It was very easy to creep yourself out at the hospital at night.
Everything in a hospital was industrialized. There was a veneer of warmth in patient spaces—warm lights, nice murals, wood paneling—but underneath that, in the guts of the hospital, things were usually poorly lit and dusty. Hallways full of empty beds with restraints still attached to them. Baby incubators with broken lamps. Pipes that knocked and wheels that creaked.
And that was before you got to any of the people dying.
Because she didn’t know how many people had died in this house—it was so old, she was absolutely positive that multiple people had—Andi did what she always did to make herself feel better. She threw all the lights on.
They sputtered to life like the wiring was old, but they brightened the room a little—enough to keep her spirits up, for now.
And after that, it was time for nursing. A full assessment. Just like she was at work, that’s all she had to pretend.
She walked over to the patient’s bed. Normally she’d have started off by trying to wake him. Even though he was unconscious, he looked strong. That, and the uncompromising way with which Austin’d restrained him—barely any slack on either wrist—made her second-guess herself. Instead, she just lifted up his eyelids to make sure his pupils moved.
After that, airway—he was breathing on his own, albeit with an oxygen mask—and circulation—all of his IVs were good, plus his rate on the monitor was normal. Last but not least, a quick head to toe. She lifted up the sheets. It wouldn’t do to wait eight hours to find out he had a pool of blood growing underneath him, hidden by the linens.
She was surprised to find him naked underneath. He was ridiculously well-muscled. Half of his torso was covered by a large bandage, and what wasn’t was covered in even more tattoos, just like his arms. They were old…formal…and strange. Like words written in a language she not only couldn’t understand, but had never seen before, and she considered herself pretty damn worldly. Or at least she’d watched a lot of National Geographic.
They were almost like…hieroglyphs? But not quite.
Andi ignored the tattoos and went back to frowning at the dressing, mad at herself for not assessing her patient before Austin’d left. It went from his hip to his shoulder, and it was too big to be from surgery. How would they have performed surgery here? Surely, they weren’t that old/rich/crazy. It had pink drainage on it. She put on gloves to touch it and found it saturated.
Which meant it wasn’t doing him any good and needed to be changed.
Andi looked around the room. This wasn’t civil war times; surely, she wasn’t going to use a half-stuffed pillow. Austin had brought the crash cart in from somewhere. Maybe there was a medical supply room down the hall?
“Be good,” she commanded her patient and trotted down the way she thought Austin had gone.
What Mr. No-Name hadn’t mentioned about the house was that it was very nearly a labyrinth.
Though, now that she thought about it, Mr. No-Name-With-a-Fancy-Watch was probably a Blackwood himself. Maybe a distant cousin or something. She had once read a book about a rich family who hired lesser relatives to keep their secrets. Maybe that’s how the Blackwoods rolled.
She went through rooms that didn’t make sense—one filled with wrapping paper. Did Mr. Blackwood really send so many gifts?—a bedroom, a mudroom—even though it didn’t connect outdoors—a kitchenette, a game room, a tiki bar, a closet with enough furs in it to lead to Narnia. She counted rights on her right hand and lefts on her left hand and was able to make it back, but she hadn’t found anything useful. Not even a bathroom. Or a coffeepot.
When she returned, there was a sterile chest vest in its package, sitting on the patient.
The first thing Andi did was to check the patient’s restraints. Because if this was his idea of a “fun game,” then she would strangle him until he really needed that oxygen mask. But he was just like she’d left him; he hadn’t moved. Who the hell had brought her that?
“Hello?” she asked, not sure what would be worse—if no one answered her or if someone did. “Is anyone else here?”
She thought she heard an echo of her own voice but wasn’t sure.
“Okay,” she announced, stepping closer to him. “If someone is taping this to punk me later, let me just say preemptively that you’re an asshole.”
She yanked back the sheet dramatically, hoping to trigger something. When nothing happened—same hot patient, same slow bleed—she pulled on fresh gloves.
The patient’s chest was hairless, which was good because she was ripping an awful lot of tape off of him. Apparently, Austin had never heard of abdominal binders—or maybe this dude appreciated the free wax. She snorted to herself as the last of the tape came free, and the soggy dressing slid off, revealing the wound underneath.
There was no way a “fall” had done that to him—not unless the stairs here grew claws and teeth. The end of the chest tube was expertly taped to his rib cage, like a sleeping snake, but underneath it was jagged rakes of red. It looked like he’d been clawed, but she couldn’t begin to guess what’d done it. She held out her own hand for comparison and couldn’t have done that to him even if she were Wolverine and her fingers fully spread. And then there was a…bite mark? Coming down over one shoulder? No wonder his lung had popped.
She glanced back up at his face. Had his head gotten hit, too, in his fight with whatever the hell this had been? Or had he just freaked the fuck out and gone catatonic? Because if something big enough to do this decided to pretend she was a cat toy, that’s what she would do.
She frowned at his wound for a thoughtful moment, then expertly wrapped him up, making sure to pull the sheet up to his neck, exactly how she’d found him.
“I don’t know what you got into, but I hope it doesn’t get into me.”
Then she walked away from the bed and sat on one of the library’s leather couches.
The downside of not having her own phone meant not having her ebook app for reading. She scrounged a few of the old books left on the library’s shelves. Management at the hospital never got that you had to do something to pass the time at night—that some nights you weren’t getting paid to work, so much as getting paid to just stay up and be there in case there was work to be done. She opened up The Count of Monte Cristo and started reading.
Hours passed. At work, she’d nap on break, but there were no real “breaks” here to speak of, plus she sure as hell wasn’t sleeping. She checked on the patient regularly, tried to pretend medical supplies hadn’t just appeared when she needed them, and that there was a way falling down stairs could do that to a man.
Halfway through her book, she had a thought.
What if…the patient here really was Mr. Blackwood and they were torturing him so they’d get his fortune?
She looked from her book to her patient. No, she was just getting ideas from her book. It was almost five a.m. That was when everybody started feeling loopy. Humans just weren’t meant to be up this late.
But what if… Whatever other crazy idea she was going to have evaporated when she heard a child’s voice.
“Help me,” it pleaded.
Andi jumped up and whirled, feeling her heart race in the silence.
Had she heard that? She had to have. She’d been up late plenty, and she’d never hallucinated before. And yet, just as she was about to talk herself out of it, she heard the voice again.
“Please, help me,” it begged her from farther away.
Mr. No-Name hadn’t mentioned anyone else in the house.
But for a house this big, it would be normal to have more staff, right? The staff was beneath attention and mention. But maybe Blackwood senior or junior or third cousin once removed was into Bad Things, and this was the only chance whoever needed help would have to escape to safety?
“Oh my God, can you hear me?” the voice sobbed in a desperate panic. “Please be real. Please…and come find me!” the voice cried.
Andi took one look behind herself at the patient—safely sleeping just the way he had all night long—and then went racing after the voice.
She tore through the strange house, following the voice as sometimes it sounded far away—sometimes closer—always pleading. If whoever was calling her felt safe enough to ask for help, they must really be alone.
“I’m coming!” she shouted. She finally felt like she was on the trail. The voice became louder, the calls more frequent, summoning her to a bedroom outfitted like a dungeon. The walls were lined in green velvet wallpaper with ornate patterns burned out against it, and black leather furniture-like objects were arranged tastefully—almost like art—if Andi hadn’t known what they were for.
She ran through it at top speed into the next room and found herself in a room almost exactly like the basement of her first home when she was growing up. Orange shag carpet, tan wood paneled walls, with a green felt regulation pool table sitting in the center of it. Same dingy light overhead, the same scent of cigarette smoke lingering in the air.
“Are you kidding me?” she whispered as she stopped in her tracks. The balls were racked and ready to play. All she was missing was Danny, her partner in crime. Pool was their father’s favorite hobby. They played it with him incessantly any time he visited, hoping that someday they’d be good enough to make him stay. Whenever he left, she and Danny would play against each other for hours, practicing for the next time. They’d win his love someday, they knew it….
“Help me!” begged the voice. It sounded like it was just one room away now. She ran for the door like her chalk-dusted memories were chasing her—so quickly she couldn’t stop herself and wound up falling.
Into a pond.
Andi bobbed up for air, gasping, surrounded by lily pads as wide as dinner plates and peals of laughter.
“Stop that!” she shouted, looking up to see who was laughing and finding only another high ceiling with a star-like chandelier. The laughter didn’t stop.
Someone was having a very elaborate joke at her expense.
She felt herself turning beet red and swatted at the hip high water, then felt her ankles sink. Somehow, the bottom of this koi pond—inside the house—was mud. She panicked and kicked her shoes off, losing them to the murky depths in her rush to swim to the pond’s side and clamber back out the way she’d come. She was totally sodden, and now she didn’t have any shoes. “Fuck you,” she told her unknown assailant. “And fuck this.”
The laughter stopped. There was a rustling behind her, and a chill went up her spine—the cat appeared. Grimalkin walked over and meowed at her with cross-eyed disapproval, before sitting on his haunches to lick a paw judgmentally.
“Do you believe this?” she asked him, gesturing to herself and her surroundings. Grimalkin started purring loudly in response, which sounded a bit like laughing.
“Get it together, Andi.” She pressed the heels of both hands to her eyes until she saw flashes and composed herself.
This night was cancelled. The second she got her money she was leaving this crazy place.
She stomped back the way she’d come, racing through the green-walled dungeon and found herself back in the room with the patient three doors later. Andi stood in the doorway and blinked at the impossibility of it all.
“No way!” But he was still alive, at least. She glanced over the numbers on his monitor—all within healthy ranges—then realized she could hear herself dripping on the hardwood floor. She scurried over to where the bed was, but she wasn’t sure dripping on a rug was any better. She remembered one of the rooms she’d been in earlier and dared to find the coat closet again.
Hiding inside of it, she took all her wet clothes off and pulled on a fur—huge, black, and fluffy.
She didn’t even care if she got the fur dirty. At this point, Mr. Blackwater, or whoever the hell was laughing, deserved it. She just wanted to go home.