My friends and I used to do a lot of geocaching after our senior year in high school. For those who don’t know what geocaching is, it’s essentially a worldwide scavenger hunt. People will select sites and conceal a “geo-cache” somewhere unobtrusive, then post GPS coordinates on geocaching websites where other searchers can download the cords and locate the cache. Usually, people who have found the object (often it’s a chest or something hollow) will leave a note or small personal memento for future searchers to find and appreciate.
There are several types of geocaches, and most of them are thematic in nature (i.e. scenic destinations, romantic sites, hard-to-reach areas, etc.) This story begins when my friends and I decided to try a series of purportedly haunted locales within about an hour’s drive of our hometown. It began innocently enough—most of the sites had “spooky” backstories that were, of course, entirely fabricated. So we had a great time scaring the piss out of each other and generally creeping ourselves out.
We’d begun searching after the sun had set to enhance the creep factor, but by around midnight, most of our large group had dwindled off and gone their separate ways. When we reached our last coord, there was just myself, Rebecca, Kevin, and Evan left, and we were determined to knock it off our list.
Rebecca was our guide for the night, in charge of putting in the coordinates and reading us the backstory behind each site. So, while I drove, she began reading about the last one out loud to the rest of us. Now, I’m paraphrasing here, but it was something along the lines of:
“Henckel Asylum: constructed in the early 1900’s, the James Henckel Asylum was built to house a burgeoning population of the criminally insane. Men who had committed vile crimes (rape, murder, torture) without signs of remorse were deemed mentally unstable and sent to this facility for further study and rehabilitation. Once committed, very few criminals were ever released back into society, and those that were usually had been given frontal lobotomies (a popular experimental procedure at the time) or electroshock therapy, both of which rendered the patient nearly braindead, capable of performing only rudimentary tasks.
Stories: Contemporary visitors to the Asylum report hearing banging noises, cell doors opening and closing, and hearing cackling laughter that is abruptly cut short.”
It was pretty standard fare compared to the rest of the sites we’d visited that night, and we naturally had a good time psyching each other out for the next fifteen minutes while I drove us to the Asylum. We’d all heard about it (it was in our local area after all) and we knew it had been condemned and abandoned since as long as any of us could remember, so we figured it’d be a great place to run around and be reckless teenagers without risk of getting yelled at by the cops.
When we finally arrived, it looked like something straight out of one of those cheesy B-movies they show on SyFy. Chain link fence with barbed wire around the perimeter, two guard towers flanking the main gate (which was, of course, chained and locked shut with a big NO TRESPASSING sign hanging from it). The asylum itself was decrepit, looking like it hadn’t been touched for decades—which was surprising, since we grew up in a pretty nice area, where the municipal lawmakers tried to keep everything looking spiffy for the tourists.
Needless to say, we promptly ignored the sign on the front gate and hauled ourselves over, cameras and GPS in hand, and walked towards the asylum. Now, given our attitude towards the previous sites, you’ve probably gathered that I’m somewhat of a skeptic. I believe that there are paranormal things that can’t be explained (yet) but I’m not exactly summoning demons in front of a bathroom mirror. So when we opened the main door to the asylum (conveniently unlocked), I dismissed the cold burst of wind as just stale pent-up air rushing out after being trapped inside for so long. My friends’ bravado, however, quickly disappeared and they began shuffling their feet nervously at the entrance, hesitant to cross that invisible threshold.
I took point, chivvying them along with prodding taunts and eventually everyone was inside. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. Things were relatively clean, and the entire building looked like it had been gutted. The paint was peeling, tiles popping up here and there, and the metal trim near the baseboards of the wall was in desperate need of some Rust-B-Gone, but aside from that, the place was entirely empty. No crazy-ass chairs with leather straps, no gurneys lying haphazardly around, just an old reception desk and two hallways leading off to the different wings.
We explored for a few minutes, freaking ourselves out whenever we heard an old pipe rattle or rat squeak, but otherwise, it was relatively uneventful. Our fears safely suppressed by the presence of each other, we began to get more adventurous, opening doors and peeking inside. The rooms were all empty, of course. Whatever company had been contracted to clear the place out did a pretty decent job of removing any creepy décor.
Bravado returning by the minute, Evan and Kevin dropped back without Rebecca or me noticing. They began running around, making noises to try and scare us (I’m not gonna lie, it worked until I realized they were gone and probably the cause of all the racket), then returned laughing and breathless to a decidedly paler Rebecca. She seemed to be a lot more put off by the whole place than the rest of us, or at least she didn’t hide it as well. She quietly suggested we leave.
Not to be outdone by the other guys of the group, I told her she was more than welcome to wait in the car if she wanted, but I was gonna stick around for a few more minutes. Exasperated, but defeated, she finally caved and followed us where the GPS was leading—the second floor.
This is where I started to feel genuinely scared. Before, I was just kinda creeped out, but there was something about that whole floor that literally gave me shivers, despite it being a warm summer night. We started opening doors like before, but we were all a lot more sober about it. I guess I wasn’t the only one who was feeling weird. Finally, about midway through the hall, we opened the door to a room, and there, lying in the middle of the floor, was an honest-to-god straightjacket. I’m not bullshitting you, every other room was devoid of objects, but there it was. A fucking straightjacket, in the middle of the floor of some random-ass room in a condemned mental asylum. We all kinda looked at each other with raised eyebrows, as if to say “Uh… guys? You seeing what I’m seeing?”
And of course, trying to be a macho man to show off for Rebecca, I piped up with the most ridiculous idea I could think of at the time.
“Dude, I’m gonna put it on.”
Years of horror flicks and creepypasta should have trained me to NOT put on the creepy straightjacket, in the creepy hall, in the creepy asylum. But teenage dumbfuckery won over, and once the words were out, I couldn’t just wuss out.
Nobody said anything, they just kinda looked at me expectantly, waiting to see if I’d follow through with my boast. Determined not to be called a pussy for the remainder of the night, I walked forward into the room and bent down to pick up the moth-ridden restraining device. As I got closer though, I noticed it wasn’t moth-ridden at all, but was actually in pretty decent condition (that is, compared to the rest of the place, which as I’ve mentioned, was a shambles). I mean, it had a few stains here and there, but it didn’t really smell and it seemed intact enough to put on.
As soon as I picked it up, though, I got this overwhelming sense of dread. You know, that drop in the pit of your stomach right as you go over the lip of a roller coaster? That feeling, in the bottom of your gut that says “I’m gonna die, I just know it.”
Yeah, well I got that. Really strong. And totally ignored it. My desire not to die was outweighed, as it often is in teenagers, by my need to look cool for my friends. So I slipped my hands in the sleeves, one at a time, until it hung loosely from my shoulders.
Now, if you’ve ever seen a straightjacket, you know that you can’t tie it up yourself. The whole point is to essentially cross your arms across your chest and tie the sleeves behind your back to prevent whoever’s inside from moving their arms (presumably, to stop them from hurting themselves or others). So as I stood there in the middle of the room, I called out to Rebecca, “Hey Becca, help me tie this thing off.”
She looked (if you’ll excuse the pun) pale as a ghost, but she managed to squeak out, “I don’t… I don’t think this is a good idea…” But again, after some prodding and encouraging, I convinced her to begin tying the sleeves behind my back. Evan and Kevin just stood in the doorway, expressions a mix of admiration and incredulity. At that point in time, I felt like a badass.
For about three seconds.
As soon as Rebecca finished up the last lace, the door to the cell slammed shut, right in Kevin and Evan’s faces. I never felt a breeze, and when I asked them later, both of them fervently denied closing it themselves. Skeptic that I am, I still chalk it up to us leaving the front door open and changing air pressures and all that. But it scared the piss out of us nonetheless.
Then I felt a pressure on my chest, like someone was sitting on it (or as if someone was pulling the sleeves tighter behind me) and it began to get harder to breathe. I couldn’t even summon enough air to whisper, much less call out for help. My vision narrowed to tiny specks, and I swear I heard someone laughing shrilly as I neared unconsciousness. The pressure increased with a sudden tug, and my world went black.
When I woke up, my vision was foggy. Or at least, I thought it was, until I realized it wasn’t just foggy. It was dark. Like staring through a lens that’s been collecting soot. I blinked a few times, and the darkness waivered, but didn’t dissipate. Now, I’ve passed out and blacked out before, but whenever I woke up, it was nothing like that. Either my vision gradually cleared up, or it was blurry, but never in my life have I been able to recreate the shadowy haze I saw in the asylum that night. Then, from the murky depths, two small pinpoints of light appeared a few inches in front of my face, glaring a lurid red—and a dim echo of the laughter I heard before surrounded me. As soon as they appeared, however, they were replaced by two brilliant shafts of incandescence—Evan and Kevin, shining flashlights down on my face.
The last thing I remember hearing before I lost consciousness was Rebecca’s scream and the door banging open, which probably explains why those two were standing over me with flashlights in hand. I gradually became aware of a dull murmur that I recognized as Rebecca asking me, “Please wake up, please please please wake up,” as she shook me. She just kept saying it over and over again, kept sobbing and shaking me.
When my vision cleared enough, I glanced over and saw that her eyes were completely red, like she’d been crying for a while. Trying to muster some shred of manliness, I found myself speaking in a surprisingly calm voice, given how I was actually feeling. I remember distinctly what I said, word for word.
“Get those fucking flashlights out of my face, you douchebags.”
Expecting a laugh or at least some reciprocal insults, I was kinda shocked when they just looked at each other quizzically, seemingly surprised.
“You’re… you’re okay?” Evan asked incredulously.
“Yeah, why the hell wouldn’t I be? Becca just tied the things too tight, I couldn’t breathe, so I passed out. How long was I out for anyway?” I inquired. Apparently, it had been long enough for them to untie the straightjacket, allowing me to rub a hand across my face.
Another shared look of disbelief.
“Dude,” Kevin began slowly, “You’ve been out for like fifteen minutes. We were about to call 911. We kept shaking you—Evan even tried pinching you so hard he drew blood—but you wouldn’t wake up.”
I felt a cold chill run down my spine, and the straightjacket, hanging limply from my shoulders, suddenly began to feel a bit tighter. Hastening to pull it off, I tried not to look panicked as I threw it to a corner of the room. Rebecca just sat there, still shaking and crying a little bit, and in spite of the ordeal I’d just gone through, I had enough sense to go over and try to comfort her.
We left that room without a word, geocache be damned, and walked back to the car in complete silence (broken only by the occasional sniffle from Rebecca). The sun started coming up, and as I dropped everyone off at their respective homes, we said quiet goodbyes. Rebecca was the last stop before I finally made the trip home myself. Being the gentleman that I am, I walked her to her door, but she paused at the entry and looked me in the eye.
In the light of the gray dawn, I could see her eyes were still reddened from all the crying. She was very quiet, and she said, “I have to ask you something.”
“Yeah sure, what is it?” I said, half expecting another “You sure you’re alright?” like I’d been getting the whole ride home.
She surprised me by asking, “Do you know how long it took Evan and Kevin to get the door open?” Her eyes held a look that I could never forget. It was raw fear. Something happened in that fraction of time between me blacking out and them getting in there that had absolutely terrified her. And seeing that look, I realized. I was blacked out for fifteen minutes. How long was she alone in that room?
“No…” I replied slowly, “how long?”
“Five minutes. They said it took five minutes for them to open that stupid door. I was in there and I saw you, and I saw—“ she broke off, another sob stopping her midsentence. At that point, I didn’t want to know. I still don’t want to know.
I gripped her by the shoulders and said firmly, “Rebecca. It doesn’t matter. No matter what you saw. I’m here, you’re here, we’re both safe. It doesn’t matter. Nothing bad will happen. I promise.”
She just nodded numbly, opened her door, and walked inside her house. The next time I saw her, she was back to her usual self. But whenever I bring up that night to her, she freezes up and turns to stone, refusing to discuss it.
I stand by what I said before. I don’t know what happened in that room. And I don’t ever want to know. But I still have nightmares about those two glowing red lights in the darkness. And sometimes, as I lapse into sleep, I hear faint echoes of shrill laughter following me down into the depths of unconsciousness.