Lack of Insanity
“I’m not crazy,” Nancy said.
“I’m not crazy either,” Hoffman replied.
There was silence. They looked at each other.
“What are you doing here then?” They spoke at once, and grinned a little.
Nancy glanced around. They were in the common room. The therapy session had broken up, and this was what was known as “association time.” A nice term for “put them in an enclosed area and see what they do.” The doctors had vanished, and orderlies had replaced them. There were more clubs and orderlies than usual, just in case the crazies started being crazy.
So far, the men and women were segregated except for one or two small knots around a game board and several listening to a nurse read a story. Some terminally insane patients stared out the windows. Nancy and Hoffman were seated by a window looking out over the water.
“The truth, is that I bought two dolls for my daughter’s birthday from a thrift store. Somehow, they took over her mind and I had to kill her.” Nancy said this in a rush, but with her chin up, eyes fixed on his. “That’s the truth, for all the fucking good it does in here.” She gestured at the room and Stonebriar at large.
Hoffman nodded. “That sounds fucking crazy,” he said. “I see why you’re in here if that’s what people hear.”
“Yeah, well you’re the one who left his daughter out in the garden for days to play with a goddamn doll so you sound like a fucking pansy,” Nancy shot back.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Hoffman said, lowering his voice. “What happened is insane, and the truth sounds equally insane. I’m just saying it’s no wonder we’re both in here.”
For a moment, Nancy’s eyes held his, piercing them with her own. Then they dropped, and her anger and bravado dropped with it. “I’m sorry. I don’t sleep well in here and I’m tired of people saying I’m crazy.”
Hoffman lowered his voice further. “Is there any way out of here?”
Nancy rolled her eyes. “You mean past the locked doors, fences, guards and cliffs? I’m pretty sure once we got outside the fence we could just walk down the road.”
“Out of the building itself,” he said, rolling his own eyes back at her.
“I’m sure, if we had keys, it would be easy enough,” she said, and shook her head. “What are you driving at, Eric?”
“If we could get outside, there’s a rope ladder hanging from the cliff.” He practically mouthed the words. “Local law requires facilities like hospitals to have escape routes from high places like cliffs, just in case something would keep people from evacuating from the front. I’ve inspected this facility myself and I’ve tested their rope ladder. It’s little more than a formality, but it passed the inspection. It could be our only hope.”
Nancy’s eyes had widened as Hoffman explained, and now she spoke. “You’re crazy! That’s hundreds of feet down into the water! What are we supposed to do when we get there, swim to the nearest town and ask for sanctuary in their bell tower?”
“No, we’re supposed to sit here and let those fucking dolls have their way with my daughter.” Hoffman said, glaring at her.
Nancy looked as though she were chewing on her tongue. “Eric, your daughter is dead. They won’t keep her alive this long.”
“How do you know?” Hoffman was suddenly shouting. “How the fuck do you know that? How the fuck do you know anything?” He was standing now, screaming down in the face of the woman before him, venting his rage and pent-up frustrations onto this unfortunate source. A large orderly hurried over, but Hoffman’s focus had narrowed. “Just because you killed your daughter to get rid of them doesn’t mean you know shit about what they’re doing! Why did they keep me alive so long? You don’t know what they do!”
He spun, whirling, toward the room. “None of you know!” he howled, then was silent, as the orderly’s club connected with the back of his head. The world went black.
He awoke an immeasurable amount of time later, his head wreathed in bandages and pain. He had been dumped in a pile on his bed and his arm was asleep. It was dim in his cell and silent on the other side of his cell’s door. It was nighttime then, he thought, pushing himself up and massaging his dead arm. He shook his head to clear it and a bolt of pain shot through his skull, bringing back his yelling fit and subsequent clubbing.
He sighed. Ranting at a bunch of people like a lunatic. Sure, he wasn’t crazy. Who would think such a thing?
A tapping at his door raised his head. Nancy was looking through the window.
A great surge went through him and the pain was shoved to the back of his mind as he leaped to his feet and went to the door. “Nancy!” he hissed.
Raising a finger to her lips, she mouthed “shut up stupid” and ducked out of sight. There was a grating sound and a muffled clicking from the locking mechanism. Hoffman had just enough time to reflect on the surreal nature of what was happening when the door clicked louder and swung open slightly.
Nancy darted inside and pushed it shut, taking care not to let the lock catch all the way. “Don’t make a sound,” she breathed. “There’s a guard making rounds.”
Hoffman held his breath, listening to the guard’s feet nearing his cell door. It occurred to him that he would be on his bunk at this hour, sleeping off a conk to the head, and he hurtled without a sound across the room. He had just settled on the bunk as the orderly glanced in through the window Nancy crouched beneath, assuring himself that there was indeed a man-shaped lump on the bed before exiting the men’s ward.
Nancy let out a slow rush of air. Hoffman found he had nearly stopped breathing, and gasped in a breath.
“Let him get a few minutes away and we can go,” she whispered, cracking the door and peering outside. “There’s only a skeleton crew at this hour. I know about a back door they never keep locked so the orderlies can sneak a smoke.”
“How do you know all this?” Hoffman asked.
“Because I listen in the common room,” she said, and glanced outside again. “Orderlies and nurses don’t usually bother keeping their voices down around a bunch of crazies who can’t even remember who they are.” She looked at him. “Let’s go.”
The lights shone overhead, marking a straight line as they crept down the hall, keeping to the meager shadows on the sides. A cough from one of the cells froze them. No sound came but the mutter of one of the patients sleep. After a time’s agonized silence in which Hoffman counted thirty of his own rapid breaths, Nancy tugged his sleeve and moved forward.
At the door leading out of the men’s ward, she paused, and checked the door through which the guard had passed. The handle turned. She grinned. “Lazy guards don’t bother to lock doors.”
“I’ll make sure to mention it in my report,” Hoffman muttered as he slipped past her through the crack in the door. She followed and pushed it softly closed behind her.
She led him to a small door recessed in the stone walls that he had not observed on his way in. It sat several feet back from the main hallway, and was concealed in a slit not easily observable to the casual eye. Nancy disappeared through it, and Hoffman followed, glancing around. Was that the sound of their own footsteps echoing?
Nancy knelt before the door and began fiddling with the lock. Hoffman could not see what she held but he recognized one familiar with picking locks when he saw one. He knelt beside her and whispered “Who are you? How do you know how to pick locks so well?”
The lock clicked and she opened the door to the surprised face of one of the orderlies on his way in from a cigarette, whose key was halfway to the lock.