There was loud banging at his door. Jack struggled in the hands of sleep. The banging continued as the door splintered. He rolled over to his side, brushing off the noise.
The door blew open. Jack bolted up on his bed, like a scared animal catching wind of a predator sneaking up on him. A snarling patient wrapped up in a straight jacket lunged at him. He rolled off the bed, hitting the ground. The patient looked over the edge of the bed, searching for Jack.
Jack got to his feet and backed away from the wall. He searched frantically around his room for his lead pipe. The patient got on his legs and jumped at him again, crashing against the dresser. On a table beside the bed, Jack had put the lead pipe and he now rushed towards it.
He grabbed it and turned around, reacting fast enough to swing against a lunging patient. There was a loud thud as it connected with his chin. He dropped to the ground, snarling and frothing at the mouth. After writhing on the ground for a while, he stopped his spams, and moving entirely. Jack backed away from the room, grabbing the diary and the flashlight.
There were no monsters outside. Jack rushed to Travis and Rose’s door. It was closed, and he knocked on it. The sound of knocking echoed throughout the town, starting at the door and ending in places unknown. He decided to preoccupy himself with more present matters, as he backed against the door, watching the early morning darkness, holding his pipe.
Rose called from behind the door. “Who is it?”
“Rose, it’s me! The door has a peephole!”
“Oh, right. Sorry, I just woke up. Just a second.” He heard the bolt being undone and the door swinging open. Jack turned around, facing Rose. She was holding the knife. Now she brought it up against his throat.
“What’s the name of your sister?” She said.
“W-what? Rose, what are you doing?” His eyes widened, feeling the cold steel against his soft throat. An icy fear crept through him.
“What’s her name?” Her eyes were full of suspicion, digging knives into him.
“It’s…it’s Maggie. Rose, what are you doing?” He felt her dropping the blade. Jack let out a sigh of relief.
“Sorry. Just needed to make sure it was you.”
“Why would I be anybody else…?”
“I don’t know. Maybe an illusion to trick us. I’m just trying to stay alive, Jack.”
“I can’t blame you. I understand. How’s Travis?”
“Dad’s sleeping.” She thumbed over her shoulder, pointing at the sleeping figure. It emanated light snores, sleeping rather peacefully. “Want me to wake him up?”
Jack shook his head. “He looks too peaceful to wake up. Guess he’s having the only peace of mind he’s had in the last years.”
“I hope so. That he’s okay, I mean.” Rose eyed him. “Are you okay? Why were you knocking like that?”
“Some monster knocked down my door and attacked me in my sleep. I wanted to check that you guys were okay.”
“I haven’t heard anything all night.” Rose said. “And I doubt Dad has. I’ve grown to be a light sleeper, lately.”
“I was just too tired today, I guess.” Jack looked over her shoulder. “Mind if I come in? My room kind of doesn’t have a door anymore.”
“Sure, come on in.” Rose moved aside, and Jack moved in. He sat on Rose’s bed, preferring not to get close to Travis as he slept. She sat beside him. The father and daughter’s weapons were laid on the table.
“Have you two decided the plan for today?” Jack said.
“You say that like we were on a road trip.”
“I’m serious. What are we going to do about this? Does Travis have any idea?”
“I don’t know, Jack. I went straight to sleep. What about you?”
“I was thinking looking in a library might be a good idea.” Jack looked at the window. “So dark out there.”
“Library? For what?”
“Records, I guess. I’m hoping there are records. Like newspapers. Maybe learn about the asylum.”
“We could go directly to the asylum.” She proposed. Jack shook his head.
“No, let’s try to find out what we’re dealing with before running in. Alright?”
“Sounds like a plan.” Rose sighed. “Truth to be told, I’m not really looking forward to running back in there.”
“We have to, though, don’t we?” Jack said, a note of dread in his voice.
“Yeah. Whatever is going on, the asylum is the source of it all. No way around it.” Rose said. Silence followed her response. Travis stirred in the bed next to them. He slowly got up, and looked at them.
“Oh, morning.” He said. Noticing the look on Jack’s face, he continued. “Anything happen, Jack?”
“Nothing I couldn’t handle.” Jack said. “How are you?”
“Been better.” Travis got out of bed and walked towards them. “I’m serious, did something happen? You two look glum.”
“We’re just thinking about what to do from here, Dad.” Rose said. “Jack says we should go to the library. Look for some records about the asylum.”
“It sounds like a good idea. A lot of reading to do, however.” Travis looked at Jack. “Are you looking for anything in particular?”
“I thought we could find about what happened to the asylum. There’s a library in the outskirts of town, near my old house…”
“Are you sure you just don’t want to see your house?” Rose said.
Jack shook his head. “I’m sure. That’s just an idea, though. If you guys have anything better, I’m willing to listen.”
Neither of them spoke. Jack looked at Travis and then at Rose. Travis shrugged his shoulders. “Let’s get going.” He said. Rose and Jack got up and walked to the door, following behind Travis.
They walked out into the parking lot, back into the dreary black morning. The clouds overhead hung like a dark omen. Jack looked over his shoulder, at his hotel room. It was empty, the body of the patient missing from the floor.
They found out the motel had been a popular stop for tourists when the town was booming, and finding a map of the city was easy. It was easy to read and easier to follow. At the top of the map, “THE CITY OF ASHLAND” was printed. Jack pointed at one point in the edges of the map.
“Here.” He said, pressing his finger against the paper. “The library should be around here.” Jack circled the general area with his finger. It wasn’t too far away, but getting there would take time.
Jack folded up the map and tucked it into his pocket. He turned around and walked out the door, back into the parking lot. They made their way into the streets after a bit, sticking to the sidewalk. Cars laid abandoned, parked to either side of the street.
They walked through the streets, passing abandoned buildings and stores. One had a sign that read: “ASHLAND’S BEST GROCERY STORE.” Below it, the windows were smashed in, shards of glass showering the ground and the insides of the store. Rose peeked inside the store. On the wall, scribbled in red, it read: “help us we are trapped we can only hear the moans”. A shiver broke out in Rose.
Their heels clacking on the concrete were the only sounds of the night. Jack led this time, retracing his steps from years ago back to his house. It wasn’t too often that he would be allowed to go downtown, so he remembered the way there and back well, although years of sterile white walls and doctors had blurred his memories.
He turned a corner, reminiscing. Up next was a small park where he would play when the weather was nice outside. Jack remembered the swing sets he used to love, and a faint smile rose up to his face. Turning his head to the right, he found the park. It wasn’t as green as he remembered; the grass was short and brown. The swing set was in plain sights, but the swings were missing. A pile of bones laid under the bare swing set.
Suppressing a shudder, Jack looked away. They would stumble upon the community pool soon enough. He remembered hot summer days where he would ask for permission to go to the pool. Jack was never the best swimmer, but he still enjoyed it. When they finally found it, it was derelict and dirty, but Jack was starting to get used to the sight.
They walked in silence. Travis walked in the back, looking back and forth. He vaguely recognized the area, but he never came too much in contact with this part of town, having lived in the other end of town.
There was the noise of bushes beside them rustling. They stopped, turning to the bushes. Silence hung over them as they stood, staring intently at the bushes, to be broken by the snarls of a patient. He jumped out, aiming at Rose. She swung out, connecting with her knife. The patient hit the ground after the slash. Scores of snarl started to ring all around them. Dozens of heads popped up from the bushes, their lips pulled back in a rictus grin.
They took to their feet, running from the mob. Jack turned corners, looking over his shoulder for his companions. His memory started to fail and go blank. Names of streets disappeared. Directions exited his mind. He simply ran, trying to remember the way to the library. A wave of despair and frustration hit him.
They could see a large building around the corner. Jack raised his finger and pointed towards it. “There!” He said. “There’s the library!”
They turned the corner and approached the steps to the library. The pack of patients gained up on them, snarling like vicious wolves. The steps seemed so close to Jack, yet so far away, always out of reach. His delusion stopped when his feet hit the steps and he ran up them. He reached out when he had climbed the last step, grabbing hold of the doors. Pulling the doors open, Travis and Rose ran in. Jack followed immediately after, slamming the doors shut behind them. Patients smashed against the doors, but they held.
They exhaled a collective sigh of relief. Turning around, they looked at the stacks and stacks of books. An arrow pointing towards a hallway read “Archives”.
Travis looked at them and cleared his throat. “Well.” He said. “Let’s get to work.”
The hallway wasn’t lit. Jack walked up to the light switch, flicked it, and felt surprise as the lights came to life.
“A nice change.” He said. They walked down it and found the archives. The room was medium sized, with a large number of boxes scattered around it. There were stacks of newspapers inside the boxes, and each of them had a date on it.
“What year are we looking for?” Travis said, moving around the boxes.
“The 1980s?” Rose said. “That was the year on Linder’s papers.”
“Can you be more specific?”
“1980.” Jack said. “August, I think.”
Travis nodded. He moved around the room and grabbed three boxes. Lifting them up, he carried them over to Jack and Rose. They read “June, 1980”, “July, 1980” and “August, 1980.”
“I couldn’t find any papers more recent than this.” Travis said.
“I guess the asylum is linked to whatever happened in the town.” Jack said, looking inside the June box. “I always loved coming to the library and reading. This shouldn’t be too hard.”
“Did you?” Rose grabbed the July box.
Jack nodded. “It was a nice escape from home.” He flipped through the contents, his fingers slowly staining with old ink.
“Escape from home? What do you mean?”
Jack pulled out a newspaper. The front page read something about a police report, but nothing on the asylum. “Life at home wasn’t exactly the best. Mom was clearly stressed out over dad’s condition.”
“Your father had schizophrenia, is that right?” Travis said. He was putting one issue back in the box.
“Yeah. I don’t think his episodes were frequent, but they happened.” Jack said. They all tried to ignore the snarls coming from outside the library. “My house isn’t far from here.”
“You told us.” Travis said. “Our house is at the other end of town.”
“Would it be a good idea to walk all the way over there?” Rose said.
“It certainly can’t hurt.” Travis said.
I’d think it could hurt a lot, finding your home empty and destroyed. Jack didn’t speak his thoughts aloud. He simply went on with his task, flipping through newspapers.
Rose put aside her box and walked further into the room. She grabbed a box that was dated September, 1980. Travis joined her as she started to look through it.
“Here’s something.” She said, pulling out an old newspaper, caked with moss. The front page was still legible. Jack walked over. Rose put it down on the table.
The headline read:
“DIRECTOR OF HOSPITAL FOUND DEAD, REPORTED SUICIDE”
The article’s notes continued, dated September 15, 1980:
“Today in the morning Dr. Kristian Hoffman’s body was found, hanging from the ceiling in his office. A doctor had gone up to speak with him, and found the body. He immediately called the police. Hoffman’s diary was found at the scene, containing normal entries that then turned into insane ramblings. Several strange designs were found on the walls, circular red drawings with shapes inside of them. Officially, the police ruled it as a suicide, but Hoffman’s body was found largely mutilated with a knife, making it harder to believe. However, the autopsy tells us that all the wounds were self-inflicted, shrouding this grisly suicide in more mystery.”
Rose put the issue back in place. She looked over at them. “This is the last box. There’s three more issues for September, and then it stops, on September 18.”
Travis was a study in concentration. “So, Hoffman killed himself, and three days later, there’s no more newspaper issues?”
“I guess that means that Hoffman’s suicide is directly connected to the state of the town.” Jack said. “Somehow, it made a mirror version of Ashland, one that is dead and lonely. But how? The man just killed himself.”
The snarls outside had stopped. None of them noticed.
“We don’t have the answers to that yet.” Travis said. “And I don’t think we’ll find them in the library. We’ll have to look around town.”
“Let’s start by the police station.” Rose said. “They have suicide reports, right?”
“They do.” Travis said. “But the police station is in the other side of town.”
“It’s a good opportunity to explore the town, then.” She said. Travis could tell she wouldn’t give. He sighed.
“Alright. To the police station.” Travis said. He started walking towards the exit, followed by Rose. Jack flagged behind.
“I think I’ll look around here.” He said. Travis looked over his shoulder, raising his eyebrows. “I just think there’s more to this part of town, that’s all.”
“Will you be alright on your own?” Rose said. She seemed hesitant, but Jack had a mind to stay.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. I started out on my own, after all.”
“If you want to look around here, I won’t stop you.” Travis said. “We’ll meet up at the hotel.”
Jack nodded. He watched them walk down the hallway. Rose spared him one last look over her shoulder. Her eyes showed worry, but she didn’t stop. When they were both out of sight, Jack walked down the hallway into the library.
He walked around the library, examining the old books and the shelves filled with books that towered over him. Faint memories of a young Jack walking around the library flooded his mind. Back then, the library seemed immense, a gigantic new world of books. Jack sighed at the memories and walked over to the place he always visited as a kid – the kid’s section.
It was a small section off to the side, adorned with toys and colorful tables for the children to read on. Jack walked up to the shelf and felt the spines of the books with his finger. He walked along it, not sure if he was looking for a book. Finally, without knowing it, he found it. The spine read “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll”.
He pulled the book and walked over to the table. Jack sat on the ground and put the book on the table. Leafing through the pages, he was caught in the web of nostalgia.
This was always a favorite of mine. Jack thought. I used to want to go on an adventure like Alice’s. But I never found my rabbit hole.
Are you sure of that, Jack? You’ve spent the last days in a dark, dark place. I don’t think your adventure is over yet, even if you made it out of your rabbit hole. The voice spoke in his mind. Jack shut the book with a slam. It rebounded in the empty halls of the library.
Without bothering to put the book in place, Jack walked away from the kid’s section and to the exit. He pushed open the doors and into the dreary darkness that awaited him. Walking from the library, he knew his way back home like the back of his hand.
He reached the sidewalk and started walking, going straight for two blocks. Then he turned a corner, facing a cul-de-sac. The houses were boarded up, and in the dim light, they looked absolutely dreadful. Jack ignored them as he made a bee-line a white, two-story house.
He made his way back onto the sidewalk and into his house’s front yard. Jack stood on the grass, looking at his old home. The windows were broken and the door stood ajar.
I guess whatever happened here didn’t hit my house too hard. Jack thought, and then corrected himself. But I guess if the town was abandoned in 1980, this was never really my house. Atleast, not here, wherever this is…
He shook his head. No, this isn’t really my house. The owners must be long dead by now. Just what the hell happened here, that made Ashland a ghost town? Jack walked up to his house, looking at the porch. Sometimes, his father would stand here, smoking, talking with one of his friends.
He turned his head back to the front lawn. The memory of him and his father playing replayed like an old movie in his mind. Jack didn’t see the hedge from where the “coyote” had come from, however. That must have come later.
Jack shook his head, trying to dispel the demons from the past that attacked his mind. He walked up the steps, moving onto the porch, and then walked to the ajar door. The hinges were rusty, and creaked loudly as Jack swung the door open. A voice made him jump.
Revisiting the scene of the crime, Jack? The voice spoke inside his mind. He breathed a sigh of relief when he realized who it was. The demon you know… Jack thought.
“Know” is not really the right word, Jack. It said to him and then fell silent. Jack moved into the house.
Aside from all the dust and everything being older, it was exactly as he remembered it. You could walk directly into the living room from the door, and the stairs to the second floor were in a straight path from the entrance. The kitchen was to the right.
He walked into the living room. His surroundings changed, looked newer, the dust lifting off around him. The TV was a newer model, one Jack recognized, and Maggie laid on the ground, watching the TV intently. It was airing some show she liked. Jack sat on the chair facing the TV, putting his arms on the arm rests.
The smell of something cooking hit his nostrils. Jack looked over his shoulder and called out. “What’s that smell?” He could see the shadow of his father standing in the porch through a window. His mother’s voice rung clear in response.
“Lunch, Jack! It’ll be ready in a minute.”
Jack smiled, resting on the chair. He watched the TV, waiting for lunch to be ready. Outside, the house stood lonely and derelict. Jack kept on smiling.
His father walked into the house and over to them. He ruffled Jack’s hair and pecked Maggie’s cheek. Then, he walked over to his wife. Everything is as it should be, Jack thought.
He heard his mother’s voice call out to him, and he rose from his seat. As he walked away, he didn’t see Maggie as she stopped moving and laid dead on the ground. Jack moved into the kitchen, taking his seat at the table.
Lydia looked over at him, taking a pan out of the fire. Jack couldn’t see what it was. He waited in his seat, looking at his mother move around the kitchen. Finally, she came over to him, a plate in her hand. Harold sat at the head of the table.
“Dinner’s served, dearie.” Lydia said. She hid her hand behind her back as she put the plate on the table.
Jack looked down at the plate. A single butcher knife, stained in scarlet laid on it. “Huh?” He said, looking up at his mother. She was grinning a lunatic grin, her hands covered in blood. In her hand was the butcher knife. Harold laid dead at the table, pouring blood from several wounds.
Jack ducked out of the way as the knife came down. He sprawled onto the ground and got up on his feet again, backing away from his mother. She walked at him, holding the knife in her hand.
“Mom, what are you doing?” He said. “Please, stop! It’s me, Jack!”
Lydia said nothing. She kept advancing, her steps relentless.
Jack took a step back. Lydia plunged forward, knife facing forward, ready to dig into Jack. He moved away from it and jumped onto the table. She grabbed for his leg.
Jack fell on his face and hit the table, Lydia holding his leg. He kicked back, connecting with her face. She let go and hit the wall. Jack got onto his feet and started running to the door. When he tried the door knob, it was locked. Lydia was getting out of the kitchen and walking at him.
Jack ran up the stairs and down the hallway. He only heard the rushing footsteps of Lydia behind him. His surroundings started to flicker; his clean, white house, the derelict corridors of the maze, and the dilapidated walls of the mirror house. Reality and illusion were indistinguishable as he made his way to the end of the hallway. There was a closed window.
Jack had no hesitation as he reached the window and jumped. It exploded into millions of pieces as Jack’s body hit the window. He felt several cut him as he hung over the air. For a moment, he was mid-air, looking down at his front yard. Then all went dark.
When he woke up, he was lying on his front yard. Jack slowly opened his eyes, looking at the dark omens that hung above them. He rolled over and got on his hands. All he could feel was pain, and plenty of it.
“When will this nightmare…end?” He said, getting up on his feet. “That’s all that was, right? Just a nightmare.” There were no glass shards on the ground around him. “I must have collapsed and hallucinated. That’s…that’s all.”
Jack looked down at his arms. They were covered in several, bloodied cuts. He looked up at the house that stood over him, silent and dark. Something moved inside the house and he blinked.
What was that? He thought, backing away from the house. Was I actually in there? What chased me? Jack ran away from the house, from the cul-de-sac, from the library. Running all the way back to the hotel, he came to a conclusion.
It’ll never be the same, will it? Even if I get out of this madhouse, my life will never be the same.