Authors: Mindy McGinnis
For all who struggle in darkness
hey all had their terrors.
The new girl believed that spiders lived in her veins.
Her screams sliced through the darkness, passing through the thin walls of Grace's cell and filling her brain with another's misery to add to the pressures of her own. Grace pulled her pillow tight over her ears, ignoring the feather shafts that poked through the cheap muslin and pricked her skin. On the other side of the wall she could hear Mrs. Clay shifting in her bed, sleep stolen from both patients by the new girl, who hadn't learned yet that screaming didn't bring help.
Quite the opposite.
The ward door crashed open, the metal clanging against the stone wall and bringing cries from all corners as patients rushed
away from the noise and whatever fresh hell it brought. The girl screamed louder, ignorantly drawing her tormentors to her. Grace identified the dragging gait of the women's ward administrator as they passed her cell, followed by Dr. Heedson's lighter step.
An unintelligible string of words from the new girl was silenced by a sharp crack. Another slew of syllables that meant nothing brought the harsh snap of a kick. Grace jammed her fingers into her ears until all she could hear was her heart as it pushed blood through her body, no matter how she wished for it to stop. The new girl wasn't learning the efficacy of silence, the art of invisibility. Grace had given up speech long ago. Once the words
had done nothing, the others refused to come out, their inadequacy making the effort necessary to voice them an equation too easily solved. Grace curled into a protective ball as Croomes and Heedson left the ward, the whimpers of the new girl trailing in their wake. Grace could deafen herself with her own hands and squeeze her eyes shut so tightly that the muscles in her face twitched in agony. But the acuity of her memory was a dark artist at work in her mind, painting pictures without her permission.
She moaned, pressing her forehead into the sharp ridges of her kneecaps. They poked through her threadbare nightgown into her eyelids, sending sparks across her sight, defying her dearest wishâto stop seeing. Faces were the most painful and the most likely to surface in the dark hours of the night. The spider girl's moans had
conjured her mother's face in exquisite detail, each finely etched wrinkle apparent as she grimaced under whatever new indignity had been brought upon her, the edges of her lips permanently stained with wine.
Grace turned her head from the apparition, tentatively drawing her fingers from her ears. The ward had returned to silence, but her brain would almost welcome strings of gibberish in the dark, anything to send her thoughts on another avenue than the one it had chosen. It barreled on, resurrecting her father's face twisted into a paroxysm no daughter should ever witness.
Her cry broke the stillness, bringing movement from Mrs. Clay's cell. A soft humming threaded through the air, the only comfort her friend could offer through the walls that separated them. Grace latched on to the notes, following the pattern until she learned it. She joined in soundlessly, the silence she'd enveloped herself with too sacred to break. Her mind toyed with the notes, happy to be busy. She relaxed as it allowed itself to be bent to her whim, tracing the pattern of the lace cloth at home instead of the faces around the table. Grace's hand fell to her belly as she drifted into sleep, cradling the life that grew there.
They all had their terrors, but at least the spiders that lived in the new girl's veins were imaginary. Grace had learned long ago that the true horrors of this world were other people.