Crofton Court

 

The move to the agency last year from the security of a permanent job had been a success. No more sleepless nights worrying about things over which he had no control. The mortgage was paid, Ann was gone. An amicable divorce emotionally and financially.  At 55, single again, comfortably solvent he decided his health came first. Work with the agency was steady and optional. His stress levels had dropped. Gordon was enjoying life again.

His phone pinged!  Text from the agency.

Sleepover, Crofton Court residential drug rehab, this evening at eight. Double time. Sort out the paperwork in the week. Interested?

Sunday evening, he imagined coming home early Monday settling for a lazy day whilst the world was careering into a new week. It appealed yes, he was interested. The money would also be handy.

The building appeared generally uncared for. In the soft evening breeze, the last of sun on the lofty perimeter wall highlighted areas where mortar had long disappeared. Heavily rusted hinges held thick wooden gates, their bottom quarters covered in grass and weeds suggesting they’d long been unable to serve their purpose. Above the front door of the substantial building the faded wooden sign, that creaked as it swung, confirmed this was Crofton Court.

The doorbell button felt loose and broken, he was therefore surprised by the sudden response. The  appearance of the woman that contradicted his opinion about the bell. A tight jeaned figure in a baggy jumper, possibly mid-thirties, strong black hair pulled back in a pony tail and friendly blue eyes.

“Can I help you?” A hint of an Irish lilt.

“Hi, I’m Gordon, I’m from the agency, for the sleepover.”

“Oh yes come in. I’m Mary, by the way,” she replied, proffering her hand.

 

Over a coffee Mary explained that the unit had been open for ten years. Built in the 1890’s originally as a large family home it was bequeathed to an order of nuns for use as a convent in the 1920’s. When TB was rife many of the nuns trained to be nurses and it was turned into Crofton Hospital for children smitten with the illness. The nuns also provided spiritual and emotional support to the families as well as the medical support to their patients. There were lots of concerns about how contagious TB was at the time, so diagnosis sadily often meant little or no further contact with families for the children. The nuns became like surrogate parents to the poor souls as they spent their final days otherwise isolated. The place closed in the 1950’s.

“That’s the past, it was empty for many years before we bought it and we’ve done up the top two floors. We still have work to do on the ground floor where the staff quarters are. There were ten individual rooms, five on each of the two floors. We turned them into 8 en-suites. We only finished the final one a couple of months ago and we’re due to start work on the ground floor soon.”

“Usually this is when I’d introduce you to the residents but they’re on the way back from a weekend in Cornwall and I’ve just had word to say the van has broken down. Gordon you’ve struck lucky, a quiet night I would imagine,” she smiled teasing.

“It’s after nine now so if you fancy another coffee to keep me company a while that would be helpful.  As you’re on a sleeping nightshift the night’s your own unless there is any crisis which is unlikely. So you’ll be undisturbed. The sleeping room is number two, bottom of the corridor on the right. Oh! And you need to be up for seven to help me set up breakfast assuming the residents get home.

Feeling obliged, Gordon participated in a drink before going to bed.

Just after ten he closed the door, the room was hushed, an oasis of peace after the bombardment of information from a friendly but very chatty Mary. The room had a monastic feel, intricate bulky cornice surrounded the high brown stained and white ceiling. What he imagined to be the original dark wooden panels from the floor upwards encased the room and tweaked his mild tendency to claustrophobia. In the far corner there was a chunky old-fashioned sink with grotesque taps. However, the water warmed quickly, and he felt refreshed as he washed his face. The towel smelt stale, returning it to the rail by the sink he used his own from the bag on the bed.

He slipped of his shoes, experience had taught him, that no matter how unexpected, situations did arise, so he remained dressed in his joggers and sweater. Pillows tucked behind him he to settled into his book. He was distracted from it becoming aware of the large white, possibly marble, crucifix looming high on the wall facing his bed end. A stark feature against the dark unrenovated panelling. He found himself drawn by it, staring up trying to ascertain how specific the facial features of the Christ upon were.

Immersed by an atmosphere of lethargy emanating from his surroundings, a gentle intoxication encouraging a slow, silent undressing from the world, a yearning to be never again disturbed. The quilt took on a luxurious comforting aura of physical softness, withdrawing any inclination to pull it back even if he had strength to remove it, he drifted to sleep.

Something gently brushed his brow. He raised his hand only to have it grasped by a child’s. A voice breathed across his face.

“I love you George I’m going to miss you so much, don’t be afraid because I am taking you to good place son, God is waiting to take you in his arms.”

Initially confused by the intensity of his dream he found himself intoxicated again by the same earlier atmosphere and settled to sleep.

A warm breath caressed his cheek, it felt like a small child’s head nestled between his throat and shoulder. It whispered a weak message.

“I don’t want to go, it’s not my time yet, save me, save me,” a boy’s voice pleaded, fading with each repetition.

Startled by the vividness, his hand searched. Nothing. All was peaceful apart from occasional distant aged creaks from old floors. Sleep returned.

This time his hand was being pulled urgently, “hold me, hold me don’t let her take me “a child’s soft sob, wet lips spread saliva on his neck, the pleading voice now but a faint utterance. All went quiet and his hand was released, he put on the light he, the action ensuring to him he was awake. But then the light went out.

In the darkness there was weight on his chest pinning him to the bed. A piercing light beamed from the crucifix, the figure of a nun astride him forcing her hand over his mouth. It smelt of incense. He twisted and pushed frantically as his breath began to drain.  His heart was thumping as he fought for his life and then.

His phone alarm woke him. It was six thirty. It was Monday and the birds were warming their throats for the dawn chorus. He felt like someone had taken his brain out slapped it around and put in back in whilst it was still shaking. He struggled to get his bearings.

Mary was already up, he could smell coffee.

“Gordon, you look terrible.” she continued as she poured him a coffee. “I’m going to take a guess that something unsavoury happened during the night.”

Gordon began to explain. Mary stopped him.

“Listen, room two was the death room when this was the TB hospital. It meant patients didn’t have to be carried downstairs when dead in sight of others. Most of the staff sleep in there and are completely unaffected. A couple myself being one have experienced what I think you may be going to tell me.

“Grab your coffee, we’ve a little time before breakfast, come along to the office with me. When we were refurbishing we found a small hidden closet in each of the rooms. All but one was empty and in that one we found a chest with the belongings for a Sister Vincent. John the other member who had the experience have named her perhaps a little cruelly the Sister of Death.”

Mary lifted the small chest from the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet, opened it and removed a black leather diary. Then read the following entry for 13th October 1933.

George Patience aged seven was moved to room two late in the afternoon. George is deteriorating rapidly. Father God there was so much pain in that room, the child was clinging to what? There was no future here, time for him to give up his space to end his struggle to come to you. I softly smothered him with his pillow, so little fight. A glorious rest for him. I will tell the parents in the morning it was a peaceful death and that he passed in his sleep. Father forgive me, I know he like many has gone before their time, rebuke me not for him for arriving early.

“That is the last entry in the diary, we found it with earlier diaries also containing numerous entries recording similar acts. Other personal things, a ring, a crucifix, rosary beads, birth certificate and a death certificate dated 14th Oct 1933. Age at death 72, the cause of death was given as exhaustion. It seems unlikely that anyone ever read the entries or if they did decide to slip them away in the closet. Cover up in today’s terminology

“We think the room hold’s unsettled spirits gone before God planned that they will never be at peace and a repentant Sister Vincent still wrestles to comfort them as a justification of her sins.  George would appear to have been the last of the line and perhaps comes back to speak for all the lost souls.

“Does that kind of explain what was happening to you in the night?”

Gordon nodded his head whilst re-assuring himself this was the first and last sleepover at Crofton Court.

 

Don Russell     1/5/2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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