A tall woman, dressed in a navy suit with whit polka dots on the jacket, briskly made her way across the street. There was a distinct purposefulness, a noticeable confidence, in the way she placed one foot in front of the other. Perhaps it was the no-nonsense air about her person. She wasted no movement; everything she did was precise, exact, and determined. In one slender hand, she held a clipboard and over her other shoulder, she carried a small, square, white purse that coordinated with her outfit. A rope of braided, snow-white hair was piled high atop her regal head in an elegant bun.
When she had reached the other side of the street, she stopped before a sign. Her eyes narrowed and she pressed her lips together in a fine, straight line. Lifting a paper form her clipboard, she scribbled something down. Then she continued on her way to a large, red brick building. She opened the door and stood for one dramatic moment, letting her eyes sweep over the room, with a critical air. The lobby was crisp, bright, and spacious, she quickly surmised, jotting something down on her clipboard with a barely imperceptible nod of satisfaction. Pulling out a paper, she quickly made her way across the room and slapped it down on the desk, in front of the surprised receptionist lady.
Speaking in a quick, crisp, matter-of-fact tone of voice, she announced, “My name is Jane Porter. I’m from the federal Department of Health and Human Services, division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. We have reason to believe that this institution for the mentally deranged is not up to par. For instance, the sign out front,” she pointed in that direction with her pen for punctuation, “is not politically correct. One, it is very primitive, painted on cardboard and all and, secondly, ‘Funny Farm’ is very demeaning to the occupants of this establishment.” She took a breath and continued. “I wish to speak to the proprietor of this institution and conduct a full-scale inspection of what is going on here. But if he refuses, then I will procure a search warrant and shut this place down.” Her lips stretched into a tight imitation of a smile.
The receptionist’s eyes widened and her mouth formed a perfect “o”. Standing slowly, she replied, “I’ll be…right…back.” And with that, she turned down the hall, at a relatively fast pace for someone so ample around the middle.
Jane scrawled something on one of her papers, glanced at her wristwatch, and scribbled some more. She looked up to see a tall, slim built man with unruly salt and pepper hair stumble into the room. He was wearing black slacks, a wrinkled, white dress shirt, and a plain black, lopsided tie. Over that he wore a white lab coat with a nametag that announced him as “Dr. Larry Perkins”. Once more, Jane made a note on her clipboard.
“Good day, Dr. Perkins, my name is Jane Porter. I’m sure the receptionist has informed you as to why I am here.” She shook his hand firmly.
His eyes grew wide, as he stared at her with undisguised awe. “How did you…?”
“Your identification card, sir. Now, shall we get down to business?”
For nearly three hours, Dr. Larry Perkins showed Jane Porter all around his “institution” as she called it. He answered all of her questions honestly and to the point. She took many notes on the clipboard she held. They ended the tour in the doctor’s office. “Now that you have seen the entire facility, I presume you are now convinced of the credibility of our establishment, Ms. Porter?” But he avoided her eyes.
“Not exactly, Dr. Perkins.” He looked up sharply. “What I have seen so far has, indeed, been acceptable, but I wish to know why you stop the tour right here. I have been told, by good authority, I assure you, that there is more than meets the eye to this little institute. Why don’t you show me what is in the building’s basement, sir?”
Dr. Perkins opened his mouth to protest, but shut it firmly, thinking better of it. The woman was determined to know, and he had an inkling that she would be astonished by the contents of the basement. And he relished shocking this systematic, prim-and-proper, confident woman. He sighed for a dramatic effect. “You bring this upon yourself…”
“No, I believe that you will be the one held responsible for what you have hiding down there!” she snapped.
Jane watched closely as Dr. Perkins reached under his desk and pushed a small button. Suddenly, the bookshelf behind his desk opened to reveal a good-sized room. At first glance, it appeared to be a security room. Her thin eyebrows arched, and, looking at the doctor with a haughty grin, she glided into the secret room to inspect and take notes, her navy pumps making sharp clicking noises on the tiled floor. Computers sat atop three large desks, three, large, muscular men sat behind the desks, and a super-sized, plasma TV screen, split into a dozen even squares that showed rooms from various parts of the building, hung on the north wall. In front of the plasma screen was a small cage and under it appeared to be some sort of opening in the floor. “What is this?” Jane demanded, pointing her finger.
“Please, let me explain,” Dr. Perkins held up his hands in defense. He led her behind the first desk. “But do let me start from the beginning.” Nodding his head to the man sitting behind the computer, he said, “Show her, Tom.” Tom glanced at Jane warily, but shrugged and tapped a few keys, pulling up one of the small squares on the TV screen, shrinking the others.
Jane Porter could not believe her own eyes.
The camera was focused on a large red room. It appeared to be the entire basement of the building. The walls, floor, and ceiling were bright red-and padded. Within this large, red, padded room were about 200 people, in straightjackets. Bright colorful straightjackets. There was one with large wings, like a sparrow, one that said, “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most,” and all sorts with gaudy prints, sequins, rhinestones, and embroidery. She noted several people dancing and singing to the music in their headphones. A row of computers was along one wall and there was a person occupying each computer, typing. They were still in straightjackets, though, so they had to grip a pencil in between their teeth and bob up and down, pecking keys like chickens for food. A few people paced behind those at the computers with very serious expressions, chanting, “Hinting time, hinting time, when is hinting time?”
Her eyes were drawn to a small group in a corner of the room, bouncing on a large trampoline. Among them was a rather strange looking man with long floppy ears and a dog collar around his neck. His long tongue was hanging out of his mouth and he was panting. The girl with the sparrow wings hovered around the room like a busy bee. A man stood on a platform, trying to shout above the din, “And now for the Davey awards for this week’s topic!” Another person sat on the floor in the middle of the room, rocking and singing about “home sweet home down on the funny farm”, large nurses in white coats, and peanuts. In fact, what was most disturbing about this motley group of psychos was how they were repeatedly shooting peanuts out of their mouths, at one another. And when a peanut found its mark, the shooter would collapse on the soft padded floor in a fit of giggles.
Jane tore her gaze away from the terribly fascinating sight. Dr. Perkins’ smug smile grated on her already shocked nerves. With great effort, she composed herself. Jotting something down on a paper, with a shaking hand, she asked the doctor, “What…is this…going on?”
Dr. Perkins turned somberly to assess the screen while he spoke. “They call themselves FaithWriters. It started out as a simple way to have fun with their mutual hobby of writing, but it soon spiraled out of control.” He shook his head sadly. “We had to do this for their own protection.” He turned to make eye contact with Jane and continued in a low ominous voice. “And for the safety of the world.”
“Yes,” Jane said uneasily. “But still…what is that cage and the hole in the floor?”
“That’s how we feed them. We drop them peanuts and milk, three times a day. Oh, and dog biscuits for Pup.”
Jane’s head was swimming. She needed to go home and lie down, with a good book and a hot cup of coffee. She tossed her clipboard in the trash. “The government doesn’t need to know about this.” She turned to leave, but stopped and looked at Dr. Perkins one last time. “And…you may keep the sign as is.”