He skulks in the corner like Horwendill’s ghost, appraising my every action and judging me with the eye of the unavenged. I wear the mark of Feng and Gerutha, of incest and murder, with neither Amleth, nor Hamnet to speak council for me with wild, raging fury. And as the actor moves forth and back upon the trod and worn planks, I am captive to his whim. The ghost is hungry.
Faceless, nameless, without form, he speaks at dawn with the voice of kindness, but in the dark, the kindness turns to tremor and squall. I shudder in my bedclothes, throwing up useless defense as I scramble under the hospital linen and recite private catechism to the Lord in Heaven. If I should die before I wake, the slow torture of one thousand cuts awaits me on the other side. So, I sleep when no one watches. Someone always watches.
The man in the corner, the Nurse, the boy in the chair and the man inside my mouth. They all watch. They leer and smirk, taking small joy in my excruciation. They have been here from the beginning. They have always been. They know not of Before. They simply Are. And Will Be. Eternals of the Begotten. The Antecedents. Of a time before the Old Ones. The stuff of nightmares. And none more, than the Lurker.
In my time of dying, he means to hold me in bloody embrace and carry me away, yaup and wail echoing through the caverns of Charon. No Virgil, he will see me through the gate, without ceremony, my soul borne away to the place of its eternal display. I will be a trophy on a pedestal of humiliation and grief. Deuteronomy says that “the eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms”, but I know that the arms that await me are not those of Jehovah. They are claw and talon and wing and scale and mouth and tongue and fang and appendage. But the everlasting, loving arms of God and Beatrice shall be eternally denied to me if the Jacob the Lurker has his way.
The Lurker. The Watcher. He spies upon me and remembers. A wicked vengeful grimace on his face betrays his intention. He whispers in the darkness and seduces. I hear, but I do not listen. When I turn away, I feel his foul sour breath upon the nape of my neck and feel his spider leg’s touch along my side. He strokes my arm and calls my name. It is better to turn and face him, for then he retreats, hidden by shadow. He will not face me. He bides his time.
The Nurse comes at noon with her poisons. She has philtres and tonics and tablets of hallucination. She says she means to help me. She means to make me well. But I know she lies as well. They all lie. Her capsules weaken my body and force sleep upon me. When I have drifted into the arena of the unwell, she will prepare me for Jacob and the knives that await me. I lie still with more than mild dread. With ratched, clang, sturm und drang she lords upon her wards, with the confidence and authority of one who knows how it will end. There are no surprises for her. She holds all the cards. The Hermit, The Hierophant, and The Fool. The Emperor and The Tower. She wields the cards of Judgement and Death. The Hanged Man and the Wheel of Fortune. Even the Devil himself resides in her deck. Only the lone card of Justice remains omitted from her hand. The Nurse has no interest in such things. Only Alchemy and Castigation hold sway with her.
The boy in the chair is my betrayer, my brother and my killer. If the Nurse prepares me and the Lurker attends me, then the boy shall be the one to take my life. He is the one I fear the most, this assassin of Perdition. My vigil stays his hand and makes his charade promulgate, but he continues. Facing the window, he sits as mute as desperation. He pretends. He attempts to purchase my confidence with his silence, but I know his mind. I see upon his eyes, the reflection of suffering and fire. He is a beast, adrift in an age of men, beyond the knowledge of the mortal. He has cut and bitten and skinned and flayed and burned and bludgeoned and drowned and whipped and mauled and mutilated. He has taken more lives than there are breaths in the life on a man. To know him is to meet the Black Angel. I must take action against him first.
As for the man inside my mouth…
He tells me of another life. Another where and when. A life more ordinary. He tells me of the Hospital (the Grand Hall) and of the outside (the Circle) and of a mother and father I don’t remember (never had). His stories carry the ring of truth, but I can still feel the thorns of deceit in his words. Words that collect in my throat like cancerous bile eating away at the source of my aenima. There is no outside. There are no mothers and fathers in this world. If the hospital exists, it is a prison. I did not arrive. I have always been here before. And until the last night comes I shall be here in the morning, noon and evening, each day collecting and gathering as a durden of living days, until the great Fangorn that is my life stands eternal and evermore. And I will swallow the man inside my mouth and he will speak no more. I have always been the caretaker and sleep will not rob me of my duty. Though he means to assist the Nurse in her pursuit, they will never lull me to slumber. Instead I keep them awake at night with my screams.
And Jacob awaits.
The accompanying photo is from Jean-Philippe Charbonnier's 1954 exhibition of photos of French psychiatric hospitals.
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