Gaunt men and willowy women drift across a weed infested yard. Their heads seem to lull to one side as they slump off, expressions blank and eyes blood shot. Their billowing cloth attire is stained a dusty grey from the polluted air. They are like banshees floating by, waiting to fall into a ring of sorrow and despair, hooked upon the tailwind of tragic death just to feel a prick of emotion that has long ago fled them. Willows` branches sweep down to brush the ground occasionally obscuring a few of these ghostly figures. Somewhere a bit off a stream bubbles across a rocky bank, begging for attention it will never receive.
Lost in the sea of flowing branches and rustling leaves, sinking into the marshy ground is a massive, concrete building. It has been bleached by the sun, run through with cracks from constant shifting and resettling in the soft ground. Massive windows hint to a past airy beauty, but they have been boarded up and covered in most places. Any free glass is stained a pale tan from a buildup of dirt battering the glass.
Cater Brook Manor is a home for the lost, donated in 1963 to no one in particular. In 2003 it became a ‘mental hospital’ with far too few qualifications and far too many patients. The decrepit building is remote, too far for anyone to care enough to check up upon the place. Decaying and full of people in greater ruin than the building itself the building was determined the best possible location for a specific project. A project likely to put the home`s inhabitants in great danger, a small risk favoring the world beyond the marshy land. In 2015, just twelve years after its opening the hospital is finally shut down. Of the hundreds of patients only 34 exit the building and get to see the world beyond the grove once more.
The start of the end began in 2009 despite 73% of the facility finally having obtained electricity and 82% having obtained water. Now the facility sits mostly vacant beyond the ghost of memory lingering in the yard. As we break the tree line I cannot help but imagine it as how my great-aunt described it to me every night in her stories before her passing, littered with people who had less life while they were living than they do in the stories after their death.
“I swear to god Leary if you don`t move so I can get out of this-“
The racket the male makes behind me disrupts my trance, ripping me from the world between reality and my imagination. The apparitions of the inhabitants of the building are whisked away in the breeze, drifting off in a cloud of dust. I groan as the image I had conjured is completely lost. Now only willow trees and a rundown building sit before us.
“Calm down Beau, I`m moving. And stopping calling me by my last name you weirdo.” I snap at the male behind me.
Beau splashes around like a kid in a kiddy pool, spraying mud and decaying matter every which way. A pop echoes after each squelch as he yanks his boots free only to sink in the mud once more. I want to snap at him, but I know how he feels. Cool muck sloshes around in my shoes, squishing up between my toes. The day`s earlier squall soaked me to my core and even now my damp clothes stick to my frame and invite the chill in. Beau has it worse. His wide frame comes with additional weight that sinks him deeper into the ground so the muck invades more of his attire and weighs him down further. I fear the cycle may actually sink my best and only friend.
I pull myself from the sinking ground with another muddled pop. I clamber up only a few feet to land upon more solid ground. The ground still molds to my feet, forming little divots with each of my steps, but I can at least walk without fear of being swallowed up by the ground beneath me. I feel a massive weight plow into my back nearly sending me to the dirt.
“Damn it Beau!” I whip around to face him once I regain my balance.
His squared face is scratched by our treck through forest then swamp. His green eyes are heavy from the tiring trip, yet spark with adventure. Straw blonde hair brushes into his face. As much as anger bubbles in my stomach I can`t bring myself to scold him more as a dejected look sweeps over his face to replace his childish curiosity. The look always crushes me. Beau is my cousin and, though he may be a little slow sometimes, he makes a good friend. Our only resemblance is in our eyes and perhaps in the shame we feel for having the crazy great-aunt that somehow prevents us from having friends. Though she managed to isolate us even after her death she wasn`t really a bad person, a little loopy and slow like Beau, but that just meant she told the best stories. Our favorite has always been about this place, Cater Brook Manor where she spent 52 years of her life before finally swallowing her pride and rejoining the family.
After the age of 30 she found herself lost on the street refusing to take help from her family, and by 37 she wandered into Carter Brook Manor after its donation in 1963. Perhaps it was the starvation or bad conditions or perhaps a birth defect from her mother`s terrible habits before her birth that made her crazy, but Beau and I have always been thankful for that. Her stories set in a real place, filled with real people felt real in some way no matter how false they actually were. Even now Beau and I try to recreate them, but we fail to breath the same life into the tales so five months ago, shortly after our great aunt`s passing, we decided to come and explore the setting of her stories.
The building is much larger than Aunt Magdala ever described it to us, towering overhead and casting a larger brick of shadow over the ground. The willow trees sprouting around the grounds are just as she described them though, “as cloaked in white as any of the patients, living ghost snagged upon their branches”. The breeze runs gentle fingers through the branches and plays with the “spirits” hanging from the trees. The chill drags across me, worsening as more clouds tumble across the sky and streak out the sun momentarily. More monstrous puffs of grey tumbling over themselves inch on in from the horizon.
“We should go in and explore before it starts to rain again.” Beau mutters, head turned towards the clouds. “We may even have to wait the storm out, won`t be long but will be nasty.”
For once I trust my cousin. He may not pick up on much, but he knows his weather, knows it so well that he managed to convince his father to clear an entire field before flooding robbed them of their crops even though a drought had struck the land for nearly six months.
“Well then let’s hop to it. I still want to try to get home before super.” I hop forward before taking as long of a stride as I can.
“Aunt Jillian making that stew again? The one that looks like pig slop, but taste like Heaven in a bowl?” Beau shuffles along behind me.
I nod slightly which prompts him to move faster. My legs are long, but Beau`s are longer, thicker too, so he slides on past me with ease. He waits for me in the slight divot before the doors. The metal is streaked with red rust and one of the two massive doors hangs half off its hinges. Their sheer weight is the only thing keeping the breeze from brushing the doors aside and entering the abandoned facility. Who knew two years could bring so much destruction? Though Aunt Magdala said the place had been falling apart and sinking before she got there, basement was useless by 1967 it had become so full of muck. It is a wonder the building is still standing.
Beau rests a plump palm against the door, the hinges already groaning under so little pressure. He pauses and his shoulders lock back. Irritation ripples through me as I glance over at Beau. His eyebrows are knit together and a frown tugs down the corners of his chapped lips. I open my mouth to ask what`s wrong, but he is already ready to answer the unspoken question with another question.
“Think we`ll see her?” Beau whispers, looking over at me.
Beau is bigger than me, sturdy built boy with at least a foot over the average person, yet here he is body rattling like paper during a hurricane.
“Who do you mean? The ghost of Magdala?” I try to keep a chiding tone, but an unsettled Beau is, well, unsettling.
His frown deepens and something glistens in those green eyes as gears turn in the back of his brain. He snaps his head to the side, cutting off my gaze before shaking his head. He runs a hand through his tussled blonde hair.
“Never mind, just mixin` up some stories.” Beau examines the door for a long moment before he pushes it open.
I don`t get a chance to question him further as he slips into the deep shadows of the old building. Beau has about two years on me and has heard a lot more of our great aunt`s stories. I can`t help but feel bitter at the thought that he knows some stories I don`t, stories I had been deemed too young to hear.
I slip into the building in the thin crack between the heavy doors. Dust floats through the hollow halls as people once had, visible only in the few streams of light that manage to pierce through the darkness. The chill of the outside seeps inside as if guided by me, cutting short as the old door groans back into place. The motion is slow, but the slam that resonates through the halls is nearly jarring. I skip forward attempting not to leap out of my skin as I catch up to Beau. He lumbers through the massive main hall stretched out directly before us, looking around as he ambles further into the darkness.
“Shouldn`t we head into the other halls, you know the ones with windows and doors that you just passed?” I mutter.
He bulks and glance over his shoulder at me. A smile twitches up along the edges of his lips, the kind that puts a mischievous glint in his eyes and promises enough teasing to momentarily end our friendship.
“Are you actually afraid of a little darkness?” He coos as he starts to walk down the hall again.
“Can`t really explore when you can`t see.” I try to snap, but a laugh stops me.
Beau stumbles over his big feet, nearly toppling to the dusty ground, broken tiles clattering under his feet. I slip on past him deeper into the hall.
“Watch where you`re going Beau.” I coo just as sweetly as he had earlier.
I glance around before our light source gives out completely. The ceiling had been low by the entrance, probably to accommodate rooms above, but the main hall`s ceiling is way above us, cutting through several stories with sleek walls which fade from a dusty brown with dark streaks of rusty brown to an untouched, pristine white near the ceiling. The ceiling is bland, flat, and just as white as the walls had once been. Lights line the top haphazardly, wires exposed in places probably from construction. I can`t see the bulbs, but I am sure they are broken as glass litters the floor in patches with broken brown and white tile. It seems only the lower half of the hall had been ravaged by time.
We slip further and further into the shadows until they transfer into the deeper darkness from a lack of light. I can barely make out large shapes soon enough, my only guidance the dusty walls which scrape against my hand. The only sound is Beau`s heavy breathing, slow, even breaths that sound as if he ran a marathon though he has only walked for a while, and the clatter of tile as we walk through their shattered remains.
The air becomes thick and stale, difficult to breathe. The dust tickles inside my nose and buries into my eyes causing them to water in an attempt to clear them out. I press against the soft wall, wood bending against my weight, as if pressing against the wall will remove me from the stream of dust clogging my pores and threatening to slowly drown me.
“You ok up there Lyn?” His whisper bounces down the hallway.
I can feel Beau jump behind me, the faintest sense of his motion likely because he did not know I was so close. A hand clamps down on my shoulder, squeezing once to reassure himself before remaining there.
“I`m fine, fine.” He pauses before speaking again. “It`s kind of dark here isn`t it?”
“Well there aren`t any windows and we don`t have any other source of light.”
He huffs some. “Wonder if the lights still work.”
“Even if this building still had electricity it`d be shoddy at best and the lights are mostly if not all broken. Did you bring your phone?” I offer instead.
There is a moment of silence before the crinkling of plastic bags joins the few sounds resonating in the hall. Blueish white light floods the hall casting long shadows. It reveals the run-down hall ahead of us, a few broken doors starting to dot the otherwise bland walls and dark shadows speckling through it to form winding hallways through the massive building.
“So where do we go now?” Beau mutters. “Do we continue to see what`s at the end of the hall or do we go explore some rooms or head down another hallway?”
I shrug some. “Split up?”
“I`d rather not.”
“Ok well then…” I glance around and try to think of what to do. “Let`s look for Magdala`s room.”
“How will we know it was her`s?”
I run a hand over dusty coated plastic, tracing the bold black numbers still clearly stamped upon the clear plate. “We check the room numbers. I bet this hall has all the 100s with letters varying on the region.”
“What was the number of Aunt Magdala`s room?” Beau inquires.
“236-B, so her old room is likely on the second floor. I bet we can find a whole bunch of cool knickknacks and personal belongings she was forced to leave behind.” Using the weak light of Beau`s phone to try and find the stairs.
The writing is all faded, splotches of grey varying in shade and size. The few that remain are predominately block letters individualized due to the faded writing around them, though several consist of swirling strings clotted over with dust and thus mostly unreadable. The way the color drips down the wall makes it seem as if perhaps this more fluid writing had been done by the inhabitants rather than any staff. I run my hand along these paintings, each slightly bubbled up from the rough wall surface.
“Can we leave after finding her room?” Beau is back a bit further than before, the blue light of his phone wavering as he moves.
The way the light wavers and bends it almost makes it appear as if Beau is shaking. “Yea, we probably should anyways…to make it back by supper.”
I want to explore more than that, be fully immersed in the scent of mud and mildew, examine the world of abandonment, discover the secretes even Aunt Magdala wouldn`t talk about in her most lucid moments. I want to spend hours here learning what it had been like for her to live here for so long as it fell into a state of ruin and overcrowding, but saying no to Beau is like kicking a puppy, you don`t do it with a good conscience. His unease is unexpected, but not totally unusual. The weirdest things always seem to get to him, like when the cat sits by the south side window of his family`s farm house rather than the west, or when the morning glories grow pink rather than blue, purple, and white. Magdala did tell him more stories as well, who knows how is mind could have twisted things to evoke fear from him.
“Just hold your phone steady and follow close so we can find those stairs.” I turn my back to my cousin and start down the dark hall.
The blue glow quivers for a second before it begins to follow me down the hall, striking awkward against the jutting tile and bounces of hundreds of places when landing upon a particularly thick pile of glass shards. The bluish beams which stretch out our quite beautiful whenever they strike a combination of tile and glass, angled shards sending the tiny, pathetic rays of light off to cut through the much duller glow. The sight isn`t much but the tall ceiling and tightly sealed doors soon become a boring trend, splotches of mold and the occasional faded writing weaving their way in every few feet. The further we go the less it feels like we have to look at. The air becomes sourer and the rubble less frequent despite the sharper slope forming along the ground.
Water starts to collect in low corners of nooks between the rooms, first in small puddles then in larger collections of stagnant liquid that is more grey than clear or brown. A faint trickle of a rapid running stream echoes from greater depths of the building. The water sounds so close, practically running against my ear. My foot catches something sending my flying forward. I meet the tile hard, skidding down the steep incline of the dingy floor, picking up layers of dust, water, and glass shards which are merciless against my skin. A thick piece of debris stops my tumble, wedging deep into the soft skin and fat of my side.
“Ow.” Is all I manage to wheeze out of my empty lungs.
“Leary? You ok?” Beau calls from above me.
I lift my head just enough to make out a blurry shadow towering over me from a few feet away. He wobbles slightly over the jutting up floor which must be what caused such a steep slope and my fall. The blue light lays at a slant, striking at the thick mud which still drips off Beau`s shoes.
“Fine.” I call out, sharp pain slipping through my chest. “And stop calling me by my last name!”
His breath slips out in what is probably supposed to be a chuckle though the sound is far too empty to be considered such. I push myself off the ground, aches trailing from every muscle and patch of skin. My clothes drag across cuts or tear away layers of flesh with the little shards of glass setting my nerves on fire. My side pulses at steady intervals, trailing all the way through my stomach and up most of my back, as numb as it is painful. I stunt my breaths, short, rapid intakes and slow releases to try to slow the travel of pain. Cold nips where my body doesn`t hurt, finding a playground on my damp attire.
I dig my feet into the slick tile, hooking my shoe on the moss patches that jut out across the surface. A flicker of light catches in my peripheral. That is a lot of water. I turn my head to find a piece of wood dangling by a single nail, swinging ever so slightly. The light just brushes against the faded lettering done in crisp lines and smooth curls. Stairs.
“I found them!” I jump up, nearly losing my footing on the tile.
Windmilling my arms, I snag the edge of the door frame. The wood is soft in my grip, giving slightly to my hold with a soft groan. The low sound echoes faintly up the tight, pitch black passage. Inside the water in green and swishes softly as if being stirred, lapping gently at the first visible step and the walls encasing it. The trickling sound is actually softer now that I am not catching the loud echoes. A little stream dribbles down against the wall, carrying along little sticks and leaves which float around the stairwell as well. This must be fed from an external source when this side of the building started to collapse.
There is a scrapping sound followed by the bouncing thunk of debris. Beau lodges himself against the door frame to keep from slipping further, casting the blue glow into the dark stairwell.
He huffs softly. “I guess this is why Aunt Magdala said that there was little travel between the first floor and upper levels. This section dropped like this only in the past five years though, flooding wasn`t so severe when the building was occupied, not until recent years according to Magdala.”
“Remember her stories of the voices in the water?” I whisper. “She use to believe the water came up to seep away the dead and that the building was slowly sinking to hell.”
“It probably still is.” Beau mutters.
His eyes are wide and glossy as he stares, transfixed by the dark water. He recoils suddenly and nearly loses his footing, whacking me with one of those massive hands.
“Hey! Watch it numbskull, nothing is gonna pop up and getcha so don`t go swinging at me to get away!” I shove his heavy frame further of me so he doesn`t tackle me if he jumps back again.
His face flushes red and he drops his big head, wrenching his wide hands together. “Sorry, I just saw somthin`.”
“It was the light hitting the water. Let`s just head up.” I hope over the water, splashing onto the first visible stair.
Beau reaches his long leg across squishing me between him and the wall as he joins me on the bottom step. He points the light up across the steps. Besides the slight slant and dark red railing-miraculously the railing stands despite being devoured by rust-the stairs are the cleanest and most intact part of the building we have seen so far. The walls still hold a glimmer of their old white hue and no mold nor moss clings to everything. There is even a faint scent of industrial cleaners and what I hope isn`t the stench of hundreds of mistreated patients lingering in the air, suffocating the tight space.
“After you Beau, you have the light after all.” I stand sideways and sweep my arm up, gesturing for him to continue.
Beau casts a glance back at the swirling water which teems with darkness now that light no longer hits it. He doesn`t hesitate before turning his head and taking the steps two at a time, his blue phone light easily dominating the space. I trail behind him, running my hands along the rail until they are painted red with the grainy rust flakes. I examine the oxidized metal for a moment. Just how long would it take for the metal to fall into such a horrendous state? My stomach twists in knots thinking that people had to live in these conditions and couldn`t do anything to help themselves to at least fight such mistreatment. I run my hands over my jeans, brush away the rust, but most of it stays. The red clings to my hands, stains them the unsightly brownish shade probably to follow me all the way home where I can properly wash them.
The walk up is surprisingly long, the second floor resting well above the first, or perhaps most of our motion was away from the main hall which cuts through every floor from ground level and up. Beau skips through the steps far faster than me utilizing his longer legs and light source to rush through the stairwell far faster than I can keep up. Rather than stumbling to keep up I slow my pace allowing the darkness to catch up and overcome me.
First the blue light dims, then Beau`s shadow no longer stretches back over me, then I can`t see Beau or the next step or even my hands. I thrust my arms out to either side using the wall as a guide. It`s damp and slick beneath my hand, icier than the air which traces shapes over the water soaked patches of my clothes. Below the water sloshes rhythmically as if singing a song to itself. Against the water I can hear the steady thumps of my own heart beat and the distant clap of Beau`s shoes against the steps. The sounds wrap around me like a blanket, utilizing the tight walls to bounce around with no place of origin or end. I soften my breathing, hold my breath even as the sounds wash over me and I picture the building as it had once been.
The stairs are empty, bathed in florescent lights that cast more shadows the deeper down you go. The stairs are slanted, but not so steep and the sound of footsteps is a thunderous roar. Patients drift down though they hardly have need for the stairs as they are but ghost in their pure white attire that neither fits nor keeps them warm. Moans of pain and misery fill hollow halls, pierced only by the shrieks and cries of those tormented by the orderlies or their own minds. Everyone in the stairs is going down, down past the first floor, down and down, down to the basement, down to the flooding to drown themselves in the water of their cries. Down like Magdala`s stories, down, down-
I yelp and jump back, cast from my thoughts. The high pitch sound bounds up the walls through the darkness. I`m at a standstill, a few steps below the blue glow. Beau does not stand at the top of the stairs, in fact the light grows ever distant as if he didn`t notice me falling behind him. But didn’t he just-? I shake my head and jump up the last few stairs, sprinting after the light. I make it out into a hall of the second floor just in time for the blue light to dip around the corner.
“Beau! Wait up!”
There are no windows up here, not even the dingy one which decorated the main hall. Like the stairwell it is pitch black without the assistance of Beau`s light, but unlike the stairwell the walls are wide and several doors hang open leaving gaping, dark rooms. Anything or anyone could be hiding in there, wild animals that slipped in, hobos looking for shelter, or even a few lingering patients, mad and mistreated, who managed to escape evacuation in a delusional fit. I`m not Beau, all big and bulky. I`m scrawny, a bit above average height, and unimposing in every way.
The darkness envelops me, a bear hug of blindness. Footsteps click across the floor, scuttle through debris, kicking tile across tile. The scattering echoes longer than the footsteps do, bouncing around me, brushing and nuzzling against my ears as the cold nuzzles against my skin. Then the blue light blimps over the corner, welling up before spilling into the hall. It does nothing against the dark rooms, but rushes the hall. Beau`s big head pops around the corner, messy blonde hair the first visible sign of his presence then those dumb green eyes and his big nose.
“What`s taking so long?” He mutters.
My shoulder`s slump and I jog over. “Not all of us have legs as long as three trunks.”
My relief is obvious enough in the meekness of my tone and Beau takes no offense. He waits for me at the corner of the hall and keeps his pace a bit slower when I catch up to him. Either he pities me or he is nervous too because he says nothing about my own fear. Our footsteps echo between the walls filling in the space of our voices, my sense of wonder and curiosity diminishing as the sound grows more monotonous. It actually starts to make my head hurt.
We search for Magdala`s old room, but get no signs of just how close or far we are. The room numbers are jumbled if they even exist. There is a scattering of rooms from 209-273 in the one hall labeled seemingly at random with a letter. The room 217-C rest right next to 248-A and the one next to that is missing the room number plaque leading us deeper into the maze of the building. Up here most of the doors hang ajar if they have not been removed or even bashed in. Splintering wood decorates many of these doorways up her, probably all in an attempt to evacuate those who refused to go. A wide splotch of faded red sits in one doorway, a stain of what had once been slowly wearing away into lighter and lighter shades so that now it is almost pink in color.
Beau and I huddle together in the middle of the hall, keeping our distance from the lightless rooms. The first floor looked like natural ruin, but up here the destruction was clearly brought by home hands. Rusted bedframes lean against walls and old fabric, fraying and grey and impossible to distinguish, billow from rooms or bunch up on the floor forming some of the most unsightly colors. Passing through several sections some doors have a mountain of torn furniture and metal bed frames that Beau and I have to crawl over. Beau hisses as his nicks his knee on an old spring, red welling up through the new tear in his jeans. The scent of metal and rust is heavy in the air up here, as heavy as it is along the walls and ground. The more we climb around the redder my hands become and the more I wonder if I will ever manage to wash all of the rust off.
Beau drops from another bedframe mountain we climb over. The entire stack rattles and clangs, taking me to the ground with a mess of twisted wire and hollow pipes. The clattering rings through the room loud enough to force both of us to flinch. I flatten myself against the frame and hold my breath until the bed is still once more, though my brain continues to roll around my head.
“I`m sorry.” Beau firmly grasps my forearm and helps me dislodge myself from the tight grid of silver and brownish red.
Cool metal grazes my skin, pressing against me but not breaking flesh, as I pull myself from the pocket. “It`s fine. You didn`t intentionally knock it over.”
I turn and kick one of the frames. They are a lot lighter than they appear and the frame lifts ever so slightly, screeching across the ground as it moves before falling back down with a clatter. Beau jumps back from the sound with his shoulders arched up. I focus on regaining my breath after the fright of the fall when a new sound pierces the darkness. It is a soft moan, so high pitched the sound is very nearly a shriek far more ear damaging than the fall of the bed frames. It echoes through the building bringing after it a wave of complete silence. I don`t breathe and I doubt Beau does either as nothing stirs when the silence descends.
“What was that?” Beau musters up the courage to whisper.
I have to search for my voice and a response before I can answer. “Maybe metal falling and scraping against more metal.”
Beau stares off the way he came, rapidly shaking his wide head. “No way. That had to be an animal or somethin`. I think we should just get out of here.”
“If anything, it was probably a bat, don`t be a baby.” Scolding Beau does nothing to calm my own racing heart. “Besides, it came from behind us so if we turn back now we are more likely to run into it.”
Beau reluctantly nods and leads the way again. He points his phone light down so that it doesn`t stretch as far as it did before. We`ll be less noticeable, but the change in light also contorts the shadows so that they bow in over as on all sides. Our steps are slower, softer as we watch our step and roll our feet, but the moaning shriek does not return.
I straighten my posture after we get through several corridors without incident. “See, told ya it was nothin`”
I turn to the hall before us. Finally, we`ve reached a dead end in the labyrinth of halls, not something I thought I`d ever be happy about, but at least it is a break. The hall rest three steps below the others on the second floor and doesn`t slope as harshly as some of the other halls. It is short, only five doors coming off of it. The last door on the left side has a lock over it to keep it firmly shut, while the door on the very end is labeled as some type of closet, though most of the words are missing. The air isn`t so thick and a slight breeze drifts out of one of the rooms, tangling in my hair and brushing some of the building grime off my skin. So these rooms have windows.
I step down into the hall, embracing the extra nip of cold trailing through the window as well as the pale, grey light making it through the half-shattered glass. I skim my eyes over the labels finding two pleasant surprises. The first surprise is that this isn`t a dead end, a door marked with an unlit ‘Exit’ sign rest opposite the door with the extra lock. The second pleasant surprise is the practically clean plaque showing the room number 236-B.
I turn around to get Beau`s attention only to find him glancing over his shoulder. His body is angled slightly towards the way we came and he is chewing the skin off his bottom lip. His blonde eyebrows are knit together and scrunched in low. Once more the blue light in his hand quivers, amplifying his own trembling.
Beau nods without turning to me, standing like a statue a moment longer. “Can we go now?”
“Sure.” I chirp, recalling instantly my discovery. “After we explore Magdala`s old room.”
He turns towards me, a smile twitching along the edge of his lip. “You found it?”
“Right in front of me.” With that said I pull open the door and, in a dramatic bow, wave my cousin inside.
Beau takes several long steps, pausing in front of the door for a moment, breath caught in his chest and making him appear wider. He releases the breath and pushes the door open, soft groaning echoing in the tight corridor. I watch his pupils shift towards me before he steps into the doorway, blocking the stream of pale light just as quickly as how he released it. And he stays there.
“Move you big oaf!” I dig my elbow into Beau`s soft side and force my way into the space.
The room before us is tight, but orderly. Pastel, albeit faded, pink covers lay across the top of a bed, curled just beneath three frilly, grey decorative pillows and one normal, pink pillow. A stuffed dog, worm at the seams and dull in color, curls up over the very first pillow, loose string drifting over the place where a tail should have been. Flowers grow over the walls, fake ones still vibrant in shade, while the real ones form a cage of brittle, brown vines and dropping, colorless flowers. Her window is protected with a set of rust riddled bars that still gleam silver in places, all lost behind white curtain that drift like ghosts over the draft.
“It`s smaller than her stories.” Beau mutters, breaking the silence that had captivated us.
I nod, finding my jaw surprisingly frozen and my chest tight. Her stories came back in waves, crashing down upon my head, all those horrors and miseries that she had painted for us. They feel real now. The pretty rooms hiding hideous patients, the crumbling structure, the lack of staff and supplies, the abuse and neglect they were subjected to day after day. Signs linger here from the pile of bones from stolen scraps, to the speckles of blood that color the bottom of the curtain reddish-brown in thin patches.
How many of her stories were completely false?
Perhaps not nearly as many as I previously assumed to be. My stomach twists and bile burns the back of my throat. Could people really be treated so horrendously without the perpetrators facing any type of punishment? How-?
My thoughts are cut short by a low groan that rings through the building, escalating to a sharp screech like twisting metal that scraps across itself. I press the butts of my palm flat against my ears in an attempt to stop the sound. My head feels like it is splitting down the middle. Beau seems even less pleased, though it almost appears like I am looking at him from my peripheral my view is so distorted. He is pressed flush against the wall, eyes wide and darting, chest heaving.
“We need to leave.” He snaps the instant the sound passes.
I nearly miss his words due to the ringing in my ears. I hit my ears several times before glancing up at Beau, his gaze more wild and panicked than before.
“Yea, that probably was some part of the structure. It isn`t safe to stay here with a higher risk of the building collapsing.” I try to reason his panic, and perhaps some of my own fear. “There are stairs right at the end of the hall so we don`t have to work through the halls to exit.”
He nods, though the motion is reluctant. He takes a moment longer, takes in the entire room and all the history it holds. I breathe in the dust filled air in hopes of bringing some piece of my great aunt`s history home with me because I know deep down that once we leave we will never come back. Beau escapes the room first, large lumbering form filling the entire doorway before he is gone. With him out of the room it doesn`t feel much wider reminding me of just how tight and unpleasant this place must have once been, especially spending twenty plus hours here a day. At least Aunt Magdala had a window.
The rusted door screeches open from down the hall before I finally pull myself out of the room, my footsteps feeling somehow heavier and my chest so much tighter. Beau moves sluggishly into the thick shadows which seep from the doorway. I swear the darkness leaving the stairwell is so thick and dense that it devours any light which slips past it. Beau`s form is swallowed whole before he entirely leaves the hall. I trail after him, leaping across piles of dingy cloth to the rapidly fading, blue glow of his phone.
The blue light is my only guide, failing to define the form of Beau or even the step directly before or after him. Metallic echoes ring through the tight space, but in their pauses the only sound is Beau`s heavy breathing and my own light breathes. These must have been for an emergency or for staff to slip silently and safely through the otherwise risky halls of the hospital. It is even tighter than the first stairwell and more glass litters the ground, scraping against the metal beneath our feet. Something snags my ankle, serrated metal slices deep into my flesh with a sharp sting that hurts far worse when I land on that ankle once more. My hand slides across the rail, dusty with what is probably rust, that gives way half way through my fall.
If it wasn`t for Beau, I`d probably fall to my death. Beau doesn`t notice me trip, or hear the wince that escapes my lips; his back is simply wide and his stature tall thus I slam into him before I slip between the rails and fall to my death. It is after that I collide with Beau, pushing him forward before bouncing back towards my demise, that he notices my tumble and snags my wrist, jerking my body to a second, much harsher stop. A metallic aroma permeates the air probably from the warm, thick liquid which is slipping from my ankle then again it could be the rusty stairs.
“What happened?” Beau`s voice is shockingly light, merely a whisper though the tight stairwell hardly lets it stay that way.
“No-“ I try to jerk away from Beau, keep from worryin` him more, but the instant my foot hits the ground a blinding pain runs through my nerves.
The pain is so sharp I swear I see white and I have to s**k in a breath to swallow down the hot agony. The sound bounces between the tight walls, or maybe my ears are just ringing with the noise. Beau must say something because another sound trickles in against the echo, muddled and difficult to distinguish. His hand clamps down on my shoulder and squeezes it so hard that the tight sensation is enough to pull me from the grip of my injury.
“L-…” I have to swallow the spit building up in my mouth and regain my breath before I can speak and still my voice shakes. “Let`s just get home.”
There is shifting then the rustle of fabric. The blue glow rests higher now, illuminating Beau`s face and the strip of fabric he used to mount it on his head. He smiles his big, stupid smile, though it misses the eyes and turns his back to me.
“Hop on. I`ll give ya a piggy-back ride like when you were little and fell down that ravine.” Beau chides me when I hesitate. “This place has beaten and battered you enough, just hop on up so we can get out of here without any more injury.”
“I`m fine Beau. You don`t need any more to hold over my head.”
“You were limpin` before you cut your ankle.” Beau tries to reason with me, which feels utterly wrong and stings my pride. “You oughta` know that you can`t walk on that ankle now with all that first aid trainin` you did over the summer.”
I can`t see my ankle well, not with the weak phone light and heavy darkness of the stairwell, but it stings and burns even without me putting pressure on the ground and my sock is rapidly becoming damp again, this time with blood rather than mud. Beau squats down ever so slightly. With a huff I throw my arms over his shoulders and hoist myself up onto his back, putting as little weight as possible on the injured ankle. Beau shifts me along his back before waddling on down the stairs at a slightly faster rate than before, his heavier footfalls loud enough to probably sound through half the facility.
“Hey Beau, do you think that this place is sound proof? You know, so people couldn`t tell if anyone was on these steps just in case.”
Beau shrugs, or more like shivers before shaking his head, tossing blond hair in my face. “Stop suggestin` things that are creepy.”
“It ain`t creepy.” I huff, but Beau just shakes his head again and walks a bit faster.
In fact, Beau turns his meander into a light jog still we loop round and round and round with nothing but blank cement walls and another set of stairs waiting just below us. The ceilings are high, but not this high and if I noticed on Beau`s back then surely, he has noticed since he`s been doing all the walking. He stops abruptly, three steps down from the bottom where the blue light hits stagnant, grey water. The door before us is old metal, just like the steps, with several chain locks and padlocks along the side though all have been rusted through or busted allowing the door to sit slightly ajar. The space beyond is flooded with its own pale light, paler than the light of Beau`s phone but more evenly distributed so that it can actually flow out of the room. There is a faint hum in the air, a dull buzz that can only be associated with electricity.
“Is that the basement?” Beau inquires, as if I have any clue.
“Why does it have electricity?”
I examine the pale glow more, somewhere between soft blue and white. “It`s probably a clean-up crew. Aunt Magdala said they were testing stuff here so they may have spilt chemicals or something.”
“But the place is deserted.”
“I don`t know. Should we go around or try to make it out through the basement?”
Beau shifts me on his back. His silence allows the gentle drip of blood from my ankle to the floor where it manages to travel over my shoe rather than into my sock. The sound jolts him up and draws his eyes to the ground before they travel back to the water.
“They use to remove patients through the basement when the main hall was in chaos during the evacuation.” Beau mutters before descending the last three years.
Beau kneels down in front of the water, examining the opaque, grey surface. I tighten my grip on my shoulders as he kneels down and gently presses the back of his hand against the water, retracting it swiftly before setting his hand against the disturbed liquid again. A sigh escapes his lips and Beau wades into the water. The door gives with little effort, moving with unexpected silence before we are sloshing along in the dim light. The faint glow comes from lights situated along the edge of every wall still glowing from the days before the building was abandoned or perhaps a bit after.
“Bet it`s some critters that mess with the wiring are turning the lights on and off. Sometimes they don`t bother to stop electricity from these buildings and it only takes some cold animals and loose wiring to lead to some freaky lighting mistakes.” Beau`s head twists side to side as he examines the dull lights in the large room.
Down here isn`t like the labyrinth that rests above our head. It consists of one large room with pillars to support the large, heavy structure above with boxes and creates packed randomly against walls and pillars. Three doors come off of the room, one to the stairs above, one to a storage closet that hangs open mostly ransacked with what looks like a piece of a nest of sorts on the top shelf. The final door must lead to the way out. There are no windows here leaving the air thick and hard to breathe.
Beau sloshes on, shifting me every now and then along his back. It isn`t until I rest my head atop his that I notice the slight motions of his head. Is he surveilling the room? Before I can question him a loud splashes crashes down behind us. Beau whips around so quick and so violently that I am nearly thrown from his back. My brain rattles in my head, spinning my thoughts even when I am once more still and balanced.
Nothing is behind us but the clutter that already existed in the space. The water is perfectly still and the door just as ajar as it had been after we crossed the threshold. Maybe the sound echoed through the vents from elsewhere in the facility or I had imagined it and something else had drawn Beau`s attention. The explanations feel wrong. The air becomes stiff and cold, the hair on the back of my neck standing on end in response as my stomach clenches and my ankle burns with a new ache.
“Let`s just go.” I urge Beau to move, finding myself unable to muster the breath to speak above a whisper.
He doesn`t listen to me. He is like a statue, completely frozen and tense. I don`t even think his chest rises and falls with breath anymore and the lack of sound just makes the air even stiller. I bury my face against his shoulder to hide my own breath, hunching my shoulders awkwardly. In silencing my breath I also remove my sight leaving me to the mercy of my other senses and my imagination. Swish, slosh, slosh, slosh. The bounce of Beau`s steps is gentle, the sound slow.
I go to lift my head but I`m stopped by harsh, whispered words. “Stop. Just keep your head down and your breaths light, as light as you can, don`t breathe if possible.”
“Shh. Stay quiet.” Beau hisses.
Slosh, slosh, swish…swish, slosh, slosh, slosh, slosh. Splash!
“Beau.” I whimper.”
“Quiet!” He whispers, the words slipping from his mouth with force. “I`ll get you out. I promise you I will like a good big cousin.”
Beau is choking on his words, sloshing slowly ever on. His wide hands clamp down tight on my legs and I try not to grimace as the pain trails all the way down to my injured ankle. I bite my lip until my teeth pierce the flesh and I taste the blood I have been smelling and feeling so much of, though I don`t think I am tasting it as much as I am imagining myself tasting it. The injury stings, but I don`t allow the tension to flee my jaw less it consume the rest of my body and cause me to let go of Beau.
A low groan echoes before us and even with my face pressed against the cloth of Beau`s attire I can make out the golden glow slipping into the building. Then a breeze tangles with my hair, tugging lightly at it while also battering the cloth of my pants against my injured ankle.
Beau speaks, warns me that it is only a little longer a little too late as I lift my head to hear a deafening screech. The sound is so jarring and ear piercing that, moving beyond my will, I turn my head to look back.
Behind us is a willowy woman, dressed in a torn and greying gown typical of the people who once inhabited Carter Brook Manor. Her hair topples down her back in thick tangles of dusty grey, patches missing. Rusty red flakes decorate her visible scalp and her mats her already tangled hair. Her limbs are elongated just enough to be noticeable, ribs dipping in deep to thin out her already frail looking form. Slick, black muck drips down the lower part of her legs, likely the decay of her own flesh though it seems never ending. Patches of mold run green and blue across the exposed region of her chest, paling her already nearly pure white skin. Her nails are like claws not entirely unnatural, nor entirely natural. Along her skin weird, crystal like growths turn blue under the pale lighting. Little rivets run through her flesh, glossy and scarred as if the flesh had once been burnt.
Her eyes are greyer than her hair, clouded over with a green hue. They skewer me, those dull eyes, yet they remain utterly empty and lost. Then her lips pull and she reaches out as slime slips from between her lips and sizzles upon one of the boxes it hits. Another piercing cry shatters the air just as the door slams shut and Beau bolts off towards the swamp.
Carter Brook Manor slips away behind us, the half sinking grey structure more alive now than it had ever been in its use. Gaunt men and willowy woman drift across the abandoned yard, one by one slipping away to who knows where until only one female is left, last and lost in the only home she will ever know.
Beau and I never returned to Carter Brook Manor, nor did we speak of the creature we saw, but that did not stop rumors from spreading. Eventually the old building and all its history and horrors will fade away in town lore, but the Carter Brook Manor Apparition, the Lost One, will always haunt bedtime and keep children from traveling too far down their street.