~ the raven chronicles ~ 48

12 Jan

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

November 22, 1932

I sit here pen in hand and dumfounded; unmoored and adrift. Again this day, I have seen things that are not to be believed, witnessed the incredible, and discovered my last hope for societal salvation dashed on the rocks.

Still, despite the insistent voice that expounds constantly of futility, there is one thing that I know for certain: I must do more than bide my time, otherwise, I shall be consumed by the forces of conspiration swirling about me.

*****

After finishing my earlier Daybook entry, I rang Mrs. Penfound; she inquired once more, and I explained to her in detail, the necessity of the quarantine I have imposed on the hospital. After I had soothed her into a tepid reception of my explanation, I requested that she summon Mr. Jenkins to my office; before I rang off, I also ordered a light breakfast. I then hung up the phone and reluctantly put her on my mental list of recalcitrants here at Sterns-Carson who necessity might find need replacement.

After a short time, Sampson delivered the morning repast. As he placed the breakfast tray down before me on my desk, his abnormally taciturn manner caused me to inquire if he found the imposition of being confined to Sterns-Carson a problem.

Not at all, Doctor, he replied, I just didn’t sleep good last night; Bad dreams; I aim to do what’s asked of me in the line of duty, same’s in the war.

I was surprised that this galley cook would have ever have been involved in any type of violence, such was my judgment of his gentle nature.

sampson and the 369th franceYou served in the war, I asked.

Yes, sir, he replied,  the 369th.

My response, the first that leapt to mind, took him by surprise; Do you still know how to handle a rifle.

He looked at me quizzically and replied, Still a crack shot, Sir.

As I tallied up the number of able-bodied men on the Sanitarium premises, Sampson interrupted me with a question.

Expecting some trouble, Doctor.

I looked up at him and felt like a complete fool; mentally building my own army to fight some enemy that had little more substance than a zephyr.

I certainly hope not, Sampson, I replied.

Well, if push comes to shove, you can count on me, Sir.

Absentmindedly, I began eating my breakfast. After some moments, Sampson asked if there was anything else he could get for me. I came out of my fog and thanked him and sent him away.

*****

No sooner had I finished the last crumb of toast when the phone rang. Mrs. Penfound informed me that she had located Mr. Jenkins; and that he had requested that she ask me to meet him in the attic as soon as conveniently possible. The image of Bobby Forster’s crumpled body stuffed up into the rafters unfurled in my memory and filled forster in the raftersme with dread.

Let Mr. Jenkins know that I will be there directly, I replied.

I leaned back in my chair, loath at the prospect of climbing those stairs once again, but I had no more choice than a man condemned to climb the scaffold at his own hanging.

I finished the last of the coffee, rose and donned my suit coat and headed to the central elevator. As I stood waiting for the carriage to descend from the 3rd Floor, Mrs. Sullivan approached with a wide smile on her face, and announced that Zeke had reappeared. I truly did not know what to say in response; I was neither happy nor surprised, merely incredulous that random events just seemed to happen under my nose on a non-stop basis.

So, the waif is back, I said; Ask him if he has any plans to stay here long-term or if we are just a way-station on the path to wherever he is headed.

Ignoring my sarcasm, the nurse replied, He’s brought someone back with him.

What the hell are you talking about, I said.

Come with me, Mrs. Wallace replied, and I will show you.

I followed Mrs. Wallace to the ward where young Zeke is housed. The feral child sat upon his bed, legs dangling over the side; next to him, a fair-haired little girl who could not have been more than 6 years-old. After Nurse Wallace and I reached the bed, the children, seemingly oblivious of our presence, continued to gaze into each others’ eyes while they voiced incoherent mumblings.

Zeke, Mrs. Wallace said gently, see who’s come to visit.

The boy looked up at me, growled, and pulled the little girl to him. She let out a squeal of protest and pushed him away. He grabbed her long blonde hair and yanked her close again. This time, she screamed bloody murder. Mrs. Wallace intervened.

Here, here now, Ezekiel; That is no way to treat your guest.

Guest, I blurted out, this wild child is allowed no guests; We must find out where this girl has come from and return her thence. By the looks of her clothing, nothing but a flimsy sleeping gown, I would have to say that our young devil lured her away from home and kidnapped her here.

Zeke answered my pronouncement with another growl.

Ezekiel, turn that poor thing loose, Nurse Wallace demanded; You’re scaring her to death.

Zeke looked at the girl, and let go of her locks; the child whimpered and snuffled and gently twisted the edge of her night clothes.

There now, Mrs. Wallace continued, Doctor Agnostica needs to look at your friend and make sure she is alright, then the two of you can spend the rest of the morning playing together.

Mrs. Wallace separated the children, and then called one of the other nurses over to watch Zeke. I will take her to Room 2 for the examination, she said.

Seeing her separated from our feral inmate, I wondered anew where this child had materialized from. Very well, I replied, but after that, we must find the child’s parents.

Of course, Mrs. Wallace answered, that’s the plan, id’n it.

I could not decide if the look she gave me was one of collusion or condescension; so many things now often had a double meaning that eluded me, as if I had become the butt of some colossal metaphysical joke.

*****

Nurse Wallace entered Room 2 with the young girl in hand; I followed them in and closed the door.

Once under the brighter lights, and out of the shadow of Zeke’s embrace, it was plain to see just how disheveled and filthy the urchin truly was. Her gingham nightshirt, tattered around the bottom edge, was stained with dirt and green smears, and speckled with what looked like blood. Mrs. Wallace hoisted her up onto the table and switched on the high-powered examination lamp. The stronger illumination made her look even worse.

Her feet were filthy, but her lower limbs appeared sound; her hands and nails were crusted with more dirt and blood, and like stains ran up both arms to the elbows. As I a gazed on her face, the eyes arrested my attention; clear and a vibrant blue, frighteningly reminiscent of the Drummond sisters, and just as compelling; it took a modicum of self-discipline to look away.

daisyneckI asked Nurse Wallace to gather the girl’s long blonde hair away from her face; as she did so, another strange aspect was revealed. Tufts of hair sprouted from her ears (occluding the external auditory meatus), trailed down her jowls, and formed a wispy, effulgent, mutton-chop.

A burst of curiosity drove me around the table. I lifted the girl’s gown. On her back, I discovered the same type of hirsutism that afflicted Zeke, though the child had what looked like very early stages of the disorder. I then asked Nurse Wallace to remove the nightshirt and lay the girl supine.

A shock coursed through me as I gazed down on her lithe frame; an abundant growth of soft, thick fur sprouted just below the navel, covered the pelvis area, and terminated at the top of each knee in a caprine or fawn-like pattern.

I stood back, just as bewildered as I had been after my first examination of Ezekiel; probably even more so, for here was a second child who appeared at Sterns-Carson with no explanation that conformed to logic, in a feral condition which, if I were a physician of an earlier age, came nigh unto raising a question of species, or the possibility of demonic mutation.

Nurse Wallace said, This is most peculiar, Doctor.

At a loss for words to explain anything, I stated the obvious. Uncanny, would be more like it.

She hasn’t uttered a word since I found her, Nurse Wallace replied, just squeals and grunts, like you heard.

I can’t attest to all her faculties, I replied, until I conduct more extensive testing; The important thing is to find out where she came from and return her there as soon as possible; Meanwhile, please clean her up, her appearance is beyond disgusting.

I would have done just that already, Mrs. Wallace replied, but since you reprimanded me the last time for cleaning up Zeke before you examined him, I waited.

I met her icy gaze and said, Yes, well you did the right thing; I will check with you later and see how our pair of wild children are faring; Meanwhile, keep a close eye on both of them, I don’t want either to go disappearing.

Yes, Doctor, Nurse Wallace said, before righting the child, slipping the gown back on her, and lifting the young girl from the table.

As Mrs. Wallace escorted her by the hand out of the room, I gazed after them, feeling overwhelmed and bewildered once again.

Then I remembered my summons from Mr. Jenkins. Glad to be able to take some type of action, albeit unpleasant, I headed off to the central elevator.

*****

I entered the lift, closed the latticed iron gate, and punched the up button. As the motorized system of pulleys and ropes slowly hauled me up, I wished that the conveyance could continue heavenward and free me from the confines of Sterns-Carson Sanitarium and the wreckage of my life here on earth.

My brief-lived dream of freedom came to a jarring stop when the closet reached the 3rd, floor. I pulled the gate aside, disembarked, and then strode the corridor to the alcove of the narrow staircase that leads to the 4th floor.

I opened the door and called up, Jenkins…are you there.

Yes, Doctor, he replied unseen; Come up. Quickly.

I put my head down and trudged up the narrow staircase, wondering what new conundrum awaited; the attic was empty as of yesterday, so I could not imagine what could be of such interest in that icy vault today.

I came up out of the stairwell and looked across the room. Jenkins and Kleiner stood with their rifles and talked quietly as they looked down at the floor. I glanced at the shapes at their feet and could not believe my eyes. As I approached them, Jenkins looked over at me.

They’re back Doctor Agnostica; Fortrel and Foster; They’re back.

In unison, we all looked down again onto the two shrouds wrapped neatly on the floor.

How is this possible, Jenkins.

I don’t know, but we checked, Doctor, it’s them.

Then I noticed the pile of empty windings.

The girl, I said, she’s not here.

She’s not here, Jenkins replied; We’ve looked about all over this attic; I’ll arrange a search of the hospital if you like.

I brought hand to brow and said, Yes, we should do that as a matter of course, but I’ve no expectation of success; Has there been any word about Evans.

No, Doctor, he said, and motioned me to walk with him away from Mr. Kleiner.

Jenkins stopped some ten feet off and I turned to face him.

You should know that there is talk, he began in a subdued tone, among the staff; A movement is afoot for all of them to leave at once, even if it means losing their jobs; They know the hospital can’t run itself and figure you will have to hire everyone back.

At last, here was a problem of flesh and blood that I could get my hands on, and my subsequent outburst was indicative of my frustration.

That’s what they think, is it; Well pass the word that there are any number of people who would jump at the chance for a job; I will arrange to bus workers in from Cleveland or Youngstown if necessary; Room and board may just be enough incentive to fill the open positions left by the ones who leave Sterns-Carson; Pass that word along, Mr. Jenkins; I mean business.

Yes, Doctor Agnostica, he said, I will let it be known.

With that, I turned and stormed across the attic floor and down the staircase.

*****

Though the bizarre and the horrifying may be the order of the day at Sterns-Carson, I have been able to maintain some sense of purpose that has kept me on the rails, but when I returned to my office, the news awaiting, made all my efforts seem like futility.

I opened my door, found a thick manila envelope laying just inside, obviously slidden beneath the threshold. Its presence sounded an ominous tone in my mind. I just stared at the packet for some long moments before I stooped and picked it up.

I walked over to my desk, sat down and laid the bundler before me. Then I rang the hospital operator and asked if she had any messages for me, or if I had received any visitors while I was out on my rounds. Mrs. Penfound said that, to the best of her knowledge, I had received no calls, on the telephone or at the reception office. I hung up the phone, and just stared at the envelope again for several minutes, studying its facets like one would a work of art hanging in a museum.

I finally summoned the wherewithal to undo the flap. I gently parted the opening. I grasped the sheaf of papers insidepartial divorce decree and slid them out just far enough to read the heading on the first page.

I eased the papers out a bit further. Priscilla’s name appeared, with mine below. Next to them, writ large and bold, sat the word DIVORCE.

At that moment, I realized that all my worst fears were bound to fruition; a dark harvest of the seeds that I had sown without realization over the course of these past years. Priscilla had vowed to move on with her life and had already made good on that pledge. What vows had I kept through the course of our marriage; apparently not enough of them to make the union permanent.

I dipped my pen in the well and signed my name on the line designated, slipped the document back into the envelope and fastened the hasp. There, I had done what I knew in my heart to be the right thing for the woman I had professed to love.

agnostica divorce decreePerhaps it is just as well; for in the coming days and hours, I very well may have to take action here at Sterns-Carson that will result in the end of my liberty; pondering the situation further, those events have already taken place, and it is just a matter of time before the authorities come to apprehend me.

Yes, Priscilla, fly away little bird, test your wings and make for a destination where you will be fulfilled and happy, for I am bound not for glory, but for  an infamy, the result of which, would tarnish your reputation and destroy any chance you may have had for a rewarding life.

My best to you, in the hope that we meet again someday, in a better place, under happier circumstances.

©2014 j.edwardfitzgerald all rights reserved

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