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Abduction, a short story by Bradette Michel

Abduction takes place before the opening of Bradette Michel’s debut novel, For Their Own Good, published in 2015 by Harvard Square Editions. For Their Own Good tells the story of nineteenth century women committed to an insane asylum for reasons that have nothing to do with their sanity.

Mrs. Packard balanced on the edge of her chair as if ready to pour tea for guests. If the room had been full of women from church, only the most observant would notice a slight curve in her back or the tremor of her dress against the bare floor. She struggled to maintain a pose she had been trained to assume since childhood—the pose of a lady.
Any other morning she would have been in the kitchen preparing breakfast at the wood burning stove, her little angels waiting for her to fill their plates with biscuits and gravy. Except this was no ordinary morning. This was the day her husband had prepared for, plotted for, connived for. Pastor Packard intended to take her to the insane asylum today.
A carriage braked in front of the house. The cheerful giggles of the Packard children greeting a familiar visitor reached her ears. Perhaps friends were calling. Perhaps her pleadings the night before had convinced her husband to give up his cruel plan. “Theophilus, have I not fulfilled my duties as wife and mother? Our children are healthy. Our household is well-managed. Have I not ministered to your congregation? A woman whose mind has flown could not have performed such duties.”
She had not been surprised when he closed his Bible and climbed the stairs to sleep in one of the children’s rooms. His reprimands to her words of defiance had been replaced by a rigid glare months ago. She shuddered at the thought of the sleepless nights that came with his silence. Often she woke alone, tangled in bed sheets, shaking and sweating like stalked prey just before the lion pounced.
At the sound of heavy boots ascending the stairway she rose quickly, and turned the key in the lock.
“She is in here, doctor.”
She stumbled backward, tripping over the hem of her dress until a table covered with a white doily she had crocheted only last week blocked her escape.
Shouts followed her husband’s useless attempts to enter the room. “Open the door, Elizabeth. I said, open the door.”
Footsteps faded down the stairs. The upstairs grew quiet; nevertheless, she maintained her vigilant view of the door. A simple lock would only delay his plan.
The boots returned. A cracking noise shook the door until the gleaming blade of an ax broke through the wood. Pastor Packard, his face damp with sweat, opened the door and walked over the broken shards scattered on the floor.
Dr. Harrison lingered in the doorway. “Hello, Elizabeth.”
Mrs. Packard’s fingers wadded the folds of her dress. “Dr. Harrison, please help me. Theophilus would kidnap me.”
The doctor’s posture straightened. “Now, now, Elizabeth. Your husband tells me you are acting strangely, even challenging his beliefs.”
She wanted to cross the room to Dr. Harrison, but a wide crevasse she had never noticed before kept her from him. “He would censure my beliefs. I cannot betray my own convictions.”
“Elizabeth, refusing to accept Pastor Packard’s authority reveals your excitable mental state.”
Mrs. Packard stepped forward, fists at her side. “Surely you do not support my husband’s desire to take me to the asylum. You have been in our home many times. You know I am not insane.”
Her husband seized her arm. Surprised at the weakness of his hold, she jerked away. His unyielding body remained between her and the doctor, his malevolent eyes more powerful than any physical restraint.
She stretched her neck to peer over his shoulder. “Doctor, does not God require that I worship according to my conscience? How can I acquiesce to something I do not believe?”
The calm assurance of a blessed soul filled her husband’s voice. “That’s enough blasphemy, Elizabeth. Sit down.”
Mrs. Packard tried to slip around him. He grabbed her wrists.
She squirmed to release his hold. “I must talk to Dr. Harrison.”
Pastor Packard twisted his head toward the doctor. “Have you seen enough?”
“Yes, you were right to call me. She is quite insane.”

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