Well, y’all were so nice and encouraging about the rough draft on Nanowrimo, so…err…have a chunk of rough.
I don’t know if it works. It may be insipid or dreadfully cliche. The problem is that Myra’s opening narration has to be flat and matter-of-fact and not particularly funny, and that’s not something I have any confidence in. I can hammer out wordy and funny all day long, but for this stretch, I’m trying to keep it really flat, and unfortunately it may just be falling flat, ya know?
So…err…yeah. I dunno. Once she gets out of the asylum, the narration shifts to something rather more in tune with my usual, but I dunno if people’ll stick around through this long enough to get there.
Anyway, it’s rough. Oh, and the voice in her head swears a lot. You’ve been warned.
Okay, is that enough disclaimers? *grin*
She had a hard time remembering some things.
What she’d done that morning, or the day before was easy enough. Myra could remember most of her life for the past few months, and the routine at the Home was soothingly repetitive. If she forgot a day, it didn’t really matter, because it had certainly been the same as the day before, and the day after, and the next day after that.
She had certainly gotten up a little after dawn, with the other solemn women, and they had all put their feet into the warm slippers, and made their beds, pulling the sheets tight. They had certainly gone to chapel, and lit candles, and bowed their heads. Myra rarely prayed, but you had to bow your head. Caitlin, the woman next to her, prayed feverishly, intensely, her lips moving and her body trembling, in the throes of some kind of some ecstasy of faith or guilt.
Certainly they had walked in a long line down to the cafeteria, and taken their trays to table. Yllsa had certainly screamed in her sleep last night, and had to stand up before the table and apologize for it, and they had recited their forgiveness by rote. You could not blame Yllsa—you could not blame anyone in the Home—but Myra thought privately that she might have preferred less forgiveness and more sleep.
Breakfast was always oatmeal. Sometimes you got cream with it, and sometimes honey or fruit. Those were the best days.
They had certainly gone to classes, and learned small and useful things. They wove baskets, and they might be allowed to knit. They were allowed knitting needles, because they were good girls. Myra had not always been a good girl, but she was now.
The memories of not being a good girl were not so clear. She remembered a voice, mostly, a frantic, panicky voice that seemed to come from a cold spot in the back of her head. She did not like to remember that. She had not been a good girl at all.
The rest of her memories though—her life before she lived safe behind the Home’s walls—she wasn’t sure about them. Most of her mind was a dark labyrinth, a vast tangle of corridors and unknown rooms. She feared to go in, lacking a torch and a piece of string, and despaired of ever finding her way home.
At the Home, with its neatly manicured lawns and white sheets and iron bedframes, they were encouraged not to dwell on the past. Dwelling on the past was Sin.
Now and again, though, she’d find some unexpected bit of knowledge that she could not have learned at Home. She was in the garden one day, and a bird landed on a tree, a black and white bird with a spotted red crest. Myra looked up at it, and knew it was a downy woodpecker, and that was an odd thing to know, because surely no one at the Home had ever told her.
Myra prayed at the chapel that night, just in case it was Sin to know this. The name of a woodpecker did not seem particularly sinful, but it came from the past, and there was nothing good in the past before the Home.
“Let us pray,” said the matron, “for the health of the Hierarchs. Let us give thanks for our deliverance from the Threnodoxy, and for the health of Ethan Tyrael, who delivered us.”
They bowed their heads, a line of women in grey robes with full sleeves, kneeling in the chapel before the statue of the god. They prayed for this every day, on their knees. There were little padded kneelers, which made things better, but by the end of an hour of prayer and thankfulness, your back started to give out and your knees felt like someone had slid live coals under the lid.
Privately, Myra thought that since the war had been over for quite a long time now, the god was probably getting tired of being thanked for smashing the Threnodoxy by way of his chosen general, and might like some new prayers. This was probably sinful to think. She sighed, wiggling a bit to relieve the pressure on her knees.
She had thoughts like that a lot. Possibly she was just inherently sinful.
Nah, I’d say that’s pretty spot on…
Myra froze. Since they were in mid-prayer, no one noticed.
Light streamed through the narrow window of the chapel, and over the shoulders of the statue of the god, writhing in torment on his bed of nails. His expression was out of character with the rest of his body, because it had an expression of beatific peace.
All the peace in heaven couldn’t help Myra at this moment, however.
The voice was back.
It didn’t sound like someone else talking to her. It sounded like the little voice that she used to talk to herself, except that there was an odd sort of echo to it, as if it came from some distance away.
No, I’m right here. Sort of.
“Let us pray,” said the matron, “for healing, for ourselves and for our sisters.”
Myra bit her lower lip. Caitlin was praying feverishly beside her, practically aloud.
With her lips barely moving, Myra asked “Are you the devil?”
God, I hope not.
Actually, I think I’m you, kid. Or maybe you’re me, or…actually, I’m not sure. I don’t know if they make pronouns to cover this.
Myra would have preferred the devil. If it was the devil, you were possessed, and the demons were to blame. If you were crazy, that was your own fault.
You’re not crazy. We’re not crazy. Listen to the voice in your head, Myra, it knows what it’s—okay, shit, yeah, that does sound crazy. Scratch that. We’re still not crazy.
They’d told her what to do, before, when she’d heard the voice. They said she was to see the doctor, and they could fix it. There were drugs, and it wasn’t pleasant, but it made the little voice go away.
No! Don’t listen to them, Myra. You’re not crazy. I’m not bad. Nobody needs to see the doctor.
“Let us pray…” droned the matron.
Listen to me, Myra, the doctor’s the bad one. You don’t belong here. I definitely don’t belong here. We’re not crazy. They’re messing with your head—
The little voice was getting frantic now.
Myra stood up, unsteadily. The kneeler thudded as she got to her feet. Cloth rustled, as the other women turned and looked at her.
“Myra!” snapped the matron. “We are praying!”
Kid, just kneel down, let’s not do anything rash…
“Myra, I’m going to count!”
Myra shuddered. The matrons started counting if you did something bad, and if you didn’t stop before they got to ten, you were very bad indeed.
She didn’t want to do anything bad. She quite liked this matron, whose name was Heloise, and who wore her hair in a dark bun. She was stern, but she could be nice, too.
“One,” said the matron warningly. “Two. Better sit down, Myra—“
Just do it, kid, we can talk about this, let’s not panic here…
Myra was stuck. The matron was counting, but the voice was back. Not obeying the matron was bad, but not telling her about the voice would be bad, too.
The other women were watching her in a kind of fascinated horror, even Caitlin, who had finally stopped praying and realized something interesting was going on.
For the love of god, Myra, just sit down, sit down, SIT DOWN!
The panic in the voice decided her. She pressed herself to the back of the pew and began shuffling sideways down it, passing behind the other women. They all twisted to stare at her.
“Seven…eight…Myra, I’m not kidding…”
She reached the end of the pew and the matron was right in front of her.
“I need to talk to the doctor,” she told Heloise. Her voice shook a little.
No! No, kid, no, don’t do it, just—tell her it’s that time of month, tell her something, but don’t—
The matron’s eyebrows drew together. It was a fearsome expression, but at least she’d stopped counting.
“Are you sure?” she said finally. “You know that it’s not good to waste the doctor’s time.”
Myra dropped her eyes and stared at her feet. “I can hear the little voice again,” she said, almost inaudibly.
Don’t tell them that! Damnit, how are we going to get out of here if you tell them?
The matron drew her breath in sharply. “Oh. Oh, I see. Well, then.” She backed away, watching Myra as if she were a dog that might suddenly decide to bite.
It was a painful expression to see on the face of Heloise, who was understanding if you dawdled in the bathroom and would excuse you from classes if you had cramps.
Kid! It’s not too late, if you make a run for it, we can get to the door—!
Myra stood, while the matron went away, and spoke to the orderly, and the orderly also looked at Myra, and then backed away, down the hall.
Come on, kid, let’s get moving, just go to the door…
She folded her arms.
If you go to the door, you won’t be bothering the other girls, said the voice, in a frenzy of inspiration, and the matron would be happy.
This seemed logical. Myra straightened her shoulders and walked up the side of the chapel, twenty-three long steps, to the doorway.
Very good, Myra. Now, the matron’s not here, so let’s just poke our head out the door and see where she’s gone…
Myra peered out the door and saw Matron Heloise. She was walking up the hall, looking not at all happy, and two of the biggest orderlies in the Home were with her.
Myra slammed a hand over her mouth, in fear she might have said that aloud.
The orderlies approached. They had plain grey coats, and large hands. She knew them both. Aaron was always nice, and smiled at her, but he wasn’t smiling now.
Shit, shit, two of them—god, if only I had a sword—
An image came to her, shockingly vivid, of steel in her hands, the edge awash with blood. There was a smell that came with it, a hot, smoky, dusty scent, and at the edges of her vision, men crawled and bled and died.
Myra shrieked and jerked back from the image, hitting the back of her head on the doorframe. By the time her head cleared, the vision or memory or whatever it was had faded, and the orderlies had taken her arms.
Sorry, kid! Damn! Didn’t realize—I mean, it’s our memories, but I didn’t know they’d take us like that—oh, hell, it doesn’t matter anyway. The only way we’re getting out of here now is to lie like rugs.
Myra knew that lying was bad, and lying to the doctor was much, much worse.
It’ll be okay. Just say what I tell you, and it’ll be fine.
The orderlies walked with her, through the halls, to the doctor’s office. They didn’t pick her up, or pinch her, just walked quietly, and Myra walked between them.
That’s right. That’s good, Myra. Don’t make a fuss. If we all stay calm, we can still pull this off…
The door to the doctor’s office was heavy oak, and it swung open without a sound. The doctor himself sat behind a large desk, several acres of gleaming wood and papers, and looked up when they came in.
The little voice didn’t say anything, but there was an odd, hostile thrumming in her head, like a dog growling at an intruder.
The doctor smiled. He had excellent teeth.
He was a fairly young man, but his hairline was already starting to recede a little. He wore a clean coat and his hands were folded neatly on the top of the desk.
That goddamn butcher! At least the Thren—no, no, never mind, it’s okay, Myra, we’re all calm, just stay calm, don’t tell him anything.
“Now, Myra,” said the doctor, in his pleasant voice, “the matron tells me that you’re not feeling well?”
Tell him you’re wrong! Tell him you made a mistake! Tell him it was a nightmare, but you’re okay now!
“The little voice came back,” said Myra evenly, her hands folded together in her lap. “I can hear it. She’s saying bad things.”
Aw, kid, no…
“It’s good that you told me this,” said the doctor, smiling at her. He made a little gesture to the orderly behind her. “Because you told me, we can help you.”
Help you? That butcher!
There were pills then, a great many of them. Myra took them, politely, and asked for a glass of water. The doctor made another little gesture, and the orderly got her one.
Put them under your tongue, don’t swallow, oh, Myra please—
She took them, two at a time, sipping the water, and swallowed them all.
The little voice howled and wept and cursed.
Myra knew she’d done the right thing. Obviously the little voice was crazy. If she listened, it’d make Myra crazy too.
They took her to solitary, one of the rooms with the walls that were padded with straw-stuffed canvas. They put you there if you were bad, but Myra knew that she hadn’t been. They were just being careful. That was okay.
She sat down in the corner and leaned her back against the wall.
Butchers! screamed the little voice. My own people! How could you? At least the motherfucking Threnodoxy would only have killed me!
It went on in this vein for quite awhile. It had a very extensive vocabulary and an apparently unlimited supply of rage.
“You should be good,” said Myra quietly. Maybe it wasn’t the voice’s fault. Maybe it was like Yllsa screaming, and the voice just couldn’t help itself. “If you’re a good girl, you wouldn’t have to be here. It’s easier on everyone if you’re good.”
Shut the fuck up, kid.
Myra lifted her chin haughtily. “I won’t talk to you if you’re going to be a bad mouth.”
That’s fine by me, you traitorous little bitch.
Eventually the drugs began to take effect. Things got rainbow edges. Myra wasn’t alarmed—she’d seen this before. She got up and walked around for a minute or two, taking deep breaths, and then sat down again.
The voice had finally lapsed into a sullen silence, but she could still feel it, moving around, like someone behind a locked door.
Finally—Sorry, kid. Shouldn’t have yelled at you.
“I accept your apology,” said Myra primly, smoothing down her skirts.
Not your fault those goddamn butchers have you pumped so full of—ahh, hell. That was a lot of pills, wasn’t it?
Myra nodded. There was a heavy, metallic taste in her mouth. The voice wasn’t silenced, but it seemed oddly muffled, and much farther away.
The door opened. Light spilled through it, and the world pulled apart like layers of an onion.
Myra remembered two things from the next length of time. She wasn’t sure how long it lasted—several days, probably not a week, but she wasn’t sure. Most of it was a rainbow-edged blur. She knew she slept in the little room with stuffed straw walls, and she knew that they transported her, at least once, on a board with straps on it, but most of it was all dark and rainbows and nothingness.
The first thing she remembered was a little old man, in a dark room. He was sitting cross-legged on a mat on the floor, humming tunelessly. He was very, very old, with skin like brown paper, and he smiled at her. Myra smiled back.
She couldn’t see the walls of the room very clearly, only shadows. There were no windows. She couldn’t really remember how she got there—possibly they’d carried her on the board again. She resented that. She could have walked. She would have been happy to walk.
The little old man kept humming.
He patted the mat next to him. She stood on the edge worriedly—should she sit down? Was that what he was asking?
Pat pat pat.
Well, it couldn’t be anything else.
She sat down next to him. He gestured at his legs, and then at hers, and Myra giggled and folded her feet up to be like his.
Her feet were dirty. That was a little embarrassing, so she put her hands in her lap to hide them.
Hummm hum hum…
The little old man reached out both hands and touched her on the head with his fingertips. She pulled her head back, startled, and he smiled at her again. He had very few teeth left.
He reached out to her face again, nodding. Well, if he wanted to touch her head, Myra supposed that was fine. Perhaps he was checking for lice. Generally the matrons did that, but stranger things had happened.
He ran his fingertips over her skull, his hands thin as bird bones, patting her head over and over, as if she were a dog. Myra giggled again, and the old man smiled broadly, still humming to himself.
Somewhere, on the other side of the drugs, the voice screamed and screamed and screamed, but it was miles away, and didn’t seem to have anything to do with Myra at all.
The second thing she remembered happened on one of the last days she was in the cell. She was curled up under a blanket, almost asleep, and the voice came back.
It was very distant. It sounded weak and hurt and groggy. If a purely mental voice could rasp, this one did.
Sorry, kid. I’m sorry.
Myra opened her eyes. It was dark, but a little light came in through the slot in the door.
I have to go, kid. They’re gonna keep filling you full of drugs, and that bastard in the basement’s gonna—ahhh, fuck, it hurts!—gonna keep working on you. I have to go. I’m so sorry.
I tried to stay, kid, I swear.
There were footsteps, and a light flickered, as an orderly passed in front of the door. The little voice continued, further and further away, as if sinking into a well.
I’ll come back as soon as I can. I promise.
After awhile, there was only silence in her head, and Myra closed her eyes and went to sleep.