“10:55PM” I read on the locked screen of my phone as I lay on my bed. Being confined for days in a hospital room can be utterly boring. And bored I was. Despite having stayed there for 4 full days I had explored nothing beyond the immediate vicinity of my room.
Hauntinental Hospital was an imposing building. A dour, soulless look. Ironical for something so closely involved in the exchange of souls. New ones coming to life in a burst of energy. Old ones breathing their last in quiet desperation.
I was stationed in room 407 on the 4th floor. The last few days had been a blur. Long periods of nothing between the occasional visit by a friend or a relative. A sad way to spend Navratris while all my friends were out playing dandiya. At least they get me gifts I thought as I grabbed a box of chocolates from my bedside table. It had “Get well soon chicken :)” written on it, with no name on it. I had no recollection of who among the numerous visitors got it. Nonetheless, I decided to munch on one of the bars as I strolled out of my room.
Right in front of my room was the nurse desks. They were usually occupied in the day but at this hour there were few people on the floor. I moved ahead toward the ward entrance door. I was greeted by the helper who stood guard outside the entrance. “Where are you off to, so late in the night?” she enquired. “Nothing, just looking around” I mused. “Okay, dont stray too far from here” she replied. I nodded as I proceeded to walk ahead.
To my right was the lift lobby and straight ahead was the visitors area. Nothing of interest here. I glanced to my left where there was an open window. The cool evening breeze was soothing. In the distance I could see the other hospital wing. It was supposed to house the operation theatres and other restricted areas. As I was scanning the landscape my vision fell on one particular window on the 4th floor. There seemed to be a silhoutte of a woman standing near the window. She appeared to be middle aged with hair tied in a bun and looking straight at me but from this distance it was impossible to tell for sure.
I walked slightly further and noticed a door to my left. “HOSPITAL STAFF ONLY” it said in bold letters. I was tempted to peek in but I looked behind and saw the helper still keeping a watchful eye on me. I knew she would never let me go inside. Thankfully a few seconds later there was a phone call at the nurse’s desk. No one else being around, the helper went in to answer. This was my chance. I sneaked into the room stealthily closing the door behind me.
Unexpectedly, this was not a room at all. It was a corridor. A long, dimly lit one with nothing on the walls and doors on both sides. It was probably used to transfer patients quickly from one wing to the other. As I walked forward I could hear nothing except the echoes of my own footsteps. But as I neared the middle of the corridor, I saw the door from where I entered fling open. In came a posse of nurses and a doctor hurrying forward a woman lying on a stretcher. I stood to the side to let them pass but my eyes wandered to look at the patient. She seemed to be in her mid 40s. Her mouth was open and her eyes stared into the distance as if the soul had left her body. None of the hospital staff seemed to pay any attention to me - obviously having more important matters to tend to than scold a traunt 24yr old girl.
I stood still until the group had exited the door to other wing, then slowly followed behind on the same path. As I entered the new wing, I noticed the eery silence that was palpable. It was interspered with the distant chatter of person likely talking on the phone. There were numerous rooms on my left and a single door to my right. I tried to open it but it was bolted shut. Resigning, I started moving to the left while noticing rooms with boards like “Chemotherapy” and “Radiology” on them. Something about the place was so unnerving - the dead silence, the metallic odour. Imagining the number of blood curdling screams, near-death experiences that had taken place inside these rooms made the hair stand on the back of my neck.
Trying not to ponder on the dismal surroundings, I quickened my pace until I reached a turn. My breath tightened. Right beyond this turn would be the window where I had spotted the woman from the opposite wing. I took the turn and there she was, still staring out the window. “Taking in the evening breeze?” I asked her, trying to create conversation. Initially she seemed to totally ignore my question. After what seemed like 15 seconds “Why did the chicken cross the road?” she uttered ominously. What an odd way to begin a conversation I thought. “Uhh… I don’t know?” I voiced meekly. I could still not see her face. “To get to the other side” she said while turning around slowly. To my horror it was the exact same face I had seen on the woman that was being hurried on the stretcher. Only this woman was neatly dressed and had her hair tied back neatly, unlike the mess that was the woman on the strecher. I took a few steps away slowly while looking at her, then slowly turned around and started to run at full speed. “STOP!” shouted the woman from afar. But I would not. I closed my eyes and kept running. This was not the smartest move as I tripped and fell. But instead of crashing hard on the ground I seemed to fall into an expanse of darkness that slowly surrounded everything around me. It felt like falling into a large body of water until I realised I couldn’t breathe. I started fighting with all my fight. I wanted to breathe.
With one big gasp of air I awoke, still in my hospital bed. There were several doctors around me. One of them shouted “She’s back!”. After taking some time to reconcile what had happened I asked them “Am I gonna be okay?”. “You ate the chocolate and flatlined. You didn’t breathe for the last 5 minutes but are normal now” he answered. Heaving a sigh of relief, I thanked god chickens aren’t slaughtered on Navratri.