Authors: Jackie Barrett
His eyes were so kind. I went on talking, trying to explain it to him and to myself. I had always lived on that fine line that most people didn't know even existed. I could look through a two-way mirror, an ordinary girl born with an extraordinary gift that at any moment could turn into a curse. If I was able to see demons, then they were able to see me. The living deadÂ .Â .Â . I lived among them; they communicated with me on every level.
“Do you believe that the devil has an army of living beingsâhuman? Do you believe the dead have a message and that they would go to any length to be heard? Do you believe that these demons can take shape into any form or can pass through from person to person?” I asked. “Well, do you?”
He finally nodded yes, as though we had something in common.
“Through the ages, I have seen structures torn down to a complete wasteland,” he said. “Starvation, the sun burning down, spreading fire, destroying everything in its path. Disease, devastation, and poverty. Human beings, cattleâtogether to be wiped out. The war of the worlds.”
He shook his head sadly. “It's disgraceful, just disgraceful.” His head stilled. “But I have also seen the power and the mighty. The rise of man. Pandora's box was lifted, shifted, and slammed down. The earth moved once again; the meek stood up in the name of bravery and fought back. So my answer is yes. I do believe!”
He sat back in the pew, staring up at the crucifix as if it were speaking to himâor through him. I stood up and left quietly so I would not disturb his silent moment with God. I stopped at the large doors and looked back to whisper my thanks. As I pushed the doors open, he called to me in his gentle voice.
“Jackie, just one thing. Always stay in the middle of the road.” He winked and smiled at me.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Just a messenger,” he said. “You won't know your strength until you face your weakness.”
I walked outside as his words repeated in my head. My weakness, my fear. The schizophrenic soul. I was going to have to go in to find my way out.
I stood outside the church, where everything looked normal and sane. But I now knew I was going to have to go somewhere that was neither. Patricia had been pulling me toward her nightmare, and I was done resisting. I hailed a cab and told the driver to take me to the Bellevue psych hospital.
“Did you say you want to go to the old Bellevue ward?” Before I could answer, he ripped into me. “Look, I had a hard night. Punks skipping fares, girls dropping their drawers having sex in the back. Fights, hair weaves being pulled out. It's out of control, and if I don't pick them up, it's called discriminating. It's called bullshit to me. So what is it, lady? Don't think you're going to jump while I'm on the clock. God as my witness, I'll beat the devil right out of you. You got that?”
How I wished he could. But he was just a tired working stiff at the end of a bad shift. I told him I was just going to see a friend.
He eyed me. “OkayÂ .Â .Â . one false move back there, and a can of whoop ass is going to be opened. Yeah, that's right, New York styleÂ .Â .Â .”
Oh, I did like this guy. He'd seen almost everythingâthe night crawlers, the drunks, the weirdos, the freaks, and maybe even the ones like me. He wore a small cap tilted to one side and a leather jacket that was probably two sizes too small. He spent the ride gnawing on a smelly unlit cigar stump and giving me the hairy eyeball in his rearview mirror. Finally, he couldn't contain his natural cabbie chatter any longer.
“So, lady, what is it? Guy problems? NahÂ .Â .Â . Why would someone like yourself try to get into that crazy house?”
“Who said I'm trying anything?” I asked back. “I told you, I'm just making a fast visit, sort of collecting somethingÂ .Â .Â .”
He told me that the place was now a homeless shelter for men, which I already knew. Although it was down the street from Bellevue Hospital Center, the famous trauma and research facility, the old psych building wasn't affiliated with it at all. The driver knew the difference and steered the cab toward the right location. Then he introduced himself as Tony and asked my name.
“My name is Jackie.” I realized that I had said it in an uncertain tone. I rubbed my hands together, trying my best to stay in full possession of my own body and mind. It was easier right now than it had been; there were no voices pounding in my head, fighting with me. I wondered why Patricia was leaving me alone.
“I'm not trying to be nosy or nothing, but you got a relative up in there?” Tony asked.
“Yeah, I guess you can say that,” I said. “I'm just going in to pick something up from someone. Listen, if you wait for me, I'll pay you doubleâfor your time and generosity.”
“Look, I don't do this, but I'll wait. I wouldn't want to be you.”
I thought as he continued, “Hey, you know, my grandmother from the other side, she used to say, âIf you do good, good comes back.' So I'll wait.”
We pulled up along the side of the hulking stone building, and as I got out, Tony warned me not to bring any smelly homeless people back to his cab. This guy really had seen a lot. I steeled myself for what I would have to see before I returned to his taxi and then walked around to the entrance. It was still as bleak and grim as before. And the environment wasn't helped by its neighbor. The New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner was right across the street. Bellevue's patientsâand now the homelessâhad nothing but a steady stream of death every time they looked out the windows. And not easy, natural deaths, either. Only the homicides, the suicides, and the unclaimed John Does came by van to that place. Nice view for people who needed help and compassion, wasn't it?
I walked up to the front doors, where two security guards stood. They shooed me awayâno women allowed in the men's shelter. I stood back and looked up at the dead vines clinging to the brick, reaching several stories up. I knew which floor was calling me, but how was I going to get there?
My gaze fell on the line of men waiting to get in for the night. Each one was searched before the guards allowed them inâtheir poor, torn garbage bags rifled through, as if they had no property rights at all. My heart hurt for them. Didn't they have any family who could help them?
Hmmm. I walked back up to the hard-ass guards. “My brother is on the front of the line. I'm here to take him home.”
They didn't budge, just tried to stare me down. I told them that his name was Tony, and he was sick and contagious. “Who knows, you probably have it anyway by now.”
Their stony glares broke as they nervously asked what my “brother” had.
“Some kind of flesh-eating parasite that spreads like wildfire.”
“Shit,” said one of them. “Go on ahead and get him out. You got two minutesâin and out, lady.”
I darted inside, quickly found a set of stairs, and began to climb two at a time. Syringes and crack vials littered the floor. Mold grew thick on the walls, and there were still psychiatric devices around, like mouthpiece restraints and leather straps.
As I approached the fifth floor, I began to hear noises again. The door from the stairwell had a padded knob that crackled under my fingers as I turned it. I stepped into the corridor and watched it transform back into what it had been. Psychiatric hell.
One at a time, the overhead lights clicked on. Gurneys came out of corners and lined up against the walls. Wheelchairs that had been flung into a pile righted themselves and rolled out into a neat line. Demon Sally yelled at me from the nurses' station.
I felt as though I was out of my body and in a dream as I began walking down the hallway. The floor creaked beneath my feet as I headed for room 7. I peeked through the little glass windows of the rooms I passed on the way. Each held broken human beings huddled in the corners of their private hells.
I got to room 6. I thought I was almost there. Silly me. I heard moaning, but I couldn't see through the little window because it was covered in some fetid gunk. Gagging from the smell, I scanned the floor for something to wipe it away. Trash was everywhere, and I picked up a small piece of paper. It looked like an advertisement of some sort as I unfolded it.
Come one, come allÂ .Â .Â .
Big, bold letters began to appear, one by one.
The place where my mother died. The place she was killed by a demon during an exorcism. I fell against the wall, trying to catch my breath. I knew it was a full-blown panic attack, but that knowledge didn't help at all. I was stuck up here, in this hell, and I couldn't breathe.
I tried to sneak past room 6 without it seeing me. This isn't real, I repeated to myself. It can't hurt me anymore. A face that I recognized came to the window, looking wildly from side to side as it tried to find me. It was the demon that had killed my mother.
That was a battle I did not want to fight again. I ran toward room 7 and flung open the door. I could see as I walked in that the window looked out onto the medical examiner's building. The view inside was just as terrible. Sewage dripped from the ceiling. A bloodstained mattress leaned against a wall. A child's desk was tossed in the corner. I moved further in.
Something inside the closet started banging. I tried to ignore it as I saw a yellow wristband on the floor. It had my name on it. I picked it up in horror. In my addled brain, I had become an official psychiatric patient, which was one of my greatest terrors. I had no choice but to put it on. As I fastened it around my arm, the closet door flew open and out came that damn wheelchair again. It rolled forward and waited for me. I knew that this time, I could not avoid the ride. I arranged all of the restraints neatly around the chair and then took my seat.
The only way out was in.
I sat in the wooden wheelchair with a wristband on. The restraints swung free, but I was trapped all the same. The room approved and started to tidy itself. Trash cleared away and the desk righted itself as a fog rolled in. I knew what was coming and began to cry. I knew I was the offering.
The tall man in black stepped out of the cloud. His zodiac sign glowed white against his black hood. I stared at him as he bent down toward my face. I couldn't move. It was psychic paralysis. I was being invaded by another force, and it completely immobilized me. I have interviewed thousands of people throughout my career who have experienced thisâable to see and hear everything yet not allowed to move a muscle. It's a well-known occurrence in parapsychology. But even though I knew exactly what was happening, I was still terrified. He leaned closer, and his breath smelled like rotting flesh and old blood.
“Jackie, you have come homeÂ .Â .Â .”
I felt a knife plunge into me. I tried to look at my body but couldn't see the wound. Patricia's wound. I was almost completely lost now. Jackie was leaking out through Patricia's wounds.
“I told you to stay dead, didn't I?” His breath reeked. “How many times must I kill you?”
A piece of paper floated through the air and landed in my lap. “Go on, pick it up! Read the paper, Gemini!”
I couldn't move.
The paper was empty, except for the sign of the Gemini, written in blood.
“You seeâthat's us. Isn't it fun? You can be Patricia and I can be the Zodiac Killer, and we can playÂ .Â .Â . We both have company. Our twins!” The Gemini. He flipped back and forth so quickly. One second talking to Jackie and the next to Patricia. Now he switched back, leaning in closer to address Patricia.
“You worthless piece of schizophrenic shit. Coming backÂ .Â . How dare you mock me!” He paused, and I could feel his sick smile behind the mask. “But I must say I do like the person you picked. The power I could get from her. And my boss is so pleased with your choice.”
The smile and the stench made the room start to spin. He leaned in closer still.
“Close your eyes and listen to my voice.Â .Â .Â You will be twoÂ .Â .Â .”
I did as I was ordered, and the wheelchair threw me forward. I sprawled on the floor and opened my eyes to find myself back in the stairwell. I tripped over piles of trash and broken floor tiles as I ran, as fast as I could, toward the exit. I pushed past the two thug security guards and found Tony. That should show how bad it was getting for meâthat my safe haven was a New York taxi cab. We pulled away, and I begged him to drive me back home. He turned to look at me and pointed to my wrist. “What's that yellow bracelet? You're wearing a hospital band?”
I pulled at it frantically until it came off. It was all real, and I was in real trouble. I stuffed it in the pocket of my sweatshirt and curled up in the backseat. I guess I looked so bad that tough-guy Tony took pity on me and shook off my money.
“Today's your lucky day. Keep it.” He handed me his business card and eyed me carefully. “Hey, take this in case you need a private ride to hell again.”
Thanks, Tony, but I was already there.