Prelude (An Alec Winters Series, Book 1)

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Chapter 18

As terrible as incarceration might sound, especially when related to the imprisonment of a thirteen-year-old, Catalina Winters didn’t suffer while housed at the State Mental Hospital. As the youngest patient, she was often treated tenderly and with great respect. Many of the other patients had also suffered horrible abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to protect them, and when lucid, they commiserated with Catalina’s situation.

Before leaving New Orleans, Alec tried to visit with Catalina as often as he could. He wanted to get to know those in charge of his sister’s care. However, each of his first three visits began the say way, and unfortunately, ended the same. After checking-in at the front desk, he was directed to wait in the lobby with the other Saturday visitors. The call of a visitor passed to Madeline O’Day, the regular guard of the women’s ward.

Due to an overwhelming fear and hatred of men in general, males were never allowed on the hospital’s female wing. However, after Cat refused to leave her room for the third time, Madeline intervened. On the fourth visit, she came out to escort Alec to the patient. While they walked together, Madeline had plenty of suggestions and updates for him.

“Your little sister is doing just fine, Alec,” she encouraged. “She isn’t as big as a mite and she’s already gotten the name of ‘littlest chicken wing.’ Part of that nickname is because she’s so tiny; part of it is because she won’t come out of her room unless someone assists her or strongly encourages her to do so. Cluck-cluck,” Madeline imitated the chicken sounds and emphasized the gesture while flapping her arms like wings. She laughed easily and Alec laughed with her.

“Tell me more about my sister,” he responded.

Madeline became serious again and continued in a hushed voice, “I worry most because she won’t come out of her room. She must participate in group therapy and join the others in their activities if she expects to ever get that coveted day-pass,” Madeline advised. “I know you want her to be able to come home once in a while for a visit, don’t you?” At his nod, the guard continued, “That’s why we have day-passes. We want the inmates to have a day at home with their families once a year…maybe at Christmas or during Thanksgiving. We have to encourage her to do the work and take those steps, you know?”

“How often do you have group sessions?” Alec inquired.

“There are two group meetings each day. One in the morning and another in the afternoon,” the guard replied. “So far, she hasn’t attended either. We have to change that if she hopes to have any privileges. It’s a process; she has to take those baby-steps now. Understand?”

“I understand,” Alec nodded again.

“Do you think you could talk her into going to the garden room to have lunch with you? If you can, I’ll get a tray for the both of you,” Madeline encouraged with a smile.

“I’ll try my best,” Alec responded. “But, is that allowed, Madeline? I thought no men were allowed on the women’s ward.”

“You can call me Mattie,” she prompted. “I can tell you are a decent man and that no one on the ward will have anything to worry about with you around. Besides, I’ll see to all of that other stuff, don’t you worry none. Your job is to get her out of her room. It’s the third door on the right from the end,” she encouraged as she unlocked and opened the door to the long hallway.

“I’ll certainly try,” Alec promised again.

“This particular wing houses only women, ranging in ages from eighteen to sixty-five,” Mattie informed. “Then, there is the littlest-chicken wing, your baby sister. Everyone here has either committed or been convicted of some violent crime that forced their incarceration. Deemed as mentally ill or criminally insane, they’re unsuitable for a normal women’s prison. But, between you and me, I can’t say whether any of these women are actually guilty of anything. Yep, it seems that most were abused, raped, or tormented in some wicked fashion by some sadistic asshole. Still, we keep a close watch on them, sort of like a daycare. The orderlies, guards, and nurses are all women too. During weekly psychiatric evaluations, the patients are seen in a common room while one of those orderlies or nurses stands by to oversee the proceedings. It’s one way the prison protects their female population from male testosterone.” Mattie chuckled again.

“I see,” Alec dutifully responded.

After the lengthy details about the ward, Alec hesitantly followed Mattie through the doorway. Some of the other inmates were in the corridor, and when they saw him, vacant expressions turned to admiration, tears stopped, and sad faces turned to smiling countenances. Several reached out to touch him with light, gentle strokes as they whispered, “Angel, angel on the floor. Angel coming through. Make way. Angel, angel coming through.”

Madeline paid little attention to their mutterings and pushed the beseeching hands away as she harshly admonished, “Stand clear. Step back. Make way. Don’t touch others without permission. You know the rules, ladies. I suwannee!” she said, lowering her voice for Alec’s benefit again. “These women sure act strangely around you, Alec. I mean, sure, you’re a fine, handsome man, but the way they’re acting is simply bizarre. Nevertheless, I suppose it makes sense…they haven’t seen anyone other than the female staff in ages. You’d be surprised to know how few visitors we get here. Most families just can’t take it so they don’t come anymore. Your fine-looking face has got them all stirred up.” Mattie rambled ongoing commentary while she headed towards the end of the hallway.

“It’s all right, Mattie,” Alec soothed. “I don’t mind.”

Undisturbed by the show of admiration, he was eager to see his sister. He knew that almost all children, and many of the mentally challenged, easily saw his angel persona. In a way, he was relieved and comforted to know that those who could still see beyond the veil surrounded Catalina.

Martin Saguache had confirmed that the Saguache DNA also affected Catalina. Not that she would transform into angel or demon, but still the blood that passed through her veins affected her in nontraditional ways. The bloodline empowered her ability to see through the veil. With a heavy sigh, Alec silently acknowledged that unless he could effectively encourage his little sister to dutifully follow the rules here, she might never live outside the confines of these very walls again. She might never have the chance at a normal life. Despite their mutual dysfunctional past, Alec aspired to live a healthy and routine life. It was what he desired for Catalina, Cassidy, and Sabrina too.

Alec knew he would have to push her to adjust to the new living conditions. At thirteen, she was merely a frightened child. Declared criminally insane, like the other inmates, it was no wonder that she preferred the isolation of the meager room allotted to her. Still, he understood her need to put some distance between herself and all that she must surely witness in this place. The spirits of so many departed loved ones would overwhelm anyone. They were everywhere on this wing of the prison.

“Does she come out of her room at all?” Alec asked.

“Sure, sure,” Mattie affirmed. “She goes to her individual therapy sessions once a week. Sometimes, she takes her meals in the cafeteria with the others. Still, she refuses to wait with the other patients in the common room on Saturdays for visitation. Then, she gets a stubborn streak. During those times, she won’t come out at all. Anything beyond those activities seems to hold little importance to her. We have to make her see that everything here is important.”

Madeline stopped to point out a large garden room. Alec peered through the glass window while the friendly guard used a key to unlock the door. Inside, was a bright sunny room with beautiful flowers and white wicker chairs with colorful padded cushions.

“This is amazing,” Alec commented. “It’s very much like the sunroom at home. She should love sitting in here.”

“This is where you can bring her for lunch today. While you’re at it, maybe you can talk to her about participating more. Isolation makes the doctors and therapists frown about a patient’s progress. It makes them nervous. We want to see her get good marks from the doctors, right?” Mattie asked. “After all, that’s the key to getting privileges in this place.”

“If she gets those good marks from the doctors, will she be sent to a normal prison?” Alec worried.

“Oh no,” Mattie boisterously affirmed. “We only want her to do well so restrictions will be lifted. No sir, once they come here they don’t ever go back to the regular jails. It would be a huge liability for the state. You know, in case someone was wrong about the patient’s progress. No, the best we can hope for is that she’ll get day-passes or that she will eventually be released into the family’s custody.”

“I didn’t know that was even a possibility,” Alec admitted.

“It is,” Mattie reassured, “but that can take years of good behavior so the choice is hers and only if she improves.”

“I understand,” he replied now fully aware of the special benefits that Mattie explained.

“I have to get back to the door and arrange your lunches,” Mattie said as she headed back to her post. “Just bring her to this room and I’ll do the rest.”

Alec walked the rest of the corridor alone. As he did, he saw the spirits of other people who were there to comfort their loved ones. The disembodied souls offered a gentle caress or soft word as consolation, but their purposes were merely to let their families know they were not alone or forgotten. Many of the inmates rocked back and forth while holding onto their abdomens. Many talked gibberish. Some pulled at their hair while others tugged at their clothing as if imprisoned by the seamed constraints. Others wept intermittently between outbursts of incoherent, angry shouts.

All of the women had one thing in common: each seemed deeply troubled by some experience or memory that refused to set her free. When he neared, stillness followed as their repetitive actions halted briefly. The inmates gazed at him with clarity for a few fleeting moments. After he passed by, the previous motions began again and were repeated incessantly as the imprisoned fell back into despair.

Alec, undisturbed by the melee, moved on. He’d seen a lot since the night of his transformation. The mutterings of these women didn’t adversely affect or frighten him the way it did other visitors. Already, he’d seen men die violent deaths. He’d heard the terrified pleas of vicious criminals. He’d seen souls tortured by horrid memories. He’d seen spiritual phenomenon that most people could never imagine. In addition, he’d seen children and innocents look on his face with adoration and love, recognizing him in his true and pure angelic form. It was clear that each soul in this place dealt with the tragedies of her life the best way she could.

Now, almost at the end of the corridor, Alec stopped. He softly knocked on the closed door of his sister’s room. “Cat? Cat love, it’s Alec. I’ve come to see you. Come, sweet little sister. Come; join me in the garden room,” he called out softly. Hoping the words penetrated the haze of her fog, he waited patiently. He was rewarded with the sound of rustling papers. She took time to put away sketches drawn in private…sketches of angels…sketches of him. Those drawings papered the walls of her room, surrounding her in that memory alone. She wanted, nor needed, any other.

“Alec, is it really you?” she asked with a lilting trill through the closed door.

“Yes, Cat. It’s really me.”

This ritualistic greeting would continue for many years.

If Alec had gone inside the room, he would have seen that Cat drew sketches of all those he’d saved…Sarah, the six young boys, Anita, and a host of others were there. The angel’s redemption stories unfolded in the drawings plastered on her walls. Even without easy access to a television, radio, or newspaper, his sister ‘saw’ her angel redeemer save the lives of innocent ones. Their faces appeared in the drawings as clearly as the angel who had saved them.

Catalina was psychically attuned to Alec. She had clear vision of the angel and those he saved. That sensitivity to supernatural forces labeled most of the women in this prison as insane. Seeing into other realms can cause one to appear crazy, especially to those who can’t see such things.

“Oh, my angel,” Cat cried out joyfully in response. “Is it really you? Have you come to cast your light on me again?” Then, the steel panel that separated them flung wide and she rushed into his arms. “Oh, it is you! I knew I’d see you again. I knew you’d come back.”

Cat cried against his chest while Alec wrapped his arms around her slight frame, holding her securely. She shivered from his gentle electrical touch and exalted in the comfort of the white wings encircling her. Alec held his little sister close as she sobbed and mumbled words of gratitude for his intervention, for saving her and the others who needed him. It was always on her mind and not very far from his thoughts either.

After the crying finished, Alec took Cat by the hand and led her back to the garden room, a sun porch filled with fragrant flowering plants. There, with the sun streaming through the windows and surrounded by lovely, sweet-smelling bouquets, they sat quietly, holding hands. A female orderly came in with two lunch trays. Alec got up to help serve his sister and then thanked the staffer for her assistance.

Although they chatted softly while eating, Catalina didn’t ask for updates on the world or the family outside these walls. She didn’t care. She had everything she needed or wanted sitting beside her and in her own small cell.

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