"I don't even know what I'm doing here."
"If it makes you feel any better, I don't know what you're doing here either."
Celia had been ever so kind as to share with Martin and me just how much she regretted her decision of trusting me, all the way to Joseph Cecil of the Valley. Now that we'd arrived at the university, and were standing outside the main entrance, it didn't look like she was about to let up either.
"How many times do I have to go over the reasons why this is all scientifically impossible?" she started again.
"Impossible, and yet here we are. Hmmm."
"I don't remember seeing any 'Gigglers' so far. Then again, how can I see something that doesn't exist?"
I slapped a hand to my forehead. "If you're sure of that, why did you even bother coming?"
"I thought you had real evidence to support your claim!"
"We do! You've seen it!"
"You showed me an ancient paper with illegible writing and a faded symbol on it. That's not evidence!"
"What about the cases?"
"Those could just as easily be prostitution rings, or unrelated events!"
"Would you two shut up?" Martin interrupted, rubbing his temples. He'd had his default look of cold apathy on all morning, but now he had his brow furrowed in annoyance. "We're here because we don't have enough evidence. That's what we're here to look for. Now be quiet before I reach for the hatchet."
There wasn't much either of us could say to that, and Martin turned and began walking across the courtyard before we could respond anyway.
The university wasn't pretty. From the front, it looked more like an office building, tall and uniform. It looked like it'd had just one too many coats of paint, and smelled of artificial life and empty emotion. The place altogether looked like someone had tried to breathe life into an old corpse with some makeup and a cheap tux.
We walked into the administration, searching for someone who looked friendly enough to look the other way about our lack of appointment. Martin scanned the room for a few seconds before approaching a woman on the left wall. She had frizzy red hair and a splash of freckles, and looked to be in her late twenties.
"Excuse me, but could we have a chance to look around?" Martin asked her. "We aren't expected, but we're really interested in this college."
The woman smiled pleasantly, and I assumed we had our "tour." The illusion was promptly broken when, without changing her expression, she said, "There are no tours scheduled for today. Without an appointment, you're not looking around."
Celia stepped forward to try and say something, but the ever so helpful woman had gone back to whatever she was typing. The three of us exchanged a look, and I just shrugged.
It's situations like these that enforce my theory that the less people one needs to speak with to get something done, the better that something will turn out. After all, when was the last time you heard of undertakers with job difficulties?
"Well, that was completely worthwhile," Martin said once we were back outside.
"My favorite part was where she said 'no,'" I happily provided.
"You're not one to complain!" Celia jumped. "You didn't even try to help!"
"Alright, fair point. It's a bit late for that now, though. Why don't we focus on finding a way in?"
Celia stopped to think for a moment. "Well, we look enough like college students, and Martin actually is one. We could try to just blend in on campus?"
"Huh. Simple, but it'd probably work."
"There's no way that'll work," Martin replied.
"How is this working?"
"Don't question life, Martin," I said poetically, lifting an arm towards the horizon for dramatic effect. "Simply let it carry you upon its waves..."
Martin lifted a finger as though he was going to reply, but eventually he just sighed. "Whatever. We've spent enough time blending in. Let's get back inside and start looking."
"Looking for life's supreme answers?"
"Just hurry up!"
At the time I didn't know Martin all that well, I admit, but I knew him well enough, and I could tell he wasn't acting right. His breathing wasn't entirely regular, and his voice seemed sort of... intense. Edgy. My stupid jokes aside, something was bothering him.
Out of reflex, I stuck my hand in my jeans pocket, and felt something rough and wrinkled near the bottom. I took it out for the umpteenth time to look it over once more. I'd been trying to make something out of it ever since we'd found it in the basement of that school, but there was nothing more I could make of it than what we already had. It was the bottom corner of a page, yellowed and frail with age. On it was a single word, along with something near the bottom that looked like a symbol. The word was all but completely faded, but we thought it was "Solomon." The symbol seemed to include a pair of arrows. Wait-
"Come on!" Celia called from the entrance.
"I think you guys should see this."
I pointed to a bulletin board next to the door. Aside from the student advertisements and a student newspaper article, there was also a notice from the university itself. Below the writing was the university's logo.
"What about it?" Martin asked impatiently.
I held up the scrap we'd recovered next to the bulletin notice.
"It's... the same symbol," Celia said. She shook her head vigorously. "No. That doesn't mean anything. There's a logical explanation for that. There always is."
"Guess we're in the right place," I said grimly.
Hmmm... have you ever wondered how Edgar Allan Poe wrote his stories? I mean the way they're written, you'd expect him to have been spasming, or striding wildly around his house. Just something that was on my mind - anyway, I digress.
We eventually found what we thought we were looking for in one of the separate wings, on the outside wall, in the form of a boiler room door.
I looked the old, rusted metal door over, examining the flaking hinges, mystery dents, and orange patches. There was something about these kinds of places that produced an air of prohibition, and something else. It felt as though you were staring down a seemingly simple mask, and behind that was a face with a thousand secrets. It was the known holding back the unknown, order holding back chaos. The feeling rubs off on you, and you realize that your own fear is the only thing holding back a medley of emotions you can't even begin to understand. The difference between the two is that sometimes, fear isn't always enough to restrain you.
A bit late to back out now, anyway, I thought, shaking the unpleasant sensations off as best I could.
"This is as good a guess as any," I announced.
"Yeah, if we can get in," Celia said, pointing at the door. "Look. There's no padlock, just a keyhole. Bolt cutters won't do us any good here."
"Oh, yes they will," Martin said. He moved past Celia, stepped up to the door, stuck one of the cutter's teeth into the keyhole, and began to push down.
He let out a grunt of effort, and I could faintly hear the whining of the metal bending. Then Martin began to pull outward.
"Martin, I know how-"
Celia was cut off by the piercingly loud clang of the entire keyhole plate being torn out of the door. In its place was left a jagged, vaguely square hole.
"There," Martin grunted.
"Martin, I could've picked the lock!" Celia hissed in a hushed voice. "I know how to do that! That's what I was trying to say!"
"Guys, that was sort of loud," I said. I sounded even more alarmed than I felt. "The guards will probably circle around any second. We can discuss this inside."
That got them along without further argument, and they tumbled into the room and down the flight of stairs. I tried to replace the ruined door as inconspicuously as possible, and followed. At the bottom, a pale beam of white lit up the surroundings, coming from Martin's heavy duty halogen flashlight.
Tables against the walls were loaded with old and new tools alike. Pipes ran along the ceiling and the left wall, taking water wherever it needed to go. Against the far wall there were two large boilers, each about 7 meters tall, with about a foot of space between them. The sound of sloshing water within them was faintly audible. I felt sort of disappointed. Where were all the torture instruments and corpses?
"You see? There's nothing here," Celia declared. "It's just a regular boiler room."
"We're obviously not gonna find anything that easily," I retorted. "Look around before you get too excited."
"Look for what, exactly?"
"An entrance," Martin called from one of the tables.
Martin didn't respond, and just tossed us each a flashlight. Something was very, very wrong with him.
With that, we turned the place upside down, sideways, and diagonally. Celia checked the tiles for trap doors, I checked behind the pipes on the wall, and Martin examined under and above the tables. We each came up with nothing.
I even checked the stuff scattered over the tables for hidden switches, weird keys, I didn't even know. After 45 minutes of uncovering absolutely nothing helpful, I was just about ready to start searching for Platform 9 3/4.
"Alright," I said with a sigh when Celia walked over. "You may be right. There IS nothing here."
"There has to be," Martin said. He was still searching, and had somehow squeezed himself through the space between the boilers.
"Dude, just give it up. We've turned this place inside out. There's nothing here. It must be somewhere else in the university."
In frustration, Martin hit the boiler, hard, with his flashlight. The tank emitted a loud clanging. A hollow clanging.
"What the-?" Martin drew himself up against the wall as much as he could and shone the light on the tank.
"There's a seam here!"
"No way." I leaned into the space to see. There was a rectangular seam there. "Huh. What're the odds?"
"Get me the crowbar from the backpack," Martin ordered.
"I'll get it," came Celia's voice behind me. She unzipped it and started going through it. "Length of rope, crowbar, bolt cutters, gasoline? What exactly were you prepared to do, Martin?"
"You get used to that," I muttered.
Still muttering something about arson, she found the crowbar and handed it to Martin. Martin wedged the crowbar into the space as far as he could and began to push. The thing didn't even budge. He put his back against the other boiler and began to push the crowbar with his legs. After a few seconds, there was a loud screeching as the ancient, concealed, rusty hinges were forced into motion again, and slowly the door swung open.
I quickly took my flashlight and shone it into the newly-formed cavern, expecting to see Gigglers in waiting. Instead, there was a very narrow staircase that continued straight down for about thirty steps and then turned left. We all looked at each other. Sure, this was exactly what we had been looking for, but we weren't eager to backflip down those stairs either.
Finally, Martin gave a single nod, and we followed him down into the darkness.
As it would turn out, the staircase was a lot longer than we originally thought. It seemed to continue endlessly down, thirty steps, then left, with another thirty steps waiting around the corner. We continued this pattern for what felt like an eternity. We must've been a mile down when we finally saw the flight of stairs ending at another ancient iron door. This one, however, was thick and sturdy, with a single glass square pane. There'd be no tearing through this one. Martin was about to give it a try anyway when he noticed that the door was ever so slightly ajar. He put a hand on the door and turned to us.
"You guys ready?" he asked.
Celia and I nodded. Without further ado, Martin pushed the door open.
The wave of old, dank air that hit me made me shiver. It wasn't carrying the almost physically painful smell of rotting meat, like last time. In fact, this smell was probably the complete opposite. You could taste the dust, the ashes, the age. It was the smell of negligence and abandon, devoid of any kind of life at all. I wasn't sure if that was a relief or not...
Taking a step inside, I shone my light into a long corridor. The walls weren't brick or stone but solid iron, like those of a bomb shelter. The whole place looked like the intestinal path of some gigantic metal construct. The corridor continued for about twenty feet before splitting into three different paths.
"Three paths," Martin started. "Alright, we should-"
"No," Celia and I both replied in unison.
We instead chose to go left. This second corridor had four doors in it, two on each wall. Each door looked the same as the first had. What was this place? Why was it so fortified? What were they trying to keep out?
Martin opened his mouth to say something but Celia hissed him quiet, putting a finger to her lips and pointing down the corridor.
"We don't know if we're alone," she said, in a tiny whisper.
I nodded. As quietly as I could, I walked over to the first door on the right and put a hand on it, listening for a moment. Hearing nothing but the sound of my own beating heart, I took a breath and kicked the door open, throwing the beam of light around the room in wild slashes.
It looked like an ultra-modified version of a school chemistry lab. Long, smooth metal tables, test tubes and beakers galore, but also strange machines and tools I didn't recognize, and in the far back of the room, what looked like an operating table. Nothing living.
I turned back to Martin and Celia and have them a thumbs-up, to confirm we weren't about to be eviscerated. They both relaxed their tensed muscles.
We repeated the pattern for the next few hallways we chose to go down, finding no sign of any Gigglers. Even so, with each ajar door we came across, Celia looked more and more troubled. I couldn't blame her. There was something bothering me as well; I just couldn't place what it was.
Three more laboratories. A study, with several desks piled high with yellowing papers and journals. A room full of nothing but rectangular metal boxes. They were arranged in neat rows, and each one had a number messily scrawled on the side. I didn't linger in that one too long. A room that, unlike the previous rooms, was completely black, and also completely empty. Well, we thought it was empty until Celia stepped into it and slipped in what was at least an inch of fine, powdery material, covering every inch of the floor space. The room was coated in and full of nothing but ashes. Celia, once she stood up, was also coated in ashes, her once spring green sleeveless shirt a dark, murky gray.
"Let's check the other rooms," she said through clenched teeth, while I struggled not to snigger.
After about seven hallways, Martin signaled us to stop.
"So far, there doesn't seem to be anything down here but ourselves," he whispered. "I say we retrace our steps and start investigating the rooms we've already seen."
By then I had figured out why things felt so wrong, but Celia managed to speak up first.
"We need to get out of here, Martin. Now."
"Haven't you noticed?" she asked, fear snaking its way into her voice. "This place was clearly supposed to be kept completely secret, and it's built like a freaking nuclear bunker. So why has every door we've come across been open?"
"And why is there so much stuff here? The other places were wiped clean," I added. There was one more thing, and it chilled me to the bone. All the doors in this place opened inward. Maybe it wasn't about keeping people out. Maybe it had been about keeping something from getting out.
"We can't just leave without learning anything," Martin replied, stubbornness dripping off his words.
"Someone's been here recently, Martin," Celia pleaded. "We don't want to be here when they come back."
We all froze at once when we heard it. They were faint, and slow, but still unmistakable in the otherwise heavy silence. Footsteps.
A thousand things raced through my head at once, none of them making any sense. My heartbeat threatened to drown out the footsteps. The footsteps melted into each other and suddenly it was like there was one step and a million at the same time. This was the very last thing I had wanted to hear.
The creaking cut through my thoughts like an old knife. The sound of ancient metal being forced into motion after too long sounded for a surreal eternity, finally punctuated by a deafening boom as the blast door slammed shut.
It sure as hell hadn't been the wind.
Written by JustAnotherScarecrow