The door closed behind me as I tossed my backpack onto a nearby armchair.
“Rough day?” Alex asked, sitting with their legs crossed and reading The Trouble with Being God on the couch. I plopped down next to them and rested my head on their shoulder. They patted my brown curls and kissed my forehead, placing the book on the coffee table.
“What’s wrong, Bunny?” they asked, using my favorite pet name. They wrapped their pale skinny arms around my broad shoulders and drew me in close. I could smell their subtle perfume.
“I failed my Microbiology final. I think I might have to take that class again next semester.”
“Aww, honey. That’s awful. Can I make you some tea?”
“Yes please,” I sighed in reply.
Ryan walked into the room swatting at Alex’s ass as they passed. He saw my depressed state on the couch and ran right over, pinning me to the couch beneath his muscular body.
“You’re not allowed to be sad, we have our first big investigation tonight!” said Ryan with a huge smile. I couldn’t keep the smile from my own face as he tickled my sides and kissed my neck.
Alex returned with three cups of tea a few moments later and we all sat around the living room chatting about our day.
“Alright” said Ryan with a not-so-subtle hint of excitement. “It’s time to go, you two have your stuff, right?”
“Yeah,” Alex and I said in unison. I zipped up my black hoodie and stuffed an EMF detector into the front right pocket. Ryan and Alex grabbed their duffel bags and I carefully carried the camera to the bus parked in the driveway. I took a deep breath and before sliding the side door shut, Ryan grabbed my hoodie and pulled me in for a kiss.
“Paula, this is kids stuff, we’ve done this before, just not on such a large scale. I won’t leave you in there to wander the halls with the insane ghosts that already live there; pinky promise.” He held out a pinky and as Alex plopped into the passenger seat, they did the same. Still full of nerves, I smiled and took them both by my own pinkies.
After a 45 minute drive, our VW bus traveled up the gravel path so overgrown with weeds we had to stop at a few points and slice them off of our tires. Eventually though, we made it to the main parking area of Chesapeake Mental Institution. This is one of the many places forgotten by history but remembered for the terrible things that happened within its walls by the locals. Images of nuns in full habits walking around and dishing out punishment and prayer in equal measure filled my mind as I recalled the light research I’d done on the place. We parked and unpacked the bus. The back was a workspace where one of us would sit and watch the static cameras we set up around the house. We’d only been doing this for a few months, but had a pretty decent setup for new investigators. It was all thanks to Ryan’s failed filmmaking career that we have the tech we do.
“Some of the neighbors say they hear screams in the middle of the night” said Alex raising their eyebrows and slicking their short bleach blonde hair to the side. The dark eye makeup that covered their lids made the whites of their eyes pop as they spoke, reminding me of a cartoonish skeleton. They hopped up into the bus and donned a large pair of over-ear headphones.
“Oh, so…you’re staying here?” I stammered. Ryan, standing next to me looked just as concerned, if not more.
“Al, I don’t know if this is a good idea. I think we should all go inside for something this big. What if something happens to one of us in there?” he asked.
“I want to see what I can see and hear from out here” Alex protested. Ryan and I looked at each other. Knowing how stubborn Alex can be, we both didn’t want to press the issue.
As we walked towards the door, Ryan grabbed my hand and shone a flashlight in front of us. The giant wooden doors overgrown with vines swung open on rusted hinges. Inside was a large open space. To the left was a reception desk that curved around a corner leading down a hallway. Scattered across the stone floor of what seemed to be a waiting room were metal chairs. Dead leaves and dirt covered the floor let in by years of neglect.
“Let’s go this way first” said Ryan, pointing the flashlight towards an ajar door that read “patient intake.” I trembled a bit but nodded my head. He squeezed my hand and we walked on.
“I think this might be a good place to set up a camera” I said as we approached a room at the end of the hallway. “This looks like an exam room, I’m sure there’s a lot of energy trapped here.”
“Good idea” Ryan said, setting down the duffel bag he’d brought with us. He reached inside and pulled out a radio.
“Al, there’s an exam room off to the right of the waiting room. We’re setting up a camera here.”
“Okay” their voice said back over the radio. Ryan was the only one that got to call them Al, so I didn’t dare use that nickname when I called over on my radio “roger roger” in my best droid voice. The two of them giggled and it made me feel a lot more comfortable being in this dark and terrifying place.
The spirits here were obviously restless because as we set up our camera, I heard knocking and a few shuffling noises from the hallway behind me. It wasn’t unusual to hear what we called “settling noises” when walking through a new location but they always gave me an uneasy feeling. I was a strange bug, however, and loved to be scared. Having the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and feeling like I’m being watched are all exhilarating. I guess it makes me feel less alone and like I have something to look forward to when I die.
The camera was ready and Alex confirmed the feed was working. Ryan and I moved on.
“You alright, Bunny?” he asked.
“Yeah I heard someone checking us out while we setup our camera. I hope to hear from them later on.” I always had this calmness when it came to spirits. The thrill of their possibility was what I found interesting. Investigating them and finding proof just made me more confident they existed.
We walked through a door to our left this time and our footsteps echoed around the cathedral ceiling. It seemed like another waiting room but this time gurneys with restraints, magazines,and overturned nurse carts littered the floor. It was a round room with only one entrance, the one we’d just walked through. There were large windows around the curve of the room and bars outside of the windows..
“I wonder if this was their common room” I said. I let go of Ryan’s hand and walked over to a stuffed bear sitting upright on the floor. I took the EMF detector out of my pocket and scanned the bear. It read a bit higher than normal. I placed the bear back down on the ground, patted it’s head, and walked around a bit, the detector in my outstretched hand. It chirped and beeped in a few places.
“I think we should record for a bit before moving on. There’s a lot of energy here” I said.
“Paula, this is the second room we’ve been to-”
“Third!” I interrupted before I could help it. Ryan tsked and slapped his arms to his side impatiently. Without setting the bag down, he reached for a small grey recorder. It was a tape recorder my dad had used when he was a journalist. We couldn’t afford a digital one with our limited budget, so this one would have to do for now. Ryan popped a new tape into it, I grabbed it, and sat down on the dusty floor.
The record button stuck a bit, but with some effort, I pushed it down and started asking questions.
“Hi there, is anyone here with me?” I paused. Ryan rustled around in the back and I shushed him.
“What’s your name? My name is Paula.” Ryan made a loud crashing noise behind me, I went to shush him again, but when I turned around, he was on the floor, holding his leg and screaming.
“Oh shit, are you okay?” I called, scrambling to get up and run over to him. Alex suddenly called over the radio
“Are you two okay? I heard some really high energy activity in another room.” I took the radio from Ryan’s bag and called back
“That was us, Ryan’s hurt, can you call 911?” We had both left our cell phones in the bus so they didn’t interfere with our equipment.
Ryan was rolling around in pain, his shin bone protruding out from his skin and pant leg. Blood was pooling around us on the floor and I took off my hoodie to try and stop it.
He screamed louder as I attempted to pat the blood off of his leg. The little training I had in survival tactics was the last thing on my mind. Ryan was in tears and couldn’t stop screaming. Alex was silent on the radio, I assumed on the phone with the dispatcher. I started to cry as well and soon realized I wasn’t doing anything to help my boyfriend so I moved towards his head and rested it on my knees.
I ran my fingers through his choppy black hair and smiled down at him, doing my best to calm us both down. His eyes were puffy and he was still crying, though he’d stopped screaming and was now moaning every few seconds. I sang him the first song that came to mind. “Chicken Fried” by The Zac Brown Band. This made Ryan chortle enough to keep him distracted. He kept closing his eyes and the color began to drain from his face. As I finished the country song, I realized time was running short and if I didn’t get Ryan some help, he would bleed out. I glanced around where he’d fallen and through the pool of blood slowly crawling between the grout of the stone floor, I saw the contents of the nurse’s cart. It was then I realized what had happened.
A spatter of blood sprayed across the cart’s shelves and onto the wall behind it. It seems he’d been balancing on the cart for some reason and fell, hitting his shin on the metal top of the nurse cart. Probably his propensity to climb things he wasn’t supposed to when he got bored. I gently placed Ryan’s head on the ground as I gathered gauze and tape. Nothing seemed to sop up the blood like I needed it to. I racked my brain for ideas when suddenly it occurred to me to make a splint. I found a few hospital gowns in the exam room and brought them, along with a pillow I’d found on one of the beds with me. The door to the exam room slammed behind me without my touching it. I didn’t think anything of this until after I’d done my best to bandage Ryan up. I placed the pillow behind his head and was putting what pressure he could handle on the wound. The shuffling noise was back and I heard it approach the exam room door.
“Alex” I spoke into the radio in hushed tones. There was no reply.
“Alex!” I said, nearly shouting.
“What? What’s wrong?” they called back, obviously panicked. I was so relieved to hear their voice I couldn’t remember what I wanted to say.
“Paula” they called after a brief pause.
“Oh, uh can you see anything on the camera?” I stammered
“Nothing” they replied. “Why do you see something?”
“No,” I said, “but I think I hear something. Can you come in here?”
“I’m on the phone with the dispatcher, she said the ambulance will be here in a minute or two so I don’t want to risk losing service. How is everything in there?”
“Not good. Ryan is about to pass out and he’s losing blood fast. I’m really worried.” The tears came yet again and I realized the position I was in. I was stuck, and so was Alex. They sounded just as upset as they radioed back
“Oh my god, this is so terrible. My love, you need to stay safe in there. Don’t forget your prayers.”
I couldn’t remember any of them and my heavy sobs came quicker as I watched Ryan’s head bob to one side. He hadn’t made noise since I made the splint, but was still breathing. Now his breaths were shallow and his lips were nearly purple.
“Oh my god, I hear sirens” Alex called over the radio. I simply sobbed into the radio in reply.
“I’m coming in with them the second they get here.”
The ambulance sirens were so loud I could hear them from within the sanitarium. Alex led them through the hallways and to the door from the exam room. I heard them try the rusted door knob, but it wouldn’t budge.
“Paula!” Alex shouted through the door
“We’re in here” I called back.
“I can’t get the door open.”
A shuffling and mumbled conversation occurred and a loud pounding reverberated off of the walls of the round room. It was deafening. I could hear Alex getting frustrated and yelling at the paramedics to do more than they were.
“Paula, sweetie, we’re going to get something to break down the door. I’m staying right here.”
“Thank you Alex” I said.
Moments later, a splintering sound rang through the room and the door vibrated so much a thin layer of dust fell to the ground. The cracking and breaking door sounded more distant as the repeated blows occured. The door stood unmoved and unscathed.
“What the fuck is going on here!?” Alex screamed. I felt sorry for the paramedics crammed into that small hallway with them. Movement caught my eye from within the room. The bear I’d picked up before had been thrown against the window. I saw it bounce away, leaving a streak in the grime of the floor. Ryan suddenly started breathing at a slower pace. I rested my head against his chest to hear his labored breaths wheeze out.
“Baby?” I cried. “Stay with me, Ry” I said softly, my new tears staining his navy blue sweatshirt. “Alex, what’s taking so long!?” I cried towards the door, my own voice roaring off of the stone walls around me.
“Baby, I don’t know. The door won’t budge. Something doesn’t want us getting in there.” I didn’t know what to do, I felt stuck again and rather than cry, I was emotionless, completely shut off. I rested my head against Ryan’s chest again, and for a few seconds, his labored breath eeked out of his lungs. They tapered out eventually and I knew he was going.
“I love you Ryan, Alex and I both do. Don’t haunt us on the other side.” I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I saw a small smile part his lips as he exhaled slowly for the last time.
Within seconds of his last breath, the door suddenly shattered and spread across the room, Alex burst in with the paramedics at their heels. They staggered back from the blood they had just stepped in and tears of grief replaced those of rage. They covered their mouth and stood back as the paramedics carefully lifted Ryan onto the gurney.
It’s funny how I look back on that day every year and remember Ryan. He was the ball of energy I needed in my life. He made me do things, he encouraged Alex and I to be the partners we always knew we could be. What I remember most vividly, however, was reviewing the recording from that day. After Ryan fell, I got up to help him immediately, forgetting to turn off the recorder. An EVP we picked up from that night still haunts me to this day. Once I heard the door slam after my scampering feet could be heard splashing through the blood on the floor, a female voice clearly spoke into the recorder “stealing is a sin.”
Last Week’s Story: There is a Monster Under Your Bed
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