Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Haunting

Chapter one

     Jack Riley stood outside the drab white building, wondering what the hell he was doing there.  This whole thing was ridiculous.  The building was the Ridgeway Hospital for the Mentally Insane, and it had been abandoned for years.  Unfortunately for Jack, it also sat on a prime piece of real estate right in the middle of a tract of land that his company wanted to build high price condominiums on.  He was finally on the verge of obtaining the property, but for one condition the current owner insisted on for the sale to go through.
     He had met Mortimer Tokkett, the very old and apparently very senile man that held the deed to the property a few days ago.  He was a strange old guy, hard to track down.  He had to meet him in his dark old house, with lawyers and real estate people in tow.  The creepy old guy would only sell the property to someone that was willing to spend a night in the building, and if they still wanted to buy it in the morning they were welcome to do it.
     Sure, there had always been rumors that the place was haunted, but any old building in any town always had that mystique about them.  This Mortimer guy seemed pretty sure about it though, but Jack would be damned if some bullshit urban legend told by a senile guy with one foot in the grave would keep him from getting the land.  So he agreed.  He was allowed to bring four other people with him, so he gathered some people that supposedly knew a thing or two about ghosts.  Plus, his assistant Audrey.  He was waiting for them now.  Audrey was already with him.
     Audrey Trent was wondering what she was doing here also.  She had been Jack Riley’s assistant for five years now, and it could be a very demanding and thankless job.  The long hours didn’t matter much, she supposed. She didn’t have much of a life anyway.  Only her cat Norton relied on her, and he didn’t rely on her that much at all when she really thought about it.  Jack Riley relied on her for everything and all she usually got for her help was a meager paycheck and a lot of demands and insults.  She never spoke up or stood up for herself.  She had always been that way; quiet, trying to avoid confrontation. 
     She didn’t think she was very attractive or special in any way, so she usually just went about her life, not expecting anything and not getting anything.  She wondered if Norton would even miss her tonight while she stayed in a haunted mental hospital. 
     The thought of staying here frightened her, but Jack wanted her here and she couldn’t say no to her boss.
     Jack looked at Audrey with contempt.  She wasn’t the best assistant, totally useless with other people, but she was good with errands and paperwork and didn’t cost him much money.  Plus, she continued to work for him while most people would have gotten fed up and left a long time ago.  If he had to waste a night in this place, he might as well have her here and get caught up on some work.  ‘Where were these ghost experts?’ He thought to himself, standing in the cold October air.
      Harry Watkins was running late, but wasn’t he always?  He had stopped at the convenience store to stock up on some snacks for the night and it had taken longer than he thought.  Harry was no stranger to snacks.  He couldn’t help it, when he was nervous, he ate.  When he was depressed, he ate.  Unfortunately for him his life was an endless cycle of depression and anxiety, so he was quite obese.  So he had stood in the store aisle, feeling guilty for all the high calorie snacks in his arms trying to talk himself into putting them back while simultaneously trying to justify buying them. 
      The justification won out, but now he was late getting to the building where he would be spending the night.  He wasn’t even sure why he was doing this.  He had gotten a call from some woman named Audrey, and her boss wanted to pay him $100.00 to spend the night in what was rumored to be a haunted insane asylum.  They had found him because of his website, which was all about paranormal activity in the area, with a good deal of it devoted to the Ridgeway Hospital for the Mentally Insane.  It had been closed in the 60’s, and ever since it had been the source of many stories and supposed sightings.
      They seemed to think he was some sort of expert on it, but in reality he was just a geek in his mid thirties, living with his parents and blogging about cool ghost stuff.  Well, if they thought he was an authority on the place, let them think it.  He could use the money and it would finally get him access to the place so he could get some good pictures for his site.  He pulled up in front of the building, got out of his car and made his way to the front door to meet Jack Riley and his assistant Audrey.
     “You’re late Mr. Watkins.” Jack told him, sounding annoyed.  Harry sensed he seemed quite comfortable being annoyed.
     “I’m sorry, Mr. Riley is it?  I got tied up with something, but I’m here now and it’s still a while until nightfall.”
     “I didn’t ask for an excuse, I was simply stating a fact.” Jack shot back at him.  “So you know all about this place, huh?  Enlighten me.”
     “Well, basically it was an insane asylum built in the 1920’s.  It was originally meant to be a place for frazzled housewives and people suffering from nervous breakdowns, but as society changed it came to be used to house the criminally insane.  It got quite a reputation for cruelty and some claimed they were doing experiments on the inmates by the time public outrage had it closed down.  Of course the most famous inmate was Henry …”  Jack cut him off abruptly.
     “That is entirely uninteresting Mr. Watkins.  All I care about is spending the night so I can buy the property and build my condos.”  Jack glanced down at his smart phone and started checking emails.
     “Okay Mr. Riley,” Harry said, “but you should also know that it’s said the spirits of some of those insane criminals still reside here, angry and demented, wanting revenge.”
      “Yes, I’m very frightened Mr. Watkins.”  Replied Jack, not even looking up from his phone.  “That’s why you’re here, to save me from the bogeyman. Now where are these other two ghost chasers?  Miss Trent?”  His voice was sounding more impatient.
     “I gave them the address and told them the time to be here Mr. Riley,” Audrey said, “I don’t know why they aren’t here yet.”
     Jack stared at her for a moment. 
     “So why aren’t you calling them to find out where they are, Miss Trent?”
     “Oh, of course.” She answered, fumbling for her phone.
     Harry didn’t like the way Riley spoke to her.  She seemed very nice, and he gave her a smile as if to let her know he was on her side.  He didn’t particularly like Jack Riley.
     Audrey hung up her phone. “They didn’t answer Mr. Riley, but I’m sure they’ll be here soon.”
     “Uh huh.” Muttered Jack, more interested in his emails. 
     “I’m not even going to answer it.” Frank Newman told his wife Susan.  “How is it going to look if they know we got lost getting there?”
     “We’re ghost hunters, not explorers.  Who cares if we made a wrong turn?”  Susan snapped back at him.  “You worry about the stupidest things.”
     “Me worrying about stupid things is the only reason we have a business at all.”
     “Some business,” She said.  “A small store that sells ghost detecting supplies and an occasional job checking out supposed hauntings, and not one of those ever produced a ghost.”
     “Look” countered Frank, “We both decided to go into this line of work, don’t make it sound like it was all my idea!  Let’s not argue about this now.”  His voice trying to sound calm.  “We need to get there.  There’s 300 dollars in this for us.”
     “I still say you could have gotten more.  Why did you take the first offer?”
      “300 dollars was more than we made all last month!”  Frank shot back, “I wasn’t going to take a chance on losing out.  Now where are those directions I wrote down?  What street am I supposed to turn on?”
     Susan fumbled with some papers.
     “Left on Locust Valley Road.”  She said, “With all this electronic ghost equipment you couldn’t have gotten GPS?”
     “Just let it go, Susan!  Let’s just get there.”
     They pulled up to the building just as the sun was starting to go down.
     “Here they are Mr. Riley!”  Exclaimed Audrey.  “Now everybody’s here.”
     Jack, Harry and Audrey watched the Newmans, obviously arguing in the parked car before they finally got out and started unloading equipment from the back seat and trunk.
     “That certainly is a lot of junk you brought with you.”  Jack Riley told the Newmans once they made it up the walk to the building.
      “It’s a lot of sensitive electronic equipment Mr. Riley.”  Frank said, “We are very professional and want you to get the most for your money.”
     “About the money,” Started Susan, “It might cost a bit more than my husband agreed to on the phone, after all professional parapsychologists are not chea…”
      Jack Riley cut her off abruptly.  “You will be paid the amount originally agreed on Mrs. Newman, not a penny more.”
      Frank and Susan glared at each other, but neither said another word about money.
      They stood staring at the front door of the building until Jack cleared his throat.
      “The key, Miss Trent?”
      “Oh, of course Mr. Riley.”  Audrey had completely forgotten she had the keys to the building. She was always doing scatterbrained things like this.  No wonder Mr. Riley was always getting mad at her.  She approached the door and tried several of the keys, fumbling as she did.
     “Give me those!” snapped Jack, snatching them from her hands.  He started trying the lock, but seemed to have as much trouble as Audrey.  Harry smiled at her, but she quickly looked down at her feet, and he felt an urge to put his arm around her.
     Jack managed to get the door open and they all stepped inside.  They found themselves standing in a large entrance area, with long hallways going off in several directions, their doors long gone.  Light was still coming through the tall grated windows, throwing shadows across the trash and debris that was scattered on the floor. Rodents and other animals had obviously been residing here in the years since it became abandoned. 
      “Alright, there are cots and blankets and lanterns in the truck outside,” Jack stated “let’s get them in here and get set up before it’s completely dark.”
      They got all their belongings and set themselves up in separate rooms, other than the Newmans who set up at a desk in the entrance of the wing containing everyone else’s quarters.  They had a huge array of meters and cameras setting on the counter top.  Harry asked what they were for.
      “Well, we have basic cameras, still and camcorders.  We use them to document the area and try to capture any activity that might occur.”
      “Have you?” Harry inquired.
       “Have we what?” Frank seemed confused.
      “Have you ever captured any activity?”
      “Well, no.” Frank explained, “But cameras are just a small part of it.  We also have digital recorders to try to pick up any disembodied voices that we can’t hear normally.  We have thermal scanners to pick up on any cold spots, and of course we have an EMF meter.”
     “EMF meter? What’s that?” Harry asked
     “An EMF meter measures fluctuations in the magnetic field.  These fluctuations could be the result of paranormal activity.”
     “So have you found any fluctuations with it?”
     “Well,” Frank said, “We’ve noticed some stuff.  It’s hard to say exactly what caused it, but it’s very exciting.”
      “Perhaps you’ll get lucky tonight and we’ll see some sign of Henry.”
      “Henry?” Frank was confused, “Who’s Henry.”
      “Henry Givens.” Harry explained,  “The worst criminal occupant ever housed in this hospital.”
      “Why, uh, why the worst?” Stammered Frank.
      “Henry’s crime was that he killed several children in his neighborhood.  When the cops searched his place they found the children’s dismembered body parts everywhere. What really made them gag was that some of the flesh was in pots on the stove.  Henry had been eating them.”
      “Eating them?” Frank repeated, shocked.
      “Yes, eating them.” Harry confirmed. “They put him in here after the trial.  They say that the parents got together and paid a guard to kill Henry for what he had done, so after lockdown he slipped in Henry’s room to do him in.”
     “…And?” prodded Frank
     “In the morning they found the guard dead in Henry’s room, with half of his organs eaten.”
      “Oh my God.” Said Frank, visibly shaken.  “Well, unpleasant as that may be, Henry is long dead now, right?”
      “Yes,” Harry confirmed, “But in the 70’s some kids were in here partying and one of them passed out and the rest left him here sleeping.  The next day they found him dead, his eyes and most of the flesh on his face missing.”
      “Come on, now. That has to be an urban legend.”  Frank said, laughing nervously.
      “Perhaps it is,” Harry replied, “But legends usually have a grain of truth somewhere in them.  Well, happy hunting!” 
     He made his way back to his room, but on the way he passed Audrey’s room and stopped at her doorway.
     “Have you got everything set up okay Miss Trent?” He asked.
      Her back was to him and she jumped, startled.
     “Yes Mr. Watkins.  I didn’t see you there.”
     “I’m sorry.”  He told her, feeling foolish.  “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
     “It’s okay.” She reassured him, “I guess we’re all a little on edge.”
     “I guess we are.” Harry agreed.  They stood there looking at each other for a moment, then it started to get uncomfortable.
     “Well, let me know if you need anything.”  Harry finally said, and hurried off to his room.
      ‘He’s a little strange’ Audrey thought to herself, ‘but he seems nice.’
      A little while later Jack called them all out in the hallway.  He stood up in the dim light from the lanterns and addressed them all,
      “Listen people, I just want to get through this and leave at dawn and go sign the papers that say this land is mine.  Do whatever you have to do to make sure nothing happens that might upset that plan.  I don’t know about ghosts or spirits or maybe some shit that Mortimer Tokken might have planned, but I don’t care.  Again, I just want to get through the night and leave in the morning in one piece.”  He looked one by one at each of their anxious faces.
        “Okay boys and girls,” Jack Riley said, “Let’s get to it.  I have a feeling it’s gonna be a long night!”

Chapter two

     The night passed without paranormal incident, as there is no such thing as ghosts.  Harry and Audrey had a brief, unsatisfying sexual encounter in an out of the way room that gave a momentary anomalous reading on Frank and Susan’s EMF meter, but nothing else interesting happened.  Jack was free to obtain the property as he fulfilled the odd stipulation of Mortimer Tokken, who died a few weeks later and left everything to his small dog Mr. Scruffs. 

© David Ferraris 2013