The Sanatorium Page 1

Author: Sarah Pearse

Genres: Thriller


January 2015

Discarded medical equipment litters the floor; surgical tools blistered with rust, broken bottles, jars, the scratched spine of an old invalid chair. A torn mattress sits slumped against the wall, bile-yellow stains pocking the surface.

Hand clamped tight around his briefcase, Daniel Lemaitre feels a sharp wave of revulsion: it’s as if time has taken over the building’s soul, left something rotten and diseased in its place.

He moves quickly down the corridor, footsteps echoing on the tiled floor.

Keep your eyes on the door. Don’t look back.

But the decaying objects pull at his gaze, each one telling stories. It doesn’t take much to imagine the people who’d stayed here, coughing up their lungs.

Sometimes he thinks he can even smell it, what this place used to be—the sharp, acrid scent of chemicals still lingering in the air from the old operating wards.

Daniel is halfway down the corridor when he stops.

A movement in the room opposite—a dark, distorted blur.

His stomach drops. Motionless, he stares, his gaze slowly picking over the shadowy contents of the room—a slew of papers scattered across the floor, the contorted tubes of a breathing apparatus, a broken bed frame, frayed restraints hanging loose.

He’s silent, his skin prickling with tension, but nothing happens.

The building is quiet, still.

He exhales heavily, starts walking again.

Don’t be stupid, he tells himself. You’re tired. Too many late nights, early mornings.

Reaching the front door, he pulls it open. The wind howls angrily, jerking it back on its hinges. As he steps forward, he’s blinded by an icy gust of snowflakes, but it’s a relief to be outside.

The sanatorium unnerves him. Though he knows what it will become—has sketched every door, window, and light switch of the new hotel—at the moment, he can’t help but react to its past, what it used to be.

The exterior isn’t much better, he thinks, glancing up. The stark, rectangular structure is mottled with snow. It’s decaying, neglected—the balconies and balustrades, the long veranda, crumbled and rotting. A few windows are still intact, but most are boarded up, ugly squares of chipboard scarring the fa?ade like diseased, unseeing eyes.

Daniel thinks about the contrast with his own home in Vevey, overlooking the lake. The contemporary, blockish design is constructed mostly of glass to take in panoramic views of the water. It has a rooftop terrace, a small mooring.

He designed it all.

With the image comes Jo, his wife. She’ll have just gotten back from work, her mind still churning over advertising budgets, briefs, already corralling the kids into doing their homework.

Daniel imagines her in the kitchen, preparing dinner, auburn hair falling across her face as she efficiently chops and slices. It’ll be something easy—pasta, fish, stir-fry. Neither of them are good at the domestics.

The thought buoys him, but only momentarily. As he crosses the car park, Daniel feels the first flickers of trepidation about the drive home.

The sanatorium wasn’t easy to get to in the best of weather, its position isolated, high among the mountains. This was a deliberate choice, engineered to keep the tuberculosis patients away from the smog of the towns and cities, and keep the rest of the population away from them.

But the remote location meant the road leading to it was nightmarish, a series of hairpin bends cutting through a dense forest of firs. On the drive up this morning, the road itself was barely visible—snowflakes hurling themselves at the windscreen like icy, white darts, making it impossible to see more than a few yards ahead.

Daniel’s nearly at the car when his foot catches on something, the tattered remains of a placard, half covered by snow. The letters are crude, daubed in red.


Anger spiking, Daniel tramples it underfoot. The protesters had been here last week. Over fifty of them, shouting abuse, waving their gaudy placards in his face. It had been filmed on mobile phones, shared on social media.

That was just one of the endless battles they’d had to fight to bring this project to fruition. People claimed they wanted progress, the tourist francs that followed, but when it came down to actually building they balked.

Daniel knew why. People don’t like a winner.

It’s what his father had said to him once and it was true. The locals had been proud at the start. They’d approved of his small successes—the shopping mall in Sion, the apartment block in Sierre overlooking the Rh?ne—but then he’d become too much, hadn’t he? Too much of a success, a personality.

Daniel got the feeling that in their eyes he’d had his share of the pie, and was now being greedy by taking more. Only thirty-three, and his architectural practice was thriving—offices in Sion, Lausanne, Geneva. One planned for Zurich.

It was the same with Lucas, the property developer and one of his oldest friends. Midthirties, and he already owned three landmark hotels.

People resented them for their success.