Dr. Copley followed Dr. Schultz down the hallway, their shoes tapping and squeaking on the tile, the echoes bouncing off of the stark white walls, reflected, maybe, by the glaring fluorescent lights. The rooms on this wing were locked, the little windows in the doors crisscrossed with wire to keep them from being broken out. The patients in this wing weren’t so much as intentionally violent as they were prone to violent outburst due to their mental illnesses.
This was the last wing on the tour. Dr. Schultz had given Dr. Copley an overview of the patients on this wing, just as he had for every other one, but then he broke the routine that Dr. Copley had been comfortable with by leading him down the hallway to actually speak to one of the patients. Dr. Copley wasn’t scheduled to start speaking with any of the patients in the hospital until next week, but in this case, Dr. Schultz was adamant about making the exception.
“This patient is one you need to meet,” he said in hushed tones as they walked down the wing. “You need to hear her story to truly understand her case and I think it’s best that you hear it now from her, before anyone else can color your perception.”
Dr. Copley agreed, though he didn’t have any other choice. He was hardly in the position to refuse having just taken this job a week before, a job that he really needed.
They stopped at the end of the hallway in front of the last door on the left.
“You don’t have to be concerned,” Dr. Schultz said, pulling out an electronic keycard used for the individual rooms on the wing. “She is the least prone to violence here.”
“Then why is she on this wing?” Dr. Copley.
Dr. Schultz smiled. “For her own protection.”
He unlocked the door and led Dr. Copley in. He shut the door behind them with a certain finality.
The room held only a bed with a pillow, sheet, and blanket. The walls were classically padded. The only window in the room featured the same chicken wire that the window on the door had, letting in a soft slash of muted sunlight.
Sitting on the bed was a petite woman of about thirty-five with long black hair that was pulled back into a pony tail. Her thin, drawn faced made it look like her hair was pulled back too tightly. She wore the regulation pajamas and her feet were bare. The woman sat with her knees drawn up to her chest and her arms wrapped around her legs.
“Hello, Dr. Schultz,” she said in a high, tinny voice that made Dr. Copley think of a cartoon character.
“Hello, Lydia,” Dr. Schultz said warmly. “I’d like to introduce you to the new shrink on the block. This is Dr. Copley.”
“Nice to meet you,” Lydia said with a smile.
“Likewise,” Dr. Copley said, returning her smile, though his was a little less certain than hers. He was uneasy with this set-up. That’s what it felt like. A set-up.
“Lydia, would you please tell Dr. Copley your story.”
A cloud passed over Lydia’s face, but just briefly. Her smile disappeared, but there was still a pleasant enough light in her eyes.
“Giving him the test, huh?”
Dr. Schultz chuckled. Their exchange was doing little to put Dr. Copley at ease.
“You are our most challenging, delicate case, my dear. It’s only fair.”
Lydia shrugged. “Okay.”
There was no place to sit except for on the bed next to Lydia and Dr. Copley didn’t feel comfortable with that option, so he remained standing in front of the door next to Dr. Schultz. He looked at Lydia and waited for her to begin.
“I was babysitting. Her name was…well, is…Madison. She was four at the time. I babysat for her a lot. It was Saturday. Her mom had to work. Madison was feeling a little under the weather and she was napping when her mom came home. It was such a sunny day that day. I remember that because I thought it was a shame that Madison didn’t feel well because we could have played outside.”
Lydia’s voice was light and conversational, giving no hint to any trauma.
“Her mother came home and met me in the kitchen. We were chatting about Madison. I was telling her about our day, how she was napping and how I wished she would have felt better.”
Until this point, she’d held eye contact with Dr. Copley. Now Lydia looked at -not out- the window before continuing with her story, looking back at him. Her tone was still light, but there was something dark in her eyes.
“That’s when she came into the kitchen, sleepy and confused. Her whole head was wrapped in bandages. You could only see her eyes. Her mother was confused. I had no answer for it. She’d been napping. She was fine when I laid her down. There were no bandages when I put her to bed. We couldn’t figure it out. Her mom asked her what the bandages were about, but Madison didn’t know. And then her mother saw it. It was in the garbage can with the wrappers and the egg shells. She picked it up and showed it to me.”
“Showed you what? What was in the garbage?”
Lydia looked at him like he should have known, but didn’t think less of him for not.
“Her face,” she said simply, without emotion. “Madison’s face was in the garbage.”
Dr. Copley felt his jaw drop. He couldn’t control it, couldn’t maintain his well-practiced professional, sympathetic yet blank face. Shock overrode everything.
Lydia didn’t seem offended by it.
“That’s when I was hit from behind. I went down hard. The last thing I remember was overturning the garbage can and landing in the egg shells.”
Dr. Copley scrambled to compose himself. He looked at Dr. Schultz, trying to communicate his question to him without words.
Is she for real? She found a little girl’s FACE in the trash?
Dr. Schultz gave him a slight nod, darting his eyes towards Lydia. Dr. Copley looked at her and she gave him a little shrug. She looked at him like she knew what he was going through and gave him a couple of extra seconds to compose himself. Dr. Copley took a deep breath and nodded.
“Go on, Lydia,” he said, his voice a little rougher than it should have been.
“On Halloween,” Lydia went on, “a few years later…”
“Wait,” Dr. Copley said, confused. “What do you mean? Why are you jumping ahead? What happened to Madison and her mother after you were hit?”
“Oh, that.” Lydia rolled her eyes. “You don’t want to hear any of that now. You’ll hear it later. This is just the intro. Lydia 101.”
Something mischievous sparkled in her eyes so briefly that Dr. Copley wasn’t sure he’d seen it. The room suddenly felt very small and he shifted his weight.
“Okay, then. Fair enough,” he said, glancing at Dr. Schultz. “What about that Halloween a few years later?”
“Halloween,” Lydia said, letting go of her legs and leaning back to rest on the wall. She put her hands in her lap, but she kept her legs up on the bed. “By then I was getting better, making great strides, they said. I came home to a ghost hanging in front of the carport. The house was decorated for Halloween and I thought, at first, it was one more decoration. It looked like a Tootsie Pop ghost. You know, like when you wrap a Tootsie Pop with a tissue and tie a string around it. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like any of the decorations, but I really didn’t like this one.”
“I stood at the end of the driveway. I didn’t want to go to the house. I didn’t want to get close to the ghost. It was just hanging there, swinging in the breeze. It made me want to throw-up watching it, but I couldn’t look away. It took a couple of minutes, but then it hit me why I didn’t like it. The ghost had feet. Legs and feet. Blue jeans and boots, swinging in the breeze.”
This time she looked out the window and moved her hand back and forth to imitate the swinging she’d seen.
“I screamed until my throat was raw and no sound would come out. I couldn’t stop myself. Nobody could stop me. The neighbors all came out to see what was going on. The cops came. The sun went down. My world went black. It should have been done then, but it wasn’t.”
Lydia looked at Dr. Copley and sat straight up again, hugging her knees to her chest. At first he thought he’d done something to make her uncomfortable, but then he realized that he hadn’t moved from his spot. Dr. Schultz hadn’t moved either, his face held the same passive expression. Dr. Copley checked that state of his jaw before he understood what was happening. It was the story making her curl back up into a protective posture, not him.
The ghost story didn’t upset her as much as the story about the little girl, which clearly unsettled her. Dr. Copley found both of them disturbing, but for someone experiencing them and looking back on them, talking about finding a man dressed as ghost hanging from a carport is nothing compared to finding a little girl’s face in the kitchen garbage.
If Lydia was assuming a protective posture again, there’s no telling what this story was about. What could be worse than the stories she’d already told? Dr. Copley braced himself.
“Not long enough after that I was at my grandmother’s house, in her den,” Lydia said, her voice harder than it had been before.
She stared at a spot in the corner of the room. Dr. Copley looked, but didn’t see anything he should be concerned about. It was just her focal point while she told her story.
“The den is in the front corner of the house, next to her bedroom and across the hall from the bathroom. The bathroom connects to her bedroom.” Lydia let go of her legs long enough to gesture the placement of the house. “You can see the hallway from the doorway. I was watching TV, but I know I would have seen someone come down the hallway. There’s no way I couldn’t have seen them. It’s a narrow hallway. You can’t sneak down it. I don’t miss anyone coming down that hallway.”
Lydia’s posture stiffened as she wrapped her arms tightly around her legs again.
Dr. Copley waited for her to go on, impatient and thoroughly engrossed, like he was listening to the best ghost story he’d ever heard.
Maybe he was.
“I heard a noise,” she said finally. “I went to the hallway to look, but I didn’t see anything at first. Then I saw that Grandma’s bedroom door was open just a little bit, which was strange. Grandma’s door was always wide open, even when she sleeps. I don’t know how she can sleep like that. I heard the noise again, coming from the bedroom and even though I shouldn’t have, I pushed open the door.”
Lydia took a deep breath and Dr. Copley held his.
“The room was dim, but I could see them all over the room,” she said, concentrating on that corner. “I didn’t need to turn on the light. I didn’t want to anyway. I could see them just fine.”
“See what?” Dr. Copley asked, his mouth dry. He licked his lips, but it did no good.
“Arms. Legs. All over the room,” Lydia said with a wide-eyed shrug, but still remained focused on the corner. “I thought that was the worst of it, but then the buzzing started. They started jumping around the room, trembling and jittering. They were electrified. I could see the cords running from them, running all over the room. Bouncing and jerking like they were alive, like they were still attached.”
Dr. Copley stood dumbfounded. He’d never heard anything like that in his life.
Lydia took a deep breath and sighed. Her body relaxed, but she held her position. Finally, she looked at Dr. Copley.
“I guess that’s it for now,” she said with a slight smile and a shrug. “You’ll hear the rest eventually, if you stay.”
“What do you mean if I stay?” Dr. Copley asked. He looked at Dr. Schultz.
“Thank you, Lydia. I’ll see you later this afternoon for our session,” he said, ignoring Dr. Copley’s question, much to his aggravation.
Dr. Copley turned to Lydia.
“Nice to meet you, Lydia. I look forward to working with you.”
“Likewise. You won’t by the end, though.” She grinned, honest and wicked.
The two doctors left the room and Dr. Schultz shut the door, locking it.
“So, how did you like Lydia?” he asked as they started to walk down the hallway, back to the main building.
“She’s definitely very interesting,” Dr. Copley said. “Those are some very scary, very unreal stories.”
“She has dozens,” Dr. Schultz said.
Dr. Copley stopped short. Dr. Schultz turned to him.
“Dozens?” Dr. Schultz nodded. “How much of what I heard was real?” Dr. Copley asked.
“To her it’s all real,” Dr. Schultz said.
“In a way.” Dr. Schultz jerked his head toward the main building and they started walking again. “Lydia has had a very traumatic life. More horrible things have happened to her than anyone else I’ve ever met. It’s both ridiculous and tragic. The trick is trying figure out what is real to just her and what’s real to the world.”
“So the stories I heard?” Dr. Copley asked.
“Only one of them was real,” Dr. Schultz said. “The nearest we can figure, the other two were nightmares she’s had that she interprets as real. She has severe difficulty telling the difference. She believes that everything horrible that’s happened to her, real and imagined and dreamed, are all perpetrated by one person out to get her. Part of the reason she’s housed with us full-time in this wing as opposed to the less-restricted area of the hospital or even on an out-patient basis is because she feels safer here. Since she’s been housed with us no ‘new’ incidents have happened. Our time is spent hashing out her past and separating the real from the imagined.”
“So, which one of the stories that I just heard was real?” Dr. Copley asked, with a little smile.
Dr. Schultz grinned.
“You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.”