THE LONELY PLACE

What THE LONELY PLACE is about

Whether the threat is a madman, a flood, or a girl in spiritual trouble, eighteen-year-old Don Shield, lifeguard, is always ready to plunge into those messy waters and try to rescue anyone who’s in trouble!

 In THE LONEY PLACE, Don faces off with a hate-filled maniac who would like to destroy all Christians.

This book was originally published under the title, The Angry Atheist.

For a sneak preview of this book read the sample pages below:

1 – A SPLINTER OF GLASS

IN THE EARLY SUMMER of 1969 a number of wild and crazy things were happening.  The war in Vietnam was still raging, antiwar demonstrations were an almost daily thing throughout the world, the flower-people phenomenon was in full bloom, and NASA was preparing to fling Neil Armstrong out into space so he could walk on the moon.

It all seemed kind of crazy and interesting to eighteen-year-old Don Shield, yet not much out of line with one segment of his life.  He was a part time volunteer worker at a mental institution.

It was quitting time for Don, or it would have been if the maniac hadn’t broken loose from Ward Four.  As it was, Don soon found himself busier than he had been all day.

He had been doing volunteer work at the Minneapolis Psyche Restoration Facility for several months.  The Saturday afternoons he spent there were challenging; he taught swimming and water safety to some of the male patients.

Don’s swimming skills were top-notch.  He had just completed his senior year in high school and already had a lifeguard certificate.  But he sometimes had to wonder about other qualifications.

Although he didn’t need a degree in psychiatry, Don knew that this project was no ordinary swimming class.  Its main purpose was to gain the confidence of a dozen mixed-up adults who had blown their minds on all sorts of problems.  Some of these men had attempted suicide, and one in the group had killed his own brother in a fit of insane rage.  The more one learned about the men–as Don did from the orderlies and from the patients themselves–the more it made one’s hair bristle.  But Don knew that the men in his class had made progress toward restoration.  The worst patients never got close to the pool; they were kept in Ward Four under particularly strict supervision.

Don had already changed from trunks and gym shirt to faded blue jeans and matching waist-length denim jacket.  The jacket was short enough so that it didn’t cover his wide belt which was made of shiny black leather and sported an oval, nickel plated rodeo buckle.  The jeans fell over black motorcycle boots.

Don was tall, and the close fitting jeans and short jacket emphasized his slender, broadshouldered, athletic build.  He walked straight and held his chest high.  All his movements had a smooth, clean cut, decisive quality about them, so that he gave a constant impression of immense self-confidence.  This aura of strength never seemed to leave him, even when he was tired or in a bad mood.

He was tired now as he walked down the gloomy, dark-paneled corridor toward the stairwell that would take him down five floors to street level.  He hoped he wouldn’t have to wait too long for a bus.

Don came to a sharp stop near the stairway door when he heard angry shouting in the hallway behind him.  He turned and saw a man come running toward him, but still a good distance away.  Don knew it was one of the patients from Ward Four, not only because of the special gray uniform which all the most difficult inmates wore, but because of the way he was waving his arms about madly as he ran.  And the man’s face, so distorted by insane rage, was horrible to see.

Don’s scalp prickled, but his chest came up higher and his shoulders squared even more than they had been.  As a regular member of the volunteer program, he felt duty bound to do his best to stop this runaway patient from hurting himself or others; but actually Don’s thoughts about what he should do wouldn’t have been any different if he had been a visitor in the place.  It was Don’s way to stand up straight in the face of any challenge; however, at present he wasn’t overly confident that he could handle the situation.  The approaching maniac was tall and wiry looking, and the manic state he was in would multiply his natural strength.

So Don was relieved when a couple of white-coated orderlies rounded the corner at the far end of the corridor and came running in pursuit.  Shouting curses, the fleeing mental patient looked back over his shoulder and increased his speed.  But when he was only a few yards away from Don, he came to a sliding stop and quickly ducked into another hallway.  It led to a ward where the most recovered and easily managed patients were kept.

Don ran forward now and met the two orderlies at the hallway intersection as they swung around the corner in hot pursuit.  Don fell into step beside them, and one of them told him, “Markham got away from us while we were taking him back from the showers.  He’s in a violent state, so we’ll need all the help we can get in grabbing him and holding him down.”

The runaway didn’t have much farther to go before he came to the end of the hallway and a heavy oaken door that barred the entrance to Ward Seven.  This door, like almost all in the building, was kept locked.  But then, just as the raving man got there, it swung open and showed a lone orderly standing there with his key in his hand.  Maybe he had heard the shouting and had opened the door to see what was happening.  In a flash the patient had charged past the orderly, causing him to stagger back off balance.  The patient dashed on into the large room which was the center of Ward Seven.

A dozen or so small round tables were positioned around the room, and they had already been set for an early supper.  As Don and the orderlies raced through the doorway they saw the fleeing man cutting across the room in a zigzag line and taking time to upset every table that wasn’t too far out of reach from the roughly diagonal course he was following.  In his wake the tile floor was a mess of food and broken dishes.

From a far corner of the large room an open doorway led into a long, narrow chamber that was brightly illuminated by sunlight shining in through a row of large windows which were made up of many small panes in wooden frames.  So far as Don knew, they were the only windows in the whole building that were not barred with steel.  The patients in Ward Seven weren’t violent, so they didn’t really need any barred windows; and the sun-room, where they could sit at the long table and work at various crafts, was definitely the most cheerful spot in the whole hospital.

The runaway patient from Ward Four headed for this room.  He ducked in through the open doorway and disappeared from the sight of his pursuers, but Don and the orderlies hurried across the large room, sidestepping tables and chairs, and trying not to slip in lemon pudding.  There were about thirty mental patients lounging about the room; they all stood or sat very still as they watched this sudden excitement.

Don and the two orderlies crowded through the doorway into the sun-room just in time to see Markham near the far end of the room.  He had grabbed up a chair and was now swinging it at the window.  Glass shattered and wood splintered, and Markham had a hole big enough to crawl through.  He hopped up onto the windowsill and got one leg through the hole.  Then he yelled at his pursuers who had now almost reached him, “Stop!  Stop or I’ll jump!”

Don and the others came to a halt about twenty feet away from the man.  All three were convinced that the distraught inmate would have flung himself out into space immediately if they hadn’t obeyed.  Suicide attempts weren’t altogether uncommon among the patients from Ward Four.  Through the broken window came the sound of heavy after-work traffic five floors down.

The poor maniac, squatting there on the windowsill with one leg through the jagged hole in the glass, was a frightful sight.  Twisted ropes of black hair hung over a hollow-cheeked face that was distorted terribly by confused emotions of fear, rage, and hatred.  He held his long, thin arms out slightly akimbo, for he was in a state of extreme tenseness, ready to fling himself backward to a horrible death at least fifty feet below.

One of the orderlies began to speak in a calm voice.  “We’re you friends, Bradley.  You don’t have to be afraid of us.  Why were you running away?”

“Friends!” snorted Bradley Markham.  “You’re not my friends!”

“Of course we are,” insisted the orderly.

“Then why are you always trying to kill me?” asked Markham.  Don noticed for the first time that the patient’s hands were trembling.

“Bradley,” said the orderly, “we have not been trying to kill you.  We’ve been trying to help you in every way we can, and we’re going to–”

“You don’t want to just kill me–you’re not satisfied with that!” accused the patient.  “You want to torture me to death slowly!  Don’t try to fool me!  I know that’s what you’ve been trying to do ever since I came here!”

“Bradley, we’re your friends.  Now come down off that windowsill.  It’s time to go to supper.”

But Bradley’s face grew more distorted with the awful conflict going on inside of him.  “I know you want to torture me to death!  Today you were going to drown me under the showers!”  He carried on like that for about half a minute, relating the various types of death and torture he imagined the orderlies had already attempted to inflict on him, and also throwing in a few that he supposed they would try before long.

Don was getting a bit bored with the whole thing.  It seemed to him that the orderlies were fooling around.  One quick dash, thought Don, and they could get to the man and pull him down off the sill before he had a chance to jump through the window.  While the patient was still garbling away, Don spoke in a low voice to the orderly standing next to him.  “Let’s grab him.”

The orderly was a big, well built man, and he didn’t seem to be the kind of person who would be afraid of action, but his almost whispered answer to Don was:  “No way!  He means what he says.  He’d fling himself out through that window before we got halfway over to him.  Just leave him to me.  But stay here in case we need your help once we get him down out of the window.”

Don glanced backward over his shoulder and saw that several orderlies were standing in the doorway watching, but they didn’t dare step any closer for fear of further upsetting the patient.

The orderly who stood next to Don continued his effort to calm Markham, but Markham became more and more abusive in his condemning of the treatment he claimed to have been receiving at the hands of the orderlies, until his tirade deteriorated into outright cursing–a long string of it.  He called the orderlies just about everything that a person does not like to be called.  Then he went back to relating more instances of attempted murder and torture on the part of the hospital staff.

Both orderlies standing beside Don continued to look relaxed and patient, but Don was growing more restless with every passing second.  What a waste of time! he thought.  I could easily dash over to that nitwit and grab him before he knew what was coming off.  He’d never get a chance to jump.  And here we are, standing around!

Don held himself back for another two minutes or so, then he made up his mind to put an end to this nonsense, no matter what the orderly said.  He’d probably be pretty mad at first, but when he saw that Don had brought everything under control he’d have to thank him.

So Don edged away to the side, putting distance between the big orderly and himself.  But as Don lowered his shoulders slightly in preparation to make the sudden dash, the orderly reached out with the speed of an attacking snake and grabbed him by the arm.  The grip was like a tight circle of steel.

“All right, Don,” said the orderly, “you’re not helping here at all, so out you go.”  He yanked the youth backward a step before releasing him.  “You heard me–get out of here!”

For a few seconds Don stood still, deciding whether or not to obey; then he turned and walked toward the doorway.  The group standing there made room for him to pass through, but he came to a stop in their midst and turned about to see how things would come out.

Markham began to laugh loudly.  “They’ve got your number now!” he said.  After a moment Don realized that the patient was talking to him.  “You’d better run for your life while you can!  They’ll try to drown you under the showers!  And they’ll put poison in your food to make you sick!  That’s what they did to me!  And I’d sooner die than go through that torture again!”  He turned his head and looked down at the street below and then moved a little farther into the jagged hole.

What a chance! thought Don.  While he’s looking the other way they could easily rush him.  But he knew they wouldn’t.

The big orderly said, “Bradley, your mother will be coming to visit you again tomorrow.  She’s always so happy to see you.”

Bradley turned his face back to the room and stared straight ahead.  His face relaxed into a blank expression for a moment, but then it twisted up again as he began to cry.  Squatting there on the windowsill with his long arms hanging down lower than his feet, Bradley Markham cried as vociferously as any little baby and his cheeks grew wet with tears.  Now the two orderlies began to walk slowly toward him.

Markham continued to cry as they reached him, but when the big orderly put an arm around his shoulders he calmed down to the point of sniffling, with only a sob now and then.

“Everything’s going to be all right, Bradley,” encouraged the orderly.  “Your mom wants you to eat regularly.  You know she told you that, so let’s go and have a good supper now.  I think there’s lemon pudding tonight–your favorite.”

“Yeah, I like lemon pudding,” sniffled Bradley.

They helped him down off the windowsill and led him toward the doorway.  Everyone there, including Don, cleared the way by hurrying into the big room.

Don made a fast circle around the upset tables and headed for the exit.  He was embarrassed at the way the orderly had spoken to him, actually telling him to get out of the room!  Everyone standing there had heard it.  And now that the orderly had managed to calm the patient, he looked entirely justified in what he had said.

They were just lucky! Don told himself.  He groped in his pocket for the key that had been issued to him when he had become a regular volunteer worker.  Don unlocked the oaken door, stepped through, and let it snap shut behind him without looking back.  He knew the orderlies bringing the patient would be there in a few seconds and would have to unlock the door again, but that was their problem.  He just wanted to get out of here.  And maybe he wouldn’t come back either.

Three minutes of striding through corridors, descending stairways, and passing through several more locked doors, brought Don out into a pleasant evening, exceptionally cool for late June.  There was a smell of moisture in the air, and the sky was partly overcast, but so far no rain was falling and the descending sun was still thrusting its golden rays between the high buildings of downtown Minneapolis.

Don’s bus stop was only half a block from the mental institution’s front door.  Several people were standing at the bus stop, waiting, when Don arrived.  Something was going on; everyone’s eyes were focused on two of the people, a young man in a fancy red-and-white western shirt and a dark haired girl who could have been fifteen or sixteen years old.  The girl, wearing a little blue skirt and a short-sleeved blue and white top, was holding her arm just above the wrist as though she was hurt.  The young man stood very close to her, apparently in sympathy, and soon Don was near enough to be able to hear his words.

“Has the bleeding stopped?”

“Yeah,” replied the girl.  “Stop worrying, it’s only a scratch.”

Don wondered if the girl’s wound might have been caused by the glass falling from the window that Markham had smashed on the fifth floor.  This was unlikely though, for there was a wide lawn area between the sidewalk and the institution building.  Still, Don felt obligated to find out for sure.  He walked up to the couple.

“Hi,” he said, looking down at the girl’s dark-tanned, delicately featured face.  “What happened to your arm?”

The teenager smiled up at him with a look of completely innocent friendliness, as a little girl of five might if her mother hadn’t yet told her about the dangers of speaking to strangers.  Her eyes, slightly widened by surprise, were dark and beautiful.  A tiny round birthmark was on her left cheek.  She was short, small boned, and slim waisted, and the fact that she was hurt made Don want to put his arms around her to comfort her.  She said, “I’m not sure what happened except that some glass came falling down from somewhere.  But it’s not serious.  See?”  She held the arm up to Don and he decided that she was right; it wasn’t a bad cut.

He told her, “You’d better get somewhere where you can have it disinfected and a bandage put on it.”

The youth in the cowboy shirt said, “I guess a window broke in that building back there.”  He pointed.  “We were taking a shortcut across the lawn because we didn’t want to miss the next bus, and the first thing we knew, splinters of glass were raining down on us.”  He appeared to be about Don’s age but had wider shoulders; in fact, he was exceptionally large-framed and muscular.  His sandy hair was a little shorter than the way most boys his age wore it.  His cheerful looking face was remarkably handsome.

Don wondered if this couple was going steady; then his sharp eye noted that in spite of the difference in size and coloring, there was a definite resemblance between them.  They could be brother and sister, thought Don, or maybe cousins.

Don said, “I was in the room where the window broke.”

“Oh?”  The big youth looked quite surprised.  “What happened?”

“That building is a mental hospital,” said Don.  “One of the patients was thinking of killing himself, so he smashed the window with a chair.  He was going to jump out.”

The girl looked shocked, as did some of the older ladies in the group standing around waiting for the bus and listening to the conversation.  Don continued, “One of the orderlies talked him out of jumping.”  By now Don felt guilty for how he had behaved in this particular emergency.  On the way down he had already told God he was sorry, and he knew he’d have to apologize to the orderlies at the first opportunity; and in the meantime the best he could do was to give credit to the big one who had known exactly how to handle the situation.  Don said, “The staff is well trained and the orderly who was in charge handled the situation very well.  I know because I was right there and heard and saw it all.  I work there.”  He didn’t add that he had walked away in a huff without even holding the door open for the orderlies who followed with Markham.

The big youth looked at the girl.  “I guess we were pretty lucky, Julie,” he said.  “We just had a little glass falling on us, but it could have been a man.”

“Right,” said Julie.  “Y’know, it’s kind of strange when you stop to think of it.  One of the reasons we were looking forward to going on this trip was so we could get away from a mentally ill person, and now we came close to having one drop on our heads.”

“Yeah,” said her partner.

Don found these two interesting, particularly the girl.  “My name is Don Shield,” he said.  “Don’t you live around here then?”

The young man said, “No, not exactly.  We’re from Saskatchewan, Canada.  My name is Pete Simmons, and this is my sister, Julie.”

It was silly, but Don had to restrain himself from letting out a sigh of relief.  “Glad to meet you,” he said, “and welcome to Minnesota….  Now listen, you ought to go back to the institution and tell them what happened.  I think they’d be willing to compensate you for what happened.  They certainly should.”

“No,” said Julie, “I wouldn’t trouble them for such a little thing.  I’m just glad that man didn’t jump out.”

Pete said, “I find it interesting that you work in a mental hospital.  You probably know quite a bit about mentally ill people.”

“Not really,” admitted Don.  “Actually I work there only on Saturday afternoons, as a volunteer.”

“That’s great,” said Pete, and his face showed that he was sincere.

Don wasn’t one to hold back from expressing his spiritual beliefs to others, not even to complete strangers on occasion, so he said, “I work here because I feel that’s what the Lord wants me to do.  I’m a follower of Jesus.”

Pete’s face, which had been cheerful enough before, now lit up like a lamp being turned to full power.  “Well, I sure am glad to hear that!  That’s great!  Julie and I are Christians too!”

For a few seconds the three just stood there in silent surprise, wondering what this strange meeting–brought about by a falling splinter of glass–might lead to.

Just then Don’s bus pulled up.  It happened to be the same one that the two Canadians had been waiting for.  As they moved into line to board the bus, Don asked them how long they planned to stay in Minneapolis.

“About a week,” said Pete.  “We’re visiting relatives.  But we may spend some of that time at a lake.  I hear your state has ten thousand to choose from.”

“They used to say we had ten thousand,” said Don, “but lately they’ve rounded up about five thousand more….  Say, if you’re staying around for a week, maybe we could get together again.  I mean, I could show you two around a little.  Are you here alone or with your parents or what?”

Julie answered, “We’re with our parents.  Thanks for your offer.”

“Thanks for accepting it,” said Don, although she hadn’t said yes or no.  They three of them started to laugh, and suddenly Don had that warm feeling of companionship that people usually experience only when they’re together with friends whom they’ve known for a long time.

But it was more than that.  When Don sat down in the bus next to Julie, and as he looked to the side at her pretty face and long, black, shiny clean hair lying loosely over the white of her blouse, and at the innocent smile dimpling her cheeks, he felt very attracted to her.  It was not only the ordinary stirring, but something gentle and deep.  Wow! he thought.  This girl can really pour it on, and probably without even trying.

 

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