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Gates of Hell

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Silverwood General Hospital

May 23, 1997


Crossed beams from stacked flashlights bisected the morgue. Moonlight leaked in through the tiny window, reflecting on the autopsy table and Ellen’s bare skin. Cool steel warmed where she touched it, and she wondered if it had ever before felt living flesh.

The room was appropriately silent except for their profane panting breaths. As Scott pumped into her from behind, Ellen made all the right sounds, but she felt disconnected from her body, on auto-pilot. That was almost as unsetting to her as the hospital. The last few times they’d gotten carried away in their urban exploration adventures,  she couldn’t believe how fast she got off. Tonight she was numb and distracted.

Maybe it was how the building didn’t feel abandoned. The autopsy tables gleamed, clean enough that she and Scott were compelled to fuck on them instead of against the wall. She felt certain the sink would work if either of them tried it. She had expected the tiles to be discolored, the walls to sport mysterious stains. At the very least, the room should be covered in a layer of grime.

From what they’d seen, the entire hospital was perfectly preserved. The lobby had a complete absence of graffiti or any of the usual detritus of abandonment, its chairs neatly aligned as if waiting to be filled by patients. The ceilings were cobweb-free; even spiders seemed to avoid the place. Hell, the whole hilltop was bare of plants and trees, like it received a buzzcut that never grew out.

And there was something else that set her lizard brain on edge, a prickle at the nape of her neck warning her that someone was watching her. They’d broken into numerous abandoned buildings, but this was the first time she actually felt like she was trespassing. 

Ellen could tell Scott was close from the urgency of his thrusts and the way he dug his fingers into the meat of her thighs. Despite her instinct to be quiet, she moaned louder to encourage him to finish. It worked, and he let out a low, satisfied groan as he came, holding the moment. 

“Jesus, baby,” he breathed. “You’re so good.”

“Mm.” Ellen couldn’t bring herself to play along anymore and slipped away from him. When they were back in the safety of their tent, she would initiate a round two. She was eager to purge the peculiar feeling from the hospital and the disconnected sex. 

For now, all she could think about was getting dressed and getting the hell out of this building. She fumbled in the shadows for the pile of clothes left on the other autopsy table, hyper-aware of her nakedness. The cold air felt like an assault on her bare skin. As she pulled on her clothes, Scott babbled about the pictures he’d taken and how he couldn’t wait to share them on the forums. 

“That picture of the operating room with all the equipment!” he gushed. “This place is even better than I could have imagined.” 

Thump. A sound like soft weight on metal.

She jumped, her hand flying to her mouth.

“What is it?” Scott asked as he knotted the condom.

“You didn’t hear that?” she whispered.

He shook his head guilelessly. They both froze, waiting, but the noise did not return.

After a long beat, Ellen continued scrambling to get dressed, her fingers barely cooperating. 

“It’s probably rats,” Scott said, too loudly. “Maybe a raccoon.” He pulled his t-shirt over his head at a leisurely pace that made her want to scream. The mellow disposition she usually found so attractive now felt like a liability. 

He teased, “Careful you don’t get bit. You know what they say about the animals around here.”

Ellen shuddered, knowing all too well. She zipped her hoodie up to her chin, plunging her fists in the pockets.

He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Maybe it’s the Mad Doctor himself.”

She shushed him and started to reach for her flashlight.

“Sorry, baby.” He looped his arms around her waist and kissed her sweetly on the forehead and then the lips. For just a moment, she let herself relax into his touch and breathe in his soothing scent, trying to absorb his placidity.

“It’s just an urban legend,” he said.

“I know that,” she snapped, extracting herself from his embrace. She’d lobbed his same words at her roommate on the way out of the door that night. So why couldn’t she shake the feeling there was another presence in the room? “I just want to get out of here.”

Scott’s eyebrows raised; he was used to her leading them to the creepiest areas in their little excursions. “Okay, let’s go.”

He looped his camera around his neck and grabbed his flashlight from the autopsy table as she bounced on her heels, unable to contain her nerves. As they pushed the swinging doors open, she heard it again. Thump.

“Oh, shit,” Scott swore. For the first time, she could read fear in his expression. 

“You heard that, right?” she asked, her voice wavering.

“Yeah.” His eyes were wide. “And I forgot my camera bag.” 

“Just leave it,” Ellen pleaded. “Let’s go .” 

“Ellen, you know I can’t,” he said quietly. “There’s a thousand dollars worth of equipment in there.” 

There was no point to her protest, and Scott was already crossing the room to retrieve it. 

Ellen could only register the details of what came next in fragments. Her mind cut in and out, jittering like a television with shoddy reception. Scott bent down to pick up the bag where he’d set it on the floor next to the cold storage freezers. The door swung open, hitting him square at the top of his head with a sickening crunch. He careened backwards, the back of his skull knocking against the tiles with an impact that sounded even harder than the first. Blood pooled around the back of his head. Too much blood. The puddle kept expanding. That meant he was still alive, right? The dead didn’t bleed, she knew that much.

Ellen rushed to his side, ignoring her instinct to flee. When she put her fingers to his neck to feel for a pulse, his head lolled to the side. His eyes were blank, staring. His mouth hung open. 

She forced back a sob. Could he be only unconscious? She couldn’t feel a pulse on his neck. Was she touching the wrong spot? She couldn’t feel his breath when she put her hand over his face. She picked up his wrist. He was limp, too limp. She needed to do CPR. She’d never done CPR. Why had she never learned? How could she have been so stupid, so careless? An animal shriek came from her throat, an unfamiliar, jarring sound from a place deep inside her she’d never reached before. 

“Wake up, baby,” she whimpered, gently shaking his slack arm, afraid to move his head. The back of his skull was flat, shattered. Wrong-looking. All wrong.

She attempted chest compressions. Someone else was here, her brain screamed at her. Someone was coming for her. But what if she could save him? She didn’t know what she was doing, but she had to try. She attempted to breathe life back into his lungs and pulled back, scanning him desperately for any change.

For a moment, she thought she saw him moving, his chest starting to rise and fall, a fluttering of his eyelids. She could envision everything from there: lifting him into her arms, both of them sobbing with relief, sitting by his side at the hospital as he sat up with a head wrapped in gauze, breathlessly talking about their close call.

But it was her mind playing tricks on her. When she forced herself to focus, she could see he was utterly still.

He was never going to wake up again.

The thought pierced her mind with sudden, exacting clarity. The man she loved was gone forever. He was gone. He’d been gone. And now, the tray from the freezer was moving, the edge now visible on the other side of the cubby door. Two feet landed on the ground, the figure almost invisible in the shadows. Time seemed to flatten, expand, everything in slow-motion like those dreams where it felt like she was moving in sand. 

The figure straightened. For a surreal moment, she wondered if she was witnessing a dead body come back to life, like on that campy new vampire show she watched with Scott. Deliriously, she thought: Wood stake through the heart and the bad guy turns to dust.

She picked up the flashlight, her hands slippery with Scott’s blood, and directed it at her adversary, anticipating something demonic. First she saw a sliver of pale, bald head like a crescent moon in the shadows. For the briefest second, his eyes flashed, milky and luminescent like an animal at night. But his face, when he stepped toward her, out of the dark, was ordinary. The eyes that seemed so huge as they reflected at her were small and pale, set in what might have once been a round, babyish face that was now malnourished and jowly. His skin was translucent, displaying a network of purple veins around his temples. A thick scar bisected his face. He wore grimy scrubs that may have once been light blue. He hissed at her, recoiling from the light. It was him, the go-to campfire tale of Pasteur County.

She kept the light directed at the former doctor as she got up, only to slip in the pool of slick around Scott’s head, landing hard on her tailbone. Excruciating pain shot through her spine, but it clarified her mind. She’d wasted too much time in her shock. She scrambled back to her feet.

The man knelt beside Scott, putting two fingers to his neck confidently; he knew exactly where to check. He looked at his watch.

“Time of death 8:42 PM,” he said. His voice was nasal, scratchy with disuse. He looked up at Ellen, breaking into a smile. His yellowed teeth were slightly pointed.

Just as he leapt up, she broke into a run and pushed through the swinging doors in a full sprint. Ellen had never been a runner, and she was amazed by her body, adrenaline making her strides longer and faster than ever before. She felt like she was flying, and she couldn’t even feel her lungs burning.

Still, she could hear him gaining on her. Closer, closer, until she was thrown off balance with a sickening lurch. He’d grabbed the hood of her sweater, she realized as he slammed her into the wall. She managed to tuck her head away so her shoulder took the brunt of the impact. 

As she prepared to turn and attack—a knee to the crotch, an elbow to the stomach, her fingernails in his eye sockets—a strong arm circled her throat. She flailed, clawing at his arms and kicking as hard as she could at his shins from the awkward angle. 

He was unfazed. How was it possible he was so strong? The man was emaciated and much older than her, and she was young and fit. It seemed she’d encountered a demon after all. 

She fought until felt herself losing strength, slowly, like air being let out of a tire. Still, she feebly dug her fingernails into his flesh. The hallway narrowed, elongated, shadows invading the edges of her vision. Black spots started to crowd her sight, more and more until she could only see darkness, and she knew she was going to die.

Ellen woke in a dim room. Two lamps hung from chains in the center of the ceiling, the ancient bulbs giving off a flickering orange glow. They looked like they would stop working at any second, plunging her in total darkness. The walls were industrial white. A hospital.

As she remembered, grief was a boot on her chest, pressing slowly and firmly. Scott was gone. Forever. She walked into this godforsaken hospital with the love of her life, and now he was lying dead on the floor of an abandoned morgue.

His staring eyes. His limp hands. All that blood. 

She wanted to scream, to wail, to pull out her hair. Instead, she forced herself to take a deep breath, sit up and take in her surroundings.

She was on a musty bed with a barred bed frame, the sheets sporting mysterious yellow and brown stains. The door had a small window, thick glass crossed with iron. A small slot at the bottom for passing meals. In front of it, a plate of slop—some sort of bean concoction with colorless scraps of meat. A portable toilet at the corner of the room, the plastic cracked and yellowed. A rusty, steel bucket next to it with a lid.

Her head throbbed, and the back of her neck pricked with pain. She reached to the spot and felt a bandaid, noting the old fashioned woven fibers instead of plastic of which she was accustomed. She lifted one side to feel a slight raised lump. Probably an injection.

In a flood, she remembered the stories. The Mad Doctor, infecting his patients with rabies, dissecting their brains and collecting the remaining portions in jars. Decades later, still stalking the woods at night. She needed to get out of here in time to get inoculated. If he’d injected her with the virus, it might only take days to reach her brain with how close it was to her brainstem. Maybe even hours. Once it passed to her brain, she was as good as dead.

Dead like Scott.

She wished she believed they would be reunited after she died, but she didn’t. There was nothing but blackness and absence waiting on the other side. 

“You won’t start to feel the effects for at least three days,” came that nasal voice from outside her room.

She looked up to see his face through the window in the door.

“What did you do to me?” she asked tremulously.

He didn't answer. He regarded her impassively and licked his lips in a quick, reptilian motion. 

“What the fuck did you do to me?” she screamed.

“After three to five days, you might start to feel disoriented, aggressive,” he stated calmly, his voice getting smoother as he spoke. “You will find swallowing difficult and avoid water. Your mouth will produce excessive saliva. You will be broken down to your most primal instincts, and the decline will be rapid from there. You may experience fleeting moments of lucidity. Eventually, you will slip into a coma.”

Coma, then death.

“I’m going to kill you, motherfucker.” Her throat grew raw as she screamed at him, flinging herself against the door, pounding at it with her fists, until her skin started to split and her knuckles began to bruise.

“I would advise you not to hurt yourself. I cannot administer medical assistance.”

“I don’t want your help,” she spat, slamming the side of her fist against the unyielding glass. “I want you to let me out, you piece of shit.”

She froze, considering her strategy. Could she appeal to his better nature? She took a deep breath before attempting a sweet apology.

“Please,” she said in a soft voice. “Please let me out. I won’t tell anyone, I promise.”

“I’ll be back tomorrow morning with another meal,” he said placidly. “If the lights go out, I have left you candles in the drawer. The electricity comes and goes at the whim of the hospital. Do not try to do anything. There is nothing you can do.”

He vanished.

Ellen screamed until her voice gave out. Just as the lights flickered and went out with a faint whoosh, she noticed the smears of dried blood on the door. She wasn’t the first to pound at that door. Unless she found a way out of here, she wouldn’t be the last.

She put her shredded fist to her mouth and sobbed.