"What can have done that?" she said, and my heart stuttered. Could I tell her? Could I ruin her innocence in such a way? Shelley was hardly a child but she wasn't yet old enough for that particular piece of knowledge -- no one was. It had scarred me inside and I was an adult, so how could I tell her.
I just looked away. She understood and didn't press me, which was one of the things I liked so much about her. She never asked questions that she shouldn't, our Michelle. And she never wanted knowledge that wasn't hers to have. "I'm sorry," I whispered. Maybe she heard.
I was scared. Much as I hated to admit it, there was a terror inside me that I hadn't known since I was a very small boy, and it was so great that I felt it tearing at my heart, pulling me apart. The pain was almost too much to bear; I felt like doubling over and giving in, letting myself whimper and curl up in a ball like a frightened animal. I had to stay strong ... I bit my lip and turned back to Michelle.
"Do you really want me to tell you?" I asked.
"No," she said, although her curiosity was clear on her face. "Let's get out of this alive first, and then you can go through all the details. How about that?" It sounded like a good plan to me. I acquiesced.
Quick as quick Shelley darted from our hiding place towards the corner, and was peering around. "Get back here!" I hissed, fearful for her life, but she just turned and grinned.
"They've gone right past," she told me. "We can talk, now, while we get out of the way completely. I know somewhere we can go."
"They won't be far away," I warned her. "Trust me on that one: when you think your enemy is gone, there's always one more that lagged behind." And I was right. Shelley skipped back towards me as someone -- presumably another of the Voices -- walked past. Or rather, marched.
"Oops," she mouthed, so lighthearted I was surprised. "Now, come on!"
Together we ran from the hiding place down a narrow alleyway. Again, I had never noticed this before, but that did not necessarily mean it hadn't been there. We had passed over the boundary of the hospital site, and were now on public land. It wasn't somewhere I often strayed, so I could be forgiven for my lack of geographic knowledge.
But as Michelle was pulling me through a small doorway into what looked like a cellar, something hit my head and I found myself spinning away into unconsciousness.