Based on the TV series created by PJ Hammond
The following is fan fiction written entirely for the enjoyment of those who watched the original series and not for profit of any kind. No charge has been made to view this material. All rights remain with the writer, producer, director and cast of Sapphire and Steel the original TV series.
Grit crackled under her boots as she walked. A spectre of grey, fading daylight came in through smeared windows on one side of the room. The place was empty except for a few scattered, plastic chairs, an old metal trolley and what looked like a pile of crutches and walking frames.
“What is it?”
“Nothing, now,” Sapphire told him. “Formerly a hospital ward.”
“Due for demolition.”
Tess noticed how neither Sapphire nor Steel appeared to feel cold the way she did. Their breath didn’t even turn to frosty clouds like hers. ‘They bring me to all the best places,’ she thought.
Steel picked up one of the old crutches lying on the floor.
“Walking aids, pieces of discarded medical equipment…” Sapphire said.
“Most were taken to the new building. Beds, heart monitors, wheelchairs, defibrillators, surgical implements, blood pressure monitors…”
“How old is this place?”
She brushed her fingertips over one of the scuffed and pitted walls. “Almost two hundred years. Finished in 1831 by Ernest Sutton and Son. Prior to that another hospital building stood on the site.”
“How long since the last patient left?”
“Also gone. Some relocated to the new hospital, some retired, some voluntarily redundant.”
Picking at some yellowing documents hanging from a wall by a bulldog clip, Steel raised an eyebrow. “Not a single living soul around. Good.”
Sapphire was smiling now. “Anyone would think you were antisocial.”
“It’s easier, that’s all. No-one getting in the way.” He headed for the door but paused. “Plus… I’m antisocial.”
The corridor was much darker. Barely a few paces either way was visible. Abandoned metal bed frames nestled into the walls. Sapphire and Tess joined Steel. All three stopped at the edge of the light.
“Why are we here, Sapphire?” Steel murmured. “Why can’t we just let them go ahead and demolish this place and be done with it? No-one will miss it. No tears will be shed over a place like this. Why don’t we just get out of here…?”
For once, Tess felt in complete agreement with him. There was no reason to be in this dump. There was no-one here to save!
Sapphire glanced around in the gloom. “Sorry to disappoint you but we’re not entirely alone.”
Steel turned. “I thought the building was about to be…”
“…Demolished? It is. There are no patients anymore, no doctors, no nurses… But someone is in here with us.”
He blinked. “Human?”
“From this time period?”
“If whoever it is comes from this time, why should it concern us?”
Tess saw his point. The life trace that Sapphire was detecting could be anything; a vagrant who had wandered into the derelict building, a drug addict who had found a place to shoot up, it could even be a stray cat or dog. Tragic if whomever it was got buried under rubble when the building was bulldozed but it was more a concern for Social Services than for Sapphire and Steel.
Sapphire spoke slowly. “It’s our concern because the life form in here with us is the power source of the malignancy.”
‘Oh,’ Tess thought. ‘That answers that then.’
They found themselves in what looked to have been a waiting room. Much of the seating remained in rows. In the centre stood a low table upon which lay magazines coated in dust. Tess could see the titles; GQ, Reader’s Digest, People’s Friend, Chat, Hello… Pasted to the walls were notices; Active For Life: Free Guided Walks in Your Area, Get Your Healthy Portions of Fruit and Veg: What Is A Portion?, Maintain Your Distance: Stop The Spread Of Covid 19…
Sweeping the dust from one of the seats, Steel plonked himself down and beamed up at Sapphire. “Malignancy? What malignancy? I haven’t seen anything particularly malignant so far, have you?”
“No,” Sapphire said.
“Yet again we’ve been given next to no information.”
“We’re expected to sniff around places like this where no-one in their right mind would…”
There came a sudden and very loud noise which stopped Steel mid grumble. It sounded like someone very large and very strong was banging forcibly on a door. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang… The sound echoed in their ears, bouncing off walls and rolling down pitch black corridors throughout the building. Bang, bang, bang, bang… On and on it went for what felt like an hour but was probably more like half a minute. Finally it stopped and the crushing silence returned.
Steel got to his feet and headed in the direction from which he thought the noise had come.
Sapphire called him back. “No, Steel, this way. It came from the main entrance to the ward.”
Changing direction, he picked up speed. “Was it the life form?”
“No. No, it was something else…”
They reached the end of the corridor and faced large, metal doors. On the right hand wall was a square box with a grill and a red button; presumably an intercom. Tess had to squint to see through the gloom. Steel grabbed the door handle and yanked but it stayed fast. Placing his hand on the surface, he began to manipulate the lock mechanism.
“Wait,” Sapphire urged. “Don’t open it.”
“We need to see what was banging on the door.”
“Not yet. Don’t let it in yet, Steel.”
He stood back, clearly frustrated at being restrained.
Just then, the intercom beeped and its tiny red light flashed. The speaker grill emitted a crackle followed by hissing. It seemed that someone had pressed the communication button on the other side of the door.
Steel put his mouth close to the grille. “Who’s there?”
More hissing from the speaker.
He tried again. “You clearly wanted to get our attention. Why don’t you tell us what you want?”
Nothing came from the intercom except static.
“Is it out there?” he asked Sapphire.
“Yes. Just the other side of the door.”
“From this Time?”
She hesitated then said; “No.”
“If I open the door…”
“Don’t. There’s something… It’s manipulative, Steel. It won’t let me see it…”
“Well we can’t just do nothing!”
Sapphire bowed her head.
Back in the big room, they gathered by the window. Steel had agreed to give Sapphire more time to glean information about the thing on the other side of the door before he tried anything. In the meantime, he had insisted that they should try to find the human life form that she had detected within the ward.
Tess went with Sapphire to search the far end of the corridor while Steel went in the opposite direction. Feeling their way along the narrow passageway, they came across more doors leading into rooms similar to the one they had initially seen. Each must once have been a sub-ward of between ten and twenty beds. No beds were left now. The rooms were all empty. All that remained were upturned chairs, abandoned equipment, empty trolleys and dust.
“Aren’t you cold?”
Sapphire looked nonplussed at the question.
“Listen, I’ve been meaning to say something..” Tess said. “I wanted to thank you.”
“Yes. And Steel. For letting me stay with you. For letting me come along on these assignments. I don’t know what would have become of me if you hadn’t…”
“You don’t need to thank us,” Sapphire cut her off.
“I feel like I need to, like I want to…”
“Really it’s not necessary.”
“Sometimes it is necessary to say thank you, Sapphire. So there it is… Thank you.”
Sapphire looked at her with what seemed like tenderness but did not reply. Then, her eyes turned in a different direction and the moment was gone. Her attention had switched to a cupboard door built into a wall. It looked like it was the sort of locked space that may have been used for containing medication or whatever.
Tess felt her pulse quicken. What had she sensed? What had she detected inside? She watched as Sapphire moved within reach of the door handle. The two shared a look before she reached out to grasp it. As it opened, they saw the figure of a person curled up in the small interior. The figure looked to be female and was either fast asleep or dead.
As they stood there staring at their discovery, the loud banging sound began again.
“My name’s Liza,” the woman said. She emerged from the cupboard in which she appeared to have created a makeshift bed from a couple of old blankets and a coat bundled into the shape of a pillow.
The sound of banging came to another abrupt stop leaving in its wake a tense, cold silence.
Sapphire faced the woman. “What are you doing here? You know this place is to be demolished?”
“Yes.” She looked to be mid to late thirties, small in stature with dark hair pinned back. She wore tracksuit bottoms and a sweatshirt over two or three more layers.
“Are you homeless?”
“No. I know how weird this must seem.”
“You have a home and yet you choose to be in this freezing, derelict place?”
“Yes. I know, I must be mad.”
Tess heard Sapphire communicate with Steel using her thoughts.
“Steel, we’ve found the human.”
“The far end of the ward.”
“Are you from demolition?” Liza was asking Sapphire.
“The firm demolishing the hospital.”
“I thought they might send people round to check that the building was completely empty before they bulldoze it. That’s why I was hiding.”
It occurred to Tess that this woman seemed to be saying that she wanted to be here even after the demolition started, that she intended to remain inside the building as it was destroyed. That would inevitably mean she would be killed. She was about to commit suicide.
“Please answer my question. Why are you here?” Sapphire said.
“Just feel like I need to be here.”
“In what sense?”
The woman’s eyes narrowed. “Are you police?”
“You’re not from demolition and you’re not police?”
“As I said…”
“So I’m really not obliged to answer your questions.” Liza’s demeanour abruptly changed, straightening in a newfound defiance. “I mean, I might just as well ask you why you’re here!”
Sapphire smiled but there was zero warmth in it. “Quite right,” she said, “except that we might be able to help you.”
“Who says I want help?”
“You have a home and yet you’re choosing to sleep in a place like this. I’d say you need help.”
Liza replied through gritted teeth. “Maybe I need it. My question was; who says I want it?”
“You want to die here?” Sapphire persisted.
“Lots have, including…” She stopped herself, took a breath. “You haven’t even told me your names! I told you mine.”
“I’m Sapphire. This is Tess.”
“Nice to meet you both. Sorry, we seem to have got off on the wrong foot.”
Sapphire beamed. She could turn that on and off like a light.
Just then, they were interrupted. They became aware of a sound coming from somewhere else in the ward. It was not the rhythmic banging from before. This was more like the repeating beep of some kind of a machine.
“It’s the intercom,” Liza said. “Strange! I assumed the electricity would have been turned off.”
The three went into the main corridor. Just visible at the far end was the tiny red light of the intercom flashing on and off. As they approached, it became clear that the big metal doors at the entrance to the ward were now wide open.
“So now it’s in here anyway.” Steel’s voice came from behind them. Tess immediately detected the note of blame. She felt a flash of anger at him for that. She felt another flash of anger at Sapphire for putting up with it.
They were in a part of the ward that must once have been the nursing station; a large wooden counter rose up like a monument. Behind it must have sat ward staff, huddled at computers, tapping medical data into clacking keyboards. Steel turned over some upended plastic chairs so that they could all sit.
Again, Tess heard the telepathic communication between Steel and Sapphire. There was no indication that they were aware of her capacity to eavesdrop like this. And she wasn’t about to tell them.
“Something opened the doors?” That was Steel.
“Where is it now?”
“Difficult to tell. Not far away.”
“What does it want?”
“Emotion. Human emotion.”
“That’s why the woman has been brought here? It’s feeding off her emotion!”
“Yes. She wasn’t brought here though. She came of her own free will.”
“She won’t say.”
“Makes no difference. It ends. Today.
“Tread carefully, Steel. It’s very strong.”
“Does it feed off any old human emotion or a specific variety?”
“I can’t tell.”
He scraped his grubby chair nearer to Liza, smiling at her with half his face.
“Are you the boss?” Her question was meant seriously.
“Is that still the assumption in this time period, that the male is the boss?”
“No!” Liza was indignant. “It’s just your manner.”
“He’s not the boss,” Sapphire said.
“He’s just bossy,” Tess chipped in.
Steel bristled but carried on. “I hear you don’t like answering questions.”
“I don’t mind if I know who’s questions I’m answering.”
“We’re here to do a job, that’s all.”
“We’re here to…” he hesitated. “…to secure the building.”
Liza glared at Sapphire. “Secure the building? Well why didn’t she just say that?”
“We just need to take a few details, that’s all.”
“I don’t want to make things difficult, honest.”
Now, Steel really was smiling.
“I spent a lot of time here over the last six months, when the place was still a working hospital ward,” Liza told him.
“You’ve been ill?”
“No. My mum was ill. I was visiting.”
“She had cancer.”
Somewhere outside, a siren screeched. It grew louder and louder before slowly fading to silence. Probably an ambulance or police car going by out there on the main road. It was getting dark now.
“Yes,” Liza’s eyes brimmed with tears. “Daft, I know but I feel close to her when I come here.”
“What about your life outside this place?”
She bowed her head. “What does that matter now?”
“Grief,” Steel said to Sapphire with his thoughts. “That must be the emotion it feeds on.”
Steel stood up and made for the exit.
In the gloom of the corridor, Sapphire and Steel stood shoulder to shoulder.
“It’s close, Steel. It’s right here with us.”
“Then why can’t we see it?”
A sudden breeze swept past, picking up dust and scraps of paper and sending them twisting and turning in mid air. None of the windows were open; how could a breeze have got in there?
“Was that you?!” Steel called out into the emptiness. His voice bounced back at them. “It must have been you! We know you’re there. Surely you can do better than that!”
In response, utter silence; not even an engine on the distant road.
“Maybe you can’t do better than that,” he went on. “Maybe you can’t do anything. Maybe you’re no threat at all. I don’t know what we were worrying about! We should just go and leave you to cower here until the building gets knocked down and you can wander round on your own forever…”
Still nothing but silence.
“Come on, Sapphire. It wants to be alone. Let’s go…” he glanced around him and raised his voice even higher “…and let’s take Liza with us.”
Half a second after that sentence, the floor seemed to fall away beneath them. There came a deafening roar that came at them from every direction; through the open doors of the ward, through the gaps in the grimy windows, through the creaking ceilings and floors… The breeze returned but now it was not a breeze but a gale force wind that tried to knock them off their feet. Tess saw what Steel was trying to do; threaten to take away the thing’s source of power.
As the gale subsided and the roar died away, they tried to regain their composure. It took them less than five seconds to realise that Liza was gone.
“It may have taken her, Steel,” Sapphire said to him in her head.
“You’re making a mistake!” He shouted at the unseen thing. His words echoed up and down the corridor. Then, all was deathly silent again.
“You can’t feed off her for long…”
Still no sound except the faint reverberation of his own words.
From the quiet, a small noise emerged. It was the sound of someone walking. At first it was barely audible but, gradually, the footsteps grew in volume. It seemed that someone was walking towards them. At last, a figure appeared at the opposite end of the corridor. Tall and slender, it moved purposefully in their direction.
“Tell me,” Steel instructed her.
“It’s not of this time,” Sapphire responded. “It has taken the form of something from this world’s past and yet it is not of this world.”
“What form has it taken?”
The figure had stopped. It seemed to be assessing the situation; angling its darkened head from one side to another. As far as they could see it looked to be human in form but there was something about it that was far from human. Its face appeared to be the shape of some kind of enormous bird complete with a huge, jutting beak stretching out in front.
“The Plague Doctor,” Sapphire said.
Tess felt horror surge through her as she watched the figure edge towards them in the gloomy corridor. It looked like a man except its head resembled that of an impossibly large, black crow. The face was seemingly some kind of mask made from rough leather, with round goggles where the eyes should be. No human eyes were visible through those glass circles, just shadow. They rested on the huge, monstrous beak which projected at least half a metre out in front.
“It’s from the time of the bubonic plague… the Black Death,” Sapphire murmured. “Plague Doctors were used to treat patients back then, especially those who couldn’t afford expensive medical remedies.”
Even Steel looked shaken by the thing’s appearance. “Why does it look like that?!”
“The aim of the costume was to completely cover its wearer and thereby protect from infection. The ‘beak’ would be filled with aromatic herbs; mint, myrrh, rose petals, cloves… to cleanse patients but also to…”
Tess glanced up when Sapphire ran out of breath. Her face had drained of colour.
“…to combat the stench of corpses.”
The strange figure seemed to fill the corridor, its head almost touching the dingy ceiling. It moved slowly but was weirdly elegant, exactly like an exotic bird. Instinctively, the three of them backed away as it advanced.
“We’re no use to you,” Steel called out. “It’s human emotion you need. We don’t fit the bill.”
The creature raised its head as though listening to him.
“Even with the woman, Liza… Her grief won’t last forever. And it’s unlikely that too many more humans will be around here for you to feed on. They’re tearing the place down soon, you know.”
The circular, glass eyepieces were locked onto Steel as he spoke. The thing was still slowly advancing and the three of them continued to back away.
“You’ll be all alone… no-one to feed off… not even a building to haunt…”
Tess thought she could hear the muffled sound of breathing coming from within the mask. It chilled her to the bone.
“How long have you stalked this place?” Steel asked. “Since the days of the Black Death? You’ve walked these corridors all that time? You’ve leeched off the grief of all the patients and their families who ever came here.”
The figure began to raise its arms as though they were wings.
“The hospital will be gone soon, “ Steel went on. “And so will you!”
It seemed to be pointing at Steel although no hands were visible, just thick, leather gloves.
“We’re going to send you back, see. Back to wherever you came from. It’s our job.”
A light appeared behind the moulded glass of the goggles. Further down the corridor, the doors of the ward suddenly began to swing backwards and forwards as though a powerful gale had seized them but that gale switched direction every second. The metal doors screeched on their hinges and smashed against the unyielding stone walls. Simultaneously, the banging sound began again only this time it was beyond deafening. Paper and dust swirled around them like manic ghosts.
The Plague Doctor’s arm was still stretched out to point at Steel but now it appeared to extend beyond its original length. Soon the arm had become so long that the gloved hand at its end was close to Steel’s face. Tess and Sapphire jumped as they saw Steel’s eyes snap open and the pupils roll upward. In a second, his skin turned to deathly grey and seemed to sag from the bones. Deep, black shadows grew in the hollows of his cheeks.
Tess heard Sapphire’s horrified mental voice shout out to him. “Steel! Move away from it, Steel! It’s too strong!”
At first there was no response from him but then they heard his telepathic reply, stuttering and distorted. “Fever… so hot… but shivering… head’s pounding… can’t breathe… I see… bodies… hundreds of bodies… blood… sickness…”
It sounded as if a storm had begun outside the building too; wind crashing through trees and thunder shaking it to its foundations.
“Sapphire,” Steel’s mind struggled to communicate now. “ You were right… it’s strong…can’t hold it… you’ll have to… take time back… take it back, Sapphire… Quickly!”
Sapphire’s eyes shone electric blue in the gloom. Her face was possessed by an immense concentration. An extra sound joined the clamour; a rhythmic pulsing like blood surging through neural passageways. Tess knew that Sapphire could take time backwards in small jumps or even stop it completely for short periods; maybe that would provide an opportunity for Steel to regain strength to fight this monster.
“It won’t let me,” Sapphire said through her thoughts. “Steel, it’s blocking me!” The bright blue light in her eyes was being savagely snuffed out. Yet the cold light behind the glass goggles of the Plague Doctor continued to shine. The crash of the storm outside and the pounding inside reached a crescendo. Tess felt like they were teetering on the edge of an abyss which might be the end of everything…
The figure was gone.
Steel crumpled to the ground. Sapphire stooped over him, holding out an arm to restrain Tess. “Don’t touch him.”
“We have to help…”
The corridor was gloomy and quiet again now after the intensity of the battle. The ward doors hung lifeless on their hinges.
“Steel?” Sapphire was reaching out to his mind. “Answer me, Steel.”
“What has it done to him?” Tess joined her next to Steel’s motionless body, slumped on the floor.
“No. Don’t even go near him. Promise me.” Sapphire looked deep into her eyes as she spoke.
“I don’t understand,” Tess protested, “what has that thing done to him?”
There was a long silence before Sapphire replied. “It’s given him the Plague, Tess. Steel has the Black Death.”
She left Sapphire alone with Steel. This felt like something more serious than what they had faced before. This time Steel was not banished to another time, another realm, this time he was right here with them but infected. That creature had infected him with something that could possibly even finish him for good. It reminded her of reading War Of The Worlds at school; the Martians had been all powerful and yet they had eventually been defeated by something as simple and as apparently unthreatening as the common cold. Surely Steel, after surviving unimaginable forces, would not be defeated by a human virus. Stumbling back along the ward, she came across Liza sitting alone in a room that had once housed beds and medicines and nurses. She looked terrified.
“What happened? All that noise!”
“We thought it had taken you,” Tess said. Sitting down on the floor, she put her arm around her and the two huddled together.
Tess heard Sapphire’s voice inside her mind. She was trying to communicate telepathically with Steel. It felt somehow wrong to be listening in but it wasn’t as though she had much of a choice in the matter.
“It’s the medical name of the plague that’s infected you,” Sapphire went on. “It’s normally given to humans by rats via the oriental rat flea. This one can’t be the same form that infects humans. It must be some kind of duplicate. Especially made for us. That means it knows who we are, Steel. It knows how to hurt us. Can you hear me?”
Tess hugged Liza closer in the gloom.
“Try to speak to me, Steel,” Sapphire’s thoughts continued to waft into Tess’s head. “Symptoms include painful, enlarged lymph nodes in the groin, armpits, neck, and elsewhere… also headache, fever, chills, and weakness. Then there’s gangrene, otherwise known as… tissue death… of the fingers, toes and nose… Is that what you’re feeling? Try to tell me.”
There was a long silence as Sapphire waited for some response.
“We need you back. We need you to fight this thing, More than that though. Steel, I need you back. This isn’t to do with the work now. I need you.”
Tess felt her eyes moistening as she listened. There was a long period of silence when nothing was thought by either Sapphire or Steel. The silence seemed to go on forever, both inside and outside of their heads.
“We haven’t talked about this since… All that time we spent trapped together… Feels like, since we got out of there, we’ve hardly talked at all. Not about anything important. We’ve just clicked back into our old roles again, like nothing’s changed. But it has changed. The thing between us, Steel. I think those around us saw it before even we did. Maybe that’s why they want us removed. Whatever it is we have, the two of us… it can’t be allowed to die. Not like this. Come back to me. Please, Steel, come back.”
Tess had never heard Sapphire speak like this, not even in what she thought was the privacy of her own telepathic communication with Steel. This threat was different to the others. This was something they were not used to fighting. Physical, human sickness.
“So you can’t hear me. Or you can’t respond. So it’s up to me alone. That’s fine. I can do it. I can do anything. I really hope you can hear me. I can do anything, Steel… to get you back.”
Less than a minute later Sapphire appeared in the same room as Tess and Liza. She appeared calm and utterly composed. She was even able to smile a little as she reassured them that everything was under control.
“Under control?” Tess couldn’t contain herself. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
Sapphire’s turned up the smile. “I haven’t got to be anything.”
Outside the cracked window, streaks of daylight were beginning to show.
“Liza, stand up please.” There was no mistaking the tone of Sapphire’s voice; this was an order. When she spoke, the words came quickly and with urgency. “I’m sorry but I don’t have time to tread softly. I apologise if, at any point, I seem brutal. We think that this thing is gaining power from your grief over the death of your mother.”
A bemused Liza caught her breath.
“In order to reduce the source of power I’m going to do something to reduce the amount of grief you feel, Liza. I’m going to progress your mind to a point in the future at which your grief has lessened.”
Liza took a couple of steps away. Her expression had changed from one of bemusement to one of indignance. She glared at Sapphire for a moment before turning to walk away.
“Where are you going?”
“Leave me alone.”
“Liza, come back, please.”
“I want to go home.”
Sapphire’s eyes shone bright blue for an instant and Liza was stopped in her tracks. “You chose to be here in this place tonight instead of at home, Liza, because you couldn’t cope with the loss of your mum. You’ve been in immense pain because of that grief. I’m going to change it.”
“No!” Liza shouted. It echoed through the deserted ward.
Tess urged Sapphire to release her. After a moment, she did so. Liza stumbled away down the corridor.
“We can’t let her leave.”
“She’s not leaving, Sapphire. She just doesn’t want to be forced.”
“There’s no time… Steel is in such danger…”
Tess stepped in front of Sapphire so that their eyes were forced to lock. Gently, she placed her hands on her arms. “You were going to switch off her grief.”
“To save Steel.”
“Her pain will be at an end.”
“She might not want that.”
“Why would someone not want to end their own suffering?”
Tess shook her head and screwed up her eyes. “I don’t know, Sapphire, maybe because suffering happens for a reason. At least, in humans it does.”
“It’s Steel’s only chance.”
She could see that not only did Sapphire not understand but that she was incapable of ever understanding. Grief was not a switch that could be flicked. And even if it was, human beings might not choose to flick that switch. If she did… if Liza did choose to flick a switch and turn off her grief… the pain might well stop. In an instant, she could be pain-free. But then what would there be to remind her how much she loved her mum? What would stop her from thinking that maybe she hadn’t cared about her mum that much at all? The pain would be gone. Sounded nice. But maybe pain was part of life, an important part. Maybe pain was a process that had to be got through, not avoided.
“Do it.” It was Liza. She had come back. “If it saves him… Do it.”
“Wait!” Tess shouted.
Without hesitation, Sapphire moved.
Tess called out to Liza, urging her to think more about this first. Maybe she shouldn’t. After all, Steel desperately needed help. That should be the main concern perhaps. Maybe she should just let Liza go right ahead.
“This won’t hurt,” Sapphire was assuring her. “In fact it will do the opposite of that.” Her eyes lit up again with blue electricity.
Neck arching, Liza became immobilised within the glow. The process took less than a minute.
When it was done, Sapphire hurried from the room. Tess couldn’t help thinking that she might at least have said something to LIza. Something like ‘thank you’.
From down the corridor there came a deafening roar and a burst of light. Old bed frames flew across floors, smashing into remnants of medical equipment. Cardboard folders and multi-coloured slips of paper swirled round in a vast whirlwind. The building itself groaned as though it was straining to stay upright. Stumbling to the door, Tess squinted against the brightness. She saw Steel slumped on the corridor floor and Sapphire stooped over him. And, briefly, she saw the figure of the Plague Doctor. It stood there, defiant at first, hideous beak silhouetted against the blinding light. It glared at them with those dead, glass eyes and breathed softly behind its hideous, beaked mask. There was nothing left here for it now. No grief to feed upon. Not only that but there was no prospect of it finding anything on which to feed as the ancient hospital building was about to be torn down. No more sick or bereaved, no more death or decay. So the creature turned to leave. Before it went though, it glanced back at them one last time. It had been robbed of its life source and it knew it. It could not survive here long without that.
When it was all over, Tess saw Steel’s eyes open. His skin had returned to its natural colour and the flesh had stopped sagging from the bones. He didn’t quite seem his usual self yet though. He still looked unsure. And frightened. Not at all his usual self actually. Sapphire placed a hand on his shoulder to steady him. He took it in his own and kissed it softly.
Tess went to Liza and gave her a hug. She asked her how she felt.
“Fine,” Liza said. She smiled but it was a flat, empty smile.
“What will you do now?”
“I’ll go home and… I’ll… Actually… I don’t know. I don’t know what I’ll do.”
“Has it gone?” Steel asked Sapphire.
He left the place first, keen to get away and who could blame him? As they walked with Liza to the exit, Sapphire placed a hand on Liza’s shoulder.
“Thank you Liza,” she said softly, “thank you.”
Tess caught Sapphire’s eye as she spoke, and smiled.
The bulldozers surged forward and smashed their savage metal into the crumbling brick. The hospital was on its knees already but today it would finally meet its end. There was no-one left around to grieve.