“I miss baked beans. When the toast goes all gooey and covered in tomato sauce. I could eat baked beans every day I reckon. And mum used to tell me I’d turn in to a baked bean one day. Which was a funny thing to say, but that’s what she said anyway. And mum would cover the top with cheese and cut the toast into little bits, like she used to when I was a kid. But I liked her doing it still, so I’d ask her to cut my toast in to bits. And she would you know, she still would.”
Taylor had been talking about baked beans the whole time. We had passed through the courtyard and I noticed how the CCTV camera had followed our route as we passed towards the opposite side where the paving slabs were all crooked and cracked. We turned a corner on to a stretch of path that continued out before us and was lined on one side by a red bricked building with strips of narrow windows and vertical metal bars. On the other side of the path was a huge wall that was built of oversized breeze blocks and topped with rolls of razor wire. Twisted branches that were hanging over the top of the wall from the outermost trees of Deadwood.
We continued along the narrow path and the sound that my chains made as I shuffled along. Taylor skipping just ahead of me. The path narrowed ahead and the wall that seemed to lean in on either side. Another blinking red light where the CCTV studied our approach towards it. A sharp right angle where the path turned a corner. The rattling that my chains made as they snaked between my feet and Taylor still reminiscing about cheesy baked beans and all that garbage. And part of me wondered what the hell Taylor was doing locked up in Deadwood Hospital anyway? And why the heck she had never thought to ask me why I was the only one in here who was forced to wear these chains the whole day and the whole of the night.
“Hmm, baked beans, yes.” I replied, trying to get into the whole baked bean thing, but my knees were aching and the weight of the chains I was forced to drag around with me in here was starting to get right on my nerves. Taylor skipping ahead of me now and I lowered my eyes briefly to her ankle and noticed the raw scar she had scratched against her skin. The sight of her blood leaking over the edges of the electronic tag making me wince a little and feel lightheaded and giddy. Taylor’s fingernails like a little mouse, gnawing at the skin and bone against her ankle. And I certainly wouldn’t be eating baked beans again I thought. Taylor had managed to put me right off baked beans for ever I thought.
Taylor skipping ahead a little as we reached the end of the path and the sun peering out from behind fluffy white clouds overhead. The sharp scent of pine needles that carried on the air from the edges of Deadwood. And everything might just work out fine in here, I was beginning to think. What with the friends I had made in here and SpongeBob and the lessons about Sigmund Freud and all that?
Taylor turned the corner ahead of me and skipped away a little further. The metallic drone of the motor in the CCTV camera that looked down upon us from a metal bracket overhead as it turned to follow our course. And without making a single sound I kind of sprung up real high and scampered across the wall like a spider so that my toes and my fingernails gripped tightly to the gaps between the breeze blocks. And without Taylor noticing, I was able to scale right up the wall and bring my hand behind the CCTV camera and yank those pesky old wires from the back of the machine so that the little red light flickered off. In the blink of an eye I had scurried back down to earth and was shuffling as quickly as my chains would allow to catch up to Taylor up where she skipped ahead. And Taylor still reminiscing about cheesy beans and her Mother and all that. And that made me feel a little bit sad for her.
The path in this corner of the hospital was different to the one we had left behind at the courtyard and the paving slabs beneath our feat were all broken up and higgledy-piggledy. Between the slabs of stone was black earth and sprigs of wizened grass and gorse. The red bricked bungalow dormitory to our left had been replaced by an impenetrable mass of brambles and thorns. The grey breezeblocks to our right had been replaced by a crumbling wall of red bricks that was smudged here and there with grey moss. Running along the top of the wall was an army of iron spikes that were painted black and peeling with age.
“What is this place anyway?” Taylor asked, lifting her hand to the ancient wall that ran beside us and her fingers tracing a line against the crumbling mortar. “Deadwood Hospital?” She said, as though the thought had only just occurred to her and she had clean ignored the creepy old building she had been incarcerated in from the day she had first arrived.
“It used to be called Deadwood Manor.” I replied absentmindedly, lifting my gaze towards another CCTV camera that peered down the path towards us from another junction on the route. I turned my face briefly from the flashing CCTV camera towards my left and peered through the mass of brambles there and kind of squinted a little. An old building in the distance could just about be seen. The building that was turreted at four corners and a tower that lifted from the centre.
“Deadwood Manor?” Taylor replied, pausing briefly upon the path before me as she turned towards the bramble hedge and peered through the mass of thorns towards the direction of the crumbling old house.
And I was damned if I was going to go into this dreary old story again with another one of these loonies I was banged up with in here. And how the old lord of Deadwood was a complete fruit cake and lived alone here with his wolves and his eagles. And when they finally decided to pull down the iron gates that had remained locked for as long as the folk around here could remember, that all that they discovered were the bones of the old lord and a pack of hungry wolves. Well, that’s what the kids at Downland’s Primary used to say anyway.
“Yeah,” I replied absentmindedly, turning my face from the old house and the brambles and studying Taylor as she leaned in towards the brambles so that if she wasn’t careful, I reckoned she might topple clean in.
And it was then that I noticed movement on the other side of the brambles and across a wide sweeping lawn. In the distance I spied what could only have been Sister Dixon. The woman hurrying away from a decrepit hut that was nestled against the shadows of Deadwood Manor. The woman’s copper hair all messed up and her face as white as ice. And why the heck was she racing away from that old shack in such a hurry I thought? And shouldn’t she be taking classes about Freud and all that garbage.
“Come on.” I said, jiggling the chain around my ankle a little and the sound like a rattle snake I thought. “Let’s hurry to the Chapel before they notice we’ve been gone too long.”
Taylor turned her face from the brambles and peered towards me and for a moment I almost screamed right there and then.
Against Taylor’s face were deep welts and the skin peeled back and a dark sludge that was revealed beneath her ruined face. The skin that was sticky and kind of throbbing. So that when Taylor spoke jets of blood spouted out and across the white dungarees that she wore. And I reckoned she could see the shock upon my face as I looked away and leaned a little to my side so that the old brick wall took my weight for a moment.
“You all right Mandy?” Taylor asked, “You’ve turned as white as a sheet.” She said. And the truth is, I suddenly felt far from all right. And Taylor’s face looking like a sliced-up plate of beans and toast. The skin hanging down in flaps and Taylor’s eyes that were wide and bright and sparkling a little against the sunlight. And a sudden sadness that swept over me, so that I found it hard to look Taylor in the eye for the rest of our little walk.
“Come on,” I said, racing on ahead of Taylor along the path and Taylor hanging back and peering once again through the mass of brambles and out towards Deadwood Manor and wondering what had freaked me out, I reckoned. And as I reached the corner of the path, I barely had the strength remaining in my toes and my fingertips, to quickly scale the towering wall and pivot to my side and whip the wires from the back of another CCTV camera up there. I scurried headfirst back towards the path below before Taylor knew a single thing about it.
Ahead of me I spied a rusted metal gate that was padlocked and shackled with chains. And beyond that a cemetery that was revealed that was overgrown with weeds and pockmarked with leaning gravestone. In the distance and barely seen against a towering tree was a decrepit old chapel with a tower and a bell and a statue of Jesus with his head hanging down and the crown of thorns against his brow.
Taylor hurrying towards me now, as I shuffled away towards the bolted gate.
“Wait for me Mandy.” Her voice called out to me and the sound of a crow squawking in the distance somewhere, but nearby. “Wait for me.” Taylor called.