Halfway

A rather nervous young man recently moved into a halfway house in the city. He had been in a hospital for the last several years, but after having worked closely with his psychologist, Dr. Gallagher, he was granted permission to leave and live a more independent life. His halfway house was only two miles from the hospital, which allowed Dr. Gallagher to see both his committed and independent patients.

The man recently released from the hospital was named Joey, and he carried on with his life like most other folks. He met with Dr. Gallagher for one hour every other day, and Joey discussed how being on his own again was affecting him.

It was on their second session that Joey had confessed to feeling nervous in his new home.

“It will take some time to settle in,” explained Dr. Gallagher.

“It’s not the settling in that bothers me,” Joey said. “It’s the woman.”

“The woman?” asked his doctor. “What woman? Is she a neighbor?”

“No,” said Joey. “The woman who lives in my kitchen.”

“Is she a roommate?” asked the doctor hesitantly

“No,” Joey said. “She was already there when I moved in.”

Dr. Gallagher specifically remembered helping Joey move into his new home, and he most certainly did not see any woman. In fact, based on the look of the place, it hadn’t been inhabited in years.

The doctor was very concerned about these hallucinations and worried they could lead to a psychological regression. However, after having seen Joey spend so much of his life in a hospital, the doctor was determined to try to work through the young man’s psychosis between the two of them.

“Does this woman try to hurt you?” asked Dr. Gallagher.

“No,” Joey answered, “but I get the feeling she wants to.”

“Does she ever speak?” asked Dr. Gallagher.

“Kind of,” Joey said. “But she doesn’t speak with words. She opens her mouth, but it sounds like wind or something, like when you hold up a shell to your ear at the beach.”

Their session ended, but as Joey was getting up to leave, Dr. Gallagher calmly explained to him that this woman Joey was seeing could not hurt him, and that he was not in any danger. Because of this, Dr. Gallagher advised Joey to ask this woman what it was she exactly wanted. The doctor had decided to wait to hear the answer Joey came back with before determining just exactly what kind of help Joey really needed. Before he had something more firm to go on, he would only assume these hallucinations of the woman were a byproduct of Joey’s release from the hospital and his subsequent new environment.

Two days later, Dr. Gallagher was in his office waiting for Joey to arrive. His phone rang, and when the doctor picked it up, Joey was on the other line.

“She won’t let me leave,” Joey said. “She wants me to stay.” His voice sounded very tired and scared.

“Joey, this woman is not real,” Dr. Gallagher finally said, in a calm voice. “It’s just a product of your new surroundings, that’s all.”

“I asked her what she wanted, like you told me to do,” Joey said. “She said she wants company. She says I’m not allowed to leave her anymore.”

“Joey, we have a session today,” the doctor said. “You must come, or I have to report this to the hospital.”

“I’m sorry, Doctor,” Joey said. “She won’t let me.”

The line clicked.

Dr. Gallagher hung up the phone, growing nervous. He knew it was his responsibility to report this to the hospital, but he wanted to give Joey one more chance. And if Joey refused to come to the office, then the doctor would instead go directly to Joey’s house and confront him.

Upon arriving, Dr. Gallagher knocked several times but did not receive an answer. He opened the door – which was unlocked – and he entered. He saw Joey sitting at his kitchen table and staring into a corner of the room.

“Joey, it’s Dr. Gallagher,” he said as he slowly approached. “Is everything okay?”

Joey didn’t turn his head to acknowledge the doctor’s presence, but he did speak. “Sorry I couldn’t come, Doctor, but she wouldn’t let me.”

Dr. Gallagher stepped into the kitchen and looked around. There was no one in the kitchen but Joey and himself. “Joey, there is no one here,” he said, patiently.

“She’s here, doctor,” Joey said. “I’m looking into her eyes right now. I have to look into her eyes. That keeps her in place. If I look away, she comes out from her hiding place to hurt me.”

“Joey, there is no woman,” the doctor countered, growing exasperated. “If you keep up this behavior, I’m afraid I will have no choice but recommend you be re-committed to the hospital.”

“Oh, she wouldn’t like that,” Joey said. “She wouldn’t like that at all.” He continued to stare forward, not even blinking.

“Joey, where is she right now?” the doctor demanded. “Where do you see her?”

“She’s between the refrigerator and the wall,” Joey said and pointed. “Do you see her?”

Dr. Gallagher looked where Joey had pointed—looked at the small space between the refrigerator and the wall, which was no more than three inches wide.

He saw a woman with long black hair and white eyes impossibly standing in that space. Her body was as thin as a broomstick, and her long fingers squirmed over the top of the refrigerator like snakes. She opened her mouth to speak, but the doctor heard only the wind.

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