Hellesdeon Part One
Christopher Woods stepped onto the driveway and into the first rays of natural sunlight. It was nine o’clock in the morning on his first day outside. His skin prickled as the fresh air brushed against it and his nostrils tickled with a once familiar aroma that he no longer recognised. The smell of clean air.
He snapped out of his daze and turned toward the doctor.
“I just need you to sign these final forms and you’ll be officially discharged and free to continue with your life” the doctor said. Christopher took the pen from the doctor’s hand. The cylindrical object with its pointed tip felt foreign between his fingers. He held it with the point facing downward and a drip of ink splashed onto the paper work. Stunned he continued to stare into the letters on the page.
“Christopher, if you can’t sign the paper work, we cannot let you go.” The point hit home and without a second thought Christopher scrawled a few malformed lines that somewhat represented his name. Doctor Albert Frank patted him on the back and then rather unceremoniously took the paper work, turned and walked back into Hellesdeon Mental Hospital. Christopher stood a long while to breathe the air and feel it circulate in his lungs. He did not know how long it had been since he’d been outside. The air was crisp and the smell of the smoke from the furnaces danced across the near tangible scent of dew coated grass. Even his own clothes felt different. Cotton against his skin and the smoothness of underwear. He flexed his arms and stretched his legs then stood and savoured each second until his hansom arrived to collect him.
“Ah! Harry! My old friend. How great it is to see you!”
The two embraced one another, before they climbed into the back of the hansom and Harry gave the driver their destination.
“How have you been Christopher? It has been so long, I am glad they’ve cured you!”
“That place is hell Harry, hell I tell you!” Harry laughed unaware of the seriousness of his friends voice “glad to see your sense of humour hasn’t changed one bit, even if the rest of you has!” Harry quipped.
“How is the family Harry, how have you been all this time?” Christopher attempted to shift the focus off himself as they gained distance on the nightmare he had been living for the last five years. Anxious to be in the world outside of the walls of Hellesdeon, he turned his head and watched the building disappear with a small sense of loss he could not disregard.
“I’m married now, they say thirty years of age is too late, but I have found a wonderful woman. She is only twenty four and we have been married for three years now. Her name is Maria, you are going to meet he today.”As Harry spoke the time Christopher had spent in Hellesdeon slowly revealed its self in the changes he began to notice in Harry. The man’s eyes had become harder, the hazel colour now longer as inviting as it was once was. He had grown a small goatee and his dress was impeccable. It became abundantly clear that Harry was no longer the person Christopher had known. He stroked his beard as he watched Harry slip into thought. It had been a fixture since his third week in Hellesdeon and aside from the occasional trim Christopher had let it be. He know found himself quite fond of it.
“You’ll have to shave that horrendous beard before you meet my wife Christopher!” Harry joked “something smaller and well maintained, perhaps?”
“I am quite fond of it, thank you Harry.” His companion snapped back having missed the playful overtones in Harry’s voice. His remark left the two in silence and Christopher watched the streets morph into each other.
“Christopher, I know it’s been a long time but I am still the same person I was five years ago.”
Christopher sat in silence, unaware of how to respond. Harry’s perception had caught him off guard and aside from the orderlies, Christopher had had no one to one personal interaction since his admittance. He found his thoughts were empty save the recitation he’d prepared and rehearsed for weeks.
Harry continued, shifting tone;
“I understand that it will take a long time for you to adjust back into life on the…” he trailed off.
“Outside?” Christopher finished his sentence.
“For lack of a more fitting term, yes, ‘outside’” Harry used the word cautiously and continued “There is a spare room at my house. I want you to stay there. I have told my two children they are to sleep in the same room until you have decided you’re ready. We are here to help you.” Christopher opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again to reconsider his words.
“Harry” he began more solemnly than he had intended “you’ll have to excuse me. It has been a long time since I’ve had any interaction with anybody outside the orderlies. I am not sure how I am supposed to respond to your kindness, other than to say ‘thank you.’ It seems there has been much about you that has changed, I did not know you had children. And I fear that much has changed about me, so much that the longer we speak, the more and more you won’t recognize the person sitting here… there is another thing. I am quite fond of my beard and I feel as though I would like to keep it.” With that he stopped talking. Harry sat for many minutes in silence, dumfounded by Christopher’s response. While Christopher sat in thought all that work, all that practise for weeks and weeks, the doctor will be proud of me, I am integrating into society just as he had taught me. I no longer need his training. Christopher flushed with joy, which gave way to confusion as he realised Harry had not responded to him. Quietly he began to grow concerned.
“We’re just about there gov’s” the cabbie called down to them.
“Very well Christopher. Perhaps it is best you stay with us for a while.”
He was relieved by Harry’s response as the cab pulled up to the gates of the house. Harry passed the cabbie a coin, then led Christopher down the drive way.
Behind the house lay an expansive garden lined with oak trees. The pair stood at the front door and Christopher stared up at the building. It was a cream white with two large pillars on top of which was a canopy. On each side of the door stood a stone gargoyle. And the knocker was crisp bronze. He stood awestruck for a long moment and Harry allowed his old friend to take in the scenery.
“Yes, I am.” Harry sensed the end of Christopher’s question.
“I’ll explain when we’re inside, Maria and the children are visiting her mother’s on my request. We wanted to give you time to settle in. How would you like some tea?” Christopher’s eyes lit up at the offer and Harry turned the key he’d drawn from his pocket in the lock. The bolts slide back and he pushed the door open.
“Come in” he motioned.
Inside was a short hall which led to a room with two divans, on each were four pillows of silk. The floor was dressed in a large persian rug. Above the fireplace, which both divans were facing, was the head of a large deer. “Killed that one myself.” Harry commented following Christopher’s gaze. In the corner of the room, a black bear stood six feet tall on its hind legs with its forelegs and claws extend and its mouth open. “That one is from Siberia. It took two months to arrive by ship and I was tremendously worried by the state it could have been in. Luckily, it was as it stands.” At the back of the room was another hall, much smaller than the last, it led it a stair case which curled upwards.
“Upstairs is the sleeping and main living quarters. Outside, you’ve seen the garden, then there is the horses stable and the servant quarters.”
“Horse? Servant?” The house was a staggering departure from the halls of Hellesdeon Mental Hospital.
“Yes, horses and a servant. Sit down and I’ll make some tea. The servant has accompanied Maria and the children.” Christopher sat on the divan and he slowly sank into the pillows. They were uncomfortable on his back as he was used to wooden benches. He pushed them to the side, then sat as upright has he could manage on the edge of divan.
Harry returned after a short interval, he carried a tray, on which were three types of tea, hot water and a case of cigars.
He looked sideways at Christopher as he entered then said “would you like Japanese tea, English tea, or American?” Christopher was bewildered by the options. In Hellesdeon it was a good day if he got hot water, let alone tea and more so different types of tea.
“English, yes, English tea.” He reassured himself and Harry placed the try on the centre coffee table and mixed the brew. He passed the cup and saucer to Christopher, who took it up by the handle and brought it to his lips. The smell was intoxicating. Spellbound he placed the cup on his lips and drank a mouthful of the hot liquid. He burnt his tongue and placed the saucer on his knee.
Harry noticed his distress and thought to take his mind off it.
“The house” he began “is French American. We had designers from France and America collaborate, Maria loves France -it was the place of our honeymoon – and I’ve always liked America.”
“But the money, how?”
“Ah, yes. A fortunate business venture. While you were in Hellesdeon, there was a revolution in Europe. A friend of mine, Mr Richard Ardell, an Irish man, was in the arms trade, supplying the revolutionaries. At the time, much to Maria’s horror, he needed a second set of hands and I agreed to help out. By the year’s end we had secured enough funds for what you see here and Maria and I have already retired.”
Christopher was shell shocked by his explanation a revolution? In Europe? How long was I away? Who revolted? The questions spun in his mind and he sipped his tea which had now gone cold. The cold was strangely comforting. An ache in the pit of his stomach begged for the normality of Hellesdeon. It fought with his desire for freedom. He drained his cup and placed it on the table. Harry had now become acutely aware of the discomforts that plagued Christopher.
“Christopher, would you like a cigar, it will take the edge off.” Christopher hadn’t touched a cigar in five years. The smell was familiar enough, every time he stepped into Doctor Frank’s therapy room, the man would smell of cigars. Harry lit his not waiting for a response. Christopher flashed back to the ice water and panicked. He pushed his hands to his head and curled into the fetal position;
“They’re gone, they’re gone! I’m cured, I’m cured! I don’t hear them!” Stunned Harry sat as the ash of the end of his cigar fell onto the persian rug at his feet.
Harry opened the door to his wife and two children standing on the other side. Their servant stood behind them with their bags. In the evening light her husband looked worn down and older than his years. He stood on an angle and favoured his left leg – a niggling injury that became inflamed when he was stressed.
“Darling?” Maria looked concerned and directed her children inside before she led Harry by the hand onto one of the divans. He’d been drinking and she could smell whisky on his clothes and breath. Harry wasn’t a big drinker.
“You’ve been drinking, are you okay?”
“He’s here, he’s upstairs in Leonardo’s room. I thought it would be good to seem him. I didn’t think it would be like this-“
“Daddy, daddy” the children chimed as they left the kitchen and walked into the living room.
“Your father needs to rest children, why don’t you go and play outside?”
“Outside now.” Maria was stern and powerful, her most alluring quality, she was fiercely protective, strikingly intelligent, and a gentle mother to her children. At that moment Harry fell back in love with her. His mind took him back to their first meeting. He was standing on the edge of a paddock and a stud of horses galloped passed him. Maria’s was in the led trialling her were the men and guiding her were the blood hounds. He was spellbound and at that moment knew he had to marry her.
“Darling are you okay?”
“I wasn’t thinking, we never should have the invited him over. He isn’t ready, not to be around children, not to be around people. Maria, my darling, the Christopher I knew five years ago was an educated gentleman. Now…now.” He stopped to gather himself for what he was about to say. Maria braced “he’s a monster, Maria, a monster. He hears voices, and yells at them. He called me ‘Doctor Frank’ he lunged toward me in a rage. Oh Maria, what ever will we do?” When Maria’s mind was focused it was unstoppable, she took control of the situation in a heartbeat and pulled her husband into her breast.
“Go and see your children, tell them you missed them and play a game with them. They have missed you Harry and they have lots to tell you. Push Christopher out of your mind for now and when everyone is settled we will deal with the situation together.”
“What about Leonardo and his room?”
“Leonardo knows we have a guest staying, we’ll tell him he is sleeping and he needs to return his things to his sister’s room. Now, go and play with your children.” Harry kissed his wife, he could not live without her and he knew that. He loved her dearly and also knew she was the source of his inspiration and strength. Maria sat on the divan and stared toward the deer Harry, Harry, Harry, she thought to herself you can kill a deer but you cannot deal with a man. What ever will I do with you? She chuckled and rose to her feet, then stood a few moments at the window looking into the garden. She watched her husband play with their children and the exchange of stories around the day’s adventures. Now for you, Christopher she thought and headed for the stair.
Christopher sat with his back pushed into the corner of the room, his eyes squeezed shut and his knees drawn into his chest. You can’t stay here, they don’t like you they are friends with the doctor. They are going to take you away again. There was a gentle knock at the door and Christopher sat still. Then a knock again.
“Hello? Christopher are you in there? It’s Maria, come out so I can meet you. My children are excited to meet there daddy’s old friend.” She’s lying, it’s a lie, she’s lying! She doesn’t want to meet you, she doesn’t like you. He gritted his teeth and pushed his hands harder over his ears;
“No, enough, that’s enough. They’re my friends.” The door handle turned and the door opened a slither. He did not move “can I come in Christopher?” He didn’t respond to her. Maria waited a few minutes before she opened the door and stepped in. Christopher was huddled into the corner with his teeth gritted and his forehead pushed to his knees with his hands covering his ears.
“Christopher?” she was calm and maternal, her voice radiated a warmth and within seconds of the last syllable of his name he had looked up. He had been crying and his eyes were still red. Maria extended her kerchief then continued “I am here to help you. Here, wipe your eyes and come down stairs so we can talk.” With a timid hand Christopher took the kerchief and wiped his eyes. “Now, why don’t you take a few minutes and we’ll see you downstairs, you can meet the children, they are very excited.” Maria turned and left the room, she closed the door behind her. Once outside she leant against the frame and exhaled deeply. Her hands had started to shake but she’d slowed it, and now they were shaking again. She took a few moments, breathing heavily and then and made for the stair. Downstairs her family greeted her and the servant poured tea. Christopher sat for many minutes;
“She was nice” he said to himself. Then with a swift movement that surprised him he stood and made for the door. As he touched the a handle a set of foot steps arrived outside. He froze. Stepped back. Sat down. Waited. The handle turned and Leonardo entered dragging behind him a large leather bag. The sight of the leather made Christopher feel sick.
“Hello” he ventured as the boy turned to give the bag a heave through the door.
“Um. Hello?” Leonardo turned slowly and dropped the handles of the bag.
“Hello” he ventured as the boy turned to give the bag a heave through the door.
“Um. Hello?” Leonardo turned slowly and dropped the handles of the bag.
“My name is Christopher, it’s nice to meet you” the old man rose and extended his hand toward Leonardo.
“My name is Leonardo, after the great Leonardo Da Vinci, both mother and father are great fans of his work.” The boy took Christopher’s hand which emitted a comfortable warmth
“That is an interesting name, no doubt you live up to it.” The old man’s voice had become tender and gentle and the slight redding of his eyes gave him a vulnerability that caused Leonardo to lower his guard.
“I do…mostly…I hope I do” he looked away from Christopher and turned his head to the floor “everyone says the same thing you do, and I’m only young. But I feel as though I should have invented something great. Mister Da Vinci was the apprentice to the great Verrocchio at fourteen. That is two years away, and yet I have achieved nothing.” Christopher sat back down and thought for a while.
“You do know your history.”
“They won’t let me forget the great man I was named after. I am told every day, I am destined for greatness.” Christopher thought harder, this time he filtered the scattered fragments of thought. Before he could speak the boy spoke again.
“I want it to stop. I am not Mister Da Vinci and yet everybody wants me to be him. I cannot even be who I want to be.”
Still Christopher sat to think.
“You can be who you want to be, your parents love you and I know that they will support you. Your father has told me much about you and he doesn’t stop smiling when he speaks of you.”
“My parents love only Mister Da Vinci-“ Leonardo was cut short by a call from downstairs.
“We should go down to meet your family now.” Christopher stood up and rubbed Leonardo’s head and smiled. Then the two made their way downstairs.
“Ah, it seems you two have met already” Harry called out from the divan with a glass of wine in his hand as his daughter sat on the floor and wrote haphazardly with a fountain pen onto a sheet of paper. Maria was knelt beside her daughter and instructed her in the same warm maternal tone she had addressed Christopher. She smiled at the two as they walked into the room.
“Yes, Leonardo here was telling me of the great ideas he has for his future. He is quite the intelligent boy, Harry.” Christopher’s tone had changed, he now commanded the situation and spoke with great earnest. An earnest that was disregarded by Harry, whom sipped his glass and responded;
“Very well. I don’t suppose you fancy a wine, it’s French.” Leonardo stared at his father and then moved his eyes to look up to Christopher’s face. Christopher looked down at him his eyes smiled. Then Leonardo walked toward his sister and sat in front of her, cross legged, despondent and disillusioned. Christopher received this wine from the servant and swirled it in front of his nose. It was a deep red and the scent was unplaceable, though majestic. He brought the glass to his lips and the wine was awfully bitter, followed by a tang, then a strange burning in the back of his throat. It was more foreign than tea and he placed it onto the table as he sat down. Harry had already finished his glass. You only drink when you’re under pressure, this can’t be that bad Maria was thinking as she watched him pour another glass and raise it his lips.