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Mark runs his hands along the grimy walls of the metal cell, walking an endless circle in the darkness whilst seeking escape. There’s nothing for him to see or do; nothing except think of what led to his incarceration. He curls up in the corner of the gloomy cell and lets out a few shaky breaths before leaning his head against the grungy wall and closing his eyes.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"You can't run forever!" the man yells, laughing at me over the sound of surgical drills and thumping footsteps in the narrow hallway. His voice reverberates, sending chills down my spine as I struggle to limp forward.Desperately, I try to launch myself over the gurneys and around the old-fashioned wheelchairs, but as I step to avoid one of the wheels, I stumble and fall. As I sit with the pain surging in my bleeding left leg, the man approaches with a smirk.
He grins, "I told you, you can't run forever".
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Stepping out of the car, I glance at the bare trees, their molted leaves at their base; rotting. The sky casts a grey tint on the landscape as I shut the car door and make my way down the cobblestone path. I close my eyes and inhale sharply, breathing in the brisk winter air and the smell of dead bluegrass. It’s been so long since I’ve been in Kentucky, so long since I’ve seen my family, my mother. I don’t think she’s ever been the same since Dad lost his battle with cancer.
I open my eyes to see the grand stone building, standing two stories tall in the middle of nowhere, separated from the rest of the world. The heels of my boots click on the stone path with every step as I near the double doors of the Wooded Hills Psychiatric Center. The doors open with a surprising ease and the strong odor of disinfectant hits me. Trying not to gag, I step inside, flinching as the door slams behind me. There’s a distant scraping sound like someone is dragging something metal across concrete, but I dismiss it and approach the small vacant help desk. A thick layer of dust covers the sign-in sheets on a clipboard and the telephone. Looking at the wooden desk, in the dust, there are two smeared handprints leading to the edge. Pictures of pretentious looking people hang on the walls, crooked and yellowed. Small gold and silver plaques lay just an inch below every one of them, hoping to grasp someone’s attention. I move to straighten one as a thump surges down the hall and into the lobby. The room is silent for a moment. Thump, thump, thump. The noise grows louder and quicker with every passing second. Something electrical zaps and explodes, leaving the room dark and silent. I stand there, unmoving; silent.
“Boo”, a man whispers just a few centimeters from my ear.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Mark suddenly surges forward, finding himself in a cold sweat. The events from what seems like a few hours ago still fresh in his mind, looping like a never-ending reel of film on a projector. He runs his hands through his hair frantically, his hands shaking and his breathing jagged. Tears slip from his eyes as he feels for his leg; he hasn’t felt it since he woke up. Did he even still have his leg? Patting the ground in panic, Mark feels something thick, something squishy and wet; meaty like a cut steak left out too long. He exhales, relieved.
"Where did that lady even go?", Mark says coldly under his breath.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The man keeps walking toward me, his greasy black hair hanging over his crazy eyes.
"I can't move my leg. S***!", I mumble, trying to somehow pick up my leg.
He reaches into his pocket, each step becoming slower and slower, and pulls out a small, yet sharp blade rusted over with blood. His smirk grows into a full-fledged smile as he lunges forward to deliver a deadly blow.
"Leave him be, Gerard!", a lady's voice booms from behind the man.
"Bu-", the man tries to get out before he finds a knife in the back of his skull.
I try to move my body, but it fights back, either out of fear or desire to stay, to see how it’ll end. The aggressor stands behind the corpse for a moment and then lunges forward, piercing the dead body over and over with the blade. I can't help but watch how clean her cuts are, the swift motion of the blade with every strike.
She stops and stands, looking at me with a bitter uncertainty in her eyes, as if she is waiting for me to do something. I move to get off the ground as fast as possible, turning to dart down the hallway, but there's a dead end. To the right, I see an adjacent hallway.
Limping, I hear a loud but somehow gentle whistle echoing in the maze filled with padded cells and IV fluid stands. I try to force my body to move faster but it fights me. I look down. Arms, legs, body parts. Everywhere. Blood. The blood is smeared as if the hall were canvas. What an interesting medium.
Stealthily, I crouch behind a small, metal table with surgical tools. I snatch one of the tiny, beautiful blades and move to another hallway. Looking up, I see it: a small sign with bright red lettering saying "Exit". I move to a standing position and hobble toward the slightly ajar door, only to have it slammed shut. I turn to see the lady standing just a yard away, the blood-covered knife in hand.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"Why can't I be that graceful?", Mark spoke aloud. "Why can't I be that beautiful?!", he spoke louder, almost yelling.He puts his hands up to his face as he slowly shifts his weight forward and back. He mutters incomprehensible words."I wasted my chance!", Mark suddenly screams. "I could have been art! I could have made art..." he fades into silence. He puts his arms in front of him, pulls up the sleeves, and sits there for a moment, staring intently at where his wrists would be in the engulfing darkness. "I can make art", he whispers to the darkness.
Mark starts to scratch and scrapes at the tender flesh on his wrists, even though he cannot see. The scratches begin slowly, paying close attention to detail as if he were painting on a canvas. He peels away pieces like a 2-year-old shredding paper. Mark smiles sadistically, his eyes twitching with a gleam of insanity.
“I can be beautiful…” he mutters
He claws at his skin; his fingers covered with sticky crimson.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
She walks toward me. I expect to be hit by the blade, to be stricken down like the man from before, but she throws it to the ground. The blade skitters like a rock across the water until it hits a wall. When I look back, she's only a foot away from me. She tilts her head to the side, her long black hair shifting to her right, hanging in her eyes. "Why is it that you are here?" she asks in a higher register than before. I remain silent, unable to speak the words I desperately wish to say. "Not a talker, huh?", she says as she steps even closer.
She speaks slowly as she crouches in front of me, "That's alright, you will be soon".
I open my mouth to speak, but words do not come out. She reaches forward, cupping my face in her hand, and smiles. There's a loud bang to the left behind her and I lean over to see the commotion. Before I can catch a glimpse she clutches my face firmly, pushing me back against the wall. The woman looks into my eyes as she reaches behind her, taking out a dagger appearing to be fairly sharp. "Never avert your attention to a potentially lethal enemy", she says sternly, as if I were a young boy and she an instructor.
I'm barely able to hold back another scream as she twists the blade, digging deeper and deeper into the already exposed tissue. "Always be alert". she pauses. "Always expect the worst".
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Light footsteps, like a child’s bare feet on a concrete floor, pitter patter toward Mark’s cell and stop. Muffled whistling as Mark hears the handle on the door turn, the painful squeak of an unoiled knob. He lunges forward, dragging his leg behind him as he forces himself to the door. He pounds violently. “Let me out!”, he screams, “Let me out, dammit!”.
After a few minutes of furiously banging on the unrelenting door, he sits back down, his head in his hands, whimpering. The handle squeaks once more, but Mark doesn’t even flinch; he only sits there, mumbling gibberish. A sliver of light growing each passing second until it engulfs half of the room in a faint, blue light; illuminating blood streaks on the walls and floor, big, bold lettering carved into the metal walls saying “HELP”. Blinded by the sudden light he had not seen in what he perceived to be days, Mark covers his eyes for a second, blinking to adjust his vision. A striking silhouette of the lady from before stands in the doorway, her long hair hanging loosely just below her waist. Mark remains silent as he curls himself tightly into a ball in the corner, bleating.
“You’ve been punished enough, haven’t you?” She smiles. “God can be especially cruel, but that’s why you have us.” She kneels down, barely two feet from Mark, and gives an evil grin. With her face so close to his, it finally clicks.
“Mom?” he says weakly.
She outstretches a hand.
“Welcome home, sweetie. I’ve missed you”.