An investigation into the goings on of an asylum becomes a pilgrimage through insanity.
Word Count - 3958
There lies a power in the mind, betwixt the worries of day-to-days and the fleeting imageries of the pleasurable, that garners afore us a palpable sensation of our deepest desires and darkest dreams. In our brief history as a species, we’ve birthed a society so superstitious and fearful of the hearsay, that I dare say we’ve placed ourselves at the mercy of this power.
I say this to you with as much care as I can express in words, that everything we fear is in fact – real. For when enough of the fearful believe in something, it exists. We fear God, thus he exists, mayhap it’s not in physical form, but the projections of our thoughts and actions give rise to the fact that there is a power transcendent of explanation that exists beyond subtle sciences and is capable of a many great miracles. Thus, we hold one another accountable to the judgement for fear of hellfire. I’ve since shed such beliefs, for when we no longer fear eternity, we are accountable only to each other. Whether it is for better or worse, without a god, man is capable of being man.
There lies, however, a vast and dark belief in the wicked forces that swirl about our lives. We oft blame the devil and his mischief, but in my many years studying and exploring that darkness, I’ve learned the devil is rarely to blame.
I shan’t presume on the half-hearted hypotheses of the self-proclaimed scholars of insanities and afflictions of the mind, for that is another world entirely. The darkness that I refer to is naught but the sanest of afterthoughts and nightmares born within our young and hungering minds when we are children. For it is then that we open our minds to the beliefs in the fantastical and the wicked.
Thus it was upon that conclusion that I oft found myself amongst the discarded younglings of the English paupers. Many of them were dumped upon the decrepit and derelict steps of Powick Hospital. A shrewd sickness pervaded my heart the first time I laid eyes on the establishment. It stood amidst a decaying tangle of dead trees at the edge of a largely neglected road. Upon my arrival, it was difficult to coerce my mind into aught but a sickening imagery of a great crash into the stark harshness of the lives of the indigent. That is what this place was after all, a pustule filled to its limit with England’s poor - festering like an ill-treated boil upon a remarkably dreary tract of land.
Its tall, brick structure cast a shadow upon that deteriorating causeway to an extent that begets a reluctance to continue the trek. Upon inexperienced and half-hearted inspection of the place, one could note each brick being singularly incapable of contributing to any real structural significance, for they were crumbling. The walls however, held no discernable notion of collapse. Thus it was that the mind’s eye perceived it entirely as a remarkable dilapidation amidst unremarkable craftsmanship long bereft of any outward welcoming. Scars of weather clotted the walls with sooty blacks and browns that created a fresco of aged and rotted tarnish that with all the strength the imagination could muster, could not be undone nor readily dismissed. Cold it was, and malevolent in such a way that would suggest to the sane mind that any admitted should abandon hope of the day-to-day strokes of normalcy whilst viewing such irredeemable gloom.
Despite the tired, abandoned, and resentful presence the hospital summoned upon the countryside, I found myself ascending its mossy stairs. There was however, an inward reluctance – a stern whispering that implored me to turn round and run. It was after all, an asylum, and what was contained therein would be far better left to those proclaimed experts on the subject of madness and peculiarities of the shattered mind. I however, counted myself amongst the lunatics, though a rather different lot of lunatics to be certain. As such, I felt an affinity – nigh a sympathy toward those whose minds were overthrown by malformed imageries that, through all manner of delights, could not be stymied. I was, and still am a man whose fascination lies in the morbid and macabre and all things that the well-offs consider to be deplorable.
As such, I’ve been labeled over the years as an expert on the paranormal and occult, though I shall not reinforce such claims, I’d rather consider myself to be far more interested than most. It is that interest that answered the summons from one Dr. William Spencer, whom at the time, was the director of Juvenile Lunatics. He’d claimed in a rather scrawled letter that the children, who were once rather disconnected and dormant in the general speech of the essence of childhood, became quite violent, and fixed with self-mutilation. They were in fact, so readily attached to their sadomasochistic behaviors, that they would continue harming themselves as they slept. Through his observations, he resolved to believe it was beyond medical explanation.
Though to me, it sounded profoundly insane, there was an intolerable amount of questions raised in my mind. Not for the insanity itself, nor for the proposed unexplainable violence, but for the children themselves. I found myself setting out not on an investigation, but rather, a liberation of sorts.
I’d heard tell that asylums were notorious for their neglect and baleful administering of what they considered to be care to their patients. It was that reason that I found myself less inclined to believe these children suffered from some otherworldly affliction, and settled on the idea that the hospital itself was to blame.
Thus it was, that upon my arrival, I was ushered through a menacing archway by a particularly somber man whose outward demeanor was as silent as his steps. He shuffled me through a mire of twisting corridors that seemed to swallow the encrimsoned natural light of the outside, thereupon the dim envelope of grave half-light engulfed me in a veil of emotional confinement. With each step, an air of gloom pervaded my spirit and sickened my heart to a point at which the world outside the walls of the asylum was but a shuttered and fleeting dream reveled upon only during the most decadent partaking of opium. The dark walls and floor melded to one another almost so fluidly in the dank oppressiveness of the place, that a certain phantasmagoric passing of perception and time seemed nigh the only stern focus of my restless mind, and against every spiritual and emotional objection my consciousness could rightly form, I continued what now seemed a descent further into that darkness. We passed by a multitude of locked doors. Within the constraints of such masterfully executed maddening walls, occupants sat blank faced, or lay face down in cots. Therein I noted not only that the place was not entirely devoid of the fabrics of humanity, it was in fact against all plausible reasoning, largely bereft of life. I say that in the sense that its occupants were in fact alive, but all manner of worldly attachment to what society considers to be life, was vacant.
He left me in the good doctor’s study and crept away back into the gloom as spidery as he’d led me here. The room before me was one of magnificence not readily described in words. Its grandeur of architecture was of stark contrast to the remarkably mundane dilapidation that surrounded it, but it did little to lay rest the notion and suffocation of confinement. The eye perceived as it always does, the well-lit objects of the scene. Tall, pointed windows allowed the protrusions of rather weakened and empty light of the hazy dusk to illuminate just enough for one to not be blind. Still, my vision struggled in the far reaches of the room. Before me, a decaying wood desk sat central atop a worn and quite plain crimson rug. About it, books lay in haphazard piles, as if discarded with the everyday rubbish. There stood amidst the odd amalgamation of wayward knowledge, musical instruments that appeared as though they had not been played or tuned since the asylum opened. Central to it all, sat Doctor Spencer.
He was, as eloquent words might describe, not easily akin to the imageries we hold of most basic humanities. A pallid man he was, ashen and darkened as though he’d scarcely stepped into the sun even for brief moments. A tangle of webbed, silvery hair topped an otherwise oddly round head. He was of a remarkable proportion to say the least. A rotund man he was, round in just about every application of the word, but sunken and stretched as though he decayed like the asylum around him. His eyes, which were quite cold and emotionless, were as sunken as the dreary light of the room, and were as alert as I’d ever seen in someone. Overall, the man made my skin crawl, and offered no comfort in my bygone vexations the institution had wrought.
He bowed low upon my entrance, which I took note of a most overzealous cordiality that seemed practiced in private rather than taught as a boy. Clearly, he was unaccustomed to the pleasantries of society, but I concluded that a career amongst the insane may in fact sever any concrete connections one holds with the civilized and refined folk of England’s aristocracy and academics. I was loath to return the bow in equally overdone splendor, but I felt it best to not slight nor insult his courtesies through common propriety.
As such, he slunk into his chair, and drew in a most ragged breath before beginning to exchange the typical greetings and cordial nothings that might begin a proper conversation. It was not long before I noted his voice held a peculiar edge with a distinct softness that one might affix to the attribute of something overused like that of a knife that had long dulled. His speech was oft times chaotic but always coherent. It was abrupt and disconnected as one might expect from a doctor, but it held with it, a certain tiresome rhythm like the slow and deliberate ticking of a clock that needed winding. His tone wasn’t at all the culprit but rather the way he made conversation. His words were thin and winded as though each time he spoke he grew more tired than he was before. Through his recounting of events, I gathered that he’d exhausted all explanation of why the children behaved as they did, and resolved to placing them in constant restraint and drug induced lethargy.
Sifting through the prolonged medical jargon discerned to me certain hints regarding his character. It appeared to me that the doctor did indeed have a genuine concern for his patients, and through the many weeks of unsuccessful attempts at combating their malady, he’d decayed to a point that his spiritual morale was as condemned as theirs. It was a dissolution of sorts – a departure from a professional standpoint to a blind devotion of achieving some absolution regardless of how futile it seemed, which was in fact, why I was there. Oddly enough I felt a strange satisfaction that the proclaimed precise and subtle realm of medical study came upon such desperate a need for answers, that it turned to the indiscriminate field of supernatural investigation. Alas, what little comfort arose in me at that particular moment was stolen away as he led me to the Juvenile Wards.
Wherein, an eloquence of words is lost on me as I recall the bitter disregard for the sanctities of life. The children were not laid on their beds to rest, but rather gathered about in a haphazard circle around what at the time was considered to be soothing imageries and pleasantries of what we would consider to be normal. It was a funeral of sorts, the mourning of the energetic exuberance of youth thus interred by an ill-conceived ideology that such assortments of simple enjoyments might in fact spirit away the insanity that afflicted them. There were landscapes displayed on easels, though in their own right, were quite lovely and soothing to one whom appreciated the arts, or had been subject to the descent into such a dark and bitter confinement, were as decayed and half-hearted as the institution around them. Toys lay about in a rather chaotic manner that would beget the idea of children at playtime, but each had such a blanket of dust on them, that it was quite clear they’d not been properly enjoyed for some time. But it was not the overall scene that was now before me that was so unsettling to my demeanor. A rather solemn rhapsody of stringed instruments floated about in feint whispers upon the air. I’d heard that the famed Edward Elgar had taken residence as the Asylum Band’s conductor. As such their practices were thus heard across the courtyard. It wasn’t the jubilant nor the beautiful composition that one could attribute to a good tune, but a rather largo and most disconcerting and heavy-hearted abandonment of reason and emotion. Sullen and threatening it was in its melody that upon focusing my hearing upon it thus affected me with a disagreeable and irredeemable feeling of hopelessness. Thereupon that unquenchable uneasiness, my sense of smell was abraded with the bitterness of urine and blood which incited such a violent and abrupt bodily disapproval that I nearly collapsed. Such a wild abuse of the senses was beyond my perception’s ability to readily accept, and thus swirled about in my mind like a chaotic maelstrom of all things that we define as grotesque.
Their faces were of such a lifeless expression, upon first glance I questioned whether they were living or dead. Each of them sat motionless upon a filth crusted floor, staring blankly forward as though the imageries perceived by the eyes were lost on them. It was though each of them were in fact subject to the confinements of the asylum itself but moreover they were prisoners of themselves. There was a distinct feeling of something spiritually taboo when I saw their frail and pallid bodies arranged about the common room as though they were dolls on display. Perhaps there was no supernatural explanation of the goings on of their ailing minds, but a stern settling of something beyond reasonable recollection had certainly made its home in this place. They all had lacerations, likely dug in by fingernails or whatever objects they might find lying about, but they had since scabbed over, pulling their skin taut where such injuries had occurred.
They made no notice of my closer inspections, nor of the good doctor, who stood so unnaturally close by. There was one child however, that I noted most reluctantly as being fixed on my presence, though from my gatherings, she was largely unaware I was there. In a dim haze, I noted a distinct dead stare that followed me about, unblinking and undisturbed by whatever ambience myself or the atmosphere about her seemed to create. I met that gaze with such a palpable abandonment of the oppressive air around me, that all platitudes regarding the felicity of life and living, all poetry, and all recollections of the pleasurable seemed anemic. She swallowed the din of forlorn abrasiveness that the room so remarkably created so readily, that she was in fact, a new source of credible terror not rightly explained or equivocally attributable to any reasonable treatise on the logical and reasonable causes for such unsettling nervousness.
Upon meeting those vacant eyes, there was a whispering, not that of the wind within the tree branches, but a fierce and hateful hissing of some inaudible voice calling from across an otherworldly expanse. It was like that of one’s inner thoughts in utmost silence, wherein we struggle to lay rest a restless mind remarking on the should haves and what ifs of day to day life; feint and scarcely present in any form other than words that can’t be readily translated through reasoning. It was a chaotic clamor of pleadings and wailings of an overly agitated state of awareness that seemed to perturb my mind into a state of absolute shock whence those whispers came to me – as though I was now descending into madness without any hope of slowing the fall. Thus it was that the vexation that stalked about throughout the duration of my visit now enshrouded me like a veil, shuttering my capabilities of cognitive processing of thoughts into aught but the most disturbing and scornful flailing of a mind smothered by sanguine and beleaguered interpretations of perception.
She held upon her face, though vacant and disconnected as it was, a certain smirk of sorts, as though whatever treatment had been administered to her was a laughable delay of an inevitable outburst of violence and dementia. Within that timeless and deathly stare, I found something buried inside that begged to question scientific and supernatural affinity alike. Gruesome and angry it was, not like a disconnected shell of a person who performed actions against their will, but of a calculated and nigh surgical precision of the most utmost disdain for all things rightly considered to be wholesome and acceptable. I noted her scarring skin as being injured, not by a violent outburst on one’s self, but more akin to the surgeon’s scalpel. The lacerations were smooth and elongated, remarkably spaced equidistant from one another, and raked in so near a torturous precision as to believe that no fit of insanity could have caused it. All the while, Dr. Spencer hovered over me like some vulture awaiting the death of its next meal.
“What is her name?”
Dr. Spencer didn’t answer me, but as if I’d spoken some incantation, each child responded with a hollowness that begets an icy prickling of pins down the expanse of one’s skin. They called their names in rhythm to the graven and distant melodies of the cellos and violins that echoed in the distance. Danielle, Richard, Sarah, Peter, Edgar, Nina, Charlie, Evie, and Reynold. Each of them spoke only upon the downbeat of the next measure of the scornful concerto, and only their name. The voices circled about me in that air of oppressive and ashen bane like the swirling of a whirlpool, slowly pulling me into the vortex that was their dark and emotionless existence in the asylum. At last, the doctor spoke – William. It was the same undertone of disconnected but malevolent passing of reality the children spoke, and as alike as they, upon the downbeat it was.
The whispering I remarked came louder now, still a hiss rather than a shout it was, but it came to me as though spoken within distinct earshot. Still, it was a chaotic and indiscernible ruckus, unutterable save for the primal guttural nature of the voice it carried to a battering cadence of metallic chiming that one could only describe as an ear splitting hammering against a leaden backdrop of tympanic resonance. Still, amongst the shifting mire of inane babble, my mind worked diligently to perceive some clear transition from chaotic yammering to coherent and translatable language.
Amongst that final plunge into the cavernous depths of the frayed and torn fabrics of sanity, I fell, prostrate and shaking upon that cold floor amidst the circle of a collective insanity. Therein, even the good doctor seemed claimed by the darkness, though still outwardly functional, he was no longer whatever former self he’d been when he sent for me. It was as one might describe, an intense falling of the veil. Wherein, the world around me darkened until all thought and reasoning seemed lost in a pit of self-loathing and unjustifiable terror. An insufferable and unshakable wailing it was, not just of the voices that screamed to me, but of an inward, frightened consciousness that realized its protective vessel had fragmented with each passing beat of the incessant hammering within my mind. Each strike came louder and more deliberate than the previous, and brought with it a tremor in my limbs which now seemed miles away from my consciousness, and in the bitter black veil of helplessness, the children spoke again.
Thus it was that I felt one final hammer blow, as the good doctor’s voice trailed away into a harsh and bleak silence.
“His name was William.” It was a voice similar in low guttural malice that called to me from the void, but now it was close, softer, but just as fierce. Though, it came to me in utter darkness, and struggle as I might, I could not form any discernable imageries through my eyes, though I knew them to be open.
“What did he do that would warrant such an extreme procedure.”
The clanging of metallic tools upon some steel tray echoed in the far fringes of my mind as I heard the fierce one draw a sharp breath before clearing his throat.
“He’s been here for some time, all the while he’s made no measurable progress in recovery of his insanity. It’s that reason that we elected to administer a transorbital lobotomy on him.”
“That doesn’t answer my question, doctor.”
There was a silence for the slightest of moments, a trifling thing it was, heavy and sullen like a leaden blanket as I heard a scratching of sorts, melded within a most forlorn symphony that I can only describe as the music of the sorrowful and insane.
“A week ago he murdered 9 children. All of them were patients in the Juvenile Ward. The way he killed them – I swear, The Ripper himself would have turned in disgust. When they asked him why he did it, he said… ‘I just wanted to stop their screaming.’”
“Indeed. Get him out of here.”
Who am I? They call me William, but I’m just an echo – a remnant of something that once was. I am a silent voice of some atrocity that by all rights, could not be prevented. I say a silent voice, for all my cries for help, have and shall always go unanswered.
There lies betwixt the afterthoughts and fleeting imageries of some dark and vacant dream, a shuttered and forgotten realm of the mind, that I thusly say should remain locked away. For there is a discernable recollection of William, the murderer of nine children that has been so overly perverted and reinterpreted in that unlocked part of my mind that the insanity that afflicts me has constructed its own purgatory wherein I now dwell. He lingers about in my hazy and distant thoughts, continuously reminding me of those children’s names. He oft whispers in the dark, taunting my helplessness in ways that would break a sane man, but therein lies a paradox, for I’m not the slightest bit sane. I lay in the darkness – in some irredeemable silence, with naught but a felicity of expression birthed through the nurse’s readings of the great writers of our age, and the trifling and futile cause to move a body which I’ve long since been detached. I’m still here in a sense, but the vessel remains shattered.
It is amidst this blackened solace that I linger, day after day, wondering when they’ll lose their care to feed and bathe me. Thereupon that day, those voices of the void, and that incessant screeching of melancholy orchestral ruckus may finally subside. Still, their names repeat themselves like a cruel limbo in my afterthoughts, wherein I relive every moment of helplessness that the slightest sane sliver of my shattered mind tried in vain to stop that lunatic whose name was William.