What a mysterious thing madness is. I have watched patients whose lips are forever sealed in a perpetual silence. They live, breathe, eat; the human form is there, but that something, which the body can live without, but which cannot exist without the body, was missing. – Nelly Bly
Is there sorrow without sanity? As the figures, a woman strapped to a wheeled-chair and a man pushing it, moved along the dark, cobwebbed hallway, the man absently wondered about the connection between emotion and reason.
A splash and a rustle sounded from one of the shadows to their left and he raised his candle in time to see a rat scurry through a puddle. As bad as the upper floors were, the basement was much worse. Bedlam Asylum was old, and rarely cared for over recent years, especially the unused lower level. Dirt, stains, and dripping water could be seen everywhere one looked. It smelled even worse.
The wheels squeaked as the chair rolled along the dilapidated tile floor, occasionally crunching through debris. The man continued his train of thought, fighting through the distracting aroma of mold and decay, wondering if the pitiful wails, along with the hysterical laughter that sounded throughout the asylum, were the true perception of their originators. Were the nerves that fired in their minds, causing the vocal cords to cry out, anything more than a random chemical process? Could those sounds of madness be no less meaningful than the flickering of his candle’s flame? The mind of man was remarkable and a source of mystery greater than any other. Perhaps the greatest of all.
Prudence, the woman, sat in the chair being pushed along the hallway, all but oblivious to what was happening around her. She was not asleep but sedated to the point of a barely conscious dream. A breathy, mumbled version of Mary Had a Little Lamb was the only sound she made. If it wasn’t for the song and the cold foggy breath that escaped her lips like tiny wisps of smoke, it would be difficult to know she was even alive.
The man would argue that although she was alive, she had never lived. Prudence had been in the asylum since a small child – abandoned on its doorstep by her parents. Her years in the asylum prolonged her existence, but she never laughed, never smiled, never interacted with anyone beyond the childish singing of that one song. That is not life, thought the man, it is closer to inanimate breathing.
Really, he regarded her nothing more than an animal that needed to be fed and cared for. Perhaps less, for even an animal could show affection and loyalty. Prudence showed nothing. She lived in a fortress of madness, protected from all rational ideas.
Despite the cold and unpleasant surroundings, a small smile broke onto the man’s face as he thought of the gift he was about to give her. She had served no purpose in life, but her death would have meaning. Likely death, he reminded himself. The new version of the serum could be the cure they had been working towards.
But, he had to admit, progress had been slow, even stagnant as of late. He held little hope that he had created the final serum or that Prudence would survive the night.
The last room on the right, farthest from the stairwell, was their destination. Here he had built his lab, hidden away from the unsympathetic world. It was here that he had spent many solitary hours through the asylum nights to refine his work.
Stopping the wheeled-chair just shy of the doorway, he left it behind to enter the room. There were no windows inside, as they were below ground, and the darkness seemed to eat the light of his candle.
Walking across the small space to an old table, that served as his lab work area, he lit an oil lamp to fight back the night. The soft glow illuminated the room, only slightly cleaner than the hallway, revealing its contents. Above the desk on the far wall, an old shelf was decorated with many glass containers, beakers, and chemical vials. Opposite the shelf, near the door, was a lone bed with a threadbare blanket over its thin mattress. An old wooden chair was the only other useful object amidst that converted laboratory.
Satisfied with the conditions, he went back to Prudence and wheeled her into the room and positioned her near the bed. He undid the leather straps on her arms and legs that held her to the chair. There was no worry that she would have tried to run away, the straps merely kept her upright for the ride, especially the slow descent down the stairs. Once free of the straps, he used her modicum of consciousness to stand her up and move her to the bed. An unconscious body was so difficult to maneuver, it was much easier to leave a touch of strength to assist.
Now that she was on the bed, he started to strap her down again – this time to prevent movement that the body would try to make. He latched one thick, brown leather strap across her shins, another across her thighs, one over her stomach, and a fourth one across her shoulders. Finally, he took a smaller strap, about the size of a man’s belt, and used it to strap Prudence’s head in place to the bed. That last strap was especially tight and cut into her skin.
He watched her eyes as they flicked around briefly – in response to the pain? he wondered. Could her brain translate the most carnal feelings into the most basic of thoughts?
No. He was confident that she had no idea what was happening. The stimuli of movement, of changing locations, of even pain, seemed to fail to breach her true consciousness. Again, he thought about the uselessness of Prudence and how he would give her undeserved dignity.
With his subject firmly secured, the man walked over to his lab table and lifted a beaker of transparent golden liquid. He held it up to the lamp and swirled its contents to assure there was no separation of material. Happy with the clarity, he put it down, lifted a large metal syringe, and dipped the needle into the golden liquid. Drawing back the plunger, he filled its belly. Making a brief notation as to the amount he was using, he then turned to Prudence.
Bending over his subject, he studied her neck and chose a location, the carotid artery. Placing the left hand on the top of her head, he used his right to bring the syringe closer.
He smiled and whispered, “It’s time, Prudence.”