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Authors: Bill Douglas

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BOOK: Mad Worlds
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6
Friday 20
th
– Saturday 21
st
April 1956 – in Springwell.

John came to in semi-darkness, his head exploding. And that stink – of sick? He tried to raise his hand to wipe his brow, but couldn't. His arm was trapped in some coarse material. Damn! He was wrapped in a sort of tent – yes, maybe a canvas sheet. And his legs rubbed against each other. Had he been stripped? He struggled weakly and unsuccessfully to free his limbs, then lay, blinking his eyes and trying to figure where he was.

A dim nightlight on the ceiling gave some help. He lay on a mattress – rubbery and lumpy – that was on the floor and in a corner against two walls. The other walls looked close, and he couldn't see any furniture. Surreal. A prison cell? He rolled along, off the mattress and onto the floor. Hey, this floor felt a bit like the mattress.

Growing fury helped him struggle from the canvas sheet. Yes, he was starkers but for underpants. Well – some kind of elasticated rubbery pants, covering a wet towel. He lifted himself to sit on the edge of the mattress and bowed his head into his hands. A familiar stink. Hadn't peed his pants since he was a kid.

It was coming back in an eerie dreamlike way. The mental man, the GP, scrapping with the cops, helplessness. This had to be – not prison, but, worse, the loony bin.

Click.
A small shaft of light appeared and he roused himself to stagger towards it.
Click.
The light went out, and he felt his way along padded walls, cursing, shouting for help. This was weird too – no echo. And he couldn't find a door! As he made for the mattress again, he tripped over something. He fumbled the object. A piss pot, made of rubber. Empty at least.

Click.
The shaft of light. A distant voice said, “You are awake, Mr Chisholm.” The voice was unfamiliar, but reminded him of Panjit, his pal from uni.

He could make out where in the wall the light was coming through. Tensing, he sprang up towards it, but it vanished with a click. Where the light had been, he slammed both hands against a padded wall. “I'm awake all right. Let me out!” he yelled.

But the conversation had ended, and he was left in semi-darkness. He tried digging his fingers into where the light had shone through. The surface was impenetrable. Maybe a hatch operated from the outside? There had to be a door. He crawled along by each wall, his fingers probing unsuccessfully. Maybe this was Hell, and he'd never escape.

He again raised himself to where he thought the light had come from, and, yelling, beat against the wall with his fists. Noiseless and utterly futile. He slumped back across the mattress. His body ached, right through his bones and muscles. He lay drowsing.

Becky sprouts wings and flutters away. A butterfly? He tries to follow, but can't get his legs to move from under a heap of coal. Heather swoops past on a broomstick, shrieking, laughing at him.

He awoke, sweating. A horror dream. He recalled where he was – in a cell, in the loony bin – and the helplessness returned.

The shaft of light was there again. He lay still, listening, then shouted, “Hello?”

The voice replied. “Hello Mr Chisholm. How are you?”

How did this character think he was? Better try a different approach. “Where am I?”

“You are in Springwell Mental Hospital.” A man, same as before, with a foreign accent, was speaking through the hole where the light shone from.

“What am I doing in here? I'm not mad.”

“Well the people who brought you in say you are.” A pause, then the voice continued. “They also say you were violent and dangerous, so we gave you knockout medicine and put you in this padded room.”

“This what?”

“It is a padded cell. You are there for your own protection.”

“For my protection! I don't need protecting. My imprisonment, you mean?”

“Well, that is also true. You were, as I said, violent, and you are also in here for the protection of other people.”

Rubbing his sore eyes, he rose to sitting on the edge of the mattress. This guy could hold the key to his release. “Who are you?”

“I am Dr Singh, psychiatric registrar.” Not Panjit – Indian sub-continent, though.

“Can you let me out of here, please?”

“No, not yet. We must be sure it will be safe to do so.”

“For heaven's sake!” he yelled, “I can't even see you.” He sprang up towards the light, which immediately vanished with a click. He hammered at the walls and then slumped onto the floor. He was helpless, beaten.

Click
. The shaft of light. “The nurses will bring medicine to help you sleep,” said the doctor.

Click
. Semi-darkness again, and silence. He fumbled for the mattress and lay on it.

Click
. The shaft of light. Yes, a hatch. A voice barked, “Chisholm, wakey! Time for your medicine.” A very different voice – rough, gravelly. Sounded familiar, but where from? “Be a good boy,” the voice continued. “Any trouble and we'll do for you.”

That was it. The pig of a sergeant major at Aldershot for his induction to National Service and that delightful square-bashing! He'd dreamed of a reunion with that jumped-up little sadist – in a dark alley.

He heard, “Go.” A door magically swung open and a large man stood in the doorway. From behind this heavy, the sergeant major voice growled, “Chisholm, you bloody stay where you are.”

He did this and braced himself as the heavy, and then another equally big, squeezed into the cell. He sat up on the edge of the mattress, watching the white-coated incomers.

Sarge the Voice now blocked the doorway. “There are three of us nurses, Chisholm, and we're coming in to give you knockout medicine.”

Nurses! Not like any he'd known.

He raised himself to standing, facing his guests as Sarge the Voice also entered the cell. Getting crowded. They expected trouble. Why shouldn't he oblige? Dammit, he'd nothing to lose.

“Sit down, Chisholm,” Sarge the Voice commanded. This man was twice the size of the Aldershot beast, though the rasping voice and offensive manner were uncannily similar. Sarge stood in the centre of the trio, blocking the open doorway.

John could feel the adrenalin.
Take deep breaths, and wait for them to move.

The two heavies moved in concert to grab his arms. He slipped through between them, charging at Sarge the Voice, who stepped to one side. Freedom. But no. He hit a concrete abdomen and, caught in a headlock, was forced to the floor. Another heavy!

Cursing bodies crashed onto him. A steamroller might hurt less, and he couldn't move his weighed-down trunk or limbs. His head was being raised, his nose pinched and his mouth forced open. Foul-tasting liquid trickled down his throat. He was gulping. Maybe they were poisoning him. Everything faded.

*

He was back in the cell, on the mattress. His mouth was dry and on fire, with a taste like sewage. He made to sit up. Just moving hurt. His head was packed with splintered wood. But images of the invaders were clear. He'd charged them, and been done over.

Slowly, painfully, he raised himself to sitting and blew out his lips. Breathing in, he caught a sewer pong. He blew and sniffed a few times. Whatever it was stank, though it hadn't killed him. Maybe better if it had. He was a mouse in a trap.

Nauseous, he managed to crawl to the rubber potty and retched. His guts were being ripped. Only liquid came up, and that stank like a drain.

He lay on the floor, sweaty and shivery, with a thudding like roadworks inside his head. He'd had enough, feeling like dying but not like doing anything about that. Struggling to think, everything was jumbled. Images of Heather and Becky at breakfast, of Natalie floating, of the Head shouting, blurred as he drowsed into the land of nightmares.

7
Saturday 21
st
April 1956 – in Aversham.

Sam Newman motored at fair speed along puddly country lanes. This morning's escorting to the loony bin hadn't been a problem, as the patient came voluntarily. Not like that mad teacher yesterday. Sam used to like action – but maybe he was past it. As well the police were there. Smashing wife the man had. Must call on her some time; check she knew the score about visiting, try to comfort her. Not that he'd be expected to call. His obligatory visits were nearly all pre-admission.

He looked forward to Saturday afternoons. The boss had decreed that Mr Newman show up at the office five-and-a-half days weekly; but from Saturday noon, the building mercifully closed for the weekend. And though on standby 24/7, Sam was rarely troubled on Saturday afternoons. Thus free to indulge his passion for watching football, he had this season got to all Rovers' home matches. Today was special. Last game in the league, and Rovers, one point behind United, would entertain the enemy. ‘Champions at last', the
Evening News
crowed.

He pulled into the driveway just on noon. Something he blessed his employer for – this nice two-bedroom semi. Opening the front door, he met a torrent. “With that hussy again? You've no time for me.” His once-lovely wife Ella was going through a bad spell. She'd always been prone to jealous outbursts, and the disseminated sclerosis didn't help. It was ten years since a neurologist gave the diagnosis, and said the illness must have been there for well over a decade. “We have no cure, and sadly it's progressive – though you can expect periods of remission,” wasn't great news.

“What's her name?” she whispered.

“I've been working. And there is no other woman.” True. Right now.

“You'll be leaving me alone again.” Yes, with a 3pm kick-off, he wouldn't be back before six; and their beloved child Helen worked at Woollies till then.

He applied himself to his Saturday task – making the scrambled egg on toast. Ella struggled into her wheelchair and manoeuvred to her place at the table.

They ate in silence. When the phone rang, he was glad to escape to the hall. But he didn't feel so good when he heard the voice.

The secretary to Springwell's Medical Superintendent was a spry ex-schoolteacher who clearly knew she spoke for the boss.

“Mr Newman, we need your help urgently.”

She'd rung him only twice before, but each time the command (definitely not a request) started like this. He'd been obliged to drop other things and comply pronto. First week on the job, he'd gone with the MOH to meet the loony bin's Medical Superintendent (a wizened, fiery-looking man who grilled him about his job and why he'd come to work in mental health). The boss, keen on decent relations with Springwell, had made it clear he should jump if the Med Super asked him to.

“Yes, Miss Bewlay,” he growled.

“One of our patients, whom you admitted, is on our Infirmary Ward, critically ill with pneumonia. John Chisholm, 90 Green Drive. We need you to contact his wife, Mrs Heather Chisholm, and bring her to Springwell.” She paused. “Now.”

“Isn't she on the phone? And doesn't she have a car?” Must see the match.

“No and no. You should know that, as you took her details when you admitted Mr Chisholm yesterday.”

That stung. But there was still something odd about this. “Don't you take the ill folk into town?”

An impatient sigh? “Yes, but Mr Chisholm is too ill to be moved. Our physician advises that we summon the nearest relative immediately.”

Better get on with it. “Yes, Miss Bewlay. Shall I take her to the ward?”

“No. Report at the main entrance and seat Mrs Chisholm in our Main Hall. They will ring for the charge nurse, who will send someone down to escort her. I suggest you wait in the Main Hall until she needs escorting home.”

Blast. He'd miss the match. “Yes Miss.” He slammed down the receiver and, turning, almost stumbled into Ella. She'd moved in her wheelchair to sit behind him. He cursed aloud, and immediately regretted it. Ella suffered enough without that.

“That was
her
, wasn't it?” Ella said, her brow knitted.

He took a deep breath. “No, that was Springwell. I've to take a patient's relative –”

But Ella had rotated her wheelchair and was making for the settee. She struggled onto it and buried her head in a cushion.

“The man's dying,” he said quietly. He cleared the dirty dishes and washed up. Another Saturday job.

Better go. He checked his pocket for fags. One thing – at least he could light up outside. Ella wouldn't let him smoke anywhere inside. “Disgusting and filthy,” she'd said on their first day together. After a volcanic row that nearly blew them apart, he'd decided he loved Ella more than the fags. So he, a chronic smoker accustomed to lighting up wherever and whenever, agreed to comply – and managed to stick to this. Nights, he'd often creep out for a drag by the back door.

He saw Ella watching him. Her eyes closed as he approached. He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead, then picked up coat and briefcase and left.

As he journeyed through nigh-deserted streets, Miss Bewlay's imperious tones rang in his ears. Talking to him like her slave! He could see her in a classroom, terrifying the poor kids into submission. Give some women power!

Funny thing to ask. Chisholm must be on the way out. Bet you – at Springwell they felt responsible. He'd maybe have been within his rights to refuse this escort job, but he didn't want the hassle of being snapped at by that witch, then dragged through hot cinders by the boss. And if the patient died… No choice, Sam.

Stopped by traffic lights, he looked in the car mirror and smoothed his hair. Mrs C was a stunner, and being with a beautiful woman always gave him a buzz.

He had married
the
beauty. But even from their earliest days together, his urges to play the field were irresistible. He felt an urge now – powerfully.

He swung into Green Drive and screeched to a halt outside number 90.

BOOK: Mad Worlds
6.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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