~ the raven chronicles ~ 13

17 Jul

(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES.)

Dr. Sylvester Agnostica, MD.
Sterns-Carson Sanitarium
Green Pines, Ohio

November 18, 1932

The ending of another day, another game of charades, another whirl on the carousel; that is how it all seems to me, a cruel sort of joke that is being played at my expense. Just when I begin to feel like I have a grasp on the circumstances of my life, up pops another devil to seize me by the hair and give me a good shake. If one man could feel more beleaguered than myself, I would like to meet the poor bastard and offer my condolences.

The first light of this day brought me a dose of self-assurance; at least to the extent that I believed that I could solve all my conundrums if I just kept my wits about me. I see now that I should never have congratulated myself for merely surviving the night’s horrors, or adopted any type of smug attitude about my understanding of Rhea Sinclair. I am reminded of Jefferson’s maxim: “He who knows best knows how little he knows”.

I stepped out of my house with a feeling that command of circumstances was within my grasp again, then before I knew it, I found eliza's carmyself sitting in my parked car at Sterns-Carson without a recollection of having made the trip to get there. The  diffused early morning light, cast with no particular reference to the sun, caught me off guard, and made me unsure if it was day’s end or beginning, if I was arriving or leaving the sanitarium. A hot wave of anxiety shot up my neck until my mind finally revolved and I recalled that it was indeed the beginning of a new day; a new day that had followed one of the strangest nights I had ever experienced. I collected my thoughts and my attache and stepped out of my car into the frigid morning air. A thin layer of fresh snow lay atop the several inches that were already on the ground; the lower pack crunched beneath my feet as I walked.

I’m not sure what caused me to turn around just as I reached the top step of the sanitarium’s main entrance, but when I did, I noticed a shiny new Packard Roadster parked next to my car. How I could have possibly missed seeing it when I had been so near it, was beyond me; the cherry-red finish was more vibrant than any automobile color I had ever encountered; and that I didn’t question the presence of this vehicle in the visitor’s parking lot before I entered the hospital, is demonstrative proof that my senses had been dulled by lack of sleep and the confusion engendered by recent events.

I strode across the porch, opened one of the great doors and entered Sterns-Carson; the building seemed deathly still inside. As I walked up the hallway, I fixed my eyes on one of the chairs near my office door, and the woman in it; she wore a long, cashmere coat; the brim of her cloche hat hid her face. My pulse raced as I drew near; I feared that her presence signaled some type of reckoning. I stopped at my door, she looked up at me, and for a moment, my heart ceased beating; those icy blue eyes were known all too well to me, and the thin upper lip perched firmly on the fullness of the lower, caused her to bear more than a striking resemblance to the perceived font of my misery.

After we had gazed at each other for a few silent moments, she spoke; Are you Dr. Agnostica? I had to moisten my lips before I could reply; Yes, I am Dr. Agnostica. She stood and faced me; I’m here to see my sister. I knew that it would be imprudent to conduct this business out in the open where prying ears and eyes could have their fill, so I unlocked the door to my office, stood aside, and bade her enter.

I hung my coat and hat on the tree next to the door; the woman stood silently with her back to me and faced my desk; though a chair was at her hip, she did not take it. I walked around to the back of the desk and said, Please, be seated. She regarded me with a look bordering on contempt, then took me up on my offer. I sat down and began our dance by adopting a congenial, business-like attitude; to the extent that it was possible to do so with those icy blue eyes staring at me.

Did I understand you to say that you are here to visit your sister? Yes, she replied, I am here to see Mrs. Kendree Sinclair. I opened the bottom drawer of my desk and leafed through the files there. I don’t recall a patient by that name, I said, are you sure she is at Sterns-Carson? You can drop the pretense Dr. Agnostica, she said, my name is Eliza Drummond. I made no reply, but fixed her with my best quizzical expression. She set that beautiful mouth into a sneer, then said, As amercement for his unwanted advances against me, Mr. Cannon has provided me with the information as to the whereabouts of my sister. It was either that or notify my father of his personal attorney’s lascivious behavior, which would have incited some most unpleasant repercussions. If there is one thing that Jacob Drummond values, it is the proper decorum of his daughters, and the proper respect they deserve, paid toward them.

I suspect that dictum has to do with why your sister is here, I blurted out; tacit acknowledgement that the masquerade adopted to conceal Mrs. Sinclair’s incarceration had been breached. A playful smirk adorned Miss Drummond’s lips for a moment. Yes, she replied, Rhea is being punished for straying from the path. She chose to marry Kendree against the strident objections of our father, and then led a life that accomplished little more than provide steady grist for the gossip mills. Now she must bear the cost for sullying the Drummond name.

Perhaps that is all true, I replied, but that does not change the fact that your sister is mentally disturbed, and in need of some rather radical treatment, treatment which I have scheduled to begin this very day.

Forthwith, you will not so much as touch a hair on her head, Miss Drummond replied, without my consent.

As the Director of Sterns-Carson, I certainly don’t need your consent to take appropriate action, young lady, I replied. I have been empowered by Mr. Cannon to institute whatever measures I deem fit to cure your sister.

lipmod - cloche hatShe pursed her lips and glared at me; Dr. Agnostica, you seem to have missed the point. Mr. Cannon’s authority is forfeit in this matter. You, therefore, have lost your autonomy, regarding my sister. I am now her representative, and will make decisions that are in her best interests. If you doubt that any of this is true, please pick up the phone and call Mr. Cannon, right now.

My blood rose to the boiling point; once again, my authority had been usurped by a stranger sitting in the chair across from my desk.

Miss Drummond responded to the glower on my face, with a gentle smile that completely disarmed me; I know how all this must make you feel, Doctor, for I have lived my entire life in the shadow of Jacob Drummond. Though I sympathize with your frustration, I mean what I say. So, let each of us act in our own best interests, and hopefully, we will both come out of this experience, unscathed.

Then I smiled, not in concurrence with her sentiments or for any solipsistic reason, but in reaction to her naivete that anyone involved in this affair will survive unscathed. Misunderstanding my facial expression, she responded by letting the manifestations of her psychic armor fall away; and I saw for the first time who she truly was; a frightened young woman who had ventured like a hatchling, virgin from the nest, determined to test her wings and see if she could remain aloft above the fanged creatures of the world.

I drew my watch from my vest pocket and checked the time. Alright, Miss Drummond, I said, you shall have your way, not because you are right, but because you have put the force of your father’s influence into play, just as Mr. Cannon has done before you. If things come to a head and any unpleasantness ensues, you must consider me neither your ally, nor Mr. Cannon’s. Will you agree to that?

A further slight change inhabited her persona; she looked at me with the eager eyes of a young girl, desperate to please; a look no doubt cultivated by always trying to win favor with her domineering and judgmental father. Yes, Dr. Agnostica, she said, I agree to those terms, I will take responsibility for my actions.

And, I continued, you must maintain the ruse that your sister is not here; I have attached the name of Mrs. Bartholomew Scott to her records, as far as the staff knows, that is her name. You must ensure that you never refer to her as Mrs. Sinclair, or Rhea, or any familiar pet name that you may have for her. This stipulation is of the utmost importance. Will you abide by that? Yes, Doctor, she said, I will be conscientious of that. Very well, I replied, then I will take you to your sister.

We left my office and began the trek to the isolate wing; I wondered if Miss Drummond was prepared to see her sister in near catatonia, wearing a rough grey shift, locked behind an iron door, or if she anticipated some type of happy reunion full of smiles and girlish good cheer. As we walked past the patients’ dayroom, I noticed the worrisome expression that came over her as she gazed on the unfortunate souls therein. Those are the patients who are a little better off then some, I said, able to interact in social groups, participate in inconsequential art projects and other simple crafts. We have quite a few patients who are unable to do much of anything at all, some who can do virtually nothing at all, and some who are dangerous. She looked up at me and I took the opportunity to prepare her for the incipient experience of seeing her kin locked in a maximum security cell.

Your sister is not the same woman as the last time you saw her, Miss Drummond, I said, I am sure of that. She doesn’t speak, not that I’ve ever heard or has ever been reported to me, and she has an air of detachment about her that is quite disconcerting. Rhea has always had that effect on men, she said, with a bit of ice in her voice. Her blessing and their curse.

We walked on in silence after that exchange; the only sound, our shoes striking the hard linoleum floor in the corridors. As we passed through the various wards a feeling grew inside me, a feeling that I should take Miss Drummond by the arm and return with her to my office, urge her to leave Sterns-Carson and never return, forget her sister and resign her to her fate. Those thoughts brewed and nearly came to a head several times, but each time I prepared to speak my mind, something stayed my tongue, as if I had no liberty, regarding my own expressions.

As we entered the hallway of the isolate wing, that feeling of negation of free will became yet more powerful, as if proximity to Rhea Sinclair were like walking into a vortex where one’s physical power and volitions were subject to another’s desires. I looked at Miss Drummond; self-assured on the outside, yet quivering and full of trepidation on the inside, and I knew that once she entered that cell with her sister, she would never be the same.

Hargest approached from the other end of the hallway; I am always a bit unsettled by his presence; he has a way about him that I have never much cared for; but he possesses the physical and mental constitution necessary to deal with the patients housed in this ward. As if he knew our destination, he stopped just outside Mrs. Sinclair’s cell, took his great ring and put the appropriate key in the iron door. As we arrived, he gave me a knowing look that made my blood run cold.

This is Mrs. Scott’s sister, I said to him, she has come to visit. Greetings, Miss, he said, welcome to our humble abode. I gave him a stern glance, and then slid the speakeasy door open and looked inside. Mrs. Sinclair stood with her back to me, staring out the high windows, as she often does. Mrs. Scott, I called to her, you have a visitor. As usual, she didn’t respond. I instructed Hargest to open the door.

Will you wait here for me, Doctor, Miss Drummond asked. Before I could even form a response, a voice inside my head ordered me to leave and not disturb this visit. No, I said, I have work to attend to, but Hargest will be nearby, call him when you are finished.

She gave me a glance that made me feel as if I were sending a lamb to slaughter; then she stepped into the cell. Hargest closed and locked the door, gave me an insolent look, and said, Don’t worry, Doctor Agnostica, I’ll keep an eye on her. Inflamed by an impotent anger, I turned heel and stalked back up the hallway and out of the isolate ward.

Just as had happened during my drive to the sanitarium this morning, I walked back to my office with my mind consumed by a quiet storm, oblivious to everyone and everything. It wasn’t until I touched the doorknob, that I regained awareness.

I closed the office door behind me and headed straight for the brandy; poured a dram and downed it. The wine burned, but that burn brought me to my senses; I realized, once again, that I must redouble my efforts in order to take control of my life. I thought of my wife, wondered if I should ever see her again, and at that very moment, my telephone rang. I answered and the sanitarium operator told me that she had Mrs. Agnostica on the line, and did I wish to speak with her. I sat in my chair, and told the operator to put the call through.

I answered with a hello, and the floodgates opened. Sylvester, this is Priscilla; I have retained an attorney and I am filing for a divorce; you needn’t worry about losing the house or much of anything in it, I will only take what is mine and mine alone; I wish to conclude our business in a timely manner, so please don’t waste any effort in contesting my decision, as my mind is firmly set on this course of action; I wish you the best in the future, but I have no desire to be there with you to see it.

Then the line went dead. I sat with the receiver pressed to my ear for some long moments, feeling like I had just been kicked in the head. I finally replaced the phone in its cradle, then sat back deeply into my desk chair; I could feel each and every one of the wooden slats against my back, the soles of my feet tingled, and the hairs on my neck bristled. Amorphous thoughts of revenge and mayhem coursed through my mind like a wildfire; instead of feeling any remorse for my actions that night in her bedroom, I reveled in the memory of what I had done; I smiled with satisfaction, knowing that this day was inevitable, and that to some extent, I had been able to settle accounts with that bluenose bitch before it arrived.

I swiveled my chair to reach for the brandy decanter on the bookshelf behind me, and my eyes landed on the narcotics cabinet on the wall to my left. Through the glass door I saw the bottle of laudanum, as if it were a beacon calling to me from some distant shore. A susurration filled my ears, and urged me on; I rose and slowly walked across the room to the cabinet, retrieved the key hidden on top, inserted it in the lock, and opened the door. With a sure hand, I grasped the bottle, removed it, then shut and locked the door.

Firm of purpose, I walked back to my desk and uncorked the bottle. I poured a very shallow pool of the reddish-brown liquid into my brandy snifter. As I brought the glass to my lips, the acrid smell filled my nose; my tongue was inflamed by the bitter nature of the tincture as I drank it down. A warm glow immediately suffused my body; and a certain clarity inhabited my mind.

I poured another portion of brandy, rinsed my mouth, and swallowed. I sat behind my desk and reveled in the growing sense of well-being engendered by the narcotic. A sudden hunger gripped me, and I was unable to recall the last time I had eaten. The operator put me through to the kitchen and I ordered breakfast; after hanging up I imagined Molly bringing the food, and that red mist swelled again, only this time, it undulated through my brain like a tropic tidal pool; I wondered if perhaps I could convince Molly to sample the laudanum, and imagined once again what wonders might lie beneath her starched skivvy uniform.

After spending some time in my lurid daydream, a knock at the office door interrupted my reverie; I called for the visitor to enter, anticipating young Molly; it turned out to be Sampson, one of the sanitarium’s cooks. He entered and placed the breakfast tray on my desk before me. I watched his black hands uncover the plate of eggs and sausages, pour the coffee and arrange the sugar bowl and creamer, and wondered if Molly had refused to deliver the food because of the way I had leered at her before. Will that be all, Doctor? I looked up at Sampson and said, Yes, that will be all, thank you.

Sampson left; I stared at the plate of steaming food and found myself suddenly without appetite. I drank the rest of the brandy, and decided to take a short nap, hoping that a bit of sleep would pull me back together. I arose and walked over to the couch, removed my jacket, loosened my tie, and laid down. My eyes closed as soon as my head hit the small throw pillow and I fell into a deep slumber. The dream that ensued, was nearly beyond description.

My eyes opened and I was in my bed at home, but the house had no roof; I stared up into a dark and moonless night, shooting stars and great cords of lightening streaked across the sky; I sat up and the walls fell away and my bed became a large cold rock perched high on a bluff above a raging sea; the waves crashed violently below, and I heard the voices again, the voices that had surrounded me in my bedroom just last evening; I arose and immediately the floor took shape beneath my feet, and the walls and ceiling of the house materialized; I moved toward the closed bedroom door in what I can only describe as a floating motion, my feet didn’t touch the ground, yet I walked; I opened the door and from the hallway, I heard the sound of women, three or four as best I could determine, laughing and sighing from behind the closed door of my wife’s bedroom; the red mist flared crimson; I strode to her door and threw it wide; her room was like a massive chamber in some palace; she lay supine on a great bed, dressed in nothing but a long, sheer, open-front gown; she twisted and moved her hips like some great cat in estrus; she spoke no words but I heard her just the same; “Sylvester…I’ve been waiting for you…come to me, darling…come to me, now…”; I leapt on her and then we were coupled, just like the night I raped her, but this time, she urged me on, begged me to not stop; she moaned and growled and made sounds I have never heard uttered by a human tongue, not even by the lunatics at Sterns-Carson; then suddenly, the tables turned, and I was beneath her, I had become her, and I felt all that she had felt on that dreadful night of my madness: the terror, the violation, the pain, the helplessness; I gazed upon the demonic expression on my face floating above me and watched it metamorphose and distort into a visage of some unholy thing from the depths of the abyss; the phallus buried deep inside me sprouted barbs that tore and rent my insides; the pain was unbearable and I finally screamed as a harpy; and the scream echoed like a cavern full of bats squalling out of their dark place of refuge to seek the life blood of other creatures by which to sustain their existence; I jerked awake and found myself grasping my gut, sweating profusely, sitting on the couch in my office, surrounded by darkness, save for the soft glow of the small lamp on my desk.

As I finish this entry beneath the light from that lamp, there is no doubt this time that it is night that lies outside my window, for I have spent the entire day lost in an opium dream of a nightmare. My breakfast still sits cold and untouched; Eliza Drummond’s car is gone from the parking lot; and the hospital is silent beyond my office door.

Besieged wherever I am, I will go to my home, if for no other reason, than out of the hope that maintaining some semblance of routine, will stave off what would seem to be the demise of my once rational and practical mind.

I will take the bottle of laudanum with me, and narcotize myself into sleep, if necessary; for without sleep, I am doomed; but sleep with the dreams I have witnessed these past days, would seem to be doom unto itself. I don’t know where to turn, or how to fight the demons pursuing me, but I will not capitulate. I will not bow down.

©2011 j.edwardfitzgerald all rights reserved

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