So I have no idea when I’m going to get back to working on my novel. Finals have now started, and it’s hectic. I just finished up two essays, and right now I’m in the middle of editing a video for French that we spent all day yesterday filming down on campus. But I am pretty convinced that I will go back to working on it at some point, maybe once the semester is officially over.
However, I do want to post a few bits and pieces of it on here. And this is one of those parts. This is from somewhere around chapter… five? I think. I’m not sure. I’ve cut a few pieces to edit so that they can be put up here. This was kind of a tedious scene to write. I had a very specific image in my head when I was thinking about what I wanted the building to look like, but conveying that idea,in a way that made sense to someone other than myself, was a bit of a challenge. For this post, I’ve decided to add a couple of pictures that are a bit in line with the image I wanted.
The hospital in the story, Riverside, is based loosely on a real-life psychiatric facility here in East Tennessee, that suffered from a slew of problems, well into the 1970s, when the conditions were exposed and sweeping reforms were enacted. The facility shut down within the past couple of years.
Also, the Kirkbride Plan was indeed a real thing. While the idea that a building can greatly influence a patient’s health fell
out of favor in the early 1900s, the idea was part of a larger movement known as “moral therapy”, which was a huge leap forward for the field of mental health. The buildings were massive, built with several connected, staggered wings. They usually included several acres worth of grounds, as well.
The design feel out of favor in the mid to late 1890s, due to the massive expense of building and maintaining the facilities. Construction on one of the last Kirkbride hospitals, Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center, in Regional Falls, Minnesota was begun in the mid 1880s, and completed in 1912.
Other notable Kirkbride hospitals include Danvers State Hospital, in Danvers Massachusetts, Trans-Allegheny in Weston, West Virginia, and St. Elizabeth’s in Washington, D.C.
Okay, I think that’s all I want to say as far as background things go. Here’s the first excerpt from my NaNo2014 work, On the Ashes of Riverside.
Kenna couldn’t help but smile at Nanook’s exuberance when he saw her. She loved dogs; it didn’t matter if you’d been gone five minutes or five hours, they were always so honestly excited when you came back. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Bagheera slinking out of the laundry room where he’d likely been sleeping on top of the dryer. He headed into the kitchen, clearly anticipating food.
“And there’s the difference between a cat and a dog,” she grumbled to herself. She dropped her things and went to pour food into the cat’s bowl, then grabbed Nanook’s leash from its place by the door. After an enthusiastic struggle, where the dog was far more hindrance than help, Kenna snapped the leash on and headed back out into the hallway to take him outside.
The outside grounds of the complex had been neatly sculpted, a smaller version of what they might have been when the
original hospital had been built. The grounds had originally included several acres of farmland that patients had helped work, but the state had sold off much of that land in the years after the hospital closed.
As Nanook wandered and turned in circles with his leash at full extension, Kenna took a moment to truly observe the building. She could only imagine what it must have looked like at one time. She’d seen an old post card in an online article, sometime back around when the development plans had been announced, but it had only been a close up of one of the complexes many buildings.
The original hospital building had been massive, as most of the state asylums had been at the time, built in the gothic revival style, similar to other more famous asylums of the time. The hospital building looked appropriately intimidating, though at the same time, there was no denying that it was a stunning piece of architecture. Kenna estimated that the staggered wings of the hospital could, in total, span at least two average city blocks. The length, combined with four floors of dark limestone and granite, completed the imposing look of the structure. Great care had obviously been taken during
the restoration effort, and none of the new additions seemed out of place. Even the balconies, most certainly not original to the building, had been designed to look as though they had been there as long as the structure itself.
Startled, Kenna jerked forward and accidently tugged on Nanook’s leash, earning herself the type of whine only an unhappy husky could produce. She apologized and shushed him with a treat she’d brought out, then turned.
Adrian was standing out, huddled in a black hoody, while Geist raced from tree to tree and flower to flower, leaving nothing uninvestigated.
“Sorry,” he told her as he approached her. “I’d been calling to you for a minute, but you didn’t seem to hear me.” Even in the dim light, his expression held a hint of concern.
“Yeah, sorry. I was just thinking.”
“You were staring at the building like it was the most fascinating thing you’ve seen all day,” he commented. Geist tried to make a run for a passing squirrel and Adrian reeled him back in.
“It might be,” she told him evenly, “It’s been a long day.”
His concern melted into amusement at that.
“Anyway,” she continued, her eyes back on the building, “I was just thinking what this place might have looked like when it was first opened. I’ve never really seen any decent pictures or paintings or anything.”
“My guess is it looked terrifying,” Adrian muttered. Kenna glanced over at him. He was staring up at the building, as though trying to imagine it as it would have been over a century ago.
“But would it have been?” She asked. She gave him an even look when he turned a curious expression on her. “These places, the asylums that were built on the Kirkbride Plan like Riverside, they were meant to be different than what places had been in the past. They weren’t meant to be prisons. They were meant to—“
“To promote wellbeing and healing,” Adrian finished for her with a touch of impatience. Kenna nearly asked him how a vet student would remember what had likely been a throwaway topic from an introductory psych course, when she remembered who he was related to.
“Well they were,” she finished. She crossed her arms over her chest, mindful of the leash still in her hand, and pretended she didn’t look as petulant as she did.
“I didn’t mean anything by it,” Adrian assured her, “But it wound up being a prison anyway, didn’t it? In the end, that’s why it was shut down.”
“In the end, they all were. There aren’t places like this anymore, and for good reason,” Kenna admitted, “They don’t lock people away anymore, no matter how “good” their intentions are.”
“It almost sounds like it makes you angry,” Adrian observed, his tone carefully casual. For a brief moment, Kenna spared a thought to wonder what kind of conversations Adrian had been privy too, growing up in close quarters with someone like Dr. Hayes. Then, she turned her attention back to the building. Though the side they were looking at faced the river, it was technically the back of the building.
“What’s done is done,” she told him, her eyes focused on the window balcony she knew led into her own bedroom. “Horrible, awful things were done in places like this, and there’s no way to change that, but now those of us who are studying and working in the field today have to face stigma and suspicion because of what people did here decades ago. It makes things feel like a constant uphill battle, and I’ve only seen it as a student. A lot of people look at psychology and psychologists with distrust because of what they now know went on behind these walls.”
When she was finished, they both stood in silence for a moment, both thinking about what she had just said.
“I remember being afraid of this place when I was little,” Adrian told her finally. “My grandfather would tell me every time that I was being ridiculous but… just to look at it.”
He trailed off and shook his head. Briefly, Kenna thought back to something Cade had said when she mentioned where she would be moving to.
“You can see the ghosts wandering the halls just thinking about it.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
“Wasn’t me that said it,” Kenna informed him, “It was Cade –Dr. Evans. One of the clinicians in the psych department.”
“I know who that is; I’ve met him. He taught my intro class. Only psych course I took. If I remember him correctly, he’s not someone I’d expect to say something like that.”
“Cade says a lot of unexpected things,” Kenna assured him. After a moment, a thought occurred to Kenna.
“You said that you’ve lived her for a while before I moved in, right?” she asked, turning her attention away from the building and back to Adrian.
“Yeah. I moved in halfway through spring semester this year. That’s not something I recommend, by the way. Why?”
Kenna opened her mouth, then faltered, uncertain if there was a way to ask her question without sounding like she would have belonged in Riverside when it was a functioning hospital.
“Have… have you ever noticed the smell of smoke in the hallway or in any of the rooms?” she asked him finally. Silently, she prayed that he didn’t look at her like she was crazy.
“I have,” he responded simply, nodding his head. I’ve noticed it more than once, actually. I don’t spend any time in any of the other floors or wings, but I’ve definitely noticed it in ours before.”
“And here I thought I was losing my mind,” Kenna muttered.
“Only if I’m losing mine, too.” Adrian told her.
“The hospital was damaged in a fire,” Kenna mused, “just about a year or so before it finally closed down, a patient died in a fire here. No details about them were ever made public, as far as I know. If they were, they weren’t very obvious about it.”
“Yeah, I know. My grandfather said that the hospital liked to keep things pretty quiet in later years while he was here.”
Kenna was about to agree with him when she realized what he’d just said.
“Wait, what?” Kenna stared at him, uncertain if she had understood him correctly. “Did you just say that Dr. Hayes worked here? At Riverside?”
“Yes, he did. He never told you all about that?” Adrian looked surprised.
“He’s not exactly the most talkative person in the department,” Kenna reminded him. Now that she actually thought about it, it wasn’t particularly hard to imagine the aloof, detached Dr. Hayes working in a place like Riverside.
“Well, I figured that he might mention it on the first day of class when he introduced himself, or something. That’s kind of how a lot of professors do things, right?”
“All Dr. Hayes does on the first day of class is assure that, yes, you do need the text book, no, I don’t give extra credit, and yes, the final is cumulative and mandatory. Now get out something to take notes with.”
Adrian winced slightly at her summation of his grandfather, but didn’t contradict her.
They stood for another few minutes, Kenna processing this new information about Hayes, and Adrian watching her as though waiting for a response. It was only when Kenna started shivering faintly that he frowned slightly.
“C’mon,” he told her, nodding his head at the building, “let’s go in.”
Fairly happy with it at the moment.