The Man Who Lived at the End of the World

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Chapter 14

Everything was finished. I had been taken by the police and questioned before being thrown into a cell, and the next thing I knew I was being assessed more times by more people than I could take in. Everything was a haze where all I remembered, all I saw, were Kate and Lucy. I was soon labelled as dangerously unstable and kept in a small, cream-coloured room that was no better than a barely-furnished prison cell. It was tucked in a forgotten corner of a secure hospital in Darlington, and experts came and went while I sat there every day and burned to hold my daughter, to keep her safe. I begged and demanded to be taken to her until my heart screamed against my chest, but I was not allowed even to see her.

I constantly relived that last night with Kate, both while awake and in my dreams. I agonised over how I had pushed her away, and how Lucy had gone with her, and I cursed myself because Steve had been a good man after all. The shock of sudden loss was tearing at the never-healed wound of losing my parents, and it gained the weight of guilt and compounded until I felt my body racked with real and physical pains. It began to form a dark fog which sank heavy and thick and barely let anything else through.

Sometimes I woke from my broken sleep and emerged into a fleeting but blissful ignorance, where the horror of the waking world was as light as a dream, where everything was perfect and always would be, just for one split second. Inevitably it would evaporate and let the uncompromising reality back in, unbearably tight, but sometimes I yearned for sleep just so that I could feel the escape of waking.

I had been allowed some personal effects, but all I had brought with me was the book of poetry I had given to Kate long ago. I felt sure that its blank cover had kept just a little of her, trapped between its microscopic fibres, and would never let her go. Somewhere, I knew, she was still happy, and Lucy was still happy with her, and both of their lives were uninterrupted by the brutality of death or separation. They simply had to be.

“Pretty much all of the prosecution's evidence is circumstantial,” said my duty solicitor in his measured, deep voice. He was a tall man, and wore a light grey suit that was just a little too short for him as he sat in the chair near my bed with a pile of papers in his hand. His name was Vincent, and his narrow face was showing the lines of stress and middle-age, with a dark hairline receding from his constantly-frowning forehead. “Still,” he continued with a long intake of breath, “it's going to stack overwhelmingly against you.”

I said nothing as he thumbed through more papers, stopping only to rub his eyes briefly with a quiet sigh. I looked at the clock on my small bedside table. It wasn't yet noon, and this man was already worn out.

“You won't be going to prison,” he continued. “Most of the evidence pertains to your mental and emotional state. Coupled with eyewitness evidence of physical violence against Mister Shaw on that same night...” he paused and looked up at me, waiting for me to mentally finish his sentence. I merely frowned at the unfamiliarity of Steve being called Mister Shaw.

“Is there any way I can see my daughter?” I asked him. “Where is she? Who's looking after her? No-one will tell me anything.”

My voice was surprisingly calm in comparison to how I actually felt, but he simply shook his head.

“She's in protection, Mister Stanley,” he said, shoving the papers back into a brown leather briefcase. “You're still perceived as a possible threat. The police won't reveal her whereabouts, especially not to me.”

With that he stood, taller even than me as I stood with him. He shook my hand and told me he was sorry, as automatically and without meaning as someone who has arrived for an appointment one minute late. Once he had stepped out of my room he left a fading trail of footsteps that sounded as slow and heavy as his voice, and I watched the door slowly close behind him.

Just outside the doorway was a guard who, at six o'clock, would be replaced by another, identical guard, and so on until I had been guarded relentlessly all day and night. I sat on the edge of my bed and looked out of the window. Once-white, now-rusting bars were bolted across the outside, so that even though I had taken down the netting, when my small room caught the sun it was still cut into slices. All I could see outside was a small patch of grass just a few feet square, with a single sapling whose first brave leaves were turning yellow with autumn, then beyond that was another faceless brick wall. The limited view reminded me of my stay at the hospital, but it was still better than staring at the blank walls on the inside.

The police came just once, two calm and solemn uniformed officers, to interview me in my room. They asked all the same questions as before, about my history with Kate, about what I had done that night, but I could tell them nothing new. It felt as if they had been sent as a matter of course when everything had already been decided. The officer taking the lead was a man in his forties who had the look of a family man, and he shook my hand at the end.

“I'm sorry, Mister Stanley,” was all he said before he left. Perhaps he had perceived my innocence, but it had no impact.

Over the weeks a picture emerged of what had happened and what the police had concluded. Someone had entered the house approximately one hour after I had left, climbing in through the still-open spare bedroom window. They had ransacked some of the drawers but taken nothing, and had then stabbed both Kate and Steve in a struggle downstairs in the living room.

Vincent told me the details in apologetic tones. There was blood everywhere, he said, their clothing torn to ribbons, but the knife was never recovered. The prosecution insisted that I had suffered a delusional episode triggered by the rage of my jealousy, and after knocking out Steve I had gone home to find a weapon before returning to finally murder the people who had unbalanced me the most.

The anger that awoke in me at hearing how Kate's life had ended was almost matched by the pain of being accused, of being thought capable of doing that to her.

I was given medication several times daily once the psychiatrists had decided that I suffered from some form of schizophrenia. The nurses would come in, each one accompanied by the security guard from the door, and would give me my pills, but would never check too carefully to see whether I had taken them. I'd hide them under my tongue or in my cheek, then flush them away.

As I watched them, floating and swirling like freedom itself, I envied their escape.

I was still never allowed to see Lucy before I was taken to the courtroom in the back of a van. It was a small room but, surrounded by stiff wooden formality and by so many faces that had already decided my guilt, I felt overwhelmed. I was placed in the dock and merely repeated what I had been told to say, my words echoing through the haze, and before I knew it I was found guilty.

Vincent's promise held true however, and I was never imprisoned. When the stress and weight of those endless days bore down upon me I had melted them into the distance by accepting some of the tablets given me, and after that I flushed less of them away as I felt them change something within me and temper the burning inside.

Nevertheless, although I'd never know where Lucy was being kept, what was happening to her, or who was taking care of her, the need to break out and find her built in me like a power of its own, surging past the medication as if it were nothing, and never letting me rest at night.

“You'll be assessed several times over the coming months,” said a young doctor wearing a shirt and tie as he stood before me early one morning. It was several weeks after the trial, and he was reading hurriedly to himself from a clipboard as he spoke. “If your condition is deemed stabilised by the medication then security will be relaxed and we may be able to arrange a visit with your daughter.”

“When?”

“It really depends on you, Mister Stanley,” he said, looking up at me. It was stated as a simple fact, not an accusation. “Weeks, months, years. It depends on your progress. I can't make any promises.”

He allowed himself to soften as a sympathetic smile appeared, but as if alerted to his own falling guard, he then turned and quickly left the room.

Days and nights blurred their boundaries and confused my dreams, and I felt a dam of numbness cracking under the rising feeling behind it. I cried, punched the walls until my knuckles bled, threw the chair at the reinforced window so hard that it cracked into a spider-web lattice, and I was held down and injected with something that sent me to sleep for a day. Consciously I knew that I had to focus on the future and keep it all reined in, but when it overwhelmed me I was possessed so completely that I was no longer myself, and became instead a wild, feral animal who would not be trapped by walls.

I began flushing all of my tablets away again, just to feel the raw power uninhibited, and I knew that as long as I was holed up in here I would never find my daughter, and she would grow up without me, having never remembered so much as my face.

The day came when I had carefully taken in and memorised my surroundings and the timing of things to the point where I felt myself readying for the pounce. Early one morning I dressed in my own shoes and long coat, the small book tucked safely in the inside pocket, and I sat up from my bed and threw it over with a crash, its clattering steel frame launching the mattress across the floor. I felt the heat and inhuman strength fill my body as I picked up the chair and waited next to the window for the guard. He was a big man, tall and rotund and built like a barrel, and he crashed through the door and pounded in brandishing a black hand-held taser, wearing the furrowed glare of a man without patience. He was caught by the sun's sharp brightness, and before his eyes processed what stood before him, I hurled the chair at him and ran for the door.

His sheer size and weight absorbed the impact, and the chair knocked him backwards but not over. With a deep cry of rage and pain he grabbed me as I ran past and threw me to the floor. My landing was hard enough to knock the wind from me but I briskly shook my head clear and leaped back up. He advanced, taser in hand, and just like that last night I had ever seen Kate, I whipped my fist out as quick as a cobra and hit the side of his jaw so hard he stumbled and finally fell backwards, dazed.

Landing on his back, the taser clattered to the floor, skidding toward the wall, and I leaped over and picked it up and made another break for the door, leaving the fallen beast roaring behind me.

I ran so fast that my chest burned and the plain white walls of the corridor blurred either side of me. Half-formed laughs punctuated raw breathing as I felt my long and tangled hair spread like wings in the air, my coat a fluttering cape. Nurses, patients and doctors were so shocked by the speed of my approach that they stopped and peered at me with a frown as I passed them, as if I might be a figment of someone's unbalanced imagination somehow escaped into reality, or else they gasped and flattened themselves to the wall and let me pass.

The looming shapes of two security guards rounded the corner ahead of me, but I did not stop. Seeing the momentum I carried, they began to run toward me to cancel it with their own. They were not quick enough and, holding my breath and closing my eyes, I lowered my shoulder. I collided with the nearest one of them hard enough to throw him backwards, and sent him skidding with a comical squeak as his leather belt resisted the smooth floor.

The impact slowed me down and, as I passed the guard that was still standing, he pushed something into my stomach. I cried out in pain and surprise as a nightmarish agony suddenly filled my body and tightened it uncontrollably. For a split second I felt like I was on fire, and then all strength left me and I fell back against the wall. He stepped forward, his taser still arcing with a loud crackling noise, and I gathered myself and leaped forward on uncertain and still-shaking legs. I lashed out with my own stolen taser, hitting the smooth skin of his neck. With a yelp like that of a puppy, his head jerked and he collapsed to the floor.

I picked up his taser as he dropped it, and just as the first guard got to his feet, I pushed both tasers into his belly and knocked him back down. I winced, now knowing the pain I just sent coursing through him, but this was my escape to Lucy and I could spare no-one.

Loud alarm bells rang all through the corridors, doors closed and locked themselves, and I ran into the large foyer, past the reception desk, and past the chairs lined up in the waiting area. I stopped before the sliding glass front doors. They were also locked, and didn't budge when I pocketed my tasers and tried to crowbar my fingers into the gap and pull the doors apart. I ran back to the desk where a young woman sat, her tied-back blonde hair making her wide blue eyes look even wider with terror. I brandished both tasers, one in each hand.

“Open the front doors,” I demanded quietly, but she merely shook her head.

I had no real intention of tasing her, and perhaps she could tell, so in panic I put the tasers back into my pockets and instead lifted up a heavy chair from the waiting area and ran to the doors, throwing it at the glass. It bounced off and landed back at my feet, and I heard the approaching footsteps and shouts of more security guards. For a moment I stared out at the world just beyond the glass, feeling the unbearable helplessness at being cut off from my daughter by just a few millimetres of transparency. Turning and standing ready to fight I felt tears well up, and I cried Lucy's name.

“I'll come for you,” I gasped, my lungs breathless. “I will find you.”

At that moment there was a click behind me, and I heard the doors slide open. With a shock of surprise I span around to watch them gliding apart, then span back and looked over at the girl behind the desk. Despite the fear on her face she flashed a quick smile, and I didn't wait for anything more as I smiled back with a laugh of relief and then ran.

“I love you!” I called out, not even sure who I was shouting to.

Despite the months of inactivity my muscles had still retained a capacity for distance, and I was able to sprint out through the cold air and down the driveway, speeding through the main entrance and leaving the brick walls behind.

I ran over expanses of grass and alongside quiet hedge-lined roads that seemed to be deserted, until eventually I saw houses. I headed toward them and found myself rushing as quick as a breeze through the side-roads and crescents packed and lined with cosy, oblivious homes. Breathlessly bursting out from the other side of the small residential estate I saw more fields and farms ahead.

Darlington's town centre was now visible in the distance, over the lines of tall hedges that had set themselves up like hurdles before me. In between passing sirens and helicopters I stopped for breath under the lethargic shadows of trees, or threw myself into the harsh bushes to avoid detection, resting my sore muscles and lungs just long enough to keep running.

Upon reaching the edge of the town I saw a small pizza restaurant, and with the sounds of searching now far behind me I ran around to the back and hid myself, curling up behind the large bins, waiting for my pursuers to catch up and pass by.

I stayed there, not daring to move, hearing the unaware voices and laughter of the staff as they stepped out of the back door on their breaks or to quickly inhale a cigarette, but no-one saw me. I sat there like a nocturnal creature, waiting until the sun sank down and lit up my breath in clouds, and once the unbearable coldness of night set in I stood up and stretched my stiff bones, and walked.

I had lost track of the measurement of time, forgetting the months and weekdays and the counting of hours, knowing only the position of the sun and the length of the days, the pendulum that swung between warmth and cold, and I guessed that the calendars now showed either January or February. I walked, hoping that my long black coat would blend in with all the other long black coats of winter, and I kept my head down as I looked out for signs to the railway station and followed them.

It was a long three miles, my hands slowly numbing in the cold, but I walked them quickly, and as I approached the long, ornate red-brick buildings of the station and its clock tower, I paused and stayed in the shadows, looking out for any police presence, but there seemed to be none.

With a smile of satisfaction, I cautiously entered and scanned the timetable, and saw that the trains travelled from here into York in only thirty minutes. I knew that from there I could lie low and follow the trail back to Lucy, and perhaps even find Rose, wherever she may be living now.

The wait was long and exhaustingly tense, every footstep holding the potential for capture, and the low growl of the train's diesel engines sounded like a sweet relief, its fluorescent-bright windows like home. I climbed aboard and sat on a worn seat away from the other passengers and near the toilet cubicle, hoping I could hide out if anyone asked for my ticket.

I closed my eyes and felt the train's momentum soaking into me as it pulled away, letting the carriage carry me to safety like my own father used to. My eyelids sealed closed, my senses slowly drifted apart in their own directions, and sleep washed over me like a drug.

Voices woke me into the leaden emptiness of having been still for longer than I should. I sat up straight, opening my eyes wide to wake myself quickly, and someone who must have been the train's driver was walking toward me, leading two uniformed policemen. He sidestepped to let them pass.

“There he is, gents,” he said, and the two policemen, one young and one middle-aged, regarded me like a parent might a naughty child as they neared.

“Come on, Mister Stanley,” said the younger one in front.

“No more Steve McQueen business, please,” the older one chimed in from behind.

“The cameras always get you in the end,” continued the first officer, pointing to a small dark shape on the train carriage's ceiling.

I tensed and reached into my pockets, wrapping my hands around the tasers I still had, feeling a trapped desperation and the exhausted vestiges of sleep still holding me.

I was no longer in control as I leaped up in front of them just as they stopped a short distance away from me. Only the raw power of escape spilling over its dam now rushed through me, and I took the younger officer by surprise as I charged forward. The cramped train aisle left him no room or time to back off, and I pushed the taser into the small area of his chest that was visible above his stab vest. The shock sent him sprawling back and sideways across the seats, yelping in pain.

The older officer's experience had hardened his reflexes and muscles into steel however, and in no time at all he had disarmed me and thrown me painfully backwards and down to my front on the floor, my arm pushed behind my back almost to breaking point.

“No!” I roared, feeling the heat inside me, refusing to believe it would ever be contained again. “You don't know what you're doing!”

“Assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest,” the older policeman managed to say as I struggled beneath him with a strength that seemed to take him by surprise. “They're very serious crimes, Mister Stanley.”

I strained with all my might but he had me trapped, and my heart sank back into its fiery pit as I heard him talking over his radio, calling for other officers that waited outside.

Eventually I was hauled roughly up to my feet, frisked, disarmed of my other taser, and handcuffed. I was marched out of the small railway station where the train had stopped, and roughly bundled into the back of a police patrol car and driven away. The passing buildings and lights meant nothing to me now as I was driven back to the police station in defeat. They may as well have been drawn on paper.

I was locked up in a small concrete holding cell, during which time the younger police officer from the train entered and wreaked his revenge upon me while I sat helpless and handcuffed on the hard wooden bed, his fists pounding my ribs and chest and back, aiming for all the places where bruises would not be seen. I closed my eyes, falling sideways and curling up against his endless raining blows, feeling each solid punch jar me further from my body, from all the fire trapped in there, and far away from Lucy, until I was nothing.

He roughly pulled me back upright, and I opened my eyes to see him standing with a steely dark glint of satisfaction in his eyes, sweat on his brow. “Seeing how you resisted arrest,” he said, now breathless, “they won't mind this.”

He swung his fist at my face, hitting my jaw so hard I was thrown back down to the bed, all of my senses knocked away for a split second, dazing me. As I lay feeling a heavy throb reverberate through my head I thought that perhaps it was fitting punishment for all the jaws I had hit. I heard the cell door scrape open and then closed, and I was left alone in silence, feeling each heartbeat and each breath sear my bruised ribs from inside. It was all I could hear, and I was nothing.

A week later, I was back in the hospital, in another guarded cream-coloured room almost identical to the last, being assessed. I lay on the bed, still glad for its softness against my healing body, and I stared at the shadows on the plain white ceiling.

“You do it to yourself, Silas,” said the same psychiatrist who had assessed me last time, sitting in the chair by the bed. He was large and bearded, with a striped shirt casually unbuttoned at the collar, and although he looked overweight and over fifty, his manner was energetic. He glanced through a stack of papers almost as large as the solicitor's had been, and looked over a tiny pair of round spectacles whenever he spoke to me in his slightly-too-high voice. As he leaned his girth back into the creaking chair he shook his head.

“You could have been up for a positive review in a few months,” he concluded. “There's no chance of that now. Don't you want to see your daughter again?”

“I couldn't control myself,” I answered him. “I felt like I had to see her now, not in a few months.”

“Control is what the medication was for,” came the annoyed reply. “You don't want to control yourself.”

I sighed, and then I smiled. He was right, about all of it. I should have played the game and been good, been patient enough to guarantee seeing Lucy again instead of risking everything to see her right now. I had been so close.

“Well,” he said with a sigh, “this time we've got to be more careful with you I'm afraid.”

“I'll take my medication,” I promised.

“Your word is clearly not enough,” he said, still sounding annoyed. “I'll be requesting your transfer to a more secure unit, where you'll be taken care of properly.”

I sat up, wincing against my bruised muscles, and looked straight at him. “What do you mean?”

“I mean they'll be keeping a closer eye on you, and not letting you get away with as much as they do here.”

“They don't let me get away with anything here,” I protested. “Just let me stay here and I'll take anything they give me, I promise.”

“I'm sorry, Mister Stanley,” he said, taking the tiny glasses off from his large head and rising from his chair. “Like I said, you've done it to yourself.”

He looked at me, his expression one of regarding wasted potential, and then he left. Knowing he was right about everything hurt me more than my bruises, but despite how much I had set myself back I willed myself into a determination that this time I would do it all properly. Even if there was nothing left of me, there would always be Lucy, and I would see her some day.

They moved me to the new secure hospital with almost comical haste, rushing me miles away into the heart of London. Perhaps they thought distance was the only thing to stop me from exploding into another violent rampage at any moment, but when I was escorted to my new room I felt any fire of violence extinguished by the ocean of my own failure.

The air in there was musty, the beige walls patterned brown with damp, and my bed in the far corner held ominous leather straps at the sides that, more ominously, looked well worn with creased and cracked surfaces. The tough linoleum floor was the same shade of beige as the walls, patterned to look like tiles, and they bore mysterious marks and dark stains that looked many years old. Like the last hospital room, there was a single padded chair and a wooden bedside table that looked too small to fit anything useful on top.

There was no window in here, just a single rectangular light recessed in the ceiling that flickered once in a while and emitted a constant fluorescent hum, and a tiny viewing pane in the door. It was explained to me that my door would be locked at all times, and that two orderlies would regularly bring me food and medication. They would see to it that I followed the doctor's orders and took the prescribed dose exactly when I was supposed to. Once my myriad pills had been given time to work, then I would be allowed to mingle in the common room with other patients, under close supervision.

In their eyes and the eyes of the world outside, I was a violently unstable criminal, sufficiently seared to murder the woman I loved. The unforgiving weight from before those turbulent days began to settle back in, finding its home waiting, and it pulled me down slowly into its darkness.

I lost my little remaining grip on times, days, dates and seasons, now just as dependent on the harsh glare of the light in my ceiling as I once was on the sun outside. I would wait for its quiet ping as it flicked suddenly on with the dawn, and feel the strange sinking mix of relief and loneliness when it finally blinked out at night.

Two large men came in several times a day to hand me a rainbow of tablets in bright colours and odd shapes, and roughly and efficiently handled my jaw before having me pull faces and make sounds in order to check I had not concealed any without swallowing. They were not unkind, but I knew that they would not be soft should I attempt any rebellion.

“No escape attempts this time, please,” one of them said early on with a faint glimmer of a smile. He pointed to the straps on my bed, and I hoped he was joking.

Occasionally a white-clad doctor would breeze in with a clipboard, checking things quietly to him or herself, and ask me routine questions in a bored voice, about which tablets I had taken and how often, then he or she would leave.

My therapy eventually began, and this meant that once per week I was visited by a slight young woman with skin as dark and smooth as velvet. Her name was Ruth, and she seemed to me like an angel caught but untouched by the hospital's filth. Her eyes and her smile were wide and her voice kind, and she often asked me to simply talk to her, but I felt numb and had nothing to say.

Each week I felt like I was letting her down and wasting her time, but regardless I began to look forward to her visits, feeling her presence comforting. I liked to lie back on my bed and listen to her voice, or to close my eyes and just enjoy knowing that she was there.

I once asked her how long I could expect to stay here, but she merely drew in a breath and shook her head.

“That decision isn't mine to make,” she said. “Your last escape isn't going to work in your favour, though.”

“Are we talking months? Years?” I sat up on the edge of my bed, leaning forward impatiently.

“Mister Stanley,” she said sympathetically, “you've basically been sent here to be put back in line. Whether it's the drugs or the therapy, it's not until they're happy that your behaviour has permanently changed for the better that they'll consider letting you back into the outside world.”

I lay back with a sigh. “It's a prison,” I complained.

“It might seem that way,” she admitted, “but consider yourself lucky you're not in a real one.”

Week followed week, ticking like a slow clock. The tablets were stronger than me, pushing out into my periphery everything that I was, leaving only a core that looked out through my eyes and each day experienced less and less of my mood’s peaks and troughs. Soon I felt as if I stood quiet and alone in a huge empty stadium, among fragments of desperate clawing screams carried like lost silk on the wind. As I lay there on my bed, the relentless and unwavering glare of the light above me became my life-giver and father. The tides of food, water and medication carried me through the weeks in a comforting rhythm like that of being rocked to sleep, like the advancing and retreating tides of my mother's affection. I was once again a child in the lost memories of my past, and the rising damp in the walls became my friend.

In its fractal patterns and uneven surfaces I saw the chaos of nature outside, of coastlines and cliff edges, of galaxies and the microcosmic worlds of texture, and I mentally painted the plain upper walls and the ceiling with the same chaos, piece by piece, day by day.

“I'm not supposed to tell you this,” said Ruth one day. “This place is pretty draconian sometimes.”

I sat up on my bed and felt my slow focus land on her and make sense of her. “Tell me what?” I asked, frowning.

“I have letters,” she said in a low voice, and she came over and sat next to me on the bed. “Here,” she said, thrusting torn envelopes into my hand. “They're from your wife's mother, I'm...”

“From Rose?”

“Yes, from Rose. Make sure you hide them. I'm supposed to hand them straight to the police, but...” she shrugged.

I took the paper from her and smiled at their texture on my fingertips. “But what?” I asked her.

“I know what happened to you,” she said, standing back up. “Given your case history and what they said about you on the news, I think you deserve to know what's in those letters. Just...” She looked around at the door. “Just keep them under your mattress or something. When you've read them I'll come back and throw them away.”

There were three letters, and I obediently kept them hidden under my mattress and read pieces of them each day. Rose had been writing to me as soon as she had discovered where I was, and I was shocked to see the dates on them reveal how many months I had already been in here.

Dear Silas,

I don't know if you will find this letter at all, but I feel I have to try to contact you somehow. Lucy is with me now, by my request, and she is well looked after now that all the paperwork is finished. I have only just moved away from my small flat in York, the one I moved into after your wedding. I found a larger house in your town of Alvermere, and we have settled in nicely. Lucy likes it here, but the poor girl is frail, and all that has happened seems to have made her ill. I am doing all that I can to comfort and help her, but she is young and does not understand.

I know you are as devastated as I am about my beautiful Kate, and I am sorry to have to bring the subject up, but I know you loved her more than anything, and no matter what I think of you and what you did, I know you are not guilty. You have problems which made you act the way you did, but I know you never laid a finger on my beautiful daughter. Because of how much she once loved you, and because anyone who loved her as much as you did despite all of your problems can only be good, I will try to help you as much as I can.

Yours,

Rose

I felt my eyes fill up, blurring the words on the paper, spilling warm drops over the ink. All the things my months of treatment had banished were still reaching to me, and I screwed the letter up in my fist and sobbed so hard it felt like everything had collapsed into a single point inside me, and my whole body ached.

Over the months I had more letters, and Ruth would deliver them all with a smile, unopened, recognising Rose's handwriting on the envelopes. Rose was battling to have my case reviewed, but it seemed she kept hitting walls and could not get anywhere. Sometimes Ruth brought a small piece of paper and a pen, and let me write letters back, and these had to be smuggled out carefully. This was not often, and even then I found that there was not much inside me that I could truthfully write, except for my memories of Kate and my gratitude for Rose's help, and to ask her to tell me everything about Lucy.

She would write back with Lucy's progress, and once even she sent a photo, a blurred picture of Lucy standing outside on Rose's driveway. She was now five years old, dressed in her school uniform's blue sweater and grey skirt, and smiling broadly in anticipation of her first day. Her hair was long, straight, and still jet-black, and Kate's eyes smiled out with her. I held onto the photo, and kept it under my mattress, wrapped in its envelope.

A few months after, another letter arrived.

Dear Silas,

I am so glad that you are still receiving my letters. You will be thrilled to know that Lucy is excelling at school. She is top of her class in reading and writing, and has been described as “very imaginative” - something of both you and Kate shining out I think!

As you know I have been investigating old newspapers and legal papers these past few months, and have discovered something very interesting. It seems that while Steven was down in London building up his own small chain of coffee shops after university, he went to jail for several months. It was related somehow to his involvement with a large organised crime gang, and had something to do with borrowed money, but I have yet to find out more details.

Perhaps this is why the police are reluctant to re-open the case. I have a horrible feeling that they needed a scapegoat, and that you were it. I sincerely hope I am wrong, but nonetheless I shall keep you posted as I find out more.

Yours,

Rose

Even through the haze of my confusion, and the pain dulled by medication, I felt a horrible sinking shock at her words. To think that Steve may not have been the good man that I had thought, and that it may have been him that had got Kate killed, were thoughts that broiled amidst an anger so deep that I forced myself to wait for more definite proof before letting it overwhelm me.

So I said nothing and felt nothing, and waited for more of her letters. During the spaces in between I would lie on my bed and look at the patterns I had projected onto the walls, shifting them subtly until I found faces I could talk to. Sometimes I found Lucy smiling out at me, and other times Kate looked down and told me all was forgiven, and when that happened I would curl up and screw my eyes shut, squeezing more tears onto the pillow.

Rose finally wrote again, and although she had not unearthed enough information to definitively prove her theory about Steve, she wrote with some bitterness that she had more evidence against him than the courts had ever had against me. No matter who she took it to, she was still met with closed doors.

As another year passed, then another, the letters became more sparse. Rose's battles still came to nothing, but now that Lucy was older she always included a letter from her. They were brief, and they always broke my heart because it was clear that she did not remember me. They all ended with “I hope you get better soon.”

I clung to them as my last lifeline to Lucy, but it pained me further to read those words after a letter from Rose told me of Lucy's failing health, and her increasing days off school. She promised to let me know the results of an upcoming hospital appointment, as well as send a new photograph of Lucy.

Before my reply could even be sent, however, the staff and their roles had undergone an upheaval which ensured it was no longer possible to smuggle mail in and out of anyone's room. Searches were conducted, and Ruth warned me of them and took all of my hidden letters and, painfully, my first photo of Lucy. I was cut off, and I felt an ache of sinking loneliness. Not only did I have no contact with my daughter, and no way of knowing what might be wrong with her, but Rose would now be left with no recourse but to give up trying to save me.

Over those years, Ruth's weekly visits were the only constant. Assessments by all manner of different kinds of doctors made random and disordered appearances, and each one would often contradict the last. I remained determined to do as I was asked, anything to get out and see Lucy, but it seemed I was always held back. My medication shifted and changed and reduced my whole being to a series of numbered pills on a check-list while nurses and doctors whispered and muttered to one another, and revealed nothing at all to me. Instead I would remain locked in my room for months until my next assessment.

Throughout all this, despite Ruth's tired eyes she still looked like an angel to me. She sat down next to me on the bed one day and told me about her change of role, and she said that she was going to do something about my medication.

“I can't stand to see what it's done to you,” she said, and she held my hand. “I think you need to see your daughter before any real improvement happens, not the other way around.”

Her skin was warm and flawlessly smooth, and as she sat with me there was a surge of something from before, and I felt as if I wanted to kiss her perfect lips, just because of the angel that she was. Her eyes met mine and seemed almost expectant, but I looked down at my lap with shame, knowing that my hair was tangled and overgrown, and my beard was almost as wild. I must have looked as much a mess as I felt inside, and I thought of Kate, and how I never wanted to kiss lips other than hers ever again.

Ruth silently stood and left the room, looking back at me with a downcast smile, and then I was alone again with only my shifting, textured walls for company. The day after that, she returned with Kate's book and told me to keep it just as hidden as I had kept my letters. The searches had been brutal, and the letters and the photograph had been shredded, but somehow the book had been miraculously overlooked. The sight of it touched the long-distanced pain inside and yet soothed it at the same time, and I kept it inside my pillow case and read the poetry each night before the light went out. Each time I opened it I felt like the life of its writer was caught in the fibres of the paper, glowing out, and it reminded me of the man in the story I had written years before. I would close my eyes and become one with him, climbing mountains up to the roof of the world to look out and find Kate again.

I began to have dreams not long afterwards, some of them dark and seething with menace, others gruesome and sickening, but still others were of a small dark-haired girl with pale skin who looked at me with awe and wonder, and those were my favourite dreams. I knew in my sleep that Lucy was with me, but when I woke I told myself that it was just a dream and that I could not truly know what Lucy looked like after so many years. Still, my belief was strung out through each waking day, pinned now to my walls, reminding me there was something beyond them, waiting for me.

Ruth revealed to me that she was weaning me off certain tablets and changing others, and she excitedly promised me that soon I would be able to feel like myself.

“You're coming home, Silas,” she said with the biggest and most pure grin I had ever seen.

I wondered if coming home meant I would someday be allowed to see my daughter again, and I realised with a helpless shock of shame that I could not recall how old she was now.

“What year is this?” I asked her.

She touched my arm, her smile mixing with concern. “It's twenty thirteen,” she said. “It's March.”

I felt realisation drop like a weight, and its shockwaves sobered me. Long-forgotten connections began to form in my memories, and I started to mentally reconstruct the world outside of this place. It both frightened and excited me, just like stepping out into the freezing weather outside my tiny flat had done many years ago.

Ruth got up and left, and returned just a few minutes later, without a word, carrying a metal tray full of shaving equipment, and a bowl of steaming water. She simply sat with me and trimmed away my beard, holding my face as softly as she might hold a child's as she tenderly shaved me clean, and then she smiled and kissed my smooth cheek, and left. I reached up and touched my skin where she had kissed, and felt my whole face uneven with tiny ridges, and I frowned to myself in confusion. Then, once the door was closed behind her, I cried.

After that day, the return of hope stripped back the convoluted patterns from my walls and, slowly, over weeks and months, I watched them soak into the bright scenery of my returning dreams, like a mist beginning to withdraw to show me how the world really looked behind it. It was the same feeling as returning to a familiar house after having been away for long enough to forget its smell and the way the sun shines into its rooms.

Once a week, with each of her visits, Ruth brought in her tray, and I would close my eyes and hear only our two sets of breaths as she shaved me clean, cleaning away more of the pains that held me captive.

Then the end came, and the first I knew about it was the noise. The endless rumble from somewhere deep inside the earth, vibrating up through the walls and concrete of my room, through the steel of my bed until none of it any longer felt solid. It felt as if something down there had stirred and was growling as it woke, at first gently swaying everything from side to side but quickly rising to throw it all clattering to the floor and hammer my bed against the wall as I lay on it, my eyes screwed shut. There was a rapid rise of yelling and shouting that became a deafening cacophony within minutes. Our world had suddenly become less solid, the impenetrable structure of everything around us reduced to soft and crumbling rubber.

Sudden, sharp snapping noises echoed around my room, then a jarring impact roared through the building, and I heard distant, huge crashes as the lights flickered on, stayed on, then flickered off. My heart was racing by now but I didn't dare move. The negative images left by the lights were of cracks the shape of lightning bolts reaching across the ceiling and walls, now fading into the branching blood vessels of my eyes. There were more jolts, each one threatening to throw me from my bed and onto the floor that I knew was more solid than it seemed, and I kept my eyes closed against each sudden attempt by the light on the ceiling above me to switch on. Its glare flickered harshly against my eyelids like something tangible assaulting them, and as I lay still I listened, frowning, wondering what had happened.

Once the shaking had retreated back down to its earlier deep grumble I slowly opened my eyes and swung my legs around, tentatively touching the floor, half-expecting it to be as soft as quicksand. It felt reassuringly solid underfoot, and I rose from the bed and slowly stood up, the shadow of my body unfurling across the floor under the flickering light. With slow and purposeful steps I walked over to the door and looked out of the tiny viewing pane. It remained solid against the sudden onslaught of noise and terror outside, the endless rattle of beds and doors, the blurred shapes of the staff running past me under the strobing corridor lights, their footsteps always present even when they were not visible.

All of the lights suddenly went out, and for a moment we were plunged deep into night, until the faint moonlight-glow of the backup lights warmed up in the corridor outside. A small shaft of it shone in through the rectangle of glass in my locked door, and I went back to my bed and sank down, feeling my heart pounding and my hands shaking. The sounds of screams and panic were continuous now, and it turned into a nightmarish tide that simply washed over me, until some hours later it had manifested into the reality of actual water, dark and murky, rushing in from the distance and bringing a crest of fresh screams with it.

I went back to the faint light at my door and looked out, but I could not see much until the rush of water powered past, carrying unidentifiable broken things on its dirty, writhing surface, and I backed away and leaped up onto my bed as it seeped under the door and began to wash in a dark and foaming crescent across the floor. I realised that it must have come from a flooded Thames, but I gave up working out why.

Just then the emergency lights winked out too, leaving me in complete darkness with only the sound of water and my own breathing to combat the noises from outside. I sat on my bed, expecting at any moment to feel the cold touch of the flood slowly soaking through everything as it rose unstoppably. I smelled it, damp and acrid, carrying the filth of London’s dank corners and basements, seeping snake-like through its gutters and sewers as if attempting to wash all of the world's cities clean.

A strange stasis settled as I eventually realised the water was rising no further, and I uneasily and reluctantly settled onto my bed, lying and making my peace with the cocktail of smells and sounds in the darkness, and I fitfully began to sleep.

Dreams came, but they were terrifying, absorbing the sinister edges of my surroundings, and I woke again and again, my memory blank except for feelings of panic and terror, and I would frown and wonder what I had dreamed before drifting back into more.

When the light above me flicked on with its quiet ping I woke suddenly and sat up so fast my vision faded and blurred. Looking around me, the room gradually formed into solid shapes and colours, cracked as they were, and I saw that the water had gone, retreating back under my door after having deposited a film of dark slime and dirt on the floor's surface and leaving its mark almost two feet up the walls. The chair and bedside table were now deposited at strange angles on their sides, covered in the thick and discoloured remnants of the water, with myself and my bed the only island left untouched in the middle of an oil-slicked ocean.

Although I heard distant voices, shouts and footsteps, no-one came to my door until the light switched off again. Sleep was creeping upon me as surely as the slowly congealing smell of the mess all around me, and just then my door rattled and banged, and my eyes opened. A torch was being shone in through the small window, its beam slicing curves back and forth through the thick air until it shone straight into my eyes, and I held up my hand to shield them with a cry of unexpected pain.

“Are you injured?” came a male voice muffled by the door's thickness.

“No, I'm just stranded,” I called. “And blind,” I added.

“The doors in this section are all jammed,” came the impatient reply. “We'll be back as soon as we can.”

With that the light withdrew and took with it the promise of human presence, and I was left alone in the darkness to wonder if I would be forgotten and left without food or water until I simply faded into nothing.

Another rumble vibrated everything in the room, and there was an abrupt yet gentle swaying motion for a few moments, accompanied by the sounds of fine concrete and plaster dust showering upon the floor, then it died down again.

I lay drifting along the outskirts of sleep and dreams, diving in occasionally but I was never sure how long for. No-one came back for what felt like a whole day, and thirst began to claw at my throat, drying my mouth, warring for dominance with the growling hunger in my stomach. Being trapped in here was a mixed blessing, as the hunger was offset by the worsening smell. The stench was becoming unbearable and soon stung my nostrils as strongly as if the floodwater had been a living thing that had left its corpse behind to rot.

I lay and felt my sleepiness detach me from the sensations of being physical, and none of it worried me too deeply, until a crash at the door sprang my body back upright in panic. I looked over and saw more torchlight whipping through the air outside the tiny viewing pane, accompanied by raised voices. Another crash resounded heavily through the metal door, sounding it like a bell, and then with a third crash the thick wooden frame gave way. It exploded into splinters that lit up like shooting stars in the darting beams of light, and the door reluctantly fell to the floor, ringing again briefly as it hit the floor, then muted into silence as footsteps trampled over it.

I saw in the torchlight's flashes, each as brief as lightning, a group of men in military camouflage stepping in the room. “Are you all right, sir?” one of them asked, while another tossed something at me that landed on the bed in front of me, and shone his torch steady at me. I realised he had thrown me what looked like a used pair of trainers, and was waiting for me to put them on.

“I'm not injured,” I said as I put on the old trainers, thinking they were at least preferable to the floor. “Hungry and thirsty though.”

“There's food and water rations in the common room, sir,” said the voice. “Follow us.”

They left the room so quickly I was taken by surprise, and I leaped to the floor and almost slipped on the surface that was now drying underfoot. I followed them, my tired and hungry body struggling to match their jogging pace, and I saw that they were a small group of five, all armed with pistols clipped into holsters at their hips, while the man at the rear carried a large black metal battering-ram strapped heavily to his back. They took me around a dizzying maze of corridors with huge cracks in their walls, while the soldier who had first spoken to me dropped back to my side and explained that some of ceilings had caved in and were no longer safe.

“Unfortunately this is the only way to the common room,” he said, apparently not even noticing the scuffle up ahead, where two more soldiers wrestled an uncooperative patient to the ground. I turned and looked behind me as we ran past them, and saw one of the soldiers had just drawn his gun before we rounded a corner and the scene passed out of sight.

“What happened?” I asked him as we carried on. “Why is everyone being evacuated?”

“Sorry but I'm not at liberty to divulge,” he said simply.

With that we neared a set of double doors guarded by two of the hospital's burly security staff, and the soldier patted me on the shoulder as all five of them stopped in unison. “There's the common room, sir,” he said. “Report to one of the staff inside.”

With that they all turned around and ran back the way they had come, leaving me standing in front of the doors. The light overhead flickered my surroundings in and out of darkness faster than a moth's wings until they no longer seemed real, and I faced two unmoving guards standing like stone gargoyles. Sounds of activity and panicked voices carried out from the other side of the large wooden doors, but their narrow glass windows were frosted and gave away only vague shadows of what went on behind them.

With a sigh I stepped forward tentatively between the guards and pushed both doors, and they were stiff, scraping in their frames until they flung open at slightly-askew angles. I paused in the door's bent frame and saw for the first time the large room I had been promised so long ago. Whether because I had not been allowed or simply because I had never been conscious enough to remember it, this was the first time I had seen this place in all the years I had been trapped in here.

It was the biggest expanse of space I had yet seen in the constrictive building, a large and high-ceilinged hall lined with windows that were either cracked or boarded up, and that looked out onto a small strip of grass before a high wall. What must have once been a pleasant pinewood floor was now warped into treacherous waves, smeared by dark remnants of the flood's leftovers that swirled in strange patterns where it had been mopped and cleaned. Patients, some seemingly lucid and others practically paralysed by drugs or illness, sat upon plastic chairs that had been hurriedly lined in untidy rows around the edges. Others wandered between the staff and the nurses who I watched running back and forth with a practised ease over the rippled wooden floor.

As I walked in further across the faintly sticky wood I saw rows of mattresses, some of them occupied, spread out at one end of the hall to my left, and a row of long tables with what looked to be rations at the opposite end on my right. Although there was a strong smell of some kind of disinfectant, the same lurking stench from my own room was hanging in the background of the air here.

I heard approaching footsteps, and before I knew it someone had grabbed my arm.

“Oh thank goodness,” said Ruth, now dressed in the same plain white tunic as the other nurses, and my heart leaped as I turned to her with a burst of hope. I smiled and hugged her tight with relief.

She stepped back, worry in her eyes. “Have you eaten?” she asked me. “So many were trapped in their rooms without anything.”

I didn't have time to reply before she ushered me toward the tables, and I didn't put up a fight as I spied rows of plastic mineral water bottles.

“Why is the army here?” I asked her as she walked with me, still holding my arm.

“They've been evacuating the whole city,” she said. “They've only dropped in today to help round up the patients that were trapped... here you go.” She passed me a bottle of water when we reached the table, and I opened the top and drank gratefully.

“So when do we get evacuated?” I asked breathlessly between cool mouthfuls.

“They're sending in a special unit,” she explained, handing me a paper plate with slices of bread and what looked like dried meat and dried fruit. “They put a mark on the gates and the front doors to identify us. They're doing that for all the people that will need special care.”

I nodded, shovelling the food into my mouth, tasting it as vividly as if I had never tasted food before. “So,” I mumbled through a mouthful, “what exactly happened?”

Ruth shook her head. “Exactly what they said would never happen,” she said bitterly. “That's what happened.”

“Which was...?”

“Of course,” she tutted apologetically, “you won't have heard...”

Just then one of the other nurses grabbed Ruth, and she hurried away with more apology, promising to come back and explain everything. Curious, I wondered what could have warranted evacuating the whole city of London, what upheaval could have caused both earthquakes and flooding, but I could not imagine. Instead I took my water and plate over to one of the windows and let the rush of sound and panic wash along its own course behind me. I felt unusually calm, almost satisfied. Every once in a while I heard the main doors scrape open as another lost patient was deposited by a group of soldiers, until that sound too faded into the background along with the others.

As I stood looking out it struck me suddenly how clear I felt, how I was settled in the moment, no longer under the strain of being pulled in a thousand different directions like I was before coming here, and no longer buried in a nothing haze by drugs. I was here, now, but I was in a place I no longer belonged, and a frown furrowed my brow as I absently ate the rest of my food.

Not long afterwards I felt a swirl of dread in my stomach as I saw the glass vibrate and felt the ground rumble beneath me. A chorus of screams erupted as the whole hall was suddenly jolted with such violence that I was thrown over, and huge crashes sounded both in the distance and frighteningly close. I curled up where I had fallen on the floor, eyes screwed shut, and heard more of the windows shatter nearby. Pressed close to the ground, I could hear its heartbeat, the bellows of its breaths, its brooding anger, and I felt sad for the earth.

Just then it was all over so suddenly that the remnants of noise gave way to the most peaceful silence I had ever heard, and then the clamour rose again.

The panic of voices, cries and the rush of unsteady movement formed a thick atmosphere of its own, and as I stood up I felt small pieces of glass and plaster fall from me and hit the floor. There were new cracks in the walls, and pieces of the ceiling had fallen in at the far end just beyond the mattresses. I went over and helped the staff clear away the larger chunks, collecting large slabs of jagged plaster and brick and throwing them all into a pile in the corner, but still none of them would answer my questions.

“We're not supposed to discuss it with the patients,” one of them finally told me. “We're trying to avoid panicking them.” I asked him how anything could possibly panic them more than the ceiling collapsing on their heads, but he remained apologetically tight-lipped.

Eventually giving up, I sat tiredly down on one of the chairs and drank the rest of my water.

When darkness fell I was ushered to one of the mattresses, but not long after I lay down on it I was asked to move off to allow one of the other patients its use. I sighed and stood up, my tiredness mixing with a new hunger to slowly wear me down. Ruth still hadn't returned, and I made my way over to the chairs and lay down over them, not wanting to touch the floor, but the shaped ridges of the plastic seats dug into my ribs. The lights had been turned off, but some faint lamplight glowed in the darkness over by the tables at the end of the hall, where the staff worked through the night and pored and argued over papers and lists, making only token efforts to stay quiet.

I slept an uneasy sleep without dreams, and woke into the cool air and pale light of early morning. Reluctantly rising and groaning against the sharp pains of imprints in my ribs, I saw that the windows were now beginning to steam up, blocking even a glimpse of the outside, and I felt the horrible muted frustration of being trapped begin to rise again. I suddenly wondered where we would be evacuated to when the army came back, and the realisation arrived like a weight hitting me that if Lucy was still living with Rose all the way up in the Lake District then they would have been evacuated to somewhere far away from here, and I would never get to see her.

Energised by the panic in that thought, I stood up and looked around me, searching for Ruth, but she was still nowhere in sight. I hurried over to the double doors and pulled them stiffly open, but the two security guards still stood on either side, and they wordlessly turned and looked at me with expressions that almost invited me to try escaping. I stood and let the doors close, then turned back to my uncomfortable seat.

The army had left, and with all the trapped patients now freed from their rooms another day passed. More quakes shook the building, and more pieces of it fell apart, but still the security guards were insistent on keeping us all inside.

Rations were already running low, and another night was spent on the chairs, fidgeting constantly to find a position where I could sleep for longer than a few minutes, but despite my tiredness it eluded me.

The next day I saw Ruth again, and when I saw how her eyes were sunken with exhaustion, I felt less sorry for my own sleeplessness. She was handing out medication to several of the patients, her hands overflowing with small boxes of tablets that she drew out of a bulging shopping bag for each one. She caught my eye with a smile and soon came over, but as she approached I saw the sadness in her smile.

“Silas!” she grinned. “How are you coping? I think I have some for you here.” She consulted a crumpled piece of paper that she had pulled out of one of her pockets.

“That's fine, I'll live,” I assured her.

“You can't just stop these things suddenly,” she warned me in a motherly tone, and she dug into her shopping bag and retrieved two small boxes, passing them to me. “Here,” she said.

I took them. “Thanks. When do you think they're coming back?”

“Who? The army?”

“Yes.”

“It won't be long, I'm sure. The rest of the city’s been evacuated now.”

I looked down at the tablets in my hands. I felt like throwing them to the floor and grinding them into the earth, and only Ruth's presence stopped me. “Once we're evacuated I won't get to see Lucy, will I?”

I looked up at Ruth who met my gaze and bit her lip, and neither of us said anything. She sank to her knees in front of me as if oblivious to the dark and sticky swirls on the floor, and held my hand as she looked me directly in the eye. “If you made it out,” she said quietly, “could you find her by yourself?”

I nodded. “Yes.”

“You’re positive you could survive out there?”

I simply nodded again, feeling resolution steel me.

Her lips tightened as she thought for a while. “Then I'll help you get out before they come back.”

She nodded decisively and smiled, her tiredness briefly replaced by a spark of life, and then she stood and blended into the rush all around her.

That night I was desperate with pain from sleeping on the chairs, and I reluctantly lay down on the hard floor. The smell was stronger but thankfully still faint, and I felt the unpleasant sensation of my T-shirt and bare arms sticking to the cold ground whenever I moved. Despite this and the hard discomfort, coupled with the uneasy noises and low, mysterious movements emanating from the ground below, I fell into a sleep just as deep as the groaning abyss beneath me.

Dreams of Lucy leaped up and flowered into view, of holding her when she was born, and watching her grow into a young woman as she took on the vitality that old age began to take away from me, and things were just as they should be.

I was awoken suddenly by something landing on me, and despite the abrupt interruption and the deepness of the night, I felt rested. I sat up stiffly, peeling away from the floor, and saw my empty pillow case lying on my lap. Ruth stood over me in the faint light. “Hurry,” she whispered.

I stood and picked up the pillow case, trying not to attract any attention from the still-awake staff. With a breathless rise of hope I felt a weight inside, and I reached in and pulled out the book, running my fingers over its cover to make sure it was real. I wrapped it back inside the pillow case and looked over at Ruth who smiled back at me.

“I took it out of your room before anyone else saw it,” she said, and then she took my arm and led me toward the double doors.

We made it through the doors unnoticed, where the security guards eyed us suspiciously, but they apparently saw Ruth as clearance enough for me to be let out of their sight. We walked on briskly, dodging chunks of the ceiling and walking over its fallen tiles like stepping stones, the lights hanging down or gone altogether, leaving some stretches of corridor completely dark and others flickering.

We sped up as we both felt the nearness of the outside, then rounded an unlit corner and almost collided with one of the older doctors. He stood holding a folder stuffed with creased paper in one hand and a large metal torch in the other.

“Where are you going?” he asked Ruth, adjusting his glasses clumsily with his torch-carrying hand, flinging shadows all over the walls and ceiling. He switched the torch off and studied us in the light from the corridor behind us. His already-wrinkled skin now wrinkled further with a frown.

“I'm taking him back to his room,” she said, as calmly as if it had been true. “He insisted on getting something he forgot.”

He eyed me up and down. “What are you carrying?” he asked me.

“Just a notebook,” I told him, my heart speeding up. “I like to keep a diary.”

Ruth nodded as we both stood for a silent moment, and then quite suddenly the doctor informed us he was going to call for security. “There's no access to any rooms this way,” he said angrily. “Security!

To my sudden amazement, Ruth leaped forwards and pushed him over, then she took my hand tightly in hers and rushed onwards, dragging me with her while the poor doctor sprawled with a cry of rage and sheer surprise behind us. His torch clattered and switched on, lighting his papers that flew into the air as if startled.

I remembered the freedom I had felt the last time I had made my escape, and a smile began to form across my face with my unearthly surroundings, the debris and the dirt, the chaos and the flickering lights. As we neared the front of the building there were smashed windows that had spat their glass out across the length of the corridor floors, and a gentle pre-dawn light seeped in through them.

We made it into the front foyer and, as we approached the front doors, Ruth threw me forward and past her like a slingshot, letting go of my hand.

“Go!” she ordered, and I turned as I passed her, and slowed down with uncertainty.

“Come with me!” I called, but she simply stopped running.

I turned back to the front doors and carried on, speeding up. They were shattered and broken, the remaining jagged teeth of glass still bearing the yellow remnants of the mysterious symbol that the army had sprayed on. I screwed my eyes shut and ran into them, and the force of my momentum threw them juddering open and sent me stumbling outside.

I turned around once I had broken out into the cool early morning. “Come with me!” I yelled again, but Ruth simply stood and watched me go without her.

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