“He’s ready to see you now Ava,” the receptionist said to the young woman sitting on an old leather couch reading a magazine. Ava smiled and headed through the door, which led to a long corridor. Calm down Ava, its fine, just calm down, it’s a good thing. Ava became more nervous the more she tried to calm herself down. In four and a half more steps she stopped walking and turned to her right. The corridor seemed to become even darker as she continued. On her first day, her co-worker had told her, “If you ever get called to Mr Nikita’s office, start shitting yourself.” Ava had a terrible habit of panicking about storms brewing when really it was broad daylight.
The twenty-two-year-old stopped at the old-fashioned brown door, the dark, flower-like carvings on the panels reassured her. She opened it and entered the large room. She had only been in this room once before, and that was for the interview for her internship. Everything was the same; the long, wide desk still sat in the same position, with the name plate displaying the same seven letters reading J. Nikita, sitting front and centre. Two leather chairs were placed in the left corner of the room with a small round table separating them, where important business meetings took place, such as internship interviews. Today though, the meeting would be held across the imposing desk. “Ms Hayes,” Mr Nikita said politely but formally. “Mr Nikita, how do you do?” Ava smiled, closed mouthed, trying her best to project a keen and professional manner, while remaining as unflustered as possible. The tall, intimidating man gestured for Ava to take a seat.
The two made a bit of small talk before Ava decided to take a leap out of her comfort zone. “So, Mr
Nikita, as much as I enjoy your company, was there a particular reason you wanted to see me today?” Mr Nikita raised his eyebrows, impressed that one of the interns had spoken up. John Nikita was always the proudest when one of his interns went on to achieve success after their period of learning the ropes of the journalistic industry at his firm. His subtle but dominant manner made him the best boss when it came to any form of journalism. His status resonated throughout the universities in the state, making him notorious over the past eighteen years as his company evolved into one of the most well-known agencies.
“Ms Hayes, I have noticed your incredible work ethic. From what I have read of your work and from what I’ve seen, you are very dedicated, and in any industry these days people who work hard to succeed are the only ones who do succeed.” Mr Nikita’s blunt manner made his compliments feel like winning the lottery. “Thank you very much for your kind words Mr Nikita. However, do you not also agree that many people are born into fortunate situations and succeed due to the backing of money and their family name?” Ava pressed. “I can appreciate your way of critical thinking, Ms Hayes. Perhaps to make myself clearer, I merely meant that, in this office, the people who work hard and dedicate themselves are the ones who go on to do great things - become great authors, work at The Times in New York. You get the picture.” Mr Nikita responded. And then he got to the real purpose of the meeting.
“Ms Hayes, have you ever heard of the Armitage Asylum?” Mr Nikita asked. “Um, n-no I don’t think I have,” Ava stuttered. “Although … it’s strange, the name seems so familiar.” She was deep in thought when he continued. “Yes, I’m sure you must have read about it. It was once quite infamous, shut down only about fifteen or twenty years ago actually, when it passed from government ownership to private hands,” the man explained. “Right,” replied Ava. “I believe I have an opportunity that could be a big break for someone. The current owners have approached this agency with a proposal for an astute investigative journalist with excellent research and writing skills, to compile a history of the asylum. They have told me there is an extraordinary amount of information to be explored. It would make for a great front page.” The words, front page, caught Ava’s attention, and Mr Nikita grinned at her excited reaction. “Ms Hayes, I would like you to make Armitage Asylum your main project for the next month or so. Do as much research on it as the time allows, and … there’s a bit of a catch,” Mr Nikita said. “Oh yes! That would be great! Wait … what do you mean, there’s a catch?” Ava asked. “Well, the owners have suggested that the project be undertaken as a residency, and that the intern live on the grounds for the duration of the project … actually in the building. But that would be only if you wished to do so.’’ Ava was stunned. “Do people actually live there? It’s an abandoned mental hospital, sir.” Ava crinkled her brow. “Well, the owners have actually been living there for the past seven years. They want to turn it into a tourist destination and offer ghost tours and that sort of thing. It could be a great business for them, and potentially earn them lots of money,” Mr Nikita said. “Yes, that I don’t doubt but … I-I’m not one hundred percent sure I want to sleep there. And if I were living in, where would the owners go?” Ava asked, feeling unsettled but also intrigued. “They have informed me that Robert, the husband, has a house down by the coast. They plan to rent it out if their tourism business is successful. So, while this research project is underway that’s where they would go.” Ava nodded. “Sir, I would love to take up this project, however I doubt I’ll be taking you up on that residency offer,” she said with a wry smile. “I understand Ms Hayes. I’ll call the owners and get further details for you. Think about it over the weekend.” Mr Nikita stood up, indicating that the meeting was over. “Yes, I certainly will. Thank you so much for the opportunity Mr Nikita.” They shook hands and Ava left the room. She walked down the hallway trying to contain her excitement, smiling and quietly laughing to herself. She returned to her desk where her happiness was noticed by her best friend and colleague, Kate.
“So, what was that all about, are you getting fired? Please don’t be getting fired! I don’t want to have to sit next to some fat old man,” Kate had no filter with Ava. “No, but … you won’t be seeing me that often for the next little while.” Ava hinted, smiling. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Kate asked, intrigued. “Well, I just got a proposition from John Nikita himself, to go to the abandoned Armitage Asylum, research information, potentially get my big break, and earn loads of money.” Ava announced, smiling widely. “Oh my god! Oh my god!” Kate exclaimed in excitement. “That is awesome! We are celebrating. I’m taking you out for drinks tonight. We need to celebrate.”
Ava stood in the doorway of her walk-in wardrobe, considering each individual clothing item, wondering what would be the most appropriate for a night out with Kate. After a thorough examination, she settled on a little black dress with a casual red leather jacket. As Ava applied her velvet-red lipstick, she realised, I haven’t told mom. Ava stopped in her tracks and stared at her iPhone. I’ll call her tomorrow. What’s another day? And yet, Ava hesitated.
“So, what’s he actually like? I’ve only met him twice,” Kate asked Ava after they were seated at their table for two. “Well, at first he was quite intimidating, but as the conversation progressed, I thought he was fairly approachable I was even brave enough to contradict some of the things he said, and he didn’t even get angry. Quite the opposite actually.” Ava gazed at her half-full wine glass, recalling the meeting from earlier that afternoon. “Wow, I do not get that vibe from him at all.’’ ’’He’s pretty good looking for a seventy-four-year-old.” Ava giggled. “Oh, gross Ava!” The two friends laughed together. “Wait, he’s actually seventy-four? I thought he would have been no older than sixty, max!” Kate exclaimed. “I know! I did some stalking!” Ava commented. “So, can I ask you something?” Kate asked, suddenly more serious. “Go for it.” Ava responded, dropping eye contact with her friend. “So, your, um … your Dad’s anniversary is coming up. I was just wondering, does it still, sort of, affect you?” Kate awkwardly asked, knowing the sensitivity of the subject. “Um … I’m not really sure…” Ava looked up but directly at Kate. “I mean, I get nightmares and I often wonder … never mind.” Ava stopped herself in her tracks, shifting uncomfortably in her seat. “You often wonder what, Ava?” Kate asked gently. “Oh, it’s nothing. You know, I haven’t even called mom yet to tell her about my meeting today. She’s usually the first one I tell.” Kate picked up on Ava’s hint. “That’s alright. She’ll understand you wanted to go out to celebrate. Just call her tomorrow, no problem.”
It was late by the time Ava and Kate decided to head home. Kate was significantly more intoxicated
than Ava. “Can you call me a cab?” Kate slurred. “No, no, no, you’re coming home with me tonight. Too dangerous for you, Kate.” Ava said. The two young women jumped in a taxi and drove through town to Ava’s small flat. They walked unsteadily down the concrete pathway that separated two equal patches of grass, Kate under Ava’s left arm. Inside, Ava laid Kate down on the bed in the guest bedroom before heading to her own room, falling quickly asleep.
As she drifted off, a familiar image appeared in her head. A forest, with old trees towered over her. She felt small and powerless, and her legs could not run as fast as she wanted them to. It was evening in her dream, and the atmosphere was eerie; the orange sunset hit the tall trees as they cast black shadows. Ava continued to run straight ahead. Loud but inarticulate whispers sounded in her ears. She stopped in her tracks when she saw a sight that took her breath away. Her house, her childhood house, burnt black to the ground, smoke rising off the timber planks like someone’s soul and memories rising up. The smashed windows and the half-collapsed roof sent chills down Ava’s spine. On the dark lawn in front of the house was a more terrifying sight. It was a man standing there with his back towards her, and he was breathing heavily. His skin was grey with decay, his clothes threadbare with holes and frayed hems. His whole body was shuddering. “D-Dad?” Ava loudly whispered. The man who was standing no more than five meters from her, stopped panting so violently. His head slowly turned to the left; his body followed slowly until he was fully facing Ava. She gasped in horror at the vision of the gaping hole in the side of his head, with blood and brain matter oozing out. The thick red substance was splattered across his disfigured face. He was angry, his mouth turned down, his bottom lip quivering. “Dad?” Ava repeated. The man started panting loudly again, his mouth widened. “Look what you did!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. “Look what you did! Look what you did!” he screamed again. Ava, totally terrified, screamed in horror, and turned to run away as fast as she could. But her legs, weak and heavy, would not obey her, and her movements become increasingly slow the more she desperately tried to get away. Heavy footsteps came closing in quickly, and then -
“Ava!” Her eyes flew open, and she was sweating and shaking violently as the horror of the dream gradually left her. “Ava! Ava! Are you okay?” The black cast covering her eyes left her, and she became aware that her friend Kate had shaken her awake and looked really frightened. Ava glanced at her alarm clock which read 3:57am. “I’m okay, I’m okay,” she insisted to her friend. “Jesus Ava, I heard you screaming,” Kate said, her heart starting to beat at a normal pace. “I’m sorry I just … had a bad dream,” Ava said. “You think?” Kate walked around to the other side of the bed. “I’ll sleep with you for the rest of the night, just so you have someone here,” Kate said. Ava got up and shakily walked to the kitchen, where she swallowed a cold glass of water. Feeling somewhat steadier, Ava padded across the house to the bathroom where she washed her face and underarms before heading back to bed where Kate was already gently snoring. Ava did not sleep for the rest of the night.
It was late morning, and after Kate had left for her own apartment, when Ava realised that she needed to phone her mother to share the news of her research project. “Ava! How are you honey!” Leeane Hayes answered her phone. “Hi Mom, I’m good, how are you going?” “I’m great thanks. I just finished my facial, so I feel ten years younger!” They both laughed. Leeane was a delicate woman; she had not coped well with what happened fourteen years earlier. She was still scarred, and Ava knew to tread gently. “So, Mom, I have some fantastic news. I sort of got a promotion yesterday!” Ava announced. “Oh, that’s wonderful! Well done! What’s the promotion?” her mother exclaimed. “Well, I was chosen by Mr Nikita to research and write a portfolio piece on this amazing place. He said that a well-written piece often hit the front page and the potential for further opportunities often flow in as a result. It could be such a great boost for my career!’’ Ava could barely hide her excitement. “That’s fantastic darling! What’s the place you would be researching?” Leeane asked. “Um, it’s the Armitage Mental Asylum.” Ava grimaced as she used the term mental asylum. “Oh, um … a m-mental asylum? Why a mental asylum?”
Ava knew that her mother would have mixed feelings about this. Ava had a younger sister, Kiara. On that day, fourteen years ago, Kiara was only five years old. She was in her family’s shed, bored as she waited for dinner. She heard sobbing coming from outside. When she investigated, she saw her father standing directly outside the window, and her sister not too far away. She saw the bullet enter one side of her father’s head and out the other. Kiara never truly recovered from the trauma of what she witnessed. Throughout her life she had been diagnosed with night terrors, autism, bi-polar and mild-schizophrenia. When she was ten years old, she tried to burn the house down while her mother and Ava were in town. She told the doctors, they told me to do it, but she never specified who they were. When she was twelve, she tried to commit suicide … for the first time. She slit her wrists in the bath. It was only when Ava barged into the bathroom, ignoring the explicit instruction from Kiara to keep out, that she was able to be saved. The paramedics praised Ava for her quick actions in saving her sister, telling their distraught mother that in another two minutes, Kiara would have been dead. These events and her increasingly destructive behaviour, meant that Kiara had been in and out of mental wards and specialist facilities throughout her short life. The now nineteen-year-old lived in what Leeane referred to as a specialist care-home, rather than a psychiatric ward. Regardless of the name, Ava knew that her mother was going to be sensitive about this topic.
“Um … well, apparently the owners want to turn it into a tourist business. There’s not much known about the building and they need someone who can do research into its history and write it up to make it accessible for the public,” Ava explained. An awkward silence rested between the two as the soft static sound rang in Ava’s ears. “Mom?” Ava said. “A tourist destination?” Leeane said softly but harshly. “I mean, it’s not necessarily a tourist destination so much as a history spot, where people can learn about the um … the events that took place there,” Ava tried to explain. “Well, in my opinion, places that housed so much pain, suffering and death should not have light shed upon them and should rather be demolished … to be put to rest.” Leeane said angrily. “I know Mom, and I agree with you for the most part. But from my perspective this is an awesome opportunity for me professionally, and I’m really excited to start … and I would really like you to be happy for me,” Ava continued calmly. “Yes, yes of course I’m happy for you darling. I think it’s wonderful that your hard work is being recognised. I just wish you were given a different project I suppose; like, changes that need to be made in secondary schools nowadays, or how strangely popular the prostitution business is or -” “Mom, I know, I agree with you! But you and I both know that prostitution is popular because men need somewhere to put their penises.” The two women laughed but Ava knew that her mother was slightly triggered. Even the slightest inconvenience tended to upset Leeane Hayes.
Ava decided to use her Saturday to start researching the Armitage Mental Asylum. She sat on her couch with her MacBook on her lap and typed away, searching up as many things as she could. The Armitage Mental Asylum site was founded in 1851 by Doctor Christoph Armitage, a German psychiatric specialist. It was initially used as a general hospital then, after thirty-two years of operation, it closed down for just four months before being converted into an orphanage. In the space of twenty years, seventy-seven children died while they were residents on the site, and the orphanage was finally forced to close under clouds of murder and abuse allegations. The building was left abandoned for several years until 1917, when it was reopened as a convalescent hospital for American soldiers suffering from the effects of shellshock in World War 1. At the end of the war, in 1920, it reverted to being a general mental hospital and it continued as such until 1998, when it officially closed down due mainly to the lack of qualified staff available to look after so many patients. It seemed that not even the offer of higher wages could tempt people to work at the Armitage Asylum.