Ava faced the familiar drive to the hospital once again. She turned on her radio but turned down the volume, only wanting the light, up-beat music as background noise. The sky was dull on this day; a thick, white cloud covered the whole sky. No rain was falling but no sunshine was visible either. The fields she drove past were a vibrant green and the cows were fat and healthy in their paddocks.
She drove her vehicle up the long driveway and parked in her usual place in front of the imposing hospital. After collecting her things from the back seat, she stepped out of the car. She paused and looked across the car park, envisioning the cars she saw in her dream last night. The journalist looked towards the front doors and visualized the male-nurses who ran out. She looked to her left and in her mind’s eye she saw the girl screaming in the car, the father so willing, almost seeming eager, to give his daughter away to the care of strangers. Ava took a deep breath before heading into the building. She felt different as she walked in, as though she’d been told the most defining factor about the place. She looked to the left and again, envisioned the nurses and the patients walking around. Instead of instantly turning right to go to the dining area, Ava walked past the reception desk and up the stairs. She didn’t even glance down any of the hallways until she reached the third floor. The hallway was so clear, so perfect to what her memory depicted from her dream the previous night.
She walked down the hallway, the screaming of Casey still sounding fresh in her ears. She stopped as she reached a familiar room; she looked at the faded thick black lettering - 311. Ava opened the door and walked in. There was very minimal light in this room, the sunlight being too weak to penetrate the window. Ava looked around and saw that the bed frame was still there. There was no mattress, just the rusty springs remained. The tattered remains of a leather strap hung over the end of the bed. Tears welled up in Ava’s eyes. But how can these details be so accurate? It was just a dream, she thought. Ava had convinced herself that the horrific details were merely the rudimentary conditions in mental wards from in that era. “That’s what they slept on you know.” Ava screamed in fright as she heard a voice behind her. “Lillian, I ought to give you a bell!” Ava laughed in embarrassment. “Wait, what? They slept on metal wires?” Lillian nodded. “You haven’t been here in a while,” Lillian said. “No, no, I had to go into work at the office,” Ava responded. “I thought this was your work,” Lillian said. “Yes, I mean, yes, it is my work but … This is my current project, my workplace – my office - is in Detroit,” Ava explained. The two stared at each other for a brief moment. Ava couldn’t get out of her head how this young girl was in her dream last night, and the night before. “Listen, I need to get a little bit of work done, but in a little while, if you’re still here, do you think I could talk to you?” Ava proposed. Lillian nodded, and then turned and walked back down the hallway, while Ava walked in the other direction. The journalist noticed that the inside of the building was structurally really sound and in very good condition, considering its age; the staircase wasn’t wobbly or cracking away, and the only paint that had peeled away was on the ceiling. She walked back down the flights of stairs and made her way to the dining area, setting up her workstation once again. She wrote down a few notes and started drafting some paragraphs as potential material for the Chesters’ ghost tour business, making the hospital sound more spine-chilling than it really was.
After a while, Ava decided to see if the other details of her dream were real as well, so she got up to explore. She climbed the stairs to the second floor, then walked down that hallway. It was almost totally dark, as little to no light could pierce through the filthy windows, and the smell of decay and mold was strong. She reached the room that she saw in her dream last night. She was shocked to see that it looked exactly the same. The metal, cage-like structure was still standing and to the left of the doorway a hose hung over the wall, a drip of dirty water fell from the nozzle and splashed on the floor. This room was unpainted, had no wallpaper; its walls were just grey concrete and brick. Ava backed out of the room, as feelings of hatred and agony overcame her. No good things ever happened in that room. Ava said to herself.
Her curiosity answered, she walked back down the stairs. As she crossed the main front area, she heard a sound coming from her left. Ava stopped in her tracks and turned her head to the left as she heard it again. A cough? Ava became nervous; it didn’t sound like Lillian, and it didn’t sound female. Another cough sounded. “Hello?” Ava called. There was a moment of silence, but then, what sounded like someone wincing as if in pain came from down that hallway. Ava took one step towards it. “Did you want to talk to me now?” Ava whipped her head to around. Little Lillian was standing in the corner just before the hallway to the dining area. “Did you hear that?” Ava asked. “Tell me you heard that.” Lillian looked in the direction Ava was pointing. “Hear what?” the little girl asked. “There was coughing, and movement, like, someone wincing in pain,” Ava was becoming slightly uneasy. “Um… the pipes can make weird sounds sometimes,” Lillian offered. “No, no, there was a person!” Ava exclaimed. “Look, bad things have happened here, okay? Very bad things,” Lillian responded. “Now I’m not saying this place is haunted, but I’m just saying these bad things can echo sometimes, as if they sort of cling to the walls and replay themselves from time-to-time.” Ava was surprised at the young girl’s choice of words; she was in awe of her vocabulary, and the way she described things. And she was worried that prodding her in this way, trying to insist that she heard the same sounds from down the passageway, was making Lillian upset.
Ava wanted to change the subject, so she answered Lillian’s earlier question; “Um, y-yes, I did want to speak with you.” Ava pushed her hair out of her face. Lillian smiled then turned around and walked towards Ava’s desk. The two sat down and Ava noticed that Lillian was acting very strangely, as though she was internally upset and almost angry. “Is everything okay?” Ava asked. “Oh, yes, everything’s fine. What did you want to speak with me about?” Lillian responded in a chirpy voice. Ava smiled at her and pulled out her recording device, a pad of a paper and a pen. “Oh, um, no recording device, please,” Lillian said. “Oh, why?” Ava asked. “I just um- I want my voice to be confidential. You can take down notes if you like.” Ava reluctantly nodded in agreement. “I hope you understand,” Lillian almost pleaded. Ava simply nodded and smiled. “Yeah, of course, not a problem at all.”
“So, I know that this is going to sound ridiculous, but I had a dream about you last night.” Lillian gave the young woman a confused look. “Well, it wasn’t really about you. It was more about that girl I read the file on the other day, Casey Lehin?” the journalist explained. “Oh, her,” Lillian said. “Yeah, and um, I don’t know … I just thought it was strange. I had another dream about you a couple of nights ago, actually.” Lillian was looking intently at Ava. “I was asleep on my couch, and you said something, but it wasn’t English. It was like … it must have been Latin or Greek or something,” Ava tried to explain. “What did I say?” Lillian asked. “Well, I can’t remember the exact words, but it was something like, esse qua- I don’t really know.” Ava was frustrated that she couldn’t remember the exact words. “Oh, um, was it esse quam videri?” the young girl asked. Ava gazed at Lillian in shock. “How did you know that?” “My friend taught me. Just small sentences. The sentence just … makes sense.” As Lillian explained herself, she seemed edgy. “What does it mean?” Ava asked. Lillian didn’t answer, but she became jittery, trying to find an appropriate explanation. “It just um- I don’t really know what it means. It’s just a familiar expression, but I’m not entirely sure what it translates to in English.” Lillian didn’t look Ava in the eye. Ava gazed at her, puzzled. “Anyway, tell me about the other dream you had, about Casey,” Lillian suggested. “Well, it was weird, it was so … real. She was dragged out of her father’s car by hospital staff, then forced into a room, then hosed down. Then, you were there talking to her,” Ava said. “You mean, I was a patient?” Lillian asked, confused. “Yeah, I think so. You were wearing matching gowns just like everyone else,” Ava explained. “Look, do you remember how I told you just before that sometimes places like this, that have a deep and traumatic history, the walls can echo?” Lillian said, leaning forward. “Well, the file that you read; that simply echoed in your dream, and I was in it, because you’ve met me in this building. That’s the only explanation,” Lillian said. What the young girl was saying made sense, but Ava was left with a strange feeling. The document she read had only a few paragraphs about the patient, it mentioned nothing of her treatment here. “But I mean, the dream is spooky, and you journalists are known for embellishing the truth, right?” Ava was slightly offended by what Lillian was suggesting. “I-I didn’t mean that I just meant, you are known for, potentially exaggerating some things here and there. So, if you write down this dream that you had, all the details you can remember, then you can probably make that a talking point for your project.” Lillian said. Ava was intrigued; it was in fact a good idea. “Do you remember any specific details? For example, what room she was taken into or something like that?” Lillian asked. “She was taken into room 311 when she was first brought in here by her father, I remember that,” Ava explained. “Well, there you go,” Lillian responded. Ava wrote down every aspect that she remembered. It quickly turned into three pages of detail, of every person she remembered in her dream. After collating all the information, she then drafted a compelling blurb for the business. Although Ava knew most of what she had composed was false, she wrote about how haunted the building felt, how she saw ghosts wandering in the corridors, how other people have said they felt as though they had been watched.
This reminded Ava of something. When Mr and Mrs. Chester were giving Ava and Mr Nikita the tour, Mrs. Chester explicitly said to her, in a strange sort of way, I don’t like to walk around at night. This resonated in Ava’s mind for a moment. The journalist remembered the email she had sent the Chesters several days prior; she pulled her phone out of her bag and logged onto her Gmail account. She scrolled through her Inbox and checked her Spam folder, but she found no response from them. This was strange; usually when a client says, “Contact us whenever you need to,” they mean that they will actually respond. Ava decided that they probably just hadn’t had a chance to get back to her. Perhaps something important had come up and they had forgotten to reply at the time.
Ava looked up from her desk. Once again, Lillian was nowhere to be found. I really should get that girl a bell, she thought to herself. She briefly peered at her watch and saw that it was one o’clock in the afternoon, usually lunchtime. Ava focused her mind on her stomach and realised that she did feel slightly ill. She had not eaten dinner yesterday; in fact, she barely ate anything at all yesterday, and she hadn’t eaten today either. The young woman checked her bag on the off chance there was something left over from the supplies she’d packed the other day. But inevitably, there was nothing in her bag. “Don’t you have any food?” a voice from the doorway said. Ava turned around to see the familiar face of young Lillian. “Oh, um, no, I forgot. I’ll just have to eat a big dinner tonight I suppose,” Ava smiled. Lillian smiled back at her, but it did not seem sincere. “Are you okay, sweetheart? You seem a little … off today,” Ava said gently. “Yeah … I mean … yeah, I’m fine,” the young girl shrugged. “Come and sit here.” Ava motioned towards the chair across from her. Lillian made her way over and sat down at the table, not looking Ava in the eye. “You can tell me. What’s troubling you?” Ava asked, concerned for the young girl’s wellbeing. “It’s a bit complicated,” Lillian said. “Try me,” Ava encouraged, assuming the problem couldn’t be that big a deal from a twelve-year-old girl. “Believe me, you won’t understand,” Lillian insisted. Ava was slightly miffed by Lillian’s accusation. She always hated it when someone assumed that she would or would not understand something or should or should not do something. But she put her negative feelings aside. “Well, it’s usually best to let it out when there’s something on your mind, and even if I can’t directly help you, it’s good to get something off your chest,” Ava said encouragingly.
Lillian thought about this for a moment, still looking down at her hands that rested on the table surface. “The thing is, and nobody believes me but, I can sort of read people,” Lillian said. Ava shifted in her seat. “Okay, what exactly do you mean?” she asked. “Well, I can’t read people’s thoughts, that’s impossible, but I can read their emotions. Even when they’re masking things, hiding it really well,” Lillian explained. Internally, Ava was skeptical, but on second thought it might be Lillian’s imagination, or she might really believe it to true. Maybe it is true; Who am I to question this? Ava said to herself. “Okay, well, that’s a good thing, isn’t it? Why is it upsetting you?” Ava asked, intrigued by the girl’s words. “When people I like feel upset, I feel upset,” the young girl said. “What? Who’s upset?” Ava asked. “You.” Lillian responded. “Um, I’m not upset, Lillian,” Ava said firmly. “Yes, you are. You don’t need to lie to me. You don’t even have to tell me why you’re upset, but I know that you are.” Ava was astounded. At first, she was annoyed at this young girl; How could she be so forward like that? How can she talk to a stranger like that? But then, she felt a different emotion, one that she had not experienced for a very long time. Trust. Ava stared at Lillian, trying to figure her out, like a puzzle with a million pieces all the same colour. The journalist felt a sense of … safety in a strange sort of way. “I-I don’t know,” Ava whispered, unsure of how to respond to Lillian. “I think you’re lying. I think you do know what’s wrong, or maybe there is nothing wrong, but there is something there,” Lillian tilted her head to the side, as though she was staring at an equation on a chalkboard. “I don’t think my problems are something a child would want to listen to, let alone understand,” Ava said. Lillian rolled her eyes, unsatisfied with Ava’s reply. “Maybe if you would stop thinking of me as a child and more as a person, then that would help,” Lillian said. Ava looked away. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before looking back at her companion. “Well, you see, I’m in quite a predicament,” Ava said. “I had a horrible argument with my mother that ended with her hanging up the phone on me. I want to see my sister, who is in a residential facility, but my mother has already booked up all her visits for the foreseeable future. So, I need to speak to my mother about changing her appointments to allow me to see my sister but … I don’t want to talk to her, not just yet,” Ava explained.
Lillian took a moment, as if assessing the situation, before she looked at Ava directly in the eyes. “Well, the worst thing to do when you have an argument, an important one, or with an important person, is to simply leave it,” Lillian said. “The anger that fueled it in the first place grows, and grows, and grows; it’s like a black poison that continues to charge. And even though you don’t want to talk to your mother right now, there is no alternative, especially if you want to see your sister,” Lillian said. Ava considered this; the pros and cons rushed through her head, like flashes of light darting from left to right and back again. “Ava, when was the last time you saw your sister?” Lillian asked. “Three years ago,” Ava answered reluctantly, embarrassed at what looked like a lack of care towards her sister. “Look, I know that you two had a huge falling out the last time you saw each other, but the residential clinic she’s in now is-” “What did you say?” Ava interrupted Lillian. “What?” Lillian asked. “How did you know we had a falling out? How did you know she’s in a clinic?” Ava said, confused. Lillian’s jaw trembled. “You… you told me that she was in a residential facility,” Lillian said. “But that could have meant anything. And how did you know we had a falling out?” Ava said, intensely looking at Lillian. “It was just a lucky guess. I mean, why else would you not have seen Kiara in so long?” Ava was spellbound. “I never mentioned her name!” Ava pushed her chair backwards and stood up, towering over the terrified child. Lillian tried to explain herself; “You did, at some stage, I-I don’t when but-” the young girl was struggling for words. “I just um- I just have really good memory and-” She was unable to defend herself, and her stuttering gave way to silence. “You’ve been stalking me?” Ava raised her voice. “What? That’s ridiculous, how could I have possibly stalked you?” Lillian was now just as shocked, just as angry as Ava. “I don’t know how! Have you read my emails? Did you hitch a ride into town?” Ava yelled at the young girl. “No, I didn’t, I swear I just…” Lillian hesitated, “Who are you?” Ava lowered her voice, calming herself down. “I just … I’m nobody.” Lillian said, her eyes brimming with tears.
“When you said you could read people, what exactly, did you mean?” Ava asked. “I just meant that I can read people, assess their situations from the small details they give out.” Ava put her hand over her forehead; she could feel herself overheating. “Look, I’m sorry for getting mad. I just- I haven’t eaten much and I’m tired and-” Ava cut herself off and sat back down in the chair. “No, no it’s fine, honestly,” Lillian murmured. “Did you bring any food with you today?” she asked. “No, I forgot. I just need to focus,” Ava said. Her hands were shaking, and her heart was pounding. Ava closed her eyes for a brief moment. “Are you okay, Ava?” Lillian asked, concerned. “Yes, yes, I’m fine. I just can’t get heated up like that. Again, I’m sorry,” Ava explained. “No, no, please there’s nothing to apologize for. I’ll go and let you calm down and get back to work. But if I don’t see you again today, you’ll come back tomorrow, won’t you?” Lillian asked as she walked past Ava’s desk. “Yeah, I’ll be back Wednesday if not tomorrow,” she smiled. “Do you promise? Promise me that you’ll come back,” Lillian pleaded, looking suddenly worried. “I promise, don’t worry,” she said. Lillian walked away, back down the hallway. Ava buried her head in her hands. She forced herself to keep working; she wrote down notes about the physical description of the building, and in fact used what Lillian had mentioned, about how the walls echo the traumatic events that took place at the Armitage Asylum.
After writing for what felt like just a few minutes, Ava glanced at her watch and saw that it was two thirty in the afternoon. She placed her pen down and stretched her neck, rolling it back and forth then from side to side. She stared out the window which overlooked the extreme left side of what once used to be the car park. The sky was still covered in clouds casting a gray and white gloom over the grounds of the old asylum, the trees swayed in all directions as the wind started to blow harder. Ava was about to stand up when something arrested her attention through the window. She had to gather herself to make sure that what she was seeing was real. Behind one of the trees on the edge of the woods that circled the grounds, was a dark figure. Ava raised her hand and waved at what she assumed at first was Lillian on her way home. When the figure didn’t wave back, Ava began to realize that it was not her young friend. Lillian was not as tall, nor was she built with that amount of physical strength; the figure by the trees was large, tall and standing eerily still. Ava slowly craned her head forwards and squinted her eyes as she tried to get a better look. As she leaned forward, her hand accidentally pushed her papers off her desk; the commotion of the falling paperwork broke the spell of her concentration, and when she whipped her head up again, the figure had vanished. Ava picked up her papers and re-stacked them neatly on her desk. What is wrong with you? She said to herself. You’re going mad, you’re going crazy! Ava ran her fingers through her hair; she wondered if she was about to have a panic attack. A wave of heat washed over her, and she was breathing heavily, almost panting. She tried to calm herself down and concentrated on her breathing, repeating over and over in her head, Inhale, one, two, three, exhale, one, two, three. Gradually, Ava collected her thoughts. Outside the wind had also calmed down, and the trees had become still. Ava decided she needed to distract herself by working. She looked at her papers and made sure that everything was in order before she stood up and walked down the hallway. She reached the main reception area of the hospital before turning sharp left, down the dark hallway. She took a deep breath and blocked out any thoughts that would put her off. Ava continued until she reached the familiar door – the door that led down to the basement.
Out of reflex Ava tried to turn on the lights before the click of the switch reminded her that nothing worked. She took her mobile phone from her pocket and used it as a flashlight once again. Ava walked down the stairs which creaked and cracked at each step. It was cold; much colder than the last time she was there. Perhaps the wind had forced cold air into the room. Ava arrived on the concrete floor which was slightly damp. The room had a distinct smell of rotting paper and rising damp; this made perfect sense to Ava however, as she considered the years of neglect endured by this room. It just added to the grim atmosphere of the place. Ava wandered around the shelves that were stacked up to the ceiling, full of messy files and papers that looked as though at one touch would come falling down. The journalist picked out several random files from the shelves and sat down at a chair that lay next to the staircase. The chair itself was weak with age and the wood was soft with dampness and rot. Ava ignored the grime and hoped her heavy coat would act as a barrier between the seat and her jeans.
She held one file under her left arm as she stacked the others into a neat pile by her feet. She opened the file from under her arm; the paper was dirty and the photo of the patient in the top left corner of the page was very faded.
Name: Elanor Gibbs (Patient No. 229564)
Date of Admission: 8/11/1964
Diagnosis: Post Traumatic Stress
Exhibits aggressive behaviour, claims to have been abused by husband, patient is often found conspiring with other female patients about escape plans, attempted to murder male staff member leaving permanent scars to neck, she claims he tried to strangle her, no physical evidence was found.
Patient committed suicide on Christmas day, 1978.
Ava gasped as she read this. What’s the bet, her husband abandoned her here, she thought to herself. She read the other files she had stacked at her feet. They consisted of a twenty-eight-year-old man, who was a serial-rapist; a thirteen-year-old boy, who was abandoned by his father because he suffered from gigantism, a rare genetic condition that caused him to grow extremely tall. He had no mental illness or instability but was rather intelligent and gentle. He died at the age of sixty-two in the mental asylum. There was a young woman, aged twenty-three, admitted to the hospital by her family. The woman had brutally butchered her one-year-old child, claiming the voices told her to do it. This patient lived the rest of her life here, before dying of unknown causes forty years after being admitted to the hospital. There was a man, who fought in the Second World War, who had tremendous physical disfigurement, primarily on his face. He suffered from post-traumatic stress. His brother had admitted him to the Armitage Mental Asylum, and never returned to collect him. The patient, James Walters, lived the rest of his life at the hospital with only one visitor. The last file in the stack by Ava’s feet was of a man in his mid-thirties. He said his name was Joshua Williams, and he had been dropped off at the front door of the hospital in the middle of the night. He had Down’s Syndrome. There was no further detail on this man or where he came from.
Ava had to take a moment as she considered all of this; what these people went through, who they were, and how alone they must have felt. “Places like this were barely mental wards.” A voice frightened Ava once again. She looked up and, of course, Lillian stood at the doorway. Ava nodded in response. “How do you mean?” Ava asked. “Mental hospital? It was just a place where the unwanted people from society were dumped and left to rot.” Lillian walked down the steps until she reached the concrete floor. “You know some of the staff here weren’t even trained? They might have been shown around and shown how to do things like inject morphine and strap down arms, but they weren’t nurses,” Lillian said. She walked around the shelf, staring up at the folders, and traced the papers as if to signify just how many patients there were who received such terrible treatment. “But wouldn’t that have been illegal? Surely there was at least one family that contacted authorities or … someone …” Ava insisted. “Some confronted the police, but as I said, this place was a place for the unwanted. If the police truly sought to close this place, then many of the inmates would have been put back on the streets. The public don’t want that,” Lillian said. Ava thought about that for a brief moment. “How could you possibly know all this?” Ava asked. “How can you know all this information? Is there a book or something? A logbook that I don’t know about?” Ava questioned, “A log book? They burnt that years ago,” Lillian replied. “See? How do you know all those details?” Ava said, impressed but slightly concerned with the young girl. “I’ve read a lot; I’ve read every file, heard all the reports, talked to everyone. After reading all these things, hearing all these things, there is no way a place like this had any happiness, any true happiness,” Lillian said. “What do you mean, you’ve talked to everyone?” Ava asked. “Um … ex-inmates used to come and visit the place, as if to give their final peace before leaving it behind. I would speak to them; I asked them questions about their experiences,” Lillian explained. “Lillian, you’re a genius!” Ava exclaimed. Lillian responded with a shrug. “There have to be records of contact details from ex-patients!” Ava exclaimed. “Well, possibly, but I don’t know where any of them are, or if those people are even alive at this point. This place did close down twenty years ago …” Lillian started. “I know, I know, but still … I have to at least try!” Ava stood up, excited. She reached for her notebook and pen from her pocket. “Do you remember any of their names?” Ava asked, pen at the ready. Lillian hesitated. “Come on, I need this,” the journalist pleaded. “Okay um … one was Jessica Hilder. She was in her mid-fifties when the place closed down.” Ava wrote this down. “How can you find her with just a name?” Lillian asked, intrigued. “I can look them up on public data-bases, find them in articles, look around in any documents or online,” Ava said. Lillian looked at the journalist in amazement. “What? Is it all that available?” she asked in astonishment. “What?” Ava asked. “Nothing. Nothing.” “Okay, were there any other names? Was there anyone else at all?” Ava asked. “They’re all dead,” Lillian responded sadly. “How do you know?” asked Ava. “I-I just know, I was told.” Ava was skeptical, but she didn’t press the young girl for details. “Look, just give me their names and I can find out, just in case,” she said, her pen poised above her notebook. “Some I remember were Christine Hampten, Louise Salkovick, and Fredrick Robertson,” Lillian listed. “Thank you,” she said warmly, placing the pencil and notepad back into her pocket. “I need to go and do something really quickly. I’ll be back in just a minute,” Ava said before rushing up the stairs, not waiting for a response from Lillian.
Ava walked down the dark hallways until she reached the front reception area. She looked outside and realised that the sun seemed darker, almost orange in colour. She walked upstairs until she reached the third floor, ignoring her feelings of fear as she continued down the hallway. She pulled a sticky-note from her pocket as she stopped at a particular room, before placing the yellow paper on the door and pulling out a sharpie-pen. She stared at the black ink on the painted wood that read 311, before writing in capital letters CASEY LEHIN’S ROOM on the door. She figured that this could be a huge selling point for the Chesters’, a story of a traumatized girl.
Ava ran back down the hallway and down the stairs. She thought that that would be enough work for the day. Before going back down into the basement to collect a few things, she walked down to her temporary office area in the dining room to get some papers. The sun was sinking below the horizon quickly, and the thought of being in this building when it was dark wasn’t particularly appealing to Ava. She hurried down to the basement and was out of breath by the time she reached the cold concrete floor. “Lillian, I’m going to head off for the day but -” she cut herself off as she realised she was the only one in the room. The young girl must have left, and Ava hoped she’d gone home. Ava’s breathlessness turned into dizziness. She squeezed her eyes shut to try and block out the feeling, but it didn’t work. Ava heard a sharp ringing in her ears, and then she felt herself losing balance. Her heart felt weak and so did her legs; before she was aware of it, Ava had collapsed on the floor, completely blacked out.
She didn’t dream as she lay there but she could hear something, something disturbing. The sound of people screaming, screaming in agony. Some sounded closer to her than others. Ava knew what was going on, she now knew that she had passed out. The world was black around her, with flashes of lights coming and going. She could turn her head, but her body was still; she couldn’t move, she was paralyzed. Through the screaming, Ava could hear another voice. It was distant, almost inaudible. “Wake up! Get up! You need to leave!” This voice became more and more clear as it repeated itself. Ava could feel her eyes open; her vision was severely blurry. She heard the sharp ringing in her ears again. Ava managed to lift her head and as she did, she felt an intense, sudden pain in the back of her head. She moved her hand to touch it, but this only made the pain worse. As she looked at her right hand, she saw blood on it. She gasped for air, now in a panic. A wave of nausea washed over her as she tried to get up. “Ava? Ava?” a voice called from far away. Ava moved and looked up to see that Lillian was sitting with her. “Ava! Are you okay?” Lillian asked. “I’m fine, I just hit my -” Ava gagged as she spoke. She felt as though she was going to vomit but there was nothing in her stomach to bring up. “Ava, listen to me, you need to get out of the building,” Lillian said firmly. Ava was confused by what she was saying - this child was telling her what to do, right now when Ava was potentially concussed, with her head bleeding. Ava mumbled something, but her words were too unclear. “Ava please, you must get up!” Lillian demanded again, rushing the young woman. Ava tried to sit up, but her head was in too much pain. Lillian grabbed her arm to help lift her up. “Do you have any water?” Ava asked, her vision slightly improving. “I don’t, I’m sorry. The taps don’t work here anymore.” Lillian said as she began to walk Ava up the stairs. “Wait, wait, I need to take some files,” Ava resisted. “No, no, you can’t worry about that right now, you need to get out!” Lillian said with a note of panic in her voice. “Why? What’s the problem?” Ava asked. “I-I can’t explain right now.” Lillian said.
It was pitch black in the basement. Ava couldn’t see a single thing except Lillian who was leading her up the stairs. As the pair made their slow way up the steps, Ava noticed that the door was wide open, but there was no light coming in; the hallway was dark as well. “Why, why is it -” Ava gagged once again, leaning over the railing halfway up the staircase. “Why is it so dark?” Ava asked. “It’s the middle of the night,” Lillian said bluntly. Ava stopped in shock. “What?” she said. “You’ve been lying on the ground for hours. I only just found you when -” Lillian cut herself off. Ava began to feel panicked; a wave of pure fear came over her. She could feel there was something close, something … dangerous. As they reached the top of the staircase, Ava felt something drip down the nape of her neck. She reached her arm around to feel what it was and discovered to her horror that it was more blood. Ava looked to her left, to the other end of the hallway, but it was completely black. She could not see any further than five or six meters ahead. “Ava, we need to get you out of here. This way!” Lillian whispered desperately. Ava let go of Lillian’s hand; she was better able to walk now, though her nausea hadn’t improved. “What time is it?” Ava asked. “I-I don’t know. It’s late,” Lillian said quickly. “Why aren’t you at home? Why are you still here?” Ava asked. “I can’t explain now. It’s not safe for you to be in here,” Lillian whispered loudly. “What’s not safe? I thought vandals didn’t come here?” Ava said. “It’s not vandals I’m worried about.” Lillian replied.
The two reached the end of the hallway and made it to front reception. Lillian stopped walking, and Ava looked behind her. “What’s wrong?” she asked, still confused. “Just open the door and leave!” Lillian whispered, begging Ava. The journalist rushed towards the front door, without looking behind her. It was so dark in the building she was scared she might trip over something. Ava reached the door, grabbed the handle, and tried to turn it, but it didn’t move. The door was locked. Ava was confused at first but then realised she must have locked it on her way in. She reached into her satchel and searched for the key, her hand fumbling around in the bag, but to no avail – she couldn’t find the key. Ava turned around to see Lillian standing at the corridor. She was very jumpy, as if waiting fearfully for something. “I left my key in the basement,” Ava started to rush back down the corridor towards Lillian. The young girl was about to say something, and she put her arms out in front of her as if to block Ava from getting through the hallway. “Lillian, I need to get the key, and you need to go home,” Ava said as she reached the hallway. “No, you don’t understand, I -” a noise interrupted Lillian as she tried to explain herself. Lillian looked over Ava’s shoulder as the noise repeated itself. Ava slowly turned around. Her heart nearly exploded in her chest. The pair stared in disbelief at what once used to be the reception desk. A woman; a woman was standing behind the desk. Ava was in shock. She’d never seen this person before. Who is she? How did she get in? Ava gasped as Lillian grabbed her wrists. She rapidly turned her head around to look at the young child, and saw Lillian put her forefinger vertically crosses her lips. She shook her head, signaling for Ava not to make a sound. Ava could feel her heart racing. What is going on? The woman behind the desk was fiddling with something, something underneath the surface of the desk. Ava stared at her, trying to take in every feature of this unknown person. She wore a white dress, a pinafore in fact, with a blue, long sleeved shirt underneath. It was so dark in the room it was difficult to make out any distinct features. She was wearing large, framed glasses and she had some sort of head piece on to prevent her hair from falling past her shoulders. Ava’s jaw dropped as she came to realize that the woman looked exactly like the nurses she’d seen in her dream just the night before. As the woman continued to fiddle around with whatever was on the underside of the desk, other noises began to click and crack around the building. Ava looked down the hallway, up the stairs, up at the ceiling and at the walls, following the sounds as they echoed through the empty spaces. Ava felt a tug at her sleeve, and she looked back down at Lillian. The young girl mouthed the words, “You can’t leave now.” Ava felt her stomach lurch, and she mouthed back the words, “What do you mean?” Lillian began to tear up; she was frightened, fearful she was about to say something, when a loud sound occurred.
Just behind the pair, a dull light appeared down the hallway. The woman behind the desk had turned the lights on in the hallway. Several bulbs flickered in the corridor. I thought the Chesters’ turned off the electricity? Ava thought to herself. Just as those hallway lights appeared, the light to the staircase came on to the sound of a loud click. Finally, the lights to the entire front section came on. The woman behind the counter was now in clear sight. She appeared young, but tired looking and angry. Ava could hear movement from the hallway and she slowly looked up, now terrified, as all the doors on each side of the corridor opened, one by one. “What the hell is going on?” Ava grabbed Lillian by the shoulders, angry and scared. “I can’t explain right now, you need to get out, you don’t belong here!” Lillian responded. “The door is locked!” Ava replied, terrified. As she spoke, sound began to emerge from the open doors. Wailing, screaming, yelling, agony. Shadows began to appear in the doorways. “What are they?” Ava whispered hoarsely, still clutching the young girl. Before Lillian could answer, Ava saw something coming out from one of the doors, a hand. A hand reached around the side of one of the doors in the hallway, then an arm, then a torso. A woman, slowly, crookedly emerged from the doorway. Her hair was stringy and greasy, her skin was grey and blue around the eyes and mouth, and she wailed in pain as she walked. Ava nearly screamed but Lillian covered her mouth with her hand. “If they see you -” Lillian cut herself off. More specters come out of the rooms, each one more deathly looking than the last, all wailing, all in pain. “Ava, look at me!” Ava looked down at Lillian. “Linda and Robert told you about a room that you could stay in if you ever wanted to stay overnight; what was that room’s number?” Lillian grabbed Ava’s face as she frantically whispered. She was stern and concerned, wanting only one answer. “I-I, I don’t know, I can’t remember -” Ava started to panic as the people from the rooms began to slowly walk about. “Ava, there is no other place for you now, you need to remember the room number!” Lillian brought Ava’s full attention back to her. Ava squeezed her eyes shut, trying to remember. She replayed the conversation back in her head in an attempt to recall that one minor detail that was now so vital. “34 … 343!” Ava said. Lillian glanced back over her shoulder before looking back at Ava. “Okay, you need to go upstairs to that room now. It’s safe there,” Lillian breathed, letting go of Ava’s wrist. “How do you know it’s safe there?” Ava argued. “Linda had the room cleaned and detoxed,” Lillian explained. “What?” Ava struggled to make sense of what Lillian was saying. “You have to trust me. You need to go now! Go!” Lillian pushed Ava away. Ava turned around to run up the stairs. As she ran, sounds began to emerge, as though they were oozing through the cracks in the walls. Sounds of screaming, water spraying, wheelchairs being pushed, ropes being pulled.
Ava made it to the second floor before she ran completely out of breath; she had to stop for a moment to recover. She clutched her head, trying to wrap her mind around what was happening, or what she was struggling to comprehend. She closed her eyes and tried to calm herself down, concentrating on slowing down her breathing. She was still shaking as she opened her eyes. The lights on the second floor had come on, providing a dull and flickering light. That was not the only thing in the hallway; Ava saw a frail, old man sitting by himself in the middle of the hallway just outside a door. He sat in a wheelchair, muttering to himself. A woman was at the far end of the hallway, her entire body was twitching; her hands were shaking, and she was crying piteously, sobbing. Ava gasped and smothered a scream as a man walked past her. He was tall and thin and wore an all-white uniform. Even his strap-on shoes were white. He walked slowly, the floor crunched and crackled as he walked. Ava squinted at him; he looked strangely familiar. The tall man continued up the hallway, approaching closer and closer to the man in the wheelchair who cowered at his advance. He put his arms up to his face, but his wrists bent and wobbled, unable to hold their own weight. The man in white aggressively pushed at the sickly man’s arms. The old man winced, shaking his head back and forth. The white uniformed man smacked the patient so hard that he wailed. He was so heavily drugged he could barely cry out. “S-Stop!” he managed to slur as he was repeatedly beaten. Ava’s jaw dropped. She was holding her breath, horrified and angry at what she was seeing. “Leave him alone!” she screamed at the man in the white uniform. The man stopped with his hand raised in the air. Ava was stunned. Can they hear me? The man slowly turned his head and looked in Ava’s direction, as if he could see through her. It can’t be. That’s impossible! The man is … Mr Nikita. “Mr Nikita?” Ava whispered to herself. Ava reeled. That man looked exactly like her boss, only thirty years younger. The man continued to look in Ava’s direction, his hand still up in the air, his elbow at a bend. Ava’s eyes widened in disbelief and she turned around and continued to run the rest of the way up the stairs. The sounds around her became louder the higher she ran, but she forced herself to ignore them as she reached the third floor. Ava jogged along the hallway towards room 343. As on the lower floors, there were people in the hallway. A young boy, no older than fifteen, lay on the ground mumbling and quivering. He was thin, thin to the bones. Ava started to cry; she was overwhelmed and panicked, not knowing what on earth was going on. Ava followed the numbers on the right side of the hallway, 331, 333, 335, 337. She continued to read the numbers to herself until something distracted her. Ava turned her head from right to left, trying to focus on what it was that had caught her attention. She stared into the room across from where she was standing, the door was wide open. In the room, two male doctors and one female nurse surrounded an operating table. On the table, lay a very young man, perhaps no older than twenty-five. There was a belt in his mouth, between his top and bottom teeth. He was strapped down to the metal frame by both his wrists and ankles. The young man was screaming, or trying to, despite the leather. The table shook with the force of his squirming, although he was powerless. The doctors and nurse moved about as though the man didn’t exist, completely ignoring his obvious resistance and distress. The nurse retrieved a syringe from the small table near the restrained patient. She checked the measurement of the dose of liquid before forcefully injecting it into the young man’s inner elbow. Almost immediately he started to quieten down, his resistance turned to groaning and feeble movements. One of the male doctors reached for a large scalpel from the surgical tray; he glanced at the sharp blade then at his colleagues, before proceeding to make a deep incision into the right side of the restrained man’s torso. The patient tried to scream in pain, but he was too weak to make noise any more powerful than a wail. Ava looked away, squeamish of the man’s injuries. She clutched her mouth in shock before sprinting to the room that read 343 on the door. Ava quickly opened the door and slammed it behind her. The lights were still on in the hallway, and the noises were still audible.
The frightened woman glanced around the room as she tried to take in her surroundings. There was a ready-made bed sitting in the far corner, made up with purple sheet covers. A small bedside table sat next to it, and on the other side of the room was a small wooden chest of drawers. Whereas all the other cubicles were painted yellow, this room had been painted white. Ava paced around the room in a growing panic, raising her arms up high in the air and then clutching at her hair. She continued to cry, panicked and afraid. As she looked fearfully at the door, she realized it was lockable from the inside. Her fear propelled her in micro-seconds to the door where she turned the lock to the side until she heard a reassuring click. Ava leaned up against the door, her breath not yet slowing down. This can’t be happening, this can’t be happening, this can’t be happening, she repeated to herself. This isn’t real, it’s a dream, this isn’t real, how can it be real? she repeated over and over. Ava carefully reached up to touch the crown of her head and traced down until she felt a pressure point. She winced as she touched a wet patch, blood. There was a small hole in her scalp, only skin deep, but blunt force trauma, nonetheless. The sounds outside her room had begun to settle down; the boy across the corridor had stopped screaming. Perhaps he was dead. Ava continued to sit there, too terrified to move, perspiring and shaking. The noise outside came to a sudden halt, and Ava lifted up her head from where it was buried in her knees. She cleared her throat before opening her eyes. The room was pitch black as the light in the hallway had been turned off. There was dead silence. Ava slowly stood up, as if on eggshells. She was about to reach the handle to unlock the door, but then she heard something, something that made her stop, dead in her tracks. Ava froze where she was and concentrated on slowing down her breath; whatever the sound was, she didn’t want to draw it to her. The noise became clearer as it approached along the passage. It was a thumping, dragging sound, which to Ava’s fearful mind could potentially be footsteps. But it was too slow, too heavy, as though a large rock was being picked up and dropped to the floor repeatedly. The sound heightened the silence that followed; no more than three seconds between each thump. Ava’s fear came rushing over her once again as she made herself silent and sat up close against the door. Ava clutched her mouth as she started to quiver with fear once again. The noise stopped abruptly, right on the other side of Ava’s door. She remained still, quiet, not making a sound. The silence settled between Ava and whatever lurked behind the iron door.
Several minutes passed, and Ava was almost starting to think that the coast was clear, until … a deep breath was inhaled and exhaled. Ava’s eyes widened. What the hell is happening? Ava let out a sob. She heard a slight movement on the other side of the door, like the shuffle of someone switching positions on the floor. “If you … wait for me.” Ava stopped panting; the familiar song having caught her off-guard. “Then I’ll … come for you,” the voice continued. It was man’s voice softly singing. “Although I’ve travelled far, I’ll always hold a place … for you in my heart.” Ava was now openly sobbing. It was the same voice from the dream she had the previous week with the figure in the tunnel behind the building. The young woman had floods of tears was streaming down her face as the voice continued to sing. “If you … think of me. If you miss me … once in a while …” Ava pressed her hands over her ears and wailed. “Stop! This isn’t real, you’re not real!” After several minutes she removed her hands from the side of her head. She slowly looked up into the pitch-black darkness. The voice had disappeared, the sounds had disappeared, and Ava was now surrounded only by empty darkness and pure silence. Ava slowly and gently moved herself to the bed in the corner of the small room. Without putting the comforter on top of her, she lay her head on the pillow and fell into an exhausted sleep.