"Hawkeye" by Melissa Stockham
Graham pushed the chain link gate open as far as it would go with the heavy chain holding it to the fence. He slipped his wiry form through the opening and bent to pick up his backpack that he’d thrown over the fence.
He slid it back on and adjusted its weight before continuing his shortcut home. He surveyed the half-burnt ruins of the old mental hospital and silently agreed with his friends. The place looked creepy as hell.
Jacob told him he was nuts for cutting across the property, but it shaved a good twenty minutes off his walk home. Until he had a good reason not to, he would use his shortcut.
He kicked a rock down the concrete pathway until it skittered off into the weeds. He watched it go and focused on the walk through the courtyard to the other side of the property.
It was the scariest part to travel through. The first time he’d taken his shortcut he had done it at a sprint, which had resulted in a skinned knee and torn pants. Not to mention a bruised ego.
The flame darkened windows were still sinister, anything could be hiding behind them. The fact that they were covered with bars didn’t help calm his imagination any less. The thought of all those people trying to get out while the building burned around them, stopped by the bars that were supposed to keep them safe…
“Slow down,” he muttered when he realized he’d started running, “stop being a baby.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and made his way to the giant statue in the middle of the courtyard.
General ‘Hawkeye’ Smith's bronze form was covered in pigeon poo. Graham glanced up to look at the General stare off into nothingness and tripped. He caught himself and looked down to see what the offender was.
His shoelace had come untied.
He placed his foot up on the base of the statue and leaned over to tie his shoe. As he was finishing his knot he heard something above him. He glanced up and saw a pigeon, flapping its wings and laying a dump on the General’s shoulder.
Then he saw that the General had moved.
He backed away from the statue slowly. No doubt about it, the General had gone from gazing off into nothingness to staring straight at him. He felt a chill down his spine and he shivered. He wondered if the pigeon poo had finally weighed too much for the old statue and its head had tilted. That had to be the answer. Then it blinked.
Graham didn’t wait to see what else it could do. He ran. He heard something else move behind him, creaking and groaning like a car being mashed. He wasn’t about to turn and see if the general had come off his perch. He ran faster, hoping his gangly legs wouldn’t trip over themselves as they often did when he was least expecting.
His heart was pounding in his ears as he reached the other side of the grounds. Usually he’d repeat his steps of throwing his backpack over the fence and slipping through the gate. Today, he cleared the eight foot fence in about three seconds, landing with a crash into an ugly heap complete with scraped hands.
He turned around. He gasped for breath and searched the area for whatever could have been chasing him. The grounds were quiet. Nothing looked remotely out of the ordinary. A quiet breeze moved the weeds back and forth that had sprung up against the fence.
His hands stung as he stood up and wiped them on his pants. He inspected the damage and picked a few pebbled out of his skin. At least his pants weren’t torn. His mother would be happy about that. She a warped sense of humor, 'torn skin healed easier than torn pants'.
He inhaled deeply and turned his back on the ruins, not hearing the giggles that were carried away by the wind.
Most of his family was home when he arrived. His older brother’s piece of crap car was in the driveway, and his legs sticking out from under it. He heard Alex tinkering with something, and gave his legs a brotherly nudge as he walked into the house.
“Sure hope your grades are up!” Alex hollered from under the car. Graham was grateful for the heads up. Mom must be on an ‘I need to be a better mother, so I’m going to scrutinize your life for the next few days and see what I can do to fix it’ kick. She did it about once a month. Graham found it annoying, as much as he knew that it was her way of showing love. Parents were so weird.
He walked in the house and plopped his backpack down on the couch. “Mom! I’m home.”
“M’kay! Do your homework.” Mom called from the kitchen. So predictable.
Ruby was on the couch, reading, as usual. His younger sister always had her nose in a book. She glanced up at him briefly to acknowledge his presence, and added a glare because he had almost hit her with his backpack.
“Sorry.” He grinned. Sisters were so fun to tease.
She shook her head and proceeded to ignore him.
He wandered into the kitchen where mom was starting dinner. Something from scratch and not store bought. Sweet.
“Hi sweetheart,” she leaned over and kissed his hair like a little boy. He sighed, wishing he’d reach a growth spurt. Ruby was taller than he was, which sucked. Alex was much taller. The gene had skipped him somehow.
He watched his mom putter around for a moment. “So, I cut through the hospital tonight.”
Inwardly, he loved the disapproving look Mom gave him. Outwardly, he looked repentant. “Creepy stuff there. I heard something moving around.” A giant bronze statue with bird poop…
“Probably some homeless looking for a place to live. Don’t go through there anymore.” She gave him the ‘I mean it’ look.
“M’kay, sorry.” He felt better, hearing Mom’s reasonable explanation. “Did they ever figure out how it burned down?” He glanced down at his scraped hands and decided it was time for a wash. He headed to the kitchen sink and turned on the water.
“No. I don’t think it was a bad thing either. That place was old. They’d remodeled it so many times there was hardly enough to call original building. If it wasn’t on the historical record, I’m sure the city would raze it and start over. What did you do to your hands?”
She shook her head, “You are not going to be a pallbearer at my funeral.”
“Ouch, that’s cold, Mom.” It was a running joke in his family about his inability to stay on his own two feet.
He finished washing his hands and flicked water on Mom, who flicked some back. They grinned at each other and he slipped out of the kitchen before she could ask about his grades.
He went to retrieve his pack. He picked it up and turned to walk away when Ruby spoke. “You better stop taking that shortcut. There’s no homeless people there. It’s haunted.”
The chill he’d felt earlier tickled his spine. “Shut up, it is not.”
She turned a page on her book, “Fine, don’t believe me. Even though, I did write my state history report on it last year. It’s definitely haunted.”
He cringed and took the bait. “Why do you say that?”
“It started out as a military barracks. General ‘Hawkeye’ Smith was in charge of it then. Lots of soldiers died there in the Civil War during a siege. Then, after the war, they expanded it with more buildings and turned it into a military hospital. Then the government turned it over to the state and they filled it with mentally ill. They weren’t very advanced back then. They did crappy stuff to the patients, thinking they were helping. Combine that with low funding and low staff to patient ratio and it was a real mess.”
“Ruby, no twelve year old I know uses the word ‘ratio’ in a sentence,” Graham pointed out.
“Just the nerds do,” She smiled proudly at him. “Anyway, lots of people died there. Soldiers, doctors, patients, nurses, babies. There is even a cemetery on the grounds. I talked with a nurse who worked there before the fire; she told me tons of ghost stories. That place is filled with them.”
“Overachiever. You are the only nerd I know that would actually visit the place you are doing research on.”
She stuck her tongue out at him. “Just telling you. The place is haunted.”
He couldn’t disagree at the moment. The General’s blank bronze eyes were still fresh in his memory.
He picked up his backpack and started to head to the basement when his Dad came home. He walked in the door, sorting the mail as was his habit.
“How’s everyone?” He asked, giving Mom a kiss.
“Fine, except Graham is taking a shortcut through Hawkeye to get home.” Mom looked at Graham.
He rolled his eyes, of course she’d have to pull Dad into it. Two parents ganging up on you were better than one.
“Knock it off.” Dad gave him a stern look, “That building could fall at any moment, and there are probably drug dealers and kidnappers running around there.”
The drug dealers and kidnappers were a new twist. Would they hang around with all the ghosts there? Somehow, Graham doubted it.
He assisted his sister with setting the table as Alex came in from working on his car. Mom and Dad insisted on dinner together, something about the moral fiber of society depending on it.
Afterwards, he did his homework and watched Alex fiddle with some piece of machinery at the kitchen table.
“Dad’s gonna kill you if you scratch the table,” He pointed out to his older brother.
“Dad’s always gonna kill me for something.” Alex muttered. He tinkered with the part and swore as oil spilled out of it.
“Now Mom is going to kill you too.” Graham added.
“Not as dead as you’ll be if you go in Hawkeye again.” Alex said, wiping up the mess before it dripped off the table.
“I don’t see what the big deal is.” Graham turned back to his homework. “It’s not like I went inside or anything. I just cut through the grounds.”
Alex pointed a screwdriver at him, “That’s what Lyle Johnson was doing, and you know what happened to him.”
Graham inwardly growled as another of his siblings dangled bait in front of him that he couldn’t resist.
“What happened to him?”
“No one knows. He always used Hawkeye as a shortcut. Bragged about it too, that he had some kind of hideout set up in there. Then one day he never came home. They searched the place from top to bottom, found a stash of his stuff sprinkled with some cocaine, and that was that. Cops were sure that some druggie had whacked him.”
“You and Dad say drug dealers, and Ruby says ghosts.” Graham closed his Algebra book.
“Drug dealing ghosts. Yeah, you hear a lot about them in the news. Cops can’t keep them locked up because they keep walking through walls.”
Alex snorted. “Seriously. If you were a drug dealer, where would be the best place to hide stuff? Someplace haunted, that’s what I’d do.”
Graham digested this, and the fact that his brother had actually thought where to hide illegal paraphernalia, and then hit the shower before going to bed.
For the next week, Graham took the long way home. He dutifully walked around the perimeter of the hospital, glancing at its looming form with the darkened windows. He wondered briefly if the General was still on his perch covered in pigeon poo.
If he was a giant moving statue, he’d be splatting those pests like flies.
He had fully intended to keep his promise to stay out of Hawkeye, until it rained that Friday.
It wasn’t just a little drizzle. It was a full out brawl in the skies with lightning, thunder and a downpour. He was pretty sure he couldn’t get any wetter than if he’d stepped into the shower with all his clothes on.
The gate to Hawkeye looked inviting. He was pretty sure all the drug dealers and baddies wouldn’t come out on a day like today. He tossed his backpack over and slid through the gate. He picked it up and ran towards the main building, finding a dry patch under the front door of the old hospital. He dropped his pack on the ground and hugged himself, shivering. He hated being a skinny kid with no body fat to keep him warm.
The storm didn’t let off. He sank to the ground, leaning against the door of the hospital and hugging his knees. He buried his head for a moment while the air crackled around him. Mom was so going to kill him for not taking a jacket, especially since it was the last thing she’d yelled to him before he’d walked out the door. He started brainstorming a way to make nice, or maybe get pity.
He felt the door behind him vibrate right before it flew open. He fell backwards into the foyer of the hospital and smacked his head hard on the floor.
Normally, he didn’t swear. Ever. He didn’t think it made you look cool or sound grown-up, and there were better, more creative words to use. But at that moment he let go with a loud string of curse words.
He saw stars for a moment, as he rubbed his head.
He then heard someone giggling.
It was enough to set his hair standing on end and get his feet in motion. He raced outside into the rain and ran as fast as he could.
His vision was impaired by the rain, and he slid on the wet pavement a few times. He made it to the courtyard and was passing General Hawkeye’s statue when it came to life.
This time, it didn’t just tilt its head and blink. It came off its pedestal and plucked up Graham like a baby kitten and held him between two fingers.
He screamed and thrashed as the thunder roared. He was pretty sure he might have lost control of other bodily functions as he cried like a little girl.
The large statue carried him back to the hospital doors and dropped him unceremoniously on the ground into the foyer. It left the building and slammed the door shut behind it.
Graham scrambled back to his feet and wiped his nose. He ran for the door and tried to open it. It wouldn’t budge an inch.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” A voice came from behind him. He slammed his body against the door to get away from this new threat.
A girl was walking towards him. She was pale and thin, her hair messy and tangled. Her clothes were dirty and covered with soot, along with her smudged face.
She gave him a smile, that didn’t do much to relax him, and slapped a hand on the door. The bang echoed through the hospital. “General! That was very mean! You let him go right now!”
Graham heard a rumbling and scraping of metal on the other side of the door. It was then flung open and he saw the bronze statue retreating into the rain.
The girl stared at the floor. She was his height, which wasn’t much of an accomplishment. “He knows I get lonely, and you make me laugh. He was trying to help.”
Graham opened and shut his mouth like a fish for a moment. “Are you a…ghost?”
She nodded, looking at him from under her long dirty stringy hair.
“That’s General Hawkeye. He didn’t want to leave his men or his family, so here he is, wandering around protecting the place.”
“So this place is haunted.”
She nodded, “Most definitely haunted.”
He shivered. “How long have you been…”
“Dead?” her face brightened a little, “About six months, during the fire. I was here visiting my dad with my mom when the fire broke out. We were stuck inside.”
She shrugged, “It’s no big deal. I just get kinda lonely, there’s no other kids.”
There was a large crash behind them, and he saw a dirty vase filled with dead flowers smash into the ground.
She rolled her eyes, “No other kids my age. Joey is about 7, and a pain.”
Graham coughed, “Wow.” He felt cold again and shivered. He rubbed his arms up and down to warm them.
“Anyways, the General is really nice, promise, he knows I liked to watch you every day. When you
didn’t come back, I was sad.”
“You watched me?” Graham raised his brows.
“Yes. Everyday. It made me feel normal for a minute. Like I lived in a normal house again and could watch kids walk home from school like I used to do.”
Graham exhaled, “This is totally blowing my mind.”
“Yeah, it blew mine too.”
“Look, I gotta go, or my mom is going to send out a search party.” He reached down for his backpack that he had left behind.
She nodded, “OK. Will you come back?”
He chewed on his lip for a moment. Her eyes were hopeful, and she wasn’t some scary zombie faced gross out chick with burnt skin, she looked pretty normal. “Ok, but only if the General will stop scaring the crap out of me.”
She smiled. Her teeth were white and stuck out sharply in contrast to her dirty face. “Deal.” There was another large crash as a mirror landed on the ground. She sighed, turning around and shouting, “KNOCK IT OFF, JOEY!”
Graham checked to see that there was no large heavy objects above him before walking out the door.
She raced to the doorway and called out to him in the rain, “What’s your name!”
He turned around in the drizzle and called back, “Graham.”
“I’m Tyanne! Come back soon!”
He nodded, and trotted off in the rain towards home. He passed by the General’s statue. The bronze eyes followed him, much like a protective father staring down his daughter's new boyfriend.
“Be nice!” Graham reminded him.