Reno or bust 

Reminding myself that there’s no such thing as ghosts, I gather my courage and point my vehicle west. My destination is an abandoned institution that served as a home for the mentally disturbed for nearly 70 years. For nearly a decade, it’s remained abandoned yet accessible to individuals determined to scare the bejesus out of themselves.

As I drive, I mull the rumors about Reno (the alleged resident ghost) and other mysterious happenings within the blackened halls. Once the police cruiser leaves the premises, I take my flashlight and creep toward the dilapidated structure.

The original building is made of ornate red brick. The front door (and what else would you expect from a purportedly haunted edifice?) is crafted in mock Victorian style. Large pillars that support the overhang and hefty circular iron sculptures provide a nod to aesthetics, mentally disturbed style. Weeds and crawling vines have claimed the stairs and porch. “No trespassing” signs greet those wishing to enter.

Finding a passable entrance proves to be a bit of a challenge. Years of rabble-rousing intruders necessitated the boarding of almost all entrances. After a gymnastics workout and one seriously bloody elbow, I slither in above the door and drop down into a dank stairwell. I am free to investigate as I see fit.

I choose the stairs leading to the second floor. In a cavernous hallway, an indescribable stench fills my nostrils. Could this be Reno’s eternally rotting corpse? Or is it simply a virulent strain of mildew?

This is really the most frightening part … the uncertainty. Every corner, every stairwell is angled so as to cloak what lies beyond. Every sound suggests frightening possibilities.

Is that the whirr of passing cars, or is it the howl of some eternally tormented soul?

My light now reveals chaos. Broken glass crunches under my Converses. Ceiling tiles hang like stalactites, ready to strike down at the unprepared interloper. Walls that haven’t been busted or burned are spray painted in blood-red graffiti warning of the omnipresent Reno and “REDRUM.”

The rooms that flank the hall are frightening reminders that people were once kept here. Disgustingly soiled mattresses and rusty bedsprings melt into each other and the floor. Antiquated bathroom fixtures look like medieval torture devices.

At the far end of the hall awaits the most disturbing room of all. A closed door bears a placard reading, “Do Not Disturb Nurse Counting Meds.” Approaching this door I conjure images of Nurse Ratched brewing concoctions to sedate and mollify helpless patients. Behind the door I find a closet-sized room strewn with drawers and cabinets and empty prescription bottles. It’s unsettling. Who took the medications? Why? Did those patients welcome the drugs, or fight back?

Maybe I’m crazier than they were.

Taking the staircase to the basement, I find more surreal destruction. It looks as if hellhounds clawed and slashed their way down the corridor. The elevator has found its final resting place, and looks ready to transport you to yours. Spray painted in fiery font are the words, “One way stop straight to HELL.”

I didn’t press the button.

A little farther down the hall I hear what could be a patrolling police car. Not wanting to spend the next 90 days in jail, I immediately turn off my light. All of a sudden the silence is amplified to an unbearable volume. The dark crushes in around me, the temperature rises. Five seconds later I frantically turn my light back on. Although no one is around to hear, I say, “I’d rather do time than have the light off for one more second!”

That’s it. I have to leave. My nerves are shot, and every sound transfigures into some creature or angered police officer. I retrace my steps and feel relieved that I never found what I’ve heard are the scariest rooms. I have heard rumors of expansive tunnels and a decrepit gym whose towering ceilings dwarf even the heartiest of souls.

Climbing back out my makeshift entrance is just as dangerous. Ignoring the pain in my elbow and the dangerous heights, I scramble over the jagged glass, through the night and into the safety of my homeward-bound vehicle.

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