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Danvers State Hospital

by BP | Score: 6050

I stayed at the state hospital in Danvers for the majority of the summer of 1891. My time there left an indelible mark, one I am loathe to remember, yet, still all these years later, am too stubborn to entirely reject. I entered through those fabled doors a progressive man, believing in science and the bold, breathtaking strides men of firm education were taking in the fields of mental and physical health. It was an exciting time. Every year seemed to reveal to us a new great layer to the mystery of life; careful hands steadfastly unwrapping the caul from our embryonic understanding of the world. We were not true masters of our domain, but daily we were invigorated by the fires of ingenuity and genius that seemed to be springing up all around us.

I entered the halls of the Danvers State Hospital an optimist, a believer in the future. But what I witnessed there has left as stripped down and bare as a withered branch in a cold New England winter. And in its place come that dark summer, when the foliage returned, it grew back black.

I shall start at the beginning. A proper story needs a proper beginning, and if I my account is to be believed I wish to leave it all out here in the open. "An open book," as they say. Not only to ease the burden of my own fears and guilts, but as a message to my detractors: cast your stones. Let fly your slings and arrows. I fear nothing you have to say. What follows is the truth. May God have mercy on my soul.

In the summer of 1891, after laboring in my uncle's mansion not far in Peabody, I felt a mighty spell fall upon me. A heavy blanket of exhaustion had been layered upon my shoulders, setting me low. Jeremiah, the chief cabinet maker in my uncle's employee, rushed to my side and bade me rest in the upstairs bedroom where "The best air circulation tended to be."

Not knowing better, I allowed myself to be taken up the stairs where Jeremiah and his boy--forgive me, but his name escapes me even now--laid me to rest on a bed in one of the spare bedrooms. "Facing East," Jeremiad assured, "Where the wind from the waves will blow away your ills."

Resting there for a month, the winds did little to improve my temperament. Nor did the improved circulation of the legendary New England air do much to relieve the pressure I felt mounting against my skull and body. Every passing day, it seemed, revealed a new ailment. Cramps in my legs, a blurriness of the eyes, a headache that wretched so badly I began to feel it in my teeth.

Doctors came, as they often do, prescribing all manner of archaic treatments. Leeches, bleedings, tonics. One gentlemen, hailing from Salem I believe, suggested allowing snails to crawl about my face and legs to "extract the offending humors."

Upon his departure I tried exchanging a look with my uncle to show how I felt about his purported experts. But, in failing to gain his eye, I noticed how ill-tempered he had become. The expansions and finishing work on his home were coming along slowly. A long winter had bled into a wet spring, and now, here at the beginning of summer, with the heat setting in, it seemed whatever terrible force considered itself the patron saint of builders had no love for my uncle or his plans.

It was for this reason that I had entertained his parade of charlatans. One after one he ushered in hobbled, bent-back, and near-blind bloodletters whose education had taken place early in the previous century. And one by one I allowed them free passage to my body. Crackling, arthritic fingers crawling over me, blindly groping for some mark of the devil, some telltale sign of a witch's curse. Their burnt-paper skin scratching against me.

At long last I confessed to my uncle I could do no more. I would not entertain another fossil to go digging around in my ears and throat in search of an evil spirit.

"You just need rest," he insisted.

To which I responded--petulantly, I might add--"I don't need any sleep." And I banged my hands down on the mattress for emphasis. Far from my finest hour, it still managed to move my uncle to listen. After hours of heated debate, I finally managed to crack his impermeable defenses and convinced him to see me off to the new Kirkbridge in neighboring Danvers.

"Hookum," he shouted, then for the better part of a night and a day he mulled over my wish as he prowled the grounds of his woefully incomplete estate. A word here on my uncle, lest I unfairly paint him as an unjust and barbaric man. Having grown up under the strict discipline of a his father--a well-known and therefore well-feared Protestant minister--he, like many who grew up in similar strife, believed he possessed the secrets to life. Anything he did not understand was so because God had not deemed it worth knowing. And so if he believed something was not his business, he lowered his head and battered himself against it until it fell to splinters, then he would charge on, 

Completed challenges

The following challenges were completed during the writing exercise:

Begin Start typing to begin
Location A hospital
Words Reach 50 words
Words Reach 100 words
Words Reach 200 words
Words Reach 300 words
Character A well-behaved cabinet maker
Words Reach 400 words
Words Reach 500 words
Prop Include a snail shell
Words Reach 600 words
Words Reach 700 words
Sentence "I don't need any sleep."
Words Reach 800 words

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