1. Get Some Sleep, Johnny
I’m not sure where I go when I sleep, but for the past three days I’ve been waking up in the same white, sterile room with nothing but a cot in the corner. The room is small, and supposedly safe, though the large padded door blocking my exit tells me otherwise.
I have no idea how I got here, but there’s no denying the fact that I’m in a room designed to protect me from... myself. Why I ended up here in some kind of mental facility is a mystery. I’m nothing special, just a typical boy trying to make it through life. Now, I’m trapped behind cushioned walls and a thick door with a small round window in the center.
A tremble awakens my limbs as I work myself into standing. My gaze floats cautiously around the room. It’s everything you’d ever imagine a psych ward to look like, which just adds to the horror. Bad things happen in places like this.
Thankfully there’s one difference between my scenario and that of every horror film I’ve ever watched: There are no chains or straitjackets in sight.
I timidly make my way around the entire room, my hand gliding along the soft material covering the walls. I have a strange lack of fear that doesn’t make sense, but with every second that ticks by, my calm seems to be diminishing. Something’s terribly wrong, because the longer I’m in here the more I realize that this isn’t a dream.
This is reality.
The scent of cleaning products taints the air with the possibility of secrets. Are they hiding something grotesque beneath the floors? Something that needed its rot blocked out by the overwhelming smell of chemicals?
I tip my head back, gazing at the ceiling where two fluorescent lights dangle precariously from the center of the room. It casts a luminous glow throughout the tight space, sending a chill skittering up my spine. Why do they have to make places like this as creepy as possible? It’s as if they want to drive people to madness.
This thought only sparks a deeper dread that sinks into the very pit of my stomach. The only reason they put someone in a place like this is because there’s no hope for them—they can’t get any worse.
A dark gloom sneaks into the room, blocking out any hope. This might be my new permanent residence. As the idea winds its way into my mind, a surge of fight jumps to life. I will not die here—not like this.
I bolt across the room, my fists landing on the glass that separates me from my freedom. I pound my knuckles against the hard material, waiting for the cracks to signal my success, but nothing happens. The glass remains sturdy—unbreakable. And yet, I don’t stop. I keep hammering away at the door until my fingers are nearly bleeding and I’m struggling for air.
Defeated, I slide to the floor. My body is shaking—convulsing—as fear crawls through my spine to settle in the dark corners of my mind, where it proceeds to tantalize me. I’m going to die in here. Nobody is coming. The only thing waiting for me now is death itself.
I’ve been locked in this hell for three days, and have yet to see another living soul. Maybe I had been chosen as a test subject. Maybe they were trying to break me. To see if insanity is something that can develop, or if it’s a born trait that only worsens with time.
My body quivers with cold, and I hug my arms to my bent knees in hopes of regaining a little warmth. It doesn’t work. I just keep trembling, until I feel my eyes start to droop slightly. All I want is sleep, but a sound suddenly has me jolting upright. I stiffen, eyes darting around the small room in desperate need of finding the cause of the noise. But, everything remains still. Untouched.
Until my eyes wander over a tiny hole on the far side of the room.
I pull myself up from the floor, cautiously taking step after step until I’m standing right before the perfectly round hole in the wall. It’s small—just the right size to peer through—but it’s clear that it was a conscious design of the room and not just a hole that had eaten its way into the wall padding with time. My finger inches its way towards it, when suddenly a shuffling noise outside my door paralyzes me. I don’t move or breathe as I wait.
Seconds later, a knock has me stumbling to the corner of the room. The muscle beneath my chest is pumping wild amounts of adrenaline through my veins, but even with such internal chaos, I remain frozen in place. The sound of my own pulse is throbbing in my ears and I reach my hands up in hopes of blocking out the sound, though it obviously does no good.
“Oh good, you’re up,” a cheery voice greets me, and I squint at the pudgy woman with spiked blonde hair.
She smiles at me, and though it’s filled with warmth, I’m not convinced. For someone who appears so friendly, she’s somewhat responsible for imprisoning me in this bleach-scented place.
“Care for some lunch?” she asks, her smile not wavering. “Roasted potatoes and grilled chicken.” She lifts her eyebrows—hopeful, expecting—and then some of the light dwindles when she sees my lack of enthusiasm. She eyes me carefully, as if trying to peer into the deepest parts of my soul, and then sighs with a small wag of her head.
“I’ll just set it down here,” she tells me as she shuffles towards my bed and lays the tray on the thick, smooth blanket.
I watch her as she takes the lid off the platter and stabs a plastic fork into a potato. There’s something creepily forceful about her actions and I feel my muscles tighten in response. I watch as she steps back, folds her arms over her chest, and stretches another smile onto her lips.
“Make it quick,” she chirps. “I haven’t got all day.”
I stare at her hard for several rapid heartbeats before casually stepping towards the bed. Something doesn’t feel right. Whatever they’re keeping me in here for must be extreme, because I don’t recall meal time being something that needs supervision. Aren’t there mess halls where psychiatric patients meet to eat? Why am I being excluded?
It’s not like I’m dangerous. I’m only sixteen-years-old.
Without a single word escaping my lips, I lift the potato speared fork and shove it in my mouth. It’s tasteless. Entirely tasteless. Like chewing on paper, though the texture is different. I force down the dry meat and slurp back the small paper cup of water before stepping away. I retreat back to my corner, not once taking my eyes from the large woman who continues to watch me, with what she probably thinks is a tender smile.
She picks up the tray before swiveling around towards the door. With a heavy tap on the glass the door pops open.
“M’am,” I find myself blurting, and I’m not even sure why. There’s just something about being left alone that makes me feel unsettled.
“Why am I here?” The question leaves my mouth before I have time to decide if I even want to ask it.
She doesn’t respond, but I don’t miss the slightly regretful tilt of her mouth.
“Get some sleep, Johnny,” she says instead, and my chest instantly constricts as an icy cold washes through my entire body.
It’s not so much the fact that my question went entirely ignored, or even the possibility that she ignored it because the truth would have been too horrible.
No, the reason I’m nearly hyperventilating right now is because she called me Johnny.
And Johnny’s not my name.