Wednesday morning arrived with the sun beaming down through the cracks in Ava’s blinds; there was not a cloud in the sky. Ava walked to her bathroom for her regular morning routine; she swallowed her prescription pills with a big glug of water and squeezed a small pea-sized amount of ointment onto her fingertip to rub onto the wound on the back of her head. It was healing up well and only hurt when she pressed it too firmly. After a quick breakfast, Ava collected everything she needed for another day of research at the Asylum and hopped into her car to begin the journey out of Detroit. She felt quite anxious as she neared her destination; she was on her way back to the place where she’d experienced the worst head trauma she’d ever had. While she recalled the events that took place, she reached over to the passenger seat, found her handbag, and rummaged through it, double checking she’d brought enough food and water for the day.
The young journalist began to think about Lillian, about how she helped her get out of that situation, and how she came back in the middle of the night when it was dark and cold. Ava thought that she should get her something as a thank-you gift. She glanced at the fuel gauge and, seeing that she was considerably low on gas she pulled over at the next service station. The gas was more expensive than other places but what other choice did she have? Ava entered the building to pay, glancing over to the junk-food aisle before walking down there. This reminded her of when she and her sister were very little, they would go inside with their parents when they filled up for gas and beg for candy bars. This brought her mind back to Lillian. What kind of chocolate do kids like nowadays? Ava thought, noticing that the selection was significantly different to when she was younger. She picked out several bars before paying. The rest of the journey was uneventful; Ava no longer even needed navigation; she now knew the roads like the back of her hand. The crumbling arch marked the entry to the asylum as Ava drove onto the grounds; the long driveway eventually ending at the visitor’s carpark. As she slowed to a stop, she leant close to the steering wheel and peered out the front windshield, her forehead creased, and a look of worry on her face as she stared up at the building. The enormous windows looked blankly back, reflecting the trees and the outside world while hiding what was inside. Ava reached into her bag for an apple and bit into it; a last-minute energy boost before leaving the present to go into the broken past. Ava tried to convince herself that there was nothing to be afraid of as her hand gripped the old-fashioned key and turned it to unlock the heavy door. The door swung open slowly, creaking with effort, and Ava once again found herself looking into the grand empty space; the huge foyer was like a dead, empty body that once held so much life and activity, even if that activity was sinister and painful.
Ava did not bother setting herself up in the eating area. She walked around the reception area, dust and grit crunched beneath her feet as she walked up the stairs. The railing was heavily guarded with rusted bars, most likely to prevent patients from falling. Or jumping. Ava looked through the bars and discovered that she had a wide view of the entire front area of the hospital through the large window that sat on top of the main door. The light coming through the windowpane was dull, almost green, as it fought to penetrate the glass caked with decades of dust and cobwebs. The investigative journalist continued up the stairs until she reached the first floor. The stairs led directly to the beginning of the hallway; she stared at it for a brief moment, shifting her eyes from the small, barred window at the end of the hallway, to the numerous doors on each side of the corridor. She held her breath as she looked, as if waiting for something to happen. Ava continued up to the second floor. She stood stock still and stared at the exact point where the man in the wheelchair had been sitting, the man she saw in her dream. That was where she saw a young John Nikita attack a defenseless man. She recalled the scene in her mind, the way the tall, strong man raised his hand and struck the sick man so aggressively on the head as he cowered, with no place to go and no strength left to fend his attacker off.
Ava decided not to continue to the top storey. The thought of getting lost or being so far away from the front door frightened her. Ava walked back in the opposite direction, back down the flights of stairs until finally reaching the front foyer. She stopped in her tracks when she heard something. She turned her head to face the front door. The noise was coming from outside. Ava concentrated on slowing her breathing. The building was silent which only amplified the sounds from outside. Ava walked slowly to the front door, trying hard to be as quiet as possible. There were long, narrow windows on either side of the large front door and Ava tiptoed across to look through the glass while trying to keep herself from being seen by whoever, or whatever, was outside. She could make out banging noises, sometimes soft, sometimes louder, and the sounds of metal clattering. As she got closer to the window, she heard a voice, and she exhaled with a sigh of relief when she saw who was outside. “Caleb, how are you?” Ava opened the door and approached the maintenance man. He stopped his quiet singing. “Hello Ava. I’m doing fine,” he said as he collected gardening tools from the trunk of his car. Ava felt like a fool for panicking over something that turned out to be so harmless. “You weren’t here last week,” Caleb said as he picked up his wheelbarrow. “Yeah, that’s right, I was busy last week,” Ava said. “No, you weren’t,” Caleb said firmly. “Pardon me?” Ava responded, surprised by his reaction. “You hit your head. You got con-con-concussed,” the man stuttered. “Oh, yes I did actually. How did you know that?” Ava asked puzzled. “Lillian told me. She told me,” Caleb said. Quite abruptly Caleb picked up his wheelbarrow and continued on his way to the back of the building. Ava called out after him, “Would you like to have lunch with me again? I really enjoyed it last time,” she smiled. “S-s-sure,” the young man responded. He walked away without saying anything else, singing softly to himself. Ava went back into the building, letting Caleb get back to his job. She was slightly confused by his shy behaviour but put it down to the time that had lapsed between their last meeting and today.
The door closed behind her, and complete silence wrapped itself around Ava once again. With reception to her left and the dining area to her right, Ava looked directly forward and faced the long, dark hallway. It was still just as dark as the day she first laid eyes on it; the gloomy light created shapes as her eyes adjusted. She swallowed the strange fear she felt before stepping forward. She walked down the corridor, the light slowly disappearing behind her the further she continued into the building, her footsteps echoing down the hallway, bouncing off the metal doors. She reached the familiar basement door. It opened easily as she turned the handle and with minimal pressure, Ava pushed it open. She took a deep breath before pulling her phone out of her pocket, using it again as a torch. She checked her phone battery which showed it was fully charged. Slowly she stepped down the stairs, soon reaching the damp concrete floor. The room was cold, colder than any other part of asylum. Ava coughed as she inhaled the fetid air, but she pushed all negative thoughts to the side and settled down to work. She noticed that the five files she read last week were still stacked on the floor, next to her chair. Ava walked around the shelves, aware that any wrong move would send the files falling. Ava was looking particularly for staff files. There must be some documentation somewhere, she thought to herself. She gently traced her fingers across each file on the shelves which were packed nearly to overflowing. A feeling of dread and hopelessness was growing in her. She decided to select several patient files and study those; she’d go back to searching for doctors and nurses later. She balanced four manilla folders on her knees as she skimmed through their contents, each patient’s story more heart-wrenching that the last. So many of the patients at the Asylum had no family, no name, they were dumped here by the authorities. Ava made notes on her pad and paper, sitting in the same chair she’d sat in just a week ago. She noted how horrific it was, that people had no other place to go other than this place. A place where they were treated like animals, tortured, physically, emotionally and psychologically; the place they lost all faith in a compassionate society. For so many, it was to be their last home before their death.
“You’re back!” Ava gasped and looked up. “I really need to get you a bell!” she exclaimed. Lillian laughed at Ava’s reaction while she stood at the top of the staircase looking down. “I’m glad you’re back. Are you doing okay?” she asked. “I’m doing great, actually, my head’s all better. Are you doing okay?” Ava asked in turn. “I guess so. I missed you,” the young girl said as she started to walk down the stairs. “Did you have that talk with your mother?” Ava gave Lillian a strange look. “What?” she asked, puzzled. “I said you should talk to your mom. Did you?” The young girl sat down on the last step of the staircase. “Oh, right. I did, actually. And I visited my sister,” Ava announced proudly. Lillian sat upright and had a blank expression on her face. “You did?” Lillian asked. “Yeah, I did. I hadn’t seen her in three years. She was so happy to see me. I was so happy to see her.” Ava smiled. The journalist continued reading through the patient files and silence settled in the room. Lillian was sitting still on the step, her chin resting in the palm of her hands. Ava could feel her eyes on her, and she glanced up. “Something troubles you,” Lillian said. “What do you mean?” Ava asked as she turned the page of the file in her hands. “Something troubles you, that’s all,” the young girl shrugged. Ava furrowed her brow as she tried to understand what the young girl was alluding to. She thought back to the night she hit her head, the fact that Lillian was there, and how she was unafraid of a dark mental asylum. Then it hit her. “You know, you’re right, and I’ve just worked out what it is. I don’t know anything about you,” Ava looked at Lillian. The young girl reacted, she lifted her head from her knees and straightened her posture, the corners of her mouth were turned down. “What do you want to know?” Lillian’s words quivered. “Well… how old are you?” Ava asked. “Um…” Lillian hesitated as if trying to remember her own age. “Twelve,” she finally answered. “Okay, and why do you come here so much? I mean, aren’t kids your age scared of places like this?” Ava waved her left hand around, gesturing around the place; her other hand gripped the file. “I don’t know…” the girl responded. Ava realised she may have hit a weak spot. “Do you… do you have many friends?” Ava asked in a gentle tone. Lillian looked down. “I’m friends with Caleb. I was friends with Phillip. I’m friends with you, aren’t I?” she straightened her neck as she mentioned Ava. “Yes, of course I’m your friend. I hope you’re mine as well,” she smiled before she realised something. “Wait, Phillip?” the journalist said. “Yeah, Phillip. Phillip Chester.” Lillian dropped eye contact again. “Linda did mention Phillip. He moved away, didn’t he?” Ava inquired, trying to remember. “To California?” she asked. “California?” the young girl responded confused. “Linda told me he went to college in California. You didn’t know?” Ava looked hard at Lillian. “Oh, right, of course. Caleb and I used to hang out with him a lot,” Lillian smiled at the happy memories she had of them all together. Ava let her think for a moment. “But have you made any friends your age in town?” Ava pressed. “Oh no. I don’t go into town that much,” Lillian said. “I struggle to communicate with people.” Ava raised her eyebrows at the young girl’s remark. “What do you mean? You’re perfectly fine talking to me. I love having conversations with you, you’re like a little adult!” she smiled, trying to praise the child. “An ’old soul’ as they say.” Ava noticed Lillian’s mood had turned sad. She realised that the young girl clearly lacked a social life. “I can only talk to you because… you can hear me.” Lillian spoke as though she was about to cry. “What do you mean?” asked Ava, concerned for the sad child. “Nobody else can hear me. Because they don’t want to. Their minds are shut,” a tear fell down her cheek. “Oh Lillian, there’s no need to cry.” Ava felt awkward in this situation; how does one console an upset child? “Well, it’s their loss” she concluded. “If people only chose to listen to you they would see how smart, funny and delightful you are.” The pair smiled at one another.
Ava tried to change the topic. “What about your parents? They must be proud to have raised such an articulate and clever young woman as you clearly are,” she said brightly. “My parents?” Lillian scoffed. “My parents never wanted me.” Ava looked at Lillian with a mixture of compassion and shock as she said this. “I’m sure that’s not true, that can’t be true,” Ava said, trying not to dismiss Lillian’s feelings. “You don’t understand.” Lillian sniffled as more tears began to fall down her cheeks. Ava didn’t know what to say. All she knew was that she had felt exactly the same from the age of eight. She remembered longing for someone to tell her that they loved her, and that she was wanted and valued. “Lillian, I can tell you right now, I do know how you feel. But I also want you know, that even if you truly don’t think that your parents want you, even though I’m sure that can’t be true, other people want you,” Ava said, softly. “Nobody in the world knows I exist,” Lillian said. “I do. Caleb does, Phillip does. And all of us think you’re wonderful,” Ava could feel the tears start to well up in her own eyes. The fact that she had been in the exact situation for years of her life, aware of how terrible the feeling was, the fact that another child felt the same thing, broke her heart. Ava put the folder she’s been reading on the floor beside the chair before kneeling on the ground, coming to eye level with Lillian. She opened her mouth, about to say something. “Ava? Are you in here?” A voice called out from the front of the building. “It’s Caleb!” Ava looked at Lillian, hoping this would lift her spirits, but it seemed not to. “Look, we’re going to have lunch together, maybe you-” Ava reached out to touch Lillian’s hand, but the young girl pulled it back. She got to her feet and stepped back. “No, no. I have to go,” Lillian said. “Why? You don’t want to stay a while?” Ava stood up and brushed the dirt off her knees. “No, I have to go.” The young girl turned and ran up the stairs to the door before briefly turning back. “When are you coming back?” she asked. “I’m not sure; maybe Friday or if I can’t make it, definitely Monday,” Ava said, and she could see the disappointment on Lillian’s face. “I’m coming back soon, that’s all you need to know. I promise I’m coming back.” Lillian smiled at this then turned and ran out, her long skirt billowing behind her.
Ava collected her things and made it to the top of the stairway and to the doorway. She turned to face the open area at the front of the building. The figure of Caleb was at the main entrance, his arm holding the heavy door open. The journalist made her way over. “Did you say hi to Lillian?” she asked. “No,” the young man answered blankly. “What do you mean?” Ava asked confused. “I haven’t seen Lillian today. Is she eating with us?” he asked, oblivious to Ava’s concern. “Wait, how did you not see her? How else did she get out?” Ava said. “I d-don’t know. She has ways,” Caleb answered, staring at his boots. This worried Ava; she thought there was only one way in and out of the building. “Do you want to eat outside like last time?” Ava offered. “No, it’s cold.” “Come on in then, there’s a table in the dining-” “No!” Caleb raised his voice slightly, taking Ava aback. “Why, what’s the problem?” Ava asked, facing the maintenance man. “I don’t like it there,” he whispered, blinking his eyes towards the interior building. The pair eventually decided to eat in Ava’s car; she sat in the driver’s seat while Caleb ate his pickled-onion and salsa sandwich next to her. They ate in a comfortable silence, each of them happy to fill their grumbling stomachs. Ava swallowed an iron tablet with a large swig of water, followed by her burrito.
She thought about the intense conversation she just had with Lillian, how the most basic of questions seemed to upset her. She remembered the young girl’s strange reaction to the topic of Phillip Chester. “So, Caleb,” Ava said, getting the young man’s attention. “I was talking to Lillian, and I know that you two are quite close. Am I right in saying that?” she tilted her head. “Y-yes. We’re good friends,” Caleb smiled. “That’s so great. I understand you two used to have another friend that you were close with as well.” Ava didn’t say his name, testing the waters by simply implying who she was talking about. “Phillip? Linda and Robert’s son.” Caleb stopped chewing; he froze which made Ava think that it was probably a delicate topic. She remembered growing up with Kiara and how she wouldn’t respond well to a big event, even something that to most people wouldn’t seem that big a deal, such as having an argument with a friend or losing her favorite book. “Ph-Phillip was my best friend. He left,” Caleb said. “Yeah, I know. Did you meet Phillip through Robert and Linda when you first started working here?” Ava asked, trying to sound as gentle and thoughtful as possible. “No. I-I met him at school. Nobody wanted to play with me. But he did,” Caleb declared proudly. “How old were you?” Ava asked, happy that Phillip made Caleb happy. “S-six,” he responded, taking another large bite into his sandwich. “That’s really sweet, he sounds awesome. Does he visit here often?” Caleb stopped his chewing again, thinking about Ava’s question. “Phillip h-hasn’t been back in six years.” Ava put the pieces together in her mind and something clicked. She remembered Linda’s body language when she spoke about him; how she was vague on details and seemed hesitant in her sentences when on the subject. “Caleb… how old are you?” Ava asked. “I’m twenty t-two. Born on February fourth, 1996.” he answered, lifting his right index finger into the air. Ava turned the other way to face the window, trying not to get emotional. A brief moment later she turned back around to face Caleb. “Um, do you know what happened to Phillip?” she whispered. “Linda told me he moved away to go to a good school. I’m not s-surprised, he was always smart,” he tapped his index finger on his temple. “I wish he told me he was leaving. I w-wish he would visit. I wanted to say goodbye.” Ava felt a lump developing in her throat, feeling pity for him in his naivety. “I get m-mad at him sometimes.” Caleb consumed the last bite of his sandwich. “I know the feeling Caleb,” her eyes filled with tears. “But don’t get mad at him. Please. Because he misses you too.” She put her hand up to her eye, catching a tear before it fell down her face.
After lunch, Ava and Caleb went their separate ways as Ava drove home for the day. The clouds slowly parted, and a ray of sunlight beamed down onto her face through the windshield, as if the universe acknowledged her emotions. Ava wound her window town and reached her arm out into the open air, letting her hand bend back as she sped down the highway. The air was fresh with natural fragrance as she passed fields and paddocks filled with plants, healthily growing in the fertile soil, moistened by the recent rainfall. The long drive came to an end once more as the journalist pulled into her driveway. The remainder of her evening was routine; Ava readied herself for the next day’s interview. She changed into comfortable clothes before curling up on the couch with a pad of paper resting on her folded legs and a pen in her hand. The familiar routine of knowing what answers she needed, but not knowing what questions to ask overwhelmed Ava as fifteen minutes passed without any ink hitting the page. Ava leant her neck back and thought over the day. She recalled Lillian’s reaction when she spoke about Phillip. Ava assumed that Linda had also told Lillian that he’d moved away, but deep down she knew what the truth was. Caleb wasn’t as clever in this situation. In the strangest way, the thought of this tragic event motivated Ava; the fact that this young boy, who would have been no older than sixteen when he died, never got the opportunities that Ava has now, helped to consolidate her thoughts. Ava was able to put together the appropriate words to form the questions she would ask tomorrow. Nerves and excitement set in as she put the lid on her pen and finished her work for the day.
It was late by the time she went to bed, but she had no trouble falling asleep. Her eyelids were heavy. A comforting blackness surrounded Ava as she drifted off, until colors began to swirl, flashes of light until shapes emerged, blurs of sounds and figures formed, before Ava found herself in an all-too-familiar location. She looked around at the windows and the doorway of the dining area of the Armitage Mental Asylum. Dull light shone through the windows of the dining room; the table still sat in the centre of the room with two chairs on each side. Something drew Ava’s attention behind her. She turned her body, facing the doorway … where Lillian stared back. “This is a dream,” Ava whispered aloud. Lillian nodded before walking over to the table, her long, white skirt flowing as she sat down. “You spoke to Caleb about Phillip,” Lillian said. Ava walked over and sat in the chair on the other side of the table, facing the young girl. “I did,” Ava responded as Lillian looked down, the same, unsatisfied expression on her youthful face. “You know what happened to him. You know why he hasn’t visited in six years,” Ava leant forward, she stopped and considered; this is just a dream. “Phillip was a good person,” Lillian said looking up. “The best,” Her chin quivered. Ava didn’t respond, she let the young girl take her time. “We used to play all the time. He was smart, and he was very protective of me. He never had a sister to be protective of, so I filled the position,” she smiled to herself. “He had demons. Lots of them. He was supposed to be taking medication, but he told me he was sick of it,” Lillian choked on her words as she spoke. “He said if he couldn’t exist without being monitored and doped up, he couldn’t exist at all. He was doing okay, for the first little while,” Ava began to join Lillian in crying, tears falling down their cheeks. “One day, Robert and Linda went into town. He convinced them he could stay behind. He walked up the flights of the stairs, through to the attic. He found a way out to the roof. I was screaming at him not to do anything, that he was important and needed, and loved by so many people,” Ava covered her mouth with her hands, already knowing what the next line was going to be. “Without any hesitation… he jumped.” Lillian clutched herself, hugged herself, gasping for air as she sobbed. “Two hours later Robert and Linda came back. I’ve never seen anything like it. Linda found her son, shattered on the ground. She vomited, screamed. She was hysterical. Robert on the other hand, had no idea how to respond. He just stood there, looking at his son.” Ava was speechless, Lillian was barely coherent. “I-I couldn’t protect him. I tried, but I didn’t try hard enough.” Lillian’s hands were shaking, her face red and swollen, her t-shirt soaked with tears. “No, no, no, it’s not your fault, do you understand me? It’s not your fault.” Ava put her hands on the table, it felt… real, the cold surface touching her hands. “This is just a dream, it’s just a dream, I need to wake up!” Ava began to panic. The colors began to disappear, the shape of the room started to fade. Ava felt herself waking up and the vision started to completely disappear. Abruptly, she was awake in her bed, breathing heavily, her pillow was soaked, sweat and tears drenched through the fabric. What is wrong with me? She said to herself. Who dreams up something like that?