“Tell me, Mara,” the psychiatrist tried to speak slowly and clearly for her, “why are you still not sleeping?”
She pushed the tousled and dirty hair from her face and looked at him with those dead eyes that haunted him sometimes. When he was alone, working in the office or brushing his teeth at night, it was those eyes he saw staring at him from the shadows that lurked in the corners. Mara Shawl’s dead and terrifying eyes.
Mara stayed silent.
“Are you not going to speak today?” he asked her for the fourth day in a row. He had never had such a high maintenance patient before. In fact, since he graduated, almost thirty years ago now, the job at Puddleridge Mental Health Secure Unit had seemed too good to be true. His most challenging case had been a habitual self-harmer named Derek who, by his own admission, only wanted to hurt himself.
Yet here was Mara, a young girl accused of murdering her parents almost seven years ago, sitting cross-legged on the leather couch in front of him. When it rains, it pours – or so the old saying goes.
“Mara, we have allowed for you to be unrestrained during these sessions as an act of goodwill,” Dr Barklish bargained, “the least you could do is answer my question.”
“I had the dream again, Doctor,” her voice was raspy, yet confident.
“And what dream is that, Miss Shawl?” instantly he knew what he’d done wrong.
“Don’t you dare call me THAT!” she shouted. The guard that stood by the door burst in and looked as if he was ready to launch himself at the patient.
“No need,” he addressed the guard, sending him back out into the hall. “I’m sorry Mara, please, tell me about your dream.”
Calmer now, her shoulders still hunched around her ears, she breathed lightly. She always looked like she had a hand squeezing on her shoulder the way it was twisted and tensed covering her neck.
“I’m still in the dark room,” she began, fear loitering over every syllable, “but I can hear a voice. An angry voice somewhere in the gloom.”
“Is this the voice of uncle Bezzlebub?” Barklish probed.
“No, at least, not to begin with,” her lips lifted in disgust. “The concrete, you know, the floor I’m sitting on, in the dream, is wet. It’s wet and its sticky and it smells … burny.”
“Burny? What do you mean burny, Mara?”
“It smells like, like daddy’s drink. It smells like whiskey,” she recollected.
Instantly, without intending too, the Doctor’s eyes took a quick glance at the bottom drawer of his desk. Inside was a beautifully aged MaCallan whiskey. The bottle, given as a present on his wedding day, was almost empty. Swigs in between appointments for the past few weeks had taken their toll on the old Scottish drink. As had the turmoil of the past few weeks …
“Are you listening, Doctor?” Mara looked at him with her dead, black eyes and made him shudder.
“Yes, Mara. Sorry, please continue,” he coughed lightly. The swig he had taken before Mara had arrived – well, more like a few large gulps – was beginning to make his head swim.
It’s her eyes, he thought to himself, if it wasn’t for her fucking eyes I wouldn’t have even bothered to drink!
“In the darkness, the voice begins to get louder and louder,” she continued.
“What is it saying, Mara? This voice in your dream.”
“Fuck her! Fuck that bitch! Listen, cunt, I told you she was a fucking liar. HOW MANY MORE TIMES DO YOU NEED TO BE TOLD!” Mara’s voice became deep and foreboding as she shouted the words. The chill that ran up Dr Barklish’s spine nearly made him drop his pen. He just sat, in the plush leather of his swivel chair, and gawked at the girl with the dead eyes.
“What happens next?” there was no politeness in his tone anymore.
Slap, Slap, Slap, Slap!, Mara clapped her hands together.
“And … and, tell me Mara, do you know who’s voice this is?” his palms were impossibly sweaty for a man who’s mouth was so dry. He almost choked when he asked whose voice it was, because he already knew.
“It was you, Doctor,” she said it so simply, as if it were normal to know of her psychiatrist’s affair and his domestic violence towards his wife.
“How do you know this, Mara?” the fear laced his tone like a constrictor, wrapping its scaly body around a dead tree.
“I told you, Doctor. It was in my dream.”
“And do you know what happens … you know – after?”
She nodded her head slowly.
“Will you tell me, Mara? Will you tell me what happens? Please?” he added, almost as an afterthought.
“I’ll show you,” was it just him, or did Mara’s eyes seem to sparkle a bit now?
“Turn in your chair, Doctor. And face the wall behind you.”
Maybe he was in shock? Or maybe he was drunker than he thought but, without much hesitation, Doctor Barklish swiveled around and turned to face the wall.
He had a slight headache; the pills he had taken earlier on must have worn off. I’ll need to write myself another prescription, he thought to himself instinctively before he felt the hand, it gripped into his shoulder. It’s palm felt wide and hot, much too large for a girl Mara’s age. The nails too felt long and sharp where hers were trimmed short weekly.
What was more prevalent, however, was the feeling of being in the presence of something beyond reasonable explanation.