Names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.

Julie Acevedo is eighteen years old -- old enough to smoke, vote in a presidential election, or serve her country in the United States Army. She laughs freely and flicks her hair, now grown long, back from her face. Her smile is bright and her eyes are alive with light. Altogether, she seems like any other typical young woman on her way up in the world.

But Julie is not a typical young woman.

Not only do her IQ tests show a brilliant mind behind her pretty exterior, but until two years ago, Julie was under the care of skilled therapist Dr. Jacob Batchelder at Pineview Residential Treatment Facility, located in the gorgeous Colorado foothills.

No childhood photographs exist of Julie, so it is up to the imagination to see the young girl who once laughed and played like any other. She would have had light blonde hair and brown eyes, with a tanned complexion. Not an especially pretty young girl, but a happy child nonetheless -- in more recent therapy sessions, Batchelder records Julie referring to her early childhood as a joyous time, spent living with her mother in an apartment south of Denver. When she speaks of those halcyon days, Julie's face acquires a peculiar cast, writes Batchelder. She looks almost regretful, and a little doubting.

Valencia "Val" Martinez, Julie's mother (during Julie's institutionalization, Martinez remarried), has occasionally deigned to be interviewed on the subject of her only daughter's childhood. Never published, the text of the interview reveals curious things about the young Julie:

"...Julie had this tendency to daydream, she would just drift off into her own private world. I didn't worry about it, but when she started to get older and entered school, I noticed she got a little more withdrawn than normal. It was like she didn't even hear me when I called her in for dinner, and I'd have to call her five or six times to get her to come in from outside."

Martinez never worried about her daughter's mental health; as a girl, she had displayed similar tendencies, and said that her daughter was just a quiet child, just as Martinez herself had been. Julie excelled at her studies in school; her academic records show a brilliant child, though one who lagged behind her classmates in mathematics.

Former classmate Rosalie Evans remembered Julie as a quiet little girl, not popular, who regularly received high grades on her English assignments, especially those that called for creativity. "She never quite got the hang of science or math," says Evans. "She didn't really get that you had to report the facts, exactly as they were."

Yet somehow, Julie managed passing grades, even exceptional ones -- exceptional enough that when, shortly after her seventh birthday, she entered second grade, she was accepted into the gifted-students program at her elementary school.

Julie thrived in the specialized environment. Still behind on math, she raced far ahead in the realms of English and history studies, attacking Dickens and Heinlein in a matter of weeks. She had a phenomenal memory for fictional events -- perhaps appropriate, for such a daydreamy little girl.

For a time in second grade, and into the beginning of third grade, Julie thrived in the gifted-students program. The other students regarded her as one of their own, and her second-grade teacher clearly thought her a remarkable student. Even her third-grade teacher thought well of her.

But in late October, Julie came down with the flu.

Normally, the flu is almost nothing -- a week or two of inconvenience to a healthy adult. Julie was not a healthy adult, though. She was an eight-year-old child.

No real records exist of Julie's sickness, and Julie herself remembers very little of the time, so all is left to conjecture. What actually happened in Julie's mind during her two-week bout of the flu will probably never be known, frustrating those who wish to make a full investigation into her case.

What is known is that, after Julie returned to school, her grades remained high in English, but began to drop in all her other studies, until the only consistent high grades she acheived were those in creative writing assignments, relatively common in the gifted class compared to the normal-level class.

To the reader familiar with her case, Julie's creative assigments begin to assume a disturbing trend. Once given to simple fantasies like those of any reasonably bright child her age, Julie began to focus on one character in her work. Had she been a writer, this would be noted as the beginning of a novel. In Julie's case, it is highly disturbing -- her writing, while not exceptional in quality, becomes startling when seen in the context of her later life.

In an assignment dated the 10th of December, Julie, given the prompt of what she will do over her holiday vacation, wrote a fairly normal assignment about receiving a few presents for Christmas, spending a week at Grandmother's house, and playing in the snow outside.

In the last line, she referred to an unnamed, possibly female friend, saying that she was going to visit her friend, and that they would play together.

Asked whether Julie had any such friends, both classmate Evans and mother Martinez responded that she never did. Her few friends were passing acquaintances whom she spoke to in class or on the playground, and didn't play with in her own free time.

It is, therefore, easy for a case historian to make a conclusion from this piece of evidence:

By the 10th of December that year, Julie had begun to develop what would become an all-encompassing delusion. Her school assignment happened to be the first display of it to the outside world, very important, considering what followed.

Returning from vacation on the 2nd of January, Julie completed an in-class assignment about what she hoped to do in the New Year. Again, she talked about fairly normal childish pursuits -- going to fourth grade, which she was excited about, and turning nine, which she was also excited about.

And again, she mentioned her friend, now named only Max. Julie mentioned her -- stating specifically that Max was a girl, like her -- and said that she and Max were going to play together over the summer.

Her mother remembers passing it off as just another phase that Julie would grow out of -- everyone has an imaginary friend at some point, and many children claim that their imaginary friends are real.

All children, however, eventually abandon their imaginary friends. Martinez talked to other mothers in the community, asking whether their children had had imaginary friends -- overwhelmingly, they had -- and how long it had been before they abandoned them -- most of the mothers said that their children had long ago given up their imaginary friends.

Martinez stated that she never worried about Julie's mental state, assuming that she, too, would outgrow "Max" and go on to make actual friends.

Needless to say, Julie didn't.

Note: No, this is not RPF. It is an AU fifth book in the Maximum Ride series, one which presents itself as the story of a delusional young girl. It's written as ripped-from-the-headlines, like a true-crime book without the crime. Ever read Sybil?

I would say that this story owes its genesis to a certain thread on the Maximum Ride forums, and to the disappointing summary given of the forthcoming fifth book in the series. There have been a few stories in the past with this basic plot, but I think this is the first faux-case-study.

Maximum Ride is not my property. Actual facilities or people mentioned in the text aren't mine either. And, of course, I've taken generous liberties with psychiatry and psychology in the text.