Asylum by Matt Drabble
“Matt Drabble is a name that will one day be as widely recognized as Stephen King & Dean Koontz” – READERS FAVORITE
From the bestselling author of “Gated I & II” “Abra-Cadaver” & “After Darkness Falls 1 & 2” “Asylum 13 Tales of Terror” is a UK & US Horror/Anthology Chart #1 and was voted #5 on The Horror Novel Review’s Top 10 novels of 2013
“Matt Drabble is nothing short of a genius when it comes to painting a picture of his characters. This novel was sensational! I started reading and couldn’t stop” LITTLE BLOG OF HORROR
“Consistently very, very strong like Stephen King, or Clive Barker, there’s simply no telling what the man will deliver in a package of this nature” HORROR NOVEL REVIEWS
“It takes skill to make the short story format work and Matt Drabble has mastered it as he is able to establish both character and story in a matter of pages while conveying a sense of horror and terror” REELYBORED.COM
“Turn down the lights, turn off the TV and cuddle up with these stories tonight – talk about being afraid of the dark!” BOOK FIDELITY
Blackwater Heights is a building with a long dark history, some of it is well known but more is shrouded in myth and legend. None more so than that of its founding father Horace Whisker.
Martin Parcell is an ex-journalist with shattered dreams of an author’s career. Sidelined through a car crash’s injuries, he finds himself forced through governmental austerity measures having to take a custodians position at a private mental health hospital. A writer with undoubted talent, but an author without a story.
He begins his new job deep in depression and drowning under waves of his lost dreams. On his first night he meets Jimmy, his elderly supervisor who has spent most of his life within the hospital walls. Jimmy is nearing retirement age and desperate to rest his weary bones. Jimmy offers Martin a way out for both of them, access to the background histories and stories of the hospital’s patients.
A collection of 13 tales from the darkly disturbed minds of the residents of Blackwater Heights.
As the long night unwinds, Martin finds himself deeply troubled as the tales unfold before him and threaten to drag him down into their insanity.
Martin Parcell looked up at the foreboding building and his heart sank deeply within his reedy chest. Blackwater Heights loomed over the horizon like a ravenous beast; tower turrets spiked the dark night sky, illuminated by a vibrant moon. All we need is the stormy lightning and we’re all set, he thought to himself morbidly.
The large, gothic building was imposing; its dark stone face was harsh and seemingly impervious to the saltwater elements. Blackwater Heights sat in an elevated position high on a hilltop looking down over its domain. The small coastal village of Ermsby was held captive under the ominous shadow cast by the private hospital.
Martin wound his way along the narrow lanes that cut a swath through the open fields and countryside. The sun had barely set before the cold fingers of the dark night gripped the air with foolish pride. The car hitched and stuttered as though feeling the ominous portent of the surroundings and Martin prayed silently that the car would manage the last mile or so.
He glanced down at his watch; it was only 5.45pm but this was winter and she held her own timescale for when the darkness fell.
Martin was only twenty six but he felt about eighty six. His sore back whined with displeasure at the drop in temperature combined with the damp air. His knee also ached and throbbed painfully within the confines of the less than luxurious automobile. He had suffered several serious injuries during a car accident a little over fourteen months ago and had been left with two ruptured disks, one herniated, a broken arm and a dislocated kneecap. The accident had been another driver’s fault but the other driver had never been apprehended. Martin had simply been left with aches and pains, a lost job as a promising reporter and a whole heap of bad feelings and self pity. Martin’s dreams of a career in journalism, leading to a successful transition into becoming a novelist were severely dented, if not destroyed completely. Due to the austerity measures currently employed by the government’s benefit system, he had now been passed fit for work once again. The only job he had been able to find – and subsequently forced to take however – was as a janitor at a private mental health clinic, stuck out in the middle of nowhere.
He checked that the heater was all the way up and turned the fan up to the last notch. The warm air pumped out furiously and noisily, but seemingly to no avail.
He stared up towards the grand building perched on the top of the hill and shivered again violently. Whether it was the damp cold or Blackwater itself he did not know.
He checked the blackened sky again for lightning and storm clouds gathering but the sky was clear. The stars sparkled along their merry way, seemingly oblivious to his current predicament.
Yet again he had to consciously push down on the accelerator as his foot had its own mind and had eased off. His mind apparently was none too keen on arriving either on time, or indeed at all.
The approaching job was a simple one and although he had hoped that his days of menial, minimum wage were long behind him, he had never been too proud to work for a living. It was a straightforward cleaning job on the night shift hours, but at least it would leave part of his days free to write, if only he had a story to tell.
Eventually he reached the outer gates; massive iron monsters that stood guard over admittance to the house and grounds. A stone hut that looked new and thus out of place was located outside of the walls. Martin pulled up alongside the window and a face peered out inquisitively at him. The window pane slid to one side and the pale face leaned out. Martin felt the pleasant blast of warm air from the heater within and tickled his face.
“Help you?” The guard asked lazily.
Martin looked at the man; he was around sixty. His face was creased and lined, and his hair was wispy white and receding. His expression was nervous and haunted. He had pale skin and his uniform was a deep blue, but looked old and worn.
“Martin Parcell. I start work tonight, janitor crew,” he said in a forced friendly manner. The ghost before him wasn’t helping his mood or his general impression of the hospital.
The guard looked down at a clipboard; his mind seemed to tick slowly, “Parcell, ah, yes, here we go, welcome.”
Martin jumped involuntarily as the massive iron gates cranked into life. Welcome, he thought, yeah right.
He drove through the parting and into the grounds; the lawns were large and well manicured. Even in the dim illumination of the exterior security lights they looked a deep and lush green.
The car’s wheels crunched the gravel underfoot as he drove slowly. The looming gothic building appeared larger and more daunting the closer he got. The skyline above him as he pulled into a staff parking space was dominated by the spikes and turrets that pierced the black sky. The front of the hospital was a wall of dark stone and glass. High windows were blocked with black bars giving a close up indication of the building’s current usage.
Martin checked his watch again; 5.57 pm. He sighed deeply and steeled himself against the night ahead. He knew he was a man with a propensity for always making life more difficult than it had to be. He couldn’t help it; he was a thinker by nature. He was a man who lived almost exclusively within his own thoughts. Most people simply drifted through their respective days. Work and life intermingling without much notice taken. Martin was a clock watcher, a dreamer. He was a man who couldn’t help but live in the constant moment, always self-aware and always resentful.
Knowing that he had no more time to spare he followed the small immaculate white wooden signs that read “STAFF” and headed in through the entrance door. Because of the haunted castle exterior he went through the door dreading the other side. His imagination pictured long empty corridors, peeling paint and echoing cracked tile floors. He could picture the abandoned gurneys lying rusting, desolate, and abandoned. He could see the mass of spider webs and hear the soft continuous dripping of leaking pipes.
He entered the hospital and even though the hallway was dimly lit his imagination retreated, embarrassed and ashamed. Inside, the hospital was modern and pristine; it was all perfect tiles and shiny chrome with not a leaky pipe or cobweb in sight.
There was a small staff reception area immediately in front of him; a gleaming oak countertop smelling of a gentle lavender polish. The office behind was immaculate, everything with a place and everything in its place. Staff rotas hung on the walls along with a myriad of other factual offerings. There was a small white button on the counter and Martin pressed it for attention. As if by magic the door behind sprung open and a woman dressed in a nurse’s uniform appeared.
The woman looked in her late fifties with hair bound tightly beneath her crisp white hat. Her face was friendly but her expression officious. Her eyes sparkled a deep blue but her mouth was tight.
“Mr. Parcell, I’m Jemima Blake” she greeted him, “Nice to see that you are punctual, that is one of our main asks here.”
“Pleased to meet you Ms Blake” Martin forced, wishing that he was pretty much anywhere else.
“Well let’s get started shall we?” the nurse said, not offering an alternative title for herself. “This way,” she said, lifting the countertop and motioning for him to follow her through the rear door.
Martin trudged grumpily in her wake. Not even a “call me Jemima”, he thought tetchily; she was no Nurse Ratched but she was close enough to foul his mood further. He followed her through the door and along a narrow corridor.
“You clock in at 6pm sharp,” she said pointing to the machine on the wall. “Changing rooms are there” she motioned towards two doors clearly marked with male and female signs. “And James will take you through your nightly duties.”
Just then a man shuffled around the corner. He looked like he must be in his late sixties and walked slightly awkwardly, his feet rasping on the linoleum floor.
Ms Blake looked down at her watch with a curt nod, “Here are your rules and regulations” she said handing Martin a thick booklet, “I suggest that you study them closely and obey them even closer.”
With that she turned on a crisp white shoe squeak and was gone, leaving Martin and the elderly janitor alone.
“Hi James, I’m Martin,” Martin said offering his hand in ritual.
“Shit son, its Jimmy,” the man replied “and don’t mind missus tight britches, we’re not all like her here.”
Martin felt the rough calloused hand as they shook, hoping that this wouldn’t be his own fate. Just temporary, he thought, looking at the shuffling, sniffing janitor. Just temporary, he prayed to himself.
“You know anything about this place?” Jimmy asked after Martin had changed into a provided blue jumpsuit and they were heading downwards into the bowels of the hospital.
“Not really” Martin answered, sensing that the older man had little company and liked to spin a tale whenever he did, as seemed to be the fashion of the elderly.
“Ermsby itself is an old fishing port that’s better days are so far behind it; only the oldest residents hold vague memories of prosperous times,” Jimmy started. “It’s been decades since the port was a working one that the salt sea air is now merely a sarcastic, insulting taunt. The fishing boats have long since been beached and abandoned to the rusting weather. The once bountiful fish shoals had forsaken these waters and taken all hope with them.”
Martin rebuked himself for his preconceptions as the old janitor spoke with poetry and intelligence.
“Blackwater Heights is a private secure hospital; it’s housed within a massive once residential house built in 1869 by Horace Whisker,” Jimmy continued as they walked. “He was an industrialist who once owned large tracts of land on the bleak North East coast of England. He was a hard and ruddy man; iron of will and deaf to compromise and he ran his business empire with the same stern hand he ruled his family with. He was a squat man with a belly that was round and bulbous. His face was broken veined through exposure to the harsh weather and his appetite for whisky. He stood at only five feet five and carried a distain for his own height that would often turn to outward hatred. He came to this area when he was forty two years of age, bringing an air of mystery and a fat wallet with him. He soon bought up most of the property around Ermsby, including the mine and the harbor. And there were many stories about his haggling techniques which consisted mainly of browbeating individuals until they saw his point of view.”
Martin was enthralled by Jimmy’s voice and tale; his imagination could easily picture the land owner. His mind drifted towards thoughts of a possible story under his nose; perhaps even a book, or at least the beginnings of one.
“Horace took a local girl as a wife. There was no courtship or romance involved. The girl was selected on purely breeding grounds,” Jimmy continued. “Emily Avery was a pale, shy eighteen year old that was ordered by her father to marry Horace, and she obeyed her father and then her husband. She bore Horace two miscarriages followed by three sickly sons; two of which died before they reached their teens and a third who limped along despite his weak disposition. Horace was never one for hiding his feelings or disappointments and Emily would often feel the weight of the back of Horace’s hand, as would Thomas, his only surviving son and unworthy heir.”
By this point Martin had surreptitiously plucked a small note book and short pencil from his pocket that he always carried. He never knew just when story ideas would float through the air and land on his shoulder. He began making shorthand notes as Jimmy spun his tale. Perhaps this job wouldn’t be such a waste of his time after all.
“Once he owned the harbor; every boat that fished his waters did so at a price, and a steep price at that,” Jimmy chuckled. “Inland, Horace also bought out the only other industry in the area; a coal mine that employed the majority of the people from Ermsby and the other surrounding villages. The mine workers were hard faced men whose expressions were as granite hard as the stone they dug. The wages were slight and the days long and dark. Horace Whisker was a man who believed completely in his ascension above the common man; his was an elevated position ordained by God himself. He was a hated figure amongst the villagers, as his soul was a cruel one. As he grew older he took to using a silver plated cane topped with a golden wolf head to combat his limping frame.”
Martin made a mental note to remember the gold wolf head atop a silver cane; it was a nice detail that added character to a character.
“The cold, damp air permeated his bones and arthritis took a deep and painful grip on his body.” Jimmy sighed and Martin knew that the old janitor must suffer the same fate. “And his usual foul demeanor was only worsened by his condition,” Jimmy went on, “his quick temper and quicker fists were often employed as he lashed out at powerless employees in the days long before even the concept of workers’ rights. Horace left many a bloody and battered fisherman or miner along the way, and after he took to using the cane, a swish of his arm came armed with a dangerous weapon that inflicted many a grievous wound. Horace drew the architectural plans for Blackwater Heights himself; the large sprawling mansion was a testament to his power and achievements. The house was designed specifically to sit high above the village and to be worshipped. Sixteen men died during construction and the word is that Horace deemed it a price well worth paying. The blood mixed perfectly with the concrete and the foundations were buried into the earth with pain and loss. The house took over twenty two years to complete, and more than one generation of villagers slaved tirelessly on the project.”
There were several questions that Martin wanted to ask as they walked, but he feared that interrupting Jimmy’s flow would be detrimental to the story that was growing more and more interesting.
“As the years passed, Horace’s fortunes faded. The ocean’s yield began to dwindle and the mine’s bounty began to slow. Horace’s temper began to reach new levels of explosive spite as he blamed his ailing businesses on his workers. Eventually the mine was forced to close its doors and the harbor was shut. Horace retreated to his now completed mansion and closed its mighty doors to the starving villagers beyond. It’s said that he began to drown himself in a vat of aged whisky, failing at times to find the energy to even beat his pale, silent wife. Over the next 10 years Blackwater Heights began to show signs of aging; the upkeep drifted into neglect as Horace faded into ill health and sleepless nights. He took to roaming the great halls of his mansion during the wee hours; his silver cane harshly tap- tap- tapping against the hardwood floor. The noise echoed throughout the building’s high ceilings. Emily would shiver alone in the separate bedroom that she kept with their son Thomas, praying that her husband would pass by without entering. The tapping cane would approach slowly and she would hold her breath in terror until the cane had passed and continued its journey for another circuit of the house.”
Martin shivered within the confines of the long dark corridor that they walking along. The cold stone walls seemed impervious to the hospital’s heating attempts. He could almost hear the tap – tap – tapping of Horace’s cane drifting through the dark, drawing ever closer. He smiled for the first time in a while; his mood brightened and he felt a little hope. Damn, he thought, this really would make a good story; a haunted asylum born of a real history. Horace tapping his way through the night; there really is a book in this, even if I have to change the details and fictionalize the story.
“As the maintenance was neglected around the property,” Jimmy went on, “broken windows would go unfixed and un-boarded. Because of the sloping open ground between the house and the open sea, the wind would howl around the house unencumbered. On stormy winter nights, the weather would batter Blackwater Heights mercilessly. The cold sea air would whip viciously against the building, shaking its very foundations. Eventually, as Horace secluded himself in his study, armed with the only working fireplace left in the house and an endless supply of strong liquor, the house fell into a state of almost complete disrepair. To her credit, Emily found enough courage within her tired and weary frame and left. She took their son and ran into the night and back to her remaining relatives that still lived in the village below. Until the day she died, it’s said that her dreams were full of the tap – tap – tapping of an eternal haunting. She would wake in a cold, heart pounding sweat, always fearing that Horace would stop and enter.”
They had come to a stop before a door. Martin was so caught up in the story and his own ideas on how to write it that he almost walked straight into the door.
Jimmy looked at him silently and reached out past him, gripping the door handle. Martin stared as Jimmy pulled the door open slowly; his breath caught painfully in his throat and his heart pounded violently against his ribcage. The dim light overhead seemed to dim further as Jimmy opened the door and Martin finally saw inside.
The closet was full of cleaning equipment; shelves were laden with cloths and various bottles. The detergent smell was overpowering and the artificial fragrances were no match for the pungent chemicals.
“What did you expect?” Jimmy laughed, “Old Horace and his cane?”
Martin grinned sheepishly, “Something like that,” he conceded.
“Well don’t you worry son, he’s hell and gone from here by now, if there’s any justice in the world,” he added a little bitterly. “Well, I guess it’s about time we got some work done; follow me.”
The next couple of hours went by turgidly. Martin was mopping the hallways on his route. Jimmy had explained the janitorial duties to him; they weren’t complicated and shouldn’t have been particularly taxing. But although he had only been at it for a short while, his back was already a screaming mess. The accident had left him with little endurance for manual labor. The constant leaning and swaying movement of his duties left him bitter towards the doctors who had passed him fit for this job. He slipped a couple more Solpadol painkillers into his mouth and dry swallowed them with difficulty. He knew that they would make him sleepy, but at least they would take the edge off.
Jimmy had explained to him that Blackwater Heights was a private mental health facility. There were no basement torture chambers here; no electroshock labs, only hotel standard rooms and soft shoe counseling. The residents, he’d explained – always residents never patients – were only secured in their rooms at night. During the day they were free to roam the grounds, attend sessions and the myriad of activities that were available to them.
He slopped his way along the corridor – feeling obliged to do the best job that he could manage – and hated himself for the inconvenient compulsion. Whatever he did, he couldn’t help but do it properly.
The black and white floor tiles blurred beneath his eyes as the painkillers kicked in, but at least the overhead lights were subtle and comforting. The corridor was long and he could count ten resident doors. His watch read only 8.27pm, but he did not detect any movement from behind any of the suites. Despite Jimmy’s assertions that the residents were treated as guests, Martin found it easy to believe that a pharmaceutical nightcap was more than likely employed. His preconceptions about working within a “Looney Bin” had soon been expunged. The hospital was sleek and modern and there were no drooling maniacs rooming the hallways with murderous intent behind glazed eyes.
His cleaning route was on the opposite side of the building to Jimmy’s; this was the one fact that he liked just fine. He could just about put up with the job and was always happiest to work on his own. This way his mind could drift and partake of his real occupation – writing. Jimmy’s story about Horace and Blackwater had real potential. Best case scenario was to produce a book about this place with all the facts laid out. If – as was probably the case – the hospital objected to his idea, then the names and location could be altered, but the story could still be strong enough.
He checked his watch again. Jimmy had told him that he could take a meal break at 8.45pm and had given him directions to the staff canteen. He finished the corridor floor and headed for the canteen. His shoes clacked softly on the tiled floor and he made an unconscious effort to walk gently. He was still a little afraid of the residents and had no desire to wake anyone.
The canteen was barely lit as he entered; he could see Jimmy sitting on his own at a table on the far side of the room. The double doors whooshed gently behind him as he entered.
The canteen looked to seat around fifty, and long communal tables with joined chairs were cleaned and polished. At the front of the room metallic cabinets were dimly lit by overhead lights. Martin could see that during the day the place would be in full swing, but at night it was barely operational due to the skeleton night shift.
Jimmy waved him over and he approached with a cheeriness brought about by the painkillers and a rumble in his stomach.
“Doris has left you some supper,” Jimmy greeted him. “Over there in the cabinet,” he pointed. “Use the oven gloves. The plate will be hot.”
Martin detoured to the cabinet and used the gloves hanging above to slide open the doors and retrieve the plate. The pleasant aroma of a hot beef casserole wafted enticingly into his face and crispy dumplings poked invitingly from the dark stew.
“This looks great,” he said as he sat down opposite Jimmy.
“Ah, Doris is a marvel. A word to the wise son; make a good impression with her and she’ll treat you right on these crappy shifts.”
Martin made a quick note in his little book; it was tips like this that were always invaluable when starting a new job.
“So how’s the first night going?” Jimmy asked as he sat back from the table having finished his own meal.
“Fine,” Martin answered through a delicious mouthful.
“This place not giving you the willies yet?” Jimmy chuckled.
“Not quite,” Martin answered dubiously “You sure that those room doors are locked?” He laughed, not entirely joking.
“Don’t worry, no-one gets out without one of these.” Jimmy hefted a large metal ring that jangled with dozens of heavy keys.
“They still use actual keys here? I’d have thought that everything would have been electronic considering the modern look of the building.”
“It’s the weather unfortunately. So many storms and high winds over the winter months means we are always suffering blackouts. The cost of maintaining backup generators for electronic door locks makes the idea prohibitive. So what’s a smart lad like you doing in a place like this?” Jimmy asked.
“A job’s a job, I guess.”
“But I’m guessing that this wasn’t in your life plan.”
“No, not exactly,” Martin answered truthfully.
“So what is it that you want to be doing?”
“Well,” Martin paused, feeling uneasy at divulging great chunks of himself to a relative stranger, but deciding that it was perhaps the quickest way to get to know someone. “I guess that I’m a writer,” he wavered.
“No, I am a writer,” Martin stated more firmly.
“Good, now what is it that you write?” Jimmy leaned forward with genuine interest.
“Ah, now therein lies the problem. I’m still searching for an adequate subject. I thought that I was never going to find inspiration, until…” Martin left the thought hanging.
“Until I told you about old Horace and his tapping cane?” Jimmy finished the thought. “You know I’ve always thought that this place was ripe for a book; both Blackwater and the residents.”
“How would I go about getting permission for something like that?” Martin asked.
Jimmy only laughed, “Permission, that’s a good one. Look if you want to get out of this place and make this only a pit stop instead of a permanent residence like me, then you’ll have to show a little more backbone than that.”
“What do you mean?” Martin asked suspiciously.
“Look son, I don’t want to be stuck here forever either. Early retirement sounds pretty good when your body aches as much as mine. I can get you the stories if you’ll write the book and then we can split the profits perhaps?”
Martin watched the elderly janitor with growing respect. “You knew that I was a writer before I came here didn’t you?”
Jimmy’s eyes sparkled a little, “Perhaps.”
“And you told me Horace’s tale as a way of baiting the hook,” Martin stated rather than asked.
“And there are so many other stories here Martin. I can give them to you,” he jangled the keys to illustrate, “In their own words.”
After eating they both headed for the second half of the shift which they worked together. They headed downwards towards the lower levels of the hospital; here the lights seemed a little dimmer and the walls a little closer. Martin was under no illusion that he was still mulling over Jimmy’s suggestion; one night shift here had been enough to answer any moral questions. His back was emanating painful waves down both legs; his body simply could not withstand many weeks of working here. A book of actual mental patient stories would surely be vastly superior to any that he could dream up in his own undamaged imagination. Plus all of the patient tales could be tied together with the story of Horace and Blackwater.
“Are they dangerous? The patients, I mean residents,” Martin asked.
“Only a few would be considered so. They are the ones on these lower levels, but that’s why we clean this area in pairs,” Jimmy assured.
“What are their stories, you know, the residents in general?” Martin asked intrigued.
“Well, most come here after suffering a breakdown of sorts. They come here to hopefully get back in touch with reality again. Some are private check-ins, either self-funded or subsidized, and some are here, shall we say, in a court appointed manner.”
“I bet there are some tales in here,” Martin said half to himself, his brain ticking over at a rate of knots.
“Are there ever,” Jimmy agreed, “You think old Horace had a tale to tell. I’m going to introduce you to some folks with stories that would make your hair curl,” Jimmy said, pausing outside the first dark door.
“Really,” Martin leant forward eagerly, notebook in hand as Jimmy knocked on the first door. “What are you doing?” he hissed, panicked.
“Relax son, you want to hear some tales for your book don’t you?”
“Is this safe?” Martin said looking around, “What if we get caught? What about the residents? Will we be safe?”
“No pain no gain,” Jimmy grinned. “Relax Martin,” he said holding up a staying hand, “I have chatted with these folks many times before, and none of the other staff come down here after dark.”
“Ghosts?” Martin asked excitedly.
“More like laziness,” Jimmy answered, “The night shift prefer to stay up in their cozy lounge napping away,” he said as he slipped a key into the lock.
Martin felt his heart beat frantically and his breath paused about halfway up his chest. Oh shit, he thought, we’re really doing this, as the door swung invitingly, we’re actually going to do this! The room door swung open and Martin peered inside.
“Martin, I would very much like you to meet Julian,” Jimmy introduced.
Born in Bath, England in 1974, a self-professed “funny onion”, equal parts sport loving jock and comic book geek.
A few years ago after a serious back injury I was diagnosed with a degenerative condition that left me unable to work full-time. Also due to the austerity measures also meant that I did not qualify for any disability benefits. So I despite having zero in the way of a literary educational background I started to teach myself to write. Hopefully as each book passes I am getting better and touch wood, sales seem to indicate that.
“Asylum – 13 Tales of Terror” is an Horror/Anthology Chart #1 for over a
year and was voted #5 on The Horror Novel Review’s Top 10 Books of 2013
Amazon Author Page: www.amazon.com/MATT-DRABBLE/e/B0089NFG8Q
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