~ the raven chronicles ~ 28

4 May

(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES.)

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

November 20, 1932

Once again, I sit at my desk, laudanum and brandy at hand, putting down what I have seen and heard another day at Sterns-Carson. Many of my previous visions, though terrifying in the extreme, have been nothing more than phantasms. Today, reality collided violently with the unreal.

I have no explanations; I have barely attained a feeble certitude of all I have seen and heard. You, dear reader, whoever you may be, at some future date, will have to deduce and reason it out. Nonetheless, I am determined to be more than a mere observer of these peculiarities; more than a pawn in some fantastic game.

Having made the decision to proceed with treatment on Mrs. Sinclair, I called the hospital operator and asked her to locate Mr. Jenkins and Nurse Wallace and send them both to my office. Having done that, I reread the newspaper account of the discovery of Kendree Sinclair’s body while I absentmindedly devoured the huge breakfast that Sampson had left for me. I had just finished mopping egg yolk with toast – an eating habit that I generally regard as repulsive, but a reflection of my hunger – when a knock sounded at the door.

I beckoned; Mr. Jenkins and Nurse Wallace stepped into my office; I immediately asked them to close the door.

I informed them forthwith that Mrs. Scott would receive Hydrotherapy Treatment first thing this morning; that Nurse Wallace should go ahead and prepare the patient; that Mr. Jenkins should arrange for an additional orderly to assist in the Hyrdotherapy Room. Mrs. Wallace raised an eyebrow and objected.

Do you think that necessary, Doctor; Hydrotherapy is generally reserved for agitated patients, Mrs. Scott is always quite docile and cooperative.

All of the rigmarole and turmoil had me on edge, consequently, I gave Mrs. Wallace a brusque reply; Am I not the head of this institution, Mrs. Wallace; Should I expect my judgment as a physician to be challenged by a nurse?

Her face went red and her nostrils flared; No, Dr. Agnostica, you should not expect that; I will go see to Mrs. Scott and wait with her until you arrive.

With that, Nurse Wallace turned heel and left the room in a manner that underscored her displeasure with me; So be it, she has not endured the trials that have vexed me these past weeks. In turn, I have noted her insubordination gathering like storm clouds on the horizon. Were it not for the fact that good nurses are impossible to find, I would have dismissed her right there on the spot.

I’ll locate another orderly, Doctor, Jenkins said without missing a beat; I think an additional man should accompany us to retrieve Mrs. Scott.

I knew instinctively that Jenkins considered the presence of Hargest at Mrs. Sinclair’s cell as a possible hindrance; I had come to realize that Hargest was disliked by most of the rest of the Sterns-Carson staff, and Jenkins’ suggestion echoed the distrust I also harbored for the brute.

Good idea, I replied; Meet me at the Dayroom with the man of your choice; We’ll go to fetch Mrs. Scott, together.

Jenkins left my office. I finished the carafe of coffee, then went into my lavatory, performed a perfunctory toilette and put on a clean shirt.

When I stepped out into the hallway, I glanced out the hospital’s front doors onto a gray and frigid morning that held little promise of imminent sunshine; Just as well, I thought, all is obscured.

I proceeded to the Dayroom and found Jenkins waiting there with an Orderly unfamiliar to me.

Doctor Agnostica, he said, this is Wilson; He’s new here, but a reliable hand, experienced with tough nuts and hard cases; He spent a year at Downey.

I was impressed with Wilson’s sole credential; anyone who’d survived the horrors I’d heard described of Downey Sanitarium, and wished to place themselves in any similar situation, must have the constitution of a bull elephant.

You’ve handled violent patients, I said to Wilson.

My share, and then some, he replied, in a cold voice that belied the soft, almost matronly look of his features.

I had no interest in, or need of, further discourse with Wilson; Assurance that he could handle whatever may arise in dealing with Mrs. Sinclair, or Hargest, was my only concern.

The three of us proceeded on to the isolate wing.

*****

After what seemed like a trek, I opened the door onto the hallway that leads to Mrs. Sinclair’s cell. In the distance, Hargest stood in Mrs. Sinclair’s open doorway, arms folded, staring into the small room.

I assumed that Mrs. Sullivan had already arrived and was prepping Mrs. Sinclair for treatment.

I heard Wilson mutter softly as we approached; I glanced his direction and noticed his left hand in jacket pocket, flexing on something inside; though I never discovered, I assume he possessed a sap or some other small weapon, and the sight of Hargest caused him to reach for it.

We made it to the doorway before Hargest seemed to notice us, but I’m not sure that he was really unawares, because he turned to me just as I was about to speak.

Hello, Doctor, he said, glancing from me, to Jenkins, then Wilson; Misery loves company, doesn’t it.

It was obvious his insolence had grown since our last encounter, but as before, something stayed me from confrontation; I merely replied in an even tone, Step aside, Hargest; We’ve got business to attend to.

He gave me a smug look then stepped back from the doorway and into the hall, where he and Wilson stared each other down.

I entered the cell first and was disturbed by the sight that greeted me; Mrs. Sinclair sat upright on her cot, arms at her side, eyes closed and chin tilted upward; Nurse Sullivan was on hands and knees before her, bowed at Mrs. Sinclair’s feet in an attitude of obeisance.

Mrs. Wallace, I said, what are you doing; She slowly turned and looked up at me.

Helping Mrs. Scott with her shoes, Doctor.

Well, if you’re quite finished, I said, we will escort Mrs. Scott to therapy.

She completed the ministrations and got to her feet. She’s ready, Mrs. Sullivan replied, in a chilly manner.

Up to this point, Mrs. Sinclair had remained motionless, possessed by her usual catatonic reverie. I nodded to Jenkins, he motioned to Wilson, the two men stepped around me and into the room.

Just as they reached Mrs. Sinclair, one man on either side of her, each prepared to take an arm and lift her as they have done countless number of times with unresponsive patients, her eyes came open. Both men stopped dead in their tracks, and she fixed me with her cold blue gaze.

With all souls in the room at a standstill, she slowly stood, walked towards me, and stopped in such close proximity that I could hear her breathe.

She continued to passively stare at me, waiting for me to respond, as if to drive home the point that whatever happened next would be of my choosing.

I swallowed hard, and said with as much authority as I could muster, Let’s get on with it.

*****

No one in our party spoke a word on the walk through the hospital corridors. I led the way, followed by Mrs. Sinclair flanked by Jenkins and Wilson, with Nurse Sullivan maintaining position behind our docile patient. I glanced around once to find Mrs, Sinclair regarding me with a most disconcerting look; I did not glance at her a second time.

The Hydrotherapy Ward sits at the rear of the hospital on the ground floor. The anteroom contains a locker where enough block ice can be stored to satisfy the hospital’s needs, and a stout table with a heavy basin sink for breaking the 25lb.chips.

The Hydrotherapy Room proper houses two over-sized granite tubs, two steam cabinets, a tall wardrobe containing towels and bathing garments, a dressing screen, a table for preparing — or reviving — patients, a double sink, and a bidet.

Windows situated in the Eastern-facing wall provide a quantity of daylight that alleviates the feeling of constriction and claustrophobia for patients in the tubs and steam cabinets.

Upon reaching our destination, I assigned Wilson the chore of breaking ice in the anteroom; the rest of our party entered the treatment room.

I asked Jenkins to draw cool water into the tub nearest the windows. I stepped over to the wardrobe as Nurse Wallace selected a bath smock for Mrs. Sinclair; I was desirous of her opinion as to the necessity of restraints; she seemed offended that I would even broach the topic.

We could not have been occupied for more than a few moments, but when we turned around, the first of many odd sights we would witness, occurred.

Mrs. Sinclair stood in the center of the room, her hospital gown a puddle around her feet, bold and proud, naked as the day is long.

I moved quickly from my first observation, that she possessed a truly remarkable female form, to the realization that her skin had progressed, if you could call it that, from the pale state it possessed when she first arrived, to a near translucence in which one would imagine they saw the color green, although no such shade did it truly possess; gazing at her was like trying to view a faint shape in a dimly lit room—the best way to truly “see” the shape, is peripherally.

My God, I said quietly; Mrs. Sullivan, get her dressed.

The nurse hustled the patient behind the dressing screen to outfit her with the selected water smock; Mrs. Sinclair didn’t resist, on the contrary, she clung to Mrs. Wallace with a look that I thought carried more than a bit of affection. I made a mental note, in case I had a need to exploit their relationship.

After she had been dressed, I kept a watch on Mrs. Sinclair while Nurse Wallace filled a hot water bottle and prepared the cold compresses,

Jenkins completed drawing the water and stood at the ready.

Alright Mr. Jenkins, I announced, help Mrs. Scott into the tub.

No sooner had the words left my lips and the patient bounded nimbly as a doe over the high granite rim, then stood calf-deep in rhea tubthe chilly water. With a serene expression, she immersed herself completely.

Mrs. Sullivan rushed over and placed a towel for a headrest; Mrs. Sinclair laid back, closed her eyes, and a look came over her face that gave her the aspect of one of Raphael’s angels.

Nurse Sullivan fastened the hot water bottle to the underside of Mrs. Sinclair’s feet, placed cool compresses on the patient’s head, then moved back from the tub and stood between Jenkins and myself.

What happened next, I have never seen the like before, and hope never to see again.

Mrs. Sinclair lay in the tub, motionless, eyes closed, appearing to be in absolutely no discomfort, despite the cold water and compresses.

After a few moments, little whirlpools formed throughout the tub water and began to swirl clockwise, then eddy, counterclockwise. Small bubbles formed all along the bottom and sides of the tub. Before long the bubbles ascended in streams and gently broke the surface. The bubbles increased in size and their rising accelerated. When steam issued forth from the water’s surface, it became apparent that the water temperature had risen rapidly to an unsafe level.

We’ve got to get her out of there, Nurse Wallace said.

Jenkins moved quickly to retrieve the patient, but no sooner had one hand gone into the tub water, then he yanked it out and cursed aloud. The water’s boiling, he said; he moved quickly to the sink, opened a valve and doused his hand under cold running water.

Wilson, I called to the closed anteroom door, bring that ice.

The door came open and Wilson rushed into the room with a ceramic bucket full of chunks and chips of ice.

Into the tub with that ice, I said.

The orderly strode to the bath and was arrested by the sight of Mrs. Sinclair, nestled without a care in the roiling water.

He stood transfixed until I finally said, Step lively there, man.

Wilson upended the bucket; the ice cracked and snapped in the boiling water; frigid shards shot into the air. As the tub consumed the ice, copious steam rose and formed an undulating cloud that ascended and cascaded and thickened until Mrs. Sinclair was no longer visible in the granite fixture.

We observers all reflexively took a step backwards, and gawked with wonder.

Then, in a scene reminiscent of my recent nocturnal vision; a female form rose up out of the billowing mist; I swear that I saw her arms reach out and beckon to me in a reprise of my predawn vision.

The mist parted as Rhea Sinclair stepped out of the tub and landed on the floor in an absolutely lithe manner; I say that she “stepped” but I would swear under oath that her disembarking was nothing less than levitation.

After a moment, she opened her eyes, a smile crossed her lips, and standing there with her wet gown clinging to her form like a second skin, she stared at me with a totally inscrutable expression; I felt her — again words do not suffice — I felt her, “inside” of me.

I’m not sure how long the interlude lasted, but I finally heard myself say, Mrs. Wallace, see to her, quickly.

Nurse Wallace came forward with a dry towel, wrapped it about Mrs. Sinclair’s shoulders, and escorted her completely pliable ward over behind the dressing curtain.

We three men — Jenkins with his scalded hand wrapped in a towel — watched the two women walk away; then we turned back in unison toward the tub.

Not a particle of ice remained in the still water; a few dissipating wisps of steam was all the evidence of what had moments before been a tumultuous cauldron.

I walked forward and immersed both hands into the tub, then stood and faced the two men.

It’s cold as a snowbank, I said.

At that moment, Mrs. Sullivan emerged from behind the dressing screen with Mrs. Sinclair, whose face was still a picture of tranquility.

If we’re finished here, Doctor, Nurse Wallace said in an uncompromising tone, I’ll return Mrs. Scott to her room.

I merely nodded as if mute, and the two women turned and left the room.

Jenkins and Wilson both wore expressions that reflected my emotional state.

Jenkins had seen a few strange things here at Sterns-Carson lately, and subsequently proved his discretion; Wilson was an unknown quantity, and I would have been remiss not to advise him.

I must insist that you gentlemen speak not a word of what you witnessed inside this room, I said; The hospital is already embroiled in rumor and turmoil, and it is incumbent on us not to add to the confusion and fear.

I understand, Doctor, Jenkins replied.

Wilson stood silent, looking at me with not a bit of anger on his face; what his thoughts were, I wasn’t sure, but I felt compelled to repeat my stricture from yesterday.

Mr. Wilson, if you are unaware of the quarantine I instituted yesterday, it is this: in addition to maintaining your silence about events you have witnessed, or will witness, in this hospital, in order to retain your employment status at Sterns-Carson you must not leave the sanitarium until further notice.

Wilson glared at me, glanced at Jenkins, then replied, tight-lipped, Alright, then.

Very well, I said; Mr. Jenkins, find a nurse and have your hand attended to; Mr. Wilson, please restore this room to order; Later, I will want to speak with both of you, in private.

I returned to my office, and here I sit. The noon hour approaches, and neither laudanum, nor brandy, have alleviated my sense of dread.

I would simply flee this institution and never look back if I were a sensible man; but I am afraid my actions of late have proven that I, by and large, have taken leave of my senses. I must devise a plan to reconcile that situation.

I am clear on one thing, though I could hardly put it into words, and the notion would melt under the hot light of logic. I know that ultimately, Mrs. Sinclair considers me her enemy, and at the time of her choosing, she will act accordingly. I have no clue as to her reasons or method of attack, but I know it will come; and I know that for the sake of my immortal soul, I must resist her and defeat her; or die in that attempt.

©2012 j.edwardfitzgerald  all rights reserved

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