School: James Gillespie’s High School, Edinburgh
I wasn’t ready for this.
We had arrived, and there it was in front of us. The Beelitz-Heilstätten military hospital in Brandenburg, Germany. Rumour has it that Hitler himself was treated for a leg wound after the battle of the Somme within these crumbling walls. In 1940 it suffered a gas attack and everyone inside it died a painful death. The place was then left abandoned for the homeless, alcoholics and “ghost hunters”. And explorers like us. The police had disposed of all bodies THEY knew of. But there may be more…
My friends were trying to get me over my fear of unknown places by taking me on one of their urban exploration trips. They would walk around with a camera through old abandoned buildings, then post the footage on YouTube. I never knew when they were going to find something gruesome.
“We haven’t got all day, it’s almost dark!!” Al shouted cheerfully, already in the doorway.
With the overwhelming sense that this was a terrible idea, I followed my two friends into the hospital.
The paint in the hallway was baby blue, and completely peeled off in some parts to reveal the dusty brick beneath. The front of the corridor was well lit with windows on one side, but towards the back it descended into darkness.
The long, straight passage reminded me of a bad dream I had when I was little, when I was running through the alleys near my house and it got darker and darker and I was running still and the alley was getting narrower and darker and loads of graffiti was cropping up everywhere and it was getting darker still and I could hear screaming and I ran further and further desperately trying to find my way out and the screaming was louder and I ran and I was in a school now with all the lights turned off and ghostly shadows appearing everywhere and I was out of breath and tense creepy music was playing in the background and I glanced in one of the classrooms as I went past and I could see ghostly shadows at the desks their heads bent in prayer and I cried out and I ran and I was petrified but I couldn’t. Stop. Running.
Ok, ok. I needed to slow down. That was just a bad dream. Nothing like that would happen in real life, even if I was in a haunted hospital. But the music from that dream was playing in my head. Al was saying something to the camera as he moved towards the door handle, and I was sure I could hear some rustling coming from the other side. The music came to a tense climax in my head and I felt as if I was going to fall and be violently sick. Spots came behind my eyes and I tried to cry out to Al to stop him but my mouth was dry and no noise came out. He grinned at his phone and pulled open the door. This was it. I was greeted with…
An empty room. Oh. And also it had windows, so was lit from the outside. Joshua kicked a pile of blankets in the corner, and Al was shining his torch over the ashes and bits of broken glass from this room’s previous residents. I was feeling giddy; I had been sure this was when I was going to meet my fate. Joshua grabbed the camera from Al and said something about there being ‘nothing interesting in here and we’re gonna go into the next room now.’
But, as we walked out of the first room, with the crinkle of glass under our feet, my intense feeling of relief drifted away like clouds in a breeze. The door to the room across the hall, that I was positive was closed before now lay… Open.
Maybe I was just imagining it. That was what I’d told myself as I was walking down the nightmare-fuel corridor with my two audacious friends. They hadn’t noticed, and that might be for good reason.
The next quarter of an hour passed in a blur of being terrified before entering a room and then the profound relief when we discovered it was just another dark chamber full of rags and rubbish.
I started to hear the noises as we were walking down the stairs to the mortuary. Just a faint scuffling at first, but even that alarmed me. I put it down to the wind or the rain or trees but as we got closer it became apparent I was not correct.
We proceeded in silence, with the camera on pause because we were just walking through a long corridor full of locked doors, Josh’s demeanour and the now unquestionable rustling killing the mood somewhat.
We reached the end of the long corridor and arrived in a totally dark room, our torch picking out small details of heaps of rags, disused furniture and old piles of charcoal. The rustling had stopped and Al’s camera was running in his hand.
“So, we’re in the morgue, where they keep the dead bodies! We’re just gonna go through the rooms and see what we can find,” he explained to it.
There were seven or eight rooms filled with drawers for dead people, but there were a couple of store rooms at the end of the corridor, mocking me, saying “Ahhhh, the nightmare’s not over yet!”
But all those feelings melted away as we closed in on the last store-rooms. The rustle was back, more violent this time, and it definitely wasn’t natural. My first instinct was to run, as far as possible, but Al had other ideas.
“We’ve come this far! You cowards. Right, I’m doing it!”
“No, Al, it’s time to go!”
Al reached for the door handle of the last store-room. The horror of what I saw as I opened it was the most shock I’ve ever felt in my life. There, picked out by the torchlight in the shadows of the other side of the room a human shape lay motionless on the ground. By the side of the corpse, on its knees, sat another figure, his head stooped low and his hands meddling with the dead man’s stomach. The terror was enough for my blood to run cold and my heart to bungee jump down to my feet. But, my terror lasted only a fraction of a second because a shape leapt at me from the darkness and hit my legs. I crashed to the floor like a tree, the terror washing over me like an unpleasant wave of molten lava.
And then I blacked out.
“Hey! Declan! Wake up!”
Uuuuurgh. I awoke with a shattering headache. As I opened my eyes, the amused faces of Josh and Al looked down at me. I found myself sprawled on the leather seats of Josh’s Aston Martin, the comforting new car smell surrounding me.
“What happened there?” Al enquired.
“The man… Dead… Demon… Creature…”
“Chillax. It’s alright. That place was getting to you, wasn’t it? The demon? That was a cat. Half starved, the poor thing. Josh picked it up and took it outside. Probably got lost in the building and curled up to die in that room. Oh, and the body? I’ll show you a picture of that.”
He pulled out his phone from the back pocket of his expensive chinos. On the screen was a flash photograph of a blanket, lying curled up on the ground. Behind it, on the wall, was a life-size, Banksy-style drawing of a Muslim man kneeling down to pray, his eyes closed.