There is a sharp gust of wind that greets them when they step foot outside of Vesper Inn. Lemony's hat is stolen by the current and set drifting away from him, but he makes no effort to catch it, choosing instead to cling onto the heaving boy in his arms. It has been a mere few seconds since their exit, and Violet is already speeding in front of him, mind set on reaching the solitary hospital in this forsaken city.
A realization causes her to stop dead in her tracks. Turning her frantic gaze to the left and to the right, she sees only a dreary set of houses lined in tandem and shrouded in anonymity. There is no sign to show her the way; no memory to guide her restless feet.
"Violet!" Lemony's voice calls out, and she snaps her head in his direction, dark locks flailing around her face and shoulders in the wind. He slows his stride when he reaches her and nods towards the side of the street, where the road curves away from manmade constructions and gives way to tall, ancient trees and blackened greenery. It is a frail, unimpressive mimicry of a forest, but the fact that these plants managed to acclimate to such a barren and neglected landscape begs the mind to wonder all the same. "Beyond the trees is a clearing—it's where the hospital is."
No sooner has he spoken those words than Violet starts down the undefined pathway. "We must hurry!" she exclaims before she is once again striding—no, running—ahead of him.
"Just a moment!" he calls. "Violet!"
When she turns to him this time, everything about her screams of an impatient fright; of a sister in deep distress for her ailing brother.
"It's best that Klaus disgorges whatever he has consumed," explains Lemony. He too is distressed—it shows in the slight tremble in his voice and in his burning eyes—but he hides it better than Violet.
She nods slowly in understanding, but he has already turned his back to her to rest Klaus against a tree. The proceedings are obscured from her view. There is the unmistakable sound of retching, intermediated by a gentle clapping on the back, and then silence yet again. Violet marches toward the pair before dropping to her knees. Gently, she wipes her brother's mouth with her sleeve and brushes his hair from his forehead. His skin is clammy against the back of her hand, and each shallow breath that he exhales leaves a vapory impression in the cold air.
"You'll be fine, Klaus," Violet promises in a whisper. He fails to answer, and his visage betrays no notion of his comprehending her words, but she speaks all the same. "Just hang in there a bit more."
"Alright, let's get going." Lemony voices softly, heaving him up once more.
Klaus's head lolls sideways with Lemony's hasty strides, and the older man makes a halfhearted attempt to settle him more comfortably in his arms. The trees are markedly fewer in abundance now, and a broad, grimly white building soon becomes visible.
Upon reaching the hospital, Violet wastes no time in opening its doors, heart palpitating violently in exhilaration. An orderly, dressed in white overalls, furrows his brow at the sudden intrusion and looks up from his newspaper and at the distressed girl.
"We need help," she says in a shuddering voice, clearly out of breath.
Lemony, who has now entered, continues just as urgently, "This boy here has been poisoned; he needs to be taken to the emergency room."
But the orderly continues to gaze at them with confusion. "You folks do realize that it's past midnight, don't you? The staff's all asleep! You should come back in the morning; opening hours are at eight sharp." And he returns to his newspaper.
An acidic lump forms at the base of Violet's throat, and her eyes burn. Her eyebrows furrow in incredulous outrage and she takes a step forward, "But he might not be alive in the morning!"
"Well, Miss, I'd say that he should've been more mindful of himself, chosen a better time to get poisoned and all that." The man doesn't bother to as much as look at her.
"Who chooses to get poisoned!"
"You'd be surprised, Miss." Here, he levels her with a look of wisened pity—as if she has experienced very little of what darkness the world has to offer.
Lemony notices how her eyes grow dark in their heated coldness; how she grows incredibly still, and a chill runs down his spine. He is not used to this side of Violet, though he has been seeing it often lately.
Anxiously, he seeks to diffuse the situation, and he notes that the magazine in the man's hold is one with which he is very familiar. On a whim, he says, "You know, Moxie Mallahan is a colleague and a friend of mine."
At that, the man perks up. "Oh, is she? I myself am a dedicated reader of her tabloids! This town gets little news from outside, but now and then, a newspaper manages to sneak up, always by Miss Mallahan!"
Lemony nods slowly. "It would be a shame if they stopped turning up, wouldn't it?" he says quietly.
The insinuation is clear enough that the man's face loses its mirth and becomes alarmed. "No need to be so mean-spirited now, sir. It's all the entertainment I have 'round here."
"I'll encourage Miss Mallahan to continue distributing to this town if you get us the help we need. If not…" he shrugs meaningfully.
"Alright," says the orderly, a bit anxious and entirely vexed. "Alright, you can take the boy to room 13. I'll go wake a doctor for him."
Lemony does not spare a moment to acknowledge the look of great relief and appreciation on Violet's face. The hallway is eerily quiet—not the type of quiet that one would associate with a slumbering residence; but rather it is of a vacancy that has a distinct, morbid mien. Their footfalls echo, and soon Violet turns open the handle of room 13. Instantly, a cloud of dust and mildew causes their eyes to moisten and their faces to scrunch up. When has this room been last used?
Coughing, Lemony places Klaus gently onto the bed after removing the cover altogether. Instead, he takes off his jacket to secure the boy against the cold, though his spindly frame continues to convulse rhythmically all the same.
Though the bed is small and narrow, Violet manages to seat herself beside her brother, and she brushes away his hair that sticks to his forehead and mumbles sweet nothings in his ear. Those mumblings don't reach Lemony's ears.
"Just where is the bloody doctor…" he mutters, pacing back and forth, face made ashen by the sound of labored intakes of breath that become more and more agonized by the second.
But as though summoned, the doctor at last emerges, dressed, as one might not expect, in priestly garb.
"'m here! 'm here. Now, where's the boy that has been poisoned? Ah!" After giving his eyes a good, rough rub, he makes towards the patient's bed as quickly as his heavy, limping steps would allow him.
Violet blinks in confused surprise and she stands up instantly to clear the way, but the priest-doctor says, "No need, m'dear, you can sit back down. I can do my job standing by the foot of the bed."
By now, Lemony finds himself with a furrowed brow and skeptically crossed arms.
Clearing his throat, the priest produces a book from his pocket and begins to recite, "Lord Jesus, thank you that you love…" he pauses and leans forward to whisper to the appalled young woman, "what's his name, my child?"
Dazed, she says, "Klaus…?"
"Ah," he nods solemnly and begins again, "Lord Jesus, thank you that you love Klaus. I know that you hate what his illness is doing to him. I ask, in the name of Jesus, that you would heal this disease; that you would have compassion and bring healing from all sickness."
Lemony shuts his eyes and runs a hand over his face, groaning, "Oh, God…"
"Thank you for sharing in, son," the priest says, pleased. "You may bring in your own contributions, m'dear," he says to Violet, but she is too speechless to be able to contribute with anything. Not to be dispirited by her lack of enthusiasm, he continues, "Your word says in Psalm 107:19-20 that when we call out to you—the Eternal one—you will give the order, heal, and rescue us from certain death. In the Bible, I have read of miraculous healing and I believe that you still heal the same way today. I believe that there is no illness you cannot heal; after all, the bible tells of you raising people from the dead, so I ask for your healing in this situation. Amen."
And then he looks up at the pair, and an uncomfortable, stunned silence hovers in the air.
"Well then," the priest snaps closed his book. "Plenty of bedrest and a daily recital of this prayer will have him up and running in no time. I shall come back to check on him tomorrow." And he begins to walk away.
"Wait," Violet says at last, and he stops and turns to look at her. "Is that all?"
"Oh," he voices with a benevolent smile. "No need to pay me, m'dear. Not tonight, at least—'m much too spent. You can do it in the morning." And surely enough, he is gone.
And her heart sinks to her stomach.
"Violet…" begins Lemony, a hand barely grazing her shoulder as though to bring her back to reality.
But she is far inside her head, where her brain whirs and weaves strings of thought faster than she can keep pace. En route, she gathers her hair in her satiny ribbon and ties it quickly.
"Search all the cabinets for medicine," she instructs, following her own command as she speaks.
They rummage through cupboards in this room and outside of it. They search the whole floor, checking every room, but find nothing that is indicative of either medical instruments or pharmaceutical concoctions. They find books. Books and books and books. All of them contain prayers, and none of them bear a single word that would help treat an illness.
"There's nothing," says Lemony, panting. "This place is even worse than the Last Resort Hospital in Death Valley—at least that one had scalpels and operating knives."
Violet's voice is a conflict of panic and self-control when she speaks. "We'll need to make our own medicine. Back in the days, people used herbs and the like to cure poisoning, right?"
"Right," he agrees in a whisper that cracks at the very end. He doesn't have the heart to tell her that the only plants growing in the area are parasitic weeds and half-dead trees, but he must. "But I'm afraid that we won't find any herb of use here."
"But there must be something!" she paces, thinking hard and scanning the all too empty vicinity for ideas. When her surroundings fail her, she consults her memory. No written account comes to mind, and she is certain Klaus never mentioned anything about toxicology. But unbidden, a memory begins to form behind her lids. It is of a time when her parents were alive and well. She remembers preparations for a camping trip, and sees her father waking her in the dead of night, just the day before they were meant to leave to Garish Greenwood.
"Can I borrow you for a little while, Ed?" he said, at which a ten year old Violet blinked her bleary eyes and rose slightly from the mattress. Bertrand had an easy smile on his face, his bespectacled eyes glinting warmly. "I need your skills as an inventor."
"That night…" mumbles Violet, more to herself than to Lemony, "we made activated carbon. He—father said that it treated most cases of poisoning. We took it with us on that camping trip, but we ended up not using it after all…"
"Bertrand always brought such things with him wherever he went," validates Lemony, memories of his own swimming in his mind. "Antidotes to whatever his insatiable curiosity put him through," he breathes out a sound of somber amusement. "I suppose his farsighted nature made up for his…" he pauses, searching for the proper description, "admittedly reckless moments."
Violet allows a small, sad smile to lift her lips momentarily, but memory lane is not a place she can afford to extensively visit right now. Not when her brother is heaving and suffering.
She considers for a moment and says, "No matter how underprepared this hospital is, the boiler system must be operational, right?"
"That would be the bare minimum expectation, I'd say."
"Then we can prepare our own activated charcoal," she says, a brilliant glint passing her intelligent eyes. "But I'll need some things first."
"I do hope your list of demands is measly," Lemony says dryly.
"Some basic stuff," Violet says, looking him in the eye. "Can you remember them?"
With a self-deprecating smile, he says, "My memory is one of my few assets, Violet."
She returns the feeble smile. "Alright. I need you to bring me a salt—preferably calcium chloride, but I'll do with anything." At his nod, she continues, counting on her fingers as she thinks of possible substitutes to what she would ideally use. "And bring me a glass jar alongside its lid. Water. A measuring cup would be nice. A wooden spoon. And some bed sheets. If you find filtering paper, bring that as well. And something we can use to store the charcoal."
Lemony pauses, mentally checking her list, and then nods. "Where will you be?"
"I'll be in the boiler room. There should be some charcoal to begin with—don't be late."
When she starts to speed away, he hears himself calling her name before he is conscious of it. She stops and looks at him, silently taking in the leaden gaze with which he levels her.
"You know that activated charcoal is not a remedy for all types of poisoning, don't you?"
With a weary shrug and a wavering voice, she says, "I know. But what other choice do we have?"
"I just… need you to be prepared for whatever might happen."
She nods in comprehension; a quick incline of the head that begs him to stop that line of thought. He says nothing more of it.
And they set off towards their respective destinations. As Violet marches down the hallways and descends the rusted staircase, she notices how the stark white paint has peeled off the walls to reveal a sickly sort of discoloration. The type that tells of mold that has been left to fester; of appearances kept and essence disregarded.
Despite its apparent magnitude from an outside perspective, the hospital is in fact rather small, with limited rooms and junctions. She finds the boiler room easily, but opening its door demands some strength, and she puts everything she has into turning the steely lever, whose rust chars her white fingers. She knows from the pain in her knuckles that they have already been indented by her efforts, but she keeps trying. With a final grunt, she manages to yank the door open.
A deep drone fills the mostly empty space, and it becomes louder the more she approaches the source of the fiery illumination. It is not a boiler, but a furnace. All the better.
The large gears responsible for keeping the motor going seem to groan and protest with every small turn, pausing repeatedly before finishing a whole rotation. It's an almost sad spectacle, Violet decides.
She opens the latch of the furnace's door, stepping back immediately and guarding her face with an elbow at the sudden onslaught of heat. Her eyes tear up involuntarily, and she blinks repeatedly to clear her vision. The charcoal has been ground into fine powder, of which she collects heaps with a fire iron situated nearby.
Her deep concentration and the sound of a raging fire deafen her to Lemony's arrival. When he drops the items on the table to her right, she startles and almost burns her hand with the iron.
"Careful," Lemony bids at once, taking an involuntary step towards her.
"I'm okay," she reassures him. "Did you find everything?"
With a sardonic upturn of the lips, he says, "The medicinal cabinets might be empty, but the kitchen is completely stocked."
"I guess a good meal is more important than proper healthcare."
Their low morale shrouds their attempt at humor with awkwardness, but then again, aren't all conversations with Mr. Snicket awkward? Violet muses to herself.
"I did bring something you didn't mention." He retrieves a pair of kitchen gloves and waves them in the air. "No need for you to burn yourself."
She takes them with a sheepish smile. "Thanks."
But he has never truly known how to respond to her gratitude, and so he changes the topic and earnestly says, "How can I be of help?"
"Just be there with him," she whispers. "Put him at ease."
"… Okay," he voices very quietly.
With a last look at her, at the glint of fire reflecting off of her determined visage and the quiet strength emanating from her thin body, he knows that things will be alright.
Violet begins her work without another second's delay. She measures a specific volume of water and pours it into the jar; then, with the instinct of a scientist, she makes an estimate of the needed amount of salt and stirs the solution carefully, taking mind of the gradual increase in heat.
"It's good he brought me gloves…" she mutters to herself and puts them on.
Very slowly, she begins to pour the solution onto the charcoal, morphing the powder into paste as she mixes.
Her stomach twists and turns with anxiety at each step that requires waiting. As the paste dries by the fire, her mind entertains itself by posing a string of dreaded thoughts and damnable 'what ifs'.
You know that activated charcoal is not a remedy for all types of poisoning, don't you?
Her knuckles become white as she clenches both hands.
What if it doesn't work? What if it is already too late?
All the blood and adrenaline pumping through her veins make her light headed.
"Please let it work, please…" she whispers in a monotonous chant, brown eyes glazed over.
She hardly has the presence of the mind to wait any longer.
"This will have to be enough," she says, retrieving the paste and spreading it onto the sheets to begin the filtration process. As she rinses with water, she notices some carbon being lost in the process and her stomach twists again. Violet swallows heavily but doesn't stop.
Eventually, the carbon she manages to salvage should be enough. The small amount shortens the time it requires to bake in the furnace, though every second of each passing minute is torture.
Violet gathers the jar after twenty long minutes—nothing compared to the three hours she spent waiting for the paste to dry—and puts the charcoal in another container.
She loses count over how many times she stumbles and trips as she runs back to room 13, blood rushing to her head and oxygen burning her lungs.
At long last, she pushes the door open, duly startling Lemony, and hunches over to heave at her exertion.
Gentle hands grab her shoulders and guide her into sitting on a stocky chair.
"Is he…" she gasps for breath and chokes on air.
Lemony claps her back before splaying a hand over the top of her chest to guide her breathing. "Easy, Violet. Easy. Slow, deep breaths, that's it." When he has deemed that she is sufficiently calm, he says, "Your brother is fine, but barely. He stopped thrashing about an hour ago, but now he is very feverish and nearly delirious."
Slowly, she nods her head, "I have…" She raises a violently shaking, smeared hand, and he takes the container from her.
Quickly, he mixes the carbon with water in a glass, and, leveling her with a look, he puts its rim against Klaus's mouth until the boy has drunk it all.
"What now?" she croaks.
"Now," says Lemony as he gives her a glass of water, "we wait."
Violet drinks with difficulty, her hand shaking too much and her throat too clogged.
"Will it work, Mr. Snicket?"
The sheer desperation in her small voice brings tears to his eyes. He forces a smile. "When has it not?"
If she wishes to argue the validity of his logic, she doesn't. For now, she is completely silent.
"Rest now, Violet. You have earned it."
Numbly, she stands on her legs and crowds herself on the bed beside her brother.
"It's alright," she whispers tiredly. "I'm here. We're alright…"
And she puts herself to sleep.
Lemony drapes his jacket around her shoulders, seats himself heavily on the chair, and spends the night lost in the mire of his thoughts.
I could have saved us all the trouble if I let the hospital be a, you know, hospital. But things actually carrying out their normal function is sacrilege in Snicketverse and I shall not blaspheme.
I should mention that I have nothing against religion (I myself am spiritual), but everything taken to its extremes is inherently bad, and it's not really an ASoUE fanfic without some social commentary.
We can all agree that poor Violet needs an extended break, can't we?
And again and again, I thank everyone who reviewed and encouraged me to continue writing. Your words do not go in vain, and I deeply appreciate you all.