The ward was silent. It was dark and solemn. The only sound was outside of the room, down the corridor where quietly, some nurses scurried to-and-fro on their evening shifts.
From his bed covers, Figgis suddenly opened his eyes and sat upright immediately as though he’d died in the night and been reanimated by a bolt of electricity.
“What the?” he said, half asleep, looking around at the shadows dancing on the wall. Outside the room he saw a nurse pass, but other than that there was no one around. But despite the otherwise silence, he could hear something in the room, a groaning, a groaning that did not sound the same as Glover’s snoring or Norman acting out his dreams. It was deeper, all around him, in the air somehow. He couldn’t explain it.
“You two awake?” he whispered, clutching his bed covers to his chin in fright and then turning on the light quickly when no one responded.
“Well, we are now!” Glover complained as he squinted in the light. “It’s three in the morning, Figgis.”
“I know that, but he doesn’t, does he?”
Norman sat up quickly. “Ghost?” he said, fear creeping into his groggy voice. “Don’t be silly, Fig, there’s no ghost in here!”
“Oh yeah, then what’s that moaning and groaning sound?”
“You, Figgis,” Glover said, folding his arms. “Your stomach probably.”
“I don’t mean that kind of groaning. I mean that eerie low sound. Listen, go on.”
True enough as the men fell into silence, there was a deep groaning sound that seemed to emanate from above and fill the room as though someone was there watching them.
Suddenly, Norman was sitting on Figgis’ bed to which Figgis let out a shriek.
“Bloody hell, Norman, don’t sneak up on a man, thought you was the ghost.”
“Sorry, Fig, it’s just I didn’t want to be too close to the door!”
“You’re not scared are you, Norman?” Glover said. “You know there’s not really a ghost?”
Norman climbed into the bed next to Figgis. “I don’t know anything of the sort. I’ve never seen one so how do I know?”
“I know that if there are ghosts, they don’t spend their time haunting three men in a hospital!”
Shoving Norman aside a little, Figgis sighed. “You know who it is, don’t you?”
“Who?” Norman shivered.
“Mad Bill Donovan,” he replied. “Died here this very night five years ago!”
“If he died here five years ago, how do you know him?” Glover asked.
“I’ve heard the stories, haven’t I? Tragically killed he was.”
“How did he die, Fig?” Norman asked, clutching his teddy tighter.
Glover snorted. “He didn’t really die, Norman—”
“—let the man hear the story, Glover. Well, Norman, he was just like you and me, a regular bloke on this ward when Dr. Thorpe made a terrible mistake. Left a scalpel in Mad Bill’s body!”
“Then it didn’t happen in this ward, did it?” said Glover.
“Yeah, but this is where he died, isn’t it? In agony, bleeding from the inside, crying out in pain. Dr. Thorpe was too busy enjoying himself to hear the cries.”
“What rot! Slander!” Glover replied. “Don’t listen to him, Norman, he’s making it up.”
“So, you don’t believe in the dead coming back then?” Figgis asked.
“I didn’t say I didn’t believe necessarily. Back in my boyhood at the boarding school we did a séance once.”
“How did it go, Archie?” Norman asked.
“Well, it put the wind up us when the old headmaster made contact.”
“Did he heck as like!” Figgis said, waving him away. “Why would your old headmaster haunt you lot?”
“Well, why would Mad Bill haunt us? What did we do to him?”
“He’s mad aint he! He doesn’t know why he does it. We’re taunting him by being alive and he wants revenge.”
Suddenly Norman was under the covers. Figgis pulled him up for air.
“Don’t say things like that, Fig, I’m scared you might be right. I don’t want to die yet, I’m only young.”
“And we’re old and dispensable I suppose?” remarked Glover.
“Of course not, Archie, but it’s always the young ones who die first in the films isn’t it?”
“Yes, the innocent virgin sacrifices,” Figgis said, prodding Norman. “You’re in trouble.”
“Be quiet, Fig, I’ve already had these horror stories from mother. She said if I fraternised with girls at parties then I’d essentially be consorting with the devil. If I am with a woman I’m condemned and if I’m not I’m also condemned.”
“Your mother is as mad as Bill,” Figgis said. “No, the real truth is that Bill is back, telling us he’s mad and wants revenge. Whether he goes for you, Norman, the innocent one, or whether he’s after Glover, the rich man he envied in life. Or maybe me, the regular chap who had the same bed. We just don’t know. We can only wait and try not to get on his bad side.”
With a snort, Glover folded his arms. “Oh, yes, and how is he going to hurt us exactly? Ghosts can’t touch things.”
“How do you know?”
“A poltergeist can,” Norman said. “They throw things and such. When I was a boy, I was convinced we had one. Turns out it was mother throwing vases at father, or turning out my drawers in case I had dirty magazines and cigarettes.”
Figgis and Glover exchanged amused glances.
“He’s not a poltergeist,” Figgis began, “so far he just groans.”
“So, he’s more an adolescent ghost?” Glover asked.
“He’s got unfinished business. Probably wants to kill Thorpe and then kill everyone associated with the ward.”
“Don’t say that, Fig, I don’t want anything to happen to the doctor and I definitely don’t want anything to happen to us.”
There was the noise of banging and suddenly Glover was also in Figgis’ bed beside him. It was a tight squeeze with the three of them wrestling for space.
“Bloody hell, what is this, the Sound of Music? I’m not singing about my favourite things!” Figgis said.
Glover shoved him. “Well, you’ve frightened me, Roy. I don’t even believe in this mad Bill but a story always sets the mind racing. I couldn’t sleep for a week after our boarding school séance.”
“Well, don’t think you’re staying in bed with me and Norman. I can’t even move!”
“If he’s staying, I’m staying, at least until this mad Bill has gone.”
“Let him stay, Fig.”
“Oh alright. But we have to find a way to be rid of him before he rids of us if you know what I mean? I don’t want my dismembered body to be left here in this bed.”
“How do we do that? Contact him I mean?” Norman asked, looking up at the ceiling. “Won’t it offend him?”
“He’s already offended, Norman,” Glover said, “hence the bloody revenge. No, we have to appeal to his gentleman side, offer him something.”
Figgis hushed him and turned off the lamp, taking out a torch from under his covers.
“Where did you get that from?” Glover asked.
“Ted the security guard. He can have it back tomorrow.” He turned the torch on and held it under his chin. “We must contact mad Bill and ask for forgiveness.”
“Maybe if we stopped calling him mad,” Norman offered.
“What you on about?” Figgis said.
“Well, if I was mad, I don’t think I should want someone calling me mad as it might make me…more…mad. Why not ‘nice Bill’?”
“Nice people don’t want to kill you, Norman,” Glover said.
Figgis hushed them again and leaned forward. “Is there anybody there?” he called.
“Is there anybody there?!” he said again.
They all listened.
“Is there anybody there?” he said for a third time.
Suddenly a man rushed into the room, a tall figure in a long coat. “Yes, I’m bloody here, I heard you the first time.”
They all screamed before realising it was Gupte. He screamed too and turned on the light.
“What on earth is going on here?” he said, clutching his heart as he glanced at the three men in the bed. Norman was barely under the covers and half of him was hanging out the bed. “What is this nonsense? Why are you all in bed together? What kind of place do you think this is?”
Glover was out of the bed immediately, throwing himself under his own covers. “Nothing of that sort, Gupte. Figgis is just scaring us with tales of Mad Bill.”
“Oh that. Not a word of truth in those rumours, Mr. Glover. Dr. Thorpe has not left scalpels inside patients, at least not since I’ve been here.”
Norman climbed out of the middle bed too and sighed with relief as he made his way back to the safety of his own bed. “You mean we’re not going to be killed?”
“Not by Mad Bill, no, Norman,” Gupte replied, scurrying from the room. “Get some sleep!”
Norman gulped. “From someone else then?”
Figgis rubbed his hands together. “Nah, he’s probably right. Mad Bill was a made-up story, probably just a story they share when the nights are lonely.” He took a pause. “Mind you…there is always the story of old Glenda.”
“Shut-up Figgis!” Glover and Norman said at the same time.