Contest #219 shortlist ⭐️

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Suspense Fiction Horror

The asylum's security surveillance room was a claustrophobic chamber adorned with peeling wallpaper, crumbling shelves stacked with aged records, a small wooden desk, and an uncomfortable metal chair that creaked under the most minute amount of weight. A single, rotary dial telephone sat on the desk. A thick layer of dust covered every surface but the desk and chair. The dim overhead light bulb flickered sporadically, casting eerie shadows across the aging linoleum floor that peeled in the corners.


The centerpiece of this dilapidated room was a massive wall lined with outdated, grayscale CCTV monitors. Each monitor displayed a different section of the asylum—a haunting panorama of deserted hallways, medical examination rooms furnished with rusting metal beds and equipment, large dining areas, office spaces, and various other rooms possibly used for forms of recreation.


The monitors were ancient, relics of a bygone era. Their screens emitted a faint, sickly glow that seemed to exaggerate the shadows lurking in the corners of the room. The images displayed were grainy, distorted, and pixelated. A small hand-written label accompanied each screen indicating the location of the video feed. The cameras themselves, once cutting-edge technology, were now obsolete and barely functional, occasionally losing connection for a few second at a time.


The crackling audio of static from the occasional disconnected video feeds added to the eerie ambiance. It was as if the very essence of the asylum had seeped into the wires and circuits, imbuing an unsettling presence into the surveillance system.


James was two hours into his new job and already regretted accepting the position. As a college drop-out struggling to make ends meet, the job posting for a part-time security surveillance officer with great pay was almost too good to be true. There were no certifications or education required to apply; the agency didn’t even require any previous experience. The pay was nearly double the current minimum wage. The only downside to the posting had been the hours; from nine o’clock at night until five in the morning.


James was surprised to find he was the only one to accept the position following the interview. Unwilling to let such a good paying opportunity pass, he agreed to all terms he was presented during his interview and had no follow up questions of his own when asked. As such, he was hired on the spot and given the time and address of his first shift.


Looking back, James realized he should have asked at least a few questions, such as where he would be working and why no one else had excepted the position following the interview.


Lunaria Sanitarium, built in 1920, was nestled deep within the forests of the Pacific Northwest. The nearest city, taking at least an hour and a half by car, was Portland, Oregon. The hospital consisted of three separate buildings. The central four-story building contained the medical rooms, recreational suites, and other administrative offices. Each two-story wing building housed bedrooms with minimal furniture, a dining hall complete with rows of tables and chairs, and basements with locked holding rooms. Only the hallway leading to the doors for the holding rooms contained a camera in each basement.


Every room in the sanitarium still contained original furniture from the time it was abandoned, as if all inhabitants simply left for the day and never returned. Vacated in the late 50’s, the entire property was left untouched for nearly seven decades. Courtyards, fields, and small farming patches were overgrown, nearly reclaimed by the forest whose land it was built upon. Despite the impending vegetation, the buildings themselves were surprisingly in good condition despite the rust, mold, and rotting surfaces.


Upon relieving the day-time officer at nine o’clock, a gangly old man who provided no explanation of his duties other than not to fall asleep, James settled in for a long night. The metal chair behind the desk protested against his weight and he made a mental note to bring a cushion for his next shift. Figuring he would need help staying awake and being kept from boredom, James brought a backpack stocked with snacks, energy drinks, his hand-held gaming console, and a few books his sister had lent him. He had debated whether or not he would get in trouble for playing games or reading while on duty. But how hard could watching screens of empty rooms be? Surely he would get in more trouble for falling asleep rather than being partially distracted.


Gaze darting between monitors on the wall before him, a sense of unease settled deep within his gut. The screens were grainy and out of focus, an occasional ripple in the feed giving the effect of movement and catching his attention. The wall of monitors was so wide that he had trouble viewing every screen without having to turn his head, causing the screens of the opposite side to disappear from his focus entirely.


As the minutes ticked by with no changes, James relaxed and pulled his gaming console from his pack. He kept the volume low, just in case, and was careful to peek at the screens between each level of his game. The few games he owned that didn’t require internet connection quickly lost his interest. He glanced at the time on his cell phone. Ten thirty. An hour and a half into his shift and he was already bored.


As James reached for his backpack, the scratchy sound of static caught his attention. One of the screens in the top row, which was labeled “East Wing Dining Hall”, showed nothing but black, grey, and white interference. Heart leaping into his throat, James watched as the lines danced across the screen. Less than a handful of seconds later, the feed resumed and he was presented again with long rows of tables and chairs. Breathing a sigh of relief, James slumped back into his chair, the metal groaning in protest. Waiting for his heart rate to settle, James took in the creepy aspects of the dining hall showing through the feed.


Long, wooden tables made up a majority of the space. Looking to be made of one solid piece of wood, James could only imagine how heavy they must be. Chairs dotted the spaces between the tables, all pulled out and look to have been haphazardly pushed around, a few even laying on their sides. In the far-left corner of the room, a single door stood open, leading to the hallway beyond.


James’s attention fixated on the chairs. Had they been pushed out from the tables before? Racking his memory, he thought that they had been pushed in, not that he had paid any special attention to the small details. Clearing his thoughts with a shake of his head, he pulled one of his energy drinks out and popped the cap. Perhaps he just remembered wrong.


While sipping the carbonated liquid energy, James pulled out a notebook and pen and began taking notes on the condition of each room, more for the peace of his own mind, and to pass the time, than any other reason.



MAIN BUILDING

Lobby

Large circular desk

Rows of wheelchairs – neatly stacked

Multiple couches and chairs

Row of gurneys against back wall


Office Staff Rooms (all the same)

Desk

Chair

Filing cabinet – drawers closed

Door closed


Medical Examination Rooms (all the same)

Patient bed

Large table

Desk

Chair

Cabinet – closed

Door closed


Recreation Rooms (all the same)

Two couches

Three recliners

One large table in center with chairs pushed in

Two small tables

Shelves with books put away

Door closed



EAST WING

Bedrooms (all the same)

Bed

Small desk and chair – pushed in

Small wardrobe – drawers closed

Door closed


Dining Hall

Rows of large tables

Chairs not pushed in

Door open


Basement

All doors closed



WEST WING

Bedrooms (all the same)

Bed

Small desk and chair – pushed in

Small wardrobe – drawers closed

Door closed


Dining Hall

Rows of large tables

Chairs pushed in

Door closed


Basement

All doors closed



He hadn’t realized before just how uniform and orderly every room was for a mental hospital that was supposedly abandoned. The only monitors he did not make notes on were the ones facing outside, towards the overgrown courtyards and fields.


Satisfied, James checked the time again. Eleven o’clock. Two hours down, six more to go. He flipped to a fresh page in his notebook and started another list, this time with ideas of items to bring to help pass the time and fend off boredom. He also jotted down a note to do some research on why this place had been abandoned, and to inquire with his employer as to why there was a need for 24-hour surveillance.


Blaring static caused James to jump and nearly knock what remained of his energy drink right off the desk. Another camera feed had disconnected, this one labeled to be in the main building inside of a staff office. He waited for the static to clear, holding his breath. Just as before, the picture resumed after only a few seconds. His sigh of relief lodged in his throat, nearly causing him to cough. The filing cabinets were all open.


Breathless, James stared at the screen. Had the cabinets been open before? He could have sworn they were closed. With shaking hands, he flipped through the pages of his notebook until he came across the description for that camera feed.


Filing cabinets – drawers closed.


Standing, James reached up and tapped on the screen showing the office, as though this act would either close the drawers, or fix the feed to reflect what he had jotted down in his notebook. Of course, neither of those happened.


James lost track of how long he stood, staring at the screen, unable to come up with a cohesive thought. The sound of static blared once again. He flinched so violently that he nearly lost his footing. Bracing himself on the desk before him, James watched in dawning terror as another screen fizzled with black, grey, and white lines. The label under the monitor read “West Wing Basement Hallway”.


When the image cleared, James kept his eyes focused on the label, too afraid to see what change might have happened this time. In a hallway containing only doors, it wasn’t hard to guess. Slowly, he lifted his gaze and confronted the screen. A door halfway down the hall was standing wide open.


From the angle of the camera, James could not see into the room, something he was immensely grateful for. He did not need to reference his notes this time. He knew the doors had all been closed before.


Sitting heavily in the chair, James ran a clammy hand down his face. He could do little more than stare at the screen and focus on his breathing. Once his panic had settled slightly, he reached for his cell phone, intending the call his employer. The time showed twenty-four minutes past midnight as he tried to navigate toward the email that contained emergency contact numbers. He nearly slammed his phone down on the desk as he realized that this far out into the forest, he had no signal.


Snatching up the receiver of the old rotary dial telephone on the desk, James spared only a second to thank his mother’s love of old movies for providing the knowledge of how to use such a relic. This knowledge proved for naught as the phone, though wired into the wall, provided not even a dial tone. The line was dead.


Movement from one of the central screens startled him. He dropped the metal receiver, it’s impact with the wooden desk much too loud for the small, cramped room, causing him to flinch again. James frantically scanned the monitors, trying to find the source of the movement. All of the screens were showing their respective feeds, none having lost connection or filled with static.


James forced a few deep breaths, though this did nothing to ease the panicked sickness rising from his stomach and up his throat. His hands, though cold, sweated profusely. He rubbed his palms on his jeans as he began pacing the small room. He had half a mind to just leave. What was the worst that would happen? He could get fired. With how these first few hours were playing out, being fired and never coming back to this place again wasn’t much of a deterrent.


The small room housing the security surveillance was in a small stand-alone building that perhaps once used to be shed. Located just off the main entry road and only a few steps from the entrance to the main building, it would be all too easy to step outside, hop in his car, and leave this place far behind.


Static. James froze mid-stride toward his backpack. Another feed had disconnected. This time, the label indicated the camera was in the main lobby. He waited once again with bated breath for the camera to reconnect. Once the screen reappeared, a whimper broke from him before he could stop it.


The wheelchairs, which before were placed in neat rows along the far wall, were now scattered throughout the lobby. Most were still standing on their wheels. Others looked as though they were thrown or kicked over, resting either on their sides or completely upside down. The few gurneys, previously against the other wall, were either knocked over as well, or shoved on top of the lobby receptionist desk. The large, double doors leading to the front courtyard stood wide open.


James would only need to open the door to his surveillance room and turn to the right to see the open doors of the institution. All thoughts of leaving the safety of his small room fled.


Within seconds, another feed dropped, the room filling with the harsh sound of static once again. Before James could look to read the label, another monitor flickered abruptly to black, grey, and white fizzled lines. Then another. And another. Until every single screen lost connection with their corresponding camera.


As abruptly as it began, the first feed to disconnect refreshed once again. The bedroom in the screen was in complete disarray. Sheets were shredded and tossed about the space. The wardrobe’s drawers were pulled free of their frame, the empty containers tossed haphazardly around. The small desk was cracked down its center.


The screen jolted back to static as another feed cleared. This time it was a medical examination room. Cabinets were torn open, equipment strewn about the space. Surgical tools were embedded in the furniture and walls. Before James could observe anything else, another screen cleared, pulling his attention.


All doors in the basement hallways of both Wings were open. One was still swinging on its hinges, as though whatever influence opened the door had done so with force.


Every monitor flickered between static and clear video feed so quickly that James was able to do little more than see snippets before the feed was either disconnected, or his attention was drawn to another screen. Every room was in complete disarray, the level of destruction changing each time the feed fizzled out and returned.


The single florescent light in the ceiling of his small room surged brightly before shattering, pitching the room in eerie darkness only interrupted by the flashing black and white of the camera feeds.

The scratching noise of static became more than James could bear. He longed to run, but terror held him in place. Having unconsciously backed into a corner of the room, he buried his head beneath his arms, trying desperately to cut out the sound of the static. He wanted to scream, though wasn’t sure if perhaps he already was, as nothing could be heard over the interference.


Huddled on the floor, James peeked between his arms at the wall of monitors flickering in and out of connection. A few times, he thought he saw movement in a monitor as it reflected a room, though the connection was cut too soon for him to tell.


All at once, every monitor but the middlemost fizzled to static and did not reconnect. From his huddled position in the corner, James could not make out the screen’s contents, though he could tell something was different. Working up what smidgen of courage remained, he unfolded from himself and crawled forward until he could see the details of the screen.


A small room was shown, containing a single desk, a metal chair, few shelves, and a large wall of static screens. A figure was on their hands and knees in the middle of the room, gazing toward the wall of monitors.


James was looking at himself. The view of the screen would place the camera directly behind him, in the corner adjacent to where he huddled against earlier. He did not have to turn and look to know there were no cameras in the surveillance room.


Too afraid to tear his eyes from the screen, it fizzled to static for only a fraction of a second before clearing again. The screen was the same, except for another figure standing behind James, in the corner he had occupied only seconds before.


A scream louder than the static ripped from James’s throat as he lurched forward and away from the entity. Without a glance or second thought, he grabbed his half-open backpack and sprinted for the door. Ice-cold air stung his lungs and chilled his tear-streaked cheeks as he bolted for his car. Gravel and dirt flew from spinning tires as he sped away from the institute.


Unable to resist, James glanced in the rear view mirror. Next to the open double doors of the main building stood a figure shrouded in darkness, watching the retreating form of his car disappearing into the forest.

October 09, 2023 04:44

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6 comments

Story Time
06:25 Oct 27, 2023

This was chilling. I love how you played with form to heighten the suspense. Great job.

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Jeana Budnick
20:03 Oct 20, 2023

Holy crap! I think I nearly had a heart attack reading this!

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Amanda Lieser
07:20 Nov 20, 2023

Hi Wyrd! What a terrifying tale! I always find the process of telling a good horror story challenging. However, you have certainly mastered the art. You gave us just enough detail to let us in our the fear while keeping us in suspense about the unknown. How horrifying!! Nice work and congratulations!!

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Philip Ebuluofor
05:38 Oct 24, 2023

Maybe ex-inmate or what do you call those people? I have this feeling this one was maltreated while alive there so, he returned to balance equation book.

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Kathryn Kahn
23:50 Oct 20, 2023

Wow, that was scary! It feels like a classic Halloween movie. You do a great job of managing the suspense. I know you made my heart rate go up!

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Glen Loveland
02:54 Oct 19, 2023

Eliminate the chaff, keep only the wheat. Let each subtle sign of abnormality heighten the foreboding, creating a chorus of dread toward the climactic cacophony. When chaos crescendos, plunge us into mayhem with merciless economy. A wheelchair upended, a door ajar, a shadow passing—the power lies in implications, not explanations. Currently, the tale luxuriates excessively in minutiae, forgetting the true horror lurks in the unwritten and unseen. Tighten your stranglehold as darkness descends, and you may craft a screamer to sate my thirst. ...

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