Why I kept up with that crowd is hard to say. I guess I had really wanted to pledge and get into the sorority, to be a part of something bigger than myself. It was the last day of trial and testing; my final challenge was to go into the old wing of the hospital, ride the elevator from bottom to top, get the flag they had stashed in the supply room, and walk out the side door back into the new part of the hospital. It had all been arranged; my big sister’s aunt, who was also a soror, worked in the hospital and had timed it out for me so no one would get into trouble. They all assured me there was nothing to it; it was just a creepy old building. It was under power as the hospital officials were still clearing out files and what not. I was cool with it.
At the appointed hour I arrived at the back door, where my big sister’s aunt met me. She led me through an unfinished passageway that joined the two sections of the hospital together and left me at the elevator bank. I pressed the button and the doors slid opened; to my surprise there was a well-dressed man inside. He smiled and stepped to the left as I entered. “What floor?” he asked as if it wasn’t strange that I was getting in the elevator.
“Five, please,” I answered, trying to sound more confident.
After pressing the floor, he looked at me and smiled. “Hello, my name is Carl. What’s yours, young lady?” Before I could answer, the elevator bucked and came to a halt. Carl didn’t seem particularly worried. “Oh, it’ll get moving in a moment; this old girl is temperamental. I see this at least once a night.”
I wondered if Carl was maybe an evening supervisor for the security company that supposedly patrolled the exterior of the building. “Um, I’m Jessica,” I answered. “My friend’s aunt works here and I’m helping her out. Need to pop up to the top floor and grab something for her.”
Carl nodded absently. “You know, Jessica, I was born in this hospital many years ago. It has seen more people in its halls over the last century than all the people who live in Cambridge, Maine, four times over.”
I didn’t know what to make of him. He seemed totally content to be stuck in an elevator with some college girl who had no business being there. “That’s something, Carl,” I said, trying to sound convincing.
With a jerk, the elevator started again and then stopped on the third floor. Carl stepped out, turned back to me, and smiled. “You’ll do just fine, Jessica. No need to worry about a thing.” As the elevator doors slid toward closed, he said through the narrowing slit, “Just watch that the door doesn’t close behind you!” And with that, I was alone. The elevator continued up to the top floor without incident. It was dark there, save the few emergency lights that were on every few feet. I took a deep breath, pulled out my flashlight and turned left toward the designated closet and wondered what Carl was talking about. Before the elevator could close, I stuck my arm in and popped the emergency stop button, thinking that perhaps that was the trick: I would find myself on the top floor, the elevator would leave, and there would be no stairs to get back down—Carl had warned me not to let the door close behind me. I smiled at my own abilities and set off with new confidence to find the closet. About 200 feet down the hallway I saw it. I shined my light around as I stepped in; the flag was stuck on a shelf at the back of the rather long closet. As I made my way to grab it, the closet door closed heavily behind me and my heart sank. What if he meant this door? I thought. I grabbed the flag, came back to the door and found it locked. I was confused; it hadn’t been locked when I opened it from the other side. I felt myself starting to panic and reached for my mobile; there was of course no signal. As my mind began to reel, there was a soft knock on the door and then a key was slid under it. I scrambled for the key, unlocked the door, and dashed into the empty hallway. I thought I saw the edge of Carl’s coat entering the elevator but when I got there it was just as I left it, doors open and the emergency stop pushed. It was then that I noticed the stairway; it was to the right of the elevator. I took them down two at a time and made it back to my big sister’s aunt at the appointed time.
I turned in the flag to my big sister and promptly rescinded my request to join the sorority after I had a chance to talk with my big sister’s aunt about Carl. He was the building’s head of operations back before the old section had closed. My big sister’s aunt said he had died a year ago; she laughed it off and said I’d seen the ghost some of the orderlies talked about. I’d like to think of him more as an angel. Anyway, I heard the celebration for the new sisters was wonderful.