This year Platform Youth Culture has collaborated with TasWriters in a creative writing opportunity designed to showcase creative pieces from talented young Tasmanians aged between 12 and 25. As part of this project, young writes were given the opportunity to learn from and develop their creative writing skills by receiving valuable feedback for their submissions from published authors such as Kate Gordon, Christina Booth and Anne Morgan along with the opportunity to participate in a series of creative writing workshops run by Arianne James, Project Coordinator at TasWriters.
Just to Keep Me Sane
The distinct sound buzzes against my ear, in time with my steadying heartbeat. I keep my breathing even, controlled. In. Out. In. It won’t be long now, surely. It’s been a long road to get here.
I lie in the crisp white bed, fingers twitching with unease. I glare into the fluorescent light and it stares back, unfaltering. I barely notice when they shove another syringe into my pale skin. Once upon a time a girl lived among a harmonious concord of rolling fields, blue skies and glistening seas. Now she’s not living, but merely surviving. I am a dagger of glass, ready to break. Though I know I’ll endure it all and ignore the inevitable, just to keep me sane.
My memory is an avalanche of fuzziness and confusion. I piece together particles of information, only for it to fall apart. I see the hills rolling out before me as I sprint to the horizon, trying to keep up with my brother. I always laughed as I couldn’t reach his fast pace, couldn’t look him straight in the eye as he towered over me. These memories are echoes of the past driving me insane with grief. I whisper echoes of reassurance to myself every day.
“It won’t be like this forever, it can’t.”
But the problem is, deep down, I know things won’t change because they can’t. When you’re like me you don’t belong in the real world. When I’m exposed, all I do is hurt myself and everyone else around me. No-one can ever know. That’s what my parents said. And that’s because of one thing. Call it a gift or a curse, its unnatural and was never meant to be on Earth. That thing is something deep inside me, running through my every vein. And that’s billions of thoughts. And not just all my thoughts, but everyone’s near me. Like a gutter overflowing with water until it breaks, my mind holds more than it’s supposed to burden itself with. And that’s Mindreading.
Every day, at precisely 7:05 am, a metal tray slots through a hole in my door. On it, a dull metal bowl contains a pile of some gruel-like food they call porridge. I don’t remember much about before I came here but I know that is not supposed to be what porridge looks like.
Even so, I wait for meals with great anticipation as it gives me a chance to peep inside someone else’s head and feel the delightful rush of all their thoughts. But I know I couldn’t stand more than one or two people, or it would become completely overwhelming. It’s like if you stand under a waterfall, because when the flow becomes too strong it fights its way into your lungs and makes you gasp for breath and drown. So that’s why I stay cooped up here, where I’m safe. But still, I do think it could be a little less prison like.
But today feels different. First of all, there is an eerie silence to it, so I sit twiddling my thumbs until breakfast. As usual, the tray slides through, but as I try to listen for the familiar sound of Stephine’s thoughts, all I hear is silence. I try to shrug it off, it must be possible to think about nothing, right? But I know better than anyone that isn’t true.
Each day brings the same phenomenon. I hear nothing of Stephine’s life, no whispers of her brother’s wedding, her snobby friend’s business, not even the heartache brought by spending her whole life serving Aldoak; nothing.
I am caged in myself. I cannot escape. Why am I like this? What is happening now…
All is quiet. I cannot hear a thing from the rest of Aldoak, making me assume the sun hasn’t yet risen outside, but it’s hard to tell because I can’t see it from here. I lie staring blankly at the wall and start groaning deeply like some insane psychopath. Before my eyes I see the chair morph into something like my mother, screaming wildly.
“Let me see her. She’s my daughter!” she says with an insane look in her eye, “I won’t let you get away with this.”
She starts cursing them with every word she knows. And I see her as she’s pushed by three dark figures, a barrier between us. I spring forwards and fall hard against the metal.
“I have to get out of here” I mutter to myself one morning. If my abilities have truly gone, what’s holding me back from the real world? Why can’t I at least try to escape?
My footsteps seem to echo loudly as I creep through the silent corridors. It barely took a moment to slid my hairpin into the lock, until I heard it click. I turn the corner skidding to a halt, my bare feet sliding on the laminate. I sniff the air like a hunting dog, searching for the familiar stench of forgotten dreams and alcohol that radiates from him. I know the rotations off by heart, and the midnight to morning shift is covered by a man that always sleeps on the job. And tonight, was no exception.
I slip down the hall until I’m almost at the front door. But then out the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of a bright light. I cannot control my curiosity that overcomes me, filling me with suspicion. And as I slip inside, I know why I should be.
I stand with my eyes fixed on the image projected on the wall. A sentence catches my eye. My throat goes dry. After Area 52 was bombed, a new facility was built among its ashes, a fortress. I remember the 53 printed neatly across my father’s shirt. Before he left the house he would slip on a jacket, covering up any chance of anyone knowing where he was going. Many have wondered what is deep in the catacombs, and even the employees barely see a thing. But still, someone has to know. And the further I read, the more I worry that Aldoak knows who.
My breathing grows fast and ragged; I wasn’t expecting this. It was dated 12/08- 4 days ago. The girl’s abilities are of upmost importance to the success of the plan, and we believe we are close to developing the necessary equipment for the harvesting. We will administer shortly. The harvesting?
“Oh my god.” I whisper.
“Oh my god alright.”
I swing around to face the direction the voice came from. “Who’s there?” I say quietly. With a low chuckle they step into the light.
I throw my arms around him, collapsing into the familiarity of my brother. He quickly explains how he recently secured a job here at Aldoak, trusting I would eventually make a break for it.
“I was expecting you to be a bit quicker about it, I will admit. But then you’ve always been a bit behind.” he says with a sly grin.
“It doesn’t help when you’re brainwashed into believing you would die in the real world. Mind you, I suppose I would if I still…”
“Still what?” he says. I debate whether to tell him, did he know?
“…could mindread.” I add in a hushed voice. I expect for him to be surprised, or shocked or something, but he simply nods. I raise one eyebrow.
“It’s a family trait,” he says, tapping his forehead. I open my mouth but close it instantly as footsteps reverberate down the hall, steady and strong. A clear sign of someone with authority. I suck in a gasp of air, holding my breath. After they pass, my brother whispers to me, “we have to get out of here. Now.”
“But you can still…”
He hushes me impatiently, “I’ve dealt with it for a long time, trust me.” He holds my face between his hands, making me feel like a little kid, “Do you trust me Alison?”
I sprint madly through the corridors once the alarm is sounded, the deafening wail screeching through all of Aldoak Mental Hospital. I throw a look over my shoulder to my brother, close behind me but now joined by a parade of men hot on our heels. The massive metal doors grow closer, and Mitchell throws me his access card and his phone. What do I need his phone for?
“On the ground right now or I’ll shoot!” one of the men screams.
“Leave the girl!” says another, “she’s valuable!” Amongst the fear, I find a place for amusement at the fact that they don’t know my brother is just as ‘valuable’ as me. But then something changes. He points his gun at me.
So much can happen in the space of a second. Sometimes, just one can turn your life upside down. As everything goes into slow motion, I can’t move, can’t stop the bullet from finding his heart as he leaps in front of me. I scream his name, rapids scraping hot down my cheeks. “Go.” He mouths. I turn and run.
I find Mitchell’s wife’s car pulling up quickly at the door. I jump into the back seat, tyres screeching as we speed off.
“Mitchell.” I say between gasps.
“Martha, what about Mitchell?”
Her solemn face tells me that we can’t go back.
“Stop!” a voice shouts through the radio. I don’t even want to imagine how much technology Aldoak has. “Come back. Now.” She obeys.
“What are you doing?” I whisper.
We arrive back at the front doors, met by a tall woman echoing evil. Martha gets out the car and walks over. As soon as the woman goes to speak, a bullet finds her head.
We drive in dead silence. After 10 minutes I pick up Mitchell’s phone and dial in my mother’s number. The distinct sound buzzes against my ear, in time with my steadying heartbeat.
I wait for her to pick up.
And in the shadows, a silhouette retreats from the window. And Professor Aldoak waits once more.