Things Remember
by Joshua Blanc
forum: Things Remember
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Things Remember


          For five years the voice of Time Peeler—as she called it—had left Lillian in peace. She was normal, so everyone impressed upon her. But for a couple of weeks at the age of seven she'd been something quite different. A psychiatric hospital had been her temporary home, until Time Peeler's work was done. When the doctors proclaimed her fit for release, it was ironic that her madness had yet to truly fester.

          Her parents: they were to blame. All they'd wanted was a normal child. So act like it, Lillian, her mother told her often. Any attempt to speak of her experience was met with an impenetrable wall of denial. She was forbidden to even tell her friends, not that they'd listen. So she found other ways to be heard: by being silent, by acting out. And what good had that done?

          The matron pounded on the dormitory door and yelled at her to get up. It was time for the bugle call, and Lillian had volunteered. She didn't know the first thing about bugles, except that they were loud. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

          Today I will be heard.

          She ventured out into the brisk air of the boarding-school courtyard. She wore her drab brown uniform, stockings, and dull black shoes. Why shine them if they'll only get filthy? she thought, watching them beat the pavement. She stood with the bugle pressed to her hip, gazed at the rising sun, the dew-soaked school-yard, the high, oppressive fence. In a moment the school would come alive, and all because of her.

          She gave the tarnished and battered bugle a rub, raised it to her lips, and gave an experimental blow. A half-hearted hiss issued forth. I'll have to do better than that, she thought. She took a good deep breath, then let out a tortured blast which seemed to shock the surrounding buildings to attention. She blew again, until her lungs gave out and she
started to see heads pop up at windows. A few of the teachers filed out of the main hall, with shock and anger on their faces.

          At last, an audience! Shaking, Lillian began her story, right from the beginning. She spoke as loudly as she could, darting looks at the teachers and students who flocked to hear her tale. She wished her parents could be he here to see the turn-out. No doubt they would hear of it soon. Her voice rose higher until there weren't any words, only screams, and the crowd was taken from sight by the tears in her eyes. She felt a sharp slap to the side of her face, and collapsed, still clutching the bugle in her hand.

          Images from her past came vividly. The paint and wallpaper of the hospital cracked before her eyes. Pipes rusted on the walls, tiles lifted and crumbled beneath her feet. She stood at the top of a staircase leading down, into blackness, saw a store-room filled with boxes and gurneys, where lights illuminated long-forgotten cells, and a coal scuttle hiding the secrets of murderous deeds...

          She awoke in the sick-bay, tucked into a bed that reeked of medicines and bleach. She looked around groggily; saw her uniform folded neatly on a chair beside her, and the coming of dusk through the window. In her hand was the bugle, her fingers wrapped tightly around it. She unfolded them and winced from the cramp.

          "Ah, you're awake," said a voice. The nurse appeared; she looked stern but concerned. She gave Lillian the once-over, then stood back with a nod. "Get some rest, young Miss. You'll feel a bit sluggish till the sedative wears off."

          Lillian said nothing.

          "There's water by your bedside, and the bedpan underneath."

          Lillian settled back against the pillows and turned her head away. The nurse withdrew, leaving her to mope in silence. Her cheek still stung where it had been struck. Her mind sifted through the morning's events to see if anything made sense. Nothing did, and soon she was dozing again.


          Her eyes flicked open, surprised to find the room in darkness. A silence told her the school was sleeping.

          "Who's there?" she asked.

          Shh. Don't speak, just think.

          As her eyes adjusted to the darkness and she saw no-one, she realised where the voice had come from: inside her head. Have I truly gone crazy? she asked herself.

          She covered her face with her hands.

          When we first met, I said I'd return when I needed you.

          "What about what I need?" she shrieked.

          Footsteps came running, and light silenced the voice. Lillian sobbed. The nurse tried to comfort her, but in vain. She calmed by degrees, and the nurse left a lamp on before returning to her desk.

          She picked up the bugle again, and studied it. She couldn't quite tell in the dim light, but surely it shone like new with not a speck of tarnish; and hadn't it been dented before?

          You did this, didn't you? she thought at the voice. All of it.

          It was necessary to point you in certain directions, said the voice. But your sacrifices won't go unrewarded; I can help you.

          "Prove it!" she said, then thought: Sorry—prove it.

          I can prove you're not crazy. You've wondered, haven't you? After the things I showed you all those years ago.

          Lillian admitted that she did.

          You were too young to understand, so I didn't tell you in words. I am a guide. I help those without voices to say what life, or indeed death, has taken their right to say. Unlike you, I have no body, no form. So I must push gently at those who have, until I find someone receptive. You're a very brave girl, Lillian, and I thank you.

          Lillian let it all sink in. She felt at last that something made sense. Her mind turned again to the bugle.

          What must I do?

          Soft light pushed through the gaps of the blind and grew brighter, creating a halo. Lillian put on her uniform, then slipped out of the sick-bay window and closed it quietly behind her. She stood once again in the courtyard, now silent and dark but for Time Peeler's light.

          The light moved off between buildings, and she followed it into the school grounds. Beyond the halo of white light, the moon shone enough to make muted silhouettes of the surroundings. As she walked and watched, grand trees shrank down to saplings, creaking as they went. Pieces of the playground blinked out of existence until all that remained was bare grass. A couple of buildings un-built themselves, and last of all a small shed appeared at the edge of the garden. Time Peeler moved towards it, then faded away. Yellow light burned in the shed's solitary window, and a breeze played among the trees on the edge of the grounds.

          Stopping twenty feet from the shed, Lillian hugged the bugle and waited tensely for events to unfold. She felt the slightest movement beside her and watched a young woman sweep past in her nightgown. The woman, perhaps sixteen, glanced behind her as if afraid of being seen, and knocked discreetly on the shed door.

          A man, rough-featured and wearing overalls, appeared at the door. He too looked anxiously into the night. Lillian felt a stab of fear when his eyes met hers, but they darted eagerly back to his young guest. The two embraced, and retreated inside.

          She realised this was the groundsman's shack. The current groundsman had larger, more comfortable lodgings, but in times past such must have been a groundsman's lot. And what of the young woman? She had come from the direction of the dormitories.

          Lillian no longer felt the bugle in her hands. She looked around and spotted a young boy, no older than herself. Moonlight glinted off polished brass at his side. So, the bugle had been his.

          The bugler crept up to the shack, and peered in at the window. Laughter and muted scuffling came from within. Then a shout; the groundsman had spotted him.

          The boy ran towards her. The groundsman, hoisting his overalls, burst from the shack and took up a shovel. The boy lifted the bugle to his lips, but before it uttered a note he was struck from behind. He landed with a thud on the grass, the bugle spinning away from him and landing at Lillian's feet. She picked it up, noticing the fresh dent in the bell.

          Time speeds up.

          Snatches of sobs and angry words reach Lillian's ears as the groundsman and his illicit lover hover over the boy, arguing. He slaps her once, twice. Each grab one of the boy's legs and drag him toward the trees. Lillian follows, numb, trance-like, a slave to the images.

          The sound of shovels pierces the night. Lillian watches the boy's body disappear under a few feet of freshly dug soil. The girl's nightgown is spattered with dirt turned to mud by the dew. Her tear-stained face is smudged with more. The groundsman pats down the last shovelful of dirt and hangs his head.

          Time rolls forward.

          Lillian dropped to her knees beside the boy's grave, shedding tears of her own. They fell on bark mulch. The rich scent of juniper wafted where there should have been flowers. The grave was now a garden, planted to conceal the crime, yet a fitting and tranquil place for the endless sleep of death.

          The boy's name appeared in her mind. So did some other things the boy no longer had need for.

          His gift to you, said Time Peeler.

          She stood, and lifted the bugle to her lips. The sombre tune of 'Taps' pealed out, softly at first, then louder as the notes came more easily. Lights flickered on in the dormitories and staff quarters, until the entire school was awake. Bodies filed out, in a slow-motion parody of the morning's events. Teachers and students alike gathered around her and watched in confusion.

          She silenced the bugle.

          "James Morton Proctor is buried here," she said calmly. "Dig."

          A flurry of chastisements flew from the teachers' lips. The nurse was sent for, and punishments were wielded like daggers. But one teacher, an elderly lady, a little overweight, stepped forward.

          "How do you know it, dear?"

          "The bugle led me here."

          "But that's just an object, a thing!"

          "Things remember," said Lillian, and that's all she felt needed to be said.


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,,, and his web-site: "The Manitou's Lair" (