Alfie sat cross-legged on a stained white carpet, staring wide-eyed into a television screen. With soft static that was drowned beneath his heavy breathing, the television depicted a pretty pink-gowned corpse laid on a bed of ripe red roses.
Despite her thin gray skin and missing nose, the corpse looked like a very pretty girl, with long red hair and high cheekbones to die for. She looked sweet and innocent, draped in a ruffled gown so snowy white and magnificent.
“She looks a lot like you, Annie,” muttered Alfie. “Don’t you agree?”
“Yes,” said an unseen voice at Alfie’s side. At least, the voice would have been unseen to anyone but Alfie. To him, the voice belonged to none other than his beloved twin, Annie Azalea. “It looks like me before Mother decided to drown me in that bitterly cold pond.”
“W-What?” stammered Alfie. “Annie, you know Mother didn’t do that. You know that I managed to stop her. And it was just in the nick of time, too, because she was just minutes away from killing you.”
“Alright. Whatever you say, Alfie,” said Annie as she wrapped her cold hand around his. “If you want me to be alive, then I will be alive. Okay?”
“Good,” mumbled Alfie as he squeezed Annie’s hand tightly. “How could you possibly be dead anyways? After all, you’re sitting right next to me, talking quite clearly. You can’t defy the permanence of death, can you?”
“Ha. Defying the permanence of death,” Annie repeated as she smiled reassuringly at Alfie. “That’s quite comical. You’re such a funny twin. I love you and all your quirky remarks.”
Outside, mournful winds blew hard through the movie room’s tall opened window, sending a gust of frigid air into the room. In time, heavy rain began to pour from the gloomy gray skies, blowing softly through the window and lightly pattering against Alfie and Annie, both of whom seemed unfazed by the rain.
“She is awfully pretty, isn’t she?” asked Annie. “I mean, I know it’s just a silly cartoon character on a television screen, but she looks far lovelier than most cartoon characters. Tell me, what is your favorite thing about her?”
“I like her white gown. Such a nice contrast with her tiny black boots,” said Alfie as he looked up at the ticking clock that rested above the television. It read 11:11 p.m. “She’s got a great sense of style that I bet goes unappreciated. If she was a real girl, then I’d let her know just how much her style means to me so she could feel adored and respected.”
“Aw,” said Annie. “That’s awfully sweet. You are a gentle soul.”
“Thanks,” said Alfie. “Now, how about we stop talking and simply stare at the girl in total silence. After all, you know what the night zoomers would do to us if they caught us out of our rooms so late.”
“I know,” said Annie, her voice a wee bit softer now. “They would peer at us with their eery glass screens and pull us into that endless realm of nothing.”
The institution shook as thunder roared closer and closer, lighting the midnight sky with random streaks of bright white.
As the last bit of thunder faded to a hush, the television screen turned a solid black, reflecting only Alfie and Annie’s solemn expressions.
Pressing his nose to the screen, Alfie stared intently at himself. He studied each of the many freckles scattered across his pasty cheeks. With a deep frown, he pressed his finger against the small creases in the center of his forehead. He must’ve gotten them from all the stress brought to him by all the mean patients in the institution.
Alfie sighed and shifted his attention towards Annie’s reflection. She was in every way clearly his twin, except her red strands were longer and messier, not having been brushed or washed in at least three weeks. Annie was also a bit taller than Alfie, and her eyes were rounder and wider and her cheekbones were slightly higher.
“Where’d the girl go?” Asked Annie as she stared intently at Alfie.
“I haven’t a clue,” said Alfie with a curious shrug. “The power must’ve gone out.”
“Hmm. It must be a sign we’ve been sitting here for too long,” said Annie. “Perhaps it is time for us to head to our bedroom. We could hide under the quilt and try to sing each other to sleep.”
With this, Annie rose from the floor. And as soon as she did, the television set suddenly turned itself back on, shifting nonsensically through images of two happy children that looked all too similar to them.
“Whoah,” said Alfie and Annie in unison, and they touched the screen with their palms. “Those children look so happy, so peaceful and lovely.”
Their mouths hung wide open as they stared at the television, with drool seeping from their gaped mouths. Their eyes grew heavier and heavier until they eventually found it impossible to keep them open at all. And then, before their brains had a chance to soothingly drift into a sweeping realm of dreams, the television howled with an earsplitting noise that was all but guaranteed to wake the institution’s countless patients.
Through the cap in the door, a bright light shone from the corridor, sending a wave of uneasiness down Alfie’s lanky spine.
Annie tugged at the television’s cord with all her might, but it was no use. Her frail arms weren’t nearly strong enough for wire pulling.
“Won’t you please make it stop? I hear movement.”
She pulled harder, with her tiny black boots pressed firmly against the wall. Her pale face became tomato red as worried wrinkles spread across her freckled forehead.
Alfie sighed before reaching around her and yanking the stubborn cord free from its socket. Finally, the noise stopped. But the corridor stayed bright as faint movement sounded louder and louder from outside the door.
“Oh, good h-heavens. There are night zoomers headed in this direction,” stammered Annie. “You can’t let them find us. You know night zoomers don’t care if you’re the doctor’s favorite. They’ll relentlessly pull us into nothingness without a strand of remorse.”
Without saying a word, Alfie reached for Annie’s hand and they kneeled together behind the television.
“We’ll be safe here so long as we keep quiet,” whispered Alfie. “I know imminent death is rather stressful, but let’s not be like the people in the movies that breathe too loudly and end up getting themselves brutally murdered.”
“Right,” whispered Annie. “We’ve got to be as silent as two timid mice, even more silent than a gloomy funeral on a quiet Sunday morning.”
With a low creak, the bronze door eased open, exposing the room to a sudden stream of bright white light.
With his eyes wide and chest puffed out nervously, Alfie wrapped his fragile arms around Annie and tried his hardest not to breathe heavily.
“Hello?” said an eerily monotonous voice from at the door. “Who’s in here? If you respond fast enough, then I promise to be nice to you.”
Alfie peeked out over the television, taking extra care not to expose any of his face below his curious green eyes. He saw that the monotonous voice belonged to a bronze-faced nurse with hair bluer than most hair, lips pinker than most lips, and eyes redder than most eyes. Standing no taller than a stunted cactus all alone in an endless desert, she wore a snowy white gown covered in a hundred bright red roses. Across her chest was a golden name tag, reading: Rosie.
“A nurse?” Annie whispered. “But I was so sure it’d be a night zoomer at this ungodly hour.”
“I sense enormous fear in here,” said Rosie as her red eyes gazed around the room. “I ask the one who is so fearful to come out from hiding.”
As she spoke, she swung a pretty ripe red rose back and forth in her dainty left hand. The sight of that sent a sharp shiver up Alfie’s malnourished spine. But it wasn’t so much the precious rose that made Alfie’s heart fast. It was the soft mechanical buzzes emitting from Rosie’s arms that frightened him most.
Quickly, Alfie cowered back down. And as he did, he noticed that Annie’s breathing had grown noticeably heavier.
Heart thudding, Alfie squeezed her hand hard, silently pleading for her to quiet down.
“I sense a timid soul in here,” said Rosie as she stepped dramatically forward. “Why would such a timid soul be scared senseless of a puny nurse like me?”
She eased slowly towards the television, then placed her metal hand on it, and sang a soft tune in a gloomy and drab tone:
“I am Rosie, a friend of the divine.
I am Rosie, a friend of all that is fine.
My name is Rosie, after Earth’s prettiest of flowers.
My name is Rosie and everyone that knows it cowers.
But no child need be scared of Rosie, because Rosie is a servant of the doctor.
Now, please raise from the floor and tell me what you’re so scared for.”
And then, to Alfie’s horror, Rosie eased her head over the television and looked emotionlessly down at him.
“Hello, Alfie Azalea.” She said as she clutched her rose behind her back.
“Hello ma’am,” said Alfie. “You look rather lovely today. I like what you’ve done with your hair. It reminds me of a dark dystopian future—in the best way, of course.”
“What a nice thing to say,” said Rosie, though her face stayed impassive as she didn’t truly look flattered at all. “Now, come out from behind there so that I can analyze your brain.”
With unsteady legs, Alfie stood up. He squeezed Annie’s hand tightly as he stared nervously down at the stained white carpet.
“Raise your head and look into my eyes,” said Rosie. “I need to ask you questions. I need to peer inside your brain.”
Trembling like a wet cat that had been left out in a thunderstorm, Alfie reluctantly tilted up his head with large tears streaming down his cheeks.
“There, there. No need to cry,” whispered Rosie as she gently wiped his eyes dry. “I simply need to know why you were out of your room past light’s out. Tell me, were you planning on killing the doctor?”
With loud sniffs, Alfie shook his head.
“I-I’d never dream of it,” he stammered. “I love the doctor too much to kill her. I think she’s absolutely divine.”
Low mechanical buzzes played from Rosie’s ears as her red eyes turned the faintest green.
“Okay. I believe you,” said Rosie. “Perhaps you were planning on escaping the institution. Is that it?”
“No ma’am,” said Alfie. “I consider the institution my home. I want to live here forever.”
Rosie’s eyes now shined a harsher red. The mechanical buzzes from her ears sounded quite loud now.
“Your words prove dishonest,” said Rosie. “You hate it here, and you have thought of escaping the institution a total of eleven thousand eleven times.”
“Um...” said Alfie. He looked nervously towards the door. “I think your brain wiring is flawed. Annie and I have nothing but pure love for the institution.”
“No,” said Rosie. “You hate it. My brain says you have thought about killing one nurse per day in the hope that no one notices their gradual demise. You want to escape the institution and to remove your sister from the pond you drowned her in.”
“T-That’s not true,” stammered Alfie. “I would never think such horrible things, and Annie’s still very much alive. Can’t you see her standing next to me?”
At this, Rosie’s ears made a noise so loud that it sounded like her head was on the verge of exploding. She stared into Alfie’s wide green eyes for an uncomfortably long time before saying, “My brain says you are schizophrenic. Your sister is not standing beside you, because your sister is dead. You drowned her, but the reason why you did that remains unknown.”
Alfie’s heart thudded madly as Rosie spoke. He pressed his hands hard against his ears and tried tuning out the nurse’s loud mechanical buzzing.
“Annie’s right next to me,” said Alfie. “Annie’s right next to me, and you’re a faulty nurse for not seeing her. Your brain is badly damaged.”
Rosie reached for Alfie’s hand, but he jerked it away.
“The doctor has given you medication to keep you from seeing unreal things,” said Rosie. “My brain says you have not been taking your medication. What have you done with your pills?”
“I’ve flushed them down the toilet,” he answered, bluntly. “They made me wake up paralyzed at night and to see truly demonic things in my room. I will never, not in a million years, swallow those pills again.”
Sidestepping Rosie, Alfie pulled at Annie’s hand and, together, they walked gradually towards the door.
“Stop,” said Rosie. She grabbed Alfie’s free wrist with impressive speed. “You cannot walk to your room without being escorted by a nurse. You know the rules.”
Alfie and Annie walked hand in hand as Rosie escorted them to their bedroom.
“She’s an awfully slow walker,” muttered Annie. “The nurses may be able to shoot lasers from their eyes, but they’re slower than snails with itty-bitty backpacks strapped to their shells.”
“Ha,” whispered Alfie. He looked nervously up at Rosie ahead. “Annie, you’re quite comical. Still, I don’t think this is the right time for humor. The tensions are high, and I’m scared that Rosie will kill us if we even dare to smirk.”
“That’s not true,” muttered Annie. “The nurse wouldn’t dare harm you, Alfie. After all, you’re Doctor Poppy’s most favorite patient in all the institution. I mean, she didn’t knit you that sweater with the two of you holding hands for no good reason. She’d have the nurse killed faster than you can say dead beloved twin if she tried anything funny.”
“Maybe you’re right,” said Alfie, frowning at Annie’s unpleasant choice of words. “You know me, though, Annie. You know that I like to be careful when it comes to getting on the nurses’ bad side. Don’t you know it’ll be much harder to escape the institution if they have to keep a keen eye on us?”
When they reached their bedroom door, Alfie shook Rosie’s mechanical hand and explained that he’d never sneak out from his room at such an ungodly hour again.
“I was foolish for trying to watch the television at this time,” said Alfie. “I hope you don’t plan on telling the doctor about this incident.”
“You were foolish,” Rosie agreed. She smiled in a way that looked almost sly in spite of her robotic nature. “Now, try and get some sleep, Alfie. I’ll come back to wake you tomorrow morning, and we can discuss how we’ll escape this institution.”