The Mystery of Rosewood Hall
by Richard Ong
Sheila snorted in the direction of the approaching man dressed in an immaculately clean white coat. “Psst. Hey, ladies. Don’t look now, but here comes the mad doctor. He probably needs another guinea pig.”
“Sheila! He’ll hear you!” Maxine’s eyes went wide. She stole a nervous look at the man who smiled when their eyes met. Somehow, those upturned lips gave her a chill.
“Be nice, Sheila. Dr. Blaine would never hurt a soul. He protects us as a shepherd would his flock,” Joyce said in her usual monotone. Short, dark and pretty, Joyce’s sedate personality often served as the conscience of the three. Her pastoral view of life in Rosewood sometimes made Sheila want to strangle her.
“You mean to say, like lambs in a slaughterhouse waiting for the wolf in a doctor’s coat,” Sheila retorted. “Lean back, girls. Let me see your pwetty, pwetty necks please!” She tilted her head, rolled her eyes to one side and opened her mouth to emit a gurgling noise.
“Stop it, Sheila. Oh God, I think he heard you,” Maxine whimpered and ducked to cover her face.
Maxine was the opposite of Joyce. She was mousy, jumpy and completely dependent on the two. She regarded Sheila as her big sister.
“Good evening ladies,” Dr. Blaine’s voice was smooth and silky. Sheila never liked the man. She rolled her eyes over and glared at him.
He was tall, balding and probably in his fifties. His eyebrows knitted together to form a canopy over his grey eyes. The lips below the hooked nose held a perpetual sneer whenever he spoke.
“Good evening, Dr. Blaine,” Joyce replied.
“Hello, Joyce. Everything is well, I trust? Maxine, you’re looking a little pale. Have you seen Nurse Ruperts? I believe you’re due for a physical this week. I can arrange for you to see her tonight after dinner.”
“She’s fine, doc.” said Sheila. “No need to fuss yourself over her. See? She just needs a bit of air. In fact, we can all use a bit of air, like you know, a brisk stroll outside? What d’ya say, doc?”
Sheila took a long drag of her cigarette and exhaled with a smile without turning her head away.
Dr. Blaine stood unfazed. He met her gaze with a predatory smile. Under the dim light of the Common Room, his teeth flashed like a row of ivory pikes.
“Sheila Kaprisky,” his sibilant pronunciation of her given name made the hair at the back of her neck stand on end. “How is my favourite patient tonight?”
“Peachy. When do we get a pass out of here, doc?” asked Sheila.
“You know I can’t do that, my dear. I can’t give you a pass without a full three months worth of good behaviour,” he shrugged, spreading his arms with the palms up. Sheila always hated that patronizing gesture of innocence.
Sheila stubbed the cigarette butt onto an overflowing ashtray. “That’s a load of crap, doc. What about Joyce, huh? I mean, she’s practically a saint in this madhouse. Have you ever given her a pass? Hey Joyce, you’ve been here what, a year already?”
Sheila turned to Joyce, who sat calmly without saying a word. She merely raised an eyebrow and shrugged.
Exasperated though far from defeated, Sheila tried a different tack. “And what of poor Maxine?”
The skinny, mousy brunette shrank lower in her seat behind the table until the pair of large brown eyes was the only visible feature under those curly locks. “Sheila!” Maxine stammered.
“What about sweet little Maxine?” Dr. Blaine answered with that same ingratiating smile.
“Will she ever get a pass? It’s been exactly three months, one week and two days since she joined the funny farm.”
“Whatever. Well, will she?”
Dr. Blaine sighed. It was the first human gesture he had displayed this afternoon. “Really, my dear, this is pointless. All this fixation on a pass. Well, if it will help alleviate your concerns, I’m going to make an offer to Maxine just to prove my good will.
“Maxine” — he turned mechanically towards the mousy brunette — “how would you like to have a morning outing tomorrow from say, eight till noon? On one condition,” he paused and Sheila and Joyce looked at him. “I would like you to go see Nurse Ruperts for a routine check up in Examination Room B tonight at nine.”
Maxine took a sharp intake of breath. Joyce looked like she was about to say something but didn’t. Her expression became stony and more unreadable than before. Sheila pounded her fist on the table, startling Dr. Blaine. “Like hell, you will, doc!”
Dr. Blaine regarded her with a glint of warning while his mouth continued to display that same perpetual sneer. Sheila suddenly felt cold and naked under that stare. “Young lady, I’d advise you to behave yourself. Your conduct is becoming more irascible. We’re going to put you under close observation from now on. I’ll have to speak to Nurse Ruperts about increasing your medication.”
Sheila started to say something, then bit back her lip. Dr. Blaine casually dismissed her and turned towards Maxine with a beatific smile. “Nine o’clock. Examination Room B. I’ll have your morning pass prepared by then.” He patted the back of her hand then left the room.
Joyce let out a whistle. Sheila simply hissed.
* * *
Hours passed, and the rest of the afternoon waned in an ominous pace. Sheila wore down the carpet pacing back and forth in the Reading Room. She was already halfway through her second pack of cigarettes.
Joyce walked into the small Quiet Room across the nurses’ station at one o’clock to meditate for a few hours. She later joined Sheila in the Reading Room with a leather-bound prayer book in one hand and sat in the far corner near the radiator.
Sheila watched her friend and slowly shook her head. “You don’t really believe that religion holds the answers to your questions. Joyce, my dear, these spooks will lobotomize us one by one no matter how many Hail Marys you say. We’ve got to keep Maxine from going through her physical examination tonight.”
Joyce closed her book and looked up at her friend. She had an honest smile with a kind heart. Sheila would hate to see her beauty marred. Though she had yet to find some proof, she’s certain that something dark and sinister happened within these examination rooms.
Over the past two years, she had seen friends disappear and leave no trace of their passing. It was a dark abyss that kept her awake many nights and contrived to stay out of so far. This time, one of her friends was in danger and she might not be able to stay out of trouble for long.
“Why? Are you blind, girl? Or haven’t you noticed that people were known to disappear, never to come back from these late night physicals? The talk is all over the ward!”
“And we’re all diagnosed with varying degrees of schizophrenia,” Joyce replied.
“And your point is?” Sheila was suddenly annoyed.
“My point is, Sheila, that we have to be very careful in judging what we see or hear. This is why I meditate, to help filter out the impurities of the mind. I can show you how if you’ll allow me.”
“No thanks, Joyce. No offence, but, I like my own little piece of paranoia just fine. You never know when the good doctor might sneak in and do a number on us when we least expect it. Where’s Maxine, by the way?”
“I saw her talking to Big Ben in the kitchen.”
“Good! Maybe Big Ben can talk some sense out of her. He’s probably the only staff member in Rosewood with an honest bone in his body. I’ll go and see them. Oh, here she is.” Maxine silently walked into the Reading Room with a glass of juice in one hand. She looked distracted and did not notice the other two.
“Hey, Maxine. How’s it going? Everything all right?”
“Oh. I’m sorry, Sheila. Joyce. I didn’t see you here.”
“S’kay, girl. You looked out of sorts. If you’re worried about tonight, don’t. I’ll find a way to make sure that you miss that appointment.”
“No Sheila. I don’t want you to get into trouble. You too, Joyce. Dr. Blaine was very specific this afternoon. Besides,” she beamed. “I’m getting a pass out of Rosewood tonight.”
* * *
Sheila tiptoed towards the blue door at the far end of the narrow corridor. Rosewood had the most peculiar geometrical architecture for a mental health facility.
For some reason, she had no memory of what the outside of the building looked like nor any clear recollection of how she had been admitted. Whenever she tried to remember, her head pounded with such pain that she had to force herself to think of something else. The last time she tried she almost blacked out.
She had prowled every inch of the facility and found nothing resembling an elevator. The place didn’t even have any windows. For all she knew, they could have been inside a large building located in some remote island thousands of miles from the nearest civilization.
She stopped in front of the blue door facing the sign that said, “Examination Room B” on a shiny brass plate. She leaned over with her ear on the cold steel panel and strained to listen for Maxine’s whiny voice. A hand gripped her left shoulder and she yelped.
“Oh my God, Ben! Oh man, you scared the bejeezus out of me. Don’t you ever sneak up on me like that! What are you doing here?” she asked the burly attendant.
Big Ben shrugged and nodded towards the blue door. “P-p-promised M-M-Miss Webster that I’ll look on her. I-I-I w-work late tonight to make sure she’s all right.” He never called them by their first names. He always insisted on some old-fashioned formality of invoking their last.
“That’s so sweet of you Ben,” Sheila said. “I’m sure Maxine will be relieved that you’re watching her back. You know, we really appreciate the way you’ve taken care of us three these past few months. I only wish you started earlier working at the R.”
She sighed and gave the gentle six-foot-seven attendant her most engaging smile and this pleased him immensely. Then she frowned when she remembered her friend’s predicament. “So, Ben. What do you suppose is really going on in this room? She’s been there, what, forty-five minutes? I can’t hear a damn thing. Why do you suppose they use a steel door?”
“I-I don’t know, Miss Kaprisky. But I s-suspect that it’s more to do with keeping folks like us from g-going in without au-authorization.”
“Exactly my point! So why don’t we try and... Hey, wait a minute. This door’s not locked!” She turned the knob clockwise all the way and opened a tiny crack for her to peek in.
“M-Miss Kaprisky! I- I don’t think we should be disturbing—”
It was dark inside. Everything was silent except for the sound of their breathing and a peculiar hum.
“Where the hell are they?” Sheila threw the door wide open and fumbled for the light switch on the side. There was none. A faint circular pattern of lights on the floor marked the border of the otherwise dark and expansive room. The humming sound came from directly above and it sounded like something mechanical was retracting as she walked towards the center of the room.
She looked up and froze at what she saw.
“Oh My God, Ben. OH-MY-GOD...”
She felt a sharp sting on her skin below the neck. Her vision blurred and she collapsed on the floor.
Several figures came and pinned her to the floor. She could barely make out their faces as she began to lose consciousness. She noticed, however, that their heads and eyes seemed abnormally large. Their touch felt almost leathery on her skin. Something cold was placed on her head and all she could do was mutter over and over at what she saw above the room.
“It’s so beautiful. So very, very beautiful.”
* * *
Maxine woke with a start. Her mouth was open in a half-scream but no sound came out. It was dark and she felt the walls closing in on her. Her breathing became so rapid that it deafened her. She tossed and turned on her bed and buried her face in her pillow. She cried for a long time. Then the nightmare was over and she was finally at peace.
* * *
Weeks passed and the usual noisy chatter of the Common Room was reduced to a murmur in the background as four friends concentrated on their hands at play. Poker was one of the few allowable indulgences that helped pass the hours.
Joyce remained relaxed as always and maintained her apparent indifference to the game. Maxine wore a stern mask of concentration as she flipped one card from one position to another. She stole a quick glance at her friend above her cards. Joyce had never lost a hand.
The other two players were Sam and Karla, new residents of the “Rosewood Institute of the Mind.” A fine name for a funny farm, Joyce thought. Her royal flush waited patiently to be unravelled, signalling a foregone conclusion to the game.
“Fold,” Karla sighed.
“Damn this hand,” Sam remained hopeless as a poker player.
“Maxine?” Joyce inquired of the only real challenger in the game.
The lanky brunette sighed, looked at her friend, then raised her eyebrows in a show of plea. “Go easy on me?”
Joyce smiled and laid down her hand for all to see.
“Oh, man. Again?” Sam wailed. Karla sniffed and tilted her head towards Joyce. “Joyce... the winner. Of course.”
“Next time around, you may have a new player.”
Four heads turned in unison towards the all-too-familiar voice.
The man in white walked into the room with practised ease and with an air of familiarity of his surroundings. As he approached the four players, the shadowed figures behind him came into view and one in particular was immediately recognizable by his impressive size.
“Hey, Dr. Blaine! Big Ben! Are you here to join us for a game? We’re kind of short of a few savvy players. Joyce needs a challenge and we’re poorly equipped to give her one,” quipped Maxine.
“I’m sorry, Maxine,” Dr. Blaine apologized. “Tomorrow, perhaps?” He nodded in turn to the other three. “Karla. Sam. Joyce, how are you my dear?”
“I’m fine, thanks, Doctor Blaine,” Joyce smiled. “Thank you for getting the air vent fixed in the Quiet Room. I hope that it wasn’t too much of a trouble.”
“Nonsense, my dear. Your health and comfort is of paramount importance in Rosewood. For everyone. Now then,” he turned to reveal the third person in his party.
Big Ben stood quietly like an obedient soldier behind the wheelchair with hands steady on the push handles.
“Ladies, let me introduce you to your new roommate recently transferred from the Observation Care Centre to your wing. Her remarkable improvement over the last few weeks had earned her a temporary stay here at the Commons.”
“Hi. I’m called Joyce.” She smiled gently at the older girl on the wheelchair. “What’s your name?”
For a moment, the pretty blonde girl sat staring with a blank look on her face. Joyce thought that her medication must be slowing down her reflexes. Medications tended to do that sometimes, particularly the strong ones.
Dr. Blaine leaned over and whispered in the silent girl’s ear. “Sheila, it’s okay. They’re good people. They are your new friends. Say, hello to Joyce.”
“Hello, Sheila,” said Joyce. There was no response.
“Give her time, Joyce,” Dr. Blaine said gently. “She’ll open up soon enough, you’ll see. But now, she needs her rest. Perhaps, later, she’ll be more conversational.”
Sheila remained immobile. A piece of paper slipped from her right hand. Dr. Blaine reached down to pick it up, but Maxine beat him to it.
“What’s this?” Maxine unfolded the lined paper in front of her. “Hey, did you do this, Sheila? This is awesome! Wow. Hey, Joyce, come and take a look at this. Our newcomer’s quite an artist!”
Joyce took the drawing from Maxine and noticed Sheila’s eyes focus on the paper she held in front of her. Though it was all done up in crayons, the amount of detail was quite remarkable.
Joyce whistled. “This is incredible, Sheila. Did you do this?” Sheila stared at the drawing for sometime. Then, to everyone’s surprise, she looked at Joyce with apparent comprehension in her eyes and nodded. She never said a word.
“Please excuse us, girls. Sam. Sheila must have her rest. Ben, will you escort Miss Kaprisky back to her bed?” Dr. Blaine said.
“No problem.” Ben nodded and expertly turned the wheelchair around to head back to the door.
Long after they had left the Common Room, Joyce continued to stare at Sheila’s artwork.
Tiny little stars surrounded the unmistakable blue and white orb at the center of the sheet. It was a sketch of the Earth.
Copyright © 2012 by Richard Ong