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January 28, 2014

Literary LEO 2014

Short Fiction — Honorable Mention 1

Stay Forever
by Michael Tyler McDaniel

We had all heard the stories about Hay’s Hospital: strange apparitions, shadows moving, murders, cults, even the one about the gateway to hell. Of course, we never believed any of that stuff. The only thing we knew for fact was that you could get in major trouble for going inside, but that didn’t stop us teenagers who held knowledge of all the things we had never experienced. So obviously, when we heard the ladies at school planning a little girls night out trip to the hospital, light bulbs started illuminating over our heads as ideas sprung forth.

Granted, it was mostly Ricky’s idea. He had always been what some mothers would call a troublemaker; we just thought he was always looking for a good time. After school that day, Ricky got his brother to hook us up with a bottle of Evan Williams. We couldn’t buy it ourselves on account of only being 15 years old.

Once we procured the bourbon, Ricky, Isaac and myself snuck into the old hospital. We hid in a dark little corner, speaking in whispers and drinking in sips while we waited for the girls. We had finished about half of the bottle when we heard them coming down the corridor. You could hear the fear bubbling forth in their voices as they anticipated some white-sheeted specter to hop out and shriek BOO at them. Little did they know what was coming was much more real, and much more deadly.

As the group drew nearer, the yellow beam from the girl’s flashlight bounced wildly throughout the leaky mildew-smelling hallway. When they got closer, Ricky tapped us both on the shoulder to signal for the plan to move forward. We would each count to five, jump out at the girls while screaming, and maybe grab them. At the same exact moment, five seconds later, we all jumped up, howling like banshees. There may have never been a shriek as loud as the one those girls let loose.

We continued making strange guttural noises until they disappeared from sight. Isaac and myself began to laugh hysterically; we even landed an in-the-dark high five. When we didn’t hear Ricky laughing, we started wondering what was up. Isaac shone his light around and it landed on Ricky’s face. Ricky stared down, breathing heavily. His eyes were bloodshot and wild as a tomcat’s.

Isaac tried calling out Ricky’s name and he didn’t move. Naturally Isaac’s curiosity led him to move the flashlight downward, to where Ricky was staring. There, in the small dim beam of light, lay the body of Michelle McClaren, a bloody bourbon bottle lay beside her.

“What the fuck,” escaped silently from my lips.

Isaac echoed the same response, except much louder.

“She’s dead,” muttered Ricky, without looking up.

Isaac stumbled over his words, “H-how do you know?”

I sat silent and terrified.

“Because I felt the last bit of breath leave her body,” Ricky replied in a cold, matter-of-fact tone.

Isaac became irate. “Man, we were supposed to scare them, not hurt them! Those girls could come back any minute looking for her! We are screwed, Ricky! You went way too far!”

Finally, Ricky looked up at us. “No one has to know.”

It was at that moment that I realized my mother’s suspicion about Ricky being a troublemaker was accurate. After a few minutes of hushed yet heated arguing, Ricky convinced us to stash Michele’s body down in the old basement morgue. Call it blind faith or call it the stupidity of ignorant and frightened young men, but for whatever reason, we followed along.

Ricky did most of the work — hoisting the body, taking it down the stairs, and stuffing it into the metal container. All the while, Isaac and myself exchanged worried glances over a fading light bulb. After the body was stashed, Ricky suggested we go to the roof to polish off the bottle and forget about what had happened. This was where things began to really go badly.

We each turned back the bottle a few times, the dim glow of the small town’s lights illuminating us just enough to see the raw emotions we were each feeling at that moment. After a couple of swigs, I ducked out of drinking. The sight of Michelle’s blood staining the end of the bottle made me queasy every time I tipped it back.

I’d imagine it had something to do with the bourbon heating up his blood, but as the bottle finished, Isaac started to become heated. Pure anger and outrage at Ricky for the actions that had just unfolded came forth. Ricky, already being a hot head of sorts, became enraged himself. The two of them started to tussle. Fists, elbows, feet, arms, heads, anything that you could hit with began flying through the air. This one was bad, and here I was in the middle trying to stop it, completely hopeless to the situation.

Isaac dodged a punch from Ricky and Ricky tumbled forward wildly, trying to regain his balance. Ducked down, arms flailing, falling forward, Ricky hit a weak patch in the roof, and in a split second had fallen through. Shining the light down the hole, we could barely see him, motionless on the ground, pieces of crumbled building materials around and on top of him.

When we finally reached him, it was evident that he was gone. He had quickly paid the penance for his actions and joined Michelle in eternal darkness. Assessing the situation, Isaac and myself realized that we had two bodies on our hands. This looked bad on us, real bad, so we made a quick agreement. For good or bad, we dragged Ricky to the basement, threw him onto the icy cold slab of steel, and hid him away in the morgue.

In a fit of rage, Isaac broke the bourbon bottle on the outside of Ricky’s worn metal tomb. After running through every curse word in the book, he began to sob. I held him tightly and told him it would be okay, but we needed to leave.

Isaac didn’t show up at school the next day, but the other girls did. They had already reported Michelle’s disappearance and the authorities were on the case. For the next few weeks, I was in a constant state of feeling ill due to worry. Isaac was the same way, except now he was cold and somewhat distant. I suppose inadvertently killing a man will do that to you.

The police were quick to find both bodies and even more quick to label the whole situation the work of a serial killer. They even came up with some elaborate story for how it had all went down. Sounded to me like they needed to quit watching so many movies, but as long as I was in the clear, I would accept it.

After we realized that we seemed to be off the hook, some of the fear subsided. Isaac became less distant but slowly developed a crippling addiction to Oxycontin. Two years later, he died of an overdose on the roof of that very hospital. They found him with a needle sticking from his arm right beside the hole that Ricky had fallen through.

Over these last 15 years, I’ve learned to live with the fact that I am the sole human being who knows how this gruesome, seemingly unconnected chain of events came to be. While I live mostly fear-free, I still tense up every time I hear a police siren wailing. The guilt is another story. I often wonder if I could have done anything to prevent this tragic turn of events that took three young and mostly innocent lives. If only we weren’t driven by the incessant teenage desire to tease girls.

While the rumors of the Hays Hospital will continue for years, they now have actual events to back up the urban legends. In our quest to poke fun at the unknown, we became part of the unknown. Hauntings and ghosts might not literally exist, as we know them. But for me, the ghosts of those people, of that day, will haunt me until I take my final breath of Earthly air and am, myself, lain down on that cold and absolute slab of steel.