“I’ve lived in Salem since 1985 and I’ve yet to go through that damn door everyone talks about. I’m going with you, and we will tell no one about this.”
I watch Blair dubiously as she fumbles with the zipper on her parka and rants on about my secrecy to never mention this to her wife or anyone else in the coven. For a head priestess who threatens her witches and warlocks to never summon the devil’s door, or she’ll cut off their heads, this is going against everything she stands for as a leader. I’m also a little nervous about how the mysterious cloaked old guys will take me bringing an uninvited guest.
“Are you sure you want to come? Ms. Hattie says it’s highly dangerous for newcomers, and what if we get separated? Your wife already hates me.” Could you imagine the fight we’d get into if I lost Blair inside the red door of doom? Arlo and Kane would need an army to break up that fight.
“Well, then you better hold my hand real tight.” She smiles and offers her hand out to me. “Ready?”
I take her hand in mine and open the door. There’s no point in arguing with Blair because she will do whatever she wants. And she wants to go through the door with me. Yup. We’re definitely doing this.
We pass the further ones with no issue. I’m surprised to see them greet her in a much friendlier way than they did me for the first time. Assholes. Although she is married to the head priestess of this town, so it makes sense that they’d have more respect for her.
“How is he?” Blair asks as we stroll through the darkness, hand in hand. She really wasn’t kidding about holding on to her.
After so many visits, I’ve adjusted to traveling through this unusual portal. I used to get worried about tripping and hurting myself or running into something scary, but only the further ones reside in this black hole of nothingness.
The expected light ahead finally paths the way, which oddly looks different today. It’s snowing hard, and now I’m glad Blair forced me to wear a thicker coat.
Feeling the chill of the wind, I loop my arm through Blair’s. “He hates himself for what happened. I keep trying to assure him I’m fine, but he won’t hear it.”
I can’t lie. It scared the shit out of me to see Arlo react the way he did. I’d never seen him so angry and determined to hurt someone. To hurt me.
But he wasn’t trying to hurt me. He thought he was protecting us from his father; I keep reminding myself, otherwise my mind will play games with me and trick me into thinking he was trying to kill me.
She looks at me sideways, and then back down to her steps. “Are you? Fine, I mean.” I know exactly what she’s asking, and I don’t hesitate to answer.
“Yes. My feelings haven’t changed towards Arlo. He made a mistake, and I was terrified at first, but I believe him when he says he saw Azazel because I see him too. I just don’t understand how in the hell that’s possible.”
After that night, I couldn’t sleep much. I kept thinking I’d wake up in the middle of the night with Azazel watching me sleep. Or worse, Arlo would get confused again and accidentally hurt me.
“Arlo has brought him back,” Blair says, forcing me to stop in my tracks. She sees the fearful expression on my face and continues to explain. “I mean, demons have no soul, so they cannot cheat death. Azazel has physically been gone a long time, and he will continue to rot in hell. But Arlo keeps his darkness alive. As much as he hates it, Arlo is a part of Azazel. He has the power to conjure him back to the mortal realm without even realizing it. Azazel is there with him in spiritual form, lingering in the deepest parts of his soul. Arlo needs to let the past go. Otherwise, Azazel will haunt them forever.”
Blair pats me on the shoulder when I let out a heavy sigh. “You’re his mate, but he has to do this on his own.” She points to her head. “He has to heal up here.”
Even though I feel terrible, I nod in understanding. Blair knows exactly what’s going on in Arlo’s head, so I know she’s absolutely right. I can try to be there for him as a friend and a mate, but Arlo has to grow on his own. Flowers don’t bloom properly when they’re rushed, my grandmother used to say.
I wish I could take all his pain away. But for now, I can only be there for him like I promised.
“Whoa,” I breathe out, feeling the ice bite into my face when we step out into the snow.
“Do you recognize this place?” Blair asks.
“Not at all.” We’re not anywhere near home. I can smell the difference in the air, and there’s an enormous building up ahead that looks like an old, abandoned hospital. “The portal usually takes me to Arlo’s past. This setting is something entirely new.”
I don’t know why, but I’m feeling uneasy as I follow Blair down the snow-covered cobblestone. I stop to read the Railridge Psychiatric Hospital sign, founded in 1817.
Blair tugs on the locked doors once and gasps, immediately dropping her hands. I bet she saw something. She turns around with a disturbed expression, confirming my thought. “I’m not sure if we should go in there.”
Coming from the Empath who speaks to the dead… this isn’t good.
I use my strength to break the locks on the doors and the minute it cracks open, we both feel the shift in the air. Blair blows out a nervous breath and nods to our silent agreement. The portal brought us here for a reason. We need to go inside.
“Well…” she shifts on her feet expectantly. “I’m right behind you.”
“Why me? You should go first.”
“Because you’re the one with claws and superhuman strength.”
And you’re the one with the power to zap our asses out of here. I almost retort but screw it. We both have to go in eventually, and I guess I’ll take the bait.
My wolf is on guard as I walk through the doors, the floor creaking underneath my boots. It’s cold and dark in here and I already want to turn around and go home. Behind me, Blair mumbles something under her breath before a light emanates from her palms. Old patient records, surgical instruments, and clothing are scattered across the floors.
As we move in closer, Blair breathes warily, “Something terrible happened here. I can feel them all around us.”
“Good to know.” I say dryly.
“Let’s look around, but don’t wander off too far,” Blair says, opening a filing cabinet full of folders. She’s trippin’ if she thinks I’m going to be the brave soul who goes searching. I’ve seen plenty of horror films to know that guy always dies first.
I look down the same hall, careful not to drift too far away from Blair. Pictures of the hospital staff hang on each side of the wall. Front and center is a portrait of a man named Thomas J. Smith and according to his plaque at the bottom, top surgeon and owner of Railridge Hospital.
Blair and I continue to look down the empty halls and equally empty rooms for a while. We even venture up to the fifth floor and come up with nothing interesting. She stops looking through the endless amount of files when she gets bored. “I don’t understand why we’re here,” she mumbles more to herself.
I exit the patient room we’re in and walk back out into the hall, contemplating. “Maybe the old dudes screwed up and brought us to the wrong place.” Although that conclusion is most likely not true since no one has been through the red door in years.
“I doubt that,” Blair agrees. Don’t say it. Don’t say it. “…wanna try looking in the basement?”
We both agreed to not go inside the basement when we found it. But now I see no other choice. The faster we figure out why we’re here, the faster we can go home. “I suppose we can, but-“
I’m about to tell Blair that the only way I’ll go down there is if she holds my hand, but the swift blur interrupts me. A man dressed in a long white coat walks right in front of me and moves hastily down the hall, holding a clipboard. He looks over his shoulder once to see if anyone is watching and then enters the last door on the left. Blair hears the door slam and hastily comes to stand next to me.
Her eyes are wide as she says two words: “Thomas Smith.”
I point down the hall, recognizing the man from the pictures. “He went that way.” We follow him.
Dr. Thomas Smith is sitting down in front of a desk and writing out notes on his clipboard like his pen is on fire. “People are becoming suspicious of my work. You cannot expect me to keep doing this to innocent people,” He mutters to the person sitting behind his desk.
The chair is turned to the window, preventing a good view of his facial features. But I know what kind of man is sitting in that chair. I can smell his wolf. From the intense look on Blair’s face, I know she senses it too.
“I’ll deal with the investigators as long as you keep your end of the bargain.” I don’t like this man. There’s something about his tone of voice that feels vaguely familiar.
“No!” Thomas slams his fist on the desk. “This is my hospital and I owe it to these patients to-“
The chair flips around and my breath hitches. Blair gasps.
Thomas is knocked out of his chair and lifted off his feet by his throat. Elongated claws penetrate his skin as he gasps for air.
“You will do whatever the fuck I say, Dr. Smith. This hospital falls under my command and these patients are my slaves!”
My stomach twists and I have to fight the urge not to vomit as I stare into the pitch-black eyes of Jackson Blackburn. The monster who tormented my family for so many years.
Jackson throws Thomas against the wall and passes through me and Blair like a ghost. I watch him head up the stairs as the hospital comes to life. Nurses and patients pass through the halls like they once did in the 1800s.
“Astrid.” Blair has tears in her eyes as she roams the halls of the patient’s rooms. “I think Jackson Blackburn was ordering the doctor to experiment with these patients. I feel so much pain and sorrow.” She rubs her temples, describing the agonizing pain. Too many spirits are trying to communicate with her at once. “Don’t you hear the screams?” I hear nothing except the hushed conversations of the hospital staff. She leans her back against the wall when it becomes too much. I wrap my arm around her waist for support and lead her up the stairs.
I want to follow Jackson around to see what he’s been doing here. But I soon learn to regret that decision.
This place is a fucking madhouse. No patient should be allowed to live here under these inhumane conditions. Blair and I can’t stand the scenes as they play out in front of us. The hospital staff do not care about their patients. They’re beaten, unwashed in their own feces for hours, and some even harm themselves. It’s so bad I want to cry for them.
When we come across private records in a storage closet, we hide in the closest to read them over and get away from the negative energy around us. And oh my god, Blair is right. Countless experiments done on the patients to make them look less human and more animalistic. And worse, Jackson forces the ones who survive the procedures to join his cult. The bestial cult.
“I don’t like this, Blair. We’re leaving now!” I can’t stand hearing about these disgusting crimes any longer.
I walk hastily for the main entrance of the hospital with Blair matching my strides. But something keeps me from reaching the doors.
Someone grabs my shoulder, and a sharp, electric current runs through my body. Their touch almost knocks me off my feet, but I recover my balance quickly. I turn to face them. All of them.
“Astrid?” one of them knows my name. “You’re not supposed to be here.”