The Madhouse

It was the summer of 1929 when I first found the house. I was roaming Central Park with my best friend, Cass. It was cold, and our breaths were white in the air. The hum of the factories was louder in the still snow. It was silent on the streets of New York City, like a ghost town. I took a step into the snow, testing it with my finger. I quickly jump-stepped back inside the little awning space of one of the stores.

“It’s cold!” I whisper-shrieked. Cass nudged me, a grin on her face.

“Be careful or you’ll end up like that fellow Miss Anne told us about!” she whispered back.

“Lost all his toes!” I whispered back loudly.

“His wife wouldn’t even let him in!” Cass giggled.

“She thought he was some thug!” I giggled, poking Cass in the stomach. She let out a shriek, and then she covered her mouth with her hands, staring at me wide-eyed. I stared back at her.

“Andy, what if we get caught!” she whispered back, so fast that she didn’t even make any white breath.

“C’mon, let’s go! Cook packed us food to eat at the tree!” I said, stepping into the snow, tucking a loose strand of my short golden blonde-ish hair behind my ear. I could see the fear in Cass’s dark blue eyes, but she stepped out reluctantly and followed me through the falling snow. I grabbed her hand and broke into a run, running up Central Park, our long skirts flying behind us as we dodged street vendors and horses, through people and through trees, the snow biting at us. But we kept running, because we could never, ever, do this in the school. Why, if they saw us, we would be skinned alive!

When we finally stopped, we were at the foot of our tree, the one that we loved, because of those low branches that were perfect for climbing, and the dark, soft, leaves that concealed us from prying eyes as we shared stories and ate snacks that the maids had packed us. I swung up the branch and climbed up to the perfect branch, with the prettiest view of the city, where no one could see us. Cass climbed up and sat next to me, swinging her legs to get rid of her jitters. I reached into my long, dark, brown coat and took out my metal lunch pail. I set it in between us and I took off the gloves that my mother had insisted I wear, to keep my hands delicate and pretty, perfect for anything that an upper-class girl would do. I much preferred to do things with calloused, worked, hands, which showed that I deserved my life, rather than delicate hands, because I couldn’t defend myself with delicacy.

I looked at Cass’s gloved hands, and I felt a wave of guilt pass through me. If I had watched her last winter, she wouldn’t have fallen and gotten that scar… I thought, hurriedly unlatching the cold metal as it fell open, leaving me to scramble and put my gloves back on in the hopes of warming up my hands. I reached in, taking out a small container with hot soup in it. I found two spoons. I handed one to Cass and we both leaned into the middle, eating the soup, savoring the taste of good chicken in the freezing cold. When we were done, I put it back in and took out a little wax paper-wrapped brownie. We both gasped in delight and I split it in half, remembering enough of my manners to give her the bigger half and keep my mouth closed while I chewed. I climbed down when we were done, and we looked up at the large building that was being built, and we could see it peeking through the trees.

“It’s the Empire State Building!” Cass whispered, because neither of us wanted to disturb the peace.

“Supposed to be the tallest in the world!” I whispered back, imitating Cass’s excited little sentences, that showed her naive-ness.

“Yeah.” she breathed. I looked at her.

“I hate to say it, but we should head back to my house.” I said. She nodded, her dark brown curls bouncing. I could tell she was in another place, probably thinking of her ugly scar, re-living the memory, as I had done many times. I squeezed her hand and she blinked out of it. We broke into a run, navigating the streets. However, the streets became unfamiliar. The buildings were still nice, but they weren’t mine, or Cass’s. Cass tugged on my hand.

“Andromeda, what’s that house? I don’t remember it.” she said, pointing to a brick house with peeling paint on the boards. It looked old, like someone just didn’t want it fixed any more than it had to be.

“I don’t know, but we should go home.” I said, looking for a street sign.

“Andromeda, let’s look inside.” she said, walking towards it. I found a street sign. Oh, a block away from my house!

“Cass, my house is a block away! Let’s just go home.” I said, but Cass was walking towards it. “Cass, let’s go home.” I said, more forcefully this time. She didn’t even blink. “CASS!” I yelled at her, shaking her shoulders. She just kept walking. “Cassidy Sage Levy, I do not appreciate your rudeness.” I glared at her. It was like she was in some type of trance. I stepped in front of her. She walked around me. “Fine. Ignore me.” I said, stomping off, but I couldn’t even get to the corner in my guilt. I stomped back, looking for her, but she wasn’t there. I felt panic sweep over me, and I remembered her walking to the house. I ran to the house, flinging open the door.

It was darker than anyone would think that a house could be, and as I stepped inside, I felt as if I was walking in literal nothingness. Then a candle was lit as if by magic in the pitch black, revealing a rusty old toy monkey, its eyes empty, as if scratched out. I heard a scream, which sounded like Cass.

“CASS!” I yelled, looking around frantically. A musical note struck my attention, and I turned to see the monkey, creaking as its mouth opened and closed, music sounding throughout the house.

Welcome to the Madhouse,

Welcome to the Madhouse,

We’re all mad here.

The monkey sang, the lyrics echoing. It continued as a light switched on in another corner, revealing a woman, her eyes gouged out, blood staining her innocent white dress.

This is Sarah,

She saw too much,

So now she’s here to see

so much

The woman smiled at the monkey and sat down in the pool of blood, beginning to trim her nails. Another light flicked on, this one revealing a man with a suit and a beard. He smiled at me, too, but I realized with a shock that in his hand was a bloody cleaver.

This is James,

He wanted to see,

What it was like

To live forever happily.

Now he knows that

Happy comes last,

First comes murder,

And happy is after that!

The monkey chanted, the mouth moving up and down in a haunting rhythm. I gaped at the ill-fated people before the light revealed another person, this one a young boy, a frown upon his face, but someone had carved a smile in his face with a knife, the blood still trickling down his face.

This is Levi,

He smiled too little,

So now he can smile until he’s brittle!

The monkey went on, and I couldn’t help but wonder if my fate was the same as theirs. Another light switched on, revealing a pretty girl about my age with dark brown curls and dark blue eyes. She smiled at me, and I realized that she was wearing the same clothes as Cass, and in fact, was that Cass?!

This is Cassidy,

Don’t you remember?

The time when she fell,

This time last winter?

“Oh, no, no, NO!” I screamed at her. “CASS!” I yelled, tears running down my face.

She doesn’t,

All she knows,

Is this little house,

And oh,

here she goes!

Cass took a step towards me, the smile still on her face. She looked so innocent, so…peaceful. She had a hand behind her back, and she reached out to me with her other gloved hand.

Andromeda, come,

it’s painless here.

No one makes fun

of me for my scar, here!

She sang, and another tear leaked out of my eye. Of course the house spoke to her. She was already deformed. It was calling out to her. “It’s fun! If you come, we can hang out all day, and Monkey promised brownies! There are bad times coming, Andromeda. We can stay here in endless fun!” she said, smiling innocently, as if it was the easiest, best, thing in the world.

“Cass, listen to me. Look at these people. We will die if we stay here. We have to go!” I said to her, my voice frantic. I grabbed her hand. She shook her head, clucking disapprovingly. She mimicked the monkey, and the next lyrics came on as a light switched on in the back.

This is your spot Andromeda,

What did you do?

You refused your gift Andromeda,

And that’s very rude.

And Andromeda,

Bad girls need to be punished.

She chanted. I looked at her, wide eyed, as the monkey chanted the final verse, the last verse I would ever hear.

Welcome to the madhouse,

Welcome to the madhouse,

We’re all mad here.

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