An excerpt from
I felt weightless, like a feather on the wind. I was floating above a room, looking down at a body lying on a table. There were other people in the room, three or four folks all dressed in blue. Someone rushed through a door, also wearing blue.
Everyone turned toward the newcomer, and someone spoke up. “Doctor, the patient is under.”
“Good. Let us proceed,” the doctor said in a deep and decidedly male voice.
At his words, frantic activity began. I floated closer. Hands were attaching wires onto the forehead of the girl on the table, and something was shoved into her mouth. The sound of beeping filled the room as nurses turned on machines.
The doctor spoke again. “Okay people, let’s get this show on the road. Nurse Harrington, you can begin.”
Someone leaned over one of the machines, and the left foot of the person on the table started to twitch wildly. Then, it stopped.
“Once more,” the doctor said.
The foot violently twitched again, but oddly the rest of the body was as still as a statue.
Colorful lights appeared around me. They began to swirl and bounce against me, and the air became thick and heavy. I felt a tug in the very center of my being. And then another one, this time stronger.
I was being pulled down.
I struggled to stay afloat, but whatever had ahold of me was forcing me downward. I plunged, spiraling toward the body on the table, waiting, expecting any moment to feel the impact when I slammed into it. But instead, right before I was about to make contact, everything around me went black.
* * *
I opened my eyes, and a bright light blazing overhead caused a sharp, white-hot pain to race across my temples. I closed my eyes and then opened them again, this time more slowly. My right hand shielded my face against the light as I sat up.
Where am I?
The people in blue, the doctor, the beeping machines… A hospital? The word echoed through my mind. I looked around, expecting to see the normal things you’d see in a hospital room: another patient in a bed, a window, beeping machines. There was none of that. The room I was in was small. The walls were white and covered in a thick padding. There was no window—instead fluorescent lights shone overhead, and the steel door was so thick it looked like it could keep out an army.
Who am I?
As the thought slid across my brain, my pain increased. I ignored it and strained to remember something about myself. No words, images, or memories floated up. There was nothing there. Nothing but a deep, dark emptiness. Panic rose from the pit of my stomach.
Where am I?
The pain in my head eased, and I slid off the bed onto my feet. I felt weak, and my legs were shaking. I moved slowly toward the door. I stood before it, my hands running over its cold, smooth surface. There wasn’t any handle I could see—at least, not on my side. And then it dawned on me.
The door wouldn’t keep people out, but it would do an excellent job of keeping me in. I was here alone in this strange room. As what? A patient? A prisoner?
At that last thought, an unreasonable amount of fright filled me. I found myself pounding on the door, screaming, begging to be let out.
Silence met my cries.
I lost track of how long I stood there banging. My fists were bruised by the time exhaustion set in, and I had to stop.
I moved back to the only piece of furniture in the room. It looked like a hospital bed with a metal handle on either side, but there was something else dangling down both sides. I reached over and lifted a strap. At the end of the strap was a leather cuff. Soft white material lined the inside of the cuff. Restraints. These were restraints used to keep someone in the bed.
I looked at my left wrist and saw the slight outline of a bruise. It wrapped all the way around.
I’ve been in this bed, restrained.
I had obviously fought against those restraints hard enough to bruise myself. What is going on? Where am I? Who am I?
The last thought barely crossed my mind when the pain hit, harder this time. It was a burning pain that shot between my eyes and made me cry out. I fell back against the bed, unable to move, to think, to open my eyes. The only thing that existed at that moment was the pain, throbbing through my head and pounding at my temples. The agony seemed to go on forever. It slowly began to ease up, and soon I was able to function again.
Sweat ran down my face. I wiped my hand across my forehead and forced myself back to my feet. More than my legs shook now—my whole body trembled. I forced myself to take a deep breath and think. There has to be a way out through that door. I moved toward it, and this time a slot at the bottom opened. Shocked, I took a step back and watched as a red plastic tray slid through the opening. It held a plastic bowl full of some kind of brown food and a plastic cup filled with liquid. There were no utensils. The smell of food had my stomach grumbling.
I was starving, as though I hadn’t eaten in days. I bent down and burned my fingers shoveling the brown mush into my mouth. It tasted better than it looked. When the bowl was empty, I picked up the cup and took a sniff. No smell. I took a small sip. Water. I gulped it down, not lifting the cup from my lips until it was empty. I was still hungry and thirsty. I need more food, more water. I pounded on the door.
“Is anyone there? I need more food! Anyone there?” No one answered back.
There was nowhere to go but back to the bed. I lie staring at the wall, trying to figure out what was going on. Time passed, but I had no idea how much—there was no clock on the wall, no shadows shifting across the room to let me know if it was day or night. Eventually, I fell asleep.
The noise of keys jingling in a lock woke me some time later. I watched the door slowly swing open. A man and a woman walked into the room. The woman held a clipboard. Her brown hair was neatly pinned up into a bun. She had on a white uniform and thick-soled white shoes. She looked like a nurse.
My gaze shifted to the man. There was nothing odd or frightening about his appearance. He looked like an average man in his fifties dressed in a white coat. He had short black hair that was graying at the temples, a trimmed black beard, and thick black glasses. But as I looked at him, I felt a terrible panic rise from the pit of my stomach. Under his gaze, my hands began to shake. I clasped them tightly together and straightened my back. Whoever these people were, they could give me the answers I desperately needed.
“Colina, how are you feeling?”
He was speaking to me. He was saying the name as though it belonged to me. “Is that who I am? Is my name Colina?”
He looked over at the woman and then back at me. “It’s natural to have some memory problems after the procedure. Do you know where you are?”
I shook my head and looked around the room. “Where am I?”
“The Silver Bell Hospital,” he answered.
“Was I in an accident?”
“No, there was no accident.”
I started to get off the bed, but the sudden movement caused pain to rush across my temples again. I leaned back and resisted the urge to close my eyes.
“Headaches are normal after the procedure. I’ll have one of the nurses bring you something for the pain.” He turned toward the woman. “Nurse, may I see her chart?”
“Yes, Dr. Barton.” She handed him the clipboard.
I blinked in confusion, looking down at my clasped hands. Procedure?
He took out a pen from the pocket of his coat and began to write something down before flipping through the chart. “How is your sadness? If you can rate it, give me a number one through ten, with one being not much and ten representing overwhelming. What level would you say it is today?”
My sadness? I didn’t understand what he was saying.
He was watching me closely now. “It’s normal after the procedure to have some short-term memory loss. Some confusion. Not to worry, it’s only temporary.” He turned to walk away, but stopped and spoke over his shoulder. “We’ll check back with you tomorrow to see if your memory has cleared up and the nurse will bring you something for the headaches.”
“Wait—what did you do to me?” I demanded.
He turned back toward me. “As you know, the medication wasn’t working, so we needed to try a different approach…a different treatment for the depression.”
He nodded and flipped through the chart again. “Depression. The manic behavior.” He looked up from the chart. “Are you still hearing voices?”
“Voices?” My brain seemed to have slowed down, and I was having a hard time comprehending what he was saying.
“My hope is that the electroshock therapy will curb the depression and bring an end to the voices. You were an excellent candidate for it, and the procedure went extremely well.”
I might have felt like a mental zombie, but the words electroshock therapy finally penetrated the brain fog. “You gave me electroshock therapy?”
“That’s correct. Now just rest and relax—everything will be clearer soon.”
“You gave me electroshock therapy.” They’d sent volts of electricity shooting through me in an attempt to modify my behavior. Panic rose inside me again. I wanted to get out. I wanted to leave this room and this place immediately. I moved off the bed and headed toward the door.
The doctor reached out and grabbed my arm. I tried to pull away from him, but his grip was tight. I started to shuffle backward, hoping the weight of my body would break me free from his grasp, but he was stronger than he looked. He dropped the chart and grabbed me with his other hand. He now had both hands wrapped around my arms.
I twisted and pulled hard, and was suddenly free. But only for a moment. He came up behind me and grabbed me in a bear hug. His arms wrapped around me. The feel of his body against mine sent fear racing through me. He hadn’t done anything to me, not that I could remember. I didn’t know why I should be so frightened of this man, but I was. I started to struggle again. I kicked at his shins, screamed, and fought. I needed to get free.
“Nurse, call the orderlies.” The doctor’s voice sounded strained.
I got one hand free. I spun around, reached up, and scratched at his face. My nails slid down his forehead.
A look came into his eyes—it was like watching something dark slowly rising up—and as it surfaced, his face contorted into an expression of pure rage. I froze in shock.
New hands grabbed at me. Two men were now on either side, restraining me.
The doctor’s expression was back to normal. “Calm yourself, my dear. Nurse, I think we need to give her a sedative to help calm her down.”
The nurse walked toward me, and I shook my head and raised my hand, trying to look unthreatening even through my panic. “No, no sedative.”
“Everything is fine. You’ll feel better in just a minute,” the nurse said. She reached out and grabbed my arm. I felt a sharp prick as the needle slid under my skin. A few seconds later, the world began to narrow.
It’s not a hospital. They don’t give electroshock treatments to people in hospitals.
I could feel myself falling. The doctor said I suffered from depression and had been hearing voices.
Insane asylum. I’m in an asylum.
The words rang through my head as everything around me started to get fuzzy. I felt myself slipping into blackness.
* * *
He was beside me. His presence felt warm and reassuring. “It’ll be all right,” his voice whispered in the dark.
A feeling of contentment washed over me.
“I’m with you. I’ll never leave you,” he promised. He would stay with me forever.
I tried to conjure his name, but my brain felt sluggish.
His voice turned urgent. “You have to get out of here.”
“I don’t want to leave. I’m comfortable.” I was. Having him close made me feel safe.
“Leave. You must escape this place. You’re in danger.”
“I don’t understand.” I felt him move away from me. “Don’t go—stay with me.”
“I’ll always be with you,” his voice echoed in the blackness, and then he disappeared.
* * *
This time when I woke, I was sitting in a chair next to a window. A blanket lay across my legs. I was in a wheelchair.
A voice spoke from behind me. “Finally, you’re awake.”
I tried to talk, but my throat was dry.
A woman stepped in front of me and handed me a glass of water. “Here you go. This will help.”
I took a sip of water. The nurse from before dressed all in white, but this woman wore a yellow blouse and a red-and-yellow-striped skirt that fell below her knees.
“You were distraught. They gave you something to calm you down. You were out for quite some time,” she said.
“Do I know you?”
She reached out and patted my hand. “I’m Rachel. You don’t remember me?”
I started to shake my head, but the pain came back—a hot, white flash that forced my eyes closed.
“They said your memory might be affected by the treatment.”
I opened my eyes. “Electroshock therapy.”
She sat down in a chair close by. “That’s right. There’s nothing to be worried about. The whole thing is perfectly safe, though they did say that you might have some trouble with your memory. You might have headaches. Are you in pain now?”
If I answer yes, will they give me another shot or force pills down my throat? I made myself look calm and collected. “I’m fine. The pain is going away.”
“Good. Good. I’m so happy to see you. It’s been a while.”
“I’m sorry I don’t remember you. Have we known each other long?”
“Almost two months. I met you the first week you came here.”
I’ve been in this place for a couple months?
“My son is one of the patients, and I visit him as much as I can.” Rachel pointed toward a young man sitting in a chair a few feet away. His chair was the only one in the room not facing the windows. He had short dark hair, sharp cheekbones, and a broad chin. He looked about my age and had the most incredible deep blue eyes. It took me a moment to realize that, although he was looking in our direction, he didn’t seem to be focusing on us. Instead, his blue eyes were directed above our heads. Even odder, there was absolutely no expression whatsoever on his face. He was pretty hot, despite the vacant look in his eyes.
“Is he all right?”
She got up and walked over to him. She touched the top of his head. “He’s fine. Aren’t you, Dean?” She leaned down and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
Dean didn’t react to her voice or her caress. He just had the same slack-jawed look on his face.
She saw me watching him. “He’s been like this ever since…ever since the accident. They say there’s nothing actually wrong that they can find, but he hasn’t come back to us.” She patted his cheek. “But I’m hopeful one day soon you’ll come back to me, won’t you, honey?” She looked over at me. “Would you like something to eat? You missed lunch, but I can ask the nurse for some Jell-O.”
My stomach rumbled, and I realized I was hungry. “Yes. Thank you.”
“I’ll be right back. They said the shot may make you feel woozy for a while. Best to stay in the chair until you get your legs back under you.” Rachel got up and left the room.
We were in a large space. White walls, white floor, white ceiling. We weren’t the only ones there—about two dozen people mingled around. Some were in chairs like mine, others were walking around, and a few sat around in small groups at white tables. There was a large glass partition with a nurse sitting behind it, and next to that was a set of large metal doors. A big man dressed in all white, his arms crossed in front of him, stood next to the doors. An orderly. Like the ones who held me down while the nurse gave me the sedative. I spotted three more scattered around the room, watching the patients as if waiting for someone to act up so that they could restrain and drug them like they had me.
I recalled that someone told me I needed to escape—that I was in danger. The dream I had when they drugged me. The whole thing was probably a by-product of the drugs acting on my subconscious.
A cold breeze slid across my hand. The hairs on the back of my neck rose. A voice whispered in my ear, “Help us.”
I looked over at Dean. He hadn’t said a word. His stare and expression hadn’t changed.
The voice sounded more urgent this time. “Help us.” As the words faded away, a magazine flew off a nearby chair and fell onto the floor.
“Are you all right?” It was Rachel, now standing in front of me, holding a plastic cup of blue Jell-O in one hand and a plastic spoon in the other.
“Everything is fine.” I made myself meet her eyes, trying to push away the creeped-out feeling that was causing goose bumps to crawl across my skin.
She gave me an odd look. “Are you sure? You look quite pale. I can call a nurse.”
“Please don’t,” I begged her. I didn’t want to bring any more attention to myself in this place. I reached out for the Jell-O. “I’m just hungry.”
She handed it to me. “It’s your favorite flavor.”
It was strange talking to someone who knew things about me when I had no clue who she was. I had no memory of this place, of this woman. I’ve been here for months? Where was I before that? Where’s my family? Why can’t I remember?
The name came out of nowhere and slid across my mind. As it did, a feeling of deep sadness filled me.
I tried to focus on the name, but a sudden pain shot through my temples. I raised my hand to my forehead.
“You’re not okay. The nurse said that you could have some pills to help with the headache when you woke up. I’m going to ask them to get you something.” Rachel didn’t wait for me to respond. She got up and headed toward the nurse sitting behind the glass.
I decided I wasn’t going to take any more pills. Not if I could help it. I’d had enough of this mental fogginess. I needed to remember, and the drugs I suspected they’d been pumping into me couldn’t be helping.
I was so lost in my own thoughts that I didn’t realize someone was standing in front of me, talking to me.
It was an old woman with long white hair that hung down her shoulders and looked like it hadn’t been brushed in days. She wore a white-and-blue polka-dotted sundress with yellow stains splattered across the front.
Her smile was wide, but the look in her eyes was a bit unsettling. It was too intense. “It’s you. Hi, where have you been?”
“Do you know me?” I searched her face, trying to force some sort of recognition, but the effort only made my head throb painfully.
She gave me a tentative smile and moved closer. “I know you. You were here before.” She looked over her shoulder and then back at me. “And then the other one came. I don’t like her. She’s not very nice. She tried to bite me once in the cafeteria.”
“Uh…” I had no idea what she was talking about. She wasn’t making any sense.
She stepped closer and poked at my shoulder. “You’re Colina. You’re not really supposed to be here. You’re on a secret mission. I remember—you told me. You haven’t been gone that long.”
“A secret mission?”
The woman started fiddling with the collar of her dress. “You came here looking for someone, but I didn’t tell anyone. I never did, you know. Even after you went away, I never did tell them about you.”
“I went away? I don’t understand.” I was beginning to feel like Alice in Wonderland. What was going on? How did I have no memory of these people, of this place? Was this crazy woman truly a friend of mine? And if she was nuts and we were both in this place, then that meant I should be questioning my own sanity.
“When the other one came. You know, she talks to people that aren’t here.” She moved her finger against her temple in a circle. “The other one…she’s crazy if you ask me.” She leaned in and whispered a name. “Morgana.”
As the words echoed in the air, I felt a tug somewhere deep inside. Like something deep within my belly was moving. There was no other way to explain it. It felt like something was trying to crawl out.
The woman pointed at Dean. “You came for him. In the daytime, he never says a word or cracks a smile. Not since he’s been here…going on how long now?” She wasn’t asking me the question—she was talking to herself. She started counting on her fingers, and once she went through all ten she started counting them a second time. “One. One year he’s been here. And not one smile, not one wink.”
She bent down so her face was level with mine. “I still have it.” She looked around the room and then reached into the pocket of her dress. She pulled out her hand and extended it toward me. A metal medallion lay in the middle of her palm. “I’m keeping it safe just like you asked. Our deal is still on, right? You won’t back out on your word? You promised, and a promise is a promise.”
“What deal?” I asked, reaching for the medallion.
Before I could touch it, she closed her palm and pulled her hand back. “You promised that when you leave here you’ll take me with you.” A nurse walked by and the woman stopped talking. She waited until the nurse was out of earshot before she continued. “I don’t know when you’re planning on leaving, but you’d better make it soon. It happened again, you see.” She reached out and poked my arm. “You’re still alive and kicking. I told you I didn’t think you were next.”
She suddenly cocked her head to one side as though listening to something. Her body began to sway back and forth like she was dancing to music. If she was hearing music, then she must’ve been hearing it in her head because the only noise in the room was the low hum of far-off conversation.
She suddenly stopped moving and focused on me again. “Sabrina—you remember the little redhead a few doors down from you? I don’t know how the doctors think she could have done it. She was so slight, so small that if she turned sideways a hard wind would blow her off her feet.” She cracked up at her own joke. “There wasn’t an ounce of muscle in that girl’s arms. How do they think she could have had the strength?”
She was talking about people I didn’t know, saying things that didn’t make sense. She is in an insane asylum, I reminded myself. But something in her eyes took on a look of clarity when she talked about Dean. For the last few minutes, she’d actually looked sane and intensely serious. With a jolt, I realized she was waiting for me to respond.
I replayed the last thing she’d said to me and asked the first question that came to mind. “What do they think Sabrina did?”
“The fools think the girl hoisted her bed up against the wall. They think she climbed up, tied the bed sheets into a rope, slung the rope over the pipes in the ceiling, and hanged herself.”
Her words shocked me. “Hanged herself?”
“Killed herself. But we both know they made it up to cover up the murders. You told me you thought you were next, but see, you were wrong. You’re still alive, and Sabrina is dead. They killed Sabrina, not you.”
“Who killed Sabrina?” I looked at her, trying to decide whether she was making this all up. She looked crazy, she sounded crazy, but for some reason I found myself hanging on her every word.
“The orderlies. They’re all in on it. If you’re going to leave, you’d better make it soon. Sabrina died…” She started counting her fingers again. This time she went through all ten fingers four times before answering. “Three weeks ago. It was the last day of the month. A new month—you know what that means. One dead every month. You were wrong thinking you were next, last time. But maybe this time, maybe this time, you’ll be right. Maybe…just maybe…you’ll be the one to die this month.”