"Please, oh my god! Please help!" The woman stood by the window, tears streaming down her face. Her blonde hair fell across her face in an unkempt manner, and her night wear was tinged by patches of sweat. She banged on the window in desperation, "Please...anyone, help us!" Behind her the sounds of panic reverberated around the room as other people pushed and forced their way through the chaos. She continued to bang on the glass as she begged for unseen and unhearing help from the outside world.
Flames licked at the walls of the room as the fire spread across the floor. Other women struggled in vain at the door in the corridor, while others threw pieces of furniture in the direction of the window. The woman sobbed uncontrollably as her hand began to bleed under the pressure placed on the glass as she banged. Tears mixed with blood from her nose and both combined and slid down her face. "Please..." she begged desperately. One woman in the corridor screamed and clutched at her hand as the heat from the fire licked the metal handle and burnt at the door. She looked at her hand and sobbed as the flesh was burnt from her palm.
Activity on the street below broke the sound of screams as the main doors of the building were thrown open. As the cold night air invaded the building, a clutch of people dressed in plain white overalls spilled out into the night air. Three men looked up toward the upper floors of the building and hid their faces as they saw the sight from the upper echelons of the building. One of the men grabbed at a necklace around his neck, closed his eyes, made a quick prayer, and then kissed the chain before turning and making haste into the cool embrace of the night. More people spewed onto the pavement and out across the courtyard close to the grassy area by the building while two women stood watching the terror unfold before their eyes.
The younger of the two grabbed at the shoulders of the elder. "You had no right to lock those doors, there are still people trapped in the building!" desperation tinged her emotions as she pleaded toward the elderly woman.
"What I did Sister Turnbull, I did for the safety of the majority" There was a coldness to her voice as she spoke, "If the fire is contained within one area, we can save most of the patients and hopefully maybe even the hospital itself"
Sister Turnbull turned from the elderly nurse with tears in her eyes, "There were children in there" she whispered. The conversation was ended abruptly by the shrill noise of the siren produced from the wail of the approaching fire engines. As more people spilled out into the night air, three large red behemoths hurtled up the gravel path toward the hospital. The engines screamed out to the survivors to move and as they came to an abrupt stop, doors were flung open and uniformed men filed out in mindless precession.
The woman stood banging in desperation at the scene below, sobbing and begging for help. Cracks appeared on the glass and as she continued to hit the glass, the window became stained with the red smear of the blood. "God help us..." she sobbed. The woman slowly turned and leant on the locked window and slowly slid to the floor and watched in defeated silence at the scene unfolding around her. As she watched the scene, time appeared to slow down to a smoky, fiery haze. Women and children sobbed and ran from the windows to the doors. Some sat rocking in chairs, while others threw objects at the window in desperation. Flames leapt and danced their way up the walls, catching the fabric of curtains and furniture before playing wistfully across the wooden surfaces of tables and chairs. The woman was aware that the sound of sobbing was being slowly replaced by the sound of screams as fire caught hold of nightwear and the smell of burning flesh began to fill her nostrils.
Then, another noise filled the room and with it the sudden rush of air which excited not only several of the patients, but also the fire. Glass erupted outward from the building as a small chair broke the tension of the surface area of the window and flew through the night air and crashed amongst the watching party below. Both fire-fighters and patients covered their heads from the deadly shower of glass from above as the window scattered in a multitude of deadly pieces of shards. The noise of the screams and pleas for help spilled out of the upper floor and invaded the still night air. The woman watched from her sitting position as another woman climbed through the open window and jumped into the night. The figure was joined by another, then another. She was stirred into activity by the sight of a woman clutching a baby in her arms leaning from the window, "please!" she called to the throng below "Save my baby..." The woman grasped at the woman’s shoulder and was forced back by the ferocity of her glare as she held her baby out at arms lengths.
She watched in horror as the baby fell from the woman’s arms and plummeted through the air, hitting the ground below with a sickening thud. As she leant out of the window she could see the carnage beneath as fire-fighters struggled under the mass of metal and plastic as they held the hoses firmly in place, directed resolutely toward the building, whilst paramedics from the hospital attempted to clear the ever growing pile of corpses growing around their feet from desperate people attempting to escape the blaze. She gripped the edge of the window in vicious anger, shards of glass forced their way through the woman’s hand and blood flowed freely over the broken window frame. Tears dried in the heat of the fire and were replaced by distain and hatred as she watched the matron walked silently across the grass, escorted by police officers away from the hospital. Her nasal passage became invaded by the smell of burning flesh; her burning flesh, but the smell and pain subsided through her own feelings.
Water soaked and cascaded across the outside of the building and forced its way into the hospital where it began its battle against the fire inside. Several windows blow outward, forcing glass and flames to mix together in a deadly cocktail and rained down its fiery fury on the spectators beneath. Flames continued to spread up the woman’s night clothes and she could feel an intense searing heat penetrate her very soul, but remained unflinching in a silent hatred. She had no more tears to give, no more screams to scream...just pure contempt. The room behind now lay as a charred battleground, in which the fire had been triumphant. Finally the woman collapsed, her heart losing the battle against consciousness and her soul giving up against life. Like so many on that fateful night she had found an uneasy peace.
The news was filled with stories of the Cottage Hospital in Ashbridge over the following days. Stories ranging from the fire itself to the actions of the matron. Repercussions spread through the medical staff and involved discipline, court cases, finance packages and legal prosecutions over negligence, manslaughter and reduced responsibility amongst others. The hospital was never repaired, never reopened, it would stand there through the rain, snow and shine as a monument to the tragedy. The local community never attempted any work at the site, even in the early days. Tales of sobbing had warned most away from the site. Several brave enough to enter the property grounds spoke of wistful figures in the building and the gardens, or noises of screams and sobbing...but these were just old wives tales surely, designed to keep away the unwary and nosey from an unsafe structure. Over the next thirty years, through the upper floors and through empty window frames a singular female form stood by the empty glass and stared out into the countryside around the property.