Michael Burke is a lifelong fan of horror, science fiction, and fantasy, propelled into these realms by discovering his father's cache of pulp novels at a tender age. He has held jobs as far-ranging as the topics he has read. Michael has toiled in food service, as a painter, a bouncer, in promotions, and as a pharmacy technician.
In 2000, Michael helped open an award-winning comic book and collectible store, Comicazi, in Somerville, MA. He can still be found at the shop to this day, engaged in flights of fancy and sorting piles of comic books.

For the past year and a half, Michael has worked at writing and submitting short stories in the afore-mentioned genres. He hopes to one day have a cache of books he's written to be found by someone that inspires them. 

by Michael Burke

Jenn Young hugged herself as a small shiver trembled through her frame; her platinum blonde hair ruffled about her shoulders. The hem of her long dark skirt blew, revealing heavy black leather boots and glimpses of tattoos creeping up her legs over the stitched tops about her ankles. Jenn rubbed her eyes behind her glasses, wondering why she wasn’t in bed. What an ungodly hour to be up! And why am I even here? I’m too old to be starting over.

The wind picked up, whirling down the wooded path, rustling the leaves on the trees. It was early autumn in Bavaria. The leaves had not yet begun to fall but many were turning shades of crimson and gold. Stars still winked in the false dawn sky as darkness tried retaining its hold with tenuous fingers.

Jenn came around a bend in the path to see a large parking lot spread out before her. A wooden sign reared in the gloom; it read “Von Mossau Klinik.” Yep. This is the place.

Five buildings ringed the perimeter of the lot. One building looked brand new but the windows were dark and there were no exterior lights. The structures nearest to her looked to be an old farmhouse and barn; they were weather-beaten and needed some work. Jenn thought they seemed out of place with the other three buildings, which were all relatively modern constructions. 

“Hello. Can I help you?”

“Jesus!” Jenn spun, startled. She didn’t hear anyone approach. A short, middle-aged woman stood before her, a warm grin creasing her dark face.

Jenn’s heart settled back into its place behind her ribs. “Hi, I’m Jenn. I’m starting work today.” She relaxed a little more, lips curling into a tight smile.

“Oh, right! Jeff said you’d be starting today. I’m Barbara.” The woman returned Jenn’s smile tenfold. “Let’s get on in out of the cold, Hon. You need to pick up some papers in here, anyways,” she inclined her head to the farmhouse.

“Okay.” Jenn followed Barbara up the creaky steps. She winced as their footsteps echoed in the stillness; it sounded like the groaning of a lost soul and she chided herself for an overactive imagination.

A heavy metal door, almost too big for the doorframe, waited at the top of the stairs. Barbara used a key to open it, leading them to another locked steel door, this one with a window slit. She turned back to Jenn, “This is a lockdown unit, if you didn’t know.”

The two women moved down a narrow corridor, closed doors lined each side of the hallway. Dingy gray industrial carpeting absorbed their footfalls. Jenn noted a window covered by a dark screen on the wall; a dim light illumined the edges from behind the screen.

“What’s that?” Jenn whispered, pointing to an odd break in the wall.

“Oh, that’s just the med window. There’s a nurse inside,” Barbara answered as she opened an office door a short way past the covered window; the two women stepped inside. Barbara closed the door behind them, making sure that it was locked. “Welcome to Dodge One. Or as they say here in Oberzell, Weiche Einum Aus.” Her eyes twinkled.

A dark-haired woman sitting with her back to the door turned around. She nodded then returned to her paperwork. Jenn looked around the cramped office, taking in the battered file cabinets, sagging shelves, and papers that seemed to sprout from every flat surface. She heard a mild thump behind the closed door at the right-hand corner of the room.

“That quiet lady there is Mary-Kate.” Barbara indicated the woman who had turned. “So, Jenn, this your first time working in the field?”

Jenn adjusted her glasses and smoothed her hands on her skirt. She didn’t know why they were so sweaty. “Yes, ma’am. I’m studying to be a social worker, but I need a part-time job. My friend, Jeff, he’s the pharmacist here and said he needed some help. So, I’m training on-the-job as a pharmacy technician.”

“And you haven’t got a key yet?” Barbara clucked. “I need to talk to that Jeff!”

Jenn chuckled. “Maybe I should have gone to the pharmacy first? I don’t know.”

“You need to pick up the overnight orders for him anyways. Here you go.” Barbara handed over a cluster of papers.

Jenn took the sheaf of yellow and white papers. “So, uh, I’ve never worked at a psychiatric facility before. Isn’t it a little strange to be operating out of an old farmhouse? What’s the story behind that?”

Barbara grinned. “This whole hospital is privately owned by Dr. Khan. He bought it twenty-one years ago, that right, Mary-Kate?”

“Yep.” The quiet brunette confirmed but kept at her work.

“This used to be the Von Mossau farm about 260 years back. The family sold it ages ago after some scandal or other. It went through lots of owners until Dr. Khan came into it ‘round when I said and opened the Von Mossau Klinik. Back then, it was just three buildings—Dodge One through Three—including this one.

“The big new building is the Khan building and is part of Dr. Khan’s plan to expand and have more beds. This building here, Dodge One, will eventually be for child patients only, which is why we will be moving the adults out shortly. We’re going to begin transferring patients to Khan in a couple weeks.”

Jenn nodded, digesting the brief history. Barbara continued, “If you’re going to work as Jeff’s pharm tech, you’ll be walking around the patient population throughout your workday.” Jenn inhaled. “It’s all right, hon.” Barbara placed a hand on Jenn’s arm. “We all do. Just go about your work, be pleasant and be aware. Code teams are available if anything happens.”

Jenn released the breath she was holding and thanked Barbara. The genial woman led Jenn back outside and pointed to the building that housed the pharmacy. Dull sunlight poked through gray clouds.


After four days, Jenn had pretty much gotten her routine down. That was the bulk of this job—routine and sticking to schedule. It was fun working with Jeff; he was a good boss. There were no hassles in working with her friend. And she wasn’t as nervous walking the units as she thought she would be. She kept aware like Barbara had advised.

She did, however, dislike the early morning collection of the overnight orders. Especially at Dodge One. The old farmhouse unsettled her with its squeaking steps and odd angles. Even the patients seemed different somehow. They would stare but generally bothered her little, although Jenn could not shake the notion that they seemed nervous and edgy. She chalked it up to the work environment.

Jenn did spend a little time looking up some background on the Von Mossau family. She was new to Bavaria and did rather enjoy history, especially after research into her own family’s past revealed heretofore-unknown ties to the monastic Benedictine order. That must have been the unconscious reason for the art on her leg tattoos—she had wondered for years at the choice, almost as if the decision had somehow been made for her.

Anyway, it was a welcome break from unpacking and studying. Not so welcoming was learning of the dark stain on the Von Mossau family. Maria Renata von Mossau was a nun executed as a witch and heretic almost three hundred years ago. Jenn shook her head, returning to her work.

This morning was darker than the past several had been. Somber clouds blotted the sky and rain seemed imminent. The silhouette of Dodge One crouched menacingly in the semidarkness.

She felt an unnatural stillness when she entered the old farmhouse. The lights in the hallway were off and it was quiet, no drone of snoring behind closed doors or soft shuffling from an early riser. She shuddered and made her way swiftly to the office.

Jenn stopped short outside of the office. Light shined from the patient room directly across the way. The door was open, and inside, a woman stood facing the corner. She wore a formless white shift and lank black hair lay down her back. The woman did not move. Jenn watched, her hand gripping the office doorknob; a quiver rippled through her, and she thought she heard a faint whisper in the back of her mind, although there was no real sound. The woman remained still and silent. 

Jenn broke away and stepped into the office. Barbara busily collected papers and folders, moving from one file cabinet to another. Mary-Kate sat at her station, as always. “What’s going on, Barbara? Where is everyone?”

“I’m not really sure. I was called in early and got here about an hour ago. They moved all the patients out of Dodge last night into Khan. It was very sudden.” Barbara continued her work and called out to remember charts. Jenn heard the nurse banging about in the med room. “We’re moving paperwork over now.”

Jenn adjusted her glasses. “Who’s the patient across the hall?”

Mary-Kate looked up. “There’re no patients left on the unit.”

“But just now, before coming in here, I saw a woman standing in the corner of the room across the way. She was wearing a white dress and had black hair.” Jenn’s mouth felt dry.

Barbara followed Jenn’s gaze to the room across the hall. The strange woman was gone although the light still burned. “All the patients were moved. No one’s here but us.”

Jenn’s neck flushed. Did she imagine it? “Sorry.” She took the patient orders and left the women to their work; she was sure to have plenty to do back at the pharmacy if they had transferred patients to the new building. She stood in the hallway pondering what she had seen and learned. There had been a woman standing in the corner. Her curiosity gnawed at her and she cautiously peeked into the room. It was totally empty.

A silky finger traced down her spine and perspiration gathered in her armpits. What the hell? Did they miss a patient? Was she hiding? Jenn had no answers—she just wanted to get off the unit as fast as she could. 

She hurried down the dark corridor to the unit door just as the hospital lights went out. Red shadows danced through the window slit as she neared the unit door; the emergency lighting in the vestibule blinked. What was going on? Was there an emergency?

Pulse racing, Jenn fumbled with her keys, searching for the right one. I will not panic! she told herself. The memory of that strange woman’s stiff back as she stared into the corner unnerved her. The overnight orders Jenn clutched in her other hand softened in her moist grip. A mounting, irrational panic seized Jenn, and her heart thumped in her chest. She looked behind her. Nothing but the red emergency lights.

She found the correct key. It slid into the lock and Jenn rushed through the door just as the hospital lights came back on. She thought she heard murmurings, although no one was in sight. She slammed it shut and rested her forehead against the cool metal, trying to slow her racing pulse. What the hell was that all about?

After several moments, she felt calm enough to stop leaning against the door for support. She straightened, looking at the tiny window.

A contorted visage screamed silently at her through the window slit. Its mouth opened wide, wider than should be normal, but no sound could be heard. Lank black hair framed the sallow face and dead eyes. Jenn recoiled from the ghastly apparition, the sweat of her panic freezing on her skin.

She reeled as scattershot images of a nun appeared in front of her. The woman was prostrate before a taciturn Benedictine monk. It was the woman in the corner. Somehow Jenn knew it.

The nun pleaded for forgiveness, swearing that the sins of her youth were long past. She cited her years of service to the Church.

The monk seized a handful of black cloth, roughly hauling the nun to her feet. He shoved her away and spat at her, branding her a harlot who had ensorcelled him, responsible for his lapse of chastity and disgrace.

His stentorian accusation reverberated long and loud as the nun stared aghast. Quieter, and with a fragile certainty: The penalty for witchcraft is beheading…Sister Maria.

Jenn gaped at the woman, until she stepped back from the window. The woman drifted backward in her white frock, all the while her mouth splitting her features like a horrible gash.

Ich beschuldige dich, Beichtvater! The words did not come from the specter’s mouth but clanged like a great bell in Jenn’s mind. She understood some German. The woman said, “I blame you, Confessor!”

The woman’s head separated from her body the further back she moved—an awful red light shined through the gap between neck and hovering head. Slowly, the torso and bodiless head turned as one and stood facing the far wall.

Jenn shook her head, and tried her best to dispel the horrific sight, and stumbled out of Dodge One. Cold, wet rain pelted her, fogging and streaking her glasses, as her black boots pounded in the mud.

Jenn fled down the wooded path and a chill wind pursued her as she tried to escape a centuries-old guilt. All the while, her ears rang with the echo of a spectral scream.