“The entire Linhurst campus is off limits,” Jack’s mom said, her voice thin and strained.
“How did they get in without anyone seeing them?” Jack asked nervously.
“It’s easy to get inside Linhurst,” his mom replied. “The warning signs are the only things stopping people from going in. The front gate isn’t locked—you can just walk right through the stone towers as long as you wait until no one’s around.”
Jack was a string bean of a fifth grader with thick brown curls that were especially wild after several months without a haircut. He was glued to his mom’s bedside, perched on the edge of the old wooden rocker. She had been in and out of sleep since morning, tired and worn from her long battle with chronic illness. Since she’d become confined to the bed, they’d started a tradition of reading the local paper together each morning. Jack was filled with questions about the cover story, written by local reporter Aurora Lux, his mom’s protégé. The story was about a group of high schoolers who had been arrested for trespassing on the abandoned campus of the old Linhurst State School and Hospital.
“It said the kids were petrified when the police found them—why?” Jack asked.
“People say Linhurst is haunted,” his mom replied quietly.
Jack swallowed the large lump that formed in his throat at the thought. “Haunted?” he asked, failing to squelch the nervousness in his voice. He was picturing the hulking old buildings hidden behind the overgrown forest just blocks from his house.
“After all the awful things that happened there, they say that unhappy spirits with unfinished business linger there, roaming the halls of the old buildings.”
“Do you believe in ghosts, Mom?”
“That’s a good question. How do I feel about ghosts?” She paused to think. “I think we carry an undeniable energy with us here on earth… I believe that some of that energy stays behind when we pass on.”
Jack swallowed hard again. He hadn’t thought much about death until his mom became sick. Now it seemed like it was all he ever thought about.
“What do you know about Linhurst?”
She paused for a breath—low and hollow—and winced in pain for a moment.
Jack tugged anxiously at a loose thread on the hem of his shirt, wishing there was more he could do. He wanted to forget his reality for the moment. Rain pounding on the roof overtook the uncomfortable silence in the room, and streams trickled down the bedroom window behind him.
“I never thought about Linhurst when I was young,” she finally continued. “Even though I passed it at least twice a day—on the way to school and on the way home. And you couldn’t ask about it either. Just the mention was enough to get an earful from Mom. And your grandfather worked there, but he wouldn’t talk about it. Not a word…” She put on a mean face and lowered her voice. “’Keep your focus on your schoolwork and your mind out of Linhurst, do you understand me, Amanda?’” she said, imitating Jack’s grandfather.
Jack smiled. The impression of his grandfather was good—too good. The illness had aged her beyond her years, and the recent change in her features made her resemblance to his grandfather heartbreakingly striking.
“I first noticed Linhurst when I was young,” she began again. “I was in middle school like you. I remember how nobody talked about it, even though it was right there— right in the middle of town. One day, on the way home from school—my friends and I always walked home together—we realized our friend Barbara wasn’t with us. We looked back to see she’d stopped in her tracks right at the entrance. She was just staring down the winding road.”
“What was she looking at?” Jack asked.
“We didn’t see anything but the trees and the road,” Amanda said. “But Barbara was frozen—lost in another world, almost. It was so strange… When I put my hand on her shoulder, she almost jumped out of her skin. I asked her what she was looking at—she seemed frightened at first, then suddenly very focused. She said, ‘We have to go in there and see what’s going on.’”
“Go into Linhurst?” Jack was enthralled, hanging on the edge of his seat. “Did you go?”
“No, Jackie, I honestly had no interest in going in there. What was there to see? A bunch of old buildings no one ever talked about? I never understood what Barbara saw that day, but she said she felt like something—or someone—was calling her to come inside.”
Jack shivered. His mom paused, trying to give him time to collect himself, but he pushed for more information.
“Well…?” Jack asked impatiently, hanging to the edge of his seat. “Did she go in there?”
“A few days later… yes… she went inside.” “Alone?” Jack squeaked.
“All by herself,” his mom confirmed. “My mom got a call from Barbara’s parents that evening. A Linhurst administrator called Captain Hadaway and said that he’d found her on the property… petrified like the kids in the article today. Barbara hadn’t even made it beyond the first building—the generating station with the tower. Apparently, she told her parents and Captain Hadaway that she saw a man with a burly mustache and a bald head threatening a man twice his size with a thick leather strap.
She even claimed to have seen some kind of white flash of light inside a window… like a ghost, she said.”
“Barbara saw a ghost?!” Jack exclaimed.
“I’m sure she was only seeing things,” his mom said, lowering her voice, attempting to calm Jack. “Captain Hadaway warned Barbara and her parents that she was never to go in there again under any circumstances. Linhurst was private property; no trespassing. After that phone call, I got a stern warning from Mom and Dad never to think about doing what Barbara did. And you didn’t fool around with your grandpa’s rules—so I just tried to forget about it.”
Jack looked on as his mom paused to look out at the pouring rain. His mind was suddenly flooded with so many questions about Linhurst he didn’t know where to begin. The thought of the place being haunted had captured his imagination.
“But there was something about Barbara’s visit to Linhurst,” his mom mused, staring out the window through half-closed eyes. “She was different after that.”
“Different?” Jack asked. “Different how?”
“Those rumors that it’s haunted? I believe them. After that night, Barbara kept to herself—at school, she sat quietly at her desk, ate alone during lunch. She went straight home at the last bell and never spoke to any of us again. Barbara and her parents eventually moved away and I haven’t seen her since, but I often wonder what she saw when she went into that place before it closed.”
Suddenly, his mom winced in agony. She held tightly to her stomach, pulling hard on the blankets.
“Mom?!” Jack cried out.
She took a few deep breaths then rested her arms back by her sides. Her face eased into a more restful expression. She opened her eyes and looked at Jack with the best smile she could muster—Jack thought it looked completely fake.
“I’m okay,” she lied, her voice hoarse.
“Have you ever written about it?” Jack asked, wanting her to continue rather than fall back to sleep again.
“After college, I started writing for the Spring Dale Herald. I had been there a couple of years when I felt it was time to do something bigger and more interesting than the mundane day-to-day news stories. That’s when I considered Linhurst, which had recently closed. I did some initial research and realized you can’t find much of anything about it anywhere. That’s when I really decided to do some digging and write an entire series about it.”
She paused, closed her eyes, and took a few breaths. “My editor liked the idea,” she continued, her voice strained, “until we ran into road blocks everywhere. The town officials were tight-lipped, the state had deemed the property unsafe to explore, and the town librarian was anything but helpful. I asked around and started talking to some of the older residents in town, but most were unwilling to even mention the name. It was so frustrating. How could so many people in Spring Dale not know about or want to talk about the place? They were just turning a blind eye to all that happened there.”
Recalling all this got her worked up, and she winced and began to take deep breaths. Jack rubbed her arm to calm her. After several minutes, her breathing calmed again and she turned back to Jack and opened her eyes.
“After hitting so many dead ends, we felt it would be too difficult to get anyone to talk and figured the story just wouldn’t get any interest. I tried to convince my editor otherwise, but he told me to drop it. That’s when I started to focus on other social injustices—like the loss of jobs, cuts in educational programs in our schools, and of course—the nuclear power plant. I wrote an entire series about the plant before it was constructed. We tried our best to stop it from coming here, Jackie. You know, your dad and I—along with a lot of other Spring Dalers—protested its construction.”
“What was so bad about it?” Jack asked.
“It came at a time when we had safer alternatives to power our future. Nuclear is not what people wanted here in Spring Dale, but those people come with a lot of money and sway, and it was too easy to get our local officials on board with it.”
She paused and looked out at the rain that continued to run down her bedroom window.
“I lost interest in Linhurst over the years. If no one wants to discuss it and it’s so hard to motivate people to care, it’s really an uphill battle. But you’re right, Jackie— maybe I shouldn’t have let it go. It is so hard to ignore. What is the truth behind those walls?”
He nodded furiously in agreement.
“How could a hundred-year-old campus remain such a mystery?” she continued with sudden passion. “There are over thirty buildings on that property. Hundreds of patients and staff lived there over the years. And why did it close suddenly and remain closed all these years? I feel like there must be more to the story than we know.”
“We should try to find out!” Jack agreed excitedly.
His mom gave a hearty chuckle, humored by his intense enthusiasm, which immediately strained her. She pulled her hand away from his and clenched her stomach, pain showing on her face—though she tried to hide it.
“Mom!” Jack jumped to his feet and put a hand on her shoulder, the other over her hand. She took a deep breath, exhaled, then relaxed again.
“I’m okay,” she tried to assure him.
He didn’t believe her anymore when she said she was “okay,” but he pretended like he wasn’t aching with nerves at the idea that she might never get better. She looked up at him, eyes half opened, her energy drained.
“I would love nothing more than to slip into Linhurst with you,” she said, her voice quivering. “We’ll be the first in the history of Spring Dale to successfully explore beyond the gates and discover what really went on there. We’ll tell the world!”
Jack smiled half-heartedly.
“When my energy returns, Jack, we’ll do it together.
She rubbed his hand gently. He felt comfortable and encouraged. Within minutes, she was fast asleep; her breathing was low and shallow.
Jack watched her white comforter rhythmically rise up and drop down along with her breathing. The storm outside continued to pelt the house with rain. His eyelids grew heavy, and he leaned back in the rocker, fading off to sleep.
“Jackie?” his mom whispered softly, her voice gruff.
Jack awoke and rubbed his eyes. The room had grown darker. Rain was still coming down—a tropical storm, according to the paper that morning. His mom smiled at him weakly from the bed.
She leaned up from her pillow and, with all the strength she could muster, reached her hands behind her head to undo her necklace. She pulled it off and held the pendant out to him.
“Open your hand, Jack,” she whispered.
He opened his palm and she placed the amulet inside, then closed his fingers around it and squeezed firmly.
He opened his hand to see the round silver amulet with a sun and peace symbol that she had worn for as long as he could remember. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, then breathed out twice as long.
“Your necklace?” Jack asked, bewildered.
“Your dad gave it to me as an anniversary gift before you were born—said he felt it belonged to me. I never fully understood his excitement for it, but I always did like the artwork. It’s peaceful.”
“Why are you giving it to me?” he asked, his voice rising. “It will help you find strength and energy,” she
Jack held the amulet in his palm, feeling the weight of the cool metal in his hand as he pondered the meaning in his mom’s words.
She reached a hand up and gently caressed his face, looking into his eyes. “I wish I could be with you always…” “I’m home!” his dad, Henry, called from downstairs, interrupting his mom’s words. Jack heard him drop a few shopping bags in the kitchen then run up the stairs to the bedroom. He poked his head in slowly, not wanting to interrupt. Jack glanced up at the clock above the doorway—it was 8:30 in the evening.
“Anyone hungry?” Dad asked Jack.
“Jack has been a fabulous host, bringing me food and drinks all day, but I still haven’t found an appetite,” Mom told his dad softly.
Jack frowned as his dad’s gaze traveled to the pills lying by a full glass of water and a cold bowl of broth on her bedside table. His father’s face fell. The doctors had said she didn’t need to keep taking the medicine if she wasn’t up to it, and there they sat.
“How about you, Jack? Chicken noodle soup?
Spaghetti? Mac and cheese?” “I’m not hungry, Dad.”
Dad understood. He entered the room slowly and sat at the end of the bed. Like Jack’s mom, he looked tired and worn from the long days and nights. The rain outside began to pelt the window audibly as the storm grew and the wind howled. Jack’s mom fell asleep and soon his dad laid across his mom’s lap and dozed off.
Jack tried to keep his eyes open. He wanted to be ready when his mom woke up so they could keep talking. He ran his fingers along the raised artwork of the sun and peace symbol cast in relief on the pendant his mom had given him.
He opened his palm and looked down at the amulet. Rather than continuing to hold it in his hand, he decided to put it on. He latched the chain around the back of his neck, adjusted the amulet on his chest and ran his fingers over the surface of the design one more time, feeling the smooth metal symbols.
As the sun set, what little light had been finding its way through the broiling clouds all day faded entirely. A lone bedside lamp cast a faint glow in the otherwise darkened room. Jack fell fast asleep in the chair.
For the next several days, Jack stayed home from school. He was too nauseous and exhausted to sit in a classroom or keep up with homework. His dad took time from work to be with his mom as much as possible. On their final night together, Jack found himself sitting in the rocker as usual. His father was lying in bed, holding his mom’s hand. Her breathing was fast and shallow. She hadn’t spoken in over a day.
Jack’s eyes were nearly closed when suddenly, a flash of green light illuminated the entire room—a blinding explosion that crashed against the walls and ceiling, then disappeared in an instant. Jack’s eyes shot open and he looked around for several minutes trying to determine where it had come from. The room was completely dark but for the bedside lamp.
I must be tired, Jack finally admitted to himself. He felt the amulet one last time then looked to his parents lying softly on the bed.
Within minutes, he was fast asleep in the rocker.