Ashes to Ashes Page 22


“What have you experienced?” Rebecca asked. “If you don’t mind me asking.”

He stuck another toothpick in his mouth. Dex nodded at it. “Can I have one? I used to chomp on these fuckers myself.”

Oldman raised an eyebrow but took a container of them out of his pocket and offered one to Dex, who confidently popped it in his mouth. He shot me a cheeky look. “Just like old times, kiddo.”

Oldman waited patiently for Dex’s attention to return to him. Once he did, he continued. “My experiences have been all over the map. If you believe in ghosts, they would frighten the hair off your chest. If you don’t…I’m sure you’ll find some way to explain it scientifically.”

“And do you believe in ghosts?” I asked.

He smiled quietly, eyes glinting beneath those glasses. “All historians believe in ghosts.” His toothpick bobbed from his lips. “Let’s see. On this floor I’ve seen the little boy. Many people have seen him, including previous ghost hunters.”

“Elliot,” I said.

“Is that his name?” he asked curiously. “Suits him. I often see Elliot when I’m here, day or night. He’s usually going after a rubber ball. I’ve seen ghost hunters place toys around on this floor, trucks and the like, and I’ve seen them move as if he is playing with them.”

“Anything else?” Dex asked.

Oldman eyed Dex in surprise. “That isn’t enough? No, I suppose it isn’t really. But the boy is a kind soul, never playing tricks or doing anything malicious.”

“Do you know if he plays the xylophone?”

His lips crooked upwards. “Ah, you’ve heard the music. I have never seen evidence of him playing any instrument, but you must understand there were so many children here over the years, so much energy in one place. No one knows where the music comes from, but we at least know it comes from this floor. You can sometimes hear children giggling and laughing too, or the sound of footsteps and children running past, though you can’t see them. I’ve experienced all of that on this floor.”

With that we left the room and walked down the hall back in the other direction. Toward the room with the light. My heart started racing as we neared it. I had to find a way to point it out.

Oldman showed us one of the rooms, saying, “As you can see, these rooms are smaller. They were private or semi-private, while the other rooms for the lower class were bigger, having sometimes twenty children squeezed into one room. The rich could afford privacy and space. Sometimes the kids were older, in their teens, and they were kept separately.”

While he spoke, I kept walking down the hall, trying to ignore the pounding in my chest as I neared the room. Once I saw a glimpse of the desk and the lamp, I stopped. I didn’t dare poke my head inside.

“Hey, why does this room have a desk and a lamp?” I announced, thinking I sounded totally fake. I kept the questioning look on my face as Oldman, Dex, and Rebecca came over. Oldman walked in the room which gave me the courage to do the same.

The lamp was turned off, the desk covered in a thick layer of dust. The window behind the desk was boarded shut for unknown reasons. There was a crooked picture on the wall, a painting of a girl that caught my eye.

“This would have been an office,” he said. “Perhaps one of the doctors who was stationed on this floor.” He went on to tell the history of some of the doctors who came to work at the hospital but I stopped listening. I was totally fixated on the painting.

It looked exactly like the girl I saw in my dreams. Brown hair, dark eyes, and a smile that seemed more wicked than joyful. Was this Shawna? I felt myself staring deeper and deeper at the painting until I heard the voice of a young girl whispering “Perry” in my ear.

I jumped and turned around. There was no little girl behind me. The three of them were ignoring me while Dex was trying to turn on the lamp.

“No electricity up here,” Oldman informed him just as the lamp’s switch went click and nothing came on. I looked at Rebecca as if to say I told you so but she just shrugged in return.

“Hey, what’s this painting about?” I asked, motioning to it. “Kind of weird that it’s just hanging here.”

“Perhaps it was a favorite patient or the daughter of one of the doctors,” Oldman said without much interest. “Shall we move on? If you folks are really interested in the horror stories of this place, this floor isn’t the one to give them to you.”

We all nodded and followed him out of the room, me being the last one out. As we went, I absently glanced into the room across the hall, the one that I’d seen the bad thing go into.

The little girl in the painting was standing in there, her pale hand holding onto a leash.

She smiled at me with cold black eyes and menacing teeth.

I screamed bloody murder and stumbled backward, trying to run away, just as the girl vanished before my eyes.

Dex was at my side in seconds, holding me at the waist, while the rest of them ran over.

“What happened?” Dex asked, brow furrowed with concern as he looked me over and then the empty room.

I shook my head, my mouth Sahara dry. “I…I just saw a girl. A little girl. Like the one in the picture. She was standing right here.” I looked over at Rebecca who was pursing her red lips. “I’m serious. I know what I saw.”

“I believe you,” Dex said. “Are you sure it was the one in the picture? The one right in there?”

“Yes!” I cried out, my chest feeling squeezed. “Yes. She looked the same. She smiled at me. She was holding onto a leash.”

“A leash?” Rebecca asked, her voice rising.

I nodded meekly. “Uh huh. But I couldn’t see around the corner to see what was at the end of it.” I looked at the historian. “Have you ever heard of people seeing a little girl before?”

“Yes,” he mused, sticking his hands in his pockets. “But she’s usually on the fourth floor, not this one. I didn’t know what she looked like either, but if she’s like the girl in the painting…perhaps I should take it to the museum and do some background work on it.”

“No offense,” Dex said, “but that picture is probably there for a reason. I don’t think removing it would be a very good idea. We have to live here for the next few days, if you catch my drift.”

He nodded. “I do. I guess it’s not really helping that I’m telling you these stories then.”

“Occupational hazard,” Dex said with a quick smile. “We’re all used to shitting our pants.”

“Lovely, Dex,” Rebecca said coolly. She slid her eyes over to me. “Are you okay to continue?”

I exhaled. “Yes. I’m fine. Obviously that just scared the shit out of me.”

“Hey, come here,” Dex murmured, pulling me into an embrace. “You stick by me, okay? I don’t want you seeing anything without me.”

I nodded and we started for the third floor, Rebecca throwing me looks of concern—or pity—as she and Oldman walked ahead. Gah. I’d like to see how she reacted if she saw a dead girl.

As we climbed up the staircase to the next floor, Dex whispered in my ear, “Do you think that girl was Shawna?”

I swallowed hard. “I think so,” I whispered back. “She’s at least the girl from my dreams.”

He paused on the step we were on and stared blankly at me. “What dream?”

I glanced up the staircase to Rebecca and Oldman who were almost at the third floor. “Oh, it’s nothing.”

“Perry,” he said sternly, his eyes turning dark. “You know it’s never nothing. What dream?”

“I’ll tell you later,” I said, and then continued up the stairs after them. I really didn’t want to get into a conversation about my crazy dead grandmother in front of a stranger.

He let out an annoyed grunt before running up after me, loose coins and keys in his pockets jingling.

“So this is the third floor,” Oldman said, voice slow and measured. “This was where the dirty work happened.”

“Dirty work?” Rebecca repeated.

“This is where the morgue is. Where the operating rooms are. Some of the rooms were used as a barber and a dentist office for the staff. I’m sure you know by now that if you worked for the hospital, you weren’t allowed to go home until there was a cure. No one could risk infecting friends and family members in the town below. Everyone was truly isolated up here.”

We looked down the hallways. They looked the same as downstairs except there were fewer rooms and many had metal doors with the white paint peeling off. It was also a few degrees colder. I voiced that to Oldman.

“You’re correct about that,” he said. “But I’ve been here when it’s cold enough to see your breath, cold enough to freeze water. That’s something you can’t really explain.”

“So tell us something about this floor,” Dex prodded him. “What have you seen here? What have others seen here?”

“Do you want me to show you something?” he asked. “Follow me.”

We went down the hall to the left, pausing in front of a closed door. He put his hand on the knob. “This is the autopsy room. Or as some people have called it, the room of blood.”

He pushed the door open and it groaned on its hinges like a wounded animal. There was nothing but dust and darkness in front of us. He turned to Dex. “Do you have a light on that thing?”

Dex nodded seriously, flicking it on. Rebecca and I stood in the doorway while the men went into the room, Dex’s light illuminating the walls in a harsh glow. To my surprise, the room wasn’t empty, not by a long shot. Somehow this made things even more disturbing.

There were counters and a couple of sinks, closets, and large metal storage cabinets all along the walls that were decaying with splotches of rust. In the middle of the room were three tables, all spaced well apart and bolted to the floors. Large operating lights hung above them, looking like a doctor was about to switch them on at any moment. To the side of all of this was a giant compartment with six slots—the body cooler.

Every bone in my body felt frozen. There was no way I was going in that room. I looked over at Rebecca, who was biting her lip and watching as Dex and Oldman walked over to the operating tables. I knew she felt the same, even if she didn’t say it.

“Shine the light here,” Oldman said, pointing to the middle table. “You see this ring around the edge? That acted like a moat to catch the blood. The doctors had little understanding of tuberculosis and how it was transmitted. They thought if they could study it, they could find a cure. Of course, as time went on, they did fewer autopsies. What was the point? You’ll notice the cooler there.” He waved at the metal block with its compartments. “Only six bodies could fit in there at one time. Because the disease was so highly infectious, the dead were moved out of here right away.”

“Down the body chute,” Dex said.

Oldman eyed him. “Yes. You’ve heard about that, no doubt. I believe the doorway to it is somewhere in this room, but I haven’t bothered to look. I don’t like to push my luck.”

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