The unlocked, unguarded gate further disturbed Hasher Mansfield. It shouldn’t be easy to leave the Asylum grounds. He hadn’t made his delivery and he had a bloodied teen stashed under a blanket.
He’d been prepared to drive full throttle through the gate if need be, but finding the gate abandoned made him come to a stop. He tapped his steering wheel and debated the wisdom of getting out to look around. “Stupid,” he muttered.
Looking left to right, Hasher drove up to the gate and used his fender to nudge the gate open the rest of the way. He did this slowly, praying to attract no attention. He was almost through when the gate scratched the side of the truck and caught on something.
He applied a little gas, and the gate strained. He backed up a foot, and the gate moved with him. Did he want to risk dragging the gate free from its hinges? What could’ve caught on the gate? A hard look into the side mirror showed a possible bent side-rail hooking onto the gate.
Hasher glanced back over his shoulder and down at the lumpy form in the back seat. “All right, kid,” he said. “Whoever you are. Mind the store ‘til I get back.” No reply was forthcoming.
Hasher sighed. The world was dark beyond the glow of his headlights. “I never should’ve taken this job. Jenny told me not to.” He pushed open the heavy truck door. He listened. “Hell. You’d think I believed in ghost stories.” He dropped out of the truck.
The wind picked up, and Hasher heard something other than the wind in the trees.
* * *
“I go nowhere until I get back what’s mine,” the old said. “I didn’t come to the basement to spend time with you two.”
Hannah twisted her mouth. Everything had gone so far from her plan, what could be better than just running? These women had nothing to do with her. She could take off and get back home and forget the whole thing. Only Nate and Clem knew anything about her foolishness, about which they’d stay silent. She could count on that.
“Then what are you waiting for, old woman?” Nurse Stillmark asked.
Lost in thought, it took a moment for Hannah to realize the women were staring at her. “What?”
“Stupid girl,” the old woman said.
“Oh. You think I have it.” The weight of the bag pulled at Hannah’s shoulder. Well, she had stolen everything in it anyway. Surely giving up one item meant nothing. It was difficult to understand the hold the objects had on her after hardly an hour in her possession. “What is it?”
Nurse Stillmark snorted.
The old woman turned to the nurse. “I used to imagine stabbing you with your pen.”
“The pen you scribble on your clip board with.”
“Hey. I took care of you. I was the perfect nurse.”
“Perfect for who?”
Hannah cleared her throat. She held out the green shoes. She’d been careful in searching through the bag, grateful the old woman hadn’t wanted a ring or tiny pebble. “What’re you going to do with them?”
The old woman snatched the shoes.
It seemed to Hannah a veil lifted between her and the old woman in that moment. “Will you now tell me your name? I don’t want to say, ‘hey you.’”
The veil fell back into place. “Make up a name then,” the old woman replied.
“I can tell you her name.” Nurse Stillmark had her arms crossed and her head held high. “But first I want to know how she plans on running around carrying a pair of dancing shoes. Unless you’re going to dance out of here, old woman.”
But the old woman ignored the nurse. She handed the shoes back to the teenager. “I just wanted to make confirm you had them. Keep them in the bag until we’re done here.”
Hannah, wary, took the shoes back. She pretended not to notice the expressions from the women watching her open the bag and pull it shut again. “So…what next?”
“We get the hell out of this basement.” Nurse Stillmark’s gaze lingered over the bag. The cuts on her face appeared to be better, the blood drying. “The patients must truly be out of control if security hasn’t found us here yet.”
“Wait. Should some other patients have come here by now? If…” Hannah frowned at the old woman. “If she wanted what belonged to her, then don’t the others?”
“Of course they do, but it’s complicated and we need to go.”
But Hannah had been standing still long enough for dozens of questions to demand attention. First and foremost, wasn’t the basement the most secure room in the building? The sounds of the alarm didn’t reach through the walls and weren’t there more spaces to explore or even hide in. A corner sink and shelf caught her attention. There was water and it looked like boxes of crackers and cookie tins. Food. Then she noticed another door and a picture hanging over it. A drawing of a black bird stared down at them. “Black birds!” The boy on the roof! How could she’ve forgotten? “I saw a boy on the roof earlier. When I first got on the property. Do you know anything about him?”
Nurse Stillmark, halfway to the exit, stopped. “A boy?”
The old woman nodded. “You saw the birds.”
“How do you know that?” Hannah asked.
“We don’t have time for this!” Nurse Stillmark marched to the door.
But the old woman seemed to feel they had all the time in the world. “They take the children when they can. They get them out.”
Hannah continued to gaze at the pen-and-ink drawing. “I don’t understand.”
Pounding on the basement door made Hannah and the nurse jump. Security had found them.
The old woman raised her knife. “Chances are good you’ll understand before the night is over.”
Go to the 12th Installment