Halls of the Forgotten
My name is Bill McArthur. For a number of years I was a resident of an institution similar to the one depicted in Jarrod’s novel. It should be mentioned that I was a resident against my will. While institutionalized, I witnessed, as well as experienced, various forms of abuse. After having experienced daily life in such an environment – I can attest to the accuracy with which this novel illustrates the realities of institutional life. Furthermore I feel this novel is important because it raises awareness about mistreatment in institutions where there is inadequate public oversight and supervision.
Chapter 10 (sample)
Walter Reynolds sits silently behind his boxy wooden desk sifting carefully through a number of documents piled neatly before him in a splayed yellow folder marked “Beatrice Gray”. Beatrice from across the expanse of desktop, notices that her name, written haphazardly in ballpoint pen, is misspelled. It’s fitting, thinks Beatrice, subtly shaking her head. The wrong vowel on her folder is merely another example, however minor, of the indifference and incompetence so casually common at Cedarwood Asylum. With her hands folded in her lap and one knee crossed over the other so her foot swings impatiently, Beatrice watches director Reynolds studying the contents of the misspelled folder.
Reynolds face, always caked with a layer of foundation is smooth and soft looking and his neck slender and effeminate. His hair is parted by a silver line of stubborn grey roots that further reveal his age. His hands are frail and thin, matching his effeminate face and neck. Peering intensely through his reading glasses, Reynolds appears to be comparing two documents; statements perhaps from Dr. Crow and from Fay taken the day of Beatrice’s alleged insubordination.
“So Beatrice it’s been brought to my attention that you instigated a dispute with Dr. Crow and ignored his direct orders to allow an orderly to assist Megan Buckley to the infirmary. It’s also been said that you pushed him out of the way.” Reynolds finally says, peering up at Beatrice with the supercilious seriousness of a hypertensive elementary school principal.
“Firstly, I didn’t push Dr. Crow, I was forced to wedge past him as he was intentionally blocking my way. Megan was ill—she’d clearly been given too much Thorazine. It was classic Thorazine overdose. Crow seemed more intent on bantering with me than tending to Megan’s immediate care and I certainly wasn’t going to let his…his nonchalance get in the way of saving the girl. Walter, it’s getting all too common around here for these children to wind up being over medicated. We all know that a child can easily die from an overdose like that.” Beatrice says, her tone slightly pleading.
“Beatrice, it’s not the most uncommon thing for institutionalized children to display adverse reactions to medications—it’s the nature of the business. You have to remember that they’ve come to be in our care because of underlying conditions… conditions that require medications—nobody said nature is kind.” Reynolds says, leaning forward now and resting his elbows on his desk, “Our job is to medicate and care for residents according to their individual needs—and so we do our best. What we don’t do is deviate from the chain of command. Now, you’ve informed us before about the alleged over-medication on your ward—as well as many other infractions; however, as of yet, no substantial evidence confirming your allegations has ever been brought to our attention. In fact, they’ve been deemed extraordinary allegations by some.”
“Extraordinary? I’m not making any allegations Walter; I’m relaying the facts to you. As far as evidence goes; is Megan Buckley not substantial enough evidence? Things have gotten way out of hand in this facility and someone needs to look into it. I’ve worked in other institutions…and I’ve never seen such collective apathy. Just the other day I saw one of the orderlies pulling Molly Tanner down the hallway by her hair. This facility isn’t exempt to the laws of this country Walter.” Says Beatrice; the words having come effortlessly, forged by the dangerous truth between them.
“Listen Beatrice, I understand that there are a few loose ends around here. However overall, there is a system in place—a thoroughly tried and thoroughly tested system here at Cedarwood Asylum. One we must all abide. This institution could not run without such an organized, well-oiled system in place—I know this because I too have worked in other institutions—that is how I know that ours isn’t that bad. Now, regarding your insubordination; the concept is much like the way a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When one member of staff, especially a nurse with tenure, deviates from the system, it impacts everyone negatively. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“I hear what you’re saying.” says Beatrice, assuming what Reynolds has said is nothing more than a direct and flimsy quote he’d borrowed from any of the incidental textbook doctrines lining the shelves of his office.
“Good. I hope I’ve been helpful and I hope we’ve come to an understanding.” says Reynolds, leaning back now in his chair, removing his glasses and peering at Beatrice, his glare now slightly softer.
“By the way; it’s Grey with an ‘e’ rather than an ‘a’.” says Beatrice, motioning with her eyes toward the lip of the folder. There is a long silence in which superintendent Reynolds peers at Beatrice from the other side of his grand oak desk, squinting intensely so his eyes become two dark slits in the pallor of his face.
“Beatrice.” He says, scanning over another page from the dossier, “Just keep your house in order and things will work out. Life doesn’t have to be so hard.”
“Walter, let me ask you how I’m supposed to keep anything around here in order when this environment tends toward utter chaos?” Beatrice asks.
“Well,” Reynolds finally says, creaking forward in his chair and coming into the direct glare of sunlight cascading in through his office window, “of course, we condone order here. But as I say, radicalism affects order negatively. We need you to keep your cool.”
“I would hardly call myself a radical, and for the record I haven’t lost my cool; not yet anyway.” Says Beatrice casually.
“Well, that sounds like a warning with a threat’s tone Miss Grey.” Reynolds says, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms; a defensive stance.
“Call it what you will.” Says Beatrice in a long and slow exhale, as if to expel a small weight of frustration, “But we all have our superiors.”
“Yes we do…and you’d be wise not to forget that.” says Reynolds, his tone dire.
Later in the evening, strolling through her late night rounds, Beatrice replays in her mind the scene with Dr. Crow; weighing out the possible alternatives to her initial response to the man’s nonchalance. Perhaps she could have handled things differently; perhaps she should have fallen into line and embraced indifference—but how does anyone ever do that and mean it? Emerging from her contemplation with the same response each time, Beatrice lets go, easing the butterflies that have been fluttering in her stomach since her meeting with Reynolds earlier in the day; she’d done the right thing in putting Megan’s safety before Crow’s sniveling, passive aggression. How can they be so clinical? Beatrice asks herself as she ponders the perimeter of a larger more relevant possibility—perhaps she herself has become too involved in the children’s lives.
Someone has been sick on the floor. A small puddle sits as evidence, splattered across a few hallway tiles in east wing. The sight of it turns Beatrice’s stomach a bit more. The pea soup she’d eaten earlier in the cafeteria has been sitting like a lump of lead in the pit of her stomach and resisting digestion for hours—a reminder of why she should start packing her own lunch again. After all, she’s heard the not so random but casually voiced accounts of fellow staffers who’d been made sick by the food at Cedarwood Asylum. It’s this place in everyone’s stomach, thinks Beatrice.
Stepping around the small splatter, Beatrice walks on in her padded white sneakers, taking a deep breath of the cool stairwell air and feeling slightly relieved by a long slow exhale. Only halfway through her shift, the night already seems to be dragging along at a snail’s pace. She is understaffed on this eerily quiet Tuesday night and so she herself must walk to the janitor’s station in a neighboring wing, in search of Carlton the night cleaner and his mop on wheels. Descending a winding flight of stairs, Beatrice, holding lightly to the cool brass handrail, watches through the barred windows cut into the stairwell walls, the massive yellow moon that is full and seeming to descend along with her through the grating of the window panes.
It had conquered Julius Caesar, the moon had. It had outlived dinosaurs, planet killing asteroids, ice ages—dark ages. It had witnessed the passing of Empires and Dynasties; it would certainly outlive Cedarwood Asylum. It wouldn’t bat and eye or breathe a word to anyone either—a silent satellite, muses Beatrice basking in its stoic majesty that coats the valley darkness in a soft blue glaze and throws a sparkle across the mighty Harbor; too nice a night to be holed up in Cedarwood Asylum. That much Beatrice is certain of.
Pausing to absorb the view, Beatrice feels her queasiness ebbing into the dark corners from which it had crept. Harbor side lights twinkling back at her from the distant and rolling expanse remind her that civilization still exists beyond the confining walls of Cedarwood and all of its bloodied brick and mortar. Out there beyond the brick walls and iron fences, where there are birthday parties and lemonade verandas and jazz music and family barbecues; out there she is not radical—she is only a nurse doing her job.
On level two, Beatrice walks briskly, hugging herself against the strange pockets of cold that hang everywhere and chill her to the bone. It’s an eerie chill, ‘as if you’d just walked over someone’s grave’, Fay had said of the pockets of cold one evening over a cup of hot chocolate. Pulling her shawl snugly around her slender shoulders as she pads down the deserted corridor, Beatrice shrugs off a shiver and takes note of the barrenness of the ward, feeling it accentuates the chill a few more degrees toward freezing.
The rows of doors passing on either side of her hold behind their single rectangular windows, pitch darkness and the sounds of restless stirrings. ‘Nearly a full moon,’ Thinks Beatrice, ‘playing havoc with everyone’s tide.’ Situated at the end of the long dim hallway is ‘Carlton’s closet’. The door is labeled exactly that in childlike fashion with glued-on, multi-colored letter-magnets. Finding the door locked Beatrice sighs deeply and after trying the knob a second time with some strength, she abandons the effort and crosses her arms against the close chill.
After a few moments of waiting for Carlton, Beatrice walks back in the direction she’d come, wondering vaguely what exactly Carlton the night cleaner might be cleaning at this hour—certainly not the puke down on east wing. When she is nearly at the stairwell; a jolt of adrenaline freezes through her stomach like a flicker of lightning, pitching her pulse and halting her steps at the sight of a dark figure on the other side of the glass. Recognizing the shadowy and expressionless face peering at her from behind the fire glass doors, Beatrice waits a moment. It is Toby, and he’s been lurking as he often does. Tonight though she finds his presence especially creepy; the full moon really brings out the creeps, she thinks as she continues toward the door.
The skinny, unshaven orderly takes a step back finally, opening the door. He offers a charmless bow and an oily grin as Beatrice passes by with enough distance between herself and he to anticipate an oncoming advance, but close enough that she can smell the sour residue of liquor and stale tobacco on his breath; breath which whistles through his nose greedily as he stands perfectly still, burning a stare into her averted eyes.
“Evening.” he says, revealing a chilling grin.
Beatrice offers only a single nod before making her way down the stairs that lead to the floor below, listening intently for following footsteps. They don’t come however, the footsteps; in their place there is only the slow hiss of the air controlled door closing behind her with a creak which echoes upward toward the ceiling of the stairwell. On ground level Beatrice ducks into a wood surfaced pantry, where the smell of stale coffee and mildew has, over the decades, permeated the walls and merged with the smell of horror, insanity and disinfectant.
She pours herself a cup of coffee and leans against the wooden counter, blowing gently on the coffee and hoping that she’s lost Toby and will not cross his path again before her shift is through. She stands still closing her eyes deeply for a few long moments. Feeling she’s finally found a patch of warmth; Beatrice falls in a trance-like stare and sips the coffee absently from the heated porcelain mug, replaying in her mind the earlier meeting with Reynolds.
She knows Walter Reynolds hadn’t earned his position at Cedarwood on the merit of education alone—becoming superintendent of such a grand scale institution took some killer instinct; with Reynolds, Beatrice knows she walks a fine line. Lifting again the steaming mug to her mouth, she is halted before the brim can touch her lips. A stifled cry bleats out; short as only perhaps a second or two, but still conveying the primal timber of horror. There are screams at Cedarwood Asylum—and then there are screams.
Setting the mug down on a table top that has been stained with paint at some point over the decades, Beatrice steps out into the silence of the barren hallway—east wing always felt secluded, even during the daylight hours; at night though, it could get downright eerie. The overhead lights buzz, throwing murky yellow pools of glow down the entire corridor, from the end of which echoes the clicking of a closing door. Beatrice’s initial impulse to send her voice echoing down the hall in hopes of receiving a prompt response from lurking shadows is discarded at the last second by an instinct to creep stealthily toward the noise.
With quiet haste, she moves down the hallway over the well-worn tiles, careful not to drag her sneakers and cause a squeak. Moving close to the wall that separates the locked rooms, Beatrice listens carefully at each door, bracing against the bulky wood with her shoulder and palm in case the door should suddenly fly open with the velocity of a fleeing assailant. She hears nothing beyond the usual behind the doors however; feverish sleep and deeply medicated snores—chemical nightmares.
She is nearly at the end of the hallway when she comes to a small supply room door, the bottom of which is illuminated by a sliver of light. Placing her ear against the door, Beatrice strains to listen and hears the sound of running water, underneath which, dialogue mutters in broken words and hissed syllables. The words however are voiced too quietly…too carefully for Beatrice to decipher through the thick wood and the running water. Uncertain if the door is bolted, Beatrice carefully wraps her fingers around the knob, taking a firm grip before slowly turning it. She waits a moment, harnessing her strength before distributing the sum of her weight against the door all at once, which, offering no resistance, swings open abruptly to reveal a macabre scene lit warmly by an overhead light bulb.
Carlton the janitor, with a jolt of shock, spins for the wall and turns his back, climbing to his feet and struggling to conceal something in his hands. When he turns to Beatrice, his gaunt expression stares back at her like an apparition. A tick in his left brow defiantly begs the answer to his unvoiced question; how much had she seen? Looking down Beatrice’s disgust rises like bile when she finds what Carlton has tried unsuccessfully to conceal; a small bottle of vodka, already half empty.
Shocked by the sudden and unexpected interruption Carlton remains speechless. Staring into his eyes Beatrice finds no silhouette of shame; only surprise and beyond it a black void. Dumbfounded, Beatrice cannot articulate the immediacy of her disgust, nor physically express her outrage. For a long moment, she simply stands still, piercing an ever-telling stare into the man’s crumpled face. Clicking her eyes from Carlton to the lost looking boy standing in the corner of the room, Beatrice can see that the boy is intoxicated, dumbstruck and staring back up at her.
“Are you okay?” she asks the boy.
The boy, looking for a moment as if he might break down into sobs, abandons the impulse and instead shakes his head with an urgent, nauseated squint.
“Man oh man, are you ever done around here, you sicko.” Beatrice spits at Carlton, unable now to conceal a charge of fierce emotion.
“Watch your tongue lady.” Carlton demands, “Where do you get the tits to talk to me like that? I was just doing some tidying up around here. It’s none of your business.”
“Is that what you call it you sick son of a bitch—tidying up?” scowls Beatrice, turning her attention to the boy, who stands still, teetering on the edge of tears and flimsy balance. “What was going on in here?” she asks the boy, “Did he make you drink?”
“You better watch yourself…stirring up shit like this.” spits Carlton, jumping back slightly as if appalled by the suspicion, “You don’t make accusations like that! Where’s your proof?”
“Was he?” Beatrice asks the boy. His young brain processes her question, turning it over a few times. His dark eyes roll along with the waves of circular contemplation before landing on a jagged realization. Fear widens his eyes and he immediately squeezes them shut.
“He always makes me.” admits the boy; pushing his hands down into the pockets of his faded pajama bottoms before letting through a trickle of sobs.
“Lair!” spits Carlton, as if flabbergast at the notion, “Lying little bastard!”
Turning back to Carlton, Beatrice speaks through her disdain, her anger inflating her words, “Leave now.”
“You’re going to tell lies about me you little you little scumbag?” exclaims Carlton, moving toward the boy. Beatrice however blocks his way, readying herself for a physical confrontation, imagining that if the man attacks—she will kick for his testicles, claw for his eyes and bite for his red, porous nose.
“I swear, you take another step and you’ll have your balls in a sling.” Beatrice says firmly, locking eyes with Carlton whose sinister glare softens and focuses back at Beatrice suddenly.
“He’s a retard…and you; you’re just a little old miss busybody. Who’s going to listen to you anyway?” says Carlton with a twist of amazement in his expression, “Anyway, I’d tear you to shreds…you wouldn’t stand a chance lady.”
“Don’t be so sure, I’m a single mother.” says Beatrice, unwavering in her conviction.
Carlton halts in the doorway and turns, aiming a promising finger at Kenny. “You’re going to regret being born you little piece of dog shit—that much you can count on.” he snarls at the boy through gritting teeth. He solidifies his vow by spitting on the floor before finally turning and leaving.
When Beatrice turns back to the boy she finds he is still peering at the floor. His expression hints at nausea, shame and intoxication; a tri-colored shade of dismay that crumples his red face into silent sobs. Looking back over her shoulder, Beatrice finds Carlton now gone and the doorway empty. As she embraces the kid, gently rocking him into calm waters, she listens to the distant rhythm of Carlton’s chain-link key ring jingling in time with his quickly retreating strides until the sound finally disappears through the doors at the end of the hallway. When silence returns and the boy’s sobs subside, Beatrice leads him back to his room, occasionally rubbing his back as they move slowly down the hallway.
“It’s not your fault Kenny. There are evil people in this world—that man is one of them and I promise that I won’t let him hurt you—you have my word on that. ” she says, her simmering outrage so strong, she herself feels violated on some level.
“I just want to go to sleep.” says Kenny, wiping his eyes that have begun to water again.
The room is shared by a dozen children wrapped like rising bread in mothball linen. Though their sleep is medicated and restless, they do not stir when Beatrice fluffs Kenny’s pillow. After tucking him in and running a palm over his silky dark hair a few times, Beatrice sits on the edge of the boy’s bed, watching his rib cage rise and fall. He is perhaps 12 years old. Only a child, Beatrice thinks; an orphan child, left for dead in this old asylum. The memory of Carlton struggling to conceal the bottle flashes across her mind again, bringing with it a surge of disgust, followed by silent outrage. How dare he? Shaking the image from her head, Beatrice embraces a decision, the diamond clarity of which sparkles back at her from the darkness; with a deep sigh, she draws a line in the sand.
end of sample
*As a creative work of fiction, this excerpt does not represent any residences, facilities, locations or persons either living or deceased — any similarity is purely coincidental and not in any way intended.