By Estepheia and Marcee
Part 25 - ...Who Needs Enemies?
The smells were just as awful, permeating everything. Xander had been deloused, but judging from the state of the other patients - *Patients? Prisoners!* - personal hygiene was very low on the list of priorities, here. They smelled and looked like they hadn't seen a bathtub or shower in weeks. Or a razor. Or a toothbrush. *Have they even been invented yet?* What was high up on that list of priorities was discipline. The attendants did everything short of killing the patients to strike terror into the hearts of their charges.
Dr. Burton had called St. Luke's an asylum for the criminally or murderously insane, but from what Xander had seen during meal times there only very few inmates fell into that category. There were many frightened looking grannies and grandpas who Xander thought belonged into a decent old people's home and not in here - Alzheimer or no.
Twice already, Xander had been herded into a large crowded dining room to be fed on gruel that looked and smelled so hideous, he wouldn't even consider using it as fertilizer let alone swallowing it. He wasn't allowed to eat on his own, but was forced to sit at the table in his straitjacket. Another inmate, a filthy looking woman with a distant stare in her eyes, who (like many of the other female patients) seemed to be several months pregnant, shoveled the food into his mouth in a great rush. All the meals were conducted at breakneck speed.
Xander had tried to refuse breakfast, causing the woman to wail in distress, as she tried to force the spoon between his lips. The matter was dealt with quickly. An attendant walked over.
"Shut up, Molly, you stupid cow," he growled.
He grabbed Xander's head by his hair and smashed his face down on the table. Xander only just managed to turn his head enough to keep his nose from being broken.
"Eat," was all the orderly said before releasing him.
Xander could feel blood running down his face from a split eyebrow. His head hurt. He stared wildly around. *This can't be happening...* No one had taken any notice.
Another patient, a thin man with open sores, gave him a toothless smile. "You better eat up," he giggled, never ceasing to wolf down his own food, "cause if ya don't they're gonna force it in ya through yer nose, mate."
At that Xander had opened his mouth and had allowed himself to be fed. He tried to pretend it was oatmeal. *Mmm. Yummy oatmeal with cinnamon.* Gag.
Between meals there was nothing else to do but stare at the wall or walk around in his little prison cell. He tried, to no avail, squirming out of his straitjacket. He didn't even come close. At least he knew it could be done. Theoretically. *Houdini did it, and Mel Gibson in 'Lethal Weapon 2' did it, too - although he had to dislodge his shoulder to do it and let's not try that at home, children...*
He studied the jacket more closely. It looked different than the ones he'd seen on television. His arms were dressed in long canvas sleeves and encased in stiff leather cuffs. They were folded in front of his chest.. The cuffs were fastened with straps and buckles behind his back, but there were also some buckles at the front. *Now, if I were able to reach those buckles with my teeth...* But it was no good. Not with the way his arms were folded...
After a while, he just gave up. Occasionally he scratched at the dirt on the floor with his foot making childlike drawings of stick figures and houses.
In the afternoon there was another interruption of his panic tinged boredom. He was dragged into medical quarters for a brief examination. The bandages on his foot and arm were changed. During this time the straitjacket was removed. He tried to get a good look at the way the cuffs were buckled, without letting his interest show.
Then it was back to his cell until his next fleeting reprieve, namely another instalment of 'don't think about what's in that gruel.' By the time the attendants unlocked his cell to haul him to the dining room for dinner, Xander felt ready to snap. All he had been able to think about all day had been his fervent wish that Buffy would please please please come and get him out of this. She just had to save him. It was turning into a mantra, sometimes he even found his lips moving. He was trapped in a nightmarish version of Silence of the Lambs meets Papillion meets Alcatraz. Only without the prospect of escape. *Enjoy your stay at the Chamber of Horrors!* he said to himself, giggling slightly. He heard himself chuckle; it wasn't a pleasant sound. *I really am going crazy.*
All the horrors the Hellmouth had thrown had them: zombies, sadistic vampires, life sucking mummies, the Gentlemen, demon-y body snatchers, insane hell gods... nothing had ever frightened Xander as much as this place. Because, surely, this was hell.
"The girl is different." Director Hartford mused, sipping a brandy.
"That was to be expected, if I may say so," the other man replied. "Most Slayers are affected by the Cruciamentum. That is why we are evaluating her recent actions."
"I was not referring to the ordeal and its consequences. She uses strange language. Her behavior is quite unusual. Also, she clearly has no respect for her elders or the Council. I believe she may be possessed. She may, in fact, be our enemy."
"Are you suggesting that she came to an agreement with Angelus and his spawn?"
"It is a possibility we should not dismiss lightly." Arthur Hartford opened a little casket and took out a cigar. He sniffed it then rolled it between his fingers listening for the rustle of the tobacco.
"Remember what the doctor said," his son reminded him. "No more cigars."
The older man frowned. "Don't be inane, Richard. I have fought vampires and demons. A cigar is not going to be the death of me." He used silver clippers to cut off the end.
With a sigh Richard Hartford brandished his lighter and lit his father's cigar.
"We should await Director Bateley's testimony before making a decision," Director Hartford continued as blue fumes surrounded him. "According to the physician's report, he will not get the use of his voice back, but he should soon be capable of submitting his report in writing."
"What about Willoughby?"
"Once we have Bateley's report we will summon Willoughby for closer questioning. I think he may have all the answers we need. And we will get them, I will see to that."
Involuntarily, Richard Hartford shuddered.
Continued in Part 26 - All the World's A Stage