The Graveyard Shift by Kate Kelsen
Updated: Dec 3, 2018
Congratulations to Kate for publishing her story in 'The New Neighbours' short story collection, which is available worldwide in paperback and Kindle ebook.
The Graveyard Shift
Copyright 2016 © Kate Kelsen All Right Reserved
Holding the patient’s arm steady, Cole watched the syringe fill with dark red blood as he drew out the plunger. He gently withdrew the shaft and taped a cotton bud over the tiny prick wound.
As a medical student, Cole spent his nights collecting blood samples and delivering them to pathology for further testing. He regularly capped off his rounds with a cup of coffee, in a cafeteria nestled in the bowels of the hospital. Over the years the new building had expanded above, burying its wartime origins beneath it.
Cole stirred milk into his coffee, turning to the table behind him. He jumped at the sight of the shadowy figure, hot liquid sloshing over the edge of his mug onto his shirt. The elderly woman stood near the entrance to the old ward, her hunched figure wrapped in a faded pink dressing gown.
Cole hastily placed the mug down on the table and ripped a handful of napkins from the dispenser, pressing them into the wet patch on his shirt.
“Are you alright?” he called to the woman.
“Yes,” she murmured.
“Wait right there.”
Mopping up the mess on the table, out of the corner of his eye Cole watched as the slight figure shuffled out of sight into the ward.
He muttered to himself as he discarded the napkins. If he were lucky, he was only thirty seconds behind her.
Twenty years of medical detritus was crammed into the old ward. Cole manoeuvred an old wheelchair and an IV trolley out of the way, and eased himself between steel-framed hospital beds and nightstands cluttered with jugs and bedpans. He scanned the dimly lit ward for nooks and crannies, any space big enough to swallow a little old lady.
He searched for half an hour, but couldn’t be sure he hadn’t missed her somewhere. He started to make his way back through the maze of equipment.
“I’m coming back,” he called. “I’ll bring someone to help.”
Returning to the cafeteria and a cold cup of coffee, Cole called for security to aid in his search. More eyes were better than his alone, he reasoned. The team of guards arrived and began pulling the equipment out of the ward. Phil, the Head of Security, clicked his tongue and shook his head.
“I can’t think of anything more important than chasing after little old ladies down here.”
The sarcasm in his tone made clear his dislike for the task at hand.
“Well, what would you have me do, leave her here?” Cole inquired. “She could have dementia and wandered out of her ward.”
Phil rolled his eyes. A mildly exacerbated guard approached the two men.
“We can’t find anything,” he panted.
Phil raised an eyebrow to Cole.
“Come on, boys,” he barked. “Enough of this. Let’s get out of here.”
Cole smiled and waved to June as he passed the nurse’s station in the respiratory ward. A light was on in one of the rooms up ahead; approaching the doorway, he found a heavily overweight man sitting on the edge of his bed in his hospital gown. Leaning on his tray table, he coughed violently, his face drained of colour and eyes bloodshot. Cole hurried to his side, touching his arm.
“Sir, have you pressed the button for the nurse?”
“Yes,” the man wheezed.
“Hold on, I’ll be right back.”
Cole turned back into the corridor, quickening his pace back to the nurse’s station.
“June, could you help me with the man in forty-two? He’s in a lot of distress; he’s been pressing his button.”
June looked confused. He pointed to the board, where the light above room forty-two was indeed illuminated. June stood and followed him.
The light in room forty-two was out; Cole flicked it back on, and found the bed empty and sheets neatly made.
“He was here,” Cole stammered.
“There is no-one in this room, Cole.”
“The light was on. I touched his arm.”
June patted Cole on the shoulder.
“It might be time for a coffee.”
They walked back toward the nurse’s station.
“A man died a few months ago on the ward,” June recalled. “Respiratory distress, it was. The nurse at the desk fell asleep and didn’t respond his buzzer.”
Coffee’s pungent aroma warmed Cole from the inside out. Two men stepped in from the smoker’s area.
“Haven’t seen Gladys for awhile,” one commented to the other.
Cole turned to look at them
“Who’s Gladys?” he asked.
“She’s the ghost,” the man replied. “We see her walking around over there near the old wards sometimes.”
“I heard someone saw her and had security pull the whole ward apart looking for her. He could not work out why they couldn’t find her!”
The two men continued their conversation, and Cole took a generous sip of his coffee.