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No one talked openly about the space, the empty corner of Lucy Campbell's room. The way it would draw your attention, like a stranger quietly whispering your name. The way it was filled with a cold that felt as if it moved over you, pulling the warmth from your body, like someone pulling in a breath before a scream. In the day, the nurses would make their rounds, spending as little time in Lucy's room as possible. At night they left her alone, her muffled sobbing not reason enough to brave that room after dark.
For six months, the remains of Lucy Campbell had occupied Room 23b at the William Tuke Psychiatric Hospital, just a freeze-frame of the person she'd been nine months before.
This morning, the ghost of Lucy Campbell stood looking into the thin mirror in her room. Like the rest of Lucy's room, the mirror was old but functional, from the bed that she didn't sleep in, through to the painted white table and chair set by the window that she didn't look out of. This morning Lucy looked into the mirror, but she didn't see herself. Nor did she hear the shrill laugh of the woman in 23a, or the wheelchair clack-clacking across the tiled floor outside her room. A long time ago, Lucy had muted the world around her, fallen deep into herself in an attempt to escape her pain.
At 6:00am, a nurse had left a trolley outside Lucy's room for her luggage. Three of its wheels touched the ground. On to it, Lucy had loaded her two suitcases, one containing her clothes and the other, smaller, the size you might give to a child. The fourth wheel spun in the air as she wheeled her luggage through the maze of corridors towards Reception. The sounds of the busy hospital were dim to Lucy, like a radio playing in another room. Someone said "Goodbye" and wished her luck. She didn't notice.
The light streaming in through the large glass reception doors was blinding. Lucy stopped. She hung back on the edge of the room, the last refuge of shadows, her dark eyes squinting, searching her mind for something to distract her. She remembered how Doctor Bachman had once complained to her that the board of directors had wasted all the hospital's funding on this flashy reception area.
"We're a hospital, not a bank!" he'd fumed.
Truth was, most of the patients' families didn't want to look any further than the highly polished chrome and glass. They didn't want to know what happened any deeper into the building, and the appearance of affluence afforded them some comfort: they'd made the right decision, their loved ones were in good hands, they could go home with a clear conscience.
Lucy wasn't going home.
The light hurt her eyes. It seemed to be growing brighter all the time, burning away the shadows that sheltered her. She stepped back — with a loud gasp the glass entrance doors slid open, jolting Lucy from her thoughts. A taxi driver had been waiting outside. He tried to take the trolley for Lucy but she held it tight. Pushing it awkwardly between them, they made their way across Reception. Lucy knew she had to do this, had to force herself to do this, it was time; but she couldn't concentrate, couldn't find another memory, another thought to protect herself, and when the automatic doors burst open once more she was defenceless.
"Mommy!" The little boy yelled. Lucy spun to the voice. For a moment she was alive again. The boy laughed, dodging in and out of the trees in the park across from the hospital. His mother sprang from behind a large pine, growling, the monster in their game, and the little boy squealed with glee and raced away. Lucy watched the two playing.
Hold on, Lucy, hold on. She closed her eyes.
Doctor Bachman watched Lucy from the hospital steps. She seemed to physically shrink. Hold on, Lucy, he thought, hold on.
When Lucy opened her eyes again, the boy and his mother had gone, the taxi driver had loaded her clothes into the trunk and she was gripping the child's size case with white knuckles. Gently, she placed it next to her case.
"Are you sure I can't change your mind?" Doctor Bachman smiled warmly. He polished his thick glasses on his shirt. That was his tell. He always did that when he was worried. He would have made a terrible poker player.
"It's too soon, Lucy. After what you've been through, you need to give yourself more time." Lucy could hear the quiet, fatherly concern in his voice. "We've made good progress, but you should give it another month, or two."
For six months, Doctor Bachman had held Lucy back from the brink, but now she couldn't explain to him why, without warning, yesterday she'd discharged herself from his care. Lucy got into the cab.
"At least do me a favour then ..." Doctor Bachman fumbled in his shirt pocket and pulled out a crumpled business card. "Here ... Call me with your details, where you're staying, a phone number. And call me if you need to talk about it. Please. You know you can come back at any time."
Lucy took Doctor Bachman's card. The taxi began to pull away.
"Take care, Lucy." Doctor Bachman followed the cab as it made its way up the hospital's drive towards the main gates.
Don't go back to that house, Lucy. Whatever you do, don't go back to that house.CHAPTER 2
The small green door was down a flight of steps off Berkeley. Lucy and the taxi driver parted ways in as awkward a fashion as had characterized their whole brief journey together. She paid him and he unloaded the larger of her two cases onto the sidewalk. Lucy unloaded the smaller case herself. It only occurred to the driver once he'd left that Lucy hadn't spoken a single word the entire trip. The hospital had provided the address, and when she'd come to pay the forty-dollar fare, she'd simply handed him a fifty and got out of the cab. She'd headed around to the trunk of the car and waited, silently. He could sense her anxiety, which only abated when she had the small case in her hands once more. He'd driven a lot of strange people in his time, but never someone as consumed by sadness as her.
It had begun to rain. Pulling her coat over the small case to protect it, Lucy climbed down the stairs to the basement flat. She unlocked the green door to the green apartment, spreading a wave of junk mail across the hallway floor as she pressed the door open. No one had lived here for some time.
Even with the blinds open, the basement apartment was dark. Labelled packing boxes, long since covered in a thick layer of dust, had been placed in their corresponding rooms. Lucy brushed past two boxes, LIVING ROOM, as she moved through the gloom. None of the boxes had been touched, as if the last tenant had simply vanished before they'd had a chance to unpack. Lucy pushed open a door at the back of the living room. A breath of stale air escaped the room. The door came to rest, knock-knocking against another full box, BEDROOM. Lucy gently laid the small case on the bed. For a long moment she thought about opening it, her fingers close, almost touching the catches. Not now. She dropped her hand away and backed out of the bedroom. Without taking her eyes from the case, Lucy gently pulled the door closed. Outside, Lucy's other case sat abandoned in the rain.
The next morning the rain had turned to ice. Early commuters, sucking in the freezing air between sips of Starbucks, paced along Berkeley. Wrapped tight against the San Francisco winter, two beat cops, nearing the end of their tour, laughed about what they'd seen last night. Holding the rail, the mailman gingerly made his way down the frozen steps to Lucy's green door. More junk mail to add to the pile that Lucy hadn't cleared, and a large letter that the mailman had to roll to fit through the slot. Unfurling on top of the junk pile, the ivory envelope addressed to MRS LUCY CAMPBELL had been dispatched the previous day from the law firm Sage and Kingsbury.
Just a few feet from the bustling beginning of a San Francisco day, a deep, mournful silence filled Lucy's apartment, as if the sadness she carried with her had spread into the very dust that choked the air. Lucy had begun to unpack the two boxes marked LIVING ROOM. She'd scattered a few books across the shelves, and ornaments sat on the protective newspaper they'd travelled in, unwrapped but homeless. On top of one of the boxes, a photograph lay half unwrapped. Lucy beamed from between the folds of newspaper, a broad, beautiful smile, captured on Alex's sixth birthday. Her son and her husband — her world. They'd laughed so hard at Matt's attempts to get the timer on his camera to work. He'd taken shots of his back, of him startled when the shutter had triggered too soon, of the three of them cracking up when they thought it wouldn't trigger at all. In the end, he'd just held the camera as far away as his arm allowed. From a photographer's perspective it was a terrible shot, but it had been Lucy's favorite for a long time. If she'd remembered it was in that box, she would never have started to unpack it. Abandoned as soon as she realized what she was holding, torn newspaper still obscured Alex's face.
In the kitchen, the kettle on the stove began to whistle. Lucy had made up the small dining table for one. Popped toast sat in the toaster, long since cold. Lucy stood against the workbench holding a small plate tightly, her whole body tense, fighting. A tear fell onto the plate in her hands. The sound of the kettle built to a scream, loud enough to drown out the single sob that escaped her clenched jaw. She brought a hand to her mouth. To force the pain to stay inside, stay silent. There was so little of the Lucy from that photograph left that it would be easy for the last of her to be consumed by her grief, to be swallowed forever by the darkness that was always at her back.
Today was the first day of Lucy's new life.CHAPTER 3
Doctor Bachman stood in the hallway of the William Tuke Psychiatric Hospital looking at the neat stacks of care packages. Each month the children of the Sacred Heart Catholic School would pack thirty-three shoe boxes with dried fruit, warm clothing, books, everything they felt the patients might need to make their lives a little better. Then, each month, on the first Saturday of the month, Sister Catherine would drop the packages off, neatly stacking them in six piles, three of six and three of five in the hallway by the common room. Doctor Bachman guessed that Sister Catherine must have been in her late sixties but she never asked for, or accepted, any help when she was delivering the boxes. She carried every one, every month, to build the same neat stacks.
Doctor Bachman lifted the lid on the top box in stack three. Resting on top of the other donations was a thin copy of the Bible. Doctor Bachman took out the Bible and started a new pile of boxes.
Half an hour later and Doctor Bachman made his way into the patient's day room, balancing a stack of thirty-three Bibles. In the middle of the room, surrounded by sagging couches, a coffee table had been covered with magazines and books. Doctor Bachman dropped a single Bible onto the table.
Peeking around the stack of thirty-two remaining Bibles, Doctor Bachman headed out of the common room and back up the corridor towards his office. For some time it had been Doctor Bachman's policy to put a name plaque on the door of each patient's room, next to their room number. He didn't want them to see themselves as numbers. Ted Rubin waved to Doctor Bachman as he passed his room. Ted was forty-five. He'd lived at the hospital for the last fourteen years. He had good months and bad months. At one time he'd become unresponsive for so long that they had to put him on a drip to feed him. For the best part of a week, Doctor Bachman barely left his side in the infirmary.
As he reached 23b, Doctor Bachman smiled. A shadow moved across the frosted glass window in Lucy's door. He pushed the door open. "I knew you wouldn't ..."
Doctor Bachman's words trailed off. Lucy's room was empty. Disappointed, he placed the stack of Bibles onto the recently stripped mattress of Lucy's old bed. He was annoyed with himself. He shouldn't have let her go. She wasn't ready to face the world again yet. He also knew there was nothing he could have done to stop her. Lucy had checked herself in voluntarily six months ago. There was no treatment order keeping her at the hospital. She was free to leave at any time. That didn't stop him from feeling like he'd failed her.
Doctor Bachman took off his glasses. He stood in the window of 23b looking out onto the hospital's frozen grounds. He hadn't realized he was doing it but he'd begun to polish his glasses on his shirt again. A movement behind him caught his attention.
Doctor Bachman turned and looked into the corner of the room. There was nothing there, just as there had been no one there when he'd stepped into Lucy's room. Maybe it was a change in the light, a cloud passing over the sun that had tricked him. It had certainly grown darker. And quieter. And that unnerved him. It was rare, even in the middle of the night, for the hospital to be completely soundless but, as Doctor Bachman's gaze was drawn into the corner, focussed into the seemingly empty space, the hospital had fallen silent. No, that wasn't right. The noise hadn't stopped. It had been smothered.
Nurse Bradley's voice startled him.
"There you are, Doctor. I've got the paperwork here to release this room. I just need you to sign it for me." She held the forms out towards him.
Doctor Bachman steadied himself. "Not yet, Mary. Not yet." He wasn't ready to give up on Lucy.
Nurse Bradley folded the forms and pocketed them. She shivered. "We should get someone to look at the heating before we put anyone else in here. It's absolutely freezing."
She left the Doctor to his contemplation. His attention returned to the corner of Lucy's room. Mary was right. It was freezing in 23b. Maybe there was a window open, a draught. That would explain the Bibles. How the neat stack of thirty-two Bibles that Doctor Bachman had placed on the bed had come to be scattered across the mattress.
No windows were open.CHAPTER 4
Lizzie Morgan had given Lucy a tour of the Chronicle with one eye constantly fixed on the glass-walled office in the corner of the room. Even when they'd left the main newsroom, toured the corridors and passed through the staff lounge, she'd continually glanced in the direction of that fishbowl room, as if she could somehow see through the walls that obscured her view, to check her email or see if extension 225 was ringing.
"You can access everything from the past twenty years on the intranet; I'll get IT to buzz you and set up your password for that. Anything older than twenty years, and I'm afraid it's a trip to the basement and the archive. Which —"
Throughout the tour Lizzie had cradled a battered card folder, full to the point of having begun to split, under her arm. It was so full that someone had tied what appeared to be a long shoe lace around its middle in an attempt to stop its sides from tearing any further.
"— is exactly where your first job's going to take you. Mal Anderson wants everything we've got on the Zodiac case. He's leading on Sunday with an alternate theory of the case and he's gonna need everything we ran at the time on his desk by tomorrow morning at the latest."
A light flickered to life on the phone on Lizzie's desk. Before the phone had even begun to ring she was backing away from Lucy. The tour was over.
"Er ... He's also made some more specific notes he wants checked in the front of that folder," she called back, her voice getting louder as she strode further away. As the glass doors to Lizzie's office closed behind her, she shouted back: "You need anything else, my extension's 225."
Lucy looked down at the battered folder in her hands. She pulled on the shoelace, untying it. The folder sighed, breathing out, the thick pages crammed inside shifting, pressing at its sides until they threatened to burst. All around her, the office buzzed and spun in a state of constant movement and change. Like the pieces of a puzzle that would never be solved. Noise piled on top of noise, louder, louder, the whole room competing to be heard at once.
Silence. The soundless corridor put Lucy on edge. Coming from the overwhelming noise of the Chronicle's newsroom, it felt out of place, almost surreal. As if stepping through the door from the Chronicle had transported her to some mute, alien realm. Lucy felt her skin prickle. She looked up and down the windowless, grey corridor. She was completely alone.
Trying to hold Mal Anderson's disintegrating folder together, Lucy made her way along the corridor towards the elevator.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Remains"
Copyright © 2019 Andrew Cull.
Excerpted by permission of IFWG Publishing International.
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