This story was a Halloween prose prompt challenge in Writer’s Carnival.
I awoke to darkness, but I wasn’t scared. It had been dark here, now, for as long as I could remember. I had chosen ward B, hospital bed number 136, as mine the day I took up residence. I survived consumption, and although the cough still bothered me, there was no blood. So, things must be okay.
Swinging my legs over the side of the bed, I let them sway, stirring the layers of cotton skirts against my ankles. I never undressed for bed. It hadn’t occurred to me to do so for a few years now, but I didn’t seem to smell.
The unlit ward was gloomy, but the gaps in the wooden boards nailed over the windows letting in slices of light to cut across the floor told me it was dawn.
I laced up my sensible shoes. They were the last gift from the goodwill before my mother had died, here, in this very bed, in fact, and left me to succumb to the grips of tuberculosis.
I wished I, too, had died. Being an orphan in hiding turned out to be a lonely place.
The delivery man would be along soon. I only saw him once a week, and exchanging those few words became the highlight of my existence. His liveried van had seen better days, and I would hear it laboring up the long overgrown driveway to the huge gray building long before I could see it.
I never knew which entrance he would choose, so I couldn’t let him in. I usually waited in the white-washed, cobweb adorned reception area for him to appear. His suspenders creaked as he walked and his face, beneath his cloth cap, always broke into a smile, although, I could tell he felt sorry for me.
‘Get some sunshine on ya skin, lass,’ was his favored farewell as he loaded my arms up with cheese wrapped in muslin, a loaf of soda bread, and, joy of joys, a slab of fruit cake.
I threw away most of the food, more often than not. My anticipation of eating always outshone the experience. I would eat, and still feel hollow inside.
Sunshine, too, was a pleasant thought, but the reality was feeling only the biting cold of the wind which drove me back inside the hospital as dread cramped every muscle.
I checked my watch, and chuckled. The hands always said it was 3 o’clock, but the habit of looking remained hard to break. I just knew he’d be here soon, and I scuttled along the waxed floor, disturbing the carpet of talcum-powder fine dust into a misted dry ice effect.
On the ground floor, more light bled in between the rotting boards nailed over the windows. Some were damaged where kids had broken in over the years. And while it was not at all romantic to my mind, petrified girls were inclined to cling to sweaty boys, and one thing always seemed to lead to another.
Sound carried in the cavernous carcass of the hospital and my imagination provided the rest. I laughed, a coughing fit racked my body, and I sank to the floor.
What was that? Voices drifted in, riding on the motes of dust dancing in funnels of sunshine. Footsteps outside. I pressed my hands over my face. It was a long time since I had seen any ghosts. I thought they had moved on.
Their garb became more confusing with every sighting. The last ones had brought with them a weird contraption which filled the wards with lightning bolts, but there was no thunder.
Then there were the ones who came and sat in huddles with things covering their ears as though noise hurt them. They stared at green screens and whispered, and I was sure they had escaped from the insane asylum five miles down the road.
I hung onto the hope it was George, the delivery guy, but he didn’t talk much, so I knew I was wrong.
The front door creaked as the handle turned, and I dived out of sight. It was too late to go back upstairs. I found myself inside the office where filing cabinets lined the walls.
During moments of boredom,I had read every file contained within, and knew the fate of the rest of those who once lived in my village. My own file remained incomplete. I had sunk into a fever induced coma and no one had seen fit to record what happened after that.
The breeze gusting around my bare ankles told me they had gotten in. I took refuge under the large mahogany desk. Folding my bony body into the space meant for the chair, I held my breath and waited.
The door handle rattled, and chains clinked menacingly. Perhaps these, too, were asylum inmates.
Lost souls seemed to always end up here.
“The door’s locked,” a female voice whispered.
The clinking chain noise scraped, grinding against the door, and then, slowly, it opened.
I fitted the image to the sounds as the rusted hinges creaked.
“Bingo,” whispered a male.
“Why are you whispering?” A man’s voice, thicker and older filled the room and I put my hands over my ears.
What do they want… not me? Please, not me. I’m not ready to die.
The girl laughed, a nervous tinkling sound which danced up and down my spine.
I peered out of my hiding space and saw three pairs of feet. Two sets were wearing weird, garishly decorated shoes. My mother said shoes only came in black or tan… I suddenly felt cheated. These had the silhouettes of two girls sitting back to back on the heel, and were white and silver.
The loud man had black shoes with laces, like my father used to wear. I missed my father.
Curiosity got the better of me. Does this man have whiskers like my father, too.
I crawled forward until I could see the ghosts. They were staring at the photographs on the wall. Doctors and nurses ranged in rows across the sepia prints, standing to attention with stiff smiles on their faces.
The patients not in comas were positioned in the foreground, sitting in bath chairs or on crutches. My mother was there, and my father. The glass covering their faces was clean where my fingers had rubbed over it a thousand times, as though I could absorb their memory.
The girl leaned closer and gasped.
What have they seen?
“There,” she hissed.
The young male nudged her aside, staring too. “You’re right…”
My curiosity burned like embers inside. It was a long time since I had felt warm. I edged forward, suddenly not caring if they saw me.
The girl abruptly rubbed her arms and made a ‘brrrrr’ sound. Startled, I stepped back as she swung around, walked towards me, and then she was gone.
From behind, I heard her hushed voice. “She is here. Amy is here. I felt her.”
I turned and absorbed the expression of wonder on a face which looked remarkably like mine when I was healthy, and she looked straight through me.
Amy? My name is Amy…