Riding In On The Waves
Written By Madison Paras
“Come on, Ellie,” Deacon’s smooth, deep voice pleaded. “The kid obviously needs some serious help.” He nodded his rounded, but not quite chubby face toward the glass window to his right.
I sighed, gazing in through the glass to the small room behind it. The walls were white but dingy, the once bright color having faded to a softer yet uglier hue. The floors were a depressing shade of grey tile, sprinkled with flecks of charcoal, and the fluorescent lighting cast shadows at odd angles in the corners. In the center of the room was an old wooden desk, its paint chipped around the splintered gash in one of the front legs. There was nothing particularly captivating about the scene, except perhaps the young girl seated behind the desk.
She was pristine and thin, with elongated legs and blonde hair cut squarely to her shoulders. Her skin was smooth and pale, with the slightest pink flush framing her cheek bones. Her deep sapphire eyes were wide as they flickered over the room, absorbing the details around her. Under ordinary circumstances there would have been no denying the girl’s innocent beauty, but given the oddity of the current situation, I was finding it hard to appreciate.
I tore my line of sight away from her and back to Deacon’s deep set eyes. “Deac,” I began in a low voice. “Do you realize what she’s saying here? This is not anything like what I’ve dealt with in the past. This is a whole new ball game. Besides that, don’t you think I might be too close to the case to be objective?”
Deacon leaned against the wall and crossed his arms across his chest. “I realize exactly what she’s saying, Ellen. It’s scary, I get that.” His eyes bore into mine. “Maybe you being close to the case is what’s going to make the difference. For God’s sake, no one has more background on this than you do. Besides,” His voice turned to honey. “You’re the best child psychologist in the business.”
I was skilled in my profession, having been mentioned in print as a leading researcher in child psychology for five years running. Working here, at Cordova Psychiatric Hospital Children’s Ward, had by far been the highlight of my career. I had quickly risen to the top, working with both mentally unstable children and their families to pursue some form of normalcy within their lives.
I ignored his flattery with a roll of my eyes. “I thought I was done with this 11 years ago. I never expected something… I’m not prepared to handle this…” My eyes pleaded with him to grant me the peace of leaving, and yet my feet stayed firmly planted to the ground. “Deacon, I am not emotionally or mentally ready to relive this. I can’t...” My voice trailed off as an onslaught of memories escaped from their locked cages in the corners of my mind.
Each thought was a fleeting glance at my former life. Me, smiling at the gorgeous attorney who couldn’t seem to take his eyes from me. Him, asking for my number. Me, kissing him for the first time outside of my apartment. Him, getting down on one knee and practically begging for the rest of my life. Me, vowing eternal love in front of friends and family.
These early memories brought brief kisses of happiness and contentment, but they were quick, each one disappearing into the next before I could reach out and keep them.
Soon, the mental pictures tinted themselves with black, and the flickering joy I had felt gave way to sharp stabs of despair. Each dreamlike image morphed itself into a nightmare. Me, frustrated by not having heard from my new husband all day. Me, throwing open the dark apartment expecting to find the sleeping love of my life. Him, sprawled across the floor in a slumber that he would never wake from. Me, hitting the floor in desperate sorrow as my shattered life tumbled down from the rafters above.
While all of these images haunted me like ghosts of the past, they could be tamed. Controlled. Pressed into the deepest recesses of my mind. I had requested that none of the pictures of the scene be released, and so, after the months of fruitless investigation, they were sealed. Locked away in a room somewhere, left to be forgotten.
For the most part, I had done my part in keeping that time tightly bound in the past. However, there was one picture, one moment that followed me like a shadow through my life. This was the detail that gripped me, holding onto my soul with an unyielding grasp. Through the fog of shock, my eyes had locked on my husband, splayed out on our living room floor. The curtains were drawn, the sofas tidy and untouched. A single vase lay broken on the ground, its flower wilting on the hard wood. A puddle of rusty blood pooled around his head on the Persian rug, his left arm laying limp and lifeless to his side. My gaze trailed the lines of his hand, zeroing in on the tips of his fingers.
Even with no medical training at my disposal, it was obvious that his fingers had been broken. Each was painted with dark purple bruises, and bent into chaotic yet purposeful shapes. They jutted out at obscure angles, none of them with exactly the same fractures. Somehow, in spite of their seemingly random positions, they flowed together to create an ugly and sinister pattern of shattered bone and lifeless skin.
In that moment, I knew that it had been no accident. My husband was no victim of happenstance or coincidence. No fingers could have fallen into such a precise pattern naturally. My husband had been murdered, proven to me by the meticulously planned mutilation of his hands, each one placed just so...
“Ellie!” Deacon snapped, his voice venturing into a shrill octave to get my attention.
I blinked and shook my head, focusing on the girl inside the room adjacent to me. Squinting at her, I forced myself to look for any signs of schizophrenic or psychopathic behaviors. Finding nothing but an average, if somewhat bored girl, I sighed.
“Fine,” I spat out begrudgingly, turning back to Deacon. “I’ll talk to her, but...”
“Yes!” Deacon’s dark eyes shone with appreciation.
“But,” I continued. “If it gets too... if I can’t handle it...” I cleared my throat. “Then I will leave and I don’t want to hear another word about it. Understood?”
Deacon hesitated, but must have decided that was the best he was going to get, because he simply nodded and muttered, “Understood.”
I pursed my lips, smoothing my skirt and straightening my posture. He gave me one more nod, and then opened the door to the other room. I followed him in, my heels clicking obnoxiously across the tile. As we approached the desk, I noticed how strikingly mature the beauty of this small girl was. Her features were innocent, yet hardly childlike. It was as if someone had shrunken a fully grown super model to prepubescent proportions.
“Hello, Celeste,” Deacon boomed warmly, touching the girl lightly on the shoulder. “This is my good friend, Ms. Ellen. I’m sure you ladies will become great friends.” Smiling a brilliantly toothful smile, he pulled out a chair opposite of Celeste’s and motioned for me to sit. He gave a small wave to Celeste, and then walked briskly out of the room.
I sat across from her, smiling at her while I allowed my posture to relax just a bit.
“Hello, Ms. Ellen,” Celeste chimed, her voice clear and precise.
Slightly taken aback by her bell tone voice, I blinked and cleared my throat. Composing myself according to my extensive training, I smiled wider. “Oh, honey. You can call me Ellie.”
This was a routine Deacon and I had done too many times to count. The idea was simple: Deacon would introduce me as Ms. Ellen. His attitude would be all formal, and very much adult. Then, I would tell the child to call me Ellie, allowing said child to feel more connected and trusting toward me.
Celeste grinned, revealing a perfect set of pearly white teeth. “Hello, Ellie.”
“Is there anything I can get for you?” I asked sincerely. “Water, maybe? Or some juice?”
She thought for a moment, chewing on her lower lip and turning her gaze toward the ceiling as she did. Slowly, she shook her head. “No thank you, Ellie. I don’t believe I’m thirsty now.”
Once again, I was awestruck by the sound of her voice, but also the maturity of her tone and the phrasing of her sentences.
“But...” she began, tilting her head slightly to the side. “But, would it be possible for me to get something to draw with?”
This was not an unusual request, so I smiled and nodded. “Sure, sweetheart. Deacon?” I called, my voice echoing off of the walls.
He appeared a mere second later, peaking in through the door and grinning. “Yes, Ms. Ellen?”
“I think my friend Celeste would like something to color with.”
He nodded and disappeared, but the door had barely fallen shut when he burst through it again, carrying a stack of crisp copier paper and a set of colored pencils. He brushed my shoulder as he set them down, probably to comfort me. I nodded up at him as he exited the room again, pulling the door swiftly shut behind him.
Celeste immediately grabbed the pencils and arranged them neatly in front of her. Her forehead creased as she studied each one, as if she were inspecting for fine craftsmanship. Nodding to herself, she selected the black, and I made a mental note to analyze her color choice later.
Pulling a piece of paper toward her, she draped herself over the page, allowing her long hair to form a sort of curtain around it. It wasn’t perfect, and I could see her pencil start to scratch the paper, making lines and shapes in random places around the edges, none of them connecting to another.
Realizing I had been distracted by her odd drawing technique, I quickly pulled myself back into my role. “Celeste,” I began carefully, gauging her reactions to my voice. “Can you tell me why you’re here?”
She glanced up at me with a painfully bored expression. “Didn’t Mr. Deacon already tell you?”
I gulped. “No, honey. We thought it would be better to hear it from you.”
She grinned, and I could see she had easily picked up my lie. “Well, Ellie, I’m here because you think I’m crazy.” She returned to her drawing, seemingly satisfied with her answer.
I leaned forward. “No one thinks you’re crazy here, Celeste. Deacon and I want to help you.”
Celeste ignored me, speeding her drawing a tiny bit.
“Can you please tell me why you’re here?” I tried again.
She looked up at me this time, her eyes staring straight into mine, almost as if in challenge. “I’m here because I killed your husband.”
My breath caught in my throat and I tried to remain calm. Deacon had warned me of this. “And why do you think that, sweetie?”
She laughed slightly, as if enjoying a private joke. “Because I did.” Her answer was so simple, so childlike, that it seemed out of place among her other, more mature responses.
I was about to speak, delve into her past, when she interrupted me.
“Shame,” she muttered wistfully. “He was a good man.”
I fought to keep my heart steady. “Yes,” I began, drawing out the word slowly. “Yes, he was. Celeste, honey, can you tell me how old you are?”
She quickly resumed the sketch, placing her obscure lines closer to the center of the page. “I’m nine,” she said monotonously, letting me know just how unaffected by my presence she was.
“Nine?” I confirmed, though I had heard her perfectly. “Can I ask, when is it that you think my husband passed away?”
She straightened, tapping the pencil on her chin. “Hmmm...” She seemed lost in thought, like an elderly woman reminiscing on her glory days. “It had to have been 10, or maybe 11 years ago, right?” She eyed me, looking for me to confirm her answer.
“Eleven is correct,” I said slowly, watching carefully as she began to connect the scattered shapes on the page. “Celeste, you said just a moment ago that you are nine years old, is that correct?”
She nodded, her eyes still locked on her creation.
“And it was 11 years ago that my husband passed, correct?” I continued, urging her to find the holes in her story.
“As far as I know,” She muttered.
I nodded, confident in my ability to talk her through this. “Celeste, if my husband died 11 years ago, and you are currently nine, then that would mean you were born two years after his passing. Sweetheart, you couldn’t have possibly killed him. You weren’t even alive yet.”
She smiled a half smile, and glanced up at me quickly. “Doesn’t make much sense, does it?” She mumbled sarcastically. Her manner was so nonchalant, as if we were discussing what she had eaten for breakfast that morning.
“No,” I responded, shaking my head. “No, it doesn’t make much sense at all.”
We sat in silence for a moment, and I wondered if there would be any getting through to her.
“Sorry about the vase,” She spoke so suddenly, I wondered if I had heard correctly.
“I’m sorry?” I said, looking at her in confusion.
“The vase at your house. It was a lovely vase, really. I didn’t mean to break it, but your husband did put up a bit of a fight.” Her drawing was starting to form, connecting in ways that could not have been seen before. Detailed three-dimensional objects erupted on the page beneath her pencil.
My breath caught and my vision blurred. “The... the vase?”
She nodded solemnly. “Yes, the vase. The rug, too. I’m afraid I caused a bit more of a mess than I had originally planned.
My head spun, my mind desperately grasping at the words she was saying, forcing myself to make sense of them. I fought to explain them away with logic, or coincidence, but the cold sweat breaking out all over my body assured me that there was more to this.
“Celeste... I” My breath caught in my throat, and shades of black tainted the edges of my vision.
Celeste smiled at me then, her face calculating and sinister. There was no gloss in her eyes, no shine from the light. They were flat, the shimmer that had been so striking before was gone. I watched in terror as her pupils expanded to swallow the deep blue of her eyes, and her teeth began to take on a sharp, yet not quite pointed quality.
She pushed her finished drawing toward me, and a single sob racked my body as I absorbed the details of the page.
Drawn so perfectly that it could have been captured by a camera, was a living room. The curtains were drawn, the sofas tidy and untouched. A single vase lay broken on the ground, its flower wilting on the hard wood. A puddle of rusty blood pooled around my husband’s head on the persion rug, his left arm laying limp and lifeless to his side.
It was obvious that his fingers had been broken. Each was tinted with dark bruises, and bent into chaotic yet purposeful shapes. They jutted out at obscure angles, none of them with exactly the same fractures. Somehow, in spite of their seemingly random positions, they flowed together to create an ugly and sinister pattern of shattered bone and lifeless skin.
I gasped in shock and horror, throwing myself backward out of the chair. The black haze around my sight closed in, forming a perfect frame around the meticulously planned mutilation of his hands, each one placed just so...