Hannah decided not to think about the dead man. She hoped the old woman was as good at running as she was at wielding a knife.
“The way is clear,” the old woman said. “For now.”
Hannah resisted the impulse to look at the body. Her plan had gotten far away from her. The idea of this would’ve been cool a few hours ago. But being in a dark room with an actual dead body changed what was cool.
The old woman gestured for Hannah to step out into the hall. “Don’t be afraid, girl. You got yourself in here. You can get yourself out.”
“I know.” Hannah didn’t want the woman’s reassurance. She moved into the hall. “But I’d like to keep knife work to a minimum.”
The woman looked down at the knife in her hand and smiled slightly. “Never be afraid of a little work, my dear.”
Hannah didn’t respond. They needed to run. She tilted her head slightly to pinpoint where the noises came from but sounds echoed and confused her. “Maybe we can find a place to hide until things blow over.”
“Nothing blows over, sweetheart. They lie in wait.” The old woman stepped further away from the relative safety of the room. “We need to get to the basement. That’s where everything important is.”
“Everyone is between us and the basement.”
“That’s where we need to go. Besides,” the old woman said, “you’ve already been there once.”
“How do you know that?”
The old woman nodded at the bag. “I know that bag, you fool girl.”
Hannah’s stomach twisted. “Oh. Is it yours?”
The woman snorted. “Come now.” And she took off down the hall.
The old woman’s speed surprised Hannah, and she sprinted to catch up.
At the stairwell door the old woman stopped. She wasn’t out of breath. “When I open this door,” she said, “you run. Run to the bottom of the stairs. The stairs to the basement are on the other side of the building, so we’ll have to run down the main hall. Listen to me and don’t stop. If someone grabs you, fight enough to get away, then keep going. Don’t listen to their threats. Don’t listen to anything. Don’t look anyone in the eye. Understood?”
Hannah nodded. She had her lock pick in her hand. It had already proven a useful weapon though she hoped she wouldn’t need to use it like that again.
* * *
Nurse Stillmark cursed. She’d lost sight of the girl in the chaos.
Nurse Stillmark darted into the bathroom off of the admittance office. The bathroom ostensibly was for visitors, but visitors rarely stayed long enough to need a bathroom.
She found specks of blood on her hands and arms. She rinsed off in the sink. Staying in the bathroom for long made no sense. Security would eventually come to it. She shook her hands dry. Security wasn’t what it used to be. She blamed cutbacks. All the same, only a fool trifled with Security.
For the first time in a while, Nurse Stillmark thought of the boys that had come to the door earlier. What had Security done to those boys? Those boys and Hannah’s appearance couldn’t be coincidence.
Nurse Stillmark checked her reflection in the mirror over the sink. The girl could be anywhere.
With patients and Security running every which way, the girl could even be dead. But those boys could be only in one of two places. Of those two places, just one held any hope the boys were in any condition to talk to.
Something hit the floor overhead. Nurse Stillmark glanced at the ceiling. She should set fire to the place and be done with it. Burning down the Asylum and everyone in it remained the most likely way to assure her own survival. But what did she have to start a new life? The answer came quickly. The right precious object from the basement could pay her way to freedom and safety. She was sure of it.
But a long time had passed since she’d been out in the world. What would it be like to walk its sidewalks again? Nurse Stillmark remembered something she hadn’t thought of in years, something she used to do before she’d taken the job at the Asylum. What would it be like now, to sit at a café, a book in hand, watching ordinary people stroll by? She’d like to do that again. In that moment, her hand on the door handle, she wanted a spring day at a sidewalk café.
All she had to do was break the hold the Asylum had on her. All she had to do was find that one item to pay for her new life. All she had to do was burn the Asylum to the ground.