Group Meeting Chapter 4

Photo of Iris Carden's books. Caption reads: "Excerpt from a book."

Chapter 4 Tuesday Afternoon excerpt from Group Meeting by Iris Carden

Sarah looked around the room. Her group of residents looked the worse for wear. Chantal had dark circles under her eyes, and looked as if she’d been a week without sleep, rather than just one night. Johnno had grazes on his left leg, arm, and the left side of his face – there had been an incident on the shopping trip and Kirk had forced him to the ground to restrain him. Bobby was gnawing on his fingernails with even more determination than normal. Jilly was looking resolutely at her feet, hair over her face, with no sign that she wanted to communicate with the group in any way.

“So,” Sarah asked, “does anyone want to tell me about their day? Johnno?”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“I wasn’t accusing you of anything. I was just asking how your day had gone.” “No comment.”
“OK. Chantal, how was your day?”

“My pen wouldn’t work in life-skills. Every time I tried to write, the ink just wouldn’t come out. I changed pens, and the same thing happened with the new one. I tried four pens. I couldn’t get one to write. Even the pen that had just been working for Kara wouldn’t work for me. Then this afternoon, when I was trying to sleep, someone thumped on my door, and yelled. I got up and opened the door and there was no-one there. As soon as I went back to

bed the same thing happened, and then it all happened again. I’m really tired, and I’m sick of people doing this stuff to me.”

“What time was this Chantal?” Sarah asked.

“From about one o’clock until two. Then I gave up and went to the lounge to watch a dvd.”

“Chantal, from one o’clock until two, Bobby and Johnno were both on the shopping trip, and Jilly was seeing Doc. There were no residents other than you anywhere near your room. And none of the staff would have done that. The cleaners do your rooms while you’re in life-skills, and no-one else would have a reason to be there. If one of the nurses were checking on you, they’d just knock and come in.”

“Someone did it,” Chantal insisted. “Someone doesn’t want me to get any sleep.” “Maybe it was the new girl,” Bobby suggested.
“There’s no new girl.” Jilly said.
“You’ve seen her,” Bobby said.

“Yes,” Jilly said. “I’ve seen her. But I’ve seen a lot of things that aren’t real, so how would I know? Sarah says there’s no new girl, and no new staff. Kirk says someone can’t come in here without him knowing, and he’s got to be right – we sure can’t do anything without him knowing. Doc says it’s probably stress, and not to worry. He says as long as I can recognise that she’s not real, then it’s OK. But otherwise I might have to go back to the ward while my medicines get changed. I’ve seen her, but she’s not real. She can’t be real. Maybe that’s what’s happening to Chantal as well. Maybe there wasn’t anyone vomiting last night, and no one knocking on her door this afternoon. Maybe, she’s hearing things that just aren’t happening, the same as I’ve been seeing someone who isn’t there.”

“And thank you for that diagnosis, Dr Fraud,” Johnno said. “See Chantal, no-one’s been keeping you awake, you’re just crazy, like the rest of us. Maybe you’re crazier, because our delusions aren’t keeping us awake.”

“Johnno, that’s not helping,” Sarah said.

“Who said I have to help?” Johnno said. “I didn’t sign up to get other people better, just me.”

“But part of getting you better, is dealing with other people, and dealing with them in a positive way,” Sarah said.

“I’m positive. I’m positive I’ve had enough of this crap.” He stood to go. “Sit down, Johnno,” Sarah said.

“The meeting isn’t over.”
“Are you going to call Kirk?”
“I don’t think that will be necessary, do you? Just sit down Johnno.” Johnno sat.

“Right,” Sarah said. “Johnno, you have to keep calm. Chantal, there was no-one knocking on your door. Bobby, Jilly is right, there is no new girl, you have both for some reason imagined her.” She took a deep breath. “It’s clearly been a very stressful day. The danger is that stress can make you sick. So tonight is a quiet night for everyone. Lights out will be at nine thirty.”

“Right,” Johnno said, “that’s what we’d do in the real world if we had a stressful day, someone would tell us to go to bed with our blankeys, and we’d do it because otherwise one of Captain Kirk’s storm troopers would drag us out for a cold shower in the middle of the night.”

Sarah sighed. “No-one has ever dragged you out for a cold shower in the middle of the night.”

“Not here. But they did in the ward. Lots of times in my first year.”

“I find that very hard to believe.”

“Oh, yes, it happened,” Bobby said. “That was my third year in the ward – but he was a little bit on fire at the time. I think the nurses were trying to stop the burns getting bad.”

“A little bit on fire?” Sarah asked.
“I might have had something to do with it,” Bobby answered.
“Something?” Johnno yelled. “You had everything to do with it. All three times!”

This was a piece of her patients’ history she had not known about. She made a note to check with Doc whether it was wise to keep the two together in the program. Of course there was a chance that every one of the patients had tried to harm or kill at least one of the others during their time in the ward. That was the nature of life in the ward. Having got past that was the prerequisite for moving into the half-way house program.

Bobby looked at his much-chewed nails, and said matter-of-factly. “Yeah. I did like fire. I still do. But I can stop myself from lighting them now. You smelled like burned hair and barbecued meat for weeks. And that burn cream was really awful. Lucky you didn’t have to have one of those elastic suit things – they put my mother in one of those – took her a year to start to get better, but then she died after she caught fire again.”

Sarah shivered. Surely being able to talk so calmly about burning his own mother to death was a sign Bobby wasn’t really better? But he was right. He had been able to resist the urge to light a fire the whole time he’d been in the program. Whether that was the success of his treatment, or the vigilance of Kirk and his security team, Sarah didn’t know. Most of the time, Bobby seemed harmless, but he had spent five years in the ward becoming well enough to progress to the program, like all of the others he did still have the potential to become very dangerous.

“All that is past,” Sarah said. “But you will all have an early night tonight. It’s been a very stressful day, and part of learning how to cope in the world is learning that after a tough day, and when you’re getting tired, you have an early night. That’s it. You’ve got dinner now then free time until 9.30pm. I’ll see you at nine tomorrow morning. Sleep well everyone.”

Jilly stayed back.

“I talked to Doc,” she said. “But I don’t know. I can keep telling myself the new girl isn’t real, but if I keep seeing her, even though I know she’s not real….. Well…. What do you think?”

“I think Doc’s the expert. He’s in charge of the program, and he’s in charge of the medicines. I’m just a counsellor. I’m here if you need someone to talk to, but this is beyond me. If Doc tells you just to keep reminding yourself that the girl isn’t real, then that’s what you do. Maybe over time, you’ll stop seeing her if you stop believing in her. If you do keep seeing her, well, I guess we check with Doc, and maybe we have to try to find another way to get rid of her.”

“What if she’s not a delusion?”

“Not a delusion? But you know she’s not real.”

“I know she’s not real. But what if she’s not a delusion either, but something in between?”

“What would be in between?”

“This is going to sound crazy – there’s Johnno’s favourite word again – but what if she’s a ghost, a memory, someone who used to be here? Do you believe in that sort of thing? I mean, I’m not sure that I do. But I’ve seen her since I saw Doc, and I looked straight at her and said ‘you’re not real’ and she just ignored me and kept walking up the hallway into the tv room. I went to the tv room and she wasn’t in there of course, because she’s not real. But I wondered. I mean, why do I keep seeing her when I know she isn’t real? And why is Bobby the only other person to see her if she is maybe partly real, something other than a delusion? But if she is a delusion, and she is my delusion, why is Bobby seeing her at all? Is he just saying he’s seeing her? To make me feel better, or to upset everyone else? What do you think?”

“I don’t know what to think about all of this, Jilly. I don’t believe in ghosts or spirits. But I don’t know what to make of a delusion two people suffer from either. All I can say is that for now it’s best to try what Doc said to do, and if that doesn’t work, then we talk with Doc about something else. If you want to talk to someone who might know something about ghosts and spirits, the chaplain will be in tomorrow. I don’t know if it’s really her area, but she might be able to help.”

“Do you think she’d do what is it called, séance? No, I mean exorcism?”

“Oh, I don’t think it will come to that. I’m sure Doc will help you get it all under control really. Go and have your dinner, get an early night. Things might seem better in the morning.”

Jilly left the room, and Sarah berated herself silently. Things might seem better in the morning – where did that come from? Not from her counselling degree, that was for sure. It sounded more like something her mother used to say when she had nightmares. Is that what it came down to? She spent three years gaining her degree, doing the best training she could afford, and when a patient had a serious issue, she just doled out the platitudes her mother had used on her? Of course, these were really Doc’s patients, she was just… just what? Housemother? Babysitter? Nursemaid? Big sister? She didn’t know. She’d been here for months, and still didn’t understand the goal of what she was doing. She still wondered if the residents really were going to ever go out into the real world – or if this limbo was the closest to “normal” they could hope for.

She wrote more notes to add to the resident’s files – particularly Jilly’s concerns about whether or not she could stop seeing the girl she was trying so hard to believe wasn’t real. Sarah wondered what it would be like to not be able to trust her own senses. She felt very sorry for Jilly – Jilly who had killed seven people, because she thought she was ridding the world of zombies. Jilly, who had to live with knowing she had done that – and forever doubting the her own mind. Sarah could see how Jilly might like to find a compromise that said the girl wasn’t a delusion – if she wasn’t a delusion, then Jilly wasn’t getting sick again, wasn’t a danger to everyone around her. There would be very little in the world that Jilly could fear more than getting sick again.

Chapters of Group Meeting

Cover of Group Meeting by Iris Carden. Cover features photo of old, abandoned, abandoned grave.

Group Meeting

(Novella) In a facility for the criminally insane, a group of people with sinister pasts starts to be visited by a girl who doesn’t exist.

Reviews for Group Meeting:

Group Meeting is quite a spotlight into twisted minds and the depths of insanity…engrossing story by Iris Carden with quite the twist at the end…wow! – Dawn (Amazon)

Fascinating, with an amazing twist right at the end. Deep and varied Characterisations and emotive scene setting. It was totally unexpected, and surprised even me. Highly recommended. – Annie (Amazon)

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.


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