A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Hostile Hospital (2 page)

BOOK: A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Hostile Hospital
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murder that we did not commit STOP," Violet said, and Klaus quickly tapped the sentence out into code before adding two last sentences of his own. "Please reply at once STOP. We are in grave danger STOP." Klaus tapped out the last P in "STOP" and then looked at his sisters. "We are in grave danger," he said again, although his hand did not move on the device. "You already sent that sentence," Violet said. "I know," Klaus said quietly. "I wasn't putting it into the telegram again. I was just saying it. We are in grave danger. It's almost as if I didn't realize how grave the danger was until I tapped it out into a telegram." 'Ilimi," Sunny said, and took off her earphones so she could lay her head on Klaus's shoulder. I'm scared, too," Violet admitted, patting her sister's shoulder. "But I'm sure Mr. Poe will help us. We can't be expected to solve this problem all by ourselves." "But that's how we've solved every other problem," Klaus said, "ever since the fire. Mr. Poe has never done anything except send us to one disastrous home after another." "He'll help us this time," Violet insisted, although she did not sound very sure. "Just watch the device. He'll send back a telegram any moment now." "But what if he doesn't?" Klaus asked. "Chonex," Sunny murmured, and wriggled closer to her siblings. She meant something along the lines of "Then we're all alone," which is a curious thing to say when you are with your two siblings, in the middle of a store so stuffed with merchandise you can hardly move. But as they sat closely together, looking at the telegram device, it did not seem curious to the Baudelaires. They were surrounded by nylon rope, floor wax, soup bowls, window curtains, wooden rocking horses, top hats, fiber-optic cable, pink lipstick, dried apricots, magnifying glasses, black umbrellas, slender paintbrushes, French horns, and each other, but as the Baudelaire orphans sat and waited for a reply to their telegram, they only felt more and more alone.

Chapter Two

Of all the ridiculous expressions people use-- and people use a great many ridiculous expressions-one of the most ridiculous is "No news is good news." "No news is good news" simply means that if you don't hear from someone, everything is probably fine, and you can see at once why this expression makes such little sense, because everything being fine is only one of many, many reasons why someone may not contact you. Perhaps they are tied up. Maybe they are surrounded by fierce weasels, or perhaps they are wedged tightly between two refrigerators and cannot get themselves out. The expression might well be changed to "No news is bad news," except that people may not be able to contact you because they have just been crowned king or are competing in a gymnastics tournament. The point is that there is no way to know why someone has not contacted you, until they contact you and explain themselves. For this reason, the sensible expression would be "No news is no news," except that it is so obvious it is hardly an expression at all. Obvious or not, however, it is the proper way to describe what happened to the Baudelaires after they sent the desperate telegram to Mr. Poe. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny sat and stared at the telegram device for hours, waiting for some sign of the banker's reply. As the hour grew later and later, they took turns dozing against the merchandise of the Last Chance General Store, hoping for any response from the man who was in charge of the orphans' affairs. And as the first few rays of dawn shone through the window, illuminating all of the price tags in the store, the only news the children had received was that the shopkeeper had made some fresh cranberry muffins. "I've made some fresh cranberry muffins," the shopkeeper said, peeking around a tower of flour sifters. He was wearing at least two pot holders on each hand and was carrying the muffins on a stack of different-colored trays. "Normally I would put them up for sale, between the phonograph records and the garden rakes, but I hate to think of you three children going without breakfast when there are vicious murderers on the loose, so have some for yourself, free of charge." "That's very kind of you," Violet said, as she and her siblings each took a muffin from the shopkeeper's top tray. The Baudelaires, who had not eaten since they left the village, soon made short work--a phrase which here means "ate every warm, sweet crumb"--of the pastries. "Goodness, you're hungry," the shopkeeper said. "Did everything go all right with the telegram? Have you received a reply?" "Not yet," Klaus said. "Well, don't worry your tiny heads about it," the shopkeeper replied. "Remember, no news is good news." "No news is good news?" called out a voice from somewhere in the store. "I have some news for you, Milt. All about those murderers." "Lou!" the shopkeeper called in delight, and then turned to the children. "Excuse me, please," he said. "Lou's here with The Daily Punctilio.'' The shopkeeper walked through a bunch of rugs hanging from the ceiling, and the Baudelaires looked at one another in dismay. "What'll we do?" Klaus whispered to his sisters. "If the newspaper has arrived, the shopkeeper will read that we're murderers. We'd better run away." "But if we run away," Violet said, "Mr. Poe won't be able to contact us." "Gykree!" Sunny cried, which meant "He's had all night to contact us, and we haven't heard from him." "Lou?" they heard the shopkeeper call out. "Where are you, Lou?" "I'm over by the pepper grinders," the deliveryperson called out in return. "And wait till you read this story about the three murderers of that Count. It's got pictures and everything. I saw the police on the way here, and they said they were closing in. The only people they allowed in the area were me and those volunteer people. They're going to capture those kids and send them right to jail." Kids?" the shopkeeper said. "The murderers are kids?" Yep," the deliveryperson replied. "See for yourself." The children looked at one another, and Sunny gave a little whimper of fear. Across the store they could hear the rustling of paper and then the excited voice of the shopkeeper. "I know those kids!" he cried. "They're in my store right now! I just gave them some muffins!" "You gave muffins to murderers?" Lou said. "That's not right, Milt. Criminals should be punished, not fed pastries." "I didn't know they were murderers then," the shopkeeper explained, "but I sure know now. It says so right here in The Daily Punctilio. Call the police, Lou! I'll grab these murderers and make sure they don't escape." The Baudelaires wasted no more time, and began to run in the opposite direction from the men's voices, down an aisle of safety pins and candy canes. "Let's head toward those ceramic ashtrays," Violet whispered. "I think we can exit that way." "But what happens when we exit?" Klaus whispered back. "The deliveryperson said that the police were closing in." "Mulick!" Sunny cried, which meant "Let's discuss that at a later time!" "Egad!" The children could hear the shopkeeper's surprised voice from several aisles over. "Lou, the kids aren't here! Keep an eye out for them." "What do they look like?" the delivery-person called back. "They look like three innocent children," the shopkeeper said, "but they're really vicious criminals. Be careful." The children ran around a corner and ducked into the next aisle, pressing themselves against a rack of construction paper and canned peas as they listened to the hurrying footsteps of the deliveryperson. "Wherever you murderers are," he called, "you'd better give up!" "We're not murderers!" Violet cried in frustration. 'Of course you're murderers!" the shop- keeper answered. "It says so in the newspaper!" "Plus," the deliveryperson said in a sneering voice, "if you're not murderers, why are you hiding and running?" Violet started to answer, but Klaus covered her mouth before she could say anything more. "They'll be able to tell where we are by our voices," he whispered. "Just let them talk, and maybe we can escape." "Lou, do you see them?" called the shopkeeper. "No, but they can't hide forever," the deliveryperson said. "I'm going to look over by the undershirts!" The Baudelaires looked ahead of them and saw a pile of white undershirts that happened to be on sale. Gasping, the children doubled back, and ran down an aisle covered in ticking clocks. "I'm going to try the clock aisle!" the shopkeeper cried. "They can't hide forever!" The children hurried down the aisle, sprinted past a rack of towel racks and piggy banks, and scurried around a display of sensible plaid skirts. Finally, over the top shelf of an aisle containing nothing but different kinds of bedroom slippers, Violet spotted a glimpse of the exit, and silently pointed the way to her siblings. "I bet they're in the sausage aisle!" the shopkeeper said. "I bet they're near the bathtub display!" the deliveryperson called. "They can't hide forever!" the shopkeeper cried. The Baudelaires took a deep breath, and then bolted toward the exit of the Last Chance General Store, but as soon as they got outside they realized the shopkeeper was right. The sun was rising, revealing the flat and desolate landscape the children had walked across all night. In a few hours the entire countryside would be covered in sunlight, and the land was so flat that the children would be seen from far, far away. They couldn't hide forever, and as Violet, Klaus, and Sunny stood outside the Last Chance General Store, it seemed that they couldn't hide for even one more instant. "Look!" Klaus said, and pointed in the direction of the rising sun. Parked a ways from the store was a square, gray van with the letters V.F.D. printed on its side. "That must be the Volunteers Fighting Disease," Violet said. "The deliveryperson said only he and the volunteers were allowed in the area." "Then they're the only way we can hide," Klaus said. "If we can sneak aboard that van, we can escape from the police, at least for now." "But this might be the right V.F.D.," Violet said. "If these volunteers are part of the sinister secret the Quagmire triplets tried to tell us about, we might be going from a bad situation to a worse one." "Or," Klaus said, "it might get us closer to solving the mystery of Jacques Snicket. Remember, he said he worked as a volunteer, right before he was murdered." "It won't do us any good to solve the mystery of Jacques Snicket," Violet said, "if we're in jail." "Blusin," Sunny said. She meant something along the lines of, "We don't have much choice," and in small, tottering steps she led her siblings toward the V.F.D. van. "But how will we get on the van?" Violet asked, walking alongside her sister. "What will we say to the volunteers?" Klaus asked, hurrying to catch up. "Impro," Sunny said, which meant "We'll think of something," but for once the three children didn't have to think of something. As the youngsters reached the van, a friendly-looking man with a guitar in his hands and a beard on his face leaned out of one of the windows and called to them. "We almost left you behind, brother and sisters!" he said. "We filled the van up with free gas, and now we're all set to head off to the hospital." With a smile, the man unlatched the door of the van and opened it, beckoning to the three children. "Climb aboard," he said. "We don't want our volunteers to get lost before we even sing the first verse. I heard something about murderers lurking around this area." "Did you read it in the newspaper?" Klaus asked nervously. The bearded man laughed, and strummed a cheerful chord on his guitar. "Oh, no," he said. "We don't read the newspaper. It's too depressing. Our motto is 'No news is good news.' You must be new volunteers, not to know that. Well, hop in." The Baudelaires hesitated. As I'm sure you know, it is rarely a good idea to get into an automobile with somebody you haven't met before, particularly if the person believes in such nonsense as "No news is good news." But it is never a good idea to stand around a flat and empty landscape while the police are closing in to arrest you for a crime you have not committed, and the three children paused for a moment to decide between doing something which is rarely a good idea, and something that is never a good idea. They looked at the bearded man with the guitar. They looked at each other. And then they looked back at the Last Chance General Store, where they saw the shopkeeper, rushing out of the front door and toward the van. "O.K.," Violet said finally. "We'll hop in." The bearded man smiled, and the children stepped into the V.F.D. van and shut the door behind them. They did not hop, even though the man had asked them to "hop in," because hopping is something done in the cheerful moments of one's life. A plumber might hop, for instance, if she finally fixed a particularly difficult leak in someone's shower. A sculptor would hop if his sculpture of four basset hounds playing cards was finally finished. And I would hop like nobody has ever hopped before, if I could somehow go back to that terrible Thursday, and stop Beatrice from attending that afternoon tea where she met Esme Squalor for the first time. But Violet, Klaus, and Sunny did not hop, because they were not plumbers fixing leaks, or sculptors finishing works of art, or authors magically erasing a series of unfortunate events. They were three desperate children, falsely accused of murder, forced to run out of a store into a stranger's automobile to avoid capture by the police. The Baudelaires were not hopping, even as the van started its engine and began to drive away from the Last Chance General Store, ignoring the desperate signals of the shopkeeper as he ran to try to stop them. As the V.F.D. van began to drive across the lonely landscape, the Baudelaire orphans were not sure they would ever hop again.

Chapter Three

We are Volunteers Fighting Disease, And we're cheerful all day long. If someone said that we were sad, That person would be wrong. We visit people who are sick, And try to make them smile, Even if their noses bleed, Or if they cough up bile. Tra la la, Fiddle dee dee, Hope you get well soon. Ho ho ho, hee hee hee, Have a heart-shaped balloon. We visit people who are ill, And try to make them laugh, Even when the doctor says He must saw them in half. We sing and sing all night and day, And then we sing some more. We sing to boys with broken bones And girls whose throats are sore. Tra la la, Fiddle dee dee, Hope you get well soon. Ho ho ho, hee hee hee, Have a heart-shaped balloon. We sing to men with measles, And to women with the flu, And if you breathe in deadly germs, We'll probably sing to you. Tra la la, Fiddle dee dee, Hope you get well soon. Ho ho ho, hee hee hee, Have a heart-shaped balloon. An associate of mine named William Congreve once wrote a very sad play that begins with the line "Music has charms to soothe a savage breast," a sentence which here means that if you are nervous or upset, you might listen to some music to calm you down or cheer you up. For instance, as I crouch here behind the altar of the Cathedral of the Alleged Virgin, a friend of mine is playing a sonata on the pipe organ, to calm me down and so the sounds of my typewriter will not be heard by the worshipers sitting in the pews. The mournful melody of the sonata reminds me of a tune my father used to sing when he did the dishes, and as I listen to it I can temporarily forget six or seven of my troubles. But the soothing effect of music on a savage breast obviously depends on what kind of music is being played, and I'm sorry to say that as the Baudelaire orphans listened to the song of V.F.D., they did not feel even one bit less nervous or upset. When Violet, Klaus, and Sunny first boarded the V.F.D. van, they were so worried about avoiding capture that they scarcely took a look around them until they were quite far away from the Last Chance General Store. But when the shopkeeper was merely a speck on the flat and empty landscape, the children turned their attention to their new hiding place. There were about twenty people in the van, and every single one of them was exceedingly cheerful. There were cheerful men, cheerful women, a handful of cheerful children, and a very cheerful driver who occasionally took his eyes off the road to grin cheerfully at all his passengers. When the Baudelaires took a long trip in an automobile, they liked to pass the time reading or looking at the scenery and thinking their own private thoughts, but as soon as the van pulled away from the general store, the bearded man began playing his guitar and led all of the Volunteers Fighting Disease in a cheerful song, and each "tra la la" only made the Baudelaires more anxious than before. When the volunteers began to sing the verse about people's noses bleeding, the siblings were sure someone would stop singing and say, "Wait a minute! These three children weren't on the van before! They don't belong here!" When the singers reached the verse about the doctor sawing someone in half, the children were certain someone would stop singing and say, "Wait a minute! Those three people don't know the lyrics to the song! They don't belong here!" And when the cheerful passengers sung the section of the song discussing deadly germs, the siblings were unequivocally positive that someone would stop singing and say, "Wait a minute! Those three children are the murderers described in The Daily Punctilio! They don't belong here!" But the Volunteers Fighting Disease were too cheerful to wait a minute. They believed so strongly that no news is good news that none of them had even glanced at The Daily Punctilio. And they were too busy singing to notice that the Baudelaires didn't belong on the van. "Boy, do I love that song!" the bearded man said, when the last chorus had ended. "I could sing it all the way to Heimlich Hospital. But I guess we'd better save our voices for the day's work. So why don't we settle down and have cheerful conversations until we arrive?" "That sounds super-duper!" said one of the volunteers, and everyone nodded in agreement. The bearded man put away his guitar and sat down next to the Baudelaires. "We'd better make up false names," Violet whispered to Klaus, "so no one will learn who we are." "But The Daily Punctilio got our names wrong," Klaus whispered back, "so maybe we should use our real names." "Well, let's get to know each other," the bearded man said cheerfully. "I like to get to know each and every one of our volunteers." "Well, my name is Sally," Violet began, "and-" "No, no," the bearded man said. "We don't use names in V.F.D. We just call everybody 'sister' and 'brother,' because we believe all people are sisters and brothers." "I'm confused," Klaus said. "I always thought that brothers and sisters are people who share the same parents." "Not always, brother," the bearded man said. "Sometimes brothers and sisters are just people who are united for a common cause." "Does that mean, brother," Violet said, trying this new use of the word "brother" and not liking it much, "that you don't know the names of anyone in this van?" "That's right, sister," the bearded man said "And so you've never known the name of anyone who's been a Volunteer Fighting Disease?" Klaus asked. "Not a single one," the bearded man said. "Why do you ask?" "There's a person we know," Violet said carefully, "who we think might have been in V.F.D. He had one eyebrow instead of two, and a tattoo of an eye on his ankle." The bearded man frowned. "I don't know anyone of that description," he said, "and I've been with the Volunteers Fighting Disease since the organization first started." "Rats!" Sunny said. "What my sister means," Klaus said, "is that we're disappointed. We were hoping to learn more about this person." "Are you sure he was in Volunteers Fighting Disease?" the bearded man asked. "No," Klaus admitted. "We just know he worked in the volunteer something." "Well, there are lots of volunteer somethings," the bearded man replied. "What you kids need is some sort of Library of Records." "A Library of Records?" Violet said. "A Library of Records is a place where official information is stored," the bearded man said. "In a Library of Records, you could find a list of every single volunteer organization in the world. Or you could look up this person and see if there's a file on him. Perhaps that would tell you where he worked." "Or how he knew our parents," Klaus said, speaking out loud without thinking. "Your parents?" the bearded man said, looking around the van. "Are they here, too?" The Baudelaires looked at one another, wishing that their parents were there on the van, even though it would be awkward to call their father "brother" and their mother "sister." Sometimes it seemed to the children that it had been hundreds and hundreds of years since that terrible day at the beach when Mr. Poe brought them the dreadful news, but just as often it seemed as if it had been only minutes. Violet could picture her father, sitting next to her, perhaps pointing out something interesting he had seen through the window. Klaus could picture his mother, smiling and shaking her head in amusement at the ridiculous lyrics of the V.F.D. song. And Sunny could picture all five Baudelaires, together again, with nobody fleeing from the police, or accused of murder, or trying desperately to solve mysteries, or worst of all, gone forever in a terrible fire. But just because you can picture something does not make it so. The Baudelaire parents were not in the van, and the children looked at the bearded man and shook their heads sadly. "My, you look glum," the bearded man said. "Well, don't worry. I'm sure wherever your parents are, they're having a good time, so let's not see any frowny faces. Being cheerful is the whole point of Volunteers Fighting Disease." "What exactly will we be doing at the hospital?" Violet asked, eager to change the subject. "Just what V.F.D. says," the bearded man replied. "We're volunteers, and we'll be fighting diseases." "I hope we won't be giving shots," Klaus said. "Needles make me a bit nervous." "Of course we won't be giving shots," the bearded man said. "We only do cheerful things. Mostly we wander the halls singing to sick people, and giving them heart-shaped balloons, like the song says." "But how does that fight disease?" Violet said. "Because getting a cheerful balloon helps people picture getting better, and if you picture something, it makes it so," the bearded man explained. "After all, a cheerful attitude is the most effective tool against sickness." "I thought antibiotics were," Klaus said. "Echinacea!" Sunny said. She meant "Or well-tested herbal remedies," but the bearded man had stopped paying attention to the children and was looking out the window. "We've arrived, volunteers!" he called out. "We're at Heimlich Hospital!" He turned to the Baudelaires and pointed out at the horizon. "Isn't it a beautiful building?" The children looked out the windows of the van and found that they could only half agree with the bearded man, for the simple reason that Heimlich Hospital was only half a building, or at best twothirds. The left side of the hospital was a shiny white structure, with a row of tall pillars and small carved portraits of famous doctors over each window. In front of the building was a neatly mowed lawn, with occasional patches of brightly colored wildflowers. But the right side of the hospital was scarcely a structure at all, let alone a beautiful one. There were a few boards nailed together into rectangles, and a few planks nailed down for floors, but there were no walls or windows, so it looked like a drawing of a hospital rather than a hospital itself. There was no sign of any pillars and not even one carved doctor portrait on this half-finished side, just a few sheets of plastic fluttering in the wind, and instead of a lawn there was just an empty field of dirt. It was as if the architect in charge of constructing the building had decided halfway through that he'd rather go on a picnic, and had never returned. The driver parked the van underneath a sign that was half finished, too: the word "Heimlich" was in fancy gold letters on a clean white square of wood, but the word "Hospital" was scrawled in ballpoint pen on a piece of cardboard ripped from an old box. "I'm sure they'll finish it someday," the bearded man continued. "But in the meantime, we can picture the other half, and picturing something makes it so. Now, let's picture ourselves getting out of the van." The three Baudelaires did not have to picture it, but they followed the bearded man and the rest of the volunteers out of the van and onto the lawn in front of the prettier half of the hospital. The members of V.F.D. were stretching their arms and legs after the long drive, and helping the bearded man remove a big bunch of heart-shaped balloons from the back of the van, but the children merely stood around anxiously and tried to figure out what to do next. "Where should we go?" Violet asked. "If we walk around the hallways of the hospital singing to people, someone will recognize us." "That's true," Klaus said. "The doctors, nurses, administrators, and patients can't all believe that no news is good news. I'm sure some of them have read this morning's Daily Punctilio. " "Aronec," Sunny said, which meant "And we're not getting any closer to learning anything about V.F.D., or Jacques Snicket." "That's true," Violet agreed. "Maybe we need to find a Library of Records, like the bearded man said." "But where can we find one?" Klaus asked. "We're in the middle of nowhere." "No walk!" Sunny said. "I don't want to start all that walking again either," Violet said, "but I don't see what else we can do." "O.K., volunteers!" the bearded man said. He took his guitar out of the van and began playing some cheerful and familiar chords. "Everyone take a heart-shaped balloon and start singing! "We are Volunteers Fighting Disease, And we 're cheerful all day long, If someone said that we were sad, That person would be--" "Attention!" interrupted a voice that seemed to come from the sky. The voice was female but very scratchy and faint, as if the voice were that of a woman talking with a piece of aluminum foil over her mouth. "Your attention please!" "Shh, everybody!" the bearded man said, stopping the song. "That's Babs, the Head of Human Resources at the hospital. She must have an important announcement." "Attention!" the voice said. "This is Babs Head of Human Resources. I have an important announcement." "Where is she?" Klaus asked him, worried that she might recognize the three accused murderers hiding in V.F.D. "In the hospital someplace," the bearded man replied. "She prefers communicating over the intercom." The word "intercom" here refers to someone talking into a microphone someplace and having their voice come out of speakers someplace else, and sure enough the children noticed a small row of square speakers placed on the finished half of the building, just above the doctor portraits. "Attention!" the voice said again, and it became even scratchier and fainter, as if the woman with the piece of aluminum foil over her mouth had fallen into a swimming pool filled with fizzy soda. This is not a pleasant way to hear someone talk, and yet as soon as Babs made her announcement, the savage breasts of the Baudelaire orphans were instantly soothed, as if the scratchy and faint voice were a calming piece of music. But the Baudelaires did not feel better because of the way Babs's voice sounded. The announcement soothed the children's savage breasts because of what it said. "I need three members of the Volunteers Fighting Disease who are willing to be given a new assignment," said the voice. "Those three volunteers should report immediately to my office, which is the seventeenth door on the left as you enter the finished half of the building. Instead of walking around the hallways of the hospital singing to people, these three volunteers will be working in the Library of Records here at Heimlich Hospital."

BOOK: A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Hostile Hospital
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