This story is by Amber Bengson and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
The inner workings of the human mind are inexplicable. In my third year of undergraduate studies in psychology, you would think I would be able to comprehend the complexities of the brain more efficiently. I used to know better. Schizophrenic patients coming into the clinic I worked at part-time were brushed off, force-fed pills and dumped back onto their families to be someone else’s burden. I thought that was the right thing to do. That is until I was quite literally thrown into their shoes.
Frantically throwing on my green barista apron and shoving my unruly brown hair into a black cap, I fumbled with my keys and sprinted to my car. Between a full class load and a full time job, I was strung out. Sandra, the manager of the Starbucks I worked at, made it her life’s mission to reign supreme in the land of passive-aggressiveness. Each day, we did the same tango where I was promptly greeted by Sandra’s peppy face, a single blonde tendril would bounce off of her rosy cherub cheeks as she’d stoop down to peek under my hat and I would give her an obligatory fake smirk. “Now, Lexy…” she’d start, always somehow making my name seem like it had an extra syllable, and then she’d finish with the complaint of the day.
I was speeding through my neighborhood on my way to work when I first saw the harpies flutter across my front windshield. At first glance, I thought they were a couple of halcyon birds and I continued sputtering along the winding back roads of Zitoko in my rusty ‘97 Honda while gnawing on a granola bar. I leaned down to grab my allergy medicine out of my backpack, and when I looked back up there was a large furry shadow scurrying across the road. I screamed an obscenity and slammed on the brakes, screeching my tires and hitting the animal. Stepping out of the smoking car, I realized I had hit a lion. Caught off guard by this discovery, I dialed Sandra to tell her I’d be late again this week. I could practically feel the steam radiating from her ears as I told her I got into an accident, but something else frightened me more. The lion got back up, but when it looked back in my direction it had the face of a woman. Blinking my green eyes in disbelief, I told Sandra I may have a concussion.
I shook my head in confusion, as I heard a chuckle from my backseat. There were two small girls with enormous feathered wings in the backseat.
“Now, you’ve done it!” said one.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Sphinx so mad, Electra, have you?” the other mused.
“I reckon I haven’t, Calysta! It’s nice to have the wrath directed toward someone else this time, isn’t it?” she pinged back.
“What is going on today?!” I shouted with frustration.
“Helenus didn’t say that she would be so feisty,” Electra whispered to Calysta. She turned to me and said, “If you must know, the oracle foresaw that you would be the one to fix the entrance to the Underworld at Acheron River and that is why we and the rest of the mythical realm has revealed itself to you. Hades has claimed many souls that were not his to claim. The portal to hell is creating a black hole with its own gravity.”
“I study chemistry and clearly need medical attention,” I retorted to these figments of my imagination as I dialed an ambulance for myself. As I recounted the story to the paramedics, they drove me straight to the psych ward once I told them that I hit a rogue lion and had a vivid dream about two faeries while I was knocked out. It really sealed the deal when I pointed to the harpies before understanding that I was the only one that could actually see them.
Too little dopamine and Parkinson’s disease plagues you. Too much dopamine and schizophrenia is the diagnosis. The doctors at the asylum thought I had the latter.
Peering around my new room, I took in unfamiliar sights of urine-stained sheets adorning the rusty spring mattress below me, barren walls riddled with hidden etchings of pentagrams, initials, and tally marks, and the single pedestal sink with black mold crawling up the porcelain. Not a single mirror was in sight to ogle the reflection of my sallow, sleepless soul residing in the shell of the woman I had become in the last two weeks. As I pondered how I got into this mess, Corinna entered my room with a tray holding two Dixie cups…one for the cocktail of medications that were supposed to diminish my vivid “hallucinations” and one for the water to wash it down.
With a grunt and a gesture in my direction, Corinna wordlessly urged me to take the pills. I pleaded with her desperately trying to convince her that I was not like the rest of the patients in Lincoln Place. These so-called psychotic outbursts were not schizophrenia and I was certainly not disillusioned with reality. Just as I was about to reveal the truth about what circumstances brought me to this place, the pesky harpies appeared, startling me once again and causing me to forcefully knock Corinna’s tray from her hands.
Her stocky frame hit the floor and terror flashed across her black eyes, as she struggled to breathe as a demon leapt from under my cot and grasped its claws around her throat. Picking up the silver tray that clattered onto the floor, I swiftly started beating the creature off of her. The demon crashed through my window onto the courtyard, retreating back to Acheron River. Corinna awoke staring incredulously at me and the broken window behind me and scrambled to get up while screaming “That girl is crazy!” on a continuous loop.
With nothing left to lose, I hastily agreed to help them close the floodgates to hell.