I sat at the end of the garden, formally perched on the edge of the stone bench. My mother came and sat next to me, silently studying the glittering pond in front of us. She probably thought I was lonely and needed company. I almost smiled at the thought. I was never lonely.
"The doctor's results came back," she said hesitantly. She had never understood how to deal with me when I was being unresponsive. "He says everything is normal, and you should keep taking your medicine." I nodded slightly, wishing she would leave me alone. My eyes fixed onto the reflective surface of the water and I searched among the mirrored trees, smiling when I found what I was looking for. It didn't last though – a second passed, and then it was gone and I was unsure if I had really seen it at all. She sat with me in silence for a few more minutes, then stood and squeezed my shoulder in an attempt to be reassuring.
"I know it's hard, dealing with schizophrenia when you're so young, but soldier on." I looked up at her, locking my electric blue eyes onto her brown ones. She looked a little startled – I generally have that effect. She leant down and pecked me on the cheek.
"Don't be out too long," she instructed, beginning up the path to the house. I immediately returned my gaze to the water, holding my breath for the moment.
I released the breath slowly when I felt it, his presence heavy in the air. The back of my head felt prickly with his stare, but I knew better than to turn around too quickly. Instead, I waited for him to come to me. His long fingers closed around my shoulder and I relaxed.
"Everything's normal," I told him, though no doubt he had heard our exchange (well, my mother's monologue). "The doctor said to keep taking the pills." If he had had a mouth, he would have smiled, I was sure.
You know not to believe that old madman.
His voice rang in my head like an echo from a valley. I nodded.
How are you feeling?
"Not too bad," I replied. I hesitated, then took the plunge. "24 Hours tried to come back."
I felt rather than heard the sigh. And you blocked her out.
It wasn't a question, it was a statement. I nodded again.
"I haven't heard from her in years. I didn't know what to do, so I panicked. I thought I got rid of her for good – or rather, you got rid of her."
I did nothing to aid in her removal. I provided the tools, and you worked the masterpiece.
"I couldn't have done it without you."
But you were still the one who did it.
"That may be true, but I don't know. We could argue all day and never get anywhere," I said decisively. He removed his hand from my shoulder silently.
Your mother told you to return soon. You should not keep her waiting.
"You're right. I should go."
If 24 Hours bothers you again, remember what I taught you.
"I will. Thank you." I stood and walked away, not looking back. He wasn't fond of proper goodbyes.
I walked slowly up the path to the house, taking my time about it. I had no idea why I had to be back inside quickly – I rarely did anything special after being called back, just trying to entertain myself with the myriads of things to do. I suppose I should consider myself lucky, since my house was actually closer to a mansion, and the grounds were huge and sprawling. I hated it. The only good thing was the chunk of forest we owned and the hidden parts of the garden, like the shed nobody except me knew existed and the dens dotted around the hilly plain. My mother grudgingly agreed to give the house and the grounds to me when she dies, but I didn't want them. Perhaps I would have a smaller house built in the forest and would sell the mansion. Anyway, there was plenty of time before that happened.
I suppose I was a disappointment to my parents. My mother, the rich socialiser, wanted a daughter to be proud of. She wanted a miniature, teenage version of herself: blonde, pretty, popular, obsessed with boys and pop groups. Instead, she got me – a quiet, withdrawn schizophrenic. I still wince when I remember how she reacted to my dyeing my hair blue. I was certain her yelling could have been heard a mile away.
The story of my father wouldn't have been out of place in a Hollywood movie. He had a fling with my mother – secret, of course. When he found out she was pregnant, he discarded her and left for America, covering the whole thing up and leaving her with a baby and a broken heart. I can't blame her for disliking me – I was told I resembled my father more than my mother, inheriting his blue eyes and black hair. That was part of why I changed my hair. I didn't want to be a constant reminder of his betrayal. I thought she would be pleased, but I guess not.
I entered the house by the back door – much less opulent than the front door, but still ornate and decorated with twirling figures and swirls of brass. So unnecessary. I always preferred this way. When the house was built, in Victorian times, this part of the house belonged to the servants and was therefore much simpler. The staircase, simple oak, still stood solidly and had given no sign of giving out any time soon, so I would always come in through the back and use those stairs instead of the marble behemoth in the main hall. I made my way to my bedroom, a lavishly decorated room positively oozing pink. She seemed to think that just because I liked one particularly soft rose-coloured jumper as a child, I loved the colour. Grabbing my notebook and pen, I rushed back to the staircase, making roughly the same amount of noise on each step as a ravenous horde of elephants descending on some poor innocent clump of bushes. Wrenching open the back door with typical teenage unneeded violence, I flung it back and ran across the lawn, leaping over rabbit warrens and anthills like a gazelle, never breaking my pace. Trees appeared on either side of me and I ducked to avoid a flying branch. I knew it was dangerous, racing through the forest like that, but the thrill of escaping to my special place eradicated all fear, and I fled ever faster. Emerging onto a small clearing, my heart pounding and my breathing erratic and rapid, I pulled a small silvery key from my pocket and approached the faded green shed.
I found the shed when I was eight, sheltered from the world in its leafy bubble. The day I found it, it was autumn, and the green looked beautiful against the red and gold leaves carpeting the ground. I spent all day there, ending up staying the night and returning mid-afternoon the next day. My mother was hysterical with fear at my disappearance and I was confined to my room for an entire month, but it was worth it. Ever since then it had been my wonderful secret to keep from the world. It wasn't much, just a small cobwebbed building of planks and tin with a scratched and faded paintwork over it, but it was much more my home than the house was.
Slotting the key into the lock, I turned it left, then right. The door slipped inwards like a charm, moving silently on hinges I had painstakingly oiled. I breathed in deeply, enjoying the sweet musty smell. I probably could have removed it with a frankly lethal dose of Febreeze, but I liked it as it was. Dropping my notebook and pen on the table beside the door, I surveyed my handiwork. The room was dominated by a large desk. It was a makeshift creation made from large planks of wood, roughly cut and nailed together by my own nine-year-old hands. In front of it sat a soft leather chair I stole from one of the many studies around the house. Two windows were on the walls to the sides, and one huge window spanning the entire length of the wall behind the desk gave the room the illusion of length. A table was to the side of the door, in the corner, and a mirror was on the other side. It wasn't much, but it was home.
I smiled at the memory of those summer days, after the patient wait through winter for the spring to arrive so that I could begin working on the shed. Flopping down in my chair, I almost lost myself in thought until I remembered I had a job to do. Picking up my notebook, I set it down carefully on the desk, flipping it open at random. It fell open at one well-thumbed page depicting a cartoon drawing of a tall, elegant tortoiseshell cat. It was in full colour and showed her as having huge emerald eyes and sleek brown fur. She sat upright, one paw up to her mouth and curling over cutely, her long tongue delicately parting the hairs. Her head was tilted forward and her eyes were partially closed. She looked up at the viewer almost seductively. A decal in Japanese was angled to fit in the gap between her body and her curling tail.
"Nyan, nyan," I whispered, pulling my hands away and clenching them into fists. Japanese for "meow". The way you call her when you want her. Squeezing my eyes shut, I clamped my arms around myself as a small comfort and rocked gently in my chair. This was bad. She shouldn't have affected me like this. I got rid of her! He helped me erase her and she hadn't appeared in years. So why was she doing this to me?
A small sound roused me from my position, curled up in the chair. My head snapped up and I practically fell out of my chair, on my hands and knees in front of the desk, searching for the source. I found nothing, however, and sat against the wood, not bothering to get up. I hadn't heard that sound in many, many years. It had sounded like a small voice saying "chuu!", the word for a small squeak. The type made by a young child, perhaps... or by a small animal, like a mouse, or a cat.