I lay still in the hospital bed, thin sheets wrapped around my shivering body. My shaking breaths and racing heartbeat were the only two sounds I could hear at first. Lukas Rosser, my roommate of a couple days, was sleeping barely over a meter away from me in our cramped room, just close enough to distinguish the trembling whispered words in his nightmares from his gentle snores. It felt like a surprisingly peaceful night at the hospital.
As the sky continued to darken, I rolled over onto the right side of my body so I had the closed (and probably locked) metal door and a sleeping Lukas in my vision. No light dared to seep through the gaps around the edges of that door. The only natural light in the room was from the narrow barred window at the top of the wall, too high for us to reach on our own and too small to try and get out of.
A few minutes later, my body was overwhelmed with exhaustion and my eyelids were too heavy to attempt to hold open. I needed to go to sleep. There was a long day of extensive therapy ahead of me, intending to clear the voices from inside of my head. I couldn't wait to be free of those dreaded voices: they had slowly tempted me into becoming insane, murderous and suicidal, the reason for me being in the hospital.
All of a sudden, I was no longer at the brink of falling asleep. The therapist had once told me that thinking about the voices would open a loophole which would bring them back to me, demolishing the hard work we had been through over the last four months. Now, I was worrying. I didn't want the voices to return! They changed me.
I lay even more still than I had been before, eyes wide open and clutching my arms to myself, tight enough to feel my jagged bitten nails stab at my pale skin. Was it just my imagination or could I hear something, someone, creeping along the hallway?
Sure enough, there was another sound. Taps, just like footsteps. It was as if someone was walking down the hallway outside of the room in high heeled shoes. Yes, that was what it was. A woman in heels.
I lifted my head from the pillow and listening intently, careful not to disturb Lukas. This woman couldn't have been from the hospital. All of the staff here wore trainers or shoes with flat soles since they had to run around after children with mental issues all day long, sometimes even during the night. This woman had already seized my interest.
She walked further along the hallway, to the end, until the taps of her steady footsteps faded gradually. They were soon no louder than the faint, whispering breeze, blowing miniature grains of sand through our barred window, feeling like knives as they landed on my skin. If I listened carefully enough, I could just about hear the creak of a door near the end of the hallway and the woman tapping inside.
Suddenly, a voice stepped out from the shadows inside of my head and whispered to me. You need to get out there while you can, Laure.
Scared, I shrunk back into my thin blanket. The voice confused me, stepping in to solve my dilemmas before even I knew what they were. This time, I ignored the voice. I was going to work this one out on my own.
A deep, low muttering could be heard now. It was a quiet mutter but growing slightly louder after each enchanting line. It sounded like a type of evil chant, hypnotic but terrifying. I could feel myself being drawn in and almost lulled to sleep by the mesmerizing sound.
Don't sleep, Laure. Get out.
The voice snapped me back into reality, reminding me that there was a stranger tapping through the halls of the hospital and inside one of the supposedly locked rooms.
Instantly, the darkness surrounding me pressed down like four walls, trapping me inside of them. I felt incapable to move. It was now silent outside of the room and the voice had silenced itself. The only thing I could hear was Lukas, still snoring. Even the sound of something which was clearly human wasn't enough to comfort me, especially when a voice spoke up to warn me about something.
My breathing quickened. My heart thundered. My head pounded. The single candle placed on a small table between our beds flickered out, a finger of smoke snaking towards the ceiling.
Down the hallway, someone screamed.
The single sweet chirp of a desert bird and Lukas' gentle snores were enough to pull me awake, several hours before the sun peeked over the sandy horizon. I stretched out in my small iron bed feeling the hardness of the frame through the thin mattress. A ray of light from the lanterns in the hallway burst through the half-open door, causing a brief smile to appear on my usually serious face.
The door is open, I murmured to myself dreamily. That's weird. The minders never leave our doors open...
That snapped me back into reality. The woman in heels. The voices warning me. The scream. The scream.
I sat bolt upright in my bed and listened carefully for any sound, hard enough that I felt as if my head would explode. There was an unmistakable tapping going straight past the door, followed by a silhouette. My head snapped around just as the figure left my sight. It was definitely a woman, short and stocky. I didn't get a glimpse of her face.
My racing heartbeat as I sat, now cross-legged, in the center of my bed. I was positive that I could hear another pair of footsteps approaching. Not tapping heels. If I was right, the person should be walking past my shared room right about now.
Don't look at him, Laure, the voices warned.
It was a man. He definitely looked trustworthy with his rounded figure and short white beard and half-moon spectacles perched on his nose. His red checked flannel shirt and brown corduroy trousers were nothing like the clothing we were forced to wear around the hospital. Patients wore gray or black tracksuit trousers and a colored t-shirt depending on which unit they were in. I wore an orange one. The doctors and nurses rushed around in neat white and navy uniforms. This man was guaranteed to be from another place.
He paused in the hallway in front of my door, even though he was looking through the threshold of the room opposite, that door also strewn open. I wanted to talk to him. Visitors from outside of the hospital were rare since they had to adventure a mile into the desert to find us. Patients didn't have anyone who loved their mentally sick friends and family enough to make the journey. I knew that I had no one left.
“Hello,” I whispered to the man, almost allowing a smile to creep onto my face.
The strange man pulled the door of the other room shut and turned until he was facing down the hallway. I automatically knew that he had heard my whisper.
“I'm Laure. What's your name?”
A brief smile appeared on his face but he didn't answer me. Instead, he glanced into our room and smiled fully before striding down the hallway.
Soon, my vision blurred, telling me that I hadn't slept for enough hours. I laid back on my thin mattress, rested my head on the hard pillow and abruptly fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
The sun was peeking over the horizon when Lukas shook me awake.
“Laure, get up! Now!”
I was a bit dizzy and felt very, very hot. Almost blistering. Hotter than any other day in the desert, even though it was late April and the temperatures were already quite extreme.
Lukas fumbled for the matches and attempted to light the candle, the small flame casting shadows onto his lightly tanned face and making his perfectly sculpted features appear as if they belonged to an unearthly being.
Again, I sat up. An orange light that failed to belong to the match was glowing from beneath the door and gray ribbons of smoke were drifting up from it.
Knowing that smoke rose upwards, I rolled out of my bed and crouched on the floor, gulping in the cleaner air. Lukas was wrapping his damp orange shirt around the lower part of his face, protecting his nose and mouth from the smoke. After a quick rummage around the floor, I copied him with my clean under-shirt. It filtered through clear air and blocked out the worst of the smoke.
Suddenly, Lukas grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the door, the metal glowing red from the heat of the flames. The old, rusted lock looked as if it was crumbling as the burning fingers licked around it.
Lukas grabbed the steel candle holder in his hand, slamming it against the lock continuously until pieces of it broke away. I crouched behind him, ready to run out of the door at any second. I didn't have to wait long.
The rest of the lock crumbled onto the stone slab floor and the door swung back on its hinges. A scorching blast from the flames scalded my hands and revealed forehead. I stumbled onto my bare feet and braced myself against the door frame, reaching for Lukas' hand. It wasn't to assist him, or me. It was just to feel the comforting touch of another human.
We staggered into the flaming hallway, the doorway to our room immediately cut away from us. My eyes automatically scanned from left to right, an unused mental map of the hospital spilling over my vision.
“This way!” I shouted over the roar of the flames, running to the left, Lukas sprinting ahead and dragging me by my wrist behind him.
Above us, the gnarled wooden beams holding up the ceiling smoldered and broke apart as we raced past them. Sparks like miniature fireworks flared out of the light sockets. I ducked my head and yelled as a long section of the roof came caving in and brushed one of my flailing arms. The voices screeched tauntingly as every blast of threatening heat became ever closer to devouring our bodies.
You're going to die, Laure. Die, die, die.
I mentally screamed at myself as each burst of the fiery display shot out towards us as we turned to flee down the final hallway.
Stop running, Laure. Turn around.
Grabbing Lukas' hand tighter, I skidded to a halt and slowly turned around, flames licking the tips of my shoulder length waves, scorching it charcoal black.
She was standing less than a meter behind me.
“Laure! What are you doing? We need to run!”
Ignoring him, I focused on the girl who was gradually raising her arm to grab mine. I took a few shaking steps backwards, noticing her blood red lips and coal black eyes and paper white skin. Her cavernous mouth opened wide and Lukas dragged me into a sprint as her ear-piercing scream echoed with the voices within me.