“What in high holy hell? Another teenager?”
Hannah stared at the nurse’s cuts on her face. “Are you okay?”
Meredith snorted. “I’m a damn sight better than you’re going to be.”
“What?” Hannah had trouble taking in the nurse’s appearance. A woman in a white nurse’s uniform was supposed to be safe and caring. But nothing about this situation suggested safety or care.
Nurse Stillmark pointed to the bag hanging from the girl’s shoulder. “How did you get that?”
Hannah shrugged. “I found it.”
“You found it? What’s your name, you little fool?”
Meredith laughed. “You break in, you steal, but you tell me your name? You really are a fool. Come with me then.”
Hannah remained rooted to where she was. “Why?”
Nurse Stillmark snatched Hannah’s arm. “Come with me, Hannah-the-fool because you want chaos and I can give it to you.”
Chaos. The word echoed. For a split second she dismissed the nurse as melodramatic, but her gaze rested on the ugly cuts. Running seemed unwise. Hannah let herself be led out of the basement and into the hall. The alarms continued to sound, but they were no longer shrill. They were almost hypnotic.
Hannah contemplated what else the nurse had said. You want chaos. Was that true? Was she like her grandmother? Her grandmother caused trouble. Hannah knew that much. She slipped the metal pick-pocketing tool into her hand, prepared to fight back if it came to that.
Nurse Stillmark spoke in clipped tones. “Follow my instructions,” she said. “Security is more brutal than clever. They’ve checked this corridor already. They won’t return for a while yet. Now, tell me, why’re you here?”
Hannah jutted out her chin. Her eyes glinted. “To free everyone.”
“I can’t call you a fool enough. Free everyone? This is an asylum, girl. Do you understand what that means?”
“It means you keep people locked up.”
“That’s right. Dangerous people. People who hurt others or themselves. People who are mad. You want them out in the world?”
“You just don’t like people who are different,” Hannah replied.
Nurse Stillmark stopped. “You’ve cost me my job.” The two of them stood in a long wide corridor lined with doors to patients’ rooms. The walls were beautiful rich wood and the floor covered in thick, sound-absorbing carpet. At the far end of the corridor gleamed a large window with velvet curtains.
Hannah said nothing. She wasn’t responsible for this woman. The cuts continued to bleed, and Hannah found it hard not to stare. “Aren’t you going to do something about those cuts?”
“Don’t be stupid.”
Hannah raised an eyebrow. This had to be the worst nurse ever. “But you’re a nurse.”
“So, you want to unlock all the doors. Is that right?” the nurse asked in reply.
“What if I do?” Hannah answered. If the nurse didn’t want to take care of herself, it was none of her business.
“Then start with that door over there. I assume you’ve a key or something since you’ve gotten this far. I’m going to start on this side of the hall. You start over there.”
“Seriously? Why are you telling me to—”
“Get to work, you little fool. Unlock the door and move on to the next.” Meredith pointed. “Face what you wanted.”
Hannah hesitated, but she took the lock-pick and knelt at the door. What did she care about the nurse? She had a chance to unlock the doors so she would.
The lock clicked, and Hannah gently pushed the heavy wood door. A bald girl stared back at her. The girl, looking only a little younger than Hannah, crouched at her door in the dark. She made no sound.
The girl’s gaze held Hannah in place, and her eyes held another world. A swirl of color twisted down a tunnel, and Hannah felt as if she were about to glimpse a place she hadn’t known she needed to see.
“Hannah,” came Nurse Stillmark’s voice. “Snap out of it.”
Hannah blinked. “What do I…” The girl’s eyes were ordinary coffee brown now.
“Careful what you look at. Move on to the next door,” the nurse said. “Don’t look. Open.”
Footsteps pounded on the floor above, rattling the light hanging from the ceiling. Hannah scooted away from the unmoving girl with the disturbing eyes. She picked the next lock. Behind her, Meredith opened doors on the other side of the hall. The nurse was faster. She had no impulse to look.
At the first door Meredith opened, and young man bolted out. He ran down the hall. Hannah turned her attention to the next door. She held her breath when she gave it a push.
The light from the hall fell into the dark room. A scream burst from the blackness.
Hannah scrambled backwards.
A woman scrambled from the shadows. Her nightdress caught under her knee and she fell forward. The woman stayed on the floor. She wailed and thrashed, but she didn’t get up. Her grey nightdress twisted around her and a rubber band tangled in her hair.
The woman appeared both twenty and fifty at the same time. “What’s wrong with her?” Hannah called out to the nurse.
“Does it matter?” Nurse Stillmark replied. She unlocked another door, not pulling it open all the way.
Hannah darted to the next door. She didn’t turn the knob this time. She waited, and the knob turned from the inside.
She braced herself to get out of the way.
An old hand appeared first, gripping the edge of the door, and a second later an old woman peered out. “I’ve a knife. If you don’t believe me, come closer,” the old woman said.
The wails of the woman on the floor pitched higher. The bald child had come into the hallway and was staring. A young man argued with Nurse Stillmark, although all Hannah understood the nurse to say to him was, “No. I’m not here with more medication.”
Shouts rose up beyond the corridor. The double doors at the end of the corridor crashed open. Security was coming.
* * *
Hasher Mansfield saw the lights from the Asylum long before he exited the highway. He never liked delivering there, making his drop offs in the semi-darkness. Lights meant something was happening. Apprehension and excitement rolled in his chest.
Once before he’d seen a bright light coming from the Asylum. When Hasher had pulled up, he’d seen an ambulance and armed guards. A scream cracked the air before everything went quiet.
Now the Asylum lights lit up the sky. He turned up the dirt drive and stopped at the gate. It was his last chance to turn around, but he’d never missed a delivery. Besides, curious gripped him.
The guard moved more slowly than normal, and Hasher’s unease grew.
The guard stepped out of his shed. He had a phone to his ear. After a glance at Hasher, he waved him on through.
Hasher took a moment to put his truck into gear. He’d never been waved through without a complete and thorough check of his papers and his cargo. Years of this same gig, seeing the same guards, and they insisted on following every procedure every time. Their obsessive checklists irritated him, but this laxness unnerved him.
The guard shouted into the phone. Hasher shook his head, crossed himself, and drove the truck onto the grounds. If he missed a delivery, he’d lose his job, and there weren’t many jobs around for a man like him.
At the curve in the road, he slowed down. He was glad he did. A young man ran across the road, directly in front of the truck where he threw himself in the dirt and made no other move.
Hasher slammed on the brakes. Bruises and cuts covered the young man. His clothes were torn. Hasher looked up at the Asylum lights unsure of what to do. Wait? Get out and check on the boy? Back up?
He rolled down his window to shout for the boy to get out of the way. Maybe this was some kind of prank, though Hasher knew it wasn’t. The night air entered the truck and so did shouts. Glass broke somewhere, the sound perfectly carried on the breeze. Shouts followed.
The lights of the Asylum wavered. They flickered. Then everything fell into darkness. The only light left came from the truck’s headlights, which spilled over the boy stretched out across the drive as if dead.