Tested out

Tested out

A Story by Sydney Herscher

A husband tells his wife the story of what happened in an abandoned correctional center 20 years ago. And how it's played a role in the rest of his life.


As John drove by the abandoned building with Sarah, he slowed the car to a stop. He hadn’t seen that building in 30 years but he could still see the resemblances to the newer version that had haunted his past. Through the gate, which was now locked with a padlock that looked invincible to even an atom bomb, the courtyard was grown over with weeds and other vegetation that report lawn negligence. Plants were stretching themselves up the wall, their roots wrapping themselves around the bars on the windows. As John scanned the whole face of the building, he knew what room used to be behind each window.

That was the cafeteria, he thought to himself as he looked at a long rectangular window on the bottom floor. Those are the windows in the main holding area. He remembered hating how small those windows were; how could enough light ever get in? He continued to scan the establishment until he stopped on a window set apart from the others that he knew to have the best view of the courtyard possible, even with the metal bars in the way. That window, which was once noticeable cleaner and clearer than all the others, was now just as dark and dirty as the rest of them. In John’s mind though, it was even darker and dirtier.

John had moved away to California when he was 30 to get away from everything here. For the most part he had; he’d led a normal life on the west coast. He had a few little flings with “beach babes” before meeting his wife, who was nothing like any of the ditzy blondes he’d met before. Sarah was tall, beautiful and had blonde hair from hours and hours in the sun, typical of any girl from California. But she stood out from all the others for reasons he couldn’t quite place in the beginning. As they spent more time together he learned that she was truly a caring person, she worked hard in school and she was mature for her age. All the qualities that his flings had lacked, Sarah brought to their relationship and John never failed to tell her how much he loved her.

But there was one thing he never told Sarah and it’d been bothering him lately. He didn’t know why it kept coming back into his thoughts and dreams but it just did for some reason. Sarah had noticed something off about him lately but all he would tell her when she asked was that “it was nothing, it was nothing.” But when he heard Sarah on the phone with a friend, asking in a whispered tone that she wondered what she was doing wrong, he knew he had to share the ancient secret with her. He couldn’t stand the thought of hurting her when she had done nothing to deserve it. It wasn’t her fault that his mind had been elsewhere lately but she didn’t need to feel like she was failing him, especially when she wasn’t.

So one morning a week ago, he planned a cross-country road trip; a trip he and Sarah had talked about for a long time but just never had the chance to actually go. They packed the car on Sunday evening and pulled out of their driveway Monday morning at 8 am.

Right now they were in South Carolina, parked in front of an old abandoned building. Sarah looked around confused.

“Why are we stopped John?” she asked. 

John just kept looking out the window, at the old building. “Sarah, I know I’ve been a little distant lately and I don’t want you to think it’s our fault. It has nothing to do with you. Some stuff went on in this building 20 years ago that I’ve never told anybody about because I wanted more than anything to forget it. But it’s become pretty obvious lately that some things aren’t so easily forgotten and I just want you to know what’s been going on.”

Sarah looked at him patiently, waiting for him to begin telling her about whatever had happened in this old building so long ago that had tied itself around her husband’s mind, heart, and soul like a noose.


“Say Aah…” Dr. Morris shined a light down Ben Mill’s throat: “standard checkup procedure.” “Alright, everything looks good there,” said Morris as he moved to the trashcan in the corner where he threw his gloves away.

                Ben scratched his wrist where the hand cuffs irritated his skin. He looked around the room "white walls with bright fluorescent lights overhead. Prescription bottles of all sorts of medicine, out of reach behind impenetrable glass, guarded by lock and key. Ben knew there had to be IV’s and syringes in this room somewhere but he figured they were in one of the many cabinets or drawers, also protected by lock and key. The fire extinguisher was on the wall in the corner behind the door and a gun in a Plexiglass box right above it. Ben understood; Dr. Morris would have no way to protect himself if one of the guys (or girls) were to freak out. And with the medical unit being as far away from the main holding areas as possible, waiting for the warden to arrive to get the inmate under control would be entirely too long " especially defenseless against a rapist, psycho, or murderer. 

A box of rubber gloves set on the table beside the sink. Not a drop of water was out of place; the entire room was spotless " just the way it needed to be to serve its purpose. Ben was sitting on the table in the middle of the room in a paper hospital gown, an inevitable breeze going up and down his bare back. There was a window overlooking the court yard where he could see a few inmates taking their afternoon break. There were bars across the bullet proof glass " the standard he’d grown used to over the last few weeks.

                Ben hardly noticed Morris pushing bottoms on a weird-looking machine in the corner of the room until it began to make noises, signaling its start-up. 

                “We just got to hook you up to this machine, make sure your blood tests out alright before you’re good to go. Disease and viruses like to hop around a lot when there are so many hosts in such a small space.” Dr. Morris had an air about him that Ben couldn’t decide if he liked or not.  Partly Ben was uncomfortable and irritated that the doctor that was trying to make small-talk when all Ben wanted was to be free again. But the other part of Ben was so excited to get out that he wasn’t going to let the doctor sour his mood even the tiniest bit.

                “So,” Dr. Morris started again. “You ready to be getting out?”

                “Not like I was ever really in,” replied Ben. “Acquitted… My name isn’t even in the police records. I’m innocent and I get to start living my life like I was before everything got blown out of proportion.”

                Ben knew he was guilty and he was just as shocked as anybody when he found out he’d been acquitted. Due to the set-up of the very progressive correction center, convicts weren’t allowed to be at the hearing. They were told the verdict by the doctor. “It’s easier that way,” the Captain would explain to the inmates that were in line to hear their fates. “It’s easier on the families of the victims, the families of the convicted, and even the convicted too. This way no one has to see anyone else, causing unwanted memories or disruptions to interfere with the business at hand.” When Morris told Ben about the hearing and that he’d been acquitted, Ben figured if he acted like he was innocent the whole time, he wouldn’t have to worry about eyebrows getting raised too high at his reaction.

                He knew better than anyone how much alcohol he’d tried to handle that night: an amount that can only be described as “entirely too much.” He even vaguely remembers getting behind the wheel. But the extreme clarity he has when he thinks about the other car, the screeching of the tires and the sound of shattering glass… He knows he killed that driver and he knows he deserves to rot in a cell for a long, long time. So however he managed to get off the hook is a total mystery to him. 

                Maybe there was something wrong with his car that even a sober driver wouldn’t have been able to avoid. Maybe the other driver swerved into his lane. Maybe the other driver had had more to drink than Ben.

                Maybe; but highly unlikely.   

                Ben knew the death of the other driver had been entirely Ben’s fault. Yes, he had guilt because of it " an extraordinary amount of guilt " but today Ben was happy. He was happy that he didn’t have to spend his life behind bars and even happier that the death sentence wasn’t the final decision in the trial. Deserving as he was, he wasn’t quite ready to die. Or be killed, for that matter. But, then again, neither was the other driver that night.

                “You know,” said Morris matter-of-factly, “all the acquitted and convicted come through me. I’m in charge of ‘taking care’ of the convicted and performing the final examinations on the acquitted. As I’m sure you can conclude for yourself, I’d much rather have a day full of examinations that just one guy that needs to be ‘taken care of.’”

                “Yeah, I’d imagine,” said Ben. “I bet that makes for rough dinner conversation with the family when it comes to the routine ‘how was work today?’ question.”

                “You’re damn right.”

                There was a knock on the door and the warden entered with a slightly remorseful look on his face.

                “Afternoon Ward’,” said Dr. Morris, still slightly too cheerful for Ben’s liking. “I was just getting ready to hook our friend Ben here up to our new machine to get his blood tested out,” he said with a tone that made it sound like he possessed some knowledge that nobody else in the room did.

                The warden looked at Ben with an apologetic expression; Ben assumed the warden was sorry for the wrongful accusations about the car crash.

                “I understand sir,” replied Ben timidly. He liked the warden. He knew him to be a very nice guy, always making the inmates comfortable, especially the guiltiest of them all.

                Dr. Morris was just finishing hooking up the IVs in the crook of Ben’s arm. “Well son, let’s get right down to it; just a few more minutes and it’ll be all over with.”

                Dr. Morris told Ben to sit still and went to the machine. After pushing a combination of buttons, he flipped the main switch.

                Ben sat still and began to feel what he thought was the machine removing blood from his body. He started feeling very tired and wasn’t as excited as he’d been two minutes earlier but he attributed that to the blood leaving his body. He began to feel so heavy and he got the idea that the machine wasn’t necessarily taking blood out, but maybe putting something else in instead. His breath slowed and he felt as if his heart and lungs were struggling to circulate the blood and oxygen that his body needed to keep him alive. His eyes closed and his body went limp in sharp one motion.

                The warden’s eyes snapped to Morris, not understanding what had just happened. The doctor only smiled back with a kind of smile that seemed to have just a little bit too much pride. The warden didn’t understand; machines that are for testing diseases in blood should make you tired " not put you in a coma. He knew that the doctor had very Hi-tech machines in his check-up and operation rooms. The blood of all those put to death must be checked before the euthanasia.  If diseases are found in the inmate’s blood after their euthanized, law suits and legal complications could break out " the last thing any correctional center needs is to be accused of not meeting certain health regulations, thus allowing their prisoner’s to get deadly diseases or viruses under their supervision. If the blood of those on death row checks out fine, they were kept in the hospital wing overnight and put to death the next day by Morris in his operation room. If it doesn’t check out quite the way it’s supposed to, the prisoners are kept alive and Morris attempts the rid their body of any and all diseases. Once the diseases are gone and all the blood is clean again, the convicts are immediately placed at the top of the “Death Row Waiting List.”

                After making sure Ben’s pulse was what it should be after the procedure that had just taken place " nothing " Morris went to the machine and flipped the main switch to “Off.” As he was removing the IVs from Ben’s lifeless arm, the warden began to speak.

                “What did you do to him?” asked the warden in a voice that seemed like he was afraid to hear the answer.

                “Death row sir,” replied Morris in an insincere tone. “They all gotta go so I figure they should go out happy. When he came in to get his checkup, I told him I’d just got the news of his conviction. Well, lack thereof. And since he wasn’t allowed in the trial, he believed me. So he went out thinking he wasn’t going to go out at all. Helps prevent tears and emotion and gets the whole process over with that much quicker. Just lets me do my job really.”

                “I don’t know about all that Doc. Seems like you’re infringing on their right to life and it’s not what we pay you for. How many times have you done it this way?”

                Morris remained entirely emotionless through it all. “Since May. Six months.”

                The warden rubbed his eyes. All of a sudden he had a massive headache and he felt guilty beyond belief. “I don’t think I want you doing that anymore. Partly because it’s got to be illegal in some way and partly because I was never informed.”

                “Now you listen here. I’m responsible for the euthanasia. Therefore I have the freedom, right and privilege to carry out the ‘operations’ in the most efficient way. It’s in my contract.” The doctor had a set look in his eye. He knew that the whole facility was centered around its hospital wing and without Morris, the only qualified surgeon the center had, the entire establishment would be forced to shut down.

                As much as he wanted nothing more than to fire the doctor right there on the spot, the warden knew that all the other employees would be affected too. If the warden fired the only doctor in the very modern, highly-acclaimed correctional center, that’s known for it’s advancement in medical treatments and operation, every single person would be out of a job. The whole establishment would be forced to shut down without a working doctor. The warden was not going to be the one responsible for job loss across the board; he couldn’t fire Dr. Morris. There was only one thing the warden could do.

                “Well then, if you feel so strongly about murdering people before they’re even aware of their conviction, I’m not going to stand by and let it happen under my command. I can hardly believe it has been going on this long.”

The warden moved to the door and was about to open it when Morris said, “Well I’m sorry you feel that way sir. But I’m not changing my mind about this one.”

                The warden looked at Morris with a set look in his own eye. “I’m not sorry I feel this way and I’m not really even sorry that you’ve got your mind so strongly set on not compromising. I’m only sorry that a man of your high standings has given me a reason to feel this way.”


Sarah watched as John wiped the tears out of his eyes. She realized she hadn’t taken a breath since her husband had started speaking and took this opportunity to suck in enough air to make up for the lack her body had at the time.

“I reported Morris immediately. I wasn’t going to but I knew I had to. The federal authorities from the Department of Justice were on that place in a matter of three days. After further investigation, diseases were found in many of the bodies of those that were put to death by Morris in the six months that he had been using that machine. Not only was he breaking protocol by not even checking their blood for viruses and diseases, if the state would’ve found out we were omitting those tests and killing the sick, the prison would’ve been shut down and everyone would’ve lost their job. I guess it’s a good thing that we weren’t caught until the incident Ben Mills because the authorities only focused on Dr. Morris when it came to who was actually committing the crimes. No one every really knew what happened to that doctor: if he was put to death or if he ran off. Either way, no body has ever seen him or heard from him since. Everyone else was reassigned to smaller, local prisons or moved to another city entirely with a recommendation from the Federal Department of Justice. Within a month, I was in California. And that’s when we met and you know the rest my dear. This whole thing has just been bugging me lately and I figured it was time that you know about everything I went through here.”

Sarah didn’t know what to say. She knew she should say something to comfort her husband but she was in such shock that if someone had asked her what her name was, she wouldn’t have answered correctly. John could tell she didn’t know what to say so he just got out of the car and went around to her side. He opened the door and she got out and shrunk into his arms. As he felt her quietly sob into his chest, he let a tear roll down his cheek and land in her blonde-gray hair.

“I’m so sorry John. I’m so sorry,” was all that Sarah could muster to say between her gulps for air.

The couple stood in front of the abandoned correction center, so wrapped up in each other’s embrace and comfort that all the evil that had taken place not quite one hundred yards from the spot they stood was forgotten to the both of them for a moment.   

© 2013 Sydney Herscher

Author's Note

Sydney Herscher
Again, this is not my original idea. I google search short story writing prompts and create my own stories from there.

What do you think really happened to the doctor? Reviews of content, the way the story flows and unfolds would be appreciated. And anything else you feel I could improve on would be great too.

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It made a very interesting story style and content wise. It kept reader hooked up from starting till end.

Posted 9 Years Ago

I appreciate your nice efforts to describe Jack and Sarah so nicely.

Posted 9 Years Ago

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2 Reviews
Shelved in 1 Library
Added on November 7, 2013
Last Updated on November 7, 2013
Tags: Mystery, Short story, Medical, Prison, Criminal Justice