The Devil in Ohio by Daria Polatin is a debut novel and a haunting thriller that explores the dark nature of cults and teen social dynamics.
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When fifteen-year-old Jules Mathis comes home from school to find a strange girl sitting in her kitchen, her psychiatrist mother reveals that Mae is one of her patients at the hospital and will be staying with their family for a few days. But soon Mae is wearing Jules’s clothes, sleeping in her bedroom, edging her out of her position on the school paper, and flirting with Jules’s crush. And Mae has no intention of leaving.
Then things get weird.
Jules walks in on a half-dressed Mae, startled to see: a pentagram carved into Mae’s back. Jules pieces together clues and discovers that Mae is a survivor of the strange cult that’s embedded in a nearby town. And the cult will stop at nothing to get Mae back.
DR. MATHIS: Testing, testing. Is this recording? I pressed the red dot. . . . Okay, looks like it’s working.
[Creaking of bedsprings.]
DR. MATHIS: Oh, you don’t have to get up, you can stay where you are. You had a long night.
[Shuffling of some papers.]
DR. MATHIS: So, I am Dr. Suzanne Mathis, attending psychiatrist at Remingham Regional Hospital, and I’m here to assess how you are doing. I am here with patient—
DR. MATHIS: Would you mind telling me who you are? We don’t have any identification on file for you yet.
DR. MATHIS: Your name? Or do you have some kind of ID that the staff might have overlooked?
[Leaning close] Please note that the patient has shaken her head, indicating that she has no ID.
That’s okay. Why don’t you have some water?
[After a short silence, a cup clinks.]
DR. MATHIS: I know you’ve been through something unspeakable. Something you never want to face again, let alone talk about. But I want you to know that I’m here to help you. That is my entire job. To help you work through what happened.
They’re calling you “Lauren Trauma.” That’s your code name in your file. We use it for your own protection, so that only people we give it to can find you. But can I tell you a secret? The ones who we never find out their real name—they’re forgotten, they’re the ones left behind. And we’re not going to let that happen to you.
[A tired, raspy teenage girl’s voice finally speaks.]
MAE: Mae. My name.
DR. MATHIS: Thank you for telling me, Mae. That’s a beautiful name. Do you spell it with a Y?
DR. MATHIS: Wonderful. And your last name?
DR. MATHIS: Okay. We’ll stick with Mae for now.
So Mae, tell me what you remember from last night. Besides the doctors and tests and all that. Tell me about what happened before you get here.
MAE: I—don’t remember anything.
DR. MATHIS: Nothing at all?
MAE: I remember—the truck driver. He found me. There were bright lights, and then he called the ambulance. I think.
DR. MATHIS: Thank you, that’s what I have here as well. He called the ambulance at 12:52 a.m. It is pretty incredible that he saw you. Police said you were lying nearly fifteen feet from the side of the highway. How did you land so far from the road?
MAE: I don’t know.
DR. MATHIS: Did you jump out of a moving vehicle? Or head into the woods from the road? Or did you maybe come from inside the woods?
MAE: I was in a car. Van. A white one.
DR. MATHIS: Okay, so you were riding in a van. In the passenger seat?
MAE: In the back. I was thrown from there.
DR. MATHIS: You were thrown from a moving vehicle?
DR. MATHIS: By thrown, do you mean that the van hit a bump or something, or it got a flat tire?
MAE: No, by a person.
DR. MATHIS: You were thrown by a person out of the back of a van.
MAE: Maybe that’s why I rolled so far.
[Quiet. Some scribbling.]
MAE: It was two people.
DR. MATHIS: Two people threw you?
MAE: And someone else was driving.
DR. MATHIS: Do you know who threw you?
Do you remember who was driving the van? Or what he—or she—looked like?
MAE: I don’t remember. I’m very tired—
DR. MATHIS: Of course you are. Just a little bit longer. Do you remember anything about them? Any of the people involved? Were they tall, short, thin, heavy?
MAE: They were wearing black.
DR. MATHIS: Black sweaters? Jackets? Pants?
MAE: Long black coats.
DR. MATHIS: And what about their faces? Could you see what any of them looked like? Do you remember what color anyone’s hair was? Or—
MAE: They were wearing hoods?
DR. MATHIS: Hoods?
MAE: Black hoods.
DR. MATHIS: Mae, where are you from?
DR. MATHIS: Are you from Ohio? [Leaning in] Note that the patient has nodded affirmative. Where in Ohio are you from? Somewhere nearby?
[Quiet. A sip of water is gulped.]
DR. MATHIS: Mae, I’m going to help you. I’m going to help you stay safe, and help keep you away from whoever did this to you. It won’t be easy, but we’re going to have to trust each other. Can you do that? Can you trust me?
MAE: [Pause.] Okay.
DR. MATHIS: Good, thank you. I’ll trust you too. Okay, this next part might be difficult, but we’re going to get through it. Together. Mae, who did this to you? The carving on your back. Who cut you? Was it someone you knew?
[Leaning close] Please note that the patient is nodding her head yes. Can you tell me who it was? The more I know, the more I can help you. Was it someone from your family?
You’re nodding yes.
DR. MATHIS: Was it your—father?
DR. MATHIS: Mae, most abuse happens from within the family. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, because none of it is your fault. Do you understand that? None of it is your fault.
Was it your dad, or an uncle?
DR. MATHIS: Which one was it?
[After a long pause.]
MAE: I need to rest now—
DR. MATHIS: Are you sure you don’t want to tell me—
MAE: I’m so tired.
DR. MATHIS: [Leaning into the microphone] Note that the patient has closed her eyes and is no longer responsive.
Copyright © 2017 Daria Polatin.
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Daria Polatin is an award-winning playwright and television writer. She holds an MFA from Columbia University, and her new play Palmyra, about a young woman who joins ISIS, will be presented in New York and Los Angeles. She is a founding member of The Kilroys, an advocacy group for female and trans writers that promotes gender equality in the American theater, and is a writer for the Amazon TV series Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, starring John Krasinski. Daria is of Egyptian heritage and grew up traveling on five continents, loves hiking and inventing recipes, and lives in Los Angeles. Devil in Ohio is her debut novel. dariapolatin.com.