There was no room for arguing—I was considered 'unfit' to make my own decisions and because I wasn't married, my parents brought down the hammer to move me to an institution. I bitched and moaned about it, specifically the impact it would have on my job and college, but was largely ignored. I would be given several months reprieve for the trauma I'd suffered.
"We'll visit every weekend," mom said, beaming at me from the passenger seat of dad's SUV. "Shady Oaks is such a nice place. Zoe highly recommended it."
"Shady Oaks?" I echoed. "That sounds more like a haunted retirement home."
I caught dad's smirk in the rearview mirror but he didn't glance back at me.
Mom huffed a little and turned around. She was all decked out in a floral dress and a sunhat to drop her adult daughter off at what was essentially a loony bin. It wasn't fair to render judgment but I was fucking miserable. It was bullshit. I was perfectly stable.
"It will be quite haunted, soon enough."
Though the seat beside me looked empty to my parents, I could see the monster sitting in it with his hands clasped politely in his lap. He had a vague smile and was gazing ahead of us at the road. His red shirt had changed color to charcoal grey but the pants were still black, as well as the shoes.
The demon's fingernails were turning a lighter shade of grey, and I noticed the ears had shrunken down a little bit. I stared at him for a few moments until his frightening dark eyes turned on me and the red pupils slitted, focusing in. He tilted his head and ran his forked tongue across his jagged teeth.
Mom sighed in the front seat as I stared in terror at the creature sitting beside me. "You'll be home sooner than you think, Nora. Some relaxation will be good for you."
Slowly, the monster opened his mouth to touch the tips of his fangs with his tongue. Long strands of saliva stretched between the upper and lower jaws. I continued staring in sheer terror, pushing myself against the car door.
"It's like a vacation!" mom added cheerfully.
He snapped his jaw shut and bared his teeth in a beastly grin.
My parents pulled over for gas and to use the bathroom after another few minutes, leaving me and the demon alone in the car. We were still staring at one another—it hadn't stopped smiling. His eyes flickered up to where my parents had walked off and the smile faded away. He leaned back into his statuesque position and thoughtfully touched his index finger to his cheek.
"The woman is irksome," he said. "Loud, chatty..." He waved his hand in disgust. "Optimistic."
An oppressive atmosphere hung over the car. I sank into a crouch and crossed my arms over my chest, intensely uncomfortable. Why wouldn't he go away?
"Don't you have a name I can call you?" I pressed again. "Something? Anything?"
"No. You'll never know it."
I bristled. "Fine, then I'm going to give you a name." My thoughts raced as the monster turned his cold eyes on me. "Uh... Simon should work."
He made a disgusted face. "The apostle?"
"Maybe his saintliness will wear off on you. Simon."
My parents returned to the car a minute later. Simon continued to give me a dirty look but I started chatting with my mom, ignoring him. It was good to put a name to the face. It made him less imposing somehow, even with the maroon hair and forked tongue.
Simon. It worked.
We arrived at Shady Oaks not long after. It was gated with a long gravel driveway leading up to a drop-off area. People were milling about with nurses garbed in white and my pulse quickened when the car stopped. All the movies I'd seen with mental institutions came flashing back—I imagined all of the nurses carrying needles loaded with anesthetic in their pockets.
A young guy walked out of the enormous mansion before us and trotted down the steps with a glib smile on his face. His blonde hair was parted to the side and his blue eyes sparkled as my mom and dad emerged from the car. I glared at the building.
"This place seems suspicious," I muttered.
"You'll find that many places feel that way to you now." Simon had stirred beside me and his red eyes zeroed in on the orderly. He smiled faintly. "Evil is intrinsic to most humans."
There was a knock on the window and I looked up to see the man waving to me, beaming a little too brightly. It annoyed me that he looked to be around my age.
"Hello there, Nora!" he said. "My name is Zack and it is so nice to meet you!"
I scowled as I got out of the car and looked at my parents. "Is this guy for real?"
"Don't be rude," mom said. "Zack offered to help us bring your things to your new room!"
As promised, Zack helped us haul my belongings through the building. He chatted away with mom while dad and I hung back, admiring the architecture and watching people wandering about with their families or with nurses. I only saw a handful of female nurses—most were athletic younger men who looked a lot like Zack. It made me more than a little uncomfortable.
"Nice place," dad said. "Clean."
"Better be for what you're paying for it," I said, smirking at him.
Dad just smiled plainly and kept his hands knitted behind his back.
We took an elevator up to the third floor. The hallway was white linoleum with salmon pink walls and I immediately felt like I was in a pediatrics hospital wing. I frowned at everything as we walked, even past the nurses manning the floor's central station, and right up to when we stopped at my room.
"You'll be sharing a common area with three other girls, but you have your own bedroom," Zack said as he opened the door.
Great, it felt like I was back in college. I roughly pushed past him when he gestured for me to enter and ignored my mother's irritated hiss at my rudeness.
It wasn't very big. There were two doors on the left side of the room and two on the right. Each had a decorated label designating where each woman lived. A small table with four chairs was directly in front of me, covered with paints and construction paper and other art supplies. The iron bars across the window set a stark contrast. This was a place where sick people stayed.
The label on my room was bland. I opened it up to find another small room with a long twin bed, a dresser, and a desk. Holy fuck. I really was in college.
"No key?" I asked.
"You earn key privileges," Zack replied. He dangled a huge set of keys in front of me, shaking it enough to rattle. "Don't worry, you'll get one soon."
My dad finally stirred and he looked pretty pissed off. "You're kidding. Nora isn't a child and she has a right to privacy."
"Well, with high risk cases—"
"Nora is not a high risk case," dad interrupted coldly. "If you refuse to give my daughter privacy then I will bring her elsewhere. She will be respected and treated humanely, Mr. Walker."
Zack hesitated for a minute, perhaps struggling to get my father's words through his rather large head, before he grudgingly handed me a key. I smiled at my dad and turned a mega-watt smile on Zack. He was no longer returning the pleasantry.
We toured the rest of the facility after a quick lunch in the dining room. It wasn't huge. There was an athletic department, art area, swimming pool, and tennis courts. It was sort of like being on vacation, but without the fun and excitement.
I hung back as we passed through the building where all the therapists held their sessions and peered in the doors. My parents went on ahead with Zack, mom chatting his ear off about how 'lovely' everything was. Thankfully I was only staying for a few months at most—then I'd go right back out into the real world. I just had to keep a low profile until then.
"What do you think, Nora?"
Simon was standing behind me with his hands in his pockets and his red eyes on the back of Zack's head. His voice was soft like a whisper but still made me feel like I had worms squirming underneath my skin. I crossed my arms and shrugged, watching my parents and Zack turn the corner.
"I'll survive," I said.
The creature turned his gaze on me, smiling. "But you will suffer."
Zack was at the corner he'd recently gone around with mom and dad. He didn't approach me but waved like he thought I couldn't see him standing ten feet away.
I ground my teeth. "This is already enough suffering."
Mom peeked around the corner to see what the hold up was. Dad must have tugged her away because she was gone as quickly as she had popped up, and Zack turned his head towards them when his name was called. The orderly cast me one more distrustful glance before following after my parents. Good. Leave me the hell alone.
Simon's smile didn't waver but he looked away from me to the corner. "I'm so happy that you have such a keen sense of humor, Nora. It should be some comfort to you in the difficult times that lie ahead."
Dread clouded over me once again, thick and heavy like a suffocating blanket. I rubbed my upper arm and hesitated for a moment in the eerily quiet hallway with the monster standing beside me. He wasn't like your typical horror movie villain—he was insidious, and I knew in the back of my mind that whatever happened was going to strike before I ever saw it coming.
I followed after the group without saying another word. As far as I could tell, Simon didn't move an inch, but I could have sworn I heard whispers in my ears. Once I turned the corner, I ran after my parents and didn't look back.