I love my school.
Ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to go here. In the interests of anonymity, I can’t tell you the name of the school, but I can tell you that it’s known for its prestigious academics and killer football team – and I am a huge, HUGE football fan.
I was overjoyed to be accepted. It had been my dream since I was old enough to sit on my dad’s lap while he watched the Super Bowl, so you can imagine how much this meant to me. As a result, I learned everything I could about the school. All of its many years of history I studied, keeping careful track of dates, names, and places. If you give me a date in history, I can tell you if something happened at my school.
But there was one thing I didn’t know. And I was unfortunate enough to find out about it first-hand.
It happened one night in the library. I had stepped into the elevator with another girl, a petite blonde sort with dark circles under her eyes that bespoke an all-night paper-writing session in progress. She was going to the eighth floor. My finger snuck out and hit the fourteenth button, and she stared at me curiously as the doors slid shut.
“The fourteenth floor, huh? What kind of books are you looking for there?”
The fourteenth floor is full of the more… obscure books in the library. Unless you’re researching a very, VERY specific topic, you’re not likely to find yourself there. Seriously, I’m pretty sure one of the books was called The History of Sweet Potatoes in Southern China.
“Oh, I’m not looking for any books. I just needed a quiet place to study.” An interesting note about our library is that the further you go up, the quieter it gets. The first floor is a pretty boisterous place, with its study areas and meeting rooms. The top floor – the fourteenth floor – is deathly quiet, so much so that you can actually hear yourself think.
The girl gave me a scandalized look as she said, “You’re not serious, are you?”
I blinked at her in confusion. “So what if I am?”
The elevator dinged as we arrived at her floor. As the doors slid open, she said, “Do yourself a favor and stay out of there. The fourteenth floor is a bad place.” And then she was gone before I could ask her what she meant.
I was thrown off a bit by the encounter – I can’t say I’d ever met a harbinger of doom before – but I quickly dismissed her warning as the numbers on the elevator climbed. She could probably tell that I was a freshman and was just messing with me, anyway. Sick hobby to have, although I saw the appeal.
By the time I hit the fourteenth floor, my mind had returned to the paper I had to write – on feminism in Japan, if you’re wondering – and I stepped onto the quiet floor with no qualms.
God, but it was quiet.
I stalked around the floor, scoping out the various study desks. I thought it was a little strange that no one else was up there. After all, the library was the number one place to study, and many students spent entire nights there under the influence of heavy coursework and inhuman amounts of caffeine. Still, the floor was dead. It was just me. I found that suited me quite nicely as I found a desk near the east window overlooking the campus.
I sat down, opened up my computer, and sighed. I had a long night of bullshitting ahead of me.
I’d been there about an hour by the time I finally looked up from my computer.
Since I’d sat down, I’d had this weird sense of unease. It was almost like the air was suffocating me, the walls closing down on me and boxing me in. If anyone else here is claustrophobic, you’ll know the feeling I’m talking about. It was like I didn’t have enough room to breathe.
Still, I’d managed to pound out a few pages. Halfway there. I looked up and stared out the window, giving my eyes a break from my screen, when I noticed something strange.
A plume of white smoke was rising from my dormitory.
Now, the library, being as tall as it is, gives quite the view of campus. As such, I had the perfect vantage point from which to observe the flames licking out of the first floor windows.
My breath caught in my closing throat as I watched girls begin to pour out of the dorm, their mouths covered to shield them from the smoke.
I leapt to my feet before I noticed that my dorm wasn’t the only one smoking.
The two dorms on either side were on fire as well, the students beginning to point and scream as they were engulfed in molten orange. I wanted to scream, too, only I couldn’t. Somehow it was stuck inside of me.
In a panic, I grabbed my things and threw them in my backpack, slinging it on my back and running for the elevators.
I ran down the closest aisle, then veered to the left, expecting to see the elevators on my right-hand side.
Instead, I was greeted with… more aisles.
What the hell? I thought as I stared at the books, holding silent dominion over the dusty floor. I was positive that the elevators had been there. I shook my head and ran down a few more aisles before choosing one to follow, expecting to see the elevators… well, somewhere.
Again, I was greeted by a never-ending maze of aisles.
This… is not possible, I thought, my heart beginning to race.
In a daze, I continued to run, choosing random pathways and praying that some exit would reveal itself. No matter how far I ran, however, I was greeted with looming masses of books, watching me eagerly for signs of distress. I didn’t even run into another wall, for God’s sake. I knew the floor wasn’t this big. And yet here I was, running frantically with tears in my eyes.
In desperation, I tried to find my way back to my desk, but the maze stretched eternal behind me as well.
Finally, I slowed down, my heart thumping and bile rising up in my throat. I pulled out my phone to call someone – anyone, just to make sure I wasn’t crazy – but it had died. No, no, I had a full charge when I left the dorm. I tried to turn it on, but it didn’t work.
I’ll just… keep walking. That’s it. I didn’t have any other grand ideas.
I was halfway down another aisle when I heard a rumbling sound.
“Wha…” I began, only to be cut off by a book dropping to the floor in front of me. It appeared to have shaken itself off the shelf, if that were possible. It had fallen open, its inky prophesy turned skyward.
And then – I swear to God – it began to bleed.
At first, it was just a trickle coming from the book’s binding. I wasn’t even sure what it was. But then a river began to flow forth, covering the floor, and a sickness rose hard in my throat. There could be no denying that thick, irony smell or the sludgy shades of red it left behind.
I found myself rooted to the spot until the blood began to shower me from the bookshelves.
I screamed, the crimson ink spilling into my mouth as I dashed for the end of the aisle. I slipped a little on the floor but managed to keep my balance and push forward, the sound of dripping liquid thick in the air behind me.
I ran for a long time, I’m not sure how long, when I felt my phone buzzing in my hand. I looked down at it, shocked, seeing a call from a blocked number. You’re not even supposed to be working! I thought, suddenly wishing it would turn black again. But it didn’t, so, stupidly, I answered the call.
“H-hello?” I asked.
I didn’t hold the phone by my ear for long. A rough, terrified scream roared at me, blasting its way through the receiver. The voice screamed and screamed without end, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t end the call. I dropped the phone and continued running.
I felt as though I was at the end of my rope when, as if by some miracle, I saw the elevators in front of me.
“Oh, thank Christ!” I screamed, sprinting for the doors. I mashed my hand against the down button as the lights on the floor began to flicker. It seemed like hours later that the doors finally slid open and I stumbled inside, covered in blood and shaking. I turned back, facing the now pitch-black floor and gasped as the doors slid shut.
By the time I got outside, it was already light, and six hours had passed.
I gaped around in horror, wondering if I’d really been there that long. Sure, it felt interminable, but I’d figured I hadn’t been at the mercy of that hell for more than an hour at most. There was no way… was there? Yet there I was, blinking at the light seeping into the sky.
Even more surprising, my dorm was in tact. I walked around the halls, watching as other students walked by. Finally, I gathered the presence of mind to ask one of them about the fires.
“There wasn’t a fire anywhere on campus last night,” she said, giving me a worried look. “Are you sure it wasn’t just a nightmare? Or maybe you had too much to drink?”
I didn’t dignify that with a response.
I locked myself in my room and opened up my computer, only to find that all those pages I’d written didn’t exist. I scoured my computer for them, but they were just… gone.
I spent most of that day alone and in tears.
To tell you the truth, I don’t know what happened on the fourteenth floor. I’ve spent many sleepless nights trying to decipher the images, the sounds, the slow moments imprinted on my brain, but nothing revealed itself as logic.
All I know is that there is something up there. Something that took great pleasure in toying with me, something that wanted me to stay.
I’m a senior now. Although I spend much of my time studying in the library, I haven’t been near the upper floors since that night.
But now I’m writing a thesis – one on homosexuality in China – and I need a very specific book containing homoerotic illustrations from the Tang dynasty.
Guess which floor it’s on?