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
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.
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.
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.
something you need to see, said a voice in her mind.
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.
see things now as they were before, said the voice now.
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.
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 normalincluding her.
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.
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
didn't like where this was going: down.
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.
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.
need to go in, said the voice. Wait.
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.
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
sorry you have to see this, said the voice, but it's the
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 bonesincluding skullslying in
heaps of fine ash.
boilers, she realised with horror, and then she passed out.
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.
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 openit's
been locked for decadesand there we found her."
about the bones?" said Lillian, much to her parents' distress.
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."
was now the doctor ushered her parents out for a private talk,
after settling her down again to rest.
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.
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.
I need you again, I'll make contact; but rest now, you've earned