Twitch’s urine-soaked gown trails a smell leading throughout the brightly lit hospital hallway. It’s unofficially the worst, yet most efficient, alarm clock the unit has ever had. We joke to all the newbies that it’s an acquired taste. With heavy bags under my eyes, I sleeplessly shuffle towards the morning meds line. Waiting nervously for a disagreement with the head nurse, I begin biting my fingernails anticipating a code green. Things have been relatively calm for the past few days, a skirmish with the MHW’s is long overdue. MHW, or Mental Health Worker, seems like they’re always out to get us. Most times it’s a buff dude who seems to enjoy restraining kids just a little too much if you catch my drift.

Like clockwork, I hear screaming from the front of the line. Code Green is called over the intercom and two MHW’s rush onto the unit, grabbing Twitch. Missing his first punch, he begins scratching violently at one of them. Digging into their skin, the MHW becomes enraged while attempting to restrain Twitch. Burying his knee into his back, the MHW finally wrangles Twitch as backup approaches. We all stare while Twitch laughs madly as they carry him off to the quiet room. As soon as that thick lumber-slabbed door shuts, most of us sprint toward the nurses’ station where a live feed broadcasts Twitch’s agony on a small, black and white surveillance screen. He’s no stranger to this type of spotlight. Taking turns, multiple MHW’s tie each limb with restraints as Twitch attempts to spit in their faces. Suddenly, we hear the med window slam shut. Some of us scattering into different directions, but the veterans stick around knowing they have about thirty more seconds before the nurse passes by with the sedative.

“C’mon Twitch, hit em’,” I hear Annie whisper to herself staring anxiously at the screen.

Face down before they can attach the last restraint, Twitch takes a shot in the dark, headbutting an MHW in the nose.

“Ooooh!” We all flinch with one foot already out of the nurse’s station.

Annie smirks with gratification before we run off to the day room. Finding our usual seats, we decide to get comfortable knowing we’ll probably head to breakfast late.

“Can’t believe Twitch noggin clocked that asshat in the nose,” Annie says to me amused.

“I know…how long do you think he’ll have to stay in there?”

“Who cares? Totally worth it. Those guys deserve every bit of hell we put them through,” Annie finishes.

Annie and I are considered veterans here on the unit. Which means we’ve been here more than twice, or longer than a month in a single stay. Oddly enough, both of which are true for me. Currently day thirty-four into my third admittance, I’m no stranger to this place. Not bragging, but if you want something done, you come to us. Sick of the golf pencils and broken crayons? We’ll show you how to snag pens from the nurse’s station. Miss your shoelaces? We can teach you how to tape makeshift grips to the bottom of your socks. All in all, this place isn’t so bad once you know how to get what you want.

Another nurse makes his way in handing out the remainder of meds.

“I hate taking meds before breakfast, always makes my stomach hurt,” I mumble to Annie as the nurse hands me a tiny cup of capsules and tablets.

“Dude just go throw them up before breakfast,” she whispers back.

With a disgusted look on my face, I swallow my prescribed nonsense. Annie tries to hold back her laughter. Her attention shifts out of the day room as she bursts into laughter. A naked man wanders aimlessly around the children’s unit. Another group of MHW’s flock in, but the man decides to bolt down the hallway. Our laughter is silenced as the man is tackled out of existence. Huddled against the shatterproof observation windows we see his body lay lifeless on the thinly carpeted unit floor. The head RN arrives on the unit, we all run to our seats picking up our morning surveys.

Casually holding a syringe, the head RN steps in as we diligently work on our self-evaluations. Perusing the room, she silently threatens us eyeballing each of our papers. Passing by Annie and me we both shiver as her presence draws chills to each and every patient. Handing our evaluations in as we exit, our chins fall to our chests as we stare at the floor. If the wielding of a syringe isn’t intimidating enough, her gaze ignites a painful glow from the core of your soul. So, I’ve heard. Lining up quietly for breakfast, Annie turns from the front of the queue imitating her vomiting technique. I look back with hesitation but can also feel the pills bouncing about my innards like jumping beans. Sticking my finger down my throat, I puke pills onto some other kid’s back. Just another average morning.

After cleaning myself up, we finally make our way to the cafeteria. Walking the halls off the unit is always an unknown adventure. Sharing mealtimes with the adolescent unit, we usually pass the adult unit traveling back from breakfast. If there’s a code during any meal, we might even pass by the middle unit patients. Told to avoid eye contact, other patients, and even some MHW’s, are petrified by some of the middle unit patients.

“So…any word on your discharge date?” Annie asks as we wait in the breakfast line.

“Nope. And after this morning’s shenanigans, I’m lucky to even leave the unit for breakfast,” I reply.

“Oh, c’mon. Kids vomit on themselves all the time. Have you heard the potential side effects of the shit they shove down our throats? Annie continues.

“I try to avoid learning about them at this point. Just makes me scared about what could happen next,” I admit.

“Fair enough. Ignorance is bliss, right?” Annie casually quotes taking her tray to a table.

Looking down, I realize my tray is empty. In a quick panic, I grab some toast and cereal from the line knowing they’ll be watching my food intake. I can hear the head RN in my head as my tray shakes nervously on my way to the table.

“If you’re not eating, then you’re not cooperating,” I hear her voice repeating quickly in my mind.

Over and over. Louder and faster. Each time more intimidating and forceful than the last. It’s like she’s digging into my brain with her dark red polished nails scraping away at any sanity that may remain. Leaving traces of poison that may singe over longer periods of time, or just when you think you’ll be happy once again she’ll be there burrowing deeper and deeper until eventually your head is filled with nothing but negative verbal torture of tongue lashings and passive aggressive stares or comments. In attempts to distract my anxiety, I stop to butter my toast with the back of my spoon. As her voice continues to antagonize me, I begin to lose focus on the seemingly simple task at hand. My spoon digs into my toast breaking through as tears roll down my face. Grinding my teeth, my brain cycles through people potentially staring at me, doctors judging me, MHW’s taking notes on me. I’m center stage to the freak show and I can’t seem to break this irrational spotlight of abnormal and incompetent. My toast has crumbled onto my tray as I unconsciously continue to butter what’s now just the palm of my hand.

“Ethan, it’s alright dude,” Annie whispers helping me bring my tray to the table.

“You gotta keep it together, the MHW’s eat that shit up,” Annie continues.

“I know,” I reply sharply.

Annie dives right back into her breakfast as I look around the cafeteria. Spotting two MHW’s by the entrance they look back at me suspicious. Promptly averting my gaze, I look down at my cereal as my tummy continues to tumble. I’m not hungry, but I know I have to eat.

“Thank you,” I mutter.

“Don’t mention it, I know it’s not easy,” Annie answers looking up from her cereal.

“And don’t worry about them,” she resumes gesturing towards the door.

“They wouldn’t last five minutes in our head,” she concludes.

I struggle to take a bite of my cereal, choking on the processed grain bits milk shoots from my nose. Annie chuckles quietly as I look down at my newly stained gown. I can’t help but smile at myself. We both share a laugh at my expense.

Finishing up what’s left of breakfast, we drop our trays at the dish return and line up ready to head back to the unit.

“Single file. No talking. Directly to the day room once we get on the unit,” an MHW strictly states.

Leading the way, the MHW takes a different path in route to the unit. Annie turns to me shrugging her shoulders. Everything here has order and reason. Where we go. How we go. When we eat. When we sleep. When we take meds. Leaving the cafeteria, we always take a left past the outpatient program groups and classrooms, passing through locked double doors leading us by the head psychologists and social worker offices. From there we pass by the doors to the hospital intake and evaluation rooms following a smaller hallway that leads to another set of locked double doors onto the children’s unit. The hospital is set almost like a honeycomb, and as you travel closer to the center, the more dangerous it becomes. Making a right out of the cafeteria, there are only two options. An area with laundry and janitorial supplies, or the set of locked double doors leading directly to the center of the hospital, the middle unit. Most locked doors are accessible by both electronic cards and keys. Due to the violence and elevated risk of escape from the middle unit, everything must be locked manually by keys making it more difficult to travel off the unit. Most of the patients don’t ever leave the unit, outside of a body bag at least.

We all silently follow the MHW. Newbies are still bright-eyed and cheery as the veterans stare at the ground, only hearing stories of the atrocities that take place in the middle unit. The hallway between the cafeteria and the middle unit drains any hope one may have as they draw closer to the unit. The lights to flicker and dim the closer we get. The newbies ignorance becomes irrelevant as the overwhelming feeling of melancholy engulfs us all. Upon entering the unit, the stench of human feces and the cackling of psychopaths plague our senses. Unknown stains line the carpet floors with the occasional shreds of hair seemingly torn directly from one’s scalp. Overwhelmed, I keep my head down trying to keep up with the line. I hear a man arguing around the nurse’s station.

“Blood. Blood is the key to freedom. Yes. Yes. It is! Stop! Blood,” he stammers wickedly.

The line stops as I accidentally run into Annie in front of me. We’re both frozen. I lift my chin, slowly opening my eyes. Annie turns back to me terrified. We’re all afraid to speak, so we wait. The stammering man continues to argue but there seems to be no response.

“You know. It will be clear. You bleed. BLEED! Make them free. Your blood. Blood is the key,” he argues.

Turning my head in his direction, his eyes meet with mine as if he’s been talking to me the entire time. The sincerity of his stare is unnerving, but I can’t look away.

“Bleed piggy,” he whispers to me.

“Bleed!” he yells.

Promptly facing my attention forward, our line continues on.

After fumbling around with his keys distractedly flirting with the visiting medical interns, the MHW finally unlocks the door. Making our way off the unit, I turn back for one last look. The stammering man smirks menacingly back at me waving with the tips of each his fingers. SLAM! The double doors close before me as the MHW reaches to double check the locks.

“Keep up Ethan. Not a time for daydreaming,” he states pulling his keys from the door.

Making our way back onto the children’s unit, Twitch sits contently in the day room finishing up his breakfast. Being on certain precautions means he’s not allowed to leave the unit until the psychologist assigned to his case signs off on it. Being another veteran, Twitch doesn’t seem to miss the cafeteria or gym all that much. However, the meals they bring to the unit are usually yesterday’s scraps or some of the many leftovers from the kitchen staff’s creative interpretation of Salisbury Steak.

Waving us in, Annie and I take a seat in our usual spots next to Twitch.

“Dude, I can’t believe you smashed an MHW’s nose in,” Annie enthusiastically greets Twitch with a high five.

“I can’t either. I’m sure he’ll get me back eventually,” Twitch replies scratching the back of his head.

“We thought you’d be in the quiet room at least until dinner, what happened?” I jump in.

“Well, when the nurse came in with the needle, I remembered the bruise I had from the last time. Remember? I couldn’t sit down for days,” he gleefully retorts.

Annie and I laugh with him shaking our heads.

“Anyway, I started to calm down and asked if I could just take the medicine orally instead. To my surprise, she agreed. Weird, right?”

“Wait. Doesn’t that medicine just knock you out?” I reply.

“Well, usually yeah but I feel fine right now. The nurse even called me mature for backing off. Said they’ll even talk to Dr. Shaundry about possibly taking me off special precautions soon,” Twitch continues, crumbling up his carton of milk.

“Having someone watch you poop finally getting to you, huh?” Annie adds.

“What’s really getting old is showering with the door open,” Twitch laughs as Annie and I look at each other in disgust.

“They won’t even give me a toothbrush anymore after I accidentally locked myself in the bathroom. Been brushing my teeth with a damp washcloth covered in toothpaste,” he explains.

“Ew,” Annie and I cringe together.

“Sometimes…sometimes I feel like I’m supposed to be here,” Twitch admits.

“You guys ever feel that way?” he asks.

Annie and I look at each other, then back at Twitch, then away from us all. I think we all feel that way sometimes. Not many friends or interests on the outside, our parents don’t seem to know what to do with us. I don’t even know if Twitch really likes his parents all that much. Urine flows from Twitch’s seat soaking his gown, dripping onto the floor around as Annie and I continue to wallow in our own puddles of self-pity. Taking notice, we begin to count the seconds passing as Twitch stares off into space. Other kids begin to clear the room, but Annie and I stay by Twitch’s side continuing to count out loud. His seizures only last about a minute, maybe a minute and a half. He told us to count and not to stop until someone else comes in.

“…44, 45, 46…” I continue on in my head as the nurse rushes in.

“How long has he been out?” he insists glancing at the second hand on the clock.

“…54, 55, 56…” I count out loud.

“Alright. Head outside, we’ll take it from here,” he persists pushing Annie and I out the door as MHW’s make their way in.

“Code blue children’s unit. Code blue children’s unit,” another nurse states over the hospital intercom.

Annie and I wait outside of the day room with the rest of the patients peeking in through the observation windows. Resting my arms on the cold frame, I continue to count cradling my head in my hands.

“…89, 90, 91…”

“C’mon Twitch,” Annie whispers to herself.

We can see his face, but not his eyes. Presenting a blank expression staring aimlessly into nothing. He seems peaceful in an odd way. Not happy or sad…just existing.

“…112, 113, 114…”

Time feels to be moving slower as I count, but simultaneously faster as more and more nurses rush in by Twitch’s side. I’m scared. So many questions flood my mind as the clock keeps ticking.

“…135, 136, 137…”

Everyone’s just standing around him. Nothing’s happening. The same nurse continues to stare at his watch holding Twitch’s wrist. Interns make their way onto the unit, notepads at hand.

“…163, 164, 165…”

Scribbling observations as they watch my friend sit before them like a lab rat wading in a pool of his own urine. Concern grows as more time passes.

“…188, 189, 190…”

“C’mon Twitch!” Annie screams running in by his side.

“Twitch! Twitch wake up!” she continues to shout as a few MHW’s pick her off her feet.

“Twitch! Please wake up! Please! Twitch!” her shrieking turns into pleads as she struggles at the hands of the MHW’s.

“Ethan help him! Ethan!” Annie calls to me.

I can’t move. I can only count. Frozen I wallow watching one friend fade as the other one is hauled to a now hellish afternoon in the quiet room. My tears collect in the window frame as my body remains still.

“…233, 234, 235…”

To be continued…

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

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Prior to my trip to Universal Orlando, I researched what attractions I’d be able to take part in. Unable to find specific information dedicated to epilepsy, I decided to reach out to Guest Services via email stating that I couldn’t find anything regarding photosensitive epilepsy and if they had any tips or ideas. The next morning, I was sent a helpful and friendly email from one of the coordinators of guest communications.

They go on to explain that the Riders Guide does not specifically mention guests with photosensitive epilepsy, however, there’s a symbol in the Riders Guide, and outside each attraction warning guests that the “Attraction is not recommended for Guests who have medical sensitivity to strobe effects”.

Sifting through the Riders Guide I was a little overwhelmed at how many rides have this warning and that my trip may not have been worthwhile. This was NOT the case. I had a fantastic time visiting the parks and would love to take this opportunity to thank the Universal Orlando Guest Services for the valuable information they provided. Thank you!

With that said, within this blog post I’ll be listing the rides that have the strobe effect warning (marked with a red “X”), those that do not, and a few tips for those traveling to the parks with photosensitive epilepsy. (Like me! Woohoo!) Keep in mind that I’m not your neurologist and you should acquire a professional opinion before placing yourself into potentially dangerous situations. Also, some of the attraction lines are part of the experience and you are more than welcome to wait in line with your friends and family opting out of the rides before boarding. Hoping you find this information to be helpful!

If you’re staying in one of the Universal Resorts, there’s a bus that will drop you off at the entrance to City Walk from there you’ll be able to branch off to both of the main parks; Islands of Adventure (Left) and Universal Studios (Right).

Universal’s Islands of Adventure™

Seuss Landing™

If I Ran The Zoo™

The Cat in the Hat™

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish™

Caro-Seuss-el™

The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!™

 

The Lost Continent™

Poseidon’s Fury™ X

 

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – Hogsmeade™

Flight of the Hippogriff™

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™ X

The Hogwarts™ Express – Hogsmeade™ Station

 

Jurassic Park™

Pteranodon Flyers™

Camp Jurassic™ X

Jurassic Park River Adventure™ X

Jurassic Park Discovery Center™

 

Skull Island: Reign of Kong™

Skull Island: Reign of Kong™ X

 

Toon Lagoon™

Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls® X

Me Ship, The Olive®

Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges®

 

Marvel Super Hero Island®

The Incredible Hulk Coaster® X

Storm Force Accelatron® X

Doctor Doom’s Fearfall® X

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man® X

 

Universal Studios Florida™

Production Central

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem™ X

Shrek 4-D X

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit™ X

TRANSFORMERS™: The Ride-3D X

 

New York

The Blues Brothers® Show

Revenge of the Mummy™ X

Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon™ X

 

San Francisco

Fast & Furious – Supercharged™ X

 

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – Diagon Alley™

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™ X

The Hogwarts™ Express – King’s Cross Station

 

World Expo

FEAR FACTOR LIVE X

MEN IN BLACK™ Alien Attack™ X

 

Springfield: Home of the Simpsons

Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl

The Simpsons Ride™ X

 

Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone™

Animal Actors On Location!™

A Day in the Park with Barney™ X

Curious George Goes to Town℠

E.T. Adventure™ X

Fievel’s Playland™

Fievel’s Playland™ water slide

Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster™

 

Hollywood

Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-Up Show™

 

Personal Tips & Tricks:

  1. Low Traffic Times and Sunlight

Foot traffic and wait times at the parks is at its lowest between mid-January and early February. I recommend booking your vacation during these dates and to avoid weekends and holidays at all costs.

The parks open at 09:00AM* and close at 07:00PM* with variations on possible early park access and/or holidays.

Once the sun begins to set, almost everything is brightly illuminated. Especially City Walk. Which can be beautiful, but also a potential trigger for epilepsy. Seeing as you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the parks and City Walk is the main exit, it’s best to plan your trip around the daylight.

  1. Bring A Crowd

Gather ‘round, friends! These parks are extraordinarily massive! Bring friends or family you’re comfortable spending time with to explore together. It’s quite easy to get distracted and accidentally lose track of your group.

If you’re traveling with photosensitive children set expectations before going to the parks. A majority of the rides are not photosensitive friendly, so make a list of the ones that are and plan your trip around them. Everyone deserves a day of adventure!

  1. Be Prepared

On average you’ll walk anywhere from five to seven miles spending a day at one of the Universal parks. As I’m sure you know if you’re reading this that two of the biggest triggers for epilepsy can be exhaustion and dehydration. Bring what you need, or may need, into the parks with you. I always carry my backpack while traveling and inside is an extra pair of clothes and emergency meds, alongside a water bottle secured tightly to my side. Also, my medical alert tag proudly strung around my neck.

Once again, these are just a few of my suggestions and you should acquire a professional opinion before making plans. If there’s anything I may have missed feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Instagram: @iMarrowsJ. Wishing you the best and I hope your next adventure is full of wonder and excitement!

© John Marrows Some Rights Reserved

Waking to an unbearable pain, I begin to grind my teeth failing to convince myself to fall back asleep. Scrolling through my symptoms on the internet I’m fed ridiculous amounts of red flags and hypotheticals. Unable to fully extend my torso I stumble half-bent, like a miserable hunchback towards the front door. Trusting the fresh air may give some relief, I step outside to admire the clear Texas night. The moonlight accompanies millions of stars dimly illuminating the surrounding farmland. With a moment of peace, I take a deep breath through my nostrils lengthening my poor posture. Immediately regretting this decision, the pain heightens as I’m forcibly bent over once more. After a short spout of obscenities and pleading to a deity I don’t believe in, I ask a friend to drive me to the hospital. Like a determined senior citizen rushing for the early bird special, I shuffle to her car.

“I’m so sorry,” I mumble in agony trying to find a comfortable seating position.

“It’s alright… if it was me, I’d want someone to do the same,” she expresses.

“I really do appreciate it,” I continue.

“I was up anyway, wasn’t sure why…but I was up,” she explains.

About twenty minutes from the emergency room, I roll the window down letting the crisp Texas fall air cool the back of my neck. At this point, nausea is an understatement. The pain has reached a point where I’m unable to speak without some type of abdominal repercussions. Pulling into the parking lot, I’m astonished how empty it is. Growing up in a city, I guess I’m oblivious as to how empty the ER might be on a Saturday at 01:30AM in rural Texas. Anxious, my brain begins to cycle through the possibility of surgery, my fear of needles, the chances of having a seizure because of the added stress, dehydration, and sleep deprivation. Before my thoughts get the best of me, a throbbing protuberance from my gut reminds me to keep hobbling inside.

Greeted by an empty waiting room, a security guard stands patiently behind the intake window. A nurse pops his head out of the unit door as my friend casually gestures at me hunched over. Turning my head, I smile grinding my teeth. Explaining my symptoms, they presume appendicitis as a possible diagnosis. Beginning to prepare an IV, the nurse throws me a gown asking the generic medical history questionnaire. Struggling to find a comfortable seating position, I writhe around clenching my fists. After changing into the gown, another nurse hands me a urinalysis sample cup. Having to pee anyway, the only issue is the level of pain it might take to stand back up. With assistance from a few, I make it to the restroom to provide an adequate sample, then make my way back to lay down.

Asking for my arm, he doesn’t grasp how intense my phobia of needles truly is. I’m not upset, I’m afraid, and he’s just trying to do his job. My entire body begins to tremble as my nerves act up and my mind plays an amateur snuff film where I’m the unpinned voodoo doll of a deranged witch doctor. Offering her hand, my friend consoles graciously understanding this is an uncomfortable situation for me.

“The fluids may feel a bit cold,” the nurse states taping over the IV catheter.

“What’s your pain level at?” he asks.

“Around a seven,” I reply continuing to shake on the hospital bed.

“Alright, well we’re giving you fluids, Ofirmev for the pain, Zofran for nausea, and Toradol for the inflammation while we get you set up with a CT scan here shortly, in the meantime try to relax a bit,” he continues.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m shaking…I’m sorry,” I continually apologize as my pain level rises.

“Not a problem, that pain medicine takes about twenty minutes to take effect. If you’re still having issues, we can give you something a little stronger. I’ll give you some space and check on you in a few minutes,” he finishes with a pleasant smirk.

My pain level gradually escalates as I’m attempting to distract myself talking to my friend about work and checking my phone. Unable to mask the level of pain, my body squirms as tears roll down my face. The sensation of fire ants seeking shelter within the burrows of my intestines becomes a growing constant. This is it, I thought to myself. This is how it ends.

The radiology technician explains the process of the CT scan as others help in transferring me onto the motorized exam table. My friend stands patiently behind the window viewing the screen with the technician.

“Essentially, the system is going to take a three-dimensional image of your abdomen,” he begins.

“Once you’re under the imaging device, I’ll need you to hold your breath as it processes through, can you do that?” he requests.

I nod in agreement as a nurse fiddles with the injection port of my IV.

“You’re going to feel a warm sensation throughout your body,” The radiologist calls out a little too late.

An extreme warmth floods my insides conjuring nausea unlike any I’ve ever experienced. Turning my head to the side, I believe I might vomit. The unpleasant feeling lingers as the exam table begins to slide into the cylindric imaging device.

“The warmth is from the omnipague and it lights up your organs on our monitor here so we’re able to see better,” the technician explains as I’m attempting to breathe through intense nausea.

“Alright, I’m going to give you a countdown. When I get to one, I want you to hold your breath as long as you can or until the imaging is complete, you understand?” he requests.

“Yes,” I reply swiftly, anxious to get out of this claustrophobic death magnet.

“Three…two…one,” he counts down.

Taking a deep breath in through my mouth the exam table underneath me evaporates as I fall into a cratered pit dropping into a lake of murky water. Opening my eyes, the surrounding water is a dreary shade of grey with floating remnants of dismembered limbs and shredded hospital gowns. Making my way to the surface, I spot a rocky shore a few meters out. Sprinting through the foul open waters, my hands pull through unknown extremities as my feet are teased by the leftovers of nameless corpses.

Trudging onto land, the jagged stones dig into the bottoms of my feet bringing me to my knees. In disbelief, I lay ashore for a moment as the rancid waves continue to crash onto me. Crawling forward, two torches ignite posted at the entrance of an ominous cavern.

“Oh, c’mon, am I dead?” I complain attempting to pick myself up off the rocks.

Rising to my feet, I notice my abdominal pain has subsided. Examining the rest of my body, my fingers run across a delicate burn that travels up the side of my torso. Seeking better light, I walk towards the cavern entrance grabbing a torch. As I shine the flame upon my flesh it begins to pulsate rapidly, stressing scales that glow in its embers.

“Alrighty then…painkillers must have kicked in,” I conclude resuming into the depths of the cavern.

Passing the threshold, the other torch dies down, disintegrating to dust. A gentle gust hauled its ashes along the bouldering moist walls of the cavern. Funneling through the seemingly endless depths of the hollow, the only element that seems to differentiate is the air temperature. As I decide to take a moment of rest a violent quake strikes the ground followed by a powerful wind that carried the stench of the waters below. The sounds of roaring rapids approach as I begin running in the opposite direction. A dim light ahead inspires me to dash promptly towards it. Within arm’s reach, the waters engulf me, viciously tossing me around like a ragdoll in the washing machine.

My frightened eyes awaken on the exam table now surrounded by doctors. The pillow underneath my head covered in sweat, I attempt to adjust to the light of the room becoming increasingly dizzier. Spewing onto the soiled linens, the doctors assist in shifting my body, so I don’t choke on my own vomit. Gagging, my eyes grow wider as something blocks my airway. Encouraging me to cough, the nurse begins delivering back blows as they rise me to a standing position. Expelling blood from my throat, a charcoal black serpent slithers from my esophagus to the floor making its way down the hospital halls leaving a trail of blood, bile, and ash. Falling lifeless to the floor, my corpse begins to burn, crumbling before the feet of the group of mystified health professionals. My friends’ whereabouts are still unknown.

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

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Exploration of the Elk River Public School that was abandoned in the early 1980s. Former site of the Potlatch Sawmill, this tiny logging community once flourished as a small American town. With a population of 847 in 1920, nearly 100 years later, the now minuscule population of 125 remain. Locals seemed welcoming to outsiders that come for the hunting seasons and snowmobile trails during the heavy winters. The school remains standing with rumors of haunted hallways and possible spirits that wander aimlessly within these open doors. My team and I explored this beautiful piece of history to find a special surprise at the top of the bell tower. A letterbox that inspired the short story of the same name. If you haven’t already, check out the horror short story here: Letterbox

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Classroom 2nd Floor

Front Entryway

Bell Tower Ladder

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

The sun shines brightly through the blinds of my empty apartment as the alarm on my phone continues to ring. Just a mattress, blankets, and a few pillows placed in the center of my living room beside my half-unpacked suitcase. Embracing the nomad lifestyle for as long as I can. Today? It’s Sunday. As most of this quaint college town either make their way to church or sleeps off a hangover after attending that rager on Greek Row, my friends and I have our own sense of community. In the form of empty bottles as targets and shell casings falling to the icy mountain back roads. The Sunday Crew. With a mixture of interests, we planned something different for all of us to enjoy. A paranormal investigation at an abandoned school. In the thinly populated town of Elk River stood an abandoned school rumored to once employ a teacher that communicated with the dead. Most of the town thought he was just going insane after his daughter passed…grief can really fuck with your head. Once the Potlatch Sawmill went under work became scarce diminishing the population significantly. Elk River Public School closed its doors in the early 1980s only to be a rotting trophy overlooking the town with trailer parks, a general store, and a lodge for tourists hoping to enjoy the snowmobile trails or hunting season.

After throwing coffee on, I text Copper to let him know I’ll be ready soon before hopping in the shower. Copper was the most honest person I’ve ever met. Regardless of your feelings, he’ll tell you exactly how it is. That’s what I like most about him. No bullshit. He says most people from Alaska are that way. Cold state, cold people. He taught Gawk and me how to shoot guns and enjoy the mountains for all they’re worth. Hawk, or as we call him, Gawk, works with us at our day job and became a part of the Sunday crew unconventionally. He’s kind of just that awkward guy who enjoys laughing at our jokes and chips in for weed. He’s wicked smart, the youngest on the crew, and just a fuckin’ goon overall.

Knowing Coppers got to pick up Gawk, I’m in no rush this morning. We’re supposed to rendezvous at Safeway with Sarah and McKenzie around 08:30AM but knowing them they’re probably running behind. Sarah’s filmmaking experience is nothing short of amateur. Given that most of us are skeptics of the whole paranormal thing, she’s just hoping to get some stunning shots of the building for a film class assignment. McKenzie is just here to have fun. Sorority girl, free spirit, and yeah…she loves her cats. McKenzie is the kind of girl that underestimates her own potential focusing on others success while ignoring her own. That’s why I think she enjoys hanging with The Sunday Crew. Everything we do is together. As much as we banter back and forth, we build each other up twice as much. Besides Gawk. He’s basically our banter post. He’s a good sport about it though. The best cone of shame model we’ve ever met. Ha-ha.

With my towel around my waist, I pour myself some coffee, add a little schnapps, and check my emails. One of the few negatives about being a nomad is we usually don’t buy furniture or televisions because before you know it, we’re off on the next adventure. I have a few dishes from the local thrift shop, a coffee maker, an inflatable mattress, and an internet connection to watch The Office over again on my laptop. After answering a few emails, I double check that my bag is packed with lunch and any other shit I may need. Throw on my clothes for the day, grab my jacket, and head out for a cigarette. Nasty habit, I know. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to quit. Every summer I head to work in Maine, and that’s the only place I don’t feel the need to pick up a cigarette. Besides being able to work and live in many different states, a major positive about being a nomad is experiencing the culture of each place and having the knowledge of where I’d like to finally settle one day. Maine, well…that’s at the top of my list.

Daydreaming, I accidentally drag into the filter of my cigarette burning my fingertips as Copper pulls up jokingly honking his horn at me. “Where’s the Gawk man at?” I jokingly retort noticing the empty passenger seat. “He’s in the back seat, you ready?” Copper says eager to get on the road. “Yeah, let me grab my bag I’ll be right down,” I respond heading back up the stairs to my apartment. Locking the door behind me I shuffle enthusiastically back down the stairs like a kid on Christmas morning. Giving Gawk a quick playful jab, we all laugh as we head off to meet with the girls at Safeway. “Once we leave town, it’s basically just a straightaway through some pocket-sized cities on ID-8 E and we’ll be there in about an hour,” I say out loud with the biggest grin on my face. This is the shit I live for. Exploring abandoned buildings and chasing the make-believe. All in the best company.

Pulling up to the Safeway, we’re already a few minutes behind schedule and still no sign of Sarah and McKenzie. We head inside to grab some snacks and energy drinks. I’d say we’re the loudest people anywhere we go. After a few gags pointed at Gawk in the store we all make our way back to Coppers car seeing McKenzie parked nearby. “Bitch you stopped for coffee and didn’t ask if we wanted anything?”  I joke holding my own concoction of coffee and peppermint schnapps in my hand. “Get in bitch, we’re leaving,” Sarah says. “We’ll just follow you goons since you have the directions,” I shout to Copper and Gawk as I step into McKenzie’s car.

I knew we would be heading into the deep woods of Idaho, but I didn’t think about how scenic the drive would be. Each town we passed grew smaller in population, but more visually striking and vaster in land. The back-mountain roads were laced with miles of snow-covered trees and seemingly endless hillsides. We pass a practically empty cemetery atop a lonely hill in the town just outside of our destination. A family is gathered around the only headstone in sight mourning the loss of a loved one. As we’re the only cars passing through, they glare at us crossly as if our presence was disturbing their private ceremony. Finally, we pass the town sign reading Elk River. Pulling in, our mouths were agape at the school hanging over the town at the top of the hill. Some windows smashed, doors beat in, and grounds ultimately trashed. What surprised me the most was the lack of ‘No Trespassing’ signs that are usually posted all around these places. But hey, I’m not complaining at an enter at your own risk situation. Before we could even chat for a second, Sarah had her camera out making her way around the building exterior. Without hesitation, I make my way towards the back entrance. “Wait,” McKenzie says. We all stop and gather around a pitiful plot marked by torn crime scene tape, a memorial for Catherine Walker written on a paper plate, and two wooden stakes in the form of a cross. “Wasn’t she found just last week?” McKenzie asks. “I know she’s been dead for a few decades, but damn…she’s already forgotten again.” Sarah adds. We all sit in an unexpected moment of silence as the frigid air moves up the back of our necks. In a way, I think we all were reminded at that moment to appreciate our lives just a bit more. “It’s cold, can we- “. Copper smacks Gawk. “Ow, Copper. What the fuck?” “Ruined a moment Gawk…now this little girl can’t rest in peace.” Copper teases walking back towards the back entrance. “Hey, I didn’t fucking kill her.” Gawk shouts following Copper. Sarah and McKenzie laugh at Gawk as they head to the front entrance. Oddly wallowing at this poor young girls’ demise, I stay there a moment sipping my holiday season beverage of depression and loneliness. “You alright?” Copper states in a consoling tone. “Yeah…yeah, I’m good. I thought you went inside.” I reply lighting a cigarette while wiping a tear or two on my jacket. “Gawk and I were waiting for you. Let’s go fuck with the dead!” He eggs on smiling as he runs back.

Entering through the back we believe we may be in either the storage or cafeteria. Two totally different rooms…I know. It’s difficult to tell with the amount of damage around us. Long, bench style lunch tables are folded against the walls. With a variety of different trash items, mold, and mysterious puddles of murky liquid scattered around the floors, we begin to search for higher ground. I don’t know where you grew up, but I think it would be quite odd to go to a school that serves grades K-12. One school. Every grade. Even in its hay day, that’s still a tiny town. Making our way to the front, Sarah and McKenzie avoid stepping on the shattered glass from the broken entrance doors. A vintage vacuum stands ironically next to the thousands of sharp pieces. With a classroom to each side, we begin to explore as a unit. The shrill carpets are torn from the floors, some windows covered, and the inside walls lined with classic green chalkboards. I begin searching the drawers of the only desk in the room. Gawk stands awkwardly close to the exit as Sarah and McKenzie’s eyes are drawn to the view of their cameras. Copper sifts through a few bookshelves finding nothing but dust, empty beer bottles, and makeshift ashtrays. Emptying the drawers, I only find the remnants of mice nests. Ready to move on I head to the adjacent classroom. The same setup, just a little less run down. I stare at the chalkboard where someone has written “Go to the BELL TOWER” in fresh white chalk across the center. “Hey guys, get in here!” I shout. “Was that there when we came in?” Gawk states a little uncomfortable. “Joseph, what the fuck man?” Copper questions. “Guys, it wasn’t me!” I express attempting to defend my point. “Alright, then let’s go to the bell tower.” Copper grumbles as he walks back towards the main entrance. “I feel like that was already on our fuckin’ agenda assholes,” I add walking with them. We begin to ascend the massive stairwell. “Gawk, where are you going?” Copper asks noticing he’s walking towards the back entrance. “I got to go to the bathroom. You got a flashlight?” Gawk inquires. We all laugh heading back down near the poorly marked restroom. “I’ll go with you, you know I always have to piss,” I add. I’ve explored endless abandoned buildings, but this bathroom didn’t smell half as bad as most. Usually, there’s some sunlight shining through, but on the first floor, I understand why there wouldn’t be a window. A few urinals, two stalls, an elongated mirror, and for some odd a reason a shower made up this restroom. Trying to stay as far back from the urinal as possible, I take aim and begin to pee. As soon as I noticed Gawk isn’t at another urinal, I hear his stream hit an empty porcelain bowl. “Are you using the stall?” I ask questioning his choices. “Yeah…I can’t pee with people watching.” He returns. “I mean…I would’ve just let you go first-” “BOO!” Copper screams in my ear as I fall to the floor. “Fuck man! What the hell?” “Found your chalk boogeyman.” He spouts proudly throwing a piece of white chalk at me. Sarah and McKenzie enter. “You guys done jerking each other off in here? There’s so much more to see in this place.” Sarah mocks. “Whoa.” She audibly admires the huge mirror behind her. “Let’s get a picture of us all,” McKenzie adds. “Gawk! Put your dick away and come take a picture with us!” Copper laughs to himself. “It’s not flushing.” Gawk replies as we all facepalm. “Just…just get out here.” I end. Staring at the mirror we admire this moment. The Sunday Crew. A combination of fun and fucked up make for one dysfunctional family photo.

After that impromptu photo shoot, we finally head to the second level. Cork bulletin boards and torn wallpaper hang loosely on the walls. There are a few more classrooms around, collectively we walk into a class to be greeted by a rodent friend scurrying across the floor. A loud thump echoes from the classroom downstairs. Much like our rodent friend, we scurry down the stairs once again, to find a ladder has been placed in the center of the room. “Hello?” I call out, in hopes I receive a reply.  There’s none. “Someone’s just trying to fuck with us, you guys- “. McKenzie freezes as she stares at the chalkboard that now has the phrase “Go to the BELL TOWER” written a hundred times over. “Obviously they want us to go to the bell tower,” Copper says smartly in attempts to hide his anxiety. Gawk runs swiftly to the back entrance towards the car. Chasing after him we realize the back doors are renewed and the tables are set for lunch.

A school bell is heard as about a hundred elementary age kids rush in finding a seat chatting loudly with each other. “Well…I guess we know this was the cafeteria.” I utter trying to lighten the mood. “You guys see this, right? There’s no way I’m this drunk.” “You’re always drunk.” Gawk mumbles. “Hey, fuck you man, you know I hate the holiday season!” I shout back. “Guys, can we argue about this another time? We’re in a literal nightmare at the moment.” McKenzie interrupts. “Holy shit, it’s him.” “It’s who Joseph?” “The teacher that talked to the dead. That’s Tom Walker.” Walking away from the crew in attempts to get a closer look, I’m immediately grabbed behind my ear by a strict older man who drags me to a seat. “Ow. Fuck, man. At least buy me dinner first.” I whine. “Quiet, lunch will be served shortly.” He states firmly. Releasing my ear, he walks on staring cruelly at my friends. They join me at the table in haste. “Okay…Joseph, don’t take this wrong way, but WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?!” McKenzie cries in my ear. “Don’t you think if I knew…I’d tell you.” “WELL, YOU FUCKING BROUGHT US HERE!” She screams. “Calm down McKenzie, Jesus Christ. We’re all a bit lost right now.” Copper adds hoping to de-escalate the situation. “Just give me a second.” I sit in my own thoughts for a moment going through every paranormal book, film, text…anything to get some type of answer. “Alright look.” I begin to think out loud as everyone gathers around. “We’re here. And the school’s in session, but not really. We know the school was abandoned in the eighties, so we have to be somewhere in that time.” “So, we time traveled… “. Gawk interjects. “No. Shut up.” Taking a drink from my flask I attempt to dig deeper as my fingertips tap violently on the table in front of me. “Alright…so. We must be stuck in a memory or an event. There’s a theory that haunted houses give you a look at what happened and why it’s being haunted.” “What do you mean?” Sarah questions. “It’s called a time loop or slip or…fuck I don’t know. Anyway, it’s like watching a movie from the past…you see everything like it was. Before all the paranormal shit takes over.” I poorly explain. “The only thing to do now…is sit back and try to enjoy the show.” I finish. “Well, that’s just grand.” McKenzie stands. “‘Enjoy the show’. You say that like this is some…some immersive theatre display. News flash city boy! You’re not in Brooklyn anymore and I know-“

“QUIET!” The cafeteria becomes silent as the old man’s icy voice sends shivers down our spines. McKenzie sits. “Lunch will be served shortly. Line up accordingly.” He announces. “Guys, I really don’t think I could eat anything right now.” Gawk whispers. “Shut up Gawk.” We all whisper back. Trying to fit in we all line up with the other kids for lunch. My eyes are glued to the teacher table where Tom Walker seems distraught. The other teachers seem to be conversing around him as he chain smokes mouthing the text of a book he’s reading on the table. “So…what grade are you in?” Copper asks the girl behind us. “She can’t fucking hear you moron.” I mock hitting him on the shoulder. “How was I supposed to know?” “We’re only supposed to see what they want us to see. You’re a ghost in their world.” I explain. “What kind of mindfuck is that?” Copper says to himself, still in slight disbelief. I look back to the teacher table and Tom Walker has left. Grabbing my tray quickly, I push my way through the line scoping the cafeteria for him. He’s gone. Immediately tossing my tray aside, I decide to explore on my own. Walking out of the cafeteria directly under the stairwell to the second level there’s a classroom list on a bulletin board. Skimming through with my index finger, I look for Mr. Walker. Elementary English…Second Floor…Classroom B. Knowing that the elementary class is currently eating lunch, I make my way up the stairs.

Reaching the second floor I’m pushed aside by an aggressive young woman angrily marching towards Classroom B. I follow. “Dad? Dad!? What the hell is this?” She yells into the classroom with a notebook at hand. Tom Walker comes into view. Still, cigarette hanging from his lower lip. He’s shaking…and seems sweaty. “It’s the book. The one.” He stops to look around as if it’s a secret. “He…HE gave me.” He continues to answer, pointing to the ground. “Who dad? Who gave this to you? It’s filled with gibberish; did you write it?” She asks concerned. There’s no answer, she begins to grow more concerned. “Dad, there’s blood and pictures of mom in here. She’s dead dad, you have come to grips with that. SHE’S DEAD! Georgia’s dead! Don’t you understand that!?” He pulls her inside the classroom with force covering her mouth as she tries to fight back. Trying not to bring attention to myself, I move closer to the door but stay out of sight. I feel that I should run in and help her, however, this already happen. Will my actions change the outcome? Will the time slip end? Am I thinking too much on this? Probably. Inching up to the classroom door frame, I hear Mr. Walker speaking softly, yet promptly. I can’t make out anything he’s saying so I decided to take a peek. Feeling like a drunk bootleg version of a classic mystery gang, I stretch my neck around the door frame immediately regretting that decision. My back hits the wall behind me as my eyes close and my heart rate spikes. Attempting to breathe through a panic attack, glimpses of his exposed body hanging over her lifeless corpse flash before me as I sink lower to the floor. With a miniature blade, he seems to be carving distinct markings into her body while continuing to whisper over her. “What the fuck is going on up here?” Copper says making his presence known. Tom Walker pauses his chanting and intently charges us both. “RUN!” I scream as we both sprint down the stairs running into Sarah and McKenzie. We all stop to collect our thoughts. As my breathing begins to normalize, I give a panicked recap. “The teacher. No pants. Running…so fast. All the rolls just-“. “GUYS!” Copper interrupts. “Guys, we’re back.” He says with a sigh of relief. “We’re back? We’re back!” McKenzie exclaims as they embrace one another. The time slip has ended. Still collecting my feelings on the ground, I notice Gawk is missing. “Where’s Gawk?” “He was just right behind us…I swear he was right here.” Sarah says as we all begin to panic searching around this abandoned school hastily for our friend. “Hello?” We hear from above. “Hello?” We all call back looking to the worn wood rotting from the ceiling above. “HELLO?” It calls once more. “It’s Gawk!” I yell sprinting up the stairs. “Gawk, where are you? Gawk!” We continue to cry out. “HELLO!?” He cries again. Clearer in location, our attention is now on a small closet door. We’re frightened as the sun has set and darkness resides over us. With only the light of our camera, I reach slowly for the door handle opening it swiftly. A frigid wind comes through the shattered window, inside stands a ladder and broken chalkboard that reads “Go Up!!”.

With slight hesitation, I begin to climb the ladder ascending towards our original goal…the bell tower. “Ummm…I’ll be down here,” McKenzie calls out. Continuing on, Copper follows closely behind. As we reach the top it’s almost just like an attic, but with a larger window. “There’s not even a fucking bell up here!” I shout down to them. “Who cares, is Gawk alright?” McKenzie yells back. “He’s not up here,” I reply. “There’s just a bunch dust, molded insulation, and a cigar box. I could go for a smoke right now.” Opening the cigar box, it’s filled with worn papers, broken pens, and a leather-bound notebook. The papers had an illegible scribe written in red ink covering every inch of open space. “This guy really missed his wife.” Copper states sifting through the notebook as I examine the papers a bit closer attempting to read the papers aloud, but I just make myself sound drunker than I already am. “HIC EN SPIRITUM SED NON INCORPORE EVOKARE LEMURES DE MORTUIS DECRETUM ESPUGNARE DE ANGELUS BALBERITH EN INFERNO INREMEAB-uh fuckin’ hell.” I put the papers aside rubbing out my eyes. “By all means, have another drink, Joseph.” I wave him off. “Look. There are just endless letters to her about how much he wishes he could be with her again and that they’ll be together soon. Here. December 17th, 1976 ‘Our daughter looks just like you, gorgeous in every way’. What a freak.” He elaborates. “Wait, is that Walker’s journal?” I question. “Uh, duh. He’s the only psycho here, besides your drunk ass.” He replies. “First, fuck you. Second, that doesn’t make any sense. His wife was dead well before then.” “Alright then Sherlock, guess the guy was just insane. He talks about taking his own life to be with her or killing his daughter, so they can be a family again. Then just repeats wa ta na siam wa ta na siam wa ta na siam, whatever that is. It just gets more fucked up as you keep reading.” “What if he wasn’t just trying to talk to the dead, he was trying to raise them? Through some sort of sacrifice or ritual or something.” I conclude. “Now you sound just as insane as he did,” Copper says with a slight hint of anxiety under his breath. “These markings are similar to necromancy, he was digging this into his daughters’ skin when I saw them.” “Hello?” A fading voice calls out to us. “Hello?” We both call back. “Who’s there? I have a gun!” Copper adds. “Gawk! Is that you man? We’re done playing games. Come out!” I yell.  Suddenly, our lights go out and I’m frozen in fear. Chills roll up my hands onto my wrists as I can feel every hair on my arms rise with goosebumps. A moist, rancid breath hovers my ear. Its tongue reaches out to tease me laughing as I quiver. “What’s wrong Tom? I thought you liked when I did that.”

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

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Old Narrow Gauge Trail in the Randolph Forest. Witnesses claim to have heard voices calling out to them, even screaming at them. With small sightings of orbs, flashes, and dark shadows, this walking trail was a must stop on my travels through Maine. Locals state “Bicycle Larry” was killed and buried by the brook alongside this trail after police recovered a voicemail confession sent from the murderer to his sister. The killer later committed suicide and the remains of Bicycle Larry were never found. My team and I found nothing but odd remains of old toys amongst the lush green forestry and tires alongside the beautiful brook.

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IMG_20180813_145633.jpg

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

The Bowdoin Cemetery in the Pit. A young woman in the 1800s allegedly practiced witchcraft and was sentenced to death by hanging from the townspeople in the Bowdoin area. This cemetery is unmarked and easily passed alongside the back Maine road it resides upon. Buried around a circle of trees it seemed even nature itself was afraid of what may lay below the soil. Many of the cemetery plots were destroyed, however, what frightened my team the most was not the mass amount of vandalism, but the alleged witch’s grave itself. The soil was soft and seemed turned as if someone recently was digging to find her corpse. If local legends are true, her grave has a curse attached to those who step in, and especially dig into, the burial site. The Bowdoin cemetery was definitely an eerie, and interesting stop on my journey through Maine.

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Witch Plot

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

The North Manchester Meeting House. Built in 1793 this church still serves the small town of Manchester, ME. However, the building itself brings less attention than the cemetery surrounded by old stone walls. Within one of these stones, imprints what’s known as The Devil’s Footprint. Further investigating its origin, locals claim during the construction of the church a worker stood atop this stubborn boulder swearing he’d sell his soul to the devil if that rock could be moved. The next day, the rock was moved and the construction worker had disappeared. Upon arrival, it took a few minutes to find the aforementioned imprint. After combing the quiet and vacant cemetery grounds we finally found the stone. It’s impressive how much it resembled a human foot, just much larger in stature.

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The Devils Footprint

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Built in 1892 by Montreal based Roman Catholic organization, Sisters of Providence, the St. Ignatius Hospital served eastern Washington until 1964 upon the opening of Whitman Community Hospital. The facility employed nurses and functioned as an assisted living home until 2000, then was officially shut down and abandoned in 2003. In recent years the hospital was opened for public tours after rumors of being haunted and was even featured in an episode of Paranormal Lockdown with Nick Groff. Unfortunately for us, the facility was on full lockdown, boarded windows and doors, and ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted around the building. The tours offered are sold out and there’s no contact information on the current groundskeepers listed on the website. Enter at your own risk.

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Outside

Typewriter

Debri

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

11:10PM 10/08/2003

Reminiscing in a familiar fear, he crouches tightly against the corner of the dark room. Moonlight shines down from a small window on the ceiling above the towering, uncomfortably silent, cemented walls. Covering his ears, the voices of disappointed role models only grow louder. He screams beginning to wail his fists against the thick concrete wall until his knuckles bleed. Not out of insanity, but just in the hopes he can be heard. Within this tight space; a bed frame and urine stained mattress stand center stage lined with restraints awaiting his momentarily lapse of judgment. Grinding his teeth, flashbacks of drunken screaming from the other side of a dark broom closet veil this already cruel reality. The mental health workers arrive in drones dragging him off the floor slamming his already defeated torso upon the bed face down. One by one, each limb is restrained as he cries for anyone to help. Laughing, they advise him to calm down before the head RN makes her way onto the unit. His shrieks begin to fade into a defeated sobbing as he tires himself out wrestling against the restraints. The mental health workers make way as the head RN approaches wielding a syringe filled with a powerful sedative. Puncturing his skin, directly injecting his bloodstream, what feels like wet cement quickly starts flooding his body growing heavier like an unwelcome embrace. Within a few moments, his body lays tired and conquered while a few final tears roll down his face onto the mattress as his eyes begin to close. “Feel free to try again tomorrow.” A mental health worker mockingly utters as he begins to exit laughing under his breath. As the door shuts behind them a deafening silence covers the room like a thick fog on a humid Maine morning.

05:30AM 10/09/2003

The phlebotomist makes her way onto the children’s unit bright-eyed and cheery. Opening the door, she immediately turns the light on without warning waking the boy. Still groggy from the sedative, he can barely open his eyes to see who’s there. Releasing his restraints, she helps him sit up. Trying his best to regain consciousness she preps his testing materials. “Pick an arm for me buddy and hold it out.” He does so. “Now make a fist.” As she searches for a vein to puncture she recognizes the boy from a previous visit. “What brings you back to us so soon?” Attempting to hide his black eye and bloodied lip he turns away with a silent mouth and shamed face. With only a slight grin and grinding of his teeth, she digs the needle into his vein. The absolute presence of silence joins their awkward conversation, becoming quiet enough to hear the plasma exit his body into the vial. Pulling the needle out, she places a cotton ball over the pinhole wrapping tape over top. Helping him lay back down, she turns the light out as she exits with a gloomy demeanor.

06:46AM 10/09/2003

The sun begins to rise, shining through that tiny window above. Feeling the warmth of the rays, the boy begins to writhe like a worm under a magnifying glass. Still bleary, he lays in bed a while as the mental health workers begin making rounds of vitals to the other rooms. After he gathers the energy to sit up he holds one arm close to his chest. Examining the loosely secured bandage he gags at the sight of the blood-soaked cotton ball. Opening the door slowly, the assigned psychologist to his case enters with a blood pressure monitor and thermometer. Although a familiar face, the boy makes little to no effort to acknowledge the doctor’s company. Making his way over to his bed, the psychologist sits next to him in attempts to strike up a conversation while cleaning up his bandage. “You know, we’re here to help you. Trying to fight us just makes it more difficult.” The boy is silent, he turns away. “Those people…the ones that keep hurting you, they’re gone. You don’t have to be afraid anymore.” The boy smirks just a bit, laughing under his breath. Proceeding to take his vitals the psychologist explains the boy’s treatment plan. “With last nights outburst and your frequent flyer miles here, we’ll be keeping you on SP1 for the first few days until we think you’re safe to leave the unit.” (SP1, Special Precaution 1, the highest level of surveillance a patient can receive. You can’t even shit without someone watching you.) Expecting a reaction, the doctor pauses only to receive a villainous glare from the boy. “Ninety over fifty. Your body’s tired, be sure to eat your meals. They’ll be brought onto the unit. We’ll revisit your status at the end of the weekend, I hope to hear good things.” The psychologist says finishing up a few notes into the boy’s chart. Make your bed and head out to the day room, breakfast will be here soon.” The boy sighs irritably as he begins to tuck the paper-thin sheets neatly around the mattress.

07:20AM 10/09/2003

The boy shuffles aimlessly into the day room taking a seat next to a few other kids waiting eagerly for breakfast. Glancing around the room he soaks in the faces of others who’ve been hurt, it’s bittersweet for him to witness. Almost comforting to know he’s not alone but horrified at the same time. Beyond the usual cuts and bruises, burns and welts cover their bodies. Before the group lines up for breakfast, the morning group therapy session consists of a tedious questionnaire. Each child is handed a paper and a half eaten or broken crayon. Accustomed to the content, the boy quickly circles his usual answers.

 

On a scale of 1 to 10, how’s your mood this morning?

1             2             3             4             5             6             7             8             9             10

Do you have any pain? If so, where: _____________ On a scale of 1 to 10, how much does it hurt?

1             2             3             4             5             6             7             8             9             10

Within the last 24 hours have you had any homicidal or suicidal thoughts?

Yes         No

If yes, explain:

If you were to have thoughts of harming yourself or others, would you let someone know?

Yes         No

Are you hearing things or seeing things?

Yes         No

If yes, explain:

What’s your goal for today?

_____________________________________________________________________________

 

After everyone hands in their sheet, they begin to line up for breakfast. The boy stays seated in the day room knowing he’s unable to join them off the unit. As the others head off, nursing interns from the local university in Augusta step foot onto the unit. Ready to learn, their ignorant minds are complemented by wide smiles and hopeful cheer. After a quick briefing from the head RN, the interns start to make themselves comfortable around the unit. Seeing the boy sitting alone in the day room, one makes his way in to speak with him. “Hey bud, my name’s Adam, what’s yours?” The boy doesn’t respond. “Can I look at your morning questionnaire?” Without permission, the intern grabs the boy’s sheet evaluating the boy’s answers aloud. “Feeling like a three this morning, huh? I’d say I’m about a seven.” The boy turns to the intern with an ever so judgmental expression as he continues to read. “No pain, that’s good. No homicidal or suicidal thoughts, visual or audio hallucinations. You said you wouldn’t let anyone know if you felt like hurting yourself or others, why is that?” The boys’ hypercritical glare evolves into a defeated smile as he laughs a little to himself. “When you admit your pain, they try to help. Their help…it hurts.” Befuddled, the intern pauses attempting to calculate the boy’s response. Another intern enters the day room with a meal tray from the cafeteria placing it on the table. The boy hops up sliding his socks across the floor thankfully taking a seat in front of his breakfast. “Thank you.” He states his gratitude with a smile to the other intern as he unfolds the top of the milk carton. “You’re welcome.” She returns sitting across the table from him. Glancing awkwardly over at the other intern Adam, she’s somewhat impressed at how fast the boy devours the soggy waffles and bruised banana on the tray. “You like the food here?” She says in hopes of small talk. “Sometimes.” The boy replies after a final swig of his milk. “My name’s Evelyn, what’s yours?” Without responding the boy stands heading towards the day room door placing the trash from his tray in the bin walking out to the nurse’s station.

08:10AM 10/09/2003

A loud buzzing comes from the unit door as the rest of the kids arrive back on the unit. The head RN stands from her station and struts towards the medication window, the boy follows. Knowing that he’s trailing, the head RN speaks up. “Hope you’re doing well this morning.” She starts. Reaching the window, she unlocks the door and steps inside. As the shade rises, the kids line up for their punishment in form of prescription pills. The boy looks up gazing upon the head RN as she hands him a concoction of sedatives and anti-psychotics. With a small glass of water to wash it down the boy places the colorful mixture of capsules and tablets into his mouth. After a splash of water and a painful swallow, the boy looks once more to the head RN opening his mouth wide. “Lift your tongue.” She utters knowing he’s one to hide. He does so. “Good boy.” She says in a demeaning tone. Lowering his head in embarrassment, he shuffles back into the day room.

08:30AM 10/09/2003

With group therapy about to begin, everyone gathers in the day room as one of the therapists enters introducing the interns. “Before we get started on our goals, we have some special friends joining us this morning. Adam comes to us from the Auburn area and will be joining us for group therapy, Evelyn will be with the nurses this morning and she’s from the Winthrop area. Let’s be gracious hosts and offer our attention to them.” Urine begins to spill from the chair next to the boys as his neighbor begins to seize. Most of the other kids begin to scream in disgust or fear that it might happen to them. The boy sits patiently watching the room turn into complete chaos as mental health workers arrive like riot control officers grabbing the boy next to him and exiting swiftly like nothing had happened. “Alright, alright, everyone have a seat so we can start group now please.” The therapist declares attempting to bridge the gap between what just happened and the fact that Adam the intern looks petrified. The boy laughs to himself as the kids around him find their seats. Noticing his snickering, the therapist asks the boy to go grab a mop and bucket from one of the orderlies. “It’s not my fucking piss!” The boy shouts. Everyone stops, the room is silent. Mental health workers wait patiently right outside the day room door. “Can you please grab a mop and bucket to clean up our friend’s accident?” The therapist asks once more in a softer tone attempting to keep her patience. The boy stands, locking eyes with the therapist he begins to piss on the floor soaking his hospital gown. Adam the interns’ jaw is completely dropped as the mental workers approach the boy. He runs around the room grabbing anything he can to throw, screeching as he tosses crayons and bits of trash at them. As they finally get a hold of him, the boy bites down on one of their arms breaking the skin. As blood flows out from the man’s arm, he releases the grip he has on the boy. With a moment of freedom, the boy flees towards the door as a Code White is called over the intercom. Making his way to the massive unit double doors he wails on them aggressively in hopes that they’ll open. With a loud buzzing sound, the doors open, and he’s met by three larger mental health workers swooping him up instantly carrying him to the quiet room. One by one his limbs are restrained once again. A few final tears hit the mattress as the head RN punctures his skin with that syringe of prescription wet cement. His cries are silenced by the dense quiet room door closing. The head RN observes the boy tire himself out from a surveillance stream at the nurse’s station. An orderly enters the unit with a mop and bucket rolling into the day room where group therapy continued as scheduled.

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