The following is an extract from a project of mine called “Madhouse”. Enjoy!

Chapter One

The soft fabric floated upward with the delicate grace of a spectre caught in the wind. Fourteen year old Aurelio Young lifted Columbus onto the ledge before hoisting himself up and pushing aside the curtain to allow daylight to filter in so he could look inside. The room was empty but for a single rocking chair that sat in the centre, and the metal frame of a bed that was up against the right-hand wall. Damp and mould decorated the walls and floorboards, and spider webs lived in the corners. Columbus’ tail wagged and his tongue hung out as he waited for Aurelio’s command before entering the room. He watched his master with wide eyes.

“Go on boy,” Aurelio said.

Columbus jumped in through the broken window, the curtain flailing behind him like a cape for a brief moment as he soared through the air. He landed on all fours inside, before sprinting off to sniff in a corner. Aurelio threw in his rucksack and jumped in after him. He landed in a crouch, one hand on the floor, the other extended behind him in true heroic fashion. Columbus was running around him, nose to the ground as he breathed in each and every scent the room contained. He ran from corner to corner, and along the walls. He criss-crossed in front of Aurelio and ran behind him, puffing and panting all along the way.

Aurelio stood up straight, grinning, shouldered his pack and glanced around him. The wallpaper around the room was peeling; its former floral pattern barely evident. The wall behind was covered in cracked, greying plaster.

Aside from the solitary rocking chair and the bed, the only things of consequence were the mould and the door. He looked back at the window, its net curtain swaying like a ghost in the light breeze.

“We were lucky to find an open one hey boy?” he said. The dog merely barked in response, tail wagging as he sat on the floor and awaited further instructions.  Aurelio moved about; the floorboards creaking underfoot with each step. He went to the bedframe and poked at it with his toes. It rattled, and dust and rust cascaded from it to the floor beneath, before shooting into the air like a plume of smoke. Aurelio waved his hands in front of his face to dissipate the cloud, coughing as he shielded his eyes.

“No one’s been in here in ages,” Aurelio said once the dust had settled once more. “They say some nights you can still hear the screams if you’re nearby you know. I remember Grandpa once told me a story about how you used to be able to hear them all the way down in the town square.” He paused. “I’ve never heard them… must have been scary though… wondering what was going on up here.” He turned to Columbus. “What do you think boy? Want to go explore some more?” The dog barked again, stood up, and went straight for the door. He pawed at the crack at the bottom, pushing his nose against it. The sounds of sniffing came from the animal as Aurelio moved over and gently eased the door open a crack.

A quick peek through the gap told him the hall on the other side was empty. Further inspection confirmed this belief; the hall was devoid of life. Nothing moved, nothing made a sound. That being said, Aurelio saw numerous signs of evidence of previous life; echoes of a former existence. A wheelchair was pushed against one wall, some books lay scattered on the floor, a water bottle rested next to a door frame. A layer of dust coated everything. He could not see far; the daylight didn’t reach much beyond the confines of the room and all the other doors were shut, and there were no windows or skylights in the hall. Looking up, Aurelio saw the empty hangings where fluorescent bulbs might once have lived.

“I wonder if this place is really haunted like they say,” Aurelio mused. “What do you think Columbus? Should we go fight some ghosts?”

The dog barked and pushed through the gap, sauntering off down the hall. Aurelio opened the door the remainder of the way and followed. He pulled a torch from his pack before slinging it back over his shoulder again. When he clicked the light on, it revealed more of the scene in front of him. The wheelchair was missing a wheel, there were more books than he had originally believe scattered about, as well as an abundance of torn out pages, and there were a significant amount of cobwebs in the corners and on the ceiling. The miniature spiders on the webs case huge shadows when he passed over them with the torch. As he swung the beam around, a spider the size of his fist scuttled up one of the walls. Aurelio shivered and quickened his step.

When he found Columbus, the dog was sniffing at an old suitcase and trying to paw it open. Aurelio obliged. He bent down and undid the clasps. A sheaf of papers rolled out and scattered around the floor, followed by a journal, and then an unopened bag of hard sweets. Columbus grabbed the sweets in his mouth and ran off to a corner, before beginning to tear at the bag. Aurelio bent down and picked up the journal. He blew on it and the layer of dust that coated it flew off. He wiped the cover with his sleeve to remove the excess and held the torch over it so he could read the words etched on the black.

The Journal of Dr. Jonathan Keller was written in cursive on the front. A quick flick through its pages showed Aurelio that it was chock full of notes, diagrams and diary entries. He quickly stashed it in his bag, and then took a look at the papers. They were mostly reports and accounts; nothing that really interested Aurelio. He stuffed them back into the suitcase, shut it, and went after Columbus.

He found the dog happily munching on the sweets having successfully infiltrated the bag. Bending down, Aurelio rubbed the dogs head and took the opportunity to glance around him. The dog had come to a stop where the corridor forked. To their right and left was another long, dark corridor. To the front was a stairs.

“Sure is a weird place huh boy?” he asked. The dog continued eating. “I’m gonna check out one of these rooms,” he said. “Might go down the stairs then… how’s that sound boy?”

Columbus barked his agreement. Aurelio stood up and left him to his sweets. He went a short way back up the corridor and came to a stop outside a room. Reading the label, he saw that it had once housed one Abigail Harris. Aurelio pushed the door open and stepped inside. Along the right wall was a single bed with a metal frame. The mattress had been removed, just like the other, and just like the other it exposed the springy surface beneath. A desk faced in toward the back wall of the room and a single wooden chair sat in front of it. A teddy bear sat alone in the centre of the floor, and the window in the roof had been boarded up, the gaps blacked out by the dark tarp behind the wood.

Aurelio pushed into the room and shone the torch around the walls. There were marks on them in places. Words carved into the concrete. Help. I can’t get out. They won’t let me go. Let me die. Aurelio took out his own journal and made a quick note. He stopped looking at the walls, and moved to the centre of the room. He sat down in front of the teddy and stared at it before picking it up in both hands. He shook it and hit it to get the dust off.

“You probably meant a lot to Abigail didn’t you?” he asked it. The teddy stayed silent and motionless. “How long have you been here all on your own?” he asked it. Once again it was silent and motionless. Aurelio frowned. “How’d you like to come with Columbus and me? Get away from this place maybe?” He made the teddy’s head nod. “That’s great,” he said. He stood up and took his bag from his shoulders. He stuck it inside, next to the journal he had already taken. He glanced around himself. “This place is so creepy,” he said.

After shutting the door behind himself once again, Aurelio made his way back to Columbus. The dog had finished its snack and was sitting waiting for him, his tail swaying back and forth behind his body. The dog let out a particularly loud bark when it saw him.

“Shhhhhh careful boy, you’ll wake the ghosts,” Aurelio joked. He crouched down and rubbed the dog’s head again. “Why don’t you decide which way we go?” he asked. Columbus tilted his head for a moment, and then shot off toward the stairs. He paused at the top and looked back at Aurelio who smiled and followed. The dog took them four at a time, Aurelio two at a time. He found Columbus waiting at the bottom, looking at a three way junction. A corridor shot off into the dark to their left, their right and straight ahead. Columbus sniffed the air, and Aurelio shone his torch in each direction. The beam did little to cut through the gloom.

“What do you think boy?” he asked. “Your nose like the smell of any of these?”

The dog continued to sniff for a few moments, before slowly moving to the left. He kept his nose pressed to the ground and Aurelio followed close behind; his torch revealing the corridor as they went. Like the previous one it was lined with doors, however, there was one difference. It was clean. There was nothing scattered around, there were no markings in the wall. In fact, the paint looked almost fresh to Aurelio. It was grey, and the doors matched. Like the other corridor, each door had a name on it. Martin Snyder. Jenna Ronson. Kerri James. Sun Ki-Jong. There were many more. Aurelio tried one of the doors but it was locked. He pushed his shoulder against it. There was no give. The lock wasn’t weak or old.

“This must have been the newer part of the building when they shut it down,” he said. He looked down as he heard Columbus whimper. “What is it boy?” he asked. The dog’s ears folded down and he tried to hide behind Aurelio’s legs. Aurelio looked ahead. There was a sliver of light coming from beneath a door.

 

© Colm Furlong 2017.

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