Instead, she looked around her. It was a small room hazed in midnight orchid. She knew it well too. She knew the peculiar, seemingly haphazard, but very purposeful stack of books on the desk. She knew the tumbled tennis shoes at the foot of the bed next to their eternal partner, the crinkled jacket. She knew the scratch on the vinyl flooring from when she had shifted the bed to face the window. She knew the half-folded towel her body always sat on, eschewing the desk chair two feet from her left.
She knew it all and glided past it. Instead, she moved forward to the doorknob. She went to place a translucent hand upon it. However, in a sudden frenzy of color, the purple surrounding her seized her vision, leaving nothing but a featureless palette of violet.
Therese Evans opened her eyes and stretched out her legs. She looked up skeptically at the door knob. It seemed like such an innocent device. There were no outward signs that it was anything besides a means to retract a metal bar, leaving the door free to swing inward and opening it up for use as a portal. However, each time she reached towards it, everything fell apart, no matter how she concentrated or what approach she used.
Resignedly, she rose to her feet, rotating her still troublesome shoulder in attempts to improve the dull ache it always gave her. She looked at the doorknob again, and placed her hand to it.
There was a sudden aching darkness, as if her mind was being suctioned away into a black hole. Everything around her was disappearing and fading, and she was being compressed into something very small.
She retracted it quickly as if she’d been shocked. She had grown used to letting her mind wander quite freely with greater confidence. She was gaining better control and idea what it meant to use the strange neural circuits a deviant scientist decided to give her. She was beginning to realize who Therese Evans really was. But, just in this moment of awakening of her brain, its leash had been considerably shortened.
They wouldn’t tell her how it worked, but they had figured out how to stop her mind’s expansion. There was something in these walls she knew that her mind could not radiate through. In a way, it was good. They weren’t as afraid of her anymore. They seemed less bent on slicing away the part of her brain that allowed it to reach far beyond its own physical confines to find others to observe or even influence. They were completely fine with her, as long as they could talk with her behind that cerebral barrier that kept her brain in check. The only problem was that Therese despised being inside it.
Therese felt the word ‘despise’ was used a little too often. People used despise to characterize their aversion to broccoli or a particular style of music without a moment’s thought. In her opinion, despise should only be used in instances where one would lose a limb to see that despised object disappear. She would give up her left arm and that annoying shoulder in a heart beat to have this barrier removed.
She felt caged. She remembered at first how agoraphobic her mind had been, how it had been afraid of the great expanse of human consciousness, and how she worried she would lose herself if she let go. All it took to remove those concerns was to let go. One dip in the ocean, and she lost her fear. However, the endless euphoria of consciousness and connection were lost moments afterward, first in a drug-induced haze, then in this mental prison.
Usually several times a day, she would try to find some new means of outsmarting the box they put her in. Her first thought was to overpower the barrier. If she just put enough force behind her thoughts, maybe she could just push through. An all out mental barrage against the wall resulted in a very sharp headache and the sensation of being thrown into a very cold pool. Knives felt like they pierced her flesh, and she could hardly keep her senses straight. It took her several hours to recover from that shock after abandoning the approach.
Another idea was to physically find a means of disrupting whatever was in the wall to keep her in. The window would not open and could not be scratched. The paint on the walls was easy enough to rub away with elbow juice and patience, but it revealed very intimidating cement underneath that Therese doubted she could conquer. Another thought had been to attack the seams in the door, but the had been thoroughly sealed.
For some odd reason, she was convinced a weakness lay in the doorknob. She didn’t know why instinct pulled her that way, but it did. Maybe it was just years of associating doorknobs with entry. Maybe there was just something so alluring about a doorknob, but she always returned to it with little to show for her efforts besides stiff legs and a headache.
She rubbed her fuzzy temples. At least the headaches were no longer constant, only when she tested the boundaries. She had Dr. Lewis to thank for her newly enlarged cranium. She also had this vague inclination that Dr. Lewis had done a lot more for her, like he had part in their decision not to excise the portion of her brain responsible for this abnormality. It was difficult to be sure. They seemed to like this information blackout they had going for Therese. It was pure sensory deprivation.
Her brain had to have some activity to occupy it. Repetitive tasks could help sometimes, evidenced by Therese’s fine display of homemade scarves and hats. Little puzzles also helped, resulting in a small mountain of filled with books of sudoku, crosswords, and other brainteasers at the end of her bed.
Another thing that surprisingly helped was mediation. It seemed liked exactly opposite of what her brain wanted. From what she previously heard, meditation was about thinking of nothing. However, at least in her practice, it wasn’t about thinking about nothing. It was about letting different parts of her brain do the thinking. She put to rest the ego for a moment and let her relatively undeveloped intuition and more subtle processes take a try. And everything would go purple.
Those amethyst dreams were not happy memories. Such a sudden return to them almost immediately set her off from her amateur mediation practices. However, this time was different. She didn’t feel that intense need for something she didn’t have. Instead, there was this overwhelming wonder and curiosity. While in this state, whatever this level of consciousness she was unlocking within herself had the great desire to observe everything. However, it did so at such a rapid speed, it had taken less than two minutes before it became obsessed with the doorknob.It despised the barriers as much as the higher levels of Therese’s consciousness did. It knew what was out there. It had felt it before, when it was allowed to run free, and it wanted to do so again, but there was the door.
She sat down on her bed, grabbing a book from the floor, as that inner part of herself still attempted to understand the conundrum of the doorknob. That part felt like there was a solution, but it couldn’t find it. It was strange how abrupt the dichotomy of Therese’s head had become. There was the Therese she had always known, the Therese who had controlled her actions for the eighteen, no, nineteen now, years of her life. Then, there was that lower level of consciousness associated with her ability that was slowly developing a life of its own. It was still her, but it was different.
She knew never to mention it to Dr. Ott who still periodically checked up on her. Feeling like you had two minds in your head was a guarantee for being diagnosed with multiple personality disorder or schizophrenia or something. It wasn’t that difficult to fake normality, however, because as long as Therese let that inner part explore every so often, it was fine to patiently wait its turn, submissive and passive. It also helped that they really didn’t bother her that much anymore. Ever since they figured how to lock her up, they seemed perfectly happy to let her mull in her own thoughts while they patiently and ever-so-slowly explored her future.
She remembered how at peace she felt when she dipped into that human consciousness. It washed away her fears. It bulldozed her worries. It made her feel free. It had awakened that inner part of Therese. And now, it had all been taken away. She always felt like she was forgetting something, and that inner part of her waited by the door, awaiting an opportunity to connect once again with the world and try to help.
Therese stared at the crossword below her. A four letter word for to catch sight of something, ending in ‘y’ and starting in ‘e’. She thought a long moment, chewing slightly on the end of her pen. Carefully, she wrote, espy, when a knock sounded at her door.
“Hello?” she called. They had already brought her lunch, and it was a little early for dinner.
“Happy birthday, Miss Evans,” a voice said from behind the door.
“Oh, thanks, Dr. Ott,” Therese said. Inwardly, she attempted to sedate every part of herself to the facsimile of a hollow shell. If she pretended to be empty but content, he usually left her alone and wouldn’t bother with silly questions from behind the door.
“I’ve got a present for you,” he said.
“Thank you,” Therese returned politely and evenly.
There was a scraping sound as Dr. Ott put her present in the drawer through which they usually fed her her meals. She placed the half-finished crossword on her desk and went to retrieve the gift.
“You even wrapped it?” Therese asked, receiving the square, multicolored box, slightly larger than a basketball. The juxtaposition of the bright wrapping paper next to a formal tag declaring the object for “Miss Evans” made Therese smile.
“You only turn nineteen once,” he returned.
Therese carefully unwrapped the paper and opened the box. “A helmet? Did you not like all the hats I’ve been making?” she asked, peering inside. She went to try it on.
The moment her hand contacted it, she jumped back a foot. It was just like the doorknob. It sucked everything out of her, pulling her brain inside and infinitesimal space. She was breathing hard and her heart was beating rapidly. She had not been expecting it, which made it twelve times worse.
“Are you alright, Miss Evans?” Dr. Ott asked from the other side of the door.
“Yes, but why the helmet? Is this room not enough?” She inwardly congratulated herself on how neutral her tone came out when there was that repulsive thing at her feet, carried into her in the semblance of a present. It was like the Trojan War where she was Troy. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. She took a deep breath as she edged away from the object. It was okay. She didn’t have to touch it.
“I’ve been given permission to take you outside for your birthday-” Dr. Ott started.
“Really?” Therese asked, unable to disguise her enthusiasm. It was what she had been dreaming of since her imprisonment in this cell.
“But, only if you wear the helmet,” he finished.
Therese stared at the object for a long time. It was an evil, vile obstacle in front of her path to freedom. Was there much point in going outside if her brain was going to be so restrained? Plus, she would have to put it on. If touching it was like being shocked, putting it on could only be like being electrocuted. Who’s to say it wouldn’t just kill her?
“Miss Evans?” came the voice outside her door, a thousand miles away.
“I’m considering your offer,” she said quietly. Did they know how much she hated her brain being locked up? She’d mentioned she didn’t appreciate it, but she didn’t think it was wise to let them know how much it bothered her, not when their feelings about her were so ambivalent. Would refusing to wear it let them know that, so that it could be used against her in the future?
“I have cake,” he offered.
Therese felt like laughing. “Cake?”
“It’s lemon-flavored,” he replied.
She sat on her haunches and stared at the helmet. Inwardly, she prepared herself about what was going to come. It would be alright. She wouldn’t have to be that small forever. Once she got back to the room, she could fling it away and never touch it again. However, she was turning into a troglodyte by sitting in this room week after week.
She picked up the helmet and put it on her head in one swift motion before she could stop herself. Her brain was being crushed beneath a bulldozer. Everything was being pushed into some infinitesimal point. Her head pounded, but she was alive.
Feeling distinctly off-kilter, she put on her shoes. Her whole head felt like it was vibrating.
“Okay. I’m ready,” she said softly.
For the first time in weeks, the door opened. “Hello, Miss Evans.” Dr. Ott looked the same. Therese had hypothesized that he owned twenty copies of the same gray suit. The only difference was he had a plate with a cake on it. It was strange that it was her nineteenth birthday. She felt she must be several decades older.
“Hello, Dr. Ott,” Therese said, trying to feign a smile.
“You don’t look like you’re feeling terribly well, Miss Evans,” Dr. Ott commented with dubious concern.
“Well, I don’t like it when you try to trap my brain. It doesn’t feel, well, right,” she said, attempting to keep her tone as neutral as possible. “But, I want to go outside.”
“Of course, Miss Evans. I’m sorry the helmet is uncomfortable, but it’s a necessary precaution.”
Therese wanted to ask what is was a precaution against, but she held her tongue. She would never want to harm people, but she had a hard time convincing others of that. So, they locked her up. She wanted to very badly take off the helmet. She felt her face flushing from the effort of keeping her mind in order and not panicking. Her ears were ringing. She wasn’t sure how long she could keep this up. She hoped being outside would be enough to distract her.
“So, I heard you recently picked up knitting,” Dr. Ott said conversationally.
“Crocheting,” Therese said quickly. She needed all her concentration to keep sane and under control. If she lost her focus, then the stupid helmet would smoosh her brain down to nothing.
“How is that going?” he asked.
He seemed to notice her abrupt answers and said nothing for the duration of the trip until they were finally in the courtyard, and for a moment, Therese forgot about everything. There was grass and trees and a great, big, blue sky with cotton-ball, cumulus clouds. The air smelled clean and fresh. She could hear the wind, feel the sun on her cheeks, and taste the air.
She slid off her shoes and stepped on to the grass, feeling as if she could melt into it. She wanted to reach out and touch everything, the insects, the birds, and the world. Unthinkingly, she allowed her brain to stretch.
She stumbled to her knees as she was knocked back the immovable, repulsive wall the helmet created. She felt sick, but she wanted to stay a little longer. She needed to touch the earth and feel the grass between her toes before she was locked up again for weeks. She could control her mind a little longer. She carefully gathered herself, making sure never to reach so far again.
“Do you need to go back inside, Miss Evans?” Dr. Ott asked, hovering a few feet behind her.
“No,” Therese said tightly. She tugged at her helmet, staying clear of the clip as Dr. Ott watched her closely. “It’s just that- Well. Ow.”
“I wish that this wasn’t necessary, Miss Evans. I hope you understand,” Dr. Ott said as he sat down on a nearby bench.
She sat back carefully, looking at the sky. She saw a few birds flying by. What it would feel like to join them? Would she ever get to? What would she be doing on her twentieth birthday, if she was caged on her nineteenth? People as young as her had been imprisoned for life before. Maybe should would be as well.
“Do you want a piece of cake, Miss Evans?” Dr. Ott asked after a few minutes.
“A piece of cake before dinner?” Therese gasped with false horror.
He smiled honestly. “I know, I know. It’s good cake though. My wife made it. It’s her speciality.”
“You’re married?” Therese asked, standing up as Dr. Ott laid the cake down on the bench and cut into it with a dull knife.
“Yes. Why does that surprise you so much, Miss Evans?” he asked.
Therese looked at him suspiciously. It sounded awfully like when he picked her brain, trying to diagnose her with some mental disorder.
Seeing her look, Dr. Ott shook his head. “The question is out of personal curiosity. We are not in session, Miss Evans.” He put a piece of cake on a paper plate and handed her a plastic fork.
Thesese found it hard to remove her suspicion, but then again, did they not feel the same way about her? Even as she tried to demonstrate her good will, they would always see her as that unknown. She would have to be better. She would give him the benefit of the doubt. “Well, I just figured with all the secret government stuff, it’d be hard to have a significant other. It’s not like she could really ask, ‘How was work today, honey?’ and expect an honest answer,” Therese said.
“We were married while I was still in medical school, before I had this job. She trusted me then. She trusts me now, even if I can’t talk about what I do everyday,” he said. He took his glasses off and cleaned them on the edge of his coat.
“So, how’d you talk her into making a cake? I mean, I assume I’m pretty classified information giving that I’ve had no contact with any of my friends or anything. Or were you just very vague? ‘Someone who I may or may not work with may or may not have had or will have his or her or its birthday soon. So, if you wouldn’t mind baking a cake, that’d be wonderful, sweetie,’” Therese said, imitating Dr. Ott in a haughty tone.
He smiled. “Is that what you think I sound like?” he asked.
Therese shrugged. “More or less. I’m not terribly great at impressions.”
“It was my birthday yesterday. My wife, she’s away right now, but she sent me the cake through the mail,” he said.
“You’re sharing your birthday cake with me? I’m honored, Dr. Ott. How old are you now?” Therese asked. She took a bite of the cake. It was very good.
“Fifty-three,” he said as he took a bite himself. “If you don’t mind me saying. You are much more talkative now then you ever have been before.”
“Well, for one, I’ve been locked in a room with little social contact for over a month now. Two, talking to Dr. Ott the person is much easier than talking to Dr. Ott the psychiatrist. I’ve talked to you for months, but this is the first time I learned you had a wife or that your birthday is so close to mine,” Therese said simply, taking another bite. It was strange, as she talked, her brain didn’t feel as confined. Maybe simply talking to another person was enough of a whiff of another conscience that it didn’t feel as confined.
She turned to find him looking very closely at her. “Hey, no psychoanalyzing what I’m saying,” she said.
“I was just thinking,” he said.
“Thinking of what?” she asked.
“Of what I did on my nineteenth birthday,” he said.
“And what was that?” Therese asked.
“Bought a fake ID and got drunk with my friends,” he said casually.
Therese burst out laughing. The idea that sober, stoic, staid Dr. Ott once illegally got schnockered was the funniest thing she had heard in a long time. Granted, there wasn’t many funny things she had heard in a while, but she still found herself laughing.
“Yes, yes. When I was your age, I was very immature and thought I was going to be a rock star, like many young people. The truth is, most teenagers don’t really know what they’re doing in life,” he said.
Feeling a little personally affronted, Therese returned, “Most people don’t know what they’re doing in life. Isn’t one of the central questions of living ‘what is the purpose of life?’ Look how many people flock to different religious or ethical organizations that are willing to tell them what to do. It’s just that most older people have already found something to do, and so they just stick with it as it would take too much time to do something else.”
“You have very firm opinions, Miss Evans.”
“My brain does more than kill people,” Therese said. She put down her slice of cake. “I think I want to go back inside, Dr. Ott.” Therese stood up. Her head hurt. She wanted to get the infernal contraption off her skull.
“Of course, Miss Evans. There was another thing I wanted to tell you,” Dr. Ott said. Therese turned to face him.
“You’re going to be called to a meeting tomorrow,” he said.
“Oh, for what? Did you guys decide what you’re going to do with me?” Therese asked.
“Something like that,” he said.Dr. Ott escorted Therese back to her room where she immediately threw off the helmet. She lay back on her bed, rubbing her temples and thinking. They knew what they were going to do with her. She might not be trapped forever in this room, but what lay beyond it?
They would not let her go. She knew that much. So, what would they do? Would she work for them? They didn’t trust her with Greg Sanders, so why would they trust her with another? Would they permanently lock that helmet on her head? Would they just leave her in this room to rot until she died of cancer or vitamin D deficiency or something?
She turned and faced the window. When her dad saved her and brought her home, did he know that this might happen to her? Did he guess that she would be locked up for being different? If he had succeeded at hiding her, her life would’ve been very different. She would probably be starting her second year of college soon. Her friends wouldn’t have died. She would’ve never met her grandfather, Nepture, Dr. Ott, and Agent Necker.
She hoped Agent Necker was alright. It seemed that they traced her escape back to him, and he had quit/been fired. Wherever he was, she hoped he was happy. He had been so nice to her.
She picked up the crossword she had been working on. She played with it until she fell asleep.