The cold. Whenever she looked back on that time, that was what stood out the most. The shivers. “It would get better”, the doctors had assured her. Of course it would. And it had. For the most part. But her demons had never truly left her, and probably never would. It was part of her now; she had come to accept that. Their grins still haunted her nightmares; eternal smiles lingering, long after their bodies had faded away.
She could never quite remember when the hallucinations began. The doctors had said that they were a defence mechanism, a way for her body to cope with the abuse. When you have a neglectful mother, and a drunkard father, where was a young girl to go? A magical escape, to a magical land. Not that there was anything truly magical about it. But she had realised that far too late.
Alice sighed, brushing away the strands of hair that cascaded across her face. The past was not a place she liked to visit, but it was required. A new form of therapy, they told her. A way to finally set yourself free. Alice didn’t want to be set free. She had tried it once, and look where that got her. Institutionalised. Always looked down upon. Forever a freak. Unfortunately, she had no say in the matter. Perhaps she never did.
“Tea, Alice?” asked her therapist, seated across from her. “No, thank you”, was the hurried reply. Alice and tea were not on good terms. Not since her youth. Alice took a moment to study her therapist. A pretty woman, probably younger than Alice was. She had an air of affected disinterest, but Alice knew it was only for show. Surreptitiously, the therapist was analysing Alice as one would an interesting species of insect. That was all Alice was to them. A specimen, an object to be scrutinised, played with, experimented on. Alice felt a wave of paranoia crashing upon her. The walls seemed to be closing in. How could she escape from this? What new means would they now use to dissect her?
“Breathe, Alice”, the therapist said, breaking Alice out of her reverie. A hint of a smile was now on the therapist’s face. “There’s no need to be so frightened, I’m just here to talk. Have the new pills helped at all?” “Just fine, thanks”, replied Alice.
“Any nightmares recently?”
“Just the one. You know…the one with all the clocks. I’d rather not talk about it.”
“I understand. Take your time.”
Alice settled back into a contemplative silence. If there was one thing she had plenty of, it was time. That was her one luxury, back when they kept her in the room with all the padded walls. She supposed that she should have been grateful. After all, they had given her a new life. One away from her family. But the only feeling she could muster was regret. Regret that she hadn’t spoken up sooner. Regret that she hadn't realised the pain she was causing to herself. Regret that she found only herself to blame.
Alice caught herself. That was not a path of questions that she should follow. They would only lead to disappointment and depression. After all, how could she have possibly known the danger she was in? How close she was to losing her mind, to locking herself out of this world? All she saw were the pretty colours, the bright lights. And they had helped her. She was better now. Maybe the nightmares would stop too. Eventually, she might even be considered normal again.
“You know, doctor, the pills have helped me quite a bit, to be honest. I’m starting to feel more like myself again.”
“That’s great, Alice! And please, call me Carol.”
“Well, thank you, Carol. You've helped me put my life back together. I honestly couldn't be more grateful.”
“Just doing my job, Alice. This is excellent progress. I’m glad you’re on the path to recovery. See you the same time, next week, then?”
“Of course. Goodbye, Carol.”
As Alice crossed the makeshift lawn in front of her therapist’s office, she thought she noticed something out of the corner of her eye. A white rabbit, scurrying down a burrow as it chased after its out of sight prey. The rabbit hole almost seemed to close up behind it, giving privacy to its owner; shutting the world away. The sun poked out, its light appearing to spread hope with every ray. Alice smiled. It was a new beginning.