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Reincarnated - a Short Story by CherAnn Wright

Remnants of daylight sluggishly hangs on as the moon above competes, casting a bluish glow. It’s the perfect time of day for Jax to trespass through derelict, carcass-structures known for their indecipherable whisperings and sinister rich settings.

Asylum. It’s supposed to mean retreat or sanctuary, but a myriad of horror stories morphed its meaning into something grotesque—into a house of horrors. Maybe that’s what attracted Jax to the Hancock Building. It used to be one. Now, it's going to become his home. Not just his home, but Lyla’s too.

The two of them have spent most of their five-year relationship visiting skeletal buildings known for their history of torture. For Jax, these places call to him in his dreams. Some nights he dreams of being trapped for hours inside their walls. Sometimes the dreams are so intense that he can feel the effects of it long after he wakes.

Lots of people are drawn to the thrills of visiting these ruins, but for Jax, it’s like coming home. The ghosts that live in them come alive when he visits. It’s as if they want to tell him their stories. It gives him a mixture of fright, and at the same time, a high like no other.

“What if these ghosts call you there so they can trap you, and torture you just as they have been?” Lyla teases using a spooky voice. Jax loves her sense of humor.

He is a firm believer in reincarnation. His belief is that in his past life, he is tied somehow to an asylum—somewhere. His self-indulgent visits only feed his obsession to learn the truth about who he was before, and he knows that someday, he will find the one.

Lyla is just as obsessed over abandoned ‘loony bins’ as she calls them. Sometimes more. Jax hasn’t quite figured out why she’s attracted to them. At first, he thought she only did it because he was so obsessed with them, but there seems to be an indistinguishable look in her eyes when they set out to find one. Once they’re inside, it’s almost as if she becomes someone else; a person he doesn’t recognize. Her eyes shift from a blue ocean to a dark gray cloud. Something about it unnerves him, but he ignores it because it’s nice to have the company.

As they surf the web one day for their next abandoned asylum adventure, they come across an article about how a rich entrepreneur invested millions of dollars to renovate what was once second in the nation for mental hospitals. As soon as Jax opens the article, the itch starts. An itch so deep he can’t ignore it.

For Jax, the itch turns into a beckoning, as if it’s calling to him. He begins to have visions that seem more like memories. Sometimes he can close his eyes and conjure images. They flash in his mind like the shutter of a camera opening and closing, each time he blinks. He wonders if these visions are what took place in the Hancock building more than a century ago.

Blink. People are sitting in straitjackets, groaning, and dripping with perspiration. Blink. A man is fastened to a bed, electrodes connected along certain parts of his body and head; the man's muscles react to the turn of a knob. Blink. He feels intense dizziness that’s more like intoxication when another man is spun around at high speeds on a wheel. Blink. He nearly vomits as he watches a woman suspended from a harness swing back and forth until she throws up. Blink. His nose fills with the smell of burning flesh when someone is branded with hot metal.

Jax allows himself to indulge in each clip, relishing in the torment of others. He doesn’t tell Lyla about this. If she knew how much he enjoys it, she would surely believe he is mad. Doesn’t it make me mad? He thinks for a moment, but that doesn’t last long. Now, it’s become a need—like an addict needing a fix.

The day has come, and they pack up everything and are on the road to move into the newly renovated Georgia Lunatic Hospital; now called Hancock Apartments. They cross the Georgia state line, and neither of them speaks until they turn the corner and see the massive bell tower looming above all the buildings in the quaint community. The building is a towering structure, and even though the front portion of the building has been polished, it still has a haunting appearance. They don’t even look at each other; rather, they each are engrossed in their own excitement. When they pull around to where they have a full view of the U-shaped building, only then does Jax speak.

“I feel as though I’m coming home,” Jax says to Lyla, but she doesn’t seem to hear him. He turns to look at Lyla, whose eyes are fixed on the double front doors of the building. She’s frozen, silent, and staring. He snaps his fingers in front of her face. “Lyla?”

“Hmm—um yeah. You’re home.”

“You mean, we’re home—right?”

“Oh, yeah, yeah. That’s what I meant.”

“Are you okay?” Jax asks concerned.

Lyla turns to look at him and he sees that her eyes have that gray, hollow look again. “I’m great. I think we’ve found the one,” she says, her words trailing off.

Jax is the first to enter the massive doors, then Lyla follows, and they’re greeted by a tall, lanky gentleman—the building manager. Lyla looks at him and is reminded of Lurch from The Addams Family. Introductions are made, then some small talk about their journey is exchanged before they’re given their keys and they ascend the stairs, being stopped before they reach the top.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” The gentleman calls behind them. “The east and west wings of the building are off-limits. They’re not set to begin reconstruction until late next year, so trespassing is strictly forbidden.”

Jax's eyes light up as he queries, "Are these wings in the same condition they were when this place was a hospital?"

“Mm-huh. But like I said, off-limits.”

“Gotcha,” Jax says and gives the man a military salute. He and Lyla exchange a quick glance, eyebrows lifted.

They climb the stairs to the third floor, searching for their apartment number. Only then do they talk about it. “Since when have we let a ‘no trespassing’ warning stop us?” Jax asks.

“We don’t,” Lyla answers.

Later that night, the movers are done unloading their supplies, and they decide to order some takeout. During dinner, Lyla seems a bit more excited as she and Jax discuss their strategy for getting into the unfinished wings.

"Did you notice the padlock?" Lyla asks.

"Never stopped us before," Jax says. "I packed our bolt cutters."

"I think we should wait a few days so that we don't raise suspicion that it’s us."

"You're right," Jax agrees. "We'll wait." He says the words, but he doesn't want to. He needs to see if this place is the one.

When the time comes, they tiptoe down the hall to the locked door. Lyla keeps watch as Jax cuts the lock, and it hits the floor with a thud. They both stare down the hallway to make sure no one comes out of their apartment. They ease the door open and slip through, closing it behind them.

The air is musty and stale, like that of a mausoleum that's been closed off for a long time. They each turn on their flashlights and begin their trespassing tour. The walls on each side of the hallway are lined with rusted metal doors, some of them slightly ajar, some missing, revealing glimpses of decayed rooms within. A cool breeze sweeps through the corridor, giving Jax a thrill of excitement.

They enter a large, open room with a missing door, and as they shine their flashlights along its walls, they find that it’s a community shower room. The left wall is lined with broken mirrors. As Jax's flashlight beam moves across Lyla's reflection, he almost drops his flashlight. Her reflection—it isn't hers. In the mirror is a pale, dark-haired woman, her eye sockets black and hollow. He moves his flashlight away from the mirror to Lyla’s actual face as his heart flails in his chest. It's Lyla.

"What's wrong my love?" Lyla says, but her voice isn't hers. It's distorted—scratchy.

He shines the flashlight back to her reflection, and it's the same haunting figure. He stares at her as she speaks, her voice deeper and distorted, as though some device is being used to make her voice unrecognizable.

"What I've learned, Jax, from the ghosts that still lurk in these old ruins is that monsters don't hide in dark corners or closets or even under beds. They hide in broad daylight, among the living. Doctors and nurses are the monsters. You are my monster."

"What? What are you talking about, Lyla?" Jax asks, taking a step back.

"You want to know who you were in your past life? I'll tell you. You were—are—Doctor Leonard Specter. The lead doctor here."

Jax moves his flashlight from the reflection to Lyla, then back to her reflection, his own face frozen in horror. The dark-haired woman stares into Jax's eyes with her dead ones.

"Do you want to know who I am?" the reflection asks.

Lyla's voice shifts back to normal, and Jax turns his head to look at her. He shakes his head no in quick, jerky movements but has lost his ability to speak.

"I am her." Lyla points to the mirror. "Violet Sinclair. You were the doctor."

Jax continues to move toward the door.

“You dream about it—still crave it. Don’t you?” Lyla turns her body toward him and slowly steps in his direction. He turns and flees the room back to the door in which they entered. It won't open. He turns around, and something strikes the side of his head, knocking him unconscious.

Jax wakes to a searing pain in his head as he tries to move his hands and feet. He is strapped to a dilapidated gurney, and next to him is a rusted IV pole with a funnel and tube hanging from it. The tube runs from the end of the funnel into his left nostril and down his throat, preventing him from screaming. He frantically moves his eyes and sees that he is in a large room filled with familiar devices. His eyes jerk from one object to another.

Blink. A man stands next to a large wheel in the center of the room, preparing it for someone to take a spin. Blink. A woman prepares the leather harness, then spreads a cloth on the floor to catch bodily fluids. Blink. A man holds a poker into the roaring fire of the stove in the corner. Blink. A man moves toward him, holding a handful of wires with electrodes attached to the ends. Blink. Lyla moves toward him, holding a straitjacket out in front of her. Blink.

"Would you like to know what's in the funnel above your head?" Lyla asks.

Jax stares, his eyes wide with fear.

"Well, Dr. Specter, I figure you might need some rest before we begin your treatments. The funnel holds enough insulin to keep you in a coma until we're ready to begin your therapy. It might be a few days before I can get back here, so this will keep you compliant until then. I can promise from experience, and so can the others—" Lyla points to the ghosts in the room and finishes, "that you won't wake up until we're ready for you to wake up."

Jax begins to fight against his restraints but is unable to scream out.

"Don't you worry—this is going to fix you. After all, you’re the one who invented all of this.” Lyla smiles.

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