St. Mary’s Child Psychiatric Hospital was full of kids in need of care, affection, or just someone to lend a few kind words. Renee had worked there for five years; she’d started right after finishing up with her Master’s Degree in Child Psychology. She had seen many sweet young children come in and leave throughout her time at SMCPH but none were quite as special as Julia. Julia was an autistic child who was orphaned at the tender age of four and bounced from hospitals to foster homes and back again. Her parents had been in a fatal car crash. A drunk driver had hit them head on one late night when they were coming back from a Christmas party; Julia was staying with a sitter at the time.
Julia was a sweet girl who didn’t cause problems, but since she had trouble communicating things to others, no one wanted to adopt her. Renee had been working with her, trying to bring her out of her shell and had grown to love her in the process. Julia’s eyes would always light up when Renee would come in the room and that always made Renee’s heart melt. This was the only emotion that Julia ever showed to anyone, so Renee cherished it as their special bond.
The only thing that struck Renee as odd was a note made in Julia’s chart about a strange behavioral occurrence that took place the night of her parent’s deaths. The woman who babysat for Julia that night had mentioned that she had displayed odd behavior that particular evening. She’d said that Julia had started screaming, crying, and trying to run out the front door early on in the evening. Since the woman had babysat Julia many times before, she knew that something definitely was out of sorts for her. She said she’d tried to hold her and calm her down but Julia was inconsolable. It wasn’t until a couple of hours later that they had gotten word that her parents had been in the accident. Julia had sat, without emotion, as the sitter and a police officer explained what had happened. Since that night she seemed to stay in that emotionless state, at least until she had gotten to know Renee.
Renee walked into Julia’s room and saw the young girl’s big blue eyes fill with joy. Julia was a beautiful child with her long brown curls, big blue eyes, and ivory skin; she looked like a fragile little doll. Julia sat on the bed holding her one and only possession that she’d had since before her parents’ deaths, a fuzzy brown and black stuffed dog. Julia softly petted the dog; something that Renee assumed had a calming effect for her.
“Hi Julia, how are you this morning?” Renee said as she took a seat next to Julia on her bed. Julia looked at Renee and cocked her head to one side. Renee hadn’t expected her to answer, as Julia hadn’t spoken a word since the night of her parents’ deaths. Due to Julia’s lack of speech, Renee had grown accustomed to the subtle movements that Julia made. She knew from Julia’s head tilt that she was okay but lonely.
“I know Julia, it’s okay, I’ll keep you company for a while.” Renee stroked the young girl’s long locks, in a reassuring manner. She could almost feel the sadness that emanated from Julia and wanted to do anything that she could to help her.
“Look what I brought for you.” Renee said as she pulled a large sketch pad and a pack of color pencils from her work bag and handed them to Julia. Julia’s eyes lit up when she saw this and Renee knew that she had made her happy.
Julia’s love of drawing was evident by the many pictures, drawn by Julia, which hung on the walls of her room. Renee walked around the room and inspected the many pictures, admiring them along the way. Her eyes wandered to a newer picture that hung on the wall; it was a picture of a black-robed figure with one bony hand pointing off to the side. Renee was disturbed by this and wondered why Julia would draw such a thing. Julia usually just drew pictures of animals playing in their natural habitats. This picture definitely stood out.
“Julia, how did you come up with this picture?” Renee asked pointing at the ghostly picture on the wall. Julia stopped drawing, took a look at the picture, and lowered her head. Renee was surprised by the response and walked over to Julia.
“What is it Julia? What’s wrong honey?” Renee asked as she knelt down in front of Julia. Julia’s face had changed; she was pale and looked frightened. Renee knew that she had struck a cord somewhere within Julia that made her collapse within herself. Renee tried to relax Julia; she stroked her cheek and tried to get her to respond somehow. Renee knew it was no use; Julia was out of commission for the moment and probably wouldn’t come back to reality for some time. She hated to see the little girl close herself off but there wasn’t much that could be done to bring her out of this state. Only time would cause Julia to come out of the state she was in.
Renee gave Julia one last hug and kissed her on the forehead before grabbing her work bag and leaving Julia with her thoughts. She closed the door and headed to the nurses station.
“Sally, Julia’s shut down again. You might want to check on her in about an hour and see how she’s feeling.” Renee spoke to the red-headed middle-aged nurse that sat behind the station desk.
“Okay dear, I’ll be sure to do so.” Sally said looking over Renee worriedly. Renee looked weary; her raven hair hung limply framing her tired face. Circles ringed her gray eyes making her look as if she hadn’t slept in days. “Are you okay?” Sally asked in her usual motherly fashion.
“I’m fine Sally, just been spending a lot of time thinking about Julia. I want to adopt her you know.”
“I know dear. You’re the only one that Julia seems to have any connection with and I know how much she means to you. The question is, can you handle the stress of caring for her full time?” Sally’s genuine concern touched Renee and she thought about how much Sally really was like a mother to all of the staff at SMCPH.
“I think I can manage, I would worry less about her if I could be with her at all times.” Renee responded as tears began to well up in her eyes. “I just love that little girl so much and I hate to think about how much pain she’s been through” Renee wiped a stray tear from her cheek before trying to regain her composure. Her professional side knew that she needed to distance her personal feelings from her patient but she couldn’t help the affection that she felt.
Sally came around the side of the desk and hugged Renee, noticing how much thinner she’d become. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay?” Sally asked pulling back from Renee and looking into those weary gray eyes.
“Yes but thank you Sally for being concerned about me; I really appreciate it.” Renee grasped Sally’s hand reassuringly before turning and heading for the exit. Renee started down the hallway but stopped briefly in front of Julia’s door. She debated going back in to check on her but decided against the idea.
The sky was overcast and no stars could be seen through the vale of clouds covering the late evening sky. Renee began walking down the sidewalk toward the subway station; as she walked she began to let the tears flow.
Julia had finally resigned herself to sleep; hoping to escape the sadness that filled her mind. Sleep came finally came, as she fell into her slumber she began dreaming…
She was floating through a beautiful meadow filled with animals grazing and flowers blowing in the wind. The sun was shining brightly and Julia could feel the warmth on her cheeks. She took everything in, feeling a happiness that she hadn’t felt in a long time. This was Julia’s happy place; she’d spent much time there when she needed to escape painful memories. She began strolling through the meadow and everything seemed perfect for a while.
Suddenly the scene changed and she was standing in a foggy dark room. Her mind began to race; she recognized the place, it was a place she hoped she’d never see again. Out of the fog came the man, the man dressed in the black robe. Julia tried to close her eyes and close out the frightening figure but was unable.
The hooded figure’s face was shrouded by darkness; a sinister darkness surrounded the figure like smoke. The figure was tall, taller than any human could ever be. The dark robe would shift about its body like black sand or something not quite solid. Icy cold surrounded the figure just as the darkness did; it emanated out from the figure, almost reaching out to Julia.
The dark figure had come to Julia once before; he had appeared the night that her parents died. She had been taking a nap while she was at home with the babysitter when she had the dream of the man. She had watched in terror as the man pointed off in the distance at a car driving down a dark road. Julia could see two figures sitting in the car that she didn’t recognize at first. The car had drawn nearer and the fog surrounding it moved away enough for her to tell who was inside. The figures were her parents and they were sitting trancelike in the car. She’d tried to call out to them and to run to the car but it flew past her and drove back into the fog.
Julia knew that it was happening again, someone else was going to be taken from her. The figure knelt down and picked up a small doll. The doll, Julia recognized, as a perfect replica of Miss Renee. The dark hair was held back in a ponytail, just as Miss Renee wore it; the doll’s gray eyes were lifeless. A hole appeared in front of the figure, a deep and dark chasm. The figure held the doll over the hole and let it go.
“Nnnnooo!” Julia screamed as she tried to reach the doll before it disappeared down the hole. She was too late and when she reached the hole she looked over the edge. She saw the Miss Renee doll shattered into a many little pieces at the bottom. The face was cracked down the middle, right between the eyes and shattered pieces of limbs were strewn about. Miss Renee was broken, unable to be fixed. Julia fell to her knees and began to scream and cry as the figure walked off and disappeared back into the fog.
Sally heard the scream come from Julia’s room. She rushed down the hallway to the little girl’s door.
“Julia, are you alright? What’s wrong?” Sally asked, worry in her voice, as she burst through the door. She saw Julia flailing about on her bed, screaming and thrashing her arms and legs. She ran to Julia’s side and grabbed her arms, pulling Julia to her. She held her tightly, trying to keep Julia from hurting herself with her flailing. All at once Julia stopped screaming and her body went limp. Sally pulled Julia back to look at the young girl’s face. Julia was pale and her eyes were closed.
“Julia, dear, can you hear me?” Sally asked as she checked her pulse. She had a pulse but it was weak and her breathing was very light. She thought that maybe Julia had a seizure and so she reached for her cell phone and dialed Julia’s doctor at home. He picked up on the third ring…
“Yes, hello?” The sleep-groggy voice came over the line as soon as the phone was answered.
“Doctor O’Malley, Julia had an episode, I think it may have been a seizure.” Sally replied, glad that she had been able to reach the doctor.
“Oh, okay, how are her vitals?” He asked, the worry seeping into his tone.
“Her heartbeat is faint and her breathing is light. She had been screaming and flailing wildly and suddenly went limp.” Sally spoke into the receiver as she looked at the poor child lying so lifelessly on the bed.
“I’ll be there soon. Don’t leave her side; call in another nurse if you need to.” The doctor hung up and Sally put her cell phone back in her pocket, praying to God that Julia would be okay.
Renee regained her composure as she reached the subway platform. Usually patients didn’t get to her the way Julia did. Something seemed to reach out to her; something within Julia had connected with Renee. She wanted to help her, make her feel wanted for once.
As Renee had told Sally, she really did want to adopt Julia. She had been looking into the adoption process and knew that adopting a child with a disability would be challenging. It would be hard enough to adopt a child when you were single and without any kind of spousal support; combining the fact that Julia had a disability, adoption would be even more difficult. She also had to factor in that she was mental health professional and her job demanded much of her time. Renee knew she could do it though; she had to because Julia needed her.
Renee waited on the subway platform, deep in thought. She was so unfocused on her surroundings that she didn’t hear the man come up behind her. A man dressed in a black trench coat and black fedora slunk up behind Renee. He got in fairly close and pulled a switchblade from his pocket.
“Don’t scream or I’ll kill you.” The man whispered as he brought the blade up to Renee’s throat. Renee froze, her mind raced and she tried to figure out what to do. She glanced to both sides of the platform, hoping to see someone nearby to whom she could call out. No one was there; only she and the man threatening her were on the subway platform.
“W-what do you want?” Renee asked, her voice trembling.
“I want whatever you’ve got lady.” The man whispered menacingly. “Give me everything you have on you and don’t try anything or I’ll slit your throat.”
“Yes, okay.” Renee muttered as she reached for her bag. Bravery kicked in suddenly and the instinct to protect the patient files she was carrying; one of which was Julia’s. She thrust her body back into the man’s, knocking him off balance. The knife he was carrying flew out of his hand and skidded across the platform. Renee started to run for the exit when the man grabbed the strap of her bag and pulled her back.
“You’re really gonna regret that, lady.” He growled as he grabbed her by the arms and began to shake her violently. He was angry now and Renee knew that she was really in trouble.
“Please, let me go. I won’t tell anyone this happened, just please let me go.” Renee begged as tears started to form in her eyes. She knew her chances were slim for making it through this; she prayed that she could live to see Julia again.
The man grabbed Renee’s bag again and ripped it from her grasp. This sudden movement caused Renee to lose her balance and she fell onto the subway rail. She was knocked unconscious. The man fled with the bag, not wanting to get caught.
The subway driver didn’t notice the body lying on the rails until it was too late. He tried to brake the cars but didn’t have enough time nor railing to do so. The subway train hit the unconscious body lying limp on the rails.
When the subway train finally did come to a stop the driver leapt off the train and to the platform. He walked to the front to survey the damage and see if there was any possibility the woman was still alive. He saw the mangled body of the woman and began to vomit; heaving up the sandwich he’d eaten for lunch.
“Oh God! No!” The subway driver fell to his knees, unable to calm the shaking in his legs. By now some of the passengers had begun getting off of the subway. They began to converge on the driver, questions floating through the air. The crowd was beginning to see what had happened; screams and cries of fear pulsed through the group. A few began scrambling for cell phones to call for help, while others began to also get sick.
The paramedics came and announced Renee dead on site. They were able to identify her by her work name badge. Renee Woodward, the name was written in notes of police officers and called over to police dispatch. What came back from dispatch was that she was a 29 year-old single female, who worked at St. Mary’s Child Psychiatric Hospital.
“Looks like she may have been pushed; no personal effects were on her so it may have been a robbery.” A forty-something hulking detective spoke to a younger uniformed officer. “Such a shame, poor girl didn’t even know what was coming.” The detective shook his head and headed to his car, ready to go to St. Mary’s to give them the sad news.
The doctor had gotten to St. Mary’s quickly, as promised. He had checked all of Julia’s vital signs for himself. He’d determined that it wasn’t a seizure but that something had caused her to go into a comatose state. Sally had sat by Julia’s side and watched her while the doctor was examining her. She felt her heart sink when the doctor said that Julia was in a coma. She knew what she needed to do next.
Sally went to the nurses’ station, reluctantly leaving Julia’s side, and retrieved Renee’s number. She dialed the number and got her voicemail.
“Renee, sweetie, you need to come back to the hospital as soon as possible; Julia is in a coma.” Sally hung up the phone after leaving the message; she prayed that Renee would get it quickly.
“Ma’am?” A large hulk of a man stood on the other side of the counter looking at Sally.
“Can I help you?” Sally responded.
“Yes, I’m Detective Roberts and I need to speak with someone regarding an employee.” The detective said as he flashed his badge.
“You can speak with me, I’m the head nurse here and I know everyone on staff.” Sally wondered why a police officer needed to speak about an employee. She really did know everyone on staff and trusted them all.
“Maybe you should sit down ma’am.” The officer walked over to one of the lobby chairs followed by Sally. Sally sat in one while the officer took the one next to it.
“What’s going on? Has something happened?” Sally let the worry slip into her voice as she asked the questions.
“A woman by the name of Renee Woodward was found dead at the subway station.” The detective took a breath and then continued, “It looks as though she may have been robbed and then was pushed onto the tracks. The subway train was unable to stop.”
“Oh God!” Sally gasped; she brought a hand up over her mouth, ultimately feeling as if she was going to be sick. Instead she began to sob uncontrollably and the detective tried to comfort her.
“I’m very sorry ma’am.” The detective spoke in an apologetic tone. He’d always hated this part of the job. He handed her a tissue from his pocket and Sally took it, trying to dry her eyes.
“Wh-who would do such a thing?” Sally asked, her voice trembling slightly. She managed to calm her sobs.
“We’re not sure, we’re looking into it but it was probably just a random thing.” The detective replied, wishing there were a better answer. “Here is my card,” the detective reached into his pocket and pulled out his business card, “please, if there is any information that you can provide give me a call.” The detective handed the card to Sally and she accepted it, nodding her compliance. The detective took his leave and Sally just sat in the chair, not sure what to do or say.
A month had passed since the death of Renee Woodward and the hospital staff was still in shock. The police had caught the man that had robbed Renee; he was found with the work bag that Renee kept her files and personal effects in. The state was bringing charges up on him; Sally and the rest of the staff just hoped that he got what he deserved for his crime.
The night that Renee had died Julia had slipped into a coma and had yet to awaken. She had brain activity but it was only minimal. Sally had been saddened by the coma but was relieved that she didn’t have to explain to the little girl that the only person she had any connection with had died. She knew Julia would’ve been devastated; she’d already been through much loss in her young life and didn’t need to deal with any more.
Sally always visited Julia’s room, even on the days that she was off of work. She felt compelled to look after her since the death of Renee. Sally would always sit next to Julia’s bed and speak to the little girl, wondering if just maybe she could hear her. She would bring fresh flowers to her bedside, daisies; the kind that were in the drawings on the walls. Anything that could be done for Julia, Sally did it, wanting to ensure the little girls comfort if she ever did wake up.
Julia would never wake from the coma…
The sun was shining brightly on the beautiful green meadow. Julia felt the warmth of it on her face. She watched a butterfly pass overhead and smiled. Deer and rabbits were running and hopping about; a light breeze was blowing the tall grass back and forth in a rhythmic motion. Julia took it all in and felt happiness swell within her.
“Julia, come play.” Renee called from the top of a hill. Renee’s hair was blowing around her face and her skin glimmered in the sun. Julia thought she looked like an angel or a beautiful fairy. Renee knelt down and held her arms out to Julia.
“Okay, here I come.” Julia called back to Renee as she began to run up the hill. Renee embraced Julia. The smell of jasmine filled Julia’s nose as Renee held her tight.
“I told you I’d take care of you and I always will.” Renee spoke softly to Julia, stroking her hair as she had done many times before. They held each other for what seemed like an eternity, before they let go. Julia grabbed Renee’s hand and they walked down through the meadow.
“I don’t ever have to leave here, do I?” Julia asked as she looked up at Renee.
“No darling, you can stay here forever. No one will ever hurt you or leave you again.” The two continued on knowing that they would stay together for eternity.
The robed man never came back and darkness never filled Julia’s world again. No one ever knew what Julia had seen; they never knew what caused Julia to fall into the coma. Was it a blessing that Julia could see the oncoming death of her loved ones or a curse? She had to face darkness and watch the ones she loved fade but she was also able to fall into the dream world and spend eternity with Renee. Julia’s torment was ultimately relieved; ironically, she no longer felt imprisoned within her own body.