The room was dark. It was always dark. And it smelled. As it always smelled; of urine and sweat and feces. It was cold too. The bitter winter air penetrated each cell as if there were no walls. It entered uninterrupted and gripped everything with icy fingers. No matter how many blankets you had, no matter how many gowns you managed to steal and put on, the frosty Swiss winds seemed to cut through it all, and pierce your skin, straight to the bone.
Mary shivered violently. She knew she wouldn’t survive another year in this place. Not another winter like this. She was freezing, and starving, and sick. Her thin black hair was wet and stuck to the skin of her face, making her that much colder. With a bone thin hand, she brushed the hair back, out of her eyes.
Someone was staring at her. From across the pitch black room, two white orbs, barely reflecting what little moonlight filtered in through the barred window, watched her. They were bloodshot and wide. They were the eyes of a mad woman. All the eyes in this room were the eyes of a mad woman. Every pair of eyes, except hers.
She was the only sane one here, but who would believe that? The answer was no one. She knew that. How many years had passed since she had been thrown away in this asylum? How much time had gone by while she struggled to survive in this bedlam? Only those on the outside could tell, and they had all forgotten about her. Either willingly or not, they had all forgotten that she even existed.
Now, in the dark and rigid cold, she sat on a filth stained cot, wrapped in as much feces encrusted cloth as she could hold. She stared back at the two crazed eyes that watched her from across the room.
The eyes, and skeleton of a woman they belonged to moved. She was small, fragile, and naked. In the dim light of the moon, she seemed even more like a skeleton, pale and bony. One would never know she were a woman, the fat from her body long since drained away by prolonged starvation, her breasts gone, her hourglass figure a thing of the past. Only by looking between her legs would one know she were female.
She crawled across the bare stone floor, seemingly unaware of the cold that encased this cell like a tomb. Her long, thin limbs moved in a spider-like fashion as she crept, crouched low to the floor. Her stringy blonde hair fell over her thin, gaunt face, like the wisps of ghostly emanations floating about her head. It was patchy, and her scalp was bald in places. A sign of malnutrition and abuse from the wardens. Deep bruises on her arms and the insides of her thighs, like purple stains on her white frail skin, told a story of how well the inmates were treated here.
Mary stiffened, preparing for anything. It wasn’t uncommon for the lunatics of this asylum to attack for no reason. And this woman, coming for Mary, with all the blankets and gowns she could gather, had plenty of reason to attack, assuming she could reason at all. She moved closer, and closer still, but stopped short of the cot, on which Mary sat. She looked up at Mary, with pink and red eyes. A fresh bruise, yellow and brown, circled one eye. Her thin lips quivered and her eyes darted about the room as if the women were searching for the words to speak.
Then in a weak whisper, she said, “They’re coming for you.” Her voice was raspy, and her throat was dry.
“Who is coming for me?” Mary asked.
The young woman smiled, her mouth turning into a skeletal grin, her teeth appearing almost too large for her small face. An illusion created by her frailty. She replied, “They come for you now, in the halls they walk, and to the walls they talk. Can’t you hear them?”
She was mad. As mad as any of them, Mary thought.
“A paper they bring, a song they sing. The paper they’ll show, to let you go.”
Mary frowned, furrowing her brow. “Who is coming?”
Even in this place of madness, the hope that someone would come for you, the dream that you would be rescued from this life of agony and torment, remained strong.
“Who is coming?” Mary asked again, more urgently.
The woman didn’t move. She simply stared in front of her, as if looking into another world. A world invisible to everyone but her.
Mary sighed. She had hope. She had faith, that she would leave this asylum; that she would someday be free of the torture, and rape, and cold. Free of the torment, and starvation, and deprivation.
But her faith waned. Just how long had she been here? She wondered. Months, years, decades? She rarely saw sunlight anymore. The passing of time was only a theory in this place, some equation that could never be quantified. She hadn’t seen her own reflection since before coming to this dark and demented place. How much had she aged?
Something stirred across the room, making a loud clicking noise. It was the large, iron door. Someone was unlocking the cell. Mary turned toward the small barred window. It was still dark out. The doctors would still be at home. It wasn’t time for “treatments”. So who could it be?
Mary slowly slunk down into her cot, hoping to become invisible under the sheets and gowns. There was only one reason anyone entered the cells at night. It was never good. Her heart began to race, beating hard against her starved, ribbed chest. She couldn’t go through that again. She wouldn’t. She would die first.
Slowly the door swung open, making a loud grinding squeal as it did. Light poured into the room from the torches in the halls outside, blinding her. Several long haired skeletons scurried away from the light like roaches.
From behind half-shut lids, Mary watched in fear as a tall uniformed man in white entered. He carried a lantern in one hand, raised above his head. In the other, he carried a baton. He was searching.
Mary began to shake and shiver. From fear, or the cold she couldn’t tell. It didn’t matter though. She knew she would be picked. The guards always picked her. Why she didn’t know. She hadn’t been a strikingly beautiful woman before her forced admittance here, nor had she been alluring in any particular way. Perhaps, she thought, it was because she was the only sane inmate of the asylum. Had they wanted her sane? Was that to be part of her torture?
Most of these women didn’t know what was happening to them, half of them weren’t aware of where they were, or who they were. Their nightly visits from guards and other perverts would go unnoticed. Unnoticed by themselves as much by the authorities. In fact, on more than one occasion Mary was certain she had seen several prominent Swiss diplomats make “visits” of their own. No one cared what happened to the women here. Maybe that was why they picked her more than any other woman.
In some strange and twisted way, perhaps picking the only sane woman from the entire facility was, to these men, a better way to play at their “sport”.
The guard moved toward the center of the room, kicking lunatics out of his way as he moved.
“Mary Wollstonecraft!” The man shouted. They had never used her full name before. She quivered under her covers, hiding as much as one could, in this freezing, terrifying cell.
“Mary Wollstonecraft!” He shouted again. “Letter for your release!”
Mary sat up, the blankets and gowns falling from her face. “What?” She asked.
“I have a letter here, calling for your release. Someone’s paid to take you out of here.”
On weak legs, Mary stood. All eyes were on her. If this were a ruse, some sort of trick to call her out, it had worked.
“I have orders to let you go. There’s a taxi outside, waiting to take you.” The guard said.
“Take me where?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t ask.” He replied gruffly, clearly annoyed.
The man jut out his hand, holding an envelope between his large sausage fingers. Cautiously, Mary took it. It was addressed to her, written in a fine hand. She didn’t recognize the seal. A plain pentagon pressed neatly into the red wax.
The guard eyed Mary slowly, looking her up and down. “we’re going to miss you ‘round here.” He said with an evil grin. “Who’re we going to have fun with when we get bored?”
Mary looked toward the door, then back at the guard, nearly a foot taller than she. If this were a trick, she thought, it was an elaborate one. If it weren’t a trick… She took a bold step toward the exit. The guard stepped aside, letting her pass.
Who, Mary thought, would let her out of here? Who?… It didn’t matter. Whoever it was, Mary was grateful.