Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Victorian Asylum - Short Story "Dearly Departed"

The Victorian Asylum
Short Story
“Dearly Departed”

August 18, 1887

Robert Winters entered his beloved’s bedroom to find her hanging from the heating pipe with the sheet from her little cot bed.  His heart stopped beating as he looked at her lifeless body just hanging there, cold and dead.

            “Why, Elizabeth?  Why?” He asked out loud.

            Then he remembered she kept a diary that would hold all the answers if it were found.  Before reporting her suicide, he ransacked the room, looking for the leather bound book. 

          Where could she have hidden it? He wondered, looking for it in the dresser that she shared with another girl, Nicole.  It was nowhere to be found.  Could it be that she had given it to Nicole? They were roommates after all.  Time went by quickly and Robert gave up his search for the diary.

            He left the room and headed down to the nurse’s station to report Elizabeth Dwyer’s suicide.  It would get quite frantic after that and he wouldn’t have the time to find that diary with all the orderlies coming in to get her down from the pipe.  Robert didn’t know if he could clean her up for the shroud.  He thought about leaving that job for one of the other orderlies.  Then he grew concerned at what they might think and decided to do the deed himself.

            “Yes Robert, may I help you?”  Nurse Becker asked as he approached her.
            “Yes, I’m afraid we’ve lost one.  Elizabeth Anne Dwyer has taken her life.”
            “I see,” said the nurse nonchalantly.  The nurse looked for Elizabeth’s chart among the other charts and began writing something in it.

            “I’ll send for Dr. Hartford. In the meantime, you and Samuel can clean her up.  You’ll find the shrouds in the back of the linen closet,” she said coldly.

            “Yes, Nurse Becker,” he replied.
With that, Robert went looking for Samuel Richards to have him help cut her down.

Already the news had spread and the girls watched and cried as Robert and Samuel prepared Elizabeth’s body for the shroud.  Nicole pulled Heather aside and whispered something to her.  Heather nodded and they turned back to the morbid scene.

Robert tried not to cry as he washed her delicate body. The body he fell in love with. The body he made love to.  She wasn’t really there anyway, he thought.  She was probably in limbo floating around with no place to go because she committed suicide. Or perhaps she was burning in hell for her sins in which he were responsible for, the courting, the love-making, all with a married man.  He was coming to see her to tell her that he committed his wife, Angela to the women’s ward on grounds for excessive sexual desire.  What did Dr. Hartford call that—The Wandering Womb?  He couldn’t remember.  Whatever the case, his wife was gone and now so was his lover.

Elizabeth’s preparation was nearly complete.  Robert found her brush and brushed her hair.  Then with Samuel’s help, they put on the shroud.

“What a waste,” said Samuel.  “Wonder why she did it?”

“I’ve no clue,” Robert lied.  He had a feeling it was his fault.

They put her on the gurney and began the dirge down the hallway of the girl’s ward. All eyes were on them, all with tears.  The girls had been close to her.  Robert tried to look at them to see if they knew anything.   Just the heartfelt stares of the girls stared back at him.

The doctor was waiting for them up at the nurse’s station.

“Is this the girl?” The doctor asked.

“Yes, Dr. Hartford,” Robert answered.

The doctor turned to the desk and signed a paper.  It was more than likely the death certificate.  Then Nurse Becker signed the same paper.

“Take her to the morgue.  I’ll send word to Ravenwood Hospital that we have organs for their anatomy classes,” Dr. Hartford said.

Robert and Samuel wheeled her body down the rest of the hallway, past the other girls who were not ‘Ophelia’s’.  Their rooms were dark and damp, with cot mattresses lying on the floor for their beds.  They were treated terribly, but not as bad as someone who was sent to isolation.  They were sent to a cage in a dark room in the basement where the plague rats roamed. 

The morgue was down in the basement too, underneath the surgery auditorium.  No one went down there alone.  It was said to be haunted by the asylum inmates that died.  Robert wondered if Elizabeth’s spirit was there.

There were two other bodies down in the morgue when Robert and Samuel arrived with Elizabeth.  The mortician and his assistant looked up from the body they were working on.

“Wheel the body right over next to the man that’s draped and prepped for organ removal,” ordered the mortician.  “Oh my, a busy day we have here and it’s just an hour after lunch.” He placed his scalpel down on the table.

He walked over to the fellows and looked at the grey colored face of the eighteen year old girl.      
“Pity, tsk, tsk,” he muttered, shaking his head. He pulled the shroud down to expose the neck.  

“The bruises around her neck indicate suicide by hanging; poor girl and such a pretty girl, indeed.”

“Yes,” Robert said absent mindedly.  “She was one of the Ophelia’s.”

“Ah yes, our dear beautiful crazy girls, the good doctor’s pets.  He will be sad that this one had taken her life. My heavens, what a beautiful creature she was.”

Robert took a chance to talk to the loony mortician who was a wise soul.  Dr. Willard knew things and was full of random knowledge, and could possibly know about the hauntings that were supposed to have gone on down here in the morgue.  If he had seen anything or heard anything, then maybe it was possible that he could see or hear his beloved, Elizabeth.

            “So are the rumors true, is this place haunted?” Robert asked
The dear doctor dismissed his assistant and Samuel said he better get back to the floor.  The doctor then sat upon a stool by a desk and started to look over the charts of the day.

            “Now let me see here,” the doctor started, “not too long ago I saw a spirit of a young boy.  He was one of my patients.  He had died of the plague and almost a whole section of the hospital had to be shut down because of it.  But yes, I met his spirit and all he could manage to say was, Help us!  I know not how to help, but I try to give him company when I see him.  I talk to him and ask him to tell me how to help him and the others.  Usually he never answers me.  I don’t know if he can’t or won’t tell me.  Spirits are strange like that.  Then again, I’ve only met one,” he laughed.

Robert wanted so badly to see Elizabeth’s spirit, but he didn’t know if it was possible.  He wondered if he could sneak back into the morgue and sit it out for an entire night to see if she showed herself.  That was crazy thinking.  Or was it?

            There was proof that spirits have been seen.  Dr. Willard said he saw one of a young boy.  Maybe it was possible he could see his beloved and ask her why she committed suicide.

            That night, when all the wards were locked down and Robert was free to go home, he snuck down to the basement and went into the morgue.  Dr. Willard and his assistant were long gone and the bodies were put away.  Robert turned the over-head lights on and sat at the desk.  He thought about taking Elizabeth out from where she was stored to take one last look at her before they stuck her in the crematory furnace then put her ashes in the ground in the cemetery behind the asylum tomorrow.  But he decided against it, he just didn’t want to see her like that.

            He was tired from the day’s work and wanted nothing more than to go home and get some sleep and not think about the day’s events.  The large Victorian clock above him ‘tick-tock’ away the time slowly hypnotizing him to sleep.



Robert felt something touch his shoulder.  He stood up so fast he knocked over the chair and fell over backwards onto the floor.

            “Who’s there?”

            He saw nothing and heard only the clock ticking away the time. 

Robert clumsily got up off the floor and fixed the chair.  He sat back down on it and let out a sigh of relief.  Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.


            Robert looked up and saw a surgical tray had fallen from its stand and onto the floor.

            “I’m not here to hurt anyone.  I-I-I just want to see my beloved, Elizabeth,” he stammered.

            The temperature of the room got colder and then the lights went out.

            “P-p-please don’t hurt me.”

            “Why are you here?” a female voice asked.

            He looked ahead of him, but didn’t see anything.

            “I’m here to see my beloved, Elizabeth.”

            “Go away!” cried the voice.

    He’d recognize that voice anywhere.  It was Elizabeth’s.

            “Elizabeth, please show yourself.  I love you!  I’m here for you.”

            A bluish-grey light began to take the form of a young woman holding a baby.  It was Elizabeth, alright.  But to whom did the baby belong?

            “I don’t want to see you,” she said.  Her voice sounded tiny and echoic.

            Robert walked toward the light and saw the baby had her looks.

            “Who’s baby?”
            “She’s mine.  Her name is Victoria.  I don’t know who the father is.  This is the baby that came out of me when the doctor took out my female parts.”

            “She looks like you,” Robert said.

            “I don’t care what you say.  I’m in this place because of you.  I took my life because of you and now I’m being punished for taking my life.  I shall remain a ghost in this hellish place for eternity!  The only good thing about this is Victoria.”

            “I’m so sorry, Elizabeth.  I never meant you any harm.  I even came to you this morning to tell you Angela is in the women’s ward, that we could live in my house until we found our own.  But when I went to your room this morning to get you, you were dead.”

            Robert wished he could hold her again, but even if she were here alive and well, she would be mad at him still.  She had every right to be.  He had betrayed her and he had no right even to beseech her now.

            “Robert, it still wouldn’t be right.  I would have not gone with you to live in your house.  You betrayed me by lying to me and I’ve been nothing but honest with you this entire time.”

            He lowered his head in shame.  “I will leave you, Elizabeth Anne, and never search you out again.  I am sorry I did this to you.”

            With that, Robert started to leave the morgue.

            Elizabeth floated off.

            The lights came on and Robert was all alone again.  The temperature began to rise and all seemed well.
            Robert wasn’t well.  He was sad and upset with himself.  He destroyed a girl’s life—one whom he loved so very much—in life and in afterlife.  He would leave her alone for now, but he was greedy and he would be back to see her again.

Copyright © Karen Elizabeth Waters 2012

Edited by S.B. LaCroix


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