With a warm smile, Doctor Grace Rutherford, the founder of Raven’s Hold, holds the front door open for Ian. “We are happy to have you with us, Mr. Connors. I look forward to helping you become whole again. The trick is to work through these difficult periods and not create a downward spiral. It’s easy to let one mistake compound into a life-ruining disaster. That is the situation that brought you here, Mr. Connors. Now, I believe it is time you met the people who will know what you’re going through.”
Ian swears the white tables and matching chairs are the only type available to psychiatric institutions. The bland furniture is kept by the windows that are cracked open to allow for a soothing breeze. A trio of couches sit near a television that sits silently against the wall, its remote connected to the table to avoid it getting lost. Books and puzzles are kept in a corner, the entire collection damaged and worn by years of abuse. Aside from there being no locks or bars on the windows, the room looks like every other communal area that Ian has ever seen during his various hospital stays. Even the white clothing is the same, which makes him wonder when he will get his own set. Standing next to Dr. Rutherford in his jeans and long-sleeved shirt makes him feel exposed and foreign to the residents who are staring at him.
A repetitive click draws everyone’s attention to the corner where a bald man is fiddling with an old camera. He cranks a dial on one end of the object and hits the button to take a picture even though Ian is sure there is no film inside. Only once does the patient raise the camera to his face, aiming it at the newcomer and taking his time with the shot. Noticing that he is being watched, the man sheepishly stands and goes to the window. His movements become quicker as he rapidly takes pictures of everything outside and lets the sound of the camera drown out the rest of the world.
“That’s Mr. Garrett who came to us last month,” Grace whispers, allowing the other residents to examine Ian from a distance. When she is sure they have had enough time, she raises her hand for attention. “This is Mr. Connors and he just joined us. I hope all of you make him feel welcomed and help him acclimate to his new home. He will be joining tomorrow’s group session, so those who will be with him may want to introduce themselves. That way everyone will be comfortable. Now I have to do my rounds. I will have an orderly escort you to your room at the end of the day, Mr. Connors.”
“Thanks,” Ian says, his breathing becoming ragged. Before the doctor can leave, he clears his throat and nods to a brown-haired woman in a wheelchair. “Who is she? Everyone seems to be staying away from her.”
Nodding to one of the orderlies, Dr. Rutherford has them check on the young woman, who is staring at a raven on the windowsill. “That’s Dawn Addison. She’s been here for . . . Funny, but I don’t remember how long she’s been with us. Most of our money comes from a fund designed to take care of her. As you can see, the poor girl doesn’t respond to anything. The bird taps on the glass and she doesn’t even flinch. She has to be bathed, fed, and her muscles massaged to avoid atrophy even though we don’t know if she will ever come out of that coma. I read her file every morning hoping for a clue, but she came to us like this. The officer who dropped her off said she has no family, so this is her home. No visitors, mail, or phone calls. Hate to say it, but you may find yourself forgetting she is around. One of these days, I need to discover which orderly keeps bringing her into the common area. Her presence is not a problem, but I do worry that she could get hurt if another patient has an outburst.”
“Does she ever speak?” the young man asks. He is about to get closer when a shiver runs up his spine and he pulls back. “I guess that’s none of my business. I have my own problems to deal with, so I shouldn’t get involved with someone else. Still, it makes me said to see someone like her just sit there with her puppy and kitty plushies.”
“Oh dear, somebody must be using her as a toy chest again,” Grace replies before quickly going over to remove the stuffed animals. Catching a quick movement out of the corner of her eye, she assumes it is the raven, but it reminds her of something she forgot to mention to the new arrival. “This might be dangerous to talk about since you are emotionally fragile. Yet, I would rather you hear it now than stumble onto this situation by accident. Most of the staff and patients have seen what they believe is a ghost of a little girl. She is bald, wearing dirty clothes, and carrying a satchel, which everyone agrees on. I haven’t witnessed the apparition, but I have messages about it going back to the founding of Raven’s Hold. Some people may claim that she is only seen around Dawn, but I doubt there is a connection. Anyway, I’m late for my rounds and you need to acclimate. Enjoy your first day with us, Mr. Connors.”
Ian is about to ask another question when Dr. Rutherford is called away by an orderly who has blood on his arm. Taking a seat at a nearby table, he nods to Mr. Garrett and is not surprised that he is ignored. Staring out the window, he catches his breath when he thinks he sees the bald girl ducking into the forest. A flock of ravens circles the trees and he assumes their shadows played a trick on his senses. The squeak of wheel spokes makes him jump and he watches as Dawn is taken out of the room. For a brief moment, he thinks her lips are moving and there is a golden glint to one of her eyes. He considers getting closer to satisfy his curiosity, but again he finds his body refusing to go near the woman. Tired and stressed, the young man stares out the window again and immediately forgets that Dawn was ever there.
“Never any fun in normal,” Ian whispers, the strange phrase coming to his mind.