First off, It is pretty important that you read the story itself before reading this, just a word of warning. Also, there is some strong language contained in this, nothing that would put it out of the PG13 range, but still it is there, and may offend some. Also, there are a few bits that are kind of sad... so, read at your own risk.
Writing “The Haunting of Westerbrook Hospital” was a fairly complicated process, at least for me. I was looking for inspiration to continue writing, and one of the many voices from the comments for a Kickstarter project I backed, chimed in asking if I could write something for her. Originally she asked for something set in the 1800’s and I honestly wish I had saved the complete and utter clusterfuck that turned into… Honestly, I would call it the worst writing I have ever done, and considering my personal belief that everything I write is utter crap, that says a lot. After a little more prodding, she decided on a ghost story, which incidentally is something I had always wanted to try my hand at, but never got around to. With the basic theme down, the next step was to come up with a character, a setting, and a series of rules.
For me, coming up with a character is one of the more interesting aspects of writing a story. The character acts as your audience’s eyes and ears in the world you are crafting, thus I feel there is a need to imbue them with a certain “Everyman-ness”. However, there is also a desire to make them unique, and differentiate them from the masses. So I feel every character sort of walks a fine line between “Unique” and “Everyman”. In the original story, the character of Maeve was just a particularly skeptical everyman character. In my mind, I could see her, but I did not feel it necessary to describe her outright. I think too much description of the primary character chips away at that Everyman characteristic.
Her name was also something that gave me a lot of fun. From the image of her I had in my head, I knew she had red hair, and glasses, so when it came to coming up with a name, I decided I wanted something that was Irish. Whenever I am looking to name a character, I first consider their heritage. Then I seek out a website that tells the meaning behind the name. A lot of the time, my characters are named based on a character trait that I see as their defining characteristic. I like to think a name has a lot of power to really describe a character without really describing the character. I looked at a number of Irish names, and rejected a lot because I didn’t like their meaning. Maeve struck a chord not for the meaning, necessarily, but because it was the name of a mythological queen. Also, I could not find an Irish name that meant “cynical bitch”… Odd that doesn’t seem to exist.
The other key component of a ghost story is the setting. A ghost story that takes place on a beach in the middle of a sunny day just doesn’t have the right feel. So, Once more I did some thinking, and decided to base my setting around one of the creepiest buildings I have ever been to, The Waverly Hills hospital in Louisville, Ky. The hospital I created is not a carbon copy of Waverly, only inspired by it. There are similar traits, and similar bits of history, but they are not equivalent buildings. I found having a basic idea in mind helped to shape the reality of the building in my brain. The next step was naturally naming the hospital… Sadly, there is no amusing story about the name, I was just writing, and it popped into my head.
The most interesting aspect of the story was the rules, and the ghosts, though. I remember watching The Sixth Sense, and being intrigued by the rules M. Night created to help govern his movie. While my rule is not nearly as subtle as his “red means ghosts” bit, I thought I had a fairly simple concept. In Westerbrook Hospital, if you want to survive, you need to shut your damn mouth. We’ll get into that more in a little bit… First I need to discuss the ghosts themselves.
First, there was the Shadowman. He was the primary ghost that keeps showing up to torment Maeve. His story is actually told as a sort of offhand comment in the main narrative. He was a patient that went mad due the hopelessness of his situation, as well as the disease. He killed several people before he was finally sedated. Unlike most patients in the hospital, he didn’t die in a depression, he died in a blinding rage, strapped to his bed and unable to escape. His afterlife is a continuation of his madness. He seeks only to drag others down into his personal hell. Before he died, he saw a patient walking down the hall, and his final words were “Join…us.” Before he coughed up blood on the nurse holding him down, and died. His victims at the hospital join his legions of the damned.
Next there is the Ghost Nurse. She’s seen briefly, and helps to briefly establish the need for quiet when she shushes Maeve. Her story is also told very briefly in the narrative itself. She was a nurse who hung herself in the showers on the fifth floor. She died feeling lost, but is a nurse at heart, and even in death, her goal is to keep people alive. She tries to warn Maeve of the danger of excessive noise.
There is also the homeless man and his dog. He also attempts to warn Maeve of the dangers of noise. He was just a hapless man who sought shelter from a particularly bad storm one night. The hospital was massive, and he decided to explore a bit. He took a wrong turn, and fell down into an open elevator shaft. As he plummeted to his death, he tried to cushion the fall for his dog, holding him tight, and using his body to give his best friend a chance to live. The man died on impact, but his dog survived, but refused to leave, and ended up dying close to his only friend in life. Their goal is to make sure that no one has to die in the hospital alone.
Final major player is the Creeper. Not much is known about him. It is thought that he might be like the Shadowman, and died in a fit of insanity. Others believe that he might have been a victim of medical experimentation. He is mostly harmless, operating on the whims of the Shadowman, trying to scare intruders, and make them make even more noise, thus bringing the Shadowman closer to another victim.
There is one last ghost, that no one ever actually sees, and he is known simply as Bobby. Bobby was a young boy who contracted the disease, and died alone, with only the nurses to keep him company and hold his hand as he died. In life, he was a bit of a practical joker, hiding things, moving things, anything he could do to amuse himself. He managed to keep fairly high spirits with the help of his nurses, but now in death, he still likes to play tricks on visitors to the hospital
So back to the whole being quiet to stay alive thing. I decided to go that route, because I thought of it as a “Do not disturb the dead” sort of thing. Leave the dead to rest and they will let you live. I thought it was a simple enough concept that I would be able to get it across without too many contrivances, but it would still be interesting enough that it wouldn’t come off as a half-assed thing. I wanted it to be something that could be easily conveyed by helpful spirits, but not in such a way that it felt like I was beating the reader over the head with it… I think I managed pretty well.
The only other question to answer is… What happened to all the bodies?
… Well, there are still some secrets left in Westerbrook.
Any questions I didn’t answer here? Comments? Leave them below!