Where am I?
I wake up. I feel warmth under the covers that cling to me. I look around, but there isn’t much to see in the room I’m in.
Who am I?
I hear a simple melody being played on a guitar. I don’t know what the song is, but it’s refreshing and calming. It’s coming from somewhere near me. But where? I wish I knew where I was or who I am.
I move the covers and step out of bed. Colors flutter in my eyes and heat rushes through my head. I’m so dizzy I fall over.
Just breathe, just breathe slowly. In and out.
I finally get to the door. I step out but I’m still confused. I see a man at the end of the hall, he’s in a uniform. He stares at me then looks away. I follow the sound to the room next to mine. I put my ear to the door and ignore how cold the door is.
Knock, knock, knock.
My knuckles knock on the door quietly. A boy lets me in without saying anything. He sits down on his bed and keeps playing. I sit across from him. I’m still so confused.
“Who am I?” I ask him. “I can’t remember who I am or where I am.”
“Just another person in this basket of crazies.” He tells me.
“You don’t remember? You’re more gone than I thought… Not that I know you well.”
“Can you please stop being vague?”
He fidgets with his guitar pick before replying, “This is the Carpenter Sanitarium. This is where crazy people come and never leave. You’re the new girl, Julia. You joined my group therapy just yesterday. Don’t you remember?”
“N-no. I’ve never seen you or this place before in my life.”
He went back to playing his guitar. The noise it made was beautiful, but I got tired of it. My head head been pounding since I woke up, and I was beyond exhausted, confused, and lost.
“If I really was in your group therapy, did I say why I was here? I’m not crazy… And why can’t I remember a thing?”
“I don’t got all the answers, toots, and I don’t know why you think I got them all.”
We both went silent for minutes while he played more music on his guitar.
“Sorry for all the question,” I rubbed the left side of my head, “But why do you play your guitar so late into the night? Doesn’t it bother anyone?”
“Most people are asleep,” He said in rhythm with the tune, “And I can’t not play it. It keeps them away. It’s the only thing that stops them from taking me. The things under my bed. They come out at night, that’s why I have to stay up and play. If I don’t, they’ll come take me. It sounds like nails on a chalkboard to them.”
I pulled my legs up from the floor and onto his bed. I didn’t believe him, but at this point, I wasn’t gonna take any chances. I stayed there for an hour listening to his music, neither of us saying a word, but then I left to my room. I told him goodnight, all he responded with was “My name is Collin.”
I was woken up by a banging on my door.
“Uhh?” Was all I knew to respond with.
A nurse walked in and gave me medicine. I wanted to spit it out, but it tasted like bubblegum and was so sweet I swallowed it without thinking. When I saw her with the pills, I had slightly suspected that maybe these were why I couldn’t remember a thing, but I haven’t forgotten anything since last night, so that can’t be it.
I put my hair in a bun and changed into what clothes I could find. I didn’t know where to go or what I was to do, but I left my room. The hallway was filled with people. Anxiety took over and I panicked. I ran. I ran. I ran. I ran to another hallway. Then another. And another. There were so many. Did it ever end?
The hallways weren’t normal hallways by any means. I saw staircases that lead to nowhere. Some lead right up to bare walls. I saw doors as small as a brick. Most of the lights were normal, some lights were flashing green.
I got to one hallway that swirled into the shape of a snail’s shell. I was so drawn into this winding pattern that I kept going around it, my feet feeling more worry with each step, and my mind too curious to turn around. The end of this hallway had a chair. Only a chair.
I turned around to leave but the way I came from was gone. I turned back around to the chair, thinking that perhaps I missed something else. Either I did, or it only appeared after I turned my back, but there was a new hallway now, a hallway that for once had an “EXIT” sign at the top. I had felt hope flash through me for the first time since I awoke last night.
I don’t think anyone had ever moved faster than I had just moved. In a blink, I was outside the door the “EXIT” sign hovered over. I was stunned by what I saw. I saw flowers taller than me as far as an ocean. I walked up to a purple one and felt it. It gave me a feeling of relaxation. Sure I didn’t know who I was or where I was, but this flower on my fingers told me everything was all right, it told me I didn’t have reason to worry.
I turned to walk in the other direction. Each flower was unique. I didn’t see two at all that were the same. And the smell, oh God, the smell, it was better than baked cookies. I sat down under a flower in its shade and looked to the sky.
The sky didn’t look back. Rain hit my face. I shrieked because it was so unexpected. Then the winds grew, and my clothes danced in the wind and battered against the dirt of the ground. I tried to get up, but it was suddenly colder than a witch’s tit that I almost couldn’t- shivers overtook me.
I finally got up and the sky was all darkness, as though it was a vaporous ink that covered a paper sky. The rains poured from this in black little droplets. I thought I was gonna die. I looked over and the sanitarium was gone.
Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God!
My vision spiraled and I was embraced by a loud humming noise.
Hum, hum, hum.
I woke up in a hallway that was more bizarre than hallway I had seen before- and that was saying a lot. The floor had white lines that traced from random points in one wall to random points in another. The floor was made of wood, but the floor wasn’t flat- sections of the floor made obscure holes and textures in the ground. If you took any step without looking, you’d certainly fall on your ass. Light shone in from an S-shaped window and I was taken back. Wasn’t it just terrible outside? Raining black ink and freezing winds? The oddest part, however, was the maddening optical illusions carved into the walls from stone.
Then I noticed Collin kneeling over me.
“C-Collin?” I asked. “Once again I’m confused and you’re here with me. What’s going on?”
“Heh.” He laughed. “Oh, Julia. I told you before that nobody gets out of here. What did you see when you went out? I went out once. You’ll be glad I found you. It’s different for everyone out there.”
“Different? Different for everyone? What?”
“This isn’t a normal place. We’re drifting far away from reality. We’re drifting in a pocket away from known existence. Outside of here… outside of here is a disk that we’re on. You get four feet in any direction before you fall off and die. It’s enchanted to show us something happy, and if you stay long enough, it goes to shit and you’ll die anyways. There’s no escape.”
“No wonder you’re in here, you’re crazy!”
“There’s a reason you’re in here, too. We are all crazy.”
“We’re not floating… We’re not in some pocket dimension.”
“After all you’ve seen here, that’s the least believable thing? Seriously?”
I couldn’t reply. Dozens of voices in my head spoke to me.
You are a crazy little bitch.
You’re a fucking psycho!
No, I’m normal, I’m normal.
Sounds to me like you’re trying to convince yourself you’re normal.
I’m normal, goddammit I’m normal.
You are a crazy little bitch.
“Come on, you’ve missed breakfast, and we might still make it to group therapy on time.”
I sat next to Collin at a large round table. There were four other people plus the man in charge. I didn’t know what to call him. He was on Collin’s right. A spiral staircase was behind me, this leads to an upper level that had a library. The walls had the design of a mixed up Rubik’s cube, except it took up the entirety of the ten-foot walls, and the “pieces” kept shifting, making annoying combinations and triggering more and more anxiety and annoyance in my mind.
The man turned to me and for the first time, somebody in the room spoke, “Miss Julia, how’re you liking it here at Carpenter? Any thoughts on yesterday’s session?”
“Well, uh, what is your name?” I asked.
“Julia, are you okay? You know my name. You met me when you checked in.”
“But I never checked in! I woke up last night to find myself in such a strange place. What am I doing here? Collin told me I had gotten here yesterday, but I don’t remember ever coming here. I don’t know where I am, I don’t even remember who I am.”
“Julia, who’s Collin?”
I pointed to the boy right next to me, “He’s Collin.”
“What?” Collin and this man said in unison, then Collin continued speaking. “Collin? My name’s not Collin. And I haven’t even spoken to you since we introduced ourselves at yesterday’s session. I’m Braden.”
“Braden?” I said, and a bad feeling plagued my stomach. “But last night you told me you were Collin, and when I called you Collin today you didn’t object. Is your name Braden?”
“Yes, my name is Braden. But I haven’t talked to you since our session yesterday.”
“And I’m Doctor Nicholas Midler. Tell me, Julia, did you take your medicine today?”
“Y-yes I did.”
“Okay, Julia.” He then turned to face everyone. “Sorry about that little distraction, everyone. Now let’s get on with the session.”
“Why am I here?” I spoke before he could get another word in. “I don’t need therapy or whatever. I’m normal.”
“We eventually believe our own lies.” He spoke without missing a beat, then went over to a blackboard I didn’t notice before and started to write.
I DON’T NEED THERAPY, he wrote in all capitals.
“You’re a very troubled girl, Julia, and being a compulsive liar is one of your problems.” His gaze broke from my eyes and he turned to Braden and the other four people. “Class, Julia keeps telling herself she doesn’t need therapy. I think she’s trying to make herself feel a little less guilty about what she’s done to deserve being here. A way to cope. How many of you think Julia could get beyond this and cope in healthy ways if she really tried?”
Everyone raised their hands. I wasn’t sure to raise mine or not.
“Look at that, Julia, they all think it’s possible. You can’t help yourself until you admit there’s a problem.”
“There isn’t a problem! I want to get out of here! I need to get out of here! His name is Collin, not Braden! And I am not crazy, I am not crazy, I am a normal girl!”
“Class.” Doctor Midler said. “This is why we have groups in Carpenter and don’t always do one-on-one sessions. Julia is struggling, but she will be supported by other people suffering from similar things. You’ll all learn from each other. You can learn from a doctor, yes, but this way you don’t feel so isolated. Julia, you’ll find comfort in your friends here, I’m sure they all feel what you feel right now.”
But they didn’t.
“Well, I think I’d be- I’d feel better if I knew what you all struggle with,” I said. “Why are you all here?”
“We did this yesterday for Julia, but let’s do it again today. Introduce yourselves, everyone.” Doctor Midler instructed.
“I’m Roberta.” A girl spoke while cracking her fingers. I noticed three of them missing; they weren’t even stubs. “I’m here because I am sick. I have Autophagia. I like to…”
Roberta started to cry, and the boy next to her started to pat her back and speak, “It’s fine Roberta, you don’t have to finish.”
There was an awkward silence before he spoke again.
“I’m Mark. I used to be like you, thinking I don’t need- don’t need t-to- to be- to be here. But Doctor Midler has helped me s-see that I do. I do need to be here.”
The next girl just stayed silent.
“I’m Timmy.” The last person before Braden (or was he Collin?) spoke. “My-my senses are distorted. Sometimes I feel like I’m Alice in Wonderland. I don’t like the hallways. Or this room. It all hurts me too much. Whatever you see on these walls-“
I was annoyed by the walls too, especially the ones in this room.
“-It’s ten- it’s ten times worse for me.”
“Uh, I’m Braden. You called me Collin… Sometimes I feel fine, but I’m paranoid. I always knew someone was watching me ever since I was a kid. That’s why I learned to play my guitar because it keeps them away. They’re watching me, and they hate the guitar. To them, it sounds like nails on a blackboard.”
This is crazy, I sorta already knew that about… Braden? Collin? He told me that same thing, the nails on a blackboard thing. What is this? Where am I?
“Now you.” Doctor Midler nodded.
“I’m Julia…” I didn’t know what to say. “I guess I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“Hey, we’re all here to improve. Just be honest with yourself.” Mark said.
Mark seemed nice.
“I guess I just like denying what’s wrong.” I quickly made up a lie.
“Hey, it’s a start.” He said.
The rest of therapy was awkward. I kept silent through most of it. These people… they were truly crazy. I know I wasn’t crazy, I know that for a fact, but all of these people were… I wish I knew what they thought of me. What did they think was wrong with me?
Everyone started to leave. I walked into the hallway, acting normal, but I didn’t know where to go. Then I remembered that Braden/Collin’s room was next to mine, so I followed him. The walk was long. I passed so many strange things.
I was in a hallway that twisted on its side. It twisted so that I was walking literally sideways, then on the ceiling. I couldn’t believe it. I was gasping with every step because the pure wonder of it all took away my breath (and I was so nervous. Who wouldn’t be?). This hallway didn’t have light bulbs, it had these flying orbs of light. I reached out to touch one and it felt like I was touching soft electricity.
I lost Collin- I mean Braden? I lost Braden on my walk back because a girl stopped me.
“I know you.” She said.
“You do?” I asked. “What is my name? Is it- am I Julia? I think I’m Julia.”
“Huh? You’re Lucy.” She laughed. Was I Lucy?
“Don’t you remember? I showed you around after you checked in yesterday.”
“I don’t remember.”
“Oh, I think I get it. You’re not Lucy right now, you’re Julia.”
“It’s okay, Julia. How are you today Julia? I’m Nancy, nice to meet you.”
“Uh, I’m not too good. I don’t know how to get back to my, uh, room.”
“You just keep going straight.”
I looked down the hallway and back to her but she was gone. I don’t know where she went. Odd. I continued down the hallway.
The next hallway had holes in every wall. Through them, I caught glimpses of the flowers I saw earlier. How I loved the flowers. My curiosity got the better of me, I had to see them again. I put my eye to one hole but another eye looked back at me. I jumped back and cried.
My tears were my only companion for the rest of my walk. I got into a hallway that looked like the first hallway I remembered stepping into. I should’ve looked at the number on my door before I left, so I wasn’t even sure which room was mine.
But that was nothing new, right? I’m used to not knowing. I don’t know if I’m Julia or Lucy, I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with me, I don’t know if that boy was Braden or Collin, I don’t know which room is mine, and I don’t even know where I am or how to leave.
“Oh, I’ll never find my room,” I said out loud.
Then a door opened.
I peeked inside and it looked close enough. I sat on the bed and fell asleep.
I woke up so damn hungry, but a little less confused. I still didn’t have answers to my questions, but at least my questions seemed finite. At least I didn’t have more memory loss. My head hurt a little less, too.
I stared at the ceiling then realized I was listening to that same melody from Braden’s guitar. I walked over to his room and opened the door. I walked over to his bed and sat down where I had sat down last time. He never looked up.
“You’re back, Lucy. Couldn’t sleep?”
“Lucy? Braden, you told me my name was Julia.”
“Braden? Julia? Lucy, I told you last time you were in here, my name is Collin.”
“Collin? That’s what I said when you told me it was Braden.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He played more guitar.
“Your guitar keeps your demons away, it keeps you sane. Can it keep me sane? Can anything?”
“Depends, what’s your problem babe?”
“Don’t call me babe… memory problems, I guess. I keep getting confused, thinking one thing is another.”
“I don’t know, have you seen Doctor Midler yet? He’s a swell guy.”
“I- you were there with me when I did! We had group therapy together.”
“Yeah, we did the first time. You didn’t show today.”
“I did show!”
“Collin, please, Collin, you need to help me! My brain is so all over the place.”
“Calm down and listen- listen to the strings.”
So I did. I laid down on his bed. He didn’t seem to mind, but I don’t know if he even noticed- great, another thing to be unsure about. He just kept playing, and I listened. The melody he made was charming. It did do a good job of relaxing me. He played for hours all through the night and I just listened, not wanting to sleep, wanting to know how the melody to his song ends.
“That’s all I got,” Collin said once he finished playing.
“That was marvelous. You’re so wonderful, Collin.” I said.
“Collin? Julia, I told you, I’m Braden.”
Enough was enough.
“I am so sorry, Braden. I’ll try not to mix it up again. I’ll see you in the group session later.”
I left the room with no intention to go to group. I found the door again that had “EXIT” hanging right above it. I walked out and avoided being hypnotized by the flowers. I waited long enough and was consumed by the cold and wind. The rain of ink fell upon me. I didn’t pay it much attention, I just looked out in front of me until I saw it, and it was true- there were only four feet from me and the edge. Four wonderful feet and I’d be free. Four wonderful feet and I’ll fall into a soup of mazarine blues mixing with waves of wine and broken light.
I walked to the ledge, and I jumped.