Clearwater Institute’s bleached walls stare in on the Giggling Girl lying in the middle of the room. She counts her toes to see if any new ones have appeared. She laughs to herself, saddened, but begins counting again.
At night she dreams of the cracks swallowing her whole into the dark place where the shadows roam like sharks in the ocean. The Giggling Girl, tired of counting, rises into a sitting position and begins to rock muttering words under her breath.
As a key scrapes into a lock the decrepit tumblers turn over with the sound of old joints popping. The splintering wooden door, with its rusted hinges, opens with a creak. The girl giggles as she looks up to see the Good Doctor walk in with the Nurse in White Heels.
They stop and the nurse stands exactly three feet behind the doctor, a conditioned response created from admonishing stares and bereft rebukes from the Good Doctor. Now she obeys instantly, only questions when absolutely necessary and never speaks unless spoken to. The Girl giggles again when she looks at them.
The Good Doctor pulls a pen from the inside of his coat, clicking its ink into the world and wetting it with his tongue before he scribbles notes on a clipboard. The pharmaceutical nurse takes ten minutes every day to decode his prescriptions.
When he finishes he licks the wrinkled and pale skin of his thumb flashing the Giggling Girl his yellowing teeth. He uses his wet thumb to separate the page as he rips it violently and tosses it to the Nurse. With a clumsy hand she catches it, nearly falling on her six inch heels, and moving back to her position of attention. The doctor snorts his approval through his big hawkish nose and looks towards the girl.
The Girl stops giggling. The shadows in the walls catch her attention, as one of the shadows jumps from the cracks into the doctor’s shadow. The joy withers from her eyes when she sees this. She can see his gray hair glow with a new sheen, his steely grey eyes are new with luster. She knows that he doesn’t think she saw it so she pretends that she didn’t. She pretends that she doesn’t know that he’s slowly becoming the building.
“How are we today?” his voice is misleading. It holds nothing but kindness. The Good Doctor especially took time to craft this voice to give it the power to pull on people’s heartstrings. The voice is what always gets him what he wants, but the Girl refuses its draw.
“Dr. Clearwater,” she can hear the shadows in the walls dancing, chanting his true name. The Giggling Girl feels their soulless joy spread through the room as she repeats his true name. She speaks it to show that she has no fear, but hates to feel the power that it holds as it crosses her tongue.
The Good Doctor hears the party of the shadows himself and he glares at the Nurse to admonish her. “Now, now, we’ve been trying to make this distinction for quite a while. The facility is named Clearwater, not me. I assure you we are not one in the same,” he says. Each day the good doctor slowly sinks deeper into the ocean of shadows. Soon, the giggling girl knows, his graying skin would turn to the stone of Clearwater.
“Sleeping child dead in the night, by the morn she’d lost her sight,” the Giggling Girl speaks the words like a silent prayer turning from the doctor and staring at the cracks in the walls. “Once the air has left the balloons cut them from her ribb’d tomb.”
The Good Doctor’s patience is fading, she can see that. He’s heard enough to know her prayer by heart. At night he hears it as he passes her room.
When he sighs the nurse moves without needing instruction and opens the door looking out into the hallway. “Cooper?” she calls to the custodian as a young girl calls to her pet. Her head spins in both directions as she tries to find him until the Giggling Girl sees her eyes light up as she looks left. The Nurse glances over her shoulder to make sure the doctor isn’t looking while she hikes up her dress.
The Nurse wears a white dress that stops right above her knees and white high heels. The dress code mandates that they be flats. This is her only outward sign of rebellion. The Nurse takes great pride in her physical appearance and loves to show off to the men in the asylum. The Giggling Girl sees her shamelessly flirting when no one else is watching.
The Nurse’s hair is the color of charcoal and has the sheen of polished marble. Her skin is tanned, the color of wet sand, beautifully unmarred, and her eyes were the color of a clear lake. Each time the Giggling Girl looks at her she searches for the fish beneath the surface.
She loves fish.
“Yes, Nurse?” The Giggling Girl smiles as Cooper appears. He always takes care of her and, unlike the other staff, Cooper’s power is not of the shadows. She knew no fear of the glow of his coffee skin or when she speaks his true name.
The Nurse beams her white teeth at Cooper in an attempt to use her powers to grab his attention. The Giggling Girl laughs at the way she casts those eyes at him and try to captivate him. The Nurse’s power came from her eyes, but always failed to win over Cooper.
“Be a dear and get the sedative for our uncooperative patient today.” She smiles at Cooper as she speaks in her singsong voice. Cooper, his waves unaffected by her voices tidal power, looked at the Giggling Girl with compassion before going to get the sedative.
The Nurse’s smile made the Giggling Girl retreat into her favorite corner. This corner had the fewest cracks and the shadows here protected her from the others. She took comfort in their gentle cooing over the loud booming of the shadows that had infected the Good Doctor. The shadows in the Nurse’s eyes were of a different thread, but cut from the same cloth.
The Good Doctor’s yellow fake smile comes as no surprise to the Giggling Girl as Cooper returns with a sedative and a wheelchair. “Thank you, Cooper. Please take care of her. Nurse, let’s attend to some of our more receptive patients.” His white wing tipped shoes clacked against the surface of the floor in step with the Nurse’s white heels.
When their backs turn as they walk away, the Girl watches the needle slips into the cracks. She follows it with glee. Slowly Cooper lifts her, cradles her in his arms before finally setting her in the wheelchair that he had brought.
“Thank you Cooper,” she whispered, her eyes wide and alert.
JEROME C. KEITH is currently a junior at Loyola University of New Orleans pursuing a degree in English with a concentration in Film and Digital Media. As a senior in high school, he received a silver key from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for his short script.