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It's Your Turn

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I am writing this because I have no choice. I'd like to say it is a warning to others, but I have far more selfish reasons. Even if I did warn you, I doubt you would heed it, as I did not heed the warning left for me. I must not waste time, as time is wasting me, in a way that defies the medical science I once believed I knew. My joints ache as I write, and soon I know I will be unable to continue. Yet this must be told and so I write on.

I am a doctor here at Rosewood Lodge, and I am twenty-seven years old though I look older. And by the time you read this it will be scarcely possible for you to imagine me as I was yesterday.

Before me, Rosewood had no resident doctor. This was my first big break, away from the hospital where I’d trained and qualified. At the interview I pretty much said I’d work for anything, so they snapped me up.

Rosewood is a residential care home for elderly patients, some of whose care needs had started to become more advanced than those which a nursing home can ordinarily provide. The board had decided that, rather than paying out for consultants and continually dealing with emergencies, it made better economic sense to have someone like me on the payroll.

It was, in short, an excellent job. Relaxed, but responsible. Challenging, but manageable. And the money was good enough for me to get my own flat, finally.

The home is essentially three storeys of self-contained flats, divided into three wings, A, B and C on each floor. Some residences are less “flats” and more rooms, without locks and without any real facilities of their own. The nurses and social workers tended to stay away from me, as I was still an outsider to them, and they had the run of the place, working with the residents each day whereas I would only see them if they were ill.

One thing that I did pick up from my colleagues however was the strange warning about the man in the room 17 on the end of wing B on the second floor. The ridiculous thing about that particular warning was that the numbers on each wing only go up to 16. The nurses tended to act strangely about it, saying that if ever there was a room 17 I’d be better off not going in. I saw no harm in laughing along with it at the time, and I quickly forgot all about it.

Until the day I happened to be in B wing on the second floor and noticed a room I hadn’t seen before. I had been at Rosewood for three days, and it was late. I’d been tending to a particularly unwell man in a room along the corridor, who’d needed a lot of attention. I was considering referring him to a hospice in the morning, if after I studied his charts I decided they would be better placed to care for him. So I wasn’t really in a good frame of mind as I left his room and turned to make my way to the stairs.

I don’t know if it was my mood, or the lateness of the hour, but something made me stop. I felt a tingle at the back of my neck, a creeping sense of something not right. I turned. How I wish I had not. I wish I had kept on, along the brightly lit corridor, down the stairs and back to my office. Instead I looked back along the hall to where a flickering overhead light cast dark shadows over the far wall, highlighting the steel edges of the window looking out into the blackness beyond.

Glimpsed for moments at a time in that uncertain light was a door that should not have been there. I knew it should not have been there, and I did recall the warning, but truthfully I was too intrigued and too steadfast in my belief in science and rationality to ignore it. I approached it, curiosity overcoming my incredulity. I did not feel even the faintest stirrings of fear until my fingers touched the handle beneath the elegantly carved number 17. It was deathly cold, and I pulled my hand back with trepidation.

Cursing myself for a foolish child, and beginning to believe it was all some kind of prank by the nursing staff, I glanced up at the ceiling half expecting to see a camera propped up somewhere. The thought that perhaps I was being made a fool steeled my resolve, and wrapping my hand in my sleeve I opened the door. For a moment I was stunned. It was one thing to make a prank door, quite another to make it open. And beyond lay a room that I knew had not existed an hour before.

Inside was a residential room like any other. A small kitchenette along one wall to the right, next to a door to a small bathroom, a coffee table and a TV along the left. A bed stretched along the far wall beneath large windows, and a sofa sat facing the TV. Poking out above the sofa I could just about see the top of an old man’s head, wisps of grey hair draped across the leather.

I should have run. I should have quit. I should have obeyed those instincts which keep us all sane and alive. But I’d made a lifetime out of understanding and reason, and I was determined to find out what was happening.

I approached the old man, the scent of old medicine and unwashed bodies thick in the air. I had the impression that he had not been disturbed for a very long time. Only a faint, wheezing rasp indicated that he was breathing. Milky blue eyes widened in a withered and lined face as I came into view, and the old man’s fingers, resting against the leather chair’s arms, twitched slightly. His mouth moved a little and his breathing became a rattle, as though he was trying to speak. I had the impression that he was agitated, by my presence or by something else I could not tell, but that he was also powerless to move.

I sat down on the footstool by his chair, running through diagnoses in my head as I took in the pallor of his skin, the thin cracked lips, the struggling fingers. He seemed to be dehydrated, weak and wasted through muscle atrophy, and yet he was clothed and appeared not to have soiled himself. Someone must have been looking after him then, perhaps one of the nurses? Had they been keeping him here, a secret only revealed by some accident?

The man’s eyes drifted to a book lying on the coffee table and seized upon it, glancing back to me only in short furtive motions. Intuiting that he wanted it I picked it up, a thin leathery tome with the date 1916 written upon it in spidery letters, and placed it on his knees. He stared at me, back at the book, then at me.

So I picked it up again, and turned to the last entry of what was clearly a diary.

“April 25th, 1916,” I read aloud, somewhat astonished that it was the same date as today, only one hundred years before. The old man stared at me through wide eyes. I continued to read.

“My joints seize with pain…there is no hope for me. The doors of this infernal building were locked fast against me when I tried to flee, the corridors guarded by spectres I dare not name. My only retreat is here. This impossible room that should not be. With every step I felt my body crippled further, and I had no choice but to sit, yet now I cannot rise from my chair. My fingers can barely hold this pen. I feel age embracing me like an unwanted lover, taking years from me with each passing second…”

The words on the page became illegible, the scratching of the pen a testament to the writer’s pain. Further down the page they rallied, large letters in capital letters marching across the page as though in defiance of his pending immobility.

“…the silent man is gone…I am his replacement…time is short…god forgive me…”

I rose from the stool, my heart thumping wildly within my chest. I stumbled and almost fell over the stool as I moved away from the silent man, my thoughts a jumble of half-finished fears. The wide eyes watched me still, but now I saw something else within them. Some kind of grim hope, an expectation, and I feared I knew for what. All my belief in science and medicine, rationality and reason flew from me, carried away on wings of pure terror.

Without another thought I fled the room, glad beyond words when the door yielded, leading me back into the corridor beneath the flickering light. I ran for the stairs, frantically making for the comforts of my office, my computer, my life beyond this impossibility. I stopped short as I rounded the corner.

Before me, at the end of the corridor, stood an old woman. She was in a dirty white hospital robe, and was hunched over to such a degree that her head was hidden beneath a long mop of lank grey hair reaching almost to the ground. In one wrinkled hand she clutched the metal pole of her IV stand like a banner-bearer on an ancient battlefield. As I saw her I knew we had no such patient in Rosewood. Behind her, the remainder of the corridor was plunged into darkness as the overhead light went out. The light above the woman flickered on and off, and she shuffled a little with an awkward motion as though agitated – or freed – by the shadows playing over her. The light went out. Instantly, she was in front of me, at the edge of illumination cast by the light above my head, as though existing only in that dark place beyond. A fetid stench of wet clothes and mouldy cheese radiated from the woman and I recoiled violently, as much from the smell as her sudden impossible appearance. The light above me flickered. I turned and ran, mortal peril lending me speed. I tried the door to the left, but it was locked. I tried the right; locked. The woman behind me uttered a hideous gurgling sound as the light above her died, instantly bringing her a few more metres towards me.

I kept running, but was suddenly aware of an ache in my limbs. It was harder to breathe than it should have been, and I stumbled as I ran.

Before long I was driven back to this impossible room, where I discovered that, as I feared, the old man had vanished. I shouted, I screamed, I railed against it, but slowly the atrophy stole over me, as I knew it would. The pain of arthritis grew like fire in my bones, the agony of movement as tiring as the movement itself. I couldn’t resist, and I lowered my exhausted body into this chair where I now sit. I have typed these words with the last strength I have, and soon I must succumb, but I must do something before I fall back into the stupor that awaits me as it did my predecessor. To speed my release, I must upload my story to anywhere a reader may find them across the internet. My fingers burn with unnatural pain as I work my phone, but my desperation gives me the strength to ignore it, along with any guilt I might feel at passing on this curse.

And so to you who read this I thank you.

The next ache you feel will be the start of your sentence, and the end of mine.

 

End

 

Bio: Steven D Jackson is a British writer who enjoys writing short scary stories and letting people read them for free. If you like what you read, check out his other freely available short stories and (not free but ridiculously cheap) novels at http://sdjackson.blogspot.co.uk/.

 

 

 

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