The journey home always comes with a certain amount of relief. Jack always assumed that was because when someone left on a long trip, there was no particular guarantee that you would come back. The small town he and Stan lived in held no attachment for him, especially with his family house so close by, and yet his heart soared when he realized that they had only one more job left before they got home to rest. The high resulting from heading home couldn’t even be blamed on the absolutely awful brownies he had been given, either. There was only one last stop before they went home to a well-deserved rest and that was a mental hospital in Iowa.
Living in a state that had almost nothing going for it except row upon row of corn was enough to drive just about anybody mad. Thankfully for people who lived out that way, there was a solution in the form of Gentle Pastures. It had been run by the state until budget cuts made maintaining the old place an absolute nightmare. The budget problems the state ran into lay in contrast to the problems the inmates had to deal with, what with the bizarre experiments and routine disappearance of inmates. They only had to worry about actual nightmare that was Gentle Pastures.
Gentle Pastures was at the end of a long road that lay between two corn fields that stretched for miles on either side. The van pulled up to a stop in front of the wall surrounding the facility, which was painted a sky blue. The security box next to the front gate had been fashioned into a fluffy cloud. The doctors at Gentle Pastures had insisted that gentle colors make for happier and more productive inmates, which Jack had never been able to understand. They were inmates in a nut house, what exactly were they supposed to be producing and who in their right mind would buy it anyways? Apparently, what the inmates produced was organs for transplant and happier inmates equaled healthier organs, or some such nonsense. The doctor who had explained to Jack had been laughing nervously the whole time so it may have been a bad joke on the part of the hosts.
“Do you have an appointment?” The voice that rang out from the speaker sounded bored, as if working with criminally insane inmates was about the same as working at a drive through. Jack banished that line of thinking from his head.
“We’re to clean them…whatever them things is that needs cleanin’,” Stan muttered through the window.
“Well said, Stanley” Jack closed his eyes and played with the buttons on his suit sleeve.
The gate opened all the same and let them in. The driveway itself seemed pretty standard at first until you realized that the path was made out of golden bricks. The path led directly to the front door. The entire front of the facility glistened a bright emerald green color, but when Jack looked closer he could see long lines of brilliant white between what must have been hurried brush strokes of green. The front of the building had a wide patio with elegant columns. Along the outside of the building were sets of rocking chairs containing patients in bathrobes. The idea was to allow the patients who desired it to see the sunset, but most of the patients seemed to be barely aware of where they were, much less the sunset. The steps leading up to the facility would have been more at home in front of a government building, the whole façade was built out of expensive marble including the steps. Jack had never seen anyone attempt to paint over marble before. Clearly, this was a house of madness.
Hurrying down the front steps were a woman wearing red slippers and a blue dress under a white lab coat and a slight man dressed in a bad lion costume that drooped awkwardly around his skinny frame and left his face entirely exposed. Behind them followed a tin foil man wearing a paint can for a helmet with a hole cut-out for his face and an enormously muscular orderly wearing a strawhat and a white uniform.
“We are not in Kansas anymore, Stanley.”
“That wasn’t my point.”
The doctor, Jack hoped she was an actual doctor, who held the led waved to Jack as she descended the steps, “Welcome, Jack. I thought it was about time for you to come in and clean up the mess.” With that, the doctor started tapping her shoes together, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.” Awkwardly and rapidly, her tone flitted back and forth from professional to whimsical at a dizzying pace.
The voice brought her face and name back to him. That was the problem with places Jack only visited sporadically, he hardly remembered anyone. Jack tested his theory by using her name when he responded, “There’s certainly no place like home. That’s why I moved out in the middle of the night without taking any of my stuff and I haven’t been home for more than a few hours tops since then, Dr. Hammond.”
Dr. Julie Hammond looked positively crestfallen at the new information, though Jack had undoubtedly given it to her before, “That’s awful! How are you coping Jack?”
“Well, a few hours is a long time, but we all have our crosses to bear.”
“Would you like a room here? We have a wonderful padded cell with a lime green interior and…”
“I have a room, actually. I have several so no, thank you.”
If Dr. Hammond could have sunk under the ground, she would have. It certainly seemed like she was attempting to sag through the yellow brick driveway.
“Well let’s get on with the cleaning, then”
That seemed to perk her right back up and she bounced up the steps with her silent entourage, now with Jack added. The front desk was a total mess, not that anything on the desk was out of place but nobody seemed to be terribly concerned about the inmate with the fire extinguisher threatening several orderlies who appeared to be dressed as flying pugs, given their rotund forms and flat faces combined with wings. The inmate was so distracted by the orderly pugs that Jack snuck up behind the man in an instant and gave the back of his neck a firm chop. He went down like a ton of bricks, the fire extinguisher clattering to the ground. “I see you have a Wizard of Oz theme going this year.”
“We do!” Dr. Hammond seemed a little too excited at the theme, “What do you think of it?”
“You can hardly tell it’s a hospital staffed by complete lunatics with an exorbitant budget.”
Another inmate wearing a prisoner’s clothes colored a bright yellow with blue spots ran into the check-in area screaming at the top of his lungs. Jack stuck out a leg and sent the man sprawling to the floor, “Oh dear, this is going to be a very long day.”
“Yes, yes!” Dr. Hammond chirped, “We were having a tea party and I couldn’t seem to get them all back in their cells, it’s just no good.”
“How long ago was this party? They still seem pretty riled up.”
“They’ve been going on like this for three hours?”
“Noon in March. It’s been really rough on our finances.” Jack shuddered a little.
Gentle Pastures was split up into two sections, which Dr. Hammond referred to by the level of happy she thought the patient needed. They were color coded into smaller sections by pastel colors. They started with a lime green pastel color and went all the way to a very light red colored pastel, which was apparently her way of saying these patients need so much happiness they actually might be a bit hard to deal with. When Jack cleaned here he was not, in fact, cleaning in the normal sense. What he was cleaning was the inmates, who needed to be put back into the proper cells and locked in so they couldn’t roam free anymore. Most times this took a firm hand, but in this case a firm shove would be required.