I can’t say much about this without giving the game away, but it is a possible scenario I’ve always wondered about. One of those things you’re certain should have happened a hundred times, but never seems to. Anyway, you’ll see what I mean. What would you do in Kale’s position?
This is going to be the last one for quite a while, I’m afraid. I’ve been writing short stories for a year now and frankly I want to get my teeth into something juicier. I’ll spend the next two or three months writing a masterpiece of adventure horror (I hope), and then I might start putting stories up here… after that much time, I’m bound to have a nice build up of fresh nightmares to put down and it won’t be such an effort to think of new ideas. Until then… Thanks for reading!
- Ben Pienaar
By Ben Pienaar
She waited for a dark and stormy night to perfect her cliché. Abandoned mental asylum, check; isolated location, creepy vibe, horrific history, all check. Hell, even the front gates were squeaked on their hinges and made them cringe. It was just right.
Kale laughed when he saw it. ‘Damn. You hit the nail on the head, I’ll give you that.’
‘I know, right? Hey Darryn, later we should wait for a funny noise and split up to investigate.’
The three of them settled on the topmost room, where Carla insisted the electroshock had been done. She based her theory on the long metal tables in the adjoining rooms. ‘I dare you to sleep on one, Kale,’ she said. ‘With the door closed, and on the opposite end of the floor to us.’
He rolled his eyes. ‘Really? If it’ll get you off my back, sure.’
‘Maybe,’ she said. ‘As long as you don’t wet your pants.’
While the other two laid out the rest of the things, including their own blankets and pillows, Kale set his bed up just where she suggested, on one of the odd metal tables. When he was finished, he closed the door and stood a moment in the little room. It was pitch dark, and apart from a distant peal of thunder, completely silent. He couldn’t even hear the other two. He felt a twinge of dread at the thought of sleeping here for a night, and remembered one of the stories Carla had told him. Thousands of lobotomies had been performed here – some on children as young as four. He shuddered.
They brought in bunches of twigs and logs and lit a fire in the middle of the rubble. Part of the ceiling was caved in, so they set up close enough that the smoke could escape but the rain didn’t spoil the flames. Darryn had brought a bottle of bad quality whisky, and by the time midnight rolled around it was empty and they were drunk.
At two, Kale was sobering up and they were getting tired. Every now and again, he glanced over his shoulder at the network of broken hallways and empty rooms behind him and wondered if they really were empty. Twice he swore he heard movement somewhere in the building, and once he was certain he heard whispered voices. But he didn’t dare say a word to the others – didn’t do anything other than joke and laugh and be fearless.
The clock closed in on three and Darryn curled up in his bed. Carla tucked herself in and fixed her eyes on Kale beneath droopy eyelids. ‘Come on, macho man,’ she said. ‘Time for bed. Don’t let the ghosts get you…’
He laughed, and though it sounded fine and natural to his ears it was hollow at its heart. ‘Yeah, alright. I’m pretty tired anyways. Seeya tomorrow, then – unless you get too scared out here.’
The fire burned low, but it cast odd shadows that jumped into the corners of his eyes as he made his way down a dark corridor towards his end of the floor. There was no one to see his expression now and all the terror was bright and clear on his face. He hadn’t imagined it possible for him to be so afraid, but Carla hadn’t let off on her stories all night and even Darryn had put in a few juicy details of the asylum’s real history. Kale wasn’t usually given to flights of imagination, but it was running wild tonight.
He reached the door to his room and hovered at the entrance for a few minutes, shivering. He considered going back and telling them it was too cold and he needed the fire, but he knew it wouldn’t wash with them. This was the result of his scornful judgements of victims in horror movies: so it was a matter of backing up his big mouth or swallowing his words.
He left the door open and got under the blankets on the hard table, promising himself he wouldn’t sleep. Here in the silence of a place as evil as this – he wasn’t naïve enough to think those stories were false – the comfort of his couch and a box of popcorn were very far away indeed. Out loud, he scoffed at the idea of ghosts and tortured souls, but inwardly he’d always reserved it as a possibility.
His scorn of those timid victims in B movies, however, was completely real. It wasn’t their fear that made him roll his eyes and cringe with frustration – it was their reaction to it. Why couldn’t they just fight? If you can run, fine, but once they have you cornered, and start to close in, axe raised, do you really just curl up in a ball and plead for your life?
He made up his mind then and there that if anyone or anything came for him, he’d fight with everything he had. He wouldn’t be like those people. There was nowhere to run in this place, anyhow.
His decision gave him comfort but didn’t lessen his fear, because now he was sure there really was something around. It was nothing more than a very strong sense – instinctive certainty that his primal brain had not quite forgotten.
No sooner had he registered this than he heard something in the next room that sounded like a heavy body sliding over the cement walls. He broke out in wild chills and his mouth went dry. He sat up in bed, but that was all he dared to do lest he push the covers off and cause a noise; IT might hear him. A part of him was shouting to sprint out the door and to the others, to scream at them to run, get out now, and all their teasing and laughter be damned. For the rest of his life, he wished he had done just that.
A dull thump came next, and he imagined something sliding off its bed and planting its feet on the cold ground. Then the clang of metal on concrete. Didn’t they hear that? How did they not hear that? Should he scream? He certainly wanted to, but what would it achieve? Darryn was built like a stick and Carla was still a girl, for all her confidence. What if this was really dangerous? They might get hurt because of him. In fact, he knew they would – and if he screamed at them to run, he knew it would only bring them to him anyway. He held his breath.
Another slide and a footfall. Something grated along the floor in its wake. Did it know he was here? Could it move any faster? Should he wait for it to pass by? He controlled his breathing, forcing his mouth closed so that it came out in a suppressed hiss through his nostrils. It sounded loud as a freight train.
Another dragging step and it was at the doorway of its room. He heard the hinges squeak as the door swung open and the hairs on his neck stood up. It had long, heavy strides; its breathing was loud and harsh.
He waited for the next step, and when it came he used the noise as cover to slide off his bed into a semi crouch. Even as he did so his mind was screaming at him that it was coming this way! It knew he was here. Even if it didn’t, surely it would sense him as it passed.
A roar of thunder accompanied the next step, and now he could see a part of its silhouette in his doorway. It was as tall as him; no Carla or Darryn in a monster suit. This was not a drill, there will not be a happy ending, and there was no back up.
He stopped breathing.
It stopped square in the doorway and turned to face him. Perfectly timed, a bolt of lightning flashed across the sky and through the tiny barred window in the top of the room. It lit up a face so hideous that Kale thought he’d go mad with terror right then and there. An eaten up, rotten thing in ragged clothes, its mouth torn at both sides: it looked like the Joker after a week in the grave. Its eyes were wide, and its pupils were so large there were no whites. Its teeth were square at the base and broken points at the end.
All this Kale saw in an instant, and just like that his rational mind switched right off. Despite his determination to fight, had there been the opportunity to run he would have done so, and fast. He would have run until morning and if it got his friends, well too bad, he wasn’t going back without a squadron of armed soldiers at his back.
But there was no way out. It had seen him and he was in a room barely wide enough to lie down in, cornered. Fight or flight was the order of the day and since flight was out of the question…
It had been dragging a fireman’s axe on the concrete behind it, and it was in the process of raising it when Kale threw himself forward. The entire space of time, between its appearance and Kale’s attack, was less than two seconds. In another two he was on top of it, staring with mad eyes and pounding with all his strength.
Seeing it, he’d been certain it was dead already, like a murderous ghost with a solid form, but once his primal brain took over it didn’t ask such trifling questions like how do you kill that which is already dead? No, it just said: Fight for your life. And he did.
Kale was six foot two and well muscled through a mixture of good genes and regular gym visits. He was good natured and by no means a bully in everyday life, and while he was intimidating to most, it took a great deal to make him angry enough to engage in any violence. Now, his life endangered, his mind a chaotic mess of animal terror and his body a cocktail of hormones and adrenaline, he could have torn the tusks from a warthog.
It managed to swing the axe into his side, but it wasn’t a strong blow and the blade only went in half an inch. Kale didn’t even notice it in his hurricane of violence, and he continued to beat the hideous face into ground, turning its features into a mess even after it went limp beneath him.
That something was badly wrong occurred to him as the red faded from his vision and he realised that he was not the only one screaming. Before he’d completely gathered his thoughts, someone tackled him from the side and they went rolling down the hall together. He tried to fight but two or three more bodies landed on him and he was trapped under their weight, struggling to breathe.
Human voices penetrated the fog in his mind. ‘Easy, easy, its okay, it’s okay, calm down.’ He stopped fighting and tried to make sense of it. The bodies on top of him were people, strange men he didn’t know, but living people. A woman was screaming nearby, and Kale thought her voice was like Carla’s.
‘Oh, my god, Jesus is he still alive? Craig, help me! Someone call an ambulance!’
‘He’s… I can’t feel a pulse.’
‘Oh my god.’
They were all strangers – where had they come from? The weight on him was lifting. Lights were turning on and he saw faces of mingled fear and disgust. They stared at him, tensely, expecting him to go attack them, but he held up his hands and stayed on his back. He was terrified, because the truth was dawning on him and he didn’t want it to.
He turned his head because he couldn’t help it and saw them taking a leather mask off a face that was no longer a face but a pile of raw steaks hammered into the stonework. Carla was on her knees with her hands over her face, tears streaming through her fingers. Darryn stood behind her, his arms hanging limply by his sides and horror on his face. He was hypnotised by the corpse.
Kale turned his head the other way and saw a video camera, its lens cracked when the carrier had dropped it in haste. Likewise lay a colourful banner against one of the walls. It was crumpled now but Kale could still make out the writing on it: CONGRATULATIONS! YOU’RE ON SCAREDY CAT!
He put his hands to his face, the adrenaline leaking from his system to be replaced by something far worse, and he began to cry.