Image by Lucie Paul

Merv trudged into the dorm elevator, with a bulging sack of laundry. It was 2 a.m. Understandably, she was not doing super great. And another person occupying the elevator was just another tiring thing that was happening to her this Tuesday (well, Wednesday).

“Hey, Luce.”

“Hey, Merv.”

Luce wore her typical uniform of paint-stained pants and a t-shirt, and moved nonchalantly to the side when she saw Merv. Neither spoke much after Merv stabbed the button for the bottom floor, not bothering to refocus her blurry eyes, and leaned her laundry burden on the bar behind her.

Luce stood, hands in pockets, utterly unperturbed as per usual. Amid the series of unfortunate things that can happen on a college campus, including but not limited to blocked toilets, house centipedes and getting lost in your own dorm, Merv had not seen Luce do anything more than raise her eyebrows and give a lopsided smile, even while escorting various friends to their own rooms, holding back hair and killing all manner of creepy-crawlies. Luce always seemed ready for anything, whether “anything” was a mixed martial arts fight or just eating the dining hall chicken (always over or undercooked, mysteriously never in the middle).

The elevator continued its downward journey, lurching and groaning as only an ancient (well, relatively ancient) dorm service elevator can.

Merv leaned her head back against the pile of long-overdue clothes, calculating how much sleep she could get, if there was a free washer AND a dryer, she folded her clothes with lightning speed, and Justin from the third floor was not taking up three out of three washers again.

Luce shifted her balance, and at the same time both of them noticed that this elevator ride had been going on just a little too long. Probably just a stall. There was the strange feeling of being suspended; like they were hanging by a thread that just might snap. Merv opened her mouth to say something, but the elevator stopped with a jolt, cutting her off.

Merv got ready to step through the doors as soon as they opened, just in case Justin from the third floor had had any bright ideas.

The doors opened to a hall fading into darkness. The dimensions of the hallway, once one’s eyes got used to the light, were the same as the usual basement, but it was not the same.

The walls were more or less identical to the upper floors, and the hallway curved off in its familiar old direction, but the cheery lemon-yellow paint had faded to a sickly gray, and the air was suddenly, chokingly, still. There wasn’t a footprint on the floor, or even, Luce noticed, a particle of dust. Despite the grim walls, the entire hallway was disturbingly clean.

There was suddenly the sense that this hallway had been here for ages, long before the building, and possibly long before the university. Luce caught sight of a gash marring the otherwise pristine wall, longer and deeper than any person could make without some serious tools, and felt goosebumps prickle at the back of her neck.

A dank waft of cold air blew through the elevator, swirling around its two passengers, bringing the scent of things long buried. Merv shivered, thinking, “Maybe some things should stay buried.”

The elevator’s fluorescent lighting flickered once, then went out. They were clearly much, much deeper than the basement.

Merv spoke first. “What the fu-

She was silenced by the only possible thing that could make the situation worse. A scratching, scrabbling noise, from further down the passageway, like the world’s biggest, hungriest cat. It was getting louder. Slowly (but not slowly enough for Merv and Luce, not by a long shot), a claw emerged around the corner. Skeletal and bone white even in the dim hallway, it scrambled for footing. Another claw joined it, and (much, much higher up) a huge skull, crowned with bony, tangled antlers, began to approach. Its eyes were two swirling pits, and the atmosphere it gave off could be described, succinctly, as Death. When its rib cage came into view, both occupants of the elevator remembered each other.

Merv’s eyes were bugging out of her head, until she turned and saw Luce’s eyes also bugging out of their head, but with her fists up, ready to fight. Merv’s eyes rolled, crisis briefly forgotten.

“What are you gonna do, punch it?”

“I don’t know-!” Luce exploded. “Fucking- press the close door button!”

“Those never work,” Merv grumbled, pressing the button. “It’s a placebo, actually-”

The seconds ticked by.

“It’s getting closer…” Luce hissed, reaching over and slamming the button herself. It was unclear whether the eldritch creature shambling towards them could hear, but it was definitely about thirty seconds away from joining them, and Luce did not think the elevator could fit another passenger. Unfortunately, the doors were remaining stubbornly open.

“I’m pressing it, I’M PRESSING IT!”

“Fuck the button, Merv!” Luce was tugging at the bar around the elevator, banking on the combined weight of every lazy college kid over several decades to loosen it. Giving up on the idiotic placebo button, Merv took off her laundry bag, holding it in front of her like a shield. If they were going down, they were going down fighting.

The creature was nearly within reach. Breathing hard, Merv and Luce made eye contact and nodded. At least they would go out in arguably the most badass way possible... minus the bra hanging out of the laundry bag.

The creature reached a claw out, emitting a creaking, groaning sound. Luce growled, and Merv got ready to charge, when the doors, against all expectations and in flagrant violation of any sense of plot, began to close.

“Oh sh- OH SHIT” said Merv, in response to both the doors and the creature gaining a significant amount of speed.

“AHHHHHH” screamed Luce, who prided herself on maintaining her cool most of the time, but was pretty much at the end of her rope by this point. She didn’t appreciate the possibility of turning into the stuffed animal in the Norris game room claw machine.

Both girls smushed themselves against the back of the elevator.

The doors closed. The creature reached. Both of these things were happening at objectively slow speeds, so it really did feel like it took forever. Merv squeezed her eyes shut, so all she heard was a crunching sound. When she opened them, it was in time to see Luce leap forward, smashing the button for the basement with all she was worth. They didn’t start breathing again until the elevator lifted itself with a geriatric groan, ascending to the floors they knew.

Merv sank down to the floor, landing on her butt with a bump. Luce puffed out her cheeks, leaning back against the wall. No one spoke for the rest of the journey.

“So what-” As Merv spoke, the doors opened, and besides the glorious sight of their familiar basement (O whitewashed walls! O undefinable yet definitely present scent of mold!) neither missed the sight of a definitely corporeal, white, something, once released from the doors, falling through the crack between the elevator door and the basement floor. Luce sprang forward like a cat, crouching next to the doors and holding up a hand to ward off the inevitable comment from Merv. Five excruciating seconds later, they heard the something hit bottom.

After a requisite thirty seconds, Merv breathed in again. “Which button did I fucking press?”