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Suffer Little Children

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What dreadful curse haunts the dreams of the children of Enfield such that they fear the embrace of sleep? What foul thing moves them to terror? A Gothic tale in Queen Victoria's England Dr. Millard Platt, renowned Alienist was at a loss for perhaps the first time in his career. Certainly the first time since taking charge of Enfield Lunatic Asylum. He had three children in his care who all showed signs of strange, yet in some ways disparate mental afflictions. In the town of Enfield many more complained of vivid night terrors. If there was a common thread, he was yet to locate it, but locate it he must before all the town's young were driven mad by whatever haunted their dreams.

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Chapter 1: Timothy

D0ctor Millard Platt leant forward slightly as he spoke to the small, bedraggled form that squatted upon the bed in the corner of the dark room. The young boy hugged his knees, which were pulled up to his chest and under his chin. His eyes were wide and staring, dark bags had begun to form beneath them. The child had not been sleeping well, indeed he had become obstinate in his avoidance of sleep at all costs.

At first, it was believed that the child’s other problems, of which there were many, could be attributed to this near-perpetual wakefulness. Doctor Platt, however, had grown increasingly certain that this insomnia was yet another symptom of what was troubling the child and not, as had been initially supposed, the cause. The child’s case was a puzzle, Doctor Platt could not deny that, but he was determined he would uncover the underlying cause, whatever that may be.

“The orderlies tell me you still refuse to wash, young man,” the doctor spoke firmly but with warmth, “You really must wash you know...” he began. Intending to extol the virtues of cleanliness through the cliché of its proximity to that of divinity. He stopped short, however for the boy was visibly growing more distressed. The doctor observed as the boy began to rock back and forth, his hands clamped upon his ears as if trying to shut out the doctor’s words. A soft, but clearly troubled moaning began to emanate from the child.

Millard Platt leant forward and gently took hold of the boy's arms, pulling them away from his ears.

“Come now, Timothy. That is no way to behave when an adult speaks to you. You do know that, don’t you?” the doctor asked.

The boy nodded, his eyes betraying a deep terror.
“Can you tell me why you don’t want to wash?” The doctor asked, more gently.


“Do you like to smell?” the doctor asked inquisitively.
Timothy shook his head, faintly. Progress then, Millard kept his relief from his face.

“Do you like to be clean?” he asked the boy, probing slightly.

The child nodded, silently.

“I see.” The doctor made a mental note. “Tell me then, in your own words, why you refuse to wash?”

The boy began to tremble, he was verging on tears but seemed to be about to speak. Patiently the doctor coaxed him until finally, reluctantly, and in a voice trembling with terror, he did.
“The water. The water in the bowl. She takes children into the water and them...” there were tears now, running freely down the little boys face. Again Doctor Platt was forced to tease the words from the boy's lips, “... they can’t breathe the water.”

“Do you mean they drown?” Doctor Platt asked. The boy nodded in answer. “She drowns them, this lady you are afraid of?” Another nod.
“Do you know who the lady is Timothy?”

What the boy said next should have given the doctor some measure of comfort. It was the breakthrough he had been seeking or part of it at least. A clue to how the child’s various discomfitures of the mind came together, the key that would unlock the door of his understanding. Yet it was not relief or satisfaction that he felt when the boy spoke. What he felt in its stead he could not entirely explain. What he felt was a cold, inexplicable pang of dread.

He called the orderly into the room and assured the boy that he had done well and that was enough for this evening. As the orderly entered he instructed him that the boy should be washed each day by means of a blanket bath. He took pains to ensure the orderly understood the bowl of water should be kept from the boy’s sight as much as possible and only the dampened cloths used to wash him should be seen. Confused, but compliant the orderly nodded and offered a deferential,
“Of course doctor.”
With that, Doctor Millard Platt wished Timothy a good night, assured him they would speak more tomorrow and left the room. As he walked back to his office, he recalled the words that the boy had spoken, the words that had unaccountably disquieted him.

The boy had answered his query with,

“The lady from the dreams.”

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