She only stepped outside for a minute…
But a minute was all it took to turn Jean Kingsley’s world upside down–a minute she’d regret for the rest of her life.
This is an excellent and terrifying road trip, full of surprises, twists, secrets and suspicions, not to mention a completely unexpected ending. It’s already gaining 5 star reviews on Amazon. I loved it. Try it for yourself. Here’s an excerpt:
Glenview Psychiatric Hospital looked like it could drive a person insane if they weren’t already. Chain link and razor wire surrounded the perimeter, and beyond that, ivy snaked its way up dirty red brick walls. I let my gaze follow it to a bar-covered window where an elderly woman looked down on me, her face as white as the long, stringy hair that framed it. She nodded with a vacant, fish-eyed expression, then flashed a menacing, toothless grin that sent chills up my spine. I turned my attention away quickly, headed for the front door.
Glenview had once been a private facility, but the state had taken it over several years before. From the looks of things, they hadn’t done much to improve it. I moved down a dimly-lit, claustrophobic hallway so narrow that I doubted two people could walk it side by side. The asylum-green walls were cracked and chipped, the floors covered in nondescript, skid-infested tile. The overall theme: dismal and cold.
I came to the gatekeeper for this palace of darkness: a receptionist behind a Plexiglas partition blurred with fingerprints, grime, and other slimy things I was afraid to think about. Her expression told me she was sick of her job. Couldn’t say I blamed her. Then I heard static and a speaker going live.
“Can I help you,” she said. It sounded more like a statement than a question.
I leaned in toward a metal-covered hole in the glass. “Patrick Bannister, for Doctor Faraday.”
No verbal response, just a loud buzzer and a simultaneous click as the lock disengaged; I pulled the door open and found her waiting on the other side behind a service counter.
After signing in with my I.D., I handed over my cell phone. Then a security guard arrived to escort me through a sally port that looked more like a cave. Smelled like one, too. Next stop, a service elevator: high stink-factor there as well, like a nasty old gym locker.
Stepping off onto the fifth floor, I fell into sensory overload. The stench was so wicked and fierce that it burned through my sinuses—excrement, sweat, and cleaning agents all blended into one nasty funk that kicked my gag reflex into action. Then came the sounds: a woman’s hysterical laughter echoing down the hall, clearly not inspired by anything funny, along with lots of cursing and other peculiar, vaguely human cries I could hardly identify. As we moved past the metal-grated security doors, patients peered at me with flat, vacant expressions, creepy smiles, and wild eyes that made my skin crawl.
Finally, we came to a port in the storm: a nursing station. The guard nodded to the woman behind the counter. She nodded back, and he left me there.
In her early fifties, she was a striking brunette, one of those women whose beauty seems to improve with age: high cheekbones, dark-lashed, pale blue eyes, and a pair of legs that could give a twenty-year-old a run for her money. The nametag said she was Aurora Penfield, Nursing Supervisor. I eyed a photo on the desk; it was her, much younger with a small boy on her lap, both smiling big for the camera. Then I looked up and saw her staring, waiting for me to speak.
I cleared my throat. “Patrick Bannister, for Doctor Faraday.”
In a dutiful, mechanical manner, she reached for the telephone and punched a few buttons, giving me the once-over while waiting for an answer.
Then I felt a tug on my leg. Startled, I looked down into a pair of dark, cavernous eyes staring up at me: a woman squatting on the floor, probably in her sixties but with a distinctly childlike quality. Tangled, grizzled hair surrounded a hopeless, miserable face. She barked at me, then snarled, baring her teeth.
“Gretchen!” Penfield said, leaning over the counter, her tone cross and unwavering. “Move away immediately!”
The woman looked at Penfield, looked at me, then frowned. I glanced down and spotted a yellowish puddle forming between her feet, but before I could react, two orderlies stepped quickly toward us; they each grabbed an arm and pulled her up, then guided her away.
Nurse Ratched went back to her work as if nothing had happened and said, “Doctor’s on his way. Please take a seat.”
A few moments later, a side door opened and Doctor Faraday appeared. He was somewhere in his sixties, tall and slender with a thick head of silvery hair and wire-rimmed glasses that missed the fashion curve by a good twenty years. His face registered zero on the expression scale, as blank as the wall behind him. As we shook hands, I noticed his were rough-skinned and ice-cold.
He led me down a corridor and past a door with a glass observation window. Inside, a patient sat in the corner, hands under his gown, giving himself pleasure. He made direct eye contact with me and started jerking himself with more enthusiasm and fervor. Then he stopped, and a shit-eating grin slowly spread across his face. I looked away, feeling my nausea return for a second round.
When we reached Faraday’s office, he took a seat behind his desk, and I sat across from him.
“Jean Kingsley,” he said, removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes. “Haven’t heard that name in years.”
“I’m doing a story about her son’s kidnapping and murder.”
He put his glasses back on, looked down at some paperwork. “I’ve reviewed her records. What exactly would you like to know?”
“We can start with the basics, her condition, how many times she was admitted, and for how long.”
He puffed his cheeks full of air, then let it out slowly. “Mrs. Kingsley was a very sick woman. She suffered a series of breakdowns—three, to be exact—rather significant ones. She was admitted here after each of them. The duration increased with each visit, as did the severity of her condition.”
“How long was her last stay?”
“About a month.”
“Any indication why she killed herself? I mean, other than the obvious. Anything unusual happen that day?”
“Not at all. Mrs. Kingsley was dealing with enormous guilt over her son’s murder. She blamed herself. As time went on, her memories and perceptions about the kidnapping seemed to become more distorted, as did her impression of reality as a whole.”
“Distorted in what way?”
“Her recollection about what actually happened, the circumstances leading to it—none of it made any sense, and most of it seemed to lack truth. After a while, it started sounding like she was talking about someone else’s life rather than her own. She was different person.”
“What kinds of things did she say?”
He gazed down at his notes, threw his hands up, shaking his head. “I honestly wouldn’t know where to begin. Purely illogical thinking.”
I leaned forward to glance at the notes. “Can I have a look?”
He dropped his arms down to shield them and stared at me as if I’d asked the unthinkable. “Absolutely not.”
“But Mrs. Kingsley’s no longer alive, and her husband gave me permission.”
“That’s not the point, Mr. Bannister. It’s at my discretion whether or not to release them, and I choose not to.”
I shot him a long, curious gaze. He broke eye contact by picking up the phone, hastily punching a few buttons, and then said, “Ms. Penfield, please come to my office immediately.”
“Doctor Faraday, you should understand my intentions here. I’m not trying to—”
“I understand your intentions just fine. You have a job to do. So do I.”
Penfield walked in, spared me a quick glance, then gave the doctor her attention. He said, “Please put these records back where they belong.”
She nodded, moved toward his desk.
I tried again. “Doctor, I don’t want to put Mrs. Kingsley or this hospital in a bad light. I just want to tell her story so people can understand the hell she went through. Not seeing those records would be missing the biggest part.”
Penfield suddenly looked at me with an expression that was hard to read. I couldn’t tell whether it was animosity or…well, I just couldn’t tell.
The doctor said, “The answer is still no, Mr. Bannister. The records are confidential. End of discussion.”
Penfield grabbed the last of the papers, closed the folder. “Will there be anything else, doctor?”
Faraday shook his head, and she threw me another quick glance before going on her way.
He said, “Now, where were we?”
I nodded toward the door. “We were discussing those records you just had whisked out of here.”
“Look,” he said, exhaling his frustration and shaking his head. “I’m sorry if it came out wrong. It’s not that I’m afraid you’ll put us in a bad light or anything like that.”
“Then what is it? Because quite honestly, I’m a little confused about what just happened here.”
His stare lingered a moment. “Let me put it to you this way. Some things are better left alone. Trust me, this is one of them.”
“I’m not following you.”
“What I’m saying is that the picture you’d see of Mrs. Kingsley would not be a flattering one. And it wouldn’t serve any purpose other than to make her look badly.”
“Doctor, with all due respect, good or bad, it’s reality, and it’s my job to write about it, not hide it.”
With eyes locked on mine, lips pursed, he shook his head.
I tried another option. “Then if you won’t let me see the records, can you at least tell me more about what happened while she was here?”
He paused for a long moment, seemed to be evaluating my words, and then with reluctance in his voice said, “With each visit, she became more disturbed, more agitated…and more lost in her own mind. We couldn’t help her. No one could. Things were becoming extremely tense. And unpleasant.”
“We were concerned about the safety of others.”
He hesitated again. “There were threats.”
“Death threats. To the staff and other patients—actually, to anyone who came within shouting distance of Mrs. Kingsley. Quite honestly, she frightened people. We’d made the decision to move her to the maximum-security unit, and her husband was in the process of committing her. Permanently.”
“Do you know what brought this on?”
He pressed his hands together, looked down at them for a moment, then back up at me. “When I said Mrs. Kingsley was a different person, I meant it.”
“She was experiencing what we call a major depression with psychotic features.”
“She was severely delusional, seeing and hearing things that didn’t exist, and…” He let out a labored sigh. “…and she began assuming an identity other than her own.”
“She called herself Bill Williams.”
“She thought she was a man?”
Glancing down at my notes, I raked my fingers through my hair, then looked back up at him. “Was she in this state all the time?”
“No. She’d slip in and out.”
“When did it start?”
“Toward the end of her last stay.”
“So, close to the time she died,” I confirmed.
“And who was this Bill Williams?”
“Nobody, I’m sure. But in her mind, she was him. Her vocal tone became deeper, her mannerisms, even her facial expressions…all convincingly masculine. It was a startling transformation.”
“Did she give any details about him? Who he was?”
“Just that he was a murderer.”
“She took on the role of a killer…”
“Yes, and according to her, one of the most dangerous killers of our time, maybe ever.”
“What did he do?”
“Question should be, what didn’t he do? She reported that he began murdering when he was nine years old. Lured his best friend into a shed behind his house, then beat him to death with a claw hammer, to the point where the child’s face was unrecognizable.”
I cringed at the thought, said nothing.
“She talked about it frequently—as Bill Williams, that is. She…I mean, he…took great delight in the feeling in his hands when the hammer made powerful impact with flesh and bone…the release, the euphoric pleasure. And it doesn’t end there. He just kept going. Several years later after his mother remarried, he climbed into their bed while she and the stepfather were asleep and began spooning the husband. Then he shoved the man’s face into his pillow…and a kitchen knife up his rectum. The mother woke in the middle of the night drenched in blood. Bill had wrapped the man’s arms around her, then went off to his room and peacefully back to sleep.”
“Good Lord,” I said. “All this created from her mind?”
“I’m afraid so. A very disturbed one, I remind you, one that had lost contact with any form of reality.”
“Did this Bill—or Mrs. Kingsley— talk about anything else?”
“Plenty. In her final days, she spent a good part of her time bragging about the other murders he’d committed.”
“What did she say?”
“Horrible things. Gruesome things. Some of the most disturbing I’ve ever heard—and trust me, I’ve experienced a lot here.”
“I’ve actually tried to forget them… but with a few, I’ve had a hard time doing that.”
“You can’t tell me?”
“I’d rather not.”
I drew in some air, blew it out quickly. “Can you at least tell me why she’d dream up someone so horrible, let alone want to assume his identity? Who was this guy?”
Doctor Faraday gazed out the window and shook his head very slowly. A tree branch shifted in the wind and threw an odd shadow across his face.
I waited for his response.