Chapter One

~ Chapter 1 ~

It was autumn. That fact was hard to forget because a bit of it– if you must know, a leaf – had smacked me in the face that morning on my way out, causing me to trip over several rocks and run face first into a tree. Fortunately, there were people around to come to my aid, and my morning walk wasn’t hindered.

Try not to do that again, one woman had said with a smile, but the irritated look in her eyes was enough to stop me any day. The asylum workers were not exactly the nicest people in the world.

Ah, yes, the asylum… Something to note is that the strange looks I was getting were not because of the raw looking patches scattered across my complexion. They were something I was accustomed to at that point. Everywhere I went. Everyone I met; they all found me different, not part of society even though I acted like any normal sixteen year old.

My hands found their way to the pockets of my peacoat.

Sometimes my thoughts caught up to me, asking why I was still in the shelter after eight years. Maybe Mother and Father were keeping me there so I couldn’t come home.

            My mother, with her curly blonde locks, always a nervous wreck, and my father, cool and collected, with short brown hair that was always gelled to perfection; they were the couple of a lifetime. They weren’t exactly kind of people that could be entirely responsible for putting their daughter in the nut-house.

If anyone deserves the word “perfect” to describe them, it would be my parents. Dad was a kind of quiet, stoic man, but had a bigger heart than anyone I now know. I wasn’t a daddy’s girl, but he didn’t really care. Mom came to all the bake sales, always helped out at school, and held all my birthday parties. Whenever I would have a bad day, she would hold me tight in her arms - her lavender scented perfume and soft, sweet voice telling me everything would be okay. The fact that she always knew what was wrong struck me about her, the way she always tried to help, especially in her condition.

Mental breakdowns were common at night, and there is nothing more terrible than your own mother not knowing your name, and screaming at you to get out of the house, or she would call the police. The same woman also sent me to the asylum. Ironic? Definitely.

            Dad was the perfect man for her, in that sense: a man that knew her well enough to calm her down in the middle of any of these episodes. She was never sent to the asylum because he was always able to quiet her before anything drastic happened. There was no wasted medication, no long hours spent in the doctor's office, waiting. He wouldn't let her go.

            And everything was just fine and dandy for the two of them. Then I was born - the unexpected child, unusually smart and a full head of hair by the age of two months. It wasn’t on purpose that they had me. As I said, I was a smart child and understood that I was the accident of the family, not entirely accepted by my grandparents, and so I decided I would be the best.

            It was a simple as that. The fact that I had to be the best was the only goal I reached for. And in a way, I was. Straight A’s, a member of every club known to man-kind; these things spoke to me in a way nothing else did.

            And yet I was distraught. I had nearly no friends, no enemies; I was nobody in elementary school, someone that was always just there. I took after my mother, distrusting every stranger and trying not to look out any windows, for fear of seeing someone watching me. Anything that would've just seemed coincidence to anyone else would send me running to Mom, because I believed in the paranormal while no one else did.

            I sighed, sat down on a bench watching the people pass by. It was always on my walks where I missed my old life the most. And when I thought what had happened. Meaning what got me into the asylum in the first place. It had been my eighth birthday, and I had invited a few friends I had over for a party of health cake and power bars, and everything was going fine for once in my life. But then I made the mistake of turning the corner into my backyard.

            Standing there in front of me was someone I didn't remember inviting to the party: a girl, whose haunted, seemingly sightless blue eyes appeared to look into my very soul. And as she raised her head, her thin, dark silver hair hung down around a slightly smiling mouth. That smile held a secret.

She seemed normal enough, with her purple jumper and flowered umbrella. So I asked a simple enough question; what’s your name?

Well, that ‘simple question’ practically destroyed the rest of my life. But it can never be forgotten; even though I’m unsure what happened, even now.

The strange thing was something small flashed deep inside of me. It was an angry little bug that only lasted for a second. As a result, it was not a sudden thing - I knew something was wrong.

In a flash, my friends lay at my feet on the ground, their throats slit. I backed up against the wall, and I could feel my heart rate climbing, my breath turning jagged and going a hundred miles an hour. It had rained blood that day, seemingly drawn straight from the necks of the victims - for they grew paler and paler as the storm went on, faces turning white, then blue, then a bruised shade of violet.

            You may wonder: why did my seemingly wonderful parents send me to the asylum? Why didn’t they believe me?

            My hands were covered in blood. I was found, hyperventilating, on the patio. My friends were dead, obviously murdered. All hope for me, then, was lost. I tried desperately to convince my parents a little girl with a flower umbrella was responsible for the horrendous murder, but got nothing but two pairs of sad, sad eyes staring back at me.

            I got up from the bench, still getting those sad eyes, but from the people around me. They were watching me, knowing where I was in the food chain of Francestown. Almost at the bottom, just above who knows what and just below someone else. People in those days were so critical of me, always waiting for me to mess up

            Even the policemen were interested in my case. Still interested. And maybe it was because I was living in such a small town, maybe the law was okay with a situation on shaky legs, but the policemen had managed to slip in their side of the story –or my side, as they said -, telling my parents and the rest of the town what happened. How I had slit their necks with a knife, which had been discarded, and then, the final touch: a panic attack had ensued. Funny how they think it’s just so easy to tell my side of the story, when I myself didn’t even know how.

            My parents did fight for me. They tried to keep me, albeit reluctantly. Despite their efforts, I could tell the effect of the attack never wore off. My parents were always distant from me from that day forward, and the same month, they decided to have me taken away. Maybe they had even decided beforehand, the day of the massacre.

            I couldn’t get mad at them, of course, if I put it in perspective. Everything except the missing knife pointed to me, and how could anyone live with someone who may or may not be on the brink of insanity?

            They did the right thing, I suppose. Being only eight or nine when tossed in the asylum, I actually was slightly insane; my mind had been altered terribly from the stoicism of my parents, how they didn't seem to care. I would always cry for them, for me. For the life I had lost. And the memory of the girl both haunted and infuriated me. She was always just out of my grasp, mocking me.

Every night, for six years, I would huddle in the back corner of my cell, babbling about how she would return for me. When a person is faced with the deaths of friends at such an early age it makes a mark on them; it damages their soul and leaves such a deep scar that it takes a long, long time to wear off.

 

            "No, no, it really was her!" the girl cried, cheeks red and streaked with tears. Two men held her by the forearms, and swung her into the back of the van. Her parents miserably looked on, and made their way back to the house.

            "This is the only thing we could do," the father reminded his wife, but she only nodded solemnly in return. Delilah gasped between her tears as the two men bound her feet and hands, and closed the doors to the van. She gazed out between the bars of the tiny window, and watched her family disappear into the house she would never see again. They never looked back.

                                      

            After six years, though, my “total insanity” (as the nurses put it) began to ease. Tears still came at the thought of my parents, but the thoughts of that little girl were all but gone; they had faded into the past like all the rest of my troubles. I can’t help but think that if I had been let out earlier, I would’ve been fine. The police probably just had no idea what to do with me.

                A smile touched at my lips at the thought that the asylum was practically my home. I was sixteen years old and almost entirely dependent on the nurses there. I was living like a queen. They, being the nurses, would let me out once and a while to take walks in the park, but everyone in town must've heard about my "homicidal thoughts" because no one would come near me. It was fine.

             Ah, well. It was time to be getting back. The park wasn’t far form the asylum, and it was soon enough that I arrived at the black, ominous gates. The familiar sign stating: ‘Careful - Insane Suspects may be roaming the premises. Proceed with Extreme Caution. And have a wonderful day’ met me as they always did. I rather resented the words, for I knew most of the “Insane Suspects” well.

            But nevertheless I proceeded onto the grounds, as I did every day. The dusty path leading up to the enormous doors was well worn, and I recognized every pebble, every weed growing on it - and the doors even more. The doors were black as night, and every scratch in the paint was familiar. I guess you could say they were my friends too.

            I knocked once, twice on the doors, and I could hear the rustling of skirts as a housemaid came to the door. Breathless and red in the face, she opened it.

Soft trails of blush lined the edges of her complexion, eyes shadowed and lined with dark black. How long did she spend on her makeup in the morning, anyways? And who was she even trying to impress, the patients?

            "Goodness gracious, Delilah. We were all worried about you!"

            I returned the greeting with a smile, despite my thoughts. Don't make me laugh. No one was sincere around that place. In fact, the asylum was so full of lies that new patients didn’t last long.

            One in particular - named Anox - was murdered by the person in the cell next to mine, because she was told that there were untold riches behind the door that no one dared explore. The person who killed her was a man who mistook her for his ex-wife - and later we found out she was his own daughter.

            After giving the maid a gratified smile, and nodding politely to the other nurses bustling around the lower floors, I made my way up the winding stairs to my cell. When I opened the door to the left, the same whitewash walls and wooden floors awaited me. On the far side of the room was a window and my bed.

             I sighed, sitting down on the bed. It creaked under my weight, a familiar screeching sound that I acquainted with home. It wasn't much - it wasn't anything, really - but was better than nothing.

            It could be worse.

            The day was sunny, rays floating in from my window, tempting me. I couldn’t open them, of course, after one of the patients leaned a bit too far out a couple years ago. They had trouble cleaning up the remains. Luckily, he was new, so I didn’t know him that well. Making friends at the asylum wasn’t difficult, but even the nurses warn us not to get too close to anyone.

             I wonder if they’ll open anywa-                  

             “Gah!” I yelled, tripping over something, and fell to the ground under the window. I could be such a klutz sometimes, but the nurses couldn’t see me from the hallway in this position, so there was room to relax. What had I tripped on, anyways?

             It was probably another big box of medicine, for my headaches. Nurse Marie always did leave them on the floor, even though I told her not to.

                I turned to pick it up, but it was then I realized it was no box. My fingers brushed hard wood, sending searing pain through my fingertips. It bit at my nerves and several bones, making me scream with pain as my  brain was attacked as well. It was worse than the headaches. Much worse.

              Thoughts long forgotten jumped through mind alongside memories of past times that I - to tell the truth - did not want to remember, slicing through my conscious as they went. Fear surged openly through my veins, it seemed like the oxygen had been cut off from my lungs. Paranoia crept in through some door - I could feel its dark fingers clawing at my mind. The only clear notion in the mess that was my thoughts was: Not this again.

            I collapsed onto my knees, used the bedside table as a support, and the cup of water fell from the counter to the floor in what seemed like an instant. Glass shattered, water spilled, and I dropped to the floor, writhing on the wooden boards and screaming.

            I could hear distant footsteps, and soon the door to my cell burst open. A girl who looked around sixteen with short, blonde hair slightly covering hazel eyes appeared in the doorway.

            "Hello? I heard a crash, and - oh god! Are you all right?"

            Her voice sounded faint and tinny to my ears, and I felt the floor shake as she ran to my side. Darkness took me, and the last images in my mind were of a broken glass, someone calling for help, and a flowered umbrella that looked strangely familiar.

                                 

*                                   *                                *

           

When I awoke my eyelids were as heavy as lead. It didn't help that the young woman was standing over me like a mother hen, asking me every five seconds if I was all right. The flowered umbrella was exiled in the corner, and I dared to look at it too long, for fear of my life. Why was it here? Would she come back? My head was buzzing with questions, yet I knew no one had answers.

            "The umbrella seemed to…" she paused, and I could feel the wheels turning in her head as she searched for a word, ".... It kinda seemed like it was hurting you. So I put it in the corner."

            She seemed to catch onto my silence and said: "I'm a new housemaid, and because I had to start today, miss, I was waiting for them to finish the paperwork for who I was going to be assigned to. I heard glass shattering and a scream, then came up here. But I just wondered..." She seemed to hesitate for a moment but plowed on. "Why the umbrella?"

 

She opened her piercing blue eyes, and rose up into the air, white hair thrashing out behind her caused by an invisible storm, then screaming… and blood. The blood was everywhere. It rained down upon the little girl, as she sat on her knees sobbing in utter disbelief. She opened her flowered umbrella, protecting her pale complexion against the gruesome rainstorm - and a contented smile played across her lips.

                                                   

            "When I was eight years old," my voice was barely a whisper, and it wavered horribly - curses. "A little girl with a flowered umbrella killed all my friends. It was horrible - they were massacred. She blamed me for it. I know she did. The girl set me up." Trinity raised her eyebrows.

            "And you're… sure. Sure that this happened," she said disbelievingly.

            "If I'm not sure of that, I'm not sure of anything." My voice was firm, and I stood up, straightening out my jacket.

            "Where are you going?"

            “I need to relax.” My voice cracked, as the memories were still coming; and it was like my whole life was being played over again… too fast. Suddenly all that fragile strength was gone.

            “I’ll come with you, if you like.” she offered and curtsied slightly, making her way to the door and opening it in front of me.

            At first, I wanted to decline - I didn't need a bodyguard. But as I felt the light touch of paranoia across my mind, taunting me… I said nothing.

                                           

*                                    *                                  *

            I convinced the housemaid to let me outside again, if not reluctantly, and Trinity followed me like a shadow as we walked down the cobblestone path into the park. There was no cool breeze, no laughter, as if all had gone quiet because of that single umbrella.

            Since I had left the asylum, I had told Trinity all I knew about the girl. She was nice enough, as all housemaids are supposed to be, but her lips were drawn into a thin line, and I could tell she didn't entirely believe me. But as I have done for many years, I remind myself that the key word there is entirely.

            She also told me a bit about herself; how she wants to be a social worker at the asylum. I suppose that's why she's helping me, but frankly I don't mind. I've been waiting my whole life to repeat my story to someone who doesn't think I'm totally insane.

            We weaved through the trees, which were so beautiful with their red and orange tinged leaves slowly drifting off onto the soft grass, and I wished more than ever that I was just taking my normal rounds alone and undisturbed, but I knew that now that thing had appeared in my cell nothing would be the same for a long, long time. And truthfully, I was terrified that she was coming back for me, and I didn't know why. Most of all, I wondered who the girl was - and I secretly hoped that she was not just a figment of my imagination.

            We made our way to the park bench, a place where I usually visit on my long rounds. As I sat down, I felt where my name had been etched into the soft wood so many times; the curve of the ‘D’ and the little star at the end of my name was so comforting… to know that not all had changed.

            The next few minutes were silent between the two of us, my finger absent-mindedly tracing the letters of my name over and over again. Trinity seemed mildly bored, but she just kept tapping her foot and occasionally looking over and smiling. However, my thoughts drifted back to the flower umbrella, and I wondered who else would be killed for my own sake.

            Not Trinity, I hoped. Returning her glance, I stared at her. She was so innocent and unprepared for the scale of what was about to come – and that I needed to get out of here fast. Now that Trinity had seen the umbrella, so did she. At least, I thought she did at the time.

            "Trinity," I asked, suddenly realizing that I just couldn’t force her to leave loved ones. My voice was strangely urgent.

            "Are you married?"

            "No," she replied, grinning, “I just don't think there's going to be a Prince Charming coming for me anytime soon, either. Besides, I'm only sixteen!" I sighed in relief, my shoulders relaxing.

             "Me neither - a lot of the guys in the asylum aren't exactly prince material."

            And suddenly, we were both laughing, breaking the tension between us. She seemed to visibly unwind, as if she was a ball of string just beginning to roll out onto my carpet. But then, she did something strange. Trinity suddenly leaned over, and hugged me.

            At first it seemed awkward; my body tingled as she embraced me, and my face flushed as she laughed. I hadn't had anyone hug me since in the house, with my parents before they had sent me to the asylum.

            And this time, it didn't seem menacing or pointless like it had, it seemed almost magical. I could almost imagine background music playing in the distance that plays in movies when the two main characters are running towards each other in slow motion…

            …and I loved it.

 

            The small girl felt the car jolt as they arrived at the asylum. How strange it seemed to her then, especially the sign at the front gates. And so tears stained her cheeks as she remembered the last moments with her parents at the house.

            Her mother knelt down beside her, busying herself by buttoning the little girl's jacket. "        You'll be... going away for a while, dear.” she had said, biting her lip.

            "Where?" the little girl had asked, and tilted her head to one side in confusion. 

            "A place where people will help you get better."

            "A hospital? Mommy, I'm not sick." The mother had put her own face next to the little girl's, eyes brimming with emotion, placed her soft hand on the girl's shoulder – who seemed to almost shy away from the touch- and smiled weakly.

            "Remember this, dear,” she had murmured softly into the little girl's ear, and pushed her daughter's thin, brown hair back from her eyes.

            "I will never send you into harm."

            A van had screeched up to the driveway, with big black letters sprawled across the side reading: "City Asylum" and two men stepped out with pointed shoes that tapped on the concrete. Only then did the little girl seem to realize that something was going on, and it wasn’t good.

            And so she tried to find some comfort in the last moments with her parents, some hope that someday they would come back for her. But she found nothing. The poor things only comfort against the prospect of inanity was lost… so she gave way.

             

             And all at once, it was over. Silence reigned between us, and there was a strange connection that there hadn't been before. I didn't understand it; but somehow, it gave me hope.

            Yet things were still tense - the umbrella had not gone, it was exiled in all its evil to the corner of my cell back at the asylum, but I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that it hadn't come for no reason. Umbrellas just don't appear at bedsides, they are there for a reason - and not always a good one. Trinity looked at me, and I could see that her happiness was gone as well.

             She took a deep breath through her teeth, then gasped a bit too dramatically. My eyes narrowed. Was she mocking me?

           "We need to find out who that girl is, I guess. That's the only way to settle this."

            My heart skipped a beat. Anything between us had disappeared. She was definitely mocking me.

            "Yeah, right. She's a murderer. And murderers don't speak reason."

            An awkward silence returned. Anticipation to escape surged through my veins, but I could tell that Trinity didn't, in any sense, feel the same way. I didn't blame her.

            "We should head back."

            Trinity nodded agreement and stood as well, not contradicting me, even though we had only been out here a while, and motioned for me to go ahead. Things were still tense between us, but I knew I needed to convince her.

            Trying to carry out  my plan alone would be suicide.

 

*                     *                          *

           

              Soon we headed back to the asylum, and the silence between us was bitter (mostly on my part). Trinity decided to let one of the other nurses who had not read my case move the umbrella to another room, but as we stood in front of the pointed black gates I feared of what else I would find in my cell. For it had been the girl, after all - why I was so scared of an umbrella I had no idea. Yet I had still asked Trinity to call into the asylum beforehand, to remove the umbrella from my cell.

            I won't lie to myself, I know I would never be able to sleep with that thing in my room.

            Even the grass seemed to wither now, which surprised me. It was generally well kept by the crew, so the asylum wouldn't live up to its name or its patients, but I could see that it hadn't been tended to in a while now. Perhaps the crew had left? They would have no reason to - I'm supposed to be crazy, so why does a patient fleeing from an umbrella frighten them away? Yet we made our way to the double doors of the asylum, without a fear in the world.

             Little did we know what was yet to come.