Tag Archives: mental illness


(A work of fiction.)

James Lytton walked up Trinity Place in lower Manhattan. As he walked, the unusually heavy rush hour crowds parted and gave him space, in what must have been a reflex of sorts, for there was much else to hold their attention and concern. James looked to be perhaps sixty years old – not a very healthy sixty, at that – although he was just thirty-seven. On this bright September morning, he wore a filthy overcoat that reached the sidewalk. His clothes were layers of tatters, his hair and beard, which reached his shoulders, were filthy and matted. His eyes were mad. He reeked.

James had much to hold his attention as well. As he walked, he was holding a conversation with a well-dressed man who walked beside him, who claimed (James believed) that he was a Servant of God, sent to impart the Wisdom which would make James invincible. James believed that this apparition was actually a CIA agent who wanted to trick him , because were he actually a Divine being, he would have known that James was already invulnerable. He saw the city around him as the Middle Circle of Hell, inhabited by the damned.

Allison Goldsmith had left work early this day, one of many who left almost as soon as they had arrived. She was an attorney with the Securities Exchange Commission at Number 7 World Trade Center, across the street from the Twin Towers. As she came out the door, she too came to believe she had stepped into Hell. Smoke  and kerosene choked her nostrils and burned her eyes. Fierce red fire from the towers overhead hid the blue sky. The shrieks of the damned tormented her.

Glass was raining on her like sharp sleet, so she held her briefcase over her head and hurried, as much toward her children as away from danger. When she reached the sidewalk, there was a sudden sound – no, it was more a breeze than a sound, and a pile of clothes landed on the sidewalk before her, landed rather hard for just clothes. The sidewalk around the clothes looked like a picture her children might do with finger paint, working in red and yellow. Her shins felt wet through her nylons, and, looking down, she saw she was splattered with blood, on her legs, her skirt, and her shoes.

James Lytton saw an angel. What an angel could be doing in Hell was more than he could say, but he looked at her face and, for the moment, his hallucinations quieted and receded. He saw a young woman in terror. He walked to her, stopped at a courteous distance, and said, “Miss?”

He touched her elbow. Her eyes moved from the mess on the sidewalk and stopped at James’ eyes. “Miss? May I?”

She did not move or speak. His touch on her elbow guided her away from the horror, and after they had walked thirty feet, his familiar Hell returned and he wandered away in confusion.

Allison hurried on.