Secrets: Part One.
by Raederle Clay.
updated: 1.4.8: 21 September 2005.

forum: night.blind: Secrets

a collaborative fiction.

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night.blind: 01.4.1: 07 December 2004: Raederle Clay.

           Trish sighed and hung her jacket on the nail by the door, then headed for the corner where her clay sat on the table, waiting for her.  She smiled slightly.  It had taken her three long years to get the equipment she needed--three years of living in the cheapest, tiniest, most run-down slum of a studio apartment she had been able to find in New York City, working at a job that, half the time, didn't even pay the rent.  She was lucky her landlord had taken a liking to her sketches.  He had even gone so far as to buy her some nicer paper and sketching pencils so she could enlarge a particular portrait she had done for him.  Now, at last, she had a kiln; it was a cheap kiln, but it was fuel efficient, and it kept the place warm, and it did its job just as it should.  The next piece of equipment on her list was a potter's wheel.

           She settled on her stool and unwrapped the piece she was working on.  It was a coil-constructed pitcher, the base of which was five inches in diameter.  It would flare out to about seven inches at a height of nine inches or so, then narrow to an oval about five inches by three inches, with one side of the oval flaring as a spout and the other side narrowing and forming a handle.  The total height would be about fifteen inches.  Trish had drawn up a sketch of it two nights before.  She was close to the nine-inch mark after six hours of work;  she didn't have to work the next day, so she planned to finish it tonight.  She already had a mental sketch of another piece she wanted to build next.

           As she settled into the rhythm of rolling, placing, and welding the coils onto the vessel, she considered her day.  She worked in the psychiatric ward of the hospital, mostly delivering food to the rooms and making sure everyone took their medicines.  Today had been a particularly bad day for one of the patients.  He kept insisting that someone was rummaging around in his memories, even though he had taken his medicines.  The staff had ended up having to give the patient a sedative to calm him down, and then they had put him in a room where he couldn't hurt himself on anything until he stabilized.  She had heard of a talent straight out of science fiction that could allow a person to read another's thoughts and look through their memories, and outwardly, Trish condemned as such a fiction; inwardly, however, she suspected otherwise.  Besides, she had asked herself hundreds of times, isn't my ability to heal small hurts without medicines and medical treatment something right out of fantasy novels?

           She had always been able to minimize small injuries--paper cuts, scrapes, and so on--by looking at them and imagining them to not be there;  she had never tried it on anyone else, and she kept telling herself over and over that it was only that she was a fast healer.  But that did not explain why, if she caused someone else pain, she felt like someone had broken a board over her head.  The doctors had called them "sporadic, unpredictable migraines," but she wondered.

           Several hours later, she recalled her attention to the delicate matter of constructing the spout and handle, and, once she was finished, carefully placed the piece on a shelf near the kiln to dry.  Drawing out a piece of paper, she scrawled her next idea onto the paper.  It would be a compartmentalized box with locking lids, ideal for keeping jewelry.  She wasn't sure why she wanted to make a box that could contain jewelry, since she never wore any herself, but she supposed that someone would want one.  If only she could find that person...

night.blind: 01.4.2: 08 December 2004: Raederle Clay.
          The next morning, Trish rose early, cringing as her feet came down on the icy floor, cold despite the residual heat from the kiln.  There was an advantage to a cold floor, though--it woke her up.  After getting dressed for the day and tugging on a pair of shoes, she checked the pieces in that were cooling in the kiln after their glaze fire.  So far, she could only afford a milky, transparent glaze; it wasn't much, but it made the pieces watertight, and most of them required that.  If she wanted any designs at all, she had to use hot wax to keep the glaze off, and when it burned off in the heat of the kiln, it left black scars behind, which contrasted nicely with the pale white of the glaze and the grocery-bag brown of the fully fired clay.  The pieces she had finished firing overnight were just cool enough to handle, and she quickly unloaded the pieces.  She let them cool for another half-hour while she ate and gathered up her carbon sketches and her pencils and sketchbooks, then wrapped them carefully in old newspapers before cautiously stacking them in a box to carry out with her.

          It was awkward carrying a very heavy box and her shoulder-bag portfolio, but somehow she managed the seven blocks to the spot in Central Park that she had picked out to try to sell her wares.  She couldn't afford a car in the big city.  The other two times she had tried hawking her pieces in the Park, she had taken a folding table with her to set up her wares on, but with the box of ceramics, she couldn't carry everything, so instead, Trish had improvised makeshift easels out of kindling and brought a hefty amount of clay, and had stuffed those and a blanket in her backpack.

          She stepped off the sidewalk onto the grass and set her burdens down.

           Laying the blanket out on the grass, she made lumps of clay, which she stuck the "back" of the easels into, then clipped her carbon artwork to the the easels.  It wasn't perfect, but it worked well enough.  Next, she interspersed her ceramic pieces among the drawings.

           She knew it did not very professional, but it was the best she could do for the time being.

          A dozen different people slowed their paces as they passed, scanning the pieces on display, but only one stopped during the morning.  He was young, probably still in high school, or maybe a college freshman, and he lingered over a piece she had drawn during one of her previous visits, a drawing of two young lovers holding each other as they walked down the sidewalk, oblivious to everything around them.  However, instead of the Park surrounding them, the background showed an argument between the faceless couple on one side, but melding into an image of a babe wrapped in a blanket.  Finally, after almost an hour of deliberation, the young man bought the piece.  Trish gave him a slight discount--though she did not tell him so--after considering how long he agonized over buying the piece.  She felt that he was drawn to the picture because it represented something similar in his life.  Financially, she could not afford to give him a discount on the piece; she needed the money herself, but she consoled the frugal part of her by telling herself that if she gave reasonable prices now, when more people found out about her work, they would be willing to pay more and she could raise her prices a bit.  For this reason, she did not put a visible price on her pieces.

          As the morning melted into the early afternoon and lunch hour, more people passed, but no others stopped.  Trish admonished herself to stay until dark, and settled down with her sketchbook to work.  She noticed an elderly woman seated on a bench a few yards away, feeding pigeons.  She began to sketch, first drawing in the woman, the pigeons, and the park bench.  As she moved to work on the background, she found herself drawing in an elderly man, barely visible next to the woman on the bench.  Next, a young boy in the background, to one side, but there was a dark shadow that seems to hover over the boy, almost ominously; it seemed as though the shadow had a purpose.  On the other side, she drew a table with a vase of irises and piece of knitting that was almost finished.

          After she finished the piece, she stared at it, then looked at the woman again, and shook her head.  She did not understand how it was she could feel so much from her subjects; she kept finding that there was more emotion in her pieces than she intended when she settled down to do the sketches.  Though it continued to surprise her, she had decided that it was only her idealistic nature that added the other images--they made each person a little more unique.

          That did not explain some of the pieces she had done earlier on, late at night, in her apartment--those pieces frightened her, such was the anguish and anger in them.  She had brought one of the less-terrifying pieces here today, but it was placed near the back:  a single portrait, completely shadowed but for the eyes, angry, glowing points that would have been red if she had colors to work in;  she did not recognize the face, what contours you could see of it in the shadows that prevailed over its features.

          As Trish worked on the portrait of the elderly woman, she scarcely noticed the businessman who had settled on a park bench several yards down the path to eat his lunch.  After she finished the portrait and wrapped it onto the cardboard backing with protective plastic, she placed the piece on the now-empty easel from the morning's sale.  Not long after doing so, she watched the businessman rise and amble toward her setup, ostensibly killing time on his lunch break.  He carried a briefcase in his right hand.  He compared the new portrait with the elderly woman who was starting to climb slowly to her feet to leave.  He also studied several of the other pieces on display.

          Trish greeted him with a reserved, but friendly, "Good afternoon, sir."  He smiled and nodded to her.  After about ten minutes, the man reached down and picked up the new portrait.

          "I'll take this one," he said, looking composed.  Trish thought he seemed intrigued and somewhat excited by her pieces.

          "All right," she replied genially, taking the piece and wrapping it in a paper bag to protect it.  "Are there any other pieces you'd like?" she asked as she drew out her receipt book.  Given that the piece had only taken her ten minutes to complete and that the fellow was clearly fairly well off, she decided the $15 would be a fair price, and wrote that down on the receipt.

          The man hemmed and hawed over the other pieces for a few moments before pulling out a small money clip.  "No, not today, I don't believe.  Perhaps another day.  Is there some way I can reach you if I decide I want something else?"

          "Okay, that will be $15, please," Trish responded.  "I wish I had a card I could give you, but I'm afraid I'm a poor, starving artist and I don't have any cards yet," she smiled self-deprecatingly, "but I come down here about once a week, every Friday.  Here's my name, if you need to look me up."  She added her name to the top of the receipt and handed him his copy, the piece, and his change.

          The man smiled and took the items, then sauntered off, presumably back to his office for the afternoon.  Trish sat and waited out the afternoon and early evening until dusk fell, but made no more sales.  At least it was a nice day, she thought.  She had made $25 that day, which would pay for some materials for some other glazes.  While she wasn't thrilled with her take for the day, she wasn't disappointed, either, as she gathered up her items and lugged them back to her rickety apartment.  When she got in, she loaded the waiting greenware pieces into the kiln for their bisque fire, and started the kiln up; that would keep her warm through the night. 

          Strangely exhausted, she collapsed happily into bed after setting her alarm for work the next morning.

night.blind: 01.4.3: 20 December 2004: Raederle Clay.
          On Monday morning, Trish pulled out the bisque-ware from her kiln, saddened when she discovered one of her boxes had broken apart during the firing.  But it hadn't damaged any of her other projects, so she counted her blessings.  She planned to take the $25 she had made over the weekend to the potters' shop and purchase a dark cobalt blue glaze she had been eyeing for some time.  After unloading the kiln, she tucked the money in her wallet and left for work.

          The patient that had been causing problems on the previous Thursday had remained unstable all weekend.  Trish had gotten stuck with the duty of caring for him, since she seemed to be the only nurse who could get into the room with him and administer his medicines; he tried to attack everyone else, but he would let her in and just sit in the corner and mutter to himself.  Her temples twinged every time she had to give him a shot, but as soon as she was out of the room, the impending headache dissipated as though it had never been.

          When she slipped in this morning, he didn't seem to notice.  He was lying on the floor with his back to the door.  Her nose wrinkled at the unfamiliar smell that pervaded the room.  She cleared her throat loudly, and when she didn't get a reaction out of the patient, she moved over to him cautiously, half expecting him to jump up and make a run for the door.  She knelt down and took his arm to administer his medication, and screamed, dropping the needle and backpedaling for the door, fumbling for the key to let herself out of the room.

          Her cry roused the other nurses in the hallway, who came running.  One of them opened the door, and Trish stumbled out, unseeing, and leaned against the far wall, gasping for breath.  Another nurse went into the room and checked the man, and came back out, calling for a gurney to take the body away.  The patient's doctor arrived and demanded an autopsy; it came back stating that the man had died of a heart attack, cause unknown.  The working theory was that he had died of fright.  Trish's boss sent her home for the rest of the day, telling her that she would get paid for the day.

          It took a full half hour for Trish to feel steady enough to walk home.  A coworker offered her a ride, but she turned him down, finally leaving on her own two feet.  She slowly wandered down to the ceramics store, where she purchased the glaze she had been coveting.  Thinking about her pottery kept her mind off seeing the body.  It was not the first one she had ever seen; she had seen plenty coming and going out of the emergency room in previous hospitals where she had worked, but this was different in that it was someone she had gotten to know, after a fashion.

          Trish crept into her apartment, immediately mixing the glaze.  She settled into her seat, pulling out a pencil and sketching on the side of the pitcher that waited to be glaze fired.  She scarcely saw what she was drawing.  To one side of the handle, a stretched, star-like figure, looking like a crucifix without the cross.  In the center, beneath the spout, a throne with a figure sitting on it.  To the other side, a silhouette of a person, apparently pointing at the figure on the throne.  There were virtually no details as Trish only had two colors.  She painted on the glaze, the dark blue in the images, and the semi-opaque white everywhere else.  She also used the cobalt for the inside of the pitcher.  As a decorative element, she painted on egyptian-style cats around the base and lip of the pitcher, as well as down the handle.

          After applying the glaze to the pitcher, she shook herself, finally taking a real look at the piece.  She did not understand where the inspiration for the sketch had come from, but she often found that to be so.  She turned to the various other pieces, including the jewelry box, and dipped them creatively in the glazes.  One of her coworkers had been complaining about not having anywhere to keep her jewelry, and her birthday was coming up;  Trish decided the box would make an excellent gift.

          A few hours later, she finished glazing the pieces, and loaded them back in the kiln for the glaze fire.  Weary, she sank down on her bed after starting the kiln, finally curling up and falling asleep, hoping the next day would not be as stressful as this day had been.

night.blind: 01.4.4: 23 January 2005: Raederle Clay.
          The rest of Trish's work-week was not nearly as stressful, but much busier.  When her day off came, one of the other nurses called in ill, and she had to work overtime to pick up the slack.  Because of this, she was unable to make a trip to Central Park to try to sell her art pieces, and she worked double shifts for the next three days. 

          However, she was not ungrateful for the overtime--they paid her half-again her normal wage, which meant she'd be able to make her rent this month and still have a little left over.  She considered going out to pick up another glaze, but decided against that in favor of getting some more clay.

          Trish passed the weekend in a haze of bed-pan cleaning, sheet-changing, and drug-administration, coming home only to fall into her bed in exhaustion.  Tuesday was more or less normal; her boss had given her leave to come in an hour later if she would stay that extra hour at the end of her shift, so she was able to get a little more sleep Monday night, and she returned to her normal schedule on Wednesday.

          On Tuesday, she realized she hadn't produced any new ceramic or charcoal pieces to sell on the coming Friday.  She tallied up her inventory and decided she had enough pieces for her next jaunt to the Park.

          Wednesday and Thursday rolled by with nothing spectacular occuring, either at work or at home.  Friday morning, Trish woke early, excited by the prospect of trekking down to the Park with her pieces and possibly making some more money.  This had been a good month so far, and she was pleased.  She had bisque-fired a few platters and slab bowls with the intention of taking them with her to sketch on, anticipating glazing the sketches onto the pieces.  She only had to unload them and add them to the box she used to carry the ceramics and she could get on down to the park.

          As she struggled with the heavy, bulky box and her portfolio, she decided that, instead of saving the extra money, she was going to find a cheap cart to use to wheel her pieces the seven blocks to the Park. 

          She hoped she could get a "retired" grocery cart from one of the grocers in the area, which should be cheap enough that she'd still have a little extra money to save.

          Trish set up her "shop" much as she had two weeks before, strategically interspersing the charcoal and ceramic pieces and using kindling and lumps of clay for easels.  After setting up, she noticed the same old woman on the nearby bench, feeding the pigeons again this week.  She smiled and nodded cordially at the woman as she settled down and pulled out a blank platter.  The weak early summer sunshine felt good on her back and head, and she relaxed, noticing a rosebush nearby.  Lazily, she began sketching a rose in the center of the platter, and after completing it, decided that she should make an entire set of rose blossom plates; she even decided on making some cups to match, but those would come during the week.  She sketched the blossom onto three blank plates and bowls, which gave her a full set of bowls and plates and one serving platter.

          By the time Trish finished the plates and bowls, it was nearly noon, and working on dishes was making her hungry.  She grinned to herself, and reached toward her small pack where her lunch was stored.  She'd only been interrupted once by someone who was looking at her rose blossom set and asked how long it would be before they were finished; after she told the woman, the latter purchased a charcoal piece with a similar rose on it for eight dollars.  As Trish dug through her pack and pulled out a can of soda and a tunafish sandwich, she had the idea of completing her dishes set with a matching set of ceramic eating utensils; they would be tricky, but she was confident in her skills. 

          After wolfing down the sandwich, she pulled out some fresh clay and began pinching out the utensils, pausing now and again for sips of soda.  She carved the delicate blossom into the ends of the handles rather than leaving them blank and glazing the flower on--on a design that small, the glaze would run horribly.  As an afterthought, she also added a two-tined serving fork, a broad serving spoon, and a deep gravy spoon.  After mentally pricing each piece individually, she guestimated that the total would be worth about $100, but she doubted she could get that price for the set, so she decided that if someone bought them as a set, she would sell them the whole set for $75. 

          Pleased with her work, she sprawled backward against her pack.  She realized that she had subconsciously placed the odd pitcher near the rear of the display, and decided that it wasn't as horrible as her emotions at the time had made it seem, so she rearranged her display, placing the pitcher as the centerpiece instead.  Finally, feeling drowsy, Trish laid back again and people-watched, wondering absently if anyone else would buy something from her.  After several hours, she noticed a man several benches down and realized that he had been there for several hours.  Mostly out of boredom, she plucked up her sketchbook and started sketching him.

          Once again, her hand took over and didn't give her mind any say in what was going down on the paper.  The final sketch showed him sitting, but the bench had melted, leaving the impression that the man was sitting on a nameless casino.  Above the casino, several faceless figures in business suits hovered, one holding a folder as though shoving toward the man on the bench.  To the left and above the man, a bar scene materialized--several tables, some with patrons, backed by a small stage with a piano on it; a figure standing before the piano who appeared to be two people, an older woman and a comparatively very young girl, but the features of the two blurred together as to make each one unrecognizable.  The sidewalk before the casino ran right, turning into a paved path like the one in the park, and wound its way up through the bar scene and terminating at the end of the folder the businessman held.  A newspaper obscured the man's face, so Trish couldn't get any facial details on him, but she imagined him wearing a low hat or hood, and added a fedora that shadowed his features, lowering the paper down so it only obscured the lower half of his face.  She smoothed and darkened the man's shirt, giving it a glossy look, which melded into the jeans that the man was actually wearing. 

          When she was done, Trish smiled at the portrait.  It was nowhere near as haunting as some of her other pieces, though no less puzzling. 

          Slipping into a cheap plastic cover and paperboard frame, she set it out with the others, placing it near the pitcher.

          Finally, the end of the workday rolled around, and suddenly there were dozens of people passing by her makeshift shop.  Several people slowed and looked over her work as they walked by, but no one stopped.

 After an hour of this, the number of people dropped drastically, and it would be dark in a couple of hours.  With a slightly disappointed sigh, Trish began packing up her pieces and replacing them in the box.

 She had forgotten the man on the bench as she hefted her things and began the awkward journey back to her apartment.

          After she staggered into her apartment, she gently set her pieces down and turned toward the door to close it.  Somewhere above her, she heard raised voices, then a scream and thuds coming down the stairs toward her door.  As she reached the door, something sprawled in front of it.  Startled, she stopped and stared for a long moment before she recognized her landlord and rushed to administer first aid.  She glanced up the stairs a saw a young man who looked much like the landlord rushing down the stairs; she guess he was her landlord's son.

 She waved him in her door while telling him to call 9-1-1 and that she was a nurse and could administer first aid.  It didn't take her long to realize that the older man was dead of a broken neck, nor did it take long for paramedics and police officers to arrive.  The son claimed he and his father were coming down the stairs to leave and the old man tripped and fell.

          The officers also spoke to Trish on the matter, and she reported the raised voices she had heard, though she couldn't say for certain if it might have been the landlord and his son.  They said they would look into it, and that she need not worry about anything.  She never got a chance to talk to the son and find out who she would be paying rent to after this.  He didn't seem to want to have anything to do with her, so she just shrugged it off that he might be blaming her for not saving his father's life, even though there was nothing she could have done.  She was shaken by the occurence, although she had not really known her landlord that well, but she decided to turn in early and try to sleep it off.

* * *

          On Tuesday, Trish came home to find movers at the place, taking things out of the rest of her late landlord's house, whose basement apartment she had been renting.  She slipped past the boxes and crates and down and turned the lock on her door, reading a piece of paper tacked to the door.  It read:  "Eviction Notice.  You hearby have 48 hours to remove all your belongings.  Signed," and some illegible signature.  Alarmed, she looked about for the son and, spotting him, went to ask for the new key.  He looked at her disgustedly, relented a little and told her she had to all of her things out by the next evening; he had sold the place, and the new owners wanted the basement apartment for their college-age son.  He had been going to dump all her things on the sidewalk and remove the eviction notice if she hadn't shown up this evening; now he was going to have to put up with her through the next day.

          Trish thought to protest, but given the way he was treating her, she decided that if she protested, he would probably throw her and all her things out on the sidewalk right then and there.  Swallowing her protests and stifling a sigh, she turned back to her apartment and called one of the other nurses at the hospital, begging a place to stay for a week or two until she found a new place.  She began packing immediately, thankful for once that she didn't own more than she did. 

It took them two taxis, but they moved all of her things in one trip, including the kiln, which, fortunately, was cool enough to handle after the previous days' bisque- and glaze-fires of her rose-blossom set.

          She hardly slept that night, knowing that she'd be hard-pressed to find another place to live where she could pay the rent from month to month, and considered looking for another job.  She wondered if she'd be able to make it back out to the park that Friday to try to sell more of her pieces.

night.blind: 01.4.5: 17 February 2005: Raederle Clay.
          Early Thursday afternoon, the nurses from downstairs escorted a young girl, Michelle, in a wheelchair and her hysterical parents up to Trish's floor.  She was just about to come on duty, reaching for her clock-in slip even as the nurses arrived, so, of course, she was landed with dealing with the girl and her family, even though it wasn't really her area of expertise.  There was no one else in the front office who COULD help right at that moment, so Trish resigned herself and set the pitcher, which she had brought to work because someone had expressed an interest in more of her work, after seeing the jewelry box she had made for one of her coworkers, on the counter, in full view of everyone who came by, and asked the receptionist on duty to keep an eye on it for her.  The nurses from downstairs handed her the family's medical files and the paperwork containing the current problem.

          Trish waved the family to the side of the lobby, to where there were three chairs clustered together, and wheeled the girl over herself before sitting down to talk to the family.  She skimmed today's paperwork on the girl, and noted that everything seemed to point toward catatonia, except that the girl would feed herself if presented with food.  Trish started asking the parents some basic questions
about the girl's state, and quickly discovered that they had been waiting for hours in the Emergency Room lobby, waiting for someone to help them; she apologized for asking seemingly unimportant questions, but they were necessary, which seemed to mollify the mother, if not the father, who continued to insist that she was faking it.  None of them noticed that the girl, who was facing the counter, was staring fixedly at the vase.  Finally, one of the doctors came out, and Trish told him what the girl's parents had told her, and the doctor prescribed that they keep her for a few days for observation and see what happened.  He also informed them that they shouldn't come to visit her until he told them to; since it was possible, albeit unlikely, that it was something her parents had done (or not done) that had caused this, the best thing to do would to be remove everything that might remind her of whatever had caused this for a couple of days to see if she would come around.  Signing the paperwork took only a matter of seconds, and the doctor sent Trish to set the girl up in Room 682, the room that two weeks previous had been vacated by the patient who had died and scared Trish out of her wits--the one who had complained of people rummaging around in his thoughts.  Trish grabbed the pitcher on the way by, and stopped briefly at her locker on the way to the room.

          She nearly screamed and dropped the pitcher when something grabbed the hem of her scrub shirt, whirling to gape at the girl in the wheelchair.  "Michelle?" she gasped quietly.  The girl raised a finger to her lips, reaching up with the other hand to touch the pitcher. 

          Trish quickly shut her locker and whisked the girl down to the room, taking the pitcher with her.  After closing the door, she turned to the girl again, "So, was your father right and this is all an act?"

          Michelle shook her head mutely.  After staring at the pitcher for a moment, she held her hands out to see it, and Trish handed it to her. 

          She turned it around and around, finally speaking, "Did you make this?"

          "Yes, I did," Trish replied, a little acerbically.

          "Do you see things in other people's heads, too?"

          Trish was startled.  That was not a question she had expected to hear.  Nevertheless, "No.  I sometimes feel more about a person than is obvious on the surface, and sometimes I blank out and draw things like what's on that pitcher.  But no, I don't 'see things in other people's heads.'"

          "I do," Michelle said simply, with the innocence of a child who doesn't know better.  "I saw something yesterday.  I didn't want to see it.  He killed her."

          Trish stood, silent, waiting for her to continue.  When she didn't, "Who did?" 

          "Daddy's friend Sam.  He killed Julie."

          Trish had no idea who Sam or Julie were.

          "They were supposed to go to the lake.  Sam told Daddy that Julie never showed up and that she is not at home.  But she was at the lake.  I saw it.  I was in her head because I was bored in class."

          Trish flipped through the paperwork that was still in her hand, waiting to be put in the pouch outside the door.  Yes, it did say that she had been in class, and the account said she had screamed, scaring everyone else in the room, and since that point she had been catatonic.  "I see," she told Michelle, a little absently while she skimmed the account.

          "I DID!" the girl squalled.  "Sam killed Julie at the lake."  At this point, another nurse stuck her head in, having heard the girl's high-pitched voice, and Michelle fell silent, staring blankly at a wall, but still clutching the pitcher.  She frowned at Trish, who sighed and slipped the pitcher out of the girl's grasp, and left the room.

          She told the other nurse what Michelle had said, and after staring at her for a moment, the nurse started laughing hysterically.  "Well, let's give her a placebo then, and see if she won't come around on her own."

          Trish didn't think that would solve it, but she did as she was told and cleared it with the girl's doctor, after telling him the story and receiving the same reaction.  Due to the possibility of the parents having caused the problem, the police had already been called, and when they arrived, Trish was just leaving the girl's room after administering the placebo.  Because she had a more intimate knowledge of her condition than her doctor did as yet, the officers were turned over to her.  She stifled a sigh and settled down with the officers to discuss the girl's condition.  She told them what the parents had told her, gave them a summary of the account in the girl's paperwork (due to privacy, she couldn't SHOW them the written account), and finally told them what had passed between them in the room after the girl's parents left.  When she came to that part, the officers exchanged a troubled look.

          "Odd, that," one officer said.  "A call came in this morning about a girl named Julie who was missing.  Her boyfriend called it in.  Said they were supposed to meet at a lake upstate, and that she hadn't ever shown, and when he came back and checked at her home, she wasn't there, either.  He called it in because he thought there might have been a car accident or something.  We're not the officers assigned to that, though."

          A chill ran through Trish at that.  "Yes, that is odd," she answered noncommittally.

          "I think we'd best report back, and send the investigator assigned to that out to talk to you, and maybe to the girl if she's coherent again when he gets here," the other officer said, his eyes narrowed as he studied Trish.  She didn't like the way he was looking at her.  The first officer agreed, and they rose and thanked her for her time; the second officer seemed to have already forgotten that he'd been staring at her.

          She was startled to find she was shaking after they left.  She sat back down and put her head in her hands for a couple of minutes before returning to her normal duties.

* * *

          The next day, thankfully, was her day off.  She was too far away from the Park to walk to her normal place, so she had to get a taxi instead.  Inwardly, she still felt a little guilty that she was doing this rather than looking for another apartment, but her friend, Maria, told her that morning that she was looking for a roommate anyway and would be happy to have Trish live with her.  So Trish taxied her things to Central Park, as close to "her spot" as he could get her, and she settled in for a potentially unsuccessful day.  The weather was fairly good, but there was a cold wind, and low clouds scudded across the sky.  Nothing promising rain yet, but that could change over the course of the day, and that sort of weather discouraged people going outside.

          The old woman who was normally out feeding pigeons was not here this week, but she scarcely noticed.  She was too troubled by yesterday's occurrences to pay much attention to anything that wasn't right in front of her or directly affecting her.  The chilly wind encouraged her to sit and close off her peripheral vision some as she huddled behind her setup and shivered, despite the blanket and coat she wore. 

          She had brought her sketchbook, but no clay, after looking at the weather this morning, and as cold as it was, she didn't really think she'd be using her sketchbook in any case.

          As she had figured, no one gave a second glance to her artwork this week, though one older gentleman brought her a small cup of soup from a nearby shop when he saw her sitting out there.  With a sigh, she flagged down a taxi around mid-afternoon, when the weather began threatening a bit of rain, and handed over another $8 to have him drive her back to Maria's place.  She scuttled inside with her things and took a shower as soon as she'd put everything away.

          Feeling better after her shower, she sat down and did some sketches of ceramic pieces she would like to make.  One thing about not doing anything while she sat behind her display was that she came up with some fabulous (and some ridiculous) ideas.  She wondered briefly what she would find when she returned to work the next day.

night.blind: 01.4.6: 27 April 2005: Raederle Clay.
          Trish focused on getting through work for the next few days.  The girl, Michelle, troubled her a great deal.  The Monday following the girl's arrival at the hospital, she was due to be transfered to another facility; Trish arrived to a workplace boiling over with tension and frantic search parties--Michelle had disappeared.  As soon as someone recognized her, Trish was accosted by the same two officers that she had spoken with on Thursday.  They were accompanied by two investigators, one on the trail of the woman, Julie, whose body had turned up over the weekend, the other looking for Michelle.  The second police officer still gave her chills, so she spent as little time as possible in the company of the four officials, quickly relating what she knew then pleading a need to finish her morning duties in order to escape them.  Because there was nothing else to ask her, the investigators let her go, though throughout the rest of the day, she caught glimpses of them watching her.

          The warm summer air was refreshing, so during her break, Trish walked over to a garden--more like a miniature park--nearby to enjoy it for a little before heading back to work.  In spite of her attempt to enjoy it, there was a nagging in the back of her mind that suggested it was time to move somewhere else.  It was the same nagging that had been present on Friday, and so she'd begun to pack some of her things on Saturday and Sunday, figuring that she would turn in her two weeks notice on Monday or Tuesday.  She'd been too harried so far to turn it in today, so she decided to turn it in tomorrow.  There were always demands for nurses of her skills in other cities, and quitting politely was always better than being fired.  As an explanation, she would put that she felt the need to see more of the world, as she had for every other job.  She always stuck around for a few years; it kept employers from getting edgy about how often she changed jobs, and she had been here for a little over three years now, the longest she'd kept any job, since most of her contracts were two years.  She half-closed her eyes and thought about where she had been, where she would like to go, and where she should go next, letting the early summer breezes and sunlight play across her skin in a purely selfish moment of pleasure.

          As she relaxed, a shadow loomed over her.  She sensed the presence of someone else before that person blocked the sunlight on her face, and opened her eyes, squinting at the figure before her.  She glanced down at her watch to see if she was late getting back to work, and noted that she still had another fifteen mintues for break.

          "Well, Cher, it's been a long time," the figure before her purred silkily, the voice vaguely familiar as it triggered long-suppressed memories.

          Trish nearly jumped out of her skin.  No one called her "Cher" anymore, except her parents, and she made a point of never talking to them because of it.  She hadn't heard that name since high school, nearly a decade before.  Fear crawled up her spine, temporarily numbing her mind to anything but blank thoughts of "Who?"  The man laughed triumphantly and reached for her arm, but even though her mind was frozen, her body was far from it.  She twisted and lunged toward the man's knees, tumbling and rolling away from him before jumping to her feet to bolt back to the relative safety of the bustling hospital.

          The man's laugh faded to a soft yell as she dove past him, and he turned to chase her, as her benumbed mind flitted through each of her memories and nightmares.  She had always feared that Jason, her high school boyfriend, would some day catch up with her to punish her for his imprisonment all those years before, but in her heart, she always thought that it would never happen, she had changed so much since then.  Her fears had been well-founded it would seem; somehow he had found her, and she realized that he was the second police officer, the one that had given her the creeps.  Now she knew why, and knew why she had felt the urge to move again.

          To her immense relief, she ducked in the door and among her peers and colleagues before he managed to catch up with her.  She immediately turned to head for the offices, near the main reception area of her department, to tell supervisor what had happened, and beg to leave the area as soon as she could get out of the hospital.  She paused briefly at the main desk to make sure her boss was in his office and not with someone before she burst into his office.  As she arrived, she saw someone come into the hospital, and head for the desk.  She scarcely looked at him, only long enough to recognize him as the man from the park bench, with the casino in her portrait of him.

          As she turned to head for the office, she heard the man mutter to the clerk, ". . .looking. . .nurse. . .Trish."

          "Trish!" the receptionist called before she'd gotten too far away. 

          Trish turned, confused, as the woman pointed the stranger toward her, and he hurried over.

          "Trish?"  The man lowered his voice, "You're in danger. Come with me so we can talk somewhere less. . .Shit, just come with me, I'll explain later."

          "I think I know," she snapped, a little irritated this man thought he could do something about Jason, but he might be her best way out of the hospital.  "And first, I need to leave a note for somone."  She grabbed a sticky pad from the desk and scribbled a note:

          "Maria:  Something's happened, had to leave in hurry.  Please stay away from home for a few days with a friend.  No time to explain.  Take my last paycheck, put anything I leave behind in storage.  Be back to get it some time later.  Trish"

          Trish handed the note to the clerk and requested that Maria get it immediately.  Turning back to the man, she asked, "I'd like to get home and get my stuff.  Think you can get me that far?"

          The man smirked. "I'll drop you off. You take care of what you need to do as fast as possible and don't get caught. Meet me here," he slipped a piece of paper into her hand, "when you're done. I also have some.. business to take care of." He turned to leave, apparently expecting her to follow.

          "Whoa.  Who ever said I was going anywhere else with you?" Trish demanded.  "And who are you, anyway?" 

          He turned to face her again but then looked up, past her, presumably at someone coming towards them. "We do NOT have time for this right now."

          A shiver ran up her back as he looked beyond her.  She hurried her steps after him, but still demanded to know who he was and why he thought she was going anywhere but to her home with him.

          The man headed straight for a motorcycle parked across the way from the hospital.  He handed her a helmet as he climbed onto the bike and put his own over his head.  Flipping open the visor, he said, "What other option do you have?" And with that he flipped the visor closed again and steadied the bike for her to climb on behind him.

          Trish gaped at the motorcycle--the common nickname for the vehicles' riders were "organ donors"--the helmet hanging limply in her hands for a moment.  She yanked the thing on, though, as the man's comment struck home.  But that doesn't mean I have to follow him after he takes me home, she thought to herself as she awkwardly straddled the back of the bike.  She opened her mouth to tell him where she lived, but the words were whipped out of her mouth as he gunned the bike and shot out into the street.  As she struggled for breath to tell him how to get to her home, the man kept going, as though he knew exactly where she lived.  And minutes later, there it was, her apartment.  He stopped out in front as she practically fell from bike in her haste to get off.  She turned to stammer a "How did you know where I live?" but didn't get a chance as he roared back onto the street and off.

          Grumbling after him, she turned and rushed up the stairs to her apartment and started gathering up the few things she hadn't packed. 

          Less than an hour later, she was reaching for the phone to call a couple of taxis when the front door blew open.

          "You are NOT getting away from me!" Jason bellowed as she froze by the phone.  Once again, her reflexes took over and she grabbed her small travel kit, containing her clothes, some other necessities, and, of all unexpected things, her throwing knives, a weapon she had developed skill in as a hobby and a way to get exercise, since she had yet to purchase a throwing wheel for her ceramics.  She turned and bolted for the back door, abandoning the rest of her belongings without only a brief disappointment that all that work and expense was going to be left behind.  She pelted down the fire escape off the rear balcony, dodging around trash bins on the ground as she raced for the street, fumbling for the scrap of paper the stranger with the motorcycle had handed her earlier.  As she skidded around the corner of the building, she stopped abruptly, fear closing her throat as she stared down the barrel of a pistol.  Her eyes flitted to the face of the person who held the gun--the motorcycle rider--and let out the breath she'd gathered for a scream.

          "You don't listen too well."  The man lowered the gun and motioned for her to move towards the bike that was parked a short distance behind him.  He backed slowly in that direction, watching for her

          With another sign that was somewhere between resigned and relieved, Trish tugged the helmet back over her tangled hair and waited by the bike, uncertain what to do with her small dufflebag, and even less sure of taking off to who-knew-where with this stranger.  It occured to her that he had yet to tell her his name.  She turned to ask him, but just at that moment, Jason came bursting around the corner in hot pursuit.

          The stranger fired a round at Jason. Dodging the bullet, he dove for cover.  This gave the man enough time to get to the bike and on it, gun trained on where Jason had hidden himself. "Put the strap across your chest so the bag rides on your back and get on the bike."  The words came out like a growl; it seemed he was getting a bit impatient with her.

          Trish did as she was told, though she had to bite back a bit of a retort; she had no interest in being left with Jason so near.  She had barely settled herself when the stranger gave Jason another shot to think about before spinning the bike back out onto the street and taking off.  She considered asking him where they were going, but she doubted she could hear the answer, if she could even yell loud enough for him to hear her.

night.blind: 01.4.7: 22 May 2005: Raederle Clay.
          Trish almost couldn't believe how casually the man said he'd killed some people; she was unsure how many, but imagined that it was probably more than a few.  She tried to watch him as he looked at the image she'd drawn of him, and was inwardly pleased that she apparently caught him off-guard over something in the portrait.  Though she had recognized him at the hospital as the man in that portrait,
extenuating circumstances had erased the realization from her mind until he had said something.

          After the man, Carl, she reminded herself, settled in to sleep, she riffled through her things for a bit, looking for something quiet to do that would maybe keep her mind off everything he'd told her just
long enough to get tired enough to sleep.  Her sketchbook and clay made her shudder now, though she doubted she could stay away from them for long.  Instead she dumped that stuff back into her pack, where a glint of light from the street flickered on something inside.  She stopped and stared at the spot for a moment, rubbing her thumb and forefinger together lightly.  Making sure she wouldn't wake Carl, she slipped the leather sheaths free of her bag, laying them carefully on the bed, hidden from him.  Swiping the rest of her belongings back into her bag, she rose and, trying to be quiet, deposited the duffle at the foot of her bed, picking up the knives, rising and stepping away from her bed.

          Despite her aversion to causing pain, her knives were exceedingly sharp; she'd often used them for more than just knife practice, and had decided that the sharper, the better.  She stared at herself in
the mirror in the darkness for a long moment, remembering a time about ten years before when she'd taken a last look at Cher before she'd shorn her hair and Trish came to life.  As Cher, her single vanity had been her hip-length, raven-black straight hair, and in her transition from one person to another, she had chopped it off a little above her shoulders.  It had since grown to a little above the points of her
shoulderblades.  Now she picked up one of her throwing knives from its sheath and began slicing at her hair.  By the time she finished, her hair was close-cropped about her ears, no strand longer than two
inches.  She ran her hand through it after she was finished, dumping the locks into the tiny garbage can, and ducked into the bathroom to shower off the bits of hair that clung to her no matter how she tried
to remove them.

          After she showered, she looked over at Carl again, deciding he was fast enough asleep that she could slip out.  Quietly, she gathered up the garbage can and crept to the door and slipped out, closing it softly behind her.  She wandered down to the parking lot, finding a garbage bin, which she dumped the room's garbage can into, and a dumpster full of boxes.  Pulling a couple out, she stacked them
against a tree, settling her knife sheaths on her hip, and began to loose the knives, taking out her fear and frustration on the hapless boxes.  Her hands shook so that the first couple of throws were
nowhere near the center of the box, but she soon fell into a rhythm, her need to forget the last several hours narrowing her consciousness to the target--aim, throw, thunk of knife into box, gather knives
together and do it again.  She never notices Carl casually wandering out onto the wooden walkway and watching her for a bit before strolling over.

          "Nice shot," he commented as she sank a knife into the center of the upper box, what would be heart-level on a man.

          Trish yelped and spun around, targeting and taking aim on him before a warning twinge in her head stopped her hand before she let loose.

          "Careful, wildcat, those claws can kill.  But I suspect you've never heard the sickening sound of one of those pretties going through flesh."  He raised an eyebrow at her.

          "Don't pretend you know me," she said softly, eyes glinting.  Instead, she flung the knife at the boxes.  However, this one slapped sharply against the box as it hit broadside.  She stood with her back to him, hands clenched, and finally stalked over to pick up the knives, trying to hide the shaking in her hands.  She rubbed the bridge of her nose the the impending headache dissipated with her anger.

          "I'm not pretending to know you.  But I know someone who's had a lot happen to them and felt helpless to stop it.  I've seen escapism. And it rarely manifests in people who have killed. At least not the type of escapism you've developed."

          She tried to ignore him.  The careless way he took in her and everything that had happened over the last several hours infuriated her.  She knew that she wouldn't be able to focus on knife-throwing
now, not as long as he was hovering around, as though he thought she was helpless.  She forced away the tiny voice that whispered, But you are helpless, except to run away like a coward.  It made her sick, knowing that the only thing she'd ever do is run away from the memories, and hope that running away from them would make the memories into horrible nightmares that never happened.

          She tossed the boxes back in their dumpster, storming back to their shared room and flinging herself onto the bed, tugging out a small terrycloth to wipe down the blades before sliding them home in their sheaths.  Laying them pointedly on the nightstand, she rolled up under the covers, facing out the window, burying her face beneath the covers to hide her tears of frustration and terror.

          Carl followed her in, and with an exasperated sigh, told her, "Well, if you want to stop running and do something with all of this frustration, you can come with me.  I'm going after my employer's enemy. The other ones who wanted you.  Otherwise, we'll find a safe place to go our separate ways."  He climbed back into bed, turning his back on her, and drifted back to sleep.

          Trish's imagination and emotions swirled around those parting words until she was completely exhausted, and thinking, He'll get me killed, she fell into a restless sleep, haunted by a whirlwind
dream, a gruesome combination her more distant past with the nightmares of the past few hours.

night.blind: 01.4.8: 21 September 2005: Raederle Clay.
          While Carl tied Jason up in the bathtub, Trish fumbled in her bag for her medicines, pulling out a dose and tossing it back without anything to wash it down.  By the time Carl brought her water, the quick-acting anesthetic had started to kick in, and she climbed slowly and carefully to her feet shortly after drinking the water.  Hefting her bag, she picked up the knife sheath, glancing around for the knife
she'd used, wondering whether to take it or leave it.  She looked askance at Carl.  He had reached for the door, but at her glance, returned to the bathroom and removed the knife from Jason's hand.

          "Don't want to leave tracks," he muttered, handing her the knife.

          She slung her pack over her back and tugged on the helmet, still not entirely satisfied with their vehicle.  Only after they were back on the road did she pause to wonder that she was still able to move.  The last time she'd hurt Jason, it had been a textbook to the side of his head, and she was completely incapacitated for several hours, and yet here she was, having stuck a knife in his hand—indubitably more painful than a textbook—her headache already almost gone and she could focus on other things.

          Looking back on the ten years since that incident, Trish realized that there had been a change in her violent reaction to causing others pain.  As the years passed, she'd been able to administer medications that caused pain with less hesitation and less agony for herself.  She wondered if she had learned to distinguish between necessary and unnecessary pain, in which case defending her own life would be necessary.

          She wasn't paying attention to where Carl was driving.  She was more interested in not interfering with his driving any more.  Eventually, she realized that the sun was rising behind them, and she thought about asking Carl where they were going, but decided to wait until they stopped since he couldn't hear her.

          In the meantime, she thought about him.  He had admitted himself that he had killed many people, and he didn't strike her as the sort that normally risked his life for anyone else.  However, he seemed genuinely interested in Trish's well-being.  She decided that it had to be a professional interest—keeping her alive might get him answers, and if nothing else, she would be a bargaining chip for his life.  She could almost resent that, but she also respected that he was keeping her safe from Jason, and that if Carl did use her as a way out for himself, it most likely wouldn't be by turning her over to her Jason; she had seen the look of disgust Carl spared for Jason back in the hotel room.

          As the sun continued to rise, her stomach rumbled uncomfortably, reminding Trish she hadn't had much to eat before they got on the road.  She wondered what time it was and how long it would be before Carl stopped for anything.  Besides her stomach, her legs were aching from the unfamiliar seat on the back of the bike.

          Not long afterward, Carl slowed the bike and coasted into a gas station.  Wincing behind the helmet's face shield, Trish eased off the seat, feeling every joint in her body creak as she stretched.  Carl hadn't removed his helmet, but her stomach was insistent that she get some food.  She rummaged around in her bag for some cash, pulling out a few dollars, and removed her helmet, carefully walking into the store to buy a sandwich and drink to tide her over until they stopped again.

          Carl watched her pull the money out of her bag as he fueled the bike.

          As she turned to go into the store, he dug a five-dollar bill out of his pocket.

          "Hey, grab me a sandwich and 20 ounce Pepsi while you're in there," he ordered, handing her the bill.

          Trish was a little surprised, but shrugged and headed inside.  She scanned the shelves, deciding to get herself an energy bar instead of a sandwich, grabbing the Pepsi and a ham-and-cheese sandwich for Carl and a Gatorade for her.  She paid the clerk and limped out.

          Alarmed, she looked about; the bike wasn't where she'd left it.  A hand fell on her shoulder as Carl steered her around the corner to a small picnic table.  She barely nibbled at the energy bar, despite her hunger, while she watched Carl wolf down the sandwich and most of the soda.  She put what was left in her pack and hefted the helmet again, sparing a resigned look for the bike.

          "Is there any chance we could get some other vehicle?" she asked plaintively.

          Carl shrugged and dumped the remains of his meal in the garbage can, swinging onto the bike and waiting for her to do the same.



copyright 2005 Raederle Clay.
Raederle Clay is a young college student, studying Wildlife Resources with an emphasis in wolves and wolf biology.  She has had several rare opportunities for close interaction among wolves, and has a post-college-graduation job lined up at Wolf Ranch, a wolf center under design and construction in central Idaho.  Currently, Raederle is working for Fish & Game doing pelican-cutthroat trout interaction studies.  She has a newt named Baal, a fictional cat named Gretha, and is looking into acquiring another betta (as her last five have died from various causes, from disease to old age).  In her spare time, Raederle writes poetry, night.blind entries, designs and builds websites, and designs, builds, and sells ceramic items--both decorative and functional pieces.  For more information, visit her site.