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Seeing in the Dark

In the previous episode of Karen Zipslicer’s adventures in Lundern, Karen woke to find herself strapped to a hospital bed. She escaped with Whiteley’s help, and must now explore the rest of the facility…

Karen opened the door barely enough to peer around. She peeked with one eye. Whiteley peeked with two. The corridor was long, white, with polished floors and bright gas lanterns. And it was empty.
“Let’s go,” said Whiteley.
“Which way?”
Whiteley had no answer. He just looked up and squeaked.
“You’d better follow me then,” said Karen.
There were lots of numbered doors. Karen had been in room 439. She tried the door to room 440. It was dark inside, and the bed was empty. In room 441, a woman was lying on her side, sleeping. The light from the corridor illuminated her face. She was older than Karen, possibly thirty, and she had vision-boxes over both her eyes. Karen gently closed the door again. Another woman slept in room 442, her back turned to the door. 443 was empty. Karen turned the handle to room 444. A scream came from within. Karen let go of the handle, but the screaming continued. She looked around. Nobody was coming down the corridor. The screaming continued. Karen bit her lip, then stuck her head around the door. A girl was in the bed. She was a few years older than Karen, and terrified of her. She had also been tied down by her wrists; she thrashed her legs and body, trying to break loose.
Karen put her finger to her mouth. “Shsssh. It’s okay.”
The girl was shouting something, hysterical. Karen did not understand. It sounded like Chinese.
“Please, quiet, please,” said Karen.
The girl was fighting to tear herself free of the bed, shaking it as she did.
Karen told Whiteley to keep watch. She stepped inside, leaving the door slightly ajar. The girl responded by screaming more loudly and thrashing more violently, but she calmed as Karen walked slowly toward her, her hands held up, gently hushing her.
“I’m going to take these off,” said Karen, pointing to the cuffs around the girl’s wrists.
The girl spewed more words in Chinese, then said a word which sounded like “help.”
“Yes, that’s right. I’m going to help you,” said Karen, as she reached for one cuff. Rope had been tied around it, for extra security. Karen struggled to unknot it, talking to the girl as she did, trying to calm her. “Yes, first we’ll take these off, and then we’ll get out of here, you and me. This is tied tight, but I’ll get it off…”
“Hear somebody coming,” said Whiteley.
“Help,” said the girl.
“I’m nearly there,” said Karen. She bowed and wrestled the knot with her teeth, as well as both her hands.
“Hear somebody coming!” said Whiteley.
Karen stood and looked at the girl. The girl said “help,” again, pathetically.
“I’m so sorry,” said Karen. She squeezed the girl’s hand.
“Hear somebody coming!” said Whiteley.
Karen turned and fled, scooped up Whiteley, then slid down the corridor, diving into room 443. She put her ear to the door, and listened to the footsteps as two people strode toward them.
“I’ve had it with this one.” It was a man’s voice.
“She’s already had the maximum dose.” That was a woman.
“I wasn’t thinking of that. These vee-bees will shut her up.”
“They weren’t designed for her.”
“They’ll do.”
“What about the brain damage?”
“What about it? Nobody can understand her anyway.”
The footsteps reached Karen’s door. She held her breath. The footsteps went by. The door to room 444 was opened. The Chinese girl screamed and shouted again; she may have been swearing in her language. Karen trembled. The girl cried for help, but none came.

Then there was silence. Karen listened to her own heart’s beating. The footsteps returned to the corridor. Karen bit her knuckle as they went by. She waited until they had grown too faint to hear, then asked Whiteley if they had gone, because his hearing was excellent. “Long gone,” he said. They crept back to room 444, to check on the Chinese girl. Karen opened the door ever so slowly, ready to run if there was the slightest noise from within, but there was none.

“Hello? Are you okay?” asked Karen. There was no answer. “Hello?” Silence. As she opened the door wider, the light from the corridor spilled on to the Chinese girl, stretching from her feet upwards. She lay on the bed, serene and still. Karen opened the door to its widest extent. The light reached the girl’s face. It was graced by a gentle smile; two black vision-boxes hid her eyes. Now Karen wanted to scream; she held her hand across her mouth. Karen walked to the girl, and bowed over her. “Hello? Can you hear me?” The cuffs were gone. Karen shook the girl’s arm. There was no response. Karen passed her hand in front of the girl’s face, across her eyes. Still no response. Karen pinched the girl’s arm, then punched her in the shoulder. Nothing. The girl did not care. If anything, she smiled a little more sweetly. Karen placed her fingers on the black boxes. Their surface was smooth, and warm to the touch. “Can you hear me?” There was no reply. “Can you hear me? I’m taking these off.”
“Can’t do that,” said Whiteley.
Karen ignored Whiteley. She pinched one of the vision-boxes between thumb and forefinger, and pulled, but her fingers slid straight off. Karen took hold again, this time grabbing the black box with all the fingers of her one hand, whilst she placed her other hand against the Chinese girl’s forehead. Karen’s hand slipped off again.
“Can’t get them off,” repeated Whiteley. Karen slid her thumb between one vision-box and the bridge of the girl’s nose, then wrapped the other hand around the girl’s forehead, and pushed the vision-box sideways. It would not budge.
“You’ll hurt her,” said Whiteley. Karen believed him.
“I’m so sorry,” said Karen, to the Chinese girl. Karen bit her top lip, and held the girl’s arm in both hands.
“Us go,” said Whiteley. Karen followed, repeating she was sorry.

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