Even though housing has long, long been decided, strange happenings are occurring in the McBain shaft. Sophomore Josh Tate, a four-month resident in the shaft, confronts his and dark oppressor just in time for finals.
There’s something about the shaft that isn’t right. Of course, there’s the design: a strange, bleak, donut of concrete and shadow, but growing up in the open country of Virginia, this seemed like another idiosyncrasy of the city like bagels or disobeying traffic signals. I didn’t sweat it. I thanked the housing Gods for plentiful space, an AC unit, and a good roommate (love you, Ari). And yet, there’s something about the shaft that puts a bad taste in my mouth. There’s something about the grey film that seems to linger in what little light makes its way down into the crevices that’s unsettling, a certain unnerving curvature to the bricks, a sheen mixed into the concrete that is beyond description.
But the year began simply enough. My room is spacious. It’s approximately 250 square feet shared with my roommate from Carman last year. I thought nothing of the room’s weird geometry, but as I sit here it feels off. Our window juts out as a harrowing nook broken up by too many walls that funnel into the corner, the radiator juts out paradoxically from underneath my desk, singeing my feet as I work, even my roommate’s bedside wall curves inwards ever so slightly, creating space for no desk or gap while the hallway outside’s angle is sharp and clean and the room plan shows no curved walls. Some days these idiosyncrasies seem to vanish or just don’t register, but others I can’t seem to look away.
In my naivety, at the beginning of the semester, I even wrote a post defending the McBain Shaft. I was taken aback, even baffled back then by the rumors I’d heard about the shaft. Rumors of rats limping wildly through the walls, molds sprouting curiously from the wall sockets in violent shades of green and puce, Sunday night ragers that billow their sound into the shaft like some forgotten grotto, ruled by the howls of subaltern gods. These were the stories I’d been told by my friends who had graduated onto such dorms as Woodbridge and EC, and yet it wasn’t like those rumors at all. To me these seemed a tradition to scare the underclass, to even brighten their days upon recounting the tales as lies, and perhaps they are. I counted myself fortunate not to have fallen victim to the pitfalls my upperclassmen friends had warned of. In my hubris I was glad.
And yet over these dark days in which the sun sets at 4 PM and the snow piles into darkened clumps down Broadway, I’ve found certain horrors unfit for words. And yet I will attempt to write them down. It all began around October as the trees began to smolder the green out of their leaves. Of course, I couldn’t watch the shift in nature as I’d grown so accustomed to in my hometown. I instead sat at the very base of the shaft, right at the heart of it in the second floor. Strolls through riverside and visits to my friends in Carlton remedied this initial angst, but something felt wrong. There was a harsh, grating stillness that settled in my at the thought of going home to a view of that aimless brick and mortar which climbs endlessly upwards, defeatingly so, but I wouldn’t let it daunt me.
I was looking to get in better shape, and as such, I took to running. Due both to my awkwardness and hatred for the cold, I decided to use the exercise room in McBain just two floors up, taking a half an hour out of my day to go for a run on the treadmill, and yet as I wandered up the spiral staircase of McBain and wandered the halls of floor four, the halls widened, stretched out and even seemed to float upwards gradually compared to the cramped walkways of floor two. I wandered far longer than I could even think possible through the somehow winding corridors: the walls a lazy custard, the carpet static. Inevitably I found the workout room: two treadmills and a stair climber. As well as a door, a meter off the floor, dark and cracked to reveal some vast space, dark and looming. Naturally, I ignored the door, putting in headphones and tuning into a podcast, ignoring the sliver of dark that seemed to beckon from the door.
I would do this every day, replacing my unease with confidence from my progress, leaving the room after wiping off the treadmill with a silent triumph and a subtle churn in my chest. I couldn’t place it until gradually each day looking into the dark of the door I began to notice it opening wider, silhouettes of heavy objects coming through from what seemed to be the dim grey light of a window at the end of the vast space. I paid little heed to the cavernous space, but couldn’t imagine what would be back there, how such a room could be so dark, so large and vacuous in a building like McBain until I began to consider the plan of McBain and realized where that room should be.
After several weeks of running—the act shifting subtly from self-improvement to routine— I began to ignore my podcast, opting instead to gaze into the darkness of the room that seemed to hang in the shaft. I would watch as the light that came in from the sliver of a window near the back wall dance on the strange stationary objects of what had to be furniture or machinery I thought, and yet the shapes almost shifted from day to day, seeming to grow or change or move. As the door opened gradually wider and wider the image began to take root, showing up in dreams, arising in my discussions, my writing, even in my CC paper, pushing me further and further to try and see what was behind the door. What could it be that shimmered in the abyss at the heart of the shaft?
It wasn’t until after a month of running that I woke up from a dream of that doorway, a breeze echoing from its bowels, a breeze like breath, hot and wet and acrid. It was decided in me to go into the doorway as soon as I saw the dim grey light from my window. I woke up before my 8 AM to run—something I hadn’t done ever—and went to the fourth floor, curiosity buzzing, as I found again the room and was ready to climb within and see what might be hiding when I found the door closed. I hadn’t noticed the color of it before: a mottled grey, the handle, a steel that has lost its luster, the hinges some bleak copper. The door was shut, locked as I tried the handle, but it didn’t even jiggle. All that could be felt was a subtle breeze in and out coming from the opening at the bottom of the door. Needless to say, I lost my taste in running. I’ve gone back only a few times to see whether the door is open, but it’s not.
I’ve tried to move on, midterms and now finals sweeping me up, and yet something is off still. I look out into the shaft sometimes, looking up at the tower of windows that are blank or lit, with boxes of steel hanging out lazily, and I can’t help but see the shimmer of the shadows peaking out from the crevices and crenels. I still see the door at times, quietly lurking in the back of my mind. Sometimes it is closed and sometimes it is open, and others I am behind it. I don’t know what it means, but I know that that’s the shaft. The heart of the dark grey mottled heart of McBain. Some sinister something behind that door.
Next year I just want to live in Nuss.
Image via Josh Tate