You Don't Belong Here (a nursing ghost story)
Although it's not Halloween any more, it IS All Soul's Day! Since my last story was deemed a little more sad than spooky, I thought I'd go for a straight-up Scary Story to Tell in the Dark. In this tale, a travel nurse gets asked to assist at another hospital near her current locale. But it's always a little disconcerting when you arrive at a new hospital...
- 24 Published Nov 1, '12
The ringing phone cuts through a restless slumber. I had been having strange, distressing dreams—the kind where you wake up without remembering specifics, but you just know you were having a nightmare. I shoot up at the shrill noise, my heart racing in my chest. It takes some fumbling before I get the phone to my ear.
“Mmph. Hello?” My voice is hoarse. My heart, still pounding.
“Hello Ana, this is Helen with the agency. I certainly hope I didn’t wake you.” I glare into the dark space of my agency-paid bedroom. I’m a “floater” travel nurse, bouncing from shift to shift all the time. If anyone calls me when I’m not working, chances are they’re waking me up.
“No, Helen, don’t worry about it. What’s going on?”
“We just received a call that they’re desperately shorthanded at St. Raphael’s in Ligonville. I checked the database and it looks like it’s only about 20 minutes from where you are. I told them I’d see if maybe you could help out there tonight. It’s not a full shift, obviously. They just need someone for the next 8 hours or so, until reinforcements arrive in the morning.” My heart is finally starting to slow down, and I rub my eyes. I want to say no, of course, but the money is great, and I’m getting incredible experience as a travel nurse. In another year or so, I’ll probably be ready to settle down, but for now I feel like I should take every opportunity that arises.
“Ok. Sure. Just email me the address?”
“Of course, sending the email now. Apparently you’re needed in MedSurg, floor… six. Manager’s name is Borden. When you get to security, just tell them you’re from the agency and they’ll give you a temp badge and show you where to go. Thanks so much Ana.” As she’s talking, my cell buzzes in my ear to indicate that I’ve received an email. When I get off the phone, I check and see Helen has indeed sent the address. 749 West Claudicare Road. I copy and paste it into my maps app and then roll out of bed.
Fifteen minutes later, I’m driving down the highway, instant coffee splashing on my scrubs. The full moon illuminates the road eerily. Helen woke me up around 10, and if all goes well, I should reach St. Raphael’s by 10:45. All does not go well. The directions on my phone seem weird, and several times I doubt that I’m going the right way. To make matters worse, there are construction detours that get me even more turned around. By the time I get the “you have arrived” notification, it’s almost 11:30. I turn sharply into the parking lot, grateful to find a spot close to the doors. I race in, spilling more coffee on myself. The security desk sits at the end of a corridor near the entrance, and I make my way toward it, dabbing hopelessly at the coffee splatter. No one is at the desk. I look around and call out once, but it’s always a little awkward in a new location. When I see the sign-in book open on the desk, I decide to just sign in and go to my floor. Maybe they can call down and get my temp ID later. I follow signs to the MedSurg elevator, and confirm that it’s on the sixth floor. As I make my way to the elevator bank, I can see that it’s very busy. Doctors and nurses move quickly past me, and the nursing stations are crowded. I’m surprised at how quiet everyone seems to be. Equipment bings and buzzes around me, familiar and somewhat comforting, but no one is really talking. Everyone is just focused; a busy hospital late at night tends to limit opportunities for small talk. I see the elevator bank ahead, just as the doors open. A large young man in scrubs steps in.
“Oh! Sir! Can you hold the door?” I call, breaking into a trot. He turns toward me, but makes no movement to hold the doors, which close just as I skid up to them. I pound on the metal angrily.
“Jerk!” I mutter, but to be honest, having gotten a look at his face, I’m a little relieved to not be in the elevator with him. He had a nasty expression, with dark, angry eyes standing out against gray, sallow skin. And I didn’t much care for the way he stared through me as I ran toward him. His hulking figure took up most of the elevator anyway; there wouldn’t have been much room for me. Besides, the next elevator arrives quickly enough, and I’m able to enjoy a few seconds to myself before I reach the sixth floor.
The MedSurg floor looks about the same as most other hospitals. As I make my way toward the nurse’s station, I take note of the key rooms. Med room, linens and supplies, dirty linens, pantry… everything seems to be here. I check the locker room—sometimes they keep a locker open just for traveling nurses, but no such luck. I’ll ask where I can store my bag. Maybe I can borrow one of the other empty lockers. The floor itself is busy; every room I pass has all beds occupied, and nurses and PCAs run past me without even sparing me a glance, much less a friendly hello. I try to catch a couple people’s attention, but everyone seems occupied. It makes more sense to just find the nurse manager and get started. But something still stands out, even amidst the busy-ness. The floor is darn quiet! As it was downstairs, I can hear the equipment beeping, the click of IV pumps, the dinging of monitors. But no one is speaking. I even stop outside a patient’s room, where a nurse is helping a PCA turn a patient. They are working together perfectly, and the patient seems to know exactly how to move to assist them, but no one is giving any instructions. If I didn’t know any better, I would have guessed I had lost my hearing, but the noise of the equipment and the lack of any lips moving tells me that they’re really just not speaking. I’m baffled. The staff here must be so well-trained to work so efficiently together! And there’s something else, something that had caught my eye on the other floors, but I couldn't put my finger on it until now. All of the nurses are wearing crisp, white, skirted uniforms, complete with white stockings and even hats! I’m the only nurse I’ve seen wearing a uniform with pants. I give a silent plea that I’m not in a very religious hospital or one with a strict dress code. Helen usually lets me know.
I’m beginning to feel a distinct sense of unease. When you’re a travel nurse, you become used to feeling out of place. Every few months, it’s a whole new “first day on the job,” complete with first-day jitters and a sort of aimless insecurity. It gets better with time, but never fully goes away. And of course, some places are worse than others. But St. Raphael’s has to be the worst I’ve ever experienced as far as feeling like I don’t belong. Everyone is working so hard and is so focused, that my presence seems to be more of a nuisance than anything else.
As I approach the front desk, I notice an office to the left, “Nurse Manager.” I glance at the desk, where three pale, severe-looking nurses are charting intently. They have the same grim faces as the large, intimidating PCA at the elevator. I decide it’s better to just go straight to the source rather than trying to make friends with the staff first. The office door is open ajar, and I knock as I gently push it open. A woman in a crisp suit is standing with her back to me, fingering through a filing cabinet.
“Um, excuse me, Ms. Borden?” The woman doesn’t move, and I hesitantly make my way in. “I’m so sorry I’m late. I’m from the agency. You may have spoken to Helen Myers about needing some assistance?” I’m standing right behind her, feeling profound embarrassment. The woman is obviously just as focused as the staff, and here I am creeping up behind her. She obviously doesn’t hear me.
“Ms. Borden?” I’m right behind her now, and finally she acknowledges my presence as she stops moving and straightens up. But still, she doesn’t turn. It doesn’t matter though, because in that same instant, I have reached out timidly and touched her shoulder.
The first thing I notice is that, even through the thick wool suit, her skin is shockingly cold. But I barely have time to register that, because she whirls around, causing me to gasp and step backwards. Her skin is sallow and ashen, with sagging jowls and chapped lips. Her black eyes have a reddish glow to them—two embers amid the ash. Her mouth hangs open slightly, and I see her teeth are yellowed and almost jagged looking. I stammer and stumble, before taking note of her ID badge. It says: A. Durfee, Nurse Manager.
“Oh! Um, I’m sorry…” My voice sounds thick and hoarse.
“You shouldn’t be here.” Ms. Durfee hisses. She sounds furious with me. Her gaze darkens even more, emphasizing the black circles under her eyes.
“Yes, yes… um, I realize that now. I must be on the wrong floor. I’m looking for Ms. Borden. I…”
“You shouldn’t be here!” She’s practically growling it at me. And, oh god, she’s starting to move toward me. I realize I’ve been steadily backing away, but now she’s closing the gap, reaching forward with a skeletal hand adorned with long, sharp, blood red fingernails.
“I’m sorry!” I cry. “I’m leaving now!” I step out of her office into the hallway, and my back hits a wall of ice. Despite the witchlike Ms. Durfee coming at me, I can’t help but spin around. I find myself face to face with the giant PCA from the elevator. His eyes are hot onyx, and I can see distended veins like ropes beneath his skin. His lips curl back into a snarling grin, and I can smell his fetid breath blowing on my face. I gag and spin around him, stumbling and tripping back toward the elevator.
“You shouldn’t be here!” I freeze as I hear Ms. Durfee’s howling voice, cutting through the silence of the floor. I turn slowly. She’s standing outside her office, glaring down at me, like I’m prey that’s been flushed out of the woods.
“You shouldn’t be here.” She says it flatly this time. And as she does, every single staff member snaps his or her head in my direction. They all have the same dark expressions, gazing through me like portraits. In my horror, I realize that some of the staff who had their backs to me have turned their heads almost entirely around on their shoulders in order to stare at me.
“I…” My head is swimming. I’m willing my blood pressure to keep me standing. I’m walking backwards again, too terrified to turn my back on the scene. As I walk past patient rooms, I realize every patient is sitting up in bed, staring at me as well. Then, the macabre crew begins slowly to advance, led by Ms. Durfee. I feel an iciness closing in behind me, and whipping my head around, I realize that the staff and patients are behind me as well. I just keep moving through them, and they join the army behind Ms. Durfee. Soon every individual on the floor is coming at me, even patients dragging IV stands. I’m moving slowly at first, some animal part of my brain telling me that running would be bad, but then I notice something that fills me with choking dread. Their feet aren’t moving. They’re all sliding at me, arms outstretched, but no one is actually moving their legs or feet.
“YOU SHOULDN’T BE HERE!” The horrors give a collective wail and shoot toward me. I turn and run wildly, adrenaline pumping through my body. I reach the elevator and slam my hand into the button like crazy. It’s not coming! It’s not coming! Looking over my shoulder, I can see Ms. Durfee and the all the individuals on the floor sliding toward me rapidly, their heads tilted at disturbing angles, their contorted limbs reaching toward me, the force of their movement pushing their torsos back. I whimper and look helplessly at the elevator before flinging open the door to the stairs and running down the dark stairwell.
For a brief moment, a desperate part of my brain tries to soothe me, telling me that just getting off the floor will stop the monsters from chasing me, but soon I hear a hiss and realize that they’re flooding into the stairwell above. Again, they don’t use their legs to descend the stairs, but rather just… flow… down them, toes barely touching the steps. I turn my attention forward and try to keep my footing. I’m not fast enough. My chest is already hurting me, and they’re gaining every second. Fourth floor. I’m taking a risk by jumping the last few steps. I hit the landing hard, and lunge myself forward. It’s buying me a few extra seconds, but I’m one twisted ankle away from never seeing the light of day again. And those extra seconds don’t seem to be helping. By the third floor, I can feel the cold pressure behind me, and when I venture to turn, I can see Ms. Durfee, so close I can make out the flecks of spittle on her flaking lips. She grins when I look at her, and a dry, black, bloated tongue snakes out of her mouth.
Forward… forward. First floor! I burst through the door. Everyone is looking at me now, they’re probably going to give chase as well, but I don’t pay them any mind. I just run and run. Past the security desk, toward the front doors. I can hear Ms. Durfee’s panting breath behind me, an exhalation of ice and stench. I wince, as I feel razors slashing my back, and I realize she has swiped at me with her claw-like nails. I don’t hesitate for even a second, just keep running toward that door. I slam into the metal bar, praying that it’s not locked. It opens and I’m racing into the parking lot, toward my car. I don’t feel the creatures behind me anymore, but that doesn’t stop me from hitting the “unlock” button about 50 times in the 5 seconds it takes me to reach my vehicle. I leap into the driver’s seat and slam and lock the door. Only then do I realize that the hospital is totally quiet. No one is behind me. No one is anywhere.
I take a shuddering breath and lower my head onto the steering wheel. Before I can even let the tears come, my phone rings and I let out my first scream of the evening. I grab the phone and answer, mainly because I’m terrified that the noise will alert the fiends within. “Hello?” My voice is a cracked and hopeless whisper.
“Ana? Helen Myers. I am so sorry, but I just realized I screwed up. That address I sent you? Totally wrong. It’s not West Claudicare Road, it’s East. 3700 East Claudicare. Apparently the old St. Raphael’s was on the West side, but it burned down in the 1940s. Lord knows why it still comes up in our electronic database! I mean, if you actually found it, then I’m sure you realized it was wrong!” She laughs.
“Burned down? But…” I look up. My vision swims. Where is the hospital? All I see is an abandoned shell of a building. One of those many eyesores you end up with when small towns can’t afford demolition.
“Anyway, because of the mixup, it’s probably not even worth it for you to make the trip. It would take a while for you to get to the East Side, and it’s already after midnight. Sorry about that Ana. Totally my bad! Ciao!”
Helen hangs up after I croak some excuse for a goodbye. Burned down. Moved to the East Side. Burned down in the 1940s. I feel ill. I just want to go home. I exhale, as exhaustion sweeps over me, and slump backward in my seat. A sharp sudden pain strikes and, yelping, I jump up and reach toward my back. My fingers come away sticky. Sticky and red from four gashes cutting deep into my scrubs.Last edit by Joe V on Nov 2, '12
I am a nursing student in my second year at Phillips Beth Israel in NYC.6Nov 2, '12 by anashenwrathThank you all! Frightening you has made my night! hehehe!
In all seriousness, I appreciate the kudos and I hope you are all having a safe November. Much love to those affected by Hurricane Sandy. If you're in my hood (ie, NYC), please look into blood donation or other ways to help!