The two teenagers stood outside the huge building and stared up at it in awe.
"I said that this is the creepiest place in Holby, didn't I?" Pete whispered, pulling his best spooky face.
"Yeah, but why are you whispering?" whispered Jon in return. They looked at each other and burst out laughing. It certainly was the sort of place that made you feel like you ought to stay in a hushed reverential tone.
The building was a renovated mansion on the out skirts of Holby that had lain empty for the last several years. It was enclosed by tall metal railings, and sat in the middle of an overgrown and partly dead garden. It had a gothic appearance that was incredibly imposing even in day light, but at night time, with the street lamp illuminating it eerily and accentuating the shadows of it’s mouldings it seemed even more so. It was a large building, three storeys and an attic, with a broad frontage. All of the ground floor windows had been boarded up and liberally sprayed with graffiti. It dominated the street, but even though the locals had petitioned to have the place knocked down, it was a listed building, so it just sat there, unused and unwanted.
"Rochester House, psychiatric hospital" read Jon, from a faded sign on the wrought iron gates, "Enter at your peril!" he ad-libbed.
"Fancy being sent in there if you were already a bit gaga! It’d send you right off the deep end!" laughed Pete, pushing his hand through his short blonde hair. He shrugged his rucksack off his back and onto the pavement. Inside the bag was all the equipment that the lads needed to set up a few surprises for their friends. Pete pulled out two torches and hoisted the bag back onto his back.
"One haunted house coming up!" Pete followed Jon through a gap in the railings and they made their way toward the house.
"Why is it Hallowe'en brings out all the nutters!" Josh exclaimed as he sunk exhausted into one of the staff room's chairs. Penny flopped down beside him. Duffy couldn't help but smile at Josh's comment. It seemed to her that the only difference between Hallowe'en and any other holiday, or any other day for that matter, was a bit of make-up. People generally didn't need an excuse to do stupid, or dangerous things.
"Tea, you two?" she enquired as she poured three cups anyway. They looked like they needed it. The paramedics nodded gratefully and she brought them over.
"Go on then, what happened to make you so miserable?"
"We just had to bring in an old lady who died of a heart attack…" started Penny.
"…She'd had the heart attack because a bunch of kids jumped out at her all dressed up like creatures from the black lagoon!" interrupted Josh.
"We don't know that's what caused it, she was eighty-six Josh" Penny tried to placate him.
"Yeah well. Even so, how many daft kids have we brought in tonight who got injured mucking about, playing at being demons. It's not like we don't have enough to do as it is."
"They're just trying to have fun, Josh. Accidents happen" Duffy said taking a sip of her tea.
"I just don't understand why people want to dress up as things that don't exist and try to scare people" he shook his head as he spoke.
"You don't believe in ghosts then Josh?" Duffy asked. Josh thought about it for a second.
"I don't believe in that sort of ghost, all white sheets and chains, no."
"Whooooooo!" Pete jumped out from behind a door holding a torch under his chin that lit up his face demonically.
"Stop mucking about Pete and give me a hand with this" Jon stood on an old chair in the middle of a third floor bedroom, trying to attach his ‘ghost’ to a light fitting. It was a pretty shoddy home made affair, little more than a balloon with a sheet over the top. But with a spooky green glow supplied by a torch and a piece of cellophane it would certainly do the trick. The chair wobbled underneath him as he strained up to the ceiling. Pete padded over to his friend, his footsteps disturbing the dust on the rotting carpet. The floorboards creaked as he approached the centre on the room. He held on to the back of the chair as Jon tried stretching up again.
"It’s no good I can’t reach it!" he looked down at Pete apologetically.
"You’re useless you are! Let me have a go." He reached up to try to grab the ‘ghost’ off Jon, but Jon wouldn’t let go.
"I’m not useless, I’ll try again!"
"Just give it to me!" Pete stepped up on the chair himself and wrestled with Jon. For a minute the struggle continued, as the boys pulled and pushed at the other one, all the time the floor beneath them groaned ominously.
"Would you just let me have it!" Pete wrenched hard on the sheet, and the cheap fabric gave way under the strain. The sheet ripped down the middle, each boy left clutching half, balanced precariously on the chair. For a moment they hung there as though time stood still; then they started to wobble. They made an effort to grab out at each other but it was in vain. In perfect unison they fell from the chair and onto the floor. The floorboards; dried out and rotten with age, took the full force on the boy’s fall. The noise as they broke beneath Jon and Pete was almost deafening. They screamed out in terror as they fell and landed heavily on the second floor.
Pete opened his eyes slowly, vast amounts of dust swirling above him, making it difficult to see. He coughed and managed to sit up, clearing rubble gingerly from around him. He looked up at the hole in the ceiling above him, and then down at himself lying on top off the rotten wood and plaster.
"Wow, man, what a rush! And not a scratch on me!" Jon didn’t answer.
"Jon, mate, where are you?" Pete eased himself to his feet, surveying the mess. The dust was still settling so it took him a second to locate Jon amongst the rubble. He moved around the outside of the room to Jon’s position.
"Jon, Jon! Can you hear me?" Pete started to clear away some of the debris, Jon groaned incoherently. Pete shifted a large sheet on plaster from Jon’s lower body. Underneath it Jon’s left leg lay at an awkward angle; speared through by a jagged piece of floorboard. Pete reeled back in horror, nausea sweeping through him as he stared at the mutilated limb. Jon groaned again and the noise shook Pete out of his daze.
"It’s all right mate, I’m gonna get help" he backed away from the injury to the door and bolted out of it, leaving Jon in agony, too badly injured to even call out in pain.
Josh piloted the ambulance swiftly through the streets of Holby on the way to their call-out. Penny sat in the passenger seat thinking about her partner’s earlier words.
"What did you mean by 'that sort of ghost'?" Penny asked as they pulled out of the hospital.
"What?" Josh replied not taking his eyes off the road in front of him.
"In the staff room when Duffy asked you if you believe I ghosts, you said ‘not that sort’, how many sorts are there?"
"I just meant I don’t believe in things that go bump in the night, you know, Hollywood type ghosts."
"So what type do you believe in" she asked, intrigued.
"I don’t know" he kept concentrating on the road, avoiding Penny’s gaze.
"Come on Josh, I’m interested now" He sighed and tried to think of the best way to express what he meant.
"When you start to miss someone, when they’ve died and you’re left alone… things remind you of them, places, noises, even smells sometimes… and, well, I think that some people let their imagination get the better of them. They imagine… They want the memories to be real. They think they see ghosts. I believe that can happen, I just don’t believe in ‘Casper’!"
Penny tried to scrutinise his face, he looked thoughtful, but that wasn’t unusual for Josh. Other than that, he gave little away. Penny had always made an effort to keep her private life very separate from her work life, and Josh had always seemed perfectly comfortable doing the same. But in the years that they’d worked together, they couldn’t help but grow closer to each other and find out more about how the other person ticked. Even though she still didn’t really understand him she had grown very fond of him and cared about how he felt. She should have realised that if anyone had an understanding of ghosts it would be Josh, and felt guilty about pursuing the conversation, knowing that he probably lived with them every day. She decided to try to lighten the mood.
"Probably just as well seeing as we’re on a call-out to a haunted house!"
"Don’t be ridiculous" he glanced over at her to see if she was serious, her smile told him that she wasn’t, but she must have said it for a reason, "why’d you think that?"
"Don’t tell me that you haven’t heard the story of Rochester House?"
"Go on, what story?"
"There was a man, Thomas Rochester, who used to live in the house with his young daughter, Elizabeth. It was just the two of them and the servants since Mrs Rochester died in childbirth. They were very happy together, then one day Mr Rochester got called up. It was First World War you see, anyway, he didn’t really want to go and leave Elizabeth but he knew it was his duty and that he might not make it back alive. He didn’t want to say goodbye to her because he felt that it would be tempting fate, so he left one morning as if he was going to work but actually he enrolled and got shipped off to one of the battles in France."
"So, don’t tell me, he died and now haunts the place" scoffed Josh.
"No, he made it back to Holby alive and well but when he got back he found that Elizabeth had come down with some infection and she’d died. The story goes that Mr Rochester couldn’t bare living in the house once he’d found that out, gave instructions for the house to be turned into a home for shell shocked soldiers and then just disappeared. Over the years the house became a psychiatric hospital but the weird bit is a lot of the patients reported seeing Mr Rochester and Elizabeth even though they’d never heard the story before. Some became so disturbed by it that their own condition deteriorated and the hospital closed with a reputation for making their patients worse not better."
"That’s the biggest load of nonsense I’ve ever heard Pen. I never had you down as the naïve sort. Who told you that."
"Chloe did. She told me a few weeks ago."
"Pen, Rochester House closed because of NHS cutbacks. Nothing more sinister than that. Chloe’s got her head in the clouds!" Josh dismissed the matter, how could a sensible girl like Penny believe in a load of claptrap like that?
They pulled up out side the house and jumped out of the ambulance on to the pavement. Each pulled their jacket close around them and placed their hard-hat on their head. They both stood for a moment transfixed by the place. It sent a shiver down each of their spines that caught them slightly off guard.
"How do we get in?" Penny asked softly. Josh shrugged.
"Do we know who made the call?" He asked, "maybe they could let us in"
"Some kid in a phone box. Said his mate was hurt inside, didn’t give a name. He’s probably miles away from here by now." She looked up and down the railings for a possible point of entry.
"Looks like there’s only one thing for it." Josh handed Penny his kit bag and hoisted himself up onto the railings. They were at least eight feet high and it took Josh a huge effort to swing himself over the top and jump down. After years of practice he landed softly on the ground, bending his knees to cushion his fall. As he straightened up he saw Penny stood in front of him.
"There was a hole in the railings just down there." She said trying hard not to laugh. She passed his bag back to him and set off to the house.
"You could have told me, I’m getting too old for this sort of thing." He moaned, catching up with her.
"Nonsense, you love it!" she pushed him playfully, they both knew she was right.
They reached a window on the side of the building where the plywood board had been pulled loose and carefully eased themselves inside. The air inside the house was dry and stale; Josh let out an involuntary cough as he switched on his torch.
"Hello. Hello!" he called. They waited for a response, but heard nothing.
"Where shall we start?" asked Penny. Josh moved across the room and into the corridor. It stretched off in both directions.
"You go left and I’ll go right" he suggested. She nodded her agreement and the split up, walking slowly and gingerly through the house trying each door into the empty, filthy rooms.
Penny reached a door on the end of her section of corridor. She tried the door and it opened out into a large room with four single beds in it, one in each corner, with a small bedside table and a locker next each one. The beds had old metal frames that at some point had bee painted white but were now peeling and discoloured. Only two of the beds had mattresses on them, a third mattress was propped up against the wall on the far end on the room. The floor had a thin carpet on it that was of some indeterminable pale colour. A chink of yellow light fell through a gap in the boarded up window from the street lamp outside, that and Penny’s torch were the only things to illuminate the room. Penny stepped slowly into the room, she couldn’t see a casualty in it but something compelled her to go in. As she moved across the threshold the air around her became colder but she couldn’t feel a draft.
"Hello?" she called, her own voice startling her. She thought she heard something in the far corner of the room, and felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.
Probably just rats or something she thought. She summoned up all her courage to go and investigate. Even in the cold she could feel herself start to sweat. Her mouth was dry and her hands were clammy. She shone her torch around the room and thought she saw something move out of the corner of her eye. She jumped back and tripped over a wrinkle in the carpet, sending her falling on to the dusty floor. Penny lay, too afraid to move, too afraid to even call out properly.
"Josh" she tried, but it came out as little more than a whimper, "Josh" she tried again a little louder, but she was certain that he couldn’t hear her. Carefully she picked herself up.
This is stupid; there’s nothing here.
She held her torch at arm’s length and pointed it accusingly at where she thought she’d seen movement. It glinted back at her. She redirected the beam slightly and saw that what she’d seen was a mirror. She let out the breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding, and felt relief wash over her. The mirror was about the size of a photo and sat in a silver frame on top of one of the bedside tables. She moved over and picked it up wiping a layer of grim off it with her sleeve. It seemed familiar. She perched on the edge of the bed and examined it more closely. The silver was dusty and tarnished now but she could still make out engravings of flowers underneath. She rubbed at it a little, feeling the uneven metal under her fingertips and was struck by a feeling of déjà vu.
"Penny!" Josh flung himself into the room out of breath, "Are you all right?"
She tried to compose herself from the shock of his entrance, still clutching the mirror.
"I heard you call out, I came as fast as I could but this place is a maze!" he sat on the bed next to her.
"I tripped, fell over" she said embarrassed about causing a fuss, "have you found the casualty yet?"
"No, I was just about to start searching upstairs" he caught sight of the mirror she was holding, "That’s pretty" he said nodding towards it.
"Yeah, I used to have one just like it" she stroked it gently as she spoke, trying to remember more about it. She looked up from it and as she gazed around her the realisation of why she felt so strongly about the room hit her.
"The mirror I had that was like this, I took it with me from my house when I got put in the children’s home. I wouldn’t be separated from it for ages. It was a present my mum gave me. She told me that my dad had given it to her when they first started seeing each other. The first place they put me looked at lot like this, much nicer of course, but with the same four big metal beds and the same feeling of it being impersonal, empty. My mirror was one of the few things that reminded me of my parents once I was left alone. I used to think that my dad might come back for it one day, and come back for me too." she realised that she was telling Josh more than she consciously wanted to and looked back down at the mirror, avoiding him.
"You might as well hold onto it, if you want it Pen. Obviously no one else does" he rested his hand on her back in an effort to comfort her. She tried to shake herself out of her sadness.
"Yeah" she responded and tucked it into her jacket, "lets find our patient and get out of here."
Go to Part Two