AND AGE SHALL WEARY THEM
The pager woke him. It dragged him from a state where work did not exist, to a place of ugly reality. A realm where fighting drunks had glass medals of courage pinned into their faces. Of mangled crash victims of both car and motor bike; of old people and strokes and lose bowels and leaking bladders; of kidney stones and wounds that needing stitching…but no matter how diverse the cause, be these people young or old, drunk or sober, coherent or raving, conscious or unconscious…they all had one single commonality.
They all needed the help of a doctor.
Adam hadn’t undressed; it was pointless. He lay on the top of the bed knowing sleep would be interrupted by demands on his newly acquired medical expertise.
He wearily pulled himself up, sitting on the edge of the bed and fixed a bleary gaze onto the bleeper and phone that were seated on the bedside locker. He toyed briefly with the idea of burying the pager and telephone under the pillow and going back to sleep…and fuck the consequences. But his betraying fingers slavishly jabbed buttons that would connect him to a duty nurse on the Accident and Emergency department, at the large general hospital he was currently employed at. And having recently qualified he would be stuck here for several more months yet until experience judged him able to practice as a general practitioner independently.
His voice, still ragged from lack of sleep spoke to the nurse on the other end of the phone:
‘Doctor Pettit? This is student nurse Garr. We have a pediatric case, just admitted female, ten years old, presents with high fever and distressed breathing. History of Asthma…we’re a bit rushed down here, I’m on my own….’
He grunted and replaced the receiver. He stood up, stretched, then crossed the room and turned on the light.
Catching sight of himself in the dressing table mirror; he did an appraisal of the face staring back.
Strong features topped with unkempt hair that was prematurely graying at the sides made him look like a young Richard Gere, or so some of the female hospital staff had remarked. Others, less flatteringly said that he looked like an older Richard Chamberlain. At this particular un-Godly hour he felt like a dead Bela Lugosi.
With stethoscope tubes flapping and bouncing against his thigh, he hurried down dim hushed corridors to a frosted glass paneled door that backed onto the rear of A&E. It never failed to amaze Adam how much that simple glass partition masked off the misery and suffering. It hit him like an angry wave on a rocky shore whenever he passed through that door, like passing from one reality to another. As a deaf and blind person was suddenly seeing and hearing for the first time, his senses were instantly assaulted by a cacophony of noise and sights; varying human emotions and states, conveyed by a mixture of sounds and shadows. Pain, laughter, complaint; conversation, all mixed up to produce a confusing melee of interaction. Adam walked toward the Triage area and suddenly found himself reflecting upon his first day there as a newly qualified doctor, several months previously. He smiled ruefully as he recalled the department’s senior registrar, Dr. Derek Fulton, as he had casually introduced him to the day shift and other duty doctors who had plodded around the patient occupied cubicles with an almost detached interest. Adam had been excited about his first day, but seeing the offhanded way that staff treated the patients that had come for help, he wondered how these so called ‘dedicated professionals’ could treat their fellow human beings with such, as he saw it, indifference.
Fulton had noted the look on Adam’s face, and on one of the rare quiet moments at the end of his tour they sat in Fulton’s office:
‘Not quite like medical school or ward practice is it?’
Adam was unwilling to reply; he did not want to say the wrong thing to this senior doctor who was his boss. Fulton seemingly recognized this reluctance for what it was and had patted him on the shoulder, continuing:
‘It is a perfectly natural for you to feel shell shocked in this insanity Adam. We all have. The important thing to remember though, no matter how inadequate you feel; and as a junior doctor you’ll feel like that for a quite a time to come yet; that the patients don’t ever realize that. As far as they are concerned you’re a doctor and you’re there to help them. They don’t know you are fresh from medical school, or that you have just been on duty for eighteen hours plus; and they really don’t care. All they will ever see is the white coat you wear.’
Adam pushed that day from his mind.
At the end of a row of cubicles, a young nurse in a student uniform was beckoning to him, indicating that this one contained the child patient. The attractive student who he vaguely remembered was called Terri handed him a pre-prepared chart of observations of the child’s blood pressure, temperature, and respiration.
Adam studied the chart, at the same time as pulling back the cubicle’s curtain. Propped up on the room’s black examination gurney was a flushed blonde-headed little girl; an asthmatic wheeze very apparent. With her was a couple who Adam assumed to be parents. Deciphering the admitting nurse’s scrawl, he looked up:
‘You are Mr. and Mrs. Leader?’
The man nodded to him. He was a big person with a barrel chest, of middle age and starting to run to fat. He had a shock of graying hair and the thickest set of eyebrows Adam had ever seen on a person. His facial skin was a tangled mass of broken blood vessels that gave a false impression of a rosy glow. He looked like an old Hogarth engraving of a Victorian butcher. He held out a huge beefy hand that engulfed Adam’s, and shook it, the pressure making Adam wince.
‘No, sir… I’m girl’s father…wife passed away ten years gone’, he inclined his head slightly, — ‘this is me sister, Miss Leader; and sickly young thing on yon bed is Amy… been like this on ‘n off since she were nowt but few weeks old… comes ‘n goes thou knows’. His accent was thick and heavy with a Yorkshire Dalesman’s brogue. His sister sat mutely in quiet watchfulness, plain dressed and plain faced. Adam turned to the child.
‘Now then shall I listen to your chest? See what I can hear?’
The child’s eyes widened, coal black in her fever-heated face.
‘Won’t hurt Mister?’ -she wheezed.
‘No, I promise… look’. Adam smiled kindly at her and pushed the flat, circular, stainless steel end against the back of his hand.
‘See! Nothing; can hardly feel it!’
Reassured she allowed him to lift up her sweat dampened Tee and then unblinkingly stared at Adam as he listened to the crackles and pops from deep inside her alveoli within the spasming lungs. Taking the instrument from out of his ears he said;
‘Well, Amy, you have a very nasty chest at the moment; had this before?’
‘Lots and… lots’… pant…’have you got to stick a needle in me, Mister? I don’t like that… ‘urts’. She was getting breathless.
Adam laid a comforting hand on her tousled fever dampened hair, saying as gently as he could:
‘Fraid so sweetheart, but I promise you’ll soon be all better!’
Adam turned to the nurse and began writing up the drug sheet, giving out instructions.
‘Nurse, Prepare five mils of Salbutamol to be nebulized, plus five mils of Hydrocortisone to be taken I.V., you had better get a bag of Aminophylline also I.V. You can start that as soon as I’ve got a line in, and taken some blood to test her gasses’.
He then turned to the relatives, motioning them out of the cubicle and studying the paperwork again. There were a lot of blanks.
‘As you can see, Amy needs treatment to get her asthma under control. I need some more details for our records. Where was Amy born, and who is her current G.P?’
There was an awkward silence for a moment, then:
‘Err, yes sir. Amy was born here at Middleton General 15th of April, 1999. Our family doctor is Dr. Giles; thou knows up’t Crossfields where’st we’re from.’
‘Thanks Mr. Leader’. Concentrating on the task, Adam had not noticed that the reply to his inquiry was somewhat forced; he merely continued writing, balancing the form and clipboard on his other hand. He heard the cubicle curtain being opened behind him; assuming it was the nurse kept writing, merely asking in an offhand manner:
‘Is everything ok, nurse?’
The atmosphere change subtly. Adam turned back to see who had walked into the cubicle behind him. He clearly saw the child’s face through the partially open curtain. She wasn’t looking at the unknown person who had gone into the cubicle, but directly at him; her huge dark eyes seemed to bore into his. It was a look that put him in mind of an animal; a frozen acceptance of some nasty inevitable consequence at the end of a long weary chase. He found this look too honest and intense for comfort; in his disquiet he looked back at her relatives for some kind of self-reassurance.
But their look disturbed him still further.
They were not even looking at him, but at that mysterious ‘someone’ who was now behind him. The couple had a knowing look; sly, shared, conspiratorial…an unwholesome silent intent; it lasted but few moments in time, but to Adam, it was an eternity.
Turning around again he was surprised to see chief consultant Dr. Fulton, and the A&E department’s senior nursing Sister, Maureen Walker standing there.
‘Sorry to interrupt Dr. Pettit, may I have a moment of your time?’ It was not a request from Dr. Fulton… more of an order.
‘Certainly Dr. Fulton; I’ll just fini…’
‘No need for that. Sister here can find someone to finish up.’
Fulton gave a dismissive smile at the Leaders, then, holding Adam around the shoulders steered him down to his office. It was all very irregular and extremely worrying.
‘Christ’, — Adam thought, ‘what the hell have I done?’
Inside Fulton’s office Adam looked up at the taller, older man trying to read his expression. Fulton was poker-faced.
‘Sit down’. Adam did as he requested, parking himself in one of the registrar’s office chairs.
Fulton placed down Amy Leader’s drug sheet in front him. Mystified Adam picked up the chart, studying it.
‘Please look at that doctor. What is the amount and percentage of Hydrocortisone that you have written on this child’s treatment sheet?’
Stomach dropping, Adam looked. Oh shit! The percentage that his child patient was written up for was lethally high for her small body. If that amount of Steroid had been infused, the result would have proved fatal. The chart slipped from his fingers. He had nearly killed his patient. He had nearly killed a child.
Dropping his head in misery, Adam said lamely:
‘If you want my resignation, sir, you can have it.’
‘No, I do not wish that! I wish you to be alert and competent in your duties!’ The senior registrar sighed and leaned back in his seat. In a more kindly tone he added;
‘Adam, you’re tired and stressed. Go away, get some sleep and be thankful that this didn’t turn out far worse. Let’s put this one down to experience, shall we?’
Adam tried to pitifully thank him, but the Doctor waved him irritably away.
‘I’ll keep this Adam’, said Fulton, scooping up the drug sheet, ‘I’ll see that it gets misplaced… permanently!’
Adam got up and shamefacedly left the office; all he wanted to do was distance himself from his terrible failure. He left the building speaking to no one and got into his car. Getting to his flat was one of those strange disjointed experiences that all drivers have at one time or another. He clearly remembered leaving the hospital car park and turning onto a ghostly quiet main road, with its damp shiny black surface, with patches of it having a strange orange luminescence from the overhead street lamps. Then all seemed a blank, an uncharacteristic gray nothingness, his mind filled with snatches of the events of the last couple of hours, his body taking over the immediate functions of the drive home, leaving him to dwell on his shame and anger.
Finally in his flat, the door closed, he cocooned himself in comforting darkness.
He lay on his bed for hours and as dawn approached.
Later still that morning, the phone rang in the lounge; he didn’t want to talk. He lay there on the bed and the call went silently to messages.
It was late in the morning before he got up and actually listened to it.
‘Doctor Pettit?’ A few seconds silence. ‘O.K, this is Terri Garr; the student nurse, you remember? I clean up shit, blood, sick and now I also carry the can for your fucking mistakes to apparently! Thanks for having me moved off my last student placement. It will look great on my final assessment. What did you tell Dr. Fulton and Sister Walker? Incompetent, lazy…something like that? You know how to pick your targets, don’t you? Knew I won’t make waves because it’s my final year. What did you say? That I’d made a mess of the admission forms, while you were writing the drug charts? Blamed me, in some way for your stupid mistake? You’re a total arsehole Dr. bloody Pettit; oh, and if you don’t want people to get your home number, then don’t leave it on the duty schedule in the office!’ Click… silence.
What?? This was so bloody unfair! He immediately called the hospital switchboard and after a brief delay they put him through to the student nurse on her assigned ward.
‘Yes, Dr. Pettit… I am on duty.’ The voice sounded odd…not angry as he expected. He pushed on, saying;
‘Look…I don’t know what happened, but I can categorically state that I never mentioned you to the Sister or Dr. Fulton. If my stupidity has caused you any problems, then I’m sorry.’
There was silence, and then the nurse said:
‘Do you know Banyans wine bar in town? Be there, about 6:30. You can apologize to me then.’
He was on time, but she was late. He sipped on a glass of Chablis and waited patiently. Eventually Terri Garr joined him at the table, slightly breathless and looked a bit flustered. She really was very attractive Adam thought; she had bubbly blonde curls, high cheek bones, and her eyes were bright, shining in the lights of the bar, but it was difficult to distinguish their color.
But they had to be blue though, he thought, with hair as blonde as that. Nice teeth too.
Before he could even ask her what she wanted to drink, she was leaning across the table, quietly half whispering at him but was nevertheless very intent;
‘Look…I’m sorry Dr. Pettit, but I had to make a rude phone call to you so you’d call me back. I had to be careful what I said on the phone in the nurse’s quarters. We really needed to talk in private’. She leaned back and looked around the crowded bar furtively; as if afraid someone was eavesdropping. Apparently satisfied, she continued. ‘Something’s going on at the hospital with that little girl from yesterday…something is very wrong. Look…I thought I was going to be in big trouble over this whole mess…so I did some checking…to cover my back. Everything’s gone’.
Adam drew back in puzzlement and asked;
‘Sorry Ms Garr, I’m lost. What exactly do you mean everything’s gone‘?
‘What I say’, she continued. ‘There are no records of the Leader family ever setting foot in the A&E department. There are no birth records for Amy Leader. The address they gave doesn’t exist… and the doctor that they said was their GP at Crossfields has been dead for 12 years. And now I can’t find the child in any ward of the hospital. She’s vanished along with everything else.’
Adam couldn’t believe what he was hearing…but the student nurse’s face was intent; obviously in earnest. She continued.
‘Let me explain to you. I’d just processed the child and Sister Walker came back from a break. Then she saw Mr. Leader, the child’s father and her face went white! This was just after I called you. She came to me and asked why she hadn’t been informed? Why had I tried to admit an acute patient when I wasn’t qualified to do so?’
Terri paused to catch her breath….
‘She said that she would see me about it later, and then went up to Mr. Leader. She was speaking quietly to him, but it was obvious to me that they knew each other. I heard Leader say to her ‘I had no choice! Look at her! She replied… ‘…you damn fool!’ Then she noticed me hanging around and sent me off to do something totally unnecessary…while she went into her office and made a call. I waited by the cubicle to show you where the child was, and you know exactly what happened then.’
Adam did know. The memory was still painful. Impulsively Terri grabbed Adam’s hand…saying in urgent hushed tones;
‘When you gave me the drug chart I took it to the pharmacy, as usual. I was on my way, when Sister Walker stopped me. She took the sheet, telling me to go on break. But I saw it. I knew the amount of Hydrocortisone that you had prescribed was correct…I’ve seen them often enough. Later I was summoned into Fulton’s office by both of them and I saw it again; the same sheet was upside down on the desk… but it had definitely been changed’!
‘What!!’ Adam couldn’t believe it.
‘It was changed…someone…one of them I think… had altered it’, she repeated insistently.
‘But why’? Adam was stunned by what Terri had told him. ‘What unearthly reason could Dr. Fulton or Sister Walker have for doing that?’
Terri didn’t answer, but instead said;
‘And listen to this. When they got me in the office then they both really came the heavy, telling me that I was to be moved, and to keep my mouth shut and disappear into another department, or else they’d guarantee that I’d fail my last year. Then I was sent packing; I was told to go home and think about what they had said very carefully. But as soon as I got out of the office I went into the toilet next door’. She smiled then. ‘If you stand on the far end toilet, next to the air vent, you can hear everything going on in the office. All the nurses know about it… I could hear everything! Sister Walker was saying something about ‘that would keep it quiet, hopefully, and the invitations could go out as usual’. Dr. Fulton agreed with her, saying that ‘Pettit would be too concerned with his own position to talk’, and ‘he would admonish Leader himself for his stupidity’. That was it. I left the toilet and went to reception and had a look on the computer. Everything is like I told you…no records, nothing…all deleted. Well, what do you think?’
Adam didn’t know what to think. Trying to collect his thoughts he said:
‘I’ve no idea what these ‘invitations’ things are they were talking about, but its obvious something suspicious is going on that involves the child in some way. And it also seems that her family and two of the hospital’s senior staff are involved; that’s what I think. The question is what the hell are we going to do about it?’
After a few moments of tense silence Adam came out with the obvious ‘Perhaps we could go to the police?’ He suggested.
Terri shook her head, dismissing that idea out of hand.
‘And what do we tell them?’ She inquired, ‘Where’s our evidence? A non-existent computer record isn’t going to tell the police anything. We have to play this smart or it could backfire on us…big-time!’
Terri then followed on with this remark with an obvious question;
‘Do you think that the child is in any danger?’ She asked.
‘Who knows’ answered Adam; ‘but they seem to have gone to a lot of trouble to make sure that she remains persona non gratis, haven’t they?’
They were both silent for a moment.
‘Here’s an idea’, Terri said, ‘we could try to find out who the midwives were on duty the date that Amy was supposedly born. It may be that she wasn’t born at our hospital; even the date might be false. But perhaps she actually was born on that day; and the midwife, who helped deliver her, if she’s still around, may possibly remember the family.’
It was a slim hope, but as good a place to start as any Adam supposed. They agreed to meet on the next evening, at Adam’s place, to compare notes, and find out what they had individually discovered. They got up and left the wine bar. Outside in the cold night air, she said;
‘Goodnight, Adam’. She had finally called him by his first name.
‘Yes… goodnight then Terri’.
He watched her walk away into the night, heels clicking and scraping on the pavement floor. He turned away and went home himself.
Adam Pettit had a bad night; he tossed and turned in his bed; the face of the little girl haunted his sleep, and a nameless worry ranged in his nightmares too; it took the form of a malevolent faceless entity that he sensed lurked behind him in the shadows, just out of sight.
The next day Adam decided to do some checking on his own at the hospital. On arriving, the first thing he did was to check the admissions computer records. He soon discovered that what Terri Garr had told him was correct. There was absolutely no record of the Leader child. Even if the address that they were given was false, the name would surely be cross indexed under other files somewhere else…such as previous addresses, etc. Nothing. It all came up a blank. After this fruitless search he wondered casually into the A&E department, to sneak a look at who was around. Dr. Fulton was conspicuous in his absence, as was Sister Walker. A quick glance at the duty roster confirmed it; they were both off duty until later on that afternoon. That meant that he could go around and ask a few questions without the danger of arousing either of their suspicions. After all, they could hardly object if they weren’t there, could they?
The first port of call he made was to Maternity. The Maternity wing had been relocated some four years since, to make more room and give marginally better facilities than the old ones had offered. Wondering around the busy labor suites located on the fourth floor. Feigning interest in obstetrics he struck up a hurried conversation with an elderly doctor called Ahmed, who was the senior staff on duty.
‘Yes, Dr. Pettit, it’s a good move into this particular field. I can still remember my first delivery you know, that was back in… let’s see… that would be ’61, no I tell a lie, ’62. I had just qualified and was based at Birmingham Maternity hospital. Terrible night; snow six inches deep on the ground and we had to use bicycles in those days! Can you imagine going out to a delivery in a blizzard on a bicycle? The young Doctors now, they do not realize how it was in those days. No disrespect or offence intended, Doctor, of course.’
‘Oh, none was taken, Doctor Ahmed’ answered Adam. Ahmed continued on.
‘But I can still remember the feeling when the child was successfully delivered… it was so worthwhile, knowing that I had safely brought new life into this world, with my own hands.’
Adam smiled, saying; ‘I am sure it was a wonderful experience. But tell me doctor, do many nursing staff stay in Maternity, or do they move on fairly quickly?’
‘I have found that people who begin in Maternity usually end up staying here as a career choice; so fulfilling, you see. In actual fact, our senior midwife retired very recently after nearly forty years in the profession. Go and talk to her if you are interested in obstetrics.’ The elderly doctor chuckled before continuing. ‘She really can’t leave the place alone; works voluntarily in the foyer snack shop; her name is Gladys Taylor’.
Thanking the doctor, he left going directly to the lift that would take him down to the hospital’s main building; and he got a most unpleasant surprise. As the doors began to slide smoothly shut, through the Maternity wings large windows he clearly saw Fulton and Walker strolling across the car park three floors below. Shit! Which way were they going? Here or the main building? If they were heading for Maternity they would have to use this lift. It was only a very short distance across the staff car park to the main building, and with the slow speed that this lift was moving down they may well be waiting for it when it arrived. What the hell was he going to do? Should he stop the lift and get out on the next floor? Adam pushed the button for the second floor; the lift ignored him and continued its leisurely journey down.
If they saw him in this lift coming down from Maternity, then they would undoubtedly put two and two together and realize he was sniffing round. That could prove to be very sticky… especially with what they had on him, and if they had gone to these lengths to shut people up, whatever their reasons were, then they would, in all probability, use the falsified drug chart to discredit him. The lift continued its short descent toward the ground floor. Adam looked desperately around the lift for a means of escape. In all the films he had ever seen, if the hero was ever caught in this predicament, and then there was always a roof hatch into which they crawled to escape detection.
That was the movies.
In this lift there was no discernable roof access, and even if there were it would be far too high for him to realistically reach. So, with sweaty palms and a slightly fuzzy feeling in the pit of the stomach he had no choice but to stand there and wait, hoping that they were not waiting when the lift stopped.
The doors slid open revealing a traveling montage of people heading in both directions, but no one waiting to use the lift. Walking out of the doors, far more calmly than he felt, and glancing to his right he saw the retreating backs of Fulton and Walker disappearing off into the distance down the long sloping corridor.
Not wishing to push his luck any further he gave the two enough time to get out of sight, and then he went over to the foyer snack bar.
He recognized Gladys Taylor, serving behind the counter having seen her around the hospital many times in the past. She was slightly stooped, and unlike other woman of her age had not bothered to dye her hair in pretence of youthful vigor. She had allowed herself to age gracefully; her hair turning white with the advancing years. It added to her appearance, rather than detracted from it.
He nonchalantly hung around, but nervously checking, every few seconds that the two people that he least wanted to see were not in evidence. He took a seat at one of the coffee-stained and wrapper-scattered tables, content to observe the retired midwife for a while, as she dished out teas and coffees with a gay abandonment. When the few people that were being served at the snack bar had been satisfied in their demands for drinks and snacks, he approached the counter himself.
‘Yes, dear… do you want tea or coffee?’ She asked.
‘Tea for me, please’, he answered as she busied herself in the task of making the beverage, he asked:
‘Say, aren’t you Gladys Taylor that used to be on Maternity?’ She beamed at the recognition, dentures shining whitely in between withering lined lips, as she looked up from pouring some boiling water into a polystyrene cup.
‘That’s right! Did I deliver any of your children? I try to remember faces, but I’ve seen so many over the years, probably thousands, and I tend to forget.’ Adam smiled at the engaging old lady.
‘No, I am afraid that I don’t have any children, Gladys. My name is Adam Pettit. Dr. Pettit. I am a junior houseman from A&E.’
‘Oh, are you? Well never mind dear, you’ll be out of there soon I expect. All the Doctors have to serve their time somewhere you know!’
He laughed at the candor of her remark.
‘Yes, you are right Gladys… we all have to start somewhere I suppose. Listen, can I ask you something? You probably won’t remember though. Six years ago it was, August 17th. A girl was born here in the old Maternity suites; it was a case that I had recently. Asthmatic child by the name of Amy Leader’.
At this question, the old lady gave him a very odd look. Then she said;
‘You must be mistaken Doctor, Amy Leader, you say? Well, perhaps I shouldn’t say anything, confidential and all that, but, after all you are a Doctor, aren’t you! Did the family come from at Fernleigh? Up near to Crossfields way?’
Bugger, thought Adam…she actually remembered them!
‘Yes, that’s right, Gladys, that’s what her father said ‘Crossfields’.’
The elderly retired midwife looked at him again with a puzzled expression, before continuing;
‘Well, Doctor, can’t have been the same family thought I don’t think. Little girl dies a few hours after she was born… Pulmonary Edema I think; poor little mite. The Dr. certified her dead on the ward… he took her down to the mortuary himself with the family. They were understandably terribly distressed, as I recall.’
Gladys passed him his tea, and Adam dropped a few coins onto the counter.
He sipped at the hot liquid for a second, before he asked:
‘Isn’t that unusual Gladys? A Doctor and the relatives taking a body down to the mortuary themselves? Little strange, wasn’t it?’
Gladys seemed to take this as a personal affront.
‘A good Doctor is Dr. Fulton. One of the best in my opinion! He did what he thought was right, instead of what the ‘rules’ say. Besides, he knew the families quite well living in the same village…been there for generations you know, Fernleigh. More than just neighbors you might say… terrible it was… awful!’
So it was Dr. Fulton who had certified Amy Leader ‘dead’!
‘Anyway’, she said, ‘you’ll have to excuse me now… people waiting.’ A queue had built up behind him, unnoticed. He thanked her again and left.
The mystery was deepening. They were from the same village, Fulton and the Leader family? What did it all mean? How did it all tie in? It was a very perplexed Adam Pettit that went out into the car park to find his car.
And from close to the main entrance, his departure was watched by the three figures that were suddenly joined by a fourth.
And all of them were smiling in anticipatory joy.
Adam and Terri had arranged to meet at his flat; and at exactly the appointed time, 7:30, Terri Garr was knocking on the door. Adam let her in, and half dragged her into his small lounge.
‘You’ve got to hear this Terri. You’re not going to believe what I’ve dis…’
‘Do I have time to take my coat off first’, she asked? Adam stopped.
‘I am sorry, yet again, here, let me take it for you.’ As he took her jacket from her slender shoulders, it occurred to him that all he seemed to bring to this new friendship of theirs were apologies.
He busied himself in the mundane task of making her a coffee, and as he did, he talked while Terri digested the information he had.
Bringing out the drinks he put hers on the low table beside her, and she acknowledged it with a perfect smile. She really was quite attractive, he decided. Her eyes were deep blue and in this light her facial skin looked unflawed, without a blemish to mar its appearance. Long lashes, that was totally untouched by make up, pale lips, but well defined, in keeping with her luxuriant blonde mass of natural hair, and pale complexion.
Yes, quite beautiful.
She looked at him, eyes locking on his, and he realized that she knew that he had been staring at her. In a nervous rush he said;
‘Sorry, Terri; well, what do you think?’
She laughed…‘About you or the things that you have found out?’
‘The later, I think; l though I would be interested to think what you thought of me later… over dinner, perhaps?’
She shook her head…‘No chance, Adam. I never get involved with… well, I just don’t get involved. Let’s leave it at that, please… OK?’
He sighed, saying, ‘Do I have a choice?’
‘No’ she said. ‘As to what I think about the other, are you certain that they still live in Fernleigh? Any of them I mean?’
He was now glad of the change of subject. ‘I don’t, not positively. But it’s a bit of coincidence isn’t it? Besides, Gladys Taylor was pretty sure of her facts; she seemed like a wily old bird and said ‘generations’ not just neighbors. That seems fairly positive to me.’
They sat in silence for a time, Adam studying the ceiling, head tilted back on the corner sofa, Terri, legs crossed, staring at the lounge carpet.
Eventually, Terri said:
‘And what’s it got to do with the girl? Why go to all this trouble that they obviously have? And what are these bloody ‘invitations’ they were talking about?’
It was her turn to sigh…then…’Well rather than sitting here, I think we need to go to Fernleigh and see what is up with the place…do a bit of snooping around tomorrow’.
‘Ok’, Adam agreed. ‘But do you think it’s worth doing a little research on the place first? It’s what the internet was made for.’
‘Hmmmmp’, she retorted….’and here’s me thinking it was made for porn’!
Adam chose to ignore her disparaging remark and quickly plugged in his laptop that was seated as a fixture gathering dust on the coffee table.
‘Let’s see…he said, studying the screen… Fernleigh; isn’t Google wonderful. I’ll para-phrase it for you Terri…Fernleigh, its population 576 as of the census of 2001; its 18 miles west of Huddersfield, and some 15 miles west of Wakefield. Its Colliery was closed in 1871 after a major disaster of that same year when 197 miners were trapped and died in the mine…blah…blah… rescue attempts were unsuccessful…blah…blah…apparently the village has three pubs’, ‘Old Greymalkin’s Tree’, ‘The Pot of Nails’, and ‘The Cunning Man’. There was a cross in the center of the village, now only a stump as it was originally a market cross. And also apparently, listen to this… the village’s main claim to fame is for the infamous ‘Fernleigh Witch Trials’ of 1647 where nine women were hanged and burned over a three week period for their alleged witchcraft practices, usage of the black arts and various charges of demonic worship and human sacrifice. Proceedings were overseen by no less than the infamous Mathew Hopkins and John Sterne. Naturally, they accused were all found guilty and executed’.
Adam closed down the laptop screen.
‘Wait a minute’ said Terri, ‘the names of those pubs…they are all connected to witchcraft.’
Adam looked at her blankly. She carried on;
‘No seriously Adam…You know…what did you say? Greymalkin’s something or other…that was a witch’s familiar. You know…a cat’s name? And ‘The Cunning Man’…that was supposedly a witch of sorts; a witch’s leader or coven head something like that? And what was the other one you mentioned; ‘Pot of Nails’? In the old days they buried a pot of iron nails under the back and front door step to ward of evil or something. I used to be into all this Wicca shit when I was a teen… so I know a fair bit about it.’
Nonplussed at her reasoning, Adam merely shrugged, ‘So what’s your point, Terri?’
She stood quickly up, swaying slightly…a look of absolute horror on her face.
‘The little girl’…her hand went to her mouth…’you don’t think…you can’t think…’
Adam suddenly got what she was driving at. In disbelieving tones he said;
‘You mean you think she’s been brought up as a sacrifice’? He said incredulously. ‘Like some sort of a lamb for slaughter in some witchcraft ritual? Oh, Terri get a grip, please! This is the 21st century. That doesn’t happen anymore…and I’m not sure that it occurred all that much in ages past either, for God’s sake ’!
She looked at him almost in a daze, it seemed before she said quietly
‘Oh no…Not for God’s sake, Adam’….
And with that Terri strode over to where Adam had hung her coat and shrugged it on; then the girl moved to the front door, but he was quicker, slipping round her and beating her to it. He blocked her exit and put his hands on her shoulders…half in comfort, half in restraint.
“Terri…are you really serious? Are you asking me to believe that there is some half-arsed witches’ coven in the middle of Yorkshire that actually sacrifices kids? And that a Dr. and senior Nurse are involved in it?’
She looked at him calmly now before taking a step back and answering.
‘Maybe I’m wrong, Adam. But I’m not willing to risk a little girl’s life on it.’
She moved back to him now, and held onto his hands, looking up into his face her eyes pleading, shining wetly with emotion. She went on;
‘Will you do that Adam? Just supposing I’m right for a moment. Will you honestly stand by and let a child die if you can prevent it? You’re a doctor! You live and work your whole life because you want to save others…wouldn’t you do willingly do anything that was necessary to save a life? Wouldn’t you give everything?’
And the truth was he would.
‘Can’t you read a bloody map at all?’ Adam groaned, slapping his hands on the dashboard in frustration. They had been lost now for nearly an hour, min the dark in some of the narrowest country lanes, with the highest and most impenetrable hedgerows he had ever had the misfortune to be in. He was regretting coming out on this wild goose chase.
She turned angrily on him, throwing the flimsy map in his face. ‘You think its easy trying to read this pre-historic piece of shit that was drawn up some time after the last Ice-Age? Why hasn’t this thing got bloody sat-nav? And if you can do better, Dr. Bloody Pettit… then I suggest you fucking try!’
She did have a point, he conceded. But it was the only decent map he could find in his flat. Picking up the torn and tattered map from his lap, he apologized to Terri once again
‘Sorry, love.’ Another mistake.
‘And don’t call me ‘love’ either! It’s patronizing and offensive!’
He sighed…‘OK, look, let’s start again. The map is my fault, I admit. I am sorry for shouting at you, but we don’t seem to be getting anywhere fast. We’ve been driving for ages now, in what appear to be circles. I am sure we have been down these lanes dozens of times already.’
She folded her arms pugnaciously, and sat with her back to the passenger door.
‘Well, what do you suggest?’ she retorted, still angry.
‘I suggest that we go to the nearest break in the hedge, stop, and have a look around. Let’s try for a landmark that we know, or have already seen to give us a point of reference. We can at least see where we have been, and then we might have some idea of where we are going.’
Half a mile down the road there was a pull in, a slight widening of the lane that enabled cars to pull in, allowing tractors and other farm machinery to get safely by. But to be fair they hadn’t seen any of those either. In actual fact, since they had come into these warren like lanes, they hadn’t seen a soul.
He pulled the car over to the side of the road, the black tires bouncing in wet ridges and rills, and soon coated with the rich cloying earth that seemed to be everywhere down here; spilling off the fields with the heavy recent rain.
They both got out of the car, Terri slamming the door of Adam’s car, in a display of her still bubbling anger. Adam shut the driver’s door in a far gentler manner, and went around the car to join her, leaning against the side of the vehicle next to her, smelling the warm engine of the car, mixed with the dampness of the churned fields in the darkness. In the cut out that they had pulled into was a rickety gate, scarcely barring the way to an rutted track. Adam said;
‘Recognize anything, Terri from the map? Anything at all?’
She shook her head. ‘Nope, do you?
Adam couldn’t either.
‘Back into the car then’, said Adam, ‘we’ll drive a bit further on then.’ He pushed himself off the side of the vehicle, preparing to go on a little longer, to see if they would have better luck down the lane. As he had rounded the car and put his hand on the handle to pull the unlocked door open, Terri’s voice suddenly startled him.
‘Down!’ Hissed Terri’, ‘Look!’
‘What’, he hissed back, ‘what is it?’ Farcically trying to duck at the same time.
‘It’s Fulton’s car! There, over by those old outbuildings!’ Adam got up from his undignified crouching position and peered over in the direction that she was indicating. He couldn’t see Fulton’s distinctive silver Daimler. He couldn’t even see the outbuildings!
‘Can’t see a bloody thing, Terri. Are you positive that yo…’
She cut in quickly. ‘So not only can I not read a map now, but I have defective eyesight too! Any other portions of my anatomy you want to complain about?’
He sighed. ‘Where exactly did you see it? In which direction?’ She gave a vague indication of somewhere at the back of the large churned field. She could be so infuriating, at times, Adam decided. He decided to take charge.
‘All right, here is what we do. You go in my car, go to the end of this lane and try to find a way through by road. I’ll go across the fields and try to see what is going on… if anything. If I don’t see you there we’ll Rendezvous back here in… let’s say half an hour.’
And with this last word he went to the rickety old gate, lifted it so the end of it wouldn’t catch in the mud, and slipped through. He turned around just in time to see Terri pulling slowly away in his old red Fiat, with the lights off and heading slowly down the lane.
He began to make his way across the pitted and rutted field’s heavily plowed surface. The soil was heavy with a good proportion of clay, consequently black, seemingly depthless water had collected in the bottom of the furrows, making his slow passage not only hard going, as ha vainly attempted to avoid the water logged bottoms, but a messy process as well. By the time he was half way across he was wet, filthy and cold. But he could now see the low outbuildings that Terri got so excited about. As he got nearer, he could also see several cars, parked at various angles, as they had pulled off a track that let to the farm yard at this side of the field. Sure enough there was Fulton’s silver Daimler. Terri’s eyesight must be a perfect 20/20 he thought. He could never have seen that car from that distance.
He was off the wet sticky field now, thankfully. His shoes though were encased in thick mud. He was hunched down beside an old water butt, trying to hide from the bright moonlight that was now making an annoying appearance. His breath shone out mistily, with a nervous expectation. The next part of the hastily formulated plan that he had evolved whilst staggering over the open muddy ground involved him getting around the outbuildings to the other side where he thought that some kind of main building might be; as yet sheltered from his eyes by the other lesser structures.
Keeping as low as he could to the wet, dewy tall grass moving as quickly as he dared brought him up on the other side of the dilapidated wooden outbuildings.
He could see quite clearly then, a modest farm house, lights all extinguished, save for a single light burning through chinks of badly drawn curtains, in a downstairs front room. No one was in evidence.
Summoning up his failing courage he crabbed across the farm yard that led up to the front part of the house, careful to avoid the beams of yellow light that splashed in patches on the wet cobbled floor. Ducking under the ledge he cautiously pulled his sweating head up, so he could see through the gaps in the curtains. The next few moments became very hazy for him. As he lifted up his head, intent to keep out of sight to whomever was in this room, he suddenly felt himself growing extremely disorientated. He found himself lying on the sodden floor; his head had connected sickeningly with a hollow deep smack onto the slate ledge. ‘Slipped on the wet cobbles’, he thought as he attempted to rise quietly as his groggy and spinning head would allow his body to, another blow hit him again, this time on the back of the head. As he spun down into a sickening red whirlpool of unconsciousness, he vaguely realized that hadn’t slipped at all. Someone had hit him on the back of his head, twice, and with a great deal of force. Then the red vortex took him down into a red tinged silence.
Chattering, confusing voices, swirling through his befuddled senses. But it was nice in that black velvet hole that he was hiding in. He tried to get in deeper, to escape from the buzzing sounds that were echoing painfully around in his aching head, but a cruel yet gentle hand prized his swollen eyes open, making him leave the security of his own manufacture.
The first thing that he saw was Fulton’s serene face peering into his own.
‘Yes’, he said as he pulled back, giving Adam a clear view of where he was, ‘he’s coming out of it nicely now.’
Adam found himself lying on a long wooden table, head propped up on some kind of raised, angled board, limbs firmly manacled by restraints that were heavily stapled to the wood. He was numb from the waist down, his legs would not respond to his body’s first reaction of making a run for it. Several people were in the room with him, some he instantly recognized, some he did not. Fulton was there, as was Sister Walker; also Gladys Taylor and both of the Leaders, brother and sister.
‘What’s happening’, he groaned, his head felt as if it were being squeezed in a powerful vice, and he felt his stomach turning sick. ‘Why am I restrained like this?’
Fulton said: ‘Patience, Dr. Pettit, is a virtue, so I am told’. Adam struggled feebly at his steel bonds, moaning:
‘Let me go, you sick bastards, or I swear I’ll…’
‘Swear you’ll what?’ Asked Fulton with a laugh.
Adam’s senses were rapidly clearing.
‘Do you think that I am calmly going to lie here, while you depraved monsters murder a little girl, then you have another…’
‘Stop, Adam, stop!’ interjected Fulton. ‘What do you take us for? Do you really, seriously believe that we would kill a child? You must be insane!’
‘Then why am I trussed up like a chicken?’
General laughter flooded round the long room, echoing strangely around.
‘Aptly put, dear Adam’, laughed Fulton, ‘aptly put’. He indicated to the others, and they all gathered round him, shoes scraping noisily on the smooth slate floor.
Looking to his right, Adam realized that there was a tall stand in position. On the top was a hooked up bag of clear fluid, with a plastic tube disappearing under the table. Now he knew why he couldn’t feel his legs. It was an epidural, a numbing cocktail of drugs, on occasion used to stop pain in women who were experiencing a difficult and protracted, and painful labor.
‘I suppose I’d better explain to you, dear Adam’, said Fulton, ‘it’s quite simple, really. For generations we have cared for him. Everyone that you see here so gathered has kept the secret from generation to generation. We have enforced the sacred seal of our covenant’.
All hands in the room were now raised; an eerie chant went up, unison of terrible unfamiliar words that chilled Adam to the very core of his being:
‘Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn’.
Fulton turned back to him, smiling in joy. Then a shadow crossed his face and he became somber, almost melencholy.
‘But sadly Adam, even a God grows old. Imortality has wearied him these last centuries… Cthulhu is not as he was. These days, we, the faithful must help feed him.’
‘Who is Cthulhu’? Asked Adam…dreading the answer.
‘WHO!’ screamed out Fulton in a new found rage…’you dare to ask who Cthulhu is? Cthulhu, who is the devourer of worlds! Cthulhu the true God, Born of the stars and worshiped for eternity, universe without end! Behold our God Adam Pettit, and humble yourself before him!’
And from the far end of the room, a section of the wall slid away, and as it did a large portion of the floor fell back on concealed hinges; and from that gaping hole slowly writhed out an enormous greasy head shaped almost like an octopus, and as it painfully emerged so did a host of writhing tentacles. The creature was truly gigantic. It couldn’t be real! A monster such as this simply couldn’t exist! Adam was terrified at the grotesquery that was Cthulhu. In frozen awareness he took the details in. The green gray vile wet skin…like drowned folds of leather. The huge eyes were rheumy…thick stinking pus ran from them, and the tentacles had a feeble motion to them. It was obviously incredibly ancient being. But there was an obvious malevolence behind those clouded eyes…and a terrible hunger.
Adam said, beginning to sob. He knew what was coming.
‘The coven hurt a child! Never!’ cried Fulton, ‘we would never do that! And every ten years, at the full moon of March, the god must be fed!’
Fulton beckoned to an unseen corner to his right. Terri appeared in view. She hugged Fulton…
‘How could you, you rotten bitch…you led me into it’, Adam was crying openly now staring wildly at the familiar faces, ‘how could all of you bring me into this hell knowing what was at the end for me?’
Terri stared at him blankly; ‘But you agreed Adam! I said wouldn’t you willingly do anything that was necessary to save a life?’
‘But that was different! Can’t you see the difference? The child was never in any danger!’ Adam moaned hysterically.
‘I don’t see any difference’, said Terri quite calmly, ‘You said that you were willing to do anything. You were willing to make a sacrifice for another; just as those of us here in Fernleigh over the centuries have given freely of ourselves where necessary. Unless, of course another willing sacrifice could be found in the chosen one’s place. And it can’t be anyone. It has to be a sacrifice that is completely willing to give their lives. And Adam, if it hadn’t been you feeding our god tonight, then it would have been me; it was my turn you see…I was chosen by lot over two years ago now…so I thank you for my life. We all thank you.’
There was a murmured consent around the gathered worshipers.
‘But I’ll be missed; people will realize that I have gone!’ This was a last desperate grasp for life.
‘Not after they find the remnants of your body in Leader’s harvester’, Terri said. ‘It’ll be Just another tragic farming accident. It happens quite a lot, really Adam. More than you would imagine.’
‘Especially to our friends’, a voice joked from within the gaggle of invited guests.
Adam messed his trousers; a final indignity for him.
‘Oh, I do so hate it when they do that’, bemoaned Fulton, ‘I find if gives the flesh an acrid flavor, and its not completely to Cthulhu’s liking and so out of keeping with this special occasion.’
Adam stared in mute acquiescence, as Fulton sharpened up a large carving knife.
A sea of eager, grasping hands tore down his fouled jeans.
‘Now, don’t worry, Adam. I promise that you will be along with us till almost right to the finish. I am a Doctor after all!’ I’ll keep you alive till the end. After all, if you are still alive, the meat stays so much fresher, and that’s how the god prefers it.’
Adam watched, unable to move as Fulton selected a large porcelain meat plate from the side of the table, and asked Terri to hold it for him. He began to slice through Adam’s leg flesh with sure practiced strokes. Adam could feel nothing as Fulton removed a large slice of bloodied hairy thigh.
‘Now, come brethren’, Fulton said, ‘who wants a piece of the leg first? But chew it properly and well…make it nice soft so our god can enjoy the fine delicate flavor!’ Drooling faces, mask of horror closed in.
‘Don’t crowd, my friends’, said Fulton.
Cthulhu dragged its immense bulk closer to the table, the rancid decaying stink of its maw with worn down blackened stumps of huge teeth filling Adam’s nostrils making him gag.
He thought he was too terrified to even scream. He merely closed his eyes in his horror. Then Fulton began carving away once more and all pretense of civilization left Adam…and as the congregation chanted its obeisance to their god, his own terrible dying primal screams filled the room and his head. He was nothing more than the squealing rabbit caught in the noose and found by a fox…then slowly eaten alive. The screams were a long time in ending.
Ancient Cthulhu fed hungrily and messily for long minutes at tender flesh and organs that had lovingly been pre-chewed by the flock; then it slunk wetly back down into its pit under the adoring eyes of his worshipers.
And in ten short years it would feed again.
All rights reserved.
Sincere thanks to Clayton Bye for his review of ‘None So Blind’
“None so Blind was a read that left me with mixed feelings. The stories don’t try to make you feel better about some nasty people and experiences. Faulkner lays things out, warts and all; he writes horror without pretension. And he does it well.”
“The stories are so interesting, I read one after another: I gobbled them up….”
“Faulkner appears to be a writer who wishes to disturb, and he does so successfully. True horror buffs should be pleased.”
Read his insightful thoughts on ‘None So Blind’ and the many other books he has reviewed and recommended for yourself at his website by clicking on the link below:
pulp horror fans may be interested to know that the reviews of the much anticipated GWP’s ‘Creature Feature’ have started to come in. And very favorable they are to!
Read some first reviews yourself at:
Or on author Stuart Neils blog at:
Like what people are saying? Want to buy the book? You can order on Amazon.co.uk
or direct from the publisher