Estimated reading time — 15 minutes
The cracked, grey structure stood like a monument before them, separated from the offroad only by a chainlink fence, scattering pockets of moonlight over the foursome. Swaying against each other with inebriation, three fraternity boys and the only girl they could find who had the balls to come up to this place, stood agape before it like they couldn’t believe their feet had brought them so far away from the campus parties and city lights.
“Don’t you think someone still owns this place?” the girl asked them. Her name was Allison, a freckled brunette and to be fair, she was drunk too, but she wasn’t stupid. “It’s still, like, a private property or something. And there could be security we don’t know about.”
“HERE?” retorted Lance with a snort of laughter. “Yeah, I bet they have state-of-the-art cameras.” With a boost from his friends, he clambered his bulk up and over the fence in what seemed like a single motion. Quite an athlete, Lance was, broad in his shoulders and the boldest of them all- yet he couldn’t quite shake the feeling that something was a bit off once his feet touched the ground. Not that he could ever let it slip. The grip on his reputation as the fraternity storyteller and man of the world was a tenuous one at best. “Alright, I don’t hear no alarms and shit goin’ off. Come on over.”
Mikey, a tall scarecrow of a boy with dangling sandy curls to match, gestured to Allison. “Ladies first?” She rolled her eyes and began climbing. His gaze darted across her tight jeans and slender frame, too drunk to make a secret of the fact that he was hoping to get lucky. After all, it was New Year’s Eve and most of the girls had gone home for the holiday, so it seemed like as good a time as any. When she reached the other side, Mikey was next over the rusty barricade.
The last one in their party felt most hesitant of all, even if it didn’t show in his smirking young face. Junior- as his friends called him- was only a sophomore and although Lance had famously made many daring journeys to places strange and spooky, this was Junior’s first. But he didn’t want to be labeled a pussy, so he shrugged off the feeling of uncertainty and made his way over the chain link fence just in time for Lance to begin weaving one of his grandiose tales.
“There’s a reason, guys, that this building, out of the WHOLE facility, is the one that no one, and I mean NO one, is brave enough to step inside.” Allison heaved a sigh. “You know, my mother warned me never to get into haunted houses with strange men.” Mikey laughed, if a little too forcefully. “But it ISN’T a haunted house. Well… not in the traditional sense.”
“Traditional sense?” Junior piped up. Unlike the others, he had a genuine interest in history… not only that, but the building really did seem to emanate something. It gave off that feeling- what some might call deja vu, or the chill they say you get when someone passes over your grave. “Well, it was a house of sorts… somebody lived there. But just one man. One single, solitary, MYSTERIOUS man.”
“Oh, GOD.” Allison was less than impressed. “Was he an axe murderer? Did he eat people? I went to summer camp, these aren’t new stories.”
“Look at this… this, shack, I guess. It’s a piece of a hallway off an outbuilding they CUT off from the rest of the hospital. And you notice anything else?” He waved his impressive wingspan around the facade of the building with a dramatic flare. “You know there was a fire here in ’74.”
Mikey shrugged. “Yeah, the whole place burned down.”
“The hospital had to close. They wouldn’t have had a patient in here- and if there was, they would have….” Junior wanted to add something of his own but his voice trailed off as his eyes were drawn to the outside walls of the chipped cement home, for lack of a better term. It wasn’t scorched or fallen down in blackened beams leaning against each other like the rest of the structures in the hospital. It was unsullied. It almost seemed… pristine by comparison.
Lance lowered his voice and let the eerie feeling set in. “Why would they lock one man in here alone, when there were ALLLLL manner of sick and crazy people to house him with? And why… is it still standing here, completely untouched, while the rest of the hospital crumpled down all around it?” He leaned back nonchalantly against an old tree trunk, satisfied with himself, and began to speak in a slow monotone. “I see windows. Boarded up, sure, but they’re there. But what I don’t see…”
“A door,” Mikey said breathlessly. He had spotted something, he was sure of it. “Is that- the door? Guys, look!” It was hard to tell, even with a good amount of light shining down on them, and like any good millenials they whipped out their phones and began a hesitant approach towards the old building, their digital flashlights held up like shields before them. But he had been right. The shape Mikey was gesturing to did seem like the size and outline of a door, and yet it had been perfectly painted over- no, more like SEALED over, long ago, and was the same color as the rest.
But as he slid his nimble fingers over the surface, dust and grime not withstanding, he could feel its frame. The rest of the adventuring party followed suit, save for Lance who kept his distance back at the trees. Maybe it was all his previous journeys out to haunted houses, or just the melodrama he kept bubbling below the surface of his legends, but something felt wrong about this place in his bones. Allison was more enthusiastic- more brave, even. She turned eagerly back in confirmation. “He’s right, there’s a door here! And look!”
She gestured to the one other curious feature, that after a bit of probing and close examination revealed itself: the door had a narrow hole right in the center of it, like a mail slot. She knocked, and behind it the hollow space rattled back at her. Allison shivered at the touch and along with Mikey and Junior, took a few steps back from the building.
After a moment Lance finally spoke again, breaking the crisp and quiet night air. “Alright, so there’s a door. We made it this far. The question is… who wants to go inside?”
Nurse’s Log: December the 10th, 1891. Patient Name: Mr. Miles Sullivan. Notes: Mr. Sullivan is a white man young in age, which cannot be approximated due to lack of documentation as well as his continued delusions of a “fantasy world” he believes exists. After suddenly entering the facility unsteady on his feet, found to be sweating and in a daze, his words have been garbled and made very few, if any, facts apparent. He has been consistently uncooperative, even under the treatment of sedatives and psychiatric care, in giving any explanation as to his unusual complexion and skin condition, which in the last few days after being committed to this facility, has proceeded to spread over much of his body. Symptoms of dry coughing, spasms and fever indicate a possible resurgence of the recent influenza pandemic, forcing the case physician Dr. Hill to move Mr. Sullivan to the quarantine ward at this time, until further study might be conducted. The standard treatments for delusional hysteria remain as usual. End notes.
“You expect us to go in there? Jesus, Lance,” Allison moaned, and pulled her jacket tighter around her. “There’s a million other ways to celebrate New Year’s, and I’m pretty sure the party you dragged us from was one of them.”
“Well they say it has to be New Year’s to see him. There’s something… special about it.” Lance stood up straight and gave the best stern look he could muster while drunk. “It’s a timing thing, OK?”
“So YOU’RE going in then, I assume?” she shot back.
“Wait, see WHO?” Mikey narrowed his eyes in skepticism. “See the crazy got-stuck-in-a-shack guy? How the Hell are we supposed to do that?” He couldn’t get his mind off of that creepy door. That barely-there opening to the outside world. Who on Earth would you trap in such an ungodly place, and how was he supposed to still be alive after all this time and no one to attend to him? Mikey certainly wasn’t fool enough to go in.
Junior stood in thought for a moment. “So the man they kept in here- what’s so creepy about that? I mean, maybe he was just a pervert or a leper or something, and they didn’t want him around everybody else. Lance, dude, he’s gotta be dead by now. Nobody comes around here anymore.”
“It’s a goddamn GHOST story, man. That’s the whole point.” Lance steadied himself and took a couple steps toward the rest of them. “This guy, right? They say he had some kinda… you know, a virus or something. But thing is, it didn’t touch him. It was getting everybody ELSE sick from being around him.” He smirked and hoped he was getting to them, even as that nagging feeling at the back of his mind told him that it was getting to HIM, too, and that maybe stepping foot in the old place wasn’t the best of suggestions. “So eventually… he did die. And on New Year’s Eve, TONIGHT okay, if you look through those old boarded windows…” He pointed out the narrow slits between the planks through which two tall windows could be seen. “You’ll see him in there. Buddy of mine did. People have before. He comes…. every… year.” He let his story fade down into an uncomfortable knot twisting all of their stomaches as they made uneasy glances at the building.
Mikey instinctively took a step away. “Lance, if there’s a freakin’ virus or something in there, we could let it out and all get sick. That door stayed shut for a reason, man. I mean… do contagious things live that long?” His eyes, now gone wild and a wide sky blue, made their way around the circle of kids in a dash of paranoia. “Do they?”
“No way,” Allison butted in. “You said people were here before, and they saw this, this sick guy, right?” Lance nodded. “Then it would’ve gotten out.”
Junior cleared his throat and decided to have a go at it. “She’s right- on New Year’s, you said. And check the windows.” Behind the thin slats of wood they could see broken-out panels of glass, covered in filth and occasionally whistling in the breeze. “There’s no contagion.” His curiosity got the better of him, and his voice gained courage with a kind of ambition, like he was a man with something to prove. “So then- tell us. Tell us how it works.”
“Okay,” Lance continued, leaning into his little group. “You can SEE him. Actually see him, inside, trying to find a way outta there. Like he never escaped. I’m telling you, man, it’s the fucking truth. You go to the windows, and just gotta like… I dunno, call him out. Then just wait and watch him from out here.”
“So no one’s going in, then,” Allison said with a hint of disappointment. “Waiting to catch a glimpse of a locked-up ghost. Wow, this IS stupid. I’m going back to the party.” She began to make her way to the fence.
Junior didn’t want to miss his chance to look brave and cool in front of a pretty girl; even though it gave him the creeps, surely opening up the door and stepping inside would be ballsy in her eyes. “I’ll… I’ll go in,” he half-whispered. “I mean, yeah. I don’t believe in ghosts. So fuck it. What’s the worst that could be in there, a couple a’ hobos and some rats?” He puffed himself up with every moment that passed, until he was determined to step foot inside.
“Junior, it could actually be dangerous in there.” It was working- she was truly worried for him. “These guys are being dumbasses- you don’t have to do it.” She bit her lower lip and wandered slowly back to the group.
“No way, he’s got the right idea!” Lance smiled, if a bit uneasily. “I’ll even go in after ya.”
“Ooh, real brave of you,” Allison quipped. Then she turned to Junior, matted dark hair and the face of a stoic hero as he steeled himself in front of the mysterious building. “Just be careful, dude. Use the light of your phone, it’s fucking dark out here.” She even put her hand on his arm, and a feeling of warmth spread through him.
“Take pictures!” Mikey chimed in. “If this is for real, it’s shit I wanna be able to prove.” As if driven to do so he, too, clapped Junior on the shoulder with an atta-boy sort of look, if only to save himself from being the one to go in alone.
Junior stepped to the now just-visible door, and suddenly his stomach dropped out so forcefully he felt sick, and not just from the booze. Something emanated from this place and it felt like another world he was edging towards, though he wasn’t sure it was an evil one. A crazy plague man, out of time, alone in his shack. The hairs at the back of his neck stood on end like the air was pure electricity. But all the same, he wasn’t one to go back on his word, and he was more than ready to find out. It took some prying, and he had to remove his gloves just to get his nails in beneath the coats of paint and bits of lacquer haphazardly dashed across the door, but finally he had it open. With his flashlight app on and a final glance back at his friends, he slowly entered the dingy one-room shack, and suddenly a chill ran through him as his sneakers trudged unsuredly across the threshold.
At first, Junior was fairly underwhelmed by what he saw inside. It was a dirty, sparsely furnished den of sorts, and seemed long-abandoned from what he saw by the light of his phone. Based on the leftmost wall, he saw where it might have been once attached to the rest of the hospital, and as he went over to investigate, he discovered loose boards beneath his feet. Looking around unsuredly, he knelt down to knock at the hollow space, then slowly pried a plank up. Junior didn’t know why but it seemed… cozy, like there was an actual home down there, a place where you might lay your head. It was a little cubby, sort of a hidey hole, just big enough for someone to huddle inside. Plus, it seemed that no one else had even found it before. But the wood held a lot stronger than he anticipated and with a great snap, a chunk suddenly broke off into his hand and sent him backwards, tripping over the boards with the sound of a crunch from his phone echoing off the walls before he landed on his back.
Nurse’s Log: December the 21st. Patient Name: Mr. Miles Sullivan. Notes: Mr. Sullivan’s health has declined sharply given his repeated refusal of medications and, as of today, he has enter a semi-catatonic state. Dr. Hill suggests a form of psychiatric examination, and has consulted with Doctors Warring and Ebb in an attempt to further study these curious traits. The rash, seemingly bilious in nature, continues to spread. It is feared that the poor man may not live to see the new year, considering his rather deplorable circumstances, and feared even more so that he was the cause of an unusual number of deaths in the very quarantine hall he has been placed in. Indeed, the patient- when on occasion he speaks- seems to wish himself dead, and expresses a complete lack of understanding in regard to the deaths of his fellow patients. We had hoped that despite no one coming forward as of yet, as it is nearing Christmastime, some family might come to inquire after Mr. Sullivan. Before he stopped communicating completely, however, amidst his rantings he insisted that his companions were in fact the ones who constrained him to this institution in the first place. End notes.
Junior pulled himself back into semi-consciousness and found himself in a strange, new environment, sharp and bright as he allowed his eyes to adjust. He’d hit the back of his head and upon the pillow what felt like matted blood stuck in his hair; they must have taken him to an urgent care or something. It was like a dream, and the room he was in swam before his vision in a haze of white and grey. Did they give him medicine? He itched like Hell. He tried getting up only to find himself, to his horror, in rubber brown restraints strapped to a gurney. Frantically he looked around him: rows of beds, cleanly dressed with white linen and empty. Nothing. No one. He cried out in frustration. “Hello? HELLO? Please, can somebody tell me where I am?” His pleas were met only with silence. He saw that he was in a strange dressing gown, also white, and wondered what they’d done with his clothes, his friends, with ANYthing as far as he was concerned.
He had nearly resigned himself to just lying there and going back to sleep when footsteps approached. Lifting his head, Junior could see two doctors in suits and bowties, one of them wearing gloves, and a nurse in a large heavy apron a good distance away from him, seemingly watching him and remarking to one another. They stayed quite a ways from him and kept glancing over nervously before continuing to talk in hushed tones. “Please,” Junior demanded, “please just tell me what is happening!” The nurse gave him a scance look of concern, then continued conferring with her colleagues, who seemed to ignore him entirely. They began walking away. “No, no don’t! You have to help me!” His heart thumped wildly in his chest as he lay back, staring up at the cold white ceiling as he struggled to hang onto consciousness.
Allison was the first in the group to stand up from their seated half-circle and look at her phone. “He’s been in there for a while, guys. Someone needs to go check that he’s okay…. I thought I heard a noise.”
“Are you kidding? He’s just trying to spook us,” Lance said, his voice filled with false bravado. “I bet any second-“
Mikey jumped to his feet. “Wait! Look! I see something.” He craned his long neck for a better view between the wooden slats.
“Junior?” Allison ventured. “I think it’s him, thank God!”
Junior was sedated- the nurse had injected him behind a veil of plastic sheeting and by now he had utterly no idea where his head was at. The two doctors, both now heavily weighed down by thick gown-like garments and surgical gloves, said through heavy rubber masks, “This is the second time and I haven’t the slightest inclination as to how.”
“How he got out? Clearly the man’s a plague-bringer. His mind is ADDLED, Warring. That’s why you know what we must do… what steps must be taken. This has gone on long enough.”
The young man tried in vain to protest, slurring and mumbling, as they dragged him down a narrow hall, sparsely lit, and onto a decrepit cot in a dark room. Sleep took hold of him and somewhere in the darkness, a door slammed shut and the sounds of rivets, boards and whispers drifted quietly away amidst his foggy slumber.
“Holy fuck!” Lance practically screamed as the door slammed shut of its own accord. He leaped up and raced towards the old grey shack and the occasional movement that could be seen just between those gaps in the window boards.
Mikey shrugged off his sense of foreboding and ran to the door. “It won’t budge! It’s like it was sealed back over again… I can’t get it!” His friend joined him in trying to pry it open any way they could, desperately searching for tools or objects that might free him, while Allison went to the window in a panic.
“Junior, can you hear me? Junior… uh, Sully!” Inside he gave a groggy half-smile at the sound of his name. It was kind of nice, he thought. No one ever called him that.
Allison whipped her head around and frantically gestured to Mikey. “Sully! Mike, he’s just… laying there. The window’s too high for me to reach. Come on, please!” The two convened at the window, struggling to catch any glimpse of their trapped companion.
Inside, the beleaguered young man tremblingly stirred to his feet and was immediately floored by the horror of the realization. He was back in that old boarded-up room again, except it was far from the place he remembered. The paint newer; the furniture cleaner. And the windows- they had bars on them, and as he approached he was only barely tall enough to see through them. He thought to find something on him- anything- but as he patted down his body he only discovered that he was in another plain hospital smock, one that contrasted against a blotchy yellow-red discoloration spread all over his arms.
But Allison- he could hear her voice, echoing through the chamber! She was on the other side of the window, she MUST be. Junior’s mind reeled and yet he clung to the only things he could fully grasp- the bars on the windows, and the notion of his friends outside, ready to save him from this monstrous Hell, a Hell that seemed so familiar and yet so wrong. HE was wrong. THIS was all wrong. Were they his friends? Were they even there at all? He fought hard against a growing delirium.
The faint sound of fireworks going off in the distance hardly served to deter Allison, who was hoisted up wobbling by Mikey and Lance as she took care not to cut herself reaching through the long-ruined window in one of the few holes big enough to get her arm through. She called to him desperately. “Sully! Sully, come on, we’re getting you out of there!” Not she, not Mikey, nor even Lance, had the heart to tell them that what they were seeing from the outside utterly horrified them in the same primal, confused way his own surroundings did- they could see him older, with mottled and burnt-looking skin, and a tattered gown draped loosely over his skeletal frame.
He reached for the window as best he could, but he felt so terribly exhausted. Sully looked back at the floor behind him- there was a pattern of uneven boards, and he remembered his special spot down there. A place where he didn’t have to face any of this, where he could be comfortable, and just sit and think a while. It was like… going home. Waking up from a nightmare that couldn’t really happen. He half-shuffled and half-crawled down onto the hard panel flooring as the voices he seemed to dream calling his name began to fade.
“What is he doing? He’s… I can’t see him anymore!” Lance and Mikey lowered the girl back down as they shared disturbed glances and a feeling of utter hopelessness came over them. As if on cue, the grand finale of the city fireworks went off with a cacophony of pops and shrieks. All three of them ran to the door in a frenzy, smashing and kicking it wildly until all at once it creaked opened, to their surprise. Trembling with uncertainty, Lance put forth his phone, bathing the dusty old room with light. Holding hands the three went in together. “Sully?” There was no reply. “Junior, dude, where are you?” Mikey offered, and his clammy hand gripped Allison’s once more before letting go. After a few tentative steps alleviated their paranoia, they separated to search every possible nook and cranny, which ended in a stumble followed by a loud scream.
Nurse’s Log: January the 1st. Patient Name: Mr. Miles Sullivan. Notes: It is my sad duty to conclude the patient file on Mr. Sullivan as, after much deliberation, the chief medical staff and attending physicians all agreed that he must, himself, be quarantined from the rest of the world. Most alarmingly, Mr. Sullivan shows no observable signs of direct harm from whatever contagion he harbors, and yet it managed to infect and kill not only every soul in the quarantine ward, but a dozen others outside of it, including two nurses and a small child. If this is indeed a variation of the “Asiatic Flu” disaster, then inhumane as it may seem, it appears there are no other options for this unfortunate man than to seal him away in the storage outbuilding for fear of greater epidemic. In accordance with virulent disease protocols, this institution and its staff will do their best to accommodate food and drinking water for this man, until such time as he cannot or will not cooperate. His remaining personal effects, incinerated to destroy contagion, were as follows: one pair Levi-Strauss denim trousers, one oddly colorful linen shirt, one pair lacing shoes, one woolen buttoned jacket, one pair socks and one glass device, possibly a type of mirror or photographic cartridge, thoroughly dashed to pieces when Mr. Sullivan was admitted. This is the final status report on patient Miles Sullivan, the year of our Lord 1892. End notes.
Allison recoiled in horror as she found herself half-fallen into a small cubby hole of sorts, seated snugly beneath the floorboards, containing a single human skeleton in a tattered old gown curled awkwardly into the fetal position and resting just against her leg.
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