The shiny streamer hanging by a thread from the white tiled ceiling enthralls me. It is the only one left that has survived the years of death that has been carried out of this place one by one. It is red like the sad cries of vampires.
I giggle under my breath as I swiftly—but not too swiftly—slide my grippy socks against the cheap linoleum—they could afford tiles on the ceiling but not on the floor?—and plaster my backside against the far side, tapping my fingertips gently with the wall. I forget what a smile is at this point, but my eyes feel tingly like when you hang upside down and all the blood rushes to your head, and I can see what’s right in front of me, and that is kind of the same thing.
Like it’s a stubborn tooth, the word no with too many os on the end is yanked from the far end with a pair of rusty pliers. The boy who never speaks screams again, and in 2.4 seconds he is strapped down, stabbed, and unconscious. He brings books and silk flowers to my room late at night, but he has anxiety, and everyone in this place knows not to fuck with the anxious patient. Contrary to popular belief, they are the unstable ones. At least the schizophrenics will just kill you. That motherfucker in the straitjacket would make you feel bad about it as you lay there bleeding all over the floor, and would expect you to apologize after you were dead.
I didn’t take my meds this morning and it feels fantastic to be alive. But if they see me laughing, they’ll know, and I’ll be him, dragged into a room and fed my own brains for brunch. So, just like I’m supposed to in this cage, I look down at the cheap floor whilst they carry the limp body down the hallway and disappear into a far door. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were still electrocuting fools in there and calling it therapy. How did I know; I hadn’t been caught doing something stupid yet.
Katerina is staring at me from across the hallway. That is actually her real name. Well, part of it. She is beautiful, in a very normal way that is abnormal because it is no longer normal. No one wore makeup in this place—we were lucky to have access to that prison soap that dried out your skin so badly that it felt like fire ants were eating you alive—but, unlike all the other young girls in here, myself included, Kat wouldn’t need it out in the real world. She is naturally beautiful, and a natural-born homicidal maniac. Especially when people call her Kat.
I smile, and she is like a mirror, if I had blonde hair and sapphire eyes, which I do not. My eyes are the same color as my hair and my hair is the same color as dirt.
Kat tiptoes over, tapping her foot to an Authors song. I am giddy because I skipped my meds this morning, and she is giddy because she skips her meds every morning. She sees the crisp glimmer in my eyes and she is excited without really showing it. Katerina Varennikov is the most intelligent person in here, and possibly out there. Her IQ is that of a worldwide two percentile, and she is as crafty as she is brutal. She could kill me before I knew I had upset her and if for some reason she couldn’t, The Brothers would without so much as a moment’s notice. I knew that as sure as I knew my own name, and she knew that I knew it. It’d been three weeks since she metaphorically attached herself to my brain on her arrival day, and the bare truth was that I had no idea why she was still here. She could set this place on fire if she wanted to. But for some reason, she hadn’t yet.
Over Kat’s shoulder, as I watch our doctor approach in her autochthonous white coat, Kat synonymously slides, very slowly, against the wall and down to the floor.
The youngish doctor, who is prettier than everything else in here—except Varennikov, of course—stops gently in her sixty-year-old rubber shoes, and kindly asks Kat if she is okay.
“Yes, ma’am,” Kat sings quietly in her girl-next-door melody, “just tired today.”
“Get some rest, dear,” the doctor says, touching her hair gently, “you’ll feel better tomorrow.”
Glaring widely at the doctor’s back as she moves on, it takes everything I have not to let the hilarity of it all escape. I succeed. It’s only a matter of time before I don’t.
Sensing the doctor’s disappearance, with the earlier freakish anxiety attack, I kneel down next to Kat, keeping a safe distance for any nurse’s death eagle eye. We are not to touch each other. Ever.
“Wanna get out of here?” Kat asks me.
I laugh, ever so quietly. “To where?”
My eyes twinkle as my entire existence morphs into a thin line.
“Fuck yes, I am.”
Looks like she found the matches. Right in Dr. Donna Woodings’ pocket.
**The above story was written for Social Bookshelves in their support of Dyslexia Action. It is a play off of one of the chapters in The Brothers, a standalone literary coming late 2015.
An American novelist, book critic, and magazine editor from Burbank, California, Allie Burke writes books she can’t find in the bookstore. Having been recognized as writing a “kickass book that defies the genre it’s in”, Allie writes with a prose that has been labeled poetic and ethereal.
Her life is a beautiful disaster, flowered with the harrowing existence of inherited eccentricity, a murderous family history, a faithful literature addiction, and the intricate darkness of true love. These are the enchanting experiences that inspire Allie’s fairytales.
From some coffee shop in Los Angeles, she is working on her next novel.
Praise for Paper Souls:
“This novel is beautifully disturbing. Burke is a genius.” -Author Melanie Karsak