Timothy Wilkie

The March Featured Writer is Timothy Wilkie

Please feel free to email Timothy at: timwilkie09@gmail.com


by Timothy Wilkie

“Someone told me it’s all happening at the zoo.”
—Simon and Garfunkle

For fifty years I had been the only person working the old state hospital grounds after dark.

Nobody bothered to mess with this place anymore; it had a bad reputation that scared most folks. Occasionally we’d get some high school kids that wanted to check out “Lobotomy Central.” That was what this place was nicknamed. But for the most part, I was all alone here. I was a combination of night watchman and caretaker.

They called my position Night Supervisor and that was a laugh because I was the only one I was supervising.

The main room on the first floor was called the “Broadway Chop Shop” in its day. Clip-snip and they were all done in no time, sticking the ice-pick through the eye lobe. I had only been around in the very tail-end of that. I’m seventy-two and there isn’t much I can so about it anymore. 

Over the years I had become one with the night; a true creature of the darkness. I wandered these grounds in rain and snow. I rarely went in the main hospital, though. It was six stories high and the doctors and nurses used to call it the “The Zoo.”

Despite the fact that I had always worked alone, I wasn’t always alone. I often walked the grounds late at night and heard the sound of shuffling feet and the low murmur of voices in the old rose gardens and on the sidewalks. Sometimes I heard those ghosts out on the basketball court, or where they use to play horseshoes over by the sand pits.

Tonight the moon was surprisingly bright. This made me uneasy because the spirits were more active when the moon was full. There was an October chill in the air, so I stepped back into the guard shack and grabbed my thermos of hot coffee. I could have gone over to the Xtra-Mart—it was right down the road—but my Betty Boop, as I liked to call my wife when she was alive, always sent me off to work with my thermos full and sometimes you get too old to change. There’s a certain peace that comes with the routine you know, and as you get older, you need that.

Nobody would care if I left this place to get coffee. That was the point: nobody cared about this place at all except the dead. There was a rumor that was being spread around that they were going to take this place down and put up government housing. It was just talk though; nobody up in Albany gave a shit about this old house of horrors and now another Halloween was here.

I didn’t go into The Zoo very often…even the day guys stayed clear of there. The ghosts outside were satisfied with minding to their own affairs but the ones in the hospital; well, they were the scary ones and everybody knew it. That was why I’d always told the new guys, “You just stay to fuck out of there. You ain’t got no business going inside any-who.”

Somehow, after all these years, I knew tonight would be different. I felt restless and I wondered if I was mirroring how the spirits felt.

Suddenly the wind swept up and there was this horrible stench that was coming from The Zoo. It always came from there on Halloween night, but it was never this strong before. You see, in the back by the loading docks—what they called the “Garbage Room”—they used to burn all the medical waste and not just the garbage either. They’d also burn the little  brain clippings from the lobotomies that they snipped off . Yup, hundreds, even thousands of them little clippings with minds of their own, each someone’s individuality.

Sometimes on Halloween it smelled like it was in operation again when the truth be known, they hadn’t burned anything in there in over fifty years.

Yet tonight I smelled it. “What ta hell?” I whispered. “Them spooks are burning again.”

My Nanna-Banna used to sing:

“Them bones and bones
And more bones.”

Then she’d say, “Them bones’ gonna rise again.” Was I brought up by a superstitious family? I reckon so. After being raised by my Nanna, I got so I’d sing all the time. I had my sad songs and my happy ones. Every mood had a song. “Yep, them bones gonna rise again.” Hers never did, though.

I was sweating now with that stench of the death in my nostrils. I had been tempted to leave many times but state jobs weren’t that easy to come by. In my day when you were lucky enough to get one you stayed for the pension. Course, I could have retired years ago, but go home to what? Betty and I had been planning on retiring at Lake Havasu out there in Arizona. We had even bought one of those condos when the cancer got her. We had to sell the condo to pay for the chemo.

“That old black magic had her in its spell,” I sang.

Those were sad times, that was for sure. I cursed and swore—it was a ruthless screed, tedious and time consuming, but it was what it was. In the long run, the chemo had extended her life a couple of years but that was it. We never had children, just a cat name Boots who died right after my Betty. “Those boots were met for walking and they sure did.” I didn’t really know the right words for that song.

I had to check out “The Dent” once a week, that was the subbasement where all the machinery that kept the place going was. Once a week one of the shifts had to go down and check it out and unfortunately tonight it was my turn. I went to the back and went down in what they called “The Tunnel,” and it seemed to be breathing. That was normal, tunnels that had openings on either end did breathe and they made a kind of wheezing sound. This one came out on the other side near the laundry and there were times when it wheezed like a son-of-a-bitch.

Just then I burped and my stomach pumped acid into the back of my throat. I swallowed down hard and waited for the slow burn to subside. I hated going in the basement of this fucking building. It always caused a physical reaction in me.

Lamps high on the walls let out a dull, sluggish glow. No real definition of black and white; the rest of the world was that way anymore, too, but that’s a different story.

The shadows were left to my imagination as they always were. The feeble light struggled to lift the darkness and suddenly there was the feel of movement deep down in my intestines. At the same time my guts were grumbling from the pulled pork I had at lunch and there was this high pitched whistle. That was normal in a system this large there were always sounds. The guys   
called them wind-songs. No matter what the guys said, I still didn’t like them much.

All of a sudden, down the tunnel by the elevator, it looked like someone was standing there. Nobody had no business being down here. There were signs all over the place that said NO TRESPASSING.

I started down the tunnel yelling, “Hey! You’all can’t be in here.”

As I got closer, but not too close. I realized the shadow had to be a child. It was too small for an adult.

“Hey!” I said again, but the child took no notice of me. It ignored me completely and kept staring at the doors to the elevator. “Listen to me!” I cried.

Suddenly I realized her image changed right before my eyes from a nondescript shadow to a little girl with a shaved head and a little pink ribbon tied in a pretty bow around her wrist. The hospital gown that she wore was long and white and went to the floor.

“Oh Lordy, you’re a ghost,” I told her.

Just then a cold blast of wind blew through the tunnel. It was severe weather, strong, and way too cold for October. The gust blew my hat off and ruffled what little hair I had. It chilled me to the bone as my breath billowed out of my mouth and settled about eye level before evaporating completely. I felt that the night of Samhain was at hand.

Before I could get to her, the elevator doors mysteriously opened and she stepped inside and I was left standing there in the hall. A part of me wanted to just leave this place and never, ever come back but I knew that my morbid curiosity would always win out in the end.

I knew a song would help—if I could only think of one for this situation—like when you whistle in the dark. But my mind was blank and I couldn’t think of a single happy song; I always calmed down when I sang.

I pressed the button for the elevator and of course nothing happened. There was no power except for the emergency lights. What did I think? Was I gonna ghost-express like the little girl?

I hurried down the tunnel to the “Exit” sign and even though my Betty Boop was talking in my ear a mile a minute she was saying things like. “You don't want to go up there just get your ass out of that building.” But I wasn't listening. The little girl was most likely a ghost, but it was  possible that I had a real child wandering around this building and there was no way I could take that chance. 

I headed for the stairs. I did not like this place and that weren’t no lie. The floor consisted of dark green tile squares. At least, that what they looked like to me. The floor was all torn up in places and there were spots that looked soft and sunken in. The junction boxes on the floor were all open wide with their wires hanging out because someone had gotten all the copper wire out of this place long ago.

Suddenly there were these horrendous sounds of flapping wings and a flock of pigeons flew down from high up in the rafters and landed all around me. “Shoo!” I said, waving my hands. “Goddamn pigeons! Fuckin’ flying rats,” I growled out loud.

The place stunk of mildew and rot. I reached the second floor.

Suddenly they came from everywhere: the spirits of those that were neutralized with their frontal lobe removed. Their howlings of woe surrounded me. Their deep sadness that they were never able to express in life because of their clippings remained here in this altered state of awareness.

So very much unexpressed sorrow was there with me that all I could do was weep. I wept shamelessly for all they had lost and I cried like a baby. I spilled all the tears of all the hearts that had been broken in this place.

When I looked up, the little girl was standing right in front of me and on her cheek, two tiny tear drops were two drops of blood. She motioned for me to bend down and I got on my knees in front of her.

She whispered something I will never forget if I live to be a hundred years old.

She said. “Tear it down and set us free.” And then she kissed me on the cheek and it felt soft and fleeting like the breath of spring.

I retired from my job the very next day. And two months later, the City tore down The Zoo.

I went back to see it, but all I could make out was a huge chain-link fence surrounding an empty pit. At least, I hoped it was empty.

Timothy Wilkie is a writer living in Kingston NY. He has two grown sons, Justin and Blake, and a Golden Retriever Marley. He is active in the local art and music scene. He has several online galleries such as Artavita and No Bull Art.