“They say the Wynncrest building is haunted,” Rigo said, flicking cigarette ash.
“Bullshit,” Von responded, taking a drag of his own cigarette, drawing out the word in mock-disbelief.
The two men stood outside the facilities building on the far side of the sanitorium grounds, enjoying the solitude that a late break at dusk offered. The men chuckled into the cool air, Rigo’s transforming into a full-on guffaw.
“No, no, no, listen! I’m not making this up.”
Von shook his head, still smiling. “You mean like how Sister Veru came onto you in the laundry room?”
Rigo’s arms flew out in exasperation. “That was true! That totally happened!”
Von rolled his eyes. “I’ll say it again. Bull. Shit.”
“You wound me, Von,” Rigo said, making a show of placing his hands over his heart, legs weakening so that he leaned back against the wall, mockingly threatening to collapse to the ground. “Do you think a man of my garrulous nature would need to make up stories of getting hit on?”
“I think you need to look up the definition of ‘garrulous.’” Another drag of the cigarette.
“Alright, hear me out.”
“I won’t believe you about Veru.”
Rigo waved his hand dismissively. “No, this is about Wynncrest. It’s haunted, I’m telling you.”
Von nodded his head in annoyance. “Alright, fine,” he said, dismay in his voice as he acquiesced. “Tell me why you think it’s haunted.”
“I was talking to Wallyce,” Rigo began.
“Wallyce? You know he’s mental, right? He should be living in this place instead of working for it.”
“Whoa,” Rigo said, raising a hand in offense. As to how genuine that offense was, Von was not sure, but he remained highly skeptical. “Wallyce is not a bad person. Idiosyncratic, sure. Maybe a little off, but he’s not mental. Not like some of these folks.”
“So anyway, Wallyce was working late. He had run late because one of the inmates, eh, patients, got sick and retched in the one game room. Put Wallyce behind something awful. Anyway, he had to work later than he usually did, and Wynncrest was last on his list for the night. He went there and began cleaning and mopping up. He was in one of the inner rooms, the greeting hall. And there, he saw it!”
Von raised an eyebrow. “Saw what?”
“The Shadow Lady,” Rigo said, eyes wide.
Von laughed, and Rigo looked somewhat abashed. “The ‘Shadow Lady?’ Rigo, what are you on about?”
“Von, people have been whispering about her for the past month or so. A ghostly woman, who looks like she’s veiled in some kind of shadow, appearing and walking through the hallways, and when she’s discovered she just vanishes. Right in front of you!”
“And what, dare I ask, does this woman look like?”
“Well, she kind of looks like you.”
Von’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “What?”
“You know, she looks like you, eh, you know… like someone from the Far Eastern Kingdoms.”
Von shook his head, annoyance bordering on anger. “Mate, my parents are from the Far Eastern Kingdoms. Namely, Shaodai. But they immigrated here and worked hard. Very hard.”
“I’m not saying they didn’t!”
“But now you’re lumping them – and me – in like all Far Easterners look alike? You know there’s a clear difference between folks from Shaodai and, say, Azuchi-Muro, right? We don’t even speak the same language!”
“I didn’t mean—”
“You think I look at you and say, ‘Hey Rigo, I saw a man the other day who looked like you, from the Southern Isles.’ Would you like that, Rigo?”
Rigo paused. “But I am from the Southern Isles.”
“I thought you were from Muziqira?”
“My mother was from Muziqira, but she married my father, who was from Culequhol near the Southern Isles. And that’s where they settled when they had me.”
Von raised his hands in contrition. “Fine, but you see my point.”
Rigo shook his head. “Anyway, look… this Shadow Lady is real. I’m telling you.”
“Wait,” Von said. “So, what did Wallyce do when he saw her?”
“He ran! Ran screaming out of the building and got one of the night shift people to come back with him.”
“And of course, they didn’t find the Shadow Lady when they went back, right?”
“How did you know?”
Von rolled his eyes. “I think Wallyce was telling tall tales, my friend.”
Rigo looked across the campus, in the direction of the Wynncrest building. And Von saw it.
In Rigo’s eyes, a distance and contemplation settled in that he had never witnessed before from his friend. Something in the way Rigo stared bothered Von. He tried to grasp what it was. Melancholy? Von was long acquainted with Rigo, and even considered him – despite the exasperating way he sometimes conducted himself – a good friend. Certainly, his best friend at Astora. But he had never considered Rigo a man of particular depth or insight.
But something in the way he regarded the direction of the Wynncrest building, barely visible in the dying light of the sun, gave Von pause. Could there be some truth to the story? Von doubted it, but still, Rigo seemed convinced.
Von patted Rigo on the shoulder. “Come on, mate. Let’s get back to work.”
Rigo nodded, still lost in thought as he put out his cigarette. Von noticed he never took his eyes off Wynncrest, even as they made their way inside the facilities building.
“Good morning!” Sister Maeza said cheerily, stepping past the various patients sitting on the lawn with their aides. The sky was stunted and gray, and mist hovered low to the ground. Despite the gloomy appearance, Maeza did her best to remain upbeat for the patients as she continued inside.
She greeted Sister Veru at the front desk, who was busy reviewing notes from the overnight shift.
“Anything good?” Maeza asked.
Veru rolled her eyes. “Nothing in particular. Quiet night, thankfully.” Her fingers traced the various notes handwritten in genteel script. “They did, however, bring over someone from Building 2.”
Maeza’s eyes narrowed. “Really?”
Veru nodded. “Uh-huh. Must have been either in a coma or heavily sedated for a while. You’ve been assigned to her.” She handed Maeza some paperwork, who began reviewing it as Veru stood. “Come. I’ll introduce you two.”
“How lucid is she?”
“Not very. But I can’t tell if it’s because of the medicine she is on or some trauma she sustained prior to coming here.”
Maeza frowned. “She’s scheduled to be seen by Dr. Gerard?”
Veru nodded. “She’s one of the first ones to be added to his caseload. There must be something really off about her.”
The women walked for several more yards until they came to a woman in a nondescript gown, sitting in a wheelchair. Her eyes looked heavy, and Maeza noticed an odd bracelet on the woman’s wrist. Reflexively she reached out and traced her finger over it. There was something about the metal that looked unusual to Maeza, but she found herself unable to pinpoint exactly what kind it was. She then moved her hand up and patted the woman’s hand. Maeza looked down at the papers again, then back to the woman.
“Hello, Khloe,” she said. “I’m Sister Maeza. It’s lovely to meet you.”