Writers (in order): Alyssa Tang, Anirudh Seshadri, A B, SJ Ly, Ava Cheng, Chinyoung Shao, Christina Ding, Helina Li, Natasha, Lily Pashman, Mars, Noa B., Quinton Koons, Rishab Suresh, Trishla Dedhia, and Yuika Sun. Editor: Katherine Ja.
Marie’s feet rounded on the corner of the block, arms pumping with purpose as her destination came into view. The city had long been abandoned by now, coated in a fine layer of dust, from the trenches by the roadside to the laundry lines criss-crossing the upper layer of the deserted apartment buildings. They trembled in the wind as if a slight tonguing of a consonant would snap the brittle netting of the cityscape, and all the buildings would crumble to rubble and ash, long gone from their original meager glory.
So she didn’t speak a word, half fearful that someone would respond. Only the heaving of her dry breath buzzed in her mind as she finally stopped at what once could’ve been a storefront. A haphazard pile of crates stood in the way between her and the answers to the strangest mystery of her life. They emitted an acrid rotting scent, as if something had been left dead for too long.
This city had been Marie’s whole life for the past three years. Finally, she had an answer for what had happened three years ago. She tugged her scarf further over her nose and began pushing the crates away from where she knew the doorway was. The wood crumbled underneath her grip. As she entered the doorway, memories from the fateful incident came flooding back.
• • •
She was running late for an important meeting that would decide her future position at her company. Traffic was terrible as always, with the occasional disorienting honks, but reminiscing about her father’s calm and soothing voice singing her a cultural nursery rhyme calmed her down as she drove through the traffic. As she got out of her car, her assistant manager rushed over to provide her with her favorite Brewed Coffee With a Shot of Espresso.
Running down the hallway, she could smell the musty scent of the antiques left out from a previous meeting. But as she entered the dusty and silent elevator, the lights stopped working. An eerie silence followed, and for a second the building felt cold, lifeless. A shiver rattled her body but there was no wind, the air still. It felt, inexplicably, like watching a guillotine fall toward her own head, surrounded by spectators, but no—she was all alone in an elevator, frightened by the disturbing silence. Her heart sped up and pounded in her head, her whole body pulsing with the beat of a thousand drums. Her breathing quickened, as did her thoughts.
Though the lights were still out, the tiny speakers creaked ominously before resuming their quiet hum of banal, inoffensive tunes. It’s not unusual… Their continued droning told her that power remained in the building.
The elevator started moving upwards again, metals grinding against each other out of sight. Something about it seemed different. Old. Tired. Decaying. The elevator creaked and shook as it went higher. The thought that it might be dysfunctional sent a jolt up her spine. How could it already be collapsing? This building was only two months old. Suddenly, a loud rumble followed by a short round of fierce trembling preceded the elevator’s halt.
The doors opened with a ding and she stepped out, hoping to take the stairs back down and warn her colleagues about the broken elevator, but she froze as the room she stepped into registered in her head. The wallpaper was shredded and torn, and the revealed plaster was fossil gray. Inside the room itself, there was nothing but a half-rotted wooden IKEA table in the middle. Oddly, a single plate of untouched cheesecake was placed on top of it. It was the one thing in the room that wasn’t in a state of decay. The thin sliver of cake perched keenly upon the glossy porcelain plate, its pure color seeming to glow against its ancient backdrop.
Carefully moving across the windowless room, she stepped towards the cheesecake. The closer she crept, the brighter it burned, drawing her hand to cover her eyes. The air around her, so still before, seemed to tremble in excitement—the excitement of cold sweat and hungry eyes, of bared throats and bared teeth, of yellow lights and purple shadows. Ants danced over her skin, the bright light searing itself into her brain; she turned her head and reached her hand: it sunk into the cheesecake with a squelch, the room going dark as a single word was whispered.
Then, a flash of bright white and the next thing she knew was the gray sky of an abandoned city, as Marie flung herself this way and that in a desperate attempt to salvage a scrap of an answer.
• • •
Blinking rapidly, Marie took one, two, three, breaths. She was disoriented, shaky, as if she had indeed reenacted her prior recollection. She glanced at her clammy hands, instinctively clenching them into a tight grip. Her subtly painted nails left bright indentations on her palms, reminding her of her old habit. Suppressed memories washed back like a wave at low tide, but Marie scrambled to shake herself free of them. The task at hand was pressing enough.
Breathing in deeply, she straightened in preparation for her potentially dangerous experiment. Her gamble on fate sent beads of sweat rolling down her forehead in intense concern.
If I can only find that piece of cake again, then maybe I can go home!
As she cautiously climbed the squeaky staircases that she had descended from three years ago, she tried desperately to calm her speeding heartbeat.
I have my answers, and the mission is finished. This should work—it has to.
Reaching the top, she retraced her footsteps. The corridors were dark and dusty, and the doors on either side nothing but piles of rotten wood.