“Hello, patient. What are you doing in the staff-only wing; are we lost or are we trying to violate the restricted section?”
“Nonsense, I don’t know about ‘we’ but I for one have a perfectly valid reason for being here. Now would you mind taking your hands off of me and taking a step back? Come on now, this hallway is plenty roomy for two people when one of them is undernourished.”
“Don’t get smart with me, little girl.”
“Don’t pin me to the wall, older man.” Woah now that was way too defiant. He might be a way older man, but you’re a dead little girl. Now I can’t even tell which side of the conversation harbors more resentment.
“Very well.” I hear a delayed squeak as Austen’s body slides down from the wall and some taps as her feet move away from it trying to find stable ground again. Through the peephole, I see her shake a little.
The fear comes off her body like radio waves, and I can’t decide if that’s good or bad from me. I don’t even know her but I don’t like the way her chest is contracting and expanding because it just seems like something about her was broken and haphazardly thrown back together to make it look like nothing ever happened.
“Now,” he demands to know with a mouth that quite frankly is way too similar to a snake snapping at its oblivious prey so satisfied, “Why do you think you have the right to go creeping around restricted areas?”
For a minute I think she might crack but she holds it together like someone who’s already been through this too many times. From afar I can see there’s grit to this girl that not everyone builds up for themselves. But, you know what they say: the most damaged people are the wisest.
The most damaged people are the wisest.
This damaged girl turns on the most charm she can with the twang in her tongue coming on strong, but Dr. Blake must be damaged too because he knows how to spar, responding in somewhat false kind.
“Well, I’m here for a meeting with your wife of course.”
“Planning your lobotomy already, dearest?” I think he’s got her there. Because who is he to throw it in her face that she’s a caged animal? Because, oh yeah, he’s the doctor whose wife will decide if she ever gets her own key back. He’s also the man who decided last night that I talk too much for a teenage boy so now I don’t get to talk, but that is just not the point.
“We’ll just have to see what Dr. Flintkey-Pickett thinks of that,” she drawls, the Colorado dialect so strong it drowns out the t’s in everything she says.
“Ms. Copeland, there you are!”
“Mrs. Blake, there you are!” The lady neurosurgeon is ready to offer a slap in the face for that little dig, but she’s simply too far down the hallway.
She stands prim and proper and gestures for Austen to follow her into the pit of darkness she calls an office. Or so I assume. I haven’t been here long enough to know anything for sure.
Austen acquiesces, which frankly, was the foolhardiest and bravest thing she possibly could have done in that situation. Confronted with a monster practically on top of her and a far more dangerous demon down the hall- and make no mistake about it, the molten eyes ready to spread death and despair and smile carved for war were more dangerous than her husband’s sterile coldness- the girl simply folded her hands and moved forward.
What a girl, huh?
The female Dr. Blake, who I’d learned from Austen was not the spinster sister but the wife of the male Dr. Blake, led her patient down the hall so far I couldn’t even see them anymore. Her husband stayed and turned to the side slightly to plant his rock-like hands on his hips. He was growling, or at least that’s how I perceived the situation, about how the girl had escaped his clutches one more time, for the last time. Or something.
I saw more than heard the subsequent sigh of frustration, but the next one was more pronounced to my ears. He stalked in the opposite direction from the hidey hole his wife had gone down into, which I suppose was good for Austen. It would be just her and the lady doctor and the kinder doctor I’d already met, the one with the weird name and the normal name right after it. Three different people on three different sides.
I wondered why that seemed so familiar to me as if it was a video game controller I held right in my grasp but at the same time one just beyond my reach. Oh shit. I realized as footsteps hit me all of a sudden, that while some stranger I’d been watching and eavesdropping on reckoned with one Blake, the other was headed directly for me. Now that is a cardiac arrest if ever I’ve known one.
Thanks for reading this piece, a novel excerpt functioning as an independent short story. This scene takes place in a mental hospital where the main character is being watched by a new patient as she fights off the two doctors who are trying to lobotomize her in the dystopian world of America as the mid-2040s become a land without time or law.
Want more of Austen’s story? Read an early draft of the very beginning here. Also, let me know what you think of it as I’m still improving the nuances of the story and because I’d like to publish more excerpts if you’d like to read them.