This story was inspired when I was on my first residential creative writing course at Urchfont Manor back in March 2012.

Asylum Patricia M Osborne


Patricia M Osborne

A clock ticks loudly. A smell – disinfectant? My fingertips tingle. A bright light. Rows of yellow teeth appear an inch from my face. The stench of stale tobacco makes me want to vomit.

I try to move but remain rigid. A young woman, dressed in blue with a white apron and hat, touches my shoulder. She smiles. My head is cold and sticky. It hurts. Someone’s tugging my hair. My whole body vibrates but I remain restrained in the demon’s trap. I squeeze my eyes shut.

When I open my eyes again I’m alone. I glance around the white-walled room but there’s nothing to see. Just the narrow bed I’m lying on and a window that’s too high to reach. Footsteps. My heartbeat quickens. I rub my sore wrists. Someone outside turns a key, it grinds, the handle lowers. The girl from the dark chamber faces me. She smiles. I shiver.

‘Good morning Olivia. I’m Nurse Simms.’

Olivia, is that me?

‘Doctor says you can go outside for a short while. Shall we?’

I follow her.

The outside door opens. I stumble down the wide steps and take in the cloudless blue sky and various shades of green. My nose tickles from the scent of roses. I gaze at my reflection in the glass of the nearside building. A young woman with straggly hair stares back. Did I always look so bedraggled?

I hear music. On moving closer I recognise the sound as coming from a piano. Glancing down at my long fingers, I imagine them gliding over the black and white keys.

‘Do you play?’ Nurse asks.

‘I don’t remember.’

‘When you’re feeling better, you can join the group session.’

Am I ill?

We walk towards cedar and yellow-green bushes. Blackbirds, crows and blue-tits flit from tree to tree. Crows shriek but blackbirds and blue-tits tweet and trill. I close my eyes.

Suddenly a bang. There it goes again. Bang. Bang. I cup my ears.

‘It’s fine, Olivia.’ Nurse leads me to a bench. ‘It’s nothing to worry about. It’s only thunder.’

I need to get away. I strike her. She stumbles and raises both arms in front of her face. A doctor and two muscular male attendants run from the house. They hold me down.

‘Plea…se. No…, plea…se.’ A large phial of liquid flashes in the sunlight. I thrash my arms. Fluid surges through my veins.

When I wake my head throbs. I can’t move. My chest hammers. Gasping for breath, I manage to ease myself up on the hard mattress and look around. I don’t see a window. Nothing to see except white padded walls.

The next thing I know Nurse is stripping the tight jacket away.

‘Olivia, you have a visitor. It’s your sister.’

My sister. I don’t remember a sister. Nurse guides me outside. I stare into space, shuffling one foot in front of the other along the stone floor. The cold beneath my feet makes me shudder as we walk out of the building and down the steps. It’s cooler than last time I went outside. There’s no blue sky, only a white sheet hovering in the air. Distant trees blanched with a silvery mist.

A young, dark haired woman walks towards me. She looks elegant in her tight skirt suit, not dowdy like me in this shabby dress. She hugs me, I drop my shoulders.     She raises her eyebrows. ‘Hello Olivia, it’s me, Emily? Do you remember me?’

Her hands shake. ‘Do you know why you’re here?’

I don’t know why I’m here. I don’t know her, and I don’t know who I am. All I know is I’m in Hell.

‘Do you remember your husband, James?’

I look up at the trees. A thunderstorm. I remember thunder. A man shouting.  I hold my throat. I open my mouth to speak but no sound is released. Emily wraps her arms around me.

‘I don’t remember,’ I whisper, ‘I don’t remember. If you’re my sister, please get me out of here. They strap me to a bed, put rods on my head and make me shake and screech with pain, then darkness.’

Emily strokes my face. ‘That must be the treatment.’

I grab her arm. ‘Please, please, take me home.’

She pats my hand. ‘I’m sorry Olivia but I can’t. You need to stay in hospital. You’re not well.’

I’m not well. I don’t remember.

Emily leads me to the bench. ‘Sit here whilst I go and organise tea. I won’t be long.’

She climbs the steps and stops to talk to Nurse. They close the door behind them. They’re conspiring against me. I hold up my dress so not to trip up and run into the thick haze. The doctor and two male wardens race towards me. I turn and head for the trees. Sweat beads drip from my forehead. I must get away. Heavy footfalls. I run faster but slip. Hands grab me. Hands pull me. My kicks and screams are futile, no one listens or comes to my aid. They’re all out to get me.

I don’t remember how I got here but I recognise the white padded walls. My arms are chained by the prison jacket, it prevents me from covering my ears to quieten the voices. Pictures, there are pictures too. A man. James? James staggers, James sways, James shouting. His whisky breath makes me heave. Crockery crashes to the floor. Food splats across the wall. My face stings. James is punching me. Fluid swills around my mouth. It tastes salty. He presses his fingers on my throat. I must make him stop. A knife? It’s in my hands. Blood? More blood, we’re covered in blood.

Whispering. I hear whispering. They’re plotting against me. I sit and rock but still hear them. I hum to drown out their words.


Published by Dahlia Publishing – Leicester Writes Short Story Prize Anthology 2019

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