“You guys are such babies. Just come on already,” I complain, running ahead of the group. As per tradition, Jackson, Callie, Elliot and I are out exploring on Halloween night. It was around nine-o-clock when we left the car and trudged into the woods. We’ve been walking for maybe fifteen minutes and have about another fifteen to go before we reach the old asylum. Daylight is long gone, and the darkness haunts our dimly lit path.
Elliot and I have been obsessed with insane conspiracy theories and rumors of haunted houses since we were little. Every year on Halloween, we explore an old legend, in hopes of proving it true. The year we both turned eleven, we started middle school. There, we met Jackson and Callie, and they decided to start tagging along. This year is our senior year, and we saved the best mystery for last. Ever since my family moved here, I’ve heard many a story about the old insane asylum. Supposedly, it shut down when its youngest inhabitant, an eighteen-year-old girl, barricaded all of the exits and lit the building on fire, but by the time the fire department reached the building, everyone had burned to death. Other stories go in an entirely different direction and say she stole a security guard’s handgun and shot every person one by one. There are a few other tales similar to this one and a few others even more unusual than the first two, but how could anybody really know what happened except the girl herself? For all we know, they could just be ghost stories made up to scare children on Halloween night. None of it could be true.
The only blip in that explanation is how all the other inhabitants magically disappeared. All the other patients in the asylum are long gone. Even if they didn’t die in the incident, they would have died of old age by now, so there’s no asking them for help. Plus, the damn building is buried so far in the woods, so many miles from civilization, it’s not like there were neighbors around reporting a play by play. Many people have has the idea before, to hunt down the girl who started it all, and after it first happened, people’s did try tracing her down. There are endless articles written about her, and compiling them all together still leaves so many unanswered questions. Elliot and I have tried filling in some of the blanks, but it’s clear the only way to answer the questions is to come out here and see it all for ourselves. Except the old dirt roads aren’t really roads anymore, hence why we’ve been walking all this way in the midst of a cold autumn night.
“Scarlett, wait up. You dragged us all out here in the middle of the night, and I think I’m speaking for us all when I say I would like to make it home safe tonight. No funny business. That means you stay with the group,” grumbles Jackson.
I just roll my eyes in response.
We have to be nearing the building by now, and I don’t want to miss it. The four flashlights aren’t helping much in the depths of this damn forest. All of a sudden I feel a cool breeze wiz past, almost as if someone just ran by. I jerk my flashlight forward, and sure enough, there it is. Through a patchwork of overgrown greenery, past the cracked brick pathway, and up the crumbling cement stairs lays the asylum, in all its glory.
“Come on, scaredy-cats,” I holler.
We make our way to the front door of the building, stumbling over broken tree branches. The front door was left cracked open, as if someone was expecting us. I look back on everybody’s traumatized faces. The small talk had died out minutes ago, and everyone looks prepared to run.
“It’s now or never, Scar,” whispers Elliot.
Yes, I’m a little nervous. And I’m rarely nervous. I don’t know if I’m more nervous to discover what’s hiding in there, or to find out it really is nothing more than a legend. I take a deep breath and try pushing the door open.
I struggle with it at first. It’s clear that nobody has opened it in a while. Finally, Jackson helps me push it and the door creaks, but barely moves. Elliot joins in while Callie supplies the light, and the three of us slam the door back all at once. It flies off of its hinges. It shoots back more than ten feet before hitting the wall behind it. The crash it makes echoes throughout the building.
“Alright, we’re in!” says Jackson, stepping into the building.
I’m confident. The hard part is over. The worst part is always entering. You would think it would be more frightening to walk through the dark dungeons and abandoned caves, combatting that underlying fear of the unknown…but that’s the fun part. Starting that journey? Pushing past haunting thoughts of failure and actually opening the door? It takes all the courage in the world.
I had only just entered the building when coming upon a staircase. It was long and steep and looking up it, it seems never ending.
“What do you guys think, upstairs or downstairs first?” hollers Callie.
I look over to the other side of what seems to be the lobby and see Callie standing on the top step of yet another steep, never-ending stairwell. Except this one takes you further down, into the depths of the building.
Elliot pulls out the outdated floor plan we had printed out a couple of weeks before. We aren’t sure how accurate it is, but it’s our only guide.
“Well, it looks to me like we should go down. According to this,” He says, fiddling with the paper, “there are four floors below us full of patient rooms and dinning halls. Downstairs is where everyone made a living. Above us, there should only be two other floors, even though it seemed bigger from outside. This floor plan doesn’t have any divisions drawn onto the upstairs floors, so either they were used for storage or they weren’t used at all. I’m guessing we’ll find more clues where more people were,” Elliot finishes.
I look from Elliot to Callie to Jack—“Where's Jackson guys?"
They stop and turn, fear coating their faces.
"Scar, he was here just a second ago, he can’t be far," Elliot responds.
Jackson was just here. He helped us open the door. He was here. My mind begins to travel, but I stop it. I am the strong one. I have to be the strong one.
"Calm down, he's got to be exploring somewhere. Let's go look downstairs," I reassure, although, I’m not quite sure myself. It’s not logical for him to be downstairs; Elliot has been in front of that damn staircase since we walked in. And I’ve been standing in front of the staircase leading upstairs, and I didn’t see anybody go up. At least I think I didn’t…
"Maybe someone should look upstairs too," I suggest.
"I will. You guys go uncover your secrets and solve your mysteries. Jackson's gotta be around here somewhere," Cal says. She was being awfully calm for someone who just lost a best friend in a goddam abandoned asylum. But there’s no use in arguing with her.
"You sure, Cal?" asks Elliot.
"Go guys. I'll be fine."
And with that, she takes off, up the stairs, towards the darkness above her.
I turn to Elliot, dazed.
"It's okay Scarlet, she's fine. And so is Jackson. Let's go."
Forty. I counted forty steps. The second we reach the bottom Elliot grabs my hand. Clearly he isn’t as calm as he had acted upstairs.
“You’re afraid of losing me. You know Jackson’s gone. You know what’s happening just as well as I do. This was a bad idea Elliot.”
When he looks up to me I can see that his eyes, like mine, are wet with tears. But we continue in silence. That’s one thing we refrained from telling the others. There are many rumors about what really happens when people dare to visit the asylum. The most popular of them says that the first and last to enter are the ones who will be taken. Hence why everyone that has come before, never returned—they all entered in pairs.
Jackson entered first.
Elliot and I are both breathing heavily as we travel through the halls. The first door we come upon is already a crack open. Elliot pushes it the rest of the way open and steps inside the small space. Shinning the flashlight around, we see a bed covered in cobwebs. The bed is alongside one wall, and in the corner of the room, directly adjacent to the bed, is a metal toilet. There seems to be a small chest of drawers too, but it’s broken into many pieces.
Approaching the chest, I see nothing inside. It was clearly emptied out years ago. I turn to Elliot disappointed but he shrugs his shoulders and leads me back out to the hallway.
“Don’t sweat it Scar. That was just one room out of many.”
We continue on room after room. Each room looks identical to the next. I begin to wonder if we are walking in circles, heading into the same room time after time. However, as we approach the seventh room, something’s off.
In this room, the bed it not on the wall in front of you as you enter the room. It is directly to the left, pressing up against the doorframe, and in the bed, propped upright, is none other than Jackson.
There is a rope around his stomach, fastening him to the bed. There is a stained line of blood coursing up his arms and another circling his eyes. He smells of death.
Before I have time to scream, Elliot’s hand is covering my mouth. His other arm finds its way around my waist and he pulls me close to him, tangling me in a messy hug.
I wasn’t even going to yell. I wasn’t afraid. I was expecting it, but not like this.
I pull away from Elliot and run to the next room. The room is set up the same way the one before was, another figure lying on the bed. This one is unrecognizable. It has already begun to decompose. Elliot walks in and abruptly halts.
“Scarlet. We need to leave. Now. I’m going upstairs and I’m going to find Callie and we’re going to leave now.” His voice is calming. Safe.
I turned to him, tear-stained and confused.
“We’ve come so far Elliot. We can’t stop now. Callie’s gone. She went alone. Callie was the last to enter. She’s gone.”
Elliot looked at me, absent and hurt. His face read like a book. He didn’t believe that I could really have just said that. Ever since we were kids we agreed on everything. We knew when to stop. We knew what enough was. We just knew each other, and we knew our limits. It was clear he had reached his, but I was determined to push forward…until I heard it. And I could tell by his face that he heard it too.
A scream echoed in the distance: far, but loud. And it sounded distinctly like Callie.
I look at Elliot, holding my breath.
“That was her,” clarifies Elliot. People tend to state the obvious in situations like this.
And with that he took off running. At this point, there was nothing more I could do than follow. We race back down the narrow hallway.
When we finally resurface at the top of the staircase, we are both breathing heavily. And there it is again, right on cue. The scream is louder this time.
“Common Scarlet, we’ve got to go up.”
I look at him in disbelief, but he doesn’t bother arguing with me. He grabs my hand and yanks me towards the staircase.
When we resurface at the top, we are both panting.
"What Scarlett?! WHAT?! We just lost one of our best friends. You just lost one of your best friends, and all you can do is sit there and think about the god damn ghost stories?!"
I don't respond. Not that there was anything to say. I just continue to follow him up the stairs towards the reoccurring screams in hopes of finding Callie and whatever else may lie beyond the walls of darkness lining the stairs.
Forty more steps before we reach the top. Elliot was right; it looks empty and uninhabited down here. And there are clearly no signs of Callie.
"Okay, Scarlett. You take this floor and I will go up one more."
Before I can utter a response, he disappears.
I cautiously maneuver around the beams planted throughout the room. There’s literally nothing here. It doesn’t even have a smell. There is no color. It is just a white room. It reminds me of an empty parking garage with its cold grey concrete floors.
I walk around for a couple of minutes and then decide to leave. There is no point in looking at nothing. Defeated, I trudge toward the short staircase leading up to the final floor. This time there was only thirteen stairs. When I hit the top, I was surprised to find that the floor was red, not grey.
“Elliot? Are you there?”
I don’t get a response, but as I travel farther into the room, I hear a constant stream of heavy breathing coming from up ahead.
“Elliot you’re freaking me out.”
Finally, I come across a body—two bodies. The bottom body shields the top. The top is where the breathing is coming from. The top is Elliot.
I jerk him up, tugging at his shoulders.
“Elliot! Elliot, talk to me!”
“Scar, that’s her, she’s gone.”
I look down at the body lying next to us on the floor. It’s Callie. But if Elliot hadn’t told me, I never would have known. Her body was scraped and bloody. I shine my flashlight around her body and trace a path back down the red floor to the top of the stairs.
“It’s her blood, Scarlet.”
My breath catches in my throat. That unusual red floor was Callie’s own flesh and blood. And I just walked all over it.
I turn back around after hearing the loud creak of a door behind me.
The door in the corner of the room is cracked open and Elliot is gone.
"Well, damn," I say to no one as I stare at the open door. It leads out to the roof. Walking out onto the mile high roof in the middle of what appears to be a thunderstorm doesn't sound appealing, or smart, but I have no other choice.
The second I step out I’m soaked.
"Elliot! Elliot, where the hell are you?!"
My flashlight grazes over a mass towards the right side of the roof. I follow the light until I reach the mass—the mass that turns out to be human. Elliot.
He was sitting down, legs dangling off the edge of the building, head tilted down. He was staring, desperately, towards the infinity below him.
“Elliot. Elliot, what are you doing?”
I’m stammering on my words. He’s about to jump off. He is about to jump off the goddam building.
The second I reach out for him, his hands leave his side and he tips, head first, off the edge of the roof.
For a minute I just stand there, dazed and confused.
For a minute I think about where I am. I think about the old asylum and the suspense leading up to this trip.
For a minute I forget that Jackson’s dead. I forget that Callie’s dead. I forget that Elliot’s gone.
But the minute does not last long because I hear, in the distance below me, the unforgettable sound of bones colliding with concrete. And just like that, he is gone.
And so I run. I run down all fifty-three stairs to return to the lobby. I run past Callie’s body and past the staircase that leads to Jackson and through the door to the building where it all happened. The building that now holds more secrets and more mysteries than when I entered.
And as I run, I think. I wonder what we could have done differently. I wonder what life without my friends will be like. I think about all the years I wasted on this damn building. I worry about telling my friend’s parents how they died. And I worry about how people will react when I tell them I don’t know the answers.
Maybe it’s just best to leave the past in the past.