Danny was positive that Miss Rie, the guidance counselor, had lied to him just before, in her office. She’d said that she believed him, when he claimed to feel really bad about upsetting Miss Jean, with that thing he’d been looking at on the school computer. But when he’d confronted her about her belief about the other thing, the more important thing, she’d just…stared at him, her face as closed as a stone. Then she’d changed the subject.
Danny was small for eleven—his arms and legs were skinny, like the wings of a small bird. His own body reminded him of the hot wings that his mom always bought on Friday nights from the grocery store. They had barely a mouthful of meat on them, dark bluish veins running through the kind of gray skin, and the joints stuck out at abrupt angles. His arms looked even tinier, sticking out from the sleeves of his favorite oversized plain t-shirt, the one he’d worn until soft, its collar stretched out from anxious tugging. His jeans were new, though. Holeless, for now. Chosen by his mother so they’d fit him for a while, just like his Reeboks, which were scuffed up and no longer white.
It was lunchtime, and he slowly chewed his bologna sandwich, washing it down with the milk that came with it. The combination of the two was what the school provided as “free lunch.” The fluorescent lights hummed overhead. He kept his gaze on the fake wood of the table as he chewed. He particularly focused on the corner, where the plastic was peeling away to reveal the particleboard beneath. The other kids never talked to him. They never bullied or targeted him, but he sometimes wondered if maybe being so invisible was also bad. There were no school assemblies about being ignored, though.
“It really worked,” Karyn insisted, causing Danny to glance sideways. She had blonde hair and a real lunch box. “I was, like, so scared. She got on, and I just froze.” She was talking about the Elevator Game. She claimed to have done it last weekend on a dare, when her older sister and her friends helped her sneak in to the W Hotel with them. They were in high school. Hanging out with a fifth-grader.
“I can’t believe you actually did it,” Amber said. Danny didn’t, either. Karyn’s lunchbox was pink, with daisies, blooming across the front. That didn’t scream bravery.
“I can’t either,” Karyn went on. “The Other World is so weird—all of the lights are broken, and everything is rusty.” Danny knew—if he played the Elevator Game, he’d make it to the Other World. And instead of coming back to brag about it, he’d stay there.
“Did you look at the lady?” Brian wanted to know. He had a Captain America t-shirt on. His eyes were wide with something like respect for the lies that Karyn was coming out with.
“I’m here, aren’t I?” Karyn paused, tapping her front tooth with her index finger, nervously. As if she didn’t want to say any more. “I did see her feet, though, as she got on.”
“And?” Amber was wide-eyed, like an owl. She held a hand up over her mouth as she chewed her sandwich.
“They were blue.” Karyn was frowning, oddly.
“Like an alien?” Brian asked.
Karyn shook her head, causing her bangs to sway. “No. Like she was cold.” Danny’d looked straight at Karyn then. He saw her in a different way. She was calm, pale. Dark circles were pressed beneath her eyes. Her lips were pressed firmly together in a grim line. Karyn had actually been there—the Other World. You just didn’t look that way unless you had actually seen the real thing. A ghost, that is.
“I don’t think you even did it,” Brian said.
“I did. I swear it,” Karyn whispered.
“I don’t believe you,” Brian taunted.
“I believe you.” Danny’d spoken, without realizing it. The other kids all looked at him, more surprised than he was that he’d said anything.
“You do?” Karyn looked relieved. Danny knew—despite the daisies, and the pink, Karyn was someone who liked to peek. She was interested in seeing what was on the other side of the veil. And what she’d wanted, more than anything, was for someone to have said it—I believe you. He’d wished it himself, when he’d spoken to Miss Rie.
“What do you have to do?” Danny asked as Karyn slid over to sit closer to him.
“You have to go to the right floors,” Karyn told him. “In the right order— four, two, six, two, ten, five, and then one. But you don’t go back down to one— you go up, to the Other World.”
“Could you write them down for me, please?”
“You’re going to try it.” She wasn’t judging him. It just made her uneasy.
“Yes.” There was nothing that he’d ever wanted to do more.
“You can find it on the internet.” She wanted no part of it.
“But yours are the ones that definitely work,” he pointed out. It was a long moment before she responded. She was scared, that much was certain. There was a slight shake to her hands as she looked down at them.
“Okay. I’ll bring them. Tomorrow, okay?” She was frowning, like the thought of revisiting the steps filled her with dread. He nodded. That would give him time to prepare.
He wondered who had originally figured out the directions to the Elevator Game. After school, he trekked over to the public library to do some research. Ever since the incident with Miss Jean, he was afraid to do serious research at school. He didn’t find much— a page entirely in Korean, along with a rough English translation of the rules. There was an entire Reddit thread, too, all by other people who had done it, successfully. They had gone to the Other World and then returned. They said that the Other World would be empty, except for him. But he knew that there would be other people, without a doubt. All of the other people who hadn’t come back yet. He thought, if he did come back, he’d bring proof. And he’d bring it somewhere important.
Also, there was the woman, who got on at the fifth floor. By all accounts, she was dangerous. Danny knew that this wasn’t true. After all, not everyone is what they seem. Danny, for instance. Most kids thought that he was some loser to be ignored. His mother thought that he was a burden. And Miss Jean and Miss Rie both thought that he was disturbed. He knew better—he was a wizard. A traveler. The master of the veil.
The next day, Karyn handed him the rules at recess. “Are you sure you want to do this?” Her hair was pulled back in a rainbow scrunchie, the ponytail askew. Strands of her hair fell out of it, creating a pale halo around her face. He’d nodded—he had never been more sure. There was some type of magic in that pink, folded sheet of paper that she’d given him. He could feel it, emanating from the neat, creased folds.
“I’ll be fine. Thanks, Karyn.”
She gripped his hand, tightly, causing the plastic bracelets on her wrist to clatter. Danny flinched at the contact, but didn’t pull away. Her fingers were warm, damp. “Beware of the woman on the fifth floor. She’s not what she seems.” He nodded, again. Karyn was some kind of witch—the good intentions kind. She’d get over this, her first brush with the Other World. In a few years, she’d try again. He had a feeling that they would meet up then, on the other side.
“Good Luck, Danny.”
Then, he walked out of the school yard, in the middle of the day. He didn’t want to wait another minute to get to the Other World. He’d dreamed about it, long before Karyn had given him the key to get there. He had this idea—that, perhaps, the Other World was the opposite of this one. Karyn’s Other World was bleak, unhappy. Karyn’s Real World was full of pink and real lunch boxes. Danny’s Real World, on the other hand, was bologna sandwiches, almost-expired milk, and trips to the guidance counselor. The Other World couldn’t be worse than this one.
As he walked through the front door of the Commodore Hotel, his heart lifted. He took in the lobby: cracked black and white tile floor, vomit green armchairs, and a dusty, stuffed mackerel hanging over the desk. He hoped that the Other World would be a place where the kids at school were kind, and the mother didn’t drink so much, and maybe even the dad was still around. He’d packed his backpack with everything that he needed: a clean set of clothing, a stolen jar of peanut butter, and a half-used disposable camera, to get proof, in the event that he chose to return one day. Whatever happened, he was ready for a change.
While Karyn had used the elevator at the W uptown, he had chosen this hotel specifically. The Commodore Hotel was not a fancy one, where they might kick him out or ask too many questions. Karyn had help sneaking in. Danny was flying solo. The Commodore was neatly kept, but fraying along the edges. It was tall, made of red brick, and situated downtown, serenaded by the semi-constant sound of sirens. Across the street, there was a metal placard that proclaimed the corner as the site of a widely known and spectacularly brutal unsolved homicide. Most importantly, the Commodore Hotel had ten floors—and an elevator. Danny had walked five blocks and taken two busses to get here. He’d left a note for his mother, he’d cut school, and there was no going back.
No one spoke to him as he crossed the checkerboard floor of the lobby, where there were a few adults milling about. Even the woman with the smudgy red lipstick at the front desk didn’t seem to notice him. He had planned a lie in the event that he was stopped and questioned: My mother’s upstairs. She’s sick. She told me to come. He repeated the lie, over and over in his mind. He hoped that, when the time came, it would unspool perfectly from his paper-dry lips. He peeked, briefly, at the woman at the front desk as he passed. Her upper face was obscured by the battered paperback book with the partially clothed people on the front.
He walked faster, gooseflesh rising all across his skin as he neared the elevator. This. This was the reason that he was here. It was made of a brassy metal, with nine square panels on the front. To the right, there was a monitor, the green numbers telling you what floor the elevator was on—right then, it was on the fifth floor, fourth floor, third. Danny pumped his legs faster as he walked. Any moment, someone was about to stop him, he just knew it. He held on to the straps of his backpack, his arms sticking out at right angles to his sides. He reached out to press the button, round as a lucky gold coin. The door opened with a pleasant ding. It was a sound that promised good things—a celebration, an end to the quest. But he was far from the end. He stepped inside.
Standing beneath the bright overhead light, he breathed a sigh of relief. He took Karyn’s list out of his pocket. The hot pink sheet of paper was painstakingly folded into a neat chunk and a list was scribbled in a darker shade of pink:
Step One: Choose a building with an elevator that is ten stories high.
Well, that was done.
Step Two: Enter the elevator alone. DO NOT PROCEED if there is anyone else on with you.
“Wait! Hold the elevator!” an elderly woman called out, hobbling in his direction. She had a four-pronged cane, and was dressed in a brown fur coat that reminded him of a Muppet’s skin. The boy’s eyes widened and he shook his head rapidly: no no no no! Quickly, the boy slammed a fist at the button for the fourth floor (Step Three). The woman was still hobbling briskly toward the elevator, threatening to ruin everything. Frantically, he slammed his outstretched palm repeatedly on the button to close the doors. His eyes locked with the woman’s—behind her glasses, they were watery and blue. They slid shut just as the woman reached them. He heard her curse, muffled. Like a miracle, the brassy box began to move upward, emitting a warm, electric hum. He exhaled, relieved.
As the elevator rose, he thought of the night before, how his mother had watched him eat his dinner of Kraft macaroni and cheese. The pasta hadn’t been cooked all of the way through, and the cheese mixture was still gritty. His mother watched him eat while she smoked a cigarette. She had told him several times that, despite what he had learned in school, smoking was a choice that she had made, and not to judge her for it. Her hair was a brassy copper color, and it was frizzy. She was wearing a ratty, stretched-out sweater made of rainbow-colored yarn which she’d gotten from the Dollar General.
“How was school?” she’d asked him, her voice rough. This was her conversation starter. He’d come from her body, yet she had no idea how to act around him. It was like he was alien to her. He’d looked away from her, not wanting to talk about his disastrous trip to Miss Rie’s office.
“Bad?” she supplied for him. She liked when things didn’t go well. She loved to wallow, especially since she’d already drank a glass of gin while watching the macaroni pasta boil in the pot. He nodded as he carefully slid the tube-shaped noodles onto the tines of his fork. “Well, they say that it gets better. After high school. But you know what?” Her eyes were hooded, her lids heavy and swollen. Her nose was pink from drinking.
“What?” he whispered.
“It doesn’t. Life sucks, and it’s short. And then, you die,” she said, her face solemn, as if she was telling him about God. She took a drag from her cigarette, exhaling before she spoke. “And there’s nothing after. Not like everybody says. That’s the joke that the universe likes to play on humanity.” She took a sip from her second jam jar of gin. After the third, Danny would magically become invisible. She would be on the phone, trying to convince her ex-boyfriend to pay a visit. But his mother never lied to him, so he nodded, sucking the noodles off of his fork.
“Why do you eat them like that?” she asked him, the parenthetical lines between her eyebrows deepening. “It’s weird.”
He’d said nothing. It didn’t matter, how many times she called him that. Not anymore. He was going to the Other World, where Life didn’t suck and everybody ate their macaroni as they chose.
“Do you need a new coat?” she had asked him. Needing a new coat was a bother. It was getting colder, so she felt obligated to ask, and in the event that he needed one, provide it. With a whole lot of grumbling about how much it cost her to get it—in hours standing beside a register.
“I don’t need one,” he’d said, knowing that the mother in the Other World would get him a better one, and without asking. She’d nodded, took a sip of gin. And another and another. It wasn’t that he hated her. He just didn’t want to live this version of life. He was destined for greatness—he was going to become an adventurer. Master of the veil. A traveler to the Other World. There was another, alternate life, and he was going to live it. Perhaps, if he chose to return, having found the way through, he’d bring back proof. He’d be on the news and everything. Maybe she’d look at him differently.
At the fourth floor, the door opened with another celebratory ding. The hallway was empty, the black and white tile flooring smelling of fresh Pine Sol, sharp and astringent. Lemon. It reminded him of being sick. That step completed, he tapped the button for floor two, checking his list to make sure that he was following Karyn’s directions just right. The paper was becoming damp from his sweaty, agitated fingers. He felt adrenaline flooding the halls of his veins—they were tiled black and white, just like The Commodore. The doors slid shut, and the machinery hummed. Danny’s hair fell damply across his forehead and, his heart knocked against his sternum. What if it didn’t work? What if he had to go back?
A week ago, he had been doing research on the computer in the school library. He’d found out that there was a forest in Japan where people went to kill themselves. The librarian, Miss Jean, had looked over his shoulder just as he clicked on a picture of man’s body, still hanging from a tree. The man’s face was a dried-out husk, his mouth and eyes wide open, staring back at them, as if surprised—or screaming a warning. Miss Jean had let out a horrible moaning sound, and for a moment, he’d thought that it was coming from the man in the picture. When he’d turned, Miss Jean looked like she was about to be sick. He liked Miss Jean. She looked to be about his mother’s age—her hair was still a bright copper color. Her skin was worn, creased with wrinkles, and she always wore pastel colored skirts. She let him stay in the library late into the afternoon. Sometimes, she helped him find some good books to read. He felt sad that he’d upset her, and not because it had landed him in Miss Rie’s office.
Miss Rie had looked at Danny from behind her black-framed glasses. The guidance counselor was frowning. She always dressed in prim, stylish suits. Her hair and makeup were always perfect, glamorous. As if she’d been conjured from a glossy magazine. Every kid in school wanted to get sent to see her for some imagined emotional or mental fiasco…except for Danny. He had problems which were all too real. Problems which left bruises like fingerprints, and stank of gin, sipped from a jam jar. He kept them tucked away and shut up tight to prevent them from seeing the soft glow of Miss Rie’s salmon-pink Himalayan crystal lamp.
“Why were you looking at those pictures? They’re pretty graphic.” She was referring to the pictures of the people who had hanged themselves in the forest. The website had pages and pages of them.
He shrugged, his gaze on the wall just behind her right shoulder. He looked at the picture that Miss Rie kept behind her desk in a black, square frame just like her glasses. It was of a tree, scribbled messily in black on creamy, yellowed paper. There was a scrawled signature at the bottom right corner.
“Have you had thoughts of harming yourself?” she asked, gently.
“No.” His eyes travelled along the smooth black line of the drawing.
“Then why were you looking at them?” She shook her head, the curtain of her long, dark hair revealing the perfect shell of her ear. “Those were real bodies. Real people. They were in pain.” The boy thought of one of the pictures—it was of a skull, a pure white orb, with deep, staring holes. The teeth were like a perfect pearl necklace. Looking at the picture had made the boy feel a sense of calm. He heard a voice, somewhere within the folds of his brain, saying, Oh, hello. Like meeting an old friend. He couldn’t tell Miss Rie that, though.
“I want to go there,” he said instead, knowing that it was risky.
“Explain that to me.” Miss Rie tilted her head, blocking out the picture of the tree. Perhaps, if he told her, then he wouldn’t get in to too much trouble. He didn’t mind making it up to Miss Jean. If his mother found out, though…he would pay for it several times over.
“I want to see the place where the two worlds touch.” As he spoke, he kept his gaze on the drawing of the tree behind Miss Rie. If you thought about it one way, then it was a bunch of scribbles, if you thought about it another, a tree. He held both of them in his mind at the same time. Both were true. Both were real, creating a third image.
“Which two worlds?” she wanted to know.
“This world and the other world.” He’d known about the other world then, even before he’d heard Karyn talking about how to get there. He’d wanted to go—Karyn had just shown him how to find the hidden, tricky road there.
“What is the Other World?” Miss Rie asked.
“Don’t you know?” He looked straight at her, for the first time. Her eyes were dark, black. They were lovely. More lovely still, was that he could see that she believed him. It was like a shiny gold coin. It gave him hope.
“No.” She shook her head, unsmiling. Danny felt like he’d been shoved off of a large cliff. He stared at her, waiting for her to take it back. When she didn’t, he let out a deep rush of breath, emptying his lungs.
“Awkie-ga-herra is where people go to kill themselves. But…it’s more than that. It’s where the yooree are.”
“What’s a yurei?” Her face was neutral. She knew very well what a yooree was. She was pronouncing it like the people did in the video he’d watched.
“You believe ghosts are real?” She stated it as fact, not judgement. Yet, there was an implied judgment in the phrase that could not be taken back or ignored. She was, unfortunately, an adult. And adults often refuse to admit what they truly believe.
“Lots of things are real,” he said angrily. “You just chose not to believe in them.” Miss Rie had nodded, then changed the subject. In the end, all he’d had to do was to apologize to Miss Jean. He was supposed to help her after school as a punishment. He felt bad that he was missing it, but it was important that he get to the Other World.
When the doors opened on the second floor, Danny had the funniest feeling that there was someone there. Or rather, many people, all of them watching him silently. Just to be sure, he peered out into the hallway, making sure that he did not accidentally step out. He couldn’t see anybody—but that didn’t mean that they weren’t there. He felt them. They were observing him, judging him. Making note of his progress. He swallowed, bringing his head back inside. With two fingers, he pushed the golden button for floor six. The doors slid shut. The elevator itself smelled a little of sweaty feet and lemon-scented cleaner.
As the elevator rose, the sound, as it rose, was not a merry mechanical hum, but a definite creaking. It was the cord, he realized, which made the box part go up and down. It was straining, screeching. He stared at the brassy door, and his odd, distorted reflection in it. His eyes were two dark sockets, his mouth a dark grin. His face was distorted, ghostlike.
This was not a nice hotel, he thought. But it was nicer than the one that he and his mom had stayed in when his grandmother had passed away and they had traveled to Missouri for her funeral. That hotel had reeked of old cigarette smoke and bleach. The doors opened at floor six. There was nothing new or different about floor six. Except. He heard a loud, deep, exhalation. As if breath was coming from the mouth of a large beast. He heard another breath—in and then out, this one accompanied by a low, rumbling growl. The air in front of him seemed to shimmer—as if something was about to appear. Nervously, he pushed the button for the second floor. He didn’t understand why he had to go back to the second floor—he didn’t really want to, particularly since it felt like the unseen people would still be there. This was just part of the directions, and he needed to do it.
He listened to the sound of his own breath—in and out. The cord creaked as it unwound, going back down. He wondered what had happened to the lovely humming noise. His hands began to shake, and he clenched his fists as the doors opened on the second floor.
He could feel them, again. This time, he could hear them. It sounded like a party was going on, all along the hallway. There were voices, and the clink of glasses, old-time music. He peered out. When he did, the voices stopped. He couldn’t see them, with his eyes.
He heard a woman say, “Do you see him?” He froze.
“Can he see us?”
“Look!” The voices all went silent.
He could feel them all, staring at him, peering out. But he could see no one. No one at all. And then, right in front of his face, he felt, but did not see— a hand, move downward through the air, reaching for him, to pull him out of the elevator!
Quick as a blink, he wrenched himself back inside, slammed his hand on the “close” button, pressing his spine against the back wall. He was shaking, and he exhaled a sigh of relief when the doors finally closed. Swallowing a mouthful of spit, he selected the button for the tenth floor, listening to the sound of the cable as it creaked. He wondered, for a moment, if it was having trouble. It sounded like a rope, which was about to break. It sounded like it was carrying a great weight.
The anticipation was killing him. He was getting so close. He had taken his time, and had done all of the steps, exactly right. He had braved the unseen eyes of all of the people on the second floor, twice, as well as the Beast on the sixth. He grasped the paper with the instructions scrawled in Karyn’s childish handwriting in his tiny, sweaty fists. He stood in the very middle. He made himself very small, holding his elbows in close to his sides. She would need room, after all.
Finally, the sound of the cable, straining horribly, stopped. The doors opened on the tenth floor. The tenth floor felt empty. The lights seemed brighter there, cleaner. The tiles shone innocuously. He pressed the button with the number five on it. His heart began to pound harder. This was it. The woman would get on at the fifth floor. He closed his eyes, screwing them tight, and began whispering to himself:
“Please be real. Please be real. Please be real.”
The elevator stopped at the fifth floor. He opened his eyes.
He kept his gaze trained on the floor as the doors slowly opened. He knew that if he looked at her, he might not make it to the Other World. The last thing that he wanted was to offend her. In front of him, there were two bare feet on the black and white tile floor. They were blue, bruised and dirty, as though she had run for miles without any shoes on in the middle of winter. Joy filled him. It was the woman. He recalled the directions to Step Eight: If a woman gets on at floor five, do not look at her. She is not what she seems.
The woman said nothing as she got on, stepping past him to stand behind him. He expected as much. His heart did a strange, fluttering beat as he reached for the button. Hoping that the elevator would not descend, he pressed the button for floor one. There was a brief pause. Instead of going down, the elevator began to rise. The boy shut his eyes, inhaling and exhaling a few times. He had done it.
The cord was really stretched to its limit. He felt it as the car began to turn, like a corpse, hung by a noose. It began to rotate, slowly. The sound of the rope as it strained to hold all of the weight—protesting, threatening to break as it made the journey across the veil to the Other World. The high-pitched whine settled into the spaces between the boy’s joints.
The woman stood silently behind him until they were passing the seventh floor. She began to hum, and it was beautiful, haunting; it was like a lullabye. With a start, he realized that it was a lullabye that his mother had sung to him, long ago. Was the woman his mother? His mother, but from the Other World?
The doors opened on some unknown floor, and the boy stepped out. It was dark, and he squinted as he tried to see through the shadows. The lights all began to flicker on all up and down the hall. In a soft, musical voice, which sounded oddly like Miss Rie, the woman asked him,
“Where are you going?”
He looked at the window at the end of the black and white tiled corridor. All of the lights were blinking on and off, a loud buzzing sound. The sky outside of the window was dark and starless. He could see, in the distance, a glowing red cross atop a far-off building.
“Where are you going?” she repeated, sadness in her tone. As if she missed him already, a piece of her very own body that she had been searching for. Danny turned and looked behind him.
She was a woman, but she was more than that.
“You’re an angel,” he whispered, and the woman smiled, her black pointed teeth reminding him of a cat. She emanated white light that was dark in nature, chaotic. She wore a loose white dress that was frayed and dirty along the hemline. As he watched, an ink-black stain spread out from the center, staining the fabric. Her gray-skinned shoulder jutted out through the neckline.
She had frizzy, bluntly cut brass blonde hair. She held out her arms to the boy, a gift. He walked into them. It was like slipping underwater; the boy held his breath. It was beautiful. The mother in the Other World embraced him, taking him for her own.
In his ear, she let out a strange, growling exhalation. Her teeth bit into his neck. He pulled away. As he did, his eyes locked onto hers, which were nothing but two black holes that ran deep into her skull. Her skin was gray, with dark veins, spreading out like branches. She was inhaling, the growling sound emanating from her chest. He slid his feet backward. An alarming chunk of his own skin was stuck in her teeth, dripping wetly. She smacked her lips—as she chewed his flesh, her tiny black tongue flicked over her teeth. The woman reached for him again, demanding. She was hungry, and wanted to be full again. She staggered awkwardly, making another grab, her long nails narrowly missing his face.
Holding his torn neck, Danny broke into a run, making for the stairwell that he knew must be at the other end of the hallway, the one opposite the end with the window. He ran past innumerable doors, all of them rusted shut, the rust and mold escaping in tendrils like fingers, clawing to get out. The hallway went on—ahead of him, there were only shadows and doors. Sometimes, he thought he saw the faint red flicker of an Exit sign. He ran down hallways without end, and the knowledge that she was behind him, lurking in the dark that he’d already come out of.
She was reveling in the scratches on his hands and arms from hitting in to the walls and the small slapping of his shoes on the tiles. He knew it, as sure as he could hear the sound of water, dripping from the ceiling.
And he went on, deeper and deeper into the Other World, where there was no mother. There was no macaroni. Or coats. There was only a hallway. And water, dripping. And the sound of his feet, running. And the woman behind him, waiting for him to give up.
She’d been called up from her post at the front desk of the Commodore by a guest—the elevator had gotten stuck on the fifth floor again. As she walked down the hall, her heels clicked on the tile, and her heart began to race, although she couldn’t say why. She saw the light from the open brass door, shining into the hall. That was when she felt the rush of air, as if someone was running past her. And she felt, rather than saw, a little boy. And she heard, not with her ears, but in her brain, the sound of him screaming in fear. As soon as she felt it, it was gone. She was breathing heavily, her hand on her chest. It was as though her brain was telling her that there was, in fact, a ghost.
She thought of the woman who had been murdered across the street with a chill. It had happened when she was a young girl. An aspiring movie starlet with golden locks of wavy hair. The man who had killed her had chopped it all off, leaving her with a blunt cut and no organs. Her corpse had been nothing but an empty husk, left out in the winter cold. It made her sad—the poor thing, left all alone, and all cut up like that.
She shivered—her arms and her chest and the back of her neck were covered in gooseflesh as she remembered the few hotel guests who had claimed to have seen the dead starlet, on this very floor. They said that she’d gotten into the elevator with them, a woman with a blunt, messy bob and staring, empty sockets for eyes. She’d always believed it to be nothing more than active imagination. She preferred to think positively. No such thing as ghosts, right? She reached the open elevator, peered inside.
The doors were stuck open because a small, skinny arm was in the door, the hand stretched out into the hallway. A boy’s tiny body was splayed like an awkward bird in a pool of blood. His throat was torn open, as if he’d been bitten by a very large dog. His mouth was ajar as though he were saying something, or taking a last breath before sinking beneath water. Or screaming. His eyes were open wide, the obsidian circles of his dilated pupils staring out at her.
Superimposed over this was the sight of an empty elevator, the floor clean.
What is it, she wondered, when your brain and your heart and your nerves are all telling you that it’s real, but your eyes are telling you that it’s not there? No such thing as ghosts, but—when she closed her eyes, she felt and heard them all as they ran past her, screaming in terror. Echoes, through a veil which sliced reality neatly in two—all of them, still running on the other side. From whom, or what—she didn’t know. But she could feel it—a predator whose hunger permeated the hallway behind her.
Jessica Drake-Thomas is a poet, freelance writer, tarot reader, and former college English professor. She has an MFA from Emerson College and an MEd from the University of Arizona. She is the author of Possession, a chapbook from dancing girl press.