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Hypnotizing a trauma survivor can be risky at the best of times, fraught with potential downsides, both short-term and long, with many unknowns in the subconscious waiting to be unearthed – all the more so when your patient is a nine-year-old with a broken heart. 

This cautionary notion hung over Dr. Katz as she stared at the report in her hand. It was Christmas Eve; her colleagues and staff had all left early to be with their loved ones. She had been halfway out the door herself when the courier had finally arrived. Alone in her office, which was on the small side for a Harvard-trained psychiatrist, she flipped past the cover sheet marked ‘CONFIDENTIAL’ to the report itself. The write-up was two pages typed, single spaced, on McLean Hospital letterhead. She scanned the top few lines:

  • PATIENT:     Madison Blair Cooper         

  • DOB:           12 Sept 1995

  • SERVICE:    Hypnotherapy Session         

  • PROVIDER: Edward Lind, M.D.

  • LOCATION: Sleep Disorders Clinic         

  • DATE OF SERVICE:    12 Dec 2004

  • DURATION:                 06 min 38 sec

Now, as she shifted her attention to the micro-cassette on her desk, Dr. Katz wondered if she had made the right choice.

She inserted the tiny cassette into her recorder and pressed ‘PLAY’. As the hypnotherapist began making his introductory remarks, Dr. Katz sat back to listen, turning her gaze out the window, where dusk had already fallen on the Charles River.

She had thought long and hard before she’d ordered the hypnotherapy session for her youngest patient, but there was no escaping the fact that after treating little Madison, or at least trying to, for two plus years, she had very little progress to show for their weekly talks. 

What had tipped the scales for Dr. Katz had been the sudden onset in early September of Madison’s dream, or rather, her nightmare. Experiencing a night terror around the anniversary was to be expected, given what the poor child had been through. That said, the weekly, sometimes nightly, frequency was concerning. The details, well, that was another matter. Each week, Madison’s recounting would begin calmly, as if telling a story. Notably, the sequence of events described was always the same, almost word for word. But then at the same pivotal moment in the dream, she would falter, before breaking off completely. A look of terror would wash over her angelic face, and she would fall into a distressed silence, unable to continue.   

The clinician on the tape concluded his preamble, “Session recording time is six minutes, thirty-eight seconds. Note the patient is under hypnosis for the duration.”

Dr. Katz turned up the volume. After a brief pause, a young girl’s voice broke the silence, speaking clearly, in a slow, measured cadence, with a child’s soft and innocent tone:

“My name’s Madison,” I say to the man next to me. “My friends call me Maddie. What’s your name?”

He doesn’t answer me right away. He’s busy reading his magazine. But I can tell he’s not really reading; he’s just turning the pages. He’s just pretending.  

“Mohamed,” he says to me. “My name is Mohamed.” His voice is deep, like my dad’s, but he sounds different, like he’s from Africa or somewhere, like that boy, Arush, at my school.

“That’s a nice name,” I say. “Do you know my dad? He always sits in this seat. I’m taking his place today.”

The man doesn’t answer me. He puts his magazine away and starts wiping his hands on his legs. I do that sometimes when I’m nervous. 

“Don’t be afraid,” I tell him. “My dad said airplanes are safer than cars.”

He keeps wiping his hands and staring at his feet. 

I don’t want him to be scared, so I say, “We’re not going to crash.”

He looks right at me and smiles. “Oh, yes we are.”

I get this funny feeling down my back, and in my tummy. “I remember you,” I say. “You were at my school, or somewhere… My dad says I have a memory like an elephant.”

The man doesn’t answer me, just stares down at his feet.

I know it’s not nice to stare, but I can’t help it. That’s when I see him take out the knife and hold it down by his leg.

“Is that a real knife…?” I ask him. Now I feel a little scared. “My dad said you can’t bring a knife on the airplane, or a gun. You could get in big trouble.”

The man doesn’t say anything, like he didn’t hear me.

I see the nice lady who works on the plane so I raise my hand. She bends down beside me, “Yes, Miss Maddie…?”

I stretch up and whisper in her ear, “He has a knife. I saw it. It scares me.”
She leans over me to speak to Mohamed. “Excuse me, sir – this young lady says she saw you with a knife.”

I can tell he heard her but he keeps staring at his feet.

“Mr. Atta – Sir, I need you to give me the knife – Now!”

He looks up at her and smiles, the same way he smiled at me. “You want the knife…?”

The tape fell silent. Dr. Katz straightened up in her chair. This was the very point in the dream where Madison would always stop. Dr. Katz glanced at the counter, still rolling: ‘4:58’... ‘4:59’... ‘5:00’... ‘5:01’... ‘5:02’...

Madison abruptly resumed speaking, except now her words came faster, her tone more urgent, in obvious distress:

He swings his knife up and cuts her throat! 

Blood shoots out of her neck – ! 

I scream – There’s blood everywhere – it’s spraying all over me! 

I try to get away but she falls on top of me – I can’t move!! 

Her blood keeps gushing – and gushing – and gushing! 

All over my face – My hair – My eyes – My mouth!

It’s in my mouth!! It’s in my mouth!! Her blood is in my mouth!!! I can taste it!!!  




Her terrified, anguished wail filled the office. The timer on the recorder ticked past ‘5:38’. Dr. Katz lowered her head and listened to Madison scream for another full minute. 

Outside, it had begun to snow.

December 24, 2004

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