The barefooted girl pulled Miriam into a meadow that abutted the sea. It felt like November, cold and crisp and near nightfall.
"Where is this?" asked Miriam, a little disoriented. "Is this your home?"
The girl stopped and looked at Miriam, her fingertips in her mouth. Her blonde hair whipped across her face in the strong wind. She let go of Miriam's hand and hopped over the tufts of dying grass. Miriam followed and they came to a little rise over which they could see a small cottage made of stone set near the beach. No plume of smoke came from the chimney stack. The girl pointed at the cottage and looked at Miriam, then dashed off towards it.
Miriam followed slowly, and allowed the child to proceed her without further prompting. Every patient had this moment of exposure sooner or later in their therapy and it was best to let them reveal it in their own time. The wind, cold, season, barrenness, and proximity to the churning, chaotic sea all suggested a violence of emotions. It was in accord with how the girl kept silent with her thoughts locked inside.
The girl disappeared into the cottage and as she did the wind died, the sea calmed, and the Sun lent warmth to the air. Miriam approached cautiously. There was no apparent sound from inside, and the windows were pitch black, reflecting back dimly only the scene outside.
The door was unlocked and ajar. Miriam pushed gently and the air inside sucked her within. Where the exterior of the cottage was made of stone the inside was made of broken slats of weathered, rotting wood. Everything creaked with the interior whorls of wind, and smelled of must. There were two levels and on the bottom was a hallway, an empty kitchen, and a sparsely furnished living area with a black hearth. Two dark figures loomed in there, and at first Miriam was sure they were people, but they coalesced into distinguishable forms when she focused on them. They spoke, in turn and over each other, but Miriam could only hear snatches of words.
"...cut your tongue..."
The words were no overtly angry, but their delivery was mutually icy.
Miriam turned away and the voices faded but the wind increased. She went to the kitchen and to a wooden table in the middle of the kitchen. There were a variety of small toys, the kind that could be found in fast food children's meals, pinned down and cut open as if they were vivisected animals. Out of each of them oozed a constant dripping of water.
She walked to the stairs to the upper level. The staircase was narrow and twisted, and part of it turned sideways. Miriam climbed up awkwardly through the turns and arrived at a space that was several times wider than the floor below, but considerably more cramped with a network of tiny rooms filled with broken furniture, fine dirt, and smashed dishes with bits of plumbing. Miriam squeezed her way through the various rooms until she found the girl, lying on a bed of bare, rusted mattress springs. She was sprawled on her stomach, with her face down and looking through the mattress to the floor, her hair flowing like water around her.
"Is this your room?" asked Miriam.
The girl nodded, squeaking the springs.
"May I sit here with you and talk to you?"
The girl nodded again, and Miriam sat on the floor, tucking her legs under her.
"Are those your parents downstairs?"
The girl didn't respond at all at first, but then turned onto her side, away from Miriam, and curled up, wrapping her arms around her knees.
"I killed them," said the girl slowly.
The wind went away immediately. Miriam looked at her backs of her hands and felt a chill.
"No, you didn't," said Miriam, knowing she shouldn't have said it.
"They were bad."
"Yes, they were."
"I killed them."
"They are still alive."
The girl creaked on the springs, and sat up, facing Miriam.
"I remember killing them."
"It was a story you told yourself."
The girl looked away from Miriam and around the room, then she looked at her arms, felt them, and embraced herself.
"No," she said, her eyebrows pressed down and hooding her eyes.
"It's okay though. That's an okay thing to do," Miriam smiled gently.
"Who are you?" asked the girl.
"I'm your doctor."
"I'm not sick."
Miriam smiled again. Confronting the patient with their own reality was a delicate task, and in some cases, as with children, it was best not done.
"You are not sick," said Miriam. "But you are not happy."
"Why?" asked the girl. "Why did this happen to me?"
"I don't know," said Miriam, "because I don't know what happened to you."
The girl looked down through the mattress to the floor again. She interlocked her fingers into the springs and pulled up, pushed down, pulled up.
"They didn't want me," she whispered. "They didn't want to hear me. They didn't want to see me."
"What did they do to you?"
The girl's hands relaxed and her back went limp. She slumped forward and rested her forehead on the springs. She inserted her fingers in her mouth and rocked back and forth.
"This is a cold room," said Miriam. "Would you like to see a trick?"
The girl stopped rocking then nodded, turning an eye to Miriam.
Miriam lifted her hands and cupped them together.
"Little light, little light, won't you come to me tonight?" Miriam invoked the words with a singsong lilt, and then a pinpoint of light formed in the middle of her hands.
"Cool!" exclaimed the girl. She sat up, completely attentive.
"Little light, little light, won't you make this room warm and bright?"
The light shot up to the ceiling and intensified, bringing the full luminance and heat of a day in the summer.
"It's magic!" cried the girl. "How do you do that?"
"It's easy. You can think anything you want and make it real."
Miriam hesitated. She was still not sure the girl was ready enough, but there was no where else to go.
"You don't realize it, but you made this house and everything in it, the meadow, and the sea."
"You sure did."
The girl sat back and put her arms around herself, clutching at her elbows.
"Why don't you try something now?" asked Miriam.
"What do I do?"
"Do what I did."
The girl smiled shyly and brought her hands together.
"Little light," she sang hesitantly and quietly, "little light, won't you come to me tonight?"
A pinpoint of light formed in her palms and she shrieked out with delight.
"I did it! I did it!"
"Yes, you did," said Miriam. "You can do anything. You can create a new house and a warm day, heaps of food, and thousands of toys. You can have so many adventures yet."
The girl beamed at Miriam, but then her smile faded and the a breeze kicked up.
"What's wrong?" asked Miriam.
"I can't make people who love me."
The girl opened her hands and let the light fall down through the mattress and onto the floor where it rolled underneath her.
"In time, perhaps--"
"I'm trapped here, aren't I?" The girl looked at Miriam questioningly.
"Not forever, but for a while."
"Yes...I didn't kill them did I..."
"I tried to...kill them away from me, and that's not the same thing."
"No it's not. But that's okay. I will help you through this."
"You will stay here?"
"Not always, but there will be others here when I'm not. You can play with them, so you won't be lonely."
The girl mashed her fingers into the springs, nervously fiddling with the wires.
"Little light, little light, come to me," she sang, and the light zipped up into hand.
She climbed down from the bed and knelt beside Miriam.
"Here you go." She passed the pinpoint of light to Miriam. "So you don't get lonely."
"Don't you want to keep it?" asked Miriam.
"I can make another," said the girl coyly.
Miriam brushed the girls hair with her fingers.
"Thank you," she said.
She left the house and the girl in her room, and walked back to the meadow with the light bobbing in front of her, hoping the girl could see her. She wiped tears from her eyes as she reached the transition wall. She pressed herself into it and woke with a jerk.
The usual transition nausea was overwhelming and her research assistant was quick with the bedpan. When she finished, she sat up completely, shaking and cold. Her assistant handed her a glass of water, which she drank.
"Your beta spiked pretty bad there," he said.
"Stayed in too long," said Miriam, her voice hoarse.
"Her alpha mellowed out. I can see where you calmed her." He tapped at a graph on a screen. "Do you have any more information for the police?"
"There's clearly been some mistreatment, but I don't have any specifics. It will take some time, although perhaps we should be less interested in finding the truth and more interested in helping her out."
"Mmmn," muttered the assistant thoughtfully. He reached around to the back of Miriam's neck and unplugged her. "One of these days we'll work out how to do this wirelessly."
Miriam rubbed her neck then stood, wobbly, and felt the weight of her bladder. She put that concern out of her mind. She padded towards the observation window. On the other side was the girl, enshrouded by layers of clear plastic tenting meant to keep out the bacteria. She was attended by several nurses in white clean suits who occasionally repositioned the machines that were slowly rebuilding her charred tissue, layer by layer.
"Whatever it was," said the assistant, "must have been bad for a kid that age to set herself on fire. I hope the parents get locked away for a long time."
"We never bias the data." Miriam said, shooting him a look of admonishment.
"Sorry. It's just such a tragedy."
"We have to operate on the facts we have," said Miriam. "And there are other ways to use our hearts besides doling out punishments."
She took another gulp of water from the glass and swept out of the room.