Daniel stood before the mirror in his rumpled suit. It didn’t fit him as well as it used to – he’d lost some weight. He slicked back his thinning dark hair and straightened his clip-on tie. Today was special; today he was free. More importantly, he was cured.
He turned and looked distastefully at the drab grey smock laying folded on the bed. He’d worn for it for the last six months, without even the privilege of underwear. He adjusted his trousers; they would take some getting used to. Satisfied, he followed the orderly out of the room – no, cell.
A happy whistle left his lips as he entered the hallway, where mental cases lurked like gargoyles. There was Old Charlie, who liked talking to rocks and eating puzzle pieces; Phil, who had a habit of `inspecting’ nunneries; and finally, Crunchy Bob. The less said about Crunchy Bob the better. These people had been Daniel’s only friends during his stay. Now that he was better, they were just loathsome obstacles littering the path to the door.
The door, a big, barred, metal affair, hadn’t opened for him since he’d entered this place. It opened for him now, and the sensation was euphoric. He took a deep breath, and crossed the threshold. As he did, the final piece of his sanity fell into place. At last, the outside world!
The door slammed shut, and silenced the deranged mumbling – and barking – behind it. The lobby was full of sunshine which made tears well up in his eyes. He wanted to run out into the street and bathe in its naked rays. But first, he had to pick up his belongings.
“Name?” said the clerk – a plump, middle-aged, bespectacled black woman with thick glossy lipstick.
“Uh, Daniel. Daniel Symes.”
“How d’you spell that?”
“Here ’tis.” The lady plopped a shoebox on the counter and began removing the contents.
“Box of cigarettes, lighter, car keys-“
“Actually, those are for a scooter,” said Daniel.
The lady glared over the rims of her glasses.
“Scooter keys,” she continued, “tic-tacs, lifesavers, gum, cough drops, aspirin, anti-depressants. Man, you must’ve been somethin’ when they brought you in here.”
She glared at him again. Daniel looked at the floor and coughed.
“Yes, well, I’m better now. Just put everything back in the box and I’ll be on my w-“
“Hold on, hold on. I’m not finished yet. One condom, still in wrapper. Holy geez, it’s an old one too – don’t believe they make this brand anymore.”
Daniel wanted to crawl into his shoes. Wasn’t he above this? Wasn’t he free to leave this place with his dignity intact?
“Wallet containing fifteen dollars and thirty-three cents, driver’s licence – whoa! This you?”
Daniel glanced at the scruffy image of his former self and nodded.
“Man, you were one scary dude, and what’s this? `Daniel Symes, Children’s Entertainer’?”
The lady held up his business card, wrinkled and smudged though it was.
“`Birthday parties a specialty, just ask for me or Mr. Sockforahead.'”
The world seemed to drop away the moment the word was spoken. It echoed through the desolate halls of his mind and found its way to a padded cell where it grew louder and louder as it bounced off the walls around him. With it came a thousand sickly and evil feelings. With the utmost willpower he remembered the treatment, and took a series of deep, controlled breaths. The feelings bubbled, just beneath his skin, and were gone.
“Sockforahead? So that’s what this is?” she pointed to the box. “Man, I didn’t want to touch it. I thought it was some kind of perverted sexual aid or something.”
The clerk took out a tattered, charred, and moth-eaten object vaguely resembling a cotton sock.
“Mr. Symes, you may have been a sick and twisted children’s entertainer – and Lord knows I wouldn’t let you within ten feet of my children – but you’re a free man. Good luck to you sir, and hopefully I’ll never have to see you again.”
But Daniel hadn’t heard a word. He was six months in the past, strangling the living crap out of a sentient cotton sock, and, in effect, his own hand. He thought he’d won, that fateful afternoon, but the bastard wouldn’t die. He’d cut Mr. Sockforahead in two with his own teeth and set him on fire before the cops had turned up and arrested him – for disrupting a child’s Birthday party, among other things. After psychological evaluation, it was deemed he had an extreme case of paranoid schizophrenia brought on by a combination of sexual frustration, self-loathing, and an innate fear of mascots.
Strenuous treatment had totally wiped Mr. Sockforahead from his mind. But, somehow, here he was. Daniel picked him up. The two halves of scorched cotton had been crudely darned back together, leaving hideous jagged holes. The button eyes, which Daniel had ripped off and pissed on, were back in place – but melted and freakishly crooked. It seemed whatever morals the sock may have possessed were destroyed. The evil, warped death-masque was all that remained.
“Mr. Symes?” It was the clerk again. “Your shoebox?”
“Keep it,” said Daniel, distantly. “Just give me the keys, and the wallet.”
The lady smiled and handed him the articles. He accepted them with his right hand, and dropped them with a start. The sock had somehow slipped itself onto his hand!
“Man, whatchoo doin’?”
“Sorry, sorry,” said Daniel.
He tugged at the sock, but it was firmly attached – like a glove that had become too tight. He panicked as his hand began to tingle – he was losing control!
His hand jerked high into the air and quivered violently. Almost at once it became still, then slowly lowered itself to shoulder height and turned to face him. Everyone in the room stared in his direction, and it all came back. Mr. Sockforahead had returned, and nothing could stop him.
“Hey!” said the sock in his twisted puppet voice. “How’s it hangin’, Daniel?”
“I… I killed you!” Daniel spat.
“Huh. Well, you tried, but here I am. Are you gonna introduce me to all these nice folks?”
Daniel’s eyes pleaded with the people in the room – a handful of lunatics, waiting to be committed by saner family members, and a security guard. All they did was smile, chuckle even. Merciful God! They thought he was putting on a show! That was just what Mr. Sockforahead wanted.
“Hello, folks! I’m Mr. Sockforahead.”
The grotesque puppet took a series of sweeping bows which elicited applause and happy squeals. Daniel smiled uneasily. Perhaps Mr. Sockforahead wasn’t evil after all. Perhaps six months of treatment had cured him and the sock.
“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen,” said Sockforahead.
Daniel’s smile broadened, and he looked at the sock with new warmth and respect.
“Thank you. Let me introduce the fellow to my left. This here’s my bitch, Daniel. He’s a virgin.”
The sock sniggered, and all of Daniel’s false hopes fell away.
“Say, Daniel,” said Sockforahead, “why d’you wanna get rid of the box? There’s so much cool stuff in there. Check this out-“
Sockforahead dived into the shoebox, found the condom, ripped open the wrapper with Daniel’s teeth, inflated it with Daniel’s lips, and attached it to his `crotch’ on Daniel’s wrist.
“There we go. This monkey gets some use after all! Want some, lady?”
The sock wiggled his `hips’ at the clerk, who looked taken aback but let out a giggle.
“You’re evil, Mr. Sockforahead!” Daniel gasped. “I want you to stop it! I want you to leave me alone!”
The condom deflated slowly. Sockforahead turned and stared at Daniel in silence before going limp and falling to Daniel’s side. Sweet Jesus, it was over!
“Aagh!” Daniel twisted up in pain.
Something had him by the crotch! Oh – fuck – the pain! Daniel dropped to the floor and tried to find the breath to scream. At last the sock let go, and spoke – in a voice that was high-pitched and strangled as if someone had just mangled his genitals.
“Feel anything? Cos I sure didn’t!”
The crowd was in a fit of laughter. God, wouldn’t anyone realize what was going on?
Sockforahead cackled, he was enjoying this. He wouldn’t stop until every drop of self-esteem had been milked from the udder that was Daniel’s psyche. Daniel whimpered and closed his eyes. When he opened them, he saw the gun holstered in the security guard’s belt. The man was incapacitated by hysterical laughter.
Surer than he’d ever been in his life, he stood up and grabbed the gun with his free hand. Sockforahead’s laughter was silenced by a barrel in the mouth.
“Whoa, Danny boy, whatch’a doin’ with that?”
Screams told him the bystanders finally new the gravity of the situation. They would no longer be Sockforahead’s hungry audience.
“You’ve tormented me long enough, Mr. Sockforahead!”
Daniel cocked the gun, and turned it on the security guard.
“Back off! This is between me and the sock!”
“Whatever you say, dude. Just don’t hurt anyone!”
He thrust the weapon back at Sockforahead, who’d made a grab for his neck.
“Don’t even think about trying that again, Mr. Sockforahead.”
“Heh. You don’t have the balls to shoot me, Daniel. And I should know, shouldn’t I!”
He let out another evil laugh, which only fueled Daniel’s rage.
“Go to hell!”
Blam! Blam blam! Blam! Muscle, sinew, knuckle, blood, and fragments of sock and button splattered in a fine spray. Daniel sank to his knees. He was in excruciating pain, and losing quarts of precious blood, but free at last! He laughed, and tears of joy trickled down his quivering cheeks.
Warm steel pressed against his nose. His left index finger slipped to the trigger, and the rest of his fist opened and closed like a mouth – saying:
“You can’t get rid of me that easily, Danny.”
(Originally posted on 06/15/2001)