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And this is why you should never go off your meds without your Doctor's approval!




Eric Ian Steele


Laura opened the window as far as it would go. A cold, salty breeze blasted her. Down below, the limestone houses glistened from the recent shower. The town shimmered, freshly-moulded by some master-potter. Beyond it, a sheer drop delineated the coastline. Breakers thrashed at the water’s edge. They ignored the corroded metal railings that served as a flimsy barrier.


The wind carried its burden of barnacles and kelp into her nostrils. She laughed at its ineffectual ferocity. Above, seagulls called for her to join them. They clacked their beaks as they danced, suspended in midair.


She leaned out further. Were they talking to her? Was there some intelligence behind their smiles? She balanced over the ledge, her feet now off the floor. Her midsection rested on the narrow window ledge. She felt suspended between two worlds - air above, gravity below.


Then suddenly she overbalanced. A cold fist clenched her chest. But it was too late - she was falling.


“Laura!” Werner shouted. He hauled her back inside. His lips grew taut across his pallid, angular face. "What were you doing? You nearly fell!”


He slammed the windows shut. She marvelled at opaque patches of dust speckled across the panes. On the windowsill, the corpses of dozens of tiny flies lay unattended.


"I was okay," she said, brushing back a stray lock of hair. Lying had become part of her everyday existence. It allayed suspicion, cumbersome explanations and trips to the doctor.


"You should be more careful," the old woman said. She filled the doorway, a coarse headscarf wrapped tightly around her head, a shock of bright lipstick smudged across her weathered lips. 


"We’re fine, Mrs. Lovett," Werner attempted to smile. "She just leaned out a little too far."


Mrs. Lovett murmured in agreement. "Been meaning to nail them shut," she shuffled around the room toward a dressing table. "This was my daughter’s room, once, when we still lived here.” She lifted up a small, round musical box. “This was hers. Now I keep it for decoration."


Atop the box, a tiny porcelain dancer whirled in a frozen prayer. Laura noticed the old woman’s knuckles were swollen with arthritis like onions.


"Can I ask why you want to rent?" the old woman asked. Her grey, mackerel eyes glared at them, surprisingly bright. "You both look like you’ve got money."


"We’re only here for the rainy season,” Werner remarked. “We just want to be alone together, somewhere small, quiet."


"I see," the woman gave a lecherous smile. Laura frowned. Did she somehow know the real reason why they were there? But how could she?


"Let me see!” a shrill voice piped. A carrot-topped boy of nine appeared behind the old woman.


"Hush!" she scolded. The old woman swatted him, tugging on his ear in the roughest manner. The boy gasped. "Children should be seen and not heard!"


"Please, it’s all right," Laura stepped forwards, the words flew from her mouth. She immediately regretted them.


The boy grinned as the old woman let go. She saw the contempt in his face. Her outburst had been ineffective, but had revealed her own weak emotions. Now she had made a fool of herself before both of them. The battle lines had been drawn without her knowing it, and she had already lost.


"My daughter’s child," the old woman pushed the boy out of the room. "She never taught him any manners. Too busy out enjoying herself. Had to raise him on my own."


She swivelled back to face Laura with a hideous smirk of. "You have to be firm. Otherwise they’ll walk all over you. Maybe, when you have one of your own, you‘ll understand."


Laura wondered if this was some kind of insult. She decided to probe the old woman to see if she had any weaknesses of her own.


"Where is your daughter?" she asked.


"Dead,” the old woman said. Laura felt her heart stop beating, but Mrs. Lovett seemed not even to care. "She fell out of that window there," she added in a dull, flat voice. “On drugs, or whatever young people take these days. She didn’t know what she was doing. She didn’t care. Didn’t think of anyone but herself.”


“We’ll be careful,” Werner said. He glanced at Laura. It was a stern look. She suddenly wondered whether she had unwittingly caused this unpleasant situation.


“Rent’s due on Tuesdays,” Mrs. Lovett shambled toward the door. “And if you’re going to be here longer than a month, I’d be obliged if you let me know.”


She was grateful when the old women left.


Laura sagged onto the bed. Once again, she had ruined another potentially perfect day. A bitter rush of shame stung her already hot cheeks.


“She’s a character,” Werner said, not sensing her embarrassment. He chuckled as he sat down beside her. “Did you see her make-up?”


Laura nodded. The old woman’s fur stole was forty years out of fashion. But it had reminded her of the fur coat her mother always wore like a badge of pomposity.


Memories flooded back. She remembered endless arguments with teachers who suspected there was something wrong with her. The long chats she they told her mother how she often wandered school corridors in a daydream, forgetting her lessons, only to be found staring at a painting.


School was an endless series of punishments - for late homework, for forgetting the right sports costume, for fighting with other pupils. They had interrogated her. But how could she express to a teacher only concerned with mathematics of grammar the delicious pleasure she gained by simply looking at motes of dust, or wandering across the tiled pattern of a hallway floor.


Her mother had ignored their concerns. She encouraged her daughter’s artistic skills. She told Laura that there were plenty of people out there who were jealous of her because she was special. Finally her mother had tried to educate her at home. But her dalliances with men and alcohol always came first.


Left alone, it became easier to slip away into that fantasy world. Her mathematic equations lapsed into meaningless doodles. Paintings in art history books took her away to imaginary places so abstract that she could not remember them when she returned. Gradually, her senses grew so acute that she no longer needed stimulation. She could slip away there any time she wanted.


"So what do you think?" Werner asked.


"About the room or the Addams family?" she asked. He always said her sense of humour set her apart from the others.


He grinned. She admired and hated his patience. He cleared his throat. “What were you really trying to do at the window?"


The same wayward lock of hair fell across her face. "I was just leaning out to get a better look."


He scanned her face.  "I’m not suicidal,” she reassured him. “I just leaned out too far. It was an accident. I am allowed to have accidents.”


He brushed her hair from her face. “You scared me, that’s all.”


They unpacked in silence. She watched Werner open his suitcase. Inside, his clothes lay neatly folded, underwear so white it was blinding. He laid out the clothes in the dresser drawers. The rough texture of his hands fascinated her. They contrasted with the pressed white linen. The creases in his jeans as he bent down reminded her of set squares. The window cast a rectangle of light on the carpet. She took a step back, out of the pattern. It seemed more perfect that way.


"Are you all right?" he asked. She nodded and opened her own case. The contents spilled out everywhere - a sea of briefs, bras, skirts and blouses that exploded across the bed. 


“I need my tablet,” she said to Werner. 


She took Chlorazil three times a day from an anonymous bottle safely tucked inside her purse. Each grey tablet went off like a reality bomb in her head. A necessary evil, because without them she would only be five minutes into a conversation when she would be giving herself away, hinting at the fantasy life going on inside her, as though it was something to be proud of.


When she was seventeen, a man whom her mother had invited back one night found her passed out in the hallway from malnutrition. He was a kind man, so he called the police. She was placed with social services. Then the therapy started. A psychiatrist. Then when that didn’t work, pills. She knew all their names. Thorazine, Haloperidol, Fluphenazine, the dreaded Permitil which sounded so inoffensive but made her bones feel like paper and her head like a lead balloon.


Werner was a junior physician when she met him. Initially he was supposed only to feed her. But they found they had much in common. They loved art, paintings, classical music. One day, Werner revealed his rather unconventional belief; she could be cured, he believed, not by drugs, but by re-establishing her self-control. By slow degrees, he was convinced that by conditioning her mind, she would be able to fight off the urge to create an imaginary reality.


Somehow they had become lovers. It was very unethical. She hadn’t meant for it to happen. It was even more unethical when they were married.


It cost Werner his job. At the time it was quite a scandal. He was stuck off by the GMC. But years later, memories had faded. Werner had been reinstated this last year. Of course they’d had to move. He had suggested Whitby, the town of her birth. He told her this would be her testing ground, where she would prove if Werner’s theories were correct.


*  *  *


That night, they lay together. Lara fiddled with the lunar surface of the woodchip on the wall. There was a pattern in the tiny flecks. It looked like an old man’s smiling face.


"Are you awake?" he asked. She turned to face him.


They kissed. They didn’t need to say anything else.


They made love, and for once she felt in tune with her surroundings - unable to think, locked into the moment of their embrace. Werner was her silver cord that connected her to reality. It felt good. If she kept it up she might not even need the Chlorazil. But that was sheer fantasy.


Eventually, they came to a gasping conclusion. He kissed her, then gave up on that. Seconds later, his eyelids flickered. He was asleep.


A single chime sounded in the darkness.


It had come from the musical box on the dressing table. She watched as the dancer shook for a moment with a tinny reverberation, then grew still once more. 




Werner was still sleeping when she rose next morning. She donned her nightgown, then went to make coffee. A small kitchen sat at the end of the cold, bleak landing; an irregular room, all angles and sloping surfaces.


A single squat table waited for her, crowned by a melancholy vase of plastic flowers. A note on the refrigerator door exclaimed: "COFFEE, TEA IN CUPBOARD. MILK IN FRIDGE. WASH CUPS AFTER USE!”


A single window overlooked an overgrown back yard. In one corner, a black cat sat in a box, nursing its kittens. Laura watched it lick its offspring with an affectionate pink tongue.


A bang made her jump. It came from far below, followed by heavy footsteps that thudded up the stairs toward her.


Laura froze. She felt annoyed at the intrusion upon this perfect moment. Then the thought of meeting someone filled her with dread. She didn’t feel like saying hello. She hoped whoever it was would pass her by. But she knew people had an unfortunate tendency to want to engage her in conversation.


A bizarre head ascended the stairs. It bore a crimson halo of red hair. It belonged to a man in his twenties who wore a long tweed coat, obviously an artistic type. She remained motionless. He halted at the door to another bedsit. Then he turned to fix her with grey eyes. She felt her heart beating. But instead of talking, he simply stepped inside and disappeared. She breathed out with relief.


The head popped back out. "Make us a cuppa, will you? Tea. One sugar.”


The door slammed. She hesitated, unsure what to do. Then she did the only thing she could. She made him a cup of tea.


"Name’s Ritchie," the man said when he re-emerged. "Mrs. Lovett’s great-nephew. The old lady? I take it she didn’t mention me."


Laura nodded.


"She doesn’t like me. But she has to put me up every now and then on account of the family," he smirked. "What’s your name?"


"Laura," she replied. "I’m with my husband."


Why had she mentioned that? He grinned. Evidently he already knew she was weird. “Why are you here then?” he asked.


"We’re on holiday,” she lied. “Actually, I was born here. Werner’s was born in Germany."


"German. Cool. I studied Nietzsche at university," Ritchie said. “Miserable sod.”


She stared into her cup.


"Well, my dissertation calls. Nice to meet you," he said, then returned to his room. He eyed her before closing the door. His smile broadened, then he disappeared altogether. 




Later that morning, Werner went food shopping. He knew she hated supermarkets – all that close proximity to people. Instead, she took advantage of being alone and headed out onto the promenade.


Whitby was smaller than she remembered. The tiny stone harbour jutted out into a cold, cruel sea. Expensively-priced fish and chip bars lay sandwiched between tacky gift shops. An icy breeze whipped at her, calling her further out.


Briny spume filled her nostrils. Breakers soaked the hem of her skirt as they crashed over the sea wall. She leaned out over the rusted railings at the pier’s edge.


Below, muddy water obscured a thin strip of beach that was just visible. She felt the waves begging to take her. 


She thought of Werner. For him, she had neglected her dream-world, allowing herself to be taken to mundane places, to the tiny squalid boarding room where she was the object of scrutiny by narrow minds. She felt like a rare, exotic fish trapped in a tank way too small. She felt unremarkable. If she died here, who would remember her?


"Lean any further out, you’ll fall."


She spun around. It was Ritchie.


She pulled herself back onto dry land. She had indeed been balancing over the rail. "I’m, fine," she lied again.


"You looked ready to jump," he said.


She felt deflated; lying was useless. Somehow he had sensed her secret desires. It made them appear tawdry.


“Were you following me?” she grew angry.


“There’s nothing else in this town except the pier. I saw you walking down here. You looked a bit upset. Don’t worry about the jumping lark. It’s understandable in this place."


A short time later she found herself in one of the town’s many greasy restaurants. They must have looked an odd couple. She was thirty-five, conservatively dressed. He was so much younger, so much more bizarre. Yet she felt flattered by his attention. Normally she would have frozen at his offer of dinner, but he had wrong-footed her on the pier. She had not taken any Chlorazil this morning. Perhaps that was the reason.


"Let me pay," she dived for her purse.


"No, no," he said. "I may be a student but at least I can buy a meal for a lady."


He grabbed her purse and was about to hand it back, when he caught sight of the Chlorazil. He read the label.


“It’s for migraines,” she lied.


“I know what it is,” he said. “What have you got? Depression? Some bullshit clinical disorder? I studied psychology so I know what I’m talking about."


She felt her face reddening. He was just a young man. What could he know? But he had found her out.


She didn’t know why she told him. Maybe she was sick of hiding. Maybe she just wasn’t thinking straight.


“Schizophrenia,” he repeated. He leaned forward, intense.


“Borderline,” she added.


“I don’t believe in mental illness. And I don’t believe you need those pills clogging up your veins." He lowered his voice, conspiratorially. “What you’ve got, it’s just a convenient name psychoanalysts give it, because they don’t understand what it is.”


She laughed. “And you do?”


"Schizophrenia isn’t an illness,” Ritchie said. “It’s a gift – a transitional stage in human consciousness. You perceive things that aren’t there because you see things everyday people can’t. You make connections they miss."


“I’ve never heard it called that before.” She stared at her grease-covered plate. A tiny ribcage lay there, part of the backbone of her fish. It made her oddly sad. “That may go down very well at University. But not in hospital.”


"Listen,” he grew excited, ignored her. “The American Indians called people who had visions shamans. They believed they were seeing something we couldn’t. All throughout history, madness has been synonymous with creativity. Most of the great poets would be declared insane today; Poe, Baudelaire…"


“So I’m a poet now?” she smiled. Trying to diffuse a situation with humour was another trick she had learnt.


"Do you have visions?"


She stirred the few remaining peas on her plate with a fork.


"I’m just saying the mind can interpret reality in different ways. You see things that ordinary people can’t. And if reality is what we perceive, then who’s to say we can’t change it?"


"I can’t change reality," she said. But she was no longer sure. Secretly, didn’t she want to believe him? It was the stuff of nonsense. But hadn’t scientists discovered something about perceived reality? She had heard about an experiment involving a cat in a box that said it was only there when it was being observed. But that was just a theory, and she had never really understood it.



"What’s to say our imagination isn’t the gateway to a new place – another dimension? What’s to say that what happens in there doesn’t really take place – at least at some level?”


The idea appealed to her. Who wouldn’t want to change reality? How many times had she wished her dreams could become real, if only she dreamed them hard enough? Perhaps her imaginary life was real. If it existed in her imagination, didn’t that mean that there was a possibility that it did actually exist, somewhere?


“If we can imagine it then it’s real.” She rubbed the bridge of her nose. “You’re giving me a headache.”


“Just promise me you’ll stay off the Chlorazil for a few days," he said. “See what happens. If I’m wrong, if noting happens, then go back to normal.”


"Werner says I still need the drugs," she said. “They help me to control it.”


“They help you suppress it,” Ritchie said.


But the thought of Werner had suddenly jolted her back to reality. What would he think if he saw them talking like this? What if he found out she had considered suicide again - if that was what she had done? She no longer knew anything about herself any more. Werner was her only hope. But he could also have her committed if he wanted. She jumped to her feet, leaving the sickly basket of oily haddock behind.


“I have to go," she headed for the door.


“You haven’t finished your fish!” Ritchie called after her. She ignored him. He shrugged and tucked into her haddock.




Werner was unhappy. He demanded to know here she had been. Didn’t she care that he was worried? Was she trying to give him a heart attack? She told him she had been out walking, which was partially true. But then she saw the suspicion in his gaze.


"All right,” she said. “I met Ritchie – Mrs. Lovett’s nephew. We had dinner.”


“That must have been nice," he said in uncertain tones.


"He knows about me," she blurted out. "He saw the Chlorazil and figured it out."


“And Mrs. Lovett?” he asked. “Does she know yet?”


“I’m sure he wouldn’t tell her,” she said. But was she? Suddenly the full impact of her stupidity announced its arrival.


“If she finds out, we’re out of here,” Werner said, defeated.


“Then we’ll find somewhere else," she reassured him. But that little schoolboy look had taken over him again. He sank back on  the bed, staring at the ceiling.


"There is nowhere else," he said. "I didn’t take a month off work. I quit to be with you. I used up the last of our money for the deposit. I thought I could get another job while we’re here. But it’s harder than I thought."


She let his words sink in. She relied upon him. He couldn’t quit his job.


"I might have to try somewhere bigger, a city. Newcastle, maybe. They have a big hospital there.”


The city. She hated the city more than she hated it here. All those people. Anonymous. Huddled together in quiet madness. She fell down beside him.


“I’ve mucked it all up,” she said.


He brushed her hair. "Maybe it’ll be all right,” he said. “Maybe he won’t say anything."


She stared across the room, absently feeling him touch her hair. The musical box sat directly opposite on the dressing table. The dancer’s face regarded her with a serene smile, but remained motionless.




Werner went to a pizza parlour to get supper. He said they deserved a treat. She found herself alone in the company of the musical box. She wound it up using the key on its base. The happy dancer swivelled on her podium. She remembered the tune from a Disney cartoon. She wished she could be like that tiny figure. Not the selfish, degenerate thing she was.

She examined her reflection in the mirror. She looked drained, weary.


The dancer stopped turning. She knew what she had to do.


She stooped knocking when Ritchie opened his door. West Coast heavy rock  blared out behind him. He looked drunk. No longer the mysterious stranger, now just another imperfect human being.


"I told Werner what happened,” she said, determined to rob him of his power. “He thinks it would be better if we didn’t tell Mrs. Lovett.”


For a moment, Ritchie appeared lost for words, then swaggered back into his room. She hesitated before following him. It was a long time since she had been in another man’s room. It was a messy, typical student bedsit. Swirling, psychedelic pop posters hung from the walls. Cans of lager piled high alongside old newspapers on the coffee table.


"Sorry if I embarrassed you,” he said. “Want a drink?”


"No, thanks. You were right about one thing, though. The Chlorazil. I’ve stopped taking it, and I’ve never felt better."


He gulped from another can on the sofa. She thought of Werner. She sat beside him. He stiffened as she took his hand within her own. "It’s important to Werner and me that nobody knows why we’re here. We don‘t have much money. We need to know we can trust you, Ritchie."


She pressed up closer against him so that their knees were touching. She wanted to understand more about his theory. She didn’t know how to ask at the moment. Perhaps in time that would come. “Can we trust you?”


He snatched back his hand. "So you’re selling out?" he sneered. "You want to be with your husband? Safe. Controlled. Like everyone else?" His face hardened. She let him go, not quite understanding what had happened.


“Did auntie tell you about her daughter?"


“She told me she died,” Laura breathed.


“I’ll tell you what happened. She was a free spirit. But then she bought into this whole do-as-you’re-told lifestyle thing. That’s what killed her. My auntie killed her, with her do-this and don’t-do-that."


Laura felt a familiar cold fist clutch her innards. She backed away. He had seemed so nice. Instead he was unstable.


"It strangled her, Laura. Strangled. If that‘s how you want to be, fine. Go ahead. Join the human race."


Terrified. She backed out of the room. He slammed the door in her face. Moments later the music jumped in volume.


Werner returned home to find her red-faced on the bed. He asked if she was all right, but even the hot shower couldn’t was the tearstains from her cheeks. They ate their pizza in silence. It was cold, rubbery. The tomatoes tasted plastic. But the foulness wasn’t in the food, she realized as she watched Werner take another untroubled bite. It was in her, and there was nothing she could do about it.




Next morning, she took a walk down the pier. She gazed across the grey ocean. She wished she could fly across it and reach some distant shore where she could find happiness. Instead, she wandered the streets, hoping the bustle would take her mind off herself. It didn’t. When she got home, Werner was fuming. She had forgotten about the time again.


"It’s been six hours. I nearly called the police," he slammed the door shut behind her. He held a note in his hand. "Do you know what you’re doing to me?"


"What’s that?" she asked.


"It’s from Mrs. Lovett. She wants us out. Thanks to your friend!"


She froze. She couldn’t believe Ritchie would have told on them. He was naďve, foolish, petulant even - but an informer? She stared at the musical box, letting Werner’s words drone over her. She wanted to hold it in her arms.


"It says you keep leaving the front door open, that she’s seen you going out in the morning and you look like you don’t know where you are. She thinks you have some kind of problem."


"That still doesn’t mean Ritchie told her," she said.


"Why are you sticking up for him?" his voice rose. 


She lowered her gaze. Maybe she just wanted to believe he was different.


Werner’s face set. He flung open the door, then stormed outside. 


Terror seized her. Did this mean they would argue? She ran after him, only to see Ritchie answer the door. Werner was a good three inches taller than Ritchie. He regularly exercised. Before the younger man could even speak, Werner grabbed his lapels. “Hey, piss off!” Ritchie spat.


"What did you say!" Werner pinned him up against the doorway.


“Laura, he’s a nutcase!” Ritchie yelled.


"Werner,” she breathed, unable to do anything more. She stood rigid as a statue.


“You nasty little shit!” Werner yelled. “You get a kick out of this? Ruining people’s lives?”


“Excuse me!” A cold, iron voice made them all freeze.


Mrs. Lovett filled the corridor, headscarf wrapped tightly around her head. She weighed them up with dark, gimlet eyes.


Werner let Ritchie go.


The old woman held up a small bottle of pills. The Chlorazil. How had she gotten them? But then Laura remembered leaving them in the kitchen that morning. Forgetfulness. A side-effect of her not taking her medication.


"I want you both out by Sunday. You can take your pills. I’ve run a boarding house for twenty years. I know when my guests are no good."


Werner turned to face Laura with a hard, accusing stare.


"Sunday morning," Mrs. Lovett reiterated, then descended the staircase out of sight.


Werner brushed past her into their room. The door slammed shut. Not knowing what to do, Laura rushed up to Ritchie. “Are you all right?” she fussed. But he waved her aside. "Get lost," he moaned. "She’ll be mad at me for this. I‘ll be lucky to keep the room." Then he too disappeared inside.


She stood there alone, stunned. Was this her fault? Somehow, it had happened. She had ruined everything. It seemed to be the only thing she was good at. All because she had forgotten her bottle of pills.


Slowly, she slunk to the ground and wept.




The base was cylindrical, surrounded by tiny wooden columns, giving it the appearance of a sort of temple. The dancer pirouetted atop its domed roof, long flowing skirt flailing behind her, one leg raised in a pirouette, both arms held out, hands cupped. As to why, the box gave no explanation.


Laura sat alone with the toy. Her tears had long since dried. Werner sat downstairs in the communal lounge, refusing to speak to her. She had ruined it all.


She had analysed the day’s events in her mind over and over. They should put her away, where she could do no more damage. The imperfection in her life was within her. She was to blame. There was no escape.


Out at sea, distant thunder rumbled. A shrill wind rattled the windows in their frames. Raindrops swept across the glass. A storm was rising. Across the pier, dull lightning flickered.


One -Two - Three - Four - Five – she counted, knowing that next time the storm would be closer. The wind was blowing inland.


She wound up the musical box, deriving some comfort from its chimes. After an instant, thunder growled again.


One - Two - Three - Four -


A deafening peel ripped through the heavens. She hugged the musical box closer.


Downstairs, Mrs. Lovett shook the drops from her umbrella.

"Blow the shingles off the roof," she told Ritchie as he descended the stairs.


Werner buried his head in the newspaper. Ritchie passed. “Uh, do you want a tea? I’m making one.”


Werner sighed, dropped his newspaper. “Sure,” he said. Just like that, the apology had been made.


Mrs. Lovett too, it seemed, was in a pardoning mood. “I’ve been thinking,” she told him. “If there are no more incidents, you can stay. It’s only a prescription, after all.”


“Thanks,” Werner replied.


“Storm’s really getting up,” Ritchie said, handing him a cuppa.


One - Two - Three -


Laura’s heart skipped. Electricity vibrated the very air of the little flat. She rocked silently. The musical box hummed its tune, reminding her of a world she had never had. How she envied the dancer. It spun on its pedestal, alone.


One - Two -


The roof trembled. Lightning so close now that all the lights flickered on and off. Everything was closing in. Now the real prospect of losing Werner loomed, and with it, her sanity. How much more would he tolerate? How long would his patience last?


The dancer spun. Laura got to her feet, mimicking its posture – needing something, anything to distract her mind from its own inner workings. She whirled across the carpet, dancing. The room spun past her eyes. The building groaned –




“Jesus!” Ritchie shouted. “We just got hit!”


Mrs. Lovett raised her eyes. It seemed the crash had merged with a scream. “Did you hear someone?” she asked.


“I’d better check on her,” Werner said.


They followed him upstairs. At their door, he got no reply. His anxious face persuaded Mrs. Lovett to produce her spare key. Seconds later, they were in.


“Laura?” Werner called.


The window lay open. Wind tore at the curtains. He ran to the ledge. It was a long moment before he could bring himself to look out. She wasn’t there.


He checked the bathroom next door. Ritchie checked his room. The kitchen. Nothing. 


“She couldn’t have come downstairs,” Ritchie said. “We’d have seen her.”


It was impossible. The door was locked. But his wife wasn’t there. In fact, it seemed she wasn’t anywhere.


On the dressing table, the musical box chimed. Werner hadn’t even noticed before that it was playing. The dancer staggered to a halt, then grew still.


He picked it up. The tiny dancer leaned into the wind, hopeful, elated. Then he swiftly put it down and backed away. 

“What is it?” Mrs. Lovett asked. She drew closer to inspect the figure. Then she too gasped in shock.


Fear rose in Werner’s throat. His mind reeled. There was no rational explanation for his terror. Surely, it was coincidence, but from the top of the musical box, Laura smiled back at him.

She danced on her pedestal, caught forever in a single moment of glorious perfection. Frozen, perfect, alone.