If it was waking, Laura woke.
Her eyes opened onto a darkened hospital ward in which all the other patients were sleeping soundly. She tried to lift herself and found that she couldn’t. Her arms and legs had been restricted by something and she felt its unforgiving nature bite into her skin. Her neck ached and her head swam. A cough emerged from within her lungs and forced its way out of her mouth. She almost choked upon its insistence and coughed some more. Something in the ward heard this and began to move towards her. She closed her eyes again.
“Mrs Andrews, are you awake?”
Laura kept her eyes tightly closed. She recognised the voice even though now it appeared coated in a German accent.
“Oh dear my dear, I thought that you were awake. I wanted so much to see those lovely eyes of yours. I especially like them when they are filled with fear and have been crying.”
Laura did not think that he was exaggerating.
“Do you like my hospital? I find it so much more accommodating than the newer one in the city. It has more character, or should I say it has… more characters. Your husband is here somewhere and soon we shall have all of your little tribe. You’ll get to meet them later. For now sleep, or hide, for soon there will be something that you will not enjoy.”
The sounds of the ward moved about her. The sensation was like being on a ship at sea with the creaking structure adapting itself to the changing pressures of the ebbs and flows.
She heard the moans of children. More than once she heard the half-remembered word ‘mother’ being uttered and once she thought she heard a young voice attempting to ward off an unwanted visitor. The voice had been nothing more than a whimper but it’s effect was thunderous . She was in a den belonging to monsters and this doctor, if that is what he truly was, was leading them.
After many hours the room went silent; a silence that was trapped in ice. She kept her eyes firmly closed and clung from the precipice of reason above the gaping jaws of insanity. If she could not see it then it could not see her, her inner child recited.
A memory floated beside her.
There had been times when she had been very young, too young to be able to distinguish between dreams and reality, that the darkness had settled. It came as a blanket thrown over her, a suffocating denier of light and air, an impervious divide. And in that world of darkness played a flute. And into that she would rise and follow. And then she would be led further into the beckoning gloom. And always, she made her way to the promise of safety that was her parents’ bed.
But instead of her mother and father, alone figure would be waiting.
And there it would be playing the flute.
The thing didn’t call it a flute, it called the instrument a pipe or a syringe: it had many applications and names. It would smile an ancient smile in the hope that she would go to it. For a sliver of that moment she thought she had touched the loneliness that hid behind its sweet promise, but then it was gone.
There must have been strings attached to her former self as she was pulled towards the figure. If she had had any strength, she would have fought it, but she was merely a little girl and it was a thing of greatness. It was fear and it was promise. And both pulled her towards it.
“Don’t listen to it,” a distant voice spoke.
It was the voice of Michael, of Peter, and of Nick.
“Pull away from it. Run away.”
The notes of The Piper got louder. They began to scream their insistence.
It was the voice of her youngest son and she saw him in danger. He was running through the darkening streets and he was alone.
And she was no longer asleep.
The leaden weights that had sat upon her sight were now gone. Somehting was approaching her bed, inching towards her and, around her, a writhing mass of beds was awaking.
The voice of a long-ago Nick whispered, “You must not make a sound. I have undone your restraints. The moment move, he will know. You will have only seconds. Run!”
It was then that she glimpsed the boy.
He was a child forever caught in the amber of black and white photographs. The ones that had seemingly survived the Nazi concentration camps. These children, only a handful, wore their yellow stars as reminders. Their eyes held every moment that they had witnessed and been exposed to. What haunted them would do so forever. Thye had survived, but so had the thing that had taunted them. Nicholas had that same look.
“Remember that this is not your world. He has drugged you and carried you under. You are dreaming and anything he tells you is a lie. When you move, move quickly. They will be after you. There will be the lost ones rising from their beds and they will not allow you to go. They have been trapped here for many years and their resentment has turned to blackness. When we go, hold on to me and keep low. Do not stop for anything. Let nothing deviate you from this. Trust me.”
Laura was on her feet and running. Lights were being switched on. Screams of feral creatures, orders being barked, whistles blown, and the long drone of an alarm. She kept low as she was pulled along the line of beds. Once or twice she had felt the swipe of a hand from beneath their covers, but nothing caught her. She was no longer a smal girl blinded by the fear and promise of the night; she was a mother.
The long-ago Nicholas moved with unrestrained agility and she moved with him. A space opened in the wall and he was pulling her through when something reached out and held her patient’s gown.
She turned to free herself and met the desperate eyes of her little sister.
Please it’s dark in here, don’t leave me! I have been so lonely for so long. Now we can play. Please stay.
For what could have been a long while, she hesitated. This was a a girl, one who could have been her, and she could not leave her in such a bleak place.
“It is not you. It is not you. Remember the lies. Now run or everyone will be lost!”
Nicholas screamed at Laura before pulling her through the opening and into a passageway.