by Chris Bedell
I had been at the institution for a week when I decided to play the piano in the common room during my free time, which was one the advantage over prison. Because I at least wasn’t chained to my bed.
I placed my hands down on the keys, seeing if I remembered any of my piano lessons from elementary school.
I couldn’t even fathom how Horatio was one step ahead of me this whole time. Getting the police and district attorney’s office to believe I was crazy was beyond me. He must have bribed the psychiatrists or something, as it was the only way they would go along with this sham.
Horatio was smart, though. He committed 100 percent effort to his campaign against me. And I would give him that. He knew it wasn’t enough to accuse me of something bad. He had to commit to it. I bit my lip. Demented didn’t even begin to describe the latest turn. I would almost go as far as to call it demonic. I still didn’t understand why he hadn’t killed me. It would have been easier. He could have explained my death if he found a way to frame me for a crime I didn’t commit. He must have really wanted me to suffer death by 1001 cuts. That had to be it. It was the only logical explanation.
Although I would have to be honest with myself if I ever wanted to escape the mental institution and defeat Horatio. There had always bad blood with Horatio. Even before he killed Mom.
Horatio and I stood in the hotel swimming pool three years earlier after him and Mom decided we should take an impromptu family vacation in an effort to bond. Sweat also clung to my face.
I splashed some of the pool water on the back of my neck, trying to cool myself off. “Do you know when Mom is coming back from running her errand?”
His red eyes soon became fixated on me. He didn’t even blink, flinch, or make any other facial expression. “No. I don’t.”
“I need to talk to her ASAP. It’s important,” I said.
“You need to learn when to shut up.”
“Hopefully, she’ll come back soon.”
“I said, shut up. You’re a stupid girl.”
He grabbed my head before I could do anything. He then dunked it in the pool while I moved my hands through the air to free myself. But my effort was futile. Horatio must have been more than double my weight.
I just couldn’t believe it. I was about to drown.
He let me go thirty seconds later. “I hope you learned your lesson.”
I scowled at him. “You’re a monster.”
“I don’t care what you think of me. It’s not like your Mom will believe you.”
Tears rolled down my cheeks while I averted my gaze. Making eye contact was the last thing I wanted. It was bad enough Horatio tried to kill me. But I couldn’t let him think he actually got to me. Although he did. And to say anything else would have been a lie.
A figure popped out at me from the corner of my eyes, which snapped me out of my digression. Although only the back of the person’s head was visible. But it was enough. And I could have sworn the lady had an uncanny resemblance to Mom.
I rose before trekking after the lady. I had nothing to lose since it wasn’t like my life could get any worse.
My chuckling vibrated against the walls. The old saying, “curiosity killed the cat” applied to me. I was unable to leave the situation alone and was now paying for it. But there was one thing I could take solace in. Curiosity might have killed the cat, but satisfactory brought him back.
There was hope for me yet, and I would still get my happy ending. It would just require more effort. Although I was up for the challenge. I deserved more than to spend the rest of my life in a mental institution.
I followed the lady into the empty hallway before she whirled around a moment later.
I couldn’t believe it. The figure didn’t have an uncanny resemblance to my mother. She was Mom.
This couldn’t be because she was supposed to be dead.
I forced a gulp of air into my lungs. “Is this really you, Mom?”
She nodded. “Yes. It is.”
I rolled my eyes, wanting to believe this person was Mom. I just couldn’t fathom the situation for some reason. “I thought you were dead.”
She glared. “I am. It’s just that ghosts can go between both worlds.”
“What do you mean both worlds?”
Mom sighed. “I didn’t want to scare you so I disguised myself to look human to the naked eye. But I’m not.”
“I don’t understand?”
She snapped her fingers, revealing her true form: a silver milky substance.
I pushed up the sleeves of my gown. Everything in this place was drenched in white, which was an abomination. “Do you know about Julian?”
“Yes,” she said. “He’s from my world.”
I swallowed the bitter feeling in my throat. “Can I trust him?”
“Yes. Julian is telling you the truth. He was killed when he was around your age.”
“But why was he transformed into a rabbit?” I asked.
She twirled a strand of hair. “I guess he didn’t tell you the whole story?”
“No. He didn’t.”
She jumped in the air, allowing her body to hover a good five feet off the ground. “He did some bad things when he was younger and was granted a second chance. But I’m guessing you know that part.”
Tears flew down my face. “I still don’t get what you’re doing here.”
Yeah. I had a right to be confused even if I would have given anything to have this moment with Mom last forever. Okay. Anything might have been the wrong word. But my point remained clear, though. I originally thought I would never see Mom again.
Mom remained silent for a moment. “I had to come back to see you. I didn’t care about getting into trouble.”
I furrowed my eyebrows. “I don’t understand. I thought you said the dead can travel between both words.”
“They can,” she said. “But interacting with humans is kind of frowned on; not that anyone cares.”
I sobbed some more. I was with Mom, and didn’t have to pretend to be brave. “Were you ever suspicious of him?”
She averted her gaze, choosing to look down at the floor instead. Even the floor was white! That was incredible. It was like they never heard of using another color. “I had my doubts. But I did what any person in love does. I made excuses”
Yuck. Mom used the word, “love” to describe her dynamic with Horatio. I mean, it was enough to make me vomit.
“I don’t understand why you stayed with him.” I pulled a cloth out from my pocket, wiping both of my eyes.
“Yeah. I’m starting to wonder that too. I’m beginning to think I made a big mistake.” She still couldn’t look me in the eye. “But not having your dad around was tough.”
That was a topic Mom and I never talked about it since avoidance was an easier tactic than dealing with the truth. But kids dealt with messed up families all the time. Some parents walked out on their child and spouse while other kids had to deal with divorce. Teachers and adults in general condescended children too much. It was one thing to have an age appropriate conversation with a kid, but it was another to avoid a topic.
“You have to get Julian. He has to get me out of here. Unless you can help me?”
She swayed her head back and forth. “I wish I could. But I have to get going. I’ll go find him though. I’ve been looking for him for the past week and haven’t found a single shred of information about his whereabouts.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it.” I continued staring at Mom, as if my pleading glance would somehow bring her back to life. I also couldn’t forget what she looked like. This might have been my only opportunity to have closure. “Anyway, forgive me for being rude, but I have to ask one question. Do you know where he put your body?”
“I’m sorry, but I have to go,” she interrupted. “Although I want you to know how proud I am of you. Never forget that.”
Mom was gone before I could say another word.
“What are you doing here, Esme?” called out a voice.
I shifted my weight. “Why are you in a mental institution, Mrs. Daniels?”
She faked a grin. “I asked you first.”
I drew in several breaths, struggling to put the whole situation into words. I still didn’t believe it was true. “I’m surprised you don’t know already since you work at the police department. Horatio set me up to take the fall for Mrs. Roberts’s murder. He planted my blood, and strand of my hair at the crime scene in the woods. Horatio is making the police and district attorney’s office think I’m crazy. He says I haven’t been taking my medication and he got someone who claims to be my psychiatrist and another doctor to commit me against my will.”
She rubbed the back of her head for a good minute. “Wow. That’s messed up.”
Nope. Messed up didn’t even begin to describe Horatio’s plan. It was more like a word, which I was too young to use. Whatever. Debating semantics wouldn’t bring Mom back to life, get me out of the mental institution faster, or help me defeat Horatio.
“You have to help me, Mrs. Daniels. I’ve never gone to a psychiatrist before and I have never taken any medication on regular basis in my life. Horatio is lying. The only problem is he has fake proof against me.”
Her face drooped. “Relax, Esme. You don’t have to prove yourself to me. You know I’ll always support you.”
I exhaled a breath “What are you doing here? I answered your question and now it’s your turn.”
“I had to talk to a witness about a case.” Her teeth chattered after a nearby door burst open, causing cold air to bite our faces. “Anyway, I wish I knew what to say. This might shock you, but let this be a lesson. There are times when even adults don’t know what to do.”
“Wow. And I thought life was supposed to be easier when you get older.” I forced a laugh since it was one of the only things I found amusing all week.
“I’m afraid not.” She started to walk in the opposite direction.
I couldn’t let her get away, not yet anyway. “Wait. There’s one more thing.”
She whipped her body around, hurrying back to where she just stood. “What’s up?”
“Can you please tell Steven I’m sorry for everything and that he was right about what he thought? And can you also please also tell him where I am?” I stole a brief glance at her. “Please. It would mean a lot to me.”
“Sure. And I promise I’ll call a lawyer and look into getting you out of here. Try and stay strong.” She spread her arms, inviting me in for a hug. I then collapsed into her chest and allowed her to pat my back.
There was more to life than analyzing the little moments. However, small moments of escape were all I had right now. Although it didn’t help to realize that my hug with Mrs. Daniels would be fleeting. Because it should have lasted forever.
I pulled away after a few more lingering minutes. “I should return to the common room before they start wondering where I am.”
Each day blended into the next since it was that bad. I was wrong to think adults were too controlling of kids before I came here. The reality was it got worse. My life was like clockwork. Everything happened at a certain time, and it was enough to drive a person crazy. I was half way there already.
The worst part was I had no one to talk to other than the people who worked here.
But luck was like everything else. It changed over time. I was in the empty common room, playing piano during my second week in this place when the event happened.
“We’ve come to get you out of here,” squeaked a voice.
I turned my head to the side. “How did you find me?”
“Let’s just say I had a little help from your mom,” Julian snapped his fingers, making another carrot appear. He just couldn’t get enough of his carrots. And I wondered if he would still behave like that when he was back in his human body.
“And us,” added a voice.
I smiled. It was so great that Chace and Steven were here too. It almost seemed like I would never see them again.
Steven stared at me for a split second. “What are you waiting for? Let’s get out of here.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” Julian snapped his fingers again, making the four of us vanish.
The four of were back in my bedroom, and I had never been so glad to see blood oozing walls even if the novelty would where off. I sat down on my bed, unable to hold back my grin. I now appreciated the importance of innocent until proven guilty, which also happened to be one of Mr. Tanner’s favorite expressions during our Revolutionary War Unit.
I continued to beam at them. “I never thought you guys would find me.”
Steven rocked his hands back and forth. “You worry too much. Has anyone ever told you that before?”
I titled my head towards Julian. “Did you have a good talk with my mom?”
“Yes, we did.” He touched his whiskers, making me wonder what it was like to be a rabbit even if I wouldn’t volunteer to be turned into one anytime soon.
A clinking sound echoed. It was the door.
Julian remained with Steven, Chace, and I.
He burst through the door, flinging a scream through the room when he saw me. “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be at the institution.”
“Consider this check, Horatio,” I said before cackling at him. “If you don’t wiggle out of this then it’s checkmate. Your move.”
I couldn’t help my arrogance. Life turned around in my favor again, and I would relish my victory. It was well earned after my nightmare at a mental institution.
There was one issue that remained to be seen. I would have to pray Horatio didn’t have anything else up his sleeve. Another setback would be detrimental, as I almost hadn’t made it out of my current debacle.
Whatever. The important thing was I always pushed forward. Because Horatio could never put me in a corner for too long.