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SF Short Story 3 – The Water Cure


This is my third and probably last attempt at writing SF. I may be improving a little but it’s all very time consuming. Again, I’ve tried, very briefly, to summarise the story leading up to this episode but reading the other episodes first should make things clearer. For the most part, the historical events concerning my home town of Malvern are accurate. Malvern (Worcestershire, UK) was indeed a well-known spa frequented by rich and famous Victorians though the success of the Water Cure probably owes more to fresh air, exercise and an improved diet than the miraculous properties of Malvern water!


The Water Cure

Maybe it was the beer but Jim was quite relaxed given the alarming circumstances. Here he was in an Edinburgh pub, dreaming or not, trapped a hundred years in the past with crazy Sue from something called the Experimental Philosophical Unit (EPU) who at this very moment was kissing his grandfather-to-be. The global predicament was crazy too. World War 1 had not started on cue and if that was not enough, Christine, his grandmother-to-be, was heading right now for his grandfather-to-be, with a broken bottle in her hand and murder in her eye.

“Now clear the way, PLEASE !!
A short balding man in a doctor’s white coat and a stethoscope hanging ostentatiously from his neck had entered the pub by a side entrance. Shoving his way through a crowd of drinkers to Jim’s table, he managed to arrive just before the irate Christine angrily brandishing her broken bottle.
“Very well done Tam!”, exclaimed the doctor loudly, shaking Tam vigorously by the shoulder.
“Couldnae do better mysel! I do believe the lassie’s breathin’ fine noo but I’d better tak her tae hospital for a check up.”
Tam, taken by surprise, promptly released Sue while the doctor turned to Christine, now stopped in her tracks.
“Aye, he saved this poor lassie’s life! Did ye learn the kiss o’ life at yer first aid class Tam?”
Here he poked a startled Tam.
“Aye!”, spluttered Tam, eager for any way out.
Christine’s jaw dropped as did the broken bottle and she ran over to embrace Tam.
“Oh Tam! – I’m sorry Tam – oh my hero!”
Colliding heavily with Tam she grabbed him so tightly that he lost his balance and they both fell on the floor.

Jim, Sue and the doctor took the opportunity to beat a hasty exit through the side door. The doctor, who said his name was Simon, led them through a network of dark alleyways climbing upwards towards the castle until they reached a doorway marked, ‘Camera Obscura’. Simon entered, quickly paid the doorman and ushered them all up a dark spiral staircase. He pushed open the door at the very top and they entered a small darkened room. Simon managed to jam the door closed behind them.

“It’s only Simon from the EPU”, Sue hissed in Jim’s ear. “… and I don’t like him!”
Jim thought this a little ungracious considering her escape from Christine’s vengeance but Simon had already launched into a lecture on the Camera Obscura.
“This device, installed here in 1853, projects a panoramic view of the city below onto the flat horizontal surface you see before you. A Camera Obscura consists of a box or room with a small hole allowing light from an external source to pass through and project an image of an external scene and….”

Someone was trying the door from the outside.
“Of course nobody here knows it but all Obscura rooms are entangled right across the globe, so we of the EPU can conveniently hop around just about anywhere in space and time. ‘Spooky action at a distance’ as Einstein would say or will say – ha! ha! – or maybe not, I forgot we’re on the wrong timeline now. I think he gave up physics on this one and went into pharmaceuticals.”
The knocking at the door became louder but Simon continued.
“Don’t worry Jim. This Obscura room exists in your 2014 so I’ll just make a few adjustments and drop you off there before continuing with my own important mission.”
Jim could hardly believe his luck as Simon closed his eyes and raised both arms dramatically.
“Just a minute while I set up a control panel or we’ll just end up wherever the last user went.”
Gradually the panoramic image before them became lost in a thickening, spherically-shaped cloud of pink smoke. A series of rods and dials of various sizes and colours began to protrude from it at odd angles.
“This is ludicrous. He’s just showing off!”, said Sue none too quietly.
She backed away from the smoke coughing loudly.

Now the knocking at the door was incessant.
“Open up yous in there!” somebody shouted, “Come on noo!”
Simon dropped his arms in exasperation and went off to remonstrate with those outside the door.
“Let’s open a window” said Sue.
She pulled up a blind covering a small window and pushed it wide open.
“That’s better!”, she cried as a wisp of pink smoke lazily turned towards the window and darted outside.The wisp was followed more rapidly by another and yet another until the entire cloud, replete with levers and dials had moved towards the window. It hovered uncertainly by the window for a second and then suddenly made a dash for freedom like bath water down a plug hole. Sue tried to arrest it by grabbing a large red lever marked ‘ON‘ …….

“I say! You in there – kindly open up!”
Jim came to lying on the floor. He was conscious of more banging at the door, only this time it was accompanied by a querulous, aristocratic voice.
Sue helped Jim to his feet.
“Get up Jim – there’s been a little mistake!”
Jim looked round. The room was different with no windows and the panoramic view was of a small town.
“Where on earth are we now?”
“Don’t panic! We seem to be in a place called Malvern – in .. er .. August 1853 – let’s have a look at your Wikipedia”
She furrowed her brow, stared into space and quoted.
“The health-giving properties of Malvern water and the natural beauty of the surroundings led to the development of Malvern from 1842 as a world-famous spa with resources for invalids and tourists, seeking cures, rest and entertainment.”

Meanwhile, Simon was angrily tugging at the door.
“Look Jim,” said Sue briskly. “We’re a little way off your timeline now and only Simon has the resources to get you back home. He’s a selfish pig but if we help him with his mission he’ll probably help you.”
Before Jim could ask what Simon’s mission was, a portly old man staggered through the now open door holding a hip flask.
“I’m sorry doctor!” he said to Simon
“I hadn’t realised you were in there with patients. I only missed one drink at St Ann’s Well and now they’re after me and I need somewhere to hide this!”
He hastily pushed the hip flask into Sue’s pocket.
Simon, assuming an authoritative air twirled his stethoscope nonchalantly.
“We’re finished in here Sir. May I ask how you feel today?”
“Cold, wet and hungry! I’d kill for a good steak and beer and a decent cigar. It’s sheer torture down there in Tudor House. Let me tell you about the terrible descending douche ……”
But Simon interrupted him with further questions.

Sue turned to Jim.
“He’s trying to find out whether the man’s a philosophical zombie.”, she muttered.
“A WHAT?”, exclaimed Jim.
“A philosophical zombie”, repeated Sue, “or p-zombie as we say in the EPU. P-zombies are supposed to be the same as real people, only not conscious but I’ve never met one. Ontology were experimenting to see if it was real and then Epistemology wanted to know what it knew but somehow it escaped on the way. Simon’s just heard that it came here through the Edinburgh Obscura a few days before we did. His mission is to find it quick before it does something silly like coming across a really critical uncertainty and creating a rogue timeline. Hey – look at the man’s shoe!”

Pushing Simon aside she trod heavily on the man’s foot. He let out an ear-splitting yell and attracted the attention of two muscular attendants in white coats.
“There he is!” said one grabbing the man’s arms.
“Come along now Sir! You’ve only seven more wells to visit this morning and then you’re down again for the douche before lunch.”
“Noooo – not the douche! Please not the douche again. Not the douche …….”
They whisked him off.

“Why did you do that Sue?”, raged Simon, ‘I was sounding him out so subtly and now you’ve ruined it!
“Oh no I’ve not!” countered Sue triumphantly.
“His clothes and shoes were soaking wet yet he wasn’t conscious of that. He’s definitely your p-zombie even though he cunningly pretends to feel pain. Now maybe we can get Jim home?”
“Sue, he’s wearing a cold compress!” Simon sighed, exasperated, “They all do here – it’s called a ‘Neptune Girdle’. It’s all part of the spa’s famous water cure!”
Sue’s reply was inaudible.

Jim pushed the door wide open and was surprised to find it led directly to the outside and onto a path descending a steep hillside dotted with bushes and small trees. They all made their way slowly downhill passing several groups of patients wielding long walking sticks. Simon insisted on engaging many patients in conversation and at last they reached St Ann’s Well. The area outside the well house was populated by visitors, several on the donkeys used to convey the less mobile up the slope from the town below.

St. Anne's Well by Jim LinwoodSt Ann’s Well, Malvern (By Jim Linwood, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Simon confronted a pale but severe-looking lady resting on a bench with an anxious footman in attendance.
“May I ask how you feel today Madam?”
She regarded Simon icily.
“I will request you not to address me, Sir.”
The footman stood up and moved menacingly between her and Simon. Simon bowed.
“My apologies, Madam. Dr Fitzroy-Davidson from Edinburgh at your service. We were in fact introduced the other day.”, he lied, “Now let me see your tongue!”
Surprisingly, the lady obeyed. Simon examined her tongue gravely, slowly gyrating his stethoscope in front of her face.
“He’s showing off again!” said Sue to Jim.

Sue, anxious to improve her knowledge of the water cure, took the footman aside and told him that she and her brother had just arrived and what could he tell her about things here? He was happy to oblige.
“I’ve only been here a few days myself but I’ve seen plenty! I’m told it costs 5 guineas for a week in Tudor House. You’re up at 5 am, then stripped and wrapped in a wet sheet. An hour later you sit naked in a bath while they pour a pitcher of cold water over you. After dressing, you set off with the others up the hillside, drinking water at every single well and after all that there’s only bread, butter, treacle and milk for breakfast – not forgetting water! After breakfast you see the doctor for your bath orders. Worst of all is the terrible douche bath in the garden but I’ll spare your tender ears the details Miss.”
But Sue urged him on.
“A hogshead of icy water falls on naked you from a huge pipe 20 feet above – and for the best part of two minutes! I tell you, It’s like a thunderstorm – you should hear ’em scream and yell! Some get knocked right over. A man was even hit by an icicle and hurt his back!”
Sue asked him how his lady could possibly withstand such treatment. He glanced at the lady sorrowfully.
“She’s not well enough for the douche yet and between you and me, she never will be. Her father visited yesterday and told me there’s no hope at all for her now but she believes in the water cure all the same – great pity after all she did nursing our boys in the Crimea. Oh! Excuse me – Florence wants another glass of water!”
“Don’t you worry!”, said Sue quickly, who was moved by the footman’s story.
“You stay here with her. Give me her flask and I’ll bring the water back from the well.”

When Sue returned with the flask Simon had taken leave of the lady and was now talking to an attendant. Sue gave the flask to the footman.
“Thank you kindly. Miss Nightingale will be grateful.”
Astonished, Sue bowed politely to the famous nurse. As they moved away she told Jim not to tell Simon who the lady was so Jim stayed silent while Simon, having dismissed the attendant, informed them that the lady was definitely not a p-zombie.
“In fact, she has brucellosis and is terminally ill.” he announced pompously.
“I give her 2 weeks at the most. But more importantly, she says there’s some very strange goings-on in Tudor House – something about a ‘Bridge of Sighs’. Sounds like p-zombie activity to me so I’ve made arrangements to get us in there. Follow me!” He strode on purposefully towards the town followed by Jim and Sue who lingered some distance behind.

Now Jim happened to know that Florence Nightingale lived to be 90 and put this to Sue. She was smiling.
“Simon thinks we’re on a timeline where Florence dies prematurely and the nursing profession is set back by decades – but little does he know.”, she chuckled.
This was all beyond Jim but by now they had entered the town and reached the imposing new building that was Tudor House. It started to rain heavily and Simon beckoned them to hurry. He knocked loudly on the door and it was opened by the same attendant he had talked with on the hillside.
“We’ve been expecting you Dr Fitzroy-Davidson. Do come in Sir – let me take your wet coat. Please follow me with your patients.”
They followed him up several flights of stairs and finally into a short corridor guarded by an attendant at each end. “You do know that Dr Gully imposes strict segregation? The bridge we’re on now connects Tudor House for gentlemen with the ladies’ accommodation in Holyrood House.”
He pointed to the heavy door at the Holyrood end of the corridor.
“Needless to say only staff are allowed to use this bridge. The guards never let a patient pass unaccompanied by staff – some gentlemen call it the ‘Bridge of Sighs’! The lady will be accommodated in Holyrood House of course and her brother in Tudor House.”
Jim and Sue exchanged puzzled glances.
“If you would be kind enough to wait here Dr Fitzroy-Davidson with your er .. patients I will summon attendants to escort them to their rooms..”
He carefully spread out Simon’s damp coat on a chair and left.

DSCF3637

Holyrood House, the Bridge of Sighs and Tudor House in 2015

 

Simon explained that he’d registered Jim and Sue for a week’s water cure at Tudor House, this being an excellent opportunity to investigate the strange goings-on.
“I told everyone that you’re both quite mad and given to impersonation. Whatever you do will always be above suspicion! Clever eh?”
This was not well received and Sue protested loudly. Just then, the same two muscular attendants, who earlier had dealt with the old man, entered the corridor. Having been instructed to humour lunatics before attempting restraint, the duo paused deferentially, straitjackets at the ready.

“We’ll take over now, Dr Fitzroy-Davidson” said one to Jim after a few moments.
“Now come along James”, said the other to Simon. “We’ll have a nice glass of water and then into the garden to join the douche queue – you’ll feel a lot better after a good shower Sir.”
Simon blinked. “I’m Dr Fitzroy-Davidson you numbskull!”
“Of course you are Sir and a good doctor too, with a real stethoscope but it’s time for a nice glass of water. Come along now Sir!” and the attendant grabbed Simon’s arm.
While Sue and Simon had been arguing, Jim, not short of initiative when under pressure, had sidled over to the chair where Simon’s damp white coat had been left and had put it on. Now he approached the astonished Simon and snatched the stethoscope from his neck.
“Come along now doctor.”, commanded Jim, “You can have it back later – you don’t want to miss the douche do you?.”
“You can’t do this to me!”, Simon spluttered.
“Look Jim, this is the wrong timeline for you and you’ll never get home without me. Now send for the other attendant and we’ll sort it all out!”
Sue was not slow to put him right.
“I’ll have you know we are on Jim’s timeline. The robovirus I added to Florence Nightingale’s water is making short work of her brucellosis. She’ll live to be 90 just like Jim’s 2014 Wikipedia says.”
Simon was aghast.
“You know very well reality should be left to take its course. You don’t alter timelines for your own convenience! If the lady really is Florence Nightingale her survival or not is a critical uncertainty for nursing. You’ve significantly altered the future of nursing and probably the future of all sorts of related things on this – this rogue timeline!”
“Bah! – its a better timeline anyway!”, retorted Sue.
“It’s quite contrary to EPU policy and if this really is a rogue timeline you’re in big trouble.”
The two attendants, amused at first by these apparently insane ramblings, finally ran out of patience. Deftly securing Simon in one of the straitjackets they marched him away protesting loudly.
“Don’t worry about the lady”, Jim shouted after them. “I have to take her to see Dr Gully.”
The attendants waved in acquiescence and whisked Simon off to enjoy a week’s water cure.

When Simon’s shouts were barely audible, Jim and Sue strode down the corridor passing the guard who waved them on after a nominal glance at Jim’s white coat. They proceeded down the Tudor House stairs at a brisk pace.
“Hey there!”, somebody called.
It was the footman.
“How’s Miss Nightingale?”, asked Sue politely.
“Very well indeed thanks to your robovirus. She’s recovering well – even working on her Crimean report.”
Sue was flabbergasted.
“Don’t look so stunned!” laughed the footman.
“I came through the Edinburgh Obscura only a few days before you. Fortunately Florence was looking out for a new footman and I like the job so much I’m definitely not going back to the EPU.”
Sue stared at him in amazement.
“You’re the p-zombie they’re all looking for”, she squealed.
“Well yes I am and just as conscious as you are, honest! I was at my wit’s end with worry about poor Florence when I saw you last. I don’t have the resources to get her decent medication but I do analyse everything she drinks. When I saw the robovirus I figured out you were from the EPU, probably sent to take me back, so I kept quiet but now she’s as bright as a lark and I can’t thank you enough!”
“Glad to help!”, said Sue, “But I’m in real trouble if the EPU finds out I’ve created a rogue timeline.”
“Don’t worry!”, replied the p-zombie. “They always think that p-zombies barge around infospace creating rogue timelines. You can truthfully say that I gave Florence the drink with the robovirus. What’s more, you’ll get the credit for identifying a dangerous p-zombie and they won’t bother me now on a rogue timeline. My only wish is to stay with Florence and serve her as long as I possibly can.”
Jim thought this was pretty noble for an unconscious zombie but was anxious to get out of Tudor House. They wished the p-zombie the best of luck and quickly escaped.

As they headed for the Obscura room Sue stopped several times to refresh herself from the flask the old man had given her and she was in high spirits as they made their way up the hillside.
“Simon should be out of the way for a bit so now.”, she chortled gleefully, “So now’s the time to get you to your 2104.”
“2014!” interjected Jim.
“Sorry, but you know how I am with numbers!”, said Sue with sincerity and then remarked on the high quality of Malvern water. She offered Jim a swig from the hip flask, now nearly empty. Taking a hearty swig he nearly choked.
“That’s not water!”, he spluttered. “It’s port! The old guy didn’t want it to be found on him!”
“Don’t you believe it!”, exclaimed Sue enthusiastically. “Malvern water really is this good – little wonder all these famous people come for the cure. I’ve never felt more alive!”

Fortunately no one was in the Obscura room when they arrived as Sue could not wait to demonstrate her expertise.
“No fancy control panel for me Jim! Look – no hands! Now It was 2410 you wanted? Just joking! 2014 it is and space co-ordinates for your bench in Edinburgh – no problem at all!”
“Yeah!, 2014, 2014, 2014, ….” repeated Jim hopefully.
“Cut and paste is always tricky as you know but infospace – anything can happen that the laws of physics allow and of course infospace projection is naturally probabilistic in time and space but with a combination of EPU resources and my expertise, we will triumph. We don’t want to project you into the middle of the sun! – ha! ha!”
Jim was not amused and wished she would get on with whatever she did but Sue continued to explain.
“You’ll lose all memory of being here and simply think you’ve been asleep for about 20 minutes. I’m setting the projector for your timeline at 2104 – I mean 2014. All systems green and go!”, she shouted excitedly and closed her eyes. Jim held his breath.

Jim woke with a start. Glancing at his watch, he’d been asleep on the bench for about 20 minutes. Everything around him seemed normal and he was glad that Sue had succeeded in sending him home although he did remember everything. There was a man sitting beside him, apparently just waking up. Jim stood up, stretched for a moment and went on his way – so did the man. Jim turned round and confronted his identical twin……

Jim woke with a start. Glancing at his watch, he’d been asleep on the bench for about 20 minutes. There was a man sitting beside him, apparently just waking up. The man stood up, stretched for a moment and went on his way. So did Jim – the man turned round and Jim confronted his identical twin….

Jim woke with a start. Glancing at his watch, he’d been asleep on the bench for about 20 minutes. Sue was sitting beside him.
“Excuse me, have you the time?”, she said politely.
“What’s going on Sue?”, asked Jim. Sue frowned.
“You should have lost your memory but the good news is that cut and paste really isn’t necessary because you’re here already if you see what I mean.”
Jim did not see and began to look around as the courtyard darkened. Sue frowned.
“Hmm… I see no more Jims around here so the space co-ordinates must be wrong”, she announced, “but the time doesn’t seem right either. You did say 2140 didn’t you Jim?”
Jim cast his eyes heavenwards as a gigantic flying saucer hovered above them.
“Don’t panic!” whimpered Sue.

Jim woke with a start. Glancing at his watch, he’d been asleep on the bench for about 20 minutes but now he was wearing a damp white coat and a stethoscope hung round his neck. A young lady in fancy dress was watching him intently from the other side of the courtyard.
“Effing medical student stunt!”, he muttered to himself remembering it was rag week. He took off the coat wondering how they’d put it on him, stuffed the stethoscope into the pocket and left everything on the bench. He stood up, stretched for a moment and went on his way….

Jim woke with a start. Glancing at his watch, he’d been asleep on the bench for about 20 minutes. He stood up, stretched for a moment and went on his way….

Jim woke with a start…..

…..

Written by Gordon Lockhart

July 27, 2016 at 4:34 pm

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