The Escher Institute

By David Michael Newstead.

A short story based on the art of M.C. Escher.

The asylum had no bars, no guards, no gates or locks. But its confines were inescapable – a maze of staircases and corridors that never ended. One dimly lit hallway just led to another and another after that and so on. It was maddening. Damon had spent days climbing up and down the concrete steps, trying to find a way out. Yet whenever he got close to an exit it was like the architecture contorted and he would get lost again. Before long, the basement, the top floor, and everything in-between practically merged into one continuous labyrinth. Had he been going in circles this whole time, he wondered. Which way was up?

Around him, the other inmates were too far gone. They’d become catatonic. Most would wander aimlessly. One man huddled on the floor in a fetal position, tears rolling down his face. Meanwhile, a hospital orderly roamed the halls distributing multi-colored pills in small paper cups.

If only Damon could find a window, he thought, he’d throw the orderly out of it. He’d jettison all that medication and every stupefied prisoner would start thinking clearly again. Then, to break free, everyone would smash through the walls if they had to and leave the building burning behind them! Instead, Damon watched each patient swallow their doses, further turning their brains to mush. He had successfully evaded hospital staff for the time being, but it was impossible to do that forever. He knew he had to escape and soon.

Dealing with the orderlies was one thing, but the giant millipedes that stalked the facility were another problem entirely. They would slither and crawl along the ceilings and floors and walls at night, devouring whoever they found. He was sure of it! Damon had once seen three of the creatures rip a man to pieces, while he hid in a passageway looking on. Their legs would clatter against the tiles as they went by. Their jaws snapped open and closed. And their eyes were fat, glossy orbs that seemed to gaze in every direction at once. Where these eight foot long monsters crept out from, he didn’t know. In the daytime, they disappeared only to resurface again in the dark like cockroaches.

Because of that, he hadn’t slept in days. Paranoid and desperate, Damon raced through the halls, passing the same rooms innumerable times. It was as if he could go down a stairwell forever without reaching the bottom. Then, it dawned on him. The asylum had no entrance and no exit, no fixed layout. And how he got there in the first place became harder to recall.

When Damon finally collapsed, he’d been awake for two weeks straight. He sat with his back against a stone column. By then, he was exhausted and confused. And although he didn’t notice at first, a cup of assorted capsules somehow materialized in the palm of his hand. Their bright colors stood out against the dull gray prison all around him, stood out against his own pale skin. A dozen of the tablets stared up at him for more than an hour. As the minutes dragged on, Damon slipped in and out of consciousness. He didn’t remember taking the medication. He’d just rubbed his eyes and ran a hand through his hair. Then, he realized the pills were slowly dissolving underneath his tongue. Damon panicked, but it was too late. The pharmaceuticals were already taking hold and he could feel his mind start to go numb.

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