Into the Dark
It didn’t take as long as I expected to get there, traffic was much lighter in the wee hours than during regular daylight hours. Gate security was expecting me, so I got through check-in without too much fuss. One thing about making patient calls at this time of night, no worry about where to park. Nearly all the spaces in the asylum’s parking lot were empty. I chose a well-lit spot close to the building and got out after putting the cassette player and file in my glove compartment. Somebody needs to think of a new name for that thing, nobody stores gloves there anymore.
As promised, Nash was waiting for me at the double glass doors. He signaled me to show my ID card before he opened one for me.
“Thank you for coming, Dr. Sutherland.”
“Not a problem,” I lied. “How is Mr. Carter?”
“Quiet.” Nash escorted me through the quiet halls, which were only lit enough so you didn’t trip over your own feet, to the wing where the more disruptive patients were housed and treated. “Your suggestion worked.” He gave me a look that clearly asked for more information, but I clamped my jaws tight on the words of explanation I started to give him. It looked like someone else had been roused from their beds tonight. I recognized the detectives from the meeting at the start of the investigation into Jensen’s disappearance. Hall and Gordon. In suits, white shirts, ties, and trench coats, they looked like they stepped directly out of a TV cop show, making me wonder who copied who.
Nash anticipated me. “I didn’t call the police. They showed up on their own a few minutes before you.”
Gordon, the lead and taller of the two, stepped forward with hand extended as Nash and I drew closer.
“Detectives,” I greeted them as we shook hands. “Have you any news about Dr. Jensen?
“No, Doctor, though there has been a disturbing development.”
My stomach sank almost painfully. “I need to check on my patient. Can we talk and walk?”
While Nash led the way, Hall explained. “You know that Carter had a hit list? I was following up with the survivors, trying to find out if there was a pattern to his choice. Some of them were unreachable. They had gone missing. While Carter was in custody or committed here. One of those people is Dr. Jensen.”
That made me stop short for a moment. “But it’s impossible for Carter to be involved. Do you mean he has an accomplice?”
Gordon shook his head, “No evidence of that. We’re here to interview him again and try to figure out what’s going on.”
Recorded words replayed in my memory but I cast them aside as outrageous.
Nash looked over his shoulder as he strode ahead of us. “Well, I can assure you Patient Carter has not been sneaking out of Clover Field to commit murders or make people vanish. He is under constant surveillance. I’ve got an orderly keeping an eye on him as we speak.”
We rounded a corner. “An orderly?” I asked.
Two orderlies and a security guard were clustered outside what must be the room where they’d put Carter, arguing with worried expressions on faces that went pale when Nash barked, “What is going on here?”
One of the orderly glanced at his companions before saying, “I don’t know what happened, Mr. Nash. I was only gone for a minute.”
“You left him alone?!” I pushed through the crowd to stare through the wired glass of the small observation window set in the door. I didn’t know what I feared to see. My patient catatonic in a corner or dead by hanging from bed sheets or some other self-inflicted means.
I saw an empty room, the only sign that it had been occupied, a rumpled blanket on the narrow bed and a paper cup tipped over in a small puddle of water on the floor.
“Damn. He’s gone.”
Nash shoved me aside, stared for about two seconds, and then started shouting at his staff. “Why didn’t you make sure he was secure?”
The security guard bristled. “He was secure. You were there when we…”
“Don’t just stand there, Burdett” Nash interrupted, “start searching for him. We’re locked down, he has to still be in the building.”
“Now is not the time to place blame, Mr. Nash.” Gordon didn’t shout but his words and tone were enough to shut everyone up. He took command. “Dr. Sutherland, use the phone at the front desk to call the police. This is a big place, we need bodies to conduct a thorough search. You,” he pointed at the security guard, “go with the doctor, the rest of you, come with us.”
They took off, leaving me standing there with the security guard. With a shrug, Burdett escorted me to the front reception area all the while grumbling under his breath. I couldn’t really blame him. I’d seen what he had and what Nash ignored when he started throwing accusations around. There were no windows in the isolation room and the door was impossible to open from the inside. Not likely the orderly hadn’t double-checked to make sure a properly shut and locked door stood between him and a confessed insane killer. So how did Carter get out?
I let it go. Figuring that out wasn’t my job.
I placed the call as asked. Burdett pointed to the wired glass booth of the security station. “I need to let the front gate know what’s going on. I’ll be in sight the whole time. Yell if you need anything.”
Nodding, I settled into the receptionist’s chair to wait for the police to show up. It was the kind that rotated and I started swinging myself back and forth to help keep myself alert. You’d think with a psychiatric patient on the loose that I’d be wired, but I really didn’t thing Carter posed a danger to anyone. He wouldn’t go outside the electronic surveillance’s reach so he’d be easy to find. Without that adrenaline rush, the weight of too many late nights and early mornings was dragging at me.
The chair needed oiling, but that didn’t bother me. The creak kept the place from being too quiet. Despite that I kept catching myself drifting off. I’d pulled myself out of a half doze when something registered in my peripheral vision. I slowed my swinging to squint through the window into the parking lot.
There was nothing to see out there beyond the window glass but islands of light from the lamp posts and the darkness between.
I was about to resume my chair swinging when something lurched into one of a pools of light. My brain refused to make sense of what my eyes were seeing at first. It took too long to fill in the missing parts and realize it was a man struggling toward the building. An arm stretched out and fingers clawed the asphalt as it tried to drag the rest of the body forward. Wet red soaked the hair and stained the torn clothes and skin.
His name was a whispered prayer that I was wrong. I’d like to think I would have run out there, tried to help him, but a … thing loomed out of the darkness behind him, and I froze. Carter said they only got as big as a raccoon. This was huge, looming. The wrong number of limbs, some with too many joints, skin that shifted from scale to stone to fur, colors that didn’t fit the natural spectrum and hurt the eyes, and what had to be a mouth with row upon row of jagged, bloody teeth through which flickered something that must be a tongue.
I could only watch as he struggled against being dragged back and away, and failed. He didn’t even have time to scream, though I’m not sure he had enough of a throat left to make sounds loud enough to breach the expanse of the lot and pierce the walls to be heard by human ears.His twitching body rose into the air, impaled on claws like insanely sharp knitting needles, and hunter and prey simply faded into the dark and vanished.