Rich flips the table to give himself some time to make a run for the door, but he is too panicked to watch where he is going. Banging into tables and stumbling over chairs, the gasping man barely makes it to the middle of the cafeteria before four orderlies surround him. He swings his battered camera at them, clipping the nearest one in the head and forcing her to back away. A brief moment of clarity comes over Rich when he sees the bleeding wound and he tries to stutter out an apology. The other three staff members tackle him while waving for a gurney to be brought over. Even with their combined weight, the adrenaline-fueled patient is able to break free and continue his retreat. He only gets a few more steps before Dawn whacks him in the head with a frying pan.
“What happened here?” Dr. Rutherford asks as she approaches with her clipboard. With a sigh, she takes the blunt object from Dawn and places it on a chair. “Thank you for the help, Ms. Addison. Now this is the second outburst from Mr. Garrett this week. Do we know what caused it this time?”
“He said his orange juice was turned to bile and death threats were appearing in his oatmeal,” the injured orderly reports while pressing a towel to her head. Leaning forward, she lets her boss take a look at the wound, which she is sure will require stitches. “According to his rants, the ghosts were angry at him for going into the forest last week. They have sworn to kill him and he wants to escape. Should we put him into the solitary wing until you’re sure he won’t be a danger to the others?”
“I’m afraid this is more severe,” Dr. Rutherford says as she flips through her notes. Putting a hand on Rich’s face, she lifts his eyelid to check for signs of a concussion. “Have Mrs. Warding meet me at the elevator with her equipment. We will have to do a full check of his body and mind, which can’t be done in the solitary ward. Mr. Garrett will have to be placed in the basement until he is better. It’s a shame because he was so close to throwing off his delusions and returning to his old life.”
“Can I come along?” Dawn asks while bouncing on her toes. “I want to see the basement again. It’s been too long and I think I left something there. Be a pal, Grace, and give me what I want.”
Dr. Rutherford sighs and waves for her staff to cart Rich away. “Maybe another time, Ms. Addison. This is too delicate a situation for you to be involved. I know this is upsetting, but I assure you that it’s for the best. You don’t want to get into any real trouble and be forced to go away, do you?”
Dawn’s face turns pale and her mouth opens slightly, a chortled squeak slipping out as she imagines leaving Raven’s Hold. Tears slipping down her cheeks, she backs away from the doctor and charges out of the cafeteria. The young woman shoves the gurney out of her path before ducking into a broom closet. Crashing and wailing can be heard inside as bleach seeps out from under the door.
“Ignore her and keep going,” the doctor tells her staff, snapping her fingers to highlight her impatience. “We don’t want Mr. Garrett to wake up in the elevator. He may get the wrong idea and panic again.”
Dr. Rutherford is so focused on her notes and the patient that she fails to notice Ian lurking around the corner. Ever since his release from the solitary ward, he has been trying to remain unseen by the staff and most of the patients. He quietly watches as his only friend on the island is carted away to the basement. The creaking of a door draws his attention to the opposite direction and he holds his breath when Dawn steps out of the broom closet. She is drenched in various cleaners and has an air freshener hanging from her neck. Something about the young woman puts Ian on edge and makes him crouch in an attempt to appear smaller. It is not until she dances away that he relaxes and returns his attention to his friend’s outburst.
Remembering Rich’s warnings about the mysterious lower level, Ian makes up his mind to follow them. Stretching his legs and taking several calming breaths, he slips into the hallway and creeps along the wall. With Dr. Rutherford and the orderlies already out of sight, he is able to move quickly, but he forces himself to walk at a casual pace. He knows there could be other patients peeking through windows or hiding behind doors. The last thing Ian wants is to get caught and be put back in the solitary ward.
“It isn’t like I’m causing trouble,” he whispers before ducking into an open door. He silently waits for the approaching guard to walk by and peeks around the corner to make sure the hallway is clear. “What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t try to check up on him? If Dr. Rutherford finds me then I’ll just say I’m concerned and hoping he’ll be okay. There’s no reason for her to be upset about that. Though I am talking to myself and acting like I’m doing something wrong. I should just remain calm and act like everything is fine.”
Ian stops when he hears wheels squeak to a stop nearby and he stands with his back to the wall. Using the glass windows in front of him, he watches Rich get carted onto the padded elevator. His friend is starting to stir and raise his hand, which one of the orderlies holds onto while whispering words of comfort. The clicking of the camera gets more rapid until the bald man is mildly sedated. Helping to move the gurney to the side, Dr. Rutherford squeezes into the corner of the elevator and presses the open door button to let an older woman to join them. The last thing Ian sees is the newcomer taking out a stethoscope to check Rich’s chest and the man weakly try to take her picture.
“I wonder why I’ve never been down here before,” the young man says while stepping into the open. He takes a few steps toward the elevator and grabs the wall as a wave of vertigo overtakes him. “Guess the stress is getting to me. Maybe Rich clipped me in the head with his tray when he flipped out. I was sitting right in front of him.”
A snake-like voice seeps from the walls to growl, “Or maybe you are where you don’t belong.”
“You again,” Ian groans as he slides to the floor. He massages his temples in a desperate hope to hold off a looming migraine. “You sound angry this time. Guess the resident ghost is territorial. I thought you wanted me to play your game. Well this definitely feels like a challenge since my only friend is in trouble.”
“I’m not in the mood to play. Go away.”
“Since you’re so adamant about that, I think I’ll check the elevator.”
“I’m warning you.”
“And what are you going to do?”
There is an eerie pause before the voice returns, sounding more bitter than enraged. “You are lucky that you are who you are. There is still fun to be had at your expense. I will forget that you’re overstepping your bounds and that your family has become an annoyance. Perhaps you need a lesson, little puppy.”
“My family?” Ian asks as the hallway begins to twist. “What do you mean by my family?”
Fire drips out of the ceiling lights and oozes along the rising floor while doors shatter from the pressure. Tiles crack and send splinters flying into the opposite walls, the holes bleeding like fresh bullet wounds. Ian closes his eyes in the hope of the hallucinations going away, but he still feels the world tilt around him. As if the building is being turned on its side, the ground becomes increasingly steep and impossible for the young man to maintain his balance. He clings to a door frame and looks down to see the elevator open like a hungry maw. There is nothing inside the lift and it patiently waits for Ian to lose his grip.
“I promise to behave if you stop this right now,” he begs while Raven’s Hold trembles. “Just leave my family alone.”
The hallway violently spins and stops with a jolt that breaks Ian’s hold on the door. He tumbles down the hallway, his clothes slashed by jagged barbs that blend into the tiles. The hungry elevator gurgles as its potential meal builds speed and leaves a trail of blood along the floor. Curled into a ball and shivering in fear, Ian prepares to fall into the looming abyss. Instead, he slams into the elevator doors with enough force to daze him. Sprawled in the hallway, he gazes at his pristine surroundings and curses at the ghost’s faint laughter.
“That wasn’t funny,” Ian mutters while checking his clothes and skin for damage.
“I’m easily amused,” the voice states with another chuckle. “Though I don’t want you to see your present too early. Time to sleep again.”
The elevator opens to release the empty gurney that slams into Ian and shoves him down the hallway. He is rammed into the solid wall, which leaves him gasping for air. With the creak of metal and the popping of screws, the cart stands on its back wheels and flexes its front legs as if they are arms. It dances around like a boxer and throws a few feints, the roar of a crowd appearing out of a nearby intercom. More amused than scared, Ian can only make a nervous cough before he is punched in the face and knocked out.