The Ghost of Gate 38

Updated: May 24, 2014

Back to the scorched earth he ran.

What the ghost saw, looking back into the hospital grounds.

Standing at Gate 38 of the Camarillo Hospital, a lone patient watched a ghost disappear into the blackened brush beyond the hospital walls. The ghost moved like no ghost the patient had ever seen, and she’d seen plenty! The hospital was rife with them. Ghosts in the basement, ghosts in the belfry, ghosts in the bell tower, ghosts in the machinery—those spirits were terrifying!—and of course, the ghosts in the morgue. The patient had never seen those ghosts, she was too frightened to enter the morgue. But she’d heard other patients—the brave ones, the foolish ones— talk about sneaking into the morgue at night and seeing the ghosts of the dead. Just the thought raised the hairs on her arms.

But the ghosts that frightened her most were the ghosts that walked up and down the halls, day and night, locking and unlocking doors, ushering patients out of one room and ushering them into another. The ghosts with a schedule. The ghosts with watches on their wrists. The ghosts in white sheets so bright they burned her eyes to look at them. The ones who checked to see if you swallowed your pills. The ones who tied you on the gurney and rolled you down the long sloping hallway toward the room marked “Therapy.” The ones who waited, chewing gum and sipping coffee, while the ghosts in the machines stole your memories. Those were the scary ghosts, the ones just waiting.

She shuddered at the thought, then looked out across the flame broiled earth, but she could no longer see the ghost that had escaped. She’d been watching it, studying it, from the moment it began its slow and awkward stumble away from the grassy quadrangle toward Gate 38. She’d followed, well behind, to see where it was going. She’d never heard of a ghost escaping. But there it was, heading straight for the gate, its dirty white sheet flapping above the hospital-issue slippers. She hadn’t realized ghosts wore slippers, but it made sense. Their feet must be tender, their entire bodies like one exposed nerve, with nothing but a sheet to protect them. Slippers, she thought, would be a blessing.

There! she saw it again, a flash of white against the blackened hillside. But nothing more. So that’s where the ghosts hide, she thought, in the burnt chaparral around the hospital. She imagined they had ghost hideouts and ghost caves, maybe even secret ghost meeting places. The thought gave her hope. If ghosts can escape …

“What are you doing here?” a voice barked at her.

“Nothing!” she said in a panic. With her head down, fearful of seeing who or what had spoken to her, the patient

Why sloping hallways? So the gurneys can be rolled down more easily. But don’t they have to be pushed back UP the hall? Empty–patients get moved from admittance and the doctors’ offices at the top of the hall down to the wards and, eventually, the morgue at the bottom of the hall.

shuffled back up the open air hallway that connected Gate 38 with the Men’s Ward. She would pass the ward without looking up, enter the long sloping hallway of the Bell Tower without so much as a glance back, and retrace her steps all the way up the hallway, past the Therapy Room, past the TV room, past the nurse’s station and the janitor’s closet, into the cool dimness of the Women’s Ward, where she would stop, sit on one of the benches, and wonder what she had seen.

Where was the ghost going? And how did it get out? And what do ghosts need cell phones for?

She remembered now, as her breathing calmed, seeing one in the ghost’s right hand. One of those cute little white ones, she noticed. She wished she had one. Just to hold—not to use, no, she knew phone calls were against hospital rules. But to hold one, to feel the sleek plastic in your palm, the smooth curve of the edges, and the cool sensation of the glass screen. Sometimes she wished …

“Are you alright, my dear?” a gentle voice asked.

She nodded, looked up into the eyes of one of the nurses, a nurse she remembered, one she liked, and so she confessed, “I saw a ghost.”

“Plenty of those around here,” the nurse said.

“This one had a cell phone,” she said.

“Curious,” the nurse said. “What would a ghost want with a cell phone?”

As the nurse helped her up from the bench and guided her back toward her bed in the Women’s Ward, the patient said, “That’s what I was wondering.”