Monday, July 8, 2019

St. Isabelle's Downfall By Tiffany Renee Harmon

At St. Isabelle's Home for the Mentally Disturbed it's not clear whether the sole patient needs the staff, or the other way around; by Tiffany Renee Harmon.

Each day at St. Isabelle's Home for the Mentally Disturbed was the same as the last. The residents would wake up, cope with being abnormal, and then go to bed. Meals and medication were promptly served at 8am, 12:30pm, and 7:00pm. Bedtime was 10:00pm. There were no exceptions.

St. Isabelle's stood on a sprawling green manor, surrounded by trees as lifeless as the hopeless patients who entered. The trees created a canopy that shrouded St. Isabelle's in a constant, ominous shadow. A small pond, no longer home to any fish ever since a patient had taken an interest in them and they had all disappeared, was nestled in the back yard, behind the looming old Victorian building. Ivy ran along the exterior wooden paneling in upward spirals.

Dr. Priscilla Martin, owner and head psychotherapist sat in her office, her desk overlooking the scenic panorama of the property. This place had been in her family for one hundred and fifty years. Growing up, the way that the trees seemed to create a gnarled, impenetrable fence had made her scared and claustrophobic, but now it brought her comfort. This was her kingdom and they were her guardians. Gazing out the window, she saw a teenage girl walking towards the pond. She recognized the girl as Alexa Blake, the only ward she had left after the harsh recession had caused the other patients' families to not be able to make their monthly payments. Thankfully, Alexa's mother still had a seemingly limitless bank account and a penchant for pretending she didn't have a daughter.

"Amy," Dr. Martin called out. Moments later, a mousy-looking nurse nervously entered the room.

"Yes, Dr. Martin." She avoided looking directly at her boss. Nurse Amy was the only employee Priscilla Martin had been able to keep during these harsh economic times. She was loyal to a fault and required only lodgings, food, and a small allowance in lieu of the paycheck she used to receive. Her nursing license had been revoked a few months before Dr. Martin had willingly hired her anyway, so she knew there was really nowhere else to go.

"Amy, why is Alexa outside?" Dr. Martin glared at her employee. She'd always prized loyalty above intelligence, but this simpleton was starting to really try her patience.

"Oh, she's surely not. I definitely locked the doors this time."

Dr. Martin stood and walked over to her nurse. She reached out to grab her arm. Her fingers pressed harshly against the nurse's skin as she forced her over to the window. "It would appear you did not." She released the nurse's arm. "This incompetence will not be tolerated much longer."

With that, Nurse Amy muttered a hasty apology and rushed out of the room to recapture the patient.



Alexa Blake sat peacefully at the edge of the pond, locked in a conversation with her best friend. In the pond's reflection, she saw two figures peering out at her from the window overlooking the yard. She whispered her goodbyes, rushed up towards the door she'd found unlocked and slipped into the hall closet. After Nurse Amy ran past the closet to continue her hunt outside, Alexa left the closet and hurdled upstairs. She ran until she reached her room.

Diagnosed with severe schizophrenia at the age of ten, Alexa had seen her fair share of hospitals after being deemed a "danger to herself and others." Now, six years after her initial diagnosis, she knew that being at St. Isabelle's was better than being back in a hospital. It almost seemed fortunate. Things were much more casual, and secrets were more easily kept. Secrets like Lily. Lily had been Alexa's best friend for as long as she could remember. Every time she looked in a mirror, Lily was right there staring back. Her mouth never moved when she spoke, but Alexa could still hear her. Sadly, the only mirror was in a bathroom down the hall from Alexa's bedroom, so Alexa always had to sneak in there and whisper so that no one else would know what she was doing. The doctors had constantly told her that people couldn't possibly live in and communicate through mirrors, but Alexa knew better. "There's no such thing as schizophrenia," Lily had said. "They're just trying to keep us apart."

Alexa loved Lily as if they were the same person. She trusted her with every fragment of her soul. When the pills started making it harder and harder to hear Lily, Alexa had been forced to get creative.



It was 7:00pm. Alexa walked down to the first-floor dining hall and took her usual seat across from Dr. Martin and Nurse Amy. She smiled politely as she sat and graciously said, "Thank you," when she was passed a plate of mashed potatoes and turkey. She stared at the clear, plastic cup holding two blue pills. Routinely she picked up the pills and popped them in her mouth. She took a swig of water and swallowed, keeping the pills tucked tightly under her tongue. She smiled at Nurse Amy and Dr. Martin and turned towards her plate of food. She spooned some mashed potatoes towards her mouth, but then turned her head the opposite direction and coughed into her left hand. She cleared her throat, smiled again, and shoved the potatoes into her mouth. "These are really good. They taste more buttery tonight than usual." With her right hand, she greedily took another bite of potatoes. With her left hand, she deftly slipped the pills into the pocket of her pants.

"What were you doing outside today unsupervised, Alexa?" Dr. Martin asked curtly.

Alexa smiled and she chewed her food as slowly as she could. She swallowed when she could no longer prolong the silence and responded, "I have no idea why I was unsupervised. You should probably ask whoever was supposed to be supervising me." She looked pointedly at Nurse Amy who was nervously picking at her own food.

Dr. Martin inhaled deeply. "I won't abide this insolence much longer, Alexa. Go to your room straight after dinner and stay there until morning. I'll be considering your punishment."

"Fair enough," she replied without care. "I hope you punish her as well though." She pointed to Nurse Amy with her fork before lowering it to scoop up another helping of potatoes.



At 9:50pm, Alexa stood so close to the bathroom mirror that her breath was beginning to fog up her view of Lily. The door was shut, but there was no lock. There were only two places at St. Isabelle's where Alexa and Lily could be alone: the bathroom mirror and the reflection of the small backyard pond.

Alexa leaned forward against the small, porcelain sink until her face touched the mirror glass at an angle. She placed her hand against the glass and whispered, "I missed you tonight, Lily. I wanted to meet you out by the pond again, but I knew I couldn't risk it after they caught me earlier."

Alexa gazed at Lily, a reflection of her wide, expectant blue eyes and blonde hair cut just above the shoulder. Alexa leaned to kiss her on the cheek, but somehow, their lips touched instead.

"I missed you too."

Alexa looked at their hands, palms spread together on the mirror. A knock on the door startled her and they bumped heads through the glass.

"Is everything all right in there?" Nurse Amy's voice called out from the other side. "It's almost time for bed."

Alexa bit her lip and held back her anger. She hated how little time she and Lily shared. "I'm almost done," she called out. She flushed the toilet and turned on the sink, hoping to avoid suspicion. Gently, she kissed the mirror again and whispered, "I'll see you tomorrow."

Alexa opened the door and gave Nurse Amy a polite smile. "Goodnight." She walked down the hallway towards her room.

"Goodnight," Nurse Amy echoed with slight trepidation, her eyes watching Alexa with suspicion.



The next day, things had seemed very tense between Dr. Martin and Nurse Amy. Dr. Martin had shouted to Alexa to go outside so she could have an impromptu staff meeting. Alexa had seized the moment with glee, although the look in Dr. Martin's eyes suggested that she had not forgotten about yesterday.

Alexa sat at the edge of the pond and looked down at her best friend's reflection. The wind wildly tossed her blonde hair about. She loved the breezy air. Sometimes it was so hard for her to feel anything emotional at all, so the chilling sensation reminded her that she was still alive.

"How long do you think we'll be here, Lily?" Alexa peered into the clear water.

"Why? Are you unhappy here?"

Alexa sighed. St. Isabelle's was better now that she had stopped taking her medication, but a small part of her was missing her mother. All her life, her mother had ignored her, but Alexa knew it was her own fault for being born different. "Maybe things can get better with Mother if I just try a little harder to be normal."

"No one cares about you except me." Lily's voice was cold with jealousy.

"I know, Lily." Alexa leaned closer to the water's edge, careful not to send any ripples through Lily. She smiled, comforted. "But maybe Mother will accept us both someday."

"Where are Dr. Martin and Nurse Amy now?"

Alexa looked back at the house and saw the two women arguing behind the glass door. Dr. Martin looked very angry, and something was clearly upsetting Nurse Amy. They simultaneously turned their gaze towards Alexa with such unexpected intensity that Alexa nearly lost her balance and tumbled into the pond. She steadied herself against the bank as Dr. Martin and Nurse Amy hastily disappeared deep into the house. Alexa turned back to Lily, her lips trembling. "I think something's wrong."

Alexa left Lily at the pond and walked swiftly back to the house. She opened the glass door and tiptoed through the living room. She saw the two women, absorbed in their argument, sitting at the dining room table. She sat outside the door, careful to make sure she could not be seen.

"She's the only reason St. Isabelle's can stay operational. She's the only patient we've been able to keep." exclaimed Dr. Martin.

"She's not doing well, Patricia. She's obviously not connected to reality." Nurse Amy hesitated but then added, "She needs to be in a hospital."

"No. We're just going to have to be stricter with her from now on. We can't lose her."

"I don't know if I can do this much longer." Nurse Amy's voice was barely a whisper, but it sounded as if she was on the verge of tears.

"I don't care whether or not you agree." Dr. Martin was close to screaming. "You are an employee here and you can be easily replaced."

"Are you going to punish her?"

"Yes, we are going to punish her. We can't have her thinking she can just do whatever she wants. I'm in control here."

Alexa heard footsteps heading towards the door. In panic, she ran down the hallway and headed back outside. She threw herself at the ground next to the pond. "Don't leave me, Lily. Don't leave me ever."

"I'll never leave you. You'll never really be alone. Never."

"I love you."

"I love you too."



Alexa sat at the table nervously. It was 7:00pm but Nurse Amy and Dr. Martin were not at the dinner table. Alexa jumped at the sound of a door being slammed behind her, and in walked the two women looking very displeased. They sat down at the table across from Alexa. Looking grave, Nurse Amy reached into her pocket, pulled out a plastic bag of blue pills, and placed them on the table. Her gaze pierced Alexa. Alexa's eyes widened in horror.

"We found these in your room," said Dr. Martin in a tone more angry than disappointed.

Alexa sat in stunned silence. There was no way out. Tears started brimming in her eyes. She had been caught. They would take away Lily forever. She couldn't let that happen.

Realizing that Alexa had nothing to say, Dr. Martin continued, "We've been noticing suspicious behavior for quite a while now, Alexa. The first few times we heard you muttering to yourself at the pond, we ignored it. We didn't think it was all that serious. After all, you'll never be normal." Her face was contorted in rage. "Everyone thought you were past all this. You were discharged from the hospital and declared stable enough to live with minimal supervision. Why would you stop taking your medication? Have you been talking to that delusion of yours?"

A single tear slipped out of Alexa's left eye. "I asked you a question." Dr. Martin was so angry that a large vein on her forehead looked ready to explode. "Answer me. Have you been talking to your imaginary friend?"

Alexa sniffed back the tears and slowly lifted her head. She looked Dr. Martin in the eyes and whispered, "Her name is Lily and she is not imaginary."

The back of Dr. Martin's hand connected with Alexa's cheek sending her reeling backwards in her seat. Alexa yelped as she bit her tongue. Nurse Amy stood behind Dr. Martin in stunned silence. Her eyes were wide and her lips were trembling. If ever there was a moment for her to stop being so passive, this was it, but she just stood there in shock.

"You can't do that," Alexa sputtered, her mouth filling with blood. "You can't hit me."

Dr. Martin took a deep breath and regained her composure. She stood as tall and as menacing as St. Isabelle's itself. "Really? Look around you. Who are you going to tell? No one cares about you. The mirror in the bathroom has been removed, and you will no longer be allowed outside of the house." Dr. Martin grabbed Nurse Amy firmly by the arm and directed her out of the dining room, leaving Alexa at the table, dinnerless and heaving with sobs.



The next few days passed in stony silence. Alexa begrudgingly took her medication under Dr. Martin's careful supervision. Alexa longed for the day that another patient would come and take some of the attention off of her, but no end of her torment was in sight. Feeling more alone than ever, Alexa spent her free time wandering the halls of St. Isabelle's. She could feel the medication's strong effect. Everything seemed hazier. She felt so much less alive than ever before. Every step through the hallways felt like a step towards death. The walls seemed tighter. The lights seemed dimmer. St. Isabelle's was becoming her tomb.

She didn't put up a fight when her captors demanded she wash the dishes every day as punishment. The kitchen was a fortress of steel sinks and appliances. Every item and drawer was labeled with perfect precision. The drawer labeled "knives and forks" was always locked.

Nurse Amy supervised the dish washing but tried not to look or speak to Alexa. She seemed distant and consumed with her own inner turmoil, which was perfectly fine with Alexa. Alexa's cheek may have healed quickly, but the emotional pain had not. On some level, Alexa blamed Nurse Amy every bit as much as she blamed Dr. Martin.

On the fifth day of her punishment, Nurse Amy's phone rang while Alexa was washing the dishes. Nurse Amy gave her a sideways glance before excusing herself to answer the call. The moment Nurse Amy was out of the room, Alexa moved away from the sink and started looking around for anything wide and shiny enough to give a reflection. She gazed deeply at the side of the metal toaster and saw her own distorted image, but after all the pills, things were just too hazy. Lily was gone.

She desperately looked through some unlocked drawers, hoping for something, anything, to assuage the pain of losing the only person in the world she still cared about. She hoped for a knife, but no one had misplaced one. They were all locked up. As she opened the final drawer, she found the next best thing: a lighter. She held the small, blue lighter in her hand and smiled brokenly. She slipped it in her pocket. She quickly returned to the sink and continued washing the dishes just as Nurse Amy returned to the kitchen. Alexa glanced at Nurse Amy, trying to see if she had heard any of the rummaging that had occurred in her absence, but her expression was completely blank. She didn't seem to care one way or the other. In a way, she seemed almost as miserable as Alexa. Maybe this place is Nurse Amy's tomb as well, Alexa wondered.



It was finally 10:45pm. Dr. Martin was no doubt snoring in her bedroom upstairs. Alexa tiptoed out of her room and headed towards Nurse Amy's room. The door was slightly open, and Alexa could see her tossing and turning soundlessly, haunted by her dreams. Alexa carefully walked down the stairs, taking great care to only touch the outermost part of the steps. She couldn't afford any creaking.

Once down the stairs, she moved slowly towards the living room. She hated being in St. Isabelle's at night. In the dark, she felt haunted by an unseen monster. St. Isabelle's didn't want her to escape. Dr. Martin didn't want her to escape. Finally, she could see the moonlight glistening off of the glass door leading out to the yard. In the distance, she could see the sparkling pond beckoning to her. All she had to do was walk through the living room to the door.

"You can do it, Alexa. You can do it."

"Lily? Is that you?"

"Do it now, Alexa. Come back to me." All the fear and adrenaline rushing through her veins was negating the power of the medication. "I need you Alexa."

She slipped the blue lighter out of her pocket and unleashed the flame. She looked at it with reverence. She'd finally found her way out. She leaned forward until she could comfortably reach the tapestries lining the vast walls. Slowly, she lowered the flame until it connected with the hideous, dark mounds of tapestry. The room now ablaze, she smiled to herself and proceeded towards the glass door. She lit the drapes opposite the glass door. She even lit the couch for good measure. She half expected the house to moan in pain.

Finally, she was at the door. She was so close. She turned the metal handle, but it would not budge. She tried again. She rattled it as hard as she could, but it was locked. The smoke detectors were beeping wildly and she heard a frightened scream from upstairs. The fire was building quickly. It encompassed the entire hallway and surrounded the foot of the stairs and the entrance to the living room. There was no going back. Alexa could only move forward. She stared at the glass door and saw a glimpse of her reflection. "Come to me."

Alexa turned to her right and grabbed a small lamp. With all the force she could muster, she threw the lamp at the glass door. The glass started to crack. Alexa picked the lamp back up and hit the door again and again and again. Shards of glass flew everywhere, hitting Alexa's face and embedding themselves in her arms and hands.

Finally, enough of the glass was broken and she slipped through. She raced across the damp yard, slipping once and falling into mud. She picked herself back up, focused on the banks of the pond. The moonlight reflected off the water's surface like a beacon. She was so close. Screams of terror echoed behind her. They grew louder and louder until they suddenly just stopped. Her captors were dead.

The house was covered in flames. It would take too long for any fire trucks to reach such a remote location. She ran and ran until she collapsed on the ground next to the pond. She wiped the blood from her palms on the grass and winced as the shards of glass cut her deeper. Tears flowed from her eyes, and snot began to slip from her nose. She wiped her face and wailed in pain. Through the pain and fear she smiled as she slowly peered into the pond. The blaze behind her gave off enough light for her to see a clear reflection. "I'm here, Lily. I'm here. They'll never separate us again."

4 comments:

  1. Good psychological horror story with well-drawn characters. Maybe Nurse Amy was trapped, too. Maybe. But she was the person who could’ve prevented this tragedy.

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  2. Rather unlikely to keep a hospital open for one patient. Wouldn't Amy's mother be concerned? The description of Amy's illness is vivid and believable.

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  3. Oh I see. The mother didnt care much about the daughter...sad story.

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  4. Perfect storm created by a disinterested mother, an abhorrently selfish doctor and a complicit nurse. Suspenseful and tragic.

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