“That is so wrong,” I said.
“Boys and girls weren’t allowed to be alone together, let alone touch each other. One day as we walked out to the garden, our favorite spot to hang out, she reached out to hold my hand. I didn’t understand what she was doing, and didn’t care for it but strangely, it didn’t bother me either. Usually I hated anyone touching me like that and would get angry, but she was different. She had some kind of calming effect on me that I wasn't used to. In a way, it scared me, but not to the point of paranoia. To me she was a good friend, that’s all. There was never anything sexual between us. We never even kissed. The nature of schizophrenia kept me in the dark about that stuff. I was clueless, but she knew. She was so smart. We grew to be best friends.
“The nurses and staff didn’t see it that way. We had to follow the rules and were reprimanded. She was sent to her room alone while I endured another session in the torture chamber, getting the “sins” that I was unaware of about beaten out of me. I learned quick and it would be a few weeks before I talked to her again.
“We were warned that if it happened again we would be separated permanently. We didn’t understand why it was bad, but we followed the rules. At least in public. We learned what places we could get away and hold hands. They didn’t understand. All we wanted to do was talk. Being naive I thought that all best friends held hands.”
“What would you talk about?” I asked.
“I don’t remember all of it, but a schizophrenic can talk forever and it wouldn’t make sense to you. I had bad social skills, hell we both did, but mine was not by choice. Of course, she listened to every word, being quiet and all. She was the only one that I could let into my psychotic mind and wouldn’t be judged or laughed at. No doctor, family or other friend ever did that.
“It's funny, she wanted to be an actress. What an odd fantasy for someone who was controlled by anxiety.”
“People do get over their fears and change their lives, so it's possible she is an actress. I will look her up when I leave here,” I promised.
He smiled. “I would like that. To think she escaped this place before the massacre would be amazing.” We got up and I followed him back to the stairs.
“Why can’t you go find Ivy yourself?” I asked. “You’re a ghost who can walk through walls. You don’t need me.”
“I am held captive here and only allowed to roam this hospital, these grounds, but nowhere else.”
“Really. What’s stopping you?”
“A strong force you wouldn’t understand about.”
“Try me. Today I’ve already experienced things I may never fully comprehend. But I have learned a great deal more in a short amount of time than in my entire life. I still don’t understand how I am able to see and talk to you, but I have accepted it to be true and not my mind playing tricks on me.”
“There are forces more powerful than I.”
“A they are holding you hostage here?”
“You could say that.”
“Where are they?” I searched the corridor with the flashlight. “I don’t see them or it.”
“You can’t. You’re not allowed.”
He sighed. “All that goes on in the afterlife is for the afterlife. You must be there to grasp it for it is too much for any mortal to comprehend. Even I still don’t know everything, but trust that one day we all will.”
“So when will they let you go?”
“I don't know.”
We had made it back to the lobby, where once again I walked the obstacle course of tossed chairs and tables.
“There are massive holes in the walls, furniture has been thrown around, there’s blood everywhere.” I pointed to the shattered part of the glass partition in the reception area. “Somehow this ties into why you can't leave yet, right?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Was this a result of a virus?” I had forgotten about my shirt filtering the minute particles floating in the air, and slapped my hand over my mouth and nose. I whispered, “Aliens?”
“Even worse. Evil.”
“Demons?” I lowered my hand and laughed. “Is this another one of your hocus-pocus beliefs?”
He didn’t flinch.
“This is ridiculous.” I shook my head and paced the floor, footsteps echoing on the linoleum floor. “This isn't real. No, this isn't real, it's all in my head, I'm dreaming, I'm dreaming.” I raised my voice. “You're not here, this blood isn't here, this place is all in my head, I need to wake up.”
“No, Ian, this is reality.”
I fell to my knees, crouched forward, closed my eyes, grabbed a fistful of hair, and pulled hard. “Why can't you just get out of my head?” My voice mocked my cry against the walls of the room. My breath became ragged, sputtering, and tears welled in my eyes.
A hand pulled my chin up, and I knew who it was before my eyes opened. Corey had squatted next to me, his sapphire eyes were moist jewels, compassionate.
“Shit,” I whispered. I was losing my mind.
“Ian,” he said, in a soft voice. “You have to come to grips with this. There is no other way but to accept it.”
“I have no other choice?”
“No, you don't. If you doubt this long enough, you will end up in a psychiatric hospital, I can promise that.”
“Okay.” I got up on shaky legs.
“I do have one suggestion, Ian. You should leave and never come back. For your sanity.”
“I'll be fine.” I sighed. “Maybe you're right. I should finish my vacation as planned, relaxing at the beach.”
“Take care, Ian.”
I shook his hand. “Thank you for the amazing tour.”
I left the building, walked halfway across the lot and looked back. Corey stood at the entrance, emotionless. He looked so frail and innocent against the backdrop of the filthy beast that imprisoned him. We both raised a hand as our final goodbye.
As I walked to my vehicle, a question ran through my head over and over. What was the point of meeting Corey today? I turned and ran back to the hospital. I couldn't let a mystery go unsolved.