Dr. Stanley Archibald Williams was a well-respected doctor at St. Igneous Psychiatric Hospital.
He had experienced the most dangerous, distressed and damaged patients, yet, his appearance never wavered from the calm and collected man who remained a sturdy figurehead and valued specialist. His soothing auburn eyes a pool of comfort, oil slicked hair never out of place and, despite having recently passed his sixty-eighth birthday in the autumn of 1978, his skin still had the polished glaze of youth. This unruffled appearance was immovable since he gained the role of head doctor twenty years ago.
Until, after a catastrophic error of judgement that destroyed his career and a subsequent two week period of temporary leave, Dr. Williams found himself demoted and changed to the hospitals night shift.
Fatigue spread like ivy across his face, his old age becoming more apparent by the day. His appearance and mannerisms corroded, mutating from a respected man who could always be trusted, to a reserved shell of the man he once was. His sole began to wrinkle like a fruit in the sun and his eyes, once dazzling pools of golden-brown, turned a milky and lifeless grey. Those he had formerly worked alongside watched him change into a paranoid and guilt ridden man, who it was now assumed should be in a strait jacket rather than doctor’s coat. It was a surprise he was able to keep his job at all. Especially after the mistake he had made…
Unlike the bustle of the day and the many responsibilities that came with his preceding head role, Dr. Williams now found himself confined to completing the monotonous paperwork for higher ranking consultants, in his now far smaller office in the far-flung left wing of the hospital. Patients piercing screams of insanity, once masked by the many voices of workers and visitors, rippling throughout the night smothered hallways and eating away at his exhausted brain.
– – –
It wasn’t long after Dr. Williams had started his night shifts when the burning smell began.
It was around 1:00am when the pungent scent seeped in. A thick spoor of charred meat wafting beneath his door, filling the room. At first he shrugged it off as merely the left wings crematorium being used, his office was only a few corridors away and he knew they were used often in the unfortunate cases where patients were beyond medical help. However, he quickly realised that this probably wasn’t the case. In fact, this could not be the case. He was certain that the left wing’s crematorium was still closed for police investigations. A sudden pang of guilt hit his heart, remembering why this was…
So this smell must be coming from the right wings? But he knew this too was impossible. The right wing was too far away for the smell to be that heavy. That bitter. Besides, he knew that crematorium was locked and sterilised at 5:00pm. So where was this ghastly smell coming from?
Unable to bear it any longer, Dr. Williams left his cramped office to investigate, following the scent through the labyrinth of halls. During the day they were easy enough to navigate but at night, the many large glazed windows let in reams of darkness, the faint glow of the ceiling bulbs only illuminating the floor directly beneath. Moths waltzing below the flickering beams, casting wavering shadows through the dark corridors. If it hadn’t been for Dr. Williams many years of walking these halls, he would easily have become lost in the blackness.
The crazed screams from patient’s rooms cloaked the corridors constantly. He passed the doors of numerous patients, their names and illnesses written on the clipboards hanging outside. Mr. Ward: hears voices, Mrs. Watkins: uncontrollable laughter, Mr. Bailey: thinks he is a cat, and many more names that blurred as the doctors pace quickened. Drawing closer to the metal door of the crematorium, the fiery smell grew stronger.
A heavy stillness filled the hall and, despite the smell and the heat, a sudden chill shot through the doctor that caused him to stand deathly still. As if he were being held by hands of ice. He was now only metres from the crematorium door and the burning smell was unbearable. It scratched at his nostrils, burned his throat and caused stinging tears to roll down his hollow cheeks. Yet, for some unknown and terrifying reason, the doctor was unable to move his arms up to shield his watering eyes. Some force of nature kept his pupils glued to the crematoriums door.
Then he saw it.
The crematorium had somehow caught ablaze! A dense torrent of billowing black smog began seeping from under its steel door, swirling and clawing at the ceiling. Monstrous murky talons crisping the oak floor and turning the white walls to a gloomy grey. The doctor could do nothing but watch as the crematorium expelled more and more smoke. The metal door began to turn black from the heat, the steel bolts flying from the hinges like rounds of ammunition and missing his face by inches. His throat was too dry to scream for help and his feet were somehow still glued to the ground, unable to run from the danger before him. As the door slowly swung open, pushed by the power of the flames behind, a nightmarishly deformed figure emerged through the spiralling hooks of smoke.
The man was grotesquely disfigured. Burning red eyes sunken into a horrible, an intensely horrible charred face. A man, no, the remains of a man! Flakes of skin fell from his blackened skull, the left side of his head scraped back, revealing the cracked grey skeleton beneath. His ears were reduced to burnt stumps, hair incinerated completely other than a lifeless wisp hanging loosely from a crack in his battered and blackened skull. His nose a deformed crevice. The mouth a fiery crater of cracked yellow teeth, scorched lips open wide in a noiseless scream of agony. Oozing red puss sizzled from his orifices to the ground like acidic rain, leaving a trail of filth as he stumbled out of the door, the smoke following him as he moved like a cape of fire.
The figure staggered disjointedly towards him, gnarled crumbling arms half outstretched, bent fragmented fingers sizzled to the bone. Chunks of burning flesh split off as his scorched naked body shuffled slowly forward. Each stiffened step, each appearing more excruciating than the last, leaving singed footprints of blood and ash. Those penetrating crimson eyes remaining fixed on the frozen doctor.
As he moved closer, Dr. Williams felt the heat from this deformed creature grow stronger. A penetrating blaze as if he had risen from the depths of hell itself. That was the only explanation for what he saw in front of him. It was a hideous spirit of the dead.
A flaming corpse of fire.
Dr. Williams couldn’t move. His heart rate had increased to a staggering height. Despite the intensity of the heat radiating from this forthcoming demon, he was still frozen to the spot. The frostbite of fear gripping him firmly. The carcass opened its mouth wider as if attempting to speak, it’s shaking skeletal left index finger outstretched, pointing directly at him, before shattering and falling to the ground. Still motionless, he watched wide eyed as the corpse moved its head to his ear and, whispering in a faint husk from lungs filled with fire and smoke, the words ‘youuuu killeeedddd meeee’ rattled from its peeling lips.
The doctor’s screams of terror were concealed by the shrill shrieks of insanity from the hospitals patients, flowing like a river that connected to a sea of dread in the darkness.
Dr. Stanley Archibald Williams was never seen again.
His colleagues thought nothing of his disappearance. It was assumed that he had finally quit after months of remorse over his unfortunate career halting error. Dr. Williams had made a grave mistake months before. The only record in the hospitals history where a patient had been wrongly cremated as they were supposedly dead. In actual fact they were in a deep coma, which a quick check for a pulse could have easily revealed if Dr. Williams hadn’t been in such a rush to return home before the roads became too dark to drive on. A selfish act that cost him his career.
Even when, weeks later, an unlucky nurse found Dr. Williams name badge submerged in an IV blood transfusion bag, the notion of the doctor having been murdered, or any other spectral speculations, were more preposterous than a dog chasing its own tail. Besides, reporting a disappearance would just mean more paperwork and the further snooping paws of the police. Although a select few of the night shift nurses had reported a faint smell of burning on the night of Dr. Williams’ disappearance, the next day both crematorium doors appeared firmly locked and the furnaces untouched.
– – –
In the following autumn of 1979, exactly one year after Dr. Williams’ vanishing, the hospital burnt to the ground in a fire of unknown origin. All thirty doctors, fifteen nurses and seventy patients were tragically killed in the unstoppable blaze.
Their ashes scattered across the sky and lost in the rubble of time.