‘Imagine the crazies that lived in this place…’ Zach stepped over the debris, and into the abandoned 1920s asylum.
‘That’s fucked up, Zach, even for you,’ Hayley said, following him inside, scrunching her nose at the faint smell of rot.
‘Why? Cos it’s true?’
‘The stuff that went on in places like this was unreal—unjustified.’
‘Yeah, yeah,’ Zach said. ‘Hold this, would you?’ He handed her the backpack, taking a single aerosol can in his hand, and began tracing an elaborate tag in fresh red spray paint on the nearby wall — Z.H. — in a well-practised design of angles and flourishes.
‘Why do you do that?’
Zach shrugged, stepping back and admiring the handiwork in his initials. ‘It’s art.’
Hayley snorted. ‘Let’s look around.’
They made their way into a long corridor of empty doorways, peering in each one as they went, trying not to think too hard about the rooms’ former occupants. Over fifty years of desertion and yet Hayley could swear the smell of chemicals and despair still clung in the air.
‘Christ, look at this one!’ Zach had trudged ahead and stood to marvel at the room at the far end of the building.
Hayley reached it and blanched at the sight. Rusty equipment lined the back wall; a large dentist-like chair stood like a proud centrepiece, spewing stuffing from its filthy blue cover; an overturned stretcher, broken trolleys, and even yellowed paperwork littered the floor. Most disturbing of all were the chains—long, solid rusted links hung from wall-fixtures, shackles dangling, open and threatening, like hungry jaws.
‘Fuck…’ Hayley couldn’t move.
The room stank of decay and ruin; the layer of dust and debris on everything was so thick she could have been looking at a sepia photograph, yet it chilled her. Her skin crawled, and the sudden gush of air that swept through the hall made the papers on the floor flutter and crackle like leaves.
‘It’s like Fifty Shades on crack, huh?’ Zach laughed.
‘Don’t!’ Hayley protested. ‘It’s not funny.’
Zach nudged past her and started shaking his spray can; the rattle and clang of the ball inside of it echoed through the hall.
‘Do you have to? Here?’ Hayley asked him, annoyed. ‘No one cares about your ‘art’.’ She made speech marks in the air with her fingers.
Zach shrugged again, and Hayley sighed, plucking up the courage to step inside the room. She trod carefully towards the scattered papers—patient records, she realised—and picked a handful up. At the sound of the spurt of spray paint in the hall, she looked up, watching as Zach’s quick hand formed mocking, shaky letters in shiny, wet crimson.
No sooner than the breath had passed her lips, did the rumbling start overhead. Hayley screamed. She threw the papers down, starting towards Zach, but she never reached him. The ceiling thundered down upon the two of them, a dust-cloud of rubble and ruin, the entire end of the building collapsing, folding in on itself and crumbling like it was made of ash. When the air finally settled, only two walls were left standing; one with the shackles, swaying almost imperceptibly in the breeze; the other, joined only by the half-collapsed door frame, bore the words:
LET ME OUT.