THIS SIDE OF MADNESS
Mary Hazel Upton
BLOG POST FOR EARON'S PAGE
JUNE 1, 2016 WEDNESDAY
OLD MAN FACE ON OLD BUILDING AT 10TH AND SPRING STREET IN NEW ALBANY, INDIANA
PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN BY HAZEL FERN HENSON ON MAY 9, 1985
This photograph was one of a set of photos of this building that Mama and Daddy took and that I found in one of her photo books. There are black and white and color photos both. Probably she took the color photos and he took and developed the black and white ones. I don't know if this building is still standing. Often when buildings were scheduled to be demolished they quickly got photos of them, as well as preserving ones that were not scheduled for destruction. Her many books of photos that she left for me preserve part of a local architectural past.
Although this story I am publishing here is set at Arcadia, a fictionalized version of Logansport State Hospital, also known as Long Cliff, where I worked for almost three years, I thought the two photos I am using to illustrate the story were spooky enough to use here. I have no photos of the real Long Cliff--cameras were forbidden for the patients' privacy. There may be old public domain photos available and I will search for some to illustrate future Arcadia stories when I get time.
The Arcadia stories will eventually be a series. I will also try to research and publish some of the history of Long Cliff, as well as parts of the diaries I kept while I was working there. I think Long Cliff, like many of the other old state hospitals, may be closed now. I will also try to find that out, as well some of the history of the whole state hospital system. I will need that information for the longer books in the Arcadia series that I have ideas for. Arcadia, by the way, is the name of a real state hospital, now closed, that was in Arcadia, Florida. Many of the events and people in the stories are fictionalized versions of what I saw and observed while I worked at Long Cliff. Only the vampires are fiction. Or are they?
The first story in the Arcadia series, THIS SIDE OF MADNESS was first published by the Henson Press, owned by my brother Charles Henson, in one of his books. THIS SIDE OF MADNESS was included in an anthology published in 1996 called FOR A DARK HOUR: A collection of Hoosier Horrors edited by Charles W. Henson. Earon later republished the story on his website, THE MISS LUCY WESTENRA SOCIETY OF THE UNDEAD. Charles is no longer publishing his books, but Earon's website is archived on the Internet Archive. However, I believe Charles told me that some of his out of print books are now available from used book sellers on the Internet, but at very high prices (they were lovingly created high quality hardback books). Later I will see what I can find out, but I need to get this website finished right now and proofread so it can be published! Later, if I can find out anything about copies of the books still being available anywhere, I will post the information here.
I also have this story posted on my Writers-Network page.
The address for my page is:
The address for the main Writers-Network page is:
THIS SIDE OF MADNESS
MARY HAZEL UPTON
The first lesson attendants at Libertyville State Hospital, or Arcadia as it is also called, learn is never to turn your back on a patient. The second lesson is that there are only two kinds of people at Arcadia…us and them. I’m not so sure about this second lesson anymore. There’s a very narrow line between sanity and insanity. I’m not so sure I didn’t, at least temporarily, cross it that Halloween night last year. I know that what I saw that night turned my whole world inside out, along with my safe, solid beliefs about what is real and what isn’t. That’s getting ahead of my story, though.
My name is Marsha Sue Kelly. Ordinarily I work the graveyard shift on R Ward, the ward for patients soon to be released. There’s always too much help on R Ward and too little help on most of the other wards, though. So like three of the other girls, I was waiting for the phone call from the office that would tell me where I’d have to detail to that night.
“I hope they don’t send me to any of the Gray Wards tonight,” Diana complained. “I’m tired.”
That was exactly what I was hoping. Hardly anybody liked working the Gray Wards where the chronically ill, elderly mental patients were housed.
The phone rang just then. “It’s for you.” Becky handed me the phone.
“Marsha, you’re to go to MC1,” my supervisor informed me.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I hung up the phone. I gathered my book bag that I carry my reading material and my lunch in. The nights at Arcadia are long. If a person didn’t keep busy crocheting, or reading, or playing cards, the night would stretch out to eternity.
The MC building is isolated by itself on a winding road behind the dining room. MC is a three story Victorian monstrosity housing the chronically insane men. It was very dark as I approached the building. Although the moon was due to be full tonight, it was hidden by a bank of clouds. It was quite warm for the end of October, but I pulled my sweater closer as I approached the MC building. The wind made a lonesome sound blowing through the trees, and the dry leaves made an unpleasant dead sound rustling beneath my feet.
Once again, I wondered what I was doing here at Arcadia. I’m only working here long enough to help my husband, Brant, pay off our bills .Still, sometimes I wonder if I should have taken this job, or waited for something else. Insanity runs in my family, and I’ve heard it’s hereditary. I shivered and put these disturbing thoughts out of my mind.
The entrances to the MC building are lit by small yellow lights that don’t give out much light. I used my key to open the outside door. The door opened onto a narrow stairway. The MC building, like most of the other old, outdated buildings at Arcadia, was in process of being remodeled to conform with federal regulations. During this remodeling process, MC1 was moved to the second floor, MC2 to the third floor, and MC3 to another building.
As I stepped inside and closed the door behind me, the feeling of isolation was overwhelming. A plywood barricade and a padlock on either side of the hall sealed the first floor off. Small peepholes in the barricade showed me that one side of the hall was lighted and one side was dark. An unpleasant memory of a conversation Daryl and I had had came back to me.
“I kept thinking what if a hand should reach out from the hole in the plywood,” he had said.
I hurried upstairs to the second floor. Paper bats and ghosts were taped to the walls, pathetic attempts to bring holiday cheer to the patients. It seemed like a long way down the narrow hall to the office, past the doors of the patients’ rooms.
Jim Pearson was sitting in the office, writing on a patient’s chart.
“Hello, Jim,” I smiled. “They sent me over to be your helper for the night.”
Jim, an easygoing, middle-aged man, returned my smile. "That’s good, Marsha. There’s not much to do over here, though. The patients are all quiet tonight.” He knocked on the wooden desk.
Jim finished writing on the chart, and put it back in the rack . “I think I’ll go out to the day room and watch television.”
“I’ll stay in the office and read, I guess. If anybody phones, I’ll let you know.”
Jim nodded. This was the arrangement we usually had when I worked with him.
I was soon completely absorbed in my new Stephen King novel, 'Salem's Lot. I had just gotten to the part where the grave digger discovers the vampire in the open grave. A sudden sound at the window nearly made me jump out of my skin. There was a bat at the window! I could see its tiny, vicious, sharp teeth as it fluttered against the screen, searching for a way in. It regarded me with an unblinking stare that made my blood run cold. Using a newspaper, I swatted the screen, finally succeeding in driving it away. I went back to reading my book, but kept looking at the screen occasionally, waiting for it to return. It never did.
“Would you like to see my teeth?”
I looked up to see a skeletal figure peering over the open top of the solid wooden office door. His bony skull was covered with long, lank, black hair. When I didn’t answer, he bared his wide, slack mouth in a parody of a grin. His teeth looked like ordinary teeth to me, although in need of brushing.
“See how pointed they are?” He tapped his top canine teeth .“Do you know why that is?”
When I still didn’t answer, he went on, "It’s because I’m a vampire. I’m Dracula.”
“Oh, really?” I wondered if I was making a mistake by talking to him. The slightest encouragement is sometimes enough to insure that a restless patient will stay up all night. I wished he would go back to bed so I could continue reading.
He nodded solemnly. "I became a vampire when I was sixteen years old. One night the Lord Of Darkness came to me. He was disguised as a bat.”
The mention of a bat startled me. I tried not to let it show.
“I opened my window and let him in. He initiated me into the Legion Of The Undead.”
“Are you bothering, Marsha?” Jim Pearson appeared at the door just then. He used his key to unlock the bottom half of the door and let himself into the office.
“Dracula” shook his head. “I’m just telling her how I became a vampire. She’s interested in that kind of stuff, aren’t you, Marsha? I can see you are. You’re reading a book about vampires.”
“Well, tell her in the morning,” Jim told him firmly. “You’re supposed to be in bed now.”
Obediently, my uninvited visitor left. “I have magical powers,” he stated. “I could turn into a bat and fly out of here anytime I wanted to.”
“Old Harvey thinks he’s a vampire,” Jim told me with amusement after Harvey had left. “Old Harvey Blackburn. He’s harmless, but he can be a real pain with all that vampire stuff.”
After Jim went back to the day room to finish watching the Friday Night videos, I read Harvey Blackburn’s chart. He had been a patient at Libertyville State Hospital for sixteen of his thirty-two years. His parents were divorced, and seldom visited him. According to his case history, he had had no friends in school, and had to drop out when his paranoid schizophrenia was diagnosed. He’d always been what other kids like to refer to as “weird”, with an unhealthy interest in the occult. His delusions did indeed take the form of believing himself to be a vampire.
I flipped the pages. At eighteen he’d run away from Arcadia and lived on the streets for a year, supporting himself by means of selling drugs and petty theft. He’d been recaptured when he’d tried to enlist in the army.
I closed the chart and replaced it on the rack. It was a sad, pitiful little account, like most of the ones I’d already read in the year I’d been working here. I wrote the whole incident down in my notebook before returning to Stephen King. I’ve been keeping a diary since I started working at Arcadia. I am a beginning writer, and I’m collecting material for my first novel. I figure someday I’m going to take a million dollars out of this place when I write my first scary bestseller based on my experiences here.
About two A.M. I started getting hungry. I went to the day room where Jim was now watching a movie.
“Is it O.K. if I go to the office and get something to eat? I’ll only be gone for a few minutes.”
The Coke machine and snack machine are still on the first floor.”
“There’s no way to get down there now,” I objected.
“There’s two side doors leading downstairs.”
I was intrigued. I knew the remodeling was almost done.This might be my only chance to explore the deserted first floor. Curiosity has always been my worst weakness. It’s gotten me into trouble plenty of times.
I followed Jim’s directions, hoping that the door I’d chosen would come out on the lighted side of the hall. If it came out on the unlighted side, I’d be returning immediately. Not even my curiosity was that great!
The door came out on the lighted side of the hall. I walked down the long, echoing, empty hall past closed doors to the alcove where the pop and candy machines were. I bought a Cherry Coke, a package of peanut butter crackers, and a Snickers bar.
Before I went back upstairs, I couldn’t resist going a little farther down the hall. I peeked into some of the rooms. Everything was very bright and very empty. The silence was complete. At the end of the hall was the wooden barricade dividing the lighted part of the hall from the dark part.
A sudden feeling of being completely alone down here, and of being watched by unseen things seized me. The MC halls are so narrow that if a person laid down on the floor cross-ways, he could touch both walls with his hands and feet. A tall person couldn’t lie down flat. I felt claustrophobia closing in on me.
A sudden movement in the shadowed, barricaded part of the hall caught my eye. It couldn’t be Harvey. He was locked up upstairs. As I looked, though, I was almost sure I could see him peering from around one of the dark doorways .His teeth were long and sharp and gleamed in the dim light.
I hurried back to the door leading upstairs, willing myself not to run, trying to block the panic from my mind. I was almost to the door when I saw Harvey come around the corner of the lighted hall up ahead. He was grinning. I began running then, but I knew he was going to get to the door, the only way back upstairs, before I did.
Desperate now and beyond logical reasoning, I grabbed the candy bar and the crackers out of my pocket. Holding them together in the shape of a crude cross, I forced myself to continue advancing toward the door. A look of demoniac fury came over Harvey’s face as he melted away into the shadows.
Trying to keep the panic at bay just a little longer, I fumbled for my key. I continued to hold my “cross” in front of me, although there was no sign of Harvey anywhere about now. I locked the door behind me on whatever horrors lurked in the emptiness downstairs.
“Ready to make a round with me?” Jim was standing beside the office door with flashlights in his hand when I got back upstairs.
I nodded, still too shook up to speak.
Harvey was sleeping peacefully in his bed when we checked on the patients. There was no way, even if he could have gotten downstairs through the multiple locked doors, that he could have gotten back upstairs and into bed so quickly.
I passed the rest of that long, long night pondering about just where this side of madness is. I thought I saw the bat again once just before dawn, but I’m not sure if I really did.
The next night before I went to work, I fastened a small silver cross necklace around my neck and tucked it under my uniform. Madness or not, I do know that I’ll never set foot in Arcadia again without it.
DADDY AT ODD FELLOWS HOME BEING TORN DOWN APRIL 22, 1978
PHOTOGRAPH BY HAZEL FERN HENSON
This photograph is one of a series of photographs that Mama has in one of her books and that she and Daddy took that day. She also has photographs of this beautiful old building before it was destroyed when my grandmother, Daddy's mother, Bertha Henson, was a patient there. She has several books of their visits to her and old photos of her and some of the other patients. I also have Bertha's old diaries and will post them and some of her photographs here so that the memory of her life will not be forgotten. So please check back occasionally if you like old history or photographs or just scary stories!