Have you ever seen something that wasn’t really there? Had an experience that you could only reconcile with one other person in the world, and for which everyone else would call you crazy?
In college, I was part of a volunteer group that went around the dorms passing out pamphlets about how detrimental prescription drug abuse could be. There were lots of reports of students abusing Adderall at the time, and it had become enough of a safety concern for the school to organize my little group of unpaid do-gooders.
I honestly wasn’t too committed to the cause, but it counted toward a community service requirement for one of my classes, and it didn’t seem incredibly difficult.
Though there were some co-ed dorms, most were male or female only. Entry to each building could be gained by waving a student ID card with the proper access in front of a card access proximity scanner mounted by most exterior doors. Some interior hallways and most elevators and stairwells also had these scanners, but rooms were accessed only by physical keys.
Since we were an official volunteer group with a legitimate need for dorm access, our school IDs were temporarily granted access rights to the dorms. However, we were still restricted by our sex to which dorms we could access. Myself and the other girls could only access the female dorms and the female sections of the co-ed dorms, and vice-versa with the guys.
My friend Kelsi and I had been assigned to canvass Terry Hall, the old girls’ dorm on the south side of campus by the unused cafeteria. The cafeteria had been shut around 5 years prior, at the same time Terry Hall was originally closed down. There were plans by the school to renovate the dorm and reopen it, but two years later, with renovations never even started, the dorm reopened due to a lack of housing space on campus. I thought it was an embarrassing reflection of the school’s poor planning capabilities, but it mostly went unmentioned by my peers.
Terry Hall was 40 years old, having most recently been renovated about 21 years before – save for the addition of the card access points right before it reopened. I had been fortunate enough to be assigned to Richmond Hall during my two semesters living in the dorms, which was not only the newest female dorm on campus, but was also the newest building on campus, period. Kelsi had never lived in on-campus housing, but one of her friends had lived in Terry Hall, so she was partially familiar with its layout.
We scanned our IDs at the front entrance and were technically supposed to sign a visitor’s log book at the front desk, but we just walked right by it.
“The desk workers don’t care,” Kelsi said. “They don’t know we don’t live here anyway.”
I nodded and we walked past the desk to the hallway where the first floor residents lived. There was another card access point there, so we scanned our IDs and continued through. Neither of us was sure how long it would take to slide the pamphlets under every door, but we decided to take our time with it. Though we weren’t being supervised, the card access system would have a pretty accurate log of our tour of the building. If we lied about how much time it took to boost our community service hours and someone was bored enough to check the logs, we’d be obligated to have a chat about academic dishonesty with the Dean of Students. I’d heard that such visits were also accompanied by a 20-page essay on integrity, due within a week. Risk-taking wasn’t my game, especially when the alternative was walking around an air conditioned building with one of my best friends for just a bit longer than I otherwise needed to.
“There’s not a lot of people on this floor, huh?” I said as we slid the pamphlets under the last couple of doors in the hall.
“They’re mostly on the upper floors. This one has a lot of offices and storage space.”
I paused for a second, then said, “Should we take the stairs or the elevator?”
“We could just take the elevator to the top floor, then work our way down with the stairs. Easier to go down than up.”
“Works for me.”
I scanned my ID and pressed the call button for the elevator. It took a while to show up, and five or six people poured out of it when the doors finally opened. Kelsi and I were the only ones waiting to go up, so we entered, and she pressed a button on the panel inside. The doors closed, and the elevator started ascending.
“Only eight floors?” I said. “Not too bad. We can probably get another hour and a half out of this.”
“Easily,” Kelsi said.
The elevator dinged as it hit the 7th floor, and dinged again when it hit 8, but it didn’t stop, and the doors didn’t open. I shot Kelsi a confused glance, but before I had time to say anything, a “9” lit up on the display above the doors, the elevator stopped, and the doors opened.
“What the…” I trailed off.
I looked down at the button panel and noticed there was a space for a button above the 8, but the button that had been there was removed and the hole was taped over.
Outside, the hallway was lit solely by sunlight that was coming in through the common area windows, and there was a layer of dust that had settled and caked on the floor.
“Whoa, this is so cool!” Kelsi said. “I didn’t know Terry had an unused floor.”
“Me either, but we should go back down to 8.”
“Come on, we can waste some time and look around first,” Kelsi said.
“Well…” I hesitated. “Alright, but just a few minutes.”
We exited the elevator and walked toward the common area. I hear the elevator ding and the doors close behind us, but didn’t really pay it a whole lot of thought.
“I wonder why this floor isn’t being used?” Kelsi asked.
“Beats me. Maybe they just didn’t need it.”
The main hallway was dark due to going through the center of the building, so we stuck to the outer halls where there were windows. We tried opening a few doors without any luck, but the fourth one we found, room 911, was already open. I followed Kelsi in, but she stopped right inside the doorway, as it was too dark.
“Lights don’t work in here,” she said, flipping the switch up and down.
I pulled out my phone and opened the flashlight app. The tiny LED cut through the darkness, but there wasn’t really a whole lot to see. There were bed frames with no mattresses, a chest of drawers, and an open, empty closet. Besides the dust, this probably looked like any other empty room in the building.
“Well, this is cool, but there’s nothing here,” I said, adjusting the strap of the messenger bag on my shoulder. “We should go back downstairs and finish passing out pamphlets anyway.”
Kelsi nodded. “Yeah, this is kind of disappointing.”
We made our way back to the elevator, and without really thinking, I pressed the call button. We waited a few moments, but nothing happened.
“What’s taking it so long?” I said.
Kelsi pressed it again, and five minutes later, we were still standing there.
“Maybe it’s broken?” I suggested.
“I don’t-” Kelsi stopped mid-sentence. “Oh shit, there’s no card reader.”
I immediately felt dumb. Of course the elevator wouldn’t come without a proper card scan.
“Well that’s stupid,” I said. “I guess they didn’t install them on this floor when Terry reopened.”
“How are we supposed to get down?” Kelsi asked.
“We don’t have much of a choice but to try the stairwell.”
Kelsi shrugged and checked her phone. “We can always call Matt if we need to.”
“Matt will have to call the housing department or something to let us out of here. We might get in trouble for being up here.”
“Well if that’s the only way out of here, it’s what we’ll have to do.”
I sighed; she was right.
We walked down the outer hallway again and passed by the room we’d gone into earlier. There was a sign with a picture of the stairwell and an arrow pointing to our left.
“There it is,” I said.
Kelsi approached the door and pushed it with what was obviously more force than should’ve been required.
“Crap,” she said. We weren’t really surprised that it was locked. I mean, of course it would’ve been, otherwise students could climb the stairwell and get up here. The lack of a card reader also wasn’t too surprising.
“I guess I’ll call Matt,” I sighed, pulling my phone out of my back pocket. I found Matt in my contacts list and pressed his name. After a few rings, he finally picked up.
“Hey Matt, it’s Emma.”
“Oh, hey Em. What’s going on?”
“Well, it’s a long story, but Kelsi and I have a huge favor to ask.”
“What is it?”
“We sort of accidentally got ourselves locked on the ninth floor of Terry Hall. It’s like…abandoned. There’s nothing here. No card readers for us to scan ourselves out.”
Matt laughed on the other end of the line. “Seriously? Holy shit, that’s hilarious.”
“Hilarious? I thought you’d be mad.”
“Did the elevator go there on its own?”
“Well, yeah,” I said. “I mean, the button for the ninth floor was removed.”
“That’s what I figured. Believe it or not, this happened a few times when I was working as a front desk assistant there.”
“And they haven’t fixed it yet?”
“Apparently not,” he said.
“Great. So can you get us out of here?”
“Yeah, let me make a quick call to the administrative coordinator of that dorm. I still have her number in my phone, so it shouldn’t take long.”
“Thanks Matt, we owe you one.”
I hung up, sighed a breath of relief, and quickly recapped the phone conversation for Kelsi. She rolled her eyes and pushed at the stairwell door one final time.
“Lame,” she said. “What a waste of time.”
We walked back to the outer halls and stopped in the common area lobby near the elevators. It would be dark in an hour or so, and I hated to think about being stuck there at night. The sun’s light streaming through the windows was somewhat comforting in that regard, but knowing that it was fading, not so much.
My phone buzzed and I looked down at it. “Dorm lady is looking for facilities dude. They should be there soon.”
“Thanks, you’re the best, ” I texted back.
“Well?” Kelsi asked.
There was nowhere to sit that wasn’t covered in dust, so we leaned against the wall by the windows and waited. Kelsi was doing something on her phone, and in the meantime, without really thinking about it, I began staring off into space and pondering the situation.
Our school had a few urban legends, and some well-known abandoned buildings that students like to break in to explore. I knew for sure that there was a huge classroom in one of the lecture halls that had been boarded up and closed for a decade, and students loved coming up with and spreading theories on why the school wasn’t using such a valuable space. There was also the old geology lab, and the astronomy lab – both closed down and abandoned since the semester the new sciences building opened six or seven years ago.
I’d heard many stories of people sneaking in to the labs, the classrooms, and the maintenance tunnels that ran under the campus, but never had I heard a story about the ninth floor of Terry Hall. It seemed odd that such a prime space for exploring would be left out of campus lore.
I decided to break the silence. “Hey, you ever heard any stories about people exploring up here?”
“No, but it sounds like Matt might know more about that than me, if other people have gotten ‘stuck’ up here before.”
She was right. I pulled my phone back out of my pocket and typed another text to Matt.
“Did many people get caught trying to explore up here on purpose? Seems like a prime location for it.”
I lowered my phone while waiting for a reply. Any minute, the elevator should ding, signaling our rescue, but with each minute that passed, I began to wonder exactly what was required for the facilities people to get up here, and why it was taking so long.
My phone buzzed in my hand. I glanced at the screen, saw that it was a text from Matt, and unlocked it.
“No, not really. I think people were a little too creeped out.”
I arched an eyebrow and typed out a response. “Creeped out by what?”
The screen displayed a notification indicating that Matt was typing a response. A few seconds later, his message popped up. “Wait, you don’t know about 9-9-99?”
I instantly grew very anxious, typing out, “What is that?”
I looked up at Kelsi. “Do you know the significance of 9-9-99?”
“Like nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine?” she said.
“No, like the date.”
“Oh,” she paused and looked up for a second. “No, I can’t think of anything.”
My phone buzzed with Matt’s reply.
“On September 9, 1999, 9 girls, each 19-years old, committed suicide on the 9th floor of Terry Hall in room 909 at 9:09 PM.”
“Holy shit,” I said.
“What?” Kelsi asked. I handed her my phone so she could read the message herself. “Whoa, what the fuck!” Her eyes scanned the screen again. “That’s crazy!”
“How have neither of us ever heard of that? That’s a freaking statewide tragedy.”
She handed my phone back and said, “I dunno, but I really don’t want to…” Kelsi trailed off. “Wait a minute. Room 909?”
“What room did we go into earlier?”
“911. I think 909 was one of the locked ones.”
My phone once again vibrated, but I was no longer anxious to read what Matt had to say. I looked at the text and read it in disbelief three times before Kelsi spoke up.
“What? What’d he say?”
“There’s more,” I said, a bit hesitant to read the text out loud, as if somehow that would make it more real than it already was. “He said ‘Then on October 10, 2000, 10 girls, each identified by their driver’s licenses as weighing 110 pounds, attempted suicide in room 910 at 10:10 PM, but one survived. After she woke up in the hospital a couple days later, she claimed to have no recollection of the event, and completely flipped when they told her she was the sole survivor of some suicide group. People that followed the case closely noted that she’d actually gained a little weight since getting her driver’s license, and her recorded hospital weight was 118 pounds.'”
“Is that it?” Kelsi asked.
“He’s still typing,” I said, glued to the screen despite my horror.
“Fuck, Em, this is some messed up shit…”
Another text came in. This time, I read it out loud immediately. “They doubted that she didn’t remember trying to kill herself, but then she admitted herself to a mental institution out of fear for her own life. From what I heard, she was terrified of having a suicidal split personality.”
Without another thought, I typed out, “Is that why they closed off the 9th floor?”
A few seconds passed, then my phone rang. I wasted no time answering it.
“Hey Em, this is easier than typing all of that crap.”
“Yeah, no problem, Matt. I’m gonna put you on speaker so Kelsi can hear you.”
“Yeah, no prob. So, after the 9-9-99 incident, they closed off room 909, but not the whole floor. Then after the 10-10-2000 incident, they closed off the floor and locked it down. I heard rumors that on November 11, 2001, they had guards posted all around the dorm, but nothing else ever happened. The 9th floor of Terry Hall has been closed ever since, except for the occasional elevator malfunction that lands a few girls up there.”
“How do you know all of this?” Kelsi asked.
“I’ve worked a lot of front desks in my day, including Terry’s. You hear a lot of shit, and have a lot of free time. We found out about this stuff from one of the facilities people and spent days talking about it and looking it up on the Internet. I found some weird occult sites that had a lot of this stuff on it, too. One of them said the girl that survived was ‘doomed to the Earth because of 8 pounds.’ Another said ‘it should’ve been done in 2010.'”
“Did you ever figure out what was up with the fascination on the 9’s and 10’s?” I asked.
“No, we didn’t,” Matt said. “I mean, we talked about it for a few days and then moved on. It wasn’t that big of a deal. That stuff was 11 years ago, didn’t really affect us more than it being fascinating, you know?”
Suddenly, the elevator dinged.
“Finally,” Kelsi said. “I was getting the heebie-jeebies up here.”
“Thanks for the info Matt, looks like our rescue party is here,” I said.
“Alright, later,” he said. “Be safe.”
I looked up and over at the elevator. The doors had opened, and there stood a group of confused-looking girls.
“Uh, what’s going on?” one of them said.
Kelsi sighed. “I take it you guys weren’t coming here to rescue us?”
“Whoa, is this the 9th floor?” another of the girls asked. One of them said something else, but it was around that time when I stopped listening.
I counted, then I double counted. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Nine girls. There were nine girls in the elevator.
But wait, I was just being paranoid, right? After all, it was November, not September. These couldn’t be the spirits of the girls from 9-9-99.
I closed my eyes and told myself to calm down.
My phone buzzed.
It was Matt. “Oh, weird. Today’s 11-11-2011.”
The hairs on the back of my neck raised, and my skin grew warm and tingly.
“Don’t step out of the elevator!” I shouted. “Hold it!”
Kelsi and I ran over and crammed ourselves in. One of the girls pressed the button for the first floor, and then some other floors, but the doors wouldn’t close. We could either stand in a crowded elevator, or we could step out and try to catch it if it went to close. It was like the thing was trapping us up there.
“Why isn’t the elevator moving?” someone mumbled.
It’s okay, I thought. They obviously didn’t come here on purpose, so that means they didn’t come here to kill themselves.
But didn’t that one girl that survived not remember anything? If she was telling the truth, then maybe she didn’t go there on purpose either. It was no doubt some strange occult ritual, especially with the strange fascination with the numbers. Something weird going on.
“Are there stairs?” a girl in the back asked.
“They’re locked,” Kelsi said.
Nine girls randomly showed up on the 9th floor. Nine girls on November 11, 2011. 11-11-11.
Wait, there are 11 girls here, I forgot to include Kelsi and myself!
It was the 11’s. 11 girls, 11-11-11, and room 911 was the only one that was unlocked.
“Kelsi, we have to get out of here, now,” I said. “Before, 11 PM. Way before 11 PM.”
I pulled out my phone and hammered out a few messages to Matt as fast as I could. “Completely freaked out. Still stuck here, now with more people.” “Counting us, there’s 11 girls. On 11-11-11. Room 911 is the only unlocked door on the floor.” “Matt, this isn’t a joke. Please break into this building, knock down the door, do whatever you need to do to get us out. I’m terrified.”
“Em, what’s gotten into you?”
“11 girls, on 11th day of the 11th month of the 2011th year, room 911 is the only open room. You heard the stories, Kelsi. Do you really want to be here at 11 PM?”
Her face started to drain of color. “But I I love my life, I’m not going to commit suicide in some crazy occult ritual with you and a bunch of girls I don’t know.”
“What if it’s not suicide? What if it’s more like a sacrifice?” Kelsi remained silent, so I continued. “The one girl that survived claimed to not remember anything about trying to kill herself. Maybe she was hypnotized or something. All I know is that I don’t want to find out the hard way.”
“Hey, what are you two talking about?” one of the other girls asked.
Kelsi nodded, completely ignoring the other girls. “Let’s get out of here.”
We got off the elevator and faced the hall. “We’re going to try to break down the stairwell door. Come with us if you want to help.” The girls in the elevator whispered and murmured, but didn’t move.
I walked over to the lobby area and grabbed the back of one of the old, dusty chairs. It wasn’t particularly heavy, but it wasn’t light. Perhaps it would make a good battering ram. Without a word, Kelsi grabbed one too. I guessed she’d caught on to what I was doing and wanted her own, or a backup.
7:30. It would be dark soon.
We hurried down the hall with our chairs in town, dragging them behind us and leaving a trail of chair legs next to our footprints in the dust. The stairwell door was there, waiting for us, practically taunting us.
“What do you want to do, hit it with the chairs?”
“I dunno,” I said. “Whatever it takes.”
I left the chair behind me and examined the door. It was metal, I guessed steel, and the hinges were on the other side. There’s no way we could break the door. Our only hope was to knock it off the hinges, but was that even possible for us?
I turned the handle and pushed, but it didn’t budge. Frustrated, I shoved my shoulder into it and put every ounce of my body into pushing.
“Ugh,” I grunted, and without really thinking, lifted my leg and kicked the door right in the center. My foot bounced off, and I fell back onto the dusty linoleum floor.
“This door isn’t going anywhere, is it?” Kelsi asked.
“I doubt it.”
Kelsi motioned me to the side and lifted her chair up. I was momentarily shocked with how easily she’d lifted it, and even more amazed when she threw the thing at the door.
But unsurprisingly, the chair fell to the floor with a broken leg, and the door exactly as we’d found it.
“There has to be another way down,” I said. “Another stairwell, some kind of maintenance passage… something.”
Kelsi’s eyes lit up. “Wait a minute!” She reached into her back pocket and pulled out her student ID card. “This is an old door, so maybe…” She pushed the card into the slot between the door slab and the frame, right where the handle was.
“What are you doing?”
“This was big a few years before we got here,” she said. “My sister told me about it. It’s why there’s metal plates on the doors on the other floors. You can push the little latch thingy on the inside open with a card.”
“Is it wo-”
“Holy shit,” Kelsi said. “It worked.” She pushed the door inward.
I hesitated. “Should we go back for the other girls?”
“Do you really want to go back and risk something happening with the door? We’ve got it open, so let’s just go. We can make maintenance or someone at the front desk hurry the fuck up and send help.”
We ran down the stairs, past other girls, under flickering fluorescent lights, until finally, the first floor.
We’d made it out. The fear evaporated from my body, and suddenly, anger replaced it. I stormed up to the front desk.
“Excuse me, we’ve been trapped on the 9th floor for over 45 minutes. Our friend called for help and said maintenance was supposed to be coming, but no one ever showed up. What gives?”
The desk worker paused, seemingly analyzing the situation. “So, were you locked out of your room, or what?” she asked.
“No, like, the elevator brought us to the 9th floor and wouldn’t go back down. All of the exits were locked. We had to break out through the stairwell door by pushing the door latch with an ID card.”
The desk worker raised her eyebrow. “Was the card reader not working?”
“It’s the 9th floor. You know, unused, unremodeled, top floor of this building? Sitting up there collecting dust. No one lives there.”
“Is this a joke?” she asked, a genuine look of confusion on her face.
My anger briefly subsided. “What do you mean?”
“The 9th floor is remodeled, used, and is full of residents, just like every floor below it. Are you talking about the 11th floor?”
“Terry Hall only has 9 floors,” Kelsi said.
The desk worker shook her head. “I promise it has 11.”
“No, it doesn’t, it has 9 floors. Everyone knows that,” I said.
“Look, I can take you in the elevator and prove it to you if you want.”
“You do that,” Kelsi snapped, obviously annoyed.
The desk worker rolled her eyes, got up, and led us to the elevator. There, she pressed the button, and we waited for one to appear. There was a brief ding, followed by a light above the elevator on the left.
“Hey, that’s the one, right?” I said. “The one that was stuck up there with the girls in it?”
“Yeah,” Kelsi said, “Definitely.”
I instantly felt a little better about leaving them up there. It looked like somehow, this elevator call had brought their elevator back down.
But the doors opened, and no one was inside.
The desk worker walked in, pointed at the button panel, and motioned us to look for ourselves.
I pulled out my phone to call Matt, just to make sure I wasn’t going crazy. I unlocked it, and found that my texting app was still open to my conversation with him. From yesterday. Everything I’d texted him today was gone.
We never found out what happened to the 9 girls we left on the 9th floor.