In my twenty years working in law enforcement, I have encountered darkness. I removed flecks of blood from a murderer’s hands shortly after his heinous crime, heard a suicidal caller’s gunshot ring out over a phone line, struggled to locate a rape victim hiding from her attacker. Yet, when I look back over the times in my life I’ve felt intense fear, these moments pale in comparison to my experience on a sunny afternoon in mid-December, 1996. I will attempt to describe to you what happened that day and hope someone may be able to explain what I have never been able to.
I grew up in a small town in Indiana, in an average, middle class neighborhood on the outskirts of town. From our backyard, you could see farmer’s fields and acres of woods. We lived a few minutes from a nature preserve and recreational water reservoir fed by two rivers. While my home was a new construction, many of the houses and buildings in the area were not. One of the more historic buildings nearby was a massive grey and white building known as Evergreen Manor.
Built as a “poor farm” or county home, it was intended to provide shelter and support for less fortunate members of the community. Widows, orphans, the disabled or ill could live on the farm in exchange for what labor they could contribute. As time marched on, the people living at the county home became known as inmates. The focus shifted from sheltering the poor to treating the mentally ill. During the early 1950s, inmates experiencing mental disturbances were treated with procedures which, while now considered barbaric, were cutting edge science at the time. Electro-shock, hydrotherapy (metal cages and fire hoses), and frontal lobotomies were all used in the facility.
When these treatments fell out of favor, mental asylums began to reform or close. The building transitioned to an elder care nursing home under the name Evergreen Manor. As the building deteriorated and maintenance costs rose, the company moved their residents to a new facility. After nearly two hundred years of steady use, the building sat vacant. An individual then purchased the building and the acreage around it. He was a hermit, and moved into the sprawling building but lived primarily within one enclosed porch off the commercial kitchen, an area the nursing home staff once used for their breaks. The grounds grew wild and unkept as the old building sagged under its own weight. The county began to issue ordinance violations as the man’s behavior grew increasingly bizarre.
My school bus used to drive down the gravel road and pass the old building every day, turning around past it as the road was a dead end. That stopped when the owner began hanging deer carcasses from a rusted swing set frame alongside the road and glaring at us from the concrete steps leading up to his porch. The bus driver decided she’d better to turn around in a different driveway.
By the time I was in high school, the strange owner died, the old county home was condemned, and there it sat, abandoned and in disrepair. Spooky stories about the place flourished. It became a popular place for kids to dare each other to break into, or vandalize. I earned the precious freedom only a driver’s license could give, and no longer travelled a route past Evergreen and so it faded from my notice.
That changed my senior year, when a friend of mine came up with a brilliant plan to waste a few hours. It was December, and we were attending our Christmas dance as a group of four. Two guys and two girls, yet unwilling to officially refer to each other as “dates” because it was not like that. (Insert teenage angst and insecurities here). We had appointments to have our hair styled early in the day, because we’d slacked off and hadn’t bothered to make an appointment months earlier. As we sat around in my bedroom, Kristy sat bolt upright and said, “Wait! You live close to the haunted asylum place! Show it to me!”
After about twenty minutes arguing all the reasons it was a bad idea, including ruining our hairspray stiffened updos, I knuckled to peer pressure and began the three-minute drive to the old county home. Once I turned off onto the gravel road, an odd feeling of heaviness and dread settled over me.
“They patrol this pretty often now and the neighbors call if they see a strange vehicle so we should probably just drive by and head back,” I stammered.
Kristy turned to look at me, her eyes widening. “Are you scared? Really?” she asked incredulously. I was the unflappable friend, the one who was always the caretaker, the sober one who kept everyone else in line. Not the chicken. Yet as I drove, my knuckles were white on the steering wheel and I could not explain why. Maybe it was the strangely warm weather, maybe it was nerves about my first real formal, but the back of my neck prickled, and my pulse raced as the massive building loomed ahead. The main steps and façade had been swallowed by underbrush and small, scraggly trees, but there was no mistaking the size of the building. I slowed to a stop near the cracked sidewalk, unwilling to pull into the parking area. I could barely breathe, my head filled with a strange static as my friend chattered excitedly about how creepy the building was. I muttered something, ready to pop my car right back into drive and pull away, when Kristy jumped out of the car.
“Hey! No! We’re not going in!” I called out after her, but she was off and paying no attention to me. I wanted to drive off without her, every fiber of my being screamed at me that something was wrong here. But, I couldn’t see my friend anymore. She didn’t know anything about this place and could easily get lost or hurt. I forced myself to get out of the car, leaving my keys in the ignition and the door unlocked so I could make a quick escape.
Outside, I was immediately struck by how quiet it was. Too quiet. There was no wind. There were no birds. Nothing but a soft buzzing sound and my own panicked internal dialogue. Hoping to quickly find my friend and threaten her into leaving with me immediately, I forced myself out of the car. I was not going into that building whose broken windows seemed to be watching me like gaping black eyes. Stepping cautiously, I passed a discarded shopping cart, some broken liquor bottles. The buzzing grew louder. In the tall grass, a rotting deer head lay discarded and putrid, a large black fly crawling over one eye. Shuddering, my fear grew more and more palpable. I crept forward, each step a feat of self-control. My mouth had gone dry, lips glued together in mute terror.
A loud bang shook me, reeling backward several steps, ready to abandon my friend to her own stupidity until I saw her ahead of me. She stood on concrete steps, holding open a battered screen door as she leaned over the threshold. Her lips were moving, the excited and happy grin on her face in direct opposition to my own turmoil. However, I could only hear the flies. I felt myself pulled forward as she stepped inside the building, even as I tried to choke out a warning. In my head, I screamed at her to stop, not go any farther, but I do not think I made a sound.
Inside, Kristy poked around at trash scattered around on the peeling linoleum. Two yellow refrigerators sat side by side, the upper freezer doors open. Dark brown trails of dried muck leaked from pink Styrofoam trays heaped inside a freezer. Even though I knew it should have been years since that meat turned, I could smell the rot. A pile of discarded clothing was heaped on an old camp cot. The flies buzzed over everything. They flitted around the plastic sheeting on the windows and crawled on Kristy’s blonde hair.
I backed away, croaking out the word, “Now!” as I pointed toward the car. From within the building, there was another loud crash. This time it was metallic sounding and much closer. It was enough to finally send my friend scurrying down the steps and it was my cue to flee.
I raced for my car, stumbling and panting. My hands shook violently as I jerked open the door, dove into the driver’s seat and turned the key in the ignition. Nothing. I cranked again, profanities spilling from my lips as Kristy shrieked, “Go! What’s the matter?!?” I cranked the key again and AGAIN. The fourth time, the engine roared to life and I stomped on the gas, spinning my little car around in the gravel like I was in a demolition derby. As soon as the car started, there was a whoosh, like a release of pressure. The normal noises returned, wind and birds, an airplane overhead and the absolute scream of my six-cylinder engine as I tore back home.
We sat in silence in my bedroom for an hour before I managed to calm myself enough to get dressed and get ready for our dinner reservations and the dance thereafter. When we met up with our friends, Kristy was eager to talk about our adventure. She laughed about how terrified I had been, and how it had even gotten to her since she’d never seen me freaked out before.
Our friend Phil rolled his eyes and said, “Yeah, right. Whatever,” and attempted to change the subject, but Kristy really wanted to talk about all the things she’d seen. She started to describe the large metal cage attached at the rear of the property when Phil cut her off. “Look, I know you’re full of shit and neither of you went there today so let’s stop, okay?” he demanded, exasperated.
“We really did go, and I really was scared,” I admitted reluctantly, puzzled by his reaction. He was normally pretty easy going and loved scary stories almost as much as he enjoyed teasing me.
“I don’t know why you two are lying, but I really don’t think it’s funny,” he practically snarled. I could tell he was genuinely upset.
“I don’t understand. Why do you think we’re lying?” I asked, hurt by his reaction.
“Because you know my mom is on the county council. She was there when they tore the county home building down. It is a hole in the ground. Has been since September, so if you’re going to make up a story, you should at least get your facts straight first!”
It took me six months to work up the nerve to verify his story. Finally, I had to know. I went to the local library and checked back issues of our local paper. He was telling the truth. The building had been demolished in early September, right after Labor Day weekend. By December, nothing was left but bare land. Even the hole had been filled in. I knew the date I’d been there, had it engraved on a silver picture frame and all, yet on that date, Evergreen Manor should have been dust.
Within a year, the land had been repurposed and a juvenile detention facility was built within a few yards of the old building. It didn’t remain in operation for long, but those are not my stories to tell. The approximately 200 acres which made up the county poor farm now holds a city park and nature trails. You can still visit the historic markers and the unmarked graves of the poor farm’s cemetery. The trails have beautiful views of the river, but I cannot drive that road without a clawing feeling inside my stomach. Will the building be standing yet again if I crest that hill? I prefer not to find out.
Erin McFadden is the author of three contemporary fantasy series; Descended from Myth, Hollow Man, and Confessor. Her newest release, Shattered Moonlight, is a co-write with K.L. Bone and is featured in Once Upon Another World: A Twisted Fairy Tale Box Set.
McFadden obtained a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and Criminology from Ball State University in 2001. She is the mother of two daughters and works full time in law enforcement. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, developing new story ideas, arts and crafts, and spending lots of time with her children.
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S. K. Gregory is an author, editor and blogger. She currently resides in Northern Ireland.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”