“I’ll wager you’ve no idea what it feels like to be buried. The weight of earth…is killing.”
The unsettling trouble which has plagued Minneapolis General Hospital from its earliest days went from mortally unpleasant to otherworldly horrific on a fiendishly cold morning in February 1968.
A hundred plus years before, in a world as different from today as blood is from water, the General was founded as a sanatarium and gathering place for the many amputees and bedraggled troops returning from the late War Between the States. It was a population as haunted as they were wounded—not one among them was whole in any sense of the word. They bled on the floorboards and gimped about one-leggedly, strode through the halls off-balanced with bodies that only half worked and arms stumped at the elbow or shoulder. More than a few had lost an ear or had had a nose shot away. A particularly unlucky lot had seen their lower jaws blown apart. These last looked ugly and sucked their food through straws. A few whistled as they breathed. The former soldiers seemed at times like illusory men, who had lived in another time altogether and now were dying by parts.
These illusory men whispered into the walls of the General about the terrible things they had seen and done during the late war, things so awful they blighted the mind and burned a terrible misery into the soul.
Now, a hundred plus years later, that misery has been unleashed.
And it’s hungry.
The Cadaver of Gideon Cathcart: a supernatural medical thriller.
A Haunting of Minneapolis General Hospital Novel, Book 1.
A brief portrait of Minneapolis General Hospital:
Minneapolis General itself was a thoroughly modern hospital, except where it wasn’t. The place was cavernous, some parts old and some parts very old. The exterior facade had once favored a large Victorian mansion, at least the original structure had, but it was a dreary brownstone now. And huge. The Minneapolis downtown was growing and the General, as its denizens called it, had grown into an unwieldy brick behemoth covering several city blocks. An old, familiar dog, though with mangy, palpable ribs, and many scars.
Originally opened in 1864, the General had been renovated a dozen times over the decades. The vintage WWI operating rooms were replaced in the 1960s. The then obsolete surgical rooms were made over into call rooms for the residents. Zach’s room still had a diagram of the human heart on the wall above his bed. Numerous pinholes punctured the poster, many clustered around the mitral valve, between the chambers of the left side of the heart. Some past resident of that same bunk had used the poster as a dart board.
The Cranium was the oldest part of the complex still in use, and had the dusty air of a museum long past its prime. The whole place smelled faintly of bleach or borax. At times, the smell of the carbolic acid leached into the old walls rose above all else. The odor was acrid and vaguely uncomfortable to the nose. The place also had a way of not conforming, like how you could lie in bed and get nauseous seeing that none of the angles along the walls were square—but as soon as you got up that illusion vanished. It was impossible to enter or leave your room without your footsteps echoing in all directions, this despite a carpet that stretched from one end of the hall to the other. Some of the rooms had little acoustical niches—sort of the opposite of blind spots—where you could hear conversations going on in other, more distant, parts of the hospital. As if they’d resorted to that old children’s gag of rigging two cups and a string between those places and the Cranium.
Sound, indeed, was a particular nuisance. The entire General had a peculiar propensity to moan and shutter, like the wind blowing through the eaves outside an old and cantankerous attic. More than one resident had noted how, standing on Five Neuro (the neurosurgery ward), the creaking and whining inside suggested a gale force wind outside. But it never proved so when looking out a window. At such moments, the wind was as likely as not to be dead calm. And back in the Cranium, the issue wasn’t so much moaning and shuttering as whistling. An eerie, disembodied sort of whistling that definitely wasn’t the wind. Sometimes it seemed familiar, a tune just beyond recognition, more often it was as a bellows—the cantankerous sound of air moving slowly and deliberately in and out. But in and out of what, more than one occupant of the Cranium had asked over the years.
Then too, at odd moments, the windows would pop loudly. Just as if they had suddenly cracked under the weight of the bricks surrounding them. These moments almost stilled one’s heart, until one realized the windows were sound and never actually broke. Zach and the others told themselves it was just the hundred year old building settling. But how much does a hundred year old building need to settle?
The plumbing burped at random moments. The toilets in the Cranium flushed of their own accord or doors opened without anybody turning the handles. The lights too were finicky. They winked not infrequently, sometimes on and sometimes off. Hundred year old wiring?
This last was particularly problematic because the place seemed designed to emphasize shadows. Within the rooms of the Cranium, light never seemed to travel as far as one thought it should—as if the laws of physics didn’t apply. When the lights winked out, one was apt to find himself in ass blackness. Even with the lights on the place oozed gray with a tendency to brooding. Zach learned early on to touch the wall before the switch, else be lost in a void.
Zach dozed a bit, not long because his pager chirped every few minutes with another piece of business for his to do list. By the time his toilet flushed on its own that first morning, he had given up on sleeping altogether and was reviewing that list in his mind with a sort of listless energy. Curious, he had risen and was staring down at the porcelain with bewilderment when his phone rang.
What the hell is the crap floating in the bowl?
Crap, of course, was the one thing it wasn’t.