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The illuminating rays of the morning sun overwhelmed Helen’s office, as she pulled down hard on the string of her blinds. She threw herself down onto her leather chair and quickly reached to pull open one of the large drawers of her desk. As she did this, her elbow clipped the edge of her Starbucks coffee cup, and steaming hot hazelnut misto came showering over her black dress, dripping into the drawer containing all her patients’ files.
“Oh, s***!” Helen yelped, jumping up to grab anything dry enough to rid her of her pain and save all the paperwork that represented more than half of her entire career. She was wiping off her chest with an unimportant sweater when she noticed that a 15-year old girl was sitting on the brown leather couch opposite her desk, staring at her sympathetically.
“Do you need any help?” the girl asked.
Helen patted her chest with the sweater once more and threw it to the side, along with the empty Starbucks cup.
“You must be Bailey. I didn’t hear you walk in. I’m sorry for being late. The line at Starbucks was enormous!” She reached back into the drawer and pulled out an empty folder labeled BAILEY KIRKWOOD that she had prepared the night before. “How lucky! It looks like your file survived my clumsy coffee incident.”
Bailey’s expression remained blank.
“So, Bailey, why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself? How’s your family? Who are your friends? Do you have a boyfriend?” Helen smiled encouragingly, as if by routine.
Helen began to observe everything about Bailey. She was wearing a purple, knitted scarf and was playing with the stringy ends in her lap. Her legs were crossed, making her body look smaller than it was. Her light brown hair was straight and hung out of a white beanie down her shoulders. She was wearing beat up, purple Converses and a black jump suit jacket. Bailey’s face was flawlessly smooth and her eyelashes were curled out widely, allowing her blue eyes to peak through her jagged bangs. But the most important thing Helen noticed about Bailey was her lack of interest in Helen’s questions. Her attention had not changed since before Helen even spoke.
The office remained silent. Helen’s training told her to wait for Bailey to respond. No matter how long. It was a technique used in counseling to get the patient to initiate the conversation. She adjusted her position in her chair and set her pen down on her desk, preparing to wait. She shuffled a few papers and played with her damp dress, flattening the wrinkles that draped over her crossed knees. She listened to the clock as the hands clicked. Tic, tok. Tic, tok.
Suddenly, the silence was shattered with the sound of Bailey’s voice.
“I had a dream last night.” Bailey said, sounding as if she was far away, in another time, another world. She was staring at Helen now, hands free and resting in between her legs.
Helen was grateful that Bailey spoke. Following standard procedure and attempting to quench her curiosity, Helen leaned forward, placing her elbows on her desk and folding her hands, and replied, “Why don’t you tell me about it?”
Bailey stared at Helen as if this was an unreasonable request. Her left hand began to shake. When Helen’s eyes shifted towards her twitching hand, Bailey grabbed ahold of her scarf again, petting it and braiding the strings.
After another brief moment of silence, Bailey said, “I remember dying. More than anything else, I remember dying.” Her voice was calm, despite the betrayal of her body language, which appeared to be frightened and uneasy.
“That must’ve been scary for you. What else happened in your dream? Anything before your death, perhaps?” As she said this, Helen began jotting down a premature evaluation of Bailey in her brand new file. Dreamt about death, probably suicidal.
There was a giggle. Helen looked up to see Bailey laughing, her focus still solely on the scarf.
“It wasn’t scary. It was… the best feeling in the whole world.” And for the first time, Helen saw Bailey smile.
Helen was intrigued, but a little worried. What kind of sad person can dream about her own death and smile, she thought. Helen reminded herself that sometimes dreams could produce contradictory emotions. If this young teenager had enjoyed dying in her dream, it didn’t mean anything other than an imaginative subconscious. Maybe she’ll write a book, someday, Helen thought.
“Would you like to tell me about it?” she asked.
Bailey’s smile faded, and she nodded. “But before I do, can you promise me something?”
“Can you promise me you won’t think I’m crazy?”
Helen was surprised by her question. “Of course I won’t think you’re crazy, Bailey. It’s only a dream. We all have crazy dreams every now and then.”
“OK,” Bailey responded, uncertainty lingering in her eyes. Helen was worried that Bailey was going to become silent again; she glanced at the clock, and as she did, Bailey began to tell her what she had dreamt in her sleep.
“It started like every other dream. I was right in the middle of everything. You know how your dream self knows everything that’s happening, but when you wake up, you realize that you had no idea? I was in a deserted neighborhood, running very fast with a little girl I’d never seen before. But of course, in my dream, I knew her. Once I realized that I knew her, I started running faster, to keep her safe. It was like she was my responsibility, you know?
“I think it was bright outside, but everything was some shade of grey. I looked behind us and saw that there was a grey van in the distance, so I grabbed the little girl’s hand. She looked so scared. And that’s when I realized that we were running away from a man.” Bailey paused, fear swelling in her eyes. She was looking in Helen’s direction, but Helen could sense that she wasn’t looking at her, but past her.
She blinked and the fear was gone. Now, she acknowledged Helen.
“Who is the man chasing you? Why is he chasing you?” Helen asked, hoping to bring her back to reality and reassure her that it was only fiction.
Bailey made complete eye contact with Helen. “I don’t know,” she said. “I stole the first car I saw. In real life, I don’t know a thing about cars, but somehow it started before I even realized cars required keys.” Bailey said, laughing at how easy everything seemed in her terrifying dream.
“I drove fast. The girl was crying and telling me to hurry. I remember saying, ‘Everything’s going to be OK.’ I hate that I said that. I didn’t know everything was going to be OK. Why does everyone say that when they don’t know?” She paused, expecting Helen to answer her question.
“It’s sometimes comforting to hear, Bailey. You were only trying to calm her down.” Helen said this though she knew what Bailey meant. Those five words always seemed to be told in the form of a lie.
“But what does ‘OK’ even mean? It’s not good, it’s not bad. It’s nothing. I told that girl that everything was going to be nothing…” Bailey said, sadly.
“What you said was instinctual. You didn’t do anything wrong. I’m sure the girl in your dream appreciated it. Just remember, it was only a dream.”
Bailey showed no indication that she heard Helen, but continued with her story. “I hadn’t seen the van in the rear-view mirror for about a mile, so I pulled over by this abandoned church made of cement bricks. I jumped out of the car and grabbed the little girl and told her to follow me. I’ve never seen this church before in my life, but somehow I knew exactly what I was doing. We ran around the back and there was a small staircase that lead to a wooden door. As we raced up the steps I heard the door to the van slam. I opened the door, and the room was almost completely black. There were a few candles that hung above a long row of coffins, but it was still extremely dark. I knew the girl was scared, but I had no other choice. So, I shut the door, and led her to the end of the row, and we climbed into the casket of a dead priest.”
“Should I stop? You’re giving me the look, like you think I’m crazy.” Bailey said, all the emotions that were in her story-telling voice had completely vanished.
“No, no, go on! I was just shocked. The way you describe your dream makes it sound so real. But, please, continue.”
Bailey looked worried, unsure if she should. But something in Helen’s expression must have convinced her, because she continued. “The man found the coffin room. As soon as the door opened, I covered the little girl’s mouth, so she wouldn’t scream. We listened to his boots scraping against the cement floors as he walked back and forth, passing each coffin, sniffing the air, waiting to hear us breathing. It didn’t take him long to leave, though. I think he thought he was wasting his time. I made us wait, though, until I heard a car start and drive away, before I let us get out. That didn’t do us much good. As soon as we got back to the front of the church, I saw him.
“The little girl screamed for me to run. She called me by my name. I really wish I had known hers. I grabbed her arm and sprinted towards a cornfield that was across the street. Somehow, she got separated from me. I ran down a path that I found in the cornfield. I was sprinting and corn stocks were slapping me in the face. I could hear my breathing and feel my feet slamming into the ground. And then, I felt something grab my leg and pull me back. ‘Gotcha!’ he said. And then… everything vanished.
“I never knew it was possible to die in your dreams, you know? So I never imagined you could be dead in your dreams, either. But after everything vanished, the cornfield, my fear, I felt something amazing. I felt bodiless. Everything had color. The sky was purple and the moon was milky yellow. I was like a soul or a spirit, floating above that cornfield. And I was smiling. It was, as I said, the best feeling in the whole world.”
Helen drove home from work that evening around 6:30pm, more than 5 hours after meeting Bailey. Bailey had already left her mind, dream and all. As she pulled into her driveway, Helen noticed that there was light peaking through her front windows, indicating that her husband was home. She walked into her house, carrying three bags of groceries. Her husband, Ben, was sitting on his favorite chair watching T.V. in worn out sweatpants and a t-shirt.
“Hi, honey. How was your day?” he said, taking a chug of his nightly beer.
Helen walked to where he was seated, leaned down, and kissed him. “It was all right. Nothing special. Just a new patient. Oh, and I spilt my damn coffee all over myself. I can hardly stay awake without it.” She sighed and made her way to the kitchen where she placed the bags of groceries on the table. She could still hear the broken sounds of the T.V. as her husband searched the channels in the adjacent room, mumbling under his breath about how there was nothing good on.
“What do you want with your dinner, Ben?” Helen yelled over her shoulder. “I picked up some French bread and pasta, but what else should we have?”
He didn’t answer right away. Helen assumed he was distracted by the television.
“Ben?” she yelled.
“What? Oh, uh… Whatever you want, babe. I think there’s still some of that corn that I brought home last month in the freezer.”
Helen opened the freezer to find a plastic bag containing five corncobs. She took out two of them, washed them, and placed them in a saucepan filled with boiling water. As the pasta and corn cooked, Helen washed the dishes and cleaned the countertops. She poured herself a large glass of red wine, a treat she felt she deserved for having to listen to people’s problems as a career. When the pasta and corn were finished, she distributed them on separate plates and walked into the T.V. room where she handed her husband his dinner and sat in the chair opposite him.
“You watch the news now?” Helen asked. She had rarely ever witnessed her husband settle for the news.
“Eh,” he said and began eating his food.
“This corn is really delicious, Ben. Where did you get them, again?” she said, as she tried to pick some of it out of her teeth.
“Remember that trip I took last month to Modesto?”
“There’s a really nice, private cornfield over there. It’s huge. I almost got lost in it a few times,” he said, chuckling. “Anyway, I stopped by there on my way home and picked the first best ones I could find. I’m glad the freezer was able to preserve their taste.”
Helen took the last bite of the juicy corn and handed her empty plate to Ben. He placed it on top of his and lifted himself out of his chair.
“I’m gonna get another beer from the garage. Want one?” he asked.
“I’m OK, thanks,” she said, smiling. As her husband left the room, Helen located the remote and raised the volume on the television. Just then, the female reporter’s voice became clear and focused.
“The teenage girl found dead in a cornfield last week in Modesto was identified today as 15-year old Bailey Kirkwood. She and her little sister, Gem Kirkwood, went missing three weeks ago after going on vacation with their family…”
Helen was frozen with shock. She was staring, eyes wide, at the screen, her jaw dropping. The remote slipped out of her hand and fell to the floor.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” her husband said, now standing in the entrance of the room with an open beer in his hand.
Helen showed no reaction.
The reporter’s face faded from the screen and a picture of her patient replaced her. Underneath the photo were the words, “Bailey Kirkwood, Age 15.” Helen stared at the young girl in disbelief, her heart pounding through her chest. Incoherent thoughts raced through her mind, questioning her sanity, her hearing, her state of being.
“That’s her,” she muttered.
“Who?” Ben asked, confused. He walked over to his chair, but stopped when he saw the girl’s face on T.V.
“Gem is still missing. Police have searched the entire cornfield and found nothing but a white t-shirt. There are no suspects in custody, and it seems there are still no leads…”
Helen began shaking. She felt like she was going to be sick.
“That’s my patient. She can’t be dead. I just met that girl today!” As she said this, Ben got down on his knees and wrapped his arms around her, trying to stop her from shaking. Helen still felt paralyzed. “Am I crazy?” she mumbled, tears creeping down her cheeks.
Ben ran his hands down her hair. “Shhh,” he whispered. “It’s OK, Helen. You’re not crazy. Everything’s going to be OK.”
With those five words, Helen immediately stopped shaking. She stopped feeling helpless and insane and impossible. She stopped trying to picture Bailey sitting in her office, with the sun shining through her window and on her patient’s nonexistent face. She stopped listening to the reporter continuing to tell the news. She stopped breathing and thinking. Instead, Helen remained completely still and felt absolutely nothing.