Two arms wrapped around my waist and two hands were clasped against my back. I dropped my eyes to see the glint of a strawberry head burrowed against my chest. My heart leapt. When I reached around her shoulders, my arms collapsed against themselves.

I started awake.

Dawn was as dim as night in that room. As I stared into the abyss, I realized it was Christmas Eve. Second to Christmas Day, this was the worst day to be trapped here. When most people are at church with their loved ones, we are alone.

Shoved into a dark corner, where no one had to look at us.

My heart was an empty shell, and fragile with loneliness. My two or so days of escape did something for me, though. The spark of rebellion had been reignited. Sometime that day, I would show that I was not their test dummy.

"Dean?" came a murmur across the wall.

"Merry Christmas," I murmured back.

And then we were silent until breakfast. To my surprise, an attendant I had nicknamed Scarecrow due to his lean stature and harebrained mind, retrieved me to come and eat with the general population. He did insist on plopping down beside me with his own tray, but he seemed distracted.

My own mind struggled to sort out all the ideas that came in. Sometimes I realized I was so intent on sorting them that I had stopped eating that greasy sausage and started to stare.

As an additional challenge, I had an idea I wanted to enact. When the Scarecrow was staring out much like I was, eased my mouth close to the man next to me, whom I knew would not be a threat if I came into his personal space, and murmured my idea with the instruction to pass it on.

To my pleasant surprise, he leaned to the man next to him and murmured in his ear. I watched my idea ripple across the dining hall, listening in to make sure the message stayed the same.

It did.

After everyone rose and discarded their trays, the Scarecrow caught my arm. He clasped his spindly fingers around me with an iron grip and started to drag me to the door.

He is not going to want to go. Do not say anything. But does he not read minds? He already knows we are going to the laboratory. Stop! Stop saying that! Now he knows. Just you watch. He is about to lose it.

He was right. I wrenched my arm away, but his bony fingers just bore into the muscle, and I knew it would be bruised by evening. I threw my weight against his grip and sprawled to the concrete when he released me. I scrambled away on my knees and tried to push myself up, but he was on me in a second and caught me by the arm. The Tin Man appeared and snatched my other arm.

Guess that made me Dorothy.

On the bright side, if they had any desire to see the effects of whatever they were about to do to me, they probably would not kill me too soon. Unless, of course, the effects of whatever this was could be instantaneous. In that case, I could see my parents and sister by Christmas morning.

Either way, I was not going out without them knowing what I thought of this.

"Stop moving!" Tin Man growled at me. He raised his eyes above me to a nurse. "Sedatives!"

I looked him in the eye and spat. Shame and fear crashed over me in an instant. He shoved his right hand into my throat to raise my chin up. My windpipe was being shoved closed. I sensed his rage coursing through him, through his arm and hand, and into my throat.

"Here is the sedative," a nurse appeared beside me and a needle pierced my neck. In a moment, my muscles gave out and I collapsed.

I knew the moment I awakened and cleared my mind that the new injection had been done. I was strapped to a gurney beneath a bright light with a flock of nurses and their flurry of thoughts bustling around me. They were cleaning up and sterilizing instruments, I realized as I listened.

"Please," I murmured and swallowed. No one seemed to hear me. "Please."

One of the nurses returned to me and leaned down. She was a woman with dark hair and kind eyes.

"Please," I repeated, "you have to know what you are doing. You have to know what these injections are."

"They are mood stabilizers," she assured me, and none of her thoughts betrayed her.

"No," I shook my head sleepily. "They are experimenting on us. Please believe me. I know what people are thinking about now. I don't want any more of these."

She smoothed back my hair in a maternal gesture. "They are not experimental, I promise."

I listened to her a moment.

"Poor man. He must be terrified if he thinks he is being experimented on. I wish there was some way to instantly fix whatever is wrong with him. He seems to be such a nice young man, when he isn't acting out. I wonder if my son has something wrong with him. He does throw some similar tantrums."

"You're concerned about your son," I watched her eyes widen and she stepped back. "Believe me."

At that moment, the Tin Man arrived to return me to my room.

"He should stay and rest some more," the maternal nurse said.

"He can rest in his bed."

And with that, the Tin Man hauled me upright by the elbow and waited just until my shoes landed tentatively on the floor before steering me back down the hall. I weaved while I walked and honestly wished I was back in my old room, which at least was much closer.

When I did arrive in my room, I remember crossing to the cot and collapsing into sleep.

I was afraid I missed the deadline. When I opened my eyes, the room was dim. But there was the single light above me that assured me I awakened in time. Still, I'm not sure how many minutes passed until my mind was clear enough to get up.

"Graves," I hissed through the crack. "When are the lights going out?"

"Soon, I expect. What happened to you?"


He was right. After about ten minutes of me still trying to clear my head, the asylum was plunged into darkness. I rose and moved to the door and dropped down to my knees. My hands grazed the slot and pushed up the metal flap.

It had already begun a moment before.

I smiled, moved my mouth close to the slot, and contributed my voice to the chorus of Silent Night.

The rich, slow melody was rather haunting as it echoed in the empty halls. But God heard us, we all heard one another, and I could imagine the attendants upstairs with wide eyes as they realized what was happening down here.

And sleep in heavenly peace we did. Even if the idea of being murdered at any moment was in the back of my mind.