(Missed the last chapter? Go to 30: Seeing Ghosts)
AS I ENTERED Dr. Grey’s office, I felt a sense of déjà vu. I steeled myself, crossing my arms across my chest.
“Lacy, please sit down.” Dr. Grey gestured at the most comfortable seat in the room, a leather armchair big enough to take a nap in. Her fury had vanished and she appeared relaxed.
Wary, I sat in the chair she indicated. I was still over-heated and the leather felt pleasantly cool. Dr. Grey slid into the other armchair and regarded me appraisingly. “I am so very sorry for your loss.”
I nodded. “Thank you, Dr. Grey.”
“I’m also sorry I was out of town when you returned.” Dr. Grey leaned forward and put her hand on my forearm. “I’m worried about you, Lacy. Walking in the woods by yourself, talking to strange men. The woods beyond the loop aren’t part of Warrick property, you know. There’s an old quarry back there. Deep water and dangerous rocks. It comes up out of nowhere. One minute you’re walking a path, the next you’re falling. If something was to happen to you, we couldn’t be responsible.”
“So the man I met, Zeke, he doesn’t work here?”
Dr. Grey frowned. “Of course not, Lacy. The truth is, the man you saw in the woods is a pedophile.”
Dr. Grey uncoiled herself from the chair and walked around to open one of her desk drawers. “He lurks just far enough away so as not to violate the restraining order.”
She pulled a file out and laid it on the desk. “Go ahead. See for yourself.”
I opened the folder. A restraining order signed by a Judge Wilkens stated that Ezekiel Green was to remain two hundred yards from Warrick Treatment Facility or be taken into police custody. Zeke’s face stared out at me: a Xeroxed mug shot. The dark eyes that I’d found so kind and charismatic in person burned with anger, and my gaze flinched away. “Why do the kids think he’s a ghost? More to the point, they seem to think you agree.”
Dr. Grey sat down in the armchair again and crossed her long legs with a whisper of silk. “I don’t interfere in the residents’ belief systems. Ghosts are a part of many cultures. It would be disrespectful to dismiss those beliefs out of hand.”
I shook my head in bafflement. “Believing that ghosts exist is one thing, but half of the residents here are living in terror of specific ghosts: a big, African-American man, and white people with bloody—”
I stopped short, realizing with a horrible jolt that the faces I’d thought I’d seen the night before had matched the ghost story of the slaveholders with blood on their lips. Was it coincidence? The power of suggestion?
“Lacy?” Dr. Grey stared at me. “Are you all right? You’re looking a bit green.” As she leaned closer to me, I stared in fascination at her flawless skin. Even up close, it looked as smooth and cold as polished marble. If she was wearing makeup, I couldn’t detect it. “And please don’t take offense, but you smell rather … strong.”
I felt myself flush. “There was an incident last night, at the—”
“I know,” Dr. Grey said. “Believe me, Lacy, there is nothing that goes on at Warrick that I don’t know about, almost as it occurs.” She gave a dazzling smile. “Some of the staff insist I must be psychic; of course, that’s nonsense. I’m just very perceptive.” She patted my arm, almost playfully. “You exercised very poor judgment, going out at night by yourself.”
“I had no choice. I couldn’t get anyone on the phone!”
“Unfortunate situation.” Dr. Grey frowned. “The alarm system is ancient, and, frankly, after a near-miss with one of the male residents night-before-last, I lost my temper with poor Sandy and put him on mandatory overtime to install a new one.
“It seems that in his weariness Sandy accidentally managed to cut the phones and to disable both the old and the new alarm system.” She shook her head. “Not very smart of me to put a general maintenance worker in the role of electrician. But rest assured, I already had professionals come out at the crack of dawn to fix the mess.”
I nodded. At least that explained the dirty looks Sandy had given me today.
“Poor old Sandy. He’s just a handyman, after all.” Dr. Grey spoke in a soothing tone and laid her hand on my arm. The room was too warm, and I found my eyes growing heavy. I stifled a yawn.
“My cell phone wasn’t working either,” I mumbled
“Really? Well, I can’t answer for your cell service. Perhaps you forgot to pay the bill. Greif does funny things to the human mind.”
Dr. Grey stood and picked up the large sliver paperweight. The iridescent snowflakes winding endlessly through the silver glinted, making me feel even sleepier. Zora’s immune.
“Lacy, you’re exhausted, and no wonder, running around all hours of the night.”
I blinked, trying to clear my head. “But two residents were missing. Tanesha and Elizabeth….” To my chagrin I found myself nodding off mid-sentence. I pinched my leg to try wake myself. “…. sleepwalking. Later I found Shane nearly strangled in the cookhouse. If I hadn’t come in when I did—”
“Lacy, I have to be honest with you. None of it stands up to logic. None of the staff found any residents missing on their bed checks. Nobody else remembers any of the events you report. You say Lizzie was sleepwalking, but what about the others? Was Teeney sleepwalking, and Shy, and Kiki?”
I stared at her, blearily. But they’re liars, all liars. It was the lament of a misunderstood child, and it filled me with self-pity. I looked into Dr. Grey’s eyes, the clear blue of a glacier. I longed for a cool drink, longed to lean my head on her shoulder and weep. She was right. I was beyond exhausted.
I tried to stand, but Dr. Grey restrained me easily by placing that elegantly manicured hand on my shoulder. “Don’t run from this Lacy. You need a mentor. We agreed that when you came to work for me, didn’t we? You promised not to give up on this job when the going got tough, as you’ve always done before. And I promised to help you.”
I sank back into the chair. “Yes, but–”
“It would be easy for you to hide behind the irrational fear that everyone else is wrong, that someone else is at fault. But isn’t it more likely that you, the young woman distraught over the recent death of her father, are the one who’s confused? Half awake, half in a dream?”
Dr. Grey’s eyes probed me, rummaged around, and turned the dark places inside me up toward the light. And what was exposed was grief for my father, who I had loved more than I knew, and whom I would never see again.
The emotions that I’d kept bottled up since I’d found out about Dad’s double life burst out of me with such force that I felt like my chest and throat might literally tear. I cried for his difficult, too-short life. I cried for my crazy mother, for crippled John and neurotic Dorothy. And I cried for myself, mortified and miserably afraid that I was following in Kat’s footsteps, losing my grip on reality.
Dr. Grey kept handing me tissues and patting my shoulder. I wanted to apologize and thank her for her kindness but I couldn’t speak. After the first few minutes, even wads of tissues failed to stem the tears and snot running down my face and dripping onto my clothes.
The crying jag seemed to take on a life of it’s own. It was worse than the morning after my dad died, worse than anything I’d ever experienced. I couldn’t stop, couldn’t breath. The crying segued into a panic attack. I started wheezing, unable to catch my breath.
Dr. Grey walked to her desk in a way that, to my hysterical mind, seemed languid. She slowly dialed the phone. My ears were so plugged by mucus I couldn’t hear what she was saying, my eyes so inflamed I could barely see. I felt like a drowning woman trapped under ice, barely able to make out the sounds and sights of the world above. She’s the ghost. She touches your mind and you go insane. The voices blared like a radio had been switched on. I see you, but you don’t see me. The invisible ones stay happy and free.
“No,” I moaned aloud. I didn’t know what I feared more, Dr. Grey, whom I alternately respected and loathed, or the voices in my head. “No more. I can’t….” But as I protested, my lungs relaxed. I caught a deep breath at last, heaved myself up and staggered toward the door.
“Lacy, wait.” Dr. Grey stepped in front of me and took me firmly by the arm. “You’re overwrought. Dr. Clark is coming with a sedative.”
“Going to be sick,” I mumbled. “Need bathroom.”
“The rabbit can run, but it can’t hide. The rabbit can run, but the owl can fly.”
I stared at her. “What?”
“You’re not sick, Lacy. You’re afraid of insanity.”
I looked away, embarrassed that she could read me so easily.
Dr. Grey laid her hand on my shoulder. “You’re feeling alone, but you’re not. We’re a family here, Lacy Rose.”
“How did you…?” My words slurred as if I was drunk. “My uncle called me that, when I was a girl.”
“Oh, it’s obvious. You’re a rare flower, just like the Lacy Rose. It’s a hybrid, you know. Not found in the wild.” Dr. Grey’s eyes glowed with amusement. “Only the Master Gardener can produce such a blossom. Without expert pruning they grow thorny and unmanageable. Untended gardens are dangerous.”
I stared into her eyes again, felt myself relaxing, swaying toward her open arms. Longing for the comfort of her caress, the cool silk of her blouse against my hot cheek. The door to her office burst open, nearly banging into us. I jumped away as Dr. Clark rushed in, syringe in hand.
“Don’t you knock?” Dr. Grey snapped.
Dr. Clark looked stricken, and stopped in his tracks. “You said she was hysterical.”
“I’m fine. I’m fine. I just … my dad.” I held up my hands to ward off that syringe, to plead for understanding.
Dr. Clark set the syringe on the desk. “I lost my wife four years ago.” He looked into my eyes and for the first time I felt like I was seeing the man behind the mask. A real human being.
I reached out and grabbed Dr. Clark’s hand and he looked at me in surprise. His hand felt warm and strong, yet soft. I stared down at his rich brown skin and manicured nails, and noticed a scar that started at his wrist and vanished behind his white coat sleeve.
He looked into my eyes. The well of sadness I saw there matched my own.
“I’ll handle this,” Dr. Grey said. “I think Lacy needs a woman’s touch right now.”
Dr. Clark flinched and turned to leave.
“Wait.” The longer he stayed, the better I felt. I dug into my brain for an excuse. “I want to thank you.”
He regarded me curiously. “For what, my dear?”
“For driving me back to Richmond the day my father died.”
“Of course.” He shook his head. “If it was Zora in that position, I would have wanted someone to make sure she got back to her people, safe and sound.”
“I was telling Lacy that she doesn’t need to be afraid,” Dr. Grey said from behind me. “We’re a family here. Isn’t that right?”
Dr. Clark nodded, and the familiar mask of bland acquiescence came down over his face. He’s a man, and he’s a ghost. I dropped his hand, defeated.
“Poor Lacy sees ghosts,” Dr. Grey said and my skin prickled. It was the second time she’d echoed the voices. More craziness. “They look like clowns with white skin and blood on their mouths, or big black men she’d like to fuck.”
“Excuse me?” I flushed and looked at Dr. Clark, but he didn’t seem to have heard, or had the courtesy to pretend he hadn’t.
“I said we’re a family here.” You know you’re ready for the seed. Dr. Grey reached out her long, white hand to pat my shoulder again.
I felt an absence behind me and glanced over my shoulder. Dr. Clark had left without a word.
“Lacy.” Dr. Grey smiled at me. “Do you know how special you are? It has been my honor to be your mentor.” The ghost.
“Am I fired?”
“Oh no. Darling girl. Touches your mind. This is a graduation. Leave. Leave.
“I don’t understand,” I mumbled. Her hand on my shoulder felt cool and heavy as stone.
The rabbit can run, but the owl can fly. Leave. Leave. She’ll plant the seed! The voices had become so numerous and intrusive that I was losing track of what was coming from inside my head and what was coming from outside—a battle of wills, battering my brain.
Dr. Grey pushed herself closer so her silk-clad breasts were almost in my face. I felt flushed, too hot, dizzy with exhaustion and grief. Again I felt the urge to fall into her arms, to feel that cool alabaster skin against mine—but I stayed frozen, caught between impulses. Hissing, insinuation, You know you want it! Warning, urgent, Leave! Leave!
“I will always be your mentor.” Her words wriggled in my brain, as if they had a life of their own. “You’re part of the family Lacy, a very important part. But you need to work on your reflexive paranoia. It’s just a habit you’ve picked up rabbit, and habits can be changed. Rabbits can be chased. Trust, Lacy.”
I nodded. Her words seemed bizarre, but that was my fault. Dreaming while awake, or just plain crazy.
“Trust in your mentor is the key. Trust. That is why I am giving you a week off without prey, without pay. You need to rest. Go home. You have family there, too. Let them take care of you. It’s time to plant the seed.”
I felt the words sprouting inside my brain, taking root, pushing out shoots. I stared into her eyes, so pale they reflected other colors. They looked green now, like my mother’s.
Dr. Grey smiled at me like I was her child—misguided, but accepted. Those mirrored eyes reflected me back to myself, and I didn’t like what I saw. “Thank you, Dr. Grey,” I said, numbly. “I’m going to go home and rest. I’ll work on my paranoia. I promise.”
She nodded and removed her hand from my shoulder. “Good girl.”
I STAGGERED OUT of the office and down the curving staircase, so exhausted I had to cling to the oak balustrade to keep from falling.
Back at the cottage, I told Zora I’d been sent home on sick leave, due to exhaustion. When she saw my tear swollen, miserable face she gave me a hug and said it was for the best. I poured a cup of coffee, not caring that it was cold and stale, drained it, and dragged myself out to my car.
Halfway back to Richmond, the coffee must have kicked in and I started to feel almost normal—still tired, but coherent. I spent the next hour contemplating my mental state. It was time to face the bald truth: there had been too many incidents lately where I’d heard and seen things that weren’t there.
The day my father died, I’d heard John saying things that made no sense. Just the shock of my father’s death, I’d thought. But then there were the shadow people at UrgePool, the clown faces last night, and even Zeke. I’d felt certain he had been there, except that I could no longer fully trust my senses.
And the voices. They’d started about a year ago. I’d clung to the hope that they were a neurological side effect of the migraines. But the voices had begun to occur independent of headaches or any other symptoms. And the episodes had increased in frequency and intensity.
I clutched the steering wheel as I drove, watching the flickering patterns of light and shadow cast by the ancient trees that lined Route Five. Tomorrow I would make an appointment with the best psychiatrist I could find. But today … today I was going to take a long soak in the tub and then crawl into bed with a mug of tea.
I sighed, thinking of my cozy, quiet house and the long hot bath that I so desperately needed. After I got myself cleaned up and rested, I would call Branson and tell him to get his fine ass to Stuart Avenue and into my bed ASAP. No bars, no drinking, just some good, clean fun. But what awaited me on Stuart Avenue was far from the peaceful sanctuary I craved.
Continue to Chapter 32: Savages in my House