|The Rose Files
True Scary Stories from Life
| “Key 13” Or, a Visit to the Morgue
~ Rose Titus ~
When I was nineteen, one of my first jobs was as a nurse’s aid. I first worked
at a nursing home, the type of which is inhabited by elderly and handicapped
people suffering from various sad ailments including dementia and worse. I am
sad to say I often went home and cried as my car pulled up into my driveway.
Perhaps the saddest part of working in the nursing home was that a large
percentage of the other staff was of the type that, quite frankly, didn’t give a
damn about the comfort of the elderly in their last years. Stealing from patients,
neglect, verbal abuse, and worse, was not uncommon. If one tried to report
things, one could find one’s tires slashed.
Because of that, and because they paid so little, after about a year and a half
I went to work at a state hospital. I shall not name this state hospital, so as to
not give it a worse reputation than it already has. The state hospital, despite
having an unclean reputation, was a far, far better place for a disabled person
to exist than the run for profit nursing home. The much older building was
cleaner – except for a few cockroaches -- almost odor free, and more
importantly, I found that most, but certainly not all, of the staff were relatively
The state hospital held a variety of physically and mentally disabled patients,
and many were extremely sad cases. There was one who had been homeless,
living under a bridge due to mental illness, and now he was confined to a
wheelchair and only able to say a few words. Although he now had nothing but
the faded “johnny” he wore along with the socks on his feet, he did get a clean
bed and three decent meals a day. The staff treated him kindly, although, like
many patients, he was given a humorous nickname. In other words, the poor
guy was lucky to be there. And since he could only manage a few words, each
and every time he was approached by staff, he would declare, “No money! I
don’t got no money!” And so we called him, “Mr. No Money!”
There was also the sometimes pleasant, but more often downright scary,
schizophrenic who, I was told, tried to ax murder his parents. He tried to escape
once, but could not find his way out on his own, and we didn’t help him. So, he
Then there was the even scarier violent mental patient who called everyone
he saw by the “N-word,” even if you were white.
There was the insane blind man who always wanted to kill me, even though I
was nice to him. He kept trying to strangle me, screaming, “I’m going to kill you!
I’m going to break your f---ing neck!” I had to get close enough to spoon feed
him, however, so I needed to think of a way to keep him from killing me. There
was always a cart filled with sheets and pillowcases, so I wrapped up a sheet
tightly into the shape of what my neck might feel like, and said, “Mr. Smith, do
you want to kill me?” “Yes! I want to kill you!” “Okay, want to break my neck?”
“Yes, I want to break your f---ing neck!” “Okay, here’s my neck! Squeeze real
hard!” He seized the wrapped up bed sheet and began to strangle it with all his
might. I got the chocolate pudding off his dinner tray and spoon-fed him that
while he was attempting to kill me… I remember, he always ate well, whether he
was trying to kill me or not.
There was the lady who constantly screamed about “the Devil!” whenever she
was approached, and seemed downright possessed, although I have no proof
that she was. I never saw her levitate, but if she did, I would be out of there
fast. Another lady was over six feet tall and appeared to be over three hundred
pounds. She would come into the break room when I was trying to eat my lunch
and try to steal my sandwich.
We wore white uniforms but they were soiled by the end of the day. Patients
would frequently throw feces, vomit, or food at staff. Once again, a bed sheet
would come in handy. If you knew a patient was going to throw feces at you,
you could wrap the bed sheet around yourself like a big apron, then send it
away with the rest of the laundry.
Once again, not all of the staff was morally upright. One was rumored to sell
drugs. He had an expensive leather jacket and drove a Trans Am – on an
orderly’s salary. And another orderly, the young female staff was warned by
older female staff, “Don’t be in a room alone with him, and don’t get on an
elevator with him.”
Older staff taught younger staff who to watch out for, for which I was grateful.
A staff member I will always remember was Doris* -- she thought of herself as
a comedian. Although she was a well-meaning person, she could tire you out
with her antics. Doris was about 40, but sometimes acted like an overgrown
One day Doris found out that the old hospital building did in fact have a
morgue on the lower level. This got Doris all excited and she wanted to visit the
morgue just to see what it was like down there… naturally, I had to go to. I don’
t know why I felt I had to go to the morgue. Just to be brave, I suppose.
Doris went to find Agnes* who of course was the oldest staff person on our
ward. Agnes had probably worked at the state hospital the longest of anyone.
She knew her way around. You could really learn a lot from a co-worker like
Agnes. One of the best pieces of advice Agnes gave me the first day I started,
she was taking me up to the floor where I would be permanently assigned, and
said, “Now listen, in this place, you keep your eyes and ears open, and your
mouth shut.” And she was right. This advice can apply to a lot of workplaces, I
But on this day, Doris went to pester Agnes about letting us visit the morgue…
“Oh come on, can we, please?”
Agnes frowned at Doris, which was not unusual, as she generally frowned at
everyone. “You want to what?”
“Go to the morgue!” Doris grinned like a big kid and pointed at me, “Rose
wants to go!”
Thanks, Dorrie, “Yeah. Okay. If you guys go, I’ll go along too… I guess.”
Agnes frowned again, “Okay, but you two better keep it shut about this, you
hear me! We are not supposed to be down there, so you both keep quiet.”
“We promise,” I said.
But Doris kept giggling.
We went down the elevator together, the three of us. It dawned on me that
maybe Doris wanted to see the two headed baby that was supposedly kept
down there. Yes, that’s right. A state hospital is a place filled with strange
things. I learned that pretty quickly, and one of those strange things was a two
headed fetus that they say was stillborn and preserved in a glass jar.
At the turn of the century -- I had learned while working there -- the state
hospital was a hospital for the poor. At that time, there was a maternity ward.
That’s how the two headed baby got there, that is what was said about it -- that
the sad creature had been born there and didn’t survive, or was stillborn.
Now Doris is nudging me, “There’s a two headed baby down there, you know.”
“Yeah, I heard.”
Agnes gave us another look, “Don’t you two never say nuthin!”
“I promise,” I said, and I meant it.
“Nuthin!” repeated Agnes.
She led us to the reception area, and asked for “Key 13.” I didn’t say
anything, but I thought to myself, well, the people who run this crazy dump have
a sense of humor, at least.
We followed her down the dark hall, and she opened the door to the morgue,
and flipped on the lights.
It wasn’t dark or cold, the way you would expect a morgue to be. It was well lit,
clean, and the temperature was rather comfortable, no different from the
atmosphere in the rest of the building. There were several drawers, of course,
which were there to contain the departed. Doris began pulling them out, one
after the other, but they were empty.
“Dorrie, will yah cut it out? It’s disrespectful.”
She laughed, “There ain’t nobody in… whoa!”
The last drawer she pulled out contained a body. We did not see the entire
body, just two large, cold dead feet. She stopped pulling the drawer open when
she saw it. She stopped suddenly and remained coldly still, looking down at the
dead man’s feet.
“Put that back, shut it, will yah?” I said.
And she did.
Agnes was finally smiling, “And there, on that shelf, is the two headed baby.”
Yes, there it certainly was, contained in a glass jar. It was rather small, of
course, possibly a conjoined twin of some kind that did not survive. I stared at it
quietly, and hoped it didn’t suffer for the short time that it had been alive. I
wondered about the mother, also. Did they even tell her, back then, of the
condition of her child? Perhaps not, if they were humane. I imagined they
would have said, simply, the child was stillborn. And told her nothing else.
Next to the two headed baby, there was a glass jar filled with snakes.
“Agnes, why are there snakes in here? I get it about the two headed baby,
being a unique specimen, and all—
“They keep these things for the nursing students,” she said. “To show them
things like this.”
“But why the snakes?”
“Maybe so the students can learn about things that can kill people.” Probably
she didn’t really know, either.
Both the two headed fetus and the snakes were quite horrible to look at. I
continued to stare at the glass jars. Suddenly, something grabbed me from
Doris was laughing again.
It was her, just trying to scare me.
Agnes glared at the both of us, “Shhhh!”
“Sorry,” I said, but it wasn’t really my fault.
“We’re not supposed to be here. Come on,” she opened the door, shut off
the lights, and then locked the door behind us.
We quietly followed her out as she went back to return Key 13, and then back
up the elevator to the fifth floor, to the normal part of the hospital. I looked at
my watch. It was time for lunch. I wasn’t sure if I was that hungry now…
The state hospital has a history going back over 150 years. It had started as
a hospital for Civil War wounded, and then became a hospital for the poor.
Gradually over time it evolved into basically a warehouse of sorts for people
who don’t fit into society, or cannot cope with society, or just can’t live on their
own without assistance. There were the physically disabled, accident victims,
the mentally ill, and those who suffered addiction, all people who needed
constant care, one way or the other.
As many patients were elderly or in a general weakened condition,
occasionally a person would pass away on our watch. Oftentimes, it was a relief
to see a person pass on, after seeing them suffer for so long.
The body would have to be prepared to be brought down to the morgue. That
meant the body was to be cleaned up, washed, a clean sheet put over it. We
generally did this in teams of two to three people. I had to do this work a few
times, I recall. It was no fun, but something we had to do. We would cover the
person with a clean sheet, and move the person onto a gurney. We would shut
all the doors to all the patients’ rooms so they would not see the body being
wheeled down the hall, so as to not upset anyone. Then we would pull the
gurney along quietly, in a solemn, dignified sort of way, down to the delivery
elevator at the end of the dark hallway, so it would not be seen by patients. And
that’s how it was done, to quietly and respectfully bring the departed on his way
down to the morgue – as if it was a waiting room where he would remain until
leaving this world and enter into the next. Readers may wonder, did we tie a tag
on the person’s toe, like you see on TV? No. We did not. We simply cleaned
the departed up, and then after covering the person with a sheet, transported
him (or her) down to the morgue. Perhaps bodies in big city morgues get a tag
on their toe. This was simply a small morgue in a state hospital, nothing special.
Most people who resided at the hospital had family who would claim them and
take care of arrangements. Some people, sadly, had no one. No family, no
occasional visitors, not ever. The hospital staff, along with fellow patients, was
the closest thing some people had to a family.
It was said that there was a paupers’ graveyard somewhere on the hospital’s
grounds, but I never saw it and to this day do not know of its location. It was
also said that the hospital was inhabited by a few ghosts. Unfortunately, I never
saw any. Perhaps if I had worked the night shift, I would have seen them drifting
about the ward.
After having refuse thrown at me too many times, I began to think about
secretarial school and eventually left with only sad memories of the place,
memories that continue to haunt me even to this day. I often think back and
imagine the tragedy of people existing there, in the state hospital, no visitors, no
cards, no letters, with only the television in the day room and their fellow
disabled patients for company. They remain there, waiting until their day
comes, and staff will ask for Key 13.
* (Names have been changed. Story based on actual events. And yes, there
really was a two headed baby.)