There was a loud crash in the hallway as I stumbled over a cart that had been left outside my door. Water dripped from the hem of my ankle-length nightshirt, my feet sliding on the linoleum as panic seized me again. I slipped and grasped at air until I landed on the floor with a thud. Breath knocked out of me, I tried to inhale enough to scream. I didn’t need to; Nurse Hutchinson ran down the hall towards me.
“My lands, Myra! What on earth?” She hooked her arms under me and pulled me up. She saw the puddle on the floor and grabbed the radio at her waist. “Anna, we need new linens in room 213, and a mop in the hallway. Myra Brandon soiled herself again.”
“No,” I gasped. “I didn’t soil myself.” The fact they thought it made me ashamed.
“Shhh… it’s okay, sweetie. It happens all the time.” She led me back into my room.
I shivered when I saw the painting again. I tried to retreat, but Mrs. Hutchinson packed a lot of power into her five-foot-two-inch frame.
“Myra, come on. It’s three in the morning and I don’t want the others to wake.”
I understood. Sylvia, Roberta and Tina resided in the room next door. They all shared the same body and were varying shades of mean. Across the hall, Catherine Winters steeled herself against the voices that never slept. On the other side of me, Evelyn cleaned during most of her waking hours that weren’t spent in therapy sessions with Dr. Akins. And then there was me. I didn’t belong here. I’m not crazy.
Nurse Hutchinson and the aide, Anna, dressed me and changed my bed. Together, they placed me back under the covers. My eyes settled on the painting, titled 32nd Day, while my body remained in a catatonic state. Thoughts and words ricocheted in my mind, but none found the way to my mouth.
I wanted to explain that a demon lived beyond the stream and every night, he beckoned me to join him in paradise. Sometimes I could resist and he’d go away, but most times my feet followed against my will and I couldn’t escape his grasp. Each time, he took me farther down the stream where the clouds became grayer, the grass browner, and the stench of rotting fish wafted from water.
The first time it happened, only days after I bought the art from an estate sale just over a month ago, my voice hadn’t stranded me, so I told my husband. He freaked out and got me a room on the second floor of the psych ward. I think he sent the painting with me because a part of him feared I might be sane. And a part of me hoped the painting would be returned to him upon my death so he would join me.
The women finished tidying my room and flipped the light off as they exited. I wished I could tell them to leave it on. I closed my eyes and smelled the sweet aroma of hibiscus. I uncurled my fingers and saw a crushed pink hibiscus flower. I tried to scream, but a force outside of me pressed against my chest. The weight grew stronger. I struggled to breathe.
I jerked my head to the right and caught sight of the tick marks I’d made on the wall after each journey into the false paradise. Illuminated by the nightlight beneath them, I counted each black line. Tonight made thirty-two. The significance of the painting’s title occurred to me.
Everything went black.
This bizarre tale was written in response to the Speakeasy weekly fiction challenge, which is to write a piece in 750 words or less, (1) using “There was a loud crash in the hallway.” as the first sentence, and (2) making some reference to the photo prompt, of a hibiscus flower floating in a stream.
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