Notes from a cell

This is a thread for @Illias and Gallow


The hospital sat on top of a hill overlooking the ocean. Half a dozen of brutalist buildings were scattered among the trees around the slopes. Massive slabs of concrete, all straight lines and harsh angles, interrupting the soft curves of the hill and the vegetation. The main building, a Victorian manor, crowned the summit. It still retained its glory. Soaring chimneys, a tower, latticed windows.

As the taxi drew closer up the road towards the manor, Victor Crenshaw looked out the side window. Trees crowded close to the road, so he only got brief glimpses of the concrete buildings. He saw a few orderlies in white, and perhaps a patient or two moving among the trees. A flock of crows took flight from a large oak, spiralling away into the sky.

A man was waiting on the steps leading up to the manor. Victor got out, paid the driver, and walked up to the building. The man, tall and thin, wearing a white coat and round spectacles, walked down to meet him.

“Victor Crenshaw, I presume,” he said, extending his hand.
“Yes,” Victor said, shaking the man’s hand. “You are Doctor Klein? We spoke on the phone.”
“I am,” Klein said, smiling. “Welcome to Ashbury.”

They walked up the stairs side by side. Klein smelled faintly of disinfectant and something else, something sweet and sharp. His back was ramrod straight, and he carried his 65 years with grace. Victor had done plenty of research before the visit. Klein was born in America to German parents, something that might have been to his detriment if it were not for the fact that he had trained combat medics for the Army and Navy in preparation for the invasion of Normandie. He had quite a reputation, Doctor Joseph Klein.

“There are rooms for you on the second floor,” Klein said as he pushed the door open. “I thought we might have dinner tonight and discuss how you wish to proceed.”
“I would prefer to begin at once,” Victor said. “Time is a factor, and it took long enough for me to gain access here.”

Klein turned to him. They were in the lobby, a large space with curving staircases up both walls. Large oil paintings of the Ashbury family, patrons of this and many other institutions across Maine and Massachusetts hung on the walls.

“I assure you, Mister Crenshaw,” Klein said, “we had nothing to do with those delays. It was only three days ago that I learned of your visit here.”
“Yes, you said as much over the phone,” Victor said. “I would like to begin at once.”
“Of course. Let me walk you to your room.”

Victor’s rooms had a large balcony with an ocean view. They were far more luxurious and much larger than his own apartment back in New York. Ashbury money at work. Klein made small talk while Victor unpacked. Notebook in hand, he followed Klein downstairs and out, into the trees, down a path towards building B. It was, according to what Victor had read, Ashbury’s most secure building. Where the truly disturbed were sequestered. Such as the patient known as Richard Corben, whose true name was Markus De Geer.

Building B was a squat building that sat within a dense cluster of trees, such that Victor could hardly make it out as they approached. The wrought iron gates were overrun with vines–or, thought Victor, for Ashbury was too tightly a run ship for such carelessness, purposely camouflaged with the dark foliage of its surrounding, so that the occasional escaped patients of the lesser wards could not stumble upon it. It was not safe for persons with any sort of mental instability to be within hearing distance of Richard Corben (for that was how Victor first encountered him in the coroner’s report and continued to think of him as) and the building could not be soundproofed.

“The man must be heard,” explained Klein as they trudge up the steep stairs that lead to the entrance. A guard greeted them with a wordless nod and handed them little balls of cotton. “If he isn’t heard, if he is forced to keep his secrets to himself, he begins to self-destruct. We would lose our greatest connection.”

The corridor was a dimly-lit maze that stretched so far into and around and through the building that Victor soon lost track of where he was. Goosebumps rose on his skin and tension began to tighten his spine into awkward stiffness. Before he could voice his concerns however, Klein stopped at a door, and with a look of significance, carefully swung it open.

Inside was an empty room, with a single wall made of glass. It revealed the adjoining room, which held a sparse bed from under which a chamber pot peeked, and a single metal chair welded to the floor upon which a man sat.

The man known as Richard Corben was a serene-looking young man despite the dark circles around his eyes and the great, defeated slump of his shoulders. Despite that his hands were constantly trembling, hard enough that the phone he held up in one knocked against his temple with the occasional jarring blow, his expression was the peaceful surface of an untouched lake, his smile a mild and polite question. His other hand was clenched so tightly in his lap that his knuckles had turned white.

Victor was surprised to find that his lips were not moving. Richard Corben was reported to be a truthsayer of the worst kind; his words were poison and rot that clung to ear canals. Member of his audience had scratched and clawed so desperately that the sides of their heads were flattened, flesh and cartilage ripped off, blood streaming from the holes that were left of their ears.

Klein pointed to Richard, and then tapped his own ear and raised an eyebrow in a universal question. Can you hear?

Victor frowned in confusion, tilting his head away from the glass so that he could press his ear against it. If he concentrated, he felt he could hear a low hum buzzed at the base of his throat. Slowly, it increased in volume–bees from across the field, a distant rumbling thunderstorm that would come to obscure roads and send his little sister’s car off side of that cliff, the low groan of the cancer ward he visited weekly as a child and his mother was wasting away but hated him enough that she would only allow him as near as the doorway of her room where he could witness her every groan and spasm of suffering to the spiteful curses she would hurl in his direction with what breath she managed because he was the evil that had brought her to this state, the demon, the wretched, how dare–

Klein wrenched him away with so much force that sprawled to the floor. Furious, he whipped around, hateful rebuke already at the tip of his tongue, but Klein wasn’t looking at him. He was staring into the room, steely determination almost masking the fear Victor could feel in the trembling hand he had on his arm. With looming dread, Victor turned to face the glass and recoiled in shock.

Richard stood with his nose pressed to the glass. Though he faced straight ahead, his eyes stared directly down at Victor. The ghastly sound spilled from his half-parted lips, still curved into a smile. As they made eye contact, that smile grew wider even as his eyebrows slanted down with something akin to sympathetic pity. The corner of his mouth twitched once, and then again, and then again.

With horror, Victor realised that Richard was beginning to speak.