Timothy and the Asylum

September 26, 2022

Born to Nathan and Wilma Smythe in the summer of 1843, Timothy was the second eldest of five children. He and his brothers and sister went about their days the way most children of farmers did; mornings were spent studying at the family table, then out to toil away with their father on the small family farm until sundown. For a time, they were happy.

Sadly, the town of Bravado always had a way of making sure that such moments of happiness and contentment are not long lived. The land finds these moments, these happy people, and strangles them until they move on to some other town or kills them altogether. The Smythe family was no exception; illness took his siblings one by one in their early adolescence rendering Timothy an only child. His mother succumbed to her grief soon after.

Over the years that followed, Timothy and his father tried their best to keep the farm afloat. The two worked tirelessly putting in longer and longer hours to try to keep up. In return, the land fought the Smythe boys harder and harder. Eventually, the work proved too much for only two sets of hands, and realizing his unfavorable position, Timothy’s father made the difficult decision to sell the family farm.

The farm now only a memory of a life they barely had, Nathan rented a small home from Old Coffee Bob on the outskirts of town for himself and Timothy. It wasn’t much, but it didn’t need to be now that it was only the two of them. He secured a job working as an orderly at the old asylum outside of the city limits; folks didn’t want to have to live with the guilt of seeing their castaways every day of course. Timothy pitched in a nickel a week working a job in a daily rotation with a few other boys from town, fetching water and cleaning up piss and vomit for Mr. MacGregor at the Long Branch Saloon.

In his time away from the saloon, Timothy enjoyed drawing. He always carried a notebook his mother gave to him as a child in his knapsack. There were only a few unblemished pages left which he planned to save for only the most special of occasions, so he mostly added to, or drew over older works of art. That didn’t bother him though; he could always peer through the nest of lines to see whichever image he wanted to remember.

He also enjoyed visiting his father at the asylum. Some days Nathan was too busy wrestling the larger residents onto tables to notice, but on quieter days, the two were able to steal hours together. He wasn’t in love with the thought of his son being exposed to all the nut jobs, but he cherished the time with his Timothy too much to direct him not to come.

The “old asylum” wasn’t actually that old. It was built in 1808 but it looked like it had been there for a thousand years. Timothy loved to put his fingers through bullet holes and dream about whether marauding cowboys or a Shawnee war party were responsible. He loved roaming the halls and wondering if it had ever been used to care for soldiers. There was such an air of mystery, and that afforded him so much freedom for his imagination to fill in the details.

Timothy also loved the people. The doctors and nurses were always friendly. His favorite Mae, would often sneak him candy. He actually found the patients to be wonderful as well. Sure, some were a bit eccentric at times, but for the most part, the group could better be described as unwanted wives or fatherless children than “crazies”. Besides, for a nine-year-old, there wasn’t much difference between “eccentric” and “exciting”.

It wasn’t the wonderful days with his brothers and sister on the farm, but Timothy and his father finally found a life out there. Together, they had a place to live, they had one another, and the asylum gave each what they needed from it. For Nathan, a secure source of income and for Timothy, a place to escape into a more carefree world than the one he’d known. Happy might be too strong of a word, but the remaining Smythe’s were content.

One night while Timothy slept, dreaming of Mae and the next hard candy she would no doubt bring him, he heard a voice call out to him. It sounded like his mother’s, but something inside told him it wasn’t. His dream of Mae and hard candy disappeared, but he wasn’t startled, simply curious. Whose voice was this? Was it his mother’s? Whomever it belonged to, what on earth was it saying?

Timothy strained to make out the words. He squinted his eyes and pursed his lips, desperate to know what the voice calling out to him was saying. Then a smell filled the air, his nose picking up the scent as clearly as if he were fully awake. It was pungent and hard to take in, like burnt hair. As the thought entered his mind, he felt a stab of pain along his left side and shot straight up in his bed. His eyes darted around the room looking for an explanation or better yet, to confirm that he was really awake. Sweat poured down his face and Timothy realized he’d wet the bed, a habit he had broken long ago. He was disappointed but it was enough to assure him that he was awake.

The next day was Timothy’s turn again at the saloon and he was glad to be there. The work was God awful, but it gave him an opportunity to think more about his dream. Besides, he wasn’t really in the mood to visit the asylum today for some reason. Whether it had something to do with his dream or just the need for a day away, the thought of being there just sort of turned him off. For the life of him, he couldn’t make out what that voice had been saying. What’s worse, he couldn’t even figure out whether or not it was his own mother. Had he forgotten the sound of her voice so quickly? And what was the smell or that jolt of pain that shocked him from his dream?

Nathan arrived home from work later that evening to find his son sitting at the table, with supper laid out. He filled Timothy in on what he missed from the asylum that day. He even had a gift from Mae, the boy’s favorite candy. Timothy did the same, making sure to spare his father the details of the various substances he pulled off of Mr. MacGregor’s floor. He also made certain NOT to tell his father about his dream. No matter how much he wanted to, he knew it would only worry him or worse, stir up memories of Wilma and upset him. After cleaning up, Timothy got ready for bed and crawled in. It had been a long day and he was anxious to put it behind him and get a good night’s rest.

The dream came just as it had the night before. From a seemingly innocent escapade, the voice that sounded like his mother’s emerged. Again, he couldn’t quite make out her words at first but slowly, gradually they came into focus.

“Asylum… cleanse the asylum, he commands it.” The voice whispered.

“What do you mean, how?” asked Timothy, “Who commands it? Why!?”

“Cleanse the asylum. Prepare them for his arrival!”

Then, the smell of burnt hair enveloped him and a searing pain shot along his left side. It was just as the night before, only this time as the smell emerged Timothy caught a brief glimpse of a silhouette. But it wasn’t of a man or his mother; it was enormous and insect like, conjuring the image of millipede standing up right into the boy’s mind!

Timothy jolted upright, fighting against the grip of his blankets. He was soaked in sweat from head to toe, gasping for air, and frantically checked his body to make sure he was still in one piece. Everything seemed to be right, only this time his feet were dirty.

Nathan tapped on his son’s door; the boy was free today to join him at the asylum. To his surprise Timothy seemed reluctant to go. “Come on, I bet Mae has some candy for you. Don’t make your old dad plow the field all alone!” As it always did, the little jab from their days on the family farm got the boy moving. Timothy was still stewing over his dream though. Everything was so real, the voices, the smells, hell he woke up wet and dirty! Best to shake it off he thought. Perhaps he just didn’t do an adequate job washing up before bed. Perhaps some time with dad in wonderland was just what he needed after all.

As it turned out, the asylum wasn’t so bad at all. Timothy had fun chatting with all his usual resident friends and Mae did indeed have another treat for him! Whatever his dreams were, that’s all they were, just dreams, and Timothy was happy to recognize it. He didn’t want to avoid this amazing place or miss out on time with his father because of some stupid dream.

The boy helped his father finish his rounds saying goodbye to everyone along the way. The two of them had shut the door and locked up before turning their attention to the short mile walk home when something caught the corner of Timothy’s eye. Strangely his notebook lay just off the walk, pages turning carelessly in the breeze. He didn’t recall bringing it to the asylum; he typically didn’t as there were usually plenty of adventures to keep him satisfied. Either way, Timothy scooped up the pad and ran to catch up with his father, happy that it hadn’t gotten lost.

Timothy jumped into bed that night certain that the bad dreams were behind him. Today had gone so well with so many people that cared about him, that the burning hair and the standing millipede seemed like a memory from another lifetime. He flipped through his notebook, his mind’s eye pulling up drawings made long ago from behind others he’d made more recently. A tear rolled down his cheek as he remembered the boy he was when he drew some of them; his mother, his siblings, they were good memories.

He pulled one drawing after another into his mind, before lovingly filing them back away, but as he did, an image he didn’t remember drawing began to ask for his attention. Timothy tried to ignore it, he knew so many he wanted to remember first, but the more he tried to focus on others, the louder this drawing demanded to be let out. Timothy finally relented and considered the unruly image. It was familiar somehow, but he couldn’t quite remember drawing it; the sharp scent of burnt hair suddenly filled the air around him.

Timothy threw his most prized possession across the room and hid beneath his covers. He couldn’t believe it. There, buried in drawings he could have only made years ago and covered with dozens since, had been the silhouette of the standing millipede figure. And not just once, it was in dozens of pages, perhaps every last one if he had the courage to check them all. How could it be? He hadn’t even had the time to draw that terrible thing. In fact, he hadn’t drawn today at all, and he’d only first seen it last night! Now that he thought of it, he was sure he hadn’t taken the notebook with him to the asylum, so how did it get there? One thing was certain, the peaceful night’s rest Timothy had looked forward to, would not be coming tonight.

Though the townsfolk worked feverishly to find and free any survivors from the smoldering remains of the asylum, it had become clear that, that time had come and gone. Every man woman and child out there now knew that anything they found at this point would be burnt beyond hope if not entirely ash. Most of the walls and even some sections of the roof remained, but the façade only served to hide the true horror of what happened there the night before.

The interior of the asylum had been utterly gutted by the blaze. Worse, the skeletons or charred remains of every last resident lay in heaps or still chained to the walls outside of their rooms. No one could say how they had gotten there, but it was as if someone decorated the halls of the asylum with their living victims before setting the building ablaze. And something else no one could explain; the image of what could only be described as a millipede standing upright was drawn in soot above each of the bodies, along with the words “Cleanse the asylum, prepare for his arrival”.

The staff on hand that night was thin but fared no better. Everyone that had been working that evening had died in the fire, including Timothy’s favorite, Mae. Saddest of all, outside, his leg lodged under fallen debris, the notebook his mother gave him still clutched in his right hand, lay Timothy. When they first found him, he looked to be fine, but when they rolled him over, his entire left side was scorched to the bone.

It’s been more than 30 years and what is left of the building still stands. Be it for fear, a sense of respect or both, no one has dared to set foot in the there since. That said, some now claim to hear noises coming from the old asylum. And others even claim to have seen a shadow lurking on the outskirts of Bravado… a shadow of what witnesses describe as “a millipede that stands like a man.”