The idea had formed in Joe’s head after he heard about The Fortress. Its seclusion and its ability to send the most rational of men into the depths of insanity intrigued him. Prisoners themselves had reported strange events to their families on the outside. Of seeing visions of men that had long gone strolling around as they did when they were alive. Visitors too who spent time there would be overcome by emotion or even see strange things; cell doors opening and shadow people lurking. Could a place like that, secluded and escape proof, turn a sane man into a lunatic? To be left in such a place, surrounded by the sea, knowing there was nowhere else to go, nowhere to run…
Once Joe formed an idea in his head he rarely let it go. He knew that one day he would have cause to utilise what had become a nagging desire to go there and see for himself, first-hand, what it was like to experience The Fortress. In hindsight he should have ditched the whole crazy idea, but he had a point to prove and a bet to win.
You see, he’d had a disagreement with a friend about the power of the imagination over that of common sense and reality. Joe was of the opinion that imagination would always win because it was never ending, imagination would always invent something in order to perpetuate any given scenario; whereas his friend Jack, a psychology student, argued that reason would win out because, “At the end of the day, reality is the thing we are connected to the most.” The argument went on for some time until Joe suggested a little experiment to find out…
The café was buzzing with chatter, the clinking of coffee cups and the cranking of coffee grinders.
Joe stuck the tip of his finger into the froth on his latte and sucked it off. Claire shot him a disapproving look, “You have no manners,” she said, shaking her head.
“It’s the reason they put the froth on. It’s no worse than making a poor attempt at licking off a milky moustache.”
“You may have a point there,” Claire laughed and sipped her espresso as she glanced casually out of the window. Across the street Jack and Marc were trying to cross the busy main road and after several false starts they made a run for it, successfully making it to their destination. Claire raised a hand to wave; Jack did likewise and headed towards the café door.
“Finally,” Joe moaned as Jack and Marc approached their table. “What kept you?”
“Some of us had to go to work today, Joe.” Jack laughed it off, but he knew how Joe disliked lateness.
A bright and bubbly brunette approached them with a pen and notepad poised. “What can I get you?” Her cheerfulness brought a smile to Joe’s face as he instantly knew what Jack would be thinking as he gave her that one sided smile he gives when he fancies someone.
“I’ll have a cappuccino please,” Jack replied.
“And you sir?” she said turning to Marc.
“A latte for me…,” before he could finish, Jack cut him off.
“And a bagel each please; cinnamon if you have any.”
“Of course; can I get you anything else?” They all shook their heads. “Well, just shout if you change your mind.” With that she sashayed back to the counter; Jack watching her go.
“Oh, please,” Claire laughed and rolled her eyes.
“D’you think she’d give me her number if I asked nicely?”
“I doubt it, she’s wearing an engagement ring, Mr. Observant,” Claire gave him a sideways glance and smiled at his disappointment.
“Anyway, back to what we were discussing the other night,” Joe said, pulling out a file from under the table. “I think I have found the ideal place for our experiment slash investigation.” Deliberately slowly he opened the file and pulled out a document; at the top left-hand corner was a photo of a huge, round structure out at sea. “The Fortress,” he declared.
They all looked at it in amazement. “Is that built actually in the sea?” Claire asked.
“Yep; the foundations are laid straight into the sea bed with a diameter of two hundred and forty feet,” Joe was looking very pleased with himself. “Well; what do you think?”
“I’m impressed by the building, but is it haunted?” Jack had to ask; he was all in favour of this weird exploration but one element of this trip was supposed to be a paranormal investigation after all.
“Of course it’s haunted – supposedly haunted,” he corrected himself.
Marc sat in quiet contemplation before taking the document from Joe. “I’ve heard of it; it was a prison, right?”
“Well done newbie, you’re correct,” Joe slapped him on the back just as the waitress returned with their order.
“That’s a latte for you sir,” she said placing the cup in front of Marc. “A cappuccino for you sir, and your bagels. Enjoy!” They gave their thanks to the waitress and Joe took the opportunity to fill them in on the building while they drank and ate.
“The Fortress was originally built as a military prison to house any personnel found guilty of committing crimes whilst serving in the armed forces, or at least, that was the intention. The rotund structure was built off Sundial Bay, in 1845; it’s not obvious from the mainland; there is a crescent shaped forestry outcrop protruding from the coastline, hiding it from view. At the time it was built it was pretty secluded too, being built at the mouth of a small inlet to the west of Southwall Castle. These days it's more built up than it was then.”
“I remember reading some of the stories associated with that place; scary stuff if they’re true,” Marc smirked.
“Well we’ll just have to find out for ourselves, won’t we?”
“Is it okay if I use the data we collect for a project I’m working on?”
“Sure,” Joe agreed. “Right then, Marc’s up for it; are you two still keen or have you bottled it already?” Joe laughed. Claire gave him her usual disparaging look.
“I’m game,” she turned to Jack.
“Me too,” he replied. “I have one condition though.”
“What’s that?” Joe asked.
“No messing about. We do this investigation professionally; not turn it into a farce like you did last time,” Jack gestured at Joe with his buttered knife.
“It was at the end of the night and let’s face it, it needed livening up.”
“I don’t care, no messing this time okay? Besides, if Marc’s using our findings it needs to be done properly.”
“Okay,” Joe conceded, “besides, there’s a bet at stake too remember. I’ll do a recce and some organization then we can be on our way. Who’s excited…?” Having full mouths Marc and Jack put their hands up like schoolchildren and Claire, looking at the other two and with sarcastic expression firmly in place, did likewise.
Joe decided to take a trip to the coast to see The Fortress for himself and sort out the practicalities of actually doing an investigation out at sea. There was no doubt that his inquisitiveness had definitely got the better of him and his nerves were tingling with the anticipation of seeing it for the first time.
Less than an hours drive and he’d arrived at the mouth of the inlet. As described the prison was nowhere in sight from where he stood, only the stony shoreline and the sea, so he tramped through the outcrop of trees and rocks; emerging through the other side he was greeted by a complete contrast of scenery. Here was a small, sandy bay, a tight crescent with a sheer cliff face opposite him and a dirty, grey coloured Fortress erupting out of sea, breaking its blueness and sense of tranquillity.
Pulled up on the beach was a fishing boat. It looked a bit old and unkempt, but sufficient for a recce; beside it stood its owner, the man Joe had arranged to meet to take him out to The Fortress. He was busying himself by dragging lengths of rope from the boat, de knotting them and then dropping them onto the sand. As Joe walked towards the ageing fisherman, he couldn’t peel his eyes away from the prison. Only when he was in hand shaking distance did he look at the old man and smile.
“Peter Noon I presume,” Joe said holding out his hand. The old man took it with his rough hand and gave it a good, strong shake.
“Yep; so, I’ve been told you want to go out to The Fortress.”
“I do, yes. Are you willing to take me there Mr. Noon?” Before answering the old fisherman picked up the rope from the sand and threw them back into the boat.
“I will Mr. Spencer. I will.”
From the mainland it was an imposing structure, but close up the rough paintwork and degrading metalwork made less of an impression. On the positive side the fisherman informed him that The Fortress was said to be remarkably good on the inside.
As they skirted around the prison Joe was becoming increasingly worried about the state of the landing platform and the steps, they looked rusty and not as substantial as they once would’ve been with decay very apparent in some parts.
“Don’t look so worried Mr. Spencer, the maintenance men use them all the time, they’re perfectly safe,” the fisherman said in an attempt to put Joe’s mind at rest. This was music to Joe’s ears as they were vital for access to the prison, unless being winched down by helicopter was an option…which it wasn’t.
By this time Joe was aching to go inside, it was like no other place he’d ever seen and although the stories he had read about the place appalled him, he was also intrigued. Joe had seen all he needed to see and was eager to arrange things for their visit. Peter Noon turned the boat towards the shore and headed in. Joe watched as the distance between them and The Fortress grew and for a brief moment he thought he could see shadows at the tiny, barred windows.
“Any visitors at The Fortress today then Mr. Noon?” Joe asked nonchalantly.
“No sir; there’s no-one there today,” came the reply.
The caretaker of The Fortress was a man named Davis, an amiable man in his early fifties who greeted Joe with a friendly smile as he entered The Dog and Fox, a small inn just west of Sundial Bay.
“So you want to go out to The Fortress do you?” Davis asked. It seemed a common question; was his request really that unusual? he thought. “ May I ask for what purpose?”
“Certainly; our main reason for wanting to visit the prison is to do an investigation, a paranormal investigation, of sorts,” Joe noticed Davis’ eyebrow lift in interest. “We’re all psychologists and one of our group is doing a study of fear for a project he’s working on. One of our prerequisites for this trip is to try and prove whether reason can overcome the force of imagination when faced with fear. The idea that if a person literally had ‘nowhere to run’, it would increase the likelihood of the imagination running wild and reason being kicked out of the window.”
“Sounds interesting. Are you sure The Fortress is the right place for such an experiment?” Davis eyed him curiously.
“I think it would be ideal,” Joe said looking very pleased.
“Very well, I’ll take you and your friends there,” he declared, “but I have some conditions.”
“I’ll drop you off at The Fortress and I’ll leave you there to conduct your…investigation. As soon as you’re inside you must lock yourselves in, for safety reasons. I don’t want to have panic stricken people running out of a door and plummeting into the sea.” Joe nodded in agreement. “Also I’ll return to pick you up at nine o’clock the following morning; nine sharp mind, I won’t be hanging about out there for long, is that clear?”
Joe agreed and the excitement was welling up inside him, the kind of excitement he hadn’t felt since the time he had his first kiss with Talia Munchin in high school. What a place; even the locals were scared of it.
It was such an emotive place and he was beyond eager to get inside. The history and the fact that the place had hardly been visited since it was shut down over forty years before, apart from the maintenance crew, made it even more special. Nothing had been restored, this place was different; it was untouched; it was raw.
For the sake of an easier passage Joe had agreed that they should meet Davis at the next local port further along the coast. Their equipment was too heavy and awkward to heave through the trees to get to Sundial Bay.
As they stood on the pontoon, awaiting Davis’ arrival, they were discussing the ins and outs of the effects of fear. “Fear is one of the most common grounds for reason to fly out of the window and it’s ultimately imagination that drives the fear,” Marc said. Good point well-made thought Joe.
Marc had a great personality; gregarious, a logical thinker, erudite, but still Claire found him a little dull. There was something about him she couldn’t warm to, unlike Jack who, although it had taken a little while to get used to each other, they clicked eventually and now felt comfortable with each other’s somewhat quirky natures.
“Nothing frightens me,” she announced proudly. “There is nothing on this earth that could make me run away from an investigation. I just wouldn’t do it.”
“Not even if you came face to face with a real ghost?” Joe asked.
“I don’t believe in them. I’m not afraid of the living so why should I be afraid of the dead?”
“Whereas I’m more afraid of the living,” laughed Jack, causing a rumbling of amusement.
Claire had a string of letters after her name and was the smartest person Joe knew and the fact that she never felt fear was an important attribute to have for the purposes of their experiment. She was one of those amazing people who had the ability to take everything in their stride, whether it be in a professional situation or a personal one, she always remained focused and never, never, got flustered by anything. Some might call her arrogant, but then Joe could be too, so it was kind of understandable how they got on so well.
The jovial atmosphere started to wane as the sun got lower in the sky and the sea breeze became chillier. Their supplies and equipment were stacked beside them, ready for loading onto the launch when it arrived. Only a few boxes containing food and drink, non-alcoholic of course, and some extra clothing as they’d been pre-warned how cold it could get out there especially at night. There was no heating in the prison, only power for some lighting thanks to an old generator.
The launch eventually pulled up next to the pontoon and Joe made all the introductions before helping the others load the equipment on board.
As they crossed the water Joe informed the others of the stipulations Davis had made and then sat back to enjoy the rest of the crossing in near silence as they watched the beauty of the sun on its descent. Despite the chilliness of the evening air and the increasing wind sending an occasional spray of cold water in their faces as they bumped over the approaching wavelets, it was a smooth and pleasant crossing.
It didn’t seem to take long and before they knew it they were pulling alongside the towering wall of the prison. As Davis tied the rope, the others took turns to step off the launch and instantly formed a chain to transfer their boxes onto the purpose built platform. They marched up the two tiered metal staircase until they reached the only access point to the prison, a doorway on the second floor.
Davis dipped his hand into the deep pocket of his weatherproof jacket and pulled out a set of large iron keys. He unlocked the heavy, studded, oak doors and handed Joe a bunch of spare keys, making a point of saying, “Just to reiterate make sure you lock the doors after you.”
While the others went inside Joe put his mind at rest, “Don’t worry, we’ll treat the place with utmost respect.”
“If you don’t, it has a way of letting you know it’s not happy,” Davis said before turning his back on them. Joe followed him back down to the launch so he could retrieve the last of the boxes.
Once again at the bottom platform Joe untied the rope for Davis and threw it on board. “Nine o’clock sharp in the morning remember,” Davis reminded him as he roared the engine. Joe gave him a nod and a casual wave then stood on the platform listening to the sound of the motor fading away.
Was it Davis’ hurry to get away that made Joe feel unsettled, or was it that they were now officially stranded out in the middle of the sea, with no way of getting back to land if they needed to?
The wind was the only sound he could hear as he stood alone, looking across the water to the coastline; the light was starting to fade faster now. His attention was drawn to the town further along the coast, where they had boarded the launch, small clusters of lights sparkled as they reflected on the water. It was a magical sight.
Jack poked his head over the top railings and looked down. “Joe, are you coming in or staying out here all night?”
“I’m coming,” Joe replied before lifting the final box and retracing his steps back up to the top.
Joe groped around by the door for the torch he had been informed would be there, but with only a little light emanating from the courtyard at the end of a short corridor he couldn’t see too clearly. His hand crawled across the damp surface; it was an unpleasant sensation that made him cringe, but he finally felt the torch with his fingertips and grabbed it. He prayed that the batteries were still okay as he pushed the button. A beam of light lit up the corridor, at the same time a whirring noise came from behind the others and they turned in fright only to find Claire cranking up a wind up torch.
She looked at them amused, “What? Am I the only one prepared for any eventuality?” A ripple of laughter broke the nervous tension. After the hubbub had calmed down Joe announced that he was off to fire up the generator. “I’ll come too,” Claire offered.
“You can’t,” complained Jack, “if you both go we’ll have no light.
“I didn’t know you were afraid of the dark,” Joe smiled to himself.
“I’m not,” he retorted defensively, “I’m afraid of breaking my bloody neck; we won’t be able to see a damn thing if you both leave us; well, until we've opened the boxes anyhow.” Another ripple of laughter echoed down the corridor and Joe conceded; he led the others down and out into the courtyard at the centre of the prison.
This level was laid out with a circle of cells around the outside wall and another inner circle, the two separated by a dingy passageway. There was a break in the inner set of cells where an area was cleared and they decided it was the ideal place to set up the hub.
A spiral staircase led down from the middle of the courtyard to the two floors below. At either end were metal staircases that followed the curve of the wall up to an upper level which was just a landing floor where there were cells, each with heavy, wooden doors and a narrow walkway that led all the way around.
They leaned over the railing at the central, spiral staircase and peered down into the semi darkness. “If this was a scene from a horror film the audience would be shouting ‘DON’T GO DOWN THERE!’ right about now,” laughed Jack.
“It’s not as far down as it looks. We only have to go one flight to the pump room,” Joe said before looking up at the glass skylight at the centre of the roof; the light was going quickly now. He pulled a map out of the pocket of his jeans and studied the layout of the prison briefly. “Come on.”
They descended the staircase into the gloom and along the curved passageway past the old kitchens, storerooms and latrines and then turned into the pump room. There were water tanks and pipes everywhere and off to the side, in a smaller room, was the generator. It only took two pushes on the button to get it humming a treat.
With the generator on they didn’t have to rely on the torches any more as the lights flickered into life. They decided to explore the prison floor by floor, not only to get used to the layout, but to familiarise themselves with the atmosphere of each area. This was going to be important to work out the areas to use later on in the evening. Having only the scrawled map to guide them, they all agreed to start at the bottom and work their way up; so to start they headed for the exclusion cells at the lowest level.
Stepping down into the bowels of the prison the atmosphere was heavy and oppressive. Joe felt unusually anxious; his heart began to pound harder in his chest as he reached the bottom of the steps and he began to sweat almost immediately, despite the dampness in the air, and his body began to tremble.
He recognised the symptoms of course; irrational fear was something he’d always been impatient of; thinking other people were idiots for suffering from it, but now he was the victim of it he resented it immediately. He told himself to get a grip…..but it didn’t work.
The exclusion cells were very cold and damp, each with only a thick, studded, oak door at one end and no windows. From what he’d been told a thin mattress would’ve been supplied, but it was placed directly onto the damp, hard stone floor and the only toilet facility was a bucket in the corner…if they were lucky.
You had to be a real nut-case to be sent to the exclusion cells, or as the inmates called it, ‘the pit of despair’, ‘the pit’ for short, and you had to be totally insane to risk being sent down a second time. The place was horrendous, the prisoners shown no mercy, they were often beaten, spat at, abused and starved in order to be taught a lesson. Once thrown into the exclusion zone you were stripped, the lights were turned off and your cries, if you dared to cry out at all, went unanswered. The pit was so dreaded that the other prisoners turned a blind eye to what went on down there; a complaint or even a mention to someone else and you put yourself in line for a stint in purgatory yourself.
Joe took a deep breath and flicked the light switch at the beginning of the dark passageway. The caged lights were so encrusted with years of dust and dirt that they barely gave out enough light to reach the extremities of the central passage; it hardly encroached on the darkness of the inner corridor and cells at all.
They cautiously walked along the passage and when they reached the end they had a choice to go left, or right. Their inquisitive natures made them naturally separate, Jack and Marc turned left, and Claire and Joe turned right. On the outer side of the building were the exclusion cells, only eight in the vast space, spread out with stores in between and a row of stores facing them, backing onto the central passageway. For a prison that held over two hundred inmates it said a lot about how fearful they were of spending a night down there. History records had shown that the exclusion cells were never full at any one time; such was their affect on the prisoners.
The majority of the doors were closed; there were no peeping doors with bars on them, just a small hole with a thick leather cover over it that could be swung open and closed. Claire shoved at a persistent door with her shoulder; it finally yielded and she shot Joe a victorious smile as she entered the cell. One cell, at the far side caught Joe’s attention; its door hanging precariously from one hinge and it drew Joe towards it like a magnet.
As he walked under one of the grimy lights he pulled the map of the prison out of the back pocket and held it up close to the filthy shade to try and get a better look. He compared the cells in relation to the stairs and passage on the map then studied the passage he was standing in. “Ah, nice to make your acquaintance Cell No. 5,” he said to himself, trying to shake off the odd feeling he still had.
Not daring to touch the door for fear of it collapsing altogether, Joe carefully stepped around it and was plunged into an odd darkness. It wasn’t a normal, consistent darkness, it had a kind of strange hue; a murkiness that was almost tangible, as though you could wipe it from your eyes. The atmosphere was no less oppressive than it had been in the passageway; the air heavy and dust laden making it hard to breathe deeply. Joe’s heart was still pounding; a feeling of unease and trepidation swept over him in waves. He couldn’t see a thing; but couldn’t shake the feeling that someone, or something, was standing very close to him, breathing down his neck. Joe spun around quickly, his arms outstretched so as to hit whoever or whatever was there, but the cell was empty, apart from him, but still the feeling persisted.
As he suspired he thought he heard movement causing him to hold his breath instead. A low, short grunting noise beside him in the darkness gave him such a fright, for a moment frozen to the spot before rushing from the cell almost tripping over the bottom of the skewed door, out into the dimly lit passageway and walked (not ran, although he really, really, wanted to) back to the central passage, not wanting the others to know of his experience. The last thing he wanted to do, just as they had begun, was to admit his fear, or plant any seeds in their minds.
The others arrived back there at the same moment, each ones expressions resembling the others. They never spoke of the reasons for their sudden re-gathering; they just stood motionless, looking at each other in an uneasy silence. There were feelings that resonated for each of them; sadness, frustration, a feeling of isolation from the world that was so overbearing it almost crushed your soul until there was nothing left; a feeling of being forgotten…and fear.
Finally Claire broke the silence, “We have to use this level.” The rest of them simply nodded in agreement as though they were afraid to say it out loud. Marc looked the most nervous about using it, but his scientific mind told him we could get great results from just this one area.
The physical affects Joe had experienced down on the exclusion floor didn’t subside until he was back up the stairs and once again in a cleaner light. His heart began to relax back to its normal rhythm and his nerves settled more too. To be honest, he was feeling a little stupid for having reacted the way he did, annoyed at himself too for allowing himself to let his imagination take over his senses…it was his imagination…right?
They all spread out along the corridor of the next floor up with their backs against the wall, each, no doubt, trying to evaluate their own thoughts. Marc let out a long breath and gave the others an excited but nervous grin, “We are in for one hell of a night,” he said.
The first floor had a similar central passage leading from the centre stairwell and an inner passageway that curved around between two circles of rooms. The pump and generator rooms as well as the kitchens were here and more stores. The guard’s rooms were situated around one side of the curved structure while the other rooms occupied the opposing side.
Back up on the second floor, entry level, it was better lit than the two floors below, especially at daytime as this floor had the extra light from the skylight, but even as the light faded from outside, the light shades weren’t as dirty and allowed more light to spread across the floor. Here, each cell had a small, barred window facing out at the sea and a studded, oak door with a barred hatch about five inches square.
The final floor was the galleried landing at the uppermost part of the prison with a single ring of cells around the outer wall and a criss-crossed iron railing around the edge. To save the ‘jumpers’ there was safety netting strung across from one side to the other. It had degraded here and there, but the majority of it was still intact. Besides the exclusion floor, this was the only other area that didn’t quite feel right. Although the whole building had atmosphere and an oppression that was hard to shift, only those two floors shouted pain, misery and suffering on a mega scale.
The light from the skylight, despite giving some light on the landing, didn’t intrude far into the cells. Although their windows were larger than the ones on the lower floor, they were so grimed up with dirt, sea salt and mould, they gave no more light.
Again they all split up to check out the cells on this landing level and to get a ‘feeling’ for it. There was a small, wooden chair in one of the cells and Joe drifted towards it. He sat down and simply stared out through the open doorway and across the landing to the closed cell door he could see faintly in the diminishing light on the other side of the landing. As he stared his eyes began to burn and he could feel an anger building up inside him, right from the pit of his stomach to the top of his head which felt like it was about to explode. When the rage started to intensify he knew he had to get out of there. He launched himself out onto the landing, smashing into the railing and sunk to the floor; his head was thumping and his skin was hot and sweaty. At that moment in time he hated the world; he hated being told what to do; he hated the people around him; he hated everything.
Jack peered out of the cell he was in and rushed along the landing towards Joe. “What the hell happened? You look…” He was lost for words as he noticed the intense anger in his friends’ eyes; he’d never seen him like that before; his expression, his features, didn’t seem his own. He shook his head to clear the image from his mind and sat next to Joe on the landing.
Claire and Marc emerged from their cells on the other side of the landing to see what the commotion was and rushed around the landing when they saw Joe on the ground.
Joe was struggling with what had just happened. He was trying so hard to be rational, but he’d never experienced anything even resembling the rage he’d just felt. Now he had a dilemma; he’d convinced himself over the years that ghost stories were bunkum; something to entertain or scare for amusement sake. It had never occurred to him that they could be true, but what he’d just felt were real feelings…and they weren’t his own.
Jack nudged his arm, “You okay mate?” Joe slowly run his hands down his face and looked at him. He was pale now; the colour had completely drained from his face.
“Honestly? I don’t know,” he said with concern, and then he asked a question he thought would never pass his lips. “Do you think it’s safe for us to do this?” Jack was taken aback; for Joe to doubt their presence at the prison he must have had one hell of an experience in that cell. Jack unconsciously scrutinised his friends face, “Why are you staring at me?” Joe asked as he heard Claire and Marc’s footsteps coming close along the landing. Joe frowned, leaning away from him.
“Sorry, I just wasn’t expecting you to…,” his voice drifted off as, at the far end of the landing, near the stairs, he saw a dark shadow move swiftly from one cell door to another before disappearing again.
“What’s up Jack? - Jack!” Joe shouted as he jumped to his feet and swung around to look behind him. “What did you see?”
“I’m not sure; just a shadow I think,” was his honest reply. He had no idea what he’d seen and had no explanation. “It could’ve been a sea bird flying over the skylight; may have cast a shadow,” he offered.
“But it’s cloudy outside now Jack,” Joe said looking up at the skylight. He was right of course; it was too cloudy for anything to have made the definite shadow he had seen. Joe started to pace up and down quickly, trying to gather his thoughts and figure out what to do next.
“You two look like death,” Claire announced, her eyes darting from Joe to Jack and back again. Marc nudged her, looking at her in disbelief. She couldn’t help it; she’d always been devoid of any sensitivity. Sometimes things might come out of her mouth the wrong way or a tad blunt, but those who know her took it all in their stride. Marc still didn’t appreciate her…uniqueness, as Jack put it.
“What happened?” Marc asked, Joe’s pacing make him feel uneasy.
“Yeah, what happened to make you look like death?” Claire repeated with a half-smile, but again Marc still didn’t see the humour in it. She rolled her eyes and waited for a response.
They weren’t supposed to reveal their experiences or it would compromise the experiments they had planned. They were only going to be told one ghost story that night; just enough to play on their minds when they’re alone in their cells; one on the upper landing and one in the exclusion area. Right now, the goal was to get these experiments set up and running before dawn was upon them and they miss their chance. To be totally honest, Jack and Joe were no longer sure it was such a good idea any more, but wasn’t this what they were there for?
“I think it’s time we cracked on with the experiments,” answered Jack as he glanced at Claire, but then quickly averted his eyes. What was this, she wondered, embarrassment? Or was it fear? Whatever the reason it was obvious they both felt uncomfortable as hell on that landing and she was intrigued.
“Okay,” she conceded. Jack eased himself up off the floor and they all made their way back down to the second floor where their boxes were.
Despite Joe’s thoughts being so preoccupied he made an effort to regain some composure. Claire, although understanding his reasons for not wanting to discuss what had happened to him, had to admit it was niggling her. Joe was an old friend and she had never known him to get shaken up by anything before, and they had been in some sticky situations during their friendship. She knew him well enough to know that whatever had happened on that landing it had to have been pretty amazing for him to react to it the way he did.
Jack was a bit different. The uneasy edginess that was exuding from him was unusual, but their friendship was still relatively new so she wasn’t able to fathom if it was that unusual. One thing was for sure, whatever had happened, she was itching to experience the same thing herself.
Curiosity got the better of her as she watched Joe unpack one of the boxes and she approached him cautiously. He gave her a vague smile as she started to help, but proceeded in silence. After a short time, Claire, thinking she’d waited long enough, asked, “Joe, can I make a request?”
“Of course, what is it?”
“The cell you were in…up there,” she pointed up to the landing. “Can I have it as one of my areas? I’m sure Marc will want to have his turn up there too, but if it’s okay, I’d like first dibs at it…please.” For the first time ever Joe hesitated, another first for the second time that night, it was a new record for him. It was almost as though he was lost for words; not quite sure what to say. What the hell was taking him so long to reply? She thought a minor prod might help, “I would really appreciate it.” His attention snapped back to Claire as though it had strayed off somewhere else and then he slowly, but surely nodded his assent. Excitedly Claire hugged him. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet,” he said, his face serious, his eyes
searching deep into hers. Before she had time to say anything else the power
shut down and the lights went out. “Aw damn!” Marc’s exasperated voice streamed
through the darkness.