It was raining. Although gentle, it was rhythmic. Discordant. It fell softly upon Melanie’s SUV as she buzzed down the highway. The miniscule pulse however, still managed to hammer at Reagan’s head as it bounced off the passenger’s side window. It was all she could focus on. The sounds of the rain fed her overactive imagination. She imagined the droplets of water forming high above her, growing and developing as they prepared for their exodus, leaving behind their swirling mothers to greet the world below and breathing the cool air as they plummeted until they were finally swallowed up by the surface. Reagan blinked, it took her a second to remember where she was, and where they were going. The exit was coming up and she had to retreat from her daydream. Melanie pulled off the highway and turned onto the hospital’s road. The rain still pattered calmly on the window, but the imagery had left her mind.
Melanie pulled into the clinic’s parking lot, the sleek mirrored windows of the hospital reflected the overcast sky. Melanie had always been happy to drive Reagan to her sessions. The sight of the looming building however always made Reagan shudder. She recalled her last few months of therapy and scowled, recollecting the strange exercises Dr. Kaufman made her do. The agenda was always the same. Reagan would be subjected to the doctor’s rambling for an hour and a half. She didn’t know why her mother had signed her up for this. In her eyes, she was fine. It did sometimes take her longer to do things, and she often lost track of time, but that was just part of who she was. There were hard times at home, however, and after a particularly intense bout Mom finally declared that a professional was needed. Reagan was told at her 20th birthday. It was her only gift. She just didn’t like the thought of having someone analyze her and judge whether she was ‘normal’ or not. Dr. Kaufman’s tests made little sense, and often times Reagan felt that he would get a little too close to her. Her heart would always skip a beat whenever her name was called for their session.
The rain was finally letting up a bit by the time Melanie found a parking spot. Shards of sunlight began to break through the overcast sky, staining the clouds with sepia and rose.
“How are you feeling?” Melanie broke the silence of the car.
“I’m fine; this just always gets me nervous.” Reagan said not very convincingly. Melanie frowned. She had always been there for her; they had been best friends since before she could remember.
“I know this has been weird, and it’s hard to open up to another person, but trust me, I think this guy can help you,” Melanie said flatly. Melanie’s intentions were good, but she just didn’t know how Reagan felt and she couldn’t accurately express it either.
“I just don’t understand what he wants me to get out of this!” Reagan responded defensively.
“Hey, it’s ok. He’s not going to make you change, or try and fix you. He’s just here to help you understand what you’re going through.” Melanie placed her hand on Reagan’s shoulder reassuringly. “Can we go in now?” Reagan looked up at Melanie and paused.
Reagan held her breath and opened her car door. I’m not ready, she thought to herself. The sound of their footsteps bouncing off the wet ground pierced the silence of the almost empty parking lot. I’m not ready, the phrase kept repeating inside her head. They finally reached the shadow of the intimidating facility. I’m not ready. The bright LED lights of the lobby stretched their long limbs out to her body to drag her inside. I’m not ready.
“Good evening!” Rachel’s saccharine voice rang out to greet them. Rachel was Dr. Kaufman’s secretary, she was honestly the nicest part of this place. Reagan responded with a half hearted smile and nod, then felt bad for looking so despondent. For the past couple of months it seemed like Rachel has been the only person kind to her aside from Melanie. It was strange how such a nice person was the herald for the worst thing in Reagan’s life. She found her way to the couch in the waiting room and sat down stiffly while Melanie checked her in. She fidgeted with the chain of her opal necklace, given to her by Melanie a couple birthdays ago -- before all of this stuff had sprung up about her condition. The white walls of the room seemed to vibrate the more she stared at them. Her heart was pounding. Her vision blurred and she started sweating. Melanie joined Reagan on the couch and squeezed her arm comfortingly. Things came back to her a little. Reagan recalled the time her mother came to her appointment a few weeks ago. She had come to talk to the doctor about how the diagnosis was going. Reagan was forced to wait out in this same lobby while they talked. She only caught snippets of their conversation.
‘She doesn’t even remember me half the time!’
‘Anxiety……. Hallucinations………… Dissociative Identity…….. Cause delusions.’
She felt like an animal listening to them talk about her. She was helpless while they just listed off everything wrong with her brain. Reagan remembered crying while her mom drove them home that day. She knew she wasn’t liked as much as her siblings. Her memories were interrupted by Dr. Kaufman calling her name, she had zoned out and not noticed his previous patient leaving. He looked at her impatiently and snapped his fingers. Her breath quickened, she suddenly felt cold.
“Go on,” Melanie smiled at Reagan, filling her with confidence. She had a way of melting away her inhibition. Reagan stood up slowly, then followed Dr. Kaufman into his office.
“So,” Reagan flinched at the sound of Dr. Kaufman’s voice, “how’ve you been?” He always spoke with a firm inflection.
“Good.” Reagan stammered out as she played with her necklace. An awkward silence blanketed the room, Reagan looked around at the strange minimalist furniture and colorful pottery and sculptures that surrounded the office.
“Reagan, I’m going to have you spell out your name for me, it’s a standard exercise, just take this pen and paper and write out your name. R-E-A-G-A-N.” Dr. Kaufman said breaking the silence. He slid the pen and paper in front of Reagan sternly. She tentatively picked up the pen and uncapped it. She paused looking at the paper. “Just write out your name,” The doctor said. Reagan lowered the pen hesitantly before quickly scribbling out her name. She looked at it; it didn’t seem right. Something about it just seemed off, wrong. Is that really my name? She thought to herself. It unsettled her and she pushed the sheet back to the doctor. “Alright and how does this feel to you?” He asked. Reagan didn’t know how to respond. She looked around the room again at the green walls and a painting of dogs playing poker. She tried to shrink into the chaise she was sitting on. “Reagan,” She recoiled as the doctor laid his hand on her knee. He stared through her intensely. “This treatment will only help if you let it.”
The next hour and half was filled with more bizarre exercises and activities that only served to make Reagan uncomfortable and frustrated: ink blot tests, questions and strange games that supposedly helped Dr. Kaufman assess her mental state. Reagan counted down the minutes to her liberation, anything was better than this. The last ten minutes of therapy were usually devoted to a reflection on the session. Dr. Kaufman found it necessary for his clients to “express their feelings.” Today was different, however. Towards the end of the session, Dr. Kaufman was sitting at his desk pensively.
“I think you’ve come a long way, Reagan,” Dr. Kaufman got up from his chair and crossed the room to her. Reagan’s heart jumped at his approach. “I really feel that you’re getting better.” He sat down on the chaise a little too close to her. Reagan pulled away from him apprehensively. “Relax.” He whispered putting a hand on her leg. She was panicking; Dr. Kaufman put his arm over the back on the couch and was leaning over her.
“I have to go,” Reagan was barely able to talk, her thoughts were scrambled. He had never approached her like this. Why are you doing this? The thought kept playing in her mind. She reached for her bag but the Doctor grabbed her wrist.
“Hey, slow down. I signed you up for a 2 hour session,” Dr. Kaufman responded in a hushed voice.
“You…. you didn’t tell me?” She stammered out.
“I wanted some more time with you,” he crooned. Reagan was lost. She couldn’t think. Her wrist was pinned and the Doctor was looming over her. He leaned in towards her face. Reagan screamed. She thrashed and punched and tried to force him off of her. Her body took control and fought against his grip. He forced a hand over her mouth and held her down. Rachel, who had been sitting in the lobby heard the commotion and rushed into the room, Melanie following behind. They both yelled when they saw what was happening.
“Sorry about the noise!” Dr. Kaufman yelled across the room. “She’s having a breakdown!”
“Help!! Help me!!” Reagan screeched pulling the hand on her mouth away. Rachel and Melanie rushed over to the chaise and pulled Dr. Kaufman off.
Rachel screamed, “Get off of her! What are you doing?”
“She has NEVER had a breakdown where you would need to hold her down,” Melanie and Rachel both began to yell at the doctor. Reagan rolled over the couch onto the ground and ran.
“Reagan!” Melanie yelled behind her. She sprinted as fast as she could out of the room and the hospital. She ran. She ran and she ran. She ran past the car, past the parking lot. She just ran. She ran away from the people yelling behind her to come back. The sun was setting, it had pulled its way across the sky, taking the clouds with it. Stretching them into long colorful tufts overhead. The moon could be seen now. Tears were streaming down Reagan’s face as she ran. She had run into the backwoods behind the hospital, and trees were closing in around her. They choked out the sky and the light tears blurred her vision as she stumbled through the rough terrain. Everything seemed to get bigger the farther she went. Large rocks and trees surrounded the path she was on. Impossibly large leaves covered the ground. She just kept running. Massive spider webs were strung overhead. The trees seemed to stretch to infinity when Reagan looked up. This isn’t normal, she thought, but she just kept running. She heard the snapping of tree branches echo around her. A thick fog fell upon the woods. The world went dark.
Eventually Reagan’s legs gave out from underneath her. She stumbled down a hill and came to rest at the base of a tree. She curled up into a ball. Her face was scratched, and she was covered in dirt. The sky was completely dark now and Reagan’s eyes were red and puffy. She felt tired and cold. The fall had knocked the wind out of her. I can’t go back, she thought. I can’t go back. She broke out into tears again. Do I really want to go back?Where will I go now? Thoughts pounded against the inside of Reagan’s skull. She sat for awhile and let her emotions out. After a few minutes, the mist and surreality around her began to clear. She could finally think with clarity. Where am I?
Abruptly, a tree branch snapped behind her, making her jump. She paused before grabbing the base of the tree to stand up. As soon as she touched the tree, she jerked her hand away when she felt that it was cool and completely smooth. It wasn’t a tree. She looked closer and saw that it was a milky white color and had about the same diameter of a large oak tree. But it definitely was not one. She saw that the strange cylindrical object stuck out of the ground, stretched up and curved slightly over her before ending in a tapered edge about 20 feet above her. An almost perfect arch. She heard another snap from behind the object and quickly backed away from it. Her heart was pounding. More crunching noises signaled that something was behind the object. Something large. She moved sideways slowly to try and see anything before noticing another curve about 20 feet from the first one. About the same size and milky white in color. She paused to look at it when suddenly something darted towards her from behind the first one. She ducked and yelled as the creature hopped over her and dashed off into the darkness. She saw a glimpse of a massive furred animal as it disappeared.
Reagan took a few seconds to catch her breath on the ground before getting back up. It appeared to be gone. She looked around slowly and saw that there were many of the curves in a line. All of varying sizes. There were more in another line opposite of the first row she noticed. They were completely symmetrical and some were large enough that they actually connected and formed full arches. With a start she realized what they were. They were rib bones. Massive rib bones of some dead buried creature. Her heart was pounding again. Where am I? She wondered. What monster could have possibly left bones so large? Everything in this place was huge: the trees, the animals. Where am I?
Reagan ambled out directly underneath one of the full arches and looked up at it. Suddenly a light caught her eye. She turned to see what it was and saw past the rib bones, staring back at her with empty sockets, a skull. Her jaw dropped, she was paralyzed. It was a massive human skull, the size of a house. She was standing in the middle of a huge skeleton. Its jaw was buried, and the eye sockets were just above ground level. A warm light was radiating from within the skull -- like someone had lit a campfire inside. Reagan was shocked but intrigued. The light from inside was strangely inviting. She was truly cold by now and the idea of a warm campfire was very pleasing. For whatever reason, she didn’t feel nervous like usual. The danger of this place seemed less apparent. Reagan couldn’t remember the last time she felt confident, but for whatever reason, she was now. The light shining through the eyes of the hollow skull had melted away her fear and was now welcoming her inside. Her legs took control and she calmly walked towards it. The light pulled her in. She began to run, passing under archways of bone. She smiled for the first time in forever, thinking about this place. It seemed natural to her. It made more sense than her therapy and family ever did. She stepped over what looked like a large metal chain wrapped around where the neck of the skeleton would be. It was half underground and looked strangely familiar. Unsettled, she continued towards the head.
When she finally reached the gigantic skull, she saw that lattices of vines had overgrown the smooth white surface. Reagan peered through the left eye of the skull and saw that it truly was hollow. The round space inside had been converted into a sort of dwelling. The ceiling was covered in colorful paintings of animals, clouds and other things. Shelves lining the inside held jars of flowers and rocks. The warmth from the fire was so tantalizing that Reagan leaned forward to feel it more. It pushed the cold off her skin. She swung legs through the eye socket and found a small set of wooden steps leading down to the floor. This place was so calming. It felt natural for her to be here. She sat down by the fire and before she knew it her eyes had closed. The warmth and sounds of the fire slowly pushed her off to a deep sleep.