“Is this real? Mary, is this real?” Steve’s voice wavered.
“Think so.” Mary’s voice was little more than a whisper. Her gaze remained fixed on the ceiling.
They’d escaped to a stairwell and scampered down the crumbled steps. Overhead, dust and debris coughed down onto them. A pitch-black hallway stretched off into oblivion. The cold and damp air down here added an extra layer to the mustiness.
“Are—” Steve wet his lips “—are those soldiers?” He sat on the concrete steps.
Mary didn’t avert her gaze. She stood, eyes glazed. She nodded. “Seem to be.”
Steve cleared his throat. Sweat dripped down his brow and he shivered. “Did they look like they were from the Second World War to you?”
Mary shrugged. One hand rubbed at her collarbone, over and over. “I wouldn’t know.”
“But— but they didn’t… those gasmasks—” Another explosion rocked the building. Footsteps stamped overhead. “Those weren’t modern gas masks, were they?”
“Are you even listening to me?” Steve glanced down at his floppy arm, which had died down to a numb throb. At least, when he kept it still. “Is any of this real?”
“There’s something up there.”
Steve looked up at Mary. “Well, no—” he swore. “Of course there’s something up there!”
“No, I mean there’s actually something up there.”
Steve frowned at her. “You’ve lost me. But I feel I was lost a long time ago…”
“I thought that, maybe, these were echoes—”
“Oh, God, you’re not going all psychic on me, are you?”
“Which would you rather, that there were actual Second World War soldiers up there trying to blow us both to hell for no other reason that we crashed our cars nearby?”
Steve took it in. “Well, no. But—”
“When people are under stress, they can begin to express powers.”
“I didn’t know I had any powers.”
“That’s the point.”
“Well, I thought it was that.”
Mary looked down at him. “We’ve just been in a car crash. It would make sense that we’re tapping into something. Past memories. Echoes. Emotional energy. Remnants.”
The boots continued to march above. Orders barked back and forth. Now and then, a detonation shuddered through the hospital’s foundations.
“But you don’t think it’s that? Not anymore?”
Mary stood and rubbed at her collarbone. “I can sense something is actually there.”
The ground shuddered beneath them. “Is there a chance that there’s actually someone up there and we’re just trippin’ balls from our—” Steve clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth “—head injuries?”
Mary squinted up the shadowed stairs. She frowned. “Maybe. But I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think so? Can’t you, I dunno, tap into some psychic energy? Feel if there’s a human up there that we’re hallucinating as a century-old army blowing stuff up?”
“It doesn’t work like that!”
“Well, it doesn’t sound super useful.”
“It’s not… I don’t know, a torch. You don’t just flick it on and beam it at whatever.”
“So, what is it like? Sorry, this is my first psychic experience.”
“I dunno. Like reaching into a bag of scrabble letters and pulling ‘em out at random. Then trying to spell a word.”
“…and you can’t figure out if that’s just a regular human being up there? Say, a regular functioning hospital?”
Mary picked at the black flakes of blood on her temple. “You think if we were just hallucinating this, the hospital staff would just let us run down here into their basement? Where they probably keep the bodies?”
Something slithered across the concrete down in the darkness. A wet, meaty slap and thud echoed towards them. Something groaned. It was the skitter of autumn leaves in a gentle breeze.
“Oh, I wish you hadn’t said that,” said Steve as he got to his feet. He glanced up the stairwell they’d stumbled their way down like drunkards. “So, this… thing you can sense up there. It’s not a battalion of soldiers from dubya dubya two?”
“I… don’t know. Maybe. Unlikely. Who knows.”
“So, can it hurt us? It seems like…” Steve tried to gesture, winced. “Seems like it wants to hurt us. But can it?”
Mary shrugged. “I dunno.”
Steve exhaled. “Not much of a psychic teacher, are you?”
“Nope. Never claimed to be.”
“Is it an actual army? Or, what is it? You said you sensed something?”
Mary scrunched her face up. The congealed blood crinkled on the side of her face. “I don’t know if it is human. I don’t know if it was human.”
“But it could be? What if we’re just hiding out in the basement, whilst a bunch of doctors and nurses wander around up there looking for the pair of car crash victims that came running and screaming into their hospital?”
Mary made a noise in her throat. “Potentially?”
“But it could also be an… undead army?”
Mary exhaled and grinned. “No. Not undead. An echo.”
“But that echo could be the real deal? Could be an actual army that once was?”
“Or, it could be something else?”
“Or it could be something else.” Mary nodded.
“Like…?” Mary widened her eyes at Steve. With the blood and sweat, it made her look insane.
“Vengeful spirits, demons—”
Something thumped on the floor. Something close.
“Oh, I wish you hadn’t said that,” said Mary.
Overhead, the cacophony continued to rage. “Rock and a hard place, huh? Any chance you can sense what’s down there in the darkness?”
Mary scrunched her hair up in her hands. “I don’t— that’s not how this works! There’s darkness everywhere, Steve! This thing, this connection, is tenuous at best. And — it case you’d forgotten — I just had my skull rattled by a car crash you admitted to causing, so I’m sorry if my psychic analysis doesn’t stretch to every. God. Damn. Thing.”
“Whoa, hey, I’m sorry!” Steve tried to raise his hands then let out a little scream when his broken arm flopped to his side. He swore. “Oh, Jesus,” he gritted his teeth.
Overhead, the ruckus paused.
“Oh God,” whispered Steve, “did they… hear us?”
“Are you kinda wishing they are an army, now? At least they’ve got the Geneva Conventions.”
“Well, not really.”
Mary frowned and shook her head at him.
“The majority of the Geneva Conventions were negotiated after the Second World War.”
Steve grinned as the beads of sweat rolled down his face. He turned to look up the blackened stairwell. “They’ve been pretty quiet up there. Can — and I’m not asking for all the psychic answers here — but can you sense if they’re… or it… is still there?”
Dust drifted down from above. The stairs creaked. In the gloom, something dragged itself across the concrete.
26th September 2020
Written for Reedsy’s Weekly Writing Contest