Looking Out: A Short Story

I walked through the beautiful gates that enclosed the old brick building. Built in the 1800’s, the San Niccolo psychiatric hospital stood at the gates of the city of Siena. The beautiful roses in the gardens looked like they hadn’t been touched since planting, frozen in time at the peak of their beauty. I went up the hill and tried to get into the building, but it had been turned into a school and was now closed for the late evening. I went around it, the music from the nearby art school my only companion during my walk. 

Behind the building lay a big parking lot that edged on to a lush forest with leaves too green for the cold autumn weather. Something about the forest called me, and I started in a daze down the path that had probably been walked for years. I felt the cold breeze of the dancing trees on my arms and kept walking for a couple minutes before it got too lonely. Apparently, I had walked for too long because the music had disappeared and a feeling of solitude settled in my heart. I wanted to turn back, but the path that was once there was now gone. I must have lost sense of where I was. How far was the way out? To which direction? I only had the option to keep walking. 

After walking for what seemed to be hours, my mind drifted to thoughts of those patients at the hospital long ago. The wind whispered secrets, and tortured screams ringed my ears. Where was I? I couldn’t remember why I was there, and for some reason my mind kept envisioning a blank page with a circle in it. Eternity. 

My feet continued as if moving my themselves; my legs detached from my will to stop walking, stop venturing deep into the forest. It was nighttime now— I had been walking all day. Finally, I saw the edge of the forest and a broad tunnel-like path with light up at its end. I ran as fast as I could, only to reach a tall gate. I held on to the bars as I looked out but only saw the hospital across the street. The lights were on, as if people were inside. Not students though. Patients.  I yelled for someone to open the gates and let me out of the darkness that surrounded me. I tugged at the gate in desperate hope that they would open, my screams turning into exhausted mumbling. I wanted to get out. 

Steel Gate of Brown Brick Building Pixaby/Pexels I sat down next to the gate as my legs grew weak, staring at the hospital as the lights turned off and the night grew quiet. There was one window, though, wide open, and a young woman gazed out. I squinted my eyes, and the harder I looked the more I realized that she was staring back at me her warm gaze looking at me with a sadness. She pitied me, trapped in the cold night with no one to come help me. And I stared right back. I knew her. I didn’t know how, but I did. I felt her loneliness. Her eyes piercing, like they knew something else that I didn’t. 

I finally got the strength to stand up and walk around in the darkness, trying to see if I could find another way out, but as I dove deeper into the inky night, the image of the circle became louder in my head. Circles, I was walking in circles! I finally dropped and cried into my hands, realizing I wouldn’t get out, I was there. Suddenly, I looked down at my clothes. I was wearing a hospital robe. No. I wasn’t wearing that earlier. I couldn’t remember now. What was I doing there? I looked around. I stood in a graveyard, my name engraved on every stone. Had I lost my mind? 

Pixabay Then it clicked in my head. I had been there. I was there all along. The woman staring out from the window was me. Waiting for the sun to come out so she could go on a walk and take my place again. Circles. I was going in circles. Looking out for the sun to rise, just to come back to the pitch-black night and lay on the same land where I had been laying since 1881.