SEVEN YEARS AGO
It never happened. It was just a dream.
The young girl ran her chilled fingers over the goose bumps on her arms and rocked back and forth in the dark oak chair, chanting the mantra over and over again in her head.
It never happened.
Trying to make herself believe the hollow words.
It was just a dream.
Or at least to sound convincing enough to fool her psychiatrist.
I made it all up.
She shuddered again as she heard the ancient heater on the far wall kick on with a long rattle, followed by a whoosh of steam. Maybe now the room would warm up and she could stop shivering.
But it really didn’t matter. She would still shake. The cold did little to hide the nervous trembling that had plagued her since she mysteriously showed up here a few months ago.
The days, hours, weeks—they all ran together, creating a void that consumed her memories and numbed her to the world. All she knew was her next treatment, her next appointment, her next test. Sorting real memories from terrifying images and clinging to what remained of her true self—or what she guessed was herself—was becoming a challenge.
It never happened.
She bit the tip of her thumb to cause just enough pain to snap her out of that dark place, away from the horrible images she’d seen.
Don’t go there. Concentrate on better things.
What did her doctor always say? That’s right. Happy thoughts. She needed to focus on happy thoughts to chase away the darkness.
There weren’t any mirrors in the hall, but she caught a glimpse of her reflection from the glass window of the nurses’ station across the way. At first it startled her. She didn’t recognize the scared young girl sitting curled in the chair, biting her thumb. Dark rings showed under her eyes, and her dull blonde hair fell past her shoulders, begging for a trim. Her freckles seemed stark against her pale skin. Had she always looked so young and scared? Had she lost weight?
Pop! She accidentally bit too hard and cracked the nail on her thumb.
Stop that! You have to get yourself together. Be calm. Be confident. Be normal.
Normal. Such an odd concept. A state she would never experience as long as she kept ranting about things no one else could see. She glanced down the hall and noticed the armed guard sitting on the other side of the fire door.
The office door swung open, and the psychiatrist’s black heels clicked on the tile as she stopped by her chair. When the doctor turned the full force of her dark brown eyes her way, the girl shivered.
A loose black bun rested at the nape of the woman’s neck, and her white physician’s coat hung open, revealing a somber black pantsuit. The doctor’s silver-painted finger beckoned her into the office, and the girl followed, taking a seat in the chair facing the desk. The building smelled sterile, except for this room, where the scent of fresh roses filled the air. It was hard to miss the pale pink buds in the vase on the filing cabinet. A gift from a suitor perhaps, or maybe the doctor’s way of bringing something living into a very dead environment?
The the gold-lettered nameplate on the desk read Dr. S. Mee.
Dr. Mee walked around slowly, pulling open a manila file folder and splaying it across her desk. She pushed record on a small digital tape recorder and set it down. Elbows on the file, the woman clasped her hands in front of her face and looked across at her.
“Subject number 1-04,” Dr. Mee started.
The girl shook her head, refusing to acknowledge her assigned number. Her doctor’s lips pinched together before she smiled softly. “Okay, but only in here. This is between us, all right?”
The child nodded, confident she could keep a secret.
Dr. Mee’s eyes squinted ever so slightly as she read the folder. “So, my darling Wendy. Do you still see shadows fly into your room at night?” She chuckled slightly in a disbelieving tone, “and do they promise to whisk you away from Neverland?”
“No,” Wendy lied, and a small tremor began in her hand. She tucked the hand under her thigh. Maybe the doctor wouldn’t notice.
“I see,” Dr. Mee intoned, dragging the last word out. “That’s a bit disappointing.” She pursed her lips and made a clicking noise with her tongue. “So you don’t see shadows?”
“No,” Wendy recited, trying to smother her nervousness.
Her doctor lifted a piece of paper and read something that was written across the bottom. “That’s not what the night nurse is saying here. At two a.m. you were screaming and pounding on the doors because there was a shadow in your room. Is this true?” She looked across the table.
Wendy shrugged. “I don’t remember saying that.”
“You know, Wendy, I only want what’s best for you. If you don’t tell me the truth, I am unable to help you. What about other side effects…anything at all from the treatments you’ve been given? Do you feel stronger, can you jump higher…anything at all?”
Wendy shook her head. Silent tears trickled shamefully down her cheek.
“Wendy, the corporation wants results, and so far we’ve seen very little—especially from you.” Dr. Mee said. “You’re special. I’ve known that since the moment you came to my facility. You were chosen to be a part of something that will one day help a lot of people. Unfortunately, I don’t see how hallucinating shadows will help anyone. It’s not what they’re looking for. I think you’re going to do extraordinary things someday.” She closed her folder. “It just won’t be today.”
She took her glasses off to rub her hand over her tired face. “I just wish we had something more to show for our efforts.” Dr. Mee looked over at the calendar and sighed. “We’re running out of time,” she said to no one in particular.
Wendy held her breath. She knew she and the other kids were undergoing special treatments, getting tested for something, but she wasn’t sure what. Every few weeks, a group of soldiers would come to the facility and whisk the special kids away. The ones whose results were promising. Her best friend had been taken a few weeks ago, and she’d been so alone without him. She couldn’t have imagined how lonely the place would be without his mischievous smile and wild tales.
A rumor circulated among the other kids that they were taken someplace special, given new families. Wendy wasn’t sure what she believed.
Here, at least she was given meals and a bed. And what if the kids were right? What if those who showed progress were given to new families, were given a home? Maybe she shouldn’t hide anymore, maybe she should tell the truth to Dr. Mee about what else was happening to her. The doctor probably knew more than she was letting on anyway. Then maybe Wendy would be selected like the others, and she could find her friend.
But as soon as the thought crossed her mind, fear loomed up and overwhelmed her with doubt.
Did the government even know this facility existed? She bet not. The only people who ever came in and out of here were the staff and the soldiers who wore the badge bearing a red skull. Was the chance of a better future—a home—worth facing the cruel gossip from the other kids?
Dr. Mee gazed down at her hands. “I like you, Wendy, and I really want to help you, but I don’t think you’re ready yet for the next step in the program. What you have is a gift. You can see things no one else can. Unfortunately, that’s not something they consider useful. They will probably label your results a failure.”
Wendy’s mouth opened, and Dr. Mee raised her eyebrow and cut her off. “You’re not hiding it well enough, and since you’re so adamant about lying about your gift, you’ll have to continue pretending for a bit longer.”
Wendy blinked. She wasn’t surprised when Dr. Mee called her out on her lie; she wasn’t good at it. But was confused about why she suddenly encouraged it.
“If anyone, kids and staff included, ask about what you can do—lie. Can you do this for me?”
Wendy couldn’t contain the trembling, but she nodded slowly.
“Good girl, Wendy. You haven’t told anyone else about the shadows?”
“Keep it that way. The less they know the better,” Dr. Mee said. “I don’t think it will hurt them if we delay reporting your results for a little longer. Maybe something will change in the next few days.” She studied Wendy with a pensive stare. “But that’s all I can give you. A few days—maximum—because I know Wendy. And if I know…they’ll soon know. Understood?”
“Good. You can go back to your room.”
Wendy pushed out the chair to stand and hesitated. Now that she’d started thinking about leaving this place, she couldn’t stop. “Dr. Mee, when do you think I can go home?” Her voice sounded smaller than her ten years.
“Home? Why, Wendy, you are home.”
Stay tuned. I’ll release a teaser of Chapter Two in the next few days!
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