Jenna reached up and touched the scar on her neck. Scars were like a photo album of memories to her. Some pages were flipped by Jenna, some were flipped by others. Either way, she would have to live with them. But living with this particular scar would sometimes prove difficult. It ran deep in more ways than one, bringing with it a way of life that was almost too much to bear.
Jenna tried not to look into the depths of her memory too often. Wrestling with her past, Jenna knew it wasn’t every day that a seven-year-old little girl tries to hang herself. The tight rope in her memory was responsible for her scar, not Jenna, at least this is how she saw it. She told herself constantly “it was the rope, not me.”
She was right, in a way. A failed marriage, nor a bankrupt business pushed Jenna to this action. She was only seven, just a child when it happened. It was simply an accident with consequences.
The day of Jenna’s accident began relatively normal. She had watched a western on television earlier that morning and then went out to play in the yard. Suddenly, the thought crossed her mind to reenact the hangman’s party she had just seen. She never meant for the rope to actually tighten, but it did. Rounding the corner of the barn, her father screamed in terror at the sight of his little girl standing on a chair with a rope around her neck. A startled Jenna slipped off her stool and into the grip of the tight hemp noose. Her father rushed to her side and lifted her body upwards. Jenna’s little hands still clawed at the noose’s tight grip constricting the life right out of her.
After several days in the hospital, Jenna was free to move about. She had recovered from her ordeal as much as she physically could; mentally, was a completely different matter. Something had changed in her. More than the scar on her neck or the soft voice that surrounded the words coming from her damaged larynx. She had a gift now of unimaginable abilities. Her near death experience gave Jenna foresight into a world most could not see. She had become a Seer, someone who sees into the next world, the world of the dead. A place that no one likes to talk about, but all will eventually visit in the end.
The signs started to show themselves shortly after Jenna’s stay in the hospital. Little by little they began to emerge with each passing year, elusive at first, then coming full force like a familiar bad dream she could no longer wake from. The first time Jenna realized she could see the dead, was one day at school. While waiting for class to begin, Jenna opened her math book to look over the previous day’s work. All seemed normal enough. The substitute teacher had arrived and was getting ready to start class. He was muttering to himself as he unpacked his lesson plan. The kids were not paying him any attention, running about, and continuing their conversations. Then Jenna’s regular teacher walked through the door, and the kids started to sit down in their chairs.
Jenna wasn’t completely sure what was going on. The first teacher now appeared different, almost translucent. His skin was milky and thin, unlike anyone she had ever seen. The feeling Jenna now had chilled her down the marrow of her bones. She could not believe what she was seeing. The substitute had to be an apparition that no one seemed to see but Jenna. She tried desperately to not look him in the eyes, but it was too late. He was coming toward her at a quick pace. Slamming his hand down in front of her on the desk, he shouted, “Were you late to my class? Is that why you’re looking at me so strangely?”
Jenna felt faint. Her words could not come out, and her throat seemed to be closing off. Beads of sweat ran down the back of her neck and her hearing ebbed in and out. For Jenna it felt like she was listening to the ghost under water. Suddenly she hit her breaking point and, with the classroom swirling around her, she slumped to the floor.
The next thing she remembered was the school nurse talking just outside the clinic’s door to her parents. Jenna lay ever so still knowing that the cheap paper cot cover would alert them that she was awake.
The nurse spoke “Look, I’ve seen this type of thing before when I did clinical rotations at Better Ways Psych Ward. Jenna may be suffering from some type of mental illness.”
“This can’t be,” Jenna’s father said with a sigh.
“I’m not an expert in this, but with her age and the suicide attempt as a child, she might be in the beginning stages of schizophrenia.”
“What are you saying? She never tried to kill herself.” Jenna’s father was coming unglued. He was very defensive of his little girl.
“Look Mr. Johnson, Jenna will have an even harder time in life if you don’t get help for her. Society is not very welcoming to schizophrenics, especially with no help or no meds. It’s like this, a thousand years ago Jenna would be the most valuable person in her tribe. She would be the one that could see the dead or hear voices, but it is not a thousand years ago. For God’s sake, she was rambling about ghosts and other nonsense when we first brought her in.”
Jenna lay quiet. Tears ran down her face onto the paper sheet of the bed. Just a crack of light slipped through the doorway illuminating the space that allowed Jenna to hear what she did not want to hear. Jenna’s father opened the door.
“It’s time to go home Jenna.” The disappointment and frustration hovered around his words, which were accompanied by a broken-heart expression.
Jenna pressed her head against the car window as she rode home with her parents. Nobody understood her. Would her mom and dad actually send her to a psychiatric hospital? It was all too much to deal with. She was relieved when they finally turned into the driveway of their home. She lagged behind her parents, head down, wishing she could restart her day.
“Are you coming, Jenna?” Her dad turned around when he reached the front door.
“I think I’ll stay outside for a while.”
“Okay, don’t be long.”
She sat down on the stoop outside the front door and drew in a deep breath. Outdoors she was truly free. She looked down the sidewalk and saw her friend Jessie Bryant on his skateboard. He’d been her friend for as long as she could remember, ever since her family had moved to Johnson’s Bluff, Oregon, over a decade before. He slid to a stop on the sidewalk in front of her and popped his skateboard up next to him.
Smiling, he said, “Why so gloomy, Jenna?”
With her brow pulled tight she replied, “There’s just not that much to smile at today.”
“Jenna, we all wake up with a smile; it’s the others that bring us our frown. So what happened today at school? I noticed you weren’t there for long.”
“My parents came and got me.” Tears started to swell in Jenna’s eyes.
Jessie looked taken back for a moment, then stepped forward and hugged her.
“Look, whatever it is, I’m sure it can’t be that bad.”
“Jessie, we’ve know each other since we were little.”
Jenna hesitated, then just let it out. “Look, this going to sound crazy, but I saw a man today in school that was dead.”
Jessie stepped back for a moment with a surprised look on his face.
Jenna with a sigh said, “Great, not you, too. Now the whole world thinks I’m insane.”
“Wait, I don’t think you’re insane.”
“No, but your body language said it.”
Jessie stepped forward and hugged her again. Jenna was so tense and scared she just wanted to hide in a corner and cry. But Jessie wasn’t letting her go. He just kept holding her and saying everything is going to be alright.
Jenna finally spoke “That’s the problem though, everything is not alright. The school nurse wants my parents to take me away to some special hospital.”
“Yea, a mental hospital called Better Ways. But I’m not crazy. I think they’re confusing my new gift of seeing the dead with some mental problem. I just want to get out of here before they send me away.”
Jessie looked around then back to Jenna. “I know where you can hide.”
“We’ll go to the old cabin where we used to play as kids,” he explained. “Remember?”
Jenna smiled. “Yeah, I remember. Let’s go.” She grabbed his hand and they ran down the sidewalk. When they rounded the corner, they ran through a vacant lot and slipped into the woods behind Jenna’s house.
Pushing their way through the thick grove of sugar pines, then they came to the base of a steep incline.
Looking back at Jenna, Jessie said “We can hide out at the cabin for a little while until we can figure out what to do next.
Jenna smiled and nodded.
It seemed like hours of climbing went by before the two of them reached the top. Looking out upon the western backdrop was the best sight Jenna had seen all day. Tree lines stretched into the faraway distance accompanied by snowcapped mountains standing in an endless skyline. The scenery was the only thing Jenna liked about living in Oregon. She was not a fan of the rain and cold.
Jenna and Jessie made their way to the cabin. It was old and dingy, but in Jenna’s mind it was better than a mental ward. Sitting down on a rickety wooden bench the two of them made plans on what to do next.
“First-things first Jenna, we need to gather up some firewood before dark. It gets cold up here at night. Sometime tomorrow we can start down the mountain to the other side and see if we can’t get a ride to the next town.”
Jenna smiled “Thanks for everything.”
“Don’t mention it. We’ve been friends for a long time.”
“I’ve always liked you Jessie.”
“Jenna, we’ll get through this.”
The two of them made their way into the forest of Jeffrey Pines searching for wood to bring back for a fire. These giant trees of old stretched into the crystal blue sky above. Green moss covered much of the forest floor, along with thick patches of ferns. Vines dangled from the limbs above blocking out much of the day’s sunlight.
Jenna watched Jessie for a moment picking up sticks; then something caught her eye. Something moved in the rocks beside her. She walked a little closer and was completely mesmerized at what she was seeing. An elderly woman slid through the large cracks in the rock face and pulled herself into a sitting position on a slab of granite. Her skin was wrinkled and pale, her teeth cracked and dirty. Her eyes were as cloudy as the morning fog. To Jenna, death would look like too warm of a description for the woman from the stones.
Jenna’s heart started to race, she could not speak, and she was frozen with fear. The old woman looked into her eyes, then back at Jessie. Reaching up, the old woman grabbed the loose skin of her neck. Pulling it tight, she showed Jenna that she had the same type of scar around her neck. She too had worn a hangman’s necktie. Then she spoke in a low and guttural voice.
“Hello child. I’ve been waiting a long time for you.”
“Yes you, we’ve all been waiting.”
“All, what do you mean all?”
Then their conversation was interrupted by Jessie’s voice.
“Jenna, you ok?”
Jenna looked around and the woman was gone. She had slipped away into the shadows. Jenna began to shake with fright. Tears fell out of the corners of her eyes. She turned to Jessie. “I’m scared. I don’t understand what’s going on.”
“It’s ok, Jenna. It’s going to be alright.”
“No, I don’t think it will be. I’m seeing the dead, and it is terrifying me. I just saw myself years from now calling to me. I was old and withered. My eyes were lifeless and black as midnight.”
“Look we’ll get through this. You’re just seeing things. I’m not going to let them take you away.”
“Just hold me Jessie. I just feel cold now.”
Jessie held her until her tears were done falling. Jenna finally pulled it together enough to go back to the cabin. Once inside, they made a fire. Jenna started to warm up and began to feel a little better.
“I’m glad you’re with me Jessie. I’ve been through so much today. I was so glad you agreed to run away with me.”
“I won’t let anything happen to you. We’ve been friends for way too long. But I think we may be making a mistake.”
Jenna looked puzzled “What do you mean?”
Jessie was quiet for a moment and then replied “I think we’ll have to go back.”
“Go back, they’ll lock me up. They’ll fill me full of drugs and put me in a padded room to drool on myself.”
“Jenna, calm down. First of all, I won’t let that happen. I’ll be with you every step of the way.”
“I don’t know, Jessie.”
“Look, I know you’re scared but where are we going to run to? We can’t just keep living up here in this cabin. Plus, you probably just need to be on some medicine.”
“I don’t know Jessie. I’m really scared.”
“I know you are but you have to trust me. We need to get you the right help.”
Jenna finally agreed to go back. She knew that Jessie was right, there was nowhere to run when the enemy is your mind. They both lay down for the night next to the fire place. Jenna drifted to sleep in Jessie’s arms. She finally felt safe. But the nightmare was not over.
She woke to flames engulfing the small cabin. Jessie was nowhere to be found. She looked desperately, feeling her way through the smoke filled room, but no Jessie. Jenna could hear her father’s voice outside screaming for her to come out. Then the door burst open from her father kicking it in. He grabbed Jenna and dragged her out to safety.
“Where’s Jessie? Where is he?”
“He’s not here,” her father shouted back at her.
“He was lying right beside me.”
Jenna was hysterical. She started to run back to the burning cabin. Her father grabbed her as a man came toward her she had never seen before wearing light blue scrubs. He grabbed Jenna’s arm and then slid a needle into her vein. Her surroundings started to spin and the last thing she remembered was saying, “Jessie, where did you go?”
Jenna woke in a hospital. It wasn’t long before she was sitting in the director’s office. Jenna realized what a mess her life had become. The director of Better-ways Mental Hospital sat across the desk from her reading Jenna’s flow sheet. He was an older man with a careless expression.
Jenna fidgeted in her chair. How did I end up here?
The Director looked up from his sheet. “Well Jenna, welcome to Better-ways. We are here to help you get back to the right side of life. With the proper medication and enough treatment everything will be just fine.”
Jenna said in her soft voice, “There’s nothing wrong with me. I would have been just fine with Jessie, if you hadn’t taken me away after the fire. I need to get back to him. He’s still out there somewhere waiting for me.”
The director sat quiet for a moment sipping his coffee and then spoke, “Jenna, you are delusional. You need help.”
“I’m fine, I just want to get back to Jessie.”
“There is no Jessie.”
An angered Jenna snapped back, “What have you done with him?”
“Like I said, you’re delusional. Jessie died ten years ago in an auto accident. You were there. He’d stepped off the school bus right before you. A truck with no brakes swung around the bus to avoid running into the back of it. Jessie was hit and killed right in front of you.”
“No, you’re lying. He was just with me.”
“No, Jenna he wasn’t. Shortly after his death you tried to commit suicide by hanging.”
Shaking her head, Jenna said, “It was an accident.”
Frowning, the director replied, “Yea, I know.” He paused. “After returning to school you had the incident where you saw the dead teacher. You even said that he had spoken to you.”
“Ok. Then you ran away with someone that has been dead for years, fall in love, then light your hideout on fire.”
“That was an accident. I must have kicked over a lantern while I was sleeping.”
“Accidents seem to occur frequently with you. If your parents hadn’t found you when they did and pulled you from that burring building, you might not be here today.”
Jenna started to cry. “This can’t be happening.”
“Jenna, you have a mental illness. But with the right meds and the right amount of treatment, you can manage your illness.”
“That’s hard to say.” He leaned forward and smiled. “Maybe a few months, maybe a few years. It’s really up to you and how cooperative you are with treatment.”
Jenna was stunned. She sat quietly looking out the window. She wondered why this doctor would make up all of these lies. Jessie could not be dead, they had grown up together. They were falling in love. How could all of this be?
Suddenly Jessie was there, just outside the window. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. This was a hospital and she was on the tenth floor. How was Jessie outside the window standing in the air? Then he spoke to her through the windowpane. She could hear him but the director could not.
“Come to me, you don’t belong in that cage. You don’t deserve being drugged.”
“I can’t do that, they tell me your dead. That you’re not real.”
The director quickly spoke up. “Who are you talking to Jenna?”
“I think it is time to start you on meds.” The director stood up and started toward her.
Jessie called out again. “Come to me. We can be together forever.”
Jenna screamed and ran toward the window at full speed. Jumping she crashed through the glass and into a freefall. See could see the little bits of glass falling with her and sparkling like crystals in the sun. The ground was rapidly coming toward her and Jessie was nowhere to be found.
Suddenly Jenna woke up in her room at home. Her mind was racing at top speed and her sheets were soaked with sweat. She stared at the ceiling for a few minutes trying to figure out why she was back in her room. She hated the darkness and the never-ending fear it brought with it. Getting out of bed, she walked to the door. Her mother and father were sitting at the dining room table.
Looking up, her father said, “Jenna, you’re up.”
A groggy Jenna replied, “Yea, what’s happened?”
“You’ve been asleep for most of the afternoon.”
“Ok, what happened?”
“You had a fall at school. The nurse called us in to come get you.”
“I remember that, then we came home and I--” Jenna paused.
Her father spoke up. “You went to bed and slept most of the afternoon.”
“So, I must have been dreaming about Jessie, and the fire, and the hospital.”
“I guess honey.”
“So you weren’t going to lock me away at Better-ways.”
With a surprised look Jenna’s father replied, “I guess you heard the nurse.”
“Yes, I did.”
"We’ve always known you were a little different and we’ve accepted that. If you’re having problems, whatever the difficulty, we’ll get through them with you.”
A skeptical Jenna asked, “Will I be in Better-ways for years?”
“No honey, you just need to see a doctor and get on the right medicine. We have an appointment this afternoon to meet with the director. I’m sure all is going to work out.”
“What about Jessie?”
“What about Jessie?”
“In my dream they tried to tell me he was dead.”
“Dead,” a voice from the kitchen said, followed by laughter.
“Jessie,” Jenna called out.
Jessie walked around the corner with a smile. Jenna ran to his arms. Hugging him she said, “I’m so glad you’re alive.”
“Well, I’m happy I’m alive too. As for you, I’m right by your side. We’ll get you well, girl.”
The afternoon came quickly for Jenna. She went to her appointment with her parents and Jessie. Walking in the office was difficult for Jenna. It seemed like she was repeating the same day over, the same thoughts over. It was tiresome. She sat down and waited for the director. Finally he walked through the door. He seemed like he was all business. He shuffled a few papers and then looked right into Jenna’s eyes.
“The next time you jump out the window make sure you’re not dreaming.” He motioned to two nurses standing behind Jenna. “Grab her. Hold her down. She’ll take her medicine today. I’m going to put it right in to the biggest vein she’s got.”
Jenna screamed. “Let me go. What are you doing?”
It was no use, the nurses, her parents and Jessie had a tight grip on her. The director moved closer, then raised his syringe in the air. With a sinister smile, he jammed his needle into her neck. As it punched through skin and into her carotid artery, Jenna cried out. Then everything went black.
She woke up instantly out of the darkness and was lying on the cabin floor. The fire was small and crackling in the hearth. Jessie lay beside her. She touched his shoulder, nudging him to wake up.
Jessie rolled over and said, “Are you ok?”
“I just had the worst dream. I dreamed horrible things about you, Jessie.”
“Jenna, it’s your mind playing tricks on you. Tomorrow will be a better day for you.”
“It’s just hard to know what’s real and not real anymore.”
Jessie put his arms around her. “I’m real, we’re real, and we’ll get through this.”
Morning finally came for Jenna. She’d never been so happy to see the sun come up in the sky. The two of them made their way down the mountain and over to Jenna‘s parents’ home. After a lot of explaining and many tears, Jenna finally agreed to get help.
Published at The Fringe Magazine April 21, 2011