Miles waved and smiled enthusiastically and Scarlett returned the gesture with all the optimism she could muster, even though the oppressive voice in her head kept shouting that it was all going to go horribly wrong.
It was always the same with her. She’d never had a positive thing to say to Scarlett, so why start now that she was just a voice in her head?
Looks like you’re in trouble, Sunset.
Now there was an electronic whirr from the gate and it opened to Scarlett. She took a last glance back at Miles, who nodded. Then she entered and walked up the path. She could already hear noises from inside – shouts and loud conversations, cries, groans. She knew them so well by now: The sounds of crazy.
What first struck her was how unlike the other places it was. She was used to calming colours, dulling music, whites and greys. This place was almost homey and it had quite a few paintings. They must be nice-looking but Scarlett had never been able to tell a nice painting from a kids’ drawing – all the same to her. Useless things to spend your time and money on.
Next thing that struck her was that this certainly wasn’t like any of the other institutions when it came to living conditions either. The people standing around were all crazies, she could tell – there wasn’t a doctor or nurse in sight. Two of the patients were snogging, others were just doing their thing, it seemed. Cooking, staring out into nothing. None of them seemed to notice that a new patient had arrived.
It wasn’t like she felt like talking to them in any case.
She was about ready to go on and explore the place some more when a voice reached her. She turned to see a woman staring at her.
“Fresh meat,” she said.
There was something unpleasantly beautiful about her and the curious look in her eyes was almost violating. “You’re actually pretty, for a rainbow girl.”
Scarlett didn’t reply, though she silently scoffed at the rainbow thing. It wasn’t like people had ever thrown things at her or yelled obscenities, but there was always that hesitation when people were around rainbows. It had been all normal skin colours before and then suddenly the rainbows started popping up. This woman didn’t seem to mind much, though, because she sounded pretty casual; she continued:
“Oh, are you shy?” she said. “Well, how about your name, then? I’m Janice.”
“I’m Scarlett, and no, I’m not shy. Just… experienced.”
Janice laughed and nodded. “I see, not your first time in a crazy house. Well, you’re smart – it’s better to be wary of everyone in a place like this. And especially this particular place. No doctors to keep an eye on you.”
“Yeah, I noticed.”
Janice nodded her head in the direction of a door and said: “Let me show you to a room.”
Scarlett hesitantly followed her into a room, put down her backpack and had a look around. It wasn’t an unusual room – it was much like the ones she was used to in other institutions.
“So, this is my room?” Scarlett asked, turning to the other woman.
Janice, who was leaning on a wall, just shook her head and chuckled. “No, no, hun, I said I’d show you to a room.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“That this is one of five beds in one of five bedrooms and you’re free to use it… if you get here first.”
Now that sounds quaint.
“How many live here?”
“With you? Eight.”
Scarlett sat down on the bed, her face probably surprised despite how she tried to hide it. “You mean there aren’t enough beds for all of us?”
“Not enough beds, not enough chairs, only one bathroom.”
“That sounds illegal.”
The other woman just shrugged her shoulders. “You’re just going to have to get used to it.”
“I guess I will.” She didn’t thank Janice, and the other woman turned and left.
Seated on the edge of the bed that wasn’t hers, Scarlett took a deep breath. This was unexpected. This was actually terrible. They expected her to climb to the top of her career when she couldn’t even be sure to get sleep at night? To get a shower before she left?
Well, you always were a fighter…
“Oh go away,” Scarlett groaned at the voice, but She kept talking.
Though not in the sense that you pull through despite hardships. I mean, fighter as in you always got into fights. Bloodied quite a few floors as a teen, you did.
Scarlett got up and walked to the mirror. She stared at the stupid face in there, then screamed at the top of her lungs: “I said: GO. AWAY!”
Yikes, careful, you’ll scare the crazies.
She smiled back from the mirror.
But then they’re probably used to random screaming. Living with crazies like that.
“Yeah, well, I’m not crazy.”
No, of course not, she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. You’re just as sane as I am. Except, you know, I don’t really exist.
Yes, you’re just talking to a person who isn’t here. Perfectly sane.
“I wasn’t talking to you…” Scarlett mumbled.
Her own reflection stared back at her where, just a few seconds prior, Her picture had been in the mirror. Scarlett silently told herself to pull it together, to get up and get things done. This was her only chance. However much time she spent talking to Her, she didn’t belong here. She had her chance to prove it.
So she changed her clothes, hid her backpack, and went out from not-her-room. She left the asylum through the hall. The other patients – or inmates, as she kept calling them in her head – barely noticed her, except one smiled as she passed. She didn’t return it.
Dr. Eliza had made sure that she could get a job at the Stadium, so that’s where she went. None of the people she spoke to looked particularly pleased. It wasn’t like anyone shouted at her either, but mostly they seemed wary, and especially when she mentioned that Dr. Elizabeth Howard had sent her. They already knew her because Scarlett wasn’t the first crazy person she sent over.
However displeased they were, though, they agreed to let her have the job and asked her to come in first thing in the morning.
Scarlett came home to find one of the other patients yelling at thin air. She had no idea what his name was.
When he saw her, he stopped yelling and turned his head to smile pleasantly at her. “Hey, you’re Scarlett, right?”
“I’ll call you Scarly. I’m Freddy.”
“Don’t call me that.”
He only shrugged his shoulders and went inside. She had a feeling he would call her Scarly whether she liked it or not.
Whether he got the picture or not, she’d finished the first step, she told herself. Get the job and make arrangements. Now to settle into her temporary home.
She walked past the others to eat while trying to ignore their stares. When she couldn’t ignore it anymore, she turned to look. Freddy and some woman were behind her.
“Hi,” Scarlett said, her eyes fixed on the woman, a heavyset woman who looked to be about her own age. “Who’re you?”
“Scarlett. Stay off my back and I stay off yours?”
Letitia shrugged and nodded, then left to do something else. Scarlett could hear Freddy snickering behind her.
“Same goes for you,” she said to him without turning.
Having eaten her dinner, Scarlett sat down for a while and then went to the treadmill. The guy by the easel stared at her and she scowled back. Keeping the crazies off her back was how she had survived the other institutions and so far she stuck to her strategy.
“I’m Salvatore,” the guy said, turning back to his painting. “You’re Scarlett?”
“Yeah, what of it?”
“Just thought I’d say, Scarlett, that I don’t think working out in your bikini is ideal.”
“Says the guy who’s painting in his shorts?”
“I’m not working out.”
Scarlett stayed quiet after that and focused on the treadmill.
However, she hadn’t run very far before she fell and almost landed on her face. She let out an involuntary scream and her knees scraped against the top of the treadmill painfully, tearing the skin. Another guy, she didn’t know his name, chuckled as he walked by.
As she sat down to inspect the wound, she got lost in the red pricks of blood that burst forth from the scraped knee.
Need me to blow on your owie?
“Go away,” Scarlett muttered under her breath. Normally pain kept Her quiet. She was guessing this time was because she reveled in Scarlett’s humiliation – it was so like Her.
Just trying to be nice.
Pushing back Her voice, Scarlett got back on the treadmill and settled into a nice, steady jog. She ignored the amused laughs around her and focused her thoughts on her work-out. Whenever anyone stared, she stared right back. However annoying and unpleasant She had been, this was one strategy Scarlett had taken to heart. Though she’d never admit it.
After her workout she fought her way through to the shower and then headed straight for the bed Janice had shown her to. She had spoken few words to the others living here, and if it were up to her, it’d stay that way.
Author’s Note: There we are, the first ‘proper’ chapter of the story. I keep getting distracted by my legacy and other projects but it’s about time I started telling Scarlett’s story. I’m beginning to like her as a character because she’s pretty much opposite of most of my usual characters – a bit pessimistic, anti-artsy, distrustful… Yeah, I like her a lot!