THE WALLS TREMBLED from the sheer intensity of the yells that echoed through the halls. Paired with the thunder outside, Violet felt the world around her shake unsteadily. Her hands pressed tight against her ears, attempting and failing to block the noise out. Even the rain seemed relentless, recklessly pounding down the roughed up walls outside, sending the winds howling through the night like a banshee that would not rest.
Just like any other night since the first time she was here, Violet cowered with fright. It didn’t matter how long she had been a resident of Steinfield Asylum. Every night was a nightmare that she couldn’t wake up from and that fact will never change.
A sharp clang of metal sounded outside her room before a man in uniform appeared. He gripped a baton tightly in his hands, expression fierce as usual, a look that Violet had memorized throughout her stay here.
“Violet Harper!” The nurse yelled, banging onto the other side of her bedroom door with the said baton. “Wake up. It’s supper time and you’re expected at the mess hall.”
The mention of supper made Violet’s heart sing. It wasn’t much, just a mere cup of tea and a few biscuits with jam but it was a delightful treat to have every Saturday night. In a place that was as bland as frightful as Steinfield Asylum, Violet took whatever luxury she could get her hands on.
Steadily, she rose to her feet, stumbling towards the doors where the nurse waited. Although they were called ‘nurses’, Violet knew they were more of ‘guards’ than anything else. They weren’t there to care for her.
They were there to make sure she — and the other patients — didn’t escape from the walls of this mental prison.
Now that they were out and about in the hallways, the tormented screams of the patients were louder and clearer than before. The four walls of the asylum contained many physical bodies but it definitely couldn’t contain the sounds and agonizing noises the patients emitted. Some screamed for the release of death while others pleaded for their innocence. No matter what they howled about, they were all ignored by the nurses, doctors, and wardens.
The calls of the insane weren’t noises the sane should heed, after all. That was their secret for maintaining their own sanity in the world of shadows void of light.
Quietly, Violet followed the nurse down the hallways and towards the mess hall. It wasn’t a fanciful place, merely a large room with equally large barred windows that allowed some sliver of moonlight in. The hall was lined with rows and rows of long rectangular tables with matching benches. On the tables, plates were lined out, some with food and others were left with crumbs.
She was one of the lucky ones allowed to even have Saturday supper. Not every patient had the luxury to enjoy the late-night snack. Only those that had been marked as well-behaved for three consecutive months had the extra perk. However, while it was difficult to get the extra benefit, it was more than easy to lose it. One misstep and it was back into her cell of a room.
“Get your grub and finish up before the clock hits eleven. I’ll come get you then,” her nurse instructed. Gesturing to the line where patients were queueing up for their food, he turned and left shortly after Violet nodded in understanding.
In the queue, Violet quickly spotted one of her only friends in the building of the unsound. Luna Monetz, a mousy girl with a petite stature, stood to the tip of her toes as she waved, beckoning Violet over.
Violet scuttled over to her friend hurriedly, careful not to make too much noise while doing so. While suppertime was mainly an hour for them to relax and bond with the other patients, there were still nurses present at the scene to observe their every move, ready to revoke their privilege at any given moment. She didn’t want to give them a reason to do so.
“You’re finally here!” Luna all but squealed, grabbing onto Violet’s arm with an iron grip once she was close enough. “Come on. They’re serving it with lingonberry jam today and I heard that you can ask for gravy!”
“Lingonberry?” Violet echoed, her face crumpling. She could already picture the iconic bitterness of the September-harvested fruit, disappointed that the kitchen staff had chosen that as the menu for the night. “Why can’t they ever choose one of the sweeter fruits.” Violet pouted. “It’s not even local.”
“That’s why we’re lucky to have it,” countered Luna. “It’s rare to get imported foods since they’re always so bloody expensive. Even if it’s a little on the bitter side, at least it’s a nice treat.”
“You are always so easily pleased,” commented Violet. Sighing, she shook her head. “Maybe the gravy will make it taste better,” she muttered to herself begrudgingly as the kitchen staff handed her a plate of the food.
“Everything is better here than what was outside,” said Luna. “I do not wish to be out there any time soon. At least we’re safe within these walls.”
Together, the two friends made their way towards their usual table after collecting their food. Plates and cutleries in hand, they settled down onto one of the empty benches, the whole stretch of the table all to themselves.
Unlike Violet, who had dreams of seeing the sunlight from beyond the walls of the asylum once more, Luna was satisfied with where she was. Happy, even. She, like many of the ‘patients’ in Steinfield, had found herself in the asylum after her family had given her up. Most of the people that were diagnosed as mentally unsound weren’t even so. They were merely placed here, in a building that seemingly contained all the horrors of hell, just because they weren’t wanted by their families and were too old for the orphanage.
Violet, on the other hand, was a slightly more complicated case. Her family members had proclaimed her to be insane, choosing to keep her as one of their own in the family tree instead of placing her in an orphanage despite being younger than all of the patients. Pressed by the power her family name has, she had no choice but to remain a prisoner here until someone higher up the social ladder could bail her out.
“They want you to think that we’re safe here.” Gingerly, Violet took a bite of the gravy-soaked biscuit. Surprised that the jam on it wasn’t too overpowering, she happily sliced another bite as she spoke. “That’s how they get money to feed their families. This place is nothing but a jail for the elite and innocent.”
“Some say it’s a haven,” Luna insisted. “It all depends on the perspective of the speaker. We are merely protected from the sane. They’re the true monsters in this world.”
Just as those words left her lips, yells reverberated through the mess hall from the corridors outside. Both Violet and Luna turned, peeking out of the opened door to see what all the fuss was about. They had looked over just in time to catch a glimpse of a man being pulled in, both his hands cuffed and secured by guards as the nurses hovered around to make sure all was well.
As if sensing eyes on him, he whipped his head over to face their direction, bright crystal green eyes clashing with Violet’s. They were piercing, cold like a tundra and as venomous as snakes, lasting only for a second before he walked past the door’s opening. Just with one short glimpse, he was gone.
“Hmm,” Luna hummed under her breath, sucking on her fork. “A new patient?”
“I don’t think he’s one of us,” Violet answered, still looking in the direction where she had seen the man last. “I think… I think this place was originally built to keep men like him caged in. There’s a new fox in our rabbit burrow.”
She couldn’t forget the way those eyes had looked at her. They were filled with chilling danger, a gaze filled with peril and menace. It made a shiver crawl down her spine, filthily defiling her of whatever she had in her head that was pure and innocent. In a sense, the look the new patient had sent her was a wake-up call.
Yet another reminder that she had to find a way out of the building of horrors and towards her own freedom.