What I loved best, and miss most, about college was the freedom for spontaneity.  One of my favorite spontaneous moments happened freshman year with my friends Doug and Vince.  We were the three amigos, all living on the 9th floor of the Grant Tower B dorms in glamorous Dekalb, Illinois.  One typical Tuesday evening over an all-you-can-eat pancake buffet in the cafeteria, I expressed my disdain with how we hadn’t done anything really cool lately.  “Cool” meaning something along the lines of throwing water-filled condoms from our dorms onto passerby or making our friend Matt eat an entire jar of nutmeg to see if it really does make you high.  (It doesn’t – it made him crazy.  And violently ill.)

“Well, fine, what do you want to do?” Vince asked.

I sensed he was serious, so I suggested something I’d been pondering for a while:  “Let’s go to Bartonville.”

Doug laughed but if anyone was to blame for my crazy idea, it was him.  He was the one who had told me of the many times in high school he and his friends had snuck into the Bartonville Insane Asylum just outside of Peoria, his hometown.  The stories he had told me, the crazy scary things that had happened to him and his friends… yeah, I wanted that.

Vince was all in right away.  Doug took a little more persuasion but was eventually convinced.  “This is a really bad idea, you know.  I’m not joking, that place is as creepy as it gets.”

“I know,” I said.  “That’s why I want to go.”

So we finished our pancakes and grabbed a tape recorder and digital camera.  We also brought my “press pass” from the campus newspaper I reported for in case we were stopped by the police, which according to Doug was a very probable possibility.  Sure, we’d look like tools flashing a university press pass but at least we’d have something.  “Oh?  I’m sorry officer, I thought I had jurisdiction here.”

A couple hours later we were cruising past the asylum, casing it out.  We found a legal parking spot not too far away and walked to the property.  Doug refused to get too close, but I convinced Vince to walk up to the door and pose for a picture.  I snapped a few more of the main building, then of what remained of the kitchen building off to the side.  Nothing seemed off with the kitchen.  There appeared to be a floating light by the kitchen ruins but, excited as we were to be exploring a reputedly haunted institution, we were skeptics.  We let the tape recorder run the entire time but, to our ears, there were no out of the ordinary noises.  No shreiks or wails or pleas.  Darn.

After two hours of driving and about seven minutes of exploring, we were indeed accosted by the police and forced to return to our car.  The two hours back were somewhat disparaging but when we returned to the dorms and reviewed our pictures on Doug’s computer and played back the audio we were in for a shock.

Doug loaded the pictuers we had taken onto his computer.  Of the dozen or so we took, the only clear one was the one I had taken of Vince holding the stair rail leading onto the main grounds.  Vince and his surroundings appear perfectly normal except for one thing: the hand that was touching the rail did not appear fleshy like his other hand.  It was a skeleton-like hand, almost as if just that one part of the picture had been x-rayed.

And remember how none of us heard anything out of the ordinary during our explorations?  When the tape recording was played back, there was a loud – almost shrieking, really – wail that would have been impossible to miss in real life.

The infamous rail