I brought the plastic key towards the lock against the steel door that led to the dormitory.
For a moment I hesitated there upon the other side of the door. The reinforced steel that separated me on this side from my friends on the other. An itching against the back of my neck and so that I craned my neck and turned my head around and peered towards the CCTV camera that had followed my movements here. I lifted my eyes once more towards the lifeless lens and the red diode that flickered above the top of the CCTV. Again, I was sure that at any moment the fluorescent lights overhead would flicker back to life and the alarms would ring out. But they didn’t. All was silent. I narrowed my eyes and studied the black lens and shook my head a little from left to right.
“What’s going on?” I said, turning my face a little to the left and fixing my attention upon the camera’s lens.
Silence. But the certainty that someone hidden remained watching from the other side. Watching my every movement in here. Watching from the very first day I had been imprisoned within Deadwood Hospital.
“Not talking to me Big Brother?” I said, and I thought that it would sound all witty and cocky before I said it. But when I listened to my words, I could hear that each syllable was shaking like the strings of a violin. And I was downright scared I realised. There was no denying that. I stuck my tongue out towards the CCTV camera and lifted my left hand and gave the pesky little black eye the one fingered salute. And tried my hardest to come up with another cocky statement to show my indifference towards the nightmare situation that I found myself a part of. And so, the words rolled around inside my head as I sought to find another slice of wit. But I couldn’t think of anything. And reckoned it wasn’t really me when I finally settled upon the final sentence.
“Fuck you!” I said. The words crumpling against my tongue as I uttered them and called them out towards the CCTV. My gaze fixed upon the black eye that studied me.
“Fuck you all!” I called. “And fuck this Hospital!”
I turned once more towards the steel door that remained the only thing that separated myself from the dormitory on the other side. I lowered my gaze to my hand and noticed how my knuckles were as white as polished bone. I noticed how my hand was shaking. The air that seemed to sting against the back of my throat like poison when I swallowed. The sound of hornet’s wings beating against the insides of my ear.
And the thought suddenly occurred to me that I was already too late. That I had fallen beneath a witch’s spell and had been sleeping within my cell for a hundred years and more. That Sister Dixon had poisoned me with her poisoned kiss. And that while I had remained sleeping for all those years in there, that the world had moved on without me. That a great plague had blown in from the east and reduced the lands to ash and bone. And my village blown away and the houses crumbling into dust so that all that remained were jagged rows of brick teeth. The sky that had been burned red by an endless fire. Old England reduced to Sinders and Ash. And the thought that when I turned the key and pushed the dormitory door, that all that I would discover in there would be cobwebs and dust and three beds and three piles of bones.
The sharp cry from the door’s mechanism as I swiped the key against the lock and the little light turned from red to green. A jarring crunch of metal as the hinges began to release. And there I remained standing like a statue upon the corridor as the steel door slowly swung open before my eyes to reveal the darkness of the dormitory on the other side.
The shadows that were pushed back before my eyes. The blood-red light that shone through from the corridor and illuminated the rows of beds that were revealed before me. The jumbled collection of blankets and pillows that were scrunched upon each bed. Silver beams of moonlight that shone through the windows above to reveal patches and puddles that had collected here and there upon the floor.
The ringing against my ears. The smell of death upon the air. The viper that twisted and coiled against my intestines. I leaned to one side of the door to steady myself and my eyes that fell upon one empty bed after another. The blankets pulled back. The sheets that were twisted and scrunched into knots.
“Zayne?” I called, turning my face to his bed and noticing how his pillow appeared to have been dipped in black tar across the whole of one side. How the black tar had splashed against the bed sheets and was dripping towards the floor to create a sticky puddle. “Zayne?” I called again, lifting my hand to my mouth and feeling suddenly nauseous and leaning in towards the doorframe so that it would take my weight.
My gaze shifting from Zayne’s bed and across the aisle to where Eminem should have been found sleeping.
“Em?” I called towards his bed that remained shrouded in darkness and difficult to see. “You there?” I called. But there was no response and all that I could hear was the drumming of my heart against my ears as I shifted my gaze from Eminem’s bed to the bed on the opposite side where Rag ‘n’ Bone should be sleeping. An empty packet of jammy dodgers that remained scattered beneath his bed. And my eyes travelling further towards Taylor’s bed and how the sheets were pulled back and unmade. And then to Bieber’s bed that was empty. And then finally Ariana’s bed.
Empty. All empty.
“No!” I cried.
I raced into the dormitory, the pounding beat of my heart against my ears and a rattling cry against the insides of my brain. The taste of death upon my tongue as my gaze flickered and twitched from one empty bed to the other.
“No.” I said, “No.” I called aloud as I raced towards the bed besides mine where I was sure before I even laid my eyes upon it that I would discover Ariana’s ruined body peering up towards me. And her eyes that would be fixed open and unblinking and staring towards the great unknown. “No,” I said, “No,” I called. But hoping, hoping that she was still alive and living as I slipped towards my knees and fell against the side of Ariana’s bed and pulled back the covers.
Ariana laying lifeless upon her bed.
Her skin that had been roasted to crackling and the smell of charcoal upon the air.
Her wizened face that had been contorted into the most grotesque of smiles.
Her hair and the pigtails that had been completely burned away so that all that remained were clumps of fuzz here and there.
Her wizened face and the crackling skin.
And that was when she opened her eyes and fixed her gaze upon mine.
“Mandy?” She said. Her sweet little voice that sounded sleepy. “Is that you?” She asked.
And I noticed how a corner of her lip cracked away and fell against her pillow. A crunching sound like when you bite down against a pork scratching and grind it against your teeth. I shook my head in fear. My eyes that were wide with terror. The taste of death upon my tongue and a ringing at my ears. The realisation that my mind had completely buckled and that I was quite insane.
“You’re not real!” I said, cried out. Pulling back from the grotesque monster that had revealed itself sleeping in Ariana’s bed. “You’re not real.”
“What’s a matter Mandy?” The voice said. Ariana’s voice. And the sweet sound of her voice against the ruined charcoal creature that lay upon the bed. My legs buckling at the knees. And so, I collapsed to the floor and my bones that were shaking and rattling until they began to shatter so that all that would remain of me would be dust and dirt.
“No.” I said, pulling back and away from the skeletal hand that was lifted towards me from the creature. The skin that was sticky and frazzled like an overcooked sausage that had turned to charcoal on the barbecue. Melted patches of goo where Ariana’s fingernails and cuticles should be.
“Mandy.” She said. Ariana’s voice. “What’s wrong Mandy?” She repeated and the fear to her voice now. “Where’ve you been? Where did Sister Dixon take you?”
But I couldn’t answer of course. How could I ever begin to enter into a conversation with this wretched nightmare. I shook my head from left to right and pulled back a little more. The creature that began to extract itself from Ariana’s bed and shift towards me. An arm and then a leg and then the other arm as it moved from the bed clothes and edged towards me. So that all that remained between the two of us was a single beam of silver moonlight that shone down from the windows overhead.
“What’s happening Mandy?” The creature asked, Ariana, placing a step towards me and me taking a step back. The creature moving its face from left to right and blinking. And it was then that I noticed that where the eyes should be were streaks of jellied white as though her eyes had been replaced with eggs that had been cooked in a frying pan. “Where’s Zayne?” The ruined creature asked. “Where’s Eminem?” It said, opening its eye sockets wide. The hideous melted eyeballs.
The creature moved in towards me and the thought occurred to me that my mind had fractured and buckled completely. Until finally the creature pushed its face forwards. The silver beam of moonlight that illuminated the creature in all its monstrous detail.
The creatures face washed away, it seemed, beneath the silver moon light.
Ariana’s sweet face revealed to me. Her beautiful face. Her perfect lips. Her glistening eyes that were illuminated with flecks of silver against the beams of moonlight. And the tears that were close to flooding over as she brought her hand towards me. The touch of it against my skin and her sweet little fingers that were against mine and the warmth of her skin as her fingers closed over mine and pulled me towards her.
“What’s happening?” She asked.
And that’s when we heard the terrible scream to the side of us.
We turned our heads to the left and a door that remained slightly ajar to one side of the dormitory. A light shining through to reveal the dining hall in the distance. The lights that were shining through as though the whole of the dining hall had been bathed with white-light.
A sticky trail of blood that passed through from the dormitory and continued along the corridor that led towards the dining hall.
And then the scream that cried out and echoed against the walls.
Zayne. It was Zayne’s voice.
Calling out to us.
“Help!” He cried. And the terrible pain that was heard against the word.