Pelham Aslyum. The largest, most well-appointed institute for the insane in all of New York, Pelham is known for being on the cutting edge of research. So all of its patients are told when they are brought – some voluntarily, some fighting violently to escape, some not even knowing why they have come. To Pelham they are consigned, and only when they are deemed cured will they return to the outside world.
But being “cured” is harder than one might imagine, as three patients have come to discover. Alice Matheson, a kind-hearted nurse who has no memories from the two weeks before she arrived; Dr. Henry Essex, a physician in the Great War who arrived voluntarily with a self-diagnosed morphine addiction; and Major Lloyd (meh?), who fought in the Great War and was dragged here against his will. Three patients who knew nothing of each other in the outside world, but will come to depend on each other for their very survival.
The days in Pelham blend together in a sterile, white haze. Wake, breakfast, morning pills, group therapy, nap, afternoon pills . . . every day the same as before. Except Thursdays, when a lucky few are gifted with visits from loved ones. Henry, happy to see his wife and son – little Timmy – even though he knows he doesn’t belong here. Alice, sitting across from her teary-eyed parents, who bring her the comforts of home and can’t quite meet her eye when she asks why she is here. Lloyd receives no visitors. Although whether he is even aware of the outside world is a matter of debate.
One morning, the patients discover a new pill in their daily regime. Henry, ever wary of poorly made German pharmaceuticals, interrogates the nurse as to what has happened. Reassured that there was simply a change in suppliers, the pills are eventually swallowed with all the rest.
As the days stretch into weeks, the patients realize they are beginning to lose time. This is particularly concerning to Henry, who until now had a perfect memory. They are all brought, individually, to meet with Dr. Zobowski who explains that they are all to be changing treatments. Something isn’t working, and they must obey to become well. They are each brought to a private room in the maximum security wing, and locked away from what little freedom they enjoyed.
The drugs are stronger, here. Whether taken voluntarily, or held down and injected, the patients can no longer maintain consciousness for any length of time. Despite his best efforts, not even Henry can manage to keep track of the days.
Then one day, with no way to tell how long it has been, the patients wake to find themselves in an operating theatre, strapped to surgical tables, unable to move. Their once-thought ally, Dr. Zobowski, moves around them with another doctor, explaining that they are particularly susceptible to the new treatment. Screaming, cursing, threatening – no matter the patients’ reactions they are unable to escape what happens next. With a high pitched buzzing sound, something is drilled into each of their skulls. Looking at each other they are able to see tubes attached to their heads, through which some strange, freezing liquid drips into their brains, down their throat, and throughout their body. Filled with mind-numbing cold, the patients can do nothing but lay there and wait, seemingly forever, while the unwanted treatment takes effect. Until eventually, exhaustion takes them.
Waking back in their rooms, the patients find that they are more lucid than they have been in . . . perhaps weeks. Each going about their self-examinations, they are interrupted by a new voice, babbling to himself and possibly to a fifth individual. First Lloyd, then Henry, and finally Alice look through the narrow view-slot in their doors to find a man who introduces himself as Mr. Spoon. Happily greeting them all, Mr. Spoon introduces them to his wife, and to the fact that he can apparently open the doors at will. Which he demonstrates gleefully, although he sorrowfully denies Lloyd and Henry’s requests to be allowed out of their room. It is not time, he says. Not yet.
As night falls, the patients find themselves with the almost forgotten task of having to fall asleep naturally. On their beds, trying to relax, each of the patients’ rooms becomes host to paranormal phenomena.
Henry, no matter where he turns, is tugged and prodded by the hands of invisible children. Gentle though their hands are, they are nevertheless insistent. Lloyd, before pulling his sheet over his head, sees children in his room, seemingly mouthing words but hauntingly silent. And Alice hears first gentle laughter, then crying, then screams as children beg for help.
An ocean, blood, Henry screaming, and madness all around. Until there is nothing but silence, and Henry standing in the hallway.