By James F. Troschke
Senior Warden Vincent Robinson liked his job. He understood dealing with deluded and sometimes violent schizophrenics wasn’t for everyone, and that’s why he liked it even more. It made him feel special, because he could help them. He could make them feel like valued members of society; normal functioning individuals. If that meant doubling (or tripling) their medication without a doctor’s consent, so be it. He was the master of this realm, and ethics was not a word he was very familiar with.
He also liked to listen to the patients; follow their twisting trains of thought, try and understand why they thought the things they did. If that proved impossible, he liked to study their faces, their expressions. Few men took delight in looking into dead, hopeless eyes, but Vincent was proud to say he was one of them. The abyss that he had often gazed into had given him what he believed to be a ‘secret’ knowledge of humanity, an insight into the hidden depths of brokenness that few people would ever experience. It did not disturb him. He often found himself smiling while patting their hands and telling them that everything would be just fine, even if they were convinced the world had ended three years ago and they were living in the dreams of a fish-god called Rodney.
Of course, some patients were more interesting than others, and one in particular had fascinated Vincent since the day he had met her. Her name was Lily. She was nineteen, but didn’t look it – her porcelain, near-translucent skin gave her the appearance of a child, her long, straight blonde hair framed her face so perfectly that he often caught himself staring at her for reasons that had nothing to do with psychiatry. And she stared back, her pure, piercing blue eyes boring into his. He had never seen her blink. Nor had she ever uttered a word since she had been admitted.
She expressed herself through the most exquisite, detailed artwork Vincent had ever seen. Landscapes, portraits, still-life, creatures and beings of myth and fancy, no subject was beyond her. She painted slowly, meticulously, her eyes glazed over as if she was in a trance, or in another place completely. It didn’t matter how much Thorazine he pumped into her, the results were always the same. He had no idea where she had acquired such wondrous skills, or whether it was just an innate talent. He had tried to pry an answer out of her, even a gesture or a murmur, but the only reply was the gentle whisper of brush on paper.
Vincent wasn’t a particularly wealthy man, and when he saw the opportunity to boost his balances, he snatched at it with his sweaty, small hands. He had already sold twelve pieces of Lily’s work to art lovers from all over the country, word having spread of her prodigious talent. He was quite sure she had no idea that her pieces were now hanging in the mansions of art buffs far and wide, in fact Vincent was quite sure that she aware of very little apart from the canvas in front of her. And that was just fine with him, as long as she kept doing what she was doing, and he kept making a pretty penny for himself in the process.
Vincent awoke at 6am. As soon as he emerged from the sordid pool of his ‘different’ dreams, a smile crept over his face. Today was Tuesday. Lily Day. His smile continued to grow until it split his unshaved, fat face, as he pondered what delights she had in store for him this time.
…what day is it today?…I can’t remember what days are, what are their names again?…I’ve been down here so long now…things fall away and lose their meaning but that’s okay…I’ll be okay because I’m safe here in my Special Place…there’s the rocking-horsey in the corner, and my big pet panda right next to him…the carpet is so soft and warm on my little feet…I can hear mummy and daddy talking outside about balance and a big word starting with ‘p’…they don’t sound happy…I go over to my bookshelf and look at all the pretty pictures in all my pretty books…I give my panda a big cuddle so he doesn’t feel so lonely…I have everything I ever need right here, in my Special Place…no one can hurt me here…I’m the Princess…everything is going to be okay…daddy is yelling now…
“In early today, boss?”
Vincent glanced at some drone behind the reception desk, didn’t even bother to respond. His mind was on other things. Delicious things of another world. He almost had enough money for that new Audi A8 he had always wanted. Then he would feel like a real man. A real, big man with a big German car. If he could just sell two or three more pieces, he would be right where we wanted to be.
He practically ran through three sets of doors, down five corridors, and was not surprised to feel a trickle of saliva slide down the side of his mouth as he neared Lily’s room. His heart was thumping against his ribs like an excited beast, his eyes bulging behind thick glasses.
…today the fat man comes again doesn’t he?…he will look at me funny and then take my pretty picture away…I’m the Princess…
Vincent burst into Lily’s room. She was standing by the window, her back to him. There was no artwork to be seen. Just aseptic white.
“Lily?” he whispered, then more urgently, “Lily? Have you been a bad girl? Where’s your lovely painting? The one of the forest you had almost finished?”
He knew her hearing was fine, and her comprehension too. When she had first come to the institution, all tests had confirmed that she had the capabilities to communicate if she chose to, however it was obviously something she wasn’t interested in. Eventually she turned to face him. Her eyes looked bluer than ever today, tragically innocent in such a way that even Vincent felt a pang of what might have been sorrow somewhere inside his wretched being.
“Lily?” he asked again, his voice rimmed now with irritation. He was not a patient man. “Are you hiding something special from me?” He smirked, his yellowed, crooked teeth making a brief appearance as he approached her slowly. She didn’t move.
“Is there anything you want to show Mister Robinson today?” he said, and it was then that he saw a faint outline of what looked like folded paper underneath her white gown, one edge slightly catching the fabric, betraying its concealment. “Is there something under there?” More teeth. A blast of fetid breath. He didn’t even own a toothbrush. “Do I have to look for myself?”
She stayed motionless, her eyes fixed on his. It was then that Vincent understood that he hadn’t the faintest idea what this girl was thinking, and for the first time it unnerved him. The lack of any conversation between them had perhaps given him a sense of complacency, that she was just another savant, a brilliant autistic girl who had suffered a severe form of psychosis rendering her unable to function in society. He had never really stopped to consider what was going on behind those eyes. Eyes like no other.
To his shock, she smiled. And then spoke. The only words he would ever hear her say.
“No you can’t see. It’s for my Special Place.”
With startling alacrity, she slipped a thin paintbrush she had kept hidden under the sleeve of her gown into her right hand, and reversing it so the thin but sharp wooden tip faced the warden’s chest, thrust it straight into his heart with a strength belying her sleight frame. The look of pure, horrified surprise on his face made her giggle.
“You know we need her back, don’t you John? She can’t just stay in that place forever. Ignoring the problem isn’t going to make it go away.”
“You’ve seen what she’s like! What’s she going to do without help and meds? You know what happened last time we brought her back here.”
“I’ve heard things about her. About her paintings. Apparently one of my friends knew someone who bought one of them. For a lot of money. And you know we aren’t exactly rolling in it right now.”
John threw the Xanax pill down this throat, swallowed it without water.
“How much money?”
“Fifty thousand. From what I gathered.”
John looked at his wife as calmly as possible.
“Maybe more, she wasn’t sure.”
“Get the car keys.”
Vincent collapsed soundlessly, his mouth a perfect O. Blood leaked from the small but fatal wound in a thin trickle that grew into a crimson stream, enveloping him as he slumped onto the white floor of Lily’s room. What a mess she had made. How was she going to clean all this up? Would she be in trouble?
…the Special Place will hide me I’m always safe there nobody can get me…I’m invisible I’m the Princess and there will just be smiles and cakes and happy people telling me I’m a good girl and look at how well I can draw it’s truly a gift but why doesn’t she talk why doesn’t she talk why doesn’t she talk why doesn’t she talk why doesn’t she…
Lily scratched at her face as dark memories rose up and threatened to overwhelm her, a thousand voices all yelling at once. She felt new emotions, strange new feelings welling up inside of her, pulling and stretching her mind in directions she wasn’t sure it was supposed to go in. And suddenly she began to cry. Not from blue eyes. Now they were as black as the vilest of sins.
She reached down and plucked the paintbrush from the warden’s chest. He rolled over to look up at her, still clinging to his vanishing life, and his pleading, desperate expression made her laugh. This time it wasn’t a giggle but a fiendish chortle that sounded foreign to her own ears, but she felt no fear or remorse. Yes, she had taken a lot of pills this morning but she felt more alive than ever.
…probably best to make sure he’s gone for good otherwise he might find the Special Place and then I won’t be the Princess anymore…
With devilish fury she plunged the sharp tip of the brush into the warden again and again, his face, his chest, his legs, his eyes, and licked up the blood as it splattered her face. Senior Warden Vincent Robinson didn’t move anymore.
“Do you even know where this place is? It seems like we’re going in circles John,”
“I know exactly, so just calm down. We’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Lily’s father felt more excited than he had in years.
…it’s time for me to go to the Special Place forever now…I can’t stay here anymore look at what I’ve done they will do terrible things to me when they find out…I won’t be the Princess anymore there will just be the pain and the dark and no more cuddles and tea parties with mister horsey and mister panda and I just have to focus now focus everything I am…
Lily once again removed the paintbrush from the body of the warden, and as she did so, felt the new sensations she had experienced before crystallize within her, a crackling, burning flash of power that at first scared her, but only moments later left her calm and full of an unfathomable power that she (somehow) knew was useful for only one thing.
She took the still-folded piece of artwork from under her gown, and unfurling it, placed it on the easel in the corner of the room. A beautifully drawn forest landscape looked back at her, a huge oak tree dominating the scene. There was a small treehouse perched in its colossal boughs, a place where she thought it would be nice to sit and have a cup of tea with her best friends in the whole wide world. Without any conscious thought, she dipped the paintbrush into the blood that surrounded the warden’s corpse. There was plenty to work with.
Her head was on fire, her hands electrified. She drew with manic speed and uncompromising accuracy, and soon enough there was a perfect representation of herself sitting in the treehouse, her pale thin legs dangling over the edge. As she finished, her entire body was suffused with yet another unfamiliar feeling. This one was more bizarre than anything she had ever felt. It was like an enormous vacuum had opened in front of her and was literally sucking her into the picture.
…my Special Place just for me let me be there forever they will never find me then…
She began to thin out – skin, bone and muscle dissolving and flowing into the blood-red image of herself in the painting. The colours of the forest swirled frantically into an inescapable vortex that she knew should rob her of all remaining sanity, but there was only warmth and comfort. And the sweet relief of knowing that this would be her ultimate escape, what she had always wished for.
Within a few moments she was gone, as though she had fallen into a black hole.
“Sir, excuse me, you can’t just go in there,” the receptionist shouted as John, wife in tow, blasted through the doors of Wing C2, the place where her daughter had ‘lived’ these past two years. He heard a cry of ‘Security!’ but nothing was going to stop him from getting Lily out of this place now, regardless of what she had done in the past. It would be a new start for all of them. Hopefully a profitable one, too.
The couple came to the door, LILY CHAMBERS written on the front in black marker. There wasn’t even a plaque. He knew this place was cheap, but really?
He tried the doorknob, expecting it to be locked, but it swung open with ease. Suddenly he wished he had taken more than just one Xanax pill before leaving.
The stench and viscera of the scene left both of them reeling, but John was determined not to leave without what he had come here for. But there was only the body of a fat, old man, stabbed an indeterminable amount of times, and a lavishly painted landscape scene on a rickety-looking wooden easel. It had blood on it too, a huge red blot in the middle. He couldn’t sell that.
“Where is Lily?” he bellowed, his senses scrambled, every limb twitching with unease.
“Who is that?” his wife asked, staring at the body with morbid intensity.
“I don’t give a fuck, I just want our girl back, now!” he roared, and grabbed the now worthless piece of art from the easel.
In a psychotic rage (something he had passed down to Lily, just in a more placid form), he tore at it, ripping it into tiny pieces. If he had listened closely he would have heard his little girl screaming as loudly as she could, begging him to stop, trying to explain that this was her Special Place now, and without it, she was nowhere.
A few seconds later her parents had left the room, demanding answers that would never come to pass.
…I’m still here aren’t I?…I’m just smaller now, and it’s just me and the treehouse…
…just me and the…