Inside the Asylum
A Kathy Ryan Novel #2
by Mary SanGiovanni
Genre: Supernatural Horror
Pub Date: 5/7/19
A mind is a terrible thing to destroy . . .
Kathy has been hired to assess the threat of patient Henry Banks, an inmate at the Connecticut-Newlyn Hospital for the Criminally Insane, the same hospital where her brother is housed. Her employers believe that Henry has the ability to open doors to other dimensions with his mind—making him one of the most dangerous men in modern history. Because unbeknownst to Kathy, her clients are affiliated with certain government organizations that investigate people like Henry—and the potential to weaponize such abilities.
What Kathy comes to understand in interviewing Henry, and in her unavoidable run-ins with her brother, is that Henry can indeed use his mind to create “Tulpas”—worlds, people, and creatures so vivid they come to actual life. But now they want life outside of Henry. And they'll stop at nothing to complete their emancipation. It's up to Kathy—with her brother's help—to stop them, and if possible, to save Henry before the Tulpas take him over—and everything else around him.
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March twenty-seventh marked three years since Henry Banks had woken up from the coma. He kept track in a day planner, with new calendar refills for subsequent years, by drawing a symbol he had been taught by his friends in the upper right hand corner of each day’s page. Other than therapy sessions, he had no real appointments anymore, but Henry jotted down notes about the day’s events, things he learned or discovered, and each night before bed, he drew that symbol of his far-reaching goals. Journaling, even Henry’s odd version of it, was encouraged and allowed to continue as a means of reconnecting with one’s self and feelings. His was more of an odd, disjointed grimoire of his mind, but that seemed to be okay, too. He never forgot, not even during the trial when his mind was…elsewhere. On days he couldn’t get to the planner, Maisie made sure that at least the days were marked. It was important to him. He never forgot, so neither did she.
Every day that passed reminded him that he was drifting farther and farther from the rest of humanity, so Henry didn’t think the three-year anniversary was cause for celebration. Dr. Pam Ulster did, though, or at least convincingly pretended to. Every year prior, she had suggested Henry do something nice for himself to commemorate his “return to the world.” The irony was not lost on him. He didn’t see how he was supposed to do much of anything since the orderlies, who were not big on celebrations, watched him like hawks. Even if he wanted to, what could he really give himself in his current situation? A walk in the sunshine around the hospital grounds? An extra muffin with breakfast? Anything else—anything worthwhile—would be noticed and probably taken away.
Besides, it wasn’t like he’d come back from the dead. He’d just come back from…somewhere else.
Henry figured other people would have had reason to celebrate March twenty-seventh if he’d died instead of coming out of that coma. Maybe that should have happened, but it didn’t. Maisie, Orrin, Edgar, and the Others made sure of that. They’d come out of Ayteilu and saved him. Or maybe they were right, and he had saved them.
The police and the lawyers and the doctors told him he’d done something bad to the teenagers in his basement right before the coma. He couldn’t remember much about that. He was pretty sure he hadn’t been the one who’d done it, but it was his fault all the same. He’d seen those teenagers before; they hung around outside the Dollar Tree and said mean things to him from behind the safety of their cigarette smoke clouds when he went to shop there. The girl was pretty, but she was sharp where she should have been soft, like something made of glass or porcelain, something whose temper could shatter her into a thousand jagged, deadly pieces. The three guys were mostly messy mops of hair, black trench coats, and jeans. Their faces didn’t matter to him. Their fists did, and their words; they often threatened the former with the latter. Henry wasn’t even sure if they’d had eyes, but he imagined that if they did, those eyes were cold.
They made fun of the holes in his t-shirts and the way he walked and the scar on his shaved head. They made fun of the burn marks on the back of his shoulder and neck and the way he growled at them instead of using words. Still, they had always been an away-problem, an outside-the-house problem, like savage dogs on leashes. They were tethered to the Dollar Tree, and if he could make it past them to his car and then to his home, he would be safe.
Then it turned out that they weren’t on leashes. They could move anywhere they wanted. And they had chosen to break into his house, his safe space. They’d brought baseball bats and knives. The Viper and the Others had come simply to protect him.
Sometimes, Henry thought he should have started keeping count in his planner on that night.
Dr. Ulster had asked him once during a session why he bothered to maintain such meticulous records of the past three years if he honestly believed everything in his life had fallen apart since the coma. Why approach the planner as a constant reminder of his deterioration, then? Why not just put the past behind him and focus on getting better?
Henry had told her then the truth about the Others, just like he had told the police when they found what was left of the four teenagers in his basement. He told them about Ayteilu and its tendency to swallow up reality. He’d told them about Maisie and Orrin and Edgar and all the Others. He’d even told them about the Viper. Maisie said that was okay. The problem was, he couldn’t show the police or Dr. Ulster, so they hadn’t believed. He couldn’t make it all happen on command, not back then. But he was learning, and over the last 1,095 days, he was steadily growing better at it. What he didn’t tell anyone was that in three days’ time, as set forth by Edgar’s prediction, he’d have complete control in summoning the Others at will and opening the way to Ayteilu. The Others hadn’t wanted him to share that part with anyone else.
Henry peered through the gloom of his bedroom. His cot was against the wall across from the door, which of course was locked now that it was lights out. On the far side of the room was the door to his simple bathroom—one sink, one toilet, both gleaming white—and next to that door was a small closet in which hung his hospital-issued clothes, soft and harmless. No zipper teeth or sharp metal claws there, not even buttons or laces. Beneath the clothes, like obedient lapdogs curled up on the closet floor for the night, were a pair of loafers and a pair of slippers. Against the back wall near where the head of his cot lay was a small, barred window. The orderlies could open it sometimes to air the room out but they had keys to do that and were allowed to reach through the bars. That night, his window was closed but Henry didn’t mind. He just liked having one, and from his, he could see the parking lot. Some people liked seeing the neat, tight little lawns that constituted the hospital grounds, but he preferred the parking lot. It reminded him that there was still a real world out there, with normal people who had jobs and houses and pets, and that those people could actually leave hospitals and move freely through it.
He got up from the cot and shuffled over to the window. The moon was mostly hidden behind clouds, but in the lot below, the arc-sodium lights illuminated patches of asphalt in a soft melon color. Shadows skirted those halos of glow, darting quickly from one spot to another in the dark. It wasn’t their shape so much as their movement that Henry caught, but it was soothing all the same to see they were down there. Probably it was Maisie who had sent them. She was thoughtful like that. Maisie always knew when he was sad or angry or just feeling drained.
That night, Henry was exhausted. The geliophobia had been particularly bad all day. He had shouldered the burden of many crippling mental conditions since early childhood, but the one that garnered the least sympathy and understanding was his fear of people laughing at him. Decades of laughter, pressed between the pages of his memories, always found a way to resurface, to grow fat and loud again in his thoughts and even in his ears. When he was stressed or tired, he could hear a chorus of guffaws and giggles, tittering and peals from people who should have kept their damn mouths shut.
The laughter echoed in the back of his thoughts, jarring and ugly like the squawking of angry hawks, and he tried to put it out. Bad things happened in the dark when he couldn’t, and he didn’t have the strength to make the bad things go away. Not tonight. His limbs felt heavy and his eyes were dry and burning. He shuffled back to the cot and climbed beneath the blanket.
Behind the Door
A Kathy Ryan Novel #1
Some doors should never be opened . . .
In the rural town of Zarepath, deep in the woods on the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, stands the Door. No one knows where it came from, and no one knows where it leads. For generations, folks have come to the Door seeking solace or forgiveness. They deliver a handwritten letter asking for some emotional burden to be lifted, sealed with a mixture of wax and their own blood, and slide it beneath the Door. Three days later, their wish is answered—for better or worse.
Kari is a single mother, grieving over the suicide of her teenage daughter. She made a terrible mistake, asking the powers beyond the Door to erase the memories of her lost child. And when she opened the Door to retrieve her letter, she unleashed every sin, secret, and spirit ever trapped on the other side.
Now, it falls to occultist Kathy Ryan to seal the door before Zarepath becomes hell on earth . . .
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Many stories about it form a particularly colorful subset of the local lore of the town and its surrounding woods, streams, and lakes. Most of them relate the same essential series of events, beginning with a burden of no small psychological impact, progressing to a twilight trip through the southwestern corner of the woods near Zarephath, and arriving at a door. Numerous variations detail what, exactly, must be presented at the door and how, but ultimately, these stories end with an unburdening of the soul and, more or less, happy endings. It is said “more or less” because such endings are arbitrarily more or less agreeable to the individuals involved than the situations prior to their visit to the Door of Zarephath. More times than not, the “less” wins out.
There are some old folks in town, snow- and storm cloud–haired sept and octogenarians who sip coffee and people-watch from the local diner or gather on front porches at dusk or over the counter at Ed’s Hardware to trade stories of Korea and Vietnam, and in one venerable case, World War II, and it’s said they know a thing or two about that door. The old-timers remember the desperation of postwar addictions and nightmares and what they used to call shell shock, of families they couldn’t help wearing down or beating up or tearing apart, despite their best efforts to hold things together. They remember carrying burdens, often buried but never very deeply, beneath their conscious thoughts, burdens that crawled their way up from oblivion and into nightmares and flashbacks when the darkness of booze or even just the night took over men who had once been children and who were expected to be men. They remember late-night pilgrimages through the forest on the outskirts of town, trekking miles in through rain or dark or frost-laced wind to find that door, and lay their sins and sorrows at its feet. And they remember that sometimes, forgetting proved to be worse.
The old women too remember bruises and battered faces and blackouts. They remember cheating husbands and cancers and unwanted pregnancies and miscarriages and daughters being touched where they shouldn’t by men who should have protected them. The old women remember the Door in Zarephath being a secret, almost sacred equalizer that older women imparted to younger women, a means of power passed from one group whose hands were socially and conventionally tied to another. And they remember watching strong women fall apart under the weight of that power.
And these old folks remember trying once to burn the door down, but of course, that hadn’t worked. The Door in Zarephath won’t burn because it isn’t made of any wood of this earth, anything beholden to the voracious appetite of fire. It had an appetite of its own that night, and no one has tried to burn it down since. Rather, the old-timers have learned to stay away from it, for the most part, to relegate the knowledge of its location and its promises to the same dusty old chests in the mind that the worst of their war stories are kept. There’s an unspoken agreement that as far as the Door in Zarephath goes, the young people can fend for themselves. While the folks in Zarephath won’t stop a person from using the Door, they aren’t usually inclined to help anyone use it. Not in the open, and not just anyone who asks about it. Behind some doors are rooms hidden for good cause in places human beings were probably never meant to know about—rooms meant never to be entered—and the old folks of Zarephath understand that for reasons they may never know, they were given a skeleton key to one such room. There’s a responsibility in that, the kind whose true gravity is maybe only recognized by those with enough years and experience and mistakes left behind to really grasp it.
People often say the old-folks’ generation were stoic, used to getting by with very little and largely of a mind frame not prone to histrionic anxiety or useless worry. People say it has to do with surviving the Depression and growing up in a simpler, more rugged time. But for the old folks in Zarephath, the strength of their fiber comes from what they remember—and from what they have come to accept forgetting. It comes from what they no longer choose to lay before the Door.
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