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Paddy

I really hated my part time job. Hated with a passion. So when I found one with a tourism association, I was ecstatic. Working on a small island and telling people about an important part of history truly appealed to me. Yeah…that didn’t last. I thought tourism rhymed with fun and sightseeing; I didn’t expect it to rhyme with terror.

I get scared easily and I didn’t know how much until I set foot on the two square miles’ island. It was known for its history; during close to one hundred years starting in the 1830s, about thirty thousand immigrants were quarantined to make sure they wouldn’t propagate illnesses to the Province of Canada population. Nearly seventy-five hundred people had died from cholera and typhus fever and were buried on the small island.

Here I was, freshly done with another college year, ready to work and let the world know about this dark side of history. That didn’t happen either; I was sent to work to the gift shop after my initial visit of the island. Every employee had to know the basics of Grosse-Île in case a tourist had questions.

So I dutifully visited the island from A to Z: the disinfection building (which looked awfully like the WWII gas chambers), the barracks for the healthy passengers, the churches, and the Celtic cross erected in the deceased’s memories. The hospital left me speechless, a shiver of horror blended with disgust going down my spine. The smell was like nothing I’d ever experienced before; a mixture of turpentine, death, and wax. Of course, the area had been cleaned a thousand times over since the last patients were there; the island hadn’t been used for quarantine since the early 1900s.

I walked around along with tourists, learning about the Irish’s fate in this hospital. So many had died from the different illnesses and I felt like I was being watched; not by the other visitors, but by the dead. I ran my fingers along the wooden posts, reading the names in my mind: Sullivan, O’Gallagher, Ahearn, Brady. The list was never ending and many left a trace behind, if not their family.

The tour ended with a visit to the cemeteries. Plural. There was one for the adults; it was bumpy and crevassed, as many a coffin had been piled one atop the other, only separated by lime. The other cemetery left a taste of bile in my mouth; it was a field of small white crosses, the land filled with the bodies of children killed by illnesses. It was a sight I would never forget.

When I finally returned to my post at the gift shop that day, I was in a daze. I worked like a robot, mechanically scanning the tourists’ items as they bought souvenirs. I kept thinking about the names I had seen, putting faces on those long gone people.

Being on an island, we workers depended on the weather to have tasks. If the weather was inclement, the ferry wouldn’t cross; so, no ferry, no work. Those days, we’d go explore the island, mostly the spots that weren’t accessible to the public. That day during the breakfast meeting, I was told about Paddy.

Young Patrick MacGuire had crossed the Atlantic with his family; sadly, he was the only survivor of the cholera epidemic brought over with the ship. The Great Famine claimed many an Irishman and among them, all of Patrick’s siblings and his parents. The boy was orphaned at only five years old and had no one in the world. The island’s doctor and his wife took a liking to him and decided to adopt him and bring him to the city once the summer was over.

But Paddy never made it to the city.

Being the newly adopted son of the good doctor, he was allowed almost everywhere on the island. Unfortunately for him, cholera caught up to him and he died a few months after his family, claimed by Death as if she’d given him a chance at life he didn’t take. He was buried alongside his family with the tweed hat the doctor’s wife had sewn for him.

The story chilled me to the bone. I felt so sad for the little boy but there was nothing I could do but send him a loving thought, wherever he was. Everyone carried on with what they enjoyed on off days; reading, watching a movie, hiking in the rain. I chose to stay in my cell, which was what we called our rooms since they smelled like old musty prison cells.

It rained all day long, but finally, the clouds cleared up and the sun made an appearance just before dusk. That’s when my colleague knocked on my door, offering a little evening hike. Having been inside all day, I said yes quickly, needing some fresh air. I changed into hiking appropriate clothes, boots, and found my frontal flashlight.

Night finally came. We had to wait until it was dark because even if we could go anywhere we weren’t supposed to; we’d been told many houses weren’t safe, that the floors were rotting and the inner walls could crumble. We didn’t care and went anyway.

We made our way up to the protestant church since one of the girls enjoyed singing there, then headed back down the cliff to the doctor’s house. It still hadn’t been renovated so was off limits to tourists; it wasn’t off limits to us.

Oh, what a bad idea.

As soon as we climbed the porch stairs, I knew something was off. The breeze suddenly turned cold and the birds perched on the roof quieted down. I wanted to go home right then and there but didn’t want to pass off as a wuss. So I pushed inside.

The scent of the house was horrible. Rotting wood, rat carcasses, and invading roots and plants all mixed together. That, along with what I’d felt a few minutes before should’ve been enough for me to leave. But no. We decided to separate; each of us had a room to explore. We wrote down all there was to see and I pulled out Paddy’s bedroom and the kitchen.

I started with the kitchen; as I expected, there was nothing but old cutlery and dishes, and a few empty bottles of whiskey. The only thing I found that I felt was worthy was an old cookbook. I slipped it in my backpack, then carefully made my way upstairs.

My friends were already there, each in the room they had picked. Paddy’s bedroom was at the end of the hall so I avoided creaky floorboards, treading slowly. The door seemed to be locked; I jiggled the knob and finally managed to get inside. The room was dark, the curtains still closed after all this time. I surveyed my surroundings with my frontal flashlight, seeing nothing amiss; it was simple boy’s bedroom. A twin bed in one corner, a few shelves with dust piling up, and an abandoned wooden trunk garnished the room. Curious, I went to the closet door; I found it strange that it was closed, as all other closets and cupboards were open.

Expecting it to be stuck, I pulled the handle hard. Too hard. Bad idea. I fell back on my butt with a few expletives flying in the air. The door had come off its hinges but fortunately hadn’t fallen on top of me. The sight before me froze me on the spot; all of Paddy’s clothes were still there, neatly folded or hung. A large faded plush bear sat on a shelf and a small locomotive was placed beside it. However long a time Paddy had lived with the doctor and his wife, the boy had been love like he’d been their own child.

With a deep breath, I stood and went to the closet. I grazed my fingers on the bear, then on the dusty train. “I’m so sorry, Paddy,” I finally murmured.

“Why are ya sorry, Ma’am?”

The words sent a cold shiver down my spine. Then I remembered my colleague loved to do impressions. I yelled you to him, “Shut up, Mike! It’s not funny!” Then, I remembered something else: Mike wasn’t working this weekend and had taken the last ferry the night before.

My mouth agape, I turned around slowly. My light bathed the room and I came face to face with him; Paddy was staring at me with sunken eyes, his tweed hat crooked on his head. He wavered and floated closer to me, his arm raised. “Hello, Ma’am! Me name’s Paddy. What’s yers?”

The voice was disembodied but still one of a child. His skin had shrunk, some of it was peeling; many cholera victims had suffered the same fate. I couldn’t move as he approached like my feet were stuck in the mud.

“I’m… I’m… Charlie,” I stuttered. “What do you want, Paddy?”

“I wants to play. Will ya play wit’ me?”

I couldn’t help but nod even if all I wanted was to get out of there. I was mesmerized by the apparition and watched him fetch his little train. He tried to pick it off the shelf but he was too short. He asked for my help but instead of going to him, I shook my head. “I’m sorry, Paddy, I can’t. I have to go,” I replied, my throat tight from fear.

He frowned and suddenly, it felt like all the air had been sucked from the room. His sweet yet emaciated face turned from joyous to angry. He looked like he was taking a breath and screamed, rushing toward me. I tried to run but the door slammed in my face. I pressed my back against the wall, watching the boy come up to me.

He crawled up my legs and clung on to me like a koala. If you ever imagined holding a koala or have actually done it, this was nothing like it. Paddy wasn’t corporeal; he was like a mass of wet air; ice cold and gelatinous. His small hand splayed on my cheek and he said in a scrawny voice, “Play wit’ me!”

This time, I pushed him and screamed. So loud that he screamed along with me as he was slammed back against the other wall. I almost ripped the doorknob, this time, running down the stairs. I missed a few steps, hearing some of the floorboards breaking.

Once outside, I jumped off the porch, hunching over to try and breathe. My colleagues swiftly joined me, asking if I was okay. I nodded, panting, then looked up. My heart dropped. Paddy had managed to push the curtains aside and was staring at me through the window.

“Do you see him?” I shakily asked my friends.

None responded positively when they looked to the window, inquiring about what I’d seen. When I explained, none of them believed me, saying I invented everything to get attention. They went back inside the house while I glance up to the window again.

Paddy waved at me, smiling.

I walked back to my “cell-room” and the next morning, I quit my new job.

Credit: CM Peters

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Creepy Pasta

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Paddy

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