There was a strange, almost foul smell in the air and a faint sound that I couldn’t quite place. Suddenly Dex jumped toward me and yelled, “Jesus!”
“What?” I cried out, automatically jumping too.
“Something touched my foot,” he said, taking the light from me. My heart was racing a mile a minute and I held on to his arm, my fingernails digging into his coat. He shined the light at the doorway behind us just in time to see a large rat scampering out of the room and out into the hall.
I exhaled noisily, feeling as if I’d almost had a heart attack. “This is ridiculous. I think we ought to head back.”
Dex frowned. “Rebecca hasn’t called yet. Come on, let’s just keep going until she does.”
“Are you going to scream like a girl every time you come across a rat?”
“You’re asking for a spanking, missy,” he warned, raising his palm as a threat. “And for your information, that rat came across me.”
We went back into the hallway and continued in the same way as we had before. My pulse still hadn’t slowed, and all I could think about was how cold and dark it was in this place where thousands of souls lost their lives. I think part of the reason—other than being scared out of my wits—that I wanted to pack it in was because I wanted to know more about the sanatorium, the way it was run, the people who were there. I wanted to know the history so I could give meaning to the things we were seeing. For all we knew, the second floor was a happy place and posed no harm to us.
Once we reached the end of the hall, we came to a washroom and then the rest of the wing as it veered off at an angle. Dex reached out for the washroom door, the faded symbol of a woman in a dress on it, but I quickly grabbed his arm and stopped him.
“Can we just leave it for now?” I asked, looking at him with pathetically sad eyes. “Good things never happen to me in bathrooms.”
“Not true,” he countered, though he took his hand back. “What about when I fucked you in that bar washroom a few months ago? From the way you came, you can’t possibly tell me that wasn’t a good time.”
I managed a smile, remembering. Jenn had been just outside the door too. “Okay, I’ll give you that. But still. No way am I going in there. I’m having enough trouble in the washrooms downstairs. I keep thinking I’ll see, like, someone standing on the other side of the door when I’m in the stall. Pippa did that to me once. Scared the hell out of me.”
He adjusted the camera in his hand and raised a brow. “When was this?”
“Oh, a long time ago. Back when we first met.”
“That wasn’t so long, you know.” From the way his voice dipped, I could tell that Uncle Al probably had talked to him about the same thing.
I swallowed thickly. “Feels like it’s been ages.”
“Yeah?” he asked. “Me too, baby. It feels like I’ve known you my whole life.”
He was looking at me with such intensity, the light reflecting off of his dark eyes in hard specks, that I started feeling strangely anxious. I rubbed my lips together and looked around us. “I guess when two people are constantly placed in situations like this, you go through a lot together.”
He took a step closer to me. Despite the chill, I could feel heat radiating off of him. “And we’ve been through a lot together. And I certainly don’t mind a future of this, as long as you’re at my side.”
Okay, he was getting oddly mushy considering our circumstances. It really wasn’t the place to start reflecting on our relationship. In our bed, in each other’s arms, yes. Standing in the freezing cold dark, trying to find ghosts…um, no.
Dex stared at me relentlessly until I was tempted to ask him if I had something on my face. Then he bent down to put the camera on the floor and straightened up, his hand going into his pocket.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, because now I had the impression that something was wrong. His forehead was creased with worry and he was biting his lip.
He closed his eyes and breathed in through his nose, his hand still in his pocket. “Nothing is wrong,” he whispered.
“Then why are you acting weird?”
He opened his eyes, looking at me in the softest way. “Perry,” he said gently.
My heart did a thumpa-thumpa and missed a beat.
“Yes?” I whispered back, his tone of voice contagious.
Just then I noticed the area behind him lighten up slightly, providing a faint outline of his silhouette. I looked around his body and let out a small gasp. At the very end of the hall, in the west wing, a single light had come on in one of the rooms.
A wave of nausea rolled through me. “Shit.”
Dex turned around to see then quickly scooped the camera back off the ground. With vague curiosity I noticed he hit record and started filming, which meant he’d turned off the camera just seconds earlier. He cleared his throat a few times and then said for the sake of the recording, “We were just standing here talking when that light down there suddenly came on. We don’t know what it is since we haven’t explored that end of the second floor. From here it appears that the light is coming from one of the rooms. The odd thing is, I’m pretty sure there is no electricity up here.”
“The other odd thing is that lights just don’t turn on by themselves,” I added. “Electricity or not.”
“Could be a motion detector,” he said. “Solar paneled.”
“Now you’re pushing it.”
“Well then, why don’t we go down there and see?”
“Because…a million reasons,” I said. My eyes were glued to the light, the way it splayed out from the room with a chilling white glow, illuminating the area around it and deepening the shadows. “Because I don’t want to know what turned it on.”
“I do,” he said, staring at it before looking back at me. “Come on. You’ll never sleep not knowing what it was.”
He was right about that, but I figured I wouldn’t sleep either way now. He walked a few steps then stopped to look at me expectantly. I knew if I told him I wasn’t ready or felt…at risk, we’d head right back downstairs. But the thing was, some sick part of me wanted to know what was down there. That sick side always popped up at the worst times.
But curiosity hadn’t killed me yet.
I adjusted the light and joined him. He shot me this wicked, adrenaline-fueled grin.
“Now, if you think I’m going first, you’re crazy,” I told him.
He grabbed my free hand and held it with a vice-like grip. We were going like this, as if we were carefree young lovers out for a midnight stroll.
We walked down the hall, my eyes trained on the light ahead. Each step we took, I felt my pulse racing faster, my heart beating louder. The air grew colder, each inhale burning down into my lungs like I swallowed dry ice, until it felt like I couldn’t breathe at all. We didn’t even dare utter a word. The only sound other than the dull patter of our footsteps was the rustling of leaves blown in through open windows or the distant scurrying of a rat.
We crossed the center of the building, where we both looked over to the staircase that led to the first floor. I had to remind myself to breathe and then I almost had to laugh. It was funny how easy it was to just get to this floor via the grand staircase instead of the body chute. If we weren’t on a mission, I would have popped my head over the edge and called out to Rebecca.
And that’s when it happened.
We both looked back down the hallway, making our way to that eerie white light, when something moved in the shadows between us and the lit room.
It was a shadow.
Where the black inky space began to move, my eyes suddenly focused on a large, long-limbed creature, like a skinny human on all fours, crawling down the wall.
It paused—long enough for me to see an oblong head and stark white eyes, long enough for me to feel the life being sucked out of me—and quickly scampered across the hall, disappearing into another room.
The scream ripped out of my throat, leaving me raw. Dex cried out, “Holy fuck, did you see that, did you see that?”
And yes, I saw that, but oh god I wish I hadn’t.
Oh god, we had to get out of there.
But Dex wasn’t moving, stuck as if in mud, and he kept mumbling, “What the hell was that, what the hell was that?” He was losing his mind. My mind was already trucking it down the stairs; it was just waiting for me to catch up.
Whatever the hell that thing was, it crawled across the hall and was in some other room, waiting for us. And that’s when I knew it was the thing in the darkness, the thing I always felt watching me when I couldn’t see it.
The bad thing.
Brenna had some explaining to do.
With a blast, Dex’s phone went off with his X-Files theme song ringtone which sounded like death. I cried out, tears springing to my eyes from so much fear, my body assaulted by nerves that would not let me be. Dex quickly pulled out the phone and put it to his ear, his eyes still trained on the doorway where the bad thing disappeared.
“Rebecca,” Dex shouted into the phone, “you need to fucking come up here.” He paused. “Rebecca, are you okay?”
“She’s not there,” said a boy’s voice from behind us.
We whirled around, my hands shaking uncontrollably as I shined the light forward. There was nothing in front of us but the swirl of dust motes.
“It’s not her,” the young voice said again, even though we couldn’t see where it was coming from. “Don’t leave her alone.”
“E-Elliot?” I whispered, my voice breaking.
“We have to go,” Dex said. He pulled at my arm and I snapped to attention. We ran to the staircase and went racing down it, two steps at a time, not caring if we tripped the motion detector cameras or not when we reached the first floor.
I slid on the shiny marble floors, almost falling over, but Dex held me up, and we scampered down the hall, nearly colliding with Rebecca as she stepped out of the nurse’s office.
“I was just about to call you,” she said. She frowned at us, stepping closer. The lights on the first floor were working again, giving off a warm glow. “What’s wrong? What is it?”
Dex waved his phone at her. “You called. You were…I heard you crying.”
I shuddered. Crying?
She shook her head, her face paling. “No, my alarm went off just now. I hadn’t had the time to call you yet.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Dex said, even though I thought mystery phone calls from people who weren’t Rebecca did matter. He shot me an agitated glance. “We saw something up there.”
She pushed her hair back behind her ear. “What?”
“I don’t know. A light in one of the rooms went on.”
At that her eyes grew to be saucers. “What? Where? How?”
“I don’t know. It was down the other wing. We headed over there to check it out and then some black…form, like a black dog or something, it ran across the hall.”
I gave him an odd look. “Dog? It was definitely a person…or something like it.”
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