Three short steps up, a wooden door slightly ajar and beyond a glimpse of a narrow corridor painted white. Rachel Pritty, doctor, the plaque reads. I ring and enter. The corridor, which extends the length of the building, is deserted. No chairs, no posters, no flowers. Just a series of doors, left and right. Closed. To my left, a waiting room, visible through a glass pane that stretches from floor to ceiling. Several armchairs. White like the walls. Curved plastic and inflexible steel. But no patients to read the magazines. How could there be? The room has no door.
The secretary’s office comes next, open to all-comers, someone has removed the door. If anyone ever worked there, they must have just stepped out. Beside the computer, the only discordant note in an organised world is a half-drunk coffee. My mouth waters at the smell of it. A single file lies closed on the desk. Reading the inscription upside down, I make out my name. Intrigued, I glance furtively down the corridor, then flip open the file. Inside is a thick wade of paper, all the sheets of which are blank. A shiver races down my spine as I let the file fall closed.
Backing out of the office, I call, “Hallo,” my voice sounding strange, intimidated, fearful even. “Anyone at home?” A watchful silence is all the reply I get. I glance at the ceiling in search of concealed cameras, but find none. I am tempted to try one of the doors. There are more than I first thought. Who knows what I will discover if I dare open one?
“Come in,” a distant voice says, startling me. I spin on my heels trying to guess from which door it came. “I’ve been expecting you.” This time the voice is distinct. A woman. The second door on the right. “Bring your file with you,” she says. I return to the office, grab my file which is still on the desk although the coffee has gone and hasten back into the corridor.
“Hurry up! I haven’t got all day.” Her annoyed tone surprises me. Hardly the way a doctor addresses a patient. I am about to open the door when I realise the voice came not from this room, but from across the corridor. I reach for the handle when the voice says, “Here” from behind a different door. “Here,” It repeats. “Here. Here. Here.” Each time from a different room. Terrified, part of me wants to run. But I refuse to be intimidated.
Steeling myself, I knock at the closest door, push it open and step inside. I am greeted by the words, “Ah. There you are.” I stare, frozen to the spot, my mouth fallen open. Sitting on the desk, one leg casually crossed over the other, a white lab coat slung around her shoulders, is a twelve-year-old girl. She straightens the glasses on her nose and says, “Take a seat.”
A quick glance around the room confirms we are alone, adding to my confusion. “I have an appointment with Dr Pritty,” I stammer as I sink into the armchair.
“Indeed. How can I help?”