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Rabbits in the garden, p.16

Rabbits in the Garden, page 16

 

Rabbits in the Garden
 


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  “No,” she whispered repeatedly as she walked down the corridor. “I won’t do it. I won’t.”

  She caught the ominous scent of cigarette smoke when she reached his door and heard a soft moan when she pressed her ear against it. When it opened unexpectedly, Avery almost fell forward, but a pair of hands caught her mid-tumble, and she looked up to see Flint staring down at her. She looked like she’d been crying, and when Avery saw Doctor Yingling sitting on the edge of his desk smoking a cigarette, she knew why.

  “Flint, you didn’t…” Avery said sadly, and with a sniffle, Flint walked past her.

  “Come in, Avery,” he said as he crushed his cigarette into the ashtray. “My, you do look lovely today. Like a raven with a broken wing.”

  “Thanks, I guess.”

  “Unfortunately, I have to cancel our session today. Something came up and I have to leave for Mass General. But don’t worry, I’ll double your time next week.”

  “You really don’t have to.”

  “I insist. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”

  Avery headed back to the ward feeling grateful but unfulfilled; it had taken a lot of energy to prepare herself for refusing the doctor’s advances, and she was looking forward to being done with it. When she returned to the ward, the door to Flint’s room was shut, and even her roommate wasn’t being allowed in. She pressed herself against the door and whispered,

  “It’s me, Flint.”

  Avery heard the click of the door being unlocked and she walked in to see Flint sitting cross-legged on her bed, twisting her sleeves more manically than Avery had ever seen.

  “Here, take it,” Flint said and threw a brass Zippo at her.

  “What’s this for?”

  “Your escape. Start a fire and the hysteria will allow you to slip out.”

  “I can’t start a fire.”

  “You goddamn better!” Flint barked viciously. “You better make what I did to get that worthwhile.”

  “What did you do?”

  “Everything he asked of me,” she replied shamefully. “But I did it for you.”

  “I didn’t ask you to. I never would’ve asked.”

  “Of course you wouldn’t have. You might never even have thought of it, and you also may never have found a way out. Just take it and thank me. It was awful carrying it back here without striking it.”

  “Thank you, Flint, but I could’ve gotten matches from someone. You really didn’t need to go through that.”

  “Matches go out. Zippos don’t.”

  “I guess you’re right.”

  “Trust me, I’m right.”

  “But how do I do it? What do I set on fire?”

  “I could give you a few pointers,” Flint replied with a smirk.

  “Why do you guys look so serious?” Pam asked as she walked in, laid down on Flint's roommate’s bed, and pushed the pillows onto the floor.

  “Dammit, Pam! You know Cheryl has OCD.”

  “I’m just helping her work through her issues,” she laughed. “So, what are you two talking about?”

  “Sorry, Pam, it’s kind of a secret.”

  “So? I’m great at keeping secrets.”

  “That’s true,” Flint said. “I’ve actually never seen anyone keep a secret as long as Pam’s kept hers. We still have no idea why you’re in here.”

  “And you never will. See? I’m really great at it.”

  “I don’t know. I think if you want to know our secret, you have to tell us yours: why are you in Taunton?”

  “No way. I’ve kept it safe this long, and I’m not about to break my streak. Besides, how would telling you my secret help prove what a great secret-keeper I am?”

  “She has a point,” Avery said and closed the door. “But you have to promise you won’t say anything, even if you don’t approve.”

  “Now I’m even more intrigued. Alright, I promise.”

  “Say it like you mean it,” Flint said.

  “I do mean it! I really promise, okay? Jesus!”

  “We’re getting out of here. We’re breaking out,” Avery said powerfully, but Pam had no reaction. “Did you hear what I said?”

  “Did you hear it?” Pam scoffed. “Do you know how many times I’ve heard someone say that in my years here? How many of those people do you think actually succeeded? They probably could have succeeded, but something held them back, kept them inside. It was the sweet security Taunton provides.”

  “It’s a prison.”

  “It’s a refuge: a sanctuary for all of us poor wretches with broken minds. Not only does it protect us from the judgment of the outside world and the outside world from our madness, it also gives us the chance to live free.”

  “What kind of freedom lives behind bars?”

  “The kind that only a lucky few get to feel. It’s the only luck we have. It’s true we’re missing a lot of things that they have out there, good things, but we also get to miss the bad. Our only stress and work to be done is internal. As children, we were cared for, well taught, protected - ”

  “Frozen, drugged, electrocuted,” Avery added.

  “For our own good.”

  “I can’t believe you really think that. They were horrible to us.”

  “No, Avery, they weren’t,” Flint said.

  “How can you say that? After what Doctor Yingling did?”

  “It was unpleasant, yes, but things will be better for me now. I’ll get better care, better treatment.”

  “You two are crazy! How could you possibly prefer being locked up to being free?”

  “You just answered your own question. We’re crazy,” Pam replied. “Just because you think you’re not, don’t deny us our progress in admitting that we are,” Pam said in the most sincere voice Avery had ever heard come from the girl. “So how do you plan to escape?”

  “A fire,” Avery replied and Pam’s eyes shot to Flint.

  “I guess I don’t have to ask who came up with that plan. Anyway, I think I can help you.”

  “There’s no need. She can just burn her sheets,” Flint said.

  “Someone could put that fire out in a minute, and you’ll need much longer than that.”

  “Why do you want to help us?”

  “Do you want my help or not?” Pam asked and Avery nodded. “There’s a storage room not too far from Doctor Yingling’s office. It would be the perfect place to start a fire.”

  “I know it. I found it a few days ago,” Avery said. “But how will that help?”

  “I’ll take you. I’ll tell you.”

  “Tonight?”

  “And be caught at the scene of the crime? No thanks. Once was enough for me. I’ll show you now, and then you’re on your own.”

  “Do you mind if I stay?” Flint whispered to Avery as she painfully adjusted herself on the bed.

  “You’ve done enough. Get some rest before tonight.”

  “How do we get past Nurse Phillips?” Avery asked as she and Pam made their way up the hall.

  “If you were sticking around, I’d say you have a lot to learn. Really, Lizzie, this ward isn’t like the last one.”

  “You know how much I hate it when you call me that.”

  “Yeah, I do. Sorry; it’s just - well, I had to put up with it for so long, I figured you’d find someone to pass it to eventually. Of course, you’ll never know that satisfaction now.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  Pam slid past Nurse Phillips’s desk and through the doors, and once Avery was through, she found herself face to face with Pam’s concrete expression. She pulled her past Doctor Yingling’s office and pushed open the closet door to reveal the room stocked to the brim with amber bottles.

  “It’s isopropyl alcohol. It’ll burn for sure,” Pam said as Avery walked in.

  She beheld the amber forest ripe for torching and for a moment, she completely understood Flint’s compulsions.

  “Why are you doing this?”

  “Because I was the Lizzie before you,
” she replied. “I was the murderer. I was the one who made the papers. What you’re accused of doing, I did,” she said and unscrewed the cap of one of the bottles of isopropyl. “It should be good to go by tonight, but I’d ask Flint when you get back. This isn’t really my expertise.”

  “Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?”

  “Us? You think Flint’s going with you? Oh, you’re in for a treat, aren’t you?” Pam chortled.

  “She’s coming with me, Pam. She’s my best friend, and she’s choosing freedom. If you were smart, you would too.”

  “If you were smart, you wouldn’t even ask us. You’d leave us out of it completely.”

  “You’ll see,” Avery said as they slipped back into the ward with Nurse Phillips still utterly oblivious.

  “What about everyone else, Avery? What about the people who don’t know that this place is going up in flames tonight? You may not be a murderer yet, but by the end of the night, you will be,” a voice that sounded too much like her mother whispered in her ear.

  Avery realized that she was alone. Pam had walked away, and no one was close enough to have spoken. She could accept the mild hallucination, but the question had been broached nonetheless, and she didn’t have a response. In all honesty, she hadn’t even considered that fact, but she’d come too far to turn back now. She didn’t want to turn back. She felt Taunton driving her mad with each passing day and dead patients or not, she’d never be able to forgive herself if her mother got to Paul and Sophie. The moment Faye put the figurative blood on Avery’s hands, a war had started between them. She’d been too young and afraid to do anything about it before, but like the nurses of the women’s ward were so fond of telling her, she wasn’t a child anymore. When Taunton was ignited, Avery would be free, and Faye’s luck would finally run out. She found herself fidgeting with the lighter in her pocket throughout the rest of the day, so much so that Flint finally whispered for her to stop.

  “If I have to take that away from you, you’re not getting it back,” she warned.

  “Avery, I think it's time for you to share with the group,” Nurse Foster said.

  “No thanks. I’ve said everything I need to say a million times over.”

  “Not to us. Maybe if the group knew you better, a lot of the hostile looks you’re receiving right now would disappear.”

  “They can be as hostile as they want; it doesn’t bother me anymore. I know what I did and didn’t do, and so do the people who really care about me. The rest of you may listen but you'll never hear a word I say. You won’t even entertain the notion that I’ve been wrongfully convicted. To you, the more I protest my innocence, the crazier I must be.”

  “Well, no shit,” Meg grunted.

  “So I’ve reached the point where I no longer care what anyone thinks. You want to call me crazy? Call me crazy. You want to declare me a lifer? Fine, I’m a lifer. I’m done with having my story disputed. If listening to your disparaging remarks is what passes for progress, to hell with progress.”

  “I’m sorry you feel that way, Avery.”

  “No, don’t feel sorry for me. Save your pity for someone who really needs it.”

  “Doctor Yingling will be back in the morning, and I’m going to suggest he schedule an immediate session with you. He should hear everything you’re saying,” Nurse Foster said as she jotted in her notebook.

  “It won’t make a lick of difference, but go ahead and schedule the appointment if you feel like wasting the ink.”

  “You need a serious attitude adjustment, Avery Norton. Your total disregard for the treatment process - well, it just burns me up!” Nurse Foster exclaimed, and Avery chuckled.

  “If you think you’re burned up now, just wait.”

  The group disbanded without Avery saying another word, and even when Darian came into their room looking like she was about to throw an insult Avery’s way, Avery simply lifted her head from her pillow and stared Darian into surrender. It was getting easy to do. Maybe too easy, but for the time being, Avery felt the icy disposition necessary. Outside of Taunton, it was too cold a demeanor, but in the hospital where everyone seemed to run hot, being a bit frosty helped Avery cope with her situation.

  She knew she had a long night ahead of her and she needed to rest, but she couldn’t calm herself enough to sleep. A sweet and sour distillation of excitement and fear was sloshing around in her skull, and it sounded like a sea of whispers that wanted her to remain alert. The voices eventually faded away, and although Avery still couldn’t sleep, she found comfort in knowing that she and Paul would be together soon. Time passed slowly as if mocking Avery’s impatience, but when the hour hand crawled to eleven, a smile crept up the sides of Avery’s face and she slid out of bed. Flint was crouched in the corner by the nurses’ station when Avery tiptoed up, and except for a wild glint in her eyes, she was completely hidden in the shadows.

  “How long have you been here?” Avery asked.

  “A while. I was too excited to sleep.”

  “I know what you mean.”

  “No, you don’t,” Flint muttered before she and Avery crept out of the ward.

  When Avery opened the storage closet door, a cloud of fumes slapped her and Flint across the face. The aroma had a sweetness for both of the girls, albeit for different reasons. Avery flipped open the lighter and positioned her finger on the wheel, but before she struck it, Flint grabbed her wrist and looked up at her with her eyes flashing even wilder than before.

  “May I do it?”

  Avery handed over the Zippo and Flint ran it through her fingers as if it were a hunk of gold.

  “Are you ready?” she asked with her eyes on the lighter.

  “I’ve been ready for six years,” Avery replied, and with a grunt, she kicked over one of the bottles and it smashed into pieces, flooding the closet floor with isopropyl.

  “I doubt that was necessary, but I won’t scold you for it,” Flint said with a smirk.

  She flicked the thumbwheel and the flame sprung to life, instantly captivating her, but with a sigh she slid the lighter across the floor into the room. The puddle instantly caught fire, but Flint didn’t move. She was hopelessly enthralled by the growing flames. Avery had to pull her away just seconds before the closet burst into an inferno that exploded out into the corridor.

  “Move, Flint!” Avery screamed as she dragged her down the hall and slammed the door shut.

  She could feel Flint tugging on her arm, trying to stop her, but Avery continued to tow her like a ragdoll down the corridor. The only thing to eventually bring her to a halt was when she crashed into someone standing in her path.

  “What are you two doing down here?” Patrick the orderly asked.

  “Thank God, you’re here! There’s a fire near Doctor Yingling’s office.”

  “You don’t really expect me to believe that, do you? If there was a fire, Flint would be running towards it, not away,” he chortled, but when the fire alarm started to clang, Avery looked at him with a triumphant smile.

  The alarm was echoed by screams and people soon began frantically filing out into the hall and running past the trio.

  “Where’s the fire?” he asked.

  “The western wing and spreading. The women’s ward is already gone,” a fleeing receptionist answered.

  “Avery, the whole ward,” Flint whispered in sorrow, but Avery wasn’t listening.

  “Patrick, you have to help them. There could still be people trapped in there,” she urged.

  “You two go down to the lobby and wait,” he replied and dashed through the oncoming river of people.

  “Let’s go,” Avery said, but when she grabbed Flint’s hand, she was shaken away roughly.

  “Avery, what are you doing? The western wards are gone. Everyone we knew is gone, and you just sent Patrick in there. You’ve spent the past six years trying to prove to everyone that you’re not a murderer, but you are now. You just killed so many more people than you were accused of before.”
>
  “Flint, we don’t have time for this. We have to move now.”

  “No!”

  “Please, Flint, we have to go. I can smell smoke.”

  “Me too. It’s wonderful,” she whispered blissfully.

  “Please don’t do this. Not now. It’s getting hot.”

  “Not as hot as it was for those people trapped in the west wing,” she replied. “I'm sorry, but I can’t go with you, Avery.”

  “What do you mean? You can’t possibly stay. The fire - ”

  “The fire is why I’m staying. It’s not because of you. I was going to do it anyway. It’s me. I’m sick.”

  “No, Flint, please,” Avery begged through torrential tears. “Francine, please don’t do this. You’re my best friend. I won’t leave you behind.”

  “Yes you will. You don’t have a choice.”

  The hall was filling with smoke, and they both knew that the fire was close: something that filled one with despair and the other with exhilaration.

  “You have to go now, Avery.”

  “No, I’m not leaving without you.”

  “I belong here, Avery. Right here,” Flint said with a smile so wide that Avery couldn’t deny she was looking upon true happiness.

  As the flames poured into the corridor, her joy increased and Avery nodded in surrender. Avery started to turn, but love turned her back around. She sprinted towards Flint and wrapped her arms around her desperately.

  “You’re not crazy. Not even now,” Avery whispered and kissed Flint’s forehead. “But I still wish I could save you.”

  “I’m not the one who needs saving. I’m just a girl who wants to know what it's like inside,” she said as she looked back at the approaching flames.

  “I could take a guess for you.”

  “And you’d be wrong. Whatever it is to you, it would be be the opposite for me. It’s my freedom, Avery. It’s my escape. Yours is still waiting.”

  Avery kissed her forehead again before pulling away in a fit of tears. She threw herself through the door at the end of the hall, but with her hands pressed against the glass, she heard Francine yelling over the roar of the fire.

  “I’ll speak for you, Avery! I’ll tell them why you had to do this! I’ll make them understand!”

  Avery screamed as the flames rolled over her friend and instantly devoured her hair. Her clothes went second and her flesh followed, but all the while she stood with her arms outstretched and a smile blazed across her face that the inferno could never burn away.

 
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