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The Nightmare Room

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The Nightmare Room

The Nightmare Room

Stephen Wagner

A hospital room is haunted by the ghosts of past tragedies

What makes a place haunted? Is it filled with the echoes of past tragedy and pain that resonate at intervals of time, which we perceive as feelings of dread and see as fleeting shadows and ghosts? Or does its sad, traumatic history tap into our subconscious to invade not only our dreams but our waking world as well? Maybe it's all of these things - or something beyond our understanding. Decades ago, Shatarupa's grandmother encountered such a haunted place - a hospital room, where shadows of past suffering intruded on the present and even began to manifest physically. This is Shatarupa's story.

THIS STRANGE EVENT happened to my grandmother when her youngest son was just about two and a half - some time in 1947, just before India won her independence from British colonial rule. The boy, my uncle, had been born with deformed feet, and my grandmother's father, who was a doctor, had recommended a surgery, which at that time was available in very few places. This particular hospital was in a remote place outside Patna, a small city in India. This is the story of what happened after the surgery.

The child whimpered softly, stirring restlessly in his sleep, but did not wake. My grandmother lay the toddler down gently on the bed and sighed with relief at being able to give her back a rest. Though almost comatose, the child became restless and whimpered every time she set him down, so she spent the entire day pacing back and forth or rocking him. Finally he sank into an even deeper sleep. But now my grandmother could not sit quietly. Her restless pacing brought her to the window. Night had begun to fall and the twilight had taken on an eerie orange glow. The trees seemed to be waiting for something, their heavy branches drooping with some unknown menace. She shivered involuntarily, just as the paddy fields stirred under a sudden gust of wind. A little whirlpool of air ruffled the grass, shook the trees and slammed into the window. She gasped at the sudden onslaught of the icy breeze, almost as if the freezing winters had decided to return. She stepped back with an involuntary cry and slammed the window shut.

THE COLD AND NIGHTMARE

A passing nurse, hearing her cry, rushed into the room and gasped at the sudden drop in temperature. "What's happened here?" she cried. "Why is this room so cold?" My grandmother could only mumble something unintelligible as she tried to bring her shivering under control. The cold settled into the room, creeping along the floor. The nurse bustled forward to check on the boy, probably in an attempt to get a grip on herself and on reality. The child continued his restless sleep. My grandmother remained frozen while the cold seemed to slither along the floor, stealthily climb up her legs and settle into her very marrow. Oh, God, I'll never stop shivering, she thought in desperation, as the cold seemed to reach out and squeeze her heart. She was sinking, falling into a bottomless pit.

The nurse spoke again, her words bringing my grandmother gasping back to reality, as if someone had thrown freezing water on her. She must have responded with something intelligent to the question or maybe the nurse was eager to get away from the unnatural cold, but she chose not to pursue the matter. After hastily making sure that the child was settled, she retreated back to the nurse's station down the hall.

As the cold began to recede, my grandmother settled herself into a chair next to the bed. She was too exhausted to do much, but she was still restless under the rush of adrenaline that had hit her as hard as the cold had. She found herself drifting in and out of sleep as it grew darker outside. She did not remember much more of the evening, except that her sleep was woven through with disturbing images of pain, anger and sorrow. Dreams, even nightmares, had never been that vivid: people screaming in pain and agony... confused images of terror... of death and of overwhelming sorrow. It was like trying to claw her way through molasses, trapped in a nightmarish world between waking and sleeping.

But the worst was yet to come.

Next page: The Nightmare World

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