In an Asylum Book Cover

In an Asylum: Sunday Night

By Steven V. LeShay


“Don’t let the rain drive you to the wrong shelter,
the shade can turn out to be your protector and also your destroyer,
and sometimes the rain is the perfect protector from the rain.”

                                                                                                          – Michael Bassey Johnson


It is a dark and stormy night. As Snoopy says, any good story (or book) starts this way.

A tiny door stands ajar, allowing admission into a familiar, big, and noisy room… in my mind.

I am just dozing off in an only chair in my small, dank, dim-lit lodging. A narrow hall runs down a corridor past my sturdy, solid oak door with a small round window. Anybody may look into my room (spying, if you will), a total invasion of my privacy!

Hourly, an array of sanctimonious quack doctors with clipboards, idiotic loony-bin staff, and an aging sadistic ward guard roam back and forth, up, and down – always watching for lunatic, crazy, psychotic, or cuckoo things I am going to do or plan for today. All too obviously looking, waiting, and finally walking on. I put on a show if I catch anybody spying in my room. I loudly grunt, snarl, and jump around as if I were a wild pig or a madman.     

Although it is fun doing this, I’m not paranoid! It is just a normal thing I do. But soon, it is boring, and my constant animalistic antics do not stop hourly staff “look-ins” with accompanying scornful smirks.

I focus on a lightly falling rain tonight, faintly but firmly hitting my tiny window.  

It just sounds wrong.

It isn’t comforting, and it is distracting. It sounds ominous – wrong. In fact, it is wrong. Bad. Foul. Awful. I know it is not good.      

My watch says it is midnight; I was napping for about an hour.    

Laying my dusty old library loan book down, I put my right foot onto a floorboard to shift my body to an upright position so I can slowly lift from my chair and stand up.        

A high dim light bulb faintly glows as it hangs down, illuminating many dark shadows that tightly stow away against four walls surrounding my solitary asylum room.     

Moving to my only outdoor window to look out, I find nothing that will calm my growing angst. Strong, solid iron bars about a half-foot apart run up and down my window’s thick glass from top to bottom. A long, high brick wall with dark ivy growing against it sits outdoors thirty yards away from and surrounding all buildings. But all I can pick out is rain. Rain, rain, and rain. Lots of it.    

A thick downpour is now hitting my window, causing many tiny, almost mystical, luminous crystals to form quickly and magically but slowly roll down and away.  

It still isn’t right, though. What is wrong?   What is going on?   

A sharp bolt of lightning hits a long way off. Soon, a loud rolling ominous boom is shaking buildings, rattling walls, and banging against my window.      

My hair is standing up, and my body is shaking uncontrollably. A million bugs crawl on my arms and gnaw at my skin. Panic starts in my mind and quickly is coursing through my body, and it is spooky. I am anxious, afraid, and panicky. So afraid.    

Again, rain sounds – at first, low, slow, and far away. Soon, though, it is changing. Now it is loud, thick, and falling fast. Thousands of cold, hard raindrops splat against my window. Rain rolls down my unlit gloomy glass window in a mosaic of zigzags.

Rain is all around. It is in my room; it is hitting my walls, sloshing onto my floor – raging and racing through my brain!  

Oh, God! No! Not in my brain! It is as if rain is shouting… angrily, furiously, crossly… madly!  


Falling so quickly now.

Pit-pit-pit-pit-pit-PAT!  PAT! PAT! PAT!

My God! Why won’t it stop? It hurts so much! Pain, too much pain! Stop, I say. Stop! It is a wild, out-of-this-world, cacophonic drum staccato.

Pit-pit-PAT! Pit-PAT pit! PAT-pit-pit!

God, almighty! Am I going crazy? Again? So, soon? Damn! I don’t think so.  


Or am I? Wait! I know what’s wrong. I think I am going crazy! I know – I AM crazy! My 750-plus-word short story is missing an important part….        

 “My story has no e’s… no E’s,” I say aloud to no one. “There is no ‘e’ in any of my words at all!” 


Lowly, softly, loudly, and as high as I can, I howl …



In an Asylum: Monday Morning

“I think this is an asylum. But so is the rest of the world.”

– Jeff VanderMeer


It is a crisp, cool day. Dr. Thomas K. Malinski, MD, PsyD, ABPP, is again standing in my room by my window, looking out at a still soggy surrounding yard, thinking about what to say and how to ask about my outburst last night. His job is to find out what is going on in my crazy brain, my wacko mind.

I am his final visit of his only daily round on this floor today. I am still in my pajamas and sitting comfortably in my armchair. I am looking forward to my first and only visitor for today. But I am still shaking a bit, and my brain is buzzing from my bout with last night’s angry, annoying rain. I am finally starting to calm down, and my mood is “up.” My mind still is not fully normal…but almost. I also am a bit wary. I don’t totally trust Dr. M. or any of his opinions.

Without turning around, Arbor Hills Asylum’s top psychiatrist softly says to nobody in particular:

“I want to talk to you a bit about last night’s…um…you know, your…um…panic attack. It was…um…unusual, disrupting, loud….”

“Crazy?” I ask.

“No, not crazy. Just…um…odd. First, I want to know why writing a boring 750-word-plus opus – that probably is just as good without any J, Q, X, or Z in it – is your way of acting out?”

Standing stiffly by my window and still looking out and away, Dr. M. sniffs and asks: “Primarily, I want to know: What do you think about that, and what do you think about what I just said?”   

Boring? Probably? Just as good?

I don’t know what to think or what to say to him. How can I simply claim that I was trying not to go crazy or stark-raving mad last night? Is Dr. M. ignoring how obvious that is, or is this all part of his cunning way of communicating by trying to spring a “sticky, tricky mind-trap” on Yours Truly?

Good God, Dr. M. is so obnoxious, so insulting that it hurts. Such an arrogant, pompous snot with his curly hair and a foppish-looking ruby pinky ring on his right hand. So smug with his highfalutin schooling, fancy lab coat, and trivial bits of information. “Fuck you,” I almost say aloud! 

I think long and hard, slowly framing in my mind what to say to Dr. M., basically a good doctor but also a dull, stupid, and totally ignorant dummkopf of a man. Finally, I softly and calmly avow that my writing’s “missing part” is not too difficult to not put in, and it is found in almost all common words throughout all vocabulary. “Do you know,” I ask, “35,220 words do not contain that symbol that I did not put into my story?”

Dr. M. says nothing, sighs loudly, and quickly looks at his wristwatch.

“Omitting a popular symbol from any writing is not that hard to do,” I say. “It’s known as a lipogram. Wright’s 1939, fifty-thousand-word Gadsby is a two-part lipogram with a plot about a dying fictional city of Branton Hills in 1906. And La Disparition is a popular 1969 lipogram book that follows similar linguistic highways and byways constraints.”

“I’m sorry,” Dr. M. says again, anxiously glancing at his watch. “It looks as if our consultation is almost up.”

“Think about it,” I say, standing up and moving slowly toward him. “How long can you go without saying or writing a word that has ‘you-know-what’ as part of that word’s grammar, syntax, or linguistics? A word or two? A full paragraph? Two? At most, four? Six?

“I think not for too long. It’s damn difficult!” I am starting to shout. “But, in an asylum – particularly in this asylum – that is ALL that is occupying my mind – ways to avoid any itty-bitty small and troubling thing; ignoring such a ‘thing’ that in my mind, in my big, noisy ‘room,’ I think is totally crazy, and in fact I know is crazy!”  

That, and brain-drilling rain constantly going pit-pat, pit-pat, pit-pat in your skull…in my skull.  

Oh my God, I think I’m doing it again. Arrrgh! I am shouting now, as loud as I can!

“Turn around quickly, Dr. M. Look, look! I can’t stop! It’s still occurring! Now it’s a thousand-plus word story. It will not stop! It cannot! Why not? Why no e’s? No E’s! No words with an e!”

e – e – e – E – E – E – E – E – E             

Th    nd?

Steve “Doc” LeShay is a game inventor, retired university professor, and Naval Air Reserve Commander who lives with his wife and cat and enjoys playing tabletop board games. He is the author of Tales From An Asylum: A Memoir Unlike Any Other, and Sssnake on a Ssskate? a bedtime read-aloud picture storybook for children, ages 3 – 6. Doc can be reached at DrSVLeShay@hotmail.com

8 thoughts on “In an Asylum: Sunday Night”

  1. Marsha+Shearer

    Brilliant. Funny. Nutty. Clever. Would never want to play Scrabble against him!
    Thoroughly enjoyable read.

  2. Steve "Doc" LeShay

    Thanks for the kind comments.

    The word “Asylum” in the title of my book Tales from an Asylum is a metaphor for my mind. The “patient” is not really me (he’s fictitious; I’ve never been inside an asylum); but he’s an important character — one of 12 personae who tell the many tales of my “Games of Life.”

    The first two chapters, with no words containing the letter e, exemplify how I used creativity to meet the challenges of constrained writing.

  3. Steve "Doc" LeShay

    Too funny, Bill. : ) I’m glad that you enjoyed it.

    I first learned about constrained writing when I read about OuLiPo, (short for French Ouvroir de littérature potentielle – a workshop of potential literature) in a 1977 “Mathematical Games” column in Scientific American Magazine. In 2012, Harvard University Press published a history of the movement.

    OuLiPo is a small selective gathering of writers, university professors, engineers, and mathematicians who create works using constrained writing. The society was founded by 10 intellectuals in 1960 in France.

    Here are a few other Oulipian constraints that will stretch your creativity that is in the Asylum … of your Mind:

    • N+7 – Replace every noun in a text with the seventh noun after it in a dictionary.
    • 50 words – Write a short story in 50 words or less.
    • Snowball – Write a poem in which each line is a single word, and each successive word is one letter longer.
    • Pangrammatic lipogram – Use every letter of the alphabet in a sentence or an entire manuscript (e.g., “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”).

    The lipogram, avoiding a particular letter or group of letters, is my favorite constraint. It is the oldest type of constrained writing, dating back to ancient Greek texts in the sixth century BCE that omitted the letter sigma. One of my favorite examples is The Wonderful O, the last of James Thurber’s five fairy tales for children. The letter O is removed at the demands of pirates who take over the island of Ooroo.

    Sometimes, a lipogram can work in reverse (antilipo), as demonstrated by Alvin Stenzel in his 100-word story, Most Magnificent Monarch Martha, published in the April 7 edition of Breakfast Serial. In his story, every word began with the letter M. That’s clever and tough to do!

    1. Steve "Doc" LeShay

      And, thank you, Vickie, for the nice words! Glad you enjoyed the additional background about OuLiPo.

  4. Alvin M Stenzel

    Thank you for remembering my “M” story. I also wrote a book of 26 poems about animals. As you might guess, each poem was about animals beginning with the same letter. I think I identified about 450 out of over 800 I considered. The extra trick was that to avoid every poem sounding like “My style,” each was based on the rhyme and meter of a famous poem. Part of the enjoyment of the collection was guessing the poem on which it was based, such as a simple one. “Once upon a midnight dreary, I dreamt a robin singing clearly.” It ended with, “I liked the rabbits, soft and quiet, maybe not rhinoceros roar, wish I had my own roadrunner, quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore!’

  5. Steve "Doc" LeShay

    You’re welcome for the worthy acknowledgment. Perhaps, you’ll consider sharing some of your “animal” poems on Breakfast Serial.

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