I’m seeing things again. Head in my hands my fingers weave through tangled hair pushing it back from my face like the headbands I wore as a little girl, when I only pretended I saw things. I’m not pretending now. I can see it in my periphery. I let my hair fall forward again but, who am I kidding? I can feel it watching me. Everyone watches me, but this is different.
It taunts me from the corner of my eye, sticking thumbs in ears and waggling fingers while brandishing its tongue refusing to be ignored. I long to scream Leave me alone but I don’t dare. It’s a trap. Acknowledgement leads to increased medications that make the whole world seem like grey woolen socks: hot, itchy and bland.
I try to focus on the coffee. It’s too hot to drink but I don’t like cream. It leaches away all the colour and bite that makes coffee real. Whiskey is good but they won’t let me have any. Asking is another trap.
Eyes forward, I stare at the old wall clock as I shovel eggs. Tick, tick, tick until I find I’m chewing in time. There’s no middle ground with eggs. You either want them or you don’t. You’re either crazy or you’re not. I push my plate away. I don’t want to be nuts.
It’s still there, leaning against the window frame looking bored. I leave the dining room, brushing against the nurse for reassurance, to look out other windows at vistas that seem so normal, until I feel something jarring my elbow. Do I risk a glance? I can’t stop myself.
It’s followed me into the dayroom. Hands in pockets, it leans against the glass petulantly kicking me as it scowls. An opportunity for trouble lies on the sill by its feet. I turn away and now I’m leaning too. Even as I try to blot it out of existence, a small part of my mind imagines painting the scene; the two of us leaning side by side while the well-behaved walk about in the gardens at our backs.
My hands seek each other out. My right thumb nail runs over and scrapes under its opposite in a rhythmic pattern I’ve found comfort in since childhood. That’s normal right? People wring their hands or twiddle with the hair. It doesn’t mean I’m crazy.
Over, under, over, under. It’s kicking me again. Over, under, over, under. Above me the clock chimes twice. Where did the time go? No little doors open, no little bird slides out to sing but I hear the words inside my head. Cuckoo, cuckoo.
My nails are so long and sharp, my twiddling is drawing blood. I stop before the nurse can accuse me of self-harm. I see her watching me from across the room as she preps her cart for afternoon meds. As the others dutifully line up I take advantage of the distraction to lean down to ask what it wants. The fairy kicks the pilfered swipe card towards me as it whispers in my ear. “Can we play now?”
We’ve played before, running barefoot across the grounds with arms spread wide to embrace the beauty of the day. I’m the only one that ever gets caught; the only one who has to journal and share until my joys have been dissected and logic’d away.
Beyond the door, sun-warmed grass beacons. There are flowers to be sniffed and plucked. I hang my head as I consider all the ramifications of saying yes, but… who am I kidding? The key card is already in my hand. The temptation escalates.
As I follow the fairy, others follow me. Together we breach the last barrier to run hand in hand towards the gardens. The fairy flits about saturating the colours of ground and sky until everything is vibrant.
There are orderlies chasing after us. I can hear them shouting boring words of return. I answer with an invitation to play. “Red Rover, Red Rover.” There is laughter on either side of me but none from the orderlies. They never want to play. They only want to drag us all back inside. The fairy winks at me.
I shout, “Run,” and the other patients disperse like dandelion seeds in the wind.
I taunt the orderlies. “You’ll have to catch us first.” But, who am I kidding?
Christina Klarenbeek writes science fiction, fantasy and horror from a small farm in Southwestern Ontario. Her stories have previously been published in the anthologies Now Playing in Theater B and Ecotones — Ecological Stories from the Border Between Fantasy and Science Fiction. She can be found on twitter @MaraGant.