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CHAPTER 23 ~ LOST
I fear that here I must pause in my story, for I can hear the cacophany of questions that tumble around in your mind, my friend. You ask yourself why I did not simply use magic to bypass the rules of the hospital, and you wonder why Gunther's phone was fully-charged after four months untouched in the cabinet beside the bed.
Ah, these are so simply answered that I myself wonder at your seeming lack of imagination. Or... is it that you wish for a confession, since I also sense a growing unease within you about my motives?
The hospital's rules. Very well, I shall explain why I did not circumvent those, though you might think it would have been what you would call 'a piece of cake' to do so. For the first reason, there was a nurse in the room, and though I could make myself unseen to her, I could not mask Gunther's reactions to my presence. To do that I would need to stop time, and this would be a risky thing to do in so time-sensitive a place as a hospital, where a nurse may need to rush out of the room in response to an emergency.
The second reason? Well that would require an explanation of more physics, but opening a niche in time creates a minor disturbance in the earth's electrical field. I am sure that I do not need to explain further to you why it is a bad idea to cause any kind of electrical disturbances in the middle of a hospital.
And the third reason... was that I simply could not. Initially, I thought that whoever had built the hospital had somehow managed to shield it against all magic, even mine. I have spent much time in the intervening years researching how this was possible, and the reason became clear when I found ancient maps of the area.
It was not the hospital that had been shielded, but the ground that it stood upon. Only one small part of the building was not on that ground - the cafeteria and main waiting area - and the rest? I could walk there, but my magic abandoned me. So, whereas I could have taken on the appearance of a doctor while in the waiting area, the illusion would have faded as soon as I entered the shielded area. I have never before encountered such a strong rebuttal of magic as that, and I am still attempting to find its cause.
As to the phone? Again, we come back to electricity. The phone was, indeed, dead in that drawer, which was why Gunther had not received any of those calls or messages. But after we... *cough* ...after I used magic on him in the shower his own electrical field was so charged with energy that it somehow (and please do not ask me how, for I have not yet figured that out either, nor have I ever come across such a phenomenon before) charged his phone as he lay asleep.
Improbable? Certainly. Unfortunate? Absolutely. I had not intended for us to leave Champs Les Sims for several months more, and... oh yes. As you so succinctly just put it in your mind: 'the time thing'.
Do, please, stop fussing that I am reading your thoughts. You practically shout them at me, so I address them in a manner that will answer your questions. If I continue to sense this level of frustration and irritation from you, I will consider our discussion terminated.
Thank you. I appreciate and accept your apology. Now, where was I? Oh yes... the 'time thing'. How is it that only three weeks passed for Gunther, but four months passed in the world outside?
I want you to stop for a moment, before I stoop to answer such a blatantly obvious question, and consider everything that I have told you thus far about my ability to manipulate time...
Exactly. And there you have your answer. So, lacking any further questions for now, shall we move on?
I did not want him in that room with her, but what could I do? For all that I am able to cast illusions and mask intent, I cannot manipulate the expectations of an entire town. Of course, if he had not already been there then I could have persuaded the citizens of Sunset Valley that their beloved Mr Goth was sitting by his wife's bedside; the very picture of the devoted husband. But therein lay the problem: he was there, and he stayed there. And while he was there I could not reach him.
I knew beyond doubt that, even as unstable as she was, that woman was still exerting her old, powerful influence over him. Yes, even after her promise to me, such as it was worth. There was a time when the word of a witch was sacrosanct, but clearly no longer are such courtesies of any concern. If she could aim below the belt, then so could I, but while she was in that place she was out of my reach. I had to get her out so that I could get him out, and it took a day of pacing and thinking to arrive at my solution.
Dr Hoffman was a remarkably pleasant individual, even after I accidentally bumped into him and sent all of his important papers flying as he walked to his car after his shift had ended. Of course, I apologised profusely and helped him to pick them all up, and here - at least - I could play upon illusion. I took on the appearance of an eager young medical student with a desire to specialise in the treatment of burns.
Ah, the vanity of experience! He was delighted to hold forth on his chosen field, advising me of courses to attend, and - naturally - I listened with rapt attention. And maybe I let a little infatuation show in my eyes; who is to know, hm?
He invited me to dinner at the bistro; just an informal after-work meal. We talked shop for a few minutes before he carefully began to turn the conversation around to me. What music did I like? I named a band that I had seen on a flyer pasted outside the diner. Did I have any brothers or sisters? Oh yes, of course: a brother in accountancy and two sisters, one a homemaker and one an interior designer. Did I have a family; maybe a wife and children, or a girlfriend? Oh no, no wife or girlfriend. Then, after a pause, the most wonderfully-subtle way of asking if I preferred the company of men, especially after I had already denied a female companion: was I single?
Hmf. You think that I slept with him, in order to get what I wanted. Shall I tell you something, my friend? I did not lie to him. I told him I was in a loving relationship with a beautiful man that I was utterly devoted to. And, as I told him that, I reached across to where his hand rested on the table and covered it with my own as I gave him an apologetic smile. And that touch was all I needed. A subtle mental nudge that he felt only as regret, and then a toast to happy relationships, and my work was done.
I am not so obvious or callous as to immediately walk out on someone after such persuasion. I stayed with him and we talked into the night until the bistro closed, at which point we walked to the park and sat on a bench, still talking as the sun rose. I was surprised to find parts of my own life mirrored in his, and that was the main reason why I stayed for so long. We exchanged numbers before we parted, although I had no intention of ever calling him.
And so, back to the hospital and a bleary-eyed doctor arriving after just a few snatched hours of sleep.
"Thank you for coming, Mr Goth. Would you come in, please? Take a seat."
Gunther settled into the chair that was offered to him, watching Dr Hoffman sit down behind the piled-high desk. The doctor glanced at the heaps of paperwork, then smiled ruefully at him.
"My filing system may look chaotic, but believe me it makes complete sense," he said, pulling a by now-familiar manila file towards him. "Right. Well, then... Oh, can I offer you a cup of coffee or tea?"
"Thank you, no." It was all that Gunther could do to keep himself still. He disliked hospitals at the best of times, and this requested meeting was acquiring the ominous overtones of Bad News Told in a Nice Way. "Whatever this is about, I would prefer to hear it directly."
Dr Hoffman looked up from the file. "I have the psychiatric assessments of your wife here," he said. "They, ah..."
Gunther sighed and leaned forward in his seat. "I no longer love the woman in that room, doctor, and haven't done so in a long time. I care for her wellbeing, as I would the wellbeing of any other person, but you don't have to pussyfoot around with me. I'm a businessman. I understand facts and decisions. My main concern is for my son, and I will be better able to break whatever news you have regarding his mother's condition to him if I know all of the facts myself."
Dr Hoffman watched him for a moment, and then nodded. "Very well. Forgive me. Treading carefully and gently comes with the job. Well then, the prognosis is not good. The recommendation is that your wife should be sent to a more... secure unit for further treatment."
"And in plain English...?"
Gunther sat back. Fuck. Mort is going to be devastated. "And long-term?"
"That will depend on her response to the treatment, but we brought her out of sedation very briefly this morning and if anything her mental state had worsened. She was screaming and thrashing, demanding that her sister be brought to the hospital to back her up."
"Back her up?" Gunther stared at the file on the desk, but couldn't make anything out. Dr Hoffman appeared to have the archetypal medical scrawl: that of a drunk spider dipped in ink. "About the baby she was calling out for?"
"Yes. We called Mrs Crumplebottom, but she told us that she had no knowledge of a baby, only your young son Mortimer. When your wife was told of this, she... uh..."
Gunther waited, his hands gripping the seat of the chair on either side of his legs.
"She had to be physically restrained," the doctor finished. "I'm very sorry, Mr Goth. She is back under sedation, and did not harm herself during the episode. One of our nurses suffered a few scratches, but it's part of the job here."
There was a gentle knock on the door, and Dr Hoffman got up to answer it, pulling the door shut behind him and leaving Gunther sitting alone in the room, numb and shivering.
God. Oh god. How had it got this bad? What had happened to Cornelia that she'd gone so utterly... crazy? And - oh fuck - how in hell was he going to break the news to Mortimer, who hadn't seen his mother for over a year?
And then it hit him, in a sledghammer of guilt to the gut: He hadn't seen Mortimer for over a year.
He turned. Dr Hoffman was back in the room, standing just inside the door.
"Your son is here," he said quietly. "He was sent for by your secretary and left as soon as his school could arrange transport for him. He's been placed in one of the quiet family rooms, and a nurse is with him."
Gunther was on his feet in a moment and moving quickly to the door, before he realised that he had no idea where this damned family room was. He turned pleading eyes onto the doctor, who laid a gentle hand on his arm.