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I thought I’d hit the jackpot when I landed a job as a teacher of adults. No more helicopter parents, busybody administrators, or cringey Tik Tok trends–I’d be working with people who wanted to improve their lives and get a fresh start. The only catch was that I’d be working in a civic center, not an ordinary school, and the classes would be in the evening.

As he showed me my new classroom, the hiring agent for this new program explained that I’d be the last person to leave the building. Turning off the lights and locking up would be my responsibility. At the time, that seemed like a fair price to pay for the work I’d be doing. I took a look around at the yellowed tile floor, bare brick walls, and dusty fluorescent lights. It needed work, but it felt like a place I could call my own.

The first thing I did was to erase the whiteboard. Written across it in huge, childish letters, I read:

I DON’T WANT TO BE ALONE IN THE DARK ANYMORE.

Some sort of prank, I figured, or maybe a leftover from an old lesson. I smirked, erased it, and didn’t give the message much attention.

I spent the next weeks scrambling for materials, setting up my classroom, and troubleshooting the civic center’s outdated technology. I barely had time to look around me, much less notice the eerie solitude of the civic center’s dark hallways. But when my first students came in the door, the knot of nervousness that had built up in my stomach finally unwound and I remembered why I’d taken this job in the first place. The adults in my class were of all ages and backgrounds, but they were all working toward a change. It was meaningful work with interesting people, even better than I’d hoped for.

The only thing I didn’t like about the job was staying late at the civic center. It was a large building and my classroom was on the 5th floor. The blackness outside the windows only emphasized the empty loneliness of the night. You hear even the slightest sounds under conditions like that, and in time you find yourself wondering what might be making them.

I was putting up posters the first time it happened. My students had all gone, and the only light in the entire center spilled out into the corridor from my classroom. There was no reason for anyone else to be in the building.

And yet I heard footsteps.

Climbing down from the desk, I stuck my head out into the hallway. Seeing no one, I chalked it up to overwork…but I found myself looking over my shoulder while I left that night.

A few evenings later, it was back: the unmistakable echo of something walking down the corridor. It was heavier, somehow, like the source of the noise was larger and closer than before. This time, I knew I wasn’t dreaming. With my keys clenched tightly in my fist, I decided I was going to find this intruder.

I went room by room, turning on lights as I searched storage closets, archives, meeting rooms, offices, and craft workshops. Whoever came in must’ve found that everyone was gone and left, I rationalized. But then, why hadn’t I heard any sound from the elevators?

I started leaving with the students after that, turning out the lights behind us as I hustled everyone out the door. It wasn’t always possible, though, and I began dreading the days when I knew I’d be up there by myself.

Our minds have an amazing ability to hide from themselves that which they don’t dare to see or can’t explain. I told myself that it wasn’t footsteps, only some late-night machinery activating. When I began to hear other sounds too–like someone crawling in the empty space between the ceiling tiles and the roof–I told myself that it was rats, or pipes, or anything to avoid facing the truth that was scurrying above my head.

Instead, I locked my classroom door and bolted for the exit as soon as the noises started, although later I couldn’t explain why my heart was pounding and my shirt soaked through with sweat. As if to challenge my skepticism, the occurrences on the 5th floor became stranger and stranger.

Lights, radios, and appliances turned off and on without warning. More than once I found myself running like a panicked animal from the sound of a microwave or the static of a television in a dark room. I got tunnel vision as I barreled down the hallway, the lights going out one by one behind me.

Doors and cabinets flew open or slammed shut without warning, rattling my already frayed nerves. Such things only happened, of course, when I was totally alone.

I was getting spray for the whiteboard in the janitorial closet when the single lightbulb burst and the door slammed shut. I ran for it, knocking over mops and buckets as I went. When I slammed my body against the push-bar I couldn’t be sure if the footsteps I’d heard in that cluttered room were the echoes of my own running feet…or something else, closing in behind me.

Last Thursday, I was driving out of the parking lot when I realized that my house keys were missing. In a huff, I re-opened the outside doors of the center and mashed the elevator button for the 5th floor. I reached my classroom, letting out a sigh of relief when the lights flickered on and I saw my keys glittering on my desk. Snatching them up, I hurried out the door–

Ding.

The elevator. I felt my throat go dry. No one else should be in the building after hours–and if they were, I didn’t want to confront them alone. I thought of heavy, dragging footsteps..

But there was no movement. Even the emergency staircase was beside the elevators, so whoever it was knew I’d have to pass by eventually. What was the alternative–spend the night in my classroom? I took a deep breath and headed out.

The light of the elevator beckoned, so bright and cheerful it seemed like a trap. As I approached, though, the doors slid shut, leaving me in darkness as the elevator took its slow journey back down to the first floor. I patted my pockets for my phone before I realized with a sinking feeling that I’d left it in the car. Another deep breath, and I tried the push bar of the emergency stairway.

It was jammed shut.

I was mashing the elevator button frantically when I heard something approaching–not from in front, but from behind. The same heavy, plodding steps as before. I turned around, eyes wide, but I could see nothing in the darkness. A putrid smell filled the air. The thing in the dark came closer and closer, until, paralyzed by fear, I felt hot breath on my face–

Ding!

The elevator doors opened and light flooded into the hallway. I was alone.

I contacted the hiring manager, the custodians, and anyone else I could think of who might be able to explain what I was experiencing, but came up with nothing. There were no urban legends about the place. No murders, disturbed burial grounds, or strange lights in the sky. Just a dull, ordinary government building–where I sometimes had to be alone at night.

A few minutes ago, I told my last two students of the day to meet me by the elevators; I was going to use the restroom, and then we’d all leave together. I took longer than expected, and got engrossed in reading the graffiti in the bathroom stall.

Among the usual insults, phone numbers, and political drivel was a simple message in pencil:

I DON’T WANT TO BE ALONE IN THE DARK ANYMORE.

I ran my fingers over it, frowning–and my heart sank as I heard a door open and close. My students must’ve gotten tired of waiting and taken the stairs out. I hurried to finish my business and leave the stall, but barely a second later the lights flickered out. I heard movement in the stall beside me.

It swung open, then those heavy footsteps dragged themselves across the bathroom floor to my own bathroom stall, stopping just in front of it.

That smell. Those hot wheezing breaths.

I can’t get a call out because of the thick walls, and data is spotty, but I think only the light from my phone is keeping whoever or whatever is out there at bay. As soon as this battery dies…

I won’t be alone in the dark anymore.

Thank you for listening …you may want to keep a light on tonight [Music]

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Story Credits

Written by: John Beardify - u/beardify

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