I’m getting back into the swing of things. Which is not to say I won’t swing out of control in a few days. And by that I mean a Marta-esque out of control, which doesn’t involve drugging, excessive drinking, or anything worthy of a good biography. No, for the moment, I’ve got a bit of the story to share. Thanks for hanging there. Glad you’re here.
(And one reminder, I’ll be putting these scenes together into chapters and sending them in a limited release newsletter through Tiny Letter. If youd like to subscribe, go here. If it goes well, I may release other stories this way. The first edition should come out this Sunday, April 19th.)
Nurse Stillmark made sure the rest of the patients slept. She dropped the empty vial and syringe into the hazardous material waste can. She washed her hands like she always did. Routine was important. When things went wrong, routine hid mistakes and secrets.
She took a deep breath, and turned down the hall. To find the boy she had to look where the boy would go. She ruled out the attic. Nothing up there but the roof and a neck-breaking drop.
Most likely, the boy wandered the halls. He was only six or seven. He could even be eight or nine. Age was hard to ascertain with the malnourished ones, and the boy, himself, didn’t know his own birthday. Or if he knew, he wasn’t talking.
The doctors failed to find a reason for the boy’s muteness—birth defect, disease, or trauma? Nurse Stillmark liked the mute patients best. With the mute ones, she didn’t have to worry about hearing their stories. Hearing patient stories slowed her down.
It was possible the boy possessed enough awareness, just enough, to want something. Most patients wanted something, and that something was not always first and foremost freedom.
In the Asylum basement stood lockers containing the things patients wanted back. Asylum management wouldn’t sell or burn the items, but they refused to return them. The items sat crammed into lockers for years. An inventory was kept, but few staff members glimpsed the pages-long list. The list remained high security.
Nurse Stillmark had clearance for most of the Asylum, but she too wasn’t allowed to look in the lockers. Nonetheless, she knew what was in many of them anyway: the glass shoes taken from a girl who believed rats and birds talked, the red coat from a girl driven half-mad from an attack by a wild animal, and a packet of seeds taken from a boy who began gambling before he was old enough to drive. Patients longed for what they’d brought with them even when they forgot exactly what those things were.
The missing boy had brought something with him, and Nurse Stillmark tried to remember what it was. Ah yes. A handful of pebbles in one pocket and a bag of candy in the other. He had an addiction to sweets, unlike any the staff had ever seen. Either the boy hoped to find his belongings locked away in the basement or to find something made of sugar in the kitchen.
An alarm sounded. Someone was pounding on the Asylum’s front door. Nurse Stillmark cursed. That’s all she needed, a new patient to admit. She straightened her collar. With any luck the missing boy would be frightened of the outside world; he’d curl up in a corner and wait to be found. In the meantime, she had to act as if everything remained under control.
* * *
The little boy stood on the roof and stared out over the world. He saw the wall that surrounded the Asylum and the trees tops beyond. He wanted to touch a tree and see if it felt as he imagined. He had hazy memories of trees. Lights burned in the distance and stars sparkled in the sky. Crickets and other night things chirped and called. The night was louder than he expected. The chill night air worked through his pajamas and the rough roof under his feet. He smacked his lips, and the dark tasted like a cold spoon from his supper tray.
He was afraid, but he wasn’t going to go back. A gasp echoed nearby, and he heard a voice call out a name. But it wasn’t his name. No one ever said his name. He wasn’t even sure what his name was anymore, but he knew the voice wasn’t calling to him. The boy looked around, and not too far away, on top of the wall, stood someone. A girl perhaps, though he couldn’t tell for sure. For all he didn’t know about the outside world, he sensed the girl wasn’t supposed to be standing on the wall any more than he was supposed to be standing on the roof. But he liked her. She was climbing to escape something too.
The flutter of wings startled him. A crow landed beside him. The bird tilted its head. Another bird landed. Then another. Birds covered the roof all around as if they’d been waiting for him.
Thanks for reading!