The Shuttered Ward, page 1part #1 of Asylum Savants Series
The Shuttered Ward
Jennifer Rose McMahon
Copyright © 2019 by Jennifer Rose McMahon
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Cover design by Rebecca Frank
Edited by Cynthia Shepp
Praise for Jennifer Rose McMahon
“McMahon's excellent paranormal mystery. Teen and adult readers alike will be clamoring for the sequel."
Publishers Weekly Starred Review
”Engaging, beautifully written scenes, and idyllic descriptions keep the tale moving at a quick pace. The characters are engaging and they draw a person in to this tale of adventure and intrigue. Adrenaline-fueled action and enough twists and turns to keep even the most astute readers on their toes, this is a captivating story with a heroine who is forcefully engaging."
”As Chieftain of The O'Malley Clan I am always interested in anything to do with Granuaile, our very famous Pirate Queen ancestor. Jennifer's novel captures the connection with the past which we treasure in Ireland. The Irish landscape, contemporary social life, the Irish language, and romance are woven into this fantasy story about Maeve Grace O'Malley and her quest to solve her 'Awake Dreams'. I am certainly looking forward to the sequel. More BOHERMORE please!"
Sarah Kelly, O'Malley Clan Chieftain 2017
To the souls who struggled with mental health conditions in a time when they were misunderstood. May they never be forgotten.
Remember us for we too have lived, loved and laughed.
Plaque at Medfield State Hospital
Book one ASYLUM SAVANTS Series
Also by Jennifer Rose McMahon
About the Author
Sample Chapters of Book Two, The Excited Ward
Interested in more by Jennifer rose McMahon? Here’s a sample from Book One of her pirate queen series, bohermore.
Book one ASYLUM SAVANTS Series
THE SHUTTERED WARD
by Jennifer Rose McMahon
Whispers of echoing voices pulled me out of my bliss as an incessant beeping sound made my eyes twitch. But then the ferocious pounding struck, and I reached for my head to keep it from exploding.
My eyes shot open only to be blinded by the harsh illumination surrounding me. Shadows of unknown people hovered as one stepped closer and poked at my arm.
I squinted to block the piercing light, my voice scratching out of me. “Where’s Kaitlin?”
A dark pit in my stomach swelled before rising into my throat. My memories wisped through my mind, murky as if lost in dense fog. When I tried to grab them, they slipped through my fingers. Everything seemed out of my reach except the heart-clenching need to check on Kaitlin. She was with me when…when what? I shook my head, only to be reminded of the painful, swollen pressure in my skull.
“She’s okay, Grace,” an unfamiliar voice said. The assurance rolled through my mind. “She’s in the next room. Her parents are there, too.”
With a slow exhale, I sank into the false comfort of my pillow and blocked out the activity around me. But in the sudden absence of stimulation, it hit me. The flash of headlights. A blaring horn. And a violent crash of bending metal and shattering glass that could have woken the dead.
We’d been in a car accident.
As we drove home from Braden’s, we’d been struck from out of nowhere. And then everything had gone black.
Some memories—of a siren and flashing red lights—flickered, but I chose to ignore the chilling images.
“How long have I been here?” I mumbled through parched lips.
“Two days,” the one who held my wrist, apparently checking for my pulse, replied. “We gave you something to help you rest. You took a big hit, dear. You’re incredibly lucky.”
Go to hell.
I rolled to my side to escape the annoying stares, the nurse letting my arm go as I did.
I needed to know if Kaitlin was okay. As I squeezed my eyes shut, I pictured her in the room next to me. Similar shadows of hopeful people, watching for any sign of recovery. The same throbbing headache. Her angelic face, fighting the impact of the accident.
Then her eyes shot wide open. She stared into my soul, and I jolted in my bed with a gasp.
It was as if she’d seen me watching her.
My heartbeat accelerated through the roof. I sat straight up, causing everyone to jump. Throwing off my covers, I pulled at the tape and the tube that traveled along my arm, trying to free myself from the confines of the bed. Two firm hands pressed on my shoulders, pushing me down into the pillows.
“Grace, you need to rest.” She nodded to another woman in scrubs. “We’ll get you something to relax you now.”
“No!” The word flew out of my mouth like a swear. With the fog in my head finally clearing, the last thing I wanted was more tranquilizing meds. Not to mention the feeling of being restrained was enough to make me violent. “No, please,” I said with a calmer tone. “I’m okay. I don’t need anything.”
The shadow of a figure at the back stepped forward. “You need to do what they tell you, Grace. You’re hurt.”
My mother’s voice grated on me like coarse sandpaper.
“I’m fine, Mom. Just a little banged up,” I mumbled. “But I actually feel pretty good.”
It was weird. My muscles screamed out in pain whenever I moved them. My head throbbed like my brain was trying to burst out of it. But still, I felt unusually…good.
I had a clarity I’d never felt before—even through the cotton-filled haze of my head injury. I knew what was right for me, and it didn’t include meds or bed rest.
“I need to see Kaitlin,” I said as I threw my legs over the edge of the bed.
The head rush nearly made me fall back into the pillows, but I steadied myself with my hands by my sides. The spinning in the room only lasted a minute, and I blinked into the blur of faces. My mother, two nurses, and a priest.
“What’s he doing here?” I blurted out while glaring at my mother. She always went too far—raising the bar to get the most attention possible.
“Just to be safe,” Mom said. “We didn’t know how bad things might be.”
Rolling my eyes, I turned my head away from them. I always hated her reliance on the church when it came to anything to do with me. I didn’t believe in it, and his presence alone sent sickening annoyance through my veins. Plus, the whole religion thing was just Mom’s excuse for never connecting with me. She was always too involved with their services or the choir. It was her own form of addiction, like an alcoholic or a pill-popper, to avoid real life. Only her choice of drug was more socially acceptable.
Her unwavering loyalty to an arguably dying institution left me feeling confused and insecure. Being her only child, yet unimportant in comparison, created a deep scar that ac
That was it.
I was lost.
My dad had left us when I was a baby. I tried not to feel bad about it. I’d been too young for him to know me, so I tried to convince myself it wasn’t my fault. I never knew why he left, but Mom said it was mental illness. It was probably the easiest explanation for her to latch on to. And so I believed it.
Seeing Mom next to her priest made me begin to question the truth in her lies, though. There was mental illness, all right, but maybe it wasn’t in my dad.
“Please.” I turned to the nurse as I tugged on the tape. “Help me out of this.” The nurse glanced to my mother for approval, making my blood boil. “Umm, no. I’m nineteen years old. I don’t need my mother’s permission to get out of bed.” I glared at her until she made a move to assist me.
“You might be unsteady on your feet,” the nurse said as she tugged at the tape, ripping out my arm hairs in the process. I eyed the IV port, noticing blood had backed up into the line. My stomach turned, causing my head to spin. “Easy. Just take a minute to get your balance.” She reached under my shoulder as the other nurse brought a walker over to the bed.
I pressed up to standing, immediately feeling the weakness in my muscles after two days of not moving, but I was determined to walk out of that room—on my own.
Stepping forward in baby steps, I moved past the walker, refusing its assistance. With each additional step, the nurse’s grasp under my shoulder lightened.
“Thanks,” I said. “I got this.” I stepped out of my room. With a hand at the wall, I moved down the hallway toward the next door.
As I got closer, I heard the soft mumbling of voices, but then, like an unexpected siren, a scream shot terror through me. The scream turned to sickening moans and wails, causing my heart to nearly pound out of my chest.
My pace tripled as my shuffling steps turned to wide gaits, and I threw myself toward her open door.
Standing in the doorway, I stared in disbelief as they restrained Kaitlin’s flailing body. Her screams pierced through my skull as she called for me.
“Grace,” she screeched. “Don’t let them take me there!”
Kaitlin’s screams shot terror through me, and I pushed past the nurses in her room to get to her bed. As soon as her eyes fell on me, she stopped yelling and thrashing. She stared at me with a confused expression in her eye, then she scanned the others in the room. Her head dropped, and she gazed at her sheets.
I pressed in closer to her bed, then grabbed on to her hand. “Kaitlin, you’re okay,” I said. “I am, too.”
Her eyes lifted to mine. She gave a weak smile, exposing her teeth. “I feel dumb,” she mumbled, glancing at the staff. “I don’t know why I freaked out like that. Sorry.” Her gaze fell again.
Squeezing her hand, I said, “Don’t worry, Kaitlin. We were in an accident. But we’re okay.”
She nodded. “Yeah. I guess so.”
One of her nurses pulled a heavy armchair over to me. The blue vinyl upholstery squeaked when I sat on it, and I inched it closer to the top of Kaitlin’s bed.
“We’ll leave you two to chat for a bit,” one of the nurses said. “Press this button if you need assistance.” She placed a controller with a red button onto Kaitlin’s lap.
In silence, we watched the nurses leave the room. One looked back with a curious glance, then moved down the hall out of sight.
I hopped up, then closed the door as quietly as possible.
“Holy shit, Kaitlin,” I blurted as I fell onto my chair. “What the hell happened to us?” I rubbed the side of my skull that throbbed the most.
“I don’t know. It all happened so fast.” Her hands lifting, she gripped around her face. “My head feels like it’s stuffed with cotton. And like its hollow at the same time.”
“I think we have concussions,” I grumbled. “Makes sense, anyway.” I looked into her face, studying it. “Why were you screaming like that? You scared the shit out of me.”
She moved the controller off her legs. It fell along the side of the bed, swinging from its cord. “I’m not sure.” She bit her lip. “It was like we were torn away from each other. I thought you were gone.” She swallowed hard. “And then the way the nurses looked at me like they thought I was crazy. It was like one of those creepy movies where they take you to a padded room and throw away the key.”
I nodded. “Yeah. I kinda felt that, too, in my room.” I exhaled through my nose, replaying the unsettling glances from the nurses in my mind. “Like they were studying me. Trying to figure out if I was normal or not, I guess.”
“I don’t know,” Kaitlin said. “It just felt like they held too much power. Like they could actually hurt me.” She stared at me with worry in her gaze. “It was terrifying, actually.”
“I think the best thing we can do right now is convince them we’re fine and ready to go home.” I continued, planning out loud. “Once we’re out of here, we can at least be in control again. I just don’t like the way they look at us in here. Like they’re in charge of us or something.” Glancing at the door, I listened for any sign of footsteps. “So, anytime they ask, just say you’re feeling much better. Eat all your food and walk around and shit. There’s no way they can keep us here if we seem fine.”
Kaitlin pushed herself up higher in her bed. “Help me get out of this before my parents come back.”
After I pulled the covers off her, she shimmied to the edge of the bed. She planted her sock-covered feet on the tile floor before looking up at me. We held each other’s gaze for a moment. In that brief eye lock, a chill of death coursed through my veins as I saw us running for our lives, screaming. With a loud gasp, I ripped my gaze away.
Kaitlin’s hand flew to her mouth. “What, Grace? Did you see that, too?” she whispered.
It was a memory I had no recollection of. But it was so vivid.
“We were running,” I murmured.
Her eyes widened like she’d seen a ghost as her harrowed gaze searched mine. She swallowed hard and said, “Yes. Running for our lives.”
Being held like a prisoner against my will made me want to tear my hair out. Everyone around me was an enemy until the moment of discharge. Being released from the hospital was the most liberating feeling I’d ever had, though it made no sense.
The medical staff was only trying to help me get well. Nothing sinister was going on. But deep in my soul, I was trapped. And I had to get out.
They said my paranoia was part of my healing—everyone responded to a concussion differently. I’d seen athletes at my high school with concussions, and they seemed fine. They acted like nothing was wrong. But right before my release, the nurses at the hospital kept calling my condition a traumatic brain injury. That term made it sound so much worse.
Kaitlin, too. She had the same diagnosis.
They told us to expect fatigue and brain fog for a while. But they’d also said our ‘young brains’ would heal quickly. New neurological connections would be made. And, in the end, we’d be fine. However, they also warned us about emotional outbursts, depression, anxiety, and slow processing for some time. It was the slow processing that bothered me the most. I was used to being a quick thinker and an astute problem solver.
Then, my mind jumped to the cause of my injury.
I wanted to see the car.
I wasn’t sure why but replaying the actual scene of the accident and seeing what happened became my primary focus. And then my obsession.
I grabbed my phone to Facetime Kaitlin, called, and waited as the ringing continued. Propping the pillows on my bed, I sat up straight and gathered my thick brown hair, twisting it into a messy bun at the top of my head.
When she finally picked up, I asked, “How’s your head? Feeling dumb?”
Kaitlin rubbed her temple where her bruising was. It had drained into her right eye, making it look like she’d been beaten. The deep color of her mahogany brown eyes m
“All right, I guess.” She smirked. “Still headachy, but the fog is gone. I’m actually thinking clearly right now.”
I blinked and scanned my own condition, turning my attention into my mind. She was right. I had clarity as well, and I actually felt sharp.
“This might sound weird, but I want to see what happened,” I said. “Like, where it happened. And the condition of the car. I don’t know why. It’s just bugging me.”
“Me too,” she blasted into my screen. “It’s all I’ve been thinking about!”
I huffed out a puff of air, then smiled. “Should I text Braden? He could take us.”
“Ya, do it,” she said. Then she pushed her face right into her phone, filling my entire screen with her nose. “And tell him to bring Nick.”
I typed into my phone.
“Did you do it?” Kaitlin asked.
“Yup. I’ll let you know when he responds.”
Two seconds later, I checked to see if he’d opened it, but disappointment from the unopened symbol poked at me, no matter how irrational.
“I can’t believe the hospital wouldn’t allow any visitors,” Kaitlin added. “They made it feel like a prison.”
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