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Peter's Haven

Updated: Aug 6, 2023

There it is: Peter's Haven.

Once known as Peter's Mental Hospital, and before that, St. Peter's Asylum, but Nana only ever called it the "funny farm". I suspect this was to soften the blow of trying to explain granddad was mentally stuck in the war and dodging enemy bullets behind chesterfield sofas, but six-year-old me just missed my Pops. Nana never said a negative word about the place. Pops was well taken care of, with three square meals, his own room, a brand-new TV every few years, and sweetly scented, soft-bodied nurses who'd hug him real tight when he started to hear those enemy panther tanks approaching. Nana trusted these folks with Pops, and that's the only reason I'm trusting them now.

Jeez, ma, another phone call? MA the little screen says, vibratin' as though it can sense her anger. That's the fourth time she's called in the hour it took me to get here. She's real against my idea of treatment, but, meaning no offense to the Lord, her prayers ain't been medicine so far. I hate to decline my mother's phone calls, but this is important. I turn off my phone and my truck, hop out, and stare at the place. It's big, real big. I wonder if Pops ever thought he was being brought to some sort of enemy territory for intel, it's that big. Though I s'pose those sorts of places wouldn’t be built out of big red bricks like a schoolyard. Probably wouldn't have no sprawling lawns, either, and definitely not with them small tables to hear the birdsong. Reckon they could just keep you in the basement, though; keep up appearances an' all that.

The path up to the door does it's darndest to make you forget why you’re here, with its cobbled stone and flower beds lining the way, but it ain't trickin' me. My back is burning from the sun, but the big metal door handle is cool, refreshingly cool. I hope that's a good sign. The door seemed almost stuck, and I almost wondered if the sign should be "Leave while you can," but my persistence won, and I stepped inside.

The lobby of the hospital is lit like, well, a hospital. Too damn bright, I think, but I'm sure they need to make sure they know who’s coming and going. Could’ve used a better color scheme than gray and white, but I'm sure interior decorator ain't a job hospitals employed. You'd think they'd want a pretty spot for us crazies, wouldn't you? But we're stuck with the white tile floor and ashen walls. A few of them soft-bodied nurses are up and about, wheeling their patients here and there behind different metal white doors. No one is screaming, that’s definitely a good sign, ain’t it? Just a few people talkin’ in low voices to each other, so it’s not like they’re just doped into silence. I'll have to tell Ma that when I next see her. And it's cold. Sure hope I don’t need to wear one of them gowns you see on the television, but it’s a right slice of comfort from the Louisiana heat wave.

"Can I help you?"

I look around and spot the honey-voiced woman from behind a big wooden desk. She looks kind; has some deep-set russet eyes and a beaming grin. That ugly little cap didn't even take away from those chestnut curls.

"I sure hope so, ma'am," I tell her, removing my cap. "I'm here to check myself in."

"My, is that so? Not somethin we hear often," she says lightly, grabbing a clipboard and gathering some papers. I bet it ain't, but she don’t seem to be judgin me, in fact she don't seem phased. Hope I don't make her nervous, Lord knows I'm shakin like a leaf enough for the both of us. She stands up and smooths her long white dress. "You can follow me right this way, sir."

We walk down a long hallway. I tip my head to the few patients we pass, just sittin’ in their wheelchairs against the walls. They look calm and happy, at least I think, though admittedly, I'm just glancing, mostly I'm just trying to concentrate on one foot in front of the other and staring too much at my feet. The pretty nurse walks us to an office. Bit rude she didn't hold open the door for me, but then I'm sure Ma would say I should’ve been the one to open it for the lady. I wrench it open. The room ain’t that much more warm than the rest of the place, but at least there's a few knickknacks scattered about the bookshelves and desk. I pushed the door closed after us.

"Please have a seat," she tells me, gesturing to the brown leather chair. I obey, and she sits opposite me. "What's your name, dear?"

"Thomas. Thomas Whittaker." She scribbles down my name on that clipboard. "You can call me Tommy."

"Thanks, Tommy," she smiles. "Date of birth?"

"March 21st, 1989."

"Height and weight?"

"Six-one, 210 pounds." She scribbles. "Six one and a quarter," I add. She grins again.

"Any current medications?"

"No, ma'am."

"Do you drink or smoke?"

"No, ma'am."

"Any previous hospitalizations?"

"For brain or body?"

"For whatever you’re here for, Tommy."

"Oh. No," I tell her. "That alright?"

"Of course, sugar. That's what we're here for." She scribbles down a few more things without asking me while I do my best to stop my foot from bouncing.

"Mr. Tommy Whittaker," she croons, placing the clipboard on the desk. "What brings you to Peter's?"

I can’t help but sigh. I'm glancing around the room avoiding her gaze, trying to steer myself to tell her.

"It’s just that, ma'am - "

"Marlene," she chimed, peering at me curiously, but not yet losing that grin.

"Nurse Marlene..." I begin. She's waiting patiently, with as soft a gaze she can muster, but her brow crinkled a bit.

"It's just that..." I trailed off. I just can't bring myself to say it. "I've only told a couple people so far, thought I could trust ‘em, but they either thought I was joking, or else didn't take it serious." Nurse Marlene didn't even look phased. My black boots look like an ink stain on the floor. I can see my toes wiggling through the soles.

"I promise I believe you already, Tommy," she coaxed. "Not just anyone would bring themselves here for help. Takes courage," she added as I stared daggers into my shoes.

"Yeah?"

"Well, sure. Go on," she encouraged.

With a last shaky breath, I look to the Heavens for some strength. It doesn't come, but I tell her anyway.

"I been... seeing ghosts, Nurse Marlene," I sputtered. "I know it sounds foolish, Miss, but I swear it on my Nana herself. My Pops said he saw ‘em too, but it ain't the same, I ain’t no warrior like he was, I ain’t never seen more combat past hunting season. I ain't got a good excuse, but I swear it. They ain't mean or telling me to kill no-one, I ain't completely gone, but Lord help me, I just keep seeing them." I'm breathless, finally looking imploringly at her, willing for her to understand. I'm searching her face for any signs of her trust. She looks sympathetic, pitiful even, but not unkind.

"Why, that must be awful, Tommy," she declared, outstretching her hand across the desk. She's probably gonna grab me a straitjacket. After a few seconds of me not answering, she probed, "How do you know they’re ghosts?"

"No one else sees 'em, Miss," I confess. "They usually got on more old-timey clothes, and when they talk, you can just kinda tell."

"How?"

"Well, like when my Pops passed, I thought he'd come to wake me up because he'd finally gotten outta here and just couldn’t wait to see me. But he was real rushed, like he was pressed for time in telling me what he had to." "And what was that?" "Nothin' important really, just that he had to go," I tell her. My eyes are stinging. "And that he loved me to bits."

"That is important, Tommy," Marlene assures me. A few more seconds go by, and her brow crinkles again. "What do you mean 'outta here'?"

"Pops was here when I was a kid for a few years before he died. Post traumatic stress from the war. He hallucinated, too. Maybe it's genetics like they say," I chuckle. Someone's knocking on another door down the hall. She doesn't pay it any mind.

"And he never got out?"

"No, ma'am, he passed away here. That night he came to me, even. When Ma came to see who I was talkin to, she went white as a sheet, then the phone rang." They’re knocking harder.

"Someone else will get it, don't worry. Tommy, this ain't the first time I heard something like that, and being Christian, I believe it every time. And yes, it's more common than you’d think. I wouldn’t wanna put you in here for being a well-loved grandson. Can you give me any other examples?"

"Sure," I begin. I take a deep breath thinkin of what may be best to start with. "Ain't none of em too bad, Miss, like I said it ain't violent or that sort." They’re really banging hard now. She looks frustratedly at the door.

"Seems your coworkers are a lot like mine," I tell her.

"Just hang tight, sugar," she says, getting up and walking over. "I'll be right back." I nod and go back to inspecting my shoes. My hearts pounding so loud I don't even hear the door. Can't believe I just told her that. She's probably off to go get me one of them beds with the straps or call for security like Keith warned me. I don't even care at this point.

"POLICE. OPEN THE DOOR." Someone's in trouble, I guess. I'm sure Marlene will set things straight.

The door opens with a crash and in walk six large officers, taser guns out. I put up my hands bewildered.

"What'd I do?" I demand. "I'm here for help, I ain't no criminal!" The officers don’t answer me but pull out some handcuffs and gestures to me. "I ain't did nothing, officers, you got the wrong guy, whatever's goin on," I tell them, but offer my hands so I don't start no arguments.

"No, sir, we don’t," one of them says. "Trespassing is as illegal in Louisiana as it is any other state."

"I ain't trespassing, I'm here for myself. I ain't a visitor. I'm getting' help," I pleaded. He starts rattling off Miranda rights, ignoring me. "I need the help, Officer. Please."

"Son," the officer with cuffs starts.

"Where's Marlene?"

"Who's that, your accomplice?" chides another cop from the corner.

"Accomplice? Ain't I just tell you I'm here for help? Surely she let you in the damn door, she came when y'all came barreling on in."

"Where is he! Where is my son!" a woman's voice comes screeching, echoing loudly through the hall, shoes clacking in what sounds like the wrong direction.

"Ma?!"

It makes sense now. She must've told them I was up to no good coming around here, getting them to do some wellness check to stop me.

"Tommy!" she shrieks, footsteps coming closer. She appears in the door and throws herself at me. "Thank goodness you're alright. Let's go home, baby, I promise we'll get you a doctor, alright?" I sighed at her, and the officers started to walk me out.

"Nana trusted this place, Ma."

"I know she did, baby," she says wiping her face of the tears. The hallway is empty and a lot darker. Maybe they did some sort of calming drill? I'm sure the cops scared the patients, coming in with all that racket claiming there’s a break-in. I hope Marlene's alright. At least there's still no screaming, or maybe I can't hear it over Ma jabbering away about finding a good proper spot for me to get help. The wheelchairs are empty where the patients were on our way to the office, still sitting against the wall.

"Ma," I interject. "Where's the nurse that was helping me? Her name's Marlene. You'd like this place more if you talk to her, Ma. She’s real calm and sweet, like you. It's everything Nana said."

Ma's face drained of its usual flushed color and my own brown eyes stared back at me. "Honey," she wavered. "Don't you remember what else Nana said about this place?" I search my mind frantically.

"How it shut down a few years after Pops passed. That he was keepin' em in business with all his crazy," she continues. We're almost to the main door now. I look at the desk where Marlene was sitting. It's dusty, scattered, and lopsided from a broken leg. There's graffiti everywhere and big chains on the door I came through. Trespassing.

"No, Ma," I croak out. "I don’t remember that." The cops grip me a bit tighter.

"It's okay, baby," she sobs. "We're gonna get you help."


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