Graveyard Shift

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This story is based on a prompt from the podcast Hooks of Horror. This podcast seeks to bring together creative members of the horror community. The host seeks to prompt some spooky thoughts to get those itchy hooks of horror out of your head.

Here’s the prompt: “A man works the laundry night shift in an extended care facility. Over the months, the mortality rate increases. The dead are kept on their beds in the service hall until the mortuary can pick them up in the morning; they won’t stop calling for the nurses.”

I think I might be going crazy. I think something might actually be wrong with me and it’s not just all in my head. Today I was greeted as Dr. Barker by a patient I had previously thought was dead.

Now, there are a few inconsistencies that are important to mention here. For one, I’m not a doctor. I’m the laundry guy that works the night shift here. Steadfast Manor is an extended care facility housing about 50 patients dealing with various diseases and it’s my job to do their laundry every night. I spend my shift in a small laundry room in the basement off of our main service hall kept company by three large capacity washers and dryers. I don’t interact with patients unless one somehow wanders down here. But tonight, when that patient sat up from their gurney, pulled hard on my scrub top, and spoke with their rancid breath “call the nurse, Dr. Barker,” needless to say I was shaken.

Maybe some more context is necessary for what I’m trying to tell you. Sorry, this all just happened a few hours ago and I’ve only just made it home to write this all down. That’s the only way I seem to remember things anymore.I’ve been losing more time these days and it’s starting to scare me. I’ve tried to keep journals, but I think my computer is deleting them.

I started working at Steadfast Manor last September. In a few weeks, I’ll have been here a whole year. I’ve suffered with insomnia for most of my life, so I figured I might as well try a night shift or two and make some money off of the fact that I can’t sleep. I never finished med school, but always loved the feel, smell, and hustle of a hospital. I didn’t want to be laughed at trying to apply for a position as a nurse, so I thought the laundry might be a good fit. The ad popped up and it looked easy enough, so now I sit around all night doing laundry and watching Netflix on my phone. It’s nice to have time to myself, but I wish there was a bit more interaction with patients. Time flies by and sometimes I don’t even realize my shift is nearly over until I glance at the clock and it’s 5AM.

Thing is, I’ve noticed this weird uptick in deaths at the Manor lately. I know I’ve only been here a short time, but just in the last three weeks we’ve had six people die. To make things worse, they’re all still hanging out in that service hall I mentioned earlier. They’re lying on gurneys under white sheets waiting for the morgue to come get them. They’re usually pretty prompt, but I can’t blame them for not wanting to make a trip each week to the same place. The service hall is a long, dimly lit concrete hallway that leads from one set of double doors to another. The only room down here is the laundry room. One set of doors opens up from the hospital and the others outside to the parking lot. We use it for ambulances, deliveries, and when the morgue comes to collect the dead.

Lately, I’ve been hearing something about a Dr. Baker through the laundry chute. The nurses often talk about his sandy blonde hair and dreamy brown eyes. It’s kinda strange how they talk about him, it’s like we could be twins; we even went to the same med school. Maybe it’s my paranoia, but it seems like he’s connected in some way to these deaths. I Googled the guy and the only thing I found was a rejected research paper about some kind of inhalant that could reanimate the dead. If that doesn’t send up red flags, I don’t know what does. He sounds like a nutcase and I’m glad I don’t have to mingle with him in the hallways. From what the nurses say, he seems charming, but also like the kind of guy that keeps disembodied heads in his freezer. Of course I’ve never met the guy, I don’t interact with staff either. The only exposure I get to others is when they push yet another dead body into my hallway and chat about stuff as they toss down the laundry. I enjoy being a creepy loner, it’s a hobby. Besides, it’s fun to make up conspiracy theories from my secluded laundry room.

Now, you might be thinking that Steadfast is this grimy place that only houses the insane and old people that are out to eat each other, but really this place is gorgeous. The walls are all murals of landscapes from around the world hand painted by local artists, and each room is based off of a theme. There’s a train room, a hot air balloon room, and one that’s all steampunk. It’s pretty relevant and stays extremely clean thanks to the janitorial supervisor. The service hall isn’t even that bad to look at, the lighting is soft, the concrete is white, and there’s epic insulation that keeps the reverb under control.

So, tonight when I started hearing noises I couldn’t explain, I didn’t think much of it. While it might look nice, the building used to be a school, so it’s got old bones and the pipes sometimes creak. When I heard it again, I removed my headphones and paused my show. It was someone speaking; mumbling the same thing over and over. I assumed it must have been another wandering member of the Manor and exited the laundry room to usher them back through the doors. However, when I looked, there was no one there.

A chill ran up my spine because I was sure I had heard something, but I eventually shrugged it off. About an hour later I heard the same thing, but it sounded like more than one person. A quick look at the clock told me it was way past everyone’s bedtime. The nighttime meds they gave these people could tranquilize an elephant. My heart leapt up into my throat and I, again, glanced out into the hallway.

This time, two of the bodies were sitting straight up, their white sheets draped over their heads like cheap Halloween ghosts. My entire body became frigid and I couldn’t move although every instinct of my body was telling me to bolt out of the doors behind me.

A third body started to seize on their gurney. The two that were sitting up turned their heads to follow me as I went to help the patient I had assumed, until now, was dead. He grabbed my shirt, and with breath that could have been air from a coffin asked Dr. Barker to call the nurse. I wish I had remembered what happened after this, but I blacked out and lost time yet again. These blackouts had become more and more frequent lately, a strange occurrence I had only ever dealt with when I was stressing out over college assignments. The next thing I recall, I was back in the laundry room loading another washer full of detergent powder.

I dropped the box on the ground and soon joined it, sitting with my knees pressed tightly into my chest and trying not to panic. I realized it was getting harder and harder to breathe as the powder flew up into the air and into my lungs. I choked and coughed, rising to leave the laundry room and get away from the cloud of powder surrounding me.

I rushed through the double doors into the hospital, attempting to ignore the now blood-stained sheets that laid over the three bodies. A receptionist looked surprised to see me, but soon a wide smile spread across her face. In a familiar tone, she called “Dr. Baker! I didn’t think I’d see you tonight. How are you?”

“I-I’m not Dr. Baker, I work in the laundry room” I said, short of breath.

“Oh you’re funny! You and your twin are playing tricks again, huh?” she chortled. “Mr. Cooper is ready to have his bed changed. You know, not many doctors offer to freshen up our patient’s beds, but we really appreciate the helping hand.”

My mind’s eye went dark, but before I slipped away, one thought rang out through my mind. “Seven in three weeks, that’s a record.”

Last Week’s Story: Patchwork

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