Everyone thinks I’m crazy. Especially the nuns.
Dr. Templeton says I have “behavioural issues.” This is what the nuns would call “unfit for proper society.”
I’ve been in this “school” for at least six years now. My entire family is mad, you see – but that’s the aristocracy for you. I’ve heard it is becoming quite unavoidable these days, much like within the royal families.
My roommate is a very quiet and sweet girl, pretty too. Her parents left her here the same week my grandparents unceremoniously dumped me here; her parents thought she was far too simple-minded. Everyone here says she’s stupid. But she’s not - she just a little slower than others. Especially when she reads. She loves reading, but it takes her forever to.
Her name is Emma-Lee Stonehouse, and in three hours she will die. How do I know this? Because it has already happened.
Dr. Obermann and his gang of maniacal doctors like testing on us – and who better to try some new medication or technique on than a girl who has no power to protect herself? A lot of girls fit this bill, but for the last few months they have pin-pointed poor little Emma-Lee. Me on the other hand, I have my nails. I have kept them long these long years, ever since I found out the damage they could do to someone else. Call me sick in the head, but I get a feeling of triumph when I see the destruction I’ve managed to create with my nails. I have oddly long fingers, what my mother used to call “spider fingers.” My grandmother hated that term and declared me to have perfect hands for piano. So I scratched her.
But Emma-Lee has not the strength nor the willpower to protect herself. That’s way she has been laying in bed these past few months, staring at the ceiling and speaking only when she feels strong enough. All she can do is lie in bed, because she is dying very, very slowly.
I knelt by the side of Emma-Lee’s bed and touched her shoulder gently. Her transparent eyelids fluttered open. She was so pale. Pale enough that I could easily count all the blue and purple veins in her head, where her hair should have been.
“Ruby,” she croaked softly. I smile at her and stroke her arm.
“Hullo E-lee,” I replied. “I heard you are getting better.” I lied through my teeth; I had no idea of her actual condition.
“Is that what they are saying now?” she whispers, lifting her head off her pillow. Her neck wavered for a second and then she had to plunk her head back on her hard down pillow.
“Glad to hear.” She smiled a strained smile, closing her eyes.
“Yes, and when you get better, we’ll – we’ll go on an adventure, and put frogs in Sister Mary’s bed, and push someone down the stairs, and…” My eyes began to feel like they were burning. I rubbed them iritatedly.
“Sounds lovely, Ruby, ‘cept for maybe pushing someone down the stairs,” she says softly, a thin smile creeping across her pale lips.
“Yes, alright,” I replied, smiling sadly. I knew she hated it when I said that sort of thing; I had just wanted to see her smile. Light knocking from the door made me turn my head to see Sister Temperance and two nurses standing in our doorway.
“Hello, dear,” said the Sister, “it’s time for Emma-Lee’s medication.” I looked at the nun as if to I wasn’t going anywhere, but the sunlight caught on something silver and shiny on one of the nurses’ trays – something which I could have only assumed was a needle. Standing up, I pushed a mass of my hair out of my face. I hated to have it done up. “You might want to say goodbye,” suggested the nun carefully, “Emma-Lee will likely want to rest afterward.”
I hadn’t known it then, but Sister Temperance was trying to tell me something.
A quick goodbye to my dear roommate, my only actually friend, and I was ushered out of the room by a nurse. Sister Temperance gave me a funny smile as I left. I began to walk down the hall listlessly, unsure of what to do. I had only gotten half way down the hall when I heard yelling come from behind me. I turned around just in time to see Sister Temperance holding onto her habit as she ran down the hall in the opposite direction. At that moment, I knew I would be alone in the room tonight. Tonight and probably the rest of forever.
That night I went down to the games room, where most of the girls had migrated to after dinner. All eyes turned toward me as I entered the room slowly, watching them all right back. Lila, perched on the back of a couch, was the first to speak.
“You must be glad to be rid of old cowface, eh?” she asked, her eyes sparkling. I knew what she was trying to do. I ignored her. Unfortunately, I couldn’t ignore the next person to accost me. Much taller and larger than myself (most girls my age were), a hulking mound of flesh stood in my way. Harriet Halfner, a bully. She looked down at me with s stupid grin.
“Betcher gon’ sleep good tonight without her around,” she said in her gravely voice. “I know I will. She was too stupid fer my likin’.” I glared at her. “Glad, ain’t yeh?” she continued to goad me. Without thinking, my hand flashed out, lightning quick, and slashed down on her too flabby face. She stared at me in shock, and I had enough time to catch sight of the four perfectly long marks on the side of her face before leaving the room faster than I had come and marching down the hall.
At the sound of a roar of fury from behind me, I took off up the staircase, heading for the fourth floor. Running up the steps as quickly as my feet would carry me, I stopped on the top floor, glanced over my shoulder, and continued running down the hall, making my way to the roof access door. Bursting out onto the roof and slamming the door behind me, I was greeted with a huge gust of wind and dark grey skies. Just when I had thought I was alone o the roof, a figure caught my eye, and I noticed I wasn’t alone. Mad, I started to teeter my way across the roof. Sitting near the door was that annoying Dorothy girl, the one who was always bemoaning her existence. She seemed to have noticed me as well because she shouted at me over the loud winds.
“Leave me be, Ruby!”
“Oh, just jump already!” I sneered in reply, kicking a stone in her direction. Taking up residence at the other end of the roof, I wrapped my arms around my knees as I sat precariously on near the roof’s edge, my skirts no doubt getting caught on the rusted nails and scratchy roof shingles. My hair whipped me in the face as my eyes began to sting and burn again.
“Ruby!” someone called to me.
“I said go jump off!” I shouted angrily.
“Ruby! Please come inside!” I turned around to see Sister Kate clinging to the weather vane above, looking at me pleadingly. “Come take my hand!”
Of all the grown-ups a this sham of a “school,” there were only three – actually, two now – people I had a hard time saying no to: Dr. T and Sister Kate.
Sighing, I reached up and let her pull me back up to the flat of the roof. Wrapping an arm around my shoulders, she led me inside. I was rather pleased to see that Dorothy was no longer on the roof either. When she had gotten me inside, Sister Kate began to talk non-stop.
“Now, Ruby, I know you’re fully capable of understanding the seriousness of what has recently transpired…”
But I wasn’t listening. I was feeling murderous.
It was the doctors. Those deluded self-proclaimed gods wielding inhuman tools and knowledge of how to open people up and carve them out, creating a hollow shell of their patients’ former selves. It was the doctors with their medicine, their poison, their cures, their treatments, their analyses, their needles and knives, their insatiable desire for torture and taste for blood. They liked to watch girls like us wriggle in terror under their might and power. I made me sick to my stomach just thinking of them, cackling in their operating theatres, knife held high…
“…and you’ll be sleeping in here with Odette and Lottie for a while.” I shook my head, pulling myself out of my thoughts. Sister Kate had stopped us in front of a room that was not mine; rather I could see that red-headed menace with the sharp teeth glaring at me from her bed.
“I can’t sleep in here,” I protested, gesturing at the room. It was certainly larger than the one I had shared with Emma-Lee, but there was absolutely no where for me to sleep.
“But you must, Ruby,” stated Sister Kate, a hint of worry in her voice. She was probably afraid I would throw a fit and scratch her.
“Where would you have me sleep?” I demanded. “On the floor, I suppose? Yes, that’s fitting, the little rat I am.” Sister Kate had no time to reply because we were shuffled out of the way by two burly orderlies who were dragging a small cot into the room. Dropping in the very centre of the room, they left without word one. “Oh, how kind. A child must sleeping here instead,” I growled.
“Ruby, please. Just for tonight.” But it wasn’t.
When Sister Kate left, and I had prepared myself for bed, the lock in the door clicked as the nuns locked me in with a veritable vegetable and a girl with razor canines. She watched me as I climbed into the cot. I glared back at her.
“If you bite me while I’m asleep, I’ll scratch your eyes out.”