The halls of the Veteran's Administration's mental ward are still and dim, the occasional fluorescent tube flickering and buzzing, like a mad firefly crippled by budget cuts and institutional apathy. The walls are a dingy yellow, marred here and there with water stains and broken up at regular intervals with heavy wooden doors that bolt on the outside. The occasional voice carries faintly across on the lifeless air, the hint of madness tinged with despair in every ranting and raving. The hall seems almost endless, though it does, in fact, end at a T junction, where one finds a nurse's office, the double paned glass crisscrossed with wire reinforcements and spidering cracks. Behind the glass a lone nurse sits, his face lit sickly gray green from the old television set he stares at placidly.
The nurse is a large, broad man, dressed in white scrubs, with a face like a timid herd animal, bovine.
A tall, pale woman walks up the corridor, a faraway look in her eyes. She catches sight of the nurse, and begins to walk more slowly, creeping towards the small office.
The nurse continues watching the small screen, the images flickering across his face, his mouth open slightly, a bit of drool leaking down his chin. His eyes stare vacantly at the television, unfocused though they are.
With a slight squeak of heavy boots on old linoleum, she reaches the adjoining wall unseen. Quickly, she raps heavily on the thick glass partition, making a lowing 'moo' noise.
"Hello dearie." A voice speaks sweetly in Portia's ear, a voice that calls to mind hot apple pies and knit Christmas sweaters. The Nurse doesn't even budge.
Portia jumps a little, then smiles serenely. "The biter bit. Linoleum is no friend to be trusted."
Dead still air is all that hangs around behind Portia, undisturbed save for the acrid smells of ammonia and urine that is ubiquitous to institutions like this. "Dearie, do hurry. It has been too long since your last visit."
Portia jabs a thumb at the nurse. "A poor beefeater and a spoke in a wheel of fortune, this one. Am I not allowed to play games?", she says, half to herself, with an impish smile.
"Tsk tsk. It's not nice to keep Mother waiting." the dulcet tones seem to fill Portia's ears, though not enough to mask the sounds of approaching footsteps.
"Patience is the mother of invention..." Portia pauses, and with a dreamlike smile on her face heads towards the sound of footfalls.
Approaching from the right hallway of the T junction is a tall, gaunt man with a sallow complexion. His eyes are beady and spaced too far apart. He's dressed in expensive slacks and a silk shirt with a red tie. His name badge proclaims him Dr. Daniel Smith, As he draws nigh, the lighting allows him to better see Portia, and he subconsciously licks his lips. In an instant, Portia is flooded with images, scenes of dark perversion visited on drugged and bound people in sterile padded rooms, perversions visited upon them by this very man sworn to uphold their health and well being.
"Good evening, Miss Molyneux." he says, his eyes crudely and blatantly undressing the woman with his eyes. "Mother has been expecting you."
Portia twitches a little. "Daniel as the den of lions. Oh Mother, you have an imagination. Lead on, black angel."
Lead on the tall, jaundiced man does. "I recently purchased a piece of yours from an 'estate sale'." he says, his voice dripping with poisoned honey that triggers another blast of insight that hammers the inside of her skull. It's an image of another ward of his, lying on the couch in his office, superimposed over the image of the same person, slitting their own throat in a bathtub full of water. "Lust of Black Bread. One of your more...famously lascivious pieces." again, that hunger is palpable in his voice.
Portia looks deeply at him. "Carving is as you say. Take a person. Ordinary. Boring. Chip away all the little pieces that don't fit and you can create something beautiful. You are more aware than your forebears." She touches his hand gently. "All the truly beautiful things are twisted somehow. Agreed?"
"Of course. The beauty is there, you just have to...dig for it." Dr. Smith stops in the empty hall, now silent save for the fading echoes of their footsteps and his voice. He turns and steps a little closer towards Portia, his tongue flicking across his lips, a wormy pink thing behind his too white teeth. "I was wondering if you would be interested in a private...commission. I think I could make it worth your while." his words are gravid with promise and hopeful lusts.
She grasps his hand more tightly, feeling him shiver with anticipation. "What sort of payment did you have in mind?". She smiles coyly.
Portia can hear his heart start to race, his blood flowing more furiously, roaring in his veins. He clasps her hand in his own, sweaty, clammy palm. "Perhaps a liaison of sorts. There are...things I think we could...show one another." Each pause is pregnant with a predatory desire, a sexual deviancy that feels wretched and filthy at best. " I have heard o--" his words are interrupted by a loud gasp as he inhales sharply. His eyes leave Portia's unheaving bosom and stare down at his own chest, where a dark crimson stain slowly spreads, his silk tie pushed slightly off center by the appearance of a small, delicately fingered hand emerging from just below his sternum.
"Tut tut, Daniel child." the kindly voice that whispers in Portia's darkest dreams says sweetly from behind him.
Portia sighs with exasperation. "Mother, must you interfere in everything I do? I was about to make him so pretty." She sounds petulant, like a little girl.
The hand is pulled slowly from the good doctor's chest with a sucking squishy sound. The doctor collapses to the ground, and a tiny, wizened old woman steps over him, her face a mass of wrinkles, her thin white hair sitting in a bun atop her head. She wipes her hand off on the doctor's shirt as she steps over him. "Daniel, do be a dear and go bleed in your room. Now don't be a bad child .and die. Mother shall be very put out if you do." With those last words, she walks away from the doctor, expecting Portia to follow her.
Portia follows, but she's clearly still sulking. Muttering under her breath, "His fingers were pointing in all the wrong directions. So easily fixed..."
"Now dearie, how many times have I told you not to play with my food?" Mother says, patting the taller woman on the shoulder comfortingly. "Never fear. You can play with it when I am finished." She walks along, her movements that of a slightly doddering old woman. "So many wayward children, needing Mother's guiding hand..." she says, out loud but to herself."
"Even through the sternum?" Portia adds, with a smirk.
The old woman stops with a jolt, turning and looking at Portia, her kindly eyes confused, her
wrinkled brow furrowed. "Oh dear me, a guest! Please forgive my manners. Dearie. Everyone calls me Mother. Can I offer you something?" she says, her hand slipping into the pocket of her fluffy pink bathrobe.
Portia frowns. "Mother, don't you..." then stops mid-sentence, with a realization.
The old vampire pulls out her hand and looks down at it, puzzled. "Oh dear me, what have I here?" she asks out loud to herself. It's a sheet of fine parchment, rolled and tied with a single red string. She stares at the red string for a long moment, slipping into a fugue.
Portia goes to interrupt, but thinks better of it and contents herself with examining the rolled vellum. "What a pretty thing to do with skin.", she mumbles to herself
For several long minutes Mother just stares at the red string. Without warning, Mother turns and throws the parchment at Portia. All vestiges of the kindly mother figure have vanished. Instead, a bestial visage snarls at the younger vampire, her face a rictus of hate. "TROLLOP! TRAMP! YOU STOLE MY EUSTACE, YOU JEZEBEL!" Mother stands, defiant, and points at the rolled parchment. "BRING THAT TO THE MAGNOLIA IN THREE DAYS!"
Portia flinches under the weight of the verbal assault. "Y-yes, Mother..." she says, looking down and avoiding eye contact.
The hallway is deserted and silent, save for the occasional fluorescent tube flickering and buzzing, like a mad firefly crippled by budget cuts and institutional apathy and a rolled parchment, tied with a bloodred string, laying on the floor.