“Lisa” – Supervising Project Consultant, Environmental Engineering Firm
I don’t want to lie to you. On paper, most of what Lisa does for a living sounds boring as shit. Something about zoning regulations and measuring spore deposits. I recorded the basic explanation she gave me during our first interview but I’ll never be drunk enough to want to sit through it again. Besides, the truly interesting part is what Lisa failed to mention in her initial description.
And that’s the part where her job has her spending most days dressed like she is about to go cook meth with Walt and Jesse. Hazmat mask, matching yellow coverall, the works. And she’s wearing all of this while roaming creepy-ass derelict buildings, poking around its darkest crevices, identifying toxic molds and strange fungi that cry gelatinous white strands of deadly spores like some H.R. Geiger version of a money-shot. You know, fun stuff.
None of this was even the part that traumatized her either, if you can believe that. Lisa was actually a huge nerd (said the big black pot) and she found that particular part of her job endlessly fascinating. You want to try and impress this girl? Skip the flowers and the flashy car and find her a big stagnant puddle of rainwater that’s been collecting in an unnaturally formed deposit for ten years so she can drain it and examine all of the slimy signs of life it may have spawned.
And if you thought that bit sounded oddly specific, it’s because that was the real first date the man who eventually became her husband actually took her on. Even I heard that part and felt like doing my best impression of Ogre screaming “NERDS!” And I own an adult-sized Freddy Krueger sweater. That I wear regularly. Ladies…
The day that earned Lisa a month of paid leave started out normal enough. The site at the time was Charity Hospital which had been a massive city-owned teaching hospital before the summer of 2005 when God remembered he had put a swamp here, or what is more commonly referred to in the media as Hurricane Katrina.
As goes the story with most absentee fathers, the big Guy started a remodel that summer which was left for us to finish and that’s where Lisa’s very nerdy skills came in. More specifically, the engineering firm she worked for wanted to know if demolishing Charity’s rundown remains was going to expose the city’s air to dangerous shit like black mold.
You might be asking why said city would let such a seemingly important structure sit unused and festering for so long. Well, there are a lot of (mostly fucked up) answers to go with that question but one of the biggest issues regarding a potential remodel had to do with the hospital’s size. Did I mention it was massive?
Then let me reiterate. Charity was very fucking big. To steal a line from Red Dwarf in reference to the size of the number three million, “it was just… stupid.” That’s how fucking big Charity was. At full capacity, it housed 2,680 patients under one roof that was fifteen stories tall and consisted of three wings. Even when the lights still worked, it was an easy place to get lost in.
So when I say that things started going downhill after Lisa realized she had gotten lost inside Charity Hospital, you’ll understand how that was not only possible but also a very real concern going into a job of this size. Certain precautions had been put in place specifically to ensure her team’s safety, all of which had met in a perfect storm of complacency and desperation that morning when she….
A.) went in alone and unsupervised on her day off…
B.) without notifying her boss first…
C.) or requesting the police unit normally kept on site to deal with homeless squatters.
See, Lisa had been the one in charge of estimating just how long this job was going to take. Her estimation would have been right too, if not for the unforeseeable delay they encountered after the cops cleared out the veritable shanty town of hobos occupying the lower floors and discovered that all of the stairwells past the 5th floor were blocked off by what appeared to be an intricately constructed wall of plywood and rebar-lined ruble.
Lisa assumed it had been done by one or more of the homeless squatters living there and came up for all sorts of strange scenarios as to why… they thought the higher floors were haunted and decided to wall off access to keep the ghosts from wandering down or the especially drunk ones kept falling out of windows…but the real reason turned out to be even weirder than all of them.
The city brought in a clean-up team to remove the makeshift barricades and Lisa didn’t expect it to take them very long to haul the stuff out, which meant she was already batting 0-2 on this job before it had even started. Apparently, the person or persons who constructed these barricades had known what they were doing because it took that crew the better part of a week just to make the East stairwell passable.
Fire code stated that Lisa’s crew was still going to have to wait until all points of egress were fully cleared out before they could ascend any further than the 5th floor, but since most of the stuff she was here to find liked to form inside the walls in long vertical columns, the barricades had already been making her job virtually impossible to do.
Lisa could feel the big invisible clock over her ticking away. An entire week inside with practically nothing to show for it was going to reflect badly on her, regardless of the reason, and she knew it. So, that Friday afternoon when Lisa got the call from the clean-up team’s forman saying they had finally freed up ONE of the stairwells, it was all she needed to hear. The fire code could go fuck itself.
Lisa called around and got a few of her best people to agree to work that next day, which was a Saturday, at time-and-a-half. They wouldn’t have to come in until noon and she even promised to pay for drinks after as an added bonus. Lisa’s plan had been to go in early and hopefully give herself enough time to finish mapping out the full extent of the East wing’s infestation.
That would at least give her crew something to start on while she surveyed the rest of the building. Only when Lisa arrived on site at 8:30AM that next morning and finally started up the newly passable stairwell, she began to notice a disturbing trend to the floors above five.
For starters, someone had painted the walls. Like fairly recently. They weren’t supposed to be black, she was sure of it, and this wasn’t mold. It was paint. A thorough and relatively fresh coat of black paint that appeared to cover every wall in sight. Bits of pale green handwritten text had been printed at random intervals along these walls…
He knows not what you have done, nor does he care.
He is your keeper and the toll you pay is your pain.
There is no white light, only blacker darkness.
Surrender all orifices unto him.
Do not struggle. It makes it take longer.
Those were the only ones I could get out of her (I sensed they weren’t the only ones she could remember but when I pressed for more, Lisa gave me this look that said: Dude… five is enough.) She told me these little snippets of text were written all over though, like someone had decided to fill the hospital’s freshly painted walls with selected works from the world’s worst fortune cookie writer.
That was when the thought finally occurred to her that since the police couldn’t actually get to this part of the building on their original sweep, there was no real telling who or what was still running around up here. But apparently SOMEONE had access to these floors and recently, judging from the redesigned interiors.
Curiosity forced her to push this unsettling thought aside as Lisa kept climbing the stairs in a befuddled daze, doing a quick scan of each floor she passed to try and determine just how much of the hospital had been painted over. By the time she reached the 10th or 11th floor, the curious part of her had grown even pushier, drawing Lisa out of the stairwell and into the hallway.
All of the doors had been removed from their hinges, allowing Lisa full view into each room that she passed and she saw that the walls in here had been painted black as well. And, unlike the rooms on the lower floors which were mostly littered with the dust-filmed remains of assorted hospital clutter, these spaces appeared to have been relatively well maintained.
Exploring this part of the hospital was not unlike walking through a ghost town and it was that realization which creeped out Lisa enough that she finally decided to head back down and call the cops from her cell (which she always left in her car while on-site because the last thing you want to do to a device you regularly press against your face is expose it to toxic mold spores.)
Lisa spent about ten minutes trying to locate the East stairwell before realizing that she had gotten herself lost in the process. It was while she was attempting to retrace her steps that she heard what sounded like meowing kittens emanating from a nearby room.
Lisa glanced inside the room and spotted the plain wicker basket on the floor at its center. This basket was the source of the meowing and, her love for animals momentarily outweighing her better judgement, Lisa took a few tentative steps into the room. As she inched closer to the basket, Lisa saw the hollow-eyed nearly mummified corpses of several long-dead kittens stretched out alongside a dusty tape-recorder emitting the meowing which had lured her in here.
”Why? WHY would someone ever create something so perfectly horrible and why would they then hide it all the way up here where nobody could see it?” she was thinking to herself and the voice that corrected her sounded eerily confident…
Where YOU could see it.
Lisa glanced around as she started to back away from the basket and her gaze froze when it got to the pile of folded gurney and rusted IV stands haphazardly crammed into one corner of the otherwise empty room. She had spotted a pale face watching her from inside the pile. As Lisa’s eyes locked on his, the face suddenly shouted…
“Aw, shit! You can SEE me?!” And then before she could answer, the face continued, “Did THEY do that to you?”
Though the initial shock had her standing there fixed in place with her heart pounding, the face’s harmless tone was still somehow able to surprise her and Lisa couldn’t help but responded with a curious tilt of her head. There was a screech of metal on linoleum as the pile shifted enough for one pale, emaciated arm to slither into site and gesture at Lisa as the face clarified, “Your deformities…”
Lisa realized he was referring to her hazmat mask and told him what it was, though the face’s only response was a blank stare. She asked him if he was the one who painted the walls and the face laughed like that was the funniest thing he had ever heard, prompting Lisa to ask what he was on.
“Sleep deprivation mostly. Plus whatever they gave me the last time I got caught. Been a few days but it still hasn’t quite worn off. Why, what are YOU on?”
“They put stuff in the food too. Even if they released you clean, if you ate any of the MREs lying around,” The face said as the hand still protruding from the pile pointed down, drawing a circle at the floor. “They inject those with stuff too.”
“I haven’t eaten any of the MREs.”
“Guessing you haven’t been here long then. You’ll see. It’s not so bad if you know how to hide.”
Still too stunned to do much more than keep the flow of this weird little conversation going, Lisa shook her head and very plainly told the face, “Nobody released me anywhere. I’m working with a crew to remove hazardous molds and fungi from…”
The face looked as if he had just solved some kind of vital equation in his head. His wide eyes grew even wider as he interrupted her to shout, “You unblocked the stairs?!”
“Just in the East wing,” Lisa replied.
A chorus of more scraping sounds followed which eventually resulted in the pile of hospital scraps birthing a scrawny naked man with more of that awful red writing covering his body (Lisa told me that “FOR A GOOD TIME RAPE HERE” had been printed on his back in big block letters with an arrow pointing down to the man’s ass but she did so with such a mixture of hesitant pity and genuine compassion that I feel bad leaving it in, which is why I wrote this part. So you would feel bad too. Sorry.)
He looked young, maybe late 20s at most, though it was hard to tell through the long scraggly hair framing his sweaty slack-jawed face. The man practically jumped to his feet as soon as he was free of the pile and flew past Lisa as he hurried through the open doorway, screaming,“We have to go now! They’ve probably already spotted you!”
“Can you get us to the East stairwell?” she shouted back as Lisa pursued him out into the hall. The man nodded and motioned for her to follow as he continued down the corridor.
It was then that (and I wish I was making this part up, ironically because I would’ve probably cut it for being too unrealistic) the hospital’s PA system crackled to life and began to blare the first chords of DMX’s “X Gon’ Give It to Ya”, sending Lisa’s guide into a full-on sprint (though, on second thought, it does demonstrate just how vile the bad guys here must be. Anyone that wantonly derivative HAS to be evil.)
“They know where we are!” the man screamed and Lisa hurried to stay behind him. As they finally reached the East stairwell and she watched the man start to descend the steps, Lisa couldn’t help but emit a relieved sigh. She glanced back out of sheer reflex to see a large human-shaped figure drop down through a gap in the hallway’s ceiling tiles.
The figure had a chunky build, which was easy to discern through the black full-body leotard it was wearing, and yet it seemed to move with the grace of a stalking jungle cat. A archaic-looking wooden devil mask covered the figure’s face and a child’s plastic tiara encrusted with blinking LED jewels was perched at an angle atop its otherwise bald head.
The figure had landed on all fours and began to crawl toward her with its head cocked back as if sniffing the air before halting quite abruptly as it spotted Lisa standing there at the mouth of the stairwell. The figure titled its head to one side just as she had done when the scrawny man asked her about her “deformities”. She recognized it as a gesture of confusion. The figure seemed to be just as baffled by her appearance as her guide had been.
She wasn’t about to question her lucky break any further and turned to hurry down the steps until she was once again keeping pace with the man in front of her. Neither one looked back again until they were out of Charity and inside Lisa’s locked SUV.
As they sat waiting for the cops to arrive, Lisa dug a pair of nylon shorts and a t-shirt from a gym bag in her backseat and handed them to the man. After thanking her profusely and pulling them on, the man sat there in his new shirt with the words “BLACK AND SASSY” printed on it (Lisa is black, if that helps clear things up… you racist) and explained his whole horrific ordeal to her.
He told Lisa about how he and a friend had snuck into the derelict hospital one night to film a bit of “urban exploration”. They had gotten separated somewhere on the 5th floor, which Charity’s homeless population typically avoided as if they could somehow sense what was going on beyond those barricades and gave them a wide berth.
The man kept getting this sense like he was being followed and the next thing he remembered was waking up in a hallway on one of the higher floors. He knew this one was higher because the glow from the streetlights wasn’t illuminating the hall like it had on the 5th floor. He had been brought to a place that the light could not reach.
He said the words Lisa had seen written all along the walls would glow at night, looking as if they were floating in the inky void that seemed to enveloped him from every direction. The sense of being followed had intensified, felt almost crippling, but finally the man forced himself to his feet and that was when DMX started blaring over the PA and he spotted the blinking child’s tiara slowly gliding toward him. And then…
The man paused and Lisa was grateful that he had. She was even more grateful when she spotted the police cruiser pulling into the gate just then, before the man would have a chance to keep going. Lisa wasn’t really interested in hearing the rest just then, having only narrowly escaped the same fate mere minutes ago.
The officers who were first on scene that day had checked the upper floors after taking a brief statement from them but she wasn’t privy to what they discovered up there until much later when Lisa spoke with the foreman from the clean-up crew the city had originally hired to clear out the barricades. She ran into him at a bar a few months later. The foreman had been sitting alone, staring mournfully into a glass of beer and looking far worse for wear than when Lisa had last seen him.
He told her that once the investigation wrapped, the city had brought his team back in to clear the upper floors and then he drifted off for a moment, as if simply saying the words out loud had forced him to remember some horrid eldritch truth. The foreman brought the beer to his lips and emptied the glass in three long gulps.
Then finally he looked at Lisa and said, “You know the top floors of that place had been psychiatric facilities. The nuthouse was what my old man used to call ‘em… When Katrina hit, you know how there were all those doctors and nurses who stayed behind to care for the patients they couldn’t relocate?”
Lisa nodded, holding up two fingers to signal the bartender as she silently ordered both of them another round. Her imagination had already started to fill in the blanks but she sat and listened to the rest anyway and in the end, her imagination hadn’t been too far off…
Plenty of Charity’s doctors and nurses had stuck around to weather the hurricane with their patients but all of it was voluntary. Those final hours leading up to the storm had been so uncertain and chaotic, there simply wasn’t time to ensure that somebody stuck around to watch after the patients in the crazy-ward.
Once they discovered that none of the orderlies (who were some of the lowest paid staff in the entire building) had shown up for work that day, the few proper psychiatric staff on site were quick to take off, leaving the mentally ill residents to fend for themselves. After the storm made landfall and the power went out, things officially went from bad to worse.
Without anyone to provide food or regular medication to them, the more unstable of the bunch resorted to cannibalism and with no power to hold the electronic locks in place, there was no longer anything to keep them from sending hunting parties down to the lower floors.
By this point though, the Army Corps of Engineers had taken up camp at Charity as well and they did the only thing they could do, under the circumstances. The engineers gathered enough ruble (which had been about the only thing in large supply at that time) to barricade the stairwells.
It’s difficult to imagine that anyone stuck on those upper floors could have survived for as long as it took for the city to return to normal after Katrina, even if Charity had been able to reopen immediately after… But apparently someone HAD survived up there. Had even thrived from the look of it.
Whoever these hypothetical last psychos standing were, they had eventually grown lonely and took every opportunity they got to bring new guests to the party. With access to all of that space and what had to be a vast wealth of pharmaceuticals at their disposal, this final tribe of madmen spent the next decade and change barricaded inside that hospital, adding each new guest that came along to a very special game they had devised over the years. A game that could probably best be described as a prison-rules version of Hide-and-Seek.
At this point, you may be wondering how they were even getting new people past the barricades in the first place. Obviously, at some point they had discovered an alternate route down. Simple as that. The real question is what kind of people would have a way out of that living hell and voluntarily choose to keep it going instead. But of course, the answer to that one is even simpler:
Crazy people. REALLY fucking crazy people.