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I stare at the psychologist sitting behind her sterilized, metallic desk. There aren’t many decorations on her bland desk, except for a yellowing small plant on one corner, a clock, and a plaque on her desk. Dr. Sheryl Palmer, MD, the plastic plaque announces proudly.
I watch as she scratches a note on her notepad. Her right hand writes as her left hand lies elegantly next to the pad on the desk. She glances up at me over the rim of her glasses, and for a few moments we stare at each other. She looks worried, but I can’t remember why.
My eyes drift around her office. The walls are a light blue color, with bookcases lining the walls. There’s a closed door to my left, painted white. A window lets in some strips of light, which illuminate her numerous diplomas in frames behind her. There’re all in a straight vertical line behind her head. I look into her gray eyes once again before glancing down at my knees.
I’m sitting in a large green arm chair, with my knees pulled up to my chest. My arms are wrapped around my legs, and I bring one of my hands to my mouth. I start biting on my finger nails nervously.
There’s not a sound in the room except for the resounding ticking of the clock on her desk and her scratching. I wish she’d stop scribbling things about me on that little note pad of hers. I wonder what she writes about me. One day I’d like to see her notes.
The clock on her desk suddenly goes off, and I jump at the loud noise. She stops writing. She looks up at me and gives me a slight smile.
“Let’s continue this another day.” She says to me. I nod before standing up.
“Same time?” I ask while I straighten out my white dress.
“As always.” She responds with the same small smile. I wonder if she ever really smiles at people. She strikes me as the kind of person who always gives everyone a small smile just to seem nice, but never really means it.
“Have a nice day, doctor.” I smile at her before turning and walking towards the open door. I walk out of the building into the dim streets.
I hum as I walk down the busy streets to my building. I get the sense of being followed, but once I turn the corner onto my street the feeling is gone.
I walk into my apartment building, and quickly make my way to my floor. I unlock the door to my room and quickly walk in. My roommate isn’t in yet, and I’m almost glad. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I don’t like my roommate, but sometimes she can get slightly annoying.
I collapse onto my bed and stare up at the white ceiling. I hate the color white. I’d once asked the owner of the dorm if we could paint the walls, but she said ‘no’. Something about uniformity. I hate the color white. It always seems to get dirty faster than anything else. Like my white dress I’m always wearing. It always gets really dirty really fast. I don’t even know why I always wear this stupid dress all the time anyways. In the back of my mind I get the nagging feeling it’s because it was a gift or something like that.
I open the drawer of my night stand and pull out my cigarettes. I’m not old enough to buy my own cigarettes, but I can always persuade one of the older guys around to get me one. I light a match, light the cigarette, and start smoking. I throw the matches and cigarettes back into the drawer. I lie back onto my bed and stare up at the ceiling again. The strips of light from the window high up throw shadows onto the walls and ceiling.
I lie there thinking about Dr. Palmer. She seems to be a nice lady, but sometimes I can’t puzzle her out. Sometimes when I go in to see her she’s incredibly happy, and then ten minutes later she’s suddenly very sullen while scribbling things down on her notepad. I wish I knew what interests her so much that she’s always scribbling. I mean, all I do is sit there and stare at her and study her office. I’m not even sure why I even go over there sometimes. I know it’s because my parents want me to, but beyond that I’m not too sure why I’m there. Sometimes I don’t feel like going, but for some reason I always end up there.
I haven’t told anyone I go see a psychiatrist. Ellen thinks I disappear for an hour because I go and study at the library. It’s sort of far from here. The library, I mean. I don’t know why. I mean, you’d think the library would be located closer to the dorms, but it’s practically on the other side of campus.
Ellen’s my roommate, by the way. I don’t think I explained that. Actually, I don’t think I’ve explained much of anything. Well, here’s my background story in a nut shell: my name’s Alice, I go to Princeton, and I hope to one day become an artist. I’m not really sure why I went to Princeton, except to please my parents. It’s very competitive here, and part of me doesn’t even know why I let myself get suckered into this. My parents are Richard and Mary Bloomington, and I have no siblings. I grew up in the beautiful back country of Connecticut, and I went to a private, top-ten, boarding school. Not sure which one, but I do remember they had us wear these grayish-black uniforms with these really short skirts and red ties. I hated them. Especially the skirts. Guys would always try to flip them up. That’s why I always safety pinned my skirts to my underwear. I graduated valedictorian from my class. My parents made a huge deal out of it. I remember feeling proud, but at the same time I didn’t really care. I’d taken a lot of science and math classes, but I’d only taken one art class. There were no Honors art classes at my school, and my parents told me it’d just be a waste of my time.
I watch as the smoke lazily reaches towards the ceiling before curling away and disappearing. Ellen slams open the door.
“Hey.” I glance at her before turning my attention back onto the curling smoke.
“James is such a jerk.” She growls before plopping onto her bed. She makes a face at my smoking, but doesn’t say anything. I know she hates it when I smoke, but I keep doing it anyways. I can’t tell if I’m addicted to it, or if it’s just turning into a nervous habit like chewing on my fingernails. I’ll have to try quitting one of these days to test if I’m really addicted. I’ll make it into a little science project.
“What’d he do this time?” I murmur. I like the way the smoke seems to twist around the bars of light. I like the angles it makes and the curves.
“Pinch my butt, and then try to look up my dress.” Ellen grumbles. She pulls out some nail polish from underneath her bed and starts to apply a new coat of blue. I glance at her nice fingernails. Then I glance down at my crooked nails. I slide my right hand under my butt while still smoking with my left.
“You should know better than to get close to him.” I turn around onto my stomach and reach under my bed. I pull out a book and flip to the page I left off. It’s a good book called Flowers for Algernon. I can’t seem to put it down.
James is a well known pervert on our floor. He can’t seem to keep his hands to himself. I can’t really explain why, but I’m scared of him. Not that he’s a guy you’d be easily intimidated by, but it’s just…I don’t know…I hate being touched by a guy. It’s weird, I know, but if a guy so much as brushes past me I freeze up and go into hyperventilation mode. I don’t really know why, but I hate it whenever it happens because I feel like a coward right afterwards. I don’t why I’d feel like a coward after freezing up, but I just do. It’s weird. I told Dr. Palmer this once, but she just nodded and scribbled it down. I don’t think she really cares, and to be quite frank, why should she? My parents pay her to listen, not care.
“I had to pass him to get my pills.” Ellen tries to defend herself. Ellen has to take sleeping pills every night, or else she can’t get to sleep. I think she should stop taking the pills. She doesn’t seem herself after they’ve taken hold of her. I stopped taking my pills. They didn’t really help me sleep. Actually, they kept me up most of the night.
Some time later I’m watching the smoke play with moonlight. I don’t feel like going to sleep, and it’s too dark to read, so I’m just lying here smoking. Ellen’s asleep. I think I’ll buy some paint and paper tomorrow. I want to practice painting again. Can’t remember why I stopped.
Ellen stirs in her sleep. She mumbles something. I look over at her. Suddenly she sits straight up in her bed with her eyes wide open, like a jolt of lightning has struck her.
“Spiders!” She shouts to no one in particular. Not again. I get up, and leave my cigarette in my mouth.
“Where?” I ask her as I get closer.
“Stop!” She holds her hand up to me. “There!” She points at the foot of her bed. “Oh no, they’re getting closer! Alice! Alice!” She tries to claw her way up the wall away from the foot of her bed, while kicking out her feet at the invisible attackers.
“It’s okay.” I reach towards her, but she smacks my hands away as she tries to claw her way up the wall. I sigh and grab my pillow. I start smacking at the invisible spiders with my pillow.
“No! Alice! Get away! Get away! They’re climbing on you now! Can’t you see them?” Ellen suddenly jumps forward and grabs me by the shoulders. “Can’t you see them?” She shakes me a little bit, and I try to shake her off. My cigarette falls out of my mouth onto the cold tile floor. Dang. That was my last cigarette. She’s normally not this bad. There’s a little bit of spittle forming on the corner of her mouth, and I feel spit smacking my cheek as she keeps yelling.
“There are no spiders!” I yell back at her. I break her hold on me. I grab her by the shoulders and try to shake her. Suddenly she becomes really stiff, and falls back onto her bed. She’s asleep again.
I pull the covers over her again before grabbing my pillow and going back to my bed. I lie back down onto my bed and sigh. I drift off before I know it.
I wake up the next day with sunlight in my face. I glance over at Ellen’s bed, but she’s gone and her bed’s already made up. I slip on my slippers before getting up and fixing my bed. I grab another dress and make my way to the shower room. I take a shower before going to the common room.
The T.V. is on commercials, but Jackson’s in his usual chair in front of it and keeps his eyes glued to the screen. Nate is in a corner playing chess with James, like always. Nate is silently glaring at the chess table with great concentration. James looks like he could care less. Ellen is watching T.V., but her green eyes dart over to James ever so often. For all her complaining, I think she secretly likes James. Natalie is sitting in a corner with a book in her lap. She always wears sleeves. I don’t know why, because it’s always hot in the dorms, and I’d feel suffocated if I had to wear sleeves all the time. Pauline stares down at a puzzle she’s been doing for five days. Laura is playing Solitaire with herself in a corner. There are a few others, but I ignore them. They’re freshmen. A lot of them will drop out and be quickly replaced by others.
I grab my breakfast. I have my pills in a little Dixie cup. I look inside it. One little blue pill and a little red one. I take the blue pill, but throw the red one away. I don’t like the red pill. It looks like a blood drop, and I hate blood.
I go and sit down next to Ellen. I finish my breakfast and go over to talk to Natalie. I ask her what she’s reading. She tells me it’s a famous book by Ken Kesey. She asks me how Ellen is, and I tell her ‘fine’. I talk to her for a few moments more. I ask her if she’s finished the English assignment. She ignores me and goes on reading. I don’t really like Natalie all that much. She’s always very mopey.
I walk over to Laura and try to get her to play a game of cards with me. She says she doesn’t feel up to it at the moment. I ask her how European History was today, and she shrugs.
I try to help Pauline with her puzzle, but she doesn’t like other people helping her with it. I don’t get why. She normally just stares at the pieces for a really long time before even touching one. It’s infuriating sometimes to watch her snail pace.
I give James and Nate a wide berth before sitting back down next to Ellen.
“I’m bored. I’m gonna go and study for English.” I get up to leave. Ellen just nods.
I get back to the room quickly. I pick up my book and start reading. A few hours later there’s a knock at the door.
“Come in. Door’s open.” I call out without moving from my bed. The door opens slowly and in shuffle my parents.
“Mom. Dad.” I say in surprise. “I didn’t know you guys were in town. Why didn’t you call to tell me you’d be dropping by? I would have cleaned up more.” I get up and quickly make my way over to them. I hug them both briefly. I haven’t seen them since Christmas.
“Please, sit down. Ellen won’t mind.” I motion towards Ellen’s empty bed. They stand motionless. My mom looks at Ellen’s bed then back at me.
“I can’t do this Rich, I can’t.” My mom suddenly whispers to my father. I hadn’t noticed this before, but my mom is clutching my father’s arm very tightly. Almost too tightly. It looks painful.
“Mom. What’s wrong?” I take a step towards her. She shudders and tries to cower behind my father. “Mom?”
“It’s alright, Alice.” My father says while taking a step towards me. He’s standing in front of my mom now, and I can’t see her. His voice is calm, and he sounds like he’s trying to soothe someone. I can’t tell who. It seems to me he should be more concerned about mom.
I feel weird standing, so I back away from them. I sit down on my bed and look at them. My mom is still partially cowering behind my father, and I still don’t understand why.
“How are you feeling today?” My father asks in a slow, even tone. It’s starting to get annoying. It reminds me of this one time we’d almost been attacked by a rabid fox and my dad tried to calm it down. I don’t get why he’s not talking in his normal tone.
“Fine. I was just reading this book.” I lift the book from my bed and hold it out to him. He walks over and takes the book from my hand and flips through it.
“It’s a good book.” He mumbles. My mom peeks from around his broad shoulders to look at me.
“I know. I can barely put it down. But, I’m keeping my studies up, so don’t worry.” I smile at them before taking the book back from my father.
Suddenly, my mom starts to cry. She’s bawling, and my father quickly puts his arms protectively around her. I stare at them both in surprise and uncertainty. What am I supposed to do?
“Mom. What’s wrong?” I ask in earnest now. I reach out towards them, but at that moment the room’s door slams open and in walks Ellen. She brushes past my weeping parents and jumps onto her bed.
“I’m sorry. I just…” My mom sobs.
“We’ll come back at another time, dear.” My father says, but I’m not sure if he’s talking to my mom or to me. Then they leave. The door closes.
“What was that about?” Ellen asks.
“I have absolutely no clue.” I pick up my book and flip to the page I’d been on.
“Parents are so weird.” Ellen mutters. She starts putting her golden hair up in a ponytail as she talks. Then she pulls out another bottle of blue nail polish. She starts painting her toenails.
“You can say that again.” I mumble back before turning my attention back to my book.
After a few minutes of trying to read, I let out a frustrated sigh. I can’t seem to concentrate anymore. My mom’s crying has struck a cord, and now I’m obsessing over it. I wonder why she started crying. I wonder if it was something I said…but that doesn’t make sense. I didn’t say anything weird. I guess she must be having a mood swing or something.
“I’m going out. Just gonna go walk around. Wanna come?” I ask Ellen. She shakes her head.
The rest of the day passes in a blur, just like any other day. I walk around for a while, thinking, and then I go study for a while. I eat lunch and dinner and take only the non-red pills. I lie in my bed for a while, lighting and extinguishing matches. I make a mental note to get one of the older girls to buy me some cigarettes. I watch the moonlight slowly flood into my room as the night approaches.
Ellen’s asleep again. She likes to sleep a lot, I don’t know why. Something about beauty. I watch one of the corners in my room for a long time before falling asleep.
I wake up the next day. I get up; take a shower; put on my dress. I hurry to the common room with my tray and pills. I’m running a little bit behind schedule, and I don’t want to miss ‘Courage the Cowardly Dog’ this Sunday morning. I sit down next to a freshman, who’s muttering to himself under his breath. He won’t last long. I can already see the pressure getting to him.
I’m more careless today than normal. I don’t know if it’s because I’m still upset about my mom crying last night, or if it’s because I’m wondering where Ellen is today, or if it’s simply because I feel really tired. But, for some reason once I’m done eating I notice that I’ve taken both pills. The red one and blue. For some reason, I feel slightly scared once I realize this, but I shrug the feeling off. It doesn’t really matter; it’s just something I’ve always done, not taking the red pill. I don’t even remember why I don’t take the red pill to begin with.
I throw my tray and things away after Courage is done. I feel a headache growing like a dark thundercloud forming in the back of my head. I go out and walk around for a while. It doesn’t help. If anything, it makes it even worse.
I pass through the white halls to my room’s door. There’s a number plaque nailed on the door. 1612. I get into my room and stand staring inside for a few moments. It looks different, but I can’t place my finger on it. I stumble over to my bed and sit down. My bed feels different. It doesn’t feel as comfy and homey as it did before. The sheets feel taut under my weight and the springs seem to dig into my flesh. I place my head in my hands and stare down at my slippers. I start to rock back and forth. The motion is comforting, but my headache is starting to reach epic proportions.
My brain feels like it’s on fire and a mountain is trying to squash it at the same time. I swear my head is going to split open any second now and my brains are going to ooze onto the sterilized blank tiles. The pain is just too much and—
Suddenly images start flashing through my mind. It’s dark. I’m in my dorm all alone in Princeton. It’s night. Someone’s here. They’d snuck in while I was sleeping. I don’t know who it is. I can’t see his face. It’s so dark. I smell cigarette smoke. It’s wrapping around me, suffocating me, hurting me. He’s on my bed. His hand over my mouth. Who is he?
I don’t know when I’d started screaming. I bring my feet up onto the bed and I scamper backwards into the corner where my bed and walls meet. My nails are digging into my face and skull. I see a blood drop fall onto my bare knees. I draw my hands away from my face and start screaming louder than before. There’s blood on my hands. Blood on my dress. Blood on the white sheets. So much blood. Like that night. Like that awful night.
Two large men in white coats burst into my room. Or are they two white men in large coats? I scream at them to get out, but they don’t heed my cries. They come forward and reach out towards me.
“GET AWAY!” I roar at him. He’s pulling at my sock, and I try to kick at him. His friend grabs my other leg and I start screaming even more. It sounds like my screams are echoing off the white blank walls back at me, but it also sounds like more screams are coming from outside. I can’t tell. All I care about is getting away from these two men.
“Don’t TOUCH ME!” I roar at them. I remember saying those words that night too. I kick, and feel the contact between my foot and one of their faces.
I don’t even feel it when one of them stabs me with the needle. I’m still fighting like a tiger, but I can feel like something is slowly invading me. It’s dividing and conquering my will to fight them off. But I’ll keep fighting. I’ll keep fighting till the end.
Suddenly, there aren’t just two men in the room anymore. The room is full of men. Men without faces, smoking cigarettes, coming menacingly towards me. Then everything goes black.
I come to later on. My eyelids flicker in the darkness, and I let out a low groan. I feel physically tired, but my mind is slowly rebooting. My eyes snap open as I stare wide-eyed around my room.
I’m still in my dorm room, but it’s different. Ellen’s bed isn’t there anymore. The night stand with my cigarettes is gone too. I sit up in my bed and look around. There are claws marks on the walls where Ellen would wake up in the middle of the night and try to climb up the walls. I stand up and walk over to the walls. I place my hand up to the wall, and notice that the marks are only as high as I can reach. I look up at the single window high up on the wall and notice that it has iron bars on it.
I turn around in a circle where Ellen’s bed should be. I look over at my bed and start to walk towards it. I notice that my bed is bolted down to cement. My feet are cold. I slip on my slippers. I reach under my bed for my book and realize it’s gone. The door is locked.
I start to pace the length of the room. This isn’t right. This isn’t right. This isn’t my dorm back at Princeton. Where’s Ellen? What did they do to Ellen? What did those…men…do with her?
My head starts to hurt again and I crawl back towards my bed. I curl up into a ball on my bed and stare at the wall opposite me. I don’t know for how long I stay in that position, but eventually I go back to sleep.
The next day I wake up with a start. I don’t know why. I blink blearily at the blank wall across from me. Ellen’s not back yet. Wonder how long she’s going to stay away this time.
I get up, grab my clothes, and take a shower. Like any other day. Except today someone takes me and walks me down the white halls to Dr. Palmer’s office. We walk down the familiar white halls like we’ve done almost every other day.
The doctor is sitting behind her desk. She looks up and gives me a bright smile.
“Come in. Come in.” She motions for me to enter. I step hesitantly into the room. I cross over to my usual chair and sit down. I stare directly at the psychiatrist.
“Why am I here?” I whisper.
“Where’s here?” She responds. I stare at her.
“No, Alison, you’re not. You’re not in Princeton. You haven’t been in Princeton for over four years.” Shut up. I don’t want to hear this. I don’t—
“You remember, don’t you? What happened? Alison…”
“Don’t.” I whisper. I pull my knees up to my chest and I wrap my arms around my legs.
“Alison. It was the night before your Finals and—“
“NO!” I roar at her. I cover my ears and shake my head violently. I don’t want to hear this anymore. I don’t want to listen. I don’t want to hear it. I just…I just want to be myself. I don’t want this life anymore. I don’t—
I stare at the psychologist sitting behind her sterilized, metallic desk. There aren’t many decorations on her bland desk.
I watch as she hurriedly scratches a note on her notepad. Her right hand writes as her left hand lies elegantly next to the pad on the desk. She glances up at me over the rim of her glasses, and for a few moments we stare at each other. She looks worried, but I can’t remember why.
My eyes drift around her office. I look into her gray eyes once again before glancing down at my knees.
I’m sitting in a large green arm chair, with my knees pulled up to my chest. My arms are wrapped around my legs, and I bring one of my hands to my mouth. I start tearing on my finger nails nervously.