Adam Stier is a writer and editor that resides in Portland, OR. He is an established columnist and contributor to websites and publications.
No Problems, Only Solutions
Oswald's life had become a country song. Shitty. In the span of a week, Ozzy lost his job, girlfriend, and on the edge of losing his apartment. Alarm bells ringing in his head, he had to find a solution and quickly. He scanned the help wanted ads both on and off line and was coming up with no prospects. Two weeks is what he had until rent was due and there was no partial payment accepted. Typically an easy going man, Ozzy was nervous to the brink of a breakdown.
Later that week, he had been on his laptop going through Craigslist ads seeking shelter and employment in no particular order. Under the Jobs section he found a position that should have been accompanied by trumpets of jubilation playing upon its discovery. An offering of a live-in caretaker for an abandon former asylum on the Oregon coast. The ad read like a government document but it was perfect, as if tailored for him, as if intended for Ozzy to find and solely for him. After reading the long list of qualifiers, Ozzy believed he could do at least half and fake the rest.
He submitted his resume, updated to match the desired skills, and sent it off to the Property Management. Not two hours later, Oswald was checking his email account, and there was a reply from the job he believed was destined. He opened it to find a short letter personally address to him. Some of it made Ozzy slightly uncomfortable.
Dear Mr. Brodington,
Thank you for your submission to Property Management. We have carefully reviewed your resume and your background and found you may be a suitable candidate for our purposes. Having no children and being single is a good indication of experience with solitude which is paramount to survival at Nightfall. While your resume lists the appropriate skills, these are nothing that cannot be mastered in a short time even by a novice. We are concerned more so with your ability to handle the isolation, the darkness.
You will arrive in Nightfall, Oregon no later than 1500 hours this Monday for an interview. Failure to do so will result in you no longer being considered for the position. A reply to this email is not necessary. Good day.
- Property Management
Ozzy read it twice to make sure he'd understood it. It had struck him has odd because they seemed to emphasis isolation, however, the town proper was only fifteen minutes from the asylum he discovered upon finding on an Internet map. He shrugged and started mapping the drive from Salem to Nightfall.
Welcome To Nightfall
Speeding down the highway, Ozzy had made good time. He blew past the Welcome to Nightfall sign at one in the afternoon, a full two hours before his appointment. The town seemed abandon. He didn't notice a single person walking along the coastal town's boardwalk, the grocery store looked closed, in fact, only the two taverns had any cars in their parking lots. There wasn't even any other cars on the road and the single traffic light in town probably felt overpaid.
Ozzy pulled into the lot of a small store on the far side of Nightfall. The town was so small it took under five minutes to drive from end to end. He climbed out of his van and walked towards the store, dubious as if it was open or not. Pulling on the door, he silently says a thank you as it opens and then walked in.
It's shelves were under stocked and the cooler looked like it had been picked clean besides RC and Root Beer. Ozzy was no fan of RC, he thought it tasted flat, so he grabbed a root beer and heads for the counter. The store is eerily silent and Oswald feels a sense of fear, minute, all the same, present. He stood at the counter waiting patiently for someone to come complete the transaction.
A small black and white TV played silently, resting atop an old wooden box on the floor. There was a fully stocked selection of cigarettes, despite the rest of the store's goods, and other tobacco products. Besides the Atomic Age motif of the store, a modern state issued Lottery machine sat on a back counter. After a few moments, Ozzy felt he had exhibited patience long enough. "Hello? Is someone there?" He called out towards a backroom. No answer.
Ozzy sighed and left the exact amount for the soda on the counter with a scrawled note on a Keno lottery slip stating his purchase and honor. After, he walked out the door and back into the cool beach air. He stood for a moment overlooking the center of the ghost town. Besides the taverns, everything else appeared to be closed, as if it was off season. But, it was only August, peak season for these small communities, whom likely depended on tourist money. It all had struck Oswald as rather odd. As if the town had been constructed for his benefit. To give the illusion of normality. The illusion he was not alone.
He had been about to walk to one of the taverns, just to confirm there were actual people inside. To comfort the racing mind and stop its downward slide towards paranoia or, worse, panic. Then he heard a commotion and saw two patrons stumble out of the Sea Hag Tavern on the street corner. The two men, arms over each other's shoulders -- in that familiar drunken embrace -- talked loudly of fishing and stumbled towards the parking lot.
That was good enough for Oswald. He climbed back into his van, backed out of the lot slowly, and leisurely drove towards Nightfall Asylum, with an hour to spare he could relax.
Has he pulled up to the abandon hospital he could only imagine that had been what it felt like arriving at a castle. Nightfall Asylum was constructed with a strong Gothic architectural influence. The hospital was actually three separate buildings on a sprawling tract of land, all nestled behind a ten foot stone wall with a massive iron main gate. The buildings were stone as well and there were two smaller ones flanking what he had imagined to be the main hospital.
Ozzy stood at the gate and just soaked it all in. With typical Oregon Coast weather, the sky was a dark grey and gave the overall scene a foreboding sense of dread. There were horror movies that opened like this. That actually caused Oswald to shutter ever so slightly. He had not been awe struck, merely stuck. The gate had been locked and he didn't know how to proceed. He had honked the horn several times, called out towards the structures, and watched for signs of movement. He looked at his watch and a sudden sinking feeling overcame him, it was ten to three.
He had begun to rationalize the situation, it wouldn't be his fault, he couldn't have bypassed the lock or scaled the fortress's wall. Property Management would have to understand. They couldn't just dismiss him due to circumstances beyond his control. Ozzy actually started sweating, it would be the end if he didn't get the job, homeless, penniless, and useless. Those three things did not compute with Oswald.
About to lay fully on the horn and scream for help, he saw a portly man in a track suit walk at a snail's pace out the front of the main hospital. The man did not adjust his speed when he noticed Ozzy, he actually appeared to slow. After what seemed a fortnight, the obese, greasy looking man stood at the gate and ate his sandwich while staring at Oswald. Upon finishing, he'd one by one quickly sucked the tips of his fingers has if to obtain even the minuscule amount of food left behind. The man finished smacking his lips then sighed before saying; "Who are you? This is private property, my man. You are smart to leave now before I am getting the shotgun. You dig?" came out of the man in a thick Eastern European accent.
"My name is Oswald. I was told by Property Management that I had an interview here today at three. I was worried no one was here, sorry for all the noise." Ozzy offered in defense for something he didn't even do. The man stood there sizing Ozzy up, like a piece of meat almost, yet not in a 'come hither' way, more the way a butcher looks over a carcass before he begins his bloody task.
"Oh. Right. I say sorry, I did not think you would show, no one does. I am Yuri, hold on." With that he moved closer and unlocked the gate which swung open with the expected creaky sound. "Drive van to front of main building. Wait there. Understand, my man?"
"Yes, Yuri. I gotcha. No worries." Ozzy replied with a "Let's Be Friends" tone. All the same, it had no effect on Yuri who simply fished another sandwich out of his jacket pocket and began eating as if he hadn't just had one. While he was chewing he had begun waving his arm in a hurry up motion as if Ozzy was already driving through, he hadn't even gotten back in his van yet. In Oswald's mind he had begun to believe this might not be fate after all but a complete waste of time instead. However, in a few nights he will look back and hoped for the latter.
They stood in what was a pleasant surprise. The apartment that would be Ozzy's was very modern for the location. A large living room with picture window overlooked the courtyard, a full kitchen with all the amenities, tile floor bathroom with a large standing shower that had a removable head so one could center the flow wherever they wished. It was fully furnished and even included Internet access and cable. However, despite access to the other high technology, a standard land-line phone was absent. Yuri had said no phone lines existed on the property.
After visiting the apartment, Yuri became some sort of Universal Studios tour guide, one that had been rejected that is. In a monotone, heavy accent, Yuri pointed out key areas of the building; the commissary, the library, the music room, and other labels that meant nothing now that the hospital ceased to function. Then they had come to one room that interested Oswald profoundly for reasons unknown. The Surgery Ward.
It was resemblance of an auditorium, an almost spherical room, with three rows of wooden benches encircling it. They were high up with about ten feet of wall between the balcony and the floor, giving the audience the proper elevation to view the events taking place on the steel table in the center of the room. Lights with bulbs that looked like the eyes of an extinct giant insect hung above the steel table appearing forlorn, as if they missed being the intricate part of the operation. Ozzy simply stood in the door way examining every inch of the operating theater. Finally, Yuri cleared his throat and mumbled some derogatory term under his breath, breaking Ozzy's spell.
"Sorry, Yuri." He said as if he had been caught taking a cigarette from a sleeping friend's pack, "There's just something -- familiar -- about it. As if, as if I have seen it before." He laughs nervously at that and Yuri remained silently giving him that Butcher's look, "I know it sounds stupid, like something from a cheesy horror movie, but, I can't help but feel I have been here, specifically this room, before. Is that strange?" He finished turning fully towards the Russian.
"What the fuck do I care, my man?" Yuri returned philosophically in turn. " Save your strange bullshit for someone who cares, OK? I have more important shit to do, you finished now? May we continue, Vincent Price?" Yuri leaned forward with questioning eyebrows raised and a look of 'if you please?' on his face.
"Alright, Yuri, relax. I'm sorry, I just thought since you've been the caretaker all these years you might understand. That's all. Sorry."
"I understand job. I do it. I sleep. I eat. I start again. Besides that? Bullshit. You believe those stories if you want, my man, but spare me them, please? I am tired of those idiots with their cameras and electrodes trying to spread that crap. There's no such thing, shut up, and let's go. You want job or not?"
Ozzy had planned a response of honest and polite disagreement, but, he could only stammer since he was processing the last question presented by the boorish Yuri. "Did you ask if I wanted the job? Is that an offer? Ozzy managed.
The Russian sighed and dramatically rolled his eyes, "You are not smart, my man. Why else I would ask this question? For philosophy? Curious? Making the small talk? Please, I don't want to talk to you anymore than I have to." Yuri said as he turned and walked down the hall towards the front office. Oswald caught up and, keeping his mouth shut unless asked a question, signed the papers that made him the new caretaker of Nightfall Asylum. After which, he assisted Yuri in packing his old truck and saw the obese Russian off waving as if Yuri actually would look back.
Night Three - Wednesday
Oswald had been watching television one night when something startled him. A large crashing sound echoed down the hall and reverberated throughout his caretaker's apartment. He had stopped his arm midair from delivering the next serving of popcorn, as if this would make enough noise to negate hearing the echoes again. Sitting perfectly still, after the fact it never dawns on anyone that the noise as already passed, if it was to repeat it was too late. After a few moments, Oswald had gotten up and walked to the door, continued to listen as he slowly opened the only barrier between him and the harbinger of the disturbance.
Peaked through the crack between jam and door was Oswald's head. His eyes darted up and down the hall, they looked for anything that didn't match the expected. When he saw nothing out of the ordinary, his breathing returned to normal, until he realized that being an empty, voluminous building, the sound could have traveled from anywhere. Best to investigate. What if someone has broken in? Like those ghost hunter people Yuri had talked about? If they got hurt, Property Management would be upset. I could lose my job! Finishing the thought, Oswald made his way down the hall towards the perceived location of the sound.
When he arrived where he assumed the cacophony had occurred, he noticed he had walked right to the Surgical Ward. The very room that had enticed him a few days prior. Again, he found he just stood there, staring in the room. The feeling of nostalgia is what it had felt like. He was home, this is where he came from. Yet, that couldn't be. It was a room in an abandon mental asylum. No one had lived here, they either work or were kept in this castle.
It dawned on Oswald what Yuri had said before he left, about "the stories." Ozzy had forgotten about that and he made a mental note to research the property's history online. He cursed himself for not doing so in Salem before coming to Nightfall. Seemed rather stupid not researching a new location, especially one where you might be living. Then again, everything had moved fast and Ozzy had been swept up in the fast pace of the solution to his problem. No matter, he had plenty of time to do the background check throughout the monotonous day.
The whisper had come on the wind. Oswald had barely heard it, almost would have missed it had it not been for the second between exhaling and inhaling. Frozen in his tracks, Ozzy dared not breath, nor move an inch, he had been positive of what he heard. After the eternity between initial shock and utter resolve, he turned toward where the wispy greeting had originated. There before him stood a man, black and white in color, staring at him with a crazed smile on his face, head tilted slightly to the right.
Ozzy blinked continuously, hoping that the image would fade away. As if it was only a bad dream that lingered after waking. However, the figure remained, it had not been translucent, but, ghastly pale, white beyond any shade Ozzy had seen, all except the deep, black circles under its eyes. The -- person -- was dull, yet bright. It was hard to explain even in Oswald's own mind. Fight or flight kicked in and the latter, usual in a case like that, won out. Ozzy ran without so much as glancing back.
He'd burst through the door of the apartment, slammed it and sent the deadbolt home. He leaned his back against it and panted, the fear had induced adrenaline yet it started to subside and he had begun to get feeling in his extremities again. Oswald had thought the worst had been over, he then began rationalizing the situation. It had been a vagrant, nothing more. The glow from the soft lights and the moon shining through the large glass windows in to roof of the operating theater, had given the homeless man the unusual hue. That's all. No matter how hard he tried to convince himself of that, it never found hold.
Just as he had began to calm, there was a subtle knock on the door the vibrated through his back and rattled his spine as it turned ice cold. Ozzy wanted to whimper, to call out for his mother, he had been brought to the brink of unadulterated fear by something as simple as a knock on the front door. Typically something answered with a greeting had become an omen of the unknown, a realization of another possible reality, that in Oswald's mind never existed before that night. He had been certain it was the onset of madness. The isolation, even though he had believed had not bothered him, on another level, it had.
He had slowly been backing away from the door towards the interior of the large residence, when the second, more powerful, knock occurred, Then another and another and another. Each became more forceful than the last. It caused Ozzy to put his hands over his ears, as if it would make it stop, as if it could have possibly blocked out the terror that was routine not a few hours before. The knocking had become ceaseless and it was driving him to the edge of reason. He told himself that it wasn't happening. It was all in his head or he was dreaming. That surely, there was nothing on the other side of the door.
Suddenly, the knocking had stopped. Ozzy opened his eyes and looked at the rectangular shape with light sneaking in through it's cracks, as if in his reprieve he had earned the ability to see through objects. He eventually made his way to the door and pressed his ear against the cold wood. Listening for anything at all besides the low buzz one hears when there is absolute silence. For awhile he had stood there, thinking that whatever had been knocking was doing the same, its ear pressed to the other side, with that lunatic smile on it's pallid face, listening for Ozzy to make a move. Waiting for his skin.
Having worked up the courage, Ozzy opened the door in one quick motion and, like a commando on some b-movie reel, jumped into the hallway in a crouched position. Quickly turning hither and tither, he sought the bane of his reprieve. After several scans of both directions, Ozzy had thought he could relax, then another realization happened. How could anyone or thing move that fast and make no noise? All the rooms along this hallway are locked! That means whoever it was ran almost half a mile in under three minutes without so much as an echoing footfall. That thought caused Ozzy to swoon.
To accept that would have meant accepting the absurd. Accepting an idea that Ozzy had no belief in, thought it was simply a premise, a story line to inspire imagination and ticket sales. Ozzy thought it could be a ghost.
The following morning at ten, Ozzy's eyes had darted open. He had returned to his apartment after coming to an insane conclusion, flopped down in his chair, and passed out. Upon waking he wanted to believe it had all been a nightmare. Something he had eaten caused him to have a vivid interaction with some subconscious memory of some random person. He had read somewhere that the brain could not just create a human face, it had to get it from somewhere, which meant that it remembered just about every face you had ever seen. Those random glances of passer by's were the faces of your dreams and your nightmares. Some stranger plaguing your mind.
The more Oswald contemplated the notion the more it had slipped away. He sighed when the last clouds of hope dissipated and the sky opened above him. He moved with purpose across the room and sat in front of the desktop computer. He was going to email Property Management and then look into the history of Nightfall and the asylum. He powered up the system and opened the email client. He penned what he perceived to be a well thought out, rational, and merely suggestive message that could be surmised as more of an inquiry to what past caretakers had said about living in the asylum, if there had been any trouble as far as trespassers and if there was any history worth noting about the castlesque property. Satisfied with it, Ozzy sent the message off and then began researching the coastal town and it's landmark facility.
He had spent an hour searching sites and blogs for any information and found very little. It appeared that the hospital had no past of interest and the patients had been like other such places, the refuse of society. Not necessarily insane, also, physically deformed, behavioral problem children, and even addicts surmounted to a disadvantage socially speaking, ergo, lock them away. One incident was found the perked Ozzy's interest, Dr. Ambrose Laurelhurst was arrested in 1915 for apparently dissecting live patients in the room of Ozzy's attention, the operating theater. There local police had found a grisly scene. Bodies of patients littered the floor of the butchering room and the good doctor had been standing over a whimpering child has he was cutting the poor soul's chest open with what amounted to gardening shears.
After his trial, Dr. Laurelhurst was sentenced to a mere ten years in a familiar place; Nightfall Asylum. Then in 1924, approximately thirty-three days from his release, Dr. Ambrose Laurelhurst committed suicide in the same room he slaughtered thirty-three patients. He had hung himself from his intestines and slit his own throat. Ozzy was shocked by this revelation and proceeded to read the article time and time again, he found it hard to accept that someone could do that. Especially the grandiose suicide scene. Then a tone chimed from the speakers suggesting that Ozzy check his email. After he opened the client he saw it was a response from Property Management. There was a red exclamation mark in the subject line insinuating it was of the utmost importance. Oswald swallowed hard and click on the message.
One should be careful asking questions that concerns them not. The history of Nightfall Asylum is inconsequential to one's tasks as caretaker of the glorious property. If would be in one's best interest to keep one's curiosity under one's control. Lest one find they are in over their head. Caretaker, consider this friendly advice for future communication. Unless, Caretaker is wishing to seek resignation from duties?
Oswald's face had turned red and grown hot. Even subtlety Oswald had never been threatened by anyone. While it didn't place his life in question, it might as well have. If he lost the job, he lost shelter, income to provide food and most likely any remaining pay since he would offer no forward address, not having one. So, Oswald followed the advice of the message. He would never message Property Management again besides the monthly reports. Felling scolded, Ozzy got up and went to the living room to watch television.
The Final Night
Oswald had been dragging for the last two hours. He had taken on the monumental task of painting the forum, the large audience hall where he assumed patients had been gathered to listen to monotonous speeches and announcements. After seven hours of labor intensive work, it appeared has if he'd done nothing. Only the east wall was the new glaring white while the rest of the room a dull eggshell shade of the color. Sweat had formed on his brow, he shook his head and started slowly walking towards the exit.
Back at the apartment, Oswald rested in the bathtub. A bonus that had gone unnoticed until after he moved in. An old accessory surrounded by modern fixtures, it was an old style claw foot, deep tub. He was completely relaxed and had been smoking a pencil thin joint when a sound once accustomed to the joy of a welcomed visitor that now inspired fear, came at the door. A knock. Three times.
Being naked only made Oswald more vulnerable, more afraid. Shaking he rose up in the tub, wrapped his arms around himself, and stepped out over the wall of the tub. He wore a towel around his waist and walked toward the door. Suddenly he was filled with conviction, he would end this, it was a prank. Someone was purposefully tormenting Ozzy, he aimed to discover whom was behind it.
That's when the bottom dropped out. The door exploded open and a Shape stood where it had once. The Shape, is all Ozzy could use to describe it. It was black, not just black, but darkness incarnate. It was heaving, as if breathing heavy. Its arms out to its side, ready to pounce. Ready to tackle the trembling Oswald to the ground and eat his flesh. Ready to devour his being. Ozzy pissed his pants as his knees literally knocked from shaking.
The Shape did just that. It moved slowly at first, as if sizing up Ozzy for the kill. They circled each other, The Shape still "breathing" heavy, Oswald still whimpering and shaking. He saw his chance and scurried for the door, bolting down the hall as fast as he could. However, he could hear the footfalls of the Shape pursuing him. No matter how fast Ozzy ran the steps of the chaser seemed to catch up faster and faster. Ozzy was sweating profusely and mumbling offerings to god for safety, willing to stop or trade anything required for divine intervention.
Instinctively, Oswald turns right into a moon lit room. The Surgery Ward. He slams into the metal table, unaware where he was. Collapsing to the floor, since the table found purchase in a rather sensitive area, he began to sob. Knowing this was the last few moments of his life, he raised his head to face his end. The bringer of his finality. The Shape stood in the doorway, still heaving, and staring, Ozzy guessed, directly at him. It moved with purpose towards Oswald, side to side, as if trying to block any possible escape despite the fact Ozzy laid in a heap against the room's center piece.
The Shape stood over him. Its head tilted down as if looking at Oswald, sizing him up for the final move. It's arm moved lightning fast and found purchase around the whimpering man's neck. It raised Oswald up off the floor and above its own head, Ozzy was gagging, gasping for even a small amount of what we take for granted the most. Air. All of a sudden there was a roar of applause. Ozzy's eyes, which had become bloodshot, did their best to find the source of the sound. In the seating area were ghostly figures, that same plaid white as the first one had been, including the dark circles, where giving the Shape a standing ovation.
The Shape looked around and, even though his vision had begun turning grey, Ozzy thought it nodded his head, as if acknowledging colleagues. Then he was slammed down on the stainless steel table, unseen hands held him down while the Shape strapped his arms and legs down. Oswald screamed for help, in full panic mode, it didn't dawn on him that no one was present to heed the call.
Then a sound became prevalent, drowning out the applause, Oswald's screams echoed through out the main building of the Nightfall Asylum facility. What Oswald did not notice was the four old men among the ghostly observers, who had been watching with quiet satisfaction. Of course, it was of no importance to Oswald whom was more concerned with his lower intestine being pulled with reckless abandon from his torso. The Shape pulling and pulling. Oswald screaming and screaming.
Yuri drove up the cracked concrete road leading to the main gate. He had stopped at the lookout to drop off payment to the two guards and drunken actors in the abandon town. Once called Pacific City, due to economic regression had been abandon, The Citadel moved in quickly and bought not only the asylum, a bankrupt future museum, but the whole town as well. For the past ten years, every August, a new caretaker is hired. Then after seven days, they are bled out for the Overseer. He who must be fed. Yuri shuddered at the thought. The group of followers had been around for sometime, they were creepy but they paid very well and most importantly, especially for an illegal resident, in cash.
He arrived at the main gate, got out of his car and proceeded to push it open. He pulled up to the front entrance and waddled up the stairs. He knew exactly where to go, it was always that room, always the same remains, and always the prevalent smell. Yuri walked down the hall as if a death row prisoner. Walking towards the end, basically, he didn't want to go. Again, cash and no questions, so whatever worked.
Yuri walked into the surgery ward and discovered what remained of Oswald in a heap on the floor. He sighed and put on the rubber gloves. he rolled his eyes and began shoveling up the gore that had been Oswald.
They sat around a table. Only candles illuminated the darkness. The men had been around since The Dark Ages, it was appropriate. They spoke as dried leaves being crackled under foot, raspy and dry. They were discussing the great success of the most current caretaker. Dr. Laurelhurst, The Shape, had been satisfied, leaving the dark energy in full power. Giving the men their gift, immortality. After their meeting they returned to their respective posts within the governments of the world.
© 2016 Adam Stier