Astyages's Weblog

September 27, 2011

Hell Hospital, Episode 18

Filed under: Hell Hospital 18 — astyages @ 12:41 am
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HELL HOSPITAL

By Theseustoo

Episode 18

Loreen, there’s something evil in the hospital… it’s possessing Catherine right now and if its hold isn’t broken soon it’ll possess her permanently… You must get her away from there; she needs to be in familiar surroundings… Maybe her own things might somehow get through to her; at the very least it might give her the moral support she needs to fight her demon…” St Helvi was insistent; she’d had a word with the Boss and he’d spoken to the Fates who’d agreed to put Paula’s fate into a ‘holding pattern’ for the time-being; so now she must drop all her other duties and pay particular attention to Catherine…

But what about her baby” Loreen had asked… “Baby?” the saint inquired “Oh… that baby… Better keep your eyes on that baby too; it must be exorcised as soon as possible.”

***** ******* *****

We have no record of a baby…” the receptionist told Loreen innocently, “Are you sure you have the right name? Or the right hospital?” Loreen realised she would have to find the missing baby herself; the logical place to look first was Catherine’s home so, taking his home address from his ‘clock-card’, which was still in the ‘on duty’ rack, now all she had to do was break Catherine out of the psych ward and take her home. This turned out to be easier than she thought it would be; borrowing a white coat from the laundry, with her hair tied back in a severe bun, wearing her reading glasses and with her staff id pinned to her lapel, she now looked so much like a doctor that no-one gave her id more than a cursory glance from a distance. No-one looked closely enough to read the bit that said ‘cleaner’. Whenever anyone checked her id she just said, “I’m just escorting one of our patients to a medical appointment at another hospital; there’s a new treatment they want to try with this case… The receptionist looked up at her briefly, nodded disinterestedly and said, “Okay, but don’t forget to do the bookwork on her… otherwise you know who they’ll blame!” “No worries… paperwork’s all taken care of…” Loreen lied, quickly whisking Catherine out of the ward and into a waiting taxi as the receptionist returned to her telephone conversation; a taxi which had, in fact, been waiting for another patient entirely, but which, Loreen generously informed the driver, “…would do anyway…”

***** ******* *****

Big Merv had opened well for the nurses’ eleven, with half a century clearly in sight when he was sadly dismissed for 46 by a stunning ‘yorker’ from Algernon, which exploded his wicket. The next couple of nurses were quickly bowled and/or caught and at one stage there, the nurses eleven were nine for a hundred and thirty… Hung One on put up a magnificent show as tenth man, however, finally declaring at 150, while Paula put up a respectable show as ‘eleventh man’ with thirty runs, leaving a total of 310 runs for the Swan kids to beat. The nurses were quietly confident that they had left their opposition an impossible task.

When the two smallest little-uns opened the batting, Merv made the mistake of thinking them far too cute to be able to do much damage and so sent down a couple of easy overs… the little-‘uns smashed most of them easily for six, or occasionally for four; having only little legs, they disdained running, because they were quite disadvantaged in this respect; so they sought runs from a standing position, deliberately courting danger, but smashing balls through any and every gap in the field. Funston played a particularly strong opening bat, but not before a slight altercation with the referee, who had initially given him out for a duck, leg before wicket… but somehow was persuaded to change his verdict after Funston gave him the ‘fluence-eye’ and explained quietly, “Listen, this crowd have come here to see me bat; not to see him bowl…” The next thing the ref knew, he was listening to his own voice as if from the bottom of a well, saying, “Not out!”

John liked to make sure all the little-uns had a go at the bat, and they were all fierce risk-takers, but they could usually manage to do enough damage to the opposition to leave relatively little to do for the bowling partnerships of Algernon and Vivienne and John and Mary. When Algernon went to bat with only twenty runs to make, John and Mary knew they wouldn’t get a bat this game and started to prepare the sandwiches, looking forward to an early tea; a few minutes later Algae was borne in triumphantly on the shoulders of the rest of the team, until they suddenly and unceremoniously dropped him in favour of Mary and Vivienne’s sandwiches.

***** ******* *****

The novelty of having her own zombie-slave to do her bidding wore off faster than Elaine thought it would… corpses rarely make good conversation and even as servants they are less than enthusiastic; besides which, after a couple of days Swannee began to smell so she kept him in a chest-freezer until she began to worry about the health implications for the food that was stored alongside Swannee’s undead remains. Eventually she moved him back to the morgue, thinking it the only proper place for a corpse… outside the grave anyway. Here at least she would be able to keep him on ice and minimise the smell without risking her own health; and providing she timed it right, here would be the most convenient place for the next ritual…

***** ******* *****

The tiny part of her mind that was still Catherine had been warned by the gentler of the two voices in her head to be ready for the opportunity to escape, and though she still lacked any volition of her own, she put up no resistance as Loreen walked her out to the taxi and sat with her in the back of the cab while the driver took them to Catherine’s home address. Loreen had expected the house to be full of kids, but when they arrived they discovered the place was empty. However, Loreen found a window open round the back of the house and climbed in through it to let in her zombie-like friend. Where was everyone, Loreen wondered; it was Saturday afternnon; the kids should at least be at home… but the house seemed deserted.

***** ******* *****

 

September 10, 2011

Hell Hospital: Episode 17

Filed under: Hell Hospital 17 — astyages @ 4:56 pm
Tags: ,

HELL HOSPITAL

By Theseustoo

 

(Simulated group of children; probably on their way to bed, or having just been given ‘out’ at cricket).

Episode 17

By the time the Reverend Petros Batty met Dr Frood at the hospital, the baby was still nowhere to be found. The nursing staff, following Nurse Paula’s suggestion, had decided that, for the sake of ‘keeping the record straight’ at the same time as avoiding the embarrassment the hospital’s board-members would inevitably suffer should the media ever get hold of the story about the missing baby, had decided it would be best to lose all records of the baby too; if anyone asked they could then simply say, “Sorry, we have no record of any such baby!” Such an answer would even, they assured each other, stand up to polygraph examination.

Fortunately, it was not the baby which the Reverend had come to see… and it was only Dr Frood who suffered any embarrassment as he explained to the Reverend the unusual circumstances of its birth and its recent disappearance, as they walked down the long corridor to the psychiatric wing.

So… you say the mother was always placid and docile when feeding the baby?” he said, wanting to be quite sure of his facts… “Interesting… Tell me, did any of the other hospital staff suffer any of these psychic attacks?”

No…” Dr Frood replied, somehow even more embarrassed that he appeared to be the only victim of Catherine’s telekinetic attacks. He began to wonder if the demented woman could be harbouring some unknown grudge against him…

Almost as if he was reading the doctor’s mind, the Reverend said, “Don’t worry; and don’t take it personally: in cases such as this, victims of possession often seem to reserve their attacks for what they regard as ‘authority figures’; anyone who tries to control their behaviour being seen as opposed to the chaotic reality the demon wants to create, you see… just as God and ‘Order’ is opposed to the Devil and the chaos he’d like to bring into the world…”

I see,” the doctor replied, just as they entered the ward, “But doesn’t that mean that you’re likely to be attacked too?” But the priest was unable to answer him, as a stainless steel bedpan struck him with considerable force on the temple, spilling its noisome contents all over him and rendering him immediately unconscious. Dr Frood quickly ducked a number of other flying objects and, grabbing the priest underneath his armpits, swiftly dragged him backwards out of the ward.

***** ******* *****

At first, Warrigal had felt slightly out of place in Swannee and Catherine’s bedrooom, but it was the only logical place for him to stay; all the other bedrooms in the house being full of several children, but as he only had to sleep in it, he soon got used to the idea; after all, as the cricket team’s new ‘legal’ guardian, he was obliged to live with them in order to properly take care of them. John and Mary and Algernon and Vivienne had done a remarkable job, he thought, of taking care of their younger siblings in the absence of their parents, but as Vivienne had explained, “It’s not so difficult really; I mean, we’re used to helping Mum with chores and stuff already… and we pretty well know what needs to be done…”

Yeah,” John interjected at this point, “it’s really just a matter of sticking to the routine… Well… except for me and Mary having to give up school to go to work…”

Yeah,” Mary said, taking up John’s line of thought as easily as she might catch a mis-hit ball in the slips, “… the only real problem is that we were hoping to get into the University of South Oz on a cricketing scholarship next year, but that depends on me and John passing the end of year exams… But we’ve missed an awful lot of school now… though we have managed to keep up our cricketing practise, even through the off-season…”

Season starts next week…” one of the little-uns piped up, with some concern evident in his voice.

Don’t worry mate,” said John, “I’ve already enrolled us all in the Church’s Cricket League…” then, in an aside to Warrigal, he said, “The school’s run by the Church, you see, and they depend on us, ’cause we’re the parish’s ‘A’ team… This year we won’t even have to find an eleventh member, ’cause the bub can be our eleventh man…” To the rest of the team, he added, “He’ll make a good wicket-keeper for a start, I reckon, until we can find out whether he’s better at batting or bowling… though until he can walk, we’ll have to use a stand-in ‘runner’ for him, under the ‘disability inclusion’ rules… Still, that should be a ton of fun! One of the little-uns can push the stroller between the wickets…”

Ton of fun! Fun’s ton…” Mary hummed to herself… then to the rest of the family she said, “That should be his name, I reckon… ‘Funston’… We gotta call him something, after all… ‘Can’t just keep calling him ‘the bub’… he’ll resent it later on, if we do… develop a complex or something…”

The team all nodded, automatically in sympathetic agreement, commenting variously, “Yep!”, “’Sright!” and “Good name!” As both a family and a team there was rarely, if ever, any dispute or argument amongst them; they all tended to agree, intuitively working in harmony for the sake of the ‘greater good’; for the sake of the ‘Game’… Warrigal had found it fascinating to watch such smooth cooperation among them; thinking they could probably teach a lot of adults how to behave… He could see now why both the school and the Church should come to depend on such a team; as an example of solidarity and team-work they were second to none…

So!” Warrigal said, “First of all, John and Mary, you needn’t worry about the schooling you’ve missed; I’ll talk to your teachers and find out what lessons you’ve missed and tutor you personally ’til you’ve caught up; you’re both very bright and work so well it won’t take long at all… So you’ll still get to uni, okay?” The children nodded eagerly, simultaneously saying, “Thanks Wazza!” using the nickname they’d instinctively given their new carer, as the rest of the team cheered. “Now, down to more serious matters… When’s the first match of the season? When will little Funston get his first game?”

Next Sad’dee!” the little-uns all chimed.

So…” said Warrigal, “That gives us all a week to practice and get him ready! John and Algae, get the gear… stumps, balls, bats and pads; I reckon it’s time to hit the oval for a bit of a knock-about… ”

Yaaaaaaay!” The little-uns yelled joyfully as they scrambled to change into their cricketing clothes, feeling better than they had felt for several months, while the older boys fetched the equipment and the older girls prepared a small mountain of sandwiches and several large flasks of tea.

***** ******* *****

This is Warrigal Mirriyuula…” John said to the priest who organised the Parish Cricket League, by way of an introduction, “He’s our new carer…” Father O’Blivion shook Warrigal’s hand warmly as he replied, “Most pleased to meet you, Warrigal… May I call you Warrigal? Such an awful business about Mr and Mrs Swan…” Warrigal merely nodded, no wanting to say too much about this in front of the kids, who still expected to be reunited with their parents at some stage in the unspecified future… Then to the children, the priest said, “Your first game of the season is against the St Helvi’s Hospital Nurses team… I’m looking forward to a repeat of last year’s victory! Now, there’s someone I want you all to meet…” He looked around the oval until he saw another tall figure wearing a black cassock, “Father Batty!” He called, “Could you come here a moment, please…?” As the other priest joined the group, Father O’Blivion said, “This is Father Petros Batty… he’s come all the way from Rome to join our parish; he’s my new verger and he’s also volunteered to be our umpire this year…” As the children all dutifully shook hands with him, Father O’Blivion continued, “He’s our ‘Holy Roman Umpire’…”

***** ******* *****

July 18, 2011

Hell Hospital, Episode 16

Filed under: Hell Hospital 16 — astyages @ 11:32 pm

HELL HOSPITAL

Episode 16

By theseustoo

(Disclaimer: this series of stories is completely fictional and none of the persons, places or institutions in these stories are real, but figments of my imagination. Any similarity to any real person, place or institution is entirely coincidental.)

“I sometimes think I’m not real, doc…” Dave was saying, as Dr Frood listened sympathetically, “…as if, well… I act… I sorta do things but it’s all empty… meaningless… not really anything to do with anything I want to do… not my own motivation… I kinda feel sometimes like I’m a character in a novel… Or a cartoon, more like… It doesn’t really matter what I do ’cause it’s all decided in advance by someone else anyway…”

“Decided by whom, do you think?” Dr Frood asked, intrigued by this line of thinking.

“I suppose by whoever it is that’s writing the story…” Dave had not really thought this far before; he was in the act of discovering these strange, hitherto indescribable feelings himself; Frood, as a professional psychologist, was proving to be an excellent sounding board to amplify hitherto nebulous feelings to such an extent that they began to take on discernible outlines… His gently probing questions began to fill the outlines with color… There was that cartoon reference again, he thought…

“You mean, ‘God’?”

“No…” Dave drawled thoughtfully, “Not ‘God’… It doesn’t have the same feel as ‘predestination’; with that you still have to think; to make choices and it seems as though you yourself are achieving your ‘destiny’… But this just feels somehow two-dimensional… empty… It’s like I’m just going through the motions… motions of actions… and even thoughts and conversations, which are all… empty! Which have all been somehow scripted by someone else… It’s as if most of what constitutes me isn’t really here at all… as if most of me is somewhere else…”

“I see…” Dr Frood said, “So you feel you have no volition of your own at all? Not even when you threatened that doctor?”

“No… I mean, I felt the pain when he twisted my foot, and that was my immediate response, but I’m not really a violent person, Doc… I’d never have acted on the threat; can’t think why I made it… It’s as if that sequence of events, like everything else in my life, had been scripted by someone else; someone who doesn’t really know me very well, either!”

“Hmmm, very interesting… But we’ll have to continue next week; time’s up for this session. I think we’re making progress though… your violent inclinations seem to stem from a sense of absolute powerlessness, which you express as these ‘cartoon-like’ feelings… But where does this sense of powerlessness come from? That is the question we must ask ourselves! You can think about that until next week’s session… ‘Bye for now…”

“’Bye Doc… and thanks…”

Dave was surprised at how easily he’d been drawn into cooperating completely with his treatment… Although he’d more or less decided to ‘go along’ with the doctors and ‘play their game’ so he could get out of here as quickly as possible, he found himself actually fascinated by what his treatment was revealing about certain aspects of his personality he’d never thought about before. Even his choice to acquiesce to his treatment was itself ’empty’, he thought. Powerlessness? Yes… he felt powerless… Somehow he needed to discover just who or possibly what was the ‘Author’. And what was the plot? Or did he really want to know the plot? Perhaps it was better not to know… Would such knowledge be of any use anyway? Would there be any way he could influence the Author’s ‘writing’ even if he knew who it was? But then, he just couldn’t stand not knowing… Yes, he thought as he walked back to the ward, he had much to ponder.

***** ******* *****

Catherine’s hysterical outburst brought nurses running. Immediately realising that the baby was missing, and spotting the open french windows, they automatically assumed the dingo must have taken the baby out through them and gave chase immediately. On the way they bumped into Nurse Paula, who was quick to hide her cigarette behind her back as, fearful for her job, she improvised hastily, “Yes! I saw it! It went thataway!” As she hoped, the rescue party also automatically assumed that Paula was part of the posse which had been stirred into action by Catherine’s distressed yells and so just continued running in the direction Paula had pointed.

As the nurses chased their imaginary dingoes out through the french windows, doctors also arrived; one of the latter prepared a syringe with a strong sedative and within a few seconds Catherine was unconscious. Later, when she regained what in her had passed for ‘consciousness’ for the past few months, she was once more her ‘normal’ zombie-like self, almost totally lacking any emotional responses, her mind now once again totally withdrawn into itself.

***** ******* *****

When Mirriyuula introduced himself and their baby sibling to the cricket team as their new, Youth and Family Services-appointed guardian, explaining that he had come to take care of them all and that he had also brought their baby sibling to them too, because the hospital could no longer care for the baby, which in any case, needed to be with its family, they saw nothing the least bit questionable about his story except perhaps for why it had taken YaFS so long to decide what to do.

They were, however, a bit more sceptical when he tried to suggest that the baby was in danger, and indeed, that meant they were all in danger and that he needed to move them and the baby to a place of safety forthwith. Vivienne, always the sceptic, even when completely missing the point, did not entirely trust the sharp-faced stranger, however, in spite of his almost constant smile. “How do we even know it’s really our baby though? I mean, how do we know you brought the right bub?” she demanded. “Yeah! ‘Sright!” some of the younger ones immediately chorused, “how do we know it’s ours?!” Before Mirriyuula could even begin to formulate an answer, however, John interrupted, “That’s easy!” he exclaimed, and, taking the cricket ball out of the blazer pocket it habitually lived in, he aimed the leather-bound missile straight at the infant’s head.

The Dog-Spirit gasped in fear as the missile sped towards the baby’s head, but at the very last instant the baby’s tiny arms both shot up and caught the ball firmly as it gurgled enthusiastically, “Owza’?!”

“Well then,” said John with finality, “there’s no doubt about it now! It’s ours alright!” Turning to Mirriyuula, he said, “Okay Mr… where do you want to take us?” 

***** ******* *****

June 10, 2011

Hell Hospital, Episode 15

Filed under: Hell Hospital 15,Uncategorized — astyages @ 4:55 am

HELL HOSPITAL

Episode 15

By theseustoo

(Disclaimer: this series of stories is completely fictional and none of the persons, places or institutions in these stories are real, but figments of my imagination. Any similarity to any real person, place or institution is entirely coincidental.)

Doctor Frood had never seen anything like it before in his life. Every time he tried to speak to Catherine, he was not only verbally attacked by his patient, but physically attacked by plastic drink and pee-bottles, bed-pans and other equipment in the ward which seemed, of their own accord, to actually fly at him from all directions so that he was obliged to make a strategic withdrawal, exiting the ward with much less dignity than a psychiatrist should maintain if he wanted to retain credibility. It could only be some form of psychokinesis, he supposed, and quickly came to the conclusion that whatever it was that was in control of this woman, it was not herself; and it had extraordinary powers.

Of course, he’d heard of such cases, but they were extremely rare and the medical profession had no way of treating what he suspected was a genuine case of demon-possession or possession by some other spirit, whose purposes were unknown, but whose intentions could only be evil, he decided. He realised he was out of his depth; he really needed help from the professionals in the possession business; the Catholic Church. So he had sent an urgent email to the Vatican, who sent out a troubleshooter in the form of a papal nuncio, whose instructions were to deal with whatever it was that was possessing Catherine Swan.

***** ******* *****

The most Reverend Bishop, Petros Batty, read through his check-list to make sure that he hadn’t forgotten anything important: plenty of crucifixes, check; at least a gallon of holy water he’d had blessed by the Pope himself, check; prayer book and bible (and at least two spares of each… just in case…) check; and a dozen wooden stakes, sharpened to a point at one end, check; a wooden mallet to hammer them home, should they prove necessary, check; and finally a Colt .45 revolver with a box of hollow-point, silver bullets, hand-made by the Sisters of Mercy, and again, specially blessed by the Pope himself, check. ‘It pays,’ he thought as he packed this last, ‘to be prepared for every eventuality’.

His flight was not on any scheduled aircraft, but in the Pope’s own Lear jet. Even so it would be three whole days before he would arrive in South Oz. As he climbed into the Pope’s own limousine, to be driven to the Pope’s own private airfield, he only hoped he would be in time… The souls of mortals could not withstand such forms of spiritual attack for long, he well knew, but he was thankful that from the reports he’d been given by Dr Frood, the subject had been a most devout believer right up until the moment of her psychic and spiritual invasion. With a little luck, he thought, that should buy him the time he would need for his journey and preparations. Even so, he prayed fervently for the protection of the saints and angels for his new client; from Dr Frood’s description this would not be an easy case.

***** ******* *****

The Dog-Spirit, Mirriyuula, sensed trouble in the world of humans; there was a baby in mortal and spiritual danger, and he knew he would have to remove it from where it was currently to a place of safety. Perhaps the best thing to do, he thought, would be to take it to its brothers and sisters so that they could look after it. But then, he thought, I’ll have to take them ALL to a safe place… and somehow do it without letting them know that they were in any danger at all, and especially without them finding out exactly what was the nature of that danger; he didn’t want to worry them, because he know all too well that in cases like this one, where the Dark One was concerned, fear itself could destroy them. Fortunately it should, he thought, be a relatively easy matter for him to remove the baby from the hospital’s nursery, as, in his ‘dog’ form, he was totally invisible to all but the most psychically gifted humans.

***** ******* *****

Though still in her alienated state, Catherine always seemed to enjoy her baby’s feeding times; these were the only times the doctors and nurses would ever let her see her child because they were all terrified she might harm it. Strangely enough, however, it seemed that the presence of the baby had a calming effect on the raving madwoman; and a blank but peaceful expression spread over her face as she breast-fed the infant.

Satisfied that her charge was comfortable and the baby was feeding happily and greedily, Nurse Paula thought she could easily duck out through the French windows to have a quick smoke; she’d be back before Catherine had finished feeding the bub, she thought… She did not see the invisible spirit of the ghost-dog as it brushed past her legs through the opened french windows and into the day-room.

The baby was extremely hungry today, for some reason, however, and had drained Catherine’s breasts in half the time it usually took. In her zombie-like state of somnolence, Catherine burped the child and put it down in the bassinet-trolley the nurses always used to bring the baby to her, so she could prepare a nappy for it. The doctors and nurses had initially been very surprised that she was able to do this in her alienated condition, but decided that her maternal functions were working perfectly, out of sheer instinct; after all, it was her eleventh child… now they took it for granted that she would feed the baby and change its nappy as if on some kind of maternal ‘auto-pilot’.

Taking advantage of Catherine’s turned back, Mirriyuula took the handle of the bassinet-trolley in his jaws and pushed it out through the ward’s swing-doors; as a spirit, Mirriyuula could sense that the corridor would be empty; and that he would be able to take it down in a service elevator to the ground floor and straight out into the car-park, where he would have to resume human form to be able to drive the vehicle he’d left there ready… But Catherine turned round again just in time to see a tawny, dog-like creature pushing the bassinet-trolley with her baby in it out through the swing-doors. Suddenly she spoke her first coherent sentence in months as she screamed out at the top of her lungs, “Help! Help! A dingo’s got my baby!”

***** ******* *****

May 5, 2011

HELL HOSPITAL 14

Filed under: Hell Hospital 14 — astyages @ 11:57 am

Episode 14

By theseustoo

The cricket team was doing
alright; with John and Mary working and Algernon and Vivienne in
charge of the ‘little-uns’ to make sure they all got to school fed
and properly dressed; although they had little enough time for
cricket these days… Fortunately it was off-season anyway; though
they still tried to get in as much practice as they could over the
weekends. Ever since they were born, cricket had been their religion;
their father’s passion had managed to inculcate his obsession into
his children.

For the time being at least
they had managed to avert impending doom and manage this crisis as
well as could be expected; indeed, much better than most expected;
thanks to the sense of discipline their father’s religion had
instilled in them. Swannee had been hoping to engage them against
similar ‘family’ teams in ‘exhibition matches’… Algernon was a
terrific fast-bowler and Merv, the third-eldest boy could hit almost
any delivery for six. Unafraid even of the dreaded ‘googlie’, he’d
stand his ground and then, ‘THWACK’ the next thing you know the ball
would be somewhere up in the grandstand, or crashing through a
pavilion window… When asked how he managed to hit so many ‘sixes’
he just said, “I hate running…”

The plans their father had,
however, were now on hold; in any case, they would need to get their
new sibling out of hospital (they still didn’t even know whether it
was a boy or a girl!) so they could bring it home and start its early
training; John and Mary worried that it had already been three months
since their mother’s ‘nervous breakdown’ and the poor bub hadn’t even
held a cricket ball yet! Indeed, hadn’t even met its mother or its
father… or its brothers and sisters; the poor thing was in danger
of growing up an atheist! Something would clearly have to be done
soon.

***** ******** *****

“Inspector Vin Ordinaire
Rouge was right,” Mr Jones, who called himself ‘Foodge’, was
saying, “Catherine Swan could not possibly have killed her beloved
husband, Swannee, because she loved him too much and in any case, her
religion forbids it; and she is very devout… We suspect that she
has been ‘body-snatched’ by some unknown alien force; probably from a
different dimension…” Even though the day-room was empty apart
from himself and Dave, the new psych patient, he spoke in hushed
tones.

“Bodysnatched?” Dave
said, incredulously, “You mean someone’s taken over her mind…?”
Foodge shushed him insistently, then answered in a whisper, “Well…
more like ‘someTHING’ has taken over her body and is controlling it;
no saying exactly what that thing is; or what has happened to her
mind; the shrinks here don’t even know what they’re looking for.
That’s why I’m here… If we can get through to Catherine’s mind we
may get vital information on the nature of the threat… We’re hoping
it’s still in there somewhere…”

“Threat…? What threat?”
Dave asked immediately.

“Well, if I knew that
precisely I wouldn’t be here now, would I? All we do know is that it
involves the intrusion into our dimension of hyper-dimensional beings
who really don’t belong in this time-space continuum… and they’re
collecting together certain people for some unknown purpose… and
you’re one of them…”

“Oh… right…” Said
Dave, dubiously… Sure now that this guy was not playing with a full
deck. “And you reckon this hyper-dimensional being wants me too, do
you? But why?”

“Well, if we knew why,
we’d know a lot more than we do today, I’m afraid; however, suffice
it to say that certain transmissions from the
nth
dimension have been received which suggest that a plot is afoot which
puts the whole of South Oz in danger… though, we’re not quite sure
what kind of danger that is yet…”

Dave was just giving him
his ‘quizzical’ look when the nurse arrived and, catching the
tail-end of the conversation, decided it had better end at once;
fantasies like those entertained by Mr Jones were not to be discussed
outside therapy sessions; and certainly not in front of potentially
violent patients… it was too easy to get them to act out even the
most bizarre dreams as if they were real; and that could be
dangerous.

“Mr Jones!” the nurse
said, “It’s time for your medication; report to the ward-sister
immediately.”

Then, after he’d gone, she
squatted down in front of Dave, who was sitting in one of the
day-room’s armchairs, “You don’t want to take any notice of
anything that guy says,” she said to him, “He’s nuttier than a
snickers bar! Now, you’d better go and get your meds too…”

***** ******** *****

When Catherine had
discovered her husband in
flagrante
delicto
it
had been such a shock to her psyche; had opened up such alien
feelings in her that her own mind felt violated at the impulses she
now felt; and these feelings it was which had opened up the psychic
crack that was necessary for the Dark One to quickly slip in and take
control. From that instant Catherine’s mind had withdrawn into
itself; thus whatever she experienced was experienced as a dream;
disjointed snippets of actions that were so unlike her and so
horrific that she found hard to understand, let alone to believe that
it was she who was performing them. The Dark One had been thrilled
with the discovery in Catherine’s mind of such superb knife-throwing
skills, and had immediately prompted his newly-acquired body to act
on the intense feelings of hatred and betrayal which had let him in,
and let fly… Catherine’s mind retreated further into
unconsciousness as the knives sank into Swannee’s back.

After she’d been taken to
the psych ward, however, the Dark One had been so busy manipulating
Elaine’s mind that his grip on Catherine’s mind had loosened just
enough to allow some remnant of Catherine’s consciousness to become
dimly aware, somewhere in its own deep, dark recesses; and in this
dream-like awareness, she found herself being tugged at by another
consciousness. It was not the Dark One, who had bullied her mind into
submission and frightened it into unconsciousness, of that she was
certain. This new presence seemed kind and gentle; it spoke to her
gently, soothingly, reassuring her that all would be well, but that
the time would soon come when she must act to rid herself of the Dark
One’s presence.

“Soon…” the new
presence said and Catherine knew she would be ready.

***** ******** *****

April 10, 2011

Hell Hospital, Episode 13

Filed under: Hell Hospital 13 — astyages @ 5:46 pm
Tags: ,

HELL HOSPITAL

Episode 13

 

 

 

The poster above his bed depicted the star of the movie, ‘Babe’ in one of its happier scenes…

By theseustoo

Dave struggled to free himself from the warm fuzziness which seemed to weigh him down like a leaden blanket… as he gradually emerged into semi-consciousness, he realised that someone was shaking him. “Where am I?” he asked, thoroughly bemused. An unknown voice answered him from underneath a broad-rimmed fedora, “You’re in hospital… Pych ward…”

“What?!” Dave now sat bolt upright, “What he hell am I doing here? I’m not crazy!”

The stranger with the fedora grasped hold of him and, quickly shushing him, laid him back down on his pillow. The attendant nurse, who was sitting at the desk at the other end of the ward, briefly looked up, just as the fedora slipped below the level of Dave’s bed. Satisfied that all was as normal as might reasonably be expected in a psychiatric ward, she returned to her perusal of the new roster she was trying to organise, peeved at having to be the one to do it, and knowing that no matter what she did, just about everyone would be unhappy with the shifts she allocated them.

The fedora emerged from below the bed and, with a finger to his lips, said, “Shhhh! We know you’re not crazy… you’ve been brought here for a reason…”

Now Dave was beginning to think he may be crazy after all… who was this stranger and what did he know about the situation… which Dave was only just beginning to understand anyway; last thing he knew he’d been about to punch out some quack who’d handled his previously shattered and now de-calcified foot too roughly, and then the security guards had grabbed him and then…. Oh, yes… the injection…

He looked up again at the face under the fedora and said, “Yeah… I tried to punch a quack!”

The face underneath the fedora looked puzzled for a moment, and then, still talking inwhispers, said, “No… I mean… well, that may have given them the excuse they needed,but you’d have been brought here anyway…”

This was beginning to sound dafter and dafter, thought Dave, but then he thought to himself, what else should I expect in the psych ward? Then he realised what had been said and felt somehow insulted, “Hey! What do you mean, I’d’a’ been brought here anyway… I told you I’m not nuts; just a bit hot-tempered, is all… Anyway who the hell are you and what do you know about me and why I’m in here? You’re just a patient in here yourself! For all I know, you’re the one that’s nuts!”

“That’d be what they’d want you to think,” said the face under the fedora, still trying to maintain as low a profile as possible, “but don’t you be taken in by it for a second!” Then, offering his hand to Dave to shake, added, “Name’s Foodge… I’m a private dick working under cover on a case for Inspector Vin Ordinaire Rouge; I expect you’ll have heard of her?”

“No…” Dave replied simply, then asked the obvious, “What case?”

But just then the ward’s large, swing doors were pushed aside as the doctor entered the ward to do the rounds, noisily followed by a gaggle of interns and med students learning the trade.

“Can’t talk now…” Foodge whispered urgently,”Later… my bed’s the one with the poster over it…” And with that he turned to try to get back to his bed unnoticed, but it was too late; the nurse, as soon as she’d heard the doctor enter the ward, had done a quick reconnaissance tour of the ward and had just noticed the fedora beside the new patient’s bed. With the impatience of which only nurses whose orders have been disobeyed are capable, she ejaculated, “MISTER JONES! What ARE you doing out of bed? Now get back into it this instant before you get us both into trouble!”

Aha, thought Dave to himself, as he heard the fedora-wearer’s real name… I was right… just another loony! He was even more convinced of this fact when he looked up at the poster above the beds further down the ward into which the fedora’s wearer was now slipping: the poster depicted the star of the movie, ‘Babe’ in one of its happier scenes.  Yep! he thought again, this guy’s definitely one snag short of a barbie…

And with that comforting thought, he set himself to the task of trying to think of what would be the best way to get out of here… Should he just insist on his sanity; surely they would see he was normal? Or would they see that as a sure sign of mental instability, this insistence on normality? Perhaps it would be wiser to play the game for a while and then gradually ‘return’ to normality? It was a most difficult decision to make, but he would have to make his mind up on a strategy soon, as the doctor was now only a couple of beds away from his and he knew with dreadful certainty that the doctor would want to interview this new patient… and that the result of that interview would determine his fate.

***** ******** *****

The Dark One inside Elaine’s mind felt a wave of satisfaction flood its pleasure centers; everything was going according to plan; the coven had two members already and a third was being prepared for recruitment even as more potential recruits were being gathered. When the coven was complete, the Rite could begin… the ritual that would bring the ‘Others’! Until then, the Dark One knew, he must remain unknown and unobserved to the rest of this far-too-pleasant little planet…

***** ******** *****

March 18, 2011

HELL HOSPITAL 12

Filed under: Hell Hospital 12 — astyages @ 12:44 pm

 

HELL HOSPITAL

Episode 12

By theseustoo

When John and Mary Swan had finally decided to phone the hospital to find out about their parents’ protracted absence they had been told, in order to ‘spare their feelings’ that their father had suffered a fatal accident at work and that the shock had been too much for their mother, who was being kept in the psychiatric ward for the time being and the baby was being looked after in the hospital nursery. A social worker was sent to help arrange social security benefits for the children and with this done they were promptly forgotten.

But the bills had begun to arrive and it quickly became clear that social security benefits were not going to be enough to pay them all. John knew that he and Mary would have to find work in order to support the rest of the Cricket Team. The duty of ‘babysitting’ their other siblings devolved on the third and fourth eldest, Algernon and Vivienne, who, as their elder siblings had done before them, immediately rose to the challenge and put away the toys they had been playing with to don a more ‘adult’ persona as they intuitively assumed the mantle of authority whilst John and Mary, children competing for work in an adult world, went out day after day to look for work; their lack of early success was disheartening, but like the troupers they were, they always maintained a brave and cheerful face in front of the other members of the Cricket Team. Eventually they found work stacking supermarket shelves in the evenings at Coals; the pay wasn’t great, but it would pay the rent and bills and leave them just about enough to feed the Cricket team, so, for the time-being, they were satisfied.

***** ******** *****

As for their poor deceased pater, Swannee, as the bible says is true of all the dead, was aware of nothing at all. His recently animated corpse was still a corpse; capable of movement and obedience to simple commands, perhaps, but a corpse nonetheless. Without a mind to give it volition or purpose of its own, it was still very much a dead thing; a zombie. Neither was the zombie’s mistress, Elaine, any more aware of what she was doing than was her zombie creation; her own mind having been supplanted by the will of the Dark One and forced to retreat into subconsciousness; all her actions were now directed by the Dark One, to fulfil purposes only he could understand.

***** ******** *****

Dave returned to the hospital and demanded to see the doctor who had handled his injured and now de-calcified foot so roughly that he had re-fractured the fourth meta-tarsal. The doctor had not been impressed with Dave’s display of temper when he loudly accused the doctor of having broken his foot again. But when Dave had threatened to ‘see how you like having your bones broken!’ whilst advancing menacingly towards him, the doctor instantly shouted for security. The two burly security men who instantly responded, upon seeing Dave yelling at the doctor, immediately assessed the situation, sidled round behind him and, each taking hold of one of his arms, held him securely, in spite of his loud demands that he be ‘unhanded forthwith!’

“He’s raving,” the doctor said, “I believe he’s having some kind of nervous or mental breakdown; I’m going to give him a sedative…” With that he filled a syringe from a small bottle and quickly swabbing the skin of Dave’s upper arm, which the security guard who was still firmly holding it had thoughtfully uncovered, injected the syringe’s contents into Dave’s arm as the latter swooned into unconsciousness.

***** ******** *****

February 25, 2011

Hell Hospital, Episode 11

Filed under: Hell Hospital 11 — astyages @ 8:27 pm

 

Disco hour at Hell Hospital's psych ward...

HELL HOSPITAL

Episode 11

By theseustoo

(Disclaimer: this series of stories is completely fictional and none of the persons, places or institutions in these stories are real, but figments of my own imagination. Any similarity to any real person, place or institution is entirely coincidental.)

Dave had had a particularly wearying eighteen months since his accident; his foot had been crushed and dislocated simultaneously as he was thrown over the handlebars of his motorcycle after a female driver had driven out of a side-street to make a left turn right in front of him; he’d seen her approaching the junction and, as she had looked right at him, Dave had of course assumed that she was going to stop and give way as the law demanded in such a situation. She hadn’t, however, and the result had been just about every bone in Dave’s left foot being shattered. After eighteen months he’d returned for his check-up, expecting to be told he would soon have bone fusion surgery and that this would lessen some of the pain he still felt in the leg, even though he’d begun to walk on it some time ago.

“I remember you…” the doctor said, frowning heavily under his thick-rimmed glasses

“I remember you too!” Dave said. This doctor had seem him once before and had demonstrated such a judgemental attitude towards Dave and his injury that Dave suspected him of working for the insurance company which was dealing with his claim for compensation. At the very least, thought Dave, this guy has the bedside manner of a house-brick; in fact he was sure he’d known friendlier and more compassionate house-bricks.

The doctor made Dave take off his shoes and socks and, after looking at the X-rays Dave had just had done, took the latter’s left foot in his hands; taking one end of his foot in one hand and the other end in the other hand, the doctor then suddenly twisted both ends of the foot in opposite directions; “Aaargh!” Dave yelled instantly as he felt something go ‘click’ painfully in his left foot. Another wrench of the foot upwards towards the kneecap brought another yell of pain from the patient, who was beginning to wonder what he’d ever done to the doctor to deserve such treatment.

“That’s bad…” the doctor was saying, “Your ankle is still very stiff; and the x-rays show that your bones have all decalcified; your foot now has osteoporosis as a result of protracted disuse; there’s too little calcium in your bones for the bone fusion surgery to work, so you’ll need to walk on it as much as you can for the next six months… Then come back and we’ll see if there’s enough calcium in it for the bone fusion operation… The good news is that if you walk on it enough for the next six months you may not need the bone fusion…”

Dave had patiently ignored the violent urges he felt towards this doctor and even more patiently made another appointment for six months later; it had been six months since his last appointment; one thing Dave was sure of was that he was not suffering from ‘over-servicing’. He made a mental note of his determination that if he had to see the same doctor on his next visit, that he would ask for another doctor; he had been assured that none of the hospital’s doctors ‘worked for the insurance companies’, but who, he asked himself, could one possibly believe in this wonderful 21st century? And this quack seems downright hostile!

His determination was redoubled when a visit to his own GP confirmed a suspected fractured fourth meta-tarsal; and his GP’s method of examining the foot for flexibility was not only much gentler, but, it seemed to Dave, also produced greater flexibility in the whole foot.

***** ******** *****

“Well,” Doctor Frood was saying, “Vat does zis ‘saint’ of yours look like, then…?”

“Well, she’s kinda tall and slim… blonde and speaks with a slightly Scandinavian accent.

“So you actually do see her, then; she’s not just a voice inside your head?”

“Oh yes, Doctor… I see her as plainly as I see you sitting here in front of me!”

“Most unusual…” the psychiatrist said, suddenly standing up and agitatedly starting to pace the room; he stopped in front of the window, staring out of it into space, as he continued, “… few schizophrenia patients actually see visions; the voices remain internal to their heads, but clearly, you understand that this cannot be real? It must be some kind of hallucination! People just don’t appear and disappear like that!”

He turned round only to discover with astonishment that Loreen had somehow disappeared. She couldn’t have left by the normal route; his secretary was trained to try to stop and question anyone who left an interview early and he’d have heard; besides, when he asked her if his patient had left, his secretary had just said, “Patient?” as if she hardly knew what such at thing was. Nervously he reached into his drawer, took out a small pill-bottle and poured himself out a generous handful of ‘little yellow helpers’; then he withdrew a silver flask from a hip pocket and washed his pills down with a good strong slug of brandy…

It wasn’t possible, was it? That he could be imagining patients? Patients who talked about seeing saints? Was this, he began to wonder, some kind of guilt manifestation from his own rejection of religion at an early age? Perhaps, he thought, I need to see a psychiatrist!

***** ******** *****

February 16, 2011

Hell Hospital 9

Filed under: Hell Hospital 9 — astyages @ 12:19 am

HELL HOSPITAL

Episode 9

By theseustoo

(For some strange reason which I have yet to fathom, episode #9 of my serial, “Hell Hospital” appears to have disappeared, so I am re-posting it here; regular readers may expect episode 10 within the next few days with any luck!)

Though still entranced, Elaine performed the ritual flawlessly…

(My apologies for appearing to post this episode of Hell’s Hospital repeatedly; I’m doing so because it seems to keep disappearing from my blog. I can only imagine that someone with more computer skills than courage has taken it upon him or herself to high-handedly censor my work, without even deigning to leave me any notification as to why. As I intend, should this episode disappear again, to continue posting it again and again, if necessary, until the mystery censor either gives up or dies of old age (or at least informs me of their reason for such dictatorial actions and with what legal right and/or powers s/he does so).  I I hope my readers will therefore interpret each and every repetition of this episode as a protest claiming the right to freedom of speech, and that, along with me, you will celebrate each and every repetition as a ‘digitus impudicus’ defiantly raised in the face of gutless anonymous pratts!)

The evil presence once more exuded itself into Elaine’s consciousness; it had done so with increasing frequency lately, especially when, as now, her assistants were on their lunch break. This time it stayed long enough to allow itself to be noticed by Elaine’s conscious mind. Elaine felt a certain amount of fear, mingled with anticipation as the dark presence communicated directly with her mind.

When Swannee’s corpse arrived at the morgue Elaine immediately recognized that this was the trouble the cards had warned her about, but the presence in her mind had lulled her into such a feeling of warmth and security that she could only allow herself to lay back and drift in the feeling as if in a cocoon; a strange awareness gradually grew in her entranced consciousness and she realized that she knew now what she must do; the presence had dictated the ritual to her entranced mind and, still entranced, she performed it flawlessly, uttering the incantation in an unknown, alien and ancient tongue as if it were the one she had been speaking all her life…

***** ******* *****

When Catherine didn’t return home for several days, it did not surprise her eldest boy, John; he’d been through the routine several times before and knew she would probably be kept in hospital for a few days at least, to enable her to rest and recover a little before returning home. Good boy and dutiful son that he was, he took over looking after his younger siblings like a real trooper; fortunately his eldest sister, Vivienne; little more than a year his junior; was quite a capable cook and helped him to organize the cricket team into squads to do the housework and shopping, which they fitted in around their normal school schedule.

Not knowing how to tell Catherine’s children about what had happened to their parents at the hospital, no-one really tried; everyone excusing themselves by thinking, someone else is bound to, anyway: The police thought that, as the incident happened on hospital premises and involved a hospital worker, the hospital would of course notify the victim’s family; they thought too, that perhaps in this instance discretion allowed them to waive this onerous duty, although it was normally theirs; but the hospital would surely want to inform the family themselves and, the chief inspector told himself, charitably, they surely had that right. The hospital, of course, thought the police would notify the family of the perpetrator and victims a crime as they usually do and so quickly relieved themselves of the burdensome task in a similar manner. When weeks passed and neither parent came home, though worried, John and Vivienne nevertheless carried on as if nothing untoward had happened, not wanting to upset the other children, especially the ‘littlies’.

Catherine was taken immediately to the psychiatric wing’s secure ward, where she was put into a padded cell and sat alternately thumbing a rosary and praying for her deceased husband’s forgiveness and babbling incoherently about a cricket team while she awaited psychiatric evaluation. After some time under observation it was evident that she was hallucinating; it was evidently some kind of religious delusion and Catherine appeared to be receiving instruction from two sources; one whom she referred to simply as ‘the Dark One’, and another whom she called, St Helvi… The psychiatrist recognized the name of the hospital’s patron, of course, but it was far too early to understand the significance of this name to his obviously delusional and manifestly psychotic patient. The police had ordered her to be kept in a secure ward and under constant 24-hour surveillance, but although the manner in which she had killed her husband had been dramatic, the psychiatrist thought the police’s instructions a little unnecessary; women who kill their husbands in a fit of jealous rage rarely commit further murders, but of course, he did not care to question police instructions too closely and obligingly obeyed them.

***** ******* *****

Swannee’s corpse had been laid out on the slab when it arrived; the blood drained out from his wounds, leaving him white as a sheet. But instead of telephoning the coroner to come and perform the autopsy, Elaine placed seven black candles around the cadaver; one at his head; two at his shoulders; another two at his waist and a final pair at his feet, uttering a strange incantation as she did so. Finally she made a motion as if pulling something towards her on the end of a rope, as she sang the final words of her chant, “Though you are dead, yet shall you live; the blood of the sacrifice has not flowed in vain; you are my servant and will do my bidding; now come to me, for I am your Mistress!”

Somehow the word ‘mistress’ seemed a little odd; but she didn’t want to further confuse with a gender anomaly a corpse who was, she realized, bound to be confused anyway at finding itself reanimated. But when she ordered the cadaver to sit up and it did so, she realized her meaning had been understood clearly. “Follow me!” she ordered, and led the now undead Swannee out to her car.

***** ******* *****

The incident had happened on a Friday so Loreen fortunately had all weekend to lay low and hope people would forget about the blonde strumpet who had lured her unwitting prey to his death, albeit accidentally. She had clocked out over an hour before she had seduced the unfortunate Swannee, so as long as no-one remembered her or recognized her, she thought she would probably be safe. She spent the weekend wearing dark glasses and dying her hair several shades darker… When she arrived for work on Monday morning, Paula caught up with her as she queued up for lunch. Catching hold of her elbow, Paula said, “Hey, did you hear about what happened to that kitchen-hand we both fancied? I think it happened just after you went home…”

No…” Loreen said, as innocently as she could, “Do tell…”

After Paula had related the whole sordid tale, Loreen gave every impression of being flabbergasted, “Well I never!” she said, and then, “Poor Swannee… So who was this slut he was with anyway; did they ever find out?”

No…” said Paula, “I was speaking with one of the policemen who came and interviewed everyone who was there; he said no-one seemed to know who she was; at first I thought it might have been you, but I checked your clock-card and you’d already gone off-shift… Like the new hair-color by the way…”

***** ******* *****

February 11, 2011

Hell Hospital, 10

Filed under: Hell Hospital 10 — astyages @ 7:59 pm

HELL HOSPITAL

Chapter 2:

Episode 10

By theseustoo

(Disclaimer: this series of stories is completely fictional and none of the persons, places or institutions in these stories are real, but figments of my own imagination. Any similarity to any real person, place or institution is entirely coincidental.)

After her narrow escape, Loreen decided it would be a good idea to keep a low profile for a while, so when the psychologist she had decided to visit on the advice of her friend, Nurse Julia from the Psych Ward, suggested that Loreen should prepare a bag for herself and then enter the Psych Ward for a few days’ observation, she welcomed it with a sigh of relief. Eating in the ward would keep her away from the staff canteen and thus minimise the chance that her presence might jog someone’s memory about the mystery siren who had lured the unfortunate Swannee to his doom…

“Don’t worry Loreen,” the shrink had said, as he opened his office door for his client as her session drew to a close, “…once we’ve observed you for a few days and run some tests, we’ll probably find there’s nothing wrong with you; we’ll find out what these apparitions you keep seeing really are… and what they really mean!”

“Thank you Dr Frood”, she had replied, as if her sigh of relief were a sigh of reluctance, “… I’m sure you know what you’re doing, of course; it’s all for the best…” The burden of looking after Nurse Paula had been something of a strain lately and she had begun to wonder about the sanity of following the advice of anyone spoken to during a transcendental experience. Yet she could not deny that had she not been there on several occasions, Nurse Paula’s actions would most certainly have been lethal for certain patients. Though she doubted her own sanity now, she still felt compelled to act on those occasions when she had realised the meaning of the clues in the crosswords; and she was never without a copy of ‘Take 5’ magazine in her pocket, buying the latest edition the moment after it arrived in the hospital’s shop. But she couldn’t understand why it had been she who had been chosen for this task; she’d never even been particularly religious.

Her relief at managing to escape the scrutiny of the diners in the staff canteen for even a few days was somewhat tempered, however, when she found herself in a bed right next to Catherine Swan… the now-infamous mad murderess who had killed her husband. The poor woman had completely refused to recognise her baby when it had been presented to her; indeed Catherine’s memory of having been married and had any children at all had completely vanished; she now thought she was in the convent to which she’d been prepared to go after a sadly fatal performance had put an end to her partner’s life and simultaneously brought her career as a knife-thrower to a premature close just before she had allowed herself to be persuaded by the blandishments of the then youthful Swannee.. She spent most of her waking hours in prayers or meditations, but the nature of these prayers and meditations was very unpredictable; sometimes they involved the hospital’s patron saint and seemed relatively benign, whilst at other times she seemed to be communicating fearfully with someone she referred to only as the Dark One; occasionally she would speak, snarl, growl and otherwise communicate as if she actually were the Dark One.

Loreen decided that Catherine was totally ‘out of it’. She showed no sign whatsoever that she recognised the woman who now occupied the next bed, so Loreen decided that her chances of remaining undiscovered were still much better here than at work. Of course, she still had to keep an eye on Paula, but Loreen knew Paula’s schedule by heart and had no difficulty in ‘disappearing’ from the ward whenever her protege had a serious mishap. Yes, she would be much safer here, she thought, with some satisfaction.

***** ******** *****

On a dimension the existence of which today’s scientists can scarcely dream of, the Dark One brooded; an eternity was coming to an end and he sensed that release from his eternal imprisonment was nigh; sensing a weakness, he extruded a metaphysical pseudopod into that group of dimensions which our scientists recognise as ‘Space-Time’ and found sympathetic vibrations; gently, he eased himself into Elaine’s receptive consciousness… Manipulating this one would be easy, he thought.

***** ******** *****

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