Mac and Alice continued through the hall and made several turns down seemingly identical halls until they reached a door with a label above it that read: "Art Room". It was the first door that Mac had seen with any distinguishable feature on it, and until then, he had been seriously wondering if Alice actually knew where she was going. When she opened the door, the first thing he noticed was the carpet. Stained beautifully with every color of the rainbow and nearly every variation thereof, it was unlike any carpet he had ever seen. The least common color present appeared to be white, which Mac guessed was its original color as the rare white patches didn't seem like the product of paint in the way that the others did.
"I found the new patient everyone was talking about!" Alice announced excitedly.
Mac continued marveling at the floor for a few moments more, before looking up to see who she was addressing. Standing at various points around the room (in front of either an easel or a small table with a pad of paper) were seven others. Four of them barely acknowledged Alice's entrance, and the other three only quietly looked up from their work to briefly offer a greeting. Alice didn't seem to care that no one shared her enthusiasm and proceeded to lead Mac around the room, introducing him to everyone she came to.
"This is Steven. He's very talented in the arts," Alice explained, "he used to be a musician." Steven, a tall thin man in his forties with a handsome face that looked perpetually deep in thought, looked up again to say hello. Mac hesitantly offered his hand for a handshake, as if unsure whether or not the man would attack it. To Mac's relief, he didn't, but his only response was a grimace and a shake of the head as he said, "I don't really do that."
Mac observed him carefully, confused and slightly perturbed. Alice seemed to think nothing of this encounter, and complimented Steven on his artwork. Turning his attention to the painting on Steven's easel, Mac found what he thought to be the worst abstract painting he had ever seen. It consisted of several rows of different sized multicolored blocks, alternating between a blackish green, a pale lavender, and a neon yellow. He tried to see what exactly Alice found beautiful about it, but all that came to mind was its resemblance to a trash heap out back of a florist's shop. Steven looked on it with pride, and Mac began to wonder if they were only just pretending to like it. Before he could finish formulating a fake compliment to say, Alice pulled him away to meet more of her friends.
After a brief introduction to a quiet man in his thirties named Craig, who seemed far more interested in painting the canvas white than talking to a new arrival, Alice introduced Mac to a dark haired girl named Natalie. She looked a little older than Alice, and had darker skin, giving her an exotic beauty. Mac tried to guess her nationality, but she could have been anything from Indian to Middle Eastern.
"That's an interesting painting," Alice commented, crouching to talk to her, as she was sitting cross-legged in front of a very short easel. Mac followed suit, and began to survey her artwork. Seven concentric circles covered the canvas, each a darker shade of blue the closer they got to the centre, where there was a shaded black one.
"Indeed," Natalie responded mystically, "The night is always darkest in the eye of the storm."
Mac looked at Alice as if to ask whether she understood what had just been said, but she just smiled warmly back at him.
As Mac examined the room, with its mountains of canvas and shelves of assorted art supplies, he began to wonder exactly what sort of asylum he was in.
"So, they just let you have all of this? You don't have to stay in your room all day or anything?"
"This is ward 'B', which is only for the patients they consider the least dangerous and the most important," Alice explained, "they give us all of the best stuff!"
"And they just let you wander around?"
Alice paused and stopped smiling. "Well, not exactly. Most of the day we have to be somewhere, and we only get about two hours of free time with each other every day, but all of the stuff they make us do is really fun, and whenever we're not doing something the time while we're in our rooms is really relaxing."
Mac tried halfheartedly to smile, but the girl's optimism was starting to scare him. He felt like something was off, and even though he couldn't put it into words, there was something ominous about the whole situation.
Alice didn't introduce him to the others, and instead sat him down with a pencil and a pad of paper. He was about to ask why not, but stopped himself, realizing that he didn't actually want to meet anyone. On top of that, he didn't feel like drawing anything. All Mac felt like doing was getting out of this prison and going home. He doubted his parents were working on getting him out, given that they barely knew what college he attended. Running through a list in his head, he tried to decide which of his family members might actually care that he was in a mental institution. His uncle and his older brother were the only ones that he really expected to help him, but his brother probably wouldn't be notified. On top of that, they hadn't talked in a while given that he was busy with graduate school in California, halfway across the country. Mac decided that his uncle was his best bet, and ran through all of the ways he might be able to get in touch with him from within the hospital.
About an hour passed without Mac touching his pencil or paper. Alice asked him a couple times if he was ok, but she stopped after receiving a wordless glare. Eventually, a piercing tone rang out from unseen speakers, and everyone stood up. Mac jumped. Alice guessed his question before he asked it.
"That's so we know it's time to go to the cafeteria. You can talk to the guy in charge there if you still want to."
Mac's heart leapt as the thought of freedom entered his mind.
"Show me how to get there."
As the thirty or so patients piled into the cafeteria, they began to form a line parallel to the back wall. The chairs and tables that Mac assumed were normally scattered around the room laid folded up in stacks to the side. Guards in black armed with nothing but what resembled a small television remote stood in pairs near the exits and along the walls. A heavyset angry looking man with a thick beard stood centre stage, and as the patients settled down and found their way into the line, all eyes turned to him.
"Excuse me, sir?" Mac asked, trying to be polite so as to not seem crazy. The man ignored him.
"Arms out!" he yelled. The patients simultaneously held out the wrist that was constricted by the plastic device Mac had noticed earlier. One of the guards pulled out an object that resembled the gun cashiers use to scan products. He walked slowly along the line, scanning each device as he passed. One after another, the green lights on each device blinked red as a loud beep was heard. The man with the beard held a tablet computer which he studied intently as the beeps continued. He looked up when he noticed they had stopped, and only the sound of two people arguing remained.
"Hold out your wrist please," the guard said, clutching his head in his free hand as if he had a migraine.
"Please, sir, you have to check the patient list, I'm not supposed to be here. There's been some kind of mistake."
"Of course there has," the guard spat, rolling his eyes.
"What's the commotion over there? Why has the roll call stopped?" demanded the bearded man, walking over to where Mac and the guard stood. The fear in the air was palpable, as several of the patients audibly gasped. Mac wasn't sure what they were afraid of, and turned to address him.
"I'm completely sane, I think I must be here on some mistake, can you check my name on the list?"
"Scan him," the man told the guard, who forcefully seized Mac's wrist and held it to the gun. The device beeped, and the man with the beard looked down at his tablet.
"Well it says here that you were examined by a Dr. Rachofsky, and diagnosed with some psychological impairment or another. It looks like you do belong here, unless your name is something other than Mackenzie Johnson."
"Mr. Rachofsky? The door to door salesman? That can't be right, I'm not psychologically impaired!"
"Mr. Johnson, please calm down," the guard said in a monotone voice. He began to move on to the next patient, but Mac grabbed his arm.
"No, wait! You have to check again! I'm not crazy!"
The guard stopped and turned to glare furiously at him.
"Let go of my arm." He said, his voice dangerously quiet. Mac felt a wave of fury burst through him.
"You're going to take me to whoever the hospital director is, and you're going to take me right now," he demanded, instantly wondering why he was being so aggressive. If anything he should have been frightened, but all he felt now was spite.
The guard held up a remote with his free hand and pointed it at Mac's face.
"Boy, I'm warning you."
"Mr. Johnson, let go of him," commanded the bearded man, who also had his remote out. The other patients were frozen, mouths agape in horror of the scene transpiring before them. Alice bit her lip.
"I'm not letting go until you take me to whoever-"
A wall of pain hit him mid sentence, and he fell to the ground screaming. After what felt like an eternity, the pain stopped as swiftly as it began. Mac found himself lying on the ground twitching.
"Cause trouble like that again and you'll get a nastier shock," the man with the beard said, "Everyone may now eat. The next tone will signal curfew."
Mac looked up at the guard standing over him. "I'll sue you for everything you own," he said weakly. The guard snorted. "I'll take my chances," he retorted before walking out of the room behind the man with the beard. The door closed behind them, crushing Mac's last hope for freedom.