Joshua Peterson sat there on his cot as he heard a commotion begin outside of his room. His figment disappeared from view, but he could feel it in his mind. They were more connected than ever before, and he could tell that it was startled by what it just did and what resulted from it.
The night guard who talked to him before was the first to reach Joshua’s room. He looked at him with confusion and worry in his eyes. He silently mouthed, “Did you do this?” Joshua found it strangely easy to understand.
“I uhh . . .” He couldn’t think of a good response. Then he quickly laid down on his cot facing the wall.
Do you want me to show you what’s going on? the figment asked in his and Joshua’s mind.
Yeah, but don’t let them see you.
Two more guards and a man in a fancy black suit ran in and looked around the room. The first guard told them that Joshua was sleeping when he got there. They searched the room, and the man in the suit carefully shook Joshua’s shoulder to rouse him. It was strange to see it from outside of himself and feel it at the same time.
“Wha?” he said, trying to appear groggy. At least his difficulty turning over was genuine.
“Did you see what happened?” the suit-wearing man asked.
“Something happened?” Joshua looked over at the door and feigned shock. “Hey, my door is gone.”
“Yeah. It’s in the room across the hall. It was pushed from this side. We’re going to have to search your room for explosives.”
As if anyone could have brought explosives into a cell at Happy Place. Security there was so tight, the most likely result of the investigation would be that the night guard in that section did it somehow. There was no evidence of it, but the hospital couldn’t just let the incident go without firing somebody. Maybe even prosecuting.
“Will somebody take this straightjacket off at some point?” Joshua asked.
“Not before we move you to a room that has a camera. You might have to bunk with somebody. Hey, Larson! Come bring the patient to room 405!”
One of the guards, a tall, lanky man with deep-set eyes, abandoned the search of the room, which was mostly empty anyway. “Isn’t that the Nun’s room?”
“Yeah. When you get there, give him back his arms. Maybe we’ll get a show on the monitors.”
All of the guards chuckled. They were accusing Joshua of something he would never do. Room 405 was home to Maggie O’Malley, a deeply religious woman who had been the regular target of sexual abuse by the guards and patients since she first came to Happy Place nearly two years earlier. She prayed constantly and threatened her abusers with God’s wrath when they used her.
You want me to get us out of this? the figment asked Joshua in their now-shared mind.
Not yet. Maybe we can do something to help Maggie first.
Joshua walked with the security guard, whose nametag he noticed because it said his name was Leslie. When Leslie saw him looking at it, he said, “It was my grandpa’s name. He was a war hero.”
Joshua stifled the amused smile that had begun to form on his face. He didn’t approve of war, but he knew better than to belittle anyone who was thought of as a hero. Jingoism ran rampant in the country. He faced forward as they entered an elevator, went up 3 floors, and walked down a hallway to room 405.
“Stay away!” the woman screamed when they opened the door. She was very thin, and the contrast between her pale skin and black hair made her head look like a penguin with two blue circles on its chest. Years of abuse in the facility had stolen the youthfulness from her face.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Joshua said as Leslie unlocked and untied the straightjacket. His arms were sore, but it was a relief to be able to move them again. He held his hands in front of his face in an attempt to appear nonthreatening, as if the people who had hurt the woman even bothered to use weapons. Her nightly medication was enough to subdue her.
“Thou shalt not bear false witness!” the woman shouted. “God hates liars.”
“Maggie,” Leslie said, “this is your new roommate. He really doesn’t seem like the violent type.”
“I’m really not,” Joshua said. “I’ll just stay in the far corner over there, as far from you as I can be.”
“You’d better pray that the lord helps you to resist temptation. Are you a God-fearing man?”
Joshua was an atheist, so needless to say, he didn’t fear or believe in any gods. He didn’t fear any goddesses either. But if he said that, a woman like Maggie surely wouldn’t feel safe, so he lied. “Yes, Maggie. I’m very religious. Catholic, in fact.”
Maggie relaxed a little. “I hope, for your sake, you’re telling the truth.”
Leslie told the pair, “Have fun, you two,” and exited the room, closing the door quietly behind him.
Joshua looked around the ceiling and found the camera. It was in the center of the room and aimed at a mirror that was curved to give a view of the whole room. It was better that way. Joshua knew that if he found a blind spot, they would discourage him from hiding in it.
“I’m Joshua Peterson,” Joshua said.
“Maggie O’Malley. Pleased to meet you.” She wasn’t yet at ease, but she was at least making an effort to be friendly. “I’m here because I loved the lord too much. What about you?”
“Hearing a voice that wasn’t there and talking to it.”
“That sounds like either a demon or an angel. It can be hard to figure out which it is. Too bad we can’t get to Saint Albert’s Church in New Boston. There’s a statue of Mary there that heals any ailment if you kneel in front of her with a rosary around your neck.”
It was a real battle for Joshua not to roll his eyes at her. He could see why someone thought she had to be put into a place like this, but the help she needed wasn’t psychiatric. Then again, who’s to say she was wrong? A figment of his imagination just blasted a door off its hinges just by touching it. Anything was possible.
“The Bible says a demon can disguise itself as an angel of light,” he said. “Can an angel disguise itself, too?”
“If it’s God’s will,” Maggie answered.
“How can you tell the difference, then, between an angel and a demon?”
“I would pray and ask the lord for guidance.”
Joshua found that answer frustrating, because it didn’t tell him how she would handle seeing his figment. To him, a nonbeliever, it meant that there was a 50/50 chance that she would freak out, say that he was a demon, and refuse any help he offered her.
I could try looking like Jesus, the voice offered.
I’d rather not enable her delusions, assuming they are delusions.
Then how do you want to save her? And why do you want to save her?
Because I think she’s never getting out of here otherwise, and they’ll destroy her for their own amusement.
But where else could she go? At least at Happy Place, she was given what she needed to survive. She was cared for, after a fashion. Where could a devoutly religious woman go where she wouldn’t be sexually abused but she would get what she needed to live?
Then it hit him. They called her the nun.
“Maggie, do you want to actually go to Saint Albert’s church?”
“Well, I’d rather be there than here, that’s for sure. Why does that sound more like an offer than curiosity?”
Do you think you could get us out of here? he asked the figment.
Yes. Should I show myself?
No. In fact, can you make us invisible?
“Joshua, why are you just sitting there silently? You’re starting to freak me out. I wish you would—wait, where did you go? What’s going on here?”
With a great crash, the door was blown away the same way as the other door. Maggie screamed and huddled in a corner.
“Let’s go!” the figment shouted in its high-pitched voice. It included Maggie in their camouflage, and she could see it for the first time, manifested in its yellow smiley face form. “I promise you I’m not a demon. Please believe me.”
Maggie O’Malley stared in confused horror at Joshua and the figment. She closed her eyes and prayed desperately for guidance as the alarm blared and footsteps rushed toward the room. Just before the guards reached them, her eyes popped open, and she said, “Okay! Take me away!”