Dr Sy Jones couldn’t believe her luck. Getting a position at the prestigious BHAD, short for the Broken Hill Assessment & Development hospital was a privilege. Her ancient Ford barely made it up the hill and she gasped when the hospital came into sight. It was much bigger than she thought and the antiquated styling was fascinating. Large blue shutters against grey walls made the windows into eyes and the roof into a hairline.
She pulled into “Staff Parking” and went inside. Her position was live-in and she would get settled later in the adjacent staff block. The receptionist smiled her a welcome and directed her to Dr Lancaster’s rooms. Her footsteps click-clicked on the spotless tiled floor as she made her way to the East block. Sy took in the high ceilings which turned voices into whispers and filled the passages with light and air.
She knocked and only entered when she heard a “Come in”. Sy had heard that Dr Lancaster was good-looking, but it took all she could manage not to gasp. His dark eyes were friendly and interested. Thick black hair peppered with some grey was the only hint that he wasn’t just out of puberty. She walked forward extended her hand and he shook it firmly.
‘Dr Jones I presume?’
‘Please call me Sy.’ He smiled, showing a row of perfect teeth. Absurdly she wondered what toothpaste he used. Shaking her head she pulled herself together and took the chair he indicated to her.
‘I’m excited to be here’ she said. He took in her small frame, pretty face and fascinating grey eyes. Smiling, he scratched his elbow. ‘So I see. Call me Andrew.’ Sy hoped that she didn’t seem like at 12-year-old at her first Valentines Dance, clearing her throat she pulled herself together. They spent the morning going through what was expected of her and then took a tour of the hospital.
‘Let’s start on the ground floor, working our way up to the 3rd floor. All patients on this floor have basic illnesses like depression, anxiety, OCD, need rehab after an accident or are in for observation. All of these patients have non-violent tendencies and are usually treatable.’ Gesturing left and right he touched on where the nurse’s station was, dining room and all the other sparkling facilities.
He chose the stairs instead of the lift and Sy walked faster to keep pace with him.
‘The 2nd floor houses’ he hesitated ‘patients with …shall we say… deeper issues. Suicidal tendencies, schizophrenia and mid-range dangerous illnesses.’ Sy noticed the security and presence of more aides, beefy looking men several of whom looked impatient.
‘Now the 3rd floor.’ Sy was surprised by the heavy double doors – operated by a security guard who pushed the button to let people in and out. Cameras followed movement, the red light confirming that they were on. A heavyset nurse pushed papers behind the thick glass inside the section between double doors.
‘Morning doc’ he said and eyed Sy out.
‘Relax Thomas, this is Dr Jones, she’s joining our staff tomorrow morning. She’ll be working the 3rd floor. Her badge will be ready beforehand.’ Sy signed in and they buzzed through to another world. Thick bars blocked light from the windows, casting shadows everywhere. The surviving light trickled into a dingy room highlighting the pristine couches and spotless floors. Several patients were in attendance. Some played cards, stared out the windows or at the TV playing a program on animals, and a few just stared at her and Dr Lancaster.
‘Morning all.’ His authoritative voice did nothing to solicit any form of greeting.
‘SHHUUUUUUUTT UUUUUUUUP!’ Sy jumped at the shout which came from a tiny woman whom Sy hadn’t even noticed, cowered into a dim corner. Her face was covered by her black hair and one furious eye glared at them. The thickset nurse rushed in, took her by the arm and crooning, took her to another room. She glared at Dr Lancaster as they passed.
‘To be expected. That was Alice’ Dr Lancaster muttered as they walked past, carrying on with the tour. The patient’s rooms were sparse with white linen and bare walls. ‘The bathrooms are down to your left and the padded room, affectionately known as “the womb’ is at the end. Let’s get your patient files so that you can read over them before you start.’
Armed with patient files, her doctors coat, keys and her badge, Sy made her way to the staff block. Her room was pretty, airy and light with bright blue and peach linen, a small desk which would double as a dressing table, and her own bathroom and tiny balcony. Sy settled in. Hungrily munching on an apple and looking forward to dinner at 6, she started to read.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Hearing the dinner bell, she was surprised to see that it was already 6pm. She made her way down to the dining area. Several other doctors were already there and they all came to greet her. She was disappointed that Dr Lancaster wasn’t among them but enjoyed her lasagna and fruit with the other friendly staff.
They all took their coffee outside into the cool night and sat chatting.
‘So you are 3rd floor?’ Introducing himself as Ed, Sy was convinced he looked more like an Archie with his red hair and freckles but didn’t say so. She nodded.
‘Keep your eyes open around that lot, they seem passive but can change in a heartbeat.’
‘I agree’ a leggy lady with the most beautiful skin said. ‘Be cautious to a fault, they are astoundingly clever. I’m Angela by the way.’
‘Stop scaring her’ Ed smiled ‘if we scare her away we’ll have to pick up her shifts.’ They all laughed and Sy finished up and excused herself, she was tired and had much reading to do.
7am the following day she made her way up to the 3rd floor. Thomas signed her in, checking her badge and her shift started. Taking a deep breath, she steeled her shoulders, squashed her excitement and greeted the nurse behind the glass. She buzzed her in and met her in the corridor.
‘Hi Dr Jones, I’m Abby.’ Sy smiled, shook her hand and Abby showed her to her office. Two comfortable chairs dominated the room, with a small desk and chair in the corner. A poorly painted ocean view picture sat opposite her desk next to the barred window and that was it. No frivolities. She sat, arranging the patient files in order of concern. Right on top was Alice and Sy wanted to start with her.
Abby brought her a coffee and perched on the closest chair. She was friendly and chatty and Sy used the opportunity to go through the patient’s histories.
‘Most patients here are nuts but harmless. You have to be careful around them, no loud noises and such and watch your badge, they steal’ surprising Sy.
‘Alice is your biggest problem’ Abby offered, chewing her lip.
‘She is disruptive and violent so we sedate her. The staff here are really nice especially Andrew.’ She smiled. ‘Good-looking too except for his psoriasis, always scratching’ she laughed.
Sy was surprised at how much personal opinion Abby included about the patients and staff and thought it unprofessional. She also often came across as ignorant and derogatory. Sy decided to discuss it with Dr Lancaster when she had the chance.
‘Where can I find Alice?’ Sy asked.
‘I’ll show you.’
Abby led the way to the womb. Alice was lying face down on the cot, her face turned away and she was in the foetal position, obviously unconscious. Sy was shocked.
‘She freaked out and had to be sedated. Its not the first time.’ Abby leaned in ‘she’s a troublemaker, gets violent for no reason. Always babbling on about someone called Tigerr, she emphasizes the “r” in tiger, its strange’ Abby looked unconcerned. ‘Smoke break?’
‘No thank you.’ Sy hid her irritation at Abby, it wouldn’t do to get on the wrong side of her – her first day. She wanted to get started and was trying to quit anyway. She didn’t want to get too familiar with Abby as she had some concerns about her lack of empathy and knew that addressing these would cause friction between them. Better to keep her distance.
Working with Alice first was out of the question so Sy started with the others, managing to get through 2 borderline psychopaths and an incredibly narcissistic patient before her grumbling stomach told her it was lunch time.
Sy chose a table away from the other staff. Dipping her crusty bread into creamy mushroom soup, she read through Alice’s file again.
Dr Lancaster wrote: “showing signs on Schizophrenia with unusual violent tendencies, mostly causing harm to herself. Strong hallucinations sees “a devilish figure” she calls Tigerr. Causes her feelings of terror to the point of suffocation…”
The report went on and on, painting a picture of a tragically sick woman. Sy was moved by her case and hoped to help her. Treatment methods and her approach filled her head as she made her way back, bumping into Dr Lancaster.
‘So how is your first day going?’
‘Well thank you. I’ve already seen 3 patients…’
‘Not as yet. She was heavily sedated this morning, I couldn’t talk to her.’
‘That’s to be expected. You’ve read my report?’
‘Yes but need to…’
‘You’ll get there. If she behaves today she’ll be compos mentis tomorrow when you see her. I doubt that you will be able to help much anyway, she’s a lost cause and I keep her sedated for everyone’s safety. I have to go.’ The question died on Sy’s lips and she felt her irritation rising again. Its only the first day she thought to herself, watching Dr Lancaster race/walk off. Long legs definitely gave him the advantage. Sy was surprised and angry at his lack of … what? Empathy? Hope? Trundling back to the 3rd floor, his words echoed in her head.
Alice was as usual doped up and Sy struggled to contain her irritation. Abby insisted that Dr Lancaster had given the order for the sedatives and Sy sensed her irritation at being questioned. Her day passed quickly and Sy relished the challenges with the 3rd floor patients.
After supper she gave in and lit a cigarette, leaving her porch light off. The blue smoke framed the lights on the 3rd floor and Sy stifled a yawn. She was surprised to see a figure making its way down the walk at this late hour. She recognised Dr Lancaster’s loping gait, he had obviously worked late. Chewing her lip she made a call, finished the smoke, pulled on her jacket and made her way to the 3rd floor.
As she had hoped, Alice was sitting in a chair in the communal lounge area. It was the first time Sy had seen her awake, apart from the first day. The kindly night nurse Lindy smiled at them as Sy walked Alice to her office.
Alice sat, her hair a curtain over her face.
‘Tea?’ The hair nodded. Sy studied her while the water boiled. Alice could be holding a sign that said “Stay away” her unfriendliness was so pronounced. Sy put both cups down and sat opposite Alice. She lifted her head and smiled hesitantly. Sy was astounded to see the most beautiful face ever, peeping out from around the hair. Her alabaster skin highlighted her pink, full lips and jade-green eyes, framed by thick black lashes. It saddened Sy even further that this lovely creature could be so sick.
‘Tell me about yourself Alice. How old are you?’
Suspicion flashed in her eyes, she watched sipping her tea. Sy waited as the minutes ticked by, not rushing or encouraging or giving off any indication of irritation.
The tea finished and Alice banged the cup down ‘24.’ She said simply.
‘That’s a start’ Sy smiled. ‘Tell me a little bit ab…’
‘Where’s Dr Lancaster?’ Aggressive.
‘He’s retired for the night.’
‘Why are you here?’ the suspicion returned and Sy remembering her violent tendencies, forced herself to remain calm and speak softly.
‘I’m taking over your case from now on. My name is Sy. Its short for Sylvia.’ Alice popped a chewed finger into her mouth, still peeping from behind her hair. Sy waited.
‘I don’t like you.’
‘Give me a chance, Alice. I want to help you if you let me.’ Silence. Sy waited. Alice chewed and chewed, occasionally swapping fingers but said nothing more. Alice yawned and Sy sat forward.
‘Let’s end it here, I can see you are tired and…’ Alice sat forward, scaring Sy a little ‘I’m scared of tigers.’ She said.
‘Tigers? You are safe from tigers here Alice, they can’t get in.’
‘They DOOOOO’ she screamed. ‘They come to my room at night and scratch and bite me.’ Sy was shocked but nodded, knowing that Alice believed it. She was relieved that Alice had spoken, it gave them a starting point.
‘They do. They do.’ Alice whispered to herself rocking back and forth in her chair. Terror washed down her face and Sy felt pity and determination to help this little lost soul. Walking Alice back to her room, said goodnight and went home. Sy tossed and turned, struggling to sleep, all she could see was Alice’s terrified eyes.
‘Sy can you come down to my office?’ It was Dr Lancaster and he didn’t sound pleased.
‘I have a patient in 5 min…’
“They can wait.’ He put the phone down, stopping any protests Sy may have had. She knew that he would complain about her being on the ward last night.
‘We don’t allow patient visits at night.’ Dr Lancaster was bluntly rude and looked furious.
‘We cannot guarantee your safety with on night staff being there, you will not do it again.’ Sy stood up, furious.
‘Dr Lancaster frankly that is my problem not yours and if I have to see a patient in the evening, I will DO so. I’ll sign a waiver or whatever you want but I will do my job.’ Sy waked out, resisting the urge to slam his door. She couldn’t understand the animosity. The cheek of it. She was in charge of her patients and her own time, he could go to hell.
Sy picked up more patients and slowly progressed with them. It was hard going. Most of the patients on the 3rd floor wouldn’t let you in. Patiently chipping away at their defences was the only way to get somewhere. Every evening Sy worked with Alice. Her utter belief and terror were fascinating to see and Sy wracked her brain to find a way to help.
Sy was just about to call it a day when, in the hall there was a screech, she recognised Alice’s voice and took off running. One of the male patients, an obese narcissist called Earl had attacked her. Ripping her shirt he fondled her breasts roughly, drooling with lust. Sy got there first and tried to pull him off a screaming Alice. He never budged. Two burly nurses finally managed to get him up. Alice was hysterical, her bare breasts scratched and wet with spit. Sy grabbed her to cover her and led her sobbing to her room.
When she had calmed, Sy pulled her ruined shirt gently over her head and took a clean one from her cupboard. Alice sat with her arms across her chest, tears slipping down her cheeks. Sy stopped dead, staring at the mirror behind Alice. Her back was ripped and scratched. That couldn’t have been Earl! He barely had hold of her before they got him off.
Sy took a moment to clear her head, while pulling on Alice’s shirt, then took her hands ‘Alice what happened to your back?’ she asked quietly. Alice flicked her hair across her face to avoid answering.
‘I’m not leaving here until you tell me something’ she said kindly and sat on the bed, still holding her hands. Alice started to sob, huge body-rocking sobs and Sy leaned in to soothe her, careful not to touch her injured back. Sy’s mind was racing, who? How? When? Surely Alice screamed and cried when she was being hurt? Was she gagged? Was she being raped? Sy felt sick.
‘Its…it’s the Tigerr. He comes at night and hurts me. He… he touches me all over and bites and scratches…’ as she spoke her voice lifted and became a scream. Nothing Sy did could calm her down and she let the nurse that came running with a sedative, give it to her. Sy sat holding her hand until she went to sleep. Thought whirled through her head, she was terrified for poor Alice.
Sy knocked on Dr Lancaster’s door. He had been aloof since their disagreement but would have to get over it.
‘Are you busy?’ he nodded her in.
‘I am aware of the incident with Earl. Is Alice ok?’
‘Anything but ok. I don’t know what is happening but Alice is full of scratches on her back. Someone is hurting her. She calls them Tigerr and says that they are hurting…’ Dr Lancaster looked furious.
‘Stop Sy. You know her case, she is scratching and hurting herself. No-one can get into the 3rd floor other than staff and patients, and they are all locked up at night. It is truly unprofessional of you to even state that someone is being hurt at my facility.’ Sy stopped in shock at his words.
Leaning forward Dr Lancaster spat the words out ‘You will take the rest of the afternoon off to think about whether or not you will start towing the line here or if you would like to find employment elsewhere. I will NOT have a member of my staff making these ridiculous accusations..’
‘But Dr Lancaster…I’
‘You are no longer working with Alice. Do I make myself clear?’
‘I can’t allow that, I am..’ Sy was desperate to get her message across but he was having none of it.
‘No longer. Do I make myself clear?’ Anger shone from his eyes and Sy could only nod.
‘Now leave I have work to do.’
Sy was devasted and shaking. She couldn’t decide if she was more angry, humiliated, frustrated or just devastated at the thought of being fired. Sitting in her bed, her thoughts raced and her heart pounded. Tears came and angrily she pushed them away. She had worked too hard for this. She didn’t know which way to turn.
She must have fallen asleep, it was pitch dark outside and she had missed dinner. Not a bad thing she thought, she still felt sick. Opening a new box, she inhaled the warm, soothing smoke and sat on the balcony in the dark.
Dr Lancaster’s thoughts kept running through her head.
I can’t allow it.
DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?
Sy wanted to scream in frustration and had to force herself to calm down.
She noticed Dr Lancaster walking down the path. It was very late, must have a helluva workload she scoffed. Sy took another puff and stopped. Dr Lancaster had said that Alice was hurting herself. Its true that some of the scratches could be self-inflicted but all of them? And so far up her back? Sy froze – she had bite marks on her back. It was impossible that she made those. Somebody was hurting her.
‘I bloody refuse to allow it to carry on Dr Lancaster.’ Sy squished out her cigarette, pulled on her coat and keeping to the shadows, crept up to the institute. Taking the stairs 2 at a time, she forced herself to breathe normally and smile at the night guard and friendly night nurse. Waiting until she had a tea break, Sy quickly went through to Alice’s run, scaring the hell out of her as she closed the door.
‘It’s me, Sy.’ Alice just stared and Sy hated the fear in her eyes, the way she clutched her sheet to her chest. Alice recognised her and calmed, the sheet slipped and Sy noticed she was naked.
‘Alice, don’t you sleep with pyjamas on?’
‘Tigerr rips them if I sleep with them on. So I wait for him to go and then dress.’
‘Alice who is Tigerr?’ Alice flicked her hair over her face again. Sy sat on her bed.
‘Alice please I want to help you. I believe you.’ Alice looked up.
‘I believe you’ Sy said again. A flicker of hope shone in the one beautiful eye Sy could see. A tear tracked a zigzag across her cheek, ‘its Tigerr.’ Sy felt her frustration build. What the hell was this poor girl going through?
‘Who is Tigerr. Please Alice you can trust me.’ But she just shook her head.
‘Come let’s dress you’ Sy pulled pyjamas and panties out of the cupboard and handed them to Alice. She turned away and Sy took the chance to examine her back. She was full of scratches and bites. Some of the bites were up on her shoulders confirming that she could not have done this to herself. She dressed and Sy, reluctant to leave, stayed until her breathing told her she was asleep.
Sy made small talk with Lindy, casually glancing at the staff log. 3 men had signed in tonight, Dr Lancaster and 2 night nurses. Sy knew she couldn’t hang around without arousing suspicion and reluctantly left the ward, praying that Alice would be safe. situation wasn’t so tense.
Sy tried desperately to find out who was abusing Alice but had no luck. Dr Lancaster was cool towards her and Sy they same, it made it unpleasant and Sy was getting desperate. She also had very little access to Alice and it terrified her. The nurses were instructed to keep her away and stuck to it. Sy spotted Alice alone in the lounge and managed to whisper that she hadn’t forgotten and was trying to help before one of the nurses walked in. She needed have bothered, Alice was so drugged that she was drooling. Sy’s heart broke.
Friday evening Sy unfortunately left at exactly the same time as Dr Lancaster. The uncomfortable silence was broken by their footsteps, until he said ‘See you at the staff function tomorrow?’ Sy nodded in agreement, cringing inside. An afternoon with all the staff around the pool sounded like torture. But was mandatory.
She would have to go.
Drink in hand, Sy actually found herself relaxing at the pool. The rest of the staff were so friendly and she needed to quiet her head and relax for a while. Dr Lancaster put on some Greek music and encouraged all the staff to do the Zorba dance. It was hysterical and she found herself laughing at their antics. Of course 3 of them ended up in the pool, much to the merriment of the other staff.
Ed went to get towels for them and the party was really enjoyable. Sy happened to look toward Dr Lancaster just as he took him shirt off and froze. His psoriasis was out of control, it left long streaks of brown, scaly skin across his back, chest and arms. Just like a tigers’ stripes. Sy couldn’t breathe, dropping her drink. Angela laughed coming to help until she saw her face.
‘Are you ok?’
‘I…I’m not feeling well.’ She managed to stammer and ran inside. Tears flowed down her cheeks and terror filled her chest.
It was him! Dr Lancaster! He was abusing Alice.
What the hell do I do? Sy cried for Alice, her terror at the hands of someone she should have been able to trust. She sat in the dark of her room, racking her brain for a solution. After a sleepless night she knew what she had to do.
Sy made 3 calls. One to the President of the Board for Broken Hill. One to the police. And one to Alice’s family.
By 9am all hell had broken out at the Institute. Sy was called to Dr Lancaster’s office, shaking but determined, she knocked.
‘Come in’ a strange voice said. A pale and furious Dr Lancaster stood next to the desk while a suited and stern man sat in his chair and two men with badges stood to the side.
‘I’m President Seber. These are Detectives Summers and Saunders. You have made some serious accusations young lady.’
‘Sir, I am convinced that I am right, I did not make them lightly.’
‘Let’s hope you are right for your sake.’ Turning to Dr Lancaster he said ‘and wrong for yours.’
President Seber and one of the detectives interviewed Alice in Sy’s office, making her, the other detective and Dr Lancaster wait outside. After 15 minutes he came out ‘I can’t get anything out of her.’
‘That’s cause its utter nonsense.’ Dr Lancaster stated.
‘Please can I talk to her?’
‘You cannot influence or her lead her on in any way. Do you understand?’
‘This is bloody absurd’ Dr Lancaster said, stepping past them and heading into the office.
‘Alice! What is this nonsense? You are LYING…’ Alice cowed in her seat and ducked behind her hair again. Sy pushed past him and knelt next to her.
‘Alice. Alice. Look at me, only at at me’ Sy soothed. She took her hands ‘Alice is Tigerr her?’ Terrified eyes flicked past her. ‘No, only look at me. Is he here?’ The room was dead quiet, apart from Alice’s heavy breathing. Alice peeped out squeezed her hand and stood. A shaking finger pointed at Dr Lancaster.
‘TIIIGGGEEERRRRRRRRRR’ she screamed.
‘You bitch! Shut up. Don’t you dare tell’ Sy was elated that she had had the guts and turned to face Dr Lancaster just as he launched himself at Alice. Sy pushed her away and took the full force of his attack. It didn’t last, the 2 Detectives pulled him off her, quickly handcuffing him. He turned and started hurtling abuse at Sy. Shakily she got up and led Alice out of the room, they were both crying.
Sy stood holding Alice when they led him out. The entire day staff staring, shocked.
Alice turned to Sy and held her in her frail arms.
‘Tigerr’s gone. Tigerr’s gone. Thank you.’ Her tears flowed and Sy knew that now she could help her.