I took your advice -- which was surprisingly unanimous -- and after some deliberation, I went and saw Mary-Ann Compton at Sheppard Pratt today.
I knew the visiting hours, but I called ahead anyway and spoke to her doctor. Dr. Madison is an old friend of Craig's, it turned out, and it was a stroke of luck that he was Mary-Ann's doctor; he said he would give me full cooperation. It was a good thing I called; if I had just shown up, I wouldn't have found her. They've been keeping her in a solitary room and moving her to a specialized room for her therapy and visits, removing her from group therapy altogether. When I asked why, the answer was simple: Since she started talking, she hasn't stopped.
And what she's been saying has deeply disturbed the other patients.
The doctor told me a surprising amount after learning that I was the one Craig had told him about, although he didn't say what exactly Craig had said. Although she does have very brief periods of lucidity, he said, mostly she didn't make very much sense -- a hallmark of a psychotic break. He said it was rather complicated, and that he would explain more when I arrived.
I went to the hospital and asked for Dr. Madison, and after a few minutes of waiting, he came down the hallway to meet me. He's an older man, maybe late forties or early fifties. I wondered idly how he knew Craig as he led me down several hallways.
"Please don't be alarmed by the room," he said. "We typically use it to do therapy sessions with violent or potentially violent patients."
"Why are we using it for her, then?" I asked.
"It's the best-suited room for observation without alarming her," he said. "You've got to understand, Mary-Ann Compton has been given interest from the entire Mid-Atlantic psychiatric community. I've personally been practicing for nearly twenty years, and never seen anything quite like her case."
"But she's not dangerous, is she?"
"Not as far as we've seen -- but, as you know, she only just started talking a few days ago."
I was starting to get nervous. Get a grip on yourself, girl, I thought. I took a deep breath and dropped into journalistic mode.
"What's so unique about this case?"
"It's rather difficult to explain to a layman," he said. We stopped walking for a moment while he collected his thoughts. "You see, catatonia isn't, in itself, a disorder. It's a symptom of a disorder -- in Mary-Ann's case, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and, due to her family history, we also believe she could have manifested late-in-life schizophrenia, although she hasn't responded to medication so it's impossible to know for sure.
"There are three types of catatonia. The one people are most familiar with is a stupor -- a motionless, apathetic state in which the patient will not or cannot respond to external stimuli. Another type is catatonic excitement, which is just the opposite; an inability to stop. A constant, purposeless agitation. Mary-Ann's inability to stop talking -- even without having to constantly be moving -- strongly suggests that she has, quite literally, switched in her catatonic state."
"So...nothing has changed?"
"Oh, I certainly wouldn't say that," he said. "One of the very key problems in treating patients with stupor catatonia is that normal therapy can often be lost. Speech therapy is, obviously, worthless, so often more unorthodox methods are used, like pictures or writing."
"I see," I said, my thoughts flickering across Matthew Selby.
"But it can take years of treatment before a catatonic patient begins to respond, even in the slightest way. Mary-Ann has, in a way, jumped forward in a manner that may allow us to try other, more convential means of treatment."
"I thought you said she's not making sense?"
"She often isn't, at this point, which has inspired a good deal of argument as to whether she's schizophrenic or has simply suffered a psychotic break from the memories of her trauma."
"Is that possible? The attacks happened months ago..."
"Memories can be very, very powerful things to the mind," he said. "And besides, at this point we don't fully know if she's not making sense."
"What do you mean?"
"It could be that she knows what's happening, but doesn't understand how to express it just yet. It's possible that her mind is more or less resetting itself, and as a result she's just saying whatever odd random things can keep her voice going. She may hear us say something, and remember an event in her past that made her feel similar to her reaction to what we said, and so say what she felt then instead of what she's feeling now."
He laughed slightly. "Well, it's just a theory, and probably not the case anyway."
We continued walking.
"Your family has extensive history with Mary-Ann Compton, doesn't it?" he asked.
"Well...yes," I said. "She lived in the same town as us in New Jersey and knew my parents and grandmother. A few years after we moved here, so did she with her new husband. They said the schools were better here and they knew someone -- that is, us -- and that they thought this area was better to raise a family. But that was some six or seven years ago, and we hadn't talked to them since except my grandmother in her church group. Honestly, I'd forgotten she even existed."
"I see," he said. "I'm sorry, I only ask because it seemed so odd that she would ask for you."
"Has she asked for anyone else?"
"Yes," he said. "During her short lucid periods, she's alternated between asking to see you -- and asking to see her daughter, Lucille."
"She seems to believe that we're keeping her daughter from her intentionally. She's antagonized some of the staff because of it, demanding that we bring Lucille to her, but nothing more than some verbal abuse. Physically, we don't think she's dangerous," he said as we stopped at a heavy-looking door. He held it open for me.
As soon as it opened, I could hear her singing.
As we entered the antechamber leading into the room, I realized what Dr. Madison had meant when he said that this room was better for observation; it looked like an interrogation room from some cop TV show, only creepier. The antechamber was a dark, plain hall of a room with a long window on the far wall. A door led into the actual room itself, which was brightly lit and painted white, with a black faux-stone table and two chairs in the center. She wasn't sitting in a chair. She was pacing.
"She can't hear us," Dr. Madison said. "Or see us. It's a two-way mirror."
I walked forward to the glass and listened close to her. The melody was so familiar to me, but I couldn't place it. The words, I could tell, were Latin, and I couldn't make out exactly what they were saying, but I caught a few words that I recognized, from church if nowhere else.
Words like suffert. And eleison.
The haunting melody and the way it was so familiar without being placed made me start to shiver. I swallowed hard and took a deep breath and tried to get professional again.
"Does she sing often?"
"From time to time, yes. And she quotes scripture a lot. We think it's what she does when she simply has nothing else to say. One of the nurses told me yesterday that she usually sings this particular one after she's asked for you."
"Did she know I was coming today?" I asked, turning my head away from the glass to look at him. The light coming through the window highlighted the wrinkles in his face.
He shook his head. "Not as far as I'm aware."
I began to turn my head back to the room. "Are you sure one of the nurses couldn't have told her anyth -- AH!"
I tried to stifle my yelp of surprise, but it came out anyway. Mary-Ann had stopped singing; she'd also stopped pacing directly in front of me. She was staring at the glass. Right at me, I swear to god. Right at me.
"She can't see us, right?" I asked, in a hushed voice, afraid to be too loud or look away.
"No, she can't."
Mary-Ann smiled. It looked like she was whispering something, but I couldn't tell what. Then she stopped whispering, and just for a moment, everything was silent.
Then she said, "I have a message for you."
My hand shot to my mouth to keep myself from yelling again, because it probably would have involved some pretty prolific swearing. I started shaking again. Mary-Ann, still whispering indistinctly, walked over quite calmly and sat at the black table in the chair furthest from the door, facing us. She stayed there.
"You don't have to go in if you don't want to," Dr. Madison said, obviously seeing my face.
Yes I do, I thought.
"It's fine," I said.
I opened the door and entered the white room. It was quite quiet in here with only Mary-Ann's whispering to break the silence. In the upper corner of the room was a security camera. My heart was racing as I sat down in the chair opposite her.
For a while -- a very long while -- she didn't say anything I could make out. She stared at me, so intently, and kept whispering. Eventually, I was able to make out a little of what she was saying; it sounded almost like she was describing me, every aspect of me, saying it out loud as though she were taking copious notes.
"Yes, yes, the glasses, they're broken, a safety pin on one side, holding them together," it sounded like. "The other side has a piece of frame missing, nothing holding the lens in, just sort of perched...." I couldn't make out the next bit. "...Ample busom, bit of a tummy as well, long fingernails, dirt underneath them, stubby little hands..."
As she went on, slowly getting louder and clearer, listing every physical aspect of me -- everything, all the things I loved and all the things I hated -- I began feeling like a piece of art being appraised, but not in a positive way. I was no Mona Lisa to be applauded. I was a student sculpture to be critiqued.
Just as she was getting up to normal volume, she said, "This is the one who was chosen. She doesn't look like much."
Then, nothing. She simply stopped, and kept looking at me.
"What?" I said, coming out of shock at what she just said.
She remained silent. We sat like that for...minutes? Hours? Each second felt like days as her blond hair hung quite close to her bright blue eyes. She did not brush it away. She did not move.
We stayed like that for so long that I jumped when she suddenly spoke, at normal volume and in a conversational tone.
"I used to babysit you and your sister and brother when we all lived in New Jersey. Do you remember that?"
For a moment, I thought that I had forgotten how to speak. Then I shook my head.
"I didn't think you would. You were so little. Milo was still in diapers. He could barely walk, but he followed you around no matter where you went. You hated that. You hated being followed, even if it was just little Milo toddling along behind you.
"Do you remember the woods, Celeste?"
"We'd gone with a bunch of family and friends to the park where you guys loved to go. There was a hiking trail back there. One minute, you were on the slide, and the next thing we knew, you'd disappeared down the path and wandered off it. We found you crying for your dad near a little stream back there."
"I don't remember any of this."
"What about the fire, Celeste? The fire in the school? The little boy a couple of years ahead of you who got stuck in the building. You hated fire after that."
"Maybe that's why you feel such a powerful connection to the ocean."
"You said you have a message for me," I said, loud, trying to steady my voice, trying not to imagine that pretty face contorted into that scream.
Her head twitched to one side for a split-second. "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."
"Blessed is he who endureth temptation, for when he hath been tested, he shall be given the Crown of Life."
"I don't --"
"Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from the violent man; who have purposed to overthrow my goings."
"Is that --"
"Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones."
"What the hell?"
She stopped for a moment.
"You don't know anything about hell," she said, almost smiling. Then she looked slightly afraid and whispered again: "Ignis divine, eleison. Exilis everto, eleison."
Something in me clicked. I leaned forward, onto my elbows on the table.
"What did you say?"
She ignored me. "You must tell him not to go."
"No, what did you say, before? I know that name, that phrase --"
"It will come to pass, but not as he wishes, he cannot face the angel yet."
"You were praying for someone to have mercy!" I nearly shouted. "Who was it?"
She stopped and leaned forward on the table as well. She reached out and touched my face. "Oh, little Celie."
As soon as her hand touched me, the wrong feeling started. It radiated from her fingertips like a poison, just a little at first, then more.
"You know exactly who, don't you?"
Then she smiled.
"Are you afraid?" she asked.
I waited a moment, felt my racing heart, and said, "Yes."
"Not nearly as much as you should be."
I swallowed. "When will I see him again?"
"You have a much more pressing worry in the nearer future."
"What?" I asked. "What worry? What's going to happen?"
She let go of me and leaned back. The feeling subsided a little.
"He who was once the Seeker."
"The Prophet. The Mystic."
"Wait, do you...do you mean Zeke?" I said. I blinked a few times. "How would you know anything about Zeke?"
"How would you know anything about fear?"
"Is..." The question caught in my throat, but I pushed on. "Is something going to happen to Zeke?"
"The bird will appear like a parasite, a runt to be drowned," she said. Her voice was slowing down for some reason. "But he will bring ruin. Only ruin and death."
"And you will want to look away," she said. She leaned forward onto the table again, her eyes boring into mine. "You will feel the base, sickening fear that is older than the ancient stones, and you will want nothing more than to look away. Don't. Don't turn your head, don't focus on anything else. If you value him, her, God or yourself, don't close your eyes. Don't even blink, little one. You were meant to see. If you do not, no one will. If no one sees, he will never know. And if he does not know...then all hope is lost, and we are defeated."
I couldn't breathe. My entire mind was wrapping itself around what she had just said. The door opened again and Dr. Madison said that he felt that this visit had run its course. As I walked out, still half-dazed, I heard her chair scrape the floor as she got up and her voice say, "Send Lucille in on your way out, Celie, dear."
After I'd gotten out to my car, I sat in the parking lot for a while trying to gather my thoughts. Finally, I drove home.
I've got to be honest, I'm disappointed, but what did I expect? Answers, I suppose. I should have known better.
Now I still don't have any answers.
Just more material for my nightmares.