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A pasta written by Hypodroid on volunteer work and its possible dangers
He liked to volunteer in the psych ward of his local hospital. His real job was as a stockbroker, but the stresses got to him sometimes and he needed an outlet. In the past he’d turned to booze to relieve the pressure, but that had taken him to places he hoped never to revisit.
He didn’t know why it helped him so much to be in the hospital. He didn’t particularly like the crazies they made him work with; in fact he thought most of them were beyond help. He supposed it was really Anna that kept him coming back. Anna was just a little girl, maybe ten or twelve at the most. She shouldn’t really have been in the ward with the adults, but his small town wasn’t wealthy enough to have separate housing for minors. He felt sorry for all the kids who had to bunk with these terminal wackjobs. Or he would, if Anna weren’t the only one there under 35. That just made it sadder, he supposed. He felt a need to protect this little girl from the frightening company she kept, so he had promised himself never to leave as long as she was there.
Anna was probably the least screwed up person in that hospital. She had terrible anxiety any time she left the building. They said if she left she’d probably die from the shock of it. The only thing that seemed to make her feel better was talking, so he’d talk to her for hours on end about even the most inane topics. He felt a need to know everything about her; a need that transcended what should probably have been suitable for their relationship. But Anna seemed so happy when he talked to her that he could never bear to leave her for long. The only subject they avoided was her reasons for being in the ward. He felt that if there was a reason, she would tell him in her own time, and that if he pushed her he might break the connection they had to each other.
Their bond had been growing stronger every day. They were almost close enough to be brother and sister, so close that he no longer pretended to be working with the hospital. He quit his volunteering gig and came in every day, just to be with her. He seemed to even be helping with her anxiety, until one day he found her curled up into a ball on her bunk, sobbing quietly to herself. When he asked her what was wrong, she finally told him why she was in the hospital. She and her mother had been in a car accident with a drunk driver. Her mother had died as a result, and she had had to be hospitalized. She hadn’t talked for months after that. In fact, she had only started talking around the time he had started at the hospital.
Touched by the idea that he might have had some part in Anna’s healing, he felt brave enough to ask her if they’d caught the killer. She told him that they hadn’t, that that was why she couldn’t leave, she was so scared he’d come after her. He tried to comfort her, tell her that a drunk driver wouldn’t even remember her, but nothing helped. Finally, in desperation, he promised to kill the driver if he ever managed to get close to her. That got Anna’s attention, and though she was shocked at the statement’s brutality, it at least got her to stop crying. The rest of the day went normally, but he decided that he would talk to Anna’s doctor before he left.
He hadn’t talked to the doctor before, but everyone at the ward knew him, so he felt no qualms about introducing himself. When he asked about Anna, the doctor seemed extremely keen to hear what she’d said. Apparently no one knew why she was in the ward in the first place, they’d just found her wandering, bloody by the side of the road. Surprised, he told the doctor Anna’s story. At the end, the doctor leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Richard, what you’re telling me is very serious. There isn’t anyone named Anna in this ward. You had a nervous breakdown recently, and have been coming to the hospital for psychiatric sessions. However, you’ve been getting worse, not better. For the last month you haven’t left the ward. Tell me, Richard, do you remember the last time you were at work?”
It was a stupid question. Or course he…no, he’d taken some vacation time off to spend with Anna. How had he forgotten that? But the doctor shook his head. “You were forced to take psychiatric leave. We believe you had some sort of traumatic event, one that triggered your breakdown, and subsequent hallucinations. From what you just told me, I’m inclined to believe you were responsible for an accident while drunk driving.”
He sat their, frozen in shock. This was impossible. He’d quit drinking…right about when he’d started at the ward. No. No. He couldn’t have…but it was rushing back, the erratic light from the headlights as he swerved, the screech of rubber as he saw them, the one, frozen second where he saw a 10-year-old girl screaming from the back seat. When he looked back, the doctor wasn’t there. Anna was sitting in the doctor’s place, saying nothing, just staring at him. He stared back for a second, and then had to look down. He felt so guilty. So, so guilty. And he had made a promise.
Richard picked up the scissors.