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When The Light is Gone

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19 September 1889

    My first fleeting thought upon glimpsing the building is: Surely this will be the place I die.

    The sunlight is cold today, sneering down at the towering structure that is the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. Standing outside, I could already tell from the way it loomed over me, high and forbidding, that in no way can this be a cheerful place. The entryway is worse, if anything: dark and desolate, with ragged tapestries sagging off the walls and a torn carpet leading the way down the hall. The walls are rusty and chipped, the place smells dank, and the damp air presses against my chest with a heavy hand. This entire building seems hollow and forlorn.

    My hands are chained behind me so tightly I can’t move them. Two men flank me on either side, dressed all in black and no doubt heavily armed. They push me roughly down the hall. They laugh when I stumble.

    “Welcome to your new home,” one says, prodding me in the back. “You’ll have lots of fun here, you will.”

   “Ha!” another guard barks. To his comrades, he mutters, “Let’s see how long it takes him to go mad.”
This maze of hallways seems to branch on forever. Every turn we make leads us down darker and more ominous corridors. I see, ahead of me, a shattered heap of something in the dim light; it almost resembles—there, a hand! I recoil in shock and disgust, but the guards only glance down and keep striding onward.

    We arrive at a cramped cell that reeks of piss and rotting vomit and they shove me in, slamming the door shut with a clang that rattles me. I hit my elbow hard on the way down and a groan rips its way out of my mouth. The guards are already retreating back down the hallway. “Good luck,” they call back unconcernedly, chortling to themselves.

    I am still gasping with pain when I look up and see the eyes staring back at me.


24 September 1889

    There are five of them, all suffering through varying degrees of insanity. A man who babbles incoherently to himself, day after day, not seeming to notice or care if anyone is listening. An older man with long, ragged hair and fingers like claws, who leers evilly at me with bloodshot eyes. A woman whose eyes are only angry red holes, staring blankly without seeing. A young man, hardly more than a boy, with ugly scars crawling all over his body. A dark-haired girl who sits rocking in a corner, knees hugged to her chest, ignoring the world.

    They welcome me to their cell.

It is tiny and uncomfortably cramped. There are no windows, no ways to escape, and the walls link arms around us. Through steel bars, we catch glimpses of the hallway beyond—a hallway just as dreary as the cell itself. Peeling paint crumples toward the floor, defeated, and rusty red stains creep up the walls.
There is no sunlight here to greet us upon waking, no birds humming sweet melodies in our ears, no twinkling stars to herald the night. There is only the gloom lurking over our shoulders, the despair peeping around the door, the constant chill pressing in from all sides. It seems awfully crowded here, stuffy and congested, and every day I gaze upon the faces of the mentally insane, knowing that I can’t possibly belong with them, that there is no way I am that far gone.

I want to get out. This can’t be my home. I think about her every day—the girl I left behind. Days are dull, lonely, monotonous; nights are even worse. Night is when the noises echo down the halls, screams and groans and high-pitched, maniacal laughter. Night is when chills creep down my back and shivers flutter across my spine. Night is when the shadows on the walls morph into demons, fangs bared, claws extended, hot breath on my neck.

Night is when the whispers start.


8 October 1889

    It is worse here than I thought.

    The place is built for 250, yet more than a thousand now fill these halls. The doctors here resort to crude methods to treat the lot of us—in my wanderings of the building I have seen a man  strapped down for so long that his skin has started growing over the leather, people twisted around each other in cages and chained together, white-coated doctors cutting into patients whose faces contort in agony. Rotting bodies lie piled in remote hallways and blank-eyed inmates sit slumped against the walls, neglected and forlorn, staring at nothing. There are new corpses every day.

I see writing on the walls, quivering words painted with shaking hands. The end is now proclaims one wall. It was more fun in hell shouts another. The whispers in my mind grow eager; they mumble in low tones, a softly muttering crowd, words subdued and incomprehensible.

    I swear this place will make me go mad.


20 October 1889

    It’s getting worse.

    In the daytime now, too, the whispers consume my mind. I hear them rambling on and on, tearing their way through my brain.

    They tell me to lash out.

    They tell me to fight.

    They tell me hurt someone, to grab the girl who rocks in a corner and wrap my hands around her neck, to let my fury loose at the man who stares at me, to scream and yell and rage against this place I’ve been thrown into, this pit of despair.

    They tell me I will revel at the sight of blood.

    They are becoming harder and harder to resist.


5 November 1889

Got into my first fight today

I would be lying if I said I didn’t know what made me do it it was the devils in my head I’m sure. I was walking past a lady with bulging eyes a flat nose and bruises along her cheek—she poked at me and when I looked back at her she cackled showing all her teeth

    The voices told me grab her and I listened. I snatched her arm and slammed her against the wall. She was screaming begging for me to stop but I couldn’t help myself I beat her over and over until guards had to wrestle me off. They threw me to the ground beat me half-senseless and dragged me back to my cell. I kicked and yelled the entire way but it was futile—they slammed the door on me, hard, and I felt the echo in my bones.

    “You’re dead if you do that again!” they shouted.

    “Go to hell!” I screamed at their retreating backs. I screamed until my throat felt raw and the entire time the taste of my blood was in my mouth and the woman’s blood was on my hands.

22 November 1889

    I don’t think I would recognize myself anymore in a mirror.

My hair has gotten so long I wake every morning to a face full of rank, greasy strands. My fingernails have also been getting longer and I occupy myself by sharpening them into points this is very amusing I think. They look like the claws that the monsters on the walls have—ha! ha!

    I fear I am beginning to reek nevertheless it tickles me to see the big guys wrinkle their noses and the corners of their mouths pull down in disgust it makes me giggle like a child. They are here even now pointing at me and talking. In they come—

    “—here to see you,” one says. Most of his sentence is drowned by the voices that flare up at his approach, hissing hit him kick him hard make him bleed make him suffer.  The desire to hurt him rises like vomit in my throat but I am very good I grit my teeth and swallow it down; I satisfy myself instead by digging my nails into my palms so hard they break my skin. Pinpricks of pain explode across my hands. They lead me down the broken hallways past broken cells broken people bloody handprints on the walls. Then we turn a corner into a room on fire.

    I recoil, hissing and clawing at the light, already feeling the flames burn through my—it is only gas lamps, their yellow glow flickering like tongues licking the walls. In the middle of the room is a table and two chairs and on one of them sits…

    She looks up and I choke on a gasp. I try to cry out What are you doing here but it comes out an incomprehensible babble. She says a word I assume to be my name but I can’t be sure anymore, I can’t be sure.

    Time tiptoes to a halt and I stand there, frozen. A thousand memories flash through my  mind and sweep me into a world far away from this one, a world where golden sunshine kisses your hair and flowery breezes tap your shoulder and I hold this girl’s hand.
    I remember this

    I remember and I want to hold her again I would kiss her if I still knew how

    She steps forward, hesitance written in every line of her body. She reaches out touches my face there are glittering dewdrops in her eyes. Her voice trembles whispers do you remember me
    I look behind her and see the demons crowding the walls.

    Black, hulking shapes rise up higher and higher until they tower over me growing claws and fangs and their shadowy faces are a twisted pattern of color—red white red as their eyes flash scarlet and their teeth glint white and liquid crimson drips from their lips.

    I clench my teeth hard whisper to myself hold it hold it hold it. The girl looks terrified. She stands staring silently at me and her eyes overflow and sorrow cascades down her face. My heart bleeds, but my mind sheds no sympathy. A raging beast claws inside me, sharp and furious. Stabbing pain wrenches through my chest and I know:
    I am fighting a losing battle with myself.
    The demons lunge forward at the same time I do, lashing out with all the strength I have. Her scream pierces the air. Blood spatters the ground. She doesn’t even try to fight back. Maniacal, echoing laughter fills the chamber, high and chilling. Through this haze one thought rings true and it is this: you loved this girl. My mind stumbles over the word and I choke on it as I try to form it with my tongue:
    love love love love love love
    Somehow I am yanked away from the girl
        dragged down the hall knees scraping the ground
            a resounding clang my vision goes dark
                the whispers are screaming What does that mean?

23 November 1889
    I am alone.
    I huddle petrified in corners as monsters fill the room, clawing at me tearing me apart—I arch my back in throes of agony that feel all too real
    My hands are shaking
    My breath comes hard and fast
    what is happening to me what is happening why must it be like this
    no way out of this place i can’t escape it is inside me
    i am scared
        i don’t want to—

21 December 1889
    there is a new fellow down the hall
        Scruffy beard twinkling eyes he seems decently sane
one night i find myself standing in front of his cell i don’t know how i got there
He said he killed someone and got thrown in here for it
    his eyes talk to the ground
    his voice is a low murmur he says he feels...regret?
                     ...I almost know what that means
    my days are like pearls
          a string
he lives with murder sitting on his shoulder yet he still smiles
    what do you do i ask him panicked what do you do when the light is gone
            Then you look for the light inside you he says
            i am shaking
                blurry haze tears drip a solid hand on my shoulder—
Look for the light inside you
   give up

31 December 1889
        a blank stretch of wall i am faced with my eye
        is swollen my arms torn fingers dripping blood
                                    this place i always knew this place was a prison always      knew it was only home for the insane the       ones too far gone to mind
  i      lift my finger trembling to the wall                   in quivering lines of red i scrawl:                                                                  this living hell is no home of mine

1 January 1890
i open my eyes                                                                                        light they
are flooded with light, light golden         beaming into             the
room i haven’t seen                    sunlight in        months it seems—   i  am
  blinded by  fills my      vision i am frenzied                                     leaping up crashing and stars
       around m y h e a d—somehow i am out in the hallway
all alone where                  the others am i the only one
                 legs   they carry me up!— up!—up! unchallenged the entire way and
      now with up floating again blue                              and
  c o l d flinging itself against my face cool and sharp        here the light is more and more and closer                                                                                          still          i reach for the
sky—there! the light! the light!
         look for the light inside you he said and i think—i think it must be this—
    now i reach higher!— higher!—higher! it is too far—too far—i leap             stumble running      and
lungeforthelight—i fly i am so free—almost there!—i see it!
i see it!

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