A century later, everything fell to ruin. Rot covered the structure and spread to the nearby town. A place now only children visited for a good scare. The object of dares and double dares on late night weekends. Fear coats the misty air, mingling with a vile sense of danger. Voices are rumored to echo in the night. Ghosts of a tortured past still looking for a way out.
Stories of tragedy often times attract the weird and demented as they hunt ghosts of the past for a thrill. Visits often times result in false findings. That is until the night of the incident. The ‘tragedy’ often whispered in cities within walking distance.
This night, a night of death, a group of kids think it fun to test their grit. Together, laughing and jeering they approach the edge of the abandoned town. This is their story.
“Wait up Joe!” my breath began to burn through my lungs as I chased after him.
“Come on. Don’t be such a girl.” He laughed as he climbed over another raised root.
“I am a girl.” I grumbled. My clumsy feet stumbled over the flatter ground, let alone roots raising up to trip me. The darkness descending doesn’t help either.
Joe follows Chris and Ryan, whom have nearly made it to the abandoned town. A place forbidden by all parents to go. As the thick of trees give way to the rundown place, what I see puts goose bumps down my arms. Rubbing them only seems to make things worse.
The gray and cold brown of the ruined buildings make the place colder than it should be. “Hey guys, let me through.” As I push my way around the gaping guys, I see what has them transfixed.
A man, or woman is hanging, as if a flag or as sign, from the poles in front of an old store. His or her arms spread wide and the feet dangling below.
“Ew.” I covered my mouth and nose. “That can’t be real.”
“No. I don’t think it is.” Ever practical Ryan agreed.
“Come on. The asylum is just past this place.” Joe encouraged.
“Wait!” Chris said, “What’s that?” We all wait in silence as whispers and echoes pass randomly by our ears. I swat at the air as if a fly were buzzing by. As if that will cease the mysterious sounds now obvious to all of us.
“We should keep going.” Ryan insisted as he took a few more steps.
About half way through the town a scream wrenched the air. Ear shattering, bone chilling scream that echoed long after it stopped. We all halted in our progress the moment the first sound of it reached us. Each of us covering our ears from the onslaught. Looking around I didn’t see anyone around. There didn’t seem to be anyone here. Surely there wasn’t.
I followed to where Chris was pointing and my heart nearly pounded free of my rib cage as I glimpsed a woman with half a face and flaming hair before the curtains over the window swished back into place. We all stood stunned staring at the window as if watching would summon the woman again. I hoped not.
“I thought that no one lived here anymore.” I said.
“They don’t.” Joe confirmed grimly.
“Then who the hell was that?” I shouted as I pointed to the window in question.
“Nothing.” His voice strangely monotone.
“A nothing that we all saw!” I yelled as fear began to sting my eyes. I blinked it back not wanting to be the weak one in the group.
“Yes. Come on.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me forward as Chris and Ryan reluctantly followed.
The asylum came into view a short while later. Too long for my taste, but too soon as well. If this town was in the state it was due to the disease spreading from the asylum, I dreaded to think of what we might find in there. A few steps later confirmed reason for my hesitation.
A thud echoed as Chris tripped on what appeared to be a doll. The head rolled a few feet. Rolled from the chin to cheek and the eyes blinked at us. A scream found its way up my throat despite the amount of force I put behind holding it in my belly. The guys all jumped at the sound but didn’t remove their eyes from the blinking doll’s head.
“What in the hell is that thing?” Ryan demanded. Though there wasn’t anyone to demand an answer from.
Joe walked ahead with me in tow again. The other two didn’t say another word and continued to blindly follow his lead. A testament to peer pressure and testosterone stupidity. As the dilapidated building comes into view, my pulse pounds painfully in my body. I ache everywhere and Joe’s grip seems to be bearing bone breaking pressure on my wrist. I yank it free, gaining his attention. He looks at me silently as if he needs to determine if I’ll continue or run away. I square my shoulder and raise my chin at the unspoken challenge.
The door grows before us as we approach. Its intimidating view warns away the sensible. Too bad none of us seems to have any sense to run the other way and not look back. All to save face in front of our peers. Joe pulls the door and its rusted hinges protest loudly. I can tell from the flexed muscles in Joe’s back that he had to put some weight behind the motion.
Inside the paint is peeling on the walls. Dirt and leaves lay in random piles on the floor and line the walls. Glass is shattered everywhere and darkness seeps into the light from our phones. We use them to begin our search of the old institution.
Each room is labeled with a number on a metal door. The small square windows are broken from the inside. Something very bad happened here. There was no doubt. Evidence was everywhere. From the dark stains on the walls splattered in several directions, to the broken furniture littering the place. Mattresses are shredded, sheets lay abandoned on the floors. Medical supplies are scattered randomly from the nurses’ stations to the bathrooms.
A gasp echoes across the hall from Ryan. We all rush to his side to find a crib. The bumper pads are still intact and the mobile seems to be moving as if someone just touched it. Looking closely a small hand seems to reach up momentarily before disappearing below the bumper pads.
“Surely no one would leave a child out here. In this place.” Ryan whispers, his fear evident.
As we begin to shuffle forward I notice that Joe stays behind. I look at him questioningly. He turns and walks away from the room. Curiosity keeps me walking toward the crib. Maybe some deep seeded motherly instinct lying dormant until the day they are needed. Though I doubt it.
Chris and Ryan are staring down into the crib before I can even see over the bumper pads to the mattress. By the time I can, I wished I would have followed Joe instead of my curiosity. There is a baby in the crib. One of ash colored skin, cracking as marble does with age. A woman’s hand. I assume it’s a woman’s hand laying severed on the infant’s head as if it had been comforting the child before it was removed from its body. The baby doesn’t cry. Doesn’t coo. Nothing. No sound at all. Just looks at us through one eye calmly. Creepy screams at me from inside my skull. I shiver and choke back a squeak.
We all quickly raced from the room before anything else strange could happen. Joe is waiting for us at the end of the hall. His back is to us, but he nods his head and waves us forward. Lambs to the shepherd, we follow. Joe doesn’t talk, he doesn’t even look at us, just walks and expects us to follow. Our feet shuffle across the glass riddled ground. Scuffling and scraping sounds echoing with us as we continue. I’m afraid of what we might find next. What might find us.
The light doesn’t seem to be able to fight the dark. I check my phone battery, eighty percent. No matter how many times I turn the light off and on again, the dark continues to devour the light until only a dull lumination remains. Just enough light to keep from running into walls, or objects.
“Joe?” my voice shakes. I don’t want to do this anymore. I just want to head back home. This is far enough. We’ve gone far enough.
“Hey man.” Ryan called out as we continued after him.
“Joe?” I asked after him again as I hurry to his side. He’s starring ahead seeming in a trance. Even as I pull on his arm to gain his attention, he says nothing.
“What should we do?” I ask Ryan and Chris. They both shrug and continue to follow Joe. I’m torn. I don’t think I can leave them here. I can’t go, not knowing what would become of them. I had to try to get them to go home. I race after them as they fade into the void surrounding us.
The blackness seemed to grow in thickness. I felt as if I were wading through air the consistency of water. Breathing became difficult. Light remained dim. I could hear the footsteps of my friends in front of me, but I could no longer see them. I stretched out my hands to feel around me growing more frantic by the minute.
A woman, at least I think it was a woman. Her mouth dropped the length of her neck causing her chin to rest over her sternum. Her teeth were sharpened to sharp points. She was turning toward me when Chris pulled my hand to get me away from her. She continued to follow after us at a slow, creepy pace. We run until we nearly hit a glass double door. We pushed the rusted hinges to their breaking point and made our way out into a barren garden. The woman chasing us stood on the other side of the glass just watching us but not attempting to exit the building. She tilted her head as if listening to something I could not hear before her decaying arm lifted to point at something behind us.
I turn around, facing the wood garden to see two twin dark haired little girls standing side by side. Black eyes shed black tears down their faces, even as they smiled. Their black uniform dresses hung down to their knees. They giggled together in an echoing child laughter that made the hair all over my body rise in fear.
“Welcome to his garden. His grave. He bids you to come forward. Come see. He has a special surprise for you.” They intoned together.
Chris seemed to move in a trance-like state toward the two little girls. They parted for them and followed him as he walked through the dead garden. I watched as the moon shined on their heads until they met up with two more figures ahead. Joe and Ryan. They were already out here. They stood with their backs toward me, standing extremely still.
My feet move all on their own as they carry me toward them. My frantic heart beats hard in my chest as something inside me warns me of a danger I don’t yet see. Slowly, the moon shines down through the greenhouse roof onto a man is come to know as Father Time in the books of mythology I love to read. Mirrored Roman numerals surround his head in halo fashion. In his arms lay the broken pieces of statues. One of which, a woman, had an arm stretched out to his chest holding his heart. Blood trickles slowly from the hole his heart was pulled from. Just as it flows freely from the statue woman’s slit neck. Odd it seemed that a statue could bleed. My mind couldn’t register the wrongness of it.
“As you asked I have brought them.” Joe spoke monotone. It broke me from the spell of Father Time just to see the creatures we’d meet along the way to move in on us.
“Perhaps. However you are two moons too late.” Father Time said.
“No. It can’t be. You’re wrong.” Joe began to panic as he watched the creatures close in on us. “I did what you asked. Let me go. ”
Anger tore through me as the truth of Joe’s betrayal hit home. I looked to Chris and Ryan. They were still entranced. They would be of no help.
“You bastard.” I seethed in a voice menacing enough to draw Joe’s attention finally. He seemed confused that I was lucid.
I rushed toward him and shoved him into the woman with half a face. She wrapped her arms around him and began to consume his face. In doing so, the other half of hers grew back beautiful until she dropped his lifeless body to the ground.
The twins went after Chris and Ryan. They closed the guys between them. Reaching up they dug their hands into the eyes waking them before death could save them the agony. The twin’s eyes turned from the black void to Ryan’s green and Chris’ brown. The last of their screams echoed as they too fell lifelessly to the dirt.
The distraction of my friends kept me from noticing the baby crawling at my feet until it’s small hand touched my ankle. An unbelievable burn creeped up my leg at a snail’s pace. I tried to kick the fiend away but it latched on with all its might.
“Please.” I begged to Father Time. “I’ll do anything.”
He blinked once and the small child let me go. The burn remained but wasn’t progressing. Tears continued to sting my eyes but I held to my conviction to get out of there.
“Two days shy of a full sun’s cycle you shall provide to us half a profile, two sets of visions, a body fit for a head, a jaw strong enough to bite and a young meat suit. Should you fail, you will burn until ashes are all that remain.”
I nod my head eagerly as the child burns away the skin from Joe’s corpse on the ground and returns to a child that’s not nearly as innocent as it looks. The doll that isn’t a doll attaches itself to Chris’ body. The lady with the giant mouth devours Ryan’s entire head. Not wanting to watch, I hightail it out of there.
Back in the woods, safely away from that hell, I pull up my pant leg to find ash caking my skin. It won’t rub off and hurts to touch. A reminder that I have one year. No, two days before a year to lure more victims here. Just like Joe, I’d betray them.