Alice tried to remember who had given her the key. She had had it for as long as she could remember, it hung from a worn leather thong; the key itself was shiny from the many times she had toyed with it.
Where the key had come from was just one mystery, the other part was what lock did it open? Since she was a small girl, the key had been kept in a carved wooden box, she had tried it in many locks over the years, she had found many into which it would fit, but never in any of them would it turn.
Her mother used to tell her it was a fairy key and that it opened the secret doors into fairyland. Alice had often asked her mother if she knew where any of these doors could be found, her mother had always replied that she did not. They were secret doors her mother would tell her, only fairies knew where they could be found.
Thus, many of Alice's childhood daydreams had been filled with fairies and magic. Precious memories; which even years later in this place, offered the same old if faint comfort.
Memories and the old key were all she had now; the carved wooden box had been taken from her...
The girl was sat cross legged on the floor, head bent studying something held in her hand. I did not need to see the object to know what it was; we had tried to take it from her many times. At these times the girl would become inconsolable; she’d kick, punch and scratch anyone who came near her. Crying out in pain, tears streaming down her face, yet she never put her feelings into words, just mewled like a wounded animal, refusing to eat or calm down until she once again held the object in her hands.
I remembered the day she had come here, five years ago; a girl aged sixteen at the time. Her mother didn’t know what to do with her, saying she was unable to cope with her daughter anymore. She came to visit once or twice, but her daughter refused to see her. Or rather, when we brought her into the visitor’s room, she sat there, clutching her precious key and never once acknowledged that there was anyone else in the room. This must have been upsetting to the mother, as after this she never came back again. For a time, she sent letters and parcels, but the girl never showed any interest in the things brought before her.
After the first year, the parcels came less often. Gradually they stopped altogether, though the fees were always paid on time. It was only a number of years later that I came to find out that this was because a living trust had been set up.
The mother had died. The pain and suffering she must have felt were far greater than any of us could have thought for one night, about eighteen months after first admitting her daughter to our care, she took her own life; jumping from a bridge on a stormy, windswept night. She did this on the eve of her daughters eighteenth birthday, perhaps believing that now her daughter had come of age that she had discharged her parental responsibilities.
Alice sat on the edge of her bed, hurriedly pulling on her socks and shoes. It was Saturday today, she could scarcely believe it, today was the day she had been looking forward to for weeks. Her father had promised to take her for a picnic at the fair, which was held in a field beside a lake. It was her sixteenth birthday, perhaps she was too old for fairs, but she loved to swim, ever since her father had first taught her to at age two. He always joked that she was his little fish, and what a hard time he had trying to get her out of the water when it was time to go home.
She’d just finished getting dressed when she heard her father’s voice calling her from the bottom of the stairs. Picking up her swimming bag, she raced down the stairs and out to the car where her father was now waiting.
Music filled the air. The night sky was lit by flashes of red, pink, green and yellow from the lights of the rides. By the lake the sky was lit red and blue from the flashing lights atop the ambulance as they lifted her father into the back on a stretcher, a sheet having already been pulled up over his face.
Alice was being attended to by a paramedic, who wrapped her in a warm blanket to try and warm her. Witnesses said she’d jumped in fully clothed when her father got into trouble. She was soaked through and shivering, partly with cold, largely with shock.
Her father had been out in the middle of the lake when the heart attack had struck. By the time Alice had reached him, he had already gone under, but still she tried, diving under time and time again, until at last she came back up, and dragged him, swimming on her back to the shore.
It had taken just a few minutes for paramedics to arrive from the other side of the fair where they had set up a first aid tent. By the time the ambulance arrived ten minutes later, they had called time of death.
The girl had refused to leave her father’s side at first; they’d had to sedate her in order to get him on the stretcher. All the time she never said a word, just sat there, tears of devastation streaming down her face.
Today was Tuesday and it was custom here on a Tuesday that the nurses would take all of the long-term patients out to the gardens for some fresh air. They would sit under the cherry trees on the lawn, playing chess, painting, or being read to by one of the nurses.
It was Elizabeth’s turn to read today, and she had brought one of her daughter’s favourite books to read aloud.
Her daughter was only six, but the book, which was about a fairy Princess, stolen from her home by a wicked giant had appealed as much to Elizabeth when she was sixteen as it did to her daughter that she thought the patients too would enjoy it.
As she sat there in her chair under the tree she noticed that the girl, Alice who had never spoken to, or looked anyone in the eye; was sitting there looking at her smiling as she read the part of the story where the Princess wandered through the giant’s vast garden picking flowers with which she hoped to so please the giant that he would return her to her home.
Just then, Arthur, a rather cantankerous old man, decided to wander off towards the path that led from the lawn to the gates at the front of the property, so setting down her book, she chased after him to usher him back.
Alice listened to the story; she liked flowers, and had often picked them for her father as a very young girl. She thought she would go and pick some for him now, and wandered off under the trees to where a patch of wildflowers in many colours grew, nodding gently in the breeze.
She’d just finished scooping up some pretty purple blooms; purple was her father’s favourite colour; when something moved across the edge of her vision. Turning, she saw the strangest thing, a little creature; barely six inches high scurried towards another patch of flowers under the next tree.
A great smile spread across Alice’s face as she noticed the tiny creature’s even tinier wings. A fairy!
The flowers fell forgotten from her hands as she crawled across the lawn to where the fairy now hovered on gossamer wings. All of a sudden a door appeared and in the blink of an eye, the fairy disappeared. Only the door remained and it was then that Alice noticed the keyhole set in the door.
Remembering the key, which hung from its leather thong around her neck as always, Alice reached up and removed it. She moved to the door, which surely was too tiny for her to fit through, and tried the key in the lock, as she had with many locks since she was a girl. The key fit, she turned it; and with a click, the small door swung inwards.
A soft light shone out and there, on the other side of the door, was something that so shocked Alice, that she spoke her first word in over five years.
Elizabeth had just sat down when she realised that now another patient must have wandered off. Looking around, she realised the girl, Alice was missing. Calling for some assistance from another nurse, the patients were escorted back to their rooms.
They searched all afternoon, but they never found Alice.