The small boy with small black eyes I had asked for help had darted back to the others, who kept running sticks along the tiger’s cage and kept dancing back. The largest boy, clothed in dull red, spit at the tiger. It roared.
The people laughed.
My breath was quick and my small chest rose and fell with it. My heart was beating fast, and I crushed the doll in my fist.
The large boy bent down. He picked up rocks—one, two, three. The rest of the children did the same.
Then each of them hauled their arms back and threw the stones at the tiger. Rattled its cage. Struck its fur.
I swelled with loathing, brimmed with it. Dark thoughts swirled in my mind and time slowed to a crawl as the tiger snarled and shrank back against its cage. The boys laughed and the people cheered.
The animal did not deserve this. I wished it could get out and I saw it in my mind: Bright metal bars falling to the earth. Claws and teeth meeting skin instead of rocks meeting fur. I closed my eyes because that was the picture I would rather see.
A scream pried them open.
The creature had pushed up against the back of its cage—which fell. I watched as it lashed out at the nearest boy, the biggest one. Its claws split open his side in a widening red gash.
The other boy, the one with small eyes, had gone white and still. He was not looking at the tiger. He was looking at me, and his mouth formed the shape of the word that would one day become my name.
The tiger pushed the large boy down and he screamed again. It moved over him, grabbed his throat in its mouth, and bit down. The boy’s screaming stopped.
Others began, but it did not matter. The animal was free.
I AWOKE ON THE MORNING OF SOME DAY IN SOME hospital to find Dr. Kells sitting in my room.
Everything was clear: the IV stand towering over my bed. The rough, bleached cotton sheets. The commercial ceiling tiles and the embedded fluorescent lights. I could hear them hum. But it was as if I was looking at the antiseptic room and everything in it through glass.
And then, in a flood, everything came back.
Jude, limp while I drained the life out of him with my hands.
Stella and Jamie, hurt and bruised and dragging Megan away from the torture garden.
And Noah, watching him die inside while I lied to him, when I told him that I would be okay.
But it wasn’t a lie. I broke out of Jude’s arms and Noah was near me, beside me, before I blacked out. He called my name. I heard it. I remembered it.
Where was he now? Where were they? Where was I?
I tried to sit up, to get out of bed, but something held me back. I looked down at my hands, which rested on top of the light blue cotton blanket covering the bed and tucked in over my feet, expecting to see restraints.
But there were none. My hands still wouldn’t move.
“Good morning, Mara,” Dr. Kells said. “Do you know where you are?”
I felt a splintering fear that I would look up and see words on the wall informing me that I was in a psychiatric unit somewhere. That I had never left. That none of the past two weeks, six weeks, six months, had happened. That was the one thing she could say to me, after everything I survived, that would make me break.
But I was able to turn my head both ways and look around. There were no windows in this room. No signs. There was nothing except the IV stand, and a large mirror on the wall behind Dr. Kells’s head.
I may not have known where I was but I remembered what she did. I watched her sit there placidly in the plastic chair next to the bed and flipped through memory after memory of her lying to my face. I saw images of Jude in my room, watching me as I slept while Dr. Kells recorded it. She had known he was alive. She knew what he was doing to me. She let him into Horizons and she put all of us through hell.
Her expression hadn’t changed, but I saw her with new eyes.
“Do you know who I am?” Dr. Kells asked.
You’re the person who betrayed my trust. You’re the person who fed me lies and drugs pretending to make me better when all you really wanted was to make me worse. I know exactly who you are, I tried to say. But when I opened my mouth, all that came out was the word, “Yes.”
It was like I was pressed between two panes of glass. I could see everything, I could hear everything, but I was removed from myself. Detached. Not paralyzed—I could feel my legs and the scratchy sheets that brushed my skin. I could lick my lips and I did. I could speak, but not the words I wanted to say. And when I tried to order my mouth to scream and my legs to kick, it was like the desire was impossible to reach.
“I have some things I’d like to talk with you about, but first, I want to let you know that you’ve been given an infusion of a variant of sodium amytal. Have you heard of sodium amytal?”
“No,” my poisoned tongue replied.
“Colloquially, they call it truth serum. That’s not entirely accurate—but it can be used to help relieve certain types of suffering. We sometimes use it in experimental psychiatry to give patients a respite from a manic or catatonic episode.” She leaned in closer to me, and said in a softer tone of voice, “You’ve been suffering, Mara, haven’t you?”
I seethed in that bed, in my body, and I wanted to spit in her face. But I couldn’t. I said, “Yes.”
She nodded. “We think the variant we’ve developed will help with your . . . unique issues. We’re on your side. We want to help you,” she said evenly. “Will you let us help you?” She glanced over her shoulder at the mirror.
No, my mind screamed. “Yes.”
“I’m glad.” She smiled, and reached down to the floor. When she raised her hand, there was a remote in it. “Let me show you something,” she said, and then called out to the air. “Screen.”
A thin white screen lowered mechanically from the ceiling while a portion of the wall near the mirror retracted, exposing a whiteboard that bore a scrawled list.
“Monitors,” Dr. Kells called out before I could read it. I heard something beep beside my head, matching the pace of my heartbeat.
“Lights,” she said again, and the room went dark. Then she raised her hand and the remote, and pressed play.
I watched shaky footage from Claire’s camera as she swung and panned over the asylum, over Rachel. I watched the scene that Jude left for me in my bedroom for me to watch before.
The image went dark. I heard myself laugh.
But where the video stopped before, the image now shook. Jude’s footage was spliced. On this footage, this screen, I now saw that someone was lifting the camera. And just before the image cut out, there was a flash of light.