Estimated reading time — 17 minutes
Rose Hill Place was a rather indefinable place, all things considered. Nothing about it made it stand out to passersby, nothing in its halls to make it appeal to those who came and visited. It was exactly what it appeared to be: a single-floor complex with over a hundred rooms and three dining halls, enough to fit all who lived there and the occasional guest.
Four of Rose Hill’s inhabitants sat around the TV set, taking time out of their afternoon to simply relax amongst themselves. On the couch sat Ruth and Donna; Carey rested his leg up on the foot of the stool, grunting in satisfaction as the pain melted away from his knee. Lawrence wasn’t paying much attention to Days of Our Lives, as he was more eager to see the sight of one of Rose Hill’s staffers coming his way. He had been expecting family to come and visit since the morning had begun, and he was beginning to wonder if they would ever show. They HAD promised him, though, so they must have meant it.
Donna gave a petite little sigh of sadness as she watched the soap opera, gazing dreamily as a young couple joined in a passionate embrace on the screen. Whenever there was even a hint of romanticism, the poor woman would often melt away into memories.
“Thinking of Gary, Donna?” asked Lawrence, noticing his friend’s sudden melancholy.
“I always do,” Donna replied simply, taking a sip of tea from her glass that sat on the coffee table. “It’s hard not to think of such a good man when I watch my soaps.”
“Why do you always watch this show, if it makes you so sad?” he continued.
“Why, they aren’t always sad memories, Lawrence,” she replied. “I like to remember the good things, too. I don’t just remember that he’s gone.”
“I remember when Patrick and I were together,” remarked Rose suddenly. “He and I would go out to the drive-in theater, we’d pay for our tickets and just enjoy our time together. I can hardly remember a single movie we truly watched!” she added with a laugh.
The sound of a Thump! on the carpet intruded into their conversation and out from his room came Rourke, his three legs hobbling him over to the group of residents. “I hope I’m not intruding,” he said politely, slowly taking a seat on a chair beside Rose and Donna.
“Of course not, Rourke,” Donna replied kindly. “Goodness, you’re out and about rather late today, aren’t you?”
Rourke gave a wheezing chuckle. “I must apologize. I finally figured out how to work that confounded contraption Jeremy gave me, and I managed to talk to him for a while. He and his father were more than glad to see me, and I must have lost track of time while Jeremy was showing me his stuffed animal collection.”
“And how is Jeremy?” Rose inquired. “And Clark and Sloane?”
“Jeremy’s wonderful, as usual,” Rourke answered brightly, ignoring the throbbing pain in his leg as his rheumatism started to kick in. “He’s all excited now that spring is here, because he wants to try out for his local baseball team. Sloane’s being her anxious self over it, but Clark might be even more excited than Jeremy! You know he never made it out of college ball, and he’d like to see Jeremy go farther than he did.”
“That’s wonderful,” Donna responded warmly, “Do you think they’ll be able to visit soon?”
“I hope so, it’s been a while. It’s the first I’ve heard from anyone in a while,” Rourke answered.
A pleasant young woman in flower-patterned scrubs came walking down the hall, her white smile aimed directly at them. “Mr. Carver, your family’s here to see you, and they have a surprise for you,” she said. “They’d like you to come to them, if that’s alright.”
“Yes, yes, Terra, of course,” grunted Lawrence, struggling to get to his feet- his right knee had locked in place. Terra walked over and gently helped him up, and the two walked down the hall to the entrance to the complex, passing by another pair of folks; a middle-aged woman in soft lilac scrubs with a very old, very decrepit man who was grumbling under his breath about something or other.
“… Now, now, Mr. Truffaut, you know we don’t want you to be in pain,” said the woman, a mother of two name Gale. “We just have to follow doctor’s orders- no more than three painkillers a day.”
“To Hell with that young upstart, he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” growled Mr. Truffaut. “No doctor is worth five minutes of your time if he’s a dot under thirty.”
“It won’t be long until you can take your next Tylenol, but until then, you’re just going to have to deal with it,” replied Gale simply. “Would you like me to keep you company until then?”
“All I want from you is for you to take me to my room and then hand me my remote, harlot,” grumbled the old man.
“Alright, then, if that’s what you want,” Gale replied, walking on down the hall to the right and out of sight.
The group at the TV, who had been watching the conversation unfold, turned back to each other. “Ines has never been a happy camper here at Rose Hill, has he?” Rourke remarked.
“Now, now, you know that he never truly recovered from his service,” Donna chided mildly. “It would be hard for anyone to simply receive a Purple Heart and go on like nothing ever happened.”
“I don’t see how that allows him to be so unpleasant to poor Gale,” Rose countered. “After all, she’s one of the best staffers here, and she has her two children to look after. She’s stressed enough.”
“Let’s just accept that Ines is an old codger, shall we?” Rourke said playfully, an old light dancing in his eyes.
The joke was dull, unintelligent, and not funny- not that that had ever stopped Rourke. The three of them laughed away, reveling in the secret irony of the idea of THEM calling someone an old codger.
Rourke looked away from the others for a moment and, to his surprise, saw a well-dressed young man in a white button-up and khaki pants walking down the hallway, his footsteps barely making a sound as he made his way through Rose Hill. He appeared young, about mid-twenties; his hair was a light blonde, his complexion fair. He had a feeling of boundless energy about him, so perhaps that was why he smiled so. The stranger seemed so full of joy and life that the arthritic man could do nothing but gape. Perhaps noticing that he was being gawked at, the newcomer glanced over at the group of folks and saw Rourke staring at him. He gave the older man a bright smile and a wave, not stopping to talk as he disappeared down the hall. To Rourke, it was as if the stranger was here on business.
For a moment, Rourke considered following the young man and finding out what he was up to. After all, he had been a detective in another life, as Lawrence might say. But judging by the pain in his leg, he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. All he’d be able to do is guess.
The former detective returned to the conversation he had left, he and the two women occasionally pausing to watch the TV. After a few minutes, Lawrence and Terra came by again, this time accompanied by a gaggle of eager young children and their parents. It seemed one of the little girls was cradling a little kitten in her arms, and the other three kids were encircled around her as they simultaneously tried to pet it. The happy group disappeared down the hall and back to Lawrence’s room, where Rourke was certain many a happy moment was about to occur.
Not more than a minute after they had passed by that the stranger in white appeared once more, only this time accompanied by a resident: Charles Hammer, a nearby neighbor of Rourke’s. The detective in him welled up once more, this time in alarm. Charles had been sick for nearly a week now! He needed to remain in bed!
“Hey, you! You can’t simply just take a sick man out of here!” Rourke bellowed, and the stranger –along with Charles- paused to look at him. Jostled out of their conversation by the sound, Rose and Donna peered over to see what the commotion was and caught sight of poor Charles.
“Charles! Charles, where are you going?” Rose asked anxiously. “Are you feeling better?”
Charles, for some reason or other, could either not hear their words or simply chose to ignore them. The stranger, however, looked over at them and gave them a smile, opening his mouth to speak. When his words reached them, they seemed to have come from across a great distance, though in reality it was only a few feet. “It’s OK,” the stranger said brightly, his arm still around Charles. “Actually, it’s better than OK. It’s better now.” Without another word, the pair walked on down the hall and out of sight.
Rourke and the two women could hardly believe what they’d seen. Kidnapping! Rourke yelled for help and in a few moments Gale and one of the staffers who manned security at Rose Hill arrived.
“There was a man here, just a moment ago,” Rourke explained. “He went down the hall, he disappeared for a few minutes, then walked out here with Charles!”
Gale’s eyes went wide with fear, and glanced over at security, a man named Mitchell. The two of them split off, Mitchell heading to the door and Gale heading to Charles’ room to confirm the truth. With nothing else to do, Rourke took a seat and waited alongside Rose and Donna.
“Who do you think that was?” Rose asked fearfully.
“I don’t know,” Rourke admitted, waiting for the return of Mitchell and Gale. “I thought maybe he was a visitor or something, but I couldn’t tell. Did you see his face?”
“It was… odd,” Donna replied. “Like something was coming off him. He was almost like he wasn’t real.”
“But we all saw him, correct?” Rourke asked, and felt a small sense of satisfaction when the two women nodded. “Good.”
Mitchell reappeared and met with Gale in the middle of the hallway, whispering discreetly to each other. Mitchell nodded and walked off, reappearing soon after with his partner, Joel.
Gale walked over to the three individuals at the TV, who were waiting anxiously. “Is Charles alright?” Rose inquired fearfully.
Gale hesitated. “He’s… Mitchell didn’t see anyone come in or leave, so we’re going to check the cameras for anything suspicious. Charles’ door was unlocked, but there was no sign of forced entry. We’ll tell you more later.”
The words did little to comfort the three residents, who felt more vulnerable than they had ever felt before. Someone had come into their homes and just taken one of their friends, yet not one of the security guards could account for what they had seen. Rourke knew he had seen the stranger, and so had Rose and Donna. It wasn’t a hallucination. So what was it?
Rourke awoke suddenly, finding his room dimly lit by the beams of moonlight seeping through his window. At first he was unsure why, until he felt a throbbing sensation in his leg. Cursing his arthritis, he rose slowly to go grab his bottle of pills from his bathroom counter. It would appear he was to have another long night, as it would take around an hour for the pill to kick in and relieve him of his pain. When he found them, he quickly swallowed the pill and went back to his bed and grabbed hold of his bed lamp, twisting the switch for some light.
It didn’t turn on. A perfect time for his light to stop working. Deciding he would simply watch some late-night television instead, he reached for the nearby remote and felt his way to the power button, pressing down hard. Despite the force with which he pressed, the TV remained inactive.
Rourke was ready to throw the little remote in his anger. Great! Pain wracking his body and no way to keep himself distracted-
Wait a minute. Rourke paused, thinking to himself. He had done his detective work before coming here and knew full well that even if the power went out, there was a backup generator to keep things running just in case of an emergency. Both his TV set and bed lamp should work fine.
That was when he noticed his room was completely dark. Somehow, in some way, the moon was no longer blazing. Ignoring the pain in his leg, he peeked out of his window and saw nothing. Pure blackness had enveloped the night and struck such a harsh, impenetrable darkness that he could see nothing. If it weren’t for the fact that he could see the dim outline that was his bed, he would have thought he had been struck blind.
Thump. Thump. Thump. He heard something outside. Not out the window, but in the hallway outside. Slowly it walked, making a steady noise as it grew ever closer.
Fear told him to stay in his room and tell security someone was inside the building again, maybe even the same stranger he had seen earlier today. But the fearless detective in him pushed harder, and he crept silently over to his door, unlatching the locks as quietly as he could and softly pushing the heavy wooden door open.
The darkness, the deep uncompromising darkness still shrouded him, and Rourke could see nothing beyond his own hand. Thump. Thump. Thump. Whatever was making that sound was still coming, and it was closer than ever.
Rourke’s struggling heart was pounding inside his chest, terror begging him to close his door and hide. Pride kept him at bay, forcing him to stand his ground, to catch just a glimpse of what was causing that noise. Thump. THUMP. THUMP.
He heard a new noise now, something worse than the continuous thumping. A heavy, wet breathing of something… something he couldn’t imagine. It was a revolting, terrifying sound of something inhuman, something unlike anything he could imagine. For a moment, the thumping sound paused, being replaced by a grotesque sound of rotted flesh moving about, all the while accompanied by that awful breathing.
A drop of pressure right before him, and a fetid, wet stink washed over Rourke’s body as he stood there, his eyes squinting out into the blackness. His pulsing heart nearly stopped in fright as he realized that thing was now right in front of him and he couldn’t see heads or tails of it.
THUMP. THUMP. Thump. The creature passed on from Rourke’s presence, making its way down the hall and out of- well, away from him. He clutched his chest and proceeded back into his room where he could collapse on his bed in relative safety.
That precious bubble of relief burst in mere moments. A quaking, horrendous scream ripped through the blackness, shaking every nerve on Rourke’s body. He bolted upright instantly, his terror so intense that he didn’t even take the time to notice the beams of moonlight filtering through his window once more. All he knew was that some poor man had made that scream.
It was enough to bring him and the other residents of Rose Hill out into the hall, where they checked on one another to ensure their safety. Rourke could see Lawrence a few doors down, clutching a hand-written note from his family. Rose was pattering about fearfully down the hall to his right, which meant Donna was somewhere nearby.
Rourke’s attention fell on an open door not far down the hallway, a heavy wooden door that appeared to have been shredded and torn apart by some malevolent force. For Rourke, it didn’t take much guessing as to what had done that. He watched silently as the night security guard, a man named Jeffery, ran into the door with a sidearm clutched in his hands. A few seconds later, he poked his head out and called for one of the staffers to come help him. A woman name Rosita dashed down the hallway and through the crowd to the damaged door, staring at it in disbelief. She pushed her way into the room where Jeffery waited for her… at least that’s what Rourke hoped.
Minutes passed. More staffers came out and helped the residents calm down, sending the weaker ones back to their rooms to wait until morning. After a while, Jeffery and Rosita came out of the room, grim-faced and rather stricken. Rosita paused, wringing her hands in apparent discomfort. “As you all know, that room belonged to Mr. Ines Truffaut,” she said. “He’s dead. There are no injuries, but I must ask you all if anyone here heard or saw anything suspicious.”
Rourke stepped forward mutely, immediately whisked away to the security office by Jeffery and Rosita. As calmly as he could, he told them of the noises he had heard, as well as the scream. He neglected to tell them of the blackness, as it seemed unlikely they would take that part of the tale seriously. When Jeffery heard of the strange noises, he turned to the security footage of the hallway, finding nothing. He switched over to the footage of inside the room, and still nothing but darkness. “It’s weird,” the younger man remarked, “It’s like the whole place went black or something. The camera was still on, I don’t understand.”
After a few more questions, Rosita kindly helped Rourke back to his room. Though the pain in his leg had ceased, he doubted he would sleep tonight.
Things had been silent in Rose Hill Place for a while now. No one liked to discuss what had happened to Ines, if they could help it. It had been frightening enough that night, no one found a need to bring it up again. They watched TV, they played their games, talked amongst each other and visited with family. That was good enough for them.
Rourke still found himself on edge. The sounds he had heard that night still haunted him, coursing through his nightmares in a constant loop. Sometimes he even found himself listening for it just on the edge of his hearing. To make matters worse, he occasionally saw that young stranger he had seen with Charles walking about the complex, all smiles and nice clothes. The first few times he would alert security, but no one ever seemed to the man except the residents. After a while, he stopped trying.
He talked about it with the chaplain on the premises, and found himself pondering the answer later that day. With a crack of old leather, he flipped out a dog-eared little book and began poring over the text with utter care and respect.
Evening came and went, yet Rourke continued to read the good Book, taking comfort in the familiar lines and quotes, as well as the myriad of notes and scratches he had made in his own time. He saw one that his wife had circled and he smiled. It was a nice memory, and a pity that Billie was not over here at Rose Hill with him. She was nearby, at a complex named St. Margaret’s, but her condition forced her to stay within its walls.
Suddenly, the lights went out in his room. A shroud of darkness enveloped him once more, and he could feel his heart starting to race. He kept still like a predator waiting for prey, his ears pricked for the slightest sound. Cursing the thunderstorm outside, the rain kept it from hearing range. If it was out there, he might never know until it was too late! For safety purposes, he grabbed hold of his nearby cane with a firm hold. If it came to that-
A flash of lightning outside his window revealed its silhouette: curved horns like a ram, a long neck, a goat’s muzzle that was highlighted by fearsome tusks. Bat-like wings protruded from its back, flapping gently as it walked past and out of sight.
Rourke squirmed away from the sight as fast as his rheumatism would allow, abandoning his weapon in favor of immediate safety. His squeezed his eyes shut, dreading the sound that he dreaded, yet knew, would come next.
There it was- a high-pitched, wailing scream of pure terror, a deep sound of unrelenting fear. It took Rourke a moment to realize that he recognized the voice as Rose.
He glanced over at his clock, finding it to be around 11:00pm. Lights would still be on outside, for the poor folks such as Gerald and Barbara who struggled to get to sleep. Timidly, he pushed open his door and peered down the hall to where Rose dwelled, seeing that Jeffery and Rosita both had already arrived, unlocking the door and racing in.
The door hadn’t been busted open. That fact alone was enough to embolden Rourke to abandon his post at his doorstep and slowly make his way down to the room. Before he had even gone halfway, he could hear Rose’s terrified ramblings echoing down the halls.
“It was here, right here on my bed!” he could hear her wail, her frail little voice trembling with tears. “It stood right on my bed and looked at me and it tried to grab me! Oh! Oh, it was right there, I swear to you!”
“Ms. Halliday, I promise, we’re going to take care of you,” assured Rosita, glancing over at Jeffery in apparent unease. “Mr. Garfield, what are you doing here?” she added, noticing Rourke had come to the door.
“Is Rose alright?” he inquired shakily, noting the terrified woman was clutching the side of her bed with all her might. “Is she going to be OK?”
Taking note of the new arrival, Rose looked over and gasped, “It was here, Rourke! It was horrible, and it was on my bed waiting for me to get out of the bathroom! It was right here!”
The poor woman was clearly terrified. Rourke nodded his head, saying, “I saw it too, Rose.”
Jeffery and Rosita glanced at each other, waiting for more help to arrive. When Gale arrived, Jeffery and Rosita came over to Rourke and requested he join them in the security office. As the three of them left, Rourke heard Rose yell, “The chaplain! Bring me the chaplain, please! PLEASE!”
When they reached the office, Jeffery dispensed of his pleasant nature, staring at Rourke in suspicion. The two men argued for a moment, Jeffery suspecting Rourke may have had a hand in the affair, despite the older man’s consistent denial. After a few minutes of thorough questioning, Jeffery went to the security tape of the hallway, finding nothing.
“No blackness this time, though,” he added meaningfully, “whatever happened last time didn’t happen here.”
He flipped over to the security footage in Rose’ room, watching silently as he waited for something, anything, a sign that something had gone wrong-
Rose walked out of her bathroom in a fluffy pink bathrobe and stood stark still as she stared at the horrifying apparition that was upon her bed. The creature was so horrifying, disgustingly vile that Jeffery gave a yell and leapt up from his seat, while Rosita gave a small scream and immediately clutched the rosary she always wore, making the sign of the cross. Shakily thanking Rourke for his time, the two staffers escorted the older man out of the office and back to his room.
Right before Rourke was about to return to his chambers, he saw something he didn’t expect; the stranger was right outside the door of Rose’s room, a gleaming gold watch strapped to his wrist. Perhaps aware that Rourke had spotted him, he glanced up and waved, smiling broadly. Stunned, or perhaps just stupid, Rourke waved back.
“Who are you waving to, Mr. Garfield?” Rosita asked nervously, glancing up at Rourke in fear.
“Don’t you see him, Rosita?” Rourke inquired bluntly. “That young man right outside Rose’s room, the one who’s been walking about at all hours of the day.”
“No, no,” Rosita replied slowly, her eyes growing wide. “Mr. Garfield, are you sure you’re alright?”
“I’m fine-” The stranger was gone. Rourke wondered where he had gone, but his question was immediately answered as he appeared once more, but not alone. Rose was cradled in his arms, a look of utter peace and contentment etched upon her face. The stranger gave Rourke a delighted smile, even mouthing the words, “She’s better now,” before walking down the hall and out the doors.
“Did you not see him? He had Rose in his arms!” Rourke demanded angrily. “Rosita, you have just allowed a kidnapping to occur!”
Rosita took a step back from him, for she may be stronger and younger, but that did not stop Rourke from being a giant of a man. She looked around him and saw the chaplain exiting the room, a look of sadness and peace mixing together in his features. Rourke turned about and saw the younger man walking towards Rosita. To the detective, it was as if the chaplain had just emerged from a hard-fought battle, wearied but satisfied in the victory. Pain in the midst of joy. The chaplain whispered something in Rosita’s ear and walked away, perhaps back to his office.
Rosita stared at him, then glanced over at Rourke. “Mr. Garfield, I believe you saw something after all,” she said finally, walking over to Rose’s room and heading in.
Rourke walked away from the little room, satisfied with what he had heard. After the lesson had been completed, he had managed to have a small talk with the chaplain, coming to the man in complete honesty. It had been a hard talk, but one worth having.
His mind wandered to the strange things he had seen lately, hovering on the apparition and the stranger. He knew now. That was all he needed. He knew which one he would see again.
Rourke hadn’t been feeling well for the past few days. Pneumonia, they had told him. Very serious, very dangerous. Truth be told, at this stage in life, he decided to calmly accept it. Despite having no children, despite the horrors he had seen as a detective, he had been blessed. All he wished was that Billie was here with him, waiting with him.
He sat himself down one evening, deciding to crack open the good Book once more, reading through until the time came. He felt a sense of peace and contentment he hadn’t felt before, even when he caught a glimpse of horns and leathery wings outside his window. They flickered for a moment before stalking away in the hopes of a better catch.
He heard a knock at the door, a soft gentle rap. No lights flickered. No darkness. Just the same old room he had spent the last three years of his life in, surrounded by small comforts that had made it home. After a second series of polite knocks, Rourke gave a crooked smile and rose to greet his guest, feeling more at ease and comfortable than he had in years. In a way, he felt better than ever.
He opened the door and, of no surprise to him, the fair-haired stranger was waiting for him, dressed in a stainless white button-up and khaki pants, a broad smile on his face. “Mr. Rourke Garfield?” he asked.
“That’d be me,” Rourke replied, the young stranger’s infectious smile causing one to grow on his own features.
“Excellent! I’m glad to be able to speak with you at last! I’ve been wondering when I was going to be able to come meet you. Are you ready?”
Rourke didn’t hesitate, taking hold of the stranger’s outstretched hands and walking away from his temporary home. The mismatched pair, the grizzled old man and the young boy, made their way down the hall.
“It’s just a small walk, Rourke, don’t worry,” the stranger replied, his smile not diminishing for even a moment. “Soon enough, I bet you’ll be wanting to run again.”
Rourke gave a hearty laugh, one that should have alerted Rosita and Donna, who were sitting in nearby chairs, deep in conversation, yet they paid him no mind. “Now, tell me, friend, can you tell me where we’re headed?”
“Oh, I think you know, Rourke,” said the stranger mischievously, his smile still so broad. “After all, everything’s OK now. In fact, it’s not just OK. It’s better.”