The rotting steps groaned beneath his weight. In three or four places the wooden treads had crumbled away altogether, leaving huge gaps through which an unwary climber might easily go crashing to the floor below. Slowly, cautiously, always keeping the flashlight trained upon the step just in front of him, he ascended step by step until he arrived at the second floor.
Here he found a hallway lined with doors. Lowering the beam of his flashlight to the floor he found that he was walking on a dirty mass of tangled fibers and cords—the remains of what once must have been a plush carpet. Black curls of mildewed wallpaper dangled from the walls. Above his head and all down the length of the hall hung a series of small crystal chandeliers, thick with dust and spiders’ webs. The doors on either hand were dark with mold, and wherever he swung his light he heard the frantic skittering of insect feet—a sound like the patter of raindrops on dry newspaper.
Without the slightest idea of what he was seeking, he proceeded down the corridor, step by slow step, keeping an eye out for bare nails and loose flooring, closely examining the deteriorating lath-and-plaster walls, hesitantly jiggling the handle of each and every door.
Whatever it is that I’m supposed to find, he thought, it must be inside one of these rooms.
This was his working theory and it seemed to make perfect sense. Unfortunately, it was of no practical use to him since not a single door yielded to the pressure of his hand. All were either locked or stubbornly stuck shut after more than fifty years of neglect. Morgan pounded on one or two of them with his fist. This accomplished nothing except to produce a vast hollow echoing sound within, like the ringing of a huge kettle drum.
In the course of his search, Morgan noticed that every door bore a tarnished brass plate on which was engraved a room number. He began counting them off as he plodded along. On the right, 204; on the left, 205; on the right, 206; on the left, 207.
He was nearing the end of the corridor—239, 240, 241—when he came upon a door that had no brass plate. It should have been room 247, but the number was conspicuously missing. In the spot where the plate once hung there was nothing but a rectangle of dark paint and a couple of tiny screw holes. That in itself was noteworthy. But when Morgan bent down and held the light steady on the door, what he saw almost took his breath away.
Just below the rectangular splotch someone had carved seven letters into the wood. Seeing them, he nearly dropped his flashlight. They were as familiar to him as his own initials, and yet he had not expected to find them here:
“This must be it!” he cried, gripping the door handle. “It has to be!”
But even as he strove to open the door, a metallic clatter arose at the end of the hall. With a gasp, he leaped up and flashed the beam of his light in that direction.
“Get a load of this!” called a loud, brash voice.
Baxter Knowles again.
“Have you ever seen anything like it? I think it’s supposed to be an elevator!”
Morgan’s cheeks burned with frustration and anger. “I thought I told you to go home!” he shouted.
“You can’t get rid of me that easy, Izaak,” grinned Baxter. He was standing in front of a big painted steel door that stood open at the far end of the corridor. Behind the door Morgan could see a retractable metal gate. With another clangorous rattle and shriek, Baxter yanked the door and the gate open, revealing the interior of an antique elevator car. “See?” he said.
“Of course it’s an elevator,” said Morgan. “What else would it be?”
“Never saw one like this before.”
“It’s old, that’s all. Like from about 1910.”
“Well, let’s try it out!”
“Wait a minute!” cried Morgan as the other boy took a step inside. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you!”
“Why not?” scoffed Baxter, punching several black buttons. “Are you chicken, Izaak?”
“What’s that got to do with it? This place has been deserted for more than fifty years? There’s no way to know—”
Suddenly the elevator shuddered and groaned. In the beam of his flashlight Morgan saw Baxter jerk to one side and make a desperate grab for the door.
“Baxter!” yelled Morgan, dashing headlong down the hall. “Get out of there! Quick!”
And then, with a jolt and a sickening lurch, the car dropped into the shaft.