Ghost Games by Brooke MacKenzie

Ghost Games

(Brooke MacKenzie)

Ghost Games

The Elevator Game


It all started with something I saw on the Internet. “Alice, you need to see this.” My friend Kerry had been hunched intently over her laptop for the last half hour. I had been occupying myself with a particularly tricky crossword puzzle. In other words, it was a typical Friday night. We were not exactly prom queens.

She passed her laptop to me, and I watched security camera footage of what appeared to be a young woman having a nervous breakdown in a malfunctioning elevator. She enters the elevator wearing a red raincoat, pushes many buttons, and the doors remain open. She hides, and her mouth appears pixelated on camera. Eventually, she steps into the hallway and appears to be having a conversation with someone who isn’t there. She leaves the frame and the doors finally close.

“Hmmm.” I shut Kerry’s laptop. “What’s so interesting? A crazy chick in an elevator? I like your cat videos better.”

“Wait, you didn’t hear about this?”

“About a crazy chick in an elevator? Uh, no. Mr.

Mentz’s biology final has been my sole focus lately.”

She sat next to me and put a hand on my shoulder, which meant I should pay attention, even though I had just figured out the solution to 13 down. Kerry told me the story of the woman in the red raincoat, who had traveled to California and was staying in The Cecil Hotel. I raised my eyebrows to let her know she had my full attention. Hearing the name of the hotel struck a major chord of recognition, just like Kerry knew it would. The Cecil Hotel was located in Los Angeles’s notorious Skid Row, and to say it had a checkered history is an understatement. It was, for instance, a final drinking spot of Elizabeth Short, who is better known as The Black Dahlia, perhaps the world’s most famous murder victim. The Black Dahlia was found drained of blood, cleaned, and severed in half with a macabre grin slashed across her face.

In the 1960s The Cecil was nicknamed “The Suicide” for the amount of desperate and depressed guests who checked in, only to check out of their own lives. Richard Ramirez, The Night Stalker, nestled into The Cecil during his killing spree—even brazenly dumping his bloody clothes into the dumpster outside and casually strolling, half-naked, through the lobby and up to his room. The Cecil was, according to many paranormal enthusiasts, crawling with ghosts. Because of its grisly history and numerous reported hauntings, The Cecil was a favorite topic of mine. How could so much darkness exist in one place? Especially a place that seemed as innocuous as a hotel, with its room service and bell boys?

And so, the death of the young woman in the elevator, with all of its bizarre circumstances, could have only happened at The Cecil. She had been reported missing for several weeks when guests began complaining of poor water pressure, and the drinking water was brown and foul-tasting. When a maintenance worker dragged a ladder to the roof, took the treacherous climb to the water tank, and removed the heavy lid, he made a grisly discovery: the missing woman’s body was floating naked, along with her clothing and personal effects nearby. The last time she had been seen alive was in the elevator video.

Kerry paused dramatically, letting the story settle in.

I went ahead and stated the obvious: “So, you’re surprised that a woman who was clearly having some kind of a psychotic episode committed suicide?”

“Wait, just listen. By all accounts, this woman was the picture of mental health. Suicide just didn’t seem to make any sense to anyone who knew her. And besides, if she had committed suicide that would mean that she had somehow gotten onto the roof without triggering the security alarm, managed to climb up to the tower without a ladder, and replaced the heavy lid from inside the tank.

“Her autopsy showed no sign of rape or trauma. She had no drugs in her system. Her death was ultimately marked ‘undetermined.’ No one really knows what happened to her.”

Kerry’s left eyebrow was raised slightly. I knew she had a thought brewing and was just waiting for me to ask the right question.

“Do you have a theory about what happened?”

She leaned even closer. “Have you ever heard of the elevator game?”

The elevator game is a Korean Internet legend. Put simply, it proposes that by pressing the right combination of buttons an elevator passenger can be transported to another dimension. The player finds an elevator that will preferably remain empty throughout the game in a building with at least ten floors. The player enters the elevator on the first floor and then visits the fourth floor, allowing the doors to open without getting off. Then, the player presses the button for the second floor. Then the sixth. Then back to the second. Usually, at this point in the game, a woman enters the elevator, and one of the game’s most important rules is invoked: do not interact with the woman. Do not look at her. Do not speak to her. She will try to get your attention, but if you interact with her, she will lure you to the other dimension and you will be stuck there forever. The player must go back to the second floor, and then up to the tenth. The doors will open and the player will see that the hallway is plunged into darkness. While the hallway may look identical to the one in the building, at this point, the player is actually in another world entirely. Entities may appear that will try to confuse the player and lure her out of the elevator. Once out of the elevator, it can be very difficult to find a way back. If the darkness is not enough of a clue that the player is in another dimension, there will also be a red cross glowing in the background, like an eerie welcome sign. No matter what, the player must somehow make her way to the fifth floor and then back to the first for the game to finally end.

“Are you saying that you think the elevator game had something to do with this mysterious water tank death?”

“Absolutely. I believe, as do many others from what I’ve read on Internet forums, that what we were seeing on that video was not a woman having a breakdown. We were seeing the elevator game. She wasn’t talking to herself. She was talking to an entity that was able to lure her out of the elevator and ultimately to her death.”

That was some heavy stuff.

Kerry looked at the ground, suddenly bashful. I knew this look. She always got it when she wanted to do something that wasn’t completely innocent. Kerry was the epitome of a straight-laced goody-goody. But, as is the case with most goody-goodies, when she decided to get up to no good, all hell broke loose. In this case, it would be literal.

“Do you want to try it?” she asked sheepishly, almost whispering, not yet able to bring herself to make eye contact with me. I knew she thought it was a bad idea. But I also knew that her curiosity had gotten the better of her.

The game sounded ridiculous and silly—like something out of a bad comic. But, then again, we were both devout believers in all things paranormal, and I had to admit my curiosity had been piqued. My competitive streak didn’t help matters either: if anyone could beat the elevator game and not be lured into another dimension, I was confident that it would be me.

I also had to admit that I was feeling a shameless soft spot for her that would probably be there for the next decade. Almost exactly a year ago, her brother— and my other best friend—had committed suicide. Max. I called him my gay boyfriend, and he was more of a gentleman to me than any of the boys that constituted my lackluster attempts at high school dating had ever been. Many of them called me by the cruel nickname of Olive Oyl since I had her twiggy and less-than-voluptuous physique, her penchant for high collared sack dresses, and her same limp, dark hair pulled into a bun at the nape of the neck. And so, I wasn’t particularly popular with the boys. Neither was Kerry. And being the lone out and proud gay student at our tiny Catholic school had made Max somewhat of a pariah. And so, the three of us spent much of our days huddled together in the hallways, seeking shelter from the frostbite of our school’s ecosystem, and we spent our weekends doing exactly what Kerry and I found ourselves doing that night: reading magazines, doing crossword puzzles, and surfing the Internet.

Max’s death was abrupt and utterly shocking to everyone. I wish I could say that I had seen it coming. But none of us did. Max was almost like a caricature of himself: bouncing around with his exaggerated movements and gravelly, smoke coated voice. Smoking was a habit that he tried to keep hidden by dousing himself in cologne and stuffing his face with mints, but the musky undertones of cigarettes still clung to him.

He was joyful. Or, at least, he did an excellent impression of joyfulness. When he died, phrases like undiagnosed bipolar disorder and untreated mental illness swarmed around his name like flies when people spoke about him. And those phrases might have been accurate. We would never really know. But I could sense that people hid behind them—cowered, even—as some kind of explanation that would still allow the world to make sense. That would make Max’s death more than just an unbearable mystery and a shameful waste. But, for Kerry and me, his absence was like a gushing, irreparable chest wound. It had, of course, given our weekend rituals a deep undercurrent of grief. It penetrated to the molecular level. He was all Kerry and I talked about for the first six months. By the time he had been gone for nine months, we talked about him less and less—a fact which made us almost as sad as losing him in the first place. We commemorated the one-year anniversary of Max’s death by watching The Sandlot—his favorite movie—and eating a dozen glazed doughnuts—his favorite guilty pleasure that was always followed by a month of rigorous exercise (we skipped that part). Once a year had come and gone, we seldom spoke about him. It was just too much. The grief seemed to get worse as time went on, and so it was best to just pretend he never existed at all.

In any case, when Kerry made requests of me, I felt compelled to honor them.

I put my hand on Kerry’s shoulder and she finally looked at me. I forced a grin, pushing away the thought that Max would have loved to play a game like this.

“Of course I want to try it.”

Kerry’s father was a contractor who was working on a massive hotel renovation downtown—a project about which he had bored her over several family dinners. He didn’t like to talk about Max, either. Or really anything with emotional substance, and so he spent meals droning on about work. Kerry feigned interest about this particular project so that she could learn about the various intricacies of the worksite.

The following Friday after deciding we would play the elevator game, Kerry had managed to swipe his ID badge from his coat pocket, which would give us access to the freight elevator in the half of the building that was closed for construction. There would be no guests, maids, or managers in that part of the building, and the construction workers would have gone home for the day. It would be just us and whatever creepy spirits might await.

After telling our parents we were sleeping over at another friend’s house, we hopped into her crappy brown Honda Civic—nicknamed The Rust Bucket—and headed downtown. When we arrived at the hotel, we strolled through the pristine marble lobby, tapped the ID badge on a door marked “Employees Only,” and walked down a long, dark hallway illuminated by exit signs. The darkness combined with the red glow made me wonder if we weren’t already in a different dimension.

We reached a wide-open area that was still unfinished. Buckets and tools were scattered haphazardly as if the workers chose to drop everything right at quitting time. The lights were on but not yet working at their full capacity and they flickered erratically. We walked past a bank of passenger elevators to the freight elevator, and Kerry tapped the ID badge to another pad before pressing the call button. The elevator clanked and whirred, emitting creaking sounds indicative of neglect. When it reached the bottom, the door strained open with a growl. It was as if we were at the maw of a broken, elderly beast. The adrenaline was starting to build. There were few things in life that I liked more than a hit of adrenaline. It was an addiction, and I had a feeling that whether the elevator game was real or not, I was about to go on a bender. I took a step forward and felt Kerry pull on my arm.

“Wait. What if all of this is, like, for real?” She looked down at her feet. I could tell her fear was embarrassing to her in that moment, as, like me, fear usually tended to excite and motivate her. After all, we were the girls at the slumber party who insisted on a horror movie marathon, who played Bloody Mary in dark bathrooms, and who whipped out the Ouija Board whenever we had the opportunity (including one time in a cemetery at midnight). In fact, just like the cemetery Ouija Board session, this whole thing had been Kerry’s idea, but I knew she was getting cold feet.

“Isn’t that why we are here?” I coaxed. “To see if it’s for real?” I could feel my adrenaline starting to fade, and I didn’t like it. We had come this far. I was going to play this game.

“Yes, but…” she twirled a piece of hair around her finger and wouldn’t look at me. “What if there really is another dimension and we get stuck in it? Is it smart for both of us to be in there together?”

I looked at her and sighed. I had been equally terrified when we did the Ouija Board on top of a tombstone, but I had enjoyed every minute of it. I was getting the sense that Kerry’s relationship to fear might be slightly different, and perhaps more reasonable, than mine. Kerry was the kind of person who could be, as I called her, “consistently inconsistent.” One minute, she was enthusiastic about something, and the next, it was like she wanted to lie down and take a nap. Her energy levels and overall demeanor were not unlike my elderly basset hound. I gave her the same sympathetic look that I often gave my dog and decided to let her off the hook.

“You’re right. Maybe one of us should keep watch. Maybe you should stay. If someone asks why you’re here, you can always show your dad’s ID and make up a cover story. Tell him he sent you to find his lost car keys or something.” I smiled at my ingenuity and checked in with myself to see if I still wanted to proceed. I certainly did. I was more like my Russian Blue cat, who could seldom be swayed once she locked onto a target.

I could see the relief on Kerry’s face. “Besides,” I said, giving her a nudge, “I’m pretty sure this whole thing is a bunch of BS anyway.”

I stepped into the elevator and looked at my forearm. I had scrawled the floor sequence on it in Sharpie: 1, 4, 2, 6, 2, 10, 5, 1.

Let’s see. First stop, fourth floor! Women’s lingerie!”

Kerry ignored my joke and pointed her index finger at me.

“Remember,” she said, “do not talk to or look at the woman who enters the elevator. Do not get off the elevator if anything seems strange. I mean, anythingeven if it’s something small like a weird smell, stay in the elevator. You will know that you are in the other dimension when everything is dark and you see the red cross. Do not interact with anyone you see. And, no matter what, you have to finish the game and get back to the ground floor.”

As the doors closed, I gave her a salute to let her know her message had been received. We had agreed that if anything went wrong, I would hit the emergency bell. Hopefully, she would be able to hear it in her dimension. The elevator began moving, and I felt the adrenaline that had gone stagnant during our conversation begin to rise again. There was a part of me that had a feeling that the game wouldn’t work. A bigger part of me, however, hoped that it would.

Just as long as you’re careful, everything will be fine, I told myself. I knew the rules and planned on following them. I was ready to enjoy whatever good scares might be in store for me.

The elevator announced its arrival at the fourth floor with a thunk and an off-key ping. I patted its wall to encourage it.

The doors opened. Just like the lobby below, a half-lit, half-finished hallway stretched before me. Buckets, tools, and drop cloths covered the floor. There was nothing to see here. I looked at my arm.

“Next stop, second floor! Men’s department!”

I laughed at my own joke. Once again, the freight elevator groaned and shuddered on its way to the second floor. When the doors opened, I saw that the hallway was fully finished. Only one light was on, but the slick new floor reflected it brightly. Brass fixtures and cherry wood covered every surface. I pressed the button again, this time for the sixth floor. When the doors opened, I gasped.

A woman was standing there.