You Can Be In The Acknowledgments of "Tunnel Vision" If...

You can be in the acknowledgements of "Tunnel Vision" if you give me one hundred dollars!!! Naw. I'm just kidding. You won't need to give me one penny. Unless you really want to, then, okay. I'll take it. Here's the backstory:

Way back in the summer of 2010, I asked readers to vote on what kind of blovel (blog/novel) I should write. They chose a gothic story set in the 30s, and it eventually became “Tunnel Vision”, the story of twisted love in The Northern Michigan Insane Asylum.

 

I’m writing the acknowledgements and I need your help. Please let me know if you did any of the following so I can include your name in the book (if that’s okay with you):

  • You read the blovel, even if you never told me or anyone else
  • You commented on a post or on my Facebook page
  • You gave a character name suggestion
  • You encouraged me in any way to keep on going

 

I’d love to include your name in the acknowledgments, so let me know who you are either by commenting here with how you’d like your name to appear, on my Facebook page, or send me an email to Tanya@tanyaeby.com.

 

And if you have to give me a name like Ben Dover, I’ll put it in there too, because I’m a teenager at heart and that stuff makes me laugh. But your real name would be good too.

 

And in case you’re wondering: here are the characters that made it into the book:

 

Eliot Kinney

Bill Pepperidge

Mallie Lyn Peters

Lilliana

Dr. Christopher Grooms

Margaret Grooms

Harvey Briggart

Rose Kinney

Alma

Charlie Young

Lynnie Grant

Tim Beeler

Robert Kostic

Alma

Nurse Kolenda

Tunnel Vision--Chapter 20 & THE END

1938, Northern Michigan Insane Asylum Three hundred and seventeen souls took flight during the tuberculosis epidemic. Ama and the rest of the team of nurses and volunteers tended to them, cleaned their beds, soothed their coughs, and prepared bodies for burial. She worked endlessly, at all hours of the day, and took over for Nurse Kolenda when she developed the telltale rattle in her chest. Nurse Kolenda recovered; many others did not. And when the epidemic passed and the halls emptied and were washed and polished again, the hospital returned to its former state as an asylum. Patients were locked in their wards. Treatments for their mental ailments resumed. And a new doctor arrived on campus. He brought with him knowledge of a new technique that would cure the most violent of patients of the terrible spirit writhing within them. By drilling holes into a skull, the mean spirits were released and the patient returned to life quieter, simpler, and (Ama thought) without any personality left. Later, the surgery would be replaced with the simple use of an icepick through the eye and into the frontal lobes of the brain. This, though, would be a decade yet before coming.

Ama grew big with child and though everyone at the asylum knew she was pregnant, knew in fact that Doctor Kinney had placed it within her womb, the nurses and doctors responded with silence. They did not acknowledge the pregnancy and so it was as if it didn’t exist.

Mallie Lyn Peters returned to work at the asylum where she would take up duties as one of the cooks in the three cafeterias. She placed the food order with George who brought her baskets and baskets of meat, cheese, fruits and vegetables. And one day, he brought her a ring.

The moment he slipped the ring on her finger, far away, in the belly of the hospitals, Ama bit her lower lip and began to push.

Her daughter entered the world much as she did…in the shadows…but this time, there were hands to welcome her as several inmates had followed their favorite nurse down into the tunnels. They had not turned their backs to her pregnancy. In fact, they awaited it with anticipation and Ama’s daughter was greeted with laughter and joy.

Ama gave her new child her nipple to suckle. She pulled on it and her lips smacked. The pain that ran through her breast struck her as proof that her child was alive and fierce with longing. She would grow strong and healthy, but she would not grow up here.

On their wedding day, when George carried Mallie Lyn over the threshold and into the small dusty space that was their kitchen, a basket greeted them with a small child wrapped in hospital cloth. Mallie immediately heated some milk and soothed the screaming babe with milk dribbled from a cloth. The newlyweds did not discuss it. They looked at each other and simply nodded. They would call her Elizabeth. She was their daughter, for what does it matter where a person comes from or how they’re brought into the world as long as once they are in it, they are swaddled in love.

Chapter Twenty-One

1957

Now I know. I know the truth of my past, the place where I started, and how my parents came to raise and love me.

Am I better for knowing the truth? Yes. I think I am. I have always felt different from my family, and now I know why. I refuse, though, to believe that I am an abomination. I am not doomed to repeat the mistakes of Dr. Kinney, my biological father. Nor am I doomed to remain trapped in a place like my biological mother, Ama. She was trapped, I think. Or maybe not. Maybe giving me up was a choice that allowed her to do good work at the hospital. She stayed at the asylum until her own death twenty years ago.

To think, I missed knowing her by one year. Had I found this out last year, I might have tracked her down. We would have shared tea and…what? Conversation?

I cannot answer all the questions I have about my birth, but I can answer the ones my daughter will have about her own.

I will tell her that when she was but one month from being born, her grandmother (Mallie Lynn Peters) and I packed my belongings into two suitcases and I left that house on 2nd Street. I left to dishes crashing and my husband screaming and as Ama did so many years before, I heard the echo of my footsteps as I walked away from him.

We are not who our parents were. We are unique creatures and worthy of love.

Now, as I write this, my darling girl Ama Lynn naps next to me. I can here the soft puffs of breath from her. My mother works in the garden. And I think of what is to come next. I, too, am no longer trapped. I do not know what waits for me and my daughter, my daughter who represents the best parts of me and her father, the best things in life. My daughter represents hope. I will love her. I will tend to her. And when she grows up she will have choices before her, and she will not be afraid.

There is no reason to be afraid.

We will not hide in the tunnels anymore. We will be fiercely happy. We will move forward, into the light.

 

 

THE END

 

Tunnel Vision--Chapter 19

1957, Traverse City, Michigan In my mind, I hear my mother’s footsteps echoing in the very corridor I’m standing in now. My adopted mother has taken me on a tour of Munson Hospital, formerly known as the Northern Michigan Insane Asylum. It is not the facility we’re looking at, but ghosts. I see my father in the shadows. He is a threatening force. And I see my mother in the way the light pours in through the windows.

Of course, I am not sure if I should even call Ama my mother. Isn’t a mother the person who raises you, who loves you, who tends to you? Is a mother purely biological, or is it a choice?

I run the palm of my hand over the smooth curve of my belly and within me my daughter shifts.

Something else shifts in me too. An idea, maybe. Something about life. How much of our lives, our happiness, is a choice? And how much is forced upon us? The woman who stands before me now, her shoulders hunched, her face lined with age and worry and the pain of giving birth to six children (only three who are still living), this woman…what choices has she made in life? I am almost afraid to ask her.

It turns out that I don’t have to.

“Come on, dear,” my mother says to me, her voice lilting with the brogue of her youth. “Let me grab my shawl and we can walk home and have a cup of tea. It will soothe the little one within you.” She smiles briefly and for a moment I catch a glimpse of the woman she was before my father died. “Perhaps it will soothe me too. Let us have the rest of the story. I will tell you what happened next.”

She tells the head nurse that she is leaving for the day. I follow her out the door, leaving both the darkness and the light of the asylum behind me.

As we walk down the long path that leads to the gate, I realize that even this place has undergone a transformation. There are no longer cries from crazed spirits, but the hollow silence of a hospital ward. Things are sterile now and humane. Some say it is on account of the frontal lobotomies practiced here. They say modern science has brought a great calm. I don’t know if that is true.

Sometimes when there is silence, trouble boils underneath.

I know this, because there is something boiling within me.

The gate is iron and twenty feet high. It is open. We walk through and turn the corner. My mother’s house, my old house, is only two blocks away. While we walk, I slip my arm into hers. We walk home in silence. I can wait a few minutes more for the rest of the story.

No.

Not ‘the’ story. I can wait a few minutes more for ‘my’ story. That’s what this is about after all. It’s about me. The place where I began. Was I a choice or a curse? Did I begin with hope or with fear? Does it even matter? For me, it does. I am so close to deciding what I must do, but before I can think of the future, I have to fully understand my past.

It’s waiting for me. Just there. Shivering in the distance.

I can almost touch it.

 

Tunnel Vision--Chapter 18

Kinney’s bed lay in the front porch of Building 50, surrounded by rows and rows of other patients in white beds, their pillows dotted with red. “Do not watch him, dear. It does not do your spirit good,” Mama Lilliana said to Ama.

They stood in the shadows, where they were both so at home. Lilliana wore nothing but a thin nightgown, the outline of her voluptuous body just visible beneath the gossamer threads. She looked as if she belonged in the asylum, as if she were a part of the place. Madness had seeped into the lines of her face, the spin of her long hair. But it had not etched itself with pain, but with acceptance. With an embrace. Sometimes a house or a church or an institution could reach its tendrils into the very fabric of a person and bind to them. This had happened to Lily. She was a part of the hospital now and she did not fight this. No. There was no need to fight that which you loved.

Ama, on the other hand, had changed. There was a time when she belonged in the shadows. When her very existence was a mad secret whispered through the tunnels that crisscrossed underground. Now, though, she stood clothed in her buttoned white dress, stretched taut over the new curve of her growing belly. The nurse’s hat was pinned securely to her thick hair…and she looked at Kinney with the detachment that authority breeds. Ama was no longer an inmate in her house, but an authority.

“He’s gone, you know. There’s no hope for him. The sickness has him,” Ama said. “But then, the sickness has always had him, hasn’t it.”

Lilliana’s response was a pat on the back.

“I can get you out of here,” Ama continued. “I have money now. I know people. I can set us up a house. For all of us. For you and Papa Beeler and…” She paused, knowing that her other parents, Papa Kostic and Mamma Grant, were gone now to that place of white from which they could never come back. Lilliana did not answer this time. In fact, she had already disappeared into the shadows, so quickly and silently that Ama wondered if she had ever been there at all.

The hospital shivered with the coughing of the dying.

Kinney tossed in his bed. Writhed. He was like a snake trapped in cloth and tried to free himself by endlessly turning, thus snaring him even more securely. His cough became a great crescendo. He clawed at his throat. He fought against his own body.

Ama could have gone to him and said, “This, this is what it feels like to be trapped. This is what you have done to so many of the ones that I have loved.” Or perhaps, “Look! Look around you doctor! You are just like us, now!” Or maybe even, “You are not my husband and I am not your wife and you are not well. You are not sound.”

He needed no curses from her though. Justice was being delivered by an invisible hand. Ama saw the hand reach into his mouth, swirl into his mind and take what was there, steal his breath and his heart…and it was this that he choked on.  Ama knew that for Kinney there would be no tunnel of white light to pass through. His end would come with the coldness of not a soul caring.

It only took a minute or so and it was over. Kinney gave up fighting. His body contracted and then released.

The ward fell silent for a moment as if relieved from his passing. Ama stared at him. He did not move. The child in her belly reached forward. Ama felt her child’s caress inside her and it was as if it were saying goodbye.

Ama turned and walked down the hall.

Her footsteps faded into the darkness.

 

Tunnel Vision IS BACK!

I have turned over my new leaf. What on earth does that mean anyway? Whenever I turn over a leaf, I just see it's veiny underbelly. Expressions. Sheesh. They're so confusing. Let me start again. This is my first week of taking a break from being endlessly neurotic and obsessively promoting everything I'm doing. I'm just kicking back and reading and teaching and being a mom and a fiancee. It's nice.

But I have some unfinished business with a piece I started last year. A year ago, I asked for people to vote on a story idea for a Blovel (a novel posted in blog installments). Voters chose an historical gothic novel which is sooooo out of my comfort zone.

I decided to write about a 1930s insane asylum in Northern Michigan. Who knew I had such darkness? (Actually, I was pretty serious and literary and dark up until having my kids. Then I grew a sense of humor.)

I found working on this piece to be challenging, disturbing, aggravating, and a whole lot of fun. I posted like 17 installments, and then, well, life and the Promotion Machine took over and I stopped writing it. I didn't think anyone would notice.

A couple of you did.

So, because this story needs to be finished, because a couple of you have asked, and because I've decided to rewrite this little bugger and beef it up and make it a real novel, I'm going to finish it. In fact, I'm posting the next installment TODAY.

You can check on posts about "Tunnel Vision" by entering it in the search tool at the top right of the site. It's also categorized in "Summer Blovel". Or just CLICK ON THIS. You'll find previous chapters, and blogs as I talk about the process.

I'm excited to return to this. The characters still want their story to be told. Frankly, they're annoying me. So...without further delay...I bring you the ending chapters of "Tunnel Vision".

Just not right this second. Some time today. I have to take a shower and get ready to teach first.

Tunnel Vision -- CH 17

Doctor Elliott Kinney was in the Nowhere. Snow flew, shadows surrounded him. He floated in ether. Heard the crashing of waves. Looked down at his hands and saw them pushing down Rose, of holding her under the water until the sickness was out of her body, taking her soul with it. He saw himself holding Kostic under the water for treatment and countless others. Saw their thrashing bodies under water as they resisted the hydrotherapy. Why did so many patients resist him? Did they want to keep their sickness close to them? Why not surrender and give in to healing? Dr. Kinney was a healer. He had a mission. And he would rescue souls by force, the way he had finally freed his own wife, though her very life force had flown from her body. In the last few moments when she looked peacefully up at him, he knew he had won and the illness was gone. Liberated. He had liberated her.

He tried to move, but found he could not. His chest burned. He coughed and seemed to cover himself with blood. How much blood? Why was this happening? Where was he? He could not think. He could not focus. He closed his eyes.

In his mind, he flipped through pages and pages of new research. Doctors experimenting with new wonderful methods to take out a part of a person’s brain, to find the actual source of their malignant spirit and pull it from them, wrench it free, leaving a person utterly peaceful. He’d heard of transformations, of wildly violent individuals suddenly as docile as lambs. How he longed to offer this healing, but for some reason he could not steady the trembling of his hands.

He opened his eyes. It was dark now. He heard the peculiar music of a chorus of coughing. He knew, at once, where he was. He was a doctor here and now forced to be a patient. “Let me up! Let me up!” he cried. “I have work to do!”

Feathers against his skin. A tickling of feathers. No, not feathers, but fingertips…and the scent of…what was that? “What is that?” he whispered, his voice raw. “What is that smell?” And then he knew. He smelled flowers. He smelled…roses! Suddenly he was surrounded by a garden of rose and there…in the distant, his wife Rose calling to him. Come to me, Kinney, she called. I want you with me. She danced and twirled and he reached out to her, but when she spun to face him it was not his wife, not Rose, it was the other woman, the one who looked so much like his wife but somehow he had failed in making her truly become Rose. Somehow she remained… “Ama,” he breathed.

“I am here,” she whispered. And Kinney knew that the feathers against his skin was the touch of her fingertips dancing over him. But there were far too many fingertips, weren’t there?

“Who else is here?” he said, his voice still strangled.

“Open your eyes, husband. Open them,” Ama said softly, her voice like wind and bells.

The shadows pulled back. The fog receded. And Kinney saw…no…it wasn’t possible! Patients of his, patients long gone and buried. There was Kostic smiling at him, and the old woman who was a sexual predator. There was Elena who he had bent to his will when he was first in medical school. There were nameless patients, ones who did not survive his treatments or later died of heart attacks or drug overdose. And there was a young boy with a rope around his neck who ended his own life instead of endure any more of Kinney’s treatments. And there...there…was Rose. “Stop touching me!” Kinney cried, but the fingertips would not stop. They reached for him, his dead; they touched him. Covered his body with their probing fingers, rough, smooth, young, and old. Take him, someone whispered. Take him take himtakehim, they echoed, a hundred voices joining in chorus.

“No!” He cried, his voice firm and strong now. “I have work to do!”

“I’m afraid your work here is done.” It wasn’t Ama who spoke this to him but Rose. The last thing Kinney saw was her smiling face and then the pillow that Kostic placed over Kinney’s face.

And then….

Darkness.

Complete and utter.

Even though he was still awake.

TUNNEL VISION--Chapter 16

“Go on in, now!” The old man driving the truck said to Ama and gave her shoulder a shove. Ama nearly fell from the truck and landed on her knees in the snow. The tires behind her spun and the truck lurched backward, taking the light with it. Ama slowly got to her feet, careful not to slip on the ice. She felt a flutter in her stomach and wondered if she’d waken the creature now growing within her.

Lights were on in Building 50, and as the moth is pulled to a flame, Ama felt herself drawn forward. She walked up the steps. Before she even got to the door, she could hear the coughing. Ama could run if she wanted, she could turn around and crawl to the safety of her room and never emerge again. She could slip inside the shadows, become one if she wanted, but something within her had changed. She raised her slender hand and knocked.

The doors opened. Ama stared straight into the eyes of a nurse she’d seen a hundred times, but one who had never acknowledged her. She was a ghost to all of them. They’d seen her dancing in the halls and turned their backs. They’d heard her cries in the tunnels and kept on walking. They left bread for her and ribbons but they never called her by name. Now, she stood in front of one, determined to be seen.

The nurse looked like a giant potato. She was so thick she seemed to have lost the appearance of a neck. Ama shivered. The nurse looked her from head to foot and then said in a gruff voice “I know who you are.”

Ama nodded.

“Do you think if I put you in one of these dresses that you could give us a hand with the sick? And not say a word to anyone about it? Pretend you’re mute or something. But God help me, people are dying and I need the help. You and me can figure out what you want in return later. Could you do that for me?”

Ama nodded. She could do that. She would be happy to do that. She would be happy.

“Then come on inside. Get out of that cold,” The nurse said, and with that, she welcomed her in.

****

Nurse Kolenda led Ama in through the front door. Ama shivered in the warmth of the building. She was home and not home. She wondered if maybe having been gone for so long, she might never feel like the place was home again. “Can you start at once,” Nurse Kolenda said. Ama nodded. What else could she do? She was in a sort of shock, knowing that her papa and her husband were fighting in the snow and the cold, longing to return to the shadows of her former life, but also feeling somehow as if it were her duty to help the people who had for so many years protected her very existence. “This way,” the nurse said and walked briskly through the building. “We’ll take the tunnels to the women’s ward,” she said. “You’ll need a uniform and then you will help immediately with whatever needs doing.” The nurse paused and turned to face her. “It’s tuberculosis, dear. An epidemic. There is much death here I’m afraid.”

“It is okay,” Ama said softly. It wasn’t the dead that she was afraid of; it was the living. “Let me lead the way.” The nurse seemed to agree. Ama took her place in front of the nurse and walked to the tunnels, returning to the place of her own genesis.

****

Outside, the wind swirled. Kinney’s hands were of ice. He face, ice. And there was a deep almost growl-like sound resonating in his chest. He coughed and spit bright red into the snow. He looked at his hands: red also. His shirt was read, his shoes. When you took a life by force, the body seemed to protest with violence. He was covered in the violence of Kostic’s passing. He’d ripped the soul from Kostic’s body and it showed.

Kinney dipped his hands into the snow and began to scrub his hands. He could not seem to get the red out. At that moment the doors swung open to Building 50. He sniffed the air. He would have Rose soon, he knew. He could feel it.

“Doctor Kinney? Is that you?” He thought it was the behemoth Briggard calling his name but he couldn’t be sure. For some reason Kinney had sunk to his knees in the snow and that growling in his chest became a roar, as if a beast was about to leap free from him. He wanted to tell Briggard to bring him inside so that he could take Rose home with him. He’d pulled Rose from the dead, brought her back in Ama’s form, and he wanted her with him. He tried to explain but he could no longer contain the beast within him. “Oh, dear god,” Briggard said. “You’re sick, doctor.”

But Kinney didn’t hear him. He was coughing too hard. Great spasms of cough. Coughs so raw and deep that a red rose spewed from his mouth and decorated the snow and froze there almost in the amount of time it took for Kinney to pass out into the coldness of night.

TUNNEL VISION: Chapter Fourteen

Outside was a blur of white. Kinney stood at the window of his large home and watched the wind whip the snow into giant drifts. The snow covered rocks and benches, deck chairs, the wheelbarrow and eventually Kinney’s very own car. The world was swallowed whole. He returned to the fireplace, a smile spreading coolly across his face. With most of the staff, save Mallie Lyn Peters, away for the holiday, Kinney had his Rose all to himself and no one would be able to interrupt them.

He sat in his favorite green velvet chair and listened to the fire crackle. Rose was upstairs dressing. He’d given her a very special outfit to wear for this evening. One he’d had recreated from photographs. The one Rose…the first Rose had been wearing when she’d…

The fire popped, startling Kinney. He no longer wanted to think of the first Rose and the new Rose. He wanted one wife, one Rose, and he wanted her to be perfect. Tonight, his wife would wear the dress that she’d worn when she’d almost died. Almost. Yes! Almost! Because his wife hadn’t died at all. He hadn’t chased her into the frigid water and held her under until she stopped fighting him. He hadn’t cured her diseased mind with death…but with love. Why even now his Rose, now fully recuperated and looking more perfect than ever, dressed for him in a white gown upstairs.

He imagined her stepping into the gown, her bare legs smooth. He could hear the dress being pulled up over her hips and the image of the white fabric against her smooth skin caused his blood to roil within him. The dress slid over the curves of her hips, over her full breasts. She reached behind her back and tucked the buttons into the loops. Later, Kinney would tear those buttons free, rip the dress from her smooth body, and reclaim all that he had lost.

He heard the footsteps running down the hall. She was running to him! Running to him at last! His Rose! His wife!

And then he heard Mallie crying. It was Mallie, wasn’t it, and not his Rose? Kinney stood and turned to watch Mallie run to the stairs, stumble, and then roll completely down them, her body tumbling as much as a sack of laundry.

There was silence in the house, save for the crackling of the fire, and a great gust of wind outside swirling snow ever closer to the windows trapping them inside. Kinney did not run to Mallie immediately to see if she were all right. He was still processing the words she’d cried right before falling down the stairs: “She’s gone, sir! Rose is gone! He’s taken her!”

Mallie groaned and reached for Kinney.

He spun on his heels and went to fetch his jacket and gloves. The stupid girl could die there for all he cared. There was only one thing for him to do and that was to head to the asylum. He’d thought he could take her away from there, wipe her memory like a chalkboard, and start afresh. She had no idea what happiness lay in front of them and now…Now!

The sleeping beast within Kinney twisted and turned. Kinney took a breath and for the first time in over three years allowed himself to fully feel the rage that lived within him. He would make everyone pay. Everyone. If only they had left him and Rose in peace to live their life quietly. But they hadn’t, had they? No. The world was against him. It had always been against him.

Kinney swung open the door and ran into the white. It took only moments for him to leave the house and Mallie’s cries far behind him.

TUNNEL VISION - Chapter 13

Letter to Dr. Elliott Kinney

Dear Dr. Kinney:

TheBoard of the Northern Michigan Insane Asylum accepts your request for personal time off. The transition from physician in a hospital for the body to an institution devoted to illnesses of the mind is a difficult one.  We have reviewed your log sheets and have discovered that for the past few months you have worked approximately sixty hours a week, an exhausting load for any professional. We have agreed to grant you the holidays off with pay. You are asked to return to the Asylum on February 1, 1933. At that time we hope you will resume your duties to the patients that have so come to rely on you.

From the Record Eagle

December 27, 1932

…According to the State of Michigan Health Department, the rate of new tuberculosis cases is on the rise. While not officially an epidemic, the disease is spreading at an alarming rate. The Northern Michigan Insane Asylum has donated one of the wings of the institution to offset Munson hospital’s overburdened facility. If you or a loved on develops symptoms common to tuberculosis, please seek medical treatment at the asylum at once. It is a closed ward and will allow you to fully recuperate and lessen the chances of spreading the disease.

*****

Ama placed her hand over the curve of her abdomen. She could no longer fit into the dresses her husband had given her. For Kinney called himself her husband and it was how she thought of him. She thought she could remember their wedding on the shore of Lake Superior. No. Michigan. Lake Michigan. And the wind was warm and the waves were gentle and the sun shone as if blessing them with good fortune.

There was something not right though. Ama sat in a chair and breathed heavily. She could no longer inhale and make her stomach flat. It would not flatten. She wasn’t sure what was happening to her, but felt perhaps it was like the stories her….who? Who told her? She vaguely remembered hearing her papa tell her about demons and the fight against evil and the other papa drawing pictures on her walls. But that wasn’t right. It couldn’t be right. A girl didn’t have two papas. She had one. And her father’s name was Edward and her mother’s name was…Lucy…and her name was Rose.

At that moment something within her stomach fluttered and she became aware of the creature inside her.

*****

Mallie Lyn Peters was in the kitchen when she heard Mrs. Kinney screaming. She thought of her now as Mrs. Kinney as it was so much easier than Rose or Ama or whomever the doctor wanted to believe she was. “I don’t know that I agree with his experiments” she’d thought to herself over and over. At the same time, they didn’t seem to do harm exactly. It’s just that the woman who he claimed as his wife had started out so wild and raw and beautiful in a way. Now, she was like so many of the doctors’ wives. Pale and timid and as tremulous as a butterfly. This wouldn’t happen to her, Mallie assured herself. When George finally asked her to marry him (for surely he would) she wouldn’t lose an ounce of who she was to him. Not one ounce.

She abandoned these thoughts along with the slice of cake she was eating and ran up the long stairs to attend to the mistress. “Madam! Madam Kinney? Are you all right in there? May I come in, ma’am?” Mallie hesitated at the door. There was, of course, no lock on it and she could certainly enter it of her will, but she didn’t want to upset the doctor if he found out. She placed her ear to the door and confirmed that the Mistress inside was crying. Mallie opened the door gently and then just as gently closed the door behind her. Mrs. Kinney stood in front of her, naked, and achingly beautiful. Her long dark hair fell over her shoulders and touched the top of her heavy breasts, for they were heavy and Mallie noted at once the curve of the woman’s abdomen.

“What is wrong with me?” Mrs. Kinney asked in a shaking voice. “There’s a creature…” she whispered.

“A creature?” Mallie felt a deep sadness penetrate her heart. She’d really thought that Mrs. Kinney was well. That somehow she’d managed to avoid the illnesses that floated in the asylum like a mist.

“A creature! Here!” And she pointed to her stomach.

It took Mallie a moment to understand. “Why…Ma’am, don’t you know? That’s not a creature but a child you’re expecting. You’ve got an angel growing inside you, you do.” Mallie smiled warmly at the woman and reached for her robe. She draped it tenderly across the woman’s shoulders. She seemed to flinch at the touch and then relaxed into the comfort of the robe. “Ma’am, sit down. Please. I’ll get you something to eat. You’ve got to eat more when you’re eating for two.”

Mrs. Kinney sat on the side of her bed. She did not acknowledge Mallie, but turned instead to look out the window. Outside it was swirling white: a blizzard. “A child,” she said as Mallie left the room. Mallie wasn’t sure if she’d said the word with hope or with fear.

****

Inside the asylum, chaos swirled. White sheets flapped as orderlies made beds, moved equipment, set up screens between the beds, then abandoned doing so when they ran out of both. The coughing could be heard even outside the ward. At first men and women were separated, but within a week the ward was filled with both sexes. They lay on cots, sat in chairs. The coughing became a chorus and blood sprinkled. Fevers spiked and nurses ran from bed to bed tending the sick. There was running. Cries of pain. Screams pleading to be released. The Superintendent stood at the entrance to the ward, watching the chaos rise and crash like waves. “You are here for your own good!” called Christopher Grooms. “For the value of society! You are here to heal!”

To that, a frail woman with stringy blond hair said “We are here to die.”

“I don’t know what to do,” the head nurse said to him. “We don’t have any more beds left, sir. We don’t have the staff to support this. Tell the city we cannot…”

Mr. Grooms stopped her with a glance. “You have no concept at all with what we’re dealing with. The state has offered us money, real money and…” He breathed heavily. “Take over Ward C. Combine the three levels of asylum patients into one area except for the highest paying ones. Let them continue to have their space until we can figure out something for them. Call in all support staff and physicians that are on vacation. We will ride this out. It’s only an epidemic. Epidemics pass.” He did not finish the sentence but the nurse understood. Epidemics passed when everyone died.

It was during this conversation when an inmate disappeared from the asylum. Robert Kostic was no longer in solitary. No longer in the Men’s Ward. The orderlies assumed he’d been sent to the TB ward, and the TB ward no longer cared who entered. They only recorded how many they were treating to secure funds from the state. And so, Kostic slipped quietly out of the asylum and straight into the brewing storm.