The aisles of the hospital seemed haunted by those who had found their unfortunate end in the building. Despite the good lighting, some darkness was still lingering in the stone, concrete and steel of the structure. It doesn’t matter how much light there is in any place, darkness still finds its way and hides behind it. Relentless, patient, and unforgiving, it is waiting... But for what?
It was close to midnight, a relative silence reigned throughout the ward. Only a few coughs and whispers broke it sometimes, and they echoed through the corridors. The clock on the wall behind the reception desk seemed to be dragging. Midnight was an hour even the clocks didn’t want to reach. As if clocks had consciousness, or had they? Who knows how many secrets did the universe have? Time, space, consciousness, and the darkness behind the light.
Nurse Carrie Holloway was staring with blank eyes at a crossword puzzle on the desk before her. She was tired, being on duty during the night shift, it was not exactly her cup of tea. The pay was a little higher, and she was safe from the craziness of the day shift, but she still hated it.
Her long brown hair partially covered her face as her head was resting in her palm. A steaming cup of coffee filled the place with an unmistakable smell. Nurse Holloway hated to drink coffee during the night. It made her stomach turn, but it was the only thing which was keeping her somewhat awake.
Footsteps were approaching from the corridor to her right. She recognized them, the steps of Dr. David Newman, who was on duty this night. Carrie didn’t really like him. A man in his late thirties, married with two kids, David always tried to hit on her. He was never overly aggressive, but the good doctor was relentless.
Carrie looked up when the man was a few steps away. He smiled at her as he always did, but she was not impressed. Dr. Newman was not an ugly man, but something in his eyes compelled Carrie to be cautious. The doctor saw the streaks of sleeplessness under nurse Holloway’s eyes, but he still smiled a lustful smile at her. The smell of tobacco followed the doctor. He might have been out to smoke.
‘You know,’ he began after glancing at the cup of coffee, ‘I can take you to a place where they make coffee, which is a thousand times better than that. Tomorrow night, maybe...’
‘Thanks, I know a few places myself,’ she interrupted him and threw a forced smile at Dr. Newman.
‘But I bet you don’t know this one…’
‘I might actually know it. But why don’t you take your wife to coffee?’
‘Come on, Carrie! You’re breaking my heart...’
‘And you’re breaking your wife’s heart...’
Dr. Newman raised his hands as if he is giving up, then turned to walk away. In the next second, they both heard sirens in the distance. In a few seconds, an old and battered ambulance appeared in the driveway.
Both nurse Holloway and Dr. Newman forgot about their coffee issues, and headed to the main entrance where all the emergencies came in. The town being small, there were few emergency personnel in the Emergency Department. They were the only ones on duty. Of course, there was also Norman, the old security guard, but he was not a medical employee.
The ambulance stopped near the entrance, and its back doors opened. An ambulance worker jumped down and grabbed the stretcher. The other worker grabbed the other end, and they put it down on the ground. On it, there was an elderly-looking man with a bony, haggard face. Half-dried vomit was shining on his face and neck, also on his dirty shirt. He was mumbling something, but nobody could understand what.
‘What happened to him?’ asked Dr. Newman.
‘I don’t know,’ answered one of the workers, a broad-shouldered black man. ‘A park ranger found him in the woods when he was on his night patrol. Looks like this old bastard wanted to kill himself. The ranger told us he was mumbling about takin’ some poison. He shoved his finger inside the man’s throat. To make him vomit, you know... But he needs his systems cleaned. This hospital was the closest, so we brought him here.’
As the ambulance workers were pushing the stretcher inside, nurse Holloway was already preparing the apparatus to clean the man’s digestive system. Doing gastric suction was not something new. She did it many times on people who overdosed on pills, booze, and who knows what else.
As she touched the old man, she noticed flickering around her, and instinctively looked up at the ceiling. In the same instant, one of the light bulbs went dead. Strange, she thought, and turned to continue with the procedure.
‘Hope he makes it,’ said the other worker, a skinny white guy with a big nose. ‘He kept mumbling about the other side, monsters in the dark, and all kinds of weird stuff.’
‘Some crazy shit, man!’ said the other one.
‘We’ll do our best to save him,’ replied the doctor as the two men turned to go back to the ambulance.
Nurse Holloway inserted a flexible plastic tube in the patient’s mouth, down his esophagus. The man gagged, but then the gagging stopped, so the nurse continued. The doctor sprayed saline solution down the tube in order to dissolve the stomach’s contents. After that, he started the suction. Nurse Holloway didn’t take her hand off the tube and was ready to hold the man down in case he behaved erratically.
The patient was fairly calm during the procedure, but his eyes were darting all around the place. They opened and closed rhythmically, sometimes his eyes rolled upwards showing only their whites. Carrie shuddered at the sight, but continued with the work. After finishing, she administered the patient 1 mg/kg of activated charcoal in order to neutralize the poison still in the man’s system.
‘His pupils are dilated, he’s likely slipping in and out of consciousness,’ she said to Dr. Newman. ‘I can’t smell any alcohol on his breath. He’s also soaked in sweat, probably dehydrated too.’
‘We’ll give him some fluids, intravenously. How’s his pulse?’
She checked his pulse and noticed that it was fast. His sunken cheeks resembled wet sandpaper, he looked like a tarnished mannequin in a long abandoned shop. The patient’s eyes stopped moving, his breathing became shallow and more frequent.
His sunken eyes kept focusing on something. The stare was distant, however. The man was watching something, something that was not here but somewhere else.
Nurse Holloway turned to walk away, she needed something from the table nearby. The mysterious man grabbed her forearm, and she gasped in surprise. Doctor Newman saw her eyes open wide as she turned back to face the patient.
‘Don’t let me die here! Please!’ he pleaded with desperation on his face.
‘Sir, please calm down. Everything will be all right.’
‘If I die here,’ he began again then gasped for air, ‘if I die here, it will cross over... So much pain in this place...’
Carrie looked at David, the doctor looked just as surprised as she was. Nothing of what the man said made any sense, but still it made both of them nervous.
‘Don’t worry, sir,’ she tried to placate him again, ‘everything will be ok, we will take care of you.’
‘No, you don’t understand...’ he said, and tried to get out of his bed.
‘Please, sir,’ said Dr. Newman and moved to hold him down, ‘calm down.’
‘Let me out, before it’s too late!’ he said while struggling with both the doctor and the nurse. They were both impressed by the strength of the seemingly frail man.
‘Sedate him, Carrie!’
Carrie rushed for the sedative and a syringe. The patient became more and more violent, David had a hard time holding him down. After a few seconds, the nurse injected him with a sedative, which acted quickly. The man fell asleep while mumbling incoherent words.
‘Put him somewhere close. Also, tell Norman to keep an eye on the monitors. If anything happens, we have to know. Hopefully, by morning he will be more reasonable.’
Nurse Holloway searched for a room which was empty and could accommodate one person only. There were plenty of free beds in the common rooms, but she didn’t want to take any chances with the deranged man.