Vignette featuring layers of reality
Dressed all in black, form-fitted with soft-soled shoes to allow for swift and silent movement, I stalk down the corridor like a panther through the dense underbrush of a tropical jungle. Heat from the still night air causes sweat to slick my hair back across my scalp like the big cat’s pelt. A hunter on the prowl, my eyes scan my surroundings for movement and my ears strain for distant sounds as I move in on my prey. I have come for the painting.
Entering the building had been easy. So easy, it was like I’d been escorted inside. From there, all I’d had to do was make it to the painting undetected and ease it off the wall without activating any alarms. Now it’s tucked securely under my arm as I try to make my escape. Getting out will definitely be more difficult than it was getting in. There will still be the alarms to bypass and the guards. I’ll have to get past the fence with the barbed wire. But now I’ll have to accomplish all of this without getting caught on the security cameras. If those nasty spying eyes steal a glimpse of my face, they’ll go to the police with it, turning me from hunter to hunted, and then it will only be a matter of time before they catch me. I couldn’t bear to be a prisoner, locked in, trapped in a featureless cell with only a small window to the outside world, a wild animal in captivity.
I pause at the end of the hall, my back against the shadowy wall as I peer around the corner for any sign of the guards. I’m so close to escaping now into the dark of the night. I can almost taste the fresh air that’s just beyond those doors that are holding in the warm stillness as much as they are me. My heart pounds in my chest as adrenaline courses through my veins, loud enough that I worry it will give me away.
You blink and you’re standing in a hallway. Dressed all in white with your hair flowing behind you, drifting through the corridor like a ghost, a shade moving through a world in which it used to belong. Why do you keep coming here? You’re both warden and inmate in this prison of monotony.
You’re staring at the painting. It hangs on the clean, white wall, a splash of color amidst the white like a window of existence in a wall of nothingness. You stare at it like you’re staring through that window. You reach for it as if you can escape through it into the bright sunshine outside. You’re not just looking at a painting. You’re looking through the painting. It’s hard to explain.
There are distant noises around you, the sounds of typing, paper rustling, people on telephones, but they are so removed from the moment you’re in that you are barely even aware of them. The sounds of the office are like the chirping of birds outside a closed window. If you think about them, focus on them, you know they are there, but it’s easy to let that knowledge fade into your subconscious. You’re like a housecat lazing indoors on a windowsill, its hunting instincts dulled to an evolutionary memory.
More distracting is the cool air that’s bringing goosebumps to your arms. You shiver and run your hands over your skin. Despite the bright day outside, here in the hallway your skin feels like ice, much colder than the air around you. Maybe you’re chilling the air rather than the other way around. That’s an interesting thought.
You focus your mind back on the painting. It feels like the last tenuous connection to another reality.
She blinks. A girl in a hallway looks at a painting on the wall and blinks. That movement of her eyelids is like her breath, her pulse. It’s a slight flutter in her form that lets the observer know that she’s still physically alive. Mentally is perhaps another story.
The girl in the sterile hallways wears a drab hospital gown that matches the vague and unassuming color of the walls. Her feet are bare. Her hair is disheveled. She stands in the corridor like an empty shell, just occupying space in a world that hardly pays her any mind. An orderly rounds the corner and sees her standing there. He moves towards her, lays a gentle hand on her shoulder, and guides her away from the painting.
He wonders if she even sees the painting. Or perhaps too much of her mind is already gone, escaped from the prison of her body which will surely never leave this place. He takes her back to her room. It’s almost time for her medication and it’s easier on the nurses if the patients are in their rooms when they make their rounds. Everything is very efficient at the asylum.
The girl sits down on her bed at his direction and stares. The orderly frowns at her for a moment before he turns to leave this hollow creature he can only barely classify as a person. She gives no indication that she is even aware of his presence. She just sits there, staring straight ahead. With some patients, he wonders what is going on inside their minds, what delusions warp their perception of the world around them. With this one, he wonders if anything is happening inside her at all. Is she really even alive?