The largest chimney stack of St. Lawrence is the first thing you’d see for at least a mile before even getting there. The smoke bellowed out of it and carried far across the rural fields, mixing in with the wispy clouds. As you got closer, you’d see an enormous brick-built Victorian style building closed off by a black iron gate. Behind that building were several other buildings that were all styled the same, but varied in different sizes for various purposes.
I wasn’t expecting to see any of that when I finally went to the institution. In fact, it contrasted greatly with the image I had set in my mind; dark sky, cracked windows, and overgrown grass to name a few traits.
Tom, the man who’d been driving me there, let out a whistle once he’d stopped the car in front of the big and open iron gates.
“I’ll tell ya one thing about these nuthouses: they sure do know how to make ’em look nice.” I stepped out of the car with my beaten up bag clutched in my hands. He wasn’t kidding around: it looked like it belonged to rich big daddy more than to a group of workers and their patients.
“Yeah…they sure do.”
“Anyway, what time do you want me to pick you up, Morris? I reckon before Charley’s place really starts getting full?” he asked with a grin. I returned it.
“You know me well, Tom. Tell Mom I said hi, would ya?”
“Will do that. Good luck to you on your job interview.”
And then he drove off; leaving behind a trail of smoke.
I placed my hand on my forehead and squinted up at the clock tower perched ontop of the building. A quarter til ten. Not late. With no hesitation and a cocky grin on my face, I walked up the steps then made little runs through my hair and straightened out my tie. A man had to look his best for an interview after all, or he could kill all his chances of getting the job. When I felt ready, I entered the room and looked around the place.
What I expected to be a noisy room filled with insane people jumping against the walls while the nurses ran after them was nothing more than well…a normal entrance room you would see at any old office building. It smelled exactly like that too; of dust and wood with the occasional whiff of shoe polish.
In other words, the room was boring. Boring desk, boring picture of asylum…
“Hey, you there!”
I turned around and couldn’t stop a grin from creeping across my face. Hello not so boring dolly.
She was frail looking young thing, younger than me by about two years; her blond hair was pulled back in a neat in tidy bun and she had curves in all the right places.
And was that a beauty mark on her cheek?
It didn’t matter folks; she had on one of the most fake smiles a girl could ever have. Not to mention that she dressed as if she were already circled to a guy. No amount of charm I pulled out of my ass was ever gonna fix the attitude she gave towards me.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Ah yes,” I began, looking past the woman for any more signs of life. Sadly, there was none to be found- “I’m here to meet Dr. Thomas…?”
“You mean Dr. Thompson.” She folded her arms. “I’m sorry, but he’s very busy at the moment, why don’t you come back later when he’s available?”
“I would ma’am, but my ride just left me stranded here and he won’t be coming back for another four hours.” This conversation was beginning to go on a one way train to nowheresville.
We both turned around to see a middle aged guy about my height blocking the door way that lead into a corridor; his broad shoulders just barely touched the sides of the door frame. His arms were folded while his dark, beady eyes focused on me. They flickered towards the lady who then looked elsewhere before turning their attention back towards me.
“May I ask what you are doing here? This is a private facility.”
“The name’s Shelton Morris.” I extended out my hand for the doctor shake which he did quickly. “I’m here for my interview with Dr. Thompson.”
“Oh yes, Walter said you’d be coming; I’m sorry to say that he can’t see you today.”
“What do you mean he can’t see me today?” I had called up that doc two days ago and last night to make sure everything was gonna be golden for tomorrow. If I knew that he was going to be nothing more than an old shuckster, I would’ve gone down to the riverside with Frank and Howard.
This doctor seemed amused at the bad luck that had befallen on me. “He’s very busy treating patients on the second floor. Wouldn’t you agree that that’s more important than an interview, Mr. Morris?”
I glanced towards the doll with a hopeless look on my face. Help me out here. She rolled her eyes slightly.
“Dr. Yaley, wouldn’t it be alright if you interview this man? You are the assistant superintendent of this place after all.” The doctor turned his attention on the woman, pondering her words.
Luckily for me, he said, “Alright, fine.”
I mouthed, ‘Thanks dolly,’ to her, but judging by the look on her face, she had no clue what I had just said to her. Oh well.
He motioned for me to follow him into the nearest room, which was nothing more than space equipped with a desk, a wooden chair, and one sad, lonely book on an otherwise empty bookcase.
“Please take a seat,” Yaley said as he pointed to the seat. I did. The room was silent besides the ticking of the clock in the background. After a few good moments, the interview began- just not in the way that I was expecting it to. It went something like this:
Shelton Kenneth Morris.
April 13th, ’28, sir.
Any bad records?
No sir, none at all.
Any work experience?
A few jobs here and there, mostly at shops.
He mumbled something and then opened the office door. “We’ll just put you wherever we need help. It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Morris,” he said with a not so pleasing smile. The door closed behind him and I was alone in that dusty room. With that disturbing smile Yaley had given me, I wasn’t so sure that I wanted to work there now.
I stood up and turned to split when part of a plain tan folder hanging out from the drawer of the desk caught my eye. Naturally being curious, I opened the drawer and took a peak at the contents inside. My eyes widened when I saw the name labeled on the tab of the folder:
Otherwise known as ‘Patient 1688’.
With my thumb I browsed through the papers and was surprised to see that among them was the newspaper article containing Mrs. Baxter’s death. Jesus, why would they keep this?
The door opened. I hastily shoved the folder back into the drawer and turned around. It was the woman from the entrance room. I smiled, but she, however, did not.
“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave this room,” she said.
“Yeah, yeah…I’m leaving, doll.” Not even waiting to see how she’d react, I walked past her. I was only two footsteps out the door when I heard the door slam right behind me. “Damn, what is with everyone in this place? It’s like I fell into Charley’s on a sober day filled with a bunch of editors.”
A laugh. My head turned in the direction of the voice. Sitting there on a wooden bench was a man, pale in color which made his freckles pop out at you from a mile away. He was thin, not the thin kind that I was, but the sickly kinda thin. It was the kind that if you even so much as poked the fellow, you might break something in his body.
“Why’re you starin’ at me?” the man suddenly asked.
I furrowed my brows. “What do you mean, pal? You were the one laughin'”
“Whatever, it don’t matter anyway,” he said with a sigh and leaned against one of the walls. It was then when I caught sight of his bare feet. They looked swollen and bruised.
“What’s wrong with your feet?”
“Oh, that? I accidentally forgot to wear shoes when I was outside. Some stupid bugs bit me and messed them up.”
“Sorry for your luck.”
“Eh, don’t worry too much about it,” the man mumbled, “so, what’re you doing here? Got family?”
“Oh nah, nothing like that. I’m going to work here for a while, just got the job.” To my surprise, the poor bastard started to laugh.
You don’t look like no employee here,” he said with his eyebrows raised in amusement.
“Why’s that?” I demanded.
“You stand out too much from the rest of ’em. After being here for so long, you get to know all the employees and how they behave, and they all behave the same.”
The door next to me opened again, revealing the woman from before. In her hands was the tan folder I’d be fiddling around with. She gave a dirty look towards me and then looked at Tim. “Come on, it’s time to go,” she said. Tim looked at her reluctantly, but started to follow. The two didn’t get past the third door down in the hallway when I called out;
“Hey, miss! I wanna talk to you!”
They stopped and turned around. She shook her head with a sigh and walked back over to me, leaving Tim behind as we spoke.
“Sorry he bothered you, Mr. Morris,” she apologized which was less than sincere, “By the way, my name’s Ruth Yaley.” Before I could open my mouth to say anything, she cut me off, “No, Dr. Yaley’s not related to me in any way. ”
Well that answers my question. “Alright, Ruth then; I wanna know what that man is in for; what’s wrong with him?”
“Tim’s a little disturbed,” she explained, “came down here ’bout four years ago from Evansville. His papa caught him messing with another man.”
Her expression darkened, almost becoming a near reflection of my own. Everyone in town knew that they were trouble; trouble with a capital ‘T’. Growing up in Breckly, that’s what us kids were taught in school. Every boy made damn sure to keep away from men that were a little too friendly.
“Another man? And he didn’t get put in the slammer for it?”
“No, his mother convinced the father to send him here so he can be treated instead,” she explained with a small shake of her head. “As you can see, the treatments haven’t been working quite well.”
“And what treatments do they use here, miss?”
The lady shrugged. “I don’t know, nor do I care; I’m just in charge of leading patients to where they tell me. That’s the other nurses’ job to know that stuff. If you want, go ask them.” With that, Ruth turned around and walked back over to Tim. The folder was kept loosely in her hand as they walked down the end of the hallway and made a turn to the left- out of sight.
The next morning was just like the last: I got up, I ate, and I took a cab to St. Lawrence. Yaley was already at the gates with the same crummy expression pasted on his face as yesterday. Without speaking, we moved past the large, massive building onto much smaller ones. The moment his feet hit the bed of mushrooms just outside of the smallest building, he stopped and turned to look at me.
“Here’s where we need the most work done today. The nurses don’t have time to do all the laundry for the patients, and obviously most of the patients can’t do it themselves. If you could do us a favor and neatly press and fold all these clothes, it’d be swell.”
The door opened slowly with a long creak. The room, lit up by the morning rays of the sun, was equipped with not one, but two of those fancy new automatic machines. There were four old wringers huddled in the back of the tiny space with gathered dust and cobwebs. I turned to look at Yaley, about to ask how the hell you worked those things, but he was already on his way back to the main building where he desperately wanted to be.
So there I stood, alone in a room filled with laundry to be done. Rather than get started on trying to figure out how to use the damn things, I chose to sit down in a corner and open up the journal I’d been carrying around in my bag. Using the notes I had taken yesterday night, I figured it would be a great time to do some writing.
Rachel looked at the door expectantly to see her husband greet him to the door as he always did once he got home from a long day of working hard to bring bread to the family.
Her smile faded a bit. Five minutes past. Whe-
Then he showed up, the patient from the day before. In his hands was a bundle of dirty laundry, presumably his own. He just stood there; watching me, and watching the notebook. I kept my head down low and continued to work on my story in hopes that he didn’t recognize me, and that he would just drop his clothes on the floor and leave.
When he got closer, I grit my teeth. A step more and I said, “Back off would ya?” Instead of doing so, the bastard crouched down and looked at the writing in my notebook. It didn’t take long for me to slam it shut away from his prying eyes. But, the damage had already been done and he was now wearing a stupid grin.
“So you’re a writer, huh? Is that why you’re here?”
“What’s it matter to ya?” I quickly snapped and got up from my comfortable corner. The book was held in my hand extra tight, just in case he tried to do something funny.
“Well, I like what you’ve gotten down so far, startin’ with a mystery always reels them in. But, what do I know what the public likes these days?” he gave a slight shrug. “All I know is I like it.”
A grunt was the reply to that, so he continued on, a bit hesitant though. “…May I read some more?”
“No,” I replied coldly. “Now beat it. You’re not even supposed to be here.”
“Well, look who suddenly knows all the rules of this place in a little less than a day. I can be anywhere I wanna be for an hour. Even then, those women they call nurses don’t come looking for me for another two hours at the least.” -he leaned against the wall opposite of me- “I don’t see why you would mind; you just got here and are clearly not doing what they want you to do.”
“Look, I don’t like hanging ’round flits, got that?” Those words that he’d said set me off more than I thought it would and as harsh as it was, Tim seemed unfazed by the insult directed at him. He didn’t budge; he didn’t look like he wanted to pound me into the ground, nothing. His eyes looked like they were saying, ‘I’ve already been through dozens of insults like yours, pal. What’s one more gonna do?’
“I’m sorry I make you so uncomfortable,” was his response. Rather than leave, the man sat on a pile of still to be washed clothing. “Is it really hard to tell me what you’re writing about? Just even for five minutes?”
Now he had to put me on a guilt trip for what I had said earlier. I sat back down in the corner. Tim was a reasonable distance from me, so I opened back up the book to the place I had stopped on. “It’s only a horror story on a mental institution. I came here to do some research, ‘real thinking’, that’s all.”
“Real thinkin’ huh? Well, howa bout this: we’ll make a deal. I can tell ya things about my life plus anything else you’d like to know, and in return you tell me things about your life.”
I stared at him with a blank expression. He wants to know about my life? What a nutcase. Regardless, the deal was made with a quick handshake and several uneasy glances at each other.
“Oh, the name’s Tim Harrison, what about you? Ya got a name?”
“I’ll take that as a no.”