Dr. Conjeeca stood up from the table, the little chair being pushed backwards by his legs and scraping quietly across the tiled floor. Darnelle slurped her aniseed ball, and looked up at him.
"Let's go to my office," said Dr. Conjeeca. "I think I need to review James's file for myself now. I'd hate to find a letter in the morning telling me that he didn't exist any more."
Darnelle smiled, revealing teeth stained red by the aniseed sweet. "I've never known to care about an orphan this quickly," she said, standing as well.
"I care about not receiving the government stipend for him being here! This is an orphanarium, Darnelle, a business. Not a charity."
They exited the room together, Darnelle elbowing her way through the door first, leaving James behind and asleep on his beanbag chair under a grey blanket with the words Property of the People sewn on it. They walked in step down the green-painted corridor that smelled faintly of disinfectant, echoes of their footfalls resounding around them until it sounded like they were in a crowd. At the end of the corridor it branched into a cross-corridor, and they turned to the left. Doors were spaced regularly along the new corridor, and the disinfectant smell now warred with sweat and children's vomit to be the dominant miasma. The doors were all closed as they walked past, each leading into either a private room or a small dormitory. They both paused as they realised that one of the doors was actually slightly ajar.
Someone made a muffled squeaking sound and there was a slight scuffle, as perhaps of a child's slippered feet running away from the door.
"That room," said Dr. Conjeeca quietly, inclining his head towards it in an effort to be subtle.
"She's mad," said Darnelle loudly, making no such effort.
"Darnelle! I don't care how useful a psychiatric term you think it is, you're not to call the children mad! They're not mad, they're emotionally fragile, or delicate, or... or..."
"Fruitcakes is my preferred term." Darnelle's voice was chilly with outrage. "She's mad. Short for Madeleine, like the biscuit. She came in a couple of days before James."
"Oh." Dr. Conjeeca paused, uncertain if he should apologize, then decided against it. Darnelle was odd enough already without giving her encouragement to speak her mind. "Madeleine. That rings a bell. Weren't her parents found in bell jars?"
"Yes," Darnelle nodded and pulled Madeleine's door closed. There was the quiet snick of the lock on the door engaging. "All three of them were, actually, but since the bell jars were sized to fit adults, she had more air in hers and so was still alive when they were found. The fire brigade smashed a hole through the side with axes in the end, and the police are still hunting for a glass factory capable of shaping glass that thick."
"And her parents?"
"Are still in the bell jars. They've been evacuated of air and they're part of an art display at MOMA in New York."
"Does Madeleine know this?"
"Hmm... I don't think so, but I can't say I've been checking the papers regularly to see if they've been mentioned."
Dr. Conjeeca started walking again, frowning now. "Darnelle, are there any other children who've been admitted to the orphanarium recently with similarly strange tales to tell?"
"As it happens, Hank, yes."