Ana felt a thin bead of sweat snake its way down the small of her back, coming to rest in the waistband of her pajama bottoms. She eased the door to her room open just enough to allow a quick glimpse of the corridor beyond. The familiar antiseptic smell of ward “C” assaulted her senses. Every third fluorescent light glared from the tiled ceiling and created an alternating pattern of light and dark down the long hallway. She could hear the delicate clicks and beeps of the hospital settling down for the night. It’s now or never. She pushed the door open further and craned her neck around the frame to steal a glance down the other end of the corridor. Her first goal, the big, green double doors that connected ward “C” to the hospital’s hub and the main entrance, sat thirty feet away, just beyond the security office window.
She checked her waistband for the pilfered security badge. A pang of guilt washed over her. In the sixteen years she’d been at Hillcrest, Sam was by far the nicest to her. He trusted her, which is why it had been so easy to take his badge.
Sorry Sam. I hope you don’t lose your job over this, but I have to get out of here. The book is insistent.
She slipped out from behind the door and glided across the hall, flicking her short, dark hair out of her eyes with a quick toss of her head. Behind her, the door closed with an audible click. She froze and glanced over her shoulder. Nothing. No alarms. No shuffling of feet. Just the steady drone of the industrial air conditioners. She took a deep breath and shook some of the tension from her shoulders. With her back to the wall, she crouched and crept down the corridor, stopping just short of the security office.
Light flickered from the window, casting shadows across the wall in intermittent waves. She crouched beneath the nearest side of the windowsill, and chanced a quick peek within. She could see the thick neck of the night guard, his hair buzzed short just like all of the wannabe cops who worked the security detail at the hospital. On the little screen in front of him, two teams ran up and down the court.
Enjoy your game, buddy. You’re gonna get fired when they find out I escaped under your watch.
She smiled to herself as she dropped to all fours and crawled clear of the window and over to the security panel in front of the doors. With her back to the wall, she slowed her breathing and wiped the sweat from her palms. She took the security badge from her waistband and brushed the magnetic strip with the shirtsleeve of her pajamas. Once she swiped the badge and opened the door, she would have to move quickly to get across the lobby and to the outer doors before raising any alarms.
One more deep breath to steady her heartbeat. A quick swipe of the badge over the security panel. A short buzz, an orange light, then nothing.
Damn! This can’t be happening. Surely Sam has the security clearance to get out of the ward.
She turned the badge over, examining the magnetic strip on the back. How many times has this thing been used? She buffed it against her pant leg and examined the strip once more. It didn’t look any better, but she was running out of time. Soon the orderlies would begin their rounds, and it would only be a matter of time before they realized she wasn’t in her room. She whispered a prayer and gave the badge another quick swipe. Another short buzz, a green light, and the door’s heavy lock clicked loose.
She grabbed the edge of the door near the bottom and pulled it open slowly, giving herself just enough space to crawl through. She used the tip of her foot to ease the door closed behind her, and then positioned herself in the corner between the door and the narrow bit of wall that opened into the lobby. It was darker here than the corridor. Moonlight advanced from the glass entry doors that let out onto a circular drive. Just the reception desk, some low tables, and a couple of couches stood between Ana and freedom. Security cameras surveyed the grounds outside the hospital, but by the time they spotted her, it would be too late. She would run for all she was worth. She would run from all that had haunted her these past fifteen years and out into the world to get the answers she needed.
She braced her back against the wall, and pushed herself upwards. Every moment was another step in the well-rehearsed plan she’d played out in her mind. Tracing her path through the reception area, she tensed her muscles like thick coils waiting to be sprung. In an impossible fury of momentum, she hurled herself from the wall and dashed out into the open. She darted between the reception desk and the sofas and leapt over the low tables in one fluid motion.
Not far now. Just a few more steps.
The security badge poised in her hand, she launched herself at the access panel, and swiped the badge without pausing. No buzz. No light. She slammed hard into the glass doors, bounced backwards, and fell to the floor.
Damn! Not again.
She stood and tried the badge once more. Still nothing.
You’ve got to be kidding me. Sam can work in this ward, but he can’t leave?
The tiny red lights of the security cameras locked on her like prey. She had come too far to give up now. She wasn’t going to go back without a fight. The book wouldn’t let her.
Sirens wailed to life, nearly drowning out the sounds of the orderlies shouting and scrambling to see what had broken the night’s silence.
She pushed one of the couches perpendicular to the wall and turned one of the low tables up on end. If they wanted her, they were going to have to take her on one at a time. She took a defensive position and steadied her breathing. The double doors of ward “B” flew open and she smiled to herself.
Only three of them. I have a chance.
She didn’t recognize any of the men. In all her years at the hospital, she had never been outside of ward “C.”
All three were large and muscle bound. Each of them stared at her like prey.
What kind of head cases do they keep in ward “B” to need orderlies like this?
Ana moved her feet apart slightly and settled her weight on her toes.
They might be big, but they have no idea who they’re dealing with.
The first to speak was a burly Nordic-looking man, with hands as big as hams and shoulders as wide as a truck.
“Okay, Ana,” said Nordic, “just stay calm. We aren’t going to hurt you.” He advanced slowly with his palms outstretched.
“Don’t take another step,” she said. She could tell he didn’t quite know what to make of her. She smiled again just to throw him off. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the other two men flanking her. They were smaller than Nordic, but not by much.
“This doesn’t have to be difficult. We just need you to relax, and come back to your room. It’s not safe for you out here.” Nordic inched closer, keeping his palms up.
She didn’t waste any time. She reached out in a blur of movement and grabbed his right hand. With a hard thrust she bent his fingers back, bringing the large man to his knees. She jabbed her hand outward, smashing Nordic’s nose back into his face with the heel of her palm. She could hear and feel the sickening crunch. Blood trailed from the big man’s nose. He slumped forward and crumpled to the floor like a wet towel.
The other two men rushed her from opposite sides. The orderly to her right lunged over the couch towards her. She crouched and used his momentum to slam him into the glass doors. He fell to his knees taking the table with him, but he managed to grab hold of her leg, preventing her from facing the next orderly head on.
The other man was on her in an instant. He grabbed her shoulders, and held her close in a vice-like grip. She kneed the first orderly in the face causing him to loosen his hold on her leg slightly. She twisted her body and pushed forward, shoving the second orderly against the glass. His grip remained strong. She brought her right leg backwards in a quick move, and then drove her knee forward planting it deep into his groin. Warm breath rushed out against her neck, and his grip loosened. She shook him off, and let him fall to the floor.
Her body raced with adrenaline. She was running out of time. Nordic groaned at her feet. She rolled him over, and reached in his pockets.
She pulled the security badge from his inside pocket, and gave it a cursory swipe against her pajama top. This was it. This was her ticket to freedom. A short sprint would get her to the edge of the property. From there she could lose herself in the woods beyond. She would follow the creek, use it to mask her scent. Not that they would send the dogs after her. They’d probably do an ‘exhaustive’ search for appearances, and then call her mother to give her the news.
That voice. She turned sharply, looking back towards ward “C.” Sam stood in the doorway with his mop and bucket in hand. She could read the disappointment in his eyes. She’d seen that look time and time again from her mother.
“Sam, I’m sorry, but I don’t have any choice. I have to get out of here. You know I have to find the book before the others.” She turned the security badge over in her hand, and took a step back toward the door.
“Not like this, girl. Doc said you were starting to make progress. You had a real chance of gettin’ outta here legit.” He made no moves toward her; he just leaned against his mop handle shaking his head.
“I don’t have that kind of time. I don’t know where it is, but I know I have to find it, and soon. The others are gathering. They want to open it. That would be bad. That would be bad for everyone.” She felt Nordic stirring at her feet. She stepped back just out of his reach.
“I think you’re a great kid, but you gotta know how crazy that sounds.”
“I know, Sam. That’s why I have to get out of here now. Nobody understands, and they never will. I’m sorry if I caused you any trouble.”
She turned towards the door; one of the orderlies was on his knees with a hypodermic needle in his hand. She stumbled backwards, but Nordic caught her leg and held her in place. She felt the sting of the needle as it plunged into her thigh, followed by a flood of warmth that travelled up her leg and into her chest. She was on a merry-go-round spinning in the wrong direction. There was a rush of air thick with the smell of antiseptic right before the lights went out.