Nurse Meredith was outside when the Asylum flooded with light. She cursed. They must’ve found the boy.
She wished she hadn’t cut the rope as she might be the one needing an escape. She hurried to the back door.
She unlocked the back door and rushed in. She was grabbed and thrown to the floor. “Stop!” came a rough voice. “She’s a nurse.”
Hands yanked her to her feet as light shined in her eyes. She couldn’t see who she faced, but that was a good thing. “I’m Nurse Stillmark.”
“What are you doing here? Why aren’t you on your rounds?”
This wasn’t the question she expected. They should’ve asked about the missing boy. “There were two young men visiting here earlier. I was checking they were taken care of properly.”
“Did you see anything suspicious outside?”
“No.” She was supposed to tell them about the rope.
“You’re lying,” the voice said.
“Why would I?” she asked even though arguing with him was useless. Security didn’t change their conclusions.
“You will be questioned further.”
Nurse Meredith found herself dragged down the hall to the officer. She dreaded what waited for her there.
* * *
Hannah groaned and sat up. Lockers filled much of the dimly lit room.
She listened. Looking up, she didn’t see the door she’d gone through. A hidden door, perhaps? It didn’t matter. She had to find a place to hide. They weren’t going to stop looking for her after all.
But the lockers distracted her. Hannah pulled herself up. She’d have amazing bruises, but she was lucky not to have broken her neck. She stretched. What things did these lockers hold? She ran her hand down the nearest one. The bags and lunches of the employees or treasures from the patients? In prisons the guards took away the prisoners’ belongings. They probably did the same in this place. A desire to know possessed her.
Hannah realized she’d dropped her lockpick. After searching the floor, she found the slice of metal in a corner. Had she really cut someone with it? The tip looked wet and dark, and she wiped it on her jeans.
In the first locker hung a red hooded cape. She rested her hand in the velvet folds. She wanted it, but she left it there and shut the locker door. The next locker contained a hair comb made of tortoise shell. Tiny gemstones sparkled along its edge. She left it alone in spite of the impulse to pick it up.
She had to either find a hiding place or a way back to her rope, but she kept opening lockers. Jewels spilled from some. Several had fanciful shoes. She couldn’t resist opening one locker after the other.
With each locker she opened, patients grew more restless trapped in their rooms. Most were out of their beds. Several readied themselves to run if anyone should open their door.
In the next to last locker, Hannah found a intricately hand-stitched bag. The fabric shimmered. She looked back at the other lockers. With the bag, she could carry many things. She could take whatever fit in the bag. Never had she thought herself a thief. Was she really going to take what didn’t belong to her?
Hannah took the bag.
She took the red cape first and used it to pick up the other items. Fewer fingerprints that way, she told herself. The red hood, the shoes, the books, the combs, the mirror, all went into the bag, and the bag never felt any heavier or full. Hannah laughed.
Why not save everyone and then return to them their things? She’d unlock every door in the Asylum if she had to. Didn’t everyone deserve saving? It didn’t occur to her that while some of the rooms might have held harmless grandmothers, not every old woman was harmless.
* * *
If the people in town looked, they’d have seen an unusual amount of light coming up from the trees where the Asylum stood. The Asylum usually stayed dark at night. Few lights were ever noticed.
Most of the townspeople were asleep or not looking in that direction. People considered looking in that direction bad luck, and mothers sometimes scolded their children, “If you look too long, you’ll end up there.”
A few people noticed though. A homeless couple, a truck driver pulled over to the side of the road, and a father up with a colicky baby noticed. The wind changed and they thought back to stories from childhood. Those who were looking at the light from the woods felt as if their lives were about to change.