16 April 2017

Short Story: Night Terrors

It's been a while since I posted a short story, and I'm having another horror kick at the minute due to delving back into Stephen King. Last month it was The Shining, and right now I'm re-reading The Stand. Both brilliant, and I highly recommend.

This little one of mine is called Night Terrors






“Is there anything else I can get you, sweetie?”

Annie shook her head at the clucking nurse and tugged at the sleeves of her brand new pajamas. Her father had bought them for her specially, as if trying to bribe her through the doors of the Sacred Heart Children’s Psychiatric Hospital. He hadn’t thought to wash them before she arrived so they were still stiff, and made her skin itch.

The nurse fussed around the bottom of Annie’s bed, re-tucking the sheets and straightening the chart Annie hadn’t bothered to read. She knew what it said.

ANGELICA CANE. AGE NINE. NIGHT TERRORS. 

Annie looked around the room. It was as unidentifiable as the previous rooms she had occupied at Sacred Heart, save for the blocked off portion of the room to the left of Annie’s bed. A gently rippling curtain separated Annie’s half of the room from the window. She could hear the drumming of rain against the glass. 

“If you need anything in the night, I’ll be just down the corridor at the nurses’ station.” The nurse smiled at Annie, in a manner that might have been mistaken for kindly had Annie not witnessed that smile countless times before. It was an empty smile. Annie was just another empty child to this woman. A charge to be monitored. 

The door closed firmly behind the nurse, an audible click confining Annie to the small room indefinitely. About a minute and a half later, the time it took the nurse to get back to her station, the lights went out. 

Annie sighed and rolled over, burrowing her face under the blankets. The coarse wool scratched her face, but she hated when they could see her face while she slept. The illusion of privacy was comfort enough in her claustrophobic sleeping position. It was one she had learnt to live with. 

Drifting into a state of half-sleep, Annie thought back to her first visit to the hospital. She had been scared, so scared. The thought of being left alone for a whole night was terrifying to her seven-year-old self, and she had sat up and cried all night. Her father had promised she could bring her favourite teddy bear, Charlie. He’d left Charlie on the stairs in the rush to be on time for Annie’s appointment, and wouldn’t turn the car around once she realised he was missing...

Annie’s eyes flickered open. She stretched her neck, stiff from lying in its bent position. She hadn’t realised she’d fallen asleep, her memories blending seamlessly with unwelcome dreams. Annie raised her head, frowning at the room as she tried to determine what had woken her.

The door to the room had swung open.

Annie stared, blinking in confusion at the open door. It was always locked, always. The nurses may be cold but they were never forgetful. What’s more, Annie had heard the key turn. 

Had an orderly come back whilst Annie slept, to adjust a camera or drop off some medication? Annie’s hands brushed over the contents of her bedside table; a plastic cup of water, a magazine aimed at girls two years her junior, a metallic disk with a pressure pad which would sound the alarm if Annie needed the on duty nurse in the night. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Slowly, as if waiting for somebody to jump out from behind the door and shout “surprise!”, Annie pushed her covers from her body. She lowered her bare feet to the cold linoleum floor and tiptoed towards the door, casting a glance back at the ‘hidden’ camera in the far high corner of the room. She paused, straining her ears to pick up any sounds from beyond the room.

Silence.

Annie poked her head out from behind the door and squinted down the corridor. After the darkness of her room, even the bleak light was momentarily blinding. The corridor came into focus. There were several doors, all shut tight, lining the walls. Annie had always had to assume they concealed other young patients like herself, having never seen anything to confirm this. Several doors down the corridor turned off, to the alcove Annie knew to be the nurses’ station. 

Annie stepped out into the corridor. Her first, fleeting thought was to turn in the opposite direction to the nurses’ station and run. The idea was tempting, and a younger Annie might have even tried it if she’d ever had the chance. But she only knew this wing of the hospital, and had no idea where she would be running to. Or even what she was really running from. 

Stepping lightly, Annie made her way down the corridor. Maybe it would go down well with her elusive doctors if she was seen to be behaving, alerting the nurse to her unlocked door. She resisted the urge to test the other doors she passed, those silent rooms with unknown occupants. 

Annie rounded the corner to see the empty nurses’ station. The desk lamp was still on, casting a clinical light over the vacated desk. A stack of medical papers rested next to a bulging file stamped CONFIDENTIAL. The monitors behind the desk showed the camera feeds from the ward’s few rooms. All sat empty, including Annie’s, the fluttering curtain now the only movement.

Annie reached out her arm and let her hand hover over a mug of hot coffee, feeling the steam heat her palm and form droplets of condensation against her cool skin. She looked back down the corridor, empty and featureless. 

Slowly, almost hesitantly, a thought began to form in Annie’s mind. 

No one was watching her. 

In two years, since the ‘incidents’ began, Annie had been under almost constant surveillance. Her father watched her like a prison guard, and her only escape came during her nights at Sacred Heart where she was always present on somebody’s security monitor.

But she was looking at her security monitor. And she wasn’t on it. 

Annie cast another glance down the corridor, hardly able to believe she had been left unattended.

“Hello?” she called tentatively. The monitor feeds confirmed there were no other patients on this ward, so anyone present would be medical staff. “Is anyone there?” she called again, stepping away from the nurse’s desk to give her a better view of the corridor. 

Nothing.

Annie’s face broke into a grin, her cheeks aching instantly at the long-forgotten gesture. She felt almost giddy with freedom, countless ideas bursting into her brain and screaming for attention. What could she do? Something? Anything? What was possible?

Thinking quickly, Annie bolted back down the corridor towards her room. The window. She could escape through the window. She highly doubted she would get far; the chances of the entire hospital, even the entire wing being completely deserted were slim to none. And it’s wasn’t as if someone wouldn’t come looking even if she made it out of the grounds. But she could be alone, truly alone, for the first time in years. Annie couldn’t believe her luck.

She burst back into her room and ran for the curtain concealing the window. Without a second thought, she cast the rippling fabric aside...



A piercing scream ripped through the Sacred Heart Children’s Psychiatric ward. The nurse on duty leapt to her feet, pausing only to slam a hand down on the button by her desk that called for assistance before tearing down the corridor. She already knew which room the noise was coming from.

The nurse quickly unlocked the room of Angelica Cane and stepped in. The girl on the bed was still screaming, her unseeing eyes wide as they beheld only the horrors in her dreams. Her frail limbs fought against the restraints that strapped her to the hospital bed, her head shaking back and forth. Her screams caught in her throat, raw from night after night of the same routine. She screamed until the orderlies turned up and held her tiny body down, long enough for the duty nurse to push a syringe into her forearm.

Annie’s screams faded to nothing, as she slipped down, down, down into the tortured recesses of her mind.


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