Strange things happen when you snort ephedrine, I found that out my freshman year of college. We were at the Brownstone again, the one with the blood splatter in the elevator, the nameless smells emanating from the lobby and the suspicious looking awning out front that my friends and I lovingly called “The Rape Tunnel.” The back of the building looked like a sanitarium from a bygone era, comprised of severe straight lines and corners rounded with turrets. Six stories high, it stood out against the city skyline like a great ghetto fortress. That brownstone apartment building was our second home. The tenant and host of that evening’s festivities had friends in from the north. They were treated like visiting dignitaries. The ephedrine burned like taking instant coffee crystals up the nose. I imagined it combining with the mucous in my nasal passages and creating a coffee sludge in the sinus cavity. “We really should do something,” someone asked while I wondered why the hell I didn’t just eat the pill, but no, I wanted to fit in.
“Oh, we’ll do something alright,” our host replied grinning broadly. He had been waiting a long time for someone to make that very statement and added all to gleefully, “we are going to break in the asylum.”
“What?” I asked to make sure I heard him right.
“We are going to break into the asylum,” he repeated. “Are you in?”
The great glob of coffee reached my brain, “oh hell yeah.”
“Good because we’ll need your car.”
The local asylum was decommissioned in the middle of the century, there was no place to put the patients so they just let them out and the building laid abandoned ever since. Rumors circled around the campus and breaking in was a badge of honor among first and second year art students alike. Seated in a circle around the living room the lot of us set the plan in motion. First we chose our nicknames, our host was “Doctor Mayhem,” and his guests, “Captain Crowbar” and “Explosive Wombat.” There was also “Most Blunted,” “Atomic Dreadlock”, “Boo Berry,” and “Lucky Leprechaun.”
“You should be called Firefly,” said Explosive Wombat, eying me.
“Well, I do like fires”
Next in matter of importance we decided to draw up a sign, something to post immortalizing our excursion. It featured a bird in a tree in sharpie marker and the words THE PIGEON HAS LANDED. In turn, each of us signed our aliases and then it was time to get to business. We were sanctioned off into teams: Breaking and Entering and Recon and Surveillance. Atomic Dreadlock and Boo Berry opted to be on lookout parked outside the asylum in a nondescript rusted out maroon Oldsmobile. My nondescript rusted out Oldsmobile, and the rest of us were going in. Lucky Leprechaun, however, started looking green. “I don’t think I can make it.” She said feeling like she’d puke and pass out. The ephedrine hit her in a bad way. That left me feeling rather uncomfortable as the only girl in a boys club of old friends.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go?” I asked hoping she’d change her mind.
“My head really hurts, I’m gunna go back instead and try to go to bed. “
“Maybe you shouldn’t go either,” said Most Blunted. “You’ll just freak out and get us all caught.”
If there was anytime for my better judgment to kick I n this wasn’t it. My pride got in the way of that. “I will so not freak out. “
“Good,” said Doctor Mayhem, “we have to go to Wal-Mart.”
The next thing I knew we were in the checkout line. “This doesn’t look suspicious at all,” I said to Explosive Wombat beside me.
“Shh,” Most Blunted shushed but the apathetic third shift cashier barely looked up as she bagged and scanned the items: Flashlights, batteries, a burlap sack, a couple of ski masks and a crowbar.
“Oh, don’t bag that,” said Captain Crowbar with the giddiness of a child at Christmas, “I’ll carry that.”
We reconvened back at headquarters at 2300 hours, grabbed our walkie-talkies, split into our groups, and commenced with OPERATION: THE PIGEON HAS LANDED. No more than twenty minutes later, our mission came to sudden and surprising end. Doctor Mayhem, Most Blunted, Captain Crowbar, Explosive Wombat, and I Firefly darted across the grounds in the cover of darkness when headlights rounded the corner. “Security, quick hide!” ordered Doctor Mayhem and the lot of us scattered, ducking into shadows and darting into bushes. I held my breath as I hunched over inside a shrub waiting for security to pass on through. Someone was breathing down the back of my neck.
“Oh Jesus!” I turned around to see Explosive Wombat standing right behind me. “I didn’t see you come in.”
“You’re shivering,” he observed, “are you scared”
“Of getting caught, yes, plus its cold out here.”
“Would you like to go out sometime?”
“I don’t think this is a good time.” I answered through gritted teeth. Before things could get too awkward Doctor Mayhem gave us the all clear and we emerged from hiding.
“We have to go back to the apartment,” he said.
“Why is that?” we were disappointed that our mission was cut so short.
“We have to regroup, that was way too close, and Captain Crowbar forgot his crowbar.”
We once again circled like birds in the living room while Doctor Mayhem drew up a map of the premises. “Recon and Surveillance, you stay here so you can see someone coming in all directions. If anyone approaches you, just start making out. Security just passed through, so we should be good for a couple of hours. There is a barbed wire fence here, that is why we got the burlap, and a side door that we can pry open and enter the building from there. Is everybody ready?” We all nodded somberly for OPERATION: THE PIGEON HAS LANDED just got serious.
At 2400 hours we disembarked from our vehicles and Recon and Surveillance set up watch in the allotted parking spot. Silently and stealthily we darted across the lawn and approached the fence. It stood roughly eight feet high, topped with razor wire. Doctor Mayhem climbed up and slung the sack on top, swung up and over and the rest of us followed in suit. “Um, guys?” asked Most Blunted from the top of the fence, “I’m gunna jump off but some one has to catch me.” I stuffed a chuckle and took a step backwards. It seemed no one wanted to take the brunt of Most Blunted’s bulk if he landed on us. “Fine,” he said realizing that no one wanted to come to his rescue. He leaped and landed bodily on the other side. Keeping close to the ground our battalion reached the boarded up side door. A sharp crack splintered the still night air as the plywood gave way under Captain Crowbar’s tool. Then one by one we crept through the broken window, a sign that we weren’t the first to attempt this daring mission, nor would we be the last. If we succeeded we’d join the ranks of those who came before us, immortalized in the annals of art school. If we get caught- it was best not to think of that. Hunched over in the window the last to enter, there was a sudden clamor in the entryway. Startled, I jolted upright and felt glass shatter over the top of my head. It could have been bad, but I had the foresight to borrow hat back at headquarters. That hat very well could have saved my life, but that was the farthest thing from my mind as I hurriedly climbed all the way inside. “Cops” I whispered and my crew silenced me. They stood stalk still barely breathing and listening sharply. That is when I heard it too; footsteps rang out clearly from somewhere inside, accompanied by the distant din of disembodied voices. A couple of seconds later they faded and the silence swallowed us. Its probably someone else breaking in, I wondered as a we proceeded to recede further inside the building. Oddly enough, our own footfalls were muffled by nearly a half a centuries accumulation of paint chips and dust. It carpeted the floor at least a couple of inches thick. When it was safe to turn on our flashlights we did so and the heavy darkness opened up to reveal a long cavernous corridor. The hallway stretched farther than the scope of our light and the dense stale air gave it the impression that it had no end. Narrow doorways opened up on either side to reveal small compact cells. We split up and ventured a look in a few of these rooms to see they had been stripped clean. We rummaged through the cabinets to find that they were empty. Part of OPERATION: THE PIGEON HAS LANDED was to bring back souvenirs. We all had hoped for something cool like medical tools, straight jackets, electrodes or lobotomy jars. It was beginning to look like that wasn’t the case for too many people went rifling through this buildings nefarious past already. We regrouped back in the hallway when the walkie-talkie clicked on. Over the static we heard Boo Berry, “You guys alright in there? What’s it like?”
“Dude, its creepy as fuck,” answered Doctor Mayhem. As soon as we got in we heard footsteps and voices. Are you sure no one else is here?”
“No shit. It’s all clear out here man, looks like you got the place to yourselves. Did you find anything cool yet?”
“Check the basement, I hear that’s where they keep the good shit.”
“The basement it is then, over and out.”
Sometime later we found the narrow stairwell leading down to the bowels of the Old Main. “We’re not going down there,” said Doctor Mayhem making an executive decision. “That is way too dangerous.” The stairs themselves were encased in an uneven sheet of ice, forming a treacherous slope of death. The winter’s accumulation of precipitation clung to the walls in frozen rivulets untouched by the milder air of early March. In one of the rooms we ventured into the ceiling had partially collapsed revealing the acrid orange glow of the city overhead. Winter still clung to the old asylum. “You’re shivering again,” the Explosive Wombat said from behind and I jumped.
“Yeah, it’s pretty damn cold in here,” It was cold enough to see your breath.
“Here, take my jacket.” Before I could protest pulled off his duster and draped it over my shoulders. I had to admit traipsing and trespassing in an abandoned sanitarium wearing a duster felt pretty badass. I was beginning to think there was something endearing about the Explosive Wombat, and he didn’t look half bad in a ski mask.
In lieu of the basement we decided to venture up to the second floor to divide and conquer. These stairs were much more passable. Moonlight filtered through the dusty glass and wrought iron window bars as we marched upwards in single file into what appeared to be the dormitory. Captain Crowbar approached a directory plaque mounted on the wall, and pried it off to have a look. “Yup, Girls Dormitory,“ he said assuredly and shoved it under his coat.
“There’s nothing here but rubber tub stoppers and wall decorations,” I muttered to myself as I contemplated plucking a construction paper posy off the bulletin board. The rooms themselves resembled typical college dorms across the country minus the bars on the windows, a bedroom with a couple of shelves and a joining bathroom. I yanked a rubber tub stopper and broke the chain that tethered it to the sink and placed it in the duster pocket. Back in the hallway I came across a retro no smoking sticker and thought about peeling it off the wall, it wouldn’t be difficult to do so for the adhesive was at least thirty years old. Paint chips flaked off the walls just by walking past. Dust fluttered down like snow. Someone was behind me. “Jesus Christ, Explosive Wombat. This isn’t the best place to go around sneaking up on people!” I whirled around to reprimand him, only to see that I was alone.
“ Are you freaking out over there?” asked Most Blunted from the doorway down the hall.
“Heh, heh, no.” I finally mustered feeling flustered. “Is that where everyone is?” I asked pointing past him.
“Yeah, someone painted on the wall in that room. It looks like a fucked up child did it. It’s creepy.”
At the end of the hall, we reached something that resembled a solarium, a wide-open room that was almost all windows. I rubbed the dust away with my shirtsleeve and peered through the grimy glass to see my car below. I picked up the flashlight to signal surveillance but the light only wavered and died. “Stupid Wal-Mart flashlight, stupid Wal-Mart batteries.” I smacked it hard in the palm of my hand turned it on and off again. We just bought them a few hours ago and none of our lights were working right all that night. While we were up there the walkie-talkie rang out for the sixth or seventh time in a row. “Will you stop pressing the call button,” Doctor Mayhem contacted Recon and Surveillance.
“We’re not pressing anything,” said Atomic Dreadlock on the other end, “we can say the same shit-“ the line of communication was severed.
“Well gentlemen, and lady,” said Doctor Mayhem as we assembled in solarium of the sanitarium. “This seems like a better place then any to raise our sign. Captain Crowbar if you will?” Captain Crowbar pulled the sign out of his pocket, flattened it out and ceremoniously wedged it on the window between the iron bars and glass, facing outward for the rest of the world to see. “Let it be hence forth known,” said Doctor Mayhem, “this is where the pigeon has landed.”
“ The pigeon has landed!” we cheered waving our wavering flashlights about.
Our celebration was cut short when the walkie-talkie clicked on. “Get out! I repeat, get out now.” Atomic Dreadlock urged us on the other end. “Security just stopped and asked why we were parked here. Told ‘em we were having relationship troubles and we came here to talk. He told us to leave so we drove off and we’re parked out front by the main entrance. Evacuate the premises immediately, retreat! And what the fuck are you doing waving your flashlight like that through the window he totally could have caught you!”
“Good work guys,” commended Doctor Mayhem. Then he turned to his troop. “Okay, you heard her, move! move! move!”
“Oh shit,” I muttered as we tore down the hallway kicking up a rooster tail of paint chips and dust in our wake. “Quick like a bunny!” Doctor Mayhem urged us on. “Hop!” We bounded down the steps three at a time raced to the exit and shoved each other through. We didn’t stop running until we reached the getaway car. I don’t remember how we got over the fence, what exit we took out of the old asylum or if our feet ever actually touched the ground while we ran. The sun was rising and everything looked better outside, fresher. I turned to glance back at the building, standing tall in cold concrete majesty. The long and lighted driveway wove up to the Greek revival entryway and the looming ionic columns of the Old Main. Doctor Mayhem, Captain Crowbar, Explosive Wombat, Most Blunted and I Firefly escaped unscathed. The ephedrine wore off hours ago but the adrenaline was something else entirely. I caught my breath, standing there staring for a couple of seconds before a hand grabbed my wrist and pulled me into the back seat of the car. “Hi Firefly,” I looked down to see I landed on Explosive Wombat.
Back at the brownstone we sat in a circle around the living room. In the center we piled our pilfered goods, musty and moldering merchandise that hadn’t seen daylight in decades. There was a wooden dorm sign, various wall art, a floor plan plaque, old broken bottles, a no smoking sticker, and other ill-gotten gains from the Old Main. “You can keep my shit here,” said Most Blunted to Doctor Mayhem. “That’s just fucking creepy, I don’t want anything to do it.”
“I don’t want it here either,” said Doctor Mayhem’s girlfriend. Not long after, we decided to part ways and call it a night. OPERATION: THE PIGEON HAS LANDED was deemed a success.
“You guys were this close to being fucked.” Said Atomic Dreadlock from the passenger seat as I drove her home. “The cop even asked if we were on look out for someone inside. We said no, and if he turned around he would have seen you dumbasses waving your flashlights around. We had to take the batteries out of the walkie-talkie and stash it because the call button kept going off.”
“Same here, we totally thought it was you.”
“No man, we didn’t touch it. What’s it like in there anyway?”
“Old, musty, dirty, dormant, as soon as we got in we heard footsteps and voices. The footsteps were pretty loud, which was funny because there was a blanket of paint chips and dust bunnies on the floor like this thick. It was way colder in there than it is outside. Our flashlights were fucking up all lover the place and I kept feeling like there was someone behind me. Most of the time it turned out to be Explosive Wombat. But this one time on the second floor there wasn’t anyone there. Do you think that place is haunted?”
“Oh hell, yeah. Mental health was notoriously fucked up back then. I bet that place is as haunted as hell. Speaking of the Explosive Wombat, he really likes you.”
“Yeah, I don’t know what to do about that. He asked me out while were hiding in the bushes from security.”
“Yeah, how’d that go?”
“I told him it was a bad time.”
“You’re still wearing his duster.”
“So, I am.” I dropped Atomic Dreadlock off and made my way back to campus. Reality slowly sank in. “I can’t believe I did that!” I patted myself on the back and lit a celebratory cigarette. This close to being fucked… haunted as hell… Atomic Dreadlock’s words echoed prophetically in my mind. I tried not to dwell on that for too long, as it stood, I didn’t think I could sleep for a week.
I pried myself out of bed at seven that night. It was Saturday and the dorm room parties were in full swing. Music throbbed and pounded through numerous rooms and the third floor hall smelled like a melange of aerosol air freshener and marijuana smoke. I thought about going on a scouting mission to see the Explosive Wombat and give him back his duster but decided to check on Lucky Leprechaun across the hall first since she got sick and bailed out early. “Now’s not a good time,” Boo Berry answered the door. His girlfriend was in there and apparently in the middle of a psychotic break, sitting cross-legged and naked in the middle of the living room floor staring catatonically. She had been that way for an hour. He said my friend was down the hall in her on again off again boyfriend’s room.
“Thank God you’re here,” Lucky Leprechaun said in the doorway and pulled me inside. “Can you watch him for a few, I have to get some air.” She said hurriedly and left.
“Hey” her on again off again boyfriend said from the couch as I slumped down next to him. “I’m so wasted.”
“It’s only seven at night. That’s early.”
“I know.” He smiled triumphantly. Beads of sweat ran down his face in rivulets. His eyes were bloodshot and glazed over. A gurgle rose from his gullet and escaped his lips. That’s when I noticed the garbage pail on the floor at his feet. “Good god man!” I reached for the bucket and slapped it down on his lap and leapt out of the blast radius. “Watch your aim!” I shouted perched on the arm of the couch. I closed my eyes tightly but still heard the splash. It smelled like regurgitated fruit, something sweet like Pucker’s or Boone’s Farm. I felt my own bile rise.
“I’m so wasted.” He gargled looked up to the ceiling, made a loud hoarfing sound and buried his head in the bucket.
“Pink lemonade, pink lemonade, its not vomit its pink lemonade.” I repeated over and over trying to convince myself otherwise. I closed my eyes and covered my ears but still heard him sputter.
“That’s it!” I shot off the arm of the couch and scrambled for the kitchen. “I’ve had enough!” I threw open the fridge and found the beer cans in the crisper. “I’m taking a beer. You’re not drinking anymore.” He gurgled and groaned in reply and I pocketed another just to be safe. I poked my head out of the door, waiting for Lucky Leprechaun to return. Further down the hall someone argued loudly. This wasn’t a good night for anybody. There was badness in the air; it throbbed in the fluorescent lighting and bounced off the sterile white walls. The madness was palpable. “Oh no.” I went back inside to check on my ward, he slumped over on the couch and thankfully stopped puking for the moment. I moved the garbage pail off his lap so it wouldn’t spill; it was a little more than half full. The thought of it made me gag again. “I’m – have to go for a couple minutes, but I’ll be right back to check and see if you’re still breathing. Are you going to be okay?”
“…wasted,” he muttered and I headed for the exit.
Down the hall the music throbbed, there was a badness in the air, and it was my fault. I threw open the dorm-room door and made my way to the bedroom dresser. I opened the drawer and finished the first beer and started on the second. Buried in the back beneath my clothes was a jewelry box. “You,” I said and picked the object up by the green metal chain and the rubber tub stopper dangled before me in all its grimy glory. “We should have never stolen anything from that place. We brought something back.” I had to find Most Blunted. Lucky Leprechaun was in the hallway. She looked agitated. “I was just going to check back on him. Did you know your roommate is catatonic?”
“Yeah, I know,” she sighed.
“Yeah, why do you have a- oh, Jesus Christ,” she threw her hands down exasperatedly and ran off down the hall. I looked past to see her on again off again boyfriend passed out in the hallway.
Most Blunted was in the bathroom. “Some bad shit is going on around here.” I dangled the asylum rubber tub stopper in front of him while he sat on the rim of the bathtub. “We got chicks naked and catatonic in the other room, and what’s his name is puking his fucking guts and passing out in the hallway. And you know what? I just woke up. We broke into the asylum last night stole some shit and brought some crazy back with us. I swear!”
“Hey,” Most Blunted looked up from the tub, joint in hand, and surrounded by a handful of my classmates.
“What.” I said still dangling the rubber tub stopper.
“You’re freaking out.”