“I’m getting out,” Rebecca said as Dex pushed his palms flat against the door and got it fully open. Though Dex made it look easy, I could tell how heavy the door was. Just how the hell did it close on us?
“Getting scared?” Dex asked.
Rebecca gave him a sharp look before he helped her step up and into the hallway. “Scared? If you think I’m going to chance getting trapped in that bloody tunnel again, you’ve got another thing coming.” She stood a foot above us, wiping her hands on her capri pants. “Now, are you two still going to go for the second floor or do you want to save that for some other time?”
Dex shrugged, far too cavalier considering what had just happened. I mean, once again, hello, how the hell did that door close?
“Aren’t you concerned about the fact that someone pushed the door shut?” I asked her, suppressing a shudder as I said it. “Someone that’s probably on the first floor.”
She gathered her cardigan around her and quickly smoothed her hair behind her ears. “It was probably the wind.” I exchanged a look with Dex that said “what wind?” but we let it go.
“Well, kiddo,”Dex said, taking the camera from me and putting his hand in mine. He gave it a hard, comforting squeeze. “Do you want to pack it up and try again tomorrow, or do you want to see what’s on the second floor?”
I want to go back home to Fat Rabbit and laze around on the couch drinking wine and watching Netflix, I thought. I don’t want to be standing in a death chute, heading to the second floor with one person less than we started with.
Time for me to put on my brave face. “Can we do, like twenty minutes? When the time’s up, we head back?”
“We can do anything you want, baby,” he said, taking a step closer until he was pressed up against me. Even in the dim light I could see the warmth in his eyes, his desire to protect me above everything else. “You know that.” He bent down and kissed me softly.
Rebecca cleared her throat. “All right then, I’ll leave you two be.” We broke apart in time to see her take out her iPhone. “I’ve sent my alarm for twenty-two minutes from now, two minutes extra because I assume you might want to have a quickie in the death tunnel there. I’ll give you a call then, sound good?”
“Production manager of the year,” Dex said, raising his hand in a false toast. “Can you prop the door open this time, just in case?”
She smiled as if it was her idea in the first place. “I’m already on it. See you in a few.”
Then she walked off down the dark hall, happier to be by herself than with us. I took in a deep breath and looked at Dex. He was giving me the eye and I could tell he had an erection from the way he was pressing it firmly against my hip.
“Don’t even think about a quickie,” I warned him with a sharp shake of my head. “I couldn’t come in this place even if you had two dicks.”
He grinned. “That sounds like a challenge. You know that can be arranged.” Considering he packed a fucking dildo to New Orleans, I wouldn’t have been surprised. But I just punched him in the chest. Actually, I was glad for the topic and our fun banter. It was easier to forget where we were and what we were doing.
“Time is running out,” I reminded him.
He bit his lip and let his eyes rake over me. “Have I ever told you how hot you look when you’re scared out of your mind?”
“You’re an ass.”
“You love it.”
“I love you, stupid. Ass or not. Now either we go to the damn floor or we’re going after Rebecca and I’m going to bed and pretending I never came in here.”
Dex made a slight bow, gesturing up the passageway. “After you.” Since I was frozen to the spot, he put his hand on my shoulder and gently turned me around so that I was facing in the right direction. “Unless you want to be behind me.”
No way. I steadied the light and walked forward determinedly, finding it easier to find my footing on the steps this time around. They were long, so they had that spacing where you could walk a stride on one step until you stepped on the next. Now that I was in front, I kept my eyes focused dead ahead, at the approaching nothingness beyond the light.
My eyes wanted to see shapes, shadowy human figures that flattened against the walls. In fact, I could almost see them; they were almost real, but they had to be tricks of the eye with the light provided. Scratch that—I wanted them to be a trick, you just never really knew with me.
Dex suddenly stopped, and I let my eyes focus on the shadows for just a moment longer, trying to stay absolutely still and fix my vision so that I’d notice any movement.
One of the shadows came off the wall.
“Found it!” Dex exclaimed in a ragged hush.
I put my hand on my chest, nearly letting out a yelp, and looked over at him. He was running his hands down the wall, obviously needing more light. Before I could give it to him though, I stole one last glance at the tunnel. The shadows were still there, but they were static—nothing more than the absence of light.
I steadied my nerves and put the light on the wall where Dex started pushing, ever so conscious of the darkness behind me, just nipping at my heels, an imaginary finger at my shoulder blades. My heart was thumping so loud within my head that it sounded like shitty dubstep.
With a grunt, he pushed in as hard as he could and the cement started to give way, a plume of dust rising up from the cracks and disappearing in the tunnel.
He poked his head into the void, staying silent. I watched his back rise and fall as he breathed. I was about to ask him what was wrong, but before I could he pulled his head back and looked at me with an excited grin. “So this is the second floor. You want to go first or should I?”
“You go,” I said. I’d rather be left behind in a tunnel that I had a feel for than to step into the unknown darkness of another level. Though we saw the bouncing ball go off into oblivion, the tinkling of “Ring Around the Rosy,” and a door closing on us, things could have been worse. For all the death that passed through the tunnel, it could have been a lot worse.
“Hold this,” he said, putting the camera in my other hand. While I held the light steady with the other, I filmed him as he grabbed the edge of the door and hauled himself up. As it was with the first floor, the angle of the tunnel slicing upward meant it wasn’t quite level with the floor of the hallway and was about a foot below it.
“Wow,” I heard him slowly breathe out as he got to his feet. Whenever Dex said wow, it was either something awesome or horrible. I assumed it wasn’t going to be awesome.
“It just…” He trailed off. With the shadowy light illuminating the bottom of his face, I watched him stare at nothing. “It feels so different. Come up here.”
I breathed in deeply, wishing for that extra shot of courage. It didn’t come. I forced it. Dex held out his hand for the camcorder, and after I gave it to him, I let him help me up.
Once I was standing in the hallway of the second floor, I realized how right he was. Though we could only see a few feet in front of us from the light, that few feet was enough. In fact, it wasn’t what we saw that made a difference.
It was just a hallway, fairly clean though covered with a layer of grit and dust. Beyond the glow, you could see rooms stretching out on either side, some doors still intact, others gone. Patients’ rooms, empty skeletons in the darkness.
But aside from that, it was the feeling that got you. It held your chest, like a cold dark hand reaching in. While the whole building had given me the creeps so far, this was the part that told you that you were no longer safe. You were no longer at home.
“This ain’t Kansas anymore,” I murmured out loud, my breath visibly rising up into the air. It was cold, much colder than the tunnel.
Dex turned to look down at me and handed me back the light before putting his hand at my waist. “It’s something, right?” he asked. “Even if I brought Rebecca up here, she’d have to say that things weren’t right. The alignment is off. I wouldn’t be surprised if the toilets ran backward.” He looked away, surveying down the darkened hall as far as the eye could see. “It’s just all wrong.”
I could only nod. There was no other way to describe it.
We stood there for a long moment, perhaps thinking about the next steps. I know I was thinking about the blackness around me. I was thinking about the tunnel, about everything in there. I was thinking about what lay around us, the unknown. Sometimes I wished we didn’t have to put ourselves through so much inner turmoil to just get a show.
“Perry,” Dex said, looking at me over his shoulder with a furrowed brow. “Are you with me?”
“I’m here,” I said. I lifted the light so it was illuminating everything in front of us in a ten-foot radius. “Let’s see what we can do.”
He nodded, and after I shined the light down the hall both ways, he decided to head toward the east wing, toward the section that would be right above the administration offices. I supposed it was easier to stick with what we knew, and knowing Rebecca was directly below us would give us some comfort.
I walked to the side of Dex and just ahead enough to be captured on camera, taking in careful, frozen breaths. I spoke in a voice just above a whisper, enunciating properly so it would be picked up by the mic. It was my on-camera voice.
“We’re now on the second floor of the Sea Crest Sanatorium,” I said, “after coming up the so-called ‘Death Chute’ where they used to take the deceased.” I paused, knowing Dex would cut in with shots of the tunnel. “While we didn’t see any ghosts, we observed a bouncing ball, thrown down the passageway by an unknown entity. We also heard music that sounded like Ring around the Rosy.”
“What do you think about this floor so far?” Dex asked in his on-camera voice.
I stopped and looked around. So far I’d just walked straight down the hall, only briefly passing the light over the open rooms on either side. “It’s different. It feels…unreal, in a way. It’s very cold here. It could be because there is no power or heating above the first floor, but look.” I breathed out in front of the lens so you could see my breath rise in the air like a burnt-out cloud. “It’s probably fifty-five degrees outside at least. It’s May and we’re in Oregon. There’s no way it can naturally be this cold in here.”
“But supernaturally…” Dex noted. I almost smirked at that cheesy line but I just didn’t have it in me. I wanted to get to the end of the hallway, come back to the tunnel, and call it quits.
He lowered the camera slightly and gestured at one of the empty rooms. “These were the patients’ rooms. Maybe we can find something in there.”
I sighed, not really wanting to find anything, and headed to the closest room to me. The doorway was extra wide and from the rusted hinges, it looked like the door had been taken off long ago. The room itself was long, big enough to fit a bunch of beds, and the windows that lined the wall were either broken or missing entirely. Cobwebs swung lazily in the breeze, white wisps in my light.
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