She scanned the case book a final time before acknowledging the patient slouched in a chair across the table. Shackles held his arms behind him, and his legs fastened to the chair. Under the glower his face was ashen, and blonde tests of hair veiled his serene eyes.
"I am Doctor Vera Fridh, and I am here to evaluate you because …" How odd. She hid her confusion by skimming through the notes again. No diagnosis. That was probably it, then. "Because I’m hoping to get you a diagnosis so you can get proper medication."
He glared at her through his dark eyelashes. "Keeping me sedated until my mind’s rotted away?" The steel in his voice could slice through stone. She read disdain and agony in his eyes. She jotted down Distrusts and dislikes psychiatrists on her notepad.
"No, to get you help." She tilted her head and pursed her lips. What was the best angle to go about to get him to open up to her? "Look, Erik— Is it okay if I call you Erik?"
"Does it matter what I think?" He rested back against the chair.
"Yes, it does. If there’s something else you’d prefer me to call you, then just let me know." When he didn’t answer, she continued her trail of thought. "I understand that you’ve had … bad experiences with my profession, but I do want what’s best for you." She swaddled every word with empathy, using the same voice she would to a scared child or wounded bird.
"Fine." He turned his head away from her.
"How old were you when you were committed?" She scrutinised him, more interested in his reactions than his answer.
"Seventeen." He still stared at the wall rather than meeting her eyes. A muscle twitched on his neck, right above the collar of his undyed shirt.
"Why were you committed?" She tapped the notes with her pen.
"I killed my sister’s husband and his father." The lack of emotion in his voice chilled her blood.
Shows no signs of remorse, she wrote as she tried to gather her thoughts. "Why?" No answer. His lips moved like he was counting. Counting down until she would give up? She suppressed a sigh before changing tack. "What about before then? Were you often in trouble? Maybe for picking on the littles, or hitting animals?"
"No." The sudden snarl and the clinking of the chains as he tried to tear free almost made her fall off the chair. His wrathful glare tinged with resentment drove shivers up her spine.
Her hands trembled as she tried to regain her composure. She glanced at the locked door, but didn’t immediately see the guard outside. Something was gnawing on her mind, but she couldn’t grasp it. Something was wrong. She had to get back control.
"Erik, please." She held out a hand towards him even as she feared he would tear lose. "I am not judging you." She hoped that her smile would help ease him. "I have to ask these questions. Were you in trouble when you were younger?" He is aggressive, at least when it comes to suggestions that he’d hurt people. Interesting.
He sat back in the chair and leaned his head back. "Yes." The anger was gone as quickly as it emerged, it seemed.
"Why did you get into trouble?" His face gave her no clues as he ignored the question. The smell of smoke wafted through the air and intensified the headache he was giving her, though the enigma was also invigorating. "For them bullying others?" He nodded. Good, her guess paid off. Even minimally, she was getting through. She studied her notes and mentally ran through the script of what she should ask to evaluate how he related to reality. "Erik, how old are you?"
"What year is it?" The corner of his mouth twitched.
Appears to not have tracked the years since he was committed. "1964."
"I am 45 years old." The smell of fire smoke intensified as Vera stared at Erik. He had no wrinkles or anything else showing his age. Or, for that matter, anything suggesting he’d been committed for close to 30 years.
"That can’t be right." She glanced down at the notes again.
"I was born 1919." Something in his voice drew her to look up again. His skin was glowing, as if flames were licking it. "And I died 1945."
The room filled with smoke and fire and Vera covered her mouth with her blouse sleeve as she struggled with understanding what was going on.
Just as quickly as the fire had flared up, it disappeared. She was alone in her office, with only the journal and her own notes. Carefully, as if touching a coiled snake, she opened the journal again. On the first page, clear as it had not been before, she saw the words:
- Born 1919 to Johan Eriksson and Inez Larsdotter
- Committed 1936: Double murder
- Dead 1945