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I knew she shouldn't have been here the moment I saw her plop down on her cot in our room. She seemed so...normal. And she gave me this expectant and fearful look, as if she were waiting for me to start screaming and throwing things about. I just sat on my cot and looked at her, staring, trying to freak her out. She didn't know that I was a newbie too.
But she wasn't giving in to my try at 'craziness' so I finally sighed and said, 'Welcome to Fair Pastures Sanitarium, where the only people crazier than the patients are the doctors.'
She laughed half-heartedly at my feeble attempt at a joke, feeling awkward. She replied, 'Um, my name's Cassidy. Cassidy Lentil. And yes, like the food.'
I chuckled, she'd read my mind. I reached out my hand to shake hers, and we shook hands limply. As she pulled away, sneakily wiping her hand on her pants afterwards, I said, 'My name's Lyssa Malone.'
Cassidy smiled at me, trying to put on a brave face.
I decided to get down to business. 'So Cass, if I can call you that, why are you here? You don't seem like you're coo-coo for Coco Puffs.'
Cassidy averted her eyes. 'I-I,' she stammered. 'I don't really know.'
'Well I guess that's for the doctors to find out.' I said cheerfully. She didn't ask why I was there, and I didn't tell her. Unlike what most people think, girls don't just spill their guts to anyone who asks. A girl has to keep a certain..air of mystery about her. That's my philosophy. Cass didn't seem to share it. I figured, once I got her going, there would be no power on Earth that could shut her up. But I'm pretty good at tuning people out and into background noise, so I figured I could handle it.
Weirdly enough, Cass and I became best friends ' well, kind of. I told her what to do and she did it. I told her what she could and couldn't tell the doctors, and she always gave me the best bits of food in the cafeteria (but trust me, there wasn't a lot). And I think in a weird way she enjoyed it. She liked not having to make decisions for herself. But there was some friendship thrown into our weird alliance. We gradually opened up to each other. Albeit very, very slowly on my part. I told her that I was new too, and we figured out FPS together. Including the point system. Apparently we had to show 'improvement' before we could get luxuries. In other words, we had to spill our secrets to the doctors, and then us 'vain' teenagers would be allowed to get mirrors and see our reflections. So Cass and I would try to help each other out if someone had a breakout or had bed-head. But there was only so much that could be done with the little we had. Things went on like that and we got along, for a bit. But then, three weeks into our stay at the crazy house, things started to get a little...nutty.
I had been watching Cass march back and forth across our room, so hard that I was waiting for her to wear a hole in the thin, orange shag carpet.
She kept saying, 'I'm so sick of this place! I shouldn't even be here! Why will no one tell me what's going on?'
She was becoming annoying. Usually she was entertaining, but right now I was just itching for a remote control to turn down the volume. Sadly, people don't come with those.
So I stepped in front of her and said, 'Did you take your meds today? That could be what's making you so crazy.'
Cassidy stopped mid rant, looking at me oddly. 'You think the pills make us worse?'
'Duh,' I replied, 'the doctors want to keep us here, that way they have a full house and get paid more money.'
'Well, I'll just call my mom!' Cassidy said, searching for her way out like a mouse in a maze, always looking for the cheese.
'Really,' I replied scornfully, 'and when was the last time she called you?'
Cassidy scrunched up her nose and looked away, towards the one barred window in our room. 'I'm sure she's just been busy,' she replied in a tiny voice, the fight sucked out of her.
'No,' I said loudly, 'it's because she forgot. And you know why she forgot? Because she doesn't care! Why do you think she put you in here? No loving parent would put their child through this,' I stressed, moving my arm to encompass the thin carpet, the cots, the barred window.
Cassidy put up one more defense: 'Well, how about you? Have you gotten any calls? Maybe our parents aren't allowed to call!'
I rolled my eyes to the ceiling, showing her my patented 'you're really stupid' look, and said smugly, 'My foster mom has called me a couple of times, but I refused to talk to her. I figure, if I keep up the silent treatment long enough, she'll stop calling. Then, when I break out of this hell hole, no one will look for me.'
Cassidy dropped onto her cot, drawing her knees to her chest. 'She does care,' she whispered to herself. She eventually fell asleep in that position, facing the window, as if she was trying to soak up the scant rays of sunshine, of hope.
I laughed to myself, that was the closest I'd been to living out an episode of Jerry Springer.
Cassidy slept through dinner and I stayed with her, not wanting to go without her. I almost felt bad for bursting her unrealistic little bubble, but I brushed it away. It was her own fault for being so stupid. If she started believing her own delusions, she would become just as crazy as the rest of the patients, just as crazy as me.
Cass woke up just as the dim glow of the sun started its eternal battle with the gloom that had settled on FPS. It was 4:30 in the morning, the clock in our room emanating scant red light. She awoke with a large intake of breath, as if she had emerged from a nightmare and was preparing to scream. But she stopped before emitting a sound. I closed my eyes quickly and turned away. I could hear her moving quietly, pulling something out from under her bed. I realized suddenly that this was something the all-sharing Cass hadn't told me. She had a secret and she didn't want me to know about it; maybe she was even scared for me to know. I liked that idea; I always wanted fear, the best form of respect.
As I was thinking this, I could hear Cass scribbling away onto paper, probably her diary. Her breathing was ragged, so whatever she was writing had to be good, or at least interesting, not the normal writing the doctors had us do. I had to know what it was, so I made a big deal about moaning and slowly opening my eyes and stretching. Cass's eyes were wide, glinting red from the clock. She quickly shoved something that had been in her hands into the darkness beneath her cot, and I could almost see her scurrying about, running up against the walls of her maze, squeaking confusedly. She must have gotten close to the cheese. I couldn't allow that. Then who would keep me company? Who would keep me entertained? I needed Cass for the time being. I needed her in her little mousy cage, awaiting my instructions.
Cassidy was very rigid and I could tell that she was thinking fast. Her hair was crazy looking, she'd never know since we couldn't have mirrors. I could only imagine what mine looked like. But I decided not to tell her, she looked too funny to fix it. I gazed sleepily at her and she glanced back at me, yawning over-dramatically.
'Wow, how'd I end up here? I must have been sleepwalking. I bet it was 'cause I've been taking my meds. The doctors really are making us crazy, aren't they?' She said, trying to be nonchalant and appeasing.
I saw right through her, I always do. But I let it pass, because she'd given me an important clue, and I figured she deserved a good nights sleep for that. I faked sweetness and said, 'Yeah, next thing you know you'll start telling everything to the doctors or something.'
Cass laughed at the absurdity of the idea and relaxed, looking relieved. She crawled back up to bed and almost immediately fell asleep.
As I also drifted off to sleep, I smiled. Cass never could figure me out, and she always had to put blind faith in what I said. I wondered if she would ever figure me out, or be stuck in FPS forever.
The next morning I pretended that I couldn't remember last night, and Cass walked around with a bounce in her step. By afternoon, however, she went back to trudging along. That was because it was Tuesday, and on Tuesday it was time to talk to the doctors. Cass and I always went together, and we barely ever gave them anything to work with. Today we were meeting with Doctor KFC. This wasn't his real name, but there were so many doctors we didn't bother remembering. Doctor KFC was in his fifties, had a full white beard and dull, calculating blue eyes hidden under enormous white eyebrows. Surprisingly he had a full head of white hair. He looked just like the guy on the KFC logo. And if that didn't cinch it, he always smelled like chicken.
As Cass and I went into his office, we both sat on the large leather couch where we were supposed to whine about our feelings and say how Mommy didn't love us or how Daddy didn't hug us enough. It was all a bunch of bull. How could some old guy know how an individual was feeling? How could he look into someone's past and find every single thing that had broken a person, whittled them down to the almost nothing that they were today? Cass didn't share my line of thinking; she wanted to go home no matter what. But the one thing she wouldn't do was talk about what had brought her to FPS, because as she so vehemently told anyone who would listen, she couldn't remember. And I wouldn't talk about anything important, so we got stuck with the same therapy session. We were opposites, I wouldn't talk but could remember all too well, and Cass would talk for hours but had 'selective amnesia.' I guess we were the missing pieces to each other's therapeutic puzzle. Oh joy.
Today didn't seem very different. Cass was talking about how she was missing her dog or something, and, as usual, Doctor KFC wouldn't look at me. Cass was the one that could be helped; I was the lost cause. She took top priority. Every once in a while he would ask me a question and I would just grunt and look away. This didn't seem to phase him. I was glad; I didn't want anyone to care about me. The only person that seemed to care was Cass, even though she didn't know it yet.
But then, something weird happened. Doctor KFC stared straight at me. And he started throwing out questions, barely letting me have time to not answer them. Finally, I gave in, just to shut him up. I answered his last question. The one that he'd been leading up to. The one he already knew the answer to because it was written in my file.
'Why are you here?' he had asked.
I sighed melodramatically and responded as Cass kept silent. 'I'm here because I freaked out at school, okay?... I'd been hearing voices for a while, but I'd been pushing them to the back of my mind. I just have a vivid imagination, that's all. But sometimes, things would get really bad and... I wouldn't have control over myself. One day, during Math, my head started pounding and that stupid voice got louder and louder. I couldn't concentrate. This was during a test, by the way, so it was dead silent.' I paused, getting lost in the story. 'I must have started shaking and yelling, I couldn't tell. I was just battling that voice, fighting off the darkness, the confusion. Someone touched my shoulder, and I completely lost control and the pencil that was in my hand, it...it wasn't my hand. And the hand with the pencil... it lunged out, hard. I don't remember a lot after that. I don't want to, and I don't care. All I know is that she survived...' I stopped, I had realized where I was, what I was doing, and wouldn't continue. I wasn't Cass, I didn't spill my secrets.
'Who survived, the teacher you attacked, or the voice?' Doctor KFC asked, his expression unreadable.
My eyes glazed over for an instant, seeing nothing. 'Both,' I half whispered, the one thing that I was afraid of had been exposed.
He started writing something in his stupid notebook, and I leaned into the couch, realizing I had revealed too much.
Cass was watching me, a dazed look on her face, unbelieving of the brief break in my facade. There was a glint of something else, a confusion in her face I hadn't seen since we had first met.
I realized then that it was time to up the ante in our little game. Cass was beginning to gain confidence, losing her fear and respect of me. I wouldn't have that. So as soon as Chicken Man let us go, I let Cass go to the bathroom as I went to look for her diary under her cot. I found it easily, as if I had placed it there myself, and opened it, quickly reading. I giggled to myself, I could definitely use this, especially in these circumstances. Cassidy Lentil was such a vain girl, searching again for 'normalcy.' I quickly put her diary away, not bothering to read the rest. She couldn't keep a secret, not from me. I could hear her walking towards our room, and I set my plan into action. The letter was sent, to an all too willing receiver, and I knew that tomorrow, when the package arrived, I would be thoroughly entertained.
In the morning the package came, right on schedule. I got it after breakfast, and brought it into our room, feigning a look of surprise and confusion.
Cass looked inquisitively at me, not a clue of what was inside the small, tan box.
I looked at her, only a hint of malice in my eyes, and opened it slowly, relishing each rip of the paper covering my 'surprise.' When at last it was opened, I squealed and said in my most girly voice, 'Aw, she shouldn't have!'
'What is it?' Cass asked, a slight tremor in her voice.
I pulled the small mirror and brush out of the bag, placing them neatly in front of me on my cot. 'Well,' I said, quoting Cass's diary verbatim, 'I need a mirror to see how I look. I haven't seen my own reflection in such a long time! Who knows what I could look like now? And besides, if any cute boys turn up here, I need to be prepared.' My speech finished, I turned away from her, brushing my hair. All I heard was silence, the only noise the quiet strokes of my new brush through my straggly hair.
I sneaked a quick glance at Cass, she was stone still on her own cot; I almost took the mirror out to check if she was still breathing. I stopped when I saw the small lift of her shoulders, but I still wondered why she wasn't reacting. She seemed to be in a vegetative state, just as her last name hinted at. I stopped brushing and looked at her, wanting to snap her out of this boring statue-like pose.
'I asked my foster mom and she sent it right away; I guess she likes me more than I thought. It's always nice to feel loved, isn't it?' I asked, looking for a change in her eyes, something... I finally got it.
She rose to her feet suddenly, stumbling. Her pale face was starting to have a reddish glow, and her brown eyes were like endless pits, looking to suck me in. She stopped moving and looked at me, saying quietly, 'Have you been reading my diary?'
I nodded silently, not expecting this response, my plans out the barred window.
She continued, 'I don't know why you would do this. Why do you take so much pleasure in ruining my life? I have always been nice to you, letting you play your games, not complaining. But this is where I draw the line.'
I stood up, matching her stance. I crossed my arms, pretending not to care about her sudden need for making speeches.
'And another thing,' she said, her voice rising. 'You don't even know me, not really. You're not in my head, you don't know what I think. So how is it that you can always guess what I'm going to do? Have you been reading my diary this whole time? Well, I'm not going to write in it anymore. You're not gonna have any more insight into my head.' Her voice dropped again, her eyes searching frantically across the room, searching, searching. They rested on the mirror lying in the center of my cot, in front of me.
I could hear a doctor walking slowly down the hall through our closed door, checking on patients, giving out meds. 'I don't need your stupid diary,' I replied. I didn't explain. 'I figured out something last night. I know why you're here.'
Cass stared at me, confused, her eyes turning back into the muddy pools they always are. She sat down, as did I.
I crossed my legs confidently, swinging the leg on top slightly, not a care in the world. 'Didn't you ever wonder what those memory lapses were for? That sure seems like something someone crazy would have. You're not the normal one here. You are just as bad as me.' I smiled, victorious. I would bring Cass back down into the murky maze she had tried to run from. With a sultry, bad-girl look I glanced around the room, letting my words sink in.
Cassidy reacted quickly, though, suddenly lunging for my mirror.
Neither of us had seen our reflections for weeks, and a mirror was a rare commodity. I wouldn't let her have it before I could use it first.
She grabbed the handle and I grabbed the other, wide side. We started pulling, hard, shrieking our fury together at the idea of the other person existing.
I could distantly hear the doctor in the hallway start to walk quickly towards our room. I heard a snap as something inside of the mirror broke, pieces cascading to the floor, and let go instinctively, as did Cass.
Cassidy Lentil reached for it, but couldn't catch it before the rest of it shattered on the ground. She stretched down for the foundation of the mirror, then jerked her hand away, along with a shard of the mirror. The shard that was protruding from the palm of her hand.
The same shard that was jutting out of mine.
Blood was dripping down, mine, hers. It connected us to this moment in time. To each other.
I could hear whimpering; I wasn't sure if it was coming from her or me. At the same moment, we looked down to the other pieces of mirror that had fallen to the floor. Only one reflection stared back. One set of muddy brown eyes matching our gaze.
I saw my hand go down and reach for it, for this image. But...it wasn't my hand, not my hand. I had no control of this. I watched it get closer and closer; the hand reflected back at me, at us. The brown eyes were wide, and red droplets of blood were making an audible noise as they dripped onto the carpet. There were footsteps outside the door. Knocking, then pounding. Shouts. It all seemed far away.
The hand seemed to move so slowly, and I could hear a ringing in my ears, a voice screaming to be heard. I realized, as the hand reached further down for those reflected eyes, that I was the voice, and as the hand finally, finally, covered those eyes that burned me, I looked into the endless darkness of the maze, and two became one.
Together we, I, traversed the darkness, swirling in anger as things became clearer, or sometimes murkier. The mother, our mother, my mother, she was alive. She didn't know me. She had called for me, and I had refused her. But the call wasn't for me, it was for...no. I wouldn't think it. Cass was the unreal one. I, I was the strong one, the dominant one. I had to fight, to fight for what was mine.
But Cass was pulling away from the maze. The maze that I had assumed was ours. It was not shared property. It was made for my entertainment. For my imprisonment. I saw not my own thoughts, but ...hers. The walls made of glass, reflecting that image over and over again, those dull brown eyes, sucking me in and holding me in my darkness. I knew then that fighting would be futile. I never was, and never would be again.