I've known I was crazy since I was five, which I've always considered rather impressive considering the fact that some people go their whole lives without knowing.
I've known for ten years now. Ten. Ten years is a long time to a fifteen-year-old. At fifteen, days are still agonizingly long, and Fridays seem half an eon away from Mondays. Not that I much care how far Friday is from Monday. But if I did, I'm sure it would be hell.
Fridays aren’t any different from Mondays in psychiatric hospitals. None of the days here are different from the rest. Apparently one of the treatments for crazy is routine, which I'm not sure is valid, but what do I know? I haven't been outside of these walls since I had the ability to develop long term memory. At least I think I haven't. I often speculate that my memories aren't the most reliable--whether that's because of my "condition" or the meds is another matter altogether.
Don’t get me wrong, this place isn’t all padded rooms, electrotherapy and oppression. I’m not Jack Nicholson and this isn’t One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. Sure, one of my fellow crazies throws the occasional fit in the cafeteria, and once every few years Lazy Eye Larry tries to escape through the air vents like they do in all of the spy movies, but all in all it’s remarkably boring.
At least the air circulation is good, thanks to Larry’s generous backside.
"Earth to Isaac!"
I start at the sound of Aiden's voice breaking through the quiet tangle of my thoughts. I look up at him over the chessboard that sits in between us, one of my eyebrows rising on its own accord. He’s draped across an old musty armchair, his long legs folded over one arm while his back rests against the other. Currently, he’s glaring at me through a thick fringe of blonde bangs, his arms crossed over his chest and his chin doing that crinkly thing it does whenever he’s irked.
It always takes me a moment to remember that he’s not real.
"Are you going to move or what?" Aiden snaps impatiently, gesturing at the board.
“I’m still reeling from the emotional backlash of your previous move. You stole my knight after all, and I was rather attached to him.”
Aidan's dark eyes roll as a huff spills over his lips. "Well you couldn't have been that attached seeing as you sacrificed it to save your rook."
“His name was Carl.“
“That might just be the stupidest name for a knight that I’ve ever heard.”
I sigh dramatically and move one of my pawns, “I wish I knew how to quit you, Carl.”
Aiden just wrinkles his nose, frowning at the board.
The game room is pleasantly quiet this morning, populated only by myself, Aiden, Silent Cindy, and the new nurse that just started a couple of days back. I can feel her staring at me, though she’s at least showing me the courtesy of being discreet about it. I don’t really mind though—I doubt she can help it. Seeing someone playing chess with themselves whilst carrying on half of a conversation with an empty chair is a hard thing to ignore. She'll get used to it eventually though. They always do.
"What piece do you want me to move next?” I ask.
Aiden raises his hand to scratch his, now much less crinkled, chin. "Take your pawn with my bishop at E6."
“Not Joseph!“ My lower lip juts out. “Your army is ruthless.” I move his bishop and set my white pawn beside several of its mates. Aiden has always been the better chess player. Dr. Yaskoff--my live-in psychiatrist--would of course greatly reprove me thinking this, seeing as Aiden is a hallucinated extension of my own psyche, and therefore unable to play chess any better or worse than I can. I've accepted this as an educated opinion, but not one that I happen to share. If Dr. Yaskoff knew Aiden like I do, she wouldn't accept it either.
“You’re not going to mourn Joseph as long as you mourned Carl, are you?” Aides swipes his hand through his mess of honey blonde curls and stretches his spine over the side of the chair. "I can feel my hair greying already."
I laugh, but I lean over the board with real attention this time. The tension in Aiden's shoulders is as obvious to me as a knife in my chest, and almost equally as uncomfortable. Why he bothers trying to hide it, I have no idea. “You're in a mood today," I observe, trying to sound casual about it.
His eyes change from dark to pale grey, and are suddenly sharp and unnaturally bright under the florescent lights. ”Pick that up all by yourself did you?"
"You're not exactly an enigma. No offense."
Aiden’s mouth twists.
I settle for taking one of his pawns with my rook. The black piece clacks gently against the wooden table as I set it down. "So what's the problem then?"
"The air," Aiden's hand twirls around the axis of his wrist, "it feels strange today."
This doesn't surprise me. Aiden is always saying odd things like that: the air feels strange, the sun seems dimmer, the leaves smell rancid. He sees the world a differently than I do—it seems to be more alive for him. It used to be alive for me too, when I was little, but the anti-psychotics have long since drown out the soft whispers on the wind and the warm palpitations of the earth. Thanks to Dr. Yaskoff, everything now is strictly three-dimensional and dull.
I purse my lips and roll my tongue against the roof of my mouth in thought. "Like Alice in Wonderland strange, or the last season of Heroes strange?"
Aiden hums. “More along the lines of Dogtooth strange."
"Oh." That's not a good sign. "So then...how long has the air felt like Dogtooth?"
"A couple of hours maybe?"
"And you're just telling me about it now?"
Aiden sighs, the sharply angled features of his face contorting as his brows draw together. "I didn't want to worry you," he says softly.
More like he wants to coddle me.
"Stop it," Aiden's eyes are back on mine in a blink, hard and pressing. He's the only person I've ever met who can tie my tongue in knots with a single look. It's rather annoying, especially now when I'm trying to make him realize what an ass he is.
"Stop what?" I aim for indignant and miss terribly.
"I'm not trying to coddle you."
"No one said you were."
Aides hums again, the low timbre of his voice rattling my bones like the thrum of a bass. He shifts in his chair, all long lines and folded limbs, and shifts his gaze away from mine. "I think we're late for our session."
Not a moment later the young nurse who'd been so politely staring at me earlier encompasses the larger part of my peripheral. I turn my head to look up at her. I haven't seen her up this close yet. She’s rather pretty, even more so when her cheeks are fully in bloom like they are now. I glance down at her name tag, which says Violet in bold Sans Serif.
"I'm sorry to interrupt," Violet says, her words coming out small and squished. "But it's time for your appointment."
I smile and watch with vague amusement as the red in her cheeks deepens to match the shade of her long auburn hair. Curling my fingers around the arms of the chair, I push myself up to my feet. At my full height I'm nearly a head taller than Violet, which she definitely seems to notice. I have to bend down slightly to ask, ”Would you mind escorting me?"
She blushes, her small form curling in at the shoulders, but she nods nevertheless and turns to lead me out of the game room. I hear Aiden hoist himself up behind me and follow in our wake, muttering something undeniably rude under his breath. This air thing must really be getting to him. Violet pushes through one of the grey double doors that leads out into the main hall and holds it open for me. When she lets the door go I make sure to catch it and hold it open for Aiden—it's important for me to acknowledge him like this on bad days, even if Violet’s blue eyes do widen a fraction.
The doors open up into an expansive white hallway with linoleum tiles and peeling paint. It has that unique hospital smell—a potent mixture of bleach and formaldehyde—which I'm sure I've inhaled so many times now that my odds of escaping cancer are rather slim. Old steel benches line the edges of the hall, illuminated by overhead florescent lights and whatever bit of sun manages to make it through the film of grime on the windows. When I walk through here at night, I sometimes imagine that I'm James Sunderland walking through Silent Hill. It's got that kind of vibe.
"The air is getting worse," Aiden whispers in my ear. He sounds worried, and I wonder if I should be as well. "It's starting to fizz I think.”
I swish my hand at my side experimentally to see if I can feel anything different. I don't. Though, admittedly, I'm not sure I know what fizzy air would even feel like.
"So how did you meet him?"
The sound of Violet’s voice is enough to break me from my reverie. I blink at her, feeling like an idiot when I have absolutely no idea what she's talking about.
The skin around her eyes crinkles as she smiles at me. "The boy you talk to I mean—how did you two meet?"
I look over at Aiden, and then back at Violet. "How did you know he's a boy?"
“Larry told me."
I frown at her. Larry has a knack for telling stories, but they usually fall in a realm closer to space centipedes than Aiden.
"It's alright if you don't want to tell me," she says.
The timid, self-deprecation kicks me right in the gut. I've never been good with disappointing people. “No, no, I don't mind.” I say, making odd, vague gestures with my hands as if that can somehow convey my meaning better than words can. I really don’t mind her asking, “I just don't think it will compare to whatever grandiose story Larry made up."
Her pale pink lips bow. "I'm sure you tell much better stories than Larry does.”
This seems to be enough to distract Aiden from his preoccupation with the air. I feel annoyance roll off him in heavy amber waves, crawling across my skin and creeping into the hairs on the back of my neck. “Is she attempting to flirt with you?”
“We met when I was five,” I say, ignoring Aiden’s comment.
“She can’t possibly be that dense.”
“I was climbing a tree in the backyard of the orphanage I used to live at, and a limb snapped. I fell, and Aiden caught me.”
Violet’s blue eyes sharpen. “He caught you? But...he's not real.”
“Let the record reflect that I stand corrected. Ladies and gentleman, we have a bonafied genius on our hands.” Aiden hisses through a sardonic grin. I glance over at him with a warning in my eyes, but it only seems to make Aiden’s smile widen. “I hear they’re hard to come by out in the wild.”
Shaking my head I turn back to Violet, and admittedly, I’m somewhat unsettled by the quizzical expression on her face. Why it unsettles me, I’m not sure. Her skepticism is understandable. After all, considering the fact that most people think that Aiden is just a figment of my schizophrenic imagination, saying that he physically saved me from a potentially fatal fall would seem a little peculiar. Perhaps just shy of claiming I’d been to the moon. But, “That’s what happened,” I shrug. “And he’s stuck around ever since.”
Aiden blows a puff of air in my ear.
“Much to his chagrin,” I add, trying to wipe away the odd tingling sensation that’s now ingrained in my eardrum.
Usually at this point, the person I’m speaking to gets that uncomfortable sort of twitchiness around their eyes, like they don’t want to look at me but at the same time don’t want to make me feel bad by looking away. Violet’s eyes don’t do that. Violet’s eyes don’t even flinch. “Is he around all the time?”
“Much to my chagrin.” I smile as I dodge another puff of air.
“Really? Even when you sleep? Even now?”
“I can’t really speak for him during my unconscious hours, but yes he’s here now. And very annoyed.”
We round another corner and the hall siphons off into a wing of white doors with shiny plastic labels. The quarters are a little closer here, but instead of falling behind me and Violet, Aiden sidles right up next to me so that his shoulder bumps mine each time we step. “It’s hardly my fault,” Aiden says, tapping a doorknob we pass with the back of his hand. “And you aren't exactly helping matters. I imagine it’s because the air is so fizzy. It’s filling your lungs with spite. Or stupidity. One of the two.”
I grin. “But he says your presence is helping him cope.”
The rising color in Violet’s cheeks is completely worth fuming jabs Aiden is currently needling into my solar plexus. She has a haphazard splay of freckles across her nose that go stark white whenever blood fills her capillaries. I vaguely wonder what sort of pictures I could map out of them.
Violet pulls to a stop, and so do I. “We’re here.” She tucks her hair behind her ear. “It was…nice to meet you, Isaac.” Without waiting for a reply she turns to leave.
“See you around!” I say, but she’s already scurrying off down the hall, her auburn hair and white uniform disappearing in a silent blur around the corner. Smiling, I turn back to Dr. Yaskoff’s door, only to find my vision swimming with the compressed, angry form of Aiden’s features. I stagger back, my heart lurching up into my throat. “Jeez! What the hell?”
“We don’t have time for that!”
“Time for what?”
“For messing with nurses! For her!” Aiden gestures towards the empty hallway as if it has a tumor growing out of it.
“In case you hadn’t noticed, time isn’t exactly a hot commodity in this place.”
“It is for us! Remember the plan? For tomorrow?”
I scowl at him. “You mean the one that you’re jeopardizing by causing a scene right outside our psychiatrist’s door, right?”
Aiden’s grey eyes widen, then suddenly narrow into a feral glare. He looks like a cat ready to pounce. “I doubt she’ll agree with you on that.”
I purse my lips, wanting to object but knowing all too well that he’s right. God, I hate it when he’s right. Pressing my nails into the soft flesh of my palms, I turn on my heel and open the door to Dr. Yaskof’s office.
It’s a small room, but highly coveted by the doctors on staff because of its one large window. Sunlight is streaming heavily through it now, covering the stiff oaken furniture in a white glow, and for a moment I’m reminded of fresh powder on a crisp winter morning. Dr. Yaskof is sitting behind her desk, flipping through my open file as if she hasn’t already committed the entirety of its contents to memory. Her ebony hair is pulled up into a tight bun today, making the sharp lines of her face look all the more severe. I close the door behind me, and her eyes flick up. They’re bright and furiously green behind thick horn-rimmed glasses, and as they meet mine the red line of her lips curls.
“Come in, Isaac. Have a seat.” She gestures towards one of the two cushioned chairs situated in front of her desk. “How are you feeling today?”
She always asks how I’m feeling—never how I’m doing, or how I am. Most days it doesn’t bother me, but today isn’t one of those days. “I’m fine,” I say, throwing myself into my usual chair.
“Don’t tell her what I said about the air,” Aiden says, making his way to the seat next to mine. He folds himself into it delicately, his long legs draping over the rounded arm.
“He’s fine as well. How are you, Sylvia?” Dr. Yaskof likes me to use her first name during our sessions. She says that the lack of formality will help me be more comfortable with people when I’m ready to venture out into the real world. Frankly, I don't believe she needed to pay for two PhDs to give me that two cents.
“Are you sure he’s fine?” Sylvia asks, blatantly ignoring my question. She leans over the desk towards me. “The argument outside my door just now sounded rather intense.”
If we were anywhere other than Dr. Yaskof’s office I would send a heated glare Aiden’s way, but as it is, I keep my eyes trained on Dr. Yaskof. It’s something I do so often that it doesn’t even feel unnatural anymore. I’m always getting into trouble over the fights Aiden starts.
“It wasn’t an argument. Merely a difference of opinion.”
“A difference of opinion?” Dr. Yaskof’s green eyes spark. “About what?”
“About tomorrow.” It’s not exactly a lie.
“Ah, yes. Your art exam at the MET. How are you feeling about it?”
Excited. Nervous. Slightly nauseous. "I feel...curious. About going out."
Curious might be an understatement. Actually it’s probably the grossest understatement of the century. I never get to go outside of the hospital. They might as well call hospitals prison for all the freedom they give you. I know what the subway is but I’ve never seen one. I live less than fifteen miles from the Statue of Liberty, but I’ve never once stood at her feet. But tomorrow…tomorrow is my one chance at an actual existence.
Thank God for home schooling. Seriously. Thank God for it.
Dr. Yaskof’s red lips part to reveal two rows of pearly white teeth. I can't help but notice how sharp her canines seem. “It will be a good experience for you.”
Aiden snickers. I say nothing.
She finds another subject almost immediately. “Have you thought on your source material?”
“I’ve thought about what I don’t want it to be.”
“And what don’t you want it to be?” Dr. Yaskoff asks, her Mont Blanc pen poised and ready to start taking notes.
“I’m going to stick with pencil and a small, uncomplicated setting. Charles,” I emphasize the fact that I’m using my art teacher’s first name, which Dr. Yaskoff notes, “said it is better to be detailed than ambitious.”
Dr. Yaskoff’s eyes flick up from her notepad. “I see. And does Charles,” she recognizes my emphasis with an emphasis of her own, “instruct detail over ambition in all aspects of life, or just art?”
I raise a brow at her and shift in my seat. “I'm not sure that's the question you want to ask.”
She gives me one of those looks that speaks without words. It says, This is why therapy is so hard for you; you don’t want it to work.
I prefer to think that I’m too smart for therapy, but Dr. Yaskoff has told me numerous times that this is just my over-inflated ego speaking.
"Very well," she says. "What question do I want to ask?"
"You want to ask if his opinion influences me."
I shrug. “He’s my teacher. I want to learn from him.”
Dr. Yaskof's pen is flying across her notepad faster than my eyes can follow.
The leather of Aiden's chair doesn't creak when he moves like mine does, but I hear him move all the same. It sounds like dried leaves crunching beneath a boot. "Something's going to happen."
No sooner do the words leave Aiden's mouth than the window is exploding, glass flying in a spray of sun-catching fragments as something pierces through the air, long and metal. I blink, and time seems to slow, and suddenly there's a man standing next to Dr. Yaskof's chair, tall and terribly pale, holding the metal rod in his hands. If he hadn't caught it, it would have gone straight through Dr. Yaskof's neck. The man, seeming to notice this, looks as if he's about to be sick.
Another blink, and the man is gone. The rod falls to the ground in a loud clatter as Dr. Yaskof shrieks and leaps up from her chair. I jump out of my chair as well, but don't move after that.
Everything goes quiet.
I stare down at the rod on the ground, and I feel Aiden shift silently to my side. It's wrought iron, but the ends are splintered, as if someone had ripped it free.
"Did you see him?" Aiden sounds breathless. "Did you see him catch it?"
I swallow, and the lump at the back of my tongue gets stuck somewhere halfway down my throat. "I did."