My publisher wrote about my work and the path that brought me here. Comment, share, whatever might help us make our work a success.
Wow. Chemo and exhaustion and the start of a story written. Thank you everyone who has kept reading. I wasn’t sure what to do for the last day. This isn’t the ending of the story, of course. More story is left to tell. Chemo goes through til October. Also in October my novel is published by Plum Tree Books!
In the meantime, I’ll post a few things here. I’ve enjoyed this month, but I’m glad it’s over.
Thank you again and again for being here.
Hannah peered under the door to make the hall was clear. She saw nothing but the tight weave of red carpet.
“Careful,” the old woman said, “They know how to lie in wait.”
But Hannah had gotten this far. She felt sure of herself. “We’ll be fine. They can’t know I’m in here.”
She opened the door.
The guard had her by the throat before she realized he was there. She grabbed his wrist. She kicked. He pinned her to the wall. He said nothing, and she couldn’t speak.
His stare frightened her more than his grip, and she slapped him to get him to speak if not to break his stare. She tried to kick him again, but a heavy feeling weighed down her legs. Moving was becoming more difficult while he stared. Her throat hurt. She looked away.
A strange gagging sound escaped from him. The noise pushed her fear further, but she risked a sideways glance. His face contorted. Suddenly, he let her go.
Hannah fell forward, and he fell alongside her. She screamed and pushed and kicked. He offered no resistance. It took a few more kicks for her to realize he wasn’t moving at all.
“What…” Hannah gulped for a breath.
The old woman stood there next to the body of the guard. “What happened?” Hannah asked her. Her eyes refocused.
The old woman held her knife. Specks of blood dotted her hand. She looked down at Hannah and her voice was calm “You mustn’t let them touch you because you can never fight back.”
Hannah slowly looked back at the guard. A stain grew in the carpet underneath his body. “You killed him?” she asked.
“I saved you,” she replied. The old woman reached out a hand to help Hannah back to her feet. “You’re in deep now, child. I hope you can run.”
I wasn’t sure I could write anything, but I’m too close to the end of the month to give up now.
They said the Asylum was built long before the town. They said the town built the Asylum. They said a lot of things.
But no living soul in town remembered a time without the Asylum. Its shadows and lights shimmered at the edge of town for as long as anyone could remember, and few townspeople wanted to acknowledge it. They didn’t speak of the people who lived there. They pretended the people who worked there didn’t exist.
As far as anyone knew, no one from the town ever got a job in the building itself. A few intrepid souls got jobs as gardeners or deliverymen, but they were never allowed inside, and they said little about what, if anything, they saw.
But the town looked the other way when the night ambulance drove through the town to the Asylum gates. No one knew where the night ambulance came from or who it carried. No one wanted to know.
The night ambulance was seen only enroute to the Asylum and only after sunset. People who witnessed its passage had bad dreams and even fell silent for the following days.
On the night Hannah crept over the Asylum wall, many people found it difficult to sleep. Dogs paced in their homes. But even if the people got out of bed, frustrated and restless, almost no one looked in the Asylum’s direction.
I had more I wanted to add to this scene, but it would take more energy and time than I have. So I left it simple and short. The month is almost over. Thank goodness! Writing something remotely postable every day has been hard. But thanks to you for reading.
Hannah was running when the Asylum went dark. She threw herself against a wall. Shouts and cries surrounded her. She had no idea what happened to Meredith. They’d run in opposite directions when Security appeared.
Catching her breath, she felt along the wall and discovered another door. Might as well, she whispered. By now picking a lock took no time at all. The door opened. This time Hannah didn’t wait for anyone to come out. Instead, she walked in.
No one answered. Dim moonlight cast a few shadows. The bed was empty. Hannah didn’t know she was in the room that belonged to the boy who’d gone up to the roof. She felt relief at finding an unoccupied room. Maybe she could take a moment to think.
She sat on the bed. Too late she realized the door was open. “Meredith?” But the bit of shadow Hannah could make out in the dark seemed too short for the nurse.
“You unlocked my door. Why?”
It was the old woman. Hannah was sure of it. “I thought you’d want out,” she whispered.
The sound of the old woman shutting the door didn’t comfort Hannah. The old woman had claimed to have a knife.
“You’ve let several of us out,” the old woman said. “Why?”
“Why should you not be out? Are you dangerous?” Hannah hoped she sounded brave, and wished she could see in the dark.
The old woman snorted. “Are you dangerous?” she asked.
“No,” Hannah said. “Not really.”
The old woman sighed. “That’s a shame.”
As I figure out what’s happening inside, there are still things happening outside.
Hasher Mansfield had seen the lights from the Asylum long before he exited the highway. He never liked delivering there, but he’d always made his drop offs in the semi-darkness. Apprehension and excitement rolled in his chest.
Once before he’d seen a bright light coming from the Asylum. When Hasher had pulled up, he’d seen an ambulance and armed guards. He thought he’d heard a scream before all went suddenly silent.
Now the Asylum lights lit up the sky like never before. He turned up the dirt drive and stopped at the gate. The guard moved more slowly than normal. Hasher’s unease grew.
The guard stepped out of his shed. He had a phone to his ear. After a glance at Hasher, he waved him on through.
Hasher took a moment to put his truck into gear. He’d never been waved through without a complete and thorough check of his papers and his cargo. Years of this same gig, seeing the same guards, and they still insisted on following every last procedure. Their obsessive checklists irritated him, but this laxness unnerved him. If there was a reason for them to forget procedure, it had to be reason enough to stay away.
The guard was shouting into the phone. Hasher shook his head, crossed himself, and drove the truck onto the grounds.
At the curve in the road, he slowed down. He was glad he did. A young man ran across the road, directly in front of the truck where he threw himself in the dirt.
Hasher slammed on the brakes. Bruises and cuts covered the young man. His clothes were torn. He made no further move. Hasher looked up at the Asylum lights unsure of what to do. Wait? Get out and check on the boy? Back up?
He rolled down his window to shout for the boy to get out of the way. Maybe this was some kind of prank, though he knew it wasn’t. The night air entered the truck and so did the sounds of shouts. Glass broke somewhere, the sound perfectly carried on the breeze. A scream followed.
All the lights of the Asylum wavered. They flickered. And everything was thrown into darkness. The only light left came from the truck’s headlights, which spilled over the boy stretched out across the drive as if dead.
Soon May will be over. I’m not sure what will happen to the story after that. I’ve been hesitant about what to write. Time is short, and do I want this to be scary, disturbing, haunting, sad, or something else. Letting lose the patients feels like a commitment to a particular type of story, and I don’t know if I’m ready to make that commitment here in a public, shared space. I feel like earlier in the month I pulled some punches about the security force in the story because I wasn’t ready to commit.
Does that make sense? How dark do I want the characters to be? Should any characters actually die? If I were writing this and not posting it, I’d experiment and go back and rewrite it and rewrite it again.
What I’ve got so far are just bits. I’m not going to be able to end the story in a few days. Then what?
But in the meantime…
A woman scrambled from the shadows after Hannah. Her nightdress caught under her knee and she fell forward. She grabbed Hannah’s foot.
Hannah kicked. She jumped to her feet.
Nurse Meredith looked over her should. “Stop acting the fool. Open more doors.”
The woman stayed on the floor. She wailed and thrashed, but she didn’t get up. Her grey nightdress twisted around her and her hair was tangled in a rubberband.
She tried to guess the woman’s age, but she seemed both twenty and fifty at the same time. “What’s wrong with her?” Hannah asked the nurse.
“Does it matter?” Meredith asked. She unlocked another door, not pulling it open all the way but only a crack.
Hannah darted to the next door. She was no longer sure letting these people free was a good idea. She had thought they would all be happy. Even more hesitant, she picked the next lock.
She didn’t, however, turn the knob this time. She waited. The knob turned from the inside.
Hannah stepped back. Someone rushed by behind her, a patient released by Meredith no doubt, but she didn’t turn to look. She kept her eyes on the steel doorknob, and it turned. She braced herself to run.
An old hand appeared first, gripping the edge of the door, and a second later an old woman looked out. “I’ve a knife. If you don’t believe me, come closer,” the old woman said.
The wails of the woman on the floor pitched higher. The blonde had wondered out of her room and into the hall. A young man now argued with Nurse Meredith, although all Hannah understood the nurse to say to him was, “I’m not here with your medication.”
Shouts rose up beyond the corridor. Security was coming.
Today was a long day. But I didn’t forget to write.
The lock clicked, and Hannah gently pushed the door. A little girl stared back at her. The girl was crouched at her door in the dark. She made no sound at all.
Hannah was struck by the brilliance of the girl’s blonde hair. Huge gold loops cascaded down her shoulders. The hair mesmerized, and Hannah wanted to touch it. She forgot where she was and what she was supposed to be doing.
“Hannah,” came Nurse Meredith’s voice. “Snap out of it.”
Hannah blinked. “What do I…”
“Move on to the next door,” Meredith said. “Don’t look. Open.”
Footsteps pounded on the floor above, rattling the light hanging from the ceiling. Hannah scooted away from the strangely unmoving, blonde girl.
Hannah’s hand shook as she picked the next lock. Behind her, Meredith opened doors on the other side of the hall. The nurse was faster. She had no need to look into the rooms.
At the first door Meredith opened, and young man bolted out. He ran down the hall. Hannah barely got a look at him. She turned her attention back to the next door to unlock. She held her breath when she gave it a push.
The light from the hall fell into the dark room. A scream burst from the blackness.
Hannah scrambled backwards, dropping the lockpick in the doorway.