In the night
Brittlebones ring in tones
Crack and break, his delight
Gloom and fog
Rain and sleet
Cloud and mud
Through the boughs, apish, goes
He, where old the devil trod
Tears are shed
Harvest swift the supple cries
The salty tears, their little eyes
Seek the word
Looping thoughts in little heads
Coldest fear you’ve ever felt
Do you cry?
Do you sneer?
Hollow halls full of falls
Dwarfish polymorph, there, leers
- “Willie-why” from “Rhymes of Endor”
The trauma ward in St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital had fast become a second home for Jane. Much like it had for its young denizens, the children, though in her case it was work, a far more fortunate arrangement than theirs, of course. Nevertheless, she had come to see the place as her nest in the past three months, and the patients her little siblings. She was their big sister.
She often pulled all-nighters, not because of the pay – that was hardly an incentive – but because most of these children had traumatic injuries and experiences which caused them to suffer from night terrors. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was common in the ward, and Jane herself knew a little bit about what that was like, having had a difficult childhood as an orphan making it in and out of the foster system until she finally turned eighteen. It was easy for her to see all the little ones as family, and her own experiences had made her prone to attach in a rather naïve way to those in need of care as well as any who showed genuine interest in her – thought this latter had become her bane where romantic relationships were concerned. She had basically imprinted on the children of the ward, the Regulars, as the rest of the staff referred to them.
Jane had done her best not to pick any favorites, to spread her love and attention as equally as she could among the Regulars, and had managed it rather well. That was until little Tommy had arrived a week before.
Tommy’s family had met a rather gruesome end. His two sisters and his parents had been murdered in what was being dubbed by the media as the most disturbing domestic case of the century. Apparently, they had been butchered in most devious fashion, the details too horrid to be released even by the death-mongering vultures of the tabloids.
Although the particularities of Tommy’s situation weren’t entirely known to Jane, she had immediately felt something in the quiet, wide-eyed child whose head was entirely too large for his slight frame but somehow was even more endearing for that very asymmetrical defect. At 7 years of age, he should have grown a little more than what his diminutive stature indicated, yet there he was, runt of the litter, perhaps forevermore.
Jane had taken special care to reach out to the little guy, to make him feel safe, because she could only imagine what he must feel after what he had gone through. He had been in the house when his family had been murdered, and had been found hiding in a cupboard. His small size ended up being the very key to his survival in that situation.
Jane had learned that Tommy never spoke at all. She’d been assured by the other nurses, who’d had access to some of his medical case files, that he had been a regular chatterbox before the incident. Now, however, he kept mum about everything. He seemed to rely on the exquisite expressiveness of his sweet blue eyes, those too-large-for-his-head orbs that seemed to convey far more than Jane could ever hope to decipher.
There was the one thing he did say, late at night when he was spooked – which was every single night since he’d arrived. Willie-why, he would whisper under his breath while rocking himself as he sat on his bed, looking out the room’s windows as if expecting something to be there.
Jane hated to admit it, but as she set there, unable to hold Tommy because he didn’t react well to human touch, she had begun to feel observed and, not matter how much she talked herself down from it, she couldn’t shake the sensation.
This sinister feeling of being watched only grew as the days went bay, the nights becoming darker for Jane, somehow. It was as if there had been a filter places before her eyes, tinting the world in a grey murk that would let up no matter how much light was around.
Jane had come in this night with a slight fever. She’d woken up in the afternoon with a high fever and cold sweats, and had taken all the pills she could that would lower the temperature and lessen the symptoms while still allowing her to function. She refused to miss her shift and leave the Regulars in the hands of someone else that wouldn’t give them the attention they deserved.
Such had been her fever-induced fog that she had scarcely noticed how empty the ward had been as she walked in. The little lobby at the ward’s entrance was unmanned, she now realized, a few minutes after she’d sat there trying to focus on her tasks for the long night. It was also eerily quiet, even for the ward. It wasn’t silence, but rather a vacuum-like absence of sound, as if there was a negative pressing in her ears, pressing down on her head, a gravitational force that denied the existence of the aural.
She attributed it to her flu and decided to make her rounds and say hi to the Regulars. She didn’t have time to dwell on nonsense. As she walked down the halls of the small ward, and made her way from room to room, the absence of sound was alarmingly replaced by the absence of the Regulars and the rest of the nursing staff. Jane’s stoic, calm demeanor was soon taken over by urgent despair and panic. Something had gone terribly wrong.
As her agitation led her to scurry through the halls, futilely peeking into every room in search of the children, she noticed a strange trail of darkness, a murk, a veritable thread that hung in the air in front of her and went on down the hall turning the corner. She was frozen with fear for a moment, then mustered the courage she had drawn from so many times when she found herself in a situation that seemed too dire to survive, and she followed the dark line.
To Jane’s ever-growing horror, the ominous thread led into the nursery play room. The door was slightly ajar but didn’t allow her to look in, so she took a moment to compose herself and pushed it open. What greeted her would never leave her mind. It would never allow her the comfort of peaceful sleep. It would rob her of what little humanity she still possessed and turn her into a shell of a human being, alive but for the hope of dying one day and escaping the things that dwell in the shadows of this world.
Whatever had taken Tommy’s family had come to collect the one who survived, and with the child every other life nearby. The gore that painted the walls of the play room would haunt all who saw it before the crime scene clean-up crew had had their chance to remove the biological matter. The remains were barely recognizable as human, save for the heads of all the children, carefully arranged in a mock play that seemed to hint something coming in the days ahead.
What Jane had seen, aside from the remains, she would never tell a soul. She had seen it, because that wasn’t something that could possibly feel. It couldn’t. How could such a thing exist? She didn’t understand and wouldn’t even try, because, in the years after the incident at the trauma ward, she would drown herself in opiates in pointless effort to escape the horror of even thinking, though she would never know peace until, perhaps, the drawing of her final breath. It couldn’t possibly come soon enough.