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Beyond Creativity

The 10th Floor

LoopyPanda

Black Jacket
Joined
Sep 3, 2015
Messages
12,022
Location
cyberia cafe
This short story is based off the urban legend game Elevator to Another World. I changed some parts of the instructions so a wandering eye won't get any ideas.


Chapter 1: The Elevator

It was a normal day that started like every other monotonous day. This was something that Margo dreaded.

Work, sleep, wake up, work, go get groceries, stay inside, sleep, wake up, work, grab the mail, go home, sleep. She hated this never-ending cycle that she was forced to call a routine. Margo had few friends, and was mostly a shut-in if she wasn't working at the restaurant downtown in the kitchen all day. It was a predicament; she wished to have had a more exciting life than her current one, but was too exhausted to do much more than fulfill her daily tasks.

I don't want to be doomed to a life of monotony forever; but at the same time, I hate the idea of going to places filled with strangers to make friends.

Margo hated these thoughts that she would only get when she was alone, very late at night. It made her loneliness much worse, and she often would put hours into trying to put her complicated feelings into words. Hours into the night would pass by where Margo put countless search entries and come up with only a mixed bag of answers. She ended up neglecting to take her insomnia medications for several nights in a row, which she strangely didn't notice for the first few days.

On her days off, she would sleep excessively and indulge in the internet. These days weren't usually productive, which exacerbated her feelings of inferiority to anyone ‘normal’ by comparison, due to being left with her own thoughts. But recently, she had found interest in mysteries. Mystery novels, debunking urban legends, reading about urban legends, participating in blog discussions that picked apart years-old mysteries that remained unsolved. It kept her mind busy, but it made her mind wander about what couldn't be explained by cold hard facts alone.

That was when Margo began to read more about urban legends. At first, she read about simple ones like the more common cryptids-- Mothman, the Lochness Monster, Wendigos, the Chupacabra. Then she explored urban legends like The Crying Woman, the woman with a surgical mask, Futakuchi-onna, Yuki-onna. Eventually, she stayed up late solely to read as many urban myths as she could before eventually falling asleep. But she wanted to read something.. more. Something that would give her some real interest. These urban legends didn't really intrigue her past wondering what they actually look like, and how well they can become debunked under the right magnifying glass.

One night after work, she read up on the most recent discussion posts for the mystery-lovers’ website she frequented as of late. Margo found a thread that caught her eye-- it was a thread with links to ‘rituals’, or supernatural games one can play. She wasn't a pious person by any means, nor was she exactly a believer in the supernatural; she simply found it as interesting as a fantasy novel would be to an escapist daydreamer.

Some ‘games’ were interesting to read, but Margo found as utterly pointless besides giving someone a reason to revisit their fear of the dark. Some rituals, she picked apart as she read along. If any of these were particularly real, she didn't see any direct benefit from inviting some supernatural entity to your home. The last one she had read on the list, however, was one Margo found the most interest in.

“Elevator to the Alter-World.”

The Alter-World? Margo clicked the link, and was led to what seemed to be a blog site that archived multiple ‘games’ that toyed with the paranormal. This page, titled the same as the web link, but detailed full-length instructions. Margo felt her heart rate increase. She couldn't understand why-- perhaps it was because the title was an eerie parallel to the phrase “Stairway to Heaven?” She continued reading, feeling compelled to do so, now much more awake than the last links she had boredly skimmed over.

“Before you begin, you must procure 2 things; otherwise, the game will not work.”

  • You must find an elevator in a building with at least 10 floors.
  • You must be the sole rider of the lift-- the game will not work should others enter the elevator."
Okay, easy,Margo thought. Her apartment building was exactly 10 floors. But the only way to ensure she would have been alone would be to go late at night. That wouldn't be an issue, she wasn't one to go to sleep early as it was, and she already had neglected to take her medication every once in a while. Margo continued reading.

“Venturing Out:

Enter the building and get into the elevator on the first floor alone. Do not proceed if anyone else is in the elevator.
Press the button for the 4th floor.
When the elevator reaches the fourth floor, do not get out. Remain in the elevator and press the button for the 3rd floor.
When you reach the 3rd floor, remain in the elevator and press the button for the 6th floor.
When you reach the 6th floor, remain in the elevator and press the button for the 2nd floor.
When you reach the 2nd floor, remain in the elevator and press the button for the 10th floor.
When you reach the 10th floor, remain in the elevator and press the button for the 5th floor.
When you reach the 5th floor, a young woman may enter the elevator. Do not look at her and do not speak to her.”


Margo furrowed her eyebrows at this sentence. Was the woman just not human, or what? Does this game just summon a demon woman into riding an elevator with you? She scrolled down the page.

“Press the button for the first floor. If the elevator ascends to the tenth floor instead of descending to the first, then proceed. If the elevator descends to the first floor, exit as soon as the doors open. Do not look back or speak. If you reach the tenth floor, you may either choose to get off the elevator or to stay on it. If you choose to get off, and if the woman entered the elevator on the fifth floor, she will ask, “Where are you going?” Do NOT answer her or look at her. You will know whether you have arrived at the Alter-World by one indication, and one indication only: The only person present in it is you.”

So you go through all that anxiety just to be in some other dimension by yourself?... Margo thought it was a relatively good deal. No blood sacrifices, you only need to avert your gaze (which she was already good at), and you can go to a world where it's just you, all for yourself. Margo wondered what it would all look like. The description was quite vague, so this was either to let your imagination run wild, or to draw people into playing. So far, Margo saw that there wasn't really a ‘catch’ to any of this besides the woman. But how do you get back?

“To Return:

If you chose to stay on the elevator at the tenth floor: Press the button for the first floor. If it doesn’t work, keep pressing it until it finally does. When the elevator reaches the first floor, exit as soon as the doors open. Do not look back. Do not speak.


If you choose to exit the elevator at the tenth floor: You must use the same elevator to return as the one in which you arrived.
When you enter the elevator, press the buttons in the same order you did in steps 2 through 8. You should finish at the fifth floor. When you reach the fifth floor, press the button for the first floor. The elevator will again begin to ascend to the tenth floor. Press any other floor’s button to cancel the ascension before you reach the 10th floor.


After you reach the first floor, check your surroundings carefully. If anything seems off—even the smallest detail—do NOT exit the elevator. If you detect something wrong, repeat step 2 until your surroundings look as they should. Once you are confident you have returned to our world, you may safely exit the elevator.”

Margo drummed her fingers on her desk. She couldn't believe she was actually considering playing this foolish game. But then again, what is there to lose? If she thought about it rationally, the worst that could happen was that she'd have wasted about 20 minutes in an elevator. The best that could happen was that she managed to travel to a different dimension altogether.

But what if she accidentally looks at the woman?

“Additional notes from the author: I have only managed to find these scattered about the internet to translate, and have found no concrete proof. So feel free to take it with a grain of salt.

Should you reach the Alter-World, the floor onto which you will emerge will look almost identical to the one from our world. However, the lights will be off, and the only thing you will be able to see from the windows is a red cross in the distance.


Some say that electronics don’t work in the Alter-World; others say they do. Getting back to our world may be more difficult as you may become disoriented and forget which elevator in which you arrived; the elevator may seem to get further and further away from you, et cetera. Be vigilant; if at any point you faint, pass out, or otherwise lose consciousness, you will likely wake up in your own home. However, be sure to carefully examine your surroundings upon waking—the “home” to which you have been returned may not be the one you left when you first set out to attempt this ritual.
Concerning the woman on the Fifth Floor: Do NOT speak to her. Do NOT look at her.”


At this moment, Margo’s mind completely ignored the weight that the word ‘ritual’ carried. She felt fascinated by the elevator game, lured in by the promise of a chance to visit a completely different world than that of the one she knew. This was the excitement she was looking for! Margo’s mind was set-- she would play the game. Perhaps in this newfound knowledge of a possible nexus opening to another dimension, she unconsciously undermined the ominous warnings heeding the player to avoid the elevator woman at all costs.

I should only do it when I have the next day off and I'm not totally exhausted. Margo yawned as she bookmarked the links regarding the game and shut down her computer for the night. I'll just write down the instructions tomorrow before I head to work.

. . .

The next morning, Margo showed up to work about an hour before the opening shift would start. Her shift slogged by slowly due to her mind constantly wandering to the outcomes from playing the elevator game. She wondered what the woman would look like. A normal person? A creepy zombie? An apparition?

“...Hello? Margo! Hey! You're holding up the orders!”

Margo blinked, snapping out of her distracted trance, before looking at her coworker. “Oh, uh, sorry…”

Her coworker, Lindsay, glared at her from her station. “We’ve got a rush going, get with the program and wake up!” She finished a plate and sent it out. “Are you sick or something? You aren't usually so spacey.”

“I-I’m fine,” Margo ducked her head and buried herself in her work, hoping Lindsay wouldn't notice the dark rings under her eyes...

“You need to actually go to bed instead of staying up doing whatever it is hoping you’ll fall asleep. I thought you ditched that habit?” Lindsay asked, in a low tone to avoid drawing attention to her friend.

“S-sorry, I am taking the capsules for my insomnia, but… my memory has been getting bad, so I forgot to last night. And didn't notice until it was too late,” Margo explained. “Don’t worry…”

The work day was uneventful from that moment on. When the next night drew near, Margo made sure to have gotten 9 hours sleep the night before and wrote down the instructions from her bookmarks on some index cards she found lying about. She almost couldn't believe she was actually going to do this. Although she had the next day off, she decided to board the elevator at 1:30 a.m., and had brought an analog watch with her to keep track of the time. Since her apartment was on the 7th floor, she had to ride it down to the lobby floor before actually beginning the elevator game.

Margo decided to take in the sights of the lobby of her apartment complex before she began. Her apartment building was fairly old, and was renovated in the early 80s, which was evident by the retro feel of the lobby.Only a few people were there, and one of them was the building manager who took the night shift with the security guard at times. If they were gone when she came back, then, according to the game’s rules, she should not get off of the elevator just yet.

Time to get this over with. Margo pressed the call button, and stepped in the middle elevator of the three to press the button for the fourth floor. Surprisingly, she didn't feel herself shaking with anxiety, nor did she feel her hands begin to sweat. At least, not then. Nobody was waiting to board the elevator, to Margo’s surprise.

From then, she looked at her paper and began the sequence. Up to the 4th floor, down to the 3rd, up to the 6th floor, down to the 2nd floor, then up to the 10th floor. While this was rather uneventful as the doors opened to empty hallways, Margo didn't feel any anxiety up until the elevator began going to the 10th floor, because then, is when she had to go to the 5th. The fifth floor was where she would possibly encounter the woman.

Her hands shook as she pressed the button for the 5th floor, and she instinctively began scooting for the corner so she forced herself to be looking only at the button panel. Margo snuck glances at the screen that displayed the floor number; it felt like eternity during this descent, but as the number was lowering down to 5, she felt her body shake more, her hands becoming clammy, and could feel her fingertips go numb as her nervousness built up.

Margo sucked in a breath when she saw the screen reach ‘5’, and immediately kept her sight focused to the button panel.

No matter what…

The elevator dinged, the chime sounding much louder this time to her distracted mind, and she heard the doors slide open. Margo heard soft clicks of heeled shoes and felt them move past her to the middle of the elevator. Her breathing grew shaky.

Shit shit shit! Don't look at her, don't speak to her… don't even think about it. Just press the button.

Margo shakily aimed her finger at the button for the first floor, almost opening her mouth to ask what floor whoever entered wished to go before forcing it shut. Hesitantly, she pressed the button.

“Oh? Going down?” The sound of a young woman echoed inside the elevator, making Margo’s heart rate accelerate. As if she expected Margo to ignore her question, she heard the woman chuckle softly.

Margo couldn't resist to look at the woman before long. She knew she couldn't look directly at her, and the rules never said anything about sneaking a peek through your peripheral vision. Margo straightened her back and let her eyes scan the floor. Not far behind her, she saw a pair of black Mary Jane shoes standing perfectly still. The woman was wearing scarlet tights, and cast an oddly shaped shadow. Margo didn't dare try to look any further, fearing she would see something terrifying. She allowed her mind to fill in the details instead; judging by the sound of the woman’s voice, she had to be no older than the early thirties, probably nicely dressed if she were wearing tights and dress shoes.

Suddenly, Margo registered that she was not feeling the elevator go down, but up. She looked up again and the display confirmed her fears-- she was heading for the top floor according to the instructions. Rather than feel excited that she played the elevator game correctly, she felt more anxious.

“Oh my god,” she whispered to herself in shock. Before she knew it, she heard the dreaded ‘ding’ of the elevator again. Slowly adjusting her position from her spot, she saw the 10th floor of the apartment building, but…

All the lights had looked nearly shut off; as if someone had dipped the light fixtures in some transparent murky film, giving the hall a severely dimmed light. The air in the elevator was suddenly freezing cold, making Margo shiver uncontrollably.

I can choose to leave, or stay in here. No way in Hell am I staying with this freaky lady. Margo thought before quickly exiting the elevator. She made it two steps out when the young woman spoke up.

“Where are you going?~”

Margo walked faster into the dimly lit hallway as the woman’s voice echoed into a sinister jeer. Margo didn't wish to turn around or stop running until she heard the elevator doors close.

She was alone now and felt like she stood inside a run-down freezer. The only living soul in the Alter-World, accompanied solely by the buzzing of what she assumed to be the complex’s ventilation unit. Time didn't matter here; the second-hand on her watch seemed to move incredibly slowly. Margo knew it would probably be a matter of time before she passed out, which she guessed was from how difficult it was to actually breathe. The air was freezing cold, and felt incredibly heavy to inhale. Like her lungs couldn't stand the foreign air she now breathed. Perhaps the Alter-World was perpetually draining the life force of anyone who entered it.

She was already outside of the elevator, so she may as well take the time she had to explore the Alter-World. Margo continued walking to the end of the hall, toward the window she knew was there. The city beyond the building just seemed to be a dead one-- there was no true light in sight, just as there were no stars in the sky. The sky and the clouds were mismatched in hue-- like the clouds were of a different color than the black sky.

Then she saw it. The red cross in the sky, looming over the dead city and emitting an unsettling red light as if it were the moon itself. She felt her stomach sink as the temperature of the hallway suddenly changed drastically. Her breath was no longer visible.

She wasn't alone anymore.
 

LoopyPanda

Black Jacket
Joined
Sep 3, 2015
Messages
12,022
Location
cyberia cafe
Chapter 2: Creatures
Margo fearfully and slowly turned to face the elevators, which all seemed far away now that she had escaped the clutches of the mysterious woman. In the umbra of the darkness that the dimmed lights could not illuminate, she felt multiple… things watching her every move. Figures of different shapes and sizes darker than the darkness itself stood there. Watching. Unmoving. Even more unsettling was that she couldn't tell if any of these silhouettes had actual eyes. Were they the dark dots boring into her? They couldn't be...

A rational Margo would have chalked it up to her mind playing tricks on her, trying to create images to fill in the gaps the dark made.

But she knew they were real.

They were the ones that made the temperature so warm suddenly, and she could hear their almost inaudible and indistinct chattering. The voices were all discordant and so low, her ears couldn't identify what it was they were saying save for some random words. Margo’s eyes widened in fear when she was able to make out their hushed whispers.

“Shh…” “..Human...” “...Mort...” “..Why...” “
...mortal...” “should we kill…?” “...we kill...” “Shhhhh….”

This non-stop chatter echoed all around her, drawing closer to her ears. She feared that the cacophony of whispers would drive her mad. Whatever was watching her, they all no longer were satisfied through observation alone. Knowing the creatures had made their decision, her legs shook and her skin became covered in goosebumps.

They're going to get me if I stay here!

Margo made a mad dash for one of the rooms, trying to open the doors. Each one she attempted to open was locked, but she could hear movement within them. But if these silhouettes were sentient beings of the Alter-World, there was a high risk that these rooms would contain the ‘shadows’ of her world’s fellow tenants that would also attack her on sight. But anything was better than being this vulnerable to the menaces advancing on her.

Then she heard music. One of the rooms had music playing, of a man singing. She couldn’t discern which one, but it sounded old-timey, like it was coming from a phonograph. The music was upbeat with a violin accompaniment, which only served to drive Margo’s panic upwards once her mind fixated her focus into finding which room had the phonograph playing. The figures started making swipes at her with their long spindly fingers that didn't dare pass into the path of the low light.

“On the farm… every Friday…~ On the farm… it’s rabbit pie day, so every Friday that ever comes along… I get up early and sing this little song…~”

Margo narrowly avoided a shadow’s attack, which left deep gashes on the door she had just attempted. She jiggled the tarnished doorknob on the next door before knocking on it furiously. Her breathing was ragged, and she knew that she would pass out soon at the mercy of the terrifying shadow entities that were chasing after her. They blocked her only exit from this world, so she had to find a safe place first before attempting to fight them off and get into the correct elevator. 

*click-click-click*

No answer came from this door either. But the music was becoming slightly louder in volume, which meant she was getting closer to it. Margo had only so much time before the shadows would catch up, however, and there were many doors left on the floor to try.

“Run, rabbit, run, rabbit, run, run, run~ Run, rabbit, run, rabbit, run, run, run~”

Another failure to gain entry, and she felt a sharp but temporary pain in her right calf-- one of the shadows slashed through her jeans. The adrenaline coursing through her body prevented Margo from being forced to stop running or let out a cry, and soon numbed her nerves completely.

“Bang, bang, bang, bang! Goes the farmer's gun! Run, rabbit, run, rabbit, run, run, run, run~”

Margo attempted to open three more doors, but none of them seemed to contain the phonograph playing. Margo’s ears became filled with the voices hissing at her, their tones now incredibly hostile. If she didn't find a way into that room soon, she knew she was going to die here.

Margo shouldn't have been attempting to foolishly open a door into one of these tenants’ rooms in the first place. She ought to be fighting her way into the middle elevator again. But for some reason, she felt deep down that wherever that damned phonograph was, she would find some kind of refuge. If her hunch was wrong, she would end up killed anyway, but it was far too late to turn back and locate the elevators. Her lungs were rasping for clean air and she started to see her vision grow dark around her periphery. Time was running out.

“Run, rabbit, run, rabbit, run, run, run~ Don't give the farmer his fun, fun, fun! He'll get by without his rabbit pie~ So run, rabbit, run, rabbit, run, run, run~”

Margo’s panic was surmounting and her heart beat furiously against her ribcage, almost feeling as if it would explode at any moment. A shadow cut her again at the middle of her upper arm, which made her spin around. The small areas that the old lightbulbs lit up had no shadowy figures crossing it-- this was her chance. Margo ran across the hallway and slammed against one of the doors, slamming both of her fists on the door repeatedly. 

At this door, the phonograph sounded very close. Closer than it was from across the hall.

“Please, open up! I beg you!! Please help me, let me IN!!” Margo screamed in desperation, choking back a panicked sob as her eyes filled with tears. She looked behind her and saw the ominous black masses move around the light, closing in on her as the music cued into the violin’s solo. Fearing it to be the last thing she would see or hear before being torn to shreds, Margo shut her eyes tightly and clamped her hands over her ears with her back pressed to the door. 

“Run, rabbit, run, rabbit, run, run, run…~”

When the shadows were mere inches away from her, she thought it would be the end. Her legs wobbled and shook from the terror overcoming her.

The door finally opened.

Margo then stumbled backwards before something grabbed her arms and pulled her into the room. She collapsed onto the floor as her vision swam; her breathing labored with the air growing heavy and frigid once more as the door slammed loudly. She felt cold hands grip her shoulders and shake her roughly as she struggled to get free.

“Hey, calm down! Stay awake! Y’can’t fall asleep here of all places… Wait a minute...” The voice belonged to a man.

The phonograph finished playing the song, the needle of the record player wobbling on the vinyl. The only sound that filled the room now was the fading hisses of the creatures at the door and the idle static of the phonograph. Margo blinked multiple times to adjust to the dim light from an old lamp sitting on a desk in the corner of the apartment.

“You’re warm. Another one…”

The man let go of her, allowing her to sit up on the floor. Margo took a good look at him once her vision cleared up. He seemed to be in his thirties. Was he human? Or was he a demonic entity like the woman probably was? Cautiously, she scooted away from him until her back met the wall and pressed her hand to the gash on her arm. 

“Whoa there, little lady. Didn't mean t’ scare you. The shadows won't get ya in here,” said the man, who looked surprised she was alive after the ordeal he overheard outside. He walked over and took the needle off the record, allowing Margo to back away further. “You’re hurt too…”

“Who are you? Wh-what are you? Do you know the woman in the elevator!?” She rattled off, coughing violently. The room smelled musty and old, like someone hadn't actually been living in it for decades. It must have been the heavy air of the Alter-World again. The scent of mold lingered, only further irritating her throat.

“Ah… I figured you were from the world of the living. You're not cold to the touch like the rest of us,” he replied. “It’s only polite you give your name before asking others for theirs, don’t you think?”

“Do you. Know the woman. From the 5th floor?” Margo pressed, ignoring his remarks. The website said nothing about any of this being in the Alter-World. She figured she actually was exploring an empty world, but she was speaking to another humanoid being! Granted, he definitely wasn’t alive, but that was better than being completely alone. 

The man looked directly at her with a stern face. “You didn't look at her, did you? She ain't human. I suppose there ain't anything here that is, but if you did… I can’t help you.” 

“N-no, I only saw her shoes,” Margo answered while shaking her head. Maybe he wasn’t associated with her after all. “My name’s Margo. But… you look human, mister.”

“I was. Used to be alive. And the name’s Cecil. Cecil Adams!” The man sat down in his armchair that was next to the phonograph, which Margo presumed he was sitting in before she came to his door. He continued once he saw her give him a puzzled look. “I’m a ghost. Ever wonder why people only see ghosts maybe once in their lifetime? This is where some of us go after we die. Sometimes at an odd hour, we get to come over to the world of the living.”

“A ghost!? But I thought… what about…?”

“Those things you saw in the hallway ain't human or ghost. They're the shadows that lurk in every inch of darkness. The light is their mortal enemy. I can walk under the bulbs just fine.” Cecil took hold of a wooden pipe. “But that’s because they’re only interested in warmbloods like yourself. Now, that woman is a different kind of entity altogether. She is drawn to the fear of humans that try to enter this world. In the Alter-World, the 5th floor is like a pocket dimension that she lurks.”

“So, she can go to the 5th floor of any building?...”

“In a way. It's not very often a human comes here, so it isn't too bothersome for her. I only know of a few that crossed over through this building.” The man questioned. “I'm the only person here besides the shadows, but I always found these in the halls after I go out of my room. It’s the only way I know how humans can enter this world-- by doin’ a ritual. Funny lookin’ papers, though.” He pulled open a desk drawer to reveal crumpled papers and handed some of them to Margo. “I ain't seen a typewriter that can print pictures with colors before. Not even the newspaper printers can do that!”

Margo’s eyes widened and she gasped. One of the papers had printed instructions of the elevator game similar to the one that she had bookmarked. The other was scrawled in messy handwriting. The ink was smeared with brown and rust-colored smudges. She figured this was the blood of the owner.

“Cecil… are these people…?”

“Dead? I presume so. The Shades are quick to track down warmbloods. Looks like a few managed to nick you at the leg too. What strikes me odd is that almost none of these poor folks have made it to my door before. My guess is that they couldn't keep their eyes from wandering.” Cecil smoked from the old wooden pipe. “Because nobody can escape that woman after laying eyes on her. I've only seen her once, but the Shades seem to almost… respect her.”

“That ain’t the problem now. I passed away in 1948, and been here since. But in the few times I've visited your world… looks like times have changed quite a bit. The living must never come here,” Cecil stared her down. “The Shades have already touched you, so it’s only a matter of time before the woman comes looking for you. Miss Margo, I need you to listen carefully.”

Margo looked into Cecil’s eyes, as his voice became low and stern.

“No matter how tired you are, you cannot afford to fall asleep. Time has no power here, so you only make yourself vulnerable to any malevolence that resides here. Which includes that woman. Not peeking at her in the elevator can only protect you for so long,” Cecil warned. “You seem to be a fairly nice and smart gal, so it would be a shame if you ended up like the fools that got shredded to ribbons the minute they lost their marbles just breathing our air. I’ll help you get back to your world. But unfortunately, we can't do it right now.” He kept his voice low while glancing at the door.

“They’re waiting right outside, aren't they?” Margo’s voice was weak, like she was about to cry.

“Yes. They're huddled all around it. Probably aiming to tell our lady-friend all about the warmblood that got away.” Cecil sighed, before nearly jumping in his seat at a sudden noise. There was the muffled sound of glass tinkling. “There goes a lightbulb.” 

Margo wrung her hands into her skirt in a mix of frustration and panic. “I should never have done this stupid game,” she choked out with tears while hyperventilating.

Cecil watched her and pitied the poor thing. He walked over and put a hand on her shoulder, the icy sensation of his firm grasp helping her to come to her senses. “Calm down, lil’ lady. As long as we stay together, you’re safe. But the longer you're in the Alter-World, the harder it will be for you to get out. And the easier it will get for something here to kill you,” Cecil assured. “I might be an old ghost of a man, but I still have my brains. Two heads are better than one, don’tcha think?” He tried to cheer her up by making a lighthearted remark, ending his sentence with tapping his temple.

“You’re right. But what are we going to do? I'm a sitting duck staying here. That door might come down any time. Even if it seems like they left for the time being...” Margo was quieter now.

“I know…” Cecil scratched at the back of his head pensively. “Hmm…”

“You mentioned… crossing over before. Into my world. What exactly did you mean by that?” She asked.

“Oh, that? Sometimes I leave this room and find myself in your world just by walking down the hallway. That is, I end up in the building you live in now. I don't leave this room much, only when I get the odd urge to out of boredom. I've listened to all my records probably hundreds of times,” Cecil rambled. He didn't seem to find his answer very helpful, as he looked at Margo with a furrowed brow. “Why?”

“There’s a phenomenon I read about not too long ago. Called ‘the witching hour’ where the barrier between the world of the living and the paranormal just… disappears and lets ghosts appear in our world. Ever heard of it?” Margo continued.

“I've heard of the term, but I always dismissed it as an old wives’ tale. My wife Laurel always said it was some hour of the day where we shouldn't be out and about due to all the bad things that can happen during it,” he said. “Do ya think that's how I managed to cross over some nights, but not others?”

“Yeah. For ghosts, it's not an hour like between 3 and 4 in the morning. More like midnight. People argue a lot of beings are strongest at midnight too, though…” Margo trailed off.

“So, I could help you get back to your world by finding the exact moment it becomes midnight? I'd be able to actually go into the elevator with you. I'm spiritually bound to the 10th floor, so I can't ever venture past it unless I cross over-- but that's risky too, ain't it?” Cecil stared up at the ceiling and let his eyes wander along the cracks and water stains. “The Shades would be at their strongest too.”

“But they avoid the light at all costs.” Margo had a lilt to her voice, as cogs began to turn in both of their heads.

“So we find you a light source you can take with you! And then you can wait for me to be able to cross over,” Cecil chimed in.

“There's a problem with that plan, though. The only way for me to get out of the Alter-World is to do the same steps I did that got me here in the first place. I have to use the elevator the same way I did not long ago. We'd only know you can cross over by checking for ourselves because my watch is no good here,” Margo sighed. “Finding a flashlight would be hard too.”

“You’re right about that then… I don't get out much, so I can only imagine that Shades would be in the other rooms. My lamp might be the only light around here for miles.”

“The only option we have left is to rush at them and beat all their heads in with a pipe or something. There has to be a place that not even the Shades have touched.” Margot scratched her head in thought.

“You could try the stairwell down into the custodial rooms. It's a gamble, but you might have better luck seeing as most of the Shades around here isolate themselves into the rooms. They only cluster together when they're alerted of a human’s presence,” Cecil said. “All you would have to worry about is the woman and keeping yourself from wandering.”

“Does she even have a name?” Margo asked him.

“Probably, but I don't think anyone who knows about her has asked for her name and lived to tell the tale.” Cecil shrugged. “Personally, I call her Red ‘cause of her clothes.”

“What does she-” Margo was interrupted by Cecil’s scolding.

“I ain't telling you because then that will make it easier for you to want to look at her. It wouldn’t help you in any way either-- it’s not like I see her often.”

“Right. Sorry.”

“I know I warned you not to sleep, but this room might be the safest place to do it if you need to. Out there, who knows when you might feel unable to stay conscious.”

Margo shook her head. “I didn't take my insomnia medication, so I don't think I'll get a wink of sleep. But I did recall that someone said staying here longer would make it harder for me to get back. So sleeping is the least of my worries. Staying awake while I'm out there is another problem entirely.”

“We’re agreed on that. Your injuries look like they've stopped bleedin’. Those look like deep cuts though, so I suggest not straining yourself. Just wrap them up for now.” Cecil watched Margo remove her shoes and tug at the tights just below her bent knee. They ripped with relative ease, and she tore them up to dress her wounds. Not the best way to perform first aid, but it was better than nothing. She didn't need to have her blood drawing the attention of the malevolent beings in the Alter World.

“Feel free to sit in the other chair until you feel more awake,” he offered. She seemed to look much more drowsy after doing such a simple task. Perhaps the adrenaline was wearing off. Margo slumped into the chair and closed her eyes. She hoped that even 10 minutes of sleep would reward her compared to no sleep at all. The last thing she saw was Cecil lighting his wooden tobacco pipe back up and changing the record on the phonograph.
 
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