The massive wrought iron gate creaked ominously as it swung open in front of the car, revealing a long driveway edged in big, old growth trees. Although my heart was pounding, my mind was calm. Resignation had settled over me days ago, then morphed into resolve. I knew there was no getting out of this, no way to convince them I didn’t need this. Still, when we came to a stop, some small hopeful part of me had to try just one more time.
“You really think this is going to fix me?” I asked Mother, my tone skating the line between the respect she demanded and the anger I’d been suppressing for as long as I could remember.
I tried to read something from what I could see of her profile, but her perfectly painted red lips never softened, and her cold blue eyes never moved to return my stare.
“Just grab your bag, Lydia,” Mother scolded dismissively.
She was really good at acting mad and indifferent all at once.
I gritted my teeth to hold back the words I knew wouldn’t make a difference and faced forward again. She’d parked in front of the sprawling building at the end of the drive and stepped out of the car without another word. When I followed her out, I staggered as the feelings trickling out of the building hit me. Abject despair, rage, and terror washed over me in waves, making it hard to breathe for a moment, before I closed my eyes and blocked them out. When I opened them again, my gaze immediately landed on the plaque positioned next to the large, double wooden entry doors.
Brocker’s Center for the Criminally Insane
That doesn’t sound ominous or anything.
I knew I didn’t belong here, but the more I pleaded with my parents that the visions and voices weren’t that big of a deal, the more they ignored me. Well, Father ignored me, nonetheless, since I was a disappointment to the family name. I was practically shunned for my differences. That’s what happened when you came from a rich family. And not just any rich family, but one that was well known within the community and came from old money passed down from generation to generation. Mother wasn’t about to let anything sully the Bloom name.
I sucked in a bracing breath and tried to bury the knowledge that I was about to be trapped in this place of despair. Leaning back into the car, I retrieved my one small bag filled with just the essentials. It was pointless to bring much else, considering I’d be given whatever I was allowed to have. Perish the thought that I try to bring shoes that have laces. I’d apparently try to fasten a noose and hang myself from a light fixture in the bathroom. Father’s words. Not mine. And not said to me, but divulged to my mother while I was pointedly ignored not three feet away.
This is going to be fun.
Mother pushed the buzzer next to the huge doors and announced my name, “Lydia Bloom, here for voluntary commitment.”
I scoffed softly. I didn’t think that last part was true or needed to be stated. Voluntary was a mild term, not to mention wildly incorrect.
More like threatened to be disowned should I not comply with my parents’... demands.
I was nineteen, after all. They couldn’t force me in here, but they could blackmail me into agreeing. My mother made a backroom deal with the judge so that instead of jail time, I’d be serving a shorter sentence here, hidden away like a dirty secret. A Bloom being sent to jail would’ve made the news, but voluntarily committing themselves to an asylum two towns over? Nobody would know.
When I balked at being locked away in a madhouse, my parents sweetened the pot. They couldn’t have their friends and business partners finding out their only child was in jail, so they told me they’d pay the entirety of my college tuition and allow me to move out if I agreed to this. I couldn’t afford college without their money. I wanted to get my degree and get the hell out of their clutches more than anything, so I consented. Two months of voluntary commitment and they’d let me go, as well as sweep my indiscretion under the rug.
The thing was, only I would come out a winner in this. I was perfectly sane. I’d blow through these two months and be gone from them forever. They’d have spent another hunk of their cash for my treatment here and gotten nothing in return.
There was another buzzing sound, and one of the doors screeched open slowly.
With the opening of the door, another, stronger wave of terror and pain emanated from the building, fracturing my resolve. It was my determination alone that gave me the courage to walk in instead of running as fast as I could in the other direction. Once inside, the door slammed shut behind us, making me jump. Glancing back, I saw that there was no one there.
It’s fine. They’re just automated. This place definitely isn’t haunted.
I quickly took note of all the easy-to-spot exits, just in case. You never knew when you might need to make a quick getaway in places like this.
Not that it would matter, apparently. Every door seemed to be only accessible using a key card, and every window was barred.
Mother walked us to the reception desk and stated my name to the burly-looking orderly standing on the other side of the glass. They exchanged empty pleasantries, both of them ignoring me like I was invisible, before he slid over a clipboard with some paperwork attached. Only then did he acknowledge me.
“Sign the bottom and we’ll get you situated,” he grumbled to me, eyeing me up and down like I was about to attack the glass at any moment, screaming about how the voices made me do it, while simultaneously throwing my poop at him.
How he managed to communicate all that in one look, I didn’t know. I was impressed with his skill, nonetheless.
I tried to read over the paperwork, but Mother just shook the pen at me impatiently and hissed, “Oh for goodness sake, Lydia. Just sign it. It’s basic stuff. You’ll be here for two months, visiting hours on weekends, one phone call a day after the first forty-eight hours, and you’re agreeing that it’s voluntary. That’s it. Now, sign it. It’s either this or jail time and a massive fine for the damage you’ve caused. Consider yourself lucky.”
“Not sure why you even bothered with the phone call or visiting hours bullshit. We both know you won’t do either,” I retorted, snatching the pen from her and quickly etching my signature onto the line, effectively signing away all my rights and my soul.
“Don’t be so dramatic, Lydia. It’s only two months.”
After returning the clipboard to the man, he stopped me from stepping back by telling me to hold out my right hand. He fiddled with something under the counter then reached out and fastened a white, laminated patient bracelet to my wrist, just like the kind you get at the hospital. On it was my name, age, eye color, and height, along with None after allergies.
My mother, obviously thinking she’d finished her part of this ordeal, thanked the orderly then fluttered out of the building as fast as her Prada shoes would carry her, not even bothering to say goodbye.
Just like that, I was on my own. Not that that was in any way new.
“This way, Miss Bloom,” clipped a feminine voice from behind me.
Another orderly had appeared while I was staring after the retreating form of my mother. The stout, stern woman motioned towards a hallway with one of those metal detector things in the walkway.
“First, we’ll scan you for any weapons. Your personal effects will be collected and processed then held until you’re released. After that, you’ll be given a strip search to make sure nothing is being hidden in places we don’t see. This is non-negotiable,” she said as she lead me through the scanning process. They took my bag and deposited it on a cart where another orderly wheeled it away.
“As stated in the paperwork, visiting hours are on Saturday and Sunday from one p.m. to two-thirty p.m. Phone calls are monitored and can be placed or received Monday through Friday from one p.m. to two p.m. You will be placed in North Ward with the less violent patients. East Ward is for the most violent offenders, from murder to sexual deviance. You are strictly forbidden from entering East Ward, unless you cause problems, in which case you’ll be moved there where your freedoms are nonexistent. Trust me, you don’t want to end up there. West Ward is where all your therapy activities and sessions will be held. And finally, South Ward is the medical ward. You will meet with our facilities Warden and psychiatrist, Dr. Ferrer, three times a week to ascertain your medication needs as your days progress here. You’ll also have sessions with North Ward’s psychologist, Dr. Fletcher, for solo emotional evaluations and group therapy sessions with Dr. Park. These are non-negotiable.”
It was a lot to remember, but I just continued nodding my head. I had a feeling I’d be getting psychoanalyzed by someone while here. I just hadn’t realized how often and how many would be doing it. It also made me wonder what crap they’d prescribe me.
The orderly finished with the scan then led me farther down the hall. She continued talking as we went, giving me the lowdown of what was expected of me. Basic common sense stuff, mostly.
Don’t attack the orderlies.
Don’t tamper with any light fixtures or other pieces of the facility’s property.
Take all your meds, and eat all your meals.
Rooms stay locked at night.
Stay out of East Ward.
No exceptions on any of these.
It was a nuthouse. Literally.
After a humiliating, scary, very uncomfortable, and extremely awkward strip search with the orderly, we made it to a large room that seemed to be a sort of common area. Several people were milling about in grey and white shirts and sweatpants. It wasn’t until I really looked that I even noticed it wasn’t a normal scene you saw every day.
There were a few people who looked perfectly ordinary; sad and out of it perhaps, but ordinary. It wasn’t until I looked closer that I spotted one guy pointing at a blank wall, shaking with silent laughter. A woman with a short, pale pixie cut, who looked to be only a few years older than me, was lying on the floor sliding her arms and legs up and down as if making a snow angel. I was pretty sure I even saw a guy licking a chess piece as he sat at a table with the board in front of him.
My parents really think I belong here?
A small pile of clothes was shoved into my arms.
“These are the only clothes allowed to be worn here. You’ll also be supplied with socks and sandals. There are three pairs of underwear, shirts, and pants, as well as one hoodie. Laundry is every Monday and Thursday, so be sure to get as little as possible on them. I’ll take you to your room, where you’ll remain until someone comes to fetch you for your first session with Dr. Ferrer. After that, you’ll be on lock down for the first forty-eight hours so we can assess your level of volatility. You act up, you get locked back in your room or moved to East Ward. Understand?”
I nodded my head, not entirely sure what to say to that. I’d been so confident that I’d breeze through my stay here, but the more rules she spouted off, the more I stared at the obviously crazy people doing very obviously crazy things, the more I began to doubt.
As the orderly walked me down one of the three halls branching off from the circular common room, I felt eyes on the back of my head, sending a tingling sensation up the back of my neck.
But when I turned my head, I didn’t spot anyone watching me.
Great. This place is already rubbing off on me…