It was a dark and stormy evening. A big wind in rural British Columbia is simply an interruption between the snow or rain and the ever-popular sunshine. The important thing to remember is to stay off the lakes in your rowboat or canoe. But a wind storm in an urban setting can be an eerie experience, especially if one is imaginative and spending the night on the Riverview Hospital grounds in Port Coquitlam.
Mental patients – I have found – are like everyone else. Those whom we know and love are just fine. It’s the strangers we have a tendency to mistrust. But when I am anywhere south of Hope or Princeton, I begin to notice that there are a lot more strangers strolling about than there are friends. Many have attributes that would qualify them as being “weird” in downtown Fraser Lake. (Simply not wearing parkas and winter boots in April would do that.)
When the sun goes down in the city I never know what to do with my purse. Draping its strap across the opposite shoulder used to deter snatchers, but now I hear that is not enough. Seasoned crooks merely cut the strap and run. Even though it contains nothing more valuable than Kleenex and an occasional cough drop, I clutch mine closely to my bosom. Holding my head up I stride confidently, gazing neither left nor right, hoping to create the illusion that I am armed with a lethal weapon or at the very least have a black belt in karate.
Cottage 119 at Riverview is for patients’ family members to stay when they are visiting. Conveniently, it was right around the corner from where my son resided. At five-thirty on Easter Sunday Bruce and I were finishing dinner when there came a tremendous burst of wind, followed by a high volume of screeching and wailing sounds from somewhere outside the building. The creaking of branches from nearby trees, as they gnashed and rubbed together, completed the symphony.
Each succeeding gust of wind produced more banshee-like shrieks that pierced the air above the droning sounds of traffic on the nearby highway. These high pitched sounds were not unique to the Riverview area. Later that evening my daughter phoned and said the same eerie noises emanated from outside her in-law’s home several miles away. The hydro was off over there, she stated, which made things even spookier.
She wondered if her not-very-courageous, nervous and overly imaginative mother was up to handling the situation.I assured her that in the event of a power failure, my finger was poised to dial the telephone for a taxicab. Bruce had to leave at 9 P.M. If I was alone in the dark at that time, I was out of there!
Bruce and I discussed the history of the large tract of land known as Riverview. We agreed that the lush grounds would be a wonderful place to live, if one were considered “sane” and did not have to be there. There has been a concerted effort afoot by entrepreneurs to get their hands on the valuable piece of real estate, and build condos and monster homes upon it. That hope is not being shared by mental health advocates and promoters of Hollywood North.
People in the film industry are often seen skulking and lurking in and around the architecturally-pleasing old buildings. I have noticed that mental patients are usually pretty laid back. Chances are if a really weird character was spotted on the Riverview grounds, it would be a movie or television star and not a resident.
There are many beautiful trees on the Riverview grounds, most of which shed their foliage in great heaps in the fall. Now outside our window, we could see these wrinkled pieces of brown parchment, the corpses of last year’s beautiful leaves, begin to rise and dart erratically up into the darkening sky like flocks of small, hungry bats. The scene was more reminiscent of Halloween than Easter.
My son was now mentally stable. I could tell because his sense of humour was evident. He had mentioned that there was an historic graveyard located a short distance from the cottage. Just then a gust of wind blew up, setting in motion whatever it was that caused the shrieking noises.
“Perhaps its the ghosts of long dead mental patients,” Bruce suggested with a grin. I was not amused.