For the summer of 2009 I worked in a Royal Infirmary, a fancy name for a hospital; there I met Andrew. I temped as a receptionist for the X-Ray department, answering the phone and doing gofer jobs when someone was covering; that someone was Andrew.
We had one of those Cisco phones with the green LCD displays, like the ones from the show 24. When the phone rang you’d see the incoming number and, if it was from an internal department, the name. This helped a lot preparing to forward the calls to the radiologists and other staff.
A couple of days into the job, a call came in. Andrew sat to my right, watching me. He was charged with my training, and that morning reassured me that I was doing a great job. As the phone rang, he placed his hand over the receiver and told me not to pick up. 159611 appeared on the screen, but no department name.
I asked him what was wrong. He waited until the ringing stopped. He told me the 159 extension came from the old Children’s ward building, that the wiring was still in place and in the process of being decommissioned.
“Don’t you think that’s a little weird?” I asked.
“Yeah, but maintenance said it could happen, the wiring is decades old.”
I didn’t think much of it and continued my work, and over the next few weeks got in the groove and was left to my own devices.
On a Friday evening, as I was packing up, I heard the phone ring and saw the same number, 159611 connect. I hesitated at first, but being curious, I answered. I remember my heart fluttered in my chest, it was exciting. I heard a hum and asked if there was anyone there. Static stuttered through the earpiece and just as I brought it away from me, I swear I heard something, it sounded like playtime. I asked again, all I heard was the low hum.
“Ready to leave?” Andrew said, joining me on the other side of the reception desk.
“Yeah,” I said, a little vacant, my mind elsewhere.
“I think so,” I replied, slipping on my coat.
He walked me through the building and to the entrance where my mum waited in the car. I was glad he did. A hospital after hours can be an eerie enough place as it is, hearing the beeps of machinery, walking through deserted corridors, sometimes bumping into patients walking with drips connected to cannulas in their hands. Walking past those people always made me shudder, like someone walked over my grave. It’s the semi-permanent pipe that’s attached directly to the blood supply that makes my skin crawl.
Andrew was walking off when I called back, “I answered the phone.”
“I hope you did,” he said smiling over his shoulder, “that’s your job.”
“No, I mean the 159 number.”
He stopped and turned around.
“So, what did you hear?”
“It’s the wiring,” he stated matter-of-factly.
“I know it sounds stupid. I heard something else.”
“Like someone said playtime.”
“Hmph, I thought it was more like play nice. See you on Monday.”
And with that he left.
To say I barely slept that evening was an understatement. I had never looked forward to work as much as I did that weekend. When Monday rolled around, I arrived half an hour early, hoping to talk to Andrew before my shift started. I didn’t see him that day. Every time the phone rang my heart skipped a beat, but it was only mundane calls about resupplies, transfers and wrong numbers. I didn’t see him on Tuesday either. Wednesday evening, just before I was due to finish, he greeted me on the other side of the reception desk with a bunch of keys.
“You want to know where that number comes from?”
“What are they?”
“Keys for the old ward.”
“How did you get them?”
“I knew where they were. We don’t have long, you stay there. What’s your mobile number?”
I gave it to him and he called me.
“Great, I’ll phone when I get there, and we can work this out.”
I was so excited. The reception phone rang a couple of times and I did my best to answer them as soon as possible, wanting to keep the line clear.
I felt my phone vibrate. I was a little nervous, knowing I wasn’t allowed to take personal calls. It was 5:25, I only had five minutes left on the job.
“I’m outside the building. The door’s chained up.”
My shoulders deflated. I heard Andrew rattle the chains.
“Don’t worry,” he soothed.
I heard him pant, then the sound of a door unlocking.
“Awesome, I’m through the side entrance.”
“What do you see?”
“It’s quite dark. Luckily it’s still light outside.”
He shuffled and breathed into the phone.
“Man, this is a little creepy,” he said, “like they’ve removed all the expensive equipment, but there’s medical supplies and books all over the place. It’s like it’s been looted.”
“Could it be maintenance?”
“I guess, but they’re fucking messy bastards if it is.”
He didn’t say anything for a while. My mind conjured up images of an abandoned mental asylum, the cliché wheelchair in the middle of the corridor blocking his way.
“It’s getting a little dark. It’s okay, I have a torch. Whoa. There’s children’s finger paintings on the walls. Hang on, I see a phone.”
Moments later the desk phone lit up, 159601.
“159601,” I said, and he hung up.
“One down, don’t know how many more.”
“Where are you right now?”
“Shhh!” he whispered, “I think I heard something.”
I stayed quiet.
“Jesus, this is freaking me out. I swear I heard foot steps outside the room.”
His breathing was laboured. I heard him take deep breaths and one after another, he calmed himself.
“I’m in some sort of office. The filing cabinets are open and there’s paper everywhere. You’d think they’d take care of their data. I hope these aren’t patient records.
“I’m moving now. I’m in a corridor, there’s rooms to the left and right. The glass is frosted, I can’t see in.”
“Can you try your keys?”
“I don’t know if I want to,” he said, letting out a nervous laugh, “I’ll do one of them, left or right?”
“Left,” I said.
I heard him fumble for his keys, the sound of impotent clicks.
I saw a radiologist walk past, I quickly put my phone on the desk and smiled pleasantly.
“Evening, Sarah,” he said, looking at his watch, “shouldn’t you be off?”
“In a moment, just finishing up,” I replied nervously.
I picked the phone back up.
“Sorry, someone just walked past. I had to put the phone down.”
I heard his breathing again.
“There’s someone here, or I am going fucking crazy,” he whispered.
“I’m not sure. There’s a bed in here, the mattress is disgusting. Now that can’t be how it was left, the rubber sheets would stop that from getting dirty. It must have happened after the place was shut.”
“Wasn’t the door locked?”
“It’s probably from before. You don’t know how lazy the orderlies were,” I said, being the rational one.
Andrew’s voice had lost the enthusiasm it had when he set out only twenty minutes earlier.
“There’s a phone next to me, I’m going to be quiet.”
The phone rang, 159629.
“159629,” I whispered.
“Fuck, there is someone here,” Andrew stuttered.
“What do you mean?”
“I can hear something from where I came in.”
“Is there another way out?”
“I don’t know, I’m going to run.”
My hands grew clammy as I heard him race down the corridor. I heard door handles refuse to budge.
“Shit, shit, shit!” he said, his breathing heavy.
“Do you want me to call someone?”
“No, I’ll be fine, I can see light. I must be getting close to the back of the building.”
I waited anxiously for him to reply. Then another door handle. Then Andrew laughing.
“Is everything okay?”
He continued to laugh.
“I freaked myself out something chronic. I ran into what seems to be a recreation area. There’s toys all over the place, teddy bears, and one of those wooden train sets. Shit.”
He went silence again.
“I’ll laugh about this later, I promise, but I can hear noises everywhere. I think I’ve got one,” he said somewhat excited, “I’m going to ring.”
“159611, I think you’ve found it!” I said, standing up enthusiastically.
“Can you hear the hum?”
“I don’t know if that’s worse,” he said giggling.
“I’m going to get out of here.”
He hung up the phone.
“Oh Jesus,” he said anxiously.
“The door won’t open.”
The phone rang again, 159611.
“You don’t need to phone again.”
“I haven’t,” he said, as I heard him frantically pull at the handle.
I brought the receiver to my ear. That familiar hum greeted me.
“Stop messing around, Andrew,” I said, beginning to feel scared.
“I swear I’m not messing you around, I cannot get out.”
He didn’t respond. Just more panicked sounds of him trying to open the door.
“What?!” he snapped.
“159611 has called again.”
“It’s just the god damn wiring,” he said, clearly getting more angry.
“He…hey little buddy,” he said, his voice quiet and on edge, “yo… you want to play?”
“What’s happening?” I asked.
“There’s a little kid in here with me. He’s holding the phone. Don’t say anything to scare him.”
Through the earpiece I heard again, “Playtime.”
“Yes, it’s playtime,” I replied.
“Give him one of the teddy bears,” I suggested.
“Is this what you want?”
Andrew laughed. That way people laugh when they’d just survived a close call.
“He took it, thank fuck for that,” Andrew said.
“Is there any other way to get out?”
“You don’t want that one? That’s okay, there’s plenty more. What about this one? Or the trainset? Trains are fun, right?”
“Please, don’t hurt me! Please!”
He didn’t respond.
The static stuttered in.
“Don’t hurt him,” I pleaded.
Hushed, as if from the distance, I heard the word, “Playtime.”
The sounds of Andrew screaming still haunt me to this day. The desperate sounds of someone experiencing the last moments of their life. His phone didn’t disconnect. Not even when I called for help. I held my phone to my ear, hearing those labored breaths before they stopped completely.
By the time they had broken through the chains in the front of the building it was too late. Andrew was nowhere to be found. The official statement blamed me for hoaxing the call, costing the hospital thousands in emergency call out charges. I lost my job.
I phoned Andrew’s number every hour of every day, always receiving his voicemail, until one day, a week later, I was told this number is no longer available.
You may be asking why I have decided to post this now. To be honest, I had done a good job not thinking about it for the last ten years. I had a call today, I didn’t answer in time and it went to voicemail.
I’ve been staring at the number for the last hour or so.
I’m too scared to listen to it.