The sound was like far off wind chimes, but unnatural and unfamiliar. It was like someone had taken the time to make the individual chimes clink together in such a way that only sung minor keys. Something told her it was going to be more trouble than it was worth to figure out who, or what, was making it. Still, she forced herself to pick her feet up and place them in front of her.
It was her duty.
The hallway was barren. There were no people milling about in clothes that were much too tight and revealing, about to head to parties. There were no boys sneaking away from an unnamed girl’s room, with the hope of evading the piercing gazes of their ex-girlfriends; and there were no quiet introverts trying to sneak off to the bathroom before their acquaintances could drag them out to the bars.
This was how she liked it. If not for the sound coming from the end of the hall, she would have even dared to call it a perfect night, while crossing her fingers that it would stay that way.
The sound was coming from a single door at the end of the hall, and she already knew she didn’t have access to it, not even with her staff key. But the sound was tempting, Siren-like. It drew her in, but no matter how close she got to the door the musical tune was still just as distant as before. Like it moved further away from her with every step she took to chase it down.
The door was wooden, but almost black as if someone had tried to stain the wood to a dark brown and was a bit overzealous in their attempt. There were six little windows of opaque glass towards the top, but the door was narrow, so they were smooshed together in a way that was somewhat awkward.
The glass was just see through enough that small shifting shadows could be seen through the little windows when the moonlight shown through just right.
Something about it wasn’t quite right to her, and what do people do when they’re wary of something? They watch it closely.
At nearly two o’clock on that very Saturday morning, when she was almost done completing her nightly rounds, that’s precisely what she did. She watched. Listened.
She reached the end of the hall and placed her hand on the doorknob. It sent an electric shock up her arm and into her neck as she touched it. Still, she tried to believe that this was nothing out of the ordinary.
Her hand tingled and as the creaky bell tower at the top of Bentley Hall rang twice, she thrust the door open wide. She stumbled backwards, not expecting the door to actually open without a key. The gaping maw of the doorway paralyzed her, and a wispy breeze wafted through suggesting an unnatural amount of space for what she had always hoped, but never assumed, was a broom closet. The slightly cold air tickled as it wrapped around her bare legs, like tendrils attempting to suck her into the black hole.
She pulled the Duty Phone out of the small fanny pack that her bosses had ordered her to wear and checked the time. 2:02 AM. Her rounds were technically over. Did that mean she no longer had the obligation to report what looked like a portal to Hell? This was worse though, than the portal to Hell that is. This was cold and unknown. At least, if she went to Hell, she would know what to expect.
The door squeaked as it started to close in on itself. Her heart raced and suddenly her feet were moving before her brain had the chance to make a logical decision. She rushed through the door and had to launch herself in sideways before the door shut with a slam, just barely missing the tips of her fingers.
She found herself in a cavernous dark room that looked to go on for eternity. When she turned around, the door was gone. There was nothing to see, nothing to touch, and nothing to smell. The only sensory stimulation was the ringing of the strange chimes, still frustratingly quiet, but loud enough. Not much could persuade a girl like her to walk into an endless pit of darkness.
She hated the dark.
She picked her feet up and made a few hesitant steps forward while testing the ground; travelling further into the darkness that enveloped her. Eventually she started trying to follow the sound, but it appeared to be coming from all around her.
She turned to the left and made her way towards where she thought the sound was coming from. After what felt like hours, the darkness around her began to fade. It dripped down off white walls and faded below her feet. She looked up to a narrow brown door with six opaque windows in the top.
Her head whipped around to find the same empty hall and the same oppressive florescent lighting as before. Her Duty phone read 2:02AM….
She definitely didn’t need to report that.
She walked along the college dorm hallway and came to a stop in front of her meticulously designed bulletin board. Thinking over with a frown how her bosses didn’t like it. A sigh drifted through her lips as she made her way into her own room a few doors down. Just as she was about to climb into bed the phone in her fanny pack rang with its bell tower alarm.
“Bentley Duty Phone,” She stated mechanically. Just like her bosses trained her to.
“Yeah, hi,” a high pitched voice came through with just a hint of a valley girl accent, “The attic door got open somehow…” The voice died off as if expecting her to know what that would require of her.
Luckily, she did.
She hung up the phone before putting her shoes back on and grabbing the butterfly net that sat in her closet. Normally it was public safety’s job to catch the little mongrels whenever they got out of the attic, but recently they stopped coming over for such “trivial” matters, so it was up to her and the six other people on the staff to catch the sky mice. Their dorm building was over one-hundred and fifty years old, so of course it had everything from mice to their friendly sky neighbors, the bats.
She made her way up the front stairwell until she finally came to an ID swipe checkpoint and a large door.
She nonchalantly swiped her card and pushed against the door, making her way into the hallway of the fourth floor. Releasing a held breath, she moved forward deeper into the hallway keeping her eyes glued to the ceiling in hopes of spotting the couple bats that had somehow escaped the attic.
She had just made her way around the corner at the end of the hall when a blast of fire singed the tips of her hair. She cursed loudly and ducked before searching for the assailant. Her eyes widened and her palms started to sweat.
Flying rambunctiously around the ceiling lights were four small dragons. Her mouth hung open as she dropped the net, causing all of the dragons to turn her way and dive bomb in her direction. She ran around the corner and slammed back against the wall as four fire blasts streaked past her.
What was going on? She couldn’t help but question her own sanity. Maybe she was just tired? She took the end of her braid in hand and noted the tips which were slightly charred.
Nope. It couldn’t have been her imagination.
She took a deep breath and peered around the corner yet again to see the four dragons flying around the same light fixtures as before, like moths. They were each a different color and brightly glowing in such a way that she didn’t need to question where the fire came from.
Her eyes then fell on the open attic door which stood just past the little monsters. If she could just lure them back into the attic and shut the door then everything would be fine. At least, she hoped it would.
As she sat back against the wall, she couldn’t help but wonder what exactly had happened? Maybe she was in a different dimension?
Just then, something dawned on her. She reached into her fanny pack and found a flashlight. It was small and red and barely worked most of the time, but she blocked off the tip with her hand and tested it anyway. She pressed the button on the end and took a breath of relief when it colored her palm red.
Her eyebrows set into a firm line as she walked out from behind the wall and clicked on the flashlight. She pointed the brightness at the open door to the attic and ran to the light switch at the end of the hall. She flicked the switch and suddenly the room was shrouded in darkness. She waited bated breath as the subtly glowing dragons turned towards the only other light in the hallway, besides the moonlight streaming through the window.
She had anticipated that the dragons would be like cats and flock to the spot of light in the stairwell.
She was wrong.
The dragons bolted straight at her with a speed that was far beyond her own, and it was then that she realized that the brightest light was coming from the object in her hand. She screamed but managed to sprint past the dragons and toward the attic door. Her heart beat hard and loud in her chest as she ran to the door and threw the flashlight up the steps. She then pulled the door in front of her as she stood between it and the wall as the spurts of fire flew from her pursuers. Still, the dragons flew through the door and towards the light leaving her, in her very disheveled state, to slam the door closed with a huff.
She panted for a few seconds with wide eyes. Just where had that door taken her?
She stepped away from the attic door taking care to make sure it was locked, but when a small spirt of fire came through the crack of the keyhole she bolted toward the end of the hall.
She was dreaming, she had to be. She made her way through the halls until she came to the front stairwell, yet again. She made her way down to the second floor to head to the lounge to rest for a few minutes.
That was when she heard the second foreign sound of the night. Well, not foreign really. It was musical, just nothing like any music she had heard in her whole life. Her feet moved slightly faster before she came to the lounge that should have been just a sink, what the administration called a kitchenette, and a few decaying couches in it.
What she saw was far different.
People of all kinds were dancing in the most colorful, brightly flashing room she had ever seen. In the room were all kinds of individually floating bubble lights that drifted at various heights and depths. They were flashing different colors and emitting a cacophony of sounds that ranged anywhere from the piano to the bagpipes with every possible combination in between. She tried to look for the strings holding the lights up but realized that it wouldn’t be possible because all of the bubbles were drifting around the room.
As she made her way through the room with people dancing around her, the crowd suddenly started chanting.
“Em-i-ly! Em-i-ly! Em-i-ly!” A girl, Emily from the sounds of it, grabbed a bubble out of the air, and suddenly it had weight enough in the girl’s hand that she could hold it without it popping. Emily raised it to her lips and popped it with her teeth. The crowd of onlookers hollered as pinkish mist funneled out of the bubble and into Emily’s nose and mouth. The girl’s eyes and hair changed color as she started cackling wildly and flailing her arms around in a spastic dance. A few of her, apparent, friends tried to calm Emily down, but to no avail.
She started making her way towards Emily as the girl’s movements became more sluggish. Eventually the light left Emily’s eyes and she passed out on the floor. The crowd made their way to their next victim leaving Emily’s friends alone to clean up the mess.
The air surrounding Emily and her friends smelled vaguely like strawberries with a hint of nutmeg. An interesting combination. She took the phone out of her fanny pack and dialed the number for public safety. Should she call and ambulance? The police? A supervisor? Did she even have supervisors in this strange world? Would they be just as useless as the ones in the previous world?
Probably more so.
She sighed until the ringing ended and a middle aged woman’s voice picked up the line with an uncaring and slightly somber tone, “Public safety, how can I help you?”
“There’s a girl that passed out from a… glowing bubble. What do I do?” The woman on the end of the line gave a small sigh.
“It shouldn’t be too serious, just let her sleep it off. I’ll send my best guy over to break up the rest of the party before long. What building are you in?”
“Uh, Bentley, I think…” The woman on the other line was silent for a moment.
“Okay, Tom will be over in a few minutes. Have a nice night.” The phone went quiet after a few beeping tones.
“…We should get her to bed,” one of Emily’s friends claimed and they began laboriously carrying the girl to her room.
They made their way out of the “lounge” and that was the last she saw of them for the night. She turned back to the party, but after a while it was broken up. The public safety officer spoke to her for a few minutes, using a lot of terms that she didn’t understand, before taking out a strange vacuum cleaner. It looked like a leaf blower attached to his back. He started sucking up the bubbles claiming that he was confiscating them for further study.
How they were planning to study something like that, she wasn’t sure. Nor did she really want to know.
After watching for a few minutes in silence, she made her way out of the lounge and into the hallway. She walked along the hall until she finally decided to head back to her room and pray that this was all a strange exhaustion induced fever dream.
Just as she was beginning to head in the same way that she came, a faint sound swam into her ears.
She rushed down the hall, where it appeared to be getting louder and made her way into the back stairwell. She paused. The sound was coming from all around her again. She started making her way slowly down the steps trying to discern if the sound was lower or higher than where she stood.
Just as she had made her decision to go back up the steps, she looked up and saw a grayish black blob attached to the ceiling of the stairwell. It glowed with dark purple highlights and had tentacles that slowly started growing in her direction.
She suddenly didn’t care about the sound anymore and raced down the steps as fast as she could. The gooey tentacles just brushed the back of her exposed legs as she pushed her way through the door to the first floor. She caught herself against the wall opposite the door and turned around to find the tentacles reluctantly retreating back into the stairwell as if being outside of it had burned them.
Only after the door closed again did she take a few deep breaths.
That was when she heard it.
Louder this time. The strange wind chime sound echoed from the door at the end of the hall. This time she didn’t hesitate. She ran to the end of the hallway, thrust the door open and plunged into the darkness. The door slammed shut, and the wind chimes faded away with the subtle breeze it left behind.