Westwind

Terrifier’s Ward

Matthew Muranaga

Adam sat just inside the parking lot entrance against the chain link fence. He took a short drag from his cigarette. The smoke came and the cold air only intensified it. He enjoyed the weather: slightly overcast with a twinge of summer on the horizon. The trees were full, and spring had relapsed back into fall for a day or two. The parking lot of the old hospital was relatively small. At the far end, the fence was covered in moss-green tarpaulin. A seatainer had been retrofitted into an office with a sign hung over the office door “Fifer Security and Grounds Office”. The building was old and ivy had grown well up towards the top floor. Over the years the unintentional retention of rainwater on the wooden windowsills had aged the building remarkably. The stucco façade – whatever hadn’t been covered in ivy yet – was cracking and peeling, unveiling a lighter colored coat of paint. To the side, leading out to the parking lot was a single archway led to the entrance to the ground floor of the building. Sharing the same entryway was an external concrete staircase that spiraled to the top floor of the building. Each floor had its own double doorway to the outside staircase. Adam noticed some doors were hammered shut; others were left wide open with rusty hinges no longer able to support their doors. Outside the parking lot, the street side entrance was closed off completely. The walkway to the grand hospital entrance was closed off with fencing and overgrown with weeds. Off to either side of the walkway the lawn sloped downward, away from the street, displaying a row of dark basement windows. In total there were four rows of windows. Each window was barred off with rod iron, and many of them were broken open. The building was a beautiful, decaying shell of what used to be both a home and clinic for the ill.

When the production team had been doing their site searching, Adam had done some research on the old hospital. He had read that it was once a ward for the criminally insane. That was exciting enough for him to push for the filming location to be this one. But, still, he decided to continue reading.

A family that went by the surname of Fifer had owned the ward, and the ground, to this day, was still owned by the Fifer family. The hospital had been shut down right around the end of the Vietnam War for having used nuclear testing on patients with varying diagnosed syndromes. According to one article, the testing was done on thirteen patients. According to another, the testing was practiced on upwards of twenty. The number didn’t really matter. At least not anymore. Fifer had gone on to maintain ownership of the building and the land it was on, though he had to shut down all operations within the ward. To make revenue, somehow, he started renting out the building as a filming location. To Adam, it was pretty obvious as to what sort of films were shot in a location like this. Which is precisely why he had chosen this location. So he threw it on the table at a production meeting, and the team ate it up. The team had landed a two-day rental deal with the Fifer family (he presumed) for a couple scenes. Day one was load-in. Day two was a full day of filming.

Adam showed up early with the art department van wanting to show initiative as an intern. It proved nothing, as he sat on the ground with gravel digging into his boney ass cheeks, smoking a cigarette with one hand tucked into a pocket of his denim jacket. All he did for himself was create a waiting game. Old man Fifer had opened the gate for him and had quickly retreated back to his makeshift office with not a single word. The only thought that had occurred to Adam was that the man was simply old and grumpy. Pissed off that his family’s old ward had been turned into a dingy filming location. Shit, I’d be stoked to have inherited a place like this, he thought to himself, God knows what sort of shit I could turn this place into. So he ended up waiting, watching as cars drove by behind the green tarp, and listening to the stray dogs barking at each other. One dog kept creeping into the parking lot and insisted on Adam’s attention. It was a cute thing that allowed him to pass the time easier, and for the dog to pass its fleas. The dog was skittish and ran at the sound of large tires turning on gravel.

A moving truck was pulling up to the parking lot gate. Adam stood and turned towards the driveway to find Suzy’s head barely poking out above the truck’s steering wheel. She sat up in her seat so Adam could see her wide smile, and threw her hand up and started waving maniacally. He grinned back and raised a hand in return. Fifer had left the gate unlocked and Adam opened it. Suzy drove in and parked the truck next to the props van. She stepped

(Ha! She had to jump)

out of the truck’s cabin and started walking over to him.

“A ciggy, mi amore?” She motioned towards the bulge in his denim jacket’s breast pocket and gave him a childish grin. He pulled the pack out, flipped it open, and offered her the open pack. She pulled one out and stuck it between her lips.

“How was the drive?” He took the pack back from Suzy and tucked it away into its respective place.

“Not bad, how long have you waited?”  Her voice was soft yet sharp. A slight hint of an Italian accent hung around the syllables.

“Not long. About three cigarettes’ worth of time,” he took a step backwards and leaned against the chain link fence he had been sitting against earlier. The “No Trespassing” sign rattled softly under his weight.

After the property had been reestablished as a filming location, the building was susceptible to vandalism from the locals. Every night the Old Man Fifer stood by, but with a simple slip of a bill or two, a crowd of kids could so easily venture on into the abandoned building and snoop around the hungry halls. With some consideration Adam realized it was wise on the production director’s part to suggest an overnight crew to stay on location. That crew had ended up being solely Susan and him.

“This is good,” she moved to stand next to him but didn’t lean against the fence, “I am glad you did not have to wait too long. Are you excited for this?”

“For now. I don’t know how I’m gonna feel about the stop and wait part. But I’m excited. As for the location, it couldn’t be better,” he laughed and took a heavy drag of his cigarette.

“It gets a little eh…patience…eh…tedioso after a while,” Susan lit her cigarette, “what bothers is the action sequences. After each shoot you go to reset the set so is the same way every time. Jeff will tell you more. He is art director for the film. He should be here shortly.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously, what?”

“About the resetting part after each shot,” he looked to her, standing to his right, “are you kidding about that?”

“No,” she chuckled, returning a look to him on her left side, “you take pictures of the set before each shoot and then after each shoot, you look to the pictures and reset again and again.”

“Well, I am the intern.”

“No, caro. It is just part of being art department. Cleaning up after everyone else’s dirtiness.”

“Sounds great. What about you? Do you have to do anything fun like setting and resetting?”
“No. I just set up once,” she smiled sinisterly at Adam.

Adam nodded. He knew there was intentional humor somewhere in the statement, but he didn’t bother acknowledging it.

“I don’t mind cleaning up as long as it’s easy. Blood splatters, fake body liquids. Nope. No thanks, count me out, bro,” he laughed, crossed one leg over the other and shoved one hand into the pocket of his trousers.

“I’m thinking there will be lots of this,” Susan tossed her finished cigarette aside and leaned against the fence next to Adam.

Adam felt a slight moment of harmony. She had taken a glance at him and they caught eyes. Was it something? I have to take a shit. “Are you a fan of horror flicks?” If I go take a shit she’ll know I’m taking a shit because it’ll take so long. Damn huffs down cigarettes like a beast.

“Not me,” she let out a nervous chuckle, “the other crew says it is haunted.”

“Which crew?”

“The grips,” she turned and nodded towards the incoming caravan of equipment trucks.

Fuck! I have to shit so bad, “I did my research, Suze. No ghosts in this place,” he laughed, dear lord, if only I had an adult diaper.

The grip crewmen and women started unloading the trucks and began hauling their things inside the first floor of the building. It seemed a tedious task maneuvering through the archway and into the small double doors. A couple generators were set up just outside the equipment trucks and a couple guys started running cable to and from the generators as others kept hauling in a wide range of equipment.

He and Susan waited in silence and watched the other crews load their equipment into the building. The production team clearly had their priorities set: the art department is first to show, last to load in, and last to leave.

The camera crew was pulling out of the first floor, and through the double doors Adam could see the hallway lined with lamps, gels, camera stands, and sandbag weights. And we put our shit…where? At least Susan and I’ll have all night to figure it out.

It sure helped to know that a pretty face was going to be keeping him company in the middle of the night. Of course he knew she wouldn’t be keeping him company, but all the same he wouldn’t object to the idea of being left with one less condom in the morning. In the most chivalrous of ways, my dear chap.

The grips were the last to exit the building. It had gotten dark quickly, and Adam started doubting that he and Susan would be able to get all of their equipment in there before Old Man Fifer had to close up for the night.

As the last of the other crewmembers left for the night, Adam grew impatient.

“Where the hell is Jeff? The grounds are closing soon, aren’t they?”
“Yes, let’s just head inside. It’s getting dark. I’ll tell the security guard to lock up. I will text Jeff to tell him we have everything still in the cars but we will stay inside because it’ll be too cold to sleep in the cars.”

“Sounds fine to me.” He let off the chain link fence and the “No Trespassing” sign rattled softly once more.

The two of them headed inside. With a nod of the head, the security guard headed towards the front gate to close up. Susan caught a glimpse of his nametag and called out to him by his first name, “Thank you Terry Fifer, amore!”

Susan and Adam could hear Terry locking up behind them. The hallway was dimly lit, and Adam and Susan made their way past the first couple empty rooms. Down the hallway, it got darker and Adam could make out a couple receptionist desks with old dial phones on the counters. The first floor was well kept. The tiles were ornately decorated with vintage floral décor. The walls were a dark brown with Victorian wall trimming. The crown molding at the ceiling was simple, as were the sconces mounted every eight feet or so throughout the hallway. The first floor had clearly been renovated to serve as the adequate scenic properties for film. Adam doubted any of the other floors would look as nice as this one. They continued down the hall and saw a cove with a handwritten sign “bathrooms” hanging on a single piece of tape. They came up to a room on the left side with sound equipment and a pile of sandbags. Of the rooms closest to the exit, this one was the most welcoming. Adam sat down heavily onto a small pile of readjusted sandbags. He felt his insides jostle angrily.

Fuck, I still need to shit! I’m kissing cotton! Turtle-necking the shit out! Fuck this.

“Hey, Suzy, I have to use the restroom. It might be a while. Are you cool waiting here for a bit?”

She gave him a hesitant look, nodded and said, “Yeah. I’ll wait,” she chuckled slightly at his apparent embarrassment.

“Okay cool. I’ll be back in a sec,” he walked out of the room trying to keep an even pace, not wanting Suzy to see how bad he had to make it to the restroom. A part of him was pretty sure that it didn’t matter at this point anyways.

Adam walked into the dark cove feeling the walls as he approached the outline of the white doorway.  The creaking of the hinges echoed through the hall like nails on a chalkboard. Impatience, and probably a bit of annoyance, took over and he shoved the door open hastily. Annoyed of the sound, or do I have to shit that bad? The restroom was surprisingly clean. A single toilet and washbasin were mounted on the opposite wall of the door. A small, empty trash bin was tucked neatly underneath the sink.

He settled down to his business as comfortably as he could. There was the slight self-conscious hesitance at the thought that Susan could hear him Ker plunking, but after considering the distance between the restroom and their interim sleeping quarters, he would be a little bitch to give a shit. Shitting loud and proud is a man’s business, son, he told himself internally. A couple minutes of silence passed without a hitch and he finished his business. The door swung open without a creak. Maybe the floor is slanted. Weight, hinges, tension, physics, blah blah blah. With the door open, he washed his hands in the sink and walked out drying his hands on his t-shirt. Making his way back down the hall towards their little room, he looked into each doorway as he passed, realizing he hadn’t even bothered to look as he was making his way to the restroom. Too much concentration involved kept me from noticing the little things. He looked into the first room on his left and saw nothing but dark. A circle of light was traced around the floor in the doorway where the hallway light leaked delicately into the dark room. Nothing more could be seen. He reached around the wall to find a light switch and remembered, with the exception of the automatic emergency lights, the power to the building was shut down after the premises were closed. He moved on to the room directly across the hall. It was lit from a strangely incandescent combination of moonlight and streetlights. Despite the mess in the room, there was a pleasant look to the way the light shone in through the cracked glass window. Through the window the park across the street could be seen, and the chain link fence around the building’s premises thinned out in the distance. It was practically not even there. A couple cars passed with only a slight hum of the motors heard inside the room. He looked around the room and saw not much more than trash. The polished concrete floor was severely cracked from wear and tear over the years. The smooth, plain, pinkish walls had small holes everywhere from nails, screws, and tacks having been used to mount different scenic items for various other filming crews. At least that was what Adam had presumed. The thin layer of dust made the polished floor slippery under his cheap, canvas-soled shoes. He took one last glance around the room and made his way back down the hall to where Suzy was waiting for him. She’s waiting for me. Waiting for what? That’d be nice, wouldn’t it? Yeah, well, probably won’t happen. We should check this place out. It’s pretty fucking awesome, but she might chicken out. Who knows, whatever. I’ll ask when I get back to the room. His thoughts rambled on aimlessly as he peered into each and every room down the hall until he came upon rooms with typical filming equipment and decided to call it quits on his little treasure hunt.

He found Suzy reading a book under a book lamp, laying against a small pile of sandbags next to the pile he had arranged for himself. Her head was elevated on a couple of stacked sandbags and her knees were up, supporting the book in front of her as she read intently. Her knees were slightly parted and the crease of her denim shorts had an inviting appeal to Adam. He caught himself looking straight down between her knees at the crotch of her shorts wondering if one of the leg openings would be so generous as to give him a peak of what was good under the hood. One of her legs extended and a foot met his gut playfully. He was startled and involuntarily stepped back, awkward and well aware she had noticed him staring at her goodies.

“You took a while in there, Adam. Everything came out okay?” She smiled wide and mockingly at him.

“Yeah,” he laughed, “but all that matters is that I came out okay.”

They shared a laugh and Adam sat down next to her on his own little pile of canvas sandbags. He pulled out his pack of cigarettes, lit up and offered the pack to Susan. She set her book down on her flat stomach and took the pack from Adam. A lustful wave washed over him as he watched her routinely light her cigarette. He saw the gentle swell of her breasts under her light blue tank top and thought that she might not be wearing a bra, or it was strapless. His imagination raced anxiously. His eyes wondered down to her stomach, concealed by the paperback resting on it – Robert Ludlum’s The Matarese Circle – and tried to visualize her stomach before the thick red paperback had covered it. As if she knew his thought, she picked up the book and was holding out the pack of cigarettes to Adam with a lit cigarette in her mouth. She’s catching me with my eyes all over her. Fucking creep. He took his pack and tucked it away. The idea of reading at the moment didn’t seem so appetizing. Consequently, he dismissed the thought of retrieving some literature from his backpack.

“Wanna check this place out?” he tried desperately to sound casual.

“Ah, I just started on a new chapter.”

“You’ll have all night to read, I just wanna do some exploring.”
“You bored or something?”

“You scared or something?”

Suzy let out a huff – psh! – “Of course, no. You want to go explore so bad? Let’s go,” she marked her page, set the book down, and stood up.

Adam couldn’t help but sense some sort of bravado here. She doesn’t really want to explore for whatever reason. But she’s trying to show me up. He didn’t mind. Suddenly he felt the desire to stay here, in this room, and read alongside Susan. It was your idea to go, you can’t back out, pussy. You are what you eat. She doesn’t strike me as the scaring type of person. She didn’t even want to go in the first place. She’s tense as it is, probably still doesn’t want to go, but wants to prove something. Should I bring a condom? Yeah, like I’d lay down in this place with a woman. He caught himself drifting in thought with his eyes on her feet or – her ankles – he couldn’t tell. Her legs simply mesmerized him. Athletic – and the way her small, bare feet looked in her shoes with her anklet settled just above – her figure is so – her Achilles tendon – beautiful. The initial lust he felt for her dissipated.

“Alright,” he smiled at her, “let’s roll, Kato.”
“What’s Kato?”

“From a movie,” he shrugged, “Green Hornet’s sidekick,” he looked over his shoulder at her as they walked through the door one after the other.

She laughed, “I’m your sidekick?”

“For tonight, if you don’t mind,” he felt perverse, “you know,” he hesitated and grimaced at his awkward recovery, “for our exploration and shit.”

“Of course, sure,” she replied. He could hear a smile in her voice.

He had no reason to feel perverse, but he did. The instances of her catching him gazing at her with lustful eyes, and the thoughts that had been running through his head at too many different moments overwhelmed his composure. Maybe he did have a reason to feel perverse. He had definitely felt cheap. Pushing the thought to the back of his mind, he made his way down the first floor looking to start their journey. They were walking side by side by the time they came to the end of the hallway. At the end of the hall was a door that led to a stairwell. Like the hallway, the stairwell was lit dimly with automatic emergency lights. Adam looked up the stairs and the down, around the landing, and towards the bottom flight of stairs.

“Up or down?”

“You decide,” Suzy replied with a small shrug. The dull light met the light sheen of her skin and accented the contours of her shoulder.

Without a word he started down the staircase to the basement. The stairwell walls were worn. Film crews, for special affects, had apparently dressed some of them. One wall had been splattered in what looked like watered-down red paint. It had dried long ago judging from the dark smudges and layer of dust at the foot of the wall. A single handprint was smeared across a corner of the wall.

“Creepy,” Adam couldn’t contain the sinister grin that crept across his face. He admitted to himself he was quite amused. Some people must’ve shot some badass films in this place.

They reached the basement of the ward and exited into a hall that was lit like the first floor, but much more dimly lit. Unlike the first floor corridor, the basement had polished concrete in place of tiles. There were gurneys on rusty wheels lining the cavernous hall with unmade sheets. A couple had stained pillows at the heads of them while others had old appliances stacked on top of them. One gurney next to the first door to their right had sheets that had been stained in a similar red paint that they had seen on the stairwell wall. These film crews just kind of get their shot and bounce, Adam thought to himself, no real consideration in taking the shit they brought in. Cheap disposal I suppose. The overhead fluorescents were out of order; even if the building had had power to it, they clearly wouldn’t have worked. Some fixtures were missing the strip lights while others remained intact with the exception of a cluster of wires jutting out from the sides. Most of them, though, had been removed altogether and all that remained were small holes in the ceiling with wires sticking out, frayed at the ends.

Taking no notice of Susan, Adam walked on by himself peering into each room he passed. His amusement grew with each echoing footfall. He looked into the third room. In the far corner was a shattered vanity mirror. Nonsensical words and phrases were scrawled across the walls in dark charcoal and red marker. One phrase read, “It’s falling like snow,” another read, “Tortured is the Damned is the Torture of the Damned as the Damned is the Torture of being Damned”. Adam read the last aloud and felt a shiver down his spine. He moved on to the next room. In the corner of his eye he could see Susan following him taking no glances into the rooms she passed. She was clearly nervous. He paid no mind.

The next room looked to be an examining room of some sort. The floor was riddled with medical cards. He picked one up and read at the top “Fifer Ward for the Clinically Insane”. He tried to steady his shaky hands so he could continue reading “Patient No. 8989 young woman, developing growths on back. Skin thinning, severe self-inflicted wounds to throat and face. Nuclear testing for schizophrenia: failure…” he let go of the paper, disgusted, and picked up another. “Patient No. 3266, non-nuclear testing: attempt to bite nurse’s left cheek. While sedated, patient carried on speaking of vibrant blood drying in long black hair. Psych analysis and potential nuclear test eval. as soon as possible…” Hesitantly Adam backed out of the room and let the medical card fall to the floor.

“This place is trippy, Suzy,” he skipped the next couple rooms and came to a room with a large engine in the center. He peered in and saw four oven-like doors lined low against the far wall. Each small door, set in the old brick façade of the basement, had a peephole.

“Suzy check it out! What do you think this room is?” He looked around the room and saw a couple of hampers filled with dingy clothes. Suzy didn’t respond. In another hamper were personal belongings in airtight plastic bags. He sifted through the bags and saw that they were mostly just empty wallets, belts, shoes, and hats.

“Laundry room, or something, Suzy come here! Seriously,” he paused and stared at the large engine in the middle of the room. This is the bottom floor. And these aren’t laundry machines. And they can’t be laundry chutes. He approached one of the small doors and, with the sleeve of his shirt he wiped the thick dust away from the peephole. He bent over with his hands on his knees and peered inside. He remained still with his jaw dropped staring inside what seemed to be a – fucking crematory incinerator. He backed off and bumped into the engine creating a hollow –!bong! – sound and he let out a small moan.

“Susan. Come here,” he stood frozen pinned against the engine. The fright in his chest dissipated enough for him to be freed from its grip and he ran out into the hallway. Little did he know that she had been watching all of this happen just outside the doorway.

There was a moment of silence. It seemed eternal in his mind until a sudden scratching sound came from down the hall. At that Susan leapt into the room with a look of sheer dread upon her face. It was as if she were wearing a malfunctioning jetpack. She stumbled into Adam, and again he bumped into the large engine. This time, magnified by both of their weight, the hollow sound echoed much louder. Adam was unaware he had been holding onto Suzy close to his chest. With her back to his front Suzy had her hands wrapped behind her, holding Adam around his waist. Their clutches were like forged iron. The pain they should have felt from each other’s grip didn’t register. Again, the scratching sound came from down the hall. The sound of a door shutting came soon after, and Adam was sure it was all in his head until Suzy looked up at him. Her eyes pleaded for escape. For a second Adam was sure there would be none. He thought he saw something waving at him in the dark doorway across the hall. He shut his eyes for a second and when they opened back up, the entire basement was dark. As if to ask Suzy what had happened, he leaned forward with his mouth close to her ear.

“The lights. They went out,” she whispered tensely, clearly on the verge of tears.

The sound of dragging feet filled the hall. Accompanying it was what seemed to be another set of feet, stepping heavily. The steps were soggy and wet sounding. Like shoes soaked in water slapping against marble. How far down the hall the sounds were coming from, he didn’t know. And he didn’t want to know. But he’d eventually find out. It occurred to him; the only way to break paralysis would be to find out. So he rejected that reality and stood still with Suzy in his embrace before him. Fright took over and his spine felt hot. The flesh of his face felt soapy and warm. His face pulled back in terror and the hair on the back of his neck stuck out sharply. His gut fell into his balls, and his thighs felt weak. His feet felt as if he had run a mile barefoot on gravel. Susan started shaking uncontrollably. He felt his hands growing clammy on her bare arms. Sweat trickled down the small of his back and his chest tensed. His mouth went dry and his throat felt hot. He tried opening his mouth to say something – anything – to Susan to break their stone-like pose, but he felt it would leave him too vulnerable. He remembered as a child he was terrified of leaving any body part hanging over the edge of the bed or left uncovered by the blankets and exposed. The terror that seized him as a child also now seized him similarly in a way that magnified his paralysis. He wouldn’t dare speak a word. As he would never have dared to make a single move if he were to have heard an unwelcome sound in his bedroom. Even if it had been a tree branch tickling his windowsill he would remain rigid in bed with his eyes pulled open for what seemed like hours. Eventually sleep would take him, but sleep would not take him this time. Something else would. And he wasn’t sure he was quite ready to find out what – or who – it was. A minute – or an eternity – of silence had passed enough for him to be freed from the grip of fright, and he pushed Susan out the door with so much urgency and force, she tripped over herself and went sprawling onto the dusty, dingy polished concrete floor. He went to pick her up muttering apologetic sounds – words were of no importance at this point – but her body wasn’t there. He heard a moan from down the hall towards the stairwell. The sound of a tree branch snapping sounded in the back of his mind – or was it somewhere in the hall – and he lunged towards the stairwell.

“Suzy!” Fuck. He ran towards the stairwell screaming her name. The stairwell was still lit. What door had slammed shut? He didn’t plan on finding out.

The red stairwell wall was brighter than before. His nerves were shot. His senses were heightened, his blood was rushing, his legs were numb but they didn’t stop pumping beneath him, and the sweat on his brow was hot. The small of his back felt as if someone had dowsed it in menthol cream. He barged through the door to the first floor. But it wasn’t the first floor. In his panic, he took one too many flight of stairs too high. He was on the second floor. He took a second to regain some sense, and realized that the second floor was better than the basement. Anywhere was better than the basement. He cowered to the corner just outside the stairwell door and crouched down on his heels taking time to think. Where the fuck did she go? I just left her down there, Jesus Christ. What the hell is wrong with me?! I have to go get her. No, fuck that. Yes! You have to, fucking hell. Take a breather. Just relax a second. She’ll be fine. It was just our nerves getting the best of us. The lights just went out. But the lights up here are fine. But that fucking examining room…

He stood abruptly and felt faint. He stood too fast. The sound of a snapping tree branch came from down the stairwell followed by the familiar sound of scratching. Like a giant cockroach. That rattling. FUCK! It was a horrendous sound and it rang through his head over and over again. He decided he had to go back down to the first floor and hope Susan had made her way back to the room. He sidestepped back into the stairwell and around the two landings he peered down the stairs to make sure the coast was clear. He ran through the door not daring to look down the stairs towards the basement and made for their room towards the end of the hall.

Like each footfall of his in the corridor that he now barged through, a single thought echoed endlessly in his mind. Heap of the damned and the damned heap of the tortured is as ashes from ashes to ashes we all fall down like snow, three times two is six and a six and a six and the patient is sick of black hair of six year olds and the sixty-sixth is only as sick as the sixth just as the six sixty-sixth. It was all nonsense. His mind was in a panic; nothing made sense. He heard a snapping sound. He turned quickly only to hear the sound again. It was coming from above him. Déjà vu washed over him. The taste of blood rose to the back of his throat just as vertigo hit him like a train. The smell of wet copper rose to his nose. Again the noise came loud and at the nape of his neck. Hot sweat stung in his eyes and his glasses jostled as he ran full force down the hallway. He felt rigid; every movement he made seemed to be in slow motion. His breathing was shallow and the night air burned in his chest like the tip of a cigarette: slow, steady, and sharp. His ears began to ring and the sound of snapping tree branches were soon diluted to a dull ticking of snapping twigs. A thud fell behind him heavily. The hallway was endless and the tiled floor was suddenly quiet under his feet. He could see the double doors at the end of the hall but they seemed eternally far from reach. He wasn’t moving. The tiled floor seemed to be cycling beneath him like a conveyor belt and he was racing against it. Desperate for something other than the deathly hall and whatever it was behind him, he lunged for the doorway to his right. He jumped over the heap of sandbags he and Susan had readjusted and turned around, against the windowsill, to peer out the doorway and waited for whatever it was that followed him.

What the fuck. He didn’t have time to process what he was seeing. His heart leapt in his throat and he felt his stomach lurch up into his throat. The insides of his thighs warmed with piss and his knees begged to buckle. The familiar pang of anxiety crept up the small of his back and seemed to perch on his shoulders with thin, cold, sharp talons. His shoulders hunched and he vomited. The smell of rotting meat and diarrhea singed his nostrils, and the smell of copper rose to the back of his sinuses and he could taste cold steel.

Susan stood in the doorway with a grim smile across her face. Dust hung around her cold, blue face in the pale moonlight. Her lips were a deep dark purple, and her eyes were black and bruised. Her shirt clung to her torso with sweat – or is that water? – and her hands hung limply at her sides. She stepped – no she stumbled ­– forward and her single, bare foot landed with a dull slap. Her other foot, still adorned with her cute, sized six and a half shoe, came forward. Her whole upper body lolled and jostled around. Behind her the sound of snapping branches grew louder. Blood was pouring down Suzy’s thighs. The dusty floor was soaking up the pooling blood from her body around her feet. She stared blankly at Adam with a smile that seemed to say Beat you to the punch, kiddo. Thinking you could pull a fast one on ol’ Mettling Martha. He reached out with one hand as if reality were something he could literally grasp. His hand fell limply to his side. He leaned forward with his hands on his knees staring down at the pool of vomit beginning to mix with Suzy’s blood. The snapping came again, but this time it was louder than ever before. He looked up instinctively, but much rather would have kept staring at the bodily fluids congealing on the floor in front of him.

Seeming to lurch over Susan’s undead, catatonic body in the doorway was a gangly human. It had long, jet-black hair that hung around its shoulders. It stepped forward. As it did so it’s kneecap bent backwards and snapped forward again as its foot fell to the floor. The sound was sickening. The next foot came. Adam watched it, mesmerized. This time one side of its hip swung forward carrying momentum that whipped the leg forward. As the creature’s foot fell to the floor the sound of snapping tree branches came again. It threw Susan aside and with a flat, dull thud her body slapped against the wall and slid down to the floor like a wet pancake in a cheap cartoon.

The creature approached Adam slowly. In the moonlight Adam could make out the features of its face. It was flat and white. A woman. A sick, mutilated, inhumane, woman. Inhumane. That was what it was. Its eyes were widespread, its nose was hooked and thin, and its lips were spread widely. A grin crept across its lips. The lips parted and groaned. The creature let out a sound that seemed to have meant to be a chuckle. It was like ripping steel.

Adam backed up as much as he could towards the wall without tripping over Susan’s body. He looked down to make sure he didn’t trip on her body, but Susan’s body was no longer there. In the creature’s bony clutch was Susan. She lay limply in the beast’s two outstretched hands. Its shoulders were hunched over so severely its spine was visible over the matted head of black hair. The creature stood up straight and the sound of snapping wood echoed through the building once again. It stood taller than the doorway. The creature shifted Susan’s body and, with a mouthful of rusty teeth, smiled down at Adam. Adam backed away, hoping the wall would absorb his body. Instead, he hunched down to the floor. In the light of the still night through the wide window above his head, he could make out the thing’s naked torso. Around the thin waist was a cluster of rocklike growths. They looked like gravelly warts. Its chest was heaving heavily as it breathed through its mouth. With each exhale came a metallic groan that made Adam’s bowels loosen. He was emptied from fright.

The creature looked out into the hall towards the film equipment and laughed. The sound of glass shattering sounded down the hall and into the room. The damp footsteps from the basement were heard coming towards the room with haste. The shuffling sounds of scratchy feet followed it. How many of these damned things are there? Adam was against the wall, huddled and paralyzed with fear. The wet spot on his crotch grew wider and darker. He tried to look away from the beast but his eyes were glued to it. He felt the tears running down his face, but it felt like thick hot blood. The sweat trickling down his back was hot and sticky. He couldn’t feel his fingertips as they dug into the cracks of the concrete floor. His nails were cracking and the flesh beneath was bleeding.

Without warning the creature peeled Susan’s head down the center from behind as if it were a luchador mask with a tie-string seam. Like a doctor’s sanitary mask, it pulled the flesh of Suzy’s face around its jaw and began to laugh. Again the sound of ripping steel rang in Adam’s ears unbearably and he began to wail from the bottom of his throat. His mouth did not move. The ball in his throat bounced up and down with each sobbing wail and he felt as if talons were ripping at his throat.

The creature threw the remainder of Susan’s body to the floor in a wet splat. A heap of what used to be a beautiful young woman lay motionless on the floor. Her head was no more than just muscle masked over a skull with one eye lolling lazily out of its socket. Her mouth was grotesquely spread open like she were in dental surgery. Her tongue was black and stuck to the roof of her mouth.

“You’re crying,” the creature’s voice was a horrendous tearing of sanity in Adam’s head.

“My friends want to play doctor,” it went on. The slapping of wet feet and dragging of scratching claws stopped. In the doorway were two dark shapes just as large and just as foul.

“Think you’re up for some treatment, we do,” the creature stepped forward and seized Adam’s stiff body. The clutch was boney and hot. The skin felt like elastic felt masked around a lumberjack’s thick grasp. The smell of sewage rose to his nose and he gagged uncontrollably at the subtle taste that accompanied the smell. It was a raw and humid veil that coated the radioactive creature that was once human.

The last Adam saw was Susan’s face as he was being hauled away by the mutilated humans, yelling soundlessly like she were at the cocktail party of a lifetime.

* * *

Terry shut the double doors behind the young man and Italian lady.

“Good luck, kids.” He grinned at the loop of keys attached to the chain in his belt loop and chuckled delightedly.  He pulled his hat from his head as if to salute someone and turned to the building. He smiled wide. He then headed to his makeshift office on the other end of the parking lot. He sat back in his chair and looked at the schedule hanging over his desk. Two more film crews in the next couple months.

“Why not give them all a show?” he looked out the window and to the building and added, “what do you say, honey? Yup. That’s what I thought. And they thought they could pull a fast one on me. My ward, my world. Your war, honey. Salutations and good games, my dear.” Pinned to the board next to his schedule was a worn and bloodied medical identification wristband. The wristband read “Patient 8989: Barbara Fifer. DOB: 6/6/68 – _/__/__”. Terry kicked his feet up on his desk and opened an old battered newspaper.

“Living in the past, they say. So we are, my dear.” The newspaper headline read:

State Demands Closure of the Fifer Ward for the Criminally Insane for Illegal Use of Radioactive testing on Patients;

Grounds to be maintained under Fifer family ownership

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