June 9, 1882 – Merritt
8 am – my prison bedroom
I found this journal wrapped in tattered brown paper adorn with the most beautifully painted depiction of white dove – Compliments of my dear friend, Johanna. She had shoved this, and yesterday’s post, underneath the dying pot of begonias in the corner. Since no one cared to water the poor thing, no one would then notice the small package and envelope stuffed below it. I cannot help but feel slightly despicable for having orchestrated such a deceitful deed.
You see I’m not permitted to receive mail that has not been vetted for death threats and crude commentary. Even after three years, my tormentors have yet to exhaust themselves. I am of the opinion that they should find new hobbies, but my opinion is rarely one of importance. Usually Sister Florence or Nurse Franklin would do the deed, but in recent months I have grown tired of being protected from the outside world, I now wish to know what I am facing. If I ever want to escape this room I must be willing to look my past directly in it’s fiery eyes. The fretful thirteen-year-old girl I once was has since died and left a very exhausted and world-weary seventeen-year-old in her place.
In order to receive my mail without my jailors getting their sterile hands on them I needed to do a bit of scheming with Johanna. I usually call her Hanny, a name I gave her back when I first arrive at this home and we became friends. I suppose I will continue to call her that within these pages, I believe it suits her. She is the sweetest most wonderful person. Her only fault is that she is a nun, something that makes her quite bland whenever she is under the watchful eyes of her sisters. Hanny is far too wonderful to have this be a mark against her, and so she has revived my opinion of the nun population.
Our scheme mostly consists of Hanny swiping what letters she can and bringing them straight to my room, rather then giving them to someone else first. As far as anyone else knows, I have not received a letter in months. Poor me. I have, in fact, received many letters over my time at St. Agatha’s Home. Hanny will be burning all save the one folded in the front of this journal. The others are dirty things, outlining exactly should be done to a murdering nasty child like myself. I do receive correspondence from family friends, but those often find their way to the fire as well. Although our scheme causes me a bit more heartache, I feel empowered by the knowledge I find in reading them. We have also effectively cut out the middle woman and cut down on the workloads of our superiors—or at least this is how I phrased it to Hanny to get her to help.
I am a wicked girl, I know because I have often been reminded by Sisters Florence and Alberta, two reverent souls whom I trust to cast judgment upon me. They never miss an opportunity to tally up the sins for which I will answer. Dearest journal, the nuns are so hasty to remind me of judgment day—as if dying and being set before my maker is my only escape from this place. Perhaps it is. They speak of God with reverence and awe; I try not to speak of Him unless forced to at Sunday service. We are friends, He and I, but I tend to keep my words with Him brief and direct. This is not to say that I do not pray, for I do and fervently, but I chose to keep my relationship with Him tucked away from the prying and ever judging eyes of the nuns here. This too I will probably answer for.
The nuns at St. Agatha’s see me as stubborn. They also see me as a murder that is most certainly on her way to hell. I will submit to being the first, but I cannot willingly associate myself with the second. This is my truth: I am not a killer. I am also not mad. I am too self-aware, or so I have been told. If I was mad, or the kind of mad that they say I am, then I would surely know it. After all, I am able to sense my other flaws with intensity.
I know, for instance, that I am unable to feel even the harshest of pain. I can feel pressure, emotions, even pleasure – but I have no understanding of my own physical aching. I have never suffered from a scraped knee or winced when I stubbed my toe against a bedpost. If it were not for the disconcerting sight of blood, I might have never even acknowledged most of my childhood cuts and scrapes. This is not new information for me, since I have been experiencing this, and hiding it, for most of my life. I had to learn that if blood was involved, so almost certainly, was pain. Under my mother’s gentle commands, I learned to pretend cry, whimper and complain the way I had always seen my twin sister do. It wasn’t until the accident, the aching loss of my family and my home, that I was forced to show the world my lack of physical sense.
Ah, the clock strikes. I will be expected in the dining room for breakfast. If I am too terribly late they will send someone to look after me.
Breakfast was blessedly uneventful. Hanny sent me a wink and Claudia, one of the patients, tried to lick my elbow no less than twice, this is, by asylum standards, a nice and pleasantly monotonous morning. No one said anything to me or even acknowledged that today is my birthday. It would seem that birthdays do not matter to the brides of God, unless of course it is the birth of Christ—I digress. For now, I think it would be best to get back to the previous topics.
Gabe, my father’s law student, once suggested that I join a traveling freak show. At that time, he was twenty, seven years my senior, and more of a brother then anything else. Gabe had seemed to just appear in our lives one day; he came complete with a repertoire of jokes, usually to my expense, and a wealth of boyish knowledge. He had lived in our home and the fire himself might have taken him too if he hadn’t been in London visiting his mother. He is the only person from before that still writes to me. To this day, without pause or fail, he still strums his fingertips along the nearest hard surface, as if in a terrible drum roll, and announces me to a room as if I were some renowned performer in his own freakish show.
“You know, Merritt,” he had told me a long time ago, before any of this had happened, “you could start your own show, like a circus. That would be a perfect way to see the world. I would, of course, go with you. I could be your personal lawyer. Defend you against claims that you’re treating yourself too badly.” He had smiled then, quirky and impeccably handsome.
Neither of us had realized that within a year I would need him to defend me in other, much more dangerous, ways. He had risen to the challenge of defending me in court, told me that he thought it was what my father would have wanted him to do. Gabe was brilliant, all tall and stiff and commanding. He was able to speak the same words that I had been yelling for months and somehow have them be heard. Perhaps it is because he is a man, just like the jury— just like the judge.
Nevertheless, Gabe was able to tell them about me, about how much I loved my parents. How I’d shared a bed with my twin sister and how we were nearly inseparable. It was his words that they listened to, not mine. With him speaking, they were able to understand that I had tried. I’d pulled my sister’s limp body from our bedroom, through flames and smoke and darkness until I could not do it anymore. Until I realized that she was dead and if I did not get out of that hell I would be too.
Oh, how I had wished to be dead too.
I am not proud of those thoughts. Three years have passed and the hurt of their loss is still potent in my heart, but I no longer want to die. I wonder, deep down, if I ever really had the desire in the first place. It is as if I have always believed myself set for something more. I have the uncanny knowledge that I am bound to a destiny that I neither desire nor understand—and yet I recognize it. I feel that there is more for me then this place. Change is approaching, as exciting as it is upsetting.
This line of thinking brings me to the letter I have just received. The writer was correct to assume that I had heard of him, for I have. I know that Dr. Abaddon is one of the leading specialists in medical oddities; this is after all what has spurred his curiosity in me. He was some man’s excellent protégé, a successful young doctor whose attention I should be grateful for. Or so I have been told. I have been told, or otherwise over heard or read, many things about this Dr. Abaddon—not all of which bode well of his character.
His name was first brought to my attention during one of my examinations. They are monthly agonies, tedious and difficult, both for the visiting doctor and myself. They are uncomfortable for him because he has to sit in a room with me—a supposed, and yet pardoned, murder—and they are uncomfortable for me, because I have to sit in a room with him—a man who believes me to be a cold-hearted killer. It is an altogether unpleasant business for everyone involved.
My primary physician is Dr. O’Donnell, a grisly old man who has been with me since the night of the accident. He is tall and balding with thin shoulders and a back he complains most ardently about. Of the two men who assisted me during the night my family died, I would have much preferred it if Dr. Nelson, a younger, more fetching young man, had remained in control of my primary care. He was older then my thirteen, almost fourteen, years at the time and possibly the handsomest gentlemen I’d ever seen. I remember he had kind green eyes, or perhaps they were blue. Whichever color, they were most kind, as was their owner. I would like to have kept him. But alas, when you are deemed mad you accept what you receive, even if what you receive smells strangely of stale liquor and fish.
That day, about a month before today, we had been going about our regular business. He had asked me all the necessary questions. Has anything changed? Can I feel pain? Does it hurt when he pinches my arm? No. No. No. Then he asked me something he’d never asked me before, something no one had ever asked me before:
“Is this condition something you would like to be fixed, Miss Holbrook?”
There was more than just distain in the way he had said the word “fixed,” as if I were a broken toy or a blackened light bulb. All my life I had known I was different but, for whatever reason, it took this man asking if I wanted to be fixed for me to realize that perhaps I was truly, in the most ardent sense, unnatural.
If I’d been a cleverer girl I might have come up with something to say in response, but I was not. I was sitting on a cold metal table, in a cold sterile room, half undressed with a cold stethoscope pressed against my chest. This was not the moment for bright sentiments. I wanted to button the front of my blouse, excuse myself and go have a very passionate cry. But this was my hell and I should at least suffer with dignity, so I expressed my emotions through dedicated silence.
My lack of positive response, or response of any kind, caused Dr. O’Donnell to feel that I was, perhaps, dumb as well as senseless. He leaned in close to me and repeated his question, this time slower. The stethoscope bit into my skin as he moved and I glanced down, allowing myself to become transfixed on the backside of the device. I wondered how my heart must sound to him. It is beating too fast, this much I know.
I met his eyes then, took in his wrinkled face and sunken cheeks. He was waiting for me to say something. Any second and he would be scribbling all of this down, writing about how I’d refused to answer his questions during my examination. Once again I would be the stubborn girl, the wicked girl. I was beyond the fear of being sent to prison or hanged, now my only punishment would be one allocated to me by the nurses and nuns— a week of solitary confinement or something equally as wretched.
I wiped my palms against my skirt. “I am not damaged, Dr. O’Donnell.”
It was the wrong response. I should have smiled, thanked him, and told him that I was in desperate need of fixing and that I would be ever so grateful if he would do the deed. Although I enjoy keeping a tantalizing secret to myself, I do not rejoice in lying.
“Miss Holbrook, being unable to access the part of your brain that process pain in dangerous. And not just to yourself. Through the house fire that killed your parents we are able to see, and hopefully learn, that your reckless nature can affect others—even to the point of death. That is not even to mention what happened with—”
“I was found not guilty.” I was not even sure which crime to which I was referring.
He was distracted, flustered by me and no longer in the mood to listen. “That remains to be seen.”
But it doesn’t. I wanted to scream at him, to rage until finally someone stopped to look at me, stopped to see me. How had I, a girl of high-class and flawless repute, fallen this far? I kept silent. Strained to think of what my mother would have requested I do. Without doubt, she would have wanted me to get help. This was a truth that I could not, in good conscious, deny. I knew that she might have even sought after a cure herself if she had not been so afraid of what the world might do to me. Her love for me had always outweighed any fears.
Seeing myself as I do now, with my past and present in mind, I think Maude Holbrook, God rest her soul, was a very wise woman. She had understood that to admit something was wrong with me would be to submit me to being a test subject. To be rare, to be frighteningly peculiar, is a curse. I was safer hidden away.
Dr. O’Donnell was still droning on about me needing to be fixed: “—through all of it, you have had gained the attention of many influential people, one of which is the newly appointed medical examiner at the London. A Dr. Abaddon, he is young, but he is passionate about your case and cases similar to yours. He has written to inquire about you. He’d like to work as your doctor and I would be hard-pressed to deny him of the… joy of you company.”
“So there would be no need for me to meet with you again?” I may have smiled when I said those words, it would only be a natural response to hearing such exciting news.
“It would be in your best interest to allow him to take over your primary care.”
In my best interest—It was both baleful and foreboding. I reached out and gently pushed his stethoscope away from my chest. He did not object to my desire for space, he turned and walked over to a small table in the corner where one of the nurses had left a tray of coffee and sugary pastries for his amusement. He plopped one in his mouth and turned back in my direction, chewing slowly as he assessed me. His fingers were fidgeting, itching to take a peak at his pocket watch.
“Can I meet this, Mr. Abaddon before I make my choice?”
Dr. O’Donnell pressed his chapped lips together and looked away from me. I felt tightness in my chest, like a fist squeezing my insides. “You have already transferred me over to his care.”
“It is for your benefit—”
“But I do not know him.”
“Miss Holbrook, you do not know any of us. You are mentally unstable, ill-equipped for normalcy and most certainly unqualified to choose your own caretaker.”
I had let myself believe those words. They have ruminated on my heart and on my mind for a month—I am now two weeks past due for my regular examination. This letter, one that I feel would have never made it to my hands without the blessed help of Hanny, seems to indicate that I will soon be meeting this man face to face. I want him to be kind, to care; but somehow I worry that his actions towards me may mirror something more sinister. Perhaps I am destined to be an experiment or a horror straight of out of Bronte or Shelley’s novels.
There are footsteps outside my bedroom door, undoubtedly one of the nuns sent to make sure I am devoted in my morning prayers. I am a slave to routine here, obliged by the expectations of the press, the medical staff and Christ himself. The first two parties have condemned me as insane, I suppose it remains to be seen what the third thinks.
Mr. Leviathan James Desmott
June 12, 1882
There is much I would say to you were we in person, as this is a letter, I shall attempt to keep things brief.
I have received accounts of your being seen with a young man, you know to which young man I refer, and I urge you to cease all activities with him. I have left Arden as my eyes and ears—you must understand that these faculties report to others outside of me. I cannot always protect you from yourself. You yourself must remain vigilant. Do not stray from your assigned task. I will make rounds in July. I look forward to seeing you during my visit. Please, for your own sake and the sake of this boy, behave until then.
I trust, outside of these reports, that you are working as you should. My accounts seem to be satisfied as of late—I am pleased.
Dr. Lucius Edward Abaddon
June 15, 1882
Dear Miss Holbrook,
I am pleased to inform you that I will call on you this Saturday, the seventeenth. I will, by no means, pressure you to speak with me. If you have prior arrangements, I will not fault you. I have an appointment that same afternoon with the head of the asylum and your former physician—a Dr. O’Donnell. I don’t want to overwhelm you or make you feel uncomfortable, but I do have a lot to say. I would love to meet you and establish a face-to-face connection before we really begin looking into your illness. I have always found it soothing to be able to put a face to a name. I hope that together we can make the best out of a harsh situation.
If you choose not to meet with me this Saturday, I will continue with my plans to speak to Sister Florence and Dr. O’Donnell about my plans. I would, of course, prefer to speak to you in person before I approach them. I feel it is your right, both as a young lady and as my patient, to have a say in your treatment. I will await your response.
I hope this letter finds you well.
Dr. Lucius Edward Abaddon