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“I can’t believe the control one person can have over another, whether they know it or not. The fact that just the presence of someone can either wind you up or calm you down. They can make your heart race or stomach churn. They have involuntary control over you and your day, and it can drive you completely and utterly mad. What makes it worse is when they don’t even acknowledge you or your existence. This person unwittingly controls your entire world and they can’t give you the bloody time of day. They just stand there, flaunting their control without saying or doing anything. Then one day you snap… and you end up here sweetie. Control sweetie control is the game.”
He cocked his head to the side slightly, letting his longer brown hair fall just over his strikingly green eyes, with that crooked smile struggling to take over. His arms restrained behind him in that barbaric straitjacket.
She pushed her hair out of her face, readjusted her glasses, and quickly finished her notes as he worked himself toward the door.
She turned and hurried off as he shouted after me, “You know you understand sweetie you know you do!”
She didn’t respond, but she knew, he knew that she understood completely.
She hurried through the heavy double doors at the end of the hallway. Once it closed and locked behind her she exhaled sharply and leaned against the cool metal. She slid to the floor with a sigh and let her clipboard fall against her knees. Even though she knew he couldn’t see her, his gaze seemed to still burn into her back.
She also knew that she couldn’t stay here long before Dr. Lockburn would hunt her down. ‘You’re not supposed to get attached to patients, Penelope, they’re animals and deserve to be handled as such.’ Lockburn’s stern voice echoed through her head. She’d tried relentlessly to take his advice and could with just about every other patient she over saw as his aid, but there was something different about this Connor Bennett character. Something that just kept drawing her back over and over again, sometimes even against her better judgement.
She pushed herself up off the floor, dusted off her pants, and tried to compose herself before heading back to Dr. Lockburn’s office/Lab. She knew the route back with ease, even though everything looked the same here at Rose Hall.
She scanned her personal ID card and the little LED light turned green granting her access. She could see Dr. Lockburn hunched over a microscope so she quietly closed the door behind her and tried to go to her desk unnoticed.
“How’s patient 1509 doing today Penelope?” Lockburn asked without even glancing up from his work. “His name is Connor and he hasn’t changed.” She reported slightly annoyed that she’d been caught.
Lockburn rolled his eyes and leaned away from his specimen, “Penelope you’re never going to be able to be objective in diagnosis if you keep this attachment. Patient 1509 is an animal, and not the cute domestic kind, that is an act he puts on for you. There is a reason he’s in the jacket and a reason I won’t authorize you to enter his cell even with him restrained. He’s a menace.”
He waited for her usual comeback about how all of the patients deserved to be addressed by their names and how her doctoral thesis depended on proving that just that one humane gesture would help them, but today there was nothing. He leaned farther back on his stool trying to see her. She was hunched over her pile of notes and assorted paperwork.
Her strawberry blonde hair was pulled back in a messy twist by her beaded hair comb, her thick black rimmed glasses had slid to the middle of her nose to where if she had looked up she would’ve looked like a librarian. Her eyebrows furrowed as she tried to concentrate causing deep worry lines on her otherwise flawless face.
This was how she tuned out the world. She would dive into her work and no one questioned her. It was one of the attributes that had caught Lockburn’s eye while she did her original hands on training. ‘Dropout week’ is what he and his fellow resident psychologists deemed it. They’d bring in 30 or so bright-eyed students who thought they’d be able to handle the criminally insane, the resident doctors would have a good laugh as they’d show these young minds the most extreme cases day 1, and they’d watch the herd thin itself, sometimes rather quickly. By the end of the week they’d be left with three or four students and the residents would have their pick of the litter.
Lockburn had locked on to Penelope on the first day, despite the fact that she never spoke up. The entire time she was hunched over her clipboard writing furiously as if her life depended on it. He was quite surprised to see her show up day after day but nonetheless thrilled that she did. By the end of the week she and three other students were left standing and Lockburn knew that he wanted her as his aid. She was bright, quiet, and driven. She was a priceless asset on all of his cases, his mistake was bringing her in on Patient 1509’s case.
Patient 1509 was one of those cases everyone originally took lightly. All of the residents thought the only reason he was here instead of a maximum lock up facility was he knew someone in high places. But as soon as you actually read his file you knew not to trust his facade of harmless debonair gentleman. What drew Penelope to him was a mystery in itself. She like every other psychologist and aid had read his file as per protocol with new admittees.
She’d read what he had done to those 19 other women. How he had gained their trust, made them do anything for him, mutilate them like pigs for slaughter, then move on to the next one as if they were just napkins to be used then thrown away. She’d read the coroner’s report, how he’d flayed them open almost beyond recognition, stealing their hearts from their chests as some sick souvenir. She’d read the witness statement from the trial, how he’d pursued Ms. Alyssa Thitch for months trying to woo her and sway her to trust him fully. Her statement was what finally put him away.
He’d finally snapped and he attacked her before he was ready to which gave her a chance to escape and go straight to Scotland Yard for help. She’d read the gruesome report from the search teams, how they’d found the hearts in a hidden compartment behind the headboard of his bed, each in their own little jars suspended in formaldehyde with a picture of each of his victims labeling them.
How she could stomach looking at his face over and over as she so often did bewildered him. To be so kind and compassionate towards him even when she wasn’t around him. Most of all it worried him. While Penelope was indeed smart, so were his other victims. All of them had been incredibly intelligent, they’d been quiet, kept mostly to themselves according to family and friends. They’d all would’ve been the world’s next great leaders, writers, scientists, and teachers if they hadn’t had the misfortune of meeting Connor Bennett.
Lockburn tried to shake away the grisly image that was forming in his mind before it could fully manifest itself. He looked back into his microscope just so he couldn’t see Penelope, hoping it would stop it but to no prevail.
In his mind’s eye he saw plain as day Penelope cut open with a coroner’s Y incision exposing her empty chest cavity just as the police had found the others. Her hair would be meticulously braided away from her face, clothing would keep her covered aside from the gaping hole where her heart would’ve been, her arms and legs posed as if she was an angel giving a blessing. The only thing that would give away the fear she’d have experienced would be her eyes, he couldn’t manipulate those. Her ice blue eyes would portray the horrors she’d have gone through, for the rest of eternity.
Lockburn shot up straight as Penelope touched his shoulder derailing that disturbing train of thought. “Doctor Lockburn? Sir are you alright?” Penelope’s sweet voice was laced with concern. Lockburn rubbed his eyes and cleared away the lump that was forming in his throat, “Yes, yes I’m quite alright, why do you ask?” “Sir I’ve been trying to get your attention for a while now. You seemed to be troubled over something.” Her highland accent that she tried so hard to conceal around him sneaked through with her concern it made him laugh.
Here he was worrying over this woman, over something that wouldn’t, no couldn’t happen. After all Connor was securely locked away for the rest of his natural life, and she was concerned about him. “No Penelope just tired I guess, what did you need?” She cocked her head to the side just slightly as if she was going to push the issue but decided against it, “Well Sir…” Penelope started and Lockburn waved his hand, “Penelope how long have we worked together? Two years now?” She bit the inside of her bottom lip thinking, “Roughly?” Lockburn chuckled, “Then drop the sir, Just call me David or Lockburn in the lab, you’ll be my equal soon enough.”
Her cheeks flushed as she weighed her choices. “Ok David, I have my thesis project presentation Friday and I was wondering if you could help me by being there. I’ve discussed it so many times with you that it’d make it easier to present if I could present it to you… so to speak.” Penelope started to babble.
Lockburn laid his hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently, “Penelope, I’ll be there with bells on my heels. I mean shoot, it’s not everyday your aid becomes your peer.” He chuckled as her cheeks betrayed her once more.
“Thank you David, I really do appreciate it.” Penelope turned back to her desk and started gathering her things, and Lockburn returned to his microscope, ultimately flattered at the invitation and the fact that she had chosen David instead of the more professional Lockburn. He heard her shouldered her messenger bag she used to carry all her notes, digital, hand written, and recorded. He continued to admire her in his peripheral, the way she protected each line of notes as if was the password to the Garden of Eden. As if one small notation could cure every disease known and unknown to man.
Lockburn admired her dedication to her work and studies, she always stayed later than any other aid and worked twice as fast. And her being easy on the eyes wasn’t all bad either. He’d seen her curb the other residents invitation out, always so calm and straight forward, even after being turned down the other men couldn’t be mad.
He watched her leave the lab with such grace and elegance but still with her head hung as if to not bring unwanted attention to herself. As the door clicked shut he righted himself to focus back on his slide. To his own disbelief this entire time since Penelope’s return he had been staring at nothing. His brain matter slide, lay in his hand and nothing in the microscope. He slapped his forehand in disbelief and embarrassment, “Smooth move Lockburn, real smooth.” He muttered as he replaced the slide and finished his notes for the night.
– * – * – * – * – * – * –
Penelope shook her head slightly trying to shake the flush off her face. She could feel David’s gaze on her even though his eyes were positioned in microscope that magnified nothing. She chuckled to herself as she righted her stance and headed out of the asylum, in the opposite direction of Mr Connor Bennett.
As she breached the doorway it seemed as if a weight had been lifted, as if she was no longer pulled backwards toward Hall 34 Cell 140. She clutched the strap of her back tight, bracing herself against the brisk Autumn air and started toward her litter 1995 Toyota Hilux. She hit the auto-start fob on her key ring and sent up a quick thank you to whomever may be listening that her parents had installed that feature for her birthday not 3 weeks earlier. She rushed over quickly, slid into the driver’s seat, tossed her bag into the passenger seat, and sat there enjoying her warm car.
“Guess winter is coming early this year.” Penelope whispered to herself. She sat there staring at the bright red lettering above the entrance. “‘Rose Hall Asylum for the Criminally Insane’ sounds like something out of a bad horror movie.” Penelope chuckled to herself as she cranked over the engine and shifted into reverse. Throwing one more glance at the building she threw the shifter into gear and with mild urgency booked it out of the parking garage. The farther she got from the hospital the more at ease she felt.
It wasn’t until she reached Ardoch Drive that the pull disappeared entirely. She drove her little truck into her reserved parking spot and shifted into park. Her truck as if in protest before coming to a quiet rest. “Good boy Jack, good boy.” Penelope patted the truck’s dash affectionately as she slid out of the seat. She nudged the door closed with her hip and it made that satisfactory thud as it shut completely.
Penelope started towards the large wooden double doors that led into the lobby of her little apartment building. The intricate ironwork that held those ancient doors together always comforted Penelope. If something like this could survive for this long then maybe there was hope. She pulled open the door and waved to her landlord as she passed his office. He gave gave a quick smile and a wave before returning his attention to his phone call.
She headed for the elevators as she lived up on the 4th floor. She walked through the elevator doors as if she was holding her breath she slouched against the back wall. Penelope took a few slow deep breaths and whispered. “Only a few more days Pen, a few more days then your whole life changes.” She continued to speak hushed to herself as she left the elevator and went automatically to her well traced path to her humble little flat.
“Presentation is Friday…Friday! Results should be posted Monday morning, Final grades Tuesday, then if all goes well graduation that following Saturday. By that Sunday I won’t be a student anymore, so no more class…” She dropped her bag on the floor under the breakfast bar and set her keys in their bowl. “If I’m not a student anymore, I’ll have to find a new place.” Penelope froze at that and took an affectionate look at her flat.
Sure there was no privacy with everything except the bathroom being open but this had been her home since she had started at Rose Hall. She slumped down on one of the over-sized chairs and let her hair fall out of the clip. Penelope massaged her scalp in an effort to curb the anxiety attack that had started to brew. She’d been so worried about her thesis presentation she hadn’t even started searching for a new place to stay.
She tossed her glasses on the coffee table and rubbed her eyes, “Homeless in a week, good job Pen.” Of course she wouldn’t actually be homeless. Her dad always made sure there was still space for her if she ever ‘came to her senses’ and decided her little town off of Loch Ness was still where she belonged. Penelope laughed as the image of her father filled her mind. How upset and teary-eyed her old man had been when she said she was going to be a Psych major instead of Medicine. “Pen, Foyers doesn’t need someone to examine their heads, we need someone to set broken bones and cure colds. Someone to take over Old Calum’s practice, please reconsider.” She had almost reconsidered. She’d always had a soft spot for making her dad happy.
But she woke up that first morning of orientation at Rose Hall bound and determined that if she made it through the first week this is what she was meant to do. She hugged her little notebook close to her chest on the bus ride over and prepared herself for the absolute worst. Of course nothing could have truly prepared her or any of the other for what they saw that day. People who were truly sick and seemed to relish in it resided in these walls
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