She knew they looked at her chart daily, sometimes multiple times a day. They wrote her name in their notes, as if by doing so, they knew her..... Macy.......She said it out loud sometimes at night, letting it roll off her tongue and trying to remember what it felt like to be plain old Macy, not crazy as bat shit Macy.
Sometimes during a session they would bring up the monster, the one that lived under the bed in the hotel in Cottonville,where she worked as a maid a lifetime ago. The one that insisted on creeping out and tormenting her with its evil grin and its red eyes, The one who started all this trouble and turned her into Crazy Macy instead of plain ordinary Macy. Sometimes they still questioned her about it but not as much as in the early days here.
She listened as the frigid wind swirled around the sign out front, causing it to groan and creak, swinging on the chains that suspended it from the posts. She sat in her bed with her knees pulled up to her chin and shivered more from her thoughts than the cold. She remembered the sign, remembered what it looked like as the ambulance pulled into the circle drive and deposited her on the steps. Clarkson Mental Sanatorium She remembered it even though then, during the early days, she was filled with doubt and considered herself quite as insane as they believed her to be.
For weeks she walked around in a drug induced stupor, barely noticing her surroundings, hardly tasting the food on her tray. She painted in those first weeks here, painted the boogeyman under the bed in brilliant colors rather then the deep gray that was his true color. She painted him red, blue, yellow and orange. Hoping the bright colors might mute his power, making him more clown like. They looked at her painting, whispered about them, ask her to tell stories about them until one day she suddenly just stopped painting. That was just about the same time she started cheeking her medicine, flushing the pills down the toilet when no one was looking,.
Without the numbing effect of the pills, she slept less and in the darkness of her room, late at night, she played over the memories. Played them over and over until she realized that it was not she that was mad but the world of the unseeing that mindlessly went through life oblivious to the existence of these creatures. What had happened there in the hotel was real. It started in that old hotel but she knew it had chased her for awhile, Glimpses of shadowy figures, slithering sounds that never reached the ears of others, a sense of foreboding. it had been there for a while, maybe a few years before it pounced full force into her life with the creature under the bed.
That's how she came to be here and it is here that she meet Henry, the kindest gentlest, old man she had ever met, But he was sad, mired down in the darkness of his despair, mindlessly going through the actions of living. Eating, dressing, walking around empty. They spent hours talking, first about ordinary things like the food, the weather or whatever old TV show they let them watch. But later they talked about the creatures, and when she talked he listened, never questioning, never doubting, accepting her version of the world. She felt guilty because in the end she believed his indifference to the creatures is what let him slip so easily into their world.
One day they sat together in the sun room, curled up in the faded chairs, carefully keeping an eye out for the orderlies. Neither wanted to be caught talking about the forbidden subjects.
"So Mace, what do you think happened at the hotel after you left?" Henry asked, scruffy eyebrows raised as he peered at her over the magazine he was pretending to read.
She shrugged, "I don't know, perhaps it continued or perhaps it passed on to some other place. No one saw it but me. They all lived in their own make believe reality, where monsters don't exist. But Henry I know they do."
"Oh I believe you girly, I really do. I've been fighting them for years." his voice cracked as he spoke.
"Now Henry we've been over this before, that's not the same thing at all....."
"And why not? It's just as likely that this black gloom is a slug encrusted with despair just as probable as chemical imbalance? Can't prove...chemical imbalance.. any more than a thick, soul sucking, slug."
She put down her magazine and thought about what he had just said. She supposed it could be true. She had never seen anything lingering around Henry but she imagined there were lots of things she may have missed. Perhaps it buried deep into him while he slept or maybe it was inside him right now, nestled at his core sucking away at his life force.
He watched her closely, waiting as if her word was authority. Their eyes met and she nodded her agreement. it was possible, after all she had no idea how many creatures existed, just outside the realm of consciousness. But there was danger in such acknowledgement. As if the act of accepting their existence, gave them breathe, brought them into being, as an author creates characters.
She decided to confide in him about what she sensed upstairs. In the hallway of the third floor, she had started to notice damp footprints on the old tile floor. They appeared without warning but sometimes on the very edges of her hearing she heard faint footsteps, falling like a gentle rain in the long, empty hallway. He listened quietly and nodded.
"Any time when they appear more often?" he asked but before she could answer an orderly showed up and briskly told them it was time to return to their rooms for afternoon quiet time. Macy wanted to roll her eyes. Quiet time was contrived for the express purpose of getting all the patients in their rooms for medication.
Back in her room, medicine lodged in her cheek, she waited for the orderly to disappear before she shuffled to the bathroom to flush the pill. A creeping cold crawled over her skin in the bathroom and she felt eyes watching her. She jerked around but there was nothing there other than the sterile white walls of the institution. The feeling nagged at her as she climbed into bed, even without the medicine she was sleepy. Sometimes she slept and other times she lay with her eyes closed replaying things in her mind over and over again. In therapy they called it perseverating. She had stopped talking about it after a while because she grew leery of their prodding.
She closed her eyes and dozed for what she thought was only a few minutes when she felt someone standing over her. Terror gripped her and she clenched her eyes tighter,willing whoever or whatever it was to go away. She could feel a hot misty breath on her face, someone was leaning in to kiss her. She heard a slight chuckle, it knew she was awake, pretending to sleep, avoiding seeing it. She felt the exact moment it moved away from the bed and her eyes flew open. She caught only a glimpse of a shadowy figure as it stepped into the wall and vanished. She struggled to draw in her breath, for an instant wishing she had taken the pill today, then she would have been in such deep slumber nothing would have awoken her. Trembling under the sheet she held tightly against her, she wondered what it wanted.
The sun room was ablaze with sunshine in the late afternoon, it cascaded off of her but did little to warm her. She hadn't slept again after the encounter in her room and she wished she knew where Henry was. He hadn't shown up as he usually did after they were released from the cells of their rooms. She worried that he was somewhere immobile, the fat slug of despair sucking unrelenting at him.
He wasn't but she had no way of knowing that. Instead he sit on the bottom step of the stairs, with the steps leading to the third floor behind him. Face buried in his hands, he rocked slightly back and forth, it wasn't despair that gripped him. Instead doubt and confusion surged through him. He had considered telling the girl the whole of his story; why he had ended up here at the sanatorium. Now he felt like he had waited too long to do so. She had bared her soul to him, offered up her stories, her reality, like caviar on a silver platter but he had kept a morsel of his own hidden. Partly because it confused him and he couldn't tease out the fact from the fiction. He wasn't sure what parts were his own reality and what were nuggets planted there inside him by others.
Before Clarkson, he had been successful. Well, if success could be measured by dollars. He had money; plenty of it even though he burnt through a lot of it. He had laughed and loved and lost like just about everybody else on this hellish planet. Until the night they came, asking questions, looking, tapping here and there, while he sat with the unfolded search warrant open on his life. He hadn't even known Sasha was missing.
They had quarreled several days previously and she had simply left, or at least he had thought she left, but as it would turn out, she had been there all the time, not answering his calls or texts, but how could she? They found her tucked inside the wall, wrinkled from the heat, grimacing in death in a somewhat similar way to how she smiled in life. The thing is...he hadn't remembered putting her there, he wasn't sure he had, but they were sure. They couldn't explain it; the wall was solid with no signs of repair, so that one thing couldn't be explained but still they were sure, so sure. And so he accepted what they said and let them lead him away, the deep darkness of it clinging to him like a second skin.
Now he sat here, worried, he hadn't told the girl and wondered if he should. It hadn't mattered before. No one here cared about the past, or cast cautious glances at others, they simply coexisted; living the mundane life of the hospital. But now he felt a connection, as co conspirators, together in a broken world. So the heavy black stone of regret settled in the pit of his stomach. Something she had said, nudged at him, he wanted her to know; needed to ask her about something that teased at the corners of his memory. Everyone had been so sure, everyone except him; and now it ate at him worse than the slug of despair.
The next morning he found her in the corner of the sun room, dark circles under her eyes, jittery and keyed up more than he had ever seen her before. He flopped on the sofa right next to her. Forget about the damn orderlies.
"What's up girly?" he asked patting her knee as he spoke. She looked at him with mournful eyes...
"There's something here, it's happening again" she whispered and a single tear slid down her left cheek.
He didn't speak, he waited, watching her closely out of the corner of his eye. He barely breathed. Then the story burst forth from her like a volcano spewing lava and ash. It came in hot bursts, fear filled, words like burning embers. He wasn't surprised at her words but he was surprised at her terror. In all the times she had talked about the hotel monster, she had never trembled, her voice had always been strong and steady. Now she looked like a fragile child.
"It just disappeared into the wall." her words floated to him like the fluttering wings of a butterfly, he gasped at them. they reminded him of his own story and the body in the wall, She cast an odd glance his way and before he really had time to weigh his words, he unraveled the story of his past, wrapping her in his own doubt and remorse.
When he finished they both sat staring at each other, not speaking but letting the idea of the wall creature caress their thoughts, sending shivers to the very core of their beings. She wasn't afraid of him, even if he had murdered someone, there were far worse things in this world than a murder committed in anger. She should know. If he had murdered a lover in anger, which she doubted, she could comprehend that. Where the emotions came from, how quick the heart can flip from love to hate. That was easy to understand, easier than the creatures that slithered through the landscape of her life.
Several days and several whispered conversations later, they were sneaking together through the third floor hallway when it happened. The creature, long bony fingers beckoning, stepped right out of the wall in front of them. It's elongated head with ebony black eyes twisted to peer at them. Both she and Henry were frozen, staring in astonishment at the creature they were both pursuing and running from. The dark eyes looked first at Macy and then at Henry, the mouth stretching into a grimace. Or perhaps it was smiling, Macy couldn't be sure.
None of them spoke, but Henry whimpered, and at that exact moment, the creature locked gazes with Henry and beckoned with a slender finger. Henry's soulful eyes looked at her for an instant and then he was stepping forward. Before Macy had a chance to react, Henry grasped at the creature and the two disappeared into the wall, leaving her staring after them with open mouth.
They found her wandering the upstairs hallways calling Henry's name. When they placed the medication inside her dry mouth, she gulped from the glass and gratefully swallowed the pill, following it into oblivious darkness. In a hazy daze of pills and grief, she slept for days, awaking only for short periods of time, in which she stared fearfully at the walls, both hoping and dreading that Henry might step out of one and beckon her to follow.
She was never quite sure how she managed it but she pulled herself together. Perhaps it was her desperate need to leave this place that propelled her into action. But eventually she walked out the doors into the sunshine, eternally grateful to have escaped before Henry had come to call.
She took a bus, she couldn't remember which one, changing them frequently, traveling aimlessly for miles. Trying to run away but never really escaping, in her heart she had come to realize there is no escape. Just this side of insanity is a barren, desolate place, it reeks of despair, gasping for life but finding only a wasteland; it withers inside, stalking the soul. In agony it waits.