Home > Asylum (Asylum #1)(6)

Asylum (Asylum #1)(6)
Madeleine Roux

Dan and Abby put their hands on the heavy door and pushed. The door felt like it was pushing back at first, but then it started to give.

After one final push, the door shuddered open. A cloud of dust swirled up and blew out to meet them like a relieved sigh, as if some pent-up force had finally been released. As quickly as the dust came it dissipated, presumably less potent after Felix’s trip inside.

“Ugh, that is foul.” Coughing, Abby reeled back, covering her mouth to keep the dust out.

“It smells like my grandpa’s house,” Jordan said, his voice muffled through the fingers clamped over his mouth.

“They probably don’t clean in here anymore.” Dan squinted into the dark behind the door. Beside him, Jordan flicked his flashlight around, illuminating a wide reception-type room.

“When do you think was the last time someone worked here?”

“The Stone Age, maybe?” Abby joked. She and Dan turned on their phone lights as all three of them moved into the darkened room. Their lights made little pools of blue and white, but were hardly bright enough to fight the darkness.

They moved farther in. Slowly, details appeared—a low counter to the left where the secretary might have sat, a cushioned bench fixed into the wall on the right, austere overhead lights long bare of working bulbs. Across from them, along the far wall, was a slim door with a frosted glass window.

“This is crazy,” Jordan whispered, huddling closer to them. “It’s like . . . it’s like it’s all just frozen in time. Like they just got up and left one day.” He passed Abby and Dan, going to the counter and peering over it. “Phones, typewriters, everything.”

“It must have closed suddenly,” Abby said. Together, she and Dan walked ahead of Jordan and approached the inner office door. The flashlight beam shined over Dan’s shoulder, giving them all a better view of the letters that had flecked away on the door’s glass.

W     D  N    RA   F     D

“What do you think?” Dan leaned closer, studying the letters and trying to mentally fill in the blanks. “Is this the warden’s office?”

“Most likely,” Abby agreed. “Think it’s open?”

“Only one way to find out . . .” Holding his breath, Dan reached for the knob, noticing that it showed visible fingerprints in the dust that disappeared under his palm. Traces of Felix, probably, who must have gone farther in since Dan hadn’t spotted any pictures so far.

The door gave with a quiet squeak, swinging inward on tight hinges.

“Whoa,” he heard Abby breathe.

“My thoughts exactly,” Dan whispered.

Wiping his hands to get rid of the clinging dust, he went first, shoved a little by Jordan at his back. It was only fair, given that this whole trip into the unknown was technically his idea. They stepped into an office that might have been spacious if not for all the bookcases and filing cabinets crowding around, not to mention the piles and piles of loose papers. Dan tripped over a fallen lamp stand, catching his balance by grabbing the edge of a large desk.

On the desk, Dan noticed an old rotary telephone next to a stack of worn journals and notepads. Then he realized that what looked like an in-box of papers was actually a pile of faded photographs, less dusty than everything around it.

“I think I found the photos Felix was talking about,” Dan said.

He shined his phone on the top one—a tall man in a long, white coat, with glasses Dan recognized. He squinted to make out the other details of the image. It was the same man from the photo in his desk drawer. He quickly flipped to the next picture and let out a yelp.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” Abby said.

“Nothing,” Dan replied. If he admitted the connection he’d just made in his head, he could no longer pretend that he was imagining it.

The next photo in the stack showed a group of physicians standing around a gurney. Lying on the bed, oddly placid, was a young man in a hospital gown. One of the doctors was cradling his head in his hands, while another was buckling a heavy leather strap across his forehead. Nearby, a nurse was holding a syringe.

Abby sidled up next to him to stare at the picture, both of them trying to make sense of the image.

“It must be a treatment of some kind,” Dan said finally. “He must have been a patient here.”

“He’s so young,” Abby said. “He could be our age.”

He could be me. Dan shook the thought from his mind, peeling off the photo and aiming his cell phone at the next one.

This picture showed a woman restrained on a table. Fitted over her head was a helmet with wires coming out of it. A wooden bit was wedged between her teeth. Between the helmet and the bit, she looked like she was being tortured, like some kind of martyr.

The photographs were horrible, but Dan couldn’t stop flipping to the next one, and the next. Each picture showed a patient enduring some kind of treatment, from painful-looking shots to solitary confinement. A photograph depicting hydrotherapy turned Dan’s stomach. Orderlies were aiming hoses of water at a patient, who was huddled and shivering in the corner of the room, completely naked. A doctor stood to the side, arms crossed, indifferent.

Dan had read about this kind of outdated treatment before—he had a morbid fascination for the subject, really. Growing up in the foster system had given him an interest in social machines, systems that made decisions for people instead of with them. Not that he was comparing his life to the plight of these poor people—if anything, the system had made a good decision for him, all things considered. He wouldn’t trade his family for anything.

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