Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is from Fissure Free, Book Two in the Schasm Series by Shari J. Ryan. This romantic, suspenseful, and engaging sequel reunites the colorful cast of friends and family with a powerful tribute to the power of the mind and heart. After nineteen years of suffering with a psychological condition, ethereal Chloe has finally come close to finding her ultimate escape—or so she thinks as she walks the vibrant streets of Paris. Finally in a relationship with Alex, the man she fell in love with in Schasm, Chloe thinks life is finally coming together. As she battles her own demons, she attempts to repair the damaged man she’s grown to love. But as his clouded past abruptly crashes into their lives and falls heavily upon their budding romance, Chloe must fight to maintain her relationship. Although even when the problems begin to subside, she comes to realize certain things cannot be escaped. Just as Chloe believes she might have sealed the doors of darkness once and for all, new questions, new findings and new inceptions arise. Whether or not Chloe wants to continue forward on the path her life seems to be leading, she quickly learns that any choice she makes will ultimately land her in a place she never knew she was destined to be.
GHOSTS OF THE ASYLUM
Where the hell am I? No, no, no, no, no. This can’t be happening. Okay, Chloe. Breathe, I remind myself. It’s only fifteen minutes. I can do this.
Feeling a flurry of fear sneaking up within every fiber of my body, I reach my hands out to feel my way through the obscurity.
I take one step forward. I’m walking across a padded floor.
I take four more steps. I reach a padded wall.
I trace my fingertips around the square room.
Another padded room.
A darker padded room.
An abandoned padded room.
It’s pitch black. Only gloom pours in through the bar covered window.
“Alex?” I whisper, crossing my fingers, hoping that he’s near.
I flutter my fingertips along the wall, circling the room around me. My sluggish vision adjusts to the opaqueness as I notice another bar-covered window staring at me from across the room. Another room, maybe. One I might find Alex in.
I pull myself up on my toes to look through the window. “Alex?” I whisper again. My eyes search for his dark shadow.
He’s on the ground with his feet straight out in front of him, handcuffed against a wall.
His head is cocked over to the side, resting on his shoulder, and he’s staring right through my eyes. His chest is moving, so at least I know he’s alive…physically. Maybe I should have assumed his mind would not function here.
I’m not handcuffed to a wall, but he is.
My heart quakes against my sternum. My stomach feels like stone, and my throat is clenching in on itself. I walk to the other bar covered window, completely horrified. I curl my fingers around the damp, ice-cold bars, and I pull myself up, pressing my face against the metal to look out.
The hallway is just as dark and abandoned as this room. The walls are painted a sea green. They’re cracked and peeling, and old rusty handcuffs hang from chains that line the wall. I peer down the other end of the hall, somewhat curious and somewhat petrified as to what I might see. The words “help me” are smeared along the wall in what looks to be blood.
Against my desire, I take in every detail of this deserted passageway, hoping to gain insight on where we might be. But I’m lost and dumfounded. An abandoned institution is the best I can come up with.
Sounds of footsteps arise from the depths of the barren walls, and the dissonance increases with each footstep, warning me that someone is coming. The hallway only has two directions and I don’t see anyone in either.
I’m going crazy.
I could only hope.
The footsteps stop, as does the beating of my heart. I close my eyes and pull in a deep lungful. But I inhale someone else’s warm, stale breath. My eyes snap open, and two large bulging brown eyes stare back at me. My chest caves in. My lungs struggle to move, and I fall backwards.
I wish I was unconscious. Now I wish I were dead. Please leave me alone. My insides are screaming with fear.
I need to cry.
I can’t—he’ll hear me.
My lungs hurt from holding my breath.
I don’t want to breathe.
I don’t want him to see me try.
A metal clink warns me that a key is being shoved into a lock. The door to my cell creaks open and I feel pressure on the padded floor that surrounds my head. I squeeze my eyes shut, scrunching every muscle in my face, wishing and praying he will go away.
Just leave me here to rot. Please.
Vivid images of my worst nightmare play like a movie reel in my head. But I don’t need the movie. If I open my eyes, it will be real.
My head lowers further into the surface of the padded floor. He’s too close.
I can hear him breathing.
He can hear me breathing—or trying not to, rather. He nudges my head with the toe of his polished dress shoe, startling me to gasp for air.
“You are fully conscience,” he cackles with amusement. “You’re not so much fun when you roam around this room like you’re brain-dead—like a zombie. You’re just like your stupid boyfriend now. You’re welcome.” He continues laughing. I’m somewhat conscious here even though I’m fully conscious in Paris? Great. I guess I am like Alex now. I’m not sure it’s so bad, though. A permanent happiness? If only I were safe here. I know that’s not the case.
He lifts me up by the back of my shirt, and I peek out through my half lidded eyes, forced face to face with Franco again. He shoves his other hand into the inside of his coat pocket and pulls out a syringe. “Dinner and drinks?” he snorts. “Fine. Since you’re awake, I’ll let you enjoy your food.” He snaps his fingers three times. I hear the sound of a squeaky rolling cart bumping down the hallway. The sound grows louder for what seems like a minute before she appears in the gloomy dimly lit opening of the cell. She’s petite, frail, and still as damaged as I saw her last. Ashley, the girl I once referred to as the serial killer looking girl, is now working with the serial killer. Except, it doesn’t appear to be at will. She looks terrified, beaten, and weak. “This is Ashley. You remember her from the common area I’m sure, right?” He grips Ashley by the arm and drags her into the cell. “Ashley has been keeping you and Alex fed, and she will continue to do so until I tell her otherwise.” He releases her and shoves her back toward the rolling cart. “Isn’t that right, Ashley?”
“Lost. Scared. Dying,” she says in her familiar voice. She returns with a plate of hospital food and a bottle of water. “Dying.” She repeats.
“Where are we and why are we here?” I yell, flinching away from his grip. Although, I have an idea.
“We’re below the institution. I need to keep you alive, love. So here are your nutrients and a little something for your hydration.”
“Why are you keeping me alive?” I seethe through my clenched teeth. “And Alex, why him?”
“Oh, love. I need you two. You are going to save me.” He smiles, flashing his overly white bright teeth. His smile is so large I can see a silver cap on one of his side molars.
“If you need me, why are you so horrible to me?” I ask, honestly curious why he’s so cruel.
He releases the back of my shirt, letting me fall to the ground. He hovers over me, his eyes blazing into mine, his left eye giving a slight twitch. “You are your mother’s daughter.” The corner of his twitching lip pulls up into a smirk. “What other reason do I need?”
I cry silently, still wishing I could wake up. But then I realize, I am awake. This is my reality.
My living nightmare.
He glides the palm of his hand over his perfectly slicked down hair. “You are not as sweet as you pretend to be, love.” He takes a few steps back and leans his back against the wall. “I can see right through you.”
With the space between us, I take the opportunity to scoot back against the opposite wall. It gives me the illusion of space. An illusion is all it really is, though. “I’m nothing like my mother. I can assure you.” I swallow my fear. “As a matter of fact, I hate her. More than anything.”
Please believe me.
I pull myself up to my feet, still keeping a supportive grip on the wall behind me. “However she treated you, she has also treated me.”
He moves forward, closing in on me. My knees are weak and they want to give out. But I hold myself still, forcing short spurts of air into my lungs. He stares at me, hovering with his lip curled to one side. “What did she do to you?” he asks, barely moving his mouth to speak.
“I’ve been locked up my entire life,” I say. “With the exception of being dragged down to the institution twice a week.” My words sound garbled, as if I was choking on them.
He tugs on the bottom hem of his black suit jacket, straightening it to lie flat. His eye twitches again. “I don’t believe you,” he says. His voice is complacent and calm. “You are a good liar.” His unmoving smirk makes me squirm. “Just like your mother.”
My mother? He thinks I lie like her? Am I even capable of such a trait? I’m not lying. I have been a prisoner. Anyone could look at me and recognize that.
Anyone, but him.
I stare up into his dark sinister eyes, terrified of his next move. He pulls open the right lapel of his jacket and retrieves another syringe. With gentle force, he reaches down for my wrist and pulls it up in front of me. I don’t fight him. It’s not worth it. I’m putty in his hands, and I’d rather face the outcome of whatever is in this syringe. “Do you want to eat first?”
First? Before what? Ashley approaches me with some kind of sandwich. My stomach doesn’t feel empty, but it doesn’t feel full either. Unsure of how well Ashley has been taking care of us, I take a couple of bites and wash it down with the opened bottle of water she’s holding. “Are you going to feed Alex?”
“Dying,” she says in response.
“Please feed him,” I beg.
“I’ve already told you, I need you both alive. He will be kept fed,” Franco growls.
It’s clear my meal is complete as he wraps his hand around my bicep and holds the needle an inch away from my skin. “Chloe,” he rumbles my name. “Do not tell your boyfriend about what happened here.”
He punctures the needle into my skin. I welcome the pinch, knowing that it has to take me somewhere better than here. “You should know that I do not like to be betrayed.” He lets my sleeve drop back into place. “It never ends well.” His laugher booms in my ears. “Or, I guess it does end well…for me.”
He leaves me, liquefying onto the padded floor. Light shines through me, and sulfur burns my nose. I endure the grotesque aroma, knowing where I’m heading.
* * *
When light fills my vision, I find myself sitting in the chair that I had fallen asleep on in Tomas’s office. I grip the armrests with force and my eyes dart over to Tomas. I pull my gas mask off and drop it on my lap. “How long has it been?” I ask, panic quickening my voice.
He snatches the gas mask from me and checks his watch. “Thirteen minutes.” With a confused look, he checks the dial on the gas tank. “How did you get back sooner than Alex?”
“Franco injected something into me, and then I blacked out again. He’s holding us hostage in two separate padded rooms. They aren’t the padded rooms we’ve seen before though.”
Two minutes pass before I see Alex’s eyes twitch below his eyelashes. He’s waking up. Relief overwhelms me.
I fall to my knees, clawing at his legs, trying to snap him out of it. “You okay?” I ask, on the verge of tears.
He pulls the gas mask off his face and squints one eye half open. “I don’t know what happened.” He looks groggy and seems puzzled. “Everything just turned black until now.”
I run my fingers up and down the side of his stubbly cheek, rousing him to focus on me. “You didn’t see anything?” I ask..
He pushes my arm away and grabs ahold of my shoulders. Angst fills his eyes. “What happened? Are you okay?” The words leave his mouth as a shout. But I know it’s not me who he’s angry with.
“Nothing happened.” I force a fake smile. “Everything is fine.”
I hate lying to him. I just wish it were the truth. I wish I was in denial and could believe to make him believe.
“You’re a horrible liar,” he says. “Tell me what’s going on.” His voice calms an octave, but veins bulge from both sides of his face.
“We’re not dead.” I shove my hands into my pockets. “That should be all that matters, right?” I sound a little too chipper.
More like a little too fake. I can already see it on his face. He doesn’t believe me.
He throws his gas mask onto the ground and steps out from the cords below him. “That’s not all that matters!” he shouts. “Dammit, Chloe. Tell me what you saw.”
I can’t tell him. I don’t know what Franco would do if I did, and I can’t risk that. I already know we’re not getting out of those padded rooms without going through hell, and any attempt to escape him will likely guarantee that we’ll become the new ghosts of the asylum. It’s not happening.
Alex pushes off the window and trudges toward me. “We aren’t leaving this office until you tell me what the hell is going on.” His actions are unsteady, and he’s completely freaking out. I’ve never seen him act like this. “Why is this a secret?”
Left with no words, I rush toward the door. I need to get out of here. I don’t know how else to avoid this interrogation. He can’t know. Franco made that clear. “I’ve had it.” I stare back and forth between Alex and Tomas. “I’m leaving.”
If he knew I was protecting him, he wouldn’t be acting this way. He should learn to trust me a little.
With anger blistering through me, I whip the office door open and slam it behind me. My brisk walk carries me multiple blocks until I stop to catch my breath. I’m somewhat surprised that Alex hasn’t come after me. Now I’m just more infuriated. He has no right to be mad. I’m just trying to protect him from something he has no control over. He should just thank me for dealing with the issue. I’d love to be able to block it all out like he can.
Shari J. Ryan hails from Central Massachusetts where she lives with her hubby and two lively little boys. Writing has become Shari’s great escape from the real world over the past few years. After a bout of postpartum depression with her first child, Shari was determined to occupy her brain enough to eliminate some of the blue moments in life. When she found writing to help as a newfound therapy, she started her first book. Her books brought her out of postpartum depression and helped her overcome it when her second son was born. Shari likes to think writing saves her mind. She even used one of the characters in the book (the main character’s protagonist mother), to veer away from the type of person she refuses to become. Shari has two happy little boys and the Schasm series to show for her unorthodox therapeutic method.