The Asylum

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

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Fiction Thriller

If Veronica knew what I was doing, she’d kill me.

That was all I could think about as I snuck around the darkened halls of the abandoned building off highway 138. Jerome and his new girlfriend, Kait, huddled close ten paces ahead, and my best friend Priscilla and I stayed side by side; Priscilla manned the flashlight.

The Stewart building was rumored to have been an insane asylum in the late twenties, when doctors used all sorts of abhorrent methods to recondition people society felt weren’t mentally suitable. Most often these were people with chronic depression or schizophrenia, or those with behavioral disorders. The asylum began as a testing facility founded by Robert Duncan in nineteen fourteen, but the facility’s doors closed due to bankruptcy in nineteen twenty-two. Some years later, it was bought and refurbished; it became a prominent psychiatric treatment facility for three decades, until the state investigated it and shut it down for abusive practices. Most of my classmates didn’t know the history of the asylum, only that someone had died here. In fact, many souls lingered within the Stewart building.

I turned right, ignoring the way the muscles in my stomach clenched tight. The hallways were lined with vacant rooms, most of them still furnished with old hospital beds. Further down the hall, another group shoved one of their own into one of the rooms, tugging the door closed. They laughed while she shrieked on the other side of it. I’d recognized the girl- her name was Christina Hawthorne, a cheerleader in the twelfth grade. Her boyfriend, Tommy, snickered on the other side of that door, holding it closed, and two other boys flanked him, equally amused.

A tiny flame lit up the dark space around them, and the end of a cigarette glowed, illuminating the features of one of the group’s outliers. My throat went dry and my stomach did funny things whenever I saw Daniel Grimes. Easily the sexiest guy in school, Danny was the proverbial carrot of the senior dating pool- all the girls wanted him, but Danny was rarely seen going out with any of them. Instead, he preferred the company of his younger brother Tony, who hovered to his right, also smoking.

“Let her out,” Danny called to the trio of boys. “You can see she’s terrified, let her out!” Danny straightened suddenly, pushing off from the wall, and Tony followed suit, always in his brother’s shadow.

The boys hesitated, deliberating their chances against the Grimes brothers. Everyone knew about the Grimes family- no one was dumb enough to cross them. Usually.

The boys released the door handle and Christina came tumbling out of the darkened room, her face tear-streaked and her legs shaking. She punched her boyfriend in the arm once, and the others laughed, as the group continued their progress down the halls of the asylum. I hadn’t realized I was staring until Danny’s eyes found mine- even in the dark, I knew those eyes.

Priscilla tapped me on the shoulder, pulling me from my stupor. Indicating the room behind me, she crept in, the strong beam of the flashlight leading the way, sweeping across the skeleton of the building. A chair occupied the room, centered in the middle of it. Thick straps were attached where the arms, legs, and head would be, if someone were sitting in it. A small metal tray lay on the floor beside it, its contents scattered all around. I swallowed at the sight of a wicked looking instrument with a curved blade and pincher ends.

“Sick,” Priscilla murmured. “It looks like a torture device.”

“It does,” I agreed, feeling my anxiety heighten. The concept of touring a historical site at night was enticing, but the more time I spent within its walls, the more horrified I became. I’d seen old patient gowns and strait jackets strewn about- instruments and dolls and tape recorders- all forgotten in the ghostly remains of the asylum.

I caught sight of something hanging on the opposite wall, behind the chair. It was a painting- an explosion of vibrant colors fading into darker ones. I was captivated by it. I ran my fingers over the smooth edges of the bright colored paint, which transitioned into rough edges of darker paints. This was created by a patient; I was sure of it. It told a sad story, a progression from happiness to despair, and though its original owner was long gone, I’d never felt more connected to a ghost before this day.

Priscilla cursed. I turned to see what she was cursing at, and my eyes widened at the brilliant glow down the hall. Smoke had begun filling the air, curling lazily through the darkened space, creeping into the empty rooms. The other groups screamed and shouted, alerting eachother of the fire on the north end of the building. Their noises echoed through the building, and bodies raced past us at a dizzying speed, one after the other, as the high school student fled the burning Stewart building. In some corner of my mind, I knew the blaze would be attributed to the ghost of Edward Stewart, the orderly who had died here.

Priscilla ran over to me and grabbed hold of my hand, ripping me away from the painting. I debated grabbing it, saving it from the inevitable destruction of the fire, but I knew that would take time we probably didn’t’ have. In her haste, Priscilla dropped the flashlight, which landed with a loud clatter and flickered off.

She cursed and dropped down to her knees in search of it- it had probably rolled away. I did the same, blinking hard as my eyes began to water. The smoke was heavier, now, and we needed to escape; but the asylum was large, and too dark to navigate without a light.

“Sabrina, it’s gone! I can’t find it!”

Priscilla panicked beside me while I felt all around, poking my hand on the sharp tool nearby. We were starting to cough, and the smoke grew thicker, thick enough to taste.

“We’re gonna die!” Priscilla cried.

To my right, something loud fell and shattered, and I let out an involuntary scream. Another light flickered on from another flashlight- and a large body filled the space of the doorway, his cigarette gone. Danny wasted no time getting to us and hauling Priscilla off the floor. I managed to get up on my own, by breathing was growing increasingly difficult. Danny’s light revealed a clear path out of the room with the painting, and we shuffled out, side by side, heading for the fresh air of midnight.

The police suspected Danny of setting the fire, since he was reported to have been smoking. He was taken away in a police cruiser for questioning; Tony disappeared shortly after that. Jerome and Kait left in his car, Kait sobbing in the passenger seat. The cheerleaders gave their eyewitness accounts to the police, climbing into their respective cars and leaving with urgency. Priscilla's parents came and ushered her home, both angry. No one knew we'd come to the asylum; it was off limits- haunted, they said. I was sure she would get an earful; I probably would, too. I wondered how long it would be until one of the officers questioned me about my guardian, and I was forced to admit I had one and phone Victoria; my older sister had been my acting guardian since our parents died two years ago, a task she lamented.

The firefighters worked tirelessly for over three hours, as the fire spread from the asylum to the surrounding underbrush. More parents were called, and an ambulance, too, but overall, most of us had escaped the blaze unscathed.

I stared into the dark halls, now wet and dripping, at the charred innards of the Stewart building. Something flickered there, deep within its depths, and I moved closer, trying my best to get a better glimpse of it.

Movement flashed again as whatever it was darted from one side of the tunnel to the other. I felt cold all over as I drifted closer; the police were busy getting eyewitness reports, and the medics had gone.

A pair of eyes peered at me from the darkness- not animal- and not fully human, either. The rest of the world seemed to fall away the closer I got to the thing inside the burned-out asylum. A thousand questions circulated in my mind- what was it? Who was it? How had it survived the fire?

My mind grew hazy the closer I got; soft laughter echoed along the halls, and music floated through the stale air. I smiled too. The music grew louder and louder still as the eyes waited for me at the end of the hall- two white orbs driven mad and seeking retribution.

They asylum is haunted, they say, a voice advised me.

Yes, that is what they tell me.

The ghosts would like you to come and play.

The voices grew louder, more welcoming, and my skin felt warm and fuzzy like a soft sweater in the winter. I didn't care about the remnants of smoke and charred things, or the damp walls of the asylum. I listened to the laughter and the lovely music instead, dancing toward the thing that crouched in the darkness. I wasn't afraid- we were the same, two mad beings invisible to all except our own kind.

The asylum is haunted, they say.

Yes, that is what they tell me.

July 11, 2023 14:09

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1 comment

J. D. Lair
21:06 Jul 15, 2023

Always a fan of a good asylum story! Loved the ending too. :)

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