Chapter Two

THE ASYLUM

Thaddeus Volt didn’t just dislike people; he loathed them. From infancy he had been repulsed by the weakness of people. As a baby, Thaddeus never learned to cry, he simply screamed when his needs weren’t met. The feelings of other human beings were a complete mystery to him; all he understood was his own need to dominate, and the weaker his victims, the more powerful he felt.

As Thaddeus grew , he learned the art of pretending to be polite and caring. They were his tools for gaining people’s trust. He became so adept as an actor that most people thought he was wonderful, nothing could be further from the truth.

When Thaddeus became a man, he found his perfect career, working at an insane asylum. In a few short years, he advanced up through the ranks, until he was the Chief Superintendent of The Krayton Asylum for the Mentally Insane. Most of his peers were very impressed with the way he could turn even the most violent person into a docile inmate.

Over the years, a few of his staff had protested to him about the way he dehumanised his patients. Two of these people had mysteriously disappeared, and three more ended up having mental breakdowns (due to Thaddeus’ evil genius) and were now inmates of his Asylum.

As chief superintendent, he could torment and dominate to his heart’s content and better still he was even paid for the privilege. His victims were completely helpless, which allowed him to inflict all kinds of evil with no threat of reprisal. Cries for help were useless, his false charm and convincing acting ensured any potential rescuers soon became his allies. Just like Bert’s parents.

When Bert’s father first visited Thaddeus seeking help, he was quickly seduced by Volt’s sleazy charm. Thaddeus was the picture of concern as he was told of all that had happened since the lightning strike. As they discussed the terrible change that had seemingly come over Bert, he even managed to squeeze out a few crocodile tears; he really was a masterful actor. When the meeting was over, Bert’s dad had left for home filled with hope, assured that his son would quickly be restored to full health. All he had to do was leave Jake in the compassionate hands of Dr Volt.

As Bert’s parents led him into the asylum that fateful day, they did so believing that the son they loved so much, would get the very best of care, and would soon be returning fully restored to health. As they stepped into his office, Thaddeus was the picture of concern as he gently placed his hand on Bert’s shoulder. The act revolted Volt, but he hid it well. His one consolation was the grief he saw in the eyes of the boy and his parents; it took him every ounce of his acting ability not to sneer.

As Bert’s parents hugged the boy and said their goodbyes, Thaddeus was getting to the end of his acting endurance. Their display of affection revolted him.

“It’s best for the boy that you go now.” He said, roughly clasping Bert’s hand. Before they could protest or finish saying goodbye, he escorted them to the door, firmly closing it behind them. He had control now, and his goal was to see that Bert was never reunited with his parents. Every patient meant money in Volt’s pocket, cured people were to be avoided at all cost.

Thaddeus leered through the window, while Bert stood clutching his suitcase. Once Bert’s parents finally got into the waiting coach, he turned to cast a cold ugly smirk on his new prize. Snatching the suitcase from Bert’s hand he threw it on the floor. Crouching down he looked directly into Berts eyes. In a cold ugly whisper he hissed, “Let’s get one thing straight lad, you belong to me now, and will do exactly what I say, when I say, do you understand me!”

Bert froze in terror.

“I SAID,” he screamed, showering Bert with spittle, “DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?”

“Yes sir,” quivered Bert, tears welling up in his eyes.

Satisfied with the tears, he seized Bert by the shoulder and thrust him toward a large steel door. Volt rapped on it with the steel knob of his cane, a shutter immediately opened. Following Volt’s instructions; the man on the other side quickly opened the door. As Bert was roughly pushed into the hallway, his nose was assaulted with the stench of unwashed bodies and fear. “Take the lad to ward 17. He won’t need anything to eat, I’m sure he was fed this morning.”

Bert looked fearfully up at Volt, terrified. Summoning up what was left of his courage, he managed to find his voice. “Excuse me, sir,” he stammered, “but we forgot my suitcase.”

Thaddeus sneered at him, revealing twisted yellow teeth.

“Excuse me, sir, we forgot my suitcase,” mimicked Volt in a whining voice. “Not only are you mad, but you’re thick as well. You lad are nothing, and you own nothing.” Then with a flick of his long skinny fingers, he clipped Bert across the ear. Turning to the guard, he spat” Get rid of it”, and walked back to his desk.

Bert was led down several long corridors until they reached a large steel door with badly peeling paint. As the guard unlocked the door, he said to Bert, “Be a quick learner lad, and you will make life a lot easier for yourself. Don’t ask questions, always speak when you’re spoken to, but never speak unless you are.”

The room on the other side of the door was large and poorly lit, and smelt of stale urine and worse. As Bert’s eyes adjusted to the gloom, he saw people. Some were huddled in corners, others were lying on beds and many were standing. Despite a large number of individuals, (there must have been at least 50) the room was eerily quiet.

The guard led Bert over to a bed that was tucked away in a corner of the room, and then promptly left (his nose wrinkled with disgust). Bert stood by his bed staring numbly at it. The mattress was stuffed with horsehair and stank badly of stale urine. It had no pillow or sheets, just a grey blanket that looked like it had never been washed.

He sat on his bed, trying hard to ignore its terrible condition, tears streaming down his face. Never before had he been so terrified or felt so alone. He wanted to cry out for help, but there was none. Soon big sobs racked his body.

The person in the next bed pleaded with him. “Be quiet little boy, you will make things bad, please, please, hush, don’t bring him!” Placing both hands over his mouth, Bert curled into a ball, wishing he had never been born.

Somehow, during the endless night, he managed to fall asleep, though bad dreams and then lumpy mattress woke him several times. In the early hours of the morning the clatter and bang of breakfast being shoved into his cell woke him. As the fog of sleep passed, terror filled his heart as he remembered where he was.

The grey watery contents of his plate robbed him of his appetite, and though he was busting to go to the toilet, he was too embarrassed to use the rusty steel bucket beside his bed.

There were over 50 people in the room, yet apart from the occasional whisper, they made no sound. Bert peered around the room, discreetly scanning the other patients. Across the room from him was an old man who continually rubbed his knees, gazing into space. His lips were moving, but they made no sound.

Next to the old man a boy of about 14 or so paced backwards and forwards like a caged leopard, stopping now and then to gingerly peer under his bed. After he had satisfied himself that something was or wasn’t there, he would stand up, nod his head and start pacing again.

The boy’s neighbour was a woman who must have once been hugely obese; skin hung from her face and arms in large wattle-like folds. She sat on the edge of her bed endlessly rocking backwards and forwards her pendulous skin swaying as she rocked.

Lastly, Bert turned his attention to the woman next to him. She was an elderly lady with long grey lifeless about hair. She was busy studying the ends of her hair, fidgeting with the split ends. She somehow sensed that Bert was staring at her and looked up at him.”Good boy,” she whispered walking over to Bert.”You kept him away, good boy,” she repeated.

“Do you mean Dr Volt?” Whispered Bert.

She shuddered at the name. “Yes, we must keep very quiet; otherwise he comes back, yes we must be quiet,” her voice so faint, Bert could only just hear her.

Thaddeus sat in his nice warm office, stretched out in front of his fire. Even though it was still early in the day, he had already enjoyed the best part of a bottle of red wine. Feeling warm and particularly vicious, he decided he would entertain himself by interviewing his latest acquisition.”Guard” he screeched, “prepare the new lad in Ward 17.”

Despite it being cold, Bert shivered rather than wrapping himself in his foul-smelling blanket. He was chilled to the bone and his stomach ached it was so empty. He was sitting on his bed dreaming of roast dinners and warm crisp sheets when he heard the clatter and bang of doors being opened.

The guard headed directly to Bert, carrying a rusty steel bucket. “Wash yourself boy”, he commanded. “Dr Volt will be seeing you soon, can’t have you stinking up his office now can we!” And with that, he left.

His neighbour glanced at him sadly, slowly shaking her head. Bert looked at her imploringly, his eyes pleading for help. She responded by turning her back and curling up in a ball.

Bert walked numbly over to the bucket. It contained cold water, the remains of a bar of soap and a rag. He washed his face and hands but because of the lack of privacy decided that the rest of his body would just have to wait. He wasn’t even given a towel to dry himself with, so had to use his sleeves.

When the guard finally arrived to fetch him, Bert was almost relieved; the waiting had been terrible. Together they walked down the long corridors to Dr Volt’s office. When outside, the guard knocked on the door and waited for Dr Volt to respond. They had to wait for several minutes as Volt was busily ignoring both of them, knowing it would both annoy the guard and add to Bert’s terror. Eventually, he called out “Let the lunatic in.”

Volt licked his lips like a cat about to devour a nice juicy mouse when he saw Bert. “Sit down,” said Volt, a twisted grin on his face. Bert looked helplessly around for a chair, but none was to be found.

“Excuse me, sir,” he replied, on the verge of tears, “but there is nowhere to sit.”

“You stupid boy,” spat Volt. “There’s a perfectly good floor beneath your feeble brain, sit on it.”

Bert obediently sat on the cold hard floor.

Thaddeus rubbed his hands together and then took a long sip from his glass, thoroughly enjoying his little joke. “Well now, I see from your file that you have been upsetting your parents with your fantastic delusions.”

“No sir, I mean I didn’t mean to upset them, sir,” replied Bert, unable to see anything but Dr Volt’s feet.

“How dare you answer me back, you insolent little devil,” snarled Dr Volt, rising to his feet. “No wonder your parents told me they never want to see you again.”

This, of course, was a complete lie, but if Thaddeus had his way (and Thaddeus always did), neither Bert nor his parents would ever see each other again.

Bert was devastated and began to cry. Volt leapt up from his seat, grabbed Bert by the ear, and thrust him out of his office.

“Get rid of this blubbering brat,” he screamed at the guard, “and make sure he’s not fed until he learns some manners.”

As Bert was escorted back to his cold, miserable cell, Volt luxuriated in front of his fire. He was so pleased with the outcome of his interview that he decided to have a chocolate. Thaddeus delicately placed one into his mouth. As he chewed, a long viscous thread of drool dripped onto his desk.

Thaddeus Volt loved his job.

Roughly dragging Bert back to his ward, the guard pushed him through the door locking it behind him.”Stupid boy, next time remember what I told you yesterday. Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to, and never, ever, answer back.” When the guard left, Bert walked over to his bed gingerly sitting on the edge with the least stains. Tears streamed down his face; his ear throbbed terribly. Volt was an accomplished ear flicker and the lies about his parents never wanting to see him again had crushed him.

The boy from across the room came over and sat next to him.”It’s always worst the first time; next time it won’t be so bad.” He was lying, but wanted to ease Bert’s suffering, even if it was with false hope. Bert smiled through his tears, and tried to thank him, but he was so upset that he found it hard to speak. “My name’s Hamish,” whispered the boy, “if you want, I’ll do me best to help you, I’ve been here a long time now and know a few tricks.” Managing to find his voice, Bert whispered,” I’d really appreciate that.” The rattle of keys signalled the return of the guard, Hamish fled back to his bed as fraternising was punishable by a long stint in solitary confinement. Hamish had spent over a month there, and was still suffering terrible nightmares because of it.

A guard came in and sat on the only seat. Looking across at Bert he told him “Dr Volt will be seeing you first thing tomorrow morning, make sure you spruce yourself up.” He then opened a large black book and started writing in it. As he sat engrossed in his work, no one uttered so much as a word. After about an hour, the guard looked at his watch and called across to the lady with the pendulous skin,” Come on Mabel, the good Dr wants to see you. The terrified woman got up from her bed and obediently walked over to the guard. Everyone in the room was secretly glad it wasn’t them.

Dinner that night was gruel with bits of meat in it. Bert was so hungry he would have eaten just about anything, but wasn’t given any because of his run in with Dr. Volt. When the guard left, Hamish came across and shared half his meal. The gruel was rancid and the meat tough, but Bert was grateful to be able to put something into aching stomach. As he was putting the very last spoonful into his mouth, the shutter to the ward door opened and the horrible Voice of Dr. Volt pierced the air. “Guard” he screamed, “open the door”. Hamish grabbed his plate and raced across to his bed. But it was too late. As soon as the door was opened, Volt made a beeline for Hamish, his eyes filled with drunken rage. “You dishobedient monster” he slurred, “How dare you interfere with my work.” Seizing Hamish’s plate, he threw it across the room at Bert,narrowly missing him. Grabbing Hamish by the ear, he dragged him across the room to the guard. “Put him in sholitary; until he learns not to meddle wish my work.” Nodding obediently, the Guard escorted Hamish out of the room with Dr. Volt following close behind.

Despite having done nothing wrong, Bert felt terribly guilty and didn’t sleep a wink that night.

The morning was signalled by a guard bringing in breakfast (if you could call it that), having received firm instructions from Dr Volt he didn’t give any to Bert. While the others ate, Bert washed with the contents of the bucket and then awaited his doom.

While he sat on his bed, filled with dread, he thought he saw something move just around the corner from the guards’ seat. He was about to dismiss it as his imagination when he heard a sound coming from the same direction. It was very faint at first, but as he strained to listen, it became slightly louder. Then to his amazement, he saw two tiny wrinkled faces peering around the corner at him.

When they saw him looking back, both faces quickly disappeared, and then whoever or whatever they were, began to have a discussion in a strange language. The discussion got so loud that Bert was sure the guards would come any second. Not only did the guards not come, but none the other people in his ward seemed to pay even the slightest attention to the sound of their voices.

After several minutes, the discussion paused and the two visitors appeared again, both of them staring intently at Bert. They were dressed in clothes that were similar to those worn by the strange character he had met when he had gone to buy the flour. In fact, Bert felt almost certain that the one on the left was indeed the very same chap. As he watched, enthralled, they both began to shuffle to the left, while looking at Bert. As Bert turned his head to follow their progress, they stopped and began to shuffle to the right. Turning his head to the right, they immediately stopped and again burst into their strange language. To Bert’s continued amazement, everyone else in the room just seemed to ignore them

As they talked away to each other, the main door opened and a guard entered the room. He walked straight past the two creatures and grabbed Bert’s wrist.

“Come on boy; the Doctor will be seeing you now.” The two creatures, still in full conversation, followed them all the way to Dr Volt’s office.

Dr Volt was in a particularly vicious mood. The servant who brought him his breakfast each morning had recently fallen ill and had been getting quite tardy. If that weren’t bad enough, this morning, he had failed turn up altogether. In a blind rage, Volt had stormed through the house screaming blue murder. He eventually found the man still in bed – quite dead. This infuriated him even more as not only had he missed his breakfast but now he had the inconvenience of disposing of a dead servant and finding another.

As Bert stood in Dr Volt’s office that morning, he was certainly in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thaddeus Volt looked up from his desk. “You can step outside,” he commanded the guard. Volt peered over the top of his glasses directly into Bert’s eyes. “I trust you have learned some manners since we last spoke.”

“Pardon sir,” replied Bert, who could hardly hear a word, because of the conversation going on right behind him.

“I said,” repeated Volt, his face turning purple. “I trust you have learned some manners since your last visit.”

“Yes sir,” said Bert, trying to giving Volt his full attention. “That’s better,” said Thaddeus, taking a sip from his ever-present glass of wine. Opening a file, the Dr. began to make a few notes. As Bert stood waiting, one of creatures calmly walked across the room, poured something into the doctor’s glass, and then returned to stand beside his friend. After several minutes, Volt put down his pen, taking yet another sip from his glass and looked directly across at him. Bert could tell by the look in his eyes that he was about to say something nasty. But just as his lips started forming the first word, he slumped forward on his desk, and began to snore.

One of the pair then called out to the guard, exactly mimicking Dr Volt’s voice. “Go and fetch me another bottle of wine.” “Yes, sir” replied the guard quickly making his way to the cellar. One of the creatures then walked over and removed the keys from the snoring Dr. Passing the keys to Bert; he said, “We had better get going.” In a dreamlike state, Bert followed, unlocking the doors as they went. Making their way down the hallway Bert opened the last door, stepping outside into a bright and sunny day.

 

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