“So, how long have you been here, Zyler?” Zeke asked as he and Zoey followed Zyler down the hall, Zyler’s wallet chain swaying behind him. Even though they knew it was living hours, they’d tried to stay quiet. Of course, with Zyler’s combat boots, that was next to impossible.
“Too long,” Zyler said. “Long enough to find most of the rooms. They’re always shifting, but if you go the right way… There it is.” Zyler pointed. The door to the room read “Residence Life” in glowing green letters. Zyler took a moment to flip his straight black hair to properly cover his eye. “How come I haven’t seen you around? I’ve been here a while. What’ve you been up to, man?”
Zyler turned to Zeke as he replied, “Do you have the time to listen to me whine about nothing and everything all at once?” Zeke just sighed and shook his head, knowing the feeling.
Zoey furrowed her eyebrows. “Isn’t that a Green Da—?”
“You ready?” Zyler questioned loudly.
Zoey started to say “Not really,” but Zyler was already opening the door. She tried to prepare herself for whatever horrible monster they would encounter next, but the room looked completely normal. There was only a desk, a few chairs and a mountain of paperwork.
“Please take a seat,” a nasally voice called out. “I’ll be with you in a minute.”
Zeke, Zyler and Zoey sat down. As soon as they did, the pens chained to the desk in front of them came to life, twisting and hissing like snakes. The snake-pens slithered forward and wrapped around them, holding them in the chairs. Zeke tried to wriggle out of their grasp, but the snake-pens only squeezed him tighter.
“If these pens don’t let go, I’m gonna go postal,” Zyler muttered.
“I rarely get visitors,” the voice said again, coming from the corner of the ceiling. A black figure hung upside down, its leathery wings tucked around it. “It could be because we’re never open during living hours.” It opened up its wings and swooped down to sit behind the desk and grinned toothily at Zeke, Zoey and Zyler. “And now I think it’s time to bury you alive… with paperwork!”
The mountain of papers grew even taller and threatened to spill over onto the trio.
“Isn’t that a little on the nose?” Zeke said. “I mean, we’re in a res life office, we get it.”
The monster frowned. “Fine,” it snapped. “What do you want?”
“W-we’re here to get a key card,” Zoey said.
The monster nodded. “That’ll be $10.50.”
“But I don’t have any money,” Zoey said.
Zeke and Zyler checked their pockets. Zeke had an old mood ring and Zyler had handwritten Nirvana lyrics and a poem about the meaninglessness of life on notebook paper, but there was no money between them.
“No money, no card,” the monster said.
“Wait!” Zoe interjected. “I’ve got my old movie ticket for ‘Deadpool,’ that’s worth $10.50!”
“Movie tickets are worth that much now?! That’s totally bogus!” Zeke, still stunned, barely heard the monster reiterate that only cash was acceptable.
“Please, there has to be another way,” Zoey pleaded.
“Hmm….” The monster opened one of its desk drawers. “We could always play a game instead.” It pulled out a box labeled “Demonic Connect Four” and placed it on the table. “If you win, you get the key for free. If you lose, I choose a way for each of you to die.”
“I’ll play,” Zeke said bravely. The snake-pen loosened around his arms. He picked up the yellow disc to make the first move and it glowed like an ember, burning his hand. “Hey!”
The monster disk jockey motioned for Zoey to play instead, the snake pens loosening their vice grip on her arms. Zoey reached for another yellow disc to take Zeke’s turn for him, but the disc bit her, drawing blood. She wrestled with it and managed to slide it into the farthest slot to the right.
The monster slid its glowing red piece to the left of Zoey’s.
Zoey slid her next piece directly above her first one.
Zoey and the monster played the game normally, at least as normally as you can play a game when the pieces are trying to maul you at all times. Just as Zoey made her last move, connecting the discs in a diagonal line, the grid melted and dripped over the desk, splashing at Zoey’s feet.
“You win,” the monster sighed. It held the card out in Zyler’s direction, but he shifted away from it. Zoey brushed his hand when she grabbed it and his cold skin sent a shiver down her spine. The pen-snakes slithered back onto the desk, and Zyler, Zeke and Zoey stood up to go.
“Don’t think you’ll escape so easily with a key card,” the monster warned. “The nightmare floor is full of surprises.” It flapped its wings ominously.
“Eat my shorts,” Zyler scoffed. “C’mon, let’s dip.”
Siobhan Gleason is a third-year student majoring in English writing with a minor in biology. She can be reached at SG828482@wcupa.edu. Halle Nelson is a third-year student majoring in communication studies with minors in English literature and deaf studies. She can be reached at HN824858@wcupa.edu.