Flash Fiction Challenge: The Ghosts of Northgate

beaver brook mill december 1994
Photo by K.S. Brooks

Northgate Sanitarium was an extension of the state prison system. The facility specialized in  experimental treatment of the criminally insane. Some horrible stuff went on there.

Abandoned in the 1950s, the old building has been linked by rumor to a few recent disappearances.

I had just gotten my first job as a journalist, working for the Northgate Observer. I thought it would make a good story to spend the night in the old sanitarium. Back then, I guess you could have called me a skeptic…

In 250 words or less, tell us a story incorporating the elements in the picture. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Please keep language and subject matter to a PG-13 level.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until Tuesday at 5:00 PM Pacific Time.

On Wednesday afternoon, we will open voting to the public with an online poll for the best writing entry accompanying the photo. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday.

On Friday afternoon, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature. Then, at year end, the winners will be featured in an anthology like this one. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

Entries only in the comment section. Other comments will be deleted. See HERE for additional information and terms.

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9 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: The Ghosts of Northgate”

  1. The Ghosts of Northgate
    by Sara Stark
    250 words

    Snow had fallen the night before, covering the campus and dampening any sounds from the surrounding areas, making the outing feel isolated and forbidding. And just downright cold. I followed along behind the shivering research students as they investigated the Northgate lockdown area, you know, the ward where the real crazies were kept. Now that the facility was closed for good, these students had keys to even the most appalling parts of the building.

    I kept asking them questions, trying to steer them in the right direction without literally pointing out that they didn’t have a clue, but the arrogant little prats just ignored me. I could show them things. Scary things. Real things. After all as a reporter I had investigated Northgate, way, way back before some of them were born. They should at least pay attention. Should at least give me some of the respect I deserve.

    This group wouldn’t even be here if only I’d been allowed to write the article I wanted to write, an article exposing the experimentation done on the unwilling. Unwilling, insane criminals, yes, but still unwilling. In my original research, I had uncovered atrocities that needed to be exposed. Doctors allowed to do whatever in the name of science. Doctors allowed to maim and mutilate. And kill, all in the name of science. If only…

    If only I could just get these students to listen, I’d show them where the bodies were hidden, where my body was buried with all my notes.

  2. Raymond C. Jett, convicted of multiple homicides, including his parents at the age of twelve, was aptly nicknamed, ‘Raging Rooster’. Prodigiously violent, spurring victims, shouting ‘cock-a doodle-doo’ at every scene, he was finally apprehended, and sent to Northgate Sanitarium for ‘soporific treatment’ in 1948. Some claim to still hear his resonant, malefic crow!

    Suspicious of gossip, informed only with factual research, I planned on debunking this paranormal insanity—metaphysical mania cannot persist beyond death! As an investigative journalist, I believe nothing I hear, and only half of what I see; facts, logic, and tangible experience I trust. Aside from recording this for confirmation and warning—this night, I shall never wish to recollect again.

    Never call the dead! — “Raymond C. Jett!”

    Never ask for a sign!—“Where are you? Give me a sign!”

    Never, ever, mock the dead!—“Cock-a-lee-doo-da-le-do!”

    Crowing, taunting, laughing sardonically, the affliction was sudden! — paroxysm, foaming at the mouth, convulsions, excruciating pain at my temples—I was delirious, frantic, and terrified of soiling myself, ironically! Glacial tendrils from beyond, thrashed me, as I tried to defecate in the cell—his cell! As I hit the floor, definitively—I soiled myself! Scratching my face, pulling at my ears—my hair—cheekbone crushed into the ice, cold cement floor—this was corporeity, indeed! No!—I could not see anything, nor could I hear anything—more than my own scuffles—until reptant, on the floor, an obstreperous, complacent rooster’s crow—an imprecation—barely a whisper in my ear, “Cock-a-doodle-doo!”

  3. Sweat dripped down my back despite the freezing temperature outside. I glanced at the frost covered window. Only inside felt like Hell’s furnace. And maybe it was. I stared in terrified fascination as flames danced across the cafeteria of the Northgate Sanitarium. Each human-shaped bonfire acted out a well-rehearsed script in a macabre ballet. One figure beat another with a rubber pipe. Another arched in spasm as electricity coursed through its body. A parody of a doctor drilled into a patient’s scull, clearly without anesthesia. Figures grappled and screamed a chorus that had probably started long before the place was shut down in the early 1950s.

    The doctors here called it experimental treatment of the criminally insane. Most people called what it was: Power hungry sadists loose in a playground, all with the approval of the state prison system. God only knows how many people suffered in this place.

    But that was old news. There had been rumors about disappearances in the past few weeks. When I decided to spent the night in this crumbling old building, I expected to find kids playing tricks or a new street gang pumping its muscles. Either of them would have made great stories, maybe even gotten me an early promotion at the Northgate Observer. If I wrote about this, my career as a journalist would end before it began.

    Notebook forgotten, all I could do was watch the horror unfold and pray I survived the night – with my sanity.

  4. The Ghosts of Northgate
    by Mary Ellen Courtney

    A soulless intruder, the blunt building sat in the hush of snow-laden cedars. Hoary frost covered graffiti on brick; windows were boarded up blind. One window had survived vandals. I knew PLEH was scratched in the glass. I had been too young to know enough to scratch backwards if help was going to come.

    Heavy feet had passed before me, their boot tread left fragile snowflake patterns on the sagging plank crossing the stream. My footprints hid inside theirs as I followed the tracks running along the wall to my window. HELP.

    The hot breath in my scarf smothered my mouth. My head itched with lice memory. Stream water trickled peacefully under a lip of snow etched with Chickadee prints. My bare feet had never left delicate patterns. I brushed the sill clean of snow and sprinkled it with pocket crumbs. Winter wings rustled with hope.

    The person ahead had scraped a shoulder line clean of frost, just like the walls inside with their dirty grease lines. Three or thirty, we had walked close to the walls, like barn cats evading predators, my ex-husband once said.

    I followed the line around the corner to a man sitting on the stairs, the doors chained shut behind him, the driveway overgrown. Stuffing showed through the worn shoulder of his parka. His breath steamed despair in the cold. I sat with him.

    “No one is coming,” he said.

    “Nope,” I said. “Ain’t nobody here but us chickens.”

    He laughed and took my hand.

  5. There was a hum. I don’t know where it was coming from, but it was like the building was alive – like it had its own energy. Maybe this was a mistake.

    The sound of a door slamming stopped me in my tracks. My heart raced. My throat tightened. I turned really fast. Nothing but empty hall. Then the floor moaned in the opposite direction. When I twirled to face it, my flashlight’s beam fell upon a shadow.

    Hands grabbed me and my flashlight. Hands…all over me…I didn’t know how many. They dragged me into a dark room.

    “Keep quiet,” a woman whispered.

    “What do you want?” I whispered back.

    A man with a Russian accent quietly answered, “To save your life.”

    I thought I smelled gasoline, then everything went black.

    The vibration of a text message startled me awake. “Get to the Sanitarium,” from unknown. Since, oddly enough, I was already in my car, I drove to the Sanitarium parking lot to find it filled with SWAT trucks.

    “Jill! Can you believe?” Officer Jenkins started. “A Federal drug task force just took down a major meth operation in the basement.”

    The humming…or had that been a dream? Had I ever even been in the building, or had I fallen asleep in the car?

    But then…I heard it. “You want pizza?” That Russian voice. I turned in time to see a woman nodding.

    They headed towards the street. As they walked past me, I whispered, “Thank you.” My phone vibrated. Unknown. The text read, “You’re welcome.”

  6. They don’t talk about the experiments that happened in the old Northgate Sanitarium. The books burnt up in a fire. But that never stopped the experiments. What’s done is done.

    I charged my phone for the night and took a flash back up, Extra batteries for the torch too. I could stay up all night to catch any “spooks” that happened to come by. The place sucked the energy from all of it.

    I know you are probably thinking that maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I say I was. But those batteries, they never took a charge again. My phone, hell, I had to get a new one. The programming fried.

    I sound sane, as sane as anyone could sound under the circumstances. See, I never saw a ghost or a spook. I couldn’t see anything. Trapped, frozen in the dark, I couldn’t leave the space where I camped for the night. With no light I would have died fighting through the halls to the outside world.

    It was the sounds, screams, wails, crashing, breaking, all around me. I had the sense to lock the door. They beat on it all night long. I dared not venture into the halls, even when they called my name.

    I mentioned earlier that I could stay up all night. In the end it wasn’t by choice. Even now I can’t bare the dark. It was the bloody hand-print by the door in the morning. I ran, God help me, I ran.

  7. “Kathy, we’re going to freeze our assets off.”

    I watched Lulu scope out the former nurses break room we’d chosen as home base. Lulu loved adventure, and she functioned as my wingman when I researched my crazy assignments.

    “Stop complaining and help me get the mattresses inflated. The space heaters will work fast.”

    In minutes we had our camp organized, and I sat on the edge of my bed to review the map of the sanitarium. The infamous Ward Six, highlighted in bright yellow marker, was our objective. We didn’t have permission to wander, but then it is always better to ask for forgiveness after a transgression.

    Night fell like a shroud as falling snow muffled the exterior world. Our sneakered footsteps padded down neglected halls, past abandoned cots and rusty waiting room chairs. The light from our flashlights joined in a dance of the macabre as we reached our destination.

    I threw open the door and stepped into a reproduction of the Hall of Mirrors. Beautiful people danced and laughed and waved to us in greeting.
    “Welcome to Ward Six!”

    I was shocked to see one of the missing girls canoodling with a tall, dark and handsome. She blithely ignored my questions, and in confusion and journalistic frustration I nodded to Lulu and we turned to leave. Our exit was blocked by an androgynous being.

    “Don’t you know the rules? Once you’ve entered Ward Six you can never leave. Let me show you why.” It lunged at my throat.

  8. I scoff at those who believe in ghosts. When my editor assigned a story about the old experimental wing of the prison sanitarium I intended to put the rumours to rest. With my sleeping bag, a pillow, a flashlight and snacks I prepared to spend a restful night after exploring the building.

    Fearing rats, I chose an old gurney in the lab to lay my stuff out on and toured the building, returning as darkness fell. Feeling smug I settled in for the night.

    I woke to the squealing of wheels crying out for oil. I was moving. Lights blazed overhead. When I tried to steady myself I found myself unable to move, arms and legs strapped down. Even my head was held down by a leather strap.

    “Are ready for your lobotomy, Joe?” The face above the lab coat wore a gleeful leer. “You won’t be hurting anyone, ever again.”

    My mouth opened to scream. A rag cut it short.

    “This will keep you still.” A syringe jabbed my neck. “You’ll feel it all, just like those girls.” A maniacal laugh followed. “And I’m going to enjoy it as much as you did.”

    I could hear, see and feel everything – but I couldn’t move. The surgeon gently removed the rag and the straps, humming a happy tune. I heard him drag the instrument cart closer. The clink of metal – a scalpel? Terror took me into blackness.

    Daylight. A dream? Why were my wrists bruised? My forehead – were those stitches?

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