The Guinea Pig

There was a little Guinea-pig,
Who, being little, was not big;

He always walked upon his feet,
And never fasted when he eat.

When from a place he ran away,
He never at that place did stay;
And while he ran, as I am told,
He ne'er stood still for young or old.

One day, as I am certified,
He took a whim and fairly died;
And, as I'm told by men of sense,
He never has been living since.

Susan Daley's heart was pounding with such force against her chest it was almost painful. She knew she had to calm down, that there was nothing to be afraid of, and yet visits from her regional manager always had that effect.

Frances Marsden had that effect on everyone though, really, Susan noted in her own defence as her heels clacked rhythmically down the freshly sparkling hallway (one that she'd contributed to the night before, labouring for hours with the other nurses, attacking any offending smudges with litres of Domestos lest Frances be unimpressed upon arrival). The woman was nothing short of terrifying, with her tight, skeletal face, sharply observing eyes, and hard lips lined in a shade far too dark for her complexion.

Frightening though she was, she was a genius, and perfect for her job. Passionate, fastidious, and determined, she had singlehandedly transformed the hospital from a bumbling, overwhelmed madhouse to one of the most respected in the country. And really, Susan should have felt honoured to be able to attend her half yearly meetings, however brief they might be.

And yet.

She stopped outside of the door, straightened her crisply ironed dress, flattened her slicked down hair, took a deep breath and stepped inside.

The woman was standing by the desk with a straight back. No sitting, ever, for Miss Frances Marsden. Susan forced a smile onto her face, one that hurt her tired cheeks. "Good morning, Frances."

Frances raised her eyebrows at the chair beside Susan. When the young nurse noticed she scrambled to sit down, looking up at the manager with an apologetic expression.

"Good morning, Susan. Just so you are aware, this morning I'm not interested in any of the tedium. If you have any unrelated updates for me, a well summarised email outlining them will be more than sufficient. I'm interested in the boy."

"In... in James?" Susan wasn't interested in playing dumb. She knew perfectly well Frances was referring to James; he had been the only topic of discussion around the ward for the last week.

"Yes. That one. I hear things have... progressed." She was very controlled, but Susan didn't miss the gleam of excitement in her eye. Unfortunately, Susan couldn't quite relate to her manager's feelings on the matter. The boy bothered her, personally, and she would be glad to be rid of him.

"I've seen it several times myself. He's been smiling, sometimes even laughing, though it's rare," Susan reported, giving herself over to the bubble of pride and importance that also accompanied her visits with Frances. All she needed was for France's stern face to appear pleased, and it felt like a personal achievement.

Today, she looked nothing short of thrilled. "And it's genuine? You're all sure? Some of them can fake it quite well."

Susan shook her head firmly. "Definitely not. I'm up to date with my facial recognition training, and so is the rest of the staff here. It's genuine."

Frances simply stood, waiting expectantly. When Susan cottoned onto what she wanted she jumped out of the chair as though stung, but it was lacking the sense of fearful urgency she usually felt when she failed to be one step ahead of her manager's wishes. Frances appeared too content to even notice anyone's shortcomings on this particular day.

Back outside, and her heels were tapping the reverse route down the hall. As she passed a woman who was wandering the hallway with a dazed look on her face, she merely offered her a polite smile and made a mental note to mention her to the women at the desk. She had no time to attend to other patients at the moment.

Clack. Click. Clack. Click. It seemed to her as though the sound grew louder with her purpose, and somehow she knew that her patients felt the same. They all hung back with wary eyes, breathing a sigh of relief when they realised they were not the one she was seeking out.

The boy would be in the main room; he always seemed to be there with his companion, squeezed into a corner somewhere and speaking in low voices about God only knew what. When she had started in the ward she had been surprised to see the pairing; she had never seen one like it before. Usually these sort of patients preferred solitude.

Sure enough, she spotted them in an instant. Her eyes locked onto James', and she saw something in them change. He knew.

The other boy stiffened and turned around, lightning flashing in his blue eyes. His face hardened, and for a brief moment she pictured him as an animal protecting its young, hackles raised, teeth bared. She half expected him to break into a low growl, and caught herself before her imagination ran away with her.

Neither boy moved until she had stopped in front of them.

James, his companion's senior by a month, was, as she expected, possessed by that eerie calmness she was so used to. The younger boy, however, looked ready to pounce. "There's nothing wrong with him," he said in a dangerous tone.

He was threatening her.

"As the both of you are no doubt aware, James has been showing symptoms of decline-" she started, but she was cut off.

"Bullshit he has! Give me one example, just one. There's nothing wrong with him."

"Leave it," James said in a low voice as he stared at the floor with blank eyes.

She nodded at him and he stood slowly, resigned to the fate they had all known was coming for him sooner or later. He had accepted it, was not bothered by it, clearly. Just another example of why it was no tragedy. They were all the same; like cattle, only worse. Cattle were calm because they were unaware of what awaited them. The nonchalance these... patients showed was in spite of their awareness.

Nothing short of inhuman.

The other boy jumped up and grabbed James by the arm, as though it would somehow stop him from going anywhere. "Leave him alone. You can't take him-"

Susan's eyes flashed towards the hall, checking to make sure Frances hadn't wandered out to witness this show of disobedience. "This is for the best. We can ensure it's as painless as possible. Would you rather us leave him out here?"

James was shaking his head meaningfully at his companion, who was ignoring him. "Yes, I would, because there is nothing wrong with him, and you know it. He's not even eighteen yet, you can't do this."

"Sometimes these things can be unpredictable," she told the younger boy, frustrated that she had to bother trying to appear reasonable. If there had been no audience she would have pretended ignorance to his existence. But in this room, as always, she was the kindly, patient caregiver she was expected to be. Required to be.

She was walking now, James following now. The boy stopped him, stepped in front of him. "Don't go," he begged fruitlessly.

James merely looked back at him, his eyes full of a hollow sadness that shot chills through Susan's body. This hadn't come a moment too soon. "Come on, James," she ordered.

"No!" The younger boy was hurrying to keep up with them with wide eyes. "No. Stop. There's nothing wrong with him, leave him, leave him here!"

She didn't look back, her patience finally shot. She had kept Frances waiting long enough.

Behind her, the cries were becoming louder, shrill. "This is murder! You're sick; you're all sick. Let go of him. James! God, let him go!"

She had to hold back a smile at this. For goodness sake; all this drama.

Behind her, the boy was screaming incoherently.

No. No. No.

When two male nurses rushed to pull him back, to stop him from following them into the hallway, Susan almost rolled her eyes. About time, she thought with more than a hint of frustration. The boy was upsetting the other patients.

James standing obediently by her side, she turned around to see the boy kicking out and twisting to get out of the unflinching grip the two men had on him. "Sedate him," she ordered.

As she spoke, the boy cut off his screams at once. He fell limp, finally accepting his defeat. As his eyes locked onto hers, she was caught off guard to see hatred burning in them, burning into her.

She shivered and made a mental note to mention this to Frances as she closed the gate.

Also he was, of course, missing the most important point.

You cannot murder something that is not human.

A/N - Hey guys! So, this is the second draft of this. There's a lot of writing revamping, and a few plot changes. Hopefully you guys agree the new version is, so far, an improvement on the old. Updates should be fairly regular, too, as the original is complete, and drafting is (so far) a relatively quick process compared to writing. I say relatively quick because I think I've replaced as many words as I've kept, but overall, pretty fast!

All my love,