Concentric circles. They're always the same shape, so similar until they fade into nothing but still water. That's why she liked the pond. It was peaceful; quiet. In the distance there was muffled laughter of children, ruffle of leaves in a tree, quiet crunching of grass. Sometimes you could hear the plop of a pebble; the splash of a swan's wings.
This was her sanctuary. Some argued it wasn't real, but she didn't listen to them. It was real enough for her.
Those who call themselves 'ordinary', would think of the environment as bleak. Boring. But to those like me, it can create an entire new world, full of strangeness; sometimes a sinister twist to comfort. The wall wasn't just white; it seemed to move and respond; as did the empty chairs of the waiting room, which seemed to possess a bizarre fullness. My eyes deceive me, as do my ears. Or at least that's what everyone tells me.
"I feel sorry for her… She's so young… just look at her… Her eyes… Her face…"
It's nothing new. I hear this a lot. Not the nurses, nor any other person in this place can understand. But then again, neither do I. My face is unsmiling, bored looking even, but inside my mind is trying to grasp something, trying to keep afloat. They always say this sorry, but they don't know. I feel sorry for them. They don't understand it. And I don't want them to.
"Excuse me, Miss… Jane? The doctor would like to see you"
Miss, miss… The words echoed in my ears; but I didn't hear them. I sat there, staring into the mesmerizing white. My arms bent limply, quivering. She's calling you. You're the one the doctor wants to see. Everything's wrong with you.
Her arms flailed as she struggled against the seemingly invisible force. It stung; but it shouldn't have. The electrodes pressed against her skull, while the nurse tried to hold her arms still.
After several attempts to repress the girl, the nurse had finally won. The girl sat limply in the chair, her wrists cuffed by the nurse's metallic grip, a bead of sweat dripping down her stony face. The monitor spiked.
In the distance there was muffled laughter of children, ruffle of leaves in a tree, quiet crunching of grass.
A great expanse of water stretched along the plain. It was a sight from an impressionist painting, the sun streaked across the sky, reflecting across the still water. The sky slid silently by as the light fell.
Here was the sanctuary in the middle of a maze, the prize for reaching the centre. A confining wall stretched around the grass, the pond, the people; keeping those unworthy out. But the intricate arches carved into the ever-green hedge held a flicker of hope for the few who made it this far, a glimpse of light on a cloudy day.
Her eyes gazed into the water, into the reflection of those on the bank. Their laughter brought a half-smile to her face; she told herself she didn't need them, but her eyes betrayed the mask.
She watched as they teased and taunted the youngest, laughing and sneering as they pushed her aside. So much so, that they didn't notice when she turned and left. Her cheeks sparkled with little wet stars; her eyes rimmed in red.
The young girl stumbled away, towards the seclusion within the maze. She staggered, throwing herself onto the leaved wall before disappearing entirely.
Mazes are a challenge. Especially when you don't know what is ahead, and Lucy didn't. She had always followed the others, who knew the maze like the contours of their own hand. Sometimes when you navigate a maze you get stuck, lost. You have to start again; or retrace your steps, but how do you do that with no breadcrumbs to follow?
Silent screams. You can never hear them, but you know that they are there. They echo in the wind, chase the leaves, tremor in the violent laughter. Some are particularly attuned to hearing them; they respond to the pain, the terror. Some block them out, and others call them "hallucinations". They call you insane, say you're dreaming. No one understands.
This one I heard. I could sense the distress. I know what it feels like to be the one screaming. There's always help, but never for you.
The body convulsed in the chair, her back arched, shoulders ploughing into the leather. The nurse had released her grip some time ago; the girl had seemed peaceful then, as though she had fallen asleep. But now… now she was unsure. The doctor had been and gone, he had told her to keep watch, keep an eye out. At that moment, she was only just becoming sure of what he had meant.
The girl's nail streaked a crimson scar across the nurse's porcelain complexion. There was a scream.
The voice of the doctor echoed through the room, "I see everything is going well?"
The nurse stood in the corner, away from the girl. Fear whipped across her face, followed by embarrassment and guilt as she looked between the girl and the doctor. Long floral gloves covered her elegant fingers and slender wrists, though she winced each time she wrung her hands.
Her eyes glanced up towards the doctor and she nodded, acknowledging his presence. She wasn't a rude girl, you see, just one of few spoken words.
Standing under the stencilled arch, looking back across the plain, nothing seemed to have changed. The oak tree billowed tall and proud, stretching its all-encompassing shadow over the children, enveloping them. The lack of the young girl's presence went unnoticed.
There was an echo in the wind, a silent scream whispering in distress. "Help…"
At first I was unaware, but the echo grew with a piercing passion. A smile and a slight wave caught my eye, beckoning me forward. My heart yearned to join. But the girl's scream was like a hook. It reeled me in.
My body turned before I had made a conscious decision, following the girl deeper. Twists and turns; an endless path; a chaotic mess. I reached dead end after dead end. The hedge seemed to grow around me, encircling my form. It seemed to close off the now star lit sky. Ever so slowly, I suffocated.
Everything turned black, but I stumbled on, branches my guide. But when the wall ends, and you have nothing to keep you afloat, you sink and you fall.
It's moments like this, moments when everything feels like it's falling apart that things actually fall into place. Just like distance makes the heart fonder, silence makes the ears listen harder. With no noise, you hear the details, the hums and murmurs normally left ignored. It's then that you find what you're searching for.
The young girl was there, hidden in the corner. Her clothes, shades darker than they had been originally, clung to her piteous form.
The girl seemed familiar, like a character out of a dream or a favourite childhood story.
Her eyes were pools of tears that trailed their way down her porcelain skin. At her wrists, they met a series of train tracks, where the water halted and begun to slide down. Lucy was young; with her whole life ahead of her, there was no need to waste it like this.
Independent from my body, my arm reached forward towards the girl, just lightly, but she cringed from my touch. She did not speak, but let a slight shake of her head convey her message. Her gesture reminded me of something, maybe myself, maybe a friend; someone long forgotten.
I edged closer; she needed to understand. I knelt beside her, took her hand in mine. I felt along the lines of her scars, all the while silently asking… why?
But no one really needed to ask to understand. She might seem perfect, but inside she's dying. You could see it in the way her eyes dulled when she smiled; how her lips never curved completely, how she never laughed for the sake of it. It's the ones who seem perfect that are the least.
It's intuition, really. You can tell when something's not right. You get this sick, gut feeling. Sometimes it's easy to ignore, but when it clenches tight you can't help but heed it.
There are easier ways… her brain wanted to whisper; and she nearly did. But instead she stared into her brilliant topaz eyes and marvelled at the reflection. There was another pair of eyes, exactly the same; different only in that one pair was full of hope.
She understood the other girl's motives though; she had felt them, time and time again. Without a single uttered sound she understood. The girl's features were less defined than her own, her golden locks of hair lopped short as hers had once, but the resemblance was striking. She stood, and as though the girl was a reflection, the girl stood too.
She lifted a finger to her eye, as if wiping the girl's tears from her own face. The girl imitated her. The girl smiled the same way when she looked upon the mirrored image across from her. She opened her mouth to speak, and so did the girl, before the glass broke and she was left with the shattered remains of her realisation.
She understood now. How the girl worked, why she did it. She couldn't fix the girl; she wasn't fixed yet. But somehow, the light seemed to return to her eyes. A slight smile perched up on her face.
But you can never really be sure with these things. One moment they're there, the next they've gone. Escaped. It was a tedious task, but one of fragile importance. These things take time, but time was an entity that she didn't posses.
You could see the smile draining from the girl's eyes, like a pinpricked hole in an hourglass. With precision, they could be patched up.
She caught the smile with her own and led her away, back towards their sanctuary.
It felt liberating to leave, to know that she was no long trapped in the labyrinth.
"Goodbye and good luck, Jane."
"My name's not Jane. It's Jasmine," she said with a slight smile
Unlike when she had first arrived, that waiting room now looked bright with hope. Light stained the once bleak walls, caressing them. This place, once a cage, was now her sanctuary.