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PREVIEW: Jack in the Box

September 13, 2018

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Winthrop Institute

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Rising from the yard like a man breaching the sea, one long limb stretched out in an open plea to the god's high above, the tree in the front yard was without a doubt one of the creepier things in the old Winthrop estate. Visible from the hall windows on the second floor, which also overlooked the overgrown shrubbery maze that, if you looked too closely, seemed to have dark figures stumbling about drunkenly.

     

Jake had learned a long time ago not to go out and look for intruders in the garden. Not at night, and especially not on a New Moon, when the sky was swathed in a blanket of darkness that one star could pierce with their twinkling brilliance. Putting a hand up to the glass to block out the ambient low-lighting of the hallway, Jake pressed his nose against the glass to stare at the tree, jokingly referred to as the Drowning Man by the staff, as the few leaves sprouting from the gnarled bark fluttered in the invisible wind.

 

A crackle of static shook him from enjoying the quiet of the Intensive Care Ward; all the freaks and lunatics had finally gone to sleep just a few hours ago, drugged into temporary comas to allow the orderlies a few brief moments of solitude. The second floor for the Intensive Care was for those that weren't a danger to themselves or others, they just had... different problems.

     

The double doors leading from B Building creaked a bit, catching Jake's attention. A wheelchair, rusty and old, creaked out from the darkened halls of the building, squeaking low enough that the central air conditioning almost drowned it out.

     

Heaving a sigh, Jake sheathed his heavy flashlight and hoisted up his belt, covering his lower gut so that he could appear a little more intimidating.This was one of the cases that Jake had to deal with on a regular basis...

     

"Come on out Mattie, I can hear you breathing." Jake said, wiping his face with back of his hand, sniffing.

     

Slowly, from the shadows cast by the tall pillars surrounding the windows, a pale foot extended out into the darkened hall, followed by another. Mattie Jones, the oldest resident of the Winthrop Home for the Incurably Insane, still looked no older than she did over eight five years ago, when her picture was first taken. She'd been in the home for over forty years at that point, her exact arrival time long since lost due to a fire that had burned the records department in 1918.

     

Her hair, black with a streak of red coming out of her bangs, was tucked behind her ears and half done into a loose braid. Her eyes, glassy and listless, looked Jake over for a moment, her nose twitching like that of a rabbit. Finally, she stepped fully into the light, squinting her eyes.

     

Jake looked up, looking down the hall as Mattie walked up to him. Here he was in three layers of clothing just to keep warm (his security outfit next to useless) and this little girl was in a long threadbare shirt and thin, scraped up pants, barefoot.

     

She didn't look Jake in the eyes, instead choosing to focus on his forehead. "Hello Jake," she said, a slight lilt to her voice, suggesting she wasn't from America. Perhaps France? "How are you tonight?"

     

"Cold and not in the mood for your kind of games Mattie. Did you play with that puzzle I got you, the one from China?"

     

Mattie slowly nodded, reaching behind her and slowly revealing the metal sphere that, not twelve hours ago, had been an intricate puzzle box that took people months to solve. The thin lines lining the sphere all seemed to flow together in one unbroken seam, like waves on the sea. Jake tightened his jaw.

     

"I'm sorry," Mattie said, holding the orb out and looking down at her feet. "I made you mad."

     

"No darlin, no you didn't," Jake said, taking the orb from her hand, not at all shocked at how cold the metal was. "You been solving puzzles for years, so I ain't mad atcha. That's what you do, and you gotta be who you gotta be. Lord wouldn't have it any other way."

     

"I know... I really tried to go slow though!" Mattie said, punctuating her exclamation with a stomp of her little bare foot. The lights in the entire complex flickered slightly. Jake didn't even notice, as he looked down at the little girl.

     

"They give you your shot?" Jake asked, squatting down to be eye level with her.

     

She still refused to meet his gaze, even after all these years he'd worked here. Nobody could claim to have ever held the gaze of Mattie Jones, not even the few doctors that tried to "cure" her of her ailments.

     

Jake chuckled to himself as he stood back up, one hand drifting to Mattie's cold shoulder, turning to have her lead him back to her room in Building B. 

 

Cure? What's there to cure? He thought to himself as he pushed through the double doors, into the pitch darkness of the building that Mattie Jones had called home for over a century.

     

The only thing Jake knew about Mattie was that she didn't sleep, didn't eat and always managed to sneak out of her room and past the orderlies set to watch the patients overnight, despite her door being locked. She had one of the interior rooms, and despite every Head of Psychology's protests, had painted the walls a foreboding black.

 

Light shriveled and died within her room, the bare black walls and ceiling creating a void for which someone to be lost adrift. The bed, bare of any furnishings, served as the top of Mattie's nest, a combination of blankets and pillows, along with dirt and a few small books she seemed possessive about.

     

As Jake stepped slowly after Mattie, her pace that of an infirmed man or the elderly, he thought of the few times Mattie had exhibited violent behavior. About ten years ago, an orderly had tried to get her to start sleeping on her bed instead of under it. The two hundred and thirty pound man had pulled her bed away from the wall and begun setting her possessions on top of it, ordering two nurses to make the bed.

     

They didn't even get to touch the sheets.

     

Mattie had sprung from the darkness, biting the orderlies arm deep enough to sever muscle, her hands and fingers curled into wicked claws that tore through his shirt and drew ragged red lines over his muscled chest. It took two separate orderlies, and triple the dosage of Ativan to calm her down enough to get the bleeding orderly away from her. She'd drunkenly pulled the bed back into place and slunked beneath it, dragging her sheets and pillows with her before passing out.

     

When Jake was first hired, Mattie had actually more things in her room. A painting of a man she seemed to admire, and books, oh lord, how she had books. It was like this wasn't a place for her to get better at, but a place to simply exist at. A new doctor, Dr. Marecek, had decided that Mattie needed to be properly diagnosed. After allowing the girl out one night to play in the garden (under supervision of course), Dr. Marecek had gone through her nest and looked through the books. Written in smudgy brown ink, Mattie made notes about the staff, naming them all one by one.

     

And how she planned to kill them.

     

Dr. Marecek had confronted Mattie about it, and to everyone's surprise the little girl had merely shrugged.

     

"Yeah, I plan on killing you all eventually... unless you quit, or move or something." She'd said, looking at her feet.

     

Dr. Marecek had been furious, and ordered all of her possessions removed from her room, save for her bed and her "nest". She'd crawled into it and glowered at everyone from beneath the box springs as the painting and shelves came down, the books carried out. The good doctor had them locked away in storage, in the deepest reaches of the basement.

     

Dr. Marecek also died a few nights later, several syringes full of Ativan having been rammed into his heart before the plunger pushed, flooding his body with a lethal dose of the drug. He'd been found the next day, slumped over in her chair.

     

Mattie had several of the Doctor's medical texts, one with a smear of blood on it.

     

Jake stopped when he felt the entrance to her room appear, his hand seeking out her head, patting it lovingly.

 

She sighed, content for the time being.

     

Taking his hand back, Jake cleared his throat. "I'm, um, I'm leaving tonight..."

     

"You leave every night, come dawn," Mattie replied from the shadows, ethereal and light.

     

"I mean I have a new job."

     

The silence around the hall became deafening. 

     

"I mean, I got an offer that would be really good for me, and I have to think of my family first you-"

     

"You're leaving me," she accused, standing beside him now. In the darkness he could see her outline against the cluttered hall. "You're leaving me, just like the rest of them did, will!"

     

"I'll come visit you if you'd like. I mean, I know visitors aren't allowed, but maybe they'd make an exception...?"

     

"No," she said, now in the confines of her room. "No, you won't."

     

The door clicked close as she eased it into a sealed position. Jake heaved a sigh, listening to her sob on the other side of the door. If he were a good person he'd just say something, anything to try and make her feel better. Pulling out his flashlight and snapping it on, Jake aimed the beam down the hall from whence they came. A gurney sat against a wall, straps half undone, and a lone stuffed rabbit lay on the floor by a doorway some twenty feet away.

     

Jake shuffled, walking like the figures in the gardens, away from Mattie's door, slowly easing his way out of the maze-like path he'd found himself on when he'd met the little girl of Winthrop Institute for the Incurably Insane.

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