This room is different than it was yesterday. I know it is. I closed my eyes last night to sleep, with the moonlight shining through the barred window, but sleep wouldn’t come. I stared across the room, my gaze fixed on a spider web in the far corner. The web glinted faintly in the light, and I could make out the spider entombing its meal for later.
When I grew bored of the spider, my attention went skyward, to the ceiling. I rolled onto my back, one arm propped under my head, the other held out above me as I counted ceiling tiles. I pointed with my index finger checking off each one. I counted five times, concluding there were thirty-eight tiles in all. I’d hoped that counting tiles would be the jail-bird equivalent of counting sheep, but I was still wide awake.
In vain, I rolled over to face the wall my cot lay against, curling my knees into my ribs like a child. The prison dinner I’d forced down earlier lingered on my tongue like sour milk and I longed for mouth wash. At some point, my mind had drifted into unconsciousness as I scratched a nail into the paint, drawing little birds.
When my eyes snapped open the next day, I realized the change immediately. I knew I had not dreamed etching the birds on the wall, but there were not there now. The paint was smooth and untouched. Confused, I’d sat up and looked to where the spider web clung, it too was absent from the room. A pang of fear began to squeeze my chest as I considered the ceiling tiles. I didn’t want to count them, confirming my suspicions. I put it off for a few moments.
With my hands clasped together I paced the length of the room three, four, five times. With each cross of the room, my heart beat sped up, soon pounding like a nail in my ears. I stopped abruptly in the corner of the room nearest my cot and leaned back against the cold wall. I took a calming breath before I began counting. With each total my brows furrowed deeper and deeper until the expression felt permanently cemented onto my face.
Thirty-one tiles. There were only thirty-one.
I knotted my hands into my hair, pulling at the roots. Fear now crashed inside my like waves in a stormy sea and I ran towards the door.
“Help! Someone help!” I pounded my fists of the metal, sending metallic reverb through the room.
A moment later I could hear keys clinking together and footsteps in the hallway outside. I stepped back from the door and it swung open, revealing a stern looking woman in a crisp white lab coat. She placed the keys in her pocket and entered the room. A burly looking man in a grey uniform hovered near the doorway. I lost interest in him right away and watched the lady as she moved towards me.
“My name is Dr. Franklin. How are you doing today, Greyson?” she asked.
My palms were sweaty and I kept tightening and loosening my hands at my sides. “There’s something wrong. Someone’s playing a trick on me.”
Dr. Franklin’s faced softened. “What do you think is wrong?”
“This room,” I said, gesturing around me. “It’s wrong. I’ve been moved somehow. This isn’t the same room I went to sleep in last night.”
“Why do you say that?” she asked. Her eyes had tightened and she appeared despaired now.
I wrapped my arms around myself, suddenly chilled. “The spider web, and the ceiling tiles and my drawing. They’re all gone!”
Dr. Franklin nodded and took a step towards me slowly, like she didn’t want to frighten me more. “This is the same room you were in last night.”
I shook my head vehemently. “No, no, no. I counted the tiles over and over. There are not as many as yesterday.”
“Greyson, why don’t you take a seat?” She gestured to the cot. “I need to explain something to you.”
I made no move to sit until she sat first, then I sunk into the mattress beside her.
“Just listen to me for a minute.” She laced her fingers together in her lap before continuing. “You suffer from a metal disorder called schizophrenia. It causes you to believe you are somewhere you are not. You must had slipped into another personality last night. You were not moved, you are where you have always been.”
I scoffed at her words, which made no sense to me. “You’re lying to me.”
“The tiles, and spider web and drawing, those were hallucinations.”
“No, there were real.”
“Do you know where you are?” she asked delicately.
“Of course. I’m in prison for murder.”
Dr. Franklin’s expression falters and she looks disappointed. “You’re in a psychiatric facility.”
At this, I laugh a deep howling laugh.
“Think about it, Greyson. Why am I a doctor and wearing a lab coat? They don’t have those in prison. They don’t come to your cell. You’re wearing a hospital gown, not inmate attire.”
My laughter sputters out as I look down. “What are you talking about? I’m wearing the same orange outfit I’ve worn every day for the past six years. Why are you lying to me?” My voice raises an octave. “Are you trying to make me think I’m crazy?”
“You’re hallucinating again. You’re wearing jeans and a black t-shirt. Listen to me, Greyson. Take a deep breath and try to calm down.”
I jump up from the cot and back away from Dr. Franklin. “You’re trying to get me in trouble with the warden. Well no way, it won’t work.”
She eyes me then flicks her eyes over to the man in the doorway. He enters the room slowly. I watch her and I watch him.
“If I’m good, I could be up for parole next near. I’m not letting you mess that up for me.” A tear trickles down my cheek. “I want to see my kids… it’s been so long. My youngest will be turning seven at the beginning of next month.”
Dr. Franklin stands and frowns. “You’re nineteen years old, Greyson. You don’t have children. They’re not real.” She looks to the man and says, “I’d hoped that new dosage would have a longer effect. If you would…” She trails off but the man understands.
He comes towards me and I let out a scream and his hands wrap around my arms.
“Let me go! Why won’t you just leave me be? My kids. I want to see my…” my words falter on my tongue as a feel a pinch in my neck. The room lists violently to the right and my vision becomes blurred around the edges.
“Shame. I thought he was getting better this time,” I hear Dr. Franklin whisper.
The last thing I hear is the keys jingling in the door before everything goes dark.