Prologue of Delirium, London Psychic #2. Click here for buy links to the full book.
Dr Christian Monro advanced the slide to show a vintage black and white picture: a man huddled in a corner with haunted eyes, his dirty straitjacket mottled with blood. “We must, of course, treat such as these with humanity but we must also ensure their stain does not continue into the next generation.” Christian paused, savoring the moment of complete attention. “The implementation of my proposals will safeguard the future of our great nation. Thank you.”
Applause filled the small room, and Christian bowed his head a little, acknowledging their respect. He had been courting this group for years now, the politicians and the religious right, as well as those in big business who funded the enterprise. He breathed in deeply, a smile playing over his lips. Finally, they were taking his work seriously, which was surely worth the sacrifice of those he had referred to the research centers.
Christian pushed the faint glimmer of guilt down as the applause ended and one of the more senior figures in the room nodded slowly at him, a promise of future favor in his gaze. Dr Damian Crowther was bald, his head angular and smooth, with one eye blue and the other brown. Despite his distinctive appearance, Crowther wasn't a man anyone stared at for long. Christian had heard rumors of the doctor's investigations into the farthest reaches of the mind, where madness bled into what some would call the paranormal. Crowther's favor was known to be a double-edged sword, but perhaps it was time to embrace the risks for the potential of a higher reward.
As Crowther turned away, Christian looked at his watch, worry gnawing at the edges of his triumph. He didn't want to rush away, but he had to make the meeting and none of these men could know about it.
After extricating himself from the late-night whiskey drinking, Christian grabbed a taxi to South London, patting his top pocket where he had the money in a cream envelope. It was a small price to pay for breathing space, but once he had power behind him, Christian would deal with the blackmailer. Handing them over for research purposes would make for appropriate recompense.
The Imperial War Museum was lit from below, a spectacular edifice, a symbol of Britain's military might. Of course, Christian had visited before, but it had been more out of curiosity for the building's past. The Bethlem Hospital had once been based here, the original Bedlam of nightmare, where the groans of the suffering were muted by thick walls. The note had told him to go around to the side gate, so Christian walked around the perimeter. It was open as promised and he walked through, into the trees at the side of the expansive park space. He strode towards the side door, gathering his confidence as a suit of armor, made stronger by his earlier triumph. Perhaps he would give this blackmailer a talking to instead. He flexed his fingers … maybe something more than that.
The inside of the building was dark, with just a few floor lights leading inward. Christian could hear faint sounds of music down the corridor, a mournful violin, the deep notes of a cello. A door was ajar further into the museum. He walked to it and stepped inside, apprehension overtaken by curiosity.
Candles burned in the corners of the room and shadows flickered on the walls. In the dim light, Christian saw a large wooden object and he stepped further into the room to see it more clearly. A sudden movement of air and a shift of shadows made his eyes narrow. He turned, but it was too late. A needle jabbed his neck and Christian raised his hand to the wound, suddenly dizzy. He sank to the floor, suddenly faint. There was someone else here with him, but the figure retreated quickly back to the gloom, out of his reach.
“What … have you done?” Christian murmured, as his throat tightened and weakness deadened his limbs. “I have your money.”
“Money you received for betraying those who trusted you,” the whisper came in the dark. “I don't want it. But I do want you to remember before you die, for what you have done is just a reflection of what your ancestors once did in this place.”
Colors appeared in front of Christian's eyes, morphing into the shapes of creatures that landed on the walls around him. They had tiny needle-like teeth and he tried to move away from them, but their legs scuttled fast as they swarmed onto him and he had no strength to bat them away. His skin itched but Christian couldn't raise his arms to scratch. His heart thudded in his chest. It was a drug – some kind of hallucinogen. It had to be, but knowing didn't change how he felt. Biting, tearing, tiny knives slashing a thousand cuts across his flesh as the creatures began to feast.
“Please,” Christian panted, heart racing, breath ragged. “What do you want?”
The figure came out of the shadows, like a nightmare from history, an echo of the photo Christian had shown earlier that night. The man wore a dirty straitjacket, stained with blood and pus. The arms hung loose, long sleeves dragging on the floor, the straps hanging down. A black mask covered his eyes and nose, and Christian could see that the man's dark eyes were bright with intent. There was no madness within.
“You call them monstrosities, tainted blood that must be bred out. But it is you who are defective, a blemish to be erased. And now you're in here, you must be crazy. Welcome to the lunatics' ball, Monro.”
The man threw his hands in the air and spun in place, the ties from the straitjacket whirling about him, creating a vortex that Christian couldn't tear his eyes from. The string instruments soared, filling the room with a cacophony of jarring noise, grating against his brain. Christian was transfixed by the whirling, as the colors shattered and the fuzzy feeling intensified. It seemed that other figures joined the man as the music played on, shadows turning into the phantoms of those who had been locked up here so long ago. A beautiful girl with bare feet whirled in place, spinning around, her thin arms held like a ballerina. She opened her mouth to smile and Christian saw that her teeth were all missing, her gums bloody emptiness – a victim of force-feeding. A hulking figure appeared next to her, his head bound with bandages around a broken jaw, moaning in a grotesque parody of joy as he lumbered to the center of the room to turn with them. Another man dragged himself across the floor towards Christian, his head shaved, electrodes still attached, drool dripping down his chin. His eyes locked on the doctor, but his stare was fixed, as if no soul dwelled behind that facade of humanity.
Christian tried to push himself up and away from the wall, but the man in the straitjacket bore down upon him. The figures in the room dissipated and floated away as his image alone sharpened into focus once again. Had there even been any others? Christian knew the drug had a deep hold now, his mind tilted by chemical intrusion. He had no strength to fight as the man dragged him across the floor.
“Perhaps you're feeling a little stressed?” the man spat, his words bitter as he hoisted Christian onto the wooden chair, buckling straps at his ankles and wrists. Christian struggled, but it was as if he was in a thick soup and his limbs wouldn't obey his brain's command. The man bent down and picked up a padded wooden box with straps to hold the two sides together. “This should help.”
Christian tried to shout, to scream, but the drugs had deadened his tongue and made it thick like a lump of liver. He could only moan as the man placed the box over his head and tightened the straps. It was heavy and dense, the darkness absolute. Christian's heart thumped in his chest as he tried to breathe through his nose, but the box was tight against his skull with only a small hole for air. He was on the edge of consciousness, panic rising as his heart rate spiraled out of control. He felt a knock against the box on top of his head and the noise of a flap being opened. A chink of light enabled Christian to see the padding inside, a dull off-white, the color of old sheets, right in front of his eyes. Then, he felt a drip of cold water on the top of his skull.
He shook his head violently, rattling the restraints that held his arms and legs. But he couldn't move far enough away and the water kept dripping, faster now. It became a thin stream that pooled under his chin, rising in cold inches against his skin. Christian closed his mouth as the level rose to his lips. He tipped his head, angling it to allow him breathing space, but he only succeeded in trickling water up his nose. Christian spluttered, trying to breathe and cough, but the water kept coming.
He heard laughter against the backdrop of music, and he imagined the spinning figures watching his torture, their eyes shining in anticipation of his end. Christian jerked and writhed, fighting to escape the stream. He moaned as panic overwhelmed him. The water level was almost at his nose now, covering his mouth. He threw himself to one side, felt himself connect with a body there, but the level kept rising.
Christian took a final breath as the water reached his nose, holding it in as he tried desperately to escape the crushing pain in his lungs. As the cool liquid touched his eyelids, he could hold his breath no longer. He choked, spasming in agony as he screamed for air, mouth opening instinctively. Water rushed down his throat, sucked into his lungs. In the moment before he died, Dr Christian Monro felt the fingers of the ghosts clawing at him, echoes of Bedlam with twisted faces, dragging him down to the depths of their Hell.