band of sweat formed across his brow as he successfully made it another step closer to the basement floor.  Then another. And another. No sounds yet. He was winning the war against the stairs. Of course, he would still have to make it back up the stairs just as silently when he was finished, but he would fight that battle when it came. For now, he was over halfway down and could almost feel the cool water brushing against his skin, calling to him.

The lower he got, the more Ty could feel the temperature difference. He had disabled the temperature controls in the basement long ago. This kept the cement floor very cool to the touch. Ty wished heartily that he could sleep on it, knowing the cold floor would bring him clarity of thought.
So close. He was so close. But he’d gotten caught up in the anticipation of cool floors and cold water and now found that he’d stepped a quarter of an inch too far to the left on the step that would scream like a stepped-on duck when the weight was removed.

Ever so slowly Ty shifted the weight and began to lift his foot so he could set it back down in the safe area. He had to do this. The water was calling to him. He craved the feel of it cascading down over his head and rushing over his skin like the caress of a lover. He needed to reach it safely so that he would have the rest of the dark night to drown his normal and non-descript life in the ebb and flow of cold forbidden water.

After an eternity, his foot was safely up and replaced just as slowly down onto the correct spot exactly so. Ty repressed a giggle, the elation of his secret building up from the inside. He would have clapped his hands at the small victory he’d just won, but he had just a few more steps to go, and celebrating early would surely bring disaster.


The tiniest of noises, but Ty froze. He listened oh so carefully for the sounds of alarms, neighbors, and policemen to come running. His mother would get out of bed and rush over from two streets over, shaking her head knowing that she’d been right and all the doctors had been wrong.

How long Ty stood there, waiting to be caught he wasn’t sure. He was mildly surprised that no one had come. Surely someone had heard that betrayal? Waiting a few more minutes, Ty decided to continue down. He couldn’t miss tonight. It had been so hot today, and he was already sweating from concentration, he deserved the reward waiting for him. Ty debated jumping to the bottom, but knew there would be pressure and squeals from the wood upon his release. And what if he landed wrong? It was dark and if anyone heard him fall onto the cold pavement of the basement floor, they’d all wake up and come find him in his ungraceful glory tangled at the bottom of the stairs in a bathrobe covered heap. No, that would not do. Better to be found out upon the stairs than at the bottom with a broken neck. Even if it was only three steps down.

The basement loomed before him, dark, inviting, and cool. It was agonizingly slow, but Ty double-checked every memory and thought about the remaining stairs before placing his feet. He used his arms to mediate the weight distribution to the walls. And there he was, finally, at the bottom.

He didn’t need light to navigate the basement; the weekly footprints he’d left practically glowed in the dark. The bare cement floor was soothing balm on his feet after the heat of the pavement and day. Ty padded over to the door, as non-descript as every other door in the house. Any inspector in his basement checking temperature levels would never ask about the door because it looked like any other. Behind the door, that was where heaven waited.

Ty had found the plumbing line to his home, re-directed part of the flow to a hose, and used that hose to fill a porcelain tub. This tub sat in the coolest part of the basement in the darkest corner all week long. By the time that Ty made it to the room, the water was far, far cooler than any upstairs or normal room temperature.

And it waited for him, for Ty, calling to him as to a long-lost child. He had been bathing in the cold water for weeks now with no ill effects. Surely everyone should know that he was immune to the water lunacy. Surely it should be legal, if only just for himself.

He closed the door behind him just as carefully as he’d done everything else on his trek, and then let go a sigh of relief. He had made it. He dropped the bathrobe on the floor and stepped into the tub, laughter bubbling up and over his lips as pure joy thrilled up through him. Ty could feel the water climbing his legs, pulling him down. He sat down heavily into the water, feeling the splash, sure that he could see the moonlight glinting from the droplets and sparkles that now covered the windowless and dark room.

He splashed with his hands, with his feet, with his head, the water becoming neon shapes and sounds hanging in the air and dripping with untold stories. It would tell him, Ty was sure. Those were stories just for him, and the water would tell him. He splashed and laughed more, feeling elation at the images and words coming to him. He lay his head back in the water and tipped it as far back as he could, immersing himself in the stories. The water covered him, caressed him, and pulling him down into its depths, a light kiss upon his lips as he laughed back.

It didn’t matter if his lungs hurt while the water rushed in to greet his insides. It didn’t matter if the room lit up with fireworks. The stars were a reflection of the water’s grace and beauty and Ty reveled in it as he let himself sink to the bottom of the tub. All was well when he was one with the cold, cold water.

Ty wasn’t found for several days, unfortunately by his mother. The water piping was fixed, the tub removed, and the heating elements in the basement repaired. Yet years later stories were told about house 10 on Barbary Lane and how sometimes sounds of water splashing and laughter could be heard from the basement at night. Someone installed two doors on the stairwell, one at the top, one at the bottom. No one was sure if it was to keep something out or something in, or maybe just to keep something locked in the stairwell.

No comments:

Post a Comment