An excerpt...

The 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.

Somebody 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.

He 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

The 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.

The 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.

Now 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.

Was 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.

Weeds 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 ever before.

Christ, 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.

The full story can be now be found in 'This Is My Blood'





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