Charlie Hill is the biggest puzzle at Lakeland Mental Hospital. He claims to have been abducted by aliens, but creative therapist Abby Westin thinks the story is Hill’s way of coping with something horrible that happened to him in his past.
When Abby tries to solve the puzzle, using Hill’s diary, she finds herself caught up in a conspiracy that includes murder. She runs to the one person she can trust, Hill’s best friend Mitch Jackson, but she soon discovers that Jacks knows more than he’s admitting about the incident that turned Charlie Hill into a broken man.
Buy Saving Hill on Amazon for the Amazon Kindle.
If you’re an Amazon Unlimited member, you can read the book for FREE. If not, you can download a sample to your Kindle or Kindle app at Amazon, or keep on reading for an excerpt.
NEW: Saving Hill is now available in epub, mobi, pdf, lrf, pdb, txt, and html through Smashwords.
*Cover art by Juanita Campbell (leave a comment for contact info)
* * * * *
Shame thou to show thy dangerous brow by night when evils are most free. Then, by day, when wilt thou find a cavern dark enough to mask they monstrous visage?
It may be dark. Pitch dark. But I can still see you for what you really are.
Abby Westin snapped the diary shut when she heard footsteps in the hall. She sat perfectly still in her brown leather chair, knowing that if she moved at all the chair would crunch, giving her away. The footsteps faded, and that was when she realized that she was holding her breath.
“Hill’s paranoia is contagious.” She spoke the words softly, comforted by the sound of her own slightly deep voice in the semi-darkness.
Charlie Hill was the biggest puzzle in the Lakeland Mental Hospital. His official diagnosis was Schizoaffective Disorder, delusional with mood swings, but after working with him these past few months Abby was beginning to have her doubts.
She opened the book once more. Having lost her place, she had no choice but to thumb through the pages and pages of childish scrawl. A third of the way into the book, the handwriting changed. The loopy, misaligned letters deteriorated into sharp-edged fragments. Every stroke was dark and thick, and in a few spots he had blotted out his own words with a muddied eraser. It was at that point that the gibberish started. Entire pages covered with strings of alphabet letters that spelled nothing, meant nothing.
Except, of course, to him. Abby was sure that every word in the book meant a great deal to Hill. If only she could figure out what. Footsteps again, right outside her door this time. She closed the book, then stood the volume on end on her desk. The gold foil edges of the diary pages shimmered even in the dim light of the desk lamp. Her eye caught on a flaw. A ripple in the gold foil almost in the center of the book.
The office door swung open and she jumped in her seat.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.” The bulky shape of security guard Gavin Thompson filled the door frame. “Just making my rounds. I was surprised to see your light still on. Must be full of juicy secrets to keep you here this late.”
He came farther into the office. “That book you’re reading,” he said, motioning toward the diary. “My sister had a diary just like that when we were kids. She was always scribbling inside. She’d make a big show out of locking it when she was done. Like that cheesy lock would keep me out if I really wanted to read it. It’s Charlie Hill’s diary, isn’t it?”
It was all Abby could do to hide her surprise. The diary was private, between her and him. Therapist and patient. No one else was supposed to know.
“I’ve seen him writing in it,” Thompson continued. “Just like my sister, sitting in the corner scribbling away. Can’t imagine what he’s got to say, probably just a bunch of his nonsense, right?”
“Writing is very good therapy,” she said, hoping that was vague enough to neither confirm nor deny his assumptions. “You should try it. It’s a great way to work out your stress.”
“There are better ways than that.” Thompson rolled his arms like a boxer working a punching bag. “A couple of hours in the gym are all I need to keep my head clear.”
“Exercise is also very good therapy. And something I don’t get near enough of. Look, I’m about to close up shop here . . .”
“If you’re almost done, I’ll hang around and walk you out. Shouldn’t be alone in our parking lot, not real safe for a woman like you.”
Abby wasn’t sure what he meant by that and she didn’t really care. The sooner he was gone, the better. “I’m fine. Really. I just need to finish up one more thing.”
“Okay, but I’m going to hold you to that. You look like you could use a good night’s sleep.”
That much was true. Since coming to work at Lakeland she’d averaged less than five hours a night, what with the hospital’s assigned work load and the rigors of moving into a new apartment in a new town. “It’s a deal, but I won’t be here when you get back. I promise.”
“Okay, then, you have a good night.” Thompson touched his fingers to the brim of his hat then left, leaving the door open.
She waited a moment, debated over getting up to close the door, but decided it wasn’t important. Just one more look was all she needed before she went on her way.
Abby opened the diary again, then quickly thumbed through the pages until she found the cause of the imperfection. Two pages near the center of the book had been folded, no, mangled; smashed and slightly torn.
On the first page was a series of numbers.
60, 60, 24, 7, 4, 12.
There was something familiar about the sequence, the pattern. It was like the tests they gave you in school. 2, 4, _, 8. Find the missing number. Only this one wasn’t so simple.
She laid the diary on her desk, then carefully pulled at the crushed edges, separating the two pages. On the inner page he had drawn a sketch. A stick figure inside a box, arms up, legs spread wide. At the end of each limb was a crosswise line and another across the area that represented the neck. The head was the usual round ball but the eyes, mouth and ears had been crossed out with heavy-handed x’s.
“Oh, Hill.” She knew what the drawing represented. The delusions had haunted him, day and night, since he was first admitted to Lakeland almost three years ago. But were they only delusions? There was something about Hill’s writings that made her wonder if there was more to his wild claims.
Abby closed the book, scooped her briefcase off the floor, then dumped the diary inside. Hill’s file went in next, along with her yellow notepad and a twenty-five page psych report that she had meant to read earlier in the day. Thick and bulging with too much stuff, the briefcase went onto her shoulder. Then she grabbed her keys, slipped into her coat, snapped off her light and left the office.
The security guard was nowhere to be seen. Good. Instead of making her feel more secure, Thompson gave her the creeps. Instead of turning right toward the main bank of elevators, Abby chose to left to the service elevator at the far end of the corridor. Once inside, she punched the floor button for the basement instead of the lobby. The basement level exited toward the rear, which was closer to the parking lot.
The elevator hit bottom without any extra stops, then the door slid open to a long concrete hall lined with fat water pipes and metal ductwork. Dim, caged bulbs filled the corridor with a dusty, yellow light. The sound of the furnace belching out a soft roar in the cold space.
Funny. She had left this way a dozen times, but never had it seemed so menacing, so dangerous. For a second, she contemplated going back up in the elevator so she could leave the through the front doors, but that seemed rather silly and a waste of time. Her choice was made for her when the elevator chunked to life on its way back up into the building.
Fine. Onward and outward.
Abby turned to the left, then headed down the long corridor, her heels echoing like tap shoes with every step. She hoisted her briefcase strap higher onto her shoulder, struggling with the weight of the bulging case. For at least the fourth time in two weeks, she cursed herself for putting off buying a decent briefcase. But like her briefcase, her days were just too overloaded to think about shopping for anything that wasn’t necessary to sustain life.
Abby stopped short, sure that she had heard something in the corridor behind her. She waited, listened.
Nothing. Just the usual tapping and hissing from the pipes.
She started again, two more strides and there it was. Footsteps, stopping and starting to match her pattern.
Late at night in the basement of a mental hospital — weren’t there a dozen gory horror movies that started this way? Pushing that thought from her mind, Abby picked up speed, and so did the footfalls behind her. She rounded another corner and saw the faint glow of the parking lot lights at the end of the path. Not that she’d be home free at that point. Being a junior member of the staff, she had to park with the common folk at the far end of the lot. She thought there was a security patrol, but just because a guy was in a uniform, it didn’t make him automatically trustworthy. Like Thompson. What was it about that guy?
The footfalls behind her doubled in speed.
She ran out of the building and into dumpster alley, a wide area filled with heavy, metal trash bins. In the summer, the stench of rotting garbage was enough to push you back, but now that it was winter a burst of cool, wet air that hit her in the face when she spilled out of the building. Usually the bins were lined up in neat rows, a clear path between them from the exit to the parking lot, but not tonight. Tonight, they were haphazardly parked, forming a maze of great, green metal walls.
Abby turned right, then left. The path was blocked. She laid her body against the dumpster to her right and pushed on it with the full weight of her body. The bin rolled more easily than expected, leaving her off balance and on her way to the ground. Instinct made her throw her arms out for protection. Her briefcase went flying, files and papers fell out, scattering across the cement. She skidded forward on her hands and knees, a bone-jarring pain shot up to her shoulder as the burn of skinned flesh ran through her legs. Then someone was grabbing her, pulling on her arms, pulling her up to her feet.
Abby tried to scream but the fall had left her breathless.
“Give it back! Mary Shelley, you have to give it back.” Charlie Hill held her by the upper arms, his head bowed so he could look her in the eye. He was all eyes, the biggest, roundest, brown eyes she’d ever seen on a person. His thick, curly hair was sticking out on one side and matted flat on the other. He was wearing hospital issue pajamas but the top was buttoned wrong and the pants were torn at one knee. “They know. They’re going to punish me for telling. They’re going to punish you.”
Abby forced herself to take a breath, to calm herself, so she could calm him. “No one’s going to hurt you, Hill.”
“They will.” His long, thin fingers bit into the flesh of her arms. “Give me the book back before it’s too late!”