driveway opened out, and the trees fell back, and there in a large clearing was
the Brockhampton Institute. Closed now for twenty years, since the children
there had done what they did. The fire that gutted the building had been the
least of it. Barker tried to picture the three-story building on fire, orange
flames licking at the blackness of the night sky, clawing for the stars above.
When the screaming started deep in his mind, he cut the thought off immediately,
and shook himself in order to disguise the shiver that ran down his spine.
was rushing up the driveway behind him, he could hear footsteps scratching
across the gravel, but as he whirled and an involuntary cry escaped his lips, he
saw that it was only a handful of dead leaves scattered by the mischievous
breeze, which now sounded so much like faint, childish laughter as it raced on
through the trees behind him. So much for soaking up the atmosphere, he thought,
and managed to laugh softly to himself. As spooky sites go, this certainly
wasn't disappointing, but he couldn't imagine anyone would be eager enough to
turn it into a tourist attraction. Its history was too disturbing, its secrets
too dark. If any ghost remained to haunt the site, he couldn't imagine they'd be
the tame and antiquated variety found in tourist-guides.
stood on the driveway at the foot of the steps leading up to the main entrance,
and slid his rucksack from his shoulder to rest at his feet whilst he powered up
the camera's flash and checked his lens. The whirr of the waking flash and sharp
click of the lens cover sliding back seemed amplified by the unnatural quietness
of the area. How eerie it must have sounded on that night all those years ago,
with the crackling of the flames, the collapse of debris and the screams of
those trapped, the ones who were still alive by then
thought disturbed him, and as he raised the camera to his face to frame the shot
of the building's smoke-seared fašade, he felt defenceless against anything
that might be creeping up on him. He forced himself not to look over his
shoulder, though the temptation was almost unbearable, and held himself rigid
whilst he fired off three shots from this angle. In the viewfinder, the building
turned into a negative of itself every time the flash fired, and the noise
sounded like a high, shrill cry somewhere distant.
building had used to look solemn and respectable before the fire, he'd seen
pictures of it in old press-cuttings and books whilst he'd been researching, a
presentable face to cover up the fact that the staff had been sexually and
physically abusing the children in their care. Of course twenty years ago such
things had gone unnoticed for long periods of time without prompting any kind of
investigation, things were a lot less strict and well-maintained than they were
now, but that change had only come about because such things had reached
ridiculous levels where the scandals could no longer be contained. It was
horrific, really it was. Barker couldn't think of a worse thing to happen to
anybody, and God alone only knew what went on in the minds of the adults who had
preyed so mercilessly and coldly upon the defenceless children they were meant
to be looking after.
the building remained, eternally blackened and defeated, and much of its secrets
had no doubt been covered up by the fire, though in hindsight Barker doubted
that such things could ever be cleansed. In time some developer would no doubt
acquire the property and make something new of it, and try to push the fact of
its terrible past out with the rubble. How easily greed could overcome other
human emotion, especially when it was only the suffering of others that one had
to turn a blind eye to. Barker turned away from the front doors of the building
and began to walk parallel to it to the side of the blackened shell.
that the whisper of children he heard, or just the breeze again? He stopped in
his tracks, but the rushing of blood in his ears and the sound of his own breath
blurred the soft noises indistinguishable. This was no place for children to
play, despite the attraction of such a large and abandoned building away from
prying eyes. 'Hello?' he called out, thinking that if it was just the breeze
whispering then he needn't feel foolish. Something slid around the corner just
up ahead, but it must only have been his own shadow amongst the many others as
he began walking again, only half-satisfied that there was nobody here but him.
grabbed at his ankles down in the shadows that he walked through, like the hands
of mischievous children trying to trip him up. The eyes he thought were
watching him around the corner of the institute seemed further away when he
reached it, they must only have been the glimmer of the broken glass that
carpeted the gravel there. He crunched across some of it, it must have been the
gravel shifting beneath his weight that made it sound as though more people were
following him through the glass, for he somehow felt more alone out here than
he needed a cigarette. He fumbled in his jacket and pulled out a half-empty
crumpled carton, placing one in his mouth and lighting it with shaking hands.
How much atmosphere could he take? He smiled to himself, no longer able to bring
himself to laugh. What the fuck was he doing out here? It had seemed like a good
idea when he'd been settled back in the warmth and familiarity of his flat,
mulling over a macabre story that was nothing but words and pictures and the
legends which had grown around it, but now that he was actually here it just
felt unsettling and pretty morbid.
But he wasn't going to waste his journey completely by going back empty-handed now that he was here. Once he was away from this place, and the intense atmosphere that it still held, he would feel much better, and be able to put together a decent piece from his research, his pictures and his experience of this night. Definitely the experience! Pictures, pictures. He'd better take some more. He'd walked a quarter of the way around the building and had no more than a handful of variations of the same shot, nothing particularly thrilling there. He stared off into the dark landscape, in the distance beyond the clearing trees reached with long and crooked claws to scratch at the stars. He raised his camera, framing a particularly atmospheric composition of the remote skyline, and as the flash fired he saw children stood amongst the trees watching him.