It’s difficult taking care of a delusional father by yourself. Sixteen-year-old Shaleigh Mallet would rather explore and photograph dilapidated buildings than cater to her father’s dark episodes. But when she’s kidnapped by a creature who carries her atop a flying bicycle into another world, she realizes this wasn’t the escape she wanted.
In a kingdom known as the Garden, where minotaurs pull carriages and parties are held in hot air balloons, Madam Cloom and her faerie servant, Teagan, rule over the land with incredible but terrifying magic. Shaleigh must prove that she is the reincarnation of a long-dead ruler, not because she believes it, but because it’s her only chance to survive. With the help of a trespassing faerie, a stoatling, and a living statue, Shaleigh hopes to outwit everyone. She aims to break the bonds of servitude and finally make her way home. What she doesn’t realize, however, is that she’s playing right into the hands of a far worse enemy…
Shaleigh didn’t think about how much concrete and steel stood over her head as she stepped carefully down the decaying hallway of Ferris Factory. The building had been abandoned for so long that the mildew and fungus ran rampant from the moisture that crept down the crumbling walls, so a respirator was a requirement. Ferris Factory was only two stories tall from the outside, but the floors underground felt endless. The elevator shaft only went down three floors when it had been operational; the rest of the floors could only be reached with the stairs. She doubted any of it had been inspected by the fire marshal.
Her best friend, Kaeja, walked so close behind that she could feel her warm breath on the back of her neck. The only sound that echoed up and down the hallway, besides their footsteps, was the snap of Shaleigh’s camera. The photos were why they risked their lives to explore dangerous places: to document the decrepit. It was thrilling to explore a place that nobody else would see. Eventually all the walls would fall, and Ferris Factory would decay into memory. Shaleigh and Kaeja would have the only remaining proof it even existed, especially since it was clear that nobody was supposed to know about this section of the factory.
A rat skittered out of a heap of moldy paperwork and Kaeja took a deep breath until it passed. “This is the worst one yet. By far.” Shaleigh grinned, though her respirator concealed it. “Come on, we had to come back and take the stairs down. We couldn’t just end it at the base of the elevator.”
“Do you see that?” She swung the flashlight to the side. “I couldn’t even hang a picture on that wall. Four floors down was enough, five floors is just begging to get hurt.”
Kaeja was right, the walls of the hallway curved inward like a bow string. Shaleigh hadn’t noticed how bad it was until she mentioned it. “We’ll be quick.”
She snapped as many photos as she could while Kaeja held the flashlight. It illuminated a good portion of the hall, but the beam had little effect against the thick, sick air. The light ought to have made the place more inviting, but it only made the shadows darker. It was hard for Shaleigh to keep her hands steady for the photos; fear and exhilaration kept combating within her. Sure, this place was terrifying and could collapse at any moment, but the thought of capturing a world that would never been seen again, of documenting the forgotten before it disappeared, made her tap the shutter button of her camera faster. “I wish we had more time. I’d love to look inside some of these rooms.”
“Not me,” Kaeja said, her eyes shadowed by the reflections of the flashlight on her mask. “These halls are creepy enough, thanks.” The light flashed across some metal scraps against the bowed wooden wall. It was hard to tell if it had been left behind by the workers, or if it had fallen from the ceiling. “Didn’t they used to make cars here?”
“Sure, that’s it.” Shaleigh snorted as she tapped on a dirt-encrusted sign that warned visitors that the hallway was a high security corridor. “Whatever helps you sleep at night.”
“It’s an old building, but that doesn’t mean they were hiding anything down here.”
“Then what’s with the high security? They had to be doing something illegal down here. The maps we found don’t even show these floors. I heard it used to be a hospital,”
Shaleigh glanced back to her with a smile. “Dad heard it from a colleague at work. They used to keep dangerous people here.” Kaeja stared at her, the beam from the flashlight in her hands trembling.
A high-pitched squeal of metal echoed down through the insides of the building, as though the entire structure was shifting under its own weight. The squeal turned into a groan that shook the very floor beneath their feet. Both teens froze, barely daring to breathe as debris fell from the ceiling. Seven levels of exhausted steel, wood, and plaster shifted over their heads. They stood in silence waiting for the walls to give way, waiting to be buried beneath the rusty metal beams, discolored linoleum floors, and rat-infested insulation; but the building remained steady.
The noise stopped. Particles drifted in the air.
“It doesn’t sound very good, does it?” Shaleigh whispered.
“I don’t like it. I don’t care what you say, this is the lowest I’m going. Five levels below ground is far enough.”
Shaleigh stifled a laugh, “That’s what you said when we found the stairs.”
A high-pitched noise erupted down the hall causing both teens to jump. It didn’t sound metallic…it didn’t sound like the building at all.
Kaeja stared down the hallway with wide eyes. The noise broke into a whimper, and then there was silence. It only lasted maybe a few seconds, but they both knew what they had heard. Someone was down there with them.
Shaleigh turned to look behind them, but without the flashlight beam it was too dark to see anything. “Was that—was that behind us?”
Kaeja spun around, temporarily blinding Shaleigh in the process. “I don’t know. I thought it came from in front of us.”
The darkness felt like a cage all around them. The beam of the flashlight, darting forwards and backwards down the hall, seemed so small and insignificant now. Someone was in the darkness. Someone was watching them. Shaleigh stepped around Kaeja and started back toward the stairwell. “We should go.”
Kaeja grabbed her arm and Shaleigh could feel her clammy fingers through the sleeve of her jacket. “Are you crazy? You said that’s where it came from.”
“How else are we going to get out of here?”
Kaeja could give no argument and shook her head. “Shaleigh…” she whimpered.
“It’s okay, we’ll do it together.” She put her camera around her neck and took Kaeja’s hand. They walked slowly towards the door of the stairwell, side by side, fingers clasped in a death grip.
For a moment, Shaleigh thought she saw movement ahead of them and stopped. Kaeja must have seen it too because she swept her flashlight left and right, searching for whatever it was. Just before the beam of light reached one of the doors, Shaleigh was certain she spotted a shadow move into one of the rooms.
“Ow…” Kaeja whispered giving their joined hands a tug. Shaleigh realized she had been gripping too hard and loosened her hold but didn’t say a word. Her eyes were fixed on where the shadow had been. As they drew closer, an arm stretched out, hairy with long, black fingernails, and pulled the door closed. There was a splash as though something heavy had fallen into a pool of water from behind the door.
Kaeja screamed. A bolt of adrenaline hit Shaleigh and she grabbed Kaeja’s arm. Together they ran. As they passed the door, the knob began to turn with a creak. She wasn’t sure if Kaeja had seen it or not. “Keep going!” she yelled, all pretense of caution forgotten.
Once the stairwell came into view, they sped up. Shaleigh slipped on a wet spot and her foot skidded. She would have sprained her ankle if she hadn’t grabbed for the wall. What a stupid way to die, she thought as she regained her footing. She had to keep her head straight, because panicking in an old, decrepit building was a sure way to get hurt or killed by whatever was after them. She forced them to slow down to climb over a pile of broken boards and nails. Shaleigh had thought it odd to have it so close to the stairwell when they’d first come down, but now she saw it as a marker, a warning perhaps, to keep trespassers out. As she helped Kaeja down the opposite side of the rubble, she heard limping footsteps approaching them.
“It’s coming!” Shaleigh cried and together they sprinted for the stairwell. The flashlight bounced beams off the walls.
They hit the metal door like a battering ram, shoving it into the rusted railings of the stairs, causing it to reverberate like a gong up and down the concrete shaft. Shaleigh gripped the metal rail, feeling the flecks of paint come off on her hands, and the raw rust beneath. She exchanged a glance with Kaeja, both trying to catch their breath. The respirator was humid with her breathing and she couldn’t wait to rip it off when they got outside. She looked up the dark stairwell above them and grimaced. There were too many floors between them and safety.
Kaeja gasped and reached out to grab Shaleigh’s arm. Shaleigh stared at her. She thought she could make out footsteps from the hall they just left, but it was so faint it was hard to make out. It could have just been the sounds of the building, but she didn’t want to take any chances. Taking a deep breath, Shaleigh led the way as they started up the stairs.
One floor, two floors, three floors.
Was that the sound of the doorknob beneath them being turned? Kaeja hurried to her side as they continued to climb. Both were audibly gasping now. It wouldn’t take much for their pursuer to know where they went. Shaleigh’s thighs were burning. She could sprint up a flight or two of stairs, but this was tough. It didn’t help that she was already out of breath before they even started climbing.
“What if it’s locked us in?” Kaeja asked between sucking in gulps of air.
Shaleigh didn’t respond. She didn’t want to even consider that option.
They climbed two more flights of stairs. Kaeja reached the door first. They both let out a sigh of relief when the door opened. Panting, they jogged to the main exit, a pair of massive iron doors that looked like they belonged in a mausoleum. Neither of them said a word as they descended the short flight of broken steps to the grass. Shaleigh ripped off her respirator, Kaeja did the same, and they both exchanged grins as they crossed the grass-pocked concrete walkway. It felt good to feel the heat of the day on her skin too. The sun was sinking in the west, but the air was sweet with wild honeysuckle and a light breeze rustled the old oaks. Shaleigh relaxed a bit but could tell by Kaeja’s expression that she wouldn’t be able to relax until they had left the property completely.
The concrete walkway fell away to tall grass that came up to their hips, as they sidestepped small pine trees that were beginning to take over the lot and moved further away from the building. The chain link fence that surrounded the property sported multiple warning signs for trespassers, though they were faded from exposure. Kaeja pulled back the corner of fencing they had used to get in, and they both climbed through without saying a word. Kaeja paused, took a deep breath, and relaxed her shoulders.
“I know you’ll hate to hear this, Kaeja,” Shaleigh started. “But I think I’m done with Ferris Factory for a while.”
Kaeja laughed. “No complaints here. I’m going to add that we never go underground again either. I am not running up that many stairs again, no matter how great you say the pictures will be.” Shaleigh couldn’t help but laugh. The downtrodden path through the woods made it a short walk to reach the bus stop. Shaleigh unwrapped the scarf from around her head and shook out her twists. The breeze felt wonderful on her scalp. They dropped everything into Shaleigh’s backpack as they walked. The main road was surprisingly empty for a Sunday afternoon. After exploring inside of decomposing buildings for a while, she had new respect for even the simplest things. The bench for the bus stop, covered in graffiti and bearing a single broken board, looked like a luxury.
Kaeja sprawled across the broken wooden bench and covered her eyes with her arms.
“Wow, what a rush!”
“I know!” Despite her smile, Shaleigh still glanced over her shoulder, as though expecting the person from the building to be slinking toward them through the woods.
“What do you think it was?”
Kaeja stared up into the sky. “Someone crazy, I’m sure. It’s a good thing they made some noise. I don’t like the thought of them sneaking up on us like that.” She sat up and patted the bench beside her.
Shaleigh obliged, her legs were still shaky. “Did you see that hand?”
Kaeja shuddered, “Looked like he hadn’t seen the light of day in forever.” She stretched her arms over the back of the bench. “This is exactly why I don’t like the big ones. There are too many hiding places.”
“The small ones aren’t much better,” Shaleigh added. “Sometimes it feels like a shot right out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you know?”
Kaeja nodded and the two grew silent from their own nerves. Kaeja’s leg jumped up and down, as though at any moment she would jump up into a sprint. Shaleigh kept resisting the urge to look over her shoulder once more. The bus couldn’t come fast enough.
“Ugh, I need to think about something else.” Kaeja said with a tense smile. “You’ve got a party coming up tonight, don’t you? You get to get all dolled up. I know you don’t like the people much, but I do envy you getting to go.”
Shaleigh sighed. “I had almost forgotten about it.” She checked her watch. It was a good thing they had left when they did because she still needed to get home and clean up. “If you like it so much, you can totally go for me.”
“Your dad would never let me. He needs you there.”
Kaeja scooted closer and put an arm around her shoulders. “I’m sorry. I guess that is pretty hard on you. Do they ask you a lot of questions about him?”
Shaleigh nodded. She hated the tight feeling she got in her chest whenever she thought of those stupid parties. She hated the fact that she had to go. Why in the world did Roseworth College have so many of them anyway? It was like they wanted to torture her.
Deciding to change the subject, she picked up her camera from around her neck. After checking to make sure nothing had been damaged in their mad dash, she asked, “Want to see the pictures?”
Kaeja nodded but looked concerned. Shaleigh ignored it.
The brilliant light of the flash somehow made the dark halls of Ferris Factory less frightening, less dangerous. If only people were so easy to strip of fear.
I write about strange creatures. Typically they shouldn’t exist, or they have bled through from a different reality, or they’re pretending to be a crying baby in a crib. Sometimes that lands my stories in horror and other times in fantasy, but there’s always an air of strangeness to my tales. If you want to get a better feel for what I’m talking about, check out a few clips or read a few drabbles.
My work has appeared in a spattering of short story collections, but I do have a few novellas and novels in the pipeline. Other than talking about writing, I also talk about cryptozoology, werewolves, wildlife conservation, and of course kitties. I’ve also been known to nerd out about Batman and The Hobbit, and have recently discovered the cracktastic fun of Black Butler cosplay, so there will likely be more of these incidents.
By day I work as a web developer, so I’ll occasionally talk about web issues like finding the right theme.
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