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  • Writer's pictureOne TwentyOne

Don't Believe Whatever You See

Updated: Apr 30

By Artis Jenkins, Virginia State University



Photo 149047289 | Abandoned Office Building © Emanuele Ripamonti | Dreamstime.com



At 1:27 AM, Allison sends the “here :)” text, soothing the anxiety that's been squeezing in on Tiffany’s chest. She grabs her backpack, stuffed to the brim with water, energy drinks, gloves and extra clothes. By 1:32 Tiffany is in the backseat, squished in between Allison and a stranger, with her backpack shoved down under her own feet. Tate turns around in the driver’s seat and smiles back at her.


“I looked up the place you found. Looks sick!” he says.


Tiffany sinks down into the seat, pursing her lips to keep a smirk at bay. Her "thank you" is drowned out by Sidney turning up the music. Tate's already turned back to the front anyway, putting the car in reverse and peeling out the parking lot. Tate is Allison’s boyfriend of five months and Tiffany always thought of Sidney as Tate’s boyfriend of five years.


Sidney and Tate are immediately immersed in the song, resuming whatever vibe was present before Tiffany joined them. Tate isn’t a good driver but the roads are pretty empty. He takes advantage of it, speeding down the highway, zipping past the occasional truck.


Allison leans in close so Tiffany can hear her over the music. “They were real excited about the office building," she says. "They’ve just been to houses and shit. I went to one, it’s not that interesting, but after they’ve been through it and shit they find the best room to play music and drink.”


“Drink what?”


Allison turns forward, “what did we get to drink?”


“Huh?” No one turns the radio down.


“WHAT. DID. WE. GET. TO. DRINK. AGAIN?!”


A beat passes and no one answers. The two in the front sing along louder, probably their favorite part.


“Just some vodka I think, a few sodas.” Allison answers her own question.


The car comes to a stop and rocks a little as it's put in to park. Tate turns around, face slightly red and breathing heavily, “vodka, sprite and five Four Lokos.”


Tiffany’s face scrunches up, “Four Lokos? What are we? Sixteen?”


Three out of four doors open and the guys pile out. “Tiffany, please try to have fun.” That's Allison, and Tiffany's wondering how much fun could one even really have in an abandoned office building? Allison scoots out on the right side, shutting the car door behind her.


Tiffany and Allison became friends after Treasure, Allison’s older sister, died. They met at the funeral, where Tiffany's mom was doing the catering and long story short they’ve been inseparable ever since. Sometimes Allison’s loving grip feels like a leash, though, and Tiffany has been down on all fours her entire life so all she knows how to do is crawl around behind her. Tiffany’s car door is the last one to open and last one to close. Allison has run to catch up to Tate and Sidney, leaping into Tate’s arms and he spins them around as she squeals.


“Tate’s basically sixteen,” a deep voice comes from Tiffany’s right. Over on the other side of the car, the third and final guy of tonight’s crew stands.


“What?” Tiffany steps forward and so does he.


“What are we, sixteen?” He mocks.


Her lip purse into a smile, but she feels the amusement more than she tries to let herself show it.


“Tate swears he’s still sixteen, that we're all still sixteen.” He sounds exasperated, like he’s been waiting to talk about this.


Tiffany knows what he means. He’s taller than Tiffany in the type of way that makes the butterflies flutter uncomfortably. She adjusts the straps of her backpack and stares at the three in front of them.


They’re in a makeshift circle, and Allison’s now holding some white plastic bags. Tiffany knows there’s some room in her bag.


“I’m Keem,” he calls for her attention again, “you can call me Keem.”


She scrunches her nose at him. “I know your mother didn’t name you that.”


His laugh is sudden and loud and his smile bright. Tiffany turns her book bag to the front and unzips the big pocket. Allison doesn’t even hesitate to lift the bags up high enough for Tiffany to take when they reach the circle.


“What’s so funny?” Allison asks, a smile already dancing on her lips.


Tiffany struggles to shove the bags into the pocket.


“My name apparently.”


“Tiff, you’ve never met Hakeem?” Allison gasps.


Tiffany zips it up and shoots Allison a glare. One she reads with ease.


“I grew up with Tiffany,” Allison introduces her to Hakeem instead. “She’s like my big sister. I love her.”


The book bag is heavier now on her back.


“Y'ALL READY?” Sidney’s voice echoes off the darkness. It snatches everyone from their conversations and their attention lands on him.


“You have to be quiet, there’s other buildings close by,” Hakeem warns.


“Office buildings, dude. It’s like 2:00am.” Sidney rolls his eyes. “Tiff, throw me a Four Loko.” He holds out his hand, ready to catch the drink Tiffany hadn’t even started to move to get.


Allison does, however, rounding Tiffany to unzip her backpack and dig out a can for him.


“Me too,” Tate calls from the side and Allison gets him one too.


“Tiff, do you want one?”


“No thanks.”


Allison zips the bag up and steps back, standing in the middle of the wonky circle they filled. She notices and immediately spins. "We got everything? Are we ready?”


She stops at Sidney. “Where’s the camera bag?”


Tate notices too. “Dude!” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the keys, “go get it, dumbass! That was your one thing.”


Sidney doesn’t respond, just snatches the keys and takes off to the car.


The office building looms over them but its size is still small. Most of the windows are busted in but Tiffany can’t make out anything in the darkness, she’s just now noticing how dark it is. There’s one yellow lamp post closer to the parking lot and it mostly illuminates Sidney messing around in the trunk. Another light sits in the corner of the building’s backdoors, its weak, constant flickering illuminating the bugs loving the bulb.


Tiffany turns her back to the building and her body shivers. She's never been a fan of things that loomed over her, despite it’s smaller size, two or three sides, the building seems to reach over her, like its going to engulf her. Sidney gets a big black bag and two flashlights, slams the trunk shut and starts to jog back.


When Allison invited Tiffany out to explore an abandoned building, Tiffany looked at her like she was stupid. Then Allison pleaded and begged until Tiffany agreed, but only on the condition that she could pick the place.


She knew for sure Sidney and Tate were not going to be cool with that. This was their little hobby, Tiffany knew that, and Allison told her so, but then, to everyone's surprise, they said yes. No one could tell Allison no, apparently. Allison definitely knew the meaning of 'no,' but she didn’t see its purpose past how it related to her.


Finding the abandoned building was harder than she thought it would be. Her father's office isn't too far from here, and one night she just happened to pass this building. It almost seemed to pop out of nowhere, a little three story building tucked behind some trees.


Sidney hands Tiffany one of the flashlights, which she pawns off to Allison who gives it to Keem. Tiffany pulls out her own flashlight. Fresh batteries and another set in her bag.


“Everybody ready?” Tate gives the entire group a once-over, and Tiffany does the same. Keem, Tate and Tiffany have flashlights, while Sidney has the camera. Allison has nothing and Tiffany knew she should’ve spent her extra time looking for the other flashlights.


“Camera’s good.” Sidney gives a thumbs up before whipping it around. The brightness of the camera light makes all their flashlights feel useless.


Tate leads the group in, with Allison clinging to one side and Sidney on the other, camera lighting the way. They enter through a back door, the lock broken, and the door swings open with just a light push from Tate. A musty smell makes Tiffany turn up her nose. It's dark and humid inside, and the smell clings to her clothes.


Sidney’s voice echoes off the walls, in his version of a whisper: "Welcome back, everyone! We have a new building, and a new member of the Scavenging Dudes!”


Typically, Tiffany would scoff at the stupid name she’s sure Tate came up with, but something doesn't feel right. She isn’t the type to be scared when she doesn’t know what the threat is, but the empty building is strange. The space seems to be a vacuum, sucking up the sound of their footsteps, and it's like it’s pulling them in, too, down the hall to a door on the left. Faintly she can hear Sidney talking about something as her hand grips the flashlight tighter, and Tate takes up the front of the camera, pushing the door open.


It’s loose like the one in the back, and mustier in the hallway. Tate leads the group with confidence and the five of them follow slowly. Tiffany clicks on her own flashlight, spinning around to check the hall behind them. A broken window and doorless doorways all beckon her but she turns back forward.


“Tiffany you’re fucking up the shot!” Tate shouts.


“Don’t cuss at me!” Tiffany snaps back, but the disrespect she feels isn’t showing in her shaky tone.


Tate just rolls his eyes at her. “Turn the flashlight off!”


Allison speaks up before Tiffany can really focus her attention on him. “Tiff, the light," she says.


Tiffany mutters under her breath about the point of most of them having flashlights if they can’t even use them. The camera light does deem them useless but Tiffany feels something creeping in the spots the light doesn’t reach. Tiffany is engulfed in the camera lights.


“We should check out the second and third floor before we go into the offices.”


Tiffany doesn’t like that idea, though, her anxiety growing in her chest. She reaches for Allison’s hand as she goes to follow Sidney and Tate through another door. Her voice is trapped in her chest, her words jumble. Something just isn’t sitting right with her, the hairs on her arms are still raised, goosebumps creeping across her skin, unease squeezing at her chest again.


Allison notices the panicked look in her eye. "What’s wrong?


“I don’t know, I just-”


“Ally!” Tate calls her from the door to the stairwell, “let’s go.”


“Everything’s all right, Tiffany. It’s just an empty building.” Allison pulls her into a side hug, dragging her toward the stairwell. “If you want you can have your flashlight, just stay back with Hakeem.”


They separate and Tiffany takes a deep breath in, counting to four before releasing it. It’s just the energy in the air is palpable and thick, peering through the doorways and past the windows outside is dark and consuming. She can’t see the trees she knows are outside of the building or make out the sky from the ground.


Tiffany switches her flashlight on and sees that she is alone in the hallway. Deep breath and counting to four, she regulates her panic. The sound of feet dragging snatches her attention to her right. Another light washes over her and Hakeem creeps out of one the offices.


“I wasn’t expecting you to be so scared.” Tiffany looks away, missing Hakeem’s smug smirk fading into worry.


“I’m not scared,” she mumbles. “Something just doesn’t feel right.”


Hakeem thinks for a moment. “Isn’t that what being scared is?”


Tiffany doesn't like that answer. She walks away, down the hallway and into an open area where it’s obvious there was once a reception area. Two elevators sit next to a set of stairs. The layout is basic, office building basic, the walls are yellowing and the reception desk is broken, right down the middle. Random debris litters the ground, crunching under their feet.


“Hey,” Hakeem had follows Tiffany into the entrance, “I wasn’t trying to be rude or nothing.”


The front door is to her left, the glass surprisingly still intact. She goes to point that out but the elevator dings behind them.


“What the fuck,” she calls out in surprise.


Allison, Tate, and Sidney all pile out of the elevator. The camera flash is off and they’re all smiling, like it isn’t strange for the elevator of an abandoned building to work. Allison bounces off the elevator and into the entrance hall.


“Tiffany!” Allison is giddy, “We were just on the third floor and in what I think was the big boss' office and in the closet was, like, a secret door.”


Tiffany was already shaking her head in protest. Whatever was going on with this building, she didn’t want anything to do with it.


“Allison-” she started, but Allison isn’t listening.


“Tate wanted to open the door but I was like Tiffany picked the building so she should have the privilege, then as we were coming to get you I saw the lights on the elevator.”


Allison’s excitement starts to extinguish the alarm ringing in Tiffany’s chest. Her flight senses are dwindling and she lets Allison grab her wrists, her hands warm against her chilly skin. Her grip tightens.


“Allison,” Tiffany’s voice is low, trying to keep this conversation between them, “I want to leave.”


Worry flickers over Allison’s face before morphing into irritation. “You picked this place, Tiff. It’s just an abandoned building.”


Tiffany opens her mouth to remind Allison that she didn’t want to come but Allison cuts her off once again: “You should just come see what’s behind the door and then we’ll go, okay?”


Tiffany knows any protest wouldn’t work now, Allison has already moved on, her mind made up for the both of them. Allison walks back over to Tate and Sidney, her joy from earlier gone, washed right off her face. Tiffany feels partially responsible, and the emotional whiplash is starting to wear her down. Her weak agreement isn’t heard by the person it's meant for. Allison is already back in the elevator, her nose turned up. The doors slide shut, leaving Tiffany behind.


A hand on Tiffany’s shoulder scares her, but it’s just Hakeem checking on her.


“If you want to leave I can go get the keys from Sidney.” His voice is soft and comforting, but whatever anxiety was quelled is quick to bubble back up.


Tiffany is being difficult, she thinks. Allison was nice enough to invite her out, even if she didn't want to come. They may have different interests and likes but they're still friends, and they always found things to laugh about together. Whenever Tiffany let Allison drag her out they had moments that she could look back on and laugh, stories and inside jokes they could enjoy together.


“No.” It comes out breathy. “No, let’s go up to the room.”


Hakeem leads with his own flashlight illuminating the way. Tiffany only thinks about what could possibly be in the room, as the darkness seems to grow outside from the glimpses she catches through the doorways. It seeps into the building and her eyes strain to make out anything through the blinding darkness. Hakeem leads her, slowly, and she appreciates the additional time between her and her fate, being sealed to whatever is about to happen. Part of her feels dramatic for these thoughts, but the other part--the honest part--is begging for something to confirm her anxiety.


The Big Boss Office is on the other side of the building from the stairwell, and the room has a wooden door with something etched into it. Tiffany cuts on her own flashlight and shines it over the carvings. "No Clip," it reads. She reaches out her fingers to trace the wood.


“You sure you don’t want to just go?”


Tiffany takes a shaky breath. “She said we could go after this, and Allison is good at keeping her word.”


Hakeem looks weary and Tiffany tries not to let him get to her. She turns the knob and walks into Tate and Allison arguing right next to the door. The smell takes up the entire room, an older and muskier scent than that of the rest of the building. Her stomach turns.


Sidney aims the camera at her face and Tiffany tries not to cower away.


“The woman of the hour has arrived,” Sidney says, and Tiffany’s heart starts racing again. As she walks over to the doorway, her stomach lurches at the strong smell. Sidney circles her. “Do the honors, Tiff.”


The door is already open, and a narrow staircase welcomes them. Her flashlight reveals an endless flight of stairs. She takes the first step, looks back to see everyone crowding around the doorway. She takes another step. Her hand comes up to the wall as there’s no railing for her to hold on to. Slowly, she descends until she hits a landing and looks back up to the crowd.


Hakeem pushes through, following her down. Tiffany looks down the last few sets of stairs, noticing a faint yellow glow near the bottom.


“That’s probably where the elevators getting electricity.” Hakeem stands too close and speaks mainly to Tiffany.


“You see another light?” Tate calls down.


Tiffany takes the first step down toward the light. Hakeem reaches out to grab her forearm, warning her to stop, but she shakes him off. It’s like one of those movie scenes where the background moves so fast it blurs all around you. She’s in the hazy background, taking one step forward, then another, then one more and then she’s in a fluorescent room.


It’s empty but intact. No graffitied walls, no desk, just a spacious and bright four-walled room. The anxiety hasn’t been quelled, though; it’s amped up now. No windows or doors, just a long corridor on the other side of the room that leads to another room and through that corridor she sees plenty more. It goes on endlessly, under rows of unflattering office lights.


The underwhelming nature of it all pisses Tiffany off. She stomps over to the next room, ignoring the thumps behind her.


“What the fuck was that?” Hakeem shouts.


In the next room there’s nothing. Two more rooms, nothing. Spacious, musty office rooms with bright office lights. She turns to go back now, angry more than anything. Tiffany doesn’t like getting worked up over nothing, these rooms give no payback to the anxiety she’s been fighting since they entered the building.


She’s ready to go.


Hakeem appears in the doorway, the rest of the group behind him.


“I told you to bring the camera fully charged! Or at least the charger.” Tate is fussing at Sidney.


He’s not paying attention, flipping the camera around in his hands before smacking it. Tate snatches it from him, pressing the same buttons.


“The bag’s back upstairs, but I don’t think it’s dead.”


Tate starts smacking it. "Well, go get the fucking bag, dumbass!”


Hakeem appears from behind Tiffany, a frightened look on his face.


“Tiff,” he points a shaky finger behind him, “you gotta see this.”


Tiffany isn’t sure if she wants to see this, so neither of them move. It’s Sidney’s huffing that finally gets her to move. As he stomps out the room she walks over to Hakeem and into the next almost identical room.


The only difference is the shaky and uncoordinated writing on the wall.


WATCH THE ENTRANCE OR DONT BELIEVE WHATEVER YOU'RE ABOUT TO SEE


Tate comes around the corner, panting, not from exhaustion but from fear. A wild look dances in his eyes. “Guys, the staircase, the fucking door. It’s gone.”


Tiffany pushes past Hakeem who turns right on her heel and they run through the corridors.


“It was this room,” Hakeem calls out after her.


Tiffany keeps running through three more identical rooms as a lump forms in her throat.


“It was in this room! Tate, what the fuck did you do?”


“Allison,” Tiffany starts walking towards Hakeem’s voice, “where’s Allison?”


She pushes past Hakeem and to Tate, “Where the fuck is Allison?”


The world becomes hazy, her breath quickens. She reaches for someone or something as everything sways. All she can think about is Allison, trapped somewhere is this long two way maze. Her knees give out as she heaves out a cry.


Someone cries out faintly, “My phone isn’t turning on, either!”


This is all her fault. She picked this building. She gave into this strange hobby of theirs. Went against her better judgment. So maybe this was karma, or some higher power making an example of her. Either way, all of the stress and anxiety of the day finally takes its toll on her hyperventilating body, and she succumbs to the feeling of the walls closing on on her.





About the Author

Artis Jenkins, Virginia State University


Artis Jenkins is a twenty-three-year-old English major at Virginia State University who is still finding her own voice! Originally from Chesapeake, VA, Artis takes inspiration from the small town where she grew up. After graduation, she hopes to travel all over the world, seeking new inspiration to continue writing, and she plans to eventually publish her own novel and poetry collections.


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