Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Dr. Marlow's Home for the Sanity-Challenged: Part Seven - Dreams and Nightmares

12th December 1889

It was the closest I had come to freedom in months.

I was residing in a majestic palace, back in the age of some ancient civilization or other: rather like something I had read in the Classics during my university days. After some time joyfully passing my days in idleness, I learned that was a prince of great notoriety, from a long-reigning and powerful family - and these halls of stone and tile that I graced belonged to me completely.

There was no need for me to work, or cook, or to worry about the needs of others. Loyal servants waited on me hand and foot. The only person's cares I needed to concern myself with was my own... and they were utterly absent. 

(Well, with the possible exception of staying motivated on a hot and lazy day, with a blazing sun burning overhead, but since work wasn't a necessity for me here, where was the trouble?)

It was on one glorious afternoon, as I found myself lounging and half-sleeping on a couch in the great hall, that I was stirred by the sound of soft footsteps coming towards me. 

Turning my head, I opened one eye curiously... and saw a beautiful woman, wearing a flowing dress of silks and adorned with fine jewelry, coming towards me - a water jug in her hands.

As she reached my couch, she knelt before me, placing the jug down like a religious offering.

"For you, my beloved," she cooed softly. "Is there anything else I can do to please you?"

I sat up straight upon my couch, looking down at her with some amazement.

"What did you say?" I asked, unsure that I could trust what I had just heard.

"I was merely asking if you needed anything else, my love."

"Who... who exactly are you?"

Giggling, she rose to her feet.

"Surely," she said, "you recognise your own wife?"

Playfully, she pushed me back upon the couch, and crawled on top of me - straddling me as a jockey would a horse, stroking my brow and face ever so tenderly with her fingertips. 

At first, I was somewhat alarmed by this sudden action... but as I gazed up into her soft, shining eyes and her beautiful, Madonna-like face, I found myself sinking into a state of relaxed bliss - my arms entwining around her slim, slender frame as she leaned forward to lay her head upon my chest.

Glancing down at her, I cupped a hand beneath her chin, titling her face upwards so those memorizing eyes would look upon me once again. With the weakest of pulls (due to being terrified at the thought of hurting such a fragile beauty), I drew her face ever closer to mine, until - after what was merely moments, but what felt to me like centuries - our lips joined together in a heavenly union...


I jolted awake with a start, my body drenched in a cold sweat. Staring up at the cracked plaster ceiling, I came to realise that I was no longer in my glorious palace, but rather, laid on a bed within the confines of a cell-like chamber, still trapped in Marlow's monstrous asylum.

With the morning sunlight barely breaking through the dust-covered window, I sat up with a groggy groan... learning, with no small amount of puzzlement, that I was dressed in my nightshirt. It made no sense. Last I could remember, I had been wearing my everyday suit, writing up my journal in my office. How the devil had I come to be here, instead?

Outside the door, I could hear hushed female voices chatting away with great haste. They sounded hazy and distant as my mind struggled to recall who exactly possessed them.

"How is he, Deidre? "

"It's hard to tell, Sister. He hasn't woken up once. He just murmurs and moans, tosses and turns in his sleep. And his fever grew alarmingly high last night. God be praised, it appears to finally be breaking now."

"Lawrence isn't much better. In fact, 'e's worse. 'E just lies there, all day, every day - utterly motionless, and completely silent. No fever that I can feel, but 'is pulse is very weak. It's terrifying."

"Oh, God, Fifi... I only hope Dr. Tripp recovers soon. We need him."

My voice was little more than a weak croak as I tried to cry out.


Not very loud, yet it sufficed. Seconds later, the door flew open, and all three women scurried inside. I felt rather embarrassed to have the ladies see me in such a state of undress, but I would learn there was a reason for this urgent reaction. Deidre seemed especially keen to see me: rushing right up to me, teardrops perched at the edges of her eyes.

"Dr. Tripp!" she sighed, great relief apparent in her voice. "You're awake. Thank God."

The cut-glass accent had returned. Still, from the sound of the conversation she'd just had, she was now on first-name terms with her fellow inmates. That was progress at least.

"What happened?" I asked, still bemused. "How did I come to be here?"

"Yer caught the fever," Fifi explained. "Yer collapsed in your office. Yer've been in 'ere for a fortnight."

"A fortnight?"

Fifi nodded.

"Everyone was so afraid. They all recovered after a few days, except Lawrence. 'E's still ill. But your case seemed to be particularly bad. For a while, we thought... well, that the worst might 'appen."

I swallowed, struggling to process this grave news. 

"Yer owe your life to Deidre," Fifi went on. "She dragged yer in 'ere. Took care of yer. Changed your clothes, spooned water into your mouth, dabbed the sweat off yer... all that stuff. Ever since you got ill, she's hardly left your side for more than a moment."

As I turned back to Deirdre, she blushed, and lowered her head.

"I... I was so worried about you," she said weakly.

I gave her a smile - my heart touched by her kindness. It seemed she really was turning over a new leaf.

"Thank you."

Before we two could say anything more to one another, Fifi boldly stepped forward, and sat herself down on my bed without so much as a by-your-leave.

"To be honest, guv, I'm not just glad yer better for yer own sake," she confessed. "Yer see, I'm not sure that I am quite better yet, after all. I keep being sick in the mornings."

My eyebrows leapt upwards. Surely, she was not utterly ignorant of what such a symptom suggested? Still, as I looked into her face whilst she spoke, I saw flashes of fear in her eyes: genuine concern at what was happening to her. Perhaps she wasn't as worldly-wise as she had first appeared.

"Have no fear, Fifi," I replied, as calmly as I could muster. "Come and see me later, and I'll give you an examination. I'm sure we'll get to the bottom of this soon enough."

The timid sound of Sister Marie Catherine clearing her throat floated across the room.

"I'm glad to see that you're feeling better, Dr. Tripp," she said politely. "Now, please excuse me. I'm meeting Clarice in the chapel."

"Clarice?" I asked, intrigued.

"Yes," came the reply. "As of late, we... we have been praying together every day. I have been teaching her about the Catholic faith, and we discuss our lives with one another. I believe she appreciates my counsel... and I, too, have learnt a few useful things from her."

"Now, I must go. I shouldn't keep my friend waiting."


Lucian watched me intensively with the cold, focused stare of a hawk as I examined his beloved Fifi. I had asked her to lie upon a couch - rather like I had in that sweetest of dreams I had awoken from mere hours earlier - so I could perform a physical check, doing so in order to ascertain a more definitive diagnosis. 

Her beloved made damn sure my hands didn't linger upon her body for a moment more than was necessary. Of course, I had no romantic inclinations towards this particular patient, but even if I had, the thought of Lucian's rage-filled reaction would have been enough to quell any urges.

As it turned out, the process only confirmed my earlier suspicions.

"You may sit up now, Fifi," I said. "I've worked out why you're still being sick."

"It's... it's nothing bad, is it guv?" Lucian asked, his voice wobbling with nerves. "Because, if it is, I want 'er to get the best medicine you've got."

"No, no, Lucian," I replied reassuringly. "There is nothing to worry about. In fact, I have some good news for you both."

Fifi titled her head, puzzled.

"What is it, Dr. Tripp?"

A grin spread across my lips as I turned to them one at a time.

"Fifi is expecting a baby," I told them joyfully. "Congratulations."

Lucian's face grew pale as Fifi gasped - her hands rushing to her mouth.

"Are... are you quite sure?" she asked.

"Most certain," I said. "You're about a month along, I'd say."

Fifi curled up into herself like a hedgehog. Her shoulders began to shake. When he heard the quiet, deep sobs emerging from his lover, Lucian immediately rushed up to her, sitting down beside her, clasping her hand.

"Fifi," he whispered. "Fifi, darlin', it's gonna be all right. We'll work somefink out, yer and me. Come on, love - don't be upset."

"I'm not," Fifi explained, flashing Lucian a smile as she wiped her eyes. "I'm 'appy. So, so 'appy. A  baby, Lucian! A little baby, for yer and me. It's... it's a blessin'. It's the one good fink to come out of this god-forsaken place."

"I'm... I'm going to have to ask you not to care for Laurence any more," I said, a bit more gravely. "You can't risk getting seriously ill in your condition. It might affect the baby."

"Don't worry about that," Lucian told me. "Me and Sammy can 'andle it. 'E's my mate. I'm sure 'e'll understand. And Laurence will be better soon, anyway. I just know he will."

He turned back to Fifi, cupping her cheek in his large, rough palm. Such a tender gesture from a man who, until recently, had only used his hands to inflict pain.

"We'll be a smashin' little family, won't we?" he told her brightly. "A proper family."

Taking the hand of the mother-to-be once more, he pulled her to her feet, and then dropped down onto to one knee.

"I'm afraid I ain't got a ring, or anyfink," he began nervously, "but... Fifi Roccoco... Fiona Richmond... will yer make me the 'appiest man in the world, and marry - "

"Yes!" Fifi cried, jumping up and down giddily - a little too giddily for my liking, given her condition, and not even giving Lucian a chance to finish speaking. "Oh, yes, Lucian! Of course I will!"

She embraced him tightly, and the two shared a passionate kiss. 

I turned away out of respect, feeling a fiery blush breaking out upon my cheeks. After all, the only place I had ever been able to express my fleshly desires was within dreams.

"Just... just promise me one fink," Fifi went on. "All this fightin', and yellin', and gettin' angry. I'm not 'avin' you behave like that in front of our baby. So it stops. All of it. Now, and forevermore."

"Of course," Lucian replied, without hesitation. "I promise. After all, 'ow can I be angry when all my dreams 'ave just come true?"

As the pair embraced happily yet again, I heard someone rapping upon the door. I answered it at once, and was greeted by Deidre - who thrust an wax-sealed envelope into my face.

"Sorry to intrude, but... this  just came for you, Dr. Tripp," she explained. "I'm told that it's highly important."

Taking it from her, I opened it up hurriedly. As I read the letter contained within, I felt a frightening chill run up my spine.


Dr. Tripp,

I have received reports from one Father Michael O'Leary about inappropriate behaviour within my Home for the Sanity-Challenged. I had grave concerns about giving a lunatic inmate such as yourself a position of greater responsibility there, and it seems my fears were well-founded. To permit such brazen sin to occur under my fine institution's roof - you are a disgrace, sir!

As such, I now have no choice but to personally inspect the Home. I shall be arriving at 9am precisely on January 5th: I refuse to let your incompetence ruin my plans for the Yuletide season. I shall be accompanied by fellow esteemed physician, Dr. Silas Addington, and the Mother Superior from Sister Marie Catherine Rose's convent, the Reverend Mother Marie Hilda Clare.

We shall use this opportunity to assess the inmates and determine whether or not they are ready to return to our sane and decent society. Naturally, this includes yourself along with the seven others. 

To put it plainly, Barnaby... I do not expect matters to go in your favour. Nor, in fact, should you.

I remain, the nation's caring and obedient servant,

Dr. Nicholas Marlow


I barely had time to process this gravest of news when Sammy suddenly appeared before me - dashing across the hall like a madman, drawing in desperate breaths. Immediately, I stepped out of my office to greet him.

"Dr. Tripp!" he wheezed. "You must come quickly!"

"What's wrong, Sammy?"

"It's... it's Laurence. He's awake. He wants you to see him at once."

"Whatever for?"

A nervous pause followed as Sammy swallowed forcefully, struggling to choose his words with care.

"He... he says he's dying."

1 comment:

  1. I hope Laurence wil be okay - I quite like the guy but I guess someone has to go to make room for Fifi's baby.. hmmn