The construction site was a short drive from Kyle’s house. Some unknown punk band blasted on the radio as we sped down the highway, my eyes stinging from Laurie’s cigarette smoke.
“You always been a smoker?” Oliver mumbled, breaking the silence in the car.
From the rearview mirror, I saw Laurie playing with her hair. “Not always,” she said. “I started like a year ago. I only do it when I feel nervous.”
“Oh. Well, what are you nervous about?”
She opened her mouth to speak, but Kyle’s nasal voice interrupted her from the backseat.
“There it is!” He slapped Oliver’s headrest.
“Ow!” Oliver said.
“There’s the construction site!” Kyle said.
A large half-finished building, about three-stories tall loomed over a plot of land cleared of trees and surrounded by a high chain-linked fence. A single light illuminated the entryway. This was Schrockenfield’s building. It’d once been a fancy hotel, but had burned down in a horrible fire and was supposedly haunted by the ghosts of men and women whose ashes were buried in the ground. For more than a century, no one would buy it or even go near it, despite its objectively high property value. But the city’s growth had started attracting wealthy developers from out of town. People who didn’t know the local folklore. Or didn’t care. So now there was the beginnings of a building. And somehow, Kyle had convinced us to go exploring.
We were quiet for a minute while looked up at the colossal site.
“You know why no one would build here?” Kyle looked at us. “It’s because it makes people go crazy. The hotel wasn’t burned down on accident. It was one of the bellboys. He fell in love with one of the guests and then when she wasn’t interested, he lost it. Went completely insane. They say he’d started acting funny after cleaning out the basement one night. Didn’t want to do anything but ride the elevator up and down.”
I started to scoff but Laurie spoke first. “I heard the same thing, actually,” she said.
“The hole in the fence is like 100 feet to the right of the entrance,” Kyle said excitedly. “Park the car down the road a bit so it doesn’t seem suspicious.”
“This is cool,” Laurie said. She rolled the window down and threw her cigarette away. “You guys do this often?”
“Sometimes,” Kyle said before anyone. “It was all Zach’s idea.”
I glared at Kyle from the rearview mirror. He saw me looking and winked.
“You got this,” he mouthed. He turned to Laurie.
“Are you excited?” he asked. “I hope you brought a flashlight.”
“No,” she shook her head.
“That’s no problem. You can share Zach’s.”
I felt my face become hot as I pulled up beside a side road and parked the car. I realized I didn’t have a flashlight. Kyle must’ve noticed this because he handed a small bag to me.
“Here, take this,” he said. “You’ll need it. I’ll share mine with Ollie.”
I took the bag from him. “Thanks,” I said. “Does this mean we’re going to split up?”
“Yeah,” Kyle grinned. “And we’re going to turn this into a game while we’re at it.”
We all stopped walking. “Are you serious?” Oliver asked.
“Whoever is first out of the building gets made fun of the rest of the year,” he said.
“That’s it? That’s lame,” Laurie said.
“I’m not finished.” Kyle grabbed Oliver’s flashlight and shone it on his face. “You have to go back in the building alone and stay there until sunrise.”
“That’s not cool,” Oliver said. “I don’t want to do that.”
“Then don’t be the first to leave,” Kyle said. “How about it?”
“Okay, fine,” Laurie said. “I’m in.”
Not wanting to look scared in front of her, I nodded. “Me too.”
“You guys suck so much,” Oliver said. “I hate this. I hate you guys,” he said and stared at Kyle. “I’m in,” he sighed.
The four of us walked close to the edge of the road to protect ourselves from the street lamps. We walked in silence, anticipating what was to come. When we saw the entrance a couple of yards ahead of us, Kyle quickened his pace and veered off to the right. We followed. He crouched down low and looked for the opening, waving us over.
“I found it. It’s smaller than I thought, but I think everyone can squeeze into it.”
We all crawled through the barrier.
“This is going to be wild,” I heard Kyle say behind me. “So freaking wild!”
Laurie spotted an emergency door off to the right, left ajar. Someone had wedged a rock underneath the door to prevent it from closing all the way. Once inside the dark interior, we held our breath, listening for clues of a presence. Nothing. We heard nothing but the occasional roaring of vehicles from the main thruway a couple of streets away.
“How about we split up now?” Kyle said. “It’ll make the search go quicker — and make sure to take some photos.”
“Yeah, no problem,” Laurie said and turned to me. “Guess we’re partners, huh.”
I shifted my foot and kicked at a loose piece of concrete. “Guess so,” I said.
“We’ll check out the second floor,” Kyle said and grabbed Oliver by the arm. “Let’s go and leave these two lovebirds in the dust.”
“Wait a minute,” Laurie said.
“See ya,” Kyle said and ran up the stairs, dragging Oliver with him. Laurie and I heard the two of them walk up the stairs and open a door to the second floor. “We’ll see you soon,” Kyle’s voice echoed from above. It was followed by the sound of the door closing.
“Well, let’s get to it,” I said.
“Hold on a second.” Laurie grabbed my arm. “Was this your idea? To bring me here and ‘explore’ this place so you could have time alone with me?”
“W-w-what?” I stammered.
“I thought as much. You never really could get the words out anyway.”
“What does hell does that mean?” I asked.
“Kyle set this up, didn’t he?”
“You’re an idiot,” she said and released my arm. I saw her grow tense as she looked around, peering at the darkness. “We shouldn’t have split up. There’s something weird about this place.”
It was then I felt a presence surrounding me. I dropped my flashlight and fell to my knees, suddenly unable to hear or see. The world was spinning out from under me. A bright light appeared in front of my eyes.
“What just happened?” a voice asked.
“Zach, what just happened?”
It was Laurie shining a flashlight in front of my face. She looked terrified.
“I-I don’t know,” I mumbled. I tried to get up, but the sudden movement caused my head to spin again. Laurie grabbed my arm and helped me back up to my feet.
“That was really weird,” I said, catching my breath. “I feel like I have vertigo or something.”
“I told you something’s not right here,” she said. “Let’s get out of here.”
“We can’t. If we’re the first to leave, one of us has to stay until sunrise.”
“You really believe that crap?” she smirked. “I bet you Kyle is going to be first one out.”
“Let’s keep moving,” I said, ignoring her. “I don’t want to stick around in one place.”
We walked out from the emergency stairwell, making our way across the ground floor while Laurie took photos with her phone.
“I’m not getting anything,” she whispered.
“Well, do you feel anything?” I asked. “Do you feel cold?” I had read that when spirits are present, the room — or the area — becomes noticeably colder because the spirit sucks the energy out from the room to be able to manifest itself.
Laurie closed her eyes and took a deep breath, as if she was scanning the room with her mind. When she opened her eyes, I expected the worst.
“No,” she said. “I don’t feel anything at all.”
She brought the phone up to take another photo. The flash lit up the hallway for an instant when I saw a figure retreat into a room a couple of doors down from us.
“Did you see that?” I asked Laurie.
I knew she’d seen it when she started running after it.
“Laurie,” I shouted. “Laurie, wait!”
She stopped right before the door where the figure disappeared and took out her phone, turning on the camera and holding it around the corner of the doorway. The flash momentarily illuminated the room. Laurie quickly brought the phone up to her face.
“There’s nothing there,” she groaned. “How can that be?”
“That thing, did you see it too?” I asked. “That shadow.”
She nodded. “It ran into this room,” she said. “It has to be in here somewhere.”
It was then I heard footsteps in the room. Someone was pacing inside. I looked at Laurie. A mixture of shock and fear on her face gave way to downright terror.
“What the hell is going on?” I whispered.
“You know that feeling I was telling you about earlier?” she asked.
As soon as she said that, we saw something fly out of the room and smash into the wall in front of us. It was a cinder block. Laurie and I looked at each other in the eyes.
“Run!” I shouted.
We ran as fast as we could down the hallway. I can’t explain why we didn’t run back towards the exit — maybe it was because we didn’t actually want to be the first to leave the building, or that we were inexplicably drawn towards this elevator at the end of the hallway. Its doors were open, its mouth open and hungry for our two bodies. We raced in, slamming our bodies against the steel elevator. Laurie, having the good sense to turn around, slammed her hands repeatedly on the close button. We saw the figure standing just beyond the darkness, and the reach of our flashlight, watching us. The elevator doors silently closed shut and we sighed in relief. We felt the elevator lift us up. I looked at the screen. The arrow was pointing up — we were headed for the second floor.
“Holy crap,” I said. “Holy crap, what the hell was that?”
“I don’t know,” Laurie said breathlessly. “I don’t want to know.”
All of a sudden, a loud bang brought the elevator to a shuddering halt. The lights flickered on and off.
“No, no way,” I said. “This can’t be happening.” I pressed the second floor button. Nothing.
Laurie banged her hands on the door.
“Help!” she shouted. “Can anyone hear us? Kyle? Oliver? Help!”
I pressed the alarm button. Nothing. The emergency button didn’t work either. I slammed my fist on to the wall in front of me. “We’re stuck here,” I said. “I can’t believe this.”
Laurie stepped back from the door and put a hand to her chest. “Something’s not right,” she said. She drew in a sharp, quick breath and fell backwards. I jumped to catch her, but I was a second too late. She hit her head on the floor, her eyes rolling back into her head.
“No, no, no,” I cried out, “Laurie? Laurie, stay with me.” I knelt down over her to hold her head. “Laurie, wake up!” I said. She was still breathing, but only lightly. What happened to her? It was then I felt a presence in the elevator and it felt…evil. As if hope was sucked out of the room, and in its stead was left despair, grief, and anger. I felt an overwhelming sense of powerlessness take root inside me. I crawled into a corner and held my head between my arms.
“Go away,” I shouted. “Go away! Leave us alone!” I heard something knocking on the door. It was consistent. One, two, three. Pause. One, two, three. Pause. The knocking continued until I counted 12 knocks in total: four sets of three knocks. To my surprise, the elevator doors slid open to reveal an empty room, save for a lone computer chair at the other end. I heard Laurie stirring.
“My head,” she said and sat up. “What happened?” she asked, wincing as she stood up.
“You won’t believe it if I told you,” I said.
Laurie looked up at me. “Try me,” she said. “I had the weirdest dream.”
After I explained what had happened while she was unconscious, Laurie shook her head.
“I heard the knocks too,” she said. “Except, in my dream, I saw who was doing it. It was a man. He’s got this beard and a dark suit, but it’s not from this time, you know? It was like from the 1900s or earlier.”
“No kidding,” I said.
“And I think I know what the knocks mean.” Laurie didn’t wait for me to ask. “Three knocks, right? And a pause in between each series, for a total of four sets. I think the four sets of knocks represent the four of us — you, me, Kyle, and Oliver. The three…well, I think it means three things will happen to each of us.”
I felt myself shivering. “T-three?” I asked. “Why three times? What is this thing?”
“I don’t know,” Laurie answered. “But I do know there’s one more thing we need to see. That thing we ran away from was the first. The elevator was the second, and now, the third, whatever it is, we’ll probably see on this floor.”
I turned to the window and pressed my hand on it. On contact, I felt the coldness of the glass shoot up my arm. I realized could see my breath mist around my lips before disappearing. “Man,” I said to Laurie. “It’s cold in here, isn’t it?”
Laurie hugged her body. “Yeah, did it just get cold or something?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “But I’m freezing over here.”
Laurie walked over and put her arms around mine. “Let’s try to warm up a bit,” she said.
“Oh,” I stammered. I felt my heart beating faster. “I think…” I felt Laurie squeeze my arm. “What are you…”
“Did you hear that?”
“No, I — what are you talking about?”
“Quiet, just listen,” she put a finger to her lips.
I heard the voice again — it was closer this time. I pointed my flashlight out into the room, scanning the walls until I came upon the chair. It was spinning.
“Laurie,” I said. “We need to get out of here.” As soon as I said that, the chair stopped spinning and the seat faced in our direction, as if whatever was in that chair was staring right at us.
“Run,” I whispered to her.
A loud noise brought our attention back to the chair. Something had caused it to fall backwards. I heard footsteps echoing around the room.
“Now!” I yelled and we both ran towards the emergency exit. As we ran, I heard something cackling behind us. I turned my head to look and tripped, causing pain to shoot up my right knee and my hands. Laurie stopped running to come back for me. I looked behind again to see a dark shadow moving towards me. Laurie screamed when she noticed it too. Ignoring the throbbing pain, I got back up as fast as I could and yelled at her to head for the door. I sprinted after her. She held the door open for me and swung it shut once I ran inside. We ran down the stairs, almost tripping on each other. Our frantic steps echoed through the stairwell. Down on the first level, Laurie and I ran out the propped-open door, and into the outdoors.
I leaned over, panting. I heard someone whisper my name. On full alert, I quickly snapped upright and looked around for the source. Out from the brush, I saw Kyle and Oliver stumbling forward, dust and dirt on their shirts. Oliver had a gash on his forearm and a bruise forming on his forehead.
“What happened to you guys?” I asked.
“I don’t know, something happened to Oliver when we were on the second floor. He fell on his head and passed out. He only came to after I smacked his face a couple of times.”
“Yeah,” Olive said, looking sheepish. “I felt dizzy and stuff, you know?”
Laurie and I looked at each other. “That’s what happened to us, too,” Laurie said.
Kyle’s eyes widened. “You’re kidding?”
We shook our heads as they rehashed their experience. After Oliver was knocked unconscious, he’d explored further out into the second floor, when a dark figure chased them into a long hallway.
“That,” Kyle said, “was intense.”
“Shut up,” Oliver said. “You basically cried the whole time.”
“Wait, what did you see there?” I asked.
Kyle shivered. “It was something weird, man. Something not from here,” he said. “After the shadow chased us, we found ourselves in this hallway, then I felt really dizzy, like I was riding a broken carousel or something. Oliver says I fell down but I can’t remember. The next thing I know, all hell’s breaking loose, like doors slamming shut and things thrown at us.”
One by one, we exited the site until I was the last one out. I looked up at the building one final time, my eyes drifting to the window on the second floor. There, I could just barely make out a figure watching us from above. I yelled out to Kyle, Oliver, and Laurie, but by the time they looked up, the figure had disappeared from the window.
“Totally a bizarre night,” I said. “Totally bizarre.”
“Yeah,” Kyle laughed meanly. “And it looks like it’s going to be you staying in there by yourself tonight.