The final sheet has the Messina logo on it, along with the CAPS LOCKED FOR EMPHASIS FONT MAKING IT SOUND LIKE THE PAPER IS SCREAMING AT ME EVEN WITH ITS LACK OF LUNGS AND VOCAL CHORDS. It bears the words:
ON YOUR SCHEDULE, YOU WILL SEE THREE (3) TIME SLOTS MARKED "REFLECTION" (1300, 1730, AND 2230). REFLECTION SHOULD NOT BE THOUGHT OF AS FREE TIME OR A RECESS OF SORTS. ALL THREE ARE SCHEDULED IMMEDIATELY AFTER RELIGIOUS PRACTICES. THIS TIME IS ALLOTED FOR YOU TO THINK UPON THE LIFE OF CHRIST AND HOW HE SET THE VERY EXAMPLE OF HOW WE SHOULD LIVE OUR LIVES. WITH A FRESH THOUGHT OF HIM IN MIND, WE ARE MORE FREELY ABLE TO THINK UPON OUR SINS AND HOW OUR SPECIFIC CONDITION IS FUELED BY THOSE SINS. AFTER ALL, WE MUST NEVER FORGET THAT THERE IS ALWAYS A BETTER PATH THAN THE ONE WE ARE TRAVELING, AND THAT IS THE ONE OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST, TO WHOM ALL GLORY HONOR IS DUE BOTH NOW AND FOREVER
Just as I finish that last sickening sentence, I hear two short, sharp pops. Paulina Nolan's head snaps to attention and she immediately climbs down her bunk and settles herself onto mine. Something moves behind her blank stormy blue eyes, and I feel I may finally get some answers about this crazy place that I will now live in.
"Any questions?" Paulina asks.
I can feel some of my melted brain matter dripping down from the top of my head threatening to exit my body via my ear canals.
"How long did it take you to work this out?" I ask incredulously.
"Same as you. One day. My roommate was also kind enough to integrate me."
"Who would that be?"
A beat of silence. "Margaret Quincy."
I get a feeling that I don't want to know the answer to my next inevitable question. But being cautious isn't in my nature. "And where is Margaret Quincy today?"
Another beat. "Margaret...decided to...stop breathing...voluntarily...about a month ago. Messina shipped her home in a crate and as a precaution the doctors confiscated all the belts from the residents. We weren't even allowed to speak of it to anyone."
Paulina sighs. "Because suicide is a sin."
A sharp pop hints that we aren't alone anymore. Paulina does one last thing before going back to scribbling in her journal. "In case you still thought this was a game."
"Okay, Rosalind Thatcher, we don't have a lot of time. When you hear one pop, it means the doctors are listening to us. We're like lab rats that can talk to them. Two pops means that the mic is off and we can talk safely. You should have a journal in that duffle that Valentine and Stephano gave to you. You better take it out, because I'm about to give to you the Messina Resident's REAL Ten Commandments."
The boring black composition book sits atop a few sets of Messina uniforms in the duffle. I pull it out and Paulina tosses me a gel pen. It's green and sparkly, like the ones I used in fifth grade. "What do we need to do?" I ask studiously.
"Okay. Number one. Keep track of your favors. One of the only Biblical sayings we take seriously here is 'an eye for an eye'. If someone helps you out of a jam, you are expected to help them when they need it and vice versa.
"Number two. Know your friends and likewise know your enemies. You need to know who will have your back in your most desperate hours, because you'll have plenty of those here. This place brings you to your knees. First example: the guard who hit you is named Stephano. He is not a friend. But the other guard, Valentine? He's a friend.
"Number three. Don't tell them what they want to hear. Like it or not, the doctors are smart. They know when someone isn't being sincere. The best way around it is to tell them some of the truth, but not all of it.
"Number four. Do. Not. Cry. Crying shows they have broken you. If you need to cry, make sure none of the enemies and doctors (though usually the two coincide) cannot see or hear you.
"Number five. Keep fighting. It may not seem like it, but about 90% of the residents here are fighting to bring Messina down. The doctors can't get inside your head if you don't let them in.
"Number six. Have an open mind. Because closed minded individuals are the reason we're here in the first place.
"Number seven. Support everyone. We are all so called sexual deviants here. And we all have the common enemy of the doctors. If anything, be nice. Because the person you made fun of might be planning something big and if you make fun of them, they will remember. See number one.
"Number eight. Smile. All the doctors want to see are the broken faces of children's lives that they have ruined. Laugh when you want to scream and sing when you want to cry.
"Number nine. Always have your Bible opened. It's a good idea to memorize a few passages to make them think you're learning. Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are good places to start. Those are the main ones that condemn homosexuals to death.
"Number ten. reflection is not for reflection. It's for planning. Only resort to prayer time when you are either shot for ideas or are in danger of jumping off the roof if you stay here a second longer."
She pauses for breath and I get the last bit down. My brain is melting.
"Second order of business. I would like to be your friend. Platonically, as Dr. Joseph said."
I snort. "Please. You're not my type anyway."
"I promise to be on your side. After all, what are friends for?" She extends her hand.
"An eye for an eye right? You gave me the ins and the outs of this place, so I'll repay you by calling you a friend." I spit in my hand and go to meet hers. She winces a bit and pulls back. "It's a ritual on my softball team. If you break a spit shake promise, it's five times more severe than breaking a pinky swear."
"Well in that case!" she laughs. Paulina spits in her hand and heartily shakes.