Continued from yesterday….
Stepping gingerly over broken glass and splintered wood, I’m silently wishing for my Doc boots and my camera, both back in my car in Sydney.
Everywhere are huge communal rooms with massive sunlit windows. And bathrooms- so many bathrooms. “Is that what they are…?” asks The Most Amazing Man, “Bathroom stalls? Why do they have windows… oh.”
Every bathroom in this place has a viewing window. Even the tiny toilet stalls have empty holes where glass in the doors once was. There is no privacy for the insane, and one of the more gothic tableauxs seems to pay homage to that very ideal. A small, walled off tiled white room; a bath sat solid centre, moored to the stretched concrete foundations of the floor, impermeable to vandalism, though it’s certainly been tried and tested. It’s the bathroom of any old creepy hospital… until you notice the viewing window, cut into the wall. A hole, really with nothing there at all.. it seems to speak volumes for the people who really were here, once. (Again, its that image of an overflowing bath tub filled with water swirled and tainted, colored by blood, dark hair and white skin… I don’t know where it came from, some movie watched long ago, a bad pop film clip… I don’t know, but I don’t like it, and it scares me because I think the girl in the water might sometimes be me.)
We come across rooms, private hospital rooms, again with large sunny windows and high ceilings. Most of them are empty except for the accidental litter of falling down cornices and plaster peeling off ceilings. I kick open the door to one room, indistinguishable from the others we have passed (an ingrained habit I seem to have picked up when exploring, opening the door without being too close to it) and I make a strange sound in the back of my throat. My whole body involuntarily shudders and I walk away, quickly away, my surroundings rolling around me like technicolor film for a moment while my mind adjusts, filters truth from trauma. There was an (orange rope) electrical cord hanging from the roof of that room and my eyes followed it down, every inch of it squirming against my optic nerve, until it stopped a few inches from the floor and the apprehensive screaming souls in my subconscious were convinced that there was no body hanging on the end of it, it was just a piece of orange cord and nothing more suspicious that that.
“What..?” His voice trails off and The Most Amazing Man In The Universe is hugging me, holding me from behind.
“I’m okay” I say, and I am, maybe.
“I know,” he replies, his voice and filled with the very best attempt to understand. “I wanted to hug you anyway.”
And I fold into him for a moment, taking stock of where I am and what I’m doing and wrapping a tiny silicon bubble over a moment of being okay, being taken care of, being understood… it’s enough to stop the tumbling, reeling rush in my head.
So we move on. More bathrooms, more common rooms, one which leads onto a massive, open concrete balcony. There are smaller rooms, patient’s rooms, they lead out to here as well; but their doors have remained somewhat respectfully closed and jammed- it’s only the last door in the row, the furthest away that’s open. It’s tucked into a room at the end of a long, straight hallway, tingling uncomfortable with two-dozen doorways leading off it. There are two or three strange rooms we stumble upon that are charcoal black, their roofs dipping as though the fire within created an enormous heat… but the fire brigade must respond to calls here with an alarming efficiency. The damage had not spread to other areas within the building. It looked, bizarrely, as though it has simply burnt the fuel from one room entirely and then folded and extinguished on itself.
We follow stairs and ramps up and down, never one hundred percent sure of where we are or where we will end up next. We find a few tiny crawl spaces, under stairs or tucked in brickwork around the buildings perimeter, and the thought that they may have been used for storing more than objects occurs to us both simultaneously “I wonder who they locked in there…?” We both laugh, but almost reluctantly, because it feels as though there is more truth to that than you really want to think about in detail.
After becoming lost and disillusioned with the asylum’s horseshoe shape, the building seems to spit us down a short flight of stairs and back into the scrubby dry grass of its perimeter. We wander, discussing ghosts and hauntings and history. We overhear the group of teenagers again, one of the boy’s voices bouncing clear, staccatoed against the brick walls of the building. “I hate this place. I always have nightmares about it.”
The Most Amazing Man In The Universe and I look at each other and laugh- childish superstitions, a bad case of the heebie jeebies. While slightly eerie in its sunny stillness, there isn’t a lot of bad vibes here. At least, not until we find the short flight of stairs that lead us down to the first floor, the bottom floor of the hospital. This floor was constructed half sunken into the ground, and it’s dark here. Dark and damp, as if all the moisture the sun scared away from the upper floors is lurking in the corners and shadows, stagnant and eating things in muffled gulping crunches.
“It’s not nice in here,” My voice feels tiny, the statement I’ve made pitiful.
“No,” agrees the Most Amazing Man In The Universe. “Not nice at all. And the floor….”
“It’s not too bad…” But there is no light down here. I can’t see more than three feet of floor in front of me, and it feels spongy. The carpet feels rotten. We go forward three or four more steps and the hallway splinters into a rotted cavern. It feels bizarrely like one of those street paintings that are hellish optical illusions; as though I could walk straight over it without falling into the even deeper, darker cellar somewhere beneath us.
We turn, a reluctant retreat. Dodgy floors are bad floors, always. There’s another building behind this one. A single storey instead of two. A peaked roof of brown tiles. Chocolate brown, with white mosaic and trimmings, looking like an elongated gingerbread cottage. Hidden halfway along it is an access point, of course, a shutter rolled up and back as if it’s been attacked by a giant can opener. We slip under and in and it’s another set of huge, sunny rooms- common room, a kitchen, bedrooms coming off the sides.
The Most Amazing Man In The Universe and I are leaving, walking back to his car, when we’re approached by a man who looks every bit a Wowser– plaid shirt, glasses, a bum bag. He’s carrying a sheaf of printed pages, and as he approaches us we both think we’re in for some form of ‘This is private property’ lecture.
Pleasantly, we’re mistaken. It seems he’s exploring, too. He simply wants to know if we have any information that he doesn’t. Local rumor says the buildings are being knocked down, but this man tells us otherwise- there are plans to convert them into office buildings, historical oddities in contrast with the identical suburban streets and sleek, modern industrial area that borders them.
The Not-Wowser man tells us there is an example of another one of the buildings, just around the corner, that has been refurbished; and he’s right. It’s freshly painted, fenced, with a lawn of lush green grass running up to its front door. I can only imagine it must retain that sunny feeling- panes of window glass that have been fixed in the original window locations dazzle and glint in the early afternoon heat.
Its pretty, surely much better than demolition for buildings as sturdy as these, with brickwork that will last for years. But the fresh clean, repainted vibe of the new building is still… weird. Eerie. Like there’s some other-worldly, alien quality to the light.
Or perhaps I’m just not used to the angle of the Melbourne sunshine, the difference in atmosphere, that come with being one thousand kilometers closer the point of the Earth’s polarity.
Whichever. A quick Google tells us that not only was The Most Amazing Man In The Universe correct about this place’s original purpose as a lunatic asylum; there are (always) those who believe it’s quite haunted. Explorers report having exquisite nightmares following their visit, and as I read that fact out loud to the Amazing Man we both remember overhearing one of the teenage boys calling out that very sentiment to his friends that afternoon; and goosebumps dimple my flesh for a second.
There has been reports of a music box heard playing from the third and highest floor of the main building, especially in the middle of the night. A university that sits on property directly next door to the abandoned hospital has taken full credit for that phenomena- their plan for scaring off potential vandals and trouble-makers undoubtedly worked (unfortunately for them, the rumour itself also probably attracted more ghost hunters to the buildings than ever before).
It’s the first building I’ve explored in Melbourne; the first building, in fact, that I’ve explored in months.
I sleep well, exhausted, wrapped up tight in the arms of the Most Amazing Man In The Universe. Neither of us dream.