It wasn’t so much that Oxana was trying to get away from something as that she was just trying to get away. It was the first day without rain in a week, her books had all gotten boring, and all of her professors seemed slightly more awful than normal – which was saying something, with the class load she had this semester.
So she went walking. It was threatening to rain any minute, so she took her raincoat and her umbrella, the one book she hadn’t finished reading, and her flashlight, because you never knew.
Her mother loved saying that. You never know. What, exactly, you never knew was left, usually, as an exercise for the observer, but in this case, you never knew if the power was going to go out. At SUNY Edowanda, it was safer to say you could probably bet the power was going out. Oxana and her roommate Giannina had bought camping lanterns, stocked up on rechargeable batteries, and gotten very good at working right down to the last drop of power on their laptop batteries.
That wasn’t today, though. Today, Oxana was going to go spelunking in The Abandoned Dorm. She had her pocket bolt cutters, though she doubted she’d need them, the flashlight and spare batteries. And as long as she could make it across the dorm quad before the skies opened up, she was golden.
Everyone had stories about the The Abandoned Dorm, but nobody had a clear answer. Oxana had done a cursory look in the library, but History of SUNY Edowanda was not a large subject area, taking up only three books and two thesis papers.
What they knew is that there were beds and lamps and some clothes in there, that it was at a slightly skew angle to the rest of the already-hilly campus, and that it was marked clearly with very faded signs, stay off, which everyone, of course, ignored. The doors were bolted, some windows boarded up, but its roofed breezeway was a favorite necking spot and at least one garage band Oxana knew of practiced in the easily-accessible courtyard.
The rain was threatening by the time she got to that courtyard – ducked under a chain, walked through a long arched tunnel, moved three lawn chairs aside – so she went quickly.
She knew which door she was aiming for. The chain on there was already rusted. It was like they had only been pretending to try to keep people out – maybe enough to avoid a lawsuit? It took two hits with a nearby rock to break the chain, the lock cracking and falling with a clatter to the cracked pavers below.
She really didn’t think anyone would try to prosecute her for trespassing, signs to that end notwithstanding, but still, she was wearing gloves. She slipped in through the door, pushed it closed behind her, thinking as she did
He jumped in and shut the door, forgetting what a very foolish thing this is to do.
On the other hand, leaving a door ajar would definitely signal anyone looking that she was in here. So she pulled it shut and looked around.
SUNY Edowanda was not known for spending a lot of money on its students, so Oxana wasn’t too surprised to find that the entryway looked not all that different from the courtyard in her dorm, nor that there were still signs up advertising a dance from probably-1999, by the “party like it’s the end of the world” theme and the awful fonts.
There were coats in the lost-and found; there was a can of cola still on the table in the lounge, and the TV there was still playing static that looked, if you squinted, like Highlander. “Ghost town,” Oxana murmured, just to hear a voice. The way it echoed, she immediately wished she hadn’t.
The dorm rooms were mostly closed, but a peek into one unlocked one looked as if its inhabitants had left in a hurry. There were still blankets on the bed, still books on the shelves, and there were clothes strewn all over the place. Hurried packing – or, if Oxana’s freshman-year roommate had been any indication, just an ordinary day.
The rooms you could see from the courtyard windows did not look this inhabited. They looked like they had held people at one time, not like that one time had been an hour ago.
She picked a book off the shelf, not recognizing the title, and flipped through it. Psych text, from the looks of things, and from a far more psychedelic era than 1999.
She stuck it in her bag. Maybe she’d give it a read later. Sometimes those old texts were good for a laugh, and sometimes they just had better information than the new books. There was a layer of dust on the book – on everything in the room – despite that people-just-left feeling. She doubted the owner was coming back for the book.
The next three rooms she looked in were much the same – a mess of clothes strewn everywhere, books still on the shelves, dust covering everything. One of them had a dress that had to be from the fifties sitting over an ancient typewriter. Another one had clothes that were maybe ten years out of style.
She pulled out her phone to take pictures, but it was reading no signal and no battery. Edowanda was hard on phones; she stuck it back in her pocket. Next time, she’d bring a film camera.
She wondered how she already knew there’d be a next time. Was she going to bring Giannina? Somehow she knew that was a no, the way she knew she’d be here again and again and that Giannina was never going to believe her about exactly how strange this was.
She picked one more room at random and caught her breath. It could’ve been her room. The clothes, well, maybe a couple years out of fashion, but not that much. The blanket, the poster – it all looked modern.
She was pretty sure The Abandoned Dorm had been abandoned for decades. At least for years. None of this should have been here, not the mp3 player on the floor, not the exact same textbook she had for intro to psych.
The room that looked like the 1920’s hadn’t freaked her out. This did. She couldn’t explain it, couldn’t even picture how she’d explain it to Giannina. Look, clearly this place was abandoned a long time ago. That made sense. I’m not sure about the 70’s-feeling room, that was pretty odd. And the 1999 posters. But something that could’ve come from our room? How does that make any sense at all?
Oxana had a feeling she ought to have been freaked out sooner, but she supposed everyone had their threshold. She backed out of the room, closed the door, and went looking for something less creepy.
The dorm building was three stories tall, like a large portion of the older dorms on campus. The newer ones – the ones with elevators – were all ten, fifteen stories, more compact, but the old ones had been built on cheap swampland and sprawled in long wings.
She didn’t want to look at more dorm rooms. She was pretty sure she wanted to look at anything but dorm rooms.
The stairs at the end of the wing she was in went down as well as up. That was new; the stairs in her dorm only went down in one locked stairwell by the RA corral. Well, down probably wouldn’t lead her to more dorms.
Imagine dorms in the basement of a sinking building. She shivered melodramatically, thinking of watching the dirt climb up your windows until you were in the dark.
The stairs downward seemed even creepier. The lights had been on upstairs, but down here, there were only flickering red lights, the emergency system. It bathed the halls in even more creepiness.
Even worse, there were no doors down here, and the tile, rather than being flecked off-white like everywhere else in Edowanda, was some sort of stone-like grey. And so were the walls.
“Great,” she muttered, and then stopped, because her voice echoed off the walls. I’ve wandered into a cave under Edowanda. Well, I wanted an adventure.
She kept walking, because she hadn’t come this way to turn around because of the floor.
She reached a door after what seemed like far too much walking – she had to have come back down the dorm hall and started on the opposite one by now – a tall steel door with a broad, ornate handle, looking out of place down here.
Then again, Edowanda had the strangest bits of architecture placed in the oddest places, like at one point the state-sponsored architects had been beset by a flare of rebellious artistic flare and insisted “No! This square brick building needs an ornate archway! But just one!” So a fancy doorknob on a basement door seemed about keeping with the overall weirdness of her alma mater.
She hesitated with her hand on the doorknob. Somehow, this seemed more like trespassing than anything she’d done before now. If she went through this door – if she went through her, she was deliberately breaking and entering.
That was stupid, she scolded herself. She’d broke the chain, she’d opened dorm doors. She was already breaking and entering. This door wasn’t even locked.
She chased the thought away. If she was going to do this, she might as well do it all the way.
She opened the door.
A new story. SUNY is State University of NY; this one is made-up.
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