Everywhere there was red. The wet, slick sound of his fists smacking into flesh and bone over and over again resonated in the frigid air. There was red everywhere. Red on Kyle’s face, red on Mason’s hands, his vision dripping with it. As he kneeled over Kyle’s body, Mason could feel the cold from the concrete
seeping in through his jeans. He felt like crying but he didn’t know why.
The bench was hard and Mason felt like he was falling asleep. Blurry figures spoke in muffled voices, their arms gesturing wildly like orchestra conductors. Eyes shot angry red glances over at Mason but he couldn’t feel their burn. The clack of the gavel was the only clear sound as the Judge sealed the sentence with an authoritative tone.
A skinny blonde girl with eyes too big for her face and dry lips pulled up into a cracked and bleeding smile looked at him with anticipation. The rec room was empty besides Mason and this pale waif. Then there was a tugging at Mason’s brain. A knocking sensation that seems to get louder and harder the more he tried to ignore it. Knock knock. Finally Mason opened up to it. “Come in?” he thought. His vision was suddenly flooded by white light and he felt like his brain was being sucked from his head.
The world started to come back into focus but Mason began to notice he was no longer in the rec room. He stared up in awe at the landscape around him. The cerulean sky was patterned with massive rolling clouds that moved and changed as if he were watching a National Geographic on fast forward. The ground beneath his feet was covered in grass that swept against his knees. It swayed back and forth in the breeze along with a massive willow tree off to the west. The tree was perched on top of a daisy covered hill. Beneath it stood a small willowy figure.
“This can’t be real” Mason breathed as he smacked the side of his head to try and wake himself. The figure on the hill raised a thin arm, beckoning. Hesitantly, Mason started up the hill, taking in the giant purple mountains that seemed to loom in on the valley. The top of each was perfectly covered with snow like a dipped cone. This doesn’t happen in nature, Mason thought. As he got to the top, there stood the girl he had been staring at minutes ago when he was in the rec room.
“Hello, Mason. My name is Anne. Welcome to my paradise.” Mason looked around again, this time from the vantage point of the hill. Behind the tree off in the distance he could see a vast body of water that had no visible end. There was a white sandy beach at the beginning of it and the large rolling waves were all perfectly arced as they crashed into the shoreline.
“How did I get here?” Mason asked.
“Your brain works on a special frequency,” Anne stated casually, “just like mine. Right now, you’re in my brain, in my world.” A wave of nausea rolled over Mason and he sunk to the floor. He put his head between his knees and closed his eyes. Breathe, he thought, just breathe.
“Mason? Mason, are you even listening to me?” Dr. Tate asked, obviously annoyed. Mason looked up from the shag carpet he had been staring into.
“Mmm” he grunted. Dr. Tate pulled off his glasses and put them in his shirt pocket like he did when he was about to scold.
“You’ve been here at Everglade, what? Three months? I’ve seen no progress in your behavior and you seem more than unwilling to talk about anything. I’m here to help you but I can’t do that if you sit there like a comatose patient.” Dr.Tate leaned forward. “What can I do to help?” Mason looked away.
“For starters, you can let me go back to sleep.”
“Fine.” Dr. Tate sighed. “You can go to your room now. I’ll see you Thursday.
Mason started back to the east wing, dreaming of the last time he had gone into the world with Anne. They had spent the day creating massive rock sculptures that jutted out from the ocean floor. Mason had willed his to come in the form of a giant eagle with wings out stretched and head held towards the sky. Anne had made a mermaid that looked out over the waves as the waves roared around it. Together they both worked on a castle that was half submerged in the water. In this world, they could stay underwater all day without the need of air. They swam room from room creating all the details they imagined a castle would have. Mason could not think of a time in his whole entire life that he had been even remotely close to being this happy.Mason was almost to his door but stopped when he saw Anne in the rec room sitting on the floor between two couches. She smiled and waved him over. He had barely sat down next to her when she started bombarding him with questions.
“How was your Tater-Nater visit? Good? Bad? Did you cry? Did you tell him about the guy you killed?”
“I didn’t kill him. He almost died. I wonder if things would have ended differently if he did. They may have thrown me in jail instead of admitting me here.”
“But aren’t you glad you’re here?” Anne said with an overly wide smile. “If you hadn’t of come, you would have never met me!”
“Don’t be like that.” Anne’s face dropped into a scowl faster than a flick of a light switch. “If it wasn’t for me, you would be a pill-swallowing zombie like everyone else in this hell hole. You need me to get out. There is no way getting around it. You still want to get out, right?”
Mason knew that getting out was the only thing worth working for. Everything else was a lie. “Recovery” meant being branded as cured of his sickness and sent to go live a crappy life with a dead-end job that ripped his soul right out of his chest. No matter what it took, he would find a way to get out this place, out of this state. If Anne was his ticket out, then he would cling to her with everything he had. Mason looked over
at Anne. She sat waiting for his response with her brows furrowed and her lips set in a hard line. Yes, Mason thought her attractive in a way. Her mouth was full but always cracked and dry, her hair was long and framed her heart-shaped face and she wasn’t as annoying as when they first met. Mason figured he could live with this choice as long as it meant freedom.
“Yeah, I want out. So what’s the plan?”
Anne’s face turned serious as she looked around to see if anyone was watching. She reached into her shirt and pulled out a baggie full of pills of every shape and color.
“Shh!” Anne whispered.
“How did you get all of those?” Mason hissed.
“I’ve been here for a couple years now. Tonguing pills is a art I’ve developed and some of the other inmates are more than willing to share.”
“Well, what does getting out have to do with all these pills? Are you thinking of drugging the entire staff?”
“No way. Do you know how hard that would be? Listen.” Anne leaned closer to Mason’s face and spoke even softer. “There is a way we can stay in my world forever.”
“What? How?” Just the mention of Anne’s paradise created a yearning in the pit of his stomach.
“We have to kill ourselves. We overdose and then go into my world. Once our earth bodies die, we will be stuck in paradise forever!” Anne smiled. Mason’s face was frozen in a look of shock.
“You’ve got to be kidding. Are you insane? Oh, obviously you are or you wouldn’t be here in the first place!” Mason’s voice rose. “I knew you were crazy but I didn’t think you were retarded! How the hell do you think this will work?” Anne looked small as she pressed herself into the corner like a beaten puppy. “I thought you could be the one to help me but now I know you’re just as useless as the rest of the world.” He stalked off towards his room leaving Anne on the floor with tears building in her big eyes.
Mason slammed the door of his room and punched the nearest wall in frustration. All the time he had spent with Anne, building their perfect world, living like a king and queen and she wanted him to kill himself! The thought of being in her world forever with endless possibilities and freedom, it was so enticing. His chest was tight as he imagined taking the pills and slowly fading into nothing. He would cease to be and there would be no freedom, just the end of existence. He hit the wall again, this time splitting his knuckles open and smearing blood on the wall.
Anne slid into her own room and fell on the floor by her bed, tears streaming down her face. All alone again, the thought to herself.
“Always alone” she whispered with resignation as she stared pulling out one pill after another and swallowing them dry. Once the bag was empty, she closed her eyes and laid down on the cold floor. For the last time, pulled out of her physical body and into her mind where the sun was shining and everything would be okay.
The next day Mason got pulled out of group therapy and taken to the medical ward. Once he got there, a sad but smiling nurse sat him down and told him that Anne was in a coma after overdosing and her chances were very slim. Mason felt icy cold fingers tracing his spine as he asked if he could see her. Inside the room, Anne was a thin, pale doll with purple all around her big eyes. Her lips were cracked and dry and the slow beep of her heart monitor was the only noise Mason could hear. The nurse left him and he kneeled down by her side, slipping into her mind one last time.
Mason stood on muddy ground as the rain poured in sheets from a clouded grey sky. He trudged through the muck up the hill to the now dead willow at the top, a small figure sitting beneath. Their once perfect world was now dark and crumbling into ruin. His stone eagle monument was being pounded by the crashing waves. One of the wings had already broken off into the sea. Anne sat beneath the twisted, bare willow with her white dress covered in mud. Her mouth was pulled into a painful smile and her eyes were clouded as she watched Mason draw near.
“Isn’t this perfect? You came back. I knew you would.”
“Just to say goodbye.” Mason said morosely. As the words left him, there was a loud cracking sound as lightning split the sky.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said, Anne, and even though the real world is horrible and everyone is messed up in some way, at least it’s real and it’s mine. I decided I want to be a part of it, and no fake paradise can change my mind. I’m sorry.” He leaned down and softly kissed her dry, bleeding lips.
He wasn’t shocked when he found that they were already cold. Mason stood up and took in one last look at the small girl sitting cold in the mud. Mason turned and pulled back into his body.
Anne touched her lips as she watched as Mason disappeared into the glittering sun. A warm tear rolled down her cheek at the loss of her companion and possible love, but she continued to smile as her white lacy dress, the grass, and the trees rolled in the flora scented breeze. She had her paradise. She would be happy forever. Looking up into the blue sky dotted with puffy pink clouds, she raised her beautiful clean arms to the
“Your loss, Mason. You don’t know what you’re missing”. A large flock of brightly colored birds flew over her head towards the majestic purple mountains, singing a merry tune. “Your loss.”
Two months after Anne died, Mason was shaking hands with Dr. Tate before he left Everglade Institution. A yellow cab waited in the driveway to take him back to the real world where many opportunities awaited. The loss of Anne had finally woken something up in Mason that had been lying dormant for year: his passion for life. When she left, Mason started talking to Dr.Tate to work out his issues. He felt a strong sense of confidence and purpose.
Mason walked down the steps towards the car but as he opened the cab door, he felt a familiar tugging.That knocking sensation against his brain. Knock knock.
This time, he didn’t open.