Real lj idol | week 28 | 1271 words
Walking on eggshells.
It's no secret that you have to be quiet—everybody knows that. What they don't know is this:
It's not just how you walk and move, but what you think and feel. Thoughts and emotions are like sounds, like scents, to the things that hide inside that room. They know when you're there. You have to clear your mind, make it still-water smooth like a pond with no ripples. When fear rises up inside you, you have to push it down and silence it. Only then will you have even a prayer of making it through.
I never go anywhere near that storage room, if I can help it. But sometimes, the head nurse or one of the doctors sends me.
Do they know?
We have all the medical files from the last fifteen years on the computer. It's only the older ones that are kept in the storage room in the West corner of the basement. Hardly anyone ever asks for them.
When they do, the unlucky people who get sent to retrieve those files sometimes come back changed.
I don't mean wide-eyed, white-hair changed. I mean that there's something dead inside their eyes, and that their voices are flat and listless—as if whoever they used to be inside is just suddenly gone. Those people get in their cars and drive away at the end of the day, and no one knows what happens to them after that. They don't turn up for work the next day, or ever again. It's as if they just disappear.
All the clerks are afraid of being sent to that room. When the order comes, we sometimes stall a few hours, just in case (terrible to even think it, but panic makes us pragmatic) we get lucky and the patient happens to die first.
I don't know what's hiding in that room, or why. There are rumors: the ghosts of janitors, hospital founders, or construction workers from when the foundation was first laid. The danger is the only thing everyone agrees on.
The first year I worked at the hospital, I was sent to bring back the files of Eugenia Davidson. My co-workers had warned me about the storage room, but I thought they were making up stories to scare the new girl. In years to come, I would wish it had been that simple.
The hallway just outside the room seemed… jittery. There is no other way to describe it. It feels like your skin is agitating against your bones, and you can sense that something is trying to take over and get down inside you. When you open the door, a wave of dread washes over you. It grows stronger and stronger as you stand there, and weakens your will to fight whatever so desperately wants to get you.
Be quick, someone had warned me. Mrs. Davidson's files were in the cabinet marked Ca –De, the second one from the door. I got hold of them and ran out of there as fast as I could, with something like icy fingers grabbing at me as I went.
By the time I made my second and third trips, I'd been at the hospital for four years. I'd seen what had happened to some of the others who'd gone to the file room. We'd lost Denny, Ivan, and Anna, but Jackson had made it through. He and I compared theories, sometimes. It was hard to tell whether we'd really discovered anything helpful, or were just creating formulas that amounted to whistling past a graveyard.
Neither of us doubted for a second just how treacherous that room was. Both of us had sensed whatever lurked there, and felt it relentlessly pressing on us and trying to get in. We'd both admitted to having slammed the door afterwards and raced up the stairs breathless with the panic we'd finally allowed ourselves to feel.
The clerks have a pact: any files removed from the room are copied into the database. Each page is transcribed or scanned, the notations painstakingly entered one keystroke at a time. The whole team helps out, if necessary.
That way, no one ever has to take the file back to the room again.
It's a Tuesday in October, the week before Halloween, when Dr. Halpritz asks me to get the file for Emanuel Kleinfeldt.
"I'll check the computer," I say, hoping against hope that he's in the database. I'm the only clerk on duty, and I don't want to go to the file room.
"I doubt he's there," Dr. Halpritz says flatly.
I notice the cold, dead look in his eyes, and I feel my stomach slip with dread.
I wait two hours, but there is no reprieve. I finally gather the key from the nurses' station, and begin making my way slowly down to the basement.
I have the key ready when I reach the bottom of the stairs. The file room door still uses an old-fashioned lock, after we lost two security techs in the attempt to convert it to a card reader. I steady myself. This part of the journey is about avoiding notice as long as possible.
Calm… calm… I remind myself. I move slowly down the hallway with the lightest of steps, eyes defocused and all my thoughts directed toward seeming blank as a bare, white wall. I feel the jitteriness start when ceiling crowds in and the floor threatens to move. I force it down, willing my muscles to stay relaxed and my mind as free as possible of emotion or thought.
Soon, I am standing in front of the door, letting my hands work the lock of their own accord. When they're finished, it's time to regroup and shift to the second phase of my plan.
I've learned that you cannot search for something while also keeping your thoughts at bay. Instead, the best approach is to keep your mind completely focused on exactly why you're there.
Kleinfeldt, Kleinfeldt, I think, opening the door silently and scanning the cabinets inside. I walk quickly and purposefully to the back of the room, opening the middle drawer of the cabinet marked K-L.
My skin starts to rise up under my clothes, as if summoned the way a magnet summons metal. I make myself ignore it.
Kajold, Karl, Kendall, Kinsey… The room becomes colder, and I search faster. Kittering, Klapp, Koldinski…
Wait, Koldinski? What happened to Kleinfeldt? I look again, double-checking more slowly. A buzzing sensation fills the room, and a trickle of sweat slides down my spine.
Kleinfeldt, Kleinfeldt, I think, trying to fend off my growing desperation. The air turns thick and heavy, but I refuse to give in. I search backwards and then forwards from where the file should be, in case it was misplaced.
The lights flutter—God, not the power!—and I'm hit with the sudden, sickening odor of rotting flesh, so shocking and nauseating that it makes me reel.
Then I feel it, that Otherness, surging from the shadows and pushing its way in. It breaks through my skin and burrows through all the layers of my conscience, seeking the helpless core that is me.
I stumble, grabbing onto something but it's too late, too late! I'm halfway to forgetting, and the rest is slipping away.
My name is gone now. My arms and legs seem disconnected, my entire body no longer mine to control.
From a distance I can hardly process, I feel the backs of my eyes rain down blood. The presence in my mind grows ever larger and stronger as it slowly begins to feed…