Philip Matthew Wendt
It all started with the admittance of Bill Blaney into our hospice wing about six weeks ago. No, that’s wrong. Actually, I don’t know exactly when it all started. What I do know is it was born at the bottom of the lake of fire during the time of the goat with a thousand young. However, when you are referring to this day and age, and the twenty or so employees here at Shady Grove retirement community then yes, one could say Bill Blaney is when it started. He certainly led the way if nothing else. Bill was a small man in stature, suffered severe scoliosis, and was raised on the bayous of Louisiana. I rarely saw Bill when he was alive, but I sure saw him often after his death. This is nothing unusual for me, seeing the dead. I have had the ability since around the age of thirteen. I am what most would label as a “medium” though I personally feel that title gives no meaning or justice to my ability. There is not and never has been anything pleasant about my ability. It was only in the past few years that I have gotten somewhat of a handle on dealing with it all. Unfortunately, there will never come a time when I get used to it completely. It is too unnatural for me, even after twenty-seven years. I don’t think anyone on this earth could learn to deal with the fact that at any time of day, in any place, they could very well open their eyes and somewhere in their field of vision see a recently deceased human (or animal) of any age, from infant to elderly. I never know what is coming next. I might see an elderly man one morning and then during lunch see a two-year-old searching for his mommy. It is a completely terrifying curse in every way possible. My profession as a nurse or any other position in the medical field aren’t very wise professions for people with my ability, I need not explain. Lucky for me, the vast majority of the recently deceased only hang around for a week or two. Only long enough for them to realize that they are really dead. Or to just simply accept the fact that they no longer exist, (or both). However, there are those select few that do stay among the living for quite a while, some of them eternally. I have labeled these oddities as alumni. So, it wasn’t unusual seeing Bill pass me in the hallway two days after his death. What was unusual, however, were his eyes. As long as I had known him they had always been the dull, piss yellow color that defines liver failure, so I was used to that. Now his eyes were an extremely bright and radiating yellow. If I didn’t know he was dead I would assume he was wearing a pair of those novelty contacts the Dollar Bonanza carries just up the street.Bill had a smirk on his face, a cold, dangerous look very unlike the usual confused and bewildered looks of the recent dead. I turned and watched him walk away with a bewildered look of my own. My instincts gave me a bad feeling that I couldn’t place. At that time, I thought the spirit realm have never and would never be aware that I could see them, or the living either. I have never told anyone about my ability as this would make it exponentially more terrifying. If just one spirit found out…. I shudder the thought. I think now, after all this, that the spirits that stay are the lucky ones. What you have to try an understand is the very real possibility that the beautiful afterlife you have worshipped and anticipated all of your life grabs you and pulls you under. You see evil in the flesh, raw and pure. Now you scratch and claw in desperation, to make it back here to the living, back to the light.
The day I met Abigail Wilson’s ghost was cold, wet, and miserable. It was the type of day where depression and sorrow hang thick in the air, flowing with the winds and seeping into your soul. I remember the leaves were just beginning to change that week. Their red and yellow tints were a stark contrast against the gray sky. I was sitting in front of Shady Grove beneath the gazebo smoking a Newport 100 that particular morning. I watched the fall battle with what remained of summer, sending lightning dancing across the horizon. Normally I don’t smoke my Newport down to the filter like I had but I was seriously procrastinating the start of my twelve-hour shift, much more than I usually did. In hindsight, I realize this had been my fifth sense screaming at me, something was off. The sour smell of piss always slapped me hard when I entered the main building, but this morning it felt sour also, for lack of a better explanation. It was all exasperated by the lovely vomit green paint that peeled and flaked off of Shady Grove’s walls. In all my years at the facility U have seen three attempts to cover up the God-awful color. All three failed. Within a year it started bleeding through. The faculty eventually have up. One must wonder, how many souls had the walls seen pass through them? The number must be staggering considering the fact that the elderly had been coming to Shady Grove to die since 1947. Usually when a resident passed on you would almost instantly hear talk of it either from fellow nurses or from the residents. In addition, our front lobby nurse, Marcella, printed a list of the recently deceased. I called it the death log. Every morning when I clocked in I would grab the list from above Marcella’s desk and see who the reaper had visited while I was away. Marcella always tried her best to put as much happiness into the list as possible, bless her heart. She would post little stickers below the names of the deceased, “Jesus loves you!!!” or “Have a nice day!!!”. I guess this was her way of concealing the list and its true nature from the faculty, or maybe from herself, I don’t really know. But I do know that I would not have wanted to be responsible for writing that list. This was a sad process especially since it had to be updated weekly, sometimes even daily. For some odd reason, I didn’t check the death log that morning. If I had, I would have learned before the start of my shift that Abigail Wilson had passed away the previous morning of “natural causes”. At the start of my morning rounds I quickly waked past her room and did my usual quick visual check, but I stopped, anyone would have. It was the flash of light in the corner of my eye that initially stopped me. When my eyes adjusted to the low light, I saw what was sitting in the bed. I instantly knew she was dead as soon as I saw her. Theirs’s a certain feel when a spirit is among you, the air is colder, yes, but it’s more than that. Abigail’s eyes stood out like a lighthouse in a storm, bright, radiating, …… yellow. They were the same set of eyes of a certain deceased Jewish man I passed in that same hallway a week prior. Those eyes had puzzled me before, but at this moment they downright terrified me. I have never seen anything like them. Identical to Bill’s hers were, almost animal-like, they seemed to be illuminated by some unknown source. Their glow revealed something to me that sat in her lap, but I couldn’t make it out right away. I couldn’t just walk up to her and look because I had to make sure she believed she was invisible to me. So, I did a “check” of the room and after a couple of glances, I saw that she held a small doll in her lap, caressing its hair with her dead fingers and rocking it back and forth, as with a small child. I froze and tried as best I could to maintain my composure. This was the first time in my life that I actually felt threatened by a spirit’s presence. As frightening as they could be at times, I knew the spirits couldn’t or wouldn’t harm me, but this was different. I tried to tell myself to calm down, I reminded myself that I was a ghost to Abigail just as much as she was to me. That helped me briefly until I saw the vision of myself. In a minuscule bit of time, I had seen myself sitting in Abigail’s lap. I had taken the place of the doll and it was my hair now being brushed then, rocking back and forth with her. This was too much. With the yellow glow of her dead eyes to guide me, I ran from the hallway to the lobby, and on to the parking lot where I stopped to vomit.
What I completely overlooked during the uneasy encounter with Abigail was the roughly eight-inch square chunk of scalp that was missing from wrinkled scalp. I found this out when I asked Marcella to read me the autopsy report. I looked over the gruesome pictures. She told me that the coroner, as well as all of Shady Grove, had settled on the theory of Abigail having gone insane. They thought that Abigail had been on the verge of insanity for quite some time and that she just snapped and sliced off a piece of her scalp with a kitchen knife before dying the next day. I was skeptical, and rightly so. It seemed too coincidental. I had Marcella read the report to me again just in case I missed something. When she finished reading she politely said “May she rest in peace.”, if only that were possible.
The death of Abigail and all the questions it spawned were so fresh on everyone’s mind that nobody expected to hear those awful screams coming from room 207 that evening. Although the screams were only a few seconds in duration, their intensity told me that Mrs. Louann Thompson was in extreme pain. Aside from a few residents watching the nightly news, none of my fellow nurses were around. I was almost to a full sprint to her room and had just rounded the corner when I came to a complete stop and fell to my knees. I knew what had just transpired in Luann’s room as soon as I saw them. Out of room 207, Bill Blaney and Abigail Wilson calmly strolled down the hall in the opposite direction, they paid me no mind. Their eyes were the yellow I had come to expect but the grins they wore brought ice into my soul. They were hideous. I can only describe them as huge, over exaggerated, almost cartoonish. They literally were reaching from ear to ear. The grins looked akin to masks one might find on the storage shelves of a voodoo shop. The dead couple had a certain bounce to their step that I envied in a way. Although they appeared to me as their usual old age, I sensed an intense youthfulness that seemed to radiate from the couple, and drifted my senses into a humid night and a 1920s boardwalk carnival. Caramel apples, funnel cake, waves of laughter e enveloped me as I watched the young Bill and Abigail. Hand in hand they walked the boardwalk, hand forever young in a precious era lost but not forgotten. That gentle image washed away instantly when I stepped into Luann’s room. Her screams had subsided, not because the pain had ceased but because shock had its hungry teeth in her. She was cradling the left side of her face and upon moving closer I saw the blood. She managed to soak most of it up with the sheets she had pressed against her head. They were stained in the brilliant red only fresh blood can accomplish. Lipstick on a pale corpse. She removed the sheets and I saw how precise the cut was. Louann’s left ear was completely removed. I began to do what I could to stop the bleeding. Now the screams from room 207 were my own, “code green!!” “ambulance!”. While I sat by her side and did what I could for her she was still in shock and maintained a far-off gaze. It was as if she had just seen a ghost which, in fact, she just did. The police asked the usual questions and were just as puzzled as everyone else as to why someone would do this to an eighty-year-old woman. I knew the who of the matter but I too was puzzled on their motive. It plagued my mind that night and sleep eluded me. Chamomile tea, warm milk, even my trusty Ambien had failed. I lay staring at an infomercial on kitchen knives, “Never sharpen again!!” I saw the clock was pushing towards three a.m. now, “All for one low price!!”. The small bald-headed man yelled at the camera. I lived in a very rural setting about fifteen miles outside of a Philadelphia suburb. My two Labradors are my security system and they began going berserk, barking as if their lives depended on it. I jumped out of bed and turned on my flood lights. Just as I had expected there was a spirit, only about twenty yards from my bedroom window. It was an elderly man and he kept continuously walking in circles. He was apparently confused or disoriented. I crawled back into bed and just watched the dead man for a bit. I started to wonder if maybe he was part of what was happening back at the Grove. I knew Bill and Abigail were obviously working together but were their more? How big was this? I brushed these questions away far enough for sleep find me and take the reins.
The alarm clock rudely interrupted my rest too soon. I was in a daze getting ready for work. Coffee tried to break through the mental fog but the caffeine failed miserably. I can’t remember the drive to Shady Grove but I clearly remember clocking in, because I had clocked out only minutes later. When I picked up Marcella’s death list there in black ink, directly below “Put it in God’s hands!!”, was her name, Mrs. Louann Thompson.
I took sick leave and went directly home for the day. I didn’t know what was happening. My stomach was in knots and I forced food down my throat. I was staring blankly at my plate for a bit, deep in thought and then I saw them in my food, the damn ghosts. Those faces, the God-awful grins, sinister smiles. My egg yolks were the eyes and the bacon the grins. I stared out the window until the food grew cold and in a fit of rage I took my fork and stabbed the eggs until they cried yolk. Now I was scared to go back to work. The other nurses didn’t have to deal with this shit. They weren’t going to see ghosts roaming the hallways and hacking off appendages. I have seen many spirits on the property but I assumed they had all passed. Maybe my assumption was wrong, and there are many more roaming the halls. Perhaps they carry scalpels, perhaps not. I went to bed early hoping to escape the prison of my mind for a while but sleep, of course, had another idea. It managed to escape me until about three when I then slipped casually into a dark place. The dream was black cats, suicide, and full moons. It was awful. Then I dreamt of Louann. There was a park, sunshine, and green fields all around us. It was a birthday party for some child I didn’t know. There was laughter and streamers, everyone was joyous. Louann was right in the middle of them all, sitting next to the birthday boy. The small boy was about to blow out his five candles that his mother was lighting. Others gathered around and began to sing the happy birthday tune. Halfway through the happy birthday song is when Louann took out the scalpel. It was a slaughter, two adults and the birthday boy, God the blood. Worse was the speed at which she cut them open. Louann was eighty-seven years old and like everyone that age she moved at a snail’s pace, even in dreams apparently. She sliced them open one at a time and painstakingly slow. It was as if they were under some sort of trance, as was I, so I wasn’t able to help them. They just stood there and one by one she spilled their insides across the table and the birthday cake, the candles were now out. I saw that the three corpses all had that hideous grin plastered to their faces, smiling up at me as if they enjoyed their bloodbath. Jesus It was awful, and I could not wake up. When I struggled for what seemed an eternity, I finally awoke when the police arrived to clean up the massacre at my feet. I was drenched in sweat. After catching my breath, I rolled onto my side and wept until the sun arrived.
Just as I predicted, I saw Louann again, and she was with the other two. It wasn’t even a week after her death and my nerves had all but settled. I was able to adhere to the rest of my work schedule and that day was bingo day, always highly anticipated among our residents of course. Every Thursday I held this popular activity in the meeting hall. Give or take a few, we had about forty residents at Shady Grove, forty living residents that is. We had enough people for a solid bingo day and they loved it, some even came in full dress that rivaled Sunday church service. I remember the day clearly, I had just finished calling B-56 when I saw them. The spirits had congregated in the far corner of the room where Abigail Wilson used to hold her weekly sewing class. I watched them as best I could, but I couldn’t tell what it was they were doing and continued to call the numbers, constantly keeping them in my sight. Everyone was oblivious of course, concentrating on that five-letter word. “Bingo!!!” Betty shouted from the back row. I congratulated her, the room applauded, and her day was made. I gave her the prize, a bag of skittles, and pretended to start dusting the chairs to get a better look at the alumni. I could see them now pretty clearly. They were gathered around something on the floor that I couldn’t see yet. I continued to hold off the next round of bingo and slowly moved closer to them. They were talking or maybe chanting, but I only heard whispers. Inching closer I finally saw the madness. Incandescent eyes all fixated upon a pentagram crudely drawn on the floor with the black crayon that lay beside it. In its center I saw a piece of scalp, an ear caked with dried blood, and a dead baby crow eaten with rigamortis. I almost turned and ran, but I kept my composure. The residents were getting impatient and I was about to head back to my podium when I noticed Betty. Her wheelchair had been in the back row to begin with, but now she was clearly mesmerized by whatever atrocities were taking place in the corner. She saw them. The one thing about that whole scene that still sticks in my mind is Betty’s face. She was smiling if you could call it that. No, it was more like lusting, and I called her name trying to break her stare. I eventually turned back to my bingo responsibilities to the relief of my crowd and left Betty as she was. “C-49, anyone? We have a C-49”. The congregation in the corner had joined hands now, completing their circle. Whispers grew into a chant. The chanting was from another time, eternally ancient and radiating power. It wasn’t just the chanting that caused me to rush off, it was them, what they were and what they had become. I had not yet processed it fully since its start. My God, I thought, these were residents just recently, these were grandparents. They left behind many loved ones. I have spent many weekends in the company of their sons and daughters. A few of the grandchildren’s watercolor portraits still hung in the dining hall. And now I was watching them chanting some unknown language, gathered around a pentagram with their own body parts stacked within. I ended the game abruptly, explained U was sick. I grabbed my things, and rushed the remaining residents out. I called out to Betty again and again but she remained, still fixated on this dark ceremony. I finally gave up on her and walked away. But now how I wish I would have stayed a little longer, called for her a few more times. I should have gone and wheeled her stubborn ass up and out of there. If only I had done that then maybe this would all be just another nightmare.
Besides being our star bingo player, Mrs. Betty Sein was by my favorite resident at the grove. She was a good friend with a beautiful soul, kind and giving. Wheelchair-bound and eighty-nine years young, Betty was grannie to twelve. Each one visited her almost every weekend. So naturally, my jaw dropped when they told me that Betty had cut out Mrs. Blanche’s tongue with a surgical scalpel in the wee hours of the morning. After they silenced Mrs. Blanche with morphine the short-handed night staff began a search. Betty was found just minutes later wheeling herself towards the bingo room. Martha Blanche’s tongue had escaped it had seemed, but the scalpel lay in Betty’s lap atop the pink and purple cows of her nightgown. They reported that trying to communicate with her was unsuccessful. She kept repeating the same “gibberish” as they called it. The authorities wasted no time taking Betty away. They roughly shoved her into a cruiser and took her to Little Valley Psychiatric hospital, I see her often. To everyone at Shady Grove and all the authorities, the mystery was solved. The deaths of Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Thompson were both placed on Betty’s head. We made worldwide news and Betty was named the wheelchair butcher, I think that is fairly accurate, but she was no killer. My sweet Betty.
I almost quit after that incident, not because of Betty, but because everyone was convinced she did it, and I of course knew her to be innocent. Mary Blanche, as I expected, was dead that next day, her life taken like a thief in the night. Her death, because of the authorities’ need for a scapegoat was deemed to be the fault of Betty also. They blamed Mrs. Blanches death on extreme trauma from having her tongue cut out. Supposedly it had put her into shock from which her aged body simply shut down, nonsense. I was willing to bet my very own tongue that Mrs. Blanche was walking the vomit colored hallways with her new family. There were four now, the circle grew larger. I decided I had to stop it. If anyone could do it I could, and I had devised a plan, well, half a plan.
I went to work and I went with my head held high. I pushed Betty and Bill and the rest of them to the back corners of my mind. For once I was going to use my ability for something, finally. I had the night shift and I pulled into the parking lot. I felt good, confident. We were short-handed as always and I was assigned the west wing to work by my lonesome, which was fine by me. I didn’t feel like listening to my coworker’s bullshit for twelve hours straight. They talk and I pretend to listen. I nod my head occasionally and laugh when they laugh. I passed the time that particular night by guessing whose room would be on Marcella’s list next. Was there any reasoning behind who was to be next? Perhaps certain residents are abnormal on a spiritual level and it’s a sort of culling process? I told myself that it didn’t make a damn who they chose next because I was going to stop them. How foolish I had been. My plan was simple, wait for them and use the cross. God will prevail, I had faith. I knew I was dealing with dark energy, so naturally, I assumed it could be fought with God. My other weapon, or so I had thought, was my ability. In this instance however, it did nothing but leave images permanently scarred on my psyche to forever haunt my dreams. This plan I had so hastily thrown together was totally reliant on the hopes of the alumni following the same pattern as they had with the previous victims. I knew that if they did this then they would soon be slicing off an appendage from another unlucky soul, as he or she slept. They would then return most likely in the following days to finish the job. When their next surgical procedure was over and police had died down then I would begin. I would find out when the mutilated resident was to return from the hospital, and then slip into their room before they returned. I planned to conceal myself in the wardrobe that was standard in all the rooms, and wait for the alumni to pay a visit. That was where my plan ended and the faith came in. I didn’t know how they were killing the folks, but I was certain I was going to stop them regardless. Yeah, blind faith is a very dangerous thing, it kills. No? Just look at how many lives have been lost throughout the centuries in the name of fate. You will find genocide, slavery, fucking manifest destiny. I still have faith now, after all this, but it’s not blind anymore. I have seen what isn’t meant to be seen, and I now have faith in it, horrible as it is. I cannot begin to understand it but it is real and is infinitely powerful. These were facts, there isn’t a damn thing blind about it.
Day turned into night, and I remember the feel of Shady Grove with clarity. The more sensitive among us could have told you something bad was on the horizon. The air felt electric and alive. The anticipation was killing me. How horrible it had seemed that I was hurrying along something so gruesome, but I wanted it to be over. I wanted to speed up the process, grab my trusty cross and go hunker down for battle. I wanted to end the madness before another soul was taken. The wing was very quiet aside from a few of the usual residents begging for more pain medication. I sat at the nurse’s station breezing through word finds and waiting on the alumni to make a move. When I felt my lack of sleep catching up to me I got up and did all of my nightly duties. The majority of the residents went to bed right after dinner so I finished quickly. I started flipping through television channels that were mostly static until I finally landed on “The Exorcist”. The climax was on and when I watched the little girls head spin around and spew vomit for about the hundredth time. I chuckled a little. The vomit I noticed for the first time was precisely the same color of the walls that surrounded me. If these walls could talk, I thought, nobody would believe what they had to say anyway. That shade of green and the luminous yellow of their eyes, both colors are forever with me. I then found a machine and grabbed a beverage. It was deathly quiet. The overall morale was almost non-existent with the residents. It was hard for them to grasp the fact that not only were their fellow residents dead, but it was Betty that was responsible. How calm she had been, slowly wheeling herself away with the blood of her neighbors on her hands. They just couldn’t allow themselves to believe that Betty of all people would just completely snap, and decide to wheel herself around the facility amputating her neighbors. She was known to be a sore loser in bingo but…. The residents had just voted Betty treasurer of the women’s bowling league a week prior. It made no sense, and they were scared, I saw it all over them. They knew something was very wrong within the walls of the grove, but they had no explanations. I guess ignorance isn’t bliss after all. The pressure and anxiety were almost to the point of making me step outside, but then it came. Her scream echoed down the hall to me, barely. It was distant but growing louder. Whoever it was I knew they must be running toward me. I grabbed a med kit and ran towards the screams. I rounded the corner into the corridor and I could see her. It was Martha Franz, she was at the end of the hall but moving impossibly fast for a woman of her age and condition. I realized shortly thereafter that it was the shock. She was running on premium grade adrenaline, oblivious to the pain apparently and not the wound. As I got closer I could make out the same word over and over. She was carrying something, cradling it, and there was blood, Jesus Martha. “Geist! Geist!” Geist!” The German word for “ghost” she screamed. She was on autopilot and would have run right past me had I not grabbed her arm and yanked her back. I wish now that I would have taken better care of my vision over the years. I doubt Mrs. Franz noticed in her hysteria but I noticed, god damn it. I will never be able to stop noticing because my blurry vision didn’t see what she was carrying. When I grabbed her arm, it fell. When I went to look her in the eyes I couldn’t, there was only one. A black hole now took the place of her left eye which was now bouncing along the white tile corridor beneath my feet. She broke free of my grasp and kept running, quickly. Through arthritis, the fibromyalgia, and dementia she ran as if her life depended on it, and at that moment she thought it did. That poor woman, and there I was at a loss for words, carefully plucking up her left eyeball as I watched her disappear around the corner. I knew I needed to catch up to her before she hurt herself and try to calm her down. I took off after her and screamed for help, cursing myself for not having my radio on me. The nerves caused her eye to twitch in my hand and I almost dropped it again. With a quick glance, I noticed something that made the situation even worse in more ways than one. The pupil was gone, carefully cut out of the eye. They didn’t want the whole eye, only the pupil. They only left the remains, a souvenir. I caught up with her quickly. She was running back and forth, still hysterical. “Geist!!” “Geist!!!” The other nurses came running in then, fashionably late. I had to react quickly and I shoved Martha’s eye in my jacket pocket. I let Martha run away from me now, towards whatever she was chasing. My colleagues went after her and I quickly headed for the exit. I set her eye on the counter of the medication window and exited the building quickly, sparking a Newport before I was even out the door. Some of the residents that heard all of it headed after her down the hallway behind the nurses to C-wing and some of them went back to their rooms. Mrs. Fanter and her daughter cried. Some stood still not knowing what to do. The police were there for only about ten minutes and that was all the chief needed. He called for a lockdown of Shady Grove and called the state marshals. They decided to cut off all outside contact, nobody in or out until someone was apprehended. Soon there were heavily armed marshals everywhere. The residents, staff, and even a few cops all wore an intense and bewildered expression. I knew it was coming. But still, I wanted to cower, to run away to my car, to the airport, to anywhere but that godforsaken place. I was terrified. We were told to carry on with our jobs and I tried to clear my head, as I still had a plan to carry out. Every one of the residents was confined to their rooms for thirty-six hours which made my job easier all the way around. I had myself assigned to Mrs. Franz upon her arrival back from the hospital which only took about twenty-four hours much to my surprise. My job was to stay and watch her through four nights because she was having what they called “night terrors” while at the hospital. Mrs. Franz was well respected in her circle and had accomplished some impressive things in her lifetime. People listened to Mrs. Franz. So, doctors and authorities were clueless when she did nothing but repeat herself, “Geist. Geist.”. Doctors assumed the trauma had caused her to lose touch with reality. I wish I could find comfort in a happy ending of her being in a better place now, as they all say, but she’s not. I know because I saw what took her away, and I assure you, it is not a better place.
The presiding doctor phoned in orders for Martha shortly after she returned. She was to be pumped full of morphine for a week. I had the first three days of twenty-four-hour shifts. All this consisted of was pushing twenty milligrams of morphine through her I.V. every four hours and making sure the empty hole in her head remained empty. She slept most of the time. Two armed marshals stood across from me as I sat in my chair, but I knew the entire army couldn’t stop them from taking Mrs. Franz. When Martha was awake she mainly listened to the radio, classical. She stopped talking altogether, she wouldn’t even write down anything she needed. They weren’t coming back for her remaining eye, they were coming for her soul, and I think she knew this somehow. Except, she didn’t know when exactly they would come for her. What’s more terrifying than seeing a ghost? Waiting on one to come and take you away. The first night with Martha was uneventful. She wore her usual blank stare. I knew she was far away into some sort of daydream. It was on that next visit, the day before they came for her, that I noticed the yellow tint in her eye. It wasn’t the hue of liver failure, but it wasn’t the bright yellow of the alumni either, not yet anyway. I can admit now that I never made eye contact very long with my patients until Martha, and I regret that. Due to the nature of her accident, I had to make eye contact with Martha. In the hours that passed I saw, much to my disgust, that the yellow tint was progressing into that familiar glow. The intensity was still well below the alumni’s eyes but I knew it wouldn’t last. I began to prepare myself, going through scenarios and endless possibilities of what to expect. I think more than preparing myself I was trying to prepare Mrs. Franz, but I couldn’t think of anything to say to her. Finally, I held her cold hand and I told her to close her eyes and sleep. As she dozed off I gave her my only advice, “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, Rage against the dying, of the light.
Each room in Shady Grove was furnished with a cheap mail-order furniture set, built with pine and painted a glossy white. It consisted of a dresser, nightstand, a desk, and a stand-up wardrobe closet. The closet is where I attempted to hide in during the encounter. I slipped into the room the next night, walking on feathers. She was in a narcotic slumber on her automatic bed. Mrs. Franz was oblivious to what was silently approaching the room. A few tense hours later, close to the witching hour, they arrived. I peeped through the gap in the closet doors. The window blinds were open and the moon, full in all its glory, bathed the room entirely allowing me to see everything. I received no warning of the alumni’s entrance except for the flowers. Seconds before they entered, the bouquet of roses atop Martha’s nightstand wilted in an instant. I took the cross off my neck, preparing it for war. The thieves now gathered around the bed, she was still deep in slumber. Storm clouds passed in front of the moon causing moonbeams to dance about the room jumping and tripping on the darkness. Even through the cycles of darkness, I could still see Martha well. She glowed intensely from the four sets of eyes above her. Behind her in the corner, shadows materialized that, after a few minutes, took on a human form. My heart dropped almost as quickly as the temperature and I could see my breath now in the cold air. They were all shadow in humanlike form. I was looking at adversaries of a dark place, a place where the screams of the burning deafen, and the eternal fires blind. A chanting started then and I gripped my cross tighter. I began to understand that if the cross held any power, it was useless against them and what they represented. I believe that God wasn’t with me in the room that night, even he knew to keep his distance. The chanting grew louder now and the dialect was the same as the others, ancient beyond my mind’s grasp. With each word they spoke, I was sick. Every syllable tightened my grip on my cross until my hand was wet with blood. I realized there was no way I could stop it all and I cried. The ancient words continued and I was on the verge of vomiting. A small puddle of blood and tears formed at my feet, a testament to the fear I felt but cannot describe. A large storm cloud erased the moon briefly and through the tears, I could see that the room now had a faint red glow to it. The congregation brought strong energy with them. It enveloped the room, pushing down on me, stealing my breath away as it steals souls. A high-pitched whine began, almost machine-like. Mrs. Franz began to rise off her bed then and her one eye opened to the insanity upon her. She was deathly still, most likely paralyzed. I couldn’t imagine what must have been going through her mind as she floated there, five feet off the ground, surrounded by four of her friends whose deaths she was still mourning. Martha had sent Mrs. Thompson’s family flowers just a few days prior for Christ’s sake. She rose higher as did the mechanical whine, an almost maddening noise. The red tint of the room became brighter with the increase in this sound. Higher and higher it rose, I felt that I might explode. Martha was about seven feet off the ground now when I saw a small sphere the size of a basketball emerge from her chest, her soul. Martha’s soul neared the ceiling. There was a warmth in my crotch, loss ran down my leg into the puddle of blood and tears. The chanting kept rising in intensity, as did the mechanical whine and the terror. I became overwhelmed overwhelmed then. I covered my ears and thought I felt them bleeding. I closed my eyes, desperately trying to drown the dark forces out of my head, and It was then that the chanting stopped. The undivided attention of the alumni had now focused on me. They knew I was there. Twelve sets of eyes were fixated on the closet I was in. In the moonlight they were akin to vermin in a spotlight. All in unison their faces morphed into the cartoon grins wrapping around their heads. Out of sheer insanity, I stared right back at them and grinned wildly. I was laughing like the madman I was certain I had become. I knew of nothing else to do at that point curl up, close my eyes, and cower. This is where my memory fails me. The next solid memory I have is waking alone in this empty and frigid padded room.
My memory of the days that followed is patchy at best. I do, however, vividly remember cutting off Bob Putter’s penis. He was in bed, upright with a bowl of tomato soup in his lap. “The Price is Right” was at max volume, and efficiently drowned out his weak cries while I held him down. I was surprised at how efficiently that simple kitchen knife sliced through. I always chose it above all the others to chop onions or slice tomatoes when helping the cooks out from time to time. In the blink of an eye, his cock fell to my feet and I stood before a fountain of blood. It all felt so right at the time. I don’t remember the trip to the bingo room, but I would assume I headed there immediately after my little surgical procedure. I went to the familiar corner of the activity room and tossed the penis into the pentagram. Strangely the Crayola pentagram had gone unnoticed. I wonder how many walkers and geriatric feet had shuffled over the satanic circle, oblivious. According to the authorities that is where they caught me, chanting in whispers. It is said I went calmly to my room here at Little Valley, and with a strange sort of confidence. I do not know how long I have been here, but it’s not too bad I keep telling myself. I get thirty channels on the television. We have taco night on Tuesdays, and best of all Mrs. Betty is here too. I haven’t had the chance to visit her yet, but I see her wheelchair roll past through my tiny observation window. This room is temporary I told myself, the alumni will get me out of here, I knew it. I am part of it all now am I not? As the days passed me by that optimism faded. My confusion gave way to doubt and finally back to fear, my old companion. It ate away at my mind and I walked endlessly around my cold steel cell. I eventually began to accept my new life. I am still pondering on who or what to invest this tiny amount of faith I believe I have left. But for the most part I have surrendered myself as officially institutionalized. The monotony broke yesterday when I awoke to find my fingernails gone, torn from every finger, completely removed. God the pain, the pain, the fucking pain. I scream and kick at my door for help. And the blood. It’s all over me. I’m dizzy. I go to the sink. I look at the mirror above. My eyes, oh God, my eyes…
Philip Matthew Wendt is a proud native of the great state of Texas. He has been writing short fiction from the age of eight, always of the horror genre. His first submission, “Watercolors,” was recently published in the anthology titled American Cult by Madness Heart Press, released July 2019. Besides writing, his other passion is the outdoors–the solitude is essential.