Maud tipped back the last of the bottle. They didn’t allow drinking in the Student Board Offices, but in her final days before graduation, Maud figured, what the heck. What were they going to do, she wondered, revoke her degree? She remembered opening her congratulations email from the university, “Graduating class of 2046!” Her parents reaction was to gush and send her job advertisements. Her friends, Scott and Bob, their reaction was to get drunk in the Student Rec Building. The oldest building on campus.
Maud put the bottle of wine back down on the table when not another drop would fall out of the neck. Between the two of them, Scott and Bob finished a twelve pack of cheap beer and half a bottle of vodka. The lights were low in the office, and the Student Rec building was vacant. No one studied or hung out in the building so late at night.
“This is the best it will ever get,” Scott said.
“Sure, cheap liquor and finals,” Maud argued, “my life is downhill from here.”
Maud worked for the Student Board her entire collegiate career. She recruited Bob and Scott from home to work with her. In all their time spent in the seventh floor of the Student Rec Building, they dreamed of this day. Maud ran a hand through her hair and thought about how much she idolized graduation; even though, the next day she would be just another unemployed 20 something.
“What are your top three nights of college?” Bob asked. Maud shrugged, she tried not to dwell on the past too much. She even disengaged the function on her tablet to tell her what happened on that day in history. Still, she knew that two years ago that day she had at last decided what to get her degree in: Political Science and Business Management. She nodded off in class at least once a week.
Because she sat deep in thought about her next final, Maud didn’t hear Scott’s answer, but her attention came back around when Bob mentioned Unit #5. She took her feet off the table and leaned towards him. Half because of the intoxication, and half because she knew the reputation of Unit #5.
“Have you been there?” she asked.
“No,” Bob almost laughed, but something took the laughter form his throat, “I talked to Jonathan last week who said you can’t graduate without sneaking into Unit #5.”
“I didn’t think students were allowed in Unit #5 anymore?” Scott asked.
“Its used as storage now, so technically we aren’t. Jonathan said one door is in the East Wing basement, and an old exit is in the West Wing basement. The goal is to walk all the way through to the other side.”
“We’re breaking the rules already,” Maud raised the wine bottle in the air, “why don’t we go see why Unit #5 is all locked up?” Maud asked, “I bet I have the key. I have the key to all the doors in here.” Bob nodded, slow at first then faster. Maud took that as her answer, pushed her chair back, stood with fake confidence, and lead them out of the office. “You have to be quiet, though,” Maud reminded them.
They were out of the office for less than a minute when Scott spoke.
“Is it true that it used to be a shooting range?” Scott asked. Maud ground her teeth, what part of quiet did they not understand, she screamed in her head.
“Yeah, back in the 1900s when guns were still legal,” Bob answered Scott, and all Maud’s hopes fell away. This topic wasn’t socially appropriate, but Maud felt curious about the room’s origins. She inclined her head to hear more rumors.
“Some Fraternity kid died in Unit #5 in 2020,” Bob claimed. Maud couldn’t imagine, besides, Universities banned Social Greek life ten years ago.
“According to police reports, the guy got shot in Unit #5, but none of the fraternity members admitted to shooting him and security footage doesn’t show anyone else go into the room.”
“A ghost?” Scott asked. Maud wished they would stop talking about it. Her anxiety mixed with the wine to create a hallucinogenic fear that waded before her eyes. The group thundered down the last flight of stairs. The basement of the Student Rec building still had the outdated tile floors that felt too solid underfoot and papery ceilings maud recognized from vintage pictures on the University History Website.
They rounded the corner as Scott and Bob continued to trade theories on how the Fraternity brother died. Maud stopped. At the end of the hall they faced a single dark, wood door. It had a small window too high set for Maud to see through.
No one stepped forward, so Maud approached the door with the clunky key in her hand. She didn’t know if it would work. It felt heavy and cold compared to the electronic fobs they used in other buildings.
The sound of the lock twisting out of the door frame echoed through the hall. Without so much as a pull, the old door swung open. She really did have the key to every door in the building. Maud’s silhouette looked black against the yellow light of the hallway; even though, her appearance haunted the others, they followed her inside.
“Can anyone find a light?” Bob asked.
“Here,” Scott said and cranked a beaded cord through the light bulb.
Unit #5 extended to their right for at least fifty feet. On their side of the room sat discarded tables and panes of glass and body doubles. Boxes, labeled in Sharpy marker, extended through the whole of Unit #5. The other side of the room remained covered in dark shadows. Maud ran a hand along the cement sides. Pocks dipped into the wall in a few places.
“Probably from bullets,” John said. They all shivered and stepped closer together.
“Hey, Maud,” A voice said from behind her. She turned and faced into the red eyes of a green, bleeding, mutant baby. A loud scream from Maud echoed through the room. Her balance wavered, and a strong pull to the right forced Maud to shrink down to the floor. The cold cement made her pants feel damp, but the cool soon became overshadowed by the wine. Scott stood above her, the baby in his hands. A doll, Maud repeated to herself, but her mind still pictured a true demon child crawling around Unit #5.
“Calm down, I didn’t mean to freak you out that bad,” Scott put down the demon baby and helped Maud to her feet. She let go of his hand fast and walked away.
“Why do they still have Halloween decorations down here?” Maud asked, “We haven’t celebrated Halloween in twenty years!” Scott and Bob laughed at her, and Maud reddened.
POP! Came a loud noise from across the room. Maud turned her head and looked to where Bob had been standing a moment earlier. He wasn’t there, standing with his head a brush away from the ceiling. Scott took a long stride to stand next to her.
“Bob?” Scott called into the shadowed side of the room. No one responded. Maud called out for him too. She knew she should go look for him, but she felt her feet sink into the floor. She couldn’t go any closer.
“This isn’t funny,” She said, “We should just get out of here, come on.”
POP! Another loud noise sounded, this time a spark of light came from a corner they hadn’t explored yet. Maud’s head turned slow to look at Scott, but he wasn’t there. Boxes along the sides of the walls, glass panes…one looked shattered. Maud hadn’t noticed that before, she thought. She should have heard the glass break. A noise, Maud knew it. She knew a noise just came from the other side of the room. It sounded like a cry. She inched forward, knowing it could be Scott or Bob who needed her.
She stopped looking for Scott and Bob in the shadows. Maud didn’t want to disappear like them, she had graduation to think about, and finals, and her family; no right of passage through Unit #5 could take from her. Maud sprinted from the old gun range, her ears rang louder with every step. The door to Unit #5 remained cracked open. She squinted her eyes against the light in the hallway, and her run looked more like a fast wobble from the bottle of wine. Where to go, where to go, she thought. Up the stairs was the obvious choice. The higher she could get, the further from Unit #5 she would be.
Maud’s heavy footsteps disrupted the peace of the first floor, but she ran harder. She disregarded the elevator tube. Up the stairs, third floor, fourth floor, all the way back to the seventh floor offices. Maud fell into her chair. It wheeled back several feet before inching to a stop in front of the window. Her chest heaved as she looked around the darkened room. No Scott or Bob. Alone.