Crazy Night At the Local Looney Bin
“Here we are ladies and gentlemen, in front of the former Lakeshore Mental Institution, or what remains of it.” Luke hoisted the camera higher, keeping it aimed at his face. The picture jumped, unsteady.
“Better wrap this up before we get drenched,” Nadia hurried her friend along, as lightning colored the sky silver. It was quickly followed by a thwack of thunder.
“Perfect. . .” Nadia pulled her hoody around her face and checked her gear for the fifth time. They were only allowed in for six hours, but she had enough battery power to stake the place out for the next forty-eight. The sound equipment was working and they were ready to go.
Jason, their producer, chewed his gum nonchalantly next to Nadia, indifferent to the rain or the adventure they were about to embark on. Pulling the key out of his pocket, he unlocked the big wooden door and pushed it. It opened with a loud ominous creak, letting the moonlight filter through the opening and illuminating the dust bunnies that danced in the air.
“Smells like a dungeon in here.” Luke wrinkled his nose, sniffing at the musty air.
“Lights on,” Jason said before shutting the world out and locking them all in this oversized crypt. “That was the deal: keep the place secure and lock the door behind you,” he added when two unsure faces followed the key with their eyes as it was safely returned to Jason’s pocket.
The deal had been struck with the local authorities. It was a win-win situation, really. They wanted recent incidents of reported screams and lights investigated without actually having to set foot in the place, and Luke, Nadia and Jason needed an epic story for their Media class. No one could remember which genius had suggested Lakeshore as their subject – after all it was only the most haunted and disturbing place on earth – but here they were, sealed in what smelled like a mass grave.
Luke gulped and got his cellphone out for extra light, Nadia mouthed a silent prayer, and Jason blew a gum bubble that popped noisily in the long corridor that no doubt led to the seventh circle of hell. So said the rumors Nadia had heard her whole life. Those rumors were what kept the kids away, because the ‘Keep Out’ and ‘Unsafe structure’ signs certainly weren’t deterrents. In fact, they acted more like lures. Even as kids, Luke, Nadia and Jason had witnessed their friends challenge each other to step inside. Only one of them had been brave enough to go in. Brian. Trouble was that he had never made it out and his body had never been recovered.
Nadia chased the thought from her mind. She needed to stay cool and collected if she was going to make it through the night. She couldn’t let her imagination run wild.
Luke picked up from he had left off in the rain. “The Lakeshore closed its doors in 1912 following an uprising. Patients attacked the staff, killing three. Although other sources say the closure came a few years later, when some staff members were alleged to be carrying out unlicensed sleep deprivation experiments on patients. The data from those experiments was never disclosed.”
“Enough talking, let’s get this show on the road.” Jason grabbed the camera from Luke, pointed it into the darkness and started down the corridor. “Ghosts and ghouls, come out to play.”
“Don’t antagonize them,” Luke chided.
“I’m not antagonizing anything. There’s nothing here. And if there is, it’s the only way we’ll get out of here with footage worth showing. I’m not spending the night in this place just to go home with endless frames of your ‘good side’ and a few shots of complete blackness.” He gave Luke a deadly look before chanting again, “ghosties, come say hi. We won’t bite.”
“Guys, wait.” Nadia put her hand up to shh the others and pressed her headphones into her ears. “I heard something.”
“Jason’s big mouth?”
Nadia ignored Luke’s comment. “Jay, say it again.”
“Say what again? ‘Come say hi, we won’t bite’?” Jason repeated.
There it was, clear as day. A throaty scratchy voice replied in Nadia’s ear, “But we might. . .”
A shudder shook Nadia from head to toe, raising goose bumps on her arms and legs. “We . . . we aren’t alone.”
“Right on!” Jason nodded enthusiastically.
“What are you so happy about? Have you never watch horror movies? The idiot is usually the first one to kick the bucket.” Luke sneered.
Jason considered his friend for a moment, something unusual shining in the depth of his dark pupils, then it was gone. “I think we should split up,” he finally said. “We’ll cover more ground that way.”
“Have you not heard what I just said about horror movies?” Luke eyed Jason incredulously.
“Grow some, Lucy,” Jason taunted Luke.
Before her friends started tearing each other to pieces, Nadia intervened. “What’s wrong with you, guys?” She considered each in turn with disgust. They had never acted this way toward one another before. Turning to Jason, who towered over her, she added, “I don’t think splitting up is a good idea. The building isn’t up to code, one of us could get hurt or. . .”
“Or run into one of the permanent residents,” Jason finished for her before he was interrupted by noises coming from the far end of the corridor. Scratching?
A crackly old record was playing. Barely audible at first, the music grew to a deafening level, sending shivers down Nadia’s spine. There was a rusty smell in the air that she could almost taste. “What’s that?”
“I’ll go investigate,” Jason volunteered, already backing away into the darkness, humming the theme song from the Exorcist.
“No!” said Luke, turning his blue eyes to Nadia for support. “We shouldn’t split up. In fact, I think we should leave.”
“Are you scared, Lucy?” Jason spat the last word out and a grin distorted his features. For a moment he almost looked like someone else. Like something else.
The inky blackness engulfed him and everything became very still and silent.
“Jason!” Nadia called out, but only the echo of her voice responded. “Jason! Stop playing around. It’s not funny!”
This time, a girlish giggle answered her. Nadia swiveled around, but there was nothing there but an awful bone-crushing coldness.
“We have to get out of here.” Terror was plain in Luke’s eyes.
“We can’t leave without Jay.” Nadia shone her torch into the nearest room, which looked to have been the main reception.
From the high ceiling dangled a rusted light fixture that swung in the nonexistent breeze. The yellowed wallpaper drooped in places like dank pieces of skin from a wound to reveal dark paint – or what she hoped was paint. The years hadn’t been kind to the building. The constant drip of water hitting a puddle was starting to drive Nadia crazy, but she couldn’t locate the source.
From the corner of her eye, Nadia caught furtive movement. “Jay, is that you?” she called.
The light of her torch flickered and Nadia banged on it, hoping to restore its light. Her equipment was already dying. How was that possible? They had been in the building less than an hour. When she pointed the torch out again, the beam came to rest on two dead eyes less than a hand’s reach away. They shone empty and bluish like those of a cat in pitch darkness, and belonged to what had once been the pretty face of a girl of no more than twelve years old. Her gown, once a sickly green hue, was ripped and grimy. Her skin was pale and hung loosely around her jaw. Part of her skull was missing, and a gaping hole festering with larvae was all that was left. “I must not sleep. I must not sleep. I must not sleep,” she sang in a whisper over and over again in an abrasive voice. She held her head in her hands, rocking back and forth of the heels of her bare feet.
Nadia was rooted into place, frozen. The girl hadn’t seemed to notice her nor Luke until he took an involuntary step back, making the debris on the floor crunch under his sneakers. The girl instantly stopped her chanting and turned her dead stare to Luke, seeing him for the first time. Slowly, her mouth slackened, opening wide, too wide, revealing a cavernous pit from which a long black centipede crawled out. And she screamed, “You shouldn’t have come!”
Nadia blocked her ears.
After what felt like an eternity, the girl stopped and smiled a sweet rotten-toothed smile. “They know you’re here.”
Luke bolted for the main door, Nadia on his heels. They banged on it and shouted, but who would hear them at this time of night? Who would come help them?
A sinking feeling washed over Nadia. “Jay has the key.”
Luke kicked the thick wood of the door, laughing humorlessly. He steeled himself. There was only one thing left to do. “Let’s go find that bastard.”
Luke held the night-vision camera up in front of him to use as a guide. If anything else crawled out of this hellhole, he’d be the first to know.
Nadia and Luke set down the corridor again, heading deeper into the unknown. Examination and treatment rooms succeeded one another, each as grotesque and gross as the last. Beds were upturned, instruments littered the broken tile floors, everything was covered in three inches of dust and decay had done its damage.
“There’s no place like hell. . .” Luke read aloud. He took a few tentative steps closer to the wall. “Is that feces?”
“Or blood.” The response was followed by a soft squeaky noise.
“Maybe.” Luke made a face. “Whatever it is, it ain’t crayon.” He resumed his exploration. “Jason! Where are you, you stupid–” Luke stopped dead, listening hard. Nothing. But the kind of nothing that’s actually something. Anxious, Luke reached out behind him at Nadia. “Grab my hand. It’s dark and I don’t want us to get separated.”
He felt the comforting touch of a hand glide into his.
There it was again. That quiet squeaky noise.
Luke turned. “Nadia, can you hear–”
Something was holding Luke’s hand, but it wasn’t Nadia. Luke dropped the camera, and it carried on filming, recording images no one would ever see.
It was a man in the tatters of what had once been a torn clown’s outfit smeared with something like blood. His face was badly painted and his makeup had run long before he’d met his end. From his left arm swung brown tubes hooked to a long-dried I.V. that hung from a pole. The pole’s rusty wheels squeaked quietly. The old man head was bald but for a few tufts of matted hair. He had the same dead eyes as the girl Luke and Nadia had met in the reception area. His back against the wall, Luke screamed and tried to pull his fingers free from the dead man’s grip, but he wouldn’t let go. The clown grinned widely and shuffled, mouth opened, towards Luke, who struggled to push the dead man away.
Nadia had found her way to the kitchen though she wasn’t sure how. One minute she was walking right behind Luke, and the next, she had turned in here. The cupboards stood open, there were open cans of food strewn on every surface. And the odor. Something had definitely died in here.
From behind the long counter, Nadia picked up the soft sound of crunching and gnawing. “Rats. . . I hate rats.” She took a step closer and peaked behind the counter.
On the floor, sat a man, his face soiled with blood. He gnawed at his own arm. It twitched whenever he bit down on the muscle, the hand opening and closing. The bone crunched, the flesh squished wetly. Bits of the man’s side and thigh had been torn out of his body. The injuries looked to be self-inflicted.
“Jason?” Nadia sobbed.
Jason turned his black eyes on his friend. Baring his teeth, he growled like a creature from another world. It was like nothing Nadia had ever heard before.
Nadia turned away and vomited until only bile came up, burning her throat. Her heart was beating fast, but she couldn’t tear herself away from the gory scene in front of her eyes.
Luke’s scream brought Nadia out of her torpor, and she slowly backed away out of the room. Once past the doorframe, she bolted blindly up the corridor. “Luke! Luke!”
Turning a corner, she slammed into a body and went skidding on the torn linoleum, hitting her head on the ground.
“There you are,” said a woman’s voice.
“What. . . who. . .?” Nadia was confused, trying hard not to pass out from the pain in her skull.
“We’ve been looking all over for you. You got lost.”
“I did. . .? I did.” Nadia rubbed her head, feeling the huge bump that would make her suffer later. She was seeing stars.
“Over here!” The woman called and two pairs of strong arms lifted Nadia onto her unsteady feet. They didn’t let go.
Nadia turned her gaze to the woman. Dressed in white – not exactly practical for an expedition into dusty and grimy ruins – she had a kind smile and eyes that were framed by blond hair that bobbed at her chin. “Bring her into Exam Room B,” she instructed the two burly men that held Nadia upright. They walked her a few doors down and laid her onto an old table that had been set on its feet.
“My friends are still out there. . .” Well, at least one of them. Oh, Jason! A sob escaped Nadia’s lips, the horror replaying itself in her mind.
“Yes, it’s alright. . . It’s going to be alright,” the woman soothed her. “I’m Nurse Hemsworth.”
“Nurse? How did you know we were hurt?. . .” Nadia’s head throbbed painfully and she found it hard to string her thoughts. “How did you get in here?”
“I’ll give you something that will help with your headache. Now, don’t fall asleep.”
“What? Why? Do I have a concussion?” Nadia asked groggily.
The woman turned and Nadia saw the gash that dented the back of her head. Before she could react, a needle had pierced her skin and stinging liquid coursed through her veins.
“No! No!” she slurred.
“You must stay awake now. Always. We must not sleep.” Nurse Hemsworth smiled a creepy smile.
Nadia pushed the men’s hands aside and got to her feet. The walls were spinning, but she somehow made it to the doorframe without crashing down.
“Where are you going? You’re home now,” she heard Nurse Hemsworth’s falsely benevolent tone behind her.
As Nadia was dragged back into the examination room kicking and screaming, she saw the figure of a boy watching from the far end of the corridor. She knew that face.
Brian, the boy who had made it in, but who had never made it out, gave her a small wave with a fingerless hand.
“You’re home now,” repeated Nurse Hemsworth.