Let’s be clear. I hate Halloween.
Oh I know what you’re thinking. How can you not like Halloween? When I tell people, they look at me like I’m stupid, like I’m a freak, or a heretic.
“Isn’t that, like, sacrilegious or something?” said Kitty when I told her back in my freshman year. Yes, I know, Kitty isn’t the brightest, but she’s a good friend, one of my closest, and one of the few sane people at this stuck-up, stuffy college.
But she’s wrong about Halloween. I hate it. I hate the dressing up, I hate the whole paraphernalia of the costumes and the parties and the invites and the build-up. I hate that whole thing about being forced to go through the same rituals as everyone else and pretending that you’re having a good time while you’re standing in a corner dressed as Catwoman being inexpertly groped by a vampire Abraham Lincoln. Okay, maybe that’s a very specific complaint, but it was just one of my many depressing Halloween experiences.
All of which probably explains why fate decreed that I should go through the most intense, most incredible, most intense Halloween ordeal that anyone has ever experienced ever. Maybe I exaggerate, but not much. It’s like one of those cheesy Christmas movies, where the grouchy Christmas hater is forced by a series of emotionally charged but unlikely events to embrace the true meaning of the holiday. Well I don’t know if I learned the true meaning of Halloween but hell did I learn a few things!
It started the day before Halloween last year.
Well technically, it started fifty years before that, when the St James Hospital for the Elderly was finally closed to the public following the murder of one of its patients, George Avalon.
Where am I going with this? Well Allie could fill you in, if you met her. Allie is my other closest friend and she’s majoring in History. Allie is super smart, but she has two flaws. The first is that she flirts with anyone and doesn’t even know she’s doing it. Seriously, the girl has a problem. And the second is that when she learns something she has to tell us all about it.
So that’s how we all learned about the death of George Avalon. He was an elderly man who was supposedly killed by a nurse at the hospital. According to Allie, there was one newspaper report that said the two were having what the reporter described as ‘intimate relations’ when she killed him. There was even a rumor that Mr Avalon still had an erection when the police found his body. Allie had been banging on about the Avalon case and the hospital for months. She even said she was going to write a paper on it.
“Seriously, Soph, it has everything: sex, murder, detective work, history and the paranormal.”
The paranormal? Oh yes, because George Avalon was doubly unlucky. Not only was he killed by a homicidal nurse, he also had the misfortune to pass away on Halloween, thus ensuring his death would forever more be dragged up as topic of conversation at this time of year by locals, history buffs and weird college girls who really had to get out more. And, inevitably, there are people, people like Allie, who keenly relate the tale that George Avalon’s ghost haunts the corridors of the abandoned hospital on October 31st every year.
Since the death of Mr Avalon, the hospital had been decaying quietly on the edge of town for about fifty years. I’d passed it occasionally, when going back home at holidays, and admittedly, it always looked creepy: a greyish green ruin in the middle of wasteland, with gaps in its boarded up windows and a general air of rot.
Anyway, two days before last Halloween, we were debating where to go while sitting in Allie’s cramped room. I, as usual, didn’t want to go anywhere. They both wanted to go to various boring campus parties. So, in a spirit of friendship, I offered to compromise. I said I would go anywhere, but not to a normal Halloween party. As soon as I’d said it, I regretted it.
“Oh, I know, let’s spend the night in the hospital!” said Allie, with obvious delight. Kitty, who loves ghost stories, practically squealed with delight and I knew right then that I’d lost the battle. Kitty is so sweet that neither of us would ever want to disappoint her and anyway, I’d offered to accept a compromise and this was it.
So it was that on the night of Halloween, a sexy vampire, a sexy devil girl with a tiny little red dress and Catwoman caught a taxi to the edge of town and walked along the abandoned, leaf-strewn track that led to the fence around the abandoned St James Hospital.
“It looks creepy,” I said as we stood at the fence. The abundance of signs saying things like ‘Stay Out’ and ‘Enter At Your Own Risk’ were not exactly encouraging either.
“Don’t be such a baby,” said Allie.
“It will be fun,” said Kitty.
I sighed and followed as the two of them clambered up the fence and then helped me up, hauling me to the top before we all dropped to the other side. The whole site was full of rubble and leaves and refuse and we trod carefully as we walked – well as carefully as possible for a trio of girls who’ve already shared two bottles of Merlot between them.
“This is so fucking creepy,” I said, as we drew near to the entrance. This time, Kitty said nothing and hung back as Allie took a closer look at the door.
“It’s okay,” she said, “I think I can open it.”
She was right. With a little force, the double doors of St James Hospital, one of which was hanging sickeningly from its hinges, gave way enough to let people enter.
“Come on!” said Allie, slipping through. We saw the light of her flashlight blink on as she went inside. I looked at Kitty who looked back at me. I shrugged.
“She does have the only flashlight,” she said.
Kitty squeezed through next and I followed. Inside, Allie was already flitting around, shining the flashlight into every nook and cranny, squealing with the delight of the historian as she discovered a genuine 1960s filing cabinet and an authentic 1960s floor tile. Meanwhile Kitty and I hung back a little, looking around us. Kitty’s red dress looked particularly flimsy and there was an unpleasant and frankly eerie draft in the place.
“Come on you guys, don’t just stand there. We’ve got to go and look around.”
”Do we have to?” said Kitty.
“Yes,” said Allie. “Don’t you want to find the room?”
“What room?” I asked.
“The room where George Avalon was killed, of course. The place where the nurse strangled him with her own pantyhose.”
“She did not!” said Kitty
“That was one of the rumors.”
“I don’t know, Allie, it’s a bit too scary and dark here.”
“Oh come on you guys, we haven’t come this far just to turn back.”
“I guess,” said Kitty.
“Besides, I’ve got the flashlight. We’ll be fine,” said Allie, leading the way. Kitty and I followed her reluctantly as she headed towards a door at the back of the abandoned reception area. The door led into a corridor that was even more eerie and spooky than the room we’d left. Allie’s flashlight helped bring a little illumination but it also cast strange, unusual shadows on the wall as we walked, which didn’t help us to feel any calmer.
“I wonder which room it was,” said Kitty, absently.
”Oh I know that. It was room twenty-seven. I remember it clearly,” said Allie. Then she gave a little shriek that made Kitty start and grab my arm.
“Don’t do that!” I said to Allie.
“This is room twenty-four. We must be close.”
“Great,” I said, Kitty was hanging onto my arm tightly but I didn’t mind, in fact, I felt like hugging her tightly and not letting go until the morning. But to Allie’s disappointment, it turned out that there were no more rooms in that corridor, just an empty storage closet. Eventually the corridor made a sharp left turn and there were yet more rooms.
“Hey, come and look at this,” said Allie.
“I don’t care,” I said, “Can we go now?”
Kitty slid her arm out of mine and I could sense, though I could not see, that she was doing one of her pouty expressions that were the closest she came to appearing cross.
“You can be a real downer sometimes, Soph,” she said, “Allie’s just very enthusiastic.”
“Whatever,” I said. Kitty walked over to Allie who was standing at the next door along, around two feet to my left, studying some faded sign on the wall. I let them get on with it and leant with my back against a locked door. My eyes were adjusting a little to the lack of light and I was sure that on the door opposite I could make out a number twenty-six. I turned to tell the others but they weren’t there. Allie and Kitty had gone. They had completely disappeared.
“Kitty?” I said, in a whisper. “Allie?” There was no reply. “Oh come on, stop messing around!”
My voice echoed through the dark corridor and bounced back at me from the rotting walls. I recoiled a little at how loud it was. Where were they? They couldn’t have just disappeared, so they must be hiding, but if it was a joke, it was not funny.
As I stood there, against the locked door, trying to calm my rising panic and tell myself that there was nothing to worry about, I heard a distant noise. It sounded far off, a kind of shuffling, maybe a rat, or maybe a college girl hiding and trying to stay quiet.
The shuffling stopped.
“Kitty, is that you? If you’re there guys, this isn’t funny.”
I listened as my voice died away in the corridor. There was nothing, no reply, no sound, apart from a distant murmuring. The murmuring grew steadily louder as I listened and began to change subtly into a moaning and groaning sound, a mess of noises, some of which were animal, some human, and some unearthly. The sounds began to get stronger and closer and there was a strange scrabbling, scraping that seemed to be coming along the corridor towards me. I pressed myself against the door, too terrified to move, trying to quiet my breath as the scuffling and moaning grew closer and closer. Something snapped in my mind. I had to escape. Squealing pathetically I tried frantically to open the door I was leaning against, rattling at the handle and bashing my shoulder against it over and over to make it open.
Eventually, with one final crash, the door caved in and I fell inside, stumbling and scrabbling across the floor in the dirt and leaves and dust. There was nothing to hide behind, just a tatty old iron bed-frame in the other corner of the room, so wailing a little, I scrambled into the corner of the room and pressed myself against the wall. I hunched my legs up to my chest, feeling so exposed and silly in my clingy Catwoman costume.
The moaning and sighing and scraping grew louder and there was an eerie whistling sound. I was so terrified I could hardly speak. As the noise grew to a deafening volume, a bright white light shone in the corridor outside the room. Kitty and Allie! I breathed heavily with relief.
“Guys, thank God. I was so scared, I…”
The door to the room was flung open, light flooded in and, eyes wide in terror, I screamed. What I saw was like nothing I had ever seen before…