This story is by Jenny Arsenyuk and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
“Jeanette, are you ready? I’m waiting for you in the car!” Jeanette could hear the irritation in her father’s voice and it was painful to realize there was nothing she could do to help him. His grief and the futility of the investigation were sometimes more than he could deal with in any way but anger. Despite all the work and sleepless nights, the case remained unresolved. What frustrated him even more was that the case was going to be closed since there were no leads. It had been a year with no progress.
“I was just looking through some photographs,” Jeanette’s words sounded like an excuse, and it made him feel guilty and ashamed.
“I’m sorry, Jeanette. I know this has been rough on you.”
Since Jeanette’s mom disappeared they had been trying to live normal lives, but the constant feeling of loss and emptiness continued to torment them.
“Did you have a good sleep?” he asked.
“Yeah, no nightmares this time,” Jeanette lied. She didn’t want to upset her father, he already had enough to deal with.
Almost the only clue to how Jeanette’s mother has disappeared was the photograph of her mother in front of an old red brick building with an address written on the back. The address led the police to the Bellevue Hospital. They had interviewed nearly everyone in the building, trying to find any potential witnesses, but no one had heard or seen anything or recognized the woman in the picture.
The nightmares came straight after Jeanette’s mother had disappeared. The dream was always the same. “No wonder,” her father thought, “after such a trauma”. Since then Jeanette has been trying to find her escape in the books, reading everything she came across. So when she decided to become a librarian, no one seemed surprised.
“Hello?” said Jeanette softly, when she entered the Tamiment Library. “Mr Winsor? It’s Jeanette, the new librarian”. It was so silent. Of course, at this early hour she hadn’t expected anyone to be here, but the door was open. She hesitated for a second then cautiously went in. Walking through the hall, she saw neatly framed, black and white photographs on the wall. She couldn’t stop staring at one of them.
“Ah! The Bellevue Hospital!” Jeanette’s heart jumped. She turned her head and saw the old librarian in his tweed jacket and round glasses. “America’s oldest public hospital. It is indeed a truly majestic building, surrounded by mystery”.
“It was the one place a New Yorker didn’t want to go, because chances were if you went in, you’d never come out. The most famous story is about this patient, an immigrant from Romania, who fell into a coma. The police suspected him of being a communist spy, so they kept him under strict surveillance, placing a guard outside his room. Three days later the immigrant disappeared and they found the bloodless body of the guard on the floor. According to the report, issued by a Doctor Reilly, there was no cut or wound found on the corpse”. He paused. “Here, I will show you”, the librarian gestured to Jeanette to follow him along the hallway. He approached a massive wooden desk, and, after a minute of rummaging through the bottom drawer, pulled out an old newspaper.
“Here it is!” he said. Doctor Reilly’s report said that the immigrant’s condition was most likely caused by an infection he had contracted in Romania.” The immigrant’s last name sounded very familiar; it took her a few seconds to realize it was her mother’s maiden name. Jeanette frantically unzipped her purse and searched for her phone. Her father had to know!
All Jeanette knew about her mom’s childhood was that she had grown up in an orphanage, where, when she was very young, she had been left by her mother. The girl grew up and became a police officer. She never stopped looking for her family, hoping that, one day, they would reunite.
After the phone call from his daughter, the detective spent the entire day searching for Dr. Reilly’s address. After 20 years with the NYPD, he knew that the fastest way to get things done was to simply do it himself.
When he knocked on the door of Dr Reilly’s house, there was no answer. The walls of this Victorian house were overgrown with ivy. There were no signs of life. He walked around the house, searching for a back door, and found what looked like a crypt. The two small windows were dusty and impossible to see through. The door handle creaked as he turned it, and he stepped into the tomb. As he waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, he could hear his heart pounding. The ceiling was low – just inches above his head. He took a step. Something cracked under his feet. His eyes caught a sudden, barely noticeable movement. A rustle. A few seconds later the ceiling became a moving black mass. He had never seen as many bats. He flailed his arms around in a futile attempt to defend himself. Suddenly, a sharp pain penetrated the side of his neck.
That night, Jeanette woke up disoriented, in a cold sweat. It took her a few seconds to realize she was in her own bedroom. She heaved a sigh of relief. That nightmare again! In the dream, she was always running through what looked like a hospital corridor. The door at the end of the corridor was open. A man in a white coat and a stethoscope around his neck had his back to her. On the floor in front of him, she could see a lifeless body. Suddenly, the doctor turned his head, looking straight into her eyes. His white coat was covered in red stains, and blood was dripping from the corners of his lips.
Jeanette ran into her father’s room, but his bed was empty. And, at that moment, she knew it could only mean one thing…