A mind is a terrible thing to destroy . . .
Kathy has been hired to assess the threat of patient Henry Banks, an inmate at the
Connecticut-Newlyn Hospital for the Criminally Insane, the same hospital where her brother is housed. Her employers believe that Henry has the ability to open doors to other dimensions with his mind-making him one of the most dangerous men in modern history. Because unbeknownst to Kathy, her clients are affiliated with certain government organizations that investigate people like Henry-and the potential to weaponize such abilities.
What Kathy comes to understand in interviewing Henry, and in her unavoidable run-ins with her brother, is that Henry can indeed use his mind to create "Tulpas"-worlds, people, and creatures so vivid they come to actual life. But now they want life outside of Henry. And they'll stop at nothing to complete their emancipation. It's up to Kathy-with her brother's help-to stop them, and if possible, to save Henry before the Tulpas take him over-and everything else around him.
Praise for the novels of Mary SanGiovanni
"SanGiovanni evokes a Lovecraftian sensibility in this action-filled story. . . . Scary, suspenseful, smart, and gory, the novel is also beautifully set and described."
-Library Journal on Savage Woods
"A feast of both visceral and existential horror." -F. Paul Wilson on Thrall
"Filled to the brim with mounting terror." -Gary A. Braunbeck on The Hollower
"A fast-building, high-tension ride." -James A. Moore on The Hollower
Related collections and offers
Read an Excerpt
March twenty-seventh marked three years since Henry Banks had woken up from the coma. He kept track in a day planner, with new calendar refills for subsequent years, by drawing a symbol he had been taught by his friends in the upper right hand corner of each day's page. Other than therapy sessions, he had no real appointments anymore, but Henry jotted down notes about the day's events, things he learned or discovered, and each night before bed, he drew that symbol of his far-reaching goals. Journaling, even Henry's odd version of it, was encouraged and allowed to continue as a means of reconnecting with one's self and feelings. His was more of an odd, disjointed grimoire of his mind, but that seemed to be okay, too. He never forgot, not even during the trial when his mind was ... elsewhere. On days he couldn't get to the planner, Maisie made sure that at least the days were marked. It was important to him. He never forgot, so neither did she.
Every day that passed reminded him that he was drifting farther and farther from the rest of humanity, so Henry didn't think the three-year anniversary was cause for celebration. Dr. Pam Ulster did, though, or at least convincingly pretended to. Every year prior, she had suggested Henry do something nice for himself to commemorate his "return to the world." The irony was not lost on him. He didn't see how he was supposed to do much of anything since the orderlies, who were not big on celebrations, watched him like hawks. Even if he wanted to, what could he really give himself in his current situation? A walk in the sunshine around the hospital grounds? An extra muffin with breakfast? Anything else — anything worthwhile — would be noticed and probably taken away.
Besides, it wasn't like he'd come back from the dead. He'd just come back from ... somewhere else.
Henry figured other people would have had reason to celebrate March twenty-seventh if he'd died instead of coming out of that coma. Maybe that should have happened, but it didn't. Maisie, Orrin, Edgar, and the Others made sure of that. They'd come out of Ayteilu and saved him. Or maybe they were right, and he had saved them.
The police and the lawyers and the doctors told him he'd done something bad to the teenagers in his basement right before the coma. He couldn't remember much about that. He was pretty sure he hadn't been the one who'd done it, but it was his fault all the same. He'd seen those teenagers before; they hung around outside the Dollar Tree and said mean things to him from behind the safety of their cigarette smoke clouds when he went to shop there. The girl was pretty, but she was sharp where she should have been soft, like something made of glass or porcelain, something whose temper could shatter her into a thousand jagged, deadly pieces. The three guys were mostly messy mops of hair, black trench coats, and jeans. Their faces didn't matter to him. Their fists did, and their words; they often threatened the former with the latter. Henry wasn't even sure if they'd had eyes, but he imagined that if they did, those eyes were cold.
They made fun of the holes in his t-shirts and the way he walked and the scar on his shaved head. They made fun of the burn marks on the back of his shoulder and neck and the way he growled at them instead of using words. Still, they had always been an away-problem, an outside-the-house problem, like savage dogs on leashes. They were tethered to the Dollar Tree, and if he could make it past them to his car and then to his home, he would be safe.
Then it turned out that they weren't on leashes. They could move anywhere they wanted. And they had chosen to break into his house, his safe space. They'd brought baseball bats and knives. The Viper and the Others had come simply to protect him.
Sometimes, Henry thought he should have started keeping count in his planner on that night.
Dr. Ulster had asked him once during a session why he bothered to maintain such meticulous records of the past three years if he honestly believed everything in his life had fallen apart since the coma. Why approach the planner as a constant reminder of his deterioration, then? Why not just put the past behind him and focus on getting better?
Henry had told her then the truth about the Others, just like he had told the police when they found what was left of the four teenagers in his basement. He told them about Ayteilu and its tendency to swallow up reality. He'd told them about Maisie and Orrin and Edgar and all the Others. He'd even told them about the Viper. Maisie said that was okay. The problem was, he couldn't show the police or Dr. Ulster, so they hadn't believed. He couldn't make it all happen on command, not back then. But he was learning, and over the last 1,095 days, he was steadily growing better at it. What he didn't tell anyone was that in three days' time, as set forth by Edgar's prediction, he'd have complete control in summoning the Others at will and opening the way to Ayteilu. The Others hadn't wanted him to share that part with anyone else.
Henry peered through the gloom of his bedroom. His cot was against the wall across from the door, which of course was locked now that it was lights out. On the far side of the room was the door to his simple bathroom — one sink, one toilet, both gleaming white — and next to that door was a small closet in which hung his hospital-issued clothes, soft and harmless. No zipper teeth or sharp metal claws there, not even buttons or laces. Beneath the clothes, like obedient lapdogs curled up on the closet floor for the night, were a pair of loafers and a pair of slippers. Against the back wall near where the head of his cot lay was a small, barred window. The orderlies could open it sometimes to air the room out but they had keys to do that and were allowed to reach through the bars. That night, his window was closed but Henry didn't mind. He just liked having one, and from his, he could see the parking lot. Some people liked seeing the neat, tight little lawns that constituted the hospital grounds, but he preferred the parking lot. It reminded him that there was still a real world out there, with normal people who had jobs and houses and pets, and that those people could actually leave hospitals and move freely through it.
He got up from the cot and shuffled over to the window. The moon was mostly hidden behind clouds, but in the lot below, the arc-sodium lights illuminated patches of asphalt in a soft melon color. Shadows skirted those halos of glow, darting quickly from one spot to another in the dark. It wasn't their shape so much as their movement that Henry caught, but it was soothing all the same to see they were down there. Probably it was Maisie who had sent them. She was thoughtful like that. Maisie always knew when he was sad or angry or just feeling drained.
That night, Henry was exhausted. The geliophobia had been particularly bad all day. He had shouldered the burden of many crippling mental conditions since early childhood, but the one that garnered the least sympathy and understanding was his fear of people laughing at him. Decades of laughter, pressed between the pages of his memories, always found a way to resurface, to grow fat and loud again in his thoughts and even in his ears. When he was stressed or tired, he could hear a chorus of guffaws and giggles, tittering and peals from people who should have kept their damn mouths shut.
The laughter echoed in the back of his thoughts, jarring and ugly like the squawking of angry hawks, and he tried to put it out. Bad things happened in the dark when he couldn't, and he didn't have the strength to make the bad things go away. Not tonight. His limbs felt heavy and his eyes were dry and burning. He shuffled back to the cot and climbed beneath the blanket.
Henry forced each of his muscles to relax, starting with his toes and working his way up to the top of his head, just like Dr. Ulster had taught him. Then he worked on clearing his mind. He imagined the inside of his head as debris on a darkened stage, and with a big broom, he swept away all of them like they were piles of dust.
Sleep came on like a slow tide, lapping at him in waves and eroding his conscious thought. Just before he drifted off, he heard Maisie moving gently through the dark.
"Good night," he mumbled.
A butterfly flutter of lips brushed his forehead, and a soft, cultured voice replied, "Good night, Henry."
* * *
Ever since Martha's death the weekend before, Ben Hadley had been on edge. He was a nervous man by nature; his nerves had, in part, put him in Connecticut-Newlyn Hospital to begin with. That damned clumsy woman, with her barking, thumping dog in the apartment upstairs from his, had finally compelled him to take action.
This was different, though. He was on meds now; he wasn't supposed to get nervous, not like this. Of course, it was hard not to be a little out of sorts when all around him, people were dropping like flies. There had been the suicides last month — the twins, Belle and Barney McGuinness, who had jumped off the roof of Parker Hall and made a terrible mess on the front steps. How they had gotten up there was anyone's guess; apparently security protocols were "still being looked into," for all the good that would do. And then there was Sherman Jones, who had supposedly died in his sleep. Sure, he was ninety-eight, but he'd been fine all day, alert and active as ever. Ridley Comstock had come as less of a surprise. They'd found him hanging all blue-lipped and bloated in his own closet. Autoerotic asphyxia was the culprit there, according to Toby Ryan, and given Ridley's proclivities on the outside, that was probably true — an accident, but an ugly one, if the orderlies' gossip was to be believed.
But then there was Martha, and hers was one death too many, and with far too many strange circumstances surrounding it.
At first Ben thought Toby had done it. Toby killed women; it was his thing. Of course, he'd sworn he hadn't killed Martha, that he couldn't have. He said he'd been locked in his room overnight, the same as everyone else. Ben didn't argue. Toby scared him.
As it turned out, though, a new and more likely suspect had emerged over the course of the week: Henry Banks.
Of all the inmates at Connecticut-Newlyn, Henry had always seemed the most harmless. Soft-spoken with an occasional stutter, he'd never seemed dangerous before. In fact, he'd seemed so undangerous that Ben had even harbored doubts as to whether Henry had actually killed those teenagers.
That was, of course, before Ben learned about Henry's friends.
The thing about them, Ben had discovered, was that they weren't mild-mannered, and they certainly weren't locked down at night. Henry's friends came and went as they pleased, and they mostly answered to Henry. Martha had threatened to tell the doctors about them; she'd said so the day before in the common room. She was going to tell, and Henry had been worried. His friends, after all, were only there to protect him.
Toby had said it was a silly fight; Henry's friends were imaginary and Martha was getting all worked up over nothing. Still, someone didn't think it was too silly a fight to silence her. If Henry didn't kill her, then one of those allegedly imaginary friends must have.
Ben wasn't crazy, despite his lawyer's convincing case to the court. Ben was just nervous. Sometimes, he got very nervous, and he understood that if Henry's friends had gotten nervous, too, about Martha telling on them, they might have felt compelled to take action.
That didn't make Ben any less sad or nervous. There was probably a whole town out there that was glad Martha was dead — Martha, who had drowned her own four children in a bathtub on the advice of an angel — but she had been one of Ben's only friends. He didn't believe she would have told the doctors or orderlies anything.
The doctors claimed Martha choked in her sleep, but Ben had seen the blood all over her room — the walls, the sheets of her cot, her neck. He'd seen her eyes, wide and scared and glazed over. Her mouth had hung open like a small, crooked cave. Her tongue, torn out by the roots, had been on the pillow beside her, close to her ear. He'd seen it all ... before two of the orderlies realized he was standing there and roughly led him away.
No, Henry's friends were not mild-mannered at all. And Ben didn't think Henry knew everything they got up to in the night.
He thought all these things as he lay on his cot, waiting for the sun to come up. He'd resigned himself to the fact that he'd be getting no sleep that night. He was too wired for that. Plus, he wanted to watch the door. Henry's room was right next to his, and if these friends, imaginary or not, were moving around the halls out there, he wanted to know about it. They could obviously move through doors and maybe walls. If they could get into Martha's room, they could get into his as well.
The doors to each room had small windows made of Plexiglas, and from his position on the cot, Ben could just see the top of the far hallway wall and a bit of the ceiling through his. It was quiet out there; the dark remained still and the ceiling tiles — twelve in his line of sight — were all accounted for. He'd learned not to try to look outside at night. Shadows had shape out there and moved in deliberate and predatory ways that shadows shouldn't. It was better for his peace of mind just to look out the little window in his door.
Ben might have dozed for a moment but he didn't think so; in the next, however, he saw a hazy, wavering face peer in, followed by an equally insubstantial palm on the Plexiglas. Ben froze, and a moment later, the palm was gone. His heart pounded. Who were they looking for? Would the morning bring another dead inmate?
There was no sound of footsteps. Henry's friends were quiet; he'd give them that. But they were also clearly on the move.
* * *
Orrin and Edgar sat in the dark, waiting for Maisie. She watched over Henry at night, at least until he fell asleep, and while they waited for her to come out of the hospital, Orrin and Edgar watched over the Others.
Tonight, Maisie would be late. She had taken an interest in some of the other inmates there, who she claimed had special knowledge locked up in their heads that she was certain would prove useful to them. Of course, she made Orrin and Edgar swear never to mention this to Henry, because it would only upset him and Maisie didn't like to see him upset. They had, so far, held to that promise. Edgar didn't like to cross anyone, and as for Orrin ... well, he had other reasons for wanting to keep Maisie happy. He couldn't understand what she thought she'd gain by getting to know these other guys, but Maisie was a thinker, and she probably saw a way to protect them and the Others somehow. Most of her plans involved protecting them or making them stronger, and Orrin could get behind that. He didn't trust damn near anybody, not even Edgar and they were brothers, but he trusted Maisie.
So they sat and waited while the Others ran and tore at things in the darkness, a silent show of mad, dancing, light-changing silhouettes. Two of them had set upon an owl and were pulling off its wings while a third extended the fingers of its tendrils into the meat of the bird to explore its insides.
"D-d-do you think she'll b-be out soon?" Edgar asked in that stop-start, jerking way he had. His good eye glowed like an ember in the dark.
"Soon," Orrin said, and gave his brother a reassuring nod.
"They're not easy t-to wrangle when they're this r-riled up," Edgar said, gesturing at the Others. "Henry's g-gonna b-be pissed if he looks out the window tomorrow and sees d-dead b-b-birds all over the parking lot."
"You worry too much," Orrin told him.
Orrin didn't reply just then. Edgar's worries weren't without substance. Henry could be pacified, but the longer Maisie spent in that hospital, the greater the chance that someone else would discover him and Edgar and the Others and cause them to make an unpleasant scene. That wouldn't be good for Henry or anyone else.
Finally, he said, "She'll be out soon."
"Then we find the Viper and see what comes next."
* * *
As Henry dreamed, the darkness spread in silence. Inside the utility shed about two and a half acres behind the hospital, the darkness pooled in the corners and seeped through the cracks in the floor. Waves of inkiness washed over the detritus of hospital maintenance. Tendrils snaked around and inside the lawn care equipment and tools. Bottles of chemicals were probed and poked until they spilled, and their smoking, acidic contents were drunk and assimilated. The darkness lapped up the shadows and the night itself and made them its own.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Inside the Asylum"
Copyright © 2019 Mary SanGiovanni.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.