‘Tell us about the case of Miranda, Professor Harkin.’
‘Ah yes, Miranda, perfect, divine, Miranda. She was my most eminent case; she made my name for me. Of course, if she hadn’t been the most exquisite creature on earth it would never have happened. That was the key to it all you see. Alonby was captivated by her as much as he held her captive. He was a collector of beauty and when he saw Miranda he had to have her, poor, empty, beautiful Miranda. He was her speech therapist, though she never spoke a word, never even made a sound in the time that he treated her, her vocal range came later. She just stared out at the world with those beautiful, vacant eyes.
She was found over twenty years ago now, naked and vulnerable. I was only on that road in the middle of the night because I’d had an emergency call-out. It was pure chance that she came under my care. I found her. I had her, and I wasn’t letting her go without a fight. They wanted to send her to Liverpool, but I convinced them that I was the man to take on her care. The case in itself was fascinating, ground breaking, but it was Miranda who had the magnetic pull. I had to have her. He used force and a locked room to possess her; I used my career and professionalism.
She was as naked as the day she was born walking down the A590. Her fate was to be taken from one prison and incarcerated straight into another in the psyche unit where she still lives today. I still see her sometimes, sitting out in the garden.
She was an artist’s dream that night. Though dirty and unkempt the lines and tone of her body were sublime. But it was those eyes that haunted me at night, her huge eyes with pupils as black as pitch. She had black hair too. It was so black that it shone blue in the car’s lights. It had never been cut and as I approached her, my headlights lit her from behind, and the ends of her mane bounced off the curve of her perfect buttocks. She reminded me of a deer, one wrong move and she would take flight, but with nowhere to go she could only run into herself, turning inward, withdrawing from everybody and everything.
We found out who she was within weeks, television, media, all that. Her family had moved abroad six years earlier, that held things up a bit. They wanted to get away from the tragedy, too many memories in Barrow. After a month with no sightings and no body turning up, the leads all went cold and died. They’d had her late in life. They never really understood her condition or knew how to deal with her. She was their living doll; they’d dressed her, sheltered her and had no expectations of her. Afterwards, they just accepted that she had died but it killed the father. He dropped dead the following year. Her mother still lives in Montana with her other daughter, comes over when she can…came once… early on, never made it for the trial.
It was another frour years before Alonby was caught. All the time he had her we crossed professionally now and again. Same hospitals, same functions, who’d have thought it, eh? Seven years: seven years he had her locked in that room… and he talked to me about voice recognition and vol-au-vents. I could have killed him at any time had I know.
She was a void. She could walk and eat, allowed herself to be dressed and obeyed direct commands, but maybe she lived in another realm. I always fancied that she lived a full life on a different plain somewhere. So you see, when the noises began nobody even thought of looking at her.
It started with the birds. I think maybe she liked birds. No, I need to explain that better, that’s not right at all. She didn’t like anything, or dislike. Hell she only escaped because the door was open. She’d been able to do it for months, year’s maybe. She just opened and closed the door at will. We think she only went out because she’d opened it and was used to him going through it. But then, the question always niggled, why was she canny enough to only play with the door when Alonby was out? We’ll never know.
Yes… I think it was the pitch of the birdsong. She was more responsive to certain pitches. She showed no interest in music, but odd notes would trigger a response sometimes.
The staff were driven mad by the birds. She could throw her voice over two rooms, along corridors. Then there was the tea-urn, the mop bucket, cutlery, dripping water, electric lighting. Her vocal range was extraordinary, inhuman. It took us months to realise that it was her. I’d love to say that she played with them; they all said she did, but they were only being fanciful. Her brain didn’t work that way. I know only too well just how unresponsive she was to any outside stimuli. I touched her…but she didn’t feel.
Then we had the big breakthrough. We knew who she was, but we still didn’t know where she’d come from or where she’d been for the previous seven years. I tried her with different sounds over the months, the years. I had to be very patient, she rarely played ball at the time but she had perfect recall. We set up recording equipment in her cell and watched her around the clock. She was most active in the early hours of the morning, when she was alone and undisturbed. If a new sound had interested her she’d replay it, try it out. Sometimes she didn’t get it first time. Sometimes it took months of repetition before she trained her voice to that pitch. She only had to hear the noise once. Sometimes it would be months after hearing a noise that she’d try to emulate it. That was the case with the D.T.M.F.
It wasn’t even one of my experimental sounds. A visitor in the common room had been nervously playing with a dual-tone-multi-frequency reader. It gets some people like that. Some people find it …difficult… being in a room with so many … so many of my patients. It was probably the reader to the lock on his filing cabinet or something. It was a tiny key-fob and yet it unlocked the clue that captured Richard Alonby. It lead me right to him.
The technology was the same as on any run-of-the-mill mobile phone, a simple keypad, with twelve numerical keys, each emitting a different tone, on one of two frequencies. One frequency ran horizontally along the keypad and the other vertically. When a key is pressed the two frequencies would mix to produce the sound peculiar to that key.
We heard her making the noises over and over until she had the exact pitch and tone that would have opened whichever lock that man’s key-fob released.
Then we took her out for a drive and it happened. She was no danger to herself or to anybody else. She’d never re-habilitate but as an act of human decency we used to take her out in the car. Rules could be bent, it happened. I used to release her and take her out myself. I lived for those Saturdays alone with Miranda. She was as vital to me as the breath that sustained me. It was on one such drive when we were taking in the scenery in Grange-over-sands, just passed where she was originally found, that she became agitated. Miranda was without emotion. She was biddable and subservient at all times. She would let me do… She had never once broken out of her withdrawal or shown any sign of being aware in any way.
She began to rock on the seat, making the same set of sounds repeatedly. It was a similar sequence to the key-fob, eight numbers, transposed into the sounds of a D.T.M.F device. It could have been a mobile phone. It could have been a lock.
The rest is history.
I was excited. Of course I didn’t immediately connect the emergence of Miranda with her surroundings. I rushed her back to the unit, but once passed the street we had been on, she returned to her former, almost catatonic state. I worked with her over several sessions with no success. It was only when I decided to repeat the journey that she repeated the strange behaviour.
Alonby was at home. When I broke in I actually caught him watching one of the films he’d made. He was touching her… doing… unspeakable things to her.
He was touching… my… Miranda.'
‘Okay, prof, calm down. Calm down buddy. It’s okay. That’s enough for today. Let’s get you back to your cell.’
‘I want to see …. Miranda.’