Case, Armitage

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Chapter Five

Ava awoke just before dawn on Wednesday 29 August; she was excited to start her research adventure. She completed her regular morning routine, brushing her teeth, having coffee, and getting changed. Then she collected her bag and hopped into her car. She turned on the radio as she left the outskirts of Detroit behind. There was only bad news was on the radio, particularly at this time of day. Nineteen-year-old is killed outside of a club last night; Woman assaulted before being stabbed in the early hours of the morning. Ava skipped through the radio channels until she found a music station. The song was artificial and tacky, but at least it was light-hearted. Ava hated this type of music usually, but she figured it was what she needed before working in an abandoned mental asylum for the next month.

The young journalist drove down the now familiar backroads to the Armitage Asylum; her navigation system told her to turn left, then right, then left again. Eventually she arrived at the intimidating gates of the former hospital. She took a deep breath as a strong sense of anxiety overwhelmed her. She parked her Volkswagen, grabbed her bag, and walked up the long front path until she reached the door, avoiding eye-contact with the windows of the building, and slowly pulled the large brass key from her pocket. The doors opened but not without making an ear-shattering racket. The long, dark hallway pulled her in. It seemed even darker than the previous visits. The building was watching her, waiting … waiting for something. An opportunity …

Sounds of creaks and cracks echoed in the atmosphere as Ava examined the walls and ceiling, the intricate cornices made the building … not so much welcoming, but slightly more approachable. The door closed behind Ava, frightening her. She inhaled deeply, noticing the distinct smell of cleaning chemicals once used in this formidable building. She turned left and walked down to the dining area where the table and chairs were still sitting from the previous day. Ava decided to set up her temporary workstation there. She decided to go for a wander to further familiarize herself with her surroundings, so she left her belongings in the dining room but took her recording device with her in her coat pocket to take verbal notes along the way. She wanted to start by investigating the outside of the building, as Mr and Mr Chester had not shown Mr Nikita and Ava the grounds. She turned right at the front door and headed around to the rear of the building. There was a large rectangular area with one metal post standing in the distance. There was also a wooden picnic table, sitting on its own. This must have been the courtyard, Ava thought to herself. The lawn extended around the property for about two acres, the green grass cut off in a perfect line, marking the end of the territory. Beyond the lawn, large, dark trees emerged that seemed to lead into a deep, shadowy woods. The trees surrounded the entire rear of the building.

On the building itself, the windows were placed at regular intervals around the whole structure. Ava noticed all the windows from the second floor and above were barred, most likely to prevent any escape attempts. Those on the ground floor did not have bars. This echoed in Ava’s mind as she continued to explore the large open area. Unlike most abandoned asylums, this one was not vandalized with any graffiti. The owners seem to be taking great care of the place, thought Ava. Barred windows from the second floor and up, large courtyard area, no vandalism … Ava’s thoughts trailed off as she found another detail that intrigued her. “No security cameras,” she said into her recording device. Most hospitals and mental wards had cameras, whether the facility was still functioning or not. Ava continued around to the back of the building. She stared up at the large window which was at the far of the long hallway they walked down yesterday. She looked upwards as she walked, until she trod on something that made her stop and look down. She pressed her left foot on the spot. It was … metal, and bendy, and covered with grass. Ava recited this discovery into her recorder. She knelt and pulled away the grass and earth and revealed a rusty metal hatch. It was small, but certainly large enough to fit a person. There was a small handle on the door of the hatch. Ava tentatively wrapped her hand around the handle and gently pulled. The door did not give, so Ava pulled more aggressively, but still the door didn’t budge. She then noticed a keyhole next to the handle. She sighed in disappointment. “A hatch-door right behind the building, unable to open, it needs a key.” She clicked the off button and continued on.

She suddenly stopped in her tracks; she heard something. Humming. Inaudible singing. She froze. The sound was too clear to be just her imagination, or her anxiety playing mind tricks. It was coming from the other side of the building. It was far away but Ava moved as quickly and silently as she could, until she eventually reached the edge of the building. The singing and humming continued, louder and clearer as she got closer. She could sense movement, as if someone were fiddling with an object. Before she could lose her nerve, Ava jumped around the corner, ready for … for … anything. A man turned in fright and yelled. Ava screamed back. “What are you doing?” the man said loudly in fear. “What are you doing? Who are you?” Ava demanded, pointing aggressively. “I asked first!” the man exclaimed. “I’m-I’m an investigative-journalist. I’m working here now on an assignment. Who are you?” Ava demanded again. “My name’s Caleb,” the man said. “Caleb?” Ava knew that names was familiar. “Oh, Caleb. You’re the maintenance guy,” Ava realized. She was relieved but embarrassed. The man stared at the ground, darting his eyes back to Ava and back to ground. He gently mumbled to himself and played with his fingers. Ava recognised his mannerisms and deduced that he most likely had autism. “Um, I-I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you, I just … I don’t know,” Ava admitted, realizing the young man was intimidated by her aggressive stance. The man quickly looked up for a second before looking back down again. “My name’s Ava. It’s nice to meet you,” Ava put her hand out. The man hesitated but he shook her hand before putting his hands back in his pockets. “I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you like that,” Ava repeated, apologetically. “It’s f-fine,” Caleb responded awkwardly. He still stood there, hands in his pockets, and stuttering to himself. “M-most people are scared of me anyway, they t-talk weirdly at me,” he said. “Oh, I’m not scared of you. You seem like a nice person,” Ava said in a chirpy manner, trying to lighten the tension. Ava felt stupid, having completely forgotten that Linda and Robert mentioned that the maintenance man Caleb came around every Wednesday. Ava tried to think of something to say to relieve the tension and make up for scaring Caleb. She looked at her watch. “You know, it’s almost lunchtime. Do you bring lunch to work with you?” she asked. “Kelly makes me lemon and peanut butter sandwiches on Wednesdays to bring to w-work,” Caleb said. His stance was more relaxed. “That sounds yummy. I have some lunch with me today as well. Would you like to eat with me?” Ava asked. “I n-need to mow the lawn first,” Caleb responded. “You can mow the lawn after, I won’t tell any-” “No, I need to mow the lawn. I mow the lawn, then I eat,” the man insisted. “Okay, no problem. How about I meet you … at that lunch table just over there when you’re finished?” Ava smiled. Caleb mumbled for a moment, considering the proposition. “Me and Lillie usually sit there,” Caleb said. “Who’s Lillie?” Ava asked. “She’s my f-friend, she lives around here,” Caleb responded. “Oh, okay. Well, how about you and I sit there today and if Lillie wants to join us, she can?” Ava said. “Okay. She m-might be in town today. So, it’s good.” Caleb looked at the ground and smiled. He walked out into the courtyard, pushing a lawnmower in front of him. He continued to mutter to himself, but he softly grinned. Ava looked at him as he walked along. He was wearing a mechanic’s uniform, dark navy-blue canvas coveralls and black work-boots. His dark blonde hair was short and shaggy. He looked to be in his early twenties. Ava had no idea what color his eyes were as he had only looked at the ground the whole time they had talked. She wondered if Lillian was Caleb’s imaginary friend. There was one small cottage a few miles down the road that she’d noticed - perhaps the owners of the cottage had a daughter who kept Caleb company?

The young maintenance man finished his mowing then walked to the front of the premises, where Ava thought he must leave his car. Ava was already sitting on the bench. The wind began to gently blow, making a whistling noise. Ava inhaled the fresh country air and closed her eyes as the sun shone upon her face. She turned her head towards the building and opened her eyes. She gasped in shock at what she saw. The shadowy figure at the fourth-floor window. Its figure was more distinct than last time. It was most definitely female, with long hair over her shoulders. It was standing still … very still and was staring directly at Ava. Ava managed to control her fear. I am not afraid, I am not afraid, there is nothing to fear, she repeated to herself. She then decided to do something she thought later she might regret. She slowly lifted her left arm and waved at the window. The figure stared for one more moment before it turned around and walked away. “Where is it going?” Ava said out loud as she slowly released her arm from its upright position. She pulled out her recording device and despite her shaky voice, she said, “There is someone else here. There is a shadow in the building. Female, as far as I can see.” She then lowered the electronic device back into her pocket. “What’s that?” Caleb called over as he approached, carrying his lunchbox. “Oh, it’s my recorder. I use it to take verbal notes,” Ava said cheerfully. “Oh,” he responded, uninterested. “Look, this is my sandwich I was telling you about. First you put on the peanut butter, then you mash up one q-quarter of a lemon and put it on top of the peanut butter,” Caleb explained happily. Ava was pleased to discover that the young man had become more comfortable around her. “Wow, that’s neat. I have a bread roll with chicken, lettuce, tomato and a little bit of mayonnaise,” Ava said. “I don’t like mayonnaise,” Caleb responded. “I don’t like it too much either, that’s why I only put a little bit on,” Ava said as if it were a secret between herself and Caleb.

“So, Caleb, how long have you been working here?” Ava asked. “Um - one year, three weeks,” Caleb answered. “Uh-huh, and do you look after the inside and the outside?” Ava asked. “Both. But I-I don’t like doing some of the rooms inside, they scare me a lot.” Caleb bit into his sandwich. “Why is that?” “Um - I feel like someone is staring at me, and I don’t like it when people stare at me.” This interested Ava intensely. “Caleb, right before you sat down, I saw something in the window, on the fourth floor.” Caleb briefly stopped chewing as he heard this. “Do you know what it is I’m talking about?” Ava asked, already anticipating the answer. “It’s probably Lillie. She goes inside sometimes,” Caleb said. “And does Lillie have a key? Do you know how she gets in?” Ava pressed. “No and no.” The man’s responses were short and abrupt. “Um … I asked her once, and she talked about a trapdoor. I don’t know where it is though,” Caleb said, still enjoying his peculiar sandwich. Ava realized she knew exactly what Caleb was talking about.

While the pair continued to eat, Ava often glanced up at the fourth-floor window, but nothing appeared. Caleb remained quiet for the remainder of their lunch, concentrating on his sandwich. “Well, I think I might go home for the day, Caleb. I have lots to think about. When do you usually finish up and go home?” Ava asked politely. “Um - I need to clean inside, so I’ll probably go home in three hours and forty-seven minutes,” he estimated. Ava smiled at his precise time management. “Do you have a car?” Ava asked. “No. I have an electric bike,” Caleb said. “Oh, well, this place is extremely far away from a town. Where do you live?” Ava asked, concerned that Caleb might be stuck out in the middle of the countryside. “I’m not meant to tell strangers that,” Caleb said quietly. “Well, we’re not really strangers, are we? I don’t want your address, just what town you live in?” Ava suggested. “East Tawas,” Caleb promptly responded. Ava said her goodbyes to Caleb before heading inside to collect her things. As she put all her belongings into her bag, she noticed one of the pages in her notebook had been torn out, as the book laid open. This at first puzzled her, but she assumed it was nothing - perhaps she tore a page out for whatever reason earlier, or maybe this Lillie person did truly exist and that would also explain the shadow figure. The young journalist walked back outside and locked the large, imposing doors behind her. She did not dare look back in fear of what she might see, so she continued hastily to her car, her eyes focused on the ground beneath her.

Two hours later Ava arrived back at her flat. She felt an overwhelming sense of safety as she walked through her door, her own place welcomed her home. Ava ate an early dinner of tinned soup and brown bread as she sat at her kitchen bench and opened her laptop. She played back her audio tapes and transcribed her words. She decided to try and not think about all the scary aspects of her project for the time being, and spent some time working mainly on business modules for Linda and Robert Chester. She sketched out a simple mind map and wrote down some draft notes that could help make a good headline. She was about to go to bed when she realised she should call her mom and tell her about her first real day on the job. “Hello, Leanne speaking.” The other end of the line answered, “Hi, Mom, it’s Ava,” Ava said, happy to hear her mother’s voice. “Oh, hi honey! How are you?” Her mother sounded twice as excited to hear from her. “Yeah, I’m doing fine, I had my first day at the-” Ava cut herself, considering her choice of words, “the hospital today,” she decided. “Oh wow! How did you go? What did you actually do?” her mother enquired. “Well, mainly I just took notes on what’s going on in the building currently, and I also did some research on its history,” Ava explained. “Okay, that’s really interesting actually,” Leanne said. “What? Were you thinking it would be boring or something?” Ava asked lightly. “No, not at all, I just assumed you’d have to read through ten thousand documents or something.” Ava gasped as her mother said this; she had completely forgotten to go to the downstairs basement that had all those files. “Ava? Honey? I’m sorry I didn’t mean to offend you!” Leanne said, assuming her words were the reason her daughter gasped. “What? No, no, you just reminded me of something.” The young woman rubbed her forehead. “God I’m such a moron! There’s a basement in the hospital building that has all the files on everything and everyone in the asylum, and I completely forgot to look through them,” Ava explained. “Oh, honey, you’re not a moron! Can’t you go back tomorrow?” Leanne suggested. “Oh, yeah, I just didn’t really plan on going back all too often,” Ava said. “I get that, but just go back tomorrow for a look at the files, then take a few days off to process everything and collate what you’ve discovered, sweetheart.” Leanne was known for figuring things out on the spot, and planning things in the most practical but enjoyable way possible. A mother’s touch. “Yeah, I guess so. Hey mom, I actually met someone today,” Ava said, changing the subject. “Oh, who?” Leanne questioned. “Well, the owners have a maintenance guy who comes around every so often, and he happened to be there today. It was nice to know there would be someone else out there sometimes, like I’m not the crazy person who waters flowers with acid,” Ava laughed. “Well yeah, is he cute?” Ava could tell that her mother was smiling down the phone. “No mom. I mean he is but not in that way. He has autism, but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad person. He’s really nice, and kind of adorable,” Ava explained. “Well, that’s nice dear. I’m really proud of you for working hard and taking this opportunity. I have to go though. I need some sleep,” Leanne yawned. “Oh, okay. Well, um, I was going to ask, have you visited Kiara recently?” Ava asked tentatively. “Yeah, last Friday. Why? Did the maintenance guy remind you?” her mother said with a tinge of sadness. “No, no, not necessarily. I just … um, I think I might come down soon and visit you and her. It’s been a while,” Ava explained.

The two rang off and Ava decided to head to bed. It was soon after she closed that a scene emerged in her head. Ava was standing outside the Armitage Mental Asylum; it was broad daylight. She looked up at the fourth floor, trying to spot the shadow figure. Ava was completely unafraid. There was nothing in the windows staring back at her. “Hey,” She heard a voice whispering from the left end of the building. Ava looked toward the sound, hearing it from a distance; she was still unafraid. “Hey, Ava,” the voice whispered again. It was a child’s whisper, a child perhaps no older than early adolescence. Ava saw a shadow dash behind the side of the building. “Who are you?” Ava called out. “Come this way, I have something to show you,” the voice said, in a taunting echo. All of Ava’s instincts were screaming at her not to follow, but her feet moved, and she hastened towards the teasing voice. She arrived behind the building but saw nothing. She turned around to view the whole area but still saw nothing but the grass and woods. She turned back to face the side-view of the hospital, where she saw movement; she saw the latch of the trap door open, and a figure with long, blonde hair jumped through the trap door and into the abyss. The young girl was leading Ava somewhere. “Wait, where are you going?” Ava rushed over to the wide-open door. A pitch black, gaping hole lay beyond the door. “Ava, there’s someone who wants to see you,” the young voice whispered. “What? Who?” Ava insisted. “I’m not coming down there.” Ava hesitated, “You must, you must!” the voice demanded, “No, I can’t, I don’t know what’s down there!” Ava yelled at the child. The voice giggled. “You’re very strong willed, just like your father was … once.” The young girl was no longer whispering; she spoke loudly. “What? Who are you?” Ava was now angry. She was always angry whenever anyone other than her mother or sister brought up her father. “Come down here, please Ava,” begged the young voice. Ava reluctantly began to climb down the old rusty ladder, one step at a time before she skipped the last three and jumped to the surface below. She turned around to see nothing; just a pitch black nothing. It was too dark to see if it was just a room, or something more. “Where are you?” Ava loudly whispered. The voice did not respond. “Where did you go?” The voice again said nothing. There was no movement. “I’m going back up. I’m not staying here!” Ava exclaimed, now extremely angry. “If you -” the child’s voice said in its familiar sing-song whisper. “… wait for me. Then I will come for you,” it continued. “Stop!” Ava’s voice quivered. “Although I’ve travelled far …” “That’s enough!” Ava yelled, now furious, “Who do you think you are?” The voice began to change; it grew deeper, and deeper, changing into a different tone. It morphed into a man’s voice; “I’ll always hold a place for you…” it still sang. “Stop it right now! Stop!” Ava was now sobbing and screaming. The sound of footsteps emerged from the distance, closing in, slowly and heavily, while the voice was still singing, “… in my heart.” Ava tried to stop her sobbing; she was in shock. The voice was too familiar. The young woman calmed herself. “… If you think of me …” the man’s voice continued to sing. “You need to stop.” Ava bravely demanded. The voice stopped and so did the footsteps. The phantom who had been singing coughed and spluttered then mischievously laughed. “Dad?” Ava could feel herself choking up. “Are you here?” A feeling of pure fear and adrenalin suddenly surged through Ava’s body as she asked. “Look at …” the sentence was muffled and inaudible. Ava began to cry. She knew who the voice belonged to, and she was afraid. “I can’t hear you,” Ava whispered, her voice shaky. “Look at the mess you’ve made,” the male voice declared aggressively. “What can I do?” Ava pleaded. “Look at the mess you’ve made,” the voice repeated, slightly louder. “Please, help me,” Ava sobbed. The man said nothing; the silence was deafening. “Look at the mess you’ve made!” The man lunged at Ava with his arms up and his hands out, as if ready to attack. Ava screamed and turned around to find the ladder, but the ladder had disappeared. “Look at the mess you’ve made! Look at the mess you’ve made! You did this! You did this to me!” the voice screamed at Ava as she tried to escape. Someone was standing at the top of the trapdoor, where the only light-source faintly entered. “Help me! Please!” Ava screamed. The person ignored her, and Ava still did not know who it was. The figure stared at her for one more short moment before slowly closing the door above Ava as she continued to scream. Just before the copper latch hit the surface of the door, Ava caught a glimpse of who it was. “Mr Nikita! Please help me!” Ava continued to scream through the darkness.

She woke up, clawing at the air as she thrashed in her bed, sweating profusely, and screaming. She was shaking, still terrified, but trying to convince herself it was just a nightmare. Her breath juddered through her body, and her eyes darted all around her bedroom as she tried to make sure she was safe and alone. She was still quaking as she stood up go to the bathroom, beads of perspiration ran down her body. She turned back to her bed and saw her sheets were soaked with sweat. Ava went to the lavatory in the bathroom before she stripped her pajamas off and turned on the cold taps in the shower. She glanced over at her clock and saw it was 3:57 in the morning. After a cooling shower, Ava changed into a fresh pair of pajamas and walked into her kitchen where she drank two mugs of water. She rinsed and dried it and returned it to its usual place, hanging under the cupboard next to the sink. Ava stared at the cupboard door. She hesitated but opened it to reveal her medication bottles which sat inside a large, plastic container. She took the container out and placed it on the bench before rummaging through her pills. She pulled out one small bottle that she remembered specifically from a few years ago. The label was old and almost completely illegible due to being handled so often. Ava could just make out the date though; use by February of 2016. This sparked a thought in Ava, but she was too tired to explore it at this hour. She decided to deal with it when her head was clear. She walked back to her bedroom, and was about to get back into bed, when she saw the drenched sheets. She would deal with that tomorrow also and went to sleep in her spare bedroom for the night.

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