NPR has been hosting the 3-Minute Fiction contest, and is currently on it's 8th Round. The premise is that a well-known author sets up a writer's prompt (usually a photo or a scenario or an opening line) and contestants are asked to write a 600-word short story by a certain 11:59PM (ET) deadline. The submittals are read by creative writing graduate students from New York University and the Iowa Writer's workshop and favorites are posted every day with one lucky winner chosen by the author to read their story on the air in the coveted three minute slot. Last night I was among the many procrastinators who could not get the web site to open due to the unprecedented traffic of writers (we should all celebrate) before the submittal process was closed.
So in light of that unfortunate and ill-timed event (repeat after me: I will not procrastinate, I will not procrastinate. . .), I post my 600-word story here for my Red Room friends using the required prompt: "She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door."
She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. Her husband had driven her to the sanitarium in silence. No words were spoken between them, or if they were she had no memory of them. It didn’t matter. She had heard the words, sentences, and explanations before. They said she would look back at this time and remember it as a sabbatical, a vacation, a precious time to collect her thoughts; gather her wits. Upon their arrival, whispered directives between those-in-charge and her husband-in-charge bounced off the marble floors and the whitewashed walls. She watched as her secrets soared like bird wings ricocheting from one hard surface to another dangerously inflicting mortal injury as they desperately sought freedom. She was led to a small room with a single cot furnished with a ticked feather pillow and a wool blanket, carefully folded and placed at the foot of the bed. A King James Bible was the only thing on the bed stand and the only light source was a ceiling fixture, high and out of reach. No chair. No open window. No draperies or pull cords. This was her safe room.
Did he tell her goodbye? She could not recall, but he did slip a brown paper package under her mattress as the attendant turned his back and propped the door open with one arm indicating the time for the husband-in-charge’s departure. Later, as she sat alone on the mattress, hugging her knees and rocking back and forth, she felt the edges of the package through the thin bedding. She removed the wrappings carefully, and the glimpse of the familiar brought a rare twinge of hope. He had brought her book, her bible. Alice would never forsake her.
The doorknob slipped in her sweaty hand as she tried to turn it and she took a deep breath and ran her hands along the coarse cotton shift that hung from her shoulders. She grasped the knob and opened the door using both hands. With an attendant on each side, they led her by the elbow down the long corridor, broke her entry through the heavily secured doors, and effortlessly lifted her onto the gurney. Each wrist was restrained with a leather strap and her head and chin were secured as probes were fastened to various places on her scalp. A pair of strong hands pried her jaw open and shoved a fat wooden dowel between her teeth. “You want to keep your tongue,” he whispered in her ear.
She closed her eyes and she started to hear the voices. Would they be with her when this was over, or would they take flight searching for escape just like the whispering birds with their secrets?
"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."
-- From Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”
A door closed and a high pitch whine radiated through the room. The lights went bright and then all she could taste was metal and wood. The hairs on her arms stood straight and tall. She heard Alice scream and then all she could see was red. Red and the sound of a purring cat: purring in her head, in her body, and throughout the room.
She opened her eyes focusing on a pair of lips asking, “Alice? Are you with us?”