I knew it was a bad idea to be the last person in the office at midnight, but being the new intern, all of the mindless busy work was left to me. I had a massive pile of Excel sheets to fill out and endless reports to write, all due at the end of the week. And it was Thursday night. Of course I stayed late, in reality I had no choice. That didn’t make me feel any better as I sat at a desk all alone in an open-floor office, half the lights turned off and the only other sign of life being the theatrically lit fish tank by the door. Yes, I was a little nervous, as any young woman alone in a dark place would be. Of course we shouldn’t, but those opinions would be better discussed at another time. It was 12:30 when I put the finishing touches on my last spreadsheet and finally closed my laptop.
I felt the urge to hurry as I packed up my things and put on my jacket, and found that the clicking of my heels had a slightly faster cadence than usual as I made my way to the elevator. I could have taken the stairs considering I’m on the fourth floor, but I was tired. And it’s an elevator. And don't try to tell me you wouldn’t take it too. When the doors opened I was met by the faces of four fellow late-night workers on their way home to collapse in bed. I stepped in and turned to face the doors as they closed again, cursing myself for not putting in my headphones lest one of them try to start a conversation. That thought was cut short by a sudden jerk that almost threw me off balance, and the sound of screeching gears like banshees in the elevator shaft. We all stood still for a minute, waiting for the now motionless elevator to budge again, but there was no such luck.
“Is it...stuck?” Asked a middle aged, professional looking woman in the back of the car.
“Looks like it.”
“Is there anything you can do about it?” Asked a man toward the back of the elevator, tapping the man next to me on the shoulder.
“No, I don’t have any of my tools or even my keys with me. I was on the way out too.” He responded, I noticed he was about my age and wearing a custodial uniform.
While this conversation was being held, I opened my phone to call the front desk. We were told to contact the front desk in case of mishaps like this. No service.
“Hey,” I said eyes still locked on my phone, “does anyone have a connection? I’m trying to contact the front desk but it’s not going through.”
There was a brief silence as everyone looked at their phones, shaking their heads and looking at one another.
“What about the emergency phone?” Asked the older man to my other side. He was a manager that I’ve seen on one of my trips to the upper floors. “Elevators usually have phones directly connected to the building’s landline, we should be able to get in contact with the fire department.”
The custodian, whose name tag said “Walker” crouched down to open the phone panel. “Got it.” He said, sending an almost palpable wave of relief through the elevator. He stood back up with the phone to his ear as he pressed the button to connect with the lobby, but his look quickly turned to one of confusion. “It’s just giving me a busy tone.” He said, “Wait, let me just try dialing 911.” He punched in the numbers and waited for a minute, as the look on his face deepened. He simply held out the phone, which was still emitting a busy tone.
“Could it be something with the phone?” Asked the woman, who later introduced herself as Anmarie, an executive of one of the larger companies in the building.
“Maybe,” Walker said, a flat tone settling into his voice, fear faintly visible on his face.
I began to feel the first inkling of panic setting in. “I can’t be here all night.” I thought to myself, worried about the preparations I had to make for work the next day. Before I fell into complete despair Clark, the older man, spoke up.
“You know, we should consider ourselves lucky! There are much stranger situations we could be in right now. Especially in this old building.”
“What’s supposed to mean?” I asked.
“Well maybe I could tell...no. I don’t wanna spook you kids.”
Anmarie had an irritated look on her face, “You can’t just say that and drop it, tell us what’s on your mind.”
“All right, all right, I’ll tell the story - but don’t you go blaming me when you find yourself spooked. You see, this is an old city. And this here is one old building. One of the first skyscrapers, built way back in the early 20th century. Lotta history in these walls. I’ve been here long enough to experience some of it - you see, when a structure stands as long as this, it develops a mind of its own. It doesn’t come to life but...imitates it in a way. It's like -”
He was interrupted by a strange, joyless chuckle from Walker. He was now sitting on the floor, staring at the ground in seeming disbelief.
“Very funny. Look, I don’t have to tell this story, son. We can all sit here in silence and wait for some internet connection if you don’t like what I have to say. You got anything better to do?” Walker remained silent, truly never having spoken in the first place. “Now, what was I talking about? Oh, right. This place, this building, it’s got a mind, a spirit you might say. I think that all the years and the people have left their energy here to coagulate, and sometimes that energy can have an effect on the physical world. When I was a lot younger...eh...maybe in the sixties or seventies, I was working my first job out of college here. Stock broker. I had a habit of staying late, sometimes into the early hours of the morning. Course, it caused a lot of problems with the wife. Heh, one time, I came home at four o’clock in the morning to find her-”
“You’re getting a bit off-track, Clark.” I said.
“Ah, fine. You kids know nothing about good conversation. Well, one of those nights I was the last man in the office. I doubt there was anyone else on the whole floor. Hell, maybe the security guard was the only other soul in the whole building. Well, I’m sifting through a stack of papers left by my secretary. Whole buncha memos and letters that I let pile up, the thing had to have been sitting on my desk for the last week. So I’m going through these papers, praying to the good lord that I can finish with enough time for a couple winks before going back in the next day, and I find this envelope in the middle of the pile. It’s blank, but obviously has something in it. I’m wondering why Linda would put this in my pile - it’s clearly spam of some kind - but in that moment I felt a compulsion I thank god every day I haven’t felt since. I will still in control of my body but I felt something, something like strings tuggin’ at my fingers. Tuggin’em toward my letter opener. It was so strange, like a dream. It felt so alien and at the same time...so natural. Like it was just a part of my routine. I was shifting between panic and embarrassment at my own irrationality, all the while opening this blank envelope like I would any other. Eventually, my mind turned from the fear and panic toward curiosity as I opened the letter within.
‘To Mr. Winston J. Hall,’
It said (which isn’t my name, by the way),
‘This letter is to formally notify you that several complaints have been filed against you by various employees and two clients. These complaints have been filed in regards to several instances including, but not limited to:
- Inappropriate lines of questioning to a coworker surrounding her recently deceased mother.
- Following a coworker home after work hours.
- Requesting explicit information from a client during a business call.
We find the reported behavior extremely concerning, and request that you cease it before more punitive measures are taken.
There was no date or indication of who wrote the letter, and I’d never heard of a Winston Hall working at my firm - or anywhere else on the floor for that matter. I was wondering why this letter was on my desk in the first place? How did Linda get this? Who gave it to her? I sat there for a good long while pondering when I noticed a feeling I hadn’t felt earlier. It was a feeling of...I don't know...heaviness? You know how the air is different when you’re in a crowded room than an empty one? Well it felt like that - like in the time it took me to read the letter and think on it, twenty invisible packed into my little office without me noticing. ‘Course I got nervous. Not quite scared yet though. I rationalized that someone had dropped the letter into the wrong basket and Linda didn’t see it, and the heaviness was my own sleep deprived brain malfunctioning. There was still an itch in the back of my mind though. Something primal in my brain knew that was wrong. I got up to grab my coat and hat in more of a hurry than I would have admitted at the moment, but the second I turned my back to the door across from my desk I heard a bang bang bang
on the frosted glass. It was a like knock, but just more forceful. Now I damn near jumped out of my skin when I heard that and immediately turned to see who was there - but there was nobody at the door. I went up to the window next to the door - which had a clear look at the main floor - and looked to see if I’d been mistaken and wasn’t the only man left. Nobody. It was unsettling to say the least, but as I closed the blinds and thought it out I started with the rationalizations again.
‘Maybe it was the security guard checking to see if I’m still here. Yeah, that’s gotta be it. I’ll stop by his desk on the way out and thank him for-’ Boom.
All my thoughts stopped, all my logic went out the window, when I noticed what had been slid under the door when I had been looking out the window. It was a blank envelope. This was the point where I knew I was scared, and not the kind of adrenaline high “scare” that you get at a haunted house or you feel when you drive a fast car. No. This was deeper, more insidious. It’s the fear you feel in a dark room and notice a shadow in the corner that shouldn’t be there. It lurks in the pit of your stomach, weighs down your limbs, rends any hope or denial from your mind. I felt that force from earlier. It wasn’t any stronger - more that the fear had made me so weak I couldn’t resist its pull. It drew me to that letter. Made me pick it up. Made me take it to my desk and open it the same way I had the last one. Made me read it.
‘To Mr. Winston J. Hall,
We are writing to inform you that as of the thirteenth of November, 1956, your employment will be terminated. This termination comes only after multiple letters of warning informing you of complaints and multiple reprimands.
We pride ourselves on a safe and comfortable work environment, which would no longer be possible should your employment continue. After the incident with Mr. Shaw you proved yourself unwilling to acknowledge our warnings and, furthermore, basic human decency. Regardless of the out of court settlement, we fear this is not an isolated incident and are acting in the best interest of all our employees.
You are hereby no longer allowed to enter the office or contact any of your coworkers through business channels. You will be permitted 30 minutes on the 14th of November to retrieve your belongings.
The entire time I read that letter I felt that heaviness get heavier. More tangible, more real. Eventually I realized I could hear it too. Faint thuds coming from the other side of the door. Footsteps - big ones - coming from down the hallway to the right of my door. I couldn’t rationalize those, cause it sure as hell wasn’t the security guard. Sal was a small guy, not nearly heavy enough to make footsteps like the ones I was hearing. I jumped out of my chair and locked that door right before the footsteps got to it, and I managed to take a few steps back before whoever it was got to the door.
I was right. He was big. Hell, if his head was where it was supposed to be it probably would have been partially out of view of the window. But it wasn’t. His neck was broken - bad. It may as well have been sittin’ on his left shoulder. Thank god for the frosted glass, cause if I could have seen his face...I think I would have truly and permanently lost my mind. I started stumblin’ back as I watched his hand lift to the glass and give it three firm knocks. I’m not ashamed to say in that moment I started blubbering like a baby, and my old man raised me tough - that’s what got me through school, let me rise to a new station in life. Let me fight a system stacked against me since birth. But that figure...that neck...the way he just stood there...stock still...knocking. I’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget that fear.
I spent the night curled behind my desk, staring out at him. I had it in my head that if I looked away at all, he’d come in. He never did, though. I must’ve blacked out from the shock at some point ‘cause my boss found me the next day, still curled up and peeking out at the door. He said I was muttering about a Mr. Hall. I was unresponsive so they called an ambulance and I woke up in the hospital. I knew the story was gonna get me put in an asylum, so when they asked what happened I just told them I had overworked myself, had a really intense nightmare or something. My boss gave me the next couple weeks off with pay - he was a good guy - and told me to take care of myself, get some time off to spend with my wife. I’ve told people more humorous versions of the story at bars and parties over the years, always blaming it on a several day stint of no sleep. I know that wasn’t it though. I’d been too scared to check the records or ask the veteran brokers about Mr. Hall, but I’ve seen pictures of the building’s foyer from before the mid fifties. It used to be a couple stories tall, with a big balcony overlooking the entrance. That balcony’s not there anymore. Like I said, I’m not gonna go asking, but I’d bet big money that balcony was removed after someone went diving off it with a rope around their neck. I don’t know what I saw that night, but I’ve made it a point since then to leave right at quittin’ time. ‘Cept for tonight...of course.”
We all sat in silence for a couple of minutes after that, I could tell that reliving that story wasn’t something that Clark did regularly - even after all these years. That feeling of dread was a little more noticeable now, but I just tried not to think about it. “You just heard something truly terrifying,” I told myself over and over again, “of course you’re a bit scared.” I knew that if I didn’t do something to distract myself I would have a nervous breakdown, so I looked at the others and asked “Does anyone’s phone have a connection?” Everyone checked their phones and shook their heads one by one.
“I’m gonna try the door again,” Walker said as he rose to his feet, “wanna give me a hand?”
He looked at the professional young man, who still had yet to introduce himself. He simply nodded his head and rose to his feet as well. They pulled at the door on the count of three, and for a little while it seemed like they wouldn’t get anywhere - until a snap came from somewhere in the doors and they were able to pry it open, only to expose drab, gray concrete on the other side. “Damn it,” Walker heaved, winded from the fight with the doors, “we must be between floors.”
“You’re a custodian, aren’t you?” I asked, an idea forming itself in my head, “Is there a way into the elevator shaft? Any panels we can lift?”
“Not in these ones,” He said, looking up and shaking his head, “we’re not allowed to touch the elevators, anyway - only the company that installed it can do that. Not sure why, but either way I don’t have the tools or know-how to get out of the car, let alone fix this hunk of trash.” He let out a huff as he sat back in his spot on the floor, leaving us in yet another oppressive silence. After a while, Anmarie started, fidgeting a bit.
"Well if we're going to be telling stories I may as well share mine..." Part 2