No one was more naturally skeptical than Hannah.
She’d probably stopped believing in the tooth-fairy before she even lost a tooth.
So her buy-in changed everything. Ed frowned and then nodded.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket and thumbed a quick text. Ray saw it was addressed to Gina and said simply “gone on adventure. Dont wait up.”
Gina would probably kill him for leaving her out or for not bringing her and her guests ice first. But the way the weather was looking, she’d be able to collect ice from the sky soon.
Hannah was wrapped up in her black mohair trench-coat, Ed was wearing a wooly beanie, but Ray was not cold. In fact, he felt like he was burning up. He wasn’t about to say so though. With any luck he had a temperature and would wake up to find this had all been a bad dream.
The rain seemed to fall thicker and harder as they drew nearer to the hospital. By the time they rolled up outside, Ray could hardly see the two main floodlights. A drenched security guard came running up to the window. It was a different shift from earlier and the previous night and the guard didn’t recognize Hannah. She signed her name on the form and explained that she was bringing in a patient. Ed had been all too willing to “act mad”, but Ray had persuaded him that stare into space, much like he usually did, would probably be more convincing.
The security guard ran his eyes over Ed, then pressed the button that opened the boom. “Awful weather we’re having, eh? Very strange for this time of year.”
Ray could see Ed was chuffed with himself when they pulled up beside the admissions door.
“What now? Should I wait in the car while you get her? I could be your get away driver?”
Ray and Hannah exchanged glances and then they climbed out of their separate doors.
“Oh, there’s a way you could be of much greater assistance,.” Hannah said, opening Ed’s door. She smiled at him, then reached in and hauled him out by the elbow.
“What do you mean? I thought you said I didn’t have to do anything?”
“You don’t,” Ray confirmed. “Just do what you did before, stare into space, look blank.”
“Why? What are you…” They were walking towards the admissions door and Ed must have seen the sign because he jerked himself away from Hannah. “No.”
“Relax.” Ray grabbed him again. “They aren’t going to hurt you.”
“I’m not crazy! You’re not going to check me into a madhouse!”
Hannah grabbed his other arm and, between them, they managed to drag him bodily through the door, where some people in white rushed to assist. His yelling and struggling was working in their favour.
“The office,” Ray breathed to Hannah.
Ed was unwittingly causing the perfect diversion and Ray knew he’d be able to slip off without anyone paying him any mind. The easiest place for them to rendezvous once Hannah had checked Ed in would be the office where Hannah sometimes worked. From there, they could work out how to liberate Erin.
It was a perfect plan in theory, and it very nearly worked. However, just as Ray was about to make his getaway, Ed suddenly became very still. He was staring in front of him, looking blank as Ray had asked him to. What was he playing at? It took Ray a beat to realize he wasn’t playing… and he wasn’t staring into space. He was staring at something. Something that wasn’t there.
Ray followed his gaze and focused on the point he was staring at. Sure enough, the darkness was contorting around that point, rising up. Shit. He tore his eyes away from it and glanced at Hannah. She was also staring at the darkness. They had left their flashlights in the car, but the foyer was bright… so the lights would have been useless anyway. Either that or this particular shadow was desperate. Desperate to do what though? To kill Ray? Or simply stop him saving Erin? The orderlies helping escort Ed to the front desk hadn’t seen the thing. They were saying soothing things to Ed that he very clearly wasn’t hearing.
“Dude what is that thing?” He demanded of Ray. “Do you see it? Is that what you were talking about?”
“He’s hallucinating.” Hannah stated to the medical staff. “He swings from manic episodes to hallucinations frequently”. She sounded incredibly calm, considering.
“Can you give us his name?”
She gave them a fake name, Ed was still staring at the dark mass, mumbling about it as it grew greater and greater.
“And what is your relationship to him?”
Their voices seemed to grow distant as Ray focused on the darkness, concentrating all his energy on seeing it clearly. It wasn’t like the ones in the garage. They had been tall pillars of strength. This one was moving, contorting as if in pain. It could grow in the shadows of the corridor that led off from reception, but it could not come into the brightness of the fluorescent light. Light was affecting it.
All at once, Ed tore himself away from the hospital staff and made a dash for the door. Ray’s gut response was to run after him to stop him escaping but he controlled himself. He had needed a diversion and this was it.
Without even glancing at the huge shadow, Ray dashed down another corridor. He didn’t know where it led, but he did know that there were maps of the building outside the elevators. If he could find an elevator he could find Hannah’s office. Whether he could get there without being burned alive was another question entirely.
That was when the lights went out.
The whole building plunged into darkness. Startled voices shrieked.
Ray’s heart stopped. He hadn’t realized before now how he had been relying on the lights as a barrier – a shield. As long as he stayed beneath the clinical fluorescents he knew that he was safe, or at least safer. Not only was the dark their territory, where they were strongest, but he stood no chance of even seeing them. None at all. He threw himself sideways against a wall. The impact made his burned shoulder sear. He gritted his teeth and pulled his cellphone out of his pocket. Its dim light wasn’t much at all, but at least he could see two feet in front of him. For all the good that would do.
Where was Hannah’s office from here? He had a vague idea of how to get to it if he followed a specific route, he didn’t have any clue how to get there from this particular corridor. Especially in the dark
Should he go back and find her?
No. There was a known threat that way. That gigantic shadow was now free to do whatever it wanted.
What if it had already done something to Hannah?
Ray stopped that thought before he devolved into pure panic. It wanted him. She was only in danger if they were together. So he started to feel his way along the corridor, away from her.
His heart was pounding too loudly, the sound of his pulse in his ears loud enough to nearly drown out his own thoughts. He imagined dark creatures right in front of him, walking into burning pain… and his throbbing shoulder served as a constant insistent reminder of what that pain felt like.
There was a movement in the darkness ahead of him.
He started. His skin prickled, his chest tightened. Was it just his imagination? He stood dead still, all his senses focused on the point where he’d seen – or sensed – movement ahead. Could he still see the creatures in the darkness if he knew they were there?
“Dammit” said the darkness.
His veins flooded with relief. A human voice. A female human voice. From somewhere near the floor.
“Who’s there?” he tried to ask but no sound came out, he cleared his throat.
“Who’s there?” the darkness in front of him echoed.
Ray dropped to his knees where he felt he was level with the voice, “I was about to ask the same thing.”
“Doctor Cuddehay,” the voice said, “and you are?”
“Ray Livermore. A visitor to your hospital.” He thought fast “I… my friend works here and asked me to meet her in her office… but the lights went out before I could find a map”. He paused for a second, “May I ask what you’re doing on the floor?”
There was a hollow laugh. “Searching for my torch. I know that I had one in my bag, but the problem with the lights going out is that it becomes impossible to find things in here.”
Ray didn’t hear much after the word “torch”. His heart started racing.
“What’s your friend’s name? I can probably give you directions. No one knows this place as well as I do. It may be tricky finding the office in the dark though.”
Ray suddenly realized he didn’t know the name of the Hannah’s supervisor. “Actually, my friend’s an intern.”
Suddenly there was a blinding flash of light and for half a second Ray thought the room had exploded, then the voice ahead of him exclaimed,, “Ah ha!” and lowered the beam of her small maglight.
She was an elderly woman in a white coat with pale blue overalls beneath. “Well that does make it a bit more tricky.” She climbed to her feet, slinging her bag over her shoulder, “Do you know what floor the office is on?”
He thought back to earlier when he’d been in that office. It seemed like years ago. He couldn’t remember the floor, but he could remember staring out of the window at the rain. “Second I think”.
“What kind of work does your friend do?”
How was he supposed to know? She dealt with mental patients? What kind of work was there?
“I really don’t know…”
“Well,” the woman said, shining her torch ahead of her and setting off purposefully, “Lets go to reception. If your friend has any brains they’ll come looking for you there and if they don’t at least you’ll be comfortable. No use walking around in the dark…”
The image of the large dark creature at reception flashed in front of Ray’s eyes. He put out his arm to stop her. She looked up, curious. “Is there a problem?”
“Kind of,” he’d always been bad at thinking on his feet. “Yy friend doesn’t really know to expect me… she’s not really a friend…erm… more a girlfriend and… and I’ve been overseas for a while… and she doesn’t know I’m back yet… and I really would like to surprise her.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed in the hard glow of the torchlight. She didn’t believe him.
“You’ve picked one hell of a time to surprise her.”
Ray didn’t know whether she was referring to the time of night (what time was it anyway?) or the power failure. He knew he needed to say something though, so he forced a smile. “With any luck I’ll be standing in front of her the instant the lights come back and I can shout ‘surprise’”.
Dr. Cuddehay laughed a jolly mother Christmas laugh and patted him on the arm. “Long as you didn’t cause the power outage with this plan in mind.”
He asked the question he’d been dreading the answer to, “are these outages common?”
“No! Not at all… the hospital has its own generator. It is quite unusual. I can only imagine the weather has something to do with it. Lucky we don’t have any patients on life support at the moment. As it is, I’d imagine it’s rather traumatic for most of them. We try to establish routines and then something like this happens.”
At her mention of the patients, Ray’s heart skipped a beat. He’d been so concerned with finding Hannah’s office that he hadn’t even thought of Erin. Images of her cowering in the corner of her cell while he chatted safely in the silver circle of torchlight sickened him.
“When I came through reception, I overheard some of the staff talking about something else strange that happened earlier. One of the patients went in for her scans and they all came up blank… don’t suppose you’ve heard anything about that?” He was hoping that she had heard rumors, that the whole thing hadn’t been kept under wraps. Mostly he was hoping that her talkativeness would give away Erin’s location.
What he wasn’t expecting was, “My dear, I was there.”
The room seemed to spin. She had been there. It was almost as if fate had sent him help. Fate… or something else. What was he thinking? This was crazy talk… and yet wasn’t this whole situation crazy? Dr Cuddehay was busy explaining how she didn’t know how the information had leaked out because only a few people had been there but anyway he shouldn’t worry about it, and of course Ray was too busy worrying about it to pay any attention even though he knew he should.
“Next thing they’ll be saying she’s a ghost.” Dr Cuddehay finished.
“I suppose you have her in a special room?” Did he sound too interested? “You know, just in case?”
Cuddehay laughed again, “Oh no, she’s in a normal room in Block B like all the other schizophrenics. I assume it was simply a case of equipment malfunctioning.”
He wanted to ask more, but feared arousing suspicion. Instead he latched on to what she’d said “Block B? Schizophrenics? My girlfriend’s office is somewhere near there!” It was a long shot but it seemed the easiest way to get the information out of her. “Where is it?”
He hoped there were offices near there, he hadn’t noticed when he’d been there earlier. His fears were unfounded, Cuddehay simply smiled and gave him directions. Then she narrowed her eyes again. “Here, you’ll need this more than I will.” and gave him the torch.
She had no idea.
He accepted the torch gladly, telling her he’d leave it at reception for her when he left. Now he had the light, he could try to find Hannah’s office, meet up with her and then work with her to free Erin.
But the dark building was more of a threat now than when he’d said he’d meet her.
She was safer in her office… and Erin was safer if he didn’t waste any more time.
He watched Cuddehay make her way towards reception and then turned to face the darkness.
Erin wasn’t far away… he just hoped he wouldn’t be too late.