The Carrot of Doom Presents...
Unsettling the mind of Adam J Purcell
The corridors were cold, dark and deserted. His footsteps echoed in the eerie silence. Somewhere else in the vast Victorian building he knew his fellows must be setting up but there was not even a distant whisper of their voices. The sound of his own footsteps and the increasingly loud thumps in his chest were all there was to hear. He flashed his weak torch at the corridors distant looking ceiling and wished the long since dead lights would come on. He was lost, of that he was certain. That nasty little fact added to the odd sense of impending panic. There was more to it, though. He realised his steps had slowed and he was now waving the torch around slowly, lingering over anything that might be a shadow. The wide empty corridor now seemed like a vast void, closing in around him. Out of the corners of his eyes he was sure he caught glimpses of shadowy figures but they disappeared behind him when he turned his head.
Fighting back the irrational fear, he stopped. His heart was pounding louder than ever now, his senses at their most acute. He wanted to cry out, the others can't be that far away, but he resisted the urge - he knew the ribbing they'd give him if he lost his nerve in this derelict 'haunted hospital'. He wanted to close his eyes and wish it all away. A creaking noise somewhere down the corridor, he wasn't sure which direction, made him jump. He laughed, rather nervously, to himself.
"You're not frightening me, old building!" he said rather softer than he intended, to no one in particular. "I've been to scarier places than this..." he added, almost whispering now.
His declaration did little for his composure as he heard the last of his voice echo into nothingness. He started moving again, his torch feeling even more inadequate as a slightly closer sounding clanking noise made him freeze to the spot like a petrified animal. Just the old pipes settling down this cool evening, he reassured himself. It certainly was starting to get chilly, now he thought about it. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Was that a draft? He wasn't sure, he could almost swear that someone, something, was standing right behind him. He looked over his shoulder, cautiously, afraid of what he might see. The darkness behind was absolute, as if it were something tangible and ready to strike. He brought his torch around just as slowly to cut into the night that was trying to envelop him from the sides. Nothing. The torch barely seemed to cut into the blackness at all but a wave of his torch arm out behind him proved there was nothing solid there. Still trying to suppress primal terror he slowly turned back around, now afraid that the, imaginary he was sure, something might have slipped around in front. Nervously he brought his torch around, half expecting to be confronted with a nightmarish face. Suddenly a pair of pin-point glittering eyes jumped out of the shadows before him! He jumped back with a start. The torch clattered to the ground. The darkness suddenly took hold completely. He stood, frozen, for a second before scrabbling onto the floor, desperate to find the now dark torch. His fingers found something clammy and he immediately retracted his hand in horror. Getting his hyperventilating under control he reached out again for whatever it was. His hand knocked it - it was hard. He gingerly touched it again. It was just his torch, his sweat covered torch handle. He picked it up and flicked the on button that had been knocked in the fall. Light again cut into the darkness. Trying to get a grip of himself, and keep a grip of the torch, he aimed it back where he thought the eyes had been. The light caught something... It was just two metal poles on one side of an old medical trolley. They had reflected his own torch light back at him like two eyes - two very long looking eyes now he looked properly. For a moment the euphoria offset the unease of his situation. Only for a moment, though. 'They've got to be wondering where I am', he thought to himself.
The two people looked around in the darkness.
"Here, you'd better take this." said the woman.
"Why?" replied the man.
"Just in case." the woman countered, passing her companion a torch.
A blood curdling scream interrupted them both. The man ran towards the door, still in pitch darkness.
"Steel!" cried the woman.
Across the blackness of the room the grey suited man turned back to his companion, gave her a look, and switched his torch on before rushing through the door.
All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic, heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.
"He's dead." Sapphire noted as she walked up behind her companion.
"Clearly." Steel replied curtly. "How is the question."
Steel was kneeling over the body in the dark corridor, his illuminated torch laid down next to the deceased's dead torch. Steel lifted his fingers from the floor and showed them to Sapphire.
"Stabbed?" she suggested, looking at Steel's blood stained fingers. She hovered a hand over his for a moment. "Yes, a medical implement. Still in the back of his neck..."
"Who - or what - did this, would be useful." Steel prompted. Sapphire's hand returned to hovering over Steel's again. "Human?" Steel demanded.
"Yes... There may be something more, though." Sapphire replied, apparently oblivious to Steel's impatient tone.
"I don't know." Sapphire replied, sounding slightly puzzled.
Steel stood up as Sapphire reached out to offer him a tissue to wipe his hand.
"Where are we, then?" Steel asked, changing tack.
They both looked about into the pitch darkness. "A disused hospital... Construction began in 1871 and it opened in 1875. Closed in September 1999 - nearly seven years ago. Since then it has been used as a refugee centre and then left as derelict." Sapphire relayed.
"Yes. People fleeing from civil war in a country called... Kosovo."
"Hmmm. Are you sensing anything..."
"Not right now. No, there is something... Some background disturbance that I can't quite..."
"Time breaking through?"
"Perhaps, in a way..."
"What sort of way?" Steel demanded.
"I'm not sure." Sapphire offered even toned. "There are others here, his companions."
"Then we should meet them." Steel said as he began to stride off into the dark.
"Don't forget that..." Sapphire said slightly playfully as she pointed down to Steel's torch next to the body.
Minimal lights had been brought in for the occasion, as was customary, so as not to ruin the atmosphere of the event. The small group of four huddled around a makeshift pile of equipment in the middle of the otherwise lifeless ward. The boarded up windows and old fashioned bare steel beds added a feeling of claustrophobia to what was otherwise a large room, the corners of which disappeared into darkness.
"Where are they?" the oldest of the group asked, impatiently waving his clipboard under his chin.
"Calm down, Lenny, you know this has to be done right." the only woman of the group said as soothingly as she could.
"Amateurs! I don't need this - we need it to be calm" another middle-aged man, this one in an expensive black suit, said angrily, using 'we' in a sense the others didn't believe in. "You're all frighten them away!" at which the others gave each other tiresome glances.
A couple of sets of footsteps interrupted the inevitable comeback and the group looked toward the big set of doors at the end of the ward. The two figures, barely visible that far away in their own torchlight, were not who they were expecting.
"Hello." Sapphire said pleasantly to the surprised group before her.
"Who the bloody hell are you?" Lenny growled at the two operators.
"My name is Sapphire and this is Steel."
"We've got the use of this place, you have no right being here!" Lenny growled again.
'Who are these people?' Steel questioned Sapphire telepathically.
'They are a film crew, making a television programme about haunted places.'
"Did you hear me? Get OUT!" Lenny shouted.
'I take it that one is in charge?' Steel asked about Lenny.
'Yes, he's the director. Lenny Beck. Though both the woman and that man in the black suit think themselves the star of the show.'
"We're here on an investigation, Mr. Beck." Steel said forcefully.
The group looked at each other, confused. Lenny and the presenter, Janet, both spoke over each other in reply: "What do you mean investigation?" asked Lenny, Janet instead going for "What sort of investigation?"
"No, not your type of investigation, Miss Guibert." Sapphire told the presenter.
"What are you people doing here?" Steel directed at Lenny.
"We're making a TV show. We investigate haunted locations like this, the public love us." Lenny replied, no longer sure how to react to these interlopers.
"Ah, I see. Ghost hunters. Perhaps not so dissimilar to Sapphire and myself after all..."
'Except we do it for real.' Sapphire interjected telepathically.
"... In which case you might be glad to hear there's been a death here tonight." Steel continued.
Some of the group gasped, a little too theatrically - they were already in the filming mode of thinking.
"That's not funny." Janet said, unsure in tone.
"I'm not joking. Who's missing?" Steel said.
"Yes, I can sense it... I can feel another spirit among us, trying to tell us..." the black suited Bennet Jacoba said ethereally.
"Shut it Ben! This is no time for your nonsense!" Janet snarled.
Lenny looked around the group, trying to refresh his blanked mind as to who was missing. "Er, well, Bob and Martin haven't returned yet." The colour was fading from his previously ruddy face, something about this pair told him they were deadly serious. "Martin Jones is our parapsychologist - we like to get him out of the way while the rest of us... set up. Bob is our cameraman and general handyman, apart from Martin he's the only one who hasn't returned yet."
"I see. And who do we have here?" Sapphire asked calmly.
Lenny looked about the group again and replied, nodding to each of his cast and crew as he named them, "Er, Janet - Janet Guibert, our presenter. Doug, he's our steadicam operator. And this, of course, is Bennet Jacoba, our spirit medium."
"Spirit medium?" Steel asked pointedly at Jacoba.
"I can see you have a closed mind, Mr. Steel. Just because you refuse to see that which we can't explain doesn't mean it isn't there. It's negative people like you that ruin so many attempts to contact the other side." Jacoba said bitterly.
"You'd be surprised what I believe in, Mr. Jacoba." Steel said back before turning to another form of communication with Sapphire, 'Does he have any latent talents?'
'No, none that I can sense. Real name Benjamin Johnson, Bennet Jacoba is his stage name. He started his working life as a professional athlete, specifically for a game they call football. Not a particularly outstanding player. He saw that many top athletes were paying significant sums of money to spiritualists in an attempt to increase their athletic fortunes. So he switched to this line of work. Thanks to the television programme he is now one of the richest people in his profession.'
'Fame and fortune. A familiar ingredient. Not enough on its own to cause a break, though.'
"No." Sapphire replied, this time out loud. The four television staff looked at her for a moment, expecting but not getting anymore.
Doug pulled back a sleeve slightly and tried to read the time on his watch in the gloom. Janet noticed and decided they needed to get moving, "I don't believe any of this. Martin and Bob are fine. Have you two been sent here by the production company to 'spice things up'? If you're here to add to the atmosphere then you're doing a great job - this place feels..." Janet felt her body shake in a sudden shiver - why couldn't she do that on queue? "... But I'm not buying it."
"Then we shall prove it to you. Follow us. All of you." Steel ordered.
The light from the torches feel on the lifeless form almost as one. Janet screamed in her characteristic way, only this time for real. The scream echoed around the darkness that penned them all together, almost as if the night refused to let the scream go, smothering it to death instead. The eerie atmosphere felt all the more acute as the group stared at the body. No one had any doubt now - he was dead, this was no stunt.
"Steel, look! His clothes have changed!" Sapphire exclaimed, breaking off from the now stationary group and going to crouch down besides the body. Steel followed close behind.
"It's Bob!" Janet sobbed.
"Pyjamas. Hospital issue..." Sapphire began before being interrupted.
A figure suddenly ran from the black at them. Everyone except the operators jumped with fright.
"Wha... What's happened? Who are these two?" the returned parapsychologist, Martin Jones, said breathlessly. "I heard a scream."
"Bob's dead." Lenny said glumly.
"Murdered." Steel added.
"What?" Martin said, leaning over to look at the body between the prone Sapphire and Steel. "How..." he asked before his earlier question bubbled back up to the surface, "Who are you?"
"We are here to help." Sapphire said serenely, in odd contrast to the horror before them.
"We must call the police." Janet said, trying to regain her composure.
"No. The police can't help with this." Steel said sternly.
"What?" Martin said again. "Don't you lot see? These two did it!"
"I can assure you..." Sapphire began before being interrupted again.
"Yes... Yes! The spirits - they're all around. They're pointing at him! They're whispering: Steel!" Jacoba hissed.
As one all their torches dimmed. The darkness closed in around them. Whispering echoed around their heads. A woman screamed. The temperature dropped still further. Shadows began to separate from the enveloping blackness. A man screamed. The shadows took on forms. Ghastly contorted faces. Fear. Pain. The sound of heartbeats filled the air. Thu-thump. Thu-thump. Thu-thump. Faster and faster beating. The air was thick with fear. Mortal terror. Blackness flooded into their eyes.
Sapphire was the first to return to consciousness. Whatever had attacked them was gone, the dim illumination of their dropped torches picked out various members of the team. Sapphire eased herself onto her knees and leaned over Steel. His eyes opened and immediately locked on hers, then moving around to take in what he could see from his fallen position. They both stood up as the others started to groan into life.
"Steel..." Sapphire said with an air of warning.
"Yes." he replied simply, following her gaze, knowing immediately what she was trying to tell him.
"What the..." Martin said groggily as he moved to stand up with the surefootedness of someone who might be drunk. His clothes were wet.
"Lenny Beck is dead." Steel stated to the group categorically.
Doug slipped as he made to get up a little too quickly. Both he and Martin had been laying in a pool of Lenny's blood. For a second they all looked at the body of their director. It was slumped sideways across Bob's body as if someone was planning a ghoulish game of jenga.
With an impeccably delayed reaction, and again for real, Janet screamed. Before anyone could react she ran off into the dark, with not so much as a match to light her way.
"The spirits! The spirits! They resent our presence here. Crackling. Electricity. Pain! The spirits wish to avenge their torture! They cannot leave the asylum until we are all dead!" Jacoba said in a strange sing song voice.
"What were those phantasms?" Martin asks with understandable concern.
"Twisted echoes of things past." Steel replied.
"Ghosts?" Martin asked, looking in the direction Janet just ran off in.
"Not exactly." Sapphire replied.
"Janet! Ah, hell." Martin said, not really acknowledging Sapphire's response and instead bending down to grab a torch. "I'd better go after her." He gave both Sapphire and Steel a last look before running off into the dark.
"They're waiting out there for you, Martin..." Bennet projected his echoing voice after the parapsychologist.
"Shut it, Bennet!" Doug said angrily. "We don't need reminding this place used to a lunatic asylum. Wished I'd never told you, now. Then we'd see what powers you really had!"
"Shut up, both of you." Steel commanded. The last two remaining members of the TV team just looked at Steel, there was no hint of argument in their eyes.
"Sapphire, can you take time back? We need to see what happened while we were unconscious." Steel asked.
"I can try." Sapphire replies, not sounding too happy about the prospect.
Sapphire straightened up, her eyes staring forward. They glowed a gentle blue, accentuated by the darkness of their surroundings. Sapphire jerked slightly as the room around them began to pulse. Darkness, then light. Darkness, then light. Quicker and quicker until it stopped. The corridor was in semi-darkness again but this time there was more light than the torches had given off. They could see the long wide corridor end to end. Along one of the long walls a row of little lights shone weakly. The place was clearly in better shape than it had been a moment ago. The floors reflected the little lights and now there were cupboards and uncomfortable chairs along the sides of the corridor. It was a working hospital.
"Sapphire, where are we?" Steel asked, looking at his companion.
"It doesn't make sense. We shouldn't have been able to come this far back."
"The breach is worse than we feared."
From a side room a flushing sound could be heard, quickly followed by the door opening. A young man on crutches, missing the lower half of one leg, exited. Before he had a chance to turn to close the door behind him a figure crashed through the opposite ward doors and pounced on him. The attacker had something metal and gleaming in his hand. The unfortunate man on crutches was dead before he hit the ground. The murderer turned, his insane eyes clamping on Bennet's.
"Sapphire!" Steel exclaimed urgently.
The corridor collapsed back into darkness. The cold, damp and musty atmosphere returned along with the fallen torches. They were back.
"We've arrived too late - Time has already broken through too far." Sapphire said with concern.
"Perhaps. But what's the connection? What is Time using to break through from then to now?" Steel questioned.
"It's Martin! He must be being controlled by this force! Janet..." Doug exclaimed, pausing a second to check his torch and then running after Martin and Janet.
"Wait!" Sapphire calls after him to no effect. She looks at Bennet who has now moved over to the wall for support but begins gently sliding to the ground.
"it's true... it's all true... they are real..." Bennet mumbled, rapidly descending into a gibbering wreck.
Steel looked down at the two bodies. Lenny Beck's murder had caused a lot more blood than Bob's which was a surprisingly blood-lite affair. "Martin or Doug?" Steel asked Sapphire.
"They both had enough blood on them..." Sapphire began before Bennet interrupted.
"Doug! Doug's surprise!" Bennet said, sounding increasingly crazy.
"Surprise?" Steel pressed.
"His grandfather! The production team. They found out his grandfather was a patient here after the war. He died here." Bennet said burying his head in his knees.
"How did he die?" Sapphire asked in her compassionate voice.
"I dunno... His war injuries?" Bennet offered. Neither Sapphire nor Steel believed that theory.
"We must stop him before Time gets hold." Sapphire said urgently.
"Stop him from what? We need to know what happened here in 1944, Sapphire." Steel replied.
"You know I can't take time that far back." Sapphire.
"You just did!"
"Not on my own. It's too unstable. Another could tear it apart!"
"We must find out!"
"Maybe if I can get close enough to him..." Sapphire said, calming slightly. The conversation hung in the air for a moment before Steel turned to Bennet.
"Do you want to come with us?" Steel asked coldly. Bennet shook his head. "Then you'd better hide."
The doors opened onto yet another corridor but this one was different.
"This corridor is partially in 1944." Sapphire stated to Steel.
"No, just the inanimate objects... In there!" Sapphire noted pointing to a store cupboard door in this new corridor that looked remarkably like the one they just saw as they looked back into 1944, except this one had the eerie silence of the dilapidated hospital from the present.
Steel pulled open the door. Inside they see Martin hiding, a mop in his hand ready to defend himself.
"It's you..." Martin replied with clear relief. "It's Doug - he jumped us. We both ran but I think he followed Janet..." Martin said, ashamed at his cowardice of hiding rather than going after them to help Janet. "I should have stopped him..."
"Time is being replayed. You may all be taking on parts from past events." Sapphire said, trying to reassure him.
"Doug's playing the part of a murderer?" Martin asked, desperate for a reason his old colleague would do such a thing.
"Apparently. He has the strongest link, possibly something to do with his grandfather who was once a patient here." Sapphire replied.
"We've got to stop him!" Martin said, his bravery returning in their presence.
"That may be exactly what time wants." Steel warned.
"We need more information before we can act." Sapphire confirmed.
"To hell with that! Where's Bennet? We should get out of here, find the Police!" Martin exclaimed, rummaging in his pocket for his mobile phone. It was out of signal range.
"Look around you." Sapphire suggested.
"Time has transformed this hospital back to how it was in 1944. Do you really think you'll be able to leave?" Steel revealed just how trapped they all were.
"You should stay with us." Sapphire said to Martin.
"Safety in numbers?" Martin replied grimly.
"Something like that." Sapphire said inscrutably.
They quickly come across the butchered body of Janet. Martin collapsed to his knees and vomited. It was one thing to see Bob and Lenny dead but Janet...
"Looks like she fought back. There are traces of his blood here too." - Sapphire indicates to Janet's finger nails.
"Is it enough?" Steel demanded.
"Just... Yes... He, no, his grandfather, went berserk. He was deeply traumatised by the war. The horrors he saw... Something triggered him. Experimental drugs..."
"What did he do, Sapphire?" Steel demanded even stronger.
"He attacked, he killed, five people. Four patients and one nurse. Then himself." The strain on Sapphire seemed greater than ever, she had so little go on in the temporally compromised environment.
"What? Why didn't we know about this?" Martin says, using the wall to help himself back to his feet.
"..." Sapphire tried to reply but her strength gave out. As she slumped to the ground, Martin tried to catch to her, failing to get to her in time.
"She'll be alright. This is a rather trying environment for her abilities now. We need to make sure that events don't unfold as they did before. We must protect you and Jacoba."
"But if he only needs two more..."
"No, I don't think Sapphire and I count. Time was hoping we wouldn't make it here before it was over - that's why events are unfolding so quickly."
"You make it sound like 'time' is some kind of malevolent force..." Martin said warily. Steel just looked at him stony faced.
'Sapphire?' he tried again.
'Steel?' Sapphire replied, sounding barely different to normal.
'Come back to us. We need to get moving. I'll need you when he comes.'
Bennet was still crouched in a corner, safe and well, where they had left him in the present day corridor.
"Doug is going to try to kill you." Steel told the self proclaimed psychic. "Do you understand?"
"You should take this." Sapphire pressed the handle end of a scalpel into Bennet's hand. She didn't look any the worse for wear considering recent events.
"They know why he's doing it. He's coming after us - we've got to defend ourselves? Bennet?" Martin tried to explain. "What about you?" he turned to ask Sapphire and Steel.
"We'll do what we can." Sapphire replied in a slightly odd tone.
The four of them walked back towards Janet's body - the last place they knew him to be. The sense of danger was almost tangible. They were being hunted. The stakes were clear. Two lives stood between the killer and the plugging of the break. No one spoke. The wall lights seemed to flicker in unison with their heartbeats. The darkness may have been held back at last, thanks to the 1944 wall lights, but it didn't help the atmosphere. The uniquely hospital smell was intensified by their shallow but fast breaths. Like stalked animals they tried to keep as silent as possible, the creak of their shoes on the polished floors suddenly sounded like the loudest noise they'd ever made.
With his prey in sight, the person once known as Doug jumped out at them. The four of them spun around as the figure crashed out of an almost impossibly small medicine cupboard against the wall. He dived with a slicing action at Martin's head with a nasty looking bone saw.
The two operators grabbed each others hand and concentrated on Doug.
Doug is already on Martin as the two of them slow, holding impossible gravity defying posses.
"DO IT!" Steel growled through clenched teeth.
Bennet, free from the force holding Doug and Martin, forces himself into action and launches the scalpel, full force, toward the frozen Doug's chest.
Sapphire and Steel close their eyes, straining with every last ounce of effort to keep time slowed to a crawl on Doug and Martin. As one their shoulders slump and they open their eyes to see the other three falling to the floor. Two of them dead.
Bennet, having killed Doug as he killed Martin, crawls away, sobbing uncontrollably.
"It's still 1944." Sapphire points out.
Steel looks around. "Is he dead?"
"Yes... But there's something... His watch. His grandfather's watch."
"The final trigger." He reaches down and effortlessly rips the leather strap to grab the watch and passes is to Sapphire. She glances at it before dropping it at Steel's feet.
Bennet Jacoba looks up at them, still sobbing. Steel smiles at Sapphire before stamping on the watch. Darkness envelopes them again. The hospital is derelict once more.
"That... That... Was all you needed to do..." Bennet sobbed yet more, "All along..." He thought of his five dead colleagues strewn around the hospital.
"We succeeded..." Steel said impassively.
Bennet heard Sapphire and Steel walk away, their footsteps fading off into nothingness all too quickly.