Aaron didn’t quite know when Asher first appeared or from where. What Aaron did know was that the tiny man was always around at the worst possible times and he was a huge pain in the ass. Pretty woman nearby? In a crowded grocery store? At the library? Asher was sure to show up, careful not to let anyone else see or hear him. The worst part about it was that not only was Asher somehow always dressed in a miniature version of whatever Aaron was wearing, but he always hid so carefully while he tortured Aaron that no one ever believed Asher was the reason for his sudden outbursts.
Bad went to worse, until Aaron finally got fired for one too many scenes at The Book-Nook and Brew. Aaron said nothing as Ms. Mooney pulled him aside and gave him the bad news.
“We really like you, Aaron. You’re a hard worker, but I’m afraid your…condition…appears to be interfering with your ability to finish tasks. I hope you’ll think of us and apply again once things are more settled for you.”
She was trying to be nice, Aaron knew that, but it was the last straw. Asher sat in his pocket kicking and punching Aaron’s leg through the pocket lining. Aaron just knew the little shit was laughing it up in there. As soon as he hit the street, Aaron grabbed at Asher, who had proved to be impossible to catch, the slick, tiny fuck. Asher reminded him of a flea the way he bounced around, always getting away. He slapped his pocket hard, trying to crush him.
“Why don’t you leave me the hell alone? Do you hear me, Asher? Leave me the hell alone!” Aaron whispered.
Finally, he turned out his pocket and leaving it out like a wagging tongue, broke into a run. Aaron snuck unto a bus just as it pulled over for its next stop. He paid his fare and sat on an orange, front-facing seat made of hard plastic. He looked through the web of graffiti on the Plexiglas window, silently praying that Asher was gone; if not for good, then at least for a little while. On the seat next to his lay an abandoned magazine.
After watching people mount and dismount for several stops, Aaron started to relax. He picked up the magazine and began leafing through the glossy pages. He rode several more blocks in peace. Once the bus dropped him off at the central bus station, Aaron planned on riding on route 5 to take the long way back around to The Book-Nook and Brew, where he’d picked up his car from the employee parking lot.
A faint rustling touch started on his left shoulder, followed by a stinging pain at the base of his neck. Oh Christ, not again. Aaron twisted his arm behind himself and tried to swat at his shoulder. Midway through his efforts he felt as if the eyes of the other passengers were suddenly boring into him. Aaron then sat up straight and pretended he was scratching an itch just out of reach. Asher tugged hard on his left earlobe.
“Hey, why did you try to leave me?” shouted Asher into Aaron’s ear.
The high-pitched sound of Asher’s voice caused Aaron to wince and clutch his ear. From one of the rear seats, a man said, “That guy is a nut.”
Moments later, the driver announced the next stop and, as they neared it, the man from the rear stood while shaking his head in Aaron’s direction. He thought he saw the driver giving him a warning look in the long, rectangular rearview mirror, but he couldn’t be sure. He hoped Asher didn’t hear the comment or see the man’s gesture as he stood, knowing that it would probably only encourage him. In silence, he stared at the small advertisements in the magazine’s classifieds section.
“Do you need feminine deodorant spray? Do you smell a bit…fishy?” Asher whispered into his ear.
The ad showed a blonde woman in a white peasant dress running on a beautiful beach while holding a small white bottle in her hand. Aaron stared at it until it blurred out of focus.
“What’s the matter? Hit a nerve?” Asher said. Then he climbed down Aaron’s ear and dug his tiny feet into the delicate skin at his hairline. Aaron closed his eyes and told himself that Asher did not exist.
Asher stopped a moment. He seemed to read Aaron’s mind. “What’s the matter? You want to break up with me? Ah, don’t ya love me anymore?” As if to punctuate his questions, Asher stomped his lead foot three times.
Frustrated, Aaron jumped out of his seat. His mouth broke into a wicked smile. He fantasized about taking Asher between his thick fingers and thumb and squashing the bug-sized man. “I am going to crush you and before I let you die, I’m gonna make you beg me to kill you. I hate you!” he screamed.
Aaron stood in the middle of the bus making fists when he heard the bus driver say something. The bus suddenly made a jerky motion that sent him clutching for an overhead support rail.
“Get the hell off my bus,” said the driver. The front door of the bus slapped into itself as it opened. A few of the passengers remaining on the bus alternated between staring at Aaron and looking at each other. Aaron met their stares with his eyes briefly, and then bowed his head and rushed off of the bus.
Aaron tried to get ahold of himself. He rushed into a short alleyway between two shops. Gotta calm down.
It was no good. Asher sat laughing on Aaron’s shoulder. Then, he walked down Aaron’s arm. Grinding his teeth, Aaron slapped at his arm, then his chest and up to his head, just missing Asher with each slap. As Asher ran to his hair line, Aaron yelled curses at him and began pulling at his hair. A crowd gathered around him.
Aaron stood still, feeling helpless. He knew that soon the police would come and they would arrest him.
“They’re all staring at you because you’re loony,” Asher teased. “See the way they’re looking at you? They’re gonna call the cops and you’re gonna go to jail again! Maybe this time they’ll send you to the loony bin where you belong!”
“Why do you always do this to me? Why? What have I done to you? I didn’t ask for you! I don’t even know where the hell you came from!” Aaron yelled.
“So, you’re not even trying to run? What, you want to go to jail again?” Asher teased.
Two black-and-white police cars pulled up, blocking the mouth of the alley. The two patrol cars had their sirens off, but the spinning lights atop their cars still flashed. Out of the left-hand car stepped a tall, middle-aged female police officer. A short, balding man came out the other. They approached the crowd, but did not try to break it up. Instead, they waded through, straight to Aaron.
Aaron could hear the short officer’s partner giving directions as her voice transmitted over a small handheld radio attached to the officer’s belt.
“It’s okay. I am Officer Mitchell. Someone called in a complaint.”
Having been arrested several times under similar circumstances, Aaron tuned out. He put his arms together behind his back and turned around to make the officer’s job a little easier and to show he was cooperating. Officer Mitchell responded by gently putting on the cuffs and guiding him to his patrol car. The other officer lingered near the crowd until Aaron was seated and without turning her back to them, she drew near her car.
Mitchell started the engine and the tall officer quickly got into her own car. Through the metal mesh barrier between the front and rear seats, Aaron watched all of the radio and navigation equipment light up.
“Look at all those lights! I wonder how they know what they all are?” Asher asked very loudly. Not wanting any more trouble, Aaron just shrugged. He closed his eyes and tried to guess in which jail he would be spending the night.
Asher suddenly plucked a couple of Aaron’s nose hairs, making him flinch. Asher began to chuckle and whispered in Aaron’s ear, “Thought you could ignore me, huh? I’ll show you!”
Officer Mitchell’s eyes met Aaron’s in the rearview mirror. “Are you okay back there?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m all right.”
The officer nodded and turned his attention to the road. Asher then took two of his miniature fingers and jabbed Aaron in the eye. Aaron gasped and shut his eyes. They arrived at the northern station, where Officer Mitchell instructed Aaron to sit on the long, narrow bench while he filled out some paperwork to book him. He watched the other police officers rushing about doing tasks and figured in about another hour, his car would be in the impound lot. Maybe not, Ms. Mooney was really nice. But if he was locked up for more than a few days, then he’d have to deal with it. Damn you, Asher!
“You would love to get rid of me, wouldn’t you?” Asher said. “Well, too bad. Anyway, I’m kinda hoping you’ll get locked up for a good while. I’m tired of wearing this lame Book-Nook uniform.”
“Fuck off, Asher,” he whispered. Officer Mitchell’s voice came from another room. He tuned in to try to find out what was going to happen to him.
“…he didn’t resist arrest. No, he was pretty calm when we arrived. I just want you to talk to him,” Officer Mitchell said in another room.
“Drugs?” asked an unknown man.
“Didn’t see any tracks and no sign of anything when I frisked him. The lady who called in the complaint did say he was screaming at himself and trying to pull his hair out, though. That’s why I want you to talk to him. Besides, in the car, I did see him flinching and making faces at himself,” said Officer Mitchell.
“Okay, send him into room three and I’ll evaluate him,” said the other man.
Moments later, Officer Mitchell asked Aaron to follow him. Aaron pretended he did not know where he was supposed to go. The room was very small and windowless, with cheery yellow walls and a pair of folding chairs under a long table. A young, nice-looking man conservatively dressed and with a black hat sat in the chair facing the door. The only thing that looked out of place on him was that he wore a long beard.
“Please sit down. My name is Doctor Zev Stein. What is your name?” he asked.
“Aaron. Aaron Miller,” said Aaron.
“Nice to meet you, Aaron. Now, I was told that you were arrested because you were screaming at yourself. I want to talk to you about that. Of course, you can refuse to talk to me and I won’t have any hard feelings, but I think I can help you,” he said.
“Why were you talking to yourself?”
Aaron wasn’t sure if he should answer that question. He knew that no one else could see Asher, but he was sure that he wasn’t crazy.
“I wasn’t talking to myself,” Aaron said.
“Who were you talking to?”
“A guy named Asher. You wouldn’t know him,” Aaron said. He lowered his eyes as he said it.
“Okay, of course not.” He smiled. “Is there anything else that you want to tell me?”
Just as Dr. Stein asked him the question, Asher crawled down Aaron’s neck to his back, and then into his lap. He worked his way under the waistband of Aaron’s jeans, making his way to his crotch. Aaron sucked in his breath and crossed his legs in anticipation of Asher’s next move. Asher kicked Aaron’s groin with all his tiny might.
Aaron leaned over the table until he was almost bent over it.
“Is something the matter?” Dr. Stein asked. He stared at the table, looking a bit confused.
“That was Asher.”
“I see.” For a moment, Aaron really thought Dr. Stein believed him. A sad look came into the doctor’s eyes. “Well, I think we had a good talk. I want you to wait here a moment while I go to get Officer Mitchell,” he said in an even tone. He knocked on the door and someone opened it from the other side.
“He knows you’re crazy. He’s gonna lock you up! That’s what you get for trying to squish me! I hope you go into one of those padded cells,” Asher said.
“You should be happy now. Why don’t you just shut up? You won. I’m in trouble,” Aaron said.
“You could still try to get away,” Asher teased. “Live on the run.”
It was a thought. He’d try to make a break for it if he could.
Officer Mitchell walked into the room carrying a stack of paperwork. As he walked, his baton slapped his leg gently.
“Is it okay if you tell me where the bathroom is?”
“Sure. Let’s just finish up here first, and then I’ll take you.”
“Okay. First let me say that Dr. Stein’s evaluation is only a preliminary one and he would like to discuss this with you further. You have a choice. You can be booked and jailed for a couple of days for violation of Code 178, disturbing the peace and being a public nuisance. Or, you can sign this waver, which will place you under Dr. Stein’s care for evaluation. The evaluation would be free and you would be under no obligation to stay if it’s determined that you aren’t in need of any additional care,” said Officer Mitchell.
“What does he say I have? I’m not crazy, you know.”
“I didn’t discuss his evaluation with him. Whatever you discuss with him is strictly confidential. What he did tell me was that he strongly recommends that you take him up on this offer. He fears for your safety.”
“What kind of doctor is he?”
“He’s a psychiatrist. He volunteers some of his time here at the station. He is a good man. Very religious too. Believe me, you can trust him.”
“I don’t know. I told you already that I’m not crazy. Can I think about this while I’m using the bathroom?”
“Oh, yeah. Come on,” said Officer Mitchell. “If I re-cuff your hands in the front, you’re not gonna do anything stupid, are you?”
Officer Mitchell unlocked Aaron’s handcuffs and re-cuffed him. “That should make it easier to use the bathroom,” he said.
“I’m going to be right outside this door.”
Aaron nodded in reply and found the toilet. He fought with his zipper and was relieved to finally be using the bathroom. Asher jump from Aaron’s hair line to his shoulder.
“Finally! What, you don’t think that I gotta take leaks too? Well, I do, dammit, and I sure as hell don’t have a bladder as big as yours!” Asher said.
“Can’t I have some privacy?” Aaron hissed in a low tone.
“You jerk. You think I want to see your unimpressive piping? Well I don’t.”
Mitchell rapped at the door. At the noise, Asher quickly grabbed at Aaron’s jeans and scrambled up. As Asher climbed, Aaron tried to catch him.
“Is everything ok? I thought I heard some mumbling.”
“Well, your time is about up.”
“Okay, just a minute, having some trouble with my fly.”
A small, blacked-out window caught his attention. Aaron stood staring at it, judging whether it would be possible for him to fit through such a tiny space. Asher egged him on. “Go ahead. You’re only going to the loony bin anyway. What do you have to lose?”
Aaron rushed to prop the trash can under the doorknob and turned a mop bucket over to stand on. He pushed on the window to see if it would open. Officer Mitchell banged his fist on the door. He only had about a second before other cops came to help.
“Fuck!” Aaron couldn’t get the window open. He took the side of his fists and made a double punch at it, breaking it in shards. Bars on the other side. “Just my fucking luck.”
“Dumb ass! Smooth move, Sherlock!” Asher couldn’t stop laughing.
Officer Mitchell burst through the door, sending the trash can flying.
* * *
Sometime later, Aaron woke in a hospital bed. He looked around his room. His head ached and he raised his right arm to rub it. Both of his hands were bandaged thickly in gauze. A nurse came in with a wheelchair.
“Hi, I’m Eva. I’m going to help you into this wheelchair and take you to your first group session,” she said sweetly.
“Where am I? What meeting?” asked Aaron.
“You’ve been unconscious since you’ve been here. You are at Clear Spring Psychiatric Facility and you are scheduled to attend the new group session.”
As the nurse gently helped Aaron into the chair he asked, “What kind of session?”
She blushed deeply and said softly, “I’m not a doctor. I can’t…” She let her sentence trail off and pushed Aaron into a large room filled with men and women. Aaron rode in the chair quietly, feeling too tired and defeated to say anything more.
“Ah, Mr. Miller! We’ve been expecting you!” said Dr. Stein.
Aaron nodded as he watched Eva slip away into the hall.
“Well, shall we begin? This is a new experimental group therapy that I have designed especially for people diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. We will discuss some coping techniques…” the doctor read off of his notes.
Aaron watched the others in the room. Each male had a tiny man perched somewhere on his body, while each female had a tiny woman. He watched as the tiny people talked and laughed among themselves. In alarm, he whispered to a woman standing next to him, “Do you see them too?”
“Oh yes. They’re an annoying bunch, aren’t they? What’s your friend’s name?”
“I’m Aaron. His name is Asher. And you?”
“Rachel. Hers is Rebecca. All of ’em are like that, with their first name starting with the same letter as ours.”
Aaron asked Rachel where the little people came from.
“You know, I really don’t know. Rebecca just appeared one day.”
On the window sill, Aaron saw two of the little people embrace. One of the women said something Aaron didn’t quite hear, which started a low rumble of disagreement. Their tiny companions traded insults. Dr. Stein sat with his mouth wide open, but no one paid attention.
The rumble grew louder as more people got into the fight.
Suddenly, the crowd grew silent. Aaron turned to see what was happening.
In the middle of the room stood Dr. Stein, a horrified look on his face. Faint laughter came from behind his head. Seconds later, a mini-Doctor Stein-like man appeared on the doctor’s shoulder, waving his arm energetically.
“Hi, everyone!” he screamed. “I’m Zach. Let’s party!”
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