Hannibal Lecter meets Nurse Ratched in my debut novel, PATIENT X, of which bestselling suspense author Jenny Milchman says, “The turns of phrase just glow!” This 67,000-word suspense novel falls in the tradition of Alex Michaelides' The Silent Patient and Mark Griffin’s When Darkness Calls. When Chicago therapist Hannah Weiss is attacked by a patient at the mental hospital where she works, she’s saved by an unlikely hero, the inscrutable patient Zander Grayson. At the director’s urging, Hannah becomes Zander’s therapist in the hope that she can succeed where other therapists have not, unlocking the truth behind his conviction of involuntary manslaughter before he’s transferred to prison. Hannah tracks down witnesses and discovers that the director believes Zander is responsible for the death of his son, and is out for revenge. She comes to believe that not only is Zander innocent—but that the director’s son is, in fact, alive. When she discovers evidence in a file marked PATIENT X, the director imprisons her in the hospital. Now Hannah has become the patient desperate to escape. At the University of Iowa, I studied in the Writers’ Workshop. My poetry has appeared in over thirty literary journals and has won several prizes. I served as editor-in-chief for a Chicago literary journal, and now work as a freelance editor. ........... First 500 words: The dark, humid air bristles with whispers. But the quietest voice, the one that never leaves me, is the most frightening of all. When did your life begin? he asks. There was never a time without me. He would start there, egoist that he is, with his own entrance onto the stage, all applause and limelight. But how can I tell you how he changed me if you do not know, first, what I was without him? The days at Briarheart were gray and white, I remember that. Gray walls, white uniforms, and stripes of minty blue and green: institutional pastel. And dusty, yellow light above cells stuffed with lost people. Though I prescribed the medications that defined the line between sane and insane, I knew too well how the lines could blur. These were forgotten people—the scarred, the damaged. People everyone else had turned away from. People like me. # It started with a stupid toothbrush. Nothing more than an ordinary toothbrush, with a rubber glove wrapped around the bristles and the bottom sharpened to a wicked point that jutted against my throat. GLORIA! GLORIA! I THINK THEY GOT YOUR NUMBER! pounded from the dayroom, causing a twitch behind my eyes, and I'd jogged along quickly, paying less attention than I should have. The rooms sprawled throughout the building, haphazardly set around the functions from before it was a hospital. An ancient elevator shaft sat vacant at the end of the laundry hall, pointless and unused, a relic from the factory age of the mid-1900s. Some pieces of wall had been bricked up and plastered over, and I had no idea what they ever had been. Moist, black streaks of mold spread down the walls like bloodstains. The smell of bleach and stale chemicals seeped into every crevice. I sighed, seeing musty bundles of slack, lopsided laundry lumped on the floor. People had been too lazy to even open the closet door. I leaned down to scoop an armful of uniform tops and jackets, and bumped the door with my hip. Something stabbed me in the throat. I started to scream, and a damp hand clamped my mouth. “Hush,” a light, male voice said behind me. “No noise.” I turned just enough to see his face from my peripheral vision. It was Rai, one of the calmer patients on the ward, a young Asian boy with beautiful features and luminous dark hair. In one fist he grasped the toothbrush, sharpened to a shiv. One thing my job had taught me—hell, my life had taught me—was to swallow down primal fear. I had to disarm him carefully, like an explosive device.