Please note: this is a work of fiction. It has been crafted by the author and is not a direct opinion from AHS.
Art by L. J. Graham
A special dedication to my father for always pushing me no matter the weather. This one is for you.
TW: dark psychological content below.
A noble man sits at a barred window while it snows violently outside.
The prison cell is dark; semi-sunk into the ground, with days scrolled across the walls by those who never left.
His hair is brown, slicked back with antique style, and his face is perfectly symmetrical like a porcelain doll. His eyes are painted a muted, piercing blue with a glint of steel. They are trustworthy, comforting even, as if you could curl up in them and wait out a storm.
He is wringing his hands, running them through each other with mad repetition. They are getting sweaty; cold and hot at the same time. The skin is wearing at the knuckles as he wrings them faster and faster and faster.
This man is obviously troubled, and as it snows harder you can see it deepen in every wrinkle on his forehead, almost like there is someone on his mind.
But one has to ask, why is he wringing them? What does a man like him have to fear? to lose?
Who is he scared of?
He suddenly stops fidgeting.
His face is then painted and shaped into an expression of creeping horror in this moment as something crosses from the surface of his mind to fruition. An idea is born. Born of utmost despair, and hence, insanity.
The man walks up to the wall on the other side of the cell with slowing steps. He pulls his head back with almost mechanical precision — fearless, he bashes it into the wall.
Monday, November 16, 1947
The dreadful sound came to me in the night.
Like a subtle predator, it spread it’s impressive mass like dreadful wings in silence.
I awoke suddenly to darkness, feeling myself pant in every forced breath. The dirty cell was dark, and cold, with a frosty humidity that threatens to burn me alive even now; like an oven. And that’s when I heard it. It wasn’t much to be considered at first, and as I think of it now, it was a garishly foolish thing to do: to give it so much weight.
It was just a subtle scratch afterall.
I don’t even know why it’s presence was so jilting to me, it just had such an annoying repetition to it that was almost jagged, scratch… scratch scratch scratch… And I find it easy to imagine now, as I write with my makeshift pencil, dull as it is, that most could simply ignore the presence; assume it was a rat, or other damned thing and write it off. But for some reason, the sound resonated with me and continued on, and even after it had silenced with the sun’s awakening, it seemed to almost play over and over and over in my head.
Like a tired jazz melody that had expired long ago.
I don’t know where it came from, and I feel that I can’t fully express the feelings that strange sound evoked in me. It was like when it pulled me from my dream, it pulled something from my cracking spirit, an unnamable piece of my essence.
And as I sit still more, it is playing in my head on repeat as I am writing. Working away lightly with its little spindly fingers, just lightly scratching away. Like little elven utensils on little porcelain plates. And as the sun goes down and the dust builds in my eyes and my hefty mute friend nestles in his bunk adjacent mine, I am contemplating this sound.
I can’t shake the feeling I know this voice.
Sharp and piercing it remains…
Nevertheless, I’m sure it is nothing.
Tuesday, November 24, 1947
I thought it had gone away.
I thought the sound had run its course and gone away; maybe turned itself around to bother someone else.
I thought. And for a few days, it did. But it keeps going…
I awoke like that night and it must have been of the same hour because, my dear friend, the moon was in the same position relative to the iron bars that separated us from the land of the living.
The scratching came again, near my head this time as I sat awake. And I lay there for the whole of the night, staring off into the unlit, damp cell, for I could no longer sleep.
It was different than the time it came before; I was hearing it sort of “deeper” than before. “Deeper” in that the pitch was unchanged, but it somehow managed to grow in blackness and terror in ways more complex than my frail human mind can comprehend.
It was just slightly, like the difference in blackness of midnight to that found in the raven hair of exotic women, but it just kept going scratch scratch… scratch scratch, mocking my every temptation.
It was almost infuriating: how it continued, never letting me sleep.
I just wanted to sleep… but it was keeping me awake, almost malignant in nature.
I got up, searching around the cold desolate cell that I reside in, looking madly, and with desperation for the noise’s origin. Looking in every corner. I don’t quite know how I thought I would find it this way, that is, if there is anything to find. But I still searched with hope. There was expectedly nothing I could find, and worse yet, it seemed as though the sound was getting worse and worse; slowly, and almost imperceptibly with every scratch. My cell mate had stirred while I was searching around our depressing abode, and just as he had begun to utter a small threat, I hushed him like a child in a theatre.
Then the notion dawned on me: it wasn’t the depth that had changed ever so slightly, but this almost pulsing characteristic that had been introduced and seemed far more violent.
Far more impenetrable.
Far more insatiable in nature…
I retired to my bunk, after I’d searched for what seemed hours. My mind had its fill of the thing and I just sat there, just staring up at the ceiling (as seemed to be my favorite activity of late) looking at every watermark and crack. Waiting out the night like a desperate prey, as my psyche seemed to fall into the sharp chip chip chipping voice, and my mind began to find ways of blaring out the abhorrent noise with thought.
I got some brief respite for short blips of sleep,
But not for long.
I can’t shake this feeling that something — maybe the sound — is whispering in my ear; that this voice is here for a reason… That maybe somehow, I need to answer it.
Boy, do I want to answer it.
This I do not know…
I’m sure it’s just the cold air again, we haven’t been allowed out in the yard for a while now, my dear. It’s just been too icy of a winter. I’m sure this must just be a cold of sorts. I must just be feeling some form of seasonal awareness.
I was always bothered by the winter as a boy…
What do you make of all this Dolly? Does it somehow click in your miraculous brain?
Also, could you tell Peter that before I left, his teddy bear was on the piano?
Tell him I love him, yeah?
Wednesday, December 9, 1947
I had the strangest dream last night.
It came to me with vivid images that painted a rather terrifying, yet beautiful image in my head that even now, I cannot refrain from picturing.
She, a strange silent girl, was running through a field of Xanthous flowers that were reminiscent of sunflowers, yet unnamable. Her hair was blood red, pouring out of a pinned-up style as the wind was letting it down. Her features were nothing less than ethereal as she turned around to smile at me like I was familiar to her.
Close to her.
She had a beautiful white dress on that was dragging on the dirty ground and ripping away from her long, gazelle legs with every thudding step, like a jilted bride. And I couldn’t help but ask in my head,
Why was she running away from me?
When she turned around to see me fully, the unknown seductress’s whole smile faded to a disingenuous smirk, and she walked toward me, slowing as she approached…
I couldn’t move; I was stuck stationary where she kept me with her gaze.
She came up close to my face; so close it felt I could feel her every chilling breath like the wind and feel her golden eyes lock with mine like staring into the sun. She placed her gentile finger over my lips and hushed me softly though I said nothing.
Her finger felt like an icicle. And though I was in a dream, strangely enough it felt more like a frosty memory.
Yet I do not know this woman…
And that’s when the most scarring thing happened, the thing worth wasting my precious paper and graphite on; the thing where even now, I am picturing it in grotesque detail.
She dislocated her jaw and suddenly unlocked her maw like a snake, emitting a violent, sharp sound I knew all too well.
A sound like the pulsing chisels, the difference being that the waking sound was more of a subtle annoyance, whereas this seemed to be a chorus of thousands of sharp, gleaming chisels that filled voids upon voids of empty space around us with their murderous intention. Fear pulsed through me, and as my heart raced harder and harder she rotted before my eyes to a corpse. Her long scarlet tresses thinned, falling to the floor as her skin revealed deep, sick black holes.
I can solidly state that it was more trembling fear, Dolly, than any I have ever before experienced.
I was stuck stationary and unable to move as far as I had known in the dream. Every time I tried to move a muscle that wasn’t warranted, I just couldn’t budge. But at this moment, after she had fully rotted away to bones, I could move.
It was more strange than any experience in the waking world.
The fields were dead; the once beautiful and thickly growing flowers were just wispy things that stuck loosely in the charred, black earth.
And she was nowhere to be seen.
I looked behind myself, and there she lay on the ground, resting asleep again. Beautiful again. Her limbs were sprawled out on the ground gracefully, with her long tresses once more in her scalp, blanketing the ground all around her, like a napalm sky. And as I was admiring her perfect form, I suddenly awoke.
Awoke to the strangely familiar sound of sharp chisels chipping through the wall,
I don’t know what this dream meant. Much like everything else now, it seems there is only confusion and smoke clouds to be found. Like a fogged glass case enshrouding something far from touch and understanding, but remaining presumptuous enough to show it off.
I hope this too begins to get resolved as I dive deeper.
I miss you Dolly, and as always, give my love to Peter.
Also could you tell Peter that before I left, I saw his teddy on the piano?
Thursday, December 17, 1947
All of the other merciless fools here sift and snore and I cannot sleep, so, I thought I’d talk to you.
I am writing to you, my Dolly, from a smelly infirmary room, because my cellmate took the opportunity to stab me with some chintzy little invention he concocted after he got sick of my shuffling past midnight, which if you were curious, was to the purpose of finding that obnoxious little sound that continues to be quite the nuisance.
I am looking now across this room, with its ugly linoleum floors stained with god knows what, walls that are sterile and cream colored with a scent of a similar nature. Tied to this bed at the ankles with thick straps, I was able to convince the sweet porcelain doll of a nurse, Jaqueline, to untie me, and bring me you so I could once again share my woes.
Jacqueline is too kind for this place of monsters, I will tell you.
She is the only kind soul in this devoid joint. She has these big, bashful blue eyes that radiate smiles, and blonde curls that bounce off her ample chest when she laughs. A 20 something. Too young to understand the rivets and twists in the snarled and gangrenous tree root that is this life.
Sadly, she is stupid.
Every woman looks like a man, and every man looks like humanity before the invention of fire — they act like it too.
But not Jaqueline
She can be happy, she dares to be. I could perceive all of this by just seeing her today.
You see, Dolly, all of the other people here are degraded — staff and prisoners alike. With black eyes that sink into your soul and figures that have lost all superfluous swank and charm that are natural to human beings, they are used only for the most basic of primitive uses: surviving the day and hurting other people.
But not Jacqueline.
She shouldn’t have trusted me; untying my arms like that.
They say she came from a city named New Orleans, where she has a sick mother she always goes on about. And if you ask me, she should have stayed there. Where her features wouldn’t be in such opposition to the world we are in, where there are beautiful people like herself. Where the food has spice left, and nature is kind, warm and giving…
Anyway, I am all scattered today, but probably from the events I must explain.
You know, Dolly, even though I was brutally stabbed today, much to my surprise, it wasn’t the most chilling, nor disturbing thing that would unfold.
It was a thing that was said to me.
There is this strange prisoner that resides in a mysterious cell, 232, at the end of the long hallway before the infirmary, where I am now. Everyone calls her Delphi. I have heard of her in the yard, all kinds of rumors. Believed to be a wise woman from the mountains, rumored to have committed crimes of the satanic nature that are all too heinous to clutter your precious mind with by repeating.
Such rumors like even when they converted this god forsaken prison to a men’s prison, they didn’t move Delphi, because they were too scared as to what would happen if they just opened her cell. So, rumor has it they simply left her locked up alone and just changed her gender on the forms.
After the malicious attack, as I was being practically drug down the hallway, I heard her say something rather troubling. It was coming through the bars, being projected loudly from her obscure cell corner. It was a chilling riddle, and it went like this:
“I dwell in all, but remain in few, and often with anonymity.
And I do not care for humanity!
I tarry along the peaks of the living, but truly prosper in the troughs of death.
And I abstain from the humans with breath.
Who am I?”
(There was lots of inane cackling while she said this, but I left that out)
I never saw her, but I heard her sing-songy voice, strong and steely, ringing in my head. Even now I can envision those words with great clarity.
I don’t know what this riddle means. That is, if it means anything…
It is haunting right? Or am I the crazy one??
Once again, I do thank you, dear, for putting up with my ramblings.
I miss you and Peter as always. One day I promise you’ll actually be able to see these letters. Also, could you tell Peter that before I left, I noticed his teddy bear was on the piano?
The sun is rising and I must put you away before Jacqueline comes.
Friday, December 25, 1947
Dear my sweet Dolly,
It’s been exactly 16 days since the sound came to me last.
384 peaceful hours, and I thought I had been absolved from the strange pest. That is, before last night. As the clock struck exactly at the witching hour, I awoke. And once again, like the nights before, from the peaceful music of sleep to the bitter silence of life. The cell was damp and grizzly as ever, and guards were sleeping down the hall, adding an irritating breathing sound to it all.
The sound began. Scratch scratch…
I hoped and prayed to all gods of all denominations, right when my eyes were ripped open, that the sound entering my eardrums, the malicious scraping, was just my new cell mate scratching himself in his sleep to relieve nerve endings. And in that few-second-moment, I was almost able to believe that lie, when it was still a soft scratching, that is. But, I then dared to challenge,
Why else would I be awake?
It wouldn’t be…
Scratch scratch… scratch scratch…
It continued. Unceasingly.
The sound got worse and worse and worse as the hours passed, and the clock ticked by with unnatural sharpness.
Oh, I never mentioned, my new cell is right near the clock at the far wall of the prison.
It was almost like it was angrily digging through the wall now. Digging through my head and pricking my brain, over and over and over. Like a neurosurgeon poking around my cranium, jerking wires and pulling cords at will. like a crawly little bug crawling across my brain with abandon.
Over and over and over.
The sound was worse, actually louder in my ear drums than when the sound had visited that strange night before I wound up in the infirmary. It kept going until it drowned out the chorus of the clock ticking and the guards breathing.
I am waiting now, sitting against the cold stone wall in the farthest corner away from the beds, as the sun begins to rise and the sound is still continuing on.
I can feel it now, scraping through the rock…
This has continued for far too long, Dolly.
I just wish to feel your presence again, it is so cold here, Dolly. The sound is the least of it; there is no kindness here. When I showed up here a mere 11 months ago, I thought my resolve could handle it, and for a while I suppose I could, but this sound is intolerable. I awake and it’s almost like my life is plunged into one of those sad songs you like to sing late at night when no one but me can hear.
It reminds me of the day I first saw you…
You were singing in Pablo’s bar. I’d seen you before… but I’d never really seen you until that evening. You were so beautiful in that moment, and I knew
I must have you.
That was before he happened and these circumstances broke us apart. I miss you. I miss your silly antics… your beautiful face.
I long for the day I can finally be released and see you outside these gates of death.
(P.S : When you read this letter, of course, I haven’t checked in awhile, how is Peter doing? Could you tell him that before I left, his teddy bear was on the piano?)
Saturday, January 2 , 1948
I cannot possibly stand one more moment of this.
It’s been 6 days. 6 whole days. Almost 150 hours, and the sound hasn’t ceased. Not since it appeared last. In fact, it’s only increased. Increased in its atrocious tone. And I am beginning to suspect its origin.
It’s all of them. All of them are responsible for this.
This ought to be the worst, cruelest, most unconventional form of unusual torture I’d ever encountered. Surely the United States Government can’t turn such a blind eye to this particular machination of the prison system? What happened to Cruel and Unusual punishment, or the goddamn “Life, Liberty, Property” sticker they slap on practically everything?
But even so, I can’t admit the existence of the “sound,” otherwise, what? I’d be declared insane? Shipped somewhere colder, somewhere worse?
How smart of them. How smart of all of them.
You know, Dolly, I can hear it in the walls, I can HEAR it! Every night I can hear the electricity flowing through the wires that are hooked up to whatever machine or speaker or… MOUSE that continues to create this dreadful sound. I will tell you, they can’t pull the wool over MY eyes.
I am a Harvard man!
I can hear it, flowing and flowing in controlled waves now, whenever that unlovely monster gets started up in the middle of the night.
I am a Harvard man! They can’t fool me. It seems they don’t have an apt understanding of the nature of the unconventional deeds that landed me here. It’s not like I did the rest of the blue collar, gap tooth atrocities that the rest of these troglodytes wound up in here for. My “crimes” — if you can even call them that — were those that any man would do if he wasn’t being watched constantly by our society. They were NOT out of passion. They were out of reason, calculated value, and execution. I merely removed the things that needed removing.
Like warts. On a pig.
If anything, I should be the hero, awarded with a medal and a shiny, golden key to the city for cleaning up this dump we call “modern” society…
I am this close to demanding my release or transfer. I doubt they would listen an ounce to anything I would use as a reason, and I mean I’m not about to accuse them of playing a sound over and over just with the sole, hateful purpose of driving me insane.
Although that is precisely what they are doing!
I can tell. All of them. It wouldn’t even surprise me in the least if that Jacqueline woman is in on the little torture train, full-steam-ahead initiative too. She’s pretty. Too pretty. And that Delphi Woman. With, with, her r-riddle… and her s-smirk!
It’s all too perfect. They are trying to confuse me, trying to… to break me! Place a person primed to watch me and get me committed.
But they will not avail.
After all, I am a Harvard man… they can’t fool me.
And what even did that Delphi maniac mean? I have been toiling over that silly little riddle that once scared me so. I can not mount it, no matter how long I work with it. It was so cryptic… and weird. It has to be part of the electricity I can hear, and Jacqueline’s obvious placement.
I have seen too many people go across their rainbow bridge to those… places they never come out of, Dolly! And many of them aren’t even cuckoo. My poor ruinous sister wound up in one of those boxes. They go across the bridge and then no one talks to them. Their communities turn a blind eye, and loneliness eats away at their countenance bit by bit; their sanity…
Hell, I’ve seen it with my own two eyes!
You know better than anyone. What it feels like to be watched by someone. Watched until they crush you under their violence… their depravity. And the worst part is, then they have a reason to perform the procedures on you. And it’s not even because you’re mad, it’s only because your spirit is breaking away and they won’t tolerate the fringe that is getting exposed.
They won’t take me across that rainbow bridge.
I won’t mention the sound.
I won’t mention the voice.
I will stay strong.
I promise you, Dolly, we’ll be together soon. Where you can read these letters.
(PS: Could you tell Peter that before I left, his teddy bear was on the piano? I forgot to mention it).
Sunday, January 10, 1948
I saw her again…
I was dreaming… at least, I think I was.
She was red. Sitting in a throne above me… with her long hair flowing down her chest, exactly like that nightmare I mentioned a while back, except her dress was grey and stained with soot, and it flowed down over her ankles fading from a tight corset to a sheer gossamer material that blanketed the base of her grand sitting. I was kneeling below her delicate feet that were bound in black lace shoes.
Just like that day…
The world that surrounded us on the precipice was unimaginably horrible… It was engulfed in flame…
She was muttering prayers as she sat up in her high cathedra, prayers in a language I could never understand. She wasn’t acknowledging my presence, but I could faintly recognize her stare.
It was fear. An evil fear. A fear that knew what dwelled inside me.
And as I was putting the pieces together, Dolly, as I was clicking them together piece by piece,
She is the devil.
She is the sound.
I knew it! They are conspiring with the Devil!! Why else would they go forth with such evil malintentions, Dolly? Because the whole time it wasn’t them! It was Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub, what will you!
That’s who SHE is…
Scratch… chip scratch…
Her red hair, the strange world engulfed in flames that I was transported to last evening; her throne, her fear of me.
It s The reckoning of men! it has come!
It all makes sense now, Dolly, right?
Scratch scratch… chip chip scratch chip…
But if I have been having these dreams… this must mean that the sounds… that the sounds are coming from… from inside my own head?
My own mind… being used for the devil’s works… would you think of that?
Scratch scratch… chip scratch…
I need to remove her from my head…
I will be with you soon.
(PS: Could you tell Peter that before I left, his teddy was on the piano? I’m sure he’s missing it.)
Monday, January 11th, 1948
For the longest time I wondered where this sound was coming from.
And now that I know, I can’t stand to live another day not having this issue resolved…
I need to get her out of my head.
I need to get the sound out of my head.
Scratch scratch… chip
I went to church every Sunday with my nana, Dolly, you know that!
Scratch chip chip… scratch
How could I be dealing with a devil incarnation? It’s impossible. Flat and simply so. Yes. Yes. Simply impossible.
how could he live inside of me? The Devil?
I’ll tell you, I have questioned a number of ways I could eject this fiend, and the only righteous and realistic way I could unburden myself that I saw is to bash my head on something hard. That way the Devil might fall out of my ear.
And maybe I could sleep…
Scratch scratch scratch…
I haven’t slept in days…
God came to me, Dolly. He came to me telling me that if I hit my head hard enough on that stone wall, the Devil would be killed. Forever and for good. Can you believe that? The Devil himself…
I mean, I can see the Devil again… he’s standing right there… he’s laughing, too.
Still in that beautiful red form that has tormented me so…
And all I have to do is propel myself into that wall…
Scratch chisel… chip scratch…
And he loses all of his power.
January, 12th, 1948
Dear Dr. Nelson,
9 months ago, you sent me here to observe and analyze the patient Harland Black, A.K.A “John.” You thought that the recently incarcerated criminal might possibly provide some helpful insight into our research into extreme acute psychosis and other medical issues that the university is focusing on.
Frankly, I am happy, yet admittedly terrified to report that the findings of our extensive sessions were more than we could ever hope for.
The formal report of our sessions will be arriving in a week. But before then, I wanted to send you this collection of diary entries that have been interpreted and typed, as well as my conclusions of our time together. I’m sure the clinical studies and testing will begin shortly after arriving on campus and continue in the medical community. Thus, I wanted to give you my personal impression beforehand.
In total and complete honesty, he is possibly the most indestructible and depraved man I have ever seen.
While “John” was obviously suffering from a multitude of illnesses, the most notable was his severe case of Delusional Grandiose disorder, which primarily manifested itself in delusions of a “sound” as well as a conspiracy that the prison establishment and the Devil himself was somehow behind it.
While these are both shocking, from what I saw, the most truly beguiling — and honestly, most depressing — of his delusions was his whole-hearted, false belief that two of his victims, a single mother with red hair by the name of Dolly and her son Peter, were still alive. He was so entrenched in this denial-this belief-that he even took to writing them hundreds of letters, of which above, I selected only 8 that clearly show his regression into insanity. But I assure you, there are more; 3 diaries full in fact.
Above the medical jargon and above the clinical, the reason this particular patient is such an intrigue is because he almost seemed to be split in a way. As if his personality had been broken by trauma into two: a daemon, and a saint. Divided across a precipice on two plains of light and darkness:
John and Harland.
John loved Dolly, yet Harland Black was able to ruthlessly kill her and many other women each in extremely satanic ways, usually involving a chisel. John wanted to be with her, and still couldn’t comprehend what Harland Black had done. So much so, that he died for his denial. John was able to believe that he was wrongfully imprisoned and was even in prison with other people, which from my opinion, appeared to be yet another way for him to explain away the violence and gravity of his crimes, given that he was actually in solitary confinement, and had been for 2 years.
I would speak to Harland during our sessions, and yet I would read this completely opposite life from John’s perspective in his journal at night when he wasn’t awake to ask for “Dolly.” There were subtle nods from John to Harland throughout, such as the creation of this “Delphi” character, which if you ask me, was Harland, and a slight recognition of who John really was underneath the valiant façade.
If I’m speaking frankly, Dr. Nelson, the learnings from Harland, whilst excited me as a doctor, frightened me to my core as a woman and as a Christian more than anything else…
The level of depravity and disarray that was present in this individual makes me worried for Dolly and Peter’s souls. I am a woman of science, as you know, but if there is a god, or if there is any sufficient afterlife of any right…
I fear for them.
Their souls have been chased by this broken monster for far too long, and I personally hold the dark belief that it was always his intention to meet them outside.
If there ever is, or ever was an answer to his riddle, I can assure you the answer would be
A Mister Harland Black…
I’ll finish up here and meet you at the university in a few days,
Dr. Jacqueline Reid Ph.D.