The Challenge

A Short Story

“You’re really sure you want to go in there? I mean, the challenge, who cares, right?”

“X, I promised myself I could do it. I’ve got this.” But I knew there was something Xavier wasn’t telling me. He seemed more nervous than I had expected.

Climb four floors, take a selfie next to the red, graffitied “X” on the wall, then descend the four flights back down to the entrance. This is a task far easier said than done.

I stepped from the safety of X’s Jeep and said a personal goodbye to each passenger of the car, just in case. The engine shut off, and the headlights went out. I looked at each moonlit face through the opened side door, hoping for some words of encouragement. But after receiving none, I turned to face the menacing beast. There it was, the abandoned Meadowbrick Park Hospital, a dark silhouette, it’s edges glowing against the backlight of the full moon. The night breeze chilled my face and rustled my hair as I began to walk through dew-covered grass toward the only entrance, a broken window on the first floor. When I touched the cold, damp wood of the windowsill, the world went silent. I glanced back. There was the Jeep. I can turn back now… But finally, I hoisted myself up and swung my legs over the windowsill.

It was dark and damp inside, and a thick, musty air began to fill my lungs. My heartbeat was audible and almost comforting. Concentrating on the beat drowned out the eerie creaking and whistling that the wind was causing. I took a step across the tile floor, then paused to pull out my phone flashlight, which I did not turn on. Who knew what kind of people hung around this building at night. I couldn’t risk them seeing me.

After waiting about thirty seconds, my wide eyes adjusted to the darkness. I stood in an empty examination room. Once my eyes allowed me to see the doorway, I quietly crept forward. X had told me that after entering through the window, the staircase would be to the left, just outside the room. I peeked from behind the doorway and looked to the right down the empty, graffiti-decorated corridor, then glanced left. There was the staircase, about twenty feet away.

I sprinted out of the room and bounded up the stairs two steps at a time. After a sharp right, I bounded up another flight, then one more. I stopped on the fourth floor, holding back my loud gasps for air and feeling both alive and scared to death. The hallway seemed so withered and warped, almost bent. The entire floor reminded me of a funhouse, and I knew something was different from the other floors. I did not feel alone.

The room that bore the X was the last room on the right. I crept quietly toward it, the corridor appearing to get longer and longer with each step, my heart pounding harder as I waited for someone, or something, to jump at me from one of the rooms. The moon’s light wove through the crooked branches of the trees outside, casting web-like shadows through the window at the far end of the hallway. With one, final, careful step, I had made it. The room was right in front of me. The red “X” on the wall was perfectly haloed by the moonlight shining through the window. I thought about X, standing in this exact spot just three years ago, about to step into this room with a can of red spray paint in his hand.

After taking a moment to plan everything out, I took a deep breath of the stagnant air, entered the room, leaned against the wall with the “X” on it, held my phone out in front of me, pulled up the camera, turned on the flash, and took the most satisfying selfie ever. After slumping slightly down the wall and taking a relieving sigh, I felt I had done it. But this satisfaction did not last long.

There was a closet on the wall across from me. I noticed a small gash on the wall where the doorknob would hit should the door be violently flung open. Something inside the closet shuffled against the floor and my heart stopped. I became paralyzed. Time froze. My ears began to ring. My dilated eyes became transfixed on the doorknob, which was beginning to turn slowly.

Suddenly, the closet burst open and two men leapt from the dark abyss. They wore dark hooded sweatshirts and dust masks, but any facial features were lost to the darkness. Each held something in his gloved hands: one, a baseball bat, the other, a small knife. I made these observations within the millisecond it took for me to react, and book it out of the room. I flew down the hallway and down the stairs, listening to their footsteps pounding behind me.

They were gaining on me, and as much as I wanted to continue down the stairs, I didn’t. I figured that that was precisely what they wanted, and I could imagine a third hooded figure waiting for me at the bottom. So in a split second decision, I took a sharp turn down a corridor as I reached the next floor. This corridor was doored off. I swung the door open, then shut it behind me. I frantically fumbled through the first room in the corridor and grabbed a small chair, then ran back out into the hallway and wedged it tightly between the doorknob and the ground. After a brief moment of peace, I turned to face a very unfortunate situation. The corridor I stood in was a dead end. Without thinking, I rushed through each room on the floor, looking for a stairway, a ladder, a fire exit. There was nothing. Nothing but the tall window at the very end of the hallway.

I sprinted up to the window. It was sealed shut. There was nothing to lock or unlock, no easy way for a person to climb out. I looked out the window and saw X’s Jeep, still waiting patiently in the dark for my return. Fortunately, I was on the front side of the building, closest to my getaway-car, and I had a window to escape from. There was only one problem. I was on the second floor. The ground was an entire story below me.

The door at the end of the corridor began to shake violently and baseball-bat-sized bashes splintered through the wood. I grabbed a long, metal table with wheels from one room, and pushed it to make sure it could still roll. Then I rolled it to the end of the hallway closest to the shaking door. I had only one way out, and not much time. With a deep breath, I began to push the table from behind, running toward the window. The wheels squeaked. The stagnant air rushed past my ears. About four feet from the window, I had gained enough momentum and jumped onto the table’s surface, stomach down, curling my fingers tightly around the cold metal on either side and shutting my eyes. This could be it for me. This could be the end.

Has your life ever flashed before your eyes? Mine has. It happened as I crashed through a window and plummeted to the ground while thin shards of glass rained down around me, twinkling in the light of a full moon. If this were in a movie, it would definitely be in slow motion. I could imagine my friends' gaping mouths as they watched me fall heroically to the ground. If only there had been an explosion behind me. That would have looked sick.

The landing, however, was not nearly as epic as the fall. I landed hard. The two front legs of the table bent inward on impact, which provided a bit of a cushion. But when the legs crumpled, they caught the ground, stopping the motion of the table entirely, throwing my body forward and into the ground face first. Thanks to the adrenaline rush, I immediately stood up. My friends rushed out of the Jeep and ran toward me, worriedly asking if I was ok, if they should call an ambulance. I responded quickly, shoving past them.

“Absolutely not. We have to get out of here ASAP. Go, go, go!”

X leapt back into the driver’s seat and everyone else quickly piled into the back, confused as to why we were in such a rush. X started the Jeep and accelerated as fast as possible through the park, and back onto the main road. Things eventually settled down, and questions started being fired at me. As the adrenaline wore off, the pain in my arm started. I noticed it was incredibly swollen, probably broken. My knuckles were splintered with small glass shards, and on my chin was a small, deep gash. I began to apply pressure to the bleeding chin wound as I explained the chase that had just happened. Then I pulled out my phone.

“But,” I said, dramatically pausing and pulling the photo up on my phone, “I got the photo!” I held the phone up so that everyone could see, and the car erupted in a cheerful roar.