So, a few months ago, I got a job as a Patient Care Assistant at a local psychiatric hospital… I'd tell you the town and country, but considering the subject matter I'm getting ready to talk about, I'd rather leave it up to your imagination. At any rate, I'm in western Europe. I used to be a medic in the Army, but halfway into my enlistment I decided it just wasn't for me. I could've come home and signed up for the city or provincial police, but I just wasn't feeling it. The atmosphere's too close to the military for me. If this doesn't work out I might put in an application at the prison. I could’ve gone to medical school I guess, but after getting hands-on a few times in some really bloody situations, I’ve decided it’s not really my thing.

Anyway, basically a Patient Care Assistant is what an orderly position sort of… evolved into over the years. I pretty much float around the psych hospital helping the nurses with whatever they need. Usually I end up in the kitchen carrying boxes or helping with the groundskeeping, but I've had a couple situations where I've had to help restrain a reluctant new rehab patient or one that's been hiding their meds. It really suits me. I like to help people that need it, but I’ve seen my share of gore. I’m glad we haven’t had a problem with that “krokodil” shit from Russia.

Several times I've had to stay overnight and pull what the Americans call 'fireguard' in the Army; you just kinda walk around in the middle of the night making sure nothing too bad happens, making sure nobody runs away or starts a fire or a fight or anything. That's the cushiest duty I've had yet, but it's pretty creepy. At night it's quiet, except for the occasional weeping jag or begging from the people on B Hall.

Most of the hospital's residential areas are large 'bays', spacious communal rooms a lot like I stayed in back in the army. They usually have about ten beds in each room, five against each wall and an aisle up the middle. There are several rooms like this. The nurses’ station is at the end of this area, in the rear of the building, sharing space with the pharmacy, with a backdoor that rolls up like a garage so people can bring in boxes from the medical supply company with handtrucks.

B Hall, on the other hand, was where the iffy patients were taken – rehabbers, the regulars that had experienced a psychotic break, and the ones known for hurting themselves. The ones on angel dust are the worst. They can’t feel shit. I haven’t had to deal with those…just a couple coming off heroin, but I’ve heard stories. There are splotches in a few places where they had to spackle holes in the sheetrock renovations. The place is pretty old; during WWII, it was a battlefield hospital, and before that it was just a sanitarium. They’ve put up new walls to divide the larger rooms into the ten-bed bays I was talking about earlier. So a couple weeks into my new job a social worker and a couple of cops come in with this girl who is obviously pretty wasted on some kind of drug. Through the grapevine, I find out that she was found in the garden shed of a local resident, and not coherent enough to comply with the property owner's requests that she leave. I also hear that she left graffiti in the shed, but the owner isn't pressing charges or anything. She had actually urinated on herself and was completely oblivious to it. It's pretty evident she's not in control of herself. She was fine for a few days, if a bit catatonic. They put her in the bay closest to the nurses' station, in a bed with an extra partition next to it so she could have a bit of peace and privacy (as she was wont to soil herself). She wasn't reacting to stimuli until the third or fourth day, when one of the other residents woke up in the middle of the night to find the Vegetable (as affectionately referred to by several of the more unsavory residents) standing motionless at the end of her bed. She had taken off all of her clothes and as soon as she realized the girl in the bed was awake, she gripped the footrail and started shaking the hell out of it and screaming. When the nurses came, she fought them off and crawled underneath her own bed.

This resulted in the catatonic girl being placed in B Hall, in one of the padded cells, for isolation and observation. There, for the most part, she was calm as she went into detox, except for the couple of times she would have a psychotic episode and write on the walls with shit. Things like swear words, and strange gibberish, and stick figures, and phrases like, “EAT EM”, and “THIEF”, and “WATCH ME”, and “HE'S COMING”, and various numbers. Every couple of days the nurses would usher her into the adjacent cell so I could go in there and wash the room down with the garden line pulled in through the window. This turned into a regular thing. Every time she swapped rooms so I could wash it out, she'd come out with a small team of nurses, smirking through her greasy, dirty blonde hair at me as if to say, Look at what I left for you. I hope you like it. I made it just for you. At night, when I roamed the halls, the occasional crying jag or whispering kept me on my toes, but what really set my teeth on edge was the soft singing that came from cell B4. The psycho chick was in there, quietly singing to herself, murmuring some sort of lullaby. After some research, I found out it was Romanian. Go to asleep my tiny baby, try to sleep and get asleep Till the white dawns break the day. Then wake up as a grown child.

Till tomorrow at the (white) dawns.

I wonder who invented this song, I guess it was firstly uttered by a tiny mouth of a baby When his mother left him sleeping… And found him singing.

Abua – bua – bua, Abua, your mother will gently kiss you.

Don’t be afraid of dragons in the forest. Your mother is forever protecting you.

My baby with tiny eyes like dark blackberries… Your mother will go to forest She’s going to bring woods from the trees… And make biscuits just for you.

And then I would open the little peeper window in the door of her cell, and she would be lying on her side on her mat, facing the wall. As soon as I opened the little hatch, she would stop. The last time I did this, when I opened it she was standing right there, on the other side of the door, a square of her face illuminated by the light streaming in through the hole, her pale, red-rimmed eyes fixated on mine. I could see a butterfly tattoo on her shoulder, she had taken her clothes off again. She made as if to reach for me through the hole.

I jerked involuntarily, and closed the hatch. From the other side, I heard her mutter “Bitch” in Romanian, and pad back to her mat. When I came back, she was singing again. There are a few cameras installed around the property, wireless and linked to a simple setup in a small room at the end of the vestibule hallway. They were purchased with grant money from the town council at the behest of the center's staff. With the cameras and the PCAs like me overlapping observation, it was easy to keep an eye on the six hallways, cafeteria, and nurses' station. This little room was where I spent much of my time, browsing Reddit and surfing the net, flicking through the windows displaying the feed from each webcam from time to time. The cams couldn't see everything, but with my walks I could see the angles the cams missed.

There was a mini-fridge in here the other PCAs and I kept stocked with water and sodas, and a folding card table in the corner with a coffeemaker on it and a few coffee odds and ends. A few nights ago I was sitting here looking at Reddit when I realized I had to go relieve myself. I took a swig of my Sanbenedetto Lemon Tea (great stuff), checked the time, and stepped outside.

The center was dead quiet. I walked down to the males’ half of the center, which to be honest, had a bit fewer residents than the females’ section. The ones that did occupy the bunks usually didn’t stay long–either they detoxed and processed right back out, or were able to suppress their psychoses long enough to pass for normalcy. That’s one of the problems with the psychiatry world in my country–it’s much too lenient, and the authorities are much too ignorant or lax to properly deal with the mentally ill. The males were usually either teenagers with behavioral difficulties or men sliding into middle age with a substance abuse problem, mostly alcoholics. I could hear two men conversing in hushed tones as I crept by on my way to the mens’ lav, the conversation fading away at my presence. I pushed open the lavatory door and winced at the bright fluorescent lights overhead.

The lavatories here at the center are large communal affairs, with four toilet stalls, two sinks with mirrors, and a couple of urinals. I went to one of the middle stalls, and took to business. I’m sure you can do without the gory details, so I’ll gloss over it and just tell you that I sat there for a moment before I took out my phone to play a game and distract myself from the noise I was making. After a while I got the feeling I wasn’t alone, and put my phone in my pocket. That’s when I realized there was a pair of naked feet right in front of my stall door. Their owner was standing there, motionless and silent. The toes were long, the arch slender and smooth. A random four of the toenails were painted lime-green.

I hadn’t heard the door open or close. I watched them long enough for me to screw up the fortitude to say, in a softer voice than I had planned, “Occupado.”

At first I surmised that it might have been one of the boys–we got gay kids all the time, and the boys frequently showed up with painted toenails–but a female voice answered me furtively from the other side of the door. The question was fast and soft, almost a whisper. It flickered across my ears like a fleeing roach. “Do you see the glory?”

“What?” I said, sitting straighter. I stood up, cleaning myself and pulling my trousers back on. “Sweetie, you know you can’t be in here. This is the mens’ lavatory. You could get in a lot of trouble.”

The girl murmured something and stepped backward, even as I opened the stall door. I came out, ready to deal with a lost teenager, but there was no one in the room with me. I paused midstep and closed the stall door, and looked all around the lavatory, to and fro, and knelt to scan the space underneath the stall wall. No one was in them.

I stood up and looked at my quizzical expression in the mirror, then washed my hands. As I dried them with a bit of paper, I noticed something on the floor by the exit. I reached down to inspect it and dabbed at a tiny spot with my rubbish. It seeped into the paper, a dull red. Blood. A drop of blood on the floor. I immediately stepped over it and pushed the door open, moving into the dark corridor outside just in time to see a shadow slip across the ceiling at the end of the hallway.

I looked around, trying to locate the loo intruder, but detected no one. As soon as I began to walk, however, I noticed a loss of friction and looked down at my shoes to see what I’d stepped in. There was a sparse trail of dark droplets leading toward the vestibule area. I followed them, trying to keep quiet to avoid waking anyone up.

The vestibule was empty. I looked toward the front door, which appeared to remain locked. The vestibule hallway began with what was basically a heavy wall of glass looking out onto the courtyard, with a simple glass double door in the middle of it. From the lobby you could see most of the landscaping in the garden out front, as well as the middle half of the parking lot and the two-meter brick edifice across the street. The center is well within the city limits, so it is accessible by a primary road, but it’s a few roads away from the commercial bit and main street, so at this hour there’s hardly any traffic at all other than people closing up late at the various dentistry and law practices on our street.

I looked to my right and in the light from the street outside I could see a single droplet on the tile leading toward the female area. Taking out my small Maglight barrel torch, I crept toward and around the corner. A thin dribble of blood led all the way down the hallway, toward B Hall Female and the nurse station. Something occurred to me and I charged toward the intersection, preparing to demand from the nurse on duty why she hadn’t said anything to the resident. A soft scuffling sound emanated from somewhere down there as I approached, and as I came into the light pouring out of the nurse station, I heard a door slam somewhere on B Hall.

There was a nurse sitting in the station as I stormed up, reading a magazine and drinking a cup of coffee inside the large, windowed cubicle. She looked like a newspaper vendor in a kiosk.

“Why didn’t you say anything to the resident that just came through here?” I said. She jumped as if I’d shot at her. “You scared the piss out of me,” she said in fluent Lithuanian, then spoke English. “What resident?”

I led her out of the cubicle and showed her the blood. “This one!” I said, then pointed down the hallway. “I think someone got out of their cell.”

“There’s only one person down there,” said the nurse. “You-Know-Who.”

Fuck. “Well, that’s just great,” I replied, and took off down the cell, and opened the little peephole. A few droplets of blood marred the tile at my feet, pressed into muddy whorls by tiny feet.

There was no one inside the cell. A shock of adrenaline coursed through my system and I tried to snatch the door open, but it was locked tight. I took out my keyring, attached to my belt with a string reel, and unlocked it, then threw it open and peered into the darkness beyond. I pointed my torch in and was assaulted–not by anything alive, but by a smell. The strong coppery stench of blood, mixed with an unmistakable musk.

I stepped inside, the nurse directly behind me, her silhouette cowering in anticipation. “Sweets, are you in here? Where are you?” I said softly, peering around the room. My torch illuminated a ghastly sight: the cell’s occupant had used her menstrual blood to paint graffiti all over the walls. Numbers, nonsense phrases and words, stick figures. I guess she didn’t have any shit today.

I heard a sound and jerked the torch in that direction; huddling in the corner, her arms wrapped about her knees and rocking back and forth, was the resident. She was smeared with blood from head to toe, loops and stripes, like some kind of disgusting warpaint. The Worst Mohican. I resigned myself to washing the cell out the next day as soon as we could get enough staff to relocate the occupant.

The nurse gasped, but it took me a few extra seconds to look at her. In the pale backwash from the torchlight, I saw that she was hugging herself, staring upwards like a pious figure in some ancient religious fresco. I followed her gaze with the Maglight and aimed it at the ceiling, and felt another thrill of adrenaline.

Since the psych center is in such an old building, the ceilings are quite high, almost three meters up; anytime one of us needs to change a lightbulb we have to go fetch the ladder from the maintenance closet out in the garden. But it seemed that whoever painted the cryptic masterpiece overhead had no need of such a tool.

A large symbol, easily four feet across, had been drawn in blood on the plaster. It looked vaguely like a sort of Masonic symbol. It was a simple curving line–a giant C–and drawn inside of it, the upper arms reaching out the back and the angle jabbing into the mouth of the C, was a V.


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