The Last Case of Dr. Jonah Wexley Abbott (Pt. 3)
The folders were next. The tale they told was one of greed, apathy and horror.
After being processed into the facility under the placeholder name of Richard Roe, Rayburn’s initial few months were uneventful. His demeanor was peaceful and his behavior, while typical for a raving lunatic, was nothing too difficult to handle. He followed instructions, was never violent and kept mostly to himself. His only vice seemed to be answering inquiries from staff and other patients in unsettling, riddlesome phrases. This all changed, however, following his first, and only, experience with a unique form of hydrotherapy.
The administrator of the procedure, a Dr. Ernst Melville, believed that exposing patients to near freezing temperatures would shock their systems into a curative state, purging them of the toxic insanity infecting them. Melville had taken a particular interest in Rayburn, and became convinced that curing him was the key to validating his experimental treatment.
Wearing special diving suits lined with seal fat (of the doctor’s own design), Melville and two nurses transported Rayburn to a remote bank of the Ipswich River at the height of winter, and carried the near nude man into the icy runnel, dunking him under. His reaction to this was both swift and savage. Bellowing incoherently, Rayburn burst from beneath the water, clawing and biting at the nurses that held him and when they let go in surprise, he turned his attention to the good doctor. Melville lost an eye and most of his right hand before they could subdue the madman. A clean bite and prompt spit into the frozen froth were all that saved the physician’s fingers.
Following this event Rayburn was confined to a solitary room and labeled a “malcontent”. He now ravened habitually, throwing himself against the walls of his cell day and night, repeating words and phrases that belonged to no known language. He attempted to attack anyone that interacted with him and during one particularly violent exchange fell awkwardly on his head and wrenched his neck grotesquely to one side. Thus was discovered his apparent immortality.
What followed was year upon year of ruthless experimentation done under abiding secrecy. At that time, as a ward of the state, Rayburn was at the mercy of his attendant professional and Melville maintained a ghoulish grip upon him. Over the next two decades he was subjected to the terrible depths of the doctor’s ever more depraved imaginings. Flayings, breakings, burnings, starvation, dehydration; in the name of science Melville twisted and tortured the former captain ceaselessly and recorded it all in chillingly clinical language. Rayburn survived everything.
Eventually this period of inhumanity ended, abruptly. An internal report alluded to an unfortunate incident during one of Rayburn’s “intensive therapy sessions” with Dr. Melville. While no details were given as to the nature of this event, Rayburn was recategorized as “unstable” and moved to a remote wing of the hospital. At the recommendation of staff he was placed under constant restraint and only sparsely monitored. His records were sealed and classified as “Administration Only”.
Hunter had affixed to the report a photocopy of an obituary from a newspaper of the time whose headline read “Local Physician Laid to Rest”. A picture of Dr. Melville accompanied the short, boilerplate article. The funeral was family only and closed casket.
Then, there was nearly nothing. Since it was known that Rayburn needed neither food or drink, none was provided. Since he took no sustenance he produced no waste so there was no need for him or his cell to be cleaned. From then on his presence in the facility was only mentioned in the yearly audit where, for the purposes of state funding, he was counted, though none of the appropriated funds ever made their way into his care. He was left alone for the better part of a century in a padded tomb, standing as a living monument to man’s capacity for cruel indifference.
Disgusted, Jonah thrust the last folder into the box with a grunt and reached for the journal. An ornate compass had been burned into the cracked cover and the book was wrapped with a brittle, leather thong that held it loosely together. An ornamental anchor hung from the end of the binding, pendulous and vaguely foreboding. Delicately unwrapping the thing, Jonah was assailed by the acrid, musty scent of red rot. The rifled pages spewed the smell directly into his face and he sneezed violently, much to Holmes’ chagrin. The butler bestowed him with a grimace and Jonah shrugged in response before turning his attention back to the dusty tome.
Inside the front cover, in faded ink, was the inscription, “From Josephine” accompanied by a simple, delicate drawing of a flower. Jonah lingered on the words for a moment, running his thumb across them slowly before moving on.
The journal was nearly illegible. Age and poor penmanship had conspired to ensure that the volume held onto its secrets. Luckily for Jonah he’d spent some years under the tutelage of Professor Karl Unkirch whose poor pencraft was legendary, so ancient, seafaring chicken scratch would prove no challenge at all.
The book was mostly made up of log entries from Rayburn’s last journey, a foray into the frozen waters of the Northwest Passage, near Baffin Island. It was here that his ship was swallowed by the greedy ice that ruled the region. He and his men, hearty sea-dogs to the last, tried valiantly for over a week to free the craft, but freezing gales abutted the pack ice to create an unscalable barrier for the crew. When food supplies ran low and morale followed close behind, Rayburn became desperate.
Serendipitously, at this critical time, the group was visited by a small delegation from an inuit tribe who hailed from a nearby island. They seemed eager to please and traded fairly with the men so when they offered to help with their plight, Rayburn readily accepted. They claimed the ability to grant him with the knowledge necessary to free his ship, but at great cost. When he assured them he would pay any price in exchange for the lives of his crew, the tribesmen agreed to take him, and him alone, to their village, insisting that the secrets they would reveal were for his eyes only. Leaving his first mate in charge, Rayburn took with him all the gold he’d received in payment for the voyage and set out with the inuit across the frozen sea.