|CHAPTER XVIII by Steve Carr|
The wind whistled as it blew through the cracks in the safety glass in the windows and between the rusted bars embedded in the crumbling cement of the window frames. The top layer of thick dust that covered the floors of the hallways and rooms shifted like sand being blown across desert dunes. Centipedes, roaches and spiders crawled about behind the rotting wallpaper in the dark and dank recesses inside offices and storage rooms. The flutter of wings from finches and sparrows that had built their nests above the doors resonated in the empty spaces as the birds took flight.
Henry Lowell pushed on the handle of the large metal door, slowly opening it, and felt a rush of hot air wash over him that was scented with age and decay, like breath exhaled from something long-dead. He glanced up at the carved stone lettering in the arch above the door. Letters were missing. It read, Low ll Ps chi tric Hos ital. With the door opened just enough to squeeze his skinny body through, he stepped into the building and then closed the door as goosebumps rose on his arms and a chill travelled the length of his spine. He turned, and leaving his footprints in the dust, he strode down the hall wishing he had brought along a bottle of water to ease his parched throat.
He passed rooms where the doors were open or missing, where pieces of broken chairs, benches and tables were scattered in the dust, being eaten away by mites and termites. In some rooms, empty bookshelves lined the walls; in many the shelves had collapsed one on the other. In alcoves in the hallway walls where porcelain drinking fountains had once been, exposed, rusted pipes stuck out of the walls and up from the floor. Cobwebs, like intricate, yellowing lace, spread across some of the alcoves, where trapped insects hung, entombed in cocoon-like webbing.
At the end of the hallway he stopped at the foot of a winding, metal stairwell that twisted through the ceiling and floor like a screw. Alongside the stairwell hot air rose from the basement and up through an empty elevator shaft carrying with it the aromas of mould and mildew. He placed his hand on a railing and stepped onto the top stair leading to the basement, heard the stair squeal like being stepped on was painful, took his flashlight from his back pocket, and then walked down the stairs, shining the light into darkness.
The bottom stair rattled as he stepped from it and onto the concrete floor. He walked a short distance before coming to a closed door with a small window in it, giving a view into a cell devoid of any light. The hinges on the door screeched as he opened it and shone the light into the room. A single bed with a tattered mattress sat in the middle of the floor. He closed the door, shone the light on the rear wall, capturing the outline of a loose brick. He pulled the brick from the wall and reached in and pulled out a small bundle of rags. The springs of the bed squeaked as he sat down on the mattress and unwrapped the bundle. He shone his flashlight on a leather bound book and then slowly opened it.
In the centre of the first page written in pen ink in elaborate cursive lettering were the words: Inside the Lowell Psychiatric Hospital. My Journal. He turned the yellowed pages of the book, careful not to rip the paper turned fragile by age and exposure to the dampness of the cell. The journal was divided into chapters, each begun with a page on which the chapter was written in Roman numerals. He stopped at the page and chapter where he had left off the last time.
As I wrote in the forward, this journal is a recounting of my time as a patient in this hospital. I couldn’t write my observations and experiences in the same sequence that events happened because I had to be very careful about when I took the journal and pen and ink from behind the brick in the wall. If you found this, then it means something happened to me that prevented me from retrieving the journal myself. Hopefully you’re not a member of the staff of this hospital, or my doom is imminent, which I fear it is already. I now continue.
The Fairy Godmother was sitting in the corner, her chin tucked. Drool spilled from her open mouth. Her hair was shaved back several inches behind the hairline, revealing the bright red scar that extends across the frontal portion of her skull. The aides placed her wand in her lap where it lay as useless as a tree branch, disconnected from its original source of magic, the power of the Fairy Godmother. Her downward gaze was fixed on the wand, its use cut from her brain along with the existence of all other forms of magic. Tragically, the Fairy Godmother’s closest friend here, Cinderella, slashed her wrists with a shard from one of her broken glass slippers after the Fairy Godmother was brought back to her cell after being lobotomized. Cinderella survived but is now in a strait jacket in one of the isolation rooms.
For dinner tonight we were served what we thought were cuts of beef only to find out that the last existing unicorn had been slaughtered, butchered and broiled. The faerie who had fed and taken care of the unicorn had to be wrestled to the floor and restrained when he found out it had been killed. To punish the faerie for acting out, the doctors clipped his wings, rendering him earthbound. They didn’t use any kind of anaesthesia when they cut into his wings. His screams could be heard throughout the hospital. It was so piercing that several of the crystals in the chandelier in the staff dining room exploded into millions of sharp fragments. It was his love of the unicorn that kept the faerie calm and here at the hospital when it would have been easy enough for him to fly away. Before bedtime they gave him high doses of a medication that along with having his wings clipped further renders him incapable of escaping. He shuffled up and down the hallway mumbling to himself before they put him in his bed, tying him to it to keep him from wandering through the hallways during the night.
Beast punched one of the aides when the aide, one of the more hideous ogres who works here, held up a mirror in front of Beast’s face and told him how ugly he was. It took six ogres to drag Beast into the cool-down room and force him into a tub of ice water where they held him down while pouring buckets of ice on top of him. Afterward, they chained him to a wall in his cell and lashed him with leather straps until the skin beneath his fur blistered and bled. Beast remained chained for almost a week, refusing to succumb to the torture he endured until at last his heart gave out. The last word he uttered was “Belle.”
The lights flickered when the doctors turned on the equipment for their newest method of treating patients, electroshock therapy. The ogres chased the leprechaun, Paddy, all over the hospital before catching him in the arts and crafts room where he had hidden among the clay statues of gnomes and trolls. Despite him being mischievous, those of us who watched him being wheeled into the therapy room strapped to a gurney had lumps in our throats. We didn’t know what electroshock therapy was, but the ogres had gleefully told us it used electricity to treat how someone thought. That alone was enough to terrify us. We waited in the hallways outside of our cells until Paddy was brought out. His eyes were open but only the whites of his eyes shown. His otherwise pale green skin had turned ashen grey. The ogres wheeled Paddy into his room and transferred him to his bed. It has been two days and Paddy remains in his bed, just as he was when he came out of the therapy room. He mumbles continuously about pots of gold.
Henry sat bolt upright at the sound of footsteps coming down the metal stairs. He closed the journal, quickly wrapped it in the rags, and then hurriedly put it back into the wall. He turned off his flashlight and stood in the doorway of the cell when the beam of light from another flashlight shone from the bottom of the stairs.
“Hey, Lowell, you down here?”
It was the voice of Chris Morris, one of the other guys that he worked with who delivered pizzas. Henry remained silent for several moments before turning on his flashlight and waving it, sending flashes of light on the walls of the corridor. “Yeah, I’m down here,” he said. “What are you doing here?”
Chris shone the light on his own face, forming a luminescent but eerie mask that made his eyes appear sunken and his smile clown-like. “I followed you. I’ve seen you come here before.”
“You’ve been following me?” Henry asked angrily. “Why?”
Chris walked down the hallway, towards Henry. “The last living Lowell family member visiting this hospital that has been abandoned for twenty years would make anyone curious. I’ll ask you the same question. What are you doing here?” He turned his flashlight and shone it on Henry’s face.
Henry turned his head and stared into the darkness at the other end of the hallway. “Everyone in town knows that this hospital was very secretive about what went on here. When Dr. Lowell and his wife who adopted me died without telling me about what really went on in this hospital, and there were no other Lowells to turn to, I was left to find out for myself before the town has it bulldozed.” He looked at Chris who stood a couple of feet away. “It has taken a lot of searching to discover the truth.”
“So, what’s the truth?”
“Can I trust you?”
Chris raised his hand as if giving an oath. “I give my promise as one pizza delivery guy to another.”
Henry shone his flashlight into the cell. “Come in and I’ll show you something that I almost missed finding.” Chris walked past him and was only a foot away when Henry raised the flashlight and then brought it down hard on Chris’ head, knocking him out.
“I’m at chapter eighteen, the last chapter in this journal,” Henry said tapping the journal that lay open in his lap. He patted the page where he had left off. “I don’t have time to start at the beginning, but I can tell you that the Lowell Psychiatric Hospital was a very bad place.”
Chris struggled against the leather straps that were wound around his wrists and ankles. The springs of the bed squeaked beneath the weight of his shifting body. “Let me loose,” he demanded.
“Not until I’ve reached the end of this chapter,” Henry replied.
“Why keep me tied up?” Chris asked.
“I don’t trust what you might do if you find out what happened here. After all, my name is attached to this horrible place.”
“When you let me loose I’m going to bash your head in.”
Henry shone the flashlight on the words on the page. “I’ve taken that into account,” he said.
After being kept locked in isolation for nearly six months, Sugarplum Mary hung herself. She pulled threads from her hospital gown and wove them into a rope that she wound around her neck and tied to the ceiling light fixture in the isolation cell. Among the elves hospitalized here, she was the tiniest, no taller than the stools we sit on at the dinner tables, and the prettiest. I watched as the ogres cut her down, and even in death, she seemed to glow with life. The psychiatrists tried to erase from her mind her history as an elf in Santa’s workshop by using deprivation and seclusion, but it didn’t work. Days before she committed suicide I managed to secretly talk with her through the space under the isolation room door. She talked only of her time making candy and cookies with Mrs. Claus.
The dragon appeared in the morning mist sitting on the front lawn. Try as they might, the ogres couldn’t prevent everyone from pressing their faces against the windows and murmuring the questions to one another that we had. Who did it belong to being the most frequently asked. It sat perfectly still, its chest only slightly rising and falling with every breath, its gaze fixed on the front doors. The ogres grabbed those of us they could and locked them in their cells. When the bell sounded for lunchtime, only a few of us that remained at the windows turned away and went to the dining room. Maybe it was overwhelmed by the dozen ogres who suddenly surrounded it, but the dragon barely responded when the ogres threw their spears that pierced the dragon’s thick, blue hide, creating wounds that spurted the dragon’s green blood fountain-like, creating a small pond of blood around it. It died with hardly a movement, and it wasn’t until her wail echoed throughout the hospital did we know the dragon belonged to the Greek woman Hesione, the oldest female inmate in the hospital. The ogres quickly grabbed her and took her into the electroshock treatment room and for a half hour afterward the lights in the hospital flickered.
I have been able to keep my pregnancy hidden from everyone but Dr. Lowell. I shudder to think what would happen to me or my child if the ogres found out that I was due to give birth at any moment. Dr. Lowell has promised he and his wife will take good care of my child as it is unlikely I will leave this horrible place alive. They are intent on killing off or driving insane the last of the fae, charmed and other magic folk. If I give birth to a son, I’m hopeful the Lowells will honour my wish that he is named after his father, Prince Henry.
Someone is coming.
Henry slowly turned the remaining pages in the journal, all of them blank. When done he closed the book and wrapped it in the rags. Chris was sound asleep and snoring loudly. Henry returned the journal to the place in the wall and then put the brick back in place, careful to erase any sign that it had ever been disturbed. He took Chris’ flashlight and untied him, careful not to wake him. As he left the cell he looked back into the complete darkness, unable to see Chris. “By the time he gets out of this hospital he’ll be too angry at me for leaving him here to remember anything else,” he muttered to himself. He made his way up the stairs, through the first floor hallway, and out the front door.
Coming soon from Schlock! Publications