Friday arrived and Ava woke up with adrenaline running through her veins. The morning consisted of the normal regime, but Ava told herself to savor this, in case this was her last day getting ready for her job. The young woman got into her car and drove the usual route to her work, finding a car park two blocks away from her building. The sky had cleared up and the atmosphere was warmer than it had been for a long time. This boosted her mood but didn’t calm her nerves. Ava strode purposefully into the building. The automatic doors opened, and a wave of hot air hit her. She saw one of her colleagues on her way to the elevator. “Is it just me or is it boiling hot in here?” Ava asked her coworker, Rachel. “I know! The air conditioner broke down and the whole building is like a microwave,” the woman said. The two shared the elevator ride together. “Are you okay? You look a little nervous?” Rachel asked. “Oh, yeah I’m fine. I’ve got to speak with the boss so I’m hoping he’s in a good mood,” replied Ava, trying to sound casual. The elevator dinged as it reached their floor, where they were greeted with another hot blast of air. Everyone was sweating despite the many fans running. As Ava made her way to her desk, she saw Mr Nikita walking in her direction. She took a deep breath to gather herself and started; “Excuse me Mr-” “Not now, Ms Hayes, I’ll see you in a short while,” he brushed her off, his forehead sweating and his collar wet. Ava glanced over to Kate’s desk where she saw she had a portable fan set up. “Hey, are you okay?” asked Kate. “I found out something you’re not going to believe, but I don’t want to make a big deal about it just yet, I’m still not one hundred percent sure that it’s true,” Ava whispered to her friend, ensuring their colleagues couldn’t overhear her. “Come on, spill the beans,” Kate smiled. “Okay, so yesterday, I interviewed Christine Hampton. That’s a story for another time, but she told me something … insane,” Ava struggled to find the right words. “Just spit it out!” Kate loudly whispered. “Mr Nikita …” Ava looked around, making sure her boss wasn’t anywhere near, “… worked at the Armitage Mental Asylum!” Ava quietly breathed. “Wait, you mean the hospital you’re researching into?” Kate leaned back in her chair in astonishment. Ava nodded her head. “Christine told you?” Kate asked. “Yes, his name isn’t actually John Nikita, it’s Joseph Hutchison! When the place closed down he changed his name, changed his whole identity.” Kate’s eyes were wide with surprise. “But it could be any John Nikita she’s talking about. I’m sure in there’s more than one John Nikita in Michigan,” Kate tried to search for a reasonable explanation. “That’s what I thought initially. But she had so many details, and everything made too much sense and kind of fitted into place,” Ava said. “Are you going to say something to him?” her friend pressed. “Yes, I’m going to. I just need to wait until he’s in his office.” Kate pointed past Ava as Mr Nikita walked towards his office. “Okay, I’m going, and I have heaps more to tell you. Hopefully, I won’t get fired.” Ava got up and walked away while her friend crossed her fingers and wished her luck.
Ava followed her boss along the corridor, trying to exude a professional and calm manner. She reached his door, took a breath, and entered feigning a confidence she did not feel. “Mr Nikita, do you have a moment?” she politely asked. “Ava, yes, of course. Please sit down.” The young journalist sat down and geared herself up one last time. “I know you’re a busy man, so I’ll just get straight to it.” Mr Nikita sat expectantly. “I interviewed Christine Hampton yesterday, and she said something that intrigued and confused me.” While her boss’s face remained impassive, his tense body language suggested to Ava that he knew what was coming. “She mentioned …” Ava began to reconsider her decision, but she was tired of running away. “You were a nurse at the Armitage Mental Asylum,” Ava blurted out quickly, squeezing her lips shut. Mr Nikita lowered his chin and frowned, as if angry at Ava’s words. “What did you say?” he whispered. “Sir, I was really skeptical at first, but she said that-” “You’re telling me that you believe some crazy old woman’s story? She was in a mental hospital! That should have been a signal to not believe her in the first place Ava,” the man scoffed. “Sir, I understand, but she gave me a lot of details that made perfect sense, she knows … a lot about-” “Nothing. She knows a lot about nothing,” Mr Nikita’s tone changed from sneering, to angry, to outraged. Ava felt very uncomfortable but didn’t want to let the matter go. “Mr Nikita, with all due respect, I’m not here to ask if you believe what some woman said,” Ava matched his stern tone. “But I need to ask you, were you a nurse at the Armitage Mental Asylum?” There was a long, tense silence between the two; Ava could feel her heart beating loudly in her chest, while Mr Nikita was clearly angry and visibly uncomfortable. “I told you that this wouldn’t be a good idea. That woman has no idea what she is talking about. You can’t put anything she said into your project,” the man ordered. “So, have I wasted my time?” Ava asked, in disbelief, anger within her tone. “You’ve wasted your time. I expected a lot better from you Ava,” he said sternly. He took a deep breath and stood up to remove his blazer due to the humidity in his office. “Sir, it was a mistake, but I’m an investigative journalist, this is what I do,” Ava responded. “You better hope it stays that way,” Mr Nikita replied, leaving Ava in no doubt about the threat behind his words. Ava considered telling him more about what Christine had revealed, but decided against it, for the time being. She got up to leave the office and noticed something that made her stop in her tracks. Mr Nikita had removed his blazer to reveal a long sleeved buttoned up shirt. As he undid the top button of his shirt, Ava spotted something, a scar. There was a circular scar on his neck. Ava felt the room recede as she gazed in horror at the discolored flesh. Oh my god, she thought to herself. They are scars from bite marks.
At that moment, Ava knew what Christine had revealed was the truth, and her entire perspective of her boss changed. “Do you need anything else, Ms Hayes?” her boss asked, impatiently. “No, no that’s it. I’m sorry to have disturbed you.” As Ava opened the door to leave the hot, stuffy office she turned and asked Mr Nikita as if it was an afterthought. “Actually, I have one more question,” Ava said as her boss was fiddling with pencils laid out on his desk. “Does the name Joseph Hutchison mean anything to you?” The man stopped, he completely froze, his eyes were wide open in shock and he was holding his breath. There was a brief, tense moment while the two looked at each other. “No,” he said quietly. “Okay, well thanks for confirming that. Have a good say, sir,” As Ava left the room, a smug smile curled across her face.
Back at her desk, Ava found that she was out of breath. She found her notes from yesterday’s interview with Christine and started to review them. “What did he say?” Kate asked, impatient to know. “He said no,” Ava responded, busy with her research papers. “Oh, so Christine was just a crazy old lady?” Kate presumed. “No, she was right.” Kate gave her friend a confused look. “He is Joseph Hutchison; you should have seen his reaction Kate. If looks could kill, I would be on fire with knives in my eyes.” Ava found the pages she was searching for. “Yes!” she exclaimed. Kate leant over, keen to see what the commotion was about. “Eleanor Gibbs, patient number 229564. She bit a staff member on the neck, leaving permanent scars.” Ava pointed at the document. “Ava, do you need me for this conversation?” Kate asked. “At lunchtime, I’m taking you out for coffee, I need to tell you more.” Ava started a new page in her research notebook, and in large bold letters wrote at the top, JOHN NIKITA IS JOSEPH HUTCHISON.
As the time approached twelve thirty, the busy journalists filtered out of the office for lunch. Ava grabbed Kate’s arm and hurried her to the elevator. “I’ve never seen you so hyped up, how much sugar and coffee have you had today?” Ava didn’t respond until they left the building, the cold, fresh air outside hitting them both like a wave. The pair arrived at the local cafe and ordered their meals by which time Kate was almost bursting with anticipation. “Ava, what on earth is going on?” she asked. “Kate, Mr Nikita, is a liar and a criminal, okay? He worked at the hospital, he was a nurse, and I have barely any information to back me up, and I don’t think I’ll press charges or anything because it’s his word against mine and I don’t want to lose my job and ruin my career,” Ava took a deep breath, shocked at her own words. “Wow! I don’t know what to say!” Kate replied in astonishment. Ava filled her in with the information she’d gathered. “And also, Christine could be kind of crazy as well,” Ava said finally, gulping down her coffee. “That doesn’t seem very likely though,” replied Kate. “Well, what do you make of this; I’ve told you about Lillian, the young girl at the hospital who I also keep seeing in my very vivid dreams. Christine claims that she was with her while she was admitted at the asylum. She said that Lillian died, and that she’s been dead for forty-five years.” Kate raised her eyebrows. “Did you say to her, you’re actually wrong?” Kate laughed. “I didn’t want to come straight out and say it like that, but I suggested that she might be mistaken, or mis-remembering. But she was adamant, she was so certain. She even started to get a bit agitated when I questioned her. She said that Lillian had a baby at the age of twelve,” Ava added, “Jesus! Well in that case Lillian is the founder of today’s teen mom trend,” Kate said flippantly. Ava gave her friend a disappointed look. “Listen, I know everything sounds crazy, but this is just your job, you don’t need to be a police investigator, just be a journalist investigator. Investigative journalist,” Kate laughed at her joke once again. Their meals arrived and the two ate in silence, both considering the bizarre story that was emerging. Ava’s head was spinning with theories. I’m just glad I didn’t get fired, she thought to herself. But why would Mr Nikkita lie? Especially since she had so much evidence to support her argument. “Look I think it’s weird that this was your given task anyway,” Kate broke into her friend’s concentration. “I know, I was thinking that actually, I could have done anything else. But I feel invested in it now. It’s interesting,” Ava explained. “What are the current owners like? I mean who on earth wants to live at a place like that?” Kate asked. “They seem nice enough. They want to make a business out of it, make it into a tourist attraction and have ghost tours and such,” Ava explained. “They’re obviously very hard working. They are kind of strange, but I guess living in a place like that would make you strange. Come to think of it, I sent them an email a while ago, just to check in and tell them what was happening and they haven’t responded,” Ava said thoughtfully. “That’s weird, I would have thought they’d be closely involved with the project,” Kate took a bite from her toasted sandwich. Ava felt a vibration in her pocket and gasped when she saw the notification. “You have got to be kidding me!” she said. “What is it?” Kate questioned. “I just got an email from Linda.” Kate gave her friend a confused look. “Linda? Linda Chester? The co-owner of the Armitage Asylum!” Ava excitedly nodded her head. “Oh, right, the one that we were just talking about how she doesn’t email you back?” Kate laughed. Ava rolled her eyes at her friend and read the message out loud. “Dear Ava, I’m so sorry it’s taken me so long to respond to your message. I can’t explain why over email, but I need to meet with you as soon as possible. Please respond to this email as soon as you get it. Do not go back to the hospital, do not go back before seeing me, it’s not safe. Again, please reply to me. Regards, Linda Chester.” “What on earth is going on? She sounds really desperate,” Kate said. “What should I do?” Ava asked. “Obviously respond to her!” Kate exclaimed. “Yes, yes, of course. I didn’t mean to get flustered. It’s just another weird thing that’s connected to the asylum and this project. It could just be about vandals or a break in, or something. Ok, I’ve just replied letting her know that I won’t go back until I’ve met with her, but that I need to see her ASAP.”
The pair paid the bill at the cafe before heading back to work. Ava kept her eye on her phone hoping for a quick reply. To keep her mind occupied in the meantime, she continued with her research on the Armitage Asylum. Ava was frustrated that there was so little information available about the facility, and all she was doing was going around in circles uncovering the same sources she had already found. It was truly a very secretive place; Ava had not even heard about it until Mr Nikita offered her the assignment. It was just after 2.30pm when Ava’s phone vibrated, notifying her of an email that had arrived from Linda. Please meet me at the Courtman’s Coffee Stop on the highway tomorrow at noon. Ava’s heart started pounding. “Hey, was that Linda?” Kate whispered to her friend. “Yeah, we’re going to meet up tomorrow,” Ava responded. By five o’clock Ava and her colleagues were keen to leave the stuffy building. As was usual on a Friday evening, many of the journalists were heading off for drinks at the local pub. Ava turned down the invitation to join Kate and the others; she wanted to keep a clear head and was anxious about what she was going to hear tomorrow from Linda. Ava left the building quickly, desperately trying to avoid running into her boss. She knew she would have to face him again at some stage, but she would prefer to delay the inevitable for as long as possible, especially after virtually accusing him of being a criminal. Ava drove home to her silent, dark house, thankful to be home after the peculiar events of the past few days. After an early dinner, Ava was overcome with a wave of exhaustion and she fell gratefully into her bed, longing for a deep, restful sleep.
Despite her tiredness, Ava couldn’t stop replaying everything Christine Hampton had said. Ava had met many people with mental illnesses and elderly people who suffered memory loss, but this woman presented none of those traits, none of those symptoms. As far as Ava was concerned, she believed Christine was telling the truth, but one thing confused her terribly; why was she so adamant that Lillian was dead? How could that be right? Everything she said about Mr Nikita was factual information. Ava recalled the marks on the man’s neck, then traced her mind back to one of the patient files she’d read, Eleanor Gibbs. That patient had bitten one of the staff members on the neck, leaving permanent scars. Before Ava’s eyes closed, she considered the concept of a ghost. It was an idea she had only ever associated with regard to her father, until now. At Ava’s religious elementary school, the teachers reinforced the notion of god and spirits very much, cementing the conviction in the young girl that her father was with her, watching over her, even encouraging her to walk around the house every night to try and speak to him. Ava rolled over in bed and lay facing the ceiling. Her house was silent, she breathed deeply before whispering, “D-Dad?” She held her breath for a moment, waiting for a response. “Are you there?” The house remained silent. This is so ridiculous, Ava said to herself before rolling back over to her side. A sudden sadness overcame her, a disappointment. Her eyes slowly closed, and soon she was fast asleep.
Through the blackness, she felt as though her eyes were opening. She found herself staring at the wall in her bedroom; a feeling overcame her, an unnerving feeling, as though she wasn’t the only one in the room. Ava slightly turned, just enough to see the other side of the room. A tall figure stood by the doorway. She froze but she felt no danger. “Dad?” she whispered. The figure moved towards her. She didn’t gasp, didn’t scream, but remained perfectly calm. The man had on the same clothes Ava remembered him wearing, a beige jacket, a white t-shirt and jeans. He approached her. “Hi Ava,” he whispered. Ava didn’t respond. She just stared at him, looking at him as though he hadn’t been gone for the past fourteen years. He sat on the edge of his daughter’s bed; a tear fell down Ava’s face. She realised this was just a dream. She was unafraid. Speechless, she sniffled. Her father simply looked at her, his gentle smile comforted her. “Close your eyes, sweetheart,” he whispered. Ava shook her head. “I don’t want you to go,” she said through her tears. “I’m always here. Don’t you forget that,” the man whispered back. Ava closed her eyes, letting the last tear fall down her cheek. “If you… wait for me… then I’ll come for you, although I’ve travelled far…” the man’s softly singing voice slowly faded as Ava drifted away. What felt like just seconds later, she awakened to her alarm clock, reading 9:00am. Ava glanced around her room, as though looking for the man who sang her to sleep.
Within the hour, Ava was in her car once again, leaving the city and onto the freeway. She was preoccupied with Linda’s email, and wondered why it sounded so full of desperation. Ava had always considered herself to be a safe driver, but today was an exception; the young woman beeped at anyone who was driving five miles under the speed limit. The short journey seemed to take forever; finally, she saw the Diner in the distance. She slowed down and entered the small parking lot before parking her car, almost leaping out with her bag in eagerness. The Diner’s door handle felt sticky under her fingers as Ava entered and looked around for Linda. At first glance, she was unable to see her; then to the left, a woman stood up from one of the booths, smiled and waved. Ava raised her hand in greeting and approached the booth. “Hi Linda,” Ava said, not really knowing what to say after the email she received. “Ava, hi.” The two shook hands. “I’m sorry, I must’ve totally startled you with my email,” said Linda as they sat down on either side of the table in the booth. “I’m not going to lie, you made me very curious! What’s going on?” Ava asked, showing that she was in no mood for small talk. “Ok, I hadn’t checked my email in a really long time, and I know that was really unprofessional, but when I checked them yesterday I contacted you straight away,” Linda said. “Oh, it was my email that freaked you out?” Ava said, confused. “Yes. Listen, you’re going to have to bear with me while I explain myself okay?” Ava sat up straight, preparing herself for whatever Linda was about to say. “It’s about Lillian,” Linda said. This instantly grabbed Ava’s attention. “When Robert and I took possession of the hospital, we moved in with our son, Phillip, who was fifteen at the time,” Linda re-explained. “Yes, Lillian told me a bit about Phillip.” Linda had an intense expression on her face. “Well, Caleb and Phillip were best friends, you see, and when we moved out of town, Caleb came to visit as much as he could, almost every day some weeks,” Linda smiled at the memory. “They were playing outside one day, and when I looked out the window, I saw another person playing with them. I walked outside to see who it was, she introduced herself as Lillian. She was very sweet, and from that meeting, she developed a beautiful relationship with Phillip and Caleb. They even did some school together; Phillip had a fascination with ancient languages, he even taught Lillian some Latin.” This grabbed Ava’s attention, but she said nothing, allowing Linda to continue. She had a growing feeling of dread that Linda was about to say something awful. “Lillian would come around often; she loved to play with the boys, she said that she never really got to play with other kids. Robert and I really loved Lillian, she spoke so maturely, she was almost an-” “adult?” Ava chimed in. “Yes, like an adult. The thing is, Phillip had autism, he was very much like Caleb, but he also had severe depression. He often spoke about how useless he was, how he would never be able to exist in society without hurting other people.” Ava got a lump in her throat; she realised this information wasn’t new to her; Lillian had already told her this. “When he was fourteen, Phillip tried to hang himself, but Robert caught him. We did everything to make him better, we sent him to therapists, he had medication, we handled it as best we knew how as parents. But one day, we went out grocery shopping. We arrived home and-” “I know what happened,” Ava cut across. She didn’t want to hear the same terrible story again. “I know what happened to Phillip. Lillian told me,” she said. “She told you?” Linda said with shock. “Well, I was cleaning out Phillip’s room and I found a manila folder under his bed.” Linda took a deep breath, as if to gather her strength for what she was about to reveal to Ava. “It was Lillian’s folder.” Ava blinked in confusion. “Wait, what? What do you mean folder?” Ava asked, in complete disbelief. “It was Lillian’s patient file. Lillian was a patient at the Armitage Mental Asylum.” A silence fell between them. Ava sat frozen in disbelief at what she had heard. She felt her heart thumping in her chest. “What? Are you saying that she’s at least twenty years old? What are you saying?” she said in disbelief. “No, she was twelve when I met her, she was twelve when you met her.” Ava was overcome with confusion; nothing this woman was saying made any sense. Before Ava could say anything, Linda reached into her handbag beside her, and pulled out a manila folder. It was creased and tatty and very obviously old. Linda slid the file across the table and nodded for Ava to take it. Ava hesitated, scared to find out what was inside. Slowly, gently she reached towards the file and opened the cover. The pages were exactly like the other files she had read in the basement of the hospital.
Name: Lillian Matthews (Patient No. 485716)
Date of Admission: 11/13/1970
Diagnosis: Autism, Bipolar Disorder
Patient displayed violent behaviour upon arrival, displays signs of extreme depression, social anxiety and hyperactivity. Patient fell pregnant one-year post-admission, delivered male infant in February of 1962, two months premature. Male infant shortly after died due to the flu, patient suffered postnatal depression and postpartum depression. Patient committed suicide on the 3rd of January 1963, body found outside the building. Cause(s) of death: head trauma, broken neck, organ rupture.
Ava stopped breathing, her eyes staring open as if held in position by an unseen force. She felt a chill race up her back and she started shaking uncontrollably. This can’t be real, this is a fake, it’s impossible, a million thoughts raced through her head, disbelief set in. “No, no, no, no, no, this is a fake, this isn’t real,” Ava picked up the folder before dropping it back on the table. “I understand this is a shock and sounds completely insane Ava, but you have to believe me. It’s real, this is real, I know it,” Linda whispered, spreading her fingers as she clutched the wooden table. Ava began to hyperventilate; she could feel herself lose balance even though she was still sitting down. “Linda, I understand what happened to your son is terrible, I can’t imagine the amount of pain you and Robert went through … are still feeling,” she stuttered. “But this is fake, you’ve written this up yourself, made it look old and dirty,” Ava leant back, denying any possibility of truth with what Linda was saying. “No, Ava, I did not write this. What I’m telling you is real, I just … I don’t know how to prove it to you,” Linda said. “When I found this file, of course I didn’t believe it either. I thought maybe Phillip had an obsession or something with Lillian, but that didn’t feel right,” Linda explained, a lump in her throat. “After my boy died, she spoke to me, she apologized to me, she kept saying she tried to stop it, that she needed his help. I never saw her again after that,” Linda said. Ava couldn’t make eye contact with her; what she was saying couldn’t be factual. “Most people apologize after they’ve suffered a tremendous loss, Linda, okay? It doesn’t mean they’re a ghost. This isn’t real, you can’t just defy the laws of physics,” the journalist tried to make her case. “Okay, let me ask you, did you ever meet her parents?” Ava didn’t respond. “She’s in the building a whole lot isn’t she? She knows things about you that nobody else knows, doesn’t she?” Linda insisted. Ava considered this, then she remembered. “I visited an old woman the other day. She was an ex-patient of the Armitage. She said that Lillian died in 1973,” Ava’s heart fell to the pit of her stomach. Oh my god, she thought. “I-I don’t know what to do, what do I do?” Ava said, her throat ached as fear and confusion overcame her. “I don’t know,” Linda looked down and shook her head. “Why did you sign me up for this? Why did you want someone to come in and do research on that place, when you knew what was going on?” Ava started to become annoyed. “I don’t know. I thought that if somebody came in and saw for themselves it would prove I wasn’t crazy, and maybe they could help her,” tears fell down Linda’s face. “Oh my god,” Ava felt a wave of nausea and knew she was about to be sick. She leapt up out of her seat and sprinted to the bathroom and vomited into the toilet bowl.
Ava’s head was dizzy; she felt dehydrated and confused as she splashed her face with water. She grabbed a napkin and patted her face dry. What the hell do I do now? she said to herself. She rinsed her mouth before walking back out to the booth and sat down again opposite Linda. Silence resumed between the women. Then it hit Ava. “I have to be the one who does it,” she said out loud. “What do you mean?” Linda asked. “I have to be the one to help Lillian. But what did she mean when she talked about needing help? Help with what?” Ava asked unanswerable questions. “I don’t know,” replied Linda. Ava sat, staring at the small cracks in the table. “Do you want me to go back? Do you even want a business there?” Ava asked. “Yes, of course we do,” Linda responded. “Did she tell you anything? Anything else?” Ava asked. “No. I don’t think she can,” said Linda. “She kept saying that she couldn’t say anything, that she didn’t know how.” Linda realised that Ava was barely listening, the young woman was writing sums on the napkin with a pen, focusing hard. “Fifty-eight,” Ava said. “What?” Linda asked, “This young girl is supposed to be fifty-eight years old. Instead, she became a mother when she barely hit puberty, and killed herself.” A tear fell down Ava’s cheek. “We don’t know that she killed herself,” Ava creased her brow at Linda’s response. “Linda, she was trapped, for three years, she gave birth to a baby at the age of twelve, most likely as the result of assault, and she was found outside the building, presumably after jumping.” Linda leant back in shock as the enormity of Lillian’s story struck her. “Come on, how can I not help her. She’s been stuck for forty-eight years!” Ava’s tears were flowing freely down her face. The two women sat quietly for several moments, each processing their conversation. Finally, Linda asked, “When do you plan on going back there?” “I don’t know. Not today. Monday, maybe, I need some time to get my head around all this,” Ava explained, fiddling with her pen, nervous at the thought of facing Lillian. “Listen, Ava, if you don’t want to continue with the project, I completely understand,” Linda said. “No. No, I’m going to finish this. I promised Lillian that I would come back; that little girl has had her trust broken over and over again. She’s finally trusting me, and I’m not going to let her down.”