It was silent in the car as Ava and Mr Nikita drove the two-hour long drive from Detroit to the Armitage Asylum. The new car smell overwhelmed Ava as she rolled down her window to breathe in the fresh country air. Mr Nikita’s Mercedes Benz was only one week old, and he had an extra-strong scented air freshener in his car which was overpowering. “I apologize for the harsh smell, Ms Hayes, my senses are weak from years of damage.” Ava smiled at her boss’s apology.
The sun was out and shining with only few clouds drifting in the sky. The fields seemed endless as they stretched over the mountains, like bright green and yellow rugs perfectly separated between each farmers’ acres. Ava had been surrounded with such thick smog for so long she’d almost forgotten the sweet aroma of nature. As the two went further and further into the countryside, the signs of suburbia became more and more scarce. The highway became a country road, and before long they had left the bitumen behind and were travelling on dirt country roads. Ava noticed the map that Mr Nikita had in his left hand as he steered with his right. There was a GPS system in the car, but Ava assumed that her boss hadn’t mastered the technology in his new car and smiled to herself.
“It really is out the back of beyond isn’t it?” Ava said. “It very much is. The closest town is East Tawas, which is about forty minutes away from the asylum,” Mr Nikita responded. “Why was it built so far away?” Ava asked. “The founder of it was -” “German.” Ava interrupted, happy that she’d done some research. “Yes, and it is rumored that he built his hospital so far away because he conducted illegal and non-consensual experiments on American soldiers who were patients,” Mr Nikita described. “Wow, what kind of experiments? Lobotomies, injections?” Ava suggested. “Precisely. Lobotomies, amputations, organ removals; all against his patients’ wishes,” he explained. “Oh my god! How did he get found out?” Ava asked. “One of his patients, I forget the man’s name, managed to escape after pretending to have fainted. He ran all the way to East Tawas to the police station,” Mr Nikita continued. “I’m guessing the doctor got arrested?” Ava questioned. “No. He heard the man breaking out and knew his fate was sealed. He committed suicide - put a gun to his head,” Mr Nikita described. “O-Oh,” Ava replied awkwardly. “Oh, I’m so sorry … I didn’t even think -” “No, no, it’s fine. That’s not really what I was thinking. I was mainly just thinking … Armitage must have been criminally insane to do that!” exclaimed Ava. “Yes, but he was aware of what he was doing. He knew it was wrong and he knew he wouldn’t ever get caught. That’s why he set up the hospital so far away from society, and also why he instantly shot - I mean, took his own life when he knew he would be done for.” Silence settled over the pair again as the drive continued. Ava visualised the torturous events that took place in the building she was about to investigate. I can’t imagine how awful it would have been for the poor orphans, or the soldiers or the patients! she thought.
Coming out of her reverie, Ava got her first glimpse of the entrance to the grounds of the asylum. They turned into the wide drive and passed under a wrought iron archway, the rusty letters on the top read, Armitage As-lum, the y having fallen off the ancient gates. Mr Nikita drove slowly up the sweeping, weedy driveway and the monstrous brick building came into view. It was four stories high and seemed like a thousand kilometers long, with hundreds of windows scowling over the outside world, the black interior longing to escape. The building looked tired, angry. It was terrifying. The imposing wooden doors, once walked through hundreds of times a day by patients, visitors and staff, now stood closed, guarding the front of the building, keeping everything and everybody out.
Mr Nikita parked his Mercedes, and no more than fifteen meters away was another parked car; a red two doored truck which Ava thought must belong to the owners. Mr Nikita got out of his car and walked over to greet the people who got out of the red truck. Ava didn’t move. She was mesmerized by the building, the colossal structure, and experienced a tremendous wave of sadness wash over her as she stared at each individual window with its yellow painted metal bars. The overwhelming feeling was one of entrapment; once inside, no-one would have been able to escape. Deep in thought, Ava looked across the windows, one after the other until - she quickly darted her eyes back to one in particular, the fourth last one to the left.
What was that?
A plain, black shadow stood at the window. It was the shape of a person. Male or female? Ava was unsure. The figure slowly bent its head to the side, as though confused by what it was seeing, but was examining the people outside. Ava craned her head closer to the drivers’ side of the car, trying to get a better view. Knock, knock. Frightened, Ava turned to see her boss motioning for her to get out of the car.
Ava snapped herself out of her trance-like interest in the asylum windows and exited the car. It’s probably just a maintenance man or something, she thought. She walked over to the three people standing by the red truck, the pebbles crunching beneath her walking boots. “Ava, this is Robert and Linda Chester, the owners of this grand establishment,” Mr Nikita introduced. “Hi, it’s a pleasure to meet you both,” Ava smiled. After a bit of small talk Linda politely asked, “Would you like to come inside?” Mr Nikita and Ava agreed eagerly and the four walked along the long footpath to the front doors, which were unlocked by Robert. The keys to the building were huge, bigger than a man’s hand, made of brass and old fashioned in design. “The grounds are kept very well, Mr and Mrs. Chester,” Ava commented. “Oh, thank you, we do our best,” Robert laughed in agreement. “Some other-” Ava stuttered, not knowing which words would be most appropriate to describe a place such as this; “… types of buildings like this I’ve seen are often vandalized with shattered windows and overgrown grass, but this is truly an exception,” Ava complimented. The married couple briefly looked at each other then looked away, not responding to the young woman. Shit, Ava thought, angry at herself that she said the wrong thing. The doors opened, loudly and with a long creak, as though they had not been opened in years, or even decades. Ava’s jaw dropped.
Inside the building there was the longest corridor Ava had ever seen, with seemingly endless doors on either side. It was so long it disappeared into black shadow. To the left was an office area, most likely the Admissions office. To the right, another long, long corridor, with more doors on either side. “Wow,” Ava blurted out, her voice echoing until being swallowed by the black abyss. “So, would you like the tour?” Linda asked. “Where do you even start?” Ava joked politely. She looked over to Mr Nikita, noticing how quiet he was being, how oddly unbothered he was by the sight in front of him. Ava pulled something out of the pocket of her brown coat. “What’s that, dear?” Linda asked. “Oh, it’s just my recorder. I would like to get everything on tape if that’s okay with you?” Ava explained. “Yes, of course,” Linda said. “Whatever happened to a notebook and pen?” Mr Nikita chuckled. “I know, but this is just easier. I recorded the questions I asked in the car as well actually, I forgot to tell you.”
The group turned right, down the corridor. This corridor had more natural light than the other, as there were windows to the right and a large window at the very end of it. The four entered the first door; it was a large metal door, possibly soundproof. “Now this was the kitchen for the hospital since 1886, when it became an orphanage. Women were hired to cook for the patients and children and other inmates here,” Robert explained. “Wait, inmates?” Ava interrupted. “Uh, yes, when it became a mental asylum. After a few years criminals also were placed in these facilities,” Robert explained. This shocked Ava, as she knew that women and even children were put into mental hospitals. They went back out into the corridor and continued walking until they turned to the right again, passing through a large open doorway. “This was the dining area. Three times a day all the residents would dine here and take their medication.” The area was vast. All the tables and chairs had been removed so it was just a large, echoey space, with two large, barred windows along the right-hand wall, and one even larger window at the very back of the room.
Ava envisioned all the residents inside this space, sitting in the chairs, eating their meals, staring outside wishing they could just go home. The word haunting was a fitting description, as the tremendous pain, sadness and suffering that happened in this place for over one hundred years still lingered. The group traveled down the other corridor, the frightening dark one. Each room on either side was once someone’s home. Not the home of choice, but the only place some of them had in miles where they had a bed to sleep in. The next three floors were remarkably similar to one another. Bedroom after bedroom. Until they arrived at the fourth floor. “Now this floor; this floor is different,” Robert said with a serious demeanor. “A lot of traumatizing things happened on this floor,” he said. “This was the operating floor,” Ava guessed. Robert nodded and they continued down the hallway. Half-way along, another corridor crossed parallel to them, dividing the storey into quarters. But something stopped Ava in her tracks. She looked to her left. She heard a whisper, a soft, faint whisper, inaudible words repeating over and over. It came from the second last room. Ava could not see anything, but she had a feeling … a strange feeling. A black shadow crept from inside that room, clinging to the doorframe. The whispering became louder and louder, almost audible. Ava was stunned, her jaw locked, her eyes widened, her skin covered with goosebumps. “He hurts, he hurts, he hurts! He hurts!” the whisper was loud now, and continuous. “Ava!” the twenty-two-year-old snapped back to the present and whipped her head around to face her companions. “Are you deaf?” Mr Nikita snapped. “What?” Ava blurted out. “We were screaming at you! Pull yourself together, girl.” Mr Nikita snapped again. Ava was slightly affronted by her boss’s tone but ignored it and did as he instructed.
Ava caught up to the group before entering the main operating theatre. “This was said to be the main operating room while Christoph Armitage was at the height of his experimentations,” Richard explained. “Dear god,” Ava loudly whispered. There was still a blood stain on the ground, ashes on the metal table and scratch marks covering the walls. There was even a pair of rusty scissors and a scalpel under the table. Ava heard a bang coming from the end of the hallway, and she looked over Linda’s shoulder. She saw nothing, but the sound was constant, like a foot tapping. Ava tried to snap out of it. “Why haven’t you moved any of this out?” Ava asked, nodding to the table and tools. “Well, um, we -” “We didn’t want to disturb anything. We thought it disrespectful to the people who once lived here,” Robert answered for his wife. “But wouldn’t you find it more respectful to the former-residents to get rid of the instruments that once hurt them?” Ava pressed. Robert opened his mouth, about to answer. “I think that’s enough for today. We have basically covered the premises from top to bottom, haven’t we?” Mr Nikita cut across Ava’s question, appearing eager to leave. “Yes, I suppose so,” Linda said.
The four walked outside to their cars. Robert locked the large front doors on the way out, re-trapping the deathly atmosphere inside. “Well, we’re leaving for Lake Michigan on Thursday, so if you’d like to meet up sometime between now and then to collect the keys …” Robert said to Ava. “Well, I was wondering if I could interview you guys sometime before you go, for journalistic purposes; maybe learn more about the place from your perspective and what type of business you’re looking to establish?” Ava asked. “Uh… sure, I guess. What about tomorrow, around eleven o’clock?” Robert suggested. “That would be fantastic,” Ava agreed. After making their arrangements for a meeting the following day, each couple headed off. “That was…” Ava tried to find the words, “that was something,” Ava breathed out as she put on her seatbelt. Mr Nikita did not say anything. Ava again noticed how quiet he had been for the whole day. He drove the car quickly down the long driveway and through the large gates, driving faster exiting than he did entering the premises. Ava closed her eyes as she tried to resist looking back at the asylum. She felt as though the car could be sucked back to the site and she would be trapped in one of the horrible rooms. “Um, are you okay, Mr Nikita?” Ava quietly asked. “Hm? Oh, yes, yes, I’m fine. I’m just a little tired,” the man replied without looking at her. “You asked some probing, but good questions today,” he said to answer her curiosity, as though to keep her quiet. “Oh, thank you sir. I didn’t really mean to ask such intense questions but -” she cut herself off, as she realized her boss was not in the mood to chat. The long drive back to Detroit was silent, but the silence was loud. There were thousands of thoughts spinning around in Ava’s head; What or who was that at the window? What was that noise in the corridor? Why is Mr Nikita being so quiet? And why was he acting so passive and aggressive in the asylum? “Mr, Nikita? Are you, are you sure you’re okay?” Ava asked hesitantly, trying not to press her boss. “I’m fine,” the old man replied gruffly. Ava picked up on the hint not to press him any harder.
Back home, Ava conducted more research into the Armitage Asylum. There was little enough information about the site. In 1997, one year before it closed permanently, the hospital housed five thousand patients, although it was only ever designed to house three thousand. There were only one hundred and twenty members of care staff, and fifteen cooks and kitchen hands. Ava could find no other information; there were no files of any doctors, caretakers, or patients, nor was there any contextualizing details or even a single name. The only thing Ava could do at this point was think of all the questions she wanted to ask the owners the next morning. As she jotted down her questions in her notebook, she remembered something; her recording device had been switched on for the whole duration of the tour! She rummaged around in her pockets before finding it. She sat down at her dining table with her notebook and the device. Feeling slightly nervous, she turned it on and skipped to the part where she was on the fourth floor. The voices of Robert and Linda become faint as Ava stayed back, where she heard the whispers. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. There was no sound on the audio-footage other than the conversation between Robert, Linda and Mr Nikita. Ava convinced herself that the sounds she heard had come from outside, or perhaps she felt particularly tired that morning so her mind may have simply been playing tricks. Ava knew that this excuse was not a logical reason for really what had happened, but there was no point over-thinking it. She decided instead to simply continue writing down the questions she sought answers for. She found herself writing pages and pages in her A5 notepad, as her interest in the asylum grew. Finally, after she decided enough was enough, and she went to bed with her head spinning, and quickly fell into a deep sleep.
As her eyes closed, a blurry vision came into her head; a large, reddish-brown shape appeared in the near distance. It slowly swam into view. It was the asylum. The building was more haunting, more … human-like. Emotional. Whispers emerged from the cracks between the bricks, and Ava felt a panic grow in her chest. Her breaths become shorter, sharper, more desperate. Her eyes were drawn to the window she spotted earlier, the window with the shadow hiding behind the glass. Its features slowly became clearer, its face, its eyes piercing through Ava. Its mouth slowly opened, a gaping, toothless hole, and then - Ring, ring, ring. Ava’s phone alarm went off. She woke up in a sweat. That was the second nightmare she had had in years; first, the terrible one she had had the night that Kate stayed over, and now this one. She had not experienced such panic in her sleep ever since she was just a child, and then it took half a decade of counselling to calm her nerves.