Sunday, September 23, 2012

Morbid Curiosity Excerpt

One month after Abraham Sparrow collapsed in a barn, his parents, Richard and Edith, strolled across the parking lot of Woodland Groves, a mental hospital where Abe was being treated.  A semicircular driveway wrapped around a flagpole at the front of the complex.  The driveway was used by ambulances to transport patients to the front of the hospital, where two sets of stairs and a wheelchair ramp provided access to the lobby's double doors.  The main wing of the hospital was shaped like an upside down U.  On either side of the driveway, the wing's appendages rose to a height of five floors.  As Richard and Edith walked on a sidewalk near the driveway and approached the front doors, they felt like they were being watched.  Pallid, expressionless faces floated behind windows as dark eyes monitored their progress.  They felt violated and insecure.

"I can't believe we agreed to this," Edith whispered.  Her long, white dress billowed around her ankles, just above her white high heels.

Richard perspired in his black, pinstriped suit.  He loosened his gray tie to give his neck some relief.  Then he said:  "Dr. Braun knows what's best for him."

"Reverend Thorne pressured us into doing this.  I hope we haven't made a mistake."

"I'm sure Abe will be much happier when he finally comes home," Richard assured.

When they reached the end of the sidewalk, Richard and Edith ascended the left set of stairs.  The sirens of an ambulance wailed.  They watched as two orderlies emerged from the double doors at the top of the stairs.  The men moved down the stairs swiftly and held leather restraints in their hands.  When the back of the ambulance opened, two nurses guided a gurney out onto the driveway.

A bald man thrashed and twitched within the canvas confines of a straitjacket.  Saliva flowed from his mouth and cascaded to his chin.  Snot bubbled around his nostrils.  He bared his yellow teeth and screamed at the blue sky.  Edith trembled and Richard cradled her protectively in his arms.

One of the orderlies looked at the leather restraints.  Then he said:  "Well I guess we won't be needing these!"

"I didn't know they transported him in a camisole," his counterpart replied.

The orderlies followed the medics as they wheeled the gurney up the wheelchair ramp.  Richard and Edith took two steps back when the gurney passed by them.  The bald man grew very calm when he noticed them standing on the stairs.  The newcomer's vacant, hazel eyes stared at them with concentration.  Edith thought she might scream.

After the orderlies and the medics vanished into the lobby with the gurney and the bald man, Edith burst into tears.  Richard kissed her on the cheek.  Then he hugged her and she felt comforted by his warmth.

"I don't want Abe to spend another day in this place!" she wailed.

"We have to do what's best, Edith.  He can't come home until he's better."

"I don't care!  This is cruel!  He's our son!"

Richard held his wife's hand, urged her to climb the remaining steps, and walked toward the lobby's double doors.  Edith watched her husband open the door on the left side.  He tugged on her hand as he stepped in a dimly lit foyer.  Reluctantly, she followed him inside.  Ornate, brass light fixtures cast a warm glow on the lobby's maroon-hued walls.  Ceramic tile, freshly mopped, sparkled like glass.  An old man, who sat on a chair next to a bubblegum machine, rattled the pages of The Trinity Times as he smoked a cigar.  On the opposite side of the room, a blonde woman in a green dress sat behind a desk.  A large sign, attached to the front of her desk, beckoned:  Please Sign In Here!  Richard and Edith strolled to the other side of the lobby and approached the desk.

"It's good to see you again, Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow," the receptionist greeted.

"Thank you, Evelyn.  We're here to speak to Dr. Braun," Richard responded.

"Please sign in and have a seat.  I'll let him know you're early," Evelyn said.

Richard scribbled his name in the visitor's log.  When he was done, he handed the black pen to Edith.  She wrote her name in cursive beneath his.  Then they approached two chairs near a magazine rack and sat down.  When Richard noticed that the old man was peering over the edge of his newspaper to look at them, he smiled and waved.  The old man exhaled a huge puff of cigar smoke, grunted, and continued to read.

Ten minutes later, a tall man appeared in the doorway next to Evelyn's desk.  He held a manila envelope in his left hand.  A huge stack of papers inside the envelope caused it to bulge much like the unpublished manuscript of a novel.  A mop of white hair covered the man's scalp.  His dark blue eyes swam behind the thick lenses of his eyeglasses.  Under his white coat, the man wore a white dress shirt, black slacks, and a gray neck tie.  Black, leather dress shoes anchored him to the lobby's floor.  A thin smile formed at the edges of the man's lips.  The smile, Edith felt, expressed concern and pity.

"Please follow me, Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow," Dr. Braun said.

Richard and Edith rose from their chairs and walked toward Evelyn's desk.  As they followed Dr. Braun into a short corridor, a shrill scream echoed from somewhere at the top of a nearby stairwell.  Edith trembled and Richard closed his left hand around her right one.  Then they followed Dr. Braun into a large, dimly lit office.

Dr. Braun dropped the manila envelope on top of his mahogany desk.  Then he collapsed into a brown, leather chair.  As Richard and Edith sat on chairs on the other side of the desk, Braun's fingers formed a steeple on the manila envelope.  When he knew he had their undivided attention, he regarded them with a serious gaze.

"Thank you for coming on such short notice," he said.

"It's no trouble at all," Edith responded.

Dr. Braun flipped the manila envelope open.  He scanned a page on top of the stack of papers, then turned it upside down on the desk.  Then he lifted his head and frowned.

"We've diagnosed your son as suffering from schizophrenia," he said.

"How serious is it?" Richard responded immediately.

"Well, there are a couple of ways to treat such an ailment," Braun responded.

Richard and Edith watched him thumb through the stack of papers.  He paused after scanning several pages.  He tapped the eraser of his pencil on the page he selected.

"Does the name Roger Campbell mean anything to you?"

Richard and Edith exchanged nervous glances.  Edith's lips trembled and beads of sweat erupted on Richard's forehead.  Richard's hand squeezed Edith's a bit too hard, and she withdrew it from him.  Her fingers throbbed and she winced.

"Abe has a friend named Ethan Campbell.  But we've never heard the name Roger."

Edith nodded emphatically to demonstrate her agreement with Richard's answer.

"Hmm," Dr. Braun muttered.

Richard and Edith watched Dr. Braun read several more pages.  They were puzzled as to why the name Roger Campbell was significant.  Finally, Dr. Braun stopped reading and folded his fingers like a steeple on top of the pages again.

"Your son has been hearing voices.  Ever since he became my patient, he's claimed that people named Roger Campbell, Thad Wheeler, and Hannah Jones have talked to each other in his room.  Granted, these imaginary people never talk to Abe.  They only converse amongst themselves," Dr. Braun said.

"I've never heard any of those names before," Edith whispered.

"Neither have I," Richard said.

Dr. Braun obtained papers from the rear of the file and placed them next to the others.  He glanced at Edith before focusing his attention on Richard.  Then he frowned again.

"Are you familiar with electroconvulsive therapy?" he asked.

"No, I'm afraid I'm not," Richard said.

"It's a highly effective way to treat a patient.  Basically, a machine manufactured by Somatics is used to run a current of eight-hundred milliamps to the patient's brain for a period of one to six seconds.  The purpose of this is to induce a seizure, during which the patient loses consciousness and has convulsions.  I assure you it's quite therapeutic and the results are quite extraordinary," Dr. Braun said.

"You're not going to fry my son's brain!  I won't allow it!"  Richard screamed.

"How dare you suggest such a thing!"  Edith responded.

"Calm down.  I'm here to help.  Your son's condition has been deteriorating ever since he arrived at Woodland Groves.  I just want to explore all possible options."

"Has he responded to anything favorably?" Edith asked.

"Yes.  The hydrotherapy has been very effective," Braun said.

"Abe likes those hot baths?" Richard asked.

"I'm very pleased with his progress in that regard."  Braun continued to scan through the pages as he spoke.  Somehow, they realized that hydrotherapy wasn't enough.

Roger Campbell.  Thad Wheeler.  Hannah Jones.  Those names circulated in Edith's mind as she watched Dr. Braun analyze forms, notes, and other documents.

"Aside from electroconvulsive therapy and hydrotherapy, there's something else we might be able to try," Dr. Braun said.

"What is it?" Richard and Edith asked simultaneously.

"Are you familiar with insulin shock therapy?"

Richard and Edith stared at each other.  Their unspoken words and body language indicated that they wished they'd never let Reverend Thorne talk them into admitting their son to Woodland Groves.  Abe, their only remaining child, seemed like a guinea pig in a lunatic asylum where a mad doctor wanted to conduct wild experiments.

"No, I'm afraid we aren't familiar with that one, either," Richard said.

"It yields satisfactory results," Braun praised.

"Tell us more," Richard urged.

"The therapy can be done gradually or in high doses.  Basically, we administer insulin to the patient, which ultimately results in a coma.  After about one hour, we give glucose to the patient intravenously to end the coma," Braun informed.

"What if he doesn't come out of the coma?" Richard barked.

"I won't let you do that to my baby!" Edith cried.

Dr. Braun exhaled a sigh of disgust.  He'd hoped that Abe's parents would be more willing to approve other methods of treatment for Abe.  Although the hydrotherapy was somewhat effective and less frightening, Abe's condition wasn't improving.  Dr. Braun needed to take things to the next level, but Abe's parents weren't going to cooperate.

"In addition to hearing voices, your son claims that his brother, Douglas, will come home very soon,"  Dr. Braun stated.

"DouglasDouglas died in the war!"  Richard screamed.

"I'm just telling you what Abe told me," Braun responded.

Edith remembered the story about how Abe revived a raccoon in an orange grove near the creek.  She didn't like what Braun's comments implied.  Her teeth chattered and she started shaking all over.  Richard's hand rubbed her shoulder as he tried to comfort her.

"I want to talk to my son," Richard demanded.

"I'm afraid that's not possible today," Braun said.

"When can we see him?" Edith asked.

"I'll have Evelyn call and let you know.  I guess this meeting is over.  Thank you both for coming.  I wish it could've been a more productive session."

Dr. Braun rose from his chair.  He returned the documents to the manila envelope.  Then he approached a file cabinet near his office's door, unlocked it with a tiny key on a silver ring, and pulled on a metal handle.  The shelf rolled out on casters and Braun placed the envelope behind a white marker, which read:  Sparrow, Abraham.  Then he shoved the shelf back into the cabinet and locked it again.  He turned to Abe's parents and stared at them with a disappointed expression on his face.

Richard and Edith rose from their chairs.  And as they followed Dr. Braun back into the lobby of Woodland Groves, Richard paused and felt lightheaded.  He thought he could hear people talking.  The voices were far away, yet somehow very close:

"This used to be the lobby," a young man said.

"It's called The Maroon Room now," a female countered.

"Can we stop talking?  We need to find Tara!" a different man pleaded.

And then the voices slowly faded.  Richard grabbed Edith's shoulder.  She turned around and noticed that all of the color was gone from his face.  He looked like a deer caught in headlights.  Seeing him that way frightened her deep down inside.

"What is it?  What's wrong?"  Edith whispered.

"Didn't you hear those voices?  They're looking for someone named Tara."

"I don't know what you're talking about," she gasped.

Richard followed her into the lobby.  He observed the maroon-hued walls, the ornate light fixtures, and the old man as he read The Trinity Times.  And when Richard inhaled cigar smoke, he knew he'd heard the same people that Abe had mentioned to Dr. Braun.

For just a moment, he'd heard Roger Campbell, Hannah Jones, and Thad Wheeler.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

...And It's (Finally) Finished!

I've completed the final draft of THE MASK OF BEELZEBUB, which is the second installment of my upcoming CADAVER ISLAND trilogy.  The revised version has been submitted to the publisher for consideration and review.  Here are the final numbers:  74,000 words, a prologue, 15 chapters, and an epilogue.  Now I can focus on my next project, which will be a short story collection called CHAOS AND DOOM.