SICK CITY SYNDROME SAMPLE

Sick City Syndrome Website

CHAPTER ONE –GO!

In ancient times, Go was considered to be a martial art and was part of the training for warriors in Japan, China, and Korea. Learning to play is easy, but learning to play well requires much study and practise.

 

Susan would get to talk to her dead fiancé today. She arrived at her appointment fifteen minutes early, as was her usual practice. She barely glanced at the Queen Anne style building, its clock tower, the highest point in the city, a finger of shadow upon the huddled cars.

The receptionist glanced at the appointment letter Susan brandished and sniffed.

“You’ve been re-assigned.”

“I’m sorry?” Susan said. A change of routine? A spike of anxiety made her flush.

“Here’s all the details.” The receptionist pushed a piece of paper across at Susan. “Next!” she barked.

The man in the queue behind Susan came to the desk. “I’ve got an appointment at nine—” he started.

“Where’s Doctor Bradley?” Susan interrupted. She could feel her face burning. She wanted to flee, but she needed her routine. She needed to speak to Adam, have him tell her he still loved her, that he missed her as much as she missed him.

“Gone.” The receptionist’s hand, armed with a pen, hovered uncertainly over a pad filled with doodles.

“I’ve got an appointment at nine—” the man started again.

“Gone where?” Susan demanded. Unbelievable!

“Just gone.” The receptionist said frowning. She looked straight past Susan dismissing her.

“Next!” she barked again, at the small man dressed in brown, his toilet brush moustache bristling in indignation.

“I’ve got an appointment at nine… with Doctor Kenyatta.” He said, glancing sideways at Susan.

Susan backed off and read the piece of paper the receptionist had given her. It didn’t make much sense. Susan considered returning to ask the receptionist but she was now dealing with a young mother.

 

 

Your appointment has been moved due to the unavailability of Doctor Bradley. Please report to the below address immediately.

 

Susan glanced at the receptionist and saw that she was being ignored. No Doctor Bradley? But how could she speak to Adam? Why was the address she had to go to so far away from this one? She clutched the note and fled the building, the clock tower’s shadow pressing down on her as she made her way to the bus stop.

Susan planned her route to the new counsellor’s office on her phone. She checked the address, then found it first on one map app, then the other making sure that she knew exactly how to get there. Sighing as she scanned the bus timetable she called her own office to tell them she was going to be late. Again. This was probably a cause for a disciplinary procedure. She couldn’t afford for things to get worse, she was barely holding it together for paying for her flat. She’d had a lot of time off. They’d been solicitous at first, but over the last few weeks, she’d detected a slow, erosion in patience.

 

***

When she got to the address she’d been given she was a bit sceptical. She stood outside a Victorian terraced house, on a quiet gently curving cul-de-sac, in the far north of the city. She hesitated to ring the bell as the house had no signs to show that it was a business address. The wooden door blocked her view of the hallway and the front windows were covered with drawn blinds. The house, unlike its neighbours, was painted white. She wondered about phoning the health centre and toyed with her phone.

As Susan dithered on the doorstep an old lady with a tiny, fluffy white dog, ambled past leaning heavily on one of those shopping trolley-bags. She looked at Susan suspiciously. Susan rang the bell. She realised that she didn’t have a name for the counsellor. Her palms were sweaty, she didn’t like meeting new people. She pulled her wrist-warmers up and her jumper down.

The door opened to reveal a woman wearing an Arran sweater standing in a white hallway. She looked Finnish or Swedish - all blonde and statuesque.

“Susan?” She asked.

Susan nodded.

“You’d best come in,” the woman said and walked down the hall turning right into the front room. Susan followed, closing the door behind her.

“Drink?” asked the woman.

Susan shook her head.

Susan furtively looked around the room from under her fringe whilst the woman studied her. It was a blank slate; white walls, a circular mirror above the fireplace, several white pictures with small writing; it took Susan a couple of seconds to realise the writings were mathematical formulae.

“Please sit. Did you have a good journey here?” the woman said, pointing to a white couch as she herself took a seat at one end of it.

“The usual,” Susan said noncommittally, “I got the bus.” She tugged nervously at her wrist warmers. Where was Doctor Bradley? She shouldn’t have to go through this again. Telling someone new all her private fears. Telling someone new about Adam.

“Let’s make a start shall we? I’ve read your file but I think it’d be best to hear it in your own words. Take a deep breath and tell me all about Adam and the fire… ” the woman said making a motion for Susan to talk.

She did as she was told and took a deep breath. Having to recount the story again filled her with trepidation. She just wanted to hide. Doctor Bradley knew, she didn’t have to go through the details there. Why did she have to relive it all again? Susan thought back to that nightmare night when she’d gotten a text from Adam.

 

‘I have to do something. I cannot explain it. I love you.’

 

Her texts were met with silence and became ever more frantic. He wouldn’t answer the phone either. When she got back to the flat he wasn’t there. She had driven erratically across town to the house they were buying together. Before she even got there she knew something was terribly wrong.

The blue flashing lights reflected from lowering clouds turned the scattered houses in the quiet street into blinking witnesses. Their new house, Number One Abbey Close, blazed. Firemen struggled to bring it under control.

Two burly policemen prevented her from running straight into the flames. Her mind supplied a kaleidoscope of nightmare scenes; the fire was eventually brought under control but it had gutted the house. Her worst fears were confirmed when they brought out a body bag.

What she hadn’t been prepared for was to be told that Adam had started the fire himself using several cans of petrol and that he’d done everything he could to make the fire spread and had made no attempt to escape the flames. Over the next few weeks, she was asked a great many questions and constantly asked herself the biggest one. Why? Why did he do it? What was it that he couldn’t tell her, couldn’t share with her?

She’d asked him of course, in all the sessions with Doctor Bradley, who had summoned him from the Astral Plane and performed other mediumistic duties. He never answered that one question. He always told her how much he loved and missed her. The sessions always left her shaking with grief and anger.

 

When she was admitted to hospital on the day of the funeral, after holding her hands over the gas hob until they started smoking, she was assigned to Doctor Bradley. It had been traumatic, her therapy forcing her to confront it head on, but she’d just started to open up, to trust Doctor Bradley, to need to speak to Adam. She could go through it again, with this new woman, so she could speak with him again.

Her new counsellor listened attentively as Susan poured her heart out. Interrupting every so often to tease out a detail that Susan had forgotten.

After, Susan had a good cry and felt wrung out. Her councillor gave her a little time before she lifted up a tan folder. On the front was a red official looking stamp. Also, a large white sticker on which Susan could clearly see the name, Adam Abel.

“What’s that?” Susan asked suspiciously.

“I feel that you are ready to take this path. To investigate. When you have, I will be here. Waiting. Ready to help you further.” She handed the file to Susan who accepted it with trembling hands. The official looking stamp said ‘Case number 2034-11a subject Number 1 Abbey Close.’

“I don’t understand. Where did you get this? What is it?” Susan asked.

The women looked at her with pity.

“Answers,” she said.

“Aren’t you going to summon Adam?” Susan asked. She needed to speak to him. To ask him why. Maybe this time he’d answer. Each time there was that hope. But just talking to him helped, knowing that part of him existed still and was able to think about her. But maybe he’d be able to tell her why at last?

“No. I cannot do that.”

“Aren’t you a medium?” Susan asked, frowning. There was a flutter of panic in her chest. She had to speak to him, otherwise what was the use of the therapy?

“No.” The woman said with a small shake of her head.

“But. You mean I can’t talk to Adam?”

“No. You can’t. It’s time you stopped trying.”

“I don’t understand,” Susan replied holding the folder delicately as if it were dangerous.

“I know.” The woman said.

“I have to speak to him. I have to. I need to know why. Please?” Susan could feel that more tears were on their way.

“Read the folder. Maybe that will answer why?” The woman stood and opened the door. “We can talk more when you have read it.”

Susan glanced down at the folder. Maybe she’d read it now and demand answers. A fat tear splashed the cover, leaving a black spot on the buff.

“I’ll find answers in here?” she asked.

The woman nodded and gestured to the door.

Susan stood and, frowning still, let herself be showed out. She clutched the buff folder close. Maybe she would get some answers at last?