“Paranoid Reality” – written by Charles Tyson, Jr.

Jackson knew there was something odd from the moment he woke up that morning. He couldn’t be sure but he could have sworn that flash bulbs kept going off outside his window while he slept through the night. But every time he would go to the window to check, there would be nothing there. This was simultaneously strange and not so. Especially considering the fact that his bedroom was on the third floor of the house.

Not to mention all morning he had the feeling of being watched. No, not watched…more like observed. He couldn’t exactly explain where this feeling was coming from. But as impossible, crazy and delusional as it was, he could have sworn that he saw someone with a camera ducking down behind the toilet the second he focused his peripheral vision on his mirrored reflection while brushing his teeth that morning. At first he refused to check. That would just be succumbing to his little delusion…which was false anyway.

He also knew that he had to check. Simply had to! And, needless to say, there was no one there when he did look. Jackson wasn’t sure which was the more frightening idea: the fact that he actually went through the trouble of looking behind the toilet or the possibility of finding someone there.

When he turned on the television to watch the news over his cereal, toast and coffee, the perfect,  straight, white smile of the immaculately coiffed and groomed anchorman seemed especially piercing. It was as if he were looking directly at him instead of the camera-created fourth wall.

Get it together, man he thought to himself.You’ve had these conversations with Dr. Shrink before. You’re not that important…no one is watching you, right? RIGHT?!

Right. Of course! But maybe a quick call to the good doctor might not be a bad idea. Then he could go to work with a clear head.

He dialed Dr. Shrink’s personal number, which he was admonished to utilize only in the case of emergencies. As he was dialing, Jackson began to second-guess himself as to whether this qualified as an actual emergency. Just before punching “7,” the last number, he heard the whine of a camera being rewound immediately followed by a rustling in the bushes outside of his window…three floors down.

That’s it! I am NOT going to look out that window!

He gave himself an inner hi-five and hit “7.”

“Dr. Shrink’s office how can I help you?”

“Um…hi. Jackson Carmichael. I really need to speak to the Dr. ASAP if you please.”

“Sure Mr. Carmichael. He‘s been expecting your call. I’ll connect you to his line right away.”

“Th–ank…wha-?” but the clicks of the transfer sounded in his ear before he could get his confused words past his lips. How could the doctor be expecting his call when Jackson himself didn’t even know he was going to be calling until about three minutes ago? Dr. Shrink’s jovial voice came on the line.

“Jackson! How are you this morning?” He sounded awfully cheery for having received an early morning emergency call from a patient who may or may not have bounced the check from his last session.

“Well, Doc, that’s the thing. I’m not exactly sure how I am. Everything is the same except I feel like I’m being watched. And not like what we talked about before. I feel like EVERYBODY is watching me. EVERYBODY, EVERYWHERE. I tried telling myself that I was being silly…and I kind of listened to myself but could you just…I dunno…”

Jackson couldn’t be sure but he could have sworn that he heard a muffled chuckling coming from the other end of the line.

“Doctor?”

“Yes, Jackson, I’m here. I can basically sum up your situation with one sentence. And then I can send you out on your day with a fresh and proper perspective.”

“Great! And what’s that?” Jackson noticed that he was sweating. He was going to have to change his shirt. There was no way he was going to be able to go to work with these sweat stains under his armpits.

“Okay. Here goes.” Jackson could almost hear Dr. Shrink leaning conspiratorially into the phone. “Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.” And, with that, he began chuckling menacingly and hung up. Jackson sat there gripping the phone with his jaw dropped.  Even as the phone wah-wah-wah-ed its dead connection signal into his ear.

After about five minutes of slack-jawed gaping, Jackson wiped the drool from his chin and hung up the phone.

What in the figgity-fuck is going on today? 

Jackson was sincerely trying to figure out if it was him or the rest of the world that was going bonkers. Then there was the yet-unheard-of third option.

Maybe we’re all going crazy together.

Somehow that would make him feel better…though not much. Fuck it, he may as well just go ahead on to work and hope for the best.

As he walked from the house to the car, he noticed all of his neighbors were outside at the same time. Watering things, washing things, fixing things. Even the children were out this early playing with this or building that. Rather odd for a Wednesday morning in October. Did no one have to go to work besides him today? Did none of the children have to be in school? Oh well…whatever.

He tried to convince himself that he didn’t notice them keeping one eye on him and one on their “tasks.”

If I keep this up much longer I’m going to end up doing something foolish. I see it coming. I’ve got to get a grip.

And, with that, he took a deep breath, let it out and got in his car.

No, he did not hear his name on any of the three stations he turned to on the radio. No, the car behind him was not following him from his house. No, the person driving in the lane opposite him was not looking at him as he picked his nose. And the cop car on his other side was not even thinking about him! No, NO, NO! Jackson was going to have a normal day today if it killed him.

For the rest of the drive he busied his mind with thoughts of his past sessions with Dr. Shrink.

“Extreme self-preoccupation”  “Societal anxiety.” All things that could be taken care of with time and patience. He just had to remember that. He was normal. Everything and everyone else was normal. The world was not out to get him. People actually like him. Enjoy his company, even. He was a nice enough guy. Smart. Even funny sometimes. An art and music lover. He’d even been complimented on what a snappy dresser he was!

So you see, if it feels as though people are looking at you, it is not because they are out to get you. Or after you. It must be one of those positive things, right? Right. Exactly. So just get your ass to work, do another good day’s work and continue to life as usual, right? So what if that car that’s been behind you all this time is one of those news vans? I’m sure there’s some really interesting news event happening somewhere else in the community that has nothing to do with you. Why would it concern you? It wouldn’t. You’re not that important. Really, you’re not.

He pulled into the parking lot of the advertising agency, parked and got out of the car. Halfway to the building, the lock on his briefcase snapped and all his files and accounts spilled out onto the concrete. He was able to gather up almost everything before a breeze kicked up and sent the Anderson account files dancing merrily up the sidewalk.

Swearing profusely under his breath he chased the seven or eight rather important documents for eighteen steps. His nineteenth step landed on the papers themselves, securing them to the ground to be deposited in his briefcase, which, due to the broken lock, was now precariously deathgripped in his arms.

Well, the whole point of changing my shirt has now been negated, Jackson whined inwardly. At least no one saw that little escapade. For once this morning I’m sure no one was watching.

After gathering his belongings, his composure and the remaining three shreds of his dignity, he straightened up to finally go inside. If one were to ask him, he probably wouldn’t have been able to say why he chose to look up at the office windows on the thirteenth floor, but he did. And he saw six sets of venetian blinds dropping back into place at the same time. It was as if six pairs of eyes were trying to keep from being noticed as their owners spied on someone (like him)…or almost like that because of course that was NOT what was happening, right? Right.

Whatever. I’m not even entertaining the thought. Nope. Not even for a second.

And, with that, he went inside with his head held as high as he could manage…without actually drawing attention to himself, of course. As he walked through the lobby to the elevator, Jackson kept telling himself that people were not snickering at him and his broken briefcase that he was clutching to his chest like a teenage girl holding her schoolbooks to her bosom as she walked down the hallways of her alma mater. Just like the people on the elevator didn’t stop their seemingly spirited conversations simultaneously as Jackson entered. Just like his coworkers were not pointing at him and whispering about him to each other as he walked to his office. Jackson had never been so happy to be in the confines of his corner office as he was at that moment.

He locked the door to his office and, with a sigh of relief, plopped down in his swiveling armchair behind his immaculately finished and polished teakwood desk in front of the large picture window with the incredible view of downtown.

All those people walking around down there, Jackson thought as he soaked in the view, breathing heavily. I wonder what they’re thinking about me…stop thinking crazy thoughts! 

But he could not. It wasn’t until he went into the closet, assembled and loaded his semiautomatic personal assault rifle, replaced it on the closet’s top shelf and closed the door that he was able to stop his hyperventilating. His heart immediately slowed its trip hammer pace almost at the very second the mingled aromas of gun oil and gunpowder wafted to his nostrils. An eerily calm and pleasant smile crept across Jackson’s lips and he finally sat down to do a good day’s work.

_____

Mr. Lincoln, Jackson’s boss, had been thinking about Jackson for some time now. He had been monitoring the way Jackson had been handling his clients lately. His efficiency and creativity blended well together and resulted in a string of big money accounts being easily acquired through their firm. He always knew there was something special about that Carmichael kid. Sure he was a bit quirky and tended to be a little high-strung, but, hey, who wasn’t from time to time, right? Besides, results were results and the bottom line was the bottom line and this kid delivered! There was going to be room for a new Advertising VP once Wanamaker transferred to the Milwaukee office and right now, Mr. Lincoln couldn’t think of a better person to groom for the position. He had noticed Carmichael seemed a little out of it this morning. He thought that maybe this news would be just the pick-me-up that he needed. He would even go one better, he would go to the kid’s office and deliver the news personally! How’s THAT for an ego booster?

_____

Jackson was finally settling into a nice little groove. After cleaning his footprints from the Anderson file, he was able to put all the specs in order and have it sent on its way…a full three days ahead of schedule! He had just started in on the Mandalay, Inc. account when a knock landed on his door.

What, is the secretary out to lunch? I don’t get a buzz before someone gets to my office door anymore? 

He could feel the cold fingers of paranoia tickling his brain but Jackson shooed them away as quickly as they came.

So what? She’s allowed to feed herself just like everyone else…even though it is only…10:30…hmmmm…

Yeees? Come in?”

Mr. Lincoln entered his office smiling down at Jackson with a knowing secretive smile that Jackson wasn’t sure he liked.

“Mr. Lincoln? What brings you down this way?” Jackson was very impressed with the lack of tremor in his voice.

“Well, Carmichael. I’ve got some news for you. You’ve been with our firm for four years now. You do good work. And I just wanted to let you know–” Lincoln cleared his throat, smiled even wider and leaned in to his “ol’ buddy” Carmichael to drop the bomb on him, “We’ve been watching you for some time and–”

That did it! That was all the confirmation Jackson needed! He was not crazy! They were watching him!! He even got a confession from Lincoln himself!!! And “for some time now,” he said!!!! Something immediately snapped in Jackson’s mind. Something ultimate and irreversible. He jumped up from his desk and pointed an accusatory finger in Lincoln’s face.

“THAT’S IT! I KNEW IT! Well NO MORE!!! Stop looking at me! I’m not that important! Stop looking at meeeee!!!

The stunned Lincoln plopped down in the visitor’s chair that, luckily, was right behind him. Carmichael’s outburst knocked the wind from him. This was definitely not the response he was expecting to receive…hell, he hadn’t even delivered the news yet…or had he?

Jackson continued screaming as he made his way over to the closet and pulled out the semi-automatic personal assault rifle and pointed it at Lincoln. He didn’t stop screaming, even as he pulled the trigger and vaporized his boss’s face into a red and black, smoking, dripping mess.

Everyone out on the main floor was now standing up at their desk and staring in the direction of Jackson Carmichael’s office. Many of them saw Mr. Lincoln walking through their area (something he rarely did) and heading toward Carmichael’s corner office (for which many of the corporate suck-ups envied Jackson.) Many of these same coworkers heard Mr. Lincoln knock before entering the office (which he NEVER did…he owned this entire building and everyone in it…knock?! Please!) So everyone automatically figured this was either something really good or really bad!

Lincoln’s crossing of the work floor was dismissed for a moment in favor of impending deadlines and last minute phone calls concerning multi-million dollar campaigns…that is until Jackson’s voice rang through the entire floor through that big oak door leading to the inner sanctum of his office. “THAT’S IT!” and then “STOP LOOKING AT MEEEEEE!” Then the loud, rapid stutter-bang of gunfire.

Suddenly, Jackson Carmichael burst from his office. His crisp pink shirt and dark print tie were spattered with blood. He was carrying a rifle with a smoking barrel and wearing an insane expression. His maniacal gaze swept across the room at all the frozen, staring faces. Staring…staring at him. No one moved, not even when he brought the rifle down again toward them. “Everyone. Stop. LOOKING. AT. ME!!!!!

Jackson once again pulled the trigger and began pumping rounds into the faces of every gawking sheep he saw. The sight of their fellow flock members–er, coworkers being blown away cut through the shock and people scattered and dove for cover…not that it really did them any good. At least one person got the chance to phone 911 before Jackson found them. The last thing many of them heard before they died was Jackson’s plea to remove their gaze from his person. Under more normal circumstances, the very idea of this would be humorous considering that many of these people had never even met Carmichael and due to his insanely busy schedule had never even laid an eye on him before today.

After Jackson had cleansed the office of the piercing gazes of the “lookee-loos” he worked with, he returned to his office, thinking that maybe now he could finally get some work done! No sooner had he sat down and made another attempt to tackle Mandalay Inc. than the sirens sounded from the street below. At first, Jackson ignored them but the sounds grew louder and were joined by that of many tires screeching to a halt and excited people milling about.

Jackson went to the window and looked down at about fifteen police cars and at least one news vehicle from every network, including the very one that he thought was tailing him this morning!

“NO!” Jackson bellowed. “I just want to work in peace! I’m not that important! Stop looking at me!!!” He picked up the rifle, checked the magazine and shot out the window. He ducked down beneath the sill and reloaded, listening to the sounds of the screams from below as the shards of falling safety glass were hopefully plucking out an eye or three. Then like a psychotic jack(son)-in-a-box, he popped up, socked the rifle against his shoulder and began picking off every sheep he saw, cop, pedestrian and newsperson alike, all the while uttering his now infamous battle cry, “STOP LOOKING AT ME! NOT THAT IMPORTANT!!!” As he was vaporizing “lookee-loos,” his mind returned to Dr. Shrink’s sessions and the terms that were repeated in them: “egomaniacal outbursts…paranoid delusions…

“Well whatever! Once I get rid of them all there will be just me…only me…I don’t mind looking at myself! But not them! Not That Important! Stop Looking!

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