I walk into his office; the name in brass on the door reads Dr. Adam Reagan. I sit on the small plush chair and pull my feet under me, my warm mug of tea in my hands. He smiles when I slide into the seat and sigh. He thinks he is breaking me but there is no way I can allow that to happen, not after everything I think I have been through. “Where do I begin,” I say, I don’t mean it to sound sarcastic but to my ears the words sound sharp like tiny pieces of glass in my mouth.
“Hello, Cara. If you are so eager I guess we can begin at the beginning. I won’t ask you any questions, but I will answer as many of yours as I can. This is your experience to share. I suppose you should start with the accident or what you remember of it. Where were you going?” His concern is almost eerie, a sneer looks like it is resting just below his eyes waiting to break through his teeth.
“I don’t really know where I was going. I had an argument with my boyfriend, I needed air. Air turned into miles and I couldn’t imagine going back. Where is my boyfriend? Did Gavin come?” I choke out the words, already knowing the answer is no. The memories are right there. I can feel Gavin’s touch, his kiss, and the whispers he presses against my skin.
I love you.
Please don’t leave.
Dr. Reagan shuffles through his notes. “We had no contact information for him and your cellphone wasn’t returned to you after the accident.”
I sigh. I remember in a brief glimpse that I deleted all his contact information and now for some reason I am legitimately struggling to remember his number or email address. In fact, I am struggling to remember just about everything.
What was Gavin’s last name? Morris. Gavin Morris. Flashes of his face come into my mind. He is angry. I yell at him. I storm out of his apartment. I am alone again. As I always am. Who I am floods my brain. I close my eyes and push at them. Dr. Reagan scribbles on his pad. I can hear his pen as it scratches its unfair words about me across its baby blue lines.
I have to get out of here but I have to figure out how. I am silent for a long time and he lets me be. A part of me thinks he is comfortable in the quiet that sits between us. It keeps us from interacting in a way that might seem confrontational. I am struggling to figure out his intentions and the purpose of my being here, with him, in this facility. I don’t know anything about what happened to me here, what they are planning or what has already occurred.
It dawns on me that I need to pretend that he can feed me my history, he needs to think he holds the key. My memories push through; real feelings rob me of my voice and when I find the strength to speak I do.
“What about my job? My apartment? My cat??”
“They are all there for you for when you leave here. Your co-workers send their well wishes, they sent flowers but since you have been asleep for a while they have perished. Your cat is at your local veterinarian’s office, being sheltered while you recover. Do you have any other questions before we begin your recollection?” He writes more and lifts his eyes to meet mine.
For some reason, Dr. Reagan had assigned me a history that would never fit my real life. I have a transcribing job so I work from home. I lived in a sprawling house I inherited after my parents died. It was on a steep hill. I met Gavin online because all the men in my tiny town think I’m a spinster. I don’t have a cat. I have a fish. My heart pounds in my ears. He is lying. Why is he lying?
I clear my throat, “How many days have I been asleep?”
His hands go to his notes. “Sixty-seven days. Of those days, sixty-four were spent in the deepest levels of sleep achieved in science and medicine. You were in a coma-like state but able to do certain things.”
“Certain things like what,” I asked, “did you watch me?”
He looks up from his pad, a sad smile runs across his face. “But of course we did, Cara, that’s our job here. We made sure you were comfortable, moved you, fed you, and bathed you. But sometimes we would witness you standing and pacing, talking out loud in what can only be described as gibberish. A very deep dreamlike state.” Dr. Reagan shows me footage of myself mumbling, clawing at my hair, screaming in a language I can’t comprehend. I stare into the camera, matted hair and cracked lips, asking to go home.
“How did I go to the bathroom? Where are the needle marks? Please tell me how you did this to me. Why you did this to me?”
He turns his eyes down, avoiding my emotion he says, “We saved you. You are confused and think we might have done something to you when all we did was save you from the poor situation you found yourself in. When you’re ready we can begin.”
I am here against my will. The walls threaten to press in and suddenly I am aware of every noise around me. I can hear the clock ticking on the wall behind Dr. Reagan and the small whistle in his nose when he breathes. Screams flood my brain and panic rushes to my face while I plead to remain calm. How am I going to keep him out of my subconscious when I tell him my story?
I close my eyes and say, “I’m ready.”
He turns on the recorders and says, “This is Dr. Adam Reagan with Patient Number 14-67, Cara Delaney. The purpose of this session is to recall her experience when healing from life threatening injuries sustained in a car accident. Ms. Delaney received a trial forced sleep program for sixty-seven days, where her injuries were tended to. Ms. Delaney will be telling us the story of her experience.”
Dr. Reagan turns the camera to me and the lens focuses, minimizing and maximizing in order to focus, like an eye struggling to see if someone is telling the truth. I look into the lens and begin.
I am on the gurney when I see them. The bright lights swim overhead like UFOS illuminating an already too bright sky. I feel warmth flooding my abdomen but my teeth are chattering and I am really cold. Faces are in my line of vision, eyes and voices keeping me focused and gloved hands holding me still. It’s noisy and I realize it is the roar of my own fear magnified by the rush of the moment. I didn’t know what to do, I fought on the gurney; the pain on my right side was immeasurable. I fight against the nurses and doctors because something is telling me they aren’t here to help me because I didn’t want to be. A part of me thought maybe I deserved to die, maybe it was my time, you know?
Dr. Reagan nods.
About the accident itself, I had been driving for too long. I knew it. I felt myself begin to nod, the sleep was calling to me and I just felt so so tired. Even with the windows open and the radio on. I open my eyes just in time to hear the blaring of the air horn; my eyes were still so tired and I know I struggled to focus in the stream of its headlights. I think the truck crashed into my car when I drifted into oncoming traffic. It was probably two a.m. on a Wednesday night in September. I was on a road I wasn’t even supposed to be on; I was running from that life and felt like maybe God had given me a way out of it all.
The next thing I know pain ripples through my chest, breathing had simply become impossible as I felt the blood fill my lungs. My eyes began to feel an immense pressure as the blood vessels popped and blurred my vision. I struggled, pulling at the tubes in my arms and the mask covering my mouth. I gasp for air because I thought this was what it had to feel like if you are being held drowned. I was warm but cold at the same time, sweat glistened across my skin. I close my eyes, I am so tired.
I remember hearing faint voices saying I was the perfect candidate. I listened closely because I was still just too weak to fight back. You all understood it was dangerous, didn’t you?
Dr. Reagan nods.
You knew it could kill me. You wanted to ask my family, but I don’t think you did. You took me from my family. I remember feeling the change of the air above me, someone hovering above my face, even though I didn’t have the strength to open my eyes.
You talked about me as if I wasn’t in the room. Like some experiment. I had a family. They probably think I am dead, when I am sitting right here with you. Please tell me they know I am ok.
Dr. Reagan interrupts, “You remember a lot, I see; we made a decision.” Agitation settles in his voice and his nerves seem to fray. Something in me makes me think he might feel guilty. I take a sip of my tea and continue. I look at him and say, “Then you and four other doctors make a decision about my life.”
“It wasn’t that way, Cara,” he continues. “As soon as we get through your recollection, I will try to explain how we helped you. Why we are helping you.”
I shake my head and continue.
I lose consciousness at some point and I remember it feels a lot like falling asleep. When I open my eyes again I am facing the sun. It warms my face, and is so bright it turns the inside of my eyelids red. I smile, I am happy. Really happy. Birds flap their wings above me and a slight breeze sways the tall soft grass, I ran my hands through it and it tickles.
Dr. Reagan says, “Did you laugh? When the grass tickled your hands, did you laugh?”
No. I don’t remember. I remember slowing when I tried to get to my feet brushing the grass off of my jeans and T- shirt and out of my hair. It was if it had just been mowed, sticky and wet. The smell made me sneeze. My bare feet love the feel of the grass beneath them and I remember feeling connected and at peace.
I walk forward, arms raised above my head. I spun around, dancing in the almost constant breeze. Then I hear something, a snap like someone taking a misstep. I wheel my head around and take in my immediate radius. The vastness of the space suddenly scares me and my thoughts turn sinister. For some reason all of a sudden there is doubt about this place. I feel scared.
Tears run down my cheeks.
I start toward the trees ahead of me. I try to figure out where the sound came from. Birds squawk and chirp above my head, fleeing the trees in flocks. A warning almost. It feels like a warning. The wind picks up, a sudden darkness spreads itself in a thick coat in front of me.
Walking into the trees, I wasn’t afraid and felt more curious like Alice in her twisted Wonderland.
I look at Dr. Reagan and say, “In other words, I chased a white rabbit down a hole. Just like you wanted me to, right?” He smiles faintly and I continue.
I feel alone, but I know I’m not. There is someone or something there with me. I am not sure what and I’m still not sure. It is close enough to draw me in. I call out but my voice fails me. I turn quickly into the face of a small child. She is standing completely still, her eyes so blue they are almost clear.
Thunder booms overhead and I jump because it is so loud. My heart and chest burn and I was suddenly too tired again. I sit down, my arm instinctively pulls close to me and I applied pressure to the pain. Thinking about it now I don’t know why I did it.
The child, a girl, smiles at me. Her blonde hair is soft and wavy, it runs all the way down her back. Her skin is so fair in comparison to my sun-kissed olive tone. She is the opposite of anything I ever was as a child. Soft and quiet as opposed to my loud and boisterous. Her face is sweet and innocent, with full cheeks and deep dimples. She says hello and raises her hand.
I rub my hands together, nerves make my throat tight with tears.
Then she ran off into the woods. She is giggling right ahead in the distance. We are running pretty fast when I realize that what I was hearing wasn’t giggles. What I was hearing was out-of-breath snarls, growls escaping her lips blended with the music of a child’s laughter.
She turns around and faces me. Her face is laced with small scratches from where branches nipped her skin. She raises her hand and beckons to me, “Come on,” she said, but her eyes weren’t blue anymore, they had lost their whites, black irises stare at me. I stop and stare.
The rain begins to fall, feelings as if the trees were rocking in the wind’s fury. Each drop hit my skin with enough force to raise goose pimples. My hair clings to me, my T-shirt hangs low and wet on my shoulders. When I look down, blood is soaking my abdomen and she calls to me again.
“This way,” her voice is dark and demanding. “Come this way NOW.” It is almost as if she growled. I remember lightning dancing across the sky, and lashes of pain rolled down my spine. It is the worst pain I have ever been in, and all I want to do is sleep. The wind pushes at my front, and it keeps me from reaching her. I put my hand out, thunder claps and lightning glows so bright I fell back to the ground. I remember thinking after that I really wasn’t sure if I even wanted to get up.
Then she is above me, her eyes dead and glistening black. “Next time you won’t get to leave.” She pulls her lips back to reveal fangs sharp like stakes. They were dripping red with thick blood.
Then I wake up.
Dr. Reagan repeats, “Then you woke up?”
“Yes. The tubes and machines are disconnected already assuming there were tubes and machines at some point. I open my eyes and I am here. Changed but here. In my favorite sweatpants. Lucky to be alive, right?”
He nods and looks at me, concern etches his face. “What do you mean changed?”
“Sixty-seven days ago I should have died. That much is obvious. A little girl came to me in what I thought might be heaven to lead me to what I now think might be hell. Wouldn’t that change you?”
He sighs. “Sometimes when we fix things the dream-like state produces very real hallucinations and vivid dreams. There is no heaven and hell. There was no little girl.”
“So I imagined her threat. Her promise. That’s what you’re saying?”
He smiles and leans forward so he can rest his hand on my knee. “No. I’m not saying you imagined it. No one knows what happens when you slip into healing. You were very touch and go, spotty at best. If you believe in the sorts of things like heaven and hell, you very well may have been almost lured to the evil depths. But if you’re a science person, you were probably living through the physical pain in your subconscious. So, in other words, she was your pain.”
I look at him inquisitively; even in my exhaustion I need answers to my questions. For a minute I seem to start and stop about ten sentences before I sigh and say, “Why did it feel like ten minutes? Why didn’t it feel like sixty-seven days?”
He looks down at his notes, shuffling the pages and settling on one worn rabbit-eared page. “It seems as though time doesn’t exist in the same time when you’re healing, it moves slower there. One minute on the other side could equal an hour or two here, in your situation, it seems like it might be more.”
“How do you explain everything that kept me from getting to her when I should have easily been able to? I know what I felt. There was a barrier between us and something or someone stopping me from getting close. What was that? God?”
“What do you believe happened?” He says this as plainly as day; as if I had a choice to believe anything but what I saw and felt in those trees.
I pull my feet out from under me and steady them on the carpet. My mind is reeling at recalling what I saw when I was “healing.” In the days that I have been awake my mind has been racing, fear and adrenaline course through my veins. I try to calm myself.
What had they done to me?
I couldn’t have this conversation with Dr. Reagan. Not yet, it would only lead to him not believing me or my story. The only thing I know is true is that I can’t shake this feeling that Dr. Reagan isn’t here to help me.
“Dr. Reagan, I really don’t know what I believe anymore. I believe in the science of what you did but I don’t believe in you playing God, which is also what you did. Can I go back to my room? After being asleep for sixty-seven days I need to rest, believe it or not. I need to gather my thoughts and try to make sense of things.”
“Sure, Cara. You can go back to your room. I will send someone to check on you in a little while. When you come out, we like to monitor you and make sure your heart and lungs are strong. Please remember what you saw are only dreams, mere figments of your imagination. She can’t hurt you, even if she promised she would get you. There are no devils waiting, they are among us.”
I look at him and laugh, “You don’t say?”
I stand up and leave Dr. Reagan’s office. I pass another woman in a similar outfit as me; she looks comfortable but nervous and tense. She is waiting to be seen, ringing her hands but breathing deeply. She raises her eyes to mine as I slide into the seat next to her. The receptionist looks at me then back to her computer.
“I’m Cara, I need to know something. Please. What did you see?” I blurt it out nervously, hoping to get a response before Dr. Reagan calls her to record her experience. I know she is like me. Alone in this world. A test subject.
“I’m Devon.” She looks away.
“Hi, Devon, can I ask you what you saw while you were healing? What did you see? Were you in an accident?” My sentences seem rushed and nervous. I am looking around, my eyes bouncing from Devon to Dr. Reagan’s closed office door.
“No, I had terminal cancer. I saw a field…the woods and a girl…”
Dr. Reagan enters the area and calls Devon’s name. I raise my eyes to meet his and he smiles; it’s untrusting and turns into that sneer I have been waiting to see since I sat down in his office an hour ago.
I stand and walk quickly to my room; it’s the only place where I can sit and think. At first I sit at the edge of the bed because all I want to do is curl into a ball and cry. I am too exhausted for that and I’m pretty sure I’ve spent the last sixty-seven days curled in the fetal position. My limbs ache but itch to be used. It’s as if my body is protesting so I slide into bed and turn my face into the pillow.
I try to pull my hair into a loose bun when something sharp pokes my hand. I sit up because whatever it is tangled in my curls, embedded deep like a secret. When I pull it out, I hold the object in front of me, my eyes focusing.
One single blade of grass sits pinched between my fingers, wrapped in a blonde hair.
I feel the scream ripping from my throat before I hear it. My room is filled with orderlies and Dr. Reagan comes into my line of sight, his arms cross in front of him and he is shaking his head in admonishment.
The needle pierces my neck and I close my eyes slumping forward, my brain screams to fight it, to flee. I can’t and I fall back into unconsciousness and to the land of The Girl and the Field.