Sharon’s Notes: I like horror, but I have mixed feelings about how horror starts. It’s always slow, and it’s easy to loose your audience when the beginning is slow. Unfortunately, horror has a lot of the same problems as both fantasy and romance. You need time to build the world and tension as well as the characters so the reader cares if they live or die. Here’s hoping that there’s enough to keep your interest while I build everything up. Warning: Author has a hard time writing a character who doesn’t love rats. Rats are adorable.
The light danced up the stairs as they creaked satisfactorily under my feet. The hallway at the top was short and narrow, the double doors John mentioned were impossible to miss, but so was the small, narrow door on the left that was held shut by multiple hasps and padlocks. I touched one of the locks. It was brand new, a barcode sticker still on the back. There was a short scratch on the door, and I jumped back. Rats?
I rapped my knuckles sharply against the door, and there was a susurrus of scrapes and scampering. The tension in my chest relaxed. I didn’t particularly like rats, but I didn’t hate them either, and I was familiar with the noises they made. Now, this didn’t answer why there was a locked closet full of rats, unless . . .
Stories of McBride’s ‘treatments’, campfire stories and local legends, came flooding back. The hospital was far off the road, deep in private property, so anyone born after it closed in 2000 had likely never seen it, but everyone knew the stories. Whether any of those stories were true was anyone’s guess. My own mother told everyone about seeing a woman in an old style nightgown wandering the halls when she was in the maternity ward with my older sister.
I never believed her about that, my mother loved her tall tales, but there were other things that had made me wonder. My grandfather was seventy-four, and on holidays when he’d had a little too much to drink he’d talk about his time as an orderly there in the 70’s. It had still been a mental hospital then, and it had changed hands several times since the death of Dr. McBride. According to Grandpa, it had been a good place to work, and about as good as any mental hospital at the time, except for the weird things that happened. Things would move in locked rooms, and patience would talk about doctors and patients that didn’t exist. And always, there were the rats. No matter how many traps they put down, or poison they set out, the rats would always come back.
The stories gave me nightmares, but they also gave me a fascination with scary places. I’d started a blog about various hauntings. It was small, but I was hoping to do it for a living, and I had plans to write a book. The first step, before I got deep into the research on the real history of McBride’s hospital, I really wanted to get a feel for the place. Besides, I always wanted to stay the night in a haunted house.
I turned away from the locked closet, since I had no way to open it. The double doors to McBride’s office opened easily without even a squeak. I swept my flashlight back and forth across the floor. There was no sign of rats, or dust, or anything. The office was almost sparkling clean. My shoulders dropped. Had John been messing with me? Between the cleaner state of the old wing and new locks I had seen, someone had to be visiting regularly.
It didn’t matter. All it meant was that I would get a nicer place to sleep. There was a lot of smooth, open floor between the empty desk and the door for me to camp out on, so I unrolled my sleeping bag and started setting up my little electric lamp. The total silence was becoming more comfortable than annoying. In the greater light of the lamp the shadows became longer, almost deeper than the darkness had been. The windows that overlooked the lobby turned into panes of glossy slate and the wood of the desk and floor glowed the color of honey. There was another, narrow door off to the side. It was a tiny bathroom with a pull chain toilet and a pedestal sink. I figured that running water was too much to ask, but I turned the faucet anyway.
Water came out in a slightly rusty trickle. That was surprising. It wasn’t usable, but it was good to know. I turned off the water and went to eat my dinner of a granola bar while I made notes on the vibes I had gotten so far. I settled down with my phone and my back against the desk while I wrote. Time disappeared, until there was a soft knock at the door that echoed through the silent room like thunder.