Asylum (Asylum #1) by Madeleine Roux

They built it out of stone—dark gray stone, pried loose from the unforgiving mountains. It was a house for those who could not take care of themselves, for those who heard voices, who had strange thoughts and did strange things. The house was meant to keep them in. Once they came, they never left.

Dan felt like he was going to be sick.

The narrow, gravelly road had been jostling his cab for at least five miles now, and that was on top of his first-day jitters. His driver kept cursing about dents and flat tires. Dan just hoped he wouldn’t be expected to pay for any damage—the trip from the airport was already expensive enough.

Although it was early afternoon, the light outside was dim thanks to the dense forest on either side of the road. It would be easy to get lost in those woods, Dan thought.

“Still alive back there?”

“What? Yeah, I’m fine,” Dan said, realizing he hadn’t spoken since he’d gotten in the car. “Just ready for some even ground is all.”

Finally, the cab came to a break in the trees and everything turned dappled and silvery green in the summer sunshine.

There it was: New Hampshire College. The place Dan would be spending the next five weeks.

This summer school—Dan’s lifeline—had been the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel all school year long. He’d be hanging out with kids who wanted to learn, who actually did their homework beforehand and not up against their lockers in a messy dash before the bell. He couldn’t wait to be there already.

Out the window, Dan saw buildings that he recognized from the college’s website. They were charming brick colonials placed around a quad with emerald-green grass, perfectly cut and trimmed. These were the academic buildings, Dan knew, where he would be taking classes. Already a few early birds were out on the lawn tossing a Frisbee back and forth. How had those guys made friends so fast? Maybe it really would be that easy here.

The driver hesitated at a four-way stop; diagonally to the right stood a pretty, down-home church with a tall white steeple, then a row of houses stretching beyond. Craning forward out of his seat, Dan saw the cabbie flick on his right turn signal.

“It’s left, actually,” Dan blurted, sinking back down in his seat.

The driver shrugged. “If you say so. Damn machine can’t seem to make up its mind.” As if to illustrate, the cabbie banged his fist on the GPS display bolted to the center of the dash. It looked like the path it had mapped out for them ended here.

“It’s left,” Dan repeated, less confident this time. He wasn’t actually sure how he knew the way—he hadn’t looked up directions ahead of time—but there was something about that pristine little church that stirred a memory, and if not a memory, a gut instinct.

Dan drummed his fingers on the seat, impatient to see where he would be living. The regular dorms were being renovated over the summer, so all the College Prep students were being housed in an older building called Brookline, which his admissions packet had called a “retired mental health facility and historical site.” In other words, an asylum.

At the time, Dan had been surprised to find there were no pictures of Brookline up on the website. But he understood why when the cab rounded a corner and there it was.

It didn’t matter that the college had slapped a fresh coat of paint on the outer walls, or that some enterprising gardener had gone a little overboard planting cheerful hydrangea bushes along the path—Brookline loomed at the far end of the road like a warning. Dan had never imagined that a building could look threatening, but Brookline managed that feat and then some. It actually seemed to be watching him.

Turn around now, whispered the voice in his head.

Dan shivered, unable to stop himself from imagining how patients in the old days felt when they were checked into the asylum. Did they know? Did some of them have this same weird feeling of panic, or were they too far gone to understand?

Then he shook his head. These were ridiculous thoughts. . . . He was a student, not a patient. And as he’d assured Paul and Sandy, Brookline was no longer an asylum; it had closed its doors in 1972 when the college purchased it to make a functional dorm with co-ed floors and communal bathrooms.

“Okay, this is it,” said the cab driver, although Dan noticed he’d stopped about thirty feet shy of the curb. Maybe Dan wasn’t the only one who got weird vibes from this place. Still, he reached into his wallet and forked over three of the twenties his parents had given him.

“Keep the change,” he said, climbing out.

Something about rolling up his sleeves and grabbing his stuff from the trunk finally made the day feel real in Dan’s mind. A guy in a blue baseball cap wandered by, a stack of worn comic books in his arms. That made Dan smile. My people, he thought. He walked into the dorm. For the next five weeks, this was home.

If a new BMW in the school parking lot gave you clout at Dan’s high school, then Apple products and sheer volume of books seemed to grant the cool factor at NHCP.

That’s what they were supposed to call the program, as Dan quickly learned. The college student volunteers who were there to hand out room keys and help kids move in kept saying, “Welcome to NHCP!” and the one time Dan actually called it “New Hampshire College Prep,” they gave him a look like he was sweet but simple.

Dan walked up the front steps and found himself in a large entrance hall. The enormous chandelier couldn’t overcome the darkness caused by all the wood paneling and overstuffed furniture. Through a grand archway across from the entrance, Dan spotted a wide staircase, and halls leading in on either side. Even the students bustling in and out did nothing to dispel the feeling of heaviness.