Two-hundred Seventeen

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
One man explores a long forgotten asylum and finds a new obsession.

Submitted: May 23, 2016

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Submitted: May 23, 2016



I guess I’ve always had a thing for doors. I like to know what lies behind them, especially those that are locked. That’s probably the reason I started exploring, that and my insatiable desire to document what lies behind those doors no one else can access. To me, one closed door is the opening to one of many paths I want to follow. That I'm meant to follow. 

I remember a sinking feeling as I stared up at the four story building for the first time. The front of the hospital was intimidating, an old Kirkbride building with 143 empty windows like the eyes of a spider overlooking its territory. I had been in many other abandonments, “urban exploring” as we called it, but never the notorious Aylesbury State. Never one quite so encompassing as this.

Aylesbury State has 403 windows, 34 of which still hold glass as a barrier to the outside world; 240 rooms, 94 accessible to the living; 4,576 floor tiles to step on, 2,753 of which were cracked or half removed, and 0 living residents. The main building is steep 90 ft, with a tower that is 130 ft high, and has an estimated perimeter of 900sq ft. A tunnel in the back 180 ft long connects a second building, a dormitory 70 ft wide that was once powered by 4 boilers of 450 horsepower. The potter’s field in the back showed the building had taken the lives of 457 patients.

The whole estate promises 216 doors to open, 216 doorways to walkthrough and 216 secrets to uncover.

The main building is large. I mean very, very large. 2.3 million cubic feet. The construction of Aylesbury State cost $1.5 million dollars to make in 1867. It once held over 2,000 patients at a time, a slight 1,500 more than the 500 max.  At the time of my visit, the land was for sale at $63.1 million. 

I had been planning this trip for a few weeks. I spent 15 hours in the library pouring over maps and floor plans, studying the campus layout and the underground tunnel system. 5 hours were spent researching the history of the building, from its first break of ground in 1867 to its final shutdown in 1978. I studied it all.

Did you know it was the first hospital to perfect the full frontal lobotomy? I’m almost sure you didn’t. And I’m also quite certain you didn’t know it was the forefront of hydrotherapy and electroshock. All done behind closed doors, of course. Closed, locked doors with secrets of their own. 

Anyway, I had planned forever. I had even 6 spent hours on other photographer’s websites studying their pictures to get a grasp of what I wanted to photograph before I even got into the building. I literally obsessed over this place for a month before entering. Never in my life has I been so enthralled in a subject. 

The morning of I had taken hours meticulously packing and repacking my camera bag, fitting all 10 important items into the smallest space possible. You really don’t want your gear moving around too much as you climb into the old windows. I carried only the necessities: my camera body, wide angle lens, a flashlight, 3 granola bars, an old jackknife, an extra set of batteries and a bottle of water.

I picked up my friend at 8am, and we drove the two and a half hours east to find the old building. We stashed the car behind some bushes and started our hike up onto campus.

When we first broke out of the underbrush and laid eyes on the building, it was breathtaking. A true architectural masterpiece, hidden behind the undergrowth and closed gates of decay. I had seen many buildings since I started exploring, but there was something different about this one. It stood over the grounds as if it owned the place, daring entry. It drew me in and terrified me at the same time.

We decided to start with the satellite buildings first; there were 4 of them. We began at an old mess hall, which was interesting. We got some good shots of the 8 stoves and 14 long cafeteria tables.

After the mess hall, we found an interesting room in one of the dormitories, 1 room of 33, which had the walls artistically rendered by one of the patients within the hospital. It was from a kind of art therapy they used to do in the 1960’s.

After an hour or so, we got bored of the small buildings, and decided to venture into our final destination, the admin building. This was where the 17,426 patients over the 77 years in service were trapped until deemed mentally sane, which rarely happened. There used to be some rhyme about Aylesbury State and how “once you’re in State, they’ve handled your fate”

The trip was completely uneventful until this point. As I said, that main building had something terrifying yet drawing to it. The best way to describe it is similar to when you’re standing on the edge of a cliff from which if you fell you would unquestionably die, and while you don’t want to fall, you keep inching closer and closer to the edge. I think the proximity of death draws us. The building drew me. 

Getting into the main building was tough. The front doors were completely blocked off, so we needed to climb in through a second story window. When I jumped in, I nearly stepped on one of the 3.8 million nails holding the place together. Happy I avoided a tetanus booster, I helped my friend in.

Once inside the building, we shot around and covered the men’s ward then the women’s ward. We shot the 2 mess halls, the 3 recreation halls, the 6 orderlies facilities. We were all set to go, until I just happened upon a sign on the wall that read “Children’s Ward” and pointed towards the basement. It was weird, because I had never read up on the children’s ward much, probably because it was in the basement tunnels and was incredibly dangerous to access, no one in their right mind would do it.

So of course we did.

We ventured down into the beginning of one of the 22 tunnels, having to break through one of the 216 known doors in the building to get there, and saw what was probably the most unique discovery I had ever seen. Obscure children’s drawings covered the walls in nearly every of the 5 classrooms, while desks (46 of them) were overturned. 8 old toys dotted the ground as if asking to be played with, and 1 single children's gurney waited for its rider at the end of the hall. There was this overwhelming sense of trespassing as well, as if we didn’t belong in this place. We didn’t even take a single picture. 

I looked down the hallway, and flashed my light into the darkness. What appeared to be a door caught my eye, and I walked towards it. A curious find, I thought, since I had read every map I could find and never saw a door listed here. 

I tried the handle of the 1 door I didn't know about, and it didn't budge. Locked tight, by the looks of it. 

On our way back up to the light , I couldn’t help but notice a striking object in one of the classrooms I must have missed before, 1 small key on the ground. It was glistening in the beams of my flashlight, set in the middle of the room as if I was meant to find it. I held it in my hand, and felt the cool metal as it lay flat, oddly clean for something that must have been sitting there for 24 years. I must have stared at that key for 2 whole minutes, until my friend came towards me in the hallway a little freaked out, pushing me to leave. I slipped the 1 key in my pocket as I left.

I felt the 41 cold eyes of the building’s north exterior on my back as we left the campus. The cool metal of the key pressed into my leg as I walked. So much for only taking pictures and leaving footprints; instead I stole the answer to a mystery. 

After I dropped my friend off, I went home to go edit through my pictures. While I set up my laptop, I instinctively took the key out and placed it onto the wooden desk. I stared at it a moment, confused as to why I even took it, then left to go make some coffee for the long night of editing ahead of me. The 1 key remained on my desk.

When I returned, the 1 key was on the floor. I noticed it there, picked it up, and placed it back on the desk, thinking little of it. I heard a child down the street laughing as he played.

I went to bed that night, and returned to Aylesbury State in my dreams. I was back in that classroom, 1 of 5, where I found the 1 key, only everything was a little different. It was even more grey, and there was an even lighting throughout, not pitch black as I explored it earlier. It was a little cleaner, and I could hear a child laughing in the near distance, running down the halls. I heard a key in a lock, and that lock turn. 

I walked out into the hallway to see a little boy with black hair staring in my direction. Unable to make out his face, I saw him turn. He yelled “you’re it!” at me as he scrambled down the hallway. I tried to chase after him, but slowly began to wake up as I ran past the 5 classrooms down the hall.

When I awoke at 8am to my alarm, I noticed the key on my bedside table. I hadn’t remembered putting it there, though I rarely remember much of trivial things, especially where I placed objects such as keys. I placed it in my pocket and began the rest of my day. 

The next night I had that dream again, that I was chasing the little boy down the hallway. As I got closer, I would begin to drift out of it, though I did make it farther down the hallway that night, about halfway; 135ft. 

I told my friend about the dreams. He told me not to worry about it too much, that it was my subconscious thinking about the creepy trip. I tried to tell him that it didn't feel right, that my brain could only focus on the doors. He didn't listen, and went back to his lunch. What I didn’t try to tell him about was I had taken the 1 key.

I started spending a lot of my free time back in the library, researching the grounds in depth. This time I was much less interested in the campus layout, but more interested in the history of its 111 years of operation, and the layouts of those tunnels. They were unmapped, and there was very little written record of them, other than that they existed. Nowhere in any file did it specify that there even was a children’s ward, nor what was exactly done in that ward. It was like it was that part of the hospital, and that 1 door at the end of the hallway were completely forgotten. 

The dream kept persisting as the weeks went by. Each night I would get farther down the hall, and closer to the boy. At this point in the dream I was able to see he stopped at the end of the hall and was waiting for me by the door. When he got there he held his hand outstretched.

As weeks went by, I stopped sleeping altogether. When I finally did fall asleep, I always went back to the hallway, always back to the little boy with his hand outstretched at the end of the hallway of 5 classrooms. As hard as I tried to look into his eyes, I could never make out his face. He never said a word, just stood there waiting.

My grades dropped as I would doze off in class, and I rarely did my homework, as I would spend nearly all my free time in the library or online researching the grounds. I read every article written on the place, from its creation to its deterioration.

I started seeing the little boy during the day too.

I justified it as lack of sleep, and didn’t tell a soul. It started off minimally, like a quick glance of a small child who wasn’t really there out of the corner of my eye. One time I swore I saw him on a swing set at the park as I walked home from school. After he disappeared the swing kept its motion. 

In time it got worse. He started making appearances more blatantly. Not just fleeting, but staying for a few seconds, then a few minutes, then for extended amounts of time. He went from being a part of the background to becoming part of everything I saw. Every time, he was standing there, his hand held out, waiting for something. I had to do all I could not to start screaming at him.

Always with his hand held out. Always waiting. Waiting for something. Waiting for 1 thing.

The key. He wanted the 1 key. He needed it like I needed answers. 

It was around this time I started to get the unexplainable urge to go back. It wasn’t even a conscious thought, but an undeniable pull. It wasn’t just desirable, it was emotional. It was insatiable.

I made the trip back one day instead of going to class. I couldn’t take it. I saw him standing there, staring at me with his empty eyes, and I said I would go, so he turned and walked away into the woods. I understood the message. This time alone, this time with no camera. Only myself, to bring him the 1 key I now wore around my neck at all times. 

As I walked onto campus, I could feel the cold 41 eyes of the north side of the building staring into me. I knew it watched every step I took towards it, awaiting my arrival. I climbed in the same way I did before with my friend, but on this trip I spent no time admiring the architecture of the 46 hallways. I was being pulled into the basement, almost physically, by an uncontrollable desire.

When I walked down the 62 stairs into the basement tunnels, past the 5 doorways into the 5 classrooms, everything changed. It was as if I was in the dream. The 13 tunnels that should be pitch black were even lit by a dull grey light, and everything seemed a bit cleaner. That’s when I saw the boy at the end of the hall, his hand held out, pointing towards a door.

The 217th door. The 217th doorway to walk through.

I took the 1 key off of my neck.

I walked towards the 217th door.

I put the 1 key into the keyhole.

I opened the 217th door.

Together, we walked inside. 


You may ask why I know so much about this building.  I can tell you how it has 240 rooms, or 403 windows, or 4,576 floor tiles. How it is held together by 3.8 million nails, has 13 underground tunnels and housed 14,426 patients over its life of 111 years. I know every one of the 2.3 million cubic feet, the names on each of the 457 grave markers in the potter’s field and the artwork in any one of the 32 rooms with painted walls. I can also tell you about the 14 bodies not marked in the cemetery out back that now call this place home. I’ve spent a lot of time here, and that’s the only thing I haven’t counted, but here time is one of the few things we have no need to keep track of. However, I can tell you how Aylesbury State has 217 doors, not 216, and I can tell you that you can easily find out what is behind 216 of those doors. And if your curiosity is killing you to know what's behind the 217th door, I'd be happy to show you that last 1.


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