I'm For It

Brian Halling

(550 words)

I like working nights.  Day shifts on my ward are usually hectic, with little time for reflection and rare opportunities for a coffee and a smoke.  Nights allow both.  So I chained my bicycle to the railings and climbed the steps of the hospital entrance with a comfortable feeling of contentment and the expectation of another quiet night.

The building, a large converted Victorian workhouse, was a sombre place comprising several long Nightingale wards branching off a single central nursing area.  Each ward accommodated about twenty long term patients, and was decorated in the half and half style of brown and cream so beloved of our pre-war medical establishment.  Mindful of the increasing obsession with security, all the wards were locked at night to ensure that nobody could sneak in and pinch a bedpan.  As the senior nurse on duty that night I was entrusted with the keys, a huge handful of cast iron needed to open the vintage locks.

After the customary handover from the late shift I settled myself in for the night, and set about the slow chore of reviewing the notes about patients who might need some special attention on my watch.  Harry wasn't sleeping well; Albert had bed sores and might be fretful; Murray had required a sedative last night, so keep an eye on him.  A typical list.

It was just after midnight when I first heard the noise.  Initially I ignored it; after all, the sound of running feet might just reflect the urgency of a visit to the toilet.  When it persisted I decided to investigate, but without much enthusiasm, and reached for my iron bundle.  Unlocking the central door to Ward One I slipped in as quietly as I could and looked around.  Sleep was all around me; the shallow breathing of old Tom seemingly in perfect rhythm with William's saw-tooth snores, but no sign of movement anywhere.  I tiptoed my way slowly down the central aisle, rubber soles squeaking on the lino, and checked each bed in turn as best I could in the gloom from the skylight.  Reaching the locked door at the far end without sight or sound of anything unusual, I let myself out and made for Ward Two.

Another identical ward, similarly locked at both ends, and similarly full of the gentle sounds of sleep.  I was half way down this long room when I heard a floorboard creak.  I froze!  Did I imagine it?  I began walking again, and this time the unmistakable sound of footsteps mirrored mine.  Someone was definitely following me.  A mental hospital can be a scary place during the day, but this was the middle of the night.  I was a lone woman locked in with twenty unpredictable patients.  My scalp began to tingle and my mind raced.  My pace quickened.  So did the footsteps behind.  Finally I cracked and broke into a desperate dash for the door, fumbling frantically with the giant keys to find the one I needed.  I arrived at the door with a clatter, breathless and terrified, struggling to unlock it before my pursuer caught up.  But before I could open it Murray was upon me, grinning in anticipation.  Poking his finger at my chest, with evident triumphant glee, he shouted "Tig, you're it!" and raced back down the ward.