“Quiet,” they bark at the boy chained to the corner of the room.

His face dawns blood, dried upon his cheeks, welled from his recently emptied eye sockets.

“Momma,” he cries.

“I said quiet, boy,” they demand once more.

“You don’t want me to kill her, do you?” they threaten, hovering a peculiar knife over a corpse.

Their hinged blade punctures through the vessel’s torso, the blood collects along the edges of the observation table trickling down into two separate oak barrels. Wax melts onto the cold concrete floor as candles dimly illuminate arcane symbols hastily scribbled on the cracked stone walls. Poorly secured shelves present mason jars like trophies containing a variety of liquids and herbs preserving indistinguishable monstrosities. Thin twine hangs severed fingers over the boy’s head accompanied by chimes made with empty bottles filled with teeth like some sort of nightmarish crib mobile. A gust rushes through the corroded steel barred cellar window. The witch is still, they place the blade aside admiring the crescent moon’s pleasant shift from a calming cool blue to a warm orange hue. Revealing themselves from the darkness, their flesh is torn almost down to the bone, their face is mostly burned making their jaw the only distinguishable feature, and their figure is as fragile as the crystal glassware scattered amongst the cellar tabletops.

“It’s time,” they say.

The witch gathers a candle, their spellbook, and a copper goblet reforged by thirteen generations of blacksmiths belonging to the Paladins of Criafar. Placing the candle in front of the boy, they kneel lighting it ceremoniously. The boy quivers, whimpering before the presence of the witch who mockingly smirks at him turning through their spellbook with intent, and pleasure, to harm him.

“Please,” the boy starts.

“I just want to see momma,” he pleads.

“Don’t worry,” they scoff.

“You will,” the witch whispers into his ear.

Rising, they grasp the goblet with purpose, presenting its copper casing towards the moonlight revealing a hidden text that glows a similar orange tinge. The text is illegible however symbols throughout match those drafted amongst the walls. The witch submerges the goblet in one of the oak barrels, filling its contents with blood. The blood bubbles for a moment, further highlighting the goblet’s engravings. The witch indulges themselves by inhaling the steam as if it’s a warm cup of cider on a gloomy fall afternoon. The bubbles settle and the glow fades as the witch again approaches the boy. The boy continues to whine as the witch begins to gently caress his cheek.

“Shhh….there, there, boy,” the witch consoles him.

“Where’s momma? Is she alright?” he stammers.

“Momma’s resting, dear,” the witch answers glancing over at the corpse on the table.

“Momma, momma please,” he continues.

As the boy continues to call out, the witch forcibly tightens their grip on his jaw. Mouth agape, he pulls against the steel restraints, pleading for freedom. The witch ignores his requests, raises the goblet to his lips and looks towards the moon.

“Under the moon, that’s been set ablaze. Over the boy, with a stolen gaze. Consume the blood of this bastard’s creator, for life will be restored near death, but no later,” they read aloud.

The witch pours the boys’ mothers blood into his mouth, he quickly begins to choke on its thick consistency. Coughing up blood onto himself, the witch tosses the goblet aside and proceeds to close the boy’s mouth and clasp his nostrils shut.

“Swallow it boy,” the witch commands.

“Don’t you want to see momma?” they ridicule as the boy’s limbs writhe within the shackles.

Unwillingly, the boy swallows his mother’s blood. The witch holds him a bit longer enjoying his struggle, eventually tossing him back to the corner. On his hands and knees, the boy gasps for air in between dry heaves. The witch waits, staring attentively. Suddenly, the boy releases an otherworldly screech, stretching his limbs as far as the restraints will allow. He collapses. The witch draws nearer, optimistic. Immobile, the boy’s body lays lifeless on the cellar floor amongst a puddle of his blood and urine.

Anxiety overcomes the witch as they straddle the boy’s corpse. Eyeing the window, the moon begins to slowly return to its original temperate blue color. Rushing towards their spellbook, the witch begins to doubt themselves frantically sifting through the pages, carefully reviewing the ritual once more. Shackles begin to rustle behind them, relieved they grin turning towards the boy who gradually awakes. Stretching his arms out, he rubs his eyes, immediately realizing his vision has been restored and his wounds have been healed.

“It worked!” the witch exclaims.

Now aware of his surroundings, the boy’s quick session of relief swiftly shifts to panic as he witnesses his mother’s body sliced open on the table presenting her organs to the nauseating, musty cellar room.

“Momma,” he shrieks.

“Momma, wake up. Momma, please,” his cries fade as he’s brought to his knees in exhaustion.

The witch makes haste as the moons shift is imminent. Retrieving the tossed goblet, they submerge its now empty basin into the other oak barrel presenting it to the night sky. The boy sobs as the witch knocks back a glass of his genealogy. After the final drop passes down their esophagus, the witch drops to their knees, raising their arms to the stars, presenting their whole being to the changing night sky.

“Yes, yes, yes,” the witch moans as pain passes through their body.

The boy watches in terror and confusion as the witch’s empty flesh pockets fill with white skin that shines against the stars, lushes dark brown locks flow from their once rotting scalp, and their eyes become once more, filled with life. As if a pig is being massacred, the witch expels a hellacious screech. The boy covers his ears before the witch eventually collapses and begins to convulse.

Reaching for the candle still lit in front of him, the boy leans in for a closer look as the witch’s convulsing starts to seize. The boy’s panicked breathing gently pushes against the candle’s flame. Their body is still as the crickets accompany the winds whispering through the chimes above his head. Suddenly, the witch awakes forcefully grabbing the boy by his throat, then pleasurably inhales through their restored anatomy as the boy begins to gasp desperately.

“Mmm, you have your mothers eyes,” the witch mocks, tightening their grip.

Hot wax drips between the boys loose grip of the candle. Singing the edge of his palms, he releases the open flame onto the witches tattered robes; it ignites. Unaware they’ve been set ablaze, the witch cackles as their fingernails dig into the boy’s skin. His blood runs down their hands, his eyes wide; they kiss the boy on his forehead tossing his defeated corpse back into the dark corner of the cellar.

The witch turns towards their spellbook salaciously licking the boy’s blood from their fingers. Kicking another lit candle over, the flames begin to travel up their robes quickly disintegrating the worn fabrics. Sprinting towards the well, the witch leans over the cobblestone casing, pulling the rope to retrieve the bucket from below. The witch is able to douse themselves as infernos consume the tapestry, the bodies, eventually reaching potion vials filled with flammable contents. The witch turns and makes haste for their spellbook however the flames envelop any viable path. Escaping with their life, the witch hastily makes their way up the cellar stairs. Smoke rises to the night sky while ashes scatter amongst the desolate woods. 

First light approaches, as hikers come across the warm embers and debri.

“Look,” one says sifting through the ashes.

“What is that?” the other questions as they uncover a textbook.

The spellbook and copper goblet present themselves…unharmed.

Cover Art: Joy Marino (@joymarinoclicks)

© John Marrows Some Rights Reserved

Consider helping me deliver more content: https://www.patreon.com/imarrowsj

Frigid winds whip by branches mocking the silence surrounding this enormous farmhouse. It’s a frozen evening accompanied by heavy snowfall. Harrison reads a book quietly on a worn, stained mattress that’s placed conveniently in the corner out of everyone’s way. Snuggling up with as many blankets he can find, he flips through each page intent on finding answers. Headlights flood through the thin bedsheet curtains accompanied by obnoxious hair metal and the revving of a classic American pickup truck. Harrison stands, looking out the window, he immediately begins to panic. Sprinting down the hallway avoiding puddles of blood and defiled animal carcasses, he begins to slam on his aunt’s bedroom door.

KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.

“Aunt Lynn? Aunt Lynn, George’s here! Get out, he’s coming!” he warns.

Scurrying back to his mattress, Harrison attempts to hide under a plethora of blankets and sheets. The music cuts along with the engine as the headlights fade amongst the desolate snow-covered field. Lynn runs into the living room frantically searching for Harrison. George’s truck door slams followed by his vomit hitting the cold, concrete walkway.

“Get out here, boy!” George demands seemingly inebriated.

“Harrison? Harrison, where are you?” Lynn whispers.

Harrison peaks his head out from underneath his blanket.

“Do you have the book?” she asks.

He doesn’t answer.

“Do you have the book?” she eagerly persists.

He nods in fear presenting the book.

“Good boy. You can’t hide here, go…go outside,” she continues.

“But I don’t have shoes on…” he returns.

“Shhh…just go,” she insists, holding her hand over his mouth.

BANG. BANG. BANG.

They both jump as George slams violently on the door.

“I know you’re in there, boy!” he continues.

Unwilling to move, Harrison tears up in fear. Hoisting him up by his forearm, Lynn drags him towards the back door continuing to silence him. Opening it, she aggressively pushes him outside into the bitter winter evening closing the door in his mortified face as he grips the book close to his chest. George continues to beat on the front door.

BANG. BANG. CRASH.

Obliterating the frail door structure, George makes his way in, wielding a malt liquor bottle by the neck. Lynn makes her presence known hoping Harrison will make his escape. Marching toward Lynn, George forcefully grabs her by the neck pinning her against the wall.

“Where is the boy? Where is the book?” he demands reeking of brown liquor and cheap cigarillos.

“We’ll die! We’ll all fucking die if I don’t get that book! Where is he? George warns.

Refusing to respond, Lynn braces for a hit. Gripping her neck tighter in frustration, he then releases her to the floor smashing the bottle across her temple. Flailing on the floor, the convulsing eventually stops as her blood empties onto the carpet.

Harrisons innocent eyes watch from the window as George frantically tears the room apart. He exits the living room to search the rest of the house. Snow continues to fall around Harrison’s nearly frost-bitten toes. His feet begin to ache in pain, so he peeks cautiously into the empty door frame, holding back tears as he leans his head low against the door frame. With a deep breath and the book tucked under his arm, he gently steps back inside. Sneakily making his way down the hallway, he finds the warmth from the animal blood oddly relieving on his icy feet. George’s boots stomp each step as he comes stampeding down the stairs. Sprinting into the living room, Harrison trips over his aunt’s corpse. Holding his own mouth, he backs up into the corner scanning the room for something to defend himself with. Following the boy’s bloody footprints, George struts confidently into the living room towering over Harrison. Curled up, Harrison hugs the book close to him as his tears mix into his aunts’ blood on the carpet.

“Couldn’t hide forever, boy. It’s over. Give me the book. Give it to me!” George barks.

Defeated, Harrison sits up handing the book to George who snatches it promptly. Beginning to sift through the literature manically, Harrison secretly folds up a page he had torn out placing it in his pocket.

“C’mon. C’mon! Where is it?” George says to himself becoming increasingly more irritated.

“It’s gone. Where is it? Where is it!” he concludes looking to Harrison.

Charging Harrison, lifting from under his arms he slams the boy against the wall.

“Where is it, boy? Tell me. Tell me!” George insists continuing to bash the boys head against the wall.

Conquered, Harrison smirks, glaring comfortably over George’s shoulder. Children with hair as white as the snow on the mountain caps and pastel blue skin, like the frozen waters of the lake, chuckle wildly as they begin to devour him from the tips of each limb.

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Consider helping me deliver more content: https://www.patreon.com/imarrowsj

Within this blog post, I’ll be discussing the creation of the short story series All My Friends Are Freaks. The significance of each of the main characters; Ethan, Twitch, and Annie will be outlined alongside a drafted map of the behavioral health center with actual photos from inside the facility! Additionally, I’ll be responding to your questions from the All My Friends Are Freaks Q&A.

SPOILER ALERT: The information within this post may reveal important plot points within the series. If you haven’t read them yet, I’ll link all three parts below. As always, they’re FREE to read!

PART ONE: All My Friends Are Freaks

PART TWO: All My Friends Are Freaks: Part Two

PART THREE: All My Friends Are Freaks: Part Three

Let me share some initial thoughts before I get rambling about the infamous children’s unit veterans; Ethan, Twitch, and Annie. All My Friends Are Freaks has been a culmination of personal perseverance, reliving unfortunate traumas, and balancing the right mix of reality with fiction. I felt like I was there, every step the veterans take on and off the unit. Putting myself back in those hospital socks wasn’t something I was comfortable doing at times, but boy howdy did I enjoy fighting for these characters and I’m hoping you did as well. Again, just wanted to say thank you to those who sent in questions either in person, Instagram, Twitter, or wherever. Thank you to all my readers!

ETHAN

In the original first draft of All My Friends Are Freaks I wanted Ethan to seem like life on the children’s unit was just another day. Moving forward I found him to best to represent the struggle many of us have to fight to belong, even when our peers respect us for who we are. Our anxiety spikes when we’re put under the spotlight, unable to perform mundane tasks, such as Ethan buttering toast like in part one. Ethan is the friend who constantly tries to show you that he cares to the point where it annoys you. He’s the friend that needs a reminder that he’s doing great things and you appreciate his presence. The friend who almost always says he’s “fine” even with a black eye and a bruised abdomen.

TWITCH

Mason Gatto AKA Twitch is a twelve-year-old foster child living with photosensitive epilepsy. Twitch’s experiences and motivations closely relate to my own. This character was intended to mirror my own struggles and triumphs within the behavioral health care system. Part two took a ton of self-exploration and putting myself back into moments where I was most uncomfortable, very vulnerable, and extremely malleable. I’m sure many artists and writers go through this process and if you have, I value and appreciate your courage to do so. There’s not much more I’d like to say about Twitch, but if you have any further questions feel free to reach out here or on Twitter and Instagram: @iMarrowsJ.

ANNIE

The character basis for Annie, as mentioned in my twitter feed a while back, is closely resembled by a close friend I had in one of these facilities growing up. She’s headstrong to a point of stubbornness and will do anything for her friends. In reality, she was, much like many others who frequented these facilities, a self-injurer that was prone to cutting. After a particularly stressful evening at home, she coped by cutting and unfortunately sliced through a major artery in her wrist eventually passing from blood loss. If you’re unfamiliar with self-injury, specifically cutting, those who use this unhealthy coping mechanism are almost never trying to end their lives, the bleeding releases endorphins which helps the body deal with pain and stress. I do NOT condone this method of coping and recommend if you are cutting to seek assistance from a trusted friend and/or adult. Regrettably, around this age, I was unable to truly grasp the meaning of our friendship as we both were attempting to navigate our own challenges. Later in my teenage years, a few of the other “veterans” and I grasped the harsh reality of her untimely death and were able to grieve appropriately.

If you or someone you know is suffering and believe to be using self-harm as a coping mechanism Text CONNECT to 741741 to speak anonymously with a crisis counselor.

If you are feeling suicidal, please know that you are not alone. You can call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.

Behavioral Health Center

Although an actual facility, I believe keeping its name and location redacted is definitely called for. The images listed below are stills illustrating the portions of the children’s unit. More specifically, the day room, nurses’ station, and a few extra things I’ll be sure to point out.

The Unit

Nurses Station AMFAF FILTERED

Pointing out a few things mentioned in the series. The nurse’s station where Twitch and Annie swiped pens from with the surveillance feed where Annie and Ethan watched Twitch noggin clock that MHW in the nose in the quiet room.

Surveillance Feed AMFAF FILTERED

The infamous magnetic locked double doors on the far left.

Double Doors AMFAF FILTERED

And of course…the observation windows into the day room with the bolt locked door that leads outside.

Outside Door AMFAF FILTERED

Unit AMFAF FILTERED

From the entrance of the double doors, a front view of the nurse’s station.

Patient Charts AMFAF FILTERED

Pointing out the patients’ charts tucked behind the nurse’s station where Annie and Twitch read through Ethan’s chart in part three.

Reader Q&A

Why is it called ‘All My Friends Are Freaks’?

All My Friends Are Freaks is ultimately for those who not only don’t fit the ‘typical’ label of society but also tend to be cast out because of their differences. Whether that be from their abusive past, their mental illness, or just their will to persevere…to survive. I’ve found that within the walls of behavioral health centers, especially if there’s a children’s unit, you’ll find hurt, shamed, abused, broken people; but you’ll also find a unique collection of people who actually understand the pain you’re going through. They get it. If you’ve ever said “you wouldn’t understand” to anyone, truly believing that you’re alone in your struggle, All My Friends Are Freaks is for you. It’s for us.

Why short stories?

Working mostly in the seasonal employment industry, I understand that time is valuable. Especially your downtime. I wanted to give my audience the ability to have a “full” read experience within twenty minutes to a half-hour. Specifically, with the All My Friends Are Freaks series, breaking it into three parts made drafting the change of POV’s smoother than attempting to squeeze them all into one piece.

Will all your works be short stories?

No. In fact, I’ve been drafting my first horror novel for about a year now. (More on that later.) Also, I have plans to pitch plays I’ve written to alternative theater companies around the US.

Why does Twitch only cover one eye in part three?

Twitch has photosensitive epilepsy and there is a reflex for some that when introduced to a potential trigger (flashing lights, fireworks, lightning, etc.) they will cover their right eye averting their gaze. For most individuals that are photosensitive, they tend to avoid situations where these triggers are present altogether. However, each individual could have different triggers with varying intensity of seizures.

Wait…is Twitch dead?

You tell me.

Would you consider writing an extra part from an external perspective like an MHW or Dr. Shaundry?

Yes and no. If this ever reaches a larger audience that calls for this, I’d love to come back and write a “special edition” sort of post.

Would you like to see your series adapted to film or television?

Hell yeah! Honestly, I’d sell this to a media outlet in a heartbeat under the stipulation that I’d be working closely with the writers. Keeping the characters accurate and true would be a priority as they’re important to me…and also me. Ha-ha.

How much of this is a blend of your own experiences with fiction?

Fantastic question! I’d say most of the “experiences” up to Samuel attacking Ethan at the end of part two sum up the non-fiction aspect. Although, not as “storybook”, the small things are what really made part one and two connect with my life. I remember being that kid in and out of hospitals and the MHW’s remembering my face, what my triggers were, plus the things I could get away with and how to help those new admittances cope with being in unfamiliar, and often uncomfortable, territory.

And yes…the Salisbury Steak is really that nasty. Ha-ha.

Once again, I’m hoping you enjoyed reading this series as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thank you to all my readers!

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

 

Meet My Ghost is “a podcast of short ghost stories where you’ll hear a collection of quick but spooky encounters. Because a ghost story doesn’t have to be long, to be creepy. I’ll bring you eerie tales recounted by those who experienced them. And maybe some freaky fictional creeps now and then too…”

-Sandy Tufts

Creator and Narrator of Meet My Ghost

Be sure to give Meet My Ghost a listen on Apple Podcasts and all other podcast platforms!

Follow Meet My Ghost on Instagram and Twitter: @meetmyghost

Have your own story? Head over to MeetMyGhost.com to submit!

Around the age of seventeen, I spent the majority of my time with my two best friends Haley and Stan, who also happened to be a couple. We spent many weekends at Stan’s grandfathers’ house chatting about obscure slam bands and how “untraditional” our home life was. One early evening, while Haley and I were chain smoking our poorly rolled cigarettes on the porch, we couldn’t help but overhear Stan arguing with his mother on the phone. Stan’s grandfather is going away for the weekend and he’s supposed to watch his German Shepard, Bear. AKA, we’re all going to drink beers in the basement playing video games and listening to metal music. Of course, Stan’s mother being the manipulative drug addict that she is, attempts to guilt trip Stan into coming home. She was rambling about his dad being drunk again and taking the truck somewhere, but knowing Stan’s father, he probably didn’t make it very far. Broken teenagers from broken homes. Labeled by society as outcasts, losers, deadbeats, I’m sure you understand what I mean. “The spawns of white trash”, I remember our teachers would say referring to our tight-knit clique. Haley and I always thought that White Trash Spawn would make a perfect band name. Stan always voted for more brutal names like “Trailer Park Carcasses” or “Orphanage for Dumpster Fetus”. Who am I kidding? A band wasn’t really in our wheelhouse, but a kid could dream.

“Just make sure Bear gets fed while I’m gone,” Stan’s grandfather said passing us on the porch shaking his head in disappointment.

“We will,” I abruptly replied as my cigarette singed the ends of my fingertips.

Haley laughed under her breath as I shook out my hand. Bear began aggressively barking by the front door as Stan’s grandfather pulls out of the driveway.

“Shut up!” we heard Stan shout at Bear joining us for a smoke.

“You bailing on us tonight, or what?” Haley mockingly asked Stan.

Cracking open a fresh can of beer, he rolled his eyes before chugging its contents.

After a few more cigarettes, a walk to the gas station, and pellet gunshots at some bottles, we made our way inside. Grabbing some snacks and collecting a few more beers, I remember rushing to the basement hoping to grab the game controller before Stan. Stan wasn’t very open about his feelings and either secluded himself from everyone or lashed out with spouts of aggression when uneasy topics arose. Looking back, I feel our friendship only worked because of our obvious sense of wanting in a society that continued to shut us out. Throwing on some tunes in the background, Haley and Stan began to get amorous next to me on the couch. As the music played, Stan’s hands ran up Haley’s legs gently tugging at her already torn fishnets. Uncomfortable, and a little more inebriated than I thought, I paused the game standing to my feet. Stumbling over a few empty bottles, Stan and Haley laughed as I attempted to find my way to the stairs. Grasping the railing on the way up, I eyed the door at the top of the stairs hoping my balance wouldn’t betray me. This was probably the first time I’ve felt the full effect of being drunk without blacking out. Ascending the towering flight of poorly crafted steps, Bear woefully greeted me at the door whimpering as he followed me closely into the kitchen. Opening the fridge door, I shuddered from the brightness of the lights as Bear continued to whine behind me.

“There’s no food in here for you Bear,” I said petting his head.

“Stanley,” an elderly voice called out from the living room.

Immediately closing the fridge door, I glanced towards the dark living room. The television was on, but nothing was playing. Just an annoying low hum as the empty black screen dimly lit the living area. Bear continued to whine lying on the kitchen floor. Shaking my head, I quickly open the fridge once more grabbing as many beers as I could hold shuffling back to the top of the basement steps.

“Stanley, Stanley is that you?” the elderly voice called out from the darkness.

“No, sorry. Not Stan…just a friend,” I nervously answered back.

“Oh, that’s alright. Could I bother you for a cup of tea?” they requested.

“Ummm…sure,” I answered, gently placing my beers on the floor.

Fumbling through an old packaging of tea leaves I somehow managed to prepare a proper cup.

“Three sugars,” they humbly requested from across the room.

Carefully making my way towards the living room, Bear stayed in the kitchen continuing to moan. Placing the tea on a television tray, an aging woman, frail and fading, reached her hand out to mine.

“Thank you,” she graciously stated.

“No problem…anything else you need?” I stammered.

She pulled me in closer and whispered into my ear.

Still intoxicated, and a bit confused, I carefully descended back down into the basement. Stan and Haley playfully wrested upon the couch as I found my seat.

“You get lost up there?” Stan kids with a spirited jab to my abdomen.

“Your grandma’s upstairs in the living room, she asked me to make her some tea,” I explained.

“What?” Stan angrily replied.

“She’s sitting in front of the TV, why didn’t you tell us she was going to be here?” I asked.

Stan’s stunned silence frightened me. I didn’t know what he was thinking or how he might react.

“His grandma’s been dead for a couple of years,” Haley adds.

“No, I just saw her,” I said.

“C’mon you guys, stop messing with me,” I anxiously smiled, hoping they were messing around.

“Did she say anything?” Stan sharply questions.

“Uhhh…” I mumbled as Stan violently towered over me.

“What? What did she say!?,” Stan belligerently eggs me on.

“She said…just tell Stanley I say hello,”.

© John Marrows Some Rights Reserved

Be sure to check out part one if you haven’t already: All My Friends Are Freaks

Sunlight peaks through the ripped sheets acting as makeshift curtains in this distressing excuse of a mobile home. Crucifixes ironically line the walls with quotes of false hope like “God bless our home and all who enter”. Cigarette ash falls onto my head as my foster father reaches over me extinguishing another butt in a beer can on the coffee table. Sweeping the ash from my journal, I continue to write, scribbling through the obvious grumbles of hunger coming from my stomach. After a quick swig from his flask, he derisively snorts in my direction coughing up a loogie onto my notepad.

“Dinner is served,” he mocks, laughing himself into another coughing spell.

Grasping my skull for balance, he stands then stumbles towards the bathroom. Encasing the forest green ball of mucus, I close my journal listening to his stream hit the toilet bowl. My stomach rumbles once again. Curious if he has left any scraps on the table, I peruse hastily through the bottles, cans, and ashtrays uncovering a few forgotten chicken nuggets. Glancing towards the bathroom while his stream continues, I blow ash from my foraged treat. The toilet flushes as I begin to scarf more down chewing vigorously in anticipation of his return. With a painful swallow, I open my journal jotting down anything that comes to mind seeming busy. Making his way back down the hallway, behind my busy eyes I tremble, swiftly wiping the crumbs from my face. My foot taps anxiously, but I bury my head into what I’m writing.

Approaching me, he looms villainously, sporting a criminal smile. Belt already at hand, he takes a swing hitting the side of my leg. WHIP! Jumping to my feet, I make a break for the door. WHIP! Striking my back, I cry out in pain falling to the floor. Turning to him, I crawl backward shielding my face as he winds up for one more. WHIP! Breaking the skin on my arm, I hold it close to my chest. WHIP! With a backhanded return, he continues to lash until the fact sinks in that I’m an unwelcome guest. WHIP! Swiping the side of my head I fall defeated to the floor. A few moments pass, with some extra beatings to be sure.

“Oh look, the dogs pissing on the carpet again,” he leans over to shout in my face.

His breath reeks of brown liquor and stale cigarettes invading my senses like a toxic fume of discomfort and hatred. My vision gently fades as a light seemingly passes by my eyes. I can see him confidently stumble off dropping the belt by my side, whiskey bottle now at hand. Light passes by my eyes again, brighter than before.

“The convulsing has ceased,” a nurse sporadically states as others gather around me.

“We’re just passing four minutes,” another nurse says grabbing my wrist.

“Son, can you hear me?” he asks as I slowly open my eyes drained of all energy.

“Can you hear me?” he repeats.

Nodding my head, I realize I’ve moved to the floor. Groggily I turn my torso situating myself in my own puddle of piss.

“Do you know where you are?” he asks checking my awareness.

“The hospital,” I mutter flinching from the bright day room lights.

“What’s your name?” he continues.

“Twitch,” I confidently smirk back at them.

“Let’s get him up,” he states pulling me to my feet.

An MHW grabs my other arm as they drag me out of the day room. Picking my head up for a moment I can see Ethan standing by the doorway in tears. Placing me on an examination room table my head hits a pillow and I immediately want to fall asleep, but I can hear Annie screaming down the hall. The only reason I know it’s her is by how confidently she disses the MHW’s. No one compares to the amount of courage she holds within her heart. SLAM! The quiet room door shuts, silencing her cries. In attempts to sit up, my head feels full of concrete immediately touching back down on the pillow. Lowering the lights in the examination room, an MHW slides a chair in the doorway scrolling through their phone as my eyes gradually close.

The gossiping chatter of patients lining the halls of the unit wake me up. Sitting up slowly, I hold my head for moment regrouping my surroundings. Stepping out of the examination room, the remainder of the children’s unit is lined up to head out.

“Twitch!” Ethan excitedly shouts running over to me.

“Hey Ethan, you guys going to lunch?” I ask.

“Dude, it’s almost six o’clock. We’re going to dinner,” Ethan answers.

“What, no piss stains? Someone’s growing up,” he teasingly adds.

“Pretty sure I left it all over the day room floor,” I return.

We both share a laugh.

“Glad to see you’re doing alright. You scared the hell outta everyone,” Ethan states.

“Have you seen Annie?” I inquire after a quick look down the line.

“Not since this morning,” Ethan’s excitement fades.

“Dude, she thought you were dead. We both did,” he continues.

“We talked about this before, it happens all the time,” I try to explain.

“No Twitch, this time was different,” Ethan expresses making his way back in line.

“Eyes forward, silent mouths until we reach the cafeteria,” an MHW declares before waving his access card by the magnetic lock system.

A loud buzzing indicates the doors to the unit have been unlocked. Ethan waves as they make their way to the cafeteria. Dr. Shaundry slips through the open doors as the patients exit. Greeted by the nursing staff, Dr. Shaundry smiles and waves like a cocky pharmaceutical celebrity. The doors lock behind her.

“Mr. Gatto, glad you’re up and about. You’re just the person I wanted to speak to,” she starts.

“My name’s Twitch,” I reply.

“Right. Let’s talk in here, shall we?” she points towards the day room.

Head down, I follow her into the day room. Finding my usual seat, I pull my gown over my legs holding my knees close to my chest. Staring at the floor, even though it’s been scrubbed thoroughly, I can still make out my piss stain, faintly shining under the blinding fluorescents.

“Mason,” she starts.

“Twitch,” I sharply interrupt.

“Yes, Twitch. First, I wanted to commend you on being so mature this morning. The nursing staff mentioned to me that you exuded a bit of growth in cooperation prior to the…your…the emergency,” she continues seemingly suspect.

“With that said. The medication you received earlier today wasn’t intended…it didn’t agree with your system. Do you understand what I’m saying?” she questions in a conflicting tone.

I nod my head in agreement but remain silent and now a bit confused.

“Perfect. After careful consideration, I’ve decided to take you off SP1, and onto SP2. After a few days, we can explore the idea of letting you leave the unit, but for now we want to make sure you’re safe,” she finishes.

“We’ll talk again in a few days. Keep up the good work Mr. Gatto,” she states closing my chart.

“It’s Twitch,” I whisper to myself as Dr. Shaundry hastily exits the day room.

Dr. Shaundry checks her phone before making a stop at the nurse’s station. She seems upset speaking with the head RN. With their hands raised, they seem to be oblivious as to what Dr. Shaundry is upset about. Assertively pointing to my chart, Dr. Shaundry checks her phone once more, then exits the unit bumping the dinner cart on her way out.

Missing lunch, my stomach is prompt to remind me that it’s time to eat. The unfriendly aroma of the cafeteria’s poor interpretation of Salisbury steak lingers into the day room. Annie jokes that if you rinse the congealed gravy from the sides of that rubbery slab of the reconstituted meat product that it resembles the soles of our shoes they’ve conveniently confiscated upon admittance. I usually just smoosh it between two pieces of bread covering it in ketchup hoping to mask the stench. Approaching the steel shelved trolley, I begin to rummage around for a tray with a sizeable helping. One of the nurses turns to me with a false sense of pity.

“How are you feeling Mason?” she asks.

“My name’s Twitch and…alright, I guess,” I gently respond.

“Ah, well then…Twitch, thought you’d like to know that they brought you extra chocolate milk from the cafeteria,” she happily gestures towards a few extra cartons on another tray.

“Don’t they bring those when there’s a new admittance?” I question skeptically of her offering.

“Well, yes. You’re quite observant, aren’t you? Tell you what, you take the extra carton to the day room and it will be our little secret,” she states placing a carton on my tray.

“Sure, thank you,” I finish walking towards the day room puzzled.

“Ah ah ah, forgetting something?” she snidely asks.

“Pull the plastic from your tray here, you know the drill,” she continues pointing the trash can.

Uncovering the meat and potatoes, the rancid steam assaults my nostrils. Throwing the plastic away, the nurse sarcastically smirks as I turn away.

“Let us know if you need anything else, Mason,” she calls out as I enter the day room.

“It’s Twitch,” I say under my breath.

Digging in, I stick my plastic fork into the overcooked and under seasoned thin slice of meat. Using the edge of my spoon, I do my best to cut off a piece, but am unsuccessful. Placing my spoon aside, I lift the entire slab attempting to take a bite chewing forcefully through the tough lump like a vulture pulling the intestines from a rotting corpse of an elk.

“A little barbaric, don’t you think?” Annie mocks from the entrance of the day room.

I laugh a bit, grinning as I place my food back down. Taking her usual seat, Annie releases a deep sigh, then starts eating dinner. There’s an odd feeling between us that I can’t describe. I want to speak, but I feel she wants to say something first. A mutual misunderstanding. After a few bites, Annie just pushes her potatoes around her steak.

“I-“

“Look-“

We both start, interrupting each other. Our uncomfortable, yet calming stillness is accompanied by the steady rainfall outside.

“It’s not very good,” I start.

“Is it ever?” Annie shyly smiles back.

The silence returns as our awkward moment is spotlighted under the bright fluorescents.

“Did you see Ethan, yet?” Annie asks.

“Yeah, he’s alright, I think. Are…are you alright?” I ask.

“Am I alright?” Annie begins.

“You’re the one that almost died,” she returns.

“You spent a whole day in the quiet room,” I retort.

“Ethan thought you were fucking dead Twitch…and so did I,” Annie expresses.

“Look. I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened, alright? They gave me the medicine, then I had a seizure, and now everyone’s either kissing my ass or chewing me out. The nurse even gave me an extra chocolate milk because she thought it would make me feel better or something,” I vent.

“Wait, back up,” Annie says.

“I said I got TWO chocolate milks, you want some?” I offer.

“No, you idiot. What do you mean everyone’s kissing your ass?” Annie asks.

“Oh, well Dr. Shaundry came in right before dinner and took me off SP1 and said the medication didn’t agree with me or something,” I explain.

“Then, the nurses were all smiley and nice handing me an extra chocolate milk, it was weird,” I finish.

“They fucked up,” Annie says to herself.

“Yeah, they did. If there’s a new patient, they’re not getting any chocolate milk,” I boast polishing off the first carton.

“No, Twitch. They fucked up. Don’t you see? The medication they gave you is what caused your seizure. That’s why Dr. Shaundry took you off SP1, that’s why the nurses were being so nice to you, and that’s why you got a second chocolate milk,” Annie exclaims.

“They could’ve killed you,” she finishes.

“You’re thinking way too much into this,” I reply.

A sudden flash of lightning followed by a roaring boom of thunder adds to the torrential downpour outside. The unit doors buzz as a mental health worker enters with a new patient. The boy is audibly sobbing dragging a soaked knapsack behind him, his clothes are covered in mud and hair as greasy as it could be. Head down he follows the MHW into the evaluation room. Annie and I continue picking around our trays. After a few minutes, the boy emerges from the evaluation room with the same defeated look we all had after being felt up like we’re magically hiding weapons up our asses. The MHW holds his clothes and shoes directing him towards dinner trays and the day room. Shuffling slowly towards us he grabs a tray and makes his way in continuing to whimper. Annie and I look to each other, then back at the boy. He places the dinner tray in the seat next to him and pulls his knees to his chest.

“First time here?” I ask.

Looking up for a moment, a faint black eye shines back at us. Grasping my second carton of chocolate milk, I look to him again, then walk over to him offering it up.

“Hey, ummm…my name’s Twitch and that’s Annie,” I start.

There’s no response. Looking to Annie I shrug my shoulders.

“So, I think this was really for you, but they gave it to me because they almost killed me,” I continue.

The boy glances up with a concerned expression. Turning to Annie again, she covers her face with her palm.

“I’ll leave it on your tray. They like to take notes on things we do, so try to eat something. Doesn’t have to be much,” I say trying to be supportive.

“Anyway…if you need anything Annie and I have been here for a while and know quite a bit. Our friend Ethan as well,” I finish, taking my seat near Annie.

“Idiot, you scared the shit out of him,” Annie aggressively whispers to me.

“I did not. The last thing I wanted to do after the MHW’s probed me was eat,” I retort.

“My name’s Samuel,” the boy quietly states.

“Right. Like I said, I’m Twitch and this is Annie,” I repeat myself.

“How long do I have to stay here?” he asks wiping snot from his upper lip.

“Uhhh…well probably shorter than us,” I joke.

“Usually three to five days,” Annie jumps in slugging my shoulder.

“Your parents bring you here?” she adds.

Shaking his head, he begins to hold his knees tighter.

The unit door bursts open as the other kids arrive back on the unit rushing into the day room. Ethan sprints in moving my tray aside taking his usual seat.

“Dude! Did you guys get any of that banana cream pie? It was so good,” Ethan exclaims.

Samuel sits up promptly, staring at Ethan with intent in his glare.

“Hi. I’m Ethan, what’s your name?” Ethan extends in a welcoming tone.

Awaiting a response, we all sit awkwardly twiddling our thumbs hoping he might reply.

“Ethan, this is Samuel. He just got here while you guys were at dinner,” Annie affirms unable to look away from Samuels fixated gaze of Ethan.

“Well this sure has been fun,” I interject.

Collecting my scraps of food, Annie and I dump the trash from our plates outside the day room returning our trays to the steel trolley unit. An earsplitting shriek painfully echoes through the halls of the children’s unit. Pushed aside by a nurse, an MHW rushes closely behind into the day room. Through the observation windows, Annie and I observe Samuel pounce violently onto Ethan tackling him to the day room floor. Another MHW blocks the door as we watch Samuel viciously claw at Ethan, tearing into his gown just enough to break the skin on his chest. While the MHW’s attempt to rip Samuel from Ethan, Annie aims to barge her way through the blockheaded bodybuilder obstructing the entrance. Successfully restraining Samuel, Ethan hurriedly crawls backward to the far corner of the day room.

“Code green children’s unit. Code green children’s un-,” the nurse is cut off as lightning strikes nearby cutting off power to the hospital.

Annie shoves her way through hastily making her way to the back of the day room in aid of Ethan. The MHW at the door rushes to assist in wrangling Samuel who cackles wickedly, then willingly surrenders to the power of the MHW’s. Entering the day room, I pass by Samuel who’s sporting a conceited grin with a bit of Ethan’s blood dripping from his chin. He groans in agony as an MHW digs his knee deeper into his back. The fire alarm sounds before the antique backup generator can kick in. Shielding my eyes from the flashing lights, I continue towards the back of the room reaching blindly in front of me. Annie eventually grabs my hand pulling me behind a cluster of chairs as the alarm continues to piercingly wail. She’s screaming, but I can’t make out anything she’s saying. The lights are too overwhelming as I become dizzy. Squinting my eyes, I use one hand to visor my vision slowly raising it hoping to read her lips as she shouts.

“He’s gone,” Annie shouts.

“Ethan’s not here, we have to go,” she says attempting to pull me to my feet.

Unconfidently finding my footing, Annie directs us out of the day room. Afraid to open my eyes I can hear the cries of other patients as MHW’s cluelessly attempt to regain control of this maddening situation. Forcefully grabbing my shoulders, Annie shoves me forward into a closet closing the door behind us.

“Fuck, c’mon Annie that hurt,” I cry out.

“Shhh,” Annie whispers.

“We’ll be alright as long as no one finds us in here,” she continues.

“What do you mean Ethan was gone?” I ask with a low voice.

“He wasn’t there, Twitch. When they pulled Samuel off, he crawled to the back of the room, but he wasn’t there,” Annie quickly attempts to explain.

“You think he got out the day room back door? The power might have cut out the lock systems,” I inquire.

“No, no. Any door leading directly outside is bolt locked, he’d need a key. There’s no way Twitch, there’s no way!” Annie mutters frantically.

“Okay, okay. We’ll figure it out just try and calm down,” I add.

The alarm sound subsides, Annie and I cover our mouths as we hear MHW’s walking about the unit unable to gain control of the other patients. SLAM! Annie and I jump as the unit door bursts open without warning.

“All unit doors have malfunctioned, middle unit patients are attempting to escape,” an MHW shouts onto our unit.

“We need assistance immediately,” he continues.

“Two of us will stay here, the others will head to the middle unit,” another answers.

SLAM! They swiftly exit the unit as the doors crash behind them. We can make out a few pairs of boots from underneath the door. A thick pink substance runs from under my gown. Annie nudges me pointing to it, as I slowly sit up hastily wiping it before it leaks out onto the unit.

“The majority of the kids are back in the day room; how many are we missing?” the MHW’s converse directly outside the closet.

“I don’t know two…three?” the other answers.

“You search the right corridor rooms while I watch the day room. Then we’ll switch. No room goes unturned,” they split.

“Twitch, this is our only chance. We have to go now,” Annie insists almost pushing me out of the door.

“Go where?”

“We have to find Ethan while the unit doors are unlocked,” she persists.

“Fuck alright let’s go,” I muster the courage slowly opening the door.

Staying low Annie and I use the nurse’s station as a barricade. Glancing towards the quiet room, sounds of hissing and snarling echo towards us.

“You hear that?” I ask as Annie sneaks into the nurse’s station.

“Annie, no. C’mon let’s go,” I encourage.

Annie hands me a few pens, then we turn towards the unit doors. Glimpsing at the quiet room monitor on the counter, Samuel can be seen struggling. His limbs are contorted wildly as he gripes towards the wall. Annie and I stare at the screen in awe as we witness his bones bend and crack. Even without sound, it’s terrifying to witness. He stops. We turn to each other, then back to the screen. Samuel is gone.

“Go. Now!” Annie exclaims as we both sprint towards the unit double doors.

“You ready?” she turns to me.

“Let’s do it,” I whisper back.

With a quick look over our shoulders, Annie gently pushes the doors open just enough for us to squeeze through.

To be continued…

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Consider helping me deliver more content: https://www.patreon.com/imarrowsj

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

Consider helping me deliver more content: https://www.patreon.com/imarrowsj

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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The Idea and Inspiration

The Killing Floor, my first screenplay ever to come to life outside of my university acting and film classes (I was a theatre major…shocking, right?). Eager to share my art with the world, I hastily began to draft a short film after gaining inspiration walking through an arboretum at the university I was currently employed at. I remember walking through the thick forestry up a steep hill coming across this open, and flat patch of land. “This must be where the students have their satanic rituals.” I think laughing to myself. Embracing the open space, a story begins to form in my head as I pace quickly leaving circular tracks in the snow. The Killing Floor was born.

Poster

SCENE ONE

Michael Karon sits close to his Christmas tree grasping an almost empty bottle of whiskey. His clothes are tattered and covered in blood. A half-wrapped present lies before him and a pistol on the floor to his side.

Michael’s takes a final swig of whiskey and tosses the bottle in front of him.

Michael picks up the pistol next to him, cradling it in his palms.

Matthew stands atop a mountain pass within a firing trench. Michael Karon, Matthews father, stands beside him giving verbal pointers. Matthew draws his arrow taking aim. Breathing in the fresh mountain air, he focuses his attention to the beaten target ahead.

MICHAEL: Envision the arrow puncturing the target before you release. Push your shoulders downward. And when you’re ready…slowly release your breath and let it fly.

Matthew slowly releases his breath; the arrow takes flight. Striking the target meters out, he celebrates.

MATTHEW: I did it…I did it dad! Did you see that?

Matthew hugs his father who proudly embraces his sons’ accomplishment.

Michael places the barrel of the pistol against his temple.

Matthews head lies upon his father’s shoulders.

MATTHEW: I love you dad.

MICHAEL: I love you son.

A loud gunshot is heard.

Snow falls over Michael Karon’s home, his Christmas lights are perfectly fastened, and beautifully organized. His Christmas tree can be seen through the window of his living room. A dog can be heard barking in the distance.

Matthew 4:16 “…the people dwelling in darkness

    have seen a great light,

and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,

    on them a light has dawned.”

Scene 1 BTS

Pre-Production

Beginning to draft the screenplay for fun, one of my friends was still a film student at the university that needed content for their senior film. During the early stages of pre-production, holiday break was drawing closer. University students were tired, and finding a crew was becoming more difficult than we imagined. Still, we persisted to go through the casting process and get everything we could. Obviously, in projects like this people wear many hats. Attempting to create casting calls, reach out to locations to lock down shoot dates, find necessary film equipment, and a few extra hands to help on set. In a small mountain town, right before holiday break…this wasn’t impossible, but we found ourselves running short on time.

SCENE TWO

Elementary language arts teacher, Michael Karon, wraps up a lecture on dramatic reading.

MICHAEL: When portraying a character from any script, not only do outside forces effect their motivations, but internal conflicts may also affect the way our character walks, talks, and reacts.

Brian rests his head in his palm staring out the window. A student in the back raises their hand.

MICHAEL: Yes, Amy.

STUDENT: I don’t understand Mr. Karon. How would we know if our character doesn’t feel good?

MICHAEL: Well, we can only go with what the writer gives us…right? So, if our character is described by our writer as ill. They might walk around holding their tummy, or they sound nasally always about to sneeze.

Brian joins in the conversation.

BRIAN: What if your character wasn’t sick, but they were not themselves?

MICHAEL: How so?

BRIAN: Well. Just because a character doesn’t feel themselves, doesn’t mean they’re sick. What if they’re just sad, or another character hurt them? What if they love someone, but don’t have the courage to say so?

The class laughs, Michael waves them off.

BRIAN: I just…I don’t think it’s always that obvious. You know?

MICHAEL: I do. We all know. True internal conflict stems from our emotions, our desires, and the obstacles pushing us further away from our objective, our goals, our dreams. Remember, what makes a great story isn’t always where the characters end up, it’s how they overcame their failures, how they celebrate their triumphs, and what they…

The bell rings indicating the end of the period. The kids quickly scurry out to the door as Michael attempts to get a final word in.

MICHAEL: Don’t forget to have your group presentations and skits ready by Monday morning-

They’re gone before he can finish. Michael begins to pack his things as a student approaches his desk.

BRIAN: Mr. Karon?

Michael turns and greets the young man, a friend of his sons.

MICHAEL: Sorry Brian, didn’t see you there. What can I do for you?

Brian avoids eye contact while standing awkwardly. He stammers as he begins to speak.

BRIAN: Matt and I…I…I just…

Michael stops him with a consoling mannerism.

MICHAEL: Brian. It’s alright buddy. Matthew is just…he’s just lost. He’ll find his way home.

There’s a long pause as Brian collects his thoughts.

BRIAN: I think I know where he is.

Michael’s expression quickly changes as Brian continues to ramble on.

BRIAN: Well, where we were. He went through and I told him not to. I wanted to tell you, I just didn’t think you would believe me {and then my dad said that I’d just make things harder for you}

MICHAEL: {Brian…Brian!}

Brian flinches, Mr. Karon lowers his voice.

MICHAEL: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to yell. Just…just slow down and start from the beginning. What do you mean “he went through”?

Brian reaches inside his bag and places a tattered leather-bound book on Mr. Karon’s desk.

BRIAN: Matthew and I found this book. He thought…we thought, it would be cool to follow its instructions.

Michael picks up the book slowly thumbing through it as Brian elaborates further.

BRIAN: I mean, it’s old…we didn’t think it would work. It has a map of town with cool places we’ve never explored-

MICHAEL: Your dad’s seen this, right?

BRIAN: Not really.

MICHAEL: What do you mean?

BRIAN: Well, he said not to tell you and just to stay out of it, but I couldn’t just leave-

MICHAEL: Has. He. Seen. This?

BRIAN: No, but-

Michael quickly packs the book with his things and exits, Brian follows.

BRIAN: Mr. Karon. Mr. Karon wait.

SCENE THREE

Pastor Stephen hangs Christmas lights outside his church. Atop a ladder he reaches across hammering in some nails, continually stringing the lights as he goes along. Michael approaches smoking a cigarette.

MICHAEL: Need an extra pair of hands pastor?

PASTOR STEPHEN: (surprised) Michael? (beat) Hold on. One second.

Pastor Stephen quickly finishes hammering in the nail he was working on, then heads down the ladder to greet Michael. Michael goes in to shake hands, but Pastor Stephen goes in for a hug.

PASTOR STEPHEN: It’s been a while.

MICHAEL: Yeah.

PASTOR STEPHEN: I…um…I’m sorry to hear about Matthew. I’ve been praying for you.

MICHAEL: I appreciate that.

There’s an awkward silence between the two of them.

PASTOR STEPHEN: What brings you here?

MICHAEL: Surprisingly, Brian did.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Everything alright? He really enjoys your class.

MICHAEL: Ha-ha. Yeah, everything’s great in class. He brought a strange bit of text to my attention. Claims him and Matthew followed its contents to open some type of…doorway or portal?

Michael hands Pastor Stephen the book. Pastors Stephens eyes light up in shock as he glances upon the cover, he tosses the book on the ground before him. Michael retrieves the text brushing off its casing.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Where did you get that?

MICHAEL: Brian handed it to me after class. What’s the problem?

PASTOR STEPHEN: My son?

MICHAEL: Yes.

PASTOR STEPHEN: No. no. no. It can’t be.

MICHAEL: Steve, what’s the issue here?

Pastor Stephen heads towards the entrance of the church up the stairs.

PASTOR STEPHEN: We can’t talk here. And do not bring that inside this building.

MICHAEL: Steve, can you tell me what the fuck’s going on here? What is this?

Pastor Stephen approaches Michael aggressively pushing him into the wall.

PASTOR STEPHEN: If my son held that book, then my life is in danger.

MICHAEL: Get off me!

Michael pushes Pastor Stephen away.

PASTOR STEPHEN: That book has been only heard of, never seen. Its contents are dark, but not as ancient as it may seem.

MICHAEL: Oh enough with the end of times bullshit, come on Stev-

PASTOR STEPHEN: You want answers or what!?

Michael nods.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Stemming from this town, I only thought they were rumors, but it must be true.

Pastor Stephen heads back up the stairs, Michael tries to follow.

MICHAEL: What are you talking about?

PASTOR STEPHEN: [To himself] The bastard child strays from the flock. [To Michael] Your son is alive Mr. Karon. Meet me at the old docks tomorrow after church and I’ll explain further.

Pastor Stephen locks the door in Michaels face vanishing. Michael pounds on the door calling out to him.

MICHAEL: Steve? Steve! Steve?! Where is Matthew? Steve!?…Fuck!

Scene 1 BTS 2

Portraying A Character That I Created

Not going to lie, I thoroughly enjoyed becoming the character Michael. The look and motivations were loosely based off a professor I had in college. He spoke about his kids and how he would do anything to protect them. Obviously, I wanted the character to care about his son. The self-loathing and medicating was more of a reflection of my personal thoughts on the holiday season. Self-medicating is something I’m very familiar with, especially during the winter months. Those scenes, I found, really hit home as an artist and actor on set, but also as a reflection of what my holiday season used to look like. Taking the partner out of the equation was crucial to the motivations of Michael. His son is everything, and without him during this time of year should feel more than detrimental.

Michael Karon

MKMK

Production and Downfall

All the promotional shooting was complete, and we began filming scenes when we could. We all had day jobs and responsibilities that had to come first, time was already…not on our side. One of the kid actors was very experienced on camera, the other was almost brand new with some stage experience in school. Eager to learn and passionate about the project, we decided to take time aside and give him some acting lessons. It’s not hard to explain, but he was the character he was cast for. Being himself was what we wanted and being a character is what he believed it to be. Which is fine, like any film set the down time should be filled with banter and fun. We cast T.J. Tranchell, author of Cry Down Dark and Asleep in the Nightmare Room, to play Pastor Stephen and he was all for it from the beginning. Introduced from a mutual friend, T.J. and I immediately connected as horror fanatics and writers. Be sure to check out his Author Website. The families were taking holiday vacations, so we began pushing back shoot dates and our time eventually became so tight. With another job starting out of state I was getting ready to leave the area. Alongside the film to-do list, I was training two individuals on my day job and that had to be my main priority. We completed about half of the filming, then the project was terminated.

Full Cast

SCENE FOUR

Snow covered pines surround an old fishing dock. Michael waits sleepless smoking a cigarette on the dock, gripping a coffee cup dozing off.

BRIAN: Mr. Karon? Mr. Karon? Mr. Karon!?

Brian is heard attempting to snap Michael out of his blur.

BRIAN: You alright Mr. Karon?

Michael sits up, his cigarette is burned to its end next to his feet. Pastor Stephen approaches the dock with his dog Guinness by his side.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Hey Brian take Guinness for a walk, let me talk to Mr. Karon for a while. Alright?

BRIAN: Yeah dad. Come on Guinness.

Brian runs off the dock off onto some trails, Guinness follows. Pastor Stephen takes a seat next to Michael. They stare off admiring the silence over the reservoir and picturesque view of the snow caps in the distance.

“You can always rinse the surface, but the stain will remain.”

PASTOR STEPHEN: It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

There’s a moment of silence.

MICHAEL: I taught Matthew to fish here. Diane and I would come camping and he’d wake us up before the sunrise ready to cast off.

PASTOR STEPHEN: You must keep it together Michael, he’s still out there.

MICHAEL: Ha. Yeah.

Michael lights another cigarette and begins to pace around the dock.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Michael…you smell like an old sock soaked in whiskey.

MICHAEL: Kentucky bourbon to be exact.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Even in the worst times, you have a quick wit. I know the holidays aren’t really your favorite time of year, especially since your wife passed-

MICHAEL: Look. Steve. I appreciate what you’re trying to do here, but I just want to find my son.

Michael places the book on the bench between the both of them.

MICHAEL: What is this? And how does it correlate with my son’s disappearance?

Pastor Stephen takes exasperating sigh, then proceeds to explain the meaning of the text.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Alright. In the early 80’s the Palouse area was home to an estranged cult that believed bastard children possessed satanic powe-

MICHAEL: Steve. What does this have to do with Matthew?

PASTOR STEPHEN: Just hear me out. I’m not preaching at you, okay?

MICHAEL: I’m sorry, continue.

PASTOR STEPHEN: This cult believed a child born out of wedlock could be used to open doorways or portals of some kind directly connecting our world to the nine circles of Hell. This book is basically their “how to guide” on opening these circles to earth.

MICHAEL: So…then where’s Matthew?

Pastor Stephen flips through the book for a moment.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Here. Limbo. The first circle of Hell, an inferior form of Heaven.

MICHAEL: But he’s not dead, so couldn’t he just leave?

PASTOR STEPHEN: I’d imagine it’s as if a ghost surrounded us in our world. We wouldn’t be able to see them, but they could see us. So, if Matthew’s alive in Limbo then-

MICHAEL: Then he’d be invisible to the others in Limbo.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Exactly.

MICHAEL: Wait. When Brian handed me this book he said something like “he went through, I told him not to go through”. He didn’t think I’d believe him.

Michael’s cigarette burns to its end singeing his fingertips he jumps up.

MICHAEL: Ow, fuck!

 Guinness barks aggressively in the distance, Pastor Stephen runs off after Brian and Guinness.

PASTOR STEPHEN: Brian!?

Michael grabs some snow to ice his finger and glances over the water. Matthew stands across the reservoir alone, Michael yells out to him.

MICHAEL: Matthew? Matthew!?

Pastor Stephen quickly makes his way through some brush on the back trails searching for Brian and Guinness. Pastor Stephen stops for a short moment hearing Michael call out to his son, then proceeds searching for Brian and Guinness. Guinness screeches from afar, Brian screams in anguish. Pastor Stephen picks up his pace in fear for his son’s life calling out to him.

Michael turns back towards the water, Matthew sits on the edge of the dock fishing singing “I’ll Fly Away”. Michael approaches slowly.

MATTHEW: “I fly away, oh glory. I’ll…fly away. In the morning. When I die, Hallelujah by and by, I’ll…fly away.”

MICHAEL: Matthew?

MATTHEW: [Monotone] Diane says hello Michael.

Michael reaches for Matthew’s shoulder, he turns quickly covered in ritualistic paint and blood. Michael falls over the bench behind him, as he recovers Matthew is gone. Michael gathers his things quickly, then runs to the trails after Pastor Stephen.

SCENE FIVE

Michael makes his way through the thick brush following the barks of Guinness. Slightly off the trail in a large snowy clearing Brian lies motionless in a pool of blood. Guinness’ barks are silenced, Michael sees Brian and approaches quickly. Pastor Stephen is nowhere to be seen.

MICHAEL: Brian. Brian wake up. Brian!?

Brian regains consciousness slowly. Noticing the blood next to him, Brian begins to panic.

BRIAN: Who’s blood is that? {Dad. Dad! Where’s Guinness? Where’s my dad!?}

Michael attempts to comfort Brian.

MICHAEL: It’s alright. {Brian. Brian, it’s alright, but we have to go.}Let’s go!

Michael picks up Brian and carries him quickly off the path as Brian continues to cry for his father.

Brian is silent in the car staring off out the window as Michael drives back towards town.

MICHAEL: You alright bud?

Brian doesn’t respond.

MICHAEL: I’m sure your dad just got scared and head back home. He’s probably there waiting for us now, alright? It’s going to be fine.

With no response from Brian, Michael pulls the car over turning it off.

MICHAEL: Look, Brian. Please talk to me. We’re in this together now. What’s wron-

Michael reaches out to console him, but Brian’s frustrations lash out.

BRIAN: I saw him, okay!?

MICHAEL: You saw who?

Again, no response. Michael becomes frustrated.

MICHAEL: You saw who Brian? Who did you see!?

BRIAN: Matthew! I saw Matthew, alright!?

Michael stands down. There’s a moment of silence.

MICHAEL: I believe you. I saw him, too. Except…it wasn’t him. He was angry…hurt, and his face was-

BRIAN: Painted.

MICHAEL: Yes.

Michael fumbles through his things quickly and pulls out the book.

MICHAEL: Brian, he’s trying to reach out to us. He needs our help. You have to show me where you guys went the night Matthew went missing.

BRIAN: Area occisio…

MICHAEL: What? {What does that mean? Brian?}

BRIAN: {Area occisio…area occisio…area occisio!}

Brian takes the book out of Michael’s hands and thimbles through diligently.

BRIAN: Look.

Brian hands the book back over to Michael marked at a certain page.

BRIAN: When we first read through the book we weren’t sure if it was explaining how to get to a certain place or a specific time.

MICHAEL: That doesn’t make any sense.

BRIAN: Of course it doesn’t…you have a very limited imagination. Alright, it’s a map of a timeline. A journey of this group…kind of? They explain where they go and when they go, time being specific and seeming important. You follow?

MICHAEL: I guess…

Brian points to a specific note on a page.

BRIAN: Here. “Et trahentium ius vel sinistram non furca, esse certus ut semita levi. Cum pervenire ad magnitudinem planitiem quae non est remedium ad te pervenit occisio areæ.”

MICHAEL: And that means…

BRIAN: And you’re the teacher? We translated here: “The trail will fork left or right, be sure to take the path with light. When you reach the vast plateau there is no cure, for you have reached the killing floor.”

MICHAEL: So, let’s go there!

BRIAN: Hold on. Like I said before it’s a timeline. Next to each instruction or clue or whatever you want to call them, there’s a specific time. Plus, I didn’t go past this point. Matthew went through, I left.

MICHAEL: Why not?

BRIAN: You wouldn’t believe me if I told you…

MICHAEL: Try me.

BRIAN: At the fork, it says to take the path with light, right? Well, you think there was anything lit at 09:45PM in middle of the woods?

MICHAEL: No…

BRIAN: Exactly. There was this blinking light that was showing us where to go…we could feel it. It was like a presence was guiding us, almost pulling us towards the plateau. I waited at the fork as Matthew went in, he kept saying everything was getting brighter and darker at he same time until he just stopped talking. I yelled for him, but he never responded. The blinking light got faster and faster, like it was coming closer trying to get me, so I ran.

MICHAEL: So, what’s the first step here? How do we find him? Where do we go first?

BRIAN: I’m not going!

MICHAEL: What?

BRIAN: I’m not going…just take me home.

Michael takes a moment, then starts up his truck. ‘Two Minutes to Midnight’ is heard coming from the radio.

MICHAEL: Fine.

Michael turns the radio up, angrily puts the truck in gear and heads back towards town.

What I’ve Learned and What I Take Away

In a nutshell, be prepared and have time set aside.

I believe this project could’ve been completed if we began much earlier than we did. Juggling a full-time job and making a short film was not ideal. Focus needs to be on the project and the people participating. The people involved deserved our full attention. Especially if actors are working for free, there’s no reason not to put them first.

At all costs, avoid mixing hats you’re wearing.

At times I was writing parts of the script while on the phone scouting locations and emailing talent to interview. Don’t recommend that. Ha-ha. Take the time for each detail. Obviously, in productions like this you’re going to be doing multiple jobs. Plan accordingly, schedule intelligently, and act only when fully prepared.

© 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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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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