The young woman paused, took a sip of water from a clear plastic bottle she brought with her, and let out a bombshell. "Lately, I've been freezing up a lot,' she said hesitantly with a nervous little grimace.
"What do you mean?" the pychologist prodded, suddenly alert. The session up until now had been the usual pleasantries and stock questions about her background and attitude that any new patient answered to establish the profile. Up until now, the replies had been expected; typical; routine. For an actress in her early twenties, his new patient was a refreshingly normal person. Until now.
"I mean I just can't move at times. My whole body becomes rigid, like a statue. I never know when it's going to happen," she added.
Writing 'hysterical catalepsy' on his pad after a big asterisk, he continued. "These incidents, are they associated with social situations, parties and the like?"
"Not really, she replied, sipping again, "It happens just anytime, without warning. The last one was on the weekend, in my kitchen…"
"What were you doing at the time?"
"Nothing. Well, I was talking on the phone to my friend Courtney. She's in this play with me, and we hang out a lot together."
"Was there anything particularly - uh, stressful - about your conversation?"
"I don't think so. Just girl talk, you know…" she paused, looked over at his raised eyebrow of a question, and added "stuff. Dresses, where the hot parties were, things like that. Nothing tight. Then, all of a sudden, I felt my feet stuck to the floor, like I'd stepped in superglue, or something…"
"Had you just waxed the floor?" he asked.
She bristled. "You're making fun of me! This is serious. No; nothing on the floor, on my feet. No sandbags holding me there, but I couldn't budge. Then, that same feeling of stiffness started to climb up my legs and I couldn't move them either. Soon my stomach too, and I had trouble breathing or talking. I felt like I was turning to stone. A few seconds later, I froze completely, but I could still hear Courtney for a few seconds."
"A few seconds?"
"Yeah; that was so strange. I was holding the phone up to my ear and couldn't move a muscle or say anything or course. Her voice just faded away. That was probably my brain freezing up, I figured out afterward. After what seemed a moment staring at the wall, my body started to unfreeze and I dropped the phone. When I called Courtney back, she told me over three hours had passed. Was I a statue that whole time?"
"I see," the psychologist replied, making more quick notes. He could see the experience had flustered her, from the change in her position to the pitched emotion in the tones of her voice. Whether the event was a dream or not, she felt the paralysis was real to her, so it was. Trying to calm her, he suggested "Why don't you shift over to the couch? You can relax, stretch out."
She smiled at that, and the tension broke. "Okay. But if you were a producer instead of a shrink, I wouldn't agree so quickly," she chuckled. Standing, she smoothed down her short skirt before moving to the leather divan and swinging her legs up as she lowered into a half-sitting position.
"That was your most recent experience?"
"Yeah, though Courtney is such a ditz. She should have called 911 on me, but she just went about her business until I called her back. What was she thinking? I could have been kidnapped, or died…"
The soft chime of a grandfather clock interrupted, and the psychologist looked at it briefly. "That's the end of today's session, however I can see this is an awkward point to stop at. One moment." He spoke softly into an intercom for a few seconds. "Fortunately, today's next appointment cancelled out, so we can continue. You'll be billed for two sessions, though."
"That's OK; the HMO is paying; I only have to do the co-pay once this way, so it's cool, doc."
"Very well. Tell me more about your friend?"
"Sure. I met Courtney a couple of weeks after I moved to LA; she was in one of my acting classes and then we ran into each other at a club. Both cruising for the same guys, the types that don't seem to exist except in movies. We kinda hung out a little, then both of us landed parts in the same play. Now, we help each other rehearse."
"Does she compete with you for work?" he prodded, exploring one of the two questions wrtitten on his pad.
"As if! Listen, everybody in this business competes with everyone else, and that's the way it is. We're not up for the same part or anything, but we both try to do our best and look our best. You never know who's going to be in the seats watching. She wouldn't ever cheat on me or anything."
"You have a lot of mutual friends?"
"Some. Usually it's just the people who are in the same gig that hang out together. When I was doing Next Friday we were on location in some gawdawful rathole place in Kansas and none of the locals wanted to come near us, except the young studs lookin' to get laid by a 'moovie star'," she smiled, saying the last two words in an exaggerated hayseed accent. She took another sip.
"Do you have a romantic relationship with Courtney?" That was the next question.
She gasped, turned towards the psychologist, and blushed. "Well, I… NO! I'm not that kind of girl and neither is she. Why would you ask such a thing?"
"Just trying to get a rounded picture of your association with her; sorry, let’s move on," he covered, noting that her reaction was an almost classic response of false denial. "How…"
She interrupted him, continuing. "It's not that I don't get approached. In this town, pretty much anything goes and getting hit on from both sides of the fence is flattering in a way. But that's all, you see. My upbringing was very clear about those kinds of feelings and I'm not going to make an embarassment out of my folks. Now, what were you asking?"
"Um, How is your career going? Are you up for any significant roles, anything new?"
"I've been able to make ends meet, for sure, and the play looks to run for the rest of the season. Parts come up all the time, I'm always doing readings between and during jobs. People notice me after that stint on Guiding Hope, though I don't want to get typecast as another mindless hooker with a heart of gold. That's so nineties!"
"Well, there's a really long shot - at the lead for a newe series, but I seriously would never get that, and…" her voice trailed off.
"And what?" The psychologist prompted.
"Oh, God! It's happening; I can feel it," the pitch of her voice went up a half-octave. "Ohh…"
"Yes, my toes felt all tingly for a moment; now I can't feel them or move them!" she looked down at her feet, as did the psychologist. They seemed perfectly normal, but remained still. "Now, it's going up my calves, like before. Oh, no! Not here…"
"May I touch you?" he asked clinically.
"Yeah, but do it quick - I can't feel my thighs anymore…"
Grasping her foot at the ankle, he found her tensed, completely rigid and immobile though her body temperature seemed normal enough. Yet her skin seemed stiffer, harder somehow, though that may have just been her muscle tone. Her hand brushed against her own leg, then slowed and stopped in position.
"Wanted… to feel… what it… was like," she gasped, fighting for breath, eyes wide with fear. "Plastic… Turn…ing so… hard.…"
"Don't worry, young lady. I can get Cedars on line, have you rushed over there. You'll be fine," he reassured her.
"Get..ting… hard… to… talk…" She tried to look towards him, moving her head with effort, then stopped mid way. 'Help… mm…." Her voice trailed off in mid plea.
"I'll get help right away. Don't worry. You were all right after your last episode. Try to be calm," he reassurred the stiffened girl.
She was beyond response, but her eyes drilled into his, blinking twice before stopping totally. One arm was reaching out towards him, frozen in place. Conveniently, he took her pulse, finding it elevated but present. Her breathing was shallow and regular. Medically, there didn't appear to be anything wrong with her except she was as stiff as a board. He tried shifting her position, but she remained statue-like, or rather more of a mannequin figure since she had said the word 'plastic' earlier and now looked it.
This was something beyond his experience, yet the panicky paralysis seemed tied to something about her new opportunity. So, she should be treatable; given time. Clearly he wasn't going to be able to do anything more for her today. Yet she couldn't stay here; if her last freeze-up had lasted hours who knew how long this one was going to be? His next appointment was in less than an hour and they would not find a frozen starlet on the couch amusing in the least.
Keying the intercom, he asked, "Martine, ring up CSMC and have them send an ambulance over, please, stat?" Expecting a response, he heard silence. "Mrs. Ealing, are you there?" Nothing.
Leaving his motionless patient staring at where he had been sitting, the psychologist stepped into his outer office, where a perplexing sight greeted him: Sitting at her desk, phone in hand, sat his receptionist, frozen in place just like his young patient. He confirmed her vital signs as stable, then pried the phone out of her rigid fingers. The number was on speed-dial.
"Cedars Dispatch, this is Ian Brownlee over at Westwood Professional Building. Prepare to send a hot team. I believe we have some sort of outbreak occurring." That certainly got them activated, he reflected wryly. After giving the address, suite, and a few other details he hung up to await the ambulance and other emergency vehicles that were on their way.
Just then, he felt the hint of a tingling in his toes….
END (or not, this could easily be continued)