Time Peeler
by Joshua Blanc
forum: Time Peeler
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Time Peeler


            Lillian awoke to the muffled but unmistakable sound of hissing steam. Something wasn't right about the light streaming through the window, or the room itself, and for a moment she was alarmed. But then she remembered. Her parents had brought her to this place for 'evaluation,' and wouldn't return to claim her for a couple of days.

            Meanwhile, she had to put up with the tests. She drew pictures, answered questions, looked at various images, and met a machine called `Mr. Encephalograph.' Despite the endearing name, it wasn't much fun to be hooked up to.

            It all seemed in vain, for Doctor Adderson, who was in charge of her case, had made very little progress during the first day. He would look at the data, shake his head and say: "I don't understand it; she's as normal as any other girl." Now that it was night, however, she could feel the strangeness creeping into her mind.

            She got out of the high cot they'd given her, and went to the window. Out there in the grounds, a storey below, was the shed housing the hospital boilers. There were three of them in a row, big round things with grates that glowed like orange eyes. She didn't want to, but was drawn to watching them. Her eyes followed the smoke billowing up from the chimneys and merging with the darkness.

            I've something you need to see, said a voice in her mind.

            It was now the change happened. As she watched, the paint on the window-sill cracked beneath her shaking hands. The cracks spread slowly across the wall to the ceiling, the floor, the other walls. The room became old, decrepit, and musty. The door to her room opened with a creak, and soft light waited for her at the end of the long dingy hall. The paint continued to crack and peel as she walked from the room, clothed only in her hospital gown. Beneath her bare feet the tiles lifted and crumbled.

            You see things now as they were before, said the voice now.

            What it meant she didn't know. How could a building be old and then new again? It had always been a hospital for all she knew. But she was only seven, and the hospital was surely far older.

            Every night since her seventh birthday, just a few weeks past, she'd been shown another facet of the world. A facet that hid under the everyday veneer but was still there to see if she looked hard enough. It was always the same though; when night gave over to day everything was back to normal—including her.

            Maybe I should see the doctor now, she thought. But the light ahead flickered, drawing her attention. She continued on toward it, comfortably warm despite the thin cotton. It was the boilers. The steam was pumped in through pipes along the walls, where it warmed the water that fed into radiators. They were all rusty now, and some had fallen off, but that was only the picture. If she touched the wall she could still feel the radiator there, and hear it gurgling away.

            The light flickered again. Impatient thing. She hurried towards it, anxious to get things over with so she could get some sleep. These visions used to scare her, particularly when she saw what her best friend Sally's house used to look like. That was a week ago, when she stayed the night. She shuddered thinking about it. Sally lived in a converted butcher's shop. She'd gone downstairs to get a drink and found the kitchen in a macabre state. Chunks of meat and animal parts lay on benches; cold metal cutting tools glistened in the half-darkness, and sides of beef hung from the ceiling. It was that incident that really clinched it for her parents. Now she was here, following a light down a crumbling hallway towards...

            The staircase?

            She didn't like where this was going: down.

            The basement was packed with boxes, spare medical gear, extra gurneys. They remained shiny and new, so they probably were. The walls were bare brick. Spider webs hung thick from the rafters, but melted as she passed underneath. The first room ended in a partition with a doorway in the centre. Lights flickered on one by one, illuminating another hallway which stretched for ages. Doors lead led off it into rooms packed tightly together. The doors were thick and metal, with little grates in the top for looking through. Now she was scared. She didn't want to go down there, and, thankfully, the lights flickered off again.

            Now her attention was drawn to a rickety door with a huge metal padlock which looked very old. She rattled it, and saw there were marks made by a bulk-cutter or something which had failed to bite through.

            You need to go in, said the voice. Wait.

            The light peeled back the years. The door straightened itself, and after what seemed like much effort the padlock disappeared and the door swung open. A trickle of coal-dust wafted as the light entered the room.

            The room was full of coal heaped into mounds. It was an old scuttle, probably for the boilers. Yes, in the far corner were some steps and a door which had long been boarded-up. The light gravitated to an area on the far side of the room, so she clambered over the piles of coal, getting very sooty indeed, until she reached it.

            I'm sorry you have to see this, said the voice, but it's the only way.

            And then she saw why. Sticking out from under the coal was a bone. It looked like the kind pirates made crosses with on their Jolly Rogers. Her heart pounding, she watched as the coal cleared itself away to reveal more bones—including skulls—lying in heaps of fine ash.

            The boilers, she realised with horror, and then she passed out.

            Morning found her tucked in bed again. She had vague memories of shouting voices, being bundled about, and being tended by half-glimpsed nurses. Upon waking fully, she found her parents at her bedside. They hugged and smothered her until she thought they would never be able to cry again they shed so many tears. Then she remembered her night-time adventure and the bones in the cellar. Doctor Adderson joined them, and the events of the morning were revealed.

            "When it was discovered in the early hours that she was missing," the doctor related, "an all-out search was undertaken by the hospital staff. No-one thought to search the basement until everywhere else had been checked, because the basement door is always kept locked. When an orderly discovered it wasn't, the search converged there. We feared Lillian had become trapped in one of the old cells; they used to house unstable patients in the hospital's asylum days. But the coal-scuttle was found open—it's been locked for decades—and there we found her."

            "What about the bones?" said Lillian, much to her parents' distress.

            The doctor looked pensive. "It was a nurse who first spotted the femur sticking out of the coal. A little excavation revealed more bones lying buried. But it's not the bones themselves that puzzle me, it's the manner in which they were found."

            It was now the doctor ushered her parents out for a private talk, after settling her down again to rest.

            That night she slept soundly for the first time since her seventh birthday. The following night was the same. The third night, after all tests were complete and her evaluation over, she was at last able to return home; to the comfort of her own room and her own playthings.

            News of the discovery in the hospital cellar was quick to spread. Lillian's mother insisted she was spared any mention. She did wonder, though, about the voice and the light. As she drifted to sleep in familiar surroundings, she asked after it, not expecting a reply.

            When I need you again, I'll make contact; but rest now, you've earned it.


The End.




copyright 2006 Joshua Blanc.

Joshua Blanc, 26, has been writing earnestly since his teens. His work has been called `eccentric,' which may have everything to do with his Australian upbringing, his currently residing in Canada, and his love for British humour. He's also an avid photographer and synthesizer player (not at the same time, you understand).

His work can be seen on Alarmingly Strange Stories.com, Quill-pen.net, Cautionarytale.com, and his web-site: "The Manitou's Lair" (http://www.manitouslair.com/).