Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Chapter 5: Solitary Confinement



Running any kind of medical institution is hard work. A tremendous weight of responsibility is put on the personnel's shoulders, as they are tasked with watching over people's very lives.

The difficulty increases proportionally when the patients are unable or unwilling to comply with the treatment.


Thus, managing a sanitarium with a focus on mental health is arguably the most challenging task of all.

During their rehabilitation, mental patients need inordinate amounts of love, care and understanding. A firm hand lays the groundwork for all of this, since respect is the basis for all successful relationships. The bond between patient and caregiver is no exception.


 It is up to the specialist to unravel the patients' skewed views of reality, step by careful step. The goal, of course, is to ultimately rebuild the mind into one that is sound and healthy.

In this state of reconstruction, the psyche is particularly fragile. Disruptions of the daily routine must be avoided at all costs, as they will undoubtedly have adverse effects on the process of recovery. Introducing outside elements such as unexpected visitors only serves to upset patients.

Unfortunately, this is sometimes impossible to comprehend for the layman.


In the face of such unpredictable threats, the caregiver must adjust their treatment and sometimes even improvise.


This is no problem for the competent professional, however, who knows the importance of using all the tools at their disposal.

*


"And how are we this fine morning," the nurse chirped.


 "Are you fucking kidding me," Gloria roared as she rushed forward to bang her fists against the reinforced glass, "Let me out!"


The nurse frowned, "Well, someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed, it seems. But don't you worry, I have something that will make you feel all better." She raised her hand up to the window and presented a small white pill she held pinched between her thumb and forefinger. "It's your medicine! Just take it and you can come out and get on with your day. And such a fine day it is!"


 "No way I'm taking that," Gloria bellowed, "Let me out! You can't do this! You can't treat people like this!"

Gloria squeezed her eyes shut, suddenly dizzy. Her head was throbbing. From the nurse's words, she could guess that she had only been locked in this cell for the night, but it had felt much longer. An empty stomach paired with a sleepless night full of worry and fluorescent light had taken its toll on Gloria. She inhaled deeply, willing her head to stop spinning, and fixed the nurse with an angry glare. "I'm going to tell everyone what you're doing here. How you're abusing the people you're supposed to care for. Is... is the doctor in on this?! Oh, all the sim rights lawsuits you'll be facing... the press is going to love this. Just you wait."


The nurse cocked her head. "My, my. So aggressive. In that case you'll just have to stay in there, I suppose."


Gloria was furious. "You're fucking insane"
 
"... says the girl screaming threats inside a padded cell," the nurse smiled.


Deflated, Gloria staggered backwards. The dizziness had returned, and she felt like she was going to be sick. She needed water, food and rest.

"Just take your medication and you'll be free to go back to your daily routine," the nurse offered, "I don't like keeping you confined any more than you do. And there are fresh pancakes for breakfast."

Gloria bit her lip. Everything inside her screamed to not ingest anything this woman gave her, but what was the alternative? She'd just stay locked in this room, getting weaker and weaker. She could pretend to comply to get the nurse to open the door and then jump her and run away, but Gloria knew that this was unrealistic. There was no way she could overpower the nurse and her freakish strength even if she did manage to surprise her. And in her current weakened state it was simply impossible. No, the only way out of this terrible place would be her wits. She needed a plan.

For now though, she had to get out of this room.

"All right," Gloria said, "I'll take it."

"Good girl," the nurse cooed as Gloria swallowed the pill.


She didn't remember much after that.


There were glimpses, but nothing more. Her mind wandered uncontrollably, making strange connections she would later be unable to comprehend.


For a moment, she almost thought she felt a familiar presence. No, it was more like a faint scent of flowers. Lilacs.


But there were no lilacs in Midnight Hollow. No flowers at all.


Gloria watched the bare trees swaying in the wind. Strange, it was almost like the breeze from outside reached her too; first caressing gently, then tugging forcefully.

 It was too much. It reminded her of the nurse, pushing and pulling and never giving Gloria a moment's rest. "Please," Gloria whispered. Her throat was so dry, she could barely get the words out. "Please... leave me," she managed.

And then, as if it had heard her, the gentle touch of the wind was gone again.


That was impossible, of course. The windows were shut tightly, just as they always were. There had never been a breeze to begin with.
 

But she could have sworn...

*


It was after sunset when Gloria awoke. She had a pounding headache and the disconcerting feeling of having forgotten something very important.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Chapter 4: The South Wing



A few precious moments during late afternoons, as Gloria learned, were the only time some warming rays actually found their way into the Sun Room.

Incidentally, this was also the best time to paint and write, as most other patients were busy preparing dinner or seeking their beds early.


However, today there was another person in the room.


Gloria stood and watched the woman for a while, unnoticed. It wasn't difficult to understand the situation. The ancient gramophone, which usually produced noise incessantly, was silent. It had to be broken, which deeply distressed the woman.

Something about the woman's pitiful demeanor made Gloria feel compelled to help, but she had no idea how to approach her. She didn't even know what to call her, and though all the other patients seemed to have settled for Cathy, that name obviously only served to annoy her.


 As Gloria was pondering this, the woman turned to face her. She was silent, as usual, but her face spoke volumes. A general wariness fought with a desperate plea for help.

Gloria, still not sure what to say, made a decision. She simply walked past the woman and up to the gramophone to inspect it. She didn't have any experience with these things, but the mechanism didn't look too complicated.


Rubbing her chin thoughtfully, she said, "I guess I could fix it. I was in shop club in high school... but I'd need some tools..."


At this, Cathy's face lit up. She grabbed Gloria's arm, pulling and tugging at her in silent excitement.

At first, Gloria tensed. But when she saw Cathy's beaming smile, she asked, "Hm? What...? Oh, you know where I can get tools?" The woman nodded vigorously and continued to pull on Gloria's arm, urging her to follow.



 As soon as Cathy was confident that Gloria was following her, she dashed off with a measure of speed it was hard to imagine she was capable of.


Gloria followed her up the stairs, taking two steps at a time in an attempt to keep pace, but when she reached the hallway on the second floor, she could only catch a glimpse of a figure slipping through a door.

The closed off door to the south wing.


 Trying to move as silently as she could, Gloria followed.


 "Hey," she whispered. Gloria winced at the muffled clicking noise the closing door made behind her. She found herself in near complete darkness. Only a faint glow of light from the door illuminated her path.

"Hey," she whisper-called again. "We're not supposed to be in here." Slowly, keeping her hand touching the wall, she made her way forward. "Hey, are you in here?" Not knowing the woman's true name made it difficult to call for her, so Gloria had resigned herself to using 'hey'. Just when she was about to try again, she saw.


"There you are," she gasped. "Listen, we're not suppo-- wow."


Bricks, pieces of wood and other debris littered the floor around a gaping hole in the wall. It was a jarring contrast to the rest of the room, which seemed to be much more richly built than the other parts of the asylum. Silken wall covering hang in tatters, exposing dusty brick that had been broken  and chipped in a way that could only be described as destructive.

"Wow. Some renovating that is," Gloria mused. "Looks more like someone tried to break through that wall..."


Slowly, to avoid stepping on any possible rusty nails or sharp pieces of debris, she moved closer. The scene before her now very obviously seemed to be a haphazard attempt at tearing down a massive wall.

Gloria chewed on her chapped lower lip thoughtfully. Could this be someone's attempt at an escape? But no, they were on the second floor, and as far as she could tell, this was not an outside wall. No, if Gloria was familiar enough with the building's layout by now, the room behind this wall should be just above the therapy room downstairs. 

She furrowed her brows. "Now that I think about it, I've never seen any workers coming or going... I wonder..."


She was torn from her reverie by another tug at her sleeve. Cathy was looking up at her, excitedly pulling with one hand and pointing with the other. "Oh yes, tools!" Gloria bent to take a closer look at the toolbox Cathy had indicated. It was one of many different ones that were strewn all over the floor. It didn't take Gloria long to select a few tools she'd need to repair the gramophone. Well, at least shop club had been good for something.

"Okay, better get going now," she said, smiling at Cathy, who nodded happily.

As they moved toward the door, a familiar figure blocked their path.


"The south wing is closed off for renovations," the nurse said shrilly. "Off limits for patients!"

Gloria froze. "S-sorry," she stammered. "But the gramophone broke and we needed--" she glanced over to Cathy in a useless plea for help, but was shocked to see her gone. She really was quick, that one! Straightening up and willing herself to meet the nurse's glare, Gloria began again, "I needed tools to fix it so I came--"


 "Off limits!" the nurse's shriek interrupted. "Off limits for patients! I believe you were told on your first day here."

"Yes, but--"

"Only here for a few days and already causing trouble! You're supposed to be working in your therapy goals, not sneaking around, stealing--"

"I wasn't! I just--"

"The doctor is going to be very disappointed to hear this. Very disappointed indeed! Solitary confinement, yes. This is protocol for this kind of behavior..."

"But I--"


 "No buts!" The tools clattered to the floor when the nurse seized Gloria's arm roughly and began to drag her towards the door, scolding her all the way.


Her wiry muscles held an unyielding strength, making all of Gloria's attempts at escaping futile.

"You're hurting me," she whined, but the nurse's iron grip only tightened.


*


As the nurse had shoved her roughly into the padded cell and slammed the door shut behind her, Gloria had called, "Can I at least take a shower?"

The nurse, who had already begun to walk away, had stopped. Gazing through the small window in the metal door she had said in her usual chipper voice, "Do you see one in there?"

"A shower? ... No?"

"Well then," the nurse had replied, "I guess you can't take a shower." And she'd walked away.

After banging on the door and calling for the nurse to no avail, Gloria had resigned herself to sitting on the floor and waiting. She had no idea how much time had passed already.


 She avoided looking at the writing on the wall. 5 Days it read, in a deep scarlet.

"Blood", had been Gloria's first thought and then, "five days in here?!" her second. Thinking about either one of these did her no good at all, so she kept her eyes down, deliberately studying the knitted fabric of her sweater.

 But as the white room was completely bare otherwise, it was impossible to keep her eyes - and her thoughts - from straying back to the writing on the wall.

Five days...




Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Chapter 3: Ally



Growing up by the ocean, Gloria was used to being woken by the cawing of seagulls in the mornings. Their grating sounds were always accompanied by a pleasantly sharp sea breeze, but today there was nothing but a damp odor.

For a moment, Gloria was disoriented.

Then she remembered.


Midnight Hollow lay in a dark valley, far from the shore. Tall mountains blotted out the sunlight for most of the day. The only nearby water was a large lake, so murky with algae that it looked black as ink.

The source of the cawing hadn't been gulls, of course, but a murder of crows flying by.

The lake had to be where the musty odor was coming from, Gloria reasoned. At least she hoped it was that.


Though, honestly, there was no way to tell.


Everything in this old building smelled mossy and moldy to Gloria.


The communal bathroom was no exception.

Gloria's bare feet felt every sharp edge where the cold tiles didn't line up evenly. She would need to find some slippers to wear, she thought, but for now she had no time to waste.


She knew there was only one functioning shower, and for once nobody else was in here.


Gloria gasped when a raised voice suddenly echoed through the room.

"Shut up," the pale girl screeched, her face almost touching the wall, "I hate you! You suck, you horrible piece of--"


Gloria was about to turn on her heel and leave silently when the girl noticed her. "Oh, the shower," the girl said, tucking a strand of her wildly disheveled hair behind her ear. "I'll leave."

"You don't have to," Gloria mumbled, "I can wait if you're... uh... using it." She glanced at the spot on the wall where the girl had directed her anger until a moment ago, but nothing about it stood out to her. In a bout of curiosity she asked, "What were you..."

"Ugh, just venting," the girl said. "I know it looks nutty, but sometimes it helps to let it out even if there is no one to yell at, you know? Besides, I'm already in the loony bin - might as well act like it."

Gloria looked at the pale girl and wondered if she had been too quick in her judgement. The girl was obviously lonely, and having met some of the other patients, Gloria could understand her eagerness to talk to someone new.


"I'm sorry about the other day," Gloria said, trusting that she didn't need to elaborate any further. "I'm Gloria, by the way."

"I'm Ally," the girl said, "Allegra. But I prefer Ally." Her entire demeanor still unsettled Gloria, but the friendly tone was reassuring.

"Ally then," Gloria smiled.

“So what’s your therapy goal,” Ally blurted out abruptly.


Immediately, Gloria was taken aback again. “Oh, it’s …" her voice trailed off. 'Isn’t that private?' was the first thought on her mind, but that was what had made their first conversation go wrong. She wasn't going to make that mistake again. "I'm supposed to paint and write," she said.

"Cool," Ally replied simply. “Mine is to be Leader of the Free World!”

Gloria stared at her in disbelief.

Ally kept an expressionless face for another moment, then burst out laughing. “Got you,” she snorted, “got you good, huh? Leader of the Free World! Like that's ever going to happen!”


Gloria tried a smile. “Heh, yeah…”


Ally's laughter died down slowly, but finally she wiped a tear from the corner of her eye and added more calmly, “Nah, I’m gonna be an astronaut.”

*


Gloria still wasn't sure what to make of Ally, but the simple thought of having one friendly face to turn to had given her a new sort of courage.

Like the rest of Midnight Hollow, the 'Sun Room' never saw much sun. It did, however, hold a good supply of canvases and several tubes of paint.

For a moment, the empty white surface before her was daunting. What was she supposed to paint? Her mind was as blank as the canvas. All her ideas just seemed stupid. She'd never been good at this. Why had she thought things would be different this time?

Gloria was about to drop her brush and do something else instead when she realized that, well, there was nothing else to do. She sighed.

It's okay, she told herself, this one won't be a masterpiece yet. And she laid down her first stroke.


"Whatcha paintin'," the gaunt man mocked in a childish voice, but Gloria didn't even hear him.

She smiled to herself as a lighthouse slowly began to materialize.


Blue for the ocean, yellow for the light. Red for the red stripes of the lighthouse, leaving the white ones blank. And then finally, Gloria managed to unscrew the top of the dried up tube of green to paint the grass.

She was putting down the colors in their respective areas meticulously, rubbing the brush back and forth, making sure to fill empty spaces as best she could. Sometimes the thick paint just wouldn't cooperate with the texture of the canvas, but Gloria persisted.


When she was finished, Gloria took a step back and frowned. All the colors she'd put down had made perfect sense to her. The ocean was blue. Grass was green. So why did her painting look nothing like what she had seen in her mind? It resembled the crude drawing of a child, nothing more.


Her first tentative attempts at writing felt equally clumsy.


"Music group," the nurse announced and promptly began strumming the strings of the old guitar in a haphazard way.


Discordant or not, the music seemed to draw in the other patients. The room filled up quickly.


Needless to say, their presence made Gloria uncomfortable. Trying to find the right words was difficult enough - having someone standing right behind her as she did so only made it worse.


She felt like all eyes were on her, piercing stares fixed on her back.


She tried to tell herself that she was just imagining it.


But eventually it was too much.


Gloria saved her text file, turned off the computer and slunk out of the room, careful not to attract any attention.


Meals, the nurse had explained, were up to the patients to prepare. It was supposed to keep them in touch with the real world, she had said.


As for Gloria, her real world experiences with kitchens had never included anything like this.


Everything was shabby, filthy, or both. A thin layer of greasy dust covered every surface. However, a viciously growling stomach wouldn't let Gloria ponder this.


She opened the fridge, selected a few reasonably fresh looking vegetables, and got to work.


Considering the mediocre tools and ingredients she'd had, the ratatouille turned out surprisingly good.


Things were okay. But whenever her mind strayed to the life she'd left behind or how she had gotten here in the first place, Gloria quickly forced her thoughts back on the present moment. One bite, then another.


The task of eating done, Gloria did the dishes. This kitchen certainly didn't need any additional dirt.


Focusing on the present moment became difficult when the only toilet in the building was occupied.


Really difficult.


This had probably been the biggest test of Gloria's willpower all day, but she stayed strong and persevered, making it in the nick of time.


The thin sheets on Gloria's bed felt just a little less scratchy that night.