Ava Hayes woke up the next day, groggy and tired. She ate nothing for breakfast that morning, she couldn’t stomach anything at that moment; though she packed a hefty lunch, wanting to avoid the potential of another fainting episode. She got into her car once again, three vital files in the bag beside her: Lillian’s file, Mr Nikita’s and the adoption certificate. Ava left the city and was on the road to the Armitage Asylum again, not needing to set up her navigation system as she knew the way like the back of her hand. The shock of what she had learned yesterday had already settled in, and Ava drove in silence, preoccupied with her thoughts, barely recognising that she was behind the wheel. She felt only an unsatisfied, despairing emotion. Her main thoughts were of Lillian; her newly found biological grandmother. She was just a child when she became a mother, trying to do everything she could to protect her baby before he was stolen from her.
Ava arrived at the asylum, taking no notice of the unwelcoming arch at the boundary of the property, or the almost human presence of the building itself. The young woman collected her belongings, double-checking to make sure the files were still there, before exiting her vehicle. She fished the key to the front door from her pocket, gazing up at the window on the first floor as she walked towards the entrance. Young Lillian was looking down at her, watching her approach, despondent as she saw Ava. The investigative journalist waved in acknowledgement before continuing to the entrance. She unlocked the door and entered, ignoring the dark, gaping space, she turned right, down the hallway that led to the dining area. She began to feel nervous about seeing Lillian. After yesterday’s discovery, she would never be able to see her the same way again. She reached the doorway of the dining room and saw Lillian sitting at the table, tapping on the surface. She looked up at Ava, and a look passed between them that spoke of the knowledge they both now shared. “Hi,” Ava said softly. “Hi,” Lillian replied. Ava made her way towards the table and took a seat across from Lillian. Silence sat between the two as Ava stared into the young girl’s eyes, still sparkly, yet so very tired.
“So…” Ava tried to find the right words to start the most difficult conversation of her life. “You’re my… grandmother.” Lillian stared at her blankly. “Mr Nikita - Joseph Hutchison - my boss is my grandfather.” Ava dropped her intense gaze. “I need to show you something,” Lillian stood up. “You’re not going to like it, but I need you to see it.” Ava also stood up and followed the girl. They walked out of the room and down to the large open recreation area. Lillian turned right, heading towards the long, dark corridor ahead. Ava followed her, becoming anxious about what she was about to see. The hallway became darker and darker the further along the corridor they went. Lillian noticed Ava’s obvious attempt at avoiding eye-contact with the doors that opened onto the individual rooms. “Look at them,” the young girl demanded. “They’re not going to hurt you.” Hesitantly, Ava looked up, staring through each of the small windows on the doors, seeing into empty rooms. Some of the rooms showed peeling paint, others had scratch marks, others look as though they were vacated just yesterday. Lillian stopped at a particular door, the basement door. “Why do you want to go down there?” Ava nervously asked. “Don’t worry. Nothing is going to hurt you.” Lillian opened the door, taking the first step before looking behind her and signaling to Ava to follow. The pair reached the bottom of the staircase, their feet landing on the damp concrete floor.
Ava looked around, searching for whatever Lillian might be trying to show her. As she looked around, she heard a sharp noise, and turned to where it was coming from. Lillian was standing by the tunnel door, which lay wide open. “Lillian, I don’t like this,” she said, her voice quavering. “It’s okay. I’m not going to let anything hurt you. Get your flashlight device out.” The young girl turned and started walking, and having no choice but to follow, Ava continued behind her. The light from her phone hardly made an impact on the pitch black of the tunnel, and it was impossible to see further than about three meters ahead. “I’m going to be right here,” Lillian said walking beside her. The tunnel was small, Ava could only barely stand up straight, a miniscule distance between her head and the concrete ceiling. It was completely silent; no sound penetrated the thick walls. Several minutes passed but there was still no sign of light at the other end. “How long does this go for?” Ava whispered. “Just be patient.” Ava looked behind before gasping as she felt a tug on her hand. “Don’t look in the other direction,” Lillian said. “You’ll get disorientated and lose track of where you’re going. You don’t want that to happen in here,” she warned before continuing. Several more minutes passed and finally there was the smallest glimmer of light ahead. Ava breathed a sigh of relief. “Where does it lead to? How far away does it need to go?” she asked. “It’s going to make sense in a minute,” Lillian assured her. Ava could see a small hint of light ahead of her, signaling the end of the tunnel. The pair eventually reached the other end, Ava’s eyes readjusted to the natural light. She was relieved to breath fresh air after the stale atmosphere of the tunnel. “Look,” Lillian said. Ava looked ahead. Forest, trees were everywhere. “Woods?” Ava queried. “No, look past the trees,” she pointed her finger. Ava took a step forward, looking more closely. In the near distance there was a small clearing. “Is that the cemetery?” she asked. “Come on,” Lillian beckoned as she walked forward. Ava glanced back. The asylum seemed so very far away. She’d never been this far east of the highway before. She caught up to Lillian, who walked as though she was completely mesmerized and pulled towards the destination. The pair made their way around tree trunks, watching their steps as the earth crunched under their feet. Ava looked to the left; the tree line stretched until she could see a clearing, most likely the old parking lot. She looked to the right, and the trees continued further than the eye could see, the distance was dark with the densely packed tree trunks.
Lillian stopped, and Ava stopped beside her. The journalist looked forward, now shocked at what she saw. “So, this is-” “Yes,” Lillian interrupted. Ava found herself staring out into a graveyard, dozens of crosses placed at regular intervals across the ground, stretching far across the clearing, to the left and right. The young woman stepped forward in awe; she walked around each grave, gently touching the metal crosses sticking upright in the ground, marking the graves. “There aren’t any names? No numbers, nothing?” Ava said aloud, her eyes fixed on the graves. “No,” Lillian said sadly. “They only set this up about thirty-five years before the place shut down, you know,” she explained. Ava continued walking, sadness and pity overcoming her. Then it hit her. She looked up at Lillian, who leant against the trunk of a large old tree, kicking at the soil beneath her shoes. “Are you um…” The young girl looked up as she heard Ava. “Are you here?” Ava asked softly. “Come here,” Lillian walked over to Ava and grabbed her hand. She started walking to the other side of the small cemetery. Ava’s heart was racing. As much as she was curious, she was also scared and overwhelmed. Lillian stopped walking abruptly and Ava nearly bumped into her. The pair looked down at a small cross. Four graves in from the end of that row was Lillian Matthew’s grave. Ava stared at the small metal structure, then at the young girl, who stared at it too with a mix of yearning and despair. “This is yours?” Ava asked, Lillian nodded in response. Ava lowered herself to her knees, on top of the grave. She touched the cross and felt a familiar tightness form in her throat. “It isn’t right,” she said, a tear falling down her face. “Did your family, your siblings, ever come and visit you?” she looked up, praying that the answer would be yes, but Lillian slowly shook her head. Ava began to openly sob. “You were just a baby yourself,” she cried, “and your life was taken from you.” Lillian knelt beside the young woman, looking at her in her eyes. “You should be fifty-eight years old right now, doing whatever you want, free in the world. You should have lived your life, gone to high school, gone to the prom, graduated, had a family-” “I have a family.” Lillian touched Ava’s face; her fingers ice-cold on her cheek. “Give me your hand,” the young girl said, placing her right hand in front of Ava. Hesitantly, the young woman obeyed. The girl’s hands were cold as stone, but softer than silk. “Are you ready to see my story now?” she asked. Ava looked into her eyes before slowly nodding her head. “Yes,” she breathed. Lillian inhaled deeply, closing her eyes, and Ava did the same.
As her eyes closed, colors and shapes began to form, slowly appearing in front of her. She eventually saw the full picture. A vision like all of her other visions. She gasped in surprise as a woman walked straight past her, nearly knocking her over. Ava looked at the woman, a nurse. She looked around and saw that she was back inside the asylum at the reception area. There were doctors and nurses walking about and patients here and there, footsteps and muted whispers were the only sounds filling the interior. Ava leant over the reception desk and saw the sign-in register which was opened to a grid lined page with over a dozen names filling the spaces. There was a date at the top of the page, 11/13/1970. That seemed familiar, but before Ava could work out the significance of the date, a loud, distracting sound came from the front entrance as the doors opened. As the people entered the building, the patients inside became agitated; some lay on the ground, mumbling, others started dancing and singing on the spot. Three people walked through the door; a woman, not forty years old, dressed in a matching green suit, black heels and her hair in perfect condition, accompanied by a man of around fifty, wearing dirty jeans and a dark beige jacket, a grim look fixed on his face. Then Ava noticed the young girl – it was Lillian. But she looked different. Her hair was wavy and bouncy, her face was tanned with rosy cheeks and freckles, her eyes bright and her lips plump. Young Lillian looked around the place, terrified at the sights her young eyes beheld. She clung to her mother’s hand, but the mother seemed unaffected by her daughter’s distress. The three reached the receptionist’s desk. “Good morning,” the nurse said formally, with no smile or welcome. “Hello, I’m here to admit my daughter,” the man said. “What?” Lillian whipped her head towards the man. “What are you doing?” she screamed. “I need you to complete this form,” the nurse behind the counter handed the man a clipboard. “Mom, stop him!” The girl tugged at her mother’s sleeve, but the woman ignored Lillian’s pleading and sobs. Two male nurses, dressed in all white, approached. The young girl was hysterical and terrified, imploring her mother not to leave her there. But the nurses picked her up and carried her, kicking and screaming. Lillian’s parents turned and walked out and did not glance back.
Colors began to blur in Ava’s vision, the sounds were warped by static and overlapped by other sounds. She closed her eyes for several seconds and when she reopened them, she looked around at her surroundings, uncertain of where she was. But then, she realized. There were long tables stretching from one side of the room to the other, perhaps fifty chairs on each side: the dining area. The place was filthy. There was food on the floor, patients were screaming, many of them unable to lift their hands up far enough to their faces to feed themselves. Nurses walked around, force-feeding the patients, some doing so more aggressively than others. Ava looked down. Lillian sat with a bowl of what looked to be porridge in front of her. She was next to a boy who looked to be the same age. They were talking and laughing. Ava couldn’t hear what they were chatting about as the noise in the room from the other patients was almost deafening. Ava smiled at the two children, relieved that Lillian had a friend and seemed to be happy for at least a brief moment. She looked over towards the door and gasped in shock when she saw Mr Nikita enter the room. John Hutchison, a much younger version of the man she worked for. His imposing stature clearly intimidated many of the patients who cowered at his approach, but the man took no notice, he was far too busy. He stared at Lillian, fixating on her as if assessing her. Ava could only imagine what he was thinking.
Ava’s vision became blurred again, the shapes and colors disappeared. Several seconds later, she found herself looking into a room on the first floor of the building, in what seemed to be the dark hallway. The deafening sounds of people screaming in agony could be heard from all directions, but that was not what got Ava’s attention. In the room she saw Lillian laying, almost lifeless on a hospital bed, drugged up with morphine. She laid with her stomach exposed, her head towards the wall and her arm hanging off the side of the bed frame. Ava jumped in fright as something passed her, a large figure. Joseph Hutchison walked straight past her into Lillian’s room, before shutting and locking the door behind him. Ava started screaming, “Get away from her! Don’t touch her!” She kicked the door, scratching at it, but she knew that her screams were no use. She had no power, no ability to stop the despicable crime from taking place.
Her vision and hearing blurred again, everything disappeared until she was staring at a sight she had seen before. She was in the common recreation area, and she was looking at Lillian, more distraught than ever, sitting across a table from Casey Lehin. The young girls were talking, Lillian in particular talking very quietly, glancing at the nurses nearby to make sure they couldn’t hear her. “I’m pregnant,” the young Lillian said. Ava gasped. She knew it was inevitable, but she still felt devastated. “You’re sure?” Casey leant in. “I’m sure of it.” Casey sat back. “It hurts, okay? When you’re in labour, it hurts more than anything. But then the midwife handed me my Magda, and every second of that nineteen hours of labor was worth it,” Casey began to get upset. Lillian looked at her friend with sympathy, knowing that it would soon be her ordeal to go through.
Ava’s sight and hearing disappeared once more, until she opened her eyes to find herself staring at Lillian as she lay in a hospital bed. She was holding something in her arms. Ava moved in closer and saw that she was cradling a tiny newborn baby. A nurse sat by her side. Her face was familiar to Ava, nurse Jennifer, she realised. The young nurse smiled at the baby, as did Ava. She was looking into her father’s face at its freshest moment. Before long, two male nurses and one female nurse entered the room. “No, no, no, no!” Lillian began to panic and clutched the baby tightly to her chest. One of the male nurses walked to the far side of her bed and firmly took hold of Lillian’s right arm, while the other male nurse took the baby. “Don’t take him! Get away from him!” Lillian screamed hysterically. Without any sign of emotion, the nurse removed the baby from his mother’s arms. The baby began to cry and fuss. Lillian fought frantically to reach him, falling out of bed and onto the floor in a desperate attempt to save him. “Bring him back to me! Bring him back!” she screamed, weak and distraught, knowing there was no hope. Ava began to cry, powerless to do anything but watch. Traumatized.
The woman’s vision blurred; the colors evaporated. She opened her eyes to a blinding light which forced her to squint to see. When she became accustomed to the daylight, she looked around and realised where she was. She was on top of the roof, the cloudy sky above and a gentle wind blowing against her face. She turned and looked behind her and was chilled to see Lillian standing on the edge of the roof, looking out to the distance, past the trees. “Lillian!” she called out. Receiving no response, she ran over to the girl, her face was pale, her lips were cracked, and tears rolled unchecked down her face. Ava looked over the edge of the roof. It was incredibly high, the pavement so far away below. She looked back at Lillian. “Please, don’t do this.” The young girl did not even blink as the wind blew her hair back. “I’m already dead,” she said out loud, before stepping off the edge, disappearing as she plummeted to her death below.
Ava looked away, unable to witness what happened next. Her vision blurred one more time, her hearing disappeared as a blackness overtook her. She opened her eyes and saw Lillian right in front of her. They were both still kneeling on the ground. Ava’s tears were streaming down her face. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered through her sobs. “It’s not all bad,” Lillian said quietly. “I got to watch my baby boy grow up.” Ava squeezed her eyes shut, struggling to hear the girl’s words. “He had a fantastic life, Ava. He had a fantastic childhood, he loved his school, he was so smart, he became a lawyer, he married a wonderful woman, and had two brilliant daughters,” she smiled. Ava failed to comprehend what was going on. She was far too overwhelmed. “Dig here,” Lillian pointed at the base of the cross. “What?” Ava questioned. “Just do it, there’s something else I want to show you.” Ava followed her orders, digging the loose soil with her hands. She didn’t have to dig very deep before her fingertips touched something. “Wood?” she asked, looking at Lillian. Lillian simply smiled at her. Ava unearthed a small wooden box, partly eroded away by the earth. “Open it,” Lillian gestured. Ava opened the lid, revealing papers and photographs inside. The young woman removed them from the box one by one, the first item being a black and white photo. The image depicted Lillian, her face smiling as she stared past the camera. She looked happy, healthy, a bow in her hair and frills at her collar. “I was nine when this was taken,” the young girl tapped the photo. Ava stared at it further before putting it carefully back in the box, before picking up the other photo. “Nurse Jennifer took this one for me,” Lillian said. The photo was of Lillian, sitting in her room inside the Armitage, holding her tiny baby in her arms. Ava’s tears began again. She placed the black and white photographs back inside the box. “Is this all you have?” Ava asked. “Yes. Nurse Jennifer buried this box here after I was buried,” the young girl explained. Ava held the box close to her chest, hugging it tightly. Then she placed it on the ground before putting her hand in her pocket to retrieve something. She pulled out her wallet, unzipped the pouch and removed a small, colour photo. “I want you to have this,” she said, handing it to Lillian. The photo showed Ava, Kiara, Leanne and Thomas Hayes, a family portrait taken in 2003 in front of the family home. Lillian took the photo, and smiled at it, looking intently at each person. “He was the luckiest man on earth,” she said, proudly and happily for her son. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t angry at him for what he did. He left everything behind,” Lillian lowered the photo onto her lap. “I know,” Ava agreed. Lillian put the photo in the small wooden box, closing the lid. Ava took the box and placed it gently back into the earth, covering it with the soil.
The pair made their way back through the tunnel. There was complete silence as they walked together, but Ava wasn’t afraid of the darkness anymore. She was merely glad that she was with Lillian, that she had heard and seen her story. At the other end, Ava shut the door behind them, the sound of it closing echoed through the tunnel on the other side of the door. Lillian and Ava retraced their steps up the basement stairs, along the hallway, and into the dining area. Ava looked at her surroundings through new eyes, visualizing in her head the events that had taken place, and the people that had once lived there. She imagined Lillian and her mother and stepfather by the reception area, the nurse behind the counter. She imagined Lillian and Casey sitting at the table in the common area, discussing their fantasy about how they were going to run away. Unfortunately, neither of them made it that far in life, and for one of them not even in death.
The two sat down at Ava’s worktable in the dining area, the journalist looked around the room envisaging the tables, the chairs, the people that sat in here once, the life that existed that was now forgotten, abandoned. She looked at the young girl sitting across from her. “What now?” she asked sadly. Lillian was silent for a long while. “You just set me free.” Ava straightened her spine. “What? How?” she asked. “You did something nobody has ever done for me before.” Ava struggled to understand what Lillian meant. “You listened to my story, you acknowledge it,” she said. Ava stared at the young girl. “So, does this mean that you can leave?” Ava questioned. “Yes, I can sleep now. But there’s something I need to do first,” Lillian said. Ava looked at her confused. “If you could see your dad one last time, what would you do? What would you say?” The young woman’s face fell, she had never been asked this before. She took a minute to think. “Um… I would hug him. I would just want to hold him again, and I would tell him-” Ava choked on her words, “that I love him, and I miss him, and that he means so much to so many people.” The woman’s eyes welled up with tears. Lillian took a deep breath. “Would you like to?” she asked. “What?” Ava said. “Would you like to see your father one last time?” Lillian smiled. “Yes!” Ava laughed through her tears. “I would love to see my dad again,” she sobbed. “Okay. I need you to go outside, close your eyes and picture the best memories of him,” Lillian smiled. Without questioning, Ava did as her grandmother commanded. She got out of her seat and began walking to the front door. She turned around and asked, “Will you be here when I get back?” Lillian lifted her head. “I’ll be here,” she said. “Do you promise?” Ava asked, emphatically. “I promise.”
Ava felt as though she was in a dream, butterflies were fluttering with fire on their wings in Ava’s stomach. She had wished for this for fourteen years, knowing it to be impossible. She reached the main entrance, swung open the door and stepped out into the early evening sunlight. This place had never looked so beautiful. The sunset cast an orange glow over the world as Ava looked around. She stood in the middle of the empty parking space, facing the treelined driveway. She took a deep breath, concentrate, concentrate, she repeated to herself. Ava closed her eyes, squeezing them shut. She thought hard about the memories of her father; the time that Ava found a rock that she was impressed with, her father made a home for it in her bedroom when she was three using a box and colored pencils. When her dad dropped her off on her first day at kindergarten, she had never been away from her parents for so long she didn’t want to let go of him. When Ava learned how to ride a bike without training wheels, when the pair would watch cartoons together, eating cereal at four o’clock in the afternoon. When her father helped her with her math homework, because when she was young being able to add four and seven together meant something, it was worth celebrating. Ava took another deep breath and opened her eyes. There he was.
Thomas Hayes was standing right in front of her. He was tall, with thick dark hair, his eyes brown and sparkly, his olive skin tanned and healthy. Ava couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. The man smiled, his teeth white as his eyes smiling above his cheeks. “Dad!” Ava threw her arms around her father. He hugged back, squeezing his daughter tightly. “Hi Ava,” the man whispered, sobbing into her shoulder. “We’ve all missed you. I missed you so much!” Ava was almost delirious with joy. “Dad, there’s so much I need to tell you, so much!” Ava exclaimed; her arms still wrapped around her father. “I know, darling, I know. I’ve been here the whole time,” Thomas said. “It was you!” Ava asked, releasing her dad from her tight hug and taking his hands in hers. “It was me,” he said. “It was your shadow, in those woods, in Cincinnati, at the Pharmacy?” Ava pieced together the puzzle. But she had to ask him the question that had haunted her for years. “Dad,” she started. The man knew what was about to come. “Why?” she asked. “Why did you leave me?” she started sobbing once again, barely able to breath. “I’m so, so sorry Ava. I’m so sorry, I would give anything to take it all back,” the man pleaded, tears in his own eyes. Ava realized she was no longer angry at her father. Looking at him now, healthy, happy and there with her, was all she had ever wanted in the world. The young woman savored the sight of her father, gently touching his cheeks with her hands. There’s so much you need to know, she thought to herself. “You saw me there. I watched you pull the trigger, you fell to the ground instantly, I-” Ava struggled to articulate the memory. “I know, I know, I’m so sorry, it was completely unforgivable, leaving your mom, your sister, everything. I watch you guys every day, and every day, I scream,” the man explained. “Are you - are you in pain?” Ava whispered through her tears. Thomas took a while to respond. “I’m in no less pain than I deserve for what I did.” Ava shook her head. She took a step back, still unable to believe that he was here, he was really here. “Was that you singing to me the other night?” Ava asked, and her father nodded. “You were having trouble sleeping so…” He didn’t need to explain further, he was only doing what his instincts told him to. “You know who I’ve found, don’t you?” Ava said, squeezing her father’s hand. “Yes, I know who you’ve found. She’s an incredible woman isn’t she? You get that from her. As well as your mother,” he smiled. “So, you met her after… you know…” Ava asked. “She was waiting for me,” Thomas said. “What about your father? You know who he is don’t you?” Ava asked. “He’s your boss,” her father’s demeanor changed. “Is it just a coincidence that he’s my boss?” she asked. “I don’t know,” the man responded. “You know, Kiara and mom, they’re still in so much pain, they miss you just as much as I do, more even,” Ava said. “I spoke to them. I spoke to Kiara last night, then your mother. They got to say their goodbyes,” he said. “What did they say?” Ava asked. “The exact same thing that you said,” Ava smiled broadly through her tears. “Ava,” Thomas said. “I have to go now.” Ava looked up, desperately not wanting him to go, but also wanting him to finally be at peace. The man touched his daughter’s face. “Before you go, I want you to know… that I am so proud of you, you’ve always made me proud. So has your sister and she knows that now, and that I am forever sorry for leaving you,” he said. “Dad, there’s nothing to forgive. I love you, so, so much,” his daughter whispered.
Ava’s heart physically ached, and she sobbed, gasping for air. Please never leave me again. I need you here, she thought. “I’m going to a much better place now, but I’ll always be watching over you. And when your time comes, I’ll be waiting for you. That’s a promise.” Ava couldn’t manage to get any words out. She wrapped her arms around her father, squeezing him so tightly, feeling his physical self, one last time. “It’s okay to let go of me, Ava. It’ll be okay,” the man hugged his daughter. Ava closed her eyes, savoring the last few seconds, wanting to cry out, please don’t leave me! It was time to let him go. Ava opened her eyes, her vision blurry from the tears, but clear enough to see that her father was no longer there. She found herself standing in the middle of the abandoned car park, the only sounds were the trees swaying, yet the air was clearer than ever. Her father’s scent was still fresh in her nostrils as she whispered aloud, “Goodbye.”
Ava eventually turned around, accepting that her father had gone. She glanced up at the front door of the building and saw Lillian watching her. After a few seconds she said, “Thank you,” as tears trailed down her cheeks. “He needed that just as much as you did,” Lillian slowly walked towards her granddaughter. Ava suddenly knew what was about to happen. “So, I suppose it’s your turn now?” she said, her face swollen with emotion. “That’s right.” Lillian reached Ava and turned to face the arch which framed the entrance to the Armitage Asylum. “For forty-eight years I’ve been stuck here. I fantasized about walking through those gates,” she pointed. “I’m nervous, but I’m so tired,” she said. A silence sat between the pair as they both stared at the old arch, the sunset behind it beckoning. The orange, purple, pink skyline. The peaceful countryside with endless fields that once was eerie, terrifying. “I’m really going to miss you, Lillian Matthews,” whispered Ava. Lillian looked back at Ava. “I’ll miss you too. But I’ll always be right with you,” she said. “I’m afraid, Ava,” Lillian admitted, her eyes fixated on her path. “I know. But it’s time to let go,” Ava touched the girl gently on her arm, as her eyes stared fixedly on the wrought iron arch. “I’m not sure what to do next, what to do with Mr Nikita, or my work … I don’t know what will come next,” Ava mused. “That’s the way it should be. You’re very intelligent Ava, you underestimate yourself. And don’t worry about Hutchison,” Ava looked at Lillian. “You don’t want me to press charges or anything? Anything at all?” she queried. “You are your own person, but he’s already serving his life sentence. The way that your father found out about his adoption, was because Joseph researched, he tracked down his son after thirty-two years,” Lillian said. Ordinarily, Ava would have been shocked, surprised; now nothing phased her. “I’m glad to know he felt something,” Ava sighed. The silence resumed but Ava and Lillian savored it. The wind gently whistled as the trees blew and rustled their leaves.
“Ava,” the young girl turned to look at her granddaughter. “I need to go now,” Lillian said softly. “I’m eternally grateful for what you did for me,” she said. “Thank you for what you gave to me,” Ava replied, her heart full. Lillian didn’t move. She bit her bottom lip and stared at the arch. “Listen, I know it’s scary, but it’s only scary because it’s uncertain. You can finally take a deep breath,” Lillian turned and looked at Ava and smiled. “It’ll be okay,” Ava whispered, tears streaming down her face. Lillian faced the road, taking a deep breath before she slowly started walking. Silently, quietly, the young girl made her way to the arch, walking a path she should have taken a long time ago. The sky was a glorious landscape, the trees were blowing gently, and the grass swayed in the breeze. The world seemed at peace. Just before she reached the arch, Lillian turned around. One last time. Tears fell freely down Ava’s cheeks. The young girl’s hair was soft and wavy like in her photo, her face glowed with health and her eyes sparkled. She smiled at Ava as the wind blew against her face. Ava smiled back, nodding her head as if reassuring her grandmother one more time that it was okay to go. Lillian slightly opened her mouth, her shoulders raised as she inhaled ever so deeply, oxygen cleansing her lungs. She turned around and passed through the arch; with each step she took, her figure gently faded, evaporating into the glorious sunset. Lillian Matthews’ spirit had finally found peace.
Silence. Ava stood in the middle of the car park, no other human being within five miles of her. She smiled to herself, and felt a huge weight lifting from her shoulders as she let the past go. Ava turned back towards the building. She opened the front door to the large, empty space but something had changed. The long, dark corridor ahead was no longer threatening, the atmosphere in the building no longer felt sinister. Ava made her way to her make-shift desk in the former dining area and collected her bag. She turned and looked over to the window at the other end of the room, envisioning young Lillian standing there, staring outside, full of a yearning for peace.
The investigative journalist left the building and locked the door behind her. In her car, she looked back at the asylum in the rearview mirror and gasped in shock at what she saw. Each and every window was open. Strangely, Ava was not frightened. She had the sense that the building was opening itself up and letting go of its ghosts. As Ava drove away, she waved to the building, acknowledging it as though it was a person whom she had known for a long time. What had once looked angry and resentful, was now calm. Ava turned on her radio and found a pop music station. She turned the volume up loud and let the cool September breeze blow through her hair.