It was only supposed to snow about an inch. That was what the weatherman on T.V. had said. That was about a half-inch more snow than Mildred had seen the entire two years she had lived here in North Texas. Like most weather forecasts around here, that one had been wrong.
The light snow and sleet that had been happening when she had arrived at work over twenty hours ago had quickly turned into a full-scale blizzard. By the time her shift had ended at eight o'clock this morning, there were at least four feet of heavy wet snow on the ground. This part of the country was woefully unprepared for this vast amount of snow. Attempts by road crews to keep the roads open had pretty much ended just after midnight last night. Everyone area was stuck wherever they were.
Mildred was a nurse on the Mangrove unit of the North Texas State Hospital. (All the Units were named after trees.) She had been assigned to Mangrove Unit, Ward B since she had moved up here from South Texas.
The snow had left her with no one to relieve her at quitting time since no one could enter or leave the Hospital. The Hospital, that's what the locals called it. This place was nothing like a Hospital. It was, in reality, an Insane Asylum.
What Mildred worked with every day were not the traditional medical patients she had worked with at her Hospital back home. No, the folk's incarcerated here on the Mangrove unit were stark raving mad! They had everything from Child killers to at least one fellow that was convinced he was Christ. Security here was minimal since the Doctors used whatever psychotropic drugs, they were receiving kickbacks from the drug companies to control the unit population and keep them more or less under control. The money they received under the table from the drug companies helped make up the difference between the State Doctor's pay they received and what they would have been making in private practice. According to them and the drug companies, it was a win-win situation. So what if they killed an occasional patient, they were all crazy anyway, and no one was going to raise too many questions anyway. Hell, they reasoned it was all in the name of medical science.
Mildred was very diligent at her job of passing out those meds, for not only did the patients depend on them, but Mildred depended on them for her safety as well.
Mildred knew that she was no raving beauty at twenty-eight and only five feet three inches tall and weighing about two hundred twenty-five pounds, she had some time ago given up on ever finding a husband and had instead had thrown herself into her work. That's why when quitting time had come, she wasn't really all that upset when she realized that she was going to have to work over. There was no one waiting at home for her other than Alfred, the stray cat she had adopted a month ago. She knew that Alfred had a clean litter box and plenty of food and water to last him if she was caught here for a week.
After all, Mildred wasn't exactly alone on the Unit without any help to care for the twelve Patients on their Ward. Working today with her was a Psychiatric Aide named Ben and another younger Nurse named Gladys. Gladys was everything Mildred was not. She was twenty-two and fresh out of the nurse's school. She was tall and thin. Gladys had been a track star in High School, and she stayed in shape with daily runs. Gladys was also rude and condescending to Mildred. She resented that Mildred was her nominal supervisor on the Unit due to her being more experienced and mature. Joe also treated Mildred badly, not because he didn't like her but because he felt the need to play up to Gladys in the vain hope that she might one day have sex with him. If he had only known that Gladys would have been more likely to become a Nun than have a relationship with a mere Hospital Aide, he might have been more friendly with Mildred. As it was, he followed Gladys around like a puppy, and Mildred pretty much stayed away from both of them
If it weren't for the oppressive heat that now filled Ward B, Mildred thought it wouldn't be that bad at all. It seems that Joe, the maintenance man assigned to the Unit who Mildred thought was way weirder than most of her patients, had been afraid he would be cut off from his access to the cheap whiskey that he was addicted to. Joe had decided to jump ship and head first to a liquor store to stock up and then home to climb into a bottle and wait out the weather. The last thing Joe had done before he had left the Unit was to increase the heat. He knew that if no one came looking for him to turn up the heat, his absence might well go undetected. Joe was in such a hurry to get to a liquor store before they closed that he didn't realize until after he had shut off the workroom lights and was locking the door that he had in his haste neglected to do the one thing he knew he had to do, increase the building's heat. Joe had gone back into the pitch-black room and, finding the old thermostat cranked the heat up. Not being able to see the dial and get a reading, he had simply guessed that he had increased the heat two or three degrees beyond the sixty-nine degrees that the State in a never ending quest to save money, mandated the building to be kept at. Joe, in his State of panic at the thought of missing the Liquor Store, didn't realize he had inadvertently increased the temperature by not three degrees but by nearly forty! Shortly after he had left, the Unit's temperature had climbed slowly to a now quite warm one hundred and five degrees.
Mildred was an excellent Nurse. She was diligent in all that she did and didn't seem to be afraid of the strange folks she had to deal with on the Ward daily. If Mildred had any faults at all, it was that like most large women with no social life, she had very low self-esteem. It had been so long since anybody had told Mildred that she was pretty that she longed to hear that or some other kind words from just about anybody.
Mildred walked the hall of her Ward, starting at the Nurses Station located at the far end of the long hallway, all the way down to the communal area designed to be shared with the four other Wards in the building. Three Wards, now since Ward D had been closed and abandoned eighteen months ago. Heating and air conditioning had been shut off there to save the State money. Only dim safety lights burned there and Staff was forbidden ever to enter Ward D.
As she passed Room after room, all the occupants seemed to be in some form of drug-induced slumber. Even under the meds' influence, most of them had shed their blankets, and a few of the Men had shed their shirts as well. They were starting to feel the heat from the overhead vents even through their drug-fueled sleep.
As she wandered along the hallway, Mildred heard a noise coming from room fifteen. She knew that room fifteen was occupied solely by a young man who Mildred thought looked to be about her age by the name of Jules Labatt. Mildred knew from his medical chart that Jules was, in fact, almost ten years older than her. Jules, she thought, was one of those people that would never show his actual age. With wavy black hair and standing about six feet tall, Mildred thought that Jules was one of the most handsome men she had ever seen outside the pages of the PlayGirl magazine that arrived at her mailbox every month. Jules had already been on the Unit when Mildred arrived here. In fact, he had been on the Mangrove Unit for the past ten years.
Mildred had read Jules's chart with great interest because, unlike the others on the Unit, Jules seemed as normal as anyone she knew. Mildred didn't have access to Jules's psychiatric file since some politician had claimed that having medical staff have access to it would violate one of the patient's alleged rights. That being the case, Mildred had no idea why Jules was committed to the Hospital. She knew that he went to meetings with Doctors and took psychological evaluations like all the other Patients, but unlike some of those that showed an improvement, Jules was always returned to the Unit. Mildred had started to think that some Doctor was just holding him there to complete some study or something similar.
Mildred peeked into Jules's room, expecting him to be in bed fast asleep. Instead, she saw that he was sitting on the side of the bed, shirtless with sweat running down his face. Mildred went into the room, careful to block the door open as required when female Staff was in a room alone with a male patient. She crossed the room and stopped in front of Jules, smiled, and said, "Jules is everything alright?" Jules smiled at her, and something inside Mildred melted at his smile. She found that she had to concentrate when he replied, "Hi beautiful, I'm ok, just hot as the fifth ring of hell in here today."
Mildred fanned her face partly from the heat of the building and partly from looking at Jules without his shirt. All sorts of things were starting to swim around in her head. Snapping herself out of her daydream, she suddenly said, "I'm sure they will get the heat fixed real soon." Jules smiled and shook his head, and replied, "I doubt it. Things like that move really slow here from my experience."
Mildred started to move away, and Jules reached out and took her hand and said, "Mildred, my love, couldn't you think of someplace in this building we could go just for a few moments where we could cool off. I realize it's hot for you, but with the meds they force me to take, I get so much hotter than usual."
When Jules took her hand, Mildred felt as if an electrical current had been connected between them. She squeezed Jules's hand and said, "Jules, you know that I can't allow you out of your room." Jules looked up at her with sad eyes and replied, "I know Millie, (He had lately taken to calling her Millie, and she really liked it when he did.) There are always rules. It's just that I trust you so much. Of all the Staff I have seen here since I was put in this place, you are the only one I have ever felt a genuine connection with. We have a special bond. I dream that I will wake up, and things will be miraculously different. I won't be a prisoner here, and I will meet you on the street or in some restaurant somewhere, and I would be able to tell you all the things that I long to tell you and do the things that I long to do with you."
Mildred's brain was in a frenzy now. No man had ever spoken to her like this. She knew that she should let go of Jules's hand and leave, but a more significant part of her wanted nothing more than to be really alone with him, to let him tell her everything he wanted to and do the things she had only dreamed about.
Smiling to herself, Mildred reached a decision. Fingering the ring of keys in her pocket, she looked into Jules's eyes, his lovely dark eyes, and said, "I might know a place where it will be cooler, but we can't stay there long. I'll get fired if anyone finds out, then I could never see you again." Jules nodded and said, "Just a moment alone with you in a cool dark place is all I want. It's all I dream about. Mildred took Jules's hand and quietly led him down the hall toward Ward D.
About twenty minutes later, an emergency call alarm for room ten went off in the Nurses Station where Gladys was complaining to Ben about how unfair it was that the weather was going to keep her from meeting with her married lawyer boyfriend later that evening. Gladys looked at the light blinking on the board in front of her, and Bob started to get up. Gladys said, "Relax, Bob, Mildred is down there. She's always in the hall somewhere. I swear that woman never sits down. As much as she walks around here, you would think she would lose some weight!" Bob laughed and sat back down. After a few minutes, the buzzer was still going off, and the light continued blinking. Gladys cursed and said, "They're supposed to be drugged out. What the hell could this looney tune want, and where the hell is Mildred? That Cow had better not have slipped out and headed home on us. I will be so pissed if she has."
Bob got up and made his way down the hall to room ten, where the patient there only wanted to complain about the heat. Bob chewed him out for using the emergency call and told him to go back to sleep. On his way back to the Nurse's Station, Bob checked the rooms as he went along.
As he went along the hall for some reason, he started to get an uneasy feeling. When he got to room fifteen and found it empty, his uneasy feeling turned into one of alarm. He yelled down the hall to Gladys to get the hell down there. A few seconds later, Gladys joined him, and he told her that Jules from room fifteen wasn't in his room.
Gladys shook her head, flipped her hair, and said, "Relax, Bob, where the hell could he have gone? We are, after all, in a locked building." Bob nodded and replied, "Yeah, I know, but I'm worried all the same. Ed over in Security filled me in on this guy Jules. The reason he never gets out of here is he killed his entire family, wife, daughter, and infant son. Ed said when they broke into his house to check on the family, they found Jules in his kitchen cooking something in a frying pan. It turns out he was frying his son's kidneys. They said he just smiled and offered them Lunch.
Gladys shivered a bit then said, "Bob, you should know better than to believe any of the shit you hear around here!" Now, let's find Jules and while we are at it, let's see if we can find that cow Mildred too.
They started down the hall, checking rooms as they went. When they reached the end of the hall at the common area, they had found no signs of either one.
Bob looked around, and just as he was about to suggest they head back to the Nurses Station and call for help, he noticed that the padlock that secured the door to Ward D was hanging open, and the door was slightly ajar. Bob pointed this out to Gladys, and with her following close behind, they eased their way into the forbidden Ward.
As they made their way along the cold, dimly lit hallway checking rooms, they started to hear a strange sound. The further down the hall they went, the louder it got. To Bob, it sounded like a dog gnawing at something along with an almost wet slurping sound. Bob shook his head and put it down to the plumbing or something.
When they reached the last room at the end of the hall, Gladys pushed past Bob and entered the room, Saying, "Mildred, you slut, you better not be in here getting some from Jules!"
Bob stepped into the room behind Gladys and, for a second, couldn't make out what was happening in front of him. Mildred was lying naked on a bed, tied hands and feet tied to restraints at the bed's corners, and what looked like her panties stuffed in her mouth. Jules was bending over her stomach, making a wet noise like he was kissing her.
Suddenly Jules stood up and looked at them. They could see that Mildred's abdomen had been ripped open. Jules's face was a red mask of blood, and something long and wet hung from the corner of his mouth. He spit the object out, and it fell to the floor with a wet plop. Jules smiled a wide smile, his white teeth stark against the blood that covered his face. Jules looked down at Mildred and then at them and said, “Lunch anyone? The special today is Nurse Tartare.”
Gladys started to scream and Bob realizing what he was looking at, turned to run for help. In trying to escape the room, Bob ran straight into Gladys, inadvertently knocking her down. Gladys hit her head on the door frame on the way down and was unconscious when she hit the floor.
If Bob wouldn’t have been reacting to his panic and not have been halfway to the ward door, he might have seen Jules walk over to Gladys, grab her by the ankle, and start to drag her toward the second bed in the room. If Bob's ears hadn't been filled with the sound of his own screams for help, he might have heard Jules call after him, "Thanks for the Dessert!"