I have a dim memory of an old episode from the tv series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” about a storm and some nervous nurses waiting it out. Something about a nurse killer on the loose. In the final scene we find that one of the nurses is the actual killer. She was a big woman and I think she was a man in a wig. Anyway, that errant memory flittered through my mind and left a seed. Storm, nurses, murder afoot. After a wrote it, I had to go with a tongue in cheek title. Hence “it was a dark and stormy night.”
A Dark and Stormy Night
A dim flicker of light glimmered at the office window. Candace, ‘call me Candy’, Johnson barely noticed as she continued inventory of the med stocks for what seemed the hundredth time that week. A few moments later a soft rumble could be heard in the distance.
“Storm’s coming in,” Denise Patrick said. Master of the obvious, Candy thought sourly. “It’s supposed to be a big one,” Denise continued. “I just heard about it on the radio.”
“Just my luck,” said Candy, slamming a cabinet door.
“Huh?” asked Denise.
“Just my luck to draw the late shift in this rustbucket place with a storm brewing. By midnight we’ll have bedpans all down the hallway catching water from the leaky ceiling.”
“It leaks? That can’t be very safe.” As I said, thought Candy, master of the obvious.
“No, it’s not. But we’re not St. Joe’s. We’re a poor little clinic run by a poor little hospital in a poor little section of Philly.” Candy decided the only upside of the situation was they had no patients in their care for the late shift. The decidedly downside was that she had to work it with Denise. She wasn’t sure exactly what it was about Denise that rubbed her the wrong way. Pretty much everything. She was a mousy little hausfrau, seemingly afraid of her own shadow. She didn’t appear all that bright and Candy wondered how she ever got through nursing school. Candy, on the other hand, was a plus size blonde, brassy and full of life. She sashayed her way through her daily rounds, flirting with the patients, keeping up a light banter. It kept the men’s spirits up and she didn’t mind the occasional pat on her fanny. God knows some of them had seen horrors she’d never know. A smile and wink for our brave boys cost her so little, she thought. But working the late shift sucked. Especially with a freak storm coming in. But they were stuck until two am when the overnight relief came on.
There was a bright flash of light through the window. The rumble came quicker this time.
“It’s moving fast,” Denise offered.
“Good, maybe it’ll do it’s thing and get the hell out of here fast, too. I hate having to dash out to my car in the pouring rain.” Another flash, shortly followed by a louder rumble.
“Lordy, I hate storms.” Candy noticed Denise babbled when nervous. “We used to have bad ones back in Kansas. Big storms, and sometimes tornadoes and hail. I just want to crawl into a cellar and hide.”
“Well, our cellar is over that way,” Candy nodded with her head, as she lifted a load of towels to be sorted.
“I can’t go down there,” Denise looked at her with fear bright in her eyes. “That used to be the morgue. I don’t dare go down there.”
“Don’t tell me you’re a nurse and scared of dead people?”
“I just haven’t had much experience around them. I’ve only been a nurse for a few years.”
“Well, honey, it’s something you’ll just have to get used to.” Candy figured Miss Mousy’s patients would be dropping like flies from her tepid care. Candy kept her men’s spirits from flagging with her brazen sexuality. She didn’t dial it down, and her men responded. She was a very popular nurse.
A brilliant flash and crash almost simultaneously made them both jump. It was followed by the rattle of a hard rain hitting the flagstones outside. Over the next few minutes there were multiple flashes and the rumbling never stopped, rolling and echoing through the air and seemingly through their bones. Candy thought it sounded like a bowling alley with the constant rumble of the balls. Maybe I’ll get Hank to take me bowling this weekend. We haven’t done that in ages, she thought with a smile. Hank was back from the Pacific with everything intact. She was so afraid he would return with a loss of limbs or a shell-shocked zombie like she had seen so many times over the past months. Or not return at all. Stop thinking about downers, she told herself. Hank’s home and all is right with the world. The war is over.
A sudden massive crash shook the entire building. Denise screamed and her pile of towels flew through the air.
“Wow, that one was right on top of us,” Candy said. Then she silently chided herself. Now who’s stating the obvious?
Candy felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned but no one was there. Then a cold splash of water hit her nose. She looked up and got hit in the middle of her forehead with another cold splash.
“Oh, Hell’s Bells. I need a bedpan for this leak. You take the back hallway and check. I’ll finish looking around up here.” Within the next half hour they found fifteen leaks and had bedpans in place collecting the spillage.
“At the rate the rain’s falling, we’ll have to empty them before the next shift comes in. What a gruesome night. Glad I’m going home and not coming in.”
Over the next hour the flashing and rumbling would sometimes abate for a few minutes but always came back with renewed vigor. Candy didn’t know if it were multiple storm fronts or the same storm just circling. Either way, they were receiving severe punishment from the elements.
Another particularly violent crash hit and the lights flickered and then failed altogether. Denise emitted a short shriek.
“Oh, ain’t this just grand,” Candy said sarcastically. She had several other choice phrases that came to mind but didn’t want to totally offend Denise’s delicate sensibilities. The sudden darkness was total. After a few moments their eyes had adjusted but it was still nearly impossible to see anything.
“The generator’s supposed to kick on when the power goes out,” Candy complained. “I wonder why it hasn’t tripped yet?”
“I don’t like it.” Candy jumped because Denise’s voice was right at her elbow.
“I think there’s some candles in the supply cabinet. Let me check.” Candy groped her way to the supply cubbie behind the nurses’ station. Within a few minutes she had a couple of white tapers lit and sitting on the desk.
Candy had just said, “Well, ain’t this comfy,” when the phone rang.
“Bellhaven Clinic,” she said automatically into the phone. “Oh, hi, Ray. Yeah. Yah don’t say. Well, the power’s out. No, it didn’t kick on. Where? Crap. He said what? No. No. I said hell no.” She listened for a moment more and slammed down the phone.
“What?” Denise wanted to know.
“The main road’s flooded. Ray said our relief might not be here till daylight. We have to stay all night.”
“But, I don’t want to.”
Candy glared at her. “You think I do? I would walk out on ‘em, but the road is flooded so I couldn’t get home anyway. Either way you look at it, we’re stuck. By the way, Ray told me how to get the generator on. We just need to push a button on the side.”
“Oh, good. Where is it?”
“In the cellar.”
“Oh.” Denise’s eyes were wide.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake. Are you that afraid of the cellar? Come on. I’m not going down there by myself.”
“But there used to be dead people there. There might be spirits.”
“Oh, for crying out loud. Come on.” She roughly grabbed Denise’s arm in one hand and a candle in the other.
Once in the cellar they found that other undiscovered leaks had let water in and there were small puddles in various places. They found the generator and, sure enough, there was a big red button on the side. Candy pressed it. Nothing happened. She pressed it again, holding it longer. The generator made a wheezing noise. Then after a few burps it began a soft hum. Looking up toward the door they noticed a soft glow meaning the emergency lighting was working. They hustled up the stairs, ready to leave the dank and disquieting place behind.
The emergency lighting was just sparse dim lights that did little to enlighten the place and nothing to dispel the gloom. Still, they could see.
Candy decided it was time for a break. She plopped down in a chair at the nurses’ station and picked up her Hollywood magazine. She ruefully noted it was two months old and she had read every article at least twice. She tossed it aside.
“Well, I ain’t doing much else tonight. I’ll take my double time pay sitting on my bum. How about you, Toots?” Denise approached the desk looking fearful and browbeaten.
“Yes. Me too.”
“That’s the spirit, girl. Show some gumption.”
Denise picked up the Hollywood magazine and looked at it. After a moment her eyes grew wide.
“What?” Candy asked.
“Are they really making a movie about that man who killed those seven co-eds? That was so awful. Why would they make a movie about it? I was almost too scared to go to work for a week after it happened.”
“Sorry, hon. Blood and sex sells. It’s gotta have one or the other.”
“But that’s so awful.”
“Yeah, and it’ll make ‘em a bazillion bucks. People love a good horror story. I think they call ‘em slasher movies. You know, like Hookman or the Midnight Caller or the Scarecrow.”
“I don’t know about that. All that kind of stuff scares me. Especially the Scarecrow.”
“Listen,” Candy said loudly. Denise clutched her heart. “The rain. It’s stopped.” They both noted how quiet it was for a moment. There were more flares followed by rumbling, but it was no longer directly over them. It still rolled and echoed, drawing out each rumble. “I think we’ve survived the worst of it,” Candy said with as much enthusiasm as she could gather. She looked at the clock and it was just now two am. She should be getting off right now. The long night loomed.
They went to the front window and looked out. There were no street lights, but by the occasional flashes of lightning they could see tree limbs scattered about. Some lawn furniture was missing or overturned. The yard crew had their work cut out for them. But the rain had stopped.
“You don’t really believe all those slasher stories, do you?” Candy asked. “They aren’t real. Just stories people tell to frighten each other or the kids.”
“Daddy said the Scarecrow is real. He wouldn’t tell me a lie.”
“Well, maybe. But I think he’s overblown. One kook kills a few people wearing a scary mask and everybody goes crazy. I bet the others are just copycats. Or didn’t even happen. There is no demented serial killer running around killing, killing…”
“Well, yeah. I don’t believe it.”
“I wish I was that sure.”
After a few more minutes of desultory conversation Candy said she had to go to the ladies’ room. She could tell Denise didn’t want to be left alone but she was damned if she’d invite her to the bathroom. The girl needs to grow a spine, she thought. Then she got an idea of a fun prank. After finishing her business, she quietly slipped out of the lavatory and crept to a linen supply closet. She grabbed a pillowcase. Using her scissors she cut two eye holes, and drew some black lines on it with a felt pen. She pulled it over her head, cinching it around her neck with a draw cord. She pulled an abandoned old black great coat from the closet to hide her nursing whites. She crept up the hallway, just out of sight of the nurses’ station. She picked up a bedpan, dumped out the water and tossed the pan into the room. The clanging of the pan startled Denise, eliciting a shriek. Candy jumped into the room using the lowest voice she could muster and said “The Scarecrow has come for you!”
Denise’s earlier shriek was nothing compared to the scream she now emitted. She ran from the station screeching as if all the demons of hell were after her. Barely able to contain her laughter, Candy pursued her down the hallway. Denise ran into a supply closet and closed the door behind her. Candy thought, what an idiot. Now she’s cornered. I guess I need to teach her how to handle an emergency.
Denise was crying, trembling and hyperventilating so hard she could hardly hold the door handle. She braced herself to keep the Scarecrow from opening it. Oh lord, I’m so scared, she thought. She looked around to see if there were any type of weapon or protection in the closet but it was too dark. She just trembled and moaned, holding on to the knob as if her life depended on it. She never heard the click as the door was locked from the outside.
After what felt like hours of kneeling hanging onto the knob, her hands began cramping. She whimpered, not daring to let go. She kept catching herself almost falling asleep, jerking upright each time. Finally she did not catch herself and fell into a fitful exhausted sleep.
Denise jerked awake. At first she was disoriented, finding herself on the floor in a closet. Then the fear grabbed her heart like a vise. The light coming under the door was brighter than the emergency lighting so either the power was back or it was morning. She carefully twisted the doorknob. Or tried to. It refused to move. She realized it was locked and she was trapped inside.
As she considered her predicament she also had another realization. The monster who had chased her last night was wearing a white skirt and shoes under the black coat. It was Candy all along. She played a mean trick on me, she thought, feeling incredibly foolish. Gathering her courage, she rattled the doorknob. She shook the door, shouting, “Candy, let me out!” She beat on the door and pleaded with Candy to let her out, but no one came. She was kneeling by the door crying when she heard sounds outside. Fear still spiked through her, but she knew she needed to get out. She heard what sounded like people talking. Multiple people was good. That would be safe. She pounded on the door, yelling for help. In a moment she heard the click as the door was unlocked. The bright light of day blinded her as it was opened and unknown arms pulled her up. She fought down the urge to struggle against them.
“It’s okay. You’re safe now,” said a man’s voice. As her eyes adjusted she could tell he was wearing a policeman’s uniform. “It’s all over now.”
“I was locked in,” Denise began, not knowing exactly what to say, totally disoriented.
“That’s okay. Come outside and have some coffee.” That sounded like a wonderful idea so she allowed the officer to lead her outside to an ambulance where there was coffee and some doughnuts.
Denise looked around. There were a number of official looking cars in the parking lot.
“Where’s Candy?” she asked.
“You need to drink your coffee first,” said the policeman.
Inside two detectives were conferring.
“Well, the MO is the same. Slashed from side to side. She bled out in minutes. The same message written in blood. I don’t know why he didn’t take them both, like over in southside last month. Maybe he didn’t know she was hiding.”
“She was lucky. Looks like she barely escaped the Scarecrow.”