Monday, February 28, 2011

Koan of the Southwest

I was spending some time in Utah several years ago when I had one of those visceral experiences that shock a person briefly into reality.

Our long-haul from Seattle had seen us exit the string of temperate rain-forest hugging the Pacific Northwest coast and enter the flat, dry plains that I imagined made up the American interior from Spokane to Chicago. We spent an evening in the lakeshore town of Coeur d'Alene and drove through the high, pine hills of the Idaho panhandle.

In western Montana there had been short bursts of late-afternoon lightening and then brush fires. The fires followed us along the highway for miles. We drove through Missoula and what I remember most is a series of anti-Meth billboards that had been mounted throughout the city. They hinted at incredible depravity. I pointed them out to Dane, who was driving.

“Let's get the fuck out of Missoula,” said Dane, and we moved ever faster East and South.

The last hours of the trip took us across eastern Idaho. We drove through the long hours of the morning, and I don't think that sunlight would have revealed much that was hidden by darkness.

When we reached Salt Lake City it was still early morning, but the sun had begun to illuminate the tips of the mountains in the West. We reached the housing unit where Dane would be living, but instead of falling asleep we made coffee and unloaded the truck. We watched television and talked some and waited for the city to wake up.

Dane told me that Salt Lake City is the MILF capitol of North America, beating Los Angeles and Miami handily. This was, he said, because of the Mormons, who married young, birthed young, and generally did a good job staying away from the things that were bad for them. I had noticed that there were no Meth billboards in Deseret.

It meant, unfortunately, a whole city of 'look, don't touch,' and, for whatever reason, the gentile girls never seemed to measure up to their blond and indoctrinated sisters. It got to be maddening, said Dane. Fruit from the Tree of Knowledge on every street, in every Safeway. I commiserated.

When it got late enough in the morning, we went to see Dane's parents.

I read somewhere that settling by the Great Salt Lake was an act of desperation by Joseph Smith and the early church. The prophets were wandering West across dangerous territory, escaping an increasingly unfriendly US federal government. They were victim to Indian attacks and plagued by sickness. Finally, with high mountains ahead of him and a group of followers bordering on mutiny, Joseph Smith received a vision from God.

This, he saw, was God's chosen land for His prophets. The soil was no more bountiful than the hundreds of miles that they crossed reaching it, and the lake turned out to be a fetid and lifeless inland sea, but this was where the young church stopped to establish its capitol and powerbase.

From the backyard of the house where Dane grew up you have to credit Joseph Smith his choice. Those same high mountains that blocked the Western advancement of the prophets stand tall and sharp, contrasted (at least, the summer days I spent there) against a cloudless sky of blue. The sky, when it is free of clouds, never reaches that hue of pure jet in Oregon.

However, it was not in the backyard but in the kitchen that I met Kubota. Kubota, the killer, who gave me my moment of clarity on such a beautiful morning. He was an enormous orange- striped Tom cat of middling years. He moved slowly, but with purpose, and displayed the kind of absolute content that only cats-- and even very few of them-- are able to achieve and maintain.

It was uncanny. A smile is a uniquely human facial expression, but I would have sworn Kubota wore one the entire time he occupied our attention in the kitchen. Dane picked him up for me and flipped him nimbly on his back before cradling him in his arms. The cat moved his own muscles not an inch, but began to purr hardily and gazed up at Dane. This, said Dane, is our own personal bodhisattva.

I didn't know what a bodhisattva was, and said so. Dane explained. 'Bodhisattva' was a Buddhist term for a soul who has achieved enlightenment and access to Nirvana (eternal serenity, escape from the cycle of death and rebirth), but forsakes bliss to return to the world of pleasure and suffering until he has helped each of the unfathomable number of souls here achieve the same state.

It looked like Kubota had his work cut out for him, I said, but looking at the enlightened one, he didn't seem to mind. His huge green eyes were reduced to happy slits like a Japanese anime character, and his impressive cat-belly heaved outward with each purring breath. I saw how he'd received his title; he really did look like old carvings of the Buddha made orange and feline.

I patted Kubota's head and he gave me a friendly look. When Dane put him down he wandered slowly into the hall and then down the stairs. We made more coffee; we were still very tired from the all-night drive.

Dane and his parents had catching-up to do so I took my coffee to the backyard to look at the mountains. I had been out there for several minutes when Kubota came traipsing out the open sliding--glass door. He stood on a sunny patch of the concrete patio and sniffed the air. Then he lay down and began the task of cleaning himself. Belly aside, the little bodhisattva's tongue reached the inside of his inner-thigh with ease.

“Little ballerina,” I said.

He looked up periodically and sniffed the air. It was a fine summer morning and he appeared to be enjoying it as much as I was. If you enjoy imagining scenes, imagine: two bachelors, newly met, happy with the circumstances we found ourselves in. It was a fine morning.

Then there was an alarming thud, and things livened up.

A bird-- small, brown, non-descript-- had flown directly into the glass sliding door, and now lay on the concrete patio, stunned. If circumstances had been just a little different, the little bird simply would have lain there a few moments before gathering itself together and flying off, probably wondering to itself what that had been all about.

Circumstances weren't different; Kubota killed the bird. He was faster than I was, and when the little bird hit the ground he lost not a moment. He had it in his mouth before I'd registered the situation. The bird, a moment ago flying without concern, was now making a weak chirping noise. Its head was in the vice-grip of Kubota's jaws.

It was a strange moment. Kubota, chubby and domestic, looked fully ridiculous with the little bird hanging from his mouth. At the same time, he held himself as though perfectly at home with the situation. I wanted to save the little bird. It had been pretty awful luck to hit the glass door right next to a cat.

I moved towards Kubota. I supposed I could get the cat to drop his meal. Failing that, I'd pull the bird from his jaws.

I've heard that cats play with their food before execution, but seeing me coming towards him, I think Kubota decided to skip this step. Before I'd raised and lowered my first foot Kubota had begun breaking the bird's neck. He did this by swinging his own head first rapidly to the right and then to the left. The bird's head was held tightly in Kobuta's mouth, but his body hung free, and when Kobuta shot his head either to the right or to the left, the momentum carried the bird's body onward at an unnatural angle.

With each swing came a little snapping noise from the bird. I don't think that it was dead after the first swing, but it certainly was after the fourth or fifth.

It was very suddenly done. The chirping had stopped and the dead bird hung limp. Somehow, I expected Kubota to look ashamed. He didn't, of course. For what it's worth he didn't drop the bird and walk away, the way that I've heard that cat's will-- killing simply because they are made to kill. Instead, he began to pluck away the bird's feathers, one at a time.

This was a slower process. With each feather plucked there was a little less bird, and a little pile of fluff formed next to the corpse. I wondered if there was even any meat underneath all of those feathers, or if Kubota would go on plucking to uncover nothing but air.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Journal of James Avery

January 27th

It is only weeks now before I return home, but I find my dreams populated by horrors. A woman I know in the asylum-- her name is Rachel. In only the last month she was diagnosed with something; the unexpected growth and swelling of some gland. I have not learned the exact diagnosis for she will not tell me, and the doctors-- held in check by their oaths-- cannot.

Last night I dreamed of her death; a matchstick corpse bathed in white linen, her face the grotesque outline of a skull. Whether this be fear or omen, I know not.

I do know, however, that this growth has continued at some lugubrious rate until the medical men can no longer hope or guess that it is benign. Yet it seems, from Rachel's vague reports, that they know not what to do with it. Her face, by this time, has begun to shed itself of excess poundage and one will notice that the bags of skin underneath her eyes have become terribly pronounced. It is a hard thing to witness. Rachel is of that energetic specie of woman bordering on neurosis; she had little enough flesh to spare. Besides that, I count her amongst my few friends in this place.

She does not worry terribly over herself, or if so, does it in such a manner that her worry does not pass on to me. But, possessed as I am by a sorrowful and brooding nature, I think much of her malaise and feel that I spy some new touch of illness each time we meet. It makes me all the more sick of this place.

My family by this time is, with the aid of our lawyers, well along in the process of my release. All are agreed that my nervous condition is much improved, but certain parties amongst the care staff still hold that a relapse is possible; indeed, they argue, it is common enough amongst those afflicted in my manner.

Very well. And so I rot in this mostly sunless place and think of home in the hours between 'treatments' so degrading and painful that I lack the heart to describe them yet in any real detail. The doctors, too, will conference with me some (more and more it takes on the practical aspects of an interrogation) and I do my best to play the rolé of a gentleman. If my tongue stutters and my hands shake during these sessions, it is only an unhealthy by-product of my foul treatments... perhaps, too, I quake at the thought of whatever new medicinal techniques a poor performance might inspire.

Whatever the case, I never have grown adept at reading the visage of medical personnel. I am treated to straight-faced nods and murmurs conveying neither approval nor disappointment. Afterwards an orderly is summoned, and I am escorted to the yard to take my exercise. Not being of a violent disposition (and some here are), I am allowed to walk unrestrained.

January 27th, Later

The yard is the part of the day I like best. Late Winter in New England is a cold and drizzly affair. Even so, the fresh air brightens my spirits and on a rare clear day the cold sun shines down most jubilantly so that a man can almost convince himself that he is out for a normal stroll in a normal park and this his every movement isn't being analyzed, critiqued, measured, considered.

Though men and women are segregated throughout the facility, the yard (at this hour in any case) is not. I usually take special care to speak at some length with most of the men and the few women I come across, and they answer me from their various plains of sanity.

Tomas Schikkel, a man of some Belgian or Dutch ancestry is a good example. He is called Mad Tom by caretaker and patient alike. Today he was playing with his chubby lips the way a very young child or an ape does, pulling them back with his hands so that they slapped together and produced a sound which delighted him. He spotted me (for whatever reason I hold a special fascination for the imbecile), and ceased his little game to have a word with me.

First, however, he stuck his hand out to me in greeting. His fingers were covered in slobber from his mouth, and the sheen of the moisture was bright in the afternoon light. I took his hand and shook it briefly, feeling the sticky wetness of the saliva spread between my fingers.

"Good, steady hands," said Mad Tom with a seriousness that made me want to laugh. "Good, steady hands."

Then he was gone and I was left to discreetly wipe my hands upon my pants and continue on my way. I had a few more casual encounters before coming last, as always, to Rachel.

Rachel, whom alone amongst the lot is my intellectual equal (and, I must confess, my better in several realms of academia). She smiled at the sight of me making my way at last towards her, and I took great pains to maintain myself. The irreverent grin that had once catapulted my mind to realms of happy mischief now seemed, on her gaunt and receding face, a sick parody of its intent. I returned her smile, but where this action once would have been involuntary, now I was painfully aware of its artificial nature.

Rachel... even physically drained, she was hardly diminished. She held herself in the loose, confidant manner of a youth familiar with whiskey and the hustle of crowds. Something in her stance foretold that she meant to spit on the ground beside her, and had she done it the very vulgarity of the action would have but endeared her spirit to mine further. Instead, she closed her smile to hide teeth which now seemed over-large for it, and was much improved.

“They have taken away my mirror,” she said.

I could think of no way to respond.

“They have taken it away and won't let me have it back. Seeing your face just now, I think I understand why.”

I snorted, forcing composure at last. “Lady, you read overmuch from my face. I am simply tired. We began a new round of the shock therapy today...”

Her smaller smiles are not yet hideous, so I was pleased to see one lift the corners of her mouth.

“James,” she murmured. “The gentleman of purgatory. It is a sort of comfort...”

And then, “But you will be gone soon. Healthy and cured and able to forget this place and her drooling little monsters. I will think of you when you are gone, James.”

My heart sank and I looked into her wretched eyes as though they were vessels into which I could pour the sincerity of my promise.

“I will return here. I will visit you! The others be damned, but you will see. Where would I be without our talks?”

Another smile, but thank God it was not the sickening, long-toothed smile real gratitude and relief would have brought to her face. There was nothing for it, and being well-bred even if we were mad, we changed the subject.

“The doctors have changed my medication again,” said Rachel and her pinched face took on a worried look. “I've felt awfully queer the last few days. There are... bits of time, here and there throughout the day that I have trouble remembering. As though I suddenly slept with eyes wide open. Then, some time later (oh! how I wish they let me keep a clock!) I'll find myself standing in some other corner of my room. Sometimes I feel-- no, I know!--that I have just finished saying something!”

“To whom?” I couldn't help but ask.

A shrug of the shoulders. No trace of a smile now, but only a sort of pleading look.

“You would like me to speak to the doctors?” I asked.

“I just thought, James, with your family... They would have to at least listen...”

I took her tiny hand into my own. "Mademoiselle-- nous allons découvrir la vérité."

She smiled. "Merci, James."

January 27th, Evening

In January, the sun sets around five in the afternoon here. The majority of this facility has been converted to electric lighting, and this is switched on approximately twenty minutes before sundown. It is a stale and cheerless illumination, merely accenting the sickly green paint in the hallways and dull gray interiors of the rooms we have been encouraged not to call cells.

I cannot, however, imagine this place in the winters before that reliable technology did away with the flickering candles and fickle shadows were allowed to play their tricks upon the insane.

Through lack of funds, or because of some bureaucratic oversight, there are still portions of the facility which remain unlit, or are lit only by lantern. These few hallways are rooms are kept unoccupied, I believe, although it may very well be that some of the poorest or most unsightly cases are kept here.

In any case, my cell each evening comes lit with a buzzing thrum of electricity. But the one adjacent to me across the hall does not. The hallway to the left of my cell also remains entirely dark, though throughout the day one recognizes that, in fact, it stretches on for several hundred yards and is straddled by quite a few empty cells. I suppose it should be a worrying situation: to know myself to be the patient closest to that maw of winter darkness. Certainly, considering my agitated state prior to residency in the asylum, it is not beyond me to be thrown into a panic even by the idea-- baseless, invented by my tormenting brain-- of what might silently observe from beyond that curtain of night.

And yet panicked I have not. This, I think with a cautious satisfaction, is proof of my improved condition. Admittedly, another reason for my calm acceptance probably plays an equal part.

The window inset into the door of my room is very small-- just enough to allow me to see the face and shoulders of my attendants before they enter. Moreover, my door is set at the right-hand corner of the room. So, though I can stand on the left side of the door and peer at an angle down the well-lit corridor to my right, I am never able to lean far enough into the wall perpendicular to the right edge of the door to glimpse the unlit recesses further down the hall to my left. Only the unlit window of the cell across the hall is easily visible from my own small window. So far, at least, this hasn't been enough to cause me any severe agitation.

January 29th

I spoke with the doctor's the very next day voicing Rachel's concerns. My voice shook and hands jumped across the table to tap on the thick wood as though possessed of their own will, entirely separate from my own. I was successful, at least, in hiding the mounting anxiety this produced in me from my inquisitors. I believe I was successful. Cursed treatments! And the orderlies insist that my hands are always in view.

Regardless of the words coming with ever more difficulty and my manic hands pounding out a concerto in front of me, I pleaded the serious nature of my friend's concerns.

My doctors (whose faces must have been trained in the art of inscrutability just as their minds were regimented dictionaries of malaise) pointedly told me that they did not work with the female patients, but assured me that they would pass along my friends concerns to the appropriate parties and that the greatest care would be exercised to ensure my friend's recovery. I asked if I might appeal directly to these authorities, and I was informed, with what might have been a mean little smile, that that would hardly be necessary.

January 29th, Later

Rachel and I walked about the circumference of the yard and a cold wind and the slightest sprinkling of rain forced us to hug the dark stone walls for the limited shelter they provided. We were bundled thickly in dark wool and I was pleased to notice that in Rachel's presence my hands ceased their agitated exploration and my words came once again without strain.

“It's as I might have expected,” Rachel said, “I'm sure they'd rather you didn't know about any of this in the first place.”

“Well, It's not as though they can stop us,” I retorted, “I mean, we have our rights too, in the end.”

Rachel gave me an almost pitying look. “Oh?” she asked, “What rights have we? The smallest complaints and our little rewards are taken away from us like children! They put us through our drills, we run our paces, and afterwards our minds are as twisted as they ever were! Worse! More exhausted, more confused-- like mice that have had the walls of the maze shifted on them once again! Rights... do you think that they once thought upon my rights when they made me si--”

She caught herself, but not quite in time.

“They made you what?” I asked, slowly.

“I really didn't mean anything...”

“They made you sick,” I said.

She lowered her thinning face to the side. “All I meant...” she said, “Your treatments have never made you sick afterwards? Across the floor?” Her voice was pleading.

“Always,” I said. “But that's not what you meant.”

We were quiet for the rest of the walk along the wall, and the rain fell hard.

January 30th

Last night I dreamed. I have dreamed more often of the bizarre and fantastical here than ever before in my life outside these walls. It is my belief that this is the result of my treatments and their stimulus to the brain.

The dream that came to me last night was similar to my others here only in that I failed to recognize myself as asleep. I lay upon my bed in my darkened cell, eyes closed and hands crossed over my abdomen like a long-dead Egyptian prince, lying in repose. I slept for a time thusly, but at some point in the silent hours of the early morning I was awoken suddenly. I could not immediately identify what woke me, but worse, I found with a sickening fear that I could move not one of my muscles, save my eyes. Those eyes came open, and I spied about the room, seeking what had brought me suddenly to consciousness. Around me only darkness and the familiar outlines of my room.

Yet I felt a great unease. There was a sense of wrongness that I could not shake, and I felt the tiny hairs on the back of my neck raise themselves. I was being watched.

And still I could summon no response from my body. My mind was awake and racing, but the recent success of my hands in resisting my commands had spurred my entire body into insurrection. No matter how much will I exerted, my muscles stubbornly resisted me, and my crossed hands grew heavier on my stomach.

Without thinking, I let out a call for help and listened in terror as only the tiniest whisper escaped my traitor lungs. I saw now the helplessness of my situation and resolved to wait then until my body awoke, or the daylight hours brought my attendants to check on me.

I had waited for some unknowable and seemingly endless amount of time in that rigid condition when that ghastly sense of wrongness returned. It was a feeling that attacked the baser part of my brain, where the animal instincts lie. I knew in a moment, once again beyond all doubt, that I was being watched. My glanced automatically shifted to the tiny window inset in my door. There, outline against the lesser darkness of the corridor was the outline of a face peering into my cell.

The screams of terror began to well up within me. A croaking moan escaped my lips. I tried again, putting every effort into the movement of my right arm. Nothing; but my shrieking mind would not be quieted and I began to let out a low moan like I have heard the badly injured produce in hospitals. Now, too, my every muscle began to struggle with the sleep that had come over them, and I felt that if only I pushed hard enough, I could regain myself.

Without moving, the face in the window watched my inert struggle. I could make out no feature of that face and detected no movement. My groans were growing louder now and I used them to spirit the rest of my body to action. First one arm sprang to life, then the other! I was almost...

And suddenly I was awake. My body shot upwards into a crouch and my eyes sprang open-- this time for real. I smelled urine on my sheets and saw no one in the observation window.

My heart slowed and the sweat on my body cooled.

The stink of the urine grew and I peeled the wet sheets from my bed and gave myself a perfunctory washing from my tiny sink. There was no one watching and my hands performed for me without the slightest tic. It was a dream then. Nothing more than a dream. I wrapped a warm jacket around me and after perhaps an hour, returned to sleep.

February 3rd

The trembling in my hands continues. I awoke to them inching their ways up and down my body, fingers probing the soft tissue of my neck and inner thigh. I put a stop to their wandering, but controlling them takes effort and causes them to tremble.

When the orderly brought in my morning medications with water, I palmed the pills and later discarded them. The orderly did not notice and hand no reason to suspect me; I have ever been an ideal patient. My experiences of the last few nights, however, and Rachel's accidental accusation have planted the seed of doubt in my mind.

Since the beginning it has been clear to me that the men of this facility hold ultimate sway over their patients, body and mind. It is only now for the first time that I begin to wonder if their motives aren't always harmless. Indeed, under their watchful care Rachel grows ever more frail and I-- a man of considerable resources placed here to recover from nothing more than unaccountable periods of deep melancholy-- I have watched myself begin to emulate the behaviors of the mad!

These treatments... I begin to wonder. What purpose do they fulfill? There are the old stories of ghastly experiments performed upon the Union soldiers at the medical facilities at Andersonville... But what am I saying? What agenda could possibly demand the slow poisoning of an innocent woman or the crippling of a gentleman's facilities?

In any case, I have secretly ceased taking the medication brought to me with my meals. I want a mind fully sober for observation.

February 4th

“And they will not stop?” Rachel held my quaking hands in her own.

I shook my head.

Her brow furrowed in concern. In its present state, the same face that transformed positive emotions into mocking caricatures brought a delicate loveliness to her worry. I found it touching and the trembling subsided a little

“And you?” I asked.

She, too, merely shook her head. Then she gave me a look loaded with meaning. Turning, I noticed our conversation under observation by a white-clad attendant. Without another word, we broke apart and wandered the yard to speak with other patients. This response was automatic and I found myself moving away from her without a glance back. Why should our caretakers inspire such caution in us?

It was thus that I bumped into Mad Tom. The old imbecile was scratching his head and giggling as he made his way counter-clockwise about the yard. Catching his eye, I saw him wink.

"Ho, Tom," I said. "What's the news today?"

Tom's mad little eyes glittered and he pulled me aside as though I were a co-conspirator in some plot of his.

"Have you seen them?" said he, and then executed an odd little rhyme:

"They come for our eyes and our hands, our lungs and our nose... Yes, my boy, and our toes!"

He laughed then and continued along the periphery of the wall, against the clockwise traffic.

It was after engaging in more meaningless jibber-jabber of this sort that I began to grow annoyed. After all, I reasoned, should we not feel at ease here, in the single free hour of our day, to speak to whomever we wished for however long we wished?

Hands now shaking in violent agitation, I moved to intercept Rachel and the old man she was now engaged with and continue our conversation unimpeded by intrusive staff.

But before I could, something rather bizarre happened.

As soon as Rachel recognized me advancing towards her (she could not be mistaken, for I crossed the yard at a trajectory aligned with hers), she sent me a certain look.

It was an entirely female look; one known by, and unwelcome to, every man at some point. It was the look a young woman gives when she is at some party or social event and is about to find herself the recipient of some unwanted attention. I must believe that it is an unconscious reaction on the ladies' part, for it is a hurtful, unworthy signal and I have found the vast majority of that gentle sex to be kind in nature. That look, however-- a foul mixture of reproach and worried plea-- tells a man in no uncertain terms, 'the only thing I want less than to speak with you is to be seen with you.'

I have ever been sensitive to such unconscious signaling and always respectful of the signalers wishes... but I could not imagine Rachel ever being their source! Yet-- and here I could be mistaken-- it seemed that in the next moment her gaze flickered across one of the attendants on duty and suddenly I heard the bell signaling for us to come inside and I found our white-clad gaolers on all sides of me. Shaking and distraught, I was led back to my room.

February 4th, Later

Exhausted and emotionally drained, I lie in bed. I have just returned from a particularly drawn-out session of treatments and I feel, finally, the need to describe them. Here I describe them generally, rather than the particulars of my session today:

I am led into a room. A single bed lies in the center, surrounded by machinery I have come to associate with pain. The machines give off a low hum; alike but more intense than that given by the electric lights above. I am asked to undress, and as always I comply. There are a few moments where I stand alone and naked in that cold room while a fresh medical gown is fetched. It is never brought in advance.

When the gown is brought and I am loosely adorned, I am told to lay on the bed. My arms and legs are strapped into leather restraints and I lay so that I resemble DaVinci's sketches of the anatomy of man composing a perfect circle. A bite plate is placed within my mouth to restrain me from severing my own tongue.

Whatever hair has grown on my scalp since the last treatment is shorn off and an adhesive substance is applied there. It is always shockingly cold. Then the wires are placed on specific positions about my skull. The wait then is sometimes nerve-wrackingly long and sometimes no time at all.

It always comes without warning. The first burst of pain-- to the base of the skull or the temples-- feels as though it must be the worst. The machines around me let out a wicked, whip cracking sound and my body seizes. Pain so intense that for a moment I am gone. And when I return, the stench of overheated metal fills my nostrils and the muscles of my anus will not unclench.

Sometimes they will wait until applying the next shock and sometimes they hit me with them in such a quick succession that my spine contorts in a dance of agony as my screams bounce about the walls and corners of the room.

Occasionally, men are brought in to observe. More often, the room is empty and my doctors remain behind a pane of glass into which I cannot see.

Afterwards, sitting in the bed and numb with pain I am often sick upon myself and into a basin placed at my side. Sometimes the pain peels away the layers of my personality so that I forget key pieces of myself. These pieces always return to me within the hour-- and with them, now, comes the shaking.

February 5th

The early morning sunlight peters through my window and lights the corner of the room where I write these words. Last night, overcome with exhaustion, I fell into a deep sleep early and without trouble. Some time, then, in the deep and silent hours of morning, my dream repeated itself. Again, I lay prone-- unmoving and unable to move.

The face was again peering through the tiny window in my door. I was distinctly aware of it staring at my prone body. Again, it was my defenselessness, my complete inability to move or scream which made the horror all-consuming.

We watched each other while the screams built within me, and I heard a voice barely above a whisper say my name.

Then again. And again.

I awoke screaming. This time I did not return to sleep.

February 6th

I sit alone in the yard today and feel my body shake. The rain began to come down heavily a few minutes ago and I was asked if I wanted to return inside. The majority of my fellow patients are like cats when it comes to the rain. While they shuffled or fled inside, I allowed myself to be convinced to move under a covered area. Lack of sleep made me lethargic, and I merely sat and listened to fat drops hit the roof of the gazebo. Exhaustion and the drumming sound of rain drove all thought from my mind, so that I momentarily reached a state of simple being.

It came as quite a shock, naturally, to hear my name whispered directly behind me. It was in the raspy tones of my dream visitor of the previous nights, a tone that had suddenly become extremely familiar. I turned, knowing what I would see and yet not quite believing.

“Rachel,” I said. “I didn't hear you coming.”

Her drenched hair clung to a face that was more skull-like than ever.

“The attendants want you to come inside,” she said in a voice she was losing. “They're afraid you'll catch cold.”

“So they sent you in this Godforsaken weather? In your condition?!”

“I volunteered, James. The attendants aren't the only ones worried about you.”

She shrugged, and it was the kind of casual, male gesture I adored performed by her small frame.

“They know we're friends,” she said. “Maybe they thought I could talk you out of this melancholy show you've made of sitting in the rain.”

A smile rose to my lips in spite of myself. But I had to ask, “Are you still having those spells? Those minutes or hours of unaccountable activity?”

She looked surprised. It was a rude and forward question, but I had to know.

Finally, she nodded meekly. Yes.

“I have begun,” I said, “to have complimentary symptoms.”

She narrowed her eyes, tilted her head.

“But,” I continued, “When I lose control of my body, my mind remains. I remain!”


“I need you to tell me about the treatments-- your treatments-- in detail. Something is happening here...” I could hear the frantic tone in my own voice.

“Come inside, James.”

It wasn't a tone to be argued with. Should I have told her I had seen her outside my room the last several nights? But no, I can't be sure of that yet. I took her tiny hand into my own. It was forward, but she did not draw away.

“Let's inside, then,” I said

I took off my heavy wool coat and covered both our heads with it. Suddenly the world smelled of wet wool and some faint perfume. I took her hand again and we walked back into the insane asylum, a single shambling woolen beast.

February 7th

I sit alone in my room. The door is locked, of course. It is impossible for anyone to enter or for me to leave without the key. I am without the key.

I was not subjected to any manner of treatment today, nor have I taken my medication for many days now, and I think that this is why my hands have ceased their shaking enough to allow me to write. My mind, too, has begun to work with an almost feverish energy, and I begin to think I am on to seeing the situation in this place as it truly is.

Rachel, and the secrecy surrounding her illness, will not stop teasing my thoughts. To begin with, the woman is something either more or less than she says she is. I see that now. Despite her protestations to the contrary, I believe she is freer than many of the other patients in this asylum. If my night-time disturbances are indeed more than dreams, she must be as free to roam this place as the attendants. At the very least, her ability to fetch me in from the rain, unescorted, seems to hint that she has more pull with the staff than might ever be expected of the average patient.

But what does this mean?

It means that I must keep my eyes open and my mind clear. I cannot escape my shock treatments, but continuing to pocket this mind-slowing medication will be easy. I simply have to act the part. I think, too, that there must be a way to awaken my body during these frozen 'dreams' of mine and see if Rachel truly waits outside my door in those deep nighttime hours. I will consult the patient library to see if there are any works on nocturnal phenomena.

Tomorrow, however. It will have to wait for tomorrow. The sun long ago set, and soon these crackling bulbs will be silenced for the night.

February 8th

No disturbances last night, and today I spent quite some time in the library-- itself a rarely visited, and no doubt heavily censored, set of rooms on the upper floors of the asylum. I spent several silent hours researching how a man may combat his dreams. What I have found so far is vaguely encouraging.

There are country remedies involving drugs I cannot get a hold of. There are certain chanting rites performed in the dark and primitive corners of the globe. Lastly, and most practical for my purposes, is the procurement of pain.

I read in the library of several cases much like my own in the Carolinas. Indeed this waking paralysis is not so uncommon as one might think. The men and women would awaken at night to find their bodies rendered immobile. They recounted looking around the familiar corners of their rooms and attempting to wake themselves through screams, only to find themselves helpless. For some of them, this occurred with such frequency that they were able to test several methods of waking themselves.

A few of them-- though far from the majority-- were able to awaken their bodies by sleeping with sharp or painful objects in the palm of their hands and focusing their will on simply squeezing this object when their minds gained consciousness before their bodies.

Strange to think, I may be amongst the milder cases of distress in this ward, and yet the doctors have been careful to shield even from me objects that might be put to violent purpose. The sharpest object readily available is the pencil with which I write these words. I have a small supply of them, and they easily snap into jagged little sticks of wood-- just large enough to hold in the hand. Tonight I shall sleep a little more soundly, I think. In the meantime, the tasks of the day lie before me.

February 8th, Later

I saw something. I saw something out the window, across the hall. What was I doing? It happened but moments ago; I need to record this while it is fresh in my mind. I need details.

First, I was pacing in my room. I was pacing back and forth. I was suffering from some rather serious shaking and I thought perhaps physical exercise might ease the spasming.

What was I looking at? This I can't recount in any real detail, except to say that my attention was focused on the floor in front of me. My attention was focused on my steps and my breathing. I was attempting to keep them natural.

I was walking in circles finally, and there were a few moments in each loop where I looked out my door's tiny window into the hallway beyond.

The unlit window across the hallway... there was a flash of movement inside! I stopped in my tracks, allowing the trembling to move through my body. I knew-- I know-- that there is no one house across the hall from me.

There was more, but this last I cannot be certain of. I stood for several moments without moving, peering out my window into the tiny portal of the unlit room. Finally, deciding I had seen nothing, I turned my gaze back towards my bed and desk, so that it was only with the corner of my vision that I seemed to see two eyes peering out of the darkened window, staring dead into my own room.

I would have screamed then, and I would now, for my attendants or for guards to take me, move me to the heart of the well-lit asylum, or at least to conduct a search of the room across the hall, but what if the search were to come up negative? What would be made by the medical staff of my new fears? I have, I believe, only days left in this place. I cannot cry wolf and I cannot prove what I saw, even-- yet-- to myself.

February 9th

And yet I slept unexpectedly well last night! Although I held the shards of splintered pencil in the palm of my hand, I found no need for it. I did awaken, periodically, as might be expected, but I heard nothing to concern me; it is mostly very quiet at my end of the ward.

So it is morning and I have survived the night. No ghouls came for me. No boogeymen found me helpless in my bead. My shaky hands appear steady enough as I write these words, and I have one more cause for cheer: today is not one of my scheduled treatment days! It rains biblically outside, but I'm going for a walk out in the yard. I'll hug the walls. I don't care if the attendants give me hell because of the rain. I'll insist.

February 9th, Later

I did end up having my way. They placed a single, sullen attendant at the door of the yard. His job was to watch me as I made my lonely clockwise revolutions about the periphery of the yard. Ten minutes into my walk he had lit a cigarette and opened a newspaper before him. He must have snuck the newspaper in; they are strictly forbidden, and I haven't seen one in months.

Such a lax guard is proof, I think, that my release can be no more than days away. Soon, I thought as I circled the yard, perhaps all of the elements of my stay here would take on such a loosely formal aspect. So I was cheerful as I made my slowly circling walk with just myself, my thoughts and the driving rain.

Until I looked up. And there stood Rachel.

Even having kept pace with her steady decline, I was astounded at her appearance on this rainy morning. A number of very subtle changes had occurred through the course of the night and the sum of these-- a marked decline in weight; a greater stooping of the posture; a pinching of skin in the face which accented that structure's most perverse angles; a similar pinching of skin about the hands which rendered them clawlike-- at last produced an alteration in her it would not be too forward to call monstrous.

My first instincts were split between recoiling in disgust and rushing to her as a parent might rush to a sick child. Evenly split, it seems, for I did neither, but simply stood at the base of the wall, sheltered from all but the most horizontally glancing rain, dumb-founded.

Her voice was roughly sensuous. "The farther you descend," she said, "The more leeway you are given..."

The confusion on my face must have been evident.

"Yes," she continued, "The guard at the gate barely noticed me. Don't you think that's strange? As thought I were a puff of smoke or a beggar on the street... They've trained themselves not to see me; they know what's happening."

"What's happening, Rachel?"

"To us, you forget! What's happening to us."

"What is happening to us, Rachel?"

But she was agitated, and for the first time her mind seemed as altered as her body. "Why did your family bring you hear?" she finally asked me.

"But, Rachel," I said, dismayed, "You already know! We've talked about this before-- severe melancholy. I suffer from it occasionally, but usually improve after some time..."

"But?" she said.

"But this time I did not. This time, weeks went by and I only grew worse. I lost the will even to leave my bed. I was brought here, and now look at me-- taking my constitution in the pelting rain!"

I tried to smile at her, to lighten the mood of the grim little creature who-- for the second time now-- had found me alone in the yard. Rachel's face did not change; she had more to say.

She said: "The melancholy-- that was all? You did not shake before you came here? You did not wake up in the night, your body stiff as though it had died during the night? As though your mind remained alive but trapped inside a corpse?"

The smile died on my lips.

"I cannot remember why I was brought here," murmured Rachel. "Perhaps I was sad, like you..."

My hands began to tremble.

"But I wasn't sick," she said. "I remember that I wasn't sick. That came after the treatments, after I started to lose control..."

My entire body had begun to vibrate and there was no longer any controlling it.

"After I...." she stopped, seeming to see me for the first time.

"James?" she asked, and her voice had lost its huskiness. "James, where are we? The yard? What are we-- what am I-- doing out here in this rain?!

She had been sleeping again; she had just woken up.

February 10th

They have moved someone into the unlit cell across the hall from me-- I'm certain of it. Not an hour goes by that I don't catch some fleeting glimpse of movement in the darkness of that room. They must have moved the occupant to the cell when I was out in the yard or receiving treatment, for I never witnessed the process. Nor have I yet met my new neighbor. Regardless, one hears him stomping around and catches glimpses-- again and again-- of the shifting of shadows.

But why do they not light the room? Are we at such overcapacity that we are forced to house patients in the ancient and remodeled sections of this old castle? Another, more frightful, idea occurs to me. What if he is dangerous?

If he would simply show his face at the window instead of skulking back in the darkness, the whole mystery might me solved in an instant. Perhaps he has some uncanny aversion to the light?

February 12th

By this time the paranoia has set in deeply. I have not confronted my keepers with my suspicions. I dare not. They hold my life and my sanity as securely in their hands as that of any other inmate here. One miss-step, I think, and I am ruined. They need not confront me with violence; a quick operation stands between myself and a vegetative state.

It is clear something sinister is taking place within the high stone walls of this place. Everything comes down to the treatments. Some great experiment is being performed upon our minds without our knowledge or consent. Something happens to us in the moments of our treatment that we suffer such excruciating pain-- when we lose ourselves.

But whatever is happening is having a very different effect on Rachel and I. Where she finds herself losing minutes-- possibly hours-- to thoughtless wandering, I find myself with an equal loss of control over the functions of my body. What can this possibly mean?

I have come upon an idea so twisted that it makes my heart beat noticeably faster. Rachel is dying-- that is clear to everyone in the facility. What if the perverted minds of this place intend to preserve her mind beyond the death of her body?

I am not a man of science, but I have witnessed the advancement of our times. I can well imagine curious minds driven to devilish pursuits in the name of progress.

But through what means can they hope to keep her mind alive after her body's death? What vessel might sustain a human brain? What resource, I ask, do these men have in plenty that can be tapped for such an unholy purpose?

Do you begin to suspect where I lead you?

Reading this, perhaps you have begun to. And your mind, of course, revolts against it. You sit, perhaps, before the glow of a fire or in the warm summer sunlight-- outside these halls of madness. I imagine you a man or woman of means, healthy and as in control of your circumstances as fickle Fate will grant.

No, you will not believe it. Your station and your experiences will not allow your mind the leverage! I imagine you, hateful reader, smiling the slow and condescending smile of the infinitely protected. You, who do not share your days and conversations with lunatics; you, who are not humiliated and tortured daily 'for your own good.' I lost your well-grounded trust the moment I crossed these high stone walls.

So be it. Likely, you will never read these words. But in case you are reading, I will tell you what I have only recently have come to accept as the truth.

We are being farmed.

We, men and women of zero social currency, whose voices will not be heard when they cry out for mercy. We are nothing more than a crop of bodies for the men who run this place. Perfectly good bodies with malformed or shattered spirits for tenants. Do you see yet?

Every day I am subjected to experiments that put my body in active revolt against me. While I write these very words my hand attempts, again and again, to drop the pen and run itself softly against the splintered wood of the desk. Rachel, conversely, is having her own mind shielded against her-- hence, her periods of 'lost time.'

Her mind is being prepared for separation from her dying body. My body is being trained to reject my mind... and, I think, to receive a new master.

You smile, lucky reader, and from your side of the high stone walls pity me in my madness.

But listen: they are allowing her to walk the halls at night! I know not why. It is one of the ongoing mysteries I have been unable to solve. I see her outside my door almost nightly now. She always comes to watch me. I think, at some deep level, she knows what is happening. Her mind comes searching for the new body that will be hers very soon-- Unless I can do something.

February 13th

Something will happen soon. It must. My mind, freed of the daily regime of depressants, races at a pace which is almost frightening. My treatments now seem only to augment my mental capacity and the daylight hours find me pacing and thoughtful, hopeful to catch a glimpse of that which, I now know, lurks across the hall.

That dark room is never visited by attendants or doctors. They feed it while I am away-- they must. I still catch glimpses of it, and I still hear rustling in the dark.

And, nightly now, Rachel stands at my window. No, not Rachel; something now wholly different. Two beings inhabit that atrophied husk. It stands before my window, wearing what was once Rachel's face, twisting her withered lips into a grin all the more horrifying for the savage malignancy I see there now.

Her sickness has evidently advanced to the stage where bright light-- either natural or artificial-- must cause her distinctly physical pain. Not until the humming of electricity ceases each night does it come out to have a look at me. It is drawn to me, I think, and will stand at my window, sometimes, for hours. For my part, I do not sleep much anymore. Sometimes I stand on my side of the window and look back into those awful, glinting eyes. Sometimes the thing in Rachel makes her lick her drooping lips. It might be Lucifer himself come to claim a soul.

It will move on after a time and stalk the halls, visiting I know not whom. Perhaps Mad Tom sees it, and lies shaking in his bed.

This, however, I have determined: the thing must die. It is no longer Rachel, even if it inhabits her. No matter how strangely benevolent their intentions may have been, the doctors, in preparing Rachel's mind for transplant, have altered that mind terribly. Even should my family and the lawyers secure my release from this place, even should I escape the sick fate that awaits me here, I cannot leave Rachel to her's. I will show that woman the only mercy which is left for her. And it must happen soon. Soon.

February 13th, Later

The killing must not be traced back to me. I have given all of this some good amount of thought, and I am not without resources. I know some amongst the guards-- know whom out of them can be expected to follow the rules even come the Rapture, and which are more easily bent.

Perhaps more important, they know me. Though I have witnessed and recorded the phenomena of the last several weeks with great concern, I have not shown a soul this journal or betrayed my secret terrors. To them, I am no more than a well-behaved gentleman on the verge of release!

Lastly-- and this is key-- I have continued collecting the pills served me with my breakfast each morning. Alone, each pill has a powerful slowing effect on the mind and body, but I believe compounded, the narcotic could briefly reduce a man's facilities severely or even cause him to lose consciousness.

It will be a risk, of course, but if I can drug the guard into unconsciousness, I believe I can make my next actions unnoticeable. It will go like this: I will wait until Billy Merchant is on duty. He's the man I want; the one I can be sure of. All I need do is give him a wink and reveal to him the bottle of whiskey hidden within my mattress.

The combined powder of weeks of medication will already be at the bottom of his glass, and the burn of the alcohol can't fail to hide its taste. After the second or third glass Bill will be in a heavy stupor at the very least, and the keys to my door and the hallway will be free to me. It won't take a minute to tie the man's legs and arms to the bed—posts if he looks likely to struggle.

That, then, is the easy part.

I'll have the keys and complete access to every room in the hall. My business shan't take me far-- across the hall and into that room where Rachel undergoes her metamorphosis. She must be so small now-- she will have deteriorated so fully-- I can only imagine the business will be quick. I do not savor the thought of the task, except in that it shall free that poor woman of whatever pestilent spirit has taken hold of her.

It shall have to be done cleanly, so that it appears she died naturally. She is so close to the brink already that it will be believed. I will smother her with a pillow. Unless that being inside of her brings with it some kind of unnatural strength, it will be a matter of pathetic moments.

Done, I can lock her door behind me and return to my own room to untie and awaken William. He will return to consciousness with my door locked and his keys upon his belt as I shake him and chastise him for drinking too much. Even after Rachel is discovered dead, I don't imagine the man will report any other irregular activity to his superiors-- his job will mean something to him, after all.

There are problems with the plan, of course-- there always are. Foremost on my mind is the fear that Billy should awaken before I have committed my grisly act. Or what if the compounded drug should cause him any sort of lasting harm? I am obviously no physician. Blind intuition alone will have to guide me in the preparation of his cocktail.

But, suppose the drugging should go perfectly and I find myself in Rachel's foul and lightless cell, facing whatever it is she has become? Even with all that is at stake, will I be able to wrap my hands around that slender neck, or forever muffle the mouth which has produced so many wicked and jolly jests? Can I look into the eyes-- usurped as they may be-- of my dear and wonderful friend as the life leaves them? I must pray that I can.

For otherwise, what sick mockery of a future awaits Rachel? She is slated either for a prolonged and debasing death or else... the most macabre of rebirths. No, what I am doing must be for the best. As I pray, pray for me. This may very well be my last entry.

February 14th

It is done. It is all done, and what I write now is nothing more than a last thought and partial explanation to those who should come searching.

What have I done? I will record, before revealing anything else, that the execution of my plan was close to flawless. It was Billy, after all, who brought dinner to my room, and the young man was eager enough for a glass of contraband whiskey. He was just as eager for the second and third glasses, but before he could ask for a fourth his eyes began to droop and his speech slowed. He struggled with his state for a moment, perhaps realizing it was more than simply whiskey that now held him, and then with a final, incomprehensible word collapsed into the bed where I had asked him to sit.

I bound him and took his keys and let myself out into the hallway. From my right came a faint electrical buzzing and all was covered in the sterile glow of overhead lamps. To my left, down the un-renovated hall of the old asylum, the darkness had formed what looked to me an almost physical barrier.

Ahead of me was the door and the unlit window. I saw movement in the darkness, then, and heard a low moan.

I had the key in the lock and had begun to turn it when I halted. There was still time, I knew, to return to my cell, to untie Billy and wake him with my practiced excuse. I could sit with him in that well-lit and fairly comfortable room. There was no need to wrestle this thing in the cold stone cell. I would put pressure on Billy, demand to see my lawyers, push for an earlier release date and a transfer to another cell. I had been a model patient; I could demand publicly that my treatments cease! Best to forget this place and the myriad of little tortures suffered here-- real or imagined.

And then I felt the stare leveled upon me. From whatever low and ancient level of human intelligence, whatever hidden sense developed in the steaming jungles of mankind's distant past, I suddenly knew beyond a doubt that the thing in the cell saw me, was watching me. I imagined it hunched over, balanced upon its withered haunches in some corner. It was waiting for me.

There was a click as the lock released. The door was open and the corner of the room where I stood was now lit by the hall so that my shadow fell across it to join with the inky blackness. I imagined my frame filling the lighted rectangle of the open door. Nothing but open air now separated me from the creature of my nightmares.

But where was it? And how large was this cell? I had imagined it the exact counterpart to mine across the hall but, unable to make out its exact dimensions in that vacuum, it seemed cavernous. All was silence; I heard not a sound and endeavored to remain absolutely silent.

I never, however, ceased to feel the weight of that stare. Somewhere in the darkness it waited. The thing would not, it seemed, come at me while I remained with the open doorway, and the light of the hall, at my back.

I advanced into the room.

Now I did hear a shuffling and the sound of some faint breathing. It was to my left and I turned to face it. A darker shape hid amongst the shadows; a squatting and indistinct form. It let out a low moan.

I was on the thing in an instant. I had brought the pillow from my room to smother it, but the dark form was stronger than I had thought it would be-- much stronger than Rachel's sick body should have allowed.

We wrestled there on that cold stone floor in almost complete silence. Why, I wondered, did this thing make no sound? The most it would utter was a sort of barking cough.

Now it swung around, staying low, faster too than it ought have been. It grabbed my face in one enormous, sweating hand and drove my head back into the stone wall again and again. I let out a scream of rage and fear then, and it was the only sound I made during the fight.

I had dropped the pillow by then and in desperation wrapped my trembling hands about the shadow's neck. Here I wish I could say that my hands, like so often in recent weeks, took on a life and consciousness entirely separate of mine; that they did the choking while I stood prone, a horrified spectator. Alas, I cannot. I controlled them, and I poured all of my fearful strength into the tightening of my fingers, even as my combatant-- my victim-- clawed at my hands and struggled for breath. It struggled for much too long before, with a final rattling breath, it was dead.

Which was when I began to hear laughter.

It came from without, from the hall, but seemed to circle me in the darkness. It was teasing and unkind laughter, and though it began slowly it was not long before it bordered on manic and I wondered that it did not wake the entire hall even as it filled me with dread. It was woman's laughter.

I turned and saw her standing in the doorway. She was a grisly thing; little more than a corpse dressed in rags. Her eyes and mouth were too big for the face that carried them, and her hair had begun to come out in bunches so that much of her scalp was now bald. Some kind of rash now covered much of her bare skin. But she was alive...

“Rachel,” I mouthed, “But then what have I...”

“An act of love,” she said, and the voice coming from the old crone was that of a young woman. “An act of the deepest intimacy.”

She placed a withered claw on my sweating arm and it was cold. The dead form lay beneath us.

“Christ, Rachel. Who was this..?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Some beggar, probably. They bring them in and keep them in the old cells. You know that, James. A mute, certainly; he never once screamed for help.”

I began to tremble. The horror of what I had done was approaching.

“But it doesn't matter who he was,” said Rachel with a smile that showed gaping holes. “What matters is who you thought he was. My prince, come to smother me with a pillow.”

Something was happening. I was growing dizzy; the lines of things had begun to merge.

“How...” I began, but the crone placed a single claw upon my lips, silencing me.

She said: “Art thou a dagger I see before me, handle toward my hand?”

It was Macbeth. I finished the phrasing: “Come, let me clutch thee,” and though I moved to grab her, I could feel nothing but the cold air of the cell.

Rachel grinned again. “I have thee not and yet I see thee still! Oh, James, can you not see? Thou art mad! Fully and for good!”

Laughter again, and though I moved to grab her once more, my hand grazed nothing, received nothing.

“Rachel,” I begged, “What is this? How are you doing this?”

I felt those leathery hands grip my shoulders with immense strength as the crone brought her milky gaze to meet mine.

“I am doing nothing; this is all your show. It has been since January 26th.”

A dull ache in my chest and a sudden unreasonable fear.


“You started your journal the next day. You wrote about a dream you'd had, James; a terrible dream.”

“A dream?! Good Christ, woman, I've just killed a man in cold blood! Why should I give a damn about a dream?!”

“Why, then, did you start your journal the next day? You began by writing about the dream you'd had, no?”

The dream. The gates of memory opened and the images poured forth, faster than they could be stopped-- much, much more than I wanted.

Rachel lay dead on those clean, white sheets. They had let me come to see her because we had been close. I had insisted. The illness had devastated her physically before death. Seeing her, my eyes had filled with tears and I felt the need to wail like a wolf who has lost a brother, even as moment by moment the sense of unreality around me built. The memory ended suddenly-- violently-- but without pause there was another.

It was an earlier memory. Rachel and I walked in the yard and... she was beautiful! I caught my breath as the image flooded my brain. She held for me here not the classical beauty I had sought for so long and so vainly outside these walls, but that secret radiance a man can only find in a kindred soul. On a busy street in Boston I might have happened across her and never noticed, continued walking, indifferent. But here, on some quiet and long afternoon, in some moment, by some word or gesture I had taken notice, and it was as though the electric light had been switched on.

And the wondrous thing about this beauty was that once noticed, it had only grown day by day and hour by hour, so that by the hour of this memory, her every thoughtless movement filled me with a kind of agony. I thought I understood perhaps why Lucifer had launched his rebellion against God; to look upon divinity undiluted was a kind of torture.

Another memory: we were kissing under the gazebo. This was forbidden completely anywhere in the compound, so we had waited for a day when the weather was a special kind of miserable, with rain dumping from the Atlantic sky and the sound of thunder rolling above us. We were the only two people in the yard; Billy had been assigned to watch, but if he suspected anything, he had decided to be charitable.

Rachel's skin was lily-white and damp. In that cool weather, the heat came fiercely off her body to warm my hands. I breathed in her smell when I wasn't tasting her and after every kiss she gave the grin of a co-conspirator. Divinity.

There were more memories and they poured over me without regard for importance or order. I remembered discussions, jokes, petty arguments. I remembered the joy I felt upon seeing her enter the yard and the longing I felt when our time together for the day was drawing to a close. I remembered the day we met and the day I gathered the courage to kiss her and the days when she had not come to the yard and I had worried (and that did border on madness) that she was avoiding me.

I remembered the day she told me she was sick.

And again and again, like waves rushing against the rocks, I remembered her skeletal figure lying unmoving upon those sheets of unblemished white, forcing the truth home.

“Memories,” I said. “Not a dream, but a memory... too painful to be bourne.”

I stared at her. “But, then...”

Rachel coughed, and the sound of it bounced about the cell. She said: “Art thou but a dagger of the mind? A false creation proceeding from the heat—oppressed brain?

“Does it really matter, James? I'm here! You can hear me, see me, touch me... now that I've proven my point. What is more real than that? And so what if your reality is different from that of so many others... am I any less real?”

She tilted her head, and I saw from her glinting eyes that she anticipated my question, yet she allowed me to voice it all the same.

“Why?” I asked. “What purpose does it serve?”

“I should think,” said Rachel, as her decrepit form began to twist and alter in the darkness, “I should think that that would be obvious to you, most of all. When Rachel died you had no control-- there was nothing you could do to help her.”

“This whole conspiracy-- the night-time visits-- I created all of it?”

“Well,” she said, glancing at the corpse upon the floor, “some of it was real. But what an arbitrary distinction! These things you experienced; for you they were real. What you're experiencing now is real although another man here would see nothing, hear nothing.

“Can't you see how lucky you are, James? Whatever those doctors, treatments, medicines did to you; whatever the shock and horror of seeing your beloved die did to your mind-- it's given us another chance to be together!”

She had continued to change as she spoke, and I watched almost without surprise as the lines of wasting disease left her face and her hair thickened and grew out. Her stoop straightened out so that she now stood almost eye to eye with me and when she smiled it was her old smile of gentle irreverence, and o God how I had missed it!

“Saving me from the evil doctors,” she said. “My James, what funny ideas you give yourself!”

“I've been a little out of my head.”

“You've been wonderful. What love you've shown; what loyalty! And now I want to reward you.”

I felt my thoughts coming slowly. “Reward?”

She placed her hand upon my cheek. It was warm and smooth.

“Yes, my love. The lights of the hall end just beyond your door. I want you to follow me down that hallway. Follow me into the dark, where we can be forever together-- where no one can find us.

I frowned. “And my family? I'm bound to be released soon, Rachel. I have a life to return to!”

She gave me a pitying look. “You do? What are their names?”

I thought for a moment. No.

“Give me just one name, James. A brother or a sister. Your mother's name.”

I could think of none of them now that I tried. Nor could I picture even a single of their faces. I tried to picture my home, some aspect of my life before the asylum. How long had I lived in this place?

“Check your journal if you think it will help,” said Rachel, “But I doubt you find anything. You are further gone than you know.”

She moved her hand from my cheek to grasp my own trembling hand and steadied it. Delicate fingers intertwined with mine.

“You have a choice, my dear one. Stay here, in this place. Choose the reality you've created here: your dead neighbor; the guard you've drugged; the family you've forgotten; the treatments; the humiliation... your lost love, never to return.

“Or,” she said, her voice almost a whisper, “Come with me. Stay with me and forget this place. As it should have been, it could be.”

She left me then, with a kiss upon the cheek-- left me, so that I might make my choice. She promised to return before midnight, and now the hour draws near.

I sit now in my room. Billy is dead. I miscalculated the dosage; his heart has stopped. I have looked through my entries of the last several weeks, leafing through the increasing absurdities I had penned down, but found not a single name or description of a family member. Besides a few mentions of Mad Tom and Billy, one might think Rachel and I totally alone amongst a pile of long-deserted stones. Even the doctors have ceased to hold for me a sense of really being there.

So I have written-- written this last entry at a feverish pace, so that those who come upon it may know the truth. I regret deeply the men I have killed, but that regret is not enough to convince me to remain and await punishment in a place that seems to me, more and more, nothing but a dream.

My lady is coming. It is 11:45 and the electric lights up the corridor to my right have not yet been dimmed. She is coming up the long corridor of darkness to my left-- returning from memory and death-- to invite me away from this place.

She will stand before me, the sickness washed away from her, and she will smile a smile that holds nothing sacred and say something of little consequence. But then she will hold out her hand and I will take it and feel the warm life in it. And together, hand in hand, we will turn our backs to the buzzing clamor of the electric lights, and walk down the corridor, into the unlit emptiness.

Mr. James Avery was found in the early hours of the morning of Feb 14th, 1904 wandering free in the hallway east of his room in the Bedford insane asylum in Wellington, Connecticut. Mr. Avery, though conscious, remained-- and remains even today-- completely unresponsive to questions and any and all forms of outside stimuli. The bizarre diary he kept remains the only source of information regarding his motives in the inexplicable double homicide which scandalized the township.

The investigation into the slayings of Mr. William 'Billy' McMills (caretaker) and Chester Lawrence (patient) is ongoing and appears to have some connection with the untimely passing of Miss Rachel Walsh-- a patient Avery had grown quite close to and whom he claims in his writings to have seen repeatedly in the days following her death. The entries, by early February become completely indecipherable and cryptographers from Boston have been brought in to study the last several pages, which are written in a script wholly alien to English.

The greatest mystery, however, lies in the last several lines of the journal, which are written in plain English and which handwriting experts have determined were written by Avery. Whether they are meant as an ending thought or a message is unknown, but they read as follows:

'You were the light, the movement,
energy boundless and form supreme,
the thing of substance--
What was I ever but an adoring shadow,
you cast upon the wall?'