The Warden

Valerie Thomas, a 55 year old woman, has been admitted to hospital having suffered a stroke in her home town. She is taken to the Prince John hospital where she is treated by a team of ward sisters who, Valerie believes, will nurse her back to health. But, just a few rooms down in the same corridor, the hospital's secret screams through the walls. A case that will test the boundaries of human nature and the true meaning of what can only be described as a crime against humanity - bullying.

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7. Steps

Valerie walked briskly, arms flinging forward and lagging behind in the breeze of her rush, back to where she had come; the portal of patient virtuosity – where she should have been. Realising that her pace wasn’t going to take her to safe sanctuary before she was seen, Valerie hobbled into a run. She felt the statics of electricity from the floor shoot through her feet and her heart rate dipped and quickened. She felt adrenaline swell and surge about endless muscle tissue, blood and bone inside herself. As she neared her room Valerie thrust out her arms to brace herself as she hastened her step for re-entry. She grasped the door handle tight sending the plastic shutters tacked to draw-string paracord noisily buffeting against the glass window. She pushed the door closed a little too forcefully and clasped her free hand firm over her mouth. She let go of the knob and scuttled back in the direction of her bed, thighs hugging one another, heart fluttering.

Valerie could still here the shrilling, the shrieking, the harsh rattle of the wooden door pounding the wooden door frame. Valerie laid there, spineless. She deafened the cries by drawing her pillow tight over both her ears. She hummed.

Ten pennies a pound, For strawberry liquorice found, At Bertie’s café on the corner of Mustwith Avenue, Delilah.

He won’t give it to you Mae, I tell you he ain’t got the time of day, To let you hand him, Ten pennies a pound, For strawberry liquorice found, At Bertie’s café on the corner of Mustwith Avenue.

She stopped. Her cowardice was childish but, nevertheless, the clamour seemed to have ended, the misery tended to. Valerie thought of what must have been the cause. A broken wrist. A dislocated knee cap. A painful labour.

That night as Valerie dreamt she was trivialised with vicious words, beaten with sticks and pushed to the playground floor. They sneered at her, forced her to urinate in the bushes and tousled her in a tug of war. A pallid faced girl of only seven years old with two blonde pig tails stood hands hitched on her hips. Alice. She ordered Valerie to climb up a birch tree and fetch her a woven nest of pigeon eggs. Obediently Valerie hiked up her skirt and climbed up until her hands were bruised and bloody and her black hand-knitted tights bore holes as big as her father’s balled fists. She leaned in to grab the nest, precariously straddling between two branches. Her hands touched with the warm unborn prodigies of the living world in their egg carcasses. The tree quivered and Valerie fumbled forward with her hand to regain her balanced. She stole a glance below her and saw the girl’s face, malicious with delight, as she shook the trunk from below. Valerie screamed as she felt herself slip through a defenceless atmosphere past the laughter of the girl and deep down into the dark.

Valerie woke in a damp sweat in the dark. Soon it would be morning, she thought.

Just hold out until then.

She closed her eyes and hummed.

Ten pennies a pound…

Valerie drummed her fingers on the table of the bed with one hand and with the other pushed pale, lukewarm porridge around the bowl with the face of the spoon. As irony would have it, the morning that she had been served food it would pan out that she wasn’t in the slightest hungry - for food anyway. Valerie thirsted for the company and inaudible drivel of a mind-rotting magazine. She, unusually, wasn’t appeased by the factual intelligence of an inky newspaper nor the drone of weekly daytime TV. It had been a while since she’d held proper conversation with anyone who shared an ounce of remote interest in her.

“Any pain, Ms. Thomas?” They’d always ask, to which Valerie would shake her head regardless if this was the true answer to the question.

“Let’s see if we can get you out of here today, providing all is well.” And then that particular nurse would leave and another in to check the equipment around her in silent melody before Valerie would be left alone until dinner time.

It had been hard for her to keep track of anything that had nothing to do with memories. They served as her only source of entertainment and the continual replaying of them had now rendered them pathetically mind-numbing.

The warm metal of the spoon chinked on the ceramic bowl as Valerie let go. She sighed and slouched back against the bedstead. She curled a hand around the bed sheet and whipped it from herself. She slid her feet out of the bed and headed for the door. It was still morning, though only just, and Valerie figured that perhaps most nurses would be on a coffee break from the cackles of laughter that rang down the hallway. Either that, or the laughs were the upshot of a patient at the hands of their torturer.

Valerie walked the corridor the opposite way to which she had last night. She decided that walking with such proximity to the staff kitchen could land her with too much unwanted attention. She wrapped her hands around her stomach and felt her way along the wall despite the rays of sun that shone onto the corridor. Valerie placed each foot carefully in front of the other and heard the soft kiss of her feet leaving the linoleum only to return seconds later.

She walked past countless empty room and realised that since the last distressing encounter that had lasted longer than one minute, maybe the staff had decided to put her in her own corridor. Alone. It was only then, as this apprehension hit her that she heard the wail.

It started as a blubbing but then as Valerie got closer she heard the sorrow erupt into heartfelt pleas.

The lady screamed twice and Valerie heard a thud. Then the racking and quaking of a door. Scream number three.

“HELP!” the lady managed to half  shout, half croak in a hoarse voice.

Valerie, shocked by the distress, ushered herself into the nearest available room and, as misfortune would have it, the door was tightly bolted. She tried the next and then the next as the screams became further pained and the wails drew out longer. She found a door that slipped right through her grip and she hounded herself in and locked it shut behind her. Valerie turned outwards to face the wall and crouched at the base of the door frame. She drew her knees snug to her chest.

It was another three minutes before the door finally slammed shut and a key stiffly anchored the door.  Valerie listened to the click of heels recede to an echo and the gratified chime of a ring full of keys sing away from her before she dared move. When she was certain that there could be no one left in the hallway, she stood behind the door and unlatched it. Cautiously, Valerie pressed down on the door handle and step out of the room. She turned left and walked the way she had been just before the incident. Valerie could almost feel the walls hold their breaths as she walked amidst them. She peered into each room cavity, hoping not to see anyone, for any sign that what had just happened had not been brought on a living being.

It was the third last room on the right that Valerie found her. She heard her first. Her sobs and staggered breathing. Valerie peered into the room through the key hole and gasped. She spluttered, covered her nose with her hand and turned to draw a breath from over her shoulder. The stench soured her nostrils as Valerie identified urine, decaying food and mustiness. She drew in quick breaths to alleviate the smell.

“Blow me,” she whispered to herself.

The sobs faltered for a short while and then she heard muffled movement from behind the door. Valerie righted herself and stepped back.

The plastic blinds over the curtains rattled and then, separated by two fingers, revealed two drained, bruised and puffed eyes. The brightness of the aqua coloured rim shone through the bloodshot stains and, had her eyes been any other colour, you couldn’t have seen them at all. A confused expression glossed over the women’s eyes and Valerie saw her brow furrow. Then the tension released from her face and her eyes grew wild and large. The woman swallowed hard and the blinds snapped shut. Valerie leaned forward and fumbled for her pen in her “Tum Tucker’s”. She opened up the nib and inserted it into the key hole. At the sound of the tip working to free the lock, the woman screamed. Valerie jumped and withdrew her pens.

“SHHHHH!” She consoled through the hole. Valerie crouched at the opening to get a better view of where the woman was.

“I’m not going to hurt you, I promise.”

The woman wailed an estranged ‘help’.

Valerie fumbled for the pen again that lay on the floor beside her and begun to pick the lock again. As the woman screamed louder Valerie sighed and became more frustrated with herself. She drove the lock faster.

“Oh, no, no, no, no, NO! HELP!” the woman shrilled.

“Shhhhhh…” Valerie tried again.

“Mrs. Thomas!”

Valerie whipped to face behind her. Her face reddened.

“Mrs. Thomas, do you know that it is against hospital code to break into other patients’ rooms without permission if you are not a relative of the patient nor if you have not been given consent?”  Nurse Vaughn asked menacingly. “Come on.”

She grasped Valerie’s wrist and held it so that Valerie walked at an angle.

“Nosy cow!” Nurse Vaughn snapped, when they reached Valerie’s room, sending spittle everywhere.

“How dare you go snooping around my hospital helping yourself into whatever you want. How dare you! How dare you keep a check on what I’m doing!”

Valerie’s lip quivered despite her internal battle to keep it shut.

“You want a bit of her living, do you? Want to know what she’s going through, do you? Well, I’ll tell you this; that ruddy little ass can’t control herself. She screams early in the morning and wails like a child. She walks with bowed legs as though she’s cracked logs in her pants herself and half the time she has. She’s a nut case. A nut case!”

Ingrid paused and began in a more hushed tone.

“So now you know. Now you know what she is so don’t let me see you enter her room ever. Don’t you dare even think about it. Or you can get a piece of her living.” She chuckled. “Maybe I’ll even put you in there with her. She’s dying for a roommate, I’m sure. Let this be the last time I catch you, Mrs. Thomas.”

She paced backwards towards the door.

“Let this be the last time.”

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