Friday, December 12, 2008
Fiction Friday #3
The ground was hard, frozen by the touch of the season’s first frost. A frigid air had blown the last of the stubborn leaves off the trees, leaving nature’s retreating message on the Dogwoods, crossed out in black lines on the bark. Evelyn left the maps in the car, and followed Jeff onto the old asylum property, now partially a park. It was the beginning of the afternoon, the time of year when darkness falls early.
As she took a small notepad and a pen out of her jacket pocket, a pack of gum fell out.
“So the town of King’s Park used to be called St. Johnland in the 1800’s?” Evelyn asked, brushing off the pack to offer Jeff a piece.
Jeff took two strips of gum, and stuffed them sloppily into his mouth, then proceeded to chew like a llama Evelyn once saw at a petting zoo in Yaphank. “He’s so freaking weird.” she thought. There was always something quirky about the way he looked at her, that made her uneasy, even back in grad school.
“Yes,” he continued, laughing nervously, in 1885, this land that we’re standing on, plus about 600 acres was home to a working farm attached to King's County Asylum. At first the site was chosen for the overflow of mental patients in NYC hospitals, with the belief that country air was beneficial, but between 1885 and 1895, this place grew overcrowded too. In 1900, the site officially became a state mental hospital called King's Park Psychiatric Center. Over the years the name changed to King's Park Hospital, which closed at the end of 1996. At that time the remaining 1300 patients were transferred to Pilgrim State Hospital.”
“And when Pilgrim State closed, many of those patients became homeless, living in the streets of many towns across Long Island,” Evelyn added.
Jeff nodded. “Sadly, that is true. Let’s take a walk to one of the old wards. Follow me.” On unofficial “museum curator business,” Jeff seemed to have unspoken rights to the property, and he knew how to get into the boarded up buildings.
Evelyn traced his steps through the overgrown brush to a large building, standing silent and sealed like a mausoleum.
“This is ward 122. It was built around 1890.” Jeff pulled off a loose board off the bottom of a first floor window. He placed it against a knotty tree and made a gesture of mock grandeur. “After you, Madame.”
Evelyn hesitated. Going into an abandoned building with a strange person is not advisable, but she was obsessed with this place, and the story attached. So she climbed in the hole. They found themselves in a long hall. The walls were cracked with powder blue paint peeling like dry skin. “Don’t breathe too much,” joked Jeff, “there’s asbestos.”
Evelyn was too absorbed to care. She followed dusty footprints into a large center room, pulling her phone out of her jacket pocket to take some pictures. Evelyn felt this impromptu tour was giving her a clearer understanding of the ledger, like newly discovered pieces of a puzzle that were filling in the gaps. In her mind’s eye she saw the room as it was in the time of St. Johnland.
Men in chairs near the fireplace, sitting crumpled over, some rocking, all staring down at their feet, mute. The next thing she knew, Jeff was slamming closed the ancient door to the large room, and turning towards her, his eyes dark.
Pictures are from online archives. To Be Continued Next Friday...Click on the label: Asylum Project for the other pieces of the story. Your comments on this fun and interesting fiction piece are much appreciated!
Dear Internet Traveler,
Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.