As she stood before him, she suddenly became aware that this was all in vain. Her light gray eyes skimmed the room to avoid looking into his calm blue ones. White walls with portraits of people she didn’t know and would never know, a wooden desk with busts and papers so neatly arranged it almost appeared sterile, a bookshelf filled with more books than anyone could read in a lifetime, a few cushioned chairs; these were the contents of his office. The sunset burned through the large window and illuminated her white gown with a fiery light. He sat in a chair behind the desk and smiled passively, waiting for her to speak the words she could no longer find. There was a speck of something red on his white coat. She wondered if it was blood.

“What it is that you need, Amanda?” There was no impatience in his voice; his words were naturally smooth and controlled. She shook her head gently and inhaled as deeply and slowly as she could.

“I want to leave,” she said with as much force as she could muster through her anxiety. She lifted her eyes and forced herself to look directly at him. She immediately knew he wouldn’t let her go. Her gaze dropped to the possible drop of blood on his coat and she refused to let herself wonder how it got there. Bad things happened when her imagination drifted.

“Amanda, I don’t think you want to do that.” His smile was so pleasant her lips twitched to imitate it. “You’re very safe here, this is your home.” The blue of his eyes had a way of assuring her this was true.

No, Amanda, said a voice inside of her, you know who he is, you know what he is. You can’t stay here any longer or he will never let you leave. She took a deep breath and tried again.

“I’m leaving,” she breathed, but the fear inside of her had already begun to take of hold of her. Desperate to relieve the tension building inside of her, she began to ball up her fists, squeeze her fingernails into her palm, and release slowly. Outside of the window, the sunset lit the autumn field with a golden light. Golden light on a golden world. The reddish yellow trees waved gently in the breeze.

“Amanda, why do you want to leave?” His words were too gentle, his tone too soft. She suddenly felt as though she had somehow hurt him by asking to abandon him.

Don’t let him manipulate you, Amanda. He’ll kill you in your sleep, now. He knows you’re going to escape if he doesn’t release you. Amanda felt herself quiver. She bit her lip, dug her nails more deeply into her palms and tried to regain herself, but it was too late. Desperately, she looked up at him, hoping he couldn’t see her fear. She knew instantly he had seen right through her; his eyes burrowed deep into her core. She realized she was not safe from him, that she was totally in his power and part of her was relieved by it. The golden world outside of the window was like a horrible faerie tale; it was the world that had produced both Mother Theresa and Charles Manson. Was there a place for her amongst the saints and murderers?

You die here, Amanda, or try to live a life out there! Those are your only choices now. Do you want to die in this place? Do you want to die at all?

She was afraid. The fear in her was more real than the office she stood in or the trees outside. Everything felt distant and surreal. For a moment, her mind clouded over entirely and only the voice was a reality. Amanda, look at him! He can even read your mind! He knows what I’m saying, Amanda! You must pull yourself together and get out of this place before you’re lost forever to it. You will be trapped here for an eternity and the only person you can blame for it is yourself —

“Amanda,” his voice called her back. Her eyes burst open in a flutter of thick, dark eyelashes although she didn’t know when she had closed them. Her gown burned a deep orange and she felt the warmth of setting autumn sun on her face. She turned to the window and moved slowly towards it. Her flats made no sound on the normally white marble floor that now glowed in the brilliance of the sunset. She clung to the window seal and gazed out. The golden landscape had become inflamed in a deep red, the remnants of the sun burning up the sky and casting a passionate glow on the land. For a moment, the fear escaped her and a sense of peace washed over her, relieving the trembling anxiety. “Amanda, are you not feeling well? Would like to sit with me for a bit?”

Drawing of Window Shutters

She nodded but remained standing. Somewhere in her, there was sense of growing defeat and it was both a terrible burden and a sickening relief. She was afraid in here, but she would be afraid out there all the same, perhaps more, and anyway she saw her parents often enough and sometimes her sister too. In a way, he was right. This place is home. If she left, there would be no time for beautiful things like sunsets on an open field.

You’ve killed us, the voice inside of her whispered to her harshly, but instead of giving into it this time she confessed everything to the man. His calm, patient smile never broke and his mellifluous voice purred to her in the most comforting way possible. She told him of her fear, of the voice, of the beauty of the burning autumn world. It was as though he was drawing each story from her, plucking away the darkness like the petals of some poisonous flower.

An hour or so later some orderlies in sterile, white gowns walked her down the sterile, white hallway and into her sterile, white room. She lay down on her bed and smelled fresh sheets, vaguely remembering they were dirty just hours before but not concerned with why they were changed or who had changed them. She tried to read a bit, but couldn’t focus with all the commotion inside of her until a male nurse in his own sterile, white clothes came, knocked on her door to bring her to dinner, and gave her a few tiny pills. Then she read and slept utterly content, all of the thoughts of escaping lost to this place.

Somewhere, hidden inside of her, was that voice. It was forgotten as a child forgets the monsters under the bed when the lights are on. Perhaps she should fear it in a similar way: a vampire in the attic that is only as real as a child’s imagination. These thoughts did not cross her mind, though, the only memorable events of the evening being that she had wanted to leave but now didn’t care to. The Doctor was a nice man, even if she was a bit afraid of him sometimes, and it would be a shame if she left and could never speak with him again. Tomorrow, the sun will light up the sky again and her fears will wane and surge with the time of day like the tide. For now, she slept contentedly, unafraid of the darkness hiding in her own mind.


This short story originated from my fascination with each individual’s personal, psychological reality. While it is difficult to fully communicate the symptomatic emotions of perpetual fear and anger, the story’s creative nature allows for a distinct elaboration of what seems real to Amanda, a young girl who appears to be trapped by a mysterious and powerful man. Underlying the theme of personal reality is the idea that the world is a frightening and unpredictable place. Although Amanda does not have the option to live out her life in the outside world, at least in the time the story takes place, she nevertheless faces the challenge of accepting the variability and occasional cruelty of everyday life. Her struggle, to some degree, is one nearly everyone must undergo at some point in their lives. I wanted to portray this struggle in a different light. It is my hope that a more personal perspective will draw the interest of more researchers and people in general to see the person behind a disorder, not just the affliction itself.

Photo of Debrea Houchins  


Debra Houchins is a psychology and English double major with a fascination for people. Specifically, she is interested in both abnormal psychology and human relationships. Empathic since childhood, she began writing poetry and attempted to describe the feelings she saw on television talk shows. By third grade she transitioned away from poetry and had written two factually unsound novellas based on mental illnesses she learned about through daytime television,

antisocial personality disorder and dissociative personality disorder. In her senior year of high school, she placed first in Virginia and fifth in the nation at the 2007 Beta Club conventions. “A Vampire in the Attic” was inspired by case studies of paranoid schizophrenia, which she read both for and outside of her psychology courses. In the future, she hopes to pursue a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing and eventually become a writer. She cites Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, and Jane Austen as her favorite authors. Debra is a Collegiate Times editor and spends most of her time editing, reading, playing video games, and painting.