Taking a deep breath in a futile effort to calm her nerves, Hayley Ferris carefully maneuvered her car into the only open parking space and turned off the engine.
It had been a hectic morning. Not thinking that she had anything pressing going on that day, she had turned off her usual morning alarm so that she could sleep in. Because of this, she hadn’t seen the email that had come in from Harris & Sterling until nearly two hours after she had received it.
Harris & Sterling was one of the most prestigious law firms in the city. She had applied for an internship fully believing that she would never hear anything back. Each year the firm brought on one or two interns at most, and the ones they did were the best and brightest. The diplomas of those interns usually featured names like Harvard or Yale on them, not colleges like Ohio State.
Hayley had been shocked to find a request for an interview waiting for her in her Inbox when she woke up. The request had been for less than forty-five minutes after she had managed to roll out of bed. Normally she would have simply replied and asked to reschedule, but this was Harris & Sterling. She couldn’t risk someone interviewing before her and landing the internship just because she had chosen that particular day to be lazy.
She had quickly accepted the interview request and practically thrown herself into the shower. Within twenty minutes she was dressed in her best suit and racing down the three flights of stairs from her small apartment to the street. Her car had amazingly decided to cooperate that day, and to her relief the engine had turned over immediately.
When she had arrived at the law firm, however, she had found a sign hung on the front door stating that, due to construction in the lobby, all staff and visitors would need to use the rear door. She had gone around the building and down a tight alley before arriving at the back parking lot. Finally at her destination, she got out of the car and smoothed the edge of her suit coat with her hand.
There were two doors on the brick wall of the building, one on the left side of the parking lot and the other on the right. Neither of them was marked, and there was no window on either one of them for her to look in. For a long moment she looked back and forth uncertainly between the two, not sure which one she was supposed to use. She hoped that someone would come out of one of them to solve the dilemma. When that didn’t happen, she quickly checked her watch and went over to the one on the left. There was no point in standing around like an idiot by her car. If it was the wrong door, she’d simply go over to the other one.
Hayley turned the knob and opened the door. She peered into the building beyond, but the sun was high in the sky and the brightness made it difficult to see anything inside. She hesitated for just a moment before nodding to herself and stepping through the doorway.
As her eyes adjusted, she found that she was in the wrong place. The room she was standing in was empty. Feeling slightly embarrassed, she turned on her heel to leave.
It took her a moment to comprehend what she was seeing. The door that she had come through was gone. The wall where it had once been was completely blank, like it had never been there in the first place.
She suddenly realized that she must have come through some sort of one way door. She had seen them before in offices, although admittedly none of those had been doors coming into the building from the outside and had instead been privacy doors acting as one way access into a room. Reaching out to touch the wall, she ran her fingers along the surface in an effort to find some sort of edge or seam. She didn’t find anything.
Hayley didn’t allow herself to panic. Taking one last look at the wall, she turned on her heel and glanced around the room she was standing in. There wasn’t much to see.
What there was, however, was an arched doorway leading further into the building. She quickly crossed over to it and passed into the next room. If she wasn’t able to go out the back, she would just have to find and exit through the front door.
The second room was just as devoid of furnishings as the first had been. Two windows adorned the wall opposite where she was standing, but there was no door to be seen. To her left, a wooden staircase led up to the second floor. With the exception of it and the doorway she had just come through, there wasn’t any other way in or out.
She hurried over to one of the windows and looked out. The glass was so dirty that she couldn’t see through the panes. No, she corrected herself. It wasn’t dirty. She peered closely at it. There was some sort of coating on it. It was some kind of heavily frosted glass.
Stepping away from the window, she walked over to the foot of the stairs. She peered up. After a dozen steps or so the staircase turned to the left before continuing on. There was light coming from around that corner.
Hayley hesitated for a moment before calling out, “Hello?”
Her voice echoed up the staircase, but there was no answer. She tried again and was met with the same result. Not sure what else to do, she began to slowly ascend the stairs.
Even on her best days she wasn’t very good at walking in heels. She had only gone a few steps up when her right foot slipped on the wood. She swore as she barely managed to catch herself on the thin railing. After less than a second’s consideration she went back down to the bottom and took off her shoes. Placing them on the first step, she turned back around and continued up to the second floor.
There was only one room at the top of the stairs, an attic with a sloped roof. Hayley wasn’t very tall, but she still had to bend over to fit beneath the low beams. Like the rooms downstairs it was empty.
A single round window was fitted into one of the walls. She carefully crossed over to it to get a better look. The panes were stained glass, and they formed the image of an orange orb that she assumed represented the sun against a blue sky and above a green hill. The light streaming through it filled the room with spots of color. She wasn’t able to see through any of the panes.
She went back down to the first floor and leaned up against the wall at the bottom of the stairs. It was time to swallow her pride and admit that she couldn’t find a way out of the building. She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and pressed a button on the side to turn the screen on.
The screen was completely white. Hayley stared at it in confusion for a long moment. She had never seen it, or any other phone for that matter, do that before. She held down the power button to turn off the phone in an attempt to reboot it. Nothing happened.
She returned the phone to her pocket. As she did so she noticed that her hand was shaking. A few minutes earlier she had forced herself to remain calm, but now the panic was starting to rise once again and she was having difficulty keeping it contained.
Just as she thought that she was starting to win the internal battle, she opened her mouth and yelled for help. She jumped at the sound of her own voice. She hadn’t realized that she was going to cry out. For a brief moment the panic had won out over her reason and she had acted through pure instinct.
The fear was suddenly replaced by anger. She hadn’t felt like this since she was a small child hiding under her blankets and hoping that it was one of the nights her mother passed out in the living room instead of coming into her room in a drunken rage. She had promised that she would never allow herself to feel that out of control and powerless again, and yet here she was doing just that.
Hayley called out again. This time she kept her voice strong and steady as she did so. She waited a few moments for an answer, and when one wasn’t forthcoming she tried once more.
No one replied, but this time she noticed something. Her voice sounded different somehow. It took her a few seconds to work out that there hadn’t been any echo. She was shouting in an empty building. Her voice should have been bouncing off the walls and ceiling, but instead it wasn’t coming back to her at all.
She placed her hand against the nearest wall. It was warm to the touch, and she idly wondered if there were pipes carrying hot water behind it. Pushing that pointless thought out of her mind, she curled her hand into a fist and knocked on the wall with her knuckles.
She could hear the impact, but it was much more muted than it should have been. She placed her ear against the wood and knocked again. She shook her head slowly as she stepped back from the wall. It was like the entire room was soundproofed. If it was, though, it was the best soundproofing job that she had ever seen.
Not sure what to try next, Hayley slowly walked back into the room she had first entered from the outside. She drifted over towards one of the windows and tapped it with one finger. In addition to being translucent, it was also extremely thick. There was no way that she would be able to break it.
She paused with her fingertip still on the glass. Had this window always been here? She couldn’t remember for sure. She had thought that the wall had been featureless when she had first come into the building. Obviously she was misremembering.
Hayley took a single step back and let her hand fall to her side. She was sure that she was right. When she had arrived in the parking lot she had been forced to choose a door at random because there hadn’t been a way to see inside the building.
She ran her hand over her face. The circumstances that had brought her to this point had clearly started to take their toll. Windows didn’t just magically appear out of thin air. The logical explanation was that she had simply not seen it while she was in the parking lot, or maybe she had and had instantly dismissed it due to not being able to see through it.
The light coming through the window dimmed slightly, as if a cloud had passed over the sun outside. Hayley felt a chill run through her. She suddenly had the feeling that she was no longer alone. It wasn’t a feeling that she could explain. She hadn’t seen or heard anything that would have given her that impression. No matter how hard she tried to shake it, though, the feeling remained.
It took a lot of effort for her to turn away from the window. Every instinct was telling her that there was someone or something right behind her. Swallowing hard, she forced herself to turn around.
There was no one there.
She swore under her breath. Of course there wasn’t. She was once again being childish.
The feeling of someone’s presence remained, however. Trying to prove to herself that there was nothing to be afraid of, she moved away from the window and back towards the doorway. When she reached it she stopped. Part of her wanted to burst into the next room to prove her bravery, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to do it. Instead, she stepped off to one side to conceal most of her body and craned her neck around the corner of the doorway to look out.
She felt her breath catch in her throat. A large chair made of dark wood and cracked leather sat in the center of the room. The wood was covered in ornate designs of what appeared to be roots and vines winding their way up and around the chair. The leather seat and backing was a faded red.
Sitting in the chair was something that she couldn’t quite wrap her head around. It’s shape was human, but it was completely featureless. Every inch of it was covered in a smooth gray material. She was reminded of an unfinished clay statue.
Hayley pulled her head back away from the doorway and put her back to the wall. She closed her eyes and clamped her hands over her mouth as she began to breath heavily. The figure didn’t have any ears, but she was still afraid that it would somehow hear her.
She jumped as something thumped against the floor upstairs. Her nerves were already frayed, and the noise caused her to lose what little control she still had over herself. She began to cry as she sank down to the floor. Her hands remained over her mouth in a vain attempt to smother her sobs.
It took a while for her to get ahold of herself. Eventually she was able to stop crying, and she used the back of one hand to wipe the tears off of her face. Although she wanted to stay right where she was instead of facing the figure again, she knew that she couldn’t. She didn’t know what was happening, but she was certain that she needed to find a way out as quickly as possible.
She stood up and ran a hand through her hair and nodded to herself. Before she could talk herself out of it she stepped through the doorway into the other room. The figure was still sitting in the chair the same way it had been when she had first seen it.
There was another thump from upstairs. Without taking her eyes off the motionless figure, she slowly walked around the perimeter of the room until she reached the stairs. She wrapped her hand around the banister and began to slowly ascend the stairs. She kept watching the figure as she did so. It wasn’t until the staircase wall blocked her view that she turned her attention upward.
The attic was different than it had been when she had left it a short time earlier. It was darker inside, still bright enough to see but dim enough to cast shadows along the floorboards. A long bookcase sat against the far wall, its shelves empty. A dust-covered pedestal with an open book was in the center of the room. She started towards it but stopped again when she noticed the window.
The image in the stained glass had changed. The sun was lower than it had been, and instead of the sky being blue it was now light pink with hints of orange and red. The grassy hill was a darker shade of green. Instead of the sunny day the window had originally depicted, it now showed a sun setting.
Hayley noticed an odd sound. It was extremely quiet, so quiet that she could barely hear it over the sound of her own breathing. She listened intently, but she couldn’t figure out what it was. She tried to ignore it as she went over to the book.
A few sentences were written on the open pages. They were messily written, like they had been scribbled onto the paper by a child.
In the dark you face your plight
As he comes for you in the night
None shall hear your screams or cries
As the light fades from your eyes
Hayley glanced back over at the stained glass window. Maybe it was her imagination, but it seemed like the sun had sunk just a bit lower. She returned her attention to the book and flipped through the pages. All of the others were blank.
There was no doubt in her mind that the nursery rhyme-like lyrics were referring to the figure downstairs. She had no idea who had written them, but it didn’t matter. She needed to get out of the building before she lost the rest of the light.
With one last look at the window she hurried over to the stairs and went back down them. When she reached the bottom she stopped and bit her lower lip nervously. The room had changed again.
The figure was still seated in its chair in the middle of the space. The chair now stood on a thick red rug with gold patterns that were the same as the ones on the chair itself. Three paintings were hanging on the wall across from it, and below those was an ornate fireplace. The logs inside were unlit.
She examined the paintings. The first showed a child sitting in a rocking chair clutching a small stuffed bear. A large black shape loomed over the child, and although it didn’t have much detail she could make out the shapes of two large curved horns extending from its head.
The second painting was of a man on his knees praying at a white altar. Blood covered his brown robe and dripped from his clasped hands. A broken rosary laid on the ground in front of him.
The final painting was of a waterfall. Instead of water, blood poured out over the rocks and into the lake below. A woman stood under the waterfall, her face upturned in rapture as the liquid flowed over her.
Hayley felt sick. She turned away from the paintings and back towards the figure. It hadn’t changed its position in the chair. The light was rapidly fading, however, and she was having a harder time making out details. She had to hurry.
She crossed through the doorway into the other downstairs room. This room had changed as well, and she let out a brief yelp before she was able to catch herself.
In the center of the room was a large table. The dark wood was extremely thick. The top was covered in thick dried blood and gore.
Above the table hung a series of chains. They ended in razor-sharp hooks with barbed ends. Attached to one of the hooks through a hole in its handle was a cleaver the size of her forearm. The blade was discolored and was chipped in several places.
Just beyond the table was the door. It had reappeared and was right where it had been when she had entered the building. She felt her heart leap. Being careful not to touch the table, she hurried over to it and grabbed the handle.
It wouldn’t turn. She put all of her strength into it, but she couldn’t force it to move. In frustration she slammed into the door with her side. There was no give, and pain flared in her shoulder.
Ignoring it, she knelt down and examined the handle. It had grown so dim that she couldn’t see it well, so she reached into her pocket and took out her phone, pressing the button to turn on the screen. It was still blank, but the white had faded to a dull gray and it barely illuminated the handle.
There was a lock that she hadn’t seen before. She lowered her head and closed her eyes. Her whole body shook in fear and exhaustion.
Hayley banged her hands down on the floor so hard that it hurt. She refused to give up like this. If there was a lock, there had to be a key for it somewhere.
As she forced herself back to her feet, she noticed that the noise she had first heard upstairs was louder and more distinguishable now. It sounded like a group of voices all whispering at the same time. She couldn’t understand what they were saying, but she didn’t have time to worry about that. Quickly looking around the room to make sure that the key wasn’t there, she left and once again found herself looking at the figure in the chair.
It had grown darker, and the room had changed once more. Now a chandelier was hanging from the ceiling, and more paintings had appeared on the walls. A mirror, its glass smeared and cracked, adorned the wall behind the chair.
Hayley’s body ran cold. The figure was no longer featureless, at least not entirely. It had a mouth that was partially open, revealing rows of silver pointed teeth. There were two small holes above the mouth, and a pair of narrow slits where the eyes would be on a person.
Her eyes fell on the figure’s right hand. The fingers now had definition, and they ended in points. Grasped in the closed digits was a key.
Not having a choice, she slowly approached it. She kept her eyes on the figure, but it didn’t move as she drew closer. Being careful not to touch the hand itself, she reached down and tried to pull the key free of the figure’s grasp. It’s grip was impossibly strong, and she wasn’t able to budge it.
She backed away. There was another possibility, but it was so distasteful that she was surprised that she had even thought of it. Knowing that she was almost out of time, she hurried back into the other room to retrieve the cleaver.
The light had almost completely faded. Unable to see the table in the darkness, she tried using her phone to find it. The screen remained black. She tossed it away and continued forward with her hands outstretched.
After a few steps her fingers touched the hard wood. She carefully pulled herself up onto the table, trying to ignore the feeling of the gore smearing against her. She reached up with one hand to grasp blindly for the cleaver she knew was hanging somewhere above her.
She swore as one of the hooks dug into her palm. Instinctively she snatched her hand back, and the chain clanged against the others around it. She clenched her teeth together and tried again. No matter where in the darkness she felt, she couldn’t seem to find the cleaver.
There was a noise from out in the other room. It was the sound of leather adjusting as weight shifted it on it. No longer able to keep a grip on her fear, she stood up and flailed around looking for the blade.
Her foot slipped on the slick table surface. She fell hard onto her back, her head slamming against the wood and the air whooshing out of her lungs. Sparks seemed to fly in front of her eyes, and she felt like she had been pulled underwater. She shook her head in an attempt to clear it as she struggled to pull in a breath.
Hayley felt the air shift on her face as the figure reached the table.
The whispering in her ears was so loud that it hurt. It was a chorus of hundreds of voices, all of them chanting the same word over and over again. She closed her eyes as tears began to fall from them.