Of such great powers or beings there may be conceivably a survival… a survival of a hugely remote period when… consciousness was manifested, perhaps, in shapes and forms long since withdrawn before the tide of advancing humanity… forms of which poetry and legend alone have caught a flying memory and called them gods, monsters, mythical beings of all sorts and kinds…
If you listened closely enough you would have been able to hear the coarse bristles scratch against the thickly grained paper. The tip of the brush, coated in a sickly green – the colour of dead grass after the snow has cleared and of rank weed on algae infested marshes – was worked slowly across the page. Archie sat slumped over his efforts, his face close to where the bristles and paper met, spittle running in long lines from his mouth onto his creation, only to be mixed into the paint. The ward staff had tried to wipe his mouth on occasion as he worked, but now knew better. Every now and then the slow, precise movements of his tool of art would stop and in a fit of rage Archie would stab at the page. The low guttural tones, which seemed to be almost constant now, would fly into tortured shrieks and screams as if he were trying to put an end to the images he created, each more terrifying than the previous, only to throw the now bent-bristled brush across the room and scramble for another, snarling at his fellow wards.
These art therapy classes were the institution’s last hope before more drastic measures were taken. Archie’s behavior had become increasingly worrying since he had found a way to leave his room at night. No one knew how, even under heavy sedation, restraints and lock and key, he would still be found wandering as if searching the halls, decrepit and effete, for something in the middle of the night. When approached he became violent; violence in man with a stature as powerful as his could be dangerous. Staff had been sent to the infirmary with broken ribs, bruised eyes and missing teeth. Archie’s legs and arms would lash out with a roaring and bellowing and a cracking of bones, not like the famous explorer he once was but now an unprincipled barbarian, locked and hidden away, yet still uncontrollable.
The art teacher was the only one who would come close to Archie while he worked, usually to utter words of encouragement, but today the man stood stock still and stared at the piece in front of him. It was different from the others, which could have been studies of nameless, hideous abnormalities, profoundly anthropomorphic beings from beyond our scope of knowing. Dissected parts of human and animal, captured skillfully, had been discordantly woven together in an insane jigsaw puzzle of limb and tentacle, horn and hoof, by the brush of a man whose grip on reality had faltered. “Oh dear, Archie” was all the tutor could muster. Archie was lost then to a deep laughter, one that climbed its way out from the pit of his stomach and erupted into a bout of hysterics that sickened the soul. Delirious, yet utterly humourless.
The ward staff had been compiling their case notes on Archie for over a year now, and with the evidence gathered from his art class, Maude’s reports from their one to one meetings, the barrage of medicals, tests, prodding and poking, one failed medication after another; they only had one option left open to them. Their aim was to rewire his brain. To completely eradicate his memories, his sense of self, to take him back to the beginning and in that annihilation it was their hope that the cause of his insanity would be erased from his mind. Whatever had tortured him in the past to break him so would be gone. The first round of electroconvulsive therapy would start that very eve. It was a higher does than usual patients received, as Archie was considered too far gone to be saved by conventional methods.
As the appointed hour drew near Maude’s heart fluttered within her chest as she watched Archie, trapped in this melancholic stupor, slowly wheeled in by the porter. Heavily medicated he was, his head lolling like a string-cut puppet, unfocused eyes darting helplessly around the room. Archie’s gaze rested upon her momentarily, before it left again to chase untold visions as he tried to lift his arms to flap at the unseen hellions that accosted him. It was to be a simple affair. Archie’s doctor was to be assisted by Maude and the technician, the one who would calibrate the voltage, check the tiny bronze gauge and initiate the procedure when the time was right. Maude stood by, sporting Dr. Hargreaves’ stethoscope; he was a kindly gentleman who had great compassion for his patient’s predicament. Although quiet, the atmosphere was far from tranquil, and the doctor spoke in hushed tones to the technician who adjusted the cold metal machinery in accordance with the doctor’s instruction. Emotion flounders and yields to the scientific precision Maude reflected, as she methodically attached the leather mounted steel electrodes to Archie’s temples and placed the gauze-wrapped, well used, rubber pipe between his teeth as a necessary bite-block.
As the lights dimmed Maude sat close beside Archie, listening intently to the rhythm of his breathing, her index finger firmly aware of his subdued pulse. A sudden, harsh crackling of electricity followed the sharp clang of metal, singing coldly, as the hospital technician threw the switch. Archie’s respiration was arrested. His body lurched in wild spasm and his wretchedly pale face contorted in silent screaming as the volts tore relentlessly through him. Lips bled, teeth cracked and his trembling sweat-covered face rippled in convulsion as his locked jaw emitted a ghastly grinding sound. Dr. Hargreaves called this ‘trismus’.
Seconds were counted since respiratory arrest. Archie’s face took on a pallid blue tinge and Maude noted that his heart beat had accelerated rapidly, riding the electrical current. The floor was wet now with perspiration, the stench of fear and burning hair filled the room. Her cold eyes were locked upon him, the tension of his broken frame, in fascination. Maude’s nostrils flared as her nipples strained against the fabric of her taut uniform, a strange, primal state of arousal was upon her. She surveyed his moist flesh with a predator’s gaze and hungry wonder, savouring the aroma of the passing moments and the deliciously dark visions between them.
A mirror. A black mirror on a bare darkened wall. She stands half in half out. On one side she looks familiar; her auburn hair tied neatly into a bun, she struggles to free herself from the aberration which now made up her left side, within the mirror itself. A convoluted assemblage of white flesh supported on many-jointed bony legs, luminescent appendages swirling around her, pulling at her. It sung its crooning songs, and she responded with dark hymns. As it devoured her from within, the two sent up a catastrophic noise, which ripped open the gateway. The mirror shattered to a million shards as the writhing mass of tentacle and bone surged forth to swallow everything with its goat-like jaws, its crustacean horns curling grotesquely above its head.
Archie’s racing pulse and near-bursting heart was in her care; her hand, now upon his thigh, squeezed slightly as he thrust back and forth. Helpless.
Poor boy. Caged, crucified and completely under her control now. His life was hers.
Cradled by the fizzling, spitting machine and just one delicate, wrong word of instruction and his mortal existence would cease.
Just the thought set her to quivering.
A malign and dangerous ardor was upon her; ever since the dreams had started she had felt herself becoming free of any former moral constraints and now, instead of uttering prayers for this man before her, other thoughts now rushed in to replace her professional code of conduct, her Sunday School conscience.
Had the treasured rosary her Mother gifted her really joined the other trinkets, all recently crushed under the fury of her hammer? Simple meaningless memory tokens joining the slow exodus to the land of the discarded and long forgotten.
A girl stood with her back to him. He approached her slowly, the night was cold and the cavern was dark. The girl should have been shivering but yet she stood motionless. Not a hair moved, even as the chill breeze curled around them. Ready with his jacket, ever the gentleman, he reached out for her. In a swift inhuman motion she faced him, he recognized that face, but… What had happened to her eyes? The holes where her eyes should have been were now filled with a tar-like liquid, which rippled within her sockets, deep, jetty black, and cast an hideous contrast as it ran down her snow-white cheeks.
Blood and sweat stained, Archie’s muscles relaxed somewhat and the convulsions started to diminish as his pulse began its gradual descent. Completely entranced now, Maude was hardly able to carry out her assigned tasks with the due diligence she was known for. Her thoughts dwelled upon the dreams that had haunted her progressively over the months.
Within them she had travelled deep into that lair and each time she felt the very essence of her soul being replaced with something else, piece by piece. A deep yearning had stirred within her. A yearning for what she did not know, but she had woken numerous nights at well past midnight, to find herself half way through obscene rituals in front of her mirror, as if her subconscious had taken over. These nocturnal rites had let something free, something which leeched into the institution and herself via the gateway, the portal, which hung upon the barren wall of her bed chamber.
As fate would twist and warp its crooked course, her only direct and mortal key to these mysteries was before her having the painful memories, these visual and sensual doorways, brutally eradicated. With each second of each moment, Archie’s pathways were fading, the gateways closing and the keys dissolving.
Maude knew that all would not be lost this time, for no man could bear to lose all in one therapeutic session, the shock to the mind would be cataclysmic. Dr. Hargreaves had high expectations for this new psychiatric approach to Archie’s trauma. Although Maude on the other hand sported tense reservations and, in all honesty, hoped that the process would fail so that Archie’s secrets would remain intact to be revealed in time.
The undulating shapes wound within the gnarled branches, their shifting forms, fluid and spectral, led the way. The girl had traveled into the great forest through the marshes, reed-clogged and sluggish. Those sticky waters lapped against the unhallowed banks and through the gaps in the trees, the fire rose. An almighty pyre burning up the night. Cavorting worshipers shuddered and trembled in harmony with the vibrations emanating from drums and inarticulate cries, and the prayers which were sent up to bring the Creeping Chaos forth for Her lair. Oh god, if you could only see those that lurk and leer in the perpetual daemon twilight – The Chosen Faithful – their shrieking and howling, drawing her further on. She was doomed now as she entered their midst. The black shaggy entities, naked humans with their bodies bending into unnatural positions, backs bent, heads thrown back, and those made of coils of white jelly, fungoid and inhuman inspiring madness in those gathered, were present in loathsome profusion.
Archie emitted a deep stertorous sigh, a kind of snorting that enforced epilepsy can facilitate and as his cyanosis diminished, his flesh tones, breathing and cardiovascular systems returned to ‘acceptable’; no one uses the term ‘normal’ within the Asylum walls. The treatment team gave an audible sigh themselves, the room wasn’t hot as such but they all wiped at the film of perspiration that had formed upon their stressed and furrowed brows. A porter, Philip, was ushered in and quietly asked to return Archie back to his room, once the wires had been disconnected and disinfected.
Philip slowly wheeled the creaking chair, Archie’s pitiful chariot, along the shadow filled winding hallways. Meanwhile, Dr. Hargreaves wiped and adjusted his spectacles and commenced the report and post treatment assessment to cover the procedure administered and arrange the next and final sessions for the following days.
Pouring himself a brandy, he reflected upon the terrible illness that had afflicted and tormented his patient and pondered upon the wonderful scientific equipment they were blessed to employ in the healing of the terminally demented. Signed and sealed, the next treatments would effectively wipe the slate of a troubled soul, allowing him to find peace within his own mind.
The abrogation of all that was Archie had begun.
That sound. That sound! Oh how he hated that sound, the rattling of the trolley as it conveyed the equipment required for the administration of his next electroconvulsive shock. The walls seemed to close in, the ceiling mottled with clusters of black and brown mold drawing closer. The suffocating structure, from which only death could release him, constricted around him until he could not move from the bed. He could feel it pressing against his chest and the stifled screams from the neurotics, paranoids and psychopaths – the psychological dysfunctional – could be heard still and his room, not unlike a cell, became his torture chamber as once again, for the third day, they entered the room to strap him to their machine. Each flash was a great jolt surging through him until he thought his bones would break; his blood would over boil and melt away his skin. Again they left him alone, buried within the womb of darkness, where all was lost. He felt himself being torn away, until nothing remained.
Hours turned into days and days into weeks, and finally Archie sat upright in bed, astonished to find himself in an empty cell, completely ignorant of what had happened. Confused, shaken, the blank holes in his mind setting him into a panic, a terrifying chilling anxiety gripped at his throat and threatened to overwhelm him. He sobbed, he did not know why, he could not remember. Where was he? Who was he? We are haunted, not by reality, but by those images we have put in their place, but what if we are haunted still by those things that were meant to have been torn out of us? He threw the covers off of his legs and stepped down from the bed, his muscles were weak, but he had somewhere he needed to be. His eye was caught then by a book, a thick volume smelling of age and filled with time-battered leaves. He opened it and flicked through the pages, which were filled with a strange writing he could not understand. He tucked the book beneath his arms and headed out of his unlocked room, into the night-time corridors.
Archie’s aimless wandering had brought him towards a door. It pulsed, as if time and space bent around it. He had no clue as to where his erratic ambling had taken him. He knocked. There was a quick movement and the sound of garment’s being donned. The door slowly cracked open and there she stood. Maude, but not quite the Maude he knew, a darkness manifesting within her gaze. While Archie could not remember his own name, who he was, or his past, he remembered her; though he had no idea how he had found her room in the labyrinthine halls, caught unrelentingly in the grips of his lunacy. She seemed unsurprised to see him at this hour of the night, the halls silent in their deterioration. The crumbling paint, the cracked tiles of an institution well passed its heyday and in dire need of repair; worn-out, battered and now corrupted with the chaotic and primordial force she had let loose, to seep into the very fabric of the building and to consume the inmates with aid of their mental condition, one by one.
She opened the door and stepped aside to let him in, with a seductive curl to her lips, without a word. No, definitely not the same Maude. His scent reached her; the harsh medicated and somewhat leathery smell of carbolic soap, the skin of his freshly shaven head – though it looked as though his face hadn’t been seen a razor in a day or two – and a manly musk that was all his own. They stood silently for a moment, staring at each other. Maude took the first step, pulling him towards her, into her embrace. The months and months of tension between the two, and the forbidden nature of their tryst, fueled their passions all the more. In the violence of their lustful delirium, cries and entreaties were stifled with the entangling of their tongues, which only proved to make their passions more ardent. The dark desires that had tumbled through their dreams over these past months, soared on scorched wings. Her body, the forgotten altar remembered, was worshiped at, over and over again.
After the ecstasy and blinding white light Archie lay listening to Maude’s deep, rhythmic and completely sated breath while she slept, the beads of sweat upon her back turning to chilled rivulets. He remembered then what he had been carrying with him on his wanderings. He didn’t know what it was of course; pages filled with an indecipherable script and aberrant pencil sketches of nefarious entities, but somehow he thought Maude should have it and left the book upon the top of her chest of drawers as he pulled his pajamas back on.
Archie kissed the forehead of her naked form, “Sleep well” he whispered as he once again felt the madness taking hold. First the fog descended and then the hallucinations slammed down upon him; he fought it hard this time, he had something he needed to do. He clung tight to the last strands of his sanity as he ran through the halls, urgently trying to get to that place he knew he needed to be, shouting and spitting at the monstrosities taunting him from the shadows. Archie let himself into the art room. He was to create his greatest masterpiece…
In his urgency Archie pulled pail after pail of paint from the shelves searching for the brushes and canvas, the thick paint set him to slipping and sliding across the tiled floor. A table here, a wheelchair there, easels were knocked over in his haste and the weakness in his legs gave in. They collapsed from beneath him, sending him down hard, sprawled across the floor. He used his body then, his fingers and limbs to create his art; spreading the paint out across the floor until his arms too buckled beneath him, his face crashing to the floor. In his terror-stricken torment he took in a deep breath to try and quell his distress, but instead of air, paint filled his lungs, which sent him coughing and spluttering. He could not move, he could not raise his face from the floor so again the paint was breathed in, coating the inside of him, filling the ventricles.
The failing air and paint fought hard in wild abandon within Archie’s lungs as more of the slimy liquid was sucked in. Lights flashed across his vision as he desperately clawed at the paint, trying hard to raise his face from the mere inches that covered the art room floor. His limbs were as heavy as lead; the medication had finally caught up with him. Archie’s eyes were ablaze now with lightning and the violet glow of Saint Elmo’s fire, dancing like a Libertine let loose. The mess sprawled out around him became as his ocean and the sea’s swollen womb brought forth wave upon wave, each a greater birth, pushing Archie back into darkness and edging him closer and closer to the fearful maelstrom that resided beneath the waves, whose arms and tentacles were extended to receive him as a doomed vessel. Slow and steady was their approach, bringing the stench of the blackest sea bed towards the land of the living. Razor-sharp of tooth, unsparing of fang they were, with crustacean armour enfolding luminescent bodies, their tentacles pulling him further and further into the depths.
If his mouth and lungs hadn’t been so full to the bursting with paint, he would have sent up a wail that would chill the blood. The more he struggled, the more disorientated he became, up and down, left and right had no meaning and nothing made sense. His chest burned. His mouth instinctively opened and the paint flooded in once more as he convulsed uncontrollably, setting his masterpiece of scattered paint around him into a mass of seething colour. The pressure was devastating and crushing as his heart bled into his rib cage. The aphotic depths of his own raging insanity and crippling fear held him tightly within their clammy grasps.
Could it have ended another way? Surely; it didn’t matter now as his life slowly dwindled away, his muscles relaxed, his heartbeat slowed down and the panic faded away to numbness as an odd calm descended upon him. The end was nearly there, just beyond his grasping hands. The madness would cease, the memories that surfaced in his dreaming and hallucinations – those that had been ripped out of him during the moments he had sizzled in blue volts like the Horned Lizard tossing on hot gravelly flats – would drift away to oblivion and he would be far from Maude and what she was becoming. Oh sweet Maude, was that her taste still upon his tongue? Wave after wave lashed down upon Archie and the backs of these beasts were his Stygian ferry, brutally dragging him down to the caverns deep beneath the forgotten ocean floor; there they would scale odious bridges across oily rivers to where dank chaos resides and all is lit by insipid phosphorescence. Death took him.
“The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won’t let go of life, your memories, and your attachments. They burn them all away. But they’re not punishing you; they’re freeing your soul. So, if you’re frightened of dying and… You’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. But if you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth.”
Silently, secretly and most shamefully, Maude had watched boiler suited porters bearing Archie’s pallet wood coffin, slowly to the simple graveyard beside the asylum; she couldn’t bring herself to be in proximity but now, as the daylight receded, she knelt before his grave tracing the letters of his name with her fingertips, she knew why.
A frozen void had opened out within her, a yawning abyss from which no tears could leech, a black Hell in which vile flames of obscene passions had been kindled.
She opened the book that Archie had left in her room the night of his death. As she flicked through the pages, she realised what she held in her hand. She had heard so much about this book from Archie that to finally see it with her own eyes took her breath away, Archie’s Mothers diary.
Did the writing and drawings therein lay as proof that the tales spilt from Archie were actually true, or perhaps evidence of a lineage of madness with a propensity to afflict others beyond the blood bond?
The mask of respectability had been secured back in place but there were deep cracks appearing.
She had to fill this awful nothingness, the encroaching screaming silence.
At all costs, she had to find that hill, amidst the aged and twisted boughs of the Old Wood.
‘She stepped forth from the trees and surveyed those who lay naked and prostrate against the ground before Her. Her horns pointing blasphemously at the heavens and the nipples of Her thousand breast stood taught and erect. The blackness contorted around Her and reaching out from about Her form were hundreds of writhing tentacles, flooding the hollow like spilled ink upon water. Oh how they screamed for the Goat Whore of a Thousand Young!’
Text: Sarah-Jayne Farrer
Editorial Adjustments: Matt Baldwin-Ives
Keep of the Grass: Matt Baldwin-Ives – Miles Cross
Therapeutic Art: Matt Baldwin-Ives
Healing the Demented: Ian Thurlby – Miles Cross (model Matt Baldwin-Ives)