by Brian K. Asbury
“Has her mother been informed?”
“I don’t know where her mother is, doctor. Apparently she’s on a skiing holiday somewhere in the Alps with her latest boyfriend, but that’s all I know. Her sister probably knows her whereabouts, but she won’t speak to me.”
“Ah. You’re divorced, then, Professor Leigh?”
I heard this conversation through a haze as I started to wake up. The hushed voices suddenly took on an excited tone as I heard my father say, “She’s coming ’round! Look! I saw her eyelids flutter.”
That was my cue to do more than just flutter. I opened my eyes and looked around. “Daddy?”
He rushed to me and took me in his arms. “Oh, Cas, sweet baby, thank God!”
“Professor Leigh, if you don’t mind…” To be honest, I was grateful for the doctor interrupting. When you’re nineteen years old, it’s one thing for your father to gush over you and call you his sweet baby in private, but it’s embarrassing as hell in public.
“Where am I?” I asked the doctor as he felt my pulse, my brow, and anything else he could get away with and still remain within the bounds of decency. He ignored me, of course — they always do, don’t they? The patient is the last one they want to actually tell anything.
So I decided to figure it out for myself. The last thing I remembered was posing with Godiva’s comb while Tommy took my picture. Then there was a bright light, a terrible noise, and I was waking up here — here obviously being a hospital. As the doctor left me alone momentarily to make a note on his clipboard, I took the opportunity to sit up — and my hair flopped down over my eyes.
I was halfway through brushing it back with my hand before I realised it was impossible. My hair was short, black, and gelled into a spiky punk style. This was long, blonde, and silky — like it had been when I was still at school. In a state of panic, I felt my head and discovered that my hair now almost reached my shoulders. “Oh, my God!” I squealed.
“What? What is it?” cried Daddy, looking as panic-stricken as me.
“I’ve been in a coma, haven’t I?”
“No, of course not,” the doctor said reassuringly. Well, reassurance was his intention, that is. It didn’t work.
“Don’t lie to me!” I snapped. “Look at the length of my hair! I have to have been in a coma!”
“Cas, love,” began Daddy, “you’ve been unconscious, but only for about sixteen hours. It’s eight A.M. on Sunday morning now. You had your accident at around four in the afternoon only yesterday.”
I stared at them both. “I’m not stupid! Why are you talking to me as if I’m stupid? Look at my hair! Do you expect me to believe that my hair grew like this overnight?”
The doctor turned to address a nurse hovering in the background. “Nurse Green, do you have the pillowcase you took from Miss Leigh’s bed?”
“Yes, doctor.” She handed him an object, which he passed to me. I examined it; it seemed to be covered in some horrible, black gunge.
“So what is it?” I asked.
“It’s the dye and gel that was in your hair when you were admitted, Miss Leigh. It all came out onto your pillow last night while you were unconscious.”
“I don’t understand…”
“A remarkable thing has happened, Miss Leigh. You were struck by lightning, but not only have you escaped without serious injury, it seems to have stimulated an incredible spurt of growth in your hair follicles. Literally overnight, your hair has been growing at an incredible rate — and furthermore, it expelled the foreign substances absorbed into it onto your pillow. I’ve never seen anything like it in twenty years of medical practice!”
I could only slump back onto my pillow. This was just too much!
Something the doctor had just said suddenly sank in. “Struck by lightning?”
“That’s right, love,” said Daddy. “That’s what witnesses said. Literally a bolt out of the blue.”
“Literally is right. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. And it’s November. Whoever heard of lightning striking from a clear blue sky at any time of year, much less in November?”
“No one said we had an explanation, young lady, either for your remarkable hair growth or the event which seems to have stimulated it,” said the doctor. “Strange events do happen which even the best of modern science sometimes fails to explain. Just be grateful for the fact that you are alive and apparently in the peak of health. And now, if you don’t mind, I have other patients to see. Goodbye for now.” And he walked out of the room, the nurse following with my soiled pillowcase.
“I can’t take this in,” I said to Daddy. “You’re telling me the truth, aren’t you? That’s what really happened? I haven’t been lying here in a coma for six months or something?”
Daddy smiled. “Love, even in six months I doubt whether your hair would normally grow that much. The doctor was telling the truth, Cas. It’s weird, I know, but we just have to accept it.”
“I see. And what about Tommy?”
Daddy’s body language suddenly went very evasive. “Tommy?”
“He was standing right next to me. If I was struck by lightning, was he hurt?”
“Cas, you need to concentrate on getting yourself better. Don’t worry yourself about–”
“I need to know, Daddy. If Tommy was hurt, then I’m responsible. It’s my fault we were out there on that spot at that time. Was he caught in the lightning as well as me? And if so, is he OK?”
He turned his face away. “All right, Cas, I suppose you have to find out sometime.”
“Oh, my God! Find out what?”
“The lightning also knocked Tommy down, Cas. Like you, he wasn’t burned or anything, but the flash seems to have severely damaged his eyes. He’s in another ward in this hospital, where the doctors are trying to find a way to restore his sight.”
“I’m afraid so, Cas. And the prospect of him ever seeing again doesn’t look good.”
Sometimes it’s nice to spend the morning in bed, having people fuss over you, but this morning it wasn’t nice. A nurse brought me some breakfast after Daddy left, saying he had to meet some people named Hall at Birmingham Airport, but I really didn’t feel like just lying there afterwards. For one thing, I felt fine in myself. My initial weakness and disorientation had worn off, and I felt perfectly OK. And besides, I badly needed to pee.
“Stay there; I’ll bring you a bedpan,” said the nurse.
“No, thanks,” I replied with a grimace. “I’m perfectly capable of walking to the bathroom. Just point me in the right direction.”
“Well, if you’re sure…”
I got out of bed, relieved to find I was wearing my own nightie and not one of those horrendous backless gowns they give you in hospital, and I investigated the bedside locker. My overnight bag, which Daddy had obviously had the foresight to retrieve from my friend’s Vespa, was in there, and my toiletries bag was inside that. I fished around for it and followed the nurse’s directions to the bathroom.
On the way, I passed a porter with a trolley selling newspapers. I didn’t have any money — it was in my purse, which was still in my bag — but I sneaked a look at the date as I was passing. It corresponded to what it should have been, dispelling any lingering suspicions that I had been in a coma after all.
While I was in the bathroom, I examined myself in the mirror. It was like looking at myself from three years before. The nurses had cleaned off my makeup, and with my hair being long and blonde again, I looked like my school photo at age sixteen. In fact…
I recoiled in horror as I realised that my hair was even longer than I’d thought. It reached well past my shoulders — halfway down my back, in fact! Good grief! I thought. Is it still growing?
I retrieved my scissors from my bag and hacked it off just below the level of my ears. It was a clumsy job, but it would do until I could get to a hairdresser tomorrow. It would also tell me whether it really was still growing.
A couple of hair grips found in the bottom of my sponge bag secured the fringe away from my eyes. I didn’t bother to put my makeup back on, as the Gothic look would have looked silly with the blonde hair. Instead I finished up my ablutions and made my way back to the private room Daddy had sequestered me in. I had made my mind up that there was no point in me hanging around in here. I felt fine.
So first priority was to get dressed. Then I was going to find Tommy. I really did feel responsible for his predicament, and there had to be something I could do to help him.
“This is not a good idea,” said the doctor from the other side of the curtain.
“Why not?” I replied as I zipped up my jeans. “There’s nothing wrong with me, doctor. What’s the point of me lying here and taking up a badly needed bed?” I opened the curtains to find him standing there with arms folded and a disapproving expression on his face.
“I should at least inform your father,” he said.
“My father is at the airport picking up some VIPs from the States,” I reminded him. “And anyway, good grief, I’m nineteen years old. I’m legally an adult, you know. I’m perfectly entitled to discharge myself from hospital if I don’t want to stay here.”
“Miss Leigh, I am not at all happy that there is ‘nothing wrong with you.’ You were struck by lightning. If nothing else, it did something strange to your body’s metabolism to stimulate such freakish hair growth. I need to carry out more tests on you.”
And that was the word that summed it all up for me — freakish. He regarded me as some sort of freak, and he wanted to poke and prod me to see what made me tick, doubtless so he could impress all the readers of the British Medical Journal. “No, thanks,” I said.
“And your hair?”
“What about it?” I said flatly. “Whatever made it grow like that, it’s back to normal now.” It was a lie, of course. Even now, despite my hacking it off in the bathroom, it was down to my shoulders again. Fortunately he didn’t know I’d cut it — to him, it was around the same length it had been when he’d last seen me nearly an hour before. But no way was I going to let him use me as a lab specimen. I’d find a way to solve this problem myself.
“Very well, Miss Leigh,” he said with a sigh. “You are correct, of course — I cannot compel you to stay here against your will. However, there are discharge papers to sign. You will stay long enough to allow me to make them out, I trust?”
“Of course,” I said. “How long will that take?”
“About half an hour. If you will please wait here…”
I stopped him as he was about to leave. “If you don’t mind, doctor, there was a boy brought in at the same time as me. My father said the lightning blinded him. May I see him?”
“Are you family?”
“No. But his family live in Newcastle. My father said they couldn’t get a train until tomorrow morning. He has nobody until they get here, and, well, I feel kind of responsible, if you know what I mean.”
The doctor smiled. “All right; I suppose it can do no harm. I’ll have a nurse take you to him. But I warn you, he is heavily sedated. His eyes were giving him a great deal of pain.”
“Tommy?” I said quietly as I stood by his bed.
“I doubt if he can hear you, luv,” said the nurse. “But it won’t hurt to talk to him. I’ll leave you alone for a bit.”
She left the room, leaving me wondering what you were supposed to say to somebody who is so heavily sedated he’s barely conscious. “I’m sorry, Tommy,” I said. “I wouldn’t have wished this on you for the world. In fact, I like you. I like you a lot. I wish that we… well, maybe we can see each other when… I mean, I can see you, but you won’t be… I mean — oh, hell, I’ve got no idea what I mean. I just want you to get your sight back!”
Tommy stirred slightly. I had the distinct impression that he wasn’t so far under the drugs that he couldn’t hear me. “Y’know,” I said softly, “this is just like the story you and Daddy were telling me about, isn’t it? Lady Godiva and Peeping Tom. My bloody hair has gone berserk and won’t stop growing…” It was already well past my shoulders. I’d have to find an opportunity to trim it again before the doctor came back, or he’d never let me out. “…while you, poor thing… they say you might never see again. Damn!” I turned away, on the verge of breaking into tears.
“You know what the ironic thing is?” I forced myself to say. “The long blonde hair bit and Peeping Tom are the parts of the story you said weren’t true. It would be funny if it wasn’t so… so…”
Luckily, the nurse came back at that point to tell me the doctor would be ready for me to sign the discharge papers in about five minutes if I’d make my way back to my room. I gratefully squeezed past her and headed for the nearest bathroom, where I attacked my wayward hair with the scissors again.
The doctor, of course, was still trying to convince me to stay and submit to more tests even as I put my monicker on the papers. “I think you’re making a grave mistake,” he said. “And the fact that you’ve rather clumsily trimmed your hair, my dear, doesn’t fool me. It’s still growing at an abnormal rate, isn’t it?”
I opened my mouth to reply, only to be interrupted by an explosion that shook the building. “What the–?!” exclaimed the doctor. “Please — stay here.”
The hell with that, I thought. I dashed after him and realised that we were heading towards Tommy’s room.
Except that Tommy’s room wasn’t entirely there anymore. It looked as if a bomb had gone off in there, scattering the furniture to the four walls. Or rather, three walls — where the fourth had been was just a gaping, smoking hole.
And Tommy was nowhere to be seen!