Submitted into Contest #206 in response to: Set your story in an eerie, surreal setting.... view prompt


Horror Mystery Thriller

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

TW: Violence, mentions of suicidal thoughts, abuse and self-harm


  Krissi Yates pocketed the last of her equipment and squinted her eyes, the way a predator zeroes in on its prey. Oh, come on, she thought, her nervous gaze darting between her watch and the sanatorium door. Impatient, she stood herself at the entrance, which was one of corrugated iron; it was an almost baleful presence, and one that only chose to admit the most intrepid of investigators. Beware ye who enter

  Paranormal investigation was no hobby of Krissi’s, it wasn’t something she did for one Friday evening’s amusement, it was her life, much to the annoyance of her fiancé, Todd. Why can’t you do something normal? he pleaded. Like book club? Krissi scoffed at that, quietly terrified at how suburban Todd was becoming. She found it baffling how her and Todd, once throwing darts at a world map to see where they would travel, could now only cite a scoot-around in the Kroger parking lot as the most adventurous thing they had done together.

  They were now completely different—on a cellular level. Fundamentally, Krissi was a rebel; she was a free spirit; a girl with twigs and berries in her hair, a girl who cried whenever you killed a ladybug by accident. But here, she had lost her iridescent shell and become a scrawny ribbon of beige; a sculpture of suburbia-shaped pulp. She had failed, resolutely, to rebel in the big ways, which is why she found herself always trying to hold her own in the small ways. 

  ‘You’re late,’ Krissi spat at her soon-to-be husband, tapping her watch. 

‘Good evening to you too, Kriss.’ 

Todd pecked Krissi on the cheek. Here, they looked comically incongruous: Krissi, forever undertaking these new challenges with relish, and Todd breathless after the hour-long walk from their apartment. 

‘Let’s just get this over with, shall we?’ said Todd, with a smirk on his face. 

‘Where’s Milo?’ 

‘Didn’t you get his message? He can’t come.’ 

‘What is that grin for? You know how much this means to me, Todd.’ 

‘I know,’ Todd reassured her, taking her hand. ‘I know.’ 

Never had swapping opinions about a chick lit with a group of soccer moms over a bottle of cheap sorority rosé looked so frightening to Krissi. 

‘Good,’ she announced loudly, betraying a sudden strength of character beneath her sallow skin. ‘Let’s do this.’ 

Almost immediately, Krissi produced a flashlight, its crisp, cylindrical beam throwing sharp shafts of light over the dripping gloom and a room that was now a rich repository of the past; a place that was once a refuge for any woman, its intake striding anyone from a widow with night terrors to a sexual deviant denouncing her family’s Catholic faith. Krissi read that at its peak, the sanatorium was home to up to two hundred people. It was a number Krissi almost found comforting. These women, united in their combined will to escape, now seemed more powerful than ever. 

‘Are you sure we should be doing this, Krissi?’ asked Todd, trailing his fiancée. 

‘What do you mean? We can do what we want.’ 

‘No, but I mean... Should you be doing this?’ 

‘I don’t wanna talk about that now.’ 

‘I know, but—’

Shh! What was that?’ 

The only sounds available to their naked ears were the scratch of their footfalls against the frost-crusted twigs, and the steady plip of water, the hallmarks of any B movie. The noise Krissi managed to hear presented itself again; something anyone else would put down to the movement of a rat. 

‘Did you hear that?’ 

When Todd shook his head, Krissi looked back and, aided by the dwindling light of her pathetic torch, saw a battery of glazed, leporine eyes. 

‘Oh my God, Milo!’ Krissi exhales, her breath white with frost. ‘What are you doing here?’ 

‘I thought I’d make a last-minute appearance,’ Milo, Todd’s longest and closest friend, said. ‘Keep you on your toes.’ 

‘Did you know about this?’ Krissi spat to Todd, her cheeks surrendering any of their remaining colour. 

‘Why are we here again?’ Milo asked, comically unprepared, wearing just a shirt and jeans. 

Todd shrugged his shoulders. ‘Ask her. She wanted to come here.’ 

‘She must have told you a reason.’ 

‘There is no reason, Milo, you know this.’ 

‘Actually there is a reason,’ Krissi corrects Todd. ‘If you must know, my mother was here.’ 

‘Your mother?’ 

‘Krissi, what?’ Todd asked, confused. 

‘You heard me. Just before the place shut down she was admitted here.’ 

‘You never told me.’ 

‘I don’t think you ever asked, Todd. Shall we move on?’ 

More determined than she had ever been, Krissi stalked deeper into the darkness. 

‘So why was your mother here?’ Milo asked, closely following Krissi. 


‘No, it’s fine, Todd,’ replied Krissi, grateful for the question. ‘I don’t know exactly how she came to be here, she didn’t tell me, but... when her dad died, her mom - married again. And he... started sexually assaulting her. Raping her.’

‘Oh shit.’ 

‘Yeah. And if that wasn’t enough, she was abused by her own husband. My dad. But no-one believed her. That would drive anyone into the loony bin.’ 

‘Kriss, do you really think this is a good idea? Maybe we should go home?’ Todd advised. 

No, Todd. If you wanna go home, that’s fine. I’m staying.’ 

Krissi’s determination seemed almost thunderous in this confined space. It was a quality she inherited from her mother; a woman who the naysayers tried to force her into the identikit mould of the abused woman you might expect to see plastered on your TV screens and newspapers, blue and bloody beside the dishwasher. Instead she was a born-again freedom fighter who learned her life lessons the hard way; like an up-yours to a traditional fable. It was no wonder that Krissi had such a difficult childhood. But she, much like her mother, refused to be packaged as a woman fighting on the behalf of anyone who had ever been brutalised, anyone worn threadbare by abuse, anyone still haunted by the nightmares; sharp, serrated pinpricks of terror: a spiderwebbed mirror, a shard of glass, a calloused palm. The girl who used to throw bricks at street lamps and through store windows for nothing but her own amusement, who used to grieve as easily with laxatives as with a bottle of wine, and who used to hide the ladder of cuts on her arm, was no longer that little girl. Krissi wasn’t scared anymore; she had conquered her fear. She wanted to talk about her past, even if Todd didn’t want her to. Todd liked to sugarcoat things and cower behind the happy illusion that things were better than they actually were. He wouldn’t allow them to tackle issues head-on. Say one of their golfing friends - clad in one of those argyle sweaters, midslurp of Long Island iced tea, midbite of a crustless cucumber sandwich - brought it up, Todd would swat it away and insist that it was only temporary. If Krissi wanted to talk about something as mundane as what they were having for dinner, that would be fine, but if she wanted to talk about how she came to be in a psychiatric hospital when she should’ve been spending her gap year in Phuket like any other student, then that would, of course, be off limits. 

  Which was why she had to come here, to this very hospital. 

  ‘Oh my God, what is this place?’ Milo asked, weirdly curious. 

‘This,’ Krissi replied, happy to answer, ‘was where they did the whole electroshock therapy thing.’ 

Milo shared a confused look with Todd. ‘How do you know that?’ 

Krissi smiled wryly. ‘I just do.’ 

Krissi couldn’t help imagining her mother in this room, putting her legs in stirrups and placing herself at the mercy of a masochistic doctor. We are going to scour it out of you, he would spit, forcing a wet sponge between her lips. He would have her return a vegetable, someone who squeezes a nurse’s hand to tell them you’re still alive; someone who slurps liquidised food through a straw and shits in a bucket.

  With renewed determination, Krissi crouched down to the floor, where it was dark and slippery, strewn with machine parts and mouldy baby clothes. 

She reached into her backpack and produced a tumbler, a pen and a piece of paper. 

‘What are you doing?’ Todd asked, his eyes following his partner’s movements. 

‘I wasn’t planning on doing it here,’ Krissi said, frustrated, ‘but if you would just work with me then maybe we could—’

‘No,’ Todd objected immediately. ‘If you’re doing what I think you’re doing then I’m out.’ 

‘Oh come on, Todd.’ Milo was surprisingly game. ‘Don’t be such a buzzkill.’ 

‘Last time I did it,’ Krissi resumed, ‘I could hear my mother’s screams. You know, I could really talk to her.’ 

Todd shook his head defiantly. ‘No. I’m not doing this.’ 

Krissi switches off her torch and holds aloft a pack of candles, before striking a match and lighting them. The feeble flames curl and sway, and lick the dusty air. 

‘Are we ready?’ Krissi asked, bathed in an ombré of red and black. 

Milo gestured to Todd to sit down. Finally, Todd acquiesced, taking them both by the hand so Krissi could commence. 

‘Great. Thanks, Todd, that means a lot.’ 

Krissi began by setting an upturned tumbler on the paper, before reaching into her jean pocket for the yellowed, crumpled remains of a photo of her mother and her crooked smile - a smile that, once upon a time, seemed to generate its own light; one that lit up everything around her. 

‘Don’t break the circle,’ Krissi instructed the two men. ‘Whatever you do, do not break the circle.’ 

‘Okay,’ Milo said, his voice trembling slightly. 

‘Don’t worry,’ Krissi said warmly, forcing a note of levity, noticing that his voice had ascended an octave. ‘That’s exactly what I was like when I first tried it.’ 

Todd and Milo looked at one another once again, almost in awe at Krissi’s new-found pastime. 

‘Mom,’ Krissi said, looking upwards, as though to some external force, ‘if the answer is “yes”, please slide the glass to the right, and if the answer is “no”, please slide the glass to the left. Okay? Mom, are you with us?’ 

All eyes swivelled to the glass. Krissi pursed her lips, in nervous anticipation, before looking up again, only a few moments later, to see the glass moving in Todd’s direction, to the right, its rim scraping across the floor. 

‘Hiya, Mom!’ 

‘Oh my God.’ Milo tried to retract his hand. ‘How did you—?’ 

‘Shh!’ The glass moved back to the centre. ‘Mom, I’m gonna ask you some questions, all right?’ 

‘How are you doing this?’ Milo demanded. Todd silenced him with the whites of his eyes. 

‘Mom?’ Krissi called out, trying to re-establish the connection. ‘Mom, are you okay?’ 

The tumbler moved to the right again. Krissi smiled. Milo turned to Todd - who he thought would be on his side at this point, given this was his first time as well - but he too was riveted to his spot. 

‘Mom, if you’re still there, could you please write something for us? On this pen and paper?’ Krissi indicated the pen and paper in the centre; the glass stirred yet again. Ting-ting! 

‘That’s amazing, Mom! What would you like to tell us?’ 

The ballpoint was picked up and floated in mid-air, before starting to glide across the page, leaving in its wake a long and inky sentence: 


As a draft, wispy as a trail of jet exhaust, wafted across the room, all withering eyes, in unconscious tandem, moved in Krissi’s direction. The glass shattered, the whole room descended into a sudden flurry of accusations, and finally, the circle broke apart. 

‘Jesus Christ!’ Milo shouted, mopping his forehead with the back of his hand, trying to make sense of everything. ‘What just—?’ 

‘I don’t know,’ Todd answers, looking to Krissi. ‘I... I-I don’t know.’ 

Krissi’s lips folded into a smile. ‘I told you it worked.’ 

‘No!’ Milo stood back, his eyes wide with fear. ‘That is some nasty voodoo shit. Come on, Todd, she’s crazy.’ 

‘Crazy?’ Krissi said, feeling the cold fury hoard in her chest. ‘You think I’m crazy?’ 

Seeking the exit, Milo ran headlong into the darkness, the scrape of his footfalls dissolving with his screams. 

‘He won’t get very far without a flashlight,’ Krissi remarked. 

‘He’s right,’ Todd said, jerking to his feet. ‘You are crazy.’ 


‘I don’t know what’s happened to you in these past few days, and I don’t really care, but this has got to stop, Kriss. It’s... This obsession, it’s not normal.’

‘You don’t think I’m normal?’ 

‘Do you understand what I’m saying?’ Todd screamed, his throat taut with desperation. ‘I mean, do you really understand what I’m saying. This,’ he continued, grabbing her jaw, spittle landing on his cheek as he enunciated each word, ‘is - not - normal.’ 

‘Go then. I don’t need you anymore. My mom’s here.’ 

‘Oh for fuck’s sake, your mother isn’t here.’ 

Krissi so desperately wanted to prove her fiancé wrong. ‘Oh really?’ 

Krissi could only sit and watch as the man she loved doubled back and wailed in pain, falling to the ground with a terrific thud. He reached for his foot, as though to favour his leg; much like a wounded animal. 

‘What the fuck?’ 

Todd tweaked his trouser leg to reveal a three-pronged scratch on the back of his leg.

‘Did that hurt?’ she asked, savouring this moment. 

Something changed in Todd’s expression; his surroundings suddenly felt hazy and distant, as though on the other side of a glass wall. 

‘You’re insane, Krissi,’ he said, struggling to his feet, running for the exit. ‘You’re insane!’ 

This was Krissi’s cue to look back in her bag and find her EMF meter, holding it out in front of her. It made a distinct clicking noise, its crackle like the one that heralded the beginning of a Western or a grainy VHS tape. 

‘Mom, he’s gone,’ Krissi said, checking Todd had definitely left. ‘It’s just us now. I promise you. Just us.’ 

Krissi sank to the ground and tried to keep an absolute silence, so that all could be heard was the solitary metronome of her EMF meter. 

‘I’m here now, Mom. I’m here.’ 

  Click. Click. Click

July 13, 2023 10:36

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Amy Ackerman
15:40 Jul 15, 2023

This is really great - I like how the hint to Krissi’s own battles with mental illness is breadcrumbed throughout. Very claustrophobic as well. Loved it


Oskar Reiss
15:41 Jul 15, 2023

Thank you so much Amy!


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Oskar Reiss
10:45 Jul 13, 2023

As the theme for this week is phobias, I thought it apt to touch on this throughout, whether that be the fear of commitment, of assimilating into the mainstream, or just general phobias of the dark and ghosts. I have named my entry 'Straitjacket' as this obviously has psychiatric connotations, but this could also be used as a metaphor for breaking free, assuming the burden handed to us by our family, or trying to shake off the labels with which society saddles the vulnerable. I hope you enjoy!


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