The bell tolled as a black carriage trolleying a brown cart, dusty from its travels pulled into the long drive of Charenton. From his window in the tower he watched, as the small black dot grew large as it moved up the dirt road to the cast iron gates of the asylum. The clicking and neighing of the horses drew no attention as no one person was outside anymore.

The light from the sun, albeit dim as the sky was cast in gray, pained his eyes. He was so used to darkness. T'was the only time he was really awake. His bleak days he spent listless and slack, waiting for the sky to change and the sun to finally sink beneath the horizon. Then, he was like an insatiable puppy, hounding the old laundress for more paper and quills. Should the doctor find out about his nightly routine, he would for sure end up like Bouchon in the dungeon, locked away for eternity.

His attention again was drawn to the black carriage. What was in the brown cart? It was to far away to see. Was it a new torture device ordered by Royer-Collard? He couldn't put his finger on it. The carriage rounded the final corner and came to a full stop at the gates. A cloaked figure in a top hat emerged from the wagon, obviously the doctor himself. The driver hopped off his seat and aided the doctor in opening the gates. The driver went around back and apparently unhitched the brown cart. The man got a good glimpse of what was really in the cart. People! New patients awaited in the haul. The footmen of the carriage dismounted and hurried to help the new inmates out of the dirty wagon. The carriage on the other hand, began to slowly make its way into Charenton.

He looked through his window as the new inmates walked, clad in irons, through the gates and made their way up the steps into the quarantine building, where they would be washed and cleaned, the women's' hair chopped to the chin and the men's hair cut shorter. They walked in a single line, like those sentenced to death. He laughed quietly. Oh the irony of it all. Those sent to the asylum to be rescued from death are in turn actually delivered to the reapers stoop.

One inmate in particular seemed to having some difficulty. She was a young thing, no more than twenty. She was last in line and walked with exactly the same distance between her legs as they moved. She had long dark hair; it had obviously been beautiful at some point. She held her hands high, as if afraid of something terrible and her mouth moved, muttering words he couldn't decipher and bobbing her head with her pace. One of the footmen grew tired of her games and pushed her down. She fell heavy, yet was standing in almost an instant. A fear of unbelievable strength gripped her expression and again, she dusted herself off as best she could, rigid with terror she raised her hands, began to walk in the same fashion and started to mutter. What strange girl. He thought. Although, she'll cause the good doctor some trouble undoubtedly.

A loud banging in the hall aroused his attention. The cruel bark of Collard could be heard coming his way. He glanced at his makeshift writing table. His latest story was lying open and the ink bottle and quill lay in plain sight. Dashing, he collected his stolen boons and ran to a spot on the wall. Prying with his free hand he pulled a fairly large stone loose and behind it was a small space just large enough for his secret. Jamming them in and the stone in place, he ran to his mat of straw for a bed and lay, listless like he had for so many days before. His door banged open.

"I see there's been no change in Coulmier... Abbe." Royer-Collard said to the man in cloth behind him. Still accustomed to the name, the man – Coulmier – lifted his head to the words Abbe. The doctor noticed.

"Not you, we know just what you caused here whilst you were the Abbe. Monsieur Coulmier. A man of the cloth indeed." The last words were spoken with disgust. "Feed him only water for supper. He'll not endure any solid food until he repents. A man of God always repents doesn't he Abbe?" He sneered at Coulmier before slamming the iron door. Coulmier could hear the bolt click shut as he rolled over onto his side.

"Yes, a man of God always repents doctor." He whispered before returning to his catatonic state.

* * *

Elise stood at the washing tub in the quarantine building. They had removed her chains and she found her wrists worn raw from them. Her nails were dirty and she stretched each finger exactly twice. As things had to be with someone like her, suffering from a compulsive complex associated with mild to severe germophobia. That's what the doctor had said when her mother questioned. Her "complex" was the beginnings to insanity, and so was her reasoning for being here. The woman at the wash tub ordered her to strip.

With both hands, Elise began removing her dirty gray dress. She moved at the same precise speed she'd used while walking and lowered it equally on both sides. She closed her eyes and she forced out every image of all the germs floating in the water she was about to enter and allowed herself to step into the frigid bath. She trembled with fear, not with cold as they assumed. After the washed her long hair, she heard the scraping of a knife and all of a sudden felt a harsh yank to her skull and the sawing of a dull blade on her matted tresses. She made a small sound in protest, but her "disobedience" was only rewarded with a harder tug on her remaining hair. Her eyes still closed, she felt a strong male hand yank her into a standing position and lift her out of the tub. The only thing keeping her from screaming out was the fact that she could not see it, any of it. Her hair, her "cleaned" skin, which was no doubtedly crawling with new bacteria and lye. All her life she'd lived by "if I cannot see it, it can't possibly be there." It had saved her skin more than twice her life.

Pushed into a direction, she felt it only safe to open her eyes. She stood stark naked before another woman who handed her a clean cotton dress. It was blue in color and on the shoulder "Charenton" was embroidered. She muttered her thanks and took the clothes. She desperately needed clean garments and immediately felt relaxed if only a little. She was placed at a table where more people gathered around her and inspected her every core. Her head, her torso and even below the waist. She bit her tongue as they prodded her like a prize pig. She could taste metallic blood. Swallowing, she was brought to a standing position and given her shoes, they were mildly cleaned and she put them on right away. She stood at the door waiting to be led to her new home. A man clapped her in more irons and she was lead away, out of the building and up the grand steps into Charenton, a place, she was informed, she would forever call home.

They led her past multiple doors and up many, many a stair. Every so often, a bloodcurdling scream could be heard in the distance underneath the noise of the printing press downstairs. More and more doors passed and Elise wondered if she had a room at all. Finally, they climbed one more stair and she was led to a room with an iron door. Her escort lifted the heavy bolt and wrenched open the door. She stood again at the doorway. She waited exactly three seconds and entered her new quarters. Taking three steps to the left, she could hear the heavy door slam and the bolt locked.

The room itself was quite bare. A straw matt on one side and a small window that breached her height by just a little. The straw mat was covered in a damp rag that had obviously just been washed. A lumpy looking pillow was the only home like comfort she saw. It was a pale day and even though her window was small it let in a relatively large amount of light. There was no shadow save her own. She walked in her usual manner, equally distanced steps, and peered at her pale reflection in the mirror. She looked sickly, her skin alabaster white and her gray eyes dull. She raised her hand and lightly touched the ends of her ragged hair. Once it had been long and beautiful and now it had been reduced to this... a sawed off mop top with split ends that barely came below her chin.

Elise turned away from the window and walked over to her mat. It was pressed right up against the wall on the right side of her room. Crossing her legs she lowered herself using the same pressure on both arms into a sitting position. She placed her hands on her knees and sat quietly staring at the wall, for there seemed nothing else useful to do. Her breathing evened from its earlier labored state from climbing stair after stair. She began humming a lullaby her mother had sung to her as a child.

Hush little baby, don't say a word Mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird If that mocking bird don't sing Mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring

* * *

Laying on his bed and staring at the ceiling, Coulmier heard the patter of a pair of boots coming down the hall. Rolling onto his side, he awaited the Doctor. It was his usual visiting time. But the doctor never came. Instead, he heard the creaking of the door next to his room. Not a word was spoken, and the door was slammed shut. He pressed his ear against the wall in hopes of discovering his new neighbor, but was met with only the sound of steps. There was something about the steps that caught his attention though. They were slow, calculated and precise. His immediate guess was the girl. The girl with the long dark hair. His interest was sparked and he scurried over to where he knew of a crack in the wall. He pried away at the small stone that covered it.

"Mademoiselle?" he whispered. He replaced is mouth with his eye and was looking at a figure dressed in a blue garment with hacked short dark hair. It was obviously a woman, her figure was lithe and gamine. She sat still, as if never hearing his words.

"Mademoiselle?" he repeated. Still nothing.

* * *

She was staring at the wall, concentrating on every grain embedded in the block of hardened sand when she heard a faint whisper.

"Mademoiselle?" She stayed still as so to hear the words again.


She stayed silent. Where was the voice coming from? There was no one in her room with her. She was totally alone. The voice must have sensed her confusion.

"Behind you! In the wall."

Slowly, Elise turned her body slightly.

"And what would a faceless voice want with the insane." She whispered.

The voice replied.

"A good conversation with something other than the walls of this prison."

Elise smiled a little. She turned herself so she faced the wall and tucked her legs underneath her. She stared at the wall that spoke to her and she searched for a crack.

"What kind of patient would want a good conversation?" she whispered, her eyes combing the walls.

"One who's not seen another person other than our good doctor and a blind laundress for almost three years. I am Coulmier. Who might you be?"

Elise finally saw it. It was no bigger than a silver franc and led directly to her neighbors' room. She leaned and peered through the hole. All she could see was the pink flesh of an ear.

"Elise." she whispered her reply.

A sharp clicking of heels on the cinder block floor could be heard and Coulmier seemed to become strangely nervous.

"I must go. T'was nice meeting you Elise. I look forward to future conversations." With that, he filled the hole with a small rock, the small moment of connection gone. Elise was left with a tingling sensation. For the first time in a long while, someone talked to her like she was a normal person. Charenton seemed bleak when she first arrived. Somehow, the coming days seemed brighter.