Deadly Ever After

The Writing Adventures of The Undead Duo–Julie Hutchings and Kristen Strassel

Archive for the month “March, 2013”

The Ghosts of Industry

Today’s Brew:  I want coffee so bad right now but I have to be up before the rooster tomorrow morning.  Water only.  Wah.

by Kristen

File:Cordage Commerce Center.JPG

Back when industry thrived in America, Cordage Park in North Plymouth, Massachusetts supported a vibrant local community as well as the world with the rope it produced. At one time, the Cordage Company was the largest producer of rope and twine in the world.  My Grampy worked at the Cordage.  Houses throughout the village were made for the workers, and gorgeous mansions for the bosses (just one street over from where our very own Julie lives now).  The company closed in 1964, when it could no longer compete with synthetic fiber rope making.

The building has had many incarnations in the almost fifty years since the last rope was made.  For many years, rumors swirled about casinos and condos being built on site.  The notorious Plymouth Rock Movie Studios operated their offices from one of the Cordage buildings.  An unsuccessful mall withered away.  Walmart came and went.  Now, the complex houses medical offices, satellite office locations, the regional unemployment office, a gym, and several restaurants.  The carcass of the old Walmart of course stands empty.

But does it have any ghosts?

Many people have told stories of unexplained music being played and children laughing.  Another rumored permanent resident is a boy who got caught in the smokestack and died.  Remember, there were no child labor laws in the nineteenth century.

Not all of the complex has found new uses.  Some of the buildings near the old train tracks (Cordage now marks the last stop of the MBTA commuter rail) remain abandoned.  The company is on the shores of the Atlantic, so I’m not sure if the decaying buildings had anything to do with train or boat travel.  A small marina still operates on the site.  I took a few pictures for you today when I visited the farmer’s market.  (I got jalapeno and blueberry jams).

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Blah Blah It’s a Gift, It’s a Curse, Blah Blah Kill Me

TODAY’S BREW: Sexy chocolate cherry coffee.

by Julie

Twitter was all aflutter today with my irritated musings about reading The Wolf Gift  by Anne Rice. Enough so that I realized it was madness not to do a post on it.

Though possibly not as mad as the fact that I will probably finish this book.

Find me a vampire novelist who isn’t an Anne Rice fan. I parted ways with her when she became too stretchy with the Vampire Chronicles, when it became repetitive and gratuitous. Then the Jesus thing happened, and I was totally out. When I spotted The Wolf Gift, I was so excited to see classic Anne Rice back.

It is becoming apparent that what is classic is sometimes just dated. This is no exception, though it was only published last year.

The premise of the novel is pretty cool! (SPOILER ALERT) A priveleged young reporter becomes a werewolf, and can smell evildoers, and wants to kill the hell out of them. He maintains his human consciousness the entire time. When the transition occurs, Reuben welcomes it every time; it’s an orgasmic experience and he loves the power it gives him.

But long, long descriptions slow down the pace of what should be a very intense novel, making it just dull to read. That’s all there is to it, just dull.  Well written primal scenes of slaughter and transformation are far too infrequent, and even these lack fast paced writing. It all feels too steady, not like a man teetering on the brink of a new reality. If the old lady in Titanic were telling the story it would be more enthusiastic.

Reuben has three different lovers in the first 200 pages. Fun, yes? NO. His fiance is cold, dull, and absent. The older woman whom he has a one night stand with dies immediately, but he, of course, is crazy in love with her from the get-go. Until he finds a middle aged weirdo in the woods, Laura, who he should be having explosive werewolf sex with. Instead we are faced with sentences that dilute phrases like “naked and pink against him” with the nightmare of “her nipples like petals.”

How the fuck are nipples like petals?

TWO pages of describing the house in the sex scene. Really? Then, the morning after, when there should be interaction and a bit of freakout, he is immersed in thought about the wraparound porch that he isn’t even looking at or sitting on. What the holy shit? I mean, you lost me at flower nipples, but I ran screaming with descriptions of tables when we should be talking about screwing.

We hear as much from the caretaker about the maintenance on this huge old house as we do from Reuben’s family, and trust me, that’s too much. What is this, the frigging Shining? Your house issues have no relevance here.

I am halfway through this sad state of affairs, and will finish it, it seems. Anne Rice is a classic, but she is also OLD and I am sick and tired of all her lies. Well, maybe just her description of lies and houses and streets and weather and hair and bullshit that doesn’t matter. The end.

 

Everyday by Kristen Strassel

Today’s Brew: Caramel Creme

Today I celebrate the insanity of the workplace.  So many people drag themselves to a job they hate just to survive.  Corporate offices make unrealistic demands on their workers, having no idea what goes into doing each individual job.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been a cubicle monkey.  I did my hard time in Corporate America at the mall.  Retail workers make practically no money, work insane hours, give up holidays and family time, and have to keep a smile on their face while dealing with the crazy public.  For many years I did retail management, until I realized I didn’t want to be the forty year old lady working at the mall on Friday night.  As I got my makeup career going, I still worked part time at a well known jewelry kiosk.  The longer I worked for myself, the more I realized I never wanted to work for anyone else again.

Kristen working at Piercing Pagoda, or as we called it, The Pag. I think this was taken in 2009. The amount of policy violations in this photo makes me so proud.

Enjoy Everyday. And get out before upper management eats your soul for lunch.

The parking lot always resembled a riot scene when it rained.  I meant to leave early.  But Delilah threw up all over herself, me, and the couch just before the sitter came.  I couldn’t leave that mess for someone else.  Then she had a breakdown when she realized I still had to go to work, and knowing that when Mama left in the middle of the day, I wouldn’t be home to read her favorite bedtime stories.

My head pounded from her tantrum and lack of coffee.  Since it took me longer to find a spot that I expected, I didn’t have time to run to Starbucks before work.  I’d already been talked to about being late.  I dug through the toddler rubble in my backseat, hoping to find my umbrella.  No dice.  I grabbed the wrong jacket, no hood.  I pulled it up over my head the best I could but still got soaked on the way into the mall. Well, maybe I wouldn’t be the only one who looked like a drowned rat.

“You’re late.”  Carolyn, my boss, tapped the computer screen in our kiosk. 1:03.

“I know. Sorry. Delilah got sick and the parking lot was insane.”

“I don’t have time for excuses, Darcy.  You’re on final warning, you know that, right?”

I sighed. My head pounded as a kid threw a tantrum over a toy next to us.   “I know.  Listen, I was really hoping to grab a coffee.”

“You should have left earlier.”  Carolyn ignored my dropped jaw.  “I’m going to lunch.  I’m starving.  We got shipment.” She motioned to the disorganized pile of jewelry on the counter and handed me a packet.  “There’s a recall, and we need to set up the holiday display.”

“Okay.”  Carolyn constantly made a mess and left it for me to clean up.  “When Steph comes into tonight, I should be able to bang it out.”

“Well don’t ignore customers to get it done.”

“Excuse me!”  A customer called to us.

“Welcome to the Piercing Pit. What brings you shopping today?” We had to say this to every customer that walked up to the kiosk. I thought it sounded robotic, but my low secret shopper scores and placement on final warning gave me little choice.

The lady looked at me with three heads.  “Are these real diamonds?” She tapped the glass above the ten dollar earrings.

“No, they’re cubic zirconia.”

“What’s that?”

Cubes of zircon? I mean, did it really need explanation? “Not real diamonds? Would you like to see them?”  I opened the case in anticipation.

“No, I only wear real stuff.”  She huffed and turned away with her Walmart bags.

“Miss!” A mother with two little girls smiled at me hopefully from the ear piercing tower.  “We’d like to get our ears pierced!  The other lady said they’re be two of you here at one.” She looked around me, hoping to see someone else who wasn’t there.

“The other girl went to lunch. She should be back in like a half hour?”  I prayed they’d wait.

The mothers face went dark as the little girls, dressed in tutus and tiaras, danced around her. “She said there would be two of you here now. We’ve already waited for you to get here. It’s Hannah and Haley’s birthday today and I promised them they’d get their ears pierced. We simply can’t wait any longer.  We have a princess party to go to and they want to wear their new earrings.”

I sighed.  People swarmed around the kiosk, trying to get my attention. Piercing little kids one ear at a time was a recipe for disaster.  We needed two people to do both ears at the same time to avoid meltdowns.  This wasn’t my first five year old piercing. “Well, I can try to do it one ear at a time, but they might c-r-y.”

Her face brightened.  “Girls, can you be brave and let this nice lady give you pretty earrings?”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” They jumped up and down.  They were awfully cute. In a few minutes, they were going to hate my guts.

“Miss! Excuse me!” Another customer called to me as I pulled out the pink flower earrings for the attempted piercings.   “Can I see this?”

“Do you mind?”  I asked the mother as she filled out paperwork. We weren’t supposed to leave one customer to wait on another for theft reasons, but I was going to be with her for a while.

“Go ahead.” She said.

I handed customer number two the crucifix the size of my hand with the zirconia encrusted Jesus on it.

The customer spoke to his friend in Spanish, not realizing I understood every word, as he bounced the pendant in his hand.  “It’s fake.” He said in Spanish.

Since it’s rude to speak in another language, I had no problem answering in English. “It’s gold clad with cubic zirconia.” Fake.

The customer looked annoyed with my gall. “How much?”

“One ninety nine.”

“Discount?”

“No, no discount.”

He handed me back the pendant and walked away without another word.

“Okay, who’s getting earrings first?”

“Hannah is!” The mom clapped and Hannah entered the kiosk, climbing into the piercing chair.  Haley followed her, making a bee line for the pile of shipment on the counter.

“Oh no, honey, don’t touch.” The mother glared at me for reprimanding Haley.  I put on my gloves as the phone started ringing.  I ignored it.  The caller persisted, calling over and over.

“Do you mind?” I asked again.  “I’m really sorry.  I’ve got a sick kid at home, I’m worried it’s her.”

“Go ahead.” She said as I took my gloves off.

“Thank you for calling the Piercing Pit.” I said quickly, dying inside as Haley made another dive for the shipment.

“Hi Darcy, it’s Susan.”  The district manager.  Great.  “How’s it going?”

“Busy.”  I hoped she took the hint.  “I’ve got twin five year olds waiting for piercings, I’m surrounded, and Carolyn went to lunch.”

“Okay, well I won’t keep you, but you know that the attachment goal is 30 percent, and you’ve consistently been at 22 percent.”

Really, now? “I know, the customers just don’t want it.”  The attachment was a warranty that used to be free. The customers weren’t fools, and I didn’t blame them for not wanting to buy it.

“Well, everyone else is hitting it.”  Everyone else faked it, I knew it for a fact. They manipulated the prices and put the warranty in. “And the goal is going up to 37 percent.  We can’t keep people on staff that aren’t making their goals.”

“But I double my sales goals.”  I eyed Hannah getting antsy in the piercing chair. “I’ve really got to go, Susan.”

“The company wants attachment numbers.  I expect 37 percent when I call for numbers tonight.”  She hung up.

“Okay, let me dot your pretty ears.” I went back to Hannah.  I dotted my new glove to show her it was just a marker.

“No! No! Nooooo!” She cried.

“Honey, it’s just a marker.”  The mom held Hannah’s hands to sooth her.  “Let the lady mark your ears.”

Hannah let me dot her ears, and I had the mother check the dots before I made things permanent.  “I think that one needs to be moved.” She declared.

The marks were perfect.  I wiped it off and remarked it. “How’s that?”

She shook her head.  “No.  Let me do it.”  She made a dot in a horrible spot.

“That’s really uneven.  Let me fix it.”  Customers eyed me from behind Hannah.  I moved the dot back to the original spot.

“Perfect.” The mom said.  “Okay, Hannah! Are you ready?”

“No.” She pouted. I tried to remain calm.

“Let me just measure to see if your earring will fit.” It was my trick to get the gun to kid’s ears.  It always worked.  Without her even knowing, I pierced her ear.

Hannah wailed as if I clawed her heart out of her chest with my bare hands.  Her hands shot up to her ears as she screamed.  People stared at me as they walked by, disgusted with such a public display of child abuse.

“She’s probably not going to do the other ear.” I said to the mother.

“She can’t go to her party with one earring!” The mother growled at me. “Let me do it.”

“I can’t let you do that.”

“Miss!” The lady behind the piercing chair called to me.  “Can I see something?”

“Not while I’m doing a piercing. Just a minute.”

“Are you serious?”  She scoffed and turned away.

“I’ll give you a minute and see what she wants to do.  I can give you your money back if she decides not to do it.” The phone rang again.  “Thanks for calling the Piercing Pit.”

“Hey Darcy, Delilah threw up again. She’s asking for you.” My heart broke into a thousand pieces.

“I can’t come home right now, baby.” I did my best not to cry as my baby pleaded with me to come take care of her. “I’ll be home as soon as I can. Love you.”

“We’re going to wait.” The mom declared. “Can you take the earring out?”

“You’ve got to keep it in for 24 hours, and then bring it back, then I can refund the money.” A look of horror spread over her face, realizing she had to bring her lopsided, imperfect daughter around for another day with a visible reminder of her shortcoming.  “I’m really sorry.  If I take it out now, it will bleed everywhere.”

“I want to talk to your manager.”

“She’s on lunch.”

The mother rolled her eyes and stomped off. I turned around to the sea of impatient faces that surrounded me.  “Who was here first?”  Of course, they all were.

I waited on two people at a time,  skipping the mechanical greeting, ringing them up fast, no time to ask about attachments.  The phone rang again. Please don’t let it be Delilah.

“Thanks for calling the Piercing Pit.”

“Hey Darce, it’s Stephanie.  Listen, I’m not going to make it in tonight.  My boyfriend won’t give me a ride.”

“Your shift isn’t for three more hours.  We’re really busy with the rain. You need to find another ride.”

“I tried.  No can do. I’m sorry.”

“Whatever.” I was too busy to deal with it right now.

“Hey,” Carolyn came back in to the kiosk, her coffee in hand.  I practically drooled looking at it.  “Why isn’t the shipment done yet?”

The Vision You Didn’t Want: Asylum Photos

TODAY’S BREW: Killian’s Irish Red!

by Julie

A friend procured these very disturbing asylum pics for me, though I am not at liberty to say who or where they came from or when, making it super top secrety. I’m certain these images will resonate with you as they have with me. Enjoy…you won’t.

I wish I can read these patient reports

You can't hide..LV

Welcome.LV

Blood on the walls..LV

The guest suite..LV

Linda childs room..Oh my!

Wreckage

Today’s Brew:  Jamaica Me Crazy.  Back to the Classics for spring.

by Kristen

Abandoned buildings, neglected and crumbling in disrepair, have always fascinated me.  At one time, that building was someone’s home or business, brand new and full of hopes and dreams for the future.  What made them give up on that structure?  Did they plan to return, and that’s why they didn’t give it the proper burial of tearing it down?  Or did they want all of us to know of its once proud history, not to forget?

One day I set out with my camera to photograph some of these places.  To give them back the pride stolen from them.  I soon learned I wasn’t alone in my fascination.  Photographing these abandoned buildings is known as urban exploration.  A friend and extremely talented photographer, Stephanie Pierce, introduced me to this community and showed me around one of her favorite places to explore, the abandoned Belchertown State School.

Crumbling on a sprawling campus in Western Massachusetts,  the school is remembered for its inhumane and atrocious care of patients, as well as gross under-staffing.  Many residents were disregarded by doctors, left to roll around naked in their own excrement, and forced into having homosexual intercourse by the staff.  This was in the 20th century, folks.  We’re not talking medieval times like Bethlehem Hospital. Some of this treatment continued until 1992, when the state forced the closing of the school.

On the day we visited, the campus was easily accessible and many of the buildings had open doors from prior break ins.  We could easily see the old kitchen and library.  The smell of a fire weeks earlier still hung heavy in the air.  I asked Stephanie why the state left the campus to rot, a horrible reminder of past treatment of those with mental disabilities.  She told me that the asbestos on the site had leaked into the ground, making it unsafe for use.  She did also tell me that a developer had mentioned plans for a possible strip mall.  Somehow, that seemed even more obscene to me.  Covering up such horrors with inane capitalism.

In recent years, I haven’t had a chance to do as much exploring as I used to.  Simply put, life got in the way.  I’m thrilled that I was able to capture some local buildings before they were torn down.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the wire to load the photos from my camera to the computer.  Now that it’s spring (at least on the calendar.  Brrr!), I think I may go out for some new explorations.  It’s a piece of history you’ll never find in a text book, and it says way more about who we were as communities.

All photography courtesy SPierce Photography.  Go check out her beautiful website and hire her for something.  www.spiercephotography.com

Inscription 2: The Binding by Julie Hutchings

TODAY’S BREW: Killian’s Irish Red. It’s St. Patrick’s Day! I drank it yesterday, too.

I hope you cringe at the second part of Edgar’s story.

 

Inscription 2: The Binding

by Julie Hutchings

 

“It’s as real as you imagine it to be. There is a spark in you, but you have to ignite it.”

Edgar twisted on the floor, a worm writhing in salt. The blackening wounds on his legs bubbled with infection. The pain of it was too much to write through. It was ruining him.

His mother did not touch him. The boy was beyond touching now, even if she had wanted to. The dark wood floor was lighter than the bruised black skin that covered the pages Edgar had shoved into the ragged cuts on his legs.

She was proud of her boy. He knew how to suffer for his genius. He knew how to create inspiration. What he had written after the butchering to his legs with scissors was masterful, legendary. The sort of words that when strung together create something new entirely, an emotion never known, a dimension never seen.

The child pulsed and rot on the floor with seeping genius.

“Edgar,” she whispered, quiet and smooth as spider silk in his ear. He had clawed his ear with overgrown fingernails, making it bleed. “You must sit up and eat or you will not have strength enough to create. You must continue.”

Edgar felt the devil creep closer, awakening his fitted sleep.

He moaned, a spiderweb of foamy drool connecting to his arm. The words kicked at him from the inside. He was never so glad to have cut himself and pushed the pages inside the wounds. They burned and stung, fueling his pained fingers. Crust closed his eyes as he tried to look at his mother. The rich smell of cooked lamb turned his stomach. But he knew he must eat it.

Flexing his stiff fingers, he took the glass of water she offered him from where she knelt on the floor. It dripped down his chin, making a river of pink from his bleeding gums.

A fine example of an artist’s life. Her boy was suffering for his craft, he would be magnificent because of it. She was sure he loved her more every minute for it. He was becoming a creator the likes of which the world had never seen.

Edgar gagged on the meat, his stomach turning. He held the bile down, but knew it would not be for long. His body shook with fevered cold, making him drop the fork.

“Mother,” he choked out, using his voice for the first time in days. “I think….I think maybe a bath.  A hot bath to get my fingers working.”

His mother took his hand, pulling him up. He would not be able to stand on his own. His legs were hideous meat now, homemade stitches holding the wounds closed in pathetic attempt to heal them. They reeked of rot. His mother had gotten antibiotics, but did not think they were working.

She may have to give in and get him medical treatment. But how? Without exposing him to the world?

His legs were lifeless, causing her to all but drag him to the bathroom. His odor was appalling; she was glad he would no longer smell like urine and infection, if only for a little while.

Once lowered into the steaming bath, Edgar let out a deep sigh, and smiled.

He smiled.

For one moment, a tear pricked his mother’s eye, but only for a moment.

Pus leaked out of the bursting wounds on his legs. They looked awful and would not hold the stitches.

“Do they hurt much, Edgar?” she whispered as she gently cleaned his back, every vertebrae bumping under her fingers.

He just nodded, still smiling.

“What you wrote, my boy. It is the kind of work that speaks to generations. The kind of thing that is brought to classrooms. I am so proud of you, Edgar.”

“The pain makes me feel it all. I want to write more.”

“You should sleep, Edgar.”

He snickered, the smile gone now. “Mother, I may not wake up.” His eyes were closed, and he did not see that her eyes were dry.

Edgar was a prodigy, and his abilities would be realized. He would finish this masterpiece. But he had to feel those classics the same way, he had to absorb them, it had done wonders for his words. But the wounds on his legs were full to exploding with pages torn from the novels in his room, and would barely stay closed through the stitches. There had to be another way.

Edgar was clearly feeling alive when he got out of the tub, and was even able to walk without looking like a crushed spider. He would have the energy to write once she dressed the wounds.

She helped him lie on the bed, allowing him the comfort of it while she figured out how to keep his mental web spinning. He could finish this book tonight if he remained inspired by the great writers the way he had been. He had felt one with them, doing this to his skin. She couldn’t let some doctor take away his inspiration.

And she answered the question that had been plaguing her. No one would take the pages out of his wounds. He always put them back in, as it were. Edgar and his words needed to be bound together, and there could be no better tie than the very leather bindings that gave the words to him.

She took down what was now a shell of a novel, so many pages torn from its binding, wings clipped to keep them with her boy for as long as he needed them.  It was not hard to peel the four inch wide strip of leather off the mess of remaining pages. It was perfect, just the length of Edgar’s tattered incisions.

She could see every rib as he breathed deeply and comfortably on the bed. Like he had when he was just a little boy, with only a glimmer of brilliance. He was so much more than that now. She ripped another binding off of a copy of Shakespeare’s complete works. Now incomplete, some of Edgar’s favorite pieces now a part of him.

The heavy thread she’d used to stitch his wounds shut and the needle still sat on his desk. She rolled the needle over and over in her fingers, taking deep breaths. Ready to heal her boy, to bring him closer to the genius they both craved.

Standing over his peaceful, mutilated body, she closed her eyes and listened to him breathe. She put her hand on his forehead, bending over to whisper in his ear as he slept. “Egar,” she said. “Edgar, are you too tired to write? Does your mind sleep like your body does?”

He groaned in response, stirring slightly.

“Edgar, it is time to finish your work. You will need your sleep after, but not now. And first,” she pressed a finger onto one of the blistering cuts on his leg, making him scream and jump up, “I want to take care of the work you have done on your legs.”

Edgar looked afraid, but quickly gave in, waking from his brief sleep. He saw the needle, and the spines of his now broken novels, and was confused. But it was not long before he understood.

“Mother?” he said, voice shaking, eyeing the fragments of books. He had childlike fear when he awoke, so unlike the strong boy she knew he was now.

She touched his hair, now clean, but still thin with malnutrition. “To keep your pages inside, where they will always be a part of you. The skin that was used to create those books, now will seal your wounds.”

His mother had novocaine. He did not know where she got it. She shot it into his legs whenever she took care of the infections. It did not do much to dull the pain, but the pain is what he felt with those writers now, something they shared. Soon he would be one of them.

He screamed brutally, once, when the huge needle went in, but when the slight numbness took away the ever present burning in his legs, he relaxed. The stitching could not hurt more than that.

It was not long before Edgar passed out, and his mother could stitch the book spines over his wounds without him wiggling. He would thank her tomorrow. She would give him ice cream, insist that he take it, and he would see the titles of his favorite works of genius as part of his very skin. They held inside the words he loved, the pieces of those great minds now pieces of him. She admired her handiwork, covering his unconscious, shivering body, pushing aside some of the crumpled paper that was always around him.

It was not his flesh, but the need to create that held him together. The bindings were the cocoon he needed, and his pain the catalyst to evolve.

Tomorrow he would spread his wings.

 

 

Running Out of Plans: An Installment of The Plan by Kristen And Julie

TODAY’S BREW: Woodchuck hard cider

Another freakshow installment of The Plan by Kristen and Julie  Catch up on the earlier installments here.

THE PLAN: RUNNING OUT OF PLANS

“Fuck! My wallet is gone!”

“What? Your wallet?” Jeff was just a blank page of hangover, a mess all over. He registered not a word I said. He didn’t realize what the fuck this meant.

We could be found.

“Wake the fuck up, Jeff! We have to go back to the club. My wallet is at the fucking strip club!”

He rolled to one side, away from me, and I pulled him back to look at me. “Jeff. They will know who we killed.”

“We can’t go back, babe.  We’ll get arrested.  You killed that bouncer.”

“Well if you didn’t pay to fuck that stripper, we wouldn’t be in this mess!” I practically jumped up and down on the rumpsprung mattress.

“Relax, Kendall. It was twenty bucks.” Jeff pulled my pillow over his face. I fought the urge to smother him with it.

“Do you know how many things she has to stick in that raunchy pussy at twenty bucks a pop to actually pay her rent?” I pushed at him.  “What are we going to do, Jeff? We need to fix this.”

He sat up, a disaster, running his hands through his mess of hair, looking like he just started drinking or just finished. “Okay. Okay, so we go back and get it.”

I sat down next to him. “Think, Jeff.” I tapped him hard on the head. “Anyone who finds a wallet at a strip club is going to fucking use it. They may know who I am already.”

“Well, only one way to find out. “

We got dressed fast, and headed out. What else was there to do?

The strip club sat quietly between warehouses and bars in the early morning light.  Delivery trucks dotted the street, but not much other activity was happening when we arrived.

We’d kill anyone who questioned us. It was in their best interest to think we blended into the woodwork.

Jeff tried the front door. Of course it was locked.

“Maybe you should knock.” I leaned up against the outside of the building, arms crossed.

“Fuck you, Kendall.”

“If you had done that in the first place, we wouldn’t be in this mess. And we could have spent that twenty bucks on something important.  Like duct tape.”

“You’re the smart one. Of course. Killing the bouncer. Okay, let’s try the back door. Chances are that’s open for deliveries.”

I pushed the door open easily. The club was more surreal in day light than at night. Dust motes highlighted the filth that filled every inch, despite it being empty.  I went to looking under chairs and on tables, as clearly the place hadn’t been cleaned last night. Nothing.

“Fucking nothing!” Jeff yelled.

“Shit.”

“Looking for this?” I heard, and turned around slowly.

A oily, short man held my wallet up in the spotlight with his pudgy fingers.  He smiled, his teeth gnarled in his pockmarked face.

He thought he had us where he wanted us.

“I am.”  I took a step towards him, knowing better than to grab at my wallet. “Thank you for keeping it safe for me.”

“What are you going to do for it, little girl? I know why you left  in such a hurry.”

“Do you?” The killer came forward, not just me, but the person inside that loved this death. I was right in his face, close enough to smell last night’s whiskey. “Cause I could fucking show you exactly what I can do, friend.”

Jeff was close, watching, and I knew this would be so easy. He was easy. It would be funny.

“I can negotiate with you, since if I don’t give this to you, you’ll go to jail.”

“What do you want?” I braced myself, knowing exactly what he’d say.

The fat man approached me, grabbing at my chest roughly.  He grinned again. I wondered how long it had been since a woman liked it when he groped her.  I bent my arm in half, exposing my elbow. I whacked him in the face, connecting hard with his gin blossom nose.

“You little bitch!” He groaned after the bone finished cracking.  Both of his hands went up to his face. He dropped the wallet.  I kicked him in the groin.

I’m not sure the man ever even noticed Jeff.  I kicked the wallet as soon as it hit the floor over to him.

But I didn’t need Jeff to do anything more than pick up my wallet.

I punched the fool in the face, right in the nose, blood spurting everywhere. He still tried to grab at my boob as he fell to the floor, the persistent little pirck, but I kicked him on the way down, and straddled his back once he hit the floor.

“You whore!” he yelled to me over his shoulder.

I laughed. I laughed until I couldn’t breathe or think. I laughed until Jeff was a memory, until I was a memory. And I put my hands on his neck and twisted, snapping it like a chicken bone in my fingers. Like the nothing that he was. Jeff looked on, a vision of fear and admiration.

The Horrors of the Bethlem Royal Hospital, London

TODAY’S BREW: Dutch Chocolate blend

by Julie

This March Madness episode is dedicated to the victims of The Bethlem Royal Hospital.

This London asylum is the oldest in the world, opened in 1357, and has one of the most terrible histories of any asylum I have ever heard of. While we are familiar with the stories of terrible living conditions and treatment in mental asylums throughout history, what struck me hardest about this story is the cruelty that the entire community and even international visitors not only turned a cheek to, but applauded.

This hospital actually is the origin of the English word ‘bedlam,’ meaning confusion and noise. One man who lived in the area of the hospital attested to the “cryings, screechings, roarings, brawlings, shaking of chains, swearings, frettings, [and] chaffings to be heard from the outside.

The managers of the facility were known as Keepers, and were seemingly as frightening as they sound.  One such Keeper, Helkiah Crooke, a member of the medical department of the royal household, took over in 1619, ousting the former for being “unskilful in the practice of medicine.” It could be assumed that he would then handle the medical inattentions to the patients, but no records were ever made of any medical needs of the patients. He himself referred to the patients as “the poore” or “prisoners.”

Crooke did not only ignore the medical needs of the patients, but did nothing to improve the conditions either. On a grander scale, the hospital itself went over 40 years without an inspection! One subsequent visit ordered the purchase by the Keeper of clothing and eating utensils, to give an idea of the animal-like conditions these people were kept in. A poorly funded government facility, the hospital relied heavily upon donations from the families of the residents and the community, which were in short supply. In 1598 Bethlehem was declared “not fitt for anye man to dwell in wch was left by the Keeper for that is so loathsomly filthely kept.” (We must remember, this was also in a time with very different standards of hygiene, where it was common to urinate in the street and defecate the fireplace.)

Built over a sewer, the overflow of waste actually blocked the entrance often. One wooden cistern in the back yard was the only wanter supply to the large facility, and water had to be carried in a bucket into the building, to provide water for the patients and for all cleaning purposes. There were pots in the rooms for the residents to use as toilets, but as they were generally left unattended to roam the hospital (and even the streets of the neighborhood, unclothed and filthy), the buckets usually ended up smeared and thrown at staff, passersyby out the window, and each other.

The disturbed were chained up to walls and posts like dogs. They slept on beds of straw only as the water supply did not allow for washing of linens. The rooms had exposed windows, leaving the patients in damp conditions at the mercy of all weather and utter darkness at night. The hospital itself was actually noted as “a crazy carcass with no wall still vertical,” offering only leaking, caved in roofs, uneven floors and buckling walls.

Under Cooke’s Keeping, the residents were not only filthy and unclothed, but malnourished to the point of starvation using a “lowering diet,” of intentionally slim portions of plain food only twice a day. It was meant to deplete and purge the madness out of the victims, while helping to conserve money. There were no fruit or vegetables to be had. Mostly bread, meat, oatmeal, butter, cheese and plenty of beer was the menu.

While all of this is terrible, the true horror was in the moneymaking scheme that kept it running at all. Originally, the hospital was open to the public in hopes that food would be brought to the inmates from the community. Quickly, money was charged, creating a sideshow where the public was invited to watch patients displayed in cages, laugh at them as they banged their heads repeatedly on the walls, and even to poke them with sticks and throw things at them.

Stereotypically, it would be assumed that this would be the pastime of children and unschooled lower class citizens. However this was a favorite visiting place of government officials, the wealthy and educated more than anyone. The surrounding community did participate in the terrible tours, but saw plenty of the inmates as they wandered the streets. Largely supported by the upper class, the sideshow even becoming part of London tours that also featured the Tower, London Bridge, and the zoo. It was referred to by the Governor and the wealthy as “the frisson of the freakshow.” It became a circus-like tourist attraction to humiliate the patients, extremely popular during holidays. It had its highest traffic during Easter and Christmas weeks, swarms of hundreds coming from all over to gawk at the poor, mistreated souls.

The wealthy and educated saw the patients as nearly being at fault. One such 18th century visitor used these words to describe the learning experience of the paid sideshow: “There is no  better lesson to be taught us in any part of the globe than in this school of misery. Here we may see the mighty reasoners of the earth, below even the insects that crawl upon it; and from so humbling a sight we may learn to moderate our pride, and to keep those passions within bounds, which if too much indulged, would drive reason from her seat, and level us with the wretches of this unhappy mansion.”

In 1930 the hospital was moved to the suburbs, the grounds made into a park and the central part of the building moved to the Imperial War Museum.

In 1997 there was actually a plan for a 750th anniversary celebration of this dungeon. A sit in was held outside the Imperial War Museum supporting against the celebration. The psychiatric community called it a celebration of “a symbol for man’s inhumanity to man, for callousness and cruelty.”

I cannot possibly tell enough the horror that I felt reading about the hospital, how deep the government connections went, the contributions that literally the entire world made to torturing these people, some of which lived in these conditions for 25 years. The thought of the suffering of these disturbed people will never be forgotten by me.

Both of us were so moved by the story of Bethlem Royal Hospital we’ve each incorporated it into our books.

Julie–Running Away
Kristen–The Fire Dancer

I Found A Letter By Kristen Strassel

Today’s Brew: Caramel Vanilla Cream

by Kristen

We shouldn’t have broken into the asylum, but we weren’t the first. We followed the fresh tracks in the snow and dipped below the opening in the door. It looked like someone had kicked their way in, or out.  As soon as we were inside, we knew no one was meant to be here anymore.  The hospital green paint meant to soothe peeled away from the walls, revealing the gray aura that fell over the hallways.  No one cared about the debris left behind. Stretchers lay on their sides, broken jars littered the floor, surrounded by the decay that spilled out of them.  Rusty chains and dark stains snaked out of the walls, the only thing that still looked alive.

Walking along the corridor, I noticed something that looked new.  A piece of paper. I picked it up to see what it said.

To Whom It May Concern:

It was all fun and games until the equations added up to something. Then we had to go into hiding.

If you’re reading this, we had to leave in a hurry.  Please be careful with this letter. It’s the only record of what has happened.  Hopefully we’ll be able to keep them off our trail.  There’s still so much more to discover.

You might have heard about some of our work in the news.  The little girl that was cured of AIDS? That was based on our findings.  The treatments that are making some cancers obsolete?  We figured that out, too.  We found other things that no one talks about as well.  Such as the molecular compounds that are being added to food to make you sick, tired, and fat.  We couldn’t keep our mouths shut about that.  Even now that we’re in hiding.  You need to know.  The government is in the killing business. They want to keep you just sick enough that you need their medicines forever.  It’s how they pay for things they find important, like wars.

Here’s how I got involved:  I was a foster kid way too long.  No one wants you when you’re not little and cute.  Once you get to be in the double digits, the general public renders you “damaged” and doesn’t want to adopt you no matter how badly they want a baby. I was like an old black cat in a kill shelter. The clock ticked loudly and not in my favor.  The government figured out what to do with the orphans past their prime.  They created The Program just for kids like us.  I don’t know when it started and why.  But they told us we were special, and that they chose us to do important work no one else could do.  All of the kids in The Program desperately needed to hear that.

They dressed us all the same, so no one thought they were better than anyone else. Personality was discouraged. Nobody was better than anyone else.  They replaced our names with numbers. I whispered my name to myself over and over so I wouldn’t forget. They ran endless tests on us to measure strength and intelligence.  I tested into the intelligence group.  They gave us all injections that burned our veins and left painful welts all over our bodies.  They fed us things that made us sick, when they fed us at all.  They deprived us of sleep and ran experiments on us.  They asked us how it made it us feel.  It was hard to feel anything at all.

Sometimes, they just let us be. I did my best to remember what it was like to be human.

After we got used to the routine, and our bodies learned to tolerate the injections, we started our training. The Instructors threw a dizzying combination of numbers and letters at us to solve.  As soon as we found the answers, boiling the data down to one absolute, we were rewarded with another puzzle to decipher. They never bothered to tell us what the equations represented.  We were not on a need to know basis.

What The Instructors didn’t realize was not only did our raw abilities with math and science strengthen with the injections, but so did our intuitions. We figured out what we worked towards. Our equations cured cancer and AIDS.  We also helped create the compounds responsible for making these same diseases leaner, meaner, easier to contract, and more deadly as we created stronger compounds to fight them.

How could we keep quiet? We used our computer expertise to leak information about The Program on the internet.  Our work was too dangerous for the public not to know about. The Instructors punished us when they discovered our betrayal with painful electric shocks to wipe the incident from our memories.  They wiped the information from your memory too.  You might have seen it, but no one will believe you. You have no proof besides this letter. Remember the day all the search engines went down at the same time? That was the last day our website existed.

The Agency wasn’t able to destroy the evidence of our rebellion before the food and drug companies responsible for our research caught wind of what we did.  We needed to be destroyed as well.

Too much time and energy had been invested in us to completely start over completely.  To appease The Sponsors, The Agency eliminated the weakest members of The Program.  They sequestered the rest of us here, in this old abandoned asylum. We didn’t need much. The Agency and The Sponsors didn’t want us to have any access to unsupervised technology.  All they needed were the locks and shackles.  They might have been rusted out, but they still worked.

What we learned in The Program is too important to be kept in the shadows, buried in ruins.  If we made it out of here alive, our plan to escape the asylum and spread the word of our findings to the public worked.  I hope. We aren’t the only rats in the maze.  You all are.

Please question all that you believe to be true.  But don’t question this letter.  I swear to you, all of it is true.

Sincerely,

Student 38NQ498, but I’d rather you called me Rebecca

Go Road Trippin’ With The Undead Duo

Today’s Brew: Wild Blueberry Mountain or something like that. It smells like blueberries. It tastes like coffee.

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Julie and I contributed a story to our wonderful friend and awesome writer Chynna Blue Scott’s Blog.  It is the last of her supernatural guest series featuring paranormal shorts by Chynna as well as a host of other talented writers.  Go check out How It Didn’t End by us, and stick around to see the rest of the stories too.  You won’t be sorry!

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