Finnian looked at Jack through the murky darkness, now filling with both dust and steam and for a moment was sure it wasn’t Jack at all. Would his brother really throw a knife at him? Even as a joke?
The dust cleared and Jack was definitely standing there, his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open.
“I didn’t. I didn’t. It was… it was…” Jack choked on the last word as he saw the knife impaling his brother’s foot. “Oh. Shit.” Even now, in the darkness of the basement, he whispered the last word in case his mother was listening. Jack turned and leaped at the stairs, swinging himself around the banister in his haste to get help. Or to get away.
As he ascended, Finnian could hear Jack’s feet on the old iron stairs tripping and banging and his voice calling out to their mother in a panicked voice. The darkness folded around him. He couldn’t feel anything but pressure in his foot. There was no pain. Behind him he heard the water heater make a gurgling noise as it began to fill with water. Steam hissed from somewhere. There was the slightest breathe of the dank air from the tiny doorway he had opened. It swirled around him and seemed to speak. The words were muffled but he could have sworn it sounded like - ‘knife’. He reached down quickly and grabbed at the knife pulling it from his shoe. It slid out easily and dropped from his hands onto the concrete floor with a ringing clang.
As his eyes adjusted to the low light thrown from the boiler flame he watched a small flower of red bloom on his white tennis shoe. The spot of blood became a flood and within a few second his shoe was red and soaked and blood was pooling out of the top of it. With the blood came pain, a sharp pulling pain that made him want to clutch at his foot. And with the pain came clarity. The fog and fear and confusion that had kept him silent and still lifted and he could think and move again. He ran for the stairs, dripping and spraying blood as he went.
“Mum! Knife! Foot! Knife!” He stumbled on the stairs, his foot screaming at him and refusing to do as it was told. It kept catching on the edge of the each stair, forcing him to his knees. He dragged himself up and fast as he could, the pain worsening with each moment. Nothing like this had ever happened to him before. He had watched his brother go through three broken arms, a broken foot, appendicitis and an accident that involved having his nose sewn back into place but had never had so much as a splinter himself. He hadn’t realised pain could be so encompassing.
As he reached the top of the staircase his mother and father arrived with Jack, out of breath, confused and pale. Their eyes widened as they saw the bloodied foot. His mother swung into action.
“Get me that cloth over there. James, carry him to that table.”
His father lifted him into his arms and lay him down on one of the old dining room tables.
“I’m going to take this shoe off Finn, okay?” He didn’t wait for a response and Finnian winced as his shoe slid off his warm, slippery foot. His mother wiped away the blood with the cloth and Finnian raised his head to see the wound. He had only a moment before the blood pooled back up, pulsing softly. There was a small, clean edged gash in the middle of the top of his foot, between the first and second toe. It was only a couple of centimetres in length but Finnian already knew they were not going to be able deal with this with his mother’s first aid kid. He breathed out slowly. Jack leaned over the table to see the wound and Finnian saw horror on his pale face. There was slithering crash and then a thud as Jack fainted onto the table and fell back onto the floor. His father left him for a moment to make sure his brother was okay.
His mother tried to clean the wound a few times and then gave up and put the full pressure of her hands onto it, wrapping the cloth around tightly and tying it in a rough tourniquet.
“What happened Finn? What knife was Jack talking about?” She had a drop of blood smeared on her cheek.
Finnian tried to focus his mind through the pain. “There were knives down there. And a door. I opened the door and there was … something. Something hit us. And then the knife.”
She pressed her lips together. “That doesn’t actually make much sense, babe. What hit you? Did the knife fall onto your foot? Was it rusty?”
“I think Jack threw it at me. I saw… I don’t know why. But I saw…”
At that moment his father stood up, “Well, he’s out cold. Never seen him faint like that before. I don’t feel comfortable leaving him here alone and unconscious, but I think we need to get this kid to the hospital. Get that stitched up.”
Finnian’s mother sighed. “What a disaster! Okay – yes, we do. If you can carry Finn to the car, I’ll drive him to the hospital and you can stay here with Jack.”
His father looked concerned, as though he wanted to say something but couldn’t. In the end he gave them an awkward nod as he lifted Finnian into his arms and carried him to the car, knocking both of them on the edges of furniture, walls, lamps and finally the door as he tried to negotiate the old hotel.
As they reached the car his mother pulled his foot up onto the dashboard and used a thick roll of silver duct tape to tie a wadded towel over his foot. She wrapped it so tightly that some the pain eased a little and Finnian tried his best to keep still as the car back out of the gravel driveway, knocking over a large pottery urn and bumping over the top of an old iron bed.
His mother barely spoke as she drove, one hand on the wheel, the other trying to get her phone’s map service to work. Her hands were covered in blood and the phone, clearly repulsed, refused to co-operate. Frustration caused her to bite her lip.
Finally she put the phone down and just drove, leaning forward over the wheel as though it might help her navigate a new city in the dark.
“Are you sure he threw the knife? I just can’t imagine him doing something so stupid. Even as a joke.”
“Somebody threw it.” Finnian replied. “Maybe it wasn’t Jack.”
“And what is that supposed to mean? Was there someone down there? A homeless person? Someone living in the basement?” She looked at him sharply. “If there is, we need to ring your father right now and get him to call the police. We can’t have an armed psychopath in our basement.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what happened.”
“Maybe it just fell off a table. It could just be bad luck in the dark.” She seemed to like the sound of her own explanation and Finnian’s head was nearly full with the concentration it took to keep his foot still.
“Sure. That is probably what happened.”
“There! I knew it. I knew it was near the mall.” His mother pulled off the main road and into the grounds of the hospital, misjudging the edge of the curb and rocketing over the top of it. She swore under her breath and then coughed to cover it. The hospital was lit up like a power station, even at this time of night. Finnian wondered what time of night it actually was. Midnight? Or was it still early? Time seemed to have stopped completely. His mother pulled the car up into an emergency bay and ran in through the large sliding doors, leaving the engine running and her door open. When she emerged a minute later, a far less hurried nurse came with her, walking purposefully, but slow around the car to look at Finnian’s foot.
“Hello, I’m Marcus, I’m just going to take this off to have a quick look at your foot.”
The young man pulled a small pair of scissors from his scrubs pocket and began to cut at the duct tape.
“I wouldn’t…” Finnian warned him, but it was already too late. As the towel fell away fresh blood bubbled up and ran down his elevated leg, all over the nurses hand, scissors and arm.
“Hmm, okay – we need to get you straight to a bed. I’ll be back.” The nurse moved more quickly this time, retrieving a wheelchair from inside the door of the hospital and bringing it back for Finnian who had tried to get himself out of car and found that he was surprisingly dizzy. The lights kept blurring around him and the edge of the car was much further away than he had anticipated when he had reached for it.
“Woah, steady there. Wait for me.” The nurse reached for him under the arms and pulled him into the wheelchair. His mother slammed the doors with too much vigour and ran after them, trailing a bloodied towel behind her.
They moved smoothly through a very full waiting area and Finnian watched the curious gazes of the mildly sick and non-mortally injured as he passed. They went through three sets of double doors before the nurse finally slowed down in front of a stretcher bed that was entirely covered in plastic sheeting.
“I’m going to put you up here Finn, so I can clean up that wound and get rid of the blood before doctor gets here, okay?” He asked it as though it was a question, but acted as though it were an order. Finnian tried to co-operate but found himself unable to get up out of the chair. The dizziness was overwhelming now and he lowered his head to try and keep himself steady.
His mother was gone. Filling out some paperwork somewhere, a few doors ago. He felt his mouth thicken, like glue but he couldn’t remember any words anyway. He felt very tired all of a sudden. If it wasn’t for the pain in his foot, he would definitely fall immediately asleep. He allowed himself to close one eye. As Marcus pulled him onto the bed and lay him back, his open eye saw another nurse, a women with wildly curly brown hair, come towards him with a tray of medical equipment. He saw a man with a clipboard wander over to take a look at his foot over the top of his dark-rimmed glasses. He noticed an old woman unconscious or asleep in the bed opposite him, her face and body connected to a dozen cables and machines. And he saw, in the corner of the large room a boy about his age, his leg bandaged up to the knee and a set of crutches under his arms. The boy watched him and one side of his mouth twitched into a small smile. Finnian didn’t have the energy to smile back so he just closed his eye.
It wasn’t closed for long. Someone tugged at his eyelid pulling it open and shining a light directly into it.
“Feenian!” – the voice boomed at him and as the scorching light flicked away he found himself inches from the face of a man with the whitest teeth he had ever seen. They gleamed into a smile. “There you are boy – well done. We need to stay awake now okay? While we sort out this interesting incident.”
Interesting incident? Finnian couldn’t remember where he was. There was a lot of light. It was coming from everywhere – lights above him, flashing red and blue lights on machines all around the room. There was even a bright lamp over the bed shining down onto his foot.
His foot. Right. That was it.
“Is… is my Mum here?” His mouth was still dry. “Can I have some water?”
“No. I’m sorry to say that, but no.” The man’s voice filled the room when he spoke and his accent was strange – not Australian. Or British. Or American. Perhaps a mix of all three. He squinted until the man came into focus. He was a tall man with dark skin and a tightly trimmed beard. He was wearing a set of white scrubs so brightly clean they were almost another source of light. “I’m Doctor Neptune, Feenian and I have been taking a very close look at this strange injury you have on your foot.”
“Yes. That is what your mother told me.”
“Is it okay?”
“Well – I will need an x-ray to be sure, but I think the knife may have severed, or nicked a tendon in your foot, which means we will need to do a little surgery in there to fix it.”
Surgery. Finnian felt dizzy again. He didn’t want surgery. He didn’t want any of this. He felt a sudden desperate need to get out of the hospital and for this to have never even happened. The thirst returned with a vengeance.
“I really need a drink.”
“I’m sorry,” Doctor Neptune smiled, “ but I need you to have nothing at all before surgery. Except perhaps some ice. Would you get the lad some ice please, Noa?” The nurse with the wild hair nodded and left the small curtained space they were in. “Now – tell me about how this happened and what the knife looked like. Was it rusted? Was it sharp – thin, heavy… everything you can remember.”
Finnian looked around for a moment. “Where is my mum?”
“I sent her to the front office to get herself a coffee. She is in for a long night. And I wanted to talk to you first when you woke up. Without her.” Doctor Neptune leaned forward, his face too close for comfort. Finnian pushed back against his pillow but there was nowhere to go. “Tell me about the knife.”
“Uh… it was in the basement at our new house. The hotel. There were these knives on the table. I don’t know if it fell on my foot or if … someone… dropped it or threw it. I can’t seem to remember. But it ended up in my foot. Through my shoe. I had to pull it out.” The doctor nodded but seemed to be waiting for more. His intensity was unnerving. “And… um… it looked old fashioned, like a thin dagger maybe. Not rusty at all. Very shiny, very sharp. Did I say thin?”
“You did. Hmm.” Doctor Neptune paced the room for a moment, walking around the bed and looking down at his tightly bandaged foot. “I only ask,” he leaned close again, his deep voice struggling to lower itself to a whisper, “because you are the fourth boy that I have had in here with a knife wound. From that hotel.”
“What? The hotel?”
“Yes. I saw the address on your notes. You were in the old North Star Hotel when this happened, correct?”
“Yes. My Mum and Dad bought it.”
“Did they, indeed? Well… before they bought it, the place was abandoned for many years and every now and then someone would break in and wander around, looking for leftover booze, or treasure… or ghosts,” he paused and shifted his head to the side, appraising Finnian. “Whenever they did, they would end up in here. With a knife wound. One lad had a slash down his entire back”, the doctor made a slashing motion and Finnian cringed. “Another, lost the tips of the last two fingers on his left hand. “And another - well, let’s just say that he won’t need to buy a pirate’s costume for Halloween every again. Always a knife. Always a mystery as to how it happened.” He narrowed his eyes solemnly. “All I have can say is – it’s astonishing that a knife could fall off a table so many times. And I think…”
“Oh – you’re awake. Thank god, I was so worried!” His mother bustled past the doctor to kiss his cheek. A splatter of her scalding coffee burned his neck and he winced.
“We’ll get you x-rayed and sorted out in the next half hour Feenian”, Doctor Neptune’s professional tone was back. “You are very lucky that there are very few emergencies in here tonight. Just you and Mrs. Burnham. We can give you our full attention.” He began to walk towards the gap in the curtain and Finnian noticed he was wearing strange glove-toed shoes on his feet. Like a deep sea diver. Or a mountain climber.
“Doctor Neptune? What about the boy? With the crutches and the cast on his leg.”
The doctor scrunched his face up for a moment as though he was thinking. “There’s no boy in here. Last patient before you was a girl with a head wound, checked out around mid afternoon.”
- That is the end of Chapter 2 of Ghostboy. Thank you for all the ideas you sent me through your emails and comments. Some of them made it into this chapter and some have been set up to appear later in the story.
Once again you are invited to submit ideas for what could happen next in the comments section or via a direct message to the author (firstname.lastname@example.org). She won’t take every suggestions but she will consider all of them.
SPECIAL NOTE: Doctor Neptune appears at the request of Finnian Lounsbury. He is a real doctor at Randwick Children’s Hospital who did in fact fix Finnian’s stab wound and who does in fact wear glove-toe shoes. We loved him and want you to know that if you ever end up in the orthopaedic ward at Randwick, you are in safe hands.