The morbid Orphanarium

Dr. Conjeeca runs the morbid Orphanarium for little tots whose families have all contrived to die somehow. This is a collection of tales of the children there.

James shivered.  It was cold in the cupboard, and his favourite blue pyjamas (with the bunny rabbits on) were too thin for the time of year.  He hugged his knees to his chest, rested his forehead on top of them, and squeezed his eyes tight shut, trying to go to sleep.  Tiny spots of coloured light exploded behind his eyelids, spinning through the night like sparks from the fire that had burned down his grandmother's house....

"James!"  He felt himself being dragged out of the cupboard by strong, rough hands.  The voice was high and sharp and scolding.  "James, I have told you before, you do not sleep in the cupboard.  We have beds here, for crying out loud, beds.  You sleep in a bed like a little boy, not in a cupboard like a ragdoll."

James opened his eyes and looked up at Dr. Conjeeca, the owner and manager of the Orphanarium.  Dr. Conjeeca looked back from deep-set eyes overshadowed by his enormous forehead, and frowned.  More lines than James had seen even on a map creased that huge forehead like someone scrunching paper up.  James shivered, and Dr. Conjeeca seemed to realise that he was frightening him, and smiled.  That was worse.  Dr. Conjeeca's smile stretched his lips across his face, pulling them out into a thin red line that then split apart to reveal dazzlingly white teeth, square and even, that looked as though they could eat anything the man laid eyes on.  Including James.

"Why aren't you in your bed, James?"

"Because, Hank, that's where he found his dog when he came home."  The new voice was sultry and made James think of his father's private study: a small, discretely-lit room draped with heavy, soft fabrics, always warm and comforting, seeming to have a meaning that he wasn't yet ready to comprehend.  The voice belonged to Darnelle, the Principal Psychiatrist at the Orphanarium, who'd sat and talked to James when he'd first arrived, using very long words and writing things down on paper with a dip-pen that she'd clutched between very long fingers.  "The dog's head, on the other hand, was lined up with all the rest.  When his sister went doo-lally--"

"Is this really what you should be telling me in front of the child?"  Dr. Conjeeca sounded annoyed but James could see that he didn't look annoyed, he looked curious.  "And is doo-lally actually used in professional psychiatry?"  He picked James up, and said quietly to him, "Let's get you a blanket at least, even if you don't want to go to bed."

"There's nothing wrong with doo-lally, it's got a perfectly precise meaning," said Darnelle.

"Well I don't like it.  I also don't like you referring to the Observation wing of the Orphanarium as the funny-farm.  It makes it sound like we're growing clowns."

"I'm in the process of getting a book published that should change your mind," said Darnelle, ignoring James's snort of laughter at the clown comment, "which is called The new language of psychiatry.  Once this comes out it'll be perfectly acceptable to call people nuts, crackers, a few sandwiches short of a picnic, and to create portmanteaus ending in -tard.  They'll all have nice meanings, by which I mean precise, of course, and we won't have to confuse people with auto-reflexive temporal displacement syndrome, Darnelle's disease and Munchhausens-by-proxy any more.  Well, except for Darnelle's disease.  I'll probably still keep that."

"Until that happens," said Dr. Conjeeca, his voice growing deep and slow as though talking to a wayward puppy, "we'll stick to the official names, shall we?"

Darnelle sighed and tossed her head in a way that might have signified agreement.

"Now, let me find a blanket here for James, and somewhere a little more comfortable to sleep -- ah, how about the beanbag chairs in the recreation room, near the television?"

James nodded, glad not to be going back to bed, and pleased to be cradled in the warmth of Dr. Conjeeca's arms.  The man was probably the warmest person he'd ever met.

"And then, Darnelle, you can tell me about James's history."

The End

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