Gloria by Donna L Greenwood
The odour of the place triggered immediate nausea. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get rid of the smell for hours, despite copious deodorant and showering. The stench stuck to me like a noxious lover; it reminded me of a disinfectant, cabbage and warm piss. It wasn’t just the smell that sickened me. Walking into the women’s high security ward of Belle View hospital was a multi-sensory vomit inducing experience. There were metallic clattering sounds, low moans and high shrieks that scratched at your nerves as you walked down each corridor, waiting for the nurses to look at your badge and buzz you through. And the air in the place felt thick and treacly, like if you breathed it in, you’d drown in madness. I hated the place but I was the only available Section 12 approved doctor, so I had no choice but to abandon my lavender scented, white-washed office and come to this cesspit and assess a new patient – a woman charged with multiple murders. It had been many years since I’d dealt with a serious psychological disorder – I was more used to treating menopausal women with self-esteem problems- so I felt out of my depth as well as sick to the bone.
‘Doctor Grayson, hello.’ A portly red-faced nurse – the ward sister- was nodding and smiling as she let me through the final door. ‘Welcome to Belle View.’
I looked around and was not comforted. After walking through a myriad of locked glass doors, I was finally in the heart of Belle View. The hospital had 15 beds for women who had been detained under the Mental Health Act – not all were criminals – most were simply in danger of slitting their own throats. It was relatively small compared to most other high security hospitals and unusual in that it was for women only. The central area was a recreation room with the glassed wall of the nurses’ station just to the right. The patients could sit on tiny doll’s house sofas and watch huge televisions that sprawled across the walls above us. To the left was a small dining area that also doubled up as a visiting room, the ward sister was telling me as she guided me into the nurses’ station.
‘We have 5 single rooms and 5 double rooms – quite luxurious compared to other places. Your patient is in room 5 at the end of the corridor – it’s the only room we keep locked and that’s mostly for the safety of the other patients and staff.’
‘Well, she’s not really my patient; I’m here in place of Doctor Jabeen. I’m doing him a favour. He’ll owe me one after this.’
I tried smiling at the nurse but, the truth was, nurses irritated me. Male nurses were fine but female nurses, they seemed to treat female doctors differently to male ones. I felt defensive, almost apologetic, for being a doctor.
‘Well, she’s your patient for tonight,’ said the nurse tersely. She walked over to a large desk over-flowing with loose sheets of crumpled paper. Unbelievably, she plucked a file from the mess and said:
‘You’ll find everything you need to know about her in here but I warn you, Doctor Grayson, she’s a tricky one, this one. She’s had a couple of my juniors in tears already.’
I looked at the nurse for more information but she just stared back.
‘Okay, give me a few minutes to look over the file and then I’ll talk to her. Can I see her some place other than her room? Have you a got a private room somewhere?’
‘Yes, but I don’t think that’s advisable. Like I said, she’s tricky. There’s a police officer on the ward who’s supposed to be keeping an eye on her but she seems more intent on swiping Tinder and smoking fags with the day patients outside.’
The contempt in her voice was unmistakable. I softened towards her a little; she did seem genuinely harassed.
‘You know that I’m here to assess her fitness to plead in court?’
She nodded solemnly.
‘Okay, well, anything you can tell me, any observations you’ve made, can also be used as evidence… so.. is there anything you’ve noticed? Do you think she can stand trial? Do you think she has mental capacity?’
‘She’s not mad.’ The nurse’s blunt reply shocked me, especially the use of the word ‘mad’. ‘She’s evil. Did they tell you what she’s done? She murdered her friend’s children. Three wee souls. The youngest was barely a year old.’
The nurse shook her head. She’d clearly said enough. She wafted the file in front of my face. ‘It’s all in here.’
I took the police file from her and sat at her desk without asking permission. The patient’s name was Karen Macintosh, she was thirty two years old and, up until six weeks ago, had had an unblemished record. No sign of any criminal history and no serious medical conditions. I pulled out my tablet from the handbag still slung over my shoulder and tapped into Macintosh’s medical records. There was nothing of interest there – she’d had her tonsils taken out when she was eleven, had an ultrasound scan at thirty to find out the cause of heavy periods and was prescribed omeprazole last year for recurring heartburn. Nothing special. No reports of any psychological problems. That didn’t bode well for defence’s claim of not guilty by reason of insanity.
I looked again at the file in front of me. Qasim had briefed me quickly over the phone on the case and had told me that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove the woman was mentally disordered when she committed the crime – so it was just a case of rubber stamping her own GP’s recommendations and allowing the prosecution to get on with their conviction. I turned over the next page of the report and my stomach heaved. I wasn’t expecting photographs but splayed across the page in front of me were the crime scene photographs. I closed my eyes. Jesus, I was never going to be able to unsee those poor children.
‘I told you she was evil. I’ve never seen anything like it in the twenty five years I’ve been working here.’ The nurse had been watching me from the corner of the station. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t supposed to look through the file but I had no strength left to argue with her. I took a deep breath and looked again at the pages before me. I tried to concentrate on the words rather than the pictures. Six weeks ago, Karen Macintosh had been at her friend’s house drinking wine. According the file, this was a regular occurrence. Macintosh’s friend, Chloe Barnes, had been through a difficult divorce and Macintosh had been her ‘rock’ through the hard times. According to the report, at about 9.30 pm, Barnes had left the house to get more wine, leaving Macintosh in the house with her three children aged one, three and seven. As I began reading the next paragraph, I once again tried to swallow down the urge to vomit. Why the hell had I agreed to this? I knew my strengths – dealing with mid-life crises and phobias- and I knew my weaknesses – dealing with fucking psychos. I’d been a psychiatrist for twenty-seven years – twelve of those years had been spent studying and training. It was not an easy career to get into. However, after dealing with all manner of misery and madness, after being spat at, shat on, nipped, punched, groped and nipple-twisted, I decided that I no longer wanted to work in the NHS. In truth, I didn’t want to deal with mad people, so I set up a private practice and vetted my patients. I only accepted patients who had a healthy bank balance and unhealthy self-esteem. I wasn’t ashamed of this decision. I was playing to my strengths and I was very good at what I did.
When Chloe Barnes returned from the shop, she found all three of what remained of her children’s bodies placed in a circle. Macintosh was in the centre of the circle covered in blood and eating ‘something like steak’. Barnes had screamed and then fainted. The next report was from a neighbour who’d arrived on the scene five minutes later. It was this neighbour who’d removed Barnes from her house and called the police. She described the scene as being like ‘something from a horror film.’
I leafed through the rest of the report, avoiding all pictorial evidence. The coroner’s report said that the three children had been beheaded in their sleep. Macintosh had used a butcher’s cleaver which had not been in the house previously, suggesting that she had brought the weapon with her and hidden it. Premeditation. I shook my head. She had no chance of an insanity plea. Macintosh had then sliced off the top of the children’s dismembered skulls. A spurt of hot vomit shot into my mouth. Good God, what kind of a woman was this? She had arranged the children’s bodies into a circle and sat in the centre with their heads on her lap eating the contents of their skulls – their brains. Jesus Christ. Dr Qasim Jabeen had not revealed these little details. He’d just said the woman had killed three children. I’d dealt with murder before. But not this. This was something else.
I swallowed the acidic bile that was collecting in my oesophagus. I’d do this quickly. I just needed to say the woman was sane enough to stand trial and was in control of her actions at the time of the crime. I would be in and out in ten minutes.
‘Okay, I’ll see her now. I’ll see her in her room. Did you say there was a police officer around?’
‘Yeah, PC Briggs. She’s supposed to be watching her but, like I say, she’s not the most fastidious law enforcer I’ve ever met.’
I walked towards room 5 with the file under my arm and tablet in my bag. The PC was sat on a chair outside room 5 looking at her phone. She barely looked up as I approached her.
‘I’m Dr Grayson – I’m here to speak with Karen Macintosh.’
The police officer stood and put her phone away.
‘She’s been sleeping for most of the day. Not really much reason for me being here really – plus they’ve got security guards here.’
I think this was an attempt to justify why she’d been on her phone. I nodded as she slid a card key through the lock and opened the door for me.
‘Enjoy.’ She said and sat back down, retrieving her phone from her jacket pocket.
Macintosh was stretched out, fully clothed, on her bed. She was on her back, with her arms under her head; her eyes were closed and she looked peaceful and most definitely not insane. I coughed, more than a little irritated by her equanimity. I watched as she opened her eyes slowly and yawned. She stretched her arms upwards, did cat-like stretch of her back, and then turned over on her side, giving me a beaming smile.
‘Hello, are you the second opinion?’
I swallowed and pulled up a chair beside her bed.
‘I’m Doctor Grayson and I’m here to establish two things, Karen…’
‘I’d prefer Miss Macintosh. You don’t know me.’
‘Ok, ahh, Miss Macintosh. I, along with your GP, Doctor ..eh Ashworth, need to establish whether you were, in some way, mentally diminished, that is, not in control of your actions at the time of the incident and whether or not you are fit to plead in court.’
‘I was not in control of my actions, Doctor Grayson. I was possessed by a demon.’ She looked directly into my eyes. She looked confident, almost cocky, although I did notice she was scratching her left palm rather vigorously.
Here we go, I thought, this is where she tells me some crazy story and tries to persuade me that she’s mad. I looked into her eyes. They were clear and bright. They were not the eyes of someone suffering from mental anguish. Convinced that she was playing a game with me, I changed the subject, determined that we were not going to have a conversation about demon possession. Even if she had some schizophrenic characteristics, it was best not to indulge the fantasies.
‘Do you know what year it is, Miss Macintosh?’
I was treated to an exaggerated eye roll and then she sat up, swung her legs over the bed and cocked her head to one side. She continued to scratch at her left palm. I made a brief note of this on my tablet.
‘Do you believe that true evil exists, Dr Grayson?’
‘Do you?’ – a standard deflection.
‘Yes. It’s all around us. It haunts the shadows of everything we do. You see…’ she bent forwards, as if she were sharing a secret, ‘Human beings are essentially pretty good guys. You know, we fall out, we argue, we have our faults, but we’re not, you know, evil.’
‘Some would argue that humanity is capable of committing deeds that could be called ‘evil’, if we’re going to use that word.’ The nausea was rising again. I was baiting her, encouraging her, when I should have been assessing her mental capacity and leaving. At no point should we be discussing her alleged crime. We were heading into dangerous waters talking about the nature of evil.
‘Nah… human beings are pussies. The worst we would do without the encouragement of demons would be to bash in one another’s heads in an argument. No, the truly horrific crimes are committed by those people who have lost control and are instead being controlled by… something else.’
‘Demons?’ Again, I inwardly admonished myself; this was not relevant.
‘What would you call a creature that exists only to take pleasure in the most horrible, most vicious acts of violence? That enjoys watching people die in agonising pain? What would you call someone or something that made you eat the brain of an innocent child?’
Jesus Christ, the bitch was smiling at me. I pulled out the list of assessment questions from my file and asked the second question.
‘Do you know who the prime minister of the UK is, Miss Macintosh?’
‘You haven’t answered my question, Doctor Grayson,’ she paused and then said, ‘It’s 2019. The prime minister was Theresa May but, since I’ve been indisposed, we have a new prime minister – the lovely Boris Johnson. I’m not retarded, Doctor Grayson, I don’t claim to have a mental disorder. I wish only to state that I was not in control of my actions at the time of the crime. What do you call a creature that makes you eat the brains of a child, Doctor Grayson?’
I didn’t like the way she was using my name, over and over. It was irritating me. I looked at my notes for a while and then said,
‘I don’t believe in creatures, malevolent or otherwise. Now, tell me about your job, Karen… ah, Miss Macintosh. You worked as a learning mentor at St John’s, did you not?’
‘I still do. As far as I know, I haven’t lost my job. Have I lost my job, Mrs Grayson?’
‘It’s Doctor Grayson. And, honestly, I don’t know. I simply want you to tell me about your work. Did… do you enjoy working with young people?
‘She’s here. In this room. We’re privileged; usually she doesn’t do personal appearances.’
Without thinking, I glanced around the room. It was empty. Through the little glass window in the door, I could see PC Briggs swiping her phone.
‘There’s nobody here except you and I, Miss Macintosh.’
‘I can see her. She’s standing in the corner of the room staring right at us. I am completely powerless, Doctor Grayson. If Gloria told me to gouge out your eyes, I would have no choice but to comply. She’s sitting at the controls, not me.’
‘Yes, Gloria – the demon; she’s kind of attached herself to me.’
Despite my better instincts, I pursued this. I was, in some way, still assessing her mental capacity, all be it in a slightly unorthodox way.
‘So, Gloria is a demon?’
‘I guess so. I mean, that’s my word because I can’t think of a better one that describes something that is so completely and utterly evil.’
‘Can Gloria hear us? Can she understand this conversation?’
‘She should be able to; she’s the one who’s doing the talking.’
‘Gloria is speaking through you?’
‘Kind of. We’re sort of synched. Even though she’s over there, she’s here in my head too. Christ, do you think I’d be this calm if it were just me. I’ve just eaten my best friend’s kids – I’d be slitting my wrists if she wasn’t in here with me.’
‘Describe Gloria to me.’
‘I can’t believe you can’t see her. She’s stood right there. She has to hunch a little because her horns are scraping the ceiling.’ Macintosh cocked her head to one side and looked over at the corner of the room. I ignored the urge to look in the same direction.
‘She’s really big – wide as well as tall- and she’s sort of scaly like a dragon but strangely beautiful. Her scales look like black jewels and there’re two enormous horns coming out of her head. Her eyes are red as blood…’ she stumbled a little here but then seemed to regain her composure, ‘She’s looking at you.’ The scratching of her left palm intensified.
‘Karen… Miss Macintosh, I think we both know that there is no one else in this room; that the only two people here are you and I.’ I made a note about Macintosh’s attempt to make me believe she was hallucinating, then I said, ‘Is your hand bothering you?’ gesturing towards her frantic scratching.
‘That’s Gloria’s point of entry. She gets into me through my hand. It doesn’t hurt; it just itches.’ Macintosh finished her sentence with vigorous scratch that drew blood. She ignored the blood and continued speaking. ‘There is only hell after death, Doctor Grayson. There is no heaven, no promised land. We simply re-live all of our sins, all of our crimes, over and over again.’
I continued to make notes whilst she spoke.
‘Do you know that time doesn’t really exist? It’s a human construct. The human brain has to order its days in a linear, chronological way, otherwise it would go mad. But, actually, everything that ever happened is still happening at some point in the universe. If you travel far enough away from Earth and look back, you would see the Battle of Hastings. If you went back even further, you might catch the moment when Cain bashed in Abel’s brains. Do you see what this means?’
I stopped typing and looked up at her. Her left palm was bloody and she was beginning to tear the skin.
‘I’m not sure. Perhaps you could explain?’
‘It means that every single action we have ever done is still happening at some point in time. If we travelled thousands of light years away from the Earth and looked back with an unfeasibly powerful telescope, you would see me forever munching on Chloe’s kids’ brains. It means that there are no such things as good and evil. It means that there is no God; there is no divine punishment and there is no salvation. We are damned from the minute we are born.’
‘Would you like me to get a nurse to look at that?’ I said, pointing to the expanding wound on her left palm. She ignored me and continued:
‘No matter what I do, there will be no final reckoning, Doctor Grayson. I have done the worst possible thing I could ever imagine and I’m still here. No bolt of lightning has struck me down. We live in a godless, pitiless universe, Doctor Grayson. I have proven that.’
‘I think life is a little more than that, Miss Macintosh. You seem very lucid to me, if a little pessimistic.’
‘I’m not saying these words; Gloria is. These are Gloria’s thoughts, not mine. How can I be lucid when a monster demon is using me as a puppet?’
I turned off my tablet. I’d heard enough. Even though Macintosh was talking nonsense, she clearly understood her position and what she’d done. I turned away from her and put the tablet back in my bag. I heard the door click open and looked up. PC Briggs had just entered the room.
‘Doctor Grayson?’ she said, looking worried.
‘Who are you talking to?’
I frowned, ‘Well, I’m talking to the patient, of course.’
‘But she’s over there.’
I looked behind me where PC Briggs was pointing. There, huddled in the corner, was a cowering woman dressed in a prison uniform. She was shaking and crying. It looked as though she were trying to burrow into the wall behind her.
‘But…’ I looked back at the bed. It was empty. There was nobody sitting on the bed. I shook my head furiously. What the hell?
‘Would you like me to get her into bed for you, Doctor Grayson?’
‘No. No, it’s fine. Just give me a few more minutes, I’ll be finished soon.’
PC Briggs nodded but continued to look worried. She left quietly. I waited until I could see her seated in front of the glass pane with her back to me and then I walked over to Karen Macintosh, who was still weeping and shaking in the corner. She disgusted me. She reminded me of a scabby dog that was begging to be kicked. I cocked my head to one side and, with all the force I could muster, I kicked her in the face. Her head flew back and a spray of snotty blood shot from her nose. I walked away. Vermin. That’s what humanity is. Vermin. I took a deep breath and pressed the red alarm button. I dropped my bag to the floor so that I could get to my left hand; it was itching like crazy.
About the Author
Donna L Greenwood lives in Lancashire, England. She writes flash fiction, short stories and poetry whilst attempting to teach teenagers about fronted adverbials. She has recently won several writing competitions including Horror Scribes ‘Trapped Flash’, Molotov Cocktail’s ‘Flash Legends’ and the 2019 STORGY flash fiction competition.