Estimated reading time — 28 minutes
Shawn took one last drag of his cigarette. He didn’t smoke regularly, but this occasion nearly called for one. It had been years since his last job interview, and it was all he could do to stop his hands from shaking. He looked at the cigarette and remembered the time he had promised his parents to never do such a thing. Now he wished he had time to start another one. The numbers on the dash of his car read 0754. Time to go inside. Shawn flicked his cigarette and collected his papers, stepped outside, and took a deep breath. He read the massive steel banner atop the building. Although the place seemed surprisingly well kept and the banner said “Grassy Plains Behavioral Health Center,” he could see only dark clouds, a bolt of lightning, and the words “Insane Asylum”. He knew these places rarely called themselves that anymore, but deep down they were one in the same.
Shawn made it inside the building and was greeted by a friendly nurse at the reception desk who directed him to the security office. An older man, Shawn guessed to be around sixty, introduced himself as Earl Fitzpatrick: Chief of Security. “How are you today, Shawn?”
Shawn was almost surprised hearing this. For many years he practically had no first name. “I’m fine sir, how are you?”
“Why do you seem so shocked? Forget your name?”
“No sir, I’m just used to being called Myers. That’s all.”
“Ah, right, you’re a military guy,” Earl said, unimpressed. He stared blankly at Shawn and looked down at the paper, as if something didn’t quite add up.
“How old are you again, Mr. Myers?” he asked.
“Damn, and with a resume like this? How are you twenty-four if you spent five years in the Air Force? Did you join at fifteen or something?”
“Seventeen, sir. There wasn’t much of a job market where I’m from and they said they’d pay for my college so I signed right up.”
“Did they? Pay for your college, I mean?”
“Yes, sir. All four years. I did it all online while I was stationed in England.”
“I see,” he said and shuffled his papers. “Well, let’s get down to it. I have to say, your resume is quite impressive. Five years Security Specialist in the Air Force, one tour in Iraq, Bachelor’s in Applied Science of Criminal Justice,” Earl removed his glasses and put the resume on the table in front of him. “Seems to me like you’re a little overqualified to be a security guard at a hospital. What the hell makes you want to work here?”
Shawn thought for a moment before responding. “No offense, Mr. Fitzpatrick, but I’ve been through a lot over the past couple years and figured I would work a job with a little less stress. Maybe one day I’ll go on to become a cop or something, but for now, hospital security seems like a bit of a break for me.”
“I see,” said Earl. He looked away from Shawn and back to his papers.
“You were discharged under less than honorable conditions, Mr. Myers. Now I guess you don’t have to elaborate on that but I have to say I’m curious.”
Shawn heard the question Earl didn’t ask.
“Well, sir, um…I was seven months into my second tour overseas when my wife, Chloe, was in an accident. She was driving during a severe thunderstorm and ran into a tree across the road.” Shawn gulped and struggled to shoo away a tear he felt forming. “She didn’t die. Not right away, at least. She was in critical condition though and I tried to get home, I tried so hard. But my request wasn’t approved in time and she… succumbed to her injuries. I couldn’t get out of Iraq. I missed the funeral. The second I saw my commander I punched him as hard as I could, right across his face, for denying my leave. I know it was wrong, I just couldn’t help myself. So, when I finished my tour, they gave me the boot.”
Earl looked at him with interest. He dropped his gaze and muttered something like “I’m sorry to hear that.” Then Earl sat up straight again and said: “Look, we’re dying for some good people here. You seem like you’ll fit the bill. I’m gonna skip all the normal interview mamba jamba and say this: I like you!” He threw his hands into the air to exaggerate his point. “I want you here. In fact, I would like to make you an offer you can’t refuse. I’m old as dirt, there is no denying that. I’ve wanted to retire for fifteen years. I just can’t find anyone the hospital admins find worthy to run this pile when I leave. Yeah, I have a few guys working under me already but you! You seem like you would fit the bill. This may be more than you bargained for, but I’d like to offer you my job as the Chief of Security. Of course, the hospital administration will have to approve it and all but I think I can work some magic. Hell, they’ll be happy to get me out. What d’ya think?”
“Uh, Mr. Fitzpatrick, I don’t know, that seems like a lot. I mean I’ve never even been here before. How am I supposed to run all of this?”
Earl chuckled. “It’s nothing! It’s mostly making schedules and other paperwork. I’ll show you the ropes; you’ll get it in no time.” When Shawn didn’t answer, he went on. “You still seem unsure, so how about this. I’ll talk this all over with the admins and see what they think. If they like it, it’s yours. If not, well, we’ll hire you as an officer anyway. It’s a win-win for you! How ‘bout it?”
Shawn thought hard but not long before agreeing to the terms. The two men shook hands and agreed to stay in touch.
Shawn got a call less than forty-eight hours later. The admins were apparently just as impressed with Shawn’s resume as Earl was, and the job was his, if he accepted it. Shawn did accept the job and returned to the hospital for the paperwork and training. In the meantime, Shawn used Chloe’s life insurance to fund the seventy-mile move to Cambria from his home in Millertown. He settled down in a rather large three-bedroom house on an acre of land a short drive from the hospital. It was a house Chloe would have loved.
The death of Chloe had made Shawn what some might consider a rich man, at least in rural Pennsylvania. All of his belongings were transferred with the help of his brothers and a couple of friends, and after the last box had been unpacked, the group went out for a celebratory drink. It felt good to Shawn. He hadn’t quite been himself since his discharge, and his friends knew it. They had a good night at the bar, but Shawn had something else on his mind. He almost felt bad for moving so far away from Chloe’s resting place as it was routine to visit her grave often. But he found other ways to cope.
Shawn began his first unsupervised shift on a warm April Monday. While walking from his car he noticed a figure in a window to his left. About six windows away he could make out a young man, perhaps his own age, looking at Shawn from the West Wing. Shawn waved hello to the man. In return, the man motioned for Shawn, as if to say “come here”. The man’s face was emotionless. Shawn ignored this gesture and continued walking.
Upon entering the hospital, he was greeted at the desk by the same nurse that gave him directions to the security office the day of his interview. He learned her name was Riley. She had greeted him almost every day of his training and had once even winked when he passed by. She was beautiful: a young, thin, brown-haired woman, and Shawn was convinced she had a crush on him. He felt a twinge of guilt for being so attracted to her.
“Hi, Mr. Myers,” she said flirtatiously.
“Please, call me Shawn. I like it better. I went five years by the name Myers and, believe me, those weren’t my best days.” He said this with a wide smile, showing off his white teeth, courtesy of Air Force Dental.
With a cute giggle, she replied “Okay! So, Shawn, a few people and I are going to The Cozy Table for lunch. Want to come? It’ll be good for you to meet more of the staff and just relax, you always seem so uptight! I know, I know, the military does that to you. Anyway, you should come.”
Shawn gave his best smile. “I don’t know Riley. I’d love to but-”
Shawn was interrupted by a scream.
“HELP! THEY NEED HELP! THEY NEED HEEELLLLLPPP!”
Shawn sprinted toward the source, an old woman standing at the end of the hallway waving her cane around while she screamed.
“What’s wrong? Who needs help? Where?”
A laugh came from behind the woman, and Shawn bolted up to see a middle-aged white doctor approaching. Shawn stood bewildered as the man grabbed the old woman’s shoulders and walked her into the third room away–all the while she kept hollering.
Shawn then realized that it wasn’t just the doctor cracking up, but also Riley and the other nurses at the reception desk. Shawn blushed with equal parts embarrassment and confusion. He could hear the doctor in the room quietly speaking to the old woman, who had finally stopped her rant, before he re-emerged into the hallway.
“Sorry for laughing Chief! I’m Dr. Jansen.”
He held out a hand that Shawn shook, still confused.
“Uh, hi. I’m-”
“Mr. Myers! Chief of Security. The Army man!”
Shawn was about to speak when Riley came to his side and spoke for him. “That’s Air Force man to you! And call him Shawn. He likes that better.”
“My apologies, ‘Shawn he likes that better’.” Shawn laughed more out courtesy than humor.
“No, don’t worry about it. Uh, what just happened?”
“Oh, that?” asked Dr. Jansen as he started to laugh again. Even Riley chuckled. “That’s Mildred. She’s been here longer than I have.” He sighed, then continued. “That’s just what she does. Take your eyes off of her for more than a minute and there she goes, screaming for help. She’s a permanent patient. She fell off of a horse in the early ‘90s and developed some brain damage. She’s selectively mute.”
“She sure is loud for a mute person.”
“Selectively mute, Shawn. It means she can talk, she just doesn’t,” Riley explained. “Nobody really knows why. It usually develops at a young age in children but I guess she’s a different story. Our best guess is that it’s a result of the head trauma. In fact, her family thought she was completely mute before they brought her here. That cry for help is the only thing she says. It happens every day. I’m surprised you haven’t encountered it yet.”
“Wow,” Shawn said when he could think of nothing better. Nobody said anything after this. Before the silence became awkward, Shawn added: “Well that’s my health lesson for today. I better get to my office. I’ll see you guys around.”
“So, I’ll see you at lunch?” asked Riley.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll see you at lunch.”
The following couple hours were quite uneventful save for some paperwork, just as Earl had promised. As noon rounded the corner, Shawn leaned back in his seat and flipped open his wallet to reveal a picture of Chloe, worn from all the times he had removed and replaced it. She had made her way into his mind, as she often did, and Shawn sighed. He liked Riley. In his mind, that was not a good thing. When the news came of Chloe’s passing, he had pledged his heart to her, silently promising to remain faithful to their marriage despite his widower status.
Doesn’t that seem a little ridiculous now? He thought to himself and then felt guilty for even considering it. What am I thinking? It’s just lunch with coworkers, not a date!
“Hey, you!” Shawn nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound, dropping his wallet onto the floor. It was Riley at the doorway. He smiled and stood, reaching a hand to wipe a tear he just noticed was there.
“I’m sorry! Are you okay? Is this a bad time?”
“No, no it’s just, uh, allergies.”
“It is that time of year… Anyway, are you still up for lunch?”
Shawn bent down to retrieve his wallet. “Yeah, I suppose so.”
The pair walked out together and made it to the lot before Shawn realized they were walking alone.
“Where’s everyone else?”
“Huh? Oh, they couldn’t come. Tyrese got tied up with a patient and Maddison brought her lunch, which is weird. We always go to The Cozy Table on Mondays.”
“So, it’s just us.”
“Yep. If that’s okay. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. But I know you’ve been here since seven o’clock cooped up in that office all day. You’ve got to be dying for something to eat.”
Shawn couldn’t help thinking just how beautiful Riley really was. He had never seen her in good light, and she seemed even thinner, athletic even, with a gorgeous smile and picture-perfect teeth. The scrubs she wore seemed like they were made for her, fitting tight to her body. Standing about three inches shorter than Shawn himself made her a tall woman, and if he had to guess her age it would be no older than twenty-three. He shook off the guilt building up.
They took Riley’s Ford Focus after Shawn stated he had no clue as to the route. The Cozy Table was a small family diner in town, and in it, the two ate. Riley spoke little about herself, more interested in Shawn’s story. In all fairness, his was more interesting. Shawn spoke little about his early life, sparing Riley the boredom, and instead started his story with his military career. He talked about his time stationed in Europe and his tour in Iraq, sparing the details of his wife and her death. Not because he didn’t want her to know, rather because it pained him to talk about. Especially to another girl on what had mistakenly become what seemed like a lunch date. He ended it with the moment he first walked in the doors of the hospital, assuming she knew the rest, purposely jumping over the part of the story which he left the military hoping she wouldn’t ask. All the while Riley remained as upbeat and flirty as he knew her to be. Shawn made a conscious effort to not reciprocate the flirting, while subconsciously being friendly and not fully turning her away. To the uninformed individual, this may have seemed like Shawn was playing hard to get, but in his mind, he just couldn’t bring himself to resist her temptation.
Riley’s demeanor grew serious. “Shawn, do you believe in ghosts?”
Shawn nearly choked on his food.
“Uh, yeah, I suppose I do,” he replied. “Do you?”
“Well… I don’t know. Have you ever seen one?”
“Then why do you believe in them?”
Shawn gulped and prepared himself for his answer. “See… I once lost someone very close to me. Before then I never did believe but,” he fought back a tear, “after their passing I guess I wanted to believe. I wanted to believe in spirits because, well, maybe she was one. And maybe she follows me around. Maybe she’s still right next to me. That’s why I believe. It just makes me feel a little better knowing her soul is still around me.”
“Oh. That’s deep. Have you tried to contact them? You know like a séance, or a Ouija board or something?”
Shawn shook his head. “See, I wasn’t there when she needed me. I’m afraid of what she might say if I did communicate with her. Besides, the only thing I would know to say is that I’m sorry, and if she’s a ghost that follows me around, she already knows that.”
“That’s so sad. Do you mind if I ask who it was?”
Shawn was silent for a moment before lying. “My grandmother. We were real close.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Shawn. I didn’t mean to bring anything up. The only reason I ask is because, well, there are a lot of people who believe that our hospital is haunted.”
“It’s an ‘insane asylum’ of course it’s haunted. Have you ever seen a horror movie?”
She blushed, perhaps a little embarrassed. “Yeah, I guess. But I have to say that it can get pretty spooky at night.”
“Have you ever seen a ghost?”
“No. But I had to cover one of Maddison’s night shifts one time. And I swear I kept hearing noises from the West Wing. Not footsteps or stairs creaking but, like, screaming and crying. I know that stuff like that isn’t uncommon in a hospital, but this was different. I don’t know how but it was. It was only me and a couple of other nurses and Dr. Jansen. I tried to talk to them about it but they acted like they had no idea what I was talking about. But I swear it’s true.”
When the bill came, they both reached for it, touching hands for only a second. Their eyes met, and Shawn quickly removed his hand, the check still in it.
“Oh, Shawn, let me pay! It was my invitation. Besides, you’re new. Call it a welcoming gift.”
Shawn almost argued that it was the gentleman thing to pay for a meal. But he didn’t. This isn’t a date.
He slowly handed the bill back to Riley, expecting a surprised look that he had given up so easily, but no such look was given. She simply smiled and took it to the counter.
The following two weeks yielded nothing out of the ordinary. Warm days kept coming, Mildred kept screaming, and Riley kept flirting. They had gone to The Cozy Table two other times, and she had even come to Shawn’s house after a particularly busy day under the guise of returning the office keys he had dropped in the lot. She had been exiting the hospital just behind him when his keys dropped. She tried to yell for his attention but was unable to get it. Shawn was shocked to see her pull into his driveway moments after he did.
“Hey, handsome! Hope you don’t mind I followed you home, you dropped your keys!”
Shawn stopped in the doorway and took them from her hand and thanked her for bringing them.
“My mom used to say I would lose my head if it wasn’t attached. Thanks again, really, I appreciate it.”
“Don’t mention it,” she replied. “I’m sure you would do the same for me.”
She took a step back to admire Shawn’s home. “Wow! Shawn, you have such a nice house! How many bedrooms is it?”
“Oh, my. And you live here all alone?”
“I see. I know how it is to come home after a long day like today. To an empty house. Eat dinner alone. It really gets to me sometimes, you know? You ever feel that way?”
Shawn knew the feeling all too but only shrugged in response.
“Well I’ll leave alone,” said Riley after a deep breath, hanging her head and playing with the gravel at her feet, “I’ll see you in the morning.”
As much as Shawn tried to refrain from giving in to her flirty persona, he couldn’t help it this time. Inviting her in, at least for a little while, seemed like it was just the right thing to do, even for a man with a dead wife.
“Hey,” he said just before Riley got back to her car, “I can’t just not invite you in. Why don’t you come inside, just for a bit? I’ll give you a tour, maybe you can stay for dinner if you’d like.”
“Well,” she said with a sarcastic thinking face, “I guess I could stay for a little while.” She excitedly hurried to the door, and Shawn let her in.
After a tour of the two bedrooms he used for a study and for storage, they moved along to the living area, the screened-in back porch, the dining room, and lastly the kitchen. It was at this point that Riley asked: “So you aren’t going to show me your bedroom?”
Shawn didn’t want to explain to Riley that he had pictures of Chloe and other personal items in the room he wasn’t sure he wanted her to see. Instead he decided to make an excuse something along the lines of the bed was unmade but before he could, she said playfully, “That’s alright. Maybe you can show it to me after dinner.”
He couldn’t be sure if she was genuinely interested in seeing the room or if she meant that sexually, but the latter scared him.
Maybe scared isn’t the right word. In fact, he wanted her. Despite his best effort, he just could not resist Riley’s charm. She was just so… perfect. It almost felt like his high school days, when he and Chloe had first started seeing each other. In another world, Shawn would have pounced at the opportunity to have a relationship with such a fine woman. But these were special circumstances. He had already pledged his heart to another woman, and that is what scared him. He may not be able to fulfill his promise; if Riley tried to sleep with him tonight, he would oblige.
Shawn threw together his mother’s recipe for Manicotti. He ate it slowly. He was still playing out what possible scenario might occur after they were done. Riley had removed her blouse and now sat across him in a white tank top. She stated that it was warm which struck Shawn as odd; he liked to keep it cool in the house.
“That was delicious, Shawn!”
“Well, what can I say? My grandparents are Italian.”
Riley giggled loudly at this. They sat for a moment, just smiling at each other.
Suddenly, Riley leaned against the table and played with her hair, revealing at least two inches of cleavage.
“So… about showing me the bedro-” She was interrupted by Shawn’s work cell. He was both relieved and frustrated to hear the ringing but answered it nonetheless.
“Hello,” he said into the phone.
“Chief? Chief, it’s Payne. There’s been an emergency at the hospital. It was Mildred. God, she went bat shit crazy! And I don’t mean crazy like normal crazy, that’s why the old bitch is here in the first place!”
“Well? What’s going on? Do I need to come over?”
“Yeah, Chief, we’re gonna need ya.”
Shawn looked at Riley, who seemed disappointed. He pulled the phone away from his ear, pointed at it, and mouthed, ‘It’s work. Sorry.’ She waved a dismissive hand before getting up to put on her top.
“Alright, Payne I’ll be there soon. And goddammit, stop calling me Chief! It’s just Shawn!”
He hung up the phone and walked Riley to her car. “I’m sorry about this. I still hope you had a pleasant evening.”
“I understand,” she said, “duty calls.”
They stood awkwardly for a few seconds before Riley hugged Shawn around the neck, standing on her tiptoes to do so, and then saying goodbye.
* * * * *
Payne was standing outside the main entrance when Shawn pulled in. Payne was a short lanky man of twenty-one years that Shawn didn’t much care for. He seemed lazy and rarely shaved his face no matter how patchy his hair came in. He was hired as a security guard just days after Shawn started his new position and seemed a little intimidated by Shawn.
“What’s the deal, Payne?”
“Well, Chief… uh, I mean, Shawn… Mildred, she was screaming, ‘Help, they need help!’ over and over! So, when Dr. Andrews went to go talk her down, she stabbed her! The old bag stabbed Dr. Andrews right in the face with a fork from dinner!”
They started to run into the building. “Where’s Andrews now?”
“EMS took her as I was calling you. She’s at the ER now, I’m sure she’ll be fine, but Mildred got her right in the cheek. My God you won’t believe the blood.”
They rounded the corner into Mildred’s room to find her missing.
“Well, where the fuck is she?”
“She took off. She still had the fork and before we could get Dr. Andrews out of the room, she busted her window with her cane and booked it.”
Shawn kicked his foot against the bed.
“You expect me to believe a woman who can barely walk jumped out of the window and ran off?”
“We weren’t exactly worried about that, Shawn. We had a bleeding doctor to worry about!”
“Alright make sure this mess gets cleaned up. Call in the rest of the security team, ask them to come in. We have to find her.”
Only four of the six officers cared enough to roll out of bed to aid in the search. The first evening yielded no results. Shawn knew the woman couldn’t have gotten far. She was old and brittle and walked with a cane for crying out loud. The search during the second evening was composed of local PD and volunteers who had more luck. Shawn received a call Wednesday night not two hours after his chaotic shift. They found her.
Shawn met a Cambria police detective in front of the hospital and explained that Mildred was found in a field just shy of two miles from the hospital. She was discovered at the bottom of a steep hill with a broken neck. The story was that she must have walked the distance, an astonishing feat for a woman in her condition, until she met the steep decline, where she lost for footing and tumbled down like Jack and Jill. It was the detective who made that comparison, laughing while he said it. The detective had likely seen dead bodies before, but Shawn had seen the process. More than once during his time in Iraq had he seen a man take his last breath. Shawn didn’t laugh.
The following evening, Shawn’s day off, Payne called in. Shawn wasn’t surprised that all other officers were “unable” to cover, so he took it upon himself. Payne was set to work a night shift, something Shawn had not done yet. He had also never done a routine patrol, outside of the military, of course. His job so far had been just as Earl Fitzpatrick had told him it would be: a lot of schedule making and paperwork. The thought of actually getting to patrol the grounds excited Shawn, he was just beginning to think he couldn’t handle sitting at the desk anymore.
He got there at ten that evening and began walking along the East Wing of the hospital. It was storming horribly; a storm like the one that took Chloe.
Walking along he told himself he wouldn’t, but he couldn’t help stopping when he passed Mildred’s room. He looked up and down the hallway to check for any observers before unlocking the door and shutting it behind him. Turning on a flashlight, Shawn scanned the room, not sure what it was he hoped to find. He looked at everything left to right before something caught his eye. A white piece of paper stuck out from the end of a pillowcase. Puzzled, Shawn picked it up. From what he knew, Mildred had lost her fine motor skills years ago.
The chicken-scratch handwriting read: West Wing needs help, THEY NEED HELP!!
The paper interested him. He could count on one hand how many times he had gone into the West Wing of the hospital. From what he understood, those patients were the worst of the worst as far as condition. Most of the patients on that side had such severe mental health problems that they were so doped up until they couldn’t walk or talk.
But then Shawn remembered what Riley had told him the first day they went to lunch. That she heard screaming and crying. Was it possible that Mildred was hearing the same sounds, all the way in the East Wing? Surely, if an old woman could hear it, it would be loud enough to alert the staff. Unless she was right about the ghosts. This was an old hospital, and surely many patients had died there.
Putting the piece of paper in his pocket, he thought: Maybe I’ll go check it out. After all, it is my duty to investigate.
He exited the room as stealthy as he entered and made his way toward the West Wing. An older nurse was just walking out of the wing when Shawn approached and he decided to wait until she was out of sight before he went in.
After walking down the hallway, he immediately realized that this area of the hospital was not kept up as nicely as the rest. Dust covered the floor and a faint putrid smell filled his nostrils. Sure, this section wasn’t visited as often, but it should still be treated the same by maintenance. Shawn had just stepped passed the fifth room when the lights flickered. From outside he heard a loud crash of thunder just before the lights went out completely. It only took a few seconds before they came back on, but they were much dimmer now. Must be the backup generator.
He kept walking. He could definitely tell what Riley was talking about. Of course, the dim lights had something to do with it but it was creepy as all hell in that place.
Shawn turned a left corner to see a boy around age twelve about twenty feet down the hall. Shawn jumped, startled by this. The boy had long scars all across his stomach and was bleeding from the head. A grown man with a medical uniform painted with blood and a face that was impossible to see in the darkness stepped out from an open door behind the boy and the boy began screaming loudly before charging at Shawn. He turned quickly and fled the way he came, only to run into a middle-aged woman slumped, seemingly dead in a wheelchair. She hadn’t been there just moments earlier! Her hair was white and her eyes were sunken deep into their sockets. Shawn jerked in time to avoid falling directly onto her but tripped over the footrest on the front of her chair and caught himself just before his face met the floor. His flashlight flew from its place on his belt and rolled away from him, but Shawn paid it no mind. The woman in the chair began to scream just as the boy was. The screams were so loud!
Shawn kept running. Every room he passed revealed a face at the window, all beating on the glass and screaming, “Help! We need help!” All except one black man who laughed maniacally while pounding his head on the small window, leaving bloody cracks in the glass. Ahead a hand busted through the glass of a door and caught Shawn by the shirt. Shawn desperately fought to get it free and pulled himself away so hard that his shirt began to rip. The man on the other side of the door released his grip and Shawn fell to the floor. Another rip of thunder crashed and the lights went out again.
Shawn laid on the ground in a panic. It was pitch-black save for the emergency exit signs on either end of the endless hallways. All around Shawn could hardly hear himself think over the roar of cries for help. He could hear the boy he ran from getting closer and this was the motivation he needed to finally get to his feet and run blindly toward the distant red glow. He wasn’t even sure he was running in the right direction, but was too afraid to run along the wall for fear that he would be caught in another man’s grip. Trying his best to run in the center of the hall, the glowing exit sign grew closer and Shawn knew he was approaching the end.
The lights flickered on, and Shawn had never felt so happy. He bolted out of the hallway doors, passed the reception desk, and out into the parking lot. He stopped only when he got to his car. He couldn’t just leave, could he?
He took a moment to catch his breath. He was breathing dangerously hard and could feel every beat of his heart thumping wildly in his chest. He tried his hardest to calm himself and slid against his car until his bottom hit the pavement.
I didn’t even run this hard on my last PT test.
“Shawn! Shawn, are you okay?” It was Dr. Jansen, running worriedly toward Shawn from inside. He was followed by a nurse Shawn had never met before. Shawn said nothing at first. He wasn’t sure what they had seen.
“Sarah said she saw you running like a bat outta hell, right out the door!”
Shawn assumed the worried nurse behind Dr. Jansen was Sarah. “Is everything alright? Now don’t tell me you’re afraid of the dark.”
Shawn forced a fake chuckle. “No, no I’m fine. Just, uh, felt sick. Didn’t want to barf on the floor, so I ran outside.”
What am I supposed to say? That I just saw a ghost? An entire hallway of them? They should have heard that God awful screaming, but they didn’t. If they did, they would have done exactly what I just did; ran for their fucking lives. But they didn’t. From the looks of it, they were completely oblivious. And my guess is, the same goes for the rest of the night staff.
“I see. Why don’t you just take the rest of the night off? You look like shit, man.”
Against his own will, he said, “No. I can’t just leave the hospital without security.”
“It’s midnight. Nothing ever happens at these hours.”
Shawn laughed. If only. “What about my relief?”
“I’ll tell him you had an emergency. He’ll understand. We’ll keep it on the down-low from the admins. You don’t have to but I would sure recommend it.” Grinning, he finished with, “I am a doctor after all. Besides, you’re the boss. Who are they going to tell?”
Shawn took the doctor’s advice and went home. He felt terrible for leaving but could imagine he would feel worse if he had stayed.
The next morning, Shawn texted Riley to ask if she was working. Coincidentally, she wasn’t. He asked her to come over.
Within the hour Riley had arrived, dressed in a yellow floral sundress.
“Hi! Is everything okay? When you called you sounded… off. Didn’t you work overnight? You must be exhausted! What are you doing up?”
Shawn sat on his couch in the living room, and Riley sat next to him, ignoring the recliner adjacent to them in which he expected her to sit.
“Riley please just… let me talk. Something happened last night. In the West Wing.”
“Oh my God, no. Don’t tell me you’ve seen a-”
“Please don’t say it. I don’t know. But there was something.”
Shawn hesitantly recounted the entire story to her. From the note he found in Mildred’s room to when he got home. A part of him thought he was stupid for telling this to her, but she remained interested throughout his story and he appreciated it.
“That’s so crazy! And you’re sure nobody else heard anything?”
“I’m sure. They had no idea what was happening.”
Riley sank into the couch cushion. “You know, I used to watch this show when I was younger. About the ‘paranormal’ or whatever. I don’t remember which one. Anyway, I’m sure it was all a load of bull but I do remember them saying that some spirits just take to people, just like they would if they were alive. Maybe they just think you’re special and they want to send their message onto you and the other people who have heard things.”
“But why me?” Shawn asked.
“Like I said, special people. I think you’re special. I’ve experienced some things there too, remember? Don’t you think I’m special?”
My God, don’t start this now, thought one part of him. Not at a time like this. The other part of him thought: You know, she never has gotten to look at the bedroom. Maybe if I show her the bedroom, she’ll show me what’s under that dress. The crudeness of the thought physically made him shiver.
“Yeah, but who else has been through this?”
“Honestly I don’t know. We don’t rotate days and nights anymore. Night shift is given to basically anyone who wants it. And the people on it now are the freaks who would rather be there at night. It’s been the same people on nights for months. And none of them seem to notice it.”
Shawn looked out of his window into the yard. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Maybe you can go to someone for help. Like a psychic medium or something. Maybe she can help make sense of all of this.”
The idea seemed ridiculous at first but after some deliberation it seemed like the only option they had. It wouldn’t hurt to try it out. After a long search online, Shawn and Riley drove for forty miles to find a medium near Philadelphia by the name of Madame Woodrow. The drive over seemed silly to Shawn, but Riley seemed rather excited. Which is why Shawn felt bad for asking her to stay in the car.
“What? Why? I want to hear what she has to say.”
“Look, she’s probably full of shit anyway but… I have some demons, okay? And if on the off chance that she’s legit, I don’t you to be there when it comes up. Please, just trust me.”
Riley slowly leaned over and held Shawn by the face with her small, soft hands. Then kissed Shawn on the cheek. Shawn made an effort not to quiver. It wasn’t her fault. She didn’t know about Chloe.
“Okay. But when you come back, you’re telling me everything. Good luck.”
Shawn went inside. He approached an empty table in a small room. It seemed so different from what he had seen in movies. It wasn’t a dark purple room with long drapes or even a crystal ball.
“Hello?” he asked.
“Have a seat, honey. Have a seat.”
Shawn still couldn’t see Madame Woodrow but he did as she said.
“You have come to see me because you are troubled, right? Something is bothering you deeply, I feel it. Something quite worrisome. A conflict in your mind, am I right?”
Shawn was becoming frustrated that he could hear the voice but not see its owner. He began to stand up when a hand touched his shoulder, guiding him back into his seat.
“Now, now,” she said, suddenly standing behind him. “Not so fast. Tell me what brings you to see me today.”
“Shouldn’t you already know that?” Shawn replied.
She looked at him with an annoyed face, one that said, ‘ha, funny.’
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude. Look, I believe there are some, uh, troubled souls that may need my help. I’m not sure what to do about it, because-”
“Give me your hand.”
Shawn was taken aback by her request but nonetheless surrendered his hand to her. She held it tightly, running her thumb back and forth across the back of his knuckles. The woman closed her eyes and pointed her nose to the ceiling.
“Why, yes, I’m afraid there is a troubled soul.”
“A troubled soul? As in, just one?”
“Yes, it would appear so. A girl. A young girl.”
Shawn tried but could not remember a young girl during his encounter.
“She has something she would like to tell you. Would you like to hear it?”
Shawn gulped. His hand was shaking but the medium didn’t loosen her grip.
“I-I-I don’t know, honestly.”
“She says your friend is very beautiful.”
“She says she misses you oh-so-very much. And she says she hopes you stay as happy as you can be for the rest of your life. ‘Love that girl’, she says, ‘she loves you! Almost as much as I did!’”
Shawn ripped his hand from the woman’s grasp. “Chloe? Is that Chloe? Oh my God Chloe, baby, I miss you! Quick, Madame Woodrow, tell her this for me, tell her that I love her so much and I am so sorry for not being there when she was dying.” Shawn was screaming now. “I tried to leave Iraq, I really did! But I couldn’t, and I just felt so horrible. But I came home as soon as I could, and I visited her grave every single day for weeks! Oh, baby, you have no idea how much I miss you!”
Madame Woodrow was quiet. “Well?” asked Shawn. “Are you telling her?”
“That’ll be two-hundred dollars.”
“That will be. Two-hundred. Dollars,” she said, pronouncing every few syllables as if Shawn spoke English as a second language.
“Are you kidding me? Are you fucking kidding me?!” Shawn stood and flipped the table he was sitting at on its top. “Fucking tell her, you old cunt!” he shouted through tears. “Tell her what I said right now!”
“You think I do this shit for free, asshole? You better get the hell outta here before I call the police!”
Shawn thought better of arguing and stormed out, punching a hole into the drywall as he left. He stopped outside the door and rested against the wall to collect himself before walking back to the vehicle. When he got to the car, Riley asked, “Well? What did she say?”
“Nothing. She was a phony, I could tell from the start. Waste of time. Let’s go home.”
They made it back to Shawn’s house just before sunset. The two had hardly spoken a word the entire ride home, and when they arrived Shawn silently removed himself from the vehicle and walked up to the door. He had thought long and hard about what Madame Woodrow had relayed to him.
“Mind if I come in, Shawn?” asked Riley. Shawn sighed and let his head fall against the door. “I don’t know, Riley. I’m pretty tired.”
“I think we could both use the company. Besides, you never did show that bedroom of yours.”
Shawn didn’t respond nor did he look back at her. She continued: “Shawn, look. You were up all day and then worked a night shift. You were tired. Maybe you fell asleep and it was a dream. A terrible, terrifying dream. Maybe when I told you about some people’s belief that the place is haunted, I planted a seed that bloomed in your sleep. Let’s just go inside and relax. You deserve it.”
Shawn was more than confident that he hadn’t been dreaming. But maybe she was right. It was the closest thing he had to a reasonable explanation. He wanted to ask Riley to leave, but couldn’t muster the courage. Instead, he unlocked the door and opened it wide enough for her to walk in next to him. “You’re right, let’s go see it.”
The two went straight to the bedroom and Riley sat on the bed while Shawn spoke about the various objects he had on the shelves and floor. It was pleasing to show someone new his knick-knacks and souvenirs. Although she politely nodded and acknowledged what he was saying, Riley seemed a little distracted.
“You’re pacing, Shawn, or stalling. Either way, you need a break. You just need to sit down and relax for a while. I know all of this is going on at once but can you just forget about it for five minutes. Please?”
Shawn sat next to Riley and hesitantly kissed her. It felt good. It had been almost a year and a half since he had kissed a girl. It didn’t bother him anymore that that girl wasn’t his wife. All he had on his mind was Riley. He had been debating with himself for so long, and he had finally done it. According to Madame Woodrow, it was the right thing. It felt right. Like Chloe had gone away and brought the most beautiful angel God had created and put her in Shawn’s path on purpose. That’s what Shawn chose to believe.
They kissed for a long time before Shawn recruited the courage to put a hand on her thigh and slowly reach it further up her dress. It took less than two minutes for them to take each other’s clothes off and find each other under the covers before they made love.
Following the love session, Shawn lit a cigarette, stale as it was likely from the same box he had bought the morning of his interview. The staleness didn’t bother him. It’s not like he smoked enough to really know the difference. He offered the smoke to Riley, who happily accepted. She took a long drag and coughed the cutest laugh Shawn had ever heard. They giggled and rubbed noses before hearing the doorbell ring.
Shawn sighed, then gave Riley a kiss before lazily getting up to put on a pair of sweats and get the door. Beyond the door was the detective from Mildred’s case.
“Detective, may I help you? Something new with Mildred’s case?”
“No, Mr. Chief of Security. How do you even call yourself that, huh? How do you sleep at night?” He spat on the ground. “You need to come with me.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“You heard what I said. You’re comin’ downtown, let’s go.”
“No, I’m not going anywhere until I know what the hell is happening!”
Several Cambria police officers appeared from behind the detective and pushed passed, grabbing Shawn by each arm. Shawn didn’t resist as they cuffed him and dragged him to the car. No questions were answered on the way to the station. Shawn found himself being led to an interrogation room in the department and was on the brink of tears from his anger and confusion.
After what seemed like an eternity, the detective made his presence in the room.
“Alright, now tell me why I’m here. I haven’t done anything! What’s the deal?”
“You know damn well what the problem is. You’re a damned coward.”
“All of those poor defenseless patients were getting their asses kicked by your crooked staff, and you didn’t do a goddamned thing about it. In fact, you fuckin’ ran!”
Shawn couldn’t speak. His head was spinning.
“All of those poor patients. The ones in the West Wing of your so-called hospital. We know what you people did to ‘em. You drugged them all up so they can’t hardly think let alone defend themselves. Then your crooked staff raped and tortured every one of them.”
Shawn’s jaw dropped.
“That’s right, the jig is up. We have footage of it too. You know that simpleminded little boy who you met in the hallway? Someone had just knocked his teeth down his throat. All those scars on his body? They whipped him that bad. He comes stumbling around the corner and you ran from him. Anyway, his mother had been suspecting something fishy was going on for a while so on her last visit she hid a camera in his room. She went back today and got it. She brought it to us and we watched it, along with all the surveillance footage we could get our hands on from your office. You know what was in that footage? You, running down a hall lined with victims begging for your help. Oh, and one of our officers found this in your house.”
The detective threw a piece of paper on the table in front of Shawn. It was the note he had found in Mildred’s room that read: West wing needs help, THEY NEED HELP!!!
“Sir,” Shawn started, “you don’t understand. This sounds crazy, but… I thought they were ghosts.” He felt ashamed for having said this and felt tears forming behind his eyes. “You don’t understand. The night I was there, nobody else in the hospital even reacted to the noise! It doesn’t make any sense! I swear I never touched anyone! I was honestly scared, but when I ran outside, some staff members followed me out to make sure I was okay! They didn’t act like anything was out of the ordinary. I thought I was just going crazy!”
“Are you an idiot? Who do you think tortured and raped all of these people? Ever think the other staff members were just trying to save their own skins? You don’t get it, do you? It was the night shift! All of them! Every night when the last day crew member left, it was hammering time for these sick freaks. We’ve already arrested most of them. Dr. Jansen, Sarah Fowler, the lot of them. Now, I can’t prove that you physically assaulted these patients yet, but I can clearly prove that you knew all about it and you ran like a roach and didn’t do a thing about it. That’s enough for me to put you away for a long time.”
Shawn couldn’t believe what he was hearing. How could I be this stupid? Have I stooped this low? How can I blatantly see someone in need right before my eyes, and not even know that it’s real? Am I insane?
It took Shawn a moment to realize that this wasn’t the first time he wasn’t there for someone who needed him.
Chloe would be so disappointed.
Credit: Caleb Wilkerson
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