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The Institution

Sarah Cheang

Isobelle Carmody Award

for Creative Writing


I don’t believe in coincidences, but this wasn’t a coincidence.

The train was late; it was never late. But it wasn’t just late, it was practically

empty. I blasted music through my headphones and shut my eyes to soothe the

restless thoughts buzzing madly in my mind. Ever since I had left Evelyn at the

station, all by herself, I had a burden of guilt thrust upon my shoulders. I was the

last one to see her, I should have stayed with her and maybe she wouldn’t have

disappeared. Maybe she would still be here with me, two friends catching the

train to school. There I was, sitting innocently and blindly, so blind not to notice

a man hiding his eyes shadily behind a pair of aviators, observing my every move


I don’t remember much after that, with an exception of the firm

hands gripping me tightly and the intoxicating aroma that lured me

into darkness. The next time I regained consciousness was at the

institution, well, that’s what everyone called it. I never saw the

outside, but the doctor said maybe revisiting it would spark some of

my memories, so here I now. From the outside it is a dilapidated

building, with its grey paint peeling off like dry, lifeless autumn

leaves. However, its bleak facade masked the reality of its torturous

realm and its single inhabitant.

She wasn’t your typical nurse. Her piercing glare was a crackling whip ready

to strike and her movements were like those of an automaton, robotic and

merciless. Everyone knew her by the straw hat she wore upon her chestnut hair,

which reeked with the stench of rotting flesh. The other inmates seemed like they

had already surrendered to her power and I couldn’t blame them; she was indeed

a most terrifying figure. Not one morsel of compassion could be found in her

bitter heart.

I gently pushed open the broken door into the derelict building

and strode into the main hall. The room was barely recognisable; it

was once swarming with gaunt bodies and downcast faces. I

remember the blankets strewn in the corners of the room from

where we slept, crumbs of the stale bread given to us and that

wretched room which they called a bathroom. On my first day there,

I witnessed the treachery of that godforsaken place.

She stormed in and flung the door open, revealing the morning sun, and

walked mechanically through the huddled crowds of children to where I stood. To

my relief, she didn’t grab me, but a boy who looked about ten, and just from the

expression on his face I could tell that he was dreading every moment that her

bony fingers had seized him. He never returned


Life in imprisonment was tedious and, day by day, we lost faith.

Faith that someone would come to save us, hope that those gone