Annabelle by Kate Ditchburn

“Hello.”

“My name is Dr. Green. But I prefer the name Elena. Much less formal.”

“What’s your name?”

A glance. Nothing more, but a start. Dr. Green watched her patient from the heavily padded armchair. The harsh white lights shone down over everything, illuminating the silence. She had often complained about the glare. But who was she to say what these patients needed? She was just the latest in a string of therapists assigned here.

Her patient watched her. Their eyes were cloudy and grey, her entire essence melted into nothing but an empty shell. Elena wanted to restore the beauty that she must have had once, but her work was cut out for her. Her current patient, with an estimated age of eighteen, was the main cause of the ever-shifting changes in therapists. No one could get through to her. She would rave and scream, scratch, yell, and buck until she had nothing left in her. They fed her drugs that made her sleepy. Awful drugs that helped her to forget. Elena hated them, though she understood their necessity in certain situations. As far as introducing herself, she had made some sort of connection, though only in a glance. How she had managed it was, as of yet, unclear. Pot luck, perhaps.

Elena saw that she had not yet earned a verbal response. She glanced over her notes, things people had warned her about.

“You have quite the record here,” she spoke softly as she skimmed the pages, letting the words float in and out of her vision. The claims against this girl varied with every new account of her psyche. Controlling. Mentally delayed. Aggressive. A sudden flurry of movement caught her attention. The patient, previously cross legged on the middle of her single bed, had now swung back and pulled the sheets over her head. Using the notes was a bad idea. She closed the book. “I don’t listen to other people though,” she continued.

The lump in the sheets became rigid and still. “I find the best way to know a person is to ask them,” Elena said. She thought the sheet rose a fraction of an inch. A dark sunken eye stared out at her. Elena couldn’t blame the girl for hiding. The fluorescent lighting was enough to give her a headache, and she wasn’t locked in there permanently.

“How about a game? This one is called ‘Some of my favourite things’. We can take it in turns to say some things that we really like.”

No response. Yet Elena could feel the patient’s eyes on her. There was a purpose to this exercise, a soft way to introduce the patient to the theory of bibliotherapy. Elena hoped to help her through stories – a technique that had not yet been tried with her due to the destructive tendencies she possessed.

“I can start. My favourite story is Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. You’re next,” she urged.

Silence.

“I like Rapunzel.” Her voice was croaky and cracked but she was calm. Elena smiled, presenting as much encouragement in her body language as she could. “Read it to me?”

Elena felt blessed to see the uncanny progress she had made so quickly; she couldn’t have predicted that the girl would take immediately to the fairy tales. Doubtless to say, however, she was worried what the repercussions were for telling such a topical story. It was clear she already knew the story, so Elena begrudgingly accepted despite her better judgement.

* * *

Annabelle had been brought to the ward after being found in an old apartment alongside the notorious kidnapper known as Peregrine, named after the popular series Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. His real name was Samael Crowthers, an orphan from the age of four who decided the world was against him. It had been reported that her patient, Annabelle, had been an accomplice and would help him to find and kidnap children between the ages of twelve and sixteen. Once taken, he would lock them in a dorm-like room where Annabelle would feed them. As part of the delusion, Peregrine changed the names of the children to correspond with names that he had carved on the beds, renaming them after children he had spent his childhood with in St Cuthbert’s Orphanage.

* * *

“And the prince and Rapunzel lived happily ever after.”

Elena let the story linger in the air, she didn’t want to push the girl into talking prematurely. Giving her the space to speak and take control of the conversation would be paramount to find out who she really was.

“I like the name Rapunzel. Do you?” came her delayed response.

“I do. It’s a pretty name.”

“I like your name, too. El-an-a.”

Elena smiled. Annabelle had pulled the sheets off during the story, her wispy brown hair stuck up on end from the static. She pushed her stomach into the air and hung her head off the edge of the bed. Elena wanted to help her, to ensure she wouldn’t fall but kept her distance, remaining seated in her chair.

“Thank you. I like your name, too. Do you like your name?”

She took a turn for the worst. Her writhing body flailed against the covers and an ear-splitting scream emitted from deep within her throat. In seconds, the door was pushed open and two male nurses rushed into the room to control the girl’s outburst. Elena remained seated. She watched with a sting of annoyance and shock. She feared for the girl’s health in this institution, as unstable as it already was. Annabelle’s head thrashed madly from side to side as she struggled against the nurses. Within five minutes, the nurses had injected the drugs, the abhorrent drugs, and her struggling weakened. She flailed less and less until her unwilling state of sleep left her strewn in a heap on the bed. Elena took up her notebook and rose to her feet. “Make her more comfortable, for goodness sake.”

* * *

It had been three days since Elena’s last visit with Annabelle. She knew better this time. She had brought no notebooks with her, no casefiles. Annabelle didn’t need to see them. Instead, she had brought a story.

“Hello again,” she greeted.

Annabelle was quiet, facing the wall and tracing an imaginary image with her finger on the padded panels. She paused momentarily at the greeting but had otherwise shown no indication of acknowledgement.

“Do you remember me?” Elena asked.

She continued to dab her finger into the fabric of the wall, but confusion was etched on her face. She rubbed at her eyes with a balled-up fist. Elena leant forward. Dark bags hung beneath her eyes and shadows filled her hollowed features.

“I brought a story with me. Would you like to hear it?”

This time Annabelle lowered her arm and turned her body to face Elena. She pulled her pillow out from underneath her and clung to it like a teddy bear. In such a state, it was hard to remember her as an accomplice, a villain. It was hard to see the side of her which exploded in fiery tempers and screaming fits.

“The Millar’s house was close by, and the Millar, you must know, had a very beautiful daughter…”

* * *

“…and have a merry feast, Mr. Rumpelstiltskin,” Elena finished.

Silence lingered. Annabelle’s eyes were half closed but she was awake and, for the most part, attentive.

“Do you like the name Rumpelstiltskin?”

A half nod.

“You do? What other names do you like?” she urged.

A mumble. Elena leant closer, hoping to hear better. It was no good. Annabelle’s face filtered through the motions: concentration, panic, fear, anger, exhaustion. Elena watched as Annabelle resolved to go to sleep, she lay down in the centre of the mattress with the pillow still clutched between her arms and instantly fell asleep.

Elena closed the book. “Goodnight.” She sighed and made to leave. She paused as she passed the door. Her room had a chart: of good days and bad days, food diaries and activities, the treats she could earn for good behaviour – she hadn’t gained very many during her time there. She had seen them all over the wards as an incentive for good behaviour in the patients. What made her stop was the name. Annabelle had been written in thick black permanent marker, but it had been scratched to bits, chunks of the board were missing or torn yet the rest of the board lay untouched.

A theory had begun to form in her mind.

* * *

While Rumpelstiltskin had been a stepping-stone to bridge the gap between therapist and patient, the importance that names have for her patient had not gone unnoticed. Now on her third visit, only a day after her last, Elena had arrived with a plan. She left everything outside. She warned the nurses to stay back. This was it.

Inside, her patient was sat on the floor with her legs outstretched in front of her. Elena watched curiously from the door as the girl twisted from side to side in her straight jacket. Another thing she didn’t like being used but ultimately understood. She would need it today. Elena approached quietly and sat down on her usual seat. She hadn’t been noticed yet.

“Hello again.”

“El-an-a.”

Elena smiled. “That’s correct. How are you feeling today?”

No response.

“You never told me your name,” Elena said.

No response.

“Do you know your name?”

The patient was becoming agitated. Her hands curled up within the jacket sleeves and fidgeted against the fabric. Her eyelids scrunched up tightly. Her limbs flexed, and she looked uncomfortable.

“I want to share a story with you, do you want to hear it?”

She was still fidgeting; her breathing had quickened. She rolled onto her stomach and peered out at Elena with her head on the padded floor.

“There was once a young girl, taken from her home and whisked away to a new and unfriendly place by a large and menacing falcon. The falcon placed the girl in his nest and kept her there. He wanted to protect her from the other predators. The girl had had a pretty name and a pretty home, but the Falcon changed that name. He named her Annabelle.”

The patient writhed, fighting against the jacket; she began to cry out. The nurses were hovering in the doorway, but Elena kept them at bay with an outstretched arm and continued the story.

“He wanted to collect pretty things for his nest and they had to be perfect and plenty. So, one day, he brought another girl to his nest, her name was Sarah. Sarah didn’t want to talk to Annabelle because she was scared, but Annabelle knew they would be safe if they stayed in the nest, so she told her to stay there. The falcon brought more people, boys, and girls, all pretty children. They still wouldn’t talk to the Annabelle. After a very long time, the nest was attacked. All the children went back to their last home, and the Falcon was taken away. Annabelle was left behind, no one knew where she came from to take her home.”

The patient’s eyes were wild and frantic. Her breathing was erratic. Her skin was reddish pink as the story hit its mark.

“What was the girl’s name? Do you know?”

No response.

“Don’t you think it’s time that the first little girl went home?”

The patient sat very still. No one dared move or breathe, waiting for her to speak.

“Her…”

Elena nodded, encouraging her.

My name, my name,” her eyes clouded over, and her lip twitched with the effort of thinking.

“Yes, tell me your name, so the little girl can go home.” Elena repeated.

“My name is…Myra Crowthers.”

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