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His doctor was not alone. Next to him was a woman, maybe forty or so, with very dark black hair and skin. She wore a jolt of rose-coloured lipstick, highlighting the professionally polite smile all doctors seemed to have to wear at all times—the smile that bordered on a grimace. She was introduced as Doctor Marigold, and Stephen was informed that she would be taking over his care. Then they were left alone.

“I don’t usually do sessions in the evening,” Stephen said.

“I know,” the woman said. “I’m sorry to disrupt your routine.”

“Is there a reason my doctor has been changed?”

“I’m a specialist,” she said. “And please, call me Felicia. I was hoping to speak to you a little bit more about what happened to you in the boathouse—specifically, with the boy you said you saw.”

Stephen shifted uncomfortably.

“I’m told you don’t like to talk about this,” Felicia said.

“Am I so ill they had to bring in someone new?”

“No. If anything, the reports I’m reading are excellent. You’re responding very well to treatment. You really just needed a chance to decompress. No—I’m here because, as you have probably realized by now, you experienced a neurological event. I am doing research on this very subject, and you’d be providing invaluable assistance to many other people if you would consent to participate in a test.”

“What sort of test?” Stephen asked.

“A simple and painless one. It only takes a few hours. No pills, nothing physical. It’s quick and simple. Not only would this test provide valuable data, I believe it would be a tremendous benefit to you.”


“Hallucinations are extremely common,” she said. “Much more common than people realize. We’re looking into what triggers certain types of hallucinations. We’d just check your brain function—and again, it’s absolutely pain-free and simple. I think you’d like to know what happened, to know there’s no lasting damage.”

“Do you think there could be?” he asked.

“Based on what I’ve read of your case, I think your prognosis is excellent. And sometimes hallucinations are quite helpful. Quite pleasant. Which is why, sometimes, people don’t want to share them. They’re private.”

She gave him a long, understanding look.

“I won’t pry into what you saw,” she said. “I merely want to check to see how your brain is functioning now. Would you be agreeable to that? It really would be a tremendous help.”

Stephen didn’t really feel like having his brain tested, but if it was helpful—well, he really had no excuse to say no.

“I suppose,” he said.

“Very good. The facility is in London. We’d drive there and back this evening.”

“This evening?” Stephen said. “Now?”

“Right now. My car is outside. I’ll take you there, and you’ll be back here in a few hours. We might be a little late, until midnight or so. Would that be all right?”

She was already on her feet, ushering him up and towards the door.

The sky was still heavy with sunlight when Stephen and Felicia walked to the car. These early-summer days really did seem to go on forever. Felicia, he noted, drove the same car as his father—a green Jaguar. Even the interior was the same. She said very little on the ride, which was fine by Stephen. He’d been given the cervical collar to carry and wear as he liked, and he put it on and used it like a travel pillow to drift off into a nap.

THE BOY IN THE SMOKEWhere stories live. Discover now