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21 May 2012 @ 12:11 pm
The Real LJ Idol: "Don't Think, Don't Breathe"  
Don't Think, Don't Breathe
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…

Are we back to hos over bros?lissa_bear on May 21st, 2012 07:41 pm (UTC)
This rather terrifies me, especially considering I'm in a hospital four days a week and there are actually places in the building that creep me out (the old morgue, for example). Really vivid and great.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 21st, 2012 07:50 pm (UTC)
Yay! For the way it affected you, I mean, not any confirmation of potential dooooom in the hospital.

I haven't really written horror before, but this prompt steered me right to it.

God, the morgue. Any morgue. I wouldn't want to go there either, no matter what it's been remade into. I wouldn't think that would matter to anything that might be hanging around. :0

Thanks so much for reading one of my non-fanfic entries!
(no subject) - lissa_bear on May 21st, 2012 07:55 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on May 21st, 2012 08:01 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lissa_bear on May 21st, 2012 08:06 pm (UTC) (Expand)
similiesslipsimiliesslip on May 21st, 2012 09:11 pm (UTC)
How scary!

Man. I guess the doctor is getting rid of workers by sending them to look people up? I guess that is one way to avoid firing people.

I was surprised at the ending. Great job!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 21st, 2012 11:42 pm (UTC)
He's either under its control, or he's controlling it, but he's sending it things to feed on. Which... yikes!

I'm glad the ending surprised you-- I'd hate to have telegraphed the whole thing from the beginning. :0
medleymistymedleymisty on May 21st, 2012 10:08 pm (UTC)
Woo yay horror times!!! :) *happy dance*

I LOVE this! So much! I think you do the scary thing very very well, yes. I like the buildup, and then the boom the thing got the narrator!

My theory is that it's possessing the doctor or it's his creation or something, and that's why he keeps sending people down there for it to feed on.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 22nd, 2012 05:19 am (UTC)
Ooh, I'm so glad you liked it!

It's a new genre for me, and that's always risky, but the prompt really leaned that way. To escape the attention of something that's always waiting and watching... so incredibly hard.

You were right about the doctor being possessed by it. He's who sends people down for it to eat. :0
never trust a big butt and a smile: girl!samobeetaybee on May 21st, 2012 11:03 pm (UTC)
Oh, my. This one is going to stick with me for awhile. Wonderful job!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 22nd, 2012 06:48 am (UTC)
Thank you! It's not a genre I've really worked in before, but this prompt really made me want to try it out.

I'm so glad you liked it, and took a chance on reading it. :)
Lose 10 Pounds of Ugly Fat...  Cut Off Your Head.n3m3sis42 on May 22nd, 2012 03:03 am (UTC)
Ahhhhhhhhh! Creepy. The narrator should have just left when the file wasn't there. Yikes. You did a great job with this.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 22nd, 2012 06:49 am (UTC)
The narrator should have just left when the file wasn't there.
What a nightmare. She's trapped by her own sense of duty (and the fear of having to go back again), and that too-long period of thinking that surely the file had to be there.

She was doomed as soon as the doctor sent her on that errand, and didn't even know it.

Thanks so much for reading, and for your kind comments!
jeza_jezaro: hugjeza_jezaro on May 22nd, 2012 03:24 am (UTC)
Oh wow O.o

I was hoping for it to be just imagination, because imagination can be a very powerful force. But the ending was a very nice build-up and it couldn`t have been any other way :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 22nd, 2012 06:51 am (UTC)
It could have been imagination, because once you get yourself worked up over something like that, everything reinforces those feelings and fears.

But she'd seen what happened to the other people, and there's the sense that it may only be a matter of time before she falls victim to it too. :0
(no subject) - jeza_jezaro on May 22nd, 2012 07:51 am (UTC) (Expand)
cindytsuki_no_bara on May 22nd, 2012 04:41 am (UTC)
this is all slow-moving dread and CREEPY AS HELL. i like it! altho i'm also kind of freaked out.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 22nd, 2012 06:53 am (UTC)
Yay! I mean, Um...

It had the effect that I was hoping for, so that was really nice to hear. I don't think I've ever wanted "creepy!" for feedback before, but it's what this story was geared for.

:D :D I'm sorry for the freaking out, but still-- :D :D
m_malcontentm_malcontent on May 22nd, 2012 05:32 am (UTC)
Gripping and intense. The fear is palpable. You establish a fine atmosphere and the ending is appropriately gruesome.

As I was reading I found myself wondering why employees didn't quit on the spot rather than face the storage room...perhaps whatever thing-of-ill-omen resides there is subtly manipulating them into staying?
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 22nd, 2012 06:21 pm (UTC)
I think it's more a combination of "I need this job" (we've seen what horrible places people cling to out of fear of not finding another job) and "Maybe it won't happen to me."

The narrator here didn't believe the stories the first time. Once she discovered they were real, she also realized that she'd survived the experience. From such luck, overconfidence is born. She thought she'd found the secret to staying safe. Little did she know how bad the thing in the room wanted her, and the tricks it was prepared to use. :0
One Phil to Rule Them Alldslartoo on May 22nd, 2012 04:55 pm (UTC)
If you haven't written horror before, then you show a disturbing talent for it. :)

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 22nd, 2012 06:21 pm (UTC)
Hee! I haven't written it before, so, yay! I think. :)
lawchickylawchicky on May 22nd, 2012 06:42 pm (UTC)
OMG- I'm so glad I didn't read this while I was still in the hospital! I had to walk up and down the hallways as part of my recovery and there were so many spots of just dead quiet space.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 22nd, 2012 08:55 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you were "out" by the time this was posted! Your hospital time sounded trying enough without wondering just how "alone" you were in certain, creepy areas. :0
Myrnamyrna_bird on May 22nd, 2012 07:25 pm (UTC)
Great creepy story. You must do more!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 22nd, 2012 08:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Especially nice to hear when trying out a new genre. But what a great prompt for it!
basric: barbra blue butterfly gifbasric on May 22nd, 2012 11:24 pm (UTC)
This is just how AI feel whenever I have to take a body to the morgue at 2 a.m. by myself. Wonderfully terrifying tale.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 23rd, 2012 06:23 am (UTC)
Eeee. I don't think I'd like taking bodies to the morgue, let alone by myself in the middle of the night. It's not the body you're transporting so much as the spirits/etc. that might be lingering in the morgue. :0

Glad you liked it, and that it was successfully creepy!
(Deleted comment)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 23rd, 2012 06:25 am (UTC)
Thank you! It was fun trying out this genre, and working at building the spookiness of it all. :)
jacq22jacq22 on May 23rd, 2012 11:04 am (UTC)
You really do this chilling scene well, I almost felt like saying "Get out of there!"..... brilliant, and a scary end.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 23rd, 2012 04:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

I almost felt like saying "Get out of there!"
I felt that way writing it, too-- "It's a lie! There is no file! Ruuuuuun!"

Thanks for reading and commenting, as always. :)
the_day_setupthe_day_setup on May 23rd, 2012 11:37 am (UTC)
Well, thank goodness for that act requiring the digitization of all medical records by 2013 or whatever. And/or it's just too bad that your protagonist wasn't also brilliant at designing file-fetching robots.

Not a ghost-story fan typically, but this was great regardless.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 23rd, 2012 04:41 pm (UTC)
And/or it's just too bad that your protagonist wasn't also brilliant at designing file-fetching robots.
That's what you really need-- something nonhuman to go into the room and bring things out. Easier said than done, though!

I don't really read ghost stories/horror myself, but it was fun to try this out-- and a great prompt for it, too.

Thanks for braving the genre!