Ashes to Ashes Page 23


“So this was called the blood room because of the way they bled the patients out?” Rebecca asked. She sounded slightly disgusted.

He shook his head. “Yes, and no. There were also a lot of surgeries done in here—experimental surgeries. One involved collapsing a lung to get the fluid out. That was the most common one, done to probably half the patients that came in here. Others involved removing ribs or muscles in their chests in order to expand the lungs. Sometimes they would insert balloons into their lungs and fill them with air.” He grimaced and looked at the walls, and I realized the rust might have been blood stains. “It got messy.”

“They actually did that to children?” Rebecca asked.

“Not all,” he said. “But some. They rarely survived the procedure. If they did, they were usually worse off, walking around like their chests had been scooped out.”

“Jesus,” Dex swore under his breath. “I just can’t imagine it.”

“The horrors of history,” Oldman said slowly. “And I’d love to say that a visit to this room was as bad as it got for a youngster. But with rumors of abuse and crumbling standards in Sea Crest, I hate to think of what could be worse.”

“Was there abuse?” I asked.

He cocked his head, considering his answer before saying, “My grandmother never reported anything like that. She was a good woman, saintly almost, who loved to help others in need. But they weren’t all like her. It was hard to be up here, isolated, in constant fear of death while constantly surrounded by it. The nurses had rules too. They couldn’t get emotional over patients, they had to act like everything was fine all the time. It was hard. Many nurses killed themselves. And some nurses, we’ll if you believe the rumors, some went crazy. Took it out on the children. But they are, of course, just rumors. None of this has ever been documented. I should know.”

My body felt like it was getting colder by the moment. This floor had fewer windows than the others, making it darker. If Dex thought we’d explore this floor in the night, he was absolutely out of his mind.

“We should get going,” Oldman said as he came toward us with Dex in tow. “I need to get back to the museum soon and we’ve one more floor to go.”

“But you haven’t told us what you’ve seen here,” Dex pointed out.

Oldman grunted and stopped in the middle of the hallway. “Personally, on this floor, it’s not what I’ve seen but more what I’ve heard. What I’ve felt. I’ve had the feeling that someone was behind me when there was no one there. I’ve heard screams coming from the blood room. I’ve heard wet coughing, like someone is coughing up blood, the sound of wheels going past, and footsteps. I’ve seen a doctor in a white coat standing in the corner of one of the rooms.” He shuddered at that thought. “And I hope I never see him again. Can we get going?”

I picked up on how noticeably agitated he was acting, which in turn made me feel queasy. If the historian wanted to get going, we were definitely going.

“What have others seen?”Dex asked as we climbed the stairs to the final floor.

Oldman gave him a grave look. “It depends who you ask and what their beliefs are.”

“Beliefs?” I repeated.

He nodded as we stopped on the landing. Below us was the darkness of the third floor, above us was the contrasting light of the fourth floor. And yet I felt the fourth floor held more secrets, more animosity than any of the others.

“People have reported seeing the same…creature…on the third and fourth floors.”

“Creature?” I felt icy trails going down my spine. I didn’t want to venture what the creature looked like.

“The fourth floor, as you’ll soon see, was used to house the patients who were close to death and the ones that had gone insane. There used to be a metal gate right here,” he pointed across the stairs, “that prevented them from escaping. As weak and skinny as they were, they were always a threat. Some people say that with all the bad energy, the lost souls, the mistreated patients, the experiments gone wrong, the mass grave—“

“Mass grave?” I interrupted.

He gave me a sympathetic look. “Many bodies were never claimed by their families. They feared the disease would get them, even in death. Superstitions, you know. The dead had to be put somewhere.”

This place couldn’t possibly get worse.

“So what was the creature?” Rebecca asked.

“Many that have seen it believe it’s a demon,” he said. “It looks like a human but isn’t. Crawls on the ceiling and walls.”

And it totally just got worse. That was what the bad thing was. A demon.

A motherfucking demon.

I started to think that maybe Pippa’s warning hadn’t been a figment of my imagination after all.

“Does it ever hurt anyone?” Dex asked in a low voice.

Oldman shook his head and stuck a toothpick between his teeth. “I honestly don’t know. I’ve never seen it. That doesn’t mean it’s not there but…as you can tell, this place will play tricks on you. There’s too much history, too many people who have passed through these walls. You never know what you’re going to get here. And I find that fascinating.” He looked up at the fourth floor. “On second thought, do you mind if we skip that floor? You’re welcome to take a quick look but that whole thing I said earlier about not pushing my luck…”

“No, that’s totally cool,” I said a little too gratefully.

“Do you mind if I just shoot a few seconds?” Of course Dex had to ask that.

Oldman shook his head and sauntered over to the window on the landing, hands behind his back. “Go ahead.”

Rebecca decided to go up with Dex while I stayed at the historian’s side as he looked out the window.

“You know,” I admitted, hoping that talking would calm my heart rate down, “before I knew about this place, I had no idea that sanatoriums existed.”

He smiled quietly. “That was the same back then. Despite these hospitals all over the country—despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of people came to them to die—everyone liked to pretend that this didn’t exist. But it did. You can shuffle people away into isolated buildings and lock them up with false promises of a cure. But the patients, the ones that never saw their families again, they didn’t forget. It’s no wonder this place is haunted. All the ghosts here just want someone to talk to, someone to recognize that they exist, even when they don’t.”

“And the demon thing?” I said, my voice shaking slightly.

“Maybe some ghosts don’t want attention. Maybe they just want to inflict the pain and terror that they felt every day. Maybe some are too far gone in their hate and revenge that they cease to be ghosts and become something else.” He spoke quietly as he leaned in closer and speared me with a shrewd gaze. “Have you seen it?”

I felt like my throat was closing up. I nodded slowly.

He made an “ah” face, then said calmly, “You’ve got a nice energy about you. They like that.”

“Okay,” Dex said loudly as he jogged down the stairs with Rebecca at his side. “There wasn’t too much to see up there. Looks pretty much the same as the second floor, although I think I located the door to the body chute.”

“Dangerous thing,” Oldman commented. “You know they found a runaway girl in there one year. She’d snuck in by the post office and then got stuck for a few days.”

“Post office?” I asked.

“There’s an abandoned one down the road. The body chute actually goes all the way in. It’s a real long walk in a very dark place.”

I shot Dex a look to warn him to not even think about it, but Oldman went on, “After that, they boarded it up around the post office so you couldn’t get in. Or out, I suppose.” He glanced at his watch.”Well, I’m afraid it’s time for me to go. I hope you’ve enjoyed your tour of the Sea Crest Sanatorium.”

We walked down the stairs, and with each landing we reached, my shoulders felt lighter and lighter. Once we got to the main floor, the first bell rang and teachers began scurrying about, and I started to feel like I was back in my own skin again.

“And I hope you be extra careful while you’re here,” Oldman said to me just before he walked off into the sunshine.

“What did he say?” Dex asked.

I shook my head. “Nothing I wasn’t already thinking.”

CHAPTER TEN

After we’d gone through the tour, the last thing I wanted to do was talk to Brenna about her experience with the bad thing. In fact, I was so close to suggesting we head out into Tillamook to get some food while we could, just to be in the sunshine and see the freedom of the waves, when Kelly came looking for us while we were sprawled in the teacher’s lounge.

“Hi there,” she said in her quiet voice, her hair gathered delicately around her face. “Brenna wanted to let you know that she had to go home sick and that she’ll take a rain check for tomorrow.”

“Oh no,” I said, straightening up in my chair. “Is she okay?”

She nodded. “I took a quick look at her. It’s probably food poisoning or a 24-hour bug. She’ll be fine.”

“What about her students?” Dex asked. “What do they do if she’s not there to teach? Is there a sub?”

I gave him a look. “You better not be thinking about teaching art, Dex, because I’ve seen your drawings.” Nude drawings, I wanted to add. Like, Anime porn.

“There’s no sub for her class on such short notice,” Kelly said. “The kids get an extra hour of recess with either me or one of the lunch ladies supervising. I’ll just take them out in the front yard where it’s sunny, let them run around.”

“Can we come watch?” Dex asked, getting off the couch, mug of coffee in his hands.

“Dex…” Rebecca said in a warning tone, not getting what he was doing.

Kelly shrugged with one shoulder and smiled shyly. “Sure. I bet you guys need some sun after being in here all morning.”

She was right about that. After she left, I got up and poked Dex in the side. “What’s your deal, mister?”

He eyed us both like we were morons. “If Brenna isn’t there, then we can talk to the kid. Jody.”

“I’m not sure if that’s the right thing to do,” Rebecca cautioned. “I think we need permission.”

“It doesn’t have to be on camera,” Dex said adamantly. “And besides, you’re losing your touch, producer lady. You need to be thinking about the big picture here. Roll with the punches, turn disappointment into opportunity.”

“I think you’ve gone mad,” Rebecca said, swiping his coffee out of his hand. “But I see what you’re saying.”

I didn’t really care either way; I just wanted to be outside in the sunshine.

Though the playground and small sports field was in the back of the building, the amount of trees kept the sun from reaching the ground. Out in the front there were wide fields on either side of the driveway, with picnic tables scattered about. We plunked ourselves down at one with microwaved meals and tried to eat all the while wondering which kid was Jody.

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