Drabble 9: One Pue Over the Cuckoo's Nest Nest Nest
The Nocturnal District
6: 14 PM
Our Patients May Stink, But Our Treatments Don't!
It was a small miracle that the place hadn't been shut down as soon as they started using that slogan. The Muskam Mental Asylum had been built primarily to serve the needs of particularly "fragrant" species, whose tendency towards antisocial behavior and self-harm was significantly higher than average. The fact that it was stationed in the Nocturnal District, already a common source of mental disorders, only strengthened that need. Its goal was to help patients through their issues and help them reach self-acceptance, which was part of the rationale behind its controversial decision not to de-scent any of their patients, no matter how likely they were to abuse that. As a result, the place constantly reeked of musk and the gratuitous amounts of chemical cleaners used to mask it.
Dr. Sigmund Stripeveil had been the head doctor at the asylum for what felt like a lifetime and he still wasn't used to the smell. The elderly skunk hunched over his desk, clasping his long claws in front of him. He had a thick white beard and bushy eyebrows, through which he squinted at his latest visitor. "You are here to see Mr. Montapue? I must say, it's been a while since any specialist has tried their luck with him."
"Luck has never been a problem for me," the visiting specialist said, sitting up straight in his chair. Like him, he was dressed in a pristine white lab coat, but unlike him, and most of the mammals in this building, he was a fox. Who, granted, had some pretty well-developed scent glands of their own. "I've yet to meet a mammal I couldn't convince to see things my way. Well, outside of my ex, of course," he said with a chuckle.
"Of course." Stripeveil chuckled too, already finding common ground with the visitor, a "Dr. Jonothan Foxgood" as he called himself. "How familiar are you with the patient? He has quite a sordid history, you know."
"I do know," Foxgood confirmed. "At least, I know the rumors. He was the cause of a rather tremendous house fire around 11 years ago, am I right?"
He sighed. "You are. The poor kit was found at the very site, crying and blubbering uncontrollably about what he'd done. He's always had a pyromaniac streak, it seems, setting alight anything he thought amusing. With an attitude like that, it was only a matter of time before something like this happened."
"But it was an accident?" Foxgood pressed.
"Yes. From his ramblings, I gather that he thought the place was abandoned. It was such a powerful structure, it must have been too enticing of a target to resist."
"How did he get past the guards?"
Stripeveil raised one of those bushy eyebrows. "Excuse me?"
"Well, it must have been pretty heavily-guarded, right?" Foxgood asked. "So how did some pyro kit even pull it off?"
The old skunk pinched his brow. "We do not know. The manner in which he committed the crime is not relevant to us, only the results."
Foxgood nodded. "Right, right. I was just asking out of...professional curiosity."
Stripeveil was tempted to point out that the fox's behavior thus far had been somewhat lacking in professionalism, but he'd seen his credentials. A little eccentricity was often expected from this field. "I understand. Now, do keep in mind that this is all a closely-guarded secret. Most mammals have no idea who really caused that fire, and for Mr. Montapue's own protection, we aim to keep it that way."
The implied threat was clear. "Gotcha. But what about family? Doesn't he have anywhere else to go?"
Stripeveil hesitated for a moment. "Not anymore. The boy's family is no longer with us. He's been raised from kithood by a surrogate who turned him over to us after the incident. Even if she wanted us to release him back into her custody, he is still a criminal, you understand. It is not so simple of a matter."
"Issues of family never are," Foxgood admitted. "So when can I meet him?"
"Many have tried to help him over the years," Stripeveil cautioned. "Some with even more experience than yourself, Dr. Foxgood. I hope you don't expect this to be easy."
"When is this job ever easy?" he asked. "It's not about the difficulty of the task, Dr. Stripeveil. Helping our patients is its own reward."
Stripeveil smiled, for the first time seeing the makings of a true phycologist in him. "Well said."
Intensive Care Ward
6: 20 PM
Stripeveil led Foxgood out of his office and down the winding halls, through the cafeteria, and the rec center, before finally reaching the intensive care ward, placing his paw gently on the metal door that marked the entrance. "I warn you, some of the things you will see, and smell, will be troubling."
"I can handle it," Foxgood said, all too easily.
Stripeveil worried that he was perhaps underestimating what he was up against, but a little humility couldn't hurt him either. With a short nod, he pushed open the door and let them inside.
In an almost stereotypical fashion, this was both the darkest section of the building and the least welcoming. A long hallway stretched in front of them, lined with cells on each side. Stripeveil wondered sometimes if they would have less patients here with a better lighting budget. A stray bulb flickered a few times as if to support his theory.
"Bit of a Shedder Island vibe you've got going on here," Foxgood pointed out.
"Yes, yes, I know. Follow closely."
And he did, which became necessary as they passed by the cells of several other patients who might otherwise prove...distracting.
There was the skinny Ferris Wheeler, a scraggly ferret whose own persistent stench had driven him insane in his efforts to rid himself of it. Both his arms and legs had to be securely fastened to keep him from attempting to "scrub himself clean", an action that had previously resulted in a much dirtier cell and a less whole ferret. Even multiple baths a day from the orderlies never satisfied him for long, and he could just see the ferret through his tiny window now, flopping around on the ground and muttering incessantly. "Too stinky, too stinky, need a bath, need a bath!"
On the other end of the spectrum was Mindy Smellerton, a polecat who had gone mad with power after spraying her bullies into submission, then continuing to abuse it on anyone who gave her even the most minor of slights. She was one of the chief arguments used by those in favor of de-scenting patients, and needed to be doused in what felt like several tons of Fleabreeze just to overpower her stench and keep her somewhat stable. Somewhat. "Not stinky enough, not stinky enough, no baths, no baths!"
Foxgood looked at both of them with a discomforting amount of interest.
Finally, they reached their destination, looking through the window at one Harvard Francis Montapue. The skunk's padded cell was covered in bite and claw marks, some in impressively hard to reach locations. Harvey himself was lying in a fetal position, twitching inside of his straightjacket and muttering, his own words unintelligible. "He seems fun," Foxgood observed.
Stripeveil knocked gently on the door. "Mr. Montapue? Can you hear me? You have a new visitor."
"Hmm?" The skunk shot up into a sitting position with surprisingly little effort. "Hello hello hello! It's good to meet meet meet you!"
"We don't understand the repeating thing either," Stripeveil said softly. "The best we can come up with is that the speech center of his brain was stunted from the trauma, making him get 'stuck' every few words until he can properly process his thoughts."
"Or it's just an endearing character trait," Foxgood replied, looking closer. "Is that a tame collar? I noticed them on the other patients as well."
"Indeed. Ghastly devices, I'm sure you know, but sometimes necessary for intensive treatments such as this, to keep him from getting too overstimulated."
"Oh yes, I like like like my collar!" Harvey exclaimed, hopping up and down excitedly. "It really helps me out out out when I need it! I'm so happy to be here! So so so hap-EEEE!" He froze as a shock rippled through his body and Harvey collapsed to the floor.
He was back up again and bouncing two seconds later. "Hi, my name is Harvey! How are you you yo-OOOO!" He was shocked again and fell back to the floor.
"It hasn't exactly worked as intended..." Stripeveil confessed. "But we're afraid to see what he's like without any restraint."
"Very fun at parties, I imagine." Again, Foxgood looked at the skunk with the kind of interest that Stripeveil wasn't entirely sure belonged in this environment. "I would like to request some one-on-one time with him."
He nodded. "Alright, you may go inside. I will be monitoring your session from here, of course."
"I think you misunderstood me." He chuckled softly. "One-on-one means one-on-one. I don't like being watched."
The skunk's brow furrowed. "If you think I'm leaving you in there alone-"
"What are you going to do about it?" Foxgood asked, suddenly radiating a malice that made Stripeveil's tail raise a little. "Have me kicked out? Try it, and you'll be following right behind me after I report all the health code violations I spotted on the way here."
"What are you talking about?"
The fox raised a paw, ticking off points on his clawed fingers. "Your cafeteria is infested with cockroaches, your rec room has exposed nails, your cleaning products create a choking hazard, and while tame collars are standard use for intensive care treatments, you still require a permit for each individual case."
"We have permits!" Stripeveil protested, so flabbergasted by this sudden turn of events that he didn't know what else to say.
"Even for him?" Foxgood asked, pointing a thumb at the confined skunk who was currently running into a wall repeatedly, oblivious to this entire exchange. "I doubt it. Not if you really are trying to keep his presence here a secret."
Stripeveil's tail stood straight up as he glared at the visitor. "You're not even a real doctor, are you?"
"No, but I do know a thing or two about psychology. For example, I know that you are very tempted to spray me right now, but you won't, because that would go against everything your practice allegedly stands for." He flicked him the forehead. "So why don't you just let me talk to the patient...okay?"
6: 28 PM
Count Reynard stepped inside the cell, taking the time to close the window looking in and smirk at the fuming doctor left behind, then sat himself down in front of the pyro. Harvey had stopped running into walls by now and had found a nice, tight corner to settle into, facing away from him. "Mr. Montapue...Harvey? Would you care to chat with me?"
He did not respond, and not even a fox was crazy enough to risk startling a skunk, so Reynard waited patiently until he turned around and spotted him again. "Oh! When did you get get get here?"
"I am here to help you, Harvey," Reynard claimed, curious if manipulating the insane was going to be easier or harder than he was used to. "Why don't you tell me about the incident 11 years ago?"
His collar flickered to yellow immediately and he tried to back away, despite the fact that he was already against the wall. "No no no! I can't talk talk talk about that that that! I might might might hurt you too too too!"
"How would just telling me something hurt me?" Reynard asked curiously.
Harvey clutched his head and started rocking back and forth on his heels. "Becaus can't can't can't control myself! I get get get too worked worked worked up up up!"
Between Harvey's refusal to open up and the increase in his verbal hitch, it was clear that this was the source of his issues, and also what had kept the doctors here from getting through to him for 11 years. He had completely sealed himself off from the outside world, and had likely been this way for most of his life now. None of these quacks had a chance of breaking through the mental barriers he'd erected around himself.
But Reynard had something that those doctors didn't, and lacked something that they did. In order, experience and morals. "I understand how you feel, Harvey. I've hurt a lot of mammals too."
Harvey stopped rocking, teary eyes staring up at him with cautious disbelief. "You you you have?"
"Yes," Reynard said honestly. "And like you, it all started with a fire. A fire that was responsible for shaping me into the mammal I am today." He looked down at the sterile floor. "I can still hear the screams in my head, and smell the smoke around me. It brings all of those memories rushing back, and I remember now exactly how I felt then."
"Ahahahahahahaha!" Reynard laughed maniacally, the heat of the blaze washing over him as the all-consuming flames of vengeance roared to life. "Aaaaaaahahahahahahaha!"
"The guilt is overwhelming. Sometimes, I wonder if I can ever be forgiven for the lives I ended that day." He shuddered. "Oh, and this wasn't your fire, by the way. Completely different fire."
Harvey looked confused. "Why would it be my fire?"
"Just a disclaimer. I know someone was thinking it."
Harvey shook off the confusion quickly, hopping a few paces closer to him. "So you you you really understand me me me?"
"Yes…" he said, adding in a remorseful sigh. "I'm not even a real doctor. I just...wanted the chance to talk with someone else like me. Who's been through the same kind of trauma." He sniffled. "I'm sorry I wasted your time."
The skunk frowned in sympathy, awkwardly leaning into his shoulder. "There there there. It's okay."
"I g-guess," he cried. "T-Thank y-you."
"And you even talk talk talk funny too!" He grinned. "We really are are are alike!"
Reynard nodded, allowing himself a small smile. "Do...do you think you can talk about what happened? Please. Maybe it can help me too."
Harvey bit his lip nervously. "Are are are you sure sure sure?"
He nodded faster, starting to tear up again.
"Alright…" The skunk took a few, wheezing breaths, and began to speak. "I don't don't don't remember exactly what happened anymore. It was a long long long time ago and everything is all all all fuzzy." If Reynard weren't insane already, this skunk's speech patterns would get him there fast. "I remember sneaking inside. It looked empty. I wasn't careful careful careful enough...thought no one would be be be around…"
He started to shake again. "But I was wrong wrong wrong! Stupid stupid stupid! Foolish foolish foolish! They were there! All of them were there! I killed them all all all!"
"All all all?"
"All all all!" Now Harvey was the one crying and Reynard was providing comfort. Just as planned. "Those poor poor poor little batties! They didn't deserve that that that!"
"Well, their dad kinda did," Reynard admitted. "He was a crime lord, you know." And my only regret is not getting to off the crappy flappy myself.
That did nothing to stop the skunk's sobbing. He was getting dangerously close to being zapped again.
"Okay, sorry, I didn't mean it like that!" Yes I did. "I'm only saying that, even though it was a tragic accident, you accomplished something good in doing it. You eliminated one of Zootopia's most powerful crime families down to the root and the Nocturnal District is a better place because of it." A lot worse actually, but I bet your sheltered self doesn't know that.
He finally stopped crying for a second. "R-Really?"
He smiled. "Really. You're a hero, Harvey."
"But but but the pups-!"
"Would've grown up just as monstrous as the big bloodsucker himself. There were no innocents in that castle." He paused for a minute and let the skunk calm himself down a bit more before he cast his line. "So how did you do it?"
"Huh?" Harvey asked, confused. Confused, not crying or angry, which was a good start.
"One does not simply burn down Castle Fangpyre," he said, smiling disarmingly. "It must have taken a lot of skill and expertise to pull it off, especially for a seven-year-old at the time. Yes, I can do math too. You're eighteen, right?"
Harvey nodded hesitantly. "Yeah. I have a lot lot lot of experience sneaking away from Big Sis. I'm good good good at getting into places I'm I'm I'm not supposed to be. Big Sis doesn't like it when I burn burn burn things, so I had to get creative. Made little bombs bombs bombs that go boom boom boom. Lots of fire."
"Fascinating," Reynard mused, more interested in this troubled teen and his pyrotechnic skills than ever. "I could use someone like you around. Your skills would be most helpful."
"No!" he said instantly. "No no no! I won't won't won't hurt anyone else else else! Even if they are bad bad bad!"
"Who said anything about hurting anyone?" he asked. "What if there was a way to ensure that you could burn anything you wanted without ever having to worry about endangering anyone?"
The skunk clearly did not believe such a thing was possible. "What what what do you mean?"
And it was probably wasn't, but Reynard could at least make it sound like it was. "Well...you've been able to put your fire into bombs, right? What if you were to do the same with your skunk spray? There's not a mammal on Earth who can stand being in the same room as that stuff, so just toss enough around and they'll come running right out, leaving the place nice and empty for you to light up." Assuming they didn't instead become incapaciated, or pass out, or somehow like the smell. This was one of the advantages of making deals with the insane and immature.
It was also one of the reasons he needed to get Dr. Stripeveil off his back for this. To say that he would not approve of this idea would be an understatement.
Harvey sure seemed to be considering it though. The idea of being able to freely indulge in his pyromania without fear of consequence was undoubtedly appealing to him. "I...I don't know know know. I've been here so so so long, I'm not sure sure sure if I could just leave."
"Haven't you always wanted to see what the surface world is like?" Reynard asked. "The lush canopies of the Rainforest District, the shimmering glaciers of Tundratown, the festive decorations of Sahara Square..." He still looked unsure. "And you can set fire to all of it."
"Ooooooooooh!" he purred excitedly. "Okay okay okay! You got yourself a deal deal deal!" Lacking any free paws, Harvey extended a scraggly-clawed foot to shake instead.
Reynard grimaced a little, but shook it anyway. "Welcome to the team, Sparky."
Intensive Care Ward
6: 46 PM
Reynard and his plucky new companion emerged from the cell, facing the mammal who had been waiting for them outside.
It was a grinning bat in a black bodysuit. "Heya, boss. That our new friend?"
"He sure is. Why don't you introduce yourself, Firecracker?"
The skunk bounced towards her, too excited to keep still. "Hi, I'm HarvAAAGH!" In record time, he managed to set off his collar.
"Hold on, I've got ya," Lucy said, swooping behind the skunk and using a tiny knife to cut through the bindings on his straightjacket. Between his twitching and his smell, he didn't exactly make it easy. "Hey, hold still! You want me to put more holes in your fur?" Finally, she managed to get the jacket off, now inching towards the tame collar on his neck.
"Wait wait wait!" he yelled just as Lucy was about to cut into it. "I want to keep keep keep that!"
Lucy was stunned. "You want to wear a tame collar?"
"I told you he'd be weird," Reynard said with a shrug. "Fits right in with the rest of our merry little band, eh?"
"Yep yep yep!" Harvey cheered, proving himself colorblind to red when displayed on a flag-like shape. "You two are my new best best best friends ever! Wooooo!"
The ecstatic skunk took off skipping down the hall towards freedom. A few steps there, he zapped himself, yelped, and fell on his face. Then he got back up, skipped a few steps, zapped himself, yelped, and fell on his face. Then he got back up, skipped a few steps, zapped himself, yelped, and fell on his face. Then he got back up, skipped a few steps, zapped himself, yelped, and fell on his face.
Reynard and Lucy watched with morbid fascination as this repeated several more times. "Are you sure about this one?" the bat had to ask.
"At least 50...40% sure."
"You never even told me what he actually did."
Then he got back up, skipped a few steps, zapped himself, yelped, and fell on his face.
Lucy looked up at him. "Say what?"
"We're standing in the middle of an insane asylum and I just freed an actual psycho. What's one word that could describe this situation?" He looked at her expectantly, mouth partially open as he waited for her to heed the call of destiny.
She sighed. "Crazy."
"Crazy like us all, Lucy Goosey. Crazy like us all."