Authors: Sarah England
Copyright © 2016 Sarah England
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author, except for brief quotations used for promotion or in reviews. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental. Where particular places or institutions are mentioned, absolutely nothing other than the name of the building or local service bears any resemblance to reality.
1st Edition: EchoWords/Authors Reach, 2016
Drummersgate Secure Forensic Unit
December 2015: Ruby
The banging noises started around 3am. At first they were pinprick taps and scratches, just enough to crawl into the sleeping mind. Now though, there’s an unmistakeable, rhythmic thudding – kicking against locked doors and foot-stamping – with momentum gaining until the corridors echo and the floor judders. I put my hands over my ears.
It’s just a dream…not really happening
…But it’s getting louder.
Boom, boom, boom, boom
…the beat of an adrenalin-fuelled mob.
I’m lying here, eyes wide: something or someone is coming. And then I sense him, shrouded in the dank, foggy yard outside, willing me to find him, to see him: a lone drummer boy announcing the death of prisoners lined up for hanging. Through his ragged clothes, open sores weep; wet hair dripping down his sightless face as each diseased man shuffles closer to the noose.
Inside the unit the hysteria is spreading – a contagious primeval dread. Does each caged soul see what I see? Are they drawn to their cell window to watch the filthy waif, barely perceptible in the mists of a grey dawn, beating time to each inevitable doom? They know something bad is here, for sure. But I am alone with my vision. It is only me whose insides curl and loosen in terror as, vomit lurching into my throat, I stumble up the steps to the hangman’s noose. ‘
…’ Who is Anna? A woman left behind at home? And it is only me who hears the guttural screams before each neck cracks; terrified eyes bulge and blackened tongues loll out.
I’m sick with it, curling up on the cold linoleum floor in a tight ball as iciness crawls over my skin like death itself. The rancid stench of fear is overwhelming, and still the animalistic thumping inside the walls continues. I can’t breathe…
Make it stop…make it stop…it isn’t real. Celeste said it isn’t real. Won’t somebody help me? Anyone?
Then abruptly everything ceases; and a suffocating blanket of total blackness descends, snuffing out the madness.
Not even the sound of my own breath.
Doncaster Royal Infirmary
Sunday December 27th, 2015
She had been here all night.
The young officer, DC Toby Harbour, who was sitting with her, rubbed his hands together. “It’s bloody cold in ’ere, I’ve lost the feeling in me feet. I wish that lamp’d stop flicking on and off an’ all – it’s giving me the creeps.”
Outside the room in which DI Callum Ross lay unconscious, the rest of the ward was bathed in the gloom of a few night lights. Strands of tinsel glittered darkly where it hung in loops from the ceiling, and most of the patients were fast asleep with just the occasional snore to rattle the peace. A sleety December rain spattered across the windows.
On the bedside table a digital clock glowed.
“It’s probably an old generator,” Becky suggested.
“What? Just for this room? Hey, maybe it’s haunted? That’s what happens – the temperature drops. I’ve heard some right spooky stories about ’ospitals. And people die in these side wards, don’t they?”
She smiled weakly. God, he had no idea. Let’s hope he thought ghosts were just spooky tales kids told each other for a joke, and that it always stayed that way for him. She really ought to send him either home or back to the station for his own good, except he’d been instructed by the top brass to stay until Callum woke up – probably to begin the interrogation straight away. Time was of the essence, she appreciated that.
He was right though, there
a crypt-like chill ascending from the floor; her legs were freezing. It must be a heating failure and yet – she looked over towards the rest of the ward – the other patients had kicked off their excess blankets. She huddled more deeply into her coat.
cold in ’ere,” Toby said, noticing her shivers. “I bet there’s a ghost coming.”
Hmmm, ghosts she could cope with.
People died and that was natural. Imprints of fear and emotional trauma were well documented: olfactory, visual and auditory experiences apparent to those sensitive to them, but that was all. She had worked in hospitals all her life, even some of the old Victorian asylums before they were razed to the ground, and her opinion was you couldn’t encounter serious illness, madness, fear and death and not feel that some of it lingered. Very few of her colleagues were without a tale to tell on that score and it had never fazed her. In fact, in some ways she had always found it quite comforting to think the human race wasn’t consigned to eternal ashes and dust. But that was before recent events. And now there was nothing comforting at all about a darkness that could neither be seen nor understood.
A sudden movement caught her eye: a dark shape about the size of a large rat skittering on the edge of her vision. She winged round in time to see a long tail disappearing under the bed. Then another shot up the wall behind the headboard.
Ghosts don’t do that. This was no ghost. Oh God, please don’t let it be starting up again…
Had Toby seen it? He had his head down, rapidly pressing keys on an iPhone again. Good, well that was something.
Shaking slightly, she leaned forwards and took Callum’s pale white hand in her own. Hands often gave her a skip of the heartbeat. Maybe it was because hands are so vital to us and when we we’re ill, especially unconscious, the sight of particularly strong, capable hands like Callum's, piggy-backed with cannulas, bruised and inert, brought it all home. She stroked his bruised and swollen face, praying he wasn’t reliving whatever had happened during the week he’d been missing in Woodsend. Hopefully he was having peaceful dreams or, preferably, remained entirely dreamless while his mind and body recovered from whatever ordeal he’d been put through. And please God, when he wakes up let him remember who and what he saw before the Deans and their black arts stopped any hope of finding Alice.
The police wouldn’t know what they were up against: the threat of dark forces wasn’t something any of them were exactly going to take seriously, was it? To them this was the case of a young girl who apparently existed but was not officially registered, and that was it. In the cold light of day the facts were hard ones: a police officer had been assaulted and left for dead in the vicinity of Woodsend; and the image of a young girl had been caught on that officer’s mobile phone during the attack. That was what they were working on.
The rest, Becky thought, presented a vague, albeit disturbing, picture, but only if you put all the jigsaw pieces together. And would they? Somehow she thought not. For example, few had believed Ruby even had a real daughter. Not surprising really when you considered Ruby was a mental health patient with dozens of different personalities. Who was to say Alice wasn’t yet another of her alters just like her sister, Marie, had turned out to be? When Ruby had attacked local man, Paul Dean, in Woodsend two years ago, there hadn’t been a single person who even recognised her: she was just a mad woman, said the locals – no one they knew – substantiated by the fact there were no school or GP records for her in the area. Even Ruby herself was clueless as to who she was or where she’d come from. The police had subsequently wrapped up the case and Ruby had been duly incarcerated in a secure unit at Drummersgate Hospital, where she remained.
The fact that everyone who had then tried to help Ruby had suffered a serious psychological or physical repercussion would be seen by any rational person as pure coincidence. Unless you’ve experienced it yourself, Becky thought. Unless you’ve been to hell and back you wouldn’t even contemplate another, darker, reality. So what
real then? What could she honestly say to the investigating police officer due in later this morning? That Dr Jack McGowan had hypnotised a mentally disturbed woman and was now a shell of a man back home with his parents in Ireland, instead of the medical director, top psychiatrist and family man he was just over a month ago? That she herself had witnessed Ruby’s bizarre, demonic behaviour during the hypnosis and subsequently been persecuted by a hallucination, which threatened her sanity until she was physically dragged into a church? That Dissociative Identity Disorder Specialist Dr Kristy Silver was now sectioned in Laurel Lawns Private Hospital under the mental health act? And steady, reliable social worker, Martha Kind, who had gone to investigate matters in Woodsend had collapsed and died suddenly, as had her predecessor? Hardly police business. What could they do about any of that?
Now though, at last there was something concrete to go on: photographic evidence that a young girl really did exist in Woodsend without any registration at the school or with the GP, exactly as Ruby claimed; assuming she was Ruby’s daughter, of course, which would no doubt be contested. But there would be Callum’s testimony too, when he woke up. All of which the Deans would be aware of. Not that the Deans per se frightened her personally – they were a pretty nasty bunch of abusive, child-molesting men who could be caught, surely? It was the other stuff - intelligently targeted towards the very fabric of your sanity and sense of self - sent to dismantle your humanity and plummet you into an isolated world of fear and depression, madness and confusion; ultimately designed to leave you helpless in a mental health unit trying to explain that it was real to people who simply wouldn’t and couldn’t believe you.
“What time’s DS Hall coming in again?” she asked Toby.
They both looked at the clock.
“Sid? First thing…it’ll be just after six…” Toby broke off as the room suddenly plummeted into coalface blackness. Not a single thing was visible and for a moment the two of them sat in stunned silence.
A shiver crawled up her spine as if someone had crept up behind her and Becky lunged for the bedside lamp, just as a sneering, mocking voice shouted loudly into her ear, “
Well howdy, little sister…long time no see…”
She leapt from the chair, knocking things over in her rush to the door. It was jammed and a panicky voice she realised was her own, called out.
It was happening again, yes it was, the same thing. Oh God…
Someone on the other side rattled the handle and from the black interior it was possible to make out the silhouette of a man, behind him the night nurse. All of them pushed and pulled at the door for what seemed like several minutes, until suddenly it gave way and the night light flicked back on.
“Flaming ’ell,” said Toby, the colour drained from his face. “What ’appened there?”
Becky slumped back down, sitting on her hands so no one could see them shaking. “I don’t know. Wedge the door open, will you, Toby.”
He stood towering over her, motionless.
“And then go and get us some coffees, eh? We’re as spooked as a couple of alley cats!”
All she had to do was get him through the night, send him to the canteen for a long break or something, and he’d never know about this stuff, as she now called it in her head – just stuff – why acknowledge it as anything else – because once he knew he’d be marked.
He was way too young for this – a fresh-faced lad with designer stubble and a rooster haircut – he should be knocking on doors and carrying out routine enquiries, or going out on a Saturday night with his mates; queueing up for pints and chatting up girls.
“What? And walk past the mortuary on me own?”
“You’ll be fine. And you don’t have to walk past it, take the lift. Trust me. Go.”
The night nurse bustled back with some more blankets. “It’s freezing in here. I can see my own breath! Why didn’t you say?”
“Thanks, I don’t suppose you’ve got one of those for me too?”
The nurse handed her one, a frown etched deeply into her face.
‘I’m not surprised she’s pissy’, Becky thought: some of the other patients were now awake and calling out when she’d been happily knitting and chatting with the Orderly. Now she was busy and it was still only four in the morning. She watched her potter round taking bed pans and fetching paracetamol.
Oh, to just be a bit narky because your shift was busy. At least you were still sane, your mind balanced and undisturbed. Like the innocence of childhood, once it was gone it was gone but you wouldn’t know that until you lost it. Because that was the thing, Becky realised, pulling the scratchy NHS blanket tightly around herself – once you’d crossed that line you couldn’t uncross it. The horror, when it came for you, was all your own: a black terror you couldn’t see, explain, or ever share. And worse – perhaps the worst thing of all – was that you never forgot and it would always, always haunt you.
The room was still cool, but now normalising. She leaned over to touch Callum’s icy cheek. Whatever just happened had been purely to scare her and warn her off, but she would not be leaving Callum alone while ever he lay here helpless, and she would see this through right to the end, no matter how tough it got. Even so, it would be wise to start praying. The Deans had their backs against the wall now and they would play every low down, dirty, black arts trick in the book. Callum would have seen at least one, maybe several members of their sect.
And they still had Alice. Oh God, poor Alice. What would she be now – ten? Twelve? Her fate was unimaginable. The problem was, she could almost hear them laughing.