Case, Armitage

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Chapter Four

The following morning, Ava drove herself out to the Armitage Asylum. She parked outside the imposing building again and avoided looking at the window. The Chester’s familiar red pick-up truck sat in its usual spot; the couple had been waiting inside for her to arrive. They all got out of their vehicles and greeted each other. “Good to see you again, Ava. Shall we go inside?” Linda smiled. “I think we should do the interviews in the dining room. I put some chairs and a table in there for us,” Robert said. Ava pulled out her recording device and rested it on the table top, aiming the microphone towards Richard and Linda. “Well, we might as well just jump right into it,” Ava suggested. “So, how long have you two been the owners of the Armitage Asylum?” the investigative journalist started. “Oh, let’s see … eleven years I believe…” Linda estimated. “Right, and you’ve lived on the premises for… seven years, if I remember correctly?” Ava asked. Linda and Robert nodded in response. “And, where exactly in the building do you stay?” Ava clicked her pen, ready to take down notes by hand. “We have our bedroom in what was once the office area, and we use the other utilities like the bathroom in the old staffroom.” This surprised Ava. “Oh, yesterday you didn’t show us that area,” Ava said. “It’s just to the left when you first walk in. There’s the reception area and right behind the bookshelves is the office and staff area,” Robert explained using hand gestures. “Oh right, I see. And um…” Ava again struggled to appropriately articulate her question, “what is it really like, living in a place like this - I mean - you know, an abandoned hospital?” she asked. “Well at first, I’m not going to lie, it was completely and utterly terrifying! You’re scared to look left and right, and you constantly hear noises and such but … um … you certainly get used to it,” Robert chuckled. “What about you, Linda? How do you find it?” Ava turned to look at Linda. “Well, if I’m being honest, I’m not as scared as I was when we first started to live here, but I’m still quite fearful. I don’t walk around at night. I just can’t.” Linda’s eyes widened as she said this. “Right.” Ava noticed the change in Linda’s behaviour as she wrote down notes. She had begun to look afraid.

Ava decided to change the subject. “So, I mentioned yesterday how beautifully maintained the grounds are. Do you do the upkeep yourselves, or do you hire someone?” Ava asked. “We look after it as much as we can but …” Robert kept talking but his voice trailed off as Ava got distracted. She was staring past Linda’s shoulder into the kitchen area, at the ancient refrigerator. It was there. The dark, black matter, staring at them, spying on them. Ava was stunned, afraid even, but tried to compose herself. It looked different this time; its features were more defined, more human, its face was more distinct. Its elbows poked out as its hand clutched the front of the machine. It was still. So still. Too still. Ava tried to collect her thoughts and focus her attention back on Robert. “...he only comes once a week, on Wednesdays, to mow the lawn. And sometimes we get him -” “Wait, wait, what was that?” Ava interrupted Robert. “What do you mean?” Robert asked. “You said he only comes on Wednesdays?” Ava questioned. “Y-yes that’s correct.” Robert was puzzled, confused at why this was so intriguing to the young journalist. “But yesterday was Monday,” Ava said. “I’m terribly sorry, I’m not entirely sure what you’re getting at here. Am I missing something?” Robert asked confused, and Ava felt she was being difficult. “Yesterday; I could have just been seeing things, I’m not sure, but there was someone - or something - in the fourth-floor window. I heard voices when we went up there. Do you guys have a son, or a daughter or…” Ava pressed. Linda and Robert were concerned and confused at what Ava was saying. They looked at her as though she had just told them terrible news. “No, there was nobody else here, Ms Hayes. I mean - maybe Caleb came without telling us or something.” Linda tried to explain. “Caleb?” Ava asked. “Our grounds-keeper,” Robert said. “Oh, I see. I’m terribly sorry for the misunderstanding there. Um, let’s just get on with the questions, shall we?” Ava quickly turned to the next page in her notebook. “So, Mr and Mrs. Chester, as you wanted me to conduct some research and develop a tourism advertising program for the Armitage Asylum, what exactly are you wanting me to advertise?” Ava quickly changed the topic. “Well, we are hoping to make the asylum a tourist destination, and conduct ghost tours and possibly history tours,” Linda smiled. “Right. And … this is just me being curious, why is this your business plan?” Ava questioned. “Well, we believe this place has a lot of deep history, dark history, if I may say so, and we simply believe it could be greatly successful, given that it’s in the middle of nowhere. It kind of adds to the mystery of the place,” Linda explained. “Of course. And have you conducted your own research into the history of the hospital?” Ava asked, writing down quick notes in her book. “We have all of the files here from when the place was up-and-running,” Robert answered. Ava looked up at this news. “Oh, what sort of files do you have?” Ava was intrigued. “Well, when they closed down the place it was left in … messy circumstances to say the least. And they left all the documents, all the files here. They actually attempted to burn the place down but, for some reason, and I suppose fortunately for us, they weren’t successful,” Robert said. Ava was shocked. How could the council or other authority want to just leave everything behind? This was peoples’ personal details, medical history, history in general. How could the, potentially, only remaining proof that someone existed be completely abandoned like that? “And where are these files, if you don’t mind me asking?” Ava questioned. “They’re down in the basement. We were going to show you yesterday, but your boss seemed pretty keen on leaving the place,” Robert said. “After this interview I would be more than happy to show you how to get to the basement,” Linda offered. “Yes, that would be great.” Ava smiled.

The interview continued for another short period of time with general questions about the building and the Chester’s future business propositions. “So, if you’d like to follow me, the basement is this way,” Linda gestured with her hand to the left. “I’m going outside for a cigarette, if that’s okay,” Robert said. The two women continued down the hallway. They turned left again, down the dark, dark hallway that seemed to go on forever. All the doors which led to a patient’s room were painted yellow, matching the walls, but one door was painted brown; this led to the basement. “After you,” Linda smiled. Ava reluctantly walked down the steep, pitch-black staircase, using her phone torch to light the way. At the bottom of the stairs Linda turned on the light, which flickered until turning into a dull white colour, only somewhat brightening up the room. Ava stood in awe. Bookcase after bookcase was stacked with patient files, their pages suffering from neglect and decay as they had hardly been touched for almost twenty years. It was like a library, only filthy and neglected. Dust and grit crunched under Ava’s boots and had gathered in every nook and cranny.

“I take it nobody comes down here,” Ava said, her recording device still on. “No,” Linda agreed. “Not even Caleb?” An awkward silence sat between the two as Linda watched Ava examining the shelves. “No. Not even Caleb. He finds this place eerie,” Linda said, awkwardly standing. Ava noticed the files were not in alphabetical order; they were merely shoved into wherever they fitted at the time, and then left there. “Have you or Robert ever read any of these files?” Ava asked, still looking at the manila folders. “Robert has read several, but he warned me not to read them. I’m a lot more squeamish than he is, you see.” Linda had her arms crossed tightly over her chest. “Of course. While I’m doing my research here, would you mind if I came down here to have a more thorough look?” Ava asked. “Sure, why not?” Linda smiled. Ava noted that Linda was uncomfortable, as she kept looking around, as though she wasn’t allowed to be in there. “Okay. I think I had better go for the day. I wouldn’t want to keep holding you and your husband up,” Ava said politely. “Oh, no, please! It’s nice to have some young company, especially after Phillip -” Linda stopped herself, shocked at the words coming out of her own mouth. Ava looked at her. “Who is Phillip, if you don’t mind me asking?” Ava quietly asked. “He was my son,” Linda’s smile quivered. “Was?” Ava asked. “Is my son, he is my son. He just moved all the way to uh – California, and rarely visits because of school and such. So, he feels quite distant sometimes, I guess.” Linda forced out a laugh to lighten the mood. “Right, of course,” Ava said gently and let the topic drop. “Well, I can show you out to your car now if you’d like,” Linda offered and inched towards the wooden staircase. The two women exited the building and met Robert outside. “So, we have a key for you, and we have made a bed up for you in room 343 -” “Oh, I won’t be sleeping overnight here,” Ava interrupted Robert. “Oh, okay, that’s fine. If you change your mind, I’ve written it down on this piece of paper, as well as some other things, like directions to the nearest town and things like that.” Robert passed Ava the large key and a yellow sheet of paper. “Our phone number is on here as well, so please feel free to phone us if you need anything at all,” Linda pointed to the note. “And we’ll be back in about a month, so you can just come and go as you please,” Robert reiterated. “That’s brilliant, thank you both so much for this opportunity and letting me come and interview you,” Ava said politely. “Not a problem at all. I’m sure you’re going to do some great work here,” Linda kindly said. Ava shook both their hands before getting into her car for the long drive back.

As Ava returned home, her house was silent and dark. She wished she had asked her friend Kate to come over and spend the night. It would have been reassuring to have some company after her day at the asylum. Instead, Ava heated up the takeaway pizza from the night before and collected all the materials she would need for the following day; her work bag consisted only of a notepad, several pens, two recording devices (one for a backup) with spare batteries, and food to graze on throughout the day.

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