She sat quite blithely, dressed in white, on the center of an edgeless chair. Her legs were drawn up, in some mockery of a Buddha, and she was tracing something invisible on the featureless, cushioned table with a thin, pale finger.
However, as the young man approached with the supervisor, her eyes darted upward. She stared at him through the plate glass, not with the lost eyes of the insane, but with very calm, old eyes. He felt as if the dark pupils, surrounded by an aquamarine sea, could stare into his soul and pick him clean. He turned away.
“You are not to excite her or upset her in any way. The episodes are seemingly random, but we would not wish to encourage them. If she shows any sign of violence, we will remove you and restrain her immediately. I hope this proves to be a learning experience and that you find what you are looking for,” the supervisor said to the man.
The supervisor made a pretense of knocking on the door, although he was very obviously the one who controlled entrances and exits.
“Please, come in,” came a soft, but clear voice from within. The two men entered through the door.
“You have a guest, Evangeline. This nice man would like to speak with you,” the supervisor said jovially.
“Salutations, nice man.” He thought he saw a hint of a scathing, almost condescending smile on her rather red lips. It was hard to catch that hint of a mocking smirk on the corner of her mouth however. She could have very well been just smiling serenely.
He supposed she might have been pretty, if her life had gone differently. However, the burns on the her chin and neck and the ragged scars arching their way randomly across her face removed any hint of beauty she might have had. “Please, sit down.”
She gestured to the seat across the table. The man sat as the supervisor left, leaving him alone in the white cell, as that was a fairly accurate term for the room. The walls and floors were padded softly and edged sanded down into safe, round curves. A mattress laid on the floor without blankets. A toilet and sink, cushioned heavily, sat in the corner. There was a window high above the room, filtering in a bit of sun. A bright fluorescent light was the most prominent illumination of the space however.
“I would normally offer you a cup of tea, but they took that away from me after this,” she motioned to her chin. She did not look away from him. He didn’t think she had broken eye contact from his since she stared up at him through the glass window.
“That is fine, thank you. I’m not thirsty, Miss Pruitt,” he said quietly.
“Then, nice man, what is it you’ve come to converse with me about? I can’t say I have seen you before, in any life,” she said magnanimously, breaking just slightly from the vision of perfection as she said the epithet, “nice man.” He knew she was mocking him. She had to be.
“My name is Mr. Harding, Miss Pruitt. I’m from Horizon Publishers,” he said, feeling quite uncomfortable. He hated lying.
“Ah, I am honored, Mr. Harding. I thought I was forgotten after these years. Such stories I weaved! Nevermore. Nevermore. They took away my pen and my pencil after this,” she pointed to a large, long scar in her forearm. He shuddered, just imagining her stabbing the pen into her flesh and pulling it down the length of her arm. He couldn’t understand it.
“Why?” he asked, although he knew it was tactless to ask. He didn’t mean to go about it this way, but the words flew of their own accord.
“Why, I was somewhere else at the time, carving a totem for the Great Festival of the Moon,” she said good-naturedly, as if it were the most natural explanation in the world. “When I came back, I found my log, my arm, and there was an awful lot of blood everywhere. And you know those aides get themselves in such a tizzy over blood.”
“But it was your arm all along,” he replied calmly, thinking back to the lectures of his psychiatry professors. “You were always here. They have videos.”
“Your perception of this reality states that. But my perception was at another reality. I was the chieftain of the clan The Warriors of the Moon. It was a very important ceremony, I assure you,” she nodded with a faint smile, as if she knew he would immediately reject her words.
“There is only one reality, Miss Pruitt. And you are in it. Right now. As we speak,” he said emphatically, he punctuated his words with a gentle slap on the table.
“I challenge you to present your proof,” she replied easily. God, he wished she would stop staring at him.
“What do you mean ‘proof,’” he asked, glancing at her sideways. Her calm was unnerving, as if it were hiding something dark and vile underneath the surface. He wanted her to act as crazy as she was, with wild raving hands and contorted speech, not this sly serpent.
“Proof (noun) - something that induces certainty or establishes validity. Really, I am surprised at you, Mr. Harding. A publisher ought to work to create an expansive vocabulary,” she said. He thought he saw her smile twitch at “publisher” as if she knew he was lying. It was ridiculous. She was insane. She couldn’t know these things.
“Well, I know this is reality, but I don’t know your other realities,” he stated, attempting to find some means of offering her “proof.”
“But I know the other realities. Should that not be enough?” she asked.
“If something is to be real, it must be observed by many other people,” he returned.
“I disagree with you on that point. My thoughts are very real, but only observed by my mind. However, continuing under that assumption, you are still wrong in dismissing my realities. My realities have many people in them willing to affirm their realness.” She sat supremely still, with a straight back and her hands crossed lightly in her lap. Only her face moved, and even that, the expressions were subtle, almost derisive in their gentleness.
“But if you accept this reality, then you could get out of here.” He looked around at the bleak surroundings again. He couldn’t imagine living there.
“Ah, but what other wonders would I lose?” Her eyes lit up like fire and she leaned across the table toward him, eager in her utter awe at the lives she lived.
The sudden movement shook him, and he slipped out of the pinned down chair and onto the padded floor, terror written in his face as he raised a protective arm upward.
“Oh, you needn’t worry about me. I have never hurt another, only this body. If you would please, Mr. Harding, sit back into your seat. If they find any suggestion our tête-à-tête is nothing but butterflies and daisies, they’ll force you to leave and inundate this body with some sort of sedative, and that is always unpleasant. Besides, they have restrained me to this chair. I could not reach you even if I wished to do so.”
Shaking, he stood, and observed the belt around her waist connecting to the chair. He sat back down.
“Ah, there’s a good Mr. Harding. Have you discovered any other arguments as to why I should reject my realities of which you are not a part? Tell me, what makes this more real?” She seemed to be such an intelligent, rational being. Anyone who read her books would know that. How could she be here? How could she argue these things? Perhaps it was that devotion to the mind that had driven her so far into oblivion.
When he didn’t answer, she continued. “I have no doubt you have realities you have rejected, Mr. Harding. They may have been in what you call dreams. They may have occurred as you read a novel or watched a movie. But the truth is, what we see as reality can only be observed by fallible senses. Eyes sometimes see things that are not. Ears ring when there is no sound. We trick our tastes buds time and time again. There can be no definite reality, because we have no definite real. In your definition of real, all of my realities are equally real. For you to argue that I should abandon them to live in only one of them bares no motive. For you to argue that I should abandon them to live in a psychiatric hospital borders on the absurd. I am sorry, Mr. Harding, but you have been unable to persuade me.”
He felt off kilter, as if she had slapped him. He found himself questioning everything around him. What if he was in a psychiatric hospital in the true reality, as surely one must exist, and only pretending to be a psychiatrist in his head? There was no proof. There was never proof. And she had realized this. She had given way to her mind and found new avenues of thought, new experiences beyond life. Perhaps he was insane for rejecting this logical response to an illogical world.
Her eyes seemed to go out of focus for a moment. Then, quite suddenly, she bit deeply into her left shoulder, tearing at her alabaster flesh. “Tis a hardy, good meat,” a voice echoed, coming out of her throat, but so removed from the tranquility of the previous occupier that it couldn’t be the same. This one was rough, brutish, and undeniably male, speaking with an accent that might have been Slavic.
Crimson blood was spilling across the white table and down her white front as the man sprung from his chair, retreating. The door opened as brawny men in white uniforms rushed forward. One held her head as she thrashed, red foam bubbling across her lips, bits of skin still clinging to her chin. Another inserted a needle into the right arm.
After a moment, she went limp. A man undid her restraint as a stretcher was wheeled in. The young man felt an arm around his shoulders, pulling him from the sight as they loaded her onto the bed and strapped her in. Someone was pressing gauze against the ragged wound on her shoulder.
“I told you, she’s a psychopath, Hank. All the geniuses are. Get a brain too big, and it starts collapsing in on itself,” the younger psychiatry student beside him explained.
The burly men threaded the stretcher past him and into the infirmary. As she passed him, he thought he saw her wide, open eyes stare back into his with that clear, irrefutable intelligence of an extraordinary mind. But no one else responded. No one showed the slightest sign of noticing. And as he went to take another look, her eyes were closed.