By Ashley Shae Hall
Two men stood alone in the unlighted hallway. The portly one advised the young rookie, “After walking down this corridor you will have completed your rounds. Now remember: never speak to the patients in this hallway, they are not the most stable and are best left alone. Here are your keys, flashlight, and walkie-talkie. If you have any questions please hesitate to ask. See you when I see you, new night guard. I’m off to Bermuda.” He left without a backwards glance.
The novice was left in the shadowed passageway with his mind going faster than a frog in a blender. Each thought was quickly replaced by another but they all came back to the first one: at least I have a job. Deciding to head towards the guard quarters, he started strolling when a soft sob pierced the silent way. The sound was of the higher range meaning it came from the fairer sex. Cursing at his inability to leave a crying woman alone he followed the lament to a door with the number forty-nine craved upon it.
During the sorrowful cry, words and phrasings would interrupt at intervals. Irene, innocent and injustice were the most prevalent. Forgetting that he was stationed in a dwelling where such claims were commonplace, his heart reached out for the damsel. After making a silent vow to come back, he took a quick look at the holding to remember the number and made his way to the office where the filing was held.
While the warden was packing up for the night, the boss spoke to the young rookie, “Yo, Peter, you look like you’ve seen an apparition. Are you alright?” He tucked his briefcase under his arm.
“Yeah, I’m fine, Hal. This place just digs at my imagination,” he said thinking up a lie quick. “You’re leaving already?” He added changing the subject.
“Don’t tell me that you’re scared; and here I thought I finally found someone who wouldn’t be afraid of my clients. They’re the same as you and me, Peter, just a bit different.”
“I know that. It’s just my first night, guess I’m a little nervous,” he replied rubbing the back of his neck.
“Alight, I’ll see you at eight sharp,” Hal said while giving him a mock size up.
When his supervisor walked out the door, Peter released a breath. The Istra institution was built in the early twentieth century. But since the warden before Hal was a traditionalist, most of the files are in paper form. Peter had a duel job here at the institution: do his rounds every other hour and put the information from the tangible file to the electronic drive on the computer. Boring, yes, but it was the only job he could get on short notice. Plus now it serves as a cover to find out about the occupant in number forty-nine.
After putting his flashlight and keys on the solitaire table, Peter went to the small kitchenette to fill a mug of black coffee before setting down for the night. Making a face at the bitter taste he went to the file room to see what state the files were in, when he got there he almost dropped his mug. The room was huge, filled to the top, and there was no organization what-so-ever. Stacks of papers–not in cabinets–stood like miniature Leaning Towers of Pisa all over the place. Some even looked like animals and weather had gotten to them. I will never find the current resident of cell forty-nine at this rate. Sigh. Seems like the senior employees left me with the grunt work. There no choice but to pick a random pile and work his way around the room.
Papers where strewed all over the floor and amidst the controlled chaos Peter sat in the middle. He was enraptured by the lives that once called this building home. He was so totally engrossed by words that he almost didn’t hear the alarm that he sat for himself to do the second part of his job. Standing up, he gently placed the paper down and read one final sentence before starting his rounds. Peter crossed the room to the only table to get his keys and flashlight and hooked them on his belt.
A few minutes had pass since he left the well-lit room and Peter was starting to get apprehensive. The pale moon can cast eerie shadows that tug at the more sinister part of the imagination. More than once Peter thought something was following him in the dark. Each time he spun on his heels turning around and lights his flashlight and each time he curses at his foolishness at wasting the batteries.
“Peter,” he said out loud to himself, “you’re such a child if you think monsters or ghosts are out to get you in this building.” As soon as this was said, he had reached the hallway that the distressed lady was in. It was silent but Peter was half-expecting a mournful howl to penetrate the air. Just as soon as he passed cell forty-nine a voice called out to him, “Please don’t leave I’m so alone.” Peter went rigid with not knowing what to do.
“I…I’m here,” he said trying to get his vocal cords working.
“I’ve been so alone for so long. Stay here with me please, kind sir,” the mysterious voice implored him.
“Okay… I work here; you don’t have to be alone.” He said slowly.
“My name is Ilsa.”
“Do you have any…family?” she asked.
“No, they died in a fire when I was eight.”
“I was blamed for my family’s death,” she said and started crying immediately afterwards and wouldn’t say another word.
“I need to go, Ilsa. I’ll come back. I promise.” Peter walked away from the broken spirit more determined than ever to help her.
“Peter, my man. How was your first night?” Hal asked when he came to the institution that morning.
“It was good, sir. I like the peace and quiet at night.” He typed one last word in the computer and swung on the chair turning towards his boss.
“Anything worth mentioning?” The warden asked.
“No, nothing at all,” Peter lied gathering up his things and not looking his boss in the eye.
“Very well, drive safely and get some sleep. See you on Monday,” Hal called while Peter was leaving.
To reach his car faster without flat-out running, Peter lengthened his stride with one thought pacing a rut in his mind: to help Ilsa. He didn’t know how but he was going to save that lost soul. After fishing out his keys from his pocket, Peter just stood there at the car door in silence. For the first time he thought about this endeavor he was considering to take. Is the risk of the only job I could get in this down-spiraling economy worth the faint sliver of hope for her freedom? Almost at once the answer came to him. Yes. Sighing at his chosen impending doom he got into the car and drove to the once place he knew he could get help from.
When Darwin Willows was in his prime, he was the most successful defense lawyer in the north-west. But that was years ago and now he was just another retiree that was bored of routine. While walking his dog, Scuttle, he saw the most particular thing; his best friend’s grandson was asleep at his doorstep. Taking a look at his watch, he saw that it was one twenty-three in the afternoon. What was so important that made Peter come here and fall asleep on my stoop?
Scuttle seeing the intruder, immediately put on his guard. After sniffing the man’s hand and deciding he was no threat to his master, he jumped upon him and started licking his face.
“Down boy,” Darwin said while chuckling.
“Mmm… f’ve ‘ore minutes,” Peter said in response to Scuttle. He tried to turn over but instead he promptly fell off the step and landed at Darwin’s feet. When Peter opened his eyes he was confuse for a few seconds till he realized whom he was literally looking up to. He then got up and gave the old family friend a sheepish smile.
“Sorry about that Mr. Willows.”
“How many times have I asked you to call me Uncle Darwin, Peter?” The older gentleman said with an exasperated sigh.
“I believe around one-hundred and forty-three,” he countered back while petting the Scottish –Terrier.
Peter gave his favorite ‘Uncle’ a grin.
“Well, come on in, my boy. What kind of tea would you like?” Darwin opened the oak door letting his guest inside the English Tudor.
“Do you have any coffee?”
“No! What do you take me for, a Yankee?” Darwin said in feign offended tone.
“You live in America, Uncle Darwin. You are a Yankee,” said Peter with a raised eyebrow.
“Born and raised in Liverpool. England shall always be my lady and mistress regardless where I live.”
“Earl Gray it is then,” Peter said flopping onto the couch. Scuttle jumped in his lap and Peter began to scratch the dog’s ears absentmindedly.
“Here you go, lad.” He said placing two cups of tea upon the table.
“Do you want sugar?”
“Two lumps, please, and do you have any lemon?”
“Of course, so what brings you to my neck of the woods,” Darwin said while stirring his tea.
“I need your help-”
“That much is apparent,” he said with a small laugh while glancing at the state of the boy’s clothes.
Sending a small glare, Peter continued like he wasn’t interrupted. “I recently got a job at the Istra institution and I believe that a young woman was sent there wrongfully. I know that you’re retired but I would like your help/advice if nothing else.”
“That is a strong accusation. Pray tell, what is the girl’s name?” Darwin asked with his curiosity peaked.
“No last name?”
“I don’t know it. She didn’t give it to me and the record room is a mess so it would take a while for me to find it. Not even her cell number, forty-nine, helps.”
“Hmm, until you know her full name and story you can’t do much. I’ll give you a few names of some my lawyer mate’s who are still in the game and a couple of my books to help you in your quest,” said Darwin while he made his way to the study. Peter was getting up to follow until Darwin saw him and said, “Go to the guest room and get some sleep. You look numb on your feet.” Peter nodded his head numbly and wobbled his way towards the extra room.
When Peter finally regained conscious in guest bedroom, he looked over to the clock on the bedside table and it said six thirty- nine. Walking over to the dresser where he knew extra clothes were kept he grab what has in size and then proceeded towards the shower where he could wake up properly. After a refreshing twenty minutes, Peter decided to find his Uncle.
“Peter, my boy, come here. I was just about to wake you; dinner shall be ready in five minutes time.”
“Thanks for everything Uncle Darwin,” Peter said gratefully.
“Nonsense, you’re family. When’s the next time you have work?”
“Day after tomorrow.”
“So you work Monday thru Friday then?”
“Yep,” Peter said while his mouth was starting to water from the scrumptious smell of pork chops.
Darwin nodded his head in understanding while he set down the food in front of his favorite nephew. Peter was quiet during the meal. His mind was mulling over Ilsa and the tremendous task in front of him. When he finished eating, Peter voiced that he will head back home tonight and promises to visit sometime soon. With the borrowed books in a knapsack he departed with his Uncle’s farewell planted in his brain, ‘I know you wish to help this girl but remember: many men have been led astray by a woman.’
Sunday came and went like a midget giving a lecture on the history of the rubber band: short and boring. Before Peter was ready, it was time for work. Like Friday, he said hello and goodnight to his boss and was left alone in the mental institute. After watching his boss leave in his car from the nearby window, Peter immediately went to cell forty-nine.
“You’re back… I thought… that you wouldn’t.”
“I made a promise,” he said simply in response.
“I’m glad.” Her voice became less sorrowful.
“I want to help. Tell me, who is Irene?”
She didn’t speak for a few minutes. But when he was about to tell her that she didn’t have to tell him, she spoke.
“My sister hated me.”
“Why?” He sat down in front of the cell.
“She was older but… I was the favorite, by everyone. She hated that I was given all the attention. One day she just… broke.”
“She killed our parents then herself; but she mange to blamed it on me. Even in death she hated me.”
“No one believed that she committed the deeds?”
“No. She painted herself as a caring sister who was proud of her sibling. Only I knew what she was really like. All this time and no one believed me.”
“I do. I want to help you get out of here.”
“Yes, just tell me what to do.”
“Can you h-hold me?”
“Hold you?” The request startled him.
“I have evidence that reveals the truth but… I just want to feel wanted once more. So… can you hold me in your arms?”
“I’m not supposed to open these doors.” He got up from the floor and distanced himself from the door.
“What harm could there be? I’m innocent. Beside no one will know. It will just be for a short while.” Seeing the logic, he stepped forward.
He opened the door with a skeleton key from the ring on his belt and went inside.
Hal arrived earlier than usual. His wife had morning sickness again and the smell rubs against his nose like sandpaper. When he got to there, Peter wasn’t in the guardroom or the filing room.
“Peter? Yo, Pete, you in there?” He called to the nearby restroom. He was greeted by no answer. He then tried the walky-talky. Still no answer.
Don’t tell me he quit without notice. It took me a month to found a replacement for that position. Oh well, nothing I can do but find someone else.
He left the room without noticing Pete’s car keys and cell phone on the side table.
Darwin was worried. It’s been a week since Peter was at his house and he hadn’t heard from his since. He called Peter’s home phone. No answer. Next he tried his cell phone.
“Hello.” That’s not Peter’s voice.
“Who is this?” Darwin demanded.
“Well, Hal, why do you have my nephew’s cell phone?”
“You mean Peter?”
“Yes! Where is he?!”
“Don’t know. He just disappeared one morning and left his things behind. I’m not usually in the guardroom so I didn’t notice them few a few days. I just place them in the lost-and-found to see if anyone would claim them.”
“So when was the last time you saw him?”
“His second day of work.”
“That long ago? Maybe he doing something for Ilsa and lost track of time,” Darwin mumbled out loud.
“One of your residents, I don’t know her last name but she was in cell forty-nine.”
“Dude, no one’s lived in forty-nine for over thirty years, every person we put in there gets worse. They blame it on the ghost of Irene.”
“She was the last patient that lived in cell forty-nine. She killed her parents and then blamed it on a sister that didn’t exist. After a few years, she committed suicide.”
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