I am seriously going mad, Chike thought, shuffling backwards on his ass; he didn’t even notice he’d fallen to the floor. Then his hand struck the washing machine, bringing back the pain.
Chike bolted upright and climbed the bench, simultaneously holding his hand and trying to pass through the wall and out of the laundrette. The temperature in the room dropped even further; his skin broke out in goose bumps, with his breath misting up the air.
And the damn girl was still there.
That white, smiling face. That cherub-like face that bore the smile of madness.
She took a step forward, and Chike gasped.
Then she turned and ran away again, giggling.
The warmth came back in a rush, chasing away the cold. The room suddenly seemed brighter, like the sun was shining in. Chike breathed and waited. Breathed and waited. Listened. Nothing but the whirring of the washing machines; he turned to see that the other one had started working again. The dryer had stopped. Outside, the wind was howling, and the sky was still overcast. Not a soul was outside.
Chike stepped down tentatively with one leg, waited, then brought down the other leg. Glanced at his hand. It still hurt. Well, he had to put it out of his mind. He shuffled as quietly as he could to the dryer, and looked inside. Saw what looked like a white bed-sheet. His mind began to raise questions:
Are you sure she entered here?
Where were you really looking?
She couldn’t have-
Chike clamped own hard on those thoughts. He knew what he’d seen. He was hundred percent sure that she’d climbed into the dryer, and he sure as hell had seen her climb out of the washing machine opposite the dryers. And he was pretty sure there was no tube above or underground linking them both.
So, his mind asked again, how do you reconcile the fact that she’d entered in one place and had come out the other?
Chike shook his head; he didn’t have an answer to that question. This was some MINDFREAK stuff, but Cris Angel wasn’t in attendance; just him.
Why is the room always cold every time she comes in here?
His mind just wouldn’t quit asking questions. Okay. The answer to that one was probably that someone always coincidentally left the door open.
Every bloody time?
Chike shut out that part of his brain. No use asking these –
Something caused Chike to stop. He strained his ears as his brain tried to pick out the anomaly. He listened. Hard. He stealth-walked to the door, unconsciously avoiding the drops of water the little girl had left behind, but ready to bolt back into the corner at the first sign of trouble. Stuck his head out the doorway. Listened. Concentrated.
This can’t be right.
The coast seemed clear.
He walked as quietly as possible and peeped both ways down the corridor. Stepped quickly to the cafeteria door and looked in.
The place felt lifeless. Chike rushed to the main door of the building, forgetting about stealth temporarily, and tried opening it.
Outside, the wind was still howling.
Inside, the washing machines hummed and whirred.
Apart from that, nothing else.
Chike was all alone in the building.
Then a childish giggle, telling him that no, he wasn’t entirely alone.
Chike cursed the fact that he’d decided to do his laundry today.
Why didn’t I wait till after church?
Jesus, what’s going on here?
The temperature dropped a few degrees again, and Chike went into the laundrette to get his jacket. The washing machines were still running. Chike checked the time remaining; 12 minutes on one, 14 minutes on the other. So he’d been here for what, a little over 30 minutes?
It felt more like 30 hours.
His heart thudded in his chest, and he struggled to calm himself down. He didn’t want to think about what he’d seen, what he’d experienced.
Right now, he had to find a way out of here. Forget the laundry for now. He could come back for it later.
Feeling lost, Chike stepped out onto the corridor. Looked towards the stairs. The corridor seemed so long. Then something occurred to him; a solution so simple that he wondered why he had not thought of it since.
He took out his cell phone.
No network. How convenient.
He tried calling his friend anyway.
Nope. Unable to connect.
His would-be solution had just been added to his growing stack of worries.
Upstairs, a door banged and something scraped the floor, like a chair was being dragged. Someone had to be up there.
The patter of little feet.
That little girl, again.
With one last look at the laundry room, Chike started forward. He felt like John Coffey in Stephen King’s book, The Green Mile; he felt as though he were walking the mile, except that no one was here to walk with him, and he was not going to die on an electric chair.
He had no idea that the electric chair was actually a better and more merciful proposition.
Chike got to the end of the corridor and stepped through the double doors on the left into the stairwell. It was noticeably colder now, even with his jacket on. Maybe they’d turned off the heaters or something.
But someone had to be up there.
He strained his ears. He heard/felt the hum of machinery; maybe the washing machines, maybe heaters somewhere in this building. Maybe both.
His heart beating a staccato rhythm, Chike started up the steps.
Chike tried as much as possible to walk silently on the stairs; he had no idea why he was doing it at all, just that he had to. Still, his footsteps sounded as loud as gunshots to his ears.
And the temperature still seemed to be continually dropping. He wasn’t shivering yet, but Chike was sure that he would be, soon enough.
He got to the landing, then walked through double doors identical to the doors downstairs, into the Postgraduate Restaurant.
The EMPTY Postgraduate Restaurant.
The large room felt….asleep. Or dead. All the tables and chairs were neatly arranged but the counter was empty. Like they didn’t plan to open for business today. Chike walked forward tentatively, going around tables and chairs. He looked out the other side; through the glass, the construction project loomed larger than life. It was still overcast outside.
Chike snapped his head around quickly. His eyes darted about.
“Hello?” Chike called out feebly. Then, clearing his throat, a bit louder this time, “Hello?”
A creak from behind him.
He whirled around.
Full-out, childish laughter. It seemed to have come from behind the refrigerator at the other side of the room, opposite the Fire Escape next to the counter.
Is she trying to scare me or what? This was crazy. Time to end this madness. He was going to get this girl, find her Mum and then get the hell out of here.
Chike traversed the room, his anger rising slowly, but surely.
Is she trying to put me in trouble? Taunt me?
Where in God’s name is her bloody mother?
He got to the fridge. No one was behind it. No one could’ve stayed in the space between the fridge and the wall; too small for even a baby.
What was this, Halloween? Halloween was long gone. Months ago!
The laughter, again. It must’ve been the acoustics of the room, but the laughter seemed to come simultaneously from beside him and from everywhere in the room. But Chike was beyond angry now to give it a thought. He was MAD. Barely holding his rage in check, Chike turned around, his anger on the tip of his tongue, about to be released in a roar once he saw her. Damn the consequences, this had gone too far. He strode off, seething.
A flash of white, and he choked on his anger.
Chike stood stock-still. His head felt empty, as though the wind wasn’t outside but in his head.
It can’t be. It was empty.
Like an old man with a backache, Chike turned, so afraid but helpless.
Jesus Christ please save me please help me I’m going crazy I’m mad already please help me he-
In the lowest compartment of the fridge, the girl sat on her haunches, clutching her knees, eyes closed. Like she was sleeping. The fluorescent light in the fridge made her appear almost as white as her dress. Her hair half-obscured her profile.
Slowly her head turned, and Chike’s jaw hung open, slack. He felt boneless.
Then she opened her eyes.
They were blood-red.