I was sitting at the nurse’s station, reading trashy tabloids and drinking coffee when Olga – the other nurse on duty – poked my arm.
“The little girl escaped,” she said, with a giggle.
She pointed to the security camera feed.
Little Madeline was standing in the hallway, her image grainy and pixelated.
We’d admitted Madeline at 8:23 PM. A little girl, no more than six. Her face covered in blood. She’d taken a nasty fall down the stairs. Dr. Thompson was worried she might develop a subdural hematoma, so we were keeping her for overnight.
“Ugh, no. She shouldn’t be up.” I paused, leaning towards the monitor. “And where’d she get those clothes?”
She wasn’t wearing the hospital gown we’d put her to bed in. No – she was wearing a black dress, white stockings, and shiny black shoes. As if she were all dressed up for church. Or a funeral.
And she kept whipping her head back and forth. As if expecting someone to come down the hallway.
“Well? Are you going to go get her or not?” Olga said, looking up from her phone.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll get her.” I pushed the chair out, leapt up, and speed-walked down the hallway. “Madeline?” I called, as I rounded the corner. “Madel –”
My breath caught in my throat.
There was no one there.
I walked up to her room. “Madeline?” I called, poking my head in.
She was sleeping peacefully in bed.
In her hospital gown. With her IV still attached.
Weird. I walked back to the nurse’s station. I couldn’t help feeling a bit unsettled. I know kids sometimes do freaky shit, but there’s no way a 6-year-old could reattach an IV.
I plopped back down at the nurse’s station.
Olga raised her eyebrows at me. “You found her?”
“Yeah. She’s sleeping in her room.” I leaned towards her and lowered my voice. “This is going to sound really weird, but I don’t think… I don’t think she ever got out of bed.”
“Oooh, spooky,” she said, with a grin. “Maybe she’s possessed by that slime thing you wouldn’t shut up about last week.” Back to texting.
I narrowed my eyes at her. “That’s not something to joke about.”
“Oh, really? What are you going to do, murder me?” She held up her hands in front of her. “I’m so scared!”
I rolled my eyes and turned back to reading about the half-mermaid that apparently washed up on the shores of Lake Erie. Psh, I can’t believe people actually believe this stuff, I thought.
It was 3:40 AM when it happened again.
I happened to look up at the hallway, and the security monitor caught my eye. Madeline was standing just outside her door. In her dress and stockings.
Except she looked scared, this time.
“Look. It’s Madeline again,” I said, poking Olga.
As I said it, one of the lights flickered out at the far end of the hallway. The video feed grew darker.
Olga looked up from her texting (who was she even texting after 3 AM?!) and followed my gaze. “Oh, it’s the little demon girl again! Ha, ha!”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “If you think all of this is so funny, you go check on her.”
Her eyes widened a bit. “Uh, okay.” She slowly got up, taking as long as humanly possible. Then she disappeared down the hallway.
I turned back to the video feed.
Another light had gone out at the end of the hall. The video was darker and grainier now. But I could still make out Madeline’s little form standing in front of the room – barely more than a silhouette.
Another light went out.
Then another. And another. The hallway was quickly engulfed in darkness, until the only light on was the one above Madeline’s door.
“Well, crap,” I muttered to myself. “We’re going to need an electrician.”
I drank the last dregs of my iced coffee. When I put the cup down, I saw it.
My blood ran cold.
It was a shadow. A grainy, pixelated silhouette, roiling and shifting in the darkness. At first I thought it was Olga, coming from the other end of the hall.
It was too tall, stretching from the ceiling to the floor. Too thin (no offense, Olga.) I leaned into the monitor. What the hell?
The shadow got darker. Larger. It slowly bled out of the darkness and into the light of the hall.
Right next to Madeline.
It was so dark and subtle, I thought it might be just some trick of the camera. Some error of the low light.
But Madeline saw it too.
Because she was backing away. Stretching her arms over the open hospital room door. Shaking her head violently.
The shadow advanced.
Beep! Beep! Beep!
My eyes snapped away from the security system to the nurse’s console.
Madeline’s vitals were plummeting. Her heart rate, blood pressure…
I shot up and sprinted down the hallway.
Olga had just gotten there, her hand on the doorknob. Half the hallway was dark, just like in the feed. But no tall shadow like I’d seen, no Madeline standing in the hallway.
“Call Dr. Thompson!” I screamed. “She’s in trouble!”
I flew past her, into the room.
Madeline lay still and motionless on the bed.
Her heart had stopped.
I ran over. Started CPR. Come on, come on, I screamed, internally. Please don’t take her from us. Please –
Blip. Blip. Blip.
Her heartbeat returned just as Dr. Thompson rushed in.
I fell against the wall and began to sob.
We kept Madeline in the hospital for a few more days, but I don’t think we needed to. She seemed to recover quickly. As I checked her vitals to release her, I’d nearly forgotten all about the shadow.
“How are you feeling?” I asked her, as I took her blood pressure.
“Great,” Madeline said. She turned to her parents. “She saved me!”
“Aww, it was nothing.”
She glanced at me. “Not you,” she said, condescendingly. “Maggie.”
Maggie? I furrowed my eyebrows at her. Ungrateful little kid. “Who’s Maggie?”
Madeline’s mother uneasily stared at the floor. Her father wrapped an arm around her, and coughed strangely.
“You’re all set,” I said, ripping off the blood pressure cuff.
“Yay!” she squealed. She grabbed her mom’s hand, and the two of them walked into the hallway. But the father stayed behind.
“Thank you so much for everything,” he said, with a smile. “As I understand it… you saved Madeline’s life.”
“No, that was Maggie,” I said, rolling my eyes.
He coughed again, strangely.
The curiosity bit into me. Completely overstepping my bounds as a nurse, I asked: “Who’s Maggie? Her imaginary friend?”
He sighed heavily. “Uh… sort of. When my wife was pregnant with Madeline… she was actually pregnant with twins.”
My heart stopped.
“Identical twins. But one of them passed away in the womb,” he continued. “We told Madeline, since we don’t believe in keeping secrets. But it appears we made a mistake. Little Madeline has an overactive imagination. Always talks about ‘Maggie,’ as if she’s actually still with us.”
He coughed again, strangely, and I realized it was to stop an impending sob. He reached out to shake my hand. “Thank you so much again.”
He turned and followed his family down the hallway.
But all I could think about was the little girl.
Who looked exactly like Madeline, standing outside her door.