You ask so many questions. There is very few to answer as you know more than you let on. I see your blue eyes full of an unquenchable curiosity, even when you are simply examining the water stains on your kitchen window. You are the only thing I have ever loved more than myself and this is proof to take with you.
Sometimes life spirals and turns, but you can always travel back if you know where to go. The riddle you are is something I cannot write, but it is buried in my heart. There is someone waiting for you; time suspends here, but there is no end there. Find the key; you will know it by the sight of falling water’s rain. I wish you luck and I will miss you, dragonfly. Never forget the truth; never forget yourself.
Avery had been reading that same note since she was four years old. She’d watched her mother escape to the next room and heard her scribbling away while her daughter had played with her new crayons. She spent more time chewing on them than drawing, but just the same she was having fun that day. The fun had not lasted past the first screech from the floor above her.
It had been thirteen years, but Avery could not forget the horned beasts that had thundered down the stairs. She had hidden under the couch being skinny enough to fit just barely. Her heart had pounded and then she had heard the cries. There was a fight and then Lana had run out into the den. Avery’s eyes had locked with her mother and then the beasts had caught up and drug her away.
“Avery,” the strike of her roommate’s pencil made her focus, “If you want to pass the psych exam, try to scratch less. Yeah?”
“Who said I wanted to pass?” Avery looked to Therese, “We’ve got good food and so many toys to play with. Besides, the world is boring; you lack the imagination for Cedar Hills.”
“Have they upped your dosage again, wild card?” one of the guys peeked into the room, “They tried me on this new sedative. I nearly bit the nurse’s hand off in my sleep.”
“That’s horrible,” Therese insisted.
“It depends on the nurse. Gabriel has earned a few bite marks, but he has so many hickeys already,” Avery laid on her side, “Wanda is nice. She fluffs my pillows for me. If I am going to stay here, I best be comfortable.”
“She’s been like this all morning,” her roommate got to her feet, “Avery, don’t you want to get better? Do you realize how hard the rest of us are trying to get out of this place? Don’t you want to try leaving away from here? Go back to your home, or your family? I’ve stayed in these room for three months and you hardly need the meds.”
“I think she wants to snitch on me,” the girl looked to Kris, “Should I tell her the truth? They might start me biting arms.”
“Our ward mate here is a special case, Therese. No family and no home to speak of; they would set her up in a group home until she was eighteen, but not like this,” Kris looked her over, “Avery does not want to get better. Do you, Avery?”
“Why bounce around homes?” she found herself playing with the dragonfly pendant that hung from her neck.
“We should go and eat,” Therese ran her hands over the damages on her wrists.
“You two should go and eat. Perhaps you’ll see the sun in each other’s eyes and run into the sunset, but be warned, Kris likes his boys and girls and lots of them,” she teased and Therese shot her a look before leaving with Kris following close behind her. Once they were gone, Avery smiled for the nurse who brought her meds. She put them in her mouth and swallowed before opening her mouth to prove the task was done.
“Do you want some music, sweetheart?” she asked her.
“Don’t call me that,” Avery sat on the floor, “I want my books. You said I could have them back if I was good all week. I’ve been good. Please.”
“I’ll talk to Joyce,” she took Avery’s arm and looked over the scratches, “Have you been having daydreams again? If the medicine isn’t helping, I could suggest an alternative treatment.”
“Nothing better for schizophrenia and depression than a pill of capsules,” Avery drank more of her water, “Please ask about my books. I was really enjoying The Silmarillion. I love Tolkien and it’s my last Middle Earth book.” The nurse sighed before nodding and leaving with the empty glass. “They are hiding somewhere,” Avery muttered to herself, “You didn’t imagine them. You know you didn’t.” She laid on her side and put her hand into her pocket feeling the soft parchment of the note. She knew you weren’t crazy, she told herself.
“Ava, my dear, I hear you are requesting your books back,” Joyce walked in with Avery’s prized satchel. The girl did not speak for fear that they would be taken away from her again. “I want you to read one at a time and let us know if you start to confuse realities. Alright, sweetheart?”
“You all need to stop calling me that. I am not that sweet,” she got to her feet.
“The Silmarillion as promised; I bookmarked the page and after that, maybe you could read one of our picks. The Science of Emotions is a good read and it could do you good.”
“I’ll try it,” Avery lied.
“Good girl,” Joyce squeezed her hand before leaving, “Try and wear your shoes during the day, Ava. You know four of Therese’s needles are still missing on the floor somewhere.”
“I’ll take it under advisement,” she nodded and Joyce chuckled before finally leaving the room. Avery changed out of her day clothes; a long black shirt and a pair of leggings and put on her fluffy cloud pajamas. She opened the book to where the ribbon sat and began to read. Most girls read for enjoyment, but Avery had never read only for fun. She was always searching; always hunting for those things that had taken her mother away. By ten years old, she was convinced that fantasy and reality were not as far off as most believed and now she searched fantasy fiction for any creatures described as horned dogs, or anything of that sort.
“Avery,” the voice of the male nurse came from above her, but she ignored him, “You missed supper. You know you are meant to eat with the other kids.” She focused on the words and tried to tune him out. “Perhaps your reading was a bad idea,” he put his hand on the book.
“No,” she looked up finally.
“That’s a girl. Now will you come to the cafeteria with me? If you behave yourself, I will get you some Skittles from the vending machine,” he told her in the same condescending tone as always, “You cannot sit in here all day, sweetheart. What will that accomplish? You want to get better, don’t you?”
“Yes,” she said though she did not know if that was the truth, “I want to get better. I want to leave here.”
“Good girl,” he patted her head before leaving the room. Avery kept her fingers in the book holding her place and took the book with her as she followed the nurse. The janitorial staff gave her the same odd, nervous glances as they always did. This was not the first time she had shown up in pajamas and barefeet to dinner. Avery focused on her book while Gabriel went to get her some food. She was reading at the Belrocs when he placed a tray before and put a fork in her hand. “Eat up,” he ordered and Avery’s grip tightened on her fork, “Or do you want me to feed you like a little bird today?”
“You should be fired,” she set book down and began to eat her cold mashed potatoes, creamed corn and nibble on her chicken sandwich. He watched her the whole time and she felt as unnerved as she always did when she was being observed. What if one of them noticed that when she was supposed to take her night pills that she was hidden them in her cheek? She needed that time to allow her mind would be free to wander without the grogginess of sleep distracting her. Gabriel in particular seemed to enjoy watching for her next lapse in judgement.
Ever since she had started reading, there had been periods where the doctors and nurses had caught onto what she was doing. She tried to act as though she was healing, but in truth she would not be well again until she knew the truth about those monsters. Every time she tried to explain that day, people gave her those pitying looks and told her that her mother had not been in her right mind and that was why she had been acting like she was. Avery was diagnosed officially by six and they tried to foster her out, but she had not given in to their pleas. They told her that only she could make herself better and that was true. She did not want to get better here; this world held little interest to her.
“Your thoughts are wandering again, aren’t they?” he remarked and she looked over to him, “Why do you fight so hard against treatment?”
“I am not fighting,” she looked him in the eye, “Why do you never give the other patients this much attention? Therese pokes herself with needles trying to feel the pain, Kris loses his wits every time people touch him and the others have conditions far more severe. I am not a threat to you, or myself. I am not sick.”
“Then tell me exactly what happened to your mother. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe you,” he challenged her, “She had an episode and left you alone in the house. She took your dogs with her.”
“We didn’t have dogs,” Ava set her fork down, “I want to go back to my room.”
“Do you want to get better?” he asked her.
“Why wouldn’t I? You all think I am crazy, but maybe you’re all just blind,” she remarked organizing her Skittles into colours.
“You’re a smart girl, Avery. If you applied yourself, you could get your GED and get a scholarship to any school of your choice. You could have a future here; you can say what you will, but you are fighting treatment and I know you are.”
“What if I don’t want to stay here?” she picked up the red Skittles and popped them into her mouth, “What if this isn’t where I am supposed to be?”
“And where do you think you should be?” he put his hand on her book, “Here?”
“I don’t know. I just want to go home. I want to be free to decide things for myself,” she tried to hide the bitterness in her voice, “Let me go. I want to go to my room; I’m not hungry anymore. I never was.”
“You’ll waste away,” he warned her.
“It would not take very long, would it?” she got to her feet and knocked her book off the table, “Now I’ve lost my page.”
“Avery, you have a gift. Why do you need to pursue a fantasy? This is your future that you are putting on hold by resisting. You spoke of looking for your father; perhaps that would be a better goal than letting the lines of imagination cross into our world.”
“Maybe,” she said and then one of the other nurses came in and started talking to him. Avery took the opportunity to tie his laces together before getting up with her book and starting to walk out. “Have fun,” she waved and Gabriel started after her. He tripped over his tied feet hit the ground with his companion expressing concern. “I do not like orders,” Ava informed him before seeing the scowl on his face, “Come on, Gabriel, I only tied them twice. They’ll loosen up again,even if you won’t.” He started to speak, but she was already wandering down the hallway with people walking around her in uniforms, or day clothes. One of the younger girls swatted at the air beside Avery’s neck.
“There’s a fairy,” she clapped her hands together over the thin air.
“Did you catch it?” the older girl asked.
“She got away again,” she said before running off. This ward held a mixture of cases, but most of the patients did not think they were sick. Avery found herself lying somewhere in between. She knew she was not crazy, but there was no denying she was lonely and depressed by her mother’s absence. Her books were her solace. She knew she would have to start behaving herself around Gabriel, or he would take them away.
“I am normal. I am safe,” she told herself as she walked into her room and flopped on her bed, “I know that because I am reading.”
“Avery, you are talking to yourself again,” Therese complained.
“I am excellent conversation; why would I talk to anyone else when I think I’m alone?” she opened the book and started to read again.
“Everyone wants to go on a day trip tomorrow. Are you coming?”
“You ask a lot of questions not to be a snitch?” Avery rubbed her itchy nose, “Maybe you don’t even realize you are one.”
“You read too many books,” her roommate muttered and Avery laughed, “That was not meant as a joke, Ava. The entire staff is worried about you. Remember what happened when you lost your letter in the laundry last month. You swore someone had stolen it; you lost control. Why do you keep reading if it does that to you?”
“Why do you stick yourself with needles if it doesn’t help? We all have our vices and beliefs; meds don’t throw those beliefs out the window. You’re just a groggier psychopath.”
“One day you are going to need your wits about you. What happens when you age out of the system? They cannot keep you in hospitals forever. You have no medical, or health care at all; don’t those things worry you?” Therese questioned.
“Maybe one day they will,” she shrugged.
“Right now I am reading and I don’t want to stop. You can go shopping and play on the computer, but I want to finish my book so shush,” she played with a strand of her strawberry blonde hair humming her latest earworm courtesy of the radio that they played throughout all the rooms during the day. She played with her necklace always moving; always fidgeting while Therese moped around for awhile before turning out her light and going to sleep.
Her roommate did not do the same and was on the last chapter of the Simarillion when Joyce came swarming in with two other nurses.
“It’s bedtime, girls. Time to drink your tea and take your prescriptions,” she pulled out the bag of pills she and the doctors had insisted would help her sleep dreamlessly. She drank some of her tea and pretended to take her pills opening her mouth to show that they were gone.
“Now tomorrow is your next assignment,” Wanda said as if Avery did not remember, “I don’t want you to worry. If anything goes wrong, we’ll take a nice long walk and I’ll get you some ice cream from the kitchens. Okay?”
“Alright,” Avery nodded, “Can I finish reading? I am almost done, I swear,” she said, but Gabriel took her book slipping it into his uniform, “Is this revenge for your shoes?”
“You need to sleep, Avery. You’re acting out again. We cannot promote you behaving this way, or how will you learn?”
“You suck,” she crawled under her blanket while Wanda fluffed her pillow for her, “Maybe something will come and eat you tonight. Then I won’t be so crazy, would I?” The nurses all looked to her, but only Joyce spoke.
“That is not funny, Avery,” she told her.
“Maybe not,” she stretched out her arms, “But I am so ignorant of the world. I have lost context on what is funny now.”
“Goodnight,” Joyce squeezed her shoulder, “Take it easy on the nurses, Avery; it has been a long day for everyone and I know you don’t mean to be rude.” The girl nodded and the nurse was appeased allowing her to finish her tea before leaving with the others. She waited until Therese started snoring before climbed out of her bed and slid under her bed opening the loose floorboard there and took out a borrowed flashlight and her small pile of papers before pulling Joyce’s pen out of her sleeve.
The nurse likely would not notice its absence and Ava always replaced it by the morning anyhow. She wrote out everything she had learned and looked through her papers looking for connections. Sometimes she was not sure of herself, but Avery clung to her theory. It was all that was left for her to do. She did not wish to go to college, or re-enter society. She was no one important and she never would be. These worlds gave her a sense of belonging. It was something to hold onto, even when her meds clouded her mind and she began to panic.
“The closest is still the hellhounds,” she looked at the illustration she had ripped out of one of her books on Greek mythology.
“Get the spiders. Get them off,” Therese mumbled rolling onto her side. Her roommate always talked in her sleep and by now Avery was used to it. She looked to the descriptions chewing on her lip to the point where she tasted blood. Even if the hellhounds were the answer; how would she find them, or find out what happened to her mother?
“One step at a time,” she shut off her flashlight and closed her eyes thinking she would just nap for a few minutes, only to wake up to the sound of a beastly howl and the early light of dawn. She did not know if she was still dreaming, but she knew that howl. It had been the last noise she’d heard before the cries and screams that had traumatized her as a child. “They’re back,” she broke the door open and ran down the hallway.
She made it to the outside door, but the lock was coded for the nurses. She looked out the nearest window and she saw two hounds circling one of the nurses. As she wiped away the mist from the cold window, she recognized Gabriel. She opened her mouth to shout, but the horns and the beast’s eyes began to glow red. Avery stood perfectly still waiting for Gabriel to run. Only that was not what happened.