~ the raven chronicles ~ 31

31 Jul

(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES)

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

November 21, 1932

Even though a palpable tension still hangs in the air at Sterns-Carson like an ominous psychic residue, the remainder of yesterday proved to be, for the most part, relatively uneventful. Thankfully, the staff had their hands full; the hospital has barely returned to normal daily operations after the riot of two days ago; I can name the event no less; the aftermath affirms the nomenclature.

Preoccupation with matters beyond the daily routine won’t last much longer, and then I expect grumbling about being sequestered here at the Sanitarium to begin in earnest. In anticipation of losing some employees, and word of macabre events spreading beyond these walls, I have taken preventative measures.

All fatalities from the recent unpleasantness are in the stone cold confines of the attic; Bobby Foster and Claude Fortrel, all animosity between them now irrelevant, lay side-by-side on the frigid 3rd Floor; they are joined by Kitty Simpson, the young woman brutally murdered by her elderly companion. Evans, the missing watchman, should lie there with them, for I have no doubt that he is dead also, but his body has yet to be found. Weather is the only thing that prevents me from having the pathetic souls interred at the Sanitarium’s cemetery; Jenkins informed me that the ground is already frozen as “hard as January”.

Before placing the cadavers in their transient storage, I performed autopsies on all the corpses and recorded the details at great length. The basics are thus:

~ Foster’s neck and back are broken in numerous places; as if some giant had folded him up like an accordion before stuffing him into the rafters of the hospital roof.

~ Fortrel died from hanging, plain and simple; except for the fact that no chair or table was found near his body that he could have stood on while he fixed the rope and then kicked the ladder away in suicide; beyond all reason, it would appear that he was lifted up and into his noose.

~ Kitty Simpson, with her throat torn open, displays wounds consistent with an animal attack; but the perpetrator is a frail old woman who does not seem to possess the strength required for such brutality. I cannot deny the absolute mystery of the assault; it was as if a loving person were to suddenly turn on a favorite pet and rip the creature to shreds.

I checked the assaulting patient’s records—Agnes Stuart–and found no indication of violent tendencies of any type, ever having been displayed before, or since, her admittance to Sterns-Carson; in fact, the poor creature remains inconsolable over the incident; ensconced in her bed, muttering repeatedly about the fires of Hell that await her as just punishment for falling under the sway of Satan.

I’m unable to remain in the ward where she lays and listen to her soft ranting for more than a few moments before I imagine that where she is bound, I will follow. I have ordered the staff to keep her sedated and under guard, around the clock.

Their are 3 corpses above ground here at Sterns-Carson; any court would judge the demise of any of them individually to be of a suspicious nature; tally them up and the prospect of an inquest would seem to be a foregone conclusion. The end of my career and once orderly life may have already arrived, and is just waiting to be unpacked by higher authorities. Unfortunately, I am no closer to having a solution, let alone a rudimentary understanding, of what it all means. I suspect that only a few days remain allotted to me to try and solve the riddles that lay like a dark shroud over this hospital.

Of thing I am certain: that to be rid of the damned woman at the center of all this turmoil would bring relief to myself and this institution; I believe that with all my being. I have entertained the thought of calling Mr. Cannon to insist that he come immediately and retrieve Mrs. Sinclair, that her mere presence here has upset the day-to-day operations of this hospital and she must be removed; I fear to do so, would accomplish little more than hasten my demise. My roundabout search for a solution has ended more than once at the unthinkable; termination of Mrs. Sinclair’s life by whatever means would be the most untraceable; a narcotic overdose, perhaps.

Would the Drummond family shed tears; it would seem not, for all indications point to Rhea Sinclair’s incarceration here as some final solution to her wanton, reckless behavior. The reactions of the younger sister, could be problematic; if it was indeed Eliza Drummond stalking me in the snow last night, she is already problematic.

There I go again, drawn into this vortex of nonsense and lunacy; that could not have been Eliza Drummond outside my window, beckoning me to her arms; it had to be a hallucination brought about by too many sleepless nights and the crushing wreckage of my personal life; thus is the province of the insane, where the abnormal is often to be found as normal.

I must drag all my considerations into the hard light of reality and formulate a response to the chaos around me before I am subsumed by it.

*****

I spent the better part of the morning in an end-to-end tour of the hospital; an inspection that, under the circumstances, I felt unable to entrust to anyone else.

In most of the wards the daily routine of caring for patients has been restored. The Infirmary is another matter; the beds inside are full of injured patients and a few staff members who fell victim to the mayhem; the room is beyond capacity, so a half-dozen or so cots have been set up in the hall to accommodate the overflow. The staff was focused on rehabilitating the injured and, for the most part, seemed to have not had the time to consider their personal circumstances.

I left the Infirmary in search of Jenkins; I knew that he would be privy to the mood here at Sterns-Carson and not reluctant to share it with me

In the midst of my search for him, I stopped by the Dayroom; the great open space was unusually subdued and sparsely populated; a mere smattering of patients sat quietly rocking, or muttering, or contemplating whatever resides inside the desolate canyons of their minds.

I noticed a figure standing at the far end of the room, staring out the windows at the cold and forbidding woodland behind the hospital; as I approached, I realized that it was Nurse Wallace, so absorbed in her own reverie that she was unaware of her surroundings and, apparently, of my presence. After some moments of standing adjacent and observing her, she started.

Dr. Agnostica, I didn’t notice you there.

Her visage was shocking; the usually vibrant woman with rosy cheeks and bright eyes now looked wan and weary; her hair unkempt; her makeup and lipstick faded and splotchy. I did my best to be diplomatic.

You look a bit tired, Nurse, I replied; Didn’t you sleep last night.

No, she said, through the glazed look in her eyes; I didn’t feel the need.

Then she dropped any interest in conversation and returned her gaze to the windows and some point far off in the distance; her behavior was not only out of character, but had some trace of trauma about it; I hoped that her condition was merely due to a lack of sleep.

Mrs. Wallace, I suggest you go immediately to the dormitory and get some rest; If you keep on like this you’ll need a bed in the Infirmary and there are none to be had; It just won’t do with the situation here at Sterns-Carson if one of my best nurses is incapacitated.

In response, she just continued to stare out the window, oblivious to what I had said, unconcerned by my presence.

Mrs. Wallace, I said, attempting once more to wrest her attention.

Without looking away from the window, she spoke to me, absentmindedly; Have you ever wondered what it would be like to run free out there, unfettered with the wind in your hair and the sun on your face, dancing beneath the stars and the moonlight?

My unspoken response to her query was that I feared one of my most reliable nurses had suddenly gone over the edge and would indeed soon find herself bound onto one of the Infirmary beds. Before I could formulate a response, she turned to me.

You’re wanting Mr. Jenkins, she said; then pointed out the windows, all the while keeping her eyes fixed on me; There he is, coming out of the woods, with his search party; They’ve been looking for Mr. Evans; here she paused again, gazed out the window once more, and concluded in a sarcastic tone; I don’t believe they have found him.

Down below, I saw Jenkins and two other men trudge out of the trees, breathing hard, their exhalations billowing and rising like steam from great locomotives; If they had been searching for Evans, they carried no indication of success with them. I turned my attention back to Mrs. Wallace.

Nurse Wallace, I said, please look at me and listen carefully to my words.

She turned and gazed at me once again.

You are to report immediately to your dormitory and get some sleep; Do you understand me?

She finally parted her pursed lips and said, I understand, Doctor; I will go there as soon as I look for Zeke one more time.

You will not look for Zeke one more time, I replied; You will report immediately to your dormitory; If you don’t cooperate and follow my orders, I will have you restrained and sedated; Do you understand me now?

She merely nodded in reply, stared at the floor, shuffled out of the Dayroom and then up the hall toward the Nurse’s Dormitory.

Mrs. Wallace had exasperated my patience once again; and once again, I seriously entertained the notion of her termination; when some semblance of normalcy has returned to this institution, I will reach a decision regarding her employment at Sterns-Carson.

I hurried off to intercept Jenkins before he entered the hospital.

*****

Just as I approached the rear entrance, the double doors swung open and Jenkins came striding out; his two companions remained behind in the foyer, stomping their feet on the rough hemp entryway mat to knock off the snow and ice encrusted on their boots.

Mr. Jenkins, I said, you’ve been searching for Evans.

He looked at me as if surprised to see that I was up and among the living.

How are your feet today, Doctor, he asked.

As good as they were yesterday, I replied.

Don’t neglect them, he said, frostbite can sneak up on you.

A peevishness rose inside me that Jenkins would be so presumptuous as to instruct me regarding medical matters; I tamped my anger down and proceeded with my inquiry.

No sign of Evans, I asked, no clue as to his whereabouts.

Didn’t find hide nor hair, Jenkins said, not a trace; We hiked at least two miles from the hospital; Found tracks scattered here and there; Mostly deer; Few rabbits; Nothing to indicate a man had gone that way; Going out later and head westerly for a bit; Deep woods off that direction; Maybe we’ll find something there.

That sounds like a good idea, I said; We shouldn’t give up hope yet.

I did not know the names of the other two men, though I did recognize them as hospital staff; they seemed to be loitering, eavesdropping, hoping to be privy to the latest information regarding the state of things at Sterns-Carson; I had matters to discuss with Jenkins and I could not afford loose lips.

Mr. Jenkins, might I have a word with you, I said, in private.

Certainly, Doctor, he replied. Then he turned and addressed his companions; You men go warm up and get dry socks, we’ll head out again in an hour or so, after we’ve had some lunch.

They both nodded and headed off up the hallway. After they had passed through the far set of doors, I spoke to Jenkins.

I need to gauge the mood of the staff, Mr. Jenkins; I suspect a number of them have confided in you regarding circumstances here as of late.

Without preamble, Jenkins replied; The mood is not good, Sir, not good at all, I can tell you that; Most wish to go home, and see their families.

And you, Mr. Jenkins.

My wife died several years back; My children are far away; It’s all about the same to me.

Then he paused, and stared at his boots; obviously filled with thoughts unspoken.

If you have more to say, Mr. Jenkins; You may speak your mind freely, without fear of repercussion.

He looked me in the eye, and began straightaway; I’ve gone along with your judgment so far, Doctor Agnostica, but I think we’re sitting on a powder keg here; We’ve got three dead people up in that attic, and if I’m not mistaken, they were all murdered one way or another; The girl we know how it happened, and the other two, well, I never seen the like; If we don’t contact the police soon and make them privy, I’m guessing they’ll be Hell to pay; And that’s the kind of trouble I don’t want or need.

Jenkins statement was like a punch to my gut; so far I had avoided lumping all the evidence that he presented into one bucket for the very reason that deep down I knew that the situation was, ultimately, beyond my control. Up to that point, the answer as to how to deal with it had eluded me; Jenkins summation, and the fear of losing his allegiance, forced me to quickly formulate a cogent response.

You are correct in everything that you say, Mr. Jenkins, and I thank you for being so blunt. Let me assure you that I take full responsibility and will steadfastly deny that you, or any of the members of the Sterns-Carson staff, bear any culpability for decisions made by me that may possibly result in legal or criminal proceedings. That being said, I fully realize that time is of the essence. If I may ask you one last indulgence, please allow me 48 hours to sort it all out and make any necessary arrangements; After that time, I will contact the authorities and explain to them that since we were unsure if the mayhem in this hospital was not the result of some infectious disease, the situation here at Sterns-Carson has been akin to a quarantine.

Here, I paused for a moment, and allowed Jenkins to digest my impromptu plan; which, I had to admit, rang like the bell of logic as I laid it out before him; the look on his face told me that he agreed with my appraisal; yet, I knew that I had to seal the deal, and at times like these, often the best mortar is monetary.

Your performance in this trying time will not go unnoticed, Mr. Jenkins; I envision an increase in your wages and a sprucing up of your living quarters to show the hospital’s gratitude for your steadfast service.

It all does sound logical, Doctor, he said; And I appreciate your saying so about my service to Sterns-Carson; it’s my military background, I suppose; The goings on here don’t hold a candle to action in the Argonne Forest. I’ll hold the line for 48 hours, come hell or high water; you can count on me, Sir.

Jenkins’s affirmation of my nascent plan was like a palliative to my spirit, and I was relieved that some small thing had survived birth inside this palace of moribundity.

Thank you, Jenkins, I said, you may rest assured that you can rely on everything I have promised. I have one more section of the hospital to inspect, and then I will return to my office and devise a concrete plan.

Very well, Doctor, he said, I’ll gather the men and search for Evans again until daylight leaves us.

Let me know when you get back, I said, regardless of your level of success, and then you and I will sit down and discuss it all.

I will do that, he replied.

And with that, I departed for the isolate wing, and the cell of Rhea Sinclair.

*****

With a brisk step and renewed vigor I strode the halls of Sterns-Carson, feeling as I had in days not so long ago; a man in command of not only his own destiny, but the destiny of those who render him good and faithful service; but pride goes before a fall, and when I realized that I was marching into the lion’s den that is the world of Mrs. Sinclair, my bravado began to wilt.

I cursed myself for not asking assistance from Jenkins or one of the men with him; they probably all have the same contempt for Hargest and would have gladly accompanied me.

The quandary upon me evaporated as I approached the Dayroom and saw Wilson coming toward me from the other direction. As we neared, I hailed him.

Wilson, I said, I’m glad to have encountered you; I’m off to the isolate wing and would like you to accompany me.

To see the Scott woman again, he asked, as his hand went to the pocket where I suspect he carries some type of weapon.

Yes, I said, and I don’t trust Hargest; I would like you there with me.

You’re right not to trust him, Wilson said, he’s a viper.

Alright then, let us proceed to the snake pit, I replied.

We walked on to the isolate wing without a word between us; not that I had anything of consequence to say to Wilson; or anything of consequence that he might be interested in; I have deduced that he is what he appears to be: a visceral man whose tendencies lean toward solving a problem by physical means rather than by drawn out musings of plausibility.

We reached the ward in short order and entered the corridor to Rhea Sinclair’s cell. Halfway up the passage I plainly discerned Hargest leaning against the edge of the wide open door of my intended destination and gazing into the cubicle with more than a little interest.

I hurried up the hallway and Wilson hustled after me. As I neared the cell, I called out; You there, Hargest; What’s going on here. He replied by looking at me stupidly with his toothy grin.

I reached the doorway, and without hesitation, stepped into the apartment; what I saw shook the resolute attitude I had adopted just a short while earlier.

Mrs. Sinclair sat in the room’s small wooden chair; a girl stood behind her, back to me, softly humming as she brushed out Rhea’s luxurious golden locks, to which the ersatz handmaiden’s flaming red hair made a vivid contrast.

You there, what are you about, I demanded.

The girl turned and faced me, and a shock of disbelief coursed through me; here stood the young kitchen maid, Molly—whom I had ordered just yesterday to be restrained and sedated—unattended, unescorted, blithely brushing Mrs. Sinclair’s tresses as if they were mother and daughter at a dressing table in some well-appointed bedchamber.

The truly shocking thing was their near-familial resemblance; as if young Molly had been reborn since I’d last seen her in a shape and shade that more resembled Mrs. Sinclair; the phenomena was not limited to the slender figures revealed beneath the hospital smocks each one wore; the skin tone which had once been unique to Mrs. Sinclair, now colored Molly—albeit to a lesser extreme—that strange translucent, unearthly blue and ivory hue.

What is the meaning of this, I stammered in feeble protest; Hargest, how did this girl get in here.

She walked up the hallway, Doctor, the beast said in his laconic fashion; Told me you’d sent her to dote on Mrs. Sullivan.

That is preposterous, I responded; As an orderly of this institution you know that a patient would never venture forth unattended on orders from me or any other member of the staff to brush the hair of another patient or perform any other such personal function.

Hargest just responded with his stupid, toothy grin and leaned once again on the edge of the open door.

Mr. Wilson, do you have a strap? I asked.

Yes, Sir, he replied, and produced it forthwith.

Bind that girl, I commanded; She must be returned to the Infirmary immediately.

Without hesitation, Wilson stepped around me, brusquely encircled young Molly with the 5 foot length of 2 inch leather, threaded the buckle and cinched the girl’s arms tight against her body; the hair brush fell from her hand and hit the floor with a loud wooden clack. Wilson then roughly drove Molly out of the cell and into the hallway.

I stared at Mrs. Sinclair; she remained in the chair, motionless, her head tilted back slightly, as if the you girl’s ministrations continued unabated. Her detachment rendered any comments to her unnecessary; I strode from the cell and faced Hargest.

Lock this door, Mr. Hargest, I said; And keep it locked unless you receive direct orders from me; Do you understand.

After my pronouncement, Hargest stared into the cell, as if waiting for some comment from Mrs. Sinclair as to the relevance and suitability of my order; she did not stir.

As you say, Doctor, Hargest finally replied; Your wish is our command. Then he pushed the cell door closed and turned the key in the lock.

Wilson already had young Molly halfway up the passage; I gave Hargest a silent departing glare and hurried off to join them.

As we escorted her to the Infirmary, Molly engaged in a disruptive stream of suggestive language, noises and body gestures, and continually tried to steer herself away from Wilson and get closer to me. One of the other female patients we encountered in a hallway, went into hysterics as we passed; another attempted to attack and strike me with her cane; she was quickly subdued by a nearby orderly.

We finally reached the Infirmary, and once inside, after Wilson had removed the young girl’s bondage, she immediately tore off her hospital gown, jumped onto the bed naked and proceeded to engage once again in fervid masturbation; all the while, she writhed seductively, and called me by name to join her. Her description of what we would do subsequent I will leave unwritten; suffice it to say, those in the room looked in horror at me, as if I must have corrupted the girl at some earlier time, been the cause of her lunacy, and the reason why she spoke in such vulgar terms.

My anger erupted; I shouted at the two nurses in attendance—who merely stood and gawked like dull bovines—to get Molly dressed immediately.

I then told Wilson to attach the bed’s wrist and and ankle restraints to the deranged girl.

I prepared and administered the sedative; a dose bordering on the lethal, but still on the right side of that line; the effects were near-immediate; the girl went limp and quiet.

Then I instructed the two nurses present to keep the girl under sedation until I ordered otherwise, and to make sure that the rest of the staff heard of my edict. They nodded mutely, and looked at me as if I were some vile, carnalizing reprobate, before they averted their gaze; I set my jaw and stormed from the room.

*****

The Grand Circle is once again complete; I sit in my office with brandy and laudanum before me as twilight approaches, feeling as helpless now as when the day began.

Were this an earlier century I would think young Molly as seduced by a witch; and I believe she has been seduced by a witch, a witch by the name of Rhea Sinclair.

It sounds absurd and goes against all my medical training, but I know in my heart that by and large, that is the true nature of the situation; the symbiosis of those two as they stood side-by-side chills my blood even now as I recall it.

I don’t believe I need 48 hours to decide what to do about the situation here at Sterns-Carson; I know what I shall do. Tomorrow morning I will draft all the paperwork necessary to appease any judicial investigators or police inspectors, line everything up and notify the authorities immediately thereafter.

To wrestle any longer with the horrible psychic leviathan that has gripped this hospital would be the demise of my career and my personal well-being.

Whatever becomes of Rhea Sinclair as a result of opening the doors of Sterns-Carson to the outside world, I am truly unconcerned; the Drummond family can do to me what they will; I will be a free man, once again.

©2012 j.edwardfitzgerald  all rights reserved

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