Case, Armitage

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Chapter Sixteen

Ava found herself driving once again through the all-too familiar outskirts of Detroit, on her way back to the Armitage Asylum. She thought about the events of the previous day, of the bizarre things Lillian had said, and Ava knew she had to investigate. What if she was lying? She thought, but of course there was only one way to find out. For the first time, she felt not a glimmer of fear as she drove through the aging archway, her investigative instincts had officially set in and she was now only keenly determined. The young woman leapt out of her car, her bag in hand as she jogged to the front door. She fiddled around for the key before pushing the door open to the now-expected deathly silence of the building. “Lillian!” Ava called out into the open area; there was no response. The young journalist turned right and walked down the corridor to the dining area. Lillian stood by the window, staring outside, she traced the glass with her little finger. The young girl took no notice of Ava’s presence in the room, too focused on the yearning to leave.

“How did you do that?” Lillian looked up, her face brightening as she saw Ava. “What do you mean?” she asked, turning to face Ava. “You know what I mean, you were there, you spoke to me.” Ava took a step forward. “I helped you, I had to help,” said Lillian as she walked closer to Ava. “I was scared, okay? He scared me,” the young girl pleaded. “No, no, I understand but … you lied, and if he finds out I could lose my job, my career!” Ava exclaimed, trying not to frighten or upset the girl. “I-I didn’t lie,” Lillian insisted. “Excuse me?” Ava said. “I didn’t lie,” the girl repeated. “So, he has a file? Where?” Ava took another step forward. “Lillian, where’s the file?” Ava pleaded. “I-I can’t tell you; I don’t know how,” Lillian looked at the ground, ashamed of her helplessness. “You have to give me something, anything. This file could help you, okay?” Ava relaxed her shoulders. Lillian struggled with herself, she opened her mouth, but no words came out. “I don’t know how!” the young girl exclaimed, angry with herself. Ava looked at her, fearing that whatever she says will only exacerbate her fury. The pair stood in silence, Ava’s hope ebbing with each passing second. “Wait,” Lillian said. “You’ve already been there.” Ava furrowed her brow, trying to work out what the young girl was saying. “You hit your head,” the girl continued. “The basement?” Ava said. “No, I’ve already looked there. I couldn’t find any past staff-member documentation,” she explained. “You haven’t looked properly,” Lillian replied.

Without saying another word, Ava turned and walked quickly back down the hallway, turning right when she reached the entrance and down the dark corridor. Her fast steps crunched on the dust and debris on the ground, her strides echoed through the entire building. The young woman reached the basement door, swung it open and peered down the staircase that disappeared into the darkness that swallowed it. Ava retrieved her phone from her pocket, using it once again as a flashlight. She took slow steps as she continued down the stairs, looking around fearfully. She reached the bottom of the stairs, her feet hitting the concrete floor. Ava took a deep breath, inhaling the putrid smell of damp and decayed paper, as though the papers were the rotting souls of the people they belonged to. She quickly glanced around, I’ve already looked through everything, she said to herself. She collected her thoughts, telling herself to stop behaving like a child and to simply get on with the task.

Ava walked a lap around the shelves, reading through each name, flicking through all the papers, desperate to find what she was looking for. After an hour, Ava still had no success. The young woman walked to the staircase; empty handed. She had taken two steps, but something pulled her back. Something had drawn her attention. She looked behind her, reviewing the shelves from the height of the stairs. From that angle she had a clear view of the layout of the basement. Ava slowly scanned the room for any possible inconsistency that she hadn’t previously noticed about the basement; but there was nothing. Ava glanced around one last time … then she saw it. Along the back wall, just meters away from her were more shelves lined up one by one. Ava stepped back down onto the concrete floor and walked towards what she hoped could provide an answer; the bottom of the shelves were plastered over, a wooden barrier between the first shelf and the floor. No other shelves in the basement were like this. Ava knelt down and she lowered her head to within an inch above the damp, filthy ground. She knocked on the wooden plank, testing to see how hollow it was. Her knocking produced a muffled echo and Ava felt certain it was empty behind the plank. She tried to push it open, but it only gave way a few centimeters. She then tried to fit her fingertips between the wooden plank and the shelf, but she couldn’t get a proper grip. Ava stood up and dusted herself off. She looked around the room as if she might find something she could use as a lever. In annoyance she kicked at the board and noticed it cracking. She gave it a second, more forceful kick and the timber splintered. Ava smiled to herself feeling excited. She knelt down again, and with a better grip on the broken plank, pushed the split timber with all her strength. The board made a satisfying crack. She threw the timber behind her, put her hand through the hole she’d made and cautiously felt around. There was nothing there. She sat back on her heels and took her phone out to use its light once more as a torch. Her eyes took a brief moment to adjust to the light, but still there was nothing there. No, come on, please no! She thought to herself. The flashlight revealed a small empty space, the space between the bottom of the file-shelf, the cement floor and the back of the wall. Ava sat back again; her shoulders slumped as she leaned back against the densely packed filing shelf. A terrible feeling of hopelessness and doubt overcame the woman, knowing that there was nothing she could do to help her young friend. Ava inhaled deeply, closing her eyes, letting every thought in her mind disappear as anguish and guilt overwhelmed her. As she sat there quietly, she became aware of a gentle sensation against her right hand; it was cold. She could feel wind, air against her skin. She gazed around the shelves, trying to work out exactly where this breeze was coming from. She pulled out stacks of files, allowing for more breeze to come through. She piled up the files around her making space, until she saw it; Ava picked up her phone and used its beam of light to reveal the origin of the cold air.

The light picked up cracks in the wall behind the shelf; one long one going up, straight, another going to the right, straight and one more going back down again, straight. A door frame. Ava stood back, in shock. I’ve found it, she said to herself. But what is it? Ava took another step back, trying to get the full picture, excitement and adrenaline ran through her, goosebumps covered her arms and legs. Now for the real challenge – how to get to the door. Ava walked to the side of the shelf and tried to lift it up, but it was far too heavy. She tried several times, using all the strength she had in her arms, legs and core. She even attempted to push it out of the way, but that didn’t work wither. Ava stepped back, assessing the situation and trying to decide on her next step. Through the silence of the basement. Ava heard distant noises. Could they be coming from behind the door? She leant in, straining her ears, but she realised the sound wasn’t coming from behind the wall. What day is it? Ava checked her phone screen and saw that it was Wednesday. She breathed a sigh of relief and ran back upstairs, walking quickly down the hallway, avoiding glimpsing through the doors on either side, terrified that if she looked at them, she’d see something she didn’t want to.

Ava arrived at the front door, opened it and was relieved and grateful to find a welcome sight. “Caleb!” she exclaimed. The maintenance man was bent over, foraging through the trunk of his car in search of something. He looked up, his eyes darting across the ground. “A-Ava, hello,” he responded. “Listen, Caleb, I need to ask you for a huge favor?” the young woman caught her breath as she reached him. “What do you n-need?” he asked. “There’s a shelf in here,” the woman pointed behind her, hesitant to mention that it was in the basement. “I just need you to help me move it out of the way of something. Please, it’s something really important.” Ava tried not to sound too desperate in case she scared him off. Caleb hesitated, muttering quietly to himself. “I-I need to mow the l-lawn,” he said, pointing to the side of the building. “This will take you no more than three minutes, I promise. You’d really be helping me out,” Ava begged. The pair stood in silence as Caleb decided, repeating phrases to himself over and over again. “Okay,” he eventually said. “But o-only for no more than three minutes,” Ava smiled from ear to ear with excitement. “Thank you so much, Caleb. And do you have a crowbar or something that we can take? Just in case,” Ava rubbed her hands together. Caleb turned back to the trunk of his car and retrieved his toolbox.

The pair walked back inside. Caleb was naturally a fast walker which suited Ava who was eager to get back to the basement. They walked down the hallway and Caleb’s mutters grew louder, just barely audible. “Don’t stare, don’t stare, don’t stare.” Ava glanced at him. “You don’t like looking at the doors, do you, Caleb?” she asked. “N-no. I don’t like it inside,” he said. “Me neither, but it’s okay, I’m here,” she smiled. Ava stopped as they reached the basement door that she left open. “It’s down here,” she said. As her voice echoed down the staircase, she realised how creepy she sounded, leading an innocent person into a dark basement. Caleb was jittery, raising his hands to his face and rolling his wrists. “No, no, no, I don’t like it down there,” he said. “It’s okay. I know it can be very scary. I don’t like it down there either, but I need to get to something, okay?” She tried to calm the man, but his breathing grew labored as his anxiety heightened. “No, no, no, no, I can’t be in h-here,” the man pointed at the ground. “I-I need to go back.” He began to walk away, but Ava stepped in front of him to prevent him leaving. “Caleb, listen to me. I know it’s scary down there, trust me. But I’m going to be there the whole time, and I’m not going to let anything happen to you.” The man’s eyes darted around the area, and he was breathing loudly. “I c-can’t, it’s dark and it’s t-too quiet,” Caleb’s voice was deep as he tried to get his point across to Ava. Ava stood in from of him, trying to think of something to keep Caleb there and convince him to move the shelf for her. She knew that whatever was behind the wall must be the answer. “You can have this while we’re down there,” Ava handed the man her phone, “and while we’re down there, I can um … I can sing a song for you, a happy song,” she suggested. Caleb’s breathing slowed down; his eyes stopped moving so rapidly. He slowly started to walk back to the staircase, and Ava followed him. “S-start singing,” he said firmly. Ava smiled, grateful that he would help her. “If you… wait for me,” she began, singing the first song that popped in her head. She stopped for a brief moment, realizing the lyrics of that particular song, nevertheless she continued. “Keep s-singing,” Caleb said, taking the first step down the staircase, gripping the crowbar tightly in his right hand with the phone held in his left facing forward. “Then I’ll come for you… Although I’ve travelled far, I’ll always hold a place for you in my heart,” Ava’s throat tightened as she continued to sing.

The pair make it to the bottom of the stairs. “It’s just here.” Ava pointed to the empty shelf against the wall. “If you think of me… if you miss me… once in a while…” Caleb walked to one side of the shelf as Ava plants herself on the other side. “You push and I’ll p-pull.” The young woman nodded her head at Caleb’s direction. “Remembering you touch… your kiss… your warm embrace…” the tightness grew in Ava’s throat as she remembers all the times that she was scared in the night and her father would sing her to sleep in her bed. “It’s heavy,” Caleb winced as he tried to move the large object. “I know. Use the crowbar,” Ava suggested. The young man forced the large tool under the shelf. He lifted the longest side of the crowbar before pushing his shoulder against it, and Ava pulled hard on the other side. At last, progress! The pair looked at the shelf and it had in fact moved. “Go again!” Ava waved her hand and Caleb did just that. The method was repeated with more progress; the shelf was nearly entirely out of the way. “One more time!” the journalist said with enthusiasm. Caleb forced the tool back under the heavy shelf and pushed his shoulder against it, while Ava gave this last pull all her energy. “You did it!” Ava exclaimed. Caleb smiled, panting at the exertion. “C-can I go now?” he asked. “Yes, of course. Thank you so much, Caleb. I couldn’t have done it without you.” He handed Ava her phone and without a second look rushed back up the steps and down the hallway.

Ava took a deep breath, proud of their efforts as she took in the full view of the supposedly secret door. It reminded her of when she was small, when she wanted to join the FBI to find hidden gems such as this. With no hesitation, she started searching for the door handle, but with no luck. Her heart began to sink. Ava felt around the edges of the door, searching again for any niche or fingerhold, but to no avail. To the right of the door, on the wall, Ava scratched away at a crumbling piece of concrete to reveal a large metal handle. A surge of nerves and butterflies ran through Ava as the moment had arrived. She slowly moved her right hand out to the handle. It was very cold. Ava’s pulled the rusty metal bar and the door creaked and cracked, as if protesting against being opened after years of neglect. Ava used her shoulder to push the door open and stood back in fear of what lay beyond. Dust and dirt fell as Ava pushed against the door until it swung open and hit the wall on the inside of the secret room. Ava realised she had been holding her breath, and she exhaled with shock at what saw, her breath echoed into the room. She turned on her phone’s torch and shone it through the open doorway, revealing the longest tunnel she’d ever seen. It was completely pitch black, a deathly silent tunnel that had no visible end. It was the stuff of nightmares. Ava froze as the cold, stale air flowed out of the tunnel. The light from her phone picked up something, lying in the dark. There were several boxes stacked on the ground. The young woman moved into the tunnel, taking one large step inside, her legs shaky. Ava moved her phone’s light around, scanning from the damp, concrete walls to the floor which was black with grime and neglect. She faced her phone upward towards the ceiling and gasped. A metal trap door. Ava’s mind raced back to her first day on the site, when she walked over the metal doors in the grass – this tunnel had been beneath the lawn! She turned around to the door she’d just walked through, and beyond it was the ladder she’d seen in her dream. She whispered herself forward; this was where she had seen a vision of her father, where she’d heard his voice, singing the song she sung just a few moments ago.

Ava stood still, frozen with shock. It’s real, she thought to herself. She moved closer to the boxes, inspecting them from a distance. She shone her light down the tunnel where the beam was swallowed by the black abyss. When she pointed the phone to the open doorway, suddenly the basement was the brightest place in sight. She squatted down in front of the three boxes on the ground, tracing her palm over the cardboard which was spongy with damp. She took the edge of the lid of the box closest to her and tentatively lifted it, fearful of what might be inside. She leant over and gazed at the contents, a smile spreading across her face as she realised she had found what she’d been hoping for – the nurses and doctors files. Jackpot! Ava reached her hand into the box to examine the files, but something distracted her. There was a sound, loud and clear, from the other end of the tunnel. Movement and what sounded like a rock being thrown. Ava pointed her phone in that direction, but the light didn’t reach that far. The young woman stood up, her right foot facing towards the open doorway. She didn’t dare call out, logically she could think of no reason for anyone to be there.

The noise sounded again, but slightly closer.

Ava glanced at the boxes, then at the doorway before making a snap-decision. She balanced her phone in her mouth with the light still on, she quickly stacked the first two large boxes on top of one another, before placing the third under her arm. She turned around to the open doorway and walked out as quickly as she could, the box under her arm nearly slipping out while the other two pushed up under her chin as she rushed towards the door. Ava dropped the cardboard containers on the concrete floor before reaching back into the tunnel, pulling the door shut and twisting the handle back to its former position. She stepped back, chills running up her spine at the thought of that black abyss of a tunnel; suddenly the previously terrifying corridors of the asylum seem like a walk in the park. Ava looked back behind her, looking the mess she had made when she cleared the shelf earlier. She placed the three precious boxes to the side before neatly stacking the other folders; she didn’t place them back on the shelf in case she needed to gain access to the tunnel again. She picked up the three boxes again and started awkwardly up the stairs. Each step felt like one blink away from disaster. Several minutes later the journalist made it to the top of the staircase, realizing how steep it truly was. She looked towards the front area, the front door, internally grateful for the light. Ava turned back to the basement, getting a view of the secret door. She stared at it, it stared back. Angry. Whatever this door was used for, it emanated the same threat as the rest of the building, as though it knew your darkest secret and despite being an inanimate object, used it against you. The door stared at the woman, as though she had awoken it.

Ava closed the heavy basement door shut, the secret entryway disappearing behind it. She couldn’t shake off a weird feeling, that same feeling as when one walks past a portrait, as though its eyes follow you. Ava gathered the boxes once again, walking down the long corridor, even now avoiding eye contact with the infinite doors. She soon made it to the dining area. “Guess what-” she cut herself off. As she turned the corner to the large, empty room she had hoped to see Lillian, but she had gone. Ava dropped the boxes onto the floor by her chair. She sat down at her seat, stretched her neck and pushed her thick brown hair away from her face before bending down and opening one of the containers. The box was filled to the top with manila folders. The woman grasped as many as she could in her hands, the edges of the paper tatted and dirty as she set them on the table. Ava opened the first folder, anxious to see what lay within the yellow cover. The first thing that caught the journalist’s eye was that the documentation included an identification photo, depicting a middle-aged man, with a short white beard, harsh eyebrows, and deep-set dark eyes surrounded by dark rings.

Doctor Benjamin Cane (A5736)

D0B: 4/10/1921

Graduate of Calvin University, employed at the Armitage Mental Asylum in 1956, strong belief in medicinal experimentation in order to evolve and adapt in the field of mental health. Dismissed from duty as of 1974.

Ava’s jaw fell open. She wanted to know why exactly this man was dismissed from duty; did he quit? Was he retired? The journalist placed the paper back on the table and rested her head in her hands. She then placed the document in her handbag, to keep as an example before skimming over the rest of the folders in search of one name and one name only. One in particular caught Ava’s attention.

Name: Jennifer O’Connell (C87542

DoB: 1/3/1958

Hospital trained, employed at the Armitage Mental Asylum in 1983, job entailed attending to patient’s needs, ensuring patients received prescribed medication. Nurse O’Connell died in April of 1991; body found outside building; declared suicide.

Ava involuntarily brought her hand up to her mouth, shocked at what she had read; a thirty-three-year-old woman, committed suicide at work. “She was a good one.” Ava didn’t flinch, she merely looked up when she heard an all-too-familiar voice. Ava smiled as Lillian made her way over to her. “You found them,” the young girl said. “I did. Thanks to you,” Ava said, with gratitude in her voice. “You’re welcome. I really did want you to find them. They hid them away. People were too scared to destroy them, and at the same time they were so scared not to destroy them, so they did what they did best. Bury them under the carpet, or in this case, under the building,” Lillian explained. “Well, I’m glad they left them all behind,” Ava tapped on the boxes. The pair looked at each other, Ava still grappling with the idea that this little girl wasn’t alive, that she’d been stuck this entire time, tied to the place like an animal in a cage. “Were there many nice doctors and nurses?” Ava asked. “There were. There were terrible ones and there were great ones. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an even balance,” Lillian explained. “This woman, Jennifer, tell me about her,” Ava pointed to the file. “Well, she was one of the youngest nurses working here. She wasn’t prepared for anything like this place.” Lillian leant over to get a better look at the woman’s rather faded photograph. “She and I spoke sometimes. She wanted to be a doctor, but her father told her she was too stupid to do ’real’ medicine.” Ava sighed at this remark, feeling sympathy for the poor woman. “He was wrong. He was so wrong. She was very intelligent; intelligent enough to know that I wasn’t crazy. I was just abandoned,” Lillian shrugged her shoulders. “Why did they give you your diagnosis? I mean, they could have said anything,” Ava pointed out. “They did just that. They gave me something. They didn’t look for diagnoses, they looked for reasons, excuses,” the young girl explained. “People were judged on their initial reaction to this place, which is ridiculous of course, because who is going to act normally when they’ve just been dropped off like a used cigarette in a puddle,” Lillian’s face became flushed with anger and despair. “Lillian…” Ava hesitated, not wanting to cross any boundaries. “What was your family like? Who brought you here?” Lillian took a deep breath. “I had my mom, my dad and three younger siblings: Claire, James and Charlotte. My siblings had a different father to me, he didn’t like me.” Ava leant in. “What about your home, your school, and friends?” Ava whispered. “I don’t remember anything else,” the young girl responded. Ava sat and thought about the kind of childhood this poor girl had. She had been abandoned, and for her entire life felt unloved and unwanted.

“Listen, you need to keep looking, and it’s going to get dark soon,” Lillian said as she stood up. “Okay, I will. Where are you going?” Ava asked. “I’ll be here. But you just might not see me.” The young girl left the room, disappearing from Ava’s sight. The journalist kept searching, scanning each file but finding nothing about Mr Nikita. She reached the bottom of the second box and her hopes started to fade. She looked at the cardboard container by her feet. Ava lifted its lid to reveal the familiar sight of folders crammed to the brim. She sifted through file after file, Ava’s energy was running low. She picked up the last bundle of papers in the box, opened the cover of the first folder of the pile… and there it was. The journalist opened the folder, expecting nothing, but there was the photo, a photo of the man Ava saw in her vision on the night she hit her head. The hair on the back of Ava’s neck stood up, with fear or excitement, she didn’t know.

Name: Joseph Hutchison (A221)

DoB: 15/8/1944

Hospital trained nurse Hutchison, employed at the Armitage Mental Asylum in 1969, job entailed assisting doctors during operation and tending to the patient’s needs. Hutchison relieved of duty in 1996, Nurse A221 was witnessed experimenting a lobotomy on a patient with no training and no surveillance.

Ava sat back in her seat, her opinion, impacted enough, changed even more about her boss. Her eyes were wide with astonishment as she read the report over and over again, struggling to comprehend what she was reading. Eventually she lifted her head and looked out the window at the setting sun, in disbelief at the information that the file contained. She decided it was time to pack up, and she gathered her things together, including the first file she found, and that of her boss, before placing the boxes neatly on the table. She hurried down the corridor to the exit. Caleb had well and truly left by that point and Lillian was nowhere to be found, she felt completely alone, scared of being trapped in the eerie building. She walked quickly to her car, with a strong sense of being watched or followed. As soon as she got into the car, she instantly locked the door. She looked behind her, and felt the building staring down at her, the windows were eyes as they peered out at Ava, angry, upset and resentful.

It didn’t take long for Ava to reach the main highway. The heavy peak-hour traffic usually annoyed Ava, but today she welcomed it; being surrounded by other people made her feel safe. The sense of being back among civilization calmed her nerves as her mind wrapped itself around the documentation that sat in the passenger-seat just beside her. She made it home, with the sun just disappearing below the horizon, an orange sunset spread across the sky and colored the earth below like a coat of honey. Inside her house, she went directly to her bedroom, knelt by her bedside and reached under the wooden frame to retrieve a box. She opened the lid on her collection of objects and photos which held important memories from her past; a place of safe keeping that nobody else knew about. Ava pulled the two files from her handbag and placed them gently on top of the letters, photos, certificates and trophies, before closing the lid and pushing it back under the bed.

That night the young woman was restless. Ava stared at the ceiling, the initial shock from the first glance at Mr Nikita’s document still hadn’t left, the coincidence of it all was too overwhelming, far too hard to believe. As the journalist lay there, facing the ceiling in her bed, the thought of that tunnel haunted her; what was it? What was it used for? Why was it covered up and hidden? Ava realised that if there was one person in the world who knew, it was going to be Lillian. She closed her eyes, willing herself to sleep. Gradually, her mind drifted off. Shapes and colors began to emerge once again as she drifted, but this time Ava was not afraid as she found herself in the doorway of the empty dining room of the Armitage Asylum. She stepped in, her eyes scanning from ceiling to floor, from wall to wall; the dull white light shone through the windows as Ava stared through them, seeing only the tree line and the vacant old carpark. “Ava.” The young woman turned around, facing the doorway. “Lillian.” Lillian walked towards her, looking directly into her eyes. “Are you okay?” the girl asked, standing by the table. “The tunnel. What was it?” Ava asked bluntly. “It was just that; a tunnel,” the young girl leaned against the table. “But what was it used for? Why is it so hidden away?” Ava took a step closer to Lillian, who continued to stare at her. “We called it the death tunnel,” Lillian responded. “Why was it called that?” she whispered, glancing behind herself in fear. “There were a lot of… mysterious deaths here. A lot.” Lillian responded, trying to find the right words. “They couldn’t afford the risk in transporting all of the bodies to the city to be buried. They were worried questions would be asked.” Ava eyes were wide with shock. In the past she had done research on abandoned places like the Armitage, so the term death tunnel was familiar. With past psychiatric wards they were rather common. “They transported bodies, to a cem-” Ava cut Lillian off; “There’s a cemetery?” she exclaimed. Lillian stood still, her expression blank, not giving anything away. “I didn’t know there was a cemetery here. Why didn’t Linda or Robert tell me there was a cemetery?” Ava reached the other side of the table and stood in front of Lillian. “They didn’t tell you because they don’t know for certain,” Lillian explained. “They had heard rumors, but they never looked into it,” she said. “Why didn’t they investigate further?” Ava wondered out loud. “It was better left unknown. It’s a hidden place, nobody has been that far east of the property for years,” Lillian explained. Ava considered this. “Ava, don’t go looking,” the young girl implored, grabbing Ava’s attention. “What?” Ava asked, surprised at Lillian’s demand. “Do not go looking, you can’t go there, do you understand?” Lillian looked at Ava with an expression of both sincerity and despair across her face. Before Ava could answer, the colors began to fade and the features of the room she’d been in began to lose their shape. She knew she was now waking up, but before her vision ended, she looked back at Lillian, a worried expression passed between them. Ring, ring, ring, Ava opened her eyes, and pressed stop on her phone alarm before noticing that she had been sweating. Ava rubbed her eyes before getting up and making her bed. She was in desperate need of a shower. Before she left her home, Ava checked the box under her bed, reassuring herself that the two files were still there. She considered taking Mr Nikita’s with her, even showing it to him to prove that she knew more than he thought, but she thought better of it.

On the drive to the city Ava gathered her thoughts together. Focus, focus, focus, she repeated to herself. She had to make sure that her demeanor at work remained professional, especially since discovering the truth about her boss. Ava collected her bag and books from the passenger seat before checking her watch, 8:43 am. She was in plenty of time. Ring, ring, ring, Ava felt the vibration from her handbag. She retrieved her mobile phone to see her screen displaying Private Number. That was strange, but Ava thought it could be potentially important. “Hello, Ava Hayes speaking.” The journalist pressed her left hand on her ear, blocking exterior noises from outside her car. “Hello Ms Hayes. My name is Jacinta. I’m from Gateways Residence.” The woman on the line waited for an answer. “Oh, yes hello, is everything okay?” Ava sat up straight, a million terrible scenarios racing through her head. “Oh, yes, yes everything is fine. I’m calling on behalf of Kiara, she’s your sister is that correct?” the receptionist asked. “Yes, that’s correct,” said Ava, her heart rate slowing down as she heard that everything was alright. “Kiara wanted to know if you’d come to see her. She seemed rather eager to have you visit.” That intrigued Ava, her initial reaction was confusion however after a brief moment, she felt really pleased. “Oh, okay um… did she say why she wanted to see me?” Ava adjusted her position in her seat. “She said it was very important ma’am, that’s all we know,” the receptionist explained. “Um… okay, I suppose I could come and see her tomorrow if that works?” Ava suggested. She could hear muted discussions going on at the other end. “Kiara wanted to know if there’s any way you might come sooner?” she asked. Ava was aware that her sister’s needs were a priority for her, but so was her job, particularly at this sensitive time between her and Mr Nikita. She answered, “I’m really sorry, but I can’t get there before tomorrow. I’ll be there early.” Ava felt guilty, but she couldn’t just drop everything so suddenly. “She says that’s fine,” the receptionist replied. Ava hung up the phone and left her car, crossing the busy streets and weaving her way in and out of the peak hour crowd. “Hey, what’s up?” Kate asked as her friend sat down. “I found it,” Ava said. “Found what?” Kate wondered, “Mr Nikita’s file. I have it,” the young journalist whispered. “At the asylum?” Kate asked. “Yes, there’s this tunnel, the most terrifying place I’ve ever been to in my life, it goes on and on forever-” “Wait, wait, why were files in a tunnel?” Kate asked puzzled. “They wanted to hide them,” Ava said. “Kate, he was fired from his job as a nurse, he was abusive and hurtful.” Ava remembered the document, the mention of the man performing an illegal lobotomy sickened her again. She turned on her computer, ready to get to work after her days of research out of the office. “Oh, yeah did you find anything about the baby?” Ava whispered, avoiding anyone overhearing. “No. Nothing. Ava there is a high chance that the baby died early on, they might not have been lying about that,” Kate explained. “I know that’s a possibility, but I need to know one way or the other. You’ll keep looking?” Ava guiltily asked. “Of course, but it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.” Ava turned back to her computer screen, opening her unfinished report on the events that had taken place at the Armitage, and why it was ghost infested.

It was nearly five o’clock in the evening and staff in the office were starting to pack up for the day. “Are you coming?” Kate asked her friend. “I need to check something with the boss. I’m going to Cincinnati tomorrow,” Ava said as she headed in the opposite direction. “For Kiara? Is everything ok?” Kate asked. “Yeah, I think so. I’ll catch up with you soon,” said Ava over her shoulder as she continued down the corridor to Mr Nikita’s office. The hallways were almost empty by the time Ava reached his room where the door was wide open. The man behind the desk looked up, an expression of annoyance settling on his face when he saw it was Ava. “Ah, Ms Hayes,” he said, interlocking his fingers together, nervously. “Hello, sir. I was hoping there wouldn’t be a problem with me taking the day away from work tomorrow. I have a family emergency in Cincinnati that I need to attend to,” Ava said. “No, I suppose that won’t be a problem. You will have to catch up on your work the next day, however,” Mr Nikita said coldly. She nodded her head once and turned to leave. “Oh, Ms Hayes!” he called. Ava turned around. “I hope your sister is doing well. I understand that the next short while may be difficult due the anniversary of your father’s passing,” the man said with a smirk on his face. Ava stood in the doorway, speechless. She had never told her boss of her father’s passing nor of her sister’s situation. “Excuse me?” she asked. “Ms Hayes, you have wonderful research skills, no doubt, but I have mine.” The man stood up, his height intimidating Ava. “Have a good evening, Mr Nikita,” Ava turned around and walked hastily away, not stopping until she reached the elevator.

The following morning, Ava left home early to get a head start on the four-hour drive through the traffic to Cincinnati. She wasn’t worried about her sister; Kiara was in great hands. She was only intrigued as to why she was so desperate to see her so urgently. While she was driving, Ava recalled her strange conversation with Mr Nikita yesterday. How did he know about my dad? Did someone tell him? This thought haunted her for the remainder of the trip, and made her uncomfortable, as though this man was prowling and snooping into her personal life. But then again, she was technically doing exactly the same thing to Mr Nikita.

Ava eventually arrived in Cincinnati and made her way directly to Gateways Residence. She parked her car close by before walking to the entrance of the property, the hedges surrounding the premises made it feel more botanical rather than a psychiatric hospital. Ava walked through the large gates, admiring once again the perfectly mown grass and garden beds, and the morning dew that still hadn’t melted off the grass. She opened the front door and was met with the scent of freshly cooked toast and Earl-Grey tea. “Hi there, how can I help you?” a woman smiled kindly from behind the reception desk. “Hello, yes I’m here to see my sister, Kiara Hayes.” The receptionist nodded her head and typed Ava’s details into the computer. “Right this way, follow me.” The woman walked to the other side of the desk and led Ava down the large corridor. Many of the residents had come out of their rooms and were on their way to the dining room. “Some of our residents prefer to go for a walk in the morning, then eat breakfast a bit later,” the woman said as Ava noticed an elderly woman exiting the building. “Kiara’s room is just over there,” said the nurse indicating that Ava could continue to her sister’s room. Ava thanked her and continued over to knock on the door that read 311. “Come in,” the voice from inside called out. “Hey, Ki, it’s me!” Ava said smiling at her sister. Kiara stood up from her chair. “A-Ava, hi!” she said, pushing her sleeves down to the palm of her hand, struggling to maintain eye contact. “Are you okay? Nurse Jacinta said that you were pretty um… excited to see me.” Ava took a step closer. “No, no, no. I need to t-tell you something,” Kiara began to look distressed, waving her arms stiffly up and down, rocking her weight from one leg to the other. Ava remembered how she approached her sister when she was younger. At times when Kiara and her mother got into arguments, the aftermath was worse than the hateful words that were spoken. “Well, it’s okay, it’s perfectly fine,” Ava stepped forward. “How about you just have a seat on the bed?” she said gently. Kiara turned and sat down, rubbing her wrists on her thighs. “Okay, just settle down for a minute, tell me what’s going on,” Ava sat by her sister. “It’s d-dad,” Kiara said, uncomfortably. Ava was still confused. “Alright, do you miss him?” Ava suggested. “Every d-day, but this isn’t ab-bout that,” Kiara took a deep breath. “That’s okay, what is it about?” Ava rubbed her sister’s back, aware that she could break down at any moment. “He loved you,” Kiara said. “He loved you… more than he loved m-me.” Ava shifted her position on the bed as she heard this. “That’s not true, do you understand me? He loved you just as much as he loved me,” Ava was becoming upset at what her sister was saying. “No, you’re wrong. You were e-everything he could ever have wanted in a child. You’re smart and you l-loved spending time with him. I could never live up to that.” Ava sighed with sympathy and compassion for her sister; how does one respond to such words?

“Kiara, that’s not true. You’re just sad, okay? You just miss him and that’s totally normal,” Ava had always struggled talking about her father, particularly when it came to describing him to other people. “He didn’t love m-me as much as he loved you, because I was j-just like him,” Kiara said. “What do you mean?” her sister asked. “D-dad had autism, and depression. It got really, really b-bad when mom was pregnant with me,” Kiara pointed at her chest. Ava shook her head as this information was new to her. She never knew that her dad suffered with these traits. She didn’t know if she entirely believed her sister at this point. “Where are you getting this information? Where’s this coming from?” she asked. “It was herid-, her-” “Hereditary?” Ava corrected her sister. “But grandma and grandpa didn’t have any of those… things. Dad was just in a really bad place, and that’s nobody’s fault.” Ava tried to make eye contact with her sister. “No. Grandpa and grandpa weren’t his p-parents.” Ava sat up straight with shock. “What?” she whispered. “Dad was ad-adopted,” Kiara tried to explain. “Kiara, I don’t know where all of this is coming from, but that’s not true. Dad wasn’t adopted,” Ava insisted. “Y-yes he was!” Kiara said. “No, he wasn’t! Why do you think he was adopted?” Ava stood up, becoming angry at her sister’s stories. “I understand that it’s hard, okay? I know, I miss dad so much, I miss him every minute of every day and I’m angry, but you can’t say these things!” she exclaimed. “I am not m-making this up!” Kiara stood up to face her sister. “I know you m-miss him, but I miss him t-too, and I hate him for what he did!” She began pacing around the room, violently scratching the palms of her hands. Ava realised that she may have pushed her sister over the edge, and she tried to reach in and touch her sister’s hands. “I’m sorry, you’re right, just calm-” “No!” Kiara pulls away. “I’m so-sick of people telling me to calm down. Why is it so bad for me to get angry sometimes? I hate him, Ava, I’m so mad at him! He left! He took off! I didn’t even get to make him p-p-proud!” Kiara screamed. Two nurses came running to the door, opening it wide. “Kiara-” “No, please, let her be,” Ava blocked the two women. “Ma’am, she needs-” “She doesn’t need anything, she just needs to let it out. She needs to let it go, please, I’m helping her,” Ava eventually convinced the nurses to leave, allowing Kiara to give vent to her emotions. Ava stood back while her sister let out four years of bottled-up anger and pain. “I’m sick of it! I’m done!” she screamed loudly, as Ava remained by the door. “I’m scared all the time! I’m terrified.” Finally, Kiara fell into an exhausted heap on the floor, no longer screaming, but sobbing, clutching her stomach as she knelt, leaning against the bed frame for support. Ava slowly walked towards her. She knelt down next to her and gently rubbed her sister’s back. Kiara leant in as her sister wrapped her arms around her, consoling her. The nineteen-year old’s gasping began to slow down, her moaning and sobbing slowly eased. “I’m s-sorry,” she said quietly. “No, no, it’s alright, you’re okay,” Kiara sat up, and Ava wiped her sister’s face, feeling nothing but compassion for her. “You were with d-dad more than me. What do you miss most about him?” whispered Kiara. Ava closed her eyes. As she thought of all the memories she had, her eyes welled up with tears and her throat tightened. She wanted to answer by saying, Everything, but she knew her sister wouldn’t settle for that, that she would want specifics. “Well, simple, small things really. If I was in my room or playing outside and he might be in the kitchen or in his study…” the young woman choked on her words, almost embarrassed to show so much emotion in front of her sister. “I miss him.” A tear fell down her cheek. ’What do you m-mean?” Kiara asked. “I miss knowing that he was there. That at any point I could go to him, speak with him, have him hug me,” Ava was openly crying. “I know,” Kiara wiped away her sister’s tears. “Now,” Ava took a breath and sat up straight. “You need to tell me something, okay?” she asked Kiara. “You said before that dad was adopted. What made you say that?” Kiara wiped her nose before answering. “This girl told me.” Ava looked at Kiara, confused. “So, some random girl walked up to you and said, hey your dad was adopted?” Ava teased. “No. I was in bed. I looked at my door, and a g-girl was standing there.” Ava stood up. Surely not, she thought. “What did the girl look like?” she asked, quietly, scared to hear the answer. “She had blonde h-hair, sparkly eyes-” “How old did she look?” Ava interrupted. “About th-thirteen or twelve, maybe?” Kiara said. Oh my god. Ava’s heart sunk to the floor. “When did this happen?” Ava whispered. “Two n-nights ago. I got the nurse to phone you the next day,” Kiara explained. “What makes you think she was telling the truth?” Ava questioned. “E-everything she said made sense. She said that dad left a f-file in his will-” Kiara cut herself off. “What’s the matter?” Ava sat back down. “Something pushed dad over the edge the day he d-died. His p-parents told him that he was adopted; they gave him the documents.” Ava exhaled loudly. “The file is in his estate somewhere,” continued Kiara. Ava jumped up. “Are you serious? You’re one hundred percent sure?” Ava grabbed her sister by the shoulders. “It’s just what the girl told me,” her sister said. Adrenaline ran through Ava’s body; her heart was pumping out of her chest. “Does mom know about this?” she asked. “I d-don’t know, I haven’t spoken to her about it,” Kiara looked down. Ava took a step back. “Okay, Kiara, I have to go,” she said. “Before I do, I want you to know how important you are to me, and how important this information is that you’ve given me.” Kiara smiled. Ava turned and opened the door. Before she walked away, she turned around to her sister; “Dad was always proud of you, because there was everything to be proud of.” Kiara looked up briefly and smiled at her sister, Ava dashed down the hallway. She got to her car, out of breath with fear and excitement. She was confused and concerned. How did Lillian know about this? How did she find Kiara? Ava forced herself to be calm, knowing that the specifics about how Lillian managed to get any of her family’s information was not a top priority at the moment.

Ava sat in her car, with her eyes closed and breathing as evenly as she could, trying to recall as much information about her father as possible. More specifically, she tried to conjure up the details of her father’s death… then she remembered something. Ava retrieved her phone quickly from her pocket, managing to drop it three times before getting a firm grip of the device in her hands. She found the contact number she was looking for, and quickly tapped on it, placing the phone up to her ear. The ringing tone sounded in Ava’s ear, her heart racing faster with each passing second. “Hello?” “Mom! It’s Ava,” she said. “Ava, how are you, honey?” Leanne said, with a smile in her voice. “I’m good, I’m good. Listen, you’re the Executor of dad’s estate, right?” Ava asked. “Yes, that’s right,” Leanne answered, sounding confused over the question. “Okay. So, mom, when dad died, did he leave any files?” Ava asked, a pen and paper at the ready. “Well yeah, I mean he left a lot of things. Why?” Leanne asked. “Did dad ever tell you anything about his family, his parents specifically?” Ava asked cautiously, realizing that this could be the time her mother found out that her husband was adopted and she hadn’t known about it. “Um… no, not that I can really recall. Ava what is this really about?” Leanne’s patience was wearing thin. “I can’t explain anything right now, you have to trust me on this. Are these things he left, these files, are they with you right now?” Ava rested her pen and paper on her steering wheel, ready to write down an address. “Yes, they’re here in the garage. Do you want me to send them down to Detroit?” Leanne offered. “No, no, I’m in Cincinnati right now. I was visiting Kiara. But are you home right now?” Ava was relieved and happy that the files were at her mother’s house. “I’m at home now, come over. But you need to tell me what all of this with your father is about afterwards, okay?” Leanne bargained. “Yes, yes I will, I promise. I’ll see you soon.” The young woman hung up the phone and drove directly to her mother’s address. Her impatience at getting there was made worse by getting stuck at every red light. Ava could feel herself perspiring. If there was any place in the world this file would be, it was in Thomas Hayes’ estate papers.

Ava arrived at her mother’s house. It had been years since she visited Leanne’s home, but it still looked the same with its pebble walkway and one flower bed on each side, leading up to the front verandah. Ava knocked on the door; as she waited for her mother she considered the reason Lillian brought this situation to light, a reason she’d brought it up with Kiara, knowing that she would phone her sister. Soon enough, Ava’s mother answered the door. “Ava!” she embraced her daughter, but Ava was in no mood to delay. “Mom, hi, where in the garage are those files?” she asked knowing that she was being demanding. “I’ll take you. They’re a little bit tucked away.” As Leanne led the way through her house, a wave of nostalgia washed over Ava at how it still smelled of her mother’s fantastic cooking. The pair made it to the garage. There was no car in there, just several shelves filled with various outdoor equipment and gardening implements. “It’s over here.” Leanne walked over towards a metal shelving unit with shelves spaced widely to accommodate the large boxes. One of them was covered with a black towel. “I put this over it to try and keep it free from dust,” Leanne said, and she lifted the thick fabric and dropped it on the floor. The box was a plain, cardboard container, similar to the ones Ava had discovered just the previous day. Ava put her hand on the lid. “Is this it?” she asked. “This is the only box that has any documentation,” Leanne said. Ava experienced a moment of hesitation; she was afraid of what she might uncover. She used to laugh at the expression, some secrets are better kept secret, but now she could understand why people felt that way. “I’ll leave you to it, okay?” Leanne touched her daughter’s arm, smiling, before leaving the garage. Ava took a deep breath before opening the lid.

Inside the box was a large stack of loose papers, the first one being a water bill her father must have paid years ago. The journalist smiled at it; bills are the most boring things in the world, but the fact that it had her father’s name on it, his address, the fact that his hands had touched this document made it precious. Ava knew that she would have to get past this for the next short while. She was here for one reason and one reason alone. She started skimming through pages of work documents, paid and unpaid bills. The most eye-catching pieces in the box were Ava’s and Kiara’s old preschool and elementary school awards, brightly colored with glitter and shapes. She had worked though almost half the box, placing the papers in a neat pile on the shelf next to it. The next section started with a file, a yellow folder. The woman picked it up without realizing how fragile it was, over a dozen sheets fell out from the bottom of it. “Shit,” Ava whispered to herself as she collected them carefully. She looked more intently at the papers as she realised, this was it. This was the adoption certificate.

Name: Thomas Edgar Hayes

DoB: 10/2/1972

8.1 pounds.

The journalist gulped although her mouth was dry. It was true. Her father was adopted. This fact wasn’t nearly as unsettling as the next section she read, the names of his biological parents.

Adoptive Parents.

Father: Simon Hayes, signed S Hayes

Mother: Mary Hayes, signed Mary G. Hayes

Birth Parents.

Father: Joseph Hutchison, signed J. Hutchison

Mother: Lillian Matthews, under order of the Armitage Mental Asylum, Michigan, signed Armitage State

Parents: unmarried.

Ava sank to the floor. She knelt over and her shoulders rolled forward, stunned. Blackness began to creep in from the woman’s peripheral vision, her heart fluttered weakly and her limbs lost sensation. Ava fainted on the floor in her mother’s garage. Despite losing consciousness, Ava still experienced the feeling while asleep. The sense of complete disbelief overwhelmed her internally. The young woman hadn’t experienced such tremendous shock for fourteen years as she read the words and signatures on that piece of paper.

“Ava…” the journalist heard a faint voice from far away as she slowly gained consciousness. “Ava, Ava!” The voice was louder, and more insistent. She blinked opened her eyes to see her mother looking over her. “Mom?” she croaked, trying to sit up. “Ava, what happened?” Leanne said, her eyes wide open with alarm and concern. Ava didn’t respond. Her brain was still foggy with the memory of what had happened. She squeezed her eyes shut before opening them again. “Where is it? Where is it?” she muttered to herself as she flicked through the loose sheets. “Ava, what is going on?” Leanne exclaimed, losing her patience. “Yes!” Ava exclaimed as she located the page. “Ava Grace Hayes, if you don’t tell me what going on, I’m gonna made sure you don’t wake up the next time you knock yourself out.” Ava looked at her mother, and without a word, handed her the piece of paper. Leanne peered at the page, reading the words. “Thomas was adopted?” she whispered. “Yes. I thought you would have read through these things when you got them,” Ava said gently. “Darling, I couldn’t. I couldn’t look at anything of your dad’s,” said Leanne softly. “You’d think that after fourteen years I could have got over it but… it’s a lot harder than people might think.” Ava looked at her mother, recognising even more the despair she felt at the loss of her husband. “Did you faint because you saw this?” Leanne asked. “Something like that,” Ava said, sitting upright. “It’s big news believe me, but I don’t feel like fainting. Have you eaten anything today?” Leanne stroked the side of her daughter’s face. “Yes, mom, I’ve eaten. I was just really… shocked I suppose.” Ava hoisted herself up. “Are you wanting to find your grandparents? Your real grandparents?” Leanne asked. Ava looked at her mother, wanting to tell her everything, all of the conundrums she has found herself trapped in over the last few weeks, but she knew she couldn’t. Not now. Now wasn’t the time. “No. I just felt like something was… off that’s all.”

About an hour later, after a strong cup of tea, Ava bid her mother goodbye and started her long journey home. It was already after six in the evening so Ava knew she wouldn’t be getting home until dark. As she reached the border into Michigan, her head was clogged with thoughts, confusion. Anger. It hit her clearly, my boss is my grandfather, she thought. My boss… is my grandfather. Mr Nikita, is my grandfather. The notion itself angered her, her hands gripped the steering wheel tightly, her chest felt constricted. The young woman pulled the car over stared at the document on the seat next to her, completely bewildered. Terrible, disturbing thoughts ran through her head; Mr Nikita had been twenty-eight, Lillian had been twelve when she gave birth. Twelve years old. Ava’s father had autism and depression, passing it onto his second child. Her father had been in emotional pain for years, and this information was what pushed him over the edge. A baby was stolen away from its mother, due to the cruelty of the baby’s father no doubt, leading the mother to end her own life. If it weren’t for Mr Nikita, his brutal actions, Ava might just have had a father to call on right now, someone who could have taught her how to ride a bike, to drop her off at her first day of school, to tell her that she wasn’t allowed to have any boyfriends. The young woman, still pulled over on the highway, clenched the steering wheel tightly in her hands until the whites of her knuckles showed. She inhaled deeply, “God-damnit!” she screamed. She hit the steering wheel, punching it. She got out of her car, walked to the other side of the vehicle, and looked out at the empty fields and into the darkness of the night. She picked up a rock from the ground and threw it as far as she could; she picked up another, and did the same thing, over and over again, screaming, “Shit! Shit!” angry at all the memories of her father, furious that he was dead and there was nothing she could do about it.

Ava was exhausted. She inhaled and exhaled, breathing deeply as she realized that she was still on the highway, with cars driving past her. She gathered herself, calmed herself down before dusting her hands off and wiping her mouth. She wearily got back into her car, turned the heater on as she rubbed her eyes. She started the engine, hit the accelerator and continued on her way home, realizing that releasing all that pent up anger felt… amazing. But she’d never felt more exhausted in her life. She considered that Lillian must have known about this, but how was Ava going to confront her about it? Ava had been spending the past several weeks talking to her late grandmother. Each new aspect of the story was more shocking and surreal than the last. When at last she arrived home and closed the front door behind her, she leant against it, the precious documents in her hand and said out loud to her empty house, “What now?”

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