There was nothing. Just an immense void. She’d fallen into a black hole. She was about to pull back, to try and extricate herself, when a pale light appeared. It was the dawn, and as she watched, the light grew brighter and slowly lit up the room. She was lying in a hammock, and the light shined into her face. She was weak, so weak she could hardly breathe. Her stomach, arms, and legs ached as if someone had flogged her. As she watched, incapable of moving, a sparrow flitted into the room. It flew around her, its wings thrumming, then it landed on her face. She couldn’t move, couldn’t push it off. And then it pecked at her eyes.
She yanked her hand away and stared at the psychologist. He looked back at her, and she saw the scar pattern went from his cheek to the corner of one eye. “The bird drank your tears?”
He jumped as if she’d kicked him under the table. After a minute, he said, “They drink blood.”
“But, why? What were you doing imprisoned in that room?”
“It’s a ritual. A coming-of-age rite for our tribe. We spend up to a month fasting in the mountains in a locked room with only one window. On the last day, a sparrow found me. I barely had the strength to cry out. It would have blinded me. My father came and chased it away. Then he carried me home. I was a man.”
“You were nearly dead.” She shivered.
With a brusque gesture, he signed her test paper and put it in her file. “It’s been an interesting experience meeting you, Mrs. Wheeler.” He stood up and nodded toward the door. His hands, she saw, were trembling.
“Usually, I don’t see anything unless the person has suffered a trauma,” Rachel said, choosing her words with care. She didn’t stand up. He went perfectly still. “Who was in the room with you?”
A muscle jumped in his jaw. For a minute, she thought he wouldn’t answer. “My twin brother. He didn’t make it.” he said, finally. Then he opened the door, and gave her an icy smile. “All that is in my records, of course.”
“I’m sorry about your brother.” Rachel put out her hand to shake, then felt her cheeks heat up when he pointedly ignored it.
“I see now what you mean about keeping friends,” he said.
“Actually, it’s a good way to find out who my real friends are,” she snapped.
“You didn’t have to say anything.”
She heard the anger in his voice, but knew it came from fear. “Look,” she said, putting her finger out and deliberately poking him hard in the chest. “You spent an entire morning giving me my evaluation, and when you finished, because you still didn’t believe me, you put me to a test. I accepted that test, even though I knew I would probably fail. Most of the time, I don’t see anything. Most people don’t walk around with a dead twin hanging around their necks.” She poked him again, just for good measure.
He breathed through his nose, his mouth so tight she couldn’t push a pin into it. “Get out,” he seethed.
“I bet all your years of training are coming in very handy right now,” Rachel said.
“Just. Get. Out.”