At last, Doctor Kinney was working, doing the things he was hired to do. After a month at the institution, he could finally navigate the hallways without getting lost, though he still had Mallie Lynn Peters escort him to the ladies’ ward or followed just behind Biggart to other parts of the facility. Kinney felt as if her were living two lives at the Northern Michigan Insane Asylum. During the day, he donned his white coat and observed patients and dictated to nurses and orderlies what they should do to control and quiet the inmates. At night, he slipped into a suit and joined high-ranking members of the staff for elegant dinners in the dining room with silver service, crystal glasses, and four course meals, all served by female inmates. Inmates who were usually there for reasons of promiscuity. In general, the promiscuous women could function in everyday life as long as you did not look too deeply into their eyes and risk the siren’s call. In this way, Kinney’s days and evenings marched on.
October passed quietly and slipped into November. Kinney’s days began to replicate, so that he was beginning to have trouble discerning one from the next. His days fell into a pattern and it was only because of his schedule that he was able to tell them apart.
Sundays were rest days for him and the staff. On Sundays, inmates were essentially left on their own, locked in their wards. They did not mill the campus, but sat in their beds or in rocking chairs or paced inside their wards. Mondays were difficult days, days in which the inmates had regressed into their illnesses because of the rest of Sundays. Kinney believed, as did the staff, that the diseased mind flourished in solitude. Only through work could demons be quieted. On Mondays then, he spent conducting therapy sessions, namely use of hydrotherapy and colonics. There was a new treatment called insulin shock therapy that state asylums were beginning to use. Large doses of insulin were injected into the inmate to induce a coma. This relaxed the brain and allowed the patient time to rest and heal. Of course, too much insulin could cause death, so while Kinney liked the idea of the therapy, he felt more confident with older, practiced remedies. Hydrotherapy sessions seemed to offer the most benefit as the hours emerged in cold water or shooting water into a patient’s face seemed to shock the mind into lucidity, however brief. As Kinney watched one of the patients thrash in the water, he thought that nearly dying must be a transformative event. To be just on the brink, teetering between existence and blackness…surely that experience would transform you.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturday he spent visiting each ward and marking off charts. Thursdays he attended meetings with the board and other staff members. Fridays were for research, and this day was the day he looked forward to beyond all others, the day that seemed to lie just beyond his reach. He had freedom on Fridays. He could walk the grounds then, find solace in the comfort of his own mind. On Fridays, he would read the latest scientific journals and work on his own ideas. He was fascinated with neuro surgery and removing diseased portions of the brain to heal a person. He had, in his previous position, attempted such an operation but the results of the experiment had been, sadly, fatal. Still, Kinney felt as if he’d brought her peace. His mind while no longer existing, was at least free of all conflict and disorder. It was, in essence, free of everything.
Kinney tried not to think of this. Instead, he grabbed his notebook and decided he would visit the men’s ward for his research today. And he would take a shortcut through the Tunnels. The Tunnels seemed to call to him—quite literally. At night he would awaken in his bed, shivering with a cold sweat, and he would swear that he heard Rose calling his name. He resisted walking in the Tunnels because he was afraid what might happen to him. Yes, he thought, he was afraid. On this Friday, though, the Tunnels would be required. It was November now and the grounds were barren and cold, twisted tree limbs seeming to reach out in agony. Outside, an ice storm was brewing and the trees moaned with the weight of their burden. With that, Kinney looked behind him to make sure he was not being followed, and slipped silently belowground.
He was deep in the belly of the Tunnels when he heard a great boom aboveground. He heard the tearing of wood that could only be a tree falling, perhaps giving in to the weight of the ice. The lights in the tunnels flickered and went out.
Kinney did not move. He knew if he waited and controlled his breathing his irises would adjust to the new darkness. In moments, the darkness would lighten, turn purple and he would be able to see.
He heard footsteps. Something shuffling. A laugh. Behind him? He turned. No. In front of him. To the side of him. “Who are you?” he called, his voice echoing around him. Whoareyouwhouareyouwhoareyou bounced back to him, but the words were whispered and layered and Kinney was certain it was not just his own voice coming back at him. “I have a gun!” he called and then instantly felt foolish. Yelling at shadows. And of course, he did not have a gun.
After a moment, he realized that the phrase “I have a gun” did not return to him. Indeed there was silence.
He began to see. Just shadows at first. He could make out a dim light in the distance. And then, to his growing horror, he realized those shadows in front of him were moving. One scurried on the ground, a lump, a moving lump the size of a person on their knees. Two to the side, the shadows as tall as Biggart. Kinney spun. Two more shadows moved toward him…one slender and jumping, the next moving fluidly as if gliding on air.
The gliding shadow asked him softly, “Who are you?” and grabbed his face with cold fingers that felt as comforting as talons. “Who are you?” The woman whispered again, for it was a woman, and her voice in the darkness was a lyrical as a lullaby. She leaned in close to him, pressed her nose against his neck and….smelled. When she drew her face back to look at him, Kinney lost his tender hold on panic.
He was looking into the face of his Rose, his wife, dead these three years.
“Kinney,” he managed, barely able to form the words. She looked at him. Cocked her head.
“Kin-ney,” She said, but it was Rose, wasn’t it? It was Rose, his beloved dead wife, risen from the grave, or halfway from the grave and existing in the in-between of the Tunnels. “Meet my family,” with that she gestured to the other shadows and Kinney turned his eyes toward them. He could see them now, see them as four distinct people, two men and two women and he felt his heart stop in his chest. They were inmates, surely, inmates loose in the Tunnels, inmates with bloodied feet and dirty pajamas, with eyes fueled by disease and torment. He recognized one, a man who was lean with muscles sharpened by hard work. His name was Kostic, and he was the man Kinney had performed hours of hydrotherapy on, leaving the man exhausted and certainly just shy of death.
“Kinney!” Kostic hissed. “Kinney!” the others echoed.
And then they were upon him.