Chapter 1: Exploring in Sepia
The truth was that Jaqueline always looks forward to these days: Exploring Day.
Gloves slide smoothly onto dainty yet strong hands, the worn leather fitting snugly. Sunlight filters through the tall, vibrantly green trees. All around her flora and fauna are teeming with life. She looks over to her right and smiles at her companion, also gearing up. The smile reaches her brown eyes and fills them with warmth and familiarity and fondness. Sloan Analois: her exploring partner, best friend, and man currently missing a glove.
“Have you seen my other glove, Jackie?”
His voice was colored with more annoyance than genuine panic but Jackie knew that if allowed to simmer a little longer, he would reach Panic Point. And no one wanted to see that.
Pursed lips curl up just slightly at the corners and she shakes her head just before she joining the epic quest. Friends didn’t let friends explore abandoned asylums without proper equipment, after all. After a few minutes of rifling through their backpacks and scourging the surrounding bushes and grass—
“AHA!” Jackie shot up from her crouched state, victorious and smug. “Am I amazing or am I amazing?”
Sloan’s tallness allows him to tower over her easily (not that it was particularly difficult to tower over Jackie but still) and his dark skin betrays the toned and defined state of his body but that had no influence over how he was currently giving her his brightest and most amused smile.
“Yes. You are amazing. Would you like me to clap for you?”
“Nah. Maybe next time. I just wanted to make sure that we were on the same page, that’s all.” Jackie shoots him a grin filled with mirth before casually tossing his glove back to him. She half-skips her way to where they had last left their bags and hoists her backpack onto her small frame.
“Oh hell yes.”
Dust forms mesmerizing spiral patterns in the light that filtered through the overgrown trees and then through the glass in the window. It entrances Jackie for a moment but not for too long. There was so much more to take in. All around them kids toys lay scattered on the ground, as if a tornado had ripped through the room and left nothing untouched. Some toys were still whole, most had some feature broken. Jackie treads carefully, not really keen on having Barbie heads stuck in the ridges of her sneakers.
“I always wonder how things got this way,” she muses to herself and to Sloan across the room, “Like, what the hell could have caused this?”
He’s taking pictures of some time-worn dolls in the corner of the room. He snaps a few shots before looking back at her and nodding.
“It’s pretty crazy, hu? To think that all these toys used to be used by some kid who probably isn’t even a kid anymore.” Or even alive anymore…
They share eye contact for a seconds but then she pulls away to give attention to the painted pictures handing from the ceiling. The paintings are on paper, strewn on a clothesline by clothespins. Slender fingers reach out to hold the edge of one and brings the line down to allow her to see it better.
The picture was obviously done by a child. The paper was yellow and worn but it was impossible to miss the big yellow sun at the top left hand corner and a crudely drawn house complete with grass and flowers. A nostalgic smile tugs on her lips. The sun had a smiley face on it. She had already forgotten that a child that was in an asylum drew it.
“It’s cute hu?” She doesn’t turn around but she can hear that he’s right behind her, seeing what she’s seeing.
Her ponytail sways as she tilts her head to the side. “Yeah. It reminds me of everything I used to draw as a kid. Wish I could take it home or something.”
Sloan gives her a look and Jackie glances back just in time to catch it. They had a Golden Rule when it came to exploring abandoned places: no souvenirs except for the ones in your mind and in your camera. That meant no taking any piece of the place with you: not a piece of concrete, not a little bottle, not a book, not anything. And that anything most definitely included a handrawn picture by a former resident of the place of exploration. Their thinking was, if every explorer decided to take a piece of the ruin with them—after some time—there would be no ruin left to explore. They didn’t want to aid to that phenomenon coming true.
He doesn’t even wait for her to ask. “I’ll take a picture of it for you,” he assured—already bringing the camera up to eye level.
She breathes out a chuckle and a smile is on her lips. “Thanks.”
Jackie releases it, moving out of the way so he can do his magic. As he does so, she moves out to the hallway. The floor is dingy brown and from that to the ceiling deeply yellowed wallpaper is curled and gathered at the floor, piles of it; like paper snow but dirtier and much more pleasant sounding than it was pleasant to look at. Maybe at one point they were a soft yellow, warm and reminiscent of the sun, but now it was more like dirty parchment. All the worn out tones make her feel like in one step she’s crossed from a world of technicolor to one where only sepia saturates. The only betrayer of a sepia reality are the blotches of deep brown, the wood that the peeling paper and time exposes.
The more she looks at it though, the more it reminds her of dry, flaking skin. The thought causes a shudder to run down her spine and she decides to find another thing to feast her curious eyes on. They find the sign over head that in big bold letters that say:
She continues on, going down the hallway and she passes bulletin boards that still house some pieces of paper. There’s a handmade drawing, a notice for a meeting, a reminder of protocol obviously intended for the nurses. She only glances at them in passing.
At the end of the hallway is an atrium, a circle branching off into five other direction other than the one she just came from. She stood in the middle, looking down the paths and imagining all the people that could have walked the halls. Her head tilts up to the ceiling and a mural is waiting to be admired. The theme seems to be the Wild West. Horses and cowboys decorate the entire mural. There are also cowboys on horses proudly holding flags with stars and stripes. Somewhat like the star of the show is a giant stand alone flag smack dab in the middle of the entire thing, ruffling like it’s eternal fate is to blow in the wind and “accidentally” smack the faces of those who want equality. The idea of it brings up a scoff in her.
As she studies the mural, unbeknownst to her, Sloan’s camera clicks again and again and again in attempt to take a picture that perfectly captures her apparent sense of wonder. He didn’t know she was actually scoffing more than marveling.
“Are you sure we aren’t lost?” Jackie questions, the cold seeping into her skin despite the jacket she had on. The only part of her that wasn’t freezing was the hand holding onto their lantern. The rest of her wasn’t as comfortable. “Christ, it’s freezing. Why didn’t you tell me to wear a thicker jacket?”
“It’s a tunnel,” he deadpanned as if she should have known it would be cold. And admittedly she should have but it wasn’t in her nature to admit to being wrong. “Also, I did tell you. But you didn’t listen.”
“Okay but you didn’t say it would be this cold.” She sticks close to him, partly because she’s cold but also because the darkness of the tunnel scared her. If something tried to snatch them, her plan was to run faster than Sloan. (Okay, not for real. But it certainly was a thought…A thought she would never actually commit to but a thought, nonetheless. Don’t judge now. You would think it too.) “Where are we going again?”
“Just to another part of the building. I heard from a friend that we could use the tunnel to get there. We’ll probably leave from there.”
Jackie hums in response, nodding along.
The walls narrow and force them closer.
The tunnel leads them to a flooded room and for a moment the duo hesitates at the edge of where the concrete and water meet. She extends her lantern out and where the water is illuminated it is a repulsive, sickening, brown-yellow. It reminded her slightly of pee. Where it wasn’t illuminated, it remained an inky mass of liquid. The small woman looks back at Sloan with a peeved look on her face.
“Amazing.” The dryness in her voice could probably have sucked the moisture out of the ocean.
“Okay but how was I supposed to know that it all flooded like this?”
She shakes her head, letting it go because he did have a point. “Well…The water isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. Hope didn’t wear your nice socks.”
“W—What? Jackie you can’t seriously be thinking—“
But he’s already too late. Her feet are already in, the water reaching mid-calf. God, she was going to regret this later. Sloan mumbles something under his breath, still on the shore.
“What was that?” She calls out, already half way across the room.
He plunges in after her, grimacing intensely as the water floods his boots. “I said you’re crazy!”
“It’s just a little water!”
“With mice corpses probably.”
A beat. “Honestly I’d be glad if it was just mice corpses.”