I know I'm not supposed to walk through the construction site but I do anyway. It's the shortest way for me to get to school. Otherwise, I have to go a mile and a half out of my way and since I'm always late, cutting through the site saves me at least 15 minutes. That 15 minutes could mean the difference between Saturday detention and having a free weekend so I always do it. I usually get a ride home from my boyfriend so I don't have to do it in the afternoon but we are fighting again so I decide to walk home. I've had enough of that idiot and with college looming over me I'm wondering if I should break it off. I'm busy thinking and on auto-pilot so I don't realize I'm cutting until I'm already halfway through the site. It dawns on me that it's empty. I stop. That's weird for a construction site to be empty on a Thursday afternoon. I glance around a see a sign, "For safety reasons, construction has been halted until further notice. Do not enter.
Hm. I hadn't noticed that this morning. The gravel crunches under my feet as I continue. I don't go into the actual area they are working; I skirt around the edges. I should be fine. I think I hear something. There it is! A voice whispering from beneath the earth. I can't make out what they are saying. I attempt to follow the sound and find a large hole. I hear the voice again from the black abyss. The voice is out of breath but strong enough I can hear it. "Please, help me."
"Are you alright?!" I shouted back at it, peering into the darkness.
There're some gurgling noises, I think they are laughing at me. "Does it sound like I'm alright to you?" They fire back before becoming overwhelmed by a fit of coughing. It takes them a while before they are quiet enough for me to answer them.
"Not really, no. I'm guessing you could probably use some medical help." I sigh, unsure of what to do.
"That would be helpful if you can get to me. There was a cave-in. I'm pinned under some rocks. I think my leg is broken and something jabbed me in the ribs. It's hard to breathe." The voice answers. "I'm afraid to move too much."
I glance around the hole looking for something that might be helpful. "How on earth did you get down there? Why was there a cave-in? There are no tunnels down there. Are there?"
"So many questions, will you get me some damn help!" They try to sound angry but can't get enough air to make it sound forceful.
"Okay! I'll have to go home. The site is closed. I can't access the phone." I call down.
"No kidding. I'm the reason the site's closed. I reckon no one noticed I was gone when they shut down and left. Go call 911. I'll hang out down here." He chuckles and then groans with pain.
"Alright. I'll come back after I've made the call and keep you company until they arrive." I tell him.
"Thanks. I'd appreciate that. I'm glad you heard me. I've been calling out for hours." He responds.
I quickly make my way home and call 911. "911, what is your emergency?" The operator answers.
"Yes. Hello. My name is Kate and I was walking home through the construction site near Shadowbrook lane. I know I'm not supposed to but anyway, the reason I'm calling is there's a man that seems to have fallen down a hole. Or was trapped in a hole. I'm not exactly sure how he got down there, but there was a cave-in and he is pinned by the rocks. They fell on him and he needs medical attention." I explain to her.
"Are you talking about the construction on the manor at 666 Shadowbrook lane?" The operator asks for clarification.
"Yes. That's it. I was walking home from school and thought it was odd no one was working, then I saw the signs. He needs some help. Can you send someone? Please?"
"Of course. I'll send dispatch right away. Can you be there to direct them to the victim when they get there? They may need some help."
"Yes. I'm going back there. He seems a bit lonely, he's been there a while." I answer her.
"Alright. Thank you, Kate. Emergency medical services will be there soon. Hang tight. Try to keep his spirits up and keep him talking. Thank you for calling this in." She says and hangs up.
I hang up and head back out the door. Maybe I should bring some supplies? I go to our pantry and grab some bottles of water, some fruit and granola bars. I also grab a flashlight and wrap it in a towel so that when I throw it, it won't break. I grab an extra one for me. I hurry back to the site and to the hole.
"Hello! You still conscious down there?" I say cheerfully as I shine my light looking for signs of life. I see something red and wonder if its blood or a shirt. It doesn't move.
Finally, I get an answer. "I'm still here. The names Hank. What's yours?"
"Hi, I'm Kate. I brought back some water and snacks, but I'm not sure where you are. I know you can't move well so if I toss this down, I need to know more so you can reach it. I saw something red. Is that you?"
"Yep. I'm wearing a red flannel. You probably saw my shirt." I shine the light down there again and see the red move the tiniest bit. "If you aim for that, I should be able to reach what you throw."
"OK. Here I go." I aim and toss it down, the cloth bag bounces a little but lands squarely on the red cloth. What he doesn't know is I'm varsity softball so I have great aim.
I watch the bag move out of my eye line and Hank calls up, "Thanks for this. All of it." The flashlight turns on and I can see the beam moving throughout the hole.
"Did they say how long they would be?" Hank asks after a few minutes.
"No. I've been listening for the sirens. You know how far on the edge of town this is. Probably taking them a while to get here." I reply.
"Yeah. Thanks for calling them and coming back. I really do appreciate it. How old are you? You sound about my niece's age. She's 17, thinking about going to college."
"Yeah? I'm 18. Getting serious about college. I mean I still have half a year before I go, but I've started applying.
"Have any idea about what you want to do? Where you want to go?" Hank questions.
"I'll could go anywhere on a softball scholarship, but I have the grades too. I kind of have my heart set on Sarah Lawrence. Maybe Journalism or biology? I'm still a little confused about what I'm going to study, but the where. Yeah. Got that part covered. Tell me more about your niece."
"Oh, she's a smarty pants. Math elite, debate club, science club, national honor society. She wants to change the world through science. Lives out west in Washington state, near Seattle. I miss her. It's been too long since I've been back there. I travel with the circuit, following construction jobs around the country. A little bit of a crazy way to live, but the things I've seen more than make up for it." Hank tells me.
"Hey! I hear some sirens." I straighten up and strain to hear. They are definitely getting closer. "They must be close. Hang in there, Hank, we'll have you out soon enough. I'm greeted by silence. "Hank! Hank! Answer me!"
"Sorry, I blacked out for a second there. That's good to hear. After they get here you should go home, I don't want you to see the sorry state I'm in when I come out, Kate. I know it won't be pretty. Promise me, Kate. Please?" He begs.
"I'm not promising you anything." I see the ambulance. "I'm going to go get them. Be right back." The ambulance pulled up outside the construction site followed by the fire department and the cops. They cut the chain that locked the gates and opened it wide to allow everyone in. I had snuck through them. The EMS crew and some firefighters followed me on foot to the hole. "He's down there." I motion. "Hank, we're here!" I called down the dark hole. There was no answer. "I was talking to him right before you got here. He must have passed out again. I'm worried about him."
"We'll do what we can." The EMT says and gently pushes me out of the way.
They assessed the situation as the trucks arrived as close as they could get. A ladder was brought over as well as some floodlights from the site. Once those were turned on, I could clearly see Hank pushed up against the wall. His leg is at an odd angle surrounded by a pool of congealed blood. A sharp rock pressed against his side that was slick with his blood too. I have no idea how he survived all that. I stepped away to face the police department. Technically I was trespassing so they had to question me. I watched the whole scene as if it was a dream. Firefighters holding the ladder while 2 EMTs went down followed by a 3rd firefighter. More EMT's are sent down with a gurney and a headboard. I answered the cop's questions as best I could. He makes no promises about the charges, but as I was the one who called it in, I may have some lee-way.
Another EMT comes over to me. She must be in training because she doesn't seem to know what to do. "Are you hurt at all?" I shake my head. "What a traumatic experience this must be for you. Are you okay?"
It's kind of her to ask. "I feel fine right now. I think I'm a little numb actually."
"That's to be expected. Oh, here they come." As I watch they bring Hank up on the gurney covered in a blood-soaked sheet and strapped down. His leg is still sticking out at that odd angle. I thought they would have stabilized it in the hole before moving him. I move out of the way as they bring him to the ambulance, put him inside and close the door. The first gentleman who spoke to me saying they'd do what they could walks by me to the cops. I follow. Why did they just leave him in the back, shouldn't they be rushing him to the hospital? I want to scream at them, but instead, I listen in.
"Looks like he's a goner. officer. Been dead about 4 hours. It was probably an accident. No one knew he was down there when they blew the explosives causing the cave in. There was a room built down there, earth and wood. No way in or out except through that hole. Some of the wood was blasted at him, hit him in the chest. It looks like a tension pneumothorax. I'll leave that up to your investigation. You probably want to send someone down there to take a look at the scene." He relays the information to the police.
My mouth drops open. I'm not sure I'm understanding what he said. Hank has been dead all this time? How did I hear him yelling for help? How did I talk to him and see him grab the bag I threw at him? The flashlight? He told me about his niece in Washington. What is going on?
The EMT then comes over to me with another policeman. "Kate. Do you want to walk me through what happened again?"
I cannot process what the EMT said. I tell my story again. I'm not interrupted by questions this time. When I finish I turn to the EMT. "Are you saying that Hank is dead? That I made the whole thing up and was talking to a dead guy all this time?"
I'm starting to hyperventilate and he waves off the policeman. "Calm down, Kate." He pulls out a paper bag for me to breath into. "I never said you made it up. You were talking to someone. How else would you have known someone was down there? I saw what you saw. A very dark hole full of rocks, dirt, and wood shards. I shined my light down there and saw that patch of red too. Only when the floodlights were turned on were we able to see the whole picture. I don't think you made it up." He says softly, reassuring me. I can tell he believes me.
I calm down enough to process. "Are you really sure he's dead?" I ask my eyes wide. The EMT nods. "Can I see him? He told me about his niece in Washington. I feel like I know the guy. I'd like to say goodbye."
"Of course." He takes my hand and leads me to the ambulance where they have moved Hank into a black coroner's bag and zipped him up. He helps me into the ambulance and unzips the top part so I can see Hank's face and nothing more. It's nice and weathered like someone who works in the sun a lot. He doesn't look very old though, maybe my Dad's age. I find a tear slips out. "I'll give you a minute." He hops down out the back and gently closes the door so it stays propped open.
"Hey, Hank," I say as I let the tears fall freely. "It's Kate. So, I guess you died down there. I'm sorry about that. I wish I'd come sooner and maybe that wouldn't have happened." I give a sniffle.
"It's alright, Kate. You tried." I give a little shriek of fright and surprise and turn to see Hank standing next to me.
The EMT rushes back to me. "Are you alright?" He asks concerned.
"The body moved. It startled me is all. I know they can do that, but I didn't expect it. Sorry. Give me a little bit more time? I promise I'm alright." I give him the best innocent face I have. It usually works on grown-ups.
He eyes me warily but gives me a nod. "5 more minutes then you have to go. This is a crime scene, so don't touch anything!" He warns.
I give a nod and he closes the door again. I turn to the spot I saw Hank in a moment ago. He's still there. "Sorry, I frightened you. I take it you're new to this gig." He says sheepishly.
"What do you mean, Hank? New to this gig? I don't have a gig. I've never seen a ghost before in my life, let alone talked to one." I say through clenched teeth. "Are you real?"
"As real as you... well that analogy won't work now will it." He says with a laugh. "Yes. I'm real. I'm a ghost. I knew no one would find my body without help so that's all I wanted. Someone to find me. I heard you walking around up there and I thought what the heck, might as well give it a try. And you heard me! I have one teensy favor to ask." He pulls a folded envelope from his flannel shirt and holds it out to me.
I reach for it. It's solid. My fingers brush against his solid but transparent ones. He's so cold. I give a shiver. "I can touch you?" I say in awe then unfold the letter. It's addressed to Maggie Stevens in Washington. "This is for your niece isn't it?" He nods. "You want me to make sure she gets it?" He nods again.
"Please. She's the only thing I give a damn about in this world. I want her to have it. It will help her make it to her dream school, Stanford. God knows her sorry excuse for a mother can't afford it." He sighs. "Sorry, got off a bit of a tangent there. But yes. Could you please make sure she gets that? Please?" He looks so forlorn, probably because he's semi-transparent and I know I'll do it. I'll help him out.
"Sure, Hank. You got it. I'll send it special delivery, Fed-ex." I promise him.
"Thank you, Kate. I knew you were the right person for the job. I'll put in a good word for you upstairs. Hopefully, you won't be seeing any more of us around, but if you do. Just know we need some help." He reaches out and touches my cheek. An icy rush of frigid air makes me shiver again, even though it's almost summer.
He starts to fade away, "Goodbye, Hank. It was nice to meet you." I say to the empty air.
The EMT knocks on the doors of the ambulance. "You ready?" I refold the envelope and tuck it into the back pocket of my jeans.
"Yes, thanks..." I say, hoping he didn't see me do that and wondering what his name is. He's kind of hot. Actually, he's way hotter than my maybe current boyfriend and I had been thinking of breaking up with him anyway.
"Aaron. My name is Aaron. It was nice to meet you, Kate. Did I hear you talking to Hank like he was still here with us?" He asks as he helps me down from the truck.
"Yeah. I feel like he might be." I say with a smile.
"Sometimes, I feel that way too." He bites his lip and smiles. He has an adorable dimple. "Maybe I'll be seeing you around? I mean I hope it's not in this capacity or if you need an emergency or anything like that." It tumbles out awkwardly and I can't help by smile again. "I just mean it would be nice to see you around is all."
"I'd like that, Aaron," I say with a twinkle in my eye. "I'd like that a lot."