Dark Ch. 01byValentineSatterlee©
I loathe it here.
Twenty four hours after the day I turned fifteen I was unceremoniously shipped by rail (appropriately referred to as the Orphan Train) to the State Hospital of Saint Louis. Until that moment I'd quietly resided with the Sisters of Charity Orphan's Asylum in New York City, spending my days in prayer and devotion, generally consisting of tedious scrubbing and eternal dusting.
Now, the Asylum was no great treat; the food was bad, the rooms were horribly small, and it was full far past capacity with the orphaned and the indigent. New York City seemed to be full with nothing but.
State, on the other hand, is a brand new facility, though no less miserable. It holds the orphaned as well as the insane. I've been here two months now, and sometimes find it hard not to consider most of its residents in the latter category.
The hospital seems to be underfunded, and the girls here are desperate for any small way in which they can feel superior above each other. The guards are well known for encouraging this behavior in the older girls, gladly exchanging food, clothes, or trinkets for even small sexual favors.
As I sit by the big bay windows in the common room, Gypsi, one of the elder girls (at seventeen) is currently harassing Samuel Owens, one of the younger attendants as well as her favorite target.
"Samuel..." Gypsi croons, running her fingers through his unruly blond hair. He stands tall and will not look at her, but there is a slight blush on his cheeks. Gypsi seems to take his obvious embarrassment as an open invitation to get whatever she's after. Samuel is fairly tall, but thin and still boyish-looking despite being in his later twenties.
"No, Gypsi," he stammers, "Not today."
"But Sammy," she whispers pathetically, "I want to, and maybe...if I'm real nice...you could bring me some chocolates?"
Gypsi looks sidelong at him, her big, brown doe-eyes pleading mercilessly.
Samuel clears his throat, catching the attention of Louis Porter, the common ward's second attendant on duty today. Louis is no stranger to small favors, and gives a rakish grin in Owen's direction. Gypsi gives a beaming, triumphant smile and practically drags Samuel into one of the more private corners. They won't risk leaving the common area, but Dr. van Buren never checks in here. He's far too busy with the lunatics to bother with us.
I try not to look in the direction of Gypsi and Samuel, but curiosity and boredom easily get the better of me.
Samuel has his back to the room and occasionally one of Gypsi's tiny hands can be seen snaking through his hair or tugging at his shirtsleeves. Samuel makes a sudden shift, and Gypsi's legs become wrapped tightly around his waist, slender arms about his neck. Their sounds of passion are low and guttural; Gypsi's half-obscured face a mask of pure ecstasy.
I look away before they can finish their act, but have no doubt Gypsi will strut around with a Holier-Than-Thou look on her face for the rest of the day. That, and probably have chocolates by tomorrow.
I am stuck staring miserably out the window at the sprawling hill below, and don't hear Louis until he clears his throat.
"What do you think?" he asks me, speaking to the back of my head, face pressed close to my ear. I shudder slightly as his breath caresses it.
"Of what?" I ask without turning to him.
"Of small favors."
I do turn to him, now. Until this moment, I've not been targeted for any 'special treatment'. I stare into his deep brown eyes, seeing my own reflection there. I nervously twist my Claddaugh ring around my little finger as my mind races for an answer. I come up blank.
"I don't know," I reply lamely. Louis smiles and pulls something from his trouser pocket. He shows it discretely to me; a pretty gold bracelet, thin and delicate.
"Why me?" I raise an eyebrow at him.
Louis shrugged. "You're gorgeous," he finally says, gently tucking an errant strand of my dark hair behind my ear. I look down, and away, anywhere but at his handsome, pleading face. I finally shake my head.
"No, thank you," I say quietly, turning back to the window so as not to see the rejection on his face.
Suddenly, we all hear a loud click coming from the direction of the double doors that lead into the room, revealing Dr. Van Buren pulling at the top latch on the other side. Louis turns away from me and heads towards the doors, Samuel running up behind him, frantically adjusting his shirt.
Van Buren enters the room with another man in a dark blue suit behind him. The new man is tall and dark and impeccably tailored, his light brown hair slicked back and perfectly coiffed. His expressive hazel eyes make a quick scan of the room before settling on me. The short, fat doctor looks almost comical next to such an attractive man.
"Samuel Owens, Louis Porter," he gestures to each of them in turn, "This is Mr. Tammany Lawson. He will be head of both wards from now on."
Mr. Lawson shakes hands with both of the boys, exchanging friendly pleasantries, with nods all around. I can't help but notice, though, that his eyes never leave my face.
That night I have troubled, unrestful sleep plagued with strange dreams.
I am on a huge steamer ship, crowded and dank, a hundred different languages being spoken. I think I am below deck, and no one I turn to can tell me where we are headed.
Suddenly, a shout goes up from above, and the passengers below begin churning against one another, grabbing their scant belongings and pushing towards the stairs. I am shoved and jostled, carried along with the masses up the stairs and into the cold winter air.
Above deck it is frigid, and slushy snow gathers in my hair and on my clothes. The thin, bedraggled peasant dress I am wearing is quickly saturated, my skirts clinging to my legs and making it hard to move in time with the other passengers.
The ship rocks violently to and fro in the choppy, ice riddled waters. A man next to me loses his footing on the slick deck, knocking me off balance and into another passenger. My legs get caught up in my skirt and I fall hard into him.
The man shouts angrily at me, pushing me away and over a large, camel-hump wooden trunk, sending me sprawling across the deck. The ship pitches violently, and I am battered by the legs and luggage of the other passengers as I slide across the deck. I shout for help, but no one hears, or understands, or cares.
Finally I am shoved to the far edge of the deck, pressed against the metal railings and peering helplessly at the angry sea below.
I try to use the rails to pull myself up, but they are completely covered in icy seawater, and I cannot get a decent grip. Somehow I manage to haul myself up into a near standing position, when someone shouts angrily at another passenger, shoving them hard into my back. My heeled leather boots give way and slip under the railing.
I let out a piercing scream and try to twist my body as I fall, so that I am now belly down on the horribly cold deck, legs dangling over the side, desperately trying to find a handhold before I meet my death in the frigid ocean.
As my stomach begins its slide off the edge of the deck a hand grabs mine. I am pulled deftly back up and away from the railing that moments ago I thought for sure would seal my fate. I find myself in the arms of a tall, bedraggled man. He asks me a question in a worried, yet soothing tone. I do not know the language, but the intent is clear- he is asking if I am alright. I cling to his ragged clothes desperately for balance, fearing letting go and being dragged back under the rail. He puts his strong arms around me protectively, pressing me to his chest with one hand upon my wet, matted hair.
"Thank you," I sob into his shirt, knowing he can't understand the words but might know their meaning.
I look up into his rugged, handsome face. His light brown hair is longer and disheveled from the storm, and his expressive hazel eyes radiate concern. It is a face that does not belong in this time, on this ship. One I am just becoming familiar with.
It is Tammany Lawson.