Solent Writers Circle

By the Light of the Moon
by Mandy Shearing

Hattie found the window with the broken catch quite easily in the moonlight. They’d chosen a cloudless night with a full moon deliberately as torches were too risky. Urban explorers were professionals, she thought, not trespassers, even if the law didn’t quite agree.
‘Right, have you got your camera on?’ Eric hissed from behind her. Typical Eric, convinced the old hospital was haunted he was hungry for any tiny piece of proof. For her, urban exploring was more about documenting what remained in abandoned buildings, because it was amazing what some people left when they shut the door for the last time. Still, he’d supplied the kit and he was sort of cute, in the right light, so she wasn’t going to argue.
‘Yes, all set,’ she whispered back, raising the window with her free hand and lifting her leg over the sill.
The old hospital had been closed now for four years and developers had yet to make good their promise of “sympathetic renovation into premier-level exclusive apartments”. They had, however, employed a security firm to try to make the building secure, boarding-up the windows and doors, although the board on the window with the broken catch had somehow come loose and Hattie had needed no other invitation. She looked around her.
The room they were in appeared to be an office with a grimy desk and broken chair facing the doorway and an old planner on the wall with dirty yellow stickers still peppering its surface. Eric panned his camera around the walls, focussing on the chair.
‘If there’s anyone still here in this hospital with us, can you give us a sign?’ he intoned ponderously. A heavy silence greeted his words until Hattie sneezed loudly.
‘Sorry,’ she muttered. Personally, she didn’t believe in ghosts, or the afterlife, or in anything much. Life was too short.
‘Let’s head into the corridor,’ said Eric.
The darkness there felt cloying, like a thick blindfold and here, away from outside eyes, they felt able to switch on their torches. This didn’t banish the darkness, just made it retreat into corners like shadows watching, waiting. Hattie mentally shook herself.
‘I think the ward’s down there,” she muttered through clenched teeth. She’d been hanging round with Eric far too much, she told herself.
The room at the end of the corridor was indeed a ward, still containing the skeletons of iron beds lined up regimentally along the walls. Each had dusty leather straps ending in strong metal buckles hanging from the chipped and rusty bedsteads. A lone wheelchair stood in the middle of the room.
‘This must have been the psych ward,’ remarked Eric excitedly. ‘Keep panning your camera round while I call out.’
‘Psych ward?’ asked Hattie, training her camera on the wheelchair.
‘Yeah, psychiatric ward. You can tell by the restraints, look. If there’s any troubled souls still in this building, please show yourself!’
Hattie walked further into the ward to see if any paperwork had been left pinned to the walls. She trained her camera into the shadows and slowly walked around. The walls looked like they’d caught a terminal skin disease and the floor was scuffed and greasy. Just then she felt a nudge in the back of her knees as a faint creak sounded just behind her.
‘That you, Eric?’ she asked, panning around with her camera. Behind her the wheelchair made a dark shape in the gloom.
‘What?’ he asked distractedly.
‘Oh nothing. I just wasn’t looking where I was going.'
 ‘Come on. Let’s head on.’
All the other wards were largely empty and the few offices along that corridor seemed to be locked. Hattie looked at her watch.
‘Come on, we should be making a move. We can’t get into the rest of the hospital from here and the window we came in was the only one that wasn’t secured. There’s nothing here of any interest.’
‘We might have caught something on the footage…’ began Eric.
‘Don’t be daft, this place is about as haunted as my fridge,’ replied Hattie, more harshly than she’d intended.
They made their way back along the corridor towards the office with the broken window until Eric, who was ahead of Hattie entering the room, suddenly swore under his breath.
‘Damn. The bit of wood’s dropped down and blocked the window. Hold onto my camera and I’ll move it out the way.’
Eric pushed and pulled and tore his fingernails, but the loose piece of wood had dropped firmly back over the window. Worse than that, it seemed now to be stuck fast, trapping them inside the building. They would just have to phone the police and face the consequences. Hattie sighed in frustration as she pulled out her phone.
‘Oh great, my battery’s died. That’s just marvellous, give me your phone, will you?’
Eric fumbled his phone out of his pocket but then showed the dark screen to her, ashen-faced.
‘Mine’s dead too,’ he whispered.
Just then a rhythmic creak, creak, creak sounded from along the corridor, a familiar noise that for a second Hattie racked her mind to remember where she’d heard it before. Ah yes, it was the wheelchair from the psych ward, of course! Her eyes widened and she bit back a scream as the creak, creak, creak relentlessly inched closer…