Total Psychotic Break.
Madena Vasquez wrote the three words on the clipboard with a pouted lip. She didn’t want to make eye contact with the, ahem, mother of the little boy that eyed her son through the glass. On one side of the glass was your typical doctor’s office. On the other side was a lot of cushion. All the walls and the floor. Nice and soft and padded. The strait jacket Aiden was wrapped in seemed too big. His face was almost as white as the bleached fabric that held him snug, except for dark red gashes he had inflicted on himself with his fingernails during the debacle with the nurses.
The room was spinning from his point of view, as if he were an oscillating surveillance camera in the seizure of a power surge. He pieced together what he could of the faces behind the glass. There was motherly Madena. There was Dad. Then there was Mom. She looked so young except when she was worried. Worry would bring up lines on her face you normally couldn’t see. Every last line was deeply etched. Between her eyebrows. On her forehead. In the corners of her mouth. And yet Aiden knew… it was a worry more for her than him. Something about the faces of Dad and Nurse Madena… versus her’s…
Dad and Madena… ‘We failed you.’
Mom’s line-webbed face… ‘You failed me.’
The room behind the glass went dark. A nurse in a surgical mask entered the padded cell. The syringe in her hand said all that needed to be said.
“Hold still, honey,” she cooed. As if he could resist. There was a small sting in his shoulder and the world dissolved around him.
When he came to, the lights in the padded cell were dimmed. They were just bright enough to trace out the shape of a little girl. Probably eight or nine years old. Standing over him. She was in a pure white nightie with its own blue halo, illuminated by an invisible moon. Her hair was perfectly straight and black. Her eyes were blacker. There were no whites. They were solid onyx spheres, slick and glossy. Colder than a Winter midnight. However devoid of pupils, her gaze penetrated Aiden’s shattered soul. He began to squirm away. She followed. Patient, measured steps. The unhurried gait of a predator that knows it won’t have to tussle. As muffled as her bare feet were by the padded floor, he could sense the familiarity in her steps. From his bedroom. From his cell in the K Wing. It was her.
Adrenaline overriding the sedative in his veins, he retreated with all his power. Whichever corner he would locomote to with the limited mechanical ability his body would afford him, she would patiently follow after him. Unlike the K Wing cell, there wasn’t a button to push. The walls were soundproof. He screamed slurred pleas. Panic degraded him into howling. But his desperation fell dead against the padded walls, and there wasn’t anyone to hear. Finally, he stopped moving. Even base survival instinct has its limits. He lay on his back as she paced toward him. Those cold black eyes. Empty marbles. Focused like a laser on him. Like an eagle over a wounded sparrow, she loomed for a moment.
She got down and laid her head on his chest and seemed to fall asleep. Aiden passed out. He came to several times, seeing double. Seeing two coal black scalps motionless below his chin. She was warm and he could feel her breathing. The pang of panic tried to throw the switch to Aiden’s sense of self-preservation, but he was entirely burned out. If she was going to eat him, her meal wouldn’t struggle.
Well, she didn’t eat him. Morning came, Aiden opened his eyes, and he was alone. The day passed as well as it could for a prisoner denied the use of his arms. The sun went down and the lights dimmed and there she was again. She stumbled toward Aiden who was slumped in a corner and aware of her only partially. She got down and rested her head on his chest and fell asleep as the night before.
Four days later he was moved back to the ward room since his tendency to violent outbursts had suddenly vanished. He slept in the same rigid-framed hospital bed. Night came. The gentle sound of bare feet smacking the tile floor came. The bed lurched as the peculiar little girl got in beside him. He didn’t resist her. Her head rested on his chest and they were both out.
How many days had it been now? Total days? In this place? Aiden looked out at the world like a window shop mannequin. There was the hospital grounds for some distance. Part of it even looked like a park. The setting sun lent orange life to a distant bank of trees. Over there was a basketball court nobody remembered, the nets rotten off the hoops centuries ago. Over here was a set of monkey bars that hadn’t been repainted since… The Civil War? Aiden pictured himself clambering on them. With her.
Who was she?
What was she?
Everything he thought he knew about ghosts wasn’t cheerful. Malevolent vapors that scared their victims, invading their lives and their dreams and their bodies and breaking their minds.
She had certainly broken his mind. Maybe put a few cracks in his life. But she was no vapor. She wasn’t even cold. God knows how many locks tumbled into place after hours in this prison of tiled floors sterile with rubbing alcohol. She could get by all of them, through his one-way door, and lift her small body into bed with him. She was warm and she had breath. Some nights, Aiden swore he could feel a pulse.
More than once he had wondered what life would be like with siblings. All too often Mom was off with a buyer or glued to her laptop looking up the history of somewhere. Dad was in a trance over his drawing table belaboring the next commission before the next deadline. Deadline, after deadline after freaking deadline.
Oh sure they both loved him. But they didn’t always love him when he really needed it. They weren’t always… present… when he needed them to be. A brother or a sister would have been nice in those moments.
Is that what he had now? A little sister?
Would she ever start showing up during the day when they could play? Would she ever start talking?
Would he ever get out of this place to have a life with her?
The daylight died off and the window turned black. Nurse Madena came in to check on her ‘favorite patient’ before After Hours officially began. No patients would then be allowed to roam the halls (the ones with the freedom to leave their rooms) and every lock between Aiden and the outside world would be tighter than a drum.
Still, she came.
Feet gently padding against the floor. The lurch of the bed. Moonlight bled in from a thin angle. The pervasive white of the room amplified the glow. Aiden could see her. The skin was as white as the room. Her hair was as black as the night beyond the glass.
He started talking to her.
Her eyelids flicked open, revealing the slick obsidian orbs.
He introduced himself. He told her about his parents. Their hobbies. Their lives. The places they had been before ending up in Silverkey Crossing. He found himself rambling, spilling. Full-on Logorrhea, if any of the facility shrinks had been present to listen in. As long as he talked, her unblinking eyes stared into his.
He basically talked himself to sleep.
He lost track of how many nights he babbled into the empty void of her eyes. Every night, she was there beside him. Maybe she was listening, maybe not. But her eyes were open as long as he talked.
The ‘conversations’ always ended the same. Him passing out. Her head on his chest.
Big Brother and Little Sister, waiting for the morning that they’re told they can go outside their prison and play.
That day came sooner than Aiden guessed…