Her dream was always the same. The old, dilapidated southern style mansion creaked and moaned. Rotting curtains danced in the wind and leaves swirled along the floor while more blew in through the broken windows. James walked beside her, laughing and jokingly reassuring her that there was nothing to be afraid of. Everything felt wrong about this house, but they continued on upstairs.
Upon entering the master bedroom on the second floor, the hair on her arms and neck stood up as there was a discernible drop in temperature. It was more than cold. It bit to the bone and and felt as if it were going to freeze the blood in her veins. James commented on the cold but kept poking fun at the rumors of the house being haunted and people disappearing. James jumped on the dirty, worn mattress and the frame moaned and cracked under his weight. She pleaded with him to get up and leave but he just laughed. He began to joke again but suddenly went quiet. She looked over to see him grasping at his neck and gasping for air. Screaming, she ran to him to pull him off the bed. When she pulled it felt like trying to pull the bed with him. Unable to move him, she reached for his throat, trying to release him from whatever had him. As soon as her hands reached his neck, a shot of cold pain ran up her arms. The pain was intense, causing her to scream and step backwards, tripping over a loose board. She never hit the floor, instead stopping mere inches from impact. Something wrapped around her neck causing the same pain to course through her neck, head, and back. She tries to scream again but the pressure on her neck and searing pain make it catch in her throat.
Her vision is closing into darkness now as she struggles against something she can’t see. Her eyes feel like they are about to burst from her skull. She can no longer feel the cold pain as she struggles to breathe. Suddenly, she falls to the floor gasping for air. The cold pain subsides and she remembers James. She jumps up to help him, throwing herself at the bed. She stands up as his back arches, his eyes silently pleading for help. She heard a loud crack, there was a spray of red, and the world went white.
The tears always came so easily and she hated herself for it. Once again she has woken up the rooms around her with her waking scream, their cries and pleading echoing down the corridor. Eddy, the man across the way from her has been convinced she is after him since the moment she was admitted after her lengthy and embarrassing trial. He is screaming for the orderly to rescue him from the shadow across the hall, beating on his door. The desperation is his voice tears at her sanity, or what shreds of it remains.
She figured it has to be about three in the morning. That’s about the time she usually wakes up, screaming and drenched in sweat. Every morning she runs the dream through, trying to remember if that is what really happened or if it is a substituted memory because she doesn’t want to remember. Her inability to remember clearly chips away at her ability to control her anger. She has close her eyes, bite her lip, and dig her fingernails into her palms to remind herself what will happen if she loses her temper again.
The drugs they used to subdue her last time made her feel like she was in between her dream and her present reality. She could feel the shadow in her mind, feel the pain return that seared and froze at the same time, and could almost put form to the unseen presence. It terrified her and she did not want to relive that horrific experience.
Slowly, she felt her fear and rage subside back to a reasonable level fading into a dark cloud of torment and remorse that would continue to haunt her for remainder of the day. Once again, she would lament the loss of her husband as the memory of him slowly slipped away. She could feel part of her slide away with him, and it was dragging the rest of her sanity with it. She had pleaded with the doctors here for something to ease her mind, but they always insisted there was nothing that would help her.
It always took about forty-five minutes for her to calm back down from waking. The doctors always said it would pass, but every night was the same, every memory came back and stung just the same, no matter how blurry it became. But every night she would get those few hours of dreamless sleep before she would have to face the bleakness of another day.
* * *
“Good morning, Alex. Do you feel any better today?”
Alexis Collins fought to open her eyes, brushing sleep away with her hand. She recognized the voice of Andy, one of the orderlies.
“Wh…What? What time is it?”
“It’s 8:30, Alexis. Same time as every morning. Today you go see Doctor Greenfeld again.”
“Why? I’m still trapped in the same cycle. It’s not going to make any difference today just like it hasn’t every other time. I really don’t see the point.”
“Alex, don’t make us take you there. You know it may not end your suffering today, but it could be the catalyst that starts the wheels of your memory. It’s always worth giving it a chance.”
“Andy, I know you’re trying to help but I just can’t see an end. I really need to see something too, because I just don’t know if I can hold onto reality any more. It’s hard enough right now. How long until I go screaming through the halls again? I can’t do this anymore.”
She did not like giving Andy attitude. He really was just doing his job, trying to be nice.
“I may not know what happened to you, Alex, but I do know you are putting up one hell of a fight to find an answer. You can’t give up now.”
Alexis pulled herself off of the bed, pulled on her robe and slippers, and shuffled to the door. She still looked a mess from the terrors of her dream, but she didn’t care, there was no one to impress.
Andy opened the door and took her by the arm. She had long since abandoned objecting to this practice, and no longer fought. Andy was never anything but professional, always courteous. On some level, she loved him, but it was more the love one would have for a family member than romantic. That feeling always made her wonder if it was possible for her to leave this place. She has been here for so long that she had begun to think of some of the staff and other patients as family.
She was led through the administration wing, toward the sterile little evaluation room. She hated that room. It represented a degree of dehumanization that she deeply resented but could not change. Today, she fought those feelings back. She needed to have her head about her today. Something had been building in the back of her mind, and now it was time to let it out. She had refused to talk about before, but now couldn’t deny what she felt. She needed to know what happened, if the accusations had been true. She knew if she had indeed killed James that she would go insane. But if not, she needed to know what that thing was she had felt, that she felt every night in her dreams.
They rounded the last corner before the room and her heart skipped a beat. Although she had made up her mind, the prospect of digging for this dreaded truth still chilled her soul. When they reached the door, she turned to Andy.
“If today doesn’t go well, I would like to apologize now. You’ve only ever tried to help and I know I put you through a lot when I…lose myself.”
Andy smiled and chuckled a bit. She never could quite understand how he kept his humor up in this place.
“Don’t you worry about it. You’re here to get better and sometimes getting there is painful. I help where I can.”
With that, he opened the door and motioned for her to go inside. Doctor Greenfeld was already seated, looking over her file like he did every time. He was always very professional and always listened intently to his patients, but there was no element of friendliness. He took his job of fixing people’s minds to heart and felt he had no time for familiarity, though he was never rude.
“Good morning Alexis. You know as well as I where we stand. Now all that remains is where do you go? So, where do you want to go, Alexis?”
He was also the only person here who refused to cal her Alex. That above his sterile personality bugged her most. Now was not the time for triviality, though. She struggled to make herself say what she needed to say.
“I want to talk about the night James died.”
The words raced out of her mouth. She could feel her heart race, her anger flair. She struggled desperately to keep it under control. She could see the surprise in Doctor Greenfeld’s eyes, even if it did not show on his face.
“Are you sure you are ready for this Alexis? I can see that you still fight against your own mind when the subject is broached.”
“I can’t deny this any longer doc. I can’t deal with the dream any more. I need to go back, I need to know. I’m tired of having to fight back the anger every morning and wondering when I’ll lose control again.”
“If you feel it is time, then we will move forward. However, I would like to take some precautions. I cannot have you running through the halls again. Eddy still thinks you have come here to kill him. Every session he speaks of ‘The Shadow Across the Hall’, as if you were some mysterious wraith. I still cannot find good reason, even among his insanity, for his accusations.”
Doctor Greenfeld stood and motioned for her to follow. As they left the room, he did not grab hold of her arm, he simply asked her to follow. They went to a room a short distance from the evaluation room. The doctor opened the door and motioned her inside.
In the center of the room was a padded chair with arm and leg straps, all wool lined. Her first instinct was to run, but instead she bit down on her lip and forced herself to stand still. She noticed that the doctor threw a concerned look her way and was surprised to see the concern turn into a slight, almost invisible smile. The urge to run grew a little bit with that smile, so she dug her nails into her palms to keep her feet in place.
“Alexis, I know this looks intimidating but it is only for your protection. I can see that there are still some overpowering emotions linked with this subject and I do not want you running wild again. Andrew will be here as well as Gregory. Both are capable orderlies and will do their best to help you through this with me.”
Andy moved in beside her and motioned toward the chair. Although the desire for flight was strong, she moved toward the chair as Andy spoke assurances. She sat slowly and nervously, staring straight into Andy’s eyes the entire time. If she looked elsewhere, she felt she would fight and run. She watched as Andy and Greg strapped her in. The fear was starting to get the better of her and Andy could start to see it. His soft smile was little comfort.
“Alex, if this is what you need, then face it down. Demand the answers from your mind. Scream your demands to the winds and don’t let go until you have them. Don’t run now.”
Andy’s words were strangely comforting. With Andy and Greg back in their positions beside her, she had to look at the doctor. A wave of nausea swept over here and she had to swallow hard to keep from throwing up.
“Alexis, I can understand your need to face this. You should know that because of your determination I have decided to use this method. I am not particularly fond of it but I do believe it will be more help than harm in your case. Since you cannot run, you may find that you will pass out. Do not be alarmed by this, it is a defense mechanism to keep your mind from reaching too far. From this point, I cannot let you up until you have finished with your search, so if you feel now is not the time, just say so.”
She felt the world buckle, her vision narrowed for a few seconds. Her stomach lurched but she did not vomit. Every time she tried to speak, a wave of nausea struck her and she collapsed forward. The fight was quickly draining her will and she knew she had to say it soon.
“I…I want to do this. I have…to do this. There is no road back, only…forward.”
“Very well Alexis. In this case it is best if you begin. Start where you need to. Do not fight your memory. Let it come, no matter how far forward or backward it may take you. There is no shortcut to remembering tragic events. Now, where shall we begin?”
Events washed over her mind, cascading through thought like floodwaters crashing over a crumbling dam. Images darted in and out of darkness straining her ability to organize the onslaught into a coherent train of thought. Slowly, the wash subsided and came into focus. There, in her mind, she was back in the courtroom. The prosecution stood before her, staring her down. She could hear the echo of his last question in her thoughts, almost as if she was there again facing down accusations she still could not believe. As it became clearer, she started to describe the scene to Doctor Greenfeld.
“I ask you again Ms. Collins, how did you split open his chest?”
Sweat began to build on her brow, her heart raced. What was this? How could they think that she had done this? Her head swam as she tried to answer.
“What? How…There is no way I could do that to him! We had been together for over a year and he was never anything but loving to me! You said yourself there was nothing in the room that could have done that, and you found me passed out in the room. What more do you need from me?”
“Ms. Collins, there was no one else there. There was no evidence of anyone having been in that room other than the two of you. Your account of an unseen presence is utterly ridiculous. You were the only other person present, and you were covered in Mr. Coleman’s blood. Now, what did you do with the murder weapon!”
Alexis looked around the courtroom, struggling to maintain some degree of composure. She did not understand what was going on. There was no way she could do anything like that to James but she just could not remember what happened. The last she remembered was struggling for air as something wrapped around her throat. She fought with her memory, trying to make it give up something out of the darkness that surrounded this horrible event. Tears started to roll down her cheeks. The stand she sat on felt like a cage that was slowly closing in, threatening to suffocate her, to cut her off from life. Her answer came, choked with sobs and drowned in tears.
“I did not murder him! I loved that man and I could never do that! James was the best friend I had…I…there…why don’t you see this!? What do I have to prove to you so you can see?”
The prosecutor smiled a slow, predatory smile. He approached the stand and spoke softly, satisfaction pouring off every word.
“Everything the police recovered speaks to your guilt, Ms. Collins. This performance for the benefit of the jury will not disprove it, nor will your continued professions of some ‘phantom’. In fact, it would not be unreasonable for me to assume that you created it in order to justify your actions. However, I am no psychiatrist so I cannot confirm such a claim.”
With this he turned to the jury and began his closing speech. It was the speech that would seal her into this mental hospital and surrender her analysis to Doctor Greenfeld. That was six years ago now. She had been twenty three at the time, in the middle of a bachelors degree in business. Now at twenty nine, the only desire for her future was to discover what really happened, to look in the mirror and see if there was a monster staring back at her.
Doctor Greenfeld was busy making notes, listening as intently as always. This time there seemed to be an underlying fervor to his actions, like he was excited and giddy, waiting for the end of the story.
Alexis slumped over in her chair and threw up, every experience in the courtroom coming back just as vivid as if she were still there. Tears rolled off her cheeks as she screamed for James. Andy and Greg cleaned up the floor as she slowly brought her emotions back under control. Doctor Greenfeld looked at her with a slight gleam of concern in his eyes.
“Alexis, what evidence did they use against you? The police refuse to release the report to me. I cannot make any headway into what was so damning against you.”
“They…they said there was a bloody board I used to beat him, that my prints were everywhere. They said there was no evidence of anyone else in the room. They said just because they couldn’t find something that I could have used to cut him…open, that it wasn’t enough to create doubt. The jury believed it too. I hate them because they refused to see, but I can’t really say I would have believed someone in my shoes.”
“Thank you Alexis. Now, would you like to continue or do you need a break?”
“No, no time for a break. I need to know what happened.”
“Very well. Where are we going now?”
“I think I need to go back to the beginning. Back to where we started, what got us into this whole mess. James was looking for something for us to go do for the day.”
“Hey Alex, how about this place?”
“What is that? It looks really run down.”
“The description says that it belonged to Henry Alexander back during the late 1800s. It says in 1903, Mrs. Alexander went insane and murdered her husband and then sliced her own skin down the middle of her chest and ripped it off. She bled to death in the nearby town’s mental hospital. Ever since then, the house has been regarded as haunted. It says people from the town absolutely refuse to even go near the place. According to this there have been some tourists who have gone in and never have come back out. No bodies were ever found, nor was there any sign of foul play. Sounds like someone’s trying too hard to catch tourists.”
“I don’t know. That seems a little too real for me. I mean, people disappearing without a trace? Then again, it does sound like that town is just trying to build its own mystique.”
“What, are you telling me you’re afraid of a little house? There is nothing to be worried about here. People just told a few ghost stories to liven up the history of the place. There isn’t going to be anything there.”
Alexis sighed. James could be a real prick sometimes. She didn’t want to go. There was something tickling the back of her brain. Something she could almost reach, but not quite. She had the strangest feeling of déjà vu she had ever had, a tangible thing, but right there out of reach. It was enough to stir her curiosity.
“Fine. You want to go see this place so bad, let’s see who chickens out first. I don’t think you’ll make it as far as you think you will.”
“Oh, so it’s to be a challenge is it? Let’s get going then!”
The drive took about two and a half hours, winding through the countryside, passing through various small towns. Most were less than two hundred residents. After passing through the last town, which laid claim to having the Alexander house, they drove down an old dirt road toward the broken down mansion. James parked the car in front of one of the many oak trees that lined the front of the property and shut off the car.
Alexis was sorry she let pride push her into this as soon as she stepped from the car. A feeling of extreme discomfort washed over her and the feeling of déjà vu returned, but with an overtone of dread. She could feel something moving in the shadows of her mind, taunting her with just how close it was to being remembered.
The house itself, even without the haunting story, was intimidating. The dilapidated condition of the house gave off a foreboding look to begin with. The oaks themselves had a strange, unnatural look. They seemed twisted and warped. The front gate had fallen off its hinges and was lying in the drive, rusting. The front door, however, looked barely touched by the years. It stood closed, it’s paint just barley peeling from the wood.
James was starting to walk up the drive, seemingly oblivious to the clues around the house that spoke of some wrong, that something was not right with this house. Alexis stood at the edge of the drive, her eyes locked on the front door. Fear was building in her mind, urging her to stay out of this house.
“James, I don’t think we should go in there. Something isn’t right.”
“C’mon, don’t tell me you’re going to chicken out now. We’ve come all this way, and you don’t want to try and show me up? What happened to the girl who was going to stay in longer and go further than me? No turning back now!”
James sprinted up toward the door. Alexis could not believe what was happening. She immediately began to sprint after him, a voice in her head screaming for her to stop him. He reached the door when she was about halfway up the drive, and she watched in horror as he reached out for the handle. He swung the door open and stepped inside. She pushed her legs harder, straining to reach him before something happened.
When she stepped inside, he was in the middle of the entry, just looking around. The inside of the house looked almost too good to be true. Much like the front door, the house seemed like it had hardly aged at all. There were windows missing, the curtains were rotting, and leaves swirled across the floor but the interior seemed to have been exempt from the prying hands of time.
“Wow. This is really something. Someone from town has to be keeping up with this. There is no way this stayed this good looking by itself. What do you think Alex?”
“I really don’t want to be in here, James. Please let’s just go. We’ve seen the house and I really don’t think we should go any further. Let’s go.”
“Oh, no way am I leaving now! Look at this place! Don’t you just want to see more of it, see what’s been left behind? Let’s check out upstairs!”
James went racing up the stair, which hardly even creaked. The fear that had begun as a quiet murmur down by the drive had become a screaming chorus urging her to get both of them out of and away from this house.
“James, wait! Don’t go up there!”
She bounded up the stairs after him, panting with fear and exertion. At the top of the stairs she stopped and watched James marveling at how good the house looked. The wind had picked up and leaves were blowing around the ground, no longer content to swirl in slight currents. The rotting curtains were whipping in the wind.
“James, please! We need to leave now! Something is wrong with this house and we need to get out now! Please, let’s go!”
James laughed and moved further down the hall.
“Don’t tell me you bought into those silly haunting stories Alex. There are no such things as ghosts. Hey, look at this room, its huge!”
Alexis followed him into the master bedroom. The temperature dropped as soon as she stepped through the doorway and the chorus of fear surged to deafening levels urging her to just leave him there and save herself. Her bones were shot with an unearthly cold. She stepped further into the room.
James jumped up onto the bed and the frame cracked and moaned with his weight.
“James, get off that! We have to get out of here and now! James!”
“Ohh, are you backing out of your own challenge? That would just be too…”
At the sudden cutoff, Alexis looked over to James. He seemed to be struggling against something and was being pushed down into the bed. The bedframe cracked again and splintered in some places. James reached out for her, his eyes pleading and full of fear. She grabbed hold but could not move him. Whatever was pushing him down was heavy. Instead, she noticed he was grasping at his neck and she went for that. As soon as her hands got close, unfathomable pain shot up her arms. Stars appeared in front of her eyes and she stumbled backward, tripping over a loose board. Her fall was arrested when something wrapped itself around her neck. The same pain from her arms shot through her head, back, and neck. The thing squeezed and she struggled to breathe. The world was closing in when she suddenly heard a thump and was once again drawing breath. She realized the thump was her hitting the floor.
As her vision widened, she struggled to get up and get to James. When she had her feet under her, she threw herself at the bed and pulled herself up. James back was arched and his eyes were screaming. He grabbed her arm and grabbed hard. His nails scratched and dug in and he screamed silently in pain. Suddenly his shirt split and there was a spray of red. The room went black.
Once again, Alexis slumped over in the chair. Sobs wracked her body as she faced something she had refused to acknowledge for six long years. She could feel that Andy was there but he said nothing. It was just as well, there really was nothing that could be said.
“God, why couldn’t I save him? I was right there and I couldn’t do anything. I don’t even know that it wasn’t me that did something. Maybe I couldn’t save him from me…oh God, what if it was me, what if I murdered my James!? Please, tell me that you know it wasn’t me, that there is something that proves it wasn’t me! Don’t let there be a monster in the mirror!”
Doctor Greenfeld leaned forward, interlaced his fingers and looked her in the eyes.
“I cannot tell you that you did not. I do not have enough information. I do, however, have something I think you need to see. Gregory, Andrew. Please take her out of the chair. We’re going up to the roof.”
The climb to the roof was a nerve wracking walk for Alexis. She didn’t understand why they would need to go to the roof in order for the doctor to show her something. Worst case scenarios ran through her mind. She saw Andy and Greg throwing her off the four story building to the ground below. She saw a makeshift shack where they tortured various patients for their own amusement. She saw them delivering her into her own nightmare come to reality. She tried to shake off her fear, telling herself it was only born out of irrational fear.
At last they reached the top of the stairs, the door in front of them stenciled with their destination.
“Now, you may want to shield your eyes. This will be more than you are used to, Alexis.”
Alexis closed her eyes and raised her arm as the door opened. She had not been allowed in the open during her time here and the reality of being able to go outside lifted something off of her heart. She could feel a little relief, something that had not come to her in her room.
It was afternoon now, the sun shining just past the halfway point. As her eyes adjusted, she could see the path laid out over the roof that made its way toward and past the air handlers. Andy and Greg led her down toward one end of the building and up onto a wood patio built so they could see over the edge. About a mile away she could see a two story brick building surrounded by green trees. There were very few cars parked around it. Though she did not recognize it, she felt connected to it.
“Doctor Greenfeld, what is that place?”
“That, Alexis, is the asylum in which Jillian Alexander, Henry’s wife, died. It had long been a tourist attraction, but now it only attracts those searching for ghosts. Although I have heard it is haunted, it has never been more than stories of the tortured souls who lived there. There have never been any stories regarding Jillian. The remaining family insisted that she be buried back on the grounds of the Alexander estate, and that Henry be left alone in the burial plot they had purchased but one month before that wretched atrocity.”
“Why have her buried on the land? Wouldn’t they want to sell it?”
“No, they wanted nothing to do with it after that. There was one buyer but during move in, the movers came running out of the house yelling about a ‘shadow’ that had come after them in the master bedroom. The buyer, who to this day remains unknown, decided to check it out. Shortly thereafter, he also came running out and abandoned everything that was left in the house. That is the short of the story. There are many more encounters that have been handed down through the years but none relevant to you.”
“To me? What do you mean?”
“In order to answer that question, we must go to the other side of the roof. Please, follow me.”
The walk was not very long but anticipation made it seem like she was walking across the state. She so desperately wanted this to be over and just go home. When they finally reached the other side, there was another patio, built up to allow them to see.
As she climbed and looked out, a chill ran through her. Out in the distance, covered by dark, threatening clouds, was the Alexander House. She could barely make it out, but she knew it was. Even from this distance, the voice in her head returned. Fear gathered in her mind, compelling her to get away.
“I can feel your fear Alexis. There is nothing to be afraid of, not from here. That object cannot harm you here.”
“It is not the house I fear, doc, it’s what lurks inside…I can feel something, dark, evil...even from here…”
Alexis’ knees buckled underneath her. She felt a hand grab her, felt a sharp sting as one knee hit the boards of the patio, as pain once again shot through her neck, back and head. She saw images, flashes of events, most she didn’t recognize. Suddenly the images froze and a voice echoed in her mind. Her eyes snapped back open and shew drew in a sharp breath. Tears welled up in her eyes but she found herself unable to cry.
“Alexis? Alexis, are you okay? Speak to me child!”
Alexis heard his works but it was as if her were far off in the distance, yelling to her. She heard herself speak, but the words hardly felt like they were hers.
“She…she split him open. She made me watch everything, made me…feel…everything he was feeling. All this guilt I have been tortured with and now I am tormented be reliving it. Before she left me she whispered, ‘The whore will always be alone’, but that just doesn’t make any sense! I don’t even know who ‘she’ is!”
Again, Alexis collapsed but this time it was to weep, long, deep, and hard. At last, the darkness had given up its secret. It had pulled this memory from the darkness, and with such force she had blacked out. Now there was a new feeling. The dread was creeping back in. The voice had turned back into the chorus. Something was wrong.
“Doctor, we have to get out of here. I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but we need to leave now!”
“Alexis, there is nothing that can happen to you here! There is no need to fear!”
With that, there was a clap of thunder and lightning leapt out of the clouds that lay over the house, speeding across the open space and striking one of the air handlers. Above that, Alexis could hear a shriek, born of hatred and malice. But there was something else. It was not in the scream, it was in the fear she felt. The fear was not hers alone. This spirit was taking a great chance extending itself this far beyond the house, but hatred would not let it give up this opportunity.
“Do not fear her here, Alexis! She lives on her own hate but it is only within the house she has her power to harm!”
Alexis was only mildly aware that Doctor Greenfeld had said anything to her. Her attention was locked onto the sprectre as it slowly approached the hospital. She heard a voice but it was as a voice carried by the wind, something distant and angry.
“You are…slime, great-grand daughter of the harlot! Come to…me…see that you…have been lied to! See…your mother’s fate…and share in it!”
With that, the spectre was gone. Alexis stood trembling, shaking with fear and hatred. She knew that the spirit would not venture out like that again. It knew too well that to leave the house was to invite its own destruction and the fear she had felt, she would never feel again. She had only one choice. She had to go to the house, curiosity demanded it from her.
“Alexis, do not listen to her words. She only seeks to destroy your mind. I cannot allow you to return to that house…I cannot…lose you like…like I lost your mother.”
Alexis could not believe her ears. This could not be. Her mother was still living, just three blocks away from where James and her had lived. Anger rose in her chest as the questions mounted.
“What is going on here? What do you mean ‘like you lost my mother’? My mother is back home. She’s just fine…she’s just fine! What the hell is going on here?”
“Alexis.”, sighed Doctor Greenfeld, “Let’s go down to my office. I have much to tell you, though I fear for you to hear it. Come.”
Alexis was shocked. There was obviously a great deal she was unaware of and resentment rose over anger. Her eyes blurred with tears and she tried to maintain her balance, which was becoming increasingly difficult. Andy and Greg steadied her and began to guide her toward the door to go back down stairs.
They went back down stairs and instead of returning to the room with the chair, they went to the doctors study. Andy sat Alexis down in one of the chairs facing Doctor Greenfeld’s desk and followed Greg out, closing the door behind.
Doctor Greenfeld sat down in his chair, his face belied a great deal of grief and remorse. For some time he sat in silence, staring down at his desk. Alexis was still trying to make some sense of what had happened on the roof, still trying to figure out what Jillian’s ghost had meant.
“I had really hoped to tell you when you had finished your exploration of James’ murder, but the moment has been forced upon both of us. There are things you do not know about your past, about who you really are. I know you want to go to the house again but I urge you not to go.”
“You see, the day Jillian Alexander murdered her husband and committed suicide, there was one other person in the house. Mr. Alexander had been having an affair with Janice Moore, who ran the local inn. Now, while there was never anything reported to that end by the papers at the time nor any other record made, it was told to her son before she cut her own throat, though there were never any signs she was suicidal. Jillian had cursed Janice before she sliced herself up. Jillian said she would haunt her, her children, and their children, from now until the end of the world. In fact, soon after Janice’s death, her son went to the house to see the room for himself. Shortly after that, he suffered a mental breakdown and set the inn on fire. He burned with it. The residents of the town later reported they could hear laughter on the wind as the flames consumed the building and her son.”
“Before his death, he had fathered a daughter, your mother. She grew up in the same town, though no one ever told her what had happened to her father. Your mother went to the house shortly after becoming pregnant with you, and one month later, was admitted to the old hospital you saw from the roof. I was a young doctor at the time, anxious to prove myself to the world and I found your mother’s case to be one of great interest considering the family background. I conducted a great deal of research into her family history, trying to unearth some trigger or reason for her slip into apparent insanity. Many times she spoke of the ‘shadow woman’ who had come to her in the house and had shown her many disturbing things. She had seen her grandmother’s and her father’s suicides and said that she had felt them as well.”
“We spent many a session together, and always she was fixated on the ghost of Jillian. The shock of seeing and experiencing those two suicides had broken her and I could not get her to focus on anything else, no matter what I tried. It really got to me that I could do nothing to improve her condition. Even after you were born, there was no change in her behavior. I do not think she even realized she had just given birth. That was when I decided that something else was needed. I had another member of the staff assist me in helping her outdoors. We did not have the luxury of a roof as we do now, so I simply took her out the back door onto the lawn. Everything seemed to be going fine when she suddenly started flailing about. She never made a sound, but she was able to escape our grasp. We tried to chase her down but something moved her to such speed as I had not been witness to before. I called the police and sent out our own party, but in the end, there was nothing we could do. The police found your mother in the master bedroom, hanging from the ceiling. There was no note, no message of any kind left behind. I can only assume that she had been forced to see the same thing over again and she could no longer bear the pain of it. I will never know.”
Alexis could hardly breathe. She knew that Doctor Greenfeld would not lie to her but she felt an overwhelming urge to accuse him of it. How could this be? She had never felt out of place with her family yet she just been told her birth mother committed suicide soon after she was born. Why would no one ever tell her about her mother?
“Why? Why has no one told me this until now? How do you think I feel now, having found out that I don’t really have a family? Wait…you never said who my father was. Do you know!? Where is he?”
“Alexis, I did not know your mother until she came here and there is no record of marriage. The people who knew your mother did not even know she was pregnant until I brought it up. I am sorry, but unless your father comes forward, we will never know.”
“Then I have to go back. I have to face this bitch who has stolen my life. I don’t care what happens to me, but I want answers! I deserve that much!”
A great sorrow moved over Doctor Greenfeld’s face. His age seemed to show through even more than the passing years had already assigned him. He seemed to sag in his chair as sorrow changed into acceptance.
“You do deserve answers, but not at the cost of your life! She will push until you break, Alexis, make no mistake. Her anger is all that she has to keep her company. Do not think she has not had time to think on all that she has seen outside those walls. She hates you, she wants to watch you end your own life just as she did hers.”
“I am not your redemption doctor. Do not look to save me simply to assuage your guilt over my mother. I am going back to that house and though it may mean the end, at least I will know where I belong in this life. I would rather face this death than remain in this mental limbo I’ve been stuck in for so long.”
“Alexis, I have every right to hold you here. You would throw yourself into the mouth of hell to find your answers, I think even to look for revenge. Why should I let you go?”
She clenched her fists, pushing her nails into her palms to keep herself from screaming her reasons at him.
“Is there anything else you can do for me here? Can you uproot a vengeful spirit from its resting place to make it answer what it has done to the living? Out there is the only place I can put an end to this nightmare. I would rather face an age of madness from finding the answer than to always be tortured with not knowing.”
Doctor Greenfeld sighed and sat back in his chair. He seemed to age even further and he battled his thoughts.
“I don’t want to do this Alexis, but you are right. There is nothing I can do to answer those questions. I will arrange the paperwork for you release.”
The outside of the hospital had lost the ominous feeling from when she was first admitted. Then, she was not facing another six years inside its walls, she was leaving to find answers she had long been denied. She walked casually, though her mind was racing through what she was headed towards. She knew that the fear would come back and that she would face it down. Nothing would keep her from facing this spectre that had haunted her family for three generations.
She looked back to the hospital and saw that Doctor Greenfeld was standing on the front steps, watching her leave. She did not like to leave him like this but there was no other way to do this. She waved, then climbed into the cab he had called and paid for and headed back to the Alexander House.
It was three in the morning before Robert Greenfeld turned off his desk lamp and headed for his car. He had been unable to bring himself to leave. All he could think about was Alexis and her mother, and what else he could have done for both of them. He dreaded hearing that they had found Alexis dead by one means or another. He knew it was inevitable, none of her family before her had been able to face the fear and pain Jillian had been able to project on them. But there would be plenty of time to worry about that later. He suddenly needed to get out of this place.
As he reached the front door to the hospital, he nodded to the night nurse and stepped out into the cool night air. He sighed as he looked out over the parking lot. Something inside of him had hoped that Alexis would be there waiting for him with some story of how she had beaten the old ghost. Instead, he was greeted by the same scene he saw every night, just with fewer cars.
The depression he had been fighting with all day came back even stronger as he walked to his car. Something inside him begged him to visit the old house, but he knew deep in his heart that was a bad idea. If she was there, if she was dead, he was not sure he would not end up back in this hospital as a patient instead of a doctor. No, he would go home and rest and try to deal with the aftermath of another lost patient. So he dug out his keys and pushed the unlock button, opened the door, and climbed in. The car started and he put it in reverse.
As he pulled out of the parking lot, the desire to go to the house came back. As he drove toward the main road, it became stronger. At the turn for home, he found himself turning the car right instead of left, driven by this desire to go to the house, and knowing he never should have let her go alone.
He stepped out of the car and looked up at the house. Its very appearance was something that inspired fear, like it was something out of a Hollywood horror. As he approached the fallen front gate he could feel something in his mind. Suddenly he not only wanted to go inside, he needed to be inside. He ran up the drive and leapt up the front steps. He went charging through the front door, located the steps and leapt up those as well. At the top he stopped for a moment to address the aches that age had brought since he did not exert himself much. He walked down the hall to the master bedroom, hesitated for a moment and then stepped through the door. He could not believe what he saw there.
Alexis was laying on the floor, her left arm covered in blood. The image of Jillian Alexander was sitting on the bed looking over her. The ghost looked up for a moment, then looked back to Alexis. Robert could see that Alexis was still breathing, but she needed to get back to the hospital. Then the spirit spoke to him.
“She would not bend, she would not break. So determined was she to obtain answers about her family, she screamed through the pain, through reliving the deaths of those before her. Even when I raised the same blade I used when I found out Henry was engaged in adultery. I hate her for her determination, and cannot kill her because that is not the nature of the curse I spoke. It does not matter. She is incapable of having children. There will be no one left for me to haunt. I am damned, forever tied to this wretched house. Forever will I hear Henry’s words as he told me I would be left with nothing. Little did I know how true that would be. Now, please, leave me. This house was my grave and is now my hell. I can already feel that I can no longer reach beyond these walls, nor force my will, nor exert physical force against the living. I hate you, I hate you all!”
Her face twisted into hatred and then flashed with fear as her image dissolved. Robert was stuck but for a moment, then rushed to Alexis and helped her up and struggled to get her back to the car. As they drove back to the hospital Alexis spoke out of hallucination as she relived the moments that had been forced upon her by Jillian’s ghost. She spoke of her great grandmother, grandfather, and her mother. She screamed as she relived the pain she had felt. Then, just as they were entering the hospital parking lot, she broke into tears muttered softly.
“I can’t have any…none for me…never. But me, I won…no more nightmares…”
Robert helped her from the car as Andy and Greg came to help her into the hospital. He wanted to make sure that the ghost had not just told her that to break her will. If she could still bear children it may keep her from relapsing into another bout of insanity. He watched the orderlies carry her up the steps and in the doors before he followed. He desperately hoped that she would need little counseling to return to the outside world, but something deep inside knew he was only kidding himself.
Four months later, Doctor Greenfeld watched as Alexis wept over a table in one of the evaluation rooms. She could not come to terms with her inability to bear children, even though it had taken only one week to return from the horrors she had been forced to face under Jillian’s hateful stare.
Alexis had since refused to go by her adopted name. She was now crushed under severe depression; she was almost in the same state as when she arrived six years ago. It was unlikely that she would recover from this. She had come through so much just to get out from under one horror just to have another thrust upon her. It had been the proverbial straw to her conscious and unconscious mind.
Now she was forever trapped in that room with Jillian, even though the room was in her head. She would forever wander the wastes of her own mind, now unable to make her way back out into reality. The only time she remained somewhat sane was when she was alone with Doctor Greenfeld but the life he had seen struggling to find a way out before was gone.
Now every night before she went to sleep, she would sit in the corner, muttering to herself. Always it was the same thing and always she would weep before slowly climbing into bed.
“I died again, just a different place inside…I want to go home but he won’t be there for me. Just let me be…please, just leave me alone…”
© Copyright 2017 Charles Ryan. All rights reserved.
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