The autumn wind raised goosebumps along my exposed skin. The white, slip of a dress I wore, did little to protect me from the chilly weather that came with the changing of seasons. Red and golden leaves were torn from their branches and sent spiralling to the ground in front of me. Some landed on the small, bubbling creek and were taken by the current, slowly pulled under by the heavy water, until they were ripped apart by the river stones.
I shuffled over to the creeks muddy bank, trying to keep my body as compact as possible to reserve heat. Reaching out a skinny arm I broke the rivers constantly moving surface with my bony hand. The freezing water flowed around my fingertips, sending its icy temperature up along my fingers, though I didn’t pull away.
It was not often I was allowed contact with pure water, which I craved with every part of my being; both physical and spiritual. I drew my power of seeing from the ancient knowledge of water, but I had never been exposed to the powerful element enough to reach my full potential. Instead I spent my days cooped away in a cramped, white building; dreaming of escape and surrounded by people who were slowly loosing their last shreds of sanity.
“Your dead Aunt is sitting next to you.”
I sighed irritably, twisting around on my feet so that I could face the person who’d interrupted me, without loosing contact with the creek.
Chipo stood behind me, her large blue eyes vacant as they stared at the patch of damp grass next to me. She’d forgotten to brush her long, red hair again, leaving the thick mass tangled and knotted atop her head.
“Pardon?” I said, staring up at her gaunt face, with a patiently blank expression.
“Your deceased Aunt Lucinda,” Chipo said airily. “She’s sitting next to you.”
“That’s nice,” I replied calmly, knowing that it wasn’t Chipo’s fault that she was unable to tell I wanted to be left in peace while I could get it.
Chipo, like me, was a naturally gifted person, but unlike me, Chipo’s gift was connecting with those who had passed onto the spirit realm. However, her gift had never been nurtured, or shown boundaries and she crossed over from being able to converse with the dead, to actually seeing them. The long, drawn out process had tortured the twenty-year-old into madness.
“She doesn’t like you playing so close to water,” Chipo continued, blank eyes turning to stare at my face, though I knew she wasn’t really seeing me. “She wants you to stop.”
“But I don’t want to,” I said softly, watching Chipo’s expression intently. “Is it ok if I keep my hands in the water?”
“No,” Chipo said quickly, breath starting to come in quick gasps. “No – bad –water bad – no go – water bad -”
“Ok, it’s ok,” I soothed her, standing up speedily to help calm her down, trying to ignore the empty feeling the engulfed me at the lose of contact with my element. I slowly reached out to grab Chipo’s shoulders, directing us both away from the shallow creek. “It’s alright now, Chip, you’re alright, I’m alright and we’re away from the river.”
As I tried desperately to calm the babbling adult, I glanced over at the guards who stood, backs against the low white building, watching us all walk around the small, fenced-in garden. Today we had been given an hours free time outside, and I didn’t want Chipo to be blamed for getting us all sent back inside. The inmates longed for these small breaks, away from the crushing white walls of the Facility and the last person who had us sent in early had been moved to another ward the next week. I wasn’t the only one who needed this journey to the outside world.
Noticing the guards looking at the pair of us curiously, I redoubled my efforts to calm Chipo down. She’d quietened down to a whimper now.
“I promise I’m ok,” I said evenly, making sure Chipo was looking into my eyes as I said it. “Everything’s fine, just breath.”
I noticed Chipo’s eyes focusing in on mine as she followed my instructions. Her deep breaths returning what little colour she had back to her pale cheeks. Sometimes I thought that Chipo was only fully sane when she was panicking. The stress of the situation forcing her connection with the spirit realm closed so that it was only her conscious left in her mind.
“Are you ok?” I asked tenderly.
“Yes,” Chipo answered me, her voice the strongest I’d heard it in a while, but then in the blink of an eye – literally – Chipo’s eyes turned vacant once again. “Mr Caron’s mother just died.”
“Good to know, Chip,” I said, smiling tightly. It was actually nice to know that the bastard warden of this place was going to be feeling some pain in the coming days, though that didn’t take away from my sadness at seeing such a lively person reduced to the hollow girl in front of me.
When I’d first arrived as a scared six-year-old, unaware of what was happening, Chipo had been ten-years-old. Back then she was only suffering the affects of hearing the voices of spirits and had had a ready smile for the frightened new girl. She’d taken me under her wing, looking out for me when the others got rough or started to scare me with their constant mumbling.
I’d repaid her it four years later when she’d started to descend into true madness. Her mumblings with spirits had become more frequent and obvious, her eyes had started to blank out on me more and more often and she’d started to see people who weren’t really there. It had been a traumatizing experience for me, who at the age of ten had to hide her episodes from the guards and Warden, who would have taken her away from me for ‘research’.
“I’m going to go tell Simon his twin sister doesn’t want him to keep cutting himself,” Chipo announced suddenly, pulling away from the loose grip I had on her shoulder.
Looking in the direction Chipo was staring off into, I saw Simon crouching on the rain soaked grass, his bandaged arms clasped around his thin legs. He wouldn’t hurt Chipo for saying anything, it was unlikely he’d listen to a word she said really, so I let her go without a fuss.
Finding myself alone once again, I turned back to the crystal clear lake. Walking back over I kneeled on the water-clogged dirt of the creeks bank, ignoring the huge circles of brown it left on my white dress. Giving into the strong pull of the running water I submerged my arms up to my elbows, having to bend my arms to get all of my forearms under the water. I sighed in pleasure as the presence of water travelled into my conscious, filling the holes that constantly ached in its absence.
Suddenly some of the presence entering my mind shone a bright white, instead of the relaxing baby blue it usually was. I’d just been gifted with a vision. My whole body shuddered as the heavy presence of the future forced its way into my mind. My eyelids twitched rapidly over my glowing eyes. The pull had strengthened, something I thought was impossible, calling me deeper into the water. Unable to ignore its pull, I crawled forward, allowing the cold water to flow over my shins and lick at the fabric covering my stomach. My whole body broke out into violent goosebumps.
I hadn’t experience a vision in the past ten years, having never been allowed to meditate in water long enough to pick up one of the scarce droplets that held knowledge of the future. The last time I’d experienced one I had been a terrified young girl, playing in a pool with her cousins. I’d almost drowned, panicking my cousins and parents. When they’d finally revived me, I’d started to babble about some man who ‘fought his comrades for honour’ dieing.
They’d shipped me off to the Facility within the week.
The sports star Henry Daniels, who had been convicted of taking drugs during the week, died seven days later.
My family never came for me.
A jumble of colours; mainly reds and oranges suddenly replaced the blackness of the back of my eyelids. Dark shapes that looked like the outline of a laughing face danced across my conscious, which was replaced quickly by hundred of small screaming faces. Tiny teardrops that followed the screaming faces washed the whole image away, leaving behind only black.
I snapped back to myself just in time to see the grim face of a guard hovering over me. Feeling weak, I lifted my head sluggishly to peer down my body as another guard plunged a sharp need into the crook of my elbow. I felt the burning pain of the medicine entering my body before everything went dark once again.
I woke with a throbbing headache. It felt like millions of tiny woodpeckers were carving out their homes in my skull. I knew not to open my eyes, the bright lights of my ‘room’ would blind me for the next hour if I did. Just because I’d never experience a vision while living in the boring, crowded building didn’t mean the guards didn’t take every chance they got to pump my veins full of some strong medicine that rendered me unconscious and in a lot of pain when I awoke.
I was lying on my hard mattress, which wasn’t much different then lying directly on the hard, concrete ground. All my muscles felt stiff and tight, another side affect of the dreaded medicine the guards were so fond of. Trying to remember what happened in the moments before I had been injected. I came up with a blurry image of hot colours and screaming faces. Wishing I had the ability to rub at my aching head, I wished for sleep to over take me, allowing me to escape this hell for a few more hours.
I knew by tomorrow morning everything would be back to normal. I would be forced to live in the same room as twenty other people suffering from mental illnesses ranging from people suffering compulsive disorders to people who believed they were invisible. They, of course, would all hate me for getting their free time cut short and I would be subjected to pushing and cold shoulders for the next week. Isolating me in an already isolated life.
I was used to it though, I had to be after ten years of it, all because I was gifted.
A week later four people died in a house fire. It was said to be started by a laughing man, who got out of his car and started throwing gasoline all over their prized garden. The news never reached sixteen-year-old Isoke, saving her from the quilt that would have truly crushed her and kept her company for the next few decades she was trapped in ‘Grant’s Institute for the Mentally Ill.’