Peter Hoskins lay on his side in a fetal position, receiving his nightly sponge bath, when the first scream of the night echoed down the hall outside his open door.
Beverly Mais, the CNA who currently stood over Peter with a dripping sponge in one fist, dropped the soft, yellow pad into the pink basin on the bedside table and cocked her head toward the noise.
“What was that?” she asked, a tremor in her voice.
Peter, unable to speak since suffering a massive stroke three years prior, remained silent. Beverly glanced back at him with a crinkled expression, as if she smelled spoiled fruit.
“Did you hear that, hon, or `ve I been watching too many scary flicks?”
Peter twitched his eyebrows twice: yes, I heard it, too.
“I don’t know that that’s a good thing, you hearing what I heard. I hoped I’d imagined it.”
Beverly plucked at her beige scrub top with one hand while the other busied itself at her right ear, tugging and pinching. Gooseflesh stood on her arms, resembling chicken skin and just as hairless. The fingers that worried her ear moved to her chestnut hair, twirled, pulled, and then released the strands, where they bounced back into a tight curl. In Peter’s younger days, he would have fancied Beverly. Fancied her quite a bit, indeed. Even though the middle-aged woman wore far too much makeup. Whore spackle, his wife would have called it.
Another peal of horror came from farther down the hall, along with a scattering of hurried footfalls—hard soled shoes on laminated tile.
Beverly took a step in reverse, backed into the bed, and shrieked, as if the mattress had goosed her.
“What in blazes is going on out there?” she whispered.
Peter wanted to respond, but his vocal cords had gone the way of his legs—shriveled up. Useless. He wondered if, given the proper motivation, he could scream.
A howling drifted down the hallway. A sharp keening sound of lamentation, and Peter felt stool dribble down his naked butt cheek. He hadn’t been this scared in a long while. Hadn’t felt this… alive in quite some time.
“I’m calling the cops.” Beverly said tersely. She made one long stride toward the bedside table and stopped, mouth gaping. “You don’t have a phone,” she said, terror filling every nuance of her speech. “Why would you, right? Who’re you going to call? And how?”
Peter might have found this statement rude had the circumstances been different. Instead, he rather agreed with her. Who was he going to call? Ghostbusters? And how? With his eyebrows?
“There’s a phone at the nurses’ station, but… but I don’t…”
Peter finished the statement for her, only in his head: “You don’t want to go out there, do you, Bev? And you know what? I don’t fuckin’ blame ya.”
Another shrill scream cleaved the air. Beverly started, jumped a good three inches off the plain white tile beneath her, and crammed a fist into her mouth to stifle what Peter thought might have turned into a blood-freezing wail of her own. She doesn’t want to be heard, he thought. And for a damn good reason, too.
Outside in the hall, feet slapped tile, the sound coming closer and closer at a rapid clip, and there was the briefest flash of beige scrubs as someone of unknown gender shot past the open door.
But Beverly never had the chance to finish her statement, for a furry, brown blur rocketed past. Peter thought it looked like a bear loping after its prey. Only the thing hadn’t been the size of a bear. It had been the size of a man. A man running on his hands and feet like some horrible mimicry of an ape.
“That was an animal,” Beverly gasped. “How’d an animal get in here?”
Had she been looking at him, Peter would have quirked his eyebrows in a “How the fuck would I know” sort of way.
The quick patter of fleeing feet stopped and cries of pain followed their cessation. From the hall came wet ripping sounds. Peter was reminded of the nights when he’d grilled out and had given Pad, their German Shepard, a raw steak for being such a damn good boy all the time. Sloppy chewing. Pops and clicks as the teeth clacked together. Pornographic licking and sucking sounds.
“Peter,” Beverly whined, “I’m scared.” She let “scared” drag out for a good three seconds, as if to provide a base of measurement for her fear.
Peter flicked his eyebrows up and down twice: yes, me too.