26 Apr The Osiris Institute
“The Osiris Institute”Written by Hank Belbin Edited by N.M. Brown Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by Paul J. McSorley
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 67 minutes
“The past and future dreams us, lays on our bodies like skin, so that we might pass the days with grace. To us were given all the ways and the obligation to travel. To us were opened all the roads of heaven, all the tunnels in earth and the channels of sea. Among the dead and the living, by these same words have we all travelled. Together we walk a single path into the heart of the infinite.” — Osiris. The Book of the Dead
“In morte est amor—
In Death there is Love.”
If anyone were to ask the local folk of Denbigh, North Wales whether the old asylum just four miles out of town could still be reached by that concealed and lonely country path, they would all no doubt scorn and mutter back coldly, ‘No’. Some would even insist that Denbigh Asylum was destroyed in a thunderstorm some time back in ’95 and that there’s nothing at the end of that darkened track anymore save for a pile of rubble, but they would all be lying.
It was still there and no one wanted any strangers exploring it for a very good reason. But, if one were to ignore the advice from those locals telling them not to venture down that path for their own good, if they indeed found themselves heading down it, towards the supposed location of the asylum, then they would soon come upon a claustrophobic and lonely stretch of the countryside and a vague feeling of dread would sink into them. The hidden path that started at Denbigh town was narrow, filled with ruts and muddy potholes, and the tall hedges either side of it blocked out any view of the rolling and strangely domed hills beyond. The hedges were all wild and unkempt; as if isolation and abandonment had strengthened their resolve to grow. And the weed-stricken stone walls underneath them seemed to close in uncomfortably the more someone headed down the shrouded forlorn lane towards the asylum. Only then would they realise they were on the right path, heading right towards it.
Most people now know to stay well away from the place because of what happened there, but one morning in December 2017, two teenagers ignored the locals’ advice, and what came after would change their lives forever. Will and Amy were heading down that lane. They were alone. It was just before sunrise when they’d left their hostel together. They had set off early so as not to alarm any of the townsfolk of their intentions to explore Denbigh Asylum. After all, everyone in the town had been watching them. People in the pub the night before had eyed them suspiciously as they trundled in with their backpacks full of gear.
At 8 am they came to the edge of the town and spotted the concealed pathway leading to the fabled asylum. Just after the grey-blue sun rose, they’d found themselves climbing over mouldering stiles and hopping across deep puddles; all while pushing head-high brambles and branches out of their faces. The chill of the night refused to leave them and the ancient Oak trees about loomed overhead and covered up what little sun there was during the depths of winter. They all seem too large, and they all swayed unnaturally in the biting winds.
The pair hiked down the lane and stopped to check the map at regular points. They each took sips of water and marched on together down the seemingly never-ending and ever-tightening passage. Will gripped his backpack and pulled it hard to his body to stop all the camera gear knocking around inside it. Amy panted lightly and wiped the sweat from her brow to stop it from spoiling her makeup. She only hoped that she wouldn’t be too sweaty for their photoshoot so Will would find her attractive. In her backpack were a few changes of black clothing that Will had requested she bring for his art project: a ripped black dress, a leather jacket, and a black t-shirt. The students hiked and talked casually and joked together about their eccentric college professors for the next hour or so. As Will talked passionately about photography and the art of ‘capturing beauty’, Amy would look up at him now and then and smile warmly.
Later, and a slope in the lane had brought them down to a rusted metal sign nailed to a dead tree that said ‘24 HOUR SECURITY. KEEP OUT.’
They both shuddered slightly at the aggressive wording and knew they were on track. Everyone in town said that there was nothing down there, but seeing the signs confirmed that there was. The next sign they came across a few minutes later read ‘GUARD DOGS ON-SITE.’
Amy looked at it and hesitated to take another step forward. Will smiled gently.
“Don’t worry. I highly doubt there are any ghastly mutts down here,” he said to her and they continued walking.
Will had only researched the asylum briefly the week previous. He’d Googled abandoned buildings in Wales and picked the nearest and most suitable setting to take photos for his gothic and baroque-themed portfolio. He had always found the decay of those long-since uninhabited spaces profoundly beautiful in a morbid kind of way. He liked the idea of the slow erosion of imperialism. He knew that Rome was not built in a day, but also knew it didn’t collapse in a day either. When he saw the images online of Denbigh Asylum, he was immediately enamoured by its bleak mouldering decadence. The rough stone walls and the large church-like windows all crumbling into ruin. He knew it was the perfect spot and immediately made plans with Amy to drive down to it the next weekend.
He didn’t bother looking into the history of the place. If he had done so, he would have read that the history of Denbigh Asylum was shrouded in mystery. And vague accusations of unspoken things like black magic, hauntings, and inhuman experimentation seemed to fall firmly and consistently at its doorstep. The place was built long ago. It all began with a controversial reform movement for the care of insane people that began sometime in the late 18th century. With the passing of that reform, Denbigh Asylum promptly opened in 1848.
Denbigh Asylum was for all intents and purposes a privately operated care institution designed for people with psychiatric illnesses. It was also an institution of dubious merit. It was rumoured that most of the doctors there were not even qualified in their roles. Yet any such probes for evidence of qualifications were dismissed entirely. The place had always been a secretive and cut-off institute and relatives of the patients were never permitted on site. Bad things were said to occur there. Several former nurses in the late 1980s had come forward about the abuse of the patients, and the local papers ran a story for a few weeks, but it failed to gain any traction or attention.
In the article, Jenny Slater—the previous head nurse—had testified that the afflictions of patients were frequently dealt with by such methods as bloodletting and flagellation to disperse their ‘inner demons’, together with seclusion and manacling as a means of control if they posed a threat to themselves or others. She proclaimed that the treatment of those patients remained degrading, loosely monitored, and abysmal, right up until she was forced to leave in ’89.
She had tried to bring the institute to trial, claiming to have witnessed deaths at the hands of malpractice there, but no verdict was ever reached.
The jury had stopped believing her story when she went on to explain that the place was haunted and that she had seen the spirits of the dead patients navigating the hallways with her. She claimed that an ancient and evil presence was brought into the asylum long ago. When exactly it was she could not say. But, she said it had stowed away in a patient’s body and when that patient died, it was somehow released. And now that malevolent force lingered in the asylum’s very walls, hiding in every shadow, taunting the patients from behind every closed door, influencing people; corrupting their minds.
She was greeted with laughter and ridicule, and sadly, she never got to finish her prosecution of Denbigh Asylum. After her sudden unexplained death, the investigation was dismissed and any evidence of that so-called abuse had conveniently vanished by the time the institution had wound down into a healthcare facility. It finally closed in 1997 and was boarded up for good, never to be acknowledged again.
No one knew quite what was wrong with Denbigh Asylum, and in truth, no one wanted to know. Everyone instead chose to ignore it completely. There was a reason the locals chose to stay away from the place, and what it was none would say.
Will and Amy were the first people to set foot on its grounds in over twenty years and they had no idea what they were about to walk into.
It had begun to rain by midday. Drizzle fell from the iron-grey sky and the louring clouds sunk down lower to the earth, all laden with foreboding. The pair shivered and continued walking. The pitter-patter of the rain hit Amy’s rain jacket steadily as she dipped her head down to the floor. Will on the other hand kept his hood back and was more focused on his gear than anything else.
The irony was, if Will had not been so focused on protecting the camera in his backpack, then the pair could’ve easily walked right past the institution, for it was not easily found and remained very well camouflaged behind the trees. He’d stopped near a small thicket and set his pack down to cover it with the rain shield. After he had done so, he rose, put it back on and looked forward into that boscage, and there he saw Denbigh Asylum. Through the overgrown trees, he spotted the unmistakable aspects of a building in the distance. It was huge and dark and took on the form of a craggy and square cliff face jutting up from the damp green earth around it. The roofs of the place poked out over the tops of trees. Will raised his hand and pulled away some more of the branches.
“Bloody hell,” he said in awe. “It’s right here,” he then turned to Amy and chuckled. “We almost walked right past it! Good thing I stopped when I did.”
“Oh, you found it?” She asked quietly.
“It must be it. Look,” he said as he gestured into the bushes.
Amy trotted up next to him and followed his finger. Through the shadow of the darkly wooded expanse, she saw the place, all of it sleeping under always nearly grey skies and she suddenly felt trepidatious. “Wow,” she gawked.
“Come on,” Will winked. “Let’s do this!”
Amy nervously followed Will into the damp belt of trees and stepped over the squelching earth. They then crossed over into a wide-open space that made up the asylum grounds and were greeted by only silence. The mist rolled in from the hills above like gun smoke and the winds whispered all around.
Two large gardens circled the estate and both were now impossibly overgrown with 6-feet high weeds and grass that swayed in the fog. In the middle of the two gardens was Denbigh Asylum—vast and dirty and brooding. It took on the appearance of some gloomy stately home whereupon the owners had died long ago and left it all behind. It was built in the traditional Jacobean style of its time. All the arched Dormer windows were squarely orientated on each face and now completely devoid of glass. Instead, there were only wooden boards. They had been smashed in long ago and the brown weeds grew out of the windows and down to the eave brackets without apology.
The pair edged closer to it, walking down the only road leading to the front door of the asylum. The various Mansard-roofed turrets seemed to grow out of the structure like tumours. The wrought-iron railings along them were all rusted and jagged. In the middle of the building was the large hip roof with a deck and limestone clock tower probing up into the darkened sky like an antiquated antenna. All the doors were boarded up with plywood and the perimeter of the building was surrounded by a wall of Heras fencing.
There, the eerie quiet fell over the pair and both felt instinctively on edge. They stood motionless in the courtyard and gazed up at the towering mass of stone.
“Wow,” Will said in wonderment at the sight.
But Amy didn’t say anything. She suddenly regretted agreeing to come with Will to this shrouded part of Wales. She’d only taken the weekend off her waitressing job to be with Will, and now, she’d wished she never had. The moment she saw the place, she knew she didn’t like it. There was no singular thing that caused Amy to feel curiously scared at the sight of Denbigh asylum. It was everything about the scene combined that created this overbearing sense of dread in her stomach. The darkening clouds above, the crows squawking somewhere on the fringes of the estate, the persistent earthy rain, and that horrible building itself all mixed into a loathsome cocktail and made her skin crawl.
She couldn’t help but wonder how many souls had passed through its walls. It was a building that didn’t seem to have been created to offer any kind of sanctuary for the afflicted, instead only intended to shackle them forever. A place to hide them from society. Everything about its architecture suggested a prison. The thick limestone walls appeared austere, and the bars on all the windows had firmness that gave the impression that they would stand strong for millennia to come and house many more poor deranged souls.
“Told you there would be no guard dogs,” Will said but Amy didn’t hear him.
It doesn’t even look like it was built by humans, she thought. Every detail of the place was eloquently over-decorated yet conversely decaying. The coldness and the vacuousness of the derelict building made Amy wonder whether it was constructed out of pure hatred alone rather than the masonry of men; something that had sprouted up organically from the dirt, using only malevolence as compost.
“Wanna go in still?” Will asked her.
“Huh?” Amy replied, snapping out of her lucid daydream.
“Wanna go in? Get some arty pictures?”
“Definitely,” she said reluctantly.
Amy stood there in the courtyard in front of the gate and just stared at the whole thing. She thought the building was alive somehow; squatting there, chained to the ground like a great sedated animal before them, drawing in deep musky breaths from the damp countryside around it. Windows blinking open for the first time in years at their presence, attic doors widening its ears to their footsteps, the coiled muscles of the walls stretching out ready to pounce.
Will looked across at her. He could tell something was bothering her, yet he didn’t know what.
“Come on,” he said. “We’ll go to the pub once we’re done here.”
“… Okay,” Amy couldn’t help but say. As much as she knew she hated the place, the second she looked up at him, the anxiety dulled. She began to blush more and looked away again timidly. Every time his eyes met hers she felt her heart beat faster.
Will went ahead and the pair came to the wrought iron double swing gate, a massive padlocked thing that stretched over them, blocking the entrance to the asylum like a great dark bat. Looming up over them, crafted into the top of it were the cold harsh words, ‘DENBIGH ASYLUM’.
Will took the padlock in his hands and tugged it.
“Well, we’re not getting through this,” he said glibly.
He then looked down at the base of the gate and saw there was enough clearance for a person to shimmy under. He smiled and laid down on the ground.
“What are you doing?” Amy asked while grinning and watching him.
“Goin’ down under, mate. Get it?” Will said with a faux Australian accent. “Australia.”
Amy smiled as Will shuffled himself underneath it with ease. He then leapt up on the other side and cheered as he peered through the tangled iron bars of the gate back at Amy.
“That was easy,” he said. “Come on. You next. I’ll put my coat down so you don’t get mud on your bum.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, it’ll be fine,” Will said as he took off his coat and positioned it under the gate like a tarp. “You do have a lovely derrière by the way, so I wouldn’t want to ruin it.”
Amy giggled. “Thanks.”
She then hesitantly laid down on it and Will dragged her through.
“See, piece of cake!” he said as he helped Amy onto her feet. She smiled at him warmly and thought now was the moment the friendship would shift into something else—after that compliment about her behind—she thought he was interested; but instead, he nodded casually, and turned back to the front door of the asylum. Amy looked back out longingly through the bars of the gate, back out at the mass of tall weeds on the other side, and strangely wished that she was back in them. But they’d had such good conversations on the long drive up the day before, even the night before. She knew they had a lot in common.
Keep trying, Amy, she thought to herself.
The pair stood together, looking up at the daunting edifice. Some crows had perched themselves up on the clock tower and had begun squawking at each other in the biting winds. It had started to rain harder now and it had started to seep down the back of Amy’s jacket.
She stood there and looked across and wanted so desperately to reach out for Will’s hand, even just for the comfort of reassurance, even just for the comfort of a familiar human touch. But she couldn’t blow her chances with him. Instead, she started humming her favourite song to comfort herself. Will had begun peering in through various holes in the walls to try and spy the other side. But, he noticed her voice. A sweet soft voice that was almost angelic in the falling rain.
“You always hum that song,” he said cheerily.
Amy went red. “Huh?”
“Linger by The Cranberries, right?” He said, looking across at her. “I like that song.”
“Oh. Yeah, it’s my…” Amy tried to say, but the words got caught up in her throat and she looked away. “I hum it when I’m nervous. It reminds me of…”
“Are you nervous?” Will asked gently.
Amy gazed down at her feet and then back to him. “… A little.”
Will smiled and nodded. “Don’t worry. There’s nothing in there. We’ll be in and out in an hour,” he said.
She looked up at him sheepishly. “Promise?”
“Of course,” Will said with an unmistakable warmth and looked into her eyes. Amy felt her heart flutter in her chest again. She raised her chin ever so slightly in preparation for the kiss to come—the first kiss they’d have had. The only reason Amy had agreed to come with Will to this gloomy part of Wales was because of deep feelings of lust for him. Ever since he’d come walking in through the classroom door on the first day of college, she knew she liked him. Like most boys Will’s age however, he was seemingly ignorant of her feelings. He acted like they were merely friends and people with mutual artistic interests; nothing more. Just as she began to lean in to meet his lips, he turned away and walked towards the building.
Amy, dejected, simply sighed and followed. There was so much she wanted to say to him, but she was terrified of what his response might be. She wondered whether he would snigger at her proposal, or if he’d mock her and tell all his friends that she loved him. The thought of that crushed her spirit. She was always a shy woman. She’d hoped that they might hook up during this weekend away and he would realise how much she cared for him. But instead, they were both standing in front of an abandoned asylum, ready to break into it. She wished she’d have the courage to sit him down one day and sing to him her favourite song just like she knew she could. Maybe then he’d see me? Her heart ached for him. God, why am I so shy? Why can’t I just tell him?
Amy sighed once more and they then climbed up the wet stone stairs, up to the porch, and together, they climbed through the broken window next to the boarded-up front door.
They came into what would have been the atrium. Will jumped down from the cill first and the floor crunched under his feet when he did. He stood up on glass and kicked all the smashed debris away from his feet. Amy climbed in behind him and he helped her down. Then the pair stood in nothing but the damp emptiness together.
“Whoa,” Will said and his voice echoed in the space. “I guess this is what twenty years of neglect does to a building, even one as grand as this…”
It was bare, save for the reception desk and a few broken waiting room chairs thrown into the corner. Twenty years earlier and it would have been filled with nurses and patients all shuffling around like bees. Now there was only yawning silence and the sound of the rain hammering against the leaking roof all around. The ceilings were high and lofty and the corners held the shadows. Will gazed up and around at the space. The air in the atrium was thick and moist and descended languidly from the rotting roof.
“Well, this is creepy,” was all Will could think to say to lighten the mood.
Amy rubbed her hands nervously and looked around at all the decay, noticing how there wasn’t a single piece of graffiti anywhere. Not one teenager nor junkie had left their sign in there at all. Strange. Strewn across the floor instead were ripped-up medical forms and posters on how to treat strokes. No one has been in here in twenty years? She thought.
Will stepped through the puddles on the tiled floor and headed over to the reception desk sitting in the middle of the room like some awful coffin in the middle of a tomb. The dim light from the sky above shone onto it like a tableau. He pulled open one of the drawers and started flicking through the mouldering documents within. Wafts of dust spewed up from the files as he opened them one by one. They hadn’t been opened in years.
“Check it out, all the patient’s medical records are still here,” he said. “These must have been the last ones to leave before it closed down…”
Amy stood by the boarded-up window and looked across at him. “Will?” She asked impatiently.
“Yeah?” He replied while he giddily turned each page and read all the notes.
“Do you mind if we just take the pictures and go? I don’t really like it here,” she said.
He looked at her and his face softened. “…Yeah, of course. Sorry, got a bit carried away,” Will said as he closed the file and smiled. He could see she was on edge. “Are you sure you’re okay?” He asked.
“Yep,” Amy said and her voice cracked and he knew she wasn’t.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be right next to you the whole time. Okay?” Will said and held his hand out for her. It was the first touch she would have with him. She looked down at it and felt a surge of warmth course through her. It looked just like what her father’s hands used to look like. In fact, everything about Will looked and behaved like her father used to; and there was something incredibly reassuring about his presence. All of a sudden that slab of fear within melted away from her and she almost grinned to herself as she took hold of his smooth hand. Maybe that was the reason she liked Will so much. She would follow him anywhere just to be near him. She took his hand and he tugged her lightly.
“Come on. We’ll try to get some cool snaps in the hallways first?” He said as he led her further in.
Amy nodded timidly. It was as if she was with him all over again. She had to force herself not to smile.
They headed across the atrium and through the wooden revolving doors together. It squeaked as Will pushed it and the thing spun around like fairground turnstiles releasing them into a new section of a funfair. But then something else happened. Something Amy was not expecting. Amy followed Will, and as she passed through the wings of the revolving door, she thought she’d heard something behind her—she thought it sounded like a woman crying somewhere in the corner. She frowned and looked over her shoulder, back through the glass and to the desolate atrium, but saw nothing there. Did I hear that?
She soon shook her head and dismissed it, then followed Will into the east wing of Denbigh Asylum.
They came into a small and dark lobby. The maze of hallways stretched off out of sight in every direction, meandering off into the shadows. Dim tight tunnels all littered with broken wheelchairs and clipboards. Each room led into another by way of wide bricked arches for doorways. Struts and rafters from the ceiling had fallen sideways like felled trees, and the only light in the rooms was that which slanted its way through the broken floorboards above. The wooden spiral staircase at the back of the lobby was damp and rotted and only a few stairs were left. The rain continued outside and some of it dripped down from points in the ceiling.
It was the perfect scene for Will. The decay. The reclaiming of the wild. So gothic. All it needed now was a subject.
He set his backpack down and got the camera out. Then he asked Amy to sit at the base of the stairs with her chin in her hand and appear glum. She did and Will began taking pictures of her. She sat on the rotting stairs and looked down at the floor with the familiar detached look of defeat that sad and lost people often wear. It was an authentic pose. She truly felt like that. The grey light from the holes in the ceiling cascaded down onto her and illuminated her visage in that gloomy corner of the room, and Will realised he was capturing pure beauty with his photos. It was then that he noticed something.
He looked up from his camera lens and just admired her. Everything about her made him want to hug and kiss her. To tell her it would be alright. To make her feel better. She glowed like a precious angel or a rare species of bird in the centre of all that despair. The lonely soul wandering, waiting forever. Will soon realised that all those dismissed feelings he had were real. He did like her. He’d just been avoiding it because he refused to be distracted from his art. He’d denied his thoughts since the beginning of the semester. But sitting in front of him was his perfect partner. She was beautiful, angelic. Her pale face framed by her jet-black hair made her appear like a lost ghost with a pure heart. As he took the pictures, Will started to wonder when he should tell her. Maybe in the pub afterwards. Maybe they will sleep together later.
After an hour of photo-taking, they then went into one of the infirmaries further down the east wing. It was a prolonged and slim room with rows and rows of mouldering beds along one wall, most with their bedsheets still on. There were black specs of mildew across all of the duvets. Hanging from the fungus-ridden ceiling above each bed were rusty curtain railings that had no curtains on them anymore. The room smelt like mouldy clothes and fetid water, and something else—a thick earthy smell, like compost.
Will and Amy set up the shots and talked about what they were trying to capture from the environment. Amy put on her black leather jacket and posed against the slimy plastic wall of the infirmary. Will started taking more pictures of the scene. Then he asked Amy to stand by one of the beds so he could take a few more with a background in them.
But as she stood at the foot of one of the beds, she heard something. At first, she thought it was a draft coming in from one of the many broken windows, but then, as she focused on the emanation of the sound, she heard it clearly. It sounded like a woman sobbing somewhere in a corner—the same woman’s voice she’d heard down in the lobby. Amy’s skin ran cold. What the hell was that?
“Okay, now, turn your head,” Will had said.
Amy frowned and snapped her head in the direction of the sound.
“No. The other way,” he said. “Look down at one of the beds.”
“Shhh,” Amy said and held her finger up to him. It had come from down the hallway to the infirmary.
Will took his eye away from the lens. “What?”
“Did you hear that?” Amy asked, her hand shaking in front of her.
“Hear what?” He said as he held his hand out to his side in bemusement.
Amy shook her head and looked back at Will. Her frown was even more pronounced now. Her face was pale and her eyes wide.
“I heard something. Sounded like… crying…”
“Crying? From where?”
“I don’t know. But I definitely heard it.”
Will then craned his ear to the silence and waited. “From who?” After a pause, he said, “I don’t hear anything.”
But Amy did. She heard it again—this strange and ghostly sobbing voice that echoed in the ambience, almost as if it were coming from behind the walls. It was so quiet that it was almost indistinguishable from the winds outside.
“There it is again,” Amy said.
“Amy, I don’t hear anything,” Will shrugged.
“But, I heard it as clear as I’m hearing your voice now. It sounded like…”
Will lowered his camera to his chest and sighed. “Let’s have some food, and then pick this up afterwards. Lunch?”
“But, I heard something.”
“Let’s just take a break for a bit…”
“Okay,” she replied obediently, too taken back by the noise to argue.
Amy stood by the bed for a pause, still not sure of what had just happened. But she’d heard it. She was sure of it: a crying voice somewhere further down, and it sounded exactly like her mother.
They ate their packed lunches on a crumpled waiting room bench in one of the desolate hallways further down the east wing where all the cells were. The rooms were silent and echoing and neither one said anything for a while. The grand tiled hallway stretched off into the haze and the doors to those padded cells on either side were all open. Amy could hear the squawk of the crows somewhere outside.
“I did hear something, you know?” Amy mentioned, feeling like some scorned child.
“I didn’t,” Will replied.
“I’m not lying. It sounded like a woman crying. I heard the same thing in the lobby when we first came in…”
“I believe you,” Will said after a long pause and Amy knew that he didn’t.
“You don’t, do you?”
“… I’m just saying I didn’t hear anything.”
Amy sighed and looked down at her hands. It was almost two in the afternoon and Amy was tired of the whole thing. The voice sounded like a woman’s, someone familiar yet nameless. She knew it. It was so clear. That same awful crying that she’d listened to over and over the night her father had left them both.
Will noticed her unease and shuffled closer to her. His thigh barely brushed against her own. She glanced across at him inquisitively. His aqua-blue eyes twinkled as he looked at her. He decided now was the time.
“I do care, you know?” Will said quietly.
“Huh?… What do you mean?”
Will smiled lightly and looked down at the floor. “I care about you. I see what you’re going through. Most don’t, but I do. I know about your childhood, and I’m sorry. It hurts me to see someone like you so sad. I just want you to know that… I do care about you. I do… like you…”
“You do?” Amy asked and her heart swelled.
“Of course. You’re a sweet, beautiful, creative woman. I’m sorry I’m telling you this now, in the middle of a bloody asylum, but, I’ve always liked you. From the moment I met you. I’ve always felt…”
Amy grinned and kicked her feet giddily. “I like you too…”
Will looked away and let it sink in.
“Glad we cleared that up then,” he then joked.
“Shut up loser,” Amy smirked.
Will smiled back and nudged her with his shoulder. “What do you say we finish up here, then get back to the pub pronto?”
Amy smiled cheerfully. “Great idea.”
Will winked. “Okay. Let’s do this. One more shoot?”
Opposite them was an old filing room that still contained all the patient’s medical histories and practitioner’s notes. Rows of heavy metal cabinets all tipped onto their sides. There was a faded wooden desk in the middle of the tight little room which would have been the archive accountant’s desk. On it was a sprawl of discarded sheets and notes that gave the impression the person behind the desk had left in a hurry. On a small metal stand in the corner was a beige plastic-backed television that had a thin sheen of dust across the screen. It had not been touched since the asylum had closed down.
The rain outside had mutated into a great thunderstorm which rumbled hungrily above the building like a giant beast in the sky. The last thing they wanted to do was walk back to the hostel in it. So Will decided to leave soon before it got any worse. He was eager to leave, but couldn’t finish until he’d captured all the photos he needed. The draught of the hallways persisted and Will felt the chill of it across his exposed skin. He’d felt it the moment he’d jumped down into the lobby. The whole building had a cold hostility to it.
The pair then stood up slowly and headed into the filing room. Broken glass crunched on the floor and it smelt of stagnant water in there. Amy reluctantly stood by the desk in the middle of the office, feigning enthusiasm. Will asked her to sit on it and look off into the corner of the room where the television was. He took more snaps and then asked her to read through one of the dusty folders from the cabinets.
She did and the camera clicked, taking endless pictures of her appearing sombre and melancholy on the desk. She turned the pages absently and posed Will’s photos. She didn’t have to act anymore. Everything about her just wanted to leave and it was coming through in them. But, as Amy glanced over the documents, a sudden jolt of panic caused her to stiffen and grip the file tight. She’d seen something else in it. Something she didn’t anticipate seeing. Amy’s face went white. Her eyes bulged open with terror and she gasped loudly.
“Oh my God!” Amy yelped. The folder fell from her suddenly weakened grip and onto the damp floor at her feet. She clasped her hand over her mouth in utter shock and backed away to the wall while she just stared down at the old folder there on the floor.
“Amy, what is it?” Will asked, moving closer to her, but Amy couldn’t reply. A single tear rolled down her face and she trembled, unable to do anything else but glare at it there on the ground and what had fallen out of it.
“Amy?” He asked. “What’s wrong?”
She was almost panting now. “There are pictures in there…” she was finally able to whisper.
“… Pictures of what?” Will asked, the confusion contorting his face.
He reached out to console her, but she didn’t acknowledge it. She simply stared down at the dirtied folder, as if too terrified to take her eyes off it. Will frowned and then reached down to pick up the file instead.
“Don’t look!” Amy shrieked. “Please…”
“Huh? Why?” He asked, half crouched on the ground, looking up at her, but again Amy didn’t reply. She sobbed quietly and couldn’t find the right words. She instead pointed at the pile of photographs that had fallen out of its side. Will turned and looked back down at them. Then he saw them too. He raised up ever so slightly in astonishment.
“Hoooly shit…” he uttered as an icy shiver scraped its way down his spine. “What the hell is this?” Will then said, as if almost intrigued by what Amy had found.
He reached down once more and picked them up. Will then held them loosely in his grip as he examined each photo for a few seconds at a time. Amy couldn’t bear it. She left the room and went and sobbed on the bench where they’d just had their lunch.
Amy was adamant about not going back in there. Those kinds of things, once seen, stay branded into your mind forever and she didn’t want to see another single thing from that room. The sight of that patient with his eyes pried open in confused terror while being lobotomised shocked her to her very core. The stake up his nose and the little clinking sound that the hammer must’ve made as it darted the probe up into the patient’s brain made her feel sick. She took a deep breath and tried to shake the image from her mind. Her hands were clammy and her heart pulsed steadily in her chest. She waited on the bench and suddenly thought of all those poor people who’d come through this institution and were subjected to those brutal acts. All of them were damaged and in need of help, and instead, they found only torture and pain. Amy sniffed and whipped away a tear as she thought of them all. Overwrought, she sank her head into her hands and snivelled.
But, as she did, she heard… something coming from one level above her. It sounded like floorboards creaking. A gentle rapping against hardwood floors. Only once or twice did she hear it, but it was enough to push her wholly into numbing panic. She craned her head upward to the ceiling and traced the moving noise.
Suddenly, any notion of not entering that room again dissolved and was soon replaced by an even greater fear: that they were not alone in the asylum.
Amy marched back into the room. Will was still reading through the files, scanning them all mercilessly; the blur of information being absorbed by cold wide-open eyes of fascination.
“Will. We need to go. I heard something,” she announced.
“Jesus Christ…” Will muttered, wholly unnerved by what he was looking at. He barely heard her. He flicked through black and white photographs of extreme electro-convulsive therapy, forced hydrotherapy, inhumane stress positions, and gory operations; all the graphic images of the patients’ ordeals streaming over each other in a smear and merging into one terrifying realization. Will suddenly felt sick too. He looked away from the photographs in his hand and groaned heavily.
“Will, I heard something.”
“Hang on,” he said, holding his finger up to her.
Amy began pacing up and down the length of the desk in front of him, desperate to leave and forget about the voice in the atrium and the odd footsteps she’d definitely heard upstairs. Her patience lasted for five seconds.
“Will, listen to me,” she said.
“What?” He replied with a distinct tone of annoyance in his voice.
“I heard something. Footsteps. Above us. I think someone else is in here.”
Will took a moment to consider, then spoke again. “They’ve done this for a long time, you know?” he said as he stared at the photograph in his hand. “Since 1860. There are hundreds of files in here, all with the same shit…”
He reached for yet another file and began reading it thoroughly.
“Look, I don’t know what to say… but we should go now,” Amy mewed.
“Bloody hell, this one was lobotomised in 1981,” Will said, not hearing her again. “That practice was banned in ’67,” he said and slammed the folder shut before discarding it onto the pile of others he’d already read. “What the fuck were they doing here?”
“Did you know about this place?” She asked after a pause.
“No! I mean, I just Googled abandoned places in the UK… What the hell were they doing here? Maybe this is why the locals stay away from here?”
“Maybe. Look, Will, can we…” she began but was cut off by Will’s feverish scavenging.
He’d started rummaging through the rest of the filing cabinets and cupboards, rifling through and scanning each new file as he did like an addict in search of their next hit. He’d pulled out all of the drawers from the desk and emptied their contents onto the floor. In the last drawer, Will found a VHS tape. It dropped onto the tiled floor with a distinct hollow crack that only plastic can make.
“Here we go…” he said, leaning over it. “Jackpot.”
“What?” She asked.
Will leaned down and picked it up.
“There’s a VHS tape here. I haven’t seen one of them since I was a kid,” Will said, standing up with the tape in his hand.
“So?” Amy challenged and was about to prod Will to leave again when he interrupted her.
“—So, it has ‘Patient 475’ on the label. This is a recording of one of their trials. This is a recording of that file there.”
Will then gestured to one of the documents still on the desk, but Amy didn’t follow the direction. Instead, Amy stared at the old plastic tape in his hands then and looked up and finally met his gaze, knowing only bad things would be on the video.
“We don’t know what’s on that,” she said earnestly.
“We should find out,” he replied.
“There’s no power, Will,” Amy pleaded, just trying to get him to forget about it more than anything. “Come on.”
Will was not satisfied though. He thought about taking the tape with him and playing it back at the hostel. But, instead, as he turned to face her and argue, he saw it. He’d looked over Amy’s shoulder, across the room and at the retro TV in the corner, and saw a small steady red light glowing in the dimness.
“Yes there is,” he said as he pointed to that circular glow at the base of the television. He brushed past Amy and switched the television on.
“There’s power. This whole building must be connected to the grid still. Try the light switch too.”
“Will, come on…” Amy pleaded apathetically. “This is not a game.”
“Just, let me see what’s on it? We can’t play it back at the hostel. We don’t know what’s on it. Turn that light on, would ya?”
Amy sighed and reluctantly headed over and tried the light switch and, to her dismay, it worked. A bright amber halogen light twinkled on and bathed the cramped room in an unnatural colour of warmth, a stark contrast to the gloom and decay of everything outside the doorway.
“How is that possible?” She asked.
“I don’t know.”
Amy huffed and Will glanced across at her.
“We’ll be quick. I just want to see what they were doing here,” Will said as he lifted the VHS tape to the player.
“You know what they were doing here already. It’s in the files.”
Will dismissed the comment. The cassette tape slid into the television and the ancient thing whirred into motion for the first time in over 20 years. The pair then watched on as the grainy black and white film snapped on and flashed across the small screen.
Will sat on the desk with folded arms and watched intently.
On the television was a close-up night-vision recording of a young man sitting cross-legged on the floor with his back against the brick wall. The video was time-stamped in the bottom right of the frame with: 02/07/1987. The young man was staring wild-eyed into the camera, the lights of his irises were glowing, like a hyena caught on night-vision. He never blinked. Only a vague hint of a grin gave his face any semblance of emotion. The shine of his shaven head caught the waning of the swaying halogen light above him. He never blinked. He just stared at the camera with haunting intumescent eyes, like two glowing white fish eyes that now proclaimed him to be absent of all human thought. It was as if he was staring through the lens, through time itself, back at Will and Amy. Amy gasped and watched on utterly horrified.
The patient was frenzied. Sweat rolled down his steaming face and his rapid breaths made his head bob back and forth, yet he never opened his mouth. He never blinked. He just stared into the camera, sucking in through his nose like some rabid dog with a broken jaw. His heart rate must have been at least 180. The camera zoomed out slowly and the young man’s whole body came into frame.
The pair saw why he was panting. He was holding a small mass of red gore in his hands, a collection of slippery tendrils and slick blood. His hands were resting on his crossed legs and he sat there with an eerie calmness, breathing through his nose, unblinking, unmoving; Patient 457. Above the pile of slick organs in his palms was a small laceration across his abdomen, as if done surgically. A small river of blood seeped out from it and into his hands. Amy wheezed as she realised that the young man had been disembowelled, yet was still alive somehow.
“I can’t watch this,” she said. She clamped her hand over her mouth like a vice to stop herself from vomiting and quickly turned away from the video.
Will, on the other hand, could not look away. He stared back at the young man, completely enamoured by patient 457’s presence and penetrating glowing eyes staring right back at him.
“My God… How is he still alive?” He whispered with a hint of intrigue in his voice as Amy shuddered in the corner. “He looks bloody possessed!”
Will watched, completely aghast, as patient 457 then began painting with the blood from his wound the visage of a four-armed deity of sorts, sitting cross-legged on the bare white wall next to him. Surrounding it, like a bird murmuration were hundreds of tiny symbols and glyphs, all rendered in the same crude blood strokes as the entity itself. When the mural was complete, patient 457 sat in front of it, mimicking its pose; all the while panting, stoic. The camera zoomed back slightly then the tape ended and hissing static took over the screen.
The room fell silent once more and Will stood up from the edge of the desk, too disturbed to even blink himself now. He ejected the VHS tape and placed it on the desk absently.
Then, he’d turned to the files once more. He read through each one obsessively like a mad scholar absorbing a forbidden thesis. Amy sat nearby, desperate to leave.
“Let’s go,” Amy whispered.
Will did not reply. He picked up Patient 316’s file and read all the notes with it. It was another few minutes before he spoke again.
“Amy, listen to this…” he muttered gravely.
Amy stood up and faced him. Will slowly read the doctor’s notes from the file out to her. “‘After the conclusion of the trial experiment, patient 316—who was previously catatonic—suddenly became lucid and rational. She expressed complete awareness of where she was and even described how it felt to be comatose. Note: the patient was admitted with severe brain damage and had not been responsive for over two years prior to this trial’. They had done something to her brain that made her wake up,” Will said. He continued reading cautiously. “‘Patient’s first statement: “It’s him. It’s always been him. He has always lived here. He’s the first one. The conduit between this universe… and theirs. He is the Pale Man. The eater of time and souls. He is the architect of this construct. I’ve seen him. The four-armed demon of scars. Alpha and Omega. He is Death… and we shall remain here forever with him…”
Will put the folder onto the desk and just looked at Amy with hollow dark eyes.
“That’s what patient 457 was painting on the wall with his blood… All of these files, every patient, mentions in one way or another this ‘pale man’.”
“What the hell does that mean? What were they doing to her?” Amy asked.
“Experimenting,” Will replied. “They’d induced a wake-up from a coma.”
“Just give me a minute. I’ve got a really bad headache coming on,” Will said as he massaged his temples.
“Why would they do that to patients they’ve supposed to be treating?” Amy asked timidly.
“I really don’t know, but it just sounds like experimenting to me. Their patients clearly weren’t able to tell anyone, and…” Will said but trailed off. He then solemnly picked up the VHS tape and put it in his backpack. Amy watched.
“What are you doing?” She asked.
“I’m taking it.”
“No! You can’t.”
“I have to. Every patient’s file has mentioned this entity in one way or another. These doctors were doing something to them all.”
“Can we please leave now? This place is not right. I’m hearing things all around.”
“Amy, we can’t just leave…”
Amy reeled back with astonishment. “What? I don’t understand…”
“This is wrong,” Will said. “They were doing this to their patients and no one knew about this. Do you realise how important this kind of information could be? There could be families out there who never knew what happened to their relatives. We can’t just turn-tail and leave this! The media, the news, everyone needs to know what was going on here.”
“I’m sorry, but, there are bad things in this place. And, I just want to leave right now!”
“We will! But not before I get some more evidence,” he said, stuffing more of the patient’s records into his rucksack. “I’m not turning my back on this. What they were doing is barbaric! And I will not let it stand. We need to get everything we can.”
“This is insane.”
“Bad joke, Amy,” he grunted.
“You know what I mean!” Amy barked back.
“They were torturing people here, Amy… Experimenting,” Will retorted. “What if it was one of your relatives they did it to? What if it was your mother? Your father?”
The thought of that made Amy sick. It harpooned her right in the heart and all she could do was stand there and focus on not crying in front of him. Maybe this is where he ended up? She looked up to Will, teary-eyed, and was about to retort when a great crack of thunder shook the building and the dull halogen light above them snapped off. The television went off too. Suddenly the room was cast in pitch black. Amy yelped and grabbed hold of Will in the plunging twilight.
“What done that?” Amy cried out.
“The power’s gone off.”
“… Why would the power suddenly go off?” She asked. She’d practically wrapped her arms around him and shivered nervously like a lost dog.
Will looked down at her, barely able to make out her form in the tenebrous gloom. “… I don’t know,” he was finally able to say. Amy turned to face the doorway. “Maybe the storm knocked out the power lines?”
“We need to get out of here,” she whispered.
After they had composed themselves, both Will and Amy left the dark room slowly. They took out their phones and used the torchlights on them to navigate the dim inky-blue hallways together. Everything was silent. They crept forward through the stillness and only their subdued breathing could be heard by each other. Two beams of white light probed into the blackness of the hallways and the rooms like headlights on the same car. Night had fallen with practised bravado. There was no light coming through the holes in the ceiling now other than the various flashes of lightning that vaguely illuminated the rooms for a spilt second each. Everything apart from their torches was drenched in a haze of dusty black and moulted grey, like staring down a well.
“What’s the time?” Will whispered.
“5:32 pm,” Amy replied quietly.
“Shit. I didn’t keep track of the time. I forgot the sun sets at 4 around here.”
“I told you we should have left sooner.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I got caught up in… what I was looking at.”
“You seemed very interested in it.”
“I was. It was a lot to take in.”
“You looked like you were enjoying it,” Amy accused.
They took a few more steps forward and Amy wanted to reach out to him once more. She wanted to hold his hand. For the next five minutes, she tried to dismiss the thought of asking him. But the question inside relented.
“Did you… really mean it what you said back there?” She asked sheepishly.
“… About you… liking me.”
He looked across at her. “Yeah. I really do,” he nodded. “I mean, as bad as this is, there’s no one else I’d rather have by my side right now than you.”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“I don’t know. Shy, I guess,” he said.
“Me too…” Amy blushed and looked away. “What way do we go now?” She asked.
“I don’t know. Let’s try to retrace our steps and find the way we came in again.”
The pair shuffled down the same hallway together like two nervous little voles manoeuvring through the corn fields at night. Both felt exposed, both felt like something was watching them, yet neither spoke of it. There was something else there with them. The power had gone off for a reason. Will could buy the notion that the television could’ve blown a fuse, but the fact that every single power source in the building tripped off at the same time meant that someone must’ve flipped the switches. But who? And why was the power on in the first place? Amy had mentioned that she’d heard footsteps. She said someone else was in the building with them. Was she right?
They talked quietly about escape plans and maybe getting up to the roof, or trying to kick out a window, but all the windows were boarded shut with thick plywood and all the stairs to the roof had collapsed through neglect. There was no way out but the way they’d come in.
They crept forward in silence for the better part of half an hour, sometimes stumbling over a broken chair or piece of debris as they did. Amy looked across at Will and saw that he was wincing. Every few steps he’d take his fingers and rub his eyes lightly.
“Head still hurting?” She asked.
“Yep. It’s getting worse, I think…”
Amy reached out and was about to comfort him when suddenly, she heard something; amorphous and indistinguishable at first, but it soon grew louder, clearer. Amy stopped walking. Her hand fell to her side and she waited.
Will, agitated then stopped too. “What is it, Amy?”
Amy didn’t reply. She stared ahead into the thick cavernous air and her eyes went rigged with fear. It was that same voice again. Rising out through the ruddy ether of blackness ahead, or maybe even above them, she heard it. A thick anguished wailing echoed somewhere. ‘Oh, god… What have I done? What have I done?’ It whimpered. ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to. What have I done?’
Then the cries dwindled into the emptiness once more, just like the first time. Amy stood there immobile, too frozen by the possibilities of who was making the sounds to think of anything else. The voice was so familiar yet Amy could not place it.
“Did you hear that?” Amy eventually asked Will shakily.
“I can’t concentrate on anything but the pounding in my head, Amy.”
“I heard that voice again… It was—”
“I didn’t,” Will replied, too overcome with the burning pain just behind his eyes to say anything else.
The first time Amy heard the voice, it could well have been the storm, but this time she’d heard words, sentences, confessions. Thunder can’t make those sounds. Something else was making it and Amy trembled at the thought. What was that?
“I heard a woman’s voice. It sounded like she was confessing something.”
“Please. Let’s just get out of here,” Will answered and walked ahead.
Amy looked over her shoulder, then followed him.
They then moved down lengthy narrow corridors and through small damp rooms, trying to retrace the route they’d taken earlier, but in the dark, it was proving difficult. They eventually found their way into the main bathrooms which were accessed only through the locker rooms.
“I don’t remember going through here,” Amy said apprehensively at the sight.
“We didn’t. We must’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere. Let’s keep moving.”
It was a long porcelain-tiled wet room with rows of industrial bathtubs running along one wall. The aggressive stench of bleach and something else hung in the air and itched the back of their throats as they moved through. Above each of the tubs were a series of pipes and valves that fed down the walls and into them. Hanging over each tub, like flaps of dead skin, were large waxed tarps that could be zipped up through the middle to create a cover over the baths. Will shuddered as his light cascaded over them all. He knew exactly what they were used for. He’d seen it in the files. If an inmate had been particularly hyperactive, the asylum staff would force them into one of those tubs and boil them until they were calm once more. The process could last hours, even days; sometimes causing death. When Will caught a glimpse of someone’s nail marks scrapped on the inside of one of the bathtubs he immediately averted his gaze and pretended he hadn’t seen it.
“What are all these for?” Amy asked.
“Hydrotherapy…” he replied through tight lips.
“Nothing. Let’s keep moving,” Will replied absently and refused to look back at the bathtubs now. Amy was correct. This place was not right. But, beyond that, there was more to the building than Will previously thought.
There was something incredibly wrong with Denbigh asylum, a heaviness in the air that felt like wet smoke when Will breathed it in. He’d broken into many abandoned buildings in his life, yet none of them harboured the same unmoving ominous presence that Denbigh asylum had. It felt like someone was constantly walking too close behind him. He couldn’t explain the feeling to himself, he could only acknowledge it as a coldness at his back. The place was evil and they needed to leave as soon as possible. As the nervousness matured in his stomach, and the burning throb in his head grew, Will’s mind started to play tricks on him. He started to think that every shadow seemed to move and the things that made those strange noises out of sight were alive. Every brick appeared to be conscious, silently waiting for the opportune moment to pounce on the naive pair who’d gotten lost. It was the building doing all of this to them, Will was sure of it.
Amy was not handling the situation much better. She skittishly darted her torch around in all directions, trying desperately not to betray her sheer terror to Will. At some point, she knew she’d catch the author of those footsteps square in her torchlight, or the howling woman huddled in a corner. And what she would do then was what she was afraid of.
Time dragged forward like a stone and neither one spoke for a while. Thunder rumbled in the far distance like a great battle was being waged with artillery and canons. The rain continued to fall. Now and then they would hear an odd noise inside the building: a clanging of metal, or the squirming of old water pipes, or gargling below their feet. They would freeze in their steps when they did and both would wait for some form of retort to the alien sounds, but it never came. All they could hope to imagine was that the building was somehow squirming in the storm. Everything in the place was morbidly old and must have been reacting to the unrelenting heavy winds and rain outside, much like an old sailing ship on heavy seas. That was what they told themselves anyway.
Will and Amy reluctantly moved deeper into the darkness.
Will’s headache had gotten so bad that he would tense up involuntarily with each jolt of pain. Every throb made him twitch in agony and he’d avoided talking wherever possible because that only made it worse. It was like something was trying to claw its way into his mind. It was as if someone had lit a fire in the middle of his head. He clenched his jaw and tried to focus on something, anything, other than the unbearable pain in the centre of his skull. He started to imagine voices spurring him on. At first, they were motivational. Then the voices soon turned against him. They cascaded over each other and mocked him. Will gritted his teeth and tried to ignore the intrusive thoughts.
It was much later when the terror truly began to sink into the pair. They had been walking for an indeterminate amount of time when they found it. There were no more excuses for the strange happenings around them. Up until that point, all the bizarre events could have been explained away with logic and reason, but now they could not deny that something else was truly at work. It was as Will and Amy came back into the same large hallway together, back to where they’d had lunch and found the gory files in the filing room earlier that day, that they saw something else; something new. Hanging from the ceiling of the dilapidated rooms now, were hundreds of eerie wooden effigies swaying gently in the draught. Little figurines of glyphs and symbols made from twigs and adorned with feathers, all in rows like an upside-down forest.
“Holy fuck…” Will gasped and looked up to the roof. “What the hell are all these?”
Both shone their torchlights upward and saw the sea of crude wooden figures hanging above their heads like stalactites. The sprawl of them was endless. They hung in every room, in every corner, from every square foot of ceiling. Every now and then the exhibition was illuminated by the immense flashes of lightning beaming through the holes in the roof. Amy’s stomach churned at the sight of that lurid mass of archaic symbols before her.
“Oh my God, look… there are hundreds of them,” she whispered.
“These weren’t here before…” Will then said gravely.
Amy turned and faced Will. “Where did they come from?” Will didn’t reply. Instead, he could only stare up at them, vaguely horrified, as if looking upon a swarm of bats hanging there. He seemed to be quietly analysing them.
“Will?” She pressed.
“I don’t know. They look Pagan…” he said after some consideration. “Looks like some kind of ritual… or warning.”
“What do you mean?”
Will looked at his feet and wondered whether he should tell her. It would only scare her even more. But, after considering it, he decided it would be unfair to withhold the facts from her.
“… I saw those same symbols on patient 457’s video. He’d painted them on the wall with his…”
Amy’s face went flush with the statement. Her shoulders dropped and every ounce of her being had to fight the desire not to give up completely. “Will, I don’t like this place.”
“Let’s just get to the lobby and we can climb back out,” he squirmed as a reply.
And, right at that moment, a loud banged issued from behind the pair that sounded like a heavy metal door being slammed shut. Both gasped and turned to face it. But there was nothing there. Amy stood motionless apart from the torch trembling in her hands.
“What was that?” She whispered and her voice cracked. “Thunder?”
“No. That was inside… Maybe the draught slammed a door?” He said and didn’t believe the statement any more than Amy seemingly did. No way any amount of wind could force an iron door shut. Neither had an answer for what it might have been.
The pair had no choice but to continue creeping further down the halls in search of the atrium with the revolving door. As far as they knew, that was the only way in, so it still had to be the only way out. All they had to do was get out of the building and they would be fine.
“If we get out of this, I’m never doing anything ever again,” Will said.
“Seriously, I’m going to become the most beige and boring person you’d ever meet. I just want to sit in a chair and do nothing for the rest of my life,” Will chuckled.
“Me too,” Amy smirked. “I’m going to get a cat and wear slippers for the rest of my life,” she said as her whole body quivered.
Will and Amy moved forward. It seemed to take all night and Will was sure they must be getting close to it. But the further down that hallway they moved, the more and more the numbing realisation sank in that the atrium was no longer there. Like a swimmer caught out at sea, Will lied to himself that the entrance to the atrium was just up ahead, just a few more steps. Yet it never appeared. Instead, they passed the same series of rooms over and over. The time drew out like a blade and left behind only the stinging cut of anxiety. The walk went on for at least another twenty minutes and only the quiet sounds of rainfall could be heard.
“Will, this is not right. I’ve seen that exact room at least seven times now,” Amy said after a long and laboured silence.
“I know. I saw it too. We’re going in circles,” he replied, pointing his torchlight aggressively into each corner as he searched for the exit. The fear had mutated into frustration and Will’s temples pulsed.
“How is that possible?” Amy wept. “There’s the main lobby and two wings. East and West. Everything else is outbuildings.”
“I know. But, maybe we’re getting confused and accidentally getting turned around.”
“This hallway is a straight line, Will. It’s only the padded cells down here. We saw that during the day. We can’t get turned around. Instead…”
Will stopped pacing down the hallway and put his hands on his hips. With one long sigh of exhaustion, he muttered through gritted teeth. “It just keeps coming… We keep on going around in circles through the east and west wing. Over and over. Something is playing with us.”
He shook his head and thought for a pause as to how that was even possible. Amy stood next to him and couldn’t think of anything to say.
“The junction box must be in the basement,” Will announced. “They usually are. We need to get down there—”
“What?” Amy exclaimed, completely taken aback by Will’s change of plan.
“We can flip the switches and get the power back on,” he continued coldly.
“Let’s just go!” Amy protested.
“Amy, I can’t see the way out in this darkness. There was only one entrance in here and we need to get back to that lobby. But all these rooms look the same. It’s a fucking maze down here. I don’t know which way it is…”
“… My phone’s only got 20% battery left too,” Amy sighed, looking at the hollow blue screen glowing in her palm.
“We need to hurry then. The basement must be back the way we came somewhere.”
“But, we don’t know what else is back there. I keep hearing voices of people. There’s someone else in here!”
“We don’t have a choice. I am not spending the night here with this fucking storm,” he said and turned around and walked back in the direction they had just come from. Amy closed her eyes in disbelief.
By midnight, they had found it. They had doubled back down that same awful hallway to find an opened black doorway near the end of it. And it led down into the basement, into the underbelly of Denbigh asylum, into icy doom. There was a corroded brass plaque on the wall next to the doorway that simply said ‘Basement’. When Amy saw the monolithic black rectangle of the empty entrance before her, she gulped and felt her legs tremble. The doorway was vacuous and draughty. She stared at it for what felt like minutes, haunted by its emptiness.
“This is it. You ready?” Will asked, shining the torchlight onto her. Amy’s face was pale and washed out in the harsh white glow. She almost looked like a ghost herself. She took a nervous step backwards, away from the doorway. Something was not right.
“Come on then,” Will pressed.
“What?” Will snapped.
“No, Will. I am not going down there,” Amy practically barked back. “We don’t know what’s down there.”
“This might be our only chance to find our way out.”
“Will, I am not going down there,” she repeated.
Will stiffened and looked at her, realising that she meant it. The pounding in his head grew, sending him half-mad with pain.
“Well, you can wait up here for me if you want. I’ll only be a minute. It’s just a trip switch down there isn’t it,” he said and didn’t stay for a reply.
“What? No, I mean…” she said and Will didn’t wait.
Amy watched him take the first step into the pit and felt a surge of sudden desperation overtake her. As much as she didn’t want to go down there, she did not want to leave his side.
Will stepped down the staircase and wandered off into the tenebrous dark of the basement, his form disappearing into the wall of shadows. His footsteps clunked off into silence and then there was nothing. Amy was alone again. She’d wanted to reach out for him to stay, but didn’t have the courage. Instead, the words of protest got lost in her whimpering throat and her hand clutched only the cold air where he once was standing. Amy briefly had this horrible notion that she’d never see him again, and everything she’d ever wanted to say to him would be lost; just like with her father. The thought made her shoulders sink.
After he was gone, she whelped, “Don’t leave… I love you,” so quietly that she was unsure whether she’d said it or thought it instead. She stood there in the stillness and took a deep breath and tried not to let the inexorable wave of panic take her.
The rain outside continued, providing a sort of ambience to her loneliness. Realising she was completely alone now, she turned and looked at her surroundings. In both directions, were rows and rows of those dreadful padded cells that would’ve held all those patients long ago. She looked down the length and thought of them all. The vacuous draught of the never-ending hallways seemed to call to her.
After a few minutes, in a loose attempt to distract herself from the situation, Amy began wandering past them all in an inquisitive daze. She reached out and ran her fingers across the icy steel doors and peered into all the white cubes within and wondered what kind of people lived and died in them. All those people. All those poor people…
She came to one of the cells and stood in the doorway and stared at the damp mouldy walls. The sight made her shiver and she imagined herself in that cell. Was this how they treated people in need back then? Was this patient 457’s cell?
Then the air changed curiously and Amy suddenly felt colder. She stood there for a pause, wondering what was happening. The shadows of the cell seemed to move around her, like smoke in the wind, and Amy began to feel life in the room once more. She glimpsed movement in the corner and turned and saw a quick flash of a figure standing there, looking back at her. Through the noise of the storm outside, a voice of an aggravated man rose up from the emptiness and travelled through her.
‘I said I wanted it CLEAN. Didn’t I? DIDN’T I? I want to be clean. Good morning. Sir, yes, sir! Rigged. Why do I have to stand here naked? Hello. Why are you filming me? I can still hear the bombs, you know? I saw my friends die. Ka-boom. Pink slime all over me. Give me a FUCKING shower!’
Then the voice was gone. Amy stood there, frozen in disbelief.
Oh my god. Was that a patient? Did I imagine that?
Amy then moved into another cell and again heard the tangible yet ethereal voice of someone else rising towards her. As clear as the rain outside, Amy soon heard the voice of a sobbing woman. Someone in her forties maybe. She was trembling as she muttered each word as if it was to herself.
‘I can’t get better here. I can’t get better. I never wanted to hurt him. Only for him to see things my way. I scrub and cook and I cook and scrub and I go to sleep. I go to sleep. I can’t feel the air anymore. I can’t feel anything. Lord Jesus, please help me. My hands are shaking.’
Amy went from room to room and felt them all there with her. There was a never-ending stream of different voices that came down to her as she navigated them all.
‘Do you know the components of a petrol engine? I do—The tremors are too much for my brain—Hey! Hey! Look at me!— My heart burns! STOP IT! STOP IT!—How can I survive when people are constantly giving SHIT! Stop spraying me with that fucking water!—Oh, god… What have I done? What have I done? I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to. What have I done…?’
Amy shuddered at the realisation. They had never left. It made her heart sag and a single tear ran down her blistered cheek. All the patients and those in need of help who never left the building. They all died in there and their souls had evaporated into the air like they were never anything to begin with. What did they think? How did they feel? Will was right. In the files was clear evidence the asylum had been mistreating and abusing all of those people throughout the years. The ill and the deranged were shackled and beaten and experimented on instead of being comforted and cared for, like guinea pigs in a lab. The confusion and fear that they must’ve felt while being prodded and dissected made Amy feel sick. If they were to escape Amy knew they had to tell everyone about this place.
Amy wandered back and sat down on the bench next to the doorway. She gripped her phone tightly as if it were her only lifeline to the outside world in the centre of that hideously malevolent building. And she waited quietly for Will.
Meanwhile, Will shuffled down a great dark corridor that was seemingly cut into solid black stone. The ceiling was low and wet to the touch and he breathed in air that tasted like soot and wet laundry. His footsteps rapped gently in the silence and only the specific sound of dripping water somewhere in the dark was audible to him as he made his way across the length of the basement. Okay, so the junction box wouldn’t be near any water, so I can forget about this section, Will thought as he crossed rows of washing machines and sinks, tracing across them with the torch. It must be further back. Maybe there’s more than one entrance down here? And he realised his breathing was much louder than he’d originally thought. He calmed himself and then proceeded further.
When he came to the storerooms down there, he thought he’d heard something. Through the heaving black air, he heard a curious sound, faint and far. He craned his ear to it and crept forward through the haze, and as he did, the voice grew more distinct, until, soon, he understood the word it spoke—it was his own name. It crooned it from the shroud in front of him in a bizarre and metallic voice that seemed to vibrate the very air about him. The sound made his hairs rise up and his skin prickle with tingling cold. He moved forward toward it in a daze. The voice continued beckoning him to a narrow corridor that would have been impenetrable to his material eyes. Yet, he stepped into it.
Then, from somewhere ahead a pall of grey smoke drifted towards him, soon enveloping him. It wafted across his torchlight and he wandered through it as one would wander through a cloud. What is this? A gas leak? He thought.
Rising through the milky ether at the end of the corridor, he then heard yet more voices. Children’s voices now. Familiar. Fragmented memories. 1995 maybe? TV playing in the background. Paisley carpets below his feet now. Bare feet. Will looked around in astonishment. His parent’s living room. He took a step forward. The torch barely cut through the foggy expanse of smoke all around.
‘Mummy, Will stole my crisps—Now at six, the weather—sit in the beans, Will! I dare you—tonight on BBC ONE,’ Will heard. The house down by the beach. A slew of disembodied voices echoed up to him as if emanating from the bottom of an endless well.
‘Have you been sleepwalking again?—an eternal shadow, dreadfully distinct, dreadfully, DREADFU—Hurry up, Nanny will be here any moment—Dreadfully distinct. Where are you going, Pig?’
He probed into the pit of his stomach in search of something he might have called hope, and he continued through the labyrinthine tunnels. The smoke all about was acrid and burned as it slithered up his nostrils.
“Mum? Is that you?”
‘Everlasting nothingness. Endless gulfs of black tar—Where’s my son? Ha, there he is!—Come give your old man a hug! Sleeping in the massive black heart of the infinite universe. I am all—Mummy, can I play with Will’s friends too?’
Will’s head swam with all the shards of memories swarming back to him, striking his synapsis like needles. The dizzying swirl of times gone by made him feel delirious. Is this real? I remember this…
He stumbled further through the fog in search of the junction box. And the voice called to him; beckoning him further. It groaned from the empty wet dimness of the basement—all the rag water dripping down from the pipes above—and it spoke in a clear timbre voice. ‘I am all. I can stop the pain in your mind…’
Then, at the end of the tunnel, he saw it. Dreadfully distinct.
Over 20 minutes had gone by and Will was still not back yet. Amy had begun to really panic at this point. She’d gone from wild speculations, to gently calming herself, to outright hysterics, all the way back down to numbing silence in that time. Now, she sat meekly on the bench, like a torpefied mouse, and silently prayed for Will to come back to her.
She thought of her father, and all the things he’d said to her mother before he’d walked out. Was Will the same? Everyone she’d ever known had abandoned her. A few cold sentences that served as a goodbye and then they all vanished into blackness, never to be seen again. No wonder she was so insecure and timid. It seemed no one had any interest in her. Now, more than ever, sitting in the damp darkness, she felt truly alone. Everything about her life had seemingly culminated in this one moment.
Amy began to sob again. As she closed her eyes, she thought of the night her father left.
Her mother had been drinking and arguing with him all night. He’d come home from work, tired and hungry, and she chased him from room to room and shouted at him. Amy laid on her bed in the dark and listened to it all:
‘You never do anything for me!’ Her mother bellowed.
‘Please, let me clean up and we’ll talk?’
‘Screw you! I don’t need ya!’
‘I pay for everything! You wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for—‘
‘You’re nothing! I hate you! Oh, good for you. That’s it! Pack your fucking bags and dive. Go on, leave! Like you always do!’
She could tell by the sound of her mother’s voice that she’d been drinking all day.
‘Yeah, go on ya sonofabitch! You’re just like your father! A worthless bum! So easy for you ain’t it? To just pick up and leave like that.’
After an hour or so, Amy had finally plucked up the courage to get up and open the door from her bedroom, only to see her father standing in the front doorway with an overnight bag slung over his right shoulder. He never looked back. He didn’t know Amy was standing right there. He never looked back, and he just left. It was a dark and snowy night and with one swift motion her father disappeared into the blizzard and she never saw him again.
For years Amy had tormented herself about why he never said goodbye to her. Was it something she’d done?
She was always a shy child and an under-performer at school. She wasn’t particularly talented, nor did she have any definable skills. As she tracked down the inventory of her personality she briefly wondered whether she had something to do with her father leaving. Was he disappointed in her? Was she too much like her mother? Amy knew that her mother drank too much and had been unfaithful at least once during their marriage. Yet, Amy couldn’t help but blame herself for her father leaving. If only she’d had the stomach to fight for him. If only she had the nerve to tell him how much he’d meant to her. Maybe then he wouldn’t have left? If she wasn’t so young and meek, she’d have run after him and clutched his leg like a desperate kitten, and begged that he’d take her with him. Wherever he was going, it didn’t matter. She just wanted to stay with him.
When he left, her mother soon retreated to her own bedroom—as she always would do in those kinds of arguments—and she played The Cranberries on the vinyl player, and listened to it over and over, crying into her pillow like some yelping dog, crying her heart out. The noise of the song reverberated into Amy’s bedroom, plaguing her with the sound. Her mother would lock the door and demand no one try to enter except her father. And at some point, her father would return and they would reconcile. Her mother expected it. It was almost a predictable pantomime now.
But that night was different. Because he never did return.
Amy went back to her bed and laid there in the dark and sucked her thumb.
Why did she say those things if she didn’t want him to leave? Amy thought. Why did she let him leave if she loved him? I don’t understand.
The song had burned into Amy’s memories as if it were branded in with a hot iron. It was the last anchor of her father, the last memory of him, and she never wanted to forget it. I love you, daddy. I’m sorry…
Amy slowly opened her eyes again and found herself still in the middle of Denbigh Asylum. The memories faded and it was quiet once more. She sighed and sat there for a while, all alone. Then she started humming that song again in a faint effort to reassure herself.
“Oooooh, Is that the way we stand? Were you lying all the time? Was it just a game to you? But I’m in so deeeeep. You know I’m such a fool for youuu. You got me wrapped around your finger. Do you have to let it linger? Do ya have to?” She sang quietly then soon stopped. The words didn’t feel right now. They felt disingenuous.
Then a wave of sheer terror hit her and she gasped. From further down the hallway, she heard the same song echoing through the rooms back to her. It was low and alien at first, and it had picked up at the exact spot where she’d stopped singing at.
“Do you have to, do you have to, do you have to let it linger?” The song called back from somewhere. “Oh, I thought the world of you. I thought nothing could go wrong. But I was wrong, I was wroooong…”
Amy bolted upright and shone her torchlight down the hallways in all directions. Her heart thundered in her chest and her hands trembled.
“Who’s there?” She was barely able to ask. Her sagging cheeks quivered and she’d just about managed to collect enough saliva to ask the question.
“If you, if you could get by. Trying not to lie. Things wouldn’t be so confused. And I wouldn’t feel so used,” the song continued somewhere in the ambience. “But you always really knew. I just want to be with you… And I’m in so deeeeep—”
Then, without announcement, the song cut into a thick silence. And once more, Amy was left standing in the stygian dinginess alone, and just the eerie widening stillness behind kept any semblance of company, only now she wasn’t alone.
Her skin was clammy and her eyes went wide as she looked around. She heard her panting loud against herself. Her left hand fluttered towards her lap, where she kept the flick knife in her pocket, but it soon lost itself on its journey and fell by her side instead.
“Hello? Is someone there?” She muttered sheepishly, scanning in all directions.
But, as she came back around with the light in an arc, it fell upon a figure at the far end of the hallway; something tall standing there, not moving. And she stopped dead.
It was a person, a silhouette, stark and lurid against the twilight blue backdrop. She gasped, harder this time, and her phone almost fell from her instantly disabled grip. There was something in its aspects that Amy recognised instantly.
“Dad?” She asked and almost took a step forward. “Is that you?”
All fear had drained from her at the prospect of being reunited with her father once more.
She took a step closer. When she did, her torchlight dipped for an instant and the shadow in front of her rushed towards her with deadly speed.
“Dad!” she shouted but was met with no response.
She suddenly felt the ghostly chill of a presence flow across her exposed skin. She yelled in startled horror as a great loping black shadow swept by her in a rush of wind. But it was gone so swiftly that she was only left pondering whether it had been a dream or a hallucination.
“Oh, god…” she whispered in shock and stepped back until she found herself against the wall. She stood quietly against the abrasive brickwork and tried to calm herself.
But it wasn’t working. She stood there for what seemed like an hour, just trying to steady her breathing but in reality, it was merely a few seconds. She wasn’t alone, and she knew that now. She wanted Will back by her side. At least then there was some form of comfort in not being so exposed. And, as if on cue, just as she was regaining control of herself once more, a voice came from below.
“Amy?” Will called from the darkness below and Amy froze. “I think I’ve found it, but my phone is dead,” his flat voice drifted up towards her. “Can you come down here?”
Amy took a reluctant step towards the doorway and stood at the top of the stairs. “Will, is that you?” She called down.
“Yeah,” his voice echoed from the bottom of the stairwell. “Can you come down here?” He said and his voice didn’t sound quite right.
“It’s me… Come down here.”
She took another weary step towards the entrance of the basement. “What’s going on?”
“Come down here and I’ll show you…”
Too captivated by the chance of seeing him again, she began edging down into the basement. She gripped the handrail tightly, even though the cold iron was gnawing into her palms.
“Will?” She asked as she stumbled slightly down the rotten stairs. “Will, please. Where are you?”
At the base of the stairs she came into a vast domed chamber— like a cave—and the yawning darkness all around swallowed up what little torchlight she had. The basement was long and narrow. It smelt of ash and arsenic and all the particles of dust would dance around in her torchlight like moths to a flame as she scuttled through it all.
Down there were rows of washing machines and generators. Old laundry trolleys were scattered across the empty walkways as if abandoned in a hurry. Some of them still had dirty linens in them. But that was only the laundry room. There were other rooms. She made her way through the storerooms and into another area. More than that, there was an entire sprawl of dingy hallways and tunnels that seemed to slink off in every direction. Below the asylum, there was a whole network of service tunnels and cubbyholes that gave Amy the impression of a rabbit’s warren. All of it a blur in her torch light. The corners and corridors seemed to have no aspect to them, instead, it all just slid off into unrelenting darkness.
“Will! Where are you? Please, call out!” Amy shouted desperately as she navigated the infinite shroud.
Feeling the panic rise within her again, Amy paced down the lengths much faster now and checked behind every edge of the units. She surveyed every cubbyhole and burrow in the pit, desperate to find him hiding behind one of them with that same wry grin he always had. Her heart fluttered in her chest and she began to wonder where Will actually was. It had sounded like he’d called from the base of the stairs, but he couldn’t have. Otherwise, she’d have bumped right into him.
After some time going forward through the interminable gloom, she then came to him. Near the end of the basement, where the water tanks were, there was a sheer empty wall at the back. And that’s where she found him.
Amy froze in her steps. Sitting prostrate on the floor was Will, topless and bloodied, praying to something. He sat there on his knees, hands clasped together in obedient prayer, head bowed down. He rocked back and forth on his joints like a pendulum gone mad.
“Oh god! Will! What has happened to you?”
He did not answer. He simply sat on the cold wet floor before the mural, panting and sweating; just like patient 457. He stared at the mural intensely with wide black eyes. The sight had him.
“Will! Please, answer me,” she bayed.
Amy came to his side and tried to hug him in condolence, but it went unregistered. Instead, her arms slipped off Will’s pulsing rhythmic body. His skin was hot to the touch and sweat rolled down his back like a waterfall. She wrapped her hands around his chin and pulled his face up to hers. There was nothing in his eyes anymore. Just these two black discs staring back at her absently.
“There is something here with us. It just attacked me. Do you understand that? We need to leave!” She said. But, she looked into his vacant doe cow eyes and saw nothing of the person she knew. Her comments went unacknowledged. His body was nothing but a shell now. She recoiled in terror.
“Will! Please! Wake up!” She begged. “Please!”
“I’ve seen it,” Will slurred as a response. “I understand now…” he said as he looked up to her, poisoned by something, enslaved by something. He seemed delirious, yet completely paralysed. “This reality is a lie. The human spine liquefied. We believe, so endlessly… We will stay here forever. We can never leave…”
“What?” Amy shrieked as she held his head in her palms.
“Your father is here. They are all here. He told me to tell you he’s sorry…” Will said and smiled menacingly. The whites of his teeth glinted in Amy’s torchlight.
Amy reeled back and dropped her grip from his chin.
“What the hell do you mean?” She asked. “You don’t know my dad.”
“We are all here,” he said. “This realm is not the only. It’s all connected.”
Amy stared into his eyes, and as she did, something whispered to her quietly that it was not Will talking anymore. It was something else. She gazed down into his empty face—and it flashed between the memories of her past: her drunk mother, her father’s face: all of it interchangeable, and she realised that Will was possessed by something.
Amy looked up and saw what Will was praying to. Behind them both was a giant wall of stone that was completely devoid of anything that belonged to humans. Instead, there, on the back wall was a mural—a painting of an entity or some kind of abstract being. The torchlight barely lite-up the scene before her, but she recognised the glyph all the same.
She screamed when she saw it fully. Painted in a thick black ichor against the stark white wall was the thing from the files. The paint was made of blood. The four-armed pale humanoid of days of old sat poised, cross-legged, on the wall in front of her like an ancient king slumbering atop his mouldering throne of skulls. It was sitting above the crematorium chute where the ashes of its sacrifices lay forever. Around it, the wall was covered in esoteric symbols so ancient and hideous that they made her skin crawl. They were the same ghastly runes from the wooden feathered effigies hanging from the ceilings earlier.
Amy cried out horrifically at the sight. She reeled back in utter panic and screamed louder; this chilling shrill that echoed through the low-ceilinged basement. Her baying soon morphed into hysterical crying and all she could do was stand there before him and illuminate his form in front of the tableau.
Will was right. They had to let the world know what had happen in that gruesome asylum. They had to escape. She reached down and hooked her arms around his slippery torso and tried to pick him up, but he was much heavier than how he appeared. She heaved and tugged but Will refused to move. He sat on the floor like a giant sandbag and Amy realised she could not lift him to his feet.
She came to face him and lifted his head to hers. “I’m going to try and find something to pull you out with,” she said as she held his chin up. “Okay?”
Will did not reply. He stared back at her with empty obsidian eyes, like he was looking straight through her body and at something else entirely.
Amy left him and went scrabbling around in the basement to try and find some rope or maybe even a trolley to pull Will away from that awful mural on the wall. She had to get him out. She had to hurry.
Amy felt around in the dark in search of something but there was nothing. She then decided to look back upstairs. There must be something around here I can use?
When Amy came to the stairs, she moved up them cautiously, expecting to see that same shadowy apparition standing at the top of them, waiting for her. It was a lonely and terrifying climb. She clambered skittishly up the stairs like a nervous child and she eventually came to the doorway at the top. But, when she came to that doorway, her heart dropped. Something had changed. Utterly surprised, she reached out in the dark where there should’ve been emptiness and touched only freezing sticky stone now. Amy gasped and her hand reeled back in astonishment. It had sealed shut somehow.
“What? This was clear before,” she shrieked. “No, no, no, no. This doesn’t make any sense!” She said as she patted the wall franticly. Her slapping of the wall soon turned into maniacal fist-pounding against the monolithic slab of stone, yet it would not move.
“No! This wasn’t here before!” She shouted as she punched the rock. “No! This was how I came down here. I know it!” Then, she whispered once more in defeat. “But, this wasn’t here before…” she sobbed.
Feeling the despair burn upward within her, she sank to her knees at the top of the stairs and cried. “Oh, christ. What is going on?”
She sat there and pulled her knees up to her chest. She leaned her head against the cold wet stone and wept. The whole ordeal was making a mockery of her will. It seemed that everything was against her and she realised she was lacking the strength to fight it anymore. She curled up and buried her head in her arms. Please let us escape, please let us go…
Amy sat there drenched in sorrow and thought of everything that had led her to this moment. She tried to think of ways to escape, but nothing was coming to her, so she went motionless once more and stared off at the concrete wall in front of her.
About ten minutes went by when she first heard the sound.
“Amy, come back here…” Will’s wounded voice called up to her from the pit. “Please. It hurts so much. Where are you?”
“Will?” Amy replied in bewilderment. She craned her ear to the staircase so she could hear it better. He’s back. He’s alive. He’s going to be okay!
“Please, come down here. I need you,” Will crowed.
Amy rose with a jolt of energy at hearing his voice again and descended the staircase once more. After everything, she could not leave him. He was the only person left in the world who’d ever cared for her. No one else ever did. She could not leave him.
He’s going to be okay!
“I’m coming. Hang on. I’m right here,” she called out.
Her torch shone into the thick blackness and each step downward felt to her like stepping off a cliff’s edge. “Will? Can you hear me?” She gasped. “Are you okay?”
Just like with Will, Amy stepped down into wafts of smoke that were drifting up from the bottom of the staircase. They became thicker with each step. She didn’t notice. She moved down through waves of milky fog eagerly. The air about her vibrated like the rhythm of a heartbeat, and she didn’t notice.
“Will, I’m almost there. Just hang on,” she said as she continued pacing through the endlessly folding fog. She held her hand outstretched, touching the rough stone contours of the stairwell, feeling her way through the wet swirling air all about her. When she reached the bottom, she stumbled and stepped down into something thick and sludgy below her feet. It felt like tar seeping in over her socks. Her shoe became ensnared by its gross black ichor, but Will’s voice was still calling out to her from somewhere ahead; somewhere beyond the endless black mire. So she continued wadding through it in search of him.
“Where have you gone?” She screamed but heard no response.
Amy trudged and stepped through the thick marshes. The swamp all around was enveloping and before she knew it, the water was up to her chest and Amy was swimming through thick salty liquid. It was thick and heavy all around her.
“Where are you?” She bellowed before the waterline went over her head and she went under. She felt herself sinking into cold wet darkness. The pressure against her body made her feel weightless as she drifted down to the bottom.
At some point, Amy opened her eyes and then found herself in the living room of her childhood home. It was identical. Her mind swirled and she looked around with bemusement. It was snowing outside. The icy flakes fell against the bay windows with practised precision. The fireplace roared. It was all the same as that night when he left. She remembered it completely. The high ceilings. The Victorian townhouse. The thick dirty rugs at her feet. The smell of the fireplace and the unmistakable stench of gin and brandy radiating off the curtains and the chairs and the carpets. A lifetime of cleaning could never remove that stench. The front door was closed. It must have been a few hours after he’d left. Where am I? She wondered. This isn’t real…
Her head swam and she reached out to grab hold of something, but there was nothing to grab hold of. She stumbled forward and found herself standing above her mother. Her mother was passed out and rolling around in delirium in front of Amy like someone taken with a fever. Anything to garner sympathy. The booze had gotten into her and she writhed around in delirium pathetically. Her mother groaned and shook in the cashmere sheets like a pantomime. Amy looked on. She was smaller than how she imagined herself. Her eye-line barely scraped the top of the sofa. She imagined herself as a child now. The same little child who had watched her father leave. Amy waited by her mother’s side and tugged lightly at her dressing gown until she groaned.
‘Mummy, can you hear me?’ Amy asked. ‘Daddy is gone…’
Her mother rolled over and her bloodshot eyes blinked open for the first in hours. ‘There you are, little Amy,’ her mother said and flashed a vampiric smile. ‘Where is your father?’
‘He left,’ Juvenile little Amy replied.
‘Excuse me, dear?’ Her mother was always a socialite and a performer. Even in her dullest moments, she projected an image of authenticity and sophistication that most bought. But, not Amy. It was as if her mother couldn’t even remember the altercation that had just happened not two hours earlier. Maybe she chose not to remember it. She lived moment to moment, riding upon the crests of interaction; pure reactions only; like a great mass of kelp being coerced along by the tides.
‘You told him to leave. And now he’s gone…’ Amy said. ‘For years I trusted you. I looked up to you. But you took away the only thing that really helped me and meant anything to me. My father.’
‘Oh, my daughter, it’s a little late for this, isn’t it? May you pass me my glass?’
‘…You pushed him away. He was my dad. And you took him away from me.’
Her mother scoffed and reached out for the last of the martini on the table beside her. She clutched it like medicine and gulped the dregs of it.
‘You stupid girl. You were always too much like your father.’ She announced.‘Too weak. Too passive. I swear I married a jellyfish because he didn’t have a backbone!’ Her mother slurred. ‘Forget him. He was a nobody. We’ll be fine,’ she said and waved Amy away. ‘You’ll see in the morning. Once I clear my head…’
Now, standing next to her mother, that statement burned like white-hot coals in Amy’s gut. The memory came back to her and made her feel sick. Her mother had destroyed her life so erroneously, with such indifference, that it polluted Amy’s thoughts. She trembled with hatred.
‘You bitch! You stupid bitch… he left because of you!’ Amy screamed as she lunged and started punching her mother repeatedly. ‘You ruined my life, you drunk bitch! You ruined our lives!’
Amy climbed up and straddled her mother’s intoxicated corpse and exploded. Amy thumped and hit her mother furiously, each punch filled with more force than the last. ‘It was you!’ Amy growled. She smashed her fist into her mother’s face over and over until her mother stopped moving altogether. Amy’s arm ached and sweat ran from her brow. ‘YOU let him leave! You stupid bitch. You were supposed to be my mother. YOU did this!’
Eventually, Amy stopped and she sucked in a long hard gulp of air. Laying between her legs was her mother. Her vacant flat aqua-blue eyes looked upward at nothing in particular. They orientated in opposite directions, maybe towards the doorway, maybe towards the mini-bar, and she looked like a mannequin with a forehead smashed in down the middle. But there was something wrong. Amy reeled back in astonishment. Her mother’s eyes weren’t blue… they were green.
As Amy breathed the fire out of her lungs, she came to her senses once more. When she did come around again she found herself sitting on Will’s chest in the dark, a rough red brick in her right hand poised above her head. He laid there sprawled and motionless. She was squatting over him in front of the mural where she’d found him. The blood spread out across the floor around him like some gawky finger painting in the dimness.
Amy reeled back and the brick in her hand dropped with a deaf clang against the concrete floor.
“Oh, God…” Amy heaved as she gazed down in desperation at what she’d done. “Oh no! Will? Please! Will, answer me! I’m sorry!”
She shuddered and tried to push his skull back together, but it wouldn’t stay. Something hot and acidic lurched up through her throat.
“No, no, no, no!” Amy said over and over as she tried to smooth back the cracks in Will’s face and force his glassy lifeless eyes to look at her. “Oh, no! Will, please don’t be gone… Please!” She cried and buried her head in his chest. “Please! Don’t be gone…”
But he was. And she did it.
She heard her mother’s voice in her mind for one last time. ‘Oh, Amy… what have you done?’
She closed her eyes and cried. Amy was so completely overwrought that all she could do was slump down next to Will on the cold damp concrete floor and lay with him. She wrapped her arm over his body and sunk her face into his shoulder, hugging him to her and crying deeply into his shirt. Then both of them laid there for a while and everything was quiet.
“Will, I’m so sorry… Don’t hate me. Please. I’m sorry…” she whispered into his ear. “I will never leave you. I will never leave. I’ve always loved you.”
How could I do that? How could I do that to him?
She’d been so subdued for so long that she didn’t even think she had that kind of anger within her. Amy always assumed that it was simply something missing from her psyche. Never, in a thousand lifetimes, did Amy think she was capable of committing such a senseless and horrific act… unless it wasn’t her that had done it…
She sat up and looked at the pale man on the wall. From where Amy was sitting, its hollow face appeared to be looking down at the whole thing.
“You…” Amy snarled, facing the grotesque painting head-on. “You made me come back down here. You made him come to you. You made me…”
She stared trance-like at the dreadfully dark painting as if captivated by its aspects.
The wall spoke. The wall said she was weaker than Will was. The wall told her she was easier.
Amy stood up and faced the mural fully. “… Why?”
The wall said it wanted her.
“What do you want?”
The wall wanted to help her. The wall said she belonged here with Will.
“What are you?”
The wall asked for Will’s body.
“He’s dead now. You can’t have him,” Amy sobbed, slathered in the thick clumpy blood from Will’s opened head. “YOU made me do it!” She shouted with anguish.
The wall sympathised. The wall described Amy’s situation.
“No! His body can’t stay here. I must get him out.”
The wall disagreed. The wall asked for his body once more.
“You can’t!” Amy bellowed and cried into her hands, slick with blood.
The wall said he can bring him back, make him be with her.
“No! His family must know. I will get him out.”
The wall disregarded her choice. The wall said it was foolish to focus on such sentimental things. The wall demanded his body.
“You can’t have him! You deceived all the others too, didn’t you?”
The wall smirked.
“You destroyed their lives. You won’t have ours.”
The wall said Will can never come back. The wall said neither will she ever leave. They belonged to it now, as do all the others.
Amy rubbed her furrowed brow and looked down at Will’s body. Amy realised it was the wall that stopped them from leaving. It was the wall all along. From the moment they had stepped into its domain, it had corrupted, plagued their minds and deceived them; like a disease. The great yawing power of the malevolent unknown force was all around her and she knew there would be no escape. But she didn’t have to concede defeat. She would not go on in this world alone. If Will was gone forver, then so shall she. She stood up and stared definitely at its unmoving aspects. The great ancient deity sniggered at her efforts. If escape was not possible, she would deprive the wall of what it wanted. Her body tingled with the strength of what she was about to do. What better way to go out?
“Then I will join him. In death there is love…” she said and raised her arms prostrate in front of the dark energy.
Amy then took her flick knife out and slashed feverishly at her own wrists. The wall watched gleefully as the blade slid deep up her forearms. The blood spurted out in thick purple geysers and Amy soon began to feel faint. Once it was done, she stood and glared at the mural like a champion, defiant until the end, right before her vision faded. As the vitality drained from her, all those memories and thoughts faded too. Her head slumped and she looked down at Will’s bashed-in face and soon collapsed on top of his body. She laid there and felt the wave of contentment wash over her. It’s done. Her whole life had been nothing but an internal battle locked within the room of her own mind. No more. She would be free now.
Everything went dark. Amy breathed out long laboured breaths as she laid on top of his corpse. Pools of crimson spilt out from her slit arms and flooded the pair and Amy’s blood merged in with Will’s. Amy almost smiled to herself as the light dimmed and her senses began to leave her. Her head laid in the seem of his neck and she draped her gushing arm over his chest for the last time.
“I love you. I’m so sorry,” were her last words.
Then she shut her eyes and everything went quiet.
Much later and she awoke somehow. It was somewhere indistinct. The smell of freshly cut grass crawled up her nose. She smelt Lavender too. Crisp clean air all around. Birds chirped in the trees. She was laying on her back. She knew that much. The grass tickled her skin. Drafts of sunlight filtered into her eyes. Amy squinted and awoke in a daze and looked upward to an endless blue sky, like an upside-down ocean.
She felt warm.
Amy looked around stunned. She was in the courtyard of the asylum. It was spring. The flowers were budding. There were people all around in white pyjamas mowing the lawns and reading books. There were hundreds of them. All of them smiling and attending to various tasks. One woman in her forties was pruning roses and sniffing the petals contently. A tall man with a shaven head was reading lines from a theatre play to himself. He was acting it all out and would pause every now and then and then re-run his lines.
“Good morning, sleepy head,” Will said.
Amy rolled and looked to her right and saw Will laying next to her. He was wearing that same sardonic grin he always did. His head was propped up in his hand as he watched her contently.
“Will? You’re okay?” Amy asked with bewilderment.
“I’m fine. How are you?” He grinned.
Amy looked around in puzzlement. “Where am I?”
Her head felt light and she had the sensation she was floating somehow.
“The courtyard of the Denbigh Asylum. This is the garden,” Will said as he gestured to the view.
Amy looked at Will. He was transparent. A river of blood trickled down the side of his head.
“Will, your head is bleeding…”
“I know,” he winked.
Amy bolted up. “This isn’t real? Is this a dream? I mean, any moment now I’m going to wake up in that fucking basement with that bloody painting in front of me? Right?”
“No,” Will replied calmly.
Amy stared down at his chest. “Why can I see through you?”
Will could only afford a morbid smile as an acknowledgement. He stood up too and came to her.
Amy looked around at all the other people. They were all wearing those same white robes. They were all patients.
Amy looked back at Will. Her eyes went wide with the realisation. “Will, are we… are we dead?”
Will didn’t answer at first. He simply pouted and took Amy’s hands in his own. He looked at her with those same exuberant blue eyes and exhaled deeply.
“Well… it’s kind of hard to explain, so maybe I should just show you,” he said. With that, he then slowly turned her palms over to reveal her lacerated wrists. Rows and rows of deep wide-open cuts all up her forearms still seeping with dark purple blood.
Amy looked up at Will’s transparent face, completely aghast; as if she couldn’t remember what she’d just done. The colour ran from her face and she almost stumbled back.
“We both died down in that basement, Amy,” Will said frankly. “We can never leave here.”
“Jesus fucking Christ…” Amy said as she staggered away from him. “No, no, no, I just wanted to die, I didn’t want to end up here. I just wanted it to end, I didn’t want to be here.”
“It’s okay. We’re okay,” Will reassured as he came closer and rested his hands on her shoulders. “We’ll be together now.”
Amy calmed and faced him once more. “What do you mean?”
“It’s where all of them have ended up.”
She looked around at all the happy patients in the garden. “So, so we’ll be here forever?” She asked.
“Yes. In death there is love, right?” Will smiled. “Don’t worry. Everything is alright now…”
“Oh God, I don’t understand.”
“Let me show you. Come on, we might as well meet the others…”
He wrapped his arm around her and led her further into the courtyard to join all the other souls that had perished within the walls. All of them who would never leave its confines, yet the sun would shine eternally upon them all and they would all live forever in the dusty memories of the asylum’s masonry walls. The monstrous hugging entity that was Denbigh Asylum wanted them to stay. It needed them to stay. With their presence there was power. The rain may fall and the thunder may brood, but the asylum will stand firm for eternity and all those spirits it has absorbed shall live within its ward for infinity. The silent dance of eternal death continued on.
It was four days later when the local hostel reported Amy and Will’s absence. Some of their possessions had still been left in the room, and no one had seen the pair come-nor-go in that time. After a few hours of organising, the local police launched a search investigation of the surrounding area, but found nothing. It was soon concluded that the pair had fled the area and no more action was taken. Little did the police know, they never left. But the locals knew exactly what had happened. A few of the residents had spotted the couple heading up that forbidden track days earlier and they all knew what fate they’d walked into.
Amy and Will’s disappearance was only added to the ever-growing list of vague hauntings and sightings of apparitions and spectres that supposedly navigated the hallways of Denbigh Asylum when the sun goes down. They were not the first, and for as long as the building sat up there on that gloomy hill, they would not be the last.
Back at the asylum, Will’s ghostly apparition stood content in the atrium. He looked out through the cracks in the wall and admired the view. Beautiful. It was raining, but the sun was rising, etching the tops of the trees all around with hints of gold. Behind him, Amy waited, humming her favourite song to herself. She watched him with a playful snigger.
“Will, are you coming or what?” She eventually said.
Will turned and grinned wryly. “Of course. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Amy held her hand out to Will and he took it and both spectres then turned and faded into the ether.
Together forever. My arms, your hearse.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableCraig Groshek Narrated by Paul J. McSorley
🔔 More stories from author: Hank BelbinPublisher's Notes: N/A Author's Notes: N/A
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