A/N: Please note; I just wrote this off the top of my head, and if there's anything anyone can offer to make it a better story, email it to me (here) and I'll worship you forever. ^_~
A Heaven of Hell
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.
--John Milton, 'Paradise Lost'
I always collected the little things. Pretty pictures cut from my mother's fashionable magazines like Hello! and Tatler. You know the things - the beautiful models in their fairy-like dresses, the delicate jewellery that adorned their swan-like necks, the great grand houses that seemed to leap straight out of the magazine and into the back of my mind. They fed my daydreams. I'd stick each cutting into my big blue book, my Scrapbook, and added little snippets - poems from Keats, from Blake, from Emily Dickinson and prose from Tolkien, Robert Louis Stevenson and Edgar Allan Poe. I scrawled passages from Hamlet and Midsummer's Night's Dream all over my walls when I was eight. I copied out quotes with a hyper-focus that I never dedicated to my homework, writing out the funnies by Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde beside the great lines by Churchill and Virgil. My book grew, until it seemed to take on a life of it's own.
I slipped it carefully under the loose floorboard in my room, bought another big blue scrapbook from the stationer's shop, and started on another book.
I was ten by that point. My parents thought I was insane. I kept on collecting my random things. They kept worrying.
Anyway,it reached the stage that I'd have strange doctor-type people sitting over me as I stuck my pictures in and copied out my little snippets, asking me why I liked that model wearing the 1920's-style white silk dress instead of this model wearing a modern khaki outfit. Normal girls my age were out learning about make-up and dresses and boys and school. I couldn't stand all that. Instead, I learnt my stuff from books.
One night there was an interesting supper, when my father was entertaining his great friend whose name I can't be bothered to recall. He was fat and bloated, as if he's been stung by a jellyfish when he was a kid and had grown up all swelled and disgusting. He looked at me funny, as if he'd never really seen a little girl before, and thought I was an interesting specimen of the species.
I didn't thank my mother for my food when she served me. Mister Bloatedfish found this shocking.
"How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is, to have a thankless child!" he exclaimed.
"What's that from, Henry?" my father asked, sounding almost hysterical. He needed to make this man pleased, mainly because he was head of some grand company of some sort. Making Bloatedfish happy meant more money. My dear father wasn't succeeding.
"Shakespeare, of course!" Bloatedfish said grimly, looking at me with daggers for eyes. "Hamlet, obviously. Laertes to Ophelia."
I felt insulted.
"It's King Lear, actually," I said, with as much disdain as a ten-year-old could muster. "He's angry at Cordelia. Laertes couldn't have said that to Ophelia - he was her brother, and it's a father speaking to his child. You're really goddamn wrong."
Bloatedfish gaped at me, and he knew I was right, and my father slumped in his chair with his hand over his eyes as if pretending not to see it meant it didn't happen. My parents were almost as childish as I was.
Not long after that crucifyingly awful dinner with the Bloatedfish (who demanded that I go to a school for gifted children when he barely spoke to me, except to ask what my favourite book was), I had some tests done. Silly tests. First of all they started asking me silly questions - "How is sand made?" - and then had me do these funny jigsaw puzzles with bricks. Which were too easy. The guy who carried out the tests seemed quite put out when I kept stopping what I was doing to listen to the birds singing outside the window, or when I asked if I could feel his tie. It was a dark blue, a gorgeous velvety colour, and it seemed to have a bright pink shimmer when it caught the light. It was silk. It was lovely.
Anyway. They established that I was clever. I had an IQ of 137, but I later met people who had IQ's far higher than mine. I was clever, but by no means Einstein. I thought I was pretty normal, really. I just... hyperfocused on the dreamy-literature-pretty things side of life. I just daydreamed my time away, which people didn't seem to think was healthy. I wanted to have an adventure. If odd things happened, like a bomb scare or fire alert, I'd treat it as a bit of an adventure. I wanted my life to be exciting.
I'd always had an idea that there was something about the world that no-one else saw, something with a magical glint to it that seemed buried under the sludge and slime that was our mundane and dirty world. I needed to unearth it, to polish it up and show it to people, and everything would be good. It was my task, I decided early on in life. I had to show people the magic again.
People didn't like the idea. They thought I was getting lost in my mind, in my daydreams and my stories and my fairy-full scrapbooks. I had no intention of correcting them. My daydreams were the safest place to be, because real life could only intrude when it struck close to home. And it did.
I fell down a rabbit hole.
Amy wasn't my closest friend (I had no close friends), but she was a good one. She was about as off the rails as you could get. Hanging around her at school - an all-girl's school - was fantastic. From setting fire to her desk to hanging paperclip chains out the window, from water-fights in the school garden to prank-calling her worst enemy's parents, the girl came up with the oddest things to do in lunchbreaks. She was wonderful - far more intelligent than I was and with the temper of Vesuvius. I wasn't always friendly with her because it was bloody easy to get on her bad side, but I still think of her as a good friend. Loyalty was important. Always. In a girl's school, where the only weapon you have is the super-destructive art of bitching, loyalty to your friends is always paramount.
Then she got expelled, and I didn't see her for two years due to education-related circumstances. I moved schools, grew up a little, and moved on to my fifth scrapbook. This one was black as night. It was ominous.
The evening I started sticking things into that very scrapbook, I got a phonecall. It was from a girl who was in our class at the old school. Just as I was sticking in a picture of an angelic model with eyes like gleaming sapphires and hair like spun gold, wearing a long flowy white dress that seemed to be woven out of a mist, she told me Amy had died.
It's hard enough when it's an illness and you have to wait for it, dreading it, waiting for someone you care about to die. It's hard enough when it's sudden and you can't prepare for it. The very worst is when it's suicide, or they see it coming and know it's coming and can't escape. For Amy, it was an accident. That's it. Some driver who'd decided to have another pint down the local pub when he really shouldn't have. He was nearly thirty, and Amy was fifteen.
So that shocked me. Childhood is when you're meant to be young, carefree, to revel in friendship. Not when your friends die. Not when your parents are arguing over your head at the dinner table about your future ("She can't continue like this!") and their marriage ("It's all about the company!") whilst you quietly stick a pamphlet from your friend's funeral into your scrapbook, trying to stay hidden and stay quiet. Not when you refuse to go into school because you just want to sit and look at your scrapbooks and daydream and forget that, in the outside world, cars kill, children die, and you have to feel pain sometime. Not when you're so focused on escaping you start thinking that maybe, just maybe, if you set your mind to it, you could escape and discover that she's not dead, just trapped somewhere, and you could rescue her and bring her back and life would be perfect and shiny and glittery and magical. That's not childhood. That's just the determination to get out. To escape.
Anyway, I apparently went a little downhill after that. My parents got terribly concerned this time. They brought in the people in white coats, and that's where the rest of this story begins. Off I went to loonyville. Why? I heave the sneaky suspicion that my parents just couldn't handle me by that point. I wasn't totally abnormal; I just kept myself to myself, writing things on the walls, doodling things on my arms with knives (the little ones, jack knives or something), and writing long letters to a dead friend that I stuck into my scrapbook. I wasn't as insane as they thought I was, but maybe - just maybe - I was on my way there. I wasn't convinced. But I didn't want to stay with all those blinkered idiots who thought they were sane just because they all thought the same. Mad people sounded a lot more fun. So did the whole idea of being mad.
I ought to add that this isn't any normal story about mad kids. Nothing of the sort. I can guarantee that. This is the basic point: sometimes madness hides something deeper beneath, something even deeper than the person's sane side. Sometimes what is hidden should never be unleashed, and most of the time it's impossible to unlock it. The madness or the sheer stubbornness of the human mind is often as solid as concrete. But sometimes, just every now and then, it is possible. Just every now and then.
This is a story about such a time.