Don’t Tempt Fate

The old Beamish Ambulance Station is a creepy place to spend the night.


Mystery

Horror

Thriller


Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Search

Chapter 2: Inspector Jimmy

Chapter 3: The Slippery Noose

Chapter 4: A Little Animal

Chapter 5: The Beamish Ghost

Comments


Chapter 1: The Search


‘Cassie… Is that a police dog?’

I was in the passenger seat of the ambulance, my booted feet up on the dashboard and the rubbish old laptop we use for patient medical records on my knees. I’d finished the case sheet for our last patient, a man panicking from a spider bite we’d calmed down and left at home. I’d signed it with the computer pen that produced an illegible scrawl on the screen. Now I was trying to make sure the device would save and upload correctly to the database. I hit the button and looked up, following my partner’s pointing finger.

It was about three in the morning. A dark, delirious time of night. That time of night that felt like the world had settled into a dearth of activity, where only us idiots that chose to work in emergency services bothered to remain awake – and for us, that was often rather against our will.

I squinted through the darkness. I need glasses to see far, but even if I did stick them on my face I’d still be squinting. Jet-lagged by night shift produces its own blurry vision.

‘Where?’ I asked. Ben’s pointing finger was indicating a wooden fence. It wasn’t helpful.

‘Just there,’ he said, reiterating the direction with a re-point of his finger.

There was nothing there. I checked the computer screen. It didn’t seem to have stuffed up.

‘You’re seeing things, mate,’ I said. ‘Sleep-deprived delusions. You need a kip.’

‘Yeah, probably,’ he said. He’d been yawning for thirty minutes straight. It had been a lot of yawning, clocking in at approximately one yawn a minute. He glanced at the laptop I was shutting. ‘You done?’

‘Yup. All good.’

‘Sweet.’

We’d parked out the front of Beamish Ambulance Rest Base. Built in the sixties, or perhaps earlier, it was a defunct ambulance station with only a male bathroom – now labelled “unisex” – and it was tiny. The ambulances it was built for had been far smaller than the ones we drive today. Today, we don’t bother to park inside the garage. It’s too much of a pain to reverse into the narrow bays between pillars. Behind the lattice metal roller doors was a dark and empty garage, only a plastic table and two chairs set up in one corner, presumably for those old-school paramedics who still enjoyed a smoke – no one else ever used it.

I shoved my door open and hopped down onto the ground below, rubbish old laptop under my arm. The things tended to fuck up on you more often if you didn’t have them charged, so, out of semi-superstitious dedication, I always made sure to return them to their charge ports in the back of the ambulance.

There was a motion-activated outdoor light out the front of the Rest Base. It switched off with a quiet but audible click as I hopped back out. I hauled the door shut and looked around for Ben. Funny that he’d be standing still for long enough that the light would decide to turn off. He had gotten out of the ambulance. I’d heard the driver-side door shut while I was clicking the laptop back in place.

No Ben. I moved around to the front of the ambulance, looking for him. The light didn’t switch back on with my motion. Faulty. It wasn’t surprising. The maintenance for these old stations was typically lacking.

‘Ben?’

I spotted him a second after I’d called to him. He was paused not far from the driver’s side door, watching something over the road.

‘Wonder what they’re looking for,’ he mused to me.

I followed his eyeline. Then turned a bemused expression on him.

‘I know I’m blind,’ I began, coaxing, ‘but I do think you’re imagin–‘

Ben had tipped his head, indicating across the road.

I did see it then. Two black-clad police men, hard to spot in the dark, their footsteps oddly silent in the quiet, meandering out of the front of the suburban house opposite. Trotting up behind them came a German Shepherd: a proper police dog. The dog was leashed by an official-looking harness, and when one of the men indicated a section of hedge, the dog dutifully gave it a sniff.

‘Right…’ I made a face. We were at the Rest Base for a rare break. We were both aching for a nap. ‘Hope they don’t find the bloke,’ I confided to Ben. ‘I do not want to deal with a dog mauling tonight.’

‘Yeah…’ Ben said distractedly. ‘It’s been a quiet night. Reckon we’ll be all right.’ He gave one of the cops a nod. Whether the cop had seen or not, he didn’t respond.

We stood there, curious, for a couple minutes longer, watching on as the police led the dog across the road to the house next to the Rest Base. No lights switched on for them either, and they didn’t acknowledge us with even a brief wave. Normally, police and ambulance have a good working relationship. We back them up on welfare checks, they back us up when our patient wants to hit us. I’ve met the majority of the cops in our area, and generally think more highly of that group than I do the cops in other parts of the city. We share waves from behind windscreens when we pass each other on the streets. These cops didn’t seem to think much of the cordial wave etiquette.

‘Do dog squads work as part of the regular police in the area?’ Ben asked.

I shrugged, yawned, and gave up on my curiosity, leading the way to the code-locked door out the front of the old station. Our ambulance decided it was time to switch its lights off two numbers into punching the code. Typical. In the silent dark I squatted before the code and tried to make out the numbers. The clicks of the keys depressing were the only sound until Ben thumped his shoulder up against the roller door beside me, making a loud clanging that had me glaring up at him.

He grinned back at me and I clicked the last number in. Not wanting to fight with the invisible keypad again, I was relieved when the handle depressed and the door into the garage opened.

Empty, concrete and brick. There was a little step one learned to avoid tripping on halfway to the door that led into the interior of the old station. That door too was locked by a keypad.

‘Reckon you could give me some light?’ I asked Ben.

‘Nah,’ he responded. ‘You should know it by feel by now.’

‘Then you do it.’

He snickered, but gave in. By the light of a dim pupil torch, I got the second door unlocked.

We didn’t bother to turn on any of the lights inside the station. Half asleep, crashing was the priority, and we could do that by the faint glow that came through several open windows. The main room of the RB was a kitchenette with a dining table shoved up against the wall. Through an archway to the right were a couple tables with computers on them, set up as a communal office. To the left and one step down was a stubby corridor that allowed access to that unisex bathroom and a room for lounging.

Two couches to snooze on, and two recliners if ever there was a second crew at the RB at the same time. We grabbed hospital blankets and pillows from the cache of them in the cupboard, and tucked ourselves in. Above me, the vertical blinds over the long stretch of windows clattered quietly against each other at wisps of breeze. Ben’s boots were just visible, left on the floor beside the couch, in what little light the outside had to let in between the blinds.

I shut my eyes, relieving their graininess, and got comfortable. Ben did the same on the other side of the room. I heard him shuffle over onto his side. He settled after that. The blanket I’d yanked over myself had forgotten my socked feet. They grew cold as I tried to ignore them.

One thing I should point out about paramedics: we are a little superstitious. I have theories as to why. We talk about working in an “uncontrolled environment”, and that’s more true than you realise when you’re just studying for the job. No one in emergency gets to choose their patients, and we all work long shifts. We also don’t get to choose our partners, nor whether we finish on time; we work wherever and whenever we’re needed, tramping through a hoarder’s house or in the middle of a sports field while people run and kick balls around us; keep irregular and changing hours; duck unexpected swings from eighty year old patients with dementia; have our equipment crap out on us just when we need it; have patients that have managed to become unconscious between a toilet and shower, covered in diarrhoea, in the tiniest bathroom possible; have one-second warnings before we get vomited on; never know whether we’ll get breaks and, if we do, how long they’ll last; deal with hot, cold, and low light; and always know, with the number of unfamiliar places we walk into, that there’s always a chance we’ll get stabbed.

I’ve even managed to lose an ambulance. You wouldn’t think that possible, being that it’s a flashing Christmas tree on wheels, but there I was, standing on the kerb, wanting to ask a passer-by whether they’ve seen my car – you know, the big colourful thing with “Emergency Ambulance” written on it. But that’s an embarrassing story for another time.

Not that we don’t like our jobs. Don’t get me wrong. We choose this because we’re a little bonkers and the wild-west and adrenaline is attractive. And we like coming in and dealing with a problem people need our help with. I love knowing that my arrival can calm people down. I’ll deal with the shit so you can feel better. That’s my job. Have your blood pressure drop 20 millimetres of mercury, and I’m happy (Sometimes. Other times that’s bad. Don’t do that then.).

But it makes a lot of us a little superstitious. We’ll have a day of crazy jobs, where we’re still scratching our heads over it, and we’ll wonder if it’s a full moon. It usually isn’t, so we’ll look for another answer. Remark that it’s been a quiet day? You arsehole. Cardinal rule of ambulance: don’t tempt fate. Fate is a bitch. You think it’s been an easy day? You say aloud that you reckon you’ll finish on time? BAM! That’s when you get the lady who’s 20 weeks pregnant and goes into labour on you without warning in the back of the ambulance when you’re the only one there and fuck, that kid will look like they have a chance of living before they die in your hands.

Don’t. Tempt. Fate.

It’s our attempt to make sense of an uncontrollable job, I think. To take a little bit of the power of random events into our own hands.

Ben doesn’t believe in tempting fate. He is a-superstitious. Maybe he hasn’t had a 20-week foetus die in his hands, I don’t know. Two weeks of stress leave and a consult with the chief shrink will make you never say that shit again.

It’s been a quiet night. Reckon we’ll be all right. What Ben had said. That’s what I was thinking of as I was supposed to be getting some sleep in the disappearing time before the dreaded telephone rang to give us another job. I wasn’t that bothered: I said I was only a bit superstitious. But if we got something truly dreadful tonight I would let him know it was his fault.

Disgruntled, I kicked the blanket down, trying to get it over my cold feet. It didn’t really work, and I couldn’t be arsed to sit up and fix it. So I rolled over onto my side, squeezed my eyes shut, and tried to focus on breathing calmly and slowly.

Fear over the telephone ringing overtook superstition. It was a developed anxiety, and it was an enemy of sleep. I’ve heard the same ringtone outside of work once. It was someone’s mobile in a lift and my heart rate went from sixty to a hundred and twenty in a split second. I had to chill myself out silently in the back corner.

It could ring now, or it could ring in two hours, I told myself. No need to dread it.

I went back to breathing slowly and calmly. Across the room, Ben had started snoring softly. That break to the silence was comforting. Silence felt like it was just waiting to be broken by a shrill ring.

It started to work. My consciousness grew comfortably foggy and my eyelids heavy. I sunk into a soft and warm netherworld with gratitude. Take that telephone. You don’t have power over me.

But Beamish RB didn’t stick to the sounds of Ben snoring in the quiet, and it wasn’t the telephone that had my heart rate at one-twenty and my eyes shooting open.

It was the sound of three footsteps along the carpet of the stubby corridor, then one step up onto the bubbled linoleum of the kitchenette. Right outside the door to the lounge then moving further away.

I didn’t hear where the steps went after that. I’d sat bolt upright. There was nothing at the open door to the lounge: no shadow, no nothing.

Ben was still right-lateral on the sofa opposite, snoring quietly with his face to the backrest. So… not him then.

It was always possible a second crew had arrived on station and I’d just missed them keying themselves in through the doors during my sleepy torpor. Yet it didn’t happen often, and next to never on night shift. One crew to cover the area, that’s all that was needed in Beamish.

But I wasn’t hearing anything else. Those steps, and now… nothing. No sitting in an office chair. No opening the door back into the garage. No refilling water bottles at the tap or rummaging inside the fridge for something edible forgotten there. The station was only small, and it had gone back to silence decorated by Ben’s snores and the quiet smacking of vertical blinds.

Hypnagogic hallucinations: where your half-dreaming mind conjures sights and sounds that don’t exist. They happened. I knew they happened, because I’d experienced them here and there. Back in my exhausted first few months on the job I’d sat straight upright in bed, sure I’d heard the entire front window of my flat shatter into a million pieces on the floor. It hadn’t. Nothing at all had shattered. I’d been imagining it.

That was one logical thought. Another semi-logical thought that ran through my head was that if there was someone in the station, and I just went back to sleep, I could be stabbed where I lay. That was something… well, I’d just really rather not, honestly.

And I probably wouldn’t fall back asleep until I’d ascertained that there was, indeed, no other person in the station with Ben and me.

I slipped out from under the blanket, skirted my boots, and padded to the lounge room door in my socks. Poking my head out, I could see the stubby corridor, and I could see into most of the kitchenette and some of the communal office. My eyes had adjusted well. The low light didn’t hide all of the corners from me, but what shadowed corners I couldn’t see were too small to hide a person.

Keeping quiet so as not to wake Ben, I continued on into the kitchenette, had a look around, then into the office. Nothing. No one was there. And those rooms didn’t lead anywhere else.

Cloying unknown had risen up behind my back. I swivelled around, my socks squeaking on the linoleum, and stared at the space that had been behind me. Nothing. No one was there.

You’re freaking out, Cassie, I told myself. You shouldn’t have had that coffee at one in the morning. You’ve cursed yourself to half-conscious rests.

I made a fair point. You might believe you’ve developed a high caffeine tolerance, but don’t test it if you want to sleep.

With slightly more confidence, I made my way back to the corridor, stepping down onto the carpet. I hadn’t checked the bathroom yet, and eyed it with a desire to not. There was no one there. I’d imagined it.

But there might be.

Scrunching up my face, I looked into the loo. No one. I turned away, only to remember there were a lot of dark nooks and crannies available for hiding in there.

For fucks sake!

But I’d grabbed my pupil torch out of a pocket and with it held ready like a cop’s flashlight in the movies, I moved on in to check. The two stalls were empty, as was the crack-tiled area with the stained pedestal sink. I felt my shoulder prickle, like goose bumps could occur just on the shoulder that faced the shadowed shower.

Slowly, I rounded on the shower, tiny pupil torch held aloft. Tiled half-walls and a shower curtain, slid most of the way aside, hid the inside from view. It occurred to me that a squatter would like Beamish RB. Bathroom, shower, fridge, comfy couches… an overworked ambulance service that only rarely stopped by. I think the old station had even kept its hot water. That hadn’t broken yet, from that one time I’d scalded my hands stupidly at the sink. And this wasn’t the best neighbourhood in the world.

The bathroom was dark. The shower darker. If there was someone in that shower, I decided, I’d scream. Ben would hear. It’d be two against one.

I’m a woman. But I’m hardly a small woman. I’m tall, rarely harassed by sleazy wankers, and reasonably convinced I’d both scream and fight like a wildcat if I had to. And I have had to. I talk about the possibility of being stabbed because I have come face-to-face with that. I’ve been raced at by a delirious woman with a fat carving knife. My reaction: I booted her in the chest, chucked my kit – complete with oxygen tank – at her, and booked it out of that house. I’m not ashamed to say I hid inside the ambulance until the police arrived. My work day will not include being stabbed.

With the hand not gripping my paltry torch, I fumbled one of my many pockets open and grabbed out my trauma shears. Admittedly, they were designed to cut things without hurting people, but I was pretty bloody sure I could make them hurt someone.

Quietly, I approached that damn shower. Armed. Ready with a scream. It stared back at me like a dark hole of potential, screened with brittle plastic curtains.

Like someone a lot braver than I felt, I pounced, shining my light in one side of the shower. Showerhead, taps, rusty drain. The showerhead had a drip of water dangling from it. Good. I swung my torch around to see the other side, and only just managed to stifle a loud shriek.

Foot. There was a foot.

Inside a bucket.

But not a person. I’d flicked the light up to where a person would be if the foot belonged to them. No person. Just that foot. And a few brooms and mops.

I took two steps backwards, remembered horror movies that placed the attacker right behind you, and swung around, torch raised high and shears ready for hacking.

Just the narrow, empty corridor that fed the stalls. Another few steps and I’d checked both stalls again, as well as the stubby hallway outside.

My eyes tingled with the rise of terrified tears. If there was a foot in that bucket, I’d have to get everyone in. I’d yank Ben over first, though. Just in case I was going nuts and was imagining it.

On a thought inspired by movies one should never watch before bed, I shone my light up to the ceiling above the shower. Just in case there was someone… hanging there, maybe. Maybe they’d lost a foot. Bloody hell… if there was a butchery of a murder in an RB…

Just the shadowed outline of one of those portals you used to get into the roof space. And beside it a grungy-looking stain in the ceiling plaster.

Back to that foot. I wasn’t wholly certain I’d actually seen a foot. It would be such a crazy thing to have in a shower-cum-cleaning supply stash.

You don’t live in the movies, Cassy. You live in a real world. How many times have you seen a dismembered foot?

Only once. And that hadn’t been in a shower. That had been on train tracks.

I hurried back to the shower, stuck my head and torch in, and looked.

Foot… or… not a foot.

A cleaning rag and a dustpan handle.

I shone my light around again, searching, but the truth was clear: there was no dismembered foot.

I sagged against the tiled wall. This was the problem with using a pupil torch as a light source. If I shone it at the right angle, the rag and handle did look like a human foot. I let the little metal trigger go, the light on my pupil torch winking out.

I’d wasted enough time. There was no one there. Either I’d imagined the sounds, or it was someone walking outside, and it just sounded like they were inside the RB. I headed back to my sofa, trying to tell myself I hadn’t really been scared, I’d just been making sure I’d be all right if I fell asleep.

Ben was still snoring. He’d better have been asleep through all of that. I had no desire to try to justify myself if he’d heard me scuttling about like a terrified ferret.

This time when I tucked myself back in, I made sure to cover my feet. Cold feet after that wouldn’t warm up my chilled spine.

The whole place was secure. The door to the garage was shut properly. No one was there.

Except…

Wide awake, I couldn’t help looking over. There were two doors in Beamish RB I’d never seen open. One was at the end of the stubby corridor. The other was right there, across from my sofa.

I’d been here enough times, never once seeing beyond those doors, to lose curiosity about what was behind them. Now I wanted to know.

Brrrrring…Brrrrriiinnngg…Brrrrring…

Ben groaned and rolled over, pulling the blanket up over his head. Far less sleepy, I got myself up and hurried over to the phone.

‘Beamish, Cassie speaking.’

‘Hey Cassie, it’s Fiona,’ the voice on the other end of the line chirruped, far too alert for this time of night. ‘Sorry to break your sleep, but you’ve got a teenager threatening suicide at the police station.’

I blinked.

‘I don’t want to deal with that,’ I told Fiona, quite honestly.

‘Lemme see…’ said Fiona. She hummed and I imagined her scrolling through an invented backlog of cases. ‘I’ve also got a sixty-six year old woman over in Killerny who thinks she’s lost a string from her urethra… Not sure why she reckons she needs one there, but–‘

‘I don’t even want to know how you came up with that on the spot,’ I deadpanned as Fiona snickered to herself. ‘I’ll take the first one.’

‘Had a similar job the other day,’ the dispatcher confided conspiratorially. ‘Someone said something about kidney stents, but I don’t know if that’s what it was about. This lady also had concerns about lodged teabags, so it sounded more homemade than that. Anyway,’ Fiona went on, ‘hope this’ll be your last for the night! I’ll try to get you home on time!’

I thanked her earnestly and hung up. Ben was tugging on his boots with groggy reluctance.

‘What’ve we got?’ he asked.

‘Kid who told the cops he was suicidal.’

‘Well don’t do that,’ Ben said flatly.

Suicidal can go one of three ways: you actually have to work hard to stop them doing it; they’re forthcoming and compliant, ready to tell you anything; or they tell you to fuck off and you get no further than that. The kid, thankfully, was of the second variety. We may sound flippant about it, but I felt for that kid. His life was shit. And he wasn’t a bad kid. He even called me “ma’am”, which made me realise that, somehow, I was one of the grown-ups here. Wonder how much trust he’d have had in me if I told him I’d just been dancing around a station threatening to kill shadow feet with a pair of trauma shears just a half hour before.

Cut his neck with his mother’s cleaver, was the kid’s answer as to how he’d planned to kill himself that night. Not an easy one to do, but it does happen.

‘You’ve done a stupid thing today,’ the sergeant told the kid as we were readying to leave. ‘Try to make it into a useful night, yeah? Talk to the psychologist. No shit,’ he warned. ‘Just get the help you need.’

The kid was in on break and enter. He nodded mutely.

‘Was this what the dog was for?’ I asked the sergeant, the kid having followed Ben out to the ambulance.

The sergeant’s eyes were bloodshot. They were open wide, serious-like, and glistened in the overhead lights as they swivelled over to look at me. He shrugged.

‘I donno. Where was the dog?’

‘Outside the old Beamish ambulance station.’

The sergeant shrugged again. I didn’t quite believe it. But I was only curious. I had no right to be in the know.

‘I’ve got no idea about that,’ he said. He nodded after the kid. ‘He’s lucky he met no dog.’

We didn’t get a dog mauling job that night. In fact, as I thought about it on the drive home, I hadn’t even heard the dog once. No barking. Maybe police dogs didn’t do that, but I don’t think I heard the cops and the dog walk past the front of the station. I don’t even remember them making a sound while we were watching them.

I can be a bit of a drinker. I told myself it was because I was finally off shift for a few days. That’s why I knocked back a total of three cocktails over my MacDonald’s breakfast. In truth, it was because in the solitary quiet of my apartment dining room, I thought of knives, bloodshot eyeballs, and severed feet in dark buckets. And those images would only get worse if I lay down and shut my eyes for a sleep. Careful breathing could help to some degree. A cocktail followed by two chaser cocktails was better.

Dear reader: that is not medical advice. Please do not take it as such.


Chapter 2: Inspector Jimmy


I made it to the bush out the front before I lost my cookies. I’ve gotten better at not sympathy puking with patients that hurl right in front of me. The two week old dead body behind me, still hanging from the roof…

That was another story.

Johannes crossed his arms over the porch balustrade and chuckled at me.

‘Fun night, eh?’ he teased.

I glowered at him. He snickered harder, so I tugged off one medical glove and aimed it at his head. He ducked, just in time.

‘It is ripe in there,’ I told him seriously. ‘There are maggots in her abdomen.’

Johannes grinned.

‘Extra protein!’ he said jovially. He yanked on his own gloves and, no camphor under his nose, waltzed into the house. All the power to him. I was hanging out here for a while. ‘Don’t litter!’ he yelled back to me.

Ben would have been right beside me, just as unenthused as I was about “verifying” that the corpse, putrid and discoloured, was dead. Ben was off for a few weeks, however. So instead I had Johannes, and right now I was glad for that. If that body got up and proved it wasn’t dead, never mind vomiting, I’d shit myself. Johannes would probably do a jig with it.

‘She left a note!’ Johannes called.

‘To who?’

‘Erm… Her son.’

We’d been called by a neighbour, not a son. I scooped up my glove, stuffed it in the ambulance bin, and fetched a new one. Steeling myself four feet from the door, I went in.

‘You deal with that,’ I said, nodding to the body as I held my hand out for the note, ‘I’ll deal with this.’

‘Sure you’re not going to vomit on it?’

I’d grit my teeth. No I wasn’t sure. But I could check with the neighbour outside if they had a number for her son.

‘I’ll need you to help me cut her down!’ Johannes yelled after me.

‘I’ll be back!’

The cops were there by the time I’d reached her ex-husband on the number the neighbour gave me. I passed the note and phone over and helpfully offered the other police officer a waterproof gown. It didn’t help me escape assisting.

‘Oh,’ Johannes said to the police officer, ‘and the vomit in the bush there’s not evidence. That was Cassie.’

The second cop sniggered. The first didn’t seem to possess a sense of humour. Or he was trying not to throw up himself, one or the other.

‘You know what we do in Finland when someone hangs themself?’ Johannes asked as I drove us away from the scene.

I turned a wary look on him.

‘No…’ I said cautiously.

‘We take the rope back to station and keep it as a good luck charm.’

‘I knew it’d be something like that.’

Johannes grinned at me.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘it is not a perfect translation, “good luck charm”. But something like that.’

‘Oh that’s morbid.’

Johannes shrugged.

‘It’s just death.’

‘The epitome of “morbid”.’

Beamish RB looked more run down in the daylight. It’d be an eyesore if the houses around it weren’t keeping pace in decrepitude. We got assigned there for cover the next day, during a quiet hour on the radio. I eyed the old station with distaste from the window of the ambulance.

‘Don’t like Beamish?’ Johannes asked me.

‘Needs a lick of paint,’ I answered.

Johannes snickered and hopped out. He retrieved his lunch box before coming around to my side of the ambulance.

‘They put the money in the wee-waa machines,’ he told me. ‘Can’t complain too much. Means it goes faster.’ He gave the side of the ambulance a slap like a prized steed.

That was fair enough. Didn’t stop me thinking Beamish was on its last legs.

‘You ever seen anyone sit there?’ Johannes asked me as he let us into the garage. I followed his eyeline. He was indicating the plastic table and chairs set up near the roller doors.

‘A few times,’ I answered. ‘I worked with Ridley for a roster. He’d smoke there when we were here.’

Johannes snorted.

‘Shouldn’t have done that,’ he said.

‘You want to lecture him about the effects of tobacco?’

Ridley was a now-retired legacy of the service. He took no shit, but gave it in spades. Knew his stuff and did keep up to date, but had long become convinced his opinions were universal, and wouldn’t hear otherwise. He hadn’t been easy to work with.

‘Wouldn’t dare,’ Johannes answered. ‘I’d let him know about Inspector Jimmy.’

I quirked an eyebrow.

‘Oh yeah? Who’s that?’

Halfway through punching in the code, Johannes turned a grin on me.

‘The Beamish Ghost.’

‘Oh here we go,’ I said. Johannes held the door open for me. I passed through into the kitchenette.

‘You don’t believe?’

‘In ghosts?’ I laughed. ‘No, but I’ll eat up the entertainment.’

‘Inspector Jimmy,’ Johannes said, letting the door slam shut behind him, ‘had seen enough.’ He stuck his lunchbox on the table and went in search of cutlery. ‘You know the deal: unable to sleep not just before first shift, but unable to sleep at all without the terrors waking him.’ Johannes had found a wicked knife in the drawer. He shut the drawer with a knee and held the knife in one hand as he dug out his two-sizes-too-large sandwich.

‘Did you make that out of a full loaf of bread?’

‘Yes,’ Johannes said, pointing the knife at me, ‘but it’s one of those nice sourdough loaves that’s meant for yummy sandwiches.

‘It was a different time,’ he went on, resuming his story as he laid the sandwich on the lid of the container he’d packed it in. ‘You swallowed your trauma – military-style. Now we’ve got all the psychologists and support leaders. Then: if you cried at a battlefield you just weren’t as hard as you should be.’

‘What time are we talking about?’

Johannes tilted his head this way and that.

‘About the time this place was built,’ he answered. He paused to make the first slice into his sandwich, then carried on, ‘Inspector Jimmy was the first manager here. And he was good at it. He’d have the hoods up on the cars, doing his own maintenance. He’d get up there,’ Johannes gestured to the ceiling, ‘in the ceiling, and fix roof tiles himself. He’d clean the windows and dust the cupboards.

‘Inspector Jimmy had stopped wanting to go on jobs. He wanted to stay here and look after his station. But you can’t escape jobs when you’re operational staff.’ Johannes dumped the knife in the sink, pulled up a chair, and sat with his lunch. ‘He never said what job he went on that was finally too much,’ he said, lifting a section of sandwich. ‘All the paramedics here knew was that they came in that day to see Inspector Jimmy on the seats out there,’ he gestured to the garage with his sandwich, ‘both brachial arteries cut, the plastic stained red, and him white as a sheet.’

My expression had turned into a grimace. I could feel it on my face.

‘That wasn’t entertaining,’ I commented.

Johannes had taken a bite. A large one. He chewed until it was manageable.

‘Do you like ghost stories?’ he asked around his mouthful.

‘Not really.’

‘Well,’ Johannes went on. ‘The biggest reason we moved to the large station and left this as an RB –‘

‘Isn’t because it’s tiny?’

‘No,’ Johannes said. ‘It’s because for decades since Inspector Jimmy’s death, people have heard bumps in the night. Up there,’ he pointed, ‘in the ceiling. Jimmy fixing the roof in the middle of the night. They’ve heard chairs moving around, being pushed back under the table. For the first few years of having computers in there,’ he indicated the office space with a tip of his head, ‘they didn’t work right. Jimmy never knew computers. That space used to be the TV room, so the room through there,’ he nodded to the lounge, ‘could be filled with camp beds. And when the TV was stuck in that lounge room, and mattresses leant against the wall, they’d fall down in the middle of the day, all on their own.

‘You think we don’t park in the garage because we’re lazy?’ Johannes asked, eyeing me. ‘Nope. We don’t park in there because if we do, the cars don’t stay off. Their engines crank over: Jimmy getting them running for an inspection. Very dedicated station manager, Inspector Jimmy. Even after death.’

‘They didn’t have night shifts back in the sixties?’

Munching on his next bite, Johannes raised an eyebrow at me.

‘What?’

‘You said “when they got in that day”,’ I said. ‘Wouldn’t night shift have noticed Jimmy bleeding out in the garage?’

Johannes shrugged.

‘I didn’t ask for nit-picky details.’

I laughed.

‘You’ve been working here as long as I have!’ I pointed out. ‘How do you know an old story when I don’t? And, for that matter, why would Ridley not know that story?’

‘Ridley didn’t believe in ghosts,’ Johannes returned.

Laughing and shaking my head, I made my way to the loo.

‘And,’ I called back, ‘there’s no way that plastic table outside is that old!’

‘How do you know?’

‘It looks like it’s from twenty years ago,’ I shot back. ‘Not the sixties.’

‘And were you around in the sixties to know?’

‘Were you?’

‘No,’ Johannes admitted. ‘But I am older than you, Miss!’

I just snickered and pulled the bathroom door shut. I gave the shower a brief sidelong glance as I made my way into one of the stalls. Nothing there had changed, though I could have sworn the stain in the ceiling above it had gotten bigger since last I was here.

And a tap was dripping. I noticed that as I sat on the toilet. I hadn’t taken a look at the sink. It could well be dripping, either needing maintenance like the rest of the place or not properly turned off by a paramedic who’d stopped here last.

But it wasn’t the sink. When I reached it to wash my hands, the tap was properly off, though the pat-pat-pat of dripping water still sounded. Those goose bumps reappeared, for all it was the middle of the day and the bathroom was light enough, its window cracked open above the sink.

I turned to the shower as I dried my hands, then patted the front of my uniform dry. The sink tap was a little too easy to open all the way, and the water pressure in the station wasn’t meagre. Tossing the paper towel in the bin, I headed for the half-curtained shower door.

Pat-pat-pat-pat.

That was the problem. The shower was dripping, drop after drop falling down to the uninviting tile floor below. Landing, not on a mostly-dry surface, but in a puddle of water collected around the drain.

I stepped back, eyeing the floor around the shower. It was dry. It seemed implausible to me that the shower floor could be that wet with just the dripping I was seeing, but there was no indication anyone had stepped out of there with wet feet.

Shaking myself, I reached in and tightened both the hot and cold taps. The hot one moved, the cold didn’t. With a squeak of old taps, the dripping stopped, the last drop clinging to the bottom of the showerhead, threatening to fall. I caught it on a finger and flicked it off to the ground below.

The shower probably wasn’t used as a shower any more. There were better ones at the new station. We did have cleaners come in to do the minimum to keep the RB liveable. They probably used it to fill the buckets.

I didn’t get a chance to cool my paranoia by checking. The dreaded phone rang and I dashed out of the room to answer it. Johannes got there first, picking up the extension in the office.

‘That’s a five minute break,’ I said to Johannes once he’d hung up. ‘What have we got?’

‘Serious haemorrhage,’ he said, stuffing the last of his sandwich away in his lunchbox. ‘Deep lac to the thigh. Industrial accident.’

Johannes always attracted the ick jobs. He was a gruesome-magnet. It wasn’t so much a deep laceration as it was a half-severed leg. No benefit putting a traction splint on that broken femur. We’d have ripped his leg off. I was looking forward to working with Ben again. Decaying bodies, ghost stories, and legs that flopped around in ways they really shouldn’t got old quickly.

**

It was another couple weeks before we were back at Beamish. We pulled up and I blew out a sigh. I was only at the start of another shift with Johannes. I felt like I’d seen the horrors of the world. A nice suicidal kid at a cop shop sounded great right now.

Johannes had seen. He chuckled at me.

‘Don’t worry Miss,’ he told me. ‘Jimmy’s a nice ghost.’ He hopped out, turned back, and, leaning his elbows on the passenger seat, added, ‘So long as you don’t mess up his station.’

‘Very funny.’

Johannes thought so. I grabbed my water bottle, rounded the car, and feigned attempting to bludgeon him with it. He didn’t even flinch. He just laughed harder.

I took my water bottle to the sink when we got in and turned the tap on cold. It ran hot for a moment, me tugging my finger out of the stream of boiling water, then slowly chilled. The sink had a mug, a plate, and a butter knife in it. Signs up reading “The Cleaning Fairy doesn’t live here – WASH YOUR OWN DISHES” didn’t always work. And I sure wasn’t going to wash them for the lazy paramedic who’d left them there.

I finished filling my water bottle and screwed back on the cap, eyeing the sink. Then again… hadn’t Johannes left a knife in the sink last time we were here?

Well, if someone else had washed that for him, then it was up to Johannes to reciprocate by washing these dishes.

One sure way to get a job immediately is to make yourself a cup of tea. You can be pretty safe with coffee, as if the cosmos knows you need that, but not tea. For that reason I usually didn’t, but the jar of teabags was inviting, and it was early in the day. One hour off the end of your shift and wanting to get home and sleep? Never make a cup of tea, or you will have two hours of overtime. Half an hour into my shift was a different story, even if the job I’d get would be a gruesome Johannes job.

There turned out to actually be milk in the fridge, in date, and the sugar in a cupboard looked all right. I checked the mug I’d found looked clean enough and went for a teaspoon.

There was a single teaspoon, I noticed, amused. Two dozen butter knives, two forks, and only one teaspoon. I fetched it out, then paused, investigating the cutlery drawer.

No wicked long knife. I could see teaspoons getting misplaced or carried out of station. A sharp eight-inch knife, though, seemed an improbable thing to just walk off with.

Shutting the drawer, I went back to my tea. Chances were the knife had just been put back in a different drawer. Or a paramedic, sick of washing other people’s forgotten dishes, had hidden it somewhere. Wouldn’t be the first time. Ridley had done that to me once, though he’d taken it up a notch: he filled my unwashed mug with a long-forgotten lunch from the station fridge and hid it under the stuff in my locker for me to find later. I smelled like cheese vomit for a week and learned my lesson.

‘You ever seen this door open?’

Johannes had gone into the lounge. He peered out at me, where I stood facing the door at the end of the stubby corridor. I indicated the door with my mug.

‘Nup,’ he answered, reclining back in his seat.

‘Hm…’ I approached the door. It had a bolt higher up and a keyhole under the doorknob. I tried the knob, but it only turned a little before refusing to budge further. Locked then, and I’d never noticed a key around the station.

‘It goes out the side of the station,’ Johannes called to me.

‘How do you know?’

‘Because the other side of the door is outside the station.’

Fair enough.

‘Ever seen the key?’

Johannes laughed.

‘Ever seen the second key for 268?’ he shot back.

I got his point. Ambulance 268 had had only one key since about a week after we got it. We weren’t well known for not losing things.

I followed Johannes into the lounge and eyed the second closed door as I sipped my tea.

‘What about this one?’ I asked him.

‘Cupboard,’ he supplied.

This door did open, though, oddly, it pushed inwards in a way unusual for a cupboard door. Unlike the other cupboard on the far side of the room, this one was small and nearly empty. It had built-in shelves that were semi-clean, a few spots before spare toilet paper, hand soap, paper towels, and a thoughtful offering of tampons free of the dust that clogged the further reaches of the shelves. Nothing sinister, then.

The phone rang as I shut the cupboard door. I took stock of my tea. I’d gotten one fifth of the way through it. That was pretty good.


Chapter 3: The Slippery Noose


Ben was back on my next night shift. He snickered as I gave him a long-suffering run-down of my shifts with Johannes.

‘Yeah, never work with Johannes,’ he agreed. ‘I had one roster with him, and I’ve never had so many traumatic cardiac arrests as I did that roster. Plus two,’ he said significantly, ‘injuries incompatible with life.’

‘I had a decapitation,’ I complained. ‘I had to go find the head.’

Ben made a face.

‘How?’

‘Motorbike rider versus beam sticking out off the side of a stopped truck. Caught him just under the chin of his helmet.’

Ben hissed.

‘You okay?’ he checked.

It was a sight that had returned to me in my dreams several times since. I’d swapped from cocktails to straight scotch. Largely because I’d run out of gin, vodka, and cocktail syrup and had yet to go get some more.

‘Funny how no one ever askes Johannes that,’ I commented.

‘Yeah, well,’ Ben hopped up into the passenger seat and yanked the door shut, ‘you’d reckon he’d have quit by now if it was getting to him.’

‘I swear nothing gets to him.’ I cranked the engine over and put the car into drive. ‘Ever heard of Inspector Jimmy?’

‘…No.’

I turned a grin on him as I drove us out of the station.

‘The Beamish Ghost?’

Ben rolled his eyes at me.

‘I don’t believe in ghosts.’

‘You’re superstitious enough to not want to work with Johannes.’

‘That’s just experience,’ Ben countered, ‘not superstition.’

I wasn’t wholly sure Johannes hadn’t just made the whole thing up, but I told Ben about it all the same on our way to our first job: a nice, normal abdo pain.

As luck would have it, we were sent to Beamish RB when the backlog of jobs from the day were finally cleared around two a.m.

‘Is there a light in here?’ I asked Ben as we fumbled our way into the garage.

‘You’d think so,’ he said. I saw his silhouette patting around the wall. ‘Ah, yeah,’ he said, and, with a click, a fluorescent light above flickered to life.

‘Never noticed that was there,’ I said, making my way to the next door.

‘It is helpful,’ Ben said, then snorted as the light flickered, flickered again, then switched off. ‘Oooohhh,’ he teased, ‘Jimmy won’t be happy. No one looking after his station.’

‘You trying to make sure I get a good sleep?’

Ben just chuckled.

I went to the loo before settling down on a sofa. Not looking after the station was right. The bathroom had developed a notable whiff of urine in the days since last I’d been here. I didn’t bother to investigate, but I did spare a glance for the shower. It gave one drip, then not again while I was in the bathroom, so I let it be.

Drowsiness took a little while to find me. Ben was snoring already, but I was regretting telling him about the decapitated biker. It had brought an image I’d left to the past back into my mind.

Thoughts drifted into more sluggish ones, then into images that floated through my head. I felt my breathing slow, and found peace in it.

There was a black dog sniffing around an ambulance. It looked vicious, big and muscly. Its teeth were very white, becoming visible as the dog’s snout wrinkled and its top lip lifted, sniffing hard. Whatever it was looking for, I hoped it wasn’t a person.

The ambulance’s lights switched themselves off, and in the dark the dog disappeared from view. It was still there, I thought, but I couldn’t hear it.

Without warning, the ambulance switched its lights back on. I looked, suddenly able to move on two feet – no longer a disembodied spectator. I moved around the ambulance, searching for the dog. It seemed to have just vanished.

My socked feet on cold concrete, I came ‘round to the front of the car. The headlamps were bright, illuminating a wizened old man in an outdated uniform. For all he was old, his cheeks sunken in under his cheekbones, he had a military posture when he stood straight.

He cast me a steely glance, his gaze not glazed by bad vision but sharp and keen. Without sparing me a greeting, he looked back to the ambulance and gave its bonnet a smack with the flat of his hand.

‘Headlamp’s out,’ he complained, banging a second time on the side of the car.

I blinked, confused, and looked at the headlamp. It, along with its mate on the other side, were working just fine. It was surprising the old man wasn’t blinded by how well they were working.

‘Always out,’ Jimmy griped, giving the bright headlamp a glare. ‘And no one ever changes them!’

‘In my defence,’ I said, ‘I don’t know how to change them.’

Jimmy scowled at me.

‘It’s easy!’ he said, getting down on the floor. He fit his hand up under the car. ‘You just do it!’

There was no growl to alert me. It was the memory of thinking I hoped that dog wouldn’t find anyone that did it. I yelped, rushing forwards.

‘Jimmy!’ I cried. ‘No – get out from there!’

Jimmy had just about disappeared in the darkness under the car. I shouted – I grabbed his arm. There was another thump on the side of the ambulance. Not Jimmy complaining this time. This time he was shoving against the ambulance in a desperate attempt to squirm out from under it as quickly as possible –

My eyes shot open just before I’d have heard his wail. It was there in the back of my head, like I’d thought to hear it but my mind hadn’t gotten around to producing the sound yet.

I sucked a deep, rousing breath, staring around at the dimly visible lounge room. Ben’s boots were on the floor beside his sofa. He was still snoring.

There was a thump above me.

Oh hell no! I thought. But my eyes were wider than before, staring up at the expanse of ceiling.

Another muffled thump. If I’d thought I’d imagined that first one, this one laughed in my face. There was a quieter noise, indistinct, than a bit of a creak.

Jimmy up there. Fixing the roof.

Fuck Johannes. That in my head was the last thing I needed.

Yet another bump, further along. My eyes trailed from where it seemed that sound had come from along the ceiling, following a shifting I wasn’t really sure I was hearing. There was another bump, just above the door to the tampon cupboard.

My eyes stung with cold tears. The breath was caught in my throat. For a long moment, I was frozen to that sofa, covered in goose bumps and wide-eyed for sight of anything moving. Anything that shouldn’t be there.

A shudder ran the length of my spine and a tear fell. It chilled my cheek as it trickled down over my skin. But there’d been no further bumps. My ears strained, listening for them. Listening for anything.

A split-second decision and I was up off the couch and padding swiftly over to the cupboard. I didn’t know what my plan was, but the sound had come from above there and I couldn’t think of anything else but to have a look. I certainly wasn’t going to stay lying vulnerable on the sofa.

The doorknob turned and I shoved the door open. I jumped back, eyes peeled, body poised for a sprint.

The door hadn’t opened fully. It was swung partway into the cupboard, and the space beyond it was shadowed into near blackness. I caught a glimpse of ghostly white, peeking out from behind the edge of the door.

Just the spare toilet paper, I told myself. But my heart was thumping in my chest and my breathing had become little more than shallow puffs. The door creaked back towards me, hiding the whiteness from view. Leaving it like that would make me think of ghosts in the cupboard every time I was here.

I took a moment to steel myself, then stepped forward again, put my hand to the door, and pushed again. It took more force than I’d have thought necessary to push the door open. I pushed the door harder, comforting myself with the sight of toilet paper stacks, and heard a rough slithering above me.

I looked up just as something heavy slipped off the top of the door. It swung down. It hit me in the face, and I shrieked loud enough to wake the dead.

‘Wha–?’ Ben uttered behind me.

I’d scuttled back. I clutched my heart. And, seeing what had hit me – what was dangling in front of the cupboard door, I screamed again.

It was a rope. A fucking noose. Dangling from the ceiling of the cupboard. The loop in the end of it just large enough for a neck.

**

‘Just… sit down,’ Ben said. He’d hustled me out of the lounge and into the kitchenette. He switched the lights on and yanked out a chair for me.

I couldn’t keep my eyes from darting back to the lounge door. I just about expected some wizened old man to come stalking out of it. I listened, though, and sat. My hands were shaking. It felt like my torso was shaking. Ben gave me a pat on the shoulder and promised me tea. Hot, sweet tea.

‘So,’ he said as he got out a mug, ‘what happened?’

I told him, in jittering, breathy whines, as he got my tea. He put two teaspoons of sugar in it and slid the cup across the table to me before sitting down opposite.

‘A small animal?’ he suggested, being rational. ‘It wouldn’t be crazy if an animal’s made a home in the roof and no one’s noticed.’

My eyes darted back to the lounge. The lights on in the kitchen were making me feel more grounded. It was still dark in the lounge, though, seeming darker as my eyes got used to the brighter light. A dark doorway, that led into the unknown. Ominous.

‘I don’t know,’ I said to Ben, pulling my eyes away. ‘Maybe. Doesn’t explain the noose, though.’

‘There’s no noose,’ Ben said patiently, looking at me with kind eyes. ‘You dreamed the noose.’

I stared at him.

‘I did not dream that noose!’ I said, stalwart. ‘It hit me in the face!’

‘I don’t know what you saw,’ Ben said, ‘but there was nothing there.’

I stared at him. He’d have missed it in the dark, then. I had not imagined that noose.

My tea untouched, I shoved my chair back.

‘Go look,’ I said, gesturing towards the lounge. ‘Please – just go look.’

Acquiescing, Ben got up and headed back to the lounge. I stood up too and stared after him, wary of ghouls or ghosts grabbing him in the dark.

He switched on the light as he headed into the room. I lost sight of him until he stepped back out of the lounge, gave me another one of those patient looks, and said, ‘There’s nothing here, Cassie.’

That couldn’t be. It was easier with the lights on to follow him into the lounge. I looked into the open cupboard, blinked hard, and looked again.

Ben was right. There was no rope hanging down from the cupboard ceiling. There wasn’t one pooled on the floor either, and when I pushed the door right the way open and looked in, it wasn’t even as though there was something that looked like a rope on the near-bare wooden shelves. One of them looked cleaner than it had the other day, though, and for a second I entertained the thought that there had been a rope on it just a second before I looked; snatched away and hidden by some unseen presence.

I looked up at where the rope had hung from. The ceiling of the cupboard looked to be unfinished chipboard. There wasn’t even something a noose could be hung from.

Ben gave me a meaningful look as I retreated and turned astounded eyes on him.

‘Nothing there,’ he reiterated.

‘You didn’t see it at all?’ I asked.

‘No,’ Ben said gently. ‘I didn’t see it at all.’

A latent shudder went through the length of my spine. I let Ben escort me back to my tea. I cradled it in both hands as I sipped, my mind whirling, trying to make sense of it.

The phone rang when I was halfway through this cup. Ben glanced at me.

‘I can tell them to take us offline for a bit?’ he offered.

I glugged a bit more of my tea and shook my head.

‘You don’t have to just keep going, you know,’ he said. ‘It does you no good if you need a break. Mental health leave is important.’

‘What mental health leave?’ I retorted. ‘That’s just sick leave, and I burned through almost all my hours when I had that appendicitis.’

Ben hesitated.

‘I still think –‘

‘Honestly,’ I said, ‘I just want to get out of here and go back to normal.’

Ben hesitated a moment longer as the phone threatened to ring itself out, then hurried to snatch it from its cradle.

Chest pain with vomiting was the job. A lights and sirens response. In the brightness and activity, I was becoming more comfortable with the idea that station-proud Inspector Jimmy was just a stupid story, but I didn’t dare take one of the station mugs out with me, just in case. I didn’t dare not wash it, either. So I took one last gulp and gave it a quick soap and wash in the sink, leaving it to dry on the draining board. The butter knife and crockery that had been left in the sink a few days before was gone. Someone more generous than me had taken the time to wash it and pack it away.

Out of curiosity, I pulled open the cutlery drawer and took a quick look inside. Nope, the long kitchen knife was still missing.

It was heading off for the next job after the vomiting chest pain that I got the idea maybe the noose had been a practical joke both Ben and Johannes had been in on. Johannes had set me up well by telling me about taking used nooses back to station. I could believe it of him.

But, while I could believe that of Johannes, it would be Ben who’d have the larger part to play in a joke like that, and I couldn’t believe it of Ben. I’ve known Ben a long time, and you get a pretty good sense of a person when you’re stuck together with them for twelve to fourteen hours at a time, hangry, exhausted, or just over it, day after day after night after night. Ben is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Sure he’d complain about the job we were called to while we were heading to it, but once he hopped out on scene all of that disappeared. He had patience and sympathy in spades for patients. As someone who never shouted, complaining was probably his coping mechanism.

And, even if he had been in on a joke, there was absolutely no way he would ever go on to hide a noose and pretend I’d imagined it once he’d seen just how terrified it made me.

So… The amber liquid in the bottom of my glass rippled out in perfect concentric rings. The sight stuck the image of that noose right back into my head. I’d just imagined it. And it was best to stop thinking on it.

Watch TV, chill, and let the thoughts recede into the back of my head. As they always had before, time would put the images behind me.


Chapter 4: A Little Animal


‘I want to die.’

I looked up from the vital signs I’d been scribbling down before I forgot them. My patient was on the stretcher next to me. Old, frail, metastatic prostate cancer for the past five years, not responding well enough to treatment, chronic pain; his wife had called us today because of bad chest pain. It didn’t look like an obvious myocardial infarction on the ECG, but from the way he described the pain, I couldn’t rule out heart attack.

He’d rested his head back on the raised backrest of the stretcher. His cheeks were slack, his face grey, and his mouth a little open. His lips were chapped and had dried saliva crusting on them. I’d offered him sips of water to wet his mouth. He was dehydrated, but he’d declined. I had an IV drip in his arm, so he was getting some of the fluids he hadn’t been taking orally replaced.  

He kept my gaze, staring baldly back at me, his lower eyelids inflamed and drooped away from bloodshot eyeballs. Yellowish rheum clung to clumps of his eyelashes.

‘I want to die,’ he repeated, his voice raspy. He took an uncomfortable breath to replenish the air he’d used saying that.

I nodded. He was hardly the first patient who’d said that to me. Usually, a family member or two were in the ambulance with us, and they’d respond with a “Don’t say that!” or “No – you don’t mean that!”

They meant it. Patients like this meant it. It was just that their families didn’t want to let them go yet. So their families wept, hung on; more drugs, more procedures, and the patient continued in pain, unable to enjoy anything, constantly exhausted, too weak to even make it out of bed or to the toilet.

This patient’s wife was bringing her own car and would meet us at the hospital. But I’d gotten the sense she wouldn’t be ready to hear him say that if she was here. It was hard, letting go. That was fair enough.

I’d given my patient all the morphine I could give for now. The rest was in my pocket. It wasn’t up to me to overdose him and give him the end he wanted. I’d just met him. For all I was sure I understood it, I might not. Maybe this was just a bad day talking. Maybe there was more hope than I thought. A great recovery could be made, or this was a depression that could be lifted, rather than an acceptance of the inevitable and a desire not to string it out.

He didn’t even have a no-CPR order in place. Possibly more something his wife didn’t want, but I didn’t know that for sure. Someone was hanging on to a hope that resuscitation was more effective than it really was.

‘Have you spoken to the palliative care team yet?’ I asked. ‘They can be a great resource.’

Exhausted, his eyes slipping shut, my patient just shook his head a little side to side. I rechecked his vitals, not liking the look of him.

‘My wife wants my son to be there for it,’ he rasped. ‘When I die.’

‘Where’s your son?’

He shook his head again.

‘I don’t know. Things…’ he trailed off to breathe, ‘have been hard on him. I miss him.’

‘I can call him?’ I offered. ‘If you know his number?’

‘No… leave him. He doesn’t want to deal with this tonight. I’ll give him time.’

I nodded, gave his arm a light pat, and checked the bag of fluids was still running. Maybe I’d slow it down a bit. A lot of fluid for a dehydrated elderly man wasn’t a good thing, especially as we’d gotten an unspecified “bad kidneys” from his wife when we’d asked if he had any other health problems. In my experience, that could either mean end-stage kidney failure, or it could mean a doctor had once mentioned the possibility of future kidney problems in passing. Best to be cautious.

The dripping of the fluid in the pump set reduced to a pace slow enough that it had me anticipating when the next drip would come. I looked away to scribble down the latest vital signs – not much of a change – then looked back at my patient.

In that moment, he looked restful. In the next moment, his mouth drifted further open, his head tipping further back against the stretcher backrest. He drew in a short inhale of air, then there was a pause before it sighed out. A beat later and another short inhale of air, another sigh out.

My heart sunk. It wasn’t a surprise. But it did suck.

The movies make death look calm. An ‘uh…’, then the person shuts their eyes and gives up that last breath. It doesn’t work like that. My patient’s mouth was an open rictus, his jaw loose in a way no actor could achieve without sedation. He was still looking like he was breathing. Ineffective little gasps. The ECG sounded an alert. Idioventricular rhythm: a wide, bizarre beat, then a longer-than-normal period of flatline. A wide beat, then flatline. The ECG was estimating a rate of twenty four beats a minute. It wouldn’t stay that way. It’d be agonal like his respirations fairly soon. It wasn’t producing a pulse.

And he had no order against resuscitation.

‘Cardiac arrest!’ I called to Ben, unbuckling myself and grabbing the back of the stretcher to lower it to flat.

‘I’ll pull over!’

There was absolutely nothing CPR would do for this man other than beat up his dead body. You can’t shock idioventicular. You can’t reverse a death that’s caused by years of dying. A given-up heart is just a given-up heart. My patient would go from a slow ventricular rhythm, to a flatline. And whatever false hope TV gives the public: you can’t shock a flatline. A shock stops a heart. And a flatline is a stopped heart.

But we don’t get to make that decision. No order against CPR? You do CPR. Even if you know it’s futile.

I heard Ben calling for backup on the radio as I put my hands over my patient’s breastbone and shoved down. One third the anterior-posterior dimension of the chest. You know what that does to an old, sick man?

His ribs crunched under my palm. It puts my teeth on edge, every time. After that you know what you’re doing is repeatedly compressing a broken chest. When we were done with this fallacy of trying to resuscitate a man who wouldn’t come back, he’d have a dent in his chest.

He did have a dent in his chest. By the time we’d called it he had a tube down his throat tied in tight around those chapped corners of his lips; his shirt chopped away, chest shaved in patches, stickers stuck to him; and a busted ribcage. At least I’d already had the IV line so we didn’t have to drill into his bone.

Our manager, taking pity on us, sent us to Beamish for a break after that. It didn’t feel like pity to me as I made out the dilapidated building through the dark of night, visible once we’d turned the corner onto the street.

Ben cut the engine and looked over at me.

‘How’re you doing?’ he asked.

I wasn’t sure if he meant with the patient who’d died on me, or with the RB we’d been sent to. In truth, right now I was too angry to feel scared.

The anger was a tight, hot coal in my chest. In the past, I’d had a lot to say after jobs like that. Why didn’t people get that CPR only had a chance – a small one – of being effective if the person’s cause of cardiac arrest was reversible? Hypoxia, a blood clot in the coronary arteries, drugs – sudden things like that. If chemo and radiotherapy hadn’t fixed the cancer, why would CPR reverse years of dying? Why couldn’t TV shows be a bit more accurate? I get wanting it to work more often than real life on the screen, when it’s a character you care about, but at least depict the rest of it realistically! No mam, I’ve had to say, I’m not going to shock your daughter every two seconds, like they do on TV, because if I did that I’d just make sure she stays dead!

Well, I said it more nicely than that.

If it could be depicted, at least here and there, as no more than a brutal workout for us on your loved one’s body, maybe more people would agree to a no-CPR order in the event trying was going to be futile.

Don’t get me wrong, reader: if there was even a small chance of getting the patient back, I can promise all of you out there I’d be on it, doing those compressions, without hesitation. All of us would. When I know it’s futile from the start and yet I have to try…

I could still feel that sense of crunching ribs in my hands.

But I’ve voiced all of that in the past. I felt no need to say it to Ben again now. What was the point? I wasn’t going to change anything. It was a fact of the job: if they didn’t have a withhold CPR order, you didn’t get to just hold their hand and talk to them as they slipped away.

My response was a shrug.

‘How’re you?’ I asked him back.

‘Not my first death,’ he said lightly. ‘Glad for the break though.’ He nodded to the RB. ‘You sure you want to go in?’

I shoved my door open.

‘I’m not going to give up sleep for an old nightmare.’

It was a bit of a lie. I didn’t really think I’d be able to sleep. But I’d lie down and try.

I went to the loo first. It still smelled of wee. And I was pretty sure the stain on the ceiling over the shower had gotten even bigger. At least neither it nor the shower were dripping.

It took Ben longer than usual to start snoring. I didn’t feel sleep beckoning at all. I lay in the dark lounge just as angry as I’d been in the car. It hadn’t escaped me that I was probably holding on to my anger to avoid feeling scared. If I was, I didn’t really care.

Ben had been snoring for maybe about five minutes when the phone rang. He grumbled something along the lines of ‘Fuck off…’ I hauled myself up and answered it.

‘Beamish, Cassie speaking.’

One beat, then another. No response. The line wasn’t wholly silent, though. I listened closely. There was muffled chattering in the background. Someone nearer was humming. It sounded distorted, though in a way not unexpected for a phone line.

‘Hello?’ I called.

‘Ah – hang on,’ Fiona, obviously on a similar shift schedule to me, said. I waited a moment, then she got back to me. ‘Sorry – Cassie is it? Sorry, 253 needed backup. I was arranging that for them.

‘Anyway, love – hope I didn’t wake you up – I just saw you and Ben hadn’t called for a break time. I’ve put you in for a break starting at 0312. Hopefully you get the full thirty minutes this time!’

I hoped we got longer than that, for Ben’s sake. For my own… the darkness was starting to get to me. I thanked Fiona, hung up, and let Ben know it wasn’t a job, just a break time we’d forgotten to call for.

He grunted and rolled over, pulling the blanket back up over his shoulder. I lay down again.

Some of my anger had dwindled. If I could, I should try to get some sleep. This was the first night shift of two in a row. The more rest I got now, the more I’d get in total for tomorrow night.

I closed my eyes, and focused on my breathing. An uneasy tingle went down my spine, but I ignored it. My thoughts drifted, but not onto anything too terrible. They got stuck on that melody I’d heard hummed on the other end of the phone.

It seemed one I recognised. At least I was able to follow it on further than I’d heard over the phone. Around and around the tune went in my head. It felt distant, then, a second before I worked out what song it was, it started to feel hopeless.

There’s no way out of here

When you come in

You’re in for good

Yikes. Who was humming that at control? Dispatch couldn’t be that bad.

The song didn’t leave my mind. It proved a decent occupation for my restless brain. Dredging it up, bit by bit, from the recesses of my mind, I could remember more and more of the lyrics.

There are no answers here

When you look out

You don’t see in

Who wrote that? I asked myself the question, but couldn’t remember the answer. I did manage to remember more of the song though, plodding slowly through the tune in my head:

There was no promise made

The part you played

The chance you took

There’s no way out of –

A thump. Right above me. Just like the other night.

My body went into immediate fight or flight. But what Ben had said made sense: a small animal would like Beamish as a home.

Just a little animal, I told myself, even as the creaking started up overhead and my wide eyes filled once again with the tears of terror. I waited through the renewed silence, sure I’d hear more, and jumped when a light went on outside, shining better illumination into the lounge between the vertical blinds.

That was that. I wasn’t lying flat on the sofa where anyone could stab me. I wanted to be up and able to defend myself.

Up, balanced on the sofa in a squat, I peeked out between the blinds over the wide window. The window looked into the garage. Beyond the lattice roller doors I could see our ambulance, parked out the front, by the bright illumination of its own headlamps.

I was so cold it felt like my breath could steam before me. And, picking right then, there was a louder thump above. This one produced a rattle. Like something had smacked into a roofing beam – or Jimmy had given one a smack.

That wasn’t a little animal.

There was a scratch and a scuffle, like fingernails scrabbling against the other side of the ceiling, then a creak and, the sounds moving in the direction of the cupboard again, a thump.

I could feel what warmth was left in my body trickling down towards my legs. As silently as I could, I manoeuvred off the sofa. Feeling vulnerable in my socked feet, I stood there, waiting for the next noise.

For what felt like a long time, the only noises were Ben’s snores and my heartbeat pounding in my ears. Then, almost imperceptible, there was something. Treading sideways, I followed it. I jumped at the next bump, and the one after that had me reaching out to grasp the cupboard doorhandle.

It didn’t make much sense. I knew the entry into the roof space was in the bathroom over the shower. But as a creak sounded, surely just on the other side of that door, I twisted and shoved it open. Hard.

The door swung right the way open and I stared in, then up.

The breath stuck in my throat. There had been a chipboard ceiling to the cupboard. Now there wasn’t.

Now there was a dark, gaping hole up there. And a face, with sunken cheeks, skin grey but visible even in the dark, staring back down at me.

It grinned. Its eyes sharp, keen, and bloodshot.


Chapter 5: The Beamish Ghost


I’m sure no one will be surprised that I noped the fuck out of there. I didn’t let Ben grab his boots. I didn’t grab mine. I yanked him along with me, in our socks, straight out and into the back of the ambulance, where I put the interior lights on high.

Like one of my patients, I shook and sobbed, sat on top of the stretcher, blubbering out the story to Ben. He didn’t believe me, I could tell. I think he was also grappling with the need to calm me down enough that I’d let him go get our boots.

I didn’t let him go alone. I sucked it up just enough that I followed him in, the flashlights on both our phones on. I cowered at the door into the kitchenette, so sure I’d see a wizened, grey old man grinning on the other side. But there’d been nothing there. The place, as we switched on light after light, was empty. And the chipboard ceiling, looking very intact, was back at the top of the cupboard. Ben even got a broom to poke it. It was solid, the RB silent.

We retrieved our boots, and I threw in the towel, calling to control over the radio with the news I was using up the last of my sick leave to go home early.

Ben suggested I take the next day off as well. Suggested I give one of the staff psychologists a call, or contact some other support officer. I told him I’d do the latter, but that I’d be all right to be back in for the next shift. Get home early, relax, get some sleep… down about four stiff drinks. And I’d be all right. Nothing’s ever kept me down long before.

It was when I was sitting at home, watching TV in a brightly lit room, that I remembered I’d forgotten to write up the unused morphine I’d discarded for my patient who’d died. That sunk a cold pit into my stomach.

What sunk a deeper one was that I actually didn’t remember discarding the leftover morphine. Where that syringe had gone… I donno. Last I remembered of it was it falling out of my pocket while I was shooting adrenaline into my patient’s IV line. I think I picked it up, but I don’t remember what I did with it.

There’d been a whole 5mg left in that syringe. It was hammered into us from the start: if you don’t document it, it didn’t happen. I’ve never not remembered to discard leftover controlled medications and write up that I had.

Years of doing that dutifully though… It’s possible that I had written it into the laptop unconsciously. Hit the right buttons that would absolve me of a “please explain” and an investigation into drug abuse on the part of me.

But now I thought about it, I don’t remember having written up discarded doses for controlled medications… for a while. Maybe the past month?

I had discarded them though. I always discarded them so no one could use them. Controlled medications were a serious business. Improper use of controlled medications could mean you lost your registration. And your job.

Yet Ben would back me up. And Johannes as well. They’d seen me discard the drugs.

Except for last night. I really have no idea what happened with that morphine.

Rather than wind down for a restful sleep, I checked every one of the pockets in my uniform for that syringe, telling myself when I found it I’d just have to turn it in and admit my mistake.

But I didn’t find any morphine. It was possible it was still in the ambulance and the next crew would find it and turn it in. With some dread, I logged into my email to see if my manager or anyone else had messaged me about it. No one had.

I got a text message from Ben at seven thirty when I was still wide awake and churning it over in my mind. I snatched up my phone and made myself read the message, steeling myself for a note about finding the syringe.

But, no, he just wanted to wish me a good sleep and hoped I felt better that night. He also reminded me to call someone and talk to them.

I meant to. I really did. It was just that between the panic over the morphine mess and the need to get enough sleep, I had a lot more calming myself down to do. And talking to a support officer about the Beamish Ghost wouldn’t help me chill out or keep those images out of my head before bed.

I found a restive sleep eventually, filled with nightmarish images that had me gasping awake, and headed in for second night shift running on a broken four hours total. No one said a word to me about morphine. Our manager wasn’t in that night. He was on shift the next day, so I’d be able to catch him on our way out and discuss the morphine stuff-up with him then. I set it in stone, put it in the back of my mind, and got ready for the shift.

‘You sure you’re all right?’ Ben checked as he got into the ambulance beside me.

I cast him a look.

‘I’m peachy,’ I deadpanned. ‘Don’t I look it?’

‘You look knackered,’ Ben shot back. ‘Did you talk to anyone?’

‘Yup,’ I answered. It was a lie, of course, but I was going to call up the psychologist in the morning. Just because I hadn’t done it yet didn’t mean I wouldn’t do it. And telling Ben I already had would make him worry a little less.

We went from job to job, the usual, as the sun set and my driving relied more and more on the headlamps. We weren’t in the same car as the night before. It meant I couldn’t search the ambulance covertly for lost morphine. It also meant I trusted this car’s headlamps a little more. They hadn’t switched on all on their own last night.

At midnight came the first big job of the night. A woman who’d fallen off a fifth floor balcony. She got the works: pelvic splint, legs tied together, flat on her back with a cervical collar and her head taped to the stretcher, two IV lines in, and, thanks to the critical care backup we got, a whackload of ketamine in her system. The ketamine was probably doing wonders for her pain. She didn’t seem to like it much, though.

‘You’re not an elephant.’

I looked up from rechecking her blood pressure once again.

‘Nope,’ I agreed, ‘I’m not.’

Her eyes filled with tears. I talked her down as she tried to shake her head against the restraints holding it, reassuring her and reminding her to keep her neck still.

‘But it’s not right!’ she cried, not at me, but at whatever she was hallucinating over my shoulder. ‘You can’t!’

The critical care paramedic who’d dosed her took over from me, reminding her what she was seeing wasn’t real. I’ve heard people like taking ketamine recreationally. I’ve yet to see why. I’ve seen more patients have bad trips than I’ve seen good ones.

I put the patient’s details into the laptop, filling in the mandatory fields, then moved on to imputing her vital signs. I got the first set in when I realised the patient, previously muttering non-stop, had gone silent.

I looked up to see her eyes were staring straight at me. Flat on her back and with her head held still, her eyes were at the far extreme of their vision, pupils in the corners, and most of her wide eyes filled with an eerie amount of white.

Without warning, she spoke again.

You got what you wanted,’ she hissed at me. With that much of the whites of her eyes showing, she looked like a spooky fortune teller seeing the otherworld. The drying blood on her cheek and forehead added a macabre note. ‘They didn’t find him.’

The sparkle of chill in my chest sent tears spilling into my eyes. I blinked a few times, dispelling them.

‘What?’

The woman didn’t seem to hear me. She didn’t even blink.

And now he’s there,’ she went on, her face remaining expressionless, pushed up at the cheeks by the collar. ‘He’s in there.’

As I stared back at her, the critical care paramedic had leaned in and was advising the woman to blink so her eyeballs didn’t get dry and sore.

Unnerved, I pulled my eyes away and went back to the laptop. Out of habit, I hit the save button before putting in the patient’s second set of vital signs. I saved that too, then hit the button to bring up the fields for medications used. The computer stalled, the forms greying out. A box popped up in the centre of the screen.

Fatal error.

Not “The program has encountered a fatal error, the program must be terminated”. That’d be creepy enough. This didn’t use as many words. It was just “Fatal error”.

You should always believe in the bad things,’ the woman hissed at me.

I refused to look at her. Refused to see those unblinking whites of her eyes. I hit the “ok” button on the dialog box – the only option available. The fatal error disappeared, though only for a second. A second dialog box, just like the first, popped up in its place.

Fatal error.

I hit the “ok” on this one too. And on the next. And the one after that. I started hitting it harder and faster, but the boxes wouldn’t stop. There was one thing the rubbish laptop was doing, and that was repeatedly telling me it had a fatal error with no option to do a bloody thing about it.

I shut the computer and gave up.

The laptop didn’t work when I tried again at hospital, and it didn’t work for the job after that one. No good, no matter what I did to try to fix it. I stuck it away in its port and went back to paper. I did remember to write in the details for my morphine use this time, and that I’d discarded the leftovers. One step back in the right track.

‘264…’ Fiona chirruped on the radio. ‘If you could head over to cover Beamish RB, please.’

I stared out through the windscreen at the hospital parking lot. Three a.m. again, and it seemed we were the crew that couldn’t escape the Beamish vortex.

Ben had shot a glance at me. I didn’t meet his gaze. He picked up the radio and hit the button to talk.

‘264,’ he said, responding, ‘if at all possible, would we be able to head to a different station?’

‘Erm… afraid not!’ said Fiona, cheerful as ever. ‘I’ve got every other area covered. It’s Beamish I need a hand with. I could look to get you a job so you can get out of there as quickly as possible though!’

Ben eyed me again. We could ask Fiona to give us a ring on one of our mobiles, give her more of a reason why we didn’t want to go to Beamish. But that would be saying far more about bumps in the night only I experienced than I wanted to tell to someone I’d never met, only heard on the radio.

I told Ben I’d rather not fight it, and all he said to Fiona was a friendly acceptance of the direction.

Though I half hoped we would, we didn’t get called off on a job before we reached Beamish. I stared out at the dark old station from the window. No longer just unenthused to be there, merely looking at it made fingers of creeping chill slide up my spine.

‘I’m not going in there,’ I told Ben. ‘And I don’t think you should either.’

He gave me a considering expression, one hand on the handle for his door.

‘I can’t sleep in here,’ he said. ‘And I need a sleep. I’m running on fumes.’

My teeth had grit. My eyes felt like they were staring too hard, too long. I swallowed, and nodded. He’d shown me both times what I thought I’d seen didn’t exist.

Ben gave me a half-smile.

‘Keep the doors locked,’ he advised, slipping out of the ambulance. He turned back and his expression was serious. ‘It’s not the best neighbourhood. Best not to chance it.’

I nodded, and with one last half-smile he shut the door and headed for the station entrance.

I locked the doors, put my chair back, and crossed my arms over my chest in a paltry attempt to dispel the chill. Ben had disappeared into the station already. I shut my eyes and took a shuddery breath.

The ambulance’s door light and headlamps switched off. It took a bit of getting used to, but it actually made me feel less exposed. Now I was harder to see from outside.

I tried to keep my eyes shut. Tried to keep control over my breathing. But every little imagined sound had my eyes flying open to stare around.

It’s not possible to see into Beamish RB from the front. Not past the garage, at least. The only window on that side of the station is that one from the lounge that looks into the garage. It made me uneasy. I felt like I could be looked out at, but not know what was going on inside.

I squeezed my eyes shut again. It was getting chilly inside the ambulance. My arms squeezed tighter over my chest. I tried once again to calm myself through breathing slowly.

Fatal error.

Fatal error.

Fatal error.

Fatal error.

Fatal error.

I breathed out slowly through pinched lips. I’d gotten errors like that from the rubbish old laptops on a number of occasions. That’s why I called them “rubbish old laptops”. I’d defect that one when I got back to station.

You should always believe in the bad things.

That one made my eyes pop open. I know she’d been tripping, but that woman’s eyes had been freaky. I hadn’t thought a person could look that far to the side.

In broad strokes, I agreed with her. To say aloud that you didn’t think a bad thing would happen was to tempt fate – and tempt fate I didn’t do.

You got what you wanted.

He’s there.

My lips had gone back to pursed. I breathed out carefully through the little gap between them, trying to fight back the rising terror.

A glance toward the station showed that Beamish was as it always was. From the outside, at least. No lights on inside. Shadowed, gloomy, and slowly falling apart.

Would I be able to hear the thumping from out here if I pushed open the door?

I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to hear it.

But Ben was in there.

In ambulance there’s a safety rule: it takes two to go, one to say no. I doubt it had ever applied to entering our own stations before, but it felt to me that it should apply here.

I unlocked the door and pushed it open a gap. My hand jittering on the door, I listened hard, my eyes peeled just in case something grey and grinning came running out at me. The tears were creeping back into my eyes, spurred on by chilling waves of tingles that scuttled over my skin.

Nothing. An owl hooted. That was all. I was probably too far away to hear the thumping. It had always been right above me before. A bat flapped by overhead.

Then, jolting my heart into my throat: the shrill ring of a telephone, audible even outside the station, broke the night-time quiet. I sighed, relieved. We had a job. We’d be able to get out of here.

But as I waited, listening to the phone ring on and on, I realised it wasn’t stopping. Ben had probably been asleep. The phone always woke him up, but he took longer to react to it than I did. Maybe in his grogginess, he might not have remembered I wasn’t there to do so and was waiting on me to answer it.

The ringing stopped. I waited, wondering if that meant Ben had finally gotten up to answer it. I can’t pinpoint how long the phone rings before being diverted to voice message. I’ve rarely heard it ring itself out.

Then the ringing started again. They hadn’t gotten through the first time.

Ben may be slow to rouse, but he wasn’t that bad.

It didn’t feel right. It felt very wrong.

He’s in there.

The terror shuttled right back into place, hitting me like a train. There was nothing else for it. However scared I was, I was more scared to think of whatever he had done to Ben.

I jumped out of the ambulance and didn’t even bother to close the door behind me. There was no light, but it turned out I did know the keypad well enough by now to work it in the dark. What I forgot about was the little step up that tripped me. I caught myself on the brick wall and hurried on, my fingers punching the code into the second door before the first had even swung itself shut.

There were no lights on inside Beamish, the place as dark and as shadowy as my nightmare nights here had become. I whipped my pupil torch out as my boots squeaked onto the linoleum.  

The phone stopped ringing a second time, and in its wake I heard a sound to my left. I swung my torch around as the door slammed shut behind me.

It was there. Peeking out from the bathroom. Keen eyes glinting in the dim light. A face grey; hollowed cheeks. Just staring back at me.

My breath had frozen in a lump in my throat. I could almost think I wasn’t seeing it, but my eyes were staring, and there it was.

And it wasn’t Ben.

The face split into a grin, as though it was mocking me. And I screamed. I screamed as the telephone started ringing again and ran at it. I had my trauma shears out and held like a knife in my fist before I’d thought to go for them.

He sprinted. Out of the bathroom. Naked, grey, on skinny fast legs. Breakneck for the lounge. I yelled and swiped with my shears – reared back and tried to stab. I got flesh. I knew I did. But not enough.

 He didn’t make a sound. But he shoved back. I stumbled, fell against the lounge door. There was clattering in the cupboard. A blur climbing into the roof. A foot disappearing up out of sight. The phone ringing shrill and a swinging noose, thick rope –

I ran for it. Grabbed for it. But it was yanked up out of my grip just at I tried to hang onto it.

Then the thumping was overhead. Thump, scuffle, thump.

I didn’t shut the cupboard door. I turned around slowly. I knew where Ben was. I didn’t need to see it to know it.

A shape on the sofa. I’d lost my pupil torch in the scuffle. I didn’t need it. It felt like I could see all right.

I stumbled over Ben’s boots. I caught myself on his sofa. The one he always slept on.

His eyes were open. Somehow glinting in the low light too. There were gurgles that sounded like he was trying to breathe. But they weren’t real breaths. A short, gurgling inhale, a pause, then a sigh out.

I caught his shoulders with both hands, falling to my knees beside him.

I’d found the wicked kitchen knife. Seemed the place this one ended up was inside Ben’s throat. I’ll learn my lesson from this one too.

Leave the penetrating object in situ… Arrest life-threatening haemorrhage. Spinal immobilisation – careful for C-spine trauma.

But what if the penetrating object was blocking his airway? What if arresting life-threatening haemorrhage meant putting pressure on a damaged neck he needed to breathe? What if doing so sent that knife further into his C-spine; cut the nerves responsible for breathing?

This is my job. For all my attitude can be shit, I take pride in it.

I put one hand over the other, found the lower part of his breastbone, and started compressions.

Don’t do compressions on a soft surface. You don’t get the necessary force.

I shoved Ben down, again, again, and again, into the soft sofa cushions.

The crews that arrived to see why we weren’t answering that bloody phone had to pull me away. It was futile, they said. Injury incompatible with life.

I fought them too. They too got Ben’s blood on them.

**

Write it all out, they said. To get your head around it. Make sense of it. Maybe you’ll feel like you’re honouring Ben by doing so.

That last bit I doubt. Sounds trite and stupid.

I think I told them both too much and too little. Morphine, alcohol, death, stress, ropes, not sleeping, the man in the ceiling, the lady with the white eyes and ominous words, tales of ghosts… But I’ve written it all out. Maybe the extra details will help.

The staff here reckon I’m at risk of harming myself. The police think I’m at risk of harming others.

The knife was too smudged once they got it to lift fingerprints off of. There was no man in Beamish RB’s ceiling when they went to look. But they went to look two days after I told them to – shouted it at them on that same night out the front of that old station. Asked them in shrieking tones whether they ever found the person they were searching for with that police dog.

They never answered my question. They said they didn’t know of any dog. I don’t believe them. Ben saw that dog. But, like with the morphine, he’s no longer around to back me up. I’m on my own.

The police think I had the knife.

I’m sitting, now, at the window of my solitary room in the psychiatric hospital I’ve delivered patient after patient to. And, having gone through interrogation after interrogation… I can imagine it wasn’t trauma shears I was holding. Maybe it was the knife. Maybe it was a syringe of morphine.

But that’s the police interrogators talking. That noose was big enough for a neck. It was big enough for foot, then. A nice foothold to help get up into a ceiling barred by no more than chipboard.

I’ve told them this. I’ve told them all of this. I’m still under suspicion for murdering my friend. So, tell me, reader, do you think I did it? Do I have the court of public opinion on my side, at least?

Do I think there is a ghost? I’ve got no idea. I’ve been visited while I’ve been here. Maybe Inspector Jimmy wasn’t just an invention of Johannes’s. My manager nodded when I told him the story. That was all, though. He didn’t respond to it any more that. He went on to inquire how I was.

And I’ve wondered whether it was all an invention of Johannes’s. From the noose to the stabbing. If I need counselling, Johannes is well overdue.

And why, out of all the crews, did Fiona keep sending us to Beamish?

Well, if there’s an ending for this I can give you, it’s only this: I don’t know what happened to the Beamish Ghost. But I know the station has been shut down finally. About time.

I’ll miss Ben.


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