Hale County Chapter 2
‘It is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways’– Buddah
The office was cozy, almost familial, with soft natural colors and inviting furniture. Various books on psychology lined the shelves complementing the degrees and certificates that adorned the walls. It was made to put patients at ease. At that moment Amanda Richardson felt as comfortable as she could ever remember being. It was that feeling that put her on edge. She straightened her posture and forced herself to focus.
“Can I get you anything to drink, Miss Richardson?” The low baritone voice was fluid, intelligent and calming. There was no doubt in her mind that it was the voice of a man who was accustomed to being in control and supremely assured of himself.
As she studied the man sitting before her in the high backed leather chair, hands steepled just below his chin, dark eyes boring into hers, Amanda was reminded of something her first mentor had warned her about: It’s not the wolf you have to worry about, he is what he is. It’s the lamb that lulls you to sleep.
Dr. Evan Michaels fit that description, the wolf in sheep’s clothing. His eyes were kind yet powerful. His voice was steady, thoughtful. He was almost gorgeous, she had to admit that; his deep dark eyes matching his dark, perfect hair. His body was lean and controlled; a living statue. His smile. Well, she had seen or met very few men that could match the magnetism of his smile.
The sound of her name snapped her back to the moment. Damn, she thought irritated with herself for her lapse in control. She could feel the blood rushing to her cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” she said, a little too quickly, “I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?”
Stop looking at me like that, she thought, fighting to regain her composure. I’ve interviewed heads of state! She took a silent breath.
“I’m fine, really. Long drive.”
“Alright, then what can I do for you?”
It was her turn to make him feel uncomfortable. Subtlety wasn’t the way to handle this, so she dove in head first. “What is really going on here at this so called institute?”
He smiled slightly, his outward calm never wavering. “Miss Richardson, the only reason I consented to do this interview was because you assured me that you were interested in doing research on psychological effects of the human mind.”
“There have been numerous reports of illegal experiments, patients going missing…unexplained deaths.” She let that last part linger in the air.
“I suppose those same reports claim we are also recreating Frankenstein’s monster, hiding bigfoot, and doing autopsies on aliens?”
She glared at him. “Are you?”
Evan dropped his hands, his expression turning thoughtful. “Amanda Richardson, investigative reporter for KETV out of Nashville. Winner of the Casey Award for Meritorious Journalism, Heywood Broun Award, 2011 IRE Award winner, etc. etc..”
Amanda felt her composure slip just a fraction as Evan listed her accomplishments.
“I wonder,” he continued smoothly, “is this to be your Pulitzer story? The one that gets you the one prize that’s avoided you?”
“I’m after the truth.”
“The truth? Miss Richardson, you’ve come all the way from Nashville to chase ghost stories and sensationalism, neither of which I have time for. Is this what’s become of your career?”
Ouch! That stung. But Amanda was determined to not let it phase her, which she assumed was the doctor’s strategy. “So you’re saying the accusations are false,” she stated pointedly. “You’re not experimenting with unethical practices and procedures?”
“What I am saying, Amanda, is that you are dealing in fairy tales and hysteria when there are real medical issues at hand that REAL people are attempting to deal with on a daily basis. THAT is what we treat in this institution.”
She wasn’t sure if it was the personal use of her name or the passion that exuded from him, but Amanda backed off of the sensationalism. Maybe Evan was just who he said he was; then again, maybe not. He was good but so was she. She smiled a slight smile, her own little weapon. “So you have no problems giving me the full tour?”
Evan didn’t hesitate. “None at all,” he said happily, his own disarming smile on full display.
There was a brief knock on his door.
A young nurse, dressed in scrubs, long blonde hair pinned up, stepped into the office holding a chart. Amanda thought the young lady could have been a model, she even walked with purpose towards Evan’s desk as if to show the intruding female reporter that this walkway belonged to her and her alone. The nurse handed the chart to him, which he briefly perused. Evan signed it quickly and handed the chart back.
“Sam, have Miss Terry hold all my calls.” He gave a knowing look to Amanda, rising from his chair. The reporter followed his lead. “I’ll be giving a tour of the facility for the next hour or so.”
“Certainly, Dr. Michaels,” the young nurse confirmed and smiled.
Evan motioned for Amanda to follow him from the office. As the door shut behind them, Sam’s smile melted. Her eyes drilled into Amanda’s back with pure malice.
William hugged his legs close to his chest, eyes clinched tightly shut. He tried to concentrate on breathing, but it was difficult. The small wooden box he was in pressed in on all sides. He felt it constricting him, but there, in that tiny space, he was safe. He pulled his skull cap down further over his ears and cinched his scarf tighter. Even his eyes were hidden behind a pair of dark sunglasses.
He had barely gotten out of his secret cabin. There had been no time to finish the new podcast, the one where he would tell the world about the asylum, about the research and the vile things that really go on while no suspects a thing. So close, he was so close to telling the true story when the found his secret place. Secret. No one should have known how to find it much less that it belonged to William. How had they found him? No one knew his secret place, not even his family, if you considered two cousins three times removed family. His parents were long dead, leaving the burden of raising a special child to grandparents who were far beyond their years of being able to rise to such a task. The cabin had been left to him by his grandfather when he passed away a few years ago. That was before William’s supposed psychotic break. William had moved back in when he was ‘cured.’
No one knew about his hide out. He had made sure of that. He stroked his beard absently at the thought. Maybe he had been mistaken. Squirrels, he thought hopefully, maybe it was squirrels. That thought seemed to comfort him. Squirrels were pesky creatures, everyone knew that. They were always chewing into power lines and climbing onto things and into attics. Had to be squirrels.
William let his body tension ease. He still believed the danger to be real, especially with everything he knew. They didn’t want him talking. Once the secret was out then things would HAVE to change. Maybe the army would come in and close down the county and the asylum. Then they would all see. William Tyler would be a hero! They would apologize for how they treated him; maybe even throw him a parade. He loved parades.
A small ache was building in his legs. He slowly stretched them out as much as he could in the small space he was in, massaging the muscles as gently and quietly as possible.
His head perked up, all movement stopped. He listened, afraid to breathe. Was it the squirrels? Don’t be silly! Squirrels don’t talk, he chastised himself silently. But if it wasn’t squirrels, then who could it be?
“William,” the unseen voice asked again, this time with an obvious note of concern.
“Yes, my boy.”
He was at the church! How was that possible? He didn’t remember coming to the church. Things were spinning out of his control. He needed his medicine. You left it on the desk when you ran from the squirrels, his inner voice mocking him once more.
“Are you okay, William?”
William couldn’t see the Reverend but he heard him just fine. He had gone too long without his meds. The panic attack would happen soon. Or had it already happened? Was it happening again?? He had to get out of there. His hand found the latch to the confessional. William emerged to see the elderly Reverend staring at him but he paid the man no mind and headed quickly for the front door. He had to get out of there now. Every movement was forced, determined.
The Reverend followed him, brow furrowed in worry. Although tall and lanky, some might say skeletal, with receding thin wisps of silver hair, tinged with the tell-tell glint of ginger, the Reverend had deep dark commanding eyes. “I can help you.”
Williams breathing was coming out in short gasps, eyes blinking rapidly as little beads of sweat began dotting his forehead.
“No one can save me,” he stammered wildly, pushing the church doors open.
“From what?” Reverend Gillian pleaded.
William stopped, finally turning to face the Reverend, eyes wild and darting behind the dark sunglasses, “from the squirrels.”
The Reverend could only watch, speechless, as William buried his hands in his coat pockets and disappeared out the door. Reverend Gillian stood at the doorstep, watching William dart awkwardly into the brush, his chalk white face an expressionless mask.
William stopped before fleeing into the woods, cocking his head to the side in a nervous twitch, once again listening for something that wasn’t there. He seemed to remember something…
William turned back to the church as if seeing it clearly for the first time. The paint was faded and cracked leaving the wood grayish with mildewed flecks caked on the sides of it. The windows, those that remained, were broken and jagged. Weeds had overtaken the church grounds while vines snaked up the sides of the building. At the top, the old iron cross leaned heavily to one side. The old rotted supports barely able to support its weight. In the doorway, standing like a marble statue, was Reverend Gillian.
The old man stood motionless in the doorway, dark eyes peering straight into Williams, rooting the delusional man in place. A slight smile, devoid of happiness, twitched the corner of the Reverends mouth.
William began shaking, his body ravaged by an onslaught of sudden chills and cold electricity.
The door to the church suddenly slammed shut with a loud bang, sending paint chips flying from the old frame.
William found his feet…and ran…
“We treat many kinds of disorders,” Evan explained as he guided Amanda on her tour of the mental institute. “The first wing I showed you is basically for outpatients with simple neurosis and phobias. Most of them just need to speak to someone with a non-judgmental ear but with more frequency than a weekly one hour visit to a shrink who only cares about billing hours.”
They had arrived at a set of locked double doors. He pushed a button. The door buzzed and he held the door open for her, motioning the intrepid reporter through.
“This wing, however, houses those patients who need extensive therapy.”
Amanda recognized a noticeable difference when they stepped onto the ward. There was a walled in office with very thick glass as soon as they entered. She could see a dozen or more monitors on the far wall, each one recording the various hallways on that wing. An orderly sat beneath them, checking off something on a notepad as he inspected each one.
The nurse in charge of the ward was nothing like the nurses from the outpatient wing. She was very stern looking. If a bulldog could take human form, it would have been that woman. The name on the nurse’s lanyard was Alice. She certainly didn’t look like an Alice to Amanda. Amanda doubted anything got past her. The nurse acknowledged Dr. Michaels with a simple nod of her head and continued writing in her charts. Amanda could sense the gloom.
Evan took her down a hallway and stopped at a door. He motioned for Amanda to look through the window. She was curious, stepping up to the window to see what the Doctor wanted to impress her with. The room was predictably bare, save for a small bed and a chair that was placed in a corner. The lady that sat in that chair was slightly overweight, her hair in disarray from the lack of grooming. But what struck Amanda most was the vacant expression on the woman’s face.
“This young lady suffers from clinical depression, brought on by the death of her mother. She hardly sleeps. Most times she is just like you see her now. Then there are times when all she does is cry. The problem is that patients like this can be just as harmful to themselves as to others.”
Amanda couldn’t look away from the woman, noticing a small scar on her temple, “How sad. Can you help her?”
“We are trying. Emotion focused therapy, interpersonal therapy; nothing has worked so far. Everyone handles depression differently. There are so many triggers and types of depression that it makes narrowing the root cause very difficult.” He stepped up to the window, gazing at the young lady in the chair, “We WILL help her.”
It was Evan’s passionate determination when he said that that drew her attention. She looked at the man standing beside her, close enough she could almost count the individual stubble on his chin. “You sound convinced,” she said earnestly.
Evan continued looking at the young woman, eyes never wavering. “It’s my job, my life, to help these people.”
Amanda opened her mouth to respond when a commotion at the end of the hall drew her attention. Two incredibly large sheriff’s deputies were dragging a very disheveled and uncooperative man into the corridor, dried blood on his face. The man’s eyes were wild, like a caged animal from her grandfather’s farm. He tried to struggle against the grip of the deputies but Amanda could tell it was a futile attempt: the men were far too strong. But while they could control him physically, the man’s mouth was another issue.
“Please man,” he screamed shrilly, “I ain’t supposed to be here! Take me to jail, man!”
Amanda glanced at Evan, an unhappy expression darkening his face. The look made her flinch, silencing any protest she may have had.
“Excuse me,” he told her, voice deep with anger yet trying to remain professional.
She watched him walk down the hallway, a lion ready to pounce. Experiencing his charm in his office had led her to believe that he was a politician, a salesman, able to make friends with the devil himself. Only now, seeing him like this, she knew he was much more. Evan was a man of power, a genius with charm. The type of man that achieved whatever goals he set before him. There were plenty of men like that throughout history; Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Ghandi, Theodore Roosevelt…Adolph Hitler.
Every step Evan took radiated that power, commanded attention. How had she not seen it earlier? Because, she quickly concluded, he didn’t want me to. Amanda became acutely aware that there was far more to this man than she realized.
The struggling man grew silent and still as Evan approached. The deputies stood straighter, almost at attention. Evan came to a stop, back to Amanda, and began speaking to the deputies. Although she couldn’t hear what was being said, the doctor’s posture made it clear that there was little room for discussion.
The blonde nurse from his office, Sam, she thought Evan had called her, was suddenly at his side, handing the doctor a clipboard. Evan hastily jotted something on the clipboard, handing it back to the nurse as he spoke to the deputies again. Evans body seemed to unwind as he turned away and walked back towards Amanda.
The look on the bloody man’s face became one of pure horror. He began shaking, unwilling or unable to utter a word as the deputies hauled him down the hallway.
“Sorry you had to witness that,” Evan said apologetically as he reached her.
Amanda greeted him with a questioning look. “He was terrified.”
“Addicts normally are when they find out they are about to be detoxed,” his calm demeanor neatly back in place.
“Why did the deputies bring him here instead of jail?”
“Family request,” he said with a smile, putting his arm around her shoulder and guiding her away. “Come on, there’s more to see.”
Amanda let him lead her on, but she couldn’t help but glance back down the hallway at the deputies dragging the man away. He wasn’t fighting against them anymore, instead he was looking directly in her eyes. A chill went up her spine. The last time she had seen such a look was when her father gave up his fight with cancer. It was a look that only the dying shared.
The deputies took the man through another set of double doors. When Amanda turned back to Evan, the doctor was smiling down at her as he lead her deeper into the asylum.
Daniel Lane sat at his desk reading charts by a single lamp. The balding middle-aged man preferred the lower light and less flamboyant office style. It allowed him to focus. He always felt that being comfortable provided him the mindset he needed to diagnose problems. Working at Hale County Institute was a huge challenge, something he enjoyed. Sure, he could go to work at more prominent institutions but this is where he felt he could do the most good.
Besides, he told himself honestly, Evan needs me.
His wife chastised him regularly for the blind loyalty he showed to Evan. She tried every way imaginable to get him to move away from Hale County. Their children were grown and had lives of their own so nothing was tying them down anymore. It frustrated her to no end that he refused to even test the waters elsewhere. But Daniel was nothing if not loyal. Not only that, but he honestly loved his work. He might disagree with Evan on his practices and philosophies sometimes but that was the nature of psychology. After the tragedy his friend had experienced, he could afford Evan his little eccentricities; just so long as it didn’t cross ethical boundaries.
A knock on the door interrupted his reading. He looked up to see Samantha standing there, face drawn up in agitation. A pretty girl if not for her sour attitude, he thought as she approached the desk. She didn’t like Daniel, not since the day she tried to charm her way out of her duties. He had simply called her on it, something she was certainly not used to. Since then, Sam made no pretense of her dislike for the doctor. Why Evan tolerated her, he couldn’t begin to understand.
“Evan…um, Dr. Michaels, wanted me to give you this, Dr. Lane” she said as she handed him a folder.
Daniel, not missing Samantha’s Freudian slip, took the file. Perhaps I understand why he keeps her around after all. He knew his friend was lonely but certainly he could do better. Or perhaps that was all she was to Evan, a need that had to be filled. The nurse was beautiful to be sure but she certainly wouldn’t be able to stimulate Evan mentally the way… He shook his head internally. No, he thought determinedly, I can’t think of her now. Not now. There had to be other options. He glanced down at the file, putting that train of thought out of his mind. Daniel felt eyes studying him. He looked up to see Sam standing there, unmoving.
“You may leave now,” he said matter-of-factly.
Sam’s cheeks flushed briefly, a nasty scowl blemishing her otherwise flawless features. She rolled her eyes, turned haughtily, and marched out of the office. Apparently she wasn’t used to being summarily dismissed.
Daniel chuckled out loud as she disappeared from sight. With an amused shake of his head he opened the folder and began reading. His amusement turned to one of outrage. He can’t do this, Daniel fumed silently. He scanned the last few pages, not needing to read them thoroughly to know he didn’t like where it was going.
“He has lost his mind!” he whispered aloud, anger filling his voice. Daniel slammed the folder shut and rushed from the office.
A pair of bloodshot eyes flickered in the darkness.
Wake up, daddy.
The eyes flickered once more then shot open.
That’s good, daddy.
The voice was all around him, in every fiber of his being…so was the rage. He felt the familiar coolness of the steel around his wrists; heard the clanking of the chains that secured him to the stone walls. The sound angered him. He shook them harder, the sounds of metal hitting concrete echoing through the dark place he was in.
He fought harder, hatred building with each movement. He hated this place. He hated his chains. He wanted out. The thrashing intensified, the metal clamps digging into his wrists in the pitch black of the room.
Her voice! It was her! He immediately stopped fighting the chains, eyes trying to focus in the dark, ears perked to hear her voice. It seemed an eternity, but then there it was once again, calming him with its presence.
They can’t know your awake, daddy, the disembodied voice whispered, save your strength. We will be together soon.
The hatred was stirring within him, but her voice calmed him even while the raw emotion burned inside. His eyes squeezed tightly together then slowly opened. In the darkness a faint pale light stirred. As it got closer his heart raced.
“Katie,” he growled desperately.
The ghost like face of a young girl began to manifest before him. It was fuzzy and unclear, but he KNEW it was here. I’m here, daddy. We will be together soon.
He closed his eyes, letting the hate consume him.
A bulb was hanging from a makeshift light in the middle of a damp, mildewed room. The slight sway of the light cast eerie shadows on the surrounding walls. An old large metal chair sat ominously in the middle of the room. Hold down straps hung from the arm and feet rests. A rustic cart with varied medical instruments, all of which were sharpened, was tucked away in a corner.
The iron door to the room opened noisily. Bru and Rodney drug Steven into the room and slammed him into the chair. He had been changed into scrubs at some point, but couldn’t remember when or how. Steven felt a strap clamp around his leg. His eyes came alive with fear. He tried to leap from the chair but was shoved roughly back into it.
“Let me go you bastards!” he screamed at the men, lunging one more time for freedom.
Bru hit Steven square between the eyes, sending the smaller man into semi-unconsciousness. The fight drained out of him, the two big men clamped his arms and legs firmly into place with the straps.
Samantha stepped into the room carrying a silver tray, which looked out of place with the archaic equipment. She sat the tray, which was filled with vials, syringes, swabs, gauze, and a gagging device, on top of the cart.
Steven tried to regain his bearings. He tried to mumble a protest but Rodney stuffed a gag ball in his mouth, securing the strap firmly around his head. Tears began streaming from his eyes as he fought against his restraints.
The two deputies stepped back out of the way as Samantha shined a pen light into his eyes and took his pulse. She took a small towel and dabbed it against his forehead, cleaning the dirt and sweat from his brow. Steven felt his body begin to relax as Sam smiled comfortingly. He closed his eyes and tried to breathe. When he opened them again he saw Samantha standing by the cart.
The nurse was holding a vial, filled with discolored fluid, up to the light. Sam took a large syringe off the cart and jabbed it into the vial, filling the needle with the cloudy liquid. Steven’s eyes filled with terror as she squirted some of it into the air. She took a step toward him, her calming smile becoming sinister.
“The doctor will be with you shortly,” she stated devilishly as she plunged the needle into his neck.
All Steven could do was scream.