Case, Armitage

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Chapter Eighteen

Ava walked into work on Monday with three photocopied folders in her hands. She felt full of energy and was keen to finalize the important document in front of her. She saw Kate arrive and got up greet her. “Oh, hey Ava I was-” The young woman hugged her, taking Kate by surprise. “Is everything okay?” her friend asked, pretending to be suspicious of her friend’s strange behaviour. “I just want you to know that I love you, and you mean so much to me,” Ava released her friend but grabbed her shoulders. Kate laughed at her. “I don’t know what you’re on, but I need some of it!” Kate joked, “No, I’m being serious. I don’t tell you enough, but you’ve always been there for me, ready to do anything for me. That’s something special if you ask me,” Ava took a step back. She collected the three files from her desk and marched down the corridor. Without knocking, Ava entered her boss’s office. “Excuse me, Ms Hayes,” he said, clearly made unhappy by the intrusion. “This shouldn’t take too long,” Ava sat down, and Mr Nikita resigned himself to listen. Silently, Ava handed the man the first document. “I believe this is familiar to you.” The man’s eyes widened as he looked at his old file from decades ago. “Where did you get this?” he said hoarsely. “At the Armitage Mental Asylum,” she answered matter-of-factly, and handed him the second file. “I believe you know of this as well,” Ava leant back in her chair, observing him. “In case you’d forgotten the details, this woman was my grandmother, with whom, against her wishes, you shared a son, my father. Which leads me to my next point…” The journalist handed her boss the second last piece of documentation. “Your son’s birth certificate.” The man removed his glasses and rubbed his face, his cheeks flushed as panic set in. “Why did you go searching for him?” Ava asked impatiently. Mr Nikita sat uncomfortably in his chair, leaning his elbows on the desk, considering the woman’s question. “Because he was my son,” he said. “That’s not good enough,” Ava responded. “I regret what I did. It was a mistake.” The journalist grew angry at Mr Nikita’s casual answers. “Did you give me this job because you felt guilty?” Ava asked quietly. “You’re smart, like your grandmother-” “No!” Ava snapped. “You have no right to talk about her!” she pointed her finger aggressively at the man. He at least had the decency to look ashamed. “This is my letter of resignation,” Ava placed the final document on Mr Nikita’s desk. “You’re leaving?” he said with alarm. “There’s an internship at The Cincinnati Enquirer. I’m going to apply for it, and I trust there won’t be an issue getting a glowing reference from you?” The woman stood up, waiting for a response. The man nodded in agreement.

“I have a question for you,” Ava said. The man looked up at the woman, uncomfortably. “Why did you give me this project? When you worked there when you knew the whole story all along? What was in it for you,” Ava asked angrily. Joseph Hutchison sighed as a brief silence sat between the pair. “Of course, I had known about your father’s adoption from the day he was born. But I hadn’t tracked him down until recently. When I found out that he’d died, I felt a sudden feeling of complete sadness. Regret.” Ava scoffed at this, believing his emotion for his unwanted son was too little, too late. “I visited Thomas’ grave one day. I stood in front of it for hours. I felt something when I was there,” the man continued. “Someone else was with me.” Ava leaned in to listen. “I looked around, and there was something, or someone, standing behind a tree. It was Lillian. I was in shock and I almost passed out. I was terrified,” the man explained. “Well, how the tables turned for you then!” Ava exclaimed cynically. “Lillian approached me,” Joseph Hutchison ignored his granddaughter’s remark, lost in his memories. “She told me that she visited the grave every single day. She told me that she was trapped, that she was unable to move on.” Ava was intrigued by this. “Why did that bother you suddenly?” Ava asked, angrily. “Because I loved Lillian!” the man snapped. “I knew she wasn’t insane; she was smart and beautiful-” “She was twelve!” Ava snapped back. “I know,” Hutchison whispered. “I was devastated when she died. I truly was. At the grave site, she begged me to help her, after all these years,” Hutchison looked at Ava, his eyes brimming with tears. “I couldn’t help her myself. But I knew someone who could,” he said.

Ava couldn’t listen to any more of the man’s words, she rose from her seat. “One of the last things Lillian said to me was, don’t press charges, he’s already serving his life sentence.” Ava’s boss was taken aback with surprise. “You’re lucky, Joseph. You’re lucky that girl was so kind hearted. If it were me, I would have ordered someone to cut your balls off,” she hissed at him, as she threw the files on the man’s desk and left his office for the last time.

Ava got back to her desk and started packing her things into a storage box. “Woah, what are you doing?” Kate asked. “I’m moving to Cincinnati. I just quit,” she said. Kate stood up and walked over to Ava. “Okay, stop, stop, you’re not thinking straight. You can’t just get up and move away,” she said. “Why not, Kate? This is the clearest my head has ever been, and I need to follow through with it.” Kate stood by her friend’s desk, unsure of what to say. “Can I do anything to help?” she offered. Ava lifted her head and smiled at her friend, grateful for her support. “Well, I just have some boxes at home that need packing, maybe after work you could come and help, and we’ll get cheap take-out?”

When she got home, Ava started packing up her house, starting with the closet in her bedroom. As the cupboard emptied, Ava noticed a familiar object above the coat rack. She stood on her toes and managed to reach it, examining the small cardboard box in her hands. She unwrapped the brown paper wrapping and remembered what it was. It was her dad’s cassette-tape player. There was a post-it-note stuck on top of it, reading if I’m not there and you’re scared, this is for you. Ava smiled to herself. When Ava was almost six years old, her father had to attend a business trip in Florida for one week. He left her the cassette player to listen to if she needed it. Ava put it on her bed to listen to later when she had more time. The clearing out and boxing up of her house had to come first. Kate arrived after work, as she had promised. “So, when are you actually leaving?” she asked as she dropped a box in the living area. “Well, there are a few things I need to do first,” Ava said. “That sounds like a conversation to be had over a glass of wine!” Kate laughed!

A few days later, Ava was on her way back to the Armitage Mental Asylum for the very last time. She drove up the long driveway, the sounds of the stones crunching under the tires reminded her of her childhood when she lived out in the woods. The large building’s windows still remained open and Ava smiled as she saw this, happy that it was finally getting a chance to breathe. She got out of her car, wearing comfortable cargo pants and a hoodie. She walked around to the back of her car, opened the trunk and removed an industrial sized flashlight. Inside the building, Ava made her way down the long corridor, this time looking into each room as she passed. She reached the basement door, placed the large torch on the ground and walked down the staircase until she felt the concrete floor below. She switched on the huge torch, which managed to light up the whole room. Ava got to work. She began at the top of the first shelf of archival files, organizing as she went, setting out each file as neatly as possible after noticing on her very first day what a catastrophic state these important documents were in. After six hours of non-stop work, the job was finished, and Ava felt happy with what she’d achieved. She picked up the flashlight, climbed up to the fourth step on the staircase, and shone the light back down into the room to get a clear view of her work. Each shelf was now organized neatly with thousands of patient files from over seventy years all arranged in order. The records that had been abandoned to rot and neglect, were now arranged into a respectful order, Ava’s homage to the people unlucky enough to have called this place home.

Ava walked out of the building and made her way around to the woods, east of the premises. The walk was long, but that didn’t bother her. There was little wind, and the trees were still. Several times the journalist looked behind her, roughly measuring how far away she was from the building itself. Seven minutes had passed, and Ava was finally approaching the tree line. The young woman watched her step carefully as she climbed over logs and rocks, avoiding the roots of the old trees breaking through the soil at the base of their trunks. As she continued, she kept a mental note of certain points on her path; a specific tree or a rock that had a pattern on it, creating a breadcrumb trail for herself to follow on the way back. The graveyard was finally in sight. Ava stared from a distance at Lillian’s grave. The rusty metal cross looked identical to every other, but the fact that it was Lillian’s, that it was personal to Ava, made it stand out from all the others. The young woman made her way over to the grave, kneeling before it. She smiled, wanting to say some kind words, but the words had already been spoken. Ava had brought along a bouquet of mixed flowers. She placed the bunch gently against the cross, before standing up and taking a step back. “Thank you,” she whispered aloud.

Ava slowly walked back to the asylum; it was time to go. Before leaving, Ava opened the trunk of her car again, and retrieved two small parcels. She walked back up to the front door, inserted the key into the lock and for the last time, pushed open the large front door. Ava walked over to the old reception desk and placed both packages neatly next to one another on the counter. The first package was a small envelope for Caleb, with a note inside reminding him to continue to aim high and thanking him for all his hard work around the property. The second package was Ava’s completed project; pages of research, of information, interesting history about the place, details about what made it a great tourist attraction, and why the history of the Armitage Mental Asylum was of vital significance to the local heritage. On top of the second parcel Ava placed an envelope with a note inside for the Chesters.

Richard and Linda,

I want to thank you both very much for trusting me with working in this grand building. You both know that there is a lot of history in this place, and since starting my project I have uncovered aspects of life and death I didn’t know were possible. In terms of beginning a business involving the Armitage Mental Asylum, it is without doubt a wonderful idea. Though I would very much like to suggest, remain as respectful as you can with this place. This was a home to hundreds of people as you are well aware, but it is also the resting place of many. Thank you both again for hiring me, I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity.

Regards, Ava Hayes.

Ava smiled at her work, turned and started to head to the front door of the building. Abruptly she hesitated. From her pocket she pulled out the large, brass front door key of the asylum. She looked at it for a brief moment before turning and placing it on the reception desk next to the two parcels. She sighed deeply, turned and walked towards the entrance. As she stepped through the doorway, Ava turned around one last time, taking a final glance. The large empty spaces no longer held any sense of horror for Ava. The place seemed … at peace. “Goodbye,” Ava whispered quietly to the building as she closed the door. She walked slowly to her car, turned on the ignition, the car’s engine growling. She looked at the building one last time before driving slowly down the gravel driveway and through the wrought iron archway back to her home.

Two nights later, Ava was packed and ready for her move to Cincinnati. She sat in her living room, trying to unwind by reading a novel, surrounded by stacks of boxes and her duffel bag crammed with her belongings. She put the book down, her finger saving the page as she looked around the apartment from her sofa, reflecting on the happy years she had spent there. Ring, ring, ring, the phone vibrated on the coffee table in front of her. She picked the device up and saw that it was a call from her mother. “Hey, mom,” Ava answered. “Hi Ava, I’m just checking to see how you’re doing,” Leanne asked. “I’m fine I guess, just exhausted. I’m excited to move to Cincinnati, don’t get me wrong, I just… I am going to miss it here,” Ava said. “Of course, you’re going to miss it there. It’s been your home. You have Kate and your other friends there, too. It would be weird of you not to miss it,” her mother said. “Mom, I was wondering; did you have a dream about dad the other night?” Ava asked, biting her bottom lip. “What? Why do you ask?” Leanne said. “Oh, well um, I had a dream about dad, and I’ve read a theory that family members can share the same dream sometimes …” she ended lamely. Ava was half expecting a harsh response from her mother about not believing everything you read on the internet. “I did, actually,” Leanne said, quietly. Ava sat upright on her couch. “Oh, really?” she said. “It was really strange. He told me that he was watching over me, but that he had to go. Whatever that meant,” Leanne said. “Oh, and did you say anything to him?” Ava asked, tentatively. “I cried, and I held onto him. He still smelled of the cologne I used to buy for him,” Leanne’s voice smiled into the phone. “I just told him that I loved him, and that I missed him.” Ava put her hand over the phone to stifle the sob rising from her throat. “Yeah, I had a similar dream. I basically said the same thing,” Ava wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “Mom, I’ve got to go to bed now before I collapse, but I’ll see you tomorrow okay?” Ava and Leanne signed off, and Ava walked wearily into her bedroom

She turned the lamp on next to her bed and crouched down on the floor to reach the box that contained her special memories. Opening the lid, she saw the four new additions to the collection: Lillian’s file, Mr Nikita’s file, her father’s adoption certificate and the cassette-tape player. The young woman smiled at the old device on the top of the pile and was reminded that she hadn’t yet listened to it. She retrieved the cassette player and the large headphones that came with it and lay down comfortably on her mattress. She placed the headphones over her ears, inhaled deeply and clicked Play.

At first there was only static buzzing in her ears. Then a comforting voice. “Hi, Ava! It’s your dad here. I’m going away to Florida for a little while, so I thought that if you get scared you could play this tape I made for you.” His voice was young and warm and cheerful. Ava laughed as a tear fell down her face. There was a silence on the tape, faint sounds of activity in the background as if her father were moving things around. Then, a familiar tune started, her favorite song that her father would sing to her as a child whenever she needed comfort. Ava immediately felt at peace, and allowed herself to breath deeply, to finally let go.

If you wait for me, then I’ll come for you.

Although I’ve traveled far, I always hold a place for you in my heart.

If you think of me, if you miss me, once in a while.

Then I’ll return to you, I’ll return and fill that space in your heart.

Remembering, your touch, your skin, your warm embrace.

I’ll find my way back to you if… you’ll be waiting.

And say you’ll hold a place for me in your heart.

About the author

Donna Blennerhassett was born in Melbourne, Australia in 2004. She has been a writer since she could hold a crayon, writing poems, short stories, plays and songs. Case, Armitage is her first novel, which she began in December 2019. Donna currently lives in Ballarat and is a full-time student.

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