The 21st Installment

Hannah Robinson grabbed the sides of the window and pulled herself up. She perched on the windowsill, her face turned up at the night sky. How long had it been since she’d felt fresh air? Seemed like days but it had to have been only hours—some of the strangest hours in her life.

The roof didn’t come to a sharp point, but the slope didn’t invite foolishness. If she went out there, she’d be as trapped as she was in the attic. But she’d be moving.

Movement on the ground caught her attention. No. She leaned forward a little more. Her dad stood on the Asylum ground in his pajamas next to a child and a body on the ground. The nurse!

“Dad!” she shouted. “DAD!” She waved her arm, lost her balance, and fell.

*              *              *

The old woman watched Mr. Robinson find the nurse and she watched as he covered the nurse with his bathrobe. She watched until he was waving at someone up above, his daughter no doubt. And just as she moved deeper into the shadows behind the hibiscus and into the secret corridor, Mr. Robinson shouted.

The old woman hesitated, curious, and even, though she hated to admit it, concerned. But she shook her head and made her way back inside. They would all be fine. The nurse was certainly fine, momentarily knocked out, likely playing possum.

Hurrying back further into the building, the old woman took quick strong strides even in the unlit corridor. She didn’t know how much time she had before Nurse Stillmark was back on her feet, but it wasn’t long enough. She had much to do. It’d be helpful to have that fool girl, but she’d manage without her. She’d survived this long after all. And if Hannah were in the attic like she suspected, well…perhaps the birds would come.

By the time the old woman entered the office, an idea had taken shape. She had to get rid of security and gather up her fellow patients. She’d never be able to round up the lost and wandering on her own, so she’d have to resort to a trick used by security. It was a shame, but needs must as the devil drives.

She pulled the bandana from her hair. She covered her nose and mouth, struggled briefly to tie the bandana at the back of her head, strands of gray and white looped in the knot. The office was supposed to be a protected space, of course, and a bandana wasn’t likely to be much help, but she liked to do what she could.

Opening the control panel and finding the right switch took no time at all. “Soon, my friends,” she said. “Soon.” And she flipped the switched.

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