The first clue to the reality of this place was that no one would ever answer your questions about it. You asked almost everyone you met and, initially, you put their shortness and almost rude way of speaking down to you being new and unfamiliar, however, they were more than happy to talk and interact with you if the subject changed.
The second red flag in your book was the revelation that the entire waterfront area on both sides of the harbor – even though the far side was just a thick forest almost entirely to the waterline – was owned by a single corporate entity, which was operated on behalf of a single family. A family whose name did not appear once in any registry in town and who no one you spoke to had any knowledge of.
Third was the most obvious and, at least to you, the most curious. The band of dead land half a mile wide between the waterfront precinct – even now they liked to keep up appearances – and the rest of the town. You had spent the majority of your time in town pacing back and forth along this strip of stubbly grass and improvised trash heap looking over at the red lit buildings that lined what could have once been a thriving tourist opportunity but was now something else altogether.
You could tell from the reactions to your questions that most, or at least a lot, of locals knew something about those buildings, but it didn't matter how insistent, or even how physical, you got with your questioning, no one was saying anything to you about them.
Alright, you decide. It was time to take matters into your own hands.
You wait a few days, just to let the hostile air you sense from some people dissipate before you make your next move. You're here for answers after all and being rash and impatient will get you in trouble again.
You choose a night where the clouds hang low over the ocean, thick and a deep gray that guaranteed bad weather very soon which meant your chances of being found were minimal. You don't take this for granted, scrunched up in your jacket against the cold sea wind that has been blowing since the moment you stepped out the door.
You reach the span of abandoned land without seeing anyone and start to cross towards the harbor just as it starts to spit a light drizzle. Not one to ignore omens, you focus on other things and curse ever taking this job. Upon reaching the waterfront side of the strip of land, you find a fine wire fence separating the harbor from the rest of the town. You follow it a small ways down, trying to see if there are any gaps or breaks in it, however it seems to be the most well maintained fence in the entire town. In the darkness and aided only by the dim red lights that seem to be in every other window of the buildings. Which, now that you're closer, seem like a single long building stretching all the way down this part of the harbor.
You decide that the fence doesn't look electrified. You tap it a few times quickly with the back of your hand and then leave it against it, half expecting to be thrown back by some five-figure level voltage but nothing happens. Satisfied that whoever put the fence up expected it to be enough to keep people out, you pull a small set of wire cutters out of your pack and set to work making a hole big enough for you to fit into.
And here you are, standing exactly where the photo was taken, however many years ago it was. Fairly close to where she stood. You still don’t know who she is, or was, just that she was someone else who came here for answers so many years ago and failed to return. Failed aside from this one, single, photo.
You're surprised at how much is still exactly the same. From this angle, you can see how the waterfront buildings are just a single building that stretches away down the wharf, but the facades are all sectioned off into the various stores that used to be here. Of course, all the shop signage is gone, replaced by a single wooden sign that is attached to the first facade ahead of you.
WOODVILLE COUNTY SANITARIUM it proclaims in thick, bold letters. You swallow. Exactly as the photo showed.
One of the red lit windows flickers and out of the corner of your eye, as you turn to look, you're sure you see a shadow pass across it. You watch the window for a few more minutes before deciding it was your mind playing tricks on you and you start to walk down the wharf, wondering what exactly you hope to gain by being here.
The wind is picking up and the rain is laying heavy drops on the concrete pier. The whistling from the wind between the facades sends shivers down your spine yet you keep walking down the pier. There's a door at the last facade, you can see from here its open and a soft white light, the reason you noticed it, is almost inviting you inside. You silence the small voice in the back of your head that asks why you didn't see it before and just keep walking towards it. As you get closer you can see two shadowy figures standing just inside, silhouetted in the light. You try to call out to them, some sense regained in your head, but no sound comes out.
As you approach them, they each stand on either side of the door, and wave you through silently. You watch one of them carefully and see their mouth move, as if talking, but you're sure no sound is coming out. You cross the threshold into the asylum and the door swings closed behind you.
As the door clicks shut into its frame you blink and gasp. You almost crumple to the ground but your legs start doing what you want again and you end up just stumbling further into the building. There's no sign of either of the figures who let you in, nor the warm, friendly white light that led the way. Instead there's a musty waiting room with threadbare furniture and a fishbowl style receptionist area off to the left, lit by a single red light. Sitting calmly at the window, waiting for you is the lady from the photo. She seems happy to see you.