A psychologist unearths America’s darkest secret through the terrors of an asylum in 1933 Virginia, where the elite aim to eliminate millions of “unfit” citizens.
The truths that have been erased from history come to life in this thriller about the nation’s ugly and forgotten chapter.
Still haunted by the death of this wife and son during childbirth, psychologist and WWI vet Samuel Taylor accepts a position at Western Valley Hospital. Superintendent Joseph Dejarnette leads the movement to purify humanity by exterminating anyone the Society, led by the kings of industry, deemed to be “defective” or “unfit”. Sam discovers that his testing often condemns patients simply for being less than the new “American” ideal, yet he learns he cannot quit his job. Dejarnette desires Sam to be his right hand at the asylum but warns him that Sam’s deaf brother and new immigrant girlfriend have already been labeled as unfit by the new masterminds of eugenics.
Sam begins to question his sanity as the mysteries of the area emerge from the shadows, compelling him to dig deeper into the horrors of the movement, realizing how complicit he is in the deaths around him. Experiments beyond his worst nightmares occur daily, as citizens from neighboring towns begin disappearing at a frightening rate. Sam devises a bold plan to escape and unleash the truth, but learns that Dejarnette’s tendrils reach into every major American city. The proof he ultimately uncovers may doom everyone he holds close while influencing the world’s most heinous act in history.
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“A riveting imagined world so real you wonder if it was imagined. And, guess what, it wasn’t. It’s based on a true story — one that will scare the crap out of you.” – Steve Berry, New York Times and Internationally Bestselling Author
“Fascinating, frightening, thrilling, and thought-provoking. Filled with rich characters and stark history, this novel will reel you in – and keep you hooked. A truly unique story – a very special book.” – Heather Graham, New York Times Best-selling Author
“God doesn’t have room for you at his table.”
The doctor gazed down at his patient as if a mange covered dog quivered beneath him. “Creatures without purpose are meant to be put down.”
The patient prayed his screams would be heeded. Fear coursed through him as more life flowed from him. “Please,” he managed to speak aloud. Yet he knew mercy perished long before he arrived in this hell.
“Another defective bloodline erased. Your family would thank me, if they knew.” The doctor, appearing as cold as always, looked through the man, speaking more at the man than to him.
I won’t die without knowing why. A man could take his last breath with reluctant ease if he understood the hand that fate dealt him.
Yet he doubted truth would arrive before death.
The patient struggled as the doctor removed the leukotome, slickened with fluids of various hues. He only knew the tool’s name as the doctor had been explaining the procedure repeatedly to the others in the room. A nurse, the vicious one, and the one in the fancy suit understood it all. Words uttered meant not for him, a creature lesser than something they stepped on, said the doctor. The long silver instrument resembled a hammer claw at one end, a thin point that would enter his head, again.
Can a man steal another man’s heaven? His thoughts? The man’s thoughts rambled down senseless arms and legs, believing his body to be severed from his mind. He felt almost nothing below his neck. His cheek tickled as a tear rolled over it, convinced he felt his body readying to die.
He strained with both arms to flinch, twitch, anything, yet both disobeyed him, remaining motionless save for the throbbing of a vein in his wrists. He couldn’t die. Not yet. After all he accomplished to get here, to set up a life for his people, good people, he’d fight dying with all his strength. He believed in a second life but feared an eternal darkness. When his lungs froze in fear, his entire chest ached to suck in one more breath. Hopefully, his eternity was one without pain.
Can he simply free me? The battle has been over for days now.
Can he just send me there? I want the Alps. I want my homeland. Images he hadn’t seen firsthand since he was a young boy fleshed out vividly in his mind’s eye. His true vision had been gone for what felt like days now, blind to his hell, yet he realized he had only been in the chair for minutes. At least he could bask in his memories with lucidity.
I didn’t do anything wrong. I did what I was told. Until I knew what they did here.
I can’t die. Not yet. My family. They’ll never know.
Yet he felt the doctor still smiling at him like a rabid dog.
Home. A place he’d never see again, even if his people found him.
And now he knew he was about to die for his people.
The worst is as good as…the best.
Was that what the doctor sang to him? Or at him? That goddamn poem, or song he wrote.
Nine months ago, he and his family arrived her with a dream. A job. A vision to improve their world.
The people grew there and developed a great community here. He had a family here. A brotherhood. Traditions he wouldn’t pass on to his kin. He trembled realizing he was going to die without his wife to hold him, his daughter to kiss him goodbye.
Please. He couldn’t face his life snuffed out like a candle. He strained with the strength he retained, refusing to admit the truth.
Monkey jaw….bred true to… someone’s law.
Why was the doctor singing to himself? That goddamn song.
The man’s own pain sang below his waist. It played like band out of tune between his ears.
When they first brought him down here, they cut him. Bled him until he couldn’t scream anymore. By the time the doctor spoke to him, he knew a dog would be put down with more dignity. The doctor made clear that at least some dogs bred well.
He arrived in town with a mission. The doctor had taken that away, or was it always a mirage that he refused to see? Now the man wished he could scream at his angel of death but knew a better world was coming. He could hear it. It rumbled along, just like the storms he remembered in the Alps back in his homeland.
Breed back…monkey’s nest. Country’s burdens…
The songs of his country flowed like the river in his father’s farm. He sang them to himself to silence the doctor’s poem echoing inside his head. He forced himself to see his daughter, his wife, his mother. No longer could he protect them from the monsters here in this building. He prayed that the community of this fine town would step up and band together. They did when he was taken. Two of them had been shot trying to save him. Their ghosts visited him nightly, staring with pleading eyes, reminding him to stay strong. Yet he knew he had cracked, broken to pieces under the devil’s hands months ago.
The doctor’s voice pierced his hell once again, letting the man know the pain would explode once more. The man smiled at him behind his near blindness, tattooed there until he would draw his last breath. He knew the other reveled in the knowledge his patient couldn’t see what was killing him, couldn’t raise a fist to protect himself. In his mind, he howled like the wolves in his home hills, but nothing escaped his lips. The odd tool he saw upon entering the room pushed deeper and teased his nerves like a sadistic magician, almost dancing in the doctor’s fingers.
Our men….women…blest. Best… breed only….the best.
And the poem grew louder in the room although its meaning still eluded the man who heard it.
Before the knife, they had bled him more, hoping to cure him, they said. Purify him, they swore, despite noting he had come from a land they had approved of, but “defectives” occurred even in the promised lands. He fought them, even broke one doctor’s nose when they attempted to hook him up to the wires that shook three teeth loose when the current flew. Different men beat him in varying manners until they finally delivered chains to his room. The food and water then dwindled and he was left with only damp bowls and the memories of spaetzel and beer, sauerbraten and grutze to water his tongue. He cried at night hoping to see his daughter again, to protect her from these demons, to know why the people here who used to respect him now despised him.
The orderly who he sliced with the shaved chunk of wood on his first night in the wing brought him to a new level of Hades every week. He never met the others, only watched them shuffle along and gaze towards the back grounds of the campus. Everybody had his, or her, turn in the gauntlet.
The orderly with the new scar on his cheek smiled wider with each visit. The things he and the doctors did to him. God would never approve. He sometimes thought even the devil would cringe at the atrocities he witnessed.
The pain of the doctor’s tool yanked him back to his time of dying. Through the haze, he saw the man push and twist the metal.
A sharp pain shot between his eyes and something in him changed. As if he had slugged back a quart of shine or slammed in the nose with a rock, his thoughts swam, and then drowned. He watched them sink in his mind, losing clarity, until he forgot for a moment where he was. The anger had now gone, as was his thoughts of his people coming to retrieve him. Every image he knew tilted out of focus, just enough so names and faces swirled in agony.
He sobbed as he realized he now couldn’t recall his home, his daughter’s face. only snowcaps remained in his head. The sensation of the doctor pushing that long thing into his skull, twisting and turning, grew and dimmed until he could sense the Alps once more.
The blade had finally pierced his soul.
The doctor sang the final line of the poem heard so often in this building.
Best, breed only the best.
The man swore he heard the words, “time to go home” when he felt his body rise and feet hit the floor. Left. Right. Left. Right. Without sight, direction was folly to him. He couldn’t tell if his legs moved on their own or if the big men who wrestled him from his cell simply dragged or pushed him.
“Home,” he uttered, feeling his voice barely moving air. “You won’t let me go back.”
A voice rolled into his ears from somewhere else. “I promised if you cooperated, I’d send you back to your family. You failed me once, but here you helped.”
The fear still roared within him but now he sensed it as if a horde of hands held him at the bottom of a black lake. Not dying, he mouthed to no one. No.
But he knew he was and each step brought him closer to a new home.
“Go,” said the voice. “Be with your kind.” The man swore he heard angels laughing. No, even his people knew angels would burn before the doors to this place.
Arms helped him stand, even though he could not feel his feet. He sensed the scarred orderly would be one to walk him from this hell to the other. As he felt himself descend through the building, three flights of stairs to be exact, the man sensed the light illuminating and fading with each door opening into another room. He found he wasn’t completely blind, but just enough not to see where to run if he could. Only shapes and shadows remained. The medicinal smell of the room where they assigned his death left his nostrils Finally, a door opened wide and the light shone through his dying eyes.
Murmurs tickled his ears as he shuffled along the path through the weeping willows, never to inhale their sweet fragrance again. The other patients, he mused. Ones who hadn’t visited hell yet. Home, he thought, his lips curling to a half-smile. Maybe.
“Does my wife know you’re bringing me?” His mind blanked out the many months she’d have missed him at the table, in her bed. “I can’t walk home.
Home, where he would likely hold his family once more. Home, where they would reunite after the men found the rest of his clan and “cured” them all.
Nobody answered him.
One man had lit his cigarette as they exited the building. The amber glow triggered a memory in the patient’s mind. The bonfires his people had each holiday season as they celebrated the old ways warmed their souls as the winter began to grip them tight in its fists for a few months. The weather in the valley often spun its moods quicker than the most wicked patients here in the white ward, he thought. He longed to see the look on his daughter’s face as the first snow of the season fell at night.
A soft wind brushed his face, meshing with the numbing pain. Would they bring him to the train? The chill told him night had fallen. Home wouldn’t come tonight.
The lights brightened until he heard a metal door crank open. When he took his next breath, the willows which peppered the campus wilted behind his eyes.
Home, he wept within his mind, was wishing for nothing more.
As the doors shut on him, the men behind him vibrating with laughter, he believed he heard the final lines of the poem the doctor had sung so often to him. He knew he truly couldn’t hear the words, the melody, but the memories of this remained when all else became smoke in his mind.
Wise man…..their burden. Defectives…only defectives.
The sounds, the words fading into drowning whispers.
He knew himself to be on the doorstep to hell as silence engulfed him. Still, he struggled to see his resting place, where his guide would usher him downward.
Instead, something much darker greeted him. With his last breath, mercy allowed him to scream one final time.
Nobody lived here.