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Authors: Chaz Brenchley

Tags: #Fiction, #Horror, #Haunted Hospitals, #War Widows, #War & Military

House of Doors

BOOK: House of Doors
11.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

A Selection of Recent Titles by Chaz Brenchley

The Keys to D'Esperance Series



The Selling Water by the River Series



* available from Severn House


Chaz Brenchley

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.


First world edition published 2011

in Great Britain and in the USA by


9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.

Copyright © 2011 by Chaz Brenchley.

All rights reserved.

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Brenchley, Chaz.

House of doors.

1. War widows – Fiction. 2. World War, 1939–1945 – War

Work – Fiction. 3. Great Britain. Royal Air Force –

Airmen – Nursing home care – Fiction. 4. Haunted

Hospitals – Fiction. 5. Horror tales.

I. Title


ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-156-9     (ePub)

ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8089-5     (cased)

ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-390-8     (trade paper)

Except where actual historical events and characters are being
described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this
publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons
is purely coincidental.

This ebook produced by

Palimpsest Book Production Limited,

Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.


he had never really believed in the car.

There'll be a car to meet you at the station.
It was an absolute promise; but even in peacetime, it had been Ruth's experience that other people's promises were  . . . contingent. Never her own, she was scrupulous about that. A promise was a promise. Even Peter, though, whom she had loved and trusted beyond measure, beyond reason: even he had made certain promises that turned out to be worth less than she had hoped.

And now, after Peter, in this world of war – well, she had apparently become someone to whom promises could be made carelessly, heedlessly, with no real intent behind them. A woman, a widow, a nurse. There was nothing in her life or situation, nothing in herself to give her weight or influence. Nothing in her sense of self. She had no family to back her and no money, no position, no authority. She didn't care about any of that, but she did wish that people would not make promises they had no intention of keeping.

No possibility of keeping, in wartime. Travel arrangements across half the country, for someone so insignificant? No, she had never believed in the car. Even before her train north had been delayed and delayed: shunted aside to let a troop-train by, re-routed away from a marshalling yard that billowed smoke, stranded in a siding for hours with no explanation. Night had come before Leeds, her expected connection had been and gone long since.

She ended up sitting through the darkness on Darlington station, a rug around her knees and her eyes on the sky. No searchlights, no balloons; no distant fires, no firefly-spark of aeroplane exhausts, no ack-ack. No sudden flares of death dealt out. Only clouds and stars and the waning moon. She could spot all the constellations that Peter had taught her and make up others, tell herself their stories, try not to dwell on the train she had missed and the car that would never have been there anyway.

Try not to wonder just what it was that she was travelling to, what blind commitment she had made now. What all her promises might mean, to herself and to others in the weeks and months to come.

She no longer thought in years. Months were enough, surely.

It had been an odd interview that fetched her here, unforthcoming even by wartime standards. She hadn't actually applied for a transfer, even, only mentioned in the canteen that she was thinking of it: ‘I suppose I'd feel more useful overseas, where the men are fighting. When they need a nurse right there, right then.'

‘We're needed here, now.' This was at the end of a long night, half a dozen of them clustered around a table with mugs of tea and cigarettes, their voices blurred with exhaustion. Almost too tired to go home, when home meant only a quick wash and a tumble into bed, a few blessed hours' sleep and then back into uniform and back to the ward, back to work again.

‘Of course,' Ruth said quickly. The raids were worse than ever. London was burning all about them, and most of these girls were Londoners. ‘The home front is as important as anywhere else. Just – well, we can't win the war from here. Only survive it. I want to help win it. And that means nursing soldiers, not civilians.'

‘That'll mean the QAs, then.'

‘I suppose so, yes.' The Queen Alexandra corps, military nurses: almost a regiment in themselves.

‘Sooner you than me, Ruth. All that marching and saluting – if I wanted to be a soldier, I'd join the ATS. But I don't. Why would you?'

‘Because the QA's full of posh girls, of course,' another voice, too weary to be bitter. ‘Posh like her.'

‘That's not true,' although it was, of course. Both parts of it. The QA was scrupulous in selecting girls from good families, and Ruth would fit right in.

‘You leave her alone, Maisie. She does her share; that's all that counts these days. Go on, though, Ruth. Why would you?'

‘Oh, you know,' she said vaguely. ‘I'd like to get away, find some sunshine. The desert might be nice, Egypt or Palestine, but that doesn't really matter. Anywhere but here.'

‘And live in tents and be shot at?'

‘It's no worse than living in digs and being bombed.' She was trying to make light of it, trying to sound superficial. Flighty and, yes, posh. Not making a very good job of that, she thought, but no matter. So long as no one picked up what she really meant.
I'd like to find a bullet, if there's one out there with my name on it. As all these damn bombs keep missing me.

The following week, she was called into Matron's office.

‘Sit down, Taylor. I hear you're thinking of leaving us.'

Matron famously heard everything. Either she had a spy network that rivalled whatever Hitler could achieve, or else her own chilly spirit pervaded the entire hospital, noting every sin and listening in to every whisper. Certainly that was what the probationers believed. Ruth used to laugh at the silly young things in their awed terror. It didn't seem quite so funny now.

‘I've been considering it, Matron, yes. I haven't quite decided yet.'

‘Indeed? Well, you may find that the decision is not entirely your own to take. This is wartime, you know.'

Ruth blinked. In anyone else, that would have been nothing but bluff. Wartime, of course yes, but nursing was a reserved occupation and she wasn't proposing to leave it. Only to leave here, a grey and hopeless hospital in a grey and hopeless city. If her new path led to a quick sunlit death in a distant land – well, that was her own affair and no great loss to her country, no great loss to herself. No loss at all to anyone else. She wouldn't throw her life away, but she must be allowed to risk it.

She shouldn't need to say that, any of that. Only, Matron didn't bluff  . . .

They weren't alone in this little cubicle. A man sat in one corner, on a chair that must have been fetched in for him, cramped awkwardly between Matron's desk and her filing cabinet. His felt hat was perched jauntily on a plaster bust – of Aesculapius, Ruth rather thought – that was as unfamiliar in here as the chair or the man. He was soberly suited, middle-aged, crisply shaven. It was odd to see such a man without either the white coat of a doctor or the uniform of an officer; in honesty, though, it was odd to see a man at all in Matron's bailiwick.

Matron hadn't introduced him. That was odd, too.

He stirred now, said, ‘Why the Queen Alexandra mob? Looking to be with your own kind?'

It was the same question, the same accusation; she hadn't expected it here. ‘
' she said. Really she wanted to say
it's none of your business
, but Matron had scared her now. Perhaps she – or he – really could stop her going. ‘Not that,' she went on more steadily, getting a grip, understanding this to be some kind of interview. ‘I just feel that the war's  . . . elsewhere. I know that makes no sense when the bombs are falling every night and we're treating people in corridors because we don't have enough beds, but even so. There's nothing we can do here but suffer. I want to, to make a difference. To be closer. To help the men when they need it most.'

All her justifications, trotted out to order. They sounded thinner than ever to her own ears, where she most needed them to carry weight. When she was done she felt oddly breathless, pent up, waiting.

He said, ‘Hmm. You're a widow, I believe?'

It was easy for him. Herself, she still struggled to believe it sometimes.
I'm twenty-nine, and Peter—

Twenty-nine, and Peter. Yes. They were almost the two facts of her life now, the twin poles that defined her. Twenty-nine seemed quite long enough in the circumstances, and Peter  . . .

Peter had always been enough. And still was. No need for more now, no.

‘Yes,' she said: the coldest, bleakest word she knew.
May I have my bullet now, or will you really make me wait?

He said, ‘If I asked you to consider something else, would you do that?'

It was her own word, unfairly used against her. She couldn't conceivably say no.

He said, ‘We need experienced nurses, adults. People who have seen the worst of life, and death too. The worst of death.'

Oh, Peter  . . .

Ruth said nothing aloud. She was revising her first estimate of this man. A doctor
an officer, she thought now. Who else could be quite so ruthless?

But then, they were all soldiers now. She had said it herself,
the home front is as important as anywhere else
, and she could be ruthless on her own account. With her patients, and with herself too. Which was what this man was looking for, what he was seeing, what Matron had presumably promised him.

Ruthlessness and honesty went hand in hand, each drawing from the other. She said, ‘You're not going to let me join the QAs, are you?'

‘I think it would be a waste,' he said. ‘Society girls doing their bit, bandaging troops and keeping up morale, squirting the mosquitoes. You're worth more than that. Come to me, I'll give you a job to stretch you to the limit.'

Yes. He would use her and use her, she could see that; he would use himself just as hardly. Not married, she thought. Not ever likely to marry. Like herself, now.
Oh, Peter  . . .

She said, ‘Where is it, this job?'

‘I can't tell you that.'

‘Not overseas, though?'

‘No. A train journey, no more.'

No bullets, then. And probably no bombs either. He had dressed for town, but she thought that was a rare event. He had the air of someone who had come a long way. The shadows under his eyes were nothing, everyone was tired these days, but not everyone had a soot smudge on their face and an overnight case tucked beneath their chair.

His shoes were scuffed, and she thought his feet hurt from pounding pavement.

She said, ‘What is the job?'

‘I can't tell you that, either.'

His own reticence amused him. She had to struggle a little not to match his smile with her own. To remember that this was not what she wanted, a challenge from a challenging man. A swift release and a sudden end, that was what she wanted. Yes.

BOOK: House of Doors
11.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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