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The Wrong World
She woke up screaming in the middle of the night, ice-cold sweat trickling down her back and her breath coming in sharp gasps. Emotionally exhausted tears followed and she pressed her face into her hands to stifle them. There were no windows in her cell, no moonlight to comfort her. She hugged her knees to her chest and rocked herself back and forth to calm down.
“It was just a dream. Just a dream. Just a dream,” she murmured between sobs.
But it had felt so terribly real. She could smell the sweat coming off the priest as he held her down and sprinkled holy water over her head. His words echoed in her ears, tolling like angry belfry. The holy water burned against her skin and the ropes cut into her wrists when she pulled against her restrains, trying only to wipe the burning water from her face. The comforting words from her worried family members meshed with her agonized shrieks, contorting into a horrific ballad. But it was the pulling in her chest that made her cringe. He was pulling something crucial out of her, something so important and special to her. It felt like he had ripped her soul out of her heart. She always woke up screaming at that point.
She covered her mouth and tried not to make a sound so she won’t alarm the night-shift nuns. In the morning her parents would pick her up and she could resume a normal life. After all, the doctor had said she was making progress. Not much longer now and she would be out of this horrible place.
After the exorcism, Lara had seemed to loose all memory and personality. It was as if the demon had been a part of her and when they took it out, they took a part of her out as well. But she wasn’t talking to mirrors anymore or claiming to see things that weren’t there. So the exorcism had been a success, for the most part.
But when she stopped speaking and her eyes remained forward, blank and unperceiving, and she stopped doing anything voluntarily, her parents grew worried. They sent her to the sanitarium where the nuns and doctors could care for her until she recovered from the incident.
It had been three years. Lara learned everything all over again and spoke of her own accord sometimes. She even requested reading materials once. It seemed her personality was coming back and even more docile and gentle than before. The nuns were proud of her recovery but little did they know she was still empty inside. She had learned what they expected of her. She learned what she had to do to let them release her. So she pretended to be alive and care and think for herself. But her mind was damaged.
“Lara?” Her mother asked when they came for her in the morning. Lara smiled and gave her a big hug but in the depths of her mind she could not recall that this was her mother. She would do anything to get away from the doctors and nuns and windowless cells.
Her father gave her a hug and kissed her forehead and all together they went to speak with the doctor.
“Yes, I do believe she has recovered well enough to be returned to her home,” he said proudly from behind his mahogany desk. Lara smiled while she thought about how much she hated him. The strange thing was, she knew she hated him but she didn’t feel hatred for him. It was just a fact that she acknowledged while she plastered a smile on her face.
“She doesn’t speak much, you’ll find. But I think that will return when you get her home and have things to talk about,” he assured the people who were her parents. And smiles were passed all around as the necessary paper work was filled out.
She got to wear a real dress with underwear and stockings and gloves and a hat when she left. It was a pleasant change from the shapeless, airy gown she had worn for three years. She thanked her parents for the clothes because she thought that would be expected of a sane person. Quietly, inside of herself she laughed. What a clever escape this was! She had them fooled. She was still very insane, empty and hallow inside with no memory and a reoccurring nightmare she didn’t realize had actually happened.
Three weeks at home and they still thought she was well on her way to being a normal adolescent girl. Everything seemed to be going well. They didn’t know her memories were coming back.
Something inside of her, that broken shard of her soul that kept her body alive, pulled her towards the courtyard. Random, miss-match statues meandered though the gardens there. Years ago her parents went through a paranoid crisis where they believed no one perceived them as wealthy. So they splurged on random artwork, clothing, and statues for their ill-kept courtyard and threw a dinner party.
Lara woke up in the middle of the night again, not by a nightmare but rather by a feeling. This tugging on what was left of her soul pulled her out into the moonlit courtyard where the statues stood silent. She was about to go back to bed when she heard a faint, low growl from behind her. It wasn’t a threatening growl. Just a deep, feral noise to get her attention. She followed this low sound and the urging feeling to the corner of the garden where a large stone statue of a crouching tiger seemed to growl under its breath.
She remembered this statue. She had picked it out when her parents where in the fit of their crisis. As a child, she had played on this statue, pretending to ride on its back and scratch its chin. Many days where spent out here by this statue. And then she had been exorcised and sent to the sanitarium and had forgotten most of it. But why would she feel drawn back to this statue? And why did it seem to growl at her, catching her attention? Perhaps the large cat wanted its chin scratched again, she thought bizarrely to herself.
When she reached out and touched the stone tiger, she didn’t feel stone. Rather she felt soft fur. And then the tiger wasn’t made of stone anymore, but of living flesh and fur. He seemed to smile at her as he stretched his paws out in front of him. He shook off the last fragments of stone from his silky, black-striped, white fur and turned his attention on her.
“Ah, it’s been far too long,” he sighed as he rubbed up against her stomach in the way a cat might rub up against her knees. Pleasantly surprised she stroked his back. Something was so wonderfully familiar about him. “You don’t remember me, do you?” He asked in a low growl of a voice, while still sounding friendly and unthreatening.
“No, I don’t. But I feel as though I should,” she said. And something was changing inside of her. She felt curious…real, actual curiosity. And more than that. She felt happy, like she had finally met a long lost friend. Feeling returned to her numb mind and the emptiness at her core was beginning to be pushed aside to make room for something more tangible.
He stood back on his hind legs and placed a paw on each shoulder, looking deeply into her eyes. “What have they done to you, Lara, my sweet? You look hallow.”
“I feel hallow. At least I did. I don’t feel so hallow anymore,” she admitted, rather liking the feel of his paws on her shoulders and the sound of his voice. “Who are you, tiger?”
“I’m not a tiger. This is just a form. When they took me away from you, I found the statue where we often played and I became it. I knew you would come back to it someday and release me to be with you again,” his voice smiled. She felt like embracing him but wasn’t sure if it was appropriate or not. Just as she thought this, he switched his form from that of the tiger into that of a boy about her age. The similarities between them could have led others to assume they were siblings. He pulled her in close and she melted, feeling happy and whole again.
“You’re the part of me they took out with the demon?” She said.
“Yes and no,” he chuckled, still holding her close. “Lara, I am your demon. Don’t you remember? We were made together as one being, just like it was meant to be. But we were born into the wrong world. A mistake by the angels perhaps. It doesn’t really matter. But the people here thought we were an abomination and they separated us because we are different.” And suddenly Lara remembered what it was like to be connected to the one she loved and how terrible it had been when they had been torn apart, how the sheer terror of it had traumatized her and how she had blocked the horrible memories out.
In this world, no one would be able to precieve him because he was meant to be as close as her own soul. After the exorcism, however, he could never be a physical part of her. So instead he stood beside her, outside of her, as a ghost or a spirit but with as much love and campanionship as if they were still one being. It didn't matter anymore, as lng as they were together.
All night long they laid out on the grass, putting her memories back in her head and relishing the feeling of being whole and loved again. Everything was right, right at that moment.
The next morning, her parents saw her giggling to herself out on the law, eyes far-off and blank again but in a different way. It was like she was seeing things again like she had so long ago. She tried to explain to her parents what had happened but they didn’t understand. How could they? They were from this world.
Her parents called the priest and told him what had happened and he came right away. But they had already escaped by the time he got there. She wasn't going back. They weren’t made for this world and this world would never understand.
I saw them traveling the countryside once while I was on business. She had become a full grown woman by that time, beautiful and alone (it seemed). to anyone else, it would seem as though she had lost her mind, talking continually to somone no one believed existed and her eyes far off with admiration. When I spoke to them, I don't think they heard me, so distracted by each other. But whether they were listening or not, I told them that I was sorry and that mistakes like this happened far too often and that it would all be made right in the afterlife but until then that they should enjoy their life together here, in this world. And even though they didn't seem to mind as long as they were together in some form, I still felt bad about the whole thing.