Vague, yet menacing figure appears in depths of underground channel, visage seems oddly familiar
I accidentally threw out my political science paper last night.
I made it all the way back to my dorm before realizing what I thought was my paper was in fact a handful of unrelated misprints I must have grabbed by mistake. Tired and cursing my past self, I grabbed my ID card and earbuds and trekked back down the hill from my room to Watzek Library in the growing shadows of dusk.
Entering the near-silent building, I immediately stuck my head in the recycling can to try to find the pages I had printed not half an hour ago. To my disappointment, it was already empty. A “Watzek Printer Out Of Service” sign completed the cosmic joke. I needed to find that paper.
I asked at the Circulation Desk where the recycling had been emptied so I could root through papers. The student attendant, whose gaze remained on a large, leather-bound tome. They informed me that the recycling had not been emptied yet that night.
“Oh, sorry,” I said. “But the can is empty. Are you sure? Could you tell me where to check anyways?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” the student said. “I’m the one who emptied it”
Sadly, I turned to leave.
“Wait,” the student said. I turned around and felt a jolt when I met their gaze. “You could try the tunnels.”
“As in, the steam tunnels?” I asked. “Why would recycled papers be down there?”
The student grinned. It stretched wide, exposing the glint of their molars. It did not meet their eyes.
“Lots of lost things end up down there,” the student said, stooping down below the desk. The dark cloth of their clothes barely poked above the countertop as they rustled around. “I always find what I’ve been looking for.”
In one fluid motion they reappeared, tossing me what looked at first like an old brass key but what turned out to be a rather dingy modern MasterLock model. “You’ll need this.”
“Which entrance does it lead to?” I asked, kicking myself for never joining my friends in their adventures in the tunnels.
“First floor,” said the student. The grin remained, like the last sight of the Cheshire Cat before it disappeared. “You’ll know it if you see it”
I wandered until I found a door across from the shuttered IT Help desk where I could have sworn there used to be nothing. The key click reverberated into the hollow depths and I made my way into the pitch-black darkness.
My phone flashlight made a feeble attempt to cut through the gloom as I started down what I guessed to be a long hallway. I gingerly stepped along the path, unnerved by my inability to see. As I walked, dorm lanyards and phone chargers twisted like snakes at my feet in the weak glow of my phone flashlight.
I shifted the debris with my foot, thinking my paper could not be far from the entrance if it had somehow ended up down there. But as I continued, noticing the slight slope downwards of the tunnel, it did not appear. Instead, the minutes stretched as my ears were filled with the sounds of my own nervous breathing. Darkness made the edges of my vision swim in unnerving shapes and I kept glancing up, only to be greeted by nothingness where I knew there had to be walls.
For a long time, I walked. After what felt like an eternity of breathing stale air and shuffling, I began to hear noises besides my own footfalls. I froze.
“Hello?” I said into the gloom. The sound of my own voice was booming in the silence.
Of course, no reply. I shivered, and the noises continued. I took a deep breath, stepped forward and shined my flashlight up.
Hunched in the darkness, at a sharp bend in the tunnel, a figure in a ratty suit clutched a piece of paper, grunting and snuffling at it. With a start, I recognized my very own lost work. Pale hands dotted with the beginnings of liver spots clawed at the once pristine paper. Spittle had left a wet spray across the page.
When my light touched it, the figure jolted upright, its pale skin and false, politician’s smile monstrous in the cold light. A nearly-humanshape molded by a lifetime behind a desk, clad in polyester and a dated tie loomed large in my vision. More like a wax figure than a human, it looked almost recognizable, but not fully. Something in the alienness of the being before me screamed familiarity, but in the hollow shriek of a once-beloved noise-making toy close to breaking. Before I could put a name to that oh-so-familiar face of mediocre bureaucratic dissatisfaction, it stuffed my paper into its mouth with a snarl and scampered off down one side of the tunnel.
A feeling of terror pushed upwards in my throat like bile. I heard a guttural scream, almost unable to realize that it was me. Instantly, I threw myself away from the crossroads of the tunnel. I sprinted away, slipping on loose items. As the light of the doorway came into reach, my feet came out from under me. Time stretched as I pitched forwards, and for one horrible moment as I collided with the cold concrete I thought the creature would be behind me, the vaguely administrative grin the last thing I would ever see. But nothing appeared. I pushed myself to my feet and continued to run.
I did not stop until I was back, huffing and puffing, in the lobby of Watzek. Catching my breath, I flung the key at the student, who gave me a knowing look, and walked home across the dark campus, glancing over my shoulder the whole way. I have sworn off Watzek for the time being, and I have yet to see that man (if it can even be called a man) again. As far as I know, that thing I saw, the remnants of Vim Viewel, a monstrous creature that the school can never be rid of.