Everyone knows about Sanctuary around here. It's worn like a badge of honor. When you come to U of C, they always mention that one of the buildings at the university is over one hundred years old and is supposedly haunted. I still remember the tour guide at my orientation telling us, "The Sanctuary was abandoned because it's full of malevolent ghosts," and a whole lot of other dumb shit.

Actually, Sanctuary Hall's abandoned because it's structurally unsound. U of C didn't exactly want to be held liable for ceilings collapsing on students in the dorms, so they shut the building down over forty years ago. Now it's just kinda there. Nobody wants to tear it down, but they can't use it much either.

Still, it's good for pranks and dares. Frats liked sending people in and making them stay the night as an initiation. Dumb, but fun. And so far nobody's died, so it's harmless idiocy.

The school's faculty like telling stories about the place too. Most of our teachers graduated from U of C themselves, so they all have little anecdotes about the times they dared their friends to go into Sanctuary or got impressively drunk and thought they saw ghosts there. In a way, it's sort of a nice little bond. Everybody has something to say about the old building.

Of course, there are an absurd number of ghost stories about the place too. Most of them are stupid things of the "my friend went in and then he NEVER CAME OUT AGAIN" variety that only scare the incredibly timid or very drunk. There's not an ounce of truth in any of them anyway.

Well, that's not entirely fair. I personally don't think there's any truth, but if any building on campus was haunted, I'd expect it would be Sanctuary. It's nearly a hundred and fifty years old, and used to be a hospital before it got converted into a residence hall. Hence the name, "Sanctuary".

Partially converted, anyway. In the fifties the second, third and fourth floors got pretty impressively ruined in a fire, so they rebuilt them as dorms. The first floor and the basement stayed the same as they did when it was still the hospital. Twenty years later it was proved that the building was structurally unsound, so the administration shut it down.

Well, I didn't really pay much attention to Sanctuary during my first semester at U of C. I walked past it every day, but after a while it just sort of blended in. Part of the background. Nothing really interesting about it.

It helped that entire building was surrounded by a solid seven foot stone wall. Built from the same red brick as the rest of the building, I always assumed it had something to do with the hospital. Either that or Sanctuary masqueraded as a fortress. Anyway, there was a massive wrought-iron gate in front of the building that still had the faded "SANCTUARY RESIDENCE HALL" sign on it.

The gate opened to a courtyard, impressively spacious for the city, but totally dead. The grass was black and withered, and the few trees were gnarled, twisted things without leaves. Granted, nobody had opened in the gate to take care of the garden since the building shut down.

A couple of times I walked by I had to fight the urge to climb the gate- which would have been difficult but not impossible- and just sit in the courtyard for a bit. Despite being dead, it still seemed like the most tranquil place on campus. Probably because getting in required climbing over a wrought-iron gate or a brick wall, but I digress.

My first personal encounter with Sanctuary happened in February of my freshman year. I got dragged to a party just across the street from the building. I've never been much for parties, and this one certainly didn't change my mind. It was loud, it was hot, it was cramped and I ended up regretting my decision to come immediately.

Anyway, to abridge a long and rather boring story, I ended up getting dared by one of the upperclassmen to climb the gate and walk around the courtyard. Normally I'd have said no, but he bet ten dollars I'd be too chicken to do it and I wasn't passing up easy money.

Me and a couple of guys left the party and made our way across the street in a line that would have made Pablo Picasso proud. Once we were gathered at the gate, I sort of froze.

"What's the matter, freshman? Too scared?" My benefactor sneered at me. He pushed a ten dollar bill under my nose in a manner I think he meant to be cool. However, he was almost too drunk to stand, so it ended up just being comical.

"Nah, I'm fine," I said, fully believing it. I didn't believe in ghosts- never have. Walking a courtyard for ten bucks? Easy.

Climbing the gate was, as I predicted, difficult but not impossible. I scraped one of my knees on one of the metal points on the top. It wasn't deep- it didn't even bleed. It hurt a little, but I didn't really mind. Jumping down from the top of the gate, I landed on the other side.

The courtyard looked about the same from the inside of the walls. It was a little bigger than I thought it was, but not by much. There was old graffiti all over the walls, most of which I couldn't read or simply didn't care to. As I started to walk around the old courtyard, I noticed just how quiet it was.

I could see the drunken crowd watching, but they didn't seem to be making a lot of noise. It was odd. There was absolutely no sound in the courtyard. No wind, no rustling of leaves, not even cars driving by.

Have you ever noticed how unnerving the total absence of sound is? I don't mean being alone in a house or something were you can hear fans and that kind of thing all night, even if you aren't paying attention. I mean true, ultimate silence. As I walked, I felt alien. Foreign. Like I didn't belong.

Every breath sounded loud and clear. Every step I took echoed around me and rang in my ears. Every time I stepped in the grass my ears were assaulted by a sharp, loud series of crackling and crunching noises.

After a few steps in the leaves, I realized I was recoiling every time I made a sound. I felt like I was disturbing something sacred by breaking the silence. I tried to tread lightly, but it seemed the harder I tried to be quiet, the louder I became. I started sweating. I was breathing harder now, more heavily. The silence persisted, despite my intrusion. By the time I reached the edge of the courtyard, I could hear my own heart pounding in my head. A fast, rhythmic beat, loud and clear. The sounds of my life, reverberation through the stillness of the dead courtyard. I was sweating profusely, despite the chill winter air.

The experience was almost surreal. Every sound was magnified what seemed like a thousand times in this dead space. I rounded the edge and continued my trek towards the main door, my mind still on the ten dollar prize I was promised.

As I neared the door, I heard something. Something other than me. Soft and indistinct at first, but as I got closer to the door, I heard the sound more clearly.

Cling-ti, cling-ti-cling-ti-cling, Cling-cling-cling-ti-cling.

The sound was quiet, but clear. It was tinny and strange, but clearly some kind of music. I'd heard it before, somewhere. I couldn't remember where. I listened as well as I could.

The music seemed to be coming from the building itself. I took a few steps toward the door, and sure enough, the tinny sound grew louder. It wasn't a piano- it sounded too mechanical and compressed. But what was it?

I stood in front of the door for a minute, listing to the little melody. It seemed to repeat in the same pattern every time without fail. I wondered what could have been making it. Curiosity had always been one of my vices, so I pushed the rotting door open.

The wood groaned loudly as it swung open for the first time in a long time. I jumped at the sound, my concentration on the music gone.

Immediately my nose was assaulted by a rancid mixture of medicine, decay and mold. The building, quite unsurprisingly, smelled atrocious. I almost gagged when the first gust of air caught in my throat- I could taste the noxious air.

Slowly, I took a step inside. The door opened into a hallway, full of overturned chairs and tables. I assumed it must have been a lobby of some sort. The utter chaos was probably the result of looter who ransacked the building looking for anything to steal.

The inside of Sanctuary was dark. I could see maybe thirty feet into the lobby, but beyond that was a pitch-black void. I felt nervous staring into the blackness on the other side. The music was coming from there, I knew it. That was were I was going. Towards the heart of darkness.

A voice broke me out of my daze. "H-h-h-hey man, you don't have to go in," my benefactor slurred, still standing by the gate. I'd completely forgotten about them, consumed by the silence and the music. "You got your ten dollars."

I turned around to face the group and noticed to my surprise that all of them were pressed to the gate, watching me. I must've been putting on a pretty good show. "Ah, come on," I said, trying to sound disinterested. "This is where the real fun begins."

"Alan, you've made your point. Let's go back to the party," one of my friends called out from somewhere in the crowd. "This isn't fun."

"Speak for yourself," I said, walking out of the lobby and back into the courtyard.

A flash of white caught the corner of my eye. I whipped around, but there wasn't anything to be seen. The lobby was just as black and empty as it had been. I slowly turned around to face the group, trying my best to hide a devilish smile.

"What was that?" a girl called out from the crowd. Everyone seemed just as taken aback by my snap reaction.

I faced them, hoping I could by some force of will drain the color from my face and spoke with the most affected terror I could. "I've just seen a ghost," I said. My acting was rewarded with gasps from my audience. I laughed.

"No, I'm just messing around. Ghosts aren't real."

Movement from inside caught the corner of my eye, but I didn't turn around. Probably rats or something. Or my mind playing tricks on me. After a couple seconds it was gone, as quickly as it came.

The crowd was obviously not pleased with my joking. They looked terrified, not that I really cared. I was having a bit of fun.

"Come on Al, let's go," my friend said again. He sounded on edge. Much more afraid for me than I was, anyway.

"Actually, I'm not going to go," I said, completely deadpan. "You know what, keep your ten dollars. Go back to your party. Come back in the morning, and you'll see there's nothing in Sanctuary to be afraid of."

The crowd shifted anxiously. Someone from the back let out a nervous laugh. Finally, my benefactor broke the uncomfortable silence.

"You're fucking crazy, man," he said, obviously finding this funnier than frightening. "Tell you what, you stay here all night, I'll give you fifty bucks."

I laughed again. Not only do I get to prove I'm fearless by staying in a building that isn't haunted, I get to investigate the music and get fifty bucks? Maybe this wasn't such a bad idea.

Movement caught the corners of my eye. For a second I could've sworn two people in white were walking in the lobby, but a quick turn proved I was mistaken.

The crowd ate it right up though. "Sorry," I said, playing off their reaction, "I thought the ghosts had come back." Walking confidently up to the gate, I stuck my hand through the bars. "Fifty bucks. We've got a bet."

As I shook the upperclassman's hand again, I caught yet another glimpse of white in my peripheral vision. The moonlight must be reflecting off something inside, I thought, undaunted.

I watched the crowd disperse, amused at my own acting talents and my stroke of good fortune. Fifty bucks was enough for a couple meals. This wasn't such a waste of a night at all.

I turned back to the decrepit building and walking into the lobby, fully prepared to go hunting for the music's source. After fumbling in my pockets I pulled out my phone and turned on the flashlight function. The bright LED shone a decent amount of light on the lobby, which in addition to smelling horrible was now also revealed to be covered in a thick layer of dust and grime. I walked slowly into the void, my light penetrating a few feet ahead of me at a time.

The lobby lead into a hallway. I think the entire building might have been white at one point, but after so many years of neglect the building had taken on a sickly greenish hue.

The music was coming quite clearly from the right side of the hallway- still quiet and distant, but audible. As I fumbled around in the dark, I noticed the rancid smell of the building was coming from roughly the same place as the music.

Something squished underneath my feet. Looking down, I noticed to my disgust that I'd stepped on rat in the process of decaying. Scanning the floor with my light, I saw what looked like hundreds of dead rats in various states of decay- some were bleached bones, others looked almost freshly killed, blood still flowing.

The rat I had the misfortune of squishing, oddly, had no eyes- they'd been removed. Cleanly. Its head was completely intact, just two vacant sockets were the eyes ought to have been. A few others had similar disfigurements- missing limbs, clipped tails, stitched mouths. I shuddered at the thought of what sort of person would willing inflict something like this on rats.

Another flash of white caught my eye. I stopped dead. The white lingered in my peripheral vision.

Cling-ti, cling-ti-cling-ti-cling, Cling-cling-cling-ti-cling.

Nothing moved. The white remained on the edge of my vision. All I heard was my own slowed breathing, the howling of the wind through the hall and the distant music.

I stood there in silence and in fear for what felt like ages. The white shape stayed exactly where it was. Nothing moved. The music played. I steeled myself. I turned.

The white remained just on the edge of my vision the entire time, turning with me. Never more than a white enigma. I felt something brush past me, and I recoiled. I wasn't alone.

For the first time, I seriously considered just walking back out into the courtyard and leaving Sanctuary. Nobody could prove I didn't stay all night. Nobody would know I broke my end of the bargain.

Except me. And the music. I'd never know about the music if I left. I deliberated what to do, standing stock still amidst an ocean of mutilated rats. A tightness in my chest made me realize I'd stopped breathing.

I shook myself. No. I wasn't going to let this place beat me. There's no such thing as ghosts. I chanted in my head, over and over. It was silly, but I thought that simply saying that over and over would make it true.

I crept down the hallway slowly, keeping my light at eye level so I didn't have to look at the corpses. The music grew slowly louder as I made my way down the hallway.

Finally, I reached the end. In front of me was a simple metal door. The sign above it read "STAIRS" in large, friendly red letters. Exhaling deeply, I pushed on it.

For the second time that night, I was almost knocked out cold by the stench. The familiar scent of mold and decay was mixed with what could only be described as an unholy union of rotting meat, medicine and burning metal.

The stairwell was crude. To my dismay, it only went down. The music seemed to be coming from the basement, so regardless of whether or not I wanted to descend into the darkness, I felt I had to.

The stairs made a strange grinding sound as I walked down them, ancient metal scraping against ancient metal.

One foot went clean through one of the steps. My heart skipped a beat as I grabbed the banister to balance myself.

I immediately wished I hadn't. The banister was slimy and felt like grabbing raw meat. It seemed to pulse beneath my hand. I could have sworn it pulsed with the music, but I think that was just my mind playing tricks. The slime got all over my hand, coating it in a slick layer of... something. I pulled my foot out of the gap caused by the broken step, and carefully positioned myself to reach the next stable step.

Luckily I made it to the bottom without any other difficulties. I took a moment to examine my hand, still covered in whatever was left by the banister. My stomach turned at the sight of the sickly pale yellow-green pus on my hand. It smelled just as bad as it looked.

I could hear the music in the distance, louder than ever, but curiosity compelled me to check the staircase one more time.

The first thing I noticed was it didn't look the same. At all. The staircase- which used to be ancient metal- now looked like it was made of living, tumorous flesh. The steps- or rather, the shelves of flesh that used to be steps- were covered in massive, black boils. The banister was covered in large yellow veins that pulsed intermittently and seemed to constantly leak the vile yellow liquid that coated my hand.

Thoroughly disgusted but having no desire to go back the way I came, I walked towards the music. The floor squelched under my shoes and I felt liquid pooling with every step I took, but I didn't look down. I knew exactly what I was going to see. I simply didn't want to look.

I turned off my light, having seen more than enough of the basement already. The music seemed to be coming from somewhere very close, which was fortunate. I took slow, heavy steps, sinking into the floor every time.

I felt something brush by me again, slowly. I almost wanted to turn my light on and try to catch whatever it was in the act, but I put it out of my mind. I didn't want to see any more than I had to. The squelching feeling under my feet, the pulse I felt all around me, it was more than enough. I could feel this place. I didn't need to see.

After following the music blindly for a few minutes I ran smack into a wall of the disguising flesh. I must have directly hit a boil, because I heard a meaty squelch and then got showered with the yellow pus for my trouble. The music was coming from the other side of the wall.

Switching the light on my phone back on, I realized I hadn't run into a wall at all. I had run into a door. The boil popping was akin to the most disgusting, awful door opening ever. I noticed that the sign on the door, a holdover from original building before it became a mass of rotting flesh, was still hanging.

It said, in large, unfriendly capitals- MORTUARY.

Cling-ti, cling-ti-cling-ti-cling, Cling-cling-cling-ti-cling.

The music was coming from inside.As I walked in, relying on my meager light to guide me, I gagged as the small became even worse. I could taste the pus that had sprayed into my mouth along with the vile stench of the place. I caught another glimpse of the white again, but didn't dare look.

After all, I had found the source of the music.

Sitting on a pedestal in the middle of the room, completely untouched by the aberrant growths of flesh, was a simple music box. It was propped open, letting its simple tinny melody play.

Cling-ti, cling-ti-cling-ti-cling, Cling-cling-cling-ti-cling.

I stepped triumphantly towards the box. This was it. I had won. The source of the music, the reason I came down here, this stupid little box. Who knows hold long the stupid thing had been open, but that was it. A damn music box.

I was furious. I had suffered through so much getting here, and all I found at the end was a stupid music box? I noticed the white in my peripheral vision, but I didn't care. I felt like screaming. Or cursing. Or screaming curses.

As I got closer to the box, I noticed the white was now at both sides of my peripheral vision- or was it might have been two different things completely. Standing in front of it, I knew what I wanted to do. I had no idea why, I just knew.

I closed the lid. The music stopped. Absolute silence reigned. I could hear my breath, my weight shifting in the squelching floor, the beating of my own heart. Everything was quiet. I turned to face the white.

It didn't move this time. Two identical figures were caught in my light, staring at me, transfixed. Or they would have been, had they had eyes. Their faces were covered in the same tumorous flesh as the floor and walls, giving them misshapen, featureless faces. They wore crisp white lab coats, but they bulged out in weird ways that gave the figures an even more inhuman appearance.

The two figures stood. I stared at them. Nothing. No sound. Just me and these two things, locked together.

I started to laugh. It was too funny. All this way, and this is what I meets me at the end?

The figure on the right raised a grossly bloated hand and positioned the biggest lump to point at the music box. It made a strange, gurgling sound. It almost seemed like the creature's idea of speech, but it wasn't. I continued to gargle as the second one seemed to merge with the ground, traveling as nothing more than a mass of white on the floor to the back of the room.

I followed it as it reemerged at the other side. It was next to what might have been a gurney at one point, but it was now covered in the same hideous flesh. The second creature began moving rapidly around the gurney, poking and prodding the mass on top.

I walked over, slowly, cautiously. Sitting on the gurney, attended by the thing, was a massive tumor, at least ten feet across. Or at least, that's what I thought it was.

Then I noticed it had two tiny, pained eyes. And a mouth. And ears. This mound of flesh, this pile of abject horror, used to have been a man. As I looked at it, I noticed it didn't end. The tumorous flesh sprawled out all around, growing like wild ivy throughout the room and into the rest of the basement.

All of the flesh came from this thing. This was the source of it all. As I looked in an equal mixture of terror and fascination, the white coated thing stabbed several needles into the mass, causing it to quiver and shift oddly.

I felt a heavy thud on my shoulder. The first figure was now directly behind me, gurgling quickly. The guttural sound in my ear made my skin crawl. It turned me around to face it, its misshapen featureless face inches from my own.

"Opgrln...Bghlrth," came the strangled sound, in its best interpretation of communication. I didn't understand, and it could tell. Stepping back, it put a hand on its face and pulled.

There was a shower of blood and pus as the layer of bloated tumor flesh was pulled away, revealing a human face beneath. The thing- which now looked like a fairly old man- would have been rather normal except his eyes and mouth were stitched shut with what looked like muscle fibers, As I watched, the thing opened its mouth as wide as it could, pulling each thread out one by one.

"Open... Box," it said again, in a harsh, dry rasp. "Experiment... Must... Continue."

I heard an unearthly sound from the gurney. The mass was now wrenching and contorting and pulsating wildly. The second figure was doing its best, but it seemed like something was happening to the mass.

"Open. BOX." The first figure said to me, clearly commanding. Hesitantly, I opened the box again, not sure of what else to do, and not wanting to disobey the figure.

Cling-ti, cling-ti-cling-ti-cling, Cling-cling-cling-ti-cling.

The music filled the room. The mass on the gurney seemed to calm down and I noticed it began to pulse with the rhythm of the music. The first figure turned its face in my direction. I think it was looking me in the eyes, but there was no way to tell. Its eyes were still stitched shut.

"Thank... You," it said. "Experiment... May... Continue... Test.... Exponential... Growth..."

I was starting to feel weak at the knees. My adrenaline, my anger, my terror, everything was fading from me. I was beginning to realize exactly what was happening, and my brain was rejecting these shocking developments.

Everything slowly went dark. The first figure leaned over me. "Another... Subject...?" I heard as I slipped in and out of consciousness. The second figure gargled a reply, causing the first to say, "Right... Experiment... Must... Conti-"

I woke up out in the courtyard. I blinked a couple of times, not really sure where I was or what had happened. I noticed the upperclassman who originally made the bet with me was standing out by the gate, looking about as bad as one would expect after a night of hard drinking.

"Well, you did it Alan," he said, begrudgingly.

It took me a minute to realize what I had done. Right, the bet. "Fifty dollars, that's what we said."

"Yeah, yeah," he said as he handed me a couple of bills. "You know man, I don't get what's so scary about this place. It's just an old hospital."

"Well, there's the mortuary in the basement-"

"The what?"

"The mortuary. You know, where they used to put the corpses. Not everybody who goes into a hospital lives to tell the tale."

"Really?" He said, as if the idea of a mortuary was completely alien to him. "People died in there?"

"Probably, yeah."

"That's some sick shit right there," he said, smiling. I honestly couldn't tell whether he meant in context "sick" as in awesome or "sick" as in disgusting.

I laughed. "Still no such thing as ghosts though."

Cling-ti, cling-ti-cling-ti-cling, Cling-cling-cling-ti-cling.

I froze at the sound of the little tinny melody. The upperclassman looked at me, confused. "What, did you see a ghost?" he said, laughing.

"Don't you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"It sounds like... an old music box."

Cling-ti, cling-ti-cling-ti-cling, Cling-cling-cling-ti-cling.