Upon the foundations of Hendricksburg, the first industry to truly gain ground and importance in this great city’s history was that of the fishery. Since the great city was founded on the bordering waterways of both the Albiore Ocean and Wibliss Sea, accessing the great bounties of both was paramount to the capitol’s ability to not only grow, but flourish through nearly every era it has seen. Of course, barring the scourge of the Great Malice of 1689, that dreaded plague I mentioned some articles ago, there has naught been a time where one could not say that the city has been in a perpetual state of increase in some metric.
The most obvious and apparent example of this can be found in the Blechiem District, named so for the founder of the great Western Trading Union that secured vast and varied contacts around the known world. Lord Nathanial Blechiem, truly a prophet in many regards, knew full well the importance of the land he was establishing for his company Since the land, infertile and useless for crops, was cheap and abundant, he purchased great portions of it, then sold or loaned it out to prospective merchants or men of industry.
One such industry that took Lord Blechiem’s particular fancy was that of coal trade. His earlier journal entries, now included in many a scholarly dissertation on the growth of commercialism in our fair nation, indicates that there were foreign investors who had similarly taken interest in the, at time, largely worthless commodity. Aside from those who worked with iron and forged it for a living, it seemed to the mass public that there would be no particular need for coal in any large capacity. Until a southern inventor discovered that the mass burning of coal could produce large quantities of heat and, utilizing water chambers and wheels, pressurized air. This, in time, would lead to combustible engines and coal based electricity: the staples of a modern and civilized world.
Now a symbol of modernization and industrious drive, the Blechiem district is the beating heart of Hendricksburg. And not unlike the organ equivalent, many pivotal and irreplaceable services can be found in the unwalled district that sits in the shadow of the miserable Midnight Quarter above. One such service is the detainment and treatment of lunatics and morons within the halls of the Blechiem Asylum.
It is of no small measure of thanks that the good citizens of Hendricksburg owe to the valiant and brilliant orderlies and doctors who investigate the alien recesses and mysteries of the human mind. As matter of fact, some of those same brilliant pioneers in the realm of lunatic treatment hailed from the esteemed halls of the university where I virtually reside: and some astonishing advancements in the treatment of the sick and twisted can be attributed to the collaboration of the university professors as well as the practical hands of the asylum doctors.
Or at the very least, so says I. Gertrude, on the other measure, held nothing but contempt and disdain for the gothic walls we were to venture into. She spat something about a miasma of misery when we crossed the white blanketed courtyard where some patients wobbled their way about in the shallow snow: out for their daily walk, no doubt. She sniffed at the polite welcome we were given by one broad shouldered orderly who greeted us in the tiled foyer, his raspy voice an odd contrast to the soft words he chose. In fact, Gertrude nearly swatted away the very idea that Miss Sawyer had been begrudgingly interred here for her own safety.
I had made the appointment to meet with her and her presiding psychologist in advance, and I had been informed that we could attempt to speak to her if we so desired. Of course, there was much we needed to know that only Miss Sawyer could answer for; difficult as that sounded given her apparent state. As we walked down a corridor in the north wing, across the slate and brown tiled floors and through the green plastered walls, I took particular note to the dull humming of the electric lights above our heads. Being so close to all the latest technologies, this asylum was one of the first medical establishments to have installed such devices across all their facilities. The copper wires, dipped in their protective coatings, fingered across the vaulted halls like hairline fractures. All the while, large yellowed glass blubs burned away beneath their tin coned hats, lighting our path in an uncanny haze.
While I inquired with the orderly for a more detailed assessment of Miss Sawyer’s condition, Gertrude amused herself by sliding her jagged nails along the walls, her palms making an unsavoury slapping sound at every doorframe in a queer punctuation of time passing. It seemed that Miss Sawyer was, in layman’s terms, completely disturbed. She would break into fits of hysteria in the dead of night over the past week, often screaming incoherently. Her psychologist, Doctor Lawrence Habborlain, had already prepared the documentation to have her sent in for a lobotomy in the coming months since it seemed that her condition was only worsening. I had to inquire as to how the psychologist could be so certain in his assessment, since she had only been here for a week, and before that she had had no previous signs of such an affliction?
Meeting with Doctor Habborlain would shed some light on that part. It seemed that, at the behest of the doctor, her previous employer had hired a private investigator to look into her family’s history of mental sanity. Documentation had arrived naught but a day or two prior that declared that Miss Sawyer’s mother, now deceased, had suffered similar attacks as vouched for by an anonymous source. I was perfectly nonplussed with the speed that this private investigator was able to find such information, Gertrude less so.
Her words were very nearly as jagged as her unkempt talons when she demanded she see the document herself. The orderly was taken aback by this demand, as was myself and the good doctor before me. The three of us, myself and the doctor sitting in his office, turned to stare at my surly companion. Evidentally the document was in the archives somewhere, and the orderly shambled out to go see about recovering it while we were lead to a narrow room where Miss Sawyer was at present.
Sure enough, her condition was of that of someone whose psyche had been fractured into a veritable sand of shards. Her face was still that pleasing round shape that I had remembered from Professor Attenborough’s office, but the dark markings beneath her eyes had swollen to engorge the entirety of her eye sockets. The eyes themselves seemed a curious hazy complexion, though the scarlet of veins were more acute than they should be, all the while gazing fixatedly at the electric bulb dangling above her bed. He lips were constantly opening and closing, a mocking mimicry of a mindless fish-like stare from a glass tank, and a dull drumming of senseless words spilled from the back of her throat. Her body, however, was bound to her bed by thick leather straps, her whole form being swaddled in constricting asylum garments that I had seen upon the bodies of some of the other patients.
Some of the other patients in this uncomfortable room were of similar, though less severe disposition. One man, in particular, bothered me something fierce while I tried to maintain my attention on Miss Sawyer. His scalp was puffy and blotched, clumps of his hair clearly having been ripped out of his head by his own hands. He stared at me with a discomforting obsession, though his one eye was slid to the inside of his nose so greatly it was any wonder her had anything vaguely resembling depth perception. His expression was… creepy, though it seemed to bother Gertrude to no degree as she pleasantly offered him a greetings when we passed by.
I had to turn my attention back to my current project after that point: the imbecile blew a bubble from his cracked lips at her in response. I was here to work, I reminded myself: not to take pity or fascination with the deranged and disposed.
I began with an apology for her current condition, then inquired if she could remember who I was. I received no coherent response. I tried asking if she remembered her name, or where she lived? Again, no coherent response. I produced the label from her broken medicine bottle and held it above her face. I’m sure even the most simple of readers can predict here what her response was.
Of course, I had almost completely expected this result based on what Doctor Habborlain had expressed to me when I had made this appointment. Though a scant part of my own wild imaginings had, dare I say, hoped for some sort of revelation from this. It was not so, however. While I excused myself from Miss Sawyer’s bedside, Gertrude began about her own ministrations by tossing her worn leather rucksack upon the floor and pulling out various baubles and trinkets, explaining to Miss Sawyer that she was a Caïeen Sister and that she was going to perform a little ritual for her, with her permission. With the sort of regard the detached parent watches their adopted daughter play “tea party”, I witnessed Gertrude stare knowingly at the mindless gaze of Miss Sawyer expecting an answer.
Apparently an answer was given: Gertrude nodded to her client, or rather victim in my mind, and shooed the pair of us away. Doctor Habborlain and I removed ourselves to the entrance of the treatment room, past perhaps half a dozen filled beds of patients in varying states of idiocy and I asked him a couple more questions about Miss Sawyer’s condition when she was first admitted. It seemed that the news I had heard about Miss Sawyer’s uncanny strength had been true. A physician seemed to note that Miss Sawyer, during her maddened attack of her sister, had ripped several muscles in her back and arms from over-exertion.
That struck me as particularly unorthodox, and it baffled the good doctor to some extent as well. It was the first time, in his career, he had encountered someone of this unusual nature and affliction. Raving madmen he was accustomed to, to some extent. Violent psychopaths as well, and deranged lunatics too. But a combination of all three? And all in one mind? Well, that was certainly something he wished to study further. The surgery, of course, would be performed for Miss Sawyer’s own good; but first Doctor Habborlain wished to conduct a few experiments to see the full length and breadth of how this affliction had manifested and continued to do so.
I asked to be informed when those results were compiled, if for no other reason than pure scholarly interest and curiosity.
It had been a shocking amount of time for Gertrude to finish her, and I use the term liberally: work. She started to explain what it was she had done, but I cannot pretend that I was even remotely close to interested in her flim-flammery. As we were leaving the room and began our way down the hallway, Gertrude suddenly stopped following and stared with vexing fixation at one of the closed offices. Resigning myself to asking her what she was so absorbed in, I walked up to her side.
It did not require any explanation on her part, but I did notice a perculiarity upon the desk inside. A familiar looking paper, cheap and recycled, and in a shocking abundance. The name card beside the door was also missing, but it did not require much effort to flag down an orderly to inquire about who the office used to belong to. I had had a sneaking suspicion, but my suspicion was confirmed when I was informed that the office used to belong to a Doctor Wilbur L. Gears.
I requested access to the office: though it had not been used by Doctor Gears in some months, perhaps something within would provide me with some definitive answers as to what he and Mister McGuffin had been working on prior to his murder. The Asylum Administrator obliged my request, always eager to return favours to the university when he was able, and Gertrude and I settled in for a night of exploration of the office. Little had we known at the time simply how long the night would end up being.