Estimated reading time — 13 minutes
“I really don’t think this is so smart,” a young woman, no older than twenty-one said. The fear and anxiety rang clear in her voice.
“I’ll be fine,” a male voice responded. He took her soft, delicate hand in his and kissed it gingerly.
“It’s nothing more than some locals who want to scare an out-of-towner. I’ll do this tonight, and I’ll be back at the dorm by tomorrow afternoon.” His voice was self-assured and confident. He knew he had nothing to worry about.
Sadness filled her eyes. “I’m local, remember? I grew up hearing about this place. It scares the hell out of me. Clay, please don’t go.” Tears began to form in the corners of her eyes.
“I have to, Courtney.” He dropped her hand, feeling himself becoming annoyed. “If I don’t I’ll be ridiculed until graduation. I don’t believe in any of this crap anyway.”
“You don’t have to. This place… it’s… it’s just evil.”
“Are you going or not?” another male asked. He and his two counterparts sat, leaning against the trunk of his car.
“Shut up, Dale,” Courtney snapped at him. Her curly brown hair fell into her eyes and she blew it aside. “I’m trying to talk him out of it.”
“Do what you want,” Dale replied. He smiled wide, baring his crooked teeth, and spit. A small brown trickle of tobacco juice slid down his chin. “But we’re about to leave. You can come back to campus with us, take Clay’s car and leave him stranded, or take that walk through the woods and stay with him. The choice is yours.”
Courtney turned back to Clay. Her green eyes were pleading with him, begging him to call off this bet. “There’s no changing your mind then?”
Clay merely shook his head.
She nodded in understanding. Taking his face in her hands, she kissed him passionately. “I expect you to call me as soon as you’re back in your car and on your way home.”
Clay smiled. “Yes ma’am.” He looked up at Dale. “Where is this place?”
Dale stood, followed silently by his lackeys, walked to his car door and opened it. Pointing over the roof of his car, into the darkening woods, he said, “Walk straight that way. You’ll see it.” He sat in the driver’s seat. A moment later his engine roared to life, the exhaust forming a cloud on the dusty road.
Courtney walked to the car. Taking one last distressed look at Clay, she got in the car. From the rear window, she watched as they pulled away.
Clay forced himself to turn away and looked into the forest ahead. The setting sun cast eerie shadows throughout. The last hints of the autumn sun low in the sky peeked through the near-empty branches and seemed to set the trees aflame. Fallen leaves rustled and cracked on the ground as some unseen animal scurried about.
A chill went up his spine. With a deep breath, he stepped into the thick of trees. He listened to the leaves crunch as he stepped closer to his destination. The forest was silent, void of any bird or insect calls. From above, a wind rose, howling through the branches high above. As the last rays of light began to falter, he pulled out his flashlight and switched it on. The howling wind continued, adding fuel to the ominous settings.
“Calm down, Clay,” he said aloud as he felt his nerves begin to rattle. “It’s just a series of creepy events, fueled by those hicks and their ghost stories. Nothing more.”
After walking for almost twenty minutes, the building finally began to come into view. The Pea Farm, an old, abandoned prison just outside of Shreveport. Supposedly, according to Dale, at least, this place had housed violent criminals back in the early 1900s, and had been closed in the 60s or so. The lesser offenders worked fields during the day and stayed in smaller buildings by the side, leaving only the most disturbed and violent to the main building. Dale had went on to say that the basement contained an old electric chair; one that was powered by a hand crank. He had dismissed this last fact as pure fiction. One of Dale’s underlings, Mac or Mike or Max, he couldn’t remember the kid’s name, said that the owners of the land couldn’t sell it because of the large number of bodies that had been buried throughout the yard. This he had also dismissed as a fallacy. What he saw now, he didn’t find impressive.
He lifted the camcorder in his hand, a small Sony with a built-in hard drive and a battery that claimed to last a few days, and switched it on. This was his means of proof that he had stayed the night (No one, including Dale, was willing to stay with him as a means of verification.). The red light flicked on and the small LCD screen jumped to life, casting a pale light on Clay and his surrounding area.
He passed the lens over the dilapidated building, and then turned it to himself. “Is this it?” he said into the camera. “Seriously? I thought you said this place was scary. I’m going to walk around outside a bit. Maybe explore the smaller buildings. Then I’m going into the main one.” He smiled. “So come along as I take this trip,” he said, giving his best version of a television narrator voice.
Walking around the main building, camera in hand, the smaller housing quarters came into view almost immediately. They were small and unimpressive, more like boarding houses than prisons. He supposed that was why the lesser criminals were kept there. They were the trustees of sorts. The buildings were overgrown with vines and other foliage, now dying as autumn pushed on. A tree had fallen through the roof of one of the houses, bringing down two of its walls with it, leaving nothing but a pile of rubble, broken brick, and twisted, rusted metal.
Clay walked up the steps to the other, intact building. The windows were covered by a frame that once held bars, long since cut away for some unknown reason. Placing a hand on the door, he pushed it open. He winced as the door screeched and whined as the rust on the hinges scraped against metal. The scent of stale air and dust struck him as he walked inside.
What little moonlight there was outside was absent within the building. The darkness pushed against his flashlight, threatening to envelop and consume him. Dust flitted upon the air, then wafted back towards its resting place. Vines hung from above, almost threatening to wrap him up and strangle him should he become entangled within. Broken pieces of plaster covered the floor, while some hung precariously from the ceiling above.
“I’m telling you now, Dale,” he spoke into the camera, “if I get tetanus, poison ivy, or even rabies from some woodland creature, we’ll have a serious problem.”
He began to feel an eerie feeling of being watched. Another chill ran up his spine as he continued his trek further into the building. As the minutes ticked away, he began to feel the effects of the stories he had been told. Despite his skepticism in the supernatural, his mind reeled at the endless possibilities at what lie just beyond the scope of his light. He shook the thoughts from his head and pushed on. There was no chance in hell that he was letting those bumpkins get over on him.
Clay turned to the side, shining both the light and the camera into various cells as he passed them. Water dripped from the ceilings, which hung low under the weight, and splashed softly into puddles collected on the floor. The cell bars had rusted and oxidized, leaving them a greenish tint. Small cots, bolted to the floor and wall, held ripped mattresses, stained with water, mildew, and God-knew-what-else. Paint bubbled and peeled away in flakes from the brick walls.
A thump from above caused Clay to jump. He turned the light and camera (it was now habitual to turn them in unison) towards the ceiling. Small clouds of dust puffed from the broken plaster. Another thump. Another puff of dust and falling debris.
Clay looked to the camera. “So… you left someone here to try and scare me?”
He quickly made his way to the end of the hall and turned up the stairs. Once on the stairs, he slowed his pace, trying his best to remain silent. Switching the camera to night vision, he clicked off the flashlight and shoved it into his pocket.
Through the LCD screen, he viewed the world in shades of green and black. He had to admit to himself that he didn’t care for it. The darkness had closed in around him. He could feel its weight crushing him, threatening to squeeze the very life from him.
At the top of the stairs, he panned the camera around, trying to find the would-be prankster. The room appeared to be empty. Not satisfied with this, he began a slow trek down the hallway. The floor was full of holes, results of water rotting the interior of the building. He almost screamed as a flash crossed across his camcorder’s screen.
He quickly pulled his light from his pocket and passed it over the room. There was nothing to be seen. It had merely been his imagination, he finally decided. He inhaled deeply, trying to regain his composure. You almost lost it there, he told himself. A thump from beneath his feet caused him a small yelp to escape from his throat. He could feel himself becoming annoyed with the situation, with Dale’ and his friend’s little antics.
Had Courtney been involved? She had left with them. It would take several hours to drive to the LSU campus to drop her off and then drive back to play these games. He had only been alone an hour, maybe an hour and a half. That meant she had to be with them. He felt anger surging within him. Maybe her begging and pleading was just an act, meant to rile him up, jangle his nerves. Maybe she was just another local that liked to play tricks on the out-of-staters.
Another thump on the floor snapped him back to the present. This one so hard that he felt it in his feet.
Clay turned and ran towards the stairs. He was determined to catch whoever it was, then give them more than just a piece of his mind. Suddenly, a blood-curdling scream sounded out, freezing him in his tracks. After a moment, he continued down the stairs. He swept the light across the room, frantically searching for the mischief-maker. The room was empty.
Another scream pierced the still night air. It felt like it came from everywhere at once. Clay felt it in his bones. A third scream, this one from upstairs.
No way. I was just up there. It was empty.
He began walking towards the door, trying to think the situation through. Speakers. It had to be. Maybe wired to batteries. He looked down into the camera once more.
“The screams were a nice touch. You had me freaked out for a second. I’m still not biting though.”
He exited the building and continued to venture further around the side of the main prison complex. Behind the prison, acres of field sat open. They were wildly overgrown after years of no attendance.
This must be the farmland.
Off to the right, he noticed a stone structure. He slowly made his way towards it, trudging through almost waist-high grasses. The moon was now high in the sky, casting its wan light throughout the open area. As the structure grew near, it began to take shape. The structure was no structure at all. It was a stone wall that stood about chest high. A gap of almost three feet was towards the front, with an arching sign that read Potter’s Field in rusted, steel lettering.
Using his light, Clay walked amongst the headstones, which were crumbling and weather-beaten. Most of the names and dates were illegible, worn away by decades of wind and rain. Some of them had fallen over, a product of the constant rain and shifting earth. His mind began to conjure up images of zombies rising from the soft earth beneath his feet.
All at once, Clay decided that he didn’t want to be in the cemetery. He turned and quickly walked towards the entrance. He felt something brush against his skin. Something cold, almost icy. Goosebumps jumped to his skin immediately. He turned the light towards the direction, but saw nothing. The night had grown cold, that was all. He noticed that he could now see his breath on the air as he exhaled.
Suddenly, there was another scream. So loud that it hurt his ears. Clay knew that it had come from beside him, although he was alone. He felt the icy feeling on his skin, followed by a slight pressure. In his mind’s eye, he visualized the grip of icy fingers around his arm. Dead fingers. He screamed.
No longer able to control himself, he ran. He headed around the prison complex, sprinting as fast as he could. His panicked mind barely registered the heat rise as he fled the cemetery. He knew that he had walked straight to the prison from his car, so if he ran straight out, he would be back where he started.
Leaves crunched beneath his feet as he ran. Small branches and briars tore at his face and arms. His legs ached and his lungs burned. His body cried out for relief, for just a moment’s rest. Yet he continued to run. He dug within himself, trying to call up every ounce of reserve strength that he could muster. All around him he heard the crunching of leaves, as if some unknown assailant was in pursuit. This caused further panic within his mind, driving him forward. At several points during the exercise in panic and self-preservation, Clay could feel the icy pressure on his neck and back.
Catching his foot on a tree root, Clay collapsed to the ground. The camera and flashlight flew from his hands. The flashlight spun in the air, casting ominous shadows all around him. Exhausted, he laid there, trying to catch his breath. His palms burned from the skin that had torn away from them.
He slowly picked himself up from the ground. I have to be close to the road by now.
As he looked up, his eyes widened in horror. Before him stood the prison complex. He knew that it should have been far behind him. A small squeak escaped from his throat; it was all that he could manage in his terror. He bent and picked up the flashlight and camcorder, which was now smashed. He dropped it to the ground and turned, prepared to head towards his vehicle once more.
Another scream. This one from right behind him. Without thinking, he turned and ran inside of the prison. He doubted that running into the woods again would have accomplished anything anyway. He was trapped here.
He burst through the door, causing wind to stir up the thick layers of dust that had settled over the years. He looked around frantically. The brick walls were covered in graffiti. Paint, long since peeled away. Plaster lay on the ground, collapsed from the roof and walls. Spider webs hung from every opening, filled every corner.
He leaned against the door, desperately trying to catch his breath. The door suddenly began shaking uncontrollably behind him. The hinges rattled and the wood creaked and splintered. Clay ran down the hall, silently praying for it to end.
He ran to the stairs and stopped. The image of a person, translucent in the pale moonlight that shone through the barred windows, stood at the top, looking down on him. He blinked and it was gone. It was enough to dissuade him from taking the stairs, though. He continued through the prison, his panic causing him to turn randomly. He finally stopped. Looking around, he became acutely aware that he was now lost within the confines of the prison.
Metal began to creak and moan as the cell doors began to close, slamming shut loudly. Too scared to move, Clay waited until the activity had ceased. All was quiet within the prison once more. All except the swell of air. A breeze, very light, blew through the hallways and then returned. Clay got the distinct impression that the building was breathing. He tried to push this ridiculous thought from his mind, but it latched on and would not surrender its hold.
He walked down the halls, trying to remain calm and reasonable. Panicking would not help his situation in any way. He needed a clear head. The feeling of being watched returned in full force, or maybe it had never left him and he was merely recognizing it for what it was once more. He could feel his muscles twitching and convulsing involuntarily from the fear that coursed through his veins. Sweat dripped from his pores, soaking his shirt and causing the dust to stick to his face. The salt stung the cuts and lacerations on his face and arms. He had to get his breathing under control; he was on the verge of hyperventilating.
He placed his hand on the wall and leaned against it in an attempt to control himself. He jerked it away suddenly, pure horror washing over him at what he felt. It had to have been his imagination. It had to.
Clay tentatively placed his hand back on the wall to reassure himself. He yanked it away quickly, wiping his hands on his pants as if he had stuck it in something. The thought of what he had touched was revolting. It was definitely not his imagination; the wall was pulsing. It seemed to expand and contract in time with the breeze. Almost like lungs. The movement was slight, only really noticeable if he touched the wall, but it was there just the same.
The hall was suddenly cold. It chilled the beads of sweat on his brow and caused him to shiver uncontrollably. As he exhaled, he could see his breath in puffs of grey smoke.
Another scream echoed through the halls. He swung his flashlight around, searching for the source. To his dismay, he found it. Standing at the end of the hall was a prisoner. The top of his head was badly burned, the skin charred and flaking. Small patches of dried gore sat below each eye socket, which was empty. He clawed frantically at his face with his shackled hands. His movements were jerky and disconnected, almost like watching a film with frames missing in the reel. He continued to claw furiously at his face, then screamed once more. The metal bars rattled and dirt shook free from the ceiling in smalls clouds. As he screamed, he began to walk towards Clay. Small steps, inhibited by the shackles around his ankles. His body twitched and shook with each step in that same disconnected, strobe-light-esque fashion.
Clay ran down the hallway, frantic once more. He ran through cold spots that chilled him to the core, and back into the sticky Louisiana humidity. He searched for an exit, any possible way to escape the terror that he had been subjected to. He passed a multitude of barred windows, wishing that he could use one. Broken glass crunched underfoot as he ran. There was no exit to be found.
He continued down another hallway, stopping at something written on the wall. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped at the sight of the words:
We’ve Been Expecting You…
The wall suddenly cracked open, splitting from the roof to the floor like a giant, jagged mouth. The crack split the floor open, just as Clay began running once more. As he ran, the sounds of splintering wood, collapsing plaster, and shattering concrete followed him. Too terrified to look back, he kept running.
No longer able to breathe, legs weak and wobbly, Clay collapsed as the crack opened up beneath his feet. His head slammed into the ground, sending a bright light across his vision. Just before he lost consciousness, he saw… he saw… legs, bound in shackles.
Clay woke up momentarily as he was drug down the concrete stairs to the basement. He felt his head slam into each step as he descended. Stars flashed before his eyes with each successive blow. The darkness closed over his once more.
He groggily opened his eyes. He felt as though his head were going to explode. His face was on fire from where he had connected with the floor. He felt the warmth of his blood running down the nape of his neck from the repetitive strikes against the concrete stairway. He tried to raise his hand to check his wound, and found that he could not. The instant fear cleared the remaining cloudiness from his mind.
Looking down, Clay noticed that both of his hands were strapped down. He tried to move his legs, only to find that they, too, were strapped down. He attempted to look around, but something prevented it. He cast his eyes upward. He was just barely able to see a metal headband that circled around his forehead. Suddenly, he heard a whirring sound. It was the sound of a small lever being wound.
Credit: William Davis