~ the raven chronicles ~ 35

10 Sep

(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES)

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

November 22, 1932

The scratching of ten thousand tiny claws filled the walls.
The report of ponderous footfalls rose in the hall.
The office door creaked and bowed as some great weight strained to break through the oaken portal.
Moans erupted from deep in the bowels of Sterns-Carson, grew to immense proportion, then burst out of the sanitarium walls and echoed across hill and dale like a nocturne for the damned.

Restrained by a force greater than any amount of will I could muster, I struggled to escape from a subterranean cell that had never seen the light of day. I finally managed to break free and mount a ragged ascent from that deep, dark pit; I breached the rim, opened my eyes, and found myself, once again, in the cold confines of my office, fully clothed and asleep on the brocaded sofa in front of a barely smoldering fire; a tableaux illuminated by the faint light of early dawn.

The hellacious symphony from the hills devolved into the insistently ringing telephone on my desk; a machine demanding the attention of a human who is no longer master, but merely a servant.

I threw aside my afghan cover, got to my feet, staggered to the desk and yanked the receiver from the cradle.
What the hell is it now, I barked.

After a moment of silence, Mrs. Wilkes, the sanitarium operator, answered in a tremulous voice; Mr. Cannon is on the line, Doctor; He insisted in no uncertain terms that he speak with you immediately; Shall I tell him that you are unavailable.

Though I knew that Cannon’s call would bring no tidings of good fortune to me, I also knew that delaying acceptance would probably only worsen whatever complications in my life already existed.
I will speak with him, I replied.

After a few clicks on the line, Cannon’s voice materialized; Dr. Agnostica, he began with a questioning voice.

Yes, Mr. Cannon, I’m here, I answered.

I know that this is short notice, he said, but I thought you would rather be forewarned; Mr. Drummond has decided that he wants to pay Mrs. Sinclair a visit.

I felt like a second-rate actor who’d been sandbagged.
Mr. Drummond, here—when?

Today, as a matter of fact, Cannon replied; We should arrive at Sterns-Carson around 2PM; I apologize for the short notice, but when Mr. Drummond makes a decision, well, the thing gets done when he wants it to get done.

With the receiver against my ear, I stared off to someplace faraway, and wished with all my heart that I could be magically transported there forthwith.

Mr. Cannon finally interrupted my fantasy sojourn; Dr. Agnostica, are you still there.

Yes, Mr. Cannon, I replied, with all the emotion of a cigar store Indian, I am still here; I will expect your party at 2PM this afternoon.

Splendid, he said; I know this is inconvenient, but in the long run, your cooperation in this affair will be rewarded, I can assure you of that.

Nice of you to say, I replied.

I replaced the receiver back in the cradle then just stood there agape, smacked by the reality once again.  My carefully formulated intentions had been usurped by circumstances. My plan to open the doors of Sterns-Carson to the outside world had been turned around, the outside world was coming to Sterns-Carson, and I had precious little time to prepare for the visit.

For the first time, I glimpsed the situation here at this sanitarium with the eye of an outsider, and realized fully the extent of the wreckage in this institution.

*****

I immediately retired to my lavatory and performed a rudimentary toilette; luckily, one freshly starched shirt still remained in the small closet. Feeling somewhat put together and strengthened by a growing sense of self-assurance that accompanied my washed and shaved visage, I sat at my desk to begin arranging the documents that I had planned to draft that would be the official explanation of what had occurred in this hospital over the last 48 hours.

I reached for the phone again to ring for breakfast and the thought of young Molly stayed my hand; which in turn steered my thoughts toward Mrs. Sinclair; which brought the realization that, in all probability, Eliza Drummond would accompany her father to Sterns-Carson; and the thought of being face-to-face with her once again, summoned the image of that lithe figure, standing naked in the snow, as she beckoned me to her open arms.

My resolve nearly crumbled like a paper doll as I pondered that meeting, but I set my mind to a point of strength, and called for breakfast.

Let her come.
Let them all come.
I will no longer be cowed by their like.

*****

I spent the remainder of the morning drafting my report on the recent incidents here at Sterns-Carson, rewriting and rewriting to make my account of the fantastic events that have occurred inside these walls sound like something other than a macabre Gothic novel.

Finally satisfied that I had crafted a document that appeared more factual than fanciful, I put aside pen and paper and donned my jacket for a quick tour of the hospital before the Drummond entourage arrived.

My first thought when I stepped into the main corridor was that the hospital had a complete air of normalcy; why such a notion possessed me, I have no idea, for I knew all to be to the contrary. I moved briskly through the various wards keeping on eye out for Mr. Jenkins. As I stepped through the Dayroom threshold, we collided.

Excuse me, Doctor, he said.

Quite alright, I replied, I’m glad to have found you, Mr. Jenkins; Might I have a word with you.

Certainly, Doctor, he said; then with a furtive glance he added; In your office?

As a nurse and several patients watched our impromptu meeting, I said, No need for that, just walk with me for a few moments.

As we made our way up the hall, I told Jenkins about the impending visit by Jacob Drummond, and without divulging any information that wasn’t necessary to his understanding, including the specific reason for the visit, I made it clear that Mr. Drummond held great sway over the Sterns-Carson Board of Directors, and if we could present a good showing for him, it would serve the hospital, and both of us, well.

Jenkins looked around, then nearly whispered, What about the attic.

I responded with a chuckle and told Jenkins that I didn’t think that Mr. Drummond or any of his party would be interested in the climb, or the resulting visit to the cold room at the end of it.

Just make sure that everything is stored to one side, I said; And covered with tarps, or whatever suitable shrouding you have on hand, in order to disguise their shapes.

I take your meaning, Doctor, he replied; they’re wrapped in old bedsheets at the moment, but I’ve a large piece of canvas that’ll do the trick; Make ‘em look like a stack of timbers.

I didn’t much care for Jenkins confidential tone of voice, or the conspiratorial wink he gave me; they seemed to indicate that he considered us to be cohorts in some type of nefarious endeavor; as if my station in life had suddenly devolved to that of a common laborer or grave digger; I decided that once things had settled down here at Sterns-Carson, I must redraw the boundary that needs be separate our stations in life.

I’m glad you understand, Mr. Jenkins, I replied. Then, to divert the conversation away from his false sense of intimacy, I asked him where he had been hurrying off to when we’d met at the Dayroom entrance.

On my way to fetch some tools and repair a window latch back there, he said; Don’t know how it could have happened; Would take a hammer or pry bar for someone to bend that latch like that; But there it was this morning, the window standing open and God’s great north wind streaming in; I’ve got it wedged shut, but I need to nail it until I can replace the hasp.

I looked back toward the Dayroom, thought once again of Liza Drummond in the snow, Rhea Sinclair inside her cell, and wondered if perhaps some ghastly phantasm had crossed the threshold into Sterns-Carson; I chided myself for possessing the imagination of a timid spinster.

Are you alright, Doctor, Jenkins said.

I stared at him for a moment before I replied, I’m quite alright, thank you, Mr. Jenkins; See to the other matters of which we have spoken first, then attend to repair of the window.

Yes, Doctor, he said; I’ll get right to it.

I watched Jenkins stride away up the hall, then I turned back once again to the Dayroom, and retraced my steps, compelled to inspect the broken latch and anything attendant to it.

Jenkins had wedged the window closed with a doubled over playing card retrieved from one of the tables in the Dayroom; I did not consider this as any type of infraction, since none of our patients played cards with the proverbial full deck.

I pulled the stop from the window and it swung open freely, as if some unseen hand had given a gentle push. Though a small voice inside my head told me to walk away, like a mouse following the scent of cheese, I stepped over to the sill and looked out and down. My blood ran cold.

What I saw confirmed what my sixth sense had told me I would see; the mantle of ice and frost covering the ivy that blanketed the wall lay undisturbed, except for a two foot wide swath directly below the window; the path ran from ledge to ground, rubbed clean of any winter residue.

It appeared, despite all logic to the contrary, that someone, or something, had scaled the wall and entered Sterns-Carson through the window; after someone, or something, on the inside, had torn the latch from the casement in order to facilitate the entry.

I staggered back from the precipice, my mind screamed that such things just could not be. Forced to reconcile what I had seen with my own eyes, I attempted to grasp the intent of the parties involved in the breaching, and quickly came to the conclusion that rather than someone breaking in, someone had broken out; most likely a disgruntled employee, unwilling or unable to any longer abide by my decreed quarantine; it would be a simple matter to determine the offender, since Jenkins had compiled a roll of all personnel present in the hospital at the time of my mandate.

But I had to question why an employee would go to such lengths to escape Sterns-Carson, when they had to know that once they were discovered, they would no longer have a job, regardless of their manner of exit; why not just walk out the front door and be done with it.

I wedged the playing card back in the window and shut it firmly, believing that the mystery of the incident would be solved simply by referencing Mr. Jenkins head count to determine which employees were no longer on premises; I headed off with due haste to find Jenkins.

*****

Just as I turned the corner into the short hall that leads to the alcove that houses the attic stairs, I nearly collided once again with my stalwart; I drew up short and upbraided Jenkins.

Why don’t you slow down, man; You’ve nearly knocked me down a second time today.

He caught his breath and said, I apologize, Doctor, but I was on my way to find you.

I took stock of his pallor and excited demeanor and asked what the deuce was his problem.

They’re gone, he said, every one of ‘em.

What are you saying, I replied; Calm yourself and make sense, Mr. Jenkins; Who’s gone?

Foster, Claude, and the Simpson girl, he said; There’s nothing left up there but the sheets they was wrapped in; They’ve disappeared.

Jenkins pronouncement resuscitated my fears about the open window, and gave birth to a monstrous two-headed question: what had become of our 3 cadavers; and was a mysterious night visitor still lurking within these hospital walls?

©2012 j.edwardfitzgerald  all rights reserved

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2 Responses to “~ the raven chronicles ~ 35”

  1. Teresa Blackburn September 11, 2012 at 10:46 am #

    Ed, wonderful cliff-hanger. I now await the next episode(s) with much anticipation. Who is the intruder? Is there really an intruder? Or did the cadavers escape on their own? Hmmmmm? I will just have to wait.

  2. JEF September 14, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

    …I asked, Teresa…they won’t tell me…

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