It was an early morning, mid-week most likely. The sky was cloudy, and it was breezy. The clouds overhead looked ominous, almost threatening. Winter was on the horizon. The men and women walking to work were bundled up with their scarves and trench coats to protect themselves from cold gusts of wind. Many of the people in this small town cut through the park to avoid the crowded morning streets. There were fresh brewed coffee stands sprinkled throughout the park. The men and women would quickly stop by a cart for a cup of coffee and walk back in the direction they were headed. Most everyone had their briefcase or purse in one hand, and an unopened umbrella and a coffee in the other. There was even one man wearing a full suit with a plastic poncho over it as he scurried to work.
Everyone was in a hurry. No one here seemed to be happy to be walking to work on a day like this. Men and women alike had a grim look on their face as they strode through the park. Some would look up to the clouds as if they could read them, as if they could tell when the rain would start.
One man walking through the park was not in a hurry at all. He did not have a briefcase or an umbrella. He had thick black-brimmed glasses, a freshly shaven face, a rather thick nose, bushy salt and pepper eyebrows, and a black homburg hat. The man also had a grey trench coat like most the others, but he seemed a bit uncomfortable in it as he scavenged for money in the pockets to pay for a cup of coffee. He was finally able to muster up some change and took his steamy cup of coffee to a nearby bench with a smile. The aroma of coffee filled this park as almost everyone here had one in the morning. One lady passed by the man with the thick black-rimmed glasses and gave him an odd look, a look that said, “Why are you so happy on a day like this?” The man had been carrying a newspaper under his arm. When he took a seat on an old wooden bench, he crossed a leg over the other and opened the newspaper. He skimmed over the stories on the front page, but not one of them caught his eye, nothing except the excerpt on the top right of the newspaper.
Today’s Forecast, Page 5.
The man quickly turned to page five and found the weather portion toward the bottom.
Today’s Forecast: 100% chance of rain. Bring an umbrella!
The man grinned widely. He picked up his coffee and folded up his newspaper. He smiled as he took a deep breath. He could smell it coming now; the dew aroma just before a big rain. He looked up to the sky. A single raindrop fell onto his glasses and slid down the lens, leaving a small trail of water droplets.
The man looked back down.
“Job well done, J, job well done,” he said to himself. He buttoned up his coat and tucked a black bead necklace he had been wearing inside of the coat.
The man took off from the park, not to be seen again. Nobody knew who he was there, so nobody noticed one less man coming through the park in the mornings.
It rained heavily for the next three days.
Chapter 1 - Lumen
Lumen wasn’t like the other kids in his small town. He didn’t have many friends and was considered different in the eyes of others. Lumen never met his father, which never really bothered him; he thought his mother did a great job as a single parent. His mother, Alice, always told him he was the man of the house, anyway, so she didn’t need another man around there. Truth be told, Lumen didn’t think he may ever be the man of the house, of any house for that matter. Since he was a young boy, he was a bit unlike other children. Lumen would get lost staring off into space, often times in class. He would stare off while walking, eating, even during a test; he was always picked on for it. Other children took notice and labeled him crazy. Some of the parents in town thought he was, simply put, an off child. That was, of course, until he was diagnosed and their judgements were confirmed. From the looks of it, Lumen often seemed to be staring at nothing. The rumors of what he was gazing so intently at ranged from magical beings from another world to angels and demons. But to Lumen, he wasn’t just staring off into space. There weren’t any magical creatures, no voices, and certainly no demons. It was much more than that. He was actually looking at something, something only he could see. He was staring at the lights.
Lumen was a fair boy. He was of average height for his age. He had dark brown hair and was a bit scrawny--he wasn’t unathletic though, he loved to run. Running made Lumen forget about all the problems in his life. He always felt as though he were at his freest. He was on the cross-country team as a freshman in high school but eventually quit because some of his teammates picked on him too much. Lumen never wanted to get any of the other kids in trouble though. He kept quiet and just wanted most people to leave him alone; unfortunately, things didn’t quite go his way.
He once won “Prettiest Eyes” in middle school--Lumen had strong green colored eyes--but even when he won that award, it turned for the worse. The day he was to take a picture for the award, his mother dressed him up in his best looking green and white striped polo shirt with his nice black khakis. His hair was combed to the side with some gel, and he wore his favorite black and white sneakers. That day he was given a swirly by the yearbook photographers before they took his picture.
“Crazy kids should look crazy in their pictures,” said one of the photographers.
“Yeah, you skitzo, you can’t look nice. You would be lying to the whole school. My parents said it isn’t fair for kids like you to be up for school awards. People just voted for you because they feel bad for you,” said the photographer’s partner, Blake, as he proceeded to force Lumen’s head into the toilet and flush it a few times. Lumen didn’t put up a fight. He figured he should have known this would have happened. Instead, he focused on breathing between dunks in the dimly lit middle school bathroom.
Incidents like that were why Lumen stayed away from attention. He actually won the award again his freshman year of high school but asked to be withdrawn from consideration. It was easier this way for Lumen. The more he could hide in plain sight, the less he had to worry about all the bullies. The thing was, Lumen didn’t feel crazy. He was not sure what being normal meant per se, but he was sure he wasn’t crazy. All he saw were lights. They were distracting at times but there were no voices in his head, he didn’t talk to imaginary figures, it was just the lights. Lumen always thought that he couldn’t be the first human in existence to see these lights. They stuck out like a sore thumb. He almost physically felt them. They sometimes were so overwhelming that he couldn’t help but look at them, no matter how much he tried. Sometimes, for too long he can admit, but who doesn’t have their flaws?
During the last week of middle school, Lumen came home four consecutive days with his clothes torn, dirtied, or missing. Following the fourth day he had a routine check-up and his mother found out that Lumen had an ear infection, presumably from the dirty water in the toilets at school but she didn’t know about any of that. She pushed Lumen to find out what he had been doing that would have caused this and he eventually confessed to the extreme bullying. That was the last straw for Alice. She needed to know what was wrong with her only son; she wanted him to live a normal life.
“After some preliminary tests, well. . . it looks like your son may have a minor case of schizophrenia, ma’am. Very, very minor at this point, but nonetheless, schizophrenia.”
“Call me Alice, please . . . Are you sure, doctor?” Alice put her hand on her forehead to try and process what the doctor had just said.
“We will have to run a few tests to confirm, but all signs are pointing to that diagnosis. As I said, it is minor at this point in time but could, and most likely will, get worse,” the doctor said.
“What does this mean for my son?”
“Well, schizophrenics usually experience hallucinations. They may hear voices, they may have thought and movement disorders . . .”
“My son isn’t experiencing those things yet. All he said is he sees are something along the lines of panels of light. . . something like that. Couldn’t his eyes just be bad? I have worked with patients who have schizophrenia, and they are much different than Lumen is. I could tell you some stories . . .” Alice looked desperate.
“I am afraid not, Alice. These lights may be just the beginning. Chances are it will get worse over time. Medicine can help with controlling some of the symptoms, which we will administer to Lumen today. Does schizophrenia run in the family?”
“No, no one in my family has it.”
“What about the father’s side?” the doctor asked. Alice looked down.
“Lumen’s father has never been around.” She was a bit unnerved talking about Lumen’s father, she always was.
“Genetics are not based on which parent is or is not present.”
“Well, no, I hardly knew him myself. I suppose it could run on his side, but I don’t know,” she said with an acerbic tone.
“Any chance you can give him a call to find out? It could help to know the severity of it on his side. It will help us administer the correct dosage of medicine.”
“No,” she said abruptly.
“I don’t know where he is. Nor do I want to know.”
The doctor let it go and decided to test out a low dosage to start, assuring Alice that Lumen could lead a normal life as long as he took his medicine. Lumen was not privy to the idea of being medicated. All he could think about was what the other kids at school would say if they saw him taking pills every day.
Lumen always was curious about who his father was and why he was gone. He tried not to think about it too much though, his mom did more than enough to take care of them both. Lumen was an only child. Alice was a nurse at a mental health facility, which meant she worked long, hard, and varying hours. She always did her best to make it home for dinner to see Lumen at least once a day, that was hardly the case though. She often worked double shifts and wasn’t able to leave the hospital.
On the nights during which Lumen was left alone, he would head across the street from his house to the restaurant La Dernière Pièce. Tonight was one of those nights. His mom left him some money on the kitchen table of their two-bedroom house, and Lumen knew that meant she wasn’t coming home until late that night or early the next morning. She sometimes left a note, but not today. She must have been in a rush, Lumen thought. Lumen walked across Inventa Way, where he resided, to the restaurant. It was a little run down, family-owned place that had excellent chicken pot pie. Lumen couldn’t figure out why the restaurant had a French name, he was positive they didn’t serve any French cuisine. He figured they were just trying to make it sound fancier than it really was. He thought one of the bust boy’s name was Henry, only remembering because he learned about King Henry II of France in class recently. Lumen concluded that even Henry didn’t know his name was French.
Lumen walked in and found a booth. All of the booths were red with glitter and had plastic covers. There was single seating near the kitchen with red swivel bar stools, but those were uncomfortable to Lumen. He chose a booth toward the back and sat down. He liked to stretch his legs over to the other side of the booth. He smiled when he saw his favorite waitress, Shari, approaching. Shari was a larger, red-headed woman with a large space between her front teeth. She wore big hoop earrings and had long, painted fingernails. She was always nice to Lumen.
All of the servers knew who Lumen was and his usual order. He would order a chicken pot pie with a chocolate shake on the side, his favorite. He always thought the chicken pot pie was put together perfectly, all of the right ingredients together in one. He didn’t have to think about what went together.
“How’s it going, Lumen? The usual?”
“Yes, please. Thank you.”
“Not a problem, sweetheart. You want the shake before or after your meal today?” Shari asked as she set down an ice water with lemon on the table.
“I will take it after please.”
“You got it.”
Lumen felt comfortable there; no one judged him when he would stare off into space, which wasn’t often there. For some reason, the lights were not as present in the restaurant. There was the occasional panel that would appear, but nothing too overwhelming for Lumen. He once noticed how the few panels he saw there were red. He figured it had to do with the reddish glow from all the glittered booths inside.
There were hardly ever kids his age at this restaurant by themselves. Lumen remembered the one time Blake came in. He thought he wouldn’t be able to come back now that Blake knew he dined there, but Blake didn’t even look Lumen’s way that night. Lumen got a good kick at how his parents ordered him around and made him sit and eat properly; he was used to seeing Blake walk around the cafeteria and push other kids around. He often threw his food at the Study Club instead of eating it. Lumen wondered how he could go all day without eating.
Blake’s parents noticed Lumen almost immediately that night, and they were sure to sit across the restaurant, away from the off child, even if it meant sitting next to the bathroom. He heard them tell Blake to leave him alone and not to bother him--not because they didn’t want Blake to bully him, but because they didn’t know what would set him off. Lumen thought a lot of the parents in town had some backwards thinking.
Lumen ate his chicken pot pie and slurped down his chocolate shake. He left money on the counter, waved goodbye to Shari, and headed back home across Inventa Way. He found himself walking slowly across the street. It was a bit colder than he expected; fall was definitely in season now. He started to notice more light panels as he made his way home. Looking up at the electrical wires, he was observing more colors than just red now. He tried not to pay attention to them. He remembered how his mom didn’t want him to fall victim to his sickness.
“You can’t stare at them all the time, honey, especially in public.”
“I can’t help it sometimes, Mom.”
“I know, I know. I just don’t want people staring at you. Just please don’t point and try and grab them like you used to. The more you pay attention to them, the worse your sickness will get. The doctor says you need to stay occupied. I got you another puzzle . . . And take your medicine.”
“I hate the medicine, it just makes me tired.”
“I know honey, but it’s for your own safety.”
They are just lights, he thought. What harm could they be doing? Aren’t schizophrenics supposed to be seeing monsters and other terrifying things? Aren’t they supposed to hear voices and make irrational decisions? He thought he should do more research on the disease before coming to conclusions on his own, but it just didn’t seem right. He supposed it wouldn’t seem right to anyone.
Lumen walked across the street, all while ignoring the lights. He walked athwart his cracked driveway, through the half-dead lawn, and into his cozy home. The house was never perfectly clean, but it was never a mess either. His mom often left the laundry on the plush blue couch for Lumen to fold. He didn’t feel much like doing it right then. Instead, he moved the clothes over and plopped onto the couch. This couch is the best, he thought. He sank in, turned the TV on, and watched some cartoons. He really enjoyed his time away from school. There were no bullies, no mundane classes, and no one staring at him wherever he went.
Lumen watched a couple episodes of his favorite cartoon and started to notice himself focusing on the lights. He felt there were more panels than usual. All different colors: blue, green, yellow, a red panel here and there. They felt unorganized to Lumen. If only he could just move them around into place, he would feel much better. The paper-thin panels of light that were floating all around him were starting to overwhelm him. They were everywhere.
The phone rang. Lumen snapped out of it and walked over to the phone hanging next to the kitchen.
“Hello?” Lumen said with an aloof tone.
“Hi, hun, how you doing?”
“I’m alright, Mom. How’s work?” he said with more interest this time.
“It’s going to be a late one again. Did you eat?”
Sometimes he felt his mom babied him. I am 15 for heaven’s sake, he thought.
“Okay good, can you please fold the clothes on the couch? How are you feeling tonight? Are you seeing a lot of them? Did you take your medicine?”
“I will, I’m fine, and no not really. I took my medicine,” he lied to her. He didn’t normally lie, but when it came to taking his medicine, he did it quite often. He was a pro at not taking his pills. Lumen felt the lies were justified as long as he kept his grades up in school.
“Good, good. Well I got you a couple of new puzzles just in case you start to get overwhelmed. I put them on the kitchen table. I got to run. Please go to bed at a decent hour tonight. I know it’s Friday, but I would like to have breakfast with you in the morning before I have to go to work.”
“Okay, Mom, I will. Love you.”
“Love you too, hun.”
Lumen sighed. What would he do tonight anyway? He had one good friend, Alec, but he always had to babysit his siblings on Friday nights.
Lumen walked back over to the couch and almost tripped over a dog toy. He realized he hadn’t seen his dog, Wrigley, since he got home. Wrigley would always come running to the door when Lumen got home.
Lumen became worried instantly.
“Wrigley? Where are ya, boy?” Lumen whistled for him.
Lumen began to panic. He went to the back door, it was closed. Did Mom let him out and forget he was out there when she left? She hasn’t ever done that before. Lumen frantically walked to his room. Instant relief. Wrigley was sitting in the middle of the room with his back to Lumen, wagging his tail. There were papers on the ground all around him. Lumen thought he must have knocked them off his desk. Wrigley was looking up at nothing.
Wrigley turned around and finally noticed Lumen. He wagged his tail so hard that he knocked over Lumen’s lamp; he was overly excited per usual. Wrigley was part German Shepherd, part Labrador Retriever. He was a fairly large dog so when he jumped on Lumen, Lumen usually fell over. They wrestled on the ground for a few moments before Lumen got up and called for Wrigley to leave with him to the living room. Lumen picked up the papers and put them back on his desk.
As they left the room, Lumen looked at the spot where Wrigley was looking and noticed a glut of blue light panels. He shrugged it off and closed the door. “Maybe I should take the meds tonight . . .” he said aloud to himself.
They walked back down the hall to the living room. He looked at the pile of clothes and sighed. He was hoping they somehow had folded themselves. He walked over to the blue couch, turned the TV back on, and began folding the clothes. He never liked folding his mom’s clothes; he didn’t want to know what his mom’s undergarments looked like.
“Yuck,” as he just tossed those to the side.
Wrigley sat beside the couch, chewing on something. Lumen looked down and didn’t recognize the toy in Wrigley’s mouth. It almost looked like a block of ice. His mom must have found a new toy for him.
Lumen finished folding the clothes and sat back on the couch. He didn’t feel like playing video games. He surfed through some channels and didn’t see anything he wanted to watch. He went over to the kitchen and opened the fridge to see if there was any food. There was plenty of food in there, but not anything Lumen wanted; he was looking more because he was bored. He decided he would check out the two new puzzles his mom had bought him and went over to the kitchen table.
Lumen was incredibly fast at completing puzzles. Ever since he had been diagnosed his doctor recommended doing puzzles to make him think and stay occupied, away from the lights. Even before the diagnosis though, he loved doing puzzles. He loved piecing them together. In the first grade, while all the students were doing simple 25-piece puzzles, Lumen was doing 500-piece puzzles. He was able to complete puzzles of hard difficulty, even for the average adult. It was actually one of the reasons he was able to stay in normal classes. He had always been a great problem solver, not just with puzzles, but in every aspect.
If he hadn’t been diagnosed, Lumen probably would have been able to skip a few grades. He thought about that sometimes. He figured he must have more purpose. He felt he should be on his way to college already, with some of the Ivy League schools begging him to attend their schools. He could be one of the youngest doctors in the country, or developing space shuttles that could reach Mars, or solving world hunger. Lumen had at one point been told that it was possible that he was a genius by his doctors. That was of course overshadowed by the fact he was a diagnosed schizophrenic and he was only able to stay in the general classes as long as his grades stayed up. This, of course, was easy. The other condition less so; he had to keep taking his medicine. Lumen had to go to the nurse’s office after his second class every day and the nurse would watch him take his medicine. The nurse, Mrs. Goebbel, was an older woman who had very bad eyesight. She wore glasses that enlarged her gray eyes so much that Lumen had a hard time looking at her directly. Each day she requested that Lumen open his mouth to show that the pill had been swallowed. Lumen became highly skilled at hiding the pill under his tongue and spitting it out in the bathroom directly after Mrs. Goebbel turned her back to him.
He learned that he should no longer do puzzles in school because it served as yet another reason to be picked on. Blake and his friends would seek Lumen out in the library during lunch and throw the puzzle pieces about, leaving Lumen to clean them up and start from scratch. From then on, he would stick to doing them in the comfort of his home, on the kitchen table.
He grabbed the dark blue box. It was a 2000-piece of Van Gough’s Starry Night. He picked up the other box. That one was maroon and had a picture of Paris, France with the Eiffel Tower on the left side. He jokingly wondered if he could find La Dernière Pièce somewhere in the picture among all the cafes.
He ripped the plastic of the Paris puzzle, opened the box, took a deep breath, and dumped the pieces out. He checked his watch for time, 8:27. His mind started racing. He completely forgot about the lights.
Wrigley trotted back to Lumen’s room.