Lightning cracked across the sky behind her closed lids, setting her vision ablaze
for a moment before returning it to darkness. Her eyes flew open when she felt her body
tilt, but she didn’t lose her balance. From her vantage point, the world was beautiful, the
city lights blurred by the sheets of rain. More importantly than that, there’s nothing to
keep her from meeting it down below, nothing but her own two feet.
Just not today, not when adrenaline dizzied her with the feeling of being alive.
The wind ripped peals of laughter from her lungs, her throat, her mouth, only to snatch
them away and keep them to itself so that no one else could hear. How selfish. She
laughed even louder, competing with the growling thunder and howls of the wind, louder,
until the sound filled every alley of her beloved city, until her throat chafed with a
pleasant pain. Then it petered out, as it always did. Left her in the silence of the storm.
She closed her eyes.
The squeak of a rusted door brought her back again; a minute sound, but loud
enough. She looked backwards at the noise that didn’t belong with the sound of
raindrops, her arms reaching out instinctively to catch her balance. The corners of her
mouth drew downwards when she saw the stranger, but quickly relaxed back. Frowning
hurt. Besides, the storm was easing anyways. She spun around and leaped off the edge,
landing lightly on the roof. Her lips curled into the lazy grin of a cat as she walked
towards the stranger, remembering at the last second to make her steps bounce a little.
Just act casual.
There are many things I had witnessed in my innumerable years as a janitor, but
this would not be one of them. A silhouette of a human perched that close to the edge of
the roof could only mean one thing. I raced up the stairs as hurriedly as my old legs
would allow, and by the time I reached the door to the roof, my bones were groaning in
complaint of their abuse. I flung the door open, sending in a torrent of rain I knew I
would have to mop up later.
My eyes had not deceived me; balancing on the raised edge of the roof, about
twenty feet from where I stood, was the person I had seen. I braced myself and stepped
out into the rain.
“It’s dangerous to be standing there young lady.” No…not the right thing to say.
“You don’t have to do this, please think it through. Life is going to become better than it
is right now, I promise.” There, that sounded appropriate. My heart squeezed tighter as
the girl turned slowly around and leaped onto the floor.
I regretted my decision to come as soon as she began heading towards me. A
demon? No, wrong, just a teenage girl. Except it was one whose ear gleamed silver with
piercings. Just one ear. And long hair—no, half a head of long hair, the other half
completely bald—streaked through with an innumerable amount of colors. She moved
closer, close enough for me to see that her other ear was not bare, but tattooed with a
snake that winded downwards from behind the cartilage and continued twisting toward
her arm, to her fingertips. Close enough to see her abnormally bright golden eyes. But
more grotesque than anything else was the ragged scar that split her face in two, ending at
her collarbone. I blanched at the sight. Not a demon, but someone who had sold her soul
Instinct told me to run away from this girl I did not know, but my clenched
muscles and shaking hands drenched in cold sweat prevented me. Fear. The knowledge
that this person could whip out a gun at any moment and no one would hear me scream.
Her mouth opened and a sound came out that sent my heart slamming painfully into my
chest. Not laughter, but something much more primal.
“Relax, you old geezer. I’m not killing either one of us today.”
She walked past me, humming tunelessly, leaving me to stare at the space she
previously occupied. The door behind me slammed shut, snapping me out of my shock.
Minutes, or maybe decades passed as I stood there, my mind clinging onto emptiness like
a lifeline, a broken record playing again and again that shut everything else out.
“Good evening Lynn, how was your day?” She had walked in today with her hair,
freshly redyed, plastered against drenched clothes, and eyes even more feverishly bright
than usual. There must have been a useful story behind her current state, but I did not
expect the taciturn girl to answer; the fact that she had not resisted coming in today was
progress. Instead, she continued to stare at me with wide, contemplating eyes.
I tried, as I always did, to quell the unease I felt during our sessions together. Of
all the patients I had seen, many of whose disorders were far more severe than hers, none
of them could intimidate me by appearances alone as she could. The reason behind why
her adoption center allowed her to continue looking like this was lost on me. I cleared my
throat and shifted my eyes toward the windows, where rain continued to slide down the
glass pane. “The weather hasn’t been very accommodating lately, has it?” The chances
that I could get her to carry a conversation today were slim to nothing, but just maybe—
“It’s nice.” I turned back around to face her with a look of stunned surprise when
I recognized the voice that I had rarely heard before. The muscles in my face strained as I
tried to regain a composed expression. “The storm is nice,” she repeated, shrugging.
“I see that you like the rain.” This here was shaky ground; the right words and the
right timing, and I could solve this puzzle that had shown no signs of cracking ever since
the day I had begun. She slouched slightly in her seat, her golden gaze returning to its
earlier contemplation. I bit back a frustrated groan when I realized that she had
reassumed her previous silence. “Well,” I tried again, “I do think that the sound that it
makes is quite comforting, or is it that you like the sight of it?”
Her knuckles whitened as they gripped the edge of her chair. “That woman hated
it. She always hid in her bed during a storm,” she replied. Her voice slid monotonously
off her tongue, the same way someone else might have read a shopping list. Goosebumps
crawled up my spine at the sound.
I ignored the sensation and leaned in closer, my clipboard long forgotten on the
table. This had been the most extensive conversation we have had so far, and it was all I
could do as a professional to continue with my carefully measured words. “Could you
maybe tell me who ‘she’ is?”
But it was no use. Her eyes had become vacant, only seeing what could only be
seen by her. She was looking past me, but I knew that if I were to turn around there
would be nothing worth seeing there. On any other day, this was my signal that our
session was over, but today I had been lucky, and I was going to push my luck as far as it
“Were you, perhaps, talking about your mother?”
She jerked violently, as if physically struck. Dilated eyes shifted back to me, and
for a glimpse of a moment they were brimmed with fear and pain. Then her face
hardened into cold fury. Her chair clattered to the floor as she shot up and slammed her
hands onto the table, pushing her nose up against mine.
“You son of a bitch,” she hissed through clenched teeth.
I closed my eyes and tried to tilt my head away, silently cursing myself for even
entertaining the notion that I could’ve gotten away with saying that taboo word. When I
opened my eyes again, a maze of toppled stools and the echoing sound of a slammed
door were all that accompanied me in the empty room.
Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud—
“What in the world do you think you’re doing at—” I threw a quick glance at the
clock, “6:08 in the morning?” My roommate made no sign of replying, and continued to
repeatedly chuck a bouncy ball at the wall. “You’re going to wake up the entire adoption
center with that noise, then the she-demon of hall monitors is going to come and then
we’ll be—oh my God.” I threw my blankets off and padded over to her bed, which was
littered with shredded photographs. Each one was of the same person, a beautiful woman
in her mid-twenties with a cropped head of blonde hair and bright golden eyes. I
crouched down and picked up a few, noticing that each one had been meticulously cut
right through the center of her face. The thudding noise had stopped.
“Are you trying to make hamster bedding for yourself or something, Lynn?”
Golden eyes glared down at me with a ferocity that I’d become accustomed to in the past
years. Once upon a time they would’ve been enough to send me cowering and blubbering
to the warden, but that was before a monumental discovery that I had made over time.
But seeing her face up close, something clicked into place. I looked at the photograph in
my hand, and then back up at Lynn. “Oh.”
She glared at me for another few seconds before returning her attention to the
bouncy ball. My mattress squeaked in protest as I flopped back down on it and began
examining my fingernails, feigning a look of nonchalance.
“So I’m guessing the session with Dr. Janzen didn’t go too well yesterday?” No
reply. “He seriously needs to realize that just because you start talking doesn’t mean he
gets to press further.” Still no reply. “Or y’know, you could get over your mommy
problems and stop going there.”
I anticipated the whirl of color that comes flying at my face, and ducked just in
time to avoid getting bruised by the rubber ball. Lynn and I were standing in an instant,
and in that split second I noticed just how much smaller she really was; I was a good half
a head taller than her. “And I suppose you just know everything about me,” she sneered.
“Actually, I pretty much do. The only thing I don’t know is how long you’re
planning to keep up this act.” For the second time since I’ve known her, I could tell that
Lynn wasn’t silent by her own accord. The raindrops begin their rhythmic tapping again
after their brief hiatus for the first night in days. I took the moment to absorb all the tiny
details that had faded away with time; her chromatic hair, the snake, the scar that was the
beginning and ending of her entire life. Those things that used to horrify me were
unnoticeable now. “I’ve never actually told you how I knew that you were pretending,
have I?” I mused. “It’s because I think people who are actually insane try their best to
hide it. But you literally wear it on you.” I flicked my gaze to meet hers, brown to gold,
and something inside me loosens when I see that they did not hold their usual
viciousness. “As if you think that, somehow, it’ll protect you.” I touched my fingertips
against her forehead and felt her flinch, but she didn’t pull away. Somehow, the scar
didn’t feel as rough as it seemed. “From people like her. From what she did.”
She finally slapped my hand away and turned around to lie back down on her bed.
My hand fell to my side as an aching disappointment sunk into me. I gritted my teeth
together; there were only so many more chances I had left, I couldn’t put this off forever.
“I’ve spent nearly my entire life here, so obviously I wouldn’t really know,” I
heard myself say. “But for so long now I’ve thought of you as a sister to me. I guess it’s
just because I never really fit in anywhere, or with anyone, until you came. Us weird ones
just naturally group together, eh?” I laughed weakly, shifting my weight from one leg to
another. “But in a couple more months, I’ll be gone from this place forever. In another
year, you should be too.” Then I noticed that I’d been talking to the back of her head.
“Cailynn, listen to me!” She shifted slightly, but made no move to turn around. Well, as
long as she was still awake. “They’re not going to let you go if they still think you’re
crazy. I don’t know what will happen, but…I’m so, so scared for you, Lynn.” My throat
burned like I’d just swallowed acid as I tried to keep my composure. “You chose this
place over your old life with that woman, so I can only imagine what a hellhole that must
have been, but that’s just what it is now. Your old life. It can’t hurt you anymore. You
have to realize that and start facing reality.”
As soon as I was done talking, I realized that all of my words had simply grazed
her ears and fell right back out, as words that are spoken to her tended to do. All the
tension in my body suddenly evaporated as I fell down onto my bed, defeated. But I still
had tomorrow, and all the tomorrows after that to make her understand. My eyelids
drooped down as if it had finally registered in my mind that it was far too early for such
“Hey, we still have over an hour until we have to get up,” I slurred, already half
asleep. “Apparently a few new kids are coming. We could have some fun scaring the crap
out of them.” It was always hilarious, watching their reactions when they saw Lynn for
the first time. I tried to forget the fact that I was exactly like them ten years ago.
In the hesitant light of the breaking dawn, I saw a pair of golden eyes peer at me
just as I closed my own. And through the thick haze of lethargy, I heard the sweetest
words that smoothed the worried creases on my face into a faint smile. But by then I was
too far asleep to have known who they belonged to and what had been said.