Hannah ran like the old woman told her to. She ran by figures lingering in the hall. They were blurs in the corner of her eye. She glimpsed a girl with flame red hair and a boy made of scars.
She was almost to the door when a lone black bird flew into the hall from the shadows of a patient’s room. The bird swooped and cawed. Hannah jerked sideways to avoid its mad flight, and she crashed into a man wearing a doorman’s uniform. She knocked him into the wall. His name tag reflected the hall light.
“I’m George.” He rubbed the back of his head.
He might be able to lunge and take hold of her, but she sized him up. He wasn’t a man who knew how to deal with someone who fought back.
George continued to rub the back of his head. “Go back to your room,” he said. “You patients can’t be running willy nilly out here. Nurse will have us hung.” He squinted. “What was I doing?”
At that moment, the old woman caught up with Hannah. She nodded at the doorman. “He’s one of them.”
“I don’t think he’s going to bother us,” Hannah replied.
The doorman bent over forward and put his hands on his knees. “I think I hit my head,” he mumbled.
Hannah hesitated. She’d crashed into him hard, but his disorientation seemed out of proportion. “You okay?”
He stayed bent over, but he laughed. He coughed. He hacked. “Can’t say a patient’s ever asked after me like that. Am I okay?” He leaned even farther forward. “My head hurts.”
“What should we do?” Hannah turned to the old woman. “I think I…”
“I told you not to stop for any reason, and here you are, worrying about one of Them.” The old woman stepped over to the doorman.
A noise from behind them made Hannah glance the other. A loud thud startled her. The uniformed man was knocked out on the floor. The old woman stood over him.
“What happened?” Hannah asked.
“But he’s unconscious.”
“He fell hard,” the old woman said. “Now go. Run like I told you to.”
Hannah leapt the over the last few steps to the stairwell door. She leaned forward, resting her head on the door, and from the shadows came movement. She lashed out and the lockpick made contact.
She recognized the voice a moment before she recognized the figure. Nate, beaten and holding a hand to his wounded arm, stared. “Hannah,” he said. “What the hell are you doing?”
She stared back at him. “Nate?”
Too late, she remembered the old woman.
The old woman came up behind him and kicked him in the back of his knee. Already injured and standing lopsided, he fell. The knife glinted in the old woman’s hand.
“Wait!” Hannah shouted. “He’s my friend.”
The old woman paused. She looked down at the confused and scared boy. He made no move to get up or get away.
The old woman put her knife down. “You have stupid friends,” she said. “Now keep moving.”
Nate remained on the floor, but he turned his head enough to focus on Hannah. “Han,” he whispered.
She turned away and pulled open the door to the basement stairs. The old woman shoved Hannah inside and pulled the door shut. “Lock it,” the woman said.
“What? I don’t have a key.”
“We won’t get through this if you don’t think. You’ve got a lockpick. Use it.”
“Will that work?” Hannah had never considered using a lockpick to lock something. A dim light lit the narrow stairwell.
“Make it work. Before that stupid boy or anyone else follows us.”
Hannah knelt at the keyhole. “He’s not stupid.” But though she liked him for his tough talk and dark eyes, his intelligence came scattershot.
“I’ve known men whose minds cut through the veils of the universe. That boy isn’t fit to cut butter for my toast.”
The lock dropped into place. “You don’t even know him.” Hannah stood.
A pounding on the door made Hannah jump.
Nate’s voice, muffled, came through the heavy metal door. He seemed to call her name, but it was hard to be sure.
“Don’t waste yourself on a boy who needs you to make excuses for him. Now move. We’re wasting time.”
Hannah wanted neither to leave Nate behind nor bring him with them. She thought of Clem. Why was Nate alone? Why has he beaten? Just for answers to her questions she needed to open the door to him.
The old woman was moving down the steep stairs. After giving the door a goodbye tap, as if Nate had any hope to hear it and understand it, she left Nate behind and followed the old woman down the stairs. The old woman’s back was stooped, but the fabric of the dress stretched tightly across muscles. Hannah found herself wondering again just how old the woman really was. “I don’t even know your name.”
“Nothing good can come of telling you,” the old woman said. They reached the basement door.
Perhaps the old woman was right about that. Hannah glanced back over her shoulder. “How many ways are there into the basement? This isn’t how I got in before, and it isn’t the way I got out either.” Cold emanated from the walls. Hannah possessed an excellent sense of direction, but the Asylum left her feeling lost.
“Many, but you can never use the same way twice.”
“Not without the right key.”
“Oh.” Hannah thought. “That nurse has the right key, doesn’t she?”
The old woman put a hand on the doorknob. “We don’t know what or who will be inside, so be prepared.”
“I was in there not that long ago. When I left it was empty.”
“You’re not young enough to believe that nothing changes when you’re not looking.” The old woman opened the basement door.