Title: Variable Stars
Author: Girl Who Writes
Word Count: 3351
Genre: Romance, Drama, Angst
Summary: And she opens her arms and her heart to that anger, that righteous fury, the power, and the creeping fear. It nestles deep and close, finally and indelibly rewrites Mary-Alice and what she will become.
Notes: My final fic for JaliceWeek 21: Powerswap! This idea was suggested as a joke, and it grew logic and feelings and I had to write it 3 It's one of three chapters, so settle in.
I had so much fun this JaliceWeek! Everyone should read the entries for this round, because there were so many incredible ideas and fics!
mary alice brandon.
What did you think would happen?
The panic is an animal scrambling to get out, pushing against her chest and her throat. She tries not to cry, but she's shaking and she's heard the screams that comes out of the room at the end of the hall.
Her face aches, where the orderly hit her to get her to move faster. She's ice cold - it might be winter, she's lost track of time - but other than the ugly brown sweater she's been given, the one that hangs to her knees because nothing fits her right.
"Please," she asks in a thin voice. When she was little, she had had a lisp. Her mother had called it 'darling', but her father wanted her to speak properly. And when she couldn't, it was better she stayed quiet. She out-grew it eventually, but sometimes, when she's tired or frightened, she can hear the ghost of it - another part of her old self that haunts her.
(She remembers her mama wasting away, lying on the chaise in the sitting room, looking like she was fading away. She'd sing and cuddle the new baby, but Mary Alice got a kiss on the forehead and an apology, "I'm so sorry, my darling. I'm so, so sorry." She used to think that the apology was for dying and leaving Alice alone without a mother. She knows better now.)
They march her into the room, badly lit and tiny. She is stripped of her sweater and helped roughly onto the bed, with the tight sheet and the rubber rest for her head. The doctor looks at her like a dead thing, and her breathing speeds up. She tries to twist the hem of her clothing in her hands but they are quickly pinned and strapped to the bed, her ankles too (the straps are loose, she's too small for this bed).
A hunk of greasy rubber is shoved into her mouth so far she nearly chokes; the taste of it is rancid and nausea swirls as she feels the indentations of other teeth, other mouths. She feels like she's going to faint, everything is so blurry. But there's a slap to her face and something is fitted around her head and no one has spoken to her, acknowledged her or explained.
She's never been so frightened in her life. She's shaking and the nurse stares down at her with a bored expression on her face, and there's three blood drops on the woman's uniform.
One, two, three.
And Mary-Alice Brandon screams.
(She was thirteen years old. A ward of the state. A hopeless case. The perfect little guinea pig for the experimental new treatment. Much more efficient than chasing a screaming child around, to force the Metrazol down her throat.)
(They should have waited until she was older, of course. But the doctor's ego and arrogance were too much, made him too impatient to wait. It wasn't so much that the future changed - it did, of course - but that the girl who was little Mary-Alice was altered, irreversibly and forever. And that made all the difference.)
Three. Three becomes her number.
It took three men to drag her from home in the dead of night (one broke her arm. How pleased her father must have been that they were in such a large house where there were no close neighbours to hear her screams.)
She was thirteen - one-three - when they first push electricity into her poor brain. (Unlucky Mary-Alice.)
She gets three shots, morning and night, bruises blooming like ink in water. (They made her head swim and the world soft. They make her stomach twist and her bones ache. They make her words slow and run together. They steal all of her away.)
She has three different orderlies - the one that twitches and is cold as ice (he doesn't hit her); the one that calls her names and threatens her (he hits and slaps and pushes her); and the one that comes in to her cell at night (he touches her too much, and is always the one that takes her to the bath.)
Three times a week, she's marched to the door at the end of the hall and they hook her into the machine and they look at her like she's something wrong and foul. (She screams and cries and vomits and wets herself. She breaks an ankle because the loops are too loose and she thrashes. They were never fitted to hold a child down.)
She starts looking for threes. She's broken two bones, she needs to break another. She sees two doctors who shake their heads and write down notes, and she wonders when they'll bring in a third. She counts the bites of her food to keep them down, curdled and sour in her belly. She counts her steps everywhere she goes, counts the slaps and pinches and shoves they give her.
Three, three, three.
The fizz and pop of the machine steals things. It takes her awhile to realise that. At first, it was just time; hours vanish like smoke. Then it was words - she stammers and mumbles and slurs. Then it was memories, what happened before the room.
Then it's her family, her mother's face vanishing and her sister's laughter fading.
(Someone said sorry to her a long time ago. It doesn't soothe the hurt.)
Then it's her full name. Mary-Alice Brandon. Mary-Alice.
(She doesn't answer to Alice, only to Mary.)
Then it's her vision. It goes blurry and dark around the edges, and even when she wakes up in her cot, it doesn't go away. When she tells someone, they huff and shrug and dismiss it - it stops the pictures in her brain so it is worth giving up her sight.
They call her schizophrenic, a word that sounds like static, and a lot of other things. She hasn't mentioned the visions in a long time; what good are they when she is locked up in cell? When she is convulsing in pain and forgetting everything she ever loved, and shivering in the dark?
(She learns to live without her sight. She relies on her visions sometimes, but mostly, herself. Fingers tracing walls, feet gingerly testing out uneven floor. They let her stumble, and mutter about her blank, cloudy stare. A doctor does examine her eyes, but there is nothing to be done. Perhaps they can prevent this happening to another patient, but for Mary-Alice Brandon, it's just unfortunate.)
It steals everything except fear. It feeds the fear well, and she knows she's going to die in this place, hollowed out so that the fear can fill her up. She can see the graves from the window of the laundry, where other patients have died. She has no illusions; those are the dead from the other wards. People who might have gotten to go home again, people who get to eat in a dining room, and take pills instead of shots, who knit for the soldiers and write letters to their loved ones.
People from the basement ward go on to their next life via the boiler room. She knows the stench of that intimately.
(Three people come to the hospital one day - a man, a woman, and a child; the day between her sessions. They are very important because she gets an extra bath and clean clothes, and the orderly brings her in a wheelchair. She cannot see them properly, just shadows and shapes in her gaze. The doctor makes them sit behind her as she answers questions and gives her puzzles to solve. She doesn't know much, and she can't get her hands to move properly or stop shaking. The man behind her keeps telling the doctor how 'good' it is, and she has a grim feeling her failure pleases him.)
(She's going to die here, and end up being swept away with a broom.)
It takes three years for them to break her, to curdle the fear in her heart to rage. To let hate swell in her heart. She fights back sometimes, learns to bite and scratch.
(They break her other arm, and there's the third broken bone. That's just fine with her, the heavy plaster cast makes a lovely noise against the face of the orderly who won't stop touching her.)
She spits and swears and tells everyone the truth. A husband will die, a wife will run away. A child will drown. Debt, loss, prison, she spits her fortunes out with relish, and there are more shots and more slaps, but she doesn't care.
(She fights like a feral cat when they take her to the room now, fights away from the pain of the device lighting up her brain. It can do nothing more for her, she knows that, than it already has and now they are just using it to cook her brain a little more, until she is soft and pliable like their other victims. She won't go down like that, won't let them make her into those people. She gets a few good hits in, and she's sure they make the machine hurt her worse.)
The cold orderly is the only one who can manage her these days, and she is grateful when she becomes his problem. No more touching, no more hitting. He talks to her in a low, calm voice - "I cannot stop them or any of this yet, little one. But I can try to stop the worst of it."
She lets him help. She is quiet and docile when he escorts her places. She takes her medications and does as she's bid and it works, a little. She cannot escape the room at the end of the hallway, cannot stop all the slaps, but some of her bruises get to heal.
(When the cold sets in, he brings her clothes warm from the laundry; he smuggles her mugs of weak tea in tin cups, and swaps rancid porridge for an extra bit of stale bread on her tray. He lies to the doctors that she was ill, and unfit for her ice bath. He makes things a little better for her. In her dreams, she thinks about him falling in love with her, taking her away and marrying her. She doesn't love him, but she sees her freedom in his kindness, and there are far worse ways to live than quietly married to such a man. If she ever had dreams for her life, the machine has eaten them all away and that's comforting, because she would hate to realise how far she's fallen.)
The shock therapy still demands its pound of flesh, and her memory gets worse. He writes her name in big black letters on the wall next to her pillow, but she certainly cannot see it to read it. So he carefully chips it into the wall, where her fingers can feel out the letters.
Mary-Alice. Mary-Alice. She is Mary-Alice.
(Sometimes he reads her things from her file. She's sixteen years old. She's from Biloxi, Mississippi. She is a ward of the state with no family - her surname is redacted in the earliest papers, and she is referred to as Miss Smith in all the later ones. She became blind when she was fourteen and a half. She is in the hospital for a laundry list of conditions that are, according to her doctors, incurable.
She has been here since she was twelve.)
The rage finds a good home inside of her. It wraps around the grief and fear, and it is comforting in a new way. It lays roots to remake her into something else, something she might be, could be. Nothing better nor worse.
It all goes wrong on a Wednesday. She knows it is a Wednesday because it is a treatment day. It is also bath day, and the day the priest comes round to pray at their doors, too cowardly to venture closer to the insane, the stricken as if they are contagious or tainted, somehow.
(There are few in the basement that are truly terrible. They struggle and fight because of their fear of the pain, of the suffering, not for any other reason. Most of the patients are soft and dull, drugged and crippled into quiet obedience. There is no reason to fear them, truly. They're all half-dead, anyway.)
It's also a dreadful day because her orderly is not here, and they've been forced to deal with her alone. Her head rings from the hits she took, her shoulder aching. Her throat is sore and her stomach is churning and she is sick of hearing how God will forgive her and welcome her into His house. She has done nothing that requires forgiveness, her orderly assured her of that.
(She cannot remember his name, no matter how many times he tells her. He tells her it is okay. She will remember one day.)
"Shut up!" she finally screams at the priest, who is hidden in the hallway with his Bible and his sermon. "There is no God!" She means to say 'here', in this place, where an orderly held her under the water of her bath this morning to punish her, as she thrashed and struggled. Her chest still aches and she wishes she had drowned. She screams it over and over again, hot tears on her cheeks as her brain and mouth stutter and struggle to get the words out as she means them.
"God is dead (here)!"
"G-God is dead!"
She can't get it right, can't untangle her words and thoughts to make sense and the frustration and weakness makes her cry harder, makes the words harder.
It's the wrong thing to say anyhow, because then another orderly comes, and the priest is yelling at her, condemning her and then there are two nurses and a doctor and she gets to go to her standing appointment early because she's behaving so badly, her arms bent behind her so she has to hunch over. The priest makes the sign of the cross over her and she spits and screams when one of the nurses slaps her.
(God is dead and so is logic. She never understood why they bathed her before they shocked her; she almost always wets herself, bites through her lip, or gets a nose bleed. She is always a reeking mess afterwards, and they act like they haven't set her up for failure.)
She's hurled on the bed, and held down, and the doctor holds her jaw so tight she knows there will be finger prints on her cheeks.
"We may have to increase your treatments, Mary, if you do not remember your manners," he says, a cool and arrogant voice washing over her - he is just a wobbly shadow in her corrupted gaze.
She manages to spit on him, sort of, and he slaps her too, and jams the rubber mouth guard into her mouth, holding it there and forcing her to choke. She writhes and kicks and no one has tied her down yet.
They manage to restrain her, and she can feel the doctor's pleasure as he pulls the lever and the pain…
… it is a wild thing, roaring through her like a fire. It burns like a fire too, and sinks into her brain, her bones, her mind and soul. It cripples her and changes her. It rattles around in her and all she can think is that one day she will hurt this doctor, hurt these people just as bad. She will burn the doctor to blistered flesh, to ragged charcoal, to see how fair and fine such treatment is. She has survived so long with this experimental treatment, with having different voltages, different wires and placements and techniques, without any gratitude or assurance.
Just the never-ending rolling pain and fear.
(And she opens her arms and her heart to that anger, that righteous fury, the power, and the creeping fear. It nestles deep and close, finally and indelibly rewrites Mary-Alice and what she will become.)
Her speech is nearly gone after. She slurs and mumbles and doesn't get up off of her cot. It's over for her, the last flicker of herself realises. They move her around like a marionette; she is just a bunch of loose limbs and dead eyes. They stick her with needles and smile at her, satisfied that she's finally broken and docile.
(One step closer to the boiler in the basement.)
They watch her body arch in pain at the shock of an ice bath, watch her twitch and shake with another seizure, ones that have made her their home over the last few years. But these are getting worse, and sometimes there are only minutes before the next one wracks through her.
(They hurt her, make her body ache worse and her mouth taste like blood.)
Her cold orderly has returned, and he is still kind. He keeps her clean and warm, patiently feeds her dainty bites of inedible food. He talks to her and comforts her. When he thinks she is asleep, he tells her how unforgivable the state in which she lives is; that this was cruel and pointless, and she deserves so much better, so much more. He tells her of gardens and oceans, castles and beaches. He brings a flower, a leaf, some slightly greasy sheep's wool that he guides her hands over so that she can remember good things.
(She dreams of a boy offering her a flower; it's white.)
It's only after she dreams of the man with the red eyes that she tries to talk again. She sees the man with ruby eyes, his mouth smeared scarlet. She hears screaming, desperate screaming and babbling, and then nothing. She sees her own body, her throat torn to meat, laid out in the surgical room in front of frowning doctors. They mutter and murmur and try to translate the mess of her throat, her broken legs, her cracked and torn nails, the three broken vertebrae.
Her nudity upon her discovery.
(Of course, it's easy to say that the girl was insane, escaping and discarding her clothing getting attacked by wild animals - perhaps she fell, broke her legs and her back and that's when the animals arrived on the hunt. Anyhow, it truly doesn't matter. The girl is really a woman, and has been a ward of the state so long that only the very oldest workers recall her full name. She is wrapped up and sent to the basement, nothing more than a footnote in the day's happenings.)
She wakes up panicking, and the nurses do not like her noise, and so they have extra shots for her, a straitjacket and a stern lecture. She gasps and croaks and tries to explain.
The cold orderly is there, trying to protect her from the rough treatment but disguised as trying to wrangle her. She tries to tell him, tries to explain there's a hunter in their midst, a hunter coming for her to start with and maybe others but her head and tongue are muddled, so it just comes out as croaks of, "Red man, red man, red man."
The shots pierce her flesh and she wails like a child because she doesn't want to die like that.
Doesn't want to die.
(She just wants to live. Just once. Just for a little while.)
The orderly is no fool.
But neither is the hunter.
The future ripples and changes once more.
Down south, amongst the dust and blood of the Wars, a soldier goes rogue, a Major deserts, and the Lady of Monterrey rages.
Up north, a family packs their things, ready to move on. Again.
And in the mud and mire of Mississippi, the girl who was supposed to be Alice Cullen stares dead-eyed into the stars as the venom creeps through her, changing her fate once and forever.