Ava and Kate headed into work together the next morning, as Ava decided she needed to spend just as much time in the office as she did at the hospital. She knocked on her boss’s office door. “Ms Hayes, how are you?” Mr Nikita greeted Ava with what she felt was a marked lack of enthusiasm. “I just thought I’d touch base with you about the project,” Ava explained. “Oh, yes of course, how have you been getting on?” Mr Nikita gestured towards the leather chair that sat on the other side of his desk. “It’s going really well actually. I have a lot of detail and have drafted up part of my column and thought of some good material for the Chester’s advertising,” Ava explained, proudly. “Right, yes, well do you have any of your work with you?” the tall man asked as he sat down. “Yes, I’ve brought it all with me today.” Ava pulled out a folder from her bag and handed it to her boss. He skimmed over it, examining the details. “Do you mind if I give it a thorough read? I will give it back to you before lunch,” Mr Nikita said. “Oh, yes of course, that’s not a problem,” Ava responded. “Great, thank you.” As Ava left her boss’s office, she had an optimistic feeling. Usually if Mr Nikita thought that a piece of work wasn’t any good he wouldn’t bother reading it at all. “What did he say?” Kate asked. “He said he’s going to read it and give it back to me before lunchtime,” Ava said proudly. “Oh, wow! Maybe he has a crush on you,” Kate giggled. “Yuck, get back to work!” Ava said sarcastically.
Ava decided to send an email to Mr and Mrs. Chester, to let them know her progress.
Dear Mr and Mrs. Chester,
I would like to touch base with you on how things are travelling thus far. I have spent several days at the hospital and collected lots of information. I have gathered plenty of data and have even started a column idea and some business modules. I have had the privilege of meeting the delightful Caleb. He is very sweet, and we had lunch together last Wednesday. I have also met the young girl who Caleb seems to be close friends with, Lillian, who I believe lives locally and also comes to visit the asylum fairly often. I’m not entirely sure how she gets into the building, but if you are uncomfortable with this, I would be happy to let her know that the asylum is in fact private property.
Yesterday I briefly explored the basement, primarily focusing on the files of course. I skimmed over two of them at random and, Linda, I can certainly understand why you are hesitant to read them. The horrors that these poor patients experienced must have truly been terrible. In spite of the sinister history of the building, I do believe that these terrible events could truly make great business. After all, people do love horror stories!
I do hope you are both enjoying your holiday, please feel free to call me or email me anytime.
Kind regards, Ava Hayes.
The young journalist sent off her email before she retrieved her recording device from her pocket. She listened back to the audio footage as she wrote down notes. She also tried to remember the details of the folders she had read. She jotted down the name, age and situation of the young girl named in the second file, Casey Lehin. Ava began drafting a story about the life of young Casey, exaggerating her story, embellishing it for use in promotional material. Ava did feel a bit uncomfortable during this process because what this young child had gone through was terrible enough. She wondered if what she was doing was in some way disrespectful to her memory. But Ava was simply doing what she had been taught to do; the audience reads only what they want to be told and hears what they want to hear.
Lunchtime rolled around. Some of Ava’s colleagues left to go to a local cafe and others stayed and had their packed lunches in the breakroom; Ava was one of those people. She and Kate walked down the corridor when Mr Nikita stopped them. “Sorry to stop you from your lunch break, but Ava could I speak to you for a moment?” The man then turned around and walked towards his office; Ava was clearly expected to follow. “Oh my god,” Ava turned her friend, eyes wide with anxiety. “Don’t worry, there’s not a problem. If it’s bad, the worst thing that could happen is he lets you go.” Kate grabbed her friend’s hands. “Thanks, Kate. Now I’m really shitting myself.” Ava inhaled deeply. “Stop stressing. Now go, go!” Kate nudged her friend and Ava walked quickly to reach her boss’s door. “Please, have a seat Ms Hayes.” Ava nervously sat down. She felt herself shaking and involuntarily sweating. She sat down and said nothing. “Ms Hayes, I’ve read your work so far …” Oh no! “… and if I’m being quite honest …” Kill me now! “… I’ve never read anything quite like it, particularly from the level you’re at as an intern,” Mr Nikita explained. “Mr Nikita, I’m really sorry, I can change it. And I’ll do much better next time, I promise,” Ava pleaded. “Good. We should all strive to do better.” Ava looked down at her lap while her shoulders sunk forward. “I just wanted to let you know to keep up the good work.” Ava whipped her head up. “Excuse me sir, would you mind repeating that? I don’t think I heard you clearly,” Ava said in disbelief. “I just want you to keep up the good work. What you have written is past the standard, and I believe you have really stepped up. I told you that projects like this really elevate people’s potential and writing quality,” Mr Nikita smiled. Ava was in disbelief. “Why, thank you sir! Thank you so much! Um, it really was just the first drafts but -” “Yes, I know. I have left some corrections but I’m sure you will be able to pass this project, and if this great gift you seem to have continues to evolve, I believe you will go far in this field.” Mr Nikita smiled, proud of his young protégé’s progress and his role in developing her talent. “I am very grateful for this, sir. I can assure you; I will do everything in my power to continue to improve.” Ava tried to calm herself and left the room. Mr Nikita smiled.
Ava walked down the hallway until she found the breakroom. Kate looked up at her expectantly. Ava forced herself to act sad and mopey. “Well? What happened? Tell me!” Kate asked, worried. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” Kate closed her eyes and dropped her head at what she heard. “I suppose I just wanted to let you know to keep up the good work.” Kate looked up, and the corner of her lips slowly began to curl upwards. “I believe you have really stepped up.” Kate smiled, genuinely happy for her friend. “Why am I not surprised?” Kate said. “What do you mean? Nothing I’ve ever written has ever been so successful,” Ava said. “Oh, shut up! Everything you’ve ever written has been fantastic. The only difference now is that someone with power and control has finally noticed!” Ava smiled widely at her friend in appreciation of her support. Ava, too excited to eat her lunch, phoned her mother to boast. “So, mom, Mr Nikita was just telling me about how well I’m doing,” Ava said into her phone. “Oh, that’s great honey!” Leanne exclaimed happily. The mother and daughter continued to talk for a while, before Ava noticed that her mother seemed to be withdrawing from their conversation. “Mom, are you okay?” Ava asked, concerned. “Yeah, it’s just … I was thinking the other day; how long has it been since you visited your sister?” Ava sighed at her mother’s question. “Mom, you know why I haven’t seen her; she could have killed me last time I saw her,” Ava explained. “I understand that, but she was off her meds, and it was three years ago. She was only sixteen then,” Leanne pleaded. “I know, I know. I was actually thinking about seeing her soon,” Ava said. “Well good, I’m glad. And if I were you, I wouldn’t mention the mental hospital or the good word from your boss,” Leanne suggested. “Why can’t I bring up the good feedback from Mr Nikita?” Ava asked. “Well, because she might get jealous of your success,” Leanne explained. “Mom, are you serious? She’s a grown adult, she’s not an angst-ridden thirteen-year-old,” Ava was disappointed at her mother. “Ava, you can’t -” “She won’t ever be able to live her life functionally if people keep sheltering her from reality,” Ava continued. “Well maybe if you visited her and helped with reality then there wouldn’t be a problem!” Leanne raised her voice down the phone. “Mom! This is bullshit!” Ava said. Leanne hung up the phone on her daughter. Ava, annoyed, switched her phone off. She strode back to her desk and got back to work. She repeated her conversation with her mother over and over in her head before burying her face in her hands. For years she had held onto lots of resentment over her mother. For the majority of Ava’s childhood, Leanne’s one and only priority had been Kiara. Of course, that was to be expected because of her special needs. Ava just simply always felt passed over.
Five o’clock rolled around and everybody started to pack up. “Hey, some of the girls are going out for some sushi. Are you in?” Kate asked Ava. “Oh, um, no, I think I’m just gonna go home tonight. I have a bit of work to go over and I need an early night,” Ava responded. “Oh, are you sure? You haven’t been out with us for ages,” Kate pressed. “I know, I’m just … I just need to relax a little bit tonight.” Ava smiled. Kate reluctantly agreed and a group of young journalists left the building. Ava shortly followed. She drove silently in her car, not even turning on the radio or playing some light background music. Despite the arguments she and her mother had from time to time, Ava could feel that a tipping point was brewing. There was so much she wanted to say to her mother, but she knew that this couldn’t be done over the phone. Partly because it wasn’t an over the phone type of conversation. But mainly because her mother would simply just hang up.
Ava fell asleep on the couch watching a film. She had another dream, but a vision more than a dream. She was sitting on her couch, exactly where she was now; at the same time, watching the same film. She heard light footsteps coming towards her from the short hallway on the left. Ava looked over, to see a familiar sight. The young girl from the hospital, Lillian, was looking over at her from the dark hallway. “Where were you today?” the young girl calmly asked. “I was at work, at the office,” Ava responded, unfazed about the fact that this strange girl was in her house. “You need to visit your sister,” Lillian whispered. “What? You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ava calmly but firmly responded. “She misses you. She needs you,” Lillian protested. “No. She doesn’t. She has no idea I’m even alive anymore.” Ava began to choke with tears. “You know the feeling better than anyone,” Ava began openly crying. “Esse quam videri.” Lillian murmured. Ava gasped as she woke up. She looked over to the hallway. Of course, Lillian wasn’t there. There were streams of tears running down her face. Ava composed herself before going to bed for the night. She had no dreams that night, no nightmares, no visions. Just a blessed black void until her alarm clock rang. Ava looked over at the digital clock that sat on her bedside table; 9:00am. Even on weekends the young woman always set an alarm; sleeping in till the afternoon was never something Ava had done. She felt as though she’d have wasted an entire day when there was too much time to do nothing but too little time to do anything. She completed her daily morning routine; showering, changing, teeth cleaning then drinking coffee. Her head felt much clearer today after the events of yesterday. It was pouring with rain outside. Autumn has certainly arrived, Ava thought to herself. She made her own executive decision that today would be an indoors day, and she would use it to get some things organized. Ava began by phoning her sister’s current residency.
“Gateways Residence, how can I help you?” the receptionist answered. “Hello, I was hoping to make a scheduled time to visit a Kiara Hayes?” Ava asked. “Okay, just let me check here …” another interval of typing occurred. “I’m sorry, but Kiara will be unable to see you.” Ava was shocked. “Excuse me?” Ava said, annoyed. “Well, you see, each resident here is only able to have visitors on a Monday, Wednesday and Saturday each week, and her bookings have all been taken up by someone else for … basically the foreseeable future,” the receptionist explained. “I’m her sister,” Ava said sternly, as though her relationship to Kiara gave her the right to see her. “I understand that ma’am, but Kiara’s mother has made her position very clear ever since her daughter has been with us, that she was to be the only visitor. What I can suggest to you is if you have a conversation with your mother then perhaps you can work something out.” Ava found the receptionist to be very condescending, but then again, she was only doing her job. “So, I can’t just drop in on a Monday to see my sister?” Ava said. “I’m terribly sorry ma’am, but these are the rules we have in place.” The receptionist’s voice became stern, and she clearly wanted to end the phone call. Ava said goodbye and hung up, as her throat closed up and tears welled in her eyes. She sat on the stool at her kitchen table and hugged her knees, allowing her tears to flow. She refused to give in to the urge to phone her mother, even though she felt things were at a stalemate.
Ava fell asleep early that night; despite having not done much that day, she was exhausted. She had had no dinner, and very little food throughout the whole day which only added to her lack of energy. Her tired eyes slowly closed, the sight of the streetlights through her window blinds gradually turned to blackness. Her senses were internally awakened by a sound. Barely audible, almost entirely not there. “Remember me?” the voice said, but Ava only saw blackness through her closed eyelids. Ava could feel herself on the verge of hyperventilating, but she calmed herself, forcing her strong sense of fear to one side. “Where are you?” Ava quietly asked, not knowing who or what she may encounter. “Remember me?” the voice repeated, Ava discerned a female voice. “Lillian?” Ava whispered loudly. “Lillian, is that you?” The voice simply laughed in response. “No, no, no, no, no,” it said. “Who are you? Should I be afraid?” Ava said. “I was afraid. I was always afraid, I trusted nobody. Was there anyone I could rely on? No,” the voice said, changing in tone. “I’m sorry,” Ava said with true empathy. “Do you know my name?” the voice asked. “I don’t think so, you could tell me though?” Ava asked. “That’s not true. You do know my name,” it said, sounding disappointed but amused. “I thought you said your name wasn’t Lillian?” Ava asked. “No, no. I’m not Lillian. I like her though. She’s my friend. She was there,” the voice explained. “I’m sorry, I-” “You read about me. You read the false details on my report,” the voice whispered. “Casey?” Ava said, as she heard a sigh of relief. “You’re Casey Lehin!” The voice gently chuckled as it heard this, sounding happy and pleased. “I have something to show you. You wanna see?” the figure asked. Ava thought about this for a second, she felt slightly scared, but she was far too intrigued. “Yes,” she whispered. A vision appeared, a dream within her dream - the Armitage Mental Asylum.
Ava stared at it. There was something different about it. It looked … clean, almost new. There was movement in the windows. Ava was surprised at first. What were those figures? Demonic? No. They were just people, walking and hobbling back and forth across the windows. A woman opened the doors and walked towards Ava, but she was not looking at her. The woman was searching her handbag for something. She is dressed oddly, Ava thought. She saw this woman wearing … nurse-type clothing, a long white dress with a blue shirt underneath, a small fragment of blood across her chest. She seemed quite calm. Ava took a step forward. “Excuse me, what are you -” The woman walked right past Ava, taking no notice of her. Ava turned around about to follow the woman, but she was stunned when she saw what was behind her. Cars. Many cars lined up in perfect order beside one another, like a parking lot. The woman pulled out car keys and entered her vehicle before driving off. What the hell? Ava thought. The cars were old and small, reminiscent of cars from the 1960s or 1970s. As the woman’s car drove away, another sped up the long driveway, the same stretch of road Ava had become familiar with. It was rocking back and forth violently. There was a loud sound coming from inside it, screaming perhaps. Ava watched as the car parked, the driver honking the horn three times. Ava stared through the front windshield; the man driving was leaning across into the back seat, his arms flailing and his torso twisting, as if holding something back. Ava stared for a few seconds before a noise behind her alerted her.
The doors to the asylum were flung open and two men in an all-white uniform came running out in response to the car’s horn. “Wait, w-w-what -” Ava tried to get their attention, but they simply ran straight past her and opened the rear door of the car. They dragged something out. They dragged out a girl, kicking and screaming and fighting. The men said nothing to the driver, or to the girl they were carrying. One man was holding her arms and neck, the other was holding her legs. She screamed and clawed and fought, but the men were resilient. Ava saw that she looked no older than about seventeen. Casey? she said to herself. The man in the driver’s seat followed the male orderlies but kept his distance. “Stop it! Stop it!” Ava screamed but nobody seemed to hear her. She ran after the group and tried to punch the men, but to no avail. Ava came to the realization that she was in a dream, a vision, nothing more; she had no power. She followed them inside the building. She was once again shocked by the sight; there were patients and staff walking around, there was minimal furniture placed here and there. There was a receptionist-nurse behind the counter to the left, and the clanging sounds of cooking and food preparation from the kitchen to the right down the hallway. The dark hallway that led straight ahead was illuminated; a dull, yellow light, but still light.
The two male nurses took Casey down the dark hallway. She was still struggling aggressively. The man who had been driving spoke to the receptionist. Ava walked over to him and looked at him up and down. “What is your relationship to this girl?” the woman behind the counter asked. “She’s my daughter. I’m her -” the man cut himself off; he is visibly emotionally distressed. “I’m her father,” he said. “I need you to fill in these details about your daughter and yourself for her to be registered,” the nurse was emotionless, no smile but no frown, exhibiting no sense of feeling. The man began to quickly write on the form, filling in the blank page. He wrote down her name, Casey Lehin, her age, sixteen, where she was from, Detroit, and other generic details. Ava looked down the hallway where the girl and the men were still just visible. She ran down the hallway and caught up to them. The girl showed no sign of giving up, but neither did the staff. They turn right into a vacant room; two other nurses were already there, and a table of medical instruments was next to a hospital bed furnished with straps. The four staff members, consisting of two men and two women were holding the young girl down. They strapped her wrists and ankles to the metal bed frame. Terrified, she squirmed and tried to win her freedom, she thrusted her torso into the air, desperate to escape. One of the female nurses picked up a syringe from the table of instruments. She removed the cap and checked the fluid amount that was in it. She held down Casey’s arm before injecting the sharp needle into the crook of her elbow, watching it carefully as the syringe pierced the skin and entered deep into the vein. The young girl gradually stopped fighting, her breathing eased, and her muscles became less tense, until she was unconscious. The nursing staff left the room as if nothing had happened. Ava watched them leave before fixing her eyes back on the girl. She groaned one last time before she fell into a heavy sleep. A tear fell from her eye. Ava turned around and ran back down the hallway, trying to find the girl’s father. Ava didn’t see him near the front reception desk; she looked frantically from left and right, until a loud noise drew her attention to the front of the building. The man left the front door, did not even look back. How could he just leave her like that? Ava thought. As she stared at the door something overcame her, her vision was blurred and so was her hearing; a blur of images passed her eyes and rapid, muffled sounds were all she heard. She closed her eyes as she became overwhelmed; the sounds became louder until she forced her eyes open and the sounds suddenly disappeared.
Ava looked around, everything seemed … the same. She looked at the reception desk - a different woman stood behind it, writing something down on a piece of paper. Ava was startled as a loud noise sounded behind her. She rapidly turned around to see an all too familiar sight; Casey, being dragged by two large male nurses, one holding each arm. She looked somewhat different, her hair was messy and matted with neglect, her face and body bruised, her cheekbones visible, and her face grey, tired, her lips dry and cracked and bloody. The young girl was dragged upstairs, past the reception area to the left. She was taken up to the second floor, screaming and kicking the whole way. The staff took her into a room where there was a metal cage-like structure that stood up against the back wall. The orderlies aggressively stripped the young girl of her clothes. They laughed and made fun of her physique; she looked terrible, she was just skin and bones by that point. She looked like a skeletal figure in a scientist’s lab. She was forced up against the cage structure by one of the staff, while the other one grabbed a large, heavy hose that hung from the wall. The man holding Casey to the cage screamed at her to stand still, but she did the opposite. He punched her in the stomach, and she gasped for air as she clutched herself, winded. Ava tried to punch the men, but she knew she was powerless. The pair mocked the defenseless girl for a moment longer before turning on the hose. It was a fire hydrant hose; the water was so hard and fast it bashed Casey up against the metal cage. She screamed in agony but could not physically fight back, the water was too strong. Ava burst into hysterical tears. The men kept the hose on for several minutes before turning it off and rubbing her dry with a towel so hard she was left bruised. She was shivering cold and no longer fought against the men. The weak girl was then dragged up one last flight of stairs into the third-floor hallway. The girl groaned. “Shut up!” one of the men hissed at her. They turned to the right and went into one of the rooms; Ava followed them. 311, the door’s number was written with thick black paint on the door. Ava faced the men; they threw Casey onto the bed that lay against the left wall of the small room. One of the men, who had shining brown hair, combed down with a thick layer of hair gel, strapped her left ankle to the bottom of the metal bed frame. The men left the room and slammed the door shut. Ava stayed in the room, fixated on the young girl, lying almost lifeless in the bed, a thin sheet which was her only comforter was scrunched up by her feet. Ava went to pick it up before realizing that she had no physical power. She tried anyway. She silently gasped; she could touch the fabric; she could even move it. She placed the material evenly over Casey’s shivering body. Casey looked up to see what was moving her blanket but saw nobody. “Who’s there?” she said, afraid. Ava didn’t reply. The young girl rested her head down on her pillow. Ava’s vision was blurred again, fast movements flashed before her eyes; sound was inaudible yet loud and rapid. Ava closed her eyes for a brief moment. When she opened them again, she was in a different location.
Ava looked around the common area of the hospital. It was cloudy outside and cold in the building. There were many patients in this large, lifeless room. Some were sitting down, staring at nothing. Others were pacing and talking to themselves. Others were naked, rocking back and forth on the ground, drooling. The stench was overwhelming. Ava heard giggling behind her; she turned around. What? she thought to herself. She saw Casey. She looked slightly healthier in terms of bruising, but her face was even more caved in, her eyes like dark storm clouds that scared young children as they approached. However, it was not poor Casey that shocked Ava, it was the girl sitting next to her. Lillian. The girls were sitting at a table with two chairs on either side. Ava walked over to them. They were talking about how one day, when they run away together, they will flee to Rome and own a cafe together. Lillian looked as unwell as Casey; she had bruises on her neck and collar bone which her gown barely covered. Her lips were dry and cracked and her skin a ghostly white. “Lillian?” Ava whispered loudly. The young girl looked up in Ava’s direction but didn’t react. Before Ava could say or do anything more, a man caught the attention of both young girls. It was a male nurse, very tall. “Lillian,” he said. Ava was about to look up, but before she could see the man’s facial features, her vision was yet again affected, along with her hearing. A white light covered her entire view before she only saw black.
Ava opened her eyes, relieved to find she was back in her familiar room. She rolled over in her bed and looked at her alarm clock; 10:09am. Ava had forgotten to set her alarm for Sunday morning. Nonetheless, she got up to start her day. She spent the rest of the morning cleaning her house, taking out the empty boxes and bottles from the kitchen and picking up her dirty laundry from the bedroom floor. Ava wrote down notes of her vivid dream, to ensure she didn’t forget it.