The Suicides, Epilogue

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One Year Later, Sunny Harbour 

I stood at Sarah’s grave, which rested in the middle of a field of daisies and black-eyed Susans. It was a lovely final resting place for her, but the calm setting did not stop me from feeling a chill.

“The first day that I remember visiting this town, you were eleven years old. You were already tall with wild curly hair and your mother had placed a crown of daisies over your head. You were crying about something, but those daisies made you happy.”

I grasped her published story with both hands; it was wrapped in a blue ribbon. I hoped it would make her happy.

“Your story, Six Spinsters, has been published with great reviews. I am proud of you, Sarah. You have lived forever, because of your book.”

I set her copy of Six Spinsters in front of her grave. “Forgive me for not being able to protect you.”

Walking through the wildflower garden, I held my eternally painful stomach. Nearly at my aunt’s home, a human figure jumped out at my peripheral vision.

“Caleb,” I said.

His sandy hair had grown out to his shoulders and blew wildly in the wind. I did not miss the pistol that he held loosely in his hand.

“You win,” he muttered. “You were the poetic little pansy, but you still won.”

“I have not won anything. I’ve worked hard to finish my university degree and to be employed at a publishing company. This is not a competition.”

“You have won,” he repeated.

He brought his pistol to his head and stared hollowly into my eyes.

I slowly inched toward him.”Caleb, listen to me. You don’t want to do that.”

“Is this not what you have been waiting for? Why didn’t you kill me that night when you had the knife?”

“It was not what I wanted, Caleb.”

Caleb laughed. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“There is a lot wrong with me, but that has nothing to do with what you do with your life. Caleb, please, put the gun down.”

“Shut up!” he shouted.

“Alfred!” called my aunt, from somewhere at the edge of the meadow.

A burst of madness hit me and I lunged for Caleb’s gun. I pulled it away from him, but his finger was still on the trigger. Red hot agony seared deep within my stomach for a moment. Then the ground met my gaping mouth, nearly knocking me unconscious. I felt my aunt’s warm hands on me before I drifted into the darkness.

An amber light chased the black away.

Sarah emerged from the haze. She pulled a daisy strewn in her dark hair and, with a soft smile, handed it to me.

(Photo Source: http://www.everystockphoto.com by createsima) 

The Fascinator Pt VI

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On Monday night, I was unable to sit still. Dauvit would be returning the next evening.

My body shook as panic ravaged my earlier calm. I regretted asking him about the other world in my last letter. The tone in his letter seemed less than pleased by the question. He could still change his mind about wanting to see me.

I paced in the middle of the kitchen, wrestling with my own mind about whether or not I should beat myself up again. It was then that I realized that I really had two people living inside of my head. One hoped for love, creative writing, beautiful scenery, and exploration. The other part begged to die if it did not receive those things when it needed to.

I could not deny that I was crazy anymore. I panted while staring out at the window in an attempt to distract myself, but it was in vain.

I went to my bed and bashed my fists into my thighs and upper arms. They were still sore from the previous beatings, but I deserved the pain. I screamed into my pillow and pulled my hair while doing so. I would have rather died than experience such pain and panic. I thought of the kitchen knife set that could help me end it all.

I panted, shaking my head. “No. It is enough that I beat myself tonight.”

A sudden loud knock at the door made me jump. Catching my breath, I went to the door and opened it a crack. Outside stood the golden haired Bekka with her sunny personality. Company was the last thing that I wanted. I must have looked a sight, but I let her in with a soft smile. Her look of concern pulled at my heart strings.

“I am sorry to visit you without notice, but you seemed so disconnected today,” she said, marching straight into my home with her fancy ankle boots.

“I am worried that Dauvit will change his mind about seeing me.”

“Why?” Bekka cried.

“He did not reply to my last letter bidding him safe sailing home. I feel as though something that I said offended him!”

“Oh my, you are so worried, but listen to me. He would not tell his sister in law all about you, write you regularly from his summer house, and make you think that he was interested in you all this time if he was not. It would not make sense.”

“I know, you’re right. He’s assured me so well up until this point.”

I could not fight back the tears any longer. I turned away, feeling the fool for being weak, despite my experience. If only she knew what I had just done to myself.

“Oh, Zara.” Bekka rubbed my back gently. “I do not want you to ruin your mental state tonight. You have a big day tomorrow. You are finally going to see him. You see? There is nothing to be sad over.”

“I wish I could know that for sure,” I said, choking back a sob.

“Trust him. I think you should go to sleep early. Then, when you wake up, the day will be fresh and wonderful. You are going to see him tomorrow night. All right?”

“Yes, yes. I will go to sleep. Or, I could send him a telegram! Just to be sure.”

Bekka’s jaw dropped open. “You will do nothing of the sort! Whatever you do, do not send him a frantic telegraph.”

I took a deep breath. I must have sounded insane. My reputation of being level headed and intelligent was going slowly out the window.

“Please, do not tell the doctor about how I acted tonight. I am so embarrassed.”

“Of course I would never say a word,” Bekka said seriously. “We are friends.”

I wiped my eyes. My worry remained, but I felt a little better after my new friend’s reassurance.

“Thank you for your encouragement.”

“It was my pleasure,” Bekka said softly. “Now, got to sleep. See you in the morning.”

We embraced. The scent of rose water and her gentle touch soothed some of my anxiety.

“You are a good friend, Bekka.”

She smiled, blinking back an eyeful of tears. “Good night, dear Zara.”

“Good night.”

The next day, Bekka kept me busy by making me laugh and telling me about a beau that she had spent a couple of afternoons with recently. On my walk home that evening, my insides stopped fussing. After weeks of nervousness and anticipation, tonight was the night Dauvit would return to me. I would hold him, kiss him, and tell him how much I missed him. We would be able to have some amazing conversations. I hoped that he would take it well that I would be leaving for home the following morning.

I busied myself to clean up my house, bathed, moisturized, and perfumed. I slipped into my newest night gown, letting my blonde hair down past my shoulders. It fell in loose waves due to the humidity of the day. I tried to write while I waited for Dauvit’s knock, but I was unable to focus.

Echoing footsteps livened up the quiet night outside. I went to the window with a pounding heart. I sat down on my chair so as not to look like an anxious puppy dog as he strode up to my home. Five minutes passed, and I had not yet heard a knock. I put my coat on and went outside to see what was happening.

Two men were busying themselves with repairing the carriage wheel. So surprised was I that such a thing had happened on such a night, I ended up staring at the broken wheel in a daze.

“Hello,” said Dauvit.

I made out his handsome profile in the darkness.

“Hello!” I said happily. “Forgive me, I was surprised to see the carriage wheel broken.”

I went to him and he placed an arm around me, but his focus was on the carriage. “Just give me a few more moments to help the driver here, and I will be inside.”

Feeling foolish for bothering Dauvit when he was busy, I stepped back to my house with heightened worry. When he stepped inside as the carriage drove away with its fixed wheel, we hugged.

“You had a wonderful visit, then?” I asked.

He nodded, seemingly distracted.

“Would you like to sit and talk for a little bit?” he asked.

“Yes, of course, allow me to make some tea,” I said with a smile.

The simple scene was what I had dreamed about for those two difficult weeks. He watched me move about as we made small talk. He was tired from the trip, but I hardly noticed.

Mesmerized by his magnetic energy, I moved closer to him, barely aware that I was doing so, as I told him about my day.

“My parents asked me to come visit them for one week. I am leaving tomorrow morning, just as you have returned,” I said sadly. “I wish we had more time before I leave.”

“Oh, that is quite all right. You need to see your family. I will happily accompany you on your trip to the train station.”

“I would love that,” I smiled.

A romantic picture of him seeing me off as the train took me away for a while formed in my momentarily content mind. I smiled as he stared deep into my eyes. How I had missed his amber gaze.

I made tea while he picked up the elegant white fascinator from the table. It was the surprise item that my mother had sent to me.

“You are wearing this on your return trip home?” he asked, playfully setting the dainty head piece on his head. “This is fitting for you, since you are so fascinating.”

We both laughed.

“That is also a very lovely night gown you are wearing,” he said, setting down the fascinator and allowing his gaze to travel down my body. He brought his hands to my waist and pulled me in toward him.

“Forget about the tea for now,” he said with a devilish glint in those eyes.

As steam danced from two poured cups of tea on my table, I led him into my room. My dream became real.

(Photo Source: http://www.everystockphoto.com

The Fascinator Pt V

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On Friday night, I received an express delivery to my front door.

“From Prince Edward Island, Miss,” said the post rider.

“Thank you!” I nearly squealed.

I tore the letter from its paper prison, but my uneasy feelings flew away at Dauvit’s greetings.

My Dear Zara,

I expect to receive your photograph soon, but for now, I can think of our good memories. You really are so fascinating to me and I love that you are smart and have an opinion. It is only a bonus that you have beautiful eyes and impeccable legs. 

You would love the summer house, by the way. I hope that this is not too forward, but I miss you already. 

Yours Truly, 

Dauvit

The next morning, I went into town to purchase a few necessities. I stopped in the middle of the road, mesmerized suddenly at the fact that I had Dauvit actively pursuing me, and we had already experienced such amazing things – not to mention his secretive world. I had been so wrapped up in our moments together, that I had not allowed myself to ponder about what this world was and what it meant to our current world nearly as much as I should have.

“Zara!”

I turned to see a familiar face across the road. Bekka was waving at me. Every time I hoped to think on the fantasy realm, realism pulled me away.

“Why are you standing in the middle of the road?” she cried.

I laughed and ran over to greet her. It was a relief to have someone to walk around town with for a change. We went to the market, looked at some jewellery, and then to a flower shop. Seeing such beautiful things on display helped settle my nerves about Dauvit. Though he was obvious in his affections toward me, a part of me still worried for something bad to happen.

“What do you mean something bad will happen?” asked Bekka with a frown, while we both waved down a coach.

A cab pulled by a distinguished chestnut mare stopped for us. Once we were inside, I sighed. “It is not that I think something bad will happen, but I worry.”

“It wouldn’t make sense for a man to write you the moment that he arrives at his vacation house, and he also asked for your picture, too. You needn’t worry, Zara.”

“You’re right,” I said with a smile. “I enjoyed our time together. You’re a very fun person to be around.”

The younger girl giggled. “I enjoy your company as well, you know. I need more weird friends in my life.”

I burst into laughter. “Well, I am definitely that!”

“I think you should take all of these wonderful new emotions you’re feeling and incorporate them into your work. I am no writer, but I love to read, and an author in love is a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps sometimes moreso than the melancholic ones.”

“You really think so? What an interesting thought. I always thought that a happy writer would write hogwash, but you know, I have just as much desire to write the same things that I always did, as I fall in love with Dauvit.”

“You see?” Bekka grinned. “I think you already are in love.”

The driver dropped me off at my place first. Bekka waved to me dramatically from the carriage window. It was a wonderful feeling to have spent a full day with someone kind like her, but as I stepped up to my front door, alone again, questions and concerns spun about in my mind.

“You cannot allow me to be happy, can you?” I muttered at my brain.

I sat at the table and re-read Dauvit’s letters, which brought me to happy tears again. I missed him more than I had ever missed anyone. Experience and travel seemed to make me soft, rather than thick skinned.

The rest of my weekend raced by as I wrote a new story inspired by Dauvit and then performed arduous tasks around the house. On Sunday night, I wrote Dauvit back. I had contemplated whether I should write down my questions about the other world and decided that one question would not hurt. I could not stop thinking about the miracle of discovering such a place and how amazing it was that we both had it to share with one another.

I folded and sealed the letter to him in an envelope, blew out my candle, and settled into my cool sheets. The week ahead seemed long and daunting, but perhaps I would be able to start performing dissections at the lab.

The next week dragged on a little, but speaking with Bekka at work and writing in the evenings helped keep my worries at bay. So many lovers had to be separated for months, so surely I could handle two weeks, even if I was prone to severe melancholy. I worried that he might change his mind about me after some distance. He had not been so quick to write me a second letter, considering that it was already Thursday night.

Inside my bedroom, I paced the floor, attempting to talk myself out of the panic. I fought the war of self-harm and self-harm won. I wept, longing that Dauvit was there to hold me and remind me that I was special to him. Instead, I was alone in my cool room, unsure if he could ever really love me.

I balled my fist and bashed my thighs and upper arms repeatedly, until the pain made me whimper. Exhausted, I collapsed into my bed. I fell asleep early that night.

On Friday night, I received two letters. One was from my parents and the second one was from Dauvit. Excitement and dread made my hands shake.

My Dearest Zara,

You worry too much. I told you that I would talk to you about the world at another time. I am better with speaking of such things in person, though you’re a writer, so I understand you may communicate better with written words. 

I received your photograph and you are adorable. My sister in law thinks that you are pretty. I am having a wonderful time here with my family, but I look forward to seeing you again very much.

I was hoping to call on you at your house the evening that I return, and I will sleep on the couch so as not to impose on you. Let me know if you agree. I hope your writing is going well. 

Yours Truly,

Dauvit 

I took a deep breath. All of my remaining doubts fled. He was going to come straight to my house after his ship landed. It still felt a little too good to be true, but there was no denying how much he wanted to see me. I read the next letter, which had been written by my mother. She asked me to come home for a visit, and she included bills to pay my way back home for a week. She also said that there was a surprise package waiting for me at the postal office.

I smiled, longing to see my family again, and at my mother’s usual generosity, even though I insisted that I pay my own way. I worried about being away from Dauvit for yet another week, but it was much better than a two week separation. I would visit and have someone special to tell my family about. It would be perfect, really.

I relit my candle, sat up, and started to write. I ignored the tender bruises on my limbs.

(Photo Source: http://www.everystockphoto.com “Rain”)

The Suicides, Part Seventeen

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My sore midsection worsened as we neared Sunny Harbour.

“Are you sure there is not someone waiting to shoot me from behind a bush?” I asked.

“I would not bring you here if that were a possibility,” said my aunt.

“People are unpredictable, though.”

“Sometimes, yes, but I assure you that it will be safe for you this time. You caused quite a social stir here.”

“Funny, because I recall being nothing more than an overly curious coward.”

No one could deny that I was a coward. I started things, but rarely finished them. In many ways, I felt more evil than a man like Caleb for that.

“Stop depreciating yourself.”

The carriage continued past the end of the road; the strong horses pulled us toward the meadow.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“I have something to show you. It will make you happy.”

I was not so sure if I could believe her. When the carriage rolled to a stop some minutes later, my aunt excitedly opened the door before our driver could do so for her.

“Come along, nephew,” she called.

I had to run after her. Her newfound physical energy was inspiring, to say the least. When we climbed to the top of the hill, the sight before us sent a wave of goosebumps over my flesh.

Several men were digging and setting up tombstones. I walked over, almost in shock, until I reached one of the stones, which read:

Here Lies Jimmy Smith

Beloved son of Mary and Thomas Smithe

1872-1889

My stinging eyes watched the men work hard to complete the project that I had been unable to begin. They were working so hard that they did not notice our arrival. Sarah’s recent death may have sensitized the townspeople. It was surreal seeing them suddenly honouring the suicides.

“I need to go help them finish,” I said.

My aunt held me back.

“I understand that you want to help, but remember that this was your idea. You are the one who started this. I think you should go back to the asylum where you can do the most good.”

“I can help them finish here before I return to help Matthew.”

“I have already paid the driver to take you back to the asylum.”

“Are you trying to get rid of me?”

“Working with disturbed people is a job for a man with your talent and youth. My old bones have done a lot of traveling and moving about lately and I need to rest for a few days.”

“I want to ask you something. What happened to Caleb?”

She cleared her throat and stared at her shoes. “He has taken a bad turn. His parents had to take him in and care for him while someone else purchased the store. I would rather he become cruel to himself than to someone else. Sarah died because of him.”

Her sentences worsened the pain in my stomach. Sarah died not so far away from where we stood. Her body rested peacefully in cold finality. I would have given anything to have one moment to hold her, to tell her that she was not alone. She would never be alone. Surely, my dreams about her reached out to wherever she was. I had to believe that.

“Where is Sarah buried? When I am ready, I want to visit her.”

Aunt Carol took my hand and squeezed it. “I will write the location to you once you are away. It is better this way with how you still feel about her. Go on and help Matthew as best you can and finish your writing project. Then, you can see Sarah when you are better prepared. This town will always be here for you to revisit. I hope you will visit me again soon.”

I missed most of the landscape view on my return to the asylum due to being entrapped by the cave of my ideas. My hope to bring respect and memory to the young people who took their lives had begun with the reburials. The irony is that they had been buried by the very people who hadn’t supported them while they were still alive. Had I not been so weak for the past few months, I could have started and finished the burial project. Despite my failure, I felt tremendous peace that they finally were given a respectable final resting place. It was what the town needed to do for them in order to heal from its apathy as well. Perhaps it was better that it worked out the way that it had.

I found myself soon enough on the steps of the asylum, staring at the front door. Matthew came up from behind me.

“Did you enjoy seeing the fruition of your ideas?” he asked with a grin.

“I am happy that they will now be remembered properly, but I really did nothing.”

“I am sorry that is what you believe, but nonetheless, I need your help to complete some of the patients’ rooms. Jeremy’s improved since you told him of your plan to help him.”

My nausea from before eased a little. “Very good. Let us start then.”

It took us an entire week to finish the rooms up with all of the proper furniture. We sized the windows to be too small for someone to climb out of. I chose the corner room for Jeremy since it had the best view. I was sure that he would not need to be there much longer before he could go home. Writing in a safe place without societal pressure was likely what he had needed years ago when his depression had begun.

Matthew and I walked Jeremy up the winding stairs to his new haven. He blinked, looking from me to Matthew.

“Jeremy,” said Matthew. “I am trusting you to cooperate with us as we remove your straight jacket.”

“You have nothing to worry about. I just want to be free to move around like normal in my own room.”

We helped him out of his binding and he stepped inside, sitting on the bed first.

“Get settled and Alfred will be up with your writing supplies shortly.”

I helped Matthew transfer four other young men and a couple of women – all of whom seemed particularly disturbed – to their new rooms. Then, I carried the paper and ink to Jeremy’s room. I knocked clumsily while trying not to drop anything, and then I let myself in. He sat at his desk with a more pleasant expression than I had ever seen him have before.

“The doctor tells me that you befriended Sarah,” he said, staring at me.

I swallowed hard, nearly choking on my throat’s lump. I longed to somehow evade the last conversation I wanted to have. Talking about Sarah’s death would do nothing good for him when he was finally beginning to heal.

“Yes,” I said.

Jeremy nodded slowly. I set his writing supplies down in front of him.

“She is dead, isn’t she?” he asked.

The early evening light streamed in through the window, casting a glow on Jeremy’s questioning face.

“Yes, she passed away a couple of months ago. I am very sorry.”

Jeremy toyed with the quill in his hand with an unreadable expression. “She saved me, you know. If only I could have saved her.”

“That was who Sarah was,” I said quietly. “A hero.”

Jeremy looked up at me with a look that would sear itself into my mind’s eye for the rest of my life. “Sarah was a hero who needed to be saved.”

He dipped his quill into the bottle of ink and began to write.

(Photo Source: http://www.everydaystockphoto.com By: Melissa Wiese)

The Fascinator Pt IV

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My heart raced as I bent down to retrieve the envelope resting on my door step. As I unravelled the paper, I  recognized his writing style.

My Dear Mouse,

Thank you once again for last night. I hoped to ask you if I could have a photograph of you, so that I could look at your picture whenever I miss you, but I did not want to risk waking you up too early. I set sail likely as you are reading this. I will write to you when I am settled at the summer house.

Yours truly,

Davuit

I smiled as I held his letter against my breast in cliche fashion, blinking back tears of happiness. I hadn’t cried from joy for a long time. I loved him for giving me a reason to believe in something again. He hadn’t left me to wonder for weeks if he was taken with me or not.

Walking to work, all I could think about were the ways that he made me laugh and how our bodies seemed to mould so well together. It felt ever so strange to not be depressed or agitated about something. Maybe my life was not immune to happiness as I once thought.

“Good morning, Doctor,” I called when I stepped into the laboratory.

“Ah, Zara, it seems as though I might need to ask you to return later.”

“Later? What happened? Do you need help?”

He laughed while crawling out from under his desk. I stifled a laugh by covering my mouth.

“There has been a mouse infestation and I really would rather have it dealt with before we continue on with a series of dissections for a new research project.”

“Which project?” I asked.

He winked at me. “I hoped you would be interested. I will tell you more, but I am waiting for the pest controller. Why don’t you take a walk and stretch those young legs now that you have a chance?”

I smiled with a shrug. “Very well then. Shall I return in an hour?”

“Return in two.”

I secured my bonnet bow under my chin and then made my way out to the coast. I lifted my skirts so that I could run most of the way. My long legs had been out of practice as of late since I started working full time, but not terribly so. I stopped at the cliff, feeling energized by the exertion. My elation at the sight of Dauvit’s ship made me feel as light as the breeze. It was only a tawny spec on the blue horizon now, but he was out there, perhaps staring back at the coast.

I sat with my legs dangling over the cliff, watching until the vessel melted into the distance. I imagined how I would write down my experiences with Dauvit and our world and then showing him the words that were inspired by his existence in my life.

Nearly two hours later, I stepped back into an immaculately clean laboratory feeling rested, until I nearly collided with someone – the part time laboratory assistant named Bekka – and we both screamed. I steadied the younger, smaller girl before the tray she was carrying tipped everything over onto the hard floor.

“Thank God the doctor didn’t see this!” Bekka squealed.

I took the tray from her. “He would have understood,” I smiled.

Her golden curls bounced as she shook her head quickly. “I am already on my final warning.”

Bekka had been working with us for the past month. A couple of months shy of nineteen and spoiled by her parents, I sometimes wondered how long she would last. Her dresses were quite fancy for a laboratory, but she told the doctor in her interview that she hoped to do more with her life than go to finishing school.

I arranged the glassware on the table next to the dissection station, doing my best to stay in the moment in case I dropped something. I could feel Bekka was staring at me. She always wanted to talk about this and that, but I was often not in the mood. I decided to glance over at her questioning blue eyes.

“The doctor says you are seeing a young man,” she said with a sweet smile.

“Yes, I am.”

“Look at you blushing! Zara, this is wonderful! I have had high hopes for you since we met.”

“High hopes? What do you mean?”

The doctor interrupted our interaction, to my relief, by giving us our duties for the rest of the day. I was able to avoid any further questions from Bekka for the rest of the day. I escaped back into the cooling night air at six o’ clock before she could catch me. My shoulders relaxed as the ease of solitude settled over me.

If only I were walking back to a home that Dauvit and I shared. Perhaps it was silly for a woman of my age and experience to be so idealistic so soon, but I had been alone for a very long time. It could not do harm to imagine a life with a man who made me feel alive again. Perhaps that is what Bekka meant by high hopes. She must have been able to see how sad I was before meeting Dauvit. My conscience was pricked as I thought about the attempts that I made to ignore her. She was a darling person who chose a less than glamorous place to work when she didn’t need to.

I needed to give Bekka a chance at friendship. She likely had trouble connecting with like-minded people from her family’s social circle. My own selfishness amazed me sometimes.

At home, I sifted through a few photographs of myself that my mother had given to me before I journeyed off on my grand adventure to work on the east coast. There was one picture from six years ago, where I had my natural brown curls.

“Definitely not that one,” I muttered.

I settled on an image that a photographer had captured of me when I participated in a creative photography project at the college with my newly dyed platinum hair. I sat at my desk, forgoing my story writing so that I could write Dauvit a letter to accompany my picture.

Later that night, I dreamed that he left me. I awoke shaking with my body covered in sweat. I laid there wrapped in my blankets, imagining his laugh and the way his dark hair fell in waves at his ears. He was so handsome and smart. He could have any woman he chose. It was going to be a long two weeks without his continued assurance, but all I could do was trust him instead of my night terrors.

The Suicides, Part Sixteen

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Jeremy slouched back into his original position. “Leave me alone,” he said.

“Things won’t always be this way for you,” I said.

He shook his head. “If you continue to talk to me, I will yell for as long as I can.”

I took a step back and then I rushed to the door, already sweating. Looking over my shoulder, i opened the door, hungry for fresh air. Standing outside under the sun, I allowed new ideas to rage against the dark thoughts that threatened to destroy me.

Rustling gravel reached my ears and I drank in the sight of a black carriage travelling down the willow-lined road. It seemed far too fancy to be carrying someone mentally ill inside. I stepped forward and waited for its arrival.

At once, I recognized the navy blue and white parasol that emerged from the door before its dainty, well-dressed owner stepped out.

“Aunt Carol!”

She ran to me and we embraced.

“I have missed you so very much,” she said.

I held her tighter. “Forgive me for everything I have done!”

She held me at arm’s length with a soft smile. “You started something very unique in my town, Alfred. I need to thank you for standing up against Caleb and his gang of bullies. I am very, very proud of you.”

“But Sarah…”

My aunt’s blue eyes widened. “That was not your fault.”

I fought back tears as the suffocating pain returned, choking me.

“She died smiling,” I began, breathing in the memory of her. “Did you know that? She said that all she ever wanted was an adventure.”

My aunt nodded, smiling sadly. “Her loss of life is a tremendous emptiness to all of us, but you brought some meaning back into her life.”

“I would have taken care of her and allowed her to write to her heart’s content. I would have loved her until my death.”

“I know, but, you see, she also loved you. She risked her life so you could live and continue your cause.”

We stood there silently crying. There were people inside of the asylum who needed more help than I did. People with no family to support them. I was unable to save Sarah, because I had been a coward. Now, I could at least help save other people in her memory.

“Why have you come here?” I asked.

My aunt wiped her tears with a white handkerchief. “I came here to help you and your admirable friend.”

“I am not sure if that is such a good idea. This is not a safe place for you.”

“Oh, is that so?”

She returned to her carriage and opened the door. “Now, will you help me pull out my box of things?”

“What are you up to?”

“I have brought some art supplies. The patients can draw, paint, or colour to their heart’s content.”

“You are donating all of your art supplies?”

“Yes, dear boy. I have enough pencils and drawing paper at home. I truly think that giving these people something to do will help them. Matthew was speaking with me recently about the benefits of art therapy when he was back in town.”

“That boy gets around, doesn’t he?”

“Indeed. Perhaps we could incorporate creative writing to those who are more inclined to it.”

“And books. There is a disturbed, but bright woman who requested War and Peace.”

My aunt snapped her fingers. “Perfect. I can also bring my collection of books. One of which is War and Peace.”

I hugged my aunt. “You are the most amazing human being that I know.”

“What about me?” called Matthew, who was striding past us with a shovel and spade in either hand.

All three of us laughed.

“Well, why don’t we get to work?” suggested my aunt.

I carried the box of supplies while my aunt opened the door to the asylum.

“Good grief! It is dark in here,” she exclaimed.

“Hush. These patients are sensitive to sudden loud sounds.”

“How do you know?” she challenged.

There were many things that my aunt was capable of, but I could never say that I could imagine her to be good with mental patients. Several of the people stared at us. A couple of them stood and walked over to the box. My heart raced as I thought of all sorts of potentially bad scenarios.

“Stay back,” I told my aunt. She did not listen.

I set the box down.

“What’s in there?” asked a woman with hair covering her face.

“This is our gift to you,” said my aunt, clasping her hands together. “For all of you. We are here to help you.”

A few of them walked away, muttering things or focusing on something else, but four of them stayed and watched as I opened the box and took some of the supplies out.

“Do any of you enjoy drawing?” I asked.

Some nodded and one replied with a “yes.”

“Perfect!” said my aunt with a sweet smile.

She turned to me and said, “I have also brought some chairs. I figured we might need a couple.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “We can pull them up to that table.”

I brought in the three wooden chairs from the carriage while my aunt worked to set up a small art area. I watched her in amazement as she worked and said kind words to any of the patients who wandered close to her. I caught Jeremy’s stare from across the room.

With my hands behind my back, I strode over to him. He rolled his eyes and looked away.

“Jeremy, I have a proposal for you.”

He shook his head. “Who in God’s name are you? I know you’re no doctor.”

“No, I am not. I am friends with the medical superintendent and my aunt has been kind enough to help us reform this place.”

“Reform,” he laughed bitterly.

“I am very sorry for any hardships you have suffered here. I want to propose that if you can promise the doctor that you will not make attempts to harm yourself, we will provide you with your own room.”

Jeremy frowned at me.

“Once you are settled in your room without your restraint and when we can determine that you will not make an attempt to escape or harm yourself, I have a lot of paper that I can give you for your writing.”

His jaw dropped open. Hope glimmered for but a moment in his dark eyes. He slouched back in his terribly uncomfortable position.

“Why the hell would you do that for me?” he asked.

The Fascinator Pt III

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I stood next to the doctor on Tuesday evening while he carefully sliced a human eyeball under a microscope with his sharpened scalpel. Perhaps I would be able to assist him with organ dissections for his research once I proved myself.

The grandfather clock in the next room struck six o’ clock, sending the butterflies in my stomach to flight.

“Is there anything else that you need me to do before I leave?” I asked.

“No. As always, you are too efficient. See you tomorrow.”

Stopping at the mirror on the way out to fix my chignon, I wished I hadn’t forgotten my lip rouge.

Outside, Dauvit leaned against the mailbox post grinning at me as I went to him.

“You look lovely,” he said. “Quite the professional.”

Dauvit’s lively sentences and boyish humour set me at ease once again as we walked. We spoke of how our days went, drinking in the sight of one another in between our words, until we reached the entrance of our willow forest.

“I feel as though we have walked straight into an Emily Bronte novel,” I laughed.

“I think we could make this into a much better story.”

He gestured for me, if not a little impatiently, to follow him. The air of his person reminded me of something, but I could not quite determine what it could be. He fascinated me to no end, but I wondered if the ferocity that I sometimes saw in his eyes hinted at something much deeper than simply their striking colour.

Though it was not yet dark, the forest carried an uncanny power. Dauvit brushed his hand along mine until I allowed him to hold it.

“You know, I rarely get along with shy girls, but you possess so much behind that shyness.”

“I am not shy,” I said with a laugh. “I am only quiet.”

He stared at me and I could not tell if he was curious or annoyed.

“I am going to show you a bay that also has an excellent view of a glacier peak,” he said good-naturedly.

I clasped my hands together. “It sounds beautiful. Will it be far away from dangerous creatures?”

“Why are you so worried about the animals?”

“Well, the fact that they only go after those with unstable minds sounds more like folklore to me.”

“I would not bring you there if it was dangerous. I hope you trust me with that.”

He held my hand tighter and leaned in to kiss me. As our lips met, the scent of his hair and cologne tickled my senses. I longed to stop time. I was in an uncanny, striking new world with the most alluring man I had ever met, after all. It was as though Dauvit knew of my innermost desires and had come to finally make them all come true.

We opened our eyes again and stared up at a towering tree with smooth, orange park and bright green leaves. Moist, salty air caressed my nostrils, hinting of the ocean’s proximity. All that surrounded us were exotically coloured trees.

“Here we are,” Dauvit smiled.

He stared up at the high, but subdued sun resting in the dreamy pink sky.

“I still wonder if this is all a hallucination,” I breathed. “What magnificent trees and sky!”

“You and your wondering,” he smirked in mock annoyance.

We made our way to a grassy meadow. A soft gale made the long blades of grass blow in elegant symphony. Dauvit spoke about his day and I listened to his zealous tone in quiet contentment. Once we reached the coast, the wavy blue waters drew our attention to it. In the distance, I could make out the beautiful white peak of a mountain.

“That mountain is on an island, can you see it?” said Dauvit, sliding his strong arm around my waist and pointing ahead with his free hand.

He breathed in my ear, bringing his hands to the first button of my high-necked dress.

“Forgive me, but it is my time today,”I said.

“Well, that is a relief in one sense,” he laughed, holding me close still.

“It is,” I agreed. “I don’t want children. I also want to always keep my maiden name. As a writer, I take pride in my own last name.”

He eyed me evenly. “Interesting. That doesn’t bother me. The last name, that is.”

“I see,” I muttered, biting my lip.

“Disagreements can be resolved. That is what I believe.”

I smiled at his sincere attempt to meet me half way.

“I climbed that mountain once,” he said proudly, turning his attention to the remarkable landscape. “Me and one of my friends went there together. We didn’t go all the way to the top, where the glacier begins, but it was a breathtaking view.”

“I can only imagine. You never saw any animals?”

He shook his head and laughed. “Absolutely none.”

“And your friend survived, correct?”

“Uh, of course!”

The sound of his laughter was wonderful. It rivalled that of the surrealism surrounding us.

We walked along the rocks of the shoreline; our laughter must have echoed all the way to the mountain. Betraying my own values, I had lost all sense of time and responsibility, but at sunset, we found ourselves once again amidst the ethereal bubbles of light.

Time would never freeze. In fact, it seemed to speed up for new lovers.

“I will be away for the next two weeks as I go see my family at our summer house, but I will write to you,” said Dauvit matter-of-factly. “Thank you for tonight.”

“You must know how much I appreciate you showing me this world, and for meeting me at the inn three days ago.”

His serious face caught me off guard, but when he leaned in to kiss me, his strong hold told me how much he would miss me. I melted into him before space and time separated us from the strange, lovely world and from one another.

When I awoke before sunrise in my bed the next morning, I almost thought that I could hear a distant, animalistic shriek. Feeling alone with no assurance that Dauvit would ever contact me again, I fought the urge to drown myself with my blankets.

Joy always fled faster than it came. I grasped onto the memories of the last night. They were still fresh and immune to being buried away in the distant corners of my mind.

The Fascinator Pt II

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With the absence of the red sunset, we rested side by side on a bed of soft grass. I reached over to hold him while he lay there, staring at the night sky.

“I should get you home,” he said.

“Does time here run parallel to our world, then?”

“As far as I know,” he said, standing to his feet. “You came here assuming that it did not?”

“I had no idea here existed in the first place.”

A refreshing gale caressed my skin while we both dressed. We made our way through the dark woods until we were greeted by a haze of spherical lights that chased away the inky darkness.

“This is what the lights look like on this side. If you are ever confused about where you are, this is one way to tell.”

“You will always be here with me when I come here, right?”

“Of course,” he laughed.

Though my mind was fuzzy from the intense intimacy, questions worked their way through.

“How did we arrive here?” I asked.

“I want to tell you one day soon, but we don’t have time right now. I’m sorry.”

A reptillian-like screech echoed from somewhere far away. His head turned in the direction of the eerie sound.

“There are animals here?” I asked.

“Yes, they may be dangerous to the wrong sort, but they never come close to people of a sound mind. They are similar to me in that way. I hate stupid people.”

“Stupid is a strong word,” I said.

My body tensed at the thought of one of the animals sensing my depression. I was feeling wonderful at the moment, but that was how a melancholic mind worked. It would turn on me at any moment.

“I’m very focused on what I do for work, and when people get in my way, I let them know. You will likely never see my mean side, so don’t worry.”

“I won’t, then,” I said with a smile.

He caressed my hair, gazing into my eyes.

“Will you write about me in one of your stories? You must be overwhelmed with inspiration right now.”

“I certainly will. I hope I’ll have a chance to write soon, for I have a lot of thoughts to put down.”

“I would be interested in reading about it.”

“I will show you, then,” I said, spinning around to allow my fancy skirts to lift past my knees.

My look of whimsy seemed to catch him off guard judging by his perplexed expression.

“Kiss me,” he said. “We need to go home.”

Our gazes met before our lips did. When we kissed, all I remember was warmth surrounding me before I woke up on my own bed staring out the window at a muted sky. Sitting straight up, I had to catch my breath.

“No! It was all a dream?” I cried.

I hugged myself, noticing at last a folded piece of paper on my night stand. I nearly fell off my bed reaching over to grab it. Relief washed over me when I read his name signed at the bottom. I rested against my bed’s headboard and read his letter.

Dearest Little Mouse, 

Thank you for last night. Having fun is effortless with you, and I am happy that we connected. You really do make me laugh. I hope to show you another place before I leave to visit my family across the country. I will see you at the end of your shift on Tuesday at the laboratory. See you soon. 

Sincerely,

Dauvit

My door burst open. My employer, Dr. Froyd, stood in my doorway with a bewildered expression.

I covered my nightgown by holding the blanket up to my chin. There was nothing stranger than waking up to an overly serious boss standing in one’s room.

“What on earth are you doing here?” I cried.

“Did you forget that it is Monday?”

“I-I thought that it was Sunday!”

He shook his head.

“I am so sorry. I’ll get dressed and walk straight there!”

“Remember that it takes me six months before I trust an employee. You have worked with me for four. This is your last chance to be late for any reason, Zara.”

“Yes, of course. Forgive me. I will be there in half an hour and I’ll stay two hours later.”

“Good.”

As I dressed and ran to the laboratory, the idea that I might be schizophrenic resonated through my thoughts. Maybe I had dreamed the whole thing up and wrote myself that letter. Perhaps my fantasy prone mind had caught up with me. I apologized to the doctor again as I entered the building and caught his glare.

“My hope is to help you succeed,” he said, while I started cleaning the laboratory equipment, “there are a lot of girls relying on their fiancee or husband to provide for them. They would give anything to be in your position.”

“I know, and I am ever grateful for this opportunity.”

“Young men come and go, Zara, but if you have a gifted mind, your career will always be there for you.”

His grey eyes crinkled in concern.

“Yes, that is true.”

I ignored his prying gaze while I worked. As much as I needed my job, I also craved the comfort and closeness of another human being. I believed that I could have both. Men could have both.

The next day dragged on as my mind was filled with the intoxicating memory of Dauvit, assuming that he was real, and of the other reality that I wanted to believe was still there, waiting for me. At the back of my mind, that reptilian call from somewhere in the forest continued to echo somewhere from the other dimension. It sounded quite far away at the very least.

No joy ever came without its drawbacks.

The animals there stayed away from the sane, according to Dauvit, but what would they do to the nearly insane?

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The Suicides, Part Fifteen

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A square red building greeted us at the end of a long lane way lined with devastatingly beautiful weeping willows. As I imagined how the many mentally ill people must have been dragged through its front door, my father’s horses came to a halt. The moment that Matthew leaped from the carriage, he strode past the asylum.

I followed him at a distance, preferring the least amount of talk possible. The only thing that I wanted to do was feel every strange emotion that plagued me as my memories of Sarah collided with my concern for Jeremy and the other patients.

Matthew stepped into a small barn. Two sets of voices traveled from the inside. When he stepped outside again with another young man, he flashed me a soft grin.

“I have to take up the rest of the morning duties. My friend has been kind enough to fill in for me while I took care of you, but I really must get to work here. Pigs need to be fed and then I need to water all of the vegetable gardens.”

“You cannot be serious,” I said. “Is there not an assistant or a servant who would take care of that for you?”

“The state does not budget for such things, old boy.”

“Really? How in the world are you going to find time to take care of these people when you’re busy doing farm work?”

Matthew shrugged. “Do not forget the household duties. There is a cook to prepare the meals, but everything else is left up to me.”

I blinked back tears of confusion and pity. “I had no idea.”

“Of course you wouldn’t,” Matthew chuckled. “I have a system in place. Just trust me.”

“You are giving up on your glaucoma research with Dr. Scott for a career as an asylum superintendent?”

“Yes,” Matthew said evenly. “I have.”

“What can I do to help?”

“Ah,” Matthew grinned. “I am hoping that you might be able to make use your perception today. The patients are mainly melancholic or disturbed, and from what I can see, boredom can only drive a human madder than they are. I hope that you might be able to keep them distracted in some way.”

“Do you have a key?”

He handed me the key. “Just don’t let them out.”

We stared at one another for a moment, likely being in the same frame of mind.

Matthew spoke up with a wry grin. “I am sure that you never imagined we would be standing here one day with me asking you to take care of a room full of mentally disturbed people. Though, when I think about it, this situation was inevitable.”

“I am proud of you,” I said.

“That makes one of you.”

He went to retrieve a wheelbarrow and wheeled it toward the barn. The old building swallowed him whole, leaving the patients in my hands for the rest of the morning. I shook my head at the irony of Matthew giving me such responsibility. I was far from stable myself, but I had to try.

When the asylum’s opening door allowed the daylight to shine into the dim entrance, all of my previous emotions fled me. I quickly closed and locked the entrance to the outside world. I could have been there myself, but I had a medical friend who knew how to help me.

Most of the asylum people wore white night shirts and sat on beds; only a couple of them stared at me. A few men sat on chairs wearing cloth restraints. Many appeared to be sleeping, or trapped inside of their own mental prisons.

No one made a run for the outside world. There was nothing left out there for them. Not until they healed.

There were more women than men, and out of the men that were there, none of them were old. I took a deep breath as my thoughts jumbled together. I had no idea where to begin, but I would rather be damned than stand there like a fool staring at people who needed help.

“You seem lost.”

The source of the strange voice stood behind me in a corner. She was a woman of thirty. Her long dark hair was matted and her wide brown eyes appeared sad, but her smile was strangely comforting.

“Good day, Miss,” I said.

“Missus,” she muttered. “That is why i am here, after all.”

She eyed me as though I would pounce on her at any moment.

“I am here to help you,” I said.

“That’s what they all say,” she sneered.

“Is there something that I might be able to do for you? Would you like me to bring you a book, or perhaps some materials to keep your hands busy?”

Her eyes somehow grew wider than before. Streams flowed from her eyes as she shook her head.

“A book? Are you an angel?”

“I-uh…”

She panted and struggled to keep her composure.

“Could you give me a copy of War and Peace, doctor? I was nearly finished the book before my husband burned it.”

“Yes, my dear. I will bring you a copy of War and Peace.”

The connection between the woman and I broke suddenly as her eyes sunk back into her head and she dropped to the floor, babbling and grabbing her hair. I jumped back and had to catch my breath.

Everyone had such an eerie glow to them due to the poor lighting from small windows. Larger windows would have been better for them. It did not take a medical degree to understand that people needed natural light and fresh air to maintain their sanity.

On the other side of the room sat a rail-thin boy sitting upright in a restraint. I slowly approached him, careful not to seem aggressive or worrisome to any of the other patients that I passed by. The boy turned his head to me and it was then that I realized he was closer to my age. His slouched posture only worsened his unmistakably poor health.

“Hello,” I said quietly.

“You are the new doctor?” he asked, squinting.

“No. No, I am only helping the doctor. What is your name?”

“Jeremy.”

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