Nick noticed the uneasiness upon arriving outside the gates of the old prison. The night was cold and drizzly, perfect for a ghost tour, at least, that’s what Nick’s girlfriend, May, thought as she exited the car and started towards the old iron gate. Nick shuddered as he got out, but followed his girlfriend, who was positively beaming with excitement. He glanced up at the old Gothic structure of the Tannersworth Penitentary, whose spires and castle-like ramparts stood out bleakly through the swirling dark mist of the night.
What a great idea this was, Nick thought as he followed her through the gate, his anxiety mounting as he passed over the threshold.
Nick didn’t particularly like places like hospitals or nursing homes, and up there on the list was prisons, even if they hadn’t been used for nearly seventy years. As he passed though the iron gates with May and another group who had signed up for the ghost tour, Nick felt a sudden burst of fear rise up within him and he stumbled, just barely catching himself.
“Hey, are you OK?” May asked, her excitement faltering upon looking at Nick’s flushed face.
“I’m good, babe.” He tried to reassure her but couldn’t hide his discomfort.
“We can go if—”
“No, no.” He said, shaking his head and smiling. “Seriously, I’ll be OK.” She looked at him uncertainly.
“If I need to, I’ll just go to the car. You’ve been planning this trip for over a year. I’m not going to screw this up for you.” May was fascinated with old places and the stories they told, especially the ghost stories, and her current book was about the hauntings of old military prisons, penitentiaries, and asylums.
“OK.” She resigned, now smiling, taking his hand and joining the rest of the group. He didn’t understand why he felt the way he did. Sure, all the other places on their little ghostly road trip were spooky, hell, some of them were downright horrifying. Eastern State Penitentiary was much more imposing than this place.
There was something about Tannersworth… Something he couldn’t quite put a finger on.
“Babe?” May tugged on his arm, bringing him back to the gloomy makeshift lobby. “They’re going inside, come on.” Nick gave her a reassuring grin and followed her through the solid steel doors, into a dimly lit rotunda which lead to all the cell blocks. Nick walked into the area and felt a horrible pang in his chest. May nudged him, but he just shook his head, trying to focus on the droning voice of the tour guide, clearly nowhere near as excited about being here tonight as May was. She tugged on him again.
“What?” He whispered; his eyes fixed on a massive portrait on the wall before him. It was of an overbearing looking, pale skinned man with a black, pencil thin mustache and thin rimmed oval glasses.
“You’re breathing like you’ve just ran a mile.” Nick hadn’t realized it until just then, as a cold sweat tricked down his back despite the chilly interior of the stone and steel chamber. He released his clenched fists and looked at her, trying to smile. “I’m fine,” he repeated, and her face told him she didn’t believe him in the slightest.
They walked down cell blocks A and B, all the while, Nick fought with his sudden urges to leave. Occasionally, he would trade uncertain glares with some of the other tourists who would quickly look away. “is it really that obvious?” Nick thought to himself as they approached the thick, barred doors of Cell block F, also known as Death Row. His pace slowed as he looked ahead at another secure door, a giant plate of steel with a small, grubby window, and felt the most powerful sensation of Déjà vu. It was so strong it nearly caught his breath. As the tour guide opened the door, Nick knew with his entire being that the last thing he wanted was to go beyond that door. He looked over to see May who’s anticipation was nearly tangible, standing on her tiptoes to see over the taller group of guys in front of her - the Death Row block of Tannersworth was infamous for its plethora of haunts, and May wouldn’t be caught dead missing this. Nick put on his smiling face and with colossal effort, stepped through the steel plated threshold and into the cell block.
His first sight down the block caused him to place his hand against the wall to catch himself as his knees began to buckle. Nobody was looking at him now, the rest of the group were entranced in the tour guide’s prattle about the lives and deaths of some of the worst criminals in history. It was then that the impossible thought hit him like a thousand volts.
He had been here once before, and the crushing realization slammed into him as he remembered his final steps down this very corridor.
In another life.
In another time.
He shoved the thoughts away and shook his head, glancing up at the group, thankful that nobody saw his little episode. With weak knees, he followed May down the cell block, when another wave of weakness hit him as he looked upon cell #1138, gripping the bars to steady himself as flashes of long anxious nights awaiting an inevitable end zipped in and out of his mind’s eye. He let go, noticing he was breathing heavily again. He pulled himself together and followed the group through the door at the end to the execution chamber. He passed into the room, and as he did so, the scene immediately changed. Several wooden chairs with people wearing dated clothes sat stone-faced, a look of triumph on the man at the head of the room, the man with the pencil thin mustache and oval, wire-rimmed glasses. Two tight hands gripped Nick’s arms as he was led towards the chair that sat at the front of the room. He could feel the metal cuffs cutting into his wrists and ankles as they forced him forward, the only sound was his breathing and his footsteps on the concrete floor. He knew what that chair was, and though he could hear voices, he couldn’t quite make out what they were saying. He was forced down and the cuffs were replaced by constricting leather straps. The man with the mustache droned on in a muffled voice as a black hood was draped over Nick’s face and a wet sponge as placed on the top of the shaved spot of his head. There was darkness, then a voice, then a brilliant flash of agonizing pain unlike anything he had ever felt. The pain never ended, only continued as he felt like he was floating, flying away, parts of himself being left behind in that wretched place, a burning soul sent searing off into the atmosphere, like a shooting star.
May’s voice cut through the darkness as Nick opened his eyes. He was lying on the ground covered in sweat. He sat up slowly, as he glanced around as the entire tour group stared down at him. He saw he was lying at the foot of the display of the electric chair and scrambled away from it.
“Are you OK?” May asked, her face pale at the sight of him on the ground, but Nick jumped up and bolted from the room, down Death Row, and didn’t stop until he was outside.
He never spoke of the incident at Tannersworth. He never told May he was a man named Arthur Wilkins in a past life, a man convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and forced to die for another man’s wrongs. But he knew. He knew a lot more than he wanted, but it was all inconsequential now. Arthur was a part of him now, awakened though his soul was ruined and tattered, by the nearly ninety years since his death, and as he starred through the rain covering the windshield at the outside of Tannersworth’s Gothic exterior, Arthur grinned.
He was finally free.