AS MUCH OF THIS INFINITY
by HANNAH LEWIS
was twenty-five when I first met Dr. Elias Gabriel. His work had already become well-known in the poor areas of London, Whitechapel chief among them. The people there lauded him as a hero and he was something of a benefactor to them, offering free medical care and depending solely on donations from some of the more well-off residents. As a student of medical science myself, with no clear aspirations for the future, I made myself available to him at the suggestion of my father, Roland Wainwright, whom Gabriel had treated for some mild maladies and who considered the doctor a good friend.
The house in which Gabriel had set up his small but vital practice was an old one, of the sort of classic style that many may have paid a hefty sum for if not for the fact that it was smack dab in the middle of the worst part of Whitechapel, frequented by whores and degenerates. I admit that I was somewhat wary to walk through the muddy streets and find the place. There was no shame in a healthy fear for my own life. However, I found my way to the large house unmolested and entered the great mahogany doors feeling somewhat more excited than I had previously.
My first impression of Elias Gabriel was a pleasant one which will remain in my mind in spite of anything that might have come after. He was a tall, gaunt gentleman clad in a waistcoat and dress shirt with the sleeves rolled above his forearms, a loose tie, and dress pants covered by a surgical apron. He led an elderly woman through the hall to the door I had just entered and made sure she got out safely.
“Remember what I said, Mrs. Partridge,” he spoke in the genial tones of a learned man, cultured and resonant. “You simply can't keep cats.” The woman huffed at him, clearly used to this warning but unwilling to heed it. I stepped out of their way, nervous like a schoolboy. Gabriel met my gaze with blisteringly intelligent gray eyes and I found myself at a loss for words. He smiled beatifically.
“How can I help you, young man?” he asked, surreptitiously wiping his hands on his apron. I was less than eloquent as I stuttered my way through customary introductions.
“My name is Spencer Wainwright, and my father recommended--”
“Ah, Roland's son, yes, of course,” Gabriel interrupted, gesturing for me to follow him. I met his pace immediately, wanting to make the best possible impression. “He told me you'd be coming. How many years have you been in medical school now?”
“Two, though not consecutively,” was my immediate reply. “My father required a hand in the business so I was forced to put my studies on hold for a short time,” I explained, finding my voice once again. He smiled and seemed to understand, though he said no more for a moment.
He led me down a corridor past several rooms from which came the sounds of pain, moaning, utter desperation. I winced in sympathy, hoping that the poor patients in those rooms would find healing quickly. It was then that I remembered I was to help them. I was once again full of passion and excitement for Gabriel's work. The man himself seemed not to hear the cries of anguish as we passed. I reasoned that he was far too used to them to pay them much heed now.
“Excuse me, Dr. Gabriel,” I began, directing my question to the back of his raven hair as we walked. “Do you have others working here as well? It's just that there seems to be a great number of patients. Surely you can't be the only doctor?” Gabriel glanced back at me with his intelligent gray eyes and smiled wearily.
“You're observant, Wainwright, that's a good quality, an invaluable quality for an assistant in my work. I hire on a couple of the local women as nurses, but I am the only doctor despite the size of this house and the number of people I treat.” He gestured with a long-fingered surgeon's hand, pale with plasters dotted about it to cover cuts or perhaps burns from his treatments. “It's one reason I began searching for an assistant. My work is time consuming and delicate, and there are many who require it. I am spread very thin, but I cannot trust any of the people living in this part of the neighborhood to work with me.” He gave me a wry glance. “They're not exactly trained in medicine. The nurses I hire do little more than administer fluids and make sure the subjects are comfortable.”
We reached the farthest room and he opened the door for me into a comfortable study. Gabriel made his way to the large desk made of dark wood and sat in the high-backed chair, shuffling papers distractedly. For my part, I examined the contents of the room, from the titles of the books on the bookshelves—medical and scientific, with a particular focus on psychoanalytical theory and the study of the brain, as well as some fictions: Dante’s Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost, familiar religious works I would have expected in the library of a learned man such as the doctor. I noticed one small book which seemed to have a position of some significance on the shelf, entitled The Anatomy and Physiology of the Nervous System. It had a place of its own and was completely devoid of dust. I admit to not having been familiar with this particular treatise at the time, but intensely curious as to why it seemed of such import to Dr.Gabriel.
The rest of the room was covered by classical paintings depicting scenes of medical and Biblical nature. I stood admiring The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp when Gabriel called me to him. He wasn't looking at me, rather at a document in his hand. I realized I was in for the sort of interview I’d expected when coming to work.
“I wonder, Wainwright, how much you're willing to work? How hard? This can be a difficult and demanding job. I can't guarantee that all of the people you work with will survive. Can you handle that?” He slowly met my eyes over the paper, his gaze intense and serious. I nodded.
“I believe so, sir,” I told him honestly.
He squinted at me.
“Belief is important, and I suppose soon enough we shall know for certain.” He dropped the document, folded his fingers in thought, and looked me once more in the eyes. “I've outlined your duties for the first couple of days, to get you acquainted with the building, the equipment, the patients.” His hand gestured almost as if it had a mind of its own. I nodded eagerly. I was excited to begin. “You and I shall take some time in the mornings before our rounds start. I should like to impart some of my knowledge on a few subjects to you in order for you to understand my work, and help with it.” His eyes seemed to catch fire, the passion in them ignited at the mention of his work. I frowned slightly with trepidation, but agreed.
That first day I walked about the house, learning the rooms, separated by patient condition and class, and met the nurses who bobbed in and out, taking water and pills to the patients. My own initial duties were only slightly different--using my more extensive medical knowledge I gave cursory examinations of the patients, checking their pulses, timing their breaths, taking their temperatures, and administering injections where pills could not be substituted. It was not so different from my first year of medical school. When we weren’t learning terms and techniques, we were administering to the school’s collection of patients, making rounds and learning to diagnose.
This was my lot for the first few days of my apprenticeship under Dr. Gabriel. In the mornings, for an hour or two, he would instruct me on the more unique treatments that he was experimenting with and also give me the occasional lesson on a new scientific study he called Phrenology. I admit to having had some small experience with this new branch of science in medical school, but as far as I recalled, the entire faculty deemed it nothing more than bunk, a fad for our time. Gabriel clearly thought differently, as that fire lit his gray eyes again. He had a passion unmatched for this strange science of the skull.
The book that had taken precedence on his shelf had one of those titles that was over a paragraph long, but it was, in short, the foremost text on the science of Phrenology. It seemed to me that Phrenology was an attempt at diagnosing psychological effects using physical evidence. The charts that Gabriel showed me reflected the idea that shapes of the skull determined how the mind worked. Man’s predisposition to various ways of acting and thinking could be diagnosed through the shapes of his skull. It took me some time to fully comprehend the theory, but I was not opposed. It appeared to explain how certain classes of people were more suited to certain jobs, how criminals were of a routinely specific type of person, and how those of the higher classes were predisposed to intelligence and compassion. Because I respected him as a friend of my father’s, as a learned man, and as a doctor who exemplified all that I thought doctors should be, I was especially susceptible to his way of thinking. When Gabriel saw this, he began to take me out and examine the skulls of his patients.
“You’ll see, Wainwright, that despite the hair and scalp covering the skull, we can still feel the bumps and bulges that indicate the shape of the brain within,” he instructed, moving his long fingers over the head of an unconscious dock worker. He quieted, lost in thought for a moment, stroking his fingers through the hair. He narrowed his eyes and murmured something in a low voice, though I could not hear what was said. I thought perhaps he was committing something to memory or reminding himself of something to do with the man’s treatment. He looked up, remembering I was standing there, and offered the head to me.
Perhaps I was not so expert in my understanding as he, but my fingers could find no particular protrusions that indicated any sort of specific degree of intelligence. I assumed this meant that I had an underdeveloped skill. Gabriel could tell that I was struggling and told me that I would develop the skill and understanding with time.
“Even a lack of protrusion has meaning. I should have started you with a bare skull. Come, I have some in my study, I’ll show you the differences in the shapes there.”
In this manner, I was instructed in the science of Phrenology. I absorbed it as I had my other medical studies and it was useful to me in the vocabulary of medicine which I was slowly developing. I learned to find meaning in the words that my education had given me. Even in the highest reaches of medical science, we know very little about the brain. I admit that to some extent Phrenology contributed to a less than savory habit of condescending to those of lower classes than I, and I found myself pitying the patients that we aided, blaming their physical brain shapes for their predicaments. It seemed to me that God did not love these unfortunates quite so much as he did the upper classes, something I thought to be very unjust. However, I considered that they were placed on this earth for us to improve their lot, and therefore our work was of great import.
Two weeks after I began my employment with Gabriel, I met Alice O’Hannigan. The petite Irish immigrant had her people’s fiery temper and red hair, with startling green eyes. I was smitten almost immediately after she was hired on as a nurse.
“Oh, it’s you again, is it, Doctor?” she asked every morning, as if I would be somewhere else. I always replied to correct her.
“Still not a doctor, Miss O’Hannigan, though I do appreciate that you seem so confident in my abilities.” We would share a smile and go on our way.
I often attempted to coordinate my rounds with hers, so as to be near her for as long as possible. She was surprisingly intelligent. My work with Dr. Gabriel would suggest that because she was of such a low class, she should have been as lacking in brains as any of the large, Irish dockworkers who were her kin. Despite this, she picked up easily on medical terms and had a grasp of treatment that the other nurses had not shown. She even took it upon herself to change a treatment on the rare occasion that she disagreed with something I prescribed.
In point of fact, Alice was so surprising to me that I mentioned her specifically to Dr. Gabriel. I held her as an example of my misgivings about Phrenology. Though I was loathe to go against anything the good doctor taught me because of my respect for him and the ingrained hierarchy of classes which was strengthening in me each day, I also felt in my soul that God had created these people with more opportunities than Phrenology suggested. Of course, Gabriel had his explanations and I felt a fool for a time.
“There will always be exceptions, Wainwright, you need to learn that now. There are fools in the higher classes just as there are geniuses in the lower. It has to do with the mixing of the blood, distribution of genetic information. Have you read Darwin? Come, I’ll loan you a few books.”
Phrenology was not the treatment for any of these people, of course, merely a side study of the doctor’s. Having access to so many varieties of people, it seemed natural to give them a cursory examination and see if their physical attributes matched the theories he espoused. It was clear after a time, however, that though Phrenology was a specifically psychological study of the brain, Gabriel’s work was more material. He spoke to me oftentimes of mapping the physical brain and discovering what made man.
Approximately one month after I began working with Dr. Gabriel, Alice brought in a new patient. This would not have been a remarkable event, and indeed was not at the time. I soon discovered, however, that the slip of a girl was Alice’s close friend, and she was deathly ill.
“Please, Doctor,” she begged me that night as we stood together in an unoccupied corner of the room which held her friend. “You must cure Elise. She’s like a sister to me. I don’t know what I’d do if she--” I held up a hand to stop her speech.
“I’ll pay her special attention, and I will make certain that Dr. Gabriel does the same. I promise you. I wouldn’t wish to see tears gather in those green eyes of yours.” I offered her a consoling hand on her shoulder and she laid her smaller, paler one atop it. The touch was sweet and I found myself wishing it would last forever. It did not, however, and as she left to sit at her friend’s side I made my way to Gabriel’s study to speak to him of Elise’s condition.
“I shall endeavor to give her attention, Wainwright, but you know as well as I that we cannot give special care to any of these patients. We must remain above them or we will be mired in our emotions. That’s not to say we shouldn’t treat them, of course, merely that in the event the treatments don’t work, you cannot allow it to keep you from others who need you. This will be your test, son.” He looked me in the eyes, his own eyes hooded and dark. “As a doctor you cannot give in to your emotions. You cannot be swayed by a pretty face or a sad story. There is work to be done, Wainwright. I do not speak only of the healing work I do here. I need you to help me as I study the human brain, and I need you to be strong enough to do it.”
Elise had come down with consumption. Her breathing was shallow and unstable and she shook with tremors as the pain wracked her body. It was terrible to see such a tiny creature in such agony. There was a grotesque sort of beauty to the droplets of red that would land upon her sallow chin when she coughed. I considered my courses of treatment and began a regimen of bloodletting and opium. She could barely smoke the drug but it certainly lessened her wracking coughs. In my naivety, I had hopes for her recovery. Alice hung on my every word and action as I took care of her friend. This, perhaps, motivated me most of all.
In the days that followed, Elise did regain her faculties--the opium had relaxed her lungs to the point where she was barely exsanguinating, and the bloodletting, though weakening her physically, had cycled her blood and removed the diseased portion. Alice and I were increasingly hopeful that she could soon be released. In the evenings, she would smoke her opium and Alice would read to her poetry from the Examiner. I would often pause in my rounds to listen to Alice’s accented tones reading the metered verses. It was a pleasant diversion from the anguish that surrounded me, the noises of those hurting, the smell of decay, the sight of ruined flesh and desperate faces, and not for the first time I wondered if I truly possessed the disposition to be a doctor. Of course, I then realized that the scene of comfort and happiness which I was enjoying would not have been possible if it were not for my treatment, and a pride in my work filled me.
The next morning, I entered the house with a full heart, expecting to be able to release Elise from her sickbed. Alice waylaid me on my way, taking my arm, her face full of the most frantic desperation. She pulled me to our familiar corner, where none could overhear us.
“Mr. Wainwright, I hope you’ll forgive this impropriety, but I must speak with you. Elise has been taken!” I could feel the blood drain from my face.
“Oh, Miss O’Hannigan, I am sorry. I had so much hope she would survive the night.” I had thought to be consoling but she berated me in her brogue.
“You misunderstand me! I don’t mean she was taken by Death, Mr. Wainwright, I mean she was taken by the doctor!” I immediately expressed my confusion and Alice continued. “Dr. Gabriel has taken her away to God knows where!” Her tiny fingers pulled at my suit coat in such desperation that I felt my heart quake.
“You must be mistaken,” I told her, patting her comfortingly. “Where would he have taken her? And why?” Alice was not happy with my offered comfort and smacked my hand away quite painfully.
“I saw him take her! I don’t know what for but I know where they’ve gone. His study! They must be there.” With that cry, she pulled me again by the arm and, amidst my protests, hauled me to Dr. Gabriel’s study. I was personally relieved to find that Gabriel was not present, and Alice seemed crestfallen. She paced about the room, practically treading upon her skirts in her haste.
“It’s quite all right, Alice,” I began, and, noticing my misstep in using her Christian name, forwarded past it. “You were shaken by Elise’s passing. You were seeing things. It’s very common in female hysteria--” She lifted a finger to stop me speaking, her eyes full of fire.
“You will speak no further, Spencer Wainwright, or you will risk my anger! I know he took her here, there must be some proof of what I saw!”
Alice scoured the room with her eyes, pulling it apart. I could do nothing to calm her and ended up ineffectually replacing the books and papers that she flung into piles. I expected nothing to come of the wanton destruction, but when her hand alighted upon that book that held such a prominent place in Gabriel’s collection, The Anatomy and Physiology of the Nervous System, there was a mechanical sound and the bookcase moved aside, leaving a gaping hole and a staircase leading into the darkness.
“What on God’s green earth?” I exclaimed, approaching the cavernous opening with trepidation. Alice was practically bouncing in anger and anticipation.
“I said, did I not? You didn’t believe me, you pompous fool! Come, quickly, Elise may still be alive!” She began the descent into the darkness. I snagged her sleeve to stop her.
“Shouldn’t we call the police?” I asked, attempting to inject some reason into this madness. She looked at me as if I were the mad one.
“And risk Elise’s life? I do not know if he will harm her, truly, but I dare not risk it! I will not have it! Come!” Using my hold upon her as leverage, Alice pulled me after her into the abyss.
The staircase twisted down past gas lamps and candles. It was surprisingly deep, finally opening into a wide, stone room with a high ceiling. The room was filled to the brim with tables covered in medical equipment, with surgical lights illuminating the steel instruments. There were jars upon jars of preserved specimens, from rats and organs to a myriad of brains of different sizes from various animals. We walked cautiously past the gruesome scene, hidden behind shelves from the center of the large room. We passed the skulls that were also present, cats and birds, lizards and apes, and human skulls--so many, many human skulls. As we crept further in, we saw that there were also disembodied but intact human heads in various stages of decomposition, a sight that filled me with sickening awe. The smell of rot and ammonia filled the large room so that it choked one to breathe. I felt bile rise in my throat and might have left then and there in my horror to fetch the police if it were not for the desire to rescue Alice’s friend.
The bubbling chemicals in various apparatuses threw strange lights upon the blood covering the floor, and the grotesque sight blinded me for a moment from seeing Elise laid out upon the table. She had been stripped of her garments and left in nothing but a white sheet to keep the blood spray from dirtying her. Her face was serene and beautiful, but her head had been opened up in the traditional surgical fashion, exposing a cavity in her skull where her brain should have been. In mounting horror, I cast my eyes about the room in search of her missing organ and saw it in the hands of Dr. Elias Gabriel. I should have seen him first, perhaps, but he was so still that he seemed a statue.
Dr. Gabriel stood clad in white surgeon’s coat and mask, his eyes alight with the passion of his madness as he gazed upon the bloody mass that had once been the seat of Elise’s consciousness. His gloved hands were dripping with the life that had run through Elise’s veins only hours previously and his smock was dotted about with the same, like the splatter of a morbid artist. I felt my mind cloud with rage. He had taken the life of a poor, innocent girl and my own patient. Blindly, I strode forward, ready to sock Gabriel in the jaw and take him to the police to be brought to justice. Alice pulled me back. I had forgotten she was there.
“Dear God,” she said in that familiar brogue, her voice low. “That monster. What has he done?” I returned to my senses, recognizing that Gabriel had the upper hand in this room, his sanctuary of the damned.
“Stay back in the shadows, Alice,” I begged her softly, my eyes never leaving Gabriel’s form in case he saw us from our place behind the shelves. “When I approach him, I shall attempt to apprehend him--things may go poorly for me. I need you to fetch the police, no matter what happens. Do you understand?” My commands were given in a shaking voice. I was ashamed of my own fear, but could do nothing to remedy it.
“Yes,” she replied in a voice equally as shaken. I squeezed her hand gently to let her know she was not alone, and then, cautiously, I approached the crazed scientist, my hands open to display my lack of threat. He was facing me, but his eyes were entranced by the fleshy mass in his hands. He seemed unable to see anything else. He was as still as he had been, but for those eyes, which moved over the grooves in the brain as one’s eyes move when one reads a particularly exciting book.
“Dr. Gabriel,” I said in a clear voice, proud that it did not break and give away my nerves. The cold gray eyes left the mass of flesh and met my own eyes. I felt a quiver of fear creep down my spine and I straightened. “What in God’s name have you done?” I cried in righteous anger.
Gabriel did not reply immediately. Rather he took the time to carefully set aside the brain he’d been examining and pull off his gloves and mask. Then he dipped his hands into a basin of water, wiped them off on a towel, and turned to me with a strange, frightening smile.
“I did wonder how long it would take you to discover my laboratory. I may have overestimated your observational skill, my boy.” He approached me, his hands behind his back. I stepped back, afraid to be within touching distance of such a man. His look was predatory and for the first time that evening I seriously wondered if I was to survive the night. “What do you think?” He puffed up with something like pride, gesturing across to his empire. “As you can see, I have everything I need to do my best work.”
“Your best work?” I incredulously replied, my face stricken with revulsion. “You cannot call this work, Elias!” I allowed myself his first name in order to appeal to his humanity. “Look at what you’ve done!” Gabriel grinned, an expression terrifyingly similar to the skulls dotted about the lab. I shuddered.
“Indeed, Spencer,” he replied in the same manner. “Look at what I have done! Do you not understand what it is you see about you?”
“Horror! Madness!” I cried, shaking my head. He laughed, a high, breathy sound I had not heard before. Stepping out into the middle of the floor, he spun in a circle, his arms outstretched.
“Do you truly not understand? It is Phrenology, the science of the mind! With my work, I have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt what before had only been theory! The shapes of the skull, ridges and bumps are markers of the development of the brain. Each brain and skull has corresponding shapes. These determine the person’s lot in life! It’s all here!” As he spoke, I recalled our lessons, and what I had read outside of them. It seemed to me he was twisting the science to his own gain. He rushed to his macabre collection, pulling two skulls out of the pile and bringing them to me. I did not touch them, giving him my most distasteful expression.
“Look, the formations indicate what the owner was fated for, what they were good for, their purpose, proclivities, predisposition! I have uncovered the revelation of the century, Spencer!” He clutched the skulls to himself in ecstasy. “If our brains hold the seat of our predisposed destiny, what else do they hold? What secrets can we uncover from the brain? My collection is vast and yet still not enormous enough to contain the sheer multitude of variation that brains contain! This is proof of the seat of conscious will!” He set the skulls down on the instrument table and rushed to a tank, gesturing for me to follow. I did so only out of fear for my own life.
The tank was one of a long line holding suspended brains of various shapes and sizes. The brains were connected to tubes that must have fed them nutrients of some type. Gabriel caressed the tanks with a twisted kind of affection, like a perverted parent and his abomination children. He seemed enraptured by their glow and his gray eyes were illuminated from within and without.
“I need only time. I am very close now, Spencer, immeasurably close to a breakthrough. Once I perfect the apparatus, I will be able to discover the truth. Can you see what I search for? Can you see what it is I work toward?” He approached me and for each step forward he took I took a step back.
“Elias, this is madness,” I told him, my leg hitting a table behind me. I stopped and stood my ground. Gabriel was still smiling.
“Perhaps. If I do not find the evidence for which I am searching, perhaps then I will be mad, but I have not lost hope.” He crossed his arms, looking me in the eye. He appeared then as he had during my lessons, merely a teacher imparting his knowledge on an eager student. I could have forgotten the horror if not for the blood upon his garments and the eerie light from the tanks. “If I can find the evidence,” he repeated slowly, “I will prove that consciousness lingers after the body has died. In truth, there is no such thing as death! If consciousness can be revived in the brain when it is separate from the body, then barring decomposition, man can live on. Permanently.” Gabriel’s gestures grew more emphatic and wild as he spoke. “Phrenology is only the first stepping stone on the path.”
“You cannot believe that! You, a Christian man? Would that not be in violation of God’s Word?” I asked in desperation. Gabriel laughed his unsettling laugh once more.
“Don’t you see? The brain is therefore the seat of the soul! What need have we of these bodies but as vehicles for the mind?” For a moment he breathed heavily, then slowly he calmed. “I only require your cooperation.” I balked and he held up a long, pale finger to keep me from replying. “You see, I have so far been able to study the brains of the poor, but as you know--since you are my student in the science of Phrenology--I require the higher classes to compare. There is a better chance of communication with the disembodied brain of an upper class person than that of a lower class, of course. If I could, I’d dissect the head of one of my peers…” He looked thoughtful and trailed off for a moment. “Alas!”
“Then why?” I asked suddenly, my heart in my throat. “Why did you take Elise? If you have no more need of lower class brains, then why?” Gabriel looked at me intently.
“You felt strongly about her. I knew you would come.”
“What do you want from me?” I asked, curious but with no intent to aid him.
“You? My dear boy, I need you to assist me!” He took me by the arms and I, shuddering, could do nothing to escape his grasp. “You will learn my methods, you will bring my subjects, and you will share in my triumph. This is a gift I am giving you, Spencer. You and I will be as gods.” His eyes were fire, a hypnotic and terrible feeling came over me and I could not free myself.
For one long, horrific moment, I considered his words--and then I thought of Elise laid upon the slab, her head open and empty. I thought of Alice in Elise’s place. I was filled with the righteous determination which had left me and I tore myself from his grasp.
“I will not assist you! I will not aid you in this revolting work! Have you not sworn to help these people? Have you not betrayed their trust? You’re a monster!” With these words, I took a step back in order to flee, hopeful to meet the police as they came to the door.
I did not expect what occurred next. I felt a cool hand upon my throat and a soft, familiar voice speak to me as a needle was plunged into the skin of my neck.
“You were more foolish than I hoped, Spencer,” Alice murmured into my ear. “It would have been magnificent: the three of us, working together. Such a shame.” As she spoke I lost control of my motor functions and fell back against the table. My vision was clouded and I knew I would soon lose consciousness. In desperation, I begged Alice to let me live, but my voice was soon lost to the drug. The last thing I saw before I knew no more were the faces of Gabriel and Alice as they stood together, the doctor and his true assistant, watching me, their newest subject, as I passed out of consciousness completely.
I did not dream as one dreamed when one was asleep. I never saw an image, but I felt the fear and anticipation, felt a million fingers on my skin. I knew that I would not live long in my unconscious state, could practically feel the crazed surgeon’s knife, and yet I knew if I were to return to consciousness it would only be to witness my own demise and so I could not wake. In order to pull myself from my insensible state, I recalled to my mind the faces of the patients who would and had been sacrificed for Gabriel’s--and Alice’s--hateful work. If I did not wake, there would be no chance for them, let alone myself. I pushed myself to consciousness like a swimmer surfacing for air.
I was strapped to the table in a tableau reminiscent of Elise’s. My clothing had been removed and I was clad in nothing but my undergarments and a white sheet. I pulled gently at the bonds restraining my wrists and ankles, hoping not to draw attention to myself. The bonds were tight and I could find no way to loosen them. My movements, despite my intentions, drew Alice to my side.
“Spencer,” she greeted softly, running her thin fingers through my hair. I shuddered at her touch, the touch that once I may have craved. “I was worried you wouldn’t wake. I wanted to see you once more before…” As she trailed off I realized that I had been right in assuming their intentions.
“You’re going to--” I began, my mouth too dry to speak.
“My dear boy,” Gabriel’s voice came from across the room where I could not see from my prone position. “If you aren’t going to help us of your own free will, I’m afraid we’ll have to find another way for you to help.” He came into my field of vision, pulling on a fresh pair of surgical gloves. I pulled back as well I could from his form. “You yourself possess just the sort of brain I require.” Pulling the elastic band with a snap, he gestured to Alice.
“Prepare the instruments,” he instructed, his voice calm and cool. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that in that moment, my eyes stinging with tears of fright, I began to scream for help. Alice smacked me hard across the face, her hand a painful shock but a bigger blow to my dignity than my skin. I winced and quieted.
“Thank you, Alice,” Gabriel said, giving her a strangely benevolent smile. She merely raised a bronze brow and went back to her task of cleaning and readying the wicked steel instruments.
I came very close to resigning myself to my fate. There was nothing I could think of to help me, and the drug remained in my system, keeping me from my full faculties. It was then, when I was at my most hopeless, that my salvation arrived in the form of a bell ringing from the wall. Gabriel, who had wandered back into my field of vision, looked up in surprise at the ringing bell.
“Damn and blast,” he swore, ripping off his gloves. “Spencer wasn’t able to reach the authorities, was he?” he asked Alice, who shook her head. “Well. I can’t ignore it; it’s too much of a risk!” Frantically, he tossed aside his surgical garments and ran a hand through his hair, pushing it back into its traditional coif. “Alice, watch the boy. I’ll get rid of whoever it is at the door.” He left my sight and Alice hovered above me, worriedly watching him as he went.
This, I realized, was the only chance I would get to free myself. Alice, in her worry, had shifted the table of instruments toward me. I reached for it, hoping she wouldn’t notice my hand flexing toward the shining tools. I caught the edge of the table with my fingers and pulled at the table gently. Alice caught the table between her hands and looked me in the eyes.
“I know what you think of me, Spencer,” she said, her voice a match for Gabriel’s: cool and clinical. “Contrary to your belief, my “womanly hysteria” has not prevented me from being an invaluable aid to Dr. Gabriel--and they do not keep me from seeing you trying to break free from your bonds.” She slipped a pale hand over my wrist, her fingers ghosting over my skin and the leather that kept me there. In the time she spoke, I worked my other hand, feeling my finger catch on the buckle of the strap.
“Even if you escape,” she said suddenly, clasping her hand painfully around my wrist, “No one will believe you.” My hand finally broke free of the strap and without a thought for the impropriety of hitting a woman, I socked her in the face. She crumpled to the floor, the sight filling me with pain, but I couldn’t wait. Gabriel could return at any moment. I freed myself rapidly and catapulted up the stairs with little thought for my current state of dress, or lack thereof. The study was empty. I crept cautiously down the hall, worried I would see a nurse or the doctor himself. I met no one on my journey and when the front door was in sight, I saw that the doctor was attempting to remove an elderly woman I recognized as Mrs. Partridge. She was insisting something inaudible to me, her finger pressing emphatically into the front of Dr. Gabriel’s shirt. He seemed to struggle to keep a friendly countenance but I couldn’t wait to see what happened. I slipped into the adjoining room to wait until he left.
I was fortunate in that the occupants of the room where uniformly catatonic. They made no sound as I entered and hid among them. Breathing slowly, I waited, watching the door for Gabriel’s passing. It seemed to take an eternity of silence and fear before he strode past my line of sight. I waited a moment longer and bolted out the doors.
My state of undress was immediately apparent to me when I felt the breeze outside and the mud upon the ground. I felt myself redden in shame but could not be assuaged by such insignificant details. I ran down the street amidst the shrieks of surprised laundresses and the whistles of prostitutes, and when I reached the main street I desperately flagged down a cab. With some convincing, I managed to get a ride to the police station despite my lack of coin.
When I reached the police station, I entered and collapsed upon the desk. After exchanging some heated words with the constable there, I explained that I had a situation of grave importance to discuss with the first available detective inspector. The constable, clearly skeptical of me and my claims, told me to wait in the chair near the door. I fell into it wearily, praying that I would be able to tell my story soon.
The inspector arrived about five minutes after I sat down. He took one look at me and frowned in a mixture of concern and skepticism.
“Well, Mr… Wainwright, correct?” he asked, looking me up and down. “How have you gotten yourself in such a state?”
“Spencer Wainwright, yes, Inspector…?” I prompted, intent on knowing the names of all I interacted with so as to better make my report.
“Ainsley,” he replied gruffly, pulling at his thick brown mustache. “Come with me, we’ll get you some clothes and you can tell me what happened.”
Inspector Ainsley was polite and accommodating and I found it easy to relay my tale to him. He seemed to consider my words, weighing their honesty and likelihood. I felt hope rise in my chest where before there had only been terror.
“You realize, of course, that we cannot take only your word, despite your station, Mr. Wainwright,” he told me after I had finished. I nodded.
“You need only look behind the bookshelf. His lab is there, everything is there.”
“Of course, sir. Will you stay here while we investigate? We may need to ask you some more questions.” I was completely willing and told him so. He left immediately with a small team of constables, presumably to investigate the house.
I realize now that I was foolish to think that everything could be solved so simply. It was three hours before they returned. I was still groggy from the drug and so I slept for half the time, unsettled by dreams of horror lurking in the darkness. When I woke, I was being pulled into an interrogation room.
“What is the meaning of this?” I cried, pulling at the meaty hands clasped around my upper arms. Ainsley looked apologetic.
“I’m afraid, Mr. Wainwright, that there’s nothing to substantiate your story. In fact, Dr. Gabriel told us that the recent deaths of some of your patients have unsettled you to the point of raving. We’re very sorry to do this to you, sir, but you need to be kept from the public for a time.” He pulled again at his mustache as I stood, mouth agape, uncomprehending. “We’ve informed your father, and we’ve gotten a recommendation to a sanitarium from Dr. Gabriel. As long as you persist in these delusions, you will be confined there, but as soon as you return to normal, you can go back to your life.” He patted me upon the shoulder. “Don’t worry, Mr. Wainwright, I’m certain this will all be cleared up soon.”
In my rage, I did not reason out my actions and I lunged upon him, my hands upon his throat as I howled that Gabriel was g oing to kill all of us. I gnashed my teeth and made quite a spectacle of myself, I’m ashamed to admit. The constables had to restrain me. As Ainsley regained his footing, touching gingerly at his neck, I apologized, unable to meet his eyes.
“It’s quite all right, son,” he murmured, his voice hoarse. “It’s the madness. I’ve seen its like before. You’ll be taken care of, I promise.”
“Please,” I begged as the constables attempted to pull me out the door, “don’t let him get away with it. Gabriel will kill all of those people in his house. Dr. Elias Gabriel is a madman, not I!”
I write these words from the cell in which I sit at the Fields Asylum. I am not treated poorly but for the medicine that clouds my mind and weakens my body. If I refuse to take it, I am beaten, but if I comply, I am treated as any other patient. Despite my doctor’s insistence, I cannot renounce my so-called delusions. I have seen what I have seen. Dr. Elias Gabriel and his assistant Alice O’Hannigan are dangerous. They are murderers and they will murder again. No one is safe from their ravenous appetite for new subjects.
This is the full and complete testimony of Spencer Wainwright, of sound body and sound mind. I write these words in the hope that someone will believe me and stop them before it is too late.
Hannah Lewis is a senior at Cornerstone University in Michigan. She is majoring in literature and writes creatively in her free time. She enjoys stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, and H.P. Lovecraft.
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